This story is by Corey Anthony Williams and was part of our 2018 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
It’s Jeremy’s weekend with his little man. Judge Atkins shocked the courtroom by ruling in Jeremy’s favor, excusing his checkered past for his resolve. Despite several claims of being an unfit parent, Jeremy is set to pick up Nasir shortly—all the legal gymnastics and court mumbo-jumbo have finally paid off. According to the California Divorce Guide, the arrangement between Jeremy and his ex, Tia, is known as a Custodial Percentage Timeshare.
Jeremy mutes the television and hits eject. Pulp Fiction spits out of the VCR. Jeremy stashes the R-rated cassette along with his other bootlegs. If Nasir ever slipped up and repeated something Samuel Jackson said around Tia, Jeremy would find himself right back in court. Flipping channels, Jeremy keeps clicking until he finds programming suitable for teenagers. (When it comes to illegal cable, Jeremy makes out like a bandit. He has every channel, even Spice.) Hosts A.J. and Free of 106 & Park appear on his plasma. Tia mentioned something about Nasir liking this sorta crap.
The apartment is quiet for a change. I can get used to this, Jeremy thinks. He makes his way toward the kitchen. A sink full of yesterday’s dishes awaits him. Jeremy handles that then reverts to the fridge. Everything Nasir eats at his mother’s place is stocked here also, per Judge Atkins. Compulsively, Jeremy reorganizes the food for the third time today, this time in alphabetical order. Somewhat satisfied, Jeremy sits at the kitchen table, right beside the landline. He can’t afford to miss Tia’s call, for it could translate to another two weeks without his little man.
Tammy enters the apartment, kicking off her heels and tossing her knockoff purse wherever like she owns the joint. Needless to say, the idea of some random woman staying with Jeremy didn’t bode well with Tia. No one knew Tammy from a can of paint, Jeremy included. The two met, not long ago, at a Sizzler. Weeks later, Tammy suckered Jeremy into giving her a key.
“Hey, babe,” Tammy says. She pecks Jeremy on the cheek and unwinds. “How was your day?”
“Alright, I guess…waiting for a call,” he says. “Gimmie a second.”
“Oh. Well, my day was fine, Jeremy. So sweet of you to ask.”
Jeremy pays Tammy zero mind, immune to her sarcasm. His eyes remain glued to the phone.
Tammy storms out of the kitchen, plowing innocent furniture on the way. Her attitude is about as welcomed as the flu lately; however, that trick she does with her tongue keeps her around.
“You ain’t gotta be rude,” Tammy shouts. “I will not be dismissed.”
Jeremy apologizes with a slipshod hand gesture. Tammy tucks away her pride and returns.
“I’m fine,” Jeremy says, lying through his teeth.
“You’d tell me if you weren’t?”
Jeremy shakes his head yes.
Iffy, Tammy continues to press.
“So, you’d tell me if you were…you know?”
Jeremy doesn’t respond. Quite frankly, he’s shocked Tammy has the cojones to broach the subject.
“You’re not gonna do anything harmful,” Tammy says. “Right? I can’t be here without you.”
Jeremy sighs in dramatic fashion.
“Yes,” Tammy says. “Promise you won’t hurt yourself.”
Jeremy takes his anger out on the table, rattling silverware and placemats. Wachovia junk mail falls to the floor, informing Jeremy overdraft fees are impending.
“I promise,” Jeremy says. “I won’t hurt myself.”
“Now, was that so hard,” Tammy says. “That’s all I wanted, silly.” She kisses him again, this time with slow passion—easy on the lip, plenty tongue.
Jeremy tries to shoo away a nearby erection, although being sprung isn’t entirely up to him. One Mississippi. Two Mississippi. Jeremy sips his Arizona before managing to settle down.
For the first time all evening, Jeremy takes his eyes off the phone and acknowledges Tammy.
“Wait. You actually wore that to the office?”
Tammy does a quick pirouette, punctuated with a curtsy. She reminds Jeremy of the persuasion a good miniskirt carries. The slacks on Jeremy are seconds away from unzipping themselves.
Saved by the bell.
“Hello? Hello? Tonya,” Jeremy says, gripping the phone. “That you?”
“Evening, Mr. Taylor. This is an attempt to collect a debt,” the man says. “Please verify your full name, address and last four of your social.”
Jeremy slams the phone. He refuses to give bill collectors any dialogue, only dial tone.
What if Tia called while I was on the phone? What if my little man is waiting for me? This wouldn’t even be a thing if Jeremy paid Bell Atlantic the 4 bucks they charge for Call Waiting.
He finally snaps. “Goddammit!”
“Who was it, babe?”
Tammy smirks as if smitten by an idea forming in her head.
And just like that, she’s out the door. Barefoot, Tammy pops the trunk of her Volkswagen and rummages. A clique of teenage boys notice Tammy bent over in the driveway—they’d have to be monastic nuns not to. Tammy’s showing so much skin, no one even has the gumption to shout, “Punch buggy, No Punch Back!”
Tammy returns inside and sets a bottle of Jack Daniels down. Jeremy gives the 1.75-liter bottle his undivided attention. Just in case the liquor didn’t do the trick, Tammy empties a Ziploc of blow on the table. Tammy knows she’s not right. It’s one thing for Jeremy to avoid, but resisting was a whole-nother devil.
“Babe. Let’s get wasted and sneak into that Any Given Sunday movie that’s out.”
Jeremy and Tammy go chug for chug. Line for line. They drink one another under the table, snort each other into an alternate universe.
Hours fade. Jeremy regains consciousness. Tammy’s out cold. The phone Jeremy guarded with his life earlier is now off the hook. He’s left guessing what he missed. All of a sudden, his mind becomes this warehouse of uncertainty.
Jeremy grabs his Walkman and hauls ass to Tia’s. His adrenaline pumps while his eardrums wander.
BANG. BANG. BANG.
Jeremy continues like a madman. Neighbors notice and dial those magic numbers.
Five minutes later, Tia pulls into the driveway.
“Jeremy? What are you doing here?”
“Baby. I’m sorry. I missed your call,” he says. “Tammy…she got in my freakin’ head.”
Tia approaches Jeremy.
“Tell me what’s happening?”
“Quit playin’. It’s my weekend with Nas,” he says. “I waited by the phone. I did.”
Tia’s eyes well up. She hasn’t heard their son’s name in months.
“Where is he?”
“Where is who?”
“Our son,” Jeremy screams.
Red and blue everywhere. Nee-Naw, Nee-Naw, Nee-Naw, Nee-Naw.
Several squad cars pull up, guns drawn. Tia begs LAPD to put down their weapons.
“Don’t shoot,” she says. “Do. Not. Shoot.”
“Lemme see my little man,” Jeremy says.
“Look here,” Tia says.
She looks him in the eyes, beyond the drugs. She senses something is terribly wrong.
“Nasir,” Tia says. “He’s gone.”
Jeremy breaks down.
People begin to huddle up the block. Everyone knows. Everyone but Jeremy.
“Self-defense,” Tia says, not buying it. “At least that’s what Officer Wright swore in court. No witnesses. No footage. Nas was unarmed …of course. Never even played video games with guns.”
“And I know all this,” Jeremy says.
“I still have the signs we stayed up all night making.”
Jeremy’s in an impossible position. The same handguns responsible for taking Nasir’s life, are now pointing at him.
“My God, Jeremy. You honestly don’t remember.”
The two just stand there, both waiting for the other one to speak.
Unafraid of consequences, Jeremy kisses Tia goodbye.
“Hands up,” an officer shouts.
Jeremy reaches inside his pocket to pause his Walkman.
“No,” Tia yells. “Don’t sh—”
POP. POP. PA-POP. POP. POP.
* * *
Over the next calendar year, the Los Angeles-based foundation W.A.N (We’re All Nasir) was established. It honors 16-year-old Nasir Taylor, who many believe was gunned down based on skin color. Although W.A.N focuses on financial and moral support for grieving families, the foundation heavily promotes mental health awareness. FTD (Frontotemporal Dementia) for someone under 40 is rare, yet it was common enough to reach the 34-year-old Jeremy. Experts agree mental health played a role in Jeremy’s episode.
Today, the W.A.N foundation has an endowment surpassing $20 million. Foundations with assets like that cannot reach such heights without men and women of all colors contributing. As far as Jeremy, he survived. Or as he likes to say, thrived. His story, pure Cinderella. Paramedics. Stretchers. Intubation. Defibrillator. Thready pulse. Flatlined electrocardiogram. Somehow, Jeremy beat it all. From that day on, he began viewing life in a much different manner. Oxygen became a bit more precious, all it took was six bullets (two of which doctors could not extract). Jeremy concentrates on decision-making nowadays. For one, he quit running around with women like Tammy. He also has two bestsellers under his belt. And coolest of all, Jeremy and Tia are co-founders of W.A.N, ensuring their little man’s legacy remains intact.