Chapter 1 of
by Cheril N. Clarke
The soft sounds of Will Downing and Gerald Albright relaxed Rachel as she gazed out of her tenth-floor apartment window smiling at the stars that, too, seemed to smile at her. It was indeed a beautiful night. January 2, 2005, almost time for her to return to work. Though happy to be a photography teacher at Anacostia High School in Southeast Washington D.C., at that moment all she could think about was the turn her professional life was about to take at the close of the school year. This was the year she had long awaited; Rachel would breathe life into, and make a reality of, her dream of becoming a published writer.
Her dream began about eight years ago when Rachel accompanied her high school boyfriend to one of his gigs at a local open-mike poetry session. It was then that Rachel's eyes were first opened to other art forms, in addition to the music that she was already a part of. She took to writing the same way she did to music, that being not just any but the right kind of practice makes perfect. Diligence, uninterrupted hours of concentration, and the right mental attitude would be just what she needed in order to become a complete package of pure artistic talent, with writing being the driving force. Besides her new interest in writing she already played several musical instruments, and as a self-taught photographer one would swear she was Gordon Parks in female form.
Rachel Fuller was raised in the city of Miami, and like many other families, by a single parent. At the age of three, Rachel's father was killed in a hit-and-run car accident. He left behind six children, Rachel being the youngest. The police never caught the drunk driver of the other vehicle, and to this date. Within one year of her father's passing, both her grandmother and oldest sister had been shot and killed by her estranged ex-husband, Rachel's brother-in-law Steve. Needless to say, the family experienced an extended period of sadness, loosing three of its members within one year. Rachel though, was too young to remember any of the lost family members. By the time she was a teenager, everyone had moved out and was trying to make lives of their own. And with the discovery of her interest in writing, Rachel knew that she had found her ticket up in the world.
The Fullers' family tree is rooted in Jamaica, where both of Rachel's parents were born. "Rachel tek you rass inside!" She could remember her mother calling with a hint of her original Jamaican accent, for her to come inside when night fell. Rachel smiled at the thoughts that then were embarrassing, but she now treasured.
And today at twenty-five, Rachel realized as a child, she always had what she needed, no matter what. It might not have been what she wanted, but in time her mom's humble attitude was instilled in her. Her mom, Rose often juggled the bills to carry them from month to month without ever having any utilities turned off. If there were any traits that Rachel learned and would never forget from her mom they were to always know your place, be humble, and prioritize.
Just as she was getting lost in the memories of her childhood, the ringing of the telephone interrupted Rachel's thoughts and slightly startled her. It was well after one o'clock in the morning on a Sunday, so she couldn't help but worry about who was calling at this time of night.
"Hello, is this Ms. Rachel Fuller?" a woman asked with a concerned voice.
"Yes, who is this?"
"My name is Kenya Sharp. I'm calling from the D.C. Juvenile Delinquent Center. I'm really sorry to bother you at this hour but we have your son in custody. He's not in any trouble. We just need you to come pick him up."
"I'm sorry but there must be a mistake, I don't have a son." Rachel said, still puzzled.
"He doesn't have any ID on him and says his name is T.J."
At that instant, Rachel knew exactly whom the woman was talking about.
"You mean Tylee?"
"So you do know him?"
Hearing the sudden suspicion in the woman's voice, Rachel briefly explained her relationship to Tylee and said she'd be there in about twenty-five minutes to pick him up.
"Thanks for coming to pick me up, Rachel. I had one nerve left, and that lady was getting on it. Jesus, I never thought one person could talk so darn much. But that woman, lord have mercy, she could talk a cat off of a fish truck, and her breath, good God Almighty I wanted to ask if she was eating hot garbage cookie snacks! Rachel you just don't know how bad I was ready to break out of that joint."
Rachel couldn't help but crack a smile at T.J.'s rambling; it was on of the surprising things that drew her to him in the first place. Then suddenly remembering what time it was and where she'd just come from reminded her to interrogate Tylee.
"Real cute, Tylee. Now explain yourself."
"Explain what," she said, mocking him. "Explain why you were in a juvenile detention center at one o'clock in the morning in the first place."
"Well first off, they picked me up around eleven, and their lazy asses just came around to see about me. I left housing early this evening ´cause I was bored as hell. The people in charge told me not to leave, but hell my name is Tylee, I do what I damn well please. Anyway, I was basically just relaxing and minding my own business over on B and Forty ninth Street, you know, just talking about nothing important with the fellas. Then I guess somebody must've started some mess in one of the liquor stores because before I knew it, the police showed up and arrested some long-neck block head motha-fucker that looked like he just got his ass whooped by the owner."
"So what does that have to do with you? And what did I tell you about all of that cursing?" Rachel interrupted.
"I'm getting to, it I'm getting to it," he said, sounding just like Harpo from The Color Purple. "So then the police said that they also got complaints about people hanging out in front of the stores and bothering customers. Now I know good and got damn well that I ain't bother no customer. If anything, their drunk asses were bothering me! But by then everybody had pealed off, running in every direction, leaving me. So then the police asked me where I lived and I told them 'no where really.' Then they brought me down to the center until I thought of someone to come and pick me up."
"And that's what really happened?"
"Come on now Rachel, you know I wouldn't lie to you. And besides they didn't care about me anyway, they didn't even ask you for ID or anything. They just released me without knowing if you were a real relative or not."
He had a point, and that much she knew was true. She'd never known T.J. to lie or steal.
She first met Tylee "T.J." Johnson about two years ago at a Washington Wizards basketball game. They were playing the Miami Heat. She'd won two tickets while listening to the Donnie Simpson morning show on the radio right before Huggie Lowdown, the celebrity snitch did his skit. Rachel was supposed to meet a coworker at the game but at the last minute the coworker canceled, leaving Rachel with an extra ticket. Despite the chill that swept through the District earlier that day, the evening turned out to be comfortably cool. Since she was already there, Rachel decided to just go in by herself instead of wasting both of the tickets.
Dressed in all black and sporting the Miami Heat logo on her jacket, Rachel started toward the entrance. But before she could get to the top of the steps, she spotted a little boy that appeared to be no more than ten years old holding a sign asking for a ticket. An echo of the child's silent plea rang deep inside Rachel's heart. She stood and stared at him. And at first sight she could tell that he was not just an ordinary kid. Tylee sat outside the MCI Arena with uncombed hair wearing a pair of faded black jeans, a plain white T-shirt, a well-worn Starter jacket, and a pair of dirty Converse sneakers. As she stared at him, Rachel just had to say something. She couldn't deny what her heart heard, and at the moment, she decided to let him in with her.
"What's your name?"
"I call myself T.J., but my real name is Tylee Johnson."
"Well Tylee, my name is Rachel Fuller, and I just happen to have an extra ticket to the game. How would like to come inside with me?"
"For real, no lie!" he said, not hiding the excitement in his voice.
"No lie," she said, flashing an absolutely flawless smile.
The little boy looked as happy as a child on Christmas day. "I would be real happy to Rachel, Ms. Fuller, ma'am," he said, grinning from ear to ear. They walked up what seemed like never-ending steps to get inside where they were greeted by an elderly man who appeared to be in his early seventies. The man took half of their tickets and pointed in the direction of their seats. Rachel asked Tylee some questions during their walk to learn more about him and why he was outside unsupervised.
Tylee was actually twelve years old and lived in a special housing project for children at risk. He didn't seem to have a problem with talking openly to a complete stranger, then again, he was only twelve years old and any man young or old, seemed to be kidnapped by Rachel's very presence. She stood with perfect posture at five-four weighing 118 pounds. A small statue of beauty, with triple shaded shoulder-length beautiful brown hair. Her eyes appeared to be a seductive sleepy dark brown tunnel of blissful enchantment. She walked, talked, carried herself, and exemplified a black princess. Traits she taught herself during her late teenage years and early twenties.
Figuring it was Tylee's first and possibly only chance to watch a professional basketball game from close-to-courtside seats, or any seats for that matter, she sensed that T.J. was really on his best behavior. Though he let out a "damn" every now and then, for the most part he was well-behaved except for the elevator stunt he pulled. During half-time T.J. told Rachel that he had to use the rest room and that he'd be right back. But T.J. had different intentions. He decided to go and stand up in the elevator, amusing himself while frightening other passengers. Every ten seconds he would ask, "Did you feel that?"
Tylee took pictures of everyone in the elevator with his one-time-use camera that Rachel had bought for him. When the third quarter started, Rachel got up to go look for T.J. and spotted him just as the elevator door was about to close. Even from a distance she noticed that he was standing silent and motionless, facing the corner. When she walked over and pushed the button to get on the elevator, he was still standing in the corner not saying a word.
"T.J., are you OK?" she asked with fear in her voice. But then she noticed the square drawn around him with MY SPACE!!! written around it, she couldn't help but laugh at whatever foolishness he was up to. This is one strange kid, she thought, and without saying a word, he pushed a button to get back to their floor. By the time they exited the elevator Rachel knew what time it was. Tylee was just playing around because the second he got off, the elevator he burst out laughing, sharing all of the foolishness that went on during his little adventure. T.J. was a clown, and the longer the evening stretched, the more she took to this kid. Despite his upbringing, he still seemed to have a happy spirit. She decided to leave before the fourth quarter was over, one because it was obvious that the Wizards wouldn't come back against the Heat, and two, to avoid the traffic.
"Damn, that was a hell of a game! The Wizards got their butts kicked all over the arena!" Tylee said.
"Where did you learn to talk like that?"
"The streets. I'm sorry for cursing around you, but that's the kind of shit---" He paused wanting to slap himself for cursing again. "I mean that's the kind of language I always hear."
"Well where are your parents?"
"It's kind of a long story, and I'm too hungry to tell it."
"Do you want some McDonald's or something?"
"Yeah, thanks. I'll tell you more about me then."
Over their dinner Rachel came to understand that Tylee probably looked younger than he was because of how much he had endured within his twelve years. Since he was six years old, Tylee had been passed back and forth through the system. He was born a crack addict and never knew his father. His first couple of years had been rough, but by age five he was living like a normal child. Unfortunately that soon changed when his mother lost her job as a physical therapist assistant. She too had been born a crack addict, and during her early teenage years began falling back into the pit of their family's cycle of drug dependency. The cycle turned of off and on for a couple of years and an unplanned Tylee had been born, completing yet another generation. By the time Tylee was six, his mother had lost custody of him, and he was placed into a program that offered temporary housing for at-risk children, until someone adopted him.
But like almost all of the older children in housing, he was overlooked, people generally wanted to adopt the younger children. He tried to run away several times but still managed to end up back at the home. And when Rachel met him, at twelve years old, he was still there. Tylee had already served as a lookout for the local drug dealers, but he had never tried any type of drug because of his addiction at birth and what he had to go through. He just saw it as a way to make some money, but soon stopped when he realized crack was the reason he was what and where he was. Despite his upbringing, Tylee did have a good head on his shoulders.
Surprisingly, he made it through elementary school and into the sixth grade without being left behind a year. Rachel felt a strong bond between them, even with his foul mouth. She was a "home girl" at heart from the city of Miami knowing exactly what the streets had to offer, almost slipping into them herself but had sense enough to realize that wasn't the right hustle for her to get up and out of the hood. That was probably why she took a liking to Tylee. She felt a similarity between them, and she understood exactly what he was going through. She wanted to help him find his way up out of the hood. Tylee and Rachel became an unbreakable link with a connection that had been there ever since that night.