Sometimes there are stories inside of us just waiting to be told. This is my attempt at telling one through the genre of realistic fiction. I imagine each reader will come away with something different. This week I am telling the same story as last week, just from the perspective of a different character. I’ve never done this before, so I welcome any and all feedback in the comments section below.
Last week’s piece: Whether She Liked It Or Not
Riley never had a black friend before. It wasn’t that she didn’t want one. Until this year she had never had a black kid in her class. But she and Makayla became friends right away. BFF’s as they called it in second grade. By Thanksgiving, they had already had a total of five sleepovers.
So when her sister, Jordan, introduced everyone to her new boyfriend Marcus. Who was black. She really didn’t think much of it. His hair was different and his skin was darker, but that was about it. And after a while, she and Marcus became like brother and sister. He came over a lot. She liked it when Marcus came over. Because he would always make time to play with her. Unlike Jordan’s other boyfriends who would just play on their phones and ignore her.
Riley was super excited today. She knew when she got home, Marcus would be there. Her parents were working late so he and Jordan had to babysit her. She didn’t like that word. Babysit. She wasn’t a baby. Marcus never called it that. But Jordan did. They were going to the Christmas Dance. But that didn’t start until 8. That meant that she would get to spend time playing with Marcus. Jordan took forever getting ready for dates, so she knew tonight she would get to spend even more time with Marcus.
Around 6 Jordan left to go get her nails done. Said she’d be right back. Riley and Marcus had heard this before. They didn’t say a word. But they both secretly rolled their eyes at each other. When Jordan wasn’t looking. They knew better than to mess with her. The last time Jordan said she’d be right back she took over an hour and a half.
Marcus asked Riley if she had seen The Good Dinosaur yet. He had borrowed it from a friend for his little brother. He told Riley to check his backpack. She looked and looked, but couldn’t find it. Marcus told her to bring it to him. He had so many big books she could barely carry it. When she dropped it in front of him a big book called SAT Practice fell out along with something that she couldn’t identify. It was a small plastic square with a circle in the middle. Marcus snatched it up before she was able to read the label. He was just glad that it landed upside down. Riley was a good reader and he was quite certain that she could have read the word Trojan. She was way too young to have that conversation.
He quickly distracted her by asking her if she wanted popcorn. Marcus loaded it up with butter and salt. Just the way she liked it. The movie was awesome! But about halfway through she began to cough. It felt like a piece of popcorn was stuck and she couldn’t cough it up. She looked over at Marcus and he knew right away that something was wrong.
She couldn’t breathe.
She began to panic.
Tears came streaming down her face.
Why couldn’t he help her?
He grabbed her stomach and started making it worse. Why was he hurting her? Then he started screaming. Why was he screaming at her? He finally stopped grabbing her stomach and just held her. She noticed tears were running down his cheeks.
All of a sudden, the front door flew open and two white policemen came running in. One of them rushed to her and quickly got her to stop choking. And it didn’t even hurt. Why wasn’t Marcus able to do that? And why did he try to hurt her? She was very confused and to upset to speak.
When the policeman asked her if she was okay all she could do was nod. She noticed that one officer was hitting Marcus, but she didn’t know why. Had he done something wrong? He had seen them talking, but she wasn’t sure what about. Maybe he really was trying to hurt her. Maybe the officers were right. Maybe this explained why the black man she saw on tv was shot and killed. It was all happening too fast.
She sat in the front while one of them sat in the back with Marcus. Who for some reason wasn’t talking and was wearing handcuffs. Was he that dangerous? When they got to the station she realized that all of the people behind the bars looked like Marcus. Talked like Marcus. Even dressed like Marcus. Baggy jeans and sweatshirts.
Was Marcus bad?
They showed her the bench and told her to make herself comfortable. That she might be there a while. She was glad that she wore her sweatshirt. Her Old Navy sweatshirt. She remembered the day that Marcus took her to Old Navy for her birthday. Oh, what a scene they had made that day. Riley must have tried on fifteen sweatshirts before settling on the pink one. Each time she tried a different one on Marcus would introduce her in the coolest voice he could muster. And each time he did, she would strut up and down the aisle. Neither of them cared that people were pointing and staring at them.
It was then that she realized that Marcus wasn’t bad. She still didn’t understand why all the men being shot on the news were black. And she wasn’t sure what had happened that night. But she knew Marcus was good. And that Marcus would never hurt her. And that the officers shouldn’t have hurt him.
Why was he still asleep? He should be awake by now. And why was he bleeding?
“Marcus,” she whispered.
He didn’t move.
“Marcus,” she said a bit louder.
Marcus didn’t hear her, but one of the officers did.
He told her to go to sleep. He also asked her why a “little white girl like her was worried about some black idiot who had broken into her house.”
Things were starting to make a little more sense now. They had it all wrong. But she was too scared to make a sound. So she closed her eyes.
But not all the way.
She made sure to keep a small eye on Marcus.
The officer’s harsh tone must have woken Marcus up because just then she heard him whisper her name. He whispered again a little bit louder. Finally, he called out her name so loud that it got several officers’ attention. They rushed into his cell and starting hitting him over the head with their clubs. Marcus started to choke and he couldn’t stop.
Riley was too scared to move. But something told her to go help, Marcus. What scared her more was the fact that Marcus might die. Like the man, she saw on the news. She couldn’t let it happen again. Wouldn’t let it happen. She jumped up. Sprinted into the cell and held Marcus’ head like he had held hers. And within a few seconds, he stopped choking. And within a few seconds, the officers grabbed her and took her back out, slamming the cell door behind them.
They told her not to leave the bench again. She didn’t. But she never took her eyes of him. Not until Jordan and her parents showed up. It was then and only then that she felt safe enough to close her eyes and go to sleep. She knew Marcus would be okay. But she was confused.
Riley slept the whole way home. They all stayed up late talking about what had happened and what to do next. It wasn’t until about 3am that Riley opened her eyes again. When she did, she noticed that she was lying in Marcus’ lap. On his baggy jeans. With his baggy sweatshirt wrapped around her to keep her warm.
The entire night seemed like one big blur. She had a hard time putting all of the pieces together. Riley felt ashamed for ever doubting Marcus. She never would again. Did he know? Should she tell him? Was he mad at her? She started to cry.
Marcus was mad. Not at her. He was mad that Riley had to see what she saw tonight. He was used to it. He knew her world would never be the same. Would she see him differently? Would she still trust him?
They both just had to hope.
And believe in each other.
And be there for each other.
Just like they were tonight.
Marcus had an idea. He wasn’t sure if it would work.
How about we hit Old Navy tomorrow and get you a new sweatshirt?
She sat up and hugged Marcus tighter than she ever had before. Tomorrow she would try on twenty sweatshirts. And each time she did Marcus would introduce her to the entire store. Because they really didn’t care what anybody else thought.
And they never had.
And they never would.