Bleu Montclair knew as a young girl that she would one day escape the hard, unrelenting streets of Flint, Michigan, and when her desperate prayers are answered in the form of a scholarship to UCLA, Bleu knows she's struck gold. But soon after arriving, all her beautiful, bright dreams begin to fall apart. Endless temptations abound in the form of cars, clothes, booze, drugs, and Bleu cannot keep up. When her roommate gives her the opportunity to make a lot of money fast, Bleu goes all in-and heads straight down a path of violence and addiction that only her newest protector, Iman, can save her from.
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By Ashley Antoinette
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2015 Ashley Antoinette
All rights reserved.
One year ago
The buzz of the fan blew through the small liquor store as Bleu carried a case of beer, balancing it against her hip as she walked. The summer heat made the inside of the store feel like an oven, and her shirt stuck to her back as she worked up a small sweat. It was sweltering and even the flies were too exhausted to buzz around in the suffocating temperatures. It had been a melting summer. A heat wave had swept through the Midwest and Bleu was miserably displeased.
"Bruno, I came here to pick up my check, and you put me to work!" she grumbled as she carried the heavy boxes and placed them into the cooler.
"I got you; I got you! I'll add a couple bucks to your pay. That fucking Max called in. Saturday is my biggest night. This idiot calls off on the day the deliveries come in. I swear I don't know why I keep him around," Bruno, the store's owner, said as he pinched his fingers together while waving his hand as he chastised.
"Because he's your son," she replied with a smile as she blew her side bang out of her face to stop it from sticking to her forehead. She stepped into the beer cooler and threw her head back in relief. The sudden drop in temperature provided a temporary relief. It had been a long summer. She had just graduated from high school, and instead of celebrating her new independence with friends she was about to say good-bye to, she had spent the past few months working day and night just to afford college. Unlike her classmates, nothing was being handed to her. She had been accepted to UCLA on a partial scholarship, but she could still barely afford to attend. Bleu would be eating ham sandwiches and Oodles of Noodles just to get by, but it didn't matter. L.A. was her getaway. It was her ticket out of Flint, Michigan. Born and bred in a city of hustlers and killers, she loved her hometown, but it was a known fact that the nothingness of it all would kill her slowly if she didn't pursue her big-city dreams. She peered back at Bruno, who was signing for the beer shipment, and then placed her headphones in her ears. She slid her back down the wall and took a seat right there in the freezer, grateful for the cool air.
John Legend crooned through her iPod as she bobbed her head and lip-synced to the soulful tune as she gave herself a break.
"Fuck it. I'm not supposed to be here anyway. Thirty minutes won't hurt," she mumbled. She sat down and leaned against the freezing wall, zoning out as she counted down the days until she made her departure from Fli-city. In one week flat she would be a ghost. This was the last check she would pick up before telling everyone to kiss her ass good-bye.
She crawled over to a stack of boxes and pushed them aside until the vent behind it was exposed. Reaching inside, she pulled out an old can that contained her entire life's savings. She couldn't keep it at home. Too many people ran in and out of her father's house to ever keep all that she had earned there. The music in her ears drowned out all sound as she pulled her money out of the can. It was every dollar that she had made since her freshman year of high school. California had been her dream ever since she was a little girl and she had been saving for it as long as she could remember. As she flipped through the bills, she realized that she had saved $11,000, a dollar at a time. It wasn't much and would probably be spent on books and supplies within weeks, but she was going anyway. She was headed to L.A. with a dream that only an eighteen-year-old could believe in. There was beauty in her youth ... she saw the world through optimistic eyes where everyone else around her saw cynicism. She was young and fearless. She was tired of the poverty-stricken streets and gunshot sounds outside her window. She could practically hear the sound of the ocean already.
She sat up in alarm. The sound of gunshots chased away the sound of imaginary waves.
She snatched the earbuds out, thinking that maybe she had been mistaken. Maybe a truck's exhaust had backfired, or the loud clang of the Dumpster being emptied had interrupted her. Frozen in fear, she breathed rapidly as her heart ached with sudden uncertainty. There was urgency inside of her sounding off, telling her to flee ... that danger was near. Then she heard it again and this time there was no mistaking it.
She frantically crawled to the entrance of the freezer.
"Fuck you shoot that nigga for?! How the fuck we supposed to get in the safe if he dead?!" one of the robbers asked in frustration.
Bleu's eyes watered as she saw Bruno lying on the floor, a pool of crimson spreading beneath his body as he gurgled on his own blood. His eyes were wide with fear as his fingers reached for her.
"He-hel-help," he choked out. Tears stung her eyes as she covered her mouth to stop herself from crying aloud. She shook her head as she placed her trembling fingers to her lips. He was reaching for her, begging for her to help him, but all she wanted was for him to stay quiet and not reveal her hiding spot. Bruno was dying, and as much as she wanted to help him, her feet wouldn't move. Her eyes darted to the two masked gunmen who had invaded the store.
"Fuck it, we'll just take what's in the register!" the other one shouted. He pulled off his mask as he spat, "It is hot as fuck in this bitch. Make sure you grab that security tape." The look on his face would forever be etched in her mind as he stomped over to Bruno's body and aimed his gun. Treacherous. These young boys were merciless and fear pulsed through her like a live current.
Bleu closed her eyes as she anticipated the shot.
She jumped, hitting the case of beer behind her, causing it to crash to the floor, announcing her presence. Her eyes widened in fear as she looked for a place to hide, but there was nothing but walls around her. She was trapped.
"Fuck was that? I told you to clear this mu'fucka out! Go back there and see!" one of the men shouted.
Terrified, she felt her hands shake violently, because she knew that she was about to die. Flint was full of Tony Montanas. She knew that the men had come with intentions of robbery but had no problems leaving with double murders on their résumés, and she was shaken. Like a deer in headlights, she watched as one of the men came into the freezer, gun drawn, finger curled around the trigger.
"Bitch, get cho' ass out here!" he barked as he spotted her. He snatched her out of her hiding spot, fisting her hair as he dragged her out into plain view.
"Please, please, please don't kill me. I swear to God I won't say anything. I swear. Please," she pleaded. "My name is Bleu. I'm only eighteen years old. I don't want to die. I ..." She had learned that somewhere. She had not thought she had been listening when she had taken self-defense as her elective class in school, but now here she was, rattling off facts to endear herself to these wolves ... these men who had suddenly come into her life and turned it upside down a week before she was set to start the rest of her life.
"Shut the fuck up and open the safe!" the man growled as he grabbed her by the back of the neck and pushed her toward the bulletproof glass. Her feet tripped over Bruno's big body and she stumbled, her hands sliding through a sea of blood as she tried to break her fall. She panicked as the deep burgundy liquid soaked through her clothes. Her legs were like noodles as she stood, hands stained, as tears began to flow uncontrollably.
"I don't know how to open the safe. Please. Just p-p-lease l-l-et me go," she whispered, stammering over her words as fear caused potholes to interrupt her normally smooth cadence. "I just work here ... I don't know how to open the safe ... I'm just a —"
Bleu fell to her knees. It felt like a hot iron had been placed onto her lower back and was burning its way through her insides as the bullet traveled through. They shot me, she thought, in a state of disbelief as she placed her hands on the floor in front of her. She gasped, struggling to inhale as she watched the world around her move in slow motion. Searing pain. That's what it was ... undeniable, excruciating, severe pain. It was like none other that she had ever felt before, and she knew that she was dying. She tried to keep her eyes open because she knew that if they closed she might never open them again. Everything around her moved in slow motion as she tried to crawl. One hand in front of the other, slow ... desperately searching ... for what she didn't know. Perhaps for safety? For help? Bleu just wanted to get out of there, but the oxygen in her lungs was dwindling slowly and the room was beginning to spin. She collapsed on the ground and sipped in air slowly. I'm dying, she thought as she blinked slowly. She had a ground-level view of the scene as she watched the feet of the robbers as they ran around her as if she weren't taking her last breaths right before their very eyes. They rushed to the cash register. She heard them open the cash register and then empty it, and then they fled out of the store as she gurgled on her own blood.
The bell above the door jingled as they stormed out, leaving her to die. She was choking, drowning, suffocating, as she struggled just to breathe. This slow burn was torture as she bled out; the pain was so unbearable that she wished death would just take her quickly. She lay chest-down on the floor, her hand resting next to Bruno's lifeless one as she waited for the end to come. She used her last bit of energy to open her clenched fist, stretching her fingers until she felt the tips touching Bruno's hand. If she was going to die, she didn't want to do it alone. As she lay leaking on the cold floor, she realized that she was just another girl from Flint, Michigan. She hadn't done anything. She hadn't seen much. She was simply another soul of the city who had been lost too soon. She had almost made it out ... but almost didn't count.
* * *
Beep ... beep ... beep.
The sounds roused Bleu from the darkest sleep she had ever succumbed to. It was as if she were walking out of a thick fog. She had been in limbo, stuck between life and death. Waking up was no easy feat.
Her eyes felt as if they were sewn closed as she tried her hardest to open them. When they finally fluttered open, she saw flashes of the world around her. Flowers and balloons surrounded her. She silently wondered who had sent them all. Not many people paid attention to her on an ordinary day. Surely these arrangements weren't meant for her. She felt the wetness of tears slide down the sides of her cheeks as she willed her eyes to stay open. Suddenly terror filled her. Almost instantly flashbacks of the shooting ran through her mind. BOOM!
She would never forget the sound of that gun blasting off in her ear. She was swallowed up by the darkness in the room. The only light that peeked in shone through the vertical blinds, which had been drawn closed. The sounds and smells around her told her that she was in the hospital, and as her eyes darted around the room, they fell upon the crumpled body that was sprawled awkwardly in the chair across from her. Noah, she thought, immediately recognizing her sleeping friend. He had been by her side since grade school. Dealing with a drunk for a father, a disappearing mother, and friends who changed colors like traffic lights, Noah was the only constant in her life. She opened her chapped lips to call his name but immediately felt as if she were choking on her own tongue. She gasped for air as she struggled to catch her breath. The monitors she was hooked to wailed in alarm as her heart rate spiked from her panic, and a nurse came rushing into the room, waking Noah up with the commotion.
"What's happening?" he asked as he rushed to Bleu's side.
Bleu's eyes were wide with fear as her hands reached for the tube that extended from her neck.
"Bleu," the nurse spoke, getting her attention. "You can't speak until I remove the trach. The doctors had to insert one because you were unable to breathe on your own. I need you to calm down, okay?"
Bleu felt Noah grab her hand and hold on to her tightly and then a pinch to her arm caused everything to slow down.
No, no, no, I don't want to go back to sleep, she thought as she watched the nurse slide the needle out of her arm. No, no ... her mental objections were in vain. Within seconds it was lights-out again.
"What the fuck do you do? Huh, Wayne? You lay around this bitch and smoke up all my shit, but you don't contribute shit back in this mu'fucka! I cover the rent, put food in the fridge. The fuck you got going on?"
Bleu heard the shouting. Hell, everyone heard the shouting. The thin project walls left little room for privacy, but the entire building had gotten so used to Sienna and Wayne's arguments that no one even batted an eye. As Bleu drew on the pages of the blank notebook, she blocked out the noise. This was life. When she was younger, the yelling would cause her to cry for hours. She had been terrified of the screaming. The screaming oftentimes was the precursor to hitting, and she used to be so afraid that she would pee her pants. Now she didn't even bat an eye. She was eight years old, a big girl now and too old for all those damn tears. Or at least that's what Sienna, her mother, had told her. So instead, she drew. She would zone out for hours as the incessant arguing became the motivation for her skilled pencil.
"Bitch, you don't pay shit. Section 8 keeps this roof over your head!" Bleu's father barked. The bass in his voice thundered as he spoke. He and Sienna were so loud they were practically shaking the walls. "And the food stamps you get you sell off. You ain't even got enough food in this bitch to feed our fucking baby because your junkie ass smoke all the shit up!" Wayne shouted.
Bleu shook her head as she sighed. Her small hand floated over the paper with grace as she drew a detailed picture of a California beach. She hadn't ever seen one in person, but the pictures that she had seen on the TV served as good enough motivation.
"Who the hell you calling a junkie, Wayne?" Sienna asked. "If that ain't the pot calling the kettle black. You hypocrite mothafucka! As a matter of fact, get your black ass out. Get out and don't bring your ass back until you have some money in your pockets. I'm tired of taking care of a grown-ass, no-good, mothafuckin' man. You coming up in here eating, shitting, and smoking, but not helping replace shit. Kind of man are you? Fucking crackhead." Her words were lethal and she was known for her curse outs. Her sharp tongue had just cut him down to size. Her tiny frame didn't make her much of a fighter, but her mouth did more damage than her fists ever could.
"Takes one to know one, you miserable bitch!" Wayne shouted, his pride wounded, as he grabbed his car keys and his winter jacket.
"And take your goddamn daughter with you! Don't nobody need her ass in here sitting around looking like you. Both of you mothafuckas can get the fuck out!" Sienna shouted.
Bleu's heart stopped when she heard her mother mention her. She hoped that her father took her with him. Her mother was broke, and apparently Bleu's father had smoked the last of her stash. A sober Sienna was a mean Sienna and Bleu wanted no part of that. Whenever Sienna kicked Wayne out of the house, he would be gone for days, and in his absence random men would fill his place. Willing to do anything to satisfy the urge to get high, Sienna would often screw her way to her next fix. She was a beautiful woman, with a tight ass and firm breasts. Despite the fact that she sucked on a glass dick daily, she still prided herself on her looks. It was all Sienna had ever had. "There was no way I was letting you suck the life out of my titties, little girl. I'd let you starve before I was left with saggy little flapjacks. These are moneymakers," she would often brag. Bleu never knew if it was meant as a joke, but somewhere deep inside of her she knew it was the truth. Her bedroom door opened and her father walked in. He was tall and slender. His used-to-be-handsome features had diminished. Years of drug use had taken a toll on Wayne.
Wayne Montclair. He had been a big deal in the city once upon a time. So had her mother. A known hustler with a pretty little down chick on his arm. Sienna and Wayne had been Flint's very own Bonnie and Clyde until they both became a bit too dependent on the product. They became lost in the trenches of addiction and had lost all credibility in the streets. They became the customers to the very same corner boys they used to supply. Bleu knew what he was — his crackhead tendencies were too hard to hide — but in her mind she had made up a completely different story of who he was. A banker. A shop worker. Sometimes she imagined he was a lawyer. Anything was better than reality. Crack cocaine had sucked the life right out of him ... her mother too, and with each hit they took they robbed Bleu of more and more of her childhood. Her little eyes had witnessed far more than they should have.
Excerpted from Luxe by Ashley Antoinette. Copyright © 2015 Ashley Antoinette. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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