“Grandma!” Darius says through clenched teeth. And that’s all he says.
But I don’t pay him any mind. I keep walking toward the living room, even as he comes chasing after me.
“I’m sorry, Zuri,” he says. “Let me grab my things.”
I open the front door and wait outside. I keep my arms crossed as my breaths get shorter, my heart races, and I feel like running back in there to curse that woman out one last time.
Georgia comes outside, and I look away from her.
“I’m sorry about that, Zuri.”
“You’re cool, Georgia, but your family is bougie as hell,” I say.
“Please don’t judge my family like that,” another voice says. I turn toward the doorway to see Darius holding a small leather suitcase. “You wouldn’t want me to call your whole family ghetto, now would you?”
Georgia’s mouth falls open. Darius and I just stare at each other for a long second until his grandmother comes prancing to the door. That’s my cue to keep walking away from that house.
“Darius, honey? It’s getting dark. You should stay over and go home in the morning.”
“I have to take Zuri home,” he says.
“Well, you can take her back to Howard,” she continues.
“I’ll call you when I’m on the road, Grandma.”
Darius comes around to the passenger side of the car to open the door for me.
“This whole thing was a mistake,” I say as Darius gets into the car. “Please take me back to the bus station. And listen to your grandmother. You shouldn’t drive all the way back to New York in the dark.”
“I’ve done it before. And you shouldn’t be on the bus by yourself.”
“I’ll be fine.”
That’s when I text my parents and finally tell them that I’ll be catching a later bus home. Their responses are going to come flying through my phone, so I tuck it into my bag. I don’t want to have to explain one more thing to them right now.
Darius starts the car as his grandmother stands in front of her house with her arms crossed. Georgia is waving to me frantically. I wave back.
“Your sister is cute,” I say, just to let him know that there’s at least one person in his family I like.
“Yeah, a little too cute and a little too naive,” Darius says. He backs out of the driveway and has to put his arm around my seat and turn his body toward me to do so.
He leans in a little bit too much, and part of me thinks it’s on purpose. When he’s out of the driveway, he says, “Oh, sorry.” Then he sighs as he drives away from his grandmother’s house. “Thank you,” he says.
“For what?” I say.
“For calling out my grandmother on her bullshit.”
“I didn’t mean to disrespect her, it’s just that . . .”
“I know. You held your own.”
I don’t say anything to that. I just sit back in my seat, letting this strange day wrap around me like new clothes. It’s familiar, but different, and makes me feel brand-new.
“WHAT DO YOU like to listen to?” Darius finally asks after ten minutes of driving in silence down a highway. “You said you’d deejay, remember?”
“Trap,” I lie. “Hood shit. Ratchet lyrics with the loudest bass.”
“Okay,” he says. “You’ll have to be a little more specific.”
“See? You should already know what I’m talking about when I say trap music. It should already be on your playlist. Now, what do you like to listen to?” I ask.
“Why don’t you take a guess, since you already know me so well and what I should be listening to?”
“No. I don’t like to play mind games.”
“Really? You could’ve fooled me.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“According to you, I should be doing all these things that’ll make me more . . . what? Black? Did you write a manual or something?”
“Yes, I did. It’s called Boys in the Hood.”
“Ha. Ha. Very funny, Ms. Benitez.”
“Ain’t nobody laughing, Mr. Darcy. So, seriously. You don’t got no trap music?” I ask, trying to figure out the buttons on his dashboard.
“You mean, do I have any trap music?” He says this slowly, enunciating every word.
“Hold up. Are you correcting me?”
I don’t have any words for him. I just stare at the side of his face, and if he wasn’t driving at sixty-five miles per hour down a highway right now, I’d mush him so hard, it would make him rethink his whole life.
But it’s too quiet, so I reach for the radio at the same time he does, and our hands touch. I start to pull back, but he holds my hand for a moment as he stares out at the road. I slowly pull away.
“I need you to drive with both hands, Darius,” I say as I notice the sign for Baltimore. “Wait, weren’t you supposed to take me back to D.C.?”
He sighs. “Sorry. I wasn’t thinking. I was so ready to head back to Brooklyn that I just hopped on ninety-five. We can go back, or you can catch a bus in Silver Spring. We’re not too far from there.”
I laugh a little. “You’re trying to kidnap me?”
He doesn’t laugh. “I would never do something like that.” He’s dead serious.
“Dang. Relax, Darius. I’m just joking. I can’t wait to get back to Brooklyn either. So I’ll ride with you.” I want to take those last few words back, in case he reads too deep into them. But he doesn’t respond.
I text my parents that there was a change of plans, that Darius is giving me a ride home. Mama doesn’t even ask how or why or what. She just texts back a million heart emojis. I roll my eyes and shove my phone to the bottom of my bag. After a long, quiet minute, Darius says quietly, “You’re probably hungry, since you barely ate any dinner. We can stop somewhere to get something to eat.”
My first instinct is to say no. But I don’t. My stomach twists. “Sure,” I say.
I let the quiet swell between us for a moment. He never puts on any music and doesn’t say another word. Neither do I. But the time is moving slowly, even though the car is zooming past miles and miles of trees and road. I sink into my leather seat and watch Darius because he can’t watch me. He’s more comfortable driving a car than I expected, using his turn signal to switch lanes and keeping his hands firmly on the steering wheel. Everything about him looks . . . confident. He knows who is. He knows this road. He knows this world. His skin looks extra smooth in the dim light of the setting sun. His face and whole body are relaxed. So I let my guard down a little bit. He glances at me for a quick second and shoots me a smile. This time, I don’t look away. I keep watching him. Even though there’s still some weird vibes between us, I feel safe.
Darius’s ringing phone breaks the silence.
“Hey, Mom,” he says as if he’s talking to one of his friends.
“Darius?” his mother’s voice is like music coming through the car’s speakers. She almost sings. “Are you with that young lady from across the street?”
If my stomach was twisting before, then now it’s a straight-up tornado.
“Well, her parents came to our door saying that she was with you. I assured them that you’ve made this trip several times and that she’s in good hands. And I see you’re on your way back to New York. Drive safe, honey!”
She hangs up before Darius explains anything. And I exhale a bit knowing that his parents are tracking his phone. He takes an exit off the highway, and I tense up because he’s going a little too fast when he makes a sharp turn onto another road.
I dig out my phone and see that I have a new text from Warren and a ton from my sisters. I have no idea what to say to any of them right now. How could I possibly explain to Warren that I’m in the car with Darius?
We pull into the parking lot, and the lights of the rest stop flicker on in the gathering darkness. I open the door and get out of the car. Crickets chirp and the air is gentle. The hum of cars driving past is almost comforting. I know that we’re near the highway, but this almost feels like the countryside or something, like I’ve been transported to a place I’ve only seen in movies.