I saw nothing but the two lane road that slowly became gravel underneath the car. There might have been one or two cars parked on the edge of the forest until there were dozens, rows of cars shut off and parked sideways. The rain was no longer coming down as we came to the end of the road that faced the woods. Cars were lined up as she put hers in park before cutting the engine off.
“That’s it? You just park here?” I questioned as the light came on.
“Uhh huh,” she popped, pulling the mirror down to reapply her lip gloss, “we’ll be here for a while and nobody ever comes down here unless they know. Did you bring the blanket and stuff?”
“Yeah it's in my bag,” I pointed towards the back as I watched her look herself over.
“Aight,” she popped, blowing herself a kiss in the mirror before opening the door, “let’s go. If you become uncomfortable, just let me know and I can take you home. Just try and catch me before I get too many drinks in me.”
I glared at her as she laughed.
“Kidding of course!” she laughed before clearing her throat, “just kidding.”
The sound of the gravel road crunched underneath our shoes as Tracie linked her arm into mine to keep me close. We stepped onto the forest floor as headlights turned off from behind us and we kept pushing forward. I could hear the screams and laughter, the music and smell of the food but couldn’t see anything beyond the tall looming evergreen until we came up on a single white house that seemed to be misplaced. There was no driveway, no concrete, nothing but grass surrounding the large two story home. The yard lights shined at an angle on the white bricks as my mouth dropped. Everyone was outside, dozens maybe even more. There were people laid out on blankets like it didn’t just rain, folks were sitting out on lawn chairs with music playing. The children were running around together playing tag as they weaved in and out of the light crowd. I could see in the distance a game going on with the men as women and the children stood by and watched on the sides.
“Your phone won’t really work here so if you’re expecting a text or call...just tell me and we can walk back to the car,” she said as we stepped through the thickening grass, “the energy here is so high, it interferes or at least, that’s the joke. We are essentially off the grid but it's always a good time. We always meet in different places around the country, sometimes the world but this time, it was right here in South Carolina.”
“Tracie?!” someone yelled as we both looked back at two girls rushing towards her with their hands waving in the air. Both were draped in long white dresses with waist length braids. Chocolate in complexion with wide bright white teeth, they came up to us with exciteful eyes as they clung to Tracie.
“Did you see them on the field?” one beamed with wide eyes. She looked so excited and full of joy and energy as she grinned at me, “I already see the guy I like but I don’t think he’s going to choose me.”
“She’s been saying that with every guy that walks by,” her friend retorted with a roll of her eyes, “tell her she’s acting thirsty and desperate, Azra. Please, tell her.”
“I am not!”
“I’m not...my name isn’t Az––”
“Tamara!?” someone yelled out as the girls turned their head in unison before squealing and rushing off to the next group of women dressed in white as well. Tracie grabbed my arm to keep me moving as we walked through the yard.
“They wear white to signify they are available and interested in dating,” she whispered. “It’s something the women came up with it in the church a long time ago but it's not an official rule. They just graduated high school so they’re pretty much ready to bust it wide open.”
I stared at her before bursting out into laughter as she grinned.
“See Ryan, you’ll have a good time. You’ll get used to it. Now, give me a minute while I find my husband. You can either walk around or just stay put but I need to make sure he’s not turning up with a baby strapped to him, and then we’ll find your brother.”
Before I could object, she was off calling to someone else she knew and left me standing by myself in the middle of the yard. I decided to set my sights towards the field where you could see men running up and down with a ball tossed in the air.
I heard the voice like nails on a chalkboard as my eyes bulged out of my head. Slowly, I turned around to see Caroline Skye wearing shorts and a simple white shirt with gold sandals. She wore a gold band over her hair and stood with a red cup, red lips. A shocked expression crossed her face as she looked around to make sure she wasn’t seeing things.
“What are you doing here? Did my sisters send you out here to find me?” she asked immediately. I could see her eyes naturally look me over as I nervously shifted my weight from one foot to the other.
“I was invited but I’m actually getting ready to leave,” I stammered. Last thing I needed was Michael’s sister to be here telling my business back to him. It was definitely time to go. Yet before she could respond, this tall and strikingly handsome man walked over with a grey plastic cup in each hand wearing a basic black shirt and black jeans. His smile reached his eyes when he handed me a cup and the smooth low shaven beard cupped his face like a perfect mask. He even smelled good but I could see the envious look in Caroline’s eyes and her territorial side come out when she stepped closer to him.
“You’re Az--Ryan?” he self corrected as I smiled with a nod, “I’m Antwon. I’m the one that’s related to you. I’m your big brother.”
Caroline’s mouth dropped as he immediately stepped in for a gentle hug and before I knew it, I felt my arms hold him back in the most natural way as my eyes teared up like never before. He stepped back as I fought back this overwhelming sense of heavy emotion and connection. It was nothing I was expecting but felt like everything in me was connected to him in some way. Something in me just felt like a release of a heavy sigh after waiting for so long.
“So you’re the sister they’ve been looking for, this entire time,” Caroline said with pursed lips. I was half expecting her to say something smart or slick but she simply smiled. Didn’t feel forced or fake and I wasn’t sure if it was because Antwon silently kept her in check or she just didn’t care to go off.
“Baby show her to our spot while I grab some plates,” Antwon said, taking her cup in his hand, “I’ll be back Ryan and I’ll explain what I can.”
Caroline and I watched him walk off before she started to walk with me catching up with her wide stride.
“What are you doing here?” I quickly asked.
“I should ask you the same damn thing but I should have known,” she hissed. “Don’t go telling my sisters where I am. I don’t want to be bothered right now with family.”
“You’re dating him? I thought you were into women?” I questioned, still trying to keep up with her fast pace of walk as she flipped her short bob back and gave me a pointed stare.
“I am and that will never change but I like him. Something different about him,” she defended before snarling, “if you tell my siblings about any of this, I will beat your ass myself.”
“Girl please,” rolling my neck as I fought back a smile. As much as I couldn’t stand her, it was nice to feel a sense of realness from this place and it was nice to see she didn’t change completely. “Nobody is even looking for you last time I checked.”
She kept walking with her nose in the air like she was the shit as she waved at a few girls passing by. We stood at the end of the playing field where it was just a bunch of shirtless men hollering and screaming at one another. It felt like college for grown folks and all of the more mature adults and calmer personalities hung around here with the blankets, chairs and music. The closer we were to the house, the younger the crowd seemed, the rowdier it became but out here where you could see the highway in the nearby distance of headlights blurring in and out of the line of trees, it was calm. Caroline walked off to grab some chairs for us to sit while I stood watching the men run and chase one another. Didn’t know what the game was but when everyone clapped, I threw my hands in the air and hollered out all the same. Finally feeling comfortable enough to relax, even though it was Michael’s sister. I planned on staying close to her for the remainder of the night like she was my own big sister.
“Wooo! Let’s go!” I hollered, cupping my mouth with both hands before clapping.
“Although, my view is perfect, I wouldn’t mind seeing what’s going on the field before I step back out there,” I heard a deep voice say. Something cheeky and charismatic, I turned around to see this tall light skinned man drop down on a black blanket. He peeled of his soaked shirt full of sweat as his chest glistened underneath the moonlight. His brown curls sat lopsided on his head in a ball with a few strays hanging down the back of his neck. The black basketball shorts left nothing to the imagination but his brown eyes and smile looked as if he was used to getting his way. He wasn’t paying me any mind at first as he focused on his phone.
“I wasn’t trying to be rude or nothing,” he said, pulling his attention from the phone to look up at me for the first time. His eyes widened just as I felt my pulse quicken for that mere moment of meeting his gaze. “Wow, you are beautiful.”
“Thank you,” I smiled.
“You came here by yourself?” he asked.
“I’m married,” I stated, flashing my ring. He smiled, not once looking at the rock on my finger, just continued to stare at me.
“So you came here by yourself then,” he repeated as I laughed.
He stood up, seeing a brief glimpse of pain cross his face as he winced before slowly limping his way over towards me. Definitely a lot taller than Michael, that’s for sure. I was breaking my neck to look up at him, and even at my short frame, I always liked to think I carried myself like I was tall until I stood before people like Homer. I barely came to his chest. He was definitely fine though. You could tell he was a pretty boy and into his looks but he seemed so casual about his attractiveness that it wasn’t overbearing or annoying. He just is.
“Are you okay?” I asked, noticing the limp of his right leg as he stood before me.
“Twisted my ankle trying to show off,” he joked before holding his hand out for me to shake, “my name is Alex.”
“I’m…” placing my hand with the ring in his, “Ryan but I guess people call me Azra…”
Alex smiled as he used his thumb to gently spin the ring around my finger, forcing it to face underneath my hand as he playfully brought my knuckles to his lips for a kiss.
“Nice to meet you, Azra.”