On the Come Up

On the Come Up

Angie Thomas


For the kids with the SoundCloud accounts

and the big dreams. I see you.

And for my mom, who saw it in me first.

Part One

Old School


I might have to kill somebody tonight.

It could be somebody I know. It could be a stranger. It could be somebody who’s never battled before. It could be somebody who’s a pro at it. It doesn’t matter how many punch lines they spit or how nice their flow is. I’ll have to kill them.

First, I gotta get the call. To get the call, I gotta get the hell out of Mrs. Murray’s class.

Some multiple-choice questions take up most of my laptop, but the clock though. The clock is everything. According to it, there are ten minutes until four thirty, and according to Aunt Pooh, who knows somebody who knows somebody, DJ Hype calls between four thirty and five thirty. I swear if I miss him, I . . .

Won’t do shit ’cause Mrs. Murray has my phone, and Mrs. Murray’s not one to play with.

I only see the top of her Sisterlocks. The rest of her is hidden behind her Nikki Giovanni book. Occasionally she goes “Mmm” at some line the same way my grandma does during a sermon. Poetry’s Mrs. Murray’s religion.

Everyone else cleared out of Midtown School of the Arts almost an hour ago, except for us juniors whose parents or guardians signed us up for ACT prep. It’s not guaranteed to get you a thirty-six, but Jay said I better get close since she “paid these folks a light bill” for this class. Every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon, I drag myself into this classroom and hand my phone over to Mrs. Murray.

Usually I’m cool with an entire hour of not knowing what the president tweeted. Or getting texts from Sonny and Malik (sometimes about shit the president tweeted). But today, I wanna go up to that desk, snatch my phone from the pile, and run out of here.

“Psst! Brianna,” someone whispers. Malik’s behind me, and behind him Sonny mouths, Anything yet?

I tilt my head with a How am I supposed to know, I don’t have my phone eyebrow raise. Yeah, that’s a lot to expect him to get, but me, Sonny, and Malik have been tight since womb days. Our moms are best friends, and the three of them were pregnant with us at the same time. They call us the “Unholy Trinity” because they claim we kicked in their bellies whenever they were together. So nonverbal communication? Not new.

Sonny shrugs with an I don’t know, I’m just checking, mixed in with Damn, you ain’t gotta catch an attitude.

I narrow my eyes at his little light-skinned Hobbit-looking behind—he’s got the curly hair and the big ears. I don’t have an attitude. You asked a dumb question.

I turn around. Mrs. Murray eyes us over the top of her book with a little nonverbal communication of her own. I know y’all not talking in my class.

Technically we’re not talking, but what I look like telling her that, verbally or nonverbally?


Three minutes and that phone will be in my hand.


Two minutes.



Mrs. Murray closes her book. “Time’s up. Submit your practice test as is.”

Shit. The test.

For me, “as is” means not a single question is answered. Thankfully, it’s multiple choice. Since there are four choices per question, there’s a 25 percent chance that I’ll randomly choose the right one. I click answers while everyone else collects their phones.

Everyone except Malik. He towers over me as he slips his jean jacket over his hoodie. In the past two years, he went from being shorter than me to so-tall-he-has-to-bend-to-hug-me. His high-top fade makes him even taller.

“Damn, Bri,” Malik says. “Did you do any of the—”

“Shhh!” I submit my answers and sling my backpack over my shoulder. “I did the test.”

“Long as you’re prepared to take an L, Breezy.”

“An L on a practice test isn’t really an L.” I throw my snapback on, pulling the front down enough so it can cover my edges. They’re a little jacked at the moment and will stay jacked until Jay braids my hair.

Sonny beat me getting to Mrs. Murray’s desk. He goes for my phone like the true ride-or-die he is, but Mrs. Murray grabs it first.

“That’s okay, Jackson.” She uses his real name, which happens to be my last name. His momma named him in honor of my grandparents, her godparents. “I need to talk to Brianna for a second.”

Sonny and Malik both look at me. What the hell did you do?

My eyes are probably as wide as theirs. Do I look like I know?

Mrs. Murray nods toward the door. “You and Malik can go. It’ll only take a moment.”

Sonny turns to me. You’re fucked.

Possibly. Don’t get me wrong; Mrs. Murray is sweet, but she does not play. One time, I half-assed my way through an essay about Langston Hughes’s use of dreams. Mrs. Murray went in on me so bad, I wished Jay would’ve gone in on me instead. That’s saying something.

Sonny and Malik leave. Mrs. Murray sits on the edge of the desk and sets my phone beside her. The screen is dim. No call yet.

“What’s going on, Brianna?” she asks.

I look from her to the phone and back. “What you mean?”

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