Lil Johnny

"You ain't no motherfucking pimp, you're a rest haven for hoes," The man on the corner screams at a random car passing by. 

Ninety-five degrees out here in the middle of a blackout, and he's got energy for to spare. Cocaine is a hell of drug. It's neighborhood theater. Everyone is outside, watching him yell with no real reason. There's a breeze out here. Inside the heat just hovers over you, never really leaving or giving you a reprieve. The breeze doesn't stop my wife beater from sticking to my skin or sweat from landing in my eyes, but there's a moment of tranquility to it.

"Your bitch chose me," The addict yells at a passerby on the street.

"Fuck did you say to me," he man steps in front of his girlfriend and prepares to fight.

"You know the rules to the game, I mean your bitch," he points to the woman, "just chose me. Now we can settle this like we got some class, or we can get into some gangster shit."

"That's enough now," Big Johnny steps in. "He ain't right in the head. Just go on. He didn't mean no harm." 

I remember when I was younger, I used to play with Lil Johnny all day. We'd catch the bus together, go to class together, come home together, do homework together, go play together. Big Johnny was like a second dad to me. Then Lil Johnny got murdered over a girl he was breaking up with that night. he won the fight, but then the guy came back with a gun and shot Johnny and the girl. I couldn't bear to look at Big Johnny anymore. My boy looked just like his dad, and would never grow up to be like him. I don't think he could look at me either. Afterwards it seemed like Big Johnny didn't have motivation for anything but stopping fights before they started.

"I'm gonna come looking for you, and blow your heart out your body...SUCKA," the addict points a crooked finger from behind Big Johnny.

Big Johnny can't hold them apart any longer. He's still strong, but stuck between an addict and a man half his age isn't a good place to be. The woman is yelling for the man to leave, but he's promising to shoot the addict. My dad gives me a little kick in the back, nudging me on. I force my body off the step as the old wood tugs at my shorts. I don't move fast, but I move with intent towards the altercation.

"Hey, bro. I put my hand on the man's shoulder. It's hot out here. He's on crack, and you got a beautiful woman with you who clearly cares about you. It's already a trash night, no need to make it worse," I try to talk him down.

"Baby, let's just go. He ain't worth it," she speaks as the crackhead glares.

"You're lucky," he mumbles and walks off hand in hand again with his girlfriend, or wife maybe.

Big Johnny looks older than I remember, it's been a few years but it looks like he aged a few decades in the time. The stray white hairs have multiplied and his head is now more salt than pepper. I wonder if he can see the changes in me as well. I'm taller than him now, I look more like my own father now. 

"I really got these bitches minds controlled," the crackhead mutters and keeps walking. 

I couldn't face this man for so long, yet here we are, face to face. I don't know what to say, I couldn't speak to him at the funeral, couldn't even bring myself to wave at him or pat him on the back. I've watched this man from afar for the last six years, since I was seventeen, but I never saw him until tonight. I've been to Lil Johnny's grave, I mourn my best friend the same way he mourns his child, and here we are, strangers.

I want to speak, tell him how I know what he's feeling. Like he's missing some part of himself, the same way I am. I want to tell him how I blame myself for not being there that night. The words just won't come out of my mouth and my feet won't let me run away. Big Johnny wraps his arms around me, and all I can do is hug him back. I can't stop the tears from flowing. No man has ever seen me cry except my dad, and Lil Johnny. Men aren't supposed to cry in front of other men, but this feels so right.

"I'm sorry," the words I've wanted to say for so long.

"Thank you for being his friend," Big Johnny lets me go. 

We just stare at each other for a moment, occasionally glancing at the sky. It feels like we both had so much to say, and those two sentences can't cover it all, but there's a start. Maybe we can invite them over for Sunday dinner, like the old times. We can't go back to the way things were, but it doesn't mean they have to stay the same as they are now. 

"Seems like something Lil Johnny would do," I just nod in agreement.

He palms the back of my head and pushes me away towards my own home.The same way he'd do when we were kids, only now he has to reach up to do it. I look back and he shares a wave with my own parents before returning to his own front porch. lights start to buzz and AC units hum as the power comes back on around the neighborhood. When I look back, Big Johnny has already gone inside, and the moment is gone.

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