Over the past month, Paige and Zack went on a few dates. Early that morning, Zack had called her to set up a cross-county trip of Arkansas. Paige had finished getting ready for her date.
She was dressed up in her favorite all-print summer dress and Earth sandals. Her pressed hair was styled in elegant layers and her colored lip-gloss and makeup were perfect.
Zack had told her over the phone that he planned for them to have a romantic picnic in the park and looking out at the river, celebrating their newfound love.
That Paige knew she was a hopeless romantic. She dreamily gushed at Zack’s picture that she had saved to her phone.
“Paige, sweetie, your father and I want to have a word with you!” Jude called.
“I’m coming, Mom!” Paige lazily got to her feet and jog down the stairs.
She came into the kitchen and faced her parents. Her father did not look happy at all.
“Paige, your mother told me that this Zack is going to take you on a road trip across the country. You do know that you’re too young for that, right?”
Paige sighed deeply. “It’s across the state. Daddy, I just turned eighteen the other day. I’m an adult now.”
“Okay, but you’re an adult that’s living under my roof where I pay all of the bills,” Edward replied firmly.
“Hey, honey, I pay half of the bills too,” Jude corrected him.
“I know, Daddy. I’m not trying to be a smart-aleck or anything. It’s just a date that Zack and I planed. We are trying to get to know each other.”
“I don’t like these plans at all, sweetheart.”
“Edward, why don’t you go ahead and say it that you don’t like Zack,” Jude commented.
“That’s right, I don’t! Especially that boy’s crazy family. The Summervilles are something else and the black community is so obsessed with them. I don’t know why.”
“Honey, I think the Summervilles are an amazing family!”
“Uh-huh, yeah, and over half of the community thinks like you. It’s bad enough that he’s a Summerville but a Go-Getter on top of that. Chile please!” Edward sat down and finished the last of his tea and French toast.
Jude rolled her eyes. “Paige, go and have a good time.”
“Say what, now? Paige is our only daughter, Jude. She’s barely an adult and you are already encouraging her to run around the country with some strange boy that she barely knows!”
“They are going around Arkansas, visiting different counties.”
“I don’t care, it’s the same thing to me! Around the country, around Arkansas. A road trip is a road trip. It’s too far for our young, naïve daughter to be traveling alone with some strange boy that she doesn’t know. The past few dates that they been on is bad enough but across Arkansas, hell naw!” Edward scoffed.
Jude sighed deeply and tried to convince him to chill out but he went on.
“Anything can happen to our sweetheart. She can get beat up, robbed, raped, killed. Who knows what? We don’t know what that boy is capable of. What if he gets her pregnant and then leave?”
“Edward, don’t be so cruel!”
“It’s a cruel world that we living in, Jude! The world of today is not all fun and lollipops here! Paige, you can do better than that. Is it the money, fame, power? We have money, maybe not as wealthy as the Summervilles but our family is very affluent here in the state.”
Paige slumped and gently bit her lip. She listened to her parents carry on about her date with Zack.
“Paige, you got my cell number, the family’s home number, your mother’s number, Steven’s number. If even the slightest thing goes wrong, do not hesitate to contact us. You have plenty of money in your purse, a first aid kit, mace, a taser, anything to defend yourself in case something bad happens.”
“Goodness, Edward! Be safe, honey,” Jude hugged and smooch Paige on the jaw.
They heard a horn blow loudly. Paige ran over to the window and saw Zack leap out, with a wide grin across his face. Paige grabbed her purse and opened the door for Zack.
She glanced back and saw her father give her and Zack a funny look. They stood in the doorway briefly. Zack greeted Paige and her parents before they were on their way to their date.
Zack didn’t dare reach for her hand in front of her father. Paige and Zack jumped in his Jaguar and sped off. Bessie West, a hometown and huge international star, had begun singing her signature tune over the radio.
“That’s SiriusXM!?” Paige asked.
“Yes, of course,” Zack smiled at her.
“And the whole world knows that is Bessie West! Oh my God, she is coming back to Arkansas to perform with the Melanin Beauty Sweethearts at Versatile Entertainment. It’s been a minute since she was last here!” Paige exclaimed.
“I take it you are a huge fan!” Zack glanced at her, chuckling.
He drove down an isolated road. They were headed to North Little Rock now. Zack drove the speed limit.
Paige’s grin grew wider. “Yes!” she answered.
Paige looked out the window at nature as they flew past. The sky was a deep blue and cloudless. The sun felt warm and it set high in the sky.
Paige could barely see a sliver of a moon. The trees and grass swayed in the breeze. She could see mountains in the distance.
Zack drove around the corner. She looked behind the car. It looked like she saw a young girl skipping down the road with a lopsided grin across her face.
The little girl was wearing a white church dress, sandals, and her natural, dark curls bounced around her head. She looked like it was the happiest day of her life.
Am I seeing things? I’m hallucinating? Paige wondered. She continued to stare at the girl as the girl skipped.
The illusion seemed to keep in pace as Zack drove down the long, spiraling road. Then the unknown girl reaches into a bouquet and threw flowers into the air.
She abruptly looked up and waved at Paige. That’s when Paige recognized the girl, the illusion that wasn’t real. It hit Paige like a ton of bricks but didn’t scare her.
Paige smiled and waved back at the girl. Zack noticed and looked at Paige. They had stopped at a streetlight. The young girl continued to skip toward the car.
“Who are you looking at so hard, Paige? Who are you waving to?
Paige’s eyes glanced from the waving and skipping girl to Zack. “Do you see that girl skipping behind us, Zack?”
“What girl, Paige? I don’t see anybody,” Zack answered, looking around the area.
“I guess only I could see her then.”
“Are you imagining things, my Paigey?” he laughed.
Paige looked at the girl again. She watched a younger version of herself running toward the car. That’s when they sped off, leaving the girl far behind, Paige’s ghost from her past disappeared into the sunlight.
Paige turned back around and sighed. What the hell was that? Paige snickered to herself. Was that really me? The younger version of me? I could have been around ten then.
Paige remembered that was her favorite dress that she used to wear every summer until she outgrew it.
Zack glanced at her again. “They say that along that road, people have reported seeing things, ghosts from their past. I didn’t experience anything wild but I see you did, Paige.”
Paige looked at Zack with wonder. After the long drive throughout the town, they had parked in a lot near the Arkansas River.
Zack turned off the engine and got out of the Jaguar. He raced to Paige’s side and opened the door for her.
“You’re welcome, babe.”
Zack popped open the trunk, taking out the large picnic basket. It was full of food. Catfish, fruit, vegetables, potato salad, dressing, okra, pasta, pound cake, and strawberry lemonade.
“Our maid fixed this picnic basket this afternoon,” Zack told her.
“Cool. So our date is going to last for half the day?” Paige asked him.
“Yeah, I wanted us to spend a lot of time together. Just us, Paige. No one else to distract from us. That’s why I wanted us to leave this afternoon so we’ll have plenty of time for our date.”
“I see. You know, my dad doesn’t like you, Zack, but I do,” she softly replied.
He nodded. “I can understand why because he’s a father and overprotective of his only daughter. My father is the same way with my sister Francis.”
They began walking across the park. Zack carried the picnic basket. The wind blew against them. The water looked lovely. Seagulls crept around noisily.
They could see a few individuals in the distance moving along the water. They sat down at a picnic table.
Zack unpacked the basket, getting out plastic plates, cups, silverware, then came the delicious food. Paige could smell it in the air.
Paige and Zack feast on the delicious food. They were in a hurry to eat and drink. Paige didn’t trust everybody’s cooking but she made exceptions for Zack’s maids. Paige savored every bite of the food.
She took her time eating, so did Zack. They finished their meals and engaged in small talk. Zack cleaned up the table and threw away their trash.
Paige offered to help him but he declined her offer and did it himself. Zack scooted over to where she was sitting and stared into her eyes.
Paige enjoyed looking him up and down. He looked delicious, dressed in his creased, blue jeans, crisp white t-shirt, blue jean jacket and white, Nike sneakers.
“Can I kiss you, Paige?” Zack asked.
“Uh, I guess, yeah,” Paige teased.
Zack leaned over and kissed her lightly on her lips. Paige melted inside. She felt her hormones raced. Am I feeling wet? That’s the first time I ever been kissed, she thought.
Zack leaned back and then leaned forward and kissed her again. Paige sat back against the table. He took that as a cue that she wanted him to stop. Zack smiled at her.
“I enjoyed that kiss,” Zack remarked.
“Wow! That’s my first kiss in my life,” she smiled.
“I know. I enjoyed it. We should definitely do it again.”
“Not out here in the public, not outside. I rather kiss a guy in the privacy of my own home and when I get married someday,” Paige replied assertively.
Zack nodded. “Do you want to walk by the river? The breeze feels nice today.”
“Sure, I know right.”
They walked by the river, holding hands. Paige and Zack peered into each other’s eyes and smiled. The few people that they saw earlier were gone now. They were alone.
“I’m going to propose to you someday, Paige,” Zack said quietly.
She heard every word but remain silent.
“I know you heard what I said,” he smirked.
“Someday, we’ll see what the future holds,” she remarked.