It was the cacophony, the loud whooping and jeering, that first awakened me. Then I saw the glowing yellow light through the curtains, pushed them aside and gasped when I realized that its origin was a wooden cross that had been set ablaze.
There were about four or five men in our yard, all of them on horseback, all of them wearing white sheets with holes cut out for eyes like trick-or-treating ghosts.
I realized that Andre was right behind me, looking on. "I'm going out there," he said through gritted teeth.
"No, Andre! They'll rip you from limb to limb!"
But he was already loping toward the door, jaw set in determination. I followed, but he pushed me behind him roughly. "Get back! They'll see you!" he whispered fiercely.
"I'm not letting you go out there alone!" I insisted, but the men had already ridden away, hooting and cackling and shouting obscenities.
I collapsed into the nearest chair, sobbing heavily. A moment later I felt Andre's arms around me, holding me. "Lindy. My Lindy."
I knew that the charred remains of the cross would still be there in the morning, mute testimony that the events of tonight had been no mere nightmare.
I'd first met him when he'd come into a department store I worked at for awhile after high school. I was standing on a ladder stocking glasses on a shelf when one slipped out of my hand and fell. Never hearing the expected crash, I looked and saw that he'd caught it. The deeply tanned, but not quite brown, color of his skin, his tight black curls, dark chocolate-colored eyes, and full lips told me right away that he was one of 'them.' This information passed into my brain and then right back out again, supplanted by the knowledge that the price of the broken glass would have been deducted from my wages.
"Thank you," I said gratefully as he handed the glass back to me.
"I'm Andre." When he smiled, his teeth looked very white against his dark skin.
"It's nice to meet you. I'm Melinda."
"Say, what time do you get off?"
"Five. My Mom usually picks me up, but our car's in the shop right now, so I'll have to take the bus."
"I could pick you up," he suggested.
As many times as I'd been warned about accepting rides from complete strangers, something instinctively told me that I could trust him. "All right."
"So, have you lived here your entire life?" he asked on the way home.
"Yeah. Kind of boring, huh?" I laughed, and he joined in. "So where are you from?"
"Louisiana. My father was from Quebec, Montreal to be exact. He had family connections down here. My mother's people were freedmen, mostly sharecroppers. They met at a Fais do-do, a dance."
"So how did you end up here in Montgomery?"
"My mother's Uncle Hiram had a stroke, and a few of us came east to help him out. My family, we always look out for each other."
I couldn't believe we'd already reached my home.
"Thanks for the ride, Andre," I told him as I got out of his car.
"No problem. Anytime," he replied before driving away.
I didn't realize that my mother had witnessed the entire exchange from the kitchen window.