The First Last Boy

By: Sonya Weiss



When I’d caught him beating his daughter, I’d shown him how well I’d learned his lessons. Since then, I’d left my share of guys down, writhing in the dirt, faces drawn in pain. I’d never lost any kind of fight and Juvante knew it. Not because I was the best, but because I didn’t quit. Quitting earned a man a reputation as an easy mark.

Juvante held his hand up. “You know I’m playing with you.” He shuffled his feet. “Are you sure you’re not coming back from a tail run?”

”Positive.”

He put one hand over his heart and raised the other hand toward the sky. “Praise Jesus, Mama Leena has finally convinced one of her boys to walk the straight and narrow like good church people do.” Juvante once lived in a foster home where the father used to drag all the kids to church every Sunday and knock them around the other six days. He hated any kind of organized religion and people who pushed it, but he respected Mama Leena because she was real.

“Juvante Willis!”

“Oh, shit!” Juvante ducked to the back of my car and crouched by the bumper when he heard Mama Leena’s voice.

Cooper and I laughed and headed toward the front door. Juvante wasn’t afraid of anything or anyone. But like me, he hated disappointing Mama Leena. She believed in all her boys and thought we were going to change the world. When I’d graduated high school, I swear she’d screamed my name with such enthusiasm that it’d made my ears ring.

Inside the house, Mama Leena looked at us with a penetrating stare. She wore her customary business suit and nice jewelry. At forty, she was an attractive woman, but said she didn’t have time to date whenever we’d tease her about it. Her sister told me she thought the truth was there weren’t a lot of men willing to take on a house full of foster kids. But I think Mama Leena still grieved over the loss of her husband Sam who’d died six years ago in a car accident.

Moving her briefcase from the coffee table, she pointed at me and then to the sofa. “Coop, you and Ryan sit down for a minute, please.”

“Can’t stay.” Cooper bent to press a kiss against the side of her face. Though he had his own place now, he’d often stop by check in on Mama and try to give her money that she wouldn’t take. “I’m heading to work.”

She grabbed his hand, searching his face with worried eyes. “Everything okay?”

He gave her a smile that was pure bullshit. “Fine.”

I knew his rich girlfriend had dumped him for a well-connected society asshole and it had thrown him for a loop. Cooper had only been a distraction for her she’d said. I’d fished his drunk and totaled ass out of so many bars these last two weeks that I’d lost count. I’d calmed bartenders, bouncers and boyfriends who wanted to beat Cooper’s skull in for the shit he’d stirred up in the bars. He shot me a warning look not to say anything. “See you later.”

“Did you eat?” Mama Leena refocused on me after Coop left.

I walked over to the sofa and picked up a flowered pillow to move it out of my way. “I had some pizza at Tana’s house.”

That earned me a look of frowning reproach. “Ryan, I hope you’re being careful.”

“I’m good.” I didn’t need to hear another lecture on being careful around girls, especially Tana. I sat down beside Destiny and nudged her. “There’s probably something better on if you want to change the channel.”

She put the remote on the other side of her leg. “I’m watching my show so you leave me alone.”

“You know I’m your favorite brother.”

“You’re a pain.” Destiny slapped my arm when I reached across her and snagged the remote. “I mean it, Ryan. Don’t you switch it.”

“Did you finish filling out those college applications I left in your room?” Mama Leena asked.

“Yeah.” I pressed the remote but looked away from the television when Destiny snickered.

Mama Leena pulled a stack of crumpled applications from beneath the thick family photo album she kept on top of the coffee table. She had a picture of every single foster kid she’d cared for even if they only stayed a few days. “You mean these applications I found in your trashcan?”

“They want me to write an essay about my life for each application. What the fuck am I supposed to say? That I’m lucky I’m not doing a dime upstate for all the shit I’ve done?”

“You know better than to use that kind of language in this house,” she said sharply, then sighed, and her voice softened. “I know you’ve seen things when you were a child that no kid should ever see.” Her eyes watered with unshed tears and I wondered if she was imagining the picture a social worker had given her of me wearing a thick dog collar and chained in a backyard to a dog house.

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