Dana L. Davis
Tiffany Sly Lives Here Now
“It would be too long. I had to send a driver,” he explains. “I feel terrible.”
“No, no. It’s okay. Not a big deal.” I try to focus on happy thoughts like my therapist told me to do when disappointment arises.
Popsicles dipped in sugar.
“This shouldn’t take long, Tiffany. I can’t wait to see you.”
“Me, too...” I pause. Why can’t I say it yet? Dad. The word sounds so foreign rolling off my tongue, like an exotic language I’ve learned but haven’t earned the right to speak yet. “I can’t wait.”
“It’s a long drive to Simi Valley from LAX. I’ll definitely make it home before you get there.”
“It’s long?” I swallow. “How long?”
“I’d say about an hour at least. Depending on traffic, maybe two.”
“Tiffany, is that okay? Because if it’s not I can—”
“No, it’s fine,” I lie. “Not a problem at all.”
“Great. See you soon.”
I stuff my cell into the back pocket of my jeans and take a frustrated step off the escalator, moving toward the man who holds my name on a strip of paper. He’s short and round with jet-black hair and dark eyes.
I nod and exhale. He looks safe-ish.
“Wow,” he declares, looking up at me since I’m kinda towering over him. “How tall are you, anyway?”
“That’s pretty tall. Or maybe I’m just pretty short.” He cracks up at his own joke. “Name’s Juan. You got more luggage?”
“Nope. This is it.”
“Cool. You hungry? Wanna stop and get a burger or somethin’?”
“How ’bout some In-N-Out?”
His face lights up like a cherub. “What’s In-N-Out?” He lifts my carry-on like it weighs half a pound. “C’mon, kid. Your life will never be the same after today. Want me to take the guitar, too? I don’t mind.”
I run my fingertips over one of the Rolling Stones stickers displayed on the plastic case and pull protectively at the strap. “Nah. I got it.”
He nods. “Follow me.”
* * *
I stuff the last handful of greasy, salt-sprinkled fries into my mouth, then slowly sip from a straw, letting the icy-cold vanilla shake linger on my tongue for a bit, afraid to swallow for fear of officially ending my first In-N-Out experience.
“How you doing back there?” Juan asks as he weaves through heavy Los Angeles traffic.
“Hmm?” I say sleepily, deep in an In-N-Out-induced state of euphoria.
Juan laughs. “See? Told ya. Life changed forever.”
My phone chimes. A text from my best friend, Akeelah, says: You is kind. You is smart. And you is important.
I text back: And you is a dork.
“You from Chicago, kid?” Juan asks.
Juan whistles. “Chi-Town, eh? How long you stayin’?”
I shrug. “Forever, I hope.”
Another text from Keelah: I Googled your new school. It’s less than 1% African American. Dooooood. WTF does that even mean? What if you’re the only black girl there? #weaksauce #yournewschoolsucks.
I text back: I’m not black. I’m brown, you moron.
“I lived in LA my whole life and ain’t no place better,” Juan testifies, swerving onto an overpass. Within a moment we’re on the freeway, speeding across pavement so fast the foreboding returns.
Thump-thump, thump-thump: This guy is not a good driver.
Thump-thump, thump-thump: You’d be better off in a tin can with wings.
I grip the side of the car door as another text from Keelah comes through: Brown’s boring. You’re a mocha Frappuccino.
Me: More like a shot of espresso.
Akeelah: LOL. Then I’m a double shot!
“You ever been to Simi Valley before?”
“No.” I look up and notice Juan’s hands are not at ten and two like universally suggested. More like one hand at six o’clock, while the other hand sort of hovers in midair, fiddling with buttons on the dash. He’s also not a safe distance away from the car in front of him. I check out the speedometer. Seventy-five miles per hour and tailgating. Dread crawls up my spine. What if the car in front of him slams on the brakes?