“Where you off to, Jade?” He looked past me, kind of shy-like.
I had no idea what made me spill out my following words, except for fear of being alone and the urge to know him better. “Oh, I was just thinking about going down by Jupiter Lake and taking a stroll. It has been so humid and hot out today.” I stuck the side of my thumb in my mouth and chewed all the skin around my cuticle, a nervous habit of mine.
“I guess it’s a nice night ta go down by Jupita.” He scratched his head, “Thang is, see, I was thinkin’ more ’bout gettin’ a cheeseburger. You houngry?”
“Well, I can always eat somethin’,” I said and laughed nervously. I felt about as gawky and ungraceful as a girl could be. I was seventeen years old, never had a boyfriend or even been on a date.
Dillon looked down the road and then back at his car. “I don’t want you to get into no trouble now, Jade. You knows how folks are in this town.” Tiny beads of sweat were forming just above his lip. He seemed as awkward and nervous as I felt.
“I can take us down to my territory, Nathan’s bowling alley. It’s colored, though. You might feel uncomfortable, Jade? How old is you now anyways?” His eyes scanned me kind of discreetly. I was wearing a cream-colored sundress with a pale blue short jacket. I had my hair in a ponytail to show off my newly pierced ears, another gift from Verdi.
“I’m eighteen.” I lied once more and then immediately started looking for more skin to chew, this time on my index finger. I didn’t want to lie to him but knew what he was thinking. If my daddy went to the sheriff, he would go to jail just for having me in his car. I had never really been alone with him. We just always talked at the store. He opened the passenger door and motioned for me to get in. It seemed like he had weighed the possible penalty against the chance to spend more time with me and made his decision. I slid across the mahogany seat cushion and bounced on the springs. He told me of his plans to go away to college and showed me his class ring. There was a real sense of pride in his voice.
“How’s your daddy been, Jade? I saw him with that Veronica woman last week. Is that goin’ okay?”
I must have rolled my eyes or made a face because Dillon let out a hearty and knowing laugh. “She’s something else, and Daddy’s drinking again. I try to stay away from them and the parties they throw every weekend.” My head filled with images of Conner, and my throat constricted at the thought. I changed the subject quickly. “I miss Johnny so much, but I guess everything happens for a reason.” No sooner than the thought escaped my mouth, I wondered the reason for Conner and his advances.
“Oh, girl, you is somethin’ else. I had my stepfather Leroy, in my life for some time now. He been good to my mama, a little strict with me at times, but, all in all, a good man. Course he ain’t never been one for the booze, nope, but he do like the ladies, the ladies be his downfall.”
“I was thinkin’ ’bout findin’ my real father. I think every chile need ta know who his parents is. I looks at every white man I meet. I looks into his eyes and I say to myself, ‘Dillon that could be your ol’ man, right there.’ The Negro man don’t accept me half the time ’cause I ain’t dark enough, and, course I ain’t light enough for the white folks neither. I did hear though in places like New York, Michigan, and California that theys more acceptin’. They says that the bigger states and the Northern states is not as racist like they is here in the South. I’s even heard tell all kinds of relationships occurs.”
There was a silence in the car now. I didn’t know what to say. I could picture kissing his lips. I wanted him to see that I had feelings for him; before I knew it, I blurted out, “Well, I’d date anyone outside my race if I liked them.” My voice sounded strained, and I gave Dillon a matter-of-fact look, but inside I was scared.
Dillon looked at me with eyes that seemed sad and wiser than before. “Jade, you would have to put up with a lot of racism. You ever been called a ‘nigga lovah’? Ever had people stare you down, try to make you feels dirty inside over the color of your outside? Did you know children of a mixed race are badgered and treated like trash? They git it comin’ from both sides. They ain’t black, they ain’t white, so they is nuthin.’ I was lucky to be dark enough to be okay, so to speak. But some folks have children and the babies are almost white, kinda yella looking with a light brownish color hair, but always nappy. People is cruel today. If any of the white boys in this town seen you with me, they wouldn’t want nothin’ to do with you and they’d beat me and maybe kill me, before they’d let a nigger have ya.”
I thought about what he’d said, and it seemed an answer to my prayers, “No man would want you if they saw you with me.” But it was the last part I didn’t like. I didn’t want Dillon to get into trouble, but I wanted to ensure that Conner never tried to touch me again.
I looked at Dillon as he pulled into the parking lot of Nathan’s. It was bustling from the looks of things. He turned to me and said, “Jade, I brought you here because they’s good people, and you won’t be humiliated here. I won’t let anyone harm you, even if it were to cost me my life.” He reached his hand under my chin, pulled my face up, and looked into my eyes with a look that made me feel safe.
We grabbed a booth in the back, and Dillon went to the counter and ordered. There was a jukebox in the corner playing Aretha Franklin and bright red-checkered curtains in the windows. I loved soul music because it seemed to carry so much emotion. Dillon set down two Coke-a-Colas and a bottle of ketchup. “Two double cheeseburgers and fries is on the way! Miss Jade, I hopes you got an appetite because Lenny makes the best around.”
He smiled, and his teeth looked like a parade of polished pearls. Dillon was something foreign to me, and I loved to hear him talk and tell stories. Before I knew it, darkness had fallen outside the red-covered window. I wished I could stay with him forever, but I knew Miss Rita would be worried about me, and I didn’t need her calling my daddy. “I best get goin’ Dillon, it’s gettin’ late, and I don’t want to upset Miss Rita.” Dillon reached in his pocket and pulled out a crumpled mess of dollars to pay the tab.
We didn’t talk much on the ride back to Taylor’s store. I guess I was busy trying to figure out how to deal with the emotions I was feeling. I was terrified of Conner and unsure of what would happen if he caught wind of me being with Dillon. I wanted, more than anything, for Dillon to somehow wash all the pain away. I wanted to know what his soft lips felt like. I wanted to make love with him and let him replace every fingerprint of Conner’s and every piece of skin that he had brushed upon me. More than that, I wanted his spirit to cover all the evil Conner had placed over my soul.
“Jade, I’m just gonna drop you off a little ways from the store. Don’t want no static from the Taylors or with your pa. I’m not doin’ you no disrespect. I’ve had a fine evening with you, Jade. Just don’t want no worries.”
I knew the concern was genuine. I knew we were treading on dangerous ground, but I welcomed the opportunity no matter what. I felt alive and more normal again. We got out of the car, and I could see the store’s porch light glowing down the way.
“Good night, Jade,” he took my hand and kissed it. I reached up on my tiptoes and let my small thin lips brush across his warm, full mouth. I felt a ripple of electricity and warmth that I never wanted to forget. He hungrily kissed me back with such intensity that I ran, ran like the wind, and never looked back at Dillon. I carried the kiss all the way to the twin iron bed Miss Rita had fixed up for me. I replayed it over and over in my mind until I drifted off to sleep—my first real kiss.
“Dear God, it’s me again, Jade. Thank you for making Dillon’s lips so soft, and please help me to disappear. I still don’t like the Earth you created and I’m sorry for that.”