His Uptown Girl - By Liz Talley Page 0,1

lone soul on his journey back to his place—some crazy dude sitting on his porch staring past Tre into the inky, still night.

Tre gripped the knife tighter as he crept toward the safest stairwell. He inched open the rusted-out door, wincing at the sound. Once he got inside, he’d be safe. The world would forget about him, his mama and Shorty D holed up like rats, sitting inside with rotten milk, the whole place smelling like shit. Even G-Slim would forget about them. About how much he hated Tre’s mama. About how she’d ratted him out to that detective a month back. About getting even with her.

The air left his lungs as he got jerked backward.

“What you doin’, lil’ Tre?”

He stumbled, losing his balance, and the knife flew from his hand, clattering onto the cement stoop.

A bowling ball sank in his stomach. Daylight protected him in the projects. Usually, the Dooney Boys left the little kids alone, but this wasn’t “usual” and night covered up stuff. Tre should have left earlier. He should have—

“Damn, son. Got you a knife. What you gonna do with that, cuz?” G-Slim asked, lifting Tre up by the back of his T-shirt.

Tre couldn’t breathe. He coughed and swiped at G-Slim’s arms.

The man let him go, laughing when Tre sprawled on his ass, hitting a stone planter Miss Janie had left on the stoop. She’d let Shorty D plant some seeds a couple of months ago. Now those planters held weeds and dirt. “What you got in your shirt?”

Tre almost pissed his pants. G-Slim had killed some Chinese guy a couple streets over when he wouldn’t pay for some smack. Tre’s friend had seen the dude’s brains and stuff. “Nothin you want.”

“How you know?” Another smile. And it wasn’t no good smile. Nasty and mean. Tre scooted back, teetering on the edge of the stoop, his heart tripping on itself with fear. He tried to think about how to get away, but his mind wouldn’t work. Tears filled his eyes and he forgot how to be hard. How to pretend he was brave.

G-Slim peered down at Tre. “Where’s your mama, boy?”

“She ’vacuated.”

“Why you still here?”

Tre tried to swallow but his mouth felt full of sand. “I—I didn’t wanna go. Mama took Shorty D on the bus, but I ran away ’cause I ain’t leavin’ Big Mama.”

G-Slim stared at him, and Tre prayed the man bought the lie. His grandmother had already left before the storm, but G-Slim didn’t know that. And he didn’t know Shorty D and Mama were still on the third floor.

In the moonlight, Tre could see only the whites of the man’s eyes. But he knew what lay in their coal-black depths. Revenge. “That so?”

“Yeah. I’s going back to get Miss Janie’s horn and then I’m going to Big Mama’s.”

G-Slim moved toward him. Tre shrank against the rough brick, feeling around for the knife, hoping somehow he could save himself. Maybe G-Slim wouldn’t kill him, but maybe he would.

A gun fired, the shot hitting far above Tre’s head. He squeezed his eyes shut as dust fell on him.

“Get your janky ass away from my boy,” Tre’s mom said from the doorway. Tre opened his eyes, shocked to find his mother standing on the stoop in a stained T-shirt. Talia’s braids were ragged, but both her gaze and the gun were steady.

G-Slim held up both his hands as if Tre’s mama was the police. “Whoa, now. I ain’t hurtin’ your boy.”

“I’m going to blow a hole in you a truck can drive through if you don’t back the hell up off my boy,” she said, eyeing G-Slim as if he was a cockroach sitting on their table. “Get upstairs, Tre.”

Tre moved quick as a snake, bolting through the space between his mama and the doorway.

“Oh, that’s how it is, bitch?” G-Slim said, his voice not sounding the least bit scared. G-Slim was hard. He’d been in prison a couple times, always out because no witnesses would testify against him...because they knew they’d bleed their life out on the street.

“That’s how it is, Gerald,” Talia said, her voice firm but sad. Tre felt the tears on his cheeks. He hadn’t even realized he’d started crying. And his pants felt wet. Maybe he’d peed them. He couldn’t remember.

“Go on then,” G-Slim said. Tre couldn’t see him, but he imagined he’d dropped his hands and turned toward Talia. G-Slim wasn’t afraid of a bullet. He wasn’t afraid of Talia. He’d beat the shit out of her many