Antwan paced the floors of Brookdale Hospital, wondering what was taking so long. He glanced at his watch every few minutes, then again at the closed doors at the end of the hall.

At seven minutes past two the hydraulic doors whooshed and swung outward. A young black nurse appeared, pretty dreadlocks flowing around her heart-shaped face.

“Hey,” Antwan said, grinning widely.

“What’s poppin’?” asked the younger man being pushed toward him in the wheelchair.

The men shook hands briefly, then Antwan reached down and put his arms around Farad and held him close.

They’d almost lost him. The bullets he took had ripped through his spine, nearly demolishing his intestines on their deadly path through his body.

Antwan had barely understood what Finesse was telling him when he called from the emergency room. When he realized Farad had been shot, shame immediately overtook him. Instead of watching out for his brothers, he’d become a monster. Invincible. Impenetrable. He’d been so consumed with exacting wrath that he had allowed rage to rule him and put the lives of his brothers in the path of vengeance.

Farad had endured hours of surgery, and each of his brothers were at his bedside when he opened his eyes.

“Bad?” he’d asked in a hoarse whisper.

Antwan had nodded as Finesse touched his twin’s arm and Malik moved closer to his side.

“You’re paralyzed,” Antwan told him simply, giving it to him all at once without any pretenses. “From the waist down. Could be permanent, might not be. The doctors said it’s day to day. We gotta wait and see.”

Farad had closed his eyes momentarily, and when he opened them again Antwan saw real strength there.


Kadir made a noise in his throat and Finesse shook his head and answered the question. “Murked. Slumped. Cheese, my niggah. Shredded cheese.”

“Yeah,” Raheem added, “that kid Rayz gonna get his too. He’s getting sent to Elmira. Tony got a crew of Puerto Ricans runnin’ shit up there and they already planning his welcoming party.”

Farad nodded, satisfied.

And now, two months after his shooting, the pretty black nurse smiled as Antwan moved behind his brother’s wheelchair and grasped the handholds. Farad had endured several weeks of physical therapy, and today would be the first time he felt the warmth of the sun since being wheeled into the hospital flat on his back.

“Where’s the posse?” Farad asked as they rode downstairs in the elevator.

“They’re all here,” Antwan told him.

Farad nodded, then spoke again. “Where’s the Monster?”

It took Antwan a long time to answer, but when he did his voice came out strong and sure. “He’s gone, man. He died the night they brought you in here.”

Thirty minutes later Antwan and his five brothers were riding through the gates of Evergreen Cemetery. Finesse was behind the wheel of the custom van they’d purchased, and when they arrived in the Gibron section he pulled over and helped Raheem unfold the wheelchair and settle Farad down into it.

They walked together over to the plot that had been in their family for the past eighteen years. Standing at the grave site in silence, they stared down at the headstone that read simply, “Father” “Mother” “Baby Brother.”

“Pops was a crazy cat,” Antwan reminisced, the fall sun warming his face.

Farad chuckled in his chair. “Yeah, he was. He was a wild dude who did his thing regardless…but he dug his little cats, though. We was his lucky seven, remember? He used to say he could bet his last dime on his seven boys.”

“I miss Mama,” Malik blurted out. “If she was here she would be mad as hell with all of us.”

Antwan agreed. Each of them had stood around her bed on that last night. They’d put their bonded word on her soul and sent her out of this world with some bone-deep promises that they had all failed to live by.

Finesse looked down at his twin and put Antwan’s thoughts into words.

“We failed her, man. We swore we would keep her with us. Swore we wouldn’t let the streets suck the life outta us.”

He put his hand on his twin’s shoulder.

“We still some hard niggahs, bruh. Soldiers. But we outta this shit, man. Cool?”

And when Farad nodded, Finesse turned to Antwan. “Your offer still good, man? You still thinkin’ on expanding them barbershops and breaking off a few franchises?”

Antwan grinned. They said God worked in mysterious ways, and this change of heart was one mystery he was gonna roll with and not question.

“Yeah, I might wanna get down on summa that too,” Kadir spoke up. “It’s getting hot in A.C., man. I gotta find another hustle. Mama would turn over in her grave if the same thing that happened to Daddy ended up happening to me.”

Still battling his guilt, Raheem gave his younger brother some love, then gazed toward the grave and spoke for the first time since they’d arrived. “We didn’t watch out for Baby Brother like you wanted us to, Mama. But we loved him. You know we did. And even though he’s gone, the rest of us are still here swinging, and that means we can still make something outta what we got left.”

Antwan gathered his brothers in his arms and agreed.