Small town social events can go one of two ways. The first are the public engagements, like town fairs, church potlucks, even the summer reading fair. Gatherings of any and everybody in the community for the purpose of saying "ain't we all grand." These functions are sober affairs and one can only hope you see someone do something that would make them blush at church. In fact, these gatherings are much like church, with everyone in their Sunday best and putting on their best public face.
Then there are the private events, ranging from small Tuesday night book clubs to a house party that may last all weekend. These parties can be seen as the adult extension of the high school or fraternity college party. They have more liberal views on both atmosphere and dress. Wine and beer tend to flow with the understanding that what happens at the party, stays at the party. Any and everything can happen as folks mix that would not be seen together in the light of day.
The Mayor's party out in West Bannville was one of the latter.
Jessie and I took the twenty minute drive into the woods listening to AC/DC. We bobbed our heads to the music and sang along, entertaining ourselves as the street lights dropped away and the shadows of the oak and pine trees wrapped the roads in darkness. Jessie would take turns playing air guitar and sipping from a small flask. I do not like alcohol consumed in my car as a rule, but where we were going would probably have more police that would be more concerned about getting a drink from you than if you were drinking.
The cars started appearing about a mile away from the destination. Headlights stabbed into the darkness as people found parking places. The Mayor's family camp comprised of about one hundred acres of woods and fields. Several trailers were grouped near the beginning of the dirt road where the extended family lived and operated. We drove past these and found an open space near an empty chicken coop.
"Where the hell is everybody?" Jessie asked, looking around at the dozens of empty cars.
I pointed to the distance where several people were walking down the dirt road into the woods.
"Down there. Papa Bilbo's old place. Nice little log cabin. Can't you hear the music?"
Jessie cocked his head and opened his mouth a little. Beyond the sound of crickets and the occasional owl, a thumping drum was accompanied by the whine of a fiddle and thrum of a guitar. Voices and cheers mixed with the rhythm.
I started walking towards the sounds. Jessie followed. As we walked to a small gate in a fence surrounding a large field, I stopped him.
"Watch out here," I said, "Cow catcher."
"Man," Jessie said, stepping on each metal railing of the grate, "Why didn't we just park down here."
"Part not wanting to mess up the field. Part tradition. Mostly it's a power play for respect and protection. "Walk to me" and all that. Come in peace and trust us to take care of you with little way to run. Helps for illegal activities."
"Makes sense, I guess. Still, not really used to walking through nature in the dark."
"Yeah," I said, "You get used to it."
I saw two shapes form from the darkness as we neared the party. The man and woman were holding hands and looking up at the stars. I followed their gaze, smiling at the expanse of the universe above me. It was amazing seeing that big sky undimmed by city lights. I felt small, yet hopeful.
"Hello?" Jessie asked.
"Hi," Natalie said, "Jessie?"
"And Evan. We just got here."
"Hi," I said, feeling ashamed and jealous. I attempted to size up the person next to her, but the darkness hid his features. I could only make out a size and shape, around six foot with an inch either way to spare. I could look him in the eye at least.
"This is Edward," she said, "Edward, this is Evan and Jessie. They work at the public library with me. Will work with me."
Edward extended his hand and we shook, "I heard about everything that's happened there. Hope you'll keep our girl here safe."
"Oh, I'm sure Evan'll protect her," Jessie said, taking a drink out of his flask, "My ass'll be dead in a week."
"Jessie, why don't you go see how the party's going on?" I said.
"I think we'll do the same," Natalie said.
"Um, Natalie, can we talk for a bit? Just for a minute?" I asked.
Before she could answer, Jessie grabbed Edward by the arm and started leading him off, "Come on, big fella, let's go meet some people."
Edward started to protest, but Natalie waved him on, "I'll be there in a minute."
When they had walked about twenty feet away, Natalie turned to me.
"What do you want?" she asked.
"He seems nice," I said.
"Yeah, he's a teacher. Just my type."
"Look... about the other day. I'm sorry. It was a shitty thing to say and I don't want to be that guy."
"I didn't think you were that guy, but what the hell? I mean, what the hell? You've been through a lot, I get it, but I'm don't deserve that."
"I know. And I'm not... I'm sorry. You're my friend, at least you were, and all I want is for you to be happy. So I'm sorry. For everything," I said. I wanted to hug her, pull her close. I also wanted a drink. Neither was going to happen.
"I know you are. I forgive you, but I just want to be professional about this. You and me. I don't know if I can be your friend right now," she said into the darkness.
"Yeah, I get that," I said, "You see a future with this guy?"
"Not going to tell you," she said, and I could hear the smile in her voice. We might be okay.
"Well, then I'll have to get him drunk and here all about it."
"He doesn't drink," she said, "He's not perfect."
"Ha. Well, let's go see if we can salvage this party."
"You think this can stay civil?" she asked.
"I don't know... We might make it out alive."
"I meant the party."
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