I slammed the car door behind me and stepped out into the sun. The day was warm. The type of warm where you didn't need any extra layers a day where you might be able to wear shorts. The smell of wet grass wafted through the air and the sounds of cheer and happiness rang in my ears. And yet I still didn't know if I was ready.
“Sweetie pie, you ready?” My dad asked. He was kneeling right in front of me, his mousy hair combed and his blue eyes sparkled with happiness. I shook my head. “Come here.” He beckoned me closer and wrapped me in a hug. A hug that was strong, a hug that said if I wanted he would never let go. He would protect me. I pulled back and he looked me in the eyes. “You got this.”
“I really hope so.”
“Hey, you ready to go?” Zillia asked.
She looked over at my dad and I sharing our goodbyes. “I'll meet you up there okay?” I nodded and she gave me a smile.
My dad hugged me one more time. “You can be brave. I know you can. Okay? I'll be in the car reading a book.”
“Okay,” I said steadying my breathing and taking a breath. I could do this. I would do this.
“Toodles.” He kissed me on the forehead, gave me a wink and pushed me off towards Zillia. I walked up the hill and up to the park where the festivities were happening. I turned back one more time making sure my life boat was still there. Still there to save me, help me. My dad gave a tiny wave and a thumbs up.
I reached the top of the hill Zillia extended her hand and pulled me all the way up. “Thanks.”
“Sure.” She smiled at me and my heart fluttered. She still paralyzed me. Even after all this time she just did. She was magical. Zilly brushed a strand of my syrup colored hair out of my eyes. Her touch sent lightning down my spine. She smiled, her sapphire eyes gleaming in the sun. I looked at her again. I just couldn't believe how amazing she looked. Today she wore a yellow blouse and jean shorts, her auburn hair pushed back behind her ears and sprinkled with tiny braids. She looked.. Really cute.
“No yes.. I don't know.”
“If we waited until we were ready we would be waiting for the rest of our lives.”
I cocked my head at her looking very puzzled.
“Sorry, it's a series of unfortunate events quote, I just couldn't help myself. You know you should really watch that. Anyway let's step until the unknown. Who knows what adventures lie in wait.”
“You know it's really hard to be afraid when you're so peppy.”
“I know that's what makes me so amazing.” She batted her eyes and smiled and I couldn't help but laugh.
“Commmmmmmmmmme on.” She practically dragged me along with her and into the park. The park was completely transformed, all the wide grassy space was occupied with tents. Tents of different shapes sizes and colors, some filled with food, jam, and vegetables. Others were full of carnival games, face painting and things involving easter eggs. The festival was surrounded by cherry blossoms bright pink trees that scattered their petals everywhere coating everything with a tiny bit of spring magic.
“Are you coming?” Zilly asked.
“Yeah. I just need a second.”
“Come here.” She pulled me by the hand right up to her so our faces were almost touching her breath tickled my noise. “Zill..” I looked around wondering if anyone could see us.
“Evi. Relax. For one its not like anyone can see us and two you need to stop caring so much about what other people think. Okay?”
“Uh-huh. Bow down to the all-knowing Zilly.”
Zilly rolled her eyes. “Okay so we're going to step out there and have the absolute best day of our lives. Absolute best you hear me.?”
“Yes, Queen Zilly.”
Zilly sighed. “We are going to have the best day of our lives and were not going to care at all about what anyone else thinks. You got it?”
She took both my hands and laced our fingers together. “Look at me.”
“Yes Ma’am.” I joked.
“We can dooooooo this!”
Zilly let go of one of my hand and grabbed the other hand pulling us out in the crowd but she didn't stop there she pulled me all the way through the park weaving in and out of tents zig-zagging here and there until we reached the end of the festival. I collapsed on a tree.
“Zill!” I exclaimed.
“What?” She asked innocently laying her head on my lap. I looked around seeing if anyone was around.
“Evi…. You need to stop doing that.”
“You know what your doing and stop it.” Her voice raised and she sounded childish and I couldn't help but laugh.
“Stare at me and only me… Fall into my beauty…”
“Zill!” I couldn't help but laugh. “Possessive much?” I asked.
“Only a teensy bit.” She replied. “Pretty isn't it today?” She asked.
I laid my head back against the tree trunk and soaked it all in. The children playing, their laughs bouncing off every corner. Couples dancing in the square to a joyous music. And then just nature. The trees swaying in the wind, the birds singing together, all of it was beautiful.
I played with Zilly's hair braiding and un-braiding it twisting and untwisting it. It was just so soft.
We sat there in silence for who knows how long just enjoying each others presence when Zilly sat up. “Well as comfortable as my seat was.” I blushed. “Don't you want to go do something?”
“Whatever pleases Princess Zilly,” I replied.
She rolled her eyes and extended her arms so she could pull me up. I tripped on a stick and fell into her arms. She giggled as she caught me and I stared up at her face. Her lips. Her soft pink lips. Zilly raised an eyebrow and I blushed again.
I looked over my shoulder. At a woman. A woman who looked in her 50’s or 60’s who was glaring at me. At us.
At Zilly's arm around my waist. How close we were. Just us being together. She made a face of disgust and turned her head. A face just like my mom made. When I told her. Told her I liked girls. And only girls. And how no, I didn't want to date my school's number one diver. No, I wanted Zilly. And only Zilly. That face of disgust like I wanted to marry my brothers dead body. Which I didn't I just wanted Zilly. That face she made when she disowned me. Told me I wasn't welcome any more.
She didn't even say goodbye just left all my stuff on the curb for my dad to pick up. And take to his house. She didn't understand. Didn't understand just how much I liked Zilly. And it didn't matter that she was a girl. She was who I wanted.
That woman behind me didn't understand either. Some people just had a belief in the old ways.
“You coming?” Zilly asked me.
I shook my head. “I feel sick.”
ZIlly looked around us and found the woman who was glaring at us. She sighed. “Evi.” She tried to grab my arm. But I pulled away. “Evi, Evi! You need to listen to me. You also need to look at me.”
I looked at her tears filling my eyes. “Do you even know that woman?" she asked.
I shook my head.
“So does it really matter what she thinks?”
“No it doesn't. It does matter what she thinks about us because this isn't her decision.”
“She looks like my mom,” I mumbled.
“Oh.” Zilly didn't know what to say to that. No one did really. “But Evi this isn't about your mom we didn't come here to think about your mom and what she would have said about us. We didn't come here to seek approval from everyone here. We came here to have fun. So can we please have some fun? Forget about your mom?” She wiped a tear from my eye. Just focus on me like I said. Me and only me. Your possessive girlfriend.” I cracked a smile.
“There we go that's the spirit. Now off and away!” Zill ran towards the nearest tent which happened to be a wash-off tattoo placed.
“Zill stop doing that!” I exclaimed as I ran to catch up.
“Do you want to get tattoos?” She asked.
“My dad would kill me.”
“Wash off one's silly.”
“Great! Which one will you choose there are so many options!”
A woman with dark skin and a bunch of braids pulled up in a bun sat at the back of the tent reading a book, I read a name tag on her shirt 'Aliyah'. "Just tell me when your ready and I'll help you get them on,” Aliyah said.
“Does it cost anything?” Zilly asked.
“Nope. Just 5 minutes of your time.” She smiled and went back to reading her book.
We searched through wooden baskets full of tattoos. “Oooooooo. I found one I want.” Zilly exclaimed. She showed me the tattoo she had chosen. It was two hearts interlocked. It said forever. She gave me a smile that was meant just for me and my cheeks heated up. She raised an eyebrow and I turned away. But I saw her smile.
“Okay you there are ready. How bout you would you like to get a tattoo young lady?” Aliyah asked.
“Umm yes. Do you happen to have any more of those tattoos Zilly got?” I asked.
“Which one did you get?” Aliyah asked Zilly. Zilly showed her the hearts and the women didn't say anything at all didn't bat an eye just fished through the buckets and gave me an identical-looking one. “Okay now stick out the hand you want to apply it to.” We followed her instructions. “Now peel off the tattoo, And stick it on your skin exactly where you want it. Make sure its perfect because once it's on, its on.” I stuck the tattoo to my skin, the ink sinking in.
Aliyah gave us two wet towels. “Push them down over the tattoo and wait.” She went back to her book while we held the towels in place.
After a few minutes Aliyah looked at her watch. “Times up, take the wash towels off and hand them to me.” We handed her the wash towels and she set them in a bucket that said ‘dirty’
“Now peel off the last layer, now you let it dry. You can leave the tent just make sure not to smear it you got it?” we nodded.
We sat for a minute or two while I sang the jeopardy theme song in my head. “Your tattoos should be dry by now. Thanks for stopping by.”
We were walking away from the tent when I heard her call one last thing. “Those tattoos look good on you two.”
I smiled and Zilly nudged me.
“See not everyone is disapproving.”
“All-knowing Zilly no need to rub it in. Now, where do you want to go next?"
“Lets get some food.” She suggested. Zilly led me over to a cluster of food carts. Pizza, burgers, sandwiches, pasta, one place that only served potatoes. “Your choice.” ZIlly offered.
“But what do you want..?” I asked.
“Were not doing, but I want what you want, but I want what you want game, I'll take whatever, it's your choice.”
“Very well,” As intriguing as that potato place looked I knew Zilly hated potatoes and I really craved a good bowl of pasta.
“The pasta place?” I suggested.
“Sure! Come on!” Zilly rushed to get a place in line and I followed after her. There was only one person ahead of us so we didn't have to wait long to get our food.
“What would you girls like?” The waitress asked.
“Uhh…” I mumbled.
“I'll take the pasta with alfredo and tomatoes and she’ll take the mac and cheese with some blue cheese crumbles on the side.”
“Okey-dokey.” The waiter took our order and she gave us a little number to put on our table.
“Hey! Why'd ya do that?” I asked.
“I know it's what you really wanted.’ She teased.
“No it's not!”
“Yes. it is. I can read you. See right into your soul.” She stopped and stared right into my eyes. She stood there for a couple of seconds before she started to creep me out and I started to wonder if she really could read my mind.
“Fine. Your right. You happy?”
“Quite! Let's sit over here we can watch the dancers.”
Zilly chose a table that had two seats vertical from each other Zilly choose one seat and I choose the second seat. Zilly leaned on her elbows so close our faces were almost touching. I started to look around. “Eyes on me.”
“Your food is here.” A waitress announced and I pulled back blushing. Zilly didn't even look fazed. “Thank you very much!” She exclaimed.
We dug into our food soaking in the festivities.
“What should we do now?” I asked now that our plates were clear and our stomachs full.
I sighed. “I don't know if I'm ready.”
“The whole point of this was because we were ready.” Zilly did not look mad, just disappointed and maybe a bit frustrated.
"I know that we came here together but if we go out and dance, people will assume stuff."
"Well isn't the point for them to assume stuff?"
“Zilly.” I looked at her.
“What are you embarrassed to see with me?”
Zilly!” I grabbed her hand as she tried to walk away. “Zilly you know that's not it. Why would I come here if I didn't want to be seen with you? I don't know. I'm just scared.”
“Evi. Do you think I'm not scared either? Of course I'm scared. But you won't ever let your fear control you. And sometimes life is about taking a leap of faith.”
“I know I know. You're always right, I just… I really don't want to be rejected.. Again.”
“Hey.” she tilted my head up so I could look her in the eyes. “I know, I get it.”
“I don't want them to reject you.”
“I don't want to be rejected either.” She replied. “But we can't always hide.”
“I know, I know.”
“Life is about putting yourself out there, your real self and if people don't like it screw them because it's not about them. It's about us. Okay?”
I nodded and sighed. “Do you take pep talk lessons?” I asked.
“You such an idiot.” She shoved me lightly on the shoulder and laughed. “So…. are you ready.”
“The closest to ready as I'll ever be.”
A new song had just begun playing. A partner dance kind of song. A square dance. “Okay,” Zilly said, taking a deep breath. She took my hand and we laced our fingers together. The same zap of lightning shot through my hand. “On the count of three okay?” Zilly asked.
“Whenever you're ready,” I said taking a deep breath.
Zilly and I stepped forwards. Into the unknown