Damn community-meeting suckin up smoke-time. My B-time. It all just a waste of time. Staff don’t know nothin, nohow. Look at Mr. Eric up there tellin us about scams. Watch out for the Magazine People. They out there, tryin to get you. They offer you a job, promise big money, but they ditch you before payday. Move on and leave you stuck some place where maybe there ain’t any La Rue House. Bullshit. Only reason Staff don’t want us sellin magazines cause it pay under the table and actually make bank. Staff need to shut up and let me smoke.

Shit, he lookin the fool talkin about scams. B scammin, and Staff don’t see shit. Don’t see shit, don’t know shit, cause my girl be the shit. She got Staff thinkin she workin at BK, but she only went one day, got the uniform and split. Now she come and go like she workin, sportin the uniform and everythin. But she scammin at the mall all day, sellin bootlegs for Jew-Fro, with no job-search-log to do, no curfew to stress, and no early wake up. Staff ain’t up on nothin. You just gotta have a little nohow know how to work their system. Makes this cracker-ass shelter a five-star resort. My girl ridin free and clear till I get us up outta here. One more paycheck and we got enough to get a room for a month. Then we free and clear. Cut my demo and we get up on our own, without this cracker program. No more Staff, no more curfew, no more Structure, no more Life Skills bullshit. We gonna be a family. Her, me, and baby make three. Us against the world, hustlin Bonnie-and-Clyde style.

But Mr. Eric goin on and on. When doin apps, be polite and ask for the manager. Don’t waste your time if they say they ain’t hirin just to fill in your job-search-log. It’s about gettin a job, not fillin in the job-search-log. Keep at it, and you’ll get that job. Why don’t he shut up so I can see my B and smoke a Port? Worse than a preacher, a fat ass screecher. Forty niggas in here; no one listenin except Can’t-Get-Right, and he too retarded to know he don’t even gotta have a job. Super-Staff Juanita ain’t even listenin; she just be pickin the cash out from under her nails.

Finally, thank God, Allah and 2-Pac, he shuts it. I’m up outta my seat and gone before he can think of more bullshit to lay on us. I beat it first one out and jet straight to the patio for some lovin before I gotta make work. But before I even get to In-Take, Paladin catch me. “Smiley,” she call, and I know it somethin important cause she all worried, and Paladin don’t play. “B’s discharging,” she say, and I’m off like a sucka hearin sirens, knowin that can’t be right. But sure enough, when I hit In-Take, B sittin there with all her stuff in bags.

“What up?” I ask, knowin she ain’t leavin without me. We got a plan; we a family. Her, me, and baby make three.

“They dischargin me,” she say, all sad, like she lost and gonna cry. I knew she wasn’t leavin me, so I go to hug her and give her some love.

“Damon,” Door Staff call me from the In-Take desk where she like a damn spy satellite with her intercoms and cameras and shit. “Stay out of it,” she tell me. “Go smoke.”

“What you dischargin B for?” I ask Door Staff. “She ain’t done nothin.”

“That’s Bridget’s business,” Door Staff say all superior and shit, like I ain’t got a right to know my girl’s business. These people try me, makin everythin so difficult. They don’t understand I gotta watch out for her. She all I got. She what get me through. Without her, I can’t deal.

“Cause I ain’t got a job,” B tell me.

“She got a job,” I tells Door Staff. “She work at Burger King on University.”

“Damon…” Door Staff start, but everyone else come through from community meeting and block her out. So I drop in next to B and grab her hand so she know I take care of everything.

B whisper in my ear, “Smiley, they called BK. They know.”

“And they just puttin you out?” I ask to make sure, cause that ain’t right for them to put my girl out in the night like this, not with a baby comin and all.

“They got me a bed at the Mission, but I hate that place,” she say, still lookin scared and worried with her hair down and her make-up a mess, but still all beautiful. “What’m I gonna do?”

Super-Staff Juanita come in after everyone and look down at us. “Come on, Damon” she say to me in her scratchy-ass voice. “Let her be,” she say jerkin her big-ass head at the door.

I give her the eye cause she know. That whole time in community meeting, she know they up here dischargin B and she don’t say jack to me. I bet she the one gave the word to do it.

B drop my hand, like she could get in any more shit with Staff. I look at B’s sweet face and beautiful brown eyes and baby belly and can’t let her go it alone. She just got out of 33rd and don’t know the streets like I do. I been runnin it for six months. She need me. I kiss her on the forehead. Fuck Staff. Only God can judge me now.

“Damon,” Super-Staff Juanita say, “clear out of In-Take.” She holdin the door open like I should just be a good little boy and go to my room. Fuckin Staff, the way they treat us like kids, make me hate this place so much.

“I be right back,” I tells B quiet like, so Staff can’t hear, and then jet up to the floor.

When I get there, I hit the buzzer and pound the door till Staff open it. I go straight to the case manager’s office. “Give me some bags. I’m fuckin outta here.”

“That isn’t the way you talk to me,” Mr. Eric say like he my god-damn father. And I had enough of that shit. Always yellin at me to do my laundry and take a shower and give him my money. I’m twenty. A man. I don’t need no more parentin.

“Fuck that, I’m dischargin,” I tells him. “Tell Ms. Juanita to get me my money.”

Mr. Eric shake his big-ole head. “You’re leaving because of Bridget?”

“That’s right,” I say. “Now, give me some damn bags.”

“I’ll remember the way you’re talking to me when you want something next time,” he say all sure I’ll be back. Motherfucker can hold his breath.

“I ain’t comin back,” I tells him. “I don’t need this place. I’m only here for B.”

He nod and open the door to the girls’ side and ask Other Staff for the bags.

“Who’s leaving?” Other Staff ask, stickin his nose in it.

“Damon’s discharging himself,” Mr. Eric say, shruggin, like it no big thing to him, but I know he sorry. Keepin my job, savin my funds, I been makin him look good, probably got him a damn raise. But do he kick any of it down to me? Fuck no.

“What for?” Other Staff ask, when I just want the damn bags.

“Because you people are fucked up,” I yells so even the girls can hear me.

“To take care of Bridget,” Mr. Eric tell Other Staff and then give up the roll of bags, so I go to my room without listenin to anymore of their shit. Why everyone gotta be all over my business about everything? They ain’t got no right. I pull on the cheap-ass locker so hard it pop open without Staff’s key. I ain’t got no time to ditch my work clothes, so I keep em on and grab all my good stuff out of my locker.

I wrappin my Timbs in my Tommy’s so they won’t get scuffed when I hear, “What the hell are you doing?” Other Staff at the door. Fuckin asshole, why he gotta get in it? Can’t just leave a person alone to do things their own way.

“You’re going to discharge yourself for some chick?” he ask like I’m some dense motherfucker.

“Some chick? Some chick? That my girl. She my fiancé,” I tells him like he be some dense motherfucker. “I got to take care of her.” Fuckin Staff don’t know real love. They don’t know what it like to care about somebody if there ain’t some paycheck involved. They don’t see she my girl. She understand me. She know me.

“You’ve known her what, a week?” Other Staff say.

“What that gotta do with it?” I ask, and he ain’t got no answer for that. “I know her better than y’all. You people wrong. Kickin people out who ain’t got nowhere to go, can’t take care of themselves. You suppose to be helpin people, but you just addin to shit.”

“Damon, stop and think,” he say. “Focus on yourself.” But I keep packin, not havin time for his psycho-bullshit. “Don’t throw everything away for her,” he say, like she ain’t worth it. If I had the time, I’d knock him the fuck out.

“She all I need,” I says, but he don’t get it. Staff so backwards, they hopeless. They don’t know. None of their independent livin bullshit mean dick if you ain’t got love. What the point without my B?

“You still going to work tonight?” Other Staff ask like I still some resident, like he still gotta report on me.

“Nigga, I got more important things goin on than work.”

“You’ll lose your job,” he say, like I give a shit about that.

“Don’t matter what happen to me. My girl, my baby, they come first.”

“That’s not your baby,” Other Staff say, like that the issue.

“You buys the cow, you gets the calf,” I tells him, closin it. “I takin responsibility. That my baby now.” But Staff don’t understand that either. They have me let her go, just forget about her, let her fend for herself out on the street with all them crazies and perverts and crackheads who cut you up for a dollar.

“Fine, but how are you going to take care of her without a job?” he ask, tryin me.

“I knows how to survive,” I tells him. “I ain’t needing this fuckin place.” I smash my clothes down with my knee and twist the bag shut.

“Don’t forget to double bag it, or it’ll rip on you.”  Other Staff say like he so smart and he walk back to the safe-ass office.

Such a fuckin wise guy, I should knock his big-ass teeth out. “Fuck you, motherfucker,” I yell loud enough for Staff to hear me down at In-Take.

I scoop all my little deodorants and toothpastes and toothbrushes and shit into my backpack, put on my hoodie, and then I’m gone. Can’t get out of here quick enough. Gonna smoke whatever I want, whenever I want: Ports, Black&Milds and chronic. Gonna get fucked up, and B and I gonna knock it all night, then sleep in way over noon. It be sweet; we gonna run on our own time, our own structure.

“Where my money?” I ask soon as I get to In-Take.

“Damon, you’re making a mistake,” Door Staff say openin her big-ass mouth.

“Where my money?” I ask again, louder so everyone on the patio will hear that maybe Staff don’t give you back your savings. Maybe Staff keeps it for themselves; maybe that how they buy all their scratch threads and they big houses and they new cars — with our sweat-stained cash.

“It’s right here,” Super-Staff Juanita say, comin out of her office. She hand me my envelope, but hold tight when I try to take it. “If you do this, you’re out for 30 days.”

“Don’t care,” I says and snatch the envelope outta her hand. “I ain’t ever comin back.” It feel thick enough to be five-hundred, but I open it and double check. Three paper-clipped stacks of twenties, just like it was when I put in last. Plenty funds for a room. No sleepin in bullshit shelters or woods or store roofs for us. And good-ass food, no handouts, no restaurant leftovers, and no snatch-and-grab. We gonna live it tight.

I grab B’s bags off the floor and go for the door. “Come on,” I tells her and shove the front door so hard it crash back against the window, but it don’t break. Be so sweet if it broke, even just cracks a little. I be a La Rue House legend then, goes down in history.

I barely get out the door with all B’s gear knockin me left and right in the door so I look the fool. Once we out the security camera’s eye, I drop her gear in the middle of the parking lot. “What you needing all this for?” I ask, but she just look at her bags on the ground, three of them, full of clothes and shoes and make-up and shit. “You ain’t needing all that. I only got one bag.”

“I ain’t leavin nothin here,” she say, and pick up one of the cheap-ass bags.

“No,” I says, stoppin her. “I got it.” I grab the bags up. “You want all this, I carry it,” I says. “But I don’t know why all this shits gotta come…”

“I sorry, baby,” she say, bein sweet as we walk on to the bus stop.

“No big thing,” I says, but the bags be strainin and one rip at the top before we off the property. “God-damn it.” I drop the rest of them. “Just take what you need,” I says and kick the ripped bag. It roll over and dump some hand-me-down clothes onto the street. “Leave all them shit clothes they give you.”

“Okay, god-damn. Don’t yell at me,” she say, gettin in my face, and I’m stunned, but before I do anythin, she get down and go through her shit. “I didn’t mean to take it all. They had it packed up when I came in.” She yellin, but her eyes be all glassy like she gonna cry, and I know she ain’t mean nothin by gettin up in my face.

She all small and helpless, and I get down with her, right in the street. “I know, I know,” I says and grab her hands to stop her from tossin her stuff out. “I’m sorry, too. They just got me riled up, you know. Just ready to go off. Fuckin Staff, doin this shit to you. It ain’t right. But I gonna take care you, baby.”

“We gettin a room?” she ask.

“Straight up,” I say, pullin her close and kissin her deep. “A nice phat room. A honeymoon suite. It be tight. Spend the whole night together.”

“But you gotta work,” she say. “What about work?”

“We got cash money,” I say and pat my hoodie pocket. “Don’t you be worryin bout nothin.” I pick up her bags. She got them down to two, and we just leave the rest of her shit all over the parking lot. Staff can clean it up.

“But how long that money gonna last if you ain’t workin?” she ask, still buggin.

“Goddamn it. Drop it. Okay?” I say and get in her face. “Let me gets you someplace first, all right?”

She drop it and we catch the 29 down Colonial. It warm and quiet, and we sit close together in peace. She wearin my headphones so she can chill out and not deal with all them worries in her head. When we pass the Steak n Shake, I see it busy and know I be stuck there all night if I goes in. But I got my girl, and we free and gonna kick it all night, so fuck work.

The bus drop us at Magnolia, and we go to the Travelodge. The honeymoon suite be righteous, but they ain’t got one, and I ain’t hasslin with findin another hotel, so I gets us a room on the second floor with a king bed. Forty-five a night, but I ain’t lettin my girl stay in no 20-dollar-a-night whore-tel. No bed-and-blow for B-baby.

We dump our gear in the room and be safe and in private but she say, “I’m hungry,” as soon as I start kissin her neck.

“Come on, B,” I say, kissin up on her ear. “Let’s fuck quick, then we’ll get somethin to eat.” I grab those tits and squeeze nice and soft.

“Later,” she say and whine, “I gotta eat first.”

“Come on,” I say.

“Later,” she say again and grind that ass against my dick.

“Okay,” I say and grab my hoodie off the chair. But before we leave, she laugh and kiss me and suck my tongue. So I grab her by the waist, and we knock it quick-like on the bed without even gettin our shirts off. And I tag that baby as mine one more time.

We buy up half the 7-Eleven. We get chili-dogs and Suicide-Slurpees for dinner and grab chips and candy and Cokes for later. We get a pack of Black & Milds and a carton of Newports. And, while B talk the clerk up, I swipe two bottles of Cisco: strawberry for her, black-cherry for me.

Back in the room, I strip off my hoodie and work shirt and kick off my boots. I crack the Cisco and spread out on the bed, but B start with the you gotta work shit. “I ain’t goin to work. We gonna party,” I say, but she look away. “What? We got cash money.” I pass her the strawberry Cisco so she can chill the fuck out.

She take it, but drop it behind her on the bed like it nothin. I take a swig of mine. Damn, it sweet, like drinkin syrup, but when I finish, she still buggin.

“You gonna get fired,” she say, shakin her head like that such a shame.

“So?”

“What?” she ask and stand up and go all serious. “What you mean, So?” She look at me like she never seen me before.

“Why you buggin like Staff?” I ask, sittin up.

She take small steps and turn around, goin in little circles. “How you gonna be the man without a job?” she ask, holdin the baby in her belly.

I get up and goes to her. “I’m gonna cut my demo and blow up.”

“But how you gonna represent till then?” she ask.

“Fuck. We can lift shit for Jew-Fro. Sell his burns,” I tell her. “Or sell skunk to tourists. Shit, we can go big-time.” I put my hands on her shoulders to stop her trippin. “I be Smiley. I got tons of prospects for bringin in the dough, baby.”

She step back, makin my hands drop off her shoulders, and say, “Till you got them prospects runnin, you better be doin somethin.”

“Don’t worry. I got it covered,” I say and slide my arms around her waist. “Let’s just chill tonight. Get fucked up and party.”

She shake her head and step away from me again. “You ain’t nothin but a little player.” She point at the door and say, “Get out of my room.”

“What?” I ask cause I knows she ain’t just said that.

“You heard me.” She put her hands on her hips, givin me attitude. “You the same as all them other players. Ain’t ready to handle no responsibility.”

I shake my head cause she talkin crazy. “You know that ain’t true,” I tell her. Them punk-ass niggas before me got her all screwed up, and she ain’t got no faith left.

She point at the door and shout this time. “Get the fuck out my room.”

I step up to her quick and flex my arms like I’m gonna throw on her. “Bitch, I paid for this room,” I say, and she flinch, knowin it true.

“You got it for me,” she say and snap her neck, her hands still on her hips.

“Cause I’m your man.” I tell her and tap my chest with my fingertips so she can see.

“You ain’t my man,” she say, shakin her head like some poutin brat. “You just a little boy.”

“Yo, what?” I ask and rush up on her.

“That’s right,” she say, and scoot around the other side of the table. “Get out. We through.” She throw her hands out to the side.

“You ain’t leavin me,” I tell her, rushin up on her again.

“No, I’m kickin your punk ass out,” she say, goin round the table again. “You ain’t gonna provide for us,” she say with her hand on her belly.

“I still got over four-hundred. We set, baby.”

“That ain’t gonna last,” she say. “I ain’t livin at the Salvation Army. Imma find me a real man to take care of my baby.”

“Bitch,” I say and reach over the table and push her onto the bed. “Don’t be sayin that.” I get around the table and come up on her. If I ain’t be lovin her so much, I’d knock her the fuck out.

She jump up and get in my face. “I ain’t your bitch,” she say like she ready to throw. I wait for it, but she solid, like she waitin for it from me, but I be a gentleman and shit. “You ain’t my man anymore,” she say calm and steady, lookin me in the eyes, like she don’t care if I knock her out for it. She that serious. “Get out of my room, player-ass-player.”

“No, I ain’t goin nowhere.”

She turn and walk quick to the bathroom like she goin lock herself in there.

I grab her and pull her out before she can close the door. “Hold up.”

“Let go of me,” she snap and jerk her arm away, but she stay there.

“You want me to be the fuckin man? Here, damn it.” I slap the cash into her hand and hold it there. “Here the money. You got it”

I let go her hand, and she look at the bills right there in her hand. She know I’m serious. “Now you see I can provide for you,” I tell her.

She sit down on the bed and rub the cash-money in her hand. I lean against the table and stare her down. She shake her head and say, “You Good-time Smiley, just a player. You ain’t changin.”

“I will,” I swear and get down in front of her and rub her legs. “Give me another chance, alright? I go to work, but you don’t leave me, alright?” She be quiet and won’t look at me. “If you don’t give me another chance,” I tell her, “I gonna gets fired for sure cause I ain’t leavin here with you hatin me.”

She look away. Lookin around the room at what we got, at all I provide for her. She look back to me and ask, “You’ll go to work?”

I nod and say, “You knows I will. I promise.”

She smile pretty and kiss me and say, “Okay.”

“I your man?”

“You my man,” she say all soft and sweet. And she kiss me again, warm and wet and soft, until I feel it in my dick.

With five minutes left to the last bus, I get ready quick. I stick my apron in my bag and grab a pack of Ports to gets me through my shift. I leave B my player and CDs so she got tunes.

“Don’t do nothin stupid,” she say.

“Like what?” I ask, not gettin her.

“Like get yourself fired. Or get pissed and walk out on them or anythin,” she say, worried with love for me.

I goes to her on the bed and put my hand on her cheek and hold her soft face close to mine. “B-baby, quit trippin. Smiley takin care of things.”

“That’s right,” she say. “You Smiley.” Then she kiss me good-bye and I gone.

I make it to work a little late, but no one give me shit. I clear the tables and bust ass on the dirty dishes. I chill to the radio, and it feel good knowin I ain’t got to go back to La Rue, but get to kick-it with B in our own place. The bar-rush is heavy, but all the bitches be slammin and time flys and when the sun come up, I grab four burgers and fill the rest of the bag up with fries so B and I got some hot breakfast. No more stale cereal, no more powdered oatmeal, no more cold Pop-Tarts for my girl.

And the bus home be crawlin, too many stops, too much traffic. And all the way these burgers be smellin fresh, but I wait for my B to kick it off tip-top. My dick throb, and I’m on hard thinkin about everythin I’m gonna gets from my girl. All day, all night, all the time from here on out.

When I gets back to the room, she ain’t there and the room trashed.

Covers tore up. TV gone. Table upside down. Clothes all thrown everywhere.

Someone done got in and fucked it up and snatched her.

But I see that on the mirror, it say Smiley is a Player in lipstick.

And just my shit be all over the place. Her shit all gone. Except them hand-me-down clothes from La Rue. Ain’t no food or smokes. Even the Cisco gone. And not all my stuff be here cause I don’t see my Timbs or my Tommys or my Iverson jersey or my player or my tunes.

The trick fuckin cleaned me out. I throw the burgers against the wall and the fries fall all over the bed. Every breath I take make me wanna puke. I grab a chair to sit down, but it don’t slide and fall over, so I sit on the floor right up against the door to hold it shut.

I sit there, just fuckin sit there. Empty trash bags and ripped-up bag bits all over the floor. Old-ass out-of-style shoes piled in the corner. Empty shampoos and lotions and shit on the counter by the sink.

I got the last bus and she sure as shit didn’t walks nowhere. Some slick motherfucker picked her ass up in his tricked-out ride. She ain’t never have enough faith. I crack my head against the door tryin to knock the sense back into it. She fuckin played me. Played me out like some punk-ass sucker.

So fuckin stupid. That what I gets. What I gets for givin a shit.

For trustin her. For takin care of her instead of me. For lovin her instead of just fuckin her. Bitch-ass niggas get fucked.

No cash for another night.

No La Rue for 30 days.

I ain’t stayin at Sally’s or the Mission or none of them downtown shelters.

Ain’t goin to Jew-Fro’s. If she hocked my shit there, she long gone. And if she still there, it cause she fuckin him, and his crew beat me down before I see any of my shit. I’m played out. No place to crash, no place to hock shit. No shit to hock. Fuckin trick.

Goddamn fuckin trick. Need to hook-up my own crew and go over there representin. Then I can take back what mine. Fuck right.

I ditch my work clothes and put on some tore-up jeans. I leave my white-T on from work, but cover the stank with my hoodie. Fuck showerin. She left me two tanks, underwear, and a pair of socks. It all fit in my backpack. I leave my work clothes and everythin else for the maid.

I light up a Newport as I go to the bus stop. I should just walk all the way to the mall. Save my funds. But fuck that. What a dollar gonna get me? Might as well catch a damn cab. The 29 come, and I spend the buck for the ride to the mall, but it be too early and eveythin still all locked up. So I chill on a bench outside the food court and wait. The La Rue crew be here soon. Paladin and Yada might know where B at.

And when I find her, Imma beat that bitch stupid. Put her ass on the corner till I gets my shit back.

K-Dawg and Scrappy gonna be lovin this shit. I gonna hear it, but fuck’em. Fuck all them. Like none of them never got rolled, never been played. They better fuckin stand up and represent. Better not side with Jew-Fro and that ho. Fuckin Jew-Fro. What he need with B? What she to him? Why he gotta go and try me like this?

A van pull into the lot, and they clockin me as they park, but no one get out. It just sit there, like they waiting on the mall to open too. I light the last of my Ports and see that it be that van from outside La Rue House. The one that made Staff start talkin to us about scams. What do Staff know? They ain’t never sold no magazines. Maybe them kids that got ditched, just couldn’t cut it. Got themselves fired. The scam be on the folks dumb enough to buy the magazines. I don’t give a shit about them. Them rich folks got enough and can afford to give me a little somethin. So fuck Staff. And fuck B. And fuck Jew-Fro. And fuck all them La Rue suckers. I ain’t needing none of them.

I knock on the window and some soft-ass preppie roll it down. “You the ones with the job sellin magazines?” I ask him and he nod.

“You looking for work?” his partner ask from the bitch-seat.

“Yeah,” I say. “I’m lookin to do that.”

Their faces get all happy, but I’m up on them. They try to pull any shit, I show these motherfuckers a scam.

______

“Smiley & B 4-Ever” is part of an unpublished story collection centered around the La Rue House homeless shelter for youth. Two other stories from the La Rue House collection have been published — “Protocols,” was published in the spring of 2009 by 580 Split, and “To Do” was published in the anthology Keeping Track by Main Street Rag, winter of 2012. His other publications include Voices Rising: Stories from the Katrina Narrative Project edited by Rebeca Antoine (2008), and the anthologies Skeletal Remains (Rymfire Books, 2011) and Bits of the Dead both edited by Keith Gouveia (CosCom 2008).