With the Fire on High(9)

The day I lost my virginity, I had a half day at school and Tyrone skipped the rest of his classes to meet up with me. I was so nervous about a busybody neighbor seeing me bring a boy home that we went all the way to his house in Mount Airy while his parents were at work.

My first impression of sex? It was a lot more technical than I expected. He kept struggling with the condom and I laughed because I was nervous and he was fumbling so much. Apparently laughing is not the move at such a crucial moment, because his face got real tight around the mouth, and the fumbling got worse. And he was supposed to be the experienced one!

When he finally shoved into me, it stung. For a second I wasn’t sure if I wanted to push him away or pull him closer, and then he was panting and sweating on my chest and apologizing. And I kept telling him it was okay, thinking he was apologizing for hurting me until I realized he was apologizing because it was over. I never even took off my bra. It didn’t even last the entire Weeknd song playing in the background. A bubble of disappointment swelled in my chest and I didn’t know if I was holding back laughter, tears, or a feeling I didn’t know then how to name. All I could keep thinking was that he definitely didn’t have any sweet words or niceness in the moment that I needed it most. I cleaned my own self up, put on my pants, and left. He didn’t even say goodbye.

When I got home that afternoon, I peeled a ripe plantain. Its skin, dark as night, letting me know how sweet it would be. I sliced the plantain up into a dozen ovals, tossed them into a pan on the highest heat, and cooked them until they almost burned; the sugar turned bitter. I plated them with no accompaniment and I ate and ate until there was nothing left on my plate but a smear of oil.

It made me sick to my stomach.

To this day, whenever I’ve served someone maduros they end up crying, teardrops falling onto their plates for reasons they can’t explain; and I can’t eat them myself without weeping, without a phantom ghost pain twingeing between my legs.

Ever since Tyrone, I don’t really talk to boys like that anymore. Boys at this age will say whatever they need to say to get what they want, and I’ve learned to trust pretty words even less than a pretty face.


The first two days of school are over and done with, and before I know it, it’s Saturday morning. Which means it’s visitation time.

For almost the first two years of Babygirl’s life, Tyrone’s parents wanted him and Babygirl to get a blood test. But Tyrone knew I hadn’t been with anyone but him and he never fought me on whether or not she was his daughter. Not that that mattered as long as he lived in his parents’ house. He could come here and see her, and he has several times a month since the day she was born, but it’s only been recently that he’s been allowed to bring her into their house. It seems his parents were convinced by recent pictures that her features are starting to look more like theirs. He’s taken custody every other weekend since the middle of summer and I’m still getting used to it. And she’s still getting used to leaving. It’s not fun for anyone.

Tyrone may be a lot of things, but at least he’s present. And although he was never on time for a date with me, on the weekends he has to pick up Babygirl, he shows up like clockwork. Which is why I’m not surprised when he arrives at eleven a.m. on the dot on Saturday.

“Hey, Emma,” he says, and crouches down with open arms.

“Daddy!” Babygirl sprints over and wraps her arms around him. He lifts her up and throws her into the air.

“You’ve gotten bigger in the last two weeks! You ready to see Grandma?” He holds her close when he speaks to her and she nods her freshly braided head. Tyrone’s mom doesn’t like seeing Babygirl in anything less than picture-perfect condition. Fuzzy puffs or “casual clothing” won’t do. It’s always a tight, clean hairstyle and Sunday-best-type clothes. She blinks up at her father like he’s a burst of sunshine sliding through a window. I’m not jealous of that look, not at all.

Tyrone turns to me and grabs the outstretched baby bag. “I’ll have her back right at seven tomorrow night. Anything I should know?”

I shake my head and lean in to give Babygirl a kiss on her cheek. Tyrone’s cologne drifts around me and I have to stop myself from inhaling too deeply. Damn, he smells good as fu—hell . . . heck.

I take a step back and stop secretly sniffing him. “Her snacks are packed in her bag. So is her favorite picture book. Anything else just text me. I’ll be at work this afternoon, but I can answer during my break. And ’Buela will be here all day. So you can call the house phone, too.” I’m babbling. I hope he didn’t notice.

Tyrone nods and bounces Babygirl against his chest. “You’re babbling. You know we have her favorite snacks at my house, right, Emoni? You don’t have to keep packing her juice boxes. And I know how to reach both of you.” He bounces Babygirl some more and she squeals into his neck. I swallow back the lump in my throat. ’Buela stands in the kitchen doorway, circling her wedding band around and around her ring finger.

“Hey, Mrs. Santiago. How you doing?” Tyrone asks on his way to the door.

“I’m fine, Tyrone. Thank you for asking.” ’Buela drops her good hand and walks with us to the front door. “Make sure to bring Baby Emma back in one piece,” she says, and reaches out for Emma. Tyrone hands her over without a fuss and ’Buela gives her a long hug before putting her back in Tyrone’s arms. “And you make sure to be a good girl for your father, okay?”

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