First Warm Day
Malcolm asked Quintessa again to take off her coat. He told her it was the first warm day of the year and she was missing out on everything. She said she didn't see how taking off her coat would change anything. She saw the sun, felt the breeze, and knew he just wanted to see her breasts in her tight green t-shirt.
"At least unbutton it, you look like it's below zero," he said.
They waited on the light on State Street to cross and walk en route to the Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd bus headed south toward their block. She was a head taller than him with her short hair pulled back, not enough for a true ponytail, just banded with purple elastic, more for convenience than style. Her glasses perched on the tip of her nose like a hawk on a cliff ready to dive off, held only by the sweaty stickiness of her pores and her ears. Malcolm stood beside with his coat under his arm. His thin frame wearing a white shirt big enough to wrap around both of them. If looking from across the street, she looked like his older sister picking him up from school.
"Stop it," she said as he pulled at her coat, grabbing his hand while walking across the street with a dozen other students. They had been friends since they had memories, living directly across the street from each other. Both of them stood at the curb like at an invisible fence, talking and laughing, until one would ask their mother if they could cross the street and play. Best of friends for years, until Tessa's mother told her she needed to stop playing with that boy and find other girls to play with, asking her about the girl around the block. Tessa told Malcolm just like her mother told her and both of them cried. They snuck playtime in occasionally, until the sadness wore off, and he thought she was more interested in girl things with her friend from around the block.
A group of girls in front of them danced to monotone crunk music from a cellphone speaker. The girl with the phone held it in the air like a torch, her legs flailing and stretching in and out, as they laughed and cussed about that song being the shit.
"Do you know how to do the 'Stanky Leg' Malc?" Tessa said looking down at him smiling. He smiled back at her jokingly and started dancing, moving his shoulders up and down with outstretched arms and hands palms up like he was gesturing "I don't know" in a loop, saying, "Do the Stanky Leg / Do the Stanky Leg." She grabbed his hand and sped their pace to stop him from dancing. "You're embarrassing yourself. Stop!" And they both laughed.
She hadn't let go of his hand, holding it and pushing him away and pulling him back smiling. Malcolm wasn't as big or cool as some of the other boys in school that showed her interest. Her body had begun to develop and older boys would look at her breasts, waist, and her ass. They would ask her if she had popped her cherry yet, like it was an initiation, as if she just had to do it soon before the ninth grade. They would try to touch or rub against her in gym or the cafeteria, and she would get nervous and her eyes would well up with anger, but if she saw Malcolm she could lean on him or hold his hand. Malcolm would make her laugh not caring how silly he looked, and he felt the pride of having her laugh and swoon all over his shoulder.
"Are we practicing again today?" Malcolm said not noticing himself licking his lips looking up at Tessa.
"I don't know. We'll see."
They had kissed over the weekend. Tessa sat on the couch watching a court show on the new television her mother's most recent boyfriend had bought for the house. She saw Malcolm sitting on his porch across the street through the sheer curtains in the living room, and opened her front screen door to step out on her porch. It didn't take long for Malcolm to notice her in light khaki pants and a purple polo shirt barefoot. Her hair wasn't made, it was mussed up like she had been running her hands through it scratching her scalp, but she still looked beautiful to him. He walked across slowly like a neighbor just going to say hello, looking down the street squinting at the sun, acting like there were more interesting things than Quintessa on her porch.
"It's nice out here," he said continuing to play the congenial neighbor.
"Yeah, it is," she said looking down on him squinching his face with every feature moving toward his nose. He had on cargo pants and a normal sized shirt for once. Most of his clothes hung three sizes too large like he was trying to hide himself in them.
"Where's your folks?"
"My mom went to the mall with her new boyfriend."
"Why didn't you go?"
"Didn't want to. All they're going to do is walk around and look at clothes. With my mom laughing and touching all over him. Not how I want to spend my Saturday."
"Just sitting, watching TV." She stared at Malcolm standing there looking down the street, his thin arms with healed scars and long fingers. She looked at his neck, the protruding Adam's apple and the long muscle on the side that extended to his ear, clearly seen with his head turned from her. She looked at his full pink lips, as he turned his head back to her.
"What are you staring at?"
"You wanna see our new TV. It's big."
They sat on the couch watching the same court show. A lady was suing her ex-boyfriend for $960, the cost of the half of the rent for three months. She kicked him out the house after he cheated with one of her friends. Her ex-friend was there with her ex-boyfriend. They told the judge they were engaged and she sued just because she was jealous of their relationship.
"OK, Malcolm," she said turning on the couch with a bounce. "I need you to help me with something."
Malcolm turned from the TV. "Huh."
"Ok, I want you to help me practice kissing." She just came out and said it.
"Yeah, I haven't done it enough to be good at it and I want to be good at it."
"OK," Malcolm said and leaned in with his mouth open.
"No, silly. Slow-like. OK, just sit here. Like that, yeah. Now lean in." She drew her face in and turned her head to avoid his nose, softly putting the cup of her lips on his hanging bottom lip, and pushed her lips away slowly with a delicate smack. "Did you have your eyes closed?"
Malcolm gave a suspired, "Yeah."
"OK, now this time you do it to me. Just real soft, OK?" Malcolm rotated in front of her and regarded her eyes. He remembered a movie where a guy in the love scene did this. He reached up with his hand and touched her cheek with the back of his long fingers, then with both hands removed her glasses. "OK?" she said even more airy than him. And they kissed.
Outside a car turned into the driveway, as Malcolm rested his hand on Quintessa's khaki thigh. The doors of the car opened and Malcolm's palm had traveled to one of her purple breasts searching the fabric of her bra for the bump of a nipple. Both of them heard the ruffle of bags on the porch and jumped separate to opposite ends of the couch as the new boyfriend entered the house first with a suspicious pause. Malcolm stared at the TV. The two old friends were yelling at each other about the other's weight and unattractiveness. Quintessa turned exasperated watching them come in the door.
"What? Girl, I told you you can't have company when I'm not in this house," her mother said with no suspicion that anything was going on, just shaking her head walking pass her boyfriend still paused just inside the door. "Sorry Malcolm, but you gotta go outside. Sit on the porch, go to the backyard, but not in the house."
"Sorry, Ms. Turner," Malcolm said as he got up and curled around her boyfriend to get through the screen to the porch.
Quintessa sat nervously looking at the man standing in front of her holding a small Victoria Secret bag. Her breathing was still hard and her chest moved in and out as she stood, turning her glaze to the carpet, and biting down on both her lips brushing pass the man through the screen to the porch. He looked back as the screen slammed shut with a whack. Her mother could be heard asking her boyfriend to put the bag in her closet in the bedroom.
Malcolm and Quintessa walked across Indiana Avenue, while Otis Mackey talked to his friend about Quintessa's ass walking directly behind them. On Persian Avenue west of King Avenue, a black Impala was parked with three students from Harlan High School, five miles west of Otis Mackey's school, Julian High School. The afternoon was bright, just over seventy degrees, not much wind. An older man on a BMX bike peddled down Indiana. He held the handlebar with one hand and a black garbage bag over his shoulder with the other. He swerved close to traffic but pulled the handlebar straight in time. None of the cars slowed down, just moved over a little. Otis Mackey and his friend began to make fun of the man.
Otis Mackey and his friend had caught up to Malcolm and Quintessa at Calumet Street, one block west from the bus stop on King Avenue. Malcolm and Quintessa were laughing about something Malcolm said at lunch. In the only class they had together the teacher, Mr. Wilson, had told Malcolm to put his gum in the can. When Malcolm said he'd just swallow it, the teacher yelled, "Put it in the can!" The teacher had a nasal high-pitched voice that emphasized both "put" and "can". It was their inside joke all that day. At lunch Malcolm was telling the eldest lunch lady who never used gloves to clean up the tables, "Put it in the can." The lunch lady laughed too like she knew who he was talking about, instead of being disrespectful. The driver of the black Impala put the car in drive and pulled away from the curb. The afternoon was a beautiful harbinger of the spring to come. The old man peddled the BMX across Persian Avenue and braked just in time to miss the black Impala blaring music through the open windows.
"Malcolm, you and Tessa go together? You got game like that, Little Man?" Otis Mackey said. Quintessa was quiet. She just looked at Otis with a smirk because he had interrupted their laughter.
Malcolm looked up at Otis Mackey with a confident smile and said, "I do my thing." They all laughed, except Quintessa, she just smiled looking at the muscle on Malcolm's neck turned from her.
There was a half dozen students standing on the corner of King Avenue waiting to cross to the southbound bus stop. Otis Mackey stared at Quintessa while she looked across the street uncomfortable about the ninth grader surveying her. He was looking at her black jeans, her thin legs, her full thighs, and petite ass. He looked at her face, her pink lips, the nervous way she focused straight ahead.
The black Impala turned from Persian Avenue to King Avenue. Malcolm was still smiling proud thinking about possibly "practicing" later that day. Quintessa willed the bus to come soon, with her eyes, nose, and lips twisted in a smug look of anger. Otis Mackey tapped his friend to look at Quintessa. The old man on the BMX stopped pass the Persian Avenue crossing to catch his breath and rest his arms, sitting his garbage bag on the curb next to his worn tennis shoe. The passenger in the back seat of the black Impala yelled out, "Fuck you Otis!" The old man's head turned toward four loud familiar clap sounds.
Four shots. The one shot missed Otis by ten feet. The car stopped fast and the shooter's hand jerked. The slug lodged in the brick of Friendship Baptist Church, just below a stained glass window that was over 70 years old. After the scare, the church got the city to install protective covers over all the antique stained glass to preserve the history. One shot missed Otis by five feet. It was just a missed shot from inexperienced shooting. The bullet traveled down the street, path unbroken, until it sparked on the concrete and rested under a car two blocks away. Two shots only missed by two feet. They were fired in rapid succession in the same direction. The corner spilled of kids in all directions until it was left empty save Malcolm and Quintessa.
Malcolm leaned over Quintessa on the concrete. The afternoon sun was warm, there was a gentle breeze. Malcolm opened Quintessa's jacket and saw two holes in her green abdomen. The two red circles began to expand as the blood soaked into the green fabric until the circles met and became an indiscernible shape on her blood soaked t-shirt. Quintessa was not breathing.