Home > Hook Shot (Hoops #3)

Hook Shot (Hoops #3)
Kennedy Ryan

Prologue

Lotus

I grew up believing the sky spoke to me. The booming voice of thunder. The sharp retort of lightning. Every storm, a conversation. A volatile exchange. But today, there’s a rainbow. Skittle-colored stripes airbrushed overhead in a rain-washed sky.

“You remember what the rainbow means?” MiMi, my great-grandmother, asks.

Like so many things she has taught me, the answer is ingrained, woven into my fibers. I don’t even have to think about it.

“A rainbow is the bridge between Heaven and Earth,” I reply, my voice coming strong even though my insides quake.

“Hmmm. Somebody’s trying to get into Heaven.” She considers the sky, eyes wise beyond her eighty-some-odd years. “Not today.”

We stand shadowed by one of New Orleans’ famous oaks in the cemetery, watching the few assembled mourners disperse. There are no tears for the dead. There weren’t many who loved Ron Clemmons. He was a man only a mother could love.

His mother and mine.

My pulse stutters at the sight of Mama. I last saw her when I was twelve, four years ago. She is today, as she was then, standing by Ron, but this time he lies in an open grave. I snap my lips tight against the word screaming in my head, determined not to speak.

Mama!

Even though I don’t say her name, she looks up as if I have. Her eyes widen through the short black veil that looks like something fashionable women wore years ago when burying their lovers. “Vintage,” Mama used to say, instead of “thrift store.” Classic, not second-hand. She always wanted the finer things and clung to any man who promised them. Except Ron never promised her much, and Mama still clung like it was a habit she didn’t know how to break.

The fine arches of her brows snap together, and her gaze ricochets between me and MiMi, then darts to the open grave. There are few cemeteries in New Orleans where they bury folks underground. This is one of them. For the poor and unloved, unclaimed. That’s what this is. That’s what Ron is.

She touches the black silky chignon pleated at the back of her head and takes a few steps in our direction, but freezes mid-stride. I glance at MiMi, who shakes her head gravely, telling Mama not to come any closer. It’s acceptance, not shock, on Mama’s face as she turns away and follows the trickle of mourners leaving the cemetery. It’s not the first time she has thought to see me, but MiMi knows I don’t want to see her.

If anyone knows, MiMi does.

Gravediggers take the place of the few who’d stood around while the clergyman read from his little book of ceremonial prayers. Weddings, baptisms, funerals. A verse for everything.

“It’s time,” MiMi says, her mouth grim.

We make our way across the grass to reach the men shoveling dirt. One of them glances up, catching sight of MiMi, and elbows the other. They pause in the shoveling.

“Madam DuPree,” one of them drawls, his Louisiana accent thick as swamp water. “What can we do for you?”

“Leave.” MiMi waves a hand at the grave. “Don’t worry. You don’t have to go too far or wait too long. We just need a bit of privacy. Then you can do whatever you want with his body.”

Her eyes drift to the open mouth of the ground swallowing Ron whole, and she smiles. “It’s his soul I’m here to discuss.”

You’ve never seen men scurry like these two at her words. Their shovels drop. They take off. It was a two-hour bus ride from St. Martine, our small parish town, to the city, but even here, folks know MiMi. In a world full of phonies, she’s the genuine article. And when she says leave, you go.

We stand over the grave, and though the casket is closed and splattered with the first clumps of dirt, I shiver like Ron might sit up and climb out.

“There’s nothing to fear,” MiMi assures me, her face aged and eyes ageless. “Take my hand.”

She extends her arm to the side for me, but trains her eyes on the coffin.

“Feel my words in your mouth,” she says, and I do. The syllables she utters vibrate on my lips, tremble on my tongue. “Feel my power in your veins.”

She squeezes my hand, and the lightning that split the sky hours ago strikes through my blood. She spares me a quick glance and a smile of satisfaction from what she must see on my face.

Awe.

“It’s the power of the unbroken line,” she says with a gentle smile. “Two women from our lineage together. There’s power in that.”

She turns her attention back ahead and glances up at the sky, now quiet and awaiting her wishes.

“You know who I am,” she says, her words, her voice, bold, confident. “I’m here to make my judgment known. This man’s soul hangs in the balance.”

At MiMi’s words, a chill descends in the summer air.

“I’m here to lay a stone on the side of hell. As he begins his journey, I send him on with these words.”

Her eyes open, and she slowly turns her head to look at me, and it’s exactly as she said. I feel the power in my veins. And her words, I feel them on my tongue, and we say them in shocking simultaneity.

“No peace,” we say together.

In the years to come, I would ask myself many times if I really believed we consigned Ron to hell that day. Like so many things I gleaned from MiMi, I have no explanation. I only know that once our words were spoken, that rainbow, the multi-colored promising path from Heaven to Earth, was nowhere to be found.

“Wild women are an unexplainable spark of life. They ooze freedom and seek awareness, they belong to nobody but themselves . . .

she'll allow you into her chaos, but she'll also show you her magic.”

— Nikki Rowe, Once a Girl, Now a Woman

1

Lotus

They say if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere. New York City is a beautiful bitch dipped in glitter, giving you the finger while walking the runway in her Louboutins. The best, brightest, and beastliest grind here.

When I moved from Atlanta to New York two years ago, it felt like I was embarking on an improbable adventure to an open frontier. I was like that Pioneer Woman on television, but instead of churning my own butter, I made clothes from scratch. My bare necessities were three garbage bags stuffed with all my belongings, my great-grandmother’s sewing machine, and a knock-off Louis Vuitton Neverfull bag. I fancied myself Carrie Bradshaw. The girls eating lunch with me in Bryant Park right now? They’re my Charlotte, Miranda, and Samantha, all rolled into two.

“So I’ve got some news,” Billie says, her eyes darting between me and my roommate, Yari. “Paul’s getting a divorce.”

I give something dark in my grilled chicken salad an investigative poke to make sure it doesn’t move, but otherwise don’t respond. Yari, looking inappropriately unimpressed, slurps the last of her Pellegrino through a straw.

“Uh, bitches . . .” Billie says, disappointment darkening her green eyes. The flush climbing her cheeks is embarrassment, anger, or ninety-five degrees of New York summer. Either way, her temperature is rising.

“Oh, sorry. That’s great,” I finally say, not bothering to inject much enthusiasm or faith into my words.

“Doesn’t he get a divorce like every month?” Yari asks, fake curiosity on her face. “Seems like he decides to get one every time you give him a blow job.”

If anything, Wilhelmina Claybourne, Billie to her friends, of which we are the closest, blushes even redder.

“No, he doesn’t,” Billie replies, suddenly preoccupied with the turkey roll on her Styrofoam plate.

“Were you or were you not balls-to-jaws last night?” Yari’s eyes are serious, but her lips twitch at the corners.

“I don’t see what that has to do with any—”

“Balls to jaws. I rest my case.” Yari bangs her water on the table like a gavel. “I think it’s sad that I understand Paul better than you and his wife do.”

“It’s not a real marriage,” Billie protests weakly.

“That must be why he never gets a real divorce.” I stand and gesture for them to do the same. “Come on. We need to get back to work or we’ll be late for the meeting.”

The green umbrella covering our table sheltered us from some of the unrelenting sunshine, but as soon as we toss our trash and start walking the few blocks to our office, it beats on our heads.

“They don’t even sleep together,” Billie tries again.

“Why would he need to sleep with his wife when he’s fucking you?” I ask, keeping my tone nonchalant. I actually get pissed as hell every time we have this revolving door of a conversation.

“Forget I brought it up.” Billie sighs, walking between us with her eyes trained forward.

“I’m sorry, Bill, but you’re having an affair with another woman’s husband,” Yari says, taking the elastic band from her wrist and pulling her long, dark hair into a messy bun. “This is the circle of trust and truth, and we’re your best friends. If we don’t call you on your ratchet ways, who will?”

Billie looks over at me, waiting for me to weigh in. Like she doesn’t already know where I stand.

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