Pairing(s): Carmelo Anthony/Eddie Najera, Carmelo Anthony/Eddie Najera/Allen Iverson, Carmelo Anthony/Allen Iverson, Carmelo Anthony/Steve Nash, Allen Iveron/Steve Nash (implied), Eddie Najera/Steve Nash (implied), and for my final trick, Carmelo Anthony/Brendon Urie. Yeah, I went there.
Disclaimer:This is the product of my twisted imagination. It never happened and I'm not implying that it did. I make no profit from writing this.
Word Count: Apx 19,800 (posted in three parts: part 1, part 2 and part 3.)
Warnings, Summary and A/N: This is an AU in which I take Melo and chart the course of his life, assuming he never made it to the NBA, starting when he’s five years old and ending when he’s twenty-five. Along the way I throw in every basketball player I can possibly justify using as cops, drug dealers, art buyers, lawyers and soccer players. Be warned for drug use, dub-con, violence and character death.
“Thank you,” can’t possibly express my gratitude to horizon_greene for holding my hand through writing this (starting in May), believing that NBA fandom needed an epic AU, and then betaing the damn thing when I was done.
All of the chapter headings taken from Common’s “Forever Begins,” except for the title, which is mine.
Melo doesn’t tell anyone, but he has a secret suspicion that there aren’t any kids in Denver. He worries about it a lot on the drive cross-country, scrunched in the back of his mom’s Taurus wagon with his sister, Michelle, and all of their stuff, listening to his Walkman. There were a lot of kids in Baltimore, and there can only be so many kids in the whole world, he figures. Plus, Denver is so far away that if there are any kids there, they’re probably green. Like the Ninja Turtles. He keeps this theory to himself because his mom and his sister are quiet and worried about their own things and not listening to him much right now.
When he finally sleeps, he dreams about big, grey buildings, holes in the ground and everyone in black. He doesn’t dream about his dad. He doesn’t even think about his dad.
Melo gets lost in the chaos of moving, trying to stay out of everyone’s way and blinking in the bright light of the Colorado sun. Eventually, he just decides to sit and wait it out, dangling his legs over the edge of the front step, until a shadow falls over him and drops a basketball into his lap.
“Melo,” Melo says, watching as a kid, smaller than him and carrying a popsicle, sits down.
A grown-up passes, talking with Melo’s mom and says, “JR, you stay put. And be nice.”
JR doesn’t even blink, just waits for a second and then says, “Hold this,” and hands Melo his popsicle (it‘s the red, white and blue kind). “You have to see how fast I can run up and down the stairs. Because it’s the fastest of anyone ever.”
Melo nods, watches JR pound up and down the stairs, and eats the popsicle. They wrestle for the stick -- which might be magic -- and then decide to race for it, until Melo’s mom catches him in mid flight and hauls him inside, yelling at him about running and about his breathing and about being careful.
Later that afternoon, JR and his mom show up at Melo’s apartment door. JR’s mom hands something that smells like spaghetti to Melo’s mom, telling her in a funny voice -- like she doesn’t really mean it, or that she’s sorry for something -- “Welcome to Sun Valley,” and JR hands Melo the popsicle stick before squealing and taking off. Melo ducks his head out the door quick enough to see JR trip over his own feet and tumble, laughing, over himself at the end of the hallway.
“It was the sugar,” his mom explains, heading after him. “He’s not supposed to have any after lunch. Then, “JR.” And, “JR!”
“Sun Valley, building H,” Melo repeats to his mom, for the gazillionth time.
“618,” he says. “Can I go?”
His mom sighs and shrugs. “Only on the front steps and only as long as your sister is with you.”
Melo disappears before she’s done and finds JR pushing himself down the hall on an old skateboard. On his stomach.
“We can go out,” Melo says, putting his hands on JR’s back and pushing, “but only as far as the steps.
Tumbling off the skateboard and into the wall, JR lays and blinks up at Melo, his mouth stained purple from something he had with lunch. “We can’t see from there. Not really.”
“I can’t go anywhere else,” Melo repeats, and JR sticks his tongue out at him. “Loser.”
“Let’s go then,” JR says, standing and marching for the stairs, offended by Melo’s lack of coolness.
It turns out that they can see okay from the top of the steps, and JR keeps a running commentary on the guys playing basketball in the parking lot, only occasionally drowned out by the rattle of the chains in the hoop, or the yelling of the players.
“ -- won State last year, and he was only a sophomore, who played football, usually.”
Distracted by the storm coming in over the mountains, turning the sky green and purple and silver, Melo glances back at JR and shakes his head. “Who played football?”
Rolling his eyes, JR points to one of the shortest guys in the lot, dribbling around his ankles with the flat ball, and says, “Allen Iverson.” Like, he means, “God.”
“He’s short,” Melo says, and waits for the rain to start to fall.
Thunder claps a second later, and combines with a sharp clang when the ball hits the rim and shoots off in their direction.
“Hey! Get that,” one of the guys in the lot yells at them, and JR is off and running, and before Melo’s thinking about it, he is too. They spring across the lot and the street and then into the field, kicking the ball in front of them now, forgetting the steps, the storm and the guys behind them that might someday make it for real.
It’s hard to tell which happens first, JR launching himself at Melo or Melo’s lungs shutting down. Or maybe it’s the rain.
A giant rubber band pulls tight around Melo’s chest and every breath is a fight; every time he tries to inhale, he feels like he’s trying to breathe through sand.
JR kneels wide-eyed beside him, and Melo wonders what he sounds like.
“What the fuck did you two midgets do with the -- shit.”
There’s someone else in the field with them, but Melo can’t focus, not even when he’s picked up and held close, face pressed against a boney shoulder. Minutes pass and his blood sounds like the ocean; unbearably loud, harsh pressure in his head and ears and fingertips.
Hands on his back, pounding at first, then soothing. And then hands in his face, opening his mouth.
“Your inhaler, Melo. Breathe.” His mom’s voice is scary-calm as he tries to get enough air in with the chemical in the inhaler. He must; the band loosens. His entire body starts to shake and that’s familiar. The medicine acts like adrenaline, and sometimes, when he’s had to actually go to the hospital, they’ve given him stuff that’s like actually speed, and he can’t sit still for hours afterward, or even hold a pencil steady enough to write his name.
He cracks an eye and sees the skinny guy that JR likes sitting in his living room drinking a Coke with his mom, looking at him with eyes so big it’s almost funny.
“Okay?” Allen asks Melo’s mom, who nods and looks at Melo all squinty.
“Thanks,” she says, and gets up. It’s probably time for her to go to work and now she might have to call in and that will make her really, really mad.
“I’m fine,” Melo says, trying not to let his teeth chatter.
“And I can stay or whatever,” Allen says.
Looking at the clock and then at Melo, Melo’s mom rubs at her eyes and then shrugs. “I’ll go get your sister, too,” she says, and kisses Melo’s forehead on the way out.
North takes on George Washington at the State Championships again in 1992, and this time Melo and JR are in the stands. Melo feels as important as an eight year old can in situations like this. He and JR plan their heckling beforehand, not completely secure in their ability to heckle on the spot and needing to have good material for George Washington’s star shooting guard. The problem is coming up with things that rhyme with Chauncey.
Melo’s mom is never as comfortable around Allen as she was the afternoon he saved Melo; she’s not stupid, she tells him and Melo. She knows what Allen’s friends do. “I know about the drugs,” she says in a whisper.
Allen’s response is always a smile and a shifty glance at the glass in her hand. “So?” You do what you have to, he tells Melo, and living in Sun Valley, that kind of stuff really isn’t a secret. Melo can sit on the front steps and watch guys he knows and some he doesn’t sell anything and everything in the lot where he first saw Allen play. That’s during the day; at night, he can watch the girls come out and stalk through the breezeways between the buildings, or stand on the corners and smoke and laugh and then disappear.
Melo and JR spend more and more time with Allen, hanging around the high school, or at Allen’s house (a little place with a yard on 11th and Federal, near the park), staying the night there sometimes when he falls asleep before he can take them home. And Melo’s mom just works and drinks more and says less about it.
The weekend before State, Melo and JR are crashed out on a mattress in Allen’s living room, playing on GameBoys he bought them, and whining about the cold. They’ve curled up together for warmth, and Melo’s comforted by the familiar, Kool-Aid sweet way JR smells, and the steady mumble-talk from the kitchen where Allen and Tuwanna are arguing.
“If he wins, he’ll buy us new Walkmans,” JR says, pressing his toes into Melo’s thigh. “He told me so yesterday.”
“He’ll win,” Melo says, because it’s what has to happen. Melo believes it like he believes that JR has a stolen pack of Starbursts in his pocket that he‘ll forget about and his mom won‘t find and then will wash, and which will permanently meld parts of his jeans together in the dryer. He believes it like he believes that he’ll see the ocean again someday, even though he never liked it much when he lived in Baltimore. He believes it like he believes that Allen will always and forever protect him. Even from things like vampires and Jason Voorhees. (Allen gets cable and Melo and JR sat paralyzed through all of Friday the 13th VI: Jason Lives two weeks ago.)
“Yeah,” JR nods, setting his GameBoy down and stretching out. “He’s gonna break Chauncey’s ankles, man --”
Melo turns just as Tuwanna stomps past them, Allen right behind her. “It’s not like I don’t know how to take care of kids,” he says, standing still, not trying to stop her.
She spins and her hair snaps around her shoulders, beads hitting each other in angry clicks. “Them?” She points at Melo and JR. “Your strays?”
Melo tries to shrink into JR, to blend into the shadows creeping around the corner of the room.
“Babies can’t live on sugar and video games,” she says, finally, and lets herself out.
North wins State, or, really, Allen does. Nobody’s ankles get broken, but Melo and JR are convinced that Allen’s gonna make it in the NBA and that Chauncey’s done. “I mean, he looks like the Fresh Prince, or something,” Melo tells JR, who nods back at him. Nobody who looks like the Fresh Prince will ever succeed in anything. It’s a known fact.
For two weeks in April, Allen doesn’t leave the house -- someone’s a little bit mad at him, he tells Melo -- and Melo thinks it might be the best thing that’s ever happened. Ever. Melo goes from home (where he has Rice Krispies, Michelle has a waffle, and their mom has a Bloody Mary made with tomato soup if they‘re out of V8) to school to Allen’s, and Allen is there every day. He teaches Melo and JR to play cards (go fish) and dice, and since the lot is iced over and they can’t play basketball, he starts to teach them how to box too.
On his knees, he’s a little shorter than JR and about Melo’s height (Melo prays every night that someday he’ll grow; JR’s still skinny, but it seems like Melo’s always cocking his head, just a little, to look right at him.) They push the living room furniture around and Allen kneels on the old mattress and JR and Melo take turns punching at his hands. He’s always too quick for them and their boxing matches usually end up with them flailing in his direction while he slaps them until their cheeks start to sting and they tackle him.
The only problem is Ra. Ra is Allen’s cousin and, “this is Ra’s house,” Allen reminds them. Ra spends most of his time in jail or on work release (Melo thinks that this might be like what happens on the Discovery Channel, where they catch the crocodiles and lock them up for a while, but then poke them with a little remote control thingy and release them), but he’s out for now, hanging around, making Allen jumpy and nervous and mean.
Melo and JR spend a lot of time thinking up ways Ra might get sent back to jail.
“He steals the diamonds from the Natural History Museum,” is JR’s favorite scenario, because he’s been watching a lot of James Bond movies lately.
Melo thinks it would be much more awesome if Ra were to steal the Tyrannosaurus Rex from the museum, but he and JR always get stuck plotting that one out.
“I wish,” JR says, sprawled over the back of Allen’s couch, “that Ra would eat shit and die.” It’s JR’s new favorite thing to say and he applies it to everything.
“I know,” Melo says, squirming around on the floor, looking for the M&M he just dropped. “He ruins everything.”
“Not everything,” Allen says, laughing, and softly kicking Melo in the side as he walks past. “At least I can go out again.” He ties a black bandanna around his head and shrugs his coat on. “You two little shits stick around here. There’s peanut butter on the counter. And clean spoons. “ He waits, and Melo sits up, hoping he’ll change his mind and sit back down with them and watch The Three Amigos.
“There’s one Pepsi,” Allen says finally. “So, share. And J?” He pushes JR off of the couch so that he bounces on the cushions and lands on the floor. “Don’t touch the beer, little man.”
He leaves in a rush of cold air that makes Melo draw his knees up to his chest.
“Check this out,” Allen tells Melo a week later. He shows Melo a letter and Melo doesn’t get it at first. He can’t read well enough to figure out what it says, but there is a picture of a Buffalo on the top and that means --
“Really?” Melo asks, and reaches for the letter, wiping his hands on his pants first to get all the sticky off.
“Mmm,” Allen says. “You’ll have to start hitching rides up to Boulder to see me in the fall, Jello.”
Melo takes a half-hearted swipe at Allen and then goes back to looking at the letter. He can’t believe that Allen really, actually got into college, or that he’ll be leaving. For a minute he tries to imagine life without Allen to take care of him and his breath starts to catch funny in his chest. Then the walls of the little kitchen start to collapse in on him and his lungs burn.
“Oh, hey,” Allen says. “Hey, no.”
Sometimes, Melo forgets how fast Allen moves. Like, when he’s sitting in front of Melo one minute, and then a second later he’s throwing a half-empty beer can at Ra and telling to get his ass up and outside, “Now, lazy fucker.”
Melo’s kind of too big to be carried, but Allen manages it -- just out to Ra’s Caddy -- and then he holds Melo in his lap while Ra drives him home.
Really, the only thing that’s surprising about it, is that it Melo’s already nine years old (almost ten) the first time he sees someone get shot.
Allen’s only gone a month. He has to come back because Tuwanna has her baby. She wasn’t going to let him near her, or it, originally, and that was kind of what the whole thing back in April was about, Melo figures, but Tuwanna never can make up her mind about anything except that she loves Allen. “Like, I can’t help it or something,” she tells Melo, as if he understands this shit. And actually, he does.
Tia is a tiny thing, and really, really pissed off. Tuwanna says Tia looks like Allen, but Melo thinks she looks a little bit like an alien. And that’s not because he and JR watch a lot of the X-Files, either.
“I’ve got two kids,” Ra says, sounding bored. “They don’t get any more interesting.”
Tia’s all laid out on an old blue and orange blanket, kicking and flailing and working up to a really big scream, or maybe just a lot of drool. Melo’s on one side of her and JR the other, just to make sure she doesn’t roll away and get lost under the couch or something.
“I’ve got shit for you to do,” Ra says, getting impatient, like the fact that he drives them around and lets them keep hanging out at his house makes him, like, the boss of them or something.
Melo ignores him and JR keeps trying to smile at Tia but he can’t because it hurts, and all of his smiles turn into weird grimaces while he tries not to move his face.
“Ow,” he says, finally, and Melo resists the urge, for the millionth time, to flick one of JR’s ears where Ra pierced them two days ago and put in little diamond studs that glitter pink from the blood still crusted around them.
“What do want them for?” Allen asks, quiet.
They stare at each other for a minute and Allen gives first, shrugging. “Be careful,” he says, and Melo doesn’t know whether it’s meant for them or Ra.
Errands for Ra are easy. Take the bag -- like the one Melo’s mom packed his lunches in before he got his Jurassic Park lunch box -- and give it to Caron by his car (a red Mercury Cougar) in the alley on 6th. Sometimes Caron gives them something to give back to Ra, and sometimes not.
“So, holy shit,” JR says when they get out of Ra’s house. “When Tuwanna was feeding Tia? I totally saw her boobs.”
“No way,” Melo says, picking his way along the sidewalk, absorbing the late fall heat.
“Boobs,” JR repeats, smacking Melo’s chest for emphasis, and Melo shrugs, wondering what it is he’s missing.
Caron’s waiting for them, smoking and leaning on his car, with another guy -- a big guy -- Melo’s never seen before. They give Caron the bag and wait while he glances inside.
“Not enough,” the big guy says, twitching a little while he talks, and rubbing at a tattoo on his neck.
“No?” Caron asks, voice dull, like he doesn’t care. Then, “Guess it isn’t.” He squints down at Melo. “Ra give you anything else?”
“No.” Melo starts backing away, pulling JR by his shirt.
“No,” JR says, holding his ground now.
“Kenyon, back off,” Caron says, throwing the bag in his car. “We’ll talk to Ra later.”
Melo and Allen play one on one until it gets dark and Ra grills burgers and hot dogs for everyone, splitting a beer with JR when he thinks Allen isn’t looking. Allen keeps his shirt on despite the heat and JR just keeps licking his lips and grinning at Melo. “My face is numb,” he says, around a hot dog bun he’s covered in ketchup.
“There’s no hot dog in that,” Melo points out.
JR’s eyes get big and he starts to laugh at himself, spilling ketchup on his shirt (Melo’s shirt. His faded, old Elway jersey) and then he stops. “Um,” he says, and then Melo hits the ground, smothered between hot, dry dirt and Allen’s chest.
Gunshots echo between heartbeats. Melo can feel the recoil of Allen’s gun as it slams through his body into Melo‘s.
When it’s quiet again and still, that’s when Melo starts to cry hot, silent, suffocating tears that scald his cheeks and his neck.
No one sees anything. Allen didn’t have a gun. Ra did; it’s Ra’s gun and Ra’s house and Ra’s fight. Caron’s in the hospital and Kenyon’s dead and Ra’s back in prison.
JR and Melo weren’t even there.
When Allen goes back to Boulder, Melo stops speaking for a week. JR does his speaking for him, and almost no one cares. One night they take the old Elway jersey with the red stains and burn it in the lot where Allen used to play basketball and Melo and JR watched him from the front steps and fought over magic popsicle sticks. Back when they were kids.
Blinking lights make Melo dizzy and headachy. The strong, sharp smell of pine doesn’t help, but he’s stuck with both, rubbing his nose with one hand and trying to string a set of chili pepper lights around the kitchen window with the other.
“Help,” he says in JR’s direction, getting nothing but more frantic blinking and the sound of a candy cane being enthusiastically chewed.
Melo drops the chili peppers into the sink and, stepping carefully off of the rickety stool, backs out of the tiny kitchen looking for JR, finding a large, boy-shaped tangle of sticky lights parked under the Christmas tree instead.
“Can you get loose?” he asks, half-serious.
“Dunno,” JR answers, unconcerned. “ ‘S nice under here.”
Folding himself up under the tree, Melo starts unwinding a passive, pepperminty JR, who occasionally tries to stick the remainder of his candy cane in Melo’s ear, getting bits of it stuck into Melo’s brand new braids. Melo’s completely given up on the untangling and is choking JR when his mom breaks them up, ignoring their shrieks and kicks.
Thankfully, Melo’s mom is a deep sleeper, especially after finishing that last bottle of McCormick’s. It makes it easier for Melo and JR to sneak out and sit shivering and sniffling on the front steps waiting for Allen, because he said he’d be driving back into town that night.
He’s late, of course.
After fifteen minutes, JR confesses to Melo that, “I’d eat you if I had to, man. Like, if we were stranded in the snow?”
“Like Alfred Packer?” Melo asks, pulling his beanie down over his ears. They’d studied him in social studies earlier that fall, and when Melo told Allen about it -- all the grisly details -- Allen just laughed and said that one of the cafeterias on campus was called the Alfred Packer Grill, and Melo thought that Boulder must be the coolest place in the history of ever.
“ -- meaty, y’know?” JR’s saying.
“You,” JR says, poking Melo in the ribs. “Could live off you for days.”
Melo’s about to stuff a snowball down the back of JR’s shirt when Allen drives up in Ra‘s Caddy, window open, smoking and waving at them to hurry.
“In. Ininin,” he says, ashing on the ground and grinning at them, not bothering to turn the radio down.
During the ride back to Ra’s house, Allen talks a lot about school and about basketball and Chauncey and his roommates, who’re soccer players.
“I‘m taking art classes and a music class,” Allen says. “And I failed math.” He takes the turn onto Federal a little too wide and the El Dorado spins out into oncoming traffic.
Melo digs a fingernail into some loose stitching in the Caddy’s upholstery and nods, not listening to the words, just to Allen’s voice.
“Me n’ JR,” he starts, then sniffles with cold and hunches down into his Avalanche starter jacket. Someone broke the back window out the Caddy the last time Allen was in town, over Thanksgiving, and he hasn’t bothered to fix it. There’s just a Hefty bag and duct tape keeping the snow from building up on the inside of the car. “We got drunk the other night on mom’s vodka (all he remembers is trying to pick the red label off of the glass bottle and then the headache) -- so we‘re grounded and s‘posed to spend all of Christmas break with her and Mrs. Smith. And I have to go to mass too,” he finishes in a rush. He hasn’t been to mass since his dad died, he’s pretty sure. Churches are bad luck.
Allen thinks for a minute and then punches Melo hard on the arm once, waits for a second, and then does it again, like when you play slug-a-bug and get two for flinching. “Asshole,” he says to Melo,” jerking the wheel so they’re back in their lane. “You‘ll be okay.”
Tuwanna is already at the house, but she and Tia are asleep, so Allen gives Melo and JR each a CD, a sketch he made of them in his art class, and a Zima.
“To Santa Claus,” he says. “The holly, jolly motherfucker.”
It’s the first time they all get drunk together.
Toward midnight, Melo starts to feel bubbly instead of snuffly and sits down in front of the radiator with Allen’s sketchbook. It has some of the old stuff in it: Ra playing ball; Tuwanna before she had Tia, sitting in the yard and laughing; Melo and JR wrestling; and Melo alone at the table, concentrating on a game of cards. But there’s new stuff two: a silly still life with fruit; an old building labeled Kettredge West -- the dorms where Allen lives; and a naked dude.
“My roommate,” Allen says, looking over Melo’s shoulder. “Steve. I can’t get his hair right, and it’s a little longer than that now.”
An itch in the middle of his back makes Melo press the sketchbook closed and hand it to Allen with a blank face. “You still suck pretty bad at drawing. Stick to playing ball, man.”
Money is a problem for everyone, but Melo’s almost twelve now and he doesn’t care about anything but hot asphalt, a new pair of Reeboks, the perfect fifteen foot jump shot, and making the buzzing, pins-and-needles feelings in his body go away. He’s growing; he aches; and he’s restless.
Tuwanna’s cousin, DerMarr, offers to let Melo and JR run errands for him. Allen says no and Melo knows why, but Allen won’t even bring it up -- the why -- and Allen’s totally not in charge of him and fuck Allen anyway. Where the fuck is he? Boulder? What kind of shit is that? Leaving his baby and Tuwanna and Melo behind. Fuck him. So, yeah. Errands for DJ are just like errands for Ra, only they get paid better, ’cause they’re bigger now and work longer hours and wander farther from the Sun Valley projects.
At breakfast, the day after school’s out and Melo’s officially done with the sixth grade, Michelle corners him, slamming a piece of paper on the table and telling him through gritted teeth that unless he takes summer school, he ain’t gonna pass the grade, and “what is this shit, Carmelo?” she asks, yanking on one of his raggedy braids -- Tuwanna did them for him a week ago and they’re already growing out.
He doesn’t answer her and she shrugs. “I don’t care, Melo. I really don’t. But I will lock your ass in this house until you make up your work if I have to because that’s what mom would want.”
Which is totally not fair and makes the milk in his Rice Krispies taste sour. Seriously, his mom isn’t dead, she’s just in the hospital with chest pains, or vodka withdrawal.
“Whatever,” he says, but he means “okay,” and he goes back to school for a month over the summer so he can pass the grade.
It’s just coincidence, then, that he’s home one afternoon when the doorbell rings.
“A couple of questions,” Detective Duncan says. “That’s all.”
Michelle sits next to Melo and cracks her knuckles over and over, a steady rhythm over the rattling hum of the old air conditioner.
“Were you living here two years ago?” Duncan asks. “Two summers ago?”
They both nod. They’ve lived in Sun Valley for almost seven years. Forever. Now, Baltimore seems like a dream. A hazy, humid, half-forgotten dream.
Duncan flips open a notebook and clicks his pen, thinking. Melo feels like biting him and running for it, hitching to Boulder and living in the Alfred Packer Grill, but Michelle has a hold of his arm now, her long, silver nails biting deep into his skin.
“Carmelo,” Duncan starts, making a quick note. “Do you know Allen Iverson?”
Melo nods again and starts to sweat, fear a knot in the back of his throat.
“Do you know if he owns a gun?”
“No,” Melo lies, wondering if Michelle has made him bleed yet.
Duncan makes another note, looks off into the space to the left of Melo’s head and then asks, “Did you see Kenyon Martin get shot and killed?”
Michelle jumps and coughs and Melo twitches his arm away from her.
“I wasn’t --”
“He wasn’t --”
They stop and Michelle finishes, “There. He wasn’t there. He was here.”
Another note; the pen clicks and Melo reminds himself to blink.
“Some new evidence has come to light that places Mr. Iverson at the scene,” Duncan says, standing. “So, if you remember anything, let me know.” He puts his card on the arm of the couch and lets himself out.
Melo takes his time walking to Ra’s, in case he’s being followed. He walks through empty lots and cuts behind buildings, working some of the tension off and slowing his heartbeat.
The house is usually overflowing with people, but it’s quiet when Melo finally gets there, dragging his feet in the gravel of the walk and kicking up clouds of white, fluffy cottonwood pollen. There’s a strange truck in the Caddy’s place on the street, an old red Toyota pick-up covered with bumper stickers that say things like “The People’s Republic of Boulder,” and “Keep Boulder Weird,” and “Widespread Panic World Tour 1995.” There’s some ski passes hanging from the rearview mirror and a bungee cord holding the tail-gate up.
The primer-grey metal of the right front fender is hot and rough to the touch when Melo runs his hand over it. It’s mean and beat up and cool and real; not like the shiny, slinky cars Melo sees everyday. Not like the Caddy.
Allen and JR and two guys Melo’s never seen before are sitting in the living room, smoking a bowl. Well, JR’s not. Allen says not until they’re thirteen, which is another year, but he’s really serious about this, and Melo doesn’t feel like pushing. Not now.
The screen door creaks behind him and Allen points in his direction.
“There he is,” and he slaps one of the guys -- the one with lighter hair -- on the leg. “There he is. Like, my baby brother,” he rolls off of his chair and onto his back on the floor. “My soul brother,” he says to the ceiling. “My Melo.”
Melo nods and grins.
“This,” Allen says, pointing to the guy he keeps slapping. “Is Steve. And Eddie.” He flips over onto his stomach. “They play soccer,” he says; an afterthought.
Bouncing on his heels, patience worn out, Melo whispers, “Al, the police --”
Only to be waved off. “I know,” Allen says. “Can’t do nothin’ but wait.”
The second time that Melo gets drunk, things are a little different. Everyone is tense; JR’s been into something he shouldn’t be, and Eddie and Steve don’t really belong. Steve passes out, eventually, on the couch, with his hand tangled in Eddie’s long hair, while Eddie talks to Allen, non-stop, in a mix of Spanish and English that makes Melo want to cling to him. And the drunker Melo gets, the more uncontrollable the urge is.
There’s a memory, hidden so deep that Melo can only feel it anymore, of a big, solid body holding him when he was small and murmuring to him in Spanish. Eddie’s accent is wrong -- he’s Mexican and Melo’s dad was Puerto Rican -- but when Melo leans against Eddie’s side, the vibrations -- the tone feels the same.
“Hey,” JR says, “Hey, guys,” loud and sharp and Melo flinches. JR is staggering toward the couch, squinting and looking almost mad about something.
“Guess what?” he says, stretching and almost falling onto Melo.
“Mmm,” Allen hums from the floor, not paying any attention.
“No tits,” JR says, smirking.
“What?” Eddie asks, eying JR warily. Melo isn’t following either.
“Melo,” JR starts again, “doesn’t like tits. Girls. Both.”
“He’s twelve,” Allen says, still muttering. “So’re you.”
“Shut up, dickface,” JR says, scrunching his face up and stumbling for the bathroom.
Melo holds his breath and counts backwards from fifty, getting stuck on thirty-three and saying it four times. He wishes, very hard, that when he opens his eyes, everyone will be gone.
Melo pretends not to hear.
He opens his eyes and looks back at Steve. “What?”
Steve sits up and shrugs, “I‘m not always into girls.” And he tips Eddie’s head back and kisses him on the lips, which is so gross that Melo can’t even sit still, squirming across the carpet away from Eddie.
JR apologizes in the morning by offering Melo half of his Milky Way bar and they don’t talk about it again that summer.
continued in part 2.