“Domenic, git your black ass to school!”
I looked up from my notes. My grandmother stood in the doorway looking about ready to whoop my ass. I don’t know how a little old lady managed to intimidate me, but when she wanted, she had no problems pushing around bigger men than I.
“Sorry, Nanna.” I was already pulling my papers together. “Just filling out some college applications.”
She looked at me like I was talking about becoming the Queen of England. “You got the money to pay for that?”
Same conversation every time. Most people would be happy to find out their kid or grandkid had the grades and desire to become a doctor, but not this one. “They’re called scholarships and grants, Nanna.” I picked that time to stand up, emphasizing my point even if only on a subconscious level.
Her head tilted up to keep eye contact. At seventeen, I was almost done with my final growth spurt and standing at six-three. I might even be six-five by the time it was all said and done. I towered over my barely five foot grandmother, but that didn’t mean much to her. “I don’t want you takin’ handouts. I didn’t raise you to be a charity case.”
“Not handouts, Nanna.” This argument had long become rote. I just packed my bags. “Good schools are willing to give discounts to the best of the bunch. It makes them look better when they can point at a successful professional and say ‘we made that happen’. Never mind they would have done just as well at a different school.”
She didn’t look impressed, but the she never did. I tried not to get too upset with her; she was the product of an older time.
On top of that, she would likely never forgive me for not becoming a pastor like her husband, my grandfather. Along with being named after him, I got his height and his voice, but I didn’t have his faith or his charisma. None was more evidence of that than Nanna herself, who still grieved for the man even thirty years after his death.
“As far as grants go, well,” I knew I was going to regret it, but I dropped into the worst caricature of a southern accent. “Tha’s the gov’ment wantin’ ta edumacate us so’n we make good money fer they’s to tax.”
“Don’t get uppity with me, young man,” Nanna puffed up. “You ain’t so big that I can’t bend you over my knee and tan your hide. ‘Sides that, how do you expect to get any grants when the truancy officers have to drag you to school?”
“I turned in my projects already. I could take the whole week off and it’d mean nothing.” I could sleep through my entire senior year, too. I completed all my prerequisites and could have graduated this year if the school let me.
Unfortunately, the school didn’t want to admit all their pretty rich white kids weren’t as smart as the ‘poor’ black boy. They didn’t do anything I could point to as proof, but graduating and going to college early takes a level of support which was was absent for me. I’d be stuck with a completely meaningless year of high school unless a miracle happened.
“Don’t even dream of it. Oh, and Beatrice is in detention again, could you make sure she comes straight home after?”
“Should just take her car and make her walk home,” I muttered.
“You’re both too much like your father.” As long as I could remember, Nanna’s default insult was to compare us to our father. Any time I did anything wrong, I was acting like my father, the much maligned deadbeat who vanished when I was a toddler. To hear Nanna’s accounts, he was a complete bastard, whilst my mother was an angel led astray. If you asked anyone else, or had observational skills better than those of Mr. Magoo, you’d get a different story.
I lifted my bag while keeping my thoughts to myself. “Yes, Nanna.” No point in arguing; I had planned to spend all day filling out paperwork, doing it in class wouldn’t make much difference. I gave her a hug on my way out. “Love you.”
She patted my back. “You’re a good boy.”
For all the flack Nanna gave me for being ‘uppity’, she made certain I had the best she could give me, including education. I had no doubt she’d give me the money for med school if I asked her, but that would never happen. What little money she still had was from Grandpa’s life insurance, and donations from the church after his death. I couldn’t ask her to risk that security for me.
What that meant was I had a nice, if somewhat old, pickup truck to drive myself to school. Nanna decided she wasn’t having any part of us going to a normal public school full of ‘gangs, drugs and hussies’, to paraphrase her words. Instead, we went to a rather posh private school about twenty miles away.
It was a nice school, top tier by almost any standard. Trouble was kept away by an Imbued security guard and having only children whose families could afford such luxuries. In truth, I suspected the latter of being more influential than the former. It also had the interesting side effect of ‘bleaching out’ the student body. In this school of somewhat over one hundred you could count all the students of color on one hand and have a spare finger to gesture at Affirmative Action.
It left me fairly isolated, which suited my geek and loner nature. At least here, none of the students dared to cause real problems. The usual peer pressures of romance, rumor mills, and social manipulation were the biggest cudgel they could risk swinging at me. Everyone knew that associating with me was social suicide, so I only had friends amongst the freaks and the geeks. I often wondered what they’d think if they knew how happy I was that it worked out that way.
My cell went off during second period, and the ID said it was Nanna’s number. I knew she wouldn’t call unless it was an emergency.
“Sorry, ma’am, I have to take this.” I was already answering and heading for the door. “Hello?” Miss Shaffer looked annoyed, but just went back to teaching the rest of the class.
“Domenic, it’s awful!” Nanna sobbed. “Bea is at Saint Anne’s.”
“I’ll be there as soon as I can. Call the school and let them know it’s an emergency.” I ran to my locker, to hell with my usual habit of obeying every rule and being extra polite to everyone; a habit born of rebelling against stereotypes. Saint Anne’s was a major hospital; for her to be there meant it was extremely serious.
I was out of the school less than two minutes after I hung up the phone. A normal security guard stationed at the front door didn’t bother me as I wove my way past the kids coming back from lunch. It was the freshman and sophomore lunch hours, and Bea liked going off-site. My mind went immediately to a car accident.
Minutes that felt like hours later, I’d made it to the hospital. The lady at the front desk was visibly afraid of me when I approached. I took a breath and shrunk down a little; there was something intimidating about a well over six foot tall man rushing up to you. I chose to believe that’s what frightened her. “My sister was brought in earlier today, I’d like to know what room.”
The lady, a bottled blonde who looked old enough to be my mother, relaxed. “I’m sorry, we can’t give out patient information to just anyone, it’s for patient safety. If you give me her name and your ID, I can check to see if you’re cleared. If not, I won’t be able to tell you if she’s here.”
I’d pulled my driver’s license and put it on the counter before the woman finished talking. “Her name’s Beatrice Harris.” As an aspiring med student, I understood they needed to be paranoid about visitors. Depressing to think about, sure, but necessary.
I looked around the lobby for Nanna, but she wasn’t here. Whether because she hadn’t arrived yet or because she was in Beatrice’s room, I couldn’t be sure.
“Mister Harris?” I turned my head back to the receptionist. “Room 202, she’s unconscious but the doc-”
I didn’t wait for the rest of the spiel; ‘unconscious’ and the room number were the only things she could tell me that I cared about. Everything of import would come from the doctors. I didn’t waste time with the elevator, it was faster just to run up the stairs. I passed a mousy looking nurse taking a smoke break on the stairs. While that didn’t speak well of discipline around here, I had other concerns.
I was winded by the time I made it to Beatrice’s room. Instead of going straight in, I leaned against the wall and tried to breathe. Maybe the elevator wouldn’t have been a bad idea. I should take up jogging this summer. Yeah, that’s what I’ll do, spend the summer getting in shape.
Eventually I decided that if I took any longer, it would mean admitting the elevator was faster, I entered the room. Beatrice was bandaged and loaded up with wires and tubes. They had her on IV drip, EKG, and BiPAP. I could see bruising on her hand where the needle was taped on.
More importantly was the police officer there with the doctor and my grandmother. I wondered if they specifically chose him because he was black. “What happened?” No, that’s the wrong question to ask right now. I need to keep a clear head for my family, and think like a professional. I more or less ignored the cop and looked at the doctor. “What are her injuries, and the treatment?”
Doctor Ahdoot, going by his nametag, was an older gentleman. “I’m told you’re hoping to become a doctor, so I’ll give you a brief overview and let you read the papers yourself, in the interest of brevity.”
I took the papers he offered, poorly copied as they were. “I appreciate it, thanks.”
“Everything’s a matter of blunt force trauma,” he started. That was good and bad. On one hand, they rarely needed to do invasive surgeries for those sorts of injury. On the other, if it’s bad enough for hospitalization, that meant there was a lot of it damage.
“Multiple broken ribs, as well as a broken arm and hand. She’s also taken several blows to the head, but we’re hopeful that those injuries are superficial. The radiologist should have the scans for us by morning. Baring unforeseen complications, she should be out within a week and on the road to a full recovery.”
I took a calming breath. The doctor was making it sound both better and worse than it was, and I knew it. If her injuries were as minor as he tried to make it sound, she’d be in outpatient care tonight. Every modern medical wisdom was to get patients out of the hospital as soon as possible.
At the same time; they always gave worst case estimates on recovery time, so when it turned out better, the doctors looked like heroes. That didn’t mitigate the risk of brain injury; even minor concussions were difficult to predict.
“Thank you, sir.” At least I knew her life wasn’t in immediate danger, which meant I could deal with the cop. “What, exactly, happened?”
“Your sister was at an establishment called the Split’n’Lick,” he said.
“I’ve heard of it.” I failed to hide my disappointment. That ice-cream shop was well known as a place you could find hookups for party drugs, or ordinary hookups for that matter. No good could come of my sister being in such an establishment.
“There was an altercation with three teen girls and two boys. We’ve already apprehended the suspects, and we have eye witness testimony and the security footage.” The cop talked like he was reading off a memorized list. “I assure you, they will be punished for their crimes.”
I looked over at my sister, what little of her could be seen.”Sounds like you have it all under control.” Which of course meant there was a problem coming. “What’s left?”
The cop had a good poker face, I’ll give him that. “We do need her medical records, and while we don’t need your permission for that, it’s preferable.” I just nodded along; that was up to Nanna, but she had no reason not to agree. “The other is that at least two of the teens are known affiliates of Heritage.”
And there’s the dropped shoe. “Which makes this a hate crime.” I sat down in the chair next to Beatrice and carefully put my hand on her. My deep chocolate skin contrasting her light-caramel tone took on an ugly and sadly old meaning in my mind.
In many ways, she had it worse than I did. I was the archetypal black man, with the height and build and colors. Beatrice was almost light enough to be mistaken for white, but only almost. Only Nanna could be delusional enough not to see what her yellow-brown hair and blue eyes meant. Bea was my sister, and I loved her as such, but she and I did not have the same father.
“It appears they shouted some racial slurs, but she was the one to get physical,” the officer continued.
I clenched my fists together. “And that makes this complicated.”
“We’re not going to press charges, at least not yet, but it might be wise to consult an attorney in case.” I nodded along. Couldn’t be something simple, could it? “In addition, and this is me talking as a man, not a cop; I strongly recommend you get her into some form of counseling.” I was about to turn and say something, probably something stupid that I’d regret, but he put a hand on my shoulder. “Believe me when I say I know how it is, and I can’t say I blame her. But she initiated a violent altercation against five people over name calling, and that sort of behavior only gets worse if not stopped.”
I felt a pulse within, something alien and terrible, a foreign strength and the promise of the power to make everything right. I reached for it… No!
I don’t know how I knew, but it wasn’t worth it. Beatrice was going to recover, her attackers would be punished, and everything would be okay. It would be better for my sister if I got a good education and used it to take care of my family.
I stood and turned toward the officer. “Thank you, sir, for your candor.” I extended my hand. We can get through this.