On the Come Up(5)

The ponytail holders on her braids clink as she dances. They’re green like her sneakers. According to Garden Heights Gang Culture 101, a Garden Disciple’s always gotta wear green.

Yeah, she’s ’bout that life. Her arms and neck are covered in tattoos that only GDs can decipher, except for those red lips tatted on her neck. Those are her girlfriend’s, Lena’s.

“What I tell you?” She flashes her white-gold grill in a grin and slaps my palm with each word. “Told. You. You’d. Get. In!”

I barely smile. “Yeah.”

“You got in the Ring, Bri! The Ring! You know how many folks around here wish they had a shot like this? What’s up with you?”

A whole lot. “Something’s happened, but Jay won’t tell me what.”

“What makes you think that?”

“She bought Popkenchurch.”

“Damn, for real?” she says, and you’d think that would set off alarms for her, too, but she goes, “Why you ain’t bring me a plate?”

I narrow my eyes. “Greedy ass. She only gets Popkenchurch when something’s wrong, Aunt Pooh.”

“Nah, man. You reading too much into this. This battle got you all jittery.”

I bite my lip. “Maybe.”

“Definitely. Let’s get you to the Ring so you can show these fools how it’s done.” She holds her palm to me. “Sky’s the limit?”

That’s our motto, taken from a Biggie song older than me and almost as old as Aunt Pooh. I slap her palm. “Sky’s the limit.”

“We’ll see them chumps on top.” She semi-quotes the song and pecks my forehead. “Even if you are wearing that nerdy-ass hoodie.”

It’s got Darth Vader on the front. Jay found it at the swap meet a few weeks ago. “What? Vader’s that dude!”

“I don’t care, it’s nerd shit!”

I roll my eyes. When you have an aunt who was only ten when you were born, sometimes she acts like an aunt and sometimes she acts like an annoying older sister. Especially since Jay helped raise her—their mom was killed when Aunt Pooh was one and their dad died when she was nine. Jay’s always treated Pooh like her third kid.

“Um, nerd shit?” I say to her. “More like dope shit. You need to expand your horizons.”

“And you need to stop shopping off the Syfy channel.”

Star Wars technically isn’t sci—never mind. The top’s down on the Cutlass, so I climb over the door to get in. Aunt Pooh pulls her sagging pants up before she hops in. What’s the point of letting them sag if you’re just gonna pull them up all the time? Yet she wants to criticize my fashion choices.

She reclines her seat back and turns the heat all the way up. Yeah, she could put the top up, but that combination of cold night air and warmth from the heater is A1.

“Let me get one of my shits.” She reaches into the glove compartment. Aunt Pooh gave up weed and turned to Blow Pops instead. Guess she’d rather get diabetes than get high all the time.

My phone buzzes in my hoodie pocket. I texted Sonny and Malik the same three words I texted Aunt Pooh, and they’re geeking out.

I should be geeking out too, or at least getting in the zone, but I can’t shake the feeling that the world has turned upside down.

At any second, it may turn me upside down with it.

Jimmy’s parking lot is almost filled up, but not everybody is trying to get in the building. The “let out” has already started. That’s the party outside that happens every Thursday night after the final battle in the Ring. For almost a year now, folks have been using Jimmy’s as a party spot, kinda like they do Magnolia Ave on Friday nights. See, last year a kid was murdered by a cop just a few streets away from my grandparents’ house. He was unarmed, but the grand jury decided not to charge the officer. There were riots and protests for weeks. Half the businesses in the Garden were either intentionally burned down by rioters or were casualties of the war. Club Envy, the usual Thursday nightspot, was a casualty.

The parking lot club’s not really my thing (partying in the freezing cold? I think not), but it’s cool to see people showing off their new rims or their hydraulics, cars bouncing up and down like they don’t know a thing about gravity. The cops constantly drive by, but that’s the new normal in the Garden. It’s supposed to be on some “Hi, I’m your friendly neighborhood cop who won’t shoot you” type shit, but it comes off as some “We’re keeping an eye on your black asses” type shit.

I follow Aunt Pooh to the entrance. Music drifts from in the gym, and the bouncers pat people down and wave metal-detector wands around. If somebody’s got a piece, security puts it in a bucket nearby and returns it once the Ring lets out.

“The champ is here!” Aunt Pooh calls as we approach the line. “Might as well crown her now!”

It’s enough to get me and Aunt Pooh palm slaps and nods. “What’s up, Li’l Law,” a couple of people say. Even though we’re technically cutting the line, it’s all good. I’m royalty thanks to my dad.

I get a couple of smirks too though. Guess it’s funny that a sixteen-year-old girl in a Darth Vader hoodie thinks she’s got a shot in the Ring.

The bouncers slap palms with Aunt Pooh. “What’s up, Bri?” the stocky one, Reggie, says. “You finally getting on tonight?”

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