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Red, white, and boo! (Full Story)

Part 1

July 4th, 2016

“Dawn, will you grab that potato salad out of the fridge for me? Oh, and some serving spoons? Look in the drawer next to the sink,” my co-worker Brandy called out to me before she stepped out her back door.

“Sure,” I said unenthusiastically putting my phone up and helping her. I don’t know why I thought I could come over here and just chill. So much for being a guest.

I got the things Brandy asked for and went in the backyard where a 4th of July cookout was in full swing. The hosts, Brandy and Alex Ellington, were true entertainers; this wasn’t your typical, throw some meat on the grill and drink a beer kind of shindig. No, this was more organized than anything I’ve ever attended. From the red, white and blue decorations everywhere, an outdoor bar complete with a professional bar tender, a DJ spinning old school cuts, a life guard for the kids in the pool and a food spread that would rival even the best chefs. All in little Americus, Georgia.

Brandy and I are teachers at Sumter County Elementary School. In previous years, she’d been a 4th grade teacher and recently made the switch to 3rd grade. Our rooms were next to each other and it was at the beginning of this past school year that we became fast friends. She invited me to her house often, knowing I was single and not from here. Augusta to Americus was about a three and half hour drive and since both of my parents were deceased, I didn’t go home often. So on most holidays, I was here.

And I loved being here. Their home in Meadow Woods was like my second home. This was my first 4th of July at the Ellington home but I’ve heard their parties were always fun. With an outdoor kitchen, large patio, pool, and fire pit, there was plenty of room for the 50 plus people here. Plus, one of Alex’s hobbies was grilling and he often volunteered to grill for various fundraisers around town. You knew if you had some of Alex’s food and people often supported whatever cause just because he was on the grill.

If you’ve never been to Georgia in July, I have some advice-don’t. While the temperature for the day was about 100, the heat index made it feel like it was ten times that. It was a little after five in the evening and it was still hot as the devil. I was trying to avoid coming outside, opting to live my life inside with the wonder of air conditioning. Stepping outside with the potato salad and serving utensils reminded me of why I hated summer time.

Even though I was festive in my red, white and blue sundress, I often didn’t have the option of dressing for the summer and this disrespectful Georgia heat. Being a big, beautiful woman, or a BBW, I didn’t have the luxury of dressing half-naked. At 5’4 and wearing a size 18, I was definitely plus size with my thick thighs, hips and an ample backside. I had a small waist and my stomach wasn’t that big but depending on who you ask, I could either be considered thick or overweight.

Unlike most women, I hate shopping because as a teacher, there was a challenge in making sure my clothes were appropriate. Thankfully Lane Bryant and Ashley Stewart understood the plight of us plus size women and I was able to find cute, quality clothes that fit my shape.

I’d heard “I’m pretty for a big girl” most of my life and I couldn’t understand why people thought that was a compliment. Even though I had slightly slanted eyes, full lips and skin that looked like I bathed in the most succulent honey, that didn’t stop men from being shallow and overlooking me because my dress size had two numbers.

I placed the potato salad in the spot Brandy designated just as the last of the meat was coming off the grill. Because it was Brandy and Alex, hamburgers and hot dogs weren’t the main attraction. There were ribs, leg quarters, chicken wings, pork chops, sausage and steak. Everything looked good and smelled even better; I couldn’t wait to dig in.

Brandy announced it was time to eat and most people rushed to the spread. I held back waiting for the line to die down. I wasn’t worried about them running out of food; there was plenty. Brandy and I had small talk about our upcoming girls trip that we were taking before we went back to work in a few weeks. Finally, the food table opened up enough for me to make a plate. Brandy had to practically pull her daughter Jada from the pool to eat. After getting Jada situated at the kids table, Brandy and I took our plates to the fire pit area.

We were barely talking because the food was delicious. Alex could definitely throw down on the grill. Our silence was interrupted by a man greeting Brandy with a kiss on the jaw. “What’s up Mrs. Ellington? Where’s the man of the house?”

“Hey Byron,” she said covering her mouth because she had just put a spoonful of potato salad in her mouth. “I think he’s over by the grill. You worked today?”

“Not really. I just went to the YDC to cut a few heads. I usually go out there on Mondays. I hope ya’ll saved me a plate or three.”

“I didn’t know you were still going out there. I’m so glad that you do though,” Brandy exclaimed. It was obvious she was proud of her husband’s friend. “Oh, I’m being rude. Byron, this is Dawn. Dawn, this is Byron.”

Up until now, the guy was standing slightly behind me and I didn’t want to get in a conversation that had nothing to do with me. Plus, all my attention was on these ribs that Alex put his foot in. When I finally saw the man talking to my friend, my whole body begin to tingle. This. Man. Was. So. Fine.

I wiped my hands on my napkin and extended my hand to him. “Hey, Bryon. Nice to meet you.”

“Dawn.” He said my name as if it was a piece of homemade red velvet cake. Maybe it was wishful thinking but I could have sworn on my mama’s grave that he liked what he was seeing. “I haven’t seen you over here before. You must not be from around here?”

“I’ve been over here plenty of times. I’ve never seen you either.” But Lord knows I wish I had. He was tall, maybe close to six feet and I could tell he worked out because of the way his red t-shirt fit his arms. His caramel complexion reminded me that I had a huge sweet tooth. I assumed he was mixed with something because his hair was jet black and curly. I knew plenty of natural women that would be jealous of his curl pattern, myself included.

“I see I don’t come around often enough,” he replied. It wasn’t until Brandy cleared her throat that I realized he was still holding my hand.

“Do I need to leave you two alone or…” she quipped.

“You don’t have to go. I’m going to get a plate and I’ll be back,” he spoke to Brandy but looked directly at me. “I’ll definitely be back.”

He winked at me before going to find Alex. I went back to eating my food, deciding to take this conversation as flirting.

“Sooooo…you’re gonna act like that didn’t just go down?”

I feigned innocence. “What are you talking about?”

She looked at me with a raised eyebrow.

“Whatever, Brandy. He was just being polite. A man that fine wouldn’t be into someone my size.”

Brandy put her fork down and looked at me intently. “Dawn, it bothers me when you say things like that. No one puts more emphasis on your size than you. Embrace the size that you are and if you don’t like it, do something about it. But stop putting yourself down; you’re too beautiful and smart for that.”

I dropped my head in shame, silently acknowledging that she was right. We’d had this conversation before, plenty of times actually, and each time I was left wondering why I was so hard on myself. Plus size women were judged so harshly by the world and no one was harder on myself than I was. “You’re right. Old habit I guess.”

Brandy and I finished our food and cleaned up a little before mingling at the party. It was just after 8 and the party was still going strong. I was having a good time talking and laughing with some of Brandy and Alex’s friends. I was thankful they have adopted me over the last year and introduced me to some new people including Meka who kept my hair fly. I tried to go natural and quickly found out I wasn’t about that life. A few times I saw Byron and it seemed like he was looking in my direction. Each time, I averted my gaze and played with my hair, my nervous habit.

I was getting frozen margarita from the bar when Byron approached me again.

“You’re popular, I see,” he stated before ordering a beer from the bartender.

“What do you mean?” I sipped my margarita and enjoyed the awesome marriage of strawberry and tequila.

Byron took a swig of his beer and looked at me the same way he did when Brandy introduced us. “I’ve been waiting for hours for you to be by yourself. I told you I was coming back.”

I tried my best to hide my shock but I’m sure he saw it all over my face. He furrowed his eyebrows in confusion. I’m sure Brandy told him to be nice to me that could be the only explanation for why he’s talking to me.

“I’m a man of my word, Ms. Dawn. I also had to make sure you weren’t booed up before I came back,” he said with a wink.

“Well how are you so sure that I don’t have a boo?” I challenged.

“Cause,” he began and then took another sip of his beer.

“No man in his r