Dana L. Davis
Tiffany Sly Lives Here Now
“You should have a plan B,” London’s quick to reply. “It’s tough to make it in artistic career fields, huh, Dad?”
Anthony nods in agreement. “Maybe you can minor in music, Tiffany. Keep it as a hobby. You’re good, but lots of people can play the guitar and write music. Best to choose academic career paths. Something stable so you can have a chance at a good life.”
It’s as if a giant vacuum dipped out of the sky and sucked up all the beauty of the night and then a separate giant leaf blower dipped out of the sky and blew crap in my eyes. Music—a hobby? Music is my passion. It’s my connection to the world.
“Play us a song you wrote!” Nevaeh cries. “Please, Tiffany. Play the mattress jingle!”
“No, no. It’s getting late,” Anthony declares. “Time for you girls to go to bed.”
“But, Dad,” Heaven whines. “It’s Saturday. Can we please hear a song Tiffany wrote?”
“Church in the morning,” he replies. “Nothing’s changed. You girls know the drill. We leave at seven thirty to make Bible study.”
Church? Bible study? I grimace.
“Does Tiffany have to go?” London asks. “We have Witnessing tomorrow. She can’t do that. She’s not a part of our church.”
“But she will be,” Anthony states without even looking in my direction.
“What do you mean I will be? I’m not a Jehovah’s Witness.” I don’t care who I offend. If I was going to pretend to be religious again, I’d pretend to be Christian. Like my mom was. No way I’m joining up with him and all the Witnesses.
Margaret looks down uneasily while the girls all turn to Anthony to see what his response will be. Rather than reply he says, “It’ll be a long day, Tiffany. Church is in Malibu. We usually get home around five.”
“What about my braids? That won’t give me enough time to take them out. It’s gonna take me hours and hours. And I have to wash my hair and try to fix it. Or something.”
“You’re right.” He takes a moment, thinking. “Getting those braids out is a top priority. We can introduce you to the congregation next Sunday.”
“But that means Tiffany will be here all by herself, Dad,” Heaven points out. “We can’t leave her alone. That would suck.”
“Heaven, please. I know Pumpkin’s asleep, but we have to watch our words.”
“Sorry, Mom,” Heaven replies respectfully.
“Tiffany’s sixteen.” Anthony gives the same dismissive wave he gave to send a screaming Pumpkin off to bed early and hungry. “She can stay here alone. Now up. Let’s help Mom clear the table and clean so we can all get some sleep.”
“What does your hair look like, anyway? Your real hair?” London asks, holding back as everyone returns to the table while I put Little Buddy away in his case.
A little like Stewie. A little like Donald Trump. A little like a nightmare. “I dunno. Regular, I guess.”
“Can’t wait to see it.” London groans. “I hate my hair. I wish it was supercurly like Heaven and Nevaeh’s. It’s so boring the way it is.”
I look at her wavy black hair hanging almost to her waist. The kind of hair I used to close my eyes and pray for when I was a little kid and thought praying to an invisible man actually produced results. Mixed-girl hair. Soft and silky and good to the root.
Dear God, I’d pray. Please let me have pretty hair. Please make my hair long and nice. When I open my eyes, okay, God? Gonna count to three. I’ll have nice hair, right, God? Please, God. Please. But I’d open my eyes and my hair would still be a nappy mess.
“Your hair’s perfect,” I admit with a twinge of jealousy.
London shrugs as if yes, maybe it is, but also she couldn’t care less. Like amazing hair is about as normal to her as a toe.
“Too bad about church tomorrow. I always learn something new at church. Like a supervaluable life lesson. Sorry you can’t go.”
“It’s okay.” Because I will never be a Jehovah’s Witness, anyway. “I’ll be here when you get back.”
“Yeah.” She sighs. “I guess you will.”
A year ago, Akeelah and I won tickets in a radio contest to a Zayn Malik concert. Neither one of us actually listens to Zayn, couldn’t name a song if we wanted to. But rather than sell the coveted seats, we decided to go. We’d planned to make fun of all the screaming ten-year-olds at Chicago’s United Center Stadium and take pictures of the ones sobbing uncontrollably. We were also going to start an Instagram page to upload the photos and call it @ZaynMalik_LostConsciousness. But here’s what ended up happening instead—some older girls sitting next to us smuggled in water bottles filled with vodka and Keelah and I got crazy, stupid drunk with them. The kind of drunk where your speech is slurred and you can’t walk straight. And then you get sick and vomit. A lot.
Not only was I grounded for weeks when Mom picked us up and watched us clumsily stumbling to the car, I discovered something much worse than throwing up all night hovered over a toilet. The day after throwing up all night hovered over a toilet. My hangover was so bad Mom had to rush me to Urgent Care for dehydration. But she wasn’t angry. Instead, she calmly explained (while I was clutching my stomach in the fetal position) that life has a special way of giving you exactly what you’ve earned.
But if Mom was right and life gives you what you earn, what on earth did I do to earn this? Because here I am alone, in a big new, cold house that is maybe not even mine, sitting on a towel on the hard floor, surrounded by piles of extension hair. Thirty braids taken down and about one hundred left to go.
Dear Life, please help me earn something better.
“Keelah? Did you hang up?”
“I’m still here. Googling.”
“What’d you find out?”
“Dude. Jehovah’s Witnesses believe some weird stuff.”
“Well, for starters, they believe only people God approves of get eternal life.”
“That leaves you out.”
“Please. You’ll be burning in hell right along with me.”
“Ahh, yes, the fiery pits of hell. Just down the road from Mount Doom.”
“Also, Christ is Michael the Archangel.”
I finish unraveling a new braid and toss it onto the floor with the rest. “What’s that mean?”
“Like I know? Tiff, why didn’t you Google your new dad before you flew a billion miles away to live with him?”
“I wanted to be surprised.”
“Well, surprise. You’ve just joined a cult.”
“It’s not a cult! Besides, I’m not joining their church.” I unravel another braid. “Hey. Can you Google Xavior Xavion for me?”
“Who is that? The cult leader? I saw a documentary once about a crazy man who made all his cult members drink poisoned Kool-Aid. Don’t drink any Kool-Aid at their church.”
“Keelah.” I toss the unraveled braid onto the floor. “Just see if he has a Facebook page. Xavior Xavion.”