When we get into Duke’s car, he and Zoe had devised a plan to sit in the front while Brody and I sit in the back. Zoe is very adamant about Brody and I getting to know each other and I can’t lie, I’m glad she’s on board. On the ride I feel so awkward as I am nearly hanging out of the window, leaving enough space between us for two additional passengers. Brody however, is relaxed and laid back in his seat. My brother is blasting hip hop music on the radio and rapping along. Zoe, Brody and I are nodding our heads along. No one has told me where we are going and I don’t care to know. It just felt good to get out of the house and even better that Zoe came along.
As Iam looking out the window, I feel warm fingers glide across the top of my hand. I look over to see Brody with his brown eyes and long eyelashes staring at me.. He motions with his finger for me to lean towards him. I glance up front at Duke first, to make sure his eyes were on the road, because it seems like Brody is going to try and kiss me. But he leans to whisper something in my ear.
“You look so good tonight,” he remarks.
I blush again and move back over to the window with a smile on my face. I can sense Brody is staring at me again, but I’m too nervous to make eye contact.
The ride ended after about twenty minutes with Duke zooming into a parking spot in front of a coffee shop that usually hosts live music or poetry events. It’s a relatively new place called ‘New Bred Café. I remembered this shop. I came one night not too long ago and they had some performances happening. It was good and I wanted to stay but was on a run.’ Whoever owns it must live here because they have covered the building in Christmas lights and put out Santa blow up dolls outside near the neatly manicured lawn and bushes.
We all get out of the car. Hand in hand I walk close to Zoe as she is giggling like a schoolgirl. As we sit on a couch in the corner, there is a stage set up on the far side of the café with a microphone. I look at Duke.
“What are they doing tonight?” I ask.
“They have a poetry reading tonight,” Duke says.
I beam with joy. Duke asks us if we want anything and we give him our orders. Brody decides he is satisfied.
“Ok. Brody you comin’?” He asks Brody.
“Nah, I’m good. I’ll stay here.” Brody responds.
“I’ll come with you,” Zoe chimes as she smiles walking away.
I’m sure that not only is she trying to play matchmaker, but she is trying to talk to my brother as she has had a crush on him for a long time. Little does she know, I think to myself, she’s not his type. When they leave, I start to feel awkward again. I’m looking directly at the person who is singing on the little box platform that they have set up with lights around it. A huge grand Christmas tree was in the far corner. All of the workers had Christmas tags on their shirts and Santa Claus hats on their heads with their names engraved on them.
Brody was laid back sitting in his chair, like he was sitting in the car. He seemed to be into the singer which made me happy because I didn’t really know what to talk about. I look over at Zoe and Duke and chuckle. Right then Brody looks at me and I point at them.
“Look at them,” I say.
He glances over to them. Zoe is cheesing with the biggest grin and Duke is all over her looking at her with lustful eyes. She’s buying it and I make a mental note to talk to her about not getting her hopes up with my brother. Plus, I know he and his girlfriend are not over and he would not give her up to date a high school student. She needs to slow down, has always been a wild one. Her dad is softer on her more than my dad is on me. They both were in the military for over 20 years and became good friends towards the end of their military careers. Now, they are always hanging out and venting to one another about their wives. Zoe and I have known each other since we were in middle school. Her father told mine about how great a town McAdenville is and we moved here shortly after. For me, I love it here, but I can’t say I would want to live here for the rest of my life. When I go to college, I’ll be moving to Seattle with my Aunt Nellie and I can’t wait.
A few minutes later, just as the singer is departing the stage, Duke and Zoe come back to sit down. They have some drinks and some café items. Duke loves the bagels they sell. Every time he comes home, he comes here to buy one. When the host came back to the stage, he introduced the next act. A light skinned man, with long locs hanging from a beanie and a nose ring, walked onto the stage. At first, he stood there looking at everyone in silence, then he opened his mouth to speak.
“This is going to be a short piece tonight, I hope it makes a lasting impact,”.He stands again as if he is preparing himself and closes his eyes. They pop open again.
“Your love is my love and my love is your love, as my heart heats I dance with love. I’m no longer sober, I’m drunk on your love, from my heart to your heart, let’s toast to love. Toast to eternity that will never come between our love, as I pour love let’s dance love. Because my love is your love and your love is my love. Yeah, I said it backwards but it’s all love, your love, my love, my love, your love, one love.”
He then pauses as we stare at him, and he says “Thank you.”
He exits the stage as the host introduces him again as I-David. I am stiff and can barely move as everyone claps for him. I’m stiff because I can’t believe a poet like that is hiding in the city, and I’ve never heard of him before. His poem caused so much pressure in my chest, I didn’t know if I was dying or on cloud nine. I break out of my trance and rub my left arm with my hand. I am looking around at the people in the cafe and my eyes make it to Brody who is returning my gaze. I smile and blush and look away. The host then stands at the microphone and we all look with anticipation.
“We have a new one tonight. Let’s all give a warm welcome to Brody.”
Light claps fill the room as Brody gets up and walks to the front. I am looking at him wondering what’s going on and I look at Duke who is smiling, but never makes eye contact with me. Once Brody is front and center, he stands at the mic with his hands in his pocket and leans side to side at first, then he speaks;
“A great boxer and a better man once said, “float like a butterfly and sting like a bee. I’m throwing punches, I am fighting to knock it out so my queen you will be. So I’m floating, throwing stingers and Ali said before that ‘your hand can’t hit what your eyes can’t see.’ So you can bob and weave, I’m focused on you, you as my wife is all I can see.”
I feel like he was talking to mes he finished with
“Rumble…. young man rumble,’ I’m grown yet I rumble til I’m an old man that rumbles to be your man. Your man I’ll be.”
When he finishes, he walks off stage and people clap again. They are impressed and so am I. We stay at the café for a little longer and then we leave. We first dropped Zoe off, then went home. As we get out of the car, I find an excuse to spend alone time with Brody.
“Duke,” I call out as he is walking toward the door. “I’m pretty sure Brody would like to see more of the lights.” I look at him and said “I noticed how you were looking when we drove around, but you haven’t seen the good ones.”
“Ok. Yeah, I want to see more.” he remarks.
I look back at Duke and he looks unsure.
“Let Ma and Daddy know we’ll be back. OK?”
Without allowing him to respond, I grab Brody’s jacket sleeve and we start down the street. Every house in our neighborhood is decorated with reindeer pulling sleighs, or a blow up Santa or oversized candy canes.
“Wow, y’all really go all out, don’t you?” Brody says looking up at the homes.
I snicker. “Yeah, but it’s beautiful. I wouldn’t mind coming back here to retire.. This is what every day should feel and look like.”
There was a moment of silence as we walked.
“I really liked your poetry tonight. Did you just write it?” I ask.
“It’s something I just came up with,ust something I felt.” He says.
Butterflies started forming in my stomach, I felt like the poem could have been for me. I don’t mention that though.
“So, what made you come here for Christmas? Your family doesn’t celebrate?”
He sighs. “Not too much. But that’s not why I’m here.”
I wait for him to expound because I think he is about to say he came for me.
“My grandmother died a few months ago from COVID-19.”
I gasp and look at him. “I am so sorry.” I’m sorry for being selfish.
“I’m getting over it, it sucks because I wasn’t able to make it to the funeral. I couldn’t go back and be reminded of her. It’s too painful.”
“Wow, you two must have been close.”
“My grandmother was my everything.” he remarked.
I noticed his head hung lower, his face looked as if it went to a sunken place. I stopped walking and grabbed his arm to pull him to me. I wrap my arms around his neck and he wrapped his arms around my waist. He’s a lot taller so I have to nearly stand on my tip-toes and my face is buried in his chest. We took a moment and then I began to draw away from him but his arms were still around my waist. We make eye contact and he looks at me, bites his bottom lip and then lifts my chin so my lips meet his. We have our first kiss and I am elated. His lips are soft and lock on to mine so perfectly. Our lips move in sync with one another.
The kiss lasts for a minute and we pull away still holding eye contact. We both smirk and keep walking. It’s quiet as we walk through the neighborhood and look around at the decorations.
“I have always liked you,” Brody then admits.
We are now holding hands.
“So how come you never said anything?”
“You had a few dudes interested in you and it didn’t seem like you were interested in me. And I didn’t know how your brother would react.”
“Well, that didn’t stop any of his other friends.”
“We were closer than they were though. Then when you moved, I just said forget it. But I never forgot you. When me and Duke got back in touch, I was glad. I had my friend back and I knew I was going to step to you this time.”
“Well, there is a time for everything. Now is better than it was before.”
Brody laughed and I looked at him confused. “My bad,” he said. “Duke told me how hard your dad was. I didn’t want any problems with Pops.”
We both laughed and I playfully hit his arm. “Well, I wish you would have said something.”
He looked at me with soft eyes. “We have now, let’s make the best of it.”
I could agree with that. We continued to walk more until we were ready to go home. Then we turned back to go home. We made it back just after eleven o’clock. We spent the last hour and a half talking and laughing and now we were walking toward the front door.
I turned to him just as he was about to turn the knob. “I know I’m eighteen now, but I think we should hold off on telling my family that we like each other. Just for a few days. OK?”
Brody didn’t look as if he agreed but fixed his face and said, “OK.”
When we walked through the door, we heard tons of loud talk and laughing and smelled good home- soul food- cooking. I could tell the greens with neck bones and my mac and cheese were obviously sitting out as the aromas were permeating throughout the house. The turkey was in the oven going through its process and the corn bread was browning to perfection. Brody and I walked to the living room to see the whole family sitting around and playing the whisper game. They all looked at us and I became nervous that someone would ask questions I didn’t want to answer. However, like always, the love of my family and the Christmas spirit had gotten to daddy and he looked at us in mid laugh. He was laughing so hard that his eyes were nearly shut.
“Hey!” he exclaimed, trying to talk through his chuckles. “Yall, come join us.”
Brody and I look at one another and he sits around with everyone else while i prepare myself a cup of hot chocolate. We spend the rest of the night laughing and joking until we have all passed out one by one.
Waking up on Christmas makes me feel like a million dollars. I always feel good on this day, but today, I have a new glow. I get up and do my regular routine, except I add a little extra. I usually do my skin care routine at night but I want to be fresh-faced when Brody sees me and then I wet and blow dry my hair to make my curls pop. After taking one last look in the mirror and fluffing my curls, I go to the living room. As I walk through the kitchen, Nana and Ma are in there and I can smell the food. There are some dishes still cooking and some are sitting out on the counters and ready to be torn into.
I walk into the living room as I hear voices and I am in anticipation. However, when I get there, all I see are Papa, Nichelle, and Uncle Nate. They are sitting and watching football.
“Where is dad?” I ask.
“He went to the airport,” Papa answers.
“Brody and Duke are sleeping in,” Nichelle says as she looks at me.
She knows that’s what I really wanted to know. I look at her smile. It’s almost like a thank you for the information. I am a little disappointed that he wasn’t awake to see my grand entrance. I go back to my room because I feel like there is no one I really want to be around. I put my hair up and put on a hair band, then lay on my bed and look at my phone. Everyone is posting pictures and wishing the world Merry Christmas. Haley has posted a picture with her duck lips and a cute face with Merry Christmas as the caption. I smirked and kept scrolling until my phone froze and started vibrating. Haley was facetiming me.
“What’s up tramp?” She said when her face popped up.
“What’s up? Merry Christmas.”
“Merry Christmas. Who’s at your house this year?”
“Mostly my dad’s side. We have other family on their way. And…” I begin to smile thinking about Brody.
Haley looked at me with a wondering grin. “What?”
My smile gets bigger and Haley looks as if she sits up from laying down.
“Spill it.” She demands.
“I’ve met someone. No. I’m dating someone. Well…. kind of….it’s a little complicated with my dad being here and all.”
Haley’s face turned to a distraught look. “How? Where? I’m so confused.”
“It’s a guy that we already knew before we moved here. He is Duke’s friend and he came to visit with him.”
Just then, I heard a voice in the living room and everyone began to greet the person coming in, then I heard Uncle Otis’s voice.
“Haley, I have to go, more family is coming in.”
“Ok,” Haley says impatiently. “CALL me back.”
I agree and ended the facetime. I walk out of my room and immediately see Duke and Brody walk past me. I freeze as Brody stares at me, still walking.
“Good morning, beautiful,” he said.
I blush and smile as he smiles back. They disappear into the living room and I follow them.
“HEEEEEEYYYYY!!” Yells uncle Otis.
He and Aunt Carol and their four teenagers are walking in. Uncle Otis stands with his arms stretched wide and welcomes me with a hug. I take it and move over to hug his wife.
“Ay,” He yells again. “You eighteen, but you still not grown!” He laughs his hardy, rough laugh as he turns to my dad who chuckles and shakes his head.
I then see my grandma walking in after them and I beam with joy.
“Grandma!” I run to her and hug her.
I look for grandpa but don’t see him. “Where is grandpa?” I wonder.
Grandma smiles. “Ohhh, he stayed behind. You know him and flights don’t mix well. But don’t worry about that, help with those bags.”
I do as grandma says. It’s weird grandpa didn’t show up this year.
“How was your birthday,” Keisha, uncle Otis’s oldest child, asked. She is seventeen.
“It was good,” I said walking to one of the back rooms.
“Man, I can’t wait to turn eighteen. I’m ready to get my own place,” she says.
“Being eighteen doesn’t guarantee your own place. Just gives a tad bit more freedom. If your parents let you.” I remark.
Keisha snickers. “Got that right.”
We go into the crowded living room where everyone is sitting and standing. Grandma is holding Olivia and everyone is listening to her tell stories about mama and Aunt Nellie when they were born. Nana joins in on Daddy and his brothers. I look at Uncle Nate but he seems uninterested while Nichelle is smiling. That is until she sees the look on his face and starts to look worried. I don’t know what is going on but something is up. I look at Brody and we make eye contact. I give him a look that says follow me and I walk outside. A couple minutes later he comes out right behind me. I turn to him and he grabs me around my waist and hugs me tight. He goes in for a kiss but then we hear the sound of a car approaching and we both let go. The windows are tinted, but the door opens and Nellie steps out.
“Now, I know, my brother-in-law is not allowing this. Eighteen or not,” she says with a smile.
“Hi Aunt Nellie,” I say, walking to her to hug her.
“You look so pretty,” she says after we hug. “Who is this handsome guy and why are you two hiding outside?”
“We’re not hiding, just trying to get some privacy. This is Brody.”
Aunt Nellie shakes his hand and then her face changes like she just thought of something. “Oh, I remember you. You’re Duke’s lil’ friend.”
We are both surprised at that comment.
“Well, you all better be careful. I saw someone peeking out the window.” She pointed to the window that was facing the front yard and the curtain swung back in place. Brody and I looked at one another with nervous looks then we all heard the door opening. Nichelle came walking outside.
“It’s just me,” she said, smiling gleefully. “I knew it! I knew you two liked each other.” She put both of her arms around us and pulled us in for a hug. “Awww, this is so cute!”
“Shhhhhh!” I exclaim.
“You have to stop being so afraid of your father. He is going to have to accept that you are growing up.”
There is a pause of silence while we all look around at each other.
“Hi, Nellie,” Nichelle greets, breaking our silence. “How are you?”
They both walk back into the house with Nichelle’s arm around her neck and Aunt Nellie going into how perfect her life is. Once the door is closed, Brody and I exhale. One, because that was close and two, we are finally alone again. It’s cold outside, but Brody has on his pajama pants and a short sleeve, white tee shirt. I look him up and down.
“How are you dressed like you are still in Jacksonville?”
“I like the cold,” he responds.
I walk toward him. “Well, that’s understandable, being that you are so warm.” I hug him again and we kiss.