“I know you in there!” I yelled, knocking on the door, “open up! It’s just me!”
The door swung open with Antwon standing in the foyer, still looking upset as I walked in with a pack of beer as a peace offering.
“What’s going on with you and Caroline now?” I asked, closing the door with my foot. “Yall always act like yall got the perfect relationship, making the rest of us look bad.”
There was another bang on the door as I reached back for the knob, letting Gabriel’s rowdy self inside.
“What time we riding out?!” he let out, doing the crip walk in the foyer as he popped his shoes off. One look at Antwon and he already knew something was up. “What happened? What did I miss? I thought we were all heading out to South Carolina. I got the Airbnb and everything.”
“How Trace taking it?” I asked.
“She knows I’m going to do what I’m going to do but she’s pregnant. Last thing I need is for her to be out there carrying mine in the middle of this shit. Plus with you going, she said she isn’t as worried.”
I sighed as we all sat down in the living room and just rubbed my chin with a smile.
“You not going are you?” Gabe asked as I laughed.
“I’m too old for it man...It’s not the same. I’ve been working all week with these kids in class, on and off the field. I need a break.”
“This is your break...this is what it's for. So the young boys take it too far, we know how to stay clear of that. You know what’s happening this weekend? They got some kind of get together for those that practice that beastiality, shifting magic…”
“The Moon Run,” Antwon said as my ears perked up again.
“That’s what Ryan called it.”
“Her family believes in that totem nonsense,” he waved off with irritation, “I never said anything because it's not my place. What she believes in and what she practices are two different things to me and when I called her out on it, it's a problem. Always been a problem.”
“You married her though knowing this,” I said. “It’s a problem because you’re just now saying something about it.”
“I’m not saying shit. I don’t care either way but when it interferes with what we’ve been doing for years, centuries...and you telling me to call it off or don’t go...You got a problem when it's close to home but any other time, you don’t care. Pick a side and stay there.”
“So yall both telling me yall not going?” Gabriel asked incredulously, “what happened to the men that used to go out and live fucking life? Huh? What happened to the men that did what they did and went home to their girls the next day like nothing happened? When did yall become a bunch of fucking pussies? We got the chance to go hunting...Do yall remember what that was like? Last time we did that, we had the time of our lives...chasing after whatever in the car, running them down until they ran off the side of the road. Whoever brought one back won the night and the girl or man, depending on who you was talking to. Now yall telling me yall not gonna do it?”
“I’m going,” Antwon said as I shook my head, “Akil is in town anyway so I want to see him. His girlfriend is one of them.”
“Gross,” Gabriel gagged. “Nothing Godly about anything they do, and they raise their kids like that, like animals. If they aren’t that, they’re practicing witches and warlocks and whatever else is out there. All of it needs to be cleansed, that’s why we’re here…That’s what it means...We purge ourselves of our sins and to protect us and our wrong doing, we make sure we get rid of the sinful and deceitful...it's a never ending cycle. That’s what it means to partake in the High Gathering and I thought yall knew that.”
I scratched at my head, hearing the convincing argument.
“I purge myself in other ways,” I finally said. “Last gathering yall had that we didn’t go to, I didn’t eat for three days. No sex, no drinks, nothing. I got rid of toxins from my body and made myself mentally stronger. There are other ways to do this and get the same results.”
“So you’re going to starve yourself this time?”
“No? I’m staying my ass home with my baby and minding my business. I’m a few years away from fucking forty bro. I’m tired.”
“You ain’t old like that,” Gabe said as we both laughed.
“Mentally I’m drained of all of this. I told Ryan she can go if she wants. Make sure she goes with a group of girls I know and can reach their men if anything goes down. She’s young, she’s new to all of this and has a lot to learn so I don’t wanna take that away from her because I can tell she’s curious. Don’t do it because I’m not trying to, but be careful and keep me on standby at all times.”
“So she’s going?”
“Faawk no,” I let out as we both laughed, “hell nah. She’s probably at home right now with Caroline talking about this nigga here.”
“Nah,” Antwon let out as he looked at his phone, “Caroline said she’s going back home. She had her shit packed. That’s why she called Ryan to take her back home.”
“I just saw them at practice,” I said before getting up, “and anyway...shit starts tomorrow for us and won’t end until Sunday. This is going to be the longest Gathering,” turning to look at Gabriel, “you just make it back home. Don’t get caught up. You got a kid and another on the way.”
“I can’t believe you not trying to go,” he sighed with a shake of his head.
“Nah not this time around. I can do my own gathering here with my first lady and leave it at that. I’ll see yall at church on Sunday?”
“Yeah,” Gabe said. Antwon didn’t say a word, just sulked in his own feelings as I grabbed my keys. “I’ll tell Caroline you look miserable without her.”
I was in my car with the music going as I made a few calls to see who else was going to South Carolina. Even though I’ve decided to stay home, I wanted to hear how things went. Some of them that I knew were already starting tonight with the shits with them making their way into South Carolina now.
“I’ma pray for yall,” I muttered to myself, slipping my keys into the lock. I pushed the door open and realized the lights were still off which meant Ryan wasn’t here. I popped the lights on and looked around. Everything was how I left it this morning with us both going to work at the same time. I tossed my keys on the counter and pulled out my phone to call her, but no answer.
“Babe!” I yelled out, walking towards our bedroom to see it was neatly made up. The clothes folded nicely on the bed and everything was in it's proper place as I sat down and tried her phone again, getting irritated. Only other time this happened was when her phone died and she came in the door minutes after me. Otherwise, she and I didn’t play this phone tag shit.
“Nah, this is a problem for me,” I said, getting up as I grabbed my keys to head out while trying her phone again. “Ryan you better tell me where you are before I find out for myself,” I threatened with the voice text before sending it off as I walked out of the door.
“What time these niggas supposed to be here?” Fowler asked as we stood at the edge of the beach, just before we reached the sand. I checked my phone to look at the time. It was already dark but not enough for me to rush home so Pia wasn’t by herself. I had my neighbors watching the home every time I left, especially for the next few days where everything was going to be tense. The air already didn’t smell right to me and with everyone being on edge lately, it didn’t make it any better.
“Sorry I’m late,” Tallulah said with a sigh as we both turned back to watch our cousin walk up. She pushed her long hair back into a ponytail while chewing on her gum as she stood in front of us to look out at the ocean. “Where these niggas at? I got people coming over soon.”
“Any second now,” I said as Fowler sat down on the ground with his elbows propped on his knees. For once, he was quiet, not saying anything sadistic in nature or picking at someone. He was just calm. At ease.
“What you thinking about Fowler? You’re never this quiet,” I teased as I sat down beside him. Lu continued to stand up, letting the wind blow past as she focused on her phone.
“Shit life...how things changed...How I’ve changed. This is my first official Moon Run. I got a baby now...a wife...and I’m in charge of all of this,” waving his hand in the air, “this is all me...my territory...my people…I would have never imagined my life to turn out like this. Even my mama calmed the hell down. Adora got her shook,” he laughed. “When she first met Adora, she gave up drinking that same day because she didn’t like what she saw when she looked into Adora’s eyes. Niggas been asking me since they got here what she is, and if she got a sister or family…”
“That’s crazy because I don’t look at her in that way at all,” I laughed. “But it would make sense for you to be with her. Someone as dark and as twisted as you, if not more. You needed that. Doesn’t make you seem as crazy.”
“Tuh,” Lu huffed as she looked back at Fowler with a grin.
“Don’t do that to my wife––”
“Nigga I’m doing that to you. You already know I don’t play about my Dora. She got one toe in this world, one toe in the other. She walks in between...but I told her once she finds out where she comes from and her family, she will forever be changed.”
When Fowler didn’t say anything, Lu’s mouth dropped before her eyes grew in suspicion.
“You know don’t you?”
“Know what?” he asked innocently.
“You know who her family is….you’ve known this whole time...probably since you’ve been after her,” she accused. When he didn’t respond, just simply smiled she shook her head. “You ain’t shit. Ain’t neva been shit, and you don’t deserve her. Where is her people from?”
“They from Georgia,” he responded with a shrug. “I’on tell her because as her nigga, as her life partner, her mate,” he stressed, “it's my job to protect her from certain shit. That’s what I’m doing. It’s a reason she was put in the position she was put her. Her family wasn’t shit to begin with and the last thing I want is for her to remember anything about her past because that shit is broken...and fucked from the start...She’s good now.”
“Well why don’t you let her decide that then? I don’t care if you are her man––”
“They sold her to whatever lil entity came their way...they been gave her soul up a long time ago. Same with that girl–––”
“Jasmine,” she replied. “That’s why they’re so close.”
“Same with yo ass. You was given up because you come from a broken home––”
“Nah uh, I come from a loving father who raised me to be the strong woman I am today. I don’t come from nowhere else but at least I know that and can choose. What? You’re afraid she won’t choose to stay with you? You think she’ll slip back into what she was before and forget about you and her daughter? Adora loves yo crazy ass. If nobody else don’t.”
“I know it. You ain’t got to tell me about mine. I know everything there is to know about her.”
“You know about the nigga down at the fish spot trying to talk to her?” Lu asked with a laugh. “We went yesterday to get something to eat and he was all in her face, gave her extra sides...walked her to her car and would not let her go. By the time we pulled out, she’s like...he’s always doing that for me. I’m like, that shit don’t get annoying? Him being in yo face like that? She’s like...I go because I know Fowler likes the mac and cheese here so I get extra stuff for free to take back to him.”
Fowler and Lu both laughed as I shook my head.
“Tell that nigga to put me a separate plate altogether, shit. In that case, better flirt a lil more and bring enough for baby girl too when she gets old enough. She already tryna pick at my plate.”
“I love my little Laylay,” Lu cooed. “As soon as she sees me, she lights up.”
“That’s my heartbeat right there...Adora got my soul, my daughter got my heart...I’on have shit no more. They got it. I told her we trying for a son when you get ready so I can raise a king the right way...and she said...ready when you are. Ohhhh!” he hollered as I laughed. “Don’t tell me that! Don’t tell me that! Almost fucked her right there on the grass.”
“What we were you doing on the grass?” Lu laughed.
“We go on walks ever morning. Early morning, we get up and we walk. How I clear my head, how we get baby girl adjusted to outside and what it smells like, and it's how we talk our issues out. Don’t bring that shit in the house where we eat and sleep. It’s a problem, we take it outside. My mama told me that. Don’t bring no negative shit in the house. It’s an intimate space that we share, and we gotta protect it. I came home late one night...lost track of time and she was waiting by the door...pissed. I’m talking...ain’t neva seen her so damn mad before. She wouldn’t let me in the house. She let me have it right there in the yard for everybody to hear and then threatened to lock me out. I said, bitch this is my mothafucking house, you still a gah damn guest–––”
“I can’t believe you’re alive to tell this story,” Lu said as Fowler shook his head.
“Not only did she lock me out the house next day, but she left.”
“That’s when she came to my daddy’s house. You were calling me crying and hollering about–––”
“I wasn’t crying cousin Lu,” Fowler gently corrected but she laughed.
“Nah nigga you was in yo feelings because you were living reckless, and pushing her buttons. You did it on purpose to get a reaction out of her. I said, one day he gon learn to stop playing those games…”
“I got her back though...we got married and live happily ever after,” he said as he laid back on the sand. “When you getting married Homer?”
I sighed because it was all anybody asked now. When were Pia and I getting married. Lu looked at me, waiting for an answer.
“She got a lot of shit she gotta work out with her family first,” I said, trying to hide my frustration. “I’m ready. Been ready. I wanted to do it before the baby came because I was afraid something like this would happen. She would drag her feet.”
“So just bring it up to her like, I’m ready to get married. I’m ready to make it official.”
“It ain’t that easy...my mama brought it up to her and she mentioned who would walk her down the aisle? Who would show up? She don’t wanna be bothered with her family but she don’t wanna get married without em. It don’t make sense to me. I tried to get her to talk to Percy or Piru but...I’on know.”
“They not even thinking about that girl...they done moved on. They both got babies on the way. Why won’t she just come to Atlanta and see them for themselves?”
“Why won’t they come up here?” I retorted.
“I mean...Percy got his ass beat and spiritually dragged last time he was here. Her parents tried to come up here but I don’t know what happened. Jasmine doesn’t even understand what happened. To be honest, they have no reason to come up here. They never lived here, they don’t have other family or friends here. Pia has family, old friends I’m sure and parents that live in Georgia. Why wouldn’t she come down to visit them? Why are they forced to come out their way to a different state to see her? That’s like expecting my daddy to come see––”
“You too old to be calling that nigga daddy,” Fowler cut in.
“And who is you to be worried about who I call daddy or not? You better focus on Adora calling the nigga at the fish market daddy for a side of cornbred instead of worrying about the man who raised me. The fuck? Anyway,” rolling her eyes, “that’s like asking my daddy to come see me. I lived in South Carolina, I got family in South Carolina...I was just here...I’ma come and visit my home. Even though he do drive out to Atlanta to see me,” she smiled proudly.
Sudden sound of the waves began to grow louder as Fowler sat up while Lu turned around. The moon was just above the water, halfway hidden behind clouds as we watched a few beach stragglers walk along the coastline.
“They must be close,” I said, standing up as the three of us started for the water.
“You already told em what the purpose for them being here is...We just need backup just in case shit get crazy,” Fowler asked.
“They know. This nigga is with it.”
There was a single wave that came rolling through, getting taller and taller as the stragglers watched the water with curiosity. You could see lights flicker in the distance before I smiled at the first sight of life. Honey emerged from the water, walking up along the coast with a wave before I noticed other heads popping out one by one.
“Oh my God,” Fowler gawked, realizing she didn’t have anything on. I rushed to help everyone out of the water, one by one as Bodie’s cousins stood out like beanstalks, towering over the water. I did my best to be respectful as Honey clasped my hands together in greeting but Fowler made no attempt to hide it as he openly eyed her.
“She can’t hear me right?” he asked.
“No but her husband is coming so chill,” I said. “It’s a reason I called these niggas. You said you wanted back up...this is what it is.”
“Girl here,” Lu said as she took off her hoodie to give to the girl. Bodie was the last to walk out of the water with two bags strapped to his back. His sisters were just as tall as they fought their way through the water and sand to walk up.
“It’s been a minute since I’ve been in the water,” he said, flipping his short locs back as he shook his hair dry, “how yall doing?”
“Shit, you the one that swam all the way up here,” Fowler said as they clasped hands, “nigga how you doing?”
“I could use a bath and a warm plate of food,” he said, flashing his typical Bodie grin, “Bodie Jones. That’s my wife Honey and these are my cousins…and those are my sisters.”
Each man had a bag strapped to their chest and the moment their feet touched the ground, you could tell by the way they were stepping that they were about it.
“I got food ready at the house now,” I said as we started for the cars, ignoring the distraught faces of strangers that watched a group of people just walk out of the ocean. “How’s the baby doing?”
“Oh he’s good. I got Nu and Damien watching him while we’re here. Lil man is perfect. Honey wanted to bring him with her but I said naawl baby, you need a break from him. This is supposed to be our break but she don’t really know what we’re doing here. If she did, I wouldn’t have been able to come,” he laughed. “You said niggas gon be laid out in the city on that shit? Like on some purge type shit?”
“That’s how my sister made it seem like,” I shrugged. “Niggas laid out drunk, passed out on the beach, going after others...it's supposed to start tomorrow…”
I watched Bodie look at his cousins as they shared identical expressions.
“You think they coming after yall and this Moon Run you’re supposed to be having?”
“We know,” Fowler cut in.
“We may be able to make a lil money out here,” one of the cousins said to Bodie who winked with a smirk. I knew a scammer when I spotted one and I’ve known for a while Bodie had a scamming background. Everything about him gave off con artist turned family man but every so often, opportunity came about and I could see the wheels turning in his head.
“Say what you need from us, and you got it,” Bodie said with a devious smile.
“Can you just call Antwon or your brother?!” Ryan snapped. “I left my damn phone at the gas station counter thanks to you now the car won’t even fucking start.”
“If you just calm the hell down,” I let out as I went through my contacts to find Homer. It’s been a while since I called him. I wonder if my sisters were in town. With Ryan’s car parked on the side of the highway after breaking down, I could tell she was getting irritated and nervous. It was past 11 and she hasn’t spoken to Alex. I told her she should have told him the moment she left but she wanted to be hard headed and wait until she was on the road. Now that she was without phone, Antwon wasn’t picking up and neither was Homer.
With each passing car, the car rocked side to side as Ryan let out another ticked off sigh.
“I swear to God–––”
“You swear what?”
“The fact that you’re calm about it lets me know you don’t give a damn.”
“Honestly I’m not worried. As long as I’m not near Antwon–––”
“Okay but I got a man and we don’t play or argue like this! We don’t move like this––-”
“I told you to call him–––
“Can you just call Pia or someone answer the phone so we can get the hell on? It’s getting cold and I––”
“If you shut up and let me–––”
“Not everybody wanna play the victim game Caroline. You want a reaction out of Antwon by playing like this, you too old for it. If he ain’t checking for you then, he ain’t checking for you now but I got a man who will do more than check up on me if we don’t–––”
There were bright headlights that slowly pulled up behind us as we peered through the rearview mirror. I looked back at the basic car wondering who even thought to pull over. Besides the cell phone light, we kept everything off so we don’t draw attention to passing cars. Before I could say anything there was a knock on my side of the door as we both jumped at the sight of a large, almost husky brown skinned man peering into the window with a smile.
“I ain’t mean to scare yall, you need help?!”
“We’re waiting on somebody to come get us,” I cut in, deciding to cut Ryan off at the last minute, “we’re waiting on someone now. He’s almost here.”
“Oh okay, just wanna make sure yall ain’t get turned around. Yall know yall in South Carolina right?”
“Yes we know dumbass,” Ryan muttered as I smiled.
“We know. We have family out here…”
I could see the man’s eyes looking a little closer into the car to get a peep at Ryan.
“Is there a reason you stopped? We didn’t flag anyone down for help. I know the south ain’t that friendly,” I said as he laughed before knocking on the window.
“A lot of shit going on out here...we’re keeping an eye on the stateline for anyone gathering,” looking specifically at Ryan as my heart started to beat.
“So you’re a wanna be cop?” I asked, deciding to distract him with conversation while slyly handing my phone to Ryan.
“Nah, no cop ma’am,” he laughed just as another car pulled up in front of us, leaving the brake lights on. “We’re in town from Virginia for the weekend and was warned about niggas acting crazy out here...We just wanna make sure we and our loved ones remain safe at all times…”
Just as soon as he said it, a pickup truck flew by with a group of black boys wearing masks in the back hollered out with no lights on whatsoever.
The gathering is about to begin...Shit.