On the Come Up(4)

“If we want you to get into a good school, you gotta take this more seriously,” she says.

If we want? More like if she wants.

It’s not that I don’t wanna go to college. I honestly don’t know. The main thing I want is to make rapping happen. I do that, it’ll be better than any good job a college degree could give me.

I pick up my phone. It’s 5:20. No call.

Jay sucks her teeth. “Uh-huh.”


“I see where your head is. Probably couldn’t focus on that test for thinking about that Ring mess.”

Yes. “No.”

“Mm-hmm. What time was Hype supposed to call, Bri?”

“Aunt Pooh said between four thirty and five thirty.”

“Pooh? You can’t take anything she says as law. She’s the same one who claimed that somebody in the Garden captured an alien and hid it in their basement.”


“Even if he does call between four thirty and five thirty, you’ve still got time,” she says.

“I know, I’m just—”

“Impatient. Like your daddy.”

Let Jay tell it, I’m stubborn like my daddy, smart-mouthed like my daddy, and hotheaded like my daddy. As if she’s not all those things and then some. She says Trey and I look like him too. Same smile, without the gold grill. Same dimpled cheeks, same light complexions that make folks call us “red bones” and “light brights,” same dark, wide eyes. I don’t have Jay’s high cheekbones or her lighter eyes, and I only get her complexion when I stay out in the summer sun all day. Sometimes I catch her staring at me, like she’s looking for herself. Or like she sees Dad and can’t look away.

Kinda how she stares at me now. “What’s wrong?” I ask.

She smiles, but it’s weak. “Nothing. Be patient, Bri. If he does call, go to the gym, do your li’l battle—”

Li’l battle?

“—and come straight home. Don’t be hanging out with Pooh’s rough behind.”

Aunt Pooh’s been taking me to the Ring for weeks to get a feel for things. I watched plenty of YouTube videos before that, but there’s something about being there. Jay was cool with me going—Dad battled there, and Mr. Jimmy doesn’t tolerate any nonsense—but she wasn’t crazy about me going with Aunt Pooh. She definitely wasn’t crazy about Aunt Pooh calling herself my manager. According to her, “That fool ain’t no manager!”

“How you gon’ shade your sister like that?” I ask her.

She scoops Cajun rice onto the plates. “I know what she’s into. You know what she’s into.”

“Yeah, but she won’t let anything happen—”


Jay puts fried okra on the plates. Then corn on the cob. She finishes them off with soft, fluffy biscuits. Say what you want about Popeyes’ biscuits, but they’re neither soft nor fluffy.

This is Popkenchurch.

Popkenchurch is when you buy fried chicken and Cajun rice from Popeyes, biscuits from KFC, and fried okra and corn on the cob from Church’s. Trey calls it “pre–cardiac arrest.”

But see, Popkenchurch is problematic, and not because of digestive drama that may ensue. Jay only gets it when something bad happens. When she broke the news that her aunt Norma had terminal cancer a couple of years ago, she bought Popkenchurch. When she realized she couldn’t get me a new laptop last Christmas, Popkenchurch. When Grandma decided not to move out of state to help her sister recover from her stroke, Jay bought Popkenchurch. I’ve never seen anybody take their aggression out on a chicken thigh quite like she did that day.

This isn’t good. “What’s wrong?”

“Bri, it’s nothing for you to worry a—”

My phone buzzes on the table, and we both jump.

The screen lights up with a number I don’t recognize.

It’s five thirty.

Jay smiles. “There’s your call.”

My hands shake down to my fingertips, but I tap the screen and put the phone to my ear. I force out the “Hello?”

“Is this Bri?” an all-too-familiar voice asks.

My throat is dry all of a sudden. “Yeah. This is she . . . her . . . me.” Screw grammar.

“What’s up? It’s DJ Hype! You ready, baby girl?”

This is the absolute worst time to forget how to speak. I clear my throat. “Ready for what?”

“Are you ready to kill it? Congratulations, you got a spot in the Ring tonight!”


I texted Aunt Pooh three words: I got in.

She shows up in fifteen minutes, tops.

I hear her before I see her. “Flash Light,” by Parliament, blasts out front. She’s beside her Cutlass, getting it in. Milly Rocking, Disciple Walking, all of that, like she’s a one-woman Soul Train line.

I go outside and throw my hoodie over my snapback—it’s colder than a polar bear’s butt crack out here. My hands are freezing as I lock the front door. Jay left for class a few minutes ago.

Something’s happened, I know it. Plus, she didn’t say it was nothing. She said it’s nothing for me to worry about. Difference.

“There she go!” Aunt Pooh points at me. “The Ring legend-in-the-making!”

Angie Thomas's Books