Dana L. Davis
Tiffany Sly Lives Here Now
Thump-thump, thump-thump: We’re going to crash for sure.
Thump-thump, thump-thump: You might make tomorrow’s news, after all.
I picture a beautiful newscaster. Hair freshly straightened and superpolished under studio lights. Makeup so perfectly applied she looks like a sculpture from a wax museum: “A sedan crashed in Los Angeles last night, killing a sixteen-year-old girl. Thankfully, the driver survived uninjured.” Then she’ll smile. “And in other news, the Powerball is up to a billion!”
“You excited?” Juan snaps me out of my morbid fantasy.
“A little.” He switches lanes again, rapidly accelerating to tailgate a new car. “I think I’m more nervous than anything.”
“Why you moving all the way to Simi Valley? It’s freakin’ hot out there, man.”
“I’m moving in with my...dad.”
“He a nice guy?”
I glance out the window, palm trees whizzing by in a dark blur as we speed along. I check the speedometer again. Eighty mph! “I dunno. I never met him. Hey, could we slow down?”
I see Juan’s big brown eyes expand in shock through the rearview mirror. “Never met your dad? You shittin’ me?”
“It seems like we’re going really fast.” I close my eyes and grip the handle on the car door. Not like I’m gonna open it and jump out or anything. I mostly do it in hopes that it will slow the insane rhythm of my heart so I won’t have a heart attack and die. But with my eyes closed and my hand clenched tightly around the door handle, the car feels like it’s moving faster than ever. “Omigosh, please slow down, sir. Please!” I’m screaming. I’m aware. The cat’s out of the bag. I am officially no longer a supercool black girl from Chicago who can play the shit out of the guitar slung over her shoulder. I am now, officially, a freak.
He slows down enough to make me exhale appreciatively. “There. I’m doing fifty-five. Better?”
I grab my head to dull the ache. Deep breath in. Hold it. Exhale.
“You okay, kid?”
I pop open an eye to see Juan’s concerned face through the rearview mirror. Actually, less concerned, more... WTF is wrong with this kid. “Sorry. I get scared in cars.”
“Man, that’s an understatement! But check it. Never had an accident if that makes you feel better.”
“Where’s your mom?”
Back home, everyone’s been supercourteous, avoiding the M-word like the plague. I contemplate making up a story. She’s an astronaut in cryo on a two-year mission to Saturn? A sniper on a covert operation for the US government?
Juan leans on the horn, then throws both hands in the air in frustration, leaving the steering wheel completely unmanned, causing the car to veer ever so slightly to the right. I grip the door handle once again. “Get off your damn phone!” Juan screams through a closed window. “Freakin’ smartphones gonna be the death of everybody.” He settles on a station and rap music blares through the speakers. “What’s your favorite kind of music?”
“I dunno.” Of course I know my favorite kind of music. But how can I think straight and form clear sentences when Los Angeles’s all-time-worst driver is at the wheel. I only wanna make it to Simi Valley. Alive. That’s my favorite kind of music—the kind you listen to when you’re not dead.
Juan places one hand back at six o’clock and I breathe a sigh of relief. “You like Rihanna? Or Katy Perry or somethin’ like that?”
Not really. “Sure, that’s fine.”
He settles on a new station. Sia’s sultry belt blares through the speakers and Juan bobs his head and sings along to the hit song “Chandelier.”
I ponder swinging from a chandelier. Has Sia tried it? Probably not. I’m pretty sure any attempt at swinging from an actual chandelier would result in a broken neck. A text comes in from Akeelah: All jokes aside. You’re my best friend and I know you’re gonna be okay.
I want to tell Keelah the truth. To explain to my best friend in the world the secret that’s ready to burst out of me and erupt like a spray of confetti from a confetti cannon. She’s my best friend. She wouldn’t judge me, or my mom. She’d understand. She’d comfort me. Know all the right things to say. The words to soothe my soul. I desperately want to confide in her, but I text a bunch of smiling poop emoticons instead.
He said the court order would be delivered on October 14. That’s seven days from now. I’ve got seven days to come clean to my new dad. Seven days to tell the truth. I think back to Xavior—to the moment he showed up at our door and shook up my already very shaken-up world.
I was pulling a sweatshirt over my head and getting ready to head over to Keelah’s house when there was a knock on our apartment door.
“Who is it?” I asked, skirting around the mounds of stacked moving boxes in our unit. Searching for my metro pass among the mess.
“Xavior Xavion,” the deep voice said from the other side of the door.
“Who’s that?” I peeked through the peephole and saw a kind-looking black man on the other side, clutching a bouquet of sunflowers. He looked sane enough, so I opened the door. “Yeah?” He was tall. Basketball-player tall. The kind of tall where you have to lower your head so you don’t bump it on entryways when you move from room to room.
He beamed. Like he was gazing upon a bright, shiny new BMW. “Hi, Tiffany. Do you remember me?”
“We met at your mom’s funeral?”
“Oh! That’s right. Nice to see you again.” I didn’t remember him. There were so many people I met on the worst day of my life. I glanced at the clock on the wall. I needed to hurry up if I wanted to catch the 12:20 bus.
“Would it be okay if I came in?” He handed me the flowers.
“Thank you.” I set them carefully on a counter by the door. “But my grams is at church and—”
“Say no more. I should come back when she’s here. In fact, that would be better. That way I can speak with both of you.”
I raised an eyebrow. “Speak with us about what?”
Xavior paused for a moment and rubbed his bald head. “Tiffany, I think I might be your father.”
My jaw dropped. Like literally. And I stood there for a few seconds with my mouth hanging open, staring at him, probably almost drooling on myself. “Are you crazy?” I finally managed to ask.
He laughed and said, “Probably,” in a way that was so similar to me it made my entire body tense. His skin was dark brown. Just like mine. In fact, he sort of reminded me of...me.
“Your mother and I. Well, we dated. I mean, we dated about sixteen years ago.”
“So? That doesn’t prove anything.”
“We dated.” He sighed. “It might not prove anything but it certainly begs the question. Wouldn’t you agree?”
I did agree. A fact that made me wanna slam the door in Xavior’s face and run around the apartment wailing at the top of my lungs like Harry Potter’s spoiled cousin, Dudley Dursley. I didn’t want to be a victim of some sort of cliché, baby-daddy, Maury Povich–esque DNA testing. My mom was better than this. I was better than this.
“Look, I can come back when Juanita’s home.”