“Excuse me” says a female voice behind him. The playground was empty except for Cameron and his 7-year-old sister. Keyword: was. He turns towards the voice leaving his sister dangling on a swing, facedown, singing “Be Our Guest” from Beauty and the Beast. She hasn’t noticed the intruder yet.
“Sorry to bother you…”, she begins.
“It’s no problem. I like talking with strangers.”
“Sure, why not?” he shrugs, half-heartedly sarcastic.
“Well. Alrighty then.” She says, apparently believing him, “You see, it’s my parents…”
She gestures towards the open field several yards away from the playground. A large gathering tent sits in the middle of the field, about four dozen people are gathered. A family reunion, from the looks of it.
“Right. So, what is it then?”
“Are you married?”
“Woah lady! I’m only 20…”
“Oh, well…it’s just because…” She’s nervous now, nodding towards Cameron’s sister. “you know…”
“My sister… Kendall”
“It’s because I’m black…isn’t it? You just assume all black guys have kids early?”
“No, no! I just thought because…you looked…older…?”
“Sure…” He says, apparently annoyed.
“I’m sorry.” She’s visibly uncomfortable now.
“I’m kidding. It’s fine.” He assures her, cracking a smile, “People confuse our relationship all the time”
She gives a short laugh and sits down on a swing opposite Kendall.
“I’m Cameron” he offers.
“Jenni” she smiles.
Kendall, now alarmed by the intruder, stands up from the swing hides behind Cameron looking at Jenni with reservation. She’s now singing “Something Bad” from Wicked under her breath.
“It’s alright K, she’s nice”, her brother assures her.
“Hey Kendall” Jenni says, smiling and extending her hand out. Kendall stops singing and accepts the invitation with some reservation. “You have a great voice”
“So… your parents?” Cameron ventures.
“Oh, right” Jenni looks over towards the field again. Apparently, no one has seen her yet. “You see, my parents have been bugging me for a while about how I’m going to get married…”
“So, you want us to get married?”
“No, no. I just…Ugh! This is so awkward…”
“It’s more awkward to leave me hanging like this”
“Ok! Fine! So, my parents are disappointed because I haven’t ‘found someone’ yet. But I realized I haven’t talked with them in a couple months. I live out of state. I’m a journalist in New York City. Our family reunion is right over there, and I thought…maybe…you could come over with me just for a little while and…pretend to be my boyfriend? They wouldn’t know.”
Cameron raises an eyebrow. Jenni’s looking at him. A mixed expression of hope and sympathy, she knows she sounds crazy.
“Let’s do it” he decides.
“Wait, you’re serious?” She was obviously not expecting a positive answer.
“Why not? I’ll take Kendall back to the house first” he points at a small, single story place about fifty yards away. A thin wire fence surrounds the property.
“Sure thing. I’ll…come with you? If that’s ok…Less chance my parents will notice me behind those trees”
“Sure, just stay away from my dog. She’s not a fan of…’your kind’” he begins walking towards the house. Kendall holds his hand, singing quietly the chorus from “I Can Show You The World”.
“What kind? White people?”
They arrive at the fence, Cameron opens the gate and a large, dark brown Pitbull greets them.
“I’ll stay here” Jenni says waiting at the fence line.
When Cameron returns, he’s changed into a green polo and khaki’s.
“Oh, you didn’t need to…” she says as he meets her at the gate and they begin the walk through the trees towards the gathering.
“Of course, I did. I’m playing a part. I’m the responsible, educated, college grad you met at a mutual friend’s party six months ago. I’ve done this before.”
“Not exactly. I was a theater geek in high school. In every play, improv competition, musical. You name it, I was in it.”
“Performing’s your thing?”
“Was. My parent’s aren’t too fond of it. They don’t want it to get in the way of ‘real life’.”
“’Real life? Who cares what they think? Go do what you want to do”
“I’m not just going to leave my sister behind”
“She’ll be fine. Probably following in your footsteps too. Already learning all the show tunes I heard. She sings well”
“I hope not, she’s better off on the good side of my parents”
“The good side of parents. Right” Jenni rolls her eyes.
“So, what’s your issue? Don’t your parents have enough faith in your bubbly personality and gorgeous looks?”
She raises her eyebrows.
“What? I’m ‘getting into my character’”
“You better get ‘out of character’ before I unveil my soul to a fictional person. But, yeah, I guess they expected grandkids by now, you know? They married young, my mom was 21 my dad was 22”
“Exactly. And they can’t understand that I am appreciating being single for the time being. Is it that bad? I mean, if I can’t give them grandkids, my sister can. Why does it have to be me?”
“It doesn’t” Cameron stops and turns to her, they are about halfway to the reunion.
“Tell that to them” She folds her arms and avoids his eye.
“I just might”
“I was kidding, don’t make it worse than it already will be with them.”
“Look, you’re an adult. You’re independent. I mean, for God’s sake you’re living in New York City! Go do what you want to do!”
“It’s not that easy. I can’t have a conversation about anything with them without having them ask what my ‘man plans’ are”
“It’s none of their business”
“It’s none of your parents’ business what you do for your job. You want to act? Go act! I’m sure there’s a theater somewhere that will use you. Or, go to Hollywood, who’s going to stop you?”
“She’ll be fine. How cool would it be if she could see her older brother pursuing his dreams? She’d be so much more confident in her own when the time comes.”
Cameron looks away for a couple seconds. Then an idea crosses his face.
“Ok, I’ll make you a deal. I’ll go my way, you go yours. And you don’t care what other people say. You go up to your parents and be honest with them. And I go home and change out of this stupid costume, and go try out for that part I’ve been eyeing at the local theater.”
She pauses for a moment.