Chapter One :Chapter 1


Sixteen Years Ago

"Sorry I'm running late, guys." I tossed my jacket on the bed before I sat on the floor between Kyle and Billy. "Show me what you all got tonight."

"It wasn't a good one for me," Kyle said. She was still wearing her jacket, rubbing her arms like she couldn't get warm.

I reached behind me, lifting my coat off the bed so that I could hand it to her. "Here, put this over you; it'll keep you warm."

She was always cold. I figured it had something to do with her being so skinny. And that was because her ma didn't have the money for food. She sold her food stamps for cash.

Same as my ma.

Same as Billy's.

Us kids who lived in The Heart—that was the name of our housing project—had to earn our own money and buy our own food. Four long streets with over two hundred apartments, and no one would even give up a box of mac and cheese. It may have been named after the muscle that kept us alive, but there wasn't any life around here.

The Heart sucked the life right out of everyone.

"Thanks, Garin." Kyle crossed her legs in front of her, tucking the jacket over her lap.

I smiled at her. "Tonight was real good for me," I said, grabbing the cash and change from my pocket and dropping it all on the carpet. "Three hundred and forty—eight dollars."

"Damn," Billy said. "Look at all that drug money." He pushed the coins together to make a pile. "Lots of panhandlers tonight, huh?"

Panhandlers used change to buy their dope. Most of the time, they'd hand me a full cup—the same one they'd collected it with. I'd keep the cups in the alley, stacked against the wall, and dump the change into my pockets when I left to re—up. Mario, my boss, owned a corner store. It was where he stashed all the dope. I'd go there and pay Mario back my advance, and then I'd refill my pockets with balloons and baggies.

Dope was way lighter than that heavy change. It didn't make my jeans sag either.

"You should've seen all the junkies lined up tonight," I said. "I thought for sure the cops were going to get called."

"Any of the hookers try to give you head?"

I didn't look at Kyle when I answered Billy's question, "Not tonight." I hated when he talked about that kind of shit in front of her. "I wouldn't let those hookers touch me. Half of them don't even have any teeth."

"I hear that means they give better head, all gums and suction. Can you imagine?"

"Fuck no. I don't want to imagine."

I felt Kyle staring at me, but I kept looking at Billy. "How'd you do tonight?" I asked him.

"I couldn't find nothing to pawn besides a CD player and some old drills. Cheap bastard at the pawnshop only gave me twelve bucks for it all 'cause the drills were so rusted. Fucking winter. People keep their shit locked up 'cause it's so goddamn cold."

"Twelve isn't all that bad," Kyle said.

Billy threw a wad of cash onto the floor, his grin telling me he wasn't quite done. "Nah, but sixty—two is better. I got fifty bucks for the tires."


"You're gonna lock your car up, so I can't steal nothing. Then, I'm going to take your tires, so you can't go nowhere."

"Oh, man." Kyle laughed.

I punched Billy's shoulder. "That's messed up. You know that, right? I'd beat your ass if you stole my tires."

Billy would steal anything. It didn't matter if it had sentimental value, if it was the cheapest thing you owned, or if it was the tires on your car. Family and friends were all he cared about. He had no fear.

None of us did in The Heart.

Except for Kyle.

"You mean, you'd beat my ass if I stole your ma's tires since you ain't even old enough to drive."

"Neither are you," I shot back. "Besides, Ma's car got repo'd a long time ago, so she doesn't have any tires you can steal."

"You know I wouldn't take nothing from either of you." Billy looked at both of us. "But those fuckers I steal from, they can try to beat me all they want. They'll never catch me. I'm too fast."

"Garin!" Ma yelled from downstairs.

"What?" I shouted back.

"I'm going out. Make sure you get your ass to school in the morning. I'd better not get another call telling me you skipped again. You hear me?"

"Yeah, I hear you."

I finally looked over at Kyle. She was smiling at me.

The last time I'd skipped school, we ditched together. We smoked a joint in my room and took a cab to Mario's house, so we could go swimming in his indoor pool. That was after I'd taken her bathing suit shopping. The only suit she owned was a bikini with a giant hole in the bottom that showed her ass crack. She wasn't comfortable wearing it, but God, I'd wanted her to, even if that meant holding my breath and going underwater and opening my eyes until they burned from the chlorine. I'd do that if it meant I could see more of her body. I didn't tell Kyle that. Instead, I offered to buy her a new one. She couldn't afford one, which meant she wouldn't have gone swimming at all. And that meant she wouldn't have gone to the beach that summer. I couldn't let that happen. The beach was the best part about this hellhole town.

"How much did you make tonight?" I asked her.

Her hair had fallen into her face. As much as I wanted to tuck it behind her ear, I didn't. Not now and especially not in front of Billy.

She held out her closed fist and slowly unfolded her fingers. There were a few crumpled up dollars in the middle of her palm. "It's winter. There's no beachgoers that I can sell bottles of water to and no tourists walking the boardwalk. And, when I try to panhandle outside the casinos, everyone has lost so much money in there, they won't even give me their change. I'm not as good as you guys."

"Then make 'em look at you, Kyle," Billy said. "Stick out your tits, hike up your skirt, and make 'em want to open up their wallets."

"Shut it, Billy!" The look I gave him told him I wasn't messing around. Another word, and I'd rip his fucking face off. I didn't care if he was my best friend. He would never give that kind of order to Kyle. "You want some dude to grab her off the street and rape her? Because that's what'll happen if she does that."

"Damn, Garin, you're right. I wasn't even thinking. Course I don't want nothing like that to happen to Kyle."

Kyle dropped the cash onto her lap and buried her hands inside her jacket. "It's okay. I know you didn't mean it, Billy."

"You've been trying real hard to earn money, and I know that," Billy said to her.

She nodded. "I just don't know what else to do until summer." Her voice was so soft, and I knew she was trying not to cry. "Garin, you're so good at dealing, and you make a ton doing it. And, Billy, you're the best hustler in our whole school. You could steal a diamond ring off a woman's finger, and she wouldn't even know it. I can't do that. I can't do anything."

"Bullshit," Billy barked. "You're smarter than me and Garin, and you got more talent than the both of us combined. Those things you make on the computer ain't like nothing I've ever seen."

"You mean my designs?"

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