Paper Cuts

From the outside, Paige Langley’s life seems pretty normal…whatever that means. But it’s not. Her new boyfriend Matthew—a chain-smoking, musician—is acting strange, her friends at school even stranger, and Devon Connors, the boy that Paige is crushing on nearly dies in drug experiment gone wrong. Then one of the local football players mysteriously turns up dead and it launches a full-scale investigation by police on the illegal drug use at Bass Towers High School. And with all the weirdness going on, Paige is starting to suspect that Devon knows more than he’s letting on. As the horrible truth about the wild afterschool party scene—filled with sex, narcotics, and even murder—circulates around campus, Paige’s perfect life takes an unexpected turn, and a dark suspicion is suddenly cast on those she trusts most….

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1. Writer's Genesis

 

Devon Connors’ feet hit the pavement running. The beat of his sneakers mixed with the sound of his arguing parents. Crisp, the late afternoon air stung his nostrils as he charted the area before him.

Men sat on apartment steps, smoking and downing beer. Women with lop-sided wigs and made-up faces stood on street corners. One hand on a handle and the other hand holding a paper bag, a boy rode his bike in a zig-zag down the street. Despair seemed to hang in the air like black-stained lace.

DIVORCE was a word he was running from, the word that had been shouted when he left the apartment. He didn’t know exactly what it meant, but he knew whenever the word was used Dad would pack up his tattered, leatherette suitcase and leave.

He hurried past a group of streetwalkers who shouted and jeered after him. He turned a corner and met a deserted street. Breathing heavily, and looking either way, he slowed to a jog.

The first time DIVORCE happened; Devon locked himself in the cleaning closet the entire night, the sound of his father’s van racing out of the parking lot still ringing in his ears. His father found him there the next morning, pants drenched with urine and vomit covering the front of his shirt.

Since then, DIVORCE simply meant his father leaving for the night, but lately his absences had grown longer and longer. Nights stretched into afternoons, stretched into days and then into weeks.

Devon sat on the curb to catch his breath. He lifted his head at the sound of singing from the A.M.E. The white building glittered in the sun, like a pearl deserted among the rubble of shacks and burned-out buildings. The singing grew louder, the melody drifting over the dreary and abandoned buildings, pulling him from the curb, to his feet and toward it.

Devon’s eyes lowered to the boy smoking on the church’s steps. The boy’s gaze was in some far off corner. A pack of Camels stuck out of his back pocket.

“Hey,” the boy called out to Devon with a nod.

“Hey,” Devon said, returning the gesture. He relaxed and tried to appear cool, indifferent. “You’re going inside?” He looked at the church’s wooden doors.

“Nah, that stuff’s bogus.”

Devon was startled by the boy’s upfront honesty, especially in regards to what his father called ‘the good house’. In truth, Devon felt the same as the boy, though he’d never been bold enough to admit it

Devon tilted his head and looked at the boy inquisitively. “Then what are you doing out here?” Devon asked.

The boy flicked his cigarette. “I thought I’d sprinkle ashes on the church steps.” He chuckled.

“You’re lying.” Devon retorted. “You’re waiting for someone.” His mother or father probably. “Did they throw you out?”

“Nah,” The boy’s face was shiny brown. He pulled his lips up into a smile. “I gotta start work in a few minutes. Want to join me?”

“Now I know you’re lying. What are you? Eight? Nine?”

The boy stood to his full height. “I’m thirteen.”

“Oh.” Devon had always been told he was tall for his age. The boy couldn’t have been more than an inch above him. Nevertheless, the boy was bigger. Fat and round, with a thick gut bloating from his jacket.

“Come follow me.” The boy started down the street.

“What’s your name?” Devon called following the kid.

 “Colin.”

---

 Silent Mount apartments were anything but silent. A ginger-headed man sat in his car and blasted music in the parking lot. Stray dogs growled, barked, and mated on the apartment pavement. Devon could hear the sounds of a court show playing from someone’s bedroom window.

Devon passed with Colin under the complex’s rickety stairs. Wooden beams lay fallen on the ground. Paint chipped off the side of the building. A garbage bag covered a window.

Was it his imagination or could he hear singing? Yes, there it was again: a rusty vibrato. It reminded Devon of when he pressed his face against the kitchen’s box fan and sang. The voice continued its trills until it erupted in high-pitched squeaks.

Devon couldn’t stop chuckling.

Colin stopped; his stare violent. “Shuddup! Are you drunk or something?” Devon had doubled over in laughter.

“I…don’t…drink.” Devon said in-between gasps of laughter.

Colin’s eyes narrowed. “We’re going inside now, so be quiet and try to act respectful. You’re going to meet my Uncle.” They stopped at the last room down the hall.

A sign taped on the door read HARRIS’ PIANO LESSONS. Colin removed a piece of wood, revealing a crock at the side of the door. He dug through it, his fingers picking up dirt, before he pulled out a key.

He knocked and then opened the door.  “Hello, uncle?”

Harris sat in the corner on in front of a keyboard. He missed a note and swore.

 “Dammit!” he shouted. “Someone’s always bothering me. What now?” He started to the door and stopped. “Who are you?”  The man’s complexion was light brown; with freckles dotting his cheeks and broad nose. Pinned back in a ponytail, his hair fell in black, rope-like locks to his shoulders.

Devon’s eyes swept over the apartment. It was spotless. A cat slept on the throw on the sofa. There were a few pictures of family on the green walls.

Colin nudged him.

He jolted awake. “I’m Devon Connors, sir.” He stared up at the man, but quickly looked down.

 “Well, Devon Connors,” he stressed the last name. “Does your momma know you’re here?”

“No sir.”

The man’s brownish-green eyes took a hardened quality. “Then get out.”

He snatched the cigarette from behind Colin’s ear. “You’re too young to be smoking this.”

“Should I smoke weed instead, Harris?” Colin snapped.

“Funny.” He snatched the Camels from Colin’s back pocket. “That’s for being stupid.”

“You just want it for yourself!”

“Shut-up!” Harris said. Even in his rebuke there was a wink of fondness in his tone, like an older brother. The man was so tall his presence was overpowering. Devon guessed him to be in his early to late twenties.

Devon’s eyes returned to the keyboard. “Who taught you to play?”

Harris turned away. “I told you to go home, kid.”

Devon walked over to the instrument. Curious, he pressed a finger against a key. “What were you singing before?”

Harris shook his head. Seeing Devon wouldn’t leave, the man relented. “I wrote it myself. It doesn’t have a name.” He sank at the keyboard, played a chord, and started the song again. His playing was as beautiful as his singing was bad. Harris switched to a popular tune. Colin, who could actually sing, stood next to them and joined his voice with his uncle.   

Harris showed Devon a few chords. Devon copied the notes he was shown.

The man stopped. “Now, go home.”

“I’ll be back tomorrow,” Devon said. He wanted to learn more.

“You better not,” Harris retorted. What was he doing teaching some white kid?

.

---

His mother was washing dishes when Devon decided to tell her about his new friends. Teresia dropped more dishes in the sink. She turned to him, her hands whitening as she squeezed the washcloth dry, and popped the back of his head.

“Ow!” he cried.

“I could slap you for running off like that!” she said. Her eyes narrowed. He shrank back prepared for another blow. He looked around for a place to retreat.

“Just because you live here doesn’t mean you have to play with blacks.”

 Devon turned away, hurt and confused.

And so he stopped, or at least he appeared to have stopped to his mother. But, if one sat on the corner of Edison Court, across the street a boy could be seen sneaking out the backdoor of the apartment buildings. The process occurred every day at three; the nervous-looking child would dash down the street and around the corner like a haunt was after him.

By the time Devon’s father applied for military chaplainry, Harris had already taught Devon two songs.

There was a single row of books on a shelf in Harris’ apartment. In his spare time, Devon would thumb through one. The books lacked pictures, but he was content to read them. He frequented the dictionary for word meanings (He would’ve asked Harris, but the man tired of his questions). Devon read poetry from E.E. Cummings, sonnets of Shakespeare, and Robert Frost. He devoured words from Richard Wright. He removed War and Peace from the shelf, thinking that reading through such a book would make him appear intellectual and smart to his older friend. A few pages in, he put it away, more perplexed and confused than he’d ever been. 

Evenings, Devon snuck gin from Harris’s cupboard and sat on the porch to drink with Colin. He chewed tobacco for the first time and vomited. He and Colin would chase after girls on the neighborhood playground. They pulled skirts and tugged ponytails and generally wreaked havoc on the kids playing there.

One evening, Harris came home from the college and put his papers away. He listened to his protégé play. Devon practiced a simple chord progression.

“Good,” Harris said. He put down his meal of corned beef and rubbed his chin. “Why don’t you take the keyboard home with you?” he suggested. “Then you can practice whenever you like.”

Carry an instrument down the streets of the projects? Devon stood and grabbed his cap. “No thank-you, sir,” he said. He put on his cap and promptly exited. His mother would be looking for him soon.

Thus, Harris brought the keyboard himself. Devon would never forget the day the black Jeep rolled up to the apartment complex.

It was the beginning of the end.

 “I didn’t give my son permission to take lessons from you.” Teresia said after she opened the door and Harris introduced himself. She shot Devon a look. The boy returned the stare evenly, defiantly.

The blonde mother returned to Harris. “I’m sorry; I don’t have money to pay you. You wasted your time.”

“I’m not here for money,” he said. “And I would hardly call it a waste of time. I’ve just come to set up the keyboard. Your son needs to practice his notes, and to do that, he needs an instrument.”

Her lips pressed together. “We don’t want your instrument!” She started to close the door.

“I do!” Devon shouted. His sister, Lyn, hid behind him. Devon peeked pass his mother’s form and grinned at Harris.

Teresia swore.

“It’ll only be a minute,” Harris said.

Teresia stepped aside. The twins cheered as Harris entered the apartment. Teresia pointed out an empty spot in the living room. The keyboard was set up and a stool pushed next to it.

Harris turned on the keyboard. “Do you want me to play something for you?”

“I just want you to leave.” Teresia folded her arms across her chest. She wrinkled her nose.

“Let him play, mom!” Lyn said. The girl stared up in admiration at the older man. After much pestering from both her children, Teresia relented. Harris played two songs and one more at Devon’s request.

Harris finished. The children clapped. Teresia pursed her lips.

“Play another!” Lyn said, obviously infatuated

“Enough,” Teresia said. Harris grabbed his coat. Teresia saw him to the door. “Thank-you for your gift. We’ll take it from here.”

“Can I play on the keyboard too?” Lyn whispered as Harris left.

“No, it’s my—

“Yes, Lyn,” Teresia interrupted Devon. “You can play whenever you want.”

---

Harris came back the next day to resume his lessons with Devon. Teresia was reluctant to the agreement, but Devon argued it would be useless to have a keyboard if he couldn’t play it.

“I have no money to give you,” she said on Harris’s fifth day at the apartment. Harris grabbed his coat from the door. He slipped it on.

“That’s fine. As long as your kids have the willingness to learn, I’m here to teach them.”

She looked as though she wanted to say more, but he left.

The twins’ willingness to learn lasted for weeks. Harris was there for their birthday. He sliced the cake for them and listened as Lyn whispered her wish in his ear. Harris left candy on the counter for them and little gifts in places they were sure to find them. He taught them a song each on the keyboard and held a miniature recital in their apartment.

With the keyboard present, Devon was less likely to get in trouble. Teresia sat through the lessons, her face twisted, but she clapped for her children and congratulated them when it was appropriate. She managed a polite hello and goodbye to Harris every day.

A month went by and her protests for Harris to hurry and leave weakened. The protest became friendly badgering, teasing. After lessons, they sat and talked for hours over cups of coffee. She hugged Harris before he left, and thanked him over and over again for helping them.

Then, one day, Teresia bought pumps.  The kitchen pantry was overstocked. Her children were no longer met with scowls when they picked up toys in the grocery store. Teresia smiled and laughed at her children’s antics. The hemlines of her dresses grew shorter and her necklines plunged.

Devon marveled at the turn of events. He mused lightly that it was good his mom and Harris seemed to be getting along. Still, Devon was uneasy. 

Emotions are dismissed in childhood. It is viewed by many Olders as figments of the imagination, invisible fears—monsters under the bed. But, Devon ignored his doubts and questions, determined to lead a childhood as carefree as possible.

One afternoon, he went into his parents’ room. It wasn’t an unusual occurrence; he went into the room to pick up coins under the dresser and in the corners. Devon trotted around the room, picking up silver currency. In this pickpocket journey, he approached the bed.

What prompted him to remove the pillow? Was it youthful impulse? He’d expected to find more circular jewels there. Or perhaps the demon Fate guided his hands.

He threw the pillow off the bed. Money fell on the floor.

Devon picked up the crumpled bills. He counted them out, his eyes widening. He’d hit the jackpot!

But there was something else on the covers: a note on college-ruled paper. Devon held it in his hands.

The note was a very raunchy description of a night’s events between lovers.

The writer went on to extol the beauty of the lover, reminding her to leave a little something aside for the children, and what did she want for her birthday?

Wordlessly, Devon put the letter back under the pillow. He pocketed a five and returned the rest of the money.

That qualified as a ‘little something’. He slammed the door on his way out.

---

 

Devon sat down at his lessons. He went into his scales in the same dry, disinterested repetition he’d shown in the past few days. His mother stood in the doorway watching him and Harris. Her arms folded across her chest.

Devon stopped.

“What’s wrong?” Harris asked.

“Do you love my mother?” Devon glared at Harris.

Harris exchanged a glance with Teresia. The tension seemed to heighten in the silence shared between them.

“Devon…” Teresia started.

“Yes,” Harris said. “I do. I hope you don’t mind.”

“Yeah, well, I do.” Devon hopped off of the stool. “And you can stop leaving nasty notes under pillows.” Devon walked right out the door and slammed it shut.

The night air outside caught in his nostrils. It smelled like tobacco smoke. His heart was pounding, pounding. Rage reddened his face.

What was more stupid than playing the keyboard? Why would anyone want to do such a disgusting thing? He didn’t need that crap. He didn’t want it.

Pounding, pounding, was the sound of his feet on the street pavement. The voices of the night carried into the air. They mocked him. He was a young white boy in Detroit. What the hell was he running from? Didn’t he know what time of night it was?

Drug dealers talked into car windows on the street. Riding bikes. Cars speeding into the darkness. Angry voices, loud voices. Swear words. Bad words. Dirty words children shouldn’t say or hear.

Hey boy!

A man grabbed his arm. Devon pushed away, never breaking his pace. His eyes charted the area in front of him wildly.

Pounding, pounding, pounding…

Was it his feet or his heartbeat? He couldn’t tell.

His chest heaved.

He stopped.

It was a different part of the city. How far had he run? The streets were clean and the houses kept behind iron gates.

Devon collapsed on a bench and put his head in his hands.

They were always preaching at him about right and wrong. This was BAD, that was GOOD, and NEVER DO THAT.

What about his dad? He hadn’t seen his father in months. Did his mom even care anymore? Did she forget about him? Did they forget? Devon was relieved when they announced his father would only be applying for chaplainry, and not fighting. But, things had changed. His father would also engage in combat as a serviceman.

 Devon heard a few whispers from the neighbors that his dad went off to get himself killed.

The news devastated the boy more than anything else had. He looked up at the night sky, with the fat, yellowed face of the moon. He stared back at his hands, wringing them, wringing them.

And he wept.

---

He walked until he found a police station, and calmly asked for a phone to call his mother. Teresia came to pick up her son an hour later, relieved.

“Things are going to be different now,” Teresia promised him.

She broke up with Harris Thursday over the phone. She wasn’t of much use that week, either drunk, about to be or hung-over.

The food in the pantry had dwindled. Devon emerged from his parents’ room and started down the hall. Coins weighed heavy in his pocket. He found his sister in the living room. She looked as though she’d taken a nap on the carpet. She lay on her back, her face up to the ceiling.

“I’m going to the store to get food. Do you want to come?”

She didn’t answer.

He poked her side with his foot.  “Lyn, you stupid girl.”

Her eyes stared at the ceiling.

Devon squatted down next to her. Her face had a purplish tint. “Lyn?” She wasn’t breathing. He panicked.

He rested a hand on her left side. Her heartbeat was little more than a flutter around her chest.

“Mom!”

---

“I don’t know how we’re going to pay for this,” Charles said.

 He’d watched his oldest in a coma; her tiny body hooked up with tubes, and a machine helping her breathe. 

But that was last week.

This week, Charles’ primary concern was money, how to make more of it, and how it should be spent.

He had questions as well.

“Don’t talk to her like that,” Teresia said. She finished fixing her daughter’s hair and sent the girl scampering away. Lyn trotted down the hallway, casting a worried glance back at her parents. She disappeared into her room.

Charles watched her go. “I wasn’t talking to her.” His teeth clenched and he glared at his wife. “Or can Garland work now?”

Devon sat in a chair nearby and observed the exchange. The adults seemed altogether unaware of his presence. Caught in a strained marriage, their concerns weren’t more than the perceived annoyances they had with each other.

“I’ve been trying to find work around,” Teresia said.

“You need to try harder. There isn’t a single can in the cupboard. Have the twins been eating?”

“So you’re saying she got sick because of me? I fed them what I could, but yes, we’ve had to make due.”

“What happened to the money I sent you?” Charles asked.

“That was hardly anything,” Teresia said. “Or have you forgotten the cost of rent and utilities? I don’t know how we paid for anything when you were away.”

Charles sank back into his seat, tired. He always looked tired nowadays, and worried. His hair had gotten all gray, the hairs on his moustache tangled. Nevertheless, Devon was relieved his father was home. Somehow he felt more secure, safer. Maybe everything that had gone wrong would finally be righted. Devon lined up his toy race cars on the table.

Charles ran a hand through his hair, his eyes a steely blue. “You could have asked your mother.”

“My mother? So she could remind me we should never have married?” Teresia’s lips were in a line. She looked at him, as though she wanted to say more, but stopped. She pushed the broom across the living room, in short, angry sweeps.

Charles sighed heavily and left the room.

----

Teresia Eklund-Connors knew there was a reason she hated that Mexican woman.

The robust Mexicana lived across the hall from the Connors. She observed Charles from afar. The woman dropped hints about Teresia’s affair here and there, while the man was stopped at the corner, in the bank, or in line at the grocery store.

She cornered him at the laundry. She chatted with him as she folded her clothes, the Laundromat’s fan circling above them. She briefly mentioned a handsome young gentleman used to come to the apartments on weekdays. Teresia seemed to like him very much and the children too. He gave them a keyboard, she remembered. He stopped by the Connors apartment so much she,

“…Was starting to think he was living there.”

Charles stared at the woman perplexed. The deed was done. The weight off her conscience, the woman looked at him decidedly before walking off with her cart of clothes.

Charles returned home, questions burning the back of his mind.

---

 

A glass pitcher crashed against a wall.

“Get out!” Teresia demanded. Her nostrils were flared and her face red.

Charles ducked. Shards of glass cut into his cheek. “Fine. I’m gone.” He brushed the glass off his shirt.

“You’d listen to her instead of me?” Teresia said. “She’s just jealous. She wanted you since the day we arrived here. Or are you sleeping with her? What’s the real reason?”

Charles swore.

“Charles, listen to me, stop!” He walked out of the kitchen. Teresia followed after him, screaming. Charles went in the living room and walked toward the keyboard. He ripped the cord from the wall.

Teresia beat her fists against his back, yanked his collar. “Stop it! Why don’t you stop?”

Charles hefted the keyboard over his shoulders.

“Charles, please…”

The twins poked their heads out behind bedroom doors. Lyn’s cheeks were ashen. Was this happening because she’d gotten ill? Because she was dia-beh-tik, whatever that meant? Why was Dad leaving?

“Daddy?” she called, scared.

“Not now, Lyn.” Charles said.

Teresia glanced at her children, and turned to her husband. “You’re scaring them,” she said.

He glared at her, opened the door and stepped outside.

Devon spotted the keyboard on his father’s back. “Mom…?” he asked.

“Get back in your rooms!”

Teresia rushed to the front door. She saw his form in the moonlight. He hefted the keyboard over his head and tossed it into the government disposal bins. The keyboard broke on impact with a sickening crack.

Her fists clenched. As he was starting back to the door, she made sure she saw the whites of his eyes before she slammed it shut.

She locked it and pulled the chain, putting the bolt on it.

Pound, pound, pound! Went his fist against the door, and then his foot.

“Teresia, open this door.”

“I’m calling the police.” She looked around for the cordless.

“Open the door.”

She found the phone, held it to her chest, and unlocked the door. He stepped inside. 

“I don’t know what the hell is wrong with you.”

She stood on the carpet, denying him further entrance.  “You hadn’t any right to toss out that keyboard. Your children deserve nice things for a change,” she said. “I want you out. Now.”

“Get out of my way.” He pushed past her.

She shouted curses at him as he entered their bedroom. She yanked his suitcase out of the closet. They spent another hour sparring words, before Charles began to pack. 

He tossed his packed suitcase in the hall. “I’m out. I’m out. I’m fucking out, okay? Are you happy?”

Teresia crossed her arms over her chest. “I’ll be happy when you leave.”

Happy, huh? Who is going to pay for you to stay here? The person you were sleeping with? Is that why he left you a dented up keyboard? He can’t pay for shit.”  Charles started for the door and she followed him.

“I’ll find a way,” she said.

“Don’t prostitute yourself.”

“Lovely as always, Charles. Tell me, did they teach you that in seminary?” she spat.

He stared at her. “No. They taught me what the grounds for divorce were.”

 “File if you want,” she said. “He was more man than you ever were.”

“Shut-up.” His voice was a low growl. He jerked the door open, nearly pulling it from its hinges.

She slammed the door close, forcing him to look at her. “And I never thought of you when I was with him. Not once.”

His hand recoiled from the doorknob. He struck her.

The blow knocked her backwards. She held her face with her hand. It stung like fire. She could feel the inside of her cheek swell with blood. She spat on the carpet. Blood and mucus mixed with the spittle.

Her eyes were low with tears. “Get out,” she said.

Remorse coated his face. “Teresia…”

She hurled the phone at him. “Leave!”

The phone landed at his feet. He backed away.

She looked up at the creak of the door.

He was gone.

Teresia sat trembling on the carpet. Her hand went to her cheek again. She drew her knees to her chin and rocked herself as she sobbed.

What she couldn’t have been aware of were the children. Lyn next to Devon stood in the hall, fighting tears of her own. She pulled the threads at the end of her ill-fitted dress. She witnessed the whole exchange. Her tears weren’t of sorrow, but of hate. The hate born months earlier was starting to grow. Buried, repressed, now she felt it to her very core.

She hated her father.

---

           

“We’re moving!” Devon announced.

Harris nodded. He took a sip from his gin and rested it on the step next to him. They were outside of Silent Mount apartment complex. Harris lounged against the front steps and sighed. Farther away, to their left, old men played a game of checkers.

Devon stared at his shoes.

Devon was an okay kid, but there was something off about him. Harris once heard him having a conversation with someone on the porch.

Only he was the only one there.

Harris had pressed his ear against the doorframe to listen. The boy had talked in different voices, one loud and harsh, the other squeaky and high-pitched. Harris had chalked it up to an imaginary friend. Nevertheless, it’d disturbed him. The things ‘they’d’ talked about weren’t typical seven-and-eight year old fare.

Besides which, the boy was a thief. He had stolen exactly four bottles of gin since he started his lessons. And Harris knew Devon hadn’t completely forgiven him for the affair, and would likely never forget. There was a look to Devon’s eyes, as if there was still a bit of malevolence there.

Harris was glad the boy was leaving.

“So where you heading to?” Harris asked.

“Somewhere far from here. My mom wouldn’t say. She already applied for a job there as an accountant. She says it will pay a lot of money. I know the house is in the woods, and there aren’t a lot of people there. She’s calling it a new beginning,” Devon said.

 “Well, call me when you reach the Promised Land!” Harris laughed.

“Promised Land?” Devon asked.

“That’s where you’re going isn’t it?”

“I don’t know,” he said, scratching his head.

Harris took another sip from his bottle. “I’ll show you how different things will be.” He pointed a bony finger from one sidewalk block to another. “How much difference do you see, kid?”  He chuckled and drank his gin.

Devon paled, angered. “Well, they do look the same.”

“Exactly!” Harris said. All of the squares on the sidewalk were identical in size and shape. He snorted and took a swing from his drink. He laughed again, his lips spraying out the juice, and held his side.

“But…” Devon said. “One is farther along than the other.”

Harris’ face reddened and his mouth went slack. Finally, his face broke into a smile. He wheezed with laughter, his breathing a gasping, drunken whisper.

He wiped his eyes. “You think you’re smart don’t you?” He caught his breath. “Keep that outlook, kid. It’ll get you far.”

Devon shifted on his feet. He tilted his head, thoughtfully. “I wanted to say good-bye to Colin.”

Harris wiped his hands on his pants. He coughed. “To who?”

“Your nephew.”

Harris squinted. “Impossible. I don’t have brothers or sisters.” Unless you know something I don’t. Harris frowned.

“The short, chubby kid…with the afro?” Devon said. “His stomach is kinda big, like a beach ball?” He stretched his hands out in front of him.

“Don’t know him.” Harris shook his head. “But for all you know you can be describing any kid in this neighborhood.”

Devon’s face furrowed. He chewed on his bottom lip. “Ah, okay…I’ll see you later then.”

Harris nodded, replacing his bottle of gin with a pack of cigarettes.

 

Devon was almost home when he realized what he said. He wouldn’t be seeing Harris again. His family was leaving in the morning.

---

That night, Devon threw his suitcase on his bed, and went through the clothes in his closet.

Impossible.

Then who had he been talking to and playing with?

He dragged the suitcase through the living room. He passed by the window and did a double take.

There he was, right outside the window!

Colin!

Devon lifted a hand to wave.

Colin looked angry, perhaps because Devon hadn’t said good-bye to him. Devon saw a flash of metal. The blade of a pocketknife was retracted. Colin held the knife in his hand, partly concealed by his shirtsleeve. His smile was a wink of white in the darkness.

Devon lowered his hand.

Colin continued to stare. Devon leaned against the window and blinked. He squinted. 

Colin’s eyes were burning red.

“Devon, what are you doing? We have to pack, we’re leaving early.” Teresia said. She had her own suitcase in hand. Her eyes were red-rimmed, and her face drawn and tired.

Devon’s heart thudded in his chest. He caught his breath

He pointed to the window. “Nothing, I…” He turned.

Colin was gone.

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