Monday, November 17, 2008

Amaz and Grace...Chapter 2: Maria

CHAPTER 2 : Maria

A few minutes later a beautiful Hispanic girl with a black bandana used as a pony tail holder emerges from the school with three girls with her. The look on her face is not a happy one. She stomps ahead of her friends straight for Amaz. Their faces although beautiful have a certain hardness that only comes with living near the street. They are chola, no doubt about it. There is a definite sense of strength when Grace sees Maria, a visible confidence that exudes with every movement she makes. Maria is focused on Grace the whole time she walks to Amaz, looking very suspicious of the new white girl seated with her blood brother. Maria can sense trouble and something tells her that this girl was trouble.

“So now I’m too fat? First I’m too bossy, then I’m a bitch…Now , I can afford to miss a few meals?” Maria glares at Amaz who calmly arises from the bench.
“If I waited for you, I’d be waiting here much longer than I wanted is all. You in there, talking all your shit, I’d be here for like a half hour. And look, you’re alive…see you can miss a meal,” he shoots one of his sparkling grins at her and she laughs.
“So what is so important that you drag me out my lunch, mijo?” Maria says eyeing Grace suspiciously. Maria’s three friends approach them, as well. They purr a greeting to Amaz. They try their best to flirt with him as best they can without making it too obvious. They fail miserably. They, also, focus their attention on the beautiful girl on the picnic bench next to Amaz. They look at her with disdain while talking quietly amongst themselves.

“We need privacy,” Amaz tells Maria officially. He turns graciously to the other girls, “Would you beautiful ladies mind excusing us for just a few minutes?” Amaz says in a voice that oozes seduction. They look to Maria for affirmation. She gives them a nod and they start to walk back towards the school. They giggle and Grace hears one comment on how “she would do anything Amaz wants”.
“So, what’s up?” Maria asks Amaz, “and who’s your new friend? She’s a little light for these parts. Ain’t she Amaz?... She is a little too light for you.” Maria points her finger into her cousin’s chest hard.
“Maria, I expected more from my educated sista. I need you to open your mind and listen to what this girl’s got to say. Then let me know what you think, okay?” Amaz says gently patting Maria’s hair gently.
“Fine, fine- what’s going on, Amaz?” Maria asks impatiently not even bothering to look at Grace, and swatting his hand away with annoyance.
“You’re on, blanca angel,” Amaz tells Grace and backs away from Maria mockingly putting his hands up. Grace looks very uneasy but determined She gets up from the bench with all the confidence she can muster.
“Firstly, my name is Grace. I am new to this place, to this school, ” Grace looks around the courtyard and over at the graffiti covered building, over emphasizing her point.
“No kidding,” replies Maria matter-of-factly placing her hands on her hips.

“Well, I have assessed that to be able to attend this school in peace and be able to complete my education without having to defend myself, I will need help, “ Grace glances at Maria seeing if this is sinking in. From the look on Maria’s face, Grace realizes that it is beginning to slowly. “I need you to help me- to help me be safe, to help me get through the days in peace. I need you to protect me when Amaz cannot,” Grace tells her, as she does Maria shoots a quick look of disapproval to her cousin and shakes her head. “And, I am willing to pay you- very well.”

“First of all, you have lost your fucking mind, guera?” says placing a finger on Grace’s forehead, pushing her head back. She turns away from a surprised Grace to Amaz. “And, you, I am very surprised at you? What the fuck is going on here?” Maria yells, completely ignoring Grace now, focusing all her attention on Amaz. “I want to know what is going on and I want to know now,” she demands stamping her foot noticeably.
“Cool down, why you getting so hot? Amaz replies calmly unable to hide the laughter in his eyes. “Okay, hold on.” He turns to Grace, “I just want to talk to her alone for a minute. You sit there.”

Grace walks slowly back to the bench while Amaz puts his arm around his cousin’s shoulder and walks her away from the bench.
“Why am I getting…” Maria says as they start to walk away. She stops and takes a breath, then continues, “What is going on here, Amaz? What is this peduha got to do with you?” she asks pointing at Grace. “I want to know. This just doesn’t seem right. I smell trouble here, Amaz. Trouble for you, trouble for everything we got here.”

“Trouble, maybe,” Amaz starts, “but trouble that was brewing underground anyhow. This little blanca angel is what it will take to bring the rats to the surface. She already helped me out with some shit. Trust me on this- there will be trouble- but trouble that was a long time coming. She is the way of the future, she is going to help me clean house.”
Maria pauses and tried to take this all in glancing over at Grace on the bench. She shakes her head unable to let this sink in. She leans against a tree. She pulls a pack of cigarettes out of her pocket and lights one. “Okay, Amaz- do I want to know what this about?” Maria begins blowing out the smoke.
“Probably not,” he replies honestly. “I just have a feeling here. You need to trust me on this.”
“This feeling is more than just between your legs, right? Maria asks seriously taking a long drag on her cigarette.
“Well, I can’t deny that it is there, too,” he laughs, and Maria shoots him a nasty look. Amaz puts his hands up in mock defense then continues more seriously, “I feel that this is a way to a new beginning, like a new phase in our lives, in our business.”
“And your banking all that shit in this little punta here, “ she says and points to Grace who straightens herself up and stares at the cousins intently now. She is dying to know what they are saying.
“No, I am banking all this on myself- and on you,” Amaz replies walking slowly over to his cousin and takes the cigarette from her, taking a drag. He hands it back to her. “You say no, and I’m not in. Simple as that.”

Maria closes her eyes and tries to take this in. She takes a long drag of her cigarette. She slides down the tree into a semi sitting postion. She rests her elbows on her knees focusing on the frayed threads on her jeans. She looks over at Grace, then at Amaz. She looks down again, pulling the thread loose. He waits patiently as his cousin thinks things over. “Are you asking me this as your cousin or as my boss?” She looks up at Amaz. “This isn’t an order.” She gets up quickly, unexpectedly. She flicks her cigarette into the grass. She walks swiftly back to the bench. “So, what is this about?” she asks Grace, Amaz smiles as he hears her words.

“Okay, my name is Grace, “ Grace extends her hand out to Maria, who tentatively shakes it. “Pleased to meet you, Maria. I am here to employ you to help me get through this year at school- to let me under your wing of protection so that I may be safe. Without you, I don’t see me being able to survive here.”
“You got that right, greenga.” Maria grins at Grace. “But why here? Why even bother at this place- if you that intimidated to go here, then why not go to some white school?” Maria asks her straight out. Amaz looks at her, too, also very interested in her answer.

“Well, I have my reasons. One being, this is my home now. I have to go to school here. I really don’t have a choice about that. This is where we moved, so my options are not that great. I just want an education, safely. Am I not entitled to that simply because of the way I look?” Grace asks Maria honestly. Maria looks at Amaz shaking her head clicking her tongue audibly. He has heard that sound many times before; Maria is not happy.
“Trouble, Amaz, I see trouble,” Maria says emphatically. Amaz laughs heartily.
“Refreshing, isn’t it? But I see change, and with change comes what some may view as trouble.” he smiles and Maria shakes her head with annoyance putting her hand up to silence him..
“Fine. Me and my girls protect you from whatever may bother you- but what does this have to do with Amaz?” Maria asks Grace suspiciously. Grace is silent for a moment then looks at Amaz who shrugs his shoulders then nods for her to answer.
“You didn’t think she wasn’t gonna ask questions?” he grins at her already knowing
that Maria will not rest until all is revealed.
“Amaz has decided to date me,” Grace says looking at Maria. Maria’s jaw visibly drops. She darts her eyes at Amaz, then back to Grace. She turns away from her abruptly and gets in Amaz’s face.
“Jesus, Amaz, what do you got cooked up here? Have you lost your damn mind? You are seriously gonna pass this white chica off as your girl?” Maria asks in a angry whisper. Amaz takes her arm and leads her away from the bench gaining some privacy. Grace looks on anxiously, wishing she knew what was going on.
“Why not?” he asks her in a hushed tone, suddenly serious, as if he has to defend the relationship already. “I feel it would to be of a great advantage to me. The more I think about it, the more I am convinced that this is the right thing to do. It’s like a door has opened and I have to go through it- I don’t know why, don’t know where it will go- but, for some reason I feel something pulling me through it. Something good. The winds of change are blowing. I am simply going with the flow, instead of against it.”
“That was beautiful, Amaz, but I think you both lost your fucking minds,” Maria says looking from him over to Grace. “This won‘t sit well. You in La Familia can‘t be passing a white girl off as your own. There are rules, Maz,“ she says seriously.
“No one is telling me who I can and can’t fuck,” Amaz says steadily folding his arms stubbornly, Maria smiles as she notices the childish gesture.
“No one is saying that, but you are passing her off as your girl…it ain’t the same. That shit you pulled with Freddie wasn’t fair. There was no way for him to even think that was your girl…It just doesn’t happen,” she gives Amaz a knowing look as he looks at her incredulously that she is so well of such recent events.
“How the fuck would you know about that already?” he asks her stunned.
“Toco called me right before you,” she says smiling too proud of her knowledge.
“You two gotta stop talking behind my back,” he says shaking his head.
“You gotta stop thinking with your dick,” she says challenging him.
“That ain’t even it, Maria. I swear. It’s just something that I feel I need to do. I don’t know why…It’s just a feeling. The change would be good for us,” he says solemnly looking over to Grace on the bench.
“Who am I to stand in the middle of all this change and shit?” Maria smiles and gives her cousin a hug, he returns it gratefully. She loweres her voice slightly speaking directly to Amaz, “If you feel this is the right thing to do, strictly for business reasons, and not no physical guy shit- then I will consider this,” Maria waits for his response.
“This is business, Maria. Strictly business,” Amaz replies putting his hand up in the traditional scouts honor pose.
“Okay, Amaz, if this is what you feel is right, then you got it, “ Maria replies and starts to walk towards Grace again. Maria points to Grace, “Now, I will be watching you like a fucking hawk. I see anything happen to him at all, and you go down. I will bring everything down on you. I will make sure of that. You got me?” Maria gets right in Grace’s face. Grace nods wordlessly.
“I would never want anything to happen to Amaz. I would not be able to live with myself if something happened to him because of me,” she answers her simply. Amaz looks over at Grace, his eyes widen at her statement, but he says nothing. Maria, however, cannot hold back as well as her cousin. She never could. She walks back towards Amaz.
“See, Amaz, This is what I am worried about. Just let me put this out there again, okay? So, maybe I can figure this out” Maria says aloud but it‘s almost like a thought to herself that slipped out. Amaz who nods numbly. Maria turns back to Grace, “Now, what exactly do you think is gonna happen here?”
“I am willing to pay you to keep me safe. That is all. I want to be part of your group. To fit in, you can make that happen,” Grace tells her putting it as simply as she can.
“There’s no way you’re gonna fit in. I ain’t fucking God, greenga. Neither is he,” she says pointing to Amaz. “Not that he don’t think it.” Maria grins at her cousin, and he laughs. “ I can’t control these people and how they feel about you being here.”

“No, you can’t, but I can. I just need a way in. You and Amaz are that way in. Once I am there, things will be better. But, I need two strong people to bring me to the party. Once I am there, I will be able to hang- I just need you to protect what I can’t see, ” Grace states emphatically.
“Okay, so how much money are we talking about?” Maria asks getting down to business.
“How much do you think is fair?” Grace asks her back quickly.
“How much do you think it’s worth to put myself through the trouble and the questions. Shit, I can’t even think of what that would be worth, “ Maria answers, then continues, “ Three hundred a week to start.” He smiles, shaking his head at the figure Maria has thrown out and looks at Grace intently. “I say to start because right now, I don’t know what I’m into- and how hard or easy this will be- so that is my starting figure- my price may go up, or it may go down. I’ll see,” Maria smiles knowing her price is way too high..
“I will pay you two hundred... It‘s all I can afford, ” Grace answers her quietly. “Who knows, in a three weeks you may decide not to charge me at all.”
“I knew you’d get a kick outta her,” Amaz laughs hoping that some kind of ice may start to chip away between these two women.
“You are funny, girl,” Maria says to Grace. “I got friends. What do you got? I don’t
need you, you need me- you keep that in mind.” Maria pauses. “Two hundred? Hmmmm…If you are able to pay me that, I still don’t get why you just don’t pay for a damned private school?“
“I have six hundred dollars…which will buy me three weeks of protection. I think that will be enough…I’m hoping that will be enough. It’s all I have. Six hundred doesn’t buy private school,” she tells Maria solemnly.
“Three weeks?” Maria laughs. “You think after three weeks you’ll just be able to fit right in?”

“I’m gonna try. That’s all I can really do,” Grace answers her honestly. Maria genuinely smiles this time. “Okay, I think we got ourselves a deal. I want my money Monday morning, then we will start. Hell, you might as well go home because I don’t do nothing without the cash up front.”

“Well, then it won’t be a problem to start right now,” Grace says and pulls an envelope out of her bag and hands it to Maria. “You’ll see it’s all there.” Maria peeks into the envelope, flips through the money without taking it out of the envelope then puts it in her purse.
“You always walk around with this much cash?” Maria asks shaking her head. “Shit, this is gonna be harder than I thought. Well, at least you come prepared. I like that,” Maria grins. “Now, I guess we better get you inside. If you want to get an education, you gotta go to school. I have the rest of the day free…”
“Well, I’m not applying today. Today was meant to hook up with you guys and have the weekend to socialize. I am not starting til Monday,” she says looking at them expectantly.
Maria looks at Amaz and shrugs, “So, I guess we better be going shopping, chica. No girl of mine will be dressing like that.” Maria eyes the sweatshirt wrapped around her waist…The ill fitting Capri pants. she shakes her head.
“Now that’s the spirit- go shopping. Be women,” he says as he ducks a slap from Maria.
“Fuck you, Amaz,” Maria grins, “Remember, dear brother, this is for you.”
“I know, I know…I thank you,” Amaz replies. “So, I guess I will meet you at The Dream later tonight. Keep your eyes open and that cell on at all times.”
“I will, take it easy” Maria tells him. She turns to Grace, “You stay here, I will be back with the car.” Maria starts to walk towards the parking lot taking her phone out of her purse. “ Shit, I gotta figure out what to tell my girls. Fucking running with a guera. What am I thinking y’all?” she mutters to herself as she walks away.
“Well, I guess I should thank you,” Grace says to Amaz as they watch Maria walk away.
“For what?” he says absently stretching his arms out.
“If you hadn’t convinced her, she never would’ve went for it. Why? Why did you change your mind?” she asks him her green eyes meeting his.
“I don’t know, I can’t explain it. I just feel it. Felt it since I saw you for the first time- you are an opportunity. I don’t know why or how- but you are going to change things, or I need you to change things. Hell, I don’t really know. I just know that I am willing to find out where this hand is going to lead me. Good enough?” he says and smiles a brilliant smile at her.
“Good enough, “ she answers and smiles back at him, feelings of warmth filling up inside her. It’s a good feeling. A red Camaro blazes up to the curb and beeps. Out of the driver’s side steps a gorgeous Latina in a body baring dress and heels. She walks over around the front of the car and halts leaning against the hood of the car’s hood like a one of those girls at a car show. Grace looks at her questioningly.
“Who is that?” Grace asks already thinking she knows the answer.
“That, my angel, is your competition. My bitch and Camaro,” Amaz says slyly. “You didn’t think I had no other ladies now, did you?”
“I never thought that. I guess I … well,” Garce stammers slightly. “Are you serious? I mean, you and the “bitch”?” Grace asks with an innocent grin.
Amaz laughs at this, “Well, I guess so- we do some serious shit.” He gets up from the bench wiping his hands on his jeans.
A pimped out pink Cadillac pulls behind the Camaro. Grace can see Maria in the driver’s seat. She exits the car and walks slowly by the Camaro and the girl. She gives the girl a disgusted look and shakes her head dramatically. Grace notices Maria doesn’t say anything to the girl as she passes her.
“Well, looks like I’m outta here, Amaz says steadily to Grace. “Maria will take care of you now. Adios mi blanca angel,” Amaz says and leans down placing a soft kiss on her cheek. He turns and slowly walks toward the street leaving her alone on the bench. She sees him stop to talk to Maria on the his way there. Grace watches them and the girl by the car as she waits. She feels the jealousy start to well up in her gut.
“You sure about this, Mejo?” Maria asks him as they stop in passing.
“I’m sure,” Amaz replies looking back at Grace. “Time to stir the pot.”
“You are crazy, but hell, nothing new about that. I see nothing changed with the chucha cuerera,” Maria says pointing over to the Camaro.
“Maria, is that anyway to talk about your cousin’s lady?” he grins mischievously, not
really caring about the crack.
“Lady? Please, don’t make me laugh, Amaz. She’s a slut. You just watch that tramp. She’ll wind up getting pregnant just to get her claws in you,” she shakes her head with contempt.
“So hard on everyone, my dear cousin,” he says shaking his head in mock disappointment.
“I have to be… someone’s gotta watch out for you” Maria says back.
“Thank you, but don’t waste your worries on me- I am fine, better than fine,“ he replies and gives her a hug. “Take care of her, Maria- and take care of yourself.” he says as he glances over at Grace.
“She’ll be okay. Once, I’m through with her that is, “ Maria smiles. “I’ll see you later.”
“Okay, adios, “ Amaz says putting his hand up as he saunters toward his car.
Maria walks over to Grace and sits next to her on the bench. They both watch as Amaz grabs the girl at the car. Amaz kisses her deeply on the hood on his car, his hands exploring every inch of her, it seems. He pulls away from her and leads her to the passenger side door. He opens it for her, and she steps into the car giving the girls a wave as she does. He closes her door, then gives a wave and walks to the driver’s side. The car speeds away.
“The only good thing about this is that maybe he might be drawn away from that slut long enough to come to his senses,” Maria snarls watching the car pull down the block.
“So, I gather she is not a friend of yours,” Grace asks her eyes on the car, as well.
“Magdelena, named for the slut she is, and the saint she isn’t. Crazy bitch. She’d fuck anything with legs, but now she got Amaz so she don’t have to.” Maria explains bitterness lining her voice. “She is no good, she is trouble. Hell, maybe as much as you are- but right now I gotta get him away from her. And you may be able to do just that.”
“I could try,” Grace says to her smiling with a sudden determination.
“Hell, girl, you don’t gotta try. You doing something right. He’s got something for you- cause everything he has told me is pointing at you. I don’t get it yet, but I will,” Maria says scratching her head.
“So, how long has Amaz been with this Magdelena for? Are they serious?” Grace says as they start walking towards the car.
“Serious meaning what? She’s a slut, and he’s no better- but he is a man, and that is expected. Serious, like are they together, like a couple? Well, he goes with other women- yes, but just as flings. She seems to be the constant. Does he care about her? I don’t know. I think he likes her, he likes women in general. But, if you are asking about if he loves her- I say no,” Maria says plainly shaking the image of the girl out of her head. When they get to the car and Maria motions for Grace to get in.
“So where are we going?” Grace asks.
“We are going to get you some real clothes, show off that bod. Can’t be walking around with a fuckin bag over you like that,” Maria laughs. “Shit girl, how do you leave the house with something like that on?”
“I figured it was best not to draw attention to myself,” Grace replied looking down at her baggy sweatshirt, and laughed. “Pretty bad, heh?”
“Very bad. But, I guess you have a point there. Hey, but now that you are running with me. We gotta show you off,” Maria grinned. “Barrio chic- I think you can dig.”
“Well, I am willing,” Grace answers and looks out the window at the neighborhood around her.
“So, what brought you to this beautiful part of the world?” Maria asks as she starts the car. “Must be some hard times- people usually try to get outta here, not come in,” Maria says innocently, but deep down is hoping to delve up any info she can on the new kid in town and why she has seemed to have clung herself to her brother, and to her.
“I go where I have to,” Grace pauses and flips her hair back. “It’s not like I really have a choice in what my parents want. I do what I’m told. So I’m here,” Grace answers modestly.
Maria takes that in and nods, “I guess you go with your family. That makes sense. Don’t talk much about yourself, huh?” Maria asks her trying to dig a little deeper.
“Not much to say, really,” Grace replies looking out the window.
“Well, just being friendly,” Maria answers her back. “Fine, you don’t got to tell me anything. But I warn you that I will figure you out- I figure everyone out sooner or later,” Maria challenges her then honks and gives the finger to the car in front of her.
“Thank you for being friendly and trying to make this easier,” Grace says sincerely finally looking at Maria. “I guess I really don’t want to talk about my family. Oh, and I invite you to try and figure me out- I want to know what you find,” Grace challenges her back with a sweet smile.
“Shit, girl. If you weren’t paying me, I’d slap you. You are a mystery, I’ll give you that. You may be able to play this mystery shit with Amaz, but I ain’t all googley eyed over you. I will figure you out and you better hope I like what I find,” Maria says and looks right into Grace’s eyes. Grace looks defiantly back at her, neither girl looks away. Finally a honk from a car behind them stops the face-off in the car.
“But, I think we gonna have some fun. We needed a change around here. Things getting too boring ,” Maria says changing the subject. “Shit if you don’t seem familiar to me in some way,” Maria looks at Grace who looks down at her lap. “ I just can’t place where I would have seen you before- hell, I don’t know many white folks.”
“I don’t know, but let’s just focus on the fun part,” Grace says trying to change the subject. “I definitely need some of that,” Grace states dramatically as she looks out the window again.
“Okay, no more prying- let’s just go have some fun. Girl, when I am through with you, Amaz tongue is gonna be hanging to his feet. Shit, I can’t wait to see Magdelena when she sees you,” Maria giggles to herself.
“So what is our plan?” Grace asks turning to Maria, the excitement starting to form.
“Well, you are going to get done over by me, personally, which alone is worth the money you gave me before,” Maria says pushing a stray hair behind her ear. “Then we will hit The Dream later on after I introduce you to my girls.” Maria tells her as they pull into the mall parking lot.
“What is The Dream?” Grace asks a little nervous, but excited nonetheless.
“A dance club kinda rave party we hit on the weekends to blow off some steam. It’s cool. Slamming music, cool people. It’s our place. You’ll be safe.” Maria tells her as she pulls into the parking space.
“Will Amaz be there?” Grace asks her quietly.
“Yes, he will be there, “ Maria smiles. “Shit, this is gonna be fun. And to think I thought this was gonna be a boring night. Hell, girl, you ready to give it up?”
“I guess so. Let’s go, “ Grace answers and follows Maria tentatively into the mall.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Amaz and Grace....Chapter One....any feedback is appreciated

Amaz and Grace Copyright 2007
By Annemarie Bogart



Chapter 1: The Deal (revised)


“Good morning, Chica” says the large Hispanic driver. There is no verbal response as Grace drops her coins in the receptacle and tentatively walks to the back of the bus. Her stomach is in knots thinking about her first day at her new school and meeting him again face to face. She hangs onto the overhead bar as she searches for a seat, stumbling awkwardly as the bus takes off again. A couple of Hispanic girls whisper to each other and giggle. A young mocha skinned teenage boy looks her up and down provocatively making Grace’s cheeks redden slightly. Finally, finding a seat, she sits down heavily. She looks out the window avoiding the stares she can feel on her. She opens her backpack trying to bide time. She pulls the picture from the protection of her notebook. Losing herself in his eyes, Grace barely notices the bus has stopped. She glances casually out the window. There it is, in all its deteriorated glory; William Harrison High School. Grace hurriedly tucks the photo safely in her notebook and rushes off the bus.
The large two story faded stucco building is set back ominously off the main street. The bus drives off leaving Grace on the curb surveying the grounds around her. She spots a few kids hanging out on the front tattered lawn. Some are laughing, others practicing new dance moves.. She spots a few boys throwing a football. The distinct smell of marijuana drifts through the air. There is rap music blaring from car speakers, different songs seemingly battling each other in volume. Most of the students are Hispanic, a fact she knew already. Gang members are well represented by their colors and blatant tattoos. This is a rough school, ranked one of the worst in the city, another fact she had been privy to months before when she did her research. Graffiti covers certain sections of the building, testament that the school board has simply given up on washing it away. A security guard casually passes students through a metal detector at the front entrance; somehow this does little to ease her mind. She spots two girls getting into a hair-pulling punching brawl in the front of the school. “Nice,” she thinks to herself, shaking her head. To her far left a group of boys are shouting sexual slang to a couple of scantily clad girls that are walking by them. The girls smile in appreciation that they are noticed. “Just keeps getting better and better,” she says softly to herself. “Maybe this was a mistake. I could just turn around and get back on the bus…pretend none of this ever happened.”
She shields the sun from her eyes and looks toward the northwest corner of the front courtyard. That is where she sees him, exactly where she knew he would be… the boy from the picture. All thoughts of turning back immediately fade. The boy is wearing a black well worn leather jacket. He is surrounded by a group of equally rough looking boys, the kind you cross the street to avoid. Grace takes a deep breath. “This is it,” she says to herself and walks defiantly in his direction. She ignores the taunts she receives as she walks slowly and with determination directly to him. She notices he is looking away from her and doesn’t notice her approach. She’s close enough now that two of his friends protectively block her path.“Hey, look what we got here, Miguel,” says the shorter boy as he eyes Grace and walks completely around her absorbing every angle of her.“New meat, hey Ricky,” replies Miguel, as he touches her blond hair as she tries to pass. Grace forcefully slaps his hand away from her avoiding eye contact. Her eyes remain focused only on the boy she has waited so long to see, never wavering. “Hey, this one is feisty, Miguel,” Ricky laughs. “Maybe she thinks she is out of our league.” He turns to Grace, “Hey, Snow White, you think you’re too good for us? Is that it?” She notices two more boys walking towards them. She sighs heavily. This male attention, it is not new to her. Long blond hair, toned proportioned body, flawless pale complexion: the perfect media standard package. It’s been a curse as well as a blessing. Right now, curse being the appropriate choice. “Who’s this, Miguel? Friend of yours?” says the very dark skinned boy with a visible jagged scar across his left cheek. “I’m Toco. Welcome to Harrison,” he states evenly checking her out from head to toe. Grace tries to avoid his eyes, not out of fear, but rather her own personal way of keeping control of what little she can. Her eyes stay with her target sitting on the graffiti scrawled picnic bench. He seems to be in the process of giving a slight pat on the backside of a very voluptuous Hispanic girl. The girl laughs a bit too loudly, a bit too fake and takes a seat at the bench next to the picnic table. Toco follows Grace’s stare over his shoulder. He shakes his head adamantly. “Amaz, looks like you got company.” Toco says and makes an exaggerated step sideways making way for her to get to Amaz, the reason Grace is here. Amaz looks over when he hears his friend call his name. His vision is partly blinded from just looking toward the sun, so he can’t quite make her out yet, but he’s pretty sure it’s a female. His eyes start to focus on the incredibly beautiful girl standing there- she looks almost like an angel. Almost too beautiful to be real…especially in this place. The girl who was sitting on the bench, the one that Grace saw flirting with him earlier stands up and starts approaching her fast.“I think you’re lost Cinderella,” the girl starts, waving her well manicured hands wildly, “you better get your white ass…”Amaz interrupts the girl abruptly. “Rosa, shut it. Go get me my cigarettes from the car.” Amaz says evenly pointing towards the parking lot. The girl looks at him incredulously.“Amaz, who does this greenga…,” she begins to plead, pointing a red dagger-like fingernail at Grace, but Amaz holds up his hand to silence her.“Rosa, now,” Amaz states calmly. Rosa gives Grace the finger and walks slowly towards the parking lot to retrieve the cigarettes, her annoyance amplified with every step.Amaz stands from the bench. He is about six foot one, and strikingly handsome with chiseled good looks yet with a toughness that makes him seem almost untouchable. His hair is jet black and wavy; he wears it longer than the rest of his gang. As he moves closer she sees his eyes are a more piecing hazelnut brown than she has thought. Those eyes rest solely on her. Amaz stares at the girl for an uncomfortable amount of time, in Grace’s estimation anyhow. He is still trying to grasp the fact that she is real. Regaining composure, he finally speaks. “Please come,” he states, beckoning her closer. As she gets closer, he realizes the closer she gets the more beautiful she becomes. She walks gracefully towards him with steady even steps. There isn’t a trace of fear in her eyes. Only determination. When she is about five feet away she stops and looks up at him. He looks into her surreal sea green eyes as she speaks. “My name is Grace. I would like to offer you a proposition, but I would like to be able to speak with you in private,” she looks around at the surrounding group. “That is if you are sure you’ll be safe.” Amaz grins at her bravado, and gives a nod to Toco who abruptly comes from behind to frisk her. He takes his time caressing certain parts of her, making her extremely uncomfortable. She is shocked and slightly taken aback, but takes it in stride. There is no place for intimidation here.“You never can be too careful,” Toco says as he steps away from his completed job. “Shit I enjoyed that,” he mutters softly as he backs away. Amaz’s smile fades and he waves for Toco to back off.“Now, what is this about?” Amaz asks intrigued to find out why she is here and what she could possibly want from him. Drugs probably, he figures.“I said I needed to talk to you alone, remember?” she reminds him looking around at the small crowd that is intently listening.“Fine,” replies Amaz shrugging in compliance. “Come into my office,” he says as he walks over to the janitor’s outdoor shed that is a few feet away from them. The old shed appears to have been white at one time, now it is grey and is partly overgrown with shrubs that camouflage it from the street. He shoves his hand in his pocket and retrieves the key from a small key ring. He unlocks the door and holds it open for her. “ Vamonos, mas bonita nina, I’m a very busy guy,” he smiles chivalrously.“Hey, Maz, don’t wear her out. Save some for the rest of us,” one of the boys yells as they enter the shed.
Amaz shuts the door, closing out the follow-up rants that will no doubt accompany the first. The janitor’s closet reveals a very small office space equipped with card table and four aluminum chairs, cards left over from the last game still there. In the far corner is a twin-sized bed covered with an old Mexican blanket. There is an old wooden mirror above the bed. A small refrigerator is seen in the other corner. There’s an old bucket with a mop in the far corner, almost as a prop, because its obvious no one has used it in some time.“You are much smarter than them,” she states solemnly nodding towards the door. “Which makes what I am going to ask of you much easier.”“Now, you have my attention,” he replies leaning casually against the wall. “What is it I can do for you?”“Well, I guess the best way to say this is just to come right out with it,” she says evenly, and she takes a deep breath. “I need for you be my boyfriend, well, more like my protector,” Grace blurts out quickly and holds out her hands instictively to nonverbally silence a stunned Amaz. He shakes his head almost immediately. “I know this sounds stupid, but if you think about it, it really isn’t. It, this plan of mine, is essential for my survival here.” He tries to keep his initial shock to himself, unaware if he has succeeded, and fully much doubting that if that would be even possible.“Well, I gotta say, I never saw that coming. It’s usually kinda hard to surprise me. I can’t say I’m not a bit interested in what you have to say, but…” he begins trying to play this as cool as he can, but is curtly interrupted by her.“Please, let me explain this better,” she says approaching him slowly, then stops. “Without sounding completely conceited, it is obvious the attention I am going to get at this school. It is no big secret the way I look and I feel that it is a hindrance to me being accepted at here. The guys will be all over me, but not for the right reasons. The girls will just hate, period. I want to avoid all that.” She looks over at him and he nods for her to continue. “My skin color, on top of the way I look may become a problem- especially for the girls. The attention I get, well, I am not new to it- I have been getting male attention for years. With that comes the hatred of women. It is nobody’s fault, I guess- It is programmed into us. People don’t know how to react to people without seeing first how others react to them- it’s like everyone acts as their friends do,” she pauses and looks into his eyes. She has his full attention. “This brings me to why I need you. I feel safe saying that you are the leader of this place- what you do is what others look to- but what you do is not to be questioned by others. Am I right?”“So far so good,” he says looking down at his hands, intertwines them and gives them a stretch. “But I still don’t get what you want me to do for you, and what in turn you will do for me.”“So, my proposition is to vow to be your girl, and only your girl, until we graduate. I will not interact with any other man in this school. I will be yours and yours alone within this place. That I can promise you, “she looks at him, her eyes unable to keep the pleading from them. She leans against the table for support awaiting his response. “Okay, I think I understand this a little. You want me to be with you? But, I don’t even know who you are, anything about you. I am intrigued to say the least. Please continue,” he tells her as he walks slowly around the room trying to take all this in.“Well, not to sound full of myself, which is how it will come across, but I swear it is not the way I view myself, but as others do- I would be, I guess, a trophy for you. Almost a prized possession that only you have access to, but everyone else wishes they had,” she stops and looks at him.“Full of yourself does seem to hit it on the head, I’d call it gallona, but I can’t say that you don’t have a point,” he says and looks at her seriously. “I don’t understand why you need me for this, any cholo would do- looking the way you do, you should be okay- hell, I’ll take you out if you want…but a boyfriend, I am not.”“No, no- maybe I haven’t explained it all that well. Any cholo won’t do. I don’t want to be part of the gang life. I know what those guys do. I know you are different from them, your crew. That is what I need, “she says solemnly. “And, I don’t wish for you to be only with me. Hell, you can do anything you want with anyone you want,” she says throwing her hands up in the air. “It will not affect me- all I need is for you to protect me and let this place know that I am yours and only yours.”“So, let me get this straight…I get to be with anyone I want… and it doesn’t affect anything?” he glances at her and she nods. “This is starting to get very interesting,” Amaz walks over towards the bed and sits down, “So, when do I get to test the merchandise?” He pats the bed and grins.Grace leans against the table and puts her head down. He sees her shoulders slump slightly but ever so quickly she recovers. She straightens herself up and looks up and meets his gaze defiantly. “That is another part of the plan I haven’t told you- I will not have sex with you, or anyone else for that matter. My reputation is to remain intact and clean. I am to remain a virgin. That is a big part of why I am doing this, to keep what is mine, mine,” she finishes and he starts to laugh. He puts his hand on his head in disbelief.“Okay, let me get this- you want me to pretend to be your boyfriend, and in return I get no play from you at all? Come on…Something doesn’t sound right.” He looks at her searching for something. “Why would I agree to that? I’m not getting anything in return. And what makes you think I wouldn’t just take what I wanted in the first place?” he says seductively. He stands up and approaches her slowly. Her stomach leaps not quite sure in fear or passion. He grabs her firmly around the waist. He looks down at her and she boldly meets his gaze.“Because, I think deep down you agree with what I have to say,” she answers him in a slow steady voice. “That deep down you believe in untouched beauty and preserving what should be preserved. That deep down you are chivalrous…that you are truly a man.” Her eyes remain locked on his, almost challenging him. “Well, seems you don’t know shit about me, except that I definitely am a man, and having you around me is going to bring that out,” he says pushing her back away from him softly, shaking his head as if trying to rid it of unwanted thoughts. He turns and walks back to the bed. He opens the small makeshift nightstand drawer and pulls out a pack of cigarettes. He draws one out of the pack and lights it, deeply inhaling the nicotine as this proposition swirls in his brain. He looks over at her and he sees that she is still staring at him.“But, you know about the kept word and honor…If you accept my proposition than I know that I will have your word,” she says dramatically, hints of desperation starting to filter into her voice.“I haven’t agreed to anything yet,” he says blowing out a cloud of smoke and starts to approach her again. She notices a bit of impatience in his eyes. She instinctively backs up into the table. “I still don’t get anything in return here. I’m giving you protection, and I’m not getting anything. I don’t see how this helps me.”
Grace tries again,” Okay, lets say you have sex with me, right now, against my will. What good will it have done you? Now, you are back to what you were a few minutes ago, before I arrived.” She looks over at him and sees him smile and shrug. She continues, “No new opportunities would have been presented to you- I would be tainted meat now- nothing special- nothing to give you- nothing to make your position greater. And what did you get – sex? Something you’ve had, I’m sure plenty of times before- and will have plenty of times after. Something meaningless, that could be something great. I can feel it…” Grace puts her hand over her heart emphasizing her point, “that you believe in honor, in chivalry, in tradition, and in preserving what is pure…You have to…it is my only chance. You are my only chance,” Grace ends finally, her voice strained with emotion. She sits down heavily at the table. He watches her closely as she sits down. She looks defeated. She puts her head down ever so slightly as if a big weight has just been released off of her chest. Amaz takes in the scene- she does look so innocent, yet so remarkably beautiful- but so defenseless.
“Let’s just say, for arguments sake that I agree to this,” he starts to say and she looks up at him with a slight glint in her eye- almost a tear. “Now, I can promise you that if you are with me that no guy in this place will look at you sideways- you were right about that- but I can’t control what the ladies, to use the term loosely, may do to you. In fact, I can probably think of one or two off hand that won’t be happy with this arrangement at all. Now, I can’t do anything to help you there, that’s chick shit.” Amaz shrugs, then folds his arms awaiting her response.“Well, I’ve thought of that- but, I will still need your help,” Grace starts, but pauses as she notices him laugh slightly and shake his head. “How did I know that I would somehow be involved in this angle, too?” he smiles as Grace eagerly tells him her plan. He can’t help but like her. She’s so different than the girls he knows. “Well, I realize you can’t be there all the time to help me against the girls… I will be in bathrooms, in gym class- plenty of vulnerable spots. You can’t help me there…but Maria can,” she says finally and immediately his smile fades. Maria was his first cousin, and he loved her like a sister. He protected her like a treasure. They were very close- lived in the same two family house since they were born. Maria was probably the female equivalent of Amaz in the school- tough as nails, a fighter, and a leader. “See, if you can get Maria to help me- try to introduce us, put some words in for me, then I think this may work,” Grace pleads with him seeing that his interest has almost instantly dropped.“Hold on,” he says firmly shaking his head.. “Fine, you want to deal with me, no problem- I can decide for myself- but why should I pull Maria into this shit? Hell, why put her in the fire? For you?” The anger rises evidently in his voice; she can hear it straight away. “How do you know all this shit about me… about my family? Are you a fucking cop?” He looks at her hard, making her feel a little uneasy.“I did my research,” she replies simply, not wanting to give him anything else to go on, hoping he will accept it. “And no, I’m not a cop.”“Please, girl, I don’t even know you. Can’t help you with the chicks, sorry,” he shakes his head firmly. “I won’t talk to Maria- although if you had her on your side- you’d be safe as a kitten.”“There’s got to be a way- let me talk to her myself. Let me explain this to her,” she frantically says standing up grabbing a tight hold of his arms. “This has to happen or I will not be safe here.”“What can I tell you? Sink or swim,” he says matter-of-factly. Amaz watches the hope fade in her eyes as she drops her hands from his arms.“Well, I guess that’s it then,” Grace states, “I will see you around. Thanks for nothing.” She turns abruptly away from him. As she starts to leave, he grabs her gently by the arm. She stops and tenderly touches the top of his hand. “Hold it. You will leave when I tell you it is time. Until then, sit down,” he commands her with the authority in his voice. Grace sits down and folds her arms across her chest. She stares at him hard doing her best not to let any tears fall. “Now, for someone who came in here all prepared for the rest of the year with this grand plan, you certainly give up easy enough. Shit, girl, you didn’t even beg or nothing,” he says trying to make light of the situation. Amaz looks over at her, one lone tear falls down her cheek. She would do anything to pull back that tear, but realizes now the impossibility of it.”Don’t start this shit now,” he says grabbing a paper towel and hands it to Grace. She takes it gingerly and wipes her eyes quickly, and with too much force, embarrassed that she has shown him any vulnerability. “Now, what else can you offer besides your looks and my exclusive rights to you- Jesus, I can’t believe I am even considering this shit.” “Well, I guess my brains. I am an honor student, always have been. I speak four languages. I am very well read in matters of business and psychology. I can be someone for you to talk to- I can help you,” she states matter-of-factly the hope and confidence quickly regaining in her voice. “I can be your eyes when you are not watching, your ears for the things no one else will tell you. I will help you to get through this year and graduate.” She smiles at her own words, very pleased with herself and amazed that her mood could elevate so quickly.“What are you talking about? Now, you want me to study with you? Look, maybe you have me confused with someone else. I am mainly here to do business, not to sit my ass in a fucking classroom. This ain’t no TV show, Grace. I’m not a nice guy,” he looks at her trying to make her understand. “I hope you know that- I thought seeing you knew everything else that maybe you realized that. Maybe you don’t… but I am telling you now.”“I know who you are. I know what you are. I also know that you are smarter than these people…That you are meant for greater things then they have to offer. That you can become what they cannot- and to do that you need to be educated- I will help you, that is all I meant.” She pauses and takes a deep breath. “Please, don’t think I am na├»ve to the life you lead. I am not. I understand it perfectly- I just feel that you can become great, instead of dying over a ridiculous burst of bravado when you are eighteen years old.”“So, you offer me, what? A study partner? Tell me, when does biology 3 come into play in my life? In my death? It doesn’t… like all these other fucking stupid ass classes. I told you, Grace…I am here for business.” He grabs a chair and sits down at the table blatantly upset at where the conversation has turned. He glares at her.“And what? Do you expect your business to end when you get out of this school? That’s a pretty short-lived business. Don’t you want to learn how to expand, how to make things better?” Grace replies back forcefully; meeting his stare, not daring to look away.“Listen, I’m in a gang that’s connected to bigger people, Grace,” he explains. That’s the breaks here- that is my life. I’m not going to be a lawyer, or a doctor. I have faced that fact. And I can live with it,” he says with a slight hint of regret in his voice that she doesn’t pick up on. But he hears it, and he wonders why he is opening up too much emotion to someone he doesn’t know. “I never said that you should be a doctor or a lawyer. I said to get yourself educated. Listen to me, just for a minute. Now, just tell me this, all these cholos? Even the ones you would have thought did good- where are they today? Dead? In prison?” she asks challenging him. “If that is the way it has to go down, then I am ready for that,” Amaz replies, almost a bit too rehearsed. “But, my point is, that you shouldn’t have to settle for that- that you should want to be smart enough to run things right. You should be involved in all aspects of your business- be very weary of everything,” she tells him carefully. “Sure school has some subjects we don’t think we need, but in actuality any knowledge is better than no knowledge. Right?” she asks him.“I put my time in, Grace. Listen, I can’t sit in a fuckin classroom no more. I wish life was so simple, but I got things to do now. Can’t be wasting my time in there when my customers are out there,” he tells her pointing at the shed door.“I don’t believe you feel that way. You weren’t be in the position you are in if you weren’t smart…” she says almost in a whisper. “Enough,” he says, the anger starting to trickle into his voice. He gets up from his chair. “I never said that, and you would be wise not to either.”“If you would have let me finish, you would have heard what I had to say,” she says quietly but firmly.“As you wish, please continue,” he says sitting back down taking another drag off his cigarette.“I was saying that you are a leader,” Grace continues. “To hold that position usually requires you to be smart, smarter than the rest. I am just saying that you should never stop learning is all- keeps you informed on a world that keeps changing.”“On the contrary, I don’t intend to stop learning, guapa. But, where I study has changed.” Amaz gets up and walks over to her. He places his hand on the back of her chair. “You have definitely intrigued me, my Grace. I have to say that if nothing else, you could definitely make me laugh, or at least stroke my ego for me. ”“Does that mean you say yes?” she asks with a hint of excitement in her voice.
“That means I will think about it,” he purrs to her and a smile immediately forms onher full lips. “As for Maria, I will get you two together- whatever happens there is completely up to her.”
“So when will I get an answer, I mean about you- and me.” Grace asks enthusiastically.“When I know, you will know. How is that?” he replies giving her the grin that has melted many hearts while flicking his cigarette across the room onto the dirt encrusted ground.“I guess I will take that. But one more thing- no one can know about our arrangement- no one. Okay?” she asks him solemnly.“Whatever you say… Who would believe this anyhow? This is your thing. But, one more thing- I think I should get to at least inspect the merchandise, since I can’t actually test it. Hell, you could be a mess under those clothes. I have a reputation to uphold,” he smiles at her mischievously. Grace looks at him, objection in her eyes. “Listen, you need me, I really don’t need you for anything but to boost my self-confidence, remember?” he challenges her.Grace grins at his statement and lifts her sweatshirt over her head without bothering to answer him, revealing a perfectly toned body, more athletic than he had thought. She then unfastened her Capri pants and pulls them down to her ankles revealing her lace thong. Her body seems like it came out of a Victoria’s Secret catalog and this was without any airbrushing. Amaz tried not to reveal how impressed he was but his eyes revealed the truth. He was pleased and he finally let it out with a low whistle.“So, do you have any flaws?” he jokes, unable to tear his eyes from her.“I’m sure you will be the first to let me know,” she retorts as she starts to pull her capris back on.“Damn, girl. You are fine,” he steals a last glance at her before she pulls her white tank top over her head. She goes to put on her sweatshirt.“Leave that off,” he says more of a command than a request. “Makes you look stupid.” She looks at him questioningly. “You need to fit in, not separate yourself. On a ninety degree day, people don’t wear sweatshirts.”“And they wear leather jackets?” she smiles mischievously.“The jacket I have no control of, it’s a way people can spot me. But that sweatshirt, I can control. Leave it off,” he states calmly, giving her a once over. “Shit, I may not be able to control myself- you may need protection from me.”“I have your word, that is all the protection I need.” she says, as fact, not opinion.“You sound so sure of yourself,” he says shaking his head slightly and grinning. “Maybe you shouldn’t.”“I am,” she concludes, and looks at him intently. Their eyes lock suddenly, and for just a moment time seems to stand still. Amaz blinks first breaking the mood suddenly, feeling like he has awoken from some odd dream. She is so different but yet she seems so familiar.“Let’s go, Blanca angel. I have some people to see now, ” he says as he starts for the door trying to get himself back into the business-mode.“Um…about our arrangement? Is it a deal?” she asks as he begins to open the door.“I said I will let you know- got it?” he says holding the door open for her.“Okay,” she says, sounding more nervous than she would have liked. “You let me know.” As they exit the shed, Amaz’s group is standing near the bench. Nervously, Grace smoothes down her tank top. She looks around at all the eyes on her. There are a few other guys there now, who look more than a little impatient.“Hey man, what is this? We’ve been waiting, Esse,” a guy in the red bandanna shouts. “Let’s make a deal.”“That is why we are all here, Freddie. Let’s get to it,” Amaz says and turns to Grace. “Adios, guera. It was an eye opener,” he purrs as he softly cups her chin, giving her a wink. Grace starts to slowly walk past the guys towards the school. Suddenly, one of the new guys gets in front of her blocking her path.“Hey, Manny, check out this guera. I’d eat this white meat any day,” he laughs to his friend. The other guys start in on the banter. Whistling, the cat calls… She tries to block the noise out as she tries to pass them. The guy, the one she thinks he called Freddie starts to get uncomfortably close to Grace. He gets in her path and she stops dead in her tracks. Within seconds, Amaz steps in between them, putting his hand forcefully onto the boy’s chest.“Freddie, you better know whose property you are fucking with before you fuck with it,” Amaz growls menacingly at the guy, who Grace has figured by now that this is definitely Freddie. “Maybe your momma didn’t teach you no proper manners, hey? You don’t treat a lady like that, correction you don’t treat MY lady like that. You get it,” Amaz says, not asks, evenly. He then looks up at the stunned circle, “You all dig that?” he yells emphasizing his point. “Go sit over there,” Amaz quietly says to her. She nods and walks quickly over to the picnic table and sits down. She tries desperately to conceal a satisfied grin, as well, as attempting to quell her heart that feels like its beating a million miles an hour.“Freddie, it seems you disrespected me in my home- I must ask you to get the fuck outta here before I have to put a cap in your ass,” Amaz says as he pats the bulge apparent through his shirt on his right hip. “Yo man, I didn’t know that was your lady, man. Yo, I didn’t know,” Freddie says putting his hands up emphatically and backing away. “Amaz, I never woulda talked no shit to your girl, man… You know me, man,” Freddie pleads, not lowering his hands.“I’ll give you a minute to get off my block. After that, you are dead. Starting now,” Amaz says dramatically glancing at his Rolex. The other guys are looking at each other not quite believing what is going on.“Amaz, man, what gives with this?” Toco begins, but Amaz puts up his hand to silence him.
“Toco, don’t tell me my business,“ Amaz says sternly turns back to Freddie, “You got 50 seconds left.”Freddie looks around and signals to his friends to leave. “This took a long time to set up man. It wouldn’t be right to fuck this up because of some misunderstanding,” Manny offers as he backs away.
“The fuck up happened when this guy came into my house and try to fuck with my shit. I don’t go for that. Respect was not given here. Business deal is off,” Amaz sneers to Freddie. “40 seconds, you better get moving. You may be fast, but I don’t think you can outrun lead.”“Come on guys. Vamonos,” Freddie says to his posse. “Amaz, this is a mistake, but I have to respect your wishes. Adios.” With that Freddie and his crew turn and start walking towards the street, not turning back.“All shall come to pass. Adios muchachos,” Amaz says cordially, as he gives them a over exaggerated wave. “Ay te huatcho,” he sneers his warning at Freddie. He turns and starts walking slowly over to bench where Grace is sitting. Grace watches the whole thing go down. She eyes Freddie walking away with his crew. She sees Toco shake his head as Amaz walks away. Toco shake hands with Freddie as he passes him. She sees Toco and Freddie exchange quiet words between each other in a moment’s time. Then she watches Freddie continue off the school grounds. Amaz approaches the bench where she sits patiently. “So, how was that, my Grace? Convincing enough for you?” Amaz grins as he sits next to her on the bench and looks over to his group. Toco looks the most angry, as the rest of the guys just seem confused. Grace looks and sees Toco muttering to himself and shaking his head and bee lining it straight for them.“Amaz, what the fuck was that all about? You know how much we did for that? How much money we just lost on that shit? What the fuck are you thinking, man?” Toco yells unable to contain himself.Amaz sits back on the bench calmly, “It wasn’t right, Toco. He was not worth the effort.” He takes a cigarette out and lights it, his nonchalance really aggravating his friend.“What are you talking about? We had a deal here, and it falls apart because of that, some greenga” Toco yells and points to Grace. Grace looks down at her feet, not wanting to be in the middle of this. “I don’t even want to know what you are thinking, man. Shit, the day you are led around by your dick, shit, I thought it wouldn’t happen,” Toco says challenging him, unable to control his emotions.“Be careful, Toco,” Amaz cautions his friend because no matter how close they may be, no one talks to Amaz that way, not in front of the crew. He pats Grace gently on the knee. He takes a drag on his cigarette then lets a slow cloud of smoke out before answering his friend. “This little angel actually helped us out. I found out last night that this guy,” Amaz points disgustedly towards the street where Freddie’s crew is simultaneously rolling off the block, “was double dealing and making back deals with Antoine. I had to come up with a way to cut him loose without tipping him off that I knew what was going down. Just so happens, this very lovely gringita gave me the excuse I needed to get rid of him- all tied up in a bow. End to that. Discussion over.” He looks defiantly at his friend, and smiles to himself very satisfied. Grace looks over at Amaz with genuine surprise as the explanation to what just transpired is revealed.“So that chivalry shit was bullshit?” Toco laughs as Amaz nods slightly, shrugging his shoulders with innocence. “Shit, Amaz, you are a piece of work. Fuck, and smart, too,” He pats Amaz on the shoulder. “So, how did you find out about Freddie?”“I have my eyes open all the time- I never sleep. You should know that, mi amigo,” Amaz tells Toco returning the pat with a sharp jab to the ribs.“Yeah, I know that, man,” Toco stammers through the stab of pain, too much bravado to admit it hurt at all. He looks around the courtyard. “Shit, it’s too fuckin hot to chill here, man.” He wipes the sweat from his brow.“I’m with you on that, esse. Get the guys and pick up some cervasas then head to the club. I’ll meet you there, “ Amaz said. “Oh, and get my bitchin’ Camaro over here now.”“Will do, man,” Toco says to Amaz, and smiles slyly at Grace. “Nice meeting you. “He extends his hand to which she shakes gently. “If he gets sick of you, I’ll be glad to take over.” Toco backs off slowly as Amaz shoots him a disapproving look. Toco yells to the others, “We’re outta here, partners. Vamonos.” The group disperses slowly amid blurts of cursing and horsing around while walking towards their cars on the street. They leave Amaz and Grace alone at the bench.“So, I guess you could say that I came at a good time,” Grace says to Amaz almost a touch of disappointment in her voice.“Impeccable timing. Couldn’t have asked for a better solution to my problem,” Amaz grins and takes a long drag on his Marlboro. “Hell, you may be more valuable than I thought. Shit, I can use you as a way of getting rid of a lot of shit. No questions asked. Amaz takes out his cell and dials a number, “Yo, Maria. I need to see you right now.” He pauses slightly listening to her slightly rolling his eyes. “I’m sure you and your friends could miss a meal,” he laughs holding the phone slightly away from his ear protecting it from the increasing volume on the other end. “I’m outside. Adios.” Amaz looks over at Grace as he puts the phone in his pocket.“She’s coming here… now?” Grace asks, a little surprised at the abruptness of the situation. “From where?”“Yeah, now. We might as well get this started, right? She’s in school. She’s smart…gonna be a lawyer and shit one day. Help keep my ass outta lockup.” He looks over at the entrance of the school as he speaks. “I told you, this is between her and you- so whatever happens here I have no control over. I ain’t telling her to do shit. She decides if you are worth the trouble,” Amaz sets her straight. “By the way, what she get outta this anyhow…your friendship?” Amaz laughs, “I don’t think that’ll fly with Maria.” He takes a drag on his cigarette shaking his head slightly.“No, I am prepared to pay her- and well. Plus, of course, my friendship,” she grins at him, her white teeth gleaming in the sunlight.“So, you gonna pay? Well, it could work- but, then again, might not,” Amaz says shrugging his shoulders not offering her any hints at all on how to woo his cousin.“So, what do you think I should offer,” she asks trying to get anything out of him.“Yo, I told you I was outta this shit,” he tells her and snuffs out his cigarette on the bench. “But, I’ll tell you this, the suspense is killing me.”

The Seven Line Competion by Opium Magazine

Here was my entry. I never heard from them, guess I didn't win.

Desert Break Down
By Annemarie Bogart

He trudges feebly through the hot desert sun wishing for a drop of water, a wide-brimmed hat and some sunscreen. His mouth is so parched, he contemplates licking the old car grease from his forearms. Ahead he sees what appears to be a brick structure, though he is unable to judge how much further he must go to reach it. A strength begins to pump through his blood, it powers his body and mind to forge forward. His mind in reeling with a sudden sense of salvation as he eyes the structure ahead. It is then that he feels a sudden sharp piercing pain in his right ankle. He drops with a defeated cry, the scorpion's poison burns away all the hope that had incurred.