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[5 of 5] Dear Martin, Chapters 20-23, by Nic Stone (2017)

Author: Nic Stone

“Chapters 20 - 23.” Dear Martin, by Nic Stone, Ember, 2018, pp. 125-161.

CHAPTER 20

Mrs. Friedman looks so shocked to see Justyce standing on her doorstep, he peeks over his shoulder to make sure there’s not a ghost or something behind him.

“Justyce?”

“Hey, Mrs. F. Is Sarah-Jane home?”

“Sure. Come in, come in.”

As Mrs. F stands there with her eyes popping out of her head, Jus thinks maybe he shouldn’t have just shown up with no notice. Not that he made a conscious decision to do that…He got back to school from Martel’s, hopped in his car, and let his instincts lead.

This is where he ended up.

“I should’ve called,” he says. “I’m sorry—”

“No, no, that’s not it at all, I’m just— Well, we’ve really missed you around here.”

They missed him?

“SJ’s up in her room, but do you mind saying hello to Neil? He’ll be thrilled to see you.”

“Uhh…sure.”

Mrs. F leads him around to the living room where Mr. Friedman is kicked back in his recliner watching reruns of the Final Four. “Neil, look who’s here,” she says.

When Mr. Friedman sees Jus, he sits bolt upright. “Jusmeister!”

“Hey, Mr. F.”

“It’s really you!” Mr. Friedman jumps up to hug Jus, who winces a little from the pressure on his shoulder. “How are you? We’re so glad to see you, son!”

“I can see that.”

The Friedmans laugh.

Jus swallows. It’s a little overwhelming, all this…love.

“Sarah’s in her room if you want to head up, Justyce,” Mrs. F says.

“Thank you. And thanks for the warm welcome. Promise I’ll call first next time.”

“Oh, don’t be silly.”

Jus smiles and turns to head upstairs.

“Hey, Jusmeister, if you need anything—anything at all, I mean it— don’t hesitate to call us, all right?” Mr. F says from behind him.

At first, Jus recoils. If there’s one thing he can’t handle right now, it’s pity.

But as he looks over his shoulder into the faces of SJ’s parents, he knows this is different.

He clears his throat. “Thanks so much, sir. That really means a lot to me.”

“You betcha, kiddo.”

“Okay, we’ve embarrassed ourselves enough,” Mrs. F says. “Go on up.”

As Jus climbs, he gets nervous. What if SJ isn’t as cool with him dropping in as her parents were? What if she’s busy? What if she’s asleep? What is he even going to say to her?

The door is cracked, and he can hear what sounds like NPR and Carrie Underwood playing simultaneously inside SJ’s room.

Typical.

He knocks.

“Come in.”

She’s stretched out on the bed in her Bras Prep lacrosse shorts and a T-shirt, with an open calculus book in her lap. When she sees it’s him, she sits up just like her dad did, wearing the same expression her mom had.

It makes him smile.

“Hey,” he says.

“Hey! Uhh…” She scrambles around for a second like she can’t figure out what to do. Shuts the calc book, sets it aside, and swings her legs around so she’s sitting on the edge of the bed. “Oh!” She grabs a remote from the nightstand and points it at the speakers attached to her computer on the desk. NPR and Carrie go quiet. “So…You’re, uhh… you’re here.”

Jus laughs. “That’s what your parents said.”

“Oh god, did they totally attack you? I’m so sorry.” She shakes her head. “You’re literally all they talk about these days. I would’ve warned you if I’d known you were coming.”

Jus laughs again. “It’s all good. Actually felt pretty nice.”

She smiles. “Wanna sit?” Points to the empty space beside her.

He sits so close that their shoulders and legs are touching. She’s warm.

“So…what brings you to la casa de Friedman, Mr. McAllister?” She nudges his knee with her own.

He turns to look at her. “You.”

“Me?”

“Yeah, I…umm…” He looks away. “Well—”

“Everything okay, Jus?” She touches his forearm just past his wrist, and the memory of handcuffs overwhelms him even all these months later.

His eyes drop to her hands, and he feels a weight slip off his shoulders. They’re chipped now, but her nails are still painted his favorite color.

Jus stands, pulls SJ up, and wraps her in a hug that lifts her off her feet.

“Umm…okay,” she says.

He inhales a whiff of her fruity shampoo. “I almost joined a gang today,” he says.

“Huh?”

“I almost joined a gang.” He puts her down. “Remember the guys I told you about from the Halloween party?”

“You mean the ones who threatened to shoot you?”

“Yeah. I went to see their leader.”

“You what?”

“I was thinkin’ about, uhhh…well, joining their crew.”

She just gapes at him.

They both sit back on the bed, and he tells her about visiting Quan in juvie, and the sequence of events that led him to Martel’s doorstep. At some point he starts crying. Which he’d normally be embarrassed about. But he’s not because it’s the best he’s felt since…well, since before he can remember.

Granted, part of feeling so good probably has to do with being wrapped in SJ’s arms with his head on her shoulder. Jus has no idea when that happened, but here they are.

He can imagine Manny calling him a punk for letting her hold him while he cries like a big-ass baby, but instead of making him sad, the thought makes him smile—he can also imagine Manny saying Took you long enough, fool.

After a few minutes of silence, SJ lets him go, and he sits up. “Thanks for that.” He smiles at her.

She doesn’t smile back.

“You okay?”

“Justyce, do you like me?”

“Huh?”

SJ clasps her hands in her lap. “Like…I know you’re going through a lot right now…”

“But?” he says.

She looks at him. “I can’t keep doing this to myself, Jus.”

“What are you talking about, S?”

She sighs. “Okay, this is the thing: I’ve had a crush on you since tenth grade.”

“For real?”

“Yes. At first, that’s all it was, didn’t expect anything to come of it.

But then last semester, we started talking more and spending more time together, and it like…evolved.

Jus doesn’t know what to say.

“Problem is, I don’t really know how to read you. Sometimes it seems like you’re into me, but other times you’re kinda withdrawn. Sometimes you look at me in a way that makes me wanna put the world on a platter and hand it to you, but other times, you won’t look at me at all.”

“Damn, S.”

“As much as I enjoy your friendship and company, I can’t keep giving myself over to this hope we’ll become something more. I need to know where you stand. So tell me the truth.” She looks him right in the eye. “Do you like me, Jus?”

He gulps. “Uhh…I, uhh…”

“Oh my god. You totally don’t.”

“Huh? I didn’t sa—”

“You hesitated!”

Jus peers down at his brown hands and sees Manny’s watch.

“You know what? It’s fine,” she says. “We can still be frien—”

“S, I like you.”

She glares at him. “Don’t just say it to shut me up, Justyce.”

“I’m not! I do like you, I swear! More than I’ve ever liked any girl.”

“Why do I feel like there’s a ‘but’?”

He sighs.

“Melo, right?” she says.

“What? No! Melo and I are done. As in never-gonna-happen-again.”

“So what is it? Is it me?”

“No! It’s…” He looks around the room. Anywhere but at her. “It’s complicated.”

She drops her chin. “Just forget it.”

“Wait! No!”

It’s now or never, dawg, Manny says in his head.

Jus turns to face her fully. “S, I’m sorry. For confusing you. You’re right. I never said how I felt cuz I was scared to.”

She fiddles with her hands and doesn’t respond.

Jus takes a deep breath. “This is the thing,” he says. “My mom… Well, she’s not real keen on me, uhh…dating girls who aren’t African American.”

SJ draws back. And then her head cocks to one side. “Really?”

“Yup. It’s been since I was little, but she’s gotten more adamant about it since—” He cuts off.

“Since the shooting,” SJ says.

“Yeah.”

She sighs.

“But I don’t care anymore,” Jus says.

“Huh?”

“About what she thinks. I don’t care.”

SJ lifts an eyebrow and crosses her arms. “And I’m the Easter Bunny.”

Jus laughs. “Okay, I care but…” Jus takes in her face. Sees what he’d be passing up. “I can’t let it stop me,” he says. “Life is too short.”

She bites her lip. It drives Jus absolutely crazy.

“Let me make it clear right now,” he says. “I like you, Sarah-Jane. No matter my mom’s opinion, you mean a lot to me, and if you’ll have me, I’d love to take you out sometime.”

Her eyes narrow.

“Like on a date.”

“I know, numbnuts.” She rolls her eyes. And smiles. “You’ve never called me Sarah-Jane before.”

He grins.

She blushes.

“Can’t lie: it’s real fun making your cheeks all red,” he says.

“Shut up!” She punches him.

It makes him laugh and want to kiss her. “So? What’s up? We doin’ this?”

She covers her face. “Will you stop making me blush!”

“Nope.”

“Ugh!” She huffs and drops her hands. “You’re all in?”

“I’m all in, girl.”

Her eyes narrow for a second, and then: “Okay.” She smiles again.

Jus shakes his head. “Had to make me sweat for it, huh?”

“Just returning the favor.”

“Touché.”

A beat passes, and then: “Can I tell you something?” she says.

“You mean there’s more?”

“Shut up. This is serious.”

“Okay…” And now he’s nervous.

She takes a really deep breath and shifts her gaze across the room. “Seeing you with all those tubes in your body was probably the lowest moment of my life, Jus. To think I spent all that time being stupid, then almost lost you?” She shakes her head.

“I felt the same way when I saw you at the funeral.”

Silence.

Then: “Justyce?”

“Yes, Sarah-Jane?”

“Can we agree not to be that stupid again?”

He smiles and drapes an arm around her shoulders. “Sounds like a plan to me.”

Transcript from nightly news, May 21

Anchor: Good evening, and welcome to the Channel 2 Nightly News.

In our top story tonight, investigators say a fire at the home of former Atlanta Police officer Garrett Tison was deliberately set.

Investigator: Arson was our initial suspicion due to the number of threatening phone calls and letters Mrs. Tison has received during her husband’s detainment. We’re now able to confirm that this fire was started from the outside.

(Cuts to picture of house’s charred remains.)

Anchor (v.o.): Police have apprehended three teenage boys who were seen in the area on the night of the incident. Beverly Tison, Garrett’s wife, sustained multiple second-degree burns, leaving her in serious condition.

Anchor (cont.): Tison’s trial in connection with the January shooting that left one teenager dead and another wounded is set to begin approximately five weeks from today.

More on this story as it continues to develop.

CHAPTER 21

For the most part, Jus isn’t surprised when a pair of cops approach him and Mama after Bras Prep’s commencement ceremony. Since Blake’s “Justyce assaulted me” stunt fell flat—even the pundits were smart enough to ignore a kid photographed in a KKK robe—Jus figured it was only a matter of time before he got accused of something else.

And he was right: not twelve hours after news broke that the fire at Garrett Tison’s house was set by someone outside it, the same newspeople who instigated “Thug-Gate” were speculating about Justyce’s “involvement in the arson plot.” Despite having nothing to do with it, for four days now, he’s been waiting for someone—cop, reporter, angry mob—to come after him.

Just sucks that he’s still in his cap and gown, surrounded by his classmates and their families, when someone does.

“Justyce McAllister?” the female of the pair says. She’s black. Slacks and a button-down. Badge on her belt.

“Yes?”

“I’m Detective Rosalyn Douglass, and this is Officer Troy.” She points to the white guy in uniform. “You mind if we ask you a few questions?”

Mama steps forward and crosses her arms. “I’m his mother, and he’s a minor. What can I do for you, Officers?”

“We mean your son no harm, ma’am,” says Officer Troy. “Just have a few queri—”

“I don’t give my consent.”

Detective: Ma’am, your son is seventeen years of age, and therefore an adult according to Georgia criminal law—

“My son isn’t a criminal, so that law doesn’t apply to him.”

The detective sighs and looks around before taking a step forward and lowering her voice. “Ma’am, we know this is a big day for your son. We’re trying not to make a scene here. If he’s willing to cooperate and

answer a few questions for us, we might be able to avoid this going any further than it has to.”

“So lemme guess,” Mama says. “You’re good cop, and whitey over there is bad?”

“Ma, stop,” Jus says. “Let’s just hear them out so we can lea—”

“Do you officers have any idea of the kinda hell my boy’s been through at the hands of people like you? He’s been falsely accused and unlawfully held under arrest. He’s lost his best friend. He’s been shot —”

Detective: We’re well aware of your son’s background, Ms. McAllister. Our goal is to make this as painless as possible.

Jus: What’s this about?

Mama: I did not say you could talk to these people, Justyce!

Jus: Ma, if they wanna treat me like an adult, I’m gonna act like one.

She doesn’t say anything.

Jus steps around her and looks each cop in the eye. “You were saying, Officers?”

The detective nods as the white cop pulls out a notepad. “We appreciate your cooperation, Mr. McAllister.”

Justyce almost laughs.

Detective: On the night of May twentieth, there was a fire at the home of Garrett and Beverly Tison. The blaze was started at around eleven-forty-five p.m. You know anything about that?

Jus shrugs. “Only what I’ve seen on the news.”

The detective’s eyes narrow, and Justyce wonders if he’s being too nonchalant. He’s telling the truth, of course, but they obviously don’t know that.

Detective Douglass examines Justyce’s face—which makes him feel like a cockroach under a magnifying glass. “Will you excuse us for a moment?” she says, gesturing to the officer.

“Sure.”

The moment they step away, Mama rounds on Jus. “I don’t appreciate you speaking to me that way in front of those police officers.

You should’ve let me handle it.”

“No offense, but I don’t think this is somethin’ you could ‘handle,’ Mama.”

“Well, if you woulda kept your mouth shut—”

“You realize once they said I don’t need your consent, refusing to talk would’ve made it look like I had something to hide, right? I turn eighteen in three weeks and head to college in ten. You can’t protect me forever.”

Mama’s jaw drops, but before she has a chance to respond, the cops come back.

“Okay, Justyce,” the detective says. (So he’s Justyce now, huh?) “This is the deal: we arrested three young men caught on camera siphoning gasoline from cars in a Walmart parking lot near the Tison home. Two of them…” Officer Troy passes her the notepad. “ ‘…Trey Filly and Bradley Mathers,’ ” she reads, “named you as an accomplice.”

Jus shakes his head. Of course it was Black Jihad. Jus can’t believe he considered joining up with those fools. “I promise I had nothing to do with it, Detective.”

She nods. “Well, we’re hesitant to believe these guys. For one, they’ve both tried to implicate innocent parties before. For two, the third young man did not mention you, which, considering the circumstances, is a little odd.”

“Okay…”

“I’m going to ask you a series of yes-or-no questions. Just answer truthfully and this should go pretty fast.”

Jus nods.

“Were you aware of an arson plot involving the home of Garrett Tison?”

“No.”

“Have you had any contact with Trey Filly or Bradley Mathers in the past two months?”

“Yes.”

Mama gasps—Jus is sure she knows both of those clowns by name— and the cops exchange another glance.

“How many times have you had contact with either of these boys in the past two months?”

“Once.”

“And what was the nature of this contact?”

Justyce gulps. “I went to meet someone, and they were there.”

“Who were you meeting?”

“If they’re not connected to the arson, does it matter?” Mama cuts in.

The detective clears her throat. Jus is so relieved, he could kiss Mama.

Detective Douglass continues: “Did you have any contact with either Trey Filly or Bradley Mathers on the night of May twentieth?”

“Absolutely not. Haven’t seen or spoken to either of those guys since April twentieth.”

Officer Troy’s eyebrows rise. “That’s pretty specific.”

“It was a pretty memorable day.”

“What was memorable about it?” Detective Douglass asks.

“Something unrelated to what we’re talking about.”

Jus can feel Mama’s gaze burning into him.

“Where were you on the night of May twentieth?” the detective goes on.

“I can assure you, it wasn’t anywhere near those guys or that fire.”

“Is there someone who can verify your whereabouts?”

“Ye—”

“I can,” Mama says. “He was with me.”

Jus could leave it at that. He knows he could. Yes, he can tell the cops are suspicious, but he knows that to dig deeper, they would need a warrant.

But lying to the police after everything he’s been through?

Nah.

“You’re getting confused, Ma. I wasn’t with you. We went to visit Daddy’s grave on the twenty-first, not the twentieth.” And this is true.

“But—”

“On May twentieth, I was at my girlfriend’s house. We were celebrating her parents’ twentieth wedding anniversary.”

Mama says nothing.

“I see,” Detective Douglass says. “Would your girlfriend happen to be around here to verify that?”

Justyce looks past her and the officer at the parting crowd.

“She would,” he says. “She and her mom are headed right this way.”

Mama doesn’t say a word the entire trip home. When they pull into the driveway and she tries to get out, Justyce reaches over and pulls her door shut.

He locks it.

“Oh, so you holdin’ me hostage now?”

“You have somethin’ you wanna say to me, Ma?”

“I certainly don’t.”

“You sure about that?”

“I don’t have anything to say to you, Justyce.”

“Well, I have some things to say to you—”

“That’s funny. I’ve learned more about my son in the past two hours than I’ve known in four years, and now he wants to talk to me?”

“Mama—”

“Tell me somethin’…did you ever plan to let your mama know about this ‘girlfriend’ of yours?”

“Ma—”

“I can understand you not wantin’ to bring up your recent contact with the neighborhood gangbangers, but if you actually care about this girl, seems to me like you would’ve at least mention—”

“You know why I didn’t tell you anything, Mama!”

She doesn’t respond.

“I’m not saying keeping it from you was the right thing to do. But I

knew no matter how happy I was, you woulda had somethin’ negative to say. You reacted in the parking lot by frownin’ at Mr. Friedman’s hand like it was diseased!”

“I’m not shakin’ no white man’s hand, Justyce. Not after what that other one did to you.”

“But what does that solve, Mama? Mr. Friedman and Garrett Tison are totally different people.”

Mama crosses her arms and turns to the window.

Jus shakes his head. “All my life, you’ve pushed me to be and do my absolute best. That’s what SJ brings out of me, Ma. She makes me better.”

“Don’t you sit over there and tell yourself that lie, Justyce.”

“It’s not a lie!”

“It certainly is. I taught you a long time ago, only person can ‘make you better’ is you.

Justyce grips the steering wheel. “Mama, if not for her, I don’t know that I woulda made it through this school year. For ten months now, people have been trying to tear me down. SJ worked harder than anybody to make sure I stayed standing.”

“Hmph.”

“Whether you believe it or not, she brings out the best in me. When I’m with her, I want to overcome everything.”

“I get what you’re saying, son, but there are plenty of brilliant black women who can do the same—”

Jus sighs. She doesn’t get it at all.

“Ma, SJ is Jewish,” he says. Manny said it to him, and it’s a valid point, isn’t it? “I know you have issues with white folks, but her people have been through hardship too.”

“Doesn’t matter, son. You can’t see Jewish in her skin color. You tried to help that other girl and wound up in handcuffs. And her daddy is black, ain’t he? If it looks white, it’s white in this world.”

“But it’s not that simple—”

“Yeah it is. You just refuse to accept it. I sent you to that school so

you’d have a chance at the best education. But with this foolishness you’ve got in your head now, I’m wonderin’ if that was such a good idea.”

“So what you’re saying is after a lifetime of getting picked apart because of my skin color, I should dismiss the girl I love because of hers?”

Mama turns. “Love? Boy, you seventeen years old. You don’t know nothin’ about love.

“You were eighteen when you married Daddy—”

“And look where it got me.”

Jus leans back against the headrest and shuts his eyes.

For a minute, neither of them says anything.

Then Mama sniffles.

“Aww, Ma! Don’t cry—”

“I’m afraid, son. This world is hard enough for a boy like you without the extra obstacles. That man almost killed you, Justyce! And what for? What were you doing wrong? Listenin’ to some music he didn’t like?”

Jus doesn’t respond.

He can’t.

“I know you think I’m being unreasonable, but I—I can’t give you my blessing on this one,” she says. “I know you grown and you gonna do what you want, but you on your own here, baby.”

“Come on, Ma—”

“As you made clear earlier, I can’t protect you forever, right?”

She unlocks her door and gets out of the car.

CHAPTER 22

Sitting on the witness stand, Jus wishes he could go back to the days when all he had to worry about was his mama not liking his girlfriend. The DA’s—Mr. Rentzen’s—questioning is running pretty smooth, and Mama, Doc, the Riverses, and the Friedmans are all there in the gallery to support him. But testifying with his best friend’s murderer glowering at him from twenty feet away? It’s the hardest thing he’s ever had to do.

By the time Mr. Rentzen finishes his questions, the court has heard the tragic tale of two college-bound African American boys, gunned down at a traffic light by an angry white man who used a racial slur and fired his weapon at them when they didn’t comply with his demands.

Jus, with tears in his eyes, recounts the final minutes of Manny’s life, and for a second he’s tempted to relax, especially when Doc gives him a thumbs-up from where he’s sitting.

But then the defense attorney, a short white lady with blond hair and an upturned nose, steps up to the podium. She and Jus lock eyes.

He can tell she’s out for blood.

“Mr. McAllister,” she begins, all cool, calm, and collected. “Isn’t it true that at the beginning of your story, you stated that you and Emmanuel Rivers were ‘just driving around’?”

“It is.”

“That’s not what you originally intended to do, though, is it?”

“I’m not sure I understand the question,” Jus says.

“When Mr. Rivers retrieved you from your dormitory on January twenty-sixth, you had no idea you were getting into his car for the sake of ‘driving around,’ did you?”

“No.”

“So there were other plans, then.”

Jus gulps. “Yes, there were.”

“What were they?”

“We were supposed to go hiking.”

“But you didn’t go hiking, did you?”

“No.”

“Emmanuel Rivers didn’t really feel up to hiking anymore, is that correct?”

“Uhh…”

“Let me remind you that you are under oath, Mr. McAllister.”

Jus clears his throat. “No. Manny didn’t feel up to hiking.”

“Did he mention why?”

“He did.”

“He’d gotten a phone call that morning, correct?”

“Yes, he had.”

“And you’re aware of what that phone call was about?”

Jus sighs and drops his head. “I am.”

“I’m sorry, it’s difficult to hear you when you don’t speak into the microphone. Can you repeat that?”

“I said I am.

“You are what, Mr. McAllister?”

“I’m aware of what the phone call was about.”

“Enlighten us if you will, please.”

Jus looks at Mr. Rivers, who has his jaw clenched so tight, it wouldn’t surprise Jus if his teeth were cracking.

“He’d gotten a phone call from his friend’s father,” Jus says.

“That’s a bit vague. I’m sure you can be more specific. What could this ‘friend’s’ father have mentioned that would’ve been so distressing to Mr. Rivers, he’d no longer feel up to hiking?”

Jus clenches his teeth. “A disagreement.”

“A ‘disagreement’ involving whom?”

“Manny and the friend.”

“Interesting.” She shuffles her papers on the podium. “Your Honor, I’d like to enter into evidence a police report, filed on January twenty-sixth, that alleges Emmanuel Rivers physically attacked a Mr. Jared Christensen on Monday, January twenty-first.”

Mr. Rivers is shooting eye-daggers at the attorney.

“It wasn’t like that,” Jus says.

The attorney’s eyebrows rise. “Oh, it wasn’t?”

“No.”

“Which part of the report is incorrect?”

“Manny didn’t attack Jared.”

“So you were there to witness this ‘disagreement’?”

Jus drops his head again. “No.”

“We can’t hear you, Mr. McAlliste—”

“I said no.”

“So you can’t be completely sure Mr. Rivers didn’t attack Mr. Christensen.”

“Manny wasn’t that type of guy.”

“What type of guy?”

“The type who ‘attacks’ people unprovoked.”

“So you’re suggesting there was provocation.”

“Yes. There was.”

“What makes you so sure?”

“Because Manny told me…”

Jus sees SJ close her eyes, and he realizes his mistake.

“I mean—”

“So Mr. Rivers did, in fact, inform you that he’d assaulted Jared Christensen?”

Jus doesn’t respond.

“Mr. McAllister?”

Justyce just stares at her.

“Your Honor?”

“Answer the question, Mr. McAllister,” the judge says.

Justyce clears his throat. “Yes. Manny told me Jared made an inappropriate joke, so he hit him.”

“Who hit whom?”

“Manny hit Jared.”

“Hmm.” The attorney nods. “Sounds like a fairly familiar set of circumstances, doesn’t it, Mr. McAllister?”

“Objection,” Mr. Rentzen says. “The question is ambiguous.”

“Sustained,” says the judge.

“I’ll rephrase,” she says. “You were involved in a similar altercation on the night of January eighteenth, correct?”

“You’ll have to be more specific,” Jus says.

The attorney doesn’t miss a beat. “I have a statement here from a Mr. Blake Benson alleging that you assaulted him and Jared Christensen, unprovoked, at Mr. Benson’s home the night of January eighteenth.”

SJ bites her lip.

“Do you deny this accusation, Mr. McAllister?”

“It wasn’t unprovoked.”

“Are you saying you didn’t assault Blake Benson at his own birthday party?”

“No…”

“So you did assault Blake Benson and Jared Christensen.”

“Well, yes, but I was provoked.”

She actually smiles. “You arrived at Blake Benson’s house with Emmanuel Rivers, and within ten minutes, you’d started an argument with Mr. Benson, correct?”

“I didn’t start the argument. He did.”

She looks down at the podium. “It says here that Mr. Benson asked

you and Mr. Rivers to come meet a young lady he was interested in. Is this true?”

“No.”

“Oh, it’s not?”

“He wasn’t ‘interested’ in her. He just wanted to get her in bed.”

“Mr. Benson said those exact words?”

“No…but he implied.”

“I see, so the young lady was a friend of yours, and you were defending her honor, then?”

“I didn’t know the girl, but—”

“You were jealous, then.”

“What? No!”

“For whatever reason, you didn’t like that Blake Benson wanted to take this girl to bed. So you assaulted him?”

“That’s not how it happened.”

“Ah, that’s right. Jared Christensen came over to defend Blake Benson, whom you were threatening at his own birthday party, and so you assaulted both of them.”

“That’s not what happened!”

“Maintain your composure, Mr. McAllister,” the judge says.

Jus breathes in deep and looks at SJ. She nods.

“Tell me something,” the lawyer says. “After you attacked Jared Christensen and Blake Benson, Emmanuel Rivers reprimanded you, correct? He sided with the victims of your unprovoked assault—”

“I already told you I didn’t attack them.”

“Well, you certainly didn’t wish Mr. Benson a happy birthday, did you?”

“Some words were exchanged that led to an altercation.”

“Can you be more specific, Mr. McAllister?”

Jus looks at Garrett. “A lot has happened since then. Can’t say I remember very clearly.”

“Hmm…are you having difficulty remembering due to more recent events, or because you were illegally intoxicated?”

“Objection, Your Honor!” says Mr. Rentzen.

“Overruled.”

“Had you been drinking on the night of January eighteenth, Mr. McAllister?” she presses.

Jus sighs. “Yes, I had.”

“And you hit Jared Christensen and Blake Benson, correct?”

“They were making racist comments—”

“A simple yes or no will do.”

Jus can feel Mama’s gaze. “Yes.”

The defense attorney nods. “Mr. McAllister, now that we’ve established that both you and Mr. Rivers had a history of responding violently to perceived verbal slights, let’s return to January twenty-sixth of this year. How familiar are you with the City of Atlanta Code of Ordinances?”

“Not very.”

“Your Honor, I would like to enter the following into evidence.” She pulls a sheet of paper from her stack and walks over to the witness stand. “Mr. McAllister, read Article Four, section seventy-four-dash-one-thirty-three, aloud for the court, please. It’s highlighted there for you.”

Jus looks into the crowd. Mama and Mrs. Friedman both seem on the verge of hopping the rail and smacking Garrett’s attorney.

He reads: “ ‘Above certain levels, noise or noise disturbance is detrimental to the health and welfare of the citizenry and the individual’s right to peaceful and quiet enjoyment. Therefore, it is hereby declared to be the policy of the city to prohibit noise disturbances from all sources.’

“Would you say your loud music was in violation of this ordinance, Mr. McAllister?”

“What does this have to do with your client shooting me and my best friend?”

“Judge, please advise the witness that I am the one asking the questions.”

Now even Doc looks pissed.

“Watch your tone, Mr. McAllister,” the judge says.

“My client is an officer of the law, Mr. McAllister. By refusing to lower the volume of your music, you were in direct opposition to a police order.”

“We didn’t know he was a police officer. He didn’t show us a badge —”

“And yet the ordinance clearly states that noise disturbance violates the rights of others to peace and quiet. But of course you and your friend couldn’t have cared less about anyone else’s rights, could you?”

Jus doesn’t respond.

“Mr. McAllister, did your friend, Emmanuel Rivers, turn the music up when he was asked to turn it down?”

“Yes.”

“Did the music you were listening to contain the line Here comes the fun…wait for the sound of the gun?”

“Yes, but that’s out of contex—”

“Did Mr. Rivers use foul language and make an obscene gesture toward my client that you would’ve perceived as threat?”

“I don’t know what your client thought. I’m not him.”

“Are you aware that my client witnessed the shooting death of his partner by a young man physically similar to yourself?”

“That doesn’t have anything to do with me—”

“Oh, but it does,” she says. “Because you had contact with this young man back in March, didn’t you?”

Jus sighs. Dr. Rivers shuts her eyes and shakes her head.

“Yes, I did, but—”

“And that young man—Quan Banks, I believe his name is— connected you to a group of young men with extensive criminal records and known gang affiliations, yes?”

“Yes, but—”

“And you met with these young men shortly before they deliberately set my client’s house on fire, is that correct?”

“It is, but I didn’t have anything to do with that—”

“No further questions, Your Honor.”

Garrett Tison: MURDERER?

THE JURY IS STILL OUT

By: Ariel Trejetty

Yesterday morning, a Georgia jury found former Atlanta police officer Garrett Tison guilty on three of the four charges related to the January incident in which he was accused of shooting two teenage boys after an argument over the volume of music.

After 27 hours of deliberation, Tison was convicted of two misdemeanors—disorderly conduct and discharge of a pistol near a public highway—and aggravated assault, the less severe of the two felonies. The jury was unable to reach a consensus regarding the felony murder charge, and a mistrial was declared on that count.

Tison testified that he feared for his life, citing 27 years of law enforcement experience in support of his ability to detect a genuine threat. Though Tison’s claim that the teens had a gun was unsupported by evidence, the surviving teen, Justyce McAllister’s, exposed connection to known gang members, including sixteen-year-old Quan Banks, the young man charged with murdering Tison’s partner last August, cast a considerable pall over the proceedings.

Mr. Tison will be retried on the murder count and sentenced on all convictions at a later date.

CHAPTER 23

It’s been two days.

Two full days, and the words unable to reach a verdict and mistrial and later date are still bouncing around in Jus’s head.

He and SJ have been watching National Geographic pretty much nonstop since they got back from the announcement of the verdict, but every time he blinks, Jus sees the third juror from the right in the back row, eyeing him like he shoulda been on trial for murder.

A hung jury.

No verdict.

No sentence.

Another trial.

SJ sighs like she can read Jus’s mind. She’s stretched out on the couch with her head in his lap, looking at a documentary about the migration of monarch butterflies, but Jus doubts she’s actually watching. Nothing in the world frustrates Sarah-Jane Friedman more than a “miscarriage of justice.”

It’s all so messed up. In two weeks, he and this gorgeous girl are supposed to get into his car and drive up the East Coast together. They’re supposed to go to Yale first and get Jus set up in the dorms— Mama wanted to come, but she can’t get off work, so it’ll be just the two of them. Once Jus is in, they’re supposed to take the train from New Haven to New York, where they’ll meet Mr. and Mrs. Friedman and get SJ settled at Columbia.

They’re supposed to be moving on. Starting the next chapter. Never looking back.

But at some point in the next six months, he’s going to have to come back here. He’s going to have to relive the afternoon he got shot and lost Manny.

Again.

“What are you thinking about?” SJ says.

He could tell her, but from the bags under her eyes, she’s got enough on her mind. “Just the fact that you’re the best thing in my life,” he says.

“Oh god, Jus. Rom-com much? Le barf.”

He laughs, and she smiles, and for a moment, everything’s fine.

Course it doesn’t last.

“Jus, I think I hate everything,” she says. “Why can’t we all get along like butterflies?”

He tucks her hair behind her ear. Tries to shift his focus to the TV, where layer upon layer of monarchs cover the trees in some Mexican forest. While he appreciates her sentiment, Jus wonders if she notices that all those butterflies look exactly alike.

His cell phone rings. It’s Mr. Rentzen.

He declines the call. The longer he can go without having to speak to the DA, the better.

Now all he can think about is how exhausted Mr. Rivers seemed as they said goodbye outside the courtroom. As much as Jus hates that the death of his best friend was minimized by the hung jury, he can’t begin to imagine what Manny’s parents must be going through.

Voice mail notification chimes.

Then a text message: “Justyce, call me ASAP.”

Jus erases it.

The phone rings again.

“Who is that?” SJ asks.

“It’s Rentzen.” Jus declines the second call.

“Oh god,” SJ says. “Can we change your number?”

Mrs. F comes in from the kitchen with a phone to her ear.

“Justyce, Mr. Rentzen is trying to get ahold of you—What’s that?” she says into the phone. Her eyes go wide. “You can’t be serious, Jeff.”

That can’t be good.

SJ sits up. “Mom? What’s the matter?”

Mrs. F holds up her index finger and continues to speak into the phone: “Mmhmm…Oh good lord…This is…And the perpetrators?…I can’t believe this, Jeff….”

Justyce can’t breathe. He lets his head fall back against the couch and closes his eyes.

“Mom, can you take it to another room?” SJ says, putting her hand on Justyce’s knee. “You’re gonna give Jus a frickin’ heart attack!”

“Jeff, I’ll call you back. I need to talk to the kids….Yeah….Strictly confidential, I understand.”

Things can’t get worse, can they?

Mrs. F hangs up.

“Mom?” from SJ.

“There won’t be a second trial,” Mrs. F says.

Jus rockets up, and SJ grabs his hand. “What?”

Mrs. F looks at the phone in her hand. Then at the two of them.

“Garrett Tison is dead.”

Transcript from morning news, August 9

Good morning, and welcome to Rise ’N’ Shine Atlanta on Fox 4.

In our top story this morning, a mere forty-eight hours after a mistrial was declared in the proceedings against him, former APD officer Garrett Tison was found dead inside his cell at the Clarke County Jail.

While details about the incident are being withheld pending investigation, three men have been implicated in the matter, two of whom were already awaiting trial on murder charges.

In a statement to police, Garrett Tison’s attorney claimed she received a phone call from Mr. Tison alleging that guards refused to put him in isolation despite his complaints about receiving threats.

The sheriff’s office is also conducting an internal administrative review.

More on this story as it continues to develop.

August 25

DEAR MARTIN,

Welp, I’m here.

The illustrious Yale University.

I’m actually writing this from beneath a picture of you that SJ hung over my desk. It was a going-away gift from Doc.

I gotta be honest, Martin: your picture is making me a little uncomfortable.

Actually, no. I take that back. It’s not your picture. It’s being here at this school.

A lot has happened since I last wrote to you, most of which I haven’t really had time to process. Hard to believe that this time last year, I was starting my whole experiment.

What I find most interesting reading through the letters: I can’t figure out what I was trying to accomplish. Yeah, I wanted to “be like Martin,” but to what end? I wasn’t trying to move mountains of injustice or fight for the equal rights of masses of people…

So what exactly was I trying to achieve? I’ve been thinking about it for days and haven’t come up with an answer.

On the one hand, I feel like I should thank you: while there were black students at Yale as early as the 1850s, I doubt I would be here without all you did to “challenge the status quo,” as Doc put it.

On the other hand, though, I feel crazy outta place. I’m in a four-person suite broken down into a living room and two bedrooms, and while I was in here setting up my half of the room, my roommate came in looking like he stepped straight out of a Ralph Lauren ad. Blond, blue-eyed white dude with a deep side part and comb-over, wearing a blindingly white polo tucked into plaid shorts, and a pair of tasseled loafers. After staring at your picture for a few seconds, and then giving me the type of once-over that would’ve made the guys from my neighborhood

throw a punch, dude finally stuck out his hand. “Roosevelt Carothers,” he said.

Now, okay, Martin. I tried not to judge the magazine by the advertising, but standing there with this guy looking down his pointy nose at me made me wish I were rooming with Jared Christensen (he’s going to school here too). At least then I would’ve known what I was dealing with.

But this Roosevelt guy?

“So where you from…is it Just-ICE? Like rhymes with ‘price’?”

Martin…

“It’s Justice, man. Just with a ‘y.’ I’m from Atlanta.”

Everything went downhill from there because he put two and two together—my name and face were all over the news until like a week ago. Then when SJ came back in from the bathroom and I introduced her as my girlfriend, dude’s entire demeanor changed for the negative. I know I wasn’t imagining it because as soon as he left, SJ said, “What the hell is his deal?”

Martin, I just— It never ends, does it? No matter what I do, for the rest of my life I’m gonna find myself in situations like this, aren’t I? It’s exactly what Mr. Julian told Manny and me, but there’s a part of me that still doesn’t wanna believe it.

And all right, benefit of the doubt: maybe I’m making this a race thing when it’s not. I’ll admit my filter’s a little tainted after the past eight months…scratch that: after the past year.

But that’s the thing, Martin. I CAN’T not notice when someone is eyeing me like I’m less than, and at this point, my mind automatically goes to race.

No clue what to do about that.

Which brings me back to my original point: What was my goal with the Be Like Martin thing? Was I trying to get more respect? (Fail.) Was I trying to be “more acceptable”? (Fail.) Did I think it would keep me out of trouble? (Epic fail.) Really, what was the purpose?

What I do know: I just went from being one of three black students in a class of 82 to one of…well, very, very few in a much larger number. Yeah, Garrett Tison is gone, but like Mr. Julian said, the world is full of people who will always see me as inferior. Roomie Roosevelt just proved that.

I keep coming back to something Doc said during “Thug-Gate”: If nothing ever changes, what type of man am I gonna be? Chewing on that over the past few days, I’ve started to wonder if maybe my experiment failed because I was asking the wrong damn question.

Every challenge I’ve faced, it’s been What would Martin do? and I could never come up with a real answer. But if I go with Doc’s thinking—Who would Martin BE?—well, that’s easy: you’d be yourself. THE eminent MLK: nonviolent, not easily discouraged, and firm in your beliefs.

And maybe that’s my problem: I haven’t really figured out who I am or what I believe yet.

I found this letter you wrote the editor of the Atlanta Constitution where you said, “We (as in Black people) want and are entitled to the basic rights and opportunities of American citizens…” It’s from 1946, which means you were seventeen when you wrote it. That’s the same age I was when I had that exact thought for the first time.

Not sure if you were the Martin the world is familiar with by seventeen (prolly not, right?), but knowing you were my age gives me hope that maybe I’ve got some time to figure things out.

At least I hope I do. If not, this is gonna be a long four years. Hell, a long rest of my life.

Anyway, I gotta run. SJ and I have a train to catch.

Thanks for everything.

Until we meet again,

Justyce

FOUR MONTHS LATER

There’s already someone standing over Manny’s grave as Justyce approaches. Part of him wants to turn around, go sit in his car until the person leaves—but he knows that’s not what Manny would want him to do.

“ ’Sup, dawg?” Jus says as he steps up.

EMMANUEL JULIAN RIVERS

BELOVED SON

“YOU HAVE SORROW NOW, BUT I WILL SEE YOU AGAIN,

AND YOUR HEARTS WILL REJOICE.”

Jared looks at Justyce, and then back at the headstone. He wipes his eyes. “How’s it goin’, man?”

“Sorry for interrupting,” Jus says.

“It’s cool. Kinda nice to have someone else here. Merry Christmas, by the way.”

“Same to you.”

Jared exhales. It fogs up the air in front of his face. “I still miss him so much, dude,” he says, his voice breaking. “It’s been almost a year and I still just can’t—I’m sorry, man, you don’t wanna hear all this.”

“Nah, it’s cool.” Now Jus’s eyes are moist. “I understand, man. I really do.”

“He’s never gonna visit me at college or be my best man, you know?” Jared shakes his head. “When I first got to the dorms, my roommate was already set up in our room. Guy looks up at me and goes ‘ ’Sup, homie? Name’s Amir Tsarfati. Call me A.T.’ ”

The impression Jared does makes Justyce laugh. A.T. was his chem lab partner this past semester.

“Anyway, he’s got some music on, and I kid you not, Justyce, the guy’s playlist went from Deuce Diggs to Carrie Underwood.”

“For real?”

“Yeah, bro. I thought to myself, ‘Manny would love this guy.’ ” He sighs again. “It’s just hard. My grandma died when I was a kid, and my mom told me, ‘She lives on inside of everyone who loved her.’ Prolly

sounds stupid, but I really want that to be true about Manny. It’s why I come here every time I’m home. He was my first real friend. I thought we’d grow old together and shit, you know?”

Jus doesn’t respond. There’s nothing to say.

For a few minutes they stand in silence. Then: “It’s good to see you, man,” Jared says.

“You too, dawg.” And Jus really means it.

“Is it weird that we don’t see each other at school more?”

Jus shrugs. “It is a pretty big place.”

“That’s true. How do you think you did in Marroni’s class?”

“I did all right. Probably A-minus at the worst.”

“Figures.” Jared looks at Jus and grins.

Which makes Jus smile. Just a little.

“So…” Jus clears his throat. “Did you pick a major yet?”

“I did,” Jared says. “I decided I wanna go into civil rights law instead of business—”

“You did?”

“Yeah. My dad just about shit himself when I told him. Anyway, I took an Intro to African American Studies course, and it really blew me away, dude. I’m thinking about minoring in it.”

“Damn. That’s pretty dope,” Jus says. “So you’re liking Yale overall, then?”

“Loving it. How ’bout you, man? You enjoying it so far?”

“For the most part. My roommate’s kind of an asshole, but you can’t win ’em all, I guess.”

“Carothers, right?”

“That’s him.”

Jared nods. “He was in my calc class. I’ve heard some things. Your suitemates are cool, though?”

“Yeah. They’re great. Prolly wouldn’t survive without those fools.”

Jared laughs. “That’s awesome. Mine are cool too.”

“Glad to hear it.”

“So how’s SJ?”

Jus can’t help but smile now. “She’s great, man. Loving New York.”

“You two still going strong?”

“Oh yeah. That girl is gonna have my babies one day, dawg.”

Jared laughs even harder. “Awesome.”

“Don’t tell her I said that. I’d never hear the end of it.”

“My lips are sealed.”

“You got a girl up there yet?”

“Nah, bro. Lotta fish in that Ivy sea. Can’t limit myself.”

Jus snorts. “You sound like Manny.”

“Pffft. I wish. That dude was a titan with the ladies.”

“He really was.”

They settle into a comfortable silence, both staring at the headstone. A cool wind blows around them, and it’s like Jus can feel the EJR on his watchband pressing into the skin of his once-swollen wrist.

“We should chill sometime,” Jus says. “You could come with me to New York one weekend or somethin’.”

There’s a beat and then: “I’d really like that, Justyce.” Jared turns to Jus and smiles.

Jus reads the words on Manny’s headstone: I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice. “Me too, Jared,” he says. “Me too.”

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

It goes without saying that a lot of time and effort and energy went into this project. My list of thanks to those most directly involved:

  1. God—for everything.
  1. Nigel—for believing in me and taking care of the children.
  1. Pop, Marcus, Jeff, Jason, Jordan, Rachel W., Tanya, Shani, Becky, Reintgen, Michael, Ange, Jay, Wesaun, Elijah, Sarah H., Brandy, Dhonielle, Brendan, Ryy—for reading and encouraging.
  1. Jodi—for…honestly there’s way too much to list, so I’m gonna go with for YOU.
  1. Dede—for pushing and praying.
  1. Jordan (again)—for keeping me on my toes.
  1. Rena—for being my fairy god-agent AND my friend, and never letting me get ahead of myself. And letting me be annoying. And stubborn.
  1. Elizabeth—for helping Phoebe rip me a new one.
  1. Phoebe—for making me cut the thing in half and talking me down from multiple ledges. And for still loving me when I was being a jackass. (Seriously could not ask for a better editor, good lord.)
  1. Mom and Dad—for making me.
  1. Kiran and Milo—for being the reasons I do any of this.
  1. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.—for starting the fire. I hope I stoked the flames so it continues to burn.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nic Stone was born and raised in a suburb of Atlanta, and the only thing she loves more than an adventure is a good story about one. After graduating from Spelman College, she went on to work extensively in teen mentoring and lived in Israel for a few years before returning to the United States to write full-time. Growing up with a wide range of cultures, religions, and backgrounds, Stone strives to bring these diverse voices and stories to her work.

Dear Martin is her first novel and is loosely based on a series of true events involving the shooting deaths of unarmed African American teenagers. Shaken by the various responses to these incidents—and to the pro-justice movement that sprang up as a result—Stone began the project in an attempt to examine current affairs through the lens of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s teachings.

Stone lives in Atlanta with her husband and two sons. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram at @getnicced or on her website at nicstone.info.

DMU Timestamp: September 03, 2020 08:33