The Legend of Fat-Baby Hopkins

 

The Legend of Fat-Baby Hopkins

 

He was a mean old nigga. 

I used to watch him kick his mistresses out in the early hours of the morning, just before momma’ would wake Osiris and I up for chores and breakfast. She never woke me though. It was always Mr. Hopkins, hootin’ and hollerin’ at his ‘bitches,’ between midnight and just after dawn.

Shhh…” my brother hissed as I leant against the creaky window pane. “If momma’ finds out that you’re out of bed, she gon’ give you the broom handle.”

“I ain’t afraid of no damn broom.”

“Um-hmm,” Osiris mocked, in his ‘too much like daddy’ way. “That’s what you said last time. You came back looking like a new fool.” What’s worse, is that I didn’t even make it to the front door. He was kind enough to leave that fact by the wayside. Truth be told, he didn’t need it. He was right. I was wrong. I’d die before telling him that. I held my tongue and continued my fantasies about the home across the way.

“Marley,” Osiris pestered again. “Get. Out. Of. The. Window.”

I barely heard him. At 13, the most that I knew of the world was that it hated us. Firehoses and sit-ins became our new normal. It was the 60’s after all. If you wanted to get through to someone, you’d need a little more than some gentle marching and gospel songs.

They started the war. We were just fighting it.

“Marley.”

“Shh.”

While his brothers and sisters were hard at work, getting their asses beat at picket lines, Charlie P. Williams, my father, was out gambling away our future and spreading his seed. As a consequence of his actions, our family was driven into poverty. Momma’ said that was all I needed to know.

We thrived on donations for a little while. When ‘a little while’ was up, we were dead broke. One month after declaring bankruptcy, momma’ found Charlie swinging from a tree with his own pecker stuffed down his throat. She wouldn’t tell me what they carved into his chest.

By the time I was 5, momma’ was remarried and we had a baby sister on the way. Earl was a good man, if not, then a bit excitable. Nothing fancy. For what it’s worth, after my father, momma’ was due for someone boring.

Alternatively, there was Mr. Hopkins—my North Star. He was a grace note of freedom. Beholden to nothing but himself. I wanted that.

“Shut up,” I barked. “Momma’ ain’t gonna’ do nothing, cause you ain’t gonna’ say nothing. Got it!”

Osiris was a year older. Due to a bout with typhoid fever, he found himself looking around ten years-old and living on borrowed time. As depressing as the inevitable was, it didn’t do much in the way of dampening his spirit. At the time, he was nothing but skin, bones, and attitude. Even as he struggled to sit upright and breathe without keeling over.

“Marley,” he rasped. “I know what you’re thinking.” A cough. “Don’t be a dummy.” Despite his plea, my mind was made up.

Momma’ monitored our home in the late hours. After discovering a smoldering cross on our front lawn, she’d grown paranoid and wanted to move. Paranoid, though she was, it didn’t change our fiscal reality.

There was barely enough money to keep food on the table—let alone afford a home in more accepting areas. Instead, Momma’ resolved to stand guard, with my father’s pistol, whenever step-dad had to work nights. We hadn’t seen him in three weeks. “Aren’t you curious,” I asked.

“Not enough to take a beating.”

“Oh, please. Momma’ ain’t gonna’…”

Just then, the forbidden voices sang through my window like the church choir. “Showtime,” I said, and slid a pillow between my back and the window frame. “You sure you don’t want to watch, Sye?”

“I’m good,” he murmured and curled back into his wool blanket—just in time to miss the first slap.

“Bitch, what I tell you,” Hopkins shot.

“I’m sorry, Daddy. Please don’t.”

She was on the ground before she could reach the Smith & Wesson Model 60 that he’d gifted her the previous Christmas. I’d been watching Mr. Hopkins for a while by then. Perhaps, a little too closely.

“Bitch, it’s Fat-Baby,” he continued and took a handful of her platinum blonde hair.

“She’s wearing a mini-skirt today,” I said. Sye’s snores provided an orchestra for the remainder of the show. This was only the second incident of the night. Despite disturbing his immediate neighbors, Mr. Hopkins rarely stopped before the police arrived. Oddly enough, I’d never once seen him leave in their backseat.

“C’mon, beautiful,” I whispered and let my breath collect against the glass. “You can do it.”

The woman’s name was Candy, she may as well have been an angel. In the South, no one saw more than their own race or the cast-outs of others’. Due to momma’s strict NO WHITES rule, I was lucky to get as close as I had.

Needless to say, the forbidden nature of the ‘crackers,’ only served to pique my interest. Aside from the police and some risk-takers, Candy was the only white person we’d see consistently.

In my months of infatuation, I took time to develop our relationship. A secret one. So secret, that not even she knew about it. Just me and an old pair of socks. That night, she wore a maroon and sequin mini-skirt. Along with her leggy-slim figure and Southern charm, I was sure that she tasted like a slice of warm apple pie.

Just like that, in the midst of my rub, Mr. Hopkins and Candy were back outside. This time, their disagreement spilled out into the road. I tucked myself back into my pajama bottoms, and returned to the window sill.

“Bitch,” Mr. Hopkins roared. “Where the fuck do you think you’re going?”

“No! No!” She trekked into the driveway, wearing nothing but a bra-top, with a towel wrapped around her waist. “I’m tired of this shit, Jamal. Every fucking day, another favor!”

“Bitch, what you call me?”

“Same thing your mother does, nigga!”

“Oh,” Mr. Hopkins dragged, now wielding his own charcoal Smith & Wesson. “I’m a nigga now, huh?”

“Wait. No, daddy. I didn’t mean…”

He sent her hurling to the ground with the back of his hand. He aimed the barrel at the back of her head. “Bitch, how many times I gotta tell you?” He pulled the lever and moved in for the kill. “It’s FAT-BABY!” He shot a round into the sky. “That goes for all of you eavesdroppers, minding other people’s business, too,” he shouted.

After some ranting and raging, Mr. Hopkins returned inside. He left Candy weeping in the streets. Without her towel. His last words before slamming the door were, “Maybe the cold will remind you what the fuck my name is.”

I knew it. After that night, I’d never forget.

*

It was easier to get past momma’ than I thought. I wasn’t sure of the time but it was late enough and early enough that the home was relatively quiet. Even the babies were fast asleep.

I threw on my wool coat, stole a blanket from the linen closet, and snuck past her without making a peep. Momma’ had awful nightmares. If you woke her up in the middle of one, you’d just be entering your own.

I hesitated when I hit the front door—the blanket dangling from my side as I tried to slow my heartbeat. This was it, I thought. Then, I thought to turn back. It was Candy, sobbing as she bounced door to door, looking for help. That’s what did it.

I had no choice.

“Excuse me,” I scream-whispered and looked back to ensure I closed the door behind me. Once confirmed, she was all that mattered. “Excuse me, Miss?”

She barely acknowledged me. “Don’t trust the advertising, Hun.” She spoke to the breeze. “This cookie is closed for the night.” She returned to her vicious knocking, only to be escorted off the property by a rabid looking blood-hound and Mr. Joneses sawed off shot-gun. “Get out of here, girl. Go on. I don’t want to hurt you. But I will.”

Defeated, she slung her head and returned to Mr. Hopkins driveway—where she’d no doubt have waited for him until the end of time. I took the cold air into my lungs, shook my head, and let my pecker lead the way. “Miss?”

On my approach, I wondered what she’d be like. Would she be all that I imagined? Would she tell me things? Would she love me back?

“I saw what happened.” I was sure to keep a few feet away and presented the blanket to her with both hands. “I don’t want any trouble. I just thought you needed help.”

Candy’s eyes met mine as the tears ran from her cheeks and down to her bare skin. She was sitting upright, with her arms laced around her knees—trying to keep warm. “I’m not doing any favors,” she threatened. That day, I learned that her eyes were blue.

“I don’t want any.” In one swift motion, I took a large step forward, placed the blanket beside her, and retreated back to the curb. “I just wanted to help. I’m sorry.”

She inspected the blanket before wrapping it around herself and letting off one last and theatrical shiver. “You Brenda’s kid?”

“No, ma’am. I live just across the street.”

“What’re you doing up so late?”

“Just. Um.” I’d already decided that I wouldn’t tell her the truth. Unfortunately, neither would I come up with a reasonable explanation. Instead, “Umm…”

That made her smile. “Relax, kid.” Candy rose to her feet, wiping her blood and tears on the edge of the blanket as she knotted it above her breasts. “I’m not going to get you in trouble, I promise.”

“I just couldn’t sleep.”

“Well, come here. Let me get a look at you.”

“No. That’s alright,” I protested, foreseeing my own unbridled erection in pajama bottoms. “Over here’s good.”

“Oh, come on,” she insisted. “Don’t I get to thank my Prince Charming?”

With the sweat and blood off of her face, she looked just as stunning as she had in my wet-dreams. She threw her hair forward then back and brushed it smooth with her lengthy, pink fingernails. I was hooked. Worse than before. That being said, I wasn’t dumb.

“I should get going.”

“What? You’ve got a 3 a.m. curfew to make?”

“I…”

Before I could answer, Mr. Hopkins’ porchlight flickered on and his front door blew open like it’d been breached by a swat-team. “Who dis’ little nigga you out here with?”

There he was. The most powerful man that I’d ever seen in person—built like a beanpole, but carrying himself as if the fate of the race were on his shoulders. Fat-Baby.

He stormed towards us with his glossy white shoes as his oversized collar danced beneath his scruffy goatee. He donned a deep pink club-collared shirt, to match Candy’s fingernails, and topped off his ensemble with striped dress pants, and a thin zebra skin vest.

“Bitch, I asked you a question.”

“It’s not what you think, Daddy,” Candy whimpered. Just as soon as she had, I got to witness Fat-Baby’s legendary smack. I didn’t like it.

“What’s my name,” he barked and seethed. “Say my fucking name!”

Candy hovered a palm over her fresh wound and shuddered, “Fat-Baby.

“Get your ass inside.”

Then she was gone. My impossible moment was over. To make matters worse, Mr. Hopkins didn’t follow. “Who the fuck you supposed to be?” His pupils bubbled with the purest rage I’d ever seen. “Don’t make me ask twice, nigga.” He took a single step forward and flashed his charcoal Smith & Wesson.

“I’m Marley,” I said, while fresh droplets trailed down my leg. “Marley Thomas Williams.”

“Come into the light, where I can see you.”

As the breeze dried the piss, I did as told. Within a moment of his instruction, I was close enough to smell the liquor on his breath.

“Ahh.” He inspected. “You ain’t nothing but a little, little nigga huh?”

“Sixteen.”

“Don’t lie to me boy.”

My chin sank into my chest. “Thirteen.”

Thirteen, my lord. You Brenda’s boy? If you are, your momma’ owe me fifty dollars.” He tilted his head and scratched at his goatee. “Maybe sixty. That’s the problem with this business.” He put me back in his sights. “The appraisal rates are absurd. They go up. They go down. And don’t get me started on the junkies.”

He let the awkwardness marinate before continuing. “Anyway, you Brenda’s boy, or not? Don’t lie to me. I ain’t been to church this week.”

“No, Sir.”

Fat-Baby,” he snarled, then pondered. “Or perhaps, Mr. Hopkins. I don’t need you little niggas spreading my name.”

“No, Mr. Hopkins,” I rushed. “I don’t know Brenda. I live just across the way.”

To my great dismay, I instinctively pointed back at my home. Momma’ made sure that we knew exactly where it was and exactly how to get there from any place we’d been. My arm-compass had once been a point of great pride. Then, however…

Shit.” He sucked his teeth and bent to look me right in the eye. “You Charlie Williams’ boy?”

“You knew my dad?”

A sudden excitement took him over. “Knew him? He was my best customer!”

“Customer?”

“Yeah. Ease up, kid. Marley, was it?”

I nodded.

“Ease up, Marley. This is back when I was dealing in reefer. Nowadays, it’s mostly uh,” he dragged and chose his words with notable care. “Human resources.”

“Like office work?”

“More like property management.”

“Oh,” I said. Again, he let the moment simmer. This time, I intervened. “Can I go home?”

“Home? Already? We were just getting to know each other.”

“I think that it’d be a good idea.”

“Alright, suit yourself. Let’s go.” He nudged me into the street and followed close behind. When I noticed, I stopped at once and turned to him. He stopped as well and threw me a smile. His gold tooth sparkled against the moonlit sky.

“What are you doing,” I accused—brasher now that I could see my front door. “You’re going to get me in trouble.”

He approached like a lion on the prowl. “Kid, do you know who you are?” A stringy hand clasped at my shoulders. “I mean, really. Do you know what you come from?” I didn’t want the answer until he asked. I could barely form the question, but there it was. Gifted to me by the closest thing I’d known to the devil.

And the devil was free.

“No. I don’t.”

“I can show you, if you’d like. You only got now, though. I imagine that your mother will be none too pleased with the discovery of your absence.”

At first, bewildered, I furrowed my brow. Mr. Hopkins stringy fingers would leave my shoulder and guide my eyes to a bedroom window—where the lights had just turned on.

“Shit,” I said, now aware that my ass was grass.

“So, you see, young Marley, we won’t be getting another chance. Assuming, of course, that’s actually your house.”

“It is.”

“Then I suggest we depart.”

He cupped his hand around my neck and pulled me ahead of him to block my shadow.

As we arrived at his driveway, I wondered how long we’d have, what he would tell me, and whether or not momma’ would come bursting in with my father’s pistol—to kill me in front of Candy and Mr. Hopkins.

That thought alone should have made me run home.

*

“Welcome to paradise.” Mr. Hopkins waved a magical hand in front of us. “The Coup Deville of pussy, powder, and profit. The crème de la crème of creeping niggas and dirty bitches.” His voice struck a tune. “Brick fo’ brick, THIS SHIT IS MINE!” His single stomp on the ground was followed by a phlegm-filled “hallelujah.

For me, the place needed no introduction. In all the night’s and early morning’s that I’d longed to see what was inside, I had the outside of 364 Carriage Way memorized, nearly as well as my own home. It was a two-floor marvel, with a dual garage, and swimming pool in the back—right next to a man-made waterfall and sister statues of topless mermaids.

“What do you think,” Mr. Hopkins asked, sure of what my answer would be.

“It’s beautiful,” I said and genuinely meant it.

As roundly disliked as Mr. Hopkins was, it’d be a lie to say that it didn’t spring from jealousy. Whatever he did, it paid well. Better than most things they’d let us do.

“You’re damn skippy, it does. Wasn’t cheap, either.” He stabbed my back with his boney index finger. “Come on. Before your momma’ come looking for you.”

Down a short, narrow hall was a large room with pearl white upholstery and furnishings. Beside the bay window, that looked off into the street, was a smoldering fireplace made of red brick. On the white couch were three naked women and two men that I’d never seen before. The whole place smelled like roasting pine cones, sweat, and plastic.

“Where were we?” Mr. Hopkins addressed the group. He was their forgone leader. “I know you ain’t getting’ down without Fat-Baby.” The Asian woman of the bunch dropped a needle to a record. Then the evening was serenaded by Curtis Mayfield.

Yeeaahh,” Mr. Hopkins squealed and shimmied forth. He’d forgotten all about me. “That’s that shit, Glitter. That’s that shit!” He took Glitter into his arms and danced with her until the song skipped at the end. When it did, they flipped the record and played the B-side.

“Play Jerry Butler next,” one man demanded and Mr. Hopkins told him to go fuck himself. It was clear that this was his moment. His jungle. His world. Even Glitter, the Asian woman, who I was sure he’d beaten too, was submissive to him. As were the other men. As was I.

In a void somewhere in a Southern town, I happened upon a man who was the God of his own universe. He was just as fascinating as I’d hoped. Maybe more.

“May I have this dance?” Her voice fell on me like a strike of lightning and my throat sunk into my stomach. It was her. It was my Candy—all cleaned up and naked as the day she was born. “You okay?”

“Fine. Just.”

“Does the female form disturb you, Hun?”

“No. I just-” She grabbed my hands and thrust them onto her breasts. I thought to let go, but could only squeeze and feel my pajama bottoms tighten. She smiled at the revelation and casually swiped my erection away from its puncture point in her pelvic bone. “Sorry,” I shot and immediately stepped back. “I didn’t mean…”

“It’s fine,” she giggled. “I just wanted you to get it out of your system. Now we can be friends.”

“Friends,” I inquired while lightly gripping my nimble heart.

“Yep. We can wave to each other and everything. How’s that sound?”

I had no words. I didn’t need any. She pulled me close and laid her head on my chest. She whispered, “Thank you,” and danced with me until the song was over. By the time I realized that Mr. Hopkins was watching, I didn’t care.

He didn’t mind.

*

“Ain’t love you’re feeling,” Mr. Hopkins said as we ascended the steps to the second floor.

“What do you mean?”

He didn’t bother explaining himself. Instead, he looked over his shoulder and gave me a knowing glare. As quickly as our eyes met, he returned his sights ahead and awaited me at the top of his winding staircase. “Don’t dally now, boy.” Somehow, his familiar tone was more frightening than his silence.

The second floor was just as classy as the first and had a living room of its own. Like the first, it too had a matching couch, adorned with beautiful women. They too were naked and all smiles—apparently the work of something Mr. Hopkins dubbed “booger-sugar.” They’d been enjoying quite a bit of it. This floor smelled like incense and dirty laundry.

We took a stroll down a long hallway while Mr. Hopkins rambled on about sports and taxes. I checked out for most of his spiel. I was far too occupied with everything around me.

Rather than your standard bulbs, Mr. Hopkins lights were tinted red. Instead of family portraits, neon signs hung from his walls. They flickered a variety of phrases like: CAT-DADDYHAVE A BREW, and DON’T BE SQUARE. Despite the mostly matching decor, the signs had a purpose all their own.

“Right down here,” Mr. Hopkins interrupted, just as I’d caught a peek into one of the occupied bedrooms. “Never you mind all that shit. I don’t suffer peeping-toms.” He whispered something to the couple inside and then closed the door as lightly as he could. With that done, he nudged me forward. “Come on, J. Edgar junior. The clock’s ticking and you’re bad for business.”

Finally, we arrived at a large cherrywood door that read ‘FAT-BABY,’ in thick gold letters. “You’ve seen the castle,” he said. “It’s time for you to see the throne.”

There was no bed. There was no dresser. There wasn’t so much as a nightstand. In their place was a large wooden desk that took up most of the room. Beneath it was a bear skin rug. Above was a purple ceiling light. Two large windows looked off to either side of the home.

“Like the desk?” He stepped in and made sure that I’d followed. “For what I paid, motherfuckers better like the desk.”

“I think it’s nice.”

“Used to belong to MLK. God rest his soul.”

I squirmed at the thought. “Momma’ doesn’t like him. Says he corrupted Charlie in the first place.”

Mr. Hopkins grunted and swaggered to the workman’s side of his office. “Do you know what your father did for a living?”

“Not a damn thing,” I said, echoing the information I’d been given. “He was a lush.”

“Who the fuck told you that,” Hopkins snapped and slammed the desk drawer closed. “Your father was a GODDAMN HERO.”

“Was he?”

According to Mr. Hopkins, momma’ hadn’t been honest with Sye and I. We were told that Charlie Williams was a whoremonger, a no-good scoundrel, and lazy beyond redemption. It’s what the news said. It’s what the family said. Most importantly, it’s what momma’ said.

“Take this. Flip through it and you tell me.” He handed me a leather-bound photo album. On its face was a picture of Black Jesus. On its back were smudges. Red smudges. “Don’t think about it too hard. Just take a look.”

He reached to his side for a large bean-bag and tossed it at my feet. I took my seat and did as told.

Mr. Hopkins took long sniffs from his desk as I flipped through the browning pages of pictures and news-clippings older than I was. My father was in most of them. Marching alongside thousands. “Fighting the good fight,” I said to myself.

“It goes on like that until the end.” Mr. Hopkins rose from his desk and popped his collar. “Charitable this. Peaceful protest, that. I never cared for the nigga myself. Too uppity. But I’ll be damned if he wasn’t good people.”

“Do you know who killed him?”

Mr. Hopkins sighed and slunk his shoulders. “Marley, everybody knows who killed your father. Problem is, your father was one of the few men left who would’ve done something about a murder like that.”

“Who did it?” I didn’t realize I was crying until the book was soaked. “Please tell me.”

“Flip a few pages forward. Around the middle,” his voice was calm but his eyes screamed agony. “I’m telling you now, you can’t unsee it.”

There it was. Just before he’d second-guessed his judgement, I landed on the picture. The very same one that I overheard momma’ talking about. Charlie was strung up from a tree with his pecker shoved down his throat. The words carved into his chest: NIGGER LOVER.

“Guess they never heard of mulatto. We’re all the same to the boys in hoods.” A snort. “Enemy’s an enemy.”

“Can I keep this?”

He was disgusted by the question. “Keep it?”

“Please?”

“Nigga, hell no! That’s history and Fat-Baby don’t do charity. I’m republican.” I tossed the album back onto his desk and turned to leave the office. Something must’ve tugged at the blackhole where his heart should’ve been. “Marley,” he called. “Come on back here, little nigga. I’ll tell you what, we’ll make a deal.”

“A deal like what?”

“You can buy it from me. Hundred bucks.”

“I don’t have money. I’m thirteen.”

“Thirteen,” he popped his chin upward with an excitable start. “Nigga, I got piss stains older than you. How about this?” He pulled me to him. Once again, I was his prey. “You can work the money off. With interest, of course.”

“Doing what?”

“Oh, I don’t know…” He bounced his head from side to side as he pondered and darted his eyes. “Cutting grass. Cleaning thongs. Keeping the dogs out of my stash. Shit like that.”

“You’d let me do that?”

He clenched his chest and smiled while he swooned. “By the grace of God and my own reluctant desire to assist his creatures. Do we have a deal?”

We shook on it just in time to hear momma’ calling for me at the top of her lungs.

“Now,” Mr. Hopkins continued as he rose to his feet and brushed the debris from his nose. “Let’s see if we can’t get you out of trouble.”

He wouldn’t let me take the album.

I was glad he didn’t.

*

“Marley!” My mother charged into the streets. “Marley, come home!”

“I don’t want to go out there,” I said.

“It’ll be fine,” Mr. Hopkins assured. “Trust me.”

He pushed me through the front door and I took one last look inside. Candy was all better—cuddled up with one of the men who’d grown bored with his original selection. In a moment of weakness, I called her name and waved goodbye. She blew me a kiss and mouthed, “See you soon.”

Mr. Hopkins closed the door. “Just remember, let me do the talking.”

“Please don’t get me killed.”

This time, he gave me a harder nudge and grumbled. “Nigga, I’m Fat-Baby. Ain’t nothing but diamonds on my watch.” With that word, we were off into the street.

“Marley, thank God,” my mother squealed and took me in her arms. “I should fucking kill you.” Her arms tightened around my neck and the world began to spin.

“I’m sorry, momma’.”

“Don’t give me that shit.” She finally released. “I called the cops. You had me worried sick. When we get in-”

“Hold on one second, Ms. Williams.”

“It’s Harris,” she corrected.

Mr. Hopkins bent his head and tipped a hat that wasn’t there. “My name is Fa-. Mr. Hopkins. I’m your neighbor. I live right over there.” To my surprise, Mr. Hopkins had his own arm-compass, though, his had a diamond-studded pinky ring and pointed to a much larger home.

Momma’ scooped me behind her. “I know who you are and you’ve got no business fooling with my son.”

“Madam, I assure you that isn’t the case. The boy was wandering. I simply provided refuge until I could ensure his safe return.”

“We don’t know you like that,” momma’ sniped.

Mr. Hopkins slid a hand into his pocket and rocked on his heels. “As previously stated, I’m your neighbor. Neighbors help each other, am I right?”

“I suppose,” momma’ answered.

“I’ll cut to it. The boy needs guidance. Given some recent developments in your household, I’d say he could use a little male reinforcement. Keep him on the right track, so to speak.”

“Recent development?” I said to momma’.

“Never you mind. Get your ass inside.”

“Three weeks is a long time,” Mr. Hopkins continued. Momma’ was dead silent. Almost haunted. Mr. Hopkins was more than happy to fill in the dead air. “Here’s my proposal. Let the boy come work for me. It’ll keep him off the streets and put a little dough in the house.”

Momma’ choked down a loogie, as deep as she could, and spit it on Mr. Hopkins shoes. “We don’t need any help from a nigga like you.” Now he was silent. She grabbed my ear and dragged me back across the street.

My ass was grass for sure.

Mr. Hopkins smoked a cigarette and waited for the cops to arrive. When they did, he told them that it was a false alarm and handed them something from his vest. It was small. Despite the size, the officers were pretty excited to get it.

I watched the whole thing while selecting a branch from the peach tree in our front yard.

Momma’ didn’t let me go to school the next day. My wounds were too severe and she was far too tired to bring me herself.

*

The next morning, Osirus woke me up by ripping the blanket from its fusion with my skin. “New. Fool,” he taunted and hobbled away before I could swing at him. “Momma’ got you looking like bacon on a skillet.”

I said nothing.

“Marley?” Osirus spoke low and with concern. He hobbled back over to me and pulled the blanket to its rightful place across my battered body. “Sorry.”

“It’s fine, Sye.”

I knew what his question would be before he asked. “What’d you do?”

An incomprehensible joy took over me. One that I couldn’t explain, neither did I seek an explanation. I could only tell him what I knew for sure.

“I touched a boob.”

“No way.”

“Yep.”


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