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Just You, Not Now

Chapter Text

Lydia has the TV up too loud.

It wakes Mylene up. She lifts her head from her pillow and groans.

Oh come on. Mylene slowly climbs out of bed, gently replaces the covers and drags herself into the living room.

Her mama better not be in there. This is third time this week Lydia’s been up at an ungodly hour, watching TV. Mylene thinks her dad must be going deaf, because he doesn’t even notice. He just sleeps.

There’s a lot he ain’t noticing, Mylene thinks bitterly as she shuffles into the living room.

Sure enough, there’s Lydia, wrapped in a robe, intently watching the TV like it has the secret to life.

“Ma,” Mylene says in an exasperated voice. “Can you turn the TV down?” She asks through a yawn.

Lydia blinks rapidly, as if Mylene had woken her up. “Huh?”

Mylene squints at her mother; Lydia looks like she’s asleep with her eyes open. She’s spaced out, tightly gripping the front of her robe. Even though she’s looking at the screen, Lydia’s eyes aren’t focusing on anything at all.

“I said can you turn the TV down,” Mylene repeats firmly, trying to ignore the dread gnawing at the pit of her stomach. “It’s early in the morning and the TV is really loud.”

“Oh, I’m sorry,” Lydia mumbles. Then she looks around as if she’s just realized where she is. “Sweetheart, what time is it?” 

“5:30 in the morning. On a Saturday,” Mylene states, her voice growing hard. “Why aren’t you in bed? You don’t have work or anything.”

Lydia, looking confused and scared, finally lets go of the front of her robe and starts fiddling with a strand of hair that keeps falling in her face.

“Had a long week, baby,” Lydia answers, not meeting Mylene’s eyes.

Long week. Right.

Mylene’s had a long couple of weeks, too. Part of that is Lydia’s fault. Mylene’s not been sleeping much, either; part of that is Lydia’s fault.

Mylene could say a lot right now, but she’s too tired to say any of it.

“Just . . . can you turn the TV down, Ma?” Mylene asks quietly, crossing her arms and looking at the floor. The words she wants to scream at her mother stay behind her throat, threatening to climb up and spill out.

Lydia gets up and turns the dial on the TV. As she lowers the volume, a news story comes blaring through.

“Police are launching an investigation into the burning of a popular nightclub,” the newscaster announces.

Mylene freezes to the spot.

Lydia snorts and tilts her head. “That club burned, huh?”

The flame in front of Mylene’s eyes started out small; the result of a cigarette on a stretch of fabric. But it spread like a virus, taking over the desk, the curtain, the office. Annie.

And she’d run. Mylene and Shaolin. Running. Running. Running.

“The club owner died? A shame,” Lydia’s dry voice jolts Mylene out of the memory. “She was probably bad news, though.”

“She was,” Mylene mumbles.

“In addition to the club owner’s death,” the anchor continues, “the police are investigating a body found in an alley beside the club. The victim was an African-American male, presumably in his thirties. Police said that while the victim was found underneath debris, he had a stab wound in his abdomen.”

The anchor’s voice rings hollow in Mylene’s ears. She hears Zeke’s rugged voice instead.

Cadillac’s dead. He tried to stab me. The fire escape fell on him. He ended up stabbing himself.

“That place was bad news,” Lydia mutters, standing up straighter.

Mylene nods stiffly and turns to go back to her room. Lydia turns the TV off.

**

It’s been a week.

Mylene stops in front of her room and leans heavily against the wall. She expects Lydia to come walking past her, but Lydia doesn’t leave the living room.

It’s been a week. Why do police even care about Les Inferno? It’s nothing but ash-covered debris now. Mylene leans her head against the wall and sighs.

It’s good that it’s gone. It’s good that Annie’s gone. Mylene’s stomach twists as she thinks of the look Annie gave her when she was sitting in that office. At least now Annie won’t be running around trying to collect drugs and prostitution from kids on the street.

Mylene holds herself and tries to fight back the flush coming over here. It’s good. Now people like Shaolin don’t have to get mixed up with her.

Shaolin doesn’t have to be mixed up with her. Neither does Mylene.

Mylene probably thinks too much about the “offer” Annie had made her that night.

Mylene can’t help but wonder what she and Shaolin would have done if the office hadn’t caught on fire. Mylene is smooth, but she’s not smooth enough to come up with a way of turning Annie down. And Shaolin wouldn’t have been able to get her out of it without getting himself into trouble.

Mylene probably thinks too much about Cadillac, too.

Zeke and Cadillac, fighting in an alley. Cadillac, somehow being the one who ends up dead.

Mylene knows that Cadillac was bad—he had to be, to gleefully do a lot of the shit Annie needed. At least Shaolin wasn’t happy about knocking niggas off. Cadillac was. Mylene thinks it gave him what he wanted—a rush, money and his mommy’s approval.

But still . . . Zeke and Cadillac, fighting in an alley. And Cadillac ending up dead.

The pang of fear and bad memories in Mylene’s stomach turns into a sharp pain. Mylene presses her hands into her stomach and suppresses a whimper.

She just needs to go back to bed. Yeah, that’s it. Get back in bed.

Mylene goes into her room, softly closes the door and tries to get back in bed as gingerly as possible. She pulls the covers over her and snuggles up as closely as she can without jostling the bed.

Yolanda’s kind of a light sleeper; no need for Mylene to wake up her before the sun rises.

Chapter Text

Yolanda’s already awake, actually.

Yolanda wakes up kind of easy now. She has to be a lighter sleeper, what with her brothers running around getting into all types of trouble. Yolanda needs to know when Boo-Boo and Ra-Ra are leaving the house. Plus, it’s fun to spy on Dizzee saying goodnight to Thor when he comes home late.

Yolanda was awake when Mylene first went into the living room: the TV was loud. And even though she couldn’t make out all of the words, Yolanda could hear the tension in Mylene’s voice. 

She hates to hear Mylene sound like that. Sometimes, Mylene sounds so unhappy talking to her mom. It makes Yolanda realize just how easy it is to talk to her own mother, how much lighter Mylene seems when she’s at the Kiplings’s house. It’s part of the reason Yolanda tries to get Mylene to stay over as much as possible.

That, and being around Mylene is better than anything Yolanda has ever experienced.

If Yolanda was surprised when Mylene kissed her, she was even more surprised when Mylene asked her to stay the night. Yolanda’s so used to begging Mylene to stay over at her house. But Yolanda wasn’t going to turn Mylene down.

Yolanda pretends to be asleep when Mylene crawls back into bed. She feels Mylene snuggle close to her and she tries to keep her cool. Yolanda wants to turn over, wrap her arms and legs around Mylene and keep themselves tangled up for the rest of her life.

But it’s a little too early for that much affection. She knows that Mylene is new to this whole “I like boys and girls” thing; Yolanda doesn’t want to scare her away.

So Yolanda keeps her back to her girlfriend (!!!), lets herself sink into the heat coming Mylene’s body and closes her eyes with a smile.

**

The next thing that wakes Yolanda up is the smell of bacon.

Yolanda sits up, and looks over to a (out cold) Mylene. She giggles at the sight of a sleeping Mylene: Mylene sleeps wildly, her hair slipping from underneath her scarf.

“Mylene, wake up. Your mom has breakfast ready,” Yolanda says softly, gently shaking Mylene.

Mylene lifts her heavy eyelids, groans and sits up. Then she spies Yolanda laughing at her and starts laughing too.

“What’s so funny?” Mylene asks.

Yolanda bites her lip and shakes her head.

“Nothing. Just you waking up.”

Mylene snorts and whacks Yolanda with her pillow.

**

“Good morning, girls!”

Ramon saunters into the dining room, chipper as can be.

“Good morning,” Mylene and Yolanda answer simultaneously.

“Thanks again for letting me stay over, Mr. Cruz,” Yolanda says, forcing a smile on her face. She has to work to smile at Ramon; he makes her itch. Yolanda just keeps thinking of him slapping Mylene and kicking her out.

Ramon smiles and clasps Yolanda on her shoulder. Yolanda tries not to flinch.

“It’s not a problem! I’m glad Mylene has such a lovely friend,” Ramon says, smiling broadly at Yolanda.

Ramon leans over and kisses Lydia on the cheek. “Morning, sweetheart.”

Lydia, to her credit, doesn’t look unhappy. “Good morning. I fixed your plate.” She hands him the plate with the most bacon and highest stacked pancakes.

“Ah! Where’s yours?”

Lydia jerkily takes off her apron as she turns to fully face Ramon. Mylene and Yolanda shoot each other a look.

“Oh, I’m not very hungry. I’m gonna head to the shop early,” Lydia says to Ramon’s satisfaction.

Mylene resists the urge to roll her eyes. The shop. Yeah right.

“Oh, Mr. and Mrs. Cruz, can Mylene come to my mom’s shop with me today?” Yolanda asks sweetly.

“And a couple of other places?” Mylene adds, putting on her best innocent face.

“Of course,” Ramon answers. “As long as those places don’t include any clubs.”

“Daddy, no clubs are even open right now,” Mylene says. “Besides, I don’t want to go anywhere like that.”

Which isn’t a lie. Not really.

“Good,” Ramon says firmly. “Just be back before the street lights come on. Understand?”

“Me entiendo,” Mylene answers.

Then before Ramon can get any ideas about changing his mind, Mylene grabs Yolanda’s hand and rushes out the door.

“Bye!” She and Yolanda call back.

Mylene tries very hard to ignore her father’s laughter as she and Yolanda rush down the hall.

“How long do we have to be at your parent’s shop?” Mylene asks.

Yolanda turns back with a devious look in her eye. “We don’t have to be there at all.”

Chapter Text

Spending a bright and sunny Saturday with your girlfriend in a park may be a big cliché, but Yolanda doesn’t care. There’s literally nowhere else she’d rather be than wrapped around Mylene.

“Let’s never go home,” Yolanda says happily, cuddling up to Mylene.

“Oh, I’d love to never go back home,” Mylene says with a sigh, laying her head on Yolanda’s shoulder. “But I think Mrs. K would have a problem with me stealing her daughter.”

Yolanda snorts and rolls her eyes. “She’d probably not notice.”

“What do you mean?” Mylene looks up at Yolanda in confusion.

Yolanda sighs heavily. “I mean, the boys got so much going on. I sometimes feel like I’m getting lost in the background or something.”

“No way,” Mylene says firmly, lifting her head up. “There’s no way you’re gonna be lost in the background. You’re Yolanda! Plus, you’re the only girl they have, so they have to know you’re there.”

Yolanda laughs, feeling some of the tension leave her body. She moves closer to Mylene and looks at the sky.

“I guess you’re right.”

“I know I’m right,” Mylene answers. “Those boys are not cool as you.”

Yolanda giggles and Mylene pinches her on her stomach. She’s about to kiss Mylene when she hears a familiar cackle.

“Uh oh,” Yolanda mumbles. She and Mylene sit up and see Shaolin and Zeke walking through the park.

“Maybe we should go,” Yolanda says, but when she looks over at Mylene, Mylene is smiling.

“Yo, Zeke! Shaolin!” Mylene calls out to Yolanda’s surprise.

Zeke and Shaolin look over and they both smile. Zeke waves at them.

“Uh, did I miss something?” Yolanda mutters.

“Um . . .” where would Mylene even start? “Yeah, you can say that.”

Mylene pulls Yolanda up and heads over to Zeke and Shaolin.

“Sup, Mylene? Hey Yolanda!” Zeke says.

Before Yolanda knows it, Zeke has his long arms around them and Shaolin is standing in front of them with a smile.

“Hey,” Yolanda says distantly. “What are you two getting into?”

“Spinning and grinning,” Shaolin says, clapping his hands together. “We got some stuff planned.” He wiggles his eyebrows at Zeke.

“You spinning somewhere tonight?” Mylene asks, looking up at Zeke.

“We supposed to be, but Shao got a scheme he trying to plan,” Zeke answers, giving Shaolin a look.

“It’s not a scheme, Books! It’s a mission for the Grandmaster that will take you and me to the next level,” Shaolin says, moving his hands wildly.

Zeke rolls his eyes, reaches out and whacks Shaolin on his chest with the arm that was holding Mylene. Yolanda realizes that he’s still got an arm around her and knows that she’s missed something. Something big.

“What’s going on?” Mylene asks, crossing her arms and raising an eyebrow at Shaolin.

“I can’t tell you; it’s a secret mission for me and Books,” Shaolin says pointedly.

Books? Yolanda looks over at Zeke, who rolls his eyes good-naturedly. 

“Oh, okay,” Mylene says sarcastically. “That definitely doesn’t sound like a scheme at all.”

“Well, Books already agreed to it, so we gotta head out,” Shaolin says, making a face at Mylene.

“I’m sorry—Books?” Yolanda asks, feeling more confused.

Zeke laughs, walks over to Shaolin and drapes his arm around Shaolin’s neck.

“That’s his nickname for me,” Zeke says.

“Because he smart as hell,” Shaolin finishes proudly.

He beams up at Zeke in a way that looks very familiar to Yolanda. And Zeke looks down at Shaolin in a way that makes Yolanda feel weirdly happy.

“We gotta go before Shaolin loses it,” Zeke says. Then he tugs a hyper Shaolin away. “See ya!”

“See ya!” Mylene calls out. Then she tears to her confused girl and laughs at the look on her face.

“What just happened?” Yolanda asks.

“Zeke and Shao are dating,” Mylene says and she laughs even harder when Yolanda’s eyes bug out.

“Seriously?!”

“Yep.”

“And . . . you and Shaolin are cool now?” Yolanda asks skeptically. “Because you two kinda hated each other.”

Mylene bites the inside of her cheek. Her hand in his. Pulling him away.

“Yeah, we’re good,” Mylene answers.

“Oh,” Yolanda blinks. There are at least twelve questions running through her head, but she’ll save them. “Okay then!”

“Hey, let’s go to your mama’s shop,” Mylene says, itching to change the subject.

Why? I’m not trying to sweep up hair!” Yolanda whines.

“Just to say we were there! You know my father might try to check in on me!” Mylene says, grabbing Yolanda’s hand. “And if your mama needs sweeping, I’ll do it!”

Mylene pouts at Yolanda and Yolanda just can’t say no. Mylene’s pout will probably be the death of her.

Chapter Text

“That was really sweet of Mylene to sweep up today.”

Yolanda’s parents are sitting down at the dining room table, getting ready to eat. Yolanda spies Boo-Boo eyeing a big piece of chicken and stares him down until he backs off.

“Yeah, she really wanted to help out,” Yolanda answers, slowly reaching over and talking Boo-Boo’s coveted piece. Boo-Boo pouts and Yolanda stifles a laugh.

“Mylene likes coming to the shop,” Yolanda adds. She’s so busy talking to her mama that Boo-Boo snatches the mac n’ cheese before she can get some. Boo-Boo makes a face at her and Yolanda snarls at him.

“What for? I don’t get why she’d want to spend a Saturday cleaning,” Ra-Ra says, shoveling potatoes in his mouth.

“Maybe she likes being helpful instead of sticking her head in weird comics,” Yolanda quips.

“Hey! I done told you to stop calling my comics weird! They are transformative and enlightening!” Ra-Ra defends.

“And space is pretty cool,” Boo-Boo adds, somehow talking through a full mouth.

“Chew your food before you defend your brother’s interests,” Yolanda’s father, Winston, reminds him, waving a fork his way.

“Whatever,” Yolanda says.

“And Yolanda, don’t disparage Ra’s love of comics. It’s a good, imaginative hobby,” Winston says. “He doesn’t talk down about anything you do.”

Ra-Ra nods proudly but shrinks when he sees the glare on Yolanda’s face.

“It’s not like he knows about anything I do,” Yolanda says pointedly.

“You wear nail polish?” Ra-Ra tries.

“Yeah, but so does Dizzee,” Boo-Boo counters.

Yolanda and her father laugh, but her mother, Adele, looks over at Dizzee with a concerned look on her face.

“Dizzee, you’ve actually been uncharacteristically quiet,” Adele says. She reaches over and touches Dizzee’s (polished) fingers. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” Dizzee mumbles.

Yolanda frowns and looks Dizzee in the eye. “Then why’d you mumble that? You don’t mumble stuff.”

“Yeah,” Boo-Boo says, leaning around Yolanda to get a good look at Dizzee. “You just say stuff. Even if we don’t get it.”

Especially when we don’t get it,” Ra-Ra adds.

“What’s wrong, son?” Their dad asks.

Dizzee peers up at all of them in turn, but then casts his eyes back to the ground.

“Dizzee?” Yolanda asks. “Dizzee, come on—”

“I have a boyfriend,” Dizzee rushes out, slamming his eyes shut.

What?!” Yolanda yells, and it probably comes out way more judgmental than she means it to. But holy shit!

I knew it! I bet it’s that Thor! Their goodnights be long as hell!

Dizzee looks up at Yolanda with fear in his eyes, and Yolanda instantly kicks herself for yelling out like that.

She kicks herself even harder when she sees her parents glaring at her. Ra-Ra and Boo-Boo look at one another, then give Yolanda that “oooo you about to be in troubllllleeeeeee” look before sinking down in their seats.

“I’m sorry,” Dizzee says quietly, and Yolanda’s heart hits the floor. “I figured I should tell you guys because I don’t want to hide anymore. I just didn’t know how you guys would react.”

Their mother reaches out and touches Dizzee’s hand gently. “Oh, honey. We love you so much, no matter who you fall in love with.”

Winston blinks rapidly, takes a breath and then smiles at Dizzee. “Yeah, we do. You don’t ever have to hide from us.”

Dizzee, tears in his eyes, smiles at his parents.

“So . . . who’s the guy?” Boo-Boo asks suspiciously.

“Boo! He doesn’t have to tell us all that if he doesn’t want to!” Yolanda shoots at him. She wishes she had a better come back, but she can’t really think because oh my God, she’s not the only gay one here.

“No, it’s okay. I want you guys to know,” Dizzee says. Then he takes a deep breath and starts, “Well, he’s a guy that I met while painting. He’s an artist.”

“Wait, is it Thor?” Yolanda asks gently.

Dizzee nods, a happy, dreamy look in his eyes.

Yolanda’s mouth drops open and she starts clapping in excitement. Damn, I’m good.

“Thor the white boy?” Ra-Ra asks incredulously.

“Ra! We’re not judging Dizzee’s boyfriend!” Their father reprimands sharply.

“I’m not judging! I’m just surprised Dizzee likes white boys!”

With that statement, Ra breaks the little bit of tension left at the dinner table. Everyone cracks up with laughter. Their mom wraps her arms around Dizzee, their father pats him on the back and Ra and Boo start arguing about what it must be like to actually date a white person.

And Yolanda just watches it all. In the back of her mind, she wonders what this means for her and Mylene.

**

When Yolanda is dragging herself into the kitchen for a snack later on she sees Dizzee sitting out on the fire escape.  She sees his giant afro facing the stars and smiles.

“Hey, Dizzee!” she calls quietly as she climbs out.

“Hey,” Dizzee says shyly.

Yolanda and Dizzee look at each other for a moment, and then they bust out laughing. Yolanda doesn’t even know why; maybe it’s relief, maybe disbelief. But either way, Yolanda can’t stop laughing.

She wraps her arms around Dizzee’s neck and shakes with laughter.

“I’m so happy for you,” Yolanda says between the laughs.

“I just feel so free, man,” Dizzee says, a blissful smile on his face as he watches the sky. “Like nothing can stop me. It’s amazing, Yolanda!”

Yolanda leans her head against Dizzee’s shoulder and sighs. Amazed by her brother’s revelation and luck, Yolanda closes her eyes and starts to hum.

“You know what? You could feel like this, too,” Dizzee whispers.

Yolanda stops humming and blinks her eyes open. She lifts her head and looks over at him in confusion. Because he can’t possibly mean what she thinks he means.

“You should tell mom and dad,” Dizzee tells her.

Of course he does. Yolanda drops her arms and stares at him open-mouthed.

How did you know that?” Yolanda asks, partially amazed and partially alarmed as hell.

Dizzee simply smiles at her. “The same way you already knew about me. And Thor.”

Damn, man.

“You should tell them. If they’re cool with me, they’ve got to be cool with you,” Dizzee says reassuringly.

And that makes sense to Yolanda, it really does. But—

“It might be different with me,” Yolanda mutters. She leans forward, her elbows on her knees and her head in her hands.

“Because of Mylene?”

Yolanda doesn’t even bother to ask how he knew it was Mylene; she nods mutely.

Dizzee sighs and goes quiet for a moment. Then he drapes his long arm across his sister’s back.

“If they make a difference between me and you, then they aren't who I thought they were,” Dizzee states.

Yolanda looks over at her brother. She knows what he’s saying; she’s been saying it to herself. But Yolanda just can’t shake the feeling. It just hangs around in her head whenever she thinks about telling her parents about Mylene. It bounces around like a bad melody Yolanda can’t get rid of.

Chapter Text

Ramon drags Mylene and Lydia to a “meeting” after church on Sunday. Really it’s just an opportunity for Ramon to show off his church, how many members it has, how good the choir sounds, how pretty and pleasant his wife is. Blah, blah, blah.

Mylene forces herself to sit up straight, smile and pretend to still be paying any attention after thirty minutes of her father chatting with other Bronx reverends and pastors in a back room of the old theater Ramon parades as a church.

All the pastors Ramon’s chatting with have gold on them: gold rings, gold watches. Gold teeth that their broad grins show off. No matter how much Ramon talks about ministry and God, the talk always ends up at money.

A couple of times, Mylene dares a glance over at Lydia, who manages to look happy. Maybe she’s thinking of Francisco.

No wonder, Mylene thinks a little sadly. I would, too. There’s no way in Hell I’d want to marry a preacher. Mylene starts to tune out a little, her mind wandering. And of course her mind decides to wander back to when she caught Lydia and Francisco.

Mylene tries not to squirm around in her seat. She is not trying to think about her mother’s sexual escapades, especially not with her uncle. But . . . Mylene can’t help but wonder what would happen if Lydia just left. Ran off with Francisco.

She can see it happening, as much as she doesn’t want to. Lydia doesn’t like Ramon—Mylene knows that. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out why Lydia looks so out of it when she’s alone. Maybe Mylene’s mother still loves Mylene’s father, but she doesn’t like him. Not by a long shot.

That’s just fine by Mylene. She gets it. But damn, does her mother have to run around? If she wants to leave, why can’t she just leave? It’s not like Mylene wouldn’t go with her.

Mylene tries to suppress the wince she makes at her own thoughts. It’s harsh, but it’s true—Mylene would go with her mother if Lydia ever decided to leave. Maybe they could go far enough away from Ramon, far enough away from the Bronx. Somewhere none of this shit has to matter. Somewhere . . .

“Having Papa Fuerte as a brother musta been a trip, huh?” one of the pastors’ slick-sounding voice pulls Mylene back to reality. Of course they’re talking about Francisco.

And Ramon—his face changes. He takes on a dark smirk that sends chills down Mylene’s spine. She ventures another look at Lydia; her mother’s mask of happiness is slipping ever so slightly.

“Oh, my brother is quite a man,” Ramon says. He starts sounding too much like the other pastors for Mylene’s taste. “Politics. It’s quite a game, really.”

“Oh, I know,” the pastor—Pastor Thompson, Mylene thinks—drawls. “And your brother is a master player, right? He got you this building, didn’t he?”

Ramon smiles, straightens his back and looks Pastor Thompson directly in the eye.

“Yes, he did,” Ramon affirms, “he was able to buy it for me to continue my ministry.”

“Your brother, as talented as he is, must have shared some business tips with you,” Pastor Thompson eggs on. The other two pastors lean back in their chairs, occasionally looking at one another.

Mylene twitches—money. It always ends in money.

Ramon shrugs, feigning naivety. “Some. The rest of what I know about business and the church is . . . self-taught.”

Pastor Thompson runs his tongue over his teeth slowly, seeming to linger on the gold one.

“Well, I think the four of us can help each other out, business wise,” Pastor Thompson continues.

Ramon opens his mouth, but then stops and very deliberately turns and looks at Lydia and Mylene.

“Well, actually,” Ramon says, “I may have to continue this conversastion later. Business talk is a little too long-winded for my wife and daughter.”

Ramon turns back around and gives them a smile, but it’s not genuine.

But the pastors buy it, and before Mylene knows it, everyone’s standing and saying their goodbyes. Mylene clams up and Lydia holds her tongue until they are on the way home.

“Sweetheart, what was all that about ‘business?’” Lydia asks. “You’ve never been a fan of too much money going on in the church.”

Ramon smiles and holds Lydia’s hand. “Don’t worry about all that, Lydia. Thompson is just bad with words. It’s more about the upkeep of the church.”

Ramon’s explanation sounds fine, but he’s too good with words for Mylene to trust what he’s saying. Besides, everything about him seems fake to Mylene right now. Even the way he holds Lydia’s hand seems untrue.

**

There is only one other person who knows that Lydia is fucking around with Francisco and he is playing his music too damn loud for him to hear Mylene beating on his damn door.

“SHAOLIN FANTASTIC, TURN YOUR DAMN MUSIC DOWN!” Mylene shouts fruitlessly at the door.

Look, she’s already snuck out of school early. She didn’t talk to Zeke or Yolanda all day and she’s not here for whatever the fuck is going on in Shaolin’s music brain. So if he doesn’t open this damn door right the fuck now!

“Fuck it,” Mylene mumbles and she pushes through the door.

“Shaolin—” Mylene stops. Standing before her is a shirtless Shaolin madly scratching Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition.” He’s turned the tables around so they face the windows and couch and not the front door.

He’s so into it, he doesn’t notice that Mylene is in the room. Mylene walks up to him and taps him on the shoulder.

“Superstition” screeches to a halt, but that’s still not loud enough to cover Shaolin’s scream. He screams so loudly that Mylene screams and drops her book bag.

“Mylene! Wh-what are you doing here?!” Shaolin asks, jumpy as all hell. In three quick movements, Shaolin drops his earphones, puts on a shirt, takes his hat off and starts picking out his hair.

Mylene looks him up and down and cocks her head.

“Why didn’t you have a shirt on?” Mylene asks, more than bewildered.

“I, uh, was spinning?” Shaolin tries.

“Without a shirt?!”

“Girl, stop yelling at me! What’s up?!” Shaolin asks. He gives her a look and then plops down on the couch. “School ain’t out yet.”

“Yeah, you would know, huh?” Mylene says, crossing her arms and raising an eyebrow. “You sitting here counting the hours until Zeke shows up?”

“Nah,” Shaolin says, but the way his face twitches tells Mylene the truth.

“Liar.”

“Am not.”

“This must be what Zeke was acting like whenever Regina said I had him on a leash.”

“Oh, shut up!” Shaolin cries, gritting his teeth and jerking his chin up like that’s gonna make him suddenly un-sprung. “What do you want anyway? To make fun of me?”

Mylene drops the attitude, huffs and plops down next to him. “You’re the only person who knows about my mama.”

Shaolin frowns, dropping his attempt at a macho act. “What happened? Did she leave?”

“No, but I’m starting to wish she would,” Mylene answers, crossing her arms. “She’s just so unhappy with my dad. She’s spaced out and my dad doesn’t even notice!”

Shaolin twists his mouth and looks down at his hands. “He actually might notice.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean he’s probably noticed, but hasn’t said anything. He might just be telling himself that everything’s cool,” Shaolin continues, shrugging.

Mylene considers her father’s weirdly upbeat behavior and how much he’s been focusing on the church lately. He’s never been unobservant before, so why would he start now?

“You’re probably right about that,” Mylene mutters sadly. “That would explain why he’s suddenly talking to other pastors about ‘business’ and always acting so damn happy.”

Mylene leans her head against the wall and sighs heavily. This is some bullshit if Mylene’s ever experienced bullshit.

“Why is my family so fucked?” She asks the turn table.

Shaolin shrugs again. “Could be worse. Could not have a family to be fucked.”

Mylene looks over at Shaolin and smiles sadly. She reaches out and grabs his hand. Shaolin’s still a little bit weird about them touching, but he smiles and squeezes it.

“I just wish I knew what ‘business’ he’s been talking about,” Mylene says quietly. “I don’t like him talking about money—it feels wrong.”

Shaolin shudders like a bad memory just passed through him and nods.

“You know a lot of these pastors were real close with Annie,” Shao says. “Some of them did drugs, some took bribes from her. Shit, some of them gave her girls from they congregation.” Shaolin’s face contorts with disgust and he drops Mylene’s hand in favor of gripping his knee.

Mylene looks at him and frowns deeply. Annie’s memory haunts Shaolin way more than it could ever haunt her.

“You know what? If you had said something like that three months ago, I would’ve called you a liar and said you just hated church,” Mylene admits. “But now, I don’t know if I’ve ever even been in a real church.”

“Well, you’ve had a crazy ass three months, though,” Shaolin says.

“That’s your fault, too, Shao,” Mylene shoots back with a laugh.

She thought Shao would laugh or at least argue with her, but he goes really quiet. When Mylene looks over at him, Shao looks a little panicked.

“I . . . said something wrong,” Mylene concludes.

“Huh? Oh, no. I was just thinking,” Shaolin murmurs, staring off into space.

Mylene almost asks what he’s thinking about, but she can guess. Mylene and Shao sit in silence.

“I think you should talk to your mama,” Shaolin says suddenly.

Mylene swings her head towards Shaolin, her eyes bugging out in fear.

Shaolin looks her in eye with irritating calmness. Mylene tells him a thousand no’s without opening her mouth.

“You ain’t gotta do it today,” Shaolin says, “but I think you should. You deserve some answers, right?”

Mylene wants to tell Shaolin that’s he lost his damn mind, but she closes her eyes and huffs in frustration.

“You’re right,” Mylene admits through gritted teeth. “You’re right. But this is no less fucked up.”

When she opens her eyes, Shaolin’s there with a small smile.

“Nope, it’s definitely not.”

Chapter Text

Yolanda bounces from foot-to-foot while waiting in front of her mom’s shop. She hasn’t seen Mylene all week and hasn’t seen Regina in even longer. Yolanda still hasn’t made a decision about telling her parents; she hasn’t even brought it up to Mylene yet. And they haven’t been recording at all in the past couple of weeks.

Yolanda feels a strong vibration underneath her skin. Thinking about all of this makes her anxious. Yolanda starts to pace back and forth, not even concerned with the fact that ladies in the shop are watching her through the window.

It’s just . . . ugh, too much is going on. Mylene’s been in another world and Yolanda can’t really say it’s all Mylene’s fault. Yolanda, herself, hasn’t been too open lately. Yolanda’s been trying not to think about it too much.

“Hey, Foxy!”

Mylene’s warm voice instantly relaxes Yolanda. Her hunched shoulders fall loose and she turns around with a big smile on her face.

“Hey,” Yolanda drawls, wrapping her arms around Mylene. “It feels like forever since I’ve seen you.”

Mylene hugs her tightly and Yolanda giggles.

“Same here. I’m sorry I’ve been so weird lately,” Mylene says apologetically.

Yolanda lets her go and smiles at her. “Don’t worry about it.”

Mylene scrunches her face up and looks around. “Where’s Regina?”

As soon as the words come out of her mouth, Regina brushes past them roughly. Yolanda and Mylene look at each other in confusion.

“Um, Regina?” Mylene calls.

Regina dramatically turns around and puts her hands on hips.

“Oh! You’re talking to me?” Regina says theatrically. “I didn’t know you guys remembered I existed.”

Mylene and Yolanda look at each other, then at the ground.

“We’ve kinda been a little . . . busy?” Yolanda tries.

“No shit,” Regina deadpans, giving them both a glare. “Too busy to include me, huh?”

Mylene deflates and puts her hands on Regina’s shoulders.

“I’m so sorry, Regina,” Mylene says apologetically. “We didn’t mean to leave you out.”

“Yeah, well, you did,” Regina retorts, her starting to lose its harsh quality. “And that fucking sucked, you know?”

“We know! And we’re really sorry,” Yolanda says, her voice squeaking. She wants to kick herself; Yolanda feels like world’s shittiest friend right about now.

Regina’s eyes slide over to the nosy ladies in Mrs. K’s shop. They don’t even have the decency to pretend to not have been eavesdropping this whole time. One lady looks right back at Regina as if Regina was the one to do have something wrong. Regina rolls her eyes, makes a face at the woman and then turns back to Yolanda and Mylene.

“Okay, whatever, don’t be so sappy about it,” Regina says briskly. But then she smiles softly. “I’ve been bored as hell without you guys.”

Yolanda and Mylene smother Regina with a huge hug.

“Okay! Okay! I said don’t get sappy!” Regina says with a laugh.

“Help me pick out some new clothes! I wanna look sexy like you!” Yolanda says, pulling away from Regina a little bit.

Regina raises an eyebrow at Yolanda and grins slyly. “Sexy for who? You trying to reel someone in, girl?”

Yolanda shoots a look at Mylene, who holds back a giggle. “Maybe.”

“Hell yeah!” Regina says and, with a tug of both their hands, they were off.

And Regina being Regina, the first shop she pulls them into is one that has the tiniest shorts and shirts Yolanda has ever seen.

“You should try some of these on, Yolanda,” Regina says, giving Yolanda the up and down.

“Uh, why me?” Yolanda stammers out, suddenly way more body conscious than she’s ever been in her life.

“Probably because you have the hottest body out of all of us,” Mylene says with a chuckle.

“Oh I do not!”

“Actually,” Regina interjects, slowing her gaze on Yolanda, “you kinda do.”

Mylene nudges Yolanda wiggles her eyebrows at her. Yolanda thinks of wearing those tiny shorts for Mylene. Letting Mylene run her hands up and down Yolanda’s deep brown legs, while Yolanda tangles her fingers in the waterfall of curls that pour down onto Mylene’s breast . . .

“I-I’ll try it,” Yolanda squeaks out.

Regina giggles in excitement and she grabs Yolanda’s arm.

Mylene follows so closely behind Yolanda that Yolanda can feel the heat of her body.

As soon as the shopkeeper—a dark-skin Black lady with a huge afro—looks at them, she smiles broadly.

“I recognize you girls!”

“You do?” Regina asks, looking back at Mylene and Yolanda with surprise.

Yes! Mylene and the Soul Madonnas! I got your record!”

You do?” Mylene asks, excitement coloring her voice.

“Girl yes! I just played it before you walked in!” The shopkeeper walks over to cash register, reaches behind it, and pulls out the record. Sure enough, Mylene, Regina and Yolanda’s names are spelled out.

“Oh my God—th-thanks!” Yolanda says.

In her head, Yolanda knew the record was moving, especially after it was played at Pakoussa’s club. But damn!

“Thank you! I’ve been dying for a good disco record and you girls came through!” The shop owner continues. They all blush and Yolanda can’t help the squeak that comes out.

The shop owner laughs and puts her hands on her hips. “So, what’s three disco queens like you looking for here?”

Regina pulls Yolanda forward and puts her hands on Yolanda’s shoulders.

“We’re looking for something hot for this one,” Regina says proudly, nodding towards Yolanda.

Mylene leans on Yolanda’s other side and nods. “Really hot.”

The shop owner raises an eyebrow, looks Yolanda up and down, and smiles.

“I got something that’ll fit those legs just right.”

Then she turns around and pulls out the shorts that were in the window.

“Slip these on, girl. I think they were made for you.”

Yolanda looks back at Regina and Mylene, who both wiggle their eyebrows. The she shrugs and heads into the dressing room.

And the shorts are somehow even shorter on her than off.

“Don’t forget this top!” Regina’s voice calls, and before Yolanda can say anything, a tube top comes flying over the top of the dressing room door.

Yolanda snorts, slips it on, and steps out to the grinning shop owner and her wide-eyed friends.

 “Are you sure these hot pants aren’t too hot?” Yolanda asks, craning her neck to check her ass out in the mirror.

“No,” Regina and Mylene say quickly. And Yolanda doesn’t trust either one of them. Probably for similar reasons, too.

Yolanda gives them a look, narrowing her eyes at her friends. “Ya’ll gone have me out here with my ass showing!”

“It’s a nice ass to show,” Regina quips, winking at Yolanda.

Mylene giggles and nods. Yolanda blushes and looks down at her long legs uncomfortably.

“I don’t want every nigga in the Bronx to see it, though,” Yolanda grumbles. “You know these dudes are disrespectful.”

“That’s what pepper spray is for,” Regina says.

“Or a knife,” Mylene adds bluntly.

Yolanda’s eyes go wide and Regina turns her head to gawk at Mylene. Mylene looks at the two of them with a dry expression.

“What?”

You suggesting stabbing fools?” Regina asks incredulously. “That’s something I would say.”

“Yeah, you don’t say stuff like that,” Yolanda comments slowly. “You’ve always been on the ‘peace and harmony’ type stuff.”

“I still am,” Mylene says smoothly. “I just think that we should be defending ourselves. Like you said, Yolanda, these guys are disrespectful.”

Regina shrugs, but the tone of Mylene’s voice freaks kind of Yolanda out. Because she doesn’t sound like herself. Actually—

“You sound like your dad, you know,” Yolanda says, feeling nervousness creep up her back.

Mylene’s face goes dark and she frowns. “I did?”

“I mean, yeah,” Regina says. “You were kinda . . . smooth like he is sometimes.”

Mylene tenses up and bites her lip.

“That doesn’t mean you act like him or anything,” Yolanda rushes out. “You just sounded like him for a split second, that’s all.”

Mylene nods, but doesn’t say anything. An awkward silence falls over the three of them. Regina puts her hand on Mylene’s and looks at Yolanda.

“You should get those shorts. Your ass is fantastic.”

**

Three hours and three more clothing stores later, Yolanda, Regina and Mylene are back on the street, laughing wildly and talking shit.

When Mylene makes a comment about how loud Regina’s eyeshadow is, Regina reminds Mylene of the “sensible” shoes Ramon buys for Mylene. When Regina makes a joke about not being able to see past Yolanda’s afro, Yolanda jokes about Regina’s hips taking up too much of the sidewalk. And Regina swings her hips until she hits both Yolanda and Mylene.

And to top it off, Yolanda just bought some fly hot pants.

It’s like nothing bad ever happened at all.

Mylene feels light as she floats between Yolanda and Regina; the heaviness of the past few weeks starts to melt off.

But it’s still there. Mylene can still feel it. It threatens to pull her down, drag her back to Earth. To make her face touch rough asphalt. So that it can scrape her skin and remind her. . .

**

The man’s voice is the asphalt.

It’s loud and it’s crass and it snatches Mylene right out of the air. It grounds her and scraps against her face and ears.

He yells at Yolanda.

“Damn, baby, yo’ fine as hell!”

They all three look back and that’s when Mylene sees that he’s staring right at Yolanda. He slowly leers at Yolanda, taking in her legs, ass, the curve of her back, her breast and then her face and hair.

Yolanda shrinks and Mylene sees it. Regina makes a face and Mylene sees that, too. Without a word, Yolanda grabs their hands, rolls her eyes and pulls them along.

“Aye, baby, I’m talking to you! Come over here, girl!”

They walk faster. Yolanda feels Mylene’s hand shaking in hers and almost stops dead in her tracks; she’s never felt Mylene like this.

“Damn, that’s how it is? Fuck you then, bitch!”

“THE FUCK YOU JUST SAY?”

It happens in an instant: Mylene snatches her shaking hand from Yolanda’s and runs across the street. Two cars screech to a stop and Regina grabs at the back of her dress, but Mylene is gone.

Yolanda freezes, still feeling Mylene’s shaking hand.

The guy, to his credit, can’t be that stupid: when he sees Mylene charging towards him, he walks himself back, eventually pushing himself against the storefront behind him. That doesn’t stop Mylene from standing inches away from him.

“What the fuck did you just say?” Mylene growls, staring him in his eyes.

He’s suddenly not so tough. He tries to jerk back, but only hits his head on the wall. His tough nigga façade is slipping off as he tries to get from underneath Mylene’s stare.

“Chill out, ma. I wasn’t even talking to you,” he tries. “Calm yo’ loud ass down.”

Cussing at Mylene is his first mistake.

“I don’t give a fuck who you talking to!” Mylene yells. If he wants to call her loud, she can be loud as fuck then. “You don’t talk to any girl like that. Got it?”

“Girl, get outta my face,” the man says. And then he makes his next mistake: he balls his fists up.

Without a second thought, Mylene knees him as hard as she can in the dick.

He doubles over instantly, cussing under his ragged breath on the way down. When he’s completely bent over, Mylene raises her hand and chops him in the back of the neck the way Shaolin does. Mylene’s hit must be pretty good, because the man falls to the ground.

Before Mylene can make another move, Yolanda has her arms around her. Yolanda squeezes Mylene tightly and snatches her away from the man. Regina stands in between the two.

“Mylene! What the hell is wrong with you?” Yolanda cries.

This is wrong, this is all wrong! Mylene’s not like this! Regina’s the fiery one, Yolanda’s the collected one and Mylene’s the prissy one who doesn’t have time to be acting up in the streets. What’s happening?

Mylene looks back at Yolanda, but doesn’t say anything. For once, Regina is speechless and can’t do anything but just look at Mylene and wonder what the hell she’s missed.

The man slowly gets off of the ground and puts his hand up in surrender.

“Look, I’m sorry, man. Be cool. Shit, my neck hurt,” he grumbles, backing away from the trio.

Yolanda lets go of Mylene, but Mylene doesn’t move out of her space. Regina shoots them a look, but then crosses her arms and glares at the man.

“Just. . . go on somewhere!” Regina says, waving him away.

Regina looks back to see Mylene holding herself and Yolanda standing close to her. Mylene looks so sad that it breaks both of their hearts.

“Okay, cool, I’m gone,” the man says.

All three of them roll their eyes, but no one says anything. Everything is starting to simmer down, but then the one person who could make this worse swaggers out of the store Mylene bullied the crass ass nigga into.

“Aye, Gina, what’s up?” Little Wolf’s gruff voice crawls up Regina’s back.

In an instant, Mylene’s pissed off again.

“Wolf, now’s not the time,” Regina says impatiently. “I’m with my girls.”

“One of your girls got my man’s face, though,” Wolf barks out, cutting his eyes at Mylene.

Yolanda steps in front of Mylene protectively and snarls at Wolf. Wolf laughs and looks back at Regina mockingly.

“Better tell your home girl to cool it, before she get hurt.”

You need to cool it, Wolf!” Regina shouts, feeling jumpy at the fact that somebody just threatened Mylene. “You don’t even have nothing to do with this!”

“Girl,” Wolf growls, getting in Regina’s face, “who the hell you think you talking to?”

Before any of them can respond, Wolf grabs Regina by her shirt collar.

And before Yolanda can stop her, Mylene runs from behind her and forces herself in between Regina and Wolf.

When Wolf lets go of Regina and trips backwards, Mylene pulls her fist back and slams it as hard as she can into Wolf’s face.

Pain shoots up Mylene’s arm as blood spurts from Wolf’s face. Wolf falls flat on the ground, blood pouring into his mouth.

“Shit!” Wolf cries. His voice is muddled by blood and pain. He props himself up on his knees and looks at Regina.

“This bitch is fucking crazy!” he screams.

Regina can’t respond: she can only grab Mylene’s arm and pull her back. Mylene goes limp, her fist uncurling and falling to her side as she stumbles away from Wolf.

“Let’s go,” Yolanda says darkly.

Regina nods vehemently and pulls Mylene without waiting for response or protest.

Mylene lets herself be pulled, still focused on the pain pooling inside of her.

**

Yolanda, Mylene and Regina sit on the widest stone of the park. For what feels like forever, no one says anything: all three of them just look at the ground.

Finally, Yolanda can’t take it anymore.

“Mylene, what’s wrong with you?” Yolanda demands, her voice shaking. “You’re not like this at all. I’ve never seen you even try to get into a fight and you get into two in a few minutes!”

Mylene’s quiet for a moment, still looking at the ground. She thinks about the version of herself that told Regina that getting loud isn’t a way to solve anything. The version of herself who couldn’t stand violence or the thought of ever getting into a fight. The version of herself that hardly ever cussed.

The scary thing is, that version was just here, but Mylene feels like it died a long time ago.

“Mylene,” Yolanda presses.

Mylene just shrugs. And then she starts to cry.

Now, what happens next tells Regina everything she’s missed. In just two movements, Yolanda lets Regina know just how much they’ve kept from her.

Because before Regina can lift a finger, Yolanda is up and on the other side of Mylene. Yolanda tenderly wipes Mylene’s tears away and Regina realizes. It hits her like a ton of bricks.

“Oh,” Regina says quietly at first, gaining Mylene and Yolanda’s attentions. Then, as it all comes to her, louder and angrily: “Oh. Fuck both of you!”

Mylene and Yolanda’s jaws drop as Regina hops up and stomps away.

She cannot believe those two. Regina cannot fucking believe them. “We’ve been kinda busy.” Yeah, they’ve been busy alright. Busy having a whole ass relationship without telling Regina shit!

Before Regina can stop them, tears spring out of her eyes. They sting on the way out and Regina knows they’re going to fuck up her mascara.

“Wait!” Yolanda’s voice reaches Regina and Regina walks faster.

Not fast enough, though, because Yolanda is still able to reach out and grab Regina’s arm.

Fine then. Yolanda wants Regina to wait? She’ll fucking wait.

Regina spins around and looks Yolanda dead in the eye.

“So you two thought you could just run around having a whole fucking relationship and never tell me?!” Regina shouts, tears falling down her face.

Yolanda’s almost too stunned to respond, but she has to. She tries to reach out and put her hands on Regina’s shoulders, but Regina shrugs her off.

“Regina, please! It’s not like that!”

“Yes it is! Otherwise you would’ve told me something!” Regina shouts, pointing her finger in Yolanda’s face. “You two don’t want me around!”

“Oh, that is not true!” Yolanda says, in disbelief that this is the conclusion Regina’s come to. She holds Regina’s hand. “You’re our best friend! We’re the Soul Madonnas!”

Regina snatches her hand from Yolanda and crosses her arms.

“Yeah, well, it sure doesn’t feel like it. You guys are out here fucking around and I’m by myself dealing with Little Wolf’s bullshit. Why would you leave me out?”

Yolanda deflates, feeling sad for her friend and angry at herself. Yolanda reaches out and hugs Regina tightly. Regina, at first determined to stay mad, can’t help it; she loosens up in Yolanda’s warm arms.

“I’m sorry, Regina,” Yolanda says. “I think we were just . . . scared to say anything.”

“Why, though?” Regina asks, pulling away from Yolanda. “You know I don’t have a problem with gay people or anything.”

Yolanda shrugs and twists her lips.

“I guess I just thought you’d feel differently about us.”

Regina rolls her eyes. “You’re my best friends. I’d be an idiot to have a problem with it.”

Yolanda gives Regina a small smile. “So, we’re all still best friends.”

Regina, feeling tired and drained, just wants to lean on her girl.

“Yes,” Regina says with finality, tossing an arm around Yolanda.

And eternally grateful Yolanda tosses an arm around Regina’s waist and smiles broadly. They hold each other tightly and start walking away.

When they make their way back to Mylene, she’s sitting at the rock with tears falling down her face.

“Mylene, I’m sorry I blew up like that,” Regina apologizes. “It was just a shock, ya know?”

“And I’m sorry I yelled at you,” Yolanda says. “I just want to make sure you’re okay.”

Mylene looks up at her friends, but she doesn’t see them. She sees Lydia holding Francisco, Zeke holding Shao, her father with his arm around Pastor Thompson. Mylene sees herself being held by Cadillac, and then Cadillac being held by Annie.

She sees all of Les Inferno flash before her eyes. Mylene’s sight settles on Annie, her face a mask of fear and surprise as smoke clouds around her.

Mylene, dazed and tearful, winces as she stares at her frightened friends.

“Mylene,” Regina says softly. “What’s going on?”

Mylene blinks and Regina and Yolanda come back into view.

“I need to tell you guys something,” Mylene mumbles, her gaze settling on the cloud of black smoke behind them. “I need. . . I gotta tell you guys a lot of things.”

Chapter Text

The sun is down. The moon casts a long shadow over the park. The wind pulls the trees down, bowing them towards the earth. Darkness surrounds Mylene as she tells them about Lydia and Francisco. About Ramon and business.

About herself and Les Inferno.

Mylene stares at the trampled grass as words tumble out of her mouth. The blades are twisted towards her feet when she explains dragging her bare feet across the pavement while she drunkenly staggered away from her mother’s betrayal.

She has to talk around the truth. Mylene has to leave out that she was walking to Shaolin’s temple. When she is at Les Inferno, it is only her at Les Inferno. When Mylene danced with Cadillac, it was to impress, not distract. And when the fire started, it was because Annie was a tad bit too careless with a cigarette.

Mylene’s telling her secrets, not Shaolin’s. Or Zeke’s.

When it’s all said and done and Mylene can finally look up, Regina and Yolanda are crying. Mylene touches her cheek: she’s crying, too.

“I . . . I don’t know how all of this happened to me,” Mylene whispers.

Regina blinks her way out of the reverie and holds Mylene’s hand. It’s something Regina’s been trying to figure out herself for a long time.

“I think it’s just the Bronx,” Regina says quietly, rubbing Mylene’s hand. “This place. Everybody gets caught up somehow.”

Mylene knows that’s true: Zeke’s said it. Shaolin’s said it. Even her father’s said it in some way. But it doesn’t make it okay.

Mylene sobs again and Regina wraps her arms around Mylene. She leans her head against Mylene’s and sighs.

“You’re going to get through it, okay?” Regina says sweetly. “You’re here, you’re with us. You’re good. You’re gonna be good.”

Mylene closes her eyes and listens to Regina’s words. She wants to believe them. Regina’s been through hell and high water with her parents and Little Wolf and all the other bullshit of the Bronx. Mylene wants to take in her words and live in them.

But she can’t. Because Yolanda has said nothing at all.

Mylene opens her eyes, lifts her head from Regina’s shoulder and chances a good look at Yolanda. Yolanda is staring into space, a devastated look in her eyes.

“Yolanda?” Mylene asks quietly. She needs to hear what’s going to be said. Even if it’s bad.

But Yolanda can’t say anything. Every time she opens her mouth, she thinks of Mylene being pulled into that office with Annie, being pressured into prostitution. Yolanda thinks of Mylene in a smoke-filled room, trying to get out with her life.

And she knows Mylene’s leaving something out. Yolanda can hear it in her voice. Yolanda can’t shake the feeling that Shaolin is involved somehow. He probably dragged her into this. Him and Zeke.

Yolanda feels something twitching inside of her. She . . . Yolanda can’t . . .

Yolanda stands up shakily and starts moving away from them. She feels—and looks—dazed.

“I . . . have to go . . .”

Smoke-filled room. Prostitution. Shaolin Fantastic.

Mylene’s hand around her wrist is what jerks Yolanda out of her reverie.

“Wait! Please don’t leave me!”

Yolanda looks Mylene in her eyes: Mylene’s crying hard, and the hand around Yolanda’s wrist trembles.

“I can’t, Mylene,” Yolanda says, her voice becoming firmer. “I just can’t right now.”

“Why not?” Mylene sobs. Mylene grabs both of Yolanda’s hands and squeezes.

She can’t let go. Mylene knows she probably should—can even understand what’s going on in Yolanda’s head—but she can’t let go.

“I just—I don’t know, Mylene!” Yolanda yells. She feels the pressure of Mylene’s words building behind her eyes. She shakes all over and she wants to run, but Yolanda knows there’s no outrunning this.

 “Know what?” Mylene presses. She can’t lose this—she can’t lose Yolanda too. “About me? About us?”

 “About anything! Any of this!” Yolanda shouts. Her body shakes like rattling metal, ready to fall apart at any second.

Yolanda grabs Mylene’s waist to steady herself. It doesn’t work.

“I don’t know about anything,” she says in a calmer voice. “That fire, this city! Our crazy ass lives! I don’t know about any of it anymore!”

Mylene leans her forehead against Yolanda’s. She tries to take a breath, to calm herself down. Yolanda closes her eyes and focuses on the warmth of Mylene’s skin.

“I don’t either,” Mylene murmurs. “But I feel less confused with you. That’s all I know.”

Yolanda sighed; she can honestly say that she has no idea who she’d be without Mylene Cruz in her life. And the way Mylene trembles in her arms tells Yolanda that Mylene feels the same about her.

“Don’t leave me, Yolanda,” Mylene says. She hates, hates begging like this. But here she is.

Yolanda pulls Mylene even closer and kisses her.

“Never,” Yolanda answers, and she’s not even sure if that’s true.

Yolanda doesn’t know if this life—if this city—will one day tear them apart forever. Yolanda has no idea what’s going to happen tonight, tomorrow, the next day or the next. If there’s anything she’s learned in the last few hours, it’s that everything she knows can be gone. Even in one night.

But, for now: “I don’t ever wanna leave you.”

**

By the time Mylene, Regina and Yolanda manage to pull themselves away from the park, it’s way past dark. By the time they take Mylene back to her apartment, it’s near Yolanda’s curfew. By the time she walks with Regina back to Regina’s apartment, it’s past Yolanda’s curfew.

But Yolanda has one more stop to make before she heads home.

She knows that Zeke and Shaolin have something to do with what happened at Les Inferno and that they somehow convinced Mylene to go with them. Mylene and Zeke were still trying to figure stuff out; they probably thought helping Shaolin at Les Inferno would somehow “fix” them. But Zeke still chose Shaolin and now Mylene is left with all of this.

By the time Yolanda’s rationalized it all in her head, she’s pissed off.

Yolanda doesn’t even think about where the temple is; she somehow walks directly to the temple while cussing Zeke and Shaolin out in her head. She has no idea how long it took her to get there, but she suddenly was there.

Yolanda walks in and stops at the door. She’s just remembered that Zeke and Shaolin are together now.

“These niggas better not be naked,” Yolanda mutters to himself. And then she takes a breath and pushes the door open.

Shaolin! Zeke!” she says commandingly.

Shaolin and Zeke suddenly jump off of the couch. They’re fully-clothed, but blushing hard.

“Um, h-hey Yolanda, what’s up?” Zeke stammers in this gravelly voice.

Yolanda rolls her eyes, crosses her arms and glares at the both of them.

“What happened at Les Inferno?” Yolanda asks, cutting to the chase.

Shaolin, who had been silently blushing behind Zeke, suddenly makes a squeaking noise. Zeke looks panicked and looks back at Shaolin.

“Look, I know something happened,” Yolanda says, her voice getting hard. “And Mylene somehow ended up in a club, nearly ended up being a prostitute and had to get out of that fire!”

Zeke pales and Shaolin starts twitching.

“And I also know that you two fools had something to do with that,” Yolanda presses, taking a few steps closer to both boys.

Zeke and Shaolin take two steps away from her, both wearing twin expressions of fear.

“So one of you is going to tell me everything,” Yolanda finishes threateningly. “So I can know what it is Mylene and I are dealing with.”

Shaolin and Zeke look at each other and Yolanda sighs hard.

Right now, niggas!” Yolanda shouts.

“Okay! Okay!” Zeke yells, putting his hands up. “We . . . we were at Les Inferno that night. We came with Mylene!”

Yolanda groans, and drops her arms.

“How’d you get her to go?”

“Hey, we didn’t get her to do nothing!” Shaolin says defensively. “She decided to come with us on her own! She wanted to help watch out for me.”

Yolanda cuts her eyes at Shaolin suspiciously.

“Why, though? She hated you. But she just decided one night to go help you out?”

Shaolin blinks at Yolanda and looks at Zeke in confusion.

“She . . . Mylene didn’t tell you?” he asks quietly.

Yolanda starts to feel much more confused than angry. She tenses up and looks Shaolin up and down.

“Tell me what?” Yolanda asks, trying to hide the insecurity crawling into her voice.

Zeke looks at the ground as Shaolin takes a deep breath.

“Mylene came with me to watch out for me because of all of the stuff I was doing for Annie,” Shaolin explains quickly. “She knew Annie was bad news; she thought she could help keep me safe.”

Yolanda feels the air go out of her body and dread take its place.

“Keep you safe from what, exactly?” Yolanda asks.

Shaolin opens his mouth, but then shuts it quickly. He looks at Zeke with nervousness in his eyes and Yolanda feels that nervousness transfer to her. Finally, Zeke speaks up.

“Annie . . .was really bad news. She . . . had Shaolin do some really bad things,” Zeke says, his voice deeper than usual.

“And, Mylene came over one night, after something went down at home, and she and I talked,” Shaolin finishes, anxiously meddling with his fingers.

Yolanda’s breath catches as she pieces together their story with the one Mylene had told her in the park.

“She left that out,” Yolanda murmurs, more to herself than them. Then she looks up at Shaolin. “I guess she wanted to protect you.

And yeah, maybe the sharpness in her voice is jealousy. Because Mylene is going out of her way to watch after Shaolin. She’s even holding back from Yolanda to do it.

Mylene wouldn’t do anything like that unless she felt something for Shaolin other than friendship. Mylene will do a lot for her friends, but she’ll do a lot more for those really close to her.

Yolanda hardens her stare at Shaolin, who kinda shrinks underneath her gaze. What’s so special about Shaolin Fantastic to Mylene Cruz that she’d basically lie and put herself in danger for him?

Shaolin swallows, shooting a look at Zeke. Zeke looks down at Shaolin, his own insecurity peeking through. Maybe he’s thinking what Yolanda’s thinking.

“I’m sorry, Yolanda,” Shaolin apologizes, but Yolanda can tell that he doesn’t quite know what he’s apologizing for.

Yolanda, jealous, overwhelmed and tired, doesn’t feel like accepting a useless apology. Especially not from a boy who’s single-handedly turned everything upside down in just a few weeks.

Yolanda, looking one more time to see if she can find something, turns and leaves without a word.

**

By the time she’s dragged herself from the temple, Yolanda’s so far past her curfew that she doesn’t even care. Her parents will be pissed, but Yolanda doesn’t care. She only wants to talk to Mylene.

The same single-mindedness that carried her to the temple carries her to and the back stairs to Mylene’s apartment. It carries to Mylene’s door and makes her knock until her knuckles become numb to the wood.

Mylene opens the door slowly, her eyes bleary. When Yolanda sees Mylene, she forgets to breathe: she almost forgot how in love she was until now.

“You supposed to be at home,” Mylene says lowly, a small smile tugging at her lips.

Yolanda sighs and leans against the wall.

“Yeah, but I needed to see you,” Yolanda answers, her voice soft and worn. She feels suddenly tired, like she could sink into Mylene and sleep forever. “Can I come in?”

“No,” Mylene says, shooting a look into the dark apartment behind her. Then she reaches back and grabs a key off of the kitchen counter. “But I want to come out.”

**

They walk in the dark. Just the two of them. Mylene and Yolanda, fingers intertwined, slowly walking through the darkness of the Bronx.

The neighborhood is strangely quiet; nobody out, nobody partying, drinking or fighting. Just the moon and stars to keep them company.

Mylene pulls them to a stop in front of a burnt out, abandoned church.

“Who’d set a church on fire?” Mylene asks, her voice raspy and hurt-sounding.

Yolanda looks over the small shell of a building and laughs humorlessly.

“A landlord.”

Mylene snorts and squeezes Yolanda’s hand.

“The devil themselves, huh?” Mylene turns and smiles at Yolanda.

Yolanda’s still staring at the church, though. It was a small, gray wood building before. A simple cross on the door, a sign with the church’s announcements hanging next to it. It’s all scorched now; the wood twisted, covered in soot and falling apart. The sign is all but disintegrated. Only the cross remained untouched. Divine intervention.

Yolanda reaches out and touches the wood.

“A devil like Annie?” Yolanda asks, her eyes focused on her fingers and the black of the wood meet.

She looks back at Mylene. Mylene’s shoulders slump and she nods.

“A devil like Annie,” Mylene echoes darkly. “Who makes people steal, kill and lie.”

Yolanda tenses, remembering the look in Shaolin’s eyes when she went over there. Mylene sees it and frowns deeply.

“Look, I know what I told you is scary as hell—”

“It’s what you didn’t tell me that scares me more,” Yolanda interrupts quickly. She takes a shuddery breath. “It’s what Shaolin and Zeke told me.”

Mylene’s eyes widen and her lips part. Mylene’s mind races; she can’t imagine Shao being able to tell Yolanda about Wolf or any of the stuff he’d told Zeke and Mylene, even if it was by accident.

Mylene wants Yolanda to tell her everything, but the look on Yolanda’s face stops her from asking. Yolanda looks scared, more scared than Mylene can remember her looking. And being scared is feeling Mylene’s gotten way too acquitted with.

Mylene wants to try to explain, wants to try to comfort Mylene in a way she wants to be comforted, but Yolanda slowly starts talking again.

“What made you go that night?” Yolanda asks, slowly dragging her fingers down the wood as she looks towards the ground. “To Les Inferno with Shaolin?”

Mylene opens her mouth, but then stops herself. She thought she could give Yolanda a quick, easy answer. But, to be honest, it’s a question Mylene’s been asking herself for almost a month. All Mylene can think about was the sound of Shao’s voice—broken and scared—when she heard him talking to Zeke that night.

“I don’t know,” Mylene murmurs thoughtfully. “I . . . I think I just . . . I heard how scared he was. How hurt he was. And I . . . just wanted to help him.”

Mylene looks at Yolanda, who gives her a long, hard stare back. Yolanda drops her hand and walks back over to Mylene. She gives Mylene the softest, most chaste kiss she’s ever given.

Mylene and Yolanda leave their eyes closed and hold hands. Alone on the street, in front of a church, they feel like the only two people in the world. But Mylene knows there are so many more—people who have and will come between them, people who will threaten to tear it all apart.

Mylene’s dramatic, but she’s also realistic.

Mylene opens her eyes and looks at Yolanda sadly.

“Is this all too much?” she whispers.

Yolanda opens her eyes slowly and takes in Mylene’s face like it might disappear.

“Probably,” Yolanda answers honestly, “but I’d still rather love you through all of it.”

Chapter Text

When Yolanda finally gets back home, she’s planning her own funeral. It’s a good thing she got to see Mylene one last time before her parents murder her.

Yolanda waits outside of her door for a moment before deciding to just go in. Better to rip the bandage off.

And when she gets inside, her father is up—with Dizzee.

There you are!” Dizzee says with relief.

Before Yolanda can say anything, Dizzee gets up and pulls Yolanda into a bear hug.

“I was looking for you,” Dizzee says, his voice muffled by Yolanda’s shoulder. “You’re so late.”

Yolanda wants to respond, but she’s too confused: why is Dizzee the one having this conversation with her right now? Her father is just sitting on the couch looking bewildered. He didn’t even ask where Yolanda’s been.

When Dizzee finally releases her, Yolanda looks up in his worried face and frowns.

“How’d you know I was gone?”

“I saw you leave earlier. You said you were going to hang out with Regina and Mylene, remember?” Dizzee continues, giving her a “I know you were up to something” look.

Yolanda blinks and looks around Dizzee to get a good look at Winston. And Winston . . . he actually shrugs, that bewildered look still on his face.

“Your brother told me all of that a few minutes ago,” Winston says.

Yolanda’s face—and heart—falls. He didn’t even realize she was gone this whole time? Didn’t realize she was out so late?

“Did you notice I was gone?” Yolanda asks, her voice hardening.

“Not til an hour or so ago,” Winston admits.

 He doesn’t even seem to realize exactly what’s wrong with that. Dizzee, his instincts being as sharp as they are, takes this as a cue to head to his room.

“I’ll, uh, see you all in the morning,” Dizzee rushes out and before Yolanda can object, he vanishes into his bedroom.

Yolanda’s left alone with her anger and her father. Winston stands up from the couch and gets into his stern parent stance. He even clears his throat to get ready for his “I’m your father, damn it,” tone. But it’s too late and Yolanda doesn’t have time for it.

“Yolanda—”

“What did you do all day?” Yolanda demands, made bold by her frustration.

“Excuse me?”

“All day. While I was gone and you didn’t notice? What did you do?”

Winston blinks, then twists his mouth in confusion. He rubs the back of his neck and squints.

“I’ve actually spent all day with Dizzee,” he says honestly. “We’ve been talking about Thor.”

“Have you been with Ra or Boo?” Yolanda pushes.

“Some time, yeah.”

“What about ma? She still in the city for the hair conference?”

“Yeah, she’s staying in a hotel. The conference paid for it,” Winston answers. He doesn’t quite know where Yolanda’s going, but he knows it’s nowhere good for him.

Yolanda looks at her father and sighs in frustration. Everybody was on his list except for her.

Winston realizes what’s going on. “I’m sorry, sweetie. I know we haven’t been spending much time with you. But I’ve got to make sure that Dizzee—”

“Daddy! Dizzee’s not your only kid! I’m right here!” Yolanda points to herself, her hands shaking.

Yolanda loves Dizzee so much, but she might literally start screaming and falling on the floor if her father keeps talking about Dizzee as if he were some glass version of gay Jesus.

Her father frowns and puts his hands on her shoulders.

“Sweetheart, I know that. I can see,” he says reassuringly. “But, right now, Dizzee is the one I have to focus on.”

“Oh, come on,” Yolanda grumbles, and she squirms her way out of her father’s grip. Yolanda starts heading to her room.

“Hey! Yolanda, get back here!” Winston cries, uncharacteristically loud. “You can’t ignore the situation with your brother.”

“There’s always going to be a situation with them!” Yolanda shouts and she can’t believe she’s yelling at her father of all people, but she can’t stop herself. “That’s not my fault or my business!”

“I’m not saying it’s your fault but it’s definitely your business!” Winston says, crossing his arms. “Your brother needs our support. He’s exploring his sexuality—”

“Oh my goodness, you and mom act like Dizzee is the only boy to ever like a boy!” Yolanda shouts, throwing her arms up. “Like you’re the only parents to ever have a gay kid! Dizzee’s not even the only gay one here!”

Winston stops, stares at Yolanda in confusion and gets very close to her.

“Sweetie, what are you talking about?” He asks soothingly, putting his hand on Yolanda’s right cheek. “Who else is gay?”

Yolanda stares at her father with irritated amazement. Of course her dad would choose right now, at this moment, to suddenly become obtuse.

Me, Daddy,” Yolanda says. Yolanda tries to blink back the tears, but they come anyway. “I’m gay. I have a girlfriend and everything.”

Winston’s eyebrows shoot up to his hairline, and his face contorts with a mixture of surprise, pride and sadness. Emotions that don’t blend well.

Yolanda keeps going. Might as well be up front about everything.

“Look, Daddy, Mylene and I are together,” Yolanda says.

 Her dad blinks rapidly at the mention of Mylene, but doesn’t say anything.

“And things are really hard because of the stuff that’s going on in the city. And I’m scared. I’m really scared. But neither you or mom have even seen me. You’re so focused on Dizzee and Ra-Ra and Boo-Boo.”

Winston, without a word, pulls Yolanda into a tight hug. The hug feels refreshing but saddening and Yolanda hugs him back as hard as she can.

“I just want you guys to realize that I’m here, too.” Yolanda whispers.

Her father keeps hugging her and Yolanda feels the tension of the night start to melt away.

“I’m so sorry,” he says earnestly. “I’m so sorry. I was wrong to focus so much on only one of you. I want to be better. I’m so sorry.”

Yolanda nods, keeping her face on her father’s chest. She can hear his heart beating wildly and it’s weirdly comforting to her. It matches her own erratic pounding.

After what feels like hours, they finally let go of each other and sit down on the couch.

“Now,” Winston says warmly, “what all happened today?”

Yolanda looks at her father and starts crying again.

“So much,” Yolanda says, trying to stifle the sobs. “These boys said nasty things to me and Mylene got into with one of them. Then she told me she was at Les Inferno the day of the fire and that the owner was making one of our friends work for her!”

“Whoa,” Winston says, his face and voice grave. “Hold on—did you know the boys bothering you guys today?”

“Not the first one, but one of them was a guy Regina was messing with.”

“And who’s this friend that club owner had working for her?”

“Shaolin. The guy the boys rhyme with.”

Yolanda has to admit it: it feels good to see her dad so concerned about the stuff concerning Yolanda. Winston nods and looks at Yolanda intensely.

“She died in that fire, right?” he asks darkly.

Yolanda nods. “And Mylene and Shaolin and Zeke were there that night. I just keep thinking about what would’ve happened if they hadn’t got out. If something had happened to Mylene.”

Winston wraps his arms around Yolanda and pulls her close.

“I know, I know. That’s scary to think about,” Winston says with understanding. “But she’s okay. And she’s with you. That’s all you need to think on right now.”

Yolanda nods, but then bites her lip and looks up at her father.

“There’s also some stuff going on at Mylene’s house that’s pretty messed up,” Yolanda mentions slowly.

She knows that Mylene needs help with the bullshit that is her home life. As unsure as Yolanda is about telling her dad everything, Mylene can’t handle it all by herself.

Winston frowns, his eyes changing in a way Yolanda’s not seen before.

“It’s her father, isn’t it?” he asks, his voice suddenly angry. “Is he abusing her?”

Yolanda slumps, trying to fight the rising anger in her. “He’s hit her before. Especially that night she came over when he threw her out.”

Winston grits his teeth. “I’ve never liked that man. At all.”

“Yeah, well, Mylene’s mother doesn’t like him much either anymore. Mylene told me that her mom’s been seeing someone else.”

Her dad snorts humorlessly and Yolanda’s struck by how much it reminds her of the same noise she’d made just hours before.

“That’s not surprising. But it’s gotta be hard on Mylene to know something like that.”

Yolanda winces when she thinks of the look on Mylene’s face. “Very hard.”

Winston stands up, goes into the kitchen and fixes himself and Yolanda Kool-Aid. Red flavor, Yolanda’s favorite.

“For our collective nerves,” Winston says, handing the glass to Yolanda.

Yolanda smiles and takes the glass gratefully. She takes a long drink, which makes her father chuckle as he plops down next to her.

“The really crazy thing is,” Yolanda continues, wiping juice from her mouth with the back of her hand, “Mylene wants her mom to leave.”

“But has no idea where they’d go if she did, right?” Winston concludes.

Yolanda nods sadly and Winston twists his mouth again, this time in contemplation.

“Your mom is getting back in a couple of days,” Winston says after a moment’s silence. “when she does, you should tell Mylene to spend a few days over here and we can talk to Lydia. That way, we can all figure out what’s the best course of action.”

“Really?” Yolanda asks, not wanting to get her hopes too high.

But her father nods vehemently.

“Mylene’s gonna need you. And you’ll need Mylene,” Winston says.

Yolanda hugs her father again, smiling so hard that her cheeks start to hurt. Yolanda can’t remember the last time she’s flown from so emotion to another so quickly, but here she is.

Winston chuckles and hugs her back.

“It’s gonna be okay,” he says.

And Yolanda may actually believe him.

Chapter Text

Mylene didn’t sleep.

She didn’t even change out of her clothes or fix her hair for bed. Mylene just wandered into her room and curled up on the bed.

The sunlight pouring into her room doesn’t even blind her. Nothing moves Mylene.

Except for the knock on her bedroom door.

“I don’t feel well, mama,” Mylene calls back, still staring out the window.

The sun is so bright. Mylene can hear people outside, laughing, shouting, cussing. A new day.

The only thing that can move Mylene is who actually is at her door.

“Can I make you feel better?” Yolanda’s voices flows into Mylene’s ears and Mylene sits up straight.

She scrambles off of her bed and flings her door open. Yolanda stands there, beautiful as ever.

Mylene crashes her into with a hard kiss. Yolanda kisses her back and they probably would make out in the hall, but Mylene suddenly pulls away and puts her hands over her mouth.

“I haven’t even brushed my teeth yet! Shit!” Mylene yells.

“I mean, I wasn’t gone say nothing,” Yolanda starts with a laugh, but Mylene is already running around her into the bathroom.

“You don’t taste that bad!” Yolanda yells.

“Shut up!”

Yolanda cracks up, feeling lighter as the laugh passes through her. As she leans against the wall in the hallway, she can’t help but notice how quiet it is, save for the running water in the bathroom.

“Mylene where are your parents?” Yolanda calls.

The water stops and Mylene swings the door open, a skeptical look on her face.

“My dad said he went to the church to take care of ‘upkeep’ and my mom said she was going to the store to get an early start,” Mylene said.

Yolanda raises an eyebrow and Mylene rolls her eyes and steps out of the bathroom, slamming the door behind her.

“Your ma’s probably telling the truth,” Yolanda says. “Her store’s busy on Saturdays.”

Mylene snorts. “Yeah, but it’s like 8 a.m. She’s not that busy right now.”

Yolanda shrugs. “I don’t know about your dad, though.”

“I don’t even want to know what he’s really up to,” Mylene says, shaking her head.

Mylene moves past Yolanda to put on real clothes in her room. Yolanda leans against the door, watching Mylene move around gracefully.

“I just realized,” Mylene says as she pulls on a shirt, “it’s really early. What you are doing up anyway?”

Yolanda smiles and shrugs. “I wasn’t sleepy when I got back home. I was just thinking of you the whole night.”

Mylene rolls her eyes, but she also blushes.

“You’re so corny,” Mylene teases as she pulls on a pair of jeans.

Yolanda jerks her head back in surprise and starts laughing. Mylene frowns and cocks her head to the side.

“What’s funny?”

“You in jeans,” Yolanda says through giggles. “I hardly ever see you in jeans. It’s like we’re little again.”

Mylene bites her lip and ducks her head. “Yeah, I did only use to wear pants. I hated dresses, man.”

“And your dad made you wear them because he thought wearing pants too much would make you ‘improper’,” Yolanda finishes, a new round of chuckles coming up.

“Shit, I guess he wasn’t wrong,” Mylene cracks and she can’t help the laughter. She thinks of her father trying to make his perfect, wholesome daughter and laughs even harder.

Yolanda, who’d been trying to temper herself, sees Mylene laughing and laughs even harder herself. Soon, they’re both near tears.

It’s the moment, Yolanda figures. They’ve had all this hell and now they stand here realizing the irony of it all.

“Life’s weird as shit,” Yolanda says.

Mylene flings her arms around Yolanda’s neck and kisses her softly.

“It sure is.”

**

Regina’s waiting for them when Mylene and Yolanda walk outside.

“You two lovebirds actually leaving the house?” she asks teasingly and the three of them hug tightly.

Regina pulls back and looks at Mylene’s legs and hips with a raised eyebrow.

“What’s up with the jeans? They got your hips looking good, girl!” Regina says, patting at Mylene’s hip.

Mylene laughs and does a quick spin. “Maybe I wanna be sexy like you!”

Regina laughs loudly and shakes her hips. Yolanda watches her friends, despite it all, feels ridiculously happy.

“What are you doing up so early, anyway?” Mylene asks Regina. “Don’t people sleep on Saturdays anymore?”

“Well, about an hour ago people started blasting music outside my window,” Regina says. “When I got up, some girls told me there’s some kind of fair or party or whatever going on in the park.”

“Party?” Yolanda asks in interest, raising an eyebrow and smiling.

“I knew that’s the word you’d catch,” Regina teases. “But yeah. There’s supposed to be food and music and everything. And I bet your new best friends will be there, too,” she adds, giving Mylene the up and down.

“Zeke and Shaolin are going to be spinning?”

“I love that those two are the first ones you thought of,” Regina says. “It’s amazing what a new girlfriend does for you.”

Mylene rolls her eyes while Yolanda blushes hard.

“Shut up girl,” Mylene says. “Me, Zeke and Shao are cool.”

“That shit will never not be weird to me, though.”

Yolanda slides her arm around Regina’s shoulders and shrugs carelessly.

“Could be weirder,” Yolanda says. “We could all four of us be secreting dating each other and just not telling you.”

Regina’s eyes widen and her mouth drops open. She looks over to Mylene, who’s trying her very hardest to not crack up.

“Oh, the fuck you wouldn’t!” Regina yells.

Mylene and Yolanda lose it, laughing loudly at Regina. Mylene doubles over when she catches the scandalized look on Regina’s face.

“Fuck both of you, alright? No one’s having a sex party without me, okay?” Regina says, shooting them both looks before she cracks up herself.

“We promise to invite you to any hot sex parties we have with Zeke and Shaolin,” Yolanda says with mock-seriousness. “But right now, I’m trying to see what’s going in the park.”

Regina rolls her eyes as Yolanda slides her other arm around Mylene’s waist. Together, the three of them walk away from Mylene’s apartment and towards the faint music they can hear in the distance.

**

The park is loud and bright.

That’s the first thing that Mylene sees. There’s a pop-up flea market selling dresses, clothes and shoes. People are grilling. Loud music blasts from radios. People are singing and dancing.

It’s the side of the Bronx they don’t usually see. The one with sound and color.

Sure enough, Mylene spots Zeke’s giant afro from across the park. Shaolin’s signature red is right next to him.

“Those two aren’t ever going to change, are they?” Mylene asks, shaking her head.

“Nope,” Yolanda says with a laugh.

“At least they’re easy to find,” Regina says. “Hope they don’t have to run from somebody soon, though.”

Before Yolanda can respond, she spots her brothers. Ra-Ra is gesticulating wildly while talking to Zeke, Boo-Boo is trying to match dance moves with that little Napoleon kid and Dizzee is walking around with his arm slung around Thor.

They won’t ever change, either.

“You know what I suddenly feel like doing?” Yolanda asks mischievously.

“Embarrassing Dizzee in front his boyfriend?” Mylene asks.

“Yep!” And with that, Yolanda slides from underneath Regina and Mylene while they both laugh loudly.

“I would love to hear the argument that comes from that,” Regina says slyly.

Mylene’s just about to say something smart, when a voice automatically ruins her whole day.

“Mylene? What are you doing down here?”

Mylene and Regina both freeze and turn around to see Ramon standing behind them, looking confused.

“Hey, daddy,” Mylene squeaks out. “I thought you were at the church.”

Regina hates the way Mylene sounds around her father. She shrinks before him, because she knows that, at any moment, he can lose his cool and start screaming Bible verses at her.

“Well, I was, but I heard that members of the community had come together in the park. We thought it would be an excellent opportunity to court more members,” Ramon explains, still staring at Mylene intensely.

“We?”

Ramon gestures behind him and Mylene peeks around and takes a look. Francisco is behind him, talking to a couple of white men in suits.

Oh God. Mylene’s stomach sinks. She really wishes Yolanda were standing beside her right now.

“Mylene,” her father starts slowly, “why are you wearing pants?”

“I—I still own pants, daddy,” Mylene says, looking down at her legs.

“Well, yes, but I haven’t seen you actually wear any in a while,” Ramon says. “You once told me jeans made you look—what’s the word—butch?”

“Daddy! I said that years ago! I didn’t mean it,” Mylene rushes out, feeling deeply embarrassed.

“I’m just saying; you were the one that said you didn’t’ want to look like one of those type of women,” Ramon says, completely missing the fact that Mylene would very much like to end this conversation.

“Don’t—don’t say ‘those women’ like that, please,” Mylene requests. “It doesn’t . . . it doesn’t sound nice.”

Ramon looks at his daughter as if she’s grown two heads. He’d always tried to teach Mylene that homosexuality was a sin—it was an abomination in the Lord’s eyes.

It’s clearly not a lesson Mylene learned very well.

Mylene always knew that there was something wrong that lesson, but she could never articulate why until a few months ago.

“Sweetheart, I know you think some of those DJs are cool, but you do still recognize that there’s no place for that type of behavior in a Christian lifestyle?” Ramon asks.

It takes all of Mylene’s strength to not roll her eyes as hard as she can.

“Daddy,” Mylene says, praying for all the patience in the world, “I just don’t think I can hold someone’s sexuality against them like that.”

Ramon jerks his head back like Mylene just told him she has weekend orgies.

“Wh—where’s the this coming from?” he demands.

But he doesn’t wait for an answer; he starts scanning the crowd behind him intently.

“Daddy, what are you looking for?”

Ramon doesn’t answer; he just keeps looking. Then his eyes settling on Yolanda, standing in between Shaolin and Dizzee, laughing wildly.

“It’s those Kiplings,” Ramon states firmly.

Mylene shoots a look at Regina, who hasn’t moved since Ramon came over, then over at Yolanda before turning her gaze back on her father.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean you’ve been hanging out with that Yolanda for too long,” Ramon says, his voice gaining certainty. “I’m afraid that she’s beginning to negatively influence you.”

Mylene stares at her father through narrowed eyes and shoves both hands in her pockets.

“I don’t think she’s the negative influence, Daddy,” Mylene says.

“Her whole family is leading ungodlike lives, sweetie,” Ramon continues. “Her brothers are involved with that hip-hop mess; her parents aren’t strict enough. I even heard one of her brothers is actually gay, Mylene.”

Mylene bites the inside of her cheek, keeping her gaze on her father steady. There’s so much she could say that would ruin probably everyone’s life right now.

“I don’t want you around Yolanda anymore,” Ramon says with finality.

“No!” Mylene shouts before she can stop herself.

As surprised as Ramon is, he’s still not as surprised as Mylene is at herself.

“Excuse me?” he says, an edge to his voice.

Might as well stick up for herself. She’s already gotten herself into trouble.

“I’m not going to stop being friends with Yolanda,” Mylene says, softening her voice. “Yolanda’s important to me, daddy. I don’t even know who I’d be without her.”

Ramon’s eyes bug and Mylene has to struggle to keep her face straight.

“Mylene,” Ramon says with a scandalized voice, “you are to only give God that much of yourself. And certainly not some other girl!”

“Yolanda’s not ‘some other girl!’” Mylene yells.

Her father looks at her like she’s an alien and, to be honest, Mylene doesn’t recognize herself. But Mylene hasn’t recognized herself in a long time; this is really no different for her.

“I haven’t forgotten about God, papí,” Mylene tries again, lowering her voice. “But Yolanda’s not just some girl.”

Ramon has a million and one questions—Mylene can see them. But he won’t ask any of them, won’t even allow his mind to go into the direction Mylene is clearly pointing him in.

“You are not to see her again,” Ramon says with finality.

It’s the voice he uses to make Mylene back down. But Mylene doesn’t have the energy to let her father run over her anymore. Mylene stares at her father down, a look of anger and defiance on her face. And Ramon’s just as stubborn—he won’t look away no matter how much the hate in Mylene’s eyes burn.

And maybe they’d stay like that for hours if Francisco doesn’t come over.

“Hey, what’d I miss?” Francisco asks good-naturedly, looking between his angry brother and his angry niece.

Mylene tears her eyes away from her father just long enough to shoot her uncle a look.

“Nothing,” Mylene says, barely controlling her voice. “You never miss anything at all, Papa Fuerte.”

Before either of the fuck-ups standing before her can say anything, Mylene turns around, grabs Regina and storms off.

**

“Whoa, Mylene! Mylene! Slow down!”

Regina trips over her own feet as Mylene drags her away from Ramon and Francisco. Really, Mylene’s death grip on Regina’s arm is probably the only reason she hasn’t hit the ground yet.

“Mylene,” Regina calls over the music and Mylene’s rage. “I know you’re mad as hell, but I still need circulation in my arm!”

“He can’t tell me not to see Yolanda just because he’s a pendejo!” Mylene shouts.

“I agree—totally agree.” Regina’s foot just barely misses a rock and Regina has to grab the back of Mylene’s shirt to keep from face planting into the dirt.

“He’s a fucking asshole! No wonder my mom doesn’t want to be with him!”

“I get it! I really do. My dad fucking sucks. But I think my arm is leaving its socket! Mylene—”

Mylene suddenly stops and drops Regina’s arm. Regina looks around to realize they’re standing right behind Yolanda and Shaolin.

“Mylene?” Regina asks, barely recognizing the girl standing in front of her.

Without a word or a thought, Mylene spins Yolanda around and kisses her, right in the middle of the park, in front of her brothers, Zeke and Shaolin.

“YES!” Dizzee cries, throwing his hands up in the air.

Boo-Boo squeals excitedly while Ra-Ra starts flailing around. Shaolin’s jaw hits the ground while Zeke’s face turns bright red.

And Regina—Regina feels herself burning, her face warming while a heat she’s never felt before pools in her stomach.

**

Yolanda must be dead.

That’s the only explanation for what just happened. Because Mylene Cruz kissing her this hard in front of everybody could only ever happen to Yolanda if she were in Heaven. That must be it. This can’t be real.

But when Mylene presses her body against Yolanda’s, it feels real. The warmth of Mylene’s hands on the Yolanda’s waist feels real.

And when they finally pull away, the look Yolanda sees in Mylene’s eyes feels real.

Yolanda wants to say a million words even though she knows that none of them would do Mylene Cruz any justice. Yolanda wants to go one for days, weeks, months and years about how she loves Mylene. But when she tries to speak, all she can do is smile.

Mylene leans her forehead against Yolanda’s and smiles right back at her.

“I love you, too, Yolanda Kipling,” she says lowly, staring directly into Yolanda’s eyes.

“Are you sure about this?” Yolanda asks breathlessly.

Mylene shrugs and giggles. “Why not?”

“BECAUSE NEITHER OF YOU TOLD US SHIT, MAYBE?!” Ra-Ra’s incredulous voice cuts through Mylene’s cloud of bliss.

“Yeah,” Boo-Boo drags out, looking petulant. “How you gonna get a girlfriend and not tell nobody, Yolanda?”

Yolanda nods towards Dizzee. “I told him.”

What?” Boo-Boo whines, his shoulders slumping as he looks over at Dizzee.

Ra-Ra makes a series of faces that tell Yolanda exactly how he feels about being left out of such a revolutionary loop. Meanwhile, Zeke is still red and Shaolin’s jaw is still on the ground.

“You can pick your face up, Shao,” Mylene says teasingly. “And Zeke, you should probably go back to your normal color.”

“I just . . . wasn’t expecting that,” Zeke mutters.

“Yeah,” Yolanda says happily, wrapping her arms around Mylene, “neither was I, actually.”

“Are we not going to address how everybody’s hopping on some gay train right now?” Ra-Ra asks, looking back and forth between the couples. “Thor and Dizzee, Zeke and Shaolin, now you and Mylene?!

Mylene and Zeke glance at each other and they both grin. Then she looks at Yolanda and bursts into laughter.

“Hey, Regina, are you getting down with girls, too?” Boo-Boo asks curiously.

“Huh? Oh, no,” Regina answers, but Yolanda frowns: she hears an uncertainty in Regina’s voice, the same one that had been creeping in Yolanda’s since Yolanda was a little kid.

But the boys don’t notice: they’re all still too excited by this new development.

“I can’t believe this,” Ra-Ra says in amazement.

“You got a problem?” Shaolin asks with an edge to his voice.

“No! I’m cool! I’m just surprised! Shit, am I going to end up being gay or whatever at some point?” Ra-Ra asks, suddenly looking confused and suspicious.

“You can’t catch queer, Ra,” Zeke states flatly.

“If you could, there’d be a lot more of us,” Dizzee says with a grin.

“And nobody’s parents would have any bullshit to say,” Regina adds bitterly, narrowing her eyes.

Parents. Shit.

“Mylene, what about your father?” Yolanda asks with concern.

Regina snarls, thinking about the what’d just happened. Shit, his being an asshole is what led up to this moment. So maybe he’s not all bad.

“I don’t care about what he thinks anymore,” Mylene groans. Then she turns directly to Yolanda. “I don’t care what he says. I love you and I’m not going anywhere.”

Yolanda feels her heart dance in her chest as Mylene pulls her into a huge and Boo-Boo lets out a loud “aww.”

“Besides,” Mylene says, when they end their embrace, “I don’t even see him here, anymore. He probably left.”

Ra-Ra stretches on his toes and cranes his neck. “Actually, I still see him over there. Talking to some suits.”

Mylene rolls her eyes. “Probably still those white guys that came with him. And Francisco.” She gives Zeke a look and raises an eyebrow.

Zeke groans loudly and rolls his eyes. “Can’t those muthafuckers stay downtown? Ain’t nobody asked for them to be here.”

“Nah,” Ra-Ra says, still standing on tip-toe, “actually, it’s Black dudes in suits.”

They all turn around curiously.

“They them Islam dudes?” Boo-Boo asks.

Mylene squints; she thinks she recognizes them both. But she can’t really tell from this distance.

“Nah,” Zeke says, also squinting at the figures. “They’re not really dressed like it. And they don’t have any books or anything.”

Regina and Boo-Boo throw out a couple of more suggestions. Dizzee suggests the men are Feds there to search for drugs, but they still don’t know. None of them can recognize them.

Except for Shaolin. When Shaolin gets a good look at them, he instantly remembers where he’s seen them before.

“Those dudes work for Nicky Barnes."

Chapter Text

Nicky Barnes. The name is a stab of fear through Mylene’s gut. Because she knows who Nicky Barnes is, has heard Francisco say his name with fear and hatred in his voice before. Nicky Barnes is the one person who’s even more dangerous than Annie was.

And her father is talking to two men who hang around him.

“Yo Shao, how can you be sure?” Zeke asks urgently.

“I’m pretty sure they were doing shit for Annie before, working in churches,” Shaolin says, looking at Mylene. “And since Annie’s been gone, pretty much everyone that was fucking with Annie has either been picked off or gone to Nicky.”

Shaolin winces at the last bit; he’s reminded himself of how lucky he is to not be one of those guys. But he knows that Ramon probably has no idea what the hell he’s doing or how bad it will be for Mylene.

Mylene doesn’t even seem to be listening anymore, actually: her eyes are focused on her father.

The two men and Ramon are walking away. The two men slowly dawdle towards a building and Ramon wonders over to Francisco.

And in the next second, Mylene is tearing away from the group and rushing towards Ramon.

“Wait!” Yolanda, Shaolin and Zeke all shout simultaneously.

Yolanda reaches out and grabs Mylene’s wrist, but Mylene tries to pull away.

“You’re so damn stubborn, Mylene,” Yolanda mutters, trying to pull Mylene to a stop.

“He’s going to get us killed and he doesn’t even know it!” Mylene shouts. The hand Yolanda is holding starts twitching. “I have to stop this somehow.”

“Well, at least let us help you!” Yolanda says desperately. “Because you can’t do whatever it is you’re about to do on your own.”

Mylene looks at Yolanda, Zeke and Shaolin in turn. Then she nods firmly.

Shaolin turns to Regina, Boo, Ra and Dizzee. “I need you to be cool, alright? Act like nothing going on.”

“But if one of those dudes starts poking around again, come find one of us so we can get the hell out,” Zeke says.

Regina and the Kipling brothers look at one another and all nod.

“Got it,” Regina says.

Mylene looks back and sees that Ramon and Francisco are talking. Yolanda squeezes Mylene’s hand and looks up at Zeke.

“Me and Zeke can kinda spy on your dad and Francisco,” Yolanda offers. Zeke nods.

“And me and you can see what the other two dudes are up to,” Shaolin continues.

Mylene looks at her friends and nods in determination. Then she grabs Shaolin’s arm and rushes towards the two men.

**

“Girl, you gonna take my arm outta socket!” Shaolin cries as he’s dragged along with Mylene.

“Sorry,” Mylene calls, but curiously enough, she doesn’t let go of Shao.

They manage to stay a good distance away from the men, even while the men start to head into one of the business buildings. Mylene and Shaolin stop for a moment and try to blend into the few remaining people on the street.

“Hey, wait a second—that’s Pastor Thompson,” Mylene says in surprise. “One of the guys my dad met up with that day.”

Shaolin raises an eyebrow and peers into the building Thompson and the other man walk into. Without warning or regard, Mylene has her arm around Shaolin’s wrist again.

“You know you really gotta start asking before you just grab niggas!” Shaolin grumbles.

It gets a smile out of Mylene even though she’s stressed the fuck out. She pulls Shaolin along as they follow Thompson.

“Mylene! Mylene, wai—ow!”

Mylene suddenly stops and swings her arm into Shaolin’s chest. She pushes him back against the wall, turns around and puts a finger to her lips. Shaolin, catching the drift, leans over her to see Thompson storming into an office.

Mylene and Shaolin, without even having to look at one another, both crouch down and tip-toe over to the window of the office Thompson stormed in. They get on their knees and peek into the window; neither one of them can fully see into the room, but they can see Thompson along with another pastor from the meeting at the church.

“You said this wouldn’t get back to me!” Thompson yells at the pastor—Jackson, Mylene thinks. Mylene and Shaolin can just barely see Thompson gesticulate wildly.

“It’s not, Marvin. Calm down! I told you; the police ain’t looking into you!”

“But they’re looking at me, James! And that’s a problem. What the hell would it look like if I become a suspect in arson?”

“Arson?” Mylene mouths to Shaolin. Shaolin’s eyes bug out and ever so slightly stretches his back to get a better look.

Shaolin can confirm that he knows both of those men. The one called Thompson was just Marvin from the club to him—Shaolin had seen him in Les Inferno way too much for him to believe this man was a pastor.

Worse yet, James Jackson was really into the “loan system” Annie had set up. Shaolin had seen him personally deliver and distribute drugs for Annie whenever he needed a “loan.” Annie used to make a joke about crack being the best collateral.

And to make shit even worse, they’d both started working for Nicky after Annie died.

“I told you to relax. The way shit is out here, they’ll think it was the same people who burned down Les Inferno,” James says.

Mylene’s stomach hits the floor. Shaolin freezes, his skin going cold.

“Do they even know who did that yet? They’ve been going at that case for weeks now,” Marvin says, crossing his arms.

James snorts. “Nah. Right now, the only thing they’ve got is that it had to be someone who worked there. It apparently started in Fat Annie’s office.”

Mylene feels faint. She presses her hands against the wall, hoping the feeling keeps her from hitting the floor.

Shaolin’s breathing changes: quicker, more shallow. Mylene looks over at him in alarm. This is not the time for Shaolin to have a panic attack. They can’t both start freaking out!

Marvin throws his hands up, letting them fall back to his side.

“Well, that could’ve been any of those niggas. You really think the police care that much?”

“One of the detectives was in tight with Annie,” James answers. “He’s mad as hell that he’s lost that much money, not to mention his coke. He knows all those dudes; he’ll get it out of one of them.”

Shaolin bites his cheek to keep from shouting out. He tries to calm himself down; he kind of feels like he’s going to pass out at any second.

“Plus, don’t forget: whoever set the fire also killed Cadillac. Stabbed him. The police are looking for real, now. They got a murderer on the streets.”

Mylene’s knees suddenly go weak and she presses harder against the wall.

“They always got murderers. And they always got fires. How they gonna connect my church to that?” Marvin presses.

“Because a couple of your members are related to Wolf, remember? He was there quite a bit, wasn’t he? And all those officers know him. Wolf stayed in jail for a long time before getting good with Annie. Just him having a connection to your church would reasonably make you a target.”

Wolf. Just the name makes Shaolin feel sick. Feeling dizzy and nauseated, Shaolin sits on his haunches, leaning his head against the wall. Mylene looks over at him, her eyes a mix of fear and sadness.

“I’m sorry,” Shaolin mouths.

Mylene shakes her head with a small, sad smile. Shaolin doesn’t have to apologize to her.

Mylene realizes that she has stopped listening and tunes back in. She does it just in time: Marvin is starting to calm down.

“Okay, okay. So, as far as they know, my church burned because Wolf was there quite a bit and the arsonist thought I had some connections to him,” Marvin recites.

“Right,” James responds. Mylene can hear the slick smile in his voice.

“Where is Wolf, anyway? Ain’t nobody heard from him in a couple of months.”

“He probably left town. Besides, everybody that worked for Annie seemed to have disappeared after she died.”

Shaolin closes his eyes, pressing his head further into the wall. This is his life and now it’s Mylene’s, too. This is so fucked up.

Before Shaolin or Mylene can think any further on it, they hear Marvin move towards the door.

With a speed and stealth neither realized they had, Mylene and Shaolin run down the hall, turning the corner. They peek around and feel relieved when they see Marvin and James head the opposite way down the hall.

That relief is replaced by suspicion and dread as Mylene turns to look at Shaolin. Shao’s gone ashen, his face grave, his breathing still shallow.

Mylene thinks of what they just heard and of what those pastors had said to her father that day at the church. Business. Arson. The police. Les Inferno.

Shaolin’s face mirrors her thoughts. Overwhelmed and suddenly feeling heavy, Mylene slides to the floor. Shaolin slides right next to her.

“Shaolin,” Mylene asks, her voice tight with fear and disbelief.

“Yeah?”

“What the fuck is my dad about to do?”

**

Yolanda and Zeke are trying as hard as possible to look normal.

When Mylene and Shaolin took off, Yolanda and Zeke made their way to a couple of chairs that were close to Francisco and Ramon.

Yolanda tries to force her leg to stop shaking. Zeke tries to smile and make it look like he’s talking to Yolanda; he has to keep his eyes on her, not on the two men over her shoulder.

And Yolanda has to overhear Francisco and Ramon over her pounding heart.

It’s actually not that hard now, considering that Ramon is getting a little loud with his brother.

“You’ve had that insurance for all this time! ¡Es mi iglesia, hermano! ¡Debes tener confianza!” Ramon presses.

 “¡ Yo tenía confianza! ¡Era muy mal, conozces! ¡Fuiste a la prisión!” Francisco tries to whisper, but his anger gives his voice volume.

“What did Francisco say?” Yolanda mutters.

“He said Ramon fucked up,” Zeke paraphrases, stunned by what he’d just heard.

“That was years ago. You still hold that over me?” Ramon implores.

Yolanda can hear the con in his voice and turns her nose up. Zeke suppresses a chuckle and leans closer to hear.

“No,” Francisco answers with a sigh. “I’m just concerned. Quiero el mejor por mi hermano.”

“Yo conozco. Thank you, I truly appreciate it,” Ramon says. “But I think it’s time for me to take charge of my own church.”

Yeah, so you can fuck it up, Zeke thinks bitterly. Ramon’s just like those blanquitos Zeke and Papa Fuerte have worked with: burning buildings just to gain money. He wants that insurance to commit fraud and it pisses Zeke off.

Yolanda is starting to wonder how Ramon seemed to know that now was the best time to ask Francisco. Francisco will probably give Ramon whatever he wants, what with him feeling guilty about fucking his wife.

Francisco sighs and Zeke sees him rub his neck.

“Okay,” Francisco finally says. “Okay. I’ll give you the papers.”

Ramon smiles and Zeke snarls at him. The look on Zeke’s face makes Yolanda’s stomach sink.

“Gracias, hermano,” Ramons says empathetically.

Zeke sees Ramon sling his arm around his brother. Ramon’s face breaks into the same slick smile.

“I promise to do right by this,” Ramon tells Francisco.

The two brothers walk away and Zeke looks at Yolanda’s alarmed face.

“Ramon’s going to fuck some shit up, isn’t he?” Yolanda asks.

And Zeke, face still burning with disbelief and anger, nods solemnly.

Chapter Text

Mylene should be finding Yolanda and Zeke right now. She and Shaolin should be telling them what they over heard, should be asking them what they heard from Francisco and her father. Mylene should be doing something about this right now.

Instead, she’s huddled on the floor of an unfamiliar building, hugging her knees to her chest as Shaolin soothingly rubs her arm.

“How do I tell my mom that her husband is a crook?” Mylene asks, staring at a spot on the floor as if it could give her an answer.

Shaolin huddles next to her, still amazed by what they’d overheard. He looks over at Mylene and frowns.

“I don’t think you can, Lene,” Shaolin says honestly.

Mylene closes her eyes and sighs. She knows Shaolin’s right: there’s no way for Mylene to be able to go up to Lydia and tell her that Ramon is probably considering burn down the church for money. Mylene doesn’t think her mother would even believe that. And besides, even if she did, what would they do after that?

Mylene hangs her head back and swallows back the tears.

“What I am supposed to do now?” She asks the ceiling.

Shaolin knows she’s not talking to him, but he still wishes he had an answer. Shaolin holds his hand out to Mylene.

And Mylene, confused, angry and exhausted, laces her fingers with his.

**

Yolanda’s so mad she can’t see straight.

That probably explains why she keeps bumping into people as she and Zeke make their way through the crowd.

Yolanda can’t believe this. Ramon’s a fucking crook. He’s a crook and he’s trying commit fraud. Yolanda keeps trying to rationalize this, trying to think that maybe she and Zeke are jumping to conclusions because they don’t like him. But with Shaolin telling them about Nicky Barnes’s guys and the way Ramon was talking to Francisco? Yolanda can’t come to any other conclusions.

“Where’d Mylene and Shaolin go?” Yolanda asks in frustration. “I didn’t even see what direction they went after they left.”

“I ain’t either,” Zeke says, stretching his neck to look over the crowd. “They—wait!”

Zeke points and Yolanda follows his hand. She sees Mylene and Shaolin slowly making their way through the crowd, talking to each other as they walked.

Yolanda sees the look on Mylene’s face and her stomach sinks.

“Oh Lord. What did those suits say?” Yolanda mutters, watching the pair come towards them.

“Whatever it is, it ain’t good,” Zeke responds, watching Shaolin’s lips curve into a frown.

When she sees them get within earshot, Yolanda takes a step forward and steps on her tip-toe.

“Mylene! Shao!” she shouts and sure enough, Mylene and Shaolin look her directly in the face.

Mylene and Shao perk up and start to rush over as Zeke frantically waves them over. They look only marginally less distressed as they finally reach Zeke and Yolanda.

Before she says anything, Mylene pulls Yolanda into a hug. Shaolin follows suit, wrapping his arms around Zeke’s waist and leaning his face into Zeke’s neck.

“What happened?” Yolanda asks.

Mylene pulls away from Yolanda. She feels—and looks—exhausted.

“Those two men were pastors that are in with Nicky,” Mylene explains. “And they were talking about one of them having burned down their church for money.”

Yolanda’s stomach twists into a knot and she feels flush. All the anger she thought was starting to evaporate starts rushing back to her all at once.

“Your dad asked Francisco for the insurance papers,” Yolanda says, barely containing the anger in her voice.

Mylene’s face contort with shock and anger.

“Damn it! Damn it!” Mylene shouts, dragging her hands down her face. “I knew it!”

Shaolin lifts his head from Zeke’s neck and groans. Then he looks Zeke directly in the eyes.

“They said one of Annie’s cops is real mad about losing money after Les Inferno burned down. He wants to find out who did. And what happened to Cadillac.”

Zeke flinches when Shaolin mentions Cadillac. Zeke looks over at Yolanda, who frowns in confusion.

“Cadillac got crushed by the raggedy ass fire escape, right?” Yolanda asks, looking at everyone. “He landed on his own knife.”

“Yeah, but I was the one he pulled the knife on,” Zeke confesses, looking at the ground. “He was trying to kill me.”

Shit,” Yolanda whispers in alarm, watching the look on Zeke’s face. “What for?”

“He thought I was trying to do something to Annie. Wanted to take me out before I could,” Zeke says, looking at Shao while talking to Yolanda.

Yolanda looks at Zeke with a hard gaze and touches his arm.

“That’s not your fault, though,” Yolanda says empathetically. “You couldn’t stand there and let that nigga kill you.”

Zeke nods, but his facial expression doesn’t change. Yolanda shoots a look towards Shaolin, who sets his jaw and slides his arm around Zeke’s neck. A panic starts to rise in Yolanda as she thinks about how close Mylene, Zeke and Shaolin were to death that night. How much closer they all seem to be to death every day.

“Annie had a lot of dudes,” Mylene supplies, looking at Zeke and Shaolin, “I don’t think cops are going to be knocking on doors for that any time soon.”

Yolanda’s eyes slide towards Mylene, then back at Shaolin.

“Do my brothers know about any of this?” Yolanda asks, an edge appearing in her voice.

Zeke and Shaolin look at each other and Shaolin suddenly looks scared.

“No,” Zeke says forcefully. “And we weren’t exactly planning on telling them any time soon.”

“I-I don’t want them involved,” Shaolin says in a rush, giving Zeke a hard look. “Not with that.”

Yolanda wants to agree, but she can’t stand the idea of the boys being oblivious to what’s going on around them. That’s not fair at all.

“I think they should know,” she says in a shaky voice.

Shaolin’s eyes grow wide and Zeke looks confused. Mylene frowns and rubs Yolanda’s shoulders.

“You can’t leave them out of something like this,” Yolanda continues, feeling more sure of herself. “They should know what they’re up against if they’re a part of the crew.”

The big sister in Yolanda is screaming at the top of her lungs right now. If Yolanda’s being real with herself, she wants to start screaming and yelling at Shaolin. She wants to ask how in the hell he dragged them into this. She wants to ask Zeke why he kept himself tangled up with it. She wants to ask Mylene why she decided to go with it.

But if Yolanda asked all of those questions, she’d have to ask herself with she’s putting herself into this. Why wouldn’t she just tell Mylene this is too much shit to deal with and keep it moving?

The one answer Yolanda can come up with is “love.”

“Shaolin,” Yolanda says firmly, turning to fully face him, “do you love my brothers?”

Shaolin kind of twitches and goes silent for a moment. But then he nods.

Yolanda sighs with relief: she believes him. “Then you have to let them know.”

Shaolin’s eyes look sad, but he nods once again, squaring his shoulders. Zeke grabs Shaolin’s hand and the two of them make their way to the rest of the crew.

Yolanda turns back to Mylene and laces their fingers together.

“And you and your mom are going to stay with us,” she says with certainty. “That way, you guys won’t have to deal with your father’s bullshit.”

Mylene snorts, surprising Yolanda.

“It’s actually funny you say that,” Mylene says dryly. “My dad doesn’t want me to be around you anymore.”

Yolanda’s eyebrows fly to the top of her head and she barks out a laugh. She’d be way more hurt and offended if she hadn’t just witnessed Ramon plotting some illegal shit.

“Why? Am I too free thinking for him or something?” Yolanda asks teasingly.

Mylene wraps her arms around Yolanda’s waist and pulls her in for a soft kiss.

“Definitely,” Mylene says with a smile.

Yolanda laughs; Mylene’s smile wipes the panic, anger and fear off of Yolanda like an eraser wipes a chalkboard. Yolanda pulls Mylene even closer and leans their foreheads together.

“Guess he’ll just have to deal.”

Mylene and Yolanda feel tight and cozy as they embrace. They don’t even realize how much time passes. They’re in their own world. Right now, nothing can move them.

Except for Regina’s furious voice yelling at their direction.

“MYLENE!”

Mylene practically jumps out of Yolanda’s arms as she looks at Regina in confusion. Regina’s face is turning red and she’s storming towards them with her fists clenched.

“What happened?!” Yolanda asks in alarm.

“What happened is that Mylene lied!” Regina shouts, staring at Mylene.

Mylene clams up and Yolanda suddenly feels that panic again.

“Regina,” Mylene starts slowly, “I can explain—”

“You can explain? You went to Les Inferno for Shaolin Fucking Fantastic! He’s the reason you were there! And you went with Zeke, too!” Regina yells. Then she turns her stare to Yolanda. “Did you know any of this?!”

“Yes!” Yolanda blurts out. She puts her hands out to Regina. “I found out yesterday when I went to temple!”

“The temple? You mean that abandoned ass building Shaolin squats in,” Regina says harshly.

“Regina,” Mylene starts, sounding hurt.

“No! Oh, no! You don’t get to do that, Mylene!” Regina says, throwing a finger up. “You’ve always lectured me about not dealing with fuck ups. And here you go almost getting fucking killed because you feel sorry for a nigga that stole your boyfriend, has called you out yo’ name more times than he can count and got you both involved in this bullshit!”

“Regina—”

“And you,” Regina says, cutting Yolanda off and glaring at her. “You are sticking right by her! She’s out here doing all this shit for Shaolin and you don’t think that’s weird? Even after she heard that he fucking shot somebody? You don’t think there’s something up with this?”

Yolanda feels a pang in her chest at the end of Regina’s sentence. Zeke had said that Annie had Shao doing “really bad things” and, to be honest, Yolanda kind of figured that killing someone must have been what it was. But she’d never admitted it to herself.

Mylene shakes as she tries to stop tears. She’s always fucking crying lately and she knows that it’s only going to make Regina even more upset. But Mylene can’t really help it.

“Look,” Mylene says, trying to suppress a sob, “this is all fucked up, okay? And I’m sorry I didn’t tell you the whole truth! But I didn’t want to tell all of Shaolin’s business.”

Regina rolls her eyes and almost snarls at Mylene.

“Oh please! You know that’s not the real reason. You just didn’t want Yolanda to know that you did some fucked up shit for Shaolin of all fucking people! You didn’t want to tell the ‘whole truth’ because the whole truth makes you both look like dumb asses!” Regina shouts.

“Aye, watch your mouth!” Yolanda yells angrily. “You can be as pissed as you want, but watch what you say!”

Regina looks at Yolanda and huffs in frustration.

How you are still standing here right now?” Regina demands. “Why are you able to deal with all this mess when it’s really fucking clear that it’s only going to get worse?! Shaolin’s ruined everything and Ramon’s about to, too!”

“BECAUSE I LOVE MYLENE!” Yolanda shouts. “Don’t get mad at me because you can’t get that!”

Regina jerks her head back and looks at Yolanda incredulously. Yolanda can see the emotions that pass through Regina’s eyes: Anger. Disbelief. Frustration. Hurt. Fear.

“Love is bullshit, then,” Regina says darkly. “And I don’t want any of it.”

Before either of her friends can change her mind, Regina turns her back to them and rushes away.

“Regina, wait—” Mylene starts tearfully, but Yolanda stops her.

“Let her go,” Yolanda says sadly. “There’s nothing we can say to her right now.”

Mylene’s chest feels tight as she watches Regina disappear. Regina’s words play in her head like a loud, wrong note that keeps getting played over and over again.

“But she’s right, isn’t she?” Mylene asks, feeling almost desperate. “Regina’s right about me, Yolanda?”

Yolanda thinks about how she felt when she went to the temple last night, about how she felt when she’d decided to accept that Mylene told her.

The thing is: Regina is right. This makes no fucking sense. Mylene going to the club didn’t make any sense. Yolanda staying with her through all of this scary shit doesn’t make any sense.

From an outsider’s perspective, Yolanda’s a fool just like Mylene would be and Zeke would be.

And yeah, maybe they are all fools; maybe Yolanda’s the biggest fool of all.

But:

“Doesn’t matter,” Yolanda says fiercely. “I don’t care. Whatever we go through, we go through together.”

Mylene looks over to Yolanda in amazement and nods.

“You’ve gotta get your mom to come over to our house, okay?” Yolanda requests. “Just so you’ll have a less tense place to stay.”

Mylene sighs and looks at the spot here father had been standing in.

“Maybe that won’t be so hard after all.”

Out of the corner of her eye, Mylene sees Zeke and Shaolin walking their way again.

“Uh oh,” Yolanda mutters. “They don’t look happy.”

They don’t really: they both look tired. Especially Shaolin. He’s even walking like he’s tired.

“What happened?” Yolanda asks when Zeke and Shao get closer.

“It was rough, but we did it,” Zeke answers, squeezing Shao’s hand.

Yolanda looks at Shaolin, who hasn’t looked up at them since they came back over. She looks over at Mylene, who frowns.

“What did they say?” Yolanda asks slowly.

Zeke looks over at Shaolin and sighs. Shao still won’t look up.

“We just . . . the Crew taking a break for a little bit,” Zeke answers.

Yolanda’s stomach sinks. Mylene’s throat feels tight. She looks at Shaolin sadly.

“It’s gonna be okay,” Mylene says, hoping to reassure them at least a little bit.

Shao sighs, finally looks up and gives a small smile.  

“Yeah,” he says softly. “Yeah, I think so.”

Shaolin looks up and Zeke and smiles. Then he stretches up and gently kisses Zeke.

“Aw, aren’t you cute?” Yolanda teases, grateful for the levity.

Mylene laughs and nods. Then she sighs again.

“Can you guys be around tonight? When I tell my mom?”

“Of course,” Zeke answers.

Mylene smiles and looks over at Yolanda. As out of control as everything is, Mylene feels safer with them by her side.

“Okay,” Mylene says. “Okay.”

Chapter Text

The four of them walk to Mylene’s house in silence. None of them want to talk about what happened during the day—the long day that’s starting to give way into night as they reach Mylene’s apartment.

Maybe they don’t have the energy. Maybe they’re all tired. Mylene definitely is. She doesn’t think she even has it in her to do what she’s about to do. Her energy is almost gone.

Almost. Because she still has enough energy to be super surprised when she sees Regina sitting out in front of her place.

“Whoa,” Yolanda says breathily. Yolanda did not expect to see Regina for the next couple of days, especially with the way Regina stormed away from them.

“Uh, wasn’t she real mad earlier today?” Zeke asks, raising an eyebrow at Regina’s form.

“You guys saw that?” Yolanda asks.

“We mostly heard it, actually,” Zeke corrects, his voice trailing off when he notices the exhausted look on Mylene’s face.

Mylene holds a finger to Zeke and Shaolin and starts over to Regina.

“You guys just . . .be cool for a second, okay?” Mylene asks, trying to steady her voice.

Zeke and Shaolin nod while Yolanda’s eyes stay trained on Regina. Mylene flinches, but pushes herself forward.  

Mylene takes a deep, steadying breath as she walks up to Regina. Regina won’t look up at her; she picks at her nails and stares at the ground, at some spot next to Mylene’s feet.

“What are you doing here?” Mylene, hoping her voice doesn’t sound harsh. “You were mad as hell at me a couple of hours ago.”

Regina snorts and looks at her hands. Regina’s hair falls in front of her face and Mylene has to resist the urge to move it.

She looks so young. And tired. And sad.

“You know I suck at being mad,” Regina says, keeping her eyes on her hands in her lap. “Especially at you two.”

Silence falls between them; it makes Mylene nervous.

“Regina –”

“You know what’s the one thing I never liked about you?” Regina suddenly asks, her voice shaking.

“I do stupid shit all the time?” Mylene deadpans.

“No,” Regina says, a small smile appearing on her face. “No. I sometimes think that you can be selfish. That you just . . . think about what you need.”

Mylene frowns, her fingers twitching at her side. “Really?”

Regina nods and she finally looks up at Mylene.

“Think about it. If it was the other way around—if Yolanda was the one who went to a club with her ex and his new boyfriend and had all this drama going on—would you stay with her?”

Mylene feels flush and looks down at the ground as she thinks about.

The club, the fire, her mother’s affair, her dad’s illegal shit. Mylene imagines having to shoulder all she’s placed on Yolanda and a chill runs down her spine.

“No,” she answers honestly. “No, I wouldn’t.”

Regina sighs heavily. Mylene’s face burns and tears sting as they fill her eyes.

“I . . .don’t deserve Yolanda, do I?” Mylene asks softly.

“Don’t—don’t say that,” Regina stutters. Then she huffs in frustration and rubs at her eyes. “I hate when you talk like that,” she adds.

“But it’s true. You said it.”

“I was mad.”

“You weren’t wrong, though!” Mylene says empathetically. “You weren’t wrong at all. And that’s messing me up.”

Mylene’s throat feels tight and the heat from her face starts to creep down her neck and chest. Regina blinks back tears and looks away from Regina.

“You’re right,” Mylene continues. “I’m selfish. I only care about myself. I don’t like being feeling like I’m going to end up alone.”

Regina bites the inside of her cheek as her own face starts to burn with the threat of tears. Mylene starts to shake, but she’s got to say it. She’s got to get it out so she can do what she has to.

“I’m fucked up,” Mylene admits.

Her voice is suddenly clear and Regina looks Mylene in her eyes.

“But I love Yolanda. And I love you. And I need you guys. I can’t feel ashamed about that.”

Regina stares at Mylene hard and lets out a shaky laugh.

“I can’t with you,” Regina says through a chuckle.

Regina puts her face in her hands and smiles at Mylene.  Then she stands up.

“You guys are stressful. But there’s no one else I’d let stress me out.”

Mylene throws her arms around Regina and they hug tightly.

“We gotta stop fighting,” Mylene says. “I’m too tired to fight so much.”

“No kidding,” Regina says warmly.

When Mylene pulls away from Regina, she sees Yolanda, Zeke and Shaolin walking over.

“You guys are hugging. Is it safe?” Yolanda asks.

Regina and Mylene laugh, and Regina slings her arm over both of their shoulders.

“I think I’m stuck with you two. Forever.”

Mylene’s so relieved that she starts shaking. She wants to smile and hold them and stay in this moment for the rest of her life.

But the shakiness brought on by relief is quickly replaced by a shaking brought on by fear and anxiety. Her smile is snatched away and replaced a hot face and a deep frown.

“Mylene?” Yolanda asks quietly, looking deep into her eyes.

“I’m about to tell my mother to leave my father—who she’s been cheating on—because he’s planning on burning down the church and getting involved with a big-time drug dealer.”

Fear strikes Regina in her core and she tightens her grip on her friends.

“Shit,” she says in a hushed voice. She darts her eyes to Yolanda, who nods solemnly.

Regina looks at Mylene and sees the terror on her face. She wants to keep herself for the harsh words, the time she wasted by storming away from them.

And somehow or another, Mylene pulls away from her friends and turns towards her apartment building.

“We’ll be out here, waiting for you, okay?” Yolanda says. “We’re not going anywhere.”

Mylene, knowing that she run away if she turned back around for one second, nods stiffly.

**

Mylene left the t.v. on when she left.

Lydia sits at the dining room table, her hands shaking as she thumbs through a magazine. She should’ve turned the t.v. off once she saw that Mylene’d left it on—Lord knows it’s a waste of energy.

But honestly, the endless noise of the t.v. is the only thing that’s even remotely calming Lydia’s nerves.

She’s a shame to her family. Lydia knows this.

Ever since that first dance with Francisco, Lydia’s had these awful nightmares. Sometimes, her abuela comes into her room swinging a cross around, screaming at her about fornication and how adultery is against the Ten Commandments. Other times, it’s her mother, sitting in the corner of a room where Lydia lies with Francisco. She stares at Lydia in disgust and spits in her direction.

The worst ones are about Mylene.

They are about the moment Mylene walked in, when she saw her daughter witness her sin. Mylene screams her name over and over again. She runs away from the house, and this time she doesn’t come back to tell Lydia not to worry. She stays gone and Lydia can never get her back.

Lydia doesn’t sleep much at night. The dreams are too bad.

But not bad enough, it seems.

One of the fashion magazines Ramon hates so much features a man that resembles Francisco. Lydia slowly runs over finger over the face of the man.

How’d I get here? She keeps asking herself that, but she has no definite answer. Maybe Lydia’s always been here; she was here 16 years ago. She was here when she realized that Mylene may not be Ramon’s, that perhaps Francisco was a father and not an uncle, but that Ramon would have to be a father, regardless of the truth. She was here the night of the blackout.

Maybe she was supposed to be here. Maybe that was the point the whole time and Lydia just took a wrong turn. Maybe Lydia’s been walking away from what she was supposed to be walking towards for all these years.

16 years. Walking down the wrong road for 16 years. What a fucking waste.

The man on the page actually looks more like Ramon than Francisco; his skin’s darker. The smile is more familiar to the one that used to grace her husband’s face. Back when they were young and kind.  

Lydia loved Ramon. She really did.

But she loves freedom more. And freedom was only had in a dance in a darkened room.

**

“Mama?”

Mylene’s voice is soft, but it still makes Lydia jump. Lydia’s been sitting with her back to the door; she didn’t even hear the door opening.

Guilt tugs at Mylene as she stares at her mother’s back jerk.

“Mylene! You’re home.”

Lydia turns around and sees the look on Mylene’s face. Mylene looks terrified, more than Lydia’s ever seen.

  “Baby, what’s wrong?” Lydia asks, fear gripping at her throat. “What’s happened?”

And the words are there; they’re in Mylene’s throat. But they won’t come out. Tears come out instead.

Dear God, Mylene thinks bitterly. I oughta be out of tears by now.

Lydia jumps out of her chair and wraps her arms around Mylene. Mylene sinks into her mother’s concern and holds on tight. Lydia rubs Mylene’s back and Mylene clings even tighter.

It’s been so long since her mother has felt like a mother, since Mylene has been allowed to be a child.

“What’s going on? Did something happen in the park?” Lydia asks urgently.

Mylene pulls back and looks at Lydia’s face. Lines. Soft, sad lines. From all those years of a dreamless marriage.

“We need to leave,” Mylene gets out. “We need to leave dad.”

Lydia’s stomach sinks, but she doesn’t know from what. She fights the feeling of relief and gratefulness, and wipes away the tears coming from Mylene’s eyes.

“Mylene, sweetheart,” Lydia begins, her voice trembling, “I know what I’m doing is so wrong—”

“But it’s him, Mama! It’s Dad! He’s going something really bad and we can’t stay,” Mylene rushes out.

Lydia frowns and guides Mylene to the couch. Mylene, realizing just how deeply exhausted she is, sits as close as she can to her mother.

“Sweetie, what are you talking about? Did your father say something at the park?”

Mylene closes her eyes, takes a breath and nods.

“Me, Yolanda, Zeke and Shaolin overheard Daddy talking to Francisco and some other guys,” Mylene begins.

Lydia’s face pales and she goes cold at the mention of Francisco, but she nods for Mylene to keep going.

Mylene gulps hard and grips the edge of the couch. It’s always better to rip the bandage off.

“Daddy . . . Daddy’s been talking to guys who work for Nicky Barnes, Ma. He has this idea to burn down the church.”

Unprepared and shocked are understatements. Lydia feels like she’s been punched in the stomach.

She hops up from the couch and begins to pace.

“That can’t be true,” Lydia mutters. She rings her hands and feels her breathing become shallow. “That can’t be true.”

“It is!” Mylene insists. “It is! Daddy got Francisco to give him the insurance papers today! And the other pastors—the ones Daddy met with that day—they’re involved. One of them did the same to his church.”

Lydia freezes to the spot when Mylene mentions the other pastors. Business, Lydia. They were talking about business.

“Shit,” Lydia huffs out. Lydia thinks back to the way Ramon had reacted when he found the money Francisco gave her, to all the times Ramon has condescended to her about cash. Ramon had always let them go without, has always looked down on Lydia because she understands that money would make or break them. And yet . . .

“Your father has always thought money to be evil,” Lydia says. “But even he knows he needs it desperately.”

“I don’t even know if it’s about the money,” Mylene says thoughtfully. “Not completely, anyway. I think he doesn’t like feeling secondhand to Francisco. Like he owes Francisco something.”

Lydia rolls her eyes. “You’re right about that, for sure. He’s always been like that, even way before you came into the picture.” Then Lydia deflates. “And I’m sure as hell aren’t helping, am I?”

Mylene sighs. Then she gets up and touches her mother’s arm.

“I told you I get it, Ma,” Mylene says earnestly. “I wasn’t just saying that.”

Lydia takes a long look at her incredible daughter. Then she leans her head against Mylene’s. Mylene wraps her arms around her mother’s frame.

“I’ve made things . . . so hard,” Lydia says. “For both of us.”

Mylene squeezes her mother, her eyes on the ground. “No, you didn’t.”

“I have,” Lydia argues, lifting her head and looking Mylene in the eye. “I have. I’ve always known what was right, but I haven’t been doing it. I should’ve left a long time ago, I think.”

Mylene looks at her mother and gives her an encouraging smile.

“The Kiplings want us to come over there,” Mylene says. “Until we can figure something out.”

Lydia smiles back. “Good. I think it’ll look too bad if we immediately go over to Francisco’s.”

“Francisco’s?”

At that moment, Lydia and Mylene’s blood runs cold.

Mylene’s face burns as she slowly turns to see Ramon standing in the door way.

Lydia’s nerves shatter and she starts to shake all over. Lydia turns completely around and, on instinct, stands directly in front of Mylene.

Lydia sees Ramon’s hands ball into fists and she steels herself.

“You’re leaving,” Ramon says, his voice dark. It’s a statement, not a question.

“Yes,” Lydia answers curtly. She reaches back and grabs Mylene's hand. “We both are.”

Ramon, his face grave and eyes dark, says nothing; he raises an eyebrow and looks around Lydia at Mylene. Mylene looks over her mother’s shoulder, making sure to look right back at her father.

“Ramon,” Lydia says firmly.

Ramon’s head snaps back and he turns his gaze right back to Lydia. Lydia stands up straighter; she refuses to quiver under his eyes.

“Ramon, it’s what’s best,” Lydia urges. “You know it is.”

“Oh, it’s what’s best,” Ramon echoes mockingly.

Whatever is past fear—past terror and panic—that is where Mylene is. Mylene feels almost numb as she hears her father’s voice grow more and more dangerous.

Ramon takes a step closer to them and Mylene’s heart starts to pound. When she looks at her father closely, she can see tears in his eyes.

“You want to be with Francisco,” Ramon growls. Another statement, not a question. “And don’t lie and say that’s not it,” he adds threateningly.

But Lydia doesn’t waver. In fact, she stands even straighter and sets her jaw.

“That’s not all, Ramon,” Lydia says. “It’s not just about Francisco. It’s about you. And me.”

Me?” Ramon demands. “Me? I could’ve sworn I did everything for you. Provided for you, gave you that little store you have. Tried to raise our daughter respectfully. Married you, even when everyone told me you were trash!”

Mylene flinches and, without warning, blinding white anger takes over. She starts to shake for a completely different reason now.

Lydia squeezes Mylene’s hand and keeps her gaze steady.

“All you had to do was love me,” Ramon continues. The tears threaten to spill over as he looks at wife imploringly. “That’s all.”

“No. No it wasn’t,” Lydia states. “That wasn’t all. I had to give up every dream I ever had. I had to push myself into being this meek, quiet little First Lady. I had to turn my back on everything I ever wanted for myself. And worst of all, I had to let you mistreat my daughter and put us all in danger for some scheme to build your money and pride!”

Ramon’s eyes grow wide and his face contorts into something Mylene can’t ever remember seeing from him: real fear.

“I know about what you plan for the church, Ramon,” Lydia says to Ramon’s shock. “And I’m not keeping Mylene around while you commit fraud and get involved with dangerous men!”

Ramon’s fingers start to twitch and he looks at Mylene again. This time, Mylene looks away, not wanting to give him the satisfaction of being able to look into her eyes.

“I’ve done really wrong things,” Lydia admits. “I know I have. But I have to do what’s right this time.”

Ramon stares at Lydia; his breathing slows and he suddenly goes still and calm.

“Fine, then,” he says. Then he turns and starts towards Mylene’s room.

Lydia and Mylene look at each other in alarm as Ramon pushes through Mylene’s door.

“Ramon . . ..” Lydia says slowly, rounding the corner and standing in the doorway of Mylene’s room.

“If you and her want to leave, take all of this garbage with you!” Ramon shouts.

Ramon starts grabbing Mylene’s belongings and throwing them at the two of them.

“STOP THAT!” Mylene shouts.

Mylene rushes to her door and she has to duck as her clock comes flying towards her head.  

“RAMON!” Lydia yells. “STOP THAT RIGHT NOW!”

Ramon ignores them, throwing shirts and pants at Lydia and Mylene. Lydia and Mylene get into the room and Lydia reaches for Ramon’s arm.

Ramon snatches away from her, picks up a high-heeled shoe and throws it. The shoe hits Mylene dead in the face.

Mylene’s nose stings as the shoe bounces off of it. Mylene stumbles back into the wall, cupping her nose in case it starts bleeding. And in the second she puts her hands to her face, she hears Lydia and Ramon begin to struggle.

“Mama!” Mylene shouts, dropping both of her hands from her face.

Lydia is struggling to take another shoe out of Ramon’s hands.

“Let go of me!” Ramon snarls.

But Lydia can’t hear past her fury. She tightens her grip and pulls her own snarl.

Fuck you, you fucking egomaniac!” Lydia says and with one good pull, she snatches the shoe out of his hand.

Ramon reaches out with the newly-freed hand and slaps Lydia hard across the face.

In that moment, Mylene doesn’t see her father. She doesn’t see a man who had raised her, sent her to school and church.

In that moment, Mylene sees Little Wolf. She sees Cadillac. She sees Wolf who grabs on Regina. Mylene sees every man that’s ever made her skin crawl, that’s ever filled her with rage or hurt.

Ramon’s not her father. Not anymore. He means nothing to her now.

Mylene lunges forward and shoves Ramon as hard as she can into her mirror behind him.

Ramon, unprepared for Mylene, immediately flies backwards, crashing into the mirror. Glass shatters and pools around Ramon as he falls to the ground and looks up with surprise, anger and hurt.

“Mylene,” he says in a quiet, broken voice.

Mylene looks at the man on the floor and snorts.

“Don’t call my name anymore,” she says.

Then she reaches back and grabs her mother’s hand.

“Let’s go.”

Lydia smiles at Mylene through a busted lip and they leave the apartment together.

Chapter Text

It’s getting cold outside.

That’s the one thing Yolanda hates about New York—it gets cold too early. Summer doesn’t last long enough and fall doesn’t really exist. It’s either hot or cold.

It’s cold outside, but Yolanda doesn’t care: she sits on the fire escape, staring out at the city. There are worse things than being cold, she’s decided.

Mylene and Lydia are still asleep. Really, the whole house is still asleep. There’s something about grief and trauma that’s contagious; it can steal the energy out of everyone in the room.

It stole all of her energy when Mylene and Lydia left that apartment building bruised and bloodied. And the rage she felt ate the last of whatever Yolanda had in her.

Yolanda doesn’t even remember too much of what happened after Mylene and Lydia came out of the building. She just remembers being angry.

Yolanda hates being angry: it takes too much out of her. A whole twelve hours later, Yolanda still has to lean her head on the fire escape railing.

“Long night, right?”

Yolanda smiles at the sound of her father’s voice. He climbs out and joins her on the fire escape.

“Hey, Daddy,” Yolanda says, keeping her eyes on the Bronx.

Winston puts his hand on Yolanda’s shoulder. The warmth of her father’s hand makes Yolanda think about all the ways Ramon’s betrayed Mylene. Suddenly, the coldness Yolanda was feeling gives way to a heat from within.

“You know what?” Yolanda starts, looking over at her father.

Winston looks down at her. “What’s that?”

“I can’t ever imagine you treating me and mama the way Mylene’s father treated them,” Yolanda says, her voice beginning to shake. “I just can’t think about it.”

Winston nods firmly and takes his own turn looking out at the rising morning.

“I can’t either,” Winston says. “I love you far too much for that.”

Yolanda nods and feels tears start to crawl up her throat.

“Is it weird that I kinda think it’s unfair?” Yolanda asks her father. “It’s unfair the way Mylene’s had to live. All that love she’s been missing.”

“Oh, sweetheart,” Winston says fondly. “That ain’t weird. That’s damn near revolutionary.”

Yolanda starts to cry and Winston pulls her into a tight hug. Yolanda cries and cries. She cries for herself, and for Yolanda. She cries for Lydia and all the years she lived in sadness. Yolanda cries and hugs her father, and cries harder when she realizes that Mylene probably won’t ever be able to do the same again.

Winston pulls back and wipes the tears from Yolanda’s cheek.

“I have faith that Mylene’s going to be okay,” Winston says reassuringly. “You know why?”

Yolanda shakes her head, but smiles.

“She’s got a lot of fight in her,” Winston answers. “More than that, she’s got you.”

Winston leans down, kisses Yolanda’s forehead and goes back inside.

Yolanda looks over the railing again. Her father’s words echo in her head and she sees a different sunrise.

A lot of fight in her.

**

Mylene wakes up next to Yolanda and, for a brief second, thinks she’s dreaming.

But as her eyes adjust to her surroundings, she remembers that it’s all real. The talk with her mother was real. The fight with her father was real. Yolanda trying to go back upstairs to kill Ramon was real.

It all happened. It’s all still happening.

“Yolanda?” Mylene calls.

Yolanda’s eyes fly open immediately. She’s kind of a light sleeper, after all.

“Hi,” Mylene says softly.

Yolanda smiles and softly rubs Mylene’s face.

“How are you feeling? Honestly?”

Mylene opens her mouth, but then closes it again. Because the answer should be probably be “bad.” Or “hurt.” Angry.

But she’s not. It’s the weirdest thing, but there’s only one word Mylene can use to describe how she feels.

“I feel . . . free,” she says.

Mylene looks over to her surprised girlfriend and smiles.

“I honestly feel free.”

Yolanda puts an arm around Mylene’s waist and pulls her closer. Yolanda feels the happiness in Mylene’s smile and laughs with joy.

“About damn time.”

**

Whoever said company has to leave after three days must not have accounted for people who already feel like home.

Because after three days, the Kiplings start to have a hard time imaging life without Lydia and Mylene. The already-full house fills with even more love and light.

And maybe Yolanda’s tripping or too head-over-heels for her own good, but the house even looks brighter to her. Like their combined love has given new color to the walls.

Mylene, too, can’t help but wonder how she’s lived anywhere other than right next to Yolanda. The hole in her closes a little more each night as she closes the space between them.

**

They’re healing.

There will be scars and bruises will fade slowly.

There’s still a divorce to deal with, custody to attend to, property to split. There’s still Francisco to deal with and an old auditorium neither Mylene or Lydia can ever step foot in again.

But nevertheless, they are healing.

**

“Mylene, are you awake?”

Yolanda gently presses her hand onto Mylene’s back. Mylene grins at the warmth and turns to face Yolanda.

“Of course,” Mylene says teasingly. “How can anyone sleep next to you?”

Yolanda breaks into a fit of giggles. “You say that like you don’t sleep like a rock most of the time.”

Mylene stifles her laugh and rolls her eyes. “Girl, what do you want?”

“I want to show you something I’ve been working on.”

“A song?” Mylene’s eyes light up. “You’ve been writing?”

Yolanda smiles shyly and nods. Then she turns over and grabs her notebook from her bedside table.

“I wrote about you and for you,” Yolanda confesses, handing the book to Mylene.

Mylene sits up eagerly and opens the book gently, as if it were the most precious thing in the world.

The first thing she sees is a song called, “Fight.”

“‘For when you feel down,’” Mylene reads aloud.

You’ve been using your power

For wrong, not right

You been knocking us down,

All day and night

Yolanda watches Mylene read, smiling at the look of triumph in Mylene’s eyes. Yolanda thinks about how hard it’s been, how far they’ve had to come. But they’ve done it.

You’ve been trying your best

To steal our light

But no matter what you do

We’ll always shine bright

Mylene smiles, imaging herself and the Soul Madonnas on a stage, shining bright as the lights bounce off of them.

You try to beat me down,

And curse my name

But when you turn around

Here I remain!

Ramon passes through Mylene’s mind. If her father, of all people, couldn’t stop her, maybe no one could. With Yolanda by her side, maybe Mylene can truly be whatever she’s always wanted.

I know you’ll always try

To steal my light!

Well try all you want!

I still shine bright!

Mylene imagines herself shining. And not because of flashy clothes or big jewelry. But because of the love she and Yolanda have made.

Mylene reaches over and tangles her fingers with Yolanda’s. Yolanda presses her lips to Mylene’s hand and thanks God for it all.

Because we fight! We fight!

All day and night!

We fight! We fight!

With all our might!

We’ll push and kick,

With all our might!

All night, we fight!

For our right,

To stay

forever alive!