The Hard Count

By: Ginger Scott

For my fellow IHS Patriots.

And for those of you who grew up knowing where O’Neil park was,

what Denton Lane meant, and who fed me way too much and cheered for me just as loudly as your own daughters on the field. To the beautiful families I grew up with, and to the beautiful family of my own.

And to the little boy, years ago, who watched me dance to oldies records in my grandmother’s South Phoenix front yard, then offered to share his grapes with me when the sun went down.

I watched the lightning with you during the Monsoon.

My grandmother said you were sweet on me.

I think we were just good friends.

I can’t remember your name, but I remember your dimple.

My Nico.





Prologue





I look over my shoulder when I walk home from school. If the sun is setting, I run.

Mom says it’s best for young boys like me not to be out on the streets at night. That’s when the 57 comes out. I don’t tell Mom, but they’re out during the day, too. My older brother, Vincent, goes with them sometimes. I don’t tell Momma that, either. I think, though, that maybe…she already knows.

I live on a quiet street. Me and my friends play football in the middle. The only time we have to stop our game is when one of them drives through. They drive slow. And they stare at me. Especially the one in the dark-blue car—his eyes look like the devil’s, and there’s always smoke coming from his mouth. My mom says it’s drugs, and his brain is poisoned. But his brain seems to be working okay. He always looks like he’s thinking. He’s the one I watch for when I’m alone.

My best friend, Sasha, is moving. There’s a sign in front of his house, and I heard his parents talking to my mom about how much the neighborhood has changed. I’m only ten, and it seems the same as it’s always been to me. The grocery store still has my favorite pop in the freezer box right outside, Pete’s Root Beer with vanilla. Marina and Paul still have the big orange house on the corner, and she always gives me tamales to take home any time I want. And Mr. and Mrs. Mendoza, who live across the street, still have the nicest yard I’ve ever seen. Vincent says boys aren’t supposed to like flowers, but Mrs. Mendoza grows roses. They smell sweet, and I like to watch the bees eat from them. I don’t care what Vincent says.

I like it here. And I don’t want to move. But I think Sasha’s parents have made my mom want to. She was looking at apartments in the paper yesterday morning during breakfast. I got angry and grabbed the newspaper from her hands and tore it into pieces when I ran out the back door. She caught me by the bottom of my Avengers T-shirt, and it ripped at the neck. She didn’t hit my butt, but she made me run to the store and buy her a new paper. I tried to glue my shirt back together, but before I went to school this morning, I saw it in the trash.

I miss that shirt…

I’m going to miss Sasha. He says he’s moving before they sell the house, but he won’t be far. He’s going to the other side of the freeway. We counted on a map, measuring with a piece of paper I ripped from Momma’s Bible. It was one of the blank pages near the back, so I don’t think she’ll notice. Eleven miles. That’s how far we measured. It costs less than three dollars to get to his new house by bus. Mom says I can go every two weeks. I asked Sasha if he would visit me on the weeks I can’t go to his house, but his parents said no. I know they like me, though, so it must be our neighborhood. They must be tired of looking over their shoulders and hiding inside, too.

I’m tired of being scared.

I used to not be. Back before we had to sit on the ground and stay away from the windows to watch TV in the living room. Mom put that rule in place when a bullet came through our front wall. Vincent says it was an accident, and usually that means it’s not going to happen again. It happened to Sasha’s house a week later, though. I thought the hole was cool, but then my mom told me I could have died. That’s when my headaches began, and I quit sleeping through the night.

That’s also when Vincent started getting in the blue car with the Devil Man. My brother told me the bullets wouldn’t hurt us now, because we were protected.

But I don’t feel protected.