THIS IS THE WAY BOY MEETS GIRL… A BEAST MEETS A MONSTER.
The world is gray.
No surprise there. How else would I expect it to look on my seventeenth birthday?
I step out of my rundown house and breathe in the chilled air, nearly freezing my lungs in the process. On the other side of the door that’s closing behind me, is my thirty-four-year-old mother, who’s passed out on the filthy living room floor with a needle in her arm. Again. Whitney—the woman I have no choice but to call my mother—decided to use my birthday as an excuse to push more heroin into her veins. It was a time to celebrate, she said, as she pressed the plunger and fell into a lifeless stupor on the couch, just before losing control of her bodily functions and sliding down to the floor where I left her. Happy Birthday, Solomon King.
I can see my breath as I step off the squeaky, dilapidated porch and zip up my new coat. It’s thick, with a Philadelphia Eagles logo on the back. Really nice. It’s mine, but it wasn’t always. Because who are we kidding? Isn’t it obvious? Whitney is a junkie, so we all know she would never save enough money to buy me this coat. But it’s freezing in South Philly in December, so I needed something to keep me warm. I also needed these Timberland boots and sweatpants, just like I needed this Eagles beanie, and when you live in Strawberry Mansion with a junkie for a mother, you do what you’ve got to do. You take what you need, and make no mistake about it, I take what I want, when I want, from who I want. So let’s just say I needed the clothes I’m wearing more than the little rich prick I took them from. I’m sure his mother and father love him to the moon and back, so he probably has five new Eagles coats to replace the one I stole from him. Don’t feel bad for him. I don’t.
I walk out of my yard, closing the rusty fence behind me, and start down the street toward Aaron’s Arcade. It’s only a block away from the shit-pile I call home, and as I walk on the gray sidewalks that are glistening with pellets of ice, bypassing rundown house after rundown house, I pass a group of bums on the corner huddling around a metal trash can with a fire blazing inside of it. The flames release tiny embers that float around the entire group as they warm their hands and skinny bodies. There’s four of them, and as I walk past, one of them notices me. He’s the smallest of the four at maybe five-six or seven, and probably the youngest with the most to prove, but his glaring eyes catch the attention of the others, and before long, all of them are looking me up and down. They see my fancy coat and Timberland boots. I bet they’re thinking about how warm I look, because all of them have little thin jackets that look like they’re not offering nearly enough warmth. I see them watching me out of the corner of my eye, but I press on without care.
“Nice coat, kid,” the little one says. He steps away from the crowd as if he might walk towards me. That’s when I stop walking and face them, smiling.
“Aww, that’s so sweet of you to say. I bet it’d fit you nice and snug,” I say with amusement dripping from my words. I smile at the little black kid, and he glares back, but it slowly fades and morphs into confusion. He looks like he doesn’t know what to think of my smile, then turns around to look at his crew.
The biggest guy in the group is lanky with a thick beard that could use the love and affection of a comb, and he leans forward, squinting his eyes to see me better. His face freezes when he recognizes me.
“Come back over here, Darnell,” the big one says to the little one. “That’s Solomon.”
“What? I don’t care who he is,” Darnell spits back, trying his best to stay tough, but the tall one won’t let it go.
“Yes you do,” he replies. “Just come back. Let it go.”
“Oh, don’t let him discourage you, Darnell,” I interject, taking a step towards him. “I’d love to play.”
Little Darnell frowns again, before finally listening to his inner-self and stepping back over to the burning trash can. He re-enters into the empty space he just vacated and flashes me his best tough-guy-frown. I tilt my head, poke my lip out and pout in disappointment, just as I turn and continue on my path. As I walk away, I hear the tall one say, “Don’t mess with that kid, man. I’ve heard about him.”
The rest of my walk to the arcade is quiet. Nothing but the sound of my own footsteps and rows of broken down houses. The cars that pass aren’t fancy or flashy, and the passengers inside are just as beaten down as the automobiles. The trees have no leaves in December, and they seem to represent Strawberry Mansion perfectly—dead and ugly, but still standing, barely.
Most people are inside because it’s too cold to be out here, so I don’t see another person until I reach Aaron’s. As I approach the arcade, my first thought is that I’m probably going to have to punk some kid for his money, because I only have two bucks in my pocket, and I’m going to burn through that pretty quick. But as I walk past the narrow alley just before the entrance, I see something out of the corner of my eye.
In the middle of the alley, I see commotion that surprises me. It’s two boys and a girl, standing perfectly between the entrance and exit of the grimy alley. They’re arguing about something I can’t make out, but my eyes are drawn to the girl. She doesn’t look like she’s from around here. She has blonde hair, full lips, a thin nose, and blue eyes I can see all the way from over here. She’s wearing a white sweater and has a look on her face that says she isn’t even remotely afraid of the boys who are laughing at her for some reason. She’s holding her own, and I like the show the three of them are putting on in front of me, so I decide not to go into Aaron’s just yet. While I watch in amusement and wonder, I reach into the pocket of my sweats with my right hand, carefully bypassing the gun I keep there, and pull out my lighter, while simultaneously pulling my cigarettes out of the other pocket with my left hand, making sure to avoid the box cutter I keep in that particular pocket. I light one up and lean against the side of the brick building, just as the blonde girl reaches back and slaps one of the boys right in the face.
Not a second later, the heavy-set boy she hit pushes her, sending her falling backwards onto the cold, slick cement.
“Bitch!” the boy yells. He’s filled with a lot of pride for a guy his size picking on a girl her size. He even puffs out his chest a little. When I look at him, two things stand out to me. One: he has a hard time growing facial hair, but he’s really trying because he thinks it’ll make him look tougher. Two: he’s done this before and has signature moves for being intimidating, and sticking out his flabby chest is one of them.
The other boy is tall and slender, and he has the look of a kid who spends his free time dressing up in a Nazi uniform and doing that stupid salute to himself in the mirror, with his thick blonde hair and dreamy blue eyes. He screams something about money at the girl, so from the looks of it, I’ve walked up on an attempted robbery. My, my. This is just the kind of thing that puts a smile on my face, but usually it’s me who’s doing the robbing.
When the Nazi boy reaches down to try to dig into the girl’s pocket, she kicks him in the chest and he stumbles back, hitting the dumpster behind him. I smile as I watch this girl get up and throw a punch at the chunkier boy, hitting him in the jaw. The only problem is that this girl is just too small, and the chubby boy is pissed off now. He draws back and slaps her across the face, but to my delighted surprise, she doesn’t scream out in pain, and she doesn’t run away. She stands up tall, and tries to punch him again, but the Nazi grabs her arm and throws her back down to the ground. The two of them jump on her and start trying to dig into her pockets and take off her watch. Whoever bought her those nice clothes is going to be pissed when they see how dirty they are now. The boys are too strong for her, and she’s being overpowered by both of them, and that just doesn’t sit well with me. I put out my cigarette on the brick wall beside me and start down the alley, clapping my hands in delight.
“Well done!” I shout, grabbing their attention. “What a show! I was quite entertained for a moment there.”
“Hey, just get the hell out of here, man,” the slender one says to me as he leans over the girl, still taking off her watch. “This has nothing to do with you.”
“Maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t,” I reply, swaying my head back and forth. “But I’m here now, and the sight of two boys pushing around a little blonde girl—well that doesn’t put a smile on my face.”
“Hey bro,” the chunky one says as he stands up straight and turns to me, showing me his linebacker physique. Now that I’m closer, I can tell he’s a thick kid, not just chubby. I can see he’s broad-shouldered even under his black leather jacket. “You sure you want this to be your problem?”
I let out a laugh that seems to rattle both of the boys, and it puts a frown on the girls face.
“Oh I’m sure,” I answer, still smiling like a kid on his birthday. How perfect. This is my present! “Nothing would bring me more joy.”
I’ve never been the type to rely on a lot of talking. Instead, I let actions speak for me, which has built me a reputation that obviously hasn’t reached these two. So I decide to show them.
Without another word, I charge at the thicker kid and tackle him. The two of us bounce off of a dumpster before crashing to the ground, and the second we land, I start swinging. My fists connect with his chubby face over and over again, and he’s defenseless with me sitting on top of him. Blood explodes from his face and flies all over the ground of the alley. Every time I hit him, more blood splatters on my fists and face, and for some reason I can’t explain, it makes me laugh. The sight of his bloody face is hysterical to me, especially after he was trying so hard to be tough on this little blonde girl. So I punch him and laugh like a birthday-boy should!
You see, other people are about trying to force you to believe something without showing you it’s real. They have no evidence of what they’re trying to convince you of. They want you to fear them so that they don’t ever have to show you just how weak they actually are. They hope to scare you away before the fight ever begins because deep down inside, they’re even more afraid than you are. Me? I want to show you. I want you to see it firsthand so that it’s engraved in your mind forever! I want you to fear my actions first and foremost. Once I stop talking, that’s when you should be running.
It seems like a full thirty seconds goes by before I realize I’m still punching this kid in his face. From the looks of it, he at least has a broken nose, and maybe even a broken jaw, though I’m not certain. It’s hard to tell with all the blood. My breathing is heavy, and just as I go to get up, the slender kid takes a step towards me, finally ready to try to get me off of his bloody friend. As soon as I see his foot move in my direction, I pull my nine millimeter out of my pants pocket and whip him across the face with it. Blood flies through the air and splatters on the girl’s sweater, making her jump back. The slender kid cries out in pain as I stand all the way up and aim the pistol at the back of his head, while he holds the gash on his cheek as it drips with blood.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” I say to him as he hunches over, crying. “Did I get you there? Oops. Look at me, Slender.” When he doesn’t turn to face me, I get annoyed. “I said look at me!”
The boy has tears streaming down his face as he turns around. I can see the gash on his cheek, and I’m sure he’ll need some stitches. Perfect!
“Momma’s going to want to know what happened there,” I say with a chuckle. “I’d like to shoot you right between the eyes, but that’d take all the fun out of knowing you’re gonna have a big scar on your face for a long time. When people ask you what happened, you tell them that you met someone special. Someone who changed your life forever with just one encounter. Tell them his name was Solomon King. Now go.” The kid looks down at his friend for support, but that’s useless. “Looks like your friend needs to sleep our encounter off for a while. You’ll have to go without him.”
The slender kid nods his head, turns on his heel, and runs the other direction.
I take a deep breath and let out a loud exhale as I tuck the stolen gun back into my pants. The blonde girl is still on the ground looking up at me. I can’t make out what her eyes are saying, but she’s staring at me like she’s never seen anything like me before. Little does she know that she hasn’t.
I don’t ask her if she’s okay. I saw what happened and I know she is. Doesn’t really matter to me anyway. I didn’t do this for her. Before I leave, I reach into the half-dead chubby kid’s pocket and take a twenty-dollar bill he has, then I look at the blonde again because she’s still staring without saying anything.
We exchange a long look into each other’s eyes, but I eventually get bored and start to walk back the way I came from, just as she starts to get up and dust herself off.
“Hey,” she calls out before I turn the corner. Her voice is smooth and pleasant. Not something I’m used to. “You come here all the time? To this arcade, I mean.”
I look over my shoulder and answer, “Guess so.”
“I have to go now, but if you come here often, I guess I’ll see you around.”
“Guess so,” I reply as I turn the corner and walk into the entrance of the arcade with blood on my face and hands, and an extra twenty dollars to spend. Happy Birthday, Solomon King.
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