Page 33 of Pride

I grab the paper bag with Madrina’s bisque and quickly leave that place, walking really fast down Knickerbocker Avenue and back to my building. As my heart races, I think that maybe I read the Darcys wrong. Maybe the Darcy mom has a bad case of resting bitch face. Maybe they were just in an argument and they went to that restaurant to patch things up. But then again, first impressions are everything. Madrina says to trust my gut. My gut told me that the Darcys were all conceited, and their sons thought that they were better than us. But I kissed one of them. And he apologized to me. Sort of.

As I’m walking back to my building, I get a text from Darius.

Hey, he types again.

I take a breath.

Hey, I respond.

Twenty-Two

Him: Zuri, I’m sorry about everything.

Me: . . .

Him: Sorry about Warren too. I know you liked him.

Me: Don’t apologize for Warren. He’s an asshole. You proved your point.

Him: I wasn’t trying to prove anything.

Me: . . .

Him: You and him still a thing?

Me: We’re nothing. You did see me curse him out, didn’t you?

Him: I couldn’t miss it. It was epic.

Me: . . .

Him: Can we have a do-over?

Me: . . .

Him: Please, Zuri Luz Benitez. ZZ.

Me: . . .

Him: ???

Me: I’ll give you another chance. But you best step up your game.

Him: ???

Madrina left her apartment door unlocked for me.

“Madrina!” I call out as I’m staring at Darius’s texts. “I got your soup! And it’s bisque, not el bisqué. It’s a fancy word for soup.”

She doesn’t say anything and I look up from my phone and towards her bedroom. “Madrina?”

“I heard you, mi amor,” she says with an unusually raspy voice. “Just put it down, okay? Gracias, mija.”

She coughs a couple of times as I start to reply to Darius’s last text. But I don’t send anything. I walk out of Madrina’s apartment with my head in a shimmery pink fog. I read Darius’s texts over and over again as I climb the steps, almost tripping.

Twenty-Three

AGAIN, I’M LYING to my parents and my sisters about being with a boy. I can’t believe I’ve become that girl.

Charlise is covering for me. We’re supposed to be going to the movies. My sisters side-eye me because they know I don’t like movies. I explain that it’s Charlise’s last summer before college and they buy it. They think I’m going to meet boys at the theater, and I don’t argue with them. It’s better than letting them know that I’m meeting the boy across the street who I’m supposed to hate right now.

I feel bad about not telling Janae, though.

I told Darius to meet me at the L train stop and to leave home before me. There’s no way he can come pick me up at my door.

He texts me that he’s almost at Wyckoff Avenue. I’m two blocks behind him, and I speed up a bit. Even though I’ve agreed to hang out with him, I’m not really sure what I’m getting into. A ride home from D.C. was one thing, but Darius Darcy taking me out on a date is another.

I don’t see him when I get to the train station. He hasn’t texted his exact location. So I look around, and two minutes go by. I’m a little conscious of what I’m wearing—a loose-fitting sundress and sneakers. I tried to be cute, but not too cute, so he doesn’t think that I’m trying too hard. My stomach stirs a little bit, thinking that he might be playing me or has stood me up, or something. A small part of me still doesn’t trust him.

Suddenly I feel someone’s presence behind me, so I quickly elbow them in the belly. I turn around to see Darius doubled over, holding his stomach.

“You can’t be rolling up on nobody like that on the subway!” I say.

“Tell him, sis!” someone nearby calls out.

And I laugh.

“I was trying to surprise you,” Darius says in a strained voice.

“Nope. Not here. And not with me. This isn’t Park Slope,” I say.

And he laughs. His laugh softens me a little bit. And I return his hug. He wraps both his arms around my upper body while I wrap mine around his waist. His body is strong and I almost stay there for a second too long, but then I remember where I am.

I’m still in my hood, and somebody might see us and tell my parents.

On the train, the first thing I say is “This isn’t a date.” I said this to Warren too.

“I know,” he says, shrugging. “You can call it whatever you want. Bottom line is that we’re doing this, whatever this is.”

There’s not much I can say to that. So I just nod. “You’re saying all the right things. Did you practice or something?”

He laughs. “Or something. Let’s just say I have an idea of what pisses you off.”

“So you’re trying to avoid those things?”

“Basically.”

“That’s not very authentic.”

“Well, I’m just trying to be on my best behavior and be a gentleman.”

“There you go with those good manners of yours,” I say. The train inches toward Morgan Avenue, and I notice how the people who started getting on at the last few stops look different than the people who were on this train when we got on.

“What’s wrong?” Darius asks. He slides away from me a little bit and turns his body toward me, as if I’m about to give him the most interesting answer ever.

I see him now. For the first time since knowing him, I see him. He still dresses as if he’s off to a teaching job or something. But his jawline is not as tight. And his eyes are smiling. He looks as if he sees me too. So I open up to him. “I’ve been taking this train my whole life. The train is the same. The stops are the same. But the people are different.”

He looks around. “I know what you mean.”

“Do you really, though?”

“Yes,” he says, and moves closer to me again. “But I don’t want to talk about that now, because I’d rather hear about the last book you read.”

“If I tell, then we’ll have to talk about that,” I say.

He smiles. “Okay. What’s your favorite food?”

Again, this is something that no one has ever asked me. It’s a simple question. So I let everything about this moment be simple. And he hangs on to my every word.

The rest of the afternoon goes by like a warm summer breeze. We get off at Bedford Avenue on the L train, and even though I rep Brooklyn all day, every day, I still never have been to Williamsburg. The streets here are narrow and filled with artsy white people with tattoos, piercings, thick beards, and colorful hair. There’s nothing but little shops and restaurants on this strip of Bedford Avenue. I eat gourmet pizza with him. I sip bubble tea and have frozen yogurt. He insists on paying, even though this is not a date. I walk into my very first vintage store, like the ones Janae described up near her college in Syracuse.

“You want it? I can buy it for you,” Darius says as I hold a sweatshirt up to my body.

“I know you can buy me anything I want. The question is, do I want you to buy me anything?” I say, putting the sweatshirt back on the rack.

I’m about to move to another rack when I feel Darius tug at my dress. I stop as he gently pulls me toward him. He takes both my hands in his hands. I step closer to him until our bodies touch. Out of the corner of my eye, I spot our reflection on a fitting-room mirror. I turn to see just how perfect we look together. He’s way more put together than I am. His clothes are newer, more expensive. I look cute, but still a little hood, a little less polished. He watches us too. And he slips his arms around my waist while still looking at us. I lean in to his chest.

“Perfect,” he whispers.

His breath reaches the back of my neck, and my whole body tingles. So I face him again and reach up to kiss him. We kiss right there in the middle of the vintage store, in front of a fitting-room mirror, for all these hipsters to see.

Someone says, “Awww!”

Still, we don’t stop. And I melt. Darius hugs me so tight, picking me up off my feet, it feels as if he’s inhaling me. And I’m exhaling him.

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