Finding Good Trouble

Chapter 9

"Get in good trouble, necessary trouble, and help redeem the soul of America."    -The Honorable John Lewis speaking atop the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, on March 1, 2020


I awoke in the morning late. Since I didn’t have to attend school, there wasn’t a reason to get up early. The house was empty when I went downstairs. It was almost eleven, so instead of breakfast, I decided on eating lunch. I found some ham slices from the deli, and there was also a chunk of Swiss cheese hidden in the crisper. After removing a package of rye bread from the cabinet, I had the makings for a ham and Swiss sandwich. I loaded it with plenty of mayonnaise. Retrieving a liter of Pepsi from the fridge, I sat down to eat.

I pulled out my phone to check my messages. There were none, but that was expected. Except for Darius and Natalie, no one else had my new number. I quickly read through about twenty emails, but except for one from Dan, I deleted the rest. I considered deleting his, but I was curious what he had to say.

I should have deleted it. He threatened to hurt me if I showed up tonight for the rally.

DanthaMan: you better keep your bitch ass home tonight fagot

I laughed because he was trying to intimate me when he couldn’t spell the word he was using to insult me. I considered sending a reply, but I couldn’t think of anything that would intimidate him.

After lunch, I went into the family room to watch television. I found nothing that interested me, so I spent two hours watching a replay of a college basketball game I had watched a few nights earlier. I fell asleep during the fourth quarter, but I was awakened when my phone rang. It was Natalie. She was sitting in her car in the driveway, and she wanted to know if I was home. I told her I was, and then I went to the front door and motioned for her to come inside.

“Hey,” she smiled as she walked through the door. “What are you up to?”

“About six foot two,” I laughed. She rolled her eyes and headed into the family room. She sat on the leather couch, and I sat down beside her. “What brings you here?” I asked.

She shrugged her shoulders and replied, “I thought I would drop by to see how you are? Stephen was talking to the guys about he did to you last night.”

I rubbed my side and asked, “Is he bragging about what he did?”

“No,” she responded, “but you better watch your back. Him and the other guys are pissed at you right now. What did you do?”

“Nothing,” I said. “They were talking about some counterprotest tonight, and they wanted me to join them. When I said I wouldn’t Stephen and Jeremy got mad.”

“What counterprotest?” she asked. “They wouldn’t tell me what is going on.”

“They wouldn’t,” I replied. “They probably think you would join the protesters.” I told her about the protest against Officer Anderson that was being planned. I then told her how some of the Somerset residents were planning to counterprotest to show their support for Anderson.

“What time is the protest?”

“No,” I insisted. “I can tell you want to be there.”

“Are you going to be there?”

I stood and started pacing. “I don’t know,” I said. “I want to be there, but I’m afraid.”

“Why are you afraid?” Just as she asked the question, my cellphone rang. I looked at the caller ID, and it was Darius. “Aren’t you going to answer that?” Natalie asked after it had rung about five times.

I nervously answered the phone. “Hello?” I looked down and saw Natalie staring at me. “No,” I said. “I can talk.” I walked across the room and tried to talk softly to Darius. He wanted to know if I wanted to join him for dinner at Charley’s. “What time?” He asked if I could meet him at five. “I’ll be there,” I replied and hung up the phone.

Natalie smiled and asked, “Who was that?”

I didn’t want to tell her it was Darius. She didn’t know about me meeting him. If she did, I knew she would have a million questions. “Um,” I stammered. “It was my mother. She wants me to join her tonight for dinner.”

“Your mother?” she laughed. “Do you always get a silly grin on your face when you talk to your mother?”

“Silly grin?” I couldn’t remember what I looked like when I talked to Darius. I was more concerned trying to keep Natalie from overhearing our conversation.

She laughed again. “You looked like a little twelve-year-old girl on the phone with her first boyfriend.” She giggled and said, “Spill it. Who was that? Do I know him?”

“No, you don’t know him,” I said adamantly.

She grinned and replied, “So it was a him?” I moaned slightly and sat down beside her.

“You’re going to find out anyway,” I sighed.

She laughed and faced me with an eager look on her face. “This is going to be good. You haven’t had a boyfriend in ages. Now tell me, who is it?”

I began, “You know I got suspended from school for a couple of days?” She nodded her head. “Nettleman suspended me because I got back late from lunch.”

“I heard Dan and the others talking about something like that,” she said, “but it didn’t make any sense.”

I sighed and replied, “I was late getting back to school because I went to lunch with Darius, and then I took him home.”

She stared into my face for a few seconds. “Darius? He’s the guy who you videoed getting beat up by Anderson. Right?”

“Yeah,” I said.

“But it still doesn’t make sense,” she said. “Did you tell them you had lunch with Darius?”

“No,” I replied. “But Stephen and Jeremy came by last night and wanted me to go with them tonight to the counterprotest. When I refused, they figured out why.”

“Is that why Stephen hit you?” I nodded my head, and she replied, “Bastard.” She gripped my hand and stated emphatically, “We gotta go to the protest now.”

“I’m not sure,” I replied worriedly.

She smiled and asked, “What did Darius want just now?”

I was trapped. I couldn’t lie and tell her I was joining my mother for dinner. I answered, “He wants me to join him for dinner.”

She smiled and asked, “What time should I meet you at the protest?”

“Who said I was going?”

She replied, “You’re meeting Darius for dinner before he goes to the protest. If you didn’t plan to go, you would have told him no.”

I smiled and replied, “Wise ass.”

She took my hand and held it. “What’s going on, Parker? I’ve known you for years, and I can tell when something is bothering you.”

I rose and began pacing around the room. “I don’t know,” I replied sadly. “I don’t know what’s going on.” I walked over to the window and looked out. “Me and him, I don’t know.”

She rose from the bed and walked across the room. She took my hand and squeezed it. “You and him? Is something going on? Is that why he wants you to join him for dinner.”

“I don’t know,” I sighed. “I wish…” I stopped and stared out the window.

Natalie asked, “Is he gay?”

“I don’t know,” I replied. “I think he may be, but…”

“But he’s black?” She looked up and stared into my eyes.

“Look, Parker,” she said as she pulled her hand from mine. “We could stay here for hours talking about this, and we would probably get nowhere. You get ready and meet Darius for dinner, and I’ll see you tonight at the protest.”

She walked over to my closet and examined my shirts. She then pulled out a light blue shirt. “Wear this,” she said as she handed it to me. “It looks good with your pretty blue eyes. Darius will love it.” She giggled, stood on her toes and kissed my cheek. “Make sure you introduce me to him tonight.” She laughed and left the room.

I walked over to the mirror and held the shirt up to my face. I thought, ‘I wonder if Darius will like me wearing this shirt?’

I nervously sat outside Charley’s. I looked for Darius’ car, but I didn’t see it. However, I wasn’t sure if he was able to get it from impound. He told me yesterday that he thought he might be getting it today. Ten minutes later, I saw him pull into the parking lot. When he got out of his car, I noticed a black female get out of the passenger side. Then I saw Dwayne and Myles exit from the back seats. I was already nervous meeting Darius. Seeing the others only increased my anxiety. I had been hoping that it would just be the two of us eating dinner.

Darius smiled when I opened my door, exited the car and walked toward him. “Hey,” he said cheerfully. “I wasn’t sure if you would show.”

“I’m here,” I laughed nervously as I struck a pose.

Myles laughed and said, “You go, Girl!”

Darius drew nearer and said, “You look nice in blue. It goes with your eyes.”

The girl next to him slapped him lightly on his arm. “Aren’t you going to introduce me?”

Darius rolled his eyes. “Parker,” he said as he put his arm around the girl. “This is my little sister, Latasha.”

“I’m not so little,” she said angrily. “Don’t rub it in just because you’re a year older than me.” She took my hand and gently held it. “Hello, Parker,” she cooed. “You’re cuter than my brother said you were.” My face immediately began to turn red.

Darius grabbed my arm and pulled me away. “Come on, Parker. Let’s go inside.”

Myles grabbed Latasha’s hand and exclaimed loudly, “He is cute, isn’t he?” Darius gripped my arm tighter, and we walked quickly away.

Charley was standing at the door as if he had been waiting on us. He told Darius he had a table reserved just for us. On our way down the aisle, several people shook Darius’ hand and told them they would be at the rally. They would then give me a suspicious look. I know they were curious why I was with him.

Charley had reserved a table for six. I sat beside Darius, and Dwayne sat to my left. I was glad because I didn’t want Myles or Latasha asking me questions during the meal. When Latasha sat down opposite us, she looked over and started giggling.

Sheila approached the table and smiled. “Hello, Darius,” she said cheerfully. She noticed me sitting beside him. “Hey, Handsome,” she cooed. “I’m glad to see you back. I guess you liked the wings the other day?”

Myles laughed and said, “That’s not all he liked.” Latasha started giggling.

Sheila looked at me and smiled, “Obviously not.” She pulled out her pad and asked, “What do you guys want?” As he did the other day, Darius ordered for me. The others also ordered the barbequed wings special.

After Sheila left, Dwayne asked Darius, “Have you decided what you’re going to say tonight?”

I looked at Darius. I knew he was attending the rally, but I didn’t expect him to speak. I just figured it would be his father and a few other civil rights leaders from Rosemont. “Not really,” replied Darius. “I’ll just get up and say what’s on my mind.”

“That should be easy for you,” replied Dwayne, “since you’re the captain of the debate team.” I gave Darius a surprised look. I was always learning something new about him.

“Debate team?” I asked. “I guess next you’re going to tell me you are valedictorian of the senior class.”

“Surprise!” laughed Myles as he threw his hands in the air. He looked at Darius and smiled. “Should we also tell him you’ll be attending Harvard in the fall?”

“He already knows that,” laughed Darius. He looked at me and smiled.

“Damn,” said Myles. His eyes lit up. “What about you winning the science competition in Washington, D.C. last year?”

“Shut up, Myles,” responded Darius. “Besides, you were on my team.”

“Yes, Girl!” said Myles as he threw his hands in the air. “We blew those judges away.”

Latasha began laughing hysterically. “Is that how you were able to win? You blew the judges?”

“Oh, hell no!” screamed Myles. “They were a bunch of old white men.” Everyone suddenly looked at me. Myles apologized, “I’m sorry, Parker. I didn’t mean to offend you.”

“I’m not offended,” I replied. “I wouldn’t have blown any old white men either.” The table erupted into laughter.

Myles stopped laughing long enough to say, “That implies you do blow.”

“You’ll never know,” I shot back. Darius and Dwayne held up their hands and I high-fived them. I was beginning to feel more confident being with them. It felt as if I belonged.

We sat around talking. Naturally, Sheila and Myles had a thousand questions for me. They wanted to know about Somerset, since neither had ever visited. I was embarrassed when they asked if there were any black students, and I had to tell them that there was only one black girl who attended my high school. We also talked about the fight in the gym on Saturday. Dwayne was a forward for the team. I couldn’t remember seeing him on the floor. However, I generally tend to just watch our players.

“Your boys are lucky that we held back,” stated Dwayne angrily. “I ain’t never had a white boy call me a nigger to my face. If I didn’t have an athletic scholarship to play at State in the fall, I would have kicked his ass so bad his momma wouldn’t have known who he was.”

“I’m really sorry,” I apologized.

“Hell,” replied Dwayne. “It ain’t your fault. We can’t hold every white boy accountable for what white racist motherfuckers say and do.”

“It still wasn’t right,” I said.

Just then, Sheila appeared at the table with our food. “Sorry, it’s late,” she apologized. “It’s a busy night. Everyone is eating before they go to the rally.” I looked quickly around the restaurant. I was beginning to be afraid that the rally was going to be large. I just assumed that a dozen people might show and then go home. However, it seemed that a lot of people were going to participate.

Darius looked worriedly at me. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah,” I replied. “I’m just worried about the rally. I think there may be a counterprotest planned.” I didn’t want to tell him that many of my friends might be there.

Dwayne laughed and replied, “Shit, Man,” he said. “It wouldn’t be a rally if we didn’t have some white motherfuckers screaming their racist bullshit at us.”

I asked, “It doesn’t bother you?”

“Of course, it bothers us,” he replied angrily. “But we’ve been hearing it all our lives. I learned what a nigger was before I started walking.”

“Amen!” said Myles. “Don’t forget ghetto monkey, picaninny, jungle bunny and coon.” My face began to redden. I had heard my friends use the terms over the years. Fortunately, I had never said them.

Latasha reached over and gripped my hand. “It’s okay, Parker. We aren’t talking about you.”

I looked at her with misty eyes and said, “Thanks.” I don’t think I had ever been so embarrassed in my life. It had never occurred to me when they said such words, that they hurt others so much. I guess I naively thought that it was just something that was said and never meant to be heard. It felt as if a scab had been yanked off, and an ugly sore was revealed.

The wings were great. We didn’t talk too much because everyone was too busy licking their fingers. It was fun to watch Myles eat. He was wearing a white sheer shirt, and he was afraid he would drip barbeque sauce on it. He held would hold a wing daintily over his plate and nibble off small bites.

“Nigger,” laughed Dwayne. “Why did you wear that shirt if you knew you were coming to Charley’s?”

I was shocked by Dwayne calling Myles by the N-word, and Myles didn’t even react. He said it so casually, that no one paid attention. I wondered if it was something that they said often. If so, why did they react so angrily when a white person said it.

But then I thought it was probably the same way with gay people. Ray and I had called each other a fag so often, I began to think it was my name. However, I would bristle when Dan, Jeremy or Stephen called me that. I guess when you are a member of a targeted group, it is acceptable to use the word among yourselves. However, if you are an outsider, it is received with scorn. If I began to hang around with Darius and his friends, I would have to get used to hearing it. I was just afraid that one day I might become so desensitized to hearing it, that I might let it slip from my lips. Then I don’t know how they would react.

Charley came over to the table as we were finishing our dinner. He sat in an empty chair and smiled at me. “Glad you came back. Isn’t your name Harper?”

“No, Sir,” I replied politely. “It’s Parker.”

“It’s nice to have you here, Parker,” he said. “Your father has eaten here a couple of times.”

“He told me, Sir.”

Charley sat back and smiled “What is this Sir shit?” he asked. “Call me Charley like everyone else does.”

“I’ll try to remember, Si… I mean Charley.”

He looked around at the group. “I heard you guys are going to the rally over in Somerset tonight. Is that right?”

“Yes, Charley,” replied Darius. “I feel that I should be there since they are protesting my arrest.”

“It wasn’t an arrest,” responded Myles angrily. “That white cop kicked the shit out of you.”

“Settle down, Myles,” warned Charley. “Getting your panties in a bunch isn’t going to help Darius any.”

Myles laughed and responded, “I ain’t wearing any panties. At least not tonight.” Everyone at the table began to laugh.

“Too much information,” laughed Charley. A stern look appeared on his face. “You kids be careful tonight. Watch what you do. I was in a lot of protest marches in the past. People just stand and wait for you to do something wrong so they can react. Remember what Martin Luther King preached. He told us to act peacefully and without violence.”

Dwayne replied, “That is old school protesting. Fuck the nonviolence. This is a new day. If they come at us acting like fools, they’re going to be treated with a knuckle sandwich.” He held up his hand and rubbed it.

“Then you’ll go to jail,” warned Charley.

“Do you think I care about going to jail?” spat Dwayne. “Look what they did to Darius, and he wasn’t doing anything. And what about Saturday night? Our guys were just playing an honest game of basketball, and they came at us with all that racist shit. Maybe your generation took it, but my generation isn’t.”

Myles clapped and said, “You tell it like it is, Dwayne. I’m ready to kick some white ass.”

Latasha said with a laugh, “More like hit them with your purse.”

“That too,” laughed Myles.

Charley rose from the table. “You kids be careful. This whole country is filled with a lot of crazy people today. I thought things were getting better, but they haven’t.”

“We’ll be careful,” replied Darius. “All we plan to do is peacefully protest.”

“But you don’t know what the other side has in store,” he warned. He looked down at me and added, “You be careful, Parker. Some folks might not like the side you’re taking.”

“I know what I’m getting into,” I replied. I said it boldly, but inside I was scared to death.

I would enjoy reading your comments concerning this story- Ronyx