Excerpt for Neighborhood Of Dreams by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

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This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Copyright © 2018 by LazRael Lison

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I am very grateful to all people who provided me with the encouragement and space to write this novel, which is inspired by my own personal story. This book is one of my most proud accomplishments. First and foremost, I would like to recognize two very special women in my life, my mom, Martha Perkins, and my wife, Tatiana Chekhova-Lison. Tatiana, I want to thank for continuing to be what you always were, my inspiration. I also want to thank you for your continuity of help and support over all these years. It is, without a doubt, your constant push and support that gave me the courage to move forward and produce such a wonderful project. You are my heart, my soul and my muse. Mom, you were the start of it all, and I want to thank you for always supporting me. You always encouraged my writing and creativity, even as a child, and I am forever thankful. You and my father, James Perkins spent countless nights listening to me reciting poetry and new raps that I’d written. Although tired, you were my audience and you listened until the very end. When no one else believed in me, you did, and I will be forever grateful.

There is another family that had a tremendous impact on my life. Jim and Libby Strawn, I want to thank you for being an unwavering brick of stability and support in my life since I was 15. Your guidance, comfort and steady hand throughout these years has been so essential in the development of the man I've become. Thank you for your amazing grace and the Christian example you’ve set before me.

Omar Tyree, my good friend, mentor, favorite author. Thank you for your guidance on this book. It would not be where it is without you. I am now an even bigger fan of yours than I was before.

Lastly, my editors – Stephanie Clarke and Dabinique Magwood, who went over the manuscript again and again, making sure the language, the grammar and punctuation were up to par. And, lastly, I would like to thank the graphic artist, Donnie Ramsey, who came up with this incredible book cover that captures the soul of the book perfectly.

My journey through today is constantly defined by the purpose and path I set before me.

LazRael Lison



Inspired by True Events


Jefferson High School

Little Rock, Arkansas

10:14 AM

Championship banners hung from the rafters of the William Jefferson High School Patriots gymnasium from year 1986, 1991, 1994, 1997 and 2004, while young students waited in anticipation of their visiting speaker, a Patriot graduate from 1998. Most of the students had never been around a celebrity in person, much less a celebrity alumnus. That made the event extra special for them.

Principal Herbert Graham was a quick-witted, slightly heavy set and confident man who liked to talk and had a slight limp from a bullet he took in Vietnam. He stood at the podium proudly in a gray suit with a light blue shirt and a multi-colored tie. He gave his usual opening speech about his time in service, how he never gave up even when the odds were against him, and how he expected the same from them. The students had heard this same story a dozen times.

“Sit up straight and no horseplay!” he barked, and waited for the crowd of over 700 students in the room to quiet down. “Now, not long ago, today’s guest sat in the same seats that you’re sitting in. His dream started right here at Jefferson. And like I always tell you guys, if you buckle down and take your life and classes seriously, there is nothing you can’t achieve.

“It’s not often that we’re graced with someone of our guest’s stature,” he told them. “But what the hey; Morris is a proud graduate who called me up late last night to tell me he was still in town and that he would love to stop by and speak to the students. So, I said ‘Absolutely! Let’s make it happen.’ And here we are. So, without further ado…”

Morris Wright, a successful writer and actor, strolled through the gymnasium door on cue, led by an oversized bodyguard wearing all black. Morris’ presence and aura immediately filled the gym with Hollywood swagger. At age 37, he was very easy on the eyes with the smooth, baby face of a twenty-something college student and a heart-melting smile to boot. He wore a long, off-white tee with a light blue jean jacket, black jeans, and a fresh haircut from Goodfellas barbershop.

The young students recognized him from a half dozen films and jumped to their feet, screaming and clapping in jubilation. Principal Graham looked on and grinned before he proudly embraced Morris at the podium.

“I introduce to you Morris Wright, a Jefferson High School graduate.”

The students continued to cheer as Morris raised his arms like a music director to settle them all back down. “Please, be seated.”

After taking seats, a girl screamed, “You’re so sex-seee!”

Another girl yelled, “I love youuu!”

Morris smiled, flattered by it, but at that point in his career he was used to it. Nevertheless, he didn’t take their adoration for granted. He had learned in the movie business that the negative often followed the positive, and the negative seem more magnified.

“Thank you for having me,” he told them. “And thank you for all the love.”

When the applause finally died down, he started his speech. “This is the first time I’ve been back here in a while. Now I know where I need to go the next time one of my movies tanks.”

The students laughed and cheered again.

“We’ll love you anyway,” another excited girl blurted.

“Good, I could use that type of dedication,” Morris responded. He said, “But I told Principal Graham I wasn’t going to take too long this morning. I still remember sitting right where you are and hating long speeches. So, I want to be quick and remind each and every one of you to believe in yourself and always keep dreaming.

“My pop told me the day you stop dreaming is the day you stop existing,” he continued. “I know many of you come from the same place as me, and maybe you feel that success isn’t for you. But I can assure you there’s a big world waiting out there for you to become the next doctors, writers, directors, athletes, actors, and the list goes on. Mostly everyone starts from average means just like most of you. The only difference is the successful people didn’t give up on themselves and their aspirations.

“The road to accomplishment is not always easy, and things don’t always look promising,” he told them. “Just don’t stop believing in what you want to do. And never stop claiming what you deserve. But you have to be determined to keep pressing forward despite the obstacles that life throws your way.”

He said, “At one point, my good friend Tyler Perry was homeless and sleeping in his car. Now look at him; he owns his own studio. So, listen to your teachers when they tell you to keep striving, because we’ve all been where you are. And I just want to leave you with this thought: set your dreams beyond the moon and the stars. There are no limits to where a simple thought can take you. And whatever you do, don’t give up… Thank you.”

The room erupted with the final cheers and applause, while Principal Graham stood from his chair to the left of the podium for an emotional embrace. Then he addressed the students with the microphone.

“Morris, if you don’t mind, we’d like to open up the floor for a few questions. I’m sure the students would all love to ask you a few things.”

Morris smiled and nodded. “Sure. I can do that.”

The students cheered loudly again as a hundred or more hands flew up.

“Meee, meee, meeeee!”


Baptist Health Medical Center

Little Rock, Arkansas

2:36 PM

Several families strolled in and out of the fourth-floor hospital rooms with young children in tow as a nurse carrying an empty food tray angled to avoid crashing into them.

Inside room 468, Morris sat at the bedside of his friend, a hairy faced man, brown skin, in his mid-thirties. He had asked Morris to read one of his latest poems aloud from a spiral notepad.

With his leg wrapped up in a hard cast, the doctors had it elevated up high in a sling for better blood circulation.

On the television in front of them they watched a USA swimming team competition.

Morris read, “Trapped beneath the pitfalls of what we feel as endless pain / the constant rain / a lingering fear trapped behind steadfast tears.

Maybe if I move a little to the left I can see tomorrow more clearly / and get lost in the radiant sun and the brightness of the night.

Listening closely as each star speaks to me / instructing me to maintain my peace / because somewhere there is a heaven that guides me.”

A thirteen-year-old mixed kid with floppy curls and bright skin walked into the room and broke up their moment. He stood on the opposite side of the bed with a small massage ball in his hands.

“You want anything else, dad?” he asked.

The hospital patient exhaled and shook his head. “Nah, I’m good for now. Thanks!” He looked around and asked, “Where’s your brother?”

The boy grabbed a football off the floor and quietly sat in the corner chair. “He’s with Grandma and Uncle D.”

His father nodded to him and turned his attention back to Morris. “Thanks for the poem. I needed to hear that.”

“Yeah, that one’s on the house, but the next one will cost you five dollars,” Morris joked.

The boy chuckled from his corner chair and tossed the football skyward to catch.

“I expect you to dedicate it to me in your next book,” his father joked back to Morris with a laugh. “But, seriously, I really appreciate it, man.”

Without warning, the boy tossed the football to Morris to see if he still had fast reflexes. Morris caught the ball without a problem, one handed.

“Good catch,” the boy observed, grinning.

“Always,” Morris told him. “And you’re getting big now. If you get too big they’ll plug you on the offense line with the beefcakes,” he warned as he tossed the football back.

The boy smiled and shook it off. “Nah, I won’t get that big. Or I’ll just play tight end.”

His father said, “Yeah, he thinks he can already outplay me now… at thirteen.”

“I can,” the son blurted.

“Well, at least he’s confident,” Morris commented.

Like an ambush, Morris’ wife rushed into the room while holding her leather purse like a hostage. “Sorry I’m late. I had to pick up Mom’s meds and traffic is a mess,” she explained. She kissed Morris on the lips and looked up at the television.

“Swimming? Since when did y’all start watching swimming?”

His wife was a medium-height, caramel skinned beauty with shoulder length, wavy hair. She wore a dark blue skirt that highlighted her figure with a nice lavender top.

“When we discovered they only have ten channels in here,” Morris answered and chuckled.

She then leaned and kissed her husband’s friend on the forehead. “How are you doing today?”

“Better,” he answered with a grimace.

She shook her head, reading his face and knowing him well. “I know you’re impatient about this, but you have to stop being so stubborn. I mean, a second ACL tear is a serious injury. So, you do what the doctor tells you and just rest it out.”

Then she looked at his son. “You tell your stubborn father to do what the doctor says.”

Instead, the son threw his father the ball. “Catch!”

His dad caught the ball in obvious discomfort.

“Now why in the world would you do that?” she scorned him. “Like father, like son,” she concluded.

“Yeah, he knows I gotta heal now before I can beat him.”

“I would beat you even if you were healthy,” his son boasted.

Morris’ wife couldn’t believe her ears, while she laughed at it all.

She said, “Are you encouraging all this, Morris?”

“Like you said, baby, boys will be boys, right?”

“Well, you guys are grown-ass men now, who need to be thinking about getting him back to health for everything, and not just to play his son in football.

“Now let me go and grab some coffee before you break something else in here,” she joked. “You guys want anything?”

“Nah, we good,” Morris told her. Then he stood and said, “I’ll walk you out.”

They walked out into the hallway and huddled up for a private conversation

“So, you’re going to stay here in town a little longer?” Morris asked his wife.

“Yeah, Mom is still not feeling too well,” she answered. “And she and Daddy are always complaining that they never see me anymore. So, I’ll probably stick around for at least another week until she’s feeling better, or until they kick me out the house. And I’ll come back to keep a close eye on our injured champ while I’m still here.”

Morris acknowledged it all, reluctantly. Deep down, he hated to be away from his wife so often. But it was the nature of his life in the business of Hollywood, where films often took several months to produce.

“I wish I could stay here longer with you,” he mumbled.

She sighed. “Just relax and get some rest for the next few days. I know you think you’re Superman, but you’re really not. So, stop watching Mr. Cam Newton and his touchdown celebrations,” she hounded him. “You saw that he lost the Super Bowl, right?”

Morris grinned and shook his head. “You won’t let that loss die, will you?”

“I mean, he just celebrates too much. Anyway…” his wife moved on, “you have a busy schedule coming up next week, so you take these few days off to relax. Seriously, you’re gonna need it.”

“I know. I need to spend these next four days all to myself.”

“You don’t have to tell me. You can’t continue at this pace. So, promise me that you’ll take it easy?”

“I promise,” Morris told her halfheartedly. Then he glanced at his watch. “All right, I gotta get going. So, let me tell him bye.”

“And no wild parties when you get back either,” she joked, with her hand placed on his chin. “You need to rest!”

Morris posed in deep thought. “Well… now that you mention it…”

She laughed before looking deep into her husband’s eyes. “Promise me again that you’ll actually rest with no work and no play.”

Morris continued to smile at her, like a mischievous boy. “I promise.”

They embraced as she whispered to him softly, “I love you, Mr. Morris Wright. Don’t you ever forget that.”

“I love you too, baby. And I’ll check back in with you guys tonight, once I land.”

“Okay, well, go on back in there and say your good-byes while I get this coffee.”

Morris nodded and watched his wife walk off before he headed back inside the room. “All right, so it’s time for me to hit the road back to LA, man,” he announced to his injured friend.

“Go do your thing, man. I ain’t mad at you,” his friend told him.

“They don’t even have NFL Network in here?” his son complained, while still watching TV.

“If they did, we’d be watching it already,” his father responded.

“Yeah, so I’ll keep checking back in on you while I’m gone,” Morris told him.

His friend grinned and chuckled. He said, “I know you will. And so will that great woman of yours. She won’t let me get away with anything.”

“She’s not supposed to,” Morris told him.

“Yeah, I wish I had one like that. But I didn’t really find out what I didn’t have until things got bad for me,” his friend explained. “But you got a good one. And I’m proud of you for recognizing it early.”

Morris nodded and looked down at his watch again. “You’re right, I did know it early. Just like I know I gotta get out of here.”

He gave his good friend their normal fist to fist pound and was out the door for his return to Hollywood.


Hollywood Hills, California

Present Day

A beautiful and spacious two-story mansion sat atop Mulholland Drive, overlooking the city of Los Angeles. Shining brightly through the living room windows from on top of Mount Lee was a perfect view of the famous HOLLYWOOD sign. Morris had purchased his house with the Hollywood sign view to provide himself with consistent inspiration to keep pushing, and to remind him of how far he’d come.

On the west side of the house stood tall palm trees that overlooked a thirty-foot and crystal blue swimming pool. The palm trees provided the backyard pool area with much needed shade from the intense sunlight, with concrete sidewalks that ran from a patio door to the pool. Sprinkles of sunlight danced through the branches and the wide windows, bouncing off the walls inside while highlighting the double staircases of bright marble with brass railings that led upstairs to the elaborate catwalk and bedrooms.

Several expensive stone sculptures stood six-feet tall inside the living room; one of William Shakespeare, another of the Greek goddess Athena, and a third of Chiron, the god of high morals and intellect.

Multiple family photos of brown family members filled the bookshelves inside the walled library cabinets, with soft classical music playing throughout the house through elevated Bose speakers. But the music was unfortunately not loud enough to cover up Morris’ horrible off-note singing inside the shower. He planned to make a great relaxing day of his free time while sleeping and watching old movies.

Through the foggy glass screen of the shower, the image of his muscular physique was impressive, the hard work of a man who obviously valued his body. And his smooth brown skin blended perfectly with the black marble tub and shower, and the plush red towels with impeccable bathroom decor.

He could hear the doorbell ring, wired intentionally through the speaker system, but ignored it, hoping whoever it is will go away. But after several seconds of silence, the doorbell rings again. However, Morris continued to ignore it.

Outside of his home inside the doorway stood an attractive twenty-something black woman, who waited there in frustration. She wore a navy-blue skirt suit and high heels. Shoulder length dark straight hair with caramel highlights complemented her youthful facial features. She had been trying to contact Morris for months, and she was annoyed again that no one was home. In fact, she was so irritated that she continued to press the doorbell for the hell of it.

“This is ridiculous,” she barked as she unleashed her rage.

Inside of the house, Morris became irate himself, and he was convinced that whoever it was must have lost their damn minds.

“What the hell…?”

He turned off the shower water and grabbed a towel from the holder to dry off and climb out. He then wrapped the towel around his torso, slipped his wet feet inside of his furry flip-flops and headed for staircase.

He could see the frustrated door ringer through the stained glass immediately as she rang the doorbell like a demon on fire. Pissed off by it, Morris opened the door wide and took this insane woman by surprise.

“What the hell is wrong with you?” he barked at her. “Are you out of your damned mind? How did you get in my gate?”

She was speechless and embarrassed. She hadn’t expected anyone to answer the door, let alone to come across Morris Wright fresh out the shower with his chest out. Nevertheless, she was relieved to finally catch him at home.

“You got three seconds to run your crazy ass off my property or I call the police,” he growled at her.

Angela Pendleton, an overly ambitious and aggressive journalist, felt compelled to laugh at herself, but she thought better of it and held it in.

“I ahhh… really apologize for this and I need to give you an explanation.”

“You damn sure do, and quickly before I catch a cold.”

The central air system was running high, and the draft from the opened doorway made it feel like more New York than California. But Angela had been trying to track the man down for the past six months, ever since their hour-long telephone interview to discuss his poetry book, Heart II Heart, and she was determined to have a follow up.

She finally cracked a slight smile and said, “So, I guess you don’t recognize my voice. I’m Angela Pendleton, who interviewed you about a half-year ago about your book of poetry Heart II Heart, from the Hollywood Reporter.”

“And you think that’s supposed to change anything? Does this look like poetry to you?”

Her smiled increased as she began to chuckle. “This is so embarrassing. I had no idea that you were here. I was just kind of ahhh…”

“Ringing the hell out of my doorbell,” he finished for her. “And what do you mean, you had ‘no idea’ I was here? This is my damn house.”

“Yeah, but every other time that I… Well, anyways…”

“Every other time?” he cut her off and questioned. “So, you’ve been here before?”

She said, “Well, we’ve actually already spoken about doing a follow-up story. I guess you don’t remember that either.”

“Lady, I don’t know you and I don’t want you coming to my house for some damn articles.”

Angela gathered her thoughts, determined to figure out a way for them to start over. She said, “Okay, I know that this is a little awkward for both of us.”

“A little awkward? Try a lot awkward,” he snapped at her.

“And we can both laugh about it later. But as for right now, I just want to apologize again for ringing your doorbell like a crazy woman…”

As she continued to explain herself, it suddenly dawned on him who she was, and he began to reflect on their interview.

“Wait a minute, you’re a freelance writer originally from Chicago?” he asked her.

She sighed, relieved that he finally remembered her. “Yup, that’s me.”

Morris forced himself to grin. “And I actually liked your piece,” he told her. “So that made you come over here and try to break down my door?”

Seeing his radiant smile eased her nerves a bit more. “Thank you. I just love what I do, so it makes me a little anxious sometimes when I can’t land a story.”

“Yeah, you can say that again,” he joked.

Finally, Angela was able to laugh at herself. She said, “I’m sorry, but when we last spoke, you mentioned your interest in possibly working on a memoir. Sooo… I just wanted to follow up with that.”

“And you couldn’t do that with a phone call?”

She paused to think about it. “You’ve been incredibly busy lately.”

“Well, I have a career. My goal is to be busy.”

“And that’s a good thing for anyone,” Angela responded. “My goal is to remain busy as well. So, I just wanted a yes or no from you because I was really interested in your story.”

“Obviously, but stalking is not a way to get it. Imagine if my wife were here.”

“Then we would’ve had a great conversation.”

“Not if you rang the doorbell like that.”

She laughed again. “That’s probably true. But I’d left so many messages at your office that made me think about another route.”

“And what if you would have gotten arrested?” he asked her.

“Then… I would’ve had something else to write about.”

Morris laughed out loud himself. The Chicago woman had a great spirit about her. He said, “Well, if you can make it out of Chicago right now then you can make it out of anywhere.”

“Isn’t that sad? Well, look on the bright side, we also produced the Obamas.”

Morris shrugged his shoulder thinking to himself, she has a point. “That is an upside.”

“Anyway, I’m here to talk about you. And I won’t let you down, I promise. I really need this story. It’s a great opportunity.”

Morris was impressed by her forwardness, and her attractiveness wasn’t bad either, nor was her long legs or her curve-hugging skirt suit. So he thought about it.

“How long would this take?” he found himself asking. He was shocked that he even asked, especially after he had promised his wife not to work. He was supposed to be resting. However, the eager woman’s hunger for his story reminded him of himself. Once upon a time, he was a gamer himself before someone gave him his first shot. He also realized that if it was done right, a memoir could document and organize his career.

“Well, since today would be our first day, maybe a couple hours, just to get some basics down so I can build my bullet points,” she told him.

“So… this story on me would go a long way to establishing you as a major writer?”

“Definitely,” she perked.

Morris liked the idea. She would owe him a lot, and he could call her up for favors later.

He sighed and stepping out of the way for her to enter. “Give me a minute to get dressed.”

“Oh, great! I’ll take a seat and wait for you nice and patiently and won’t touch a thing.”

He grinned. “Yeah, you do that. And when I’m ready I’ll get you something to drink.”


Angela walked in and immediately marveled at the height of his ceilings. “Wow. This is a lot of breathing room. You could fly a really good toy helicopter in here.”

Morris eyed her from the staircase and paused. “Were you a tomboy growing up?”

She chuckled. “I still am.” Nevertheless, when she sat on his elaborate furniture she crossed her legs like a lady.


Morris returned to begin their interview wearing shorts, a lime, neon muscle shirt and a dry pair of Nike flip flops. “With my crazy schedule, I haven’t seen anyone outside of my work in a minute,” he said, startling her.

Angela had her head down, reading her cell phone and sending out returned messages. She jerked her head back alertly and responded, “Oh, I didn’t know you were ready yet.”

“Yeah, it doesn’t take me long to get dressed.” He walked right past her on his way to the kitchen. “Come on, let’s get you something to drink now.”

Angela stood and followed him to the left.

He said, “I guess working on this memoir could give me something to do for the next four days.”

Angela was surprised to hear it. “You mean, you could give me four straight days to interview you?”

He nodded, in front of her. “Yeah, you caught me at a good time. I’m supposed to be resting this week,” he informed her with a chuckle.”

She locked in on him, amazed at how tight his body was. Morris was built like a professional fighter with curves and ripples throughout his form-fitting T-shirt. She quickly caught herself staring and regained her composure.

“Oh, well you won’t have to do much with me, just chill and answer questions. You know. I won’t make it strenuous for you at all.”

“What are you drinking?” he asked her at his kitchen bar to the right.

“Ahh, just water is fine for me. I need to focus on my questions,” she hinted.

Morris chuckled and said, “Suit yourself.” But he planned to have an adult drink. So, he made himself a black label whiskey on ice before grabbing her a bottle of spring water. Then he led her to the massive ten-chair dining table, where they took their seats to begin the interview.

“Your home is amazing,” she complimented him while setting up her Sony recording device.

“Thank you.” He took a sip of his drink and asked, “So… where do we begin?”

Angela paused to gather her thoughts again. “Well, you’re still pretty much at the high point of your career right now, and you have so much going on? So… you tell me. Do we begin with where you are right now? What would your goal be in writing a memoir at this moment in time?”

He took another sip of his drink and thought deeply about it. He answered, “I would actually say that who I am is more defined by what got me here than what I’m doing now. That’s the memoir that I want to write. I would start it by reflecting on what got me here.”

Angela nodded and made sure to jot that point down in a notebook from her carry-on bag. She said, “And your poetry could give readers a unique insight into your world that keeps them wanting more. I know it does for me. I love how you wrote about the environmental constraints that makes it so hard for many people to make it out of their conditions. And you know I can relate to that, coming from Chicago. So how did you do it? How did you rise above it all when the cards were stacked against you?

“How did you become this?” she questioned, referring to his Hollywood stardom. She glanced around his oversized kitchen to nail her point home.

Morris sat back in his chair and strained to remember where his drive to succeed started from back home in Little Rock, Arkansas.

“Take us back,” Angela pressed him before he could speak. “Tell us about your life, your childhood, your first crush, your troubled years, how you met your wife. Everything?”

A warm smile formed on his face as the impact of his memoir began to become a reality. “I’m actually about to do this,” he commented to himself. “So, where do I begin?” He was fully aware that the recording device had been turned on, and he didn’t want to waste a bunch of time on it with his silence. “Well, I wasn’t necessarily a bad kid, but then again, I wasn’t really a good kid either. And it’s crazy, but one of my earliest and favorite memories is of Mrs. Harris,” he began.

He sat up straight in his chair at the table to become more comfortable with the process.

He said, “Out of close to a dozen extracurricular activities, my parents gave me only two options: either I would write poetry or play the cello. So, I took what I thought was the lesser of the two evils: poetry. And Mrs. Harris was our literature club teacher at the time, who would try to mix things up by having us act out the scenes from our favorite books.”

“So that’s how you were introduced to acting?”

“Basically. But the real passion for it didn’t come until much later.”

Cloverdale Elementary Literature Club

Little Rock, Arkansas


Morris reflected on a classroom filled with different shapes and shades of brown students who were all glued to writing in their notepads. Mrs. Harris, an elderly and extravagant white woman who instructed them, seemed to have been raised in another century and took everything about literature to heart, especially poetry. And despite her age, her energy and love for words made her very popular with her students.

“Now, now,” she told them, “I need you to think more about Fernando Alegría, Langston Hughes, Alexander Abasheli, James Baldwin, and so many other greats of the past century to learn from and become inspired by. And remember that poetry comes from the heart, so let your hearts pour. Let all that you have inside you come out and onto the page. Self-expression is the beauty and magic of poetry.”

Morris’ best friends, Tim and Ron, watched Mrs. Harris’ 19th century mannerisms from the doorway and laughed hysterically.

Mrs. Harris spotted them and cleared her throat before ordering them to go away.

Hollywood Hills, California

Present Day

Morris said, “Now that I look back at it all, I understand that my parents wanted to make me more well-rounded, and what better way to do that than through poetry? So, with all of the time that I spent with her, Mrs. Harris became one of my favorite teachers.”

“Tell me more about your childhood,” Angela urged him.

“Okay, well… I grew up in Little Rock, Arkansas, on the southwest side. And all that was around us were the remnants of crushed dreams,” he told her. “Some people still tried to relive their glory days through drugs, while others settled into the routine of living life just to cope and get by. You follow me?”

Angela nodded, while writing more notes in her pad as her recorder ran.

Morris continued, “Now getting back to the two guys I mentioned, the year was nineteen-ninety when I was ten. For some of us it was just another year, but for me it was the most memorable. So, it’s only right that I start right there.

“And it was me, my cousin Ron, and our best friend Tim,” he said, chuckling to himself of the memories. “And there was also Earl. You’re going to learn a lot about him.”

Cloverdale Elementary School

The Hallway, 1990

Young grade students flowed through the halls like a herd in a pasture while heading to their next classes with their books in hand.

“Earl had no friends at that time,” Morris remembered. “So, he would ask to carry our books just to hang with us. His parents had passed away a few years before he was sent to live with his grandma.

“Tim was the stylist of our group and the coolest Mexican I had ever met,” Morris continued. “His parents were prime examples of American immigrants achieving their dreams, and they spoiled him something bad. Every time something new came out, whether it was clothes or shoes, he was the first one in school to have it. He was smooth and man he could sing. And all the girls wanted him, black, white, you name it.

“My cousin Ron had just moved to Little Rock from Chicago. They used to live on the west side there, and many people thought we looked alike,” he said. “I don’t think that meant much to him, but for me it meant a lot, because Ron had lots of girls too. So, I figured that I could get a few from looking like him. He didn’t have the up-to-date gear like Tim, but he always stayed fresh.

“Then there was me, the shyest of the crew,” Morris concluded. “I wasn’t always confident or outgoing back then, and I clammed up and became real silent whenever a girl was around.

“Honestly, I was the oddest of our group,” he confessed. “My friends could never understand why that was. But I was the only one who had overly strict parents and I was horribly out of touch with the normal social mores. My parents weren’t perfect by any means, and they didn’t agree on much of anything. The one thing they did agree on, however, was protecting me from the streets. During that time, gang violence was on the rise and they were determined to keep me away from it. So, unlike Ron and Tim, I had to be home before sunset.

“And although we all liked to do different things, settling wasn’t enough for any us. We wanted something more,” Morris explained emphatically. “And it’s interesting because at that age a lot of guys have no idea what they really wanted out of life, but we knew we didn’t want to stay there in Little Rock, Arkansas, all our lives. The way we saw it, if no one else dreamed big, we were going to, and somehow, some way, we were going to achieve our dreams.”


Cloverdale Elementary

English Class

Wednesday, November 2, 1990

Morris stood in front of his fifth-grade class with Ron and Tim there with him and recited a poem that he had written as Mrs. Clay watched from her desk. Mrs. Rhonda Clay was light skinned and slightly nerdy. She wore a red with white polka dot dress that hung off her thin-framed body.

As a little kid, there were so many things I always liked to do / I remember I tried to drive my first car / At first it seemed easy but I didn't get far / I remember when I went hunting with dad and shot my first gun / At first I was scared but then it turned out fun / I remember the first time I tried to ride my bike with no hands / Even though I kept falling, I kept getting back up again / I remember when I ate my mom’s whole cake / Then I was sick for three days with a bad stomach ache…”

The students burst out in laughter as Morris rubbed his stomach to make his point. But he wasn’t finished with his poem yet.

“Okay, hold it down class until he’s done. Continue on, Morris,” Mrs. Clay said, enjoying his piece herself:

I remember when I hit my first homerun / scored my first basket / made my first touchdown / That’s what I remember about being a little kid.”

His classmates began to clap, while Ron and Tim pumped their fists into the air and roared, “RAH-RAH, RAH-RAH! THAT’S OUR BOY!”

Mrs. Clay settled the classroom back down said, “Okay, who’s next up?” There was a whole classroom of students who needed to perform their poems out loud that day. But suddenly the room became completely silent.

Mrs. Clay looked around the room for whoever wanted to read next, but not a single student moved.

“Anyone?” she asked again and waited. “No one wants to go next?” Not a soul answered. “Okay then, Ron, you’re up,” Mrs. Clay told my cousin.

Tim started laughing and poking fun at him.

“Oh, don’t worry, Timothy, you’re going up after him,” Mrs. Clay responded.

With his bubble busted, Tim’s laughter disappeared immediately, while Ron and Morris poked fun at him. Morris retook his seat next to a beautiful young girl in the front row, April Jackson, who he couldn’t seem to take his eyes off.

Tim noticed it and whispered to Ron, “Those poetry classes are paying off for somebody in here.”

“I know, right?” Ron agreed. Then he got nervous, because it was his time to stand up and perform. So, Ron began to read his piece:

I used to dream of everything under the sun / And anything that would be fun to do…


Old yellow lockers lined the school hallways, nearly the length of a shopping mall. Students tore into them, exchanging books for their next classes. Mrs. Harris, in her normal pleasant manner, tried her best to keep order, but unlike the students inside of her classrooms, the rowdy hallway kids were not responding. In fact, many of them laughed at her. Mrs. Harris could barely move, but she would get an award for trying.

Amongst the rowdy students, Morris, Ron and Tim walked to their lockers with more civility while arguing about their favorite wrestlers.

Ron said, “I’m telling you, Hulk Hogan is the best. No one ever gets up after his leg drop. Every time. One, two, three, and it’s over!” He finished his point and gave Tim a pound.

Tim said, “Yup, that’s what he did to Andre the Giant. He picked him right up, like BAM!”

Morris was less enthused about their choice. He said, “My dad can’t stand Hulk Hogan. He says Andre the Giant was a has-been when they fought. He was too old. And he knows somebody who can beat Hulk Hogan any day.”

They all grabbed things from their lockers for their next classes.

“Well, we’re talking about wrestlers from the eighties, not the seventies,” Tim retorted. “And your pop is always bringing up the old days.”

“Yeah, if Uncle Darius likes him, then he has to be old,” Ron added and laughed.

Morris laughed at it too. They were right. He said, “Forget you, man. He ain’t old. I bet he can still beat Hogan.”

“Okay, so who is it, then?” Tim asked him.

Ron wanted to know too.

Before Morris could respond, Mrs. Harris barked, “Hurry, hurry to class boys, or I’ll have two detention slips for you.” She held them out in her frail hands as evidence.

“Only two?” Tim responded to Morris. “Man, why is she always letting you off the hook?” He assumed that she was only targeting him and Ron.

On cue, Mrs. Harris added, “Oh, and Morris, I have a new book I think you are going to just love. You make sure you come back and pick it up after school today.”

Morris replied, “Yes, Ma’am.”

With his assumptions proven, Tim looked at his friends and shook his head.

As soon as they walked off for their classes, Ron mimicked him. “‘Yes, Ma’am.’ You’re such a kiss up.”

Tim laughed and said, “I know.”

“Whatever. Y’all just mad cause she like me,” Morris joked.

“Nobody want that old white lady,” Tim snapped.

As they approached the classrooms, April, Brooke and Iris walked by them with their books. All three girls were attractive and wore matching mesh tops with bubble skirts.

“Hi, boys,” Brooke spoke as they walked by. She was the flirtatious one.

The boys stopped and were immediately distracted by the three young beauties. Ron and Tim even whistled at them. With Morris and April as the shy types, they both looked more uncomfortable

“Man, you need to say something to that girl next time,” Ron advised his cousin. “We can tell she likes you?”

“You think?” Morris asked, excited by the idea.

Tim said, “Man, that’s obvious. You’re just scared to talk to her.”

“Yeah, we’re gonna make you do it next time,” Ron told him.

Morris panicked. “Aw, man, don’t do that.”

Ron and Tim looked at each other and laughed.

Tim said, “How are you gonna get a girl if you’re scared to talk to her?”

“I mean, I will… I just have to do it my way. So, don’t force it.”

“Yeah, whatever,” Ron responded. “We’ll see.”

Hollywood Hills, California

Present Day

Angela Pendleton chuckled at Morris’ grade school reflections. “Fifth grade boyfriends and girlfriends, huh? I remember those days well.”

Morris laughed himself. “Yeah, I didn’t have my confidence up yet. But you learn, you know. So eventually, I did talk to her. Of course. We had too many classes together not to. But that was my favorite year, finally speaking to April Jackson. She was smoking hot and all that I could think about.

To me, April was everything in one; smart, pretty, and most importantly, single,” Morris stated with a chuckle. “I found out she came from a strict military family. And since her dad was often away from home on active duty, her parents decided to separate a year before she moved to Little Rock.”

“Brooke became my friend Tim’s girl, and she was super outgoing,” he added. “Her dad was a Pastor at a local church, so she was always doing something there. We figured the reason she talked so much at school was because she had to be so quiet everywhere else. So, she had to get all of her words out at school in eight hours.”

He laughed again, thinking about it all. “I can’t even remember how much of a relationship Tim had with her outside of school. But I do remember seeing them together whenever he wrote and sang a new song for her.

“And Iris, she was from a whole different breed,” Morris continued to reflect. “Her mom did some local print modeling for a clothing store, and that was Iris’ dream too, to model. So, for her, looks meant everything. And we thought of her as the most conceited. Ron was the only person who could deal with her ego. I guess that was that Chicago thing, and he also had an older brother, my cousin Drew. So, he wasn’t really intimidated by her.”

“Yeah, you can’t be intimidated in Chicago unless you never plan on coming outside,” Angela commented with a smirk. “Because every kid will surely challenge you there. So… what else happened?” she asked to continue their interview.

Cloverdale Elementary

Wednesday, November 2, 1990

The same three girls; April, Iris and Brooke, entered the classroom with all eyes on them. Ron, Morris and Tim followed in behind them, like grade school escorts. On cue, Ron and Tim moved in closer to Iris and Brooke, respectively, and walked them to their desks. Morris, on the other hand, felt left out and took his seat alone in the back. He wouldn’t dare walk up close to April in front of everyone inside the classroom. He hadn’t even found the courage to speak to her yet.

Ron and Tim had plenty of courage. They even felt like protective men already, and Iris and Brooke loved the dedicated attention they were getting. So, when a chubby classroom kid ignored the signs of their obvious pairings and began to flirt with Iris from his desk, Tim tapped Ron on the shoulder to bring it to his attention.

“What’s going on with him?” he whispered. “You gon’ let him do that?”

Iris repeatedly ignored the boy’s smiles and stares, but he continued to send nonverbal messages to her, believing that she enjoyed it. Fed up with it, Iris gave the boy an intense stare down that clearly let him know that she was pissed. Finally, the kid’s chubby-faced smile disappeared. But it was too late. Ron was pissed off at him as well. So, he balled up a piece of loose leaf paper and threw it at the back of the boy’s head, while the teacher wasn’t looking.

The paper smacked the boy upside the head like a cannon ball smashing into a brick wall, and it bounced high up into the air like circus act. The whole classroom broke out laughing without the teacher knowing a thing.

“What’s going on?” she spun from the chalkboard to ask them. Her lack of awareness only made the students laugh harder.

“You see how high it popped in the air?” Ron whispered to Tim.

Morris felt sorry for the chubby kid as fresh tears formed in his eyes. The boy then dropped his head at his desk and cried into his arm as he covered his face.

“I bet he won’t try to talk to her again,” Tim concluded.


The cafeteria doors flung open and happy faces sprang forth with students racing out to the busy playground. It was daily routine for them to unleash their natural energy, and they are taking full advantage of it. So, they hit the monkey bars, the swings, the basketball court, or played hopscotch or double-dutch with their jump ropes.

Ron, Tim and Morris strolled out along the sidewalk while Ron continued to lick a strawberry ice cream cone from inside.

Morris noticed a quarter on the ground and picked it up before kissing it and quickly placing it in his pocket.

“What was that?” Tim asked him.

“A good luck quarter,” Morris answered. “My pop said if you find a quarter that means you’re going to be very rich.”

Ron joked, “Man, my brother should be very rich already, then. He found plenty of quarters and stole some. But he told me not to believe in that stuff.”

Tim laughed and said, “Mr. Wright don’t know what he’s talking about. And why a quarter instead of a dime? Or even finding a dollar, for that matter?”

Morris argued, “My pop does know what he’s talking about!”

“Man, all I want to know is who you think can beat Hulk Hogan,” Tim responded.

“Yeah, me, too,” Ron agreed.

With confidence Morris finally blurted, “Iron Man Jones.”

Ron looked at Tim in disappointment. “Iron Man Jones? Are you serious?”

Tim laughed at the idea. “He’s older than Jesus!”

“But he was a champ eight times,” Morris informed them.

“Yeah, twenty years ago,” Ron argued. “Now he’s fat and always getting beat up.”

Tim said, “He don’t even fight that much anymore.”

Ron shook his head and said, “Okay, I’m tired of talking about this.” He gulped down the rest of his strawberry cone and brushed his hands from crumbs. “We still on for the batting cage this Saturday?” He began to swing and hit an imaginary ball. “I can’t wait to hit three homeruns again.”

“Yeah, my dad taking the whole day off,” Morris told them.

They were all excitedly giving each other pounds.

“Man, your pop is so cool,” Tim said.

“As long as he’s not talking about wrestling or quarters,” Ron joked.

The boys heard footsteps approaching rapidly and a familiar voice called out from behind. Without even looking, their collective frowns expressed exactly who it was.

“Hey, Earl,” Morris was the first to speak.

Earl caught up to them in the schoolyard, wearing an old Christmas sweater, swimming shorts and dress shoes. Aware of his family’s financial difficulties, they tried their best to ignore his ridiculous attire. Earl was also a bright yellow, mixed kid with sloppy curls and no haircut.

“Hey, what y’all up to?” Earl asked them.

Morris said, “Nothing man, just talking.”

Earl said, “I was just talking to Ken about my new Voltron toy. You all can borrow it if you ever want to.”

An awkward silence hung in the air between them. None of the boys knew how to respond to Earl, but they all felt too old to play with toys.

“Cool,” Ron told him, breaking the silence.

Tim glanced around the yard, looking for Brooke. He didn’t want to be a part of a long conversation with Earl. “Yeah, we’ll keep that in mind,” he commented as he walked off.

“You can also borrow my G.I Joe,” Earl said to his back. “I have two sets.”

Tim looked back and frowned before shaking his head.

“I have two Spidermans, but the arm is broken off on one of them, so you can borrow that one,” Earl told Morris and Ron.

They were growing increasingly annoyed with him, but no one wanted to step out and crush his feelings. They felt for the kid.

Earl then reached into his right pocket and pulled out a silver toy corvette. “Y’all wanna see how fast this car is? My grandma bought this for me yesterday. In a few days, I’ll let you borrow this too. But I want to play with it while it’s new first.”

Ron had finally had enough. He tossed his right arm over Earl’s shoulders and tried to break it to him nicely. “Earl, my man, I know you want to hang out with us. But we have girls waiting to see us.”

Earl’s eyes stretched wide with excitement. “Can I come? I want a girlfriend, too!”

Ron frowned and answered, “But that’s the problem. You have to get you one first.”

“And you may have to match up your clothes better to do that,” Morris leveled with him. Earl’s daily outfits were downright embarrassing.

Ron watched Tim walk across the yard toward the girls playing in the double-dutch area. He said, “Yeah, we gotta go, man. We’ll catch up to you later, Earl.”

Ron and Morris took off running behind Tim, and they were both happy to be away from Earl and his issues, as the boy stood there alone with his toy Corvette in hand. But Earl didn’t seem to care. He gazed around the yard at all of the action, while trying to decide what he wanted to do first. His face lit up, eying the crusty blue swing-n-slide to the right. The slide was filled with many of his classmates, who were having a great time. He became lost in their laughter and screams as they swung back and forth and high and low in the swings, and raced up and down on the slide.

Unable to contain his excitement, Earl took off running as fast as he could to the swing-n-slide and blended right in with the group.


Chants echoed from the rambunctious onlookers who gathered around the double-dutch circle: “Banana, banana, banana split! Mama bought a newborn chick! Chickie died, Mama cried. Banana, banana, banana split!”

There were mostly girls watching and chanting, with the exception of Gary Smith, who stomped and chanted right along with them while awaiting on his turn to jump.

April and Iris jumped effortlessly, lifting one foot after the other, then both feet before circling around in the air and starting over.

Ron, Tim and Morris push their way through the crowd and drew angry stares for cutting in front of people. Tim snuck up and wrapped his arm around Brooke, who stood at the front of the crowd.

Brooke turned and was happy to see him, while Morris and Ron arrived beside them. They all watched the girls jump rope together until Iris got tangled in the rope. She then ducked forward and jumped out with April, without missing a beat, Gary leaped inside and took off, one foot after the other, then both feet before circling around, just like the girls had done.

Iris and April walked toward their friends and wiped the beads of sweat from their foreheads.

“Oh, my God, that was so much fun!” April perked.

“Yeah, I’m tired,” Iris complained. “And my feet are hurting. I need to sit down somewhere.”

“Yeah, I need some water now,” April commented.

Brooke was still staring at Gary, amazed at his skills in jump rope. His footwork was so smooth, it seemed like he could jump forever. Nevertheless, Ron, Morris and Tim couldn’t stop laughing at him. They have never seen a boy act as girlish as Gary did. And although he had never admitted it, everyone figured that he was gay.

“Stop laughing at him, he can’t help it,” Brooke reprimanded the guys. Other than being a great double-dutch and hopscotch jumper, the girls also liked having Gary around for his insight on the other guys. And he had an opinion on everything and everyone.

Iris launched into Ron with a warm hug, while April and Morris made brief eye contact with each other, while mumbling a quick, “Hi.” Neither of them knew what to say one to another.

In the middle of all the commotion, April stood right next to Morris, and they couldn’t take their eyes off Gary, who was still jumping rope with ease.

“Man, he’s good at that,” Morris admitted. “He needs to be in a competition or something.”

“I know,” April agreed. “He doesn’t even get tired. He can jump like that for hours.”

Ron and Tim looked on and were less impressed by it. They were more impressed to see that Morris was finally talking to April… about anything.


Intense basketball games always took place during the last half hour of lunch break. It took a few shoot-arounds before the best players got warmed up enough to play their best. And that’s where most of the boys were, hooting and yelling as loudly for basketball as the girls who watched double-dutch.




Overhearing the noise in the background from the basketball courts, Ron tapped Tim on the shoulder to break them both from their girl moment. It was basketball time for the boys

“Hey man, let’s go,” Ron urged him. He didn’t even comment to Morris. He figured Morris needed to spend more time talking to April.

“Oh, so now y’all both gonna run away?” Brooke pouted with Iris at her side.

Ron chuckled and said, “We’ll be back. We just wanna see who’s playing.”

“Whatever,” Iris blurted. “Recess will be over with by then.”

Tim wasn’t necessarily the athletic type, he only tolerated basketball because of Ron and Morris, who were much better at it. And instead of watching more rope, the girls decided to follow along behind them.

“Y’all coming?” Iris asked Morris and April.

Morris and April looked at each other as if they still didn’t know what to do.

Finally, April shrugged her shoulders and said, “Okay.”

“Cool,” Morris agreed with her.

Brooke smiled at them and said, “Now, isn’t that nice. Are y’all gonna hold each other’s hands too.”

Morris felt a stroke of embarrassment rush through his body as his heart jumped up in his throat. Brooke had caught him totally off guard with it.

Fortunately, April said, “Girl, go on,” and started walking forward without the hand holding.

Morris exhaled and nervously followed along behind them.

“Y’all gon’ hold hands soon,” Iris teased them both and laughed.

Morris grinned on the outside, but on the inside, he felt hot and bothered enough to run and jump in an ice-water swimming pool.

As Ron and Tim pushed their way to the front of the crowd at the basketball courts, they watched a team of sixth graders wearing out a group of fifth graders in a four-on-four, half court battle.

“We want next!” Ron yelled immediately. He felt like getting some needed revenge for all the fifth graders.

Morris arrived with the girls and asked the first kid standing next to him, “Who got next?”

The student glanced over at Earl, who stood at the opposite end of the court in his dress shoes. He looked nothing like a basketball player.

“Earl, I think,” the boy answered.

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