I stop before I reach the dining room, where another wide chandelier hangs from the ceiling and a long wooden table is pushed aside and covered with snacks, boxes of pizza, and more alcohol.
Someone jumps in front of me—a dark-haired white boy with a huge crooked smile on his face. “Hey, girl! What can I get you?”
“Hey, girl?” I quickly say. “I’m not your girl. My name is Zuri, and I’m good. Thank you.”
The boy smiles even bigger, nods, looks me up and down, and says, “Spicy! I like you. You sure you don’t wanna get white-boy wasted?”
“Nah. Really. I’m good,” I say.
“Careful now,” another guy says as he walks up behind the first boy. “That’s Darius’s girl.”
“Darius! This you?” the boy calls out, just as Darius walks into the house with a line of girls trailing behind him.
Carrie quickly gets up from the couch, goes over to Darius, and hugs him as if he’s her man. She talks and laughs too loud and fixes his jacket. And Darius does nothing—nothing to at least show me that he’s not cool with it, and that he’s here with me.
Someone hands him a red cup, and he takes it. A crowd gathers, and they ask him about Bushwick. Is it safe? Is it loud? Are there gangs? Did he meet any drug dealers? I can tell they’re not all serious questions, but just by asking them, they’re making fun of my hood.
So I walk over to the group and say, “It’s safe, it’s loud, there are crews and dope boys. Anything else you wanna know about Bushwick?”
Darius chuckles and shakes his head. “Yeah, Bushwick is cool,” he says to his friends. “If I throw a party, will you guys come?”
One of the white boys around him yells out, “Hell, yeah!” Then he starts with “Bushwick! Bushwick! Bushwick!”
I roll my eyes hard at this boy, and I wish Darius would say something to shut him up. He’s not focused on me, clearly, even though this was supposed to be a date. I try to make eye contact with the black girl standing by the fireplace. She’s dancing by herself with her eyes closed and all.
I go over to her and tap her on the shoulder. “Hi” is all I say.
“Hi,” she says, still dancing.
“You know all these people?” I ask.
“Yeah. Pretty much.” She sounds like Georgia and Carrie. Her statements sound like questions.
“They all go to Easton?” I ask.
“Easton, Packer, Brooklyn Friends, Poly Prep, Tech, Beacon . . .”
“Oh. Those are private schools?”
“They’re just schools,” she says, and looks me up and down.
“Bushwick High,” I say.
“Cool,” she says with a genuine smile.
Her smile lets me know that she’s not too stuck-up. I can’t blame her for giving me these short answers, because she doesn’t know me like that. But we may know somebody in common. “Darius is really popular, huh?”
“Yeah,” she says, nodding really hard. “That’s an understatement.”
“Really? Like, how?”
“I mean, look at him.”
And I do. He’s not much taller than everyone else, but something about the way he stands and looks around at everybody makes him seem taller. He holds his head up high, nods during a conversation as if that person is saying the most important thing in the world, laughs on cue—throwing his head back and all—and folds his arms and puts his hand back into his pockets at just the right times. He doesn’t dance, even as the other kids around him dance. When another song comes on, he just bops his head to the bass. I don’t know if he sees me. And at this point, I don’t feel like I’m even in the room anymore.
I grab a red plastic cup from a nearby table, pour myself some cranberry juice, and start dancing alone like the girl near the fireplace. I let my body ride the bass, and I mouth the lyrics to myself. I sip and dance, and dance and sip, without a care in the world. But I can’t front for too long because Darius walks over. He starts dancing too. He’s actually dancing, and I have to stop for a minute to watch him raise his arms and sway to the beat just right. He mouths the lyrics too, and holds his head as if the bass has taken over him. Soon he has a crowd around him again, cheering him on. And I’m ignored, like I’m some side chick he brought with him to show off to his friends.
“Hey, hey, hey!” Darius says, off-key.
“Hey, hey, hey!” everyone sings. But it’s all wrong. It’s out of tune and off beat.
Nothing about this whole scenario seems legit. Something about the way Darius is moving, the way people are acting around him, and the way he’s smiling, lets me know that he’s being phony. And that’s not the Darius I want to be around—I want the real him, the one I know.
So I put down my cup and tug at his arm. “Sorry to interrupt the Darius Show, but can I talk to you for a second?” I walk out of the house and back down the front steps onto the sidewalk. He follows me with a tight look on his face, but he won’t come down the steps all the way. He sits on the stoop instead, still with the red cup in his hand, and with his shifting jaw. “What’s this about, Zuri?” he asks.
“No, what was that all about, Darius?” I ask.
He puts his hands up and shrugs. “We’re at a party. I’m partying. And you?”
“That’s what you call partying? You’re putting on a show in there, Darius!”
He chuckles. “What are you talking about?”
“I’m talking about this!” I try to mock him. I laugh like him and put my hands in my invisible pockets, and cock my head back, and rub my nonexistent hard jawline. I pretend to dance like I have no rhythm at all. “Hey, you guys! You should come see my big house in the ghetto,” I say with a fake deep voice.
“Well, you’re not a very good actor, ’cause that’s not how I look or sound.”
“Well, that’s how I see you.”
“Oh, okay, then. This must be how you want me to party!” He gets up from the stoop, claps his hands in front of my face, snaps his fingers over and over again, rolls his neck and his eyes with his hand on his hip, and says with a fake high voice, “Yeah, bitches and niggas! I’m here to parrrrtay!”
“What? Oh, no, you did not just go there!” I shout. “You’re gonna stand here and say the n-word in front of these white people’s houses, Darius? Typical. I was right about you. You’ve never heard those words come out my mouth like that. Especially in a place like this.” And I purposely snap my fingers, rolling my eyes and neck.
Darius shakes his head, just as Carrie peeks out from the front door. “Hey, Darius. Is everything okay?” she asks, without even looking at me.
“Yeah,” Darius says with way more bass in his voice than I’ve ever heard. And he’s still looking dead at me. “I’m good.”
I stare at Carrie, but she avoids my eyes. After a long second, she finally goes back inside.
“I wouldn’t say those words around my friends,” Darius says quietly, almost whispering.
“And I do. But not those kinda friends,” I say, but not as quietly.
“What are you saying, Zuri?”
“I’m saying that you were a little extra in there.”
“Extra? I’m just being myself!” He’s louder now, and his voice cracks.
“Well, that was not the you I’ve gotten to know these past few days.”
He chuckles. “The operative words here are ‘past few days.’ You don’t really know me, Zuri.”
“And you don’t really know me. ’Cause if you did, you wouldn’t bring me someplace like this.” And I start to walk away. I’m not sure where I’m going, but there’s a busy intersection at the end of the block.
“Zuri, wait,” Darius says. “What do you mean ‘especially in a place like this’? This is somebody’s house, not friggin’ . . . Lincoln Center. I brought you here for a reason.”
“And what’s that, Darius?” I turn around, cross my arms, and look him in the face, because I know this boy is about to come out the side of his neck with some nonsense. And I am not afraid to tell him about himself.