“Oh, is that place still open?” Mrs. Darcy asks, and she just turns back around and walks into her big house with her heels clicking against the concrete.
If I thought the whole Darcy family was bougie, then this queen here is on a whole other level. I give Darius such a mean mug that he has to apologize with his whole body. He shrugs and gives me puppy eyes.
But again, Georgia is the first to actually say sorry. “Zuri, don’t let our grandmother scare you. Once you get to know her, she’s really nice.”
And with that, I’m walking in front of Darius toward the other, bigger Darcy mansion, through their fancy door, and into what looks like a straight-up museum. I feel underdressed with my cheap sneakers and worn jeans. But still, as much money as they have, I decide that this grandmother of theirs is still shady. Money can’t buy manners.
I don’t look around. I don’t admire all the fancy art on the walls. I don’t stare too long at the framed photos or the shiny wooden furniture. I don’t even sit down on the giant leather couch that wraps around the whole living room where a wide chandelier hangs from the middle of the high ceiling. I pull my book bag up over my shoulder and keep a straight face.
“So you just wanted to show off how rich your family is?” I ask Darius as he stands across the room messing with his phone. I ignore mine, ’cause I still have no idea what I’m going to tell my parents about not being on the bus by now.
He chuckles, puts his phone back into his pocket, and looks up at me. “There’s still time to get back to the bus station if you want. I don’t want to keep you here against your will, Zuri Benitez.”
“Zuri. Just Zuri, Darius Darcy.” I walk around the room, looking out the wide front window at all the green grass and tall trees in this place. I sigh, tap my foot, stare at my nails, anything to show Darius that I’m not impressed. Then I say, “I’m not some basic chick from the hood who thinks all that glitters is gold. I watch TV. I’ve seen fancy things before.”
“These are not fancy things,” he says. “These are . . . my grandparents’ things. And my family has worked hard for them. I didn’t bring you here to show off. I’m driving back to New York after dinner, and I wouldn’t mind some company. In fact, I wouldn’t mind your company.”
Before I can think of a comeback, his grandmother’s heels come clicking down the long hallway. “Darius, aren’t you going to help me set up?” she asks before she even makes it into the living room, or whatever this giant room is called.
“I was just keeping Zuri company.”
“Oh, you can wait here in the parlor, uh . . . how is it that you pronounce your name, darling?”
“Zuri. Zoo. Ri.”
She fixes her mouth as if she’s bitten into a lemon. “Oh, that’s nice. Darling, I’m gonna steal my grandson for a bit. The washroom is just down the hall.”
“I’m sorry. The what?”
“Washroom,” she says. Then she shakes her head. “The bathroom. Wash your hands before dinner, sweetheart.” She changes her voice with those last few words, as if she has a little bit of old-school hood hidden behind that hard face of hers.
Then she says, “Darius?” and walks away.
Darius motions for me to follow him out of the living room. I shake my head.
“Come on. She’s just being my grandmother, that’s all,” he says.
“Not all grandmothers are that cold,” I say.
“She’s not cold, she’s just . . . getting to know you, that’s all. You’re my guest. So it’s fine.”
And with that, I’m following him again, into a kitchen so white and bright, I have to blink a bunch of times just to be able to see straight. A long wooden table is next to the cabinets and shiny appliances. On it are white plates, wineglasses, white napkins, and sparkling silverware. Everything is set perfectly, looking like that farm-to-table restaurant Charlise works at. I almost want to take a picture of all this to send to her. She’d say all the wrong things—that I’ve hit the jackpot, that I need to get into this boy’s pockets real quick, that I need to do something about that Carrie girl.
But I just keep cool, even after I see this washroom with two sinks and monogrammed towels. I stay in there for as long as I can, just staring at stuff and peeking into the cabinets. I don’t even fix my messy fro in the mirror, splash some cool water on my face, or add any lip gloss. Until someone knocks.
“I don’t keep my makeup in there,” Georgia says when I finally open the door. “I could hook you up before you leave.”
“I’m good” is all I say before sitting down at the table. I stare at a big red lobster on my plate, trying to figure out how to dig into it to get to the meat.
As dinner begins, Mrs. Darcy goes on and on about her foundation, where she helps women and children from impoverished countries with something called micro grants. Darius has to help with another thing called a gala. Georgia talks about her internship with some senator, and then Mrs. Darcy asks me questions. I’d felt invisible before then.
“Bushwick? I’ve lived there my whole life. And I intend to go back after college. It’s the only home I know, and there’s nowhere else in the world I’d rather be,” I say, as cool as the cucumber salad on my plate.
“But Howard? It’s a long way from Bushwick. And you sound like you’ve got a good head on your shoulders. Why not . . . Harvard or Georgetown? Darius will be applying this fall,” Mrs. Darcy says. She’s seated at the end of the table with Georgia on one side of her and Darius next to her. I’m sitting next to Georgia, but the table is so long that there might as well be two people sitting in between us.
“Well, I’d like to go to Howard because of its cultural legacy as a historically black college. I’m going to learn everything I can, and then I’m going back to my hood to help my people out.” I leave the lobster alone and eat the linguine. I don’t care how clumsy I look rolling the pasta onto my fork, because Mrs. Darcy doesn’t seem to care about how disrespectful she’s being to me.
“I’m sorry. Did you say your hood? So it is a little—how do I say—underdeveloped? Darius, I told your father to wait a few years, at least until Georgia is in college, to buy a house over there. You don’t fit in. None of you do. Your parents did not raise you that way. I’m sure it’s a culture clash for you, Darius. But my ambitious son wants to be a real-estate pioneer. I can’t believe he’s putting my dear grandchildren through all of that.”
I pay attention to how she holds her fork with her pinky up, how she sips her wine, how she pats the side of her lips with the white napkin, and even how she looks down her nose at me.
I glance at Darius, who is shaking his head a little. He’s not looking up at me at all. He doesn’t say a word to come to my defense. And Georgia is too busy with her lobster to get a word in. So, like the girl from the hood that I am, I stick up for myself. “Bushwick is a very nice place to grow up, Mrs. Darcy. We have block parties, we hang out on stoops together, and we look out for each other. And Georgia? Me and my sisters will look out for you when you come. Just like I look out for Darius now.”
With that, he finally looks up, and I squint my eyes at him.
“Oh?” Mrs. Darcy says, and laughs a little while putting her fork down. “Is that why he brought you here? So you could look out for him?”
“Grandma!” Darius says.
Mrs. Darcy turns her whole body to Darius now and asks, “How did Carrie get home? I thought you two were hanging out in D.C. today. I was expecting her, and this is what you bring to my door instead?”
“Excuse you?” I say. “Mrs. Darcy, I didn’t ask to come here. I’m supposed to be on a bus heading home right now. But your grandson invited me. So I will gladly invite myself out. Now, can someone please get me a cab?”
I stand from my seat, grab my bag from the floor, and start to make my way out of that kitchen.
“Oh, you will not talk to me like that in my own home, young lady,” Mrs. Darcy says.
“And you will not to talk to me like that to my face.”