CHAPTER 1 East Texas April 2002 I
gritted my teeth and with all the force I could command, I hurled my body into the solid frame of my adolescent lover and sent his body flying off the rooftop. Jabari’s body plunged seven stories and crashed into the jagged rocks that jutted up from the ground like the fangs of an enormous primordial beast.
I heard his body crack on the rough stones below. Crack. Crack. Crack. Crack.
The unmistakable sound of death spun swiftly around my ears, causing me to become disoriented. I was dizzied and dismayed by what I had done. I stumbled clumsily backwards as a flood of emotions swelled within me. I tripped over a rusted pipe that lay diagonally across the commercial rooftop, but regained my balance by anchoring myself against the air conditioning unit that rose from the rooftop.
I shook my head from side to side in wild disbelief and screamed silently into the night; horror stole my voice, but I could not free myself from the sound of his screams and the cracking sound of his body splitting the rocks below. The chilling sound of death would echo in my ears long after this night had passed. Crack. Crack. Crack. Crack.
The breaking sound of Jabari’s body felt sharp and cut into my skin like a scalpel. I doubled over in pain and expelled a hot puff of breath when I felt a splinter of pain in my heart; it was as if my body had been deeply penetrated by one of the pointed stones below. Jabari’s pain was my pain, too, as if we were the Corsican brothers.
I swallowed hard and steeled my disposition. With carefully measured steps, I moved closer to the edge of the building and stopped several feet from the ledge. I tried to propel myself farther, but my feet were held in place by a thousand pounds of guilt… and shame. Crack. Crack. Crack. Crack.
I covered my ears with my hands. Crack. Crack. Crack. Crack.
I could not free myself from the sound. It reminded me of the snapping sound the branches made when a strong summer storm violently tore them from the tree in my front yard and sent them crashing through my bedroom window. This cracking sound was not made by breaking branches, but breaking bones; yet, the sounds of both events were eerily similar.
I stepped closer.
I had to see, even as my heartbeat pounded ferociously in my chest.
I wasn’t sure how I would react to the sight of my dead lover. My mind raced and a litany of unpleasant thoughts threatened to topple me. What would I see when I looked down? Oh my God! What have I done? Please God, let him be alive.
In spite of my anemic pleading, I already knew the truth. No one could survive that fall. Not even Jabari. Crack. Crack. Crack. Crack.
I teetered and tottered slowly to the edge of the building. My breathing was labored and dug deeply into my chest. In the distance, a thousand points of light punctuated the peaceful sky, in severe contrast to the night’s discord.
When I mustered up the nerve, I peered downward, toward the ground in search of Jabari. Despite the darkness, I could see far better than I had expected. My senses were acute, sharpened by the adrenaline racing through my veins. From atop the building, I could clearly see the labels of broken beer bottles that were strewn across the landscape; an old tire, whose tread was worn and abused, was halfway buried near an old stump. Cigarette butts were so common they looked as if they were sprouting from the ground. The landscape itself was dotted with nappy patches of dry grass, tangled, coarse and uneven.
Then, my eyes locked onto the twisted and mangled body of Jabari. His body was broken in ways I never realized a body could be broken.
Blood flowed from his body, as if he had an endless reservoir of it. I had never seen so much blood; it seeped from the corners of his mouth and flowed from his chest, aided by a crooked piece of wood that shot up through his sternum like a jagged monument to our failed love affair.
In my heightened state of awareness, I could even smell the blood.
A frightening thought assaulted me even more than the sight of the body below—the animals. Out here in the country, they would come to claim what lay beneath me. The creatures that lived in the night would smell the blood and would soon search for its source. I shuddered. It pained me to imagine Jabari’s body being ravaged by some wild thing, torn to pieces in a ravenous display of savagery.
In my heart, I knew that Jabari’s body had already been ravaged by a wild thing.
I continued to eye my dead lover. This was no proper end for our love, with Jabari lying twisted below me. I thought, albeit briefly, about moving the body, but my inclination to do so diminished the more I looked at him. I wouldn’t be able to stomach the stench of death so up close. Even if my thoughts were more sincere, I certainly would fail in my quest to carry the body to hallowed ground; I barely remained in command of my own limbs.
Still, I longed for a final touch from him.
I longed to feel his warmth once more, before his body went cold.
Only days ago, we had been locked in a passionate embrace on this very rooftop, making love like it was our first time. Only days ago, our lips had locked in a fiery kiss that set every cell in my body ablaze. I remembered how my skin sizzled when Jabari grazed his fingers across the arch in my back. Even now, with Jabari splayed unnaturally across the earth below me, I could feel the weight of his body on top of mine, pressing down with perfect force. We panted in a unified rhythm, as our bodies sang together in harmony; that night, I thought our union had been blessed by heaven, instead of cursed by tonight’s hell.
Now, Jabari was dead at my hands. Crack. Crack. Crack. Crack.
I cocked my head to the side and eyed the lifeless body, almost expecting him to rise before my eyes, but Jabari was no Lazarus.
Even from my distance, I could see the pleading in Jabari’s eyes; his eyes were wide, held open by shock. His mouth was agape, as if terror had been ripped from this throat. One of his arms was folded artificially behind his back and his left leg seemed to point in multiple directions at the same time. Dear God. What have I done?
I wanted to scream, but I could not find my voice; it was lost in the madness of the moment. In the still of the night, I would have settled for any sound, regardless of how infinitesimal. I would have settled for the flutter of insect wings or the annoying blaring of a car horn in the distance; instead, a haunting silence suffocated all sound, locking it inside this awful dread. The silence taunted me, reminding me of death’s finality. As I stood motionless, awash in my worst nightmare, the irony of it all was not lost: I had always known, even from our first kiss, that he and I were destined to say goodbye.
The breathtaking silence stood in measured contradiction to the chorus of chaotic thoughts that powered through my mind. Flee. Scream. Cry. Call 9-1-1. Hide any evidence. Run. Run. Run.
Instead of taking action, I remained motionless, almost catatonic.
My mind wildly spun, replaying the moments leading to this terrible turn of events.
“Thanks for meeting me,” Jabari said in a voice that struck my ears as unusually rough.
“Hey, baby.” In spite of his lackluster greeting, I was more than happy to see him, even though something was off; I could feel it in the air. An uneasy breeze chilled the air, not enough to cause alarm, but enough to make me take notice of the goosebumps that speckled my bare arms. I was wearing a thin pullover shirt—something I could easily slip in and out of in case things got heated. In spite of the trepidation in my spirit, I had come prepared to light up the night in our usual carnal way.
Earlier, when Jabari phoned and asked me to meet him in our special place, I recognized the uneasiness in his tone, but I didn’t press the issue with him over the phone. Instead, I agreed to meet him and prayed that tonight was not the night I’d been dreading for months.
We named our special meeting place “heaven” because there was no place in the city that we could claim as ours. The isolated and dilapidated building that sat atop Mount Royale, a very large hill overlooking the city, kept a watchful eye over the town below. The building, an old schoolhouse, had been condemned years ago and had been cut off from the world by an intimidating barbed wire fence, but we were able to sneak through a narrow opening near the back. From the rooftop, Jabari had crowned himself emperor and claimed the world below as his kingdom; a kingdom he would lay at my feet.
Looking out, the colorful city lights decorated the horizon and the sound and fury of a world furiously spinning beneath our feet did not register at our height. This was the one place Jabari could be himself without fear of rejection or reprisal. Here, he didn’t have to worry about being an athlete or a favored son; here, he didn’t have to entertain thoughts of going to Harvard or Yale or wherever his father would send him; here, he was a lover—my lover—and that was all that mattered.
Jabari stood on the edge of the building, with his hands in his pockets. He smiled uncomfortably and shifted his weight as I approached.
“What’s wrong?” I moved closer to him and kissed him, but Jabari didn...