Home > Hook Shot (Hoops #3)(11)

Hook Shot (Hoops #3)(11)
Kennedy Ryan

“In the next life, I’ll live as a spirit,” she’d told me solemnly. “And God will require my soul, but my heart—that I’ll leave to you, ma petite.”

The words poured ice down my spine. I couldn’t imagine this world, this life without MiMi’s guidance, and it’s as hard as I thought it would be.

I can’t explain it to Iris or anyone else. They’d have me committed, but I knew the moment MiMi left time and entered eternity. That was how she talked about life. She said most of our existence is before we are born and after we die—that time is a drop in the bucket. The walls of time fall long enough for us to enter this world and then to leave. And after we leave, forever begins.

I know the moment MiMi’s forever began.

I was rushing to class, climbing the subway steps to the street, when I felt a prick in my chest like a scalpel making a tiny incision. And then I felt so full, I had to stop right there, morning commuters rushing past me impatiently on the subway stairs like water dumped into the river of the city. Warmth and peace and pain made themselves at home between the slats of my ribs, nestled in the flesh of my heart.

And as it had so often in ways I couldn’t explain, the sky, my soothsayer, spoke to me.

Look up.

On a gorgeous autumn day, I Iooked up and saw a fire rainbow. So rare most people go their entire lives never seeing one—arcs of color blurred, set on fire by the sun and streaking through the clouds.

A rainbow is the bridge from Heaven to Earth.

And this one was on fire.

“MiMi,” I’d whispered. I’d known.

And when my cell rang, when Iris called, jarring me from that sacred spot at the top of the subway steps, I knew MiMi was gone.

“Girl, I need a NeNe Leeks GIF for this conversation,” Yari says from the next room, pulling me to the present.

Though the voice that answers is low and less distinct than Yari’s, it’s female. I shuffle on bare feet toward the living room. We share a fourth-floor walk-up in Bushwick. It’s a gorgeous old brownstone renovated into four apartments. Yari and I are on the top floor. My steps come to an abrupt halt when a smell invades my senses.

The smell of burning hair.

“Hey, mami,” Yari says, smiling at me through a cloud of smoke.

Yari’s mother owns a salon in Queens where you can get one of the best Dominican blowouts in the city. As a side hustle, Yari does blowouts here in the apartment from time to time, but she’s never used the pressing comb resting innocuously in a small portable stove on the table beside her.

“You’re using . . .” I take a deep breath and try again. “I’ve never seen you use a pressing comb.”

“I know, right?” Yari picks up the iron comb by its wooden handle and drags it through her client’s hair. “Usually just the blow-dryer, but Ms. Diva here wanted it extra straight and to last a long time. Even brought her own comb.”

The client in question smiles at me from under a fall of newly-straight, smoking hair. I try to smile back, but my mouth won’t curve. My heartbeat hammers my breastbone, a painful thrumming that shortens my breath. Sweat dampens my palms and under my arms. My body won’t pretend—won’t cooperate in my charade. A primal scream scratches the sides of my throat, begging to be let loose. I’m afraid I can’t contain it for another second, so I turn. I run. Yari calls my name, her voice laced with concern and confusion, but I can’t stop. Can’t explain. I run past my bed, into my closet, slamming the door, blocking out the world beyond and trapping the smoke and the smell on the other side.

The walk-in closet is a decent size, considering how small the bedroom is. I turn on the light and my gaze clings to the closet wall. There’s an oak tree sketched from corner to corner, its branches stretching, limbs drooping, leaves dangling. I race to it, curling my body into a tight ball around the penciled trunk, taking shelter in its charcoal shadow.

And I wait.

Wait for my heart to slow.

Wait for my breaths to even out.

Wait for the roar of blood in my ears to quiet.

I wait for the room to stop spinning.

I don’t know how long I’m there. Long enough for Yari to poke her head in and ask if I’m okay.

“Yeah,” I manage to say without croaking. I pull myself up until my back is against the wall, against the tree I drew there. “Sorry. I felt sick. Something I ate.”

There’s a pause, uncertainty in the look she gives me.

“You sure, Lo?” she asks. “You ran out of there like—”

“Like I was gonna be sick,” I conclude for her, forcing a laugh. “Your client probably didn’t want vomit at her feet.”

“But you’re—”

“I had sushi today. Maybe it was bad or something.”

“We were gonna go grab some oxtails from that place on Flatbush,” she says tentatively. “You wanna come?”

We’re never tentative with each other, and I wish I could tell her the truth, tell her everything, but I wouldn’t know where to start my story, and it feels like there is no end.

“You go on. I still feel a little queasy,” I say, willing myself to sound normal. “And I need to edit the podcast anyway.”

“You sure? Because I could—”

“Ri, I’m good.” I need her to leave. “See you when you get back.”

“Okay, if you’re sure.” She still doesn’t sound sure.

“Have fun.”

After a few seconds, long seconds where I silently beg her to leave me alone, I hear the steps carrying her back out to the living room. I release a long, calming breath once the front door closes. I flip onto my back, link my hands behind my head, and fix my eyes on the tree. The longer I watch it, the calmer I become. I watch until my body goes silent and still. I watch until the serenity of the room feels like loneliness. And then I call the only person who knows how it all started, even though I’ve never told her it’s not over.

“Hey, Lo,” my cousin Iris says from the other end of the line. “What’s up, girl?”

I’m silent for a second, letting the voice I’ve known all my life wash over me. Familiar. Family.

“Lo?” Iris asks again. “You okay?”

“I don’t know, Bo,” I whisper, abbreviating her childhood nickname Gumbo.

“What’s going on?”

“You remember that day?” I ask, my voice hushing over the secret. “The day it happened?”

For a moment, I’m afraid I’ll have to explain—that I’ll have to say something awkward, something awful to trigger the memory I cannot escape, but she answers. She knows.

“Yeah,” she replies softly. “I remember.”

“It . . . I thought I had this shit under control, you know?” One tear at a time rolls from the corners of my eyes and singes the skin on my cheeks. “But it’s like . . . you remember that big hole in MiMi’s kitchen?”

“Yeah. She patched that hole all the time,” Iris says with a short, rough laugh.

“And nothing ever helped.” I bounce the laugh back to my cousin. “She kept patching it up, and every time it rained, water would leak through that ceiling.”

“Yeah.” Iris’s laughter fades, leaving questions and maybe some answers. “Are you leaking, Lo?”

I bite my bottom lip until it hurts, and I love it. It’s a hurt I can control. I can turn it on. I can turn it off. If I bite hard enough, I’ll see the marks of my teeth. I prefer that to the pain that spreads over my body when I least expect it. That’s a pain I can’t stop—can’t control. And it’s invisible. Untraceable, but lately, it’s hurting me just the same.

I can’t see it. I can’t find it. I can’t fix it.

“Maybe I am.” I sit up, pressing my back to the wall, to my tree, and rest my elbows on my knees. “Lately I’ve been feeling . . . I don’t know. Empty.”

“Empty how?”

“Well you know I’m not one of those people who has trouble with sex,” I say, managing a chuckle.

“I’m aware, yeah,” Iris says, a grin in her voice.

“I always put sex in this box. Sex was to make me feel good, and that was totally fine. I didn’t want any strings. I didn’t want any emotions. I didn’t want . . .” I hesitate over the word waiting on my tongue.

“Intimacy,” I whisper. “I didn’t want that. Didn’t need it.”

“And now?” Iris asks.

“It’s not enough.” I shake my head, shocked at the words I’m saying. “It’s not enough anymore, and it feels meaningless. It’s not enough, but I can’t afford to feel anything other than that. There’s this part of me that says it’s dangerous to really share yourself with someone. Look at my mother.”

Even saying her name makes me want to curl up again under the tree at my back.

“Look what she did for a bad man,” I continue. “She was putty for him. Look at your mom. How she chose the wrong men over and over—how she gave herself to them for all the wrong reasons.”

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