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The future he was meant for is just within his reach...
Franklyn "Franky" Bourgeois is fifteen, and he's already done more living than most. First he was blasted out of a normal childhood in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina hit. Determined to survive, he left town with two older cousins. They were nothing short of thugs, but they were all he had. And hard as he tried, even...
The future he was meant for is just within his reach...
Franklyn "Franky" Bourgeois is fifteen, and he's already done more living than most. First he was blasted out of a normal childhood in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina hit. Determined to survive, he left town with two older cousins. They were nothing short of thugs, but they were all he had. And hard as he tried, even for a good kid like Franky, their influence was hard to resist...
Now Franky's just a heartbeat away from a life of crime—until he gets an unexpected chance to turn things around. Getting back on track is easier said than done, especially when a group of prep school fools set out to keep Franky on the streets. But Franky's always been a survivor. He'll just have to prove it one more time...
"Travis Hunter knows the urban teen scene." —Ni-Ni Simone, author of Teenage Love Affair
He heard his cousins' voices out in the living room of the small, dilapidated ranch-style house they called home. As usual, they were arguing about something. He was tired of them and tired of living the ghetto life that he had been so enamored with just a few years ago. Now he wondered why God was playing such a cruel joke on him. He wanted to go back to the way things were before nature turned his city into a giant swimming pool. When Hurricane Katrina came through New Orleans, she turned his entire life upside down. He went from being a straight A student with a loving dad to an orphan with two derelicts for cousins. Passed away from cancer, a year before the hurricane, and although losing her had been hard, Katrina was worse. He had always been a daddy's boy. His mother had been sweet, but she had spent most of her time working. His dad had worked out of their home, so they had become very close.
Franky couldn't shake the feeling that his life was just a bad dream, and he kept thinking that one day he would wake up and see his mother cooking breakfast as she rushed around their five-bedroom house in the Garden District. He closed his eyes and visualized her barking orders as she rushed him to get ready for school. He had hated it then, but he would give his right arm to hear her yell at him now. He'd have given the other arm to have his father jack him for complaining under his breath about doing his petty chores.
For the last three years, Franky had been severely depressed. The only inkling of peace came when he was unconscious, which explained why he slept twelve hours out of every day. When he was asleep, he was free. He didn't have to worry about food, violence, homelessness, or any of the other troubles that accompanied his conscious state. But the most important reason he slept all day was because in his dreams, there was a good chance he could be with his parents. His dreams were always so vivid and real, and when he woke up and realized that it was all in his mind, he was usually angry and sad for the rest of the day. He missed them so much.
Franky pulled his tall, lanky body up from the well-used mattress and looked at his watch. It was two forty-five in the afternoon, and he had slept yet another day away. He heard the rumbling of a school bus outside his window, followed by the joyful sounds of the elementary-school kids laughing and playing. He walked over to the window and looked out at the ghetto that was now his home. The kids always made him happier. Their innocence and joyfulness gave him hope that all was not bad in the world. He smiled and realized that he hadn't smiled in a long time. His innocence had been taken away when he lost the life he once had. He was fifteen years old, yet he felt like a fifty-five-year-old man.
"Jason," he called out to the little boy who lived across the street from him. "Bring your lil nappy-headed self over here."
Jason was seven years old and was always in some type of trouble. His teachers were completely fed up with him, and his grandmother, Mrs. Bertha, was almost to the point of strangling him to death. Jason found it amusing to be a constant thorn in the old woman's side. Franky tried to help her out whenever he could, which often included smacking Jason upside his little head.
"Whatchu doing out here talking about people?" Franky asked.
"I'm just playing with that girl with the stinky breath. It's too late in the day to have stinky breath. That's supposed to be in the morning time," he said, fanning his nose.
Franky laughed and shook his head at the little boy.
"It is," Jason said with wide eyes. "It seems like it would've gone away by now. She needs to eat some candy."
"Then she'll have rotten teeth like the ones you have."
"I ain't got no rotten teeth," Jason said, spreading his lips to show off his crooked teeth.
"'Ain't got'? What kind of way is that for you to be talking when you just left school?" Franky snapped. "It's 'I don't have any rotten teeth.'"
"Whatever. I don't wanna talk white," Jason said.
"So doing something right makes you white?" Franky asked. "Where'd you get that nonsense from?"
"Boy, you shouldn't say things you can't explain. Don't be a follower," Franky said. "How was school today?"
"It was good."
"What color are you on?" Franky asked, referring to the color-coded behavior chart that told the kids' parents if their child had a good, okay, or bad day. Green signaled good, yellow meant okay, and red equaled bad.
"Green," Jason said with a huge smile.
"Yeah, right," Franky said with an exaggerated frown. "Let me see it."
Jason walked over to the window and dropped his book bag on the ground. He leaned down to retrieve his folder and held it up for Franky to see a big green smiley face.
"Cooooooool. That's what's up, lil whoadie," Franky said. "I'm proud of ya."
"I told you. Now, whatchu gonna give me?"
"I'ma give you a chance to keep your teeth. How about that?"
"Maaan," Jason said, sucking his teeth. "Tomorrow I'ma get on red. Just because of you."
"Go ahead and I'ma give you a black eye to match it. You gonna be looking just like them Jordans you're wearing. How about that?"
"Then you going to jail for child abruse."
Franky chuckled at his young friend's butchering of the English language. "It's child abuse, not abruse."
"Whatever. My teacher said she's gonna give me some candy if I stay on green, but I need some money, man."
"What are you gonna do with money? You're six years old."
"I'm seven, and I can get me some food from McDonald's."
"I'll tell you what. You stay on green all week and I'll take you to McDonald's on Friday. Is that a deal?"
"Deal," Jason said, smiling from ear to ear. "What color you on?"
"I'm not on any color. I'm too old for that."
"But you ain't too old to be in school. Why don't you go to school?"
"Now you're minding my business. I'm supposed to mind yours, not the other way around, lil boy."
Jason fanned him off and pushed his folder back into his book bag. "Okay, Franky. I'll see you later, dummy," he said as he ran off.
Franky smiled as Jason ran off. His heart sank as he watched Jason begin crossing the street without even looking for cars. He quickly scanned the street to see if any vehicles were coming. Luckily the coast was clear, and his little friend made it across in one piece.
Franky turned away from the window and walked into the bathroom. He turned on the light and saw a few roaches scatter. Barely hanging on the wall over the sink was a cracked mirror, and the old sink was more rust than porcelain. He looked into the mirror and wasn't too happy with the guy he saw staring back at him.
Creamy colored skin-the product of a Caucasian mother and an African-American father-light brown eyes that bordered on hazel, and jet-black curly hair were reflected back at him. He was a lighter complexioned version of his father, and that made him very happy. At least every time he looked at himself he would see the man who meant the most to him. They had been so close, and he missed him more than words could ever express. He turned away from the mirror and walked over to the toilet to empty his bladder. Someone hadn't even bothered to flush after doing their business, and he thought that was disgusting. Unfortunately, he had long ago gotten used to being disgusted. He frowned, shook his head, then used his foot to flush the waste down into the sewer system. After he was done with his bathroom business, he washed his hands and walked out to the living room. He stood in the doorway and watched his cousins. They were doing what they did every day-nothing. Franky walked into the kitchen with hopes that something edible would've magically appeared in the refrigerator overnight. He opened the refrigerator and saw a half-finished bottle of beer, some eggs, an empty pitcher that they used for Kool-Aid, and a carton with about a half cup of milk still in it. He reached in and grabbed the carton, opened it, placed it to his lips, and drained it. He threw the empty container in the trash can and slammed the refrigerator door shut. He walked over to the cabinets and looked in them. Nothing. He closed the door and walked out into the living room.
"Well, well, well. Look who has risen from the dead," Rico Bourgeois, Franky's cousin, said in a heavy New Orleans drawl. Rico was short and somewhat chubby. He wore his long hair in cornrows. His teeth were covered in gold, and tattoos were everywhere on his body, but he was wasting his money because his dark skin made it difficult to make out anything. "Man, you gonna have to do something about all that sleep. You go to bed early and wake up late. Is ya pregnant, whoadie?"
"You ever see a male get pregnant? I'm hungry. When are we gonna get some food?" Franky asked.
"Food? Is that all you think about? Eating and sleeping," Rico said. "That's all you do. You don't even go outside and shoot hoops. Stay round here eating and sleeping."
"Yep, he's pregnant," Nigel, Rico's older brother, said as he pressed the Pause button on the video game to laugh at his own joke. Nigel was the opposite of Rico. No tattoos, clean white teeth, and a low, Caesar-type haircut. Yet there was no mistaking that they were brothers. They shared the same dark brown complexion, big full lips, and fat faces. Nigel had a long scar down the left side of his face-a gift from a fight in the rough-and-tumble Calliope Projects. The scar gave him a menacing look, but he was as nice as anyone could ever be. And he was the sole reason they were alive.
"Where you gonna get some money from to give Jason's lil bad butt?" Rico asked.
"I don't know," Franky said. "He ain't gonna earn it anyway, so it doesn't matter."
"Check this out," Rico said, standing up and walking in front of the small television set. "Now that we are all together, I need to share my plan witcha. We gonna make some big dough, whoadie. I've been chewing on this one for a minute now. Kept it to myself so I didn't jinx it, ya heard, but it's time to let the cat outta the bag."
"Here we go," Nigel said, already shaking his head while frantically working the video game's controller and trying to see around his little brother. Over the years, Rico had come up with some of the worst ideas known to man about how to make some money. He was a prime candidate for the show The World's Dumbest Criminals. He had been arrested so many times that he had lost count. One time he robbed a Payless ShoeSource right after they first opened for business. He was arrested with a grand total of nine dollars and sixty-three cents in his pockets.
"We gonna start selling clothes. Right here in the house," Rico said. "We can have our own lil ghetto Macy's up in here, ya heard."
Nigel pressed the Pause button again and gave his little brother a how-could-you-be-so-stupid look, then went back to playing his video game.
Franky sat down beside Nigel on the beat-up sofa and grabbed the other game's controller. He reached down and reset the game without even asking.
"Thanks a lot, rude boy," Nigel said, pushing Franky's head. "I guess you in a mighty big hurry to get yo butt whipped. You couldn't let me finish my game, whoadie?"
"Whatever. What's the record?" Franky asked.
"Fifty-nine to twenty-nine, player. My way," Nigel said, bragging about the record they had been keeping of wins and losses for the last month. "Twelve more games and I'm the king."
"You're already the winner. Even if I win the next twelve, I can't catch up."
"Huh?" Nigel asked, confused. He wasn't the smartest guy in the world, but he was as good as gold when it came to his word.
"Nothing," Franky said, frustrated with explaining the smallest of things to his cousins. It was as if they hadn't even gone to elementary school to learn the basics.
"So if you can't catch up, why we playing?" Nigel asked.
"Because there ain't nothing else to do. And I'm hungry, so this can keep my mind off of eating," Franky said. "When we gonna get some food?"
"Okay," Rico said. "So y'all just gonna blow me off like my idea ain't nuttin', huh? I'm telling y'all this can work. Black folks will always try to look good, whoadie. Even if we ain't got no money for food, we dress good. Look at us. We broke as a joke, but all of us be fresh to death. If we do this, then we ain't gone have no more empty refrigerators, no more raggedy TVs, no more hot nights, 'cause I'm buying an air conditioner on the first piece of profit. No more stealing that hard toilet paper from the gas station down the street and having Habib cuss me out. I'm telling y'all it's gonna be all nice up in here."
"Where we gonna get the clothes from, Rico?" Nigel asked.
"Steal 'em. How else you think we gonna get 'em?" Rico snapped, shaking his head as if his older brother were the dumbest guy in the world.
"Steal 'em from where?" Nigel asked.
"Man, I swear you were born with three and a half brain cells. From the stores where they sell 'em, Einstein."
Nigel shook his head and kept playing.
"You didn't even think I knew who Einstein is, did ya, Franky?"
"Who is he?" Franky asked, already knowing that Rico didn't have a clue.
"Some rich white man, that's who. Don't get ya head kicked in. Anyway, where you think we gonna steal 'em from, Nigel?"
"I have no idea," Nigel said.
"You think I'ma break into the factory where they stitch them up?" Rico said. "We going right up in the store and do a smash-and-grab."
"Ever hear of cameras, idiot? We'll be locked up before we make it back to the hood. Think of something else with your eleven brain cells. And hurry up, 'cause ain't no food up in here. I got 'bout seventy dollars, and the rent is due. And I gotta pay this rent in five days or we gonna be homeless."
"Call Domino's," Rico said, plopping down in a chair that had seen better days.
"No," Nigel said. "We already had Domino's four times this week. We need to eat something with some vegetables in it."
"Pizza got vegetables on it. Ain't cheese a vegetable?" Rico asked with a frown.
"Cheese? Since when did cheese become a vegetable, braincase?" Nigel asked. "I could see if you said the tomato sauce, but cheese? I want you to stop smoking whatever it is that you've been smoking today. Make this your last day, 'cause you're already dumb enough."
"Neither one of them are a vegetable. Technically tomatoes are a fruit, and cheese is not even in the equation," Franky said as he pushed the buttons on the controller to make the little football players move here and there on the small television screen.
"Leave it up to Einstein to get all deep," Rico said, fanning his hand to brush away the smell of him passing gas. He wasn't the least bit embarrassed by his flatulence or his ignorance.
"Man," Franky said, "you stink. You smell like something crawled in you and died."
Rico laughed and kept talking. "I don't care about none of that fruit or vegetable crap. I'm ordering a pizza, and we can rob the pizza guy like we always do."
"No, you ain't," Nigel said. "You always go overboard, Rico. You need to learn to leave well enough alone, boy. You keep on pushing it and you gonna get yourself ten years in prison over some pizza."
"Well, what we gonna eat?" Rico said.
"I'll run to the grocery store in a minute," Nigel said as he made a few moves in the game. "Right after I whip up on this chump."
Franky tossed the controller on the raggedy sofa after another loss.
Nigel reached over and rubbed his little cousin on his head. "There is always next time, lil whoadie," he said, smiling and throwing his hands up in victory.
Franky leaned back on the sofa. He took a deep breath and blew out about a week's worth of frustration. He took another breath and screamed at the top of his lungs.
"Man," Rico said, looking at his cousin as if he might've finally cracked. "You need to use your inside voice, whoadie."
Excerpted from At the Crossroads by TRAVIS HUNTER Copyright © 2010 by Travis Hunter. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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