Scott, a brilliant, biracial, film major, uses his talent to expose the plight of LA’s homeless. But, inextricably mired in an embarrassing, dysfunctional relationship with Rose, the young woman his parents took in and raised as a favor to a friend back home in Rwanda, he spends most of his time hiding behind his lens. More than anything, he struggles to free himself from this stifling mess. Furthermore, if he ever wants to claim his own future, he must escape a binding family trust agreement that limits his life choices. In despair, he soon finds himself acting out…until he meets his new next-door neighbor, Apple, a smart-mouthed, chocolate sister from St. Louis, with pluck.

Apple, an eighteen year-old, rising, high-school senior, is ready for a fresh start in LA. Thrilled to be on her own, she wants nothing more than to prove to her overprotective family that she can take care of herself. Charging forward with her new, independent, life, she quickly finds herself drawn to the beautiful, but elusive, boy next door.

To spare Apple certain grief, Scott tries, in vain, to keep her at arms length, but quickly falls hard for her. Their relationship blossoms and soon, sparks fly. Late one night he lets down his guard, and they go for a swim in their apartment complex’s pool where they make love for the first time. Unbeknownst to Scott and Apple, Rose has witnessed their tryst and plots to drive Apple away by manipulating Scott as only she can, further complicating his world. Fearing Apple won’t understand the complex demands ruling his life, he must decide whether to protect her from the truth or risk losing her forever.

 


Excerpt from Irredeemable

Please, let her be gone. Scott delayed the inevitable for as long as he could. On purpose, he’d allowed his session with the Pasadena High School Future Filmmakers Alliance to run nearly double its scheduled time. He’d invited the group to his shared studio on campus, and they’d used the screening room to prevue their documentary short films in progress. After he’d dissected their work, some of the more serious ones had stayed. They sat facing him as he stood in the front of the room leaning back against the worktable, fielding their questions.

“So, um, Professor Scott, like, how’d you get started as a documentarian?” said a short kid with pink pigtails.

“Just call me Scotty,” he replied to her. “Shit just sort of happened. Right place, right time, camera ready.”

“But, what kind of films sell?” interrupted a boy dressed in head-to-toe black. “What I want is to make money. Lots of money.”

“Why do you make films about French speaking homeless people?” asked another girl. “Do you really think anyone in LA cares?”

He patiently answered them all as best he could. Then, just as the session slowed almost to a wrap, Tyler, the only black kid in the group, spoke up from the back of the room.

“Yeah, bruh, word is you don’t even have to work for a living. So why are you here busting your butt helping us out?”

Momentarily caught off guard, he reached for a cigarette, lit it, and deeply inhaled, letting the warmth in his chest diffuse his awkwardness. He recognized Tyler from his own senior year at PCH. Tyler, then a first year, had stood out from the crowd. On the junior varsity basketball team, tall and handsome with the swagger to match. A kindred spirit, the kid was brash, angry, and restless. Just like him.

Scott smiled as he flicked his ashes into a Styrofoam cup.

“I’ll tell you why,” he said looking straight at Tyler. “It’s not to make you little shits better people. That would be impossible.”

Nervous laughter filled the room as the kids shifted uncomfortably in their chairs.

“What ‘chu tryna say?” Tyler said, bristling.

“I’m not here to make friends, bruh.” He took another long pull then continued while exhaling through his nose. “I’m all about the art. My one and only reason for being here is to help you turn your raw footage into reasonable facsimiles of films. Period. The rest is up to you. Frankly, for most of you, there isn’t one chance in hell you’ll be admitted to film school, much less make a living as a documentarian. But,” he said, softening his tone, “there is always ’ope. That’s why I keep showing up.”

The nervous titter of laughter in the room drew his attention. A tiny smile curled the corners of his lips. His accent. In his rush to make his point he’d dropped another ‘h,’ an occupational hazard whenever he spoke about the subject he loved. No matter, he’d probably never again see this group. Most students dropped out after session one. He packed his gear as the last of the kids straggled out of the studio into the night.

The outline of the University of Southern California’s Cinematic Arts Building receded as he walked toward the deserted student parking lot. Preoccupied, he finished another cigarette before mounting his motorcycle for the ride home to Pasadena as his mind involuntarily drifted to Rose. She made his skin crawl and his dick hard, all at the same time. Psychologically? Physiologically? How is that even possible? He had no answers. He only hoped he’d waited long enough and she wouldn’t be there.

Up ahead, downtown Los Angeles twinkled against the inky black sky. Even this late, cross-town traffic on the 110 was normally frustratingly slow. Not tonight. Comforted by his bike’s steady rumble, he slightly shifted his balance and accelerated. Effortlessly, he slipped in and out of lanes, leaving angry motorists in his wake.

The ride home gave him space to think and feel. Lately, space was something he was hard-pressed to find. Twice in one week. That’s a lot even for her. But these few minutes alone in the night air cleared his head.

Beginning his third year of film school, he had just wrapped the last interview of the summer semester. But he wasn’t sure he was glad to be done, or disappointed with the result, or both. The project had dragged and ended anticlimactically. It hadn’t started that way. It had been exciting in the beginning. The production had been easy to set up. All he’d needed was a folding chair and a basic lighting kit. The participants had willingly agreed to be interviewed, and the sessions just flowed. His no-nonsense narrative, simple set, and theme—the plight of LA’s homeless, French-speaking immigrants—had attracted the attention of the university’s Non-Fiction Cinema Department. There was buzz about his talent. Then it had all tanked. His next project, just in the proposal stage, was also in jeopardy. As a result, he hadn’t had much extra time to spend with the PCH kids or with his friends.

In retrospect, his comments to the group tonight had been harsh. Not one for mincing words he constantly struggled to find the right balance between honest critique and crushing criticism. Dishonest evaluation of an artistic endeavor had always been his bete noire. So, tonight as his custom, opted for blunt truth. For artists, life sucked, big-time, but it was better to learn that early on. I just hope I didn’t scare the potentially good ones. 

As vexing as all of that seemed, he had other, more pressing issues. Heading home, he mulled over one fact; he needed Rose gone. More than anything in the world he wanted to be free of her.

Arriving home in record time, he opened his apartment door and entered tentatively. After briefly scanning each room, he checked the balcony. He was alone.  As he let out the breath he’d been holding, his jaw relaxed and his back teeth unclenched. At least he was safe from her base madness, for now. He dropped his keys on the kitchen counter and headed directly for the bathroom. Stripping off his Trojans T-shirt, he stood before the mirror. Red-rimmed eyes, punctuated by dark blue circles underneath, stared back dully. He reached over his shoulder and gently pressed. Without even looking, he knew her manicured nails had trailed long, angry red welts across his shoulder blades. Dipping his head under the faucet, he slurped until he could hold no more, then wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. He shuddered and exited the bare white bathroom.

He had a lot of balls up in the air, but so far so good. He had not let anything important drop. But there had been some slippage–just a matter of time before the truth came out. When it did, then what? He didn’t even want to think about the consequences.

He picked up his phone as two messages pinged in quick succession. The first, he deleted. The second stopped him cold. Squaring his shoulders, he winced and read.

            Dear Mr. Scott:

            Though your film proposal shows promise, it does not rise to the level we expect of documentarians at this stage in their academic career.

            While your premise is strong, you have failed to emotionally engage the committee. Why should we care about the people you propose to interview? How are they connected to you, personally? What wider conflict will the project illuminate?

            As we have discussed many times in the past, the deficits listed are not indictments of your talent. Your skills are noteworthy, yet you continue to hide behind your work. Step forward from behind the lens, Mr. Scott. Only then will your art reach the next level. If you can adequately address these concerns, we will give your project a second look. Until then, we wish you all the best.

            Sincerely,

            Golana Spearman, PhD

            Office of Academic Affairs, Department of Non-fiction Cinema

His thumb on the delete button, he swallowed hard and decided to save. If the words hadn’t hurt so much, the message would almost be funny. He needed to engage them on an emotional level. No shit.

Fumbling through his backpack he extracted a crumpled pack of cigarettes, lit up one, and inhaled deeply as he mulled. Dr. Spearman busting his chops? Nothing new. She did that on the regular.  Hiding behind his lens for years and lying to his advisor and to himself? Guilty as charged. But if Spearman had her heart set on truthfulness from him she’d have a long wait. No way would he go there. It would leave him too exposed. He raked a hand through his long, oily blond hair.

The message from Spearman, in reality, had simply been the last of the day’s communications which had caused him grief. The first, a thick envelope from his family’s attorney, had arrived earlier, by courier. He’d skimmed through the documents inside, then stuffed the whole thing into his top desk drawer.

Like clockwork, since his eighteenth birthday three years ago, he’d received paperwork pertaining to the trust his long-dead-great-grandfather had set up for him, before he’d even been born. The trust, a convoluted, outmoded, succession plan, listed all the conditions he, the heir apparent, had to meet before the trustees—minions hand-picked to do the old man’s dirty work in perpetuity—would feel free to release his full inheritance to him.

So far, he’d met none of the conditions. Nor did he plan to. The notion of marrying and fathering a male child, all by the time he turned twenty-one, struck him as too ludicrous for words. “Crazy old bastard. No way in hell,” he muttered to himself then lit another cigarette off the end of the last.

***

“Where are you, you little fucker?” Walking head down, rooting in her bag for her house key, Apple Grace bumped into a solid wall. She looked up. To her mortification, the wall had somehow morphed into a very tall blond guy. He looked down at her with a half-smile but said nothing. Not alone, there stood two other equally hot tall guys beside him, both black. One wore expensive wire-frame glasses, had shortly cropped black hair, and was palming a basketball. The other, with shoulder-length dreadlocks, hung back a couple of steps and had stooped to tie a shoelace.

“You swingin’ back by the crib after practice?” tall guy one asked in a slightly accented voice.

“Yeah,” the one with dreadlocks answered. “I’m comin’ back through. Might have Jen with me. That okay?”

“Dope.”

Apple’s head was still down as she continued to dig for her key. She could make out their conversation but really wasn’t trying to eavesdrop. “Oh, s-sorry!” she stammered and sidestepped around the first really tall guy. In doing so she, in fact, walked into the wall. She dropped her bag, which landed with a thud on the poured concrete floor. “Goddamn it to hell!” She stooped down to retrieve her bag, but peered back up.

Still smirking down at her, he pinned her to the spot with those incredible eyes, a silvery, light color gray, almost spooky. The rest of him? Anything but. She did a double take.

“Man, look what you did.” Dreadlocks stopped to help. “You made her drop her shit.”

She continued gazing up at tall guy one, her mouth open, her heart pounding. She hopped back up, apparently too quickly, because everything went black. She reached out with both arms to keep from falling. He clasped both of her hands in his to keep her upright.

“Merde!” tall guy number one said as he dropped her hands and stalked past, toward the elevator.

“Figures,” she muttered under her breath.

“You all right?” Tall guy wearing glasses stooped down to retrieve her bag. He flashed her a friendly smile and held out his hand.

“I’m James and this is Tev.” Dreadlocks smiled and winked.

“Hi. My name is Annabel, but everyone calls me Apple.”

“We’re with Scott.” Tev nodded toward tall guy number one, who’d moved halfway down the hall. “He has no manners, but he doesn’t bite. Can’t vouch that he’s housebroken though.”

“Shut the fuck up or I’m leaving without you.”

“Just chill, man. Can’t you see? Shorty is clearly lost.” Tev followed his friend down the hall.

“I’m not lost. I live here,” Apple said as she finally located her key and inserted it into the lock.

“Really? What school?” James asked, still standing beside her.

“Pasadena Central. I’m a transfer.”

“Merde!” Scott jabbed the elevator button.

“Cold, Scotty, cold,” Tev said as he clapped his friend on the back and held the elevator door for James.

“We’ll see you ’round.” James turned and jogged to catch up with his friends.

Tev proceeded to scold Scott. “Yeah, man, you didn’t have to snap her head off. Probably scared her shitless.”

“You can both kiss my ass, or go back and babysit. As for me, I don’t do les enfants.” Scott’s voice resonated, deep and guttural.

What a jerk, she thought as the elevator doors closed. Inside her apartment, she immediately called her best friend, Anais.

“You’ll never believe what just happened to me.” She proceeded to describe the three amigos from the hallway. “All three are so hot!” She described Tev’s dreadlocks and flirty smile, then moved on to James’s quiet handsomeness and helpfulness. But when she got to the third one, she paused.

“So. Tell me about number three,” Anais prompted, obviously sensing Apple’s reticence.

Speechlessness not a normal problem for her, Apple hesitated, closed her eyes, and pressed her lips tightly shut as she pictured him. Exquisite eye candy, she’d never seen anyone who looked like him. Even the hottie members of her favorite boy-band paled in comparison. Nor had she heard anyone who sounded like him. Damn, the boy is simply beautiful. Nothing beautiful about his behavior, though. Flat rude and he knew it. She described him to her friend.

“…long blond hair and gray eyes. That’s right, I said gray. He’s tall and slim. They all three look like ballers. There’s something about him though. Why are the gorgeous ones always assholes?”

“It’s because the gorgeous ones don’t have to work on their personalities. Women just fall for them no matter what. So, they can behave any way they want,” Anais commiserated.

“I guess. But I wonder about this one, the way he kept me from face-planting. Maybe he’s not all bad.” Her arms bristled with goosebumps as she recalled the feel of his strong hands as he helped her regain her balance.

“Yeah, right. Your first impression’s probably the correct one. Leave Mr. Personality alone,” Anais counseled, then offered, “What about one of his nicer buddies, James or, what’s the other one’s name, Kev?”

“Tev with a ‘T.’ He’s the one with locks.”

“Yeah, he sounds like fun. Why not pick the one with a sense of humor?”

“But Scott’s eyes, I swear it’s like he looked through me.”

“Whoa, baby, slow your roll. You just got there, remember?”

“I will. I promise.”

Still wound up, Apple ended the call.

Anais, right as usual, had nailed it. No need for her to jump right back into the fire, not after everything she’d just been through at home in St. Louis.  Although the situation there had been totally different, regret still nagged at her whenever her mind drifted back to ‘the incident,’ the catalyst for her move to California. No matter how she tried to spin the facts the truth came roaring back at her. She’d jumped in without thinking first, made a whole series of wrong choices, and had ended up in a world of hurt. This time use your head.

***

The rapper’s voice, raspy and irate, roared through the booming speakers while Scott, Tev, and James sat and talked shit at their favorite spot, Luc’s.

“I’ll take another one.” Scott got the busy bartender’s attention and another drink appeared, as did his latest conquest. The light caramel-skinned girl flashed a smile and draped her arms around his neck.

“Not now. Can’t you see I’m with my boys?” He shifted his weight on the stool and turned his back. The girl did not take the hint.

Pardon? You weren’t too busy before,” the girl whined.

Shrugging, Scott waved her off. Though he’d enjoyed the few minutes he’d just spent with her on her knees in the back storeroom, he was done with her.

The girl exited in a huff.

Scott took a pull on his cigarette and looked around the blue-tinged room. A couple at the far end of the bar caught his eye. The girl’s body was slammin’ but her face, just okay. Even so, her man had her. He stood so she was completely shielded from being jostled. And they were holding hands. Scott found that intriguing. He had more than his fair share, but no one had ever shown any interest in holding his hand.

“Damn, man,” Tev’s voice broke his train of thought. “I don’t see how you get away with that shit.”

“What shit? I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Scott leaned over and bumped Tev’s shoulder on purpose, spilling his friend’s drink.

“Goddamn it, Scotty,” Tev snapped as beer dripped from the counter into his lap. “Could you at least try to act like an adult? We know your ass is up in this club ’cause of your fake-ass ID.”

Scott grabbed Tev by the head and covered his friend’s mouth with both hands, shushing him.

“Hey, knock it off.” The bartender’s sharp command got their attention. The tiny space was too crammed for roughhousing. Used to his friends’ playfulness, James just smiled and waited. Close since childhood, the three were front and center in the smoke-filled bar. Young, tall, handsome, and used to turning heads, per normal, the sisters buzzed around them like flies to shit. Tonight was no different, except Scott’s edginess had ratcheted up a few notches. He pulled his XO cap down around his ears, leaving his long, dank hair covered and smiled toothily. James removed his glasses and wiped them with a napkin while he waited patiently, sipping his beer. Tev, the less patient, twitched and pulled his shoulder-length locks back from his movie-star worthy face.

“So, spill, my nigga. I ain’t got all day,” Tev prodded.

“Any news?” James asked.

About to answer Scott’s attention diverted again. The girl he’d done and dissed sashayed back in.

“So, you think you all that?” she spewed, slurring her French-accented words.

“Se perdre salope!” Scott’s tone was rude but he made no threatening move. The woman responded in kind, then spat in his face. James got up and moved in between Scott and the angry aggressor. James whispered something in the woman’s ear, and she backed away without another word. As soon as she disappeared back into the crowd Scott grinned.

“What did you say to her?”

“I told her you were mentally unstable and off your meds.”

“So, you told her the truth, more or less.”

“Yep. Let’s get out of here before she comes back.”

Scott’s mind flipped through his options. He could leave. Then what? He didn’t want to go home. His next option was to make a booty call and crash with one of his regulars. Or he could stay here. He was in no hurry to decide. Prior to the interruption, he had been enjoying this minute of sanity in his otherwise crazy, fucked-up life. James’s deep voice brought him back to the present.

“We staying or going?”

“She won’t be back and I still need to tell you my news.”

Biracial, but identifying as black, Scott owned a disarming nature. Looking like a sun-drenched SoCal, pretty white boy, the confusion he caused in others only got worse when he opened his mouth to speak. Effortlessly flipping between French and slightly accented English, he still managed to sound like a brother. Double takes were a common reaction. Not so with his two closest friends. Tev and James knew him better than his own kin. Tonight, he intended to fill them in on the latest.

He turned his silver-flecked gray eyes toward the tiny stage where a sketchy-looking group busily sound tested their equipment before their set. The neon-lit room, jam-packed with young black bodies in motion, hummed with activity. Scott loved it. Luc’s was one of the few places he could feel safe. Furthermore, here, unlike most spots in LA, he could relax and lapse into Kinyarwanda and still be understood by a smattering of others in the room. He caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror over the fully stocked bar. As he rubbed the stubble on his chin, he couldn’t remember whether he had shaved. Maybe he had, or was that yesterday? He took a deep breath and got a whiff of himself. He smelled like a wet dog, thanks to his ride to the bar in the driving rain. Despite his loose and carefree appearance, “chill” he was not. On the contrary, “wired and triumphant” better described his current state of being.

“We settled,” he said finally.

“Really?” James’s smile spread from ear to ear.

“Yes!” Tev clapped Scott on the back.

Scott flinched in pain but did not complain. The three touched glasses in salute over the good news. Scott nodded and laughed, but Tev—far from done—kept right on.

“Honest to God, I don’t see how he gets away with this shit. Tell me how he does it.” Tev scanned the room, always on the lookout for a young lovely. At the same time Tev begged for an answer to how Scott seemed to get by with everything, unscathed. “Let’s just take tonight for instance. How can it be that his scraggly ass gets so much play? He walks in the door and birds be all over him. Then he gets his rocks off with the light-skinned honey, comes back out here, and completely shuts her down.” Tev turned to James. “Man, did you see her tits? Shit, I would have at least had seconds. How in the hell does that work for him and not us?”

James shrugged. “I’ve got nothing.”

The band began its set and it became almost impossible to hear over the amplified music. The francophone rappers spat their rhymes over a throbbing bass line, commanding the full attention of the bar’s patrons. Forty-five minutes later, the set ended with the three of them still planted on their stools.

“So, how did it settle?” James asked, finally getting Scott’s attention.

With world-weary eyes, Scott turned to James and blinked once. “We paid him off. You know she’s pregnant. Not mine, though. Yeah, well, her douche of a husband charged me with some archaic shit, ‘alienation of affection.’”

“What the fuck?”

“Exactly. Apparently, in some states, it’s illegal to fuck somebody’s wife, but only if she likes it and prefers it to her husband’s shit.”

“What?”

“You heard me. I got sued for screwing a consenting adult.”

“How is that possibly legal?”

“It isn’t in California. That’s why he filed suit in Illinois. But I’m telling you she is completely cool. The problem is her husband. He found out about us. When she wouldn’t give me up, the prick sued me, saying I had alienated the affections of his wife from him!”

She didn’t accuse you of anything, right?” Tev asked, apparently having a hard time with the concept.

“No. She and I are still tight. In fact, I just got her text. I’m hittin’ it tonight.”

“Boy, you’ve got a death wish.” James took a long pull on his beer and stared at his friend sadly.

“No, not at all. She went back to him. They are happy about the baby. She just wants me to tighten her up before he gets home.”

Both James and Tev shook their heads, but neither seemed surprised. Life with Scott was always this way, full of contradictions.

“You still coming by tomorrow to help me move my shit out of the dorm, right?” Tev asked, abruptly changing the subject. “If I’m not out by noon they’re going to start fining my ass.”

Scott nodded as he hopped up from the stool and stretched his arms high over his head. He fist-bumped both of his friends before he headed for the door. After he exited, James and Tev sat for a while longer.

“You think he’s getting worse?”

“Definitely.”

“What are we going to do?”

“Not a fucking thing we can do but watch out for him like we always do.”

Tev called for the bartender to settle the tab, only to learn Scott had already paid it.

“Typical.” James shook his head, sipping the last of his beer.

“That’s our boy.” Tev finished his own, then added, “Just when you think he’s totally out of touch, he comes through and helps me out of a jam.”

The rain had tapered to a light drizzle. Scott strapped on his helmet and mounted his bike. He smelled the wet asphalt under his feet. Glass-slick roads became a rider’s nightmare when the wet mixed with road-dirt. Maybe it was the beer talking, but he decided to take the 110 anyway. LA at night—a different city on a different planet. All the angles shifted to softness. It felt almost cozy. Doing a sedate 65 mph, he still arrived back in Pasadena in minutes. He exited at Colorado and rolled to a stop. His stomach grumbled loudly. He couldn’t remember the last time he had eaten. Pussy didn’t count and he had certainly worked up an appetite tonight, first with the girl at the bar, then with her.

One of the reasons he kept going back to her was because she could keep up with his moods and his tastes, yet she never judged him. He didn’t even mind her big belly. He found it kind of a turn on. His groin twitched, but hunger won out.

“I’ll have a double-double and fries, animal style. Two orders.”

The In-N-Out drive-through was busy, even after 2:00 a.m. The aroma of grease and fried onions made his stomach talk even louder. He paid then grasped both bags in one hand as he duck-walked his bike to a parking space. He removed his helmet and ate ravenously. Laughter and loud chatter from the other patrons, all strangers to him, kept him company while he finished his solitary dinner. He turned left out of the lot and rode back toward Old Pasadena.

Scanning the empty sidewalks, he searched for signs of life. Invisible to most, the  homeless were easy to find if one knew where to look. It didn’t take long for him to find his quarry, Boxes neatly stacked in the recessed entry to the shop that would be closed for another eight hours confirmed his hunch. Scott dismounted and placed the second bag on the sidewalk, next to the cardboard. A filthy hand shot out. The bag of food disappeared.

“Bon appétit, mon frère.”

The closer he got, the more he dreaded going home. “Maybe she won’t be there,” he muttered to himself. The mere possibility of another encounter made sweat start to form on his upper lip. He reacted just in time. He pulled the bike to the side of the road, and leaned over as his dinner splattered the pavement. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and put the bike back in gear. The silhouette of his apartment building loomed ahead.

Please, God, let her be gone.

(To be continued…)