Nikki stared at the mass of people crowding the parking lot. The scent of charcoal smoke and sizzling meat filled the air as thick as the southern accents competing for time on the radio. It was a golden fall day, the kind that invited you to come out and play, but Nikki wasn't sure she was ready. She was new in town, newly married, and still trying to make friends. That was the only reason she'd agreed to come to this "tailgating party." That and the fact that Jackson was on call at the hospital this weekend. It seemed like the new doctors got most of the weekend shifts.
Tailgating. Like a picnic, Julie said. Well this certainly wasn't like any picnic Nikki had ever been to. Picnics had blankets spread on the ground, food you made at home and carefully placed in a basket, and maybe a bottle of champagne. A romantic atmosphere. Not an asphalt lot with pickup trucks blaring all the different local country stations, portable grills sending out their smells like an offering, and people all over, in lawn chairs, in truck beds, swarming like unwelcome ants.
"Yoo Hoo! Nikki!" Julie's voice rang out. Nikki turned and saw her new friend, light bouncing off of her carrot curls, waving wildly for Nikki to join the group.
Nikki waded her way through the crowd. "Hi, Julie," she said and smiled shyly at the mixed group around her.
Julie grinned. "Well, you know Lisa and Jared. And these guys are Drew, Ryan, and Jason." The three guys hanging out around the grill gave Nikki a chin up nod. "I think you met Drew at church. He's the youth minister. Ryan is a chemistry teacher at the high school. And Jason is the town veterinarian. Jason's wife, Mali, will be here soon."
"Yeah, she had to get Talia to her mom's house. She's a little young for tailgating. She is bringing Bruce though."
"Are they your kids?" Nikki asked.
"Talia is our daughter. She got her good looks from my side of the family. Bruce is my Great Dane," Jason answered. Looking around, he saw them and called out "hey, Babe! Bruce! Over here!"
Nikki looked over and saw a beautiful black woman walking with a dog the size of a pony. "I think I'm a little young for tailgating," Nikki laughed.
"Nah, you're cool. Want a burger?" Jason held a plate out to Nikki. "Grab a lawn chair. Whatcha drinkin'?" he asked.
"Uh, lemonade?" Nikki half questioned. Drew handed her a Dixie cup with the cool, refreshing drink. The condensation was already running down the sides of the cup. Nikki took a long drink, having to keep herself from smacking her lips at the end.
"So, Nikki, we know y'all are new in the area. How'd you get down here?" Lisa asked.
"I married Jackson when he had just finished his residency, he was offered a job in the pediatric oncology ward down here, so here we are." Nikki answered simply, her foot absently tapping out the rhythm to the nearest country song.
"You like it here?"
"Yes, I do. It's different, I'm used to a bigger city, but I think I could get used to this place," Nikki answered. And the people, she thought. So this was tailgating: burgers, laughter with friends, a cold glass of lemonade and the twang of a guitar on the radio. A larger version of a picnic, but a picnic none the less. And after it all, a football game.
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