Chapter 2 Acceptance
Manny skipped up Brandon Porter’s porch and tapped gently on his screen door. He had been dogged out before for knocking too hard. Brandon’s father looked back at the door from over his shoulder and from where he sat on his couch, without even acknowledging Manny, called for his only child.
“Yes sir,” Brandon responded from another room?
“You have company at the door.”
“Yes sir.” Brandon said as he appeared into the front room. He flashed a silly grin at Manny. Brandon was always the class act in front of his parents but he was nothing of the sort once he stepped out of the house. Funny thing is, although were best friends, his dream was pretty much the opposite of Manny’s. He loved hood shit.Brandon lived in the same neighborhood as Manny, but because he grew up with two working parents, he was brought up completely different. Brandon always got the new Jordan’s, as long as his grades were worthy. He did his chores and he was awarded with video consoles. In return for all of his parents’ hard work and guidance, he secretly sold nickel and dime bags to his peers. Now that he had graduated high school, Brandon wanted to move to Cali to get in where he fit in with the new legalized marijuana business.
Brandon walked out the house straight and stiff, like Carlton and by the time they had walked halfway through the park, magically, had turned into the Fresh Prince. He had even added a pimp’s limp to his walk. He tugged at the elastic on his black joggers showing the top of a gray pair of basketball shorts. The book bag attached to his back danced to the rhythm of his new walk.
“I can’t wait to get the fuck outta my parents’ house,” Brandon spat giving a quick side eyed glance back at his front door.
“Who you telling,” Manny agreed.
Brandon looked at Manny like he was crazy. “Nigga, you good. Aunt El is perfect. Always frying up some good shit, like bologna and salmon patties,” he grinned impishly. “She real as fuck too,” Brandon said in a more serious tone. “Shoot, real talk, she the one that told me to go to Cali. About a month ago, she was buying a bag off me, because you know I always give Aunt El the discount…”
“Man, don’t nobody wanna hear about that,” Manny cut him off.
Brandon was cracking up. “She know what she talking about. That’s all I’m saying. Get out your feelings, nigga,” he said still chuckling a little.
Manny was obviously feeling some anxiety. He was snapping on everyone this morning.
“You get your acceptance letter yet? From Westerlynne,” asked Brandon?
“Naw man,” Manny replied. He let his face reveal the salt. He could be real with his homeboy.
“Who else they gon pick? Nobody else entered the contest,” said Brandon matter-of-factly. “Don’t nobody want that shit, for real. It’s just a way for them rich motherfuckers to get out of paying taxes.”
“That’s not true,” Manny said defensively. “It’s a program dedicated to helping young African Americans see what’s out there for us.”
Once again Brandon was cracking up, “Shut up, man. You sound like a commercial!”
“Whatever, man. Anyone who could apply…did apply.” Manny said looking at Brandon side eyed. “Gotta’ be able to read and write,” Manny added. This time it was him doing the laughing.
Brandon was finding it hard to find the humor in Manny’s dig, considering that for Brandon to pass the ninth through the twelfth-grades he had seen a language arts tutor twice a week. He changed the direction of the conversation quickly.
“What you got on a game of one on one?” Brandon asked.
They had reached the basketball court in the park and was standing underneath the basketball hoop. The hoop’s net hung by a few threads. A colorful court spray painted with all kinds of creative hashtags and R.I. P’s. Even though it was a tore up, it was still a hot spot every summer. The court would get packed. Pretty, young things with frozen hairstyles and pointed nails would sit on benches, laughing and smacking loud on salt and vinegar potato chips and ginger ales or sometimes cheese curls and orange pops. The dudes in cut off tees and shiny shorts, would play extra hard to impress their queens. It was early still, and much of Manny’s neighborhood was in bed.
“Ok. First to thirty-three.” Manny responded sitting his phone down on a dirty metal park bench.
Brandon dug into his book bag pushing aside small measured bags of weed and little wads of money held together with rubber-bands. He pulled out a dirty dark orange basketball and bounce passed it to Manny. Football was Manny’s sport and basketball was Brandon’s, hands down. So, it didn’t take Brandon long to hit the final three point shot to put him at 34 points. Manny had been beaten worse. He was happy with his 28 points and the game had at least gotten his mind off the email.
By now, there were a few other guys from around the way showing up yelling they had next. Brandon was fired up and ready for anyone who had the heart to step up.
Manny walked over to take his seat on the bench and wait for his turn to come around again. He grabbed his phone and double tapped the screen, now more from habit than on purpose. He had two missed calls and two voice mails. One of the phone numbers was private. He checked his voicemail. He entered the password, his mother’s date of birth, at the prompt and waited to hear the message.
The recording spoke loudly, “You have two unheard messages. To listen to your messages, press one…” Manny did as told. “First unheard message…Hey Babe, It’s me. Just wanted you to know you have some mail here. Looks fancy, real pretty envelope. Rich people waste money on shit like that so it’s probably from Westerlynne. Alright, Baby. Love You, …Oh yea! If you can, see if Brandon’s mom got two or three eggs I can borrow, I was going to make some more French toast for dinner. Okay, Love you…” Manny’s heart began to race. He pushed a button to skip to the next message, “Second unheard message…Good morning. This is Aileen Lemon from ITAV. This message is for Emanuel Wright. I am delighted to tell you that you have been chosen as this year’s candidate for our summer internship program. We sent out a welcome package and in it you will find everything you need to inform you further. Please feel free to call me here at the foundation with any questions. The number is in the packet. Once again, hun, welcome and congratulations!”
By now Manny was in pure shock. Clearly, he had just died and come back to life twice listening to the message. He could still barely catch his breathe. He exhaled and then gathered himself.
Brandon was showing out on the court, killing every cat who tried to stop him. Manny stood up and caught eye contact with Brandon. He threw up a peace sign and shouted, “Hey B, I’m out!”
“Aww, nigga, you scared I’m gon do you like I’m doing this punk?” Brandon shouted while stealing the ball from his towering opponent. Brandon was only 5’11. Many of the guys coming for him stood at least 6 foot but for Brandon, height wasn’t a factor. Manny, in a lighter mood than earlier, laughed at both Brandon and the guy who had just gotten the ball ripped from his hands.
“Whatever, Guy!” Manny yelled back while jogging. He was already closer to his house than the court.
When he got home, his Aunt was in her room. His mail was on the kitchen table, already opened. He hated when she did that. He wondered if the children of Westerlynne had parents who respected their privacy. Manny hurried to the table and picked up the cream envelope. Inside it was a welcome letter, as well as a few papers that needed his signature, including a disclaimer stating that Westerlynne Ridge Estates was not liable for any deaths, injuries, or losses of property alleged to be caused by residents or staff of the community. An empty space was provided for Manny to sign away all his future legal rights. There was also a contract that prohibited Manny from disclosing information about the business and affairs of the inhabitants of Westerlynne. Manny signed the papers without a second thought, disregarding all the legal schmegal. There was no small print threatening enough to make him change his mind now.
Aunt El stepped out of her bedroom smelling of Brandon’s finest. Still in her morning clothes, she was barely present. While she had been sucking on the end of a precisely rolled blunt, something else had been sucking at her very existence. Usually she paired her smoke sessions with praying and Bible reading. That was her church. From the way she looked, she still had some things she needed to leave at the altar.
“Did you get the eggs?” she questioned scratching under her scarf.
“They didn’t have any, Auntie,” Manny lied. He’d completely forgot to ask.
Aunt El hunched her shoulders to sign that it was no biggie. “It’s fine,” She said. “We have cereal.”
“Ok, I’m not hungry, anyway.” Manny’s appetite was lost in his excitement. He wished he had someone to share it with, someone to jump up and down with, but his Aunt wasn’t an option. She couldn’t play off her brand-new mood, if she tried and so she didn’t. She pressed her eyelids together and breathed loudly through her nose. Manny looked around the room for help. There were no conversation pieces like in rich people’s homes. No paintings or vases set up to aid a man in talking himself out of a difficult situation.
“What time you need to be there, Manny?” Aunt El asked breaking through the awkward silence as if it belonged to her.
“Tomorrow morning at eleven,” Manny responded. I can catch a bus if you want me to,”
“Have you ever had to catch the bus?” she asked him. Manny shook his head ‘no.’ Aunt El shook hers too.
“I’m taking you. Beyond my better judgment, I’m taking you, into that den of wolves.” Aunt El said sashaying back to her smoke-filled room. Before she closed her door, she winked at him and said, “But I know God is with you. So, there.”
Manny said his prayers that night. He loved his Auntie and everything, but he knew it was time for him to grow up and out into the world as the man he was meant to be. His aunt couldn’t teach him that. She had given him all she had. So much, that at times Manny wondered what was left for her. Even still, the lessons it would take to turn him into a strong black man were nowhere in her to begin with and he thought there was no place better to learn those, but in Westerlynne. He truly believed that him getting this internship was his destiny, and who’s to say it wasn’t? Manny thanked God for the opportunity, prayed that his Auntie would be okay and then grabbed up his signed papers he would need for tomorrow. He shuffled under his bed for a second until he found a folder. He placed his contract papers into the used red folder and turned out the light. Sleep came easy.
© 2017 by Aja Brown Crowder