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Brent Underwood and Jamar Williams leaned against the bike racks in front of Mayfield High School, fifteen minutes before class was due to start. It was mid-September, and the weather this time of year was absolutely perfect. Currently, it was cool and mild, but later in the day, when it was time to leave, the sun would be warm and relaxing, while still maintaining it’s cool breeze. It was a perfect day to do nothing but walk the neighborhood and think - which, aside from playing his guitar, was all he really liked to do with his free time anyway.

Brent was seventeen years old, 5’8, and had a slightly muscular build. He was not the biggest guy you would ever meet, nor the strongest, but he was by far not the weakest. He had smooth dark skin, coarse black hair that he kept cut short, and eyes so dark they almost looked black. In fact, he was black - but unlike most other black people in a town close to Detroit, he wasn’t ghetto. Rap music made him cringe, his clothes were fairly well fitted, and he would rather die than get grills in his teeth (why were they called grills, anyway?) or wear bling around his neck. However, nor could you call him preppy, or emo, or any other label that high school kids liked to use for themselves. Brent was just himself.

Jamar Williams was one of the kids that talked to him periodically. He was just your average kid of Detroit in every way - cornrows, bling, baggy pants, rap music. Brent wasn’t sure why Jamar bothered talking to him at all, because he didn’t fit in with him in any way, nor did they have anything in common. He would never dare tell him that he wasn’t interested in talking to him, though; the last thing he wanted or needed was to give anyone a reason to hate him - which was futile because it often seemed to happen without a reason anyway, but there was no need to provoking fights, all the time. Besides, it was nice to have someone to stand outside the school with, and not look like a loser, from time to time.

“Man, I’m tired of this place,” Jamar complained as he pulled a cigarette from his pocket and proceeded to light it. The authorities here were not as on top of things as they would like to think they were. “Say, what class do you have first?”

“Geometry,” Brent answered.

Jamar laughed. “With Carl and Reggie, right? Man, those guys are a trip.”

Brent simply nodded, because truth be told, he had no idea who Carl and Reggie were, though he didn’t doubt that he had them in a class.

“Well, I’m gonna skip first period with some of the boys - you comin?”

Skipping class would be nice, Brent thought. Especially Geometry, which he gave up on trying to understand because it did nothing but give him a migraine. He would almost rather try to understand Geometry than skip it with Jamar and his friends, though - it would be incredibly awkward. Besides, Nikki Wheeler was in his first period. He didn’t know much about her except that she had long golden hair, sparkling blue eyes, and the most beautiful body he had ever seen on a woman in his life. He was, for the most part, too afraid to talk to her, but he wasn’t about to pass up the chance to sneak a peak at her if he could help it.

“Nah, I think I’ll pass. But thanks anyway.”

Jamar’s face screwed up in confusion for a moment; probably trying to figure out why anyone would pass on a chance to skip class. “Aight then. Guess I’ll see ya later.”

“Yeah,” he replied in a monotonous tone, “See ya.”

Brent watched him go; the only person leaving the campus in a sea of people entering it. When he could no longer see him, he sighed, and turned to make his way through the mob to his class.

There were many different cliques in Mayfield, as there are in every school. The kids here sorted themselves by skin color, by the preps and the football jocks, the nerds, and the emos, but Brent walked through the halls alone; he didn’t even fit in with the small minority group of outcasts. He talked to a select few group of people, if he was in the mood to talk, but mostly he kept to himself.

He walked into Geometry and found his seat next to Alex Slaughter, the only friend he could really say he had. Alex had dark brown hair that he wore spiked, dark brown eyes, was slightly taller than Brent but much more slender. He was on the football team, but unlike most of the other football players, he wasn’t a cocky, arrogant jerk. He was a friendly guy who would strike up a conversation with anyone, and as such, he was popular with just about everyone, especially the ladies - something Brent never really had the best luck with.

It wasn’t because he was ugly. In fact, according to some people, he was rather attractive, but Brent had a nasty habit of falling for the people who would never take an interest in him, and ignoring the ones who would. It was a nasty habit that often came back to bite him in the ass.

Alex looked up from the notes he was studying when he noticed Brent next to him. “Hey, man…do we have a test in here today?”

“Don’t know. Don’t care, either. I won’t pass anyway.”

“You should really care a little more than you do, you know. I don’t mean to preach or anything, but you won’t be able to do much without a diploma.”

“Well, maybe if…”

Nikki entered the room, and at that point, Brent lost what he was saying; it was as if his vocal cords had been shut off, as if the very world had been shut off, and nothing existed except her, and her exquisite face, and her long legs that seemed to go on forever..

“Maybe if what?”

The sound of Alex’s voice was like a hammer that smashed his alternate reality and sent him crashing back to Geometry class, leaving him flushed with embarrassment and a touch of annoyance. “Nothing.”

Alex looked confused, but the teacher had just entered the room, so fortunately for Brent, he had to leave it alone. She pulled out her clipboard and began the lecture, but Nikki was sitting two seats in front of him and two to the left, and there was no way he was paying attention.

---

The day went by just like any other; teachers that were either dull and monotonous or overly bright and cheery, homework that was shoved to the back of his bags because he didn’t have a chance of doing it, and fellow students that he couldn’t stand. Brent felt instantly gratified when the last bell finally rang. He gathered his things in a rush and was the first one out the door.

He made his way down the long corridor, and studied the people around him. ‘They aren’t people, really,’ he thought to himself, as he watched the couples making out intently against the lockers, or the jocks forming big groups and laughing as they threw things back and forth to each other, or the ghetto people forming even larger groups in the middle of the hall and yelling to each other. ‘They’re just lost, empty souls’

Then he came face to face with Blade, and he stopped breathing. Blade was the leader of the Crypt of the Blood, one of the most prominent gangs in Detroit. Everyone called him by his nick name - Brent couldn’t even tell you what his real name was. He got his alias because he always carried a long switch knife in his pocket, and he was notorious for being quick to use it. The authorities, both in the school and out, knew of Blade’s gang activity, but try as they might, they could never find any solid proof to pin on him, so he was allowed to continue to roam the streets. He was certainly sneaky at doing what he did. He always wore a red bandana, one pant leg rolled up, and jewelry - all against dress code, but the teachers had given up on trying to remedy the problem.

Worst of all was that he always had it in for Brent - Always.

“Move.”

His very heart was frozen solid with fear. He forced his legs to move, and he shifted to the side.

Blade, instead of going on his way, slammed Brent into the wall of lockers. He fell to the floor, and didn’t move.

Everyone stopped to stare at them; couples broke apart, jocks froze with their hands in mid-air, and there was a resonating “oooh”. Some people laughed, while others simply looked at him sadly, but no one would dare help him, nor would anyone care enough to help even if they had the courage to.

It didn’t matter; he wasn’t paying attention, nor did he try to get up.

Blade leered at him with his dark, evil eyes. “Yeah, you just stay down there,” he sneered, and then spat on him, mumbling to himself as he walked away.

The crowd around him quickly lost interest and went back to their normal afternoon routines; as if nothing had happened at all. As if Brent were invisible to the world; and at that particular moment, he would give anything for that to be true. He lay there on the ground for what was only a minute or so, but what felt like hours, wallowing in his own misery and embarrassment. Then, slowly, he pulled himself to his feet. Hoping no one he knew saw what just happened, he dusted himself off, and kept walking.

---

They say that a picture speaks a thousand words, Brent thought as he meandered his way home. He figured of picture of Parker must speak at least five thousand, being the many faceted town that it was. The white bricked three story houses with their rich green lawns, expensive elegant cars that shined in the sunlight, and the wealthy white people talking on their cell phones and glaring at him with looks of the utmost contempt as he walked past their homes, spoke of prosperity, money, and promise. He closed his eyes and exhaled slowly, not wanting to see, or feel - knowing that someone like him would never live in a white brick house, or drive an expensive car.

When he turned the corner half an hour later, however, he slowly found himself facing an entirely different picture. Homes here were built cheaply, and as such, most of them were falling apart; bricks were chipped, foundation was crumbling, and the lawns were brown and dying. The people who lived in these homes were, for the most part, too depressed to take care of them, and Brent could hardly blame them; the thought depressed him as well. The vehicles people drove were old, dirty, and not working properly; some people weren’t even lucky enough to have cars, and there was also not a white person to be seen at all on this side of Parker. This picture was one that spoke of poverty, and an overwhelming sadness. Whoever read the picture of Parker must be fairly confused, Brent thought, and then immediately realized that that didn’t make sense. He lived close enough to the rich neighborhood that he was forced to go to the rich school, which he thought entirely unfair, but such is life.

And in the midst of all his thoughts, he finally made his way home, as he always did. His house wasn’t too different from the others houses on his block, except that it was noticeably better taken care of; the foundation was weak, but it was together all the same, sad little yellow and white pansies were planted in the tiny flowerbed out front (by his Mother, of course), and the porch was kept well swept and the bench sanded and splinter-free. His Father had always said that, while they didn’t have the best house in the world, it was theirs, and they should take pride in it all the same. Brent compared it to the luxurious white bricked homes on the East side, and could not see his logic.

Brent fumbled in his pocket for his key, and upon finding it, unlocked his door, which opened into a dark living room with a foreboding creak. For a moment, he thought no one was home, and was about to put his bags down when he noticed a figure sitting on a chair in the dining room. He gasped, and was about to reach for something heavy to hit him with when he realized that it was only his brother, Taylor.

He let out a sigh of relief. “You scared me, man”
“Sorry.”
“Why are you sitting in the dark?”
“Helps me think.”

It was painfully obvious that Taylor wasn’t in the mood for conversation, so Brent left him be. He was hard to understand sometimes; well, most of the time. He was six years older than Brent and was tall and muscular, though much more so than his younger brother. He had a tattoo on his upper left arm of two bloody knives crossed together, with “The Crypt” inscribed above it. He’d been wanting to get it removed, but the procedure was too expensive, so instead he kept it covered at all times; when he couldn’t wear long sleeves, he tied a white bandana around it. Taylor figured out far too late that gang life wasn’t the way to go, and any future he previously thought he’d had was obsolete.

Taylor’s dream was to be an artist; and he was very good at it, too. His art covered the walls of his room; scantily clad women, racecars, and even some scenery drawings, to name a few. They were good enough to be marketed, better than a lot of other things you saw in the media or on the shelves. Unfortunately, no one would market him without an art degree, and no art school would want him even if he could find the money or the financial aide to go.

Long story short, Brent’s older brother was much more bothered by their poor situation than he was.

Brent shut the door to his room - it was all he could do to keep from locking himself in - and flopped down face first onto his black and white bed. It was the only place in the world where he truly felt at home, with posters of his rock star idols covering his walls, the desk that cat catty-cornered in the opposite corner (where more song writing occurred than homework), and his black guitar that sat in the other corner. Maybe in a few hours he would practice, but for now, all he wanted was sleep.