“Boarding school?” I ask, just as Darius holds open the shiny black front passenger door for me. It’s a nice car, and it’s not the one I usually see parked in front of their house back in Bushwick, but I don’t ask any questions. For some reason, the polite gesture makes me nervous. Darius closes the door gently.
“Yeah,” Georgia says as she slides into the back seat. “And now you get to meet my grandmother!”
“Wait, what?” I say, turning to Darius as he gets into the driver’s seat.
“Uh, yeah, did I forget to mention that?” Darius says, and gives me a shy smile. He starts the car.
“Your grandmother? Seriously?” Suddenly I’m not sure this free ride is worth it. I need to call my parents and tell them about the change of plans, but maybe there’s still time for Darius to drive me to the bus, and I won’t need to tell them anything.
“She’s harmless! I promise,” Georgia says. “I’ve been living with her all summer.”
“Really?” I ask with a raised eyebrow. I check the time and see that it’s already almost seven. It’s too late.
“Yeah, harmless,” Darius promises.
“That’s what I’m worried about,” I mumble. But I click my seat belt closed.
As we drive out to the D.C. suburbs, I’m still stuck on the fact that I’m sitting in the front seat of a car that belongs to a boy I can’t stand. And we’re headed to his grandmother’s house, of all places. Plus he’s driving me two hundred miles back home. So I’m basically trusting Darius with my life right now. And an hour ago, I didn’t even want to look at his face.
THE BIG HOUSES here in Chevy Chase, Maryland, are pushed back away from the street, if you can even call it a street. It’s more like a perfectly paved path to any- and everywhere. There are no potholes, no bumps, no double-parked cars—hardly any cars. Just wide-open smooth, curving road. And Darius drives as if he owns that path; as if this whole ride is his life and things are just as easy for him as this road.
I try not to let him see me checking out how he holds the steering wheel with one hand, how he leans back in his seat with all the confidence in the world, even though he’s had his license for only two years. But he catches me looking at him, and I turn back to the car’s window.
“You like lobster, Zuri?” Georgia asks from the back seat. She’s been asking me a billion questions about food, clothes, music, and places. Most of the things she brings up I’ve never heard of or experienced. So far, I know that they’ve gone skiing in somewhere called Aspen, go to somebody named Martha’s Vineyard every summer (except for this one, because of the move), and how they are still hoping to take a trip to some place called the Maldives. And I can tell Georgia is not showing off or anything, she seriously thinks I know what she’s talking about when she brings up these places.
“Sure,” I say. It’s a lie. I’ve been to Red Lobster, but never had the lobster because it’s the most expensive thing on the menu, and with seven of us going out to eat for a graduation or a big birthday, no one is selfish enough to order lobster. I don’t say this out loud, of course.
“Darius loves lobster. That’s why Grandma is making it special for him,” she continues. “And he has the nerve to eat two chili dogs before dinner. I swear he’s her favorite, ’cause I asked for vegetarian lasagna yesterday, and she was like, no. But Darius gets lobster! Not even Ainsley gets that kind of treatment.”
“Oh, so you’re a grandma’s boy?” I ask, side-eyeing him.
“Hardly. Georgia is exaggerating,” Darius says as he pulls up to the biggest house I have ever seen.
If the Darcy house is a mini-mansion, then this house is a straight-up castle. There are tall white columns at the front entrance, and the windows are so wide that they might as well be walls. I try hard not to look as if I’ve never seen nice things before. I blink and look away from the house, down at my hands, my jeans, my book bag on the floor—anything to not look so sheltered.
The driveway curves around to the front of the house, and I keep it cool even as my phone keeps buzzing. It’s seven thirty, and my bus left half an hour ago. My parents want to make sure that I’m on the bus, and my sisters are asking for pictures, especially of the cute boys on the Howard campus. I should snap one of Darius and send it to them. I have no idea how to tell my family that I’m not on the bus, that I’m with Darius, in his car, about to step into his grandmother’s ginormous house. I would never hear the end of it.
Georgia jumps out of the car just as Darius shuts off the engine by pushing a button. He doesn’t move from the front seat. I don’t either.
“Are you sure you can get me home tonight?” I ask.
“I told you,” he says, turning to me. “I got you.”
I shift away when he says this. Back home, when we say we’ve “got somebody’s back,” we’ll look out for them. But “I got you” is something else. It means that you’re willing to fall back and know that the person will catch you. So I say, “You don’t know me like that.”
“What does that have to do with anything?” he asks.
“You said you got me. I don’t know you well enough to trust you like that.”
“You do trust me to take you home, right?”
“Home is a four-hour drive away. You just got your license. So I’m a little hesitant.”
“I didn’t just get my license. Okay. If you’re still hesitant, I can drive the forty minutes back to Union Station for you to catch your bus,” he says, checking his phone. “There’ll be another one by nine o’clock tonight, so you’ll be good. I just wish you would’ve made up your mind earlier.”
“Hold up, you practically begged me to come here.”
“I did not beg you. I asked. And you said yes. So why are changing your mind now? We’re already here.”
“Fine,” I say, and open the car’s door to step out into the clean, crisp air. I quickly slam it shut, just as a woman steps out of the house.
“Carrie? Is that you?” she says.
I freeze where I stand. Partly because she thinks I’m Carrie, even though we look nothing alike, and partly because she doesn’t look like anybody’s grandma.
This grandma walks toward the car wearing high heels, fitted dress pants, an apron, and hair so perfect that I’m sure it’s a wig. And she almost looks younger than my own mother!
“Uh, Grandma, this is, uh . . . ,” Darius starts to say as he comes out of the car.
“Oh, you’re not Carrie,” his grandmother interrupts, stopping dead in her tracks and looking me up and down as if she’s disappointed.
So I introduce myself, extending my hand out to shake hers. But she doesn’t take it and instead turns to Darius.
“What happened to Carrie? I thought she was coming over for dinner.” She sounds like the newscasters on TV—her words are perfect, her voice is the just the right tone of bougie, and her smile looks plastic. She walks up to Darius and plants a kiss on his cheek.
Darius steps back and looks away. His grandmother looks at me again.
I smile big and bright so she knows that my mama raised me right, and I try again. “I’m Zuri. Zuri Benitez,” I say.
She cocks her head to the side as if my name isn’t enough for her. So I wait for Darius to make the introduction she needs to hear. But it’s Georgia who comes to my rescue.
“Zuri, this is our paternal grandmother, Mrs. Catherine Darcy. Grandma, she lives across the street from us in Bushwick!”
“And you dragged her all the way down here?” she says with her mascaraed and eye-shadowed eyes wide open.
“Dragged?” I say out loud. “Actually . . .”
“She was visiting Howard, and I . . . ,” Darius starts to say.
“Howard?” Mrs. Darcy repeats.
“Yes. Howard,” I say. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to intrude. Where can I catch the nearest bus back to Union Station?”
“Zuri, no,” Darius says. “Grandma, I invited Zuri ’cause she lives right across the street from our new house. I’m going to go back tonight, so I can give her a ride. We ran into her at Busboys and Poets.”