Dana L. Davis
Tiffany Sly Lives Here Now
He nods. “Sometimes you know things. The heart doesn’t lie. I knew. I know. Jehovah knows I know.”
I raise an eyebrow. Jehovah?
“Right away I hired a lawyer. Right away I started making arrangements for you to be here with us after your mom passed away. It was what she wanted. It was what I wanted, too. And so here we are.”
“Yes.” I look down at the floor. “Here we are.” Then I cover my face with my hands and burst into tears.
“Please don’t cry, Tiffany,” Anthony begs. He stands and pulls me toward the bed and we sit side by side.
I wipe my eyes and runny nose with the back of my hand. Feeling so snotty and gross next to my statuesque-looking possible father. Cheeks twitching like crazy, palms sweaty, throat aching from all the guttural sobs.
“When did you find out about me, Tiffany?”
“Right before Mom moved into hospice care. She told me then. She said when she died she wanted me to live with you.”
“But before that. What did she tell you about your father?”
“Artificial insemination. She said she wanted a child and that’s how I was conceived. All my life that’s what I’ve thought.”
He lowers his head into his hand, rubbing his temples, and I take a quick moment to study his hair again. That soft, silky mixed-people hair. Not like my kinky hair, not even close. He looks up and his bright blue eyes stare into my dark brown ones. Uggh. We don’t look anything alike.
“We have to find a way to move on from here.” Anthony places a hand on my knee and I instinctively jerk away. He looks stunned. “Tiffany, I apologize if that made you uncomfortable.”
“I’m nervous,” I admit, feeling terribly guilty for shutting down his first attempt at affection. “I’m really sorry.”
“Would it make you feel more comfortable if Margaret were here with us? She wanted to give us privacy but I can have her come sit here while we talk.”
“No, no. I’m not scared of you or anything like that. I’m just...” Afraid you’re not my real dad. That’s how I’d like to end that sentence.
“I’m actually from Chicago, you know,” he says with a hint of embarrassment in his voice. Like being from Chicago is equivalent to being from Mordor. “Born and raised in Englewood. We moved to California when I was thirteen.”
I give him a curious look. Englewood has to be one of the worst neighborhoods in Chicago. Anthony doesn’t strike me as the Englewood type.
“Do you have any questions for me?” he asks. “Anything at all.”
Only about a thousand. I decide to start with one of the dumbest questions I can think of. “How come you’re so light-skinned? Are you mixed with something?”
“My mother is white, Irish American. Yes. And your grandfather, my father, is African American.”
“Omigosh. Are you serious?” I cover my face with my hands again, a fresh eruption of tears wetting my face. “I’m sorry I’m crying. So, so sorry.”
“Stop apologizing, Tiffany. This must be terribly confusing for you.”
He’s right. This is terribly confusing. Oh, why did I come here? Why didn’t I just take the stupid DNA test with Xavior? What am I supposed to do now? “What...do you want me to call you?”
“You can call me Anthony if that feels comfortable. I’d prefer you to call me Dad. I’d really like that.” He reaches out and touches my hair. “Are these extensions?”
I look up. My vision blurry through my tears. “Um, yes.”
“If you’re going to live here with us, Tiffany, then I will treat you like I treat my other daughters. Same rules. You understand?”
My heart nearly stops, but I nod in understanding.
“I don’t allow extensions. You’ll have to take those out. Will you be able to have that done before school on Monday?”
“But—” I got my extensions fresh back in Chicago two days before I left. They took seven hours to put in and Grams paid nearly three hundred dollars. Plus, I can’t wear my real hair. Not yet, anyway. It’s just starting to grow back. It was about two months after Mom got her diagnosis when I got my own special diagnosis.
“Alopecia,” my longtime pediatrician, Dr. Kerstein, explained to my mom with me sobbing by her side. Beanie pulled almost to my eyes to cover all the bald patches on my head. I was rocking the sideways comb-over like the middle-aged white men do when they start to go bald. But underneath the sideways swoop of hair I looked like I had donated my head to a science experiment.
“Alopecia?” my mom replied in horror. “How in the world she get something like that?”
“Stress,” Dr. Kerstein replied sympathetically. “My instinct says it’s psychosomatic. Understandable, considering.”
After that, Mom made some changes at home. She no longer talked about her condition or all the chemo she had to endure that was making her so sick. In fact, no one was even allowed to speak the word cancer. There was a designated “crying” room because tears were no longer permitted in the main areas of the apartment. No sad movies or slow music or even regular TV. Mom mostly kept the TV on Disney Junior. Grams and I watched so many episodes of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse that we started to have existential debates about Mickey and his friends. Did Mickey age? Did his mouse parents already die? Or were they all eternal?
“Tiffany?” Anthony repeated. “Do you think you can have those braids out before school on Monday? You can’t go to school like that.”
“Could you maybe make an exception for me?” I plead. “My hair—”
“Absolutely no exceptions. I’m sorry. Rules are rules.”
Thump-thump, thump-thump: But he’s not even your real dad!
Thump-thump, thump-thump: And you’re gonna look like a troll doll without braids!
“I have alopecia,” I whisper. As if whispering can somehow cover my shame. “You know what that is?”
“Tiffany, I’m a doctor.”
“I know. Right. So you understand why I can’t take them out?”
“Perhaps I’m not communicating clearly. I don’t allow extensions. You must take them out.”
“That seems unreasonable. What about the bald spots on my head? The braids are placed strategically to cover them up. It’s no one’s business that I’m sick.”
“Alopecia’s not a terminal illness, Tiffany. We’ll get you on a vitamin therapy and we can schedule an appointment with the girls’ beautician. She’ll come up with a style you’re comfortable with.”
“You mean a style you’re comfortable with? I’m already comfortable.” I stand and move toward my new dresser. Staring blankly at the collection of music “gifted” to me.
“Look, I’ll take them out tomorrow.”
“Good. Do you have a phone?”
“It’s in the closet.” I wipe my nose again, my back still turned to Anthony. “Do you want me to get it?”
“You can give it to me tomorrow after you’ve programmed your numbers into your new phone and I’ll send the old one back to your grandma.”