I stand back against the wall while Darius orders for his sister, then Carrie, and then he turns to me.
“No, thanks,” I quickly say.
“You sure?” Georgia asks. “’Cause nobody from New York turns down anything from Ben’s Chili Bowl.”
I shake my head no even though I’m hungry as hell. I don’t want to hang out with them longer than I have to. After a few minutes of waiting for the food, small talk, and watching Carrie try to shut me out by making sure she gets in between me and Darius every chance she gets, we end up sitting in a booth in the back. I sit next to Georgia while Carrie sits next to Darius, of course. I want to blurt out that I don’t want her man, but it would be a waste of my breath at this point.
“My brothers told me that our new neighborhood is really loud. Good thing we have central air to keep out all that noise,” Georgia says in between spoonfuls of her chili.
“It’s not noisy,” I say. “As a matter of fact, if it gets too quiet, I won’t be able to sleep.”
“’Cause you’re used to it, right?” Georgia asks.
I just stare at her and don’t say a word. Georgia is a smart girl, because she immediately knows that she just tried to play me. “I didn’t mean to disrespect you,” she says.
Both Darius and Carrie are staring at me as if I’m about to pop off at the mouth or something, so I just say in my very best voice, the one I use to impress my teachers, “I understand. Bushwick is an acquired taste. I’m surprised your family would want to move there.”
Carrie chuckles. “Why are you suddenly talking like that?”
“Talking like what?” I ask.
“Darius, you noticed how she just changed the way she talked, right?”
“No,” Darius says, shaking his head and looking dead at me. He’s biting into his second chili dog now, and somehow he eats that sloppy food like it’s gourmet.
“Zuri, you don’t have to pretend to be someone you’re not. Just be yourself. Admissions counselors really like that. You know, keep it a hundred,” Carrie says with that annoying high-pitched voice of hers.
I raise both my eyebrows at this girl. “Keep it a hundred?”
“Yeah, keep it real.” She takes a sip from her soda.
I let it slide because this isn’t Bushwick and I’m on vacation. Sort of. But still, I entertain her nonsense because I have a few minutes to kill before I have to get back to the station. “So, Carrie, what are you doing in D.C.?” I ask, not because I want her to like me, but because it was her man who invited me over here and she’s eyeing me like I’m the one checking for him.
“Oh, just hanging out with Darius,” she says, cocking her head to the side and leaning against Darius a little bit.
But he gently shoves her away.
“Well, I think that’s my cue. It was nice running into all of you. See you back in Bushwick.” I grab my bag and start to slide out of the booth.
“Wait!” Darius says, as he finishes chewing his chili dog, wipes his mouth, then his hands, and looks up at me. “My father’s from around here. Well, Maryland. Carrie’s grandparents live down here, too. My grandparents live in Chevy Chase,” Darius says. “We drove down to chill with Georgia for a few days, and I was thinking of driving back up tonight. When are you heading back to Brooklyn?”
Carrie stares at him as if he’s just broken some unspoken rule.
“Driving back?” I say, wide-eyed. “By yourself?”
“Yeah, I’m eighteen,” he says. “I have my license and I’ve been driving since I was sixteen.”
“Not in Brooklyn, though,” Georgia adds. “It’s easier to learn in Martha’s Vineyard.”
“Do your parents have a car, Zuri?” Carrie butts in.
This time, I cock my head to the side. She’s a smart girl too, because she reads my answer all over my face. “So that’s how rich people get down? They let you drive on the highway between states when you’re only eighteen? Y’all are lucky.”
Both Darius and Georgia just stare at me with their matching tight jaws. Carrie is smirking.
“It’s not luck. It’s a necessity,” Darius says. “And practice for when I go to college next year. I’ll have to drive myself to and from campus when I visit Bushwick. I’m applying to Georgetown.”
“Yeah, me too. In a few years,” Georgia adds. “Because, obvi!”
“Yeah, obvi,” I say, while nodding slowly. “You all are really from a different planet.”
“No, we’re not,” Darius says. “In fact, now we’re from the same block. I can drive you back to Brooklyn. I’ve done it plenty of times. But we should head out now before it gets too late, ’cause I have to drop Georgia off and get my stuff.”
He doesn’t wait to hear what I say. He doesn’t even check in with Carrie, who’s sitting there with her mouth open as if she can’t believe what just went down. Darius is out of the booth already with his tray. He dumps his paper plate into the trash and starts heading out of the restaurant without looking back.
“Wait a second,” Carrie says, grabbing her purse and running after him. “We were supposed to go back tomorrow. Why are you rushing, D?”
Darius pauses at the door, a surprised look on his face. “I thought you’d already booked a train ticket home. You complained about how carsick you were the whole way down.”
“I didn’t actually buy it!” Carrie says, pushing past him and out onto the sidewalk. Georgia and I quickly follow.
“Hold up,” I interrupt. “I didn’t agree to drive home with you just yet.” Although if I do catch a ride home with Darius, Janae can get a refund for the bus ticket.
“You know what, forget it,” Carrie says. “I’ll figure something else out.” She pulls out her phone and starts texting. “Whitney and Sam are going to Dodge City tonight anyway. I can hang with them.”
Darius doesn’t even try to stop her. “Cool, tell them I say hi,” he says.
“Tell them yourself,” Carrie replies, her voice icy cold. “I’m gonna get a cab.” She flips her hair again and shakes her little narrow behind as she walks away.
I laugh under my breath.
Darius steps closer to me, putting his hands in his jean pockets. “Zuri, really. I can take you home. I’m a good driver—don’t listen to Carrie.” His voice is low.
“He really is!” Georgia chimes in.
I look up at Darius, then down at my phone, and see that I’m now running late for my bus. If I say no to Darius and then miss my ride, my parents will never let me out of the house again. I can say goodbye to Howard forever.
“I mean, I guess,” I say, slowly. “But I get to deejay.”
“Deal,” Darius says, and his smile is wider than I’ve ever seen it. My stomach drops and I realize what I just agreed to. Four hours alone, in a car, with Darius Darcy. What would Warren say to that?
A cab pulls up to the curb and honks at Carrie.
Georgia runs over to give Carrie a hug goodbye, and Darius waves politely to her. “I’ll text you,” he calls out.
“Bye, Carrie!” I shout. “See you back in Brooklyn!” I wave extra hard while grinning wide.
We wait until Carrie is out of sight and then begin walking down U Street toward the car.
“Are they going out?” I ask Georgia quietly.
“Carrie? No way,” she says. Then she calls out to Darius, who is a few steps ahead of us. “Hey, bro! Zuri thought Carrie was your girlfriend!”
“Not in a million years,” he says.
And in that moment, something stirs deep in my belly. I’m not supposed to care. But part of me is relieved that Darius isn’t into someone so shallow and insecure.
“Is that a smile on your face?” Georgia asks, and I realize this girl is growing on me. I could see us being friends. Maybe.
“Yeah, ’cause you’re kinda cool, Georgia,” I say. “I can’t wait for you to meet my sisters.”
“Oh my god!” she squeals. “I can’t wait either. We’ll have to hang out before I head back to boarding school.”