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If One Man Fall

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“You gonna be late.”

Shao and Zeke are sprawled out on the roof, pressed as close together as possible. The sky is almost too blue for Shao to look at, but every time he stares at Zeke, he feels like he’s gonna laugh and cry at the same time.

Shit’s weird as hell.

So he stares at the sky and thinks about going far, far away with the wordsmith next to him. Somewhere he and Books can go, spin and spit, fool around and not worry about any shit that comes their way.

Shao once told Books that he was flying when he was writing, but now Shao thinks about flying for real. And there ain’t no one that Shao wants to fly with more.

Zeke chuckles and laces his and Shao’s fingers together. Zeke openly stares at Shao most of the time, but he knows that Shao can get a little squirmy when he does that. So he looks at Shao, then at the sky, then back at Shao.

“I’m good,” Zeke says, looking at the way their hands look on one another. “I got time.”

“You sure? Because you know them white folks. Didn’t he say something like ‘If you’re on time, you late?’” Shao asks.

“He did. But I’m still going to be early, so don’t worry about it,” Zeke says, looking over at Shao with surprise. He’s not used to Shao acting like this. “You sound like a parent.”

“Aye, I’m just saying that I ain’t going to be the reason you end up late or some shit,” Shao says a little defensively. “You get in trouble with yo’ job and end up mad at him.”

“No, I wouldn’t. You know I wouldn’t,” Zeke says reassuringly.

Shao looks over suspiciously, but won’t say anything. Zeke sighs and sits up.

“Well, fine. If you want me go, just say so,” Zeke mutters.

“I ain’t kicking you out or nothing! I’m just saying!” Shao rushes out, bolting upright.

Zeke laughs, then he leans over and kisses Shao.

“Relax, man, okay? I’m good, we good,” Zeke tells Shao. Shao sighs and nods.

Zeke stands up and pulls Shao along with him. Shao clambers off of the ground, and Zeke looks at him in confusion: he’s never seen Shao be ungraceful.

“I’ll come here right after work. Cool?”

Shao shrugs, trying to play like he isn’t trying to add up how many hours he has to be without Books.

Zeke smirks, and then he is suddenly on one knee in front of Shao.

I don’t want to spend a minute away from my man/But baby I got a plan/To take over all the Bronx and make it yo’ land.”

“Man, get yo’ corny ass up and go to work!” Shao yells, embarrassed and snickering.

Zeke gets up, winks at Shao and then strolls down the stairs and back through the temple.

And now Shao is alone.

He looks over the edge of the roof and can see Zeke walking away and crossing the street. Shao has to remind himself that he’s gonna come back. Books’ gonna come back later today.

It’s just . . . Shao has that annoying ass fear that one day Zeke is gonna walk away and never come back to him.

He probably would. Probably should, Shao thinks bitterly, kicking at the gravel on the roof. Shao hangs his head back and groans. Zeke wouldn’t want to be around a fucking killer; Shao knows that much. Why would he? He way too good for that.

Zeke way too good for Shao.

Shao’s stomach suddenly drops to his ass and he feels like jumping out of his skin and off the roof. Shit can so go wrong so fucking fast and everything can go back to the way it was before. With just him and the bullshit Annie got him in.

Fat Annie. Shit. He gotta go see her. Maybe he shouldn’t have sent Zeke to work so soon.

**

“Shao, baby! How you been?” Fat Annie calls out to him while she lounges about in her “palace” or whatever the fuck she calls her room.

She’s leans all the way back in her chair and looks at Shao in a way that makes his skin crawl.  Annie’s touched him way too much for him to feel even a little bit comfortable in this room.

“I’m good, Annie. I got something for you,” Shao answers with a forced smile. He reaches into his back pocket and pulls out the big ass wad of cash for her.

Annie grins and smacks the table. “Hot damn, baby! You gotta be one of the best workers out there now! You really proving yo’ self, boy!”

As long as I ain’t gotta get near you. “Just making sure you got your money, Annie.”

“Come closer, sweetie.”

Oh, God. Shao walks to the desk and puts his hand on it. Immediately, Annie puts her hand on his hand and starts rubbing it.

“Good,” Annie drawls out, a sick smile on her face. She thumbs out four hundred dollar bills with her other hand and slides them across the desk. “Here you go.”

“$400?!” Shao stammers out, his eyes bugging.

“That’s not enough for you?”

“Nah, nah, I’m good! Thank you,” Shao says with relief. He almost believes that Annie’s being nice to him.

But then she smiles syrupy slow and rubs another circle into his hand. “Oh, don’t worry about it. You worked real hard for me last night. You deserve it.”

And Shao wants to throw up at the reminder. But he smiles anyway and stuffs the money in his pocket anyway.

Shao tries not to look too eager when he leaves. But Annie just gave him $400. That’ll take care of him for a while.

Shao wants to smile—wants to feel just a little good—but as much he wants to, he really can’t. He keeps thinking of how he “worked” for Annie last night, about why she gave him that much money. And how more money usually means doing more shit.

**

Zeke’s job is really easy now. Right now, he’s just shuffling papers, taking stuff around the office and smiling at white folks.

 But no teeth; smiling with the teeth is too soft, but not smiling is too hard. You have to be approachable, but not weak, Ezekiel.

So Zeke is approachable when he’s talking to the secretaries, but not weak when he’s talking to the suits. He follows his boss around, speaks when necessary, does his homework in the down time and waits until it’s time for him to run up outta there.

Zeke keeps his feet on the ground, his head straight and does whatever it takes to make them believe he belongs somewhere other than the Bronx.

When the clock finally hits seven, Zeke leaves with a smile on his face, and then immediately snatches off the jacket and tie when he gets outside. He wants to run back to the temple, but he isn’t trying to look desperate. So he walks slowly and carefully, rhyming the whole way.

9 to 5 ain’t the way of a King/That’s way too true/But it’ll give me every little thing/I wanna give to you.”

His rhymes are interrupted today. Because he walks by the Cruz’s church and hears music blasting.

Mylene recording, Zeke thinks to himself.

He feels . . . nervous. Like, weirdly nervous. He hadn’t actually seen Mylene since about a week after the battle, when she came to his house, tears in her eyes and told him about how she has to focus now and that she knows she won’t focus with him.

“I’m sorry, Zeke,” Mylene’d said over and over. “I’m so sorry.”

Zeke couldn’t even get mad at her then. His mind was actually still on the Get Down, and on Shao. He should’ve known something then.

Zeke doesn’t recognize the song that playing—brand new. He should probably keep walking.

But then he thinks of how Mylene looks when she’s recording and smiles to himself.

What the hell? Why not watch her for a little bit?

**

And in the darkest night, don’t forget what they say/You just gotta last ‘til the break of day!”

Mylene, eyes closed, head swinging, is singing like this isn’t the fifteenth time they’ve tried recording this song.

The organ is blasting in her ears, the drums are beating on her nerves and Jackie’s voice is tapping dance on the little bit of patience she has left. She’s been singing all day, so her jaw is actually starting to hurt. Mylene feels like she isn’t hitting the notes right, and she knows her dancing must look whack.

But she’s got to record this song today, damn it.

Sing it like you love it, girl. Yolanda’s words play in Mylene’s head as loud as the organ. It’s what’s getting her through this recording session, actually.

She doesn’t really like this song. Jackie thought it would be perfectly in line with the rest of them: disco-enough for Mylene, pious enough for Ramon. Keeps everyone happy, Jackie had said.

It sounds nice enough, but Mylene just isn’t feeling it. As much as Mylene wants to believe it, she sometimes thinks that she’ll never see a real break of day.

But Mylene had smiled and nodded and pretended to be grateful.

She’s getting tired. Tired of walking the line, tired of singing this weird gospel-disco mashup. If she’s being honest, Mylene wants to tell her dad to stuff it and tell Jackie to write her something real for once.

But Yolanda. The night Mylene went to Kiplings to sulk, Yolanda had wrapped her arms around Mylene’s shoulders and looked her too deeply in her eyes for Mylene to ignore.

“Sing it like you love it, girl. No matter how cheesy they are. You know they gonna be your way out.”

Okay, Yolanda. Okay.

And here comes the end, the part Mylene’s been fucking up for the past two hours. The drummer taps the symbols and the organist holds the chord. And Mylene throws her head back to deliver.

And I gotta believe/We’ll make the break of day!” Mylene sings out.

And, by the grace of God Almighty, the note sticks.

“YES!” Jackie yells out. “YES, THAT’S IT, MYLENE! YOU DID IT!”

The band around her claps and Jackie rushes up and hugs her.

“I did? Did it sound good, finally?” Mylene asks nervously as she hugs Jackie back.

“It sounded perfect, sweetheart!” Jackie says, pulling away from her. Then he puts on that signature Jackie Moreno voice. “This may be the next ‘Come Set Me Free!’”

“Thank, God. I was just messing up so much –”

“I know, I know. But that was good,” Jackie tells her. Then he puts both hands on her shoulders. “You’re good to go today.”

And Mylene almost breaks her ankles jumping off of that stage.

“Thanks, bye!” she calls back to a laughing Jackie.

Mylene can’t wait to get away from the church and get that stupid song out of her head. But as soon as she’s about head out of the double doors, she runs straight into Zeke’s chest.

“Oh, shit! You okay?” Zeke asks as he grabs Mylene’s arms, stopping her from bouncing off of him.

“Zeke!” Mylene feels a daze that has nothing to do with the physical trauma. “What’re you doing here?”

Zeke lets go of her arms and straightens his shirt. For a brief moment, Mylene is distracted by how good Zeke looks.

“I heard the music and decided to come in,” Zeke says in his gravelly voice.

God, hearing Zeke’s voice makes Mylene’s stomach flutter. And he came to hear her sing? Watch her record a song?

“How’d it sound to you?” Mylene asks, hoping that she doesn’t sound too eager or too flattered.

“Really good. You sound beautiful, Mylene,” Zeke answers honestly and Mylene can’t help but blush.

“Thanks, Zeke,” Mylene says with a laugh. Zeke smiles at her, and they would normally kiss right now. Mylene wants to kiss him right now. But—

“How’s your internship going?” she asks to distract herself.

“Huh? Oh, yeah! That’s going good. Still kicking it with the suits, ya know?”

“Good. And um, how’s the Get Down stuff?”

Zeke jerks his head back and looks at her with furrowed brows. Mylene, suddenly feeling self-conscious and antsy, furrows her brow right back at him.

“Did I say something wrong? That’s what you guys are called, right?”

“Yeah. It’s just—I didn’t expect you to ask about any of that,” Zeke says with surprise.

Mylene shrugs like she isn’t trying to make this as normal as possible. Like it’s not weird as hell to be talking to Zeke about something other than them.

“I mean, it’s a big part of you. Seems like it gave you some . . .” Ambition? Hope? “. . . direction.”

Zeke smiles a little bit and rubs the back of his neck. He seems so different now.

“Yeah, it did. And it’s going good. We’ve got some new stuff, we practice a lot,” Zeke answers with a happy look on his face. “It’s good.”

“Good, that’s real good,” Mylene says and maybe she says it too fast but there’s a feeling pooling in the bottom of her stomach that she wants to get rid of. “I’m happy for you, Zeke.”

“Thanks,” Zeke says with a laugh.

On impulse, Mylene hugs Zeke tightly. And maybe she sniffs his cologne a little bit.

“It’s good to see you, Zeke,” Mylene says into his shoulder.

When she pulls away, she sees Zeke smiling and her heart starts racing.

“You, too, Mylene.”

**

“You know you can’t keep doing that with Zeke forever.”

“I know, Foxy.”

Mylene is sprawled out on Yolanda’s bed, staring at the ceiling. Yolanda is reorganizing her closet and getting rid of clothes that are too small or too “stuffy.”

Mylene would be perfectly content to just watch Yolanda walk around all night, but she just had to go and tell Yolanda about Zeke.

“You guys have been going back and forth for all this time. Eventually, you’ve gotta let it go,” Yolanda says sweetly as she folds her shirts.

“I know. I just . . . I see him and he’s so fine and so smart and talented,” Mylene answers, closing her eyes and remembering the look in Zeke’s eyes. “Yolanda, I just—I don’t know.”

Yolanda spins around and bats her big, brown eyes at Mylene. She tosses a neatly folded shirt on the dresser behind her.

“You know what I think, Mylene? About you and Zeke?”

Mylene props herself up on her elbows, smiles at Yolanda and shakes her head. “No. What is it?”

“I think you and Zeke are super passionate about one another,” Yolanda tells her. “And you guys are used to that passion for one another.”

“We’re used to it?”

“Yeah,” Yolanda says, walking over and sitting on the bed next to Mylene. Mylene immediately moves over so Yolanda can sit closer.

“This is how I see it,” Yolanda continues. “Zeke was your first everything, right? First love, first time. Zeke made you feel a way you never felt before. He gave you a love that you never had before. And he was always around.”

Mylene nods along as she remembers the first time she kissed Zeke, when they were only 13.

“So, over time, you two just got use to going back and forth with each other. No matter what was going on, you knew the other would still be around. So going back to Zeke became part of your life. This is the first time you guys haven’t gone right back to one another, and it feels weird for you.”

Mylene blinks at Yolanda and Yolanda shrugs. Mylene feels deflated, like she had a good buzz get blown very quickly. She leans her head against Yolanda’s shoulder and groans.

“We sound like a bad drama show,” Mylene grumbles.

“You’re not a bad drama,” Yolanda laughs. “You’re two people who’ve been through life together. You’re getting ready to live out your dreams. Stuff changes.”

Mylene lifts her head and looks at Yolanda. She’s about to compliment how smart Yolanda is when she notices that Yolanda looks a little sad.

“Hey,” Mylene says gently, softly turning Yolanda’s face towards hers, “are you okay?”

“Yeah,” Yolanda answers, but it’s a lie. Mylene can tell. “Why do you ask?”

“Because your eyes aren’t sparkling like they usually do,” Mylene says teasingly.

Yolanda rolls her eyes and shrugs. “I just want to make sure you’re happy.”

Yolanda’s holding out—Mylene knows she is—but she’ll let Yolanda have whatever she’s keeping to herself. For now, anyway.

“Thank you,” Mylene says gratefully. Then she plops back on the bed.

Yolanda giggles and flings herself right beside Mylene.

“You should stay over tonight,” Yolanda suggests.

“I wish, but I can’t. I didn’t ask either of my parents. And you know how that goes.” Mylene pulls a face. “Can’t make papí too mad or anything.”

“Yeah, I know.”

“Besides, I feel like I’m gonna make a permanent dent in your bed,” Mylene adds, hoping to make Yolanda laugh again.

It works. Yolanda’s face lights up and her eyes crinkle. Then she turns and winks at Mylene.

“I wouldn’t be mad.”

**

“Ay, yo, Shao!” Zeke calls as he walks into the temple.

He smiles once he hears records scratching. Shaolin’s working.

Shao hears Zeke call his name and damn near flings his headphones off. “You back, B?”

Zeke swings around the corner and, in one quick movement, hooks his arms around Shao’s waist. Shao’s still not really used to how fast Zeke can get his hands on him.

“I said I would, didn’t I?” Zeke answers. He starts walking Shao back towards the couch.

Zeke’s rubbing circles into Shao’s sides and it’s real nerve-racking for Shao. Because Shao knows how easy it would be for him and Books to just fall down and go real far.

“You mighta forgot. Your mind is good for rhyming but I don’t know how ya memory is,” Shao teases, hoping he doesn’t sound nervous as Zeke keeps walking him back.

Zeke snorts and pushes Shao back onto the couch. Zeke standing over him with that smirk on his face . . . shit, it makes Shao dizzy.

“Hey, yo, you guys up there?!”

Speaking of Dizzee.

Dizzee’s voice comes backing off of the walls and brings Zeke and Shao back into real life.

Shao hops back off of the couch while Zeke takes two giant steps back. Dizzee, Ra-Ra and Boo-Boo come bouncing to the room, completely unaware of what they’re interrupting. Shao tries to make it look like he was actually doing something with a record as Dizzee pats him on the back.

“Hey, how you doin'?” Zeke as he slaps hands with Ra-Ra and pulls him into a hug.

“Absolutely amazing, brother,” Ra-Ra answers, smacking Zeke on the back.

Boo-Boo plops on the couch, right where Shao had been sitting. Dizzee pulls the stool in the room right next to Shao’s station and sits down, swinging his long legs back and forth.

“What’s up with you?” Shao asks, looking around at them. “You came up in here jumping.”

“Ra-Ra has an idea,” Boo-Boo says happily.

Shao and Zeke look over at Ra-Ra, who is leaning against the wall with a proud look on his face.

“So I was thinking about the battle and how we’ve been spitting at these underground parties,” Ra-Ra starts.

“Yeah, so?” Shao asks, losing the little bit of patience he has. His crew is his life, but right now he wants them to get the hell out.

“We taking over the Bronx quickly,” Ra-Ra continues proudly.

“Like we said we would,” Zeke says. Zeke is getting just as impatient as Shao, but he’s a little better about showing it.

“I was talking to Boo-Boo today, and we agreed that maybe it’s time we take our operation beyond the Bronx,” Ra-Ra says, raising an eyebrow.

Beyond the Bronx? The idea interests really Zeke, he can’t lie. He glances over at Shao, who looks . . .  a little worried, actually.

“I thought it was a beautiful idea,” Dizzee says, looking at Shao. “We’ll be spreading our magic across the city.”

“It’s like you guys said. We’ll be bigger than the whole Bronx,” Boo-Boo adds.

“We did mention that we wanted do some moving,” Zeke mutters. He looks over at Shao, who still looks a little freaked. “Shao, what you thinking?”

“Bigger than the Bronx,” Shao mutters. Then, louder: “I mean, I want to, but I got some stuff I still have to take care of here. For the Crew.”

Shao looks over at Zeke really quick and Zeke immediately knows what he means. Fat Annie’s bitch ass.

“But is it really stuff that should stop our expansion into the untouched parts of this vast city?” Dizzee asks, getting that look on his face.

It’s the same look he gets when he starts talking about the “freeness of the untouched self” or some other shit that confuses Shaolin.

“Yeah, actually, it is if I don’t get it done,” Shao answers, a blank look on his face.

“But you admit that you’re into the idea, right?” Ra-Ra points at Shao, looking at him like he’s trying to sell Shao a car.

Shao rolls his eyes, but then he smiles. “Yeah, I’m into it.”

“Nice,” Dizzee drawls while Ra-Ra and Boo-Boo nod at each other.

“Oh! I got something to show you, Shao! I’ve been practicing!” Boo-Boo says.

And the next thing they know Boo-Boo is showing off some new dance move he’s been practicing and Ra-Ra and Dizzee are cheering him on.

A dance move turns into a freestyle session, and Shao starts to spin and everything falls into place. The Get Down Crew’s magic always works.

But still . . . Zeke keeps Fat Annie in the back of his mind. Shao’ll never get far if she’s still around.

**

It’s ten at night. The Kiplings went home because Winston doesn’t like them out for all that long. Shao’s putting up records and Zeke’s chilling on the couch.

“Shouldn’t you be getting home, man?” Shao asks while he’s restacking his records. “You got shit to do in the morning – ”

“Did you go see Annie today?” Zeke asks suddenly.

Shit. Zeke would ask about that. Shao looks up at Zeke and tenses up.

“Yeah,” Shao answers. “She paid me today.”

“How much?”

“400,” Shao mumbles to the floor. Without even looking, he knows just how hard Zeke is staring at him and probably how scared and surprised he looks.

“$400?!” Zeke cries, standing up and moving towards Shao. “$400, outright?”

“Yep,” Shao answers shortly. Then he pulls out a wad of $20 bills. “I had to go make change because she gave me four hundred dollar bills. The store clerk looked at me out the side of his eye,” Shao adds, trying to lighten the mood.

But Zeke’s face is still hard and his eyes look dark.

“What’s the catch? What you gotta do for her?” Zeke demands. His fingers start to twitch and Shao’s not used to seeing Zeke get mad so fast.

Usually Shao’s the one that flies into anger and is always ready to whoop somebody’s ass. But Zeke looks like he’s ready to go to Les Inferno and slap the shit out of Annie.

Shao shrugs and Zeke huffs.

“She ain’t said yet. Probably just more of the same,” Shao lies. There’s no way he can tell Zeke why he got that money from Annie. Not right now.

“If I could get you from under that bitch, man,” Zeke whispers.

He’s talking more to himself than Shao, but it sends a shock through Shao’s stomach. Even when it’s cold, Zeke’s voice has more warmth than Shao’s ever heard from anybody else. And Zeke wants to watch out for him? To actually try to protect him?

Shao loves Zeke for that.

Love.

Damn, man. Shao has never actually told Zeke he loves him. Zeke would probably only take that word from Mylene.

Besides, Shao doesn’t love Zeke. Or . . . shit, Shao doesn’t know. He can’t tell what love is supposed to be. What do people who are actually in love even do? Just hurt each other and keep going back no matter how fucked up they are? And then eventually one person moves on to someone else for a little bit?

How does love even feel? Does it make it hard for you to think right when you’re around that person? Do you get nervous when they touch you and sad if they don’t? Does it make someone say and do dumb ass shit for the other person just because the other person needs it? What the fuck does love even mean?

Shao doesn’t have time for all the questions, and he doesn’t have time to almost scare Zeke away with trying to figure it out. He’s got real shit to do.

“It’s all good, man. I promise,” Shao says with a smile.

Zeke doesn’t say anything. He just grabs Shao, kisses him and pulls him into a hug. Shao lets himself sink into it. He wants to remember how the heat feels.

**

“Ezekiel! I’m glad you could come in today!”

Francisco pulls Zeke into a hug and slaps him on the back.

“I’m glad you invited me, sir,” Zeke says honestly.

Francisco has asked Zeke to help him write a couple of speeches and look over some paperwork he received. Zeke actually likes Francisco. He thinks he’s pretty cool and not like the other suits in the city. Plus, Zeke can never forget how Francisco’s helped out Mylene so much.

“I’d be stupid not to ask for your talents in writing,” Francisco says, gesturing for Zeke to sit down. “Besides, I figured you could help make these speeches a little less blancitos, you know?”

Zeke laughs and he and Francisco get to work. Francisco’s right, Zeke thinks; these speeches are white as hell. Nobody from the hood would want to hear any of this shit. Zeke damn near rewrites one of them.

Francisco’s pretty impressed and he keeps telling Zeke so. Zeke doesn’t let any of it get to his head, though; he knows this job is going to end sooner than later. Then, he’ll be back to real life. Shit, even if he goes to college he’ll be struggling there.

“By the time you get to college, you’ll be out-writing everyone in your class,” Francisco compliments, as if he were reading Zeke’s mind.

“I don’t know,” Zeke says bashfully. “I figured anybody in college would be much smarter than me.”

“I don’t think you’re going to run into too many people smarter than you, Ezekiel,” Francisco says. “And I’m not just saying that, I promise. You’re bright. Much brighter than I was when I was your age, I’ll tell you that much.”

Zeke is about to thank Francisco when someone walks through the door.

“Hello, brother!” It’s Ramon, Mylene’s father.

Zeke tries to keep the irritation off of his face. Now Ramon, Zeke doesn’t like. At all. He knows what Ramon’s done to Mylene and it pisses him off.

“Hey, uncle!” Speak of the devil and she’ll come walking in behind her father.

“Hey, Mylene!” Zeke stutters, sitting up at attention.

Mylene looks just as shocked to see Zeke as he is to see her. She freezes behind her father—he didn’t tell her that Zeke would be here with Francisco.

“Ah, Ezekiel! You’re here, too!” Ramon says grandly, walking over and patting Zeke on the shoulder with a little more strength than necessary.

“What’s going on?” Francisco asks, trying to hide his obvious suspicion. “I don’t remember the last time you visited this office, Ramon.”

“Well,” Ramon starts, pulling Mylene next to him, “Mylene and I wanted to invite you to our church’s founding day celebration!”

“Founding day celebration?” Francisco echoes. “When did you start having this event?”

“This will be our first,” Ramon says. “And I realized that I wouldn’t even have the church if it weren’t for you, brother. Plus, Mylene will be singing a solo and she would like for you to hear it. Right, Mylene?”

Mylene, who was fully prepared to tell Francisco all of this herself before she came in and saw Zeke, can only nod.

“Oh, well, thank you. That’s really nice,” Francisco says slowly.

Ramon claps his hands together and smiles. Behind him, Mylene looks noticeably relieved.

Then Ramon turns his gaze to Zeke. Zeke prays his face isn’t as alarmed as the rest of him.

“Actually, Zeke, we were wondering if someone could play for us this Sunday,” Ramon says. “You’d be perfect for it!”

Mylene suddenly finds her voice. “Oh, daddy, I think Zeke might be busy –”

“—I’m sure there’s a better player out there for you –”

“Oh, no, Zeke! I can’t imagine anyone better for the founding day celebration than you. You’ve played for us so much!” Ramon continues, ignoring Zeke and Mylene.

“Um . . . sure,” Zeke responds. He pretends not to see the way Mylene’s eyes bug out.

Mylene pretends not to see the color draining from Zeke’s face.

And Ramon is oblivious to it all.

“Great! See you this Sunday!”

**

The next day—Friday—after Zeke gets off from work, he immediately goes to the temple.

He still can’t believe he agreed to playing for Ramon’s church. What the hell was Zeke thinking? Did he see Mylene and just short circuit or some shit?

Just thinking about it gives him a headache. Mylene had said they were done because she wanted to record and only record. They didn’t have any classes together anymore, so she and Zeke had kept their distance. Watching her record was the first time he’d actually seen her in a little bit.

And now here he is agreeing to play for her like ain’t shit happened.

What the hell am I thinking? Zeke cusses at himself as he bounds up the stairs and into the temple.

He knows he still has feelings for Mylene—he probably always will. But Zeke feels so much for Shao that he’s not sure that anyone else could fit right now.

But that doesn’t answer the question of why the fuck did he say yes?!

And how in the hell is going to explain this to Shao without Shao immediately getting suspicious? Zeke realizes that Shaolin’s probably waiting for him to leave him and go back to her. It doesn’t matter how many times Zeke chooses Shao over Mylene—Shao’s still afraid.

Zeke knows it. He can tell by the way Shao looks whenever Ra-Ra mentions Mylene; he shoots Zeke a look and gets quiet. If Zeke tells him that he’s playing for Mylene, Shao will take it to mean that things are going back to the way they were with Mylene.

Zeke doesn’t want things to be like they were with Mylene. He wants Shaolin. Shaolin Fantastic, his conductor, his man. Shao’s taken him over and Zeke’s not trying to get away.

If only Shao realized that.

Maybe it’d be easier to realize if I weren’t doing shit like this, Zeke thinks in irritation.

Ironically, the only person he wants to talk to is the one he’d end up pissing off.

**

“Shao! You here?” Zeke calls out and sure enough, there’s Shao on the turn tables, fiddling with one of the needles.

Shao looks up and smiles devilishly. “I could set a clock by you, Books.”

“Nigga, you ain’t got no clock to set,” Zeke laughs. The nervousness starts to dissipate when he sees Shao’s smile. Damn, Shao’s beautiful.

And just as he starts towards Shao, to show how him beautiful he is, he hears Ra-Ra’s voice.

“Hey! Ya’ll up there?!”

It’s like those niggas be knowing when Zeke’s about to put his hands on Shao. Zeke rolls his eyes while Shao stifles laugh.

“Yeah, we up here,” Shao yells, his eyes still on Zeke.

Ra-Ra and Boo-Boo come in, but there’s no Dizzee.

“Where’s Dizz?” Zeke asks, looking around the room.

“Dizzee’s coming up with new writing. He and Thor are having ‘differences,’ I think,” Boo-Boo says with a shrug. “Something about Thor’s writing or something. I don’t know.”

“We thought we could over here and chill for a little bit,” Ra-Ra says, but his voice betrays him. He has an idea.

Zeke and Shao look at each other, then back at Ra.

“What is it, Ra?” Zeke asks. “What you up to?”

Ra-Ra smiles slowly and shoots Boo-Boo a look. “You wanna spin at a party Sunday afternoon?”

“Whoa whoa, what’s this party that you know about that I didn’t?” Shao asks indignantly. He’s the one that brought the Kiplings into this. Ain’t no way in hell Ra-Ra’s getting the goods.

“People love me, too!” Ra-Ra says confidently. “Someone recognized me and give me the low down. It’s Kool Herc, Shao! Sunday afternoon, some type of cookout. We could go!”

Shao’s still annoyed, but the possibility of spinning for Kool Herc overshadows it. “I’m down.”

Zeke’s down, too. But then —

“Shit. I can’t. I got . . . something to do,” Zeke says, rubbing the back of his neck.

Ra-Ra, Boo-Boo and Shaolin all look confused and Zeke tries to not to look at any of them.

“What is it?” Boo-Boo asks.

“I gotta,” Zeke hangs his head and braces himself. Here goes nothing. “I gotta play for Mylene at Ramon’s church.”

Shao feels like he got punched in the chest.

Mylene? Really? You haven’t talked to her in almost two months, man,” Ra-Ra says, looking impressed.

Boo-Boo’s eyebrows shoot all of the way up and he gives Zeke a cheeky smile. “You trying to get back with Mylene?” he asks.

Shao could literally throw up. Mylene, Mylene, the butterscotch queen. Of course it’s Mylene.

“No!” Zeke yells, looking over at Shao. “I’m not trying to get back with Mylene! Her dad came into the office while I was there and he asked me.”

“And you said yes? Just like that?” Boo-Boo asks, that look still on his face.

Zeke looks over at Shao, but Shao won’t even look up at him. Shao’s jaw is set and he’s focusing on the records.

“I just said yes. It doesn’t mean anything, okay?” Zeke insists, looking straight at Shao the whole time.

“Are you sure?” Ra-Ra pushes. “Because you and Mylene have a relationship that doesn’t just end just like that. You still have real feelings for one another –”

“But that’s not why I said yes!”

“Then why did you, Books?” Shao finally asks, still looking down. This time he’s fiddling with the needle.

Zeke freezes and then feels fidgety. “I mean . . . I don’t know, really. I didn’t think. I just said yes.”

“I guess it’s easy to say yes to your butterscotch queen,” Shao mumbles. Then, louder: “Go play the piano. The Fantastic Four can go.”

“Whoa, go without Zeke?” Ra-Ra asks, looking scared. “But . . . we don’t do anything without MC Books!”

Without him? Hold the hell on. Zeke feels like the floor was snatched from under him.

“We’ve spit without him before,” Shao says calmly, still not looking up.

“While we’re practicing, not like an actual performance!” Ra-Ra continues. “Zeke writes our rhymes!”

“And we have plenty we haven’t performed yet. We’ll be good while he’s at church,” Shao retorts.

No. Just no. Zeke can’t stand hearing them talk about going without him, can’t stand the fact that Shao won’t even look up at him.

“Hold on! Ya’ll talking like I’m outta the group or something,” Zeke says, feeling like he’s spinning in a fucked up way. “Look, I’ll tell Mylene never mind, that I can’t do it —”

“Go.” Shao finally looks up at Zeke. His eyes are flat and his voice is cold. “No point in cancelling. We’ll be fine.”

“But Shaolin –”

“I was fine before you, Zeke,” Shaolin says. And he snatches a record off of the table and walks out of the temple.

**

Fuck Zeke. Fuck Zeke Figuero.

Shao’s gripping the record as tightly as he can. He’s walking to—shit, he doesn’t know where. Shaolin’s just walking away. Away from the temple. Away from Zeke.

Fuck Zeke, fuck Mylene, fuck Ramon and his fake-ass church. Fuck it all.

He knew. That’s all he can think, right now. Shaolin fucking knew this would happen. Zeke would go back to Mylene. He’ll always go back to Mylene. That’s what it is.

He loves her, whatever the fuck that means. He drops everything and goes to her. Zeke said “yes” to her without even thinking, without even knowing why.

This must be what love is. Believing bullshit even when you know it’s bullshit. All because a certain person said it.

Shaolin wanders into some food joint and stands there with closed eyes and a tight grip on the random record. He’s shaking. Shao wants to scream as loud as he can.

“Shaolin.”

Shaolin, who is usually prepared to see Grandmaster Flash pop up out of nowhere, almost jumps out of his skin. Grandmaster is sitting at the table directly in front of Shao, a serene look on his face. Shao was so busy cussing about Zeke that he didn’t even notice him.

“Grandmaster,” Shaolin says breathlessly, even though he was breathing just fine a second ago.

“You’re very upset,” Grandmaster observes, his voice serene. He gestures for Shao to sit in front of him.

“I’m not that upset,” Shao lies. He really doesn’t know why he lies; Grandmaster immediately knows it’s a lie.

Grandmaster looks at Shao upside his head. “Shaolin, if you weren’t upset, you wouldn’t be looking the way you look.”

“. . . How do I look?”

“Like you just had a bad argument with a girlfriend.”

Damn, he’s good.

“You also look like you’re keeping a secret from your crew and it’s wearing you down.”

Damn, he’s really good.

Shao opens his mouth then closes it. He’s not ready to tell Grandmaster that he’s fooling around with Zeke. Shao knows a lot about Grandmaster, but he has no idea how Grandmaster would react to finding out that Shao is . . . shit, what is Shao?

“You’re . . . mostly right, Grandmaster,” Shao says carefully.

Grandmaster raises an eyebrow at him. “Only mostly?”

“Well, I don’t have a girlfriend.”

“You have a somebody. And they hurt your feelings today.”

Is this nigga reading his damn mind?

“And you still haven’t told your crew about it, have you? Your holding a big piece of yourself back from them. It creates a disconnect.” Grandmaster leans back and sips the Coke on his table.

“Well, I can’t tell them because I don’t know what would happen. They might not take it well,” Shao rushes out.

“Why wouldn’t they? Why wouldn’t they be happy for you?” Grandmaster challenges.

And oh, Shao almost says it. He almost blurts it out.

“I’m worried that the person I’m with would make things weird for the crew,” Shao talks very slowly, making sure to not blurt out anything.

But Grandmaster seems to pick up something that Shao didn’t put down. He looks at Shao, nods and puts both of his hands on the table.

“You know,” Grandmaster starts, “there’s a lot of DJs that get real close with one particular member of their crew.”

Oh shit. Shao’s heart starts slamming against his chest, and it’s not because he’s spinning.

“They get a dude they go everywhere with, they write all the songs with, they spend pretty much all they time with,” Grandmaster lists off, sounding nonchalant.

Meanwhile Shao is starting to sweat bullets.

Grandmaster shrugs. “Some DJs—a lot of DJs actually—are like that. And not everybody vibes with that. But it doesn’t really change how they are.”

Shao wants to pass out, but he’s pretending to not be dying.

“Usually, unless the DJ is really good at hiding it, somebody else in the crew already knows,” Grandmaster tells Shao. “So it’s best if everything’s already in the open. A crew that’s with you is a crew that’s with you.”

Shao hears what Grandmaster is saying, he really does. But he got stuck on the “somebody in the crew already knows” part and his mind started racing.

Can’t be Ra-Ra, because he thinks Zeke is stuck on Mylene. Not that he’s wrong about that, Shao thinks bitterly. How about Boo-Boo? Nah, he’s a kid. Shit, it’s Dizzee. Of course Dizzee would know, that weird son of a –

“Shaolin?”

“Sorry, Grandmaster. I just spaced out for a second.”

Grandmaster smiles and puts his hand on Shao’s shoulder.

“You gotta be open, Grasshopper. That’s the only way this works. Give your crew a chance. Give yourself one, too.”

Shao nods and gets up to leave.

“Oh, hey, Shao?” Grandmaster calls.

“Yes sir?”

“Give your wordsmith a chance, too.”

Even as Shao runs out of the store, he can still hear Grandmaster laughing.

**

Zeke sits at the piano in Ramon’s church, feeling unusually stuffy in his old suit.

There’s a lot of commotion going on; Ramon is running around giving commands in Spanish, members of the church are putting last minute touches on decorations and members of the choir are practicing.

And then there’s Mylene, walking back and forth, talking to herself. Her hair is down and she has on lipstick for once. Mylene closes her eyes and shakes her hands. She leans her head back and her lips start moving really fast.

Zeke has to admit—she’s beautiful.

“Ezekiel!” Ramon calls out, pulling Zeke from his thoughts. He puts his hand on Zeke’s shoulder with too much force and gives Zeke his best pastor smile. “Thanks again for playing today.”

“Oh, it’s no problem, sir. I’m glad I can support you guys,” Zeke says, giving Ramon his best suits smile.

“I’m glad that you and my daughter are using your talents to put the Lord first. It means you’ve got good things in your future, son,” Ramon tells him. He nods and then walks over to greet visitors.

“What the hell that mean?” Zeke mumbles to himself. Ramon will always give him the creeps, probably.

Zeke shifts uncomfortably in his seat and starts to scan the audience. Yolanda and Regina are in the front row; Regina’s mouthing something that’s probably inappropriate to Mylene and Yolanda is giving Mylene a thumbs up. Right beside them is Lydia and Francisco, who both look uncomfortable, but like they’re trying to hide the fact that they’re uncomfortable.

Wonder what’s up with that? Zeke thinks.

Zeke gives the room another quick look. This time, his gaze stops on Mylene, who is staring right back at him.

**

This must mean something, right?

That’s really all Mylene can think. As much as she does her vocal exercises and makes faces at Regina, all she can think about is the fact that Zeke said yes and that he’s here, right now, getting ready to play for her. Like nothing’s changed.

That must mean something, right? Maybe Zeke still has feelings for her? Maybe he’s still willing to be there for her? Mylene takes a breath and looks at Zeke, who’s not even trying to look away. He’s looking her in the eyes, and he’s smiling at her.

So maybe they have a chance. Maybe Mylene can actually do it this time. Mylene wants to record, she wants to sing. That’s all Mylene ever wanted and never got until now.

But she also wants love. True, unconditional, love. It feels like that’s been pretty hard to come by, too.

**

“Good morning, everyone!” Ramon’s voice booms out to the full audience. The audience claps and Ramon beams proudly.

Mylene has never seen this many people in her father’s church, and she has no idea how they got this many people here. She’s not sure she wants to know, actually. Mylene doesn’t like thinking about certain parts of her father. Too many bad memories.

“I want to thank you all for celebrating this church’s founding day with us. This church has so many ups and downs, but through it all, we have prospered and thrived. And it is by the grace of the almighty Lord that we continue to grow!”

The audience claps and whoops and hollers and Mylene tries her hardest not to roll her eyes. She sneaks a look over at Zeke and sees he has the same “this nigga” look on his face. Mylene bites back a laugh and spies Yolanda in the audience. Yolanda winks, smiles broadly at her and then pulls a face at whatever Ramon is saying. God, Mylene loves Yolanda.

Ramon continues. “I’ve dedicated myself to the mission of celebrating the Lord’s word.” (Really? Mylene thinks). “And this church has been one of the greatest steps in my mission. But I could never have had this church if it were not for my brother, Francisco Cruz.”

Ramon gestures to Francisco, who stands up and waves awkwardly while the audience claps. Mylene smiles at her uncle; she’d be lying if she said she would have gotten through the last few months without him.

“One of the ways this church has celebrated the love of God is through our music. I’m proud to have a church of the finest singers in the city! And I’m proud to have a daughter who wants to share her voice to praise God!” Ramon says and gestures to the choir and Mylene.

Mylene, suddenly blushing, waves at the audience. Yolanda and Regina clap ridiculously loud for her and she laughs. And, out of the side of her eye, she sees Zeke clapping, too.

Ramon turns to the audience and grips his podium. “None of us are perfect. We all fall short of God’s grace every day. But we have a duty as Christians to press forward, to put ourselves in the light of the Lord. Only then, can we be who have been called to be. We will press forward as a church, together!”

The audience cheers and Mylene feels a pang in her stomach. Together. Her father’s words are so nice, but they ring empty in Mylene’s ears. Together.

Because it doesn’t matter how nice her father is to her or how smoothly things run. Mylene has never felt “together” with her family, and she wonders if she ever will.

“And now, without further ado, how about we hear this wonderful choir?” Ramon says.

Great, now it’s show time and Mylene doesn’t even feel like singing anymore. She feels like running away, getting away from this church, from her father’s lies. None of this is right for Mylene.

And then Zeke starts to play. And a calm washes over Mylene.

She steps to the microphone and smiles.

If there had to be one person Mylene felt together with . . .

**

Zeke lets the music think for him.

He lets Mylene’s voice guide him through the songs. He moves to her rhythm and tries not to think too much. He just plays.

Zeke doesn’t want to think about The Get Down. He doesn’t want to think of them spinning without him, of Shao being without him. That’s too much, takes up too much space in his head.

So Zeke plays. And he lets Mylene guide him.

**

“We did good,” Boo-Boo comments as they leave Kool Herc’s party.

“You sound surprised,” Shao says, keeping his head forward and his voice leveled. He really doesn’t feel like having this conversation.

“It was better than I thought it would be, for sure,” Ra-Ra says. “Seeing as we didn’t have Zeke—”

“We don’t need Zeke for everything!” Shao shoots back and shit, he can’t hide how annoyed he is.

“But Zeke’s the wordsmith. We follow his words,” Dizzee says slowly, speeding up so that he can walk in stride with Shaolin. Shao’s been walking ahead of them this whole time.

Shao spins around and looks Dizzee dead in the eye. “No, you follow my lead! You don’t follow Zeke for nothing!

Ra-Ra, Boo-Boo and Dizzee all stop, looking shocked and surprised. Then Ra-Ra looks angry.

“You wouldn’t have a lead if it weren’t for Zeke! You’ve said that yourself!” Ra-Ra yells at Shao.

“What the fuck is that supposed to mean, Ra?!” Shao, mad as hell, starts towards Ra.

Dizzee puts his arm out and gently pushes Shao back. “Hey! Hey! Everyone chill, okay?” Dizzee looks back at Ra-Ra, who has his chest all stuck out. Boo-Boo puts his hand on Ra’s shoulder and Ra deflates a little.

“I think what Ra means is that you and Zeke are a team. And if you aren’t a team, then the Get Down can’t be one,” Dizzee explains.

Shao knows that what Dizzee said is something to make it better. But all Shao can think of them following Zeke away from Shao. And Shao’ll be alone again.

“Whatever,” Shao mumbles. Then he turns and walks away as fast as he can.

“Shaolin! Shaolin, wait!” He hears Boo-Boo call out.

But Shaolin keeps walking. He wants to get away from them before they can get away from him.

**

“Zeke!” Mylene calls out.

Before Zeke can fully turn around, Mylene rushes into him with a big hug. Zeke laughs and hugs her back.

“That was so good!” Mylene says. She looks so happy and Zeke can’t deny the way he makes him feel full.

“Thanks. You sounded amazing,” Zeke says slowly pulling away from the embrace.

“But you made it perfect,” Mylene says with a huge smile.

Mylene hesitantly laces her fingers with Zeke’s and looks up at him. Zeke looks down at their hands and smiles.

“This must mean something, right?” Mylene says aloud this time.

Zeke looks at their hands and thinks of all the other times they’ve held hands. Zeke had wanted it to mean something to Mylene; he wanted it to mean as much to her as it did to him.

But right now, the only person he can think of Shaolin.

Him and Shaolin, lying on the roof, their fingers intertwined.

Him and Shaolin, on the hood of a car, his smile burning Zeke up from the inside.

Zeke lets go of Mylene’s hand and Mylene frowns.

“Mylene,” Zeke says sadly, “I don’t think this means what you think it means.”

Mylene blinks and shakes her head in confusion. “What do you mean by that, Zeke?”

Zeke sighs and looks towards the ceiling as Mylene continues.

“Because I thought this meant you wanted to be here for me,” Mylene says, disappointment creeping into her voice.

“I did want to be here for you,” Zeke says. “Just not the way I usually am.”

Mylene wants to start yelling and cussing Zeke out. But she stops herself. Because maybe this isn’t Zeke’s fault. Maybe it’s hers.

“Zeke,” Mylene starts slowly, “did you say yes to this because you wanted to get back with me? Or did you say yes just because you’re using to saying yes?”

Zeke opens his mouth, but then he closes it. Used to it . . .

“Because I think that’s what it is,” Mylene continues sadly. “I think we’re just . . .”

“Familiar,” Zeke finishes. He has a flashback to being in that house, listening to that man. The roach on the table, the smile on his face. “We’re just familiar with one another. And we don’t want to let that go.”

The words hurt and Mylene wants to slap Zeke and then herself. But instead, she nods.

“Yeah. We’re just used to one another,” Mylene says. “Do you actually love me, Zeke?”

“I think I’ll always love you, Mylene,” Zeke says almost immediately. “I’ll always have feelings for you.”

“But you don’t want to be with me, right?” Mylene asks and there’s the tears she’s been holding back. They fall down her face and choke her in the throat, but she has to get this out. “You’re done with me?”

Zeke hates this. He hates that Mylene’s crying; he hates feeling like he led her on, even if for a moment. And he can’t lie: there’s a part of Zeke that wants to tell Mylene that she’s wrong, that everything can go back to the way it was.

But Zeke could never go back, not really. Not with the way he feels about Shaolin.

“Yeah,” Zeke whispers. “I’m sorry, Mylene.”

Mylene sniffles and holds her head up. “Why be sorry, Ezekiel?” she asks, her voice hard. Then she shrugs. “That’s just how it is, right?”

And Mylene pushes past Zeke—past whenever image of them she keeps building in her mind—and walks away as fast as possible.

**

“Mylene! Mylene!”

Mylene is out of the church and on the sidewalk with her choir robe off before she registers the voice calling her name.

“What, Yolanda?!” Mylene yells, still crying.

“What happened? What did Zeke say?” Yolanda asks, rushing to Mylene.

Yolanda grabs Mylene’s wrist and turns Mylene to face her. She gently puts her hand to Mylene’s face and wipes away the tears. “What happened?”

“He said we’re done. Officially. It’s quits,” Mylene says. “I feel stupid.”

“No! Don’t feel stupid, Mylene—”

“But it’s like you said! We were just used to each other. That’s it,” Mylene pouts and she doesn’t care how immature it makes her look. “I’m the one who said I wanted to take a break. And here I am crying! This is so fucking stupid!

New sobs erupt out of Mylene as Yolanda pulls her in for a hug.

“Don’t feel stupid, okay, Mylene?” Yolanda hugs her tightly and Mylene hugs back, putting her face in the crook of Yolanda’s neck.

Mylene feels tired suddenly. And so sad. She had Zeke. She’d always had Zeke. And Mylene took that for granted.

“What if he was it, Yolanda?” Mylene mutters into Yolanda’s neck.

Yolanda puts some space between them and looks at Mylene in confusion. “What do you mean?”

“I mean, what if Zeke’s the only person who would have wanted to put up with me for so long?” Mylene imagines herself getting older and older and never having anyone love her again.

The thoughts pull at a fear Mylene had pushed deep down; the fear spreads through her body and she starts shaking.

“What if no one wants me?” Mylene asks quietly.

“Do not go there!” Yolanda cries. Her sudden fire startles Mylene. “You cannot honestly believe Ezekiel Figuero is the only one for you. Be serious.”

Mylene blinks in confusion. “I am serious, Yolanda.”

“Mylene, you’re smart, super talented and one of the most beautiful women in the world. You’re amazing. There isn’t anyone on Earth that deserves your love. You can’t honestly think there isn’t anyone else out there,” Yolanda says, looking at Mylene as if she were a fool.

Mylene’s stunned. And, to be honest, more than a little flattered. It’s one thing to be told you’re beautiful and amazing; it’s a whole other thing to be told that by someone like Yolanda.

“You can’t say I’m the most beautiful girl in the world,” Mylene says, her voice shaking. “You haven’t seen every other girl.”

“I don’t need to,” Yolanda answers quietly.

And then Yolanda closes the space between them and kisses Mylene.

Mylene kisses back just as hard. All the confusion and anger and tension melts away.

But then Yolanda abruptly stops the kiss.

“I’m sorry,” Yolanda says breathlessly. “I’m—I’m sorry.”

Yolanda turns and runs away, fast.

“Wait, don’t go!” Mylene yells. “Yolanda!”

But Yolanda doesn’t stop; she runs and runs. And now Mylene is alone.

**

“Shaolin! Shaolin Fantastic! Are you up there?”

Zeke yells as he bounds up the stairs into the temple. Shao has to be up there. But Zeke also knows that it doesn’t mean that Shao will talk to him.

Without hesitation, Zeke pushes the door open and sees an empty room.

“You anywhere in here?” Zeke asks the empty room. Then he sighs. “I don’t know what I would’ve said if you were. Besides I’m sorry. That’s all I can think to say. I’m sorry.”

Zeke walks over to the turn tables; it’s empty, no records getting ready to be scratched. Everything is neat for once.

“I know I hurt your feelings,” Zeke says. “And I know why you’re so mad at me. But I’m not going anywhere.”

Zeke looks across the room and spies Shaolin’s hat laying on the couch. Zeke walks over and picks up the hat, smiling as he thinks of Shao. Then a thought hits him.

“I think you’re it for me, Shaolin,” Zeke says in a daze. “Shit, man. You’re really it for me.”

Zeke puts the hat back down. If Shaolin was here, he’d say something. Hell, he might be here and just not wanting to talk to Zeke. Either way, Zeke is feeling like he should leave for a bit. Go to the park, clear his head. Come back when he has something real to say.

“I’m coming back here tonight. I promise.”

**

After he hears Zeke leave, Shaolin comes back to his side of the temple. Napoleon had looked at him like somebody was coming after them when Shaolin rushed over there.

“Just chill, okay? There’s somebody I ain’t trying to see over there,” Shaolin had told the nervous teen.

And then, because he just had to hear what Zeke was saying, Shaolin had leaned against Napoleon’s door and listened hard.

Shaolin had heard Zeke say that he was “it” for him. Hearing Zeke say that made him dizzy.

He wants to not believe him; Shaolin doesn’t have time to falling for some dude, anyway. And the way Zeke got Shaolin acting is already messing with the Get Down. But Zeke saying that . . . it makes Shaolin want to actually let this happen.

“What the fuck, man?” Shao says aloud.

He feels exhausted. Shao’s mind and body just feel beat down. He wants Zeke, but he still doesn’t know if he can ever go there. Zeke’s got beautiful words, words that have changed both of their lives. But Shao . . . shit, it’s just hard, okay? It’s just hard.

Shao picks his hat up from the couch and starts to put it on his head. But then he tosses it on the ground and flops down on the couch. He stretches out as much as he can and closes his eyes.

Behind his eyelids, Shao sees Zeke, rhyming.

**

“Mama! Mama? You home?”

Mylene drags herself into her house, her choir robe dragging just like its owner. She was sure her mom didn’t stay for whatever little “reception” her father was throwing. Mylene knows her father; the reception is going to turn into a party that last hours. And Mylene knows her mother; she doesn’t like being at whatever church parties Ramon has.

So when Mylene sees the apartment empty and dark, she’s confused. And then she hears a noise in the back of her house.

“Ma?” Mylene says quietly.

A fear comes out of nowhere and grips at Mylene’s stomach as she creeps forward towards her parents’ room.

Mylene hears another noise—this time louder, harsher sounding. The fear crawls into her chest and coats her throat.

“Ma? Are you okay?” Mylene pushes the door gently and what she sees punches her in the chest.

Because her mother is here—with Francisco. Lydia’s arms are wrapped around Francisco’s waist as he kisses her passionately. Lydia and Francisco look lost in one another as they embrace.

“MAMA!” Mylene chokes out, but the word isn’t even really there. It’s a mess of a cry, a scream and gasp that somehow merged together to form the word “mama.”

“MYLENE!” Lydia screams, pure terror on her face.

Francisco jumps away from Lydia as fast as he can, throwing himself into the dresser behind him.

“Francisco . . .” Mylene barely gets his name out, she’s sobbing so hard. Her breathing is fucked; it’s too shallow, too fast, too short, too short. Mylene’s gonna throw up, she’s gonna scream.

Sobs tear through her as she steps away.

“Mylene, sweetheart, please. Lo siento, Mylene,” Francisco says, reaching for Mylene.

“GET AWAY!” Mylene screams.

And she runs. Mylene tears through the apartment, nearly tripping on the damn choir robe on the floor.

“Mylene, wait, please!”

Fuck this.

Fuck them.

Mylene’s gotta get out of here before they—this place—kills her.

Mylene bounds down the stairs until she reaches the first floor door. She flings herself through it and she’s finally outside.

Mylene, still sobbing, still breathless, falls to her knees on the filthy Bronx sidewalk. She doesn’t have the energy to wonder what people think, to worry about her dress. Mylene doesn’t have the energy for anything.

She can’t do this. Mylene just can’t fucking do this.

**

The moon comes out over Zeke as he lies on the rock in the park. He faces the stars and his mind drifts to Shao. But is it really drifting? Shao’s where his mind lives.

Zeke thinks of that first party, his first time spitting. Shao gave him magic with just one look. Shao poured into him and Zeke took flight. Shao was a wizard, a king who deserved a knight willing to die for him.

Zeke looks at the half-formed rhymes he put in his rhyme book and snorts. Then he faces the stars again.

Shao’s fantastic, and I’m in his class/But the way you got me feeling knocks me on my ass.

Zeke closes his eyes and sees Shaolin smiling.

 You my dream, my king, my one true home/I’d spending my whole life building you a throne.

Don’t give a fuck about the Bronx/How it screams and shouts/You the only thing worth thinkin’ bout

Zeke opens his eyes slowly. Shao’s still there; Zeke holds his image as tightly as he can.

The stars can burn out/The whole world can die/Shao’s my way out/All I need to get by.

**

“SHAOLIN FANTASTIC! Open this damn door, nigga!”

Shaolin jolts up and then jumps when he hears someone pounding on the door. A female voice is screaming at him.

“I know you in there fucking up some shit. SHAOLIN!” the voice screams and the woman pounds on the door again.

Shaolin’s about to tell this random bitch to gone on somewhere, but he realizes that he recognizes the voice. It’s Mylene.

“What the fuck?” Shao mutters to himself as he goes to the door.

“Mylene?” he asks as he pulls it open. “What the hell are you—”

Mylene smacks him across the face as hard as she can.

(Well, Shao thinks it’s a smack. Because it felt like getting punched in the face by some big ass nigga.)

Shao falls to ground. When he looks up, Shaolin sees Mylene, her face covered in tears, standing over him.

“WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU?!” Shao screams, gripping his face.

Mylene lets out a scream and starts kicking at Shao. Shao, who is not about to get his ass beat by a butterscotch disco queen, grabs her foot before it connects with his face.

Mylene tries to snatch her foot loose and ends up losing her balance. Mylene falls flat on her ass with a shout.

Shao scrambles off of the floor before Mylene gets any ideas.

“Mylene!” Shao shouts. “What the fuck are you doing?!’

“It’s your fault!” Mylene shouts at Shao. “It’s all your fault!”

Mylene slurs the words as she screams at Shao. When Shao gets closer, he gets a strong waft of alcohol.

“Mylene . . . Mylene, are you drunk?” Shao asks in surprise.

Mylene gets off of the floor and almost falls back down again.

Yep, she’s definitely drunk.

“You and Zeke get drunk all the time. I can’t have a drink or two?” Mylene stumbles backwards and Shao instinctively reaches out to make sure she doesn’t fall. “Or a whole bottle?” Mylene adds with a laugh.

Shao smells her breath and jerks his head back. Whoa, shit. Mylene’s really drunk.

“Okay, you need to sit down,” Shao says mostly to himself. He leads Mylene to the couch and tries to gently sit her down.

Instead, she snatches her arm out of Shao’s hand so hard he flinches. Mylene flops down on the couch so hard that Shao flinches again.

Then Mylene puts her feet up on the couch and that’s when Shaolin realizes that she’s not even wearing shoes; what the fuck happened to her?

Shao looks Mylene up and down. Now that he’s noticed, Mylene looks a mess. She’s barefoot, her hair is frizzy and there’s mascara running down her face. Her face is red and her eyes are swollen.

“I hate you, Shaolin Fantastic,” Mylene mumbles, lying her face on the arm of the couch.

Shao can’t even get mad at her; she’s too fucked up to be mad at.

He goes to the makeshift kitchen he has in the corner of the room and pulls out one of the glasses he stole from Les Inferno. Shao gets Mylene some water and then pulls the stool next to the couch.

“Why do you hate me, Mylene Cruz?” Shao asks, handing her the glass of water.

Mylene takes it, but she still glares at Shao. “Because it’s your fault.”

What’s my fault, Mylene?”

Mylene blinks at him, then sighs and gulps the water down.

“I don’t know,” Mylene admits, her voice suddenly sounding groggy. “Nothing. Everything. I don’t know.”

Shao sighs and rubs his eyes. “You’re right, nothing’s my fault. It’s Zeke’s fault.” Shao says.

Mylene stares at Shao for a moment, then she starts laughing. “You’re right. It is. Fuck Zeke,” she says.

“Don’t say that! I ain’t trying to go that far,” Shao rushes out. Sure, he said that earlier, but that doesn’t mean she can.

“That’s because you’re in looooove,” Mylene drags out, making a face at Shao.

Shao damn near falls off of the stool. “Excuse me?!”

“I know it’s you, Shaolin,” Mylene says, sitting up and squinting at Shao. “You’re the one he wants. You gotta be.”

Shao fights the urge to run away screaming. “Why do you say that?” he asks slowly.

Mylene huffs and lets her head hit the arm of the couch. Shao flinches.

“Whenever I was talking to him today, he got this dreamy look in his eyes. He was thinking about somebody and it wasn’t me,” Mylene says. “The only other person I think it could be is you. Besides, Zeke’s done shit for you that he would never do for anybody else.”

Shao blushes and looks at the floor.

“See?” Mylene says. “I’m right; you love him and he loves you. You’re the one he wants now.”

Mylene moves around on the couch. “Me and him are done, Shaolin.”

Shao looks at her with hope in his eyes. “You sure about that, Lene?” He asks with a shaky voice.

Mylene smiles slowly and lifts her head up. She looks at Shao with a look that looks like surprise and happiness.

“Did you just call me ‘Lene’? Mylene asks.

Shao freezes up; he didn’t realize he’d shortened her name. “I mean; I was just—I didn’t mean to—”

“That’s weird. I think I kinda like it, though.” Mylene says, still smiling. “It’s weird enough that you’re even saying my name.”

“It’s not like I don’t know it.”

“Yeah, but you don’t use it.”

“Yes I do,” Shao says defensively.

“You call me ‘that bitch’ so much, I’m surprised you still know my name,” Mylene says with a snort.

“Oh, well,” Shao toys around with his S necklace. “I’m sorry,” he says awkwardly.

Mylene sighs. “It’s whatever. It’s still better than some of the stuff my father said about me.”

Shao’s surprised and suddenly worried. And being worried about Mylene, the butterscotch queen makes him feel weird as fuck.

“What you mean?” Shao mumbles.

Mylene stares off into space, focusing on something past Shao’s head. She twists her mouth and her eyes start drooping.

“The night Les Inferno got shot up? My father beat the hell outta me. Kept calling me a common whore,” Mylene tells Shao. She actually can’t believe she just said all of that to Shaolin Fantastic, but here they are.

“That’s fucked up!” Shao yells, unable to stop himself. “What for?”

Mylene looks at Shao and shrugs. “For singing. For wanting to sing. For wearing a certain dress. For not being the girl he wants.”

Shao squirms as he feels the heat rising. He’s angry for Mylene. He’s angry for a girl he could’ve sworn he hated not two hours ago.

“Isn’t your daddy a pastor or something? He can’t do shit like that,” Shao grumbles.

“They’re probably the worst ones,” Mylene mutters. Then she stretches and turns so that she’s facing the ceiling. “And to make shit worse, my mama is fucking around with my uncle.”

“What?!” Shao asks, his eyes wide. “Damn, girl. Your life starting to sound like a t.v. show.”

Mylene thinks back to when she told Yolanda that she and Zeke sounded like a bad drama.

Yolanda. Shit. Mylene almost forgot about Yolanda. She can’t even make herself bring that up.

“I got shit going on,” Mylene tells the ceiling.

She and Shao sit in a surprisingly comfortable silence for a few minutes. Then Mylene turns her head to Shao.

“What about you, Shaolin?”

Shaolin frowns and leans away from her. “What do you mean?”

“I mean you have to have shit going on for you to act the way you act,” Mylene says as if the answer is obvious.

“How do I act, Mylene?” Shao demands with an edge to his voice.

“Um, let’s see: defensive, on-guard all the time, quick to be mad,” Mylene lists off, narrowing her eyes at Shao. “Also, possessive as hell and paranoid about Zeke.”

Shaolin blinks and shifts uncomfortably.

“Yeah, you’re obvious, Shaolin,” Mylene answers Shao’s silent question. “So what’s up?”

Shaolin looks at Mylene for a moment and then sighs.

“A lot,” he admits. “I’m working for Fat Annie—”

“The lady over Les Inferno?”

“Yeah, Cadillac’s mom. I’m doing all her dirty work. And I’m trying to keep the Get Down together and keep us on Grandmaster Flash’s good side. We fucked up real bad this summer and I didn’t think we could fix it. Besides that, I risk getting my ass knocked off every day I go outside.”

Shaolin relaxes once he’s gotten it all out. Mylene frowns at him, looking genuinely sorry for him. Feeling genuinely sorry for him.

“I’m sorry, Shaolin,” Mylene says.

“Thanks.”

More silence.

“Lene?” Shao asks, trying out her new nickname.

Mylene, eyes closed, smiles. “Yeah?”

“Who bought you a whole bottle of liquor?”

Mylene cracks up and laughs. “When you have a bra that has your tits sitting up as high as mine, it’s not that hard.”

Shaolin can’t help it; he busts out laughing. Then he goes across the room, grabs a (stolen from Les Inferno) face towel, wets it and hands it to Mylene.

“Here. Wipe your mascara up. You kinda look like a drag queen that got caught in the rain.”

“Hey, those drag queens be looking fly,” Mylene says, taking the towel and sitting up. She wipes the mascara and left-over wetness off of her face.

“And what happened to your shoes? Why you barefoot?” Shao asks, still laughing.

“Oh, they’re . . . somewhere,” Mylene says and she and Shao laugh again.

And the laughter feels so good. And maybe it should be weird between them—between the two people who competed for Zeke’s attention the most--but it’s not.

“Shit, man,” Mylene says when her laughter dies down. “Could you do me a favor and not tell Zeke about this?”

“Nah, I won’t say anything,” Shao promises. Shao reaches over and shakes Mylene’s hand.

“What the fuck is this?!”

Speak of the fucking devil.

**

“What. The fuck. Is this?” Zeke repeats loudly when neither Shao or Mylene answer.

“Books,” Shao starts as he stands, “Books, this isn’t—”

“It’s my fault,” Mylene speaks up. “I came over here super drunk to confront Shao about you choosing him over me.”

Zeke must be bugging; there’s no way he heard what he just heard. Or is even seeing what he’s seeing right now.

Zeke looks at Shao, who nods. Then he looks back at Mylene sitting bare-foot on Shao’s couch.

“Mylene, why aren’t you wearing shoes?” Zeke asks with a dumbfounded look on his face.

“I took them off on the way here?” Mylene answers sheepishly, and Shao has to bite the inside of his cheek to keep from smiling.

“You’re drunk?” Zeke continues.

Mylene nods, looking like a child that’s been punished. Which is actually disturbing to Shao now that he knows about what her dad did.

“And I’m supposed to believe you just let her in the temple?” Zeke demands of Shao.

“I couldn’t leave her outside! Not as fucked as she was!” Shao cries. “Besides, don’t act like you wouldn’t have killed me if something happened to her when she came over here and I made her leave!” Shao feels that jealousy rise up again. “You’d hate me if anything ever happened to Lene!”

Lene?! What the fuck?!” Zeke yells, throwing his hands up.

Damn, damn, damn!

“That’s just—that’s something I called her earlier by mistake and it’s stuck, okay?” Shao huffs and gets in Zeke’s space. “Look, there’s nothing going on with me and your butterscotch queen!”

“You’ve called me that in front of him?” Mylene interjects curiously.

“Yes, a lot, I hated it,” Shao tells her, not taking his eyes from Zeke.

There aren’t many times when Zeke doesn’t know what to say. But this is definitely one of them.

“It’s just weird, man,” Zeke says in his gravelly voice.

He feels uncomfortable and anxious and this is what Shaolin feels, isn’t it? This is the envy Shaolin feels whenever he would see Zeke walk away with Mylene.

“Why, is it easier for you to choose when we hate each other?” Shao asks, feeling anger rise.

Zeke looks at Shao in complete confusion.

“Well, is it?” Mylene asks and Zeke turns his confused gaze onto her. “Because you seem to be way less sure than you were this afternoon, Zeke.”

“No,” Zeke says, all the anger gone from his voice. “I’m just not used to . . . this.”

“Of course not,” Shao says and he walks away from Zeke, and starts out of the temple.

“Wait, Shao!” Zeke calls as he runs after him.

Shao moves fast, but Zeke catches him just as he makes it outside and spins him around to face him.

“Shao, what’s—”

“It’s like I said, Books! It’s easier for you to choose between me and Mylene when we hated each other! You see her with me and you start questioning your choice!” Shao yells.

“No, that’s not it! You gotta understand this is kinda weird, though. You and Mylene—”

“It’s weird because you made it weird! The reason I hated her was you!” Shao yelled. Shao feels like everything is spiraling and he can’t stop. “And I get it now, Books, I really do.”

“You get what, Shao?!”

“Why you’d go back to her! Why she’s your first choice!”

“She’s not my first choice! You are!

“Oh please!” Shao pushes Zeke away from him. “You’ve been fucking around with her for years! She’s fly, she smart. She don’t work for Annie. She ain’t had to fuck Annie to get money for food. And she ain’t a fucking killer. You really expect me to believe that you gone leave her for me? Really, nigga?”

“Whoa, hold on, a killer?” Zeke asks, wondering if he heard Shao right. “What are you talking, Shaolin?”

“I KILLED WOLF!” Shao screams.

Finally.

Zeke freezes to the spot. A gunshot rings out in his ear and glass shatters. He’s on the floor and so is his mom.

“Okay? I killed Wolf. Annie made me,” Shao says quietly, bringing Zeke out of his flashback. “She put my finger on the trigger and I . . . pulled it. I didn’t want to; I swear I didn’t want to. But I was scared. And I’m still scared, Books.”

Without warning, tears start forcing their way out of Shao. His body shakes and Zeke’s face blurs in front of him. Shaolin feels Zeke put both of his hands on his face and start wiping away tears.

“Why would you want me over Mylene? That don’t make any sense,” Shao sobs.

Zeke smells gun smoke. He sees shattered glass on blood on the floor. He sees Shao, terrified and surrounded by Annie and her boys. Zeke sees Shao, terrified and broken, standing right in front of him.

Zeke feels enraged. But more than that, he feels sad.

He pulls Shaolin into a tight hug. They cling to each other like it’s the last time.

“Shao, you remember when I went to that man’s house for the internship?” Zeke asks when they finally separate.

Shaolin nods mutely.

“That white man said some real fucked up shit to me. But one thing he said that was real? You gotta let go of the familiar. Me and Mylene, the way we were—that was my familiar. Ain’t nothing familiar about how I feel about you,” Zeke states, putting his arms around Shaolin’s waist.

“Annie forced you to do something terrible. But it’s not your fault. And I don’t love you any less,” Zeke says.

Shao looks up at Zeke uncertainly. “Love me?” he whispers brokenly.

Zeke leans down and kisses Shao as hard as he can. Shao can’t breathe, but he doesn’t care. Shao wouldn’t mind if his moment was the last one of his life.

“I love you, Shaolin Fantastic.”

Shaolin looks at Zeke. Then he wraps his arms around Zeke’s neck and reaches up to kiss him again.

“I love you, Zeke Figuero.”

**

Zeke and Shao walk back into the temple holding hands.

“Mylene,” Zeke calls.

But when they see Mylene, they freeze. Mylene is sitting on the couch, her elbows on her knees and a cigarette dangling from her mouth.

Shao has to admit it: she looks bad ass.

“Hey, wait, is that one of my cigarettes?” Shao asks.

“Yep,” Mylene answers, blowing smoke towards them.

“Are you okay?” Zeke asks slowly.

“I overheard you guys. I went outside after you and I overheard what you said.”

Shao’s eyes go wide and his knees go weak. Oh shit.

Zeke tightens his grip on Shao’s hand. “Look, Mylene, I know that’s not something you deal with—”

“It’s fucked up,” Mylene interrupts. Then she locks eyes with Shao and lets out a shaky breath. “This . . . is some really messed up stuff. But I don’t . . . I don’t actually blame you, Shaolin.”

Shao looks relieved but anxious. Zeke looks at Mylene like he’s ready to argue. And Mylene’s just trying to deal with the fact that Annie’s got Shaolin killing people.

“It’s Annie,” Mylene continues, taking a drag from the cigarette. “It’s all Annie to me. Sounds like you won’t ever get a head if she’s around.”

Shao and Zeke look at each knowingly.

“I mean, somebody has to hate her enough to actually kill her and do it right this time,” Mylene blurts out.

As if it is rehearsed, Zeke’s and Shao’s jaws both drop. Mylene looks at both of them nervously and shrugs.

“I’m not saying we have to do it,” Mylene says. “I’m just saying it’s gotta be done.”

“I’ve never heard you say anything like that, ever,” Zeke says in amazement.

“First time for everything, right?” Mylene asks, insecurity painting her voice.

“Well, nobody’s offing her soon,” Shao says with a sigh. He drops Zeke’s hand and sits on the stool again. “And I still have to work at Les Inferno all Friday night.”

“Well, I’ll come with you,” Zeke volunteers almost instantly. “Try to keep an eye on you.”

“Me, too,” Mylene says and Zeke looks at her in surprise.

“Really?” He asks her.

Mylene shrugs. “I’m in the know now. Might as well go.”

No!” Shao yells. “Neither of you are going. If some shit go down, I don’t want you two around.”

“We’ll stay outta your way. We’ll just keep an eye on you,” Mylene offers. Zeke, still amazed that any of this is happening, nods in agreement.

“No! Les Inferno is fucked up!”

“Shao, please,” Zeke says, putting his hand on Shao’s shoulder. “Let us have your back.”

Shao looks into Zeke’s eyes and then over at Mylene. As much as he hates to admit, working at Les Inferno would be so much easier if Zeke could be there. And since Mylene was actually willing to be friends . . .

“Fine,” Shao says. “But please don’t get yourselves killed.”

“We’ll come out alive, man. I promise,” Zeke says.

On the couch, Mylene smiles. Shao looks at her, then back at Zeke.

“You were right, Books,” Shao says. “This is kinda weird.”

Zeke gives a small smile and shrugs.

“So is life.”

**

What’s weird is the week that they have afterwards.

Monday morning, Mylene gets up and smiles at her mother like Sunday didn’t happen. Ramon is in such weirdly high spirits that he doesn’t even notice the tension in his house.

Zeke’s aunt wonders what the hell is going with her nephew when he runs out of the house like he’s got a rocket up his ass. Then Zeke actually gets to school and can’t remember why he was in such a hurry.

Napoleon goes to gently wake up Shaolin and damn near has a heart attack when Shao starts screaming like he’s being snatched.

If you ask Zeke and Mylene what they talked about in any of their classes, neither will be able to answer you. Zeke can’t even remember what happened in his meeting with Miss Brown or at his internship.

On Tuesday, Mylene literally chases Yolanda through the school only for Yolanda to slip right past her.

“You can’t run from me forever, Yolanda Kipling!” Mylene yells in the middle of the hall.

Everybody—including Zeke and Ra-Ra—stops and stares at her.

“Fuck all of you!” Mylene screams before stomping into a bathroom.

“What’s going on with Mylene and your sister?” Zeke asks Ra, watching Mylene stomp off cussing.

Ra just blinks. “I don’t think I want to know.”

On Wednesday, Cadillac makes a rude ass comment about that “big-haired punk nigga” that was with that “fine ass Latin freak” a little while ago, and Shaolin’s leg starts jumping so hard that Annie asks if he did a bunch of lines before he came in.

Also on Wednesday, Leon tells Zeke to either wash the dishes or cook when Zeke gets home and Zeke freaks out and tells Leon to stop trying to force choices on him.

Jackie goes to Mylene’s house because he feels like he hasn’t seen her in weeks and he and Lydia find Mylene in her bed with the pillow over her face. Mylene refuses to acknowledge that either of them are in room and they both just slowly back out.

**

Thursday could actually turn out to be cool.

Neither Zeke or Mylene have any outbursts in school or at home. Zeke works at his internship without offending any white folks. Mylene manages to pretend like she’s not still super pissed at Lydia. Shao sits with Annie and Cadillac and doesn’t get any hives.

And when Shao walks into the temple later that afternoon, Mylene’s already there reading a book.

“So my couch is your new chill spot, huh?” Shao says.

Mylene smirks and doesn’t look away from her book. “It’s more comfortable than my couch, so why not?”

Shao laughs and puts a record. He chooses one of the Stevie Wonder ones.

“You actually gonna let it play?” Mylene asks in surprise, watching Shao walk away from the record player.

“It’s not a bad one,” Shao answers with a shrug. “Even if it is the wackness.”

Mylene rolls her eyes and puts her book beside her. “You know what—”

And maybe Mylene is about to say something really funny, but at that exact moment, Boo-Boo and Ra-Ra come dusting through the door.

These niggas really gotta start telling Shao what time they coming over.

Boo and Ra freeze when they see Mylene and Mylene freezes when she sees them. And Shao closes his eyes and wonders why God hates him so much. It’s because of Wolf, isn’t it? It’s probably because of Wolf.

“What are you doing here?” Ra-Ra asks Mylene sternly.

“Damn, nigga, are you her daddy or some shit?” Shaolin retorts in annoyance. And maybe he shouldn’t have said that, but he’s not known for impulse control, okay?

Mylene looks at him with a shocked look on her face and Ra-Ra twists around to glare at him.

“Okay, then I’ll ask you. What is she doing here?” Ra-Ra demands.

“You got a problem with her being here or something?” Shao says, giving Ra the best stone face he can come up with.

“I’ll just go,” Mylene says, hopping from the couch and rushing out of the room before any of them can say anything else.

“See ya!” Shao calls after her just to piss Ra off even more. Again, not known for impulse control.

Ra gives Shao a look that Shao imagines disappointed fathers give.

“Zeke still loves Mylene, okay? They may not be together anymore, but he’ll always love her. So whatever you’re trying to start with Mylene needs to end right now,” Ra-Ra commands, adding bass to his voice.

Shao prides himself on the ability to keep a blank look on his face in this moment.

“Besides, I thought you and Mylene hated each other,” Boo-Boo says, looking around Ra. “When you start liking her?”

“Sunday night,” Shao answers dryly, looking over to Boo.

Boo’s jaw drops and Ra’s face scrunches up like Shao stinks. Then he pushes Shao.

“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”

“Man, if you don’t get the hell outta my face over a chick that ain’t even yours!”

“Don’t disrespect my best friend!” Ra yells in Shao’s face. “You need to watch what the fuck you’re doing!”

If he only knew the half, Shao thinks. But he grinds his teeth together and glares at Ra-Ra.

“Ra,” Shao says with an edge to his voice, “you smart as hell, right? Try acting like it, go back to talking about comic books and get outta my face about Mylene.”

“What about Mylene?”

Saved by the Books. Zeke’s rough voice brings Shao out of his irritation almost instantly.

Ra-Ra is still irritated, though.

“Ask Shaolin,” Ra-Ra says. “Come on, Boo.”

Ra-Ra storms out while Boo looks between Zeke and Shao and promptly runs away.

“Shao, what just happened?” Zeke asks, looking tired.

“Something that proves that I’m right about you and Mylene not coming to Les Inferno tomorrow!” Shao says. “Look, Ra already getting weird ideas about me and Mylene. You two should just stay home.”

“We already discussed this, Shao. We’re coming with you,” Zeke says, his tone stern like Ra’s but much sexier. “You’ve been alone too many times before.”

Shaolin stares at Zeke for a moment and then groans loudly. “I’m so tired of your dramatic ass.”

Zeke leans down and kisses Shao. “No you not.”

**

Friday morning and afternoon might has well not have happened.

For all of three of them, really. Zeke, Mylene and Shao all do their thing. Go to school, go to work. Make deliveries, spin some records.

Mylene hangs around outside of the Kiplings’ place for an hour after school and Regina tells her that she is being a stalker.

“You know Yolanda will forgive you for whatever it is you did sooner or later,” Regina says with a roll of her eyes and a wave of her hand. “Don’t push it.”

Mylene stomps away from Regina and into her apartment, which is weirdly empty. And she wants until it’s time.

**

Zeke shows up at the temple looking way too much like Cadillac. Shao sees what he’s wearing and flinches.

“What? Do I look bad?” Zeke says, looking down at himself. “I still own a few disco clothes.”

“You look just like everybody else in Les Inferno,” Shao says, pulling on his jacket.

“Ain’t that a good thing?”

“Sure, it’ll help you blend in,” Shao says, looking at the ground.

Zeke sighs and puts on his hands on Shao’s shoulders. “We’ll be fine. We just going to keep an eye on you. It’s simple.”

Shao loves Zeke’s hope, but--“Ain’t nothing that simple,” Shao says sadly.

“Zeke! Shao! You up there?” It’s Mylene.

“We here,” Shao calls back and in walks Mylene, dressed up in skin-tight dress, curls cascading down her back. She looks like the flyest disco queen Shaolin and Zeke have ever seen.

“Whoa, Mylene,” Zeke says with a little too much bass in his voice.

Shao can’t stop himself from shooting Zeke a look.

“Sorry,” Zeke mumbles.

“But I look okay?” Mylene asks Shao.

“You look more than okay,” Shao tells her. Then he turns his nose up. “Cadillac’s gonna be checking for you.”

Zeke groans. “That mothafucker. I almost forgot about him.”

“I’ve dealt with Cadillac before,” Mylene says defensively.

“Yeah, that’s the problem,” Zeke grumbles. “He’s gonna wanna ‘deal with you’ again.”

“Just try to keep your distance,” Shaolin says. “Cadillac’s . . . not right.”

Mylene adjusts the straps of her dress and nods.

“And Books,” Shao turns to Zeke, locks eyes with him and sighs, “just don’t’ get yo’ ass beat.”

Zeke smirks. “No promises.”

**

Most nights, Shaolin handles working Les Inferno by spacing out and doing whatever Annie says. But not tonight.

Tonight, Shao’s too aware. The lights are too bright, the music’s too loud. There are too many drugs going around. Cadillac’s dancing too much and the bouncer looks at Mylene (and Zeke) for too long. Everything in Shao is screaming run, run, run but there’s nowhere for him go.

Zeke slips his arm around Shaolin’s neck.

“Don’t worry, I got you,” Zeke whispers, making sure he keeps enough distance to not draw attention.

Shaolin hears his words and feels Zeke’s heat and relaxes. But then Zeke tenses: he sees Fat Annie.

“That bitch,” Zeke growls.

Mylene turns at the sound of Zeke’s voice and turns her nose up. She crosses her arms and raises an eyebrow.

“She looks like a child predator,” Mylene says with disgust in her voice.

“No kidding,” Shao says. Then he takes a deep breath and braces himself. “Got work to do.”

As Shao crosses the room to Annie, Zeke feels the anger rise.

“She gotta have a weak spot or something,” Zeke tells Mylene. “Something that will trip her up and leave her open.”

Mylene twists her mouth and thinks. What would make someone like Annie trip up? Mylene scans the room and she hears a crowd suddenly start cheering really loudly.

Mylene and Zeke turn around to see Cadillac getting a big audience. Cadillac smirks, pops his collar and hits a smooth split in the middle of the floor.

“I think I know one thing she can’t do without,” Mylene says, then she smirks, flips her hair and starts towards Cadillac.

“Mylene!” Zeke calls out.

Mylene turns around and jerks her head towards Shao and Annie’s retreating forms. Zeke, getting the message, nods back at her.

“Hey, remember me?” Mylene says smoothly, giving Cadillac the best sexy eyes she can muster.

Ironically, when she imagines somebody in place of Cadillac to perfect the look, she thinks of Yolanda.

“Heeeeeyy,” Cadillac draws out, standing up right, “where you been hiding?”

“I ain’t been hiding—I’ve just been busy,” Mylene retorts.

“Oh, I know—you got a record out.”

“You’ve heard it?”

“Yep, and got down to it too,” Cadillac says giving Mylene the up-and-down.

Mylene stands up straight and puts her hand out to Cadillac. Because if there’s one thing Cadillac likes more than busting heads is a good ass dance.

 “You got one more dance in you?”

And Cadillac can’t resist. “Absolutely.”

**

Zeke moves through the club trying to make sure he looks like everybody else. That’s a lot harder now, though, with him trying to watch Shao and Annie and Mylene and Cadillac. As much as he wants to knock the shit out of Annie, he can’t stand Cadillac either. He’s got half a mind to separate them.

But then Zeke hears Annie cackle and his skin crawls.

If Annie weren’t around, Cadillac wouldn’t be either, Zeke thinks. And Shao would be okay.

So Zeke keeps a safe distance behind Shao and Annie. She gotta slip up sometimes.

**

“Shao, baby, you already got me more money than all these fools,” Annie purrs, linking her arm with Shaolin’s.

“Gotta keep working,” Shao says, keeping his eyes forward. Behind him, his wordsmith and Mylene are probably doing something that’s going to get them killed and Shao’s too scared to see what it is.

“Well, take a load off, sit down right here,” Annie says, putting the chair next to some goon she picked up from the street.

Shao sits and tries to chill out a little. Annie laughs at something nasty some dude says.

“Where’s that Cadillac?” Annie asks.

Shao looks around and sees Cadillac spinning Mylene around. Of course. Of fucking course, Shao thinks, praying that he keeps his face blank.

“Dancing with some chick,” one of the dudes answers and Annie turns around and spies Mylene and Cadillac.

Oh shit. Shaolin freezes. The last thing he needs is Fat Annie trying to get her hands on Mylene.

But sure enough, Annie grins. “She something else.” Then she looks at Shaolin. “Hey, Shao, why don’t you bring her over here? I’m sure she’ll come if you ask her,” Annie adds with a nasty laugh.

Without a word, Shao gets up and makes his way towards Mylene. So much for keeping them away.

**

Mylene sees Shao coming towards her when Cadillac dips her low. By the time she and Cadillac are standing upright, Shao is standing beside, his jaw set.

“Ya mama wants to meet Miss Mylene here,” Shao tells Cadillac.

“Oh really?” Cadillac says while Mylene tries to keep her face together. “You know what? That’s cool, Fantastic.”

Mylene, alarmed at the idea that she’ll lose sight of Cadillac, gives him her best pout. “You don’t wanna dance with me anymore?”

“Baby girl, I’d get down with you all night,” Cadillac croons, making Mylene squirm on the inside, “but I actually see something else that needs my attention.”

Cadillac winks at Mylene and walks away from them. Shao immediately grabs Mylene’s arm and takes her towards Annie.

“Don’t say thing about where you go to school or church or anything like that,” Shao says quietly. “Just try to be cool. I’mma sit in with you.”

“Okay,” Mylene nods quickly, trying will her nervousness away. But she can’t help but be worried about where Cadillac’s heading.

“Shao?”

“Yeah?”

“You don’t think Zeke is what needs Cadillac’s attention, do you?”

Shao feels flush and tightens his grip on Mylene.

“If we lucky, he’s not.”

**

But when are they ever lucky?

See, Cadillac’s been noticing that big-headed Puerto-Rican punk walking around the club.

He thought he was trying to get in with Miss Mylene—that was the problem last time this fool was here. But while he was vibing with her he saw that boy eyeing his mama.

And Cadillac’s been around long enough to know when some fool got something against Fat Annie.

He knows how they work; one of they friends gets with Annie and they get jealous or mad. And they think they bad enough to take Annie out. They want her money, her drugs. Shit, maybe they want they friend all to themselves.

But they always think they can get Annie out the way. And they always get knocked off.

Whatever that boy got planned is not about to go down. Not while Cadillac’s around.

**

Zeke is starting to follow Annie, Shao and Mylene when he feels a strong grip on his shoulder.

“Hey, boy!” Cadillac yells as he spins Zeke around.

Fuck. Zeke glares at Cadillac, lifts his chin and squares his shoulders. “Fuck wrong with you?”

“Now, that’s my question for you. You got something against my mama?” Cadillac growls, getting in Zeke’s face.

Too pissed to think straight, Zeke snarls at Cadillac. “Everybody in the city got something against your mama. It’s not like she’s invincible.”

“Oh really?” Cadillac asks in mock surprise. “Well, usually, if somebody got something against my mama, they gotta come to me.”

“And do what? Do some stupid ass dance?”

And that does it. Cadillac snatches Zeke’s collar and snatches Zeke towards him.

“Hey! Take that shit outside, Cadillac!” the bouncer, who seems to come from nowhere, yells.

“Don’t worry; I am,” Cadillac says, never taking his eyes from Zeke.

**

“So, what you do, baby girl?” Annie asks Mylene as she takes a drag from a cigarette.

Mylene is sitting in front of Annie’s desk. Shaolin’s sitting in a chair next to it, as close to Annie and Mylene as she lets him get. Shaolin’s chair is on top of one of the long ass stretch of red fabric Annie has lying around throughout the office.

He keeps his mouth shut and stays as focused as he can on what’s going on.

Mylene, trying to play it as cool as possible, smiles sweetly at Annie.

“I sing. Disco,” Mylene answers, making sure her chest is out and her legs are crossed.

She must be doing a good job, because Annie laughs.

“Alright, now, disco!” Fat Annie puts her cigarette carelessly on the ash tray. “My Cadillac loves disco. And he’s takin’ a likin’ to you.”

The words turn Shao’s stomach. Mylene just smiles, cool as a cucumber.

She’s good at this, Shao thinks. He can’t help but be a little impressed.

“Well, I gotta say. It’s easy to take a likin’ to him,” Mylene says.

Annie raises an eyebrow at Mylene, then gets up and gets a bottle and two glasses from the cabinet in her office.

“You know,” she says, sitting the bottle and glasses on the table in front of them, “I got a group of girls working for me,” Fat Annie pours Mylene and herself a drink. “They all fly, but you got something they don’t.” She fills the glasses to the rim.

Fat Annie takes a sip and leans over the desk and looks Mylene in the eye. Mylene takes a drink so that she doesn’t have to have a staring contest with Fat Annie.

“I think you’d be good addition,” Fat Annie says, a slow smile appearing on her face.

Before Mylene can even think of a response, Shaolin’s leg starts shaking so hard that it knocks the cigarette off of the desk.

“You okay, baby?” Annie asks Shao, looking at him strangely.

Shao nods shortly, uncrossing his legs and putting his elbow on Annie’s desk/

Annie squints at him. “You sure?” she mutters, frowning at him. “Because you was like this earlier this week.”

“I’m good,” Shaolin answers, but his voice is tight.

Annie smiles at him. “Maybe it’s because of Miss Mylene here.”

Shao shoots Mylene a look, but doesn’t say anything. Annie turns her focus back to Mylene.

“So, what do you say? You wanna get know my girls? And Mr. Fantastic over here?” Annie asks.

Right then, Shaolin kicks the desk. It makes Annie jump so hard that she flails her arm and knocks Mylene’s drink off of the desk.

Mylene, Shaolin and Annie all hop out of their seats.

“What the hell is wrong with you, Shaolin? You acting crazy!”  Annie yells.

“Nothing! Nothing!” Shaolin yells back, shoving his clenched fists into his pockets.

“Well, there must be something because you jumpy as hell!”

“Um . . . what’s that smell?” Mylene suddenly asks nervously.

Because, unbeknownst to all three of them, the still-lit cigarette Shaolin had knocked over and landed on the long ass stretch of fabric, starting a small flame.

And the drink—the alcohol—she spilled landed right on top of it.

**

Cadillac shoves Zeke into an alley beside Les Inferno.

“Now tell what the fuck your problem is, boy?” Cadillac demands.

“Right now it’s yo bitch ass!” Zeke spits out at him.

Cadillac steps forward and takes a wild swing at Zeke. Zeke ducks under and puts his fists up.

“Oh, you really trying to fight me, huh?” Cadillac says with a smirk. “I’ll tell you what; you better get a good hit in, nigga. Because you ain’t getting another one.”

Without a word or a thought, Zeke punches quick. And he connects. His fist slams into Cadillac’s nose and Zeke feels the bone crack under his hand.

Cadillac stumbles back and spits out blood. “Son of a bitch.”

Before Zeke can blink, Cadillac’s on him. Cadillac pounds his fist against Zeke’s ribs and Zeke swears he feels one crack. Zeke wants to stop—to breathe, to think, to run.

But he punches back. He beats Cadillac in the stomach and chest and tries not to cough up the metallic blood filling his mouth. Cadillac grunts, but he keeps landing blows against Zeke’s skinny frame.

The smell of blood and sweat makes Zeke want to puke, but he punches and punches, even as Cadillac bullies him back.

Suddenly, Zeke feels his back smack against the ladder of a fire escape behind him and Cadillac’s off of him. The rusted, rickety metal shakes and rattles against Zeke’s skin and he uses it to prop himself up. With every move, it shakes more.

Zeke spits out the blood he’s been holding in his mouth and puts his fists back up.

“You done or what, nigga?” Zeke growls.

Cadillac laughs, even as blood pours out of his nose and into his mouth. Then he pulls out a knife.

“Not yet.”

Cadillac lunges at Zeke, aiming the knife for Zeke’s stomach. Zeke jumps out of the way and lets Cadillac plow right into the fire escape ladder.

“You motherfu—”

But Zeke and Cadillac stop. Because the fire escape starts shaking even harder.

“CADILLAC!” Zeke screams, but it’s too late.

The fire escape falls apart and metal flies. Zeke sees Cadillac look back at him in fear before metal rods smack Zeke in the face and head.

And in the second Zeke’s blinded, the entire escape falls on Cadillac.

**

Shao can’t breathe.

It was just a small fire.

It spread. Up the fabric, up the curtain, across the desk, across the office.

Smoke filled the office in black and gray.

It was just a small fire.

Mylene grabbed Shao’s hand and pulled and pulled and pulled. Annie screamed.

They ran. Smoke followed them out of the office into the club, determined to take Shao. It didn’t get him last time so it wants him now, right now, right now.

It was just a small fire.

Shao can’t breathe. He can’t see, he can’t move. And he can’t breathe.

But he can feel Mylene’s grip on his arm.

They trip over people trying to get out. Mylene drags Shao forward and pushes others out of the way. She looks back at him. Shao can’t breathe.

Somewhere behind them, Annie’s still screaming.

**

“Shit! Cadillac!” Zeke stumbles forward to where Cadillac lies.

Metal rods and slates cover Cadillac’s body like a blanket. Cadillac breathes hard and he looks at Zeke distantly.

“I’mma get this off of you,” Zeke promises. His whole body is shaking, but Zeke tries to pull the escape off of Cadillac.

“Nah,” Cadillac says, his voice slow and deep. “Let it go.”

Zeke lets go, confused. Then he sees the pool of blood forming underneath Cadillac. The smell of zinc makes Zeke heave and he leans away from Cadillac.

“I don’t—” Zeke starts, but he looks at Cadillac and realizes it: the knife.

The knife, destined for Zeke’s stomach, went into Cadillac’s instead.

“Shit,” Zeke says again, his voice shaking.

“Do me favor,” Cadillac crooks, staring Zeke in the eye. “Knock me out.”

Zeke’s head pounds and the world spins. Adrenaline that comes too late makes Zeke shake from head to toe. “What?”

“Do it,” Cadillac says, his voice rough.

“Cadillac, I—”

“You already want to. Look, man, I’m already bleeding,” Cadillac begs and the sound tears Zeke’s stomach up. “I’mma die right here, it’s just gonna take a long ass time. Just bust my head so I ain’t gotta wait so long.”

Zeke stares at Cadillac, at the blood that’s spilling from him. Cadillac’s right; he’ll bleed out here and it’ll take a while. Cadillac will feel it all.

And that’s just too fucked up for Zeke.

Zeke picks up the metal rod that hit the top of his head and knocks Cadillac across the head with it. Cadillac’s out cold.

The ground shakes. Everything turns sideways. Zeke staggers up, head throbbing, body sore, and drops the metal rod. Zeke stumbles away from Les Inferno.

Behind him, smoke fills the air and Cadillac sleeps.

**

The rough asphalt under Mylene’s skin is what brings her back to reality.

Because in her mind, she and Shao are in the club, smoking filling their lungs. In her mind, they’re all gonna die. No more Zeke, no more Shaolin; her mother and father and Francisco fade away. Tears fall from Yolanda’s eyes.

But the asphalt; it scrapes her skin and tells her she’s still alive.

Mylene pushes herself up; her arms shake so much they barely hold her. But she doesn’t fall back down.

“Sh-Shaolin?” Mylene calls out groggily.

Shaolin doesn’t answer and Mylene begins to panic. She whips her head around to find Shaolin lying across from her, his eyes closed.

Shaolin!” Mylene crawls over to him and shakes him roughly. “Shaolin!”

Shaolin’s eyes flutter open. He coughs and his entire body rattles.

“Lene?” Shaolin’s voice comes out hoarse.

Satisfied that Shao’s awake, Mylene pushes herself off of the ground and turns to face the club.

“Oh my god,” Mylene says in awe.

Shaolin turns himself over and sits up. “Mylene, what—oh shit.”

Les Inferno is in flames. Black smoke overtakes the sky as every inch of the building gives into the flames.

Shao stares, unable to pick himself up from the ground. The fire rages, angry it missed Shaolin again.

“We gotta go,” Mylene says quietly, reaching down for Shaolin.

Without thinking, Shaolin takes Mylene hand and lets her pull him away.

They run. Away from Les Inferno, away from what they’ve done. They run and run and for the briefest of moments, Shao feels freed.

But then Mylene stops them.

“Where’s Zeke?!” she asks in fear.

Zeke . . . Shao freezes, terror pinning him to the spot.

Zeke . . . with Cadillac.

Zeke . . . on the wrong side of a gun. A knife.

Zeke . . . in the club. In the fire.

“ZEKE! ZEKE! ZEKE!” the screams erupt out of Shao. Shao sprints back towards the burning building. “ZEKE!”

Ezekiel!” Mylene’s voice cracks as she shouts. “Ezekiel! Zeke, where are you?”

“Mylene?!”

Shao and Mylene both freeze in their spots. Down the street, they see Zeke, covered in dust, bruises and bloodied.

Just as quickly as he ran towards Les Inferno, Shao rushes to Zeke, Mylene following closely.

“Books, man!” Shao wraps his arms Zeke.

Zeke, wincing and in pain, doesn’t stop him. Instead, he hugs Shao as tightly as he can.

Mylene’s more careful; she touches Zeke’s face and looks him over.

“What happened?” she asks in alarm.

Zeke’s eyes focus on the flames in the distance.

“I should ask ya’ll.”

**

They get as far as the park before they have to stop.

They crawl on the rocks and lie themselves down. Zeke lowers himself on the rock as gingerly as possible.

“Books, man, your rib might be broken,” Shao says in concern, getting himself as close to Zeke as he can without touching him.

“Nah,” Zeke says with a sigh. “I’ve had a broken rib before; felt much worse than this. Probably just bruised real bad.”

Zeke closes his eyes as Mylene curls up on one of the boulders.

“Did Cadillac do this to you?” Mylene asks, looking over Zeke’s bruised face.

Eyes still closed, Zeke nods.

“That mothafucker,” Shao growls. “I swear I’ll—”

“Cadillac’s dead,” Zeke says, slowly opening his eyes.

Shao and Mylene glance at each other, then back at Zeke.

“He was trying to stab me, but I moved and he ran into the fire escape on the other building,” Zeke explains, wincing as he remembers. He takes a shuddery breath. “The whole thing fell apart. Landed on him. He ended up stabbing himself.”

Shao huffs out the breath he didn’t know he was holding. Mylene sits up slowly.

“Shit, man,” she mutters, her eyes dazed.

“I tried to get it off of him,” Zeke says. “I tried. But he wouldn’t—”

“Zeke, it’s okay,” Shao says, reaching over and grabbing Zeke’s hand. “It’s okay.”

Shao sees the same thing in Zeke’s eyes that he had in his own. “It’s okay.”

Zeke looks over to Shao, tears flowing down his face, and nods.

“Annie burned down the club,” Mylene blurts out.

Zeke lifts his head and looks at her in confusion. “For real?”

“No,” Shao starts slowly. “I think I did. I knocked the cigarette on the ground.”

“She’s the one the knocked the drink off of the table. The alcohol ignited the big fire. Without it, the small flame could’ve been stomped out,” Mylene argues.

Shao opens his mouth, but Mylene cuts him off.

“She didn’t have to get alcohol, Shaolin,” Mylene insists.

Shaolin realizes what Mylene’s doing; Shaolin could have lit a match and thrown at Annie’s face and Mylene would still argue with him that it’s Annie’s fault and not his.

Zeke lays his head back down on the boulder. Shaolin and Mylene follow suit, sprawling out on the rocks below them.

“You free, Shaolin,” Zeke says. He slowly smiles and looks at his conductor.

Shaolin blinks back tears and stares at the sky. No more Annie. No more drugs, no more being touched and scrubbing his skin too hard later. It’s almost too much.

“Shit,” Shao says, and his own tears break free. “Shit, man. Wait—what if Annie made it out?” Doubt clouds his mind. It could not have been this easy.

“I don’t see how she would’ve,” Mylene says, grabbing Shao’s other hand.

“But . . . she could’ve, right? She—”

Shao looks at Zeke and feels the life go out of him.

“Oh, fuck man!” Shao stares at Zeke and laughs and cries at the same time.

Mylene and Zeke start laughing as Shao grips their hands tighter.

“Wait—what do I do for money now?” Shao asks, looking between the two of them.

Zeke shrugs. “My uncle always needs help.”

Shao starts shaking and a huge smile breaks his face. It’s almost too scary to believe. But there it is.

“HOLY SHIT!” Shao screams to the sky.

And as they all laugh, Mylene closes her eyes and feels her friend’s hand in hers.

Quietly, she sings to herself.

You just gotta make it to the break of day.

**

“Mylene?”

Mylene gets home with the sun, shoes dangling from her hand, hair smelling of smoke. As happy as she is, she’s exhausted. And the last thing she wants to see is her mother sitting at the table, looking at her.

“I thought you’d be sleep,” Mylene says, her voice cold.

Lydia looks down at her cup.

“You’re not gonna get mad? Yell? Even ask where I’ve been?” Mylene challenges.

Lydia still looks down, pushing the cup around on the table. “I figured you didn’t want to come home. What with what you saw.”

Mylene sighs and rubs her eyes with her free hand. Lydia finally looks up.

“Mylene. We need to talk about me and Francisco—”

“I won’t tell papa,” Mylene says to Lydia’s shock.

Lydia blinks and Mylene can see the happiness she’s trying to suppress. “What?”

“I get it,” Mylene continues, looking at the lines on her mother’s face. Lines that appear after years of a dreamless marriage.

“I hate it," Mylene adds, her voice softening. "But I get it.”

Mylene walks past her mother and into her bedroom. She stops in the doorway and looks back at her still shocked mother.

“You don’t have to worry about me, Ma.”

Then she closes her door.

**

Noon on a Saturday is the busiest day at the Kiplings’ salon. It’s when they have the most customers, the loudest music and the most hair for Yolanda to sweep.

Yolanda is trying to keep the floor as clean as possible when she hears the only thing that can possibly be louder than the music: Mylene Cruz yelling.

“YOLANDA KIPLING!”

The entire shop stops and everyone turns to see Mylene standing in the doorway, her hands on her hips.

And Yolanda literally has nowhere to run.

“We need to talk.”

Yolanda groans and puts the broom down. She and Mylene walk out the store and down the sidewalk so the nosy ass customers won’t have something to tell when they get home.

“Look Mylene, I said I was sorry,” Yolanda rushes out. “I know what I did was way weird. And I get if you don’t want to be my friend anymore, okay?”

Mylene crosses her arm and gets in Yolanda’s face.

Great, now she’s gonna slap me, Yolanda thinks, bracing herself.

“First of all, you’re the one acting like you don’t want to be friends anymore. You keep running away from me,” Mylene says. “Second of all, I never said there was anything wrong with the kiss, did I?”

Yolanda jerks her head back, because there is no way she heard that right.

“What do you mean?”

Mylene rolls her eyes. “Gosh, you being so difficult right now,” she says teasingly.

Then, before Yolanda can get any ideas about apologizing or leaving, Mylene pulls her close and kisses her.

“Do you get it now?” Mylene asks, putting her arms around Yolanda’s neck.

Yolanda grins and her eyes sparkle. “I think so.”

**

Zeke isn’t polite at all when he gets to the temple. He doesn’t call Shao’s name, doesn’t wait by the door for Shao to turn around. He just pounces, wrapping his long arms across Shao’s chest and knocking them onto the couch.

“Damn, Books!” Shao yells playfully. He twists around in Zeke’s arms to face him. “Nice to see you, too.”

Zeke leans down and kisses Shaolin as hard as he can.

“Shaolin! You up there?” It’s Ra-Ra.

“Every fucking time!” Shaolin cries, untangling himself from Zeke. “What, nigga?!”

Zeke laughs hysterically as Ra-Ra, Boo-Boo and Dizzee come in.

“What’s up?” Zeke asks with a giggle.

“We need to talk about what’s going on,” Ra-Ra says with authority.

“About what?” Shao grumbles.

“About who’s doing what with who,” Boo-Boo pipes up, leaning around his older brother.

“With whom,” Dizzee corrects, serenely sitting on his stool.

“Actually,” Shao says, draping his arm around Zeke, “we do have something to tell you.”

Shao and Zeke glance at each other and grin. “Me and Books are together.”

Boo-Boo and Ra-Ra’s jaws drops and Dizzee throws his hands up in the air.

“I knew it! I fucking knew it!” Dizzee cheers.

(Shao’s gonna have to ask him about that later.)

“Whaaat?!” Boo-Boo yells, smiling broadly. “Damn, go head!”

“Wait! Wait, wait, wait!” Ra-Ra yells. “I’m confused!”

“We dating. Boyfriends. Whatever you wanna call it,” Zeke says with a laugh.

“But—but what about you and Mylene?”

“We done, Ra.”

“No, not you! Shaolin and Mylene! They being all buddy-buddy and shit.”

Shao shrugs and looks up at Zeke. “We friends,” he says.

“I cannot believe this shit,” Ra-Ra mutters while Boo-Boo and Dizzee look at each other.

“Dude, you can watch shit about aliens fighting in space and this is what you don’t believe?” Shaolin asks.

“‘Star Wars’ is less surprising,” Ra answers and then he smiles. “But I’m happy for you guys.”

Shaolin looks around at his crew, his wordsmith and he can’t believe this is his life now.

“I’m happy for us, too.”

**

“You gonna be late.”

Zeke and Shao are lying on the temple’s roof, staring at the sky.

“You starting this shit again?” Zeke asks, a lazy smile on his face. “I told you I’m good.”

“And I told you I’m not taking any shit white folks give you,” Shao shoots back. “Plus, we gotta meet your uncle when you get off today.”

Zeke grabs Shao’s hand and looks his conductor in the eyes. “We’ll be fine. He can wait on us.”

Shaolin looks at their hands, then back at the sky. If he gets up right now, he’ll take flight.

“When we get out of here, you gone have to listen to me more,” Shaolin says. “We can’t tour this country with you saying ‘I’m good’ all the time.”

Zeke thinks of touring with Shao. He thinks of long roads out of New York, across the country. And he thinks of holding his man’s hand the whole way.

“But I am good,” Zeke says. “Especially with you.”

Shaolin snorts. “You so fucking corny.”

Zeke laughs, and kisses Shaolin like he never wants to stop.

“You love me, though.”

Shaolin grabs the back of Zeke’s neck and press their foreheads together.

“I sure do.”