Authors: Angie Thomas
Khalil’s funeral is Friday. Tomorrow. Exactly one week since he died.
I’m at school, trying not to think about what he’ll look like in the coffin, how many people will be there, what he’ll look like in the coffin, if other people will know I was with him when he died . . . what he’ll look like in the coffin.
I’m failing at not thinking about it.
On the Monday night news, they finally gave Khalil’s name in the story about the shooting, but with a title added to it—Khalil Harris, a Suspected Drug Dealer. They didn’t mention that he was unarmed. They said that an “unidentified witness” had been questioned and that the police were still investigating.
After what I told the cops, I’m not sure what’s left to “investigate.”
In the gym everyone’s changed into their blue shorts and gold Williamson T-shirts, but class hasn’t started yet. To pass time, some of the girls challenged some of the boys to a basketball game. They’re playing on one end of the gym, the floor squeaking as they run around. The girls are all
when the guys guard them. Flirting, Williamson style.
Hailey, Maya, and I are in the bleachers on the other end. On the floor, some guys are supposedly dancing, trying to get their moves ready for prom. I say
because there’s no way that shit can be called dancing. Maya’s boyfriend, Ryan, is the only one even close, and he’s just doing the dab. It’s his go-to move. He’s a big, wide-shouldered linebacker, and it looks a little funny, but that’s an advantage of being the sole black guy in class. You can look silly and still be cool.
Chris is on the bottom bleacher, playing one of his mixes on his phone for them to dance to. He glances over his shoulder at me.
I have two bodyguards who won’t allow him near me—Maya on one side, cheering Ryan on, and Hailey, who’s laughing her ass off at Luke and recording him. They’re still pissed at Chris.
I’m honestly not. He made a mistake, and I forgive him.
The Fresh Prince
theme and his willingness to embarrass himself helped with that.
But that moment he grabbed my hands and I flashed back to that night, it’s like I suddenly really,
realized that Chris
is white. Just like One-Fifteen. And I know, I’m sitting here next to my white best friend, but it’s almost as if I’m giving Khalil, Daddy, Seven, and every other black guy in my life a big, loud “fuck you” by having a white boyfriend.
Chris didn’t pull us over, he didn’t shoot Khalil, but am I betraying who I am by dating him?
I need to figure this out.
“Oh my God, that’s sickening,” says Hailey. She’s stopped recording to watch the basketball game. “They’re not even trying.”
They’re really not. The ball sails past the hoop from an attempted shot by Bridgette Holloway. Either homegirl’s hand-eye coordination is way off or she missed that on purpose, because now Jackson Reynolds is showing her how to shoot. Basically, he’s all up on her. And shirtless.
“I don’t know what’s worse,” Hailey says. “The fact that they’re going soft on them because they’re girls, or that the girls are letting them go soft on them.”
“Equality in basketball. Right, Hails?” Maya says with a wink.
“Yes! Wait.” She eyes Maya suspiciously. “Are you making fun of me or are you serious, Shorty?”
“Both,” I say, leaning back on my elbows, my belly pooching out my shirt—a food baby. We just left lunch, and the cafeteria had fried chicken, one of the foods Williamson gets right. “It’s not even a real game, Hails,” I tell her.
“Nope.” Maya pats my stomach. “When are you due?”
“Same day as you.”
“Aww! We can raise our food offspring as siblings.”
“I know, right? I’m naming mine Fernando,” I say.
“Why Fernando?” Maya asks.
“Dunno. It sounds like a food baby name. Especially when you roll the
“I can’t roll my
’s.” She tries, but she makes some weird noise, spit flying, and I’m cracking up.
Hailey points at the game. “Look at that! It’s that whole ‘play like a girl’ mind-set the male gender uses to belittle women, when we have as much athleticism as they do.”
Oh my Lord. She’s seriously upset over this.
“Take the ball to the hole!” she hollers to the girls.
Maya catches my eye, hers glimmering sneakily, and it’s middle school déjà vu.
“And don’t be afraid to shoot the outside J!” Maya shouts.
“Just keep ya head in the game,” I say. “Just keep ya head in the game.”
“And don’t be afraid to ‘shoot the outside J,’” Maya sings.
“‘Just get’cha head in the game,’” I sing.
We bust out with “Get’cha Head in the Game” from
High School Musical
. It’ll be stuck in my head for days. We were obsessed with the movies around the same time as our Jonas Brothers obsession. Disney took all our parents’ money.
We’re loud with it now. Hailey’s trying to glare at us. She snorts.
“C’mon.” She gets up and pulls me and Maya up too. “Get’cha head in
you can drag me to play basketball during one of your feminist rages, but you can’t follow my Tumblr because of Emmett Till?
I don’t know why I can’t make myself bring it up. It’s Tumblr.
But then, it’s
“Hey!” Hailey says. “We wanna play.”
“No we don’t,” Maya mutters. Hailey nudges her.
I don’t wanna play either, but for some reason Hailey makes decisions and Maya and I follow along. It’s not like we planned it to be this way. Sometimes the shit just happens, and one day you realize there’s a leader among you and your friends and it’s not you.
“Come on in, ladies.” Jackson beckons us into the game. “There’s always room for pretty girls. We’ll try not to hurt you.”
Hailey looks at me, I look at her, and we have the same deadpan expression that we’ve had mastered since fifth grade, mouths slightly open, eyes ready to roll at any moment.
“Alrighty then,” I say. “Let’s play.”
“Three on three,” Hailey says as we take our positions. “Girls versus boys. Half court. First to twenty. Sorry, ladies, but me and my girls are gonna handle this one, mm-kay?”
Bridgette gives Hailey some serious stank-eye. She and her friends move to the sideline.
The dance party stops and those guys come over, Chris
included. He whispers something to Tyler, one of the boys who played in the previous game. Chris takes Tyler’s place on the court.
Jackson checks the ball to Hailey. I run around my guard, Garrett, and Hailey passes to me. No matter what’s going on, when Hailey, Maya, and I play together, it’s rhythm, chemistry, and skill rolled into a ball of amazingness.
Garrett’s guarding me, but Chris runs up and elbows him aside. Garrett goes, “The hell, Bryant?”
“I’ve got her,” Chris says.
He gets in his defensive stance. We’re eye to eye as I dribble the ball.
“Hey,” he says.
I do a chest-pass to Maya, who’s wide open for a jump shot.
She makes it.
Two to zero.
“Good job, Yang!” says Coach Meyers. She’s come out her office. All it takes is a hint of a real game, and she’s in coaching mode. She reminds me of a fitness trainer on a reality TV show. She’s petite yet muscular, and God that woman can yell.
Garrett’s at the baseline with the ball.
Chris runs to get open. Stomach full, I have to push harder to stay on him. We’re hip to hip, watching Garrett try to decide who to pass to. Our arms brush, and something in me is activated; my senses are suddenly consumed by Chris. His legs look
so good in his gym shorts. He’s wearing Old Spice, and even just from that little brush, his skin feels so soft.
“I miss you,” he says.
No point in lying. “I miss you too.”
The ball sails his way. Chris catches it. Now I’m in my defensive stance, and we’re eye to eye again as he dribbles. My gaze lowers to his lips; they’re a little wet and begging me to kiss them. See, this is why I can never play ball with him. I get too distracted.
“Will you at least talk to me?” Chris asks.
“Defense, Carter!” Coach yells.
I focus on the ball and attempt to steal. Not quick enough. He gets around me and goes straight for the hoop, only to pass it to Jackson, who’s open at the three-point line.
“Grant!” Coach shouts for Hailey.
Hailey runs over. Her fingertips graze the ball as it leaves Jackson’s hand, changing its course.
The ball goes flying. I go running. I catch it.
Chris is behind me, the only thing between me and the hoop. Let me clarify—my butt is against his crotch, my back against his chest. I’m bumping up against him, trying to figure out how to get the ball in the hole. It sounds way dirtier than it actually is, especially in this position. I understand why Bridgette missed shots though.
“Starr!” Hailey calls.
She’s open at the three. I bounce-pass it to her.
She shoots. Nails it.
Five to zero.
“C’mon, boys,” Maya taunts. “Is that all you can do?”
Coach claps. “Good job. Good job.”
Jackson’s at the baseline. He passes to Chris. Chris chest-passes it back to him.
“I don’t get it,” Chris says. “You practically freaked out the other day in the hall. What’s going on?”
Garrett passes to Chris. I get in my defensive stance, eyes on the ball. Not on Chris. Cannot look at Chris. My eyes will give me away.
“Talk to me,” he says.
I attempt to steal again. No luck.
“Play the game,” I say.
Chris goes left, quickly changes direction, and goes right. I try to stay on him, but my heavy stomach slows me down. He gets to the hoop and makes the layup. It’s good.
Five to two.
“Dammit, Starr!” Hailey yells, recovering the ball. She passes it to me. “Hustle! Pretend the ball is some fried chicken. Bet you’ll stay on it then.”
The world surges forward without me. I hold the ball and
stare at Hailey as she jogs away, blue-streaked hair bouncing behind her.
I can’t believe she said . . . She couldn’t have. No way.
The ball falls out my hands. I walk off the court. I’m breathing hard, and my eyes burn.
The smell of postgame funk lingers in the girls’ locker room. It’s my place of solace when we lose a game, where I can cry or cuss if I want.
I pace from one side of the lockers to the other.
Hailey and Maya rush in, out of breath. “What’s up with you?” Hailey asks.
“Me?” I say, my voice bouncing off the lockers. “What the hell was that comment?”
“Lighten up! It was only game talk.”
“A fried chicken joke was only game talk? Really?” I ask.
“It’s fried chicken day!” she says. “You and Maya were just joking about it. What are you trying to say?”
I keep pacing.
Her eyes widen. “Oh my God. You think I was being
I look at her. “You made a fried chicken comment to the only black girl in the room. What do you think?”
“Ho-ly shit, Starr! Seriously? After everything we’ve been through, you think I’m a racist? Really?”
“You can say something racist and not be a racist!”
“Is something else going on, Starr?” Maya says.
“Why does everyone keep asking me that?” I snap.
“Because you’re acting so weird lately!” Hailey snaps back. She looks at me and asks, “Does this have something to do with the police shooting that drug dealer in your neighborhood?”
“I heard about it on the news,” she says. “And I know you’re into that sort of thing now—”
That sort of thing? What the fuck is “that sort of thing”?
“And then they said the drug dealer’s name was Khalil,” she says, and exchanges a look with Maya.
“We’ve wanted to ask if it was the Khalil who used to come to your birthday parties,” Maya adds. “We didn’t know how, though.”
The drug dealer. That’s how they see him. It doesn’t matter that he’s suspected of doing it. “Drug dealer” is louder than “suspected” ever will be.
If it’s revealed that I was in the car, what will that make me? The thug ghetto girl with the drug dealer? What will my teachers think about me? My friends? The whole fucking world, possibly?
I close my eyes. Khalil stares at the sky.
“Mind your business, Starr,”
I swallow and whisper, “I don’t know that Khalil.”
It’s a betrayal worse than dating a white boy. I fucking deny
him, damn near erasing every laugh we shared, every hug, every tear, every second we spent together. A million “I’m sorry”s sound in my head, and I hope they reach Khalil wherever he is, yet they’ll never be enough.
But I had to do it. I had to.
“Then what is it?” Hailey asks. “Is this, like, Natasha’s anniversary or something?”
I stare at the ceiling and blink fast to keep from bawling. Besides my brothers and the teachers, Hailey and Maya are the only people at Williamson who know about Natasha. I don’t want all the pity.
“Mom’s anniversary was a few weeks ago,” Hailey says. “I was in a shitty mood for days. I understand if you’re upset, but to accuse me of being racist, Starr? How can you
I blink faster. God, I’m pushing her away, Chris away. Hell, do I deserve them? I don’t talk about Natasha, and I just flat-out denied Khalil. I could’ve been the one killed instead of them. I don’t have the decency to keep their memories alive, yet I’m supposed to be their best friend.
I cover my mouth. It doesn’t stop the sob. It’s loud and echoes off the walls. One follows it, and another and another. Maya and Hailey rub my back and shoulders.
Coach Meyers rushes in. “Carter—”
Hailey looks at her and says, “Natasha.”
Coach nods heavily. “Carter, go see Ms. Lawrence.”
What? No. She’s sending me to the school shrink? All the
teachers know about poor Starr who saw her friend die when she was ten. I used to bust out crying all the time, and that was always their go-to line—see Ms. Lawrence. I wipe my eyes. “Coach, I’m okay—”
“No, you’re not.” She pulls a hall pass from her pocket and holds it toward me. “Go talk to her. It’ll help you feel better.”