Triskaideka I: Keep On Truckin'
Written by Luna
NOTE: The title and opening quote come from the 1973 song of the same
name, by Eddie Kendricks. At the end, Meldrick sings "The World Is A
Ghetto" by War, which charted the same year.
*I'm the redball express of lovin' -
Diesel-powered straight to you, I'm truckin'
Ain't nothin' holdin' me back, nothin' -
I'll keep right on, right on truckin'....*
The classroom smelled of peanut butter, chalk dust, and sweat, and it
resounded with as much noise as a carnival.
"It's June, already! Why can't we eat outside?"
"I forgot my lunch ticket today. Can I borrow two dollars to get
something to eat after school?"
"Miss T., I ain't coming back to seventh grade again next year even if
you do flunk me."
"Close the window! Mosquitoes keep coming in here!"
"Leave it open! We're all gonna get heat stroke."
The girls clustered in the front corner, desks pushed together in a
tight circle. The boys sprawled across the back of the room, arguing
about baseball. A few loners and outcasts ate alone at their seats.
Gary Johnson nudged his best friend, Meldrick Lewis, and glanced over
at the group of girls across the room. "She's so fine," Gary said.
"Who?" Meldrick replied, trying to sound casual.
"Don't be stupid, Mel! Darlene Shelby. You've been staring at her
for a week."
"Shut up!" Meldrick hissed. "I have *not* been staring at her. And
besides, she hasn't noticed."
"Are you ever going to talk to her, or are you just gonna sit here
"I'm working up to it."
"Well, there's only a week of school left, my man. Work faster!"
Gary chuckled, and Meldrick glared at him. He picked up his carton of
milk and his sandwich, and put them back in the brown paper bag with
the bruised apple. He started confidently, smoothly, across the room,
thinking, *I'm cool; I can do this,* and narrowly missed walking right
into a chair as he made his way to the front of the room.
"Ladies," he greeted them, thankful when his voice didn't crack.
Darlene looked up at him shyly.
"Hi, Meldrick," Ginny Tucker, the class flirt, said, drawing his name
out in a teasing voice.
"Would y'all mind if I join you?"
"It's a free country," Ginny answered.
Meldrick pulled a desk over so he could sit next to Darlene. Sporadic
giggles circulated among the girls. Ginny nudged Darlene slightly,
and she blushed, a rosy tinge under her smooth brown skin. "I like
your shirt," she said, softly.
His mother had picked it up at the Salvation Army store, but he wasn't
about to admit that. "Thanks. Want a bite of my apple?" He offered
her the undamaged side. She took a small bite with her pretty --
*perfect,* he thought -- mouth.
Meldrick had been practicing what he'd say to her, rehearsing lines in
his head, but they seemed silly and awkward in front of all his female
classmates. He'd clowned around in class before, and they'd never
fazed him, but this was different. There was no way he could talk to
Darlene the way he wanted to in front of an audience.
"So, uh, you busy after school today?" he asked her. She shook her
head, blushing again. "Can I walk you home?"
Ginny hooted, and the girls' high-pitched laughter made Darlene's soft
reply almost inaudible. But she said yes, and she smiled at him.
His heart pounded, but he kept his cool. "Meet you after class," he
said, and stood up. He ignored the near-hysterical titters from the
other girls, barely even hearing them as he picked up his lunch again
and crossed back to his seat.
"Way to go!" Gary congratulated him. "Man, she is definitely hot for
"Of course she is," Meldrick said, cockily. "Girls can't resist the
world-famous Lewis charm. I'm just too cool."
"You're just too full of it," his friend retorted, and before Meldrick
thought of a comeback the bell rang, signaling the end of the lunch
break, and they had to straighten up their desks, settle down, and
pretend to pay attention to an hour of math lectures. Meldrick
wondered why they even bothered teaching that stuff. There were more
problems in the real world than in any textbook, and they were a lot
harder to solve.
After what seemed like a few hundred hours, the dismissal bell rang.
Meldrick and Darlene walked down the front steps of the school
together. He carried her notebook for her. Striding through the
deluge of junior high students with this cute, pretty girl at his side
made him feel grown-up, inspired, free. She seemed nervous, so he
horsed around to make her feel comfortable, imitating bits of the
movies he and Gary sometimes sneaked into the theater to watch. As
they approached her building, he even tried a few karate kicks like
the ones he'd just seen in *Enter The Dragon*. She laughed, and he
quoted the movie, mimicking Bruce Lee's accent: "My style, you can
call the art of fighting without fighting!"
Darlene grinned. "I have got to see this movie!"
"It's playing at the movie theater a few blocks away. Maybe..." He
paused. "Maybe we could go sometime."
"You've already seen it," she pointed out.
"Oh. Yeah. But I wouldn't mind seeing it again. If you want to come
"I'd like that," Darlene said.
They looked at each other, both a little nervous and tense. Somewhere
in the building above them, a radio began to play. Meldrick began to
pretend to sing along, but stopped when he realized what song it was.
It had been playing almost constantly for a couple weeks, but it
startled him to hear it at that moment.
*I've been really trying now, baby,
Trying to hold back this feeling for so long,
And if you feel like I feel,
"Ginny says you have a crush on me," Darlene said, suddenly. "And she
also says boys are all jerks, and they only want one thing from
"Ginny should shut her big mouth before a bug flies into it," Meldrick
said vehemently. Darlene smiled a little, and he continued. "She's
crazy, but I... I do like you. A lot. You're the finest girl in
Marvin Gaye kept singing, soulfully imploring his audience to get
something on that Meldrick could, as yet, only vaguely define. *I
wonder if she'll let me--*, he thought, and then he remembered Bruce
Lee saying, "Don't think! Feel!" So instead of wondering, he simply
stepped forward and kissed her, quickly, on the mouth.
He stepped back, and saw she was blushing again, furiously this time,
but she looked at him with twinkling eyes. She stepped forward and
kissed him back, just as swiftly. And then they both moved forward at
the same time, and kept kissing, and everything was a confused rush in
his mind: *Where should I put my hands? What if I forget to breathe?
Should I open my mouth?*
A shrill voice from above made them suddenly leap apart and look up.
A teenage girl who looked like a grown-up Darlene was leaning out of a
window on the third floor, holding a baby and shouting, "Darlene Ruth
Shelby! Mama's gonna beat your butt if she catches you kissing some
boy on the sidewalk in front of God and everybody! You get up here
right now or I'll tell her!
"That's my sister," Darlene explained. "I gotta go help take care of
my niece, or I'll be in trouble."
"I understand," Meldrick said, realizing that he was supposed to be at
home too. "I should go home too. I'll see you in school tomorrow,
"Only four days until summer break starts! And we'll go see that
karate movie too, okay?"
"Sure!" he said, jubilantly. "The second feature is *Serpico*. Great
cop movie. It'll be righteous."
She started up the steps, paused, darted back and kissed him, on the
cheek this time. Then she dashed into the building without looking
back. He glanced up at her sister, scolding in the window, and
grinned before he started running, down the pavement, heading for
His grandmother yelled at him as soon as he walked in the door.
"Meldrick! Where have you been? It's after four o'clock already!"
"I'm sorry, Grandma," he began, out of breath. "I was walking this
girl home -"
"I don't care if President Nixon asked you to walk him home to the
White House!" She saw that she was upsetting him, and she softened.
"I need you here right after school, baby. Your moms is working two
jobs to make ends meet, and I can't chase after Anthony by myself all
day. I'm gettin' too old for this. I'm worn out, so I need you to
take some responsibility for your brother. You understand?"
"Yes, Grandma," he said, grudgingly.
"He's back in the bedroom. See if you can go talk to him."
In the back room, Anthony was sitting on the edge of the bed, staring
out the window and rocking back and forth.
"I'm home," Meldrick said, provoking no response. "I said I'm home.
Don't you even care?"
Anthony kept rocking in place, and Meldrick was frustrated. "Why do I
have to take care of you?" he growled, rhetorically. "Why can't you
be normal and take care of yourself? Why do you have to ruin
Anthony finally reacted, by curling up into a ball and burying his
face in his hands. Instantly, Meldrick felt guilty and sat down on
the bed beside him. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry. I didn't mean it."
"Mad at me," Anthony said.
"I wasn't mad at you."
"Mad at me," he repeated, stubbornly.
"I wasn't. Honest. I don't mind taking care of you. I'm always
gonna take care of you. Grandma's right, you're my responsibility. I
-- look, I'll sing a song for you, okay? Heard it on the radio this
morning on the way to school."
Anthony watched as his brother jumped up from the bed and grabbed an
imaginary microphone out of thin air. He sang the lead vocal and
repeated himself in a high back-up singer voice. "Wonder when I'll
find paradise, somewhere there's a home sweet and nice. Wonder if I'll
find happiness -- never give up now, I guess. Don't you know it's
true, that for me and you, the world is a ghetto?"
Anthony sat up and cheered, and Meldrick started showing off karate
kicks again. As he leapt into the air and crashed down onto the bed,
the brothers grinned at each other, and their laughter echoed off the
walls as the summer afternoon rolled on.