By David Canfield
May 03, 2019 at 10:00 AM EDT
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Jati Lindsay

One of the most exciting, constantly surprising voices in children’s literature, award-winning author Jason Reynolds is back with another book that’s as innovative as it is emotionally arresting: Look Both Ways.

The plot of Look Both Ways sounds simple: It captures one day’s walk home from school. But within that structure, Reynolds conjures 10 tales (one per block) about what happens after the dismissal bell rings, and weaves them into a funny, poignant look at the detours we face on the walk home, and in life. Through this format, Reynolds captures a range of experiences, highlighting what binds us as well as what makes us and our lives unique.

Reynolds is a recipient of the Edgar Award and the Newbery Honor, and he’s also a National Book Award finalist. EW profiled the author ahead of the publication of his 10th book, Long Way Down, in 2017, which plays out in just 60 seconds as a 15-year-old boy grapples with the aftermath of his brother’s murder and considers revenge.

Below, Reynolds has exclusively shared a preview of Look Both Ways with EW, in the form of a cover reveal and first excerpt. The book publishes Oct. 8, and is available for pre-order.

Simon+ Schuster Children's Publishing

Excerpt from Look Both Ways, by Jason Reynolds

THE LOW CUTS STRIKE AGAIN

ALL I CAN tell you is if you ever see John John Watson, Francy Baskin, Trista Smith, or especially Britton “Bit” Burns—the Low Cuts—better watch your pockets. Those four, they’ll steal anything that jingles, even your hands if you got them tucked and they’re making too much noise. Matter of fact, they’d take the pockets out your pockets if they could. Once they walked into a convenience store, one of the ones with the dish at the front of the counter that says, TAKE A PENNY, LEAVE A PENNY, and took all the pennies.

Leaving no pennies.

A grab and get gone.

Okay, they didn’t do that just once. They did that all the time. They did it so much that store owners started keeping the dish behind the register and doled out the pennies to short-changed customers individually. Other times, Bit, Francy, John John, and Trista would challenge people to quarter wars, which is when two people stand quarters up on a desk or a table and spin them like spinning tops. Whichever quarter knocks the other quarter over, or lasts the longest, wins. But the rules don’t really matter to this crew. The opponent’s quarter was getting pinched or the opponent was getting punched. And twenty-five cents ain’t worth a swole-up eye.

But the Low Cuts don’t just take to be taking. They don’t steal for fun. Actually, they don’t even like doing it. But they do it because they have to. At least they feel like they have to. Before they named themselves the Low Cuts, they were part of another set that they had no choice but to be down with. The free-lunchers. Sounded much cooler than it was. It didn’t mean they got free lunch because they were special. Or because they were popular and loved so much that the school cafeteria offered them mozzarella sticks and crinkle-cut fries on the house. Instead, what it meant was their parents were tight, hard up, squeezed, strapped. Their folks didn’t have any extra scratch to give for the itch of hunger. No lunch money. And that was true for each of the Low Cuts. Wasn’t something they were proud of, or something they were ashamed of either, even though other kids tried to make them feel a way about it.

“Yo, if I give you my pizza crust every day and you save it up, you’ll have a whole loaf of bread by the end of the school year” was a joke told by a kid named Andrew Knotts, who, after Bit heard it . . . let’s just say Andrew never cracked those kinds of jokes again.

For the record, Bit, John John, Francy, and Trista weren’t the only free-lunchers, but they were the only free-lunchers with parents who were cancer survivors. They’d been put together in an in-school support group run by the guidance counselor, Ms. Lane. Sitting in a circle passing a tissue box back and forth, talking about how hard it is to watch your parents skinny up, watch their hair thin and fall out, watch their bodies turn disloyal. How scary it was to think about whether or not their mothers and fathers were going to live, and if not, how were they all going to live without them.

What the four of them never talked about was how all the surgeries and treatments were what knocked everything in their lives and their parents’ lives off track financially. It was where all the money went. That wasn’t Ms. Lane’s job, to bring that up. Not part of the kumbaya circles that Bit pretended to be too tough for. And the truth is, they wouldn’t have known any of this if Bit’s mother hadn’t told him all her business. But she did. And Bit told that business to the others. And theothers asked their parents if it was true.

“That’s not for you to worry about,” John John’s mother said. Breast cancer.

“Who told you that?” Francy’s father asked. Prostate cancer.

“I . . . We don’t want to lie to you,” Trista’s father explained. Stomach cancer.

True. True. True.

And it was this, not the cancer but the strain it put on everyone, that formed the Low Cuts.
They all cut their hair down to almost bald—a sign of solidarity— and started stealing.

There was only one rule:

Only take loose change. No dollars. No jewelry. No wallets. Only change.

Usually they used it for extras at lunch. Today it was for something else.

**

The sound of the bell ringing, signaling the end of the day, might as well have been a starter pistol or an air horn. Something to make the Low Cuts go. And go they did. They burst from their classes—Bit and Trista from English, John John from math, and Francy from Spanish class. After stopping at their lockers, swapping books, packing bags, they burst from the school and gathered at the meeting place.

There were three benches to the right of the double doors. The first was being babysat by some boy in a uniform holding a broken skateboard across his lap, stroking it like a hurt dog. The second was occupied by Gregory Pitts and his friends swatting their arms through a cloud of body spray that smelled like cinnamon if cinnamon smelled like garlic. And the third bench was where the Low Cuts always met. A base chosen by Bit.

Bit was the tiniest person in their crew. And the obvious leader. He was always going on and on about how his growth spurt was going to come soon and then he’d be the tallest, but nobody believed him. And even though Bit was half the size of his friends, he was the biggest when it came to confidence. And when it came to temper. He was known for knocking people out. There was a kid named Trey who was picking on John John, calling him old man because John John had a patch of gray hair in the front of his head. He was born with it. A birthmark. Teased for it his whole life. Funny thing was, the gray patch, when cut low, looked more like a ringworm and would’ve made for much better jokes, which were the jokes Bit would’ve cracked if John John weren’t his Low Cut brother. But Trey wasn’t that sharp.

“John John, you was born a senior citizen,” Trey said.

“John John, you look like you getting ready to retire from middle school,” Trey said.

“John John, soon you gon’ need a walker to be a . . . walker,” Trey said.

“John John—”

That was the last John John Trey spoke before Bit’s fist fist went in his mouth so fast fast it knocked him out out in the middle of the crosswalk. Thankfully the crossing guard, Ms. Post, was there to wake Trey up. And while she was helping, Bit took off running.

He’d done the same for Francy when boys were picking on her for having short hair, calling her Franky, but she never paid them no mind. It never really bothered her. Francy always had a way of ignoring that kind of thing. The bigger person and all. But not Bit. Bit would knock heads, no question. And if no one was around, he’d pat their pockets after putting them to sleep. But only for loose change. Of course.

Trista wasn’t the type who needed any kind of puff-up from Bit. She was the kind of girl nobody messed with. Nobody. She could slice you to slivers with one sentence. Plus she was a daddy’s girl, and he raised her up in martial arts. Tae Kwon Do Trista. Everyone had seen her do a roundhouse kick at a school talent show, and that was enough for no one to ever try her. Including Bit.

The four of them together were the kids teachers were concerned about. The ones they talked trash about in the teachers’ lounge. The ones they marked as “at risk.” They were the ones Ms. Wockley would wag her finger and shake her head at whenever they walked down the hall or sat together and had secret meetings at lunch. The way they were—a braid of brilliance and bravado—concerned everyone.

“Everybody ready?” Bit asked, huddling everyone up. Trista was the only one not paying attention. She was speaking to a boy who responded awkwardly, like he was scared or something. No surprise. “Trista.” Bit shot her a look.

“Ready, ready.” Trista joined the fold, slipping her phone from her back pocket to check the time. “It’s three sixteen.”

“Truck comes in an hour,” Francy announced.

“Let’s see how much we got,” John John said, opening his hand. Some dimes. A nickel. Everyone else dug in their pockets and dropped their findings into John John’s cupped palm. A few more nickels. Some found in the change slots of the lunchroom vending machines. Others found deep in the pockets of unsuspecting skinny boys wearing unforgiving skinny jeans. Quite a few pennies found swept into the corner by Mr. Munch, the school’s janitor. These had to be sifted out from dust bunnies, gum wrappers, and hair ties. Nickels and dimes swiped from teachers’ desks. Only from the top. Never from the drawers.

No quarters on this run. Unfortunately.

Trista moved the change around with her finger, counting. “Seventy, eighty, eighty-five, eighty-six, eighty-seven, eighty-eight, eighty-nine . . .”

“Ninety?” Bit asked, his eyes darting from John John’s palm to the double doors. Ms. Wockley was always too close for comfort.

“Yeah. Only ninety cents,” Trista confirmed, counting it all again. “Think that’s enough?” She turned to Bit, who was rocking back and forth, anxious.

Bit spat. “We’ll make it work.” He marched off from the others. They followed behind, worming through the crowd and up to the light. They crossed and headed down the main road—Portal Avenue—cars and bikes zooming past. Buses, both public and school, grumbling and screeching, smoke billowing from the tailpipes.

Even though they were tight on time, they were loose on talk. Francy, in particular, was motor-mouthing—she always did when she was anxious—asking John John if he’d ever heard of anybody named Satchmo, because there was a kid in her Spanish class named Satchmo Jenkins, and she just liked the name.

“Nope. Never heard of nobody else named Francy either though,” John John said with a shrug.

“Yeah, but Francy is short for Francis,” she went on. “Well, maybe Satchmo is short for . . . Satchmo . . . reece . . . Maurice . . . Satchmaurice . . . Satchmo . . .Satchmocha . . . Satchmocha latte . . . Satch . . .”

“Satchmo Money,” Bit sparked, annoyed by the silly conversation Francy and John John were having, and also by the silly conversation Trista was trying to have with him.

“Bit, I’m serious,” Trista was droning on. “What you gonna write about being?” Trista was referring to their English homework. Ms. Broome wanted each student to write about being something else. Not a person. A thing.

“I keep telling you, Trista. I don’t know,” Bit replied as a school bus grumbled by. “How ’bout a school bus? That good enough for you?”

“Not really,” Trista said. The school bus was coming to a stop, its brakes grinding. Bit covered his ears.

“I hate that sound. Matter of fact, I’d be a school bus that could fly. That way I ain’t gotta hit the brakes and make all that noise.” Bit looked over at Trista. “How ’bout that?”

“All I’m gon’ say is, I could totally see you, a school bus falling from the sky.” Trista laughed to herself, but just loud enough for Bit to hear.

“Well, at least then I’d be a rocket.”

**

After six blocks they turned down Crossman Street, stopping at the first house. The one that sat on the corner. An older house with a bunch of cars parked in the yard. Barrel grills and big wheels in the driveway. A mess, but the home of the munchie master, Ms. CeeCee.

Ms. CeeCee had been the neighborhood candy lady since the Low Cuts’ parents were kids. She was known for making sure everybody got a fair shot at sweet treats because she knew not everybody could get to the corner store. There wasn’t one on the corner of Crossman. Actually, there wasn’t one within five blocks. So she had to be it. And the best part about Ms. CeeCee was that she was open twenty-four hours a day.

With Bit leading the way, the Low Cuts beelined up her obstacle course of a driveway and rang the doorbell, which chimed a melodic yawn, like an old man just waking up. The Low Cuts waited nervously. But Bit, full of fire and impatience, rang the bell again.

And again.

“Come on,” he growled. “Ain’t nobody got all day.”

“Chill,” Francy said. “You know she move slow.”

Sure enough, a few seconds later they heard the sound of Ms. CeeCee’s slippers slowly sliding across the floor and her voice oozing through the wooden door. “I’m coming. I’m coming. Don’t poop your pants.”

Trista smiled at that because Ms. CeeCee always mentioned pooping as if the only people who ever rang her bell were people in desperate need of a bathroom.

The door swung open, and there she was. A small lady, jet-black wig sitting on top of her head like a hat she’d purposely cocked to the side. The hair was too black, especially compared to the few silver hairs springing from her chin. She wore a turquoise sweat suit, the sleeves and legs cut off, threads hanging like a blue-green spiderweb. Her ankles were swollen, and so were her cheeks. If it weren’t for the hair and the bumpy freckles, her face would’ve looked like a baby’s. Her voice, on the other hand, sounded like a truck engine.

“Look who it is: Eenie, Meanie, Minie, and Mo,” Ms. CeeCee said, pointing at each of them. “What y’all want?”

“Well,” John John started, because John John was usually the one who spoke for the crew. The nice one. He dug in his pocket, opened his hand showing all the silver and copper. “We got ninety cents, and—”

“We need candy, Ms. CeeCee,” Bit blurted. Then, clapping his hands together, he repeated, “We . . . need . . . candy.”

“Bit.” Francy’s voice was a warning to calm down, but Bit’s ears didn’t hear it that way.

“What? We do. And we in a rush!” He tapped his wrist where there was no watch. Checked it like checking a pulse. A live one, for sure.

“Don’t be rude,” Trista said, calm. Like, too calm. So calm that even Ms. CeeCee took a step back. Bit quieted down. Huffed, rolled his wrist, and muttered, “Go ’head, John John.”

“We got ninety cents and we need as much candy as you can give us,” John John explained.

Ms. CeeCee looked at the four of them, a stairstep from John John, the tallest, down to Bit.

“Do I want to know what y’all up to?” she asked, and they just looked at her like she hadn’t asked it. Like she hadn’t said anything. So she acted like she hadn’t said anything either. “Wait right here.”

The thing about Ms. CeeCee’s house was that kids could never go in unsupervised. Even though she knew them and their parents, she was always very careful about young people in her home buying candy because it basically was the plot of every abduction story she’d ever watched, and she didn’t want people thinking she was doing that. Because she wasn’t. So the Low Cuts had to wait at the door another few minutes until Ms. CeeCee returned with a small card table. She set the table up just outside the house, then pulled boxes of candy from a small closet right by the front door, where most people would hang their coats.

She set the boxes up on the table.

“Okay, today in the penny, nickel, and dime categories, we got the old stuff.”

“You always say that when we come here. Don’t nobody want no stale candy, Ms. CeeCee,” Bit said, fighting himself to cool his tone.

“It’s not stale, Britton. It’s just older styles of candies. Like how them Michael Jordan sneakers y’all be paying all that money for keep getting remade? That’s what this is. Retro candy. Hard to get, and used to cost only a penny a piece when I was a little girl, but I gotta charge y’all four cents more. Attitude tax.” Bit cocked his head. Ms. CeeCee cocked hers right back. “Let that be a lesson, son. Plus, everything costs more over time.”

“Inflation,” Francy said.

“Sounds more like deflation,” Bit grumbled under his breath, patting his pockets.

“What you say?” Ms. CeeCee asked, adding the last box to the lineup on the table.

“Nothing,” John John subbed in for Bit.

“Okay, y’all know the rundown,” Ms. CeeCee said. “I got Mary Janes. Tootsie Rolls. Squirrel Nut Zippers—”

Bit did his best to trap his laugh, but a pfft slipped from his mouth. No matter how tough and tight he was, Squirrel Nut Zippers broke him every time.

“Let her finish,” Francy said, through her own giggles.

“Squirrel Nut Zippers,” Ms. CeeCee repeated, then continued with the list. “Life Savers, individually wrapped. Bit-O-Honey, Charleston Chews, Bazooka bubble gum, and . . .” She popped back into the closet, mumbling to herself, then popped back out. “I think that’s it, in terms of bang for your buck.”

They leaned over the table looking at all the candy, trying to decide which was the right candy to get. Finally Francy spoke up.

“What you think, Bit?”

“Oh, now y’all care what I think,” he snapped back.

“Don’t be petty all your life.” That was from John John.

“We just know you know what to do with it better than us,” Francy explained. “You know . . . how to . . . use it.”

“Exactly,” Trista said, scratching her head.

Ms. CeeCee covered her ears. “I don’t wanna know. I don’t wanna know.”

Bit turned to her. “I mean, you said this candy from when you were young, right?”

Ms. CeeCee pulled her hands away from her face. “That’s right.”

“So which was your favorite?”

Ms. CeeCee surveyed the table. “Hmm. It’d have to be a tie between the Mary Janes and the Life Savers. I mean, that peanut butter mixed with syrup in the Mary Janes was like heaven. But the pure sugar of the Life Savers was to little Cecelia, a life saver.”

“So, we’ll take as many of both of those as we can get.”

Ms. CeeCee started to count them out, and a few seconds later there were eighteen pieces of candy in front of them. Nine Mary Janes. Nine Life Savers.

John John lets the coins fall into Ms. CeeCee’s hands, Bit scooping up the candy.

“Later, Ms. CeeCee,” he said, already walking away.

“Boy, one of these days you gon’ learn some manners,” she clapped back. “Tell your mama I’m praying for her. Matter of fact, I’m praying for all your mamas. Knuckleheads.”

“Low Cuts,” Francy said, smiling.

“Right, Low Cuts. Short Cuts. Whatever. You’ll always be knuckleheads to me.”

“Come onnnn.” Bit was at the end of the driveway, rocking back and forth, antsy. “We running out of time.”

**

They went back to the main road. Back to busy Portal Avenue with the cars and trucks and other kids— other walkers—lollygagging on their way home from school. “What’s the math, Francy?” John John asked as he pulled a wad of sandwich bags from his pocket.

Francy was the smartest Low Cut when it came to numbers. She could break it all down in her head in a way that would’ve taken Bit and John John a calculator to do, and Trista probably two pages of long division.

“Eighteen pieces. We do bundles of three. That’s six bundles. Sell them for a dollar a pop.”

“That’s only six bucks,” Bit said.

“Yeah, and that’s enough,” John John replied.

“No. We need more. We can get more.” Bit had turned around and was walking backward so he could look his friends in their faces. “I know these guys. I mean, I know these kinds of guys. They don’t carry change. Ever. So we charge them one fifty and they’ll give us two. Matter of fact, because we don’t even have time for all these transactions, let’s just do three bundles of six. Two fifty a pop. They’ll all pay three, and—”

“We’ll walk with nine.” See, even though Francy was the best with math, Bit was the best with hustle. No doubt about it.

When they got to Placer Street—which they’d practically run to after figuring out the numbers—they stopped on the corner, out of breath, and organized the candy. Three Mary Janes and three Life Savers in three bags.

Trista slid her phone from her back pocket again. “It’s three forty-four. We got fifteen minutes.”

“Gotta make this quick,” Francy said, twisting the bags, tying knots in the ends of them.

A block down the street they came up to a building that looked like an old house but had a sign out front. PLACER POOL.

The Low Cuts stood outside, stared at the building for a moment, working up the nerve to go in. And whether the nerve was worked up or not, once Bit said, “Ready?” he took off for the door. It chimed when he swung it open, stepped into the smoky building, John John, Trista, and Francy following close behind.

Silence, except for one pool ball smacking against another. Then total silence. Old men who looked like different versions of human cigarettes with non-human cigarettes dangling from their mouths all turned and looked. And after a few awkward seconds, Bit ballooned his chest with bravery, rolled his shoulders back, and said, “Candy for sale.”

A man came from behind an old wooden bar. “Kid, you can’t be in here.” Bit knew he couldn’t be in there. He knew none of them could be in there. But he had been watching this place for a while. He’d been sitting across the street checking out who was going in and how long they stayed. The smoke that came screaming out every time the door opened. The cussing men who went on about losing money and the laughing men who bragged about winning some. This was a place for pool players, but more than that, Bit knew it was a place for hustlers.

“Don’t I know you?” another man said.

“Don’t matter if you know me,” Bit shot back. “Me and my friends selling candy. Say buy or say bye.” John John, Trista, and Francy were impressed by that line. They’d heard Bit talk like this before. This wasn’t the first time they’d done this. They’d walked into a bingo hall once and heard him tell an old lady he was her troll doll, the only good luck charm she’d ever need. But this time was different. There was a knife in his voice. Something sharp they’d never heard.

And the guy did know him. Knew him from the neighborhood. That guy had fixed his mother’s car once. And Bit had stood next to him, mean-mugging the whole time the guy was under the hood just in case he tried to cheat his mom.

“We don’t want no candy. So how about—”

“We got Mary Janes and Life Savers.” Francy joined in, held the bags up like they were full of gold coins.

“Yeah. We got Mary Janes and Life Savers,” Bit said, doubling down.

“Mary Janes?” a man wearing an eye patch called from the back of the room. He set his pool cue down on the table next to him and walked toward the Low Cuts. “What y’all know ’bout Mary Janes?”

“We know we got ’em. And Life Savers, too.”

“Individually wrapped,” John John added, just because it was a detail Ms. CeeCee kept adding.

The man chuckled. “I can’t remember the last time I had that kind of candy.” He slapped the guy next to him. “You?”

“Been a long time. Used to go down south to visit my grandpappy and he’d always have that kind of stuff in his pocket. Be all melted and still be good. And Grandma used to give us strawberry candy, and when she ran out, she’d give us cherry Life Savers.”

“And them butterscotch.” Another man.

Whew, and don’t get me started on them, uh . . . them Squirrel Nut Zippers.” This came from the guy who ran the place.

“All this is great, gentlemen . . .” Bit put a pothole in the middle of memory lane. “But like the man said, we ain’t allowed in here, so—”

“How much?” Eye Patch asked.

Bit turned and looked at his friends. Bounced his eyebrows just slightly. Just enough for them to see.

“Bundles of six. Three of each candy. Two fifty.” “Two fifty! That’s penny candy! At least it was when I was coming up.” Eye Patch couldn’t believe it.

“My mother said gas was a dollar when she was a kid,” Bit shot back.

“And I heard Jordans cost, like, eighty bucks,” John John followed, again stealing Ms. CeeCee’s line. “Guess everything costs more over time.”

The Low Cuts, in what seemed like one fluid motion, all shrugged.

“I’ll tell you what ain’t never been cheap—kids,” Eye Patch said.

“And I’ll tell you what’s hard to find—Mary Janes,” one of the other men said, digging in his pocket. He clearly had no idea that there was a woman who sold them right around the corner. “You said two fifty?”

“Yeah,” Bit said, bouncing on his toes, anxious.

“You got change?”

Bit looked at his friends again. Bounced his eyebrows again. “Nope.”

The man pulled three bucks from his pocket. Handed it to Bit. Francy handed over the first bag.

Trista spoke up. “Thank you.”

“Hey, I took them dollars off him.” He pointed to a red-haired man, who just laughed and muttered something they couldn’t hear. “Eight ball, corner pocket. Cha-ching!” The buyer pumped his fist.

And that was it. The last two bags were snatched up immediately, because it turned out, the thing about men in pool halls is none of them want to be outdone. For John John, Francy, and Trista, it was like looking at a roomful of bigger Bits. In the future.

Nine dollars later, the Low Cuts were out the door and almost out of time. Trista didn’t bother checking her phone. They knew they were late because they saw the ice cream truck pulling off from its usual post, in front of the fifth house on Placer Street. It hadn’t been there when they’d gone into the pool hall—it arrived at four every day—and never stayed if kids weren’t waitiing there to buy anything—gone by 4:02.

It was 4:03.

So they ran.

All four of them broke out down the street, sprinting, screaming for the ice cream truck to stop. Halfway down the block, it finally did. The Low Cuts ran up to the truck, slapping their hands on the side of it. The driver yanked the window open.

“Almost missed me,” the ice cream man said. He looked more like somebody’s big brother than an ice cream man. “What can I get for y’all?”

“Four vanilla soft serves,” Bit ordered.

“Cup or cone?”

“Cup.”

“Sprinkles?”

Francy, John John, and Trista looked to Bit.

“Hmmm, sure,” Bit said.

“On all four?”

“Yep.” Bit didn’t ask anyone else. And no one contested.

The ice cream man handed cup after cup through the window, rainbow sprinkles all over them. Bit passed them down so that each of the Low Cuts had one, then handed the ice cream man the nine dollars.

“It’s only eight,” the ice cream man said.

“A dollar for you,” Bit replied. “Thanks for stopping.”

As the ice cream truck pulled off, John John, Trista, Francy, and Bit walked a few houses down, until they got to a small house they’d all been to before. That Trista and Francy always called cute, John John never called nothing, and Bit called home. Bit pulled his key out of his pocket, unlocked the door.

“Ma!” he yelled. “You dressed?”

Seconds later, Bit’s mother, Ms. Burns, came from the back to greet them, and was greeted by all of them— the Low Cuts—holding cups of fresh ice cream. Not one swirl licked. Not one spoonful missing. Ms. Burns looked at them, her face both cloudy and sunny, her skin absent of her normal brown.

Bit’s mom had relapsed.

The cancer had come back, but the doctors were optimistic she could beat it again.

“Hey. What’s going on? How was school?” Bit’s mother asked, kissing him on the forehead. But he shrugged off the question.

“How was your first day back on chemo?”

“Oh, it was . . . you know. It was chemo. I’m okay.” But she sounded exhausted and rubbed her stomach. “A little queasy.”

“I figured you would be. So, we got you a bunch of ice cream.” Bit waved his arm like a game show host showing off the four cups. “Vanilla,” he said. The other Low Cuts watched Bit the hustler, Bit who could turn ninety cents into nine bucks—into ice cream—turn into a son. A son who was scared. A son who loved his mom.

And she smiled, her shiny eyes jumping from face to face, bald head to bald head, friend to friend.

“With sprinkles.”

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