It started out like any other day. I woke up with the sun shining in my eyes and my little brother Randy screaming in my ear. “Wake up, Thea, wake up! It’s Sataday! Wanna go out and pway wif me?” His brown face was shiny in the bright morning light and sprinkled lightly with sugar crumbs from his breakfast cereal. Still, he was an attractive four-year old, definitely my little brother. “Not now, Randy, not now. Come back in a couple hours, alright?” I groaned and covered my head with the pillow. Randy tore out of my room, heading down the stairs screaming all the way. God. Little brothers. It was the beginning of the summer marking my sophomore year in college and I thought I knew everything there was to know about the world. I rolled over, seriously intending to fall right back to sleep for at least another hour or two. As I drifted in and out of sleep, a vivid nighttime scene impressed itself upon me. It was intense. A bonfire rising into a moonlit night. Dark figures dancing in the firelight, naked and primal. I bolted upright, all thoughts of sleep forgotten. “Oh my God. Can it be true?” I held myself, rocking back and forth as I attempted to process the improbable memory. The memory of last night was just returning to me and my heart raced as details filled the empty space. My hands were shaking as I reached for my phone, intending to call my best friend, Rhonda Grant. The phone rang and rang. After about ten rings I hung up. The birds outside my window were singing and the day was bright and warm. I was oblivious to it all. All I could think about was last night. ~ I had been out with my girls, drinking the night away. Now I was paying the price. My head felt like processed cheese but that was the least of my concerns. I had to find out how much of what I remembered had really happened. The details were hazy but so fantastic I had to know if they were true. I remember being with LaShay, Rhonda and Tara, driving down the old dirt road out near the back of town about two o’clock in the morning, taking a shortcut to Rhonda’s house out on Whippoorwill Lake. We were coming from town, heading into the dark countryside with the wind at our backs and the devil be damned. I guess we were trippin’ kinda hard, high off of some good-*** Chronic and what was left of a fifth of Jack Daniels. My girl Rhonda was the craziest and last night, she proved it. “Y’all better watch the **** out! We are most definitely in for a good time tonight!” She laughed wildly, here braid extensions flowing snake-like in the wind as she stood up in the back seat of Tara’s Cadillac convertible. Tara was driving and drinking at the same time and the car swerving wildly on the lonely dirt road. “What are you talking about, Rhonda? You are crazy as hell!” Tara giggled and took a swig of the JD, almost swerving off the road in the process. “Girl, you need to sit down before you fall down! You hear me?” I was drunk too. Much too drunk to be trying to tell anyone else what to do, that’s for damned sure. Rhonda didn’t listen. She screamed into the wind, her voice raspy but strong enough to carry over the insect and critter sounds of the country night. “Yeah, right. Like you really need to be talkin', with your none-driving ***! When are you getting a license anyway, Thea?” LaShay was always on my case, jonesin’ on me, trying to piss me off. It usually worked. “****, heifer, why you all up in mines? I told all y’all, I’ll be legal by the end of the fall semester, you watch!” Tara handed me the bottle, which I tipped back; enjoying the burning sensation of the alcohol as it assaulted my throat and stomach, taking me even higher into a cloudy haven. The night was pitch black. The stars looked like pinholes punched through midnight velvet. The moon sat high in the sky, its light diffused and weak, wispy cotton-like clouds floating across its facade. We were on the south side of the lake. Rhonda’s crib was on the north side, close to the Whippoorwill Resorts. Rhonda’s parents were pretty well off. Her father owned the local Dry Cleaners and her mother was a Loan Officer at the town Bank. We - Tara, LaShay and I - didn’t care about her family’s money. Our friendship had stood the test of time and we knew each other's faults and weaknesses. So we rode, laughing and screaming into the night. We had all grown up here, in the woods of southern Illinois. Grade school and skinned knees, junior high and puberty, pimples and budding breasts. Jasper High School, late night phone calls about boys and the Dance Squad. Marching band for Rhonda and I; cheerleading for LaShay and Tara. Out of all my girls, Rhonda and I were the closest. It seemed to me that we shared a bond. That we understood each other at another level even though I loved Tara and LaShay with all my heart. I suppose we all learn things at early ages that change the way we look at our place in the world. My friends changed the way I looked at things, influencing me in ways that I’m still trying to figure out. It was Rhonda that forced me to look outside of myself for answers. She forced me to question my previously unchallenged upbringing. ~ It was fall of our eighth grade year. I was just becoming interested in boys, rap music and dancing and was self-conscious as hell. Rhonda and I shared three classes. A gym class, which we both hated, a beginning Spanish class and algebra. On that particular day, gym was over and Rhonda and I were dressing slowly, talking animatedly about the Spanish test we were about to take in Mrs. Mendez’s class. There were a few other girls in the locker room. Amy Jo Jones, a skinny little white girl who didn’t say much to anyone, Mary Lou Parker, a friend of Rhonda’s that I didn’t get along with too well and Angela McKenzie, who was on the Dance Squad with Rhonda and me. “I’m not ready for this test, Thea. Mrs. Mendez is gonna put that conjugation **** in it: I know it! I should have played sick today.” Rhonda was upset but I wasn’t really paying attention because I was busy looking at Angela. She was buggin’, to say the least. At least it seemed like it to me, but no one else seemed to be paying attention. Angela was supposed to be getting dressed and ready for her next class like the rest of us, but she wasn’t. She was standing by her locker in her panties, staring at us. Or rather, staring at me. Actually it was more than a stare. It looked like she was trying to put the evil eye on me. I had just finished reading a book about voodoo so I wasn’t even having it. Even back then, I was down for mine. “Excuse me Ms. Thang, is there a problem?” I glared at her. Rhonda quieted, only then noticing the friction between Angela and me. “No, do you have a problem?” She was still glaring but now she had quit pretending she was dressing and stood there in her underwear, hands on her hips. She was thirteen then, I think, and the boys thought she was all that because she was developed and wore at least a 34D bra. I was thirteen too but not even half as well developed. I was still in a training bra and had given up hope of ever growing breasts, no matter what my mother said. Rhonda had been observing, strangely silent, but now spoke up as she saw that I was about to go off on Angela. “Hey y’all, what’s really going on? We got class in two minutes. Ain’t no time for all this drama. Angela, why don’t you just get dressed and forget about it?” “Forget about it? Oh, no you didn’t say forget about it! You didn’t say anything about forgetting last Friday night when we were together, did you? I didn’t think so!” Angela’s eyes were flashing and bright, her breasts heaving like some vixen in a bad romance novel. I barely noticed all that though, cause I was trippin' off what I had just heard. What was she talking about? Together? What did she mean, together? Rhonda had told us she had stayed home sick last Friday night. That was her excuse for not going to the Fun Frolic – the yearly carnival that made its way to Jasper every fall - with the rest of us. I looked at her in confusion but she was focused on Angela. I didn’t think she was worried about Mrs. Mendez’s test any more. Amy Jo just stood by her locker, watching the drama unfold. She clutched her book bag tightly to her chest, a look of amazement plastered across her face. I glared at her and she was out, slipping, wide-eyed and silent, around the corner of the lockers. “Why you got to go there? Look, let’s go talk. Why you trippin' on me like this?” I called her name, but she ignored me. I could tell that she heard me by the way her back stiffened, but I let it go. I was still trying to process what I thought I had just seen and heard. As I think back on that situation now, my perception of Lesbians reflected the stereotypes that filled the airwaves on shows like Jerry Springer and Jenny Jones. I knew about Lesbians back then, but hadn’t really connected the existence of such people to any part of my reality. Lesbians were definitely not my best friend in the world and they weren’t Angela McKenzie either, two girls in junior high school. I finished dressing and walked to class in a daze. I don’t really remember taking the test or anything. All I remember is that Rhonda came in late and that the period was over before I knew it. Later, during the bus ride home, Rhonda didn’t sit by me, even though I saved her a seat, as usual. But she called me that night. We talked about the Spanish test, our friends. Carefully and consciously omitting any reference to the scene in the locker room. I never told LaShay or Tara about that incident, for some reason. Looking back, I guess I thought it was none of their business. And besides - even though I hate to admit it - I enjoyed the bond that the secret Rhonda and I shared created between us. After that, it was as if nothing had happened and neither of us ever mentioned it. Angela moved away soon after and the incident took on that hazy dream-like quality that characterizes old memories. ~ “Check me out! I am Mitochondrial Eve, Mother of Humanity and the bane of all small-****ed, small-minded Patriarchs! Hear my roar! Gaaaaaaahhhhh!” Tara was high as hell, trippin’. We had parked on the shoulder of the road and collectively stumbled and wove our way down to the lakefront where Rhonda and I had unsteadily built a bonfire from driftwood lying nearby. Rhonda, in the car, earlier. Two, small yellow and red capsules in her hand. "You want one of these?" Me, "what are they?" "X. Ecstasy. You ever try it?" "No." "Check it out…it's nice." "What will it do?" "Make you feel real nice. Trust me. I love you, girl!" So I tried one. And there we were. Tara was prancing around the fire, shedding her clothes, twisting and turning to some inner rhythm. “Girl you need to get on beat! Here, this is how you do it!” She was down to her bra and panties when I joined her, chanting and laughing while Rhonda and LaShay beat-boxed, adding a beat to our impromptu fire-dance. I felt exhilarated, the moon above and the heat of the fire adding fuel to my flames. I was burning up and almost unconsciously began undressing, all the while dancing and gyrating to the beat of our collective hearts. Soon we were both naked and flushed. My olive-brown skin gleamed in the firelight, the sweat covered my body. Sand transformed my feet to clay. “Afro-Asiatic Black Woman, Queen of the Earth, greetings to the Night, greetings Sisters of the Yam! Baptized with the Holy Treacle, Jack Daniels, we stand tonight ready for the world!” Tara stood solemnly, the bottle of JD in her hands, her eyes lost in the fire. I joined her, kneeling down in the sand. The flames embraced me, captivating and bright. My breath was loud in my ears, coming fast and hard. “Amen, sister! Amen. We join you in solidarity and love.” Rhonda had joined us, LaShay next to her, their arms intertwined. The moon seemed to expand, casting its pale blessing upon our gathering. Rapture enfolded me within its embrace and a cool breeze of clarity murmured soft nothings to my heart, bridging the divide between my passion and prudence. The fire burst forth, roaring with primal laughter as a cool breeze caught hold, scattering coal-dust and flame into the night air. It grew larger and larger until it seemed as if our little fire had mutated into an inferno, towering above us yet holding us within its grasp, warm and safe. I stood to join the others, silently swaying, entranced by the dancing flames, the fire caressing my skin, empowering my spirit. In the next instance, or perhaps it was the last, the essence of an all-consuming passion enveloped me. The heat burned us all. I remember looking at Rhonda, naked, Tara kneeling before her, caressing her hips, her lips flitting gently. Sweat glistened, firelight transforming her into a reddish-gold goddess, writhing and moaning with desire. Flashes of golden mist. LaShay and I kiss deeply. Our hands roam each other's body. I found myself prone, the stars my entire world. I felt sand beneath me, billions of particles pressed against me: me, writhing, sinking deeper into the yielding substance. Purple clouds, shot through with lightning strokes of white-hot pleasure. My hands cupped around LaShay’s head, her tongue busy. Later I return the favor. Rhonda and I, laughing and holding each other, gazing into each other’s eyes as if for the first time, exposing ourselves; whispered confessions of love, passionate caresses. Tara and LaShay dancing again, screaming and laughing wildly. All of us splashing in the shallow water, rinsing each other clean of sand and sweat, the night ending when the fire died and the encroaching cold returned us to ourselves. An exchange between Rhonda and I, sometime in the mist of the morning gray. I in her arms, her heartbeat steady in my ears. Her hands caress me. “You've always been my girl, Althea. Haven’t you known?” “No, I mean, yes. I think so. I’ve always felt a special bond between us.” “Girl, please. That's a serious understatement. I’ve never pressured you, Thea. Never. Even when you found out about Angela and me. Did I try to jump your bones after I found out you were cool with it? Hmm?” I laughed. “No, you didn’t. I feel so strange, Rhonda. What's happening?” I looked up at her, the dying firelight creating fantastic illusions with the planes of her face. Absolutes of amber and ebony defined her sculpted features. Her eyes. Large and liquid, were troubled yet calm. “Life is happening, Thea. Life, and love.” She sighed heavily, her breast rising like the waves of Lake Whippoorwill on a stormy night. I looked over at Tara and LaShay lying on the opposite side of the fire, LaShay sleeping soundly in Tara’s arms. Tara met my gaze. A smile of contentment assured me that she was chillin' as hard as I was. It felt as if that moment would last forever, an epiphany of paradigm-altering proportions. At least it was for me. ~ I sat up in bed; the covers pulled up around my shoulders. I was trembling but I wasn’t cold. The sun peeked through my window, highlighting dancing motes of dust, and I flipped my legs over the edge of the bed. Did this mean that I was gay? I didn’t feel gay. I picked up the telephone but paused before dialing, still wondering about my sexual preferences. The thought of boys still made my heart trip. I did feel that my perspective had broadened somehow. Horizons only hinted at now lay before me, mine to actualize. Major decisions had never come easy. I had spent month’s agonizing over which college to attend, only choosing when the deadline was less than a week away and even then choosing Spelman only because my girls were going there too. It was something about last night, something about that fire that made us act the way we did. Intoxicating and consuming, it had brought out something which had been latent within us all, except perhaps Rhonda, who knew exactly who she was. My fingers shook as I dialed. Even now, I wasn’t sure about the others. Tara loved men too, as far as I knew, although she and Rhonda did spend a lot of time together during the school year, often going out together when LaShay and I were tired or had other plans. She had a steady boyfriend, Malik, whom she had been dating since freshmen year. I hung up the telephone after leaving a terse message. Rhonda wasn't answering, which usually meant that she was either passed out from the night before or otherwise indisposed. In college, she would often screen her calls if she had company, which used to really piss me off. Rhonda was inconsiderate that way. She did whatever she wanted. Her passion had always been her driving force. “Althea Renee Adams! Get your lazy behind out of that bed, now! Don’t you know it’s twelve-thirty in the afternoon? You have an appointment with the gynecologist today, remember?” My mother’s voice interrupted my reverie. I shook my head, irritated again as the thought I was following dissipated. “Okay, Mama! I’m up! I’ll be down in a minute!” I sat up in the bed, noticing that three hours had passed since my little brother had awakened me. I concentrated, trying to remember how the night had ended. It was hazy. Flashes of memory juxtaposed over what were probably wild imaginings. I could clearly recall being in the convertible with Tara, the road before us seeming to loop and curl in some cartoonish fashion, reminding me of some of the fantastic animation in the old Raggedy Ann and Andy cartoons I used to love as a child. The cold, misty pre-dawn light, gray and numbing, cast a pall over the silent green woodlands. Tara and I rode in silence. There was no need for conversation. All that needed to be said had been and now we were free to accept or deny the night. That was my last conscious memory before being awakened by Randy this morning. The telephone rang, startling me. Reluctantly, I answered. "What's up?” “Hey girl, it’s me, Rhonda. Have you been trying to reach me?” She sounded funny, kind of like a recording. “Yeah, I’ve been calling. What’s up? Where are you?” There was a definite silence. Then, “I’m not at home. I’m calling you from LaShay’s. What are you doing? Can we meet sometime?” I felt my heart skip a beat. “Sure. I have an appointment with Dr. Ryan at two o’clock, but after that I’m free. Where do you want to meet?” “How about the Mall? White Castles?” “Cool. I’ll see you there later. How about three?” “Ok. Later, Heifer.” I hung up the phone. I felt distant. Removed from the situation. As if all this were happening to someone else. I couldn’t believe that Rhonda and I had arrived where we were after all we had been through. The only thing I knew for sure was that the way I felt about her would never change. ~ I walked into White Castles that afternoon feeling slightly sore between my legs from all Dr. Ryan’s poking and prodding. Rhonda was sitting at a booth with LaShay. That surprised me since she hadn’t said she was bringing someone else. “Hey y’all, what’s going on?” I slid into the booth across from Rhonda, next to LaShay. Rhonda grinned, her eyes twinkling. “You know what’s going on, Thea. I know you’ve been thinking about last night, haven’t you?” I squirmed in my seat, conscious of LaShay sitting next to me. “Well, yeah. At first I thought it was a dream, you know? We were drunk and high as hell, girl. I can’t believe everyone made it home safely.” “Thea, Rhonda and I have something to tell you.” LaShay was looking at Rhonda when she said this, which instantly put me on alert. “Oh yeah? What’s goin’ on, y’all? You sound all serious and ****. You ain’t about to tell me about no major diseases, are you?” They both laughed at that, but I was only half joking. I was alarmed now. They kept exchanging looks and it was making me nervous not knowing what was going on. “Girl, you silly. We just though you should be the first to know, since we’re tight and all that.” Rhonda was looking at me intently and I could feel LaShay next to me, all tense. “What we wanted to tell you was that we’re lovers and we have been for almost a year now.” I don’t know what reaction they were expecting from me, but it certainly wasn’t the laughter they heard. I was relieved! I had thought they were going to tell me they wanted a repeat performance or something! Last night had seemed like a dream. But it had also seemed like a one-time thing. No encores, no repeat performances. Rhonda and LaShay were both looking at me like I was crazy and maybe I was, laughing like a demented hyena, but I couldn’t help myself. Relief released tension I hadn’t even recognized I was carrying. “Thea? Are you alright?” LaShay put her arms around me and I intercepted a look of concern passing between her and Rhonda. “Yeah, I’m cool. I just thought, I mean, I... Oh ****, I don’t know what I mean. I’m happy for you. Yes! I’m happy for you both. You know I love y’all like sisters!” I laughed again and, this time, both Rhonda and LaShay joined in, relief coloring their voices. Behind the counter, the waitress looked our way, smiling, sensing the joy that we shared. Rhonda reached across the table, grasping my hands in both of hers. “You don’t know how happy that makes us, Thea. We were so afraid you wouldn’t understand. But after last night, well, things are different between us.” “That’s for sure. Remind me never to try Ecstasy again, ok? I've definitely learned my lesson." Extracting Rhonda’s semi-serious promise, I felt as if a new world had been unveiled before my eyes. As if a shroud had been torn away, exposing me to vista’s unimagined. My life from this point on would be much different. It seemed that colors were brighter, sounds clearer and emotions more intense. My soul felt unfettered, social stigma and mass ignorance no longer an important variable in the equation of my life. I loved my sisters with my entire being, and this day marked the inception of Althea Renee Adam’s entry into the real world, the world of entropy and change, where nothing was certain and nobody was as they seemed. It felt good, **** it. Peace y’all. And welcome to Thea’s World.