Unfadeable Sneak Peek

Looking for new books? Each month, we’re sharing the first chapter of an upcoming book that you’ll want to add to your TBR list! This month, our featured title is Unfadeable by Maurice Broaddus which goes on sale May 10.

Unfadeable

By Maurice Broaddus

Chapter 1

I JUMP BEHIND A pillar as soon as I see the police car slow rolling down Clifton Street. I recognize the officer driving it by his trifling mustache, looking like he pasted squirrel fur on his upper lip. He’s busted me a few times for tagging. Only once he rounds the corner and the car grumbles safely out of sight do I creep back around to the front. Middle school might be out, but it’s not summer until my first tag of the year.

As I inspect my handiwork, I keep shaking my spray can. Not quite a nervous habit; I just like the way it rattles in my hand, like I’m a snake warn- ing everyone that I’m out and about. The alternating red and green letters have black flames around them, spelling my name out along each pillar on the I-65 overpass, creating a 3D echo of the word. I don’t just see colors, I feel them. Colors are all potential. They can be anything. It’s all about how you mix them.

My name is Isabella Fades, a little bit of Black mixed with a little bit of white. My friends call me Bella, but out here in the streets, I’m known as . . .

“UNFADEABLE!”

Not my best work, but it’ll do for now. Definitely not bad for a thirteen-year-old, if I do say so myself. On the edge of the wall of the overpass is my main feature. A portrait of a Black woman in profile look- ing over her shoulder at the passing traffic. Her sepia skin color is darker than my tawny complexion—my light skin is the only trace left behind by my father. Her Afro flares out like the flames of the letters in Unfadeable. She has a way of owning everything about her. Her eyes are my masterpiece. Bronze with gold flecks in them. It took me forever to capture them the way I remember. Sometimes I let myself miss her. I check the time on my prepaid cell. 1:45 p.m.

Clouds crawl across the sky, thickening and darkening because Indiana’s weather forgot that it’s summer- time not spring. I hope I can make it to the United Northwest Area neighborhood association meeting before it starts raining. I’ve never been to one of these before. My rumbling stomach reminds me to pray that they will have have snacks at this thing.

I run my fingers through my hair and tie the bushy mess back with a scrunchie. My “Black Girl Magic is REAL” T-shirt over black leggings will have to do for this meeting because that’s as profes- sional as I’m going to get. Besides, I’m just about out of clean outfits.

Scrambling down the embankment, I wade though grass that sprouts nearly two feet high, like the yard of an abandoned house. The city hasn’t sent out a prison work crew to mow it recently. I’m not surprised; it has a habit of forgetting our com- munity. The way the highway carves up the blocks forces me to walk a long winding path from one part of the United Northwest Area—its full government name—to the other. Luckily, Clifton Street is the main corridor that runs through The Land, which is what the folks who actually live here call our neigh- borhood. Outside of my school, the Persons Crossings Public Academy, The Land is the only world that I know. It’s magic. People call it The Land because the whole area used to be farmland. Now I almost twist my ankle walking along the uneven pavement of the cracked sidewalk.

Summer vacation’s only as fun as you make it, you know? If I can’t come up with my own adven- tures, I’d be stuck in a house complaining about how bored I am. That ain’t me. I figure out what I have to do. I nod to a kid—maybe eight or nine, he stays on the block—fixing his bike, trying to make do with the parts he has. After fishing in the side pocket of my backpack, I hand him a small baggie of bearings.

“What’s that?” He stares at the bag like I’m try- ing to hand him a cup of wasps. Oily splotches stain his white tank top. His shorts drape past his knees, matching his black socks against his Indianapolis Colts slides.

“Bearings for your bike.”

“But Jared and ’em snatched them from me. Where’d you get them?”

“I found them.” Snatched from the bushes they guard like a bank vault where they tend to hide stuff is probably more than he needs to know. “What do you care?”

“Oooh,” he says, like I’ve just been called to the principal’s office. “Jared’s gonna be mad.”

He makes “mad” sound like it has three syllables. “That’s for me to worry about. I ain’t scared.”

I glance over my shoulder, checking for anyone approaching by bike. Jared and ’em are only one thing wrong with the neighborhood. I can’t quite put my finger on what’s changed. “I heard some dudes were putting together a bike program over on Thirty-Fourth. Why don’t you go up there and see if they can help you out?”

A still-uncertain look on his face—careful but not distrusting—he takes the baggie and upturns his bike to walk it up the block. He turns around for a second with his silent, “Thank you.”

I don’t even know how to respond to the boy prop- erly. I never got to be a kid. My family has lived in one part or another of this neighborhood all my life. I remember being young, but that ended the day the police knocked on our door and I answered.

That’s what led to me no longer having a home.

This is why I have only “associates.” Friends are a risk I can’t afford. They might find out about my situation. Even a “friendly ally,” as my teachers like to call themselves, might feel the need to call the Department of Child Services on me. I don’t need anybody.

I swear I hear the sound of a bike skipping off the sidewalk around the corner and, fearing that Jared might be closer than I want, I run to the meeting. Still, going to this meeting is more a matter of sur- vival . . . mostly because I was promised there’d be snacks.

I can’t say I ever noticed the old Indianapolis Pub- lic Library No. 1 building much before the summer. With the number 1906 chiseled onto its cornerstone, it looked like another house overgrown with weeds and ivy. Ms. Campbell’s on some committee to see about getting it on a historic registry because it’s the oldest library building in Indianapolis. Since it’s on our block, the city had forgotten about it, but she organized folks to help refurbish it into a commu- nity space. Me being here is her fault. She’s always on me to do more stuff for the community. I’m not sure if that’s me, though. We’re all in this together, she always says like she’s the neighborhood cheerleader. If anyone tries to call her by her government name, Essence Campbell, or anything else, they quickly get corrected. I’d call her my friend, but like I said, I can’t afford those. Friends share their lives, their secrets. But she’s low-key, all right. I let her convince me to come to this meeting, but I’m really beginning to question her judgment.

For one thing, someone’s got some poor planning skills. Two o’clock weekday meetings don’t make sense. Naturally, the crowd outside the library is mostly a blue-hair convention, since the only people who can attend are retirees, the unemployed, and the people paid to be there. This must be how retirees and busybodies mix and mingle to meet people. Riverside community people, from the far side of The Land where my folks used to stay: a handful of business- people and property owners. It’s like I’m walking the hallways of my school. I’m invisible. People acknowl- edge me enough to move out of my way, or not, but that’s about it. They don’t know me and barely make the effort to see me.

A few folks stroll along the sidewalk, with a cou- ple older ladies dressed up like they’ve gotten lost on the way to a church meeting. The folks milling about on the sidewalk part as a woman, no taller than me, makes her entrance. Her hat, a wide-brimmed yellow thing trimmed with silk and rhinestones, bends and twists about her head. She wears it like a crown and half struts, yet doesn’t quite meet people in the eye. Her eyes, always on scan mode, are like everyone’s at my school when they bump into me: constantly searching for someone better to talk to. I hitch my bag higher on my shoulders and head up the stairs.

“Where do you think you’re going?” Like a bouncer, this big dude by the door holds up a hand huge enough to crush coconuts. He has a barrel chest, and his face resembles a mug that’s been broken and glued back together poorly.

“Into the meeting?”

“I don’t think so.” His voice is full of enough steel to build a cage, like when my teachers want to sound Serious. I think I’m supposed to be scared. “This here’s grown-folks stuff.”

“I know. Ms. Campbell invited me.” I try to peek around him, but every time I move, he steps into my view.

“I don’t think so.” Even his voice sounds like he’s looking down his nose at me. I mean, he is, since he’s nearly two feet taller than me, but he doesn’t hide that he’s dismissing me.

I hate not being taken seriously. Hate. It.

But every now and then, my best play is to give them what they expect. I make my lip tremble. Just a level one tremble—subtle but noticeable. A level three lip tremble risks looking too over-the-top and he might not buy it. “My mom told me to meet her in there, but I don’t see her. She told me to wait for her.”

With a sigh, he first stares me up and down. Then he softens. Slightly. No one with feelings can take the lost little girl routine, no matter how tough they pre- tend to be. “Stay in back. Don’t make noise.”

“Okay. Thanks.”

He acts like I am gonna shoplift a speech or some- thing. I duck into the building.

The Indianapolis Public Library No. 1 still has most of its original shelves along the walls. The remaining books lining them are mostly from neigh- borhood authors. In each corner, chairs and love seats huddle around a coffee table. The space is open other than the former information, now reception- ist’s, desk. Rows of chairs face the wall on the other side of it.

I’m pretty sure everyone learns from middle school how to move through life. This meeting reminds me of a typical day in the life. People gather in small packs, either with their friends or with the other pop- ular kids. Each person tries to appear real important to everyone else, like peacocks strutting around, ready to stop and take a selfie at a moment’s notice. The grown folks here are no different. Already bored, I shuffle off toward the back, near the aisle, always ready to make a quiet and quick exit if I need to.

An older kid, maybe fifteen, sits next to an old man. Probably his granddad who dragged him here. I already can’t stand him. Hot as it is outside, he’s got his letter jacket on. That thing is leather and it’s still summer in Indiana. But he needs the world to see. He’s big and lumpy, probably a football lineman. Plus, he’s got the nerve to manspread his janky legs like he owns the place. Over there thinking he cute, but he looks like a chubby spider monkey.

“What’s up?” He gives a single cool flick of his chin and scoots away from me like he’s trying to give me room. “Aaries Greyer.”

“I didn’t ask.” Not wanting to study him any closer, I scrounge around in my book bag until I come up with my phone charger. Now that I’m inside, my next mission is to find an outlet.

Smirking, Aaries nudges the old man. I thought my complexion was light, but the old man’s practi- cally white compared to me. A mix of peach and tan, like sun-warmed sand. He’s a sprawl of limbs tucked neatly into his chair. His collared shirt is unbut- toned, revealing a T-shirt touting a group called The Last Poets, who look like the great-granddads of a rap group. A red leather fedora dips low on his head. The old man turns slightly. Even though the move is barely a glance, it’s like he’s taken me in com- pletely. Settling by an outlet at the end of their row, I set my book bag between me and them like a wall and shift away so that I can pay attention to the meeting. There aren’t any snacks. Now I’m really irritated.

The old lady in the yellow hat breaks away from the group she was talking to. Her cane taps along the hardwood floor as she strides down the center aisle. Like a principal making an entrance, she hesitates, creating a show of nearing her seat, allowing people another moment to wrap up their conversations and head to theirs. She must always be expecting a meet- ing to break out at any second, since she takes a gavel from her purse. She smacks it once against the table. A sharp shot, like she fired a gun.

Something’s about to go down.

 

Copyright © 2022 by Maurice Broaddus
All rights reserved.

About The Author:

Maurice Broaddus is a community organizer and teacher and has written and edited short stories for a number of magazines as well as authoring several novels and novellas for adults. He is the author of the urban fantasy trilogy, The Knights of Breton Court, and he co-wrote the play Finding Home: Indiana at 200. He also writes for the Marvel Super HeroesLeverage, and Firefly role-playing games as well as working as a consultant on Watch Dogs 2. He is also the author of the middle grade novel, The Usual Suspects, which is available now in paperback!