PART TWO

Transcript from evening news, January 26

Good evening, and welcome to the Channel 5 News at 5.

In our top story, tragedy in Oak Ridge this afternoon, where two young men in an SUV were shot at a traffic light.

The incident occurred just after noon at the intersection of Thirteenth Street and Marshall Avenue. According to the wife of the shooter— who was riding in the passenger seat—there was a brief dispute over loud music before shots were fired from one vehicle into the other.

The identities of the wounded are being withheld pending further investigation, but we’ve received reports that one of the teens was pronounced dead en route to the hospital, and the other is in critical condition.

The shooter has been identified as fifty-two-year-old Garrett Tison, an officer with the Atlanta PD. Officer Tison was not on duty at the time of the shooting and was taken into police custody at the scene.

More on this story as it continues to develop.

February 1

DEAR MARTIN,

He’s gone.

Never did anything to anyone, and now Manny’s gone.

I can’t do this anymore.

CHAPTER 15

Twenty-seven days.

That’s how long the Riverses keep Manny’s body in a mortuary cold chamber, waiting for his best friend to recover enough to attend the funeral. Frankly, Jus wishes they’d gone ahead and had it without him. He really doesn’t wanna be here.

The first words out of the pastor’s mouth were “We are not here to mourn a death. We’re here to celebrate a life, gone on to glory.” Manny didn’t even believe in heaven and hell. Jus can imagine him saying:

The only place I’ve “gone on” to is that overpriced casket.

Jus didn’t have it in him to go up and look at the body during the viewing. He knows the cause of death—“gunshot wound to the head”— because he asked to see the death certificate, and the Riverses consented. To see Manny laid out all serene after knowing there was a bullet somewhere in his head? Yeah, there’s no way. Jus can’t do that.

He would love to just get up and walk out. Keep going until his legs fall off or he dies from thirst or starvation or exhaustion or some combination of the three. Problem is there are media people everywhere outside. Based on some of the “speculation” he’s heard— Manny threatened Garrett Tison, one of the boys threw something into Tison’s Suburban, Justyce had a gun, etc.—he’d rather not be seen.

Not that being inside is much better. People keep peeping over their shoulders at him where he’s sitting at the back of the church with Mama. He has sunglasses on, but he can see them sneaking glances. Marveling at the Boy Who Survived (that’s what they’ve been calling him on the news).

Mama squeezes his good arm. He’s still relearning how to use his other one, which is currently in a sling. The shot to the chest cracked a rib and punctured his right lung, but the bullet he took to the right shoulder messed up a bunch of nerves. After three surgeries, he finally regained feeling in his fingertips.

As the pastor leaves the pulpit and the choir stands, Justyce looks

around the packed interior of the church. He takes in all the dark suits and dresses, the tearstained faces and shaking shoulders, and the collective sorrow hits him so hard, the room blurs out of focus. The one thing he can see clearly is the face of Sarah-Jane Friedman. She’s watching him.

It triggers a series of flashbacks from his more heavily drugged days in the hospital: SJ standing over him, weeping, his left hand gripped in her right one, her left hand stroking his face (Mama was obviously not around); the sound of Dr. Rivers saying, “We’re so glad you made it, Justyce.” Mama crying and asking his forgiveness because she had to go back to work. Melo being escorted out because she wouldn’t stop wailing.

Speaking of Melo, Jus can see her too. Honestly, if it weren’t for Mama, he’s sure she’d try to glue herself to his side. She organized the group of Atlanta Falcons football players who came to escort Jus home from the hospital in a luxury party bus.

Of course it made the news.

As Mr. Rivers approaches the pulpit to deliver the eulogy—he asked Jus if he wanted to do it, but there was no way in hell—Jus sees Jared and the “bros.” They’re all sitting near the front with their parents, and he wonders if Jared and Mr. Christensen feel like the assholes they are. If it hadn’t been for that damn phone call, Manny and Jus would’ve been headed to Stone Mountain. They wouldn’t have been on the same road as Garrett Tison.

Manny would still be here.

Jared turns around like he can feel Jus jabbing arrows into the back of his head. The moment they see each other (though Jared wouldn’t know because of Justyce’s sunglasses), fury wraps around Jus so tightly, he almost can’t breathe. Even from a distance, Jus can tell Jared’s eyes are haunted. Like the floor has opened up beneath him and there’s no bottom to his agony.

Jus recognizes the expression because he’s feeling the same way. It makes him want to burn the world down.

Once the service is over, Jus walks with Mama to the bathroom before they head to the burial site (he doesn’t want to go). As soon as she

steps in, who steps out but Sarah-Jane Friedman. His mouth falls open a little, and when she sees him, she freezes.

Jus takes his sunglasses off. She’s in a navy pantsuit, no makeup, dark hair pulled back into a bun. Her eyes—which are red from crying —rove over his face, and he’s so relieved to see something other than pity burning in them, he almost reaches out to hug her with his good arm.

It’s quite the predicament: wanting to touch and hug and kiss a white girl after a white man shot him and killed his best friend?

“Hey,” he says.

Her eyes fill with tears. “Hey.”

“You okay?”

“Pretty sure that’s what I should be asking you, Jus.”

He looks away. Shrugs.

Moments pass that feel like hours. Days. Years. Centuries.

She sighs. “So I know we haven’t talked much bu—”

“I miss you, S.”

Her head snaps up.

“I mean it,” Jus says. And why shouldn’t he tell her? He’s already lost his other best friend.

SJ opens her mouth to speak—

The ladies’ room door opens. “You ready, Just—?” Mama sees SJ. “Oh, I’m sorry. Didn’t realize you were speaking with someone.”

“Ma, this is Sarah-Jane,” Jus says, never taking his eyes off SJ.

Mama: Lovely to meet you.

SJ: Same to you, Ms. McAllister.

Mama turns to Justyce. “I’m gonna head on out to the car. You coming?”

“I’ll meet you there,” he says. “I want to walk SJ out.”

“No, no. You don’t have to. My parents are actually waiting for me. I’ll see you at the grave site?”

“Oh. Yeah. Okay. Bye, S.”

“Bye, Jus.”

As SJ disappears around the corner, Mama’s expression shifts to a frown. “Sarah-Jane, huh? You know her from school or something?”

“She’s my debate partner, Ma. I’ve mentioned her plenty of times.”

“Hmph. I saw how she was looking at you. More on that girl’s mind than debate—”

“Can we not start with this at my best friend’s funeral, please?”

“I’m not starting with anything, Justyce. Just sayin’ watch yourself with that one. That’s all.”

That one.

“She’s a good friend, Ma.”

“And you’d do well to keep it that way.”

Jus wants to argue. He wants to tell Mama all the ways SJ made him believe he was big while everyone else wanted to keep him small. He wants to call Mama on her prejudice. Tell her, in his mind, she’s just as bad as the guy who shot him and Manny.

But he doesn’t get a chance to.

The second he and Mama step out of the church, they get mobbed by reporters.

Mr. McAllister, how’s it feel to be the Boy Who Survived?

Justyce, do you think there will be justice?

What’s it like knowing it could’ve been YOU in that casket?

That last one sets Justyce off. “Do YOU have to be such an asshole, man?”

“Justyce, don’t say another word,” Mama says, then to the reporters: “My son has no comment. Now if you’ll excuse us…”

She uses an arm to sweep a smaller reporter out of the way, then grabs Justyce by his elbow to pull him through the gap. Mr. Taylor shouts and points in their direction, and suddenly he and Mama get flanked by what have to be bodyguards.

Justyce winces as one of the huge guys—burly, blond, looks like his

name could be Lars—bumps his bad arm. The pain that shoots from his shoulder through his entire body like a bolt of lightning is nothing compared to what’s inside him.

Tison Indictment Step Forward for Justice or Grand Jury Blunder?

BY: TOBIAS D’BITRU

Staff Writer

Yesterday afternoon, a Georgia grand jury returned a multiple-count indictment against former Atlanta police officer Garrett Tison in connection with a January shooting involving two teenaged boys. The indictment stands in glaring contrast to the Nevada and Florida cases involving the deaths of Shemar Carson and Tavarrius Jenkins, and two of the charges—aggravated assault and felony murder —have many members of the community in an uproar.

“The man was defending himself from thugs,” said Tison’s neighbor April Henry. “I’ve known Garrett for twenty-five years. If he says those boys had a gun, they had a gun.” A fellow police officer, who asked to remain anonymous, claims the indictment is nothing more than a publicity stunt at Tison’s expense. “They’re out to make an example of him. Prosecutor pulled the race card, and the grand jury bought it hook, line, and sinker.”

And many agree. At a solidarity rally held in Tison’s honor, picketers wore T-shirts that read “Race-Baiting Should Be a Crime” while holding signs featuring Tison’s face and the words “Protector not Poster Child.”

A trial date has yet to be announced.

CHAPTER 16

Two days after being permanently set free from his sling, Justyce gets to drive his brand-new car. Ken Murray, owner of seven Honda dealerships across the city, is the father of one of Jus’s classmates, and Jus found a Civic with Condolences from the Murray Honda Family on the windshield the day he came home from the hospital.

At first, he wanted to give it back—the idea of driving around in a free car from some rich white dude made him sick to his stomach considering what had happened. But after staring at it for weeks and rereading the Neither of you young men deserved what happened letter from Mr. Murray, Jus decided to accept the gift.

It’s been a month and a half since the shooting, but going to Manny’s house now is no easier today than it would’ve been the day he learned Manny was gone. The Riverses invited Justyce to dinner tonight to “commemorate” Garrett Tison’s indictment, but Jus really isn’t looking forward to being alone with them. Especially not inside their house. The more he thinks about it—and he’s been thinking about it a lot lately—it wasn’t the house that felt like a second home to him. It was Manny.

As he pulls into the driveway, Jus instinctively heads toward door three of the four-car garage. He can remember all the times he and Manny waited for it to rise before pulling inside, and his stomach crawls up into his throat.

Before he can throw his car in reverse and get outta there, door three does rise, and Mr. Rivers motions for Justyce to pull in. The spot is empty, of course—Range Rover’s long gone—but there’s no way Jus can fill it. He puts his car in park in the driveway and climbs out. “ ’Preciate it, Mr. Julian, but I can’t,” he says.

Manny’s dad smiles sadly and looks over the space. “It’s just so empty, you know? Come on in.”

When Jus steps inside and the fragrance of chicken cacciatore assaults his senses, he’s one hundred percent sure he doesn’t wanna be here. He doesn’t wanna sit down at the antique oak table to eat from

the “special-occasion” dishes Dr. Rivers has taken from her china cabinet. He doesn’t wanna make small talk with his dead best friend’s parents as they eat his favorite meal and not their son’s.

All of this is way too much, and he wants to leave and never come back.

He steps into the dining room anyway.

“Thank you for coming, sweetheart,” Dr. Rivers says, pulling Jus into what has to be the most emotion-filled hug he’s ever experienced. He counts a full seventeen seconds before she lets go.

“Thanks for having me,” he replies.

“Go ahead and sit,” Mr. Julian says. “I’ll get you something to drink.”

Jus does as instructed, and after a minute, Mr. Julian comes to the table with three beverages: a glass of red wine for Dr. Rivers, a glass of iced tea for Justyce, and a tumbler of what Jus assumes is Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel—that’s the stuff Manny used to sneak into his flask—for himself.

Just seeing it makes Jus want to vomit.

“So how you holdin’ up, Justyce?” Mr. Julian says once seated. “Back in school yet?”

Jus shakes his head. “Not quite. I move into the dorm on Sunday and start classes Monday.”

“I see.”

Dr. Rivers comes in holding an oval dish with two potholders. She sets it on the table, and the chicken breasts and legs smothered in mushrooms and red sauce stare up at Justyce. “You think you’re ready?” she says.

“Ready as I’ll ever be, I guess.” Jus shrugs. “I’m caught up, but it’s now or never if I want to graduate in May.”

She nods and heads back to the kitchen. Returns with a dish full of jasmine rice with three chunks of butter melting into it. “Pass me your plate.”

Jus complies.

“We’re really happy you came to join us tonight,” Mr. Julian says. “Means a lot to us.”

Dr. Rivers hands Jus his plate, loaded up with food he has no appetite for. “We’re not expecting you to talk much,” she says. “Just nice to have your presence is all.”

“Thank you. Yours too.” A lie, but it seems the right thing to say.

The three descend into silence as silverware clinks and scrapes against bone china and beverages slowly disappear from glasses. Justyce is thankful for the lack of conversation; Manny’s absence makes it almost impossible to breathe, let alone talk.

Once they finish, Mr. Julian clears his throat. “So, Justyce, we invited you here tonight for a few reasons,” he begins.

Justyce picks up his glass and gulps down the rest of his tea.

“The first, of course, is to memorialize the indictment,” Mr. Julian goes on. “We won’t dwell on it, but to us—and surely to you as well—it is something to commemorate.”

Dr. Rivers nods. “It’s not a conviction, of course. But it’s a start. Just a relief to know what happened is being treated as a crime.”

Jus stares at the gilt edge around his plate. “Yeah,” he says. “That is a relief.”

“Moving on,” Dr. Rivers says. “The second reason: I’m not sure if you remember Emmanuel’s cousin—Quan Banks?”

Justyce’s head jerks up.

“He says you went to elementary school together. Is that correct?”

“It is,” Jus says. “But I had no idea he and Manny were cousins until…” He pauses. “Until Quan got arrested.”

She nods. “Well, if you’re willing, Quan would like to see you. You’ve been added to his visitation list.”

“Oh. Okay…”

“Emmanuel’s death hit him pretty hard. You don’t have to visit, of course”—she and Mr. Julian do that married thing where they communicate with a glance—“but he says you’re the only person he wants to talk to.”

“I see.” Though he really doesn’t.

“If you’re interested, I’ll give you the information before you leave.”

Jus doesn’t know what to say. Quan wants to see him? “Okay. Sounds good.” Another lie.

For a minute, no one speaks. Jus can feel Mr. Julian’s gaze, but there’s no way he can look at him. He’s what Manny would’ve looked like if he’d gotten the chance to get older.

“There’s one more thing.” Dr. Rivers’s voice wavers. “Julian?”

“Yeah, okay.”

Mr. Julian gets up from the table and walks over to the china cabinet. Opens it and pulls out a black box. He sets it on the table in front of Justyce. “We intended to give this to Emmanuel for his eighteenth birthday,” he says. “I have no doubt he’d want you to have it under these circumstances, so we’d be honored if you’d receive it in his stead.”

Jus stares at the box, afraid to move, let alone touch it.

Dr. Rivers clears her throat, and he lifts his head. She smiles, though there are tears in her eyes. “Go on.”

Jus takes the box off the table and lifts the hinged top. By some miracle, he manages not to drop the contents on the floor and run away screaming.

It’s a watch. A Heuer with a brown face and gold numbers, on a black leather band. Jus doesn’t know much about watches, but he’s about eighty-seven percent sure this one is vintage and worth more money than Mama’s ever had in her bank account at once. He carefully removes it and flips it over. The inside of the band is stamped with the letters EJR.

“My grandfather bought that watch in the 1940s,” Mr. Julian says. “His name, like Manny’s, was Emmanuel Julian Rivers. It’s been passed to the eldest male for two generations now. We want you to have it.”

Jus is dumbfounded. “I, uhh…I don’t know what to say.”

“You don’t have to say anything,” Dr. Rivers says. “Just knowing it’s in your possession means a lot to us.”

Jus looks back and forth between Dr. and Mr. Rivers, who are both smiling but obviously waiting for some kind of response from him.

His eyes drop to the watch. Which puts a big-ass lump in his throat.

There’s no talking past it, so he does the only other thing that makes sense.

He stretches out his wrist and puts it on.

CHAPTER 17

The first thing Jus notices when he pulls into the visitor lot of the Fulton Regional Youth Detention Center is how much the building reminds him of a high school. It makes his stomach twist a little. Holding kids deemed menaces to society in a place that would be completely normal if not for the twelve-foot barbed-wire-topped fences seems like someone’s bad idea of a joke. Like, Oh, look at this nice-ass school…HA! GOTCHA! LOCKDOWN, FOOL!

After Justyce puts the car in park, he takes a minute to look around. Let it sink in that he’s really here. That he’s about to go inside a “juvie” and sit down with the guy who killed Castillo, the cop who profiled Jus and started him on this failure of a “social experiment” trying to be like Martin.

He almost can’t believe it.

Once Jus started at Bras Prep, Quan and those other guys became nothing more than reminders of the life Jus wanted to escape. Quan never made fun of Jus the way the rest of them did, but still: hearing that Quan wanted to see him was a little suspect.

But then he couldn’t stop thinking about it. Suspicion finally gave way to curiosity, and here he is.

The minute he steps inside the facility, the guard by the door gives him a once-over before pointing toward an area marked VISITORS. Jus is smacked with a sweat-inducing wave of discomfort. He leaves his ID and keys with the lady at check-in, and a second guard lifts his chin as Jus approaches the metal detector. “Damn, boy,” he says, taking in Justyce’s button-down, pressed khakis, and loafers. “You cleaner than some of the lawyers that come up in here.”

“Uhh…Thanks.”

“Who you here to see?”

“Quan Banks.”

The guard nods. “Go on through,” he says. “Show those boys what

they could be like if they got they shit together, ya hear me? She’ll walk you down.” He gestures to the check-in lady now waiting for Justyce to step into the long hallway.

Jus follows her past a bunch of white-walled rooms—classrooms, they look like—until they reach a large steel door with a tall rectangular window that Jus suspects is bulletproof. The room has maybe six or seven young guys in orange jumpsuits inside with their visitors. As the lady punches a code into the keypad on the door, Jus spots Quan waiting for him.

The door opens. Voices spill out into the hallway. Quan lifts his head. He and Jus meet eyes. A smile spreads into Quan’s cheeks, and as it overtakes his entire face, Jus remembers the last time he saw it: the summer before fifth grade when Quan beat Jus at Monopoly for the first time. Seeing Quan smile like that makes Jus even more nervous about being here.

“Brainiac!” Quan says, standing to greet Jus. “So glad you made it, homie!”

“Yeah.” Jus peeks over his shoulder at the now-shut exit door. “It’s been a while.”

“Have a seat, my nigga. Have a seat.”

Quan sits back down, and Jus follows suit. Seeing the other kids in the jumpsuits talking to their visitors makes Jus anxious to leave. Especially since the majority of the guys in the room look like him.

It’s depressing.

“So how you been, Justyce?” Quan asks.

Jus scratches his head. “Truthfully? I’ve seen better days, man.”

“Real fucked up about Manny.”

“Yeah. It is fucked up.” Saying the words is like a weight lifting. “One minute, we’re ridin’ along, and the next…” Jus sighs and shakes his head.

“What about you, homie? You recoverin’ all right and everything?”

“Well, my arm is workin’ again, if that’s what you mean.”

“Yo, when I saw that cop’s face on the news—” Quan stops talking. “Nah, never mind, never mind.”

“What about him, man?”

Quan looks Jus in the eye. Then he leans closer, beckoning Jus to follow suit. “You know that cop they say I popped?”

How could Justyce forget? “Yeah. I do, actually.”

“That asshole who opened fire on you and Manny? He was dude’s partner.”

Jus almost falls off the chair. “Castillo?” he says. “Tomás Castillo was Garrett Tison’s partner?”

“Yup.”

“How do you know that?”

“Tison was there the night I…uhh…”

“The night you shot Castillo.”

“Allegedly.”

Jus sits back in his chair to let it all sink in.

“You good, dawg?” Quan says.

“Huh?”

“You lookin’ a little shook over there.”

Should Jus tell him? Nothin’ to lose, right?

Jus takes a quick peek around and leans forward. “Can I tell you something crazy?”

“I’m listenin’.”

“Well, like a week before you…before Castillo died, dude arrested my ass. My girl was drunk, and I was tryna get her home, but he thought I was carjacking her. Put me in cuffs and wouldn’t let me say a word.”

“So the muthafucka got his just deserts.” Quan cracks his knuckles.

Justyce takes in Quan’s tough-guy expression and orange jumpsuit as the power of his words, and seeming lack of remorse, settle into Jus’s bones.

Jus leans forward again. “Tell me why you did it, dawg.”

Quan’s features harden. “Why I did what?”

“Quan, I know you confessed. You don’t have to act innocent with

me.”

“I don’t know what you talkin’ about, man.” Quan crosses his arms.

All right, then. Different approach. “Okay, new question: Why would someone do what you’re accused of doing?”

Quan shrugs. “If that’s what someone’s told to do, they do it.”

“Who would tell someone to do that, though?”

Quan turns away and Jus can see he’s about to lose him again. But Jus really needs to know because now there’s a new question on the table: Who’s to say Garrett Tison’s quickness to pull the trigger wasn’t caused by seeing his partner killed by a black kid? It’s no excuse, of course. But Jus knows the effects of trauma are real: he watched his dad lash out at his mom for years.

“Wait, forget that ‘who would tell’ question. I just really need to understand, Quan. I got shot and Manny’s dead because Garrett Tison thought I had a gun. Now you’re tellin’ me he was there when you kill— I mean, when his partner got shot?”

Quan’s eyes narrow. “Whatchu trying to say, man?”

“I’m not trying to say anything, Quan. Just put yourself in my shoes. All of this shit is foreign to me.”

For a minute, nobody says anything, and Jus is sure his coming here was a mistake. But then Quan starts talking. “Aiight, listen up: where I come from, resistance is existence, homie. Every day I woke up in my hood coulda been my last. You wanna survive? Get wit some niggas who won’t turn on you, and y’all do whatever it takes to stay at the top, you feel me? My dudes…they’re like family to me. They’ve got my back as long as I have theirs. Somebody tells you to make a move, you make a move. No questions asked.”

Jus shakes his head. “Not buyin’ it, dawg. Don’t forget I grew up right around the corner from you.”

“Last I checked, your way got you capped and Manny killed,” Quan says.

Jus can’t really respond to that.

“I know you all about gettin’ ahead and everything, Justyce, but you gotta face reality at some point. These white people don’t got no respect for us, dawg. Especially the cops. All they ‘protect and serve’ is

their own interests. You just gon’ continue to bend ya knee after they proved that shit by killin’ ya best friend?”

Again, Jus has nothing.

“Can’t even say I was surprised when I heard, man,” Quan continues. “You and Manny were good dudes, and y’all still got a raw-ass deal. That’s why I wanted to see you. Talk. I got a counselor here, but I can’t tell that white lady none of this shit. She won’t get it.”

Jus nods. “You know what, Quan? I feel you.”

And he really does.

“It’s fucked up—there’s no escaping the BMC,” Quan says.

“The BMC?”

“Yeah. Black Man’s Curse. World’s got diarrhea and dudes like us are the toilet.”

“Guess that’s one way to put it.”

“Let me tell you when I learned: my second time in juvie, I was fourteen. There was this seventeen-year-old rich white boy there, Shawn. Dude had got up in the middle of the night and stabbed his dad like eight times.”

“Damn!”

“Right? They tried to get him on an attempted murder charge, but homeboy’s lawyer got some doctor to come in and say dude was sleepwalking. And the shit worked! Judge dropped the charge down to simple assault. Guy got sixty days at a youth development campus, then got to go home.”

“You serious?”

“Yup. Meanwhile, they locked my ass up for a year on a petty theft charge cuz it was my ‘second offense.’ Prosecutor actually referred to me as a ‘career criminal’ at the hearing.” Quan shakes his head. “I think that was prolly the moment I gave up. Why try to do right if people will always look at me and assume wrong?”

Justyce can’t respond to that. He knows Quan committed actual crimes, whereas his only error was reaching to turn the music down, but Jus has to admit he’s thought that same thing—what is the point in trying to do right?

“So what do I do, then, man?” he asks, surprising even himself with the question. “What’s the alternative?” He swallows the next thought:

Winding up in jail doesn’t seem like the way to go.

Quan shrugs. “Well, as a wise man once told me, the solution is twofold: first, you gotta use the power you already got, man. People fear dudes like us. When they fear you, they don’t fuck with you, feel me?”

Jus doesn’t feel Quan, but he nods anyway.

“Second, you need to get you a crew to roll with. There’s strength in numbers. Matter fact…You should give Martel a call,” Quan goes on. “He’s like a big brother to a lot of us. Taught us everything we know.”

This makes Justyce’s heart race. He knows exactly who Martel is and what he’s about (hello, Black Jihad?). The last thing he wants is to get involved with some gang leader. “Nah, man, it’s cool. I’ve learned plenty from you.” He peeks over his shoulder at the exit again.

Quan grins. “I’ma give you Trey’s number. He’ll put you in touch with Martel.”

“You really don’t have to do that, Quan. I promise you, I’m all right.”

“It’s hard out there by yourself, man. Martel gets it.” Quan looks Jus right in the eyes, and a stone drops into Jus’s gut. “You’ll be welcomed if you want in,” he says.

“For real, dawg. I’m good. Besides, I don’t have anything to write with.”

“I’m sure you’ll remember the number until you get back to your phone. You ready?”

As soon as Quan recites the last digit, a guard Jus failed to notice says, “Time’s up!” The whole way back to his car, some of Quan’s words run laps in Jus’s head: Resistance is existence….These white people don’t got no respect for us….There’s no escaping the Black Man’s Curse….It’s exactly the kind of thinking Jus tried to combat with the letters to Martin.

But asking What would Martin do? didn’t help, did it? That’s why he stopped writing them.

There’s one thing Quan said that Jus can’t dispute: doing things Jus’s way got him and his best friend shot. Yeah, Quan’s in jail, but at

least he’s alive.

That’s more than can be said for Manny.

Before sticking the key into the ignition, Jus grabs his cell phone from the center console. Before he can change his mind, he punches Trey’s number in.

CHAPTER 18

Turns out not using the number is harder than Jus anticipates, especially when he’s alone with nothing but memories of his homeboy. He’s hanging out after school in Doc’s classroom to avoid making the call a few days later when SJ busts through the door like she’s being chased by rabid dogs.

The sight of her punches the air right out of Jus’s lungs. They haven’t really talked since the funeral a couple of weeks ago, but seeing her so…SJ? Well, it centers him in a way he doesn’t expect.

“You guys!”

“Yes, Sarah-Jane?” says Doc, the picture of calm.

“Do you have any idea what’s going on right now?”

“Can’t say we do,” Doc replies.

“Where’s your TV remote?”

Doc pulls the remote from his desk drawer and passes it to her. Once the TV is on and tuned to the right channel, Jus finds it hard to breathe for a different reason.

There on the screen, big and bold and bright and blatant, is a picture from Jared’s Halloween-Political-Statement-Turned-Brush-with-Death. Of course everyone else—Blake the Klansman included—has been cropped out of the version making national news. It just shows Justyce McAllister as Thug Extraordinaire.

“We’ve heard about his grades, SAT scores, and admission to an Ivy League school,” the anchor says, “but a picture speaks a thousand words. This kid grew up in the same neighborhood as the young man accused of murdering Garrett Tison’s partner more or less on a whim.”

“You gotta be kidding me,” Jus says.

People all over the country have rallied to the cause: wearing Justice for JAM T-shirts (JAM being Justyce and Manny) and riding with their music loud from 12:19 until 12:21 every Saturday afternoon to commemorate the time of the argument between them and Garrett.

But if there’s one thing Jus knows from the Shemar Carson and Tavarrius Jenkins cases, it really doesn’t take more than a photo to sway mass opinion.

SJ crosses her arms, and the three of them lean in to hear the “analysis” of some anti–gang violence pundit who appears on a split screen with the anchor. “I mean it’s obvious this kid was leading a double life,” the guy is saying. “You know what they say, Steven: you can remove the kid from the thug life…But ya can’t remove the thug life from the kid.”

SJ: You son of a bitch.

Doc: Shhh…

SJ: This is blatant defamation of character!

Pundit: There’re all these reports about how great a kid Emmanuel Rivers was. But if this was the company he kept? Well, I really don’t know, Steven.

Jus: [Shakes his head.] Unbelievable.

Steven: We’ve received some reports that this other young man you mentioned—Quan Banks—is a relative of Emmanuel Rivers. You know anything about that?

Pundit: It wouldn’t surprise me if both boys had ties to Banks. Who’s to say Officer Tison didn’t see them on the scene the night his partner was murdered right before his eyes? You have to put the pieces together, Steven: Garrett Tison and Tommy Castillo respond to a complaint about loud music, there’s a Range Rover parked in the driveway of the offending domicile, and some thug kid pops out of the backseat with a shotgun. Now that we’re learning about all these connections, who’s to say it wasn’t the same Range Rover Emmanuel Rivers was driving? Officer Tison says these boys pointed a gun at him, and after seeing this picture, I can’t say I’d put it past them.

As the news cuts to another segment, SJ turns the television off.

Doc looks too furious to speak. All Jus can do is put his head in his hands.

“Effing Jared,” SJ says. “If that cretin wouldn’t’ve—”

SJ’s phone rings, and Jus lifts his head. When she sees the screen, her eyebrows jump to the ceiling.

“Who is it?” Jus says.

SJ holds out the phone. Douche-Nugget is the name displayed. “Speak of the spawn of Satan and he shall make his presence known.”

“Jared?” Jus asks.

“Yep. I’ll take it in the hallway.”

As she pulls the door closed, Jus hears her yell: “SEEN THE NEWS TODAY, ASSHOLE?”

Doc throws an arm around Jus’s shoulder and gives him a shake. “Wanna talk about it?”

“This is some bullshit, Doc!” Jus kicks the desk beside him and it topples onto its side.

“Yep.” Doc rights it.

“Is it not enough that Manny’s dead, man? It’s like these people want Garrett to get away with it.” Jus shakes his head. “I knew I shoulda said no to Jared’s idea. Definitely shouldn’t’ve let him take that picture…But I ignored how I was feelin’ about it because I was tryna be like—” He grits his teeth.

“Like Martin?”

Jus nods.

“You still writing your letters?”

“Nah, man.”

“Why not?”

Jus shrugs. “Don’t see the point. My ‘experiment’ obviously didn’t work. Don’t wanna think about it anymore.”

“I see.”

“You know what’s crazy, Doc?”

“What’s that?”

“I’ve got one memory of the day everything happened: sharp pains in my chest and shoulder, and then not being able to breathe. In that moment when I thought I was dying, it hit me: despite how good of a dude Martin was, they still killed him, man.”

Doc nods. “I know. But I don’t think knowing he’d be killed would’ve

changed the way he lived, Jus. He challenged the status quo and helped bring about some change. Pretty sure that was his goal. Wouldn’t you agree?”

“All I know is he and Manny are dead, and I’m being cast as the bad guy.”

“I get that. Look, Jus, people need the craziness in the world to make some sort of sense to them. That idiot ‘pundit’ would rather believe you and Manny were thugs than believe a twenty-year veteran cop made a snap judgment based on skin color. He identifies with the cop. If the cop is capable of murder, it means he’s capable of the same. He can’t accept that.”

“Well, that’s his hangup. Shouldn’t be my problem.”

“You’re right. But it is your problem because you’re affected by it. I know it’s shitty, excuse my language, and it’s definitely not fair. But these people have to justify Garrett’s actions. They need to believe you’re a bad guy who got what he deserved in order for their world to keep spinning the way it always has.”

“How does that help me, Doc?”

“It doesn’t.”

Jus shakes his head again. Trey’s number flashes through his mind. “So why even try to be ‘good’?”

“You can’t change how other people think and act, but you’re in full control of you. When it comes down to it, the only question that matters is this: If nothing in the world ever changes, what type of man are you gonna be?”

A dense silence settles over the room, but just as Jus is about to speak again, SJ comes back in. For a minute, she just stands with her back against the doorframe and her eyebrows furrowed.

“SJ?” Doc says. “Everything all right?”

She snaps out of the daze. “Assclown Christensen seems to be shedding his douchey skin, you guys.”

“Huh?” from Jus.

SJ comes over and drops down in the empty seat next to him. She turns to look at him. Right in his eyes. “He wants to clear this up,” she says.

“Wait.” Jus shakes his head. “Back up. I’m confused.”

“Jared. That was him on the phone.”

“Got that part.”

“Well, he’s pissed about what they did with the Halloween picture. Says his dad is calling some people so they’ll show the entire shot, Blake’s Klan idiocy included.”

Jus doesn’t know what to say. Isn’t this the same guy who was about to press charges against Manny for the beatdown he got? Why the hell is he being Mr. Noble all of a sudden? “What do you think is up with him?”

“I honestly couldn’t tell you. He seemed a little…disillusioned? Like I picked up the phone and called him an asshole, and it sounded like he just kind of crumpled. ‘I can’t even disagree with you, SJ,’ he said. ‘This is all my fault.’ I had to look at my phone to check who I was talking to.”

Jus’s jaw clenches. “So now he wants to be the Great White Hope—”

“Correct me if I’m wrong,” Doc interrupts, “but Manny and Jared were good friends, right?”

Jus shrugs. “Yeah, I guess.”

“It occur to either of you that maybe the guy doesn’t want his friend’s name dragged through the mud any more than you do?”

Neither SJ nor Jus responds.

“Cut Jared some slack. He’s grieving too.”

Jus’s eyes drift across the room to where Manny and Jared used to sit side by side in Socio Evo. “Yeah, okay, Doc.”

“I need to hit the men’s room.” Doc stands. “Excuse me.”

When Doc leaves, Jus’s awareness of SJ’s presence kicks up a notch. He looks at her hands on the desk and sees that her nails are painted green. It makes him smile: during one of their tournament prep sessions at her house, they’d taken a break to make a snack run to the local drugstore. Just before they checked out, SJ asked Jus what his favorite color was. When he told her green, she ran off and came back with the bottle of nail polish.

Justyce clears his throat. “So—”

“Wait, I need to say something.”

“Okay.”

She turns to face him. “I owe you an apology. For…bailing.” She picks at her nails. “After the tournament. With no explanation. I’m sorry.”

“Oh.” Some emotion he doesn’t recognize surges in his chest. He’s on dangerous ground and he knows it. Especially considering the way she’s looking at him. “You, uhh…mind explaining now?”

“I panicked?”

“You panicked.”

“Well, there was Melo…and I didn’t know where you stood with her or how I fit? Anyway. Point is, it won’t happen again.”

“Okay.”

“I mean it, Jus. I want to be here for you. Anything you need. A friend, a hug, whatever.”

“Thanks, S.” Jus bumps her with his shoulder. “I really appreciate it.”

She nods. “So we’re good?”

“Yeah.” Jus smiles. “We’re good.”

VP RELEASED FOR RABBLE-ROUSING!

BY: SONYA KITRESS

For The Tribune

Julian Rivers, executive vice president of Davidson Wells Financial Corporation, has stepped down from his position following troubling reports of his involvement in the Justice for JAM movement. According to CEO Chuck Wallace, photographs of Mr. Rivers on the front lines of an Atlanta march that shut down traffic for hours last week triggered the loss of several high-profile clients and approximately $80 million in revenue for the asset management firm. In a press release yesterday afternoon, Wallace stated: “While we respect the gravity of the tragic loss of a child, involvement in publicly disruptive activity is grounds for investigation and potential dismissal. Mr. Rivers has been a tremendous asset at Davidson Wells for well over nineteen years, and while we hate to see him go, we’ve mutually agreed to part ways.”

Rivers’s son, Emmanuel, was killed in a shooting during a dispute over loud music in late January. A trial date for the shooter, who was indicted last month, has not yet been set.

CHAPTER 19

There’s not a whole lot Jus is sure of these days, but he knows he shouldn’t be in this seat at the back of the number 87 bus right now. If it weren’t for the newspaper article in his pocket, he’d be studying for finals or hanging out with SJ. But all he’s thought about over the past few days is how sad Manny’s parents were when they invited him over to tell him they were moving.

Doc gave Jus a copy of the article about Mr. Julian “stepping down” the morning it was released. His first thought: instead of Sonya Kitress, the name on the article should be Nunya Bidness. Manny’s parents more or less sponsored the Atlanta chapter of the Justice for JAM movement, so of course they’d participated in the local marches. It wasn’t their fault the one they were photographed at overflowed onto the highway, blocking all northbound and southbound lanes.

The day the Riverses shared their relocation plans, they also told Jus that Mr. Julian had received an ultimatum. Basically: Sever all ties with that so-called movement or clear out of that corner office (in so many words). Mr. Julian told Jus he “calmly explained the meaning of civil disobedience” before removing his framed degrees from the wall.

Jus is on the number 87 bus, the final bus in the commute from Oak Ridge to Wynwood Heights, because what Quan said—there’s no escaping the Black Man’s Curse—has been echoing in his head since he left the Riverses’ house. He has no idea where else to go or who else to turn to. SJ’s great, but not for this, and while he could go to Doc, Jus doesn’t really want to hear any more stay good even though the world craps on you advice.

MamawouldthrottleJusifsheknewwherehewasgoing

everybody in the neighborhood knows who Martel is—but frankly, she hasn’t been any help lately either: every time he calls or stops by, she brings up SJ.

All Jus knows is he’s got this shitty feeling in his gut, kind of like somebody crawled into his stomach and ran a cheese grater over the inside. He needs to get rid of it somehow. Talk to somebody who gets

what he’s feeling because they’ve felt it too.

You know who gets it? Deuce Diggs. Jus has been listening to his music a lot since he woke up without a best friend. There’s one track he’s had on repeat since the article dropped:

Turn on the news, another black man slain.

They say “It’s okay. Save your voice, don’t complain.

This isn’t about race, so stop using that excuse.

Now look at this funny picture of Obama in a noose!

See how color-blind we are? You’re not really black to me.

Underneath, where it matters, we both bleed red, you see?

So put away that race card; it ain’t 1962.

There’s no more segregation…isn’t that enough for you?”

But of course Jus doesn’t have access to Deuce Diggs; he can’t just call him up and say: Hey, dawg, I’m feelin’ what you’re feelin’. Can we talk?

Jus remembers what Quan said about the neighborhood guys being “like family.” That Martel would get it. That he’d be welcomed if he wanted in.

That’s really why he’s on this bus right now: he’s sick of feeling alone.

The first thing to cross Jus’s mind as he steps off the bus is the irony of looking for solace in the place he was anxious to get away from. As someone drives by in a brand-new Benz, he also feels a twinge of guilt over refusing to drive his new car to Martel’s house. How can he be mad at white people for profiling when he’s doing the same damn thing they do? Lock your doors…Hide your valuables…He even left Manny’s watch at home.

This is the shit that has to be remedied.

He hangs a left onto Wynwood Street and spots the gunmetal Range Rover Trey said would be in the driveway. Despite it being an older model than the one Manny drove, seeing it makes Jus want to make a run for it.

He should turn back. He really should. Turn back, and go “home” to his mahogany desk and school-issued MacBook.

But he doesn’t.

It’s not until Jus starts up the driveway that he notices the three guys sitting on the porch. Trey is there, plus White Boy Brad and the dude who had the gun during the Halloween disaster.

“Oho! If it isn’t Smarty-Pants!” Brad says.

The gun-toter—Jus doesn’t remember his name—smiles. “ ’Sup, Justyce?” he says. “Great to see ya, buddy, ’ol pal!”

The others laugh.

Jus’s eyes immediately drop to the guy’s waistband. He can see the bulge of the gun handle beneath dude’s shirt. It gives him a chill.

He tries to pull himself together. “ ’Sup, y’all?”

They all laugh again.

Trey gives Jus the same kind of once-over he did at the Halloween party all those months ago. He smiles that sneery creeper smile, and Jus feels like his guts are about to make an appearance inside his boxer-briefs. Trey shouts: “Hey, Martel, you got company,” over his shoulder at the screen door, and the second Jus steps onto the porch, a voice calls out from inside: “Come on in, young brotha!”

Even though his heart is about to explode, Jus pulls the door open and enters the house he’s only ever eyed warily due to rumors about all the drugs and guns hidden inside. He follows a short hallway lined with what appear to be African relics: tribal masks, framed hieroglyphics, and a silhouette painting of Nefertiti—he can tell by the cylindrical headpiece that reminds him of the flattop haircuts some of the NBA players are trying to bring back.

There’s similar art all over the walls of the living room. Jus is sure this house could win the world record for largest collection of ancient Egyptian paraphernalia. His gaze roams the space until it lands on a youngish, bearded black man in a dashiki shirt and kufi hat. He’s sitting cross-legged in a papasan chair with a kente-cloth cushion. Most notable is the black tracking device strapped to his ankle—so this is why dude couldn’t meet Jus at a coffee shop.

“Welcome,” the guy says. “You must be Justyce.”

“Yep…That’s me.”

“Martel.” He sticks out a hand, and Jus walks over to shake it.

“Pleasure to meet you.”

“Likewise.” Jus looks around again and then sticks his hands in his pockets.

Though Jus has known of the Black Jihad leader since middle school, Martel in person is not what he expected. He honestly has no idea what to say to the guy. The silence is beginning to morph into something straight-up menacing. “Cool art.”

Martel smiles. “I like to surround myself with reminders of ancient Kemet so the boys and I never forget our imperial roots. You know anything about that?”

Jus shrugs. “I’ve studied it a bit, but I don’t know a whole lot. Sorry.”

“No need to apologize.” Martel tents his fingers beneath his chin. “You’ll learn, young brotha. You’ll learn. The Europeans succeeded in denigrating and enslaving peoples of African descent, but there’s royal blood flowing through your veins, you hear me?”

Justyce nods and swallows. “Yes, sir.”

“People across the diaspora have been treated as inferior for so long, most of us have habituated to the lie of white superiority. But never forget,” Martel goes on, “your ancestors survived a transatlantic journey, built this nation from the ground up, and maintained a semblance of humanity, even when the very conditions of their existence suggested they were less than human. ‘Jihad’ is the act of striving, persevering. That is your legacy, young brotha. This country belongs to you.

As Jus listens to Martel’s voice, he can feel himself relaxing. He doesn’t know if it’s the voice itself, or what it’s saying, or the art, or the incense, or the atmosphere, but something about Martel and his house makes Jus feel looser than he’s felt in a while.

He looks at Martel—who’s been watching him, reading him, studying him, he can tell, ever since he stepped into the room—and…yeah. Martel does get it. Quan said Jus would be welcomed, and that’s exactly how he feels. The disarming effect gives him vertigo.

“So what can I do for you, Justyce?” Martel asks. Before he knows it, Jus is telling Martel all the stuff he can’t talk to anyone else about: how it felt to be profiled, the Martin experiment and how it failed, how alone he’s felt and how furious he is, how much he misses his

homeboy.

Martel listens intently, stroking his beard, lowering his eyes when Jus gets to Manny’s death, narrowing them when he hears about Mr. Julian’s job. By the time Jus finishes getting it all out, he’s sprawled on his back across the giant ankh at the center of Martel’s Egyptian rug. He feels empty…in a good way.

Martel gets up without a word and disappears into what must be the kitchen. Jus lets his head fall to the left. That’s when he sees the sawed-off shotgun tucked beneath the edge of the coffee table.

It smacks him like a battering ram: he shouldn’t be here. No matter how chill Martel seems, the dude is a criminal (Hello? House arrest anklet?). Those guys outside…they’re the same ones who threatened to shoot Manny’s old friends.

What the hell is Jus doing here?

There’s a tap on his foot, so Jus looks up. Martel is squatting beside him with a glass in his hand.

Jus sits up and takes a drink. The first gulp is too big—he doesn’t know why he didn’t expect the thing to be alcoholic. He coughs as what feels like the flames of hell run down his esophagus through his chest and into his stomach.

Martel laughs. Jus can tell it’s a laugh of delighted amusement. It makes sense that the neighborhood guys without dads flock to Martel. “So, the illusion wore off, huh? Seeing some truth now?” he says.

Jus nods, and that feeling of defeat returns to his chest now that the fire from the liquor is gone.

“You ready to strike back?”

Justyce knew this question would come. What he isn’t ready for, though, is the fear that seems to have elbowed its way in front of his fury. Is he ready to strike back? It’s definitely not what Manny would want.

But the reason he’s even here is because Manny is gone.

Justyce looks up at Martel. There’s no anxiety in this dude’s face. No pressure. No fear. Jus lifts his glass to his lips again—

Trey bursts into the room with Gun Guy and White Boy Brad on his heels. “Yo, check this out,” he says, passing a cell phone to Martel.

They all crowd around.

“Brad, that’s the fool you punched at that Halloween party, right? With the KKK shit on?” Gun Guy asks.

“Yep,” Brad says. “That’s him.”

“Homeboy says you whupped his ass a few months ago, Justyce.” Martel hands Jus the phone.

There, in big, bold letters above a picture of Blake Benson: JUSTYCE McALLISTER’S VIOLENT PAST: A FORMER VICTIM SPEAKS OUT.

“Damn, Smarty-Pants,” Trey says, shaking Jus’s shoulder. “Didn’t know you had it in you!”

“Hell yeah, bruh!” from Gun Guy. “You scrap like this dude say you do, you can roll with us anytime.”

“For real. You more like us than I realized!” Brad says.

That does it for Justyce. “I gotta go.” He scrambles to his feet and makes a break for the door, refusing to turn around when they call out after him.

“Let him go,” he hears from Martel on the way out.

Youth Voices is an open publishing platform for youth. The site is organized by teachers with support from the National Writing Project. Opinions expressed by writers are their own.

CC BY-SA 4.0All work on Youth Voices is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

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