Authors: Angie Thomas
Maybe I’m being sensitive. Or maybe things have changed, maybe
changed. For now I guess we’ll keep pretending everything is fine.
The first bell rings. On Mondays AP English is first for me, Hailey, and Maya. On the way they get into this big discussion-turned-argument about NCAA brackets and the Final Four. Hailey was born a Notre Dame fan. Maya hates them almost unhealthily. I stay out that discussion. The NBA is more my thing anyway.
We turn down the hall, and Chris is standing in the doorway of our class, his hands stuffed in pockets and a pair of headphones draped around his neck. He looks straight at me and stretches his arm across the doorway.
Hailey glances from him to me. Back and forth, back and forth. “Did something happen with you guys?”
My pursed lips probably give me away. “Yeah. Sort of.”
“That douche,” Hailey says, reminding me why we’re friends—she doesn’t need details. If someone hurts me in any way, they’re automatically on her shit list. It started in fifth grade, two years before Maya came along. We were those
“crybaby” kids who bust out crying at the smallest shit. Me because of Natasha, and Hailey because she lost her mom to cancer. We rode the waves of grief together.
That’s why this weirdness between us doesn’t make sense. “What do you want to do, Starr?” she asks.
I don’t know. Before Khalil, I planned to cold-shoulder Chris with a sting more powerful than a nineties R&B breakup song. But after Khalil I’m more like a Taylor Swift song. (No shade, I fucks with Tay-Tay, but she doesn’t serve like nineties R&B on the angry-girlfriend scale.) I’m not happy with Chris, yet I miss him. I miss
. I need him so much that I’m willing to forget what he did. That’s scary as fuck too. Someone I’ve only been with for a year means
much to me? But Chris . . . he’s different.
You know what? I’ll Beyoncé him. Not as powerful as a nineties R&B breakup song, but stronger than a Taylor Swift. Yeah. That’ll work. I tell Hailey and Maya, “I’ll handle him.”
They move so I’m between them like they’re my bodyguards, and we go to the door together.
Chris bows to us. “Ladies.”
“Move!” Maya orders. Funny considering how much Chris towers over her.
He looks at me with those baby blues. He got a tan over break. I used to tell him he was so pale he looked like a marshmallow. He hated that I compared him to food. I told him that’s what he got for calling me caramel. It shut him up.
Dammit though. He’s wearing the
Elevens too. I forgot we decided to wear them the first day back. They look good on him. Jordans are my weakness. Can’t help it.
“I just wanna talk to my girl,” he claims.
“I don’t know who that is,” I say, Beyoncé’ing him like a pro.
He sighs through his nose. “Please, Starr? Can we at least talk about it?”
I’m back to Taylor Swift because the
does it. I nod at Hailey and Maya.
“You hurt her, and I’ll kill you,” Hailey warns, and she and Maya go in to class without me.
Chris and I move away from the door. I lean against a locker and fold my arms. “I’m listening,” I say.
A bass-heavy instrumental plays in his headphones. Probably one of his beats. “I’m sorry for what happened. I should’ve talked to you first.”
I cock my head. “We did talk about it. A week before. Remember?”
“I know, I know. And I heard you. I just wanted to be prepared in case—”
“You could push the right buttons and convince me to change my mind?”
“No!” His hands go up in surrender. “Starr, you know I wouldn’t—that’s not—I’m sorry, okay? I took it too far.”
Understatement. The day before Big D’s party, Chris and I
were in Chris’s ridiculously large room. The third floor of his parents’ mansion is a suite for him, a perk of being the last born to empty-nesters. I try to forget that he has an entire floor as big as my house and hired help that looks like me.
Fooling around isn’t new for us, and when Chris slipped his hand in my shorts, I didn’t think anything of it. Then he got me going, and I really wasn’t thinking. At all. For real, my thought process went out the door. And right as I was at
moment, he stopped, reached into his pocket, and pulled out a condom. He raised his eyebrows at me, silently asking for an invitation to go all the way.
All I could think about was those girls I see walking around Garden Heights, babies propped on their hips. Condom or no condom, shit happens.
I went off on Chris. He knew I wasn’t ready for that, we already talked about it, and yet he had a condom? He said he wanted to be responsible, but if I said I’m not ready, I’m not ready.
I left his house pissed
horny, the absolute worst way to leave.
My mom may have been right though. She once said that after you go there with a guy, it activates all these feelings, and you wanna do it all the time. Chris and I went far enough that I notice every single detail about his body now. His cute nostrils that flare when he sighs. His soft brown hair that my fingers love to explore. His gentle lips, and his tongue that wets them
every so often. The five freckles on his neck that are in the perfect spots for kissing.
More than that, I remember the guy who spends almost every night on the phone with me talking about nothing and everything. The one who loves to make me smile. Yeah, he pisses me off sometimes, and I’m sure I piss him off, but we mean something. We actually mean a lot.
Fuckity fuck, fuck, fuck. I’m crumbling. “Chris . . .”
He goes for a low blow and beatboxes an all-too-familiar, “
Boomp . . . boomp, boomp, boomp
I point at him. “Don’t you dare!”
“‘Now, this is a story all about how, my life got flipped—turned upside down. 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.’”
He beat-boxes the instrumental and pops his chest and booty to the rhythm. People pass by us, laughing. A guy whistles suggestively. Someone shouts, “Shake that ass, Bryant!”
My smile grows before I can stop it.
The Fresh Prince
isn’t just my show, it’s
show. Sophomore year he followed my Tumblr, and I followed him back. We knew of each other from school, but we didn’t
each other. One Saturday, I reblogged a bunch of
GIFs and clips. He liked and reblogged every single one. That Monday morning in the cafeteria, he paid for my Pop Tarts and grape juice and said, “The first Aunt Viv was the best Aunt Viv.”
It was the beginning of us.
The Fresh Prince,
which helps him get me. We once talked about how cool it was that Will remained himself in his new world. I slipped up and said I wish I could be like that at school. Chris said, “Why can’t you, Fresh Princess?”
Ever since, I don’t have to decide which Starr I have to be with him. He likes both. Well, the parts I’ve shown him. Some things I can’t reveal, like Natasha. Once you’ve seen how broken someone is it’s like seeing them naked—you can’t look at them the same anymore.
I like the way he looks at me now, as if I’m one of the best things in his life. He’s one of the best things in mine too.
I can’t lie, we get the “why is he dating
” stare that usually comes from rich white girls. Sometimes I wonder the same thing. Chris acts like those looks don’t exist. When he does stuff like this, rapping and beatboxing in the middle of a busy hall just to make me smile, I forget about those looks too.
He starts the second verse, swaying his shoulders and looking at me. The worst part? His silly butt knows it’s working. “‘In West Philadelphia, born and raised’—c’mon, babe. Join in.”
He grabs my hands.
One-Fifteen follows Khalil’s hands with the flashlight.
He orders Khalil to get out with his hands up.
He barks at me to put my hands on the dashboard.
I kneel beside my dead friend in the middle of the street with my hands raised. A cop as white as Chris points a gun at me.
As white as Chris.
I flinch and snatch away.
Chris frowns. “Starr, you okay?”
Khalil opens the door. “You okay, Starr—”
There’s blood. Too much blood.
The second bell rings, jolting me back to normal Williamson, where I’m not normal Starr.
Chris leans down, his face in front of mine. My tears blur him. “Starr?”
It’s a few tears, yeah, but I feel exposed. I turn to go to class, and Chris grabs my arm. I yank away and whirl on him.
His hands go up in surrender. “Sorry. I was . . .”
I wipe my eyes and walk into the classroom. Chris is right behind me. Hailey and Maya shoot him the dirtiest looks. I lower myself into the desk in front of Hailey.
She squeezes my shoulder. “That jackwad.”
Nobody mentioned Khalil at school today. I hate to admit it, because it’s like throwing him the middle finger, but I’m relieved.
Since basketball season is over, I leave when everybody else does. Probably for the first time in my life I wish it wasn’t the end of the day. I’m that much closer to talking to the cops.
Hailey and I trek across the parking lot, arm in arm. Maya has a driver to pick her up. Hailey has her own car, and I have
a brother with a car; the two of us always end up walking out together.
“Are you absolutely sure you don’t want me to kick Chris’s ass?” Hailey asks.
I told her and Maya about Condomgate, and as far as they’re concerned Chris is eternally banished to Asshole Land.
“Yes,” I say, for the hundredth time. “You’re violent, Hails.”
“When it comes to my friends, possibly. Seriously though, why would he even? God, boys and their fucking sex drive.”
I snort. “Is that why you and Luke haven’t gotten together?”
She lightly elbows me. “Shut up.”
I laugh. “Why won’t you admit you like him?”
“What makes you think I like him?”
“Whatever, Starr. This isn’t about me. This is about you and your sex-driven boyfriend.”
“He’s not sex-driven,” I say.
“Then what do you call it?”
“He was horny at that moment.”
I try to keep a straight face and she does too, but soon we’re cracking up. God, it feels good to be normal Starr and Hailey. Has me wondering if I imagined a change.
We part at the halfway point to Hailey’s car and Seven’s. “The ass-kicking offer is still on the table,” she calls to me.
I walk off, rubbing my arms. Spring has decided to go through an identity crisis and get chilly on me. A few feet away, Seven keeps a hand on his car as he talks to his girlfriend, Layla. Him and that damn Mustang. He touches it more than he touches Layla. She obviously doesn’t care. She plays with the dreadlock near his face that isn’t pulled into his ponytail. Eye-roll worthy. Some girls do too much. Can’t she play with all them curls on her own head?
Honestly though, I don’t have a problem with Layla. She’s a geek like Seven, smart enough for Harvard but Howard bound, and real sweet. She’s one of the four black girls in the senior class, and if Seven just wants to date black girls, he picked a great one.
I walk up to them and go,
Seven keeps his eyes on Layla. “Go sign Sekani out.”
“Can’t,” I lie. “Momma didn’t put me on the list.”
“Yeah, she did. Go.”
I fold my arms. “I am not walking halfway across campus to get him and halfway back. We can get him when we’re leaving.”
He side-eyes me, but I’m too tired for all that, and it’s cold. Seven kisses Layla and goes around to the driver’s side. “Acting like that’s a long walk,” he mumbles.
“Acting like we can’t get him when we’re leaving,” I say, and hop in.
He starts the car. This nice mix Chris made of Kanye and
my other future husband J. Cole plays from Seven’s iPod dock. He maneuvers through the parking lot traffic to Sekani’s school. Seven signs him out of his after-school program, and we leave.
“I’m hungry,” Sekani whines not even five minutes out the parking lot.
“Didn’t they give you a snack in after-school?” Seven asks.
“So? I’m still hungry.”
“Greedy butt,” Seven says, and Sekani kicks the back of his seat. Seven laughs. “Okay, okay! Ma asked me to bring some food to the clinic anyway. I’ll get you something too.” He looks at Sekani in the rearview mirror. “Is that cool—”
Seven freezes. He turns Chris’s mix off and slows down.
“What you turn the music off for?” Sekani asks.
“Shut up,” Seven hisses.
We stop at a red light. A Riverton Hills patrol car pulls up beside us.
Seven straightens up and stares ahead, barely blinking and gripping the steering wheel. His eyes move a little like he wants to look at the cop car. He swallows hard.
“C’mon, light,” he prays. “C’mon.”
I stare ahead and pray for the light to change too.
It finally turns green, and Seven lets the patrol car go first. His shoulders don’t relax until we get on the freeway. Mine neither.
We stop at this Chinese restaurant Momma loves and get food for all of us. She wants me to eat before I talk to the
detectives. In Garden Heights, kids play in the streets. Sekani presses his face against my window and watches them. He won’t play with them though. Last time he played with some neighborhood kids, they called him “white boy” ’cause he goes to Williamson.
Black Jesus greets us from a mural on the side of the clinic. He has locs like Seven. His arms stretch the width of the wall, and there are puffy white clouds behind him. Big letters above him remind us that
Jesus Loves You.
Seven passes Black Jesus and goes into the parking lot behind the clinic. He punches in a code to open the gate and parks next to Momma’s Camry. I get the tray of sodas, Seven gets the food, and Sekani doesn’t take anything because he never takes anything.
I hit the buzzer for the back door and wave up at the camera. The door opens into a sterile-smelling hall with bright-white walls and white-tile floors that reflect us. The hall takes us to the waiting room. A handful of people watch the news on the old box TV in the ceiling or read magazines that have been there since I was little. When this shaggy-haired man sees that we have food, he straightens up and sniffs hard as if it’s for him.