Fifteen year old Spencer Robertson looked into the eyes of his new niece, the daughter of his younger sister, Davea. She had been seduced by a smooth talking wanna-be gangster, ten years her senior. His name was Jobiah, and was easily identifiable by his crooked smile and clover shaped birthmark on his cheek. Everyone knew he was bad news, but Davea was just young enough to be lured in by his bullshit. He had charmed her with cheap booze and cigarettes, making her feel oh-so grown up, then took her virginity and breezed off in the middle of the night, leaving behind two unpleasant surprises. A baby and the HIV virus.
By the time the child was born, Davea was wracked with full blown AIDS. Nowadays she was covered in lesions and barely able to make it to the bathroom, while Jobiah didn’t even feel sick. Their child, mercifully, had been unaffected.
The baby’s eyes looked up at Spencer with an almost alien quality. She couldn’t understand this thing before her and her irises ran over every curve and crevice on Spencer’s face. She was neither happy nor sad, just passive.
For a second Spencer saw in her a being that would hopefully live past him, that would experience life in a way he could never conceive of. Then the moment passed and she reverted back into the creature that he had to occasionally shove food into and, ugh, change her diaper- the worst job of all. The stench of baby shit made him puke each time without fail. He made a vow after each episode that it would be a long time before he had kids, and that he would get his woman to change do the changing.
Of course it would be a long time! He had a life to live, places to go, Crystal to drink, things to have- gold chains, fat rims, a six pack of cars- and all the hot chicks, like you see in the movies, to fuck. He knew he’d get it eventually. He’d seen it happen over and over again on TV. Till then he’d just chill.
As for girls, well, his current girlfriend, Ranisha, was all right. A fat booty. A near flat stomach. But he didn’t like that gap in her teeth and her nose was too wide, plus she got ashy way too easily. She was hot, but not supermodel hot. He’d keep her around for now, but when other boys were around he pretended like he wasn’t with her.
Spencer picked up his backpack and went outside for the bus to take him to school. On the bus he saw Ranisha, but there was no room next to her. He wasn’t unhappy about that because didn’t feel like talking to her anyway, but he gave her a nod as he pushed his way to the middle and sat next to his friend Randle.
Randle was excited about a Youtube video he had seen, where a man gets hit with a car, and played it for Spencer on his smart phone. In it there was an audible crack when the car smacks the man’s leg. The man flips over the hood and must have hit the pavement extremely hard for his head exploded all over the street, looking like a very chunky pool of salsa. Randle loved pictures of death and gore, pulling them in from every sleazy site on the net.
“Look at that shit! Look at that shit!” Randle kept saying.
This wasn’t Spencer’s thing. He could blow away 1,000 aliens a night without blinking, but Randle always took things too far. Still he was a buddy and they looked out for each other, so he put up Randle’s crap. No matter how queasy it made him.
Spencer’s phone buzzed. A text from Ranisha. I got to tell you something. He wanted to ignore it and watch some more Youtube, but then she would be complaining to him the rest of the day. So he typed back, Later at lunch. He was too tired right then to deal with whatever she was going on about.
Spencer had been up all night playing video games and drinking generic cola. Both his parents had to work and, as they couldn’t afford any real care for their daughter, they spent most of their free time making her comfortable. This left no time to handle Spencer apart from yelling an order at him from another room. So his bedtime tended to be whenever he passed out. This made for a lot of groggy mornings.
He slept through most of homeroom, the morning announcements filtering in and out of his dreams. First period was English for which he had to prop his head up, because the teacher Mr. Thies, an old teacher, was uncool like that. Not like the other who let you do what you wanted as long as you were quiet.
The first part of the period was writing down some boring vocab words for next week’s test. They’d been doing this all year and Spencer couldn’t remember a single word from a past test. He’d just look at the list a few seconds before class started and regurgitate back whatever stuck to his brain. Then he’d forget it completely. It was just another thing to get through.
His hand slipped into automatic writing, while his mind wandered onto important things. What was he going to do after school today? What TV shows were on? Did he have enough money to buy some Doritos and a two liter of soda- or would he have to settle for a one liter? Would he be able to sneak Ranisha over during the hour and a half between when his father came home from work and his mother left? How long would it take to get her pants off again? Just enough time probably.
“Are you paying attention to me, Mr. Robertson?”
Spencer snapped up.
“Oh yeah, Mr. Thies.”
“Good.” Mr. Thies sat on the corner of his desk, trying unsuccessfully to look informal. “Now I want to talk to you all about your future…”
Spencer groaned. Here we go again. Another lecture on responsibility, planning for the future, and all that crap. There was one teacher every year that would bang on about it. Usually it was some young bright-eyed female, straight out of college, who tried to “inspire” all of them like some teacher out of a movie. Spencer hated this type because they always talked down to him, like he and his parents were too dumb to know any better. He always ignored them.
They never lasted long anyway. It took the new ones about a year, sometimes only a few months, to be ground down to reality. But the schools Spencer went to ran through teachers like toilet paper, so there was always a new one popping up. Veterans like Mr. Thies should know better.
By now Spencer had heard these lectures so many times that the words just slid through his brain. They became background static while he watched the second hand of the classroom clock tic away to freedom.
Mr. Thies’s perpetually sagging lips stopped moving and Spencer realized that a question had been asked, possibly to him.
“What?” He said sleepily.
“I was just asking Randle here what his plans were after he leaves school.”
“I’m a go home.”
Randle grinned. Acting the fool to confound the teacher was an old game of his, one he played well. Undaunted Mr. Thies continued.
“I mean when you graduate. What are you going to do?”
“Man like I’m be a rap star.” He flashed a gang sign. “I’m be big and have diamonds and Ferraris and shit.”
“And if that doesn’t work out?”
“I guess… I’ll shoot hoops down at the playground until the NBA gives me a contract.”
Now Randle was dead serious.
“I don’t think too many talent scouts hang out at the playground Randle.”
“Man you ain’t seen me! I’m really good. There was this one time when these niggas came up on me and…”
“Don’t you think you should set your sights a little higher?”
“Ain’t nothing higher. They make bank!”
Mr. Thies went around the room asking everyone. The answers were about standard. Football player, basketball player, rap star, movie star, NASCAR driver. One boy wanted to “like make video games and shit.” Aim big! There were a few other choices. Nurse, mechanic, carpenter, pest control specialist, but they were the minority. A number of the girls wanted to be full time mommies, more than you would expect in this day and age. There was barely any mention of college at all.
“What about you Spencer?”
On the way to the next class, Spencer spotted Sgt. Dunree in the halls. Sgt. Dunree ran the school’s JROTC program and was friendly with everyone, though Spencer had hear he could be a real jerk when the JROTC were out on the parade ground. Dunree always stuck out because of his army uniform which he wore every day without fail. He looked good in it, smart, sophisticated. The uniform commanded respect. Spencer liked that.
Dunree was talking to a couple of seniors about them enlisting in the army after graduation. He gave them a couple of brochures and added,
“Well think about it.”
The bell was about to ring so the boys had to move on. Dunree had an extra brochure in his hand, when Spencer caught his eye. Dunree didn’t know who he was. Spencer didn’t join JROTC or anything that required him to spend more time at school. But he slapped the paper into Spencer’s hand anyway and clapped him friendly on the shoulder.
“Here you go chief,” he said, “This could be your future.”
Spencer looked over the leaflet in his Math class when he should have been learning the FOIL system. It was glossy, bright. A strong jawed soldier was on the cover, full uniform, weapons locked, staring off proudly at a distant horizon. It looked good to him. His eyes picked up the key words around the photo. Army of One, dignity, honor, travel, great benefits. All that was great, but it was the images that attracted Spencer the most. They were nice and clean and he could see himself in them- fixing a jeep, or calling in reinforcements, or blowing up a bunker filled with terrorists, or holding a hill against an enemy advance.
Maybe this was for him! It was something to think about. To be tucked away and brought out at the end of his time here. After all graduation as years away. Practically all the time in the world.
Spencer missed most of his lunch period, so he didn’t get a chance to see Ranisha. The vice principal had called him into his office to ask Spencer questions about his sister. How was she? Would she be returning to school? If the teachers sent work home would she be able to complete it and send it back? That way she could still graduate. The vice principal tried to display interest and compassion, but it was obvious to Spencer that he didn’t really care. What he was really interested in was the school’s statistics. Spencer had come across the problems in this school, while online while online trying to find out if Mr. Ethel, the librarian, had been in a porno, like the rumors insisted. If his siter died before graduating it would be counted by the state as a dropout in the school. Another black mark against a school that was constantly teetering between “average” and “below average” ratings.
After assuring the vice principal that he’d have his mother call the school, a promise he’d forget five minutes later, Spencer went to the cafeteria just in time to scoop up the last slice of cardboard pizza. While shoveling it down his throat, he looked around but couldn’t see Ranisha. In a school of 1200 students and only three periods for lunch, the noon meal was a big operation, even with a quarter of the students routinely absent each day. The bell rang and he quickly swallowed the last of the crust and trundled off to sleep through his Social Studies class.
Where we u??? Was the text he got from Ranisha later during Chemistry class. Got called 2 office. He sent back. There was a 10 minute pause, then she sent. I’ll come by ur crib ltr.
He smirked. This upped his odds for sex today, oh yeah. Spencer leaned back that wonderful tense joy of anticipation spreading all over him. The day drifted on and Spencer spent most of it in hibernation. He took notes when required, but didn’t think about them. It wasn’t until the day was over that he felt alive. When the final bell rang, he nearly jumped for joy, but that wouldn’t look cool.
On the bus he found a seat in front of Ranisha and turned back, winking at her. She looked at him defiant, then looked away. His stomach sank. Was she going to break up with him? How could she do that? Wasn’t he good looking? Wasn’t he cool? Wasn’t he a good lover?
Who was it? Who was she gonna dump him for? Reggie? That thick nigga was always hanging around her, tryin’ to get in there. Reggie talked big, thinking he was so hard. Spencer was gonna bust that motherfucker up the next day in school. He pounded his fist.
At the journey’s end, Spencer was choking back the anger. His brain had clouded over and a red mist spat evil thoughts all through it. He didn’t say a word to her all the way back to the house. At the door, Ranisha stopped him.
“I gotta tell you…”
“What? What you gotta say?”
She clammed up immediately. Her gaze turned downward, fuming. His guts churned. She definitely wasn’t in the mood for love. He unlocked the door and entered, not looking behind to see if she followed him in. He went into the kitchen and got himself a glass of water, the only beverage in the house. He didn’t think to get her any, she knew where it was.
Spencer found Ranisha sitting on the couch. He slouched against the doorframe and sipped his drink disdainfully. When it became apparent that she wasn’t going to start talking, he yelled.
“If you just gonna sit there all day then you can get out. If you got something to say, hurry up!”
She looked up at him tear filled, her lips trembling.