"Look, guys," I said to both of them, "we've all had a rough day. Let's just cut each other some slack, okay? Tammy, don't you think wearing black-face was a bit provocative? Maybe you should say you're sorry."
"Oh, hell no! You tell Aunt Jemima she can apologize to you first, for dressin' up like a girl and playin' you like a juke-box."
She turned to hir and doubled up her fist.
"And if you don't, and I mean right now, I will kick your black-ass so hard down this mother-fuckin' street, they won't ever have to tar it again; and don't you think that me bein' a little-bitty girl is gonna make one scrap o' difference."
"Knock it off, Congo monsters," the guy behind the counter called out, "or I'll ship you back to Africa, where you belong."
"Say what," Tammy yelled at him. "I'll kick your ass too, you bird-chested, stick-legged, Brill-cream-wearing, pasty-assed, moon-pie-faced Honky!"
He walked over to the table, carrying a heavy rolling pin and gave us a thorough assessment. He looked right at Topher.
"I've had enough outta you, Nigra," he said, poking hit in the chest. "Now are you gonna calm it down or do I have to call the cops?"
"We were just going," Topher said, and started to get up.
"No, wait," Tammy confronted him. She was on her feet now.
"What's your problem, heifer? I came over here to see if this hoodlum was bothering y'all, but I can see she's already been a bad influence."
"Are you talking to her, or me?"
"You see any other Coloreds in here?"
"You get that damn thing out her FACE," Tammy launched herself at the man, who stood stunned for a brief second. It was a second too long.
She stiff-armed the rolling pin and it bounced off the table and back flew over his left shoulder. She upset the table while he was still flat-footed, overturning it on his foot, and drove it forward, knocking him flat on his ass.
She was halfway to the door before we realized what happened. The waiter blinked; he was dripping with Coke and ketchup and had fries in his hair.
Topher passed around Tammy and was out the door. I regained my composure, just as the other customers started crowding around and made a dash out the door.
"Hey you three," somebody called from inside. "Stop!"
Topher was already on his bike, but he was in a quandry. I heard glass breaking behind me and a girl screamed.
"Take Tammy," I yelled at him. "I can run faster than her, I'll be fine."
But Tammy had other ideas.
"Oh no you don't Thumbelina," she said, grabbing me around the waist, and lifted bodily me onto the motorcycle. "Get her outta here, Tophe; I'll meet you at her house."
"What about you," hit hollered over the revving engine.
Two big guys were coming through the door.
"I'll be fine," she yelled, snatching up a wastebasket in a wrought-iron frame. She threw it at the door. The shattering glass stopped them in their tracks and she turned back to us.
"Go," she gasped and started sprinting. Before we could even get moving she was off; by the time we hit end of the block she was long gone.
I don't think I took a breath until we found Tammy, about six blocks from my house.
"Are you okay," I asked her as we pulled up beside her.
"Yeah, I'm fine."
"Are you really?"
It was Topher. T&T had so far proven to be as explosive as their namesake.
I was glad he was willing to make the effort.
She didn't say anything.
"Come on girl." I tried to encourage her. She looked really down, like she was all worn out.
"I hate white people," she spat.
"Dani's white," Topher observed. I noticed he didn't say she was too.
"No, she's a Rarebit. Y'all're a race unto yourselves. I don't even know what the fuck you are anymore."
"Come on," Topher urged her gently, "let me give you a ride home."
"What the hell is wrong with people," she bellowed into the trees. A porch light switched on in the distance.
I thought she was talking about all people, or normal people, but she turned to us.
"What is wrong with you two?"
Topher stopped the bike and set the kickstand.
"You still want to fight?" He got off and walked over to her. "What will that prove?"
He was yelling now too.
"No," she answered in a normal voice, "but I wish to God you did."
"Why," he asked, still hopping mad but still willing to talk. "What do you have against me?"
"Nothing," she spat back visciously. "I just wish you two would stick up for yourselves. What are you gonna do without me to fight your battles?"
"Enjoy the peace," Topher answered, and I thought he blew it, but he was serious.
"You can't just run away, you know. They will never back down if you don't back them down."
"Who are They?" Topher was following her, and it looked like he was picking a fight. Tammy wasn't exactly backing off.
"Everybody. Look you two, I know you're not boys or girls, and maybe it's not fair for the rest of us to tell you how you have to live or behave, but that doesn't mean you have no responsibility as humans. You have to slap those pipsqueeks down when they rear they ugly heads, otherwise, it gets just like the Deep South."
"It doesn't help."
"It helps me. Then I don't have to watch out for everybody who can't watch out for themselves. I'm tired, and I don't want to do it anymore."
"I'm sorry, Tammy. But I'm a pacificist. I don't believe in violence."
"It don't matter, violence believes in you. What're you gonna do when it comes for you?"
"Try not to be there."
"You are such a pussy!"
"That's supposed to be an insult?" He laughed derisively. "You mean I am the source of all life, tough and sensitive, and can stretch to several times my normal size to accommodate little pricks and ungrateful intruders?"
She laughed and the tension fell away like glass from a broken mirror; it was still a mess, but if you looked, you could see little bits of yourself in the pieces.
I rushed over to them and caught them up on a three-way hug.
"I love you guys," I whispered into the dead space between us. "You know that, right?"
"Yes," answered Tammy.
Topher didn't say anything for a while. When he did, it wasn't what I'd expected, or wished.
"I'm sorry, Dani; I should have told you it was me. I just wanted to see how long it would take you to figure out who it was. I know it was mean, but I didn't mean it that way."
"That's okay, Topher. I understand. Nobody knows how to treat us, not even ourselves."
"You could try the Golden Rule," Tammy suggested.
"No, Tammy," Topher explained, "that wouldn't work. You want to be treated like a girl, but Bobbi wants to be treated like a boy. Neither of those ways is what I want. And what about Dani? Who knows what Dani wants? You need to treat people like they want to be treated."
"How do you know what I want," I asked.
"I don't," he said. "That's my point. You never know till you ask. What do you want, Dani?"
That was sure nice to hear, but it was late.
"Right now, I want to go home. But thank you for asking, and I hope you ask me again, regularly. But it's 2:30, and we are all exhausted. I got Gina home hours ago, and now it's time for me to go home.
"You should get going, if you're gonna get her home before her mom starts to worry. I'm only a few blocks from home. I'll be safe.
"After today, God help the person who gets between me and my bed."
We all cried, and hugged and apologized to one another. We were all so very tired.
They drove off and I crept along the street in the dark. The moon had set hours ago. The sky was gorgeous though, and two very bright stars watched over me as I made my way home.
I'd dropped my pillow case somewhere along the way, so I didn't have my pajamas. I took off my shoes and went in the back door.
Once inside, I sighed heavily and relaxed. I got a glass of water to clear my pounding head. I crept into the hallway and headed toward the stairs, thankful we didn't have a dog.
I passed the study, noticing idly that someone had left light on.
To my utmost horror, the knob turned silently and the door swung open.
Time seemed to slow down, like it did when the cop had stopped me in Oklahoma.
My stomach did a flip-flop.
"Dani," Daddy's voice came from within. I told myself this wasn't happening. "I've been waiting up for you. Come in."
He stepped full into the light, holding the door open.
"I think it's time we had a serious talk."
As I lay awake in my bed, trying to make sense of what just happened, it all came crashing down.
We'd been so worried we'd get caught that I had put all my effort into preventing that eventuality, instead of pondering the consequences.
I was too tired to even care when I got back the second time.
By all rights, Mother should have been the one to catch me—she was the astute one. Daddy was more like Columbo to Mother's Pepper Anderson.
But I was glad it was him; she'd have flipped her wig.
"Have a seat," he'd said, pointing to settee in the corner. "Your mother doesn't know you snuck out."
"Are you going to tell her?"
"I don't think so, but this has to stop."
"I'm sorry Daddy, it will."
"This doesn't look good, but I'm not going to accuse you of anything; I'm just asking you to tell the truth. But I will believe you unless you give me a reason not too. Do you understand, Dani?"
I hadn't called him that in a long time.
"Does this have to do with Topher?"
"And you were with him?"
"Well, I'm not going to forbid you to see him—that never works. Were you alone?"
"No, we went to a party."
The truth: I went to a crash party at a mansion with hit's cross-dressing alter ego, and it got raided by the cops.
I simplified it to "one of his female relatives was the host."
"You mean his mother? A sister?"
"She could have been a cousin."
"And what happened?"
"There was beer, and I drank some."
"And where was Topher? Did he give you the alcohol?"
"No, it was Christy."
"Another one of his women-folk?"
"No, the same one."
That came pretty close to telling the truth. This was going better than I dreaded it might.
"Aren't you upset, Daddy?"
"Yes, but I know you're under a lot of stress: you have this court thing next week, your driving test on Friday, and you'll be graduating soon. I know it looks like you're an adult now, but you've got a few years to grow yet.
"It doesn't happen all at once. As your parents, all we can do at this stage is hold your hand and wish you the best. The rest is up to you.
"Growing up is like riding a motorcycle, punkin'; you can make it go as fast as you want, but the hard part is knowing when to apply the brakes.
"I want you to consider the potential consequences of your actions tonight. You got off lightly...you could've gotten into real trouble, or worse. Now get some sleep; we'll talk about it later."
Now I had one more thing to worry about. To top it off, it was now 3:00 AM and I had to get up at 7:00. I'd be dog-tired tomorrow, even if I could fall asleep right away.
I was asleep before the thought cleared my head.