When the old mayor was elected, he promised the youth would be his priority. “Education brought me a way from the streets, and it will for the next generation as well!”
Blazhia Hughes was born that same year. In Kindergarten, her dad lowered city taxes when the state was raising theirs. Her 9th birthday party began with a ribbon cutting to the park named after her.
Congressman Hughes celebrated his first victory the same day she’d had her first victory playing varsity basketball sophomore year.
This year, for her birthday, she drove her new car without him for the first time to the Coast Pier Boardwalk; Naim was the only passenger.
“You know I’m joking right?” Naim said as they walked away from the Ferris Wheel.
She squeezed his hand and put her head on his shoulder. They walked through loudly ringing games that flashed winning lights in their eyes until the ice cream stand beckoned.
Blazhia used to come here often with daddy when he was mayor. Sometimes cameras followed and captured pictures that would be in the paper next day, but she didn’t care. One scoop of Vanilla Bean and one scoop of Black Cherry, the same order then was the same order now.
What she didn’t realize was that she wasn’t with her daddy. While it was perfectly fine to be the silent girl that smiled for the cameras and ate ice cream on the front page of the newspaper with him, her boyfriend wasn’t interested in that. He preferred substance.
Naim was reminded of that even now as he searched for something to say; all she ever seemed to want to do was cuddle and get her earlobes rubbed.
“I might get drafted,” he said, breaking the silence.
It hadn’t always been the case, but Blazhia hated baseball more each day.
Hillandale Christian Academy’s greatest shortstop graduated last year and already, after his first season of college ball, was drawing national attention. From batting practice, to books, to Blazhia, the water in Naim’s days started to rise above his head and somewhere, the drain needed to opened.
“Where are you supposed to go?” Blazhia asked. She tried to hide the alarm in her voice.
“Don’t know, but, well it’s just a maybe right now so don’t even worry about it,” he replied.
But she knew better. Whenever her dad said maybe, that meant yes. Like maybe he’s be out of town for her birthday. For the entire week, Blazhia watched news reports of her dad’s trip across China, promoting the President’s new greenhouse initiative. When she saw him shaking hands with China’s premier this morning, her expectations were sealed.
“Well what about the baseball camp Coach Emerson does?”
Naim is the only boyfriend she’d known. He was the teacher’s assistant in P.E. last year and Blazhia liked watching him swing the bat during class. He was at the field while the class ran the track. The high-pitched “ping” she heard, his sinewy forearms and solid calves made her forget she was in school, making P.E. the only “B” on her transcript. It didn’t hurt that she’d snagged the prize of the senior class as a sophomore.
But two years seemed like twenty when Naim looked at her now, his affection an exercise in monotony more than mutuality. Her insecurities were childish to the young man whose cup ran over with confidence, because it was all he could fill it with.
Naim Connelly turned seven at Our Angel of Faith Rescue Mission. After his mother died, Fred Connelly was left with Naim and the twins, Kyla and Kalyn.
His eleventh birthday was spent wiping the twins’ tears after their dad’s funeral. Fred had decided the best thing he could do for his children was eat his brother-in-law’s gun.
All Blazhia knew was that Naim and his two sisters moved in with their Aunt Rose and Uncle Douglas just before Naim started at Hillandale. He never talked about his parents.
“The camp will be good without me, it’s not like I’m the only good player that’s come from Hillandale. Summertime is for the pros and coach knows that.”
Ice cream in their spoons began to impatiently melt while they sta on a bench staring at the water under the pier.
“Your dad back yet?” he changed the subject.
Blazhia’s ebony hair danced slowly in the early summer breeze along her shoulders. A patch of intentional burgundy draped over the side of her right eye, her only real source of teenage rebellion. The congressman had sent his daughter exclusive sneakers from China, metallic green to match her new car. She folded her arms and crossed her legs, now under the lamp of questioning.
“No. They said on the news that his trip would be over this week, but I haven’t talked to him today.” The sun shone off her shoe that dangled back and forth over her leg.
Naim decided not to press further; the drop in her tone brought his caring side back and he put his arm around Blazhia so she could bury her face in his State Tech Baseball shirt.
The pier was a backdrop for one-man bands, singers trying to find the right ear, lovers, fishermen, and wide-eyed kids, two of which stood near their bench devouring ice cream that ended up more on their faces than in their mouths. Blazhia lifted her head and her and Naim watched the boys together silently, worlds apart in thought.
There was just enough time for them to start running when a truck barreled through their thoughts and into view. Vehicles weren’t allowed on the pier but the screams and scattering that littered the wooden peninsula didn’t affect the driver’s foot except to make him go faster.The boys were no match for the truck, their once-bitten cones rolled just a few feet away now amidst the chaos, dripping stickiness onto the pier.