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Check out the first two chapters of Broken Hearts of Queens in the file below.

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Excerpt from Ghetto Venture

Passing through the squeaky doors to enter the building, my mind shifted from Ronnie to this horrendous complex’s many repugnant charms. The scent of alcohol-soaked urine and stale weed hit us in the face, although the pee really stole the show. It always did.

Giovanni buried his nose in his shirt as we moved through the dank corridor and up three flights of stairs to our old apartment.

There was no stifling my embarrassment over the shame of ever calling The Glen home. Living in a place like that was a desperate necessity, a last resort before the streets—something Giovanni knew nothing about and probably would never have had to face. Still, I couldn’t shake the guilt of not preparing him enough for what to expect, as if him refusing to take me seriously was somehow my fault.

Walking through the door of our apartment shifted that shame in an instant. Glaring at Storm’s former resting place rushed that day back to my heart and mind as if it had happened today. Luckily, Giovanni’s presence was a welcome relief, a distraction from the negative energy forever infused in the place.

Our apartment reeked of disinfectant instead of Storm’s blood or the funk that strangled us when we first entered the building. Giovanni breathed in deeply as if the smell of cleaning products was the purest form of oxygen he had ever known. I couldn’t blame him. I only hoped he’d stored enough of it in his lungs for whenever we had to venture downstairs into the fumes.

He lifted a box of kitchen wares and watched me with suspicion. “How do you know that guy?”

“We used to go to school together. He dropped out before the end of his eighth-grade year around the time his sister...uh, passed away. He was a couple of years ahead of me. I guess he’s like twenty now.” He looked more like a haggard thirty-year-old, and it worried me.

“I thought they were going to make problems when we arrived.”

“Ronnie would never. His friends would have...if he wasn’t there. Actually, he saved me from trouble a few times.”

I shook the terrifying memory of my run-in with the buffalo-faced, boulder-sized gangster. I could still see his sneering face in my head the day he cornered me on the stairs after school. Ronnie fought that fight for me, despite being half the man’s size and sixteen at the time. He shoved Lug down the stairs with all of his might.

The sickening sound churned my stomach whenever I thought about his heavy body smacking one step after another. The fall left him quadriplegic, unable to speak or point Ronnie out to his former comrades.

I owed Ronnie my life, and there was no telling how many others had been saved from falling prey to Lug because of Ronnie’s actions that day.

I retrieved the pocketknife from my pocket, opened it, and carefully slipped it into my pocket again. “Ronnie’s always been sweet to me. He’s a good person. He’s just...stuck.”

I followed Giovanni out the door with my own load. There was strength in numbers, and the last thing I wanted was to have my boyfriend disappear, get hurt, or worse. My list of bad memories associated with this place was already beyond full. I could’ve done without another.

Ch. 19 from Broken Hearts of Queens by Jalynn Gray-Wells

 

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