Angel woke with a start. Sweat trickled down her forehead and her breath was coming too fast. She thrust her arm out and switched off her alarm that was set to go off in a few minutes. The clock read 2:48 in blinding red numbers. She blinked and felt her face hesitantly, she was crying. "Damn it." She said, rolling over on her side. A cool breeze blew through the window and made the tears on her face colder. She shivered. The dream kept coming again and again, no matter what she thought about before she went to sleep, no matter how hard she tried not to go to sleep. It overtook her. The dream had been more real this time, though. She wasn't used to getting scared, she didn't allow herself to be scared. She heard someone bumping in the car to loud rap, Jose? She got out of bed and thrust a sweatshirt over her head. She was cold. Looking at the window, she could see her older brother walking towards the apartment building, but he wasn't alone. A few boys were walking with him and a girl, probably his latest romance, Jewel. Angel walked into the living room and turned on the television. Sinking down into the couch, she took a deep breath, trying to calm herself before the others arrived. The door banged open. Jose walked in with his arm wrapped around Jewel's shoulder.
"Hey, babe. What are you doing up?" He asked, his deep voice boomed across the room. She shrugged, "I couldn't sleep. Who's with you?" The other boys were still hanging outside, waiting for Jose to let them in. He moved inside and they filed in. Jose grinned at her, "I brought you a present." She tilted her head, "Oh yeah? Where is it?" The rest of the boys got inside and he pointed to one standing towards the back. "There it is." Her eyes shot up. Her heart almost stopped, "Tito!" She sprang up and ran across the room in seconds. She threw her arms around his neck almost knocking him over. Everyone started laughing, but she didn't care. It was Tito, her Tito. She could smell his cologne, taking over her senses he was so warm. "Hey, baby." His breath tickled against her ear as he whispered to her. She let him go, "You're back!" The others had filed in and sat on the couch, some in the kitchen, talking about somebody who had gotten put in jail. He grinned down at her, his dark eyes flashing with affection, "Yeah, I'm back. Miss me?" He held his arm out and she gave him another quick hug. "Of course I did. Come on, I'm going to get dressed."
He held her hand, "Do I get to watch?" She shot him a look, "I missed you, but I still have my pride, boy." He grinned, "I love that sass." She flipped her hair back, "I love you." She went into her room quickly and began to dig down in her laundry to find something to wear. She pulled out a pair of loose jeans and a jersey. Tito moved around the room, looking at the pictures framing her mirror and the little knickknacks. "Keep your eyes down." She said, as she quickly slipped out of her pajamas and into the clothes. She finished, "Okay." He came up behind her and pulled her against him, his heart was thudding. "What's the matter?" She asked, kissing his cheek, gently. "I worried you. I'm so sorry, baby." Tears filled her eyes, "I'm so glad you are okay." He slipped his chain in her hand, he had given it to her before he had left town, it had been lying on her dresser. She slipped it on her neck and kissed his nose, teasingly. "But I'm not worried anymore. You're safe. You're with me." He leaned in and brushed his soft lips over hers and she pressed against him. Jose walked in, "All right, that's enough. Tito the Tiger." Angel laughed and took Tito's hand, "Come on, you're scaring my big bad brother." Tito laughed and followed her out.
She pulled two cokes out of the fridge and handed him one. She couldn't keep her eyes off of him he was so beautiful. She had been scared; she had been worried, more than he could probably understand. He saw her eyes and his became serious, "I am sorry I worried you, babe." She nodded, knowing her voice would reveal her feelings if she spoke. But he could see it in her eyes, "I am. I didn't mean to scare you, I wanted to talk to you everyday I was gone. I wanted to kiss those beautiful lips every second I was gone." He grinned and she smiled back. She moved to put her forehead on his chest, his hands wrapping around to embrace her. His fingers grazed her back gently and she stiffened. "Baby?" He said, his voice deep and muddled with confusion. She pulled away, knowing he would be angry, desperately trying to think of something to say. He turned her around and raised her jersey up to look at her back. A deep gash marred her cocoa skin; she winced as his fingertips grazed it. "Who the hell did this?" She shrugged, "Some bitch over by Broadway. You should see her, though."
"I don't like when you fight." He said, simply. She frowned and punched him lightly in the arm, "If you can fight, I can. You fight with more than fists, don't preach to me." He nodded, "Yeah, but I know what a bullet can do." Her eyes scanned his expression; his face was stone, closed off. He was thinking of his little brother, Emanuel. She remembered that, she wouldn't think of it. "And I don't?" She asked, her voice dry and sarcastic. His eyes snapped to look at her, "Don't be bitchy. I just don't like you getting up in the fighting. Fists lead to knives, knives lead to guns, I can't lose you like I did Emanuel." His voice tensed. "Don't think about it. I'll stay away from Broadway." She whispered and tugged at his hand, his face resumed his natural carefree look. She sighed, relieved. They walked hand in hand out to the living room where Jose and his posse were watching MTV and talking. Jewel and Jose were kissing on the couch; the sight made her sick, Jewel was too fast. She tugged at Jose' bandana as they walked past, "Come up for air, Romeo." A couple of Jose' friends laughed and winked at her, she sighed and pulled Tito out to the patio.
"Want to go for a walk?" She asked, breathing in the fresh air deeply. He nodded, "Were you surprised to see me?" He asked. She watched the palm trees sway and the stars glisten in the sky. The dream seemed so far away now, but she could still remember the "Yeah, why didn't you call when you got back?" He shrugged, "I was busy." The tough guy act was up again, she hated when he shielded her from his emotions, from his life. She was used to it. He was a gangster and he was a homeboy. She should have known that being away hadn't made him any softer, any more open to her. They were close; she knew that he cared about her he would die for her. But sometimes, she wondered if she was enough for him. She wasn't as strong as he thought; she wasn't as tough as she pretend to be. He looked at her, her dark hair blowing around her face, framing the face he had kissed so often with his lips. "What are you thinking about?" She shrugged her slender shoulders, "Us. Tito, I've been having dreams about that night." She heard Jose and them cheering at something on the television and she wrapped her arms around her stomach, feeling the need to be protected.
"Yeah? Dreams or nightmares?" The pool rippled as a gentle breeze whispered through the courtyard. "Nightmares. I can't get them out of my head. I need to know who they were." He twisted his bandana in his hands, "I told you. They were from the South Side." Angel laughed bitterly, "You're enemies with every side, except your own." Tito looked out, his hands gripping the rail, knuckles white. "My side is the only one that matters. Emanuel died two years ago tomorrow." Angel's stomach rolled, "What?" He nodded, "I fucking go down to his grave every year and put flowers on his grave. You didn't remember?" She twisted the silver ring on her finger, "I tried to forget. That night wasn't easy for any of us, you know? I was there, you came later."
"I still saw his body, Angel. Did you think it was only you?" The silence hung in the air, thick and humid. She didn't know what to say, she did sound selfish, but she had been there. She had "I know, Tito. I know. Let's not talk about this, I haven't seen you in forever." He dropped his hands to his side, "No. I need to leave. I have some business with Ramon." She felt the muscles in her body tense at the name, "I don't like it when you mess with that pot-head. He's into fucked up stuff, Tito." He tied on the bandana and adjusted his ice so that it sat perfectly on his wide chest, "I can take care of myself. Bye, sweetheart." He leaned over and kissed her. She tried to hold on, but he pulled away. The night air rushed to fill the space, making her feel empty and horrible. "Call me." She said, as he walked away, his shoulders raised and his shadow falling on the concrete, like a dark angel.
She walked back into the apartment, Jewel was giggling. She rolled her eyes and glanced at the TV. What were they watching? The news? She walked in and sat down in the loveseat, pulling her knees to her chest. The broadcaster was announcing a list of names involved in a school shooting:
This startling display of teen hate and violence was especially shocking in such a crime-free neighborhood. We are regretful to inform you that late this afternoon, a car with tinted windows rolled by releasing bullets into a nearby playground at an attempt to perhaps hit some teen boys playing basketball there, killing four and injuring more. Police suspect that this might be a gang related crime, but none are quite sure. The casualty list includes teenagers: Mia Jones, Cruz Lopez Jr., and Joey Lawton. The others injured are listed in critical conditions two are children. Gang activity has been at a remarkable high the past few months, but police are becoming more watchful.
Jewel let out a little sigh at the name Mia and Angel studied her face. Maybe Mia had been an old classmate or an elementary school friend? More deaths, probably Southsiders, they'd been getting more and more brazen. More careless as well, how could they do that to children? Bullets had no aim, aiming wasn't an issue in drive-by, just shoot in the general direction. And what? Pray for some to hit the enemy and not some little chica or chico playing hopscotch on the pavement? "What the hell is wrong with them?" She said, ignoring the stares of Jose' friends and Jose. Jewel popped her bubble gum loud, "What? Cuz the kids got hurt?" Angel's hands tightened into fists, but she kept them at her side, silently counting to ten. "Yeah. Shooting at a playground is a sin, kids die." Jewel shrugged, "It's life." Angel got up, "It's life until one of them gets hit by a stray bullet and bleeds to death on the blacktop." Jewel cuddled into Jose, "Not our problem." Jose looked at her, "Don't trip, Angel. Its just people we don't know." Angel walked out, her feet slamming into the ground. She whirled around and shot an icy look at her brother.
"Did you know Emanuel? Was he real enough? Did he die? You fuckers don't understand anything, gotta be tough, and gotta settle scores." She went into her room and slammed the door, cursing under her breath. Jose entered seconds later; he shut the door behind him gently and turned to look at her. "Why are you talking about Emanuel? I thought that was behind us." She scowled at him, "Tito and I were talking about it and I'm sick of all that shit on the news. And your little Jewel's being a bitch too." He looked as if he was about to get angry for a split second and then his face softened, "I know that was hard for you. But we gotta be tough. You're a Rodriguez. You can't let people see you like that, breaking down." Angel flipped on her stereo and rolled her eyes, "Breaking down, huh? Yeah, I'm a Rodriguez. I'll be tough. Real feelings are too scary." Sarcasm running through her veins, viciously. He froze listening to the song; she looked at his face, "Sorry. I'm just tired, it's like 3:00 in the morning and seeing Tito was great, but it wore me out." He nodded; he leaned over and brushed a kiss against her forehead, as he walked out of the door.

End of Chapter One