Authors: Angie Thomas
“Sometimes Daddy sold food stamps to buy clothes for us,” I say. “He couldn’t get a job for the longest time, ’cause he’s an ex-con. When he got hired at the grocery store, he took us to Taco Bell, and we ordered whatever we wanted. I thought it was the greatest thing in the world. Almost better than the day we moved out the projects.”
Chris cracks a small smile. “Taco Bell is pretty awesome.”
“Yeah.” I look at my hands again. “He let Khalil come with us to Taco Bell. We were struggling, but Khalil was like our charity case. Everybody knew his momma was a crackhead.”
I feel the tears coming. Fuck, I’m sick of this. “We were real close back then. He was my first kiss, first crush. Before he died, we weren’t as close anymore. I mean, I hadn’t seen him in months and . . .” I’m ugly crying. “And it’s killing me because he was going through so much shit, and I wasn’t there for him anymore.”
Chris thumbs my tears away. “You can’t blame yourself.”
“But I do,” I say. “I could’ve stopped him from selling drugs. Then people wouldn’t be calling him a thug. And I’m sorry I didn’t tell you; I wanted to, but everybody who knows I was in the car acts like I’m made out of glass. You treated me normal. You
I’m an absolute mess right now. Chris takes my hand and
pulls me onto his lap so I’m straddling him. I bury my face in his shoulder and cry like a big-ass baby. His tux is wet, my makeup is ruined. Awful.
“I’m sorry,” he says, rubbing my back. “I was an ass tonight.”
“You were. But you’re my ass.”
“I’ve been watching
I look at him and seriously punch his arm. He laughs and the sound of it makes me laugh. “You know what I mean! You’re my normal. And that’s all that matters.”
“All that matters.” He smiles.
I hold his cheek and let my lips reintroduce themselves to his. Chris’s are soft and perfect. They taste like fruit punch too.
Chris pulls back with a gentle tug to my bottom lip. He presses his forehead against mine and looks at me. “I love you.”
The “I” has appeared. My response is easy. “I love you too.”
Two loud knocks against the window startle us. Seven presses his face against the glass. “Y’all bet’ not be doing nothing!”
The best way to get turned all the way off? Have your brother show up.
“Seven, leave them alone,” Layla whines behind him. “We were about to dance, remember?”
“That can wait. I gotta make sure he’s not getting some from my sister.”
“You won’t get any if you don’t stop acting so ridiculous!” she says.
“I don’t care. Starr, get out this car. I ain’t playing!”
Chris laughs into my bare shoulder. “Did your dad tell him to keep an eye on you?”
Knowing Daddy . . . “Probably so.”
He kisses my shoulder and his lips linger there a few seconds. “Are we good now?”
I peck him back on the lips. “We’re good.”
“Good. Let’s go dance.”
We get out the car, and Seven yells about us sneaking off and threatens to tell Daddy. Layla pulls him back inside as he says, “And if she push out a little Chris in nine months, we gon’ have a problem, partna!”
The music is still bumping inside. I try not to laugh as Chris really does turn the Nae-Nae into a No-No. Maya and Ryan join us on the dance floor, and they give me these “What the hell?” looks at Chris’s moves. I shrug and go with it.
Toward the end of a song, Chris leans down to my ear and says, “I’ll be right back.”
He disappears into the crowd. I don’t think anything of it until about a minute later when his voice comes over the speakers, and he’s next to the DJ in the booth.
“Hey, everybody,” he says. “My girl and I had a fight earlier.”
Oh, Lord. He’s telling all of our business. I look at my Chucks and shield my face.
“And I wanted to do this song, our song, to show you how much I love you and care about you, Fresh Princess.”
A bunch of girls go, “Awww!” His boys whoop and cheer. I’m thinking, please don’t let him sing. Please. But there’s this familiar
boomp . . . boomp, boomp, boomp.
“Now this is a story all about how my life got flipped turned upside down,” Chris raps. “And I’d like to take a minute, just sit right there, I’ll tell you how I became the prince of a town called Bel-Air.”
I smile way too hard.
song. I rap along with him, and mostly everyone joins in. Even the teachers. At the end, I cheer louder than anybody.
Chris comes back down, and we laugh and hug and kiss. Then we dance and take silly selfies, flooding dashboards and timelines around the world. When prom is over, we let Maya, Ryan, Jess, and some of our other friends ride with us to IHOP. Everybody has somebody on their lap. At IHOP, we eat way too many pancakes and dance to songs on the jukebox. I don’t think about Khalil or Natasha.
It’s one of the best nights of my life.
On Sunday, my parents take me and my brothers on a trip.
It seems like a normal visit to Uncle Carlos’s house until we pass his neighborhood. A little over five minutes later, a brick sign surrounded by colorful shrubs welcomes us to Brook Falls.
Single-story brick houses line freshly paved streets. Black kids, white kids, and everything in between play on the sidewalks and in yards. Open garage doors show all of the junk inside, and bikes and scooters lay abandoned in yards. Nobody’s worried about their stuff getting stolen in the middle of the day.
It reminds me of Uncle Carlos’s neighborhood yet it’s different. For one, there’s no gate around it, so they’re not keeping anyone out or in, but obviously people feel safe. The houses are smaller, more homey looking. And straight up? There are more
people who look like us compared to Uncle Carlos’s neighborhood.
Daddy pulls into the driveway of a brown-brick house at the end of a cul-de-sac. Bushes and small trees decorate the yard, and a cobblestone walkway leads up to the front door.
“C’mon, y’all,” Daddy says.
We hop out, stretching and yawning. Those forty-five-minute drives aren’t a joke. A chubby black man waves at us from the driveway next door. We wave back and follow my parents up the walkway. Through the glass of the front door, the house appears empty.
“Whose house is this?” Seven asks.
Daddy unlocks the door. “Hopefully ours.”
When we go inside, we’re standing in the living room. There’s a strong stench of paint and polished hardwood floors. Two halls, one on each side, lead away from the living room. The kitchen is right off from the living room with white cabinets, granite countertops, and stainless-steel appliances.
“We wanted you guys to see it,” Momma says. “Look around.”
I can’t lie, I’m afraid to move. “This is
“Like I said, we hope so,” Daddy replies. “We’re waiting for the mortgage to be approved.”
“Can we afford it?” Seven asks.
Momma raises an eyebrow. “Yes, we can.”
“But like down payments and stuff—”
“Seven!” I hiss. He’s always in somebody’s business.
“We got everything taken care of,” Daddy says. “We’ll rent the house in the Garden out, so that’s gon’ help with the monthly payments. Plus . . .” He looks at Momma with this sly grin that’s kinda adorable, I gotta admit.
“I got the nurse manager job at Markham,” she says, smiling. “I start in two weeks.”
“For real?” I say, and Seven goes, “Whoa,” while Sekani shouts, “Momma’s rich!”
“Boy, ain’t nobody rich,” Daddy says. “Calm down.”
“But this helps,” says Momma. “A lot.”
“Daddy, you’re okay with us living out here with the fake people?” Sekani asks.
“Where you get that from, Sekani?” Momma says.
“Well, that’s what he always says. That people out here are fake, and that Garden Heights is real.”
“Yeah, he does say that,” says Seven.
I nod. “All. The. Time.”
Momma folds her arms. “Care to explain, Maverick?”
“I don’t say it
“Yeah, you do,” the rest of us say.
“A’ight, I say it a lot. I may not have been one hundred percent right on all of this—”
Momma coughs, but there’s a “Ha” hidden in it.
Daddy glares at her. “But I realize being real ain’t got anything to do with where you live. The realest thing I can do is
protect my family, and that means leaving Garden Heights.”
“What else?” Momma questions, like he’s being grilled in front of the class.
“And that living in the suburbs don’t make you any less black than living in the hood.”
“Thank you,” she says with a satisfied smile.
“Now are y’all gon’ look around or what?” Daddy asks.
Seven hesitates to move, and since he’s hesitant, Sekani is too. But shoot, I want first dibs on a room. “Where are the bedrooms?”
Momma points to the hall on the left. I guess Seven and Sekani realize why I asked. The three of us exchange looks.
We rush for the hall. Sekani gets there first, and it’s not my best moment, but I sling his scrawny butt back.
“Mommy, she threw me!” he whines.
I beat Seven to the first room. It’s bigger than my current room but not as big as I want. Seven reaches the second one, looks around, and I guess he doesn’t like it. That leaves the third room as the biggest one, and it’s at the end of the hall.
Seven and I race for it, and it’s like Harry Potter versus Cedric Diggory trying to get to the Goblet of Fire. I grab Seven’s shirt, stretching it until I have a good enough grip to pull him back and get ahead of him. I beat him to the room and open the door.
And it’s smaller than the first one.
“I call dibs!” Sekani shouts. He shimmies in the doorway of the first room, the biggest of the three.
Seven and I rock, paper, scissor it for the second-biggest room. Seven always goes with rock or paper, so I easily win.
Daddy leaves to get lunch, and Momma shows us the rest of the house. My brothers and I have to share a bathroom again. Sekani’s finally learned aim etiquette and the art of flushing, so it’s fine, I guess. The master suite is on the other hallway. There’s a laundry room, an unfinished basement, and a two-car garage. Momma says we’ll get a basketball hoop on wheels. We can keep it in the garage, roll it in front of the house, and play in the cul-de-sac sometimes. A wooden fence surrounds the backyard, and there’s plenty of space for Daddy’s garden and Brickz.
“Brickz can come out here, right?” I ask.
“Of course. We aren’t gonna leave him.”
Daddy brings burgers and fries, and we eat on the kitchen floor. It’s super quiet out here. Dogs bark sometimes, but wall-rattling music and gunshots? Not happening.
“So, we’re gonna close in the next few weeks or so,” Momma says, “but since it’s the end of the school year, we’ll wait until you guys are out for summer to move.”
“’Cause moving ain’t no joke,” Daddy adds.
“Hopefully, we can get settled in before you go off to college, Seven,” Momma says. “Plus it gives you a chance to make your room yours, so you can have it for holidays and the summer.”
Sekani slurps his milk shake and says with a mouth full of froth, “Seven said he’s not going to college.”
Daddy says, “What?”
Seven glares at Sekani. “I didn’t say I wasn’t going to college. I said I wasn’t going
to college. I’m going to Central Community so I can be around for Kenya and Lyric.”
“Oh, hell no,” Daddy says.
“You can’t be serious,” says Momma.
Central Community is the junior college on the edge of Garden Heights. Some people call it Garden Heights High 2.0 ’cause so many people from Garden High go there and take the same drama and bullshit with them.
“They have engineering classes,” Seven argues.
“But they don’t have the same opportunities as those schools you applied to,” Momma says. “Do you realize what you’re passing up? Scholarships, internships—”
“The chance for me to finally have a Seven-free life,” I add, and slurp my milk shake.
“Who asked you?” Seven says.
Low blow, I know, but that response comes naturally. Seven flicks a fry at me. I block it and come this close to flipping him off, but Momma says, “You bet’ not!” and I lower my finger.
“Look, you not responsible for your sisters,” Daddy says, “but I’m responsible for you. And I ain’t letting you pass up opportunities so you can do what two grown-ass people supposed to do.”
“A dollar, Daddy,” Sekani points out.
“I love that you look out for Kenya and Lyric,” Daddy tells
Seven, “but there’s only so much you can do. You can choose whatever college you want, and you’ll be successful. But you choose because that’s where you wanna be. Not because you trying to do somebody else’s job. You hear me?”
“Yeah,” Seven says.
Daddy hooks his arm around Seven’s neck and pulls him closer. Daddy kisses his temple. “I love you. And I always got your back.”
After lunch we gather in the living room, join hands, and bow our heads.
“Black Jesus, thank you for this blessing,” Daddy says. “Even when we weren’t so crazy about the idea of moving—”
Momma clears her throat.
wasn’t so crazy about the idea of moving,” Daddy corrects, “you worked things out. Thank you for Lisa’s new job. Please help her and continue to be with her when she does extra shifts at the clinic. Help Sekani with his end-of-the-year tests. And thank you, Lord, for helping Seven do something I didn’t, get a high school diploma. Guide him as he chooses a college and let him know you’re protecting Kenya and Lyric.
“Now, Lord, tomorrow is a big day for my baby girl as she goes before this grand jury. Please give her peace and courage. As much as I wanna ask you to work this case out a certain way, I know you already got a plan. I ask for some mercy, God. That’s all. Mercy for Garden Heights, for Khalil’s family, for Starr. Help all of us through this. In your precious name—”
“Wait,” Momma says.
I peek out with one eye. Daddy does too. Momma never,
“Uh, baby,” says Daddy, “I was finishing up.”
“I have something to add. Lord, bless my mom, and thank you that she went into her retirement fund and gave us the money for the down payment. Help us turn the basement into a suite so she can stay here sometimes.”
“No, Lord,” Daddy says.
“Yes, Lord,” says Momma.
We get home in time to catch a playoffs game.
Basketball season equals war in our house. I’m a LeBron fan through and through. Miami, Cleveland, it doesn’t matter. I ride with him. Daddy hasn’t jumped off the Lakers ship yet, but he likes LeBron. Seven’s all about the Spurs. Momma’s an “anybody but LeBron” hater, and Sekani is a “whoever is winning” fan.
It’s Cleveland versus Chicago tonight. The battle lines are drawn—me and Daddy versus Seven and Momma. Seven jumps on that “anybody but LeBron” bandwagon of hateration too.
I change into my LeBron jersey. Every time I don’t wear it, his team loses. Seriously, I’m not even lying. I can’t wash it
either. Momma washed my last jersey right before Finals, and Miami lost to the Spurs. I think she did it on purpose.
I take my lucky spot in the den in front of the sectional. Seven comes in and steps over me, putting his big bare foot near my face. I smack it away. “Get your crusty foot outta my face.”
“We’ll see who’s joking later. Ready for a butt whooping?”
“You mean am I ready to give one? Yep!”
Momma peeks around the doorway. “Munch, you want some ice cream?”
I gape at her. She
I don’t eat dairy products during games. Dairy gives me gas, and gas is bad luck.
She grins. “How about a sundae? Sprinkles, strawberry syrup, whipped cream.”
I cover my ears. “La-la-la-la-la, go away, LeBron hater. La-la-la-la-la.”
Like I said, basketball season equals war, and my family has the dirtiest tactics.
Momma returns with a big bowl, shoveling ice cream into her mouth. She sits on the sectional and lowers her bowl into my face. “You sure you don’t want some, Munch? It’s your favorite too. Cake batter. So good!”
, I tell myself, but damn, that ice cream looks good. Strawberry syrup glistens on it and a big dollop of whipped cream sits pretty on top. I close my eyes. “I want a championship more.”
“Well, you aren’t getting that, so you may as well enjoy some ice cream.”
“Ha!” Seven goes.
“What’s all this smack up in here?” Daddy asks.
He takes the recliner on the sectional, his lucky spot. Sekani scurries in and sits behind me, propping his bare feet on my shoulders. I don’t mind. They haven’t matured and funkified yet.
“I was offering Munch some of my sundae,” Momma says. “You want some, baby?”
“Heck, nah. You know I don’t eat dairy during games.”
See? It’s serious.
“You and Seven may as well get ready for this butt whooping Cleveland ’bout to give y’all,” says Daddy. “I mean, it ain’t gon’ be a Kobe butt whooping, but it’s gon’ be a good one.”
“Amen!” I say. Except the Kobe part.
“Boy, bye,” Momma tells him. “You’re always picking sorry teams. First the Lakers—”
“Ay, a three-peat ain’t a sorry team, baby. And I don’t always pick sorry teams.” He grins. “I picked your team, didn’t I?”
Momma rolls her eyes, but she’s grinning too, and I hate to admit it but they’re kinda cute right now. “Yeah,” she says, “that’s the only time you picked right.”
“Uh-huh,” Daddy says. “See, your momma played for Saint Mary’s basketball team, and they had a game against Garden High, my school.”
“And we whooped their butts too,” Momma says, licking ice cream off her spoon. “Them li’l girls ain’t have anything on us. I’m just saying.”
“Anyway, I’m there to watch some of the homeboys play after the girls’ game,” Daddy says, looking at Momma. This is so adorable, I can’t stand it. “I got there early and saw the finest girl ever, and she was playing her ass off on the court.”
“Tell them what you did,” says Momma, although we know.
“Ay, I was trying to—”
“Nah, nah, tell them what you did,” she says.
“I tried to get your attention.”
“Uh-uh!” Momma says, getting up. She hands me her bowl and stands in front of the TV. “You were like this on the sideline,” she says, and she kinda leans to the side, holding her crotch and licking her lips. We crack up. I can so see Daddy doing that too.
“During the middle of a game!” she says. “Standing there looking like a pervert, just watching me.”
“But you noticed me,” Daddy says. “Right?”
“’Cause you looked like a fool! Then, during halftime, I’m on the bench, and he’s behind me, talking about”—she deepens her voice—“‘Ay! Ay, shorty. What’s your name? You know you looking good out there. Can I get your number?’”
“Dang, Pops, you didn’t have any game,” Seven says.
“I had game!” Daddy argues.
“Did you get her number that night though?” Seven says.
“I mean, I was working on it—”