Tray Dunaway longs to be part of the popular set at school, but she's growing too fast and her clothes no longer fit. The only person who understands Tray's need for acceptance is her grandmother, but when Tray wears Gram's hand-sewn clothes to school, the kids make fun of her tall, boney appearance.Tray's luck improves when Pee Wee Johnson, a down-and-out friend of her father's, buys two lottery tickets and gives one to Mr. Dunaway as a thank-you for driving him to Hazard, Illinois. When her father's ticket turns out to be the winner, Johnson demands his cut of the proceeds. Tray's dad refuses. What seems like a stroke of good fortune quickly becomes a dangerous game of life and death for Tray and her family.
There’s no sign of the fat man or Pee Wee when we arrive. For a time, we play hard. Lori is not hitting well today, but my shots are better than ever—maybe the last few days away from the courts have actually helped my game. As always, Lori is a good sport and laughs at her own wild shots. For a second, I wish I had someone better to play with, but I shrug off that thought as disloyal, a road I’ve already been down once—and that’s once too often.
“I’ve got to go to the bathroom,” Lori says after a time. “Want to come?”The nearest restroom is at the gas station on the corner and I don’t need to go yet. “No, I’ll just stay and practice against the backboard till you get back.” While I’m waiting, the sky darkens. I glance up, hoping the rain will hold off until we finish playing. I hit a ball too hard; it soars over the board and behind the fence. I mutter under my breath at my lack of control and go to retrieve the ball. When I return, the fat man is there.
“How ya doing today?” he asks with a broad smile. His teeth are very straight, almost too perfect. Probably dentures.“I’m fine.” “What you need is a basket of balls. Like I have.” He indicates his own basket. “So you won’t have to spend all your time chasing after them.” I glance longingly at the full basket. “Look, I’ve got another basket full in my car. I’m more than happy to give it to you.” “Oh, no, I couldn’t.” “Really. I was going to throw them away. They’re getting kind of flat, you know, but they’re better than nothing.” He motions me to follow as he moves off in the direction of his car. He pauses for me to catch up, but I hesitate. “My car is just over here. Follow me and I’ll get you those balls.” I take a step or two, then waver. He motions again. “Come on. You won’t believe what a difference it’ll make in your game.” Seduced by the dual vision of a full bucket of balls and an improved game, I follow the man to a two-door dirt-colored Chevrolet. “I know they’re here somewhere,” he says, opening the door on the driver’s side. “Look in the back floorboard, and I’ll check the trunk.” A voice inside me that’s wiser than I am says there’s something not quite right here. I vacillate, wanting to run and find Lori but unsure, not wanting to be rude, and still lusting for the balls. Probably, almost certainly, the man is just trying to be nice, after all, and I’m being silly and paranoid. Too many “don’t talk to strangers” lectures from Dad and Gram have gotten into my head and left me confused about my own judgment. As soon as I lean in, I know I’ve made the wrong choice.