“You’ve got one phone call Ms.Ray,” the officer tells me.
I snap out of my thoughts, and try to decide who I’m going to call.
Mom? Absolutely not.
Dad? No…because he’s going to bring mom.
David, my overbearing older brother? Maybe…
Gene, my overbearing older brother’s best friend? Ding, ding, ding. We’ve got a winner.
I peel my body off the hard bench, and figure out how exactly I’m going to tell Gene what happened…
“Hi Gene, see what had happened was…” doesn’t really sound like the best way to start the conversation.
I continue to try and find my words as I wait for him to answer the phone. I hear him breathing on the other end, and before I can squeak out a “hi,” he says, “What the hell, Tayla?”
I guess the operator gave my location and name away? It’s a collect call right? I don’t know how any of this works! I’m just a naïve 21 year old from the burbs…
“I know, I know…just pick me up, and I’ll explain everything on the way home.”
“You’re two hours away, so it will take some time for me to get to you. You know you’re going to have to tell Mrs. Ray.”
“I know, but just not tonight, ok? Just don’t make me tell her tonight.”
Gene agrees to let me off the hook for now, and I’m escorted back to sit anxiously in my cell. The smell here is ungodly, and I’m trying hard to avoid eye contact. I think I heard you should do that in a movie once…I can’t wait to leave. At least it will make for a good story later, right? Surely I will laugh at this in some other life…
Three hours crawl by, and I finally hear “Ms. Ray, you’re being released.” My feet have never moved so fast.
I run up and hug Gene. This has been the worst night of my life. He returns the embrace, but it’s a little stiffer than usual. He lightly touches my face, where I’m sure there’s a bruise. His mood changes slightly, but I know he’s still upset.
I know I’m about to get an earful.
We walk in silence to his car, the moon so bright it seems to be highlighting all of tonight’s sins. Gene takes a deep breath, “Are you hungry Tayla Ray?”
He has used my full government name since I was 5, and he and my brother were 9. David was your typical mean older brother, but Gene was always nice to me. He was an only child so I don’t think he knew he was supposed to be a jerk. David would push me into the mud, and Gene would help pull me out of it. He was basically the brother I dreamed about having. I bet he would’ve even played Barbie’s with me, instead of making me play with his stupid GI Joe’s!
He stares at me intensely with his green eyes, which I always thought were so creepy, but today they look different…almost beautiful. I snap out of my trance, “I could eat.”
It’s 2am, so it’s a no brainer that we’re going to end up at the local college kid diner. We walk in, and I spot a few familiar faces from earlier this evening, but decide not to speak. I ask if we can be seated in a corner booth away from the attention of others.
Gene shakes his head and busts out laughing, the first light hearted moment we’ve had tonight, “Ok, Tayla Ray, out with it. How do you go from graduating Magna Cum Laude just last week to ending up in jail for public intoxication?”
I knew it was gonna have to come to this…
My hands are a bit clammy. I’m nervous that he’s going to judge me, but I guess I deserve to be judged…“I was at this party with this guy I was dating. His name is Jamison. Jamison is real, real fine…6’2”, going to law school, that real beautiful deep black with perfect skin…” I bite my lip just at the thought of Jamison’s creamy skin on mine…
He rolls his eyes, “Tayla Ray…focus.”
I shake the thought for now, but know I’ll be texting him as soon as this interrogation is over…the night is still young, after all. “Yes, you’re right, sorry…Ok, so we’re at this party, and at first everything was going well. We’re dancing, having a good time. Eating fruit soaked in Everclear. Living life. Not worried about these hoes.”
“Sorry…and then Jamison’s ex gets to the party, and the mood changes. She walks in between us, puts her finger in his face, and you know my mouth…”
“What did you say to her?,” he says void of emotion. “A lot…I said a lot…Something about her being ugly, and her mama being a b-word.” She was actually cute though. Jamison actually had pretty good taste in women, if you ignore the whole dragging in front of someone else's house part.
“Where did you even learn to talk like that? Love & Hip Hop?” Clearly Gene doesn’t know me very well. Everyone knows I’m the mouth of the south. It’s also why I didn’t call my mom…I got my shade game honestly.
“Maybe, I say saracastically, Joseline and Cardi B are lit.” I can tell he’s getting annoyed with me. “You were raised better than that Tayla Ray. Don’t you care about your reputation? And that’s a grown man, I’m sure he can take care of himself.”
“I’m not worried about these bamas, remember, I’m moving to Spain in a few weeks. And yes, I’m sure he can take care of himself, but I don’t let anyone disrespect me, and she crossed the line.”
“You’re not a ride or die chick Tayla Ray, and no woman should be one.”
“How was I supposed to know that?!” He looks at me with a bewildered expression, and shakes his head again. “Ok, anyways…how’d you end up in jail?”
“Well one thing led to another, and we ended up fighting on the front lawn of the house we were at, and someone called the cops.” He looks at me speechless for a second. “Well that would explain the bruise on your face…Tayla Ray, this is the dumbest story I’ve ever heard, even for you."
We both go silent, and I'm 99% sure we’re both thinking of the time I called him when I got stranded, because I had used my tire money my parents gave me on new shoes. I ended up with busted tires and busted shoes that night.
Gene breaks the silence, “Look, you're a full blown adult now. Your ego can't be that fragile anymore." I promise him I'll do better moving forward, and I actually do mean it. Jail was scary! I was in there for all of 3 hours, and 45 minutes and I never want to go back. He nods like he believes me, and asks his follow up question, "If Jamison is so great, why didn’t you call Jamison to come and pick you up?”
“A. We just graduated, Jamison is broke. B. You’re a lawyer.”
“I feel so used,” Gene says jokingly.
“Don’t be like that. I loveeeeeee you!” I squeal like I did when I was a kid. Now it was time for the most important question of the evening, “Am I going to jail, for real Gene?”
“No, I know the sheriff and I’ll call in the favor in the morning. Just don’t do any more stupid shit before you move. As a matter of fact, just don’t do any more stupid shit. Next time I’m not coming! I mean that!”
I swing around to his side of the booth and give him a big hug. This time he returns the embrace warmly. I have broken him down, as is usually the case when he comes to my rescue. This definitely isn’t the first time, and if we’re both being honest here, it won’t be the last. But I do know there will be no more fighting, jail, or Everclear in my future.
Ok…one more question…”do you think I should call Jamison to let him know I’m ok?”
“Has he texted you yet?,” he asks as he shovels hash browns in his mouth. I usually hate the way he eats, but tonight he looks adorable, probably because he’s keeping me out of jail. Any man would look adorable after that revelation.
“You already know the answer to that,” I whine. He answers a little too quickly for my liking, “he’s telling you where you stand with him. The answer to your question would be a resounding no.”
My God, men are so frustrating…“Well how am I supposed to know what a good man is like, if every man in the beginning seems so perfect?” Gene sits back and rubs his nonexistent belly, “Plain and simple. Consistency. Your dad, your brother…me…we are consistent. You should look for the same traits in a boyfriend.”
“But ya’ll have to love me. These dudes out here have options.”
“Newsflash. Don’t date a guy who treats you like he has options”
Now it was my time to roll my eyes at him, “You make it all sound so simple…dating is complicated.”
“You just graduated from college! Dating is supposed to be fun…Look, if you want, I’ll take you on a real uncomplicated date.”
“You taking me on a date sounds about as complicated as it can get. What about my brother?”
“Hell, he can come to, if you want. It will be good, harmless fun. I’ll just show you how a real date with someone who actually cares about you is supposed to go. It’s basically like a daddy-daughter dance, but I’m not your dad and we won’t be going dancing because I have two left feet. Deal?”
*To be continued*
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