Friday, February 27, 2009

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!


Today's Wild Card author is:


and the book:


Married Strangers

Urban Books (December 1, 2008)


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Dwan Abrams is a full-time novelist, freelance editor, publisher and speaker. She's the best-selling author of Married Strangers, Divorcing the Devil, Only True Love Waits, The Scream Within, and Favor (a short story appearing in The Midnight Clear anthology). She's also the founder, publisher and editorial director of Nevaeh Publishing, a small press independent publishing house.

Visit the author's website and blog.


Product Details:

List Price: $14.95
Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: Urban Books (December 1, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1601629753
ISBN-13: 978-1601629753

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Rayna

Rayna’s eyes welled with tears as feelings of loneliness and disappointment overtook her emotions. All of the romance and passion she envisioned would occur during her honeymoon didn’t happen. She imagined that this would have been one of the happiest times of her life. Instead, she was miserable. She had already felt a sense of cognitive dissonance, better known as “buyer’s remorse,” after her new husband, Bryce, had promised to take her on an exotic vacation in Cancun. Yeah right! she thought. Here they were, two weeks before Christmas, in a log cabin at Forrest Hills Mountain Resort in Dahlonega, Georgia. It was a five day package that Bryce’s best friend, Fox, had given them for a wedding present. A friend whose nickname came as a result of not so savory sales tactics, Fox earned the nickname because, according to Bryce, he was slicker than a snake oil salesman. Rayna found it strange that Bryce would refer to his friend in such a derogatory manner. It vexed her spirit, and she immediately remembered Proverbs 27:19: A mirror reflects a man's face, but what he is really like is shown by the kind of friends he chooses.

Now Rayna faced a deeper problem, the dislike of her honeymoon location. Besides the fact that Rayna was not the outdoorsy type, hiking and horseback riding never appealed to her. She and Bryce had discussed at length where they would spend their honeymoon… on the beach. Rayna’s fondest memories are of her vacationing in the Bahamas, Hawaii, and different beaches in Florida. There was something about the tranquil waters that made her feel at peace; almost as if she was communing with God.

Bryce had promised her they’d go to Mexico. At the last minute, he told her that he was unable to get the time off from work. He worked as a field reporter, and although he could have gotten a few days off, it wouldn’t have been long enough. She was disappointed. Her heart was set on an exotic locale, not somewhere with frost on the trees and snow on the ground. She wondered whether she was catching a glimpse of what her life with Bryce would be like. Broken promises. Even with advance notice, he still wasn’t able to come through for their honeymoon. The only person she blamed was herself for not getting to know her husband better before marrying him. As far as Rayna was concerned, a year of knowing Bryce hadn’t been nearly enough time. Trying to deal with her regret seemed overwhelming at times.

Rayna considered herself to be spiritually intuitive. But this time, she ignored the signs. A couple of weeks before getting married, Rayna had a disturbing dream about her wedding day. In the dream, her wedding day was a fiasco. She couldn’t remember all of the details, but one thing was clear—her feelings throughout the dream were unpleasant. At one point she said, “I’m marrying the wrong man.” Having awoken with beads of sweat on her forehead, Rayna dismissed the dream as a case of wedding jitters.

Even though the log cabin was nice—hot tub, double showers, and fireplace—the problem was Bryce.

“Good morning, Mrs. Henderson,” Bryce said as he kissed Rayna on the cheek.

“Morning.” She stretched her arms over her head.

The way Bryce said, “Mrs. Henderson,” sent shivers up her spine. To her, he sounded so macho at times. She found that whole “I’m Tarzan, you Jane” thing sexy.

“You hungry?” he asked.

She looked at the clock sitting on the wooden nightstand next to the canopy bed. The LED display read 9:00 a.m. in red digits.

“We need to hurry up before they stop serving breakfast,” she said.

Rayna wanted to escape out of bed and get dressed before Bryce touched her, again. His passionate desires seemed to be insatiable. Once, she asked him whether he had an implant or took drugs, because even after making love, Bryce’s physical disposition remained the same. Of course, he denied it. Most women would love to have a man who could last for hours. For Rayna, it didn’t take all that. Not if he knew what he’s doing. Unfortunately, Bryce wouldn’t know how to satisfy her if she were an air traffic controller directing him from the lighthouse. She remembered hearing that sex comprised only two percent of a relationship, if it’s good. But when it’s not-so-good, it’s about ninety-eight percent, she thought. Having an ungratifying sex life made it difficult for her to appreciate the good things about Bryce. Like the way he’d rub her feet whenever they sat next to each other on the couch, or the way he’d give her an all over body massage.

“Let’s take communion first,” Bryce suggested, revealing a devilish grin.

Communion was Bryce’s way of asking for physical intimacy, and she thought it was sweet. He had this good guy, bad boy routine down to a science. Rayna looked over at him and immediately became turned on. Her husband was hot. Brad Pitt and George Clooney had nothing on Bryce. He wasn’t wearing a shirt and his smooth, hairless chest was toned and muscular. She noticed that his abs workout was working, because the lining of a six-pack was visible. She thought he was sexy. Too bad he can’t deliver.

“Not right now,” she grumbled.

It amazed Rayna how her husband could have so much going on—good looks, a body like a Greek Adonis, sex appeal, a smile that could light up a room, yet he didn’t know how to straighten her hair and curl her toes, so to speak. It’s not like she hadn’t expressed her dissatisfaction to Bryce. He knew full well that she was frustrated; yet he wouldn’t do anything to change it. Every time she wanted to try something new or different, he called her sadistic. Her feelings were crushed. More than anything, she wanted to please him, and in the process, get pleased. His inflexibility made Rayna feel less desirable and unappreciated.

She got out of the king-sized bed, walked across the hardwood floor, and went into the double showers. Thankfully, the water running down her face camouflaged the tears streaming down her cheeks. Rayna felt as if she had made a terrible mistake by marrying Bryce. After they consummated their marriage a couple of nights ago, she went into the bathroom and cried. How could two people be so physically incompatible? she thought. She had never heard of such a thing, especially not with married couples. She wondered what she had done to deserve such an unfulfilling union. Silently, she prayed.

Lord, forgive me for my sins. Please help me deal with this marriage. Whatever sin is blocking me from being a good wife, I ask that you remove it. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.

As she exited the shower and wrapped her body in a towel, Bryce entered the bathroom. He embraced Rayna, and she melted. Her desire to be close to him was overwhelming; then the thought of being disappointed crept in and immediately turned her off. Not because she didn’t love him, because she did. It was more because of his indifferent attitude. When they made love, she sensed that his thoughts were elsewhere. He wouldn’t look at her, and that bothered her. She wondered whether it was because he was white, and she was black. Then she quickly dismissed that notion because Bryce didn’t seem to have a racist bone in his body. His expectation of going all the way at the slightest hint of affection made her hesitant to hug or kiss him. She couldn’t even rub her hand along her leg without him getting turned on.

Freeing herself from his toned arms, she looked at his disappointed face and said, “I saved you some hot water. I’m going to get dressed.”

She went back into the bedroom. Since it was cold outside, she slipped into a cashmere sweater, jeans and boots. Her hair was styled in a short, curled “do” like the actress Halle Berry.

Several minutes later, Bryce came from out of the shower. “You look nice,” Bryce complimented as he dried off, and changed into a gray mock neck sweater, jeans and Timberlands.

“Thanks. So do you.”

They put on their coats and gloves and left the cabin. Rayna noticed there was frost on the surrounding trees. They walked to the couples-only “Secret Garden” dining room, which happened to be a few feet away.

The hostess, dressed in a sweater and jeans, said, “Are you on your honeymoon?”

“Yes,” Bryce replied, smiling. “How could you tell?”

Rayna felt like saying, “Because we’re in the couples-only dining room,” but she refrained. In Bryce’s defense, they could’ve been dating and vacationing together, she reasoned.

“You have that glow about you,” the hostess replied.

Bryce looked at Rayna lovingly, and grabbed her gloved hand.

“It’s a buffet,” the hostess explained, smiling. “Seat yourself wherever you like.”

Thank goodness, Rayna thought. Every time they went out to eat, Bryce always asked the waiter or waitress, “What do you recommend?” It used to bother Rayna, so she asked him why he did that. He told her that it eliminated the guesswork. “Who better to tell you about the food than the people who work at the restaurant?” Bryce replied. She understood, but never adopted that philosophy. She enjoyed scanning the selections. When she would narrow her choices down to two entrĂ©es, then she would ask the waiter or waitress for their opinion. Her indecisiveness tended to bother Bryce, but she didn’t care.

They sat at a table surrounded by large, panoramic windows. They took off their coats and gloves and placed them on an empty chair.

“Can I get you something to drink?” the hostess asked.

“Two hot teas with sugar and lemon,” Bryce replied.

“And an orange juice,” Rayna added.

After the hostess took their drink orders, they got up and each fixed themselves a plate. The food looked scrumptious and fresh. Rayna had the cheese grits, scrambled eggs and bacon. Bryce filled his plate with French toast and sausage links.

They went back to their table, and Bryce led them in prayer.

“Father, thank you for this food and fellowship. I pray that this meal is nourishing to our minds and bodies. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.

She mixed her eggs with the grits and crumpled bacon on top. Then she stared out the window. Trees for as far as the eyes could see… acres and acres of secluded woodlands. Her thoughts drifted to the first time she and Bryce met.

They were standing in line at the cafe in the Barnes & Noble off Cobb Parkway in Atlanta. After striking up a general conversation, Bryce paid for her latte. He seemed intelligent, not to mention handsome, with that sandy blond hair and green eyes. So when he asked for her phone number, she gave it to him.

Rayna went home immediately afterward. Within twenty minutes, her phone rang. It was Bryce, asking her to go out with him.

“When can I see you, again?” Bryce asked.

“How about tomorrow night?” she responded in a flirtatious tone.

“Great.” He sounded excited. “Where would you like to go?”

“Pizza Hut,” she laughed.

“Pizza Hut?” She could tell by the influx in his voice that he had expected her to name some fancy restaurant.

“Yes.”

Besides the fact that Pizza Hut was her favorite pizza establishment, she didn’t want Bryce to feel as though she were trying to take advantage of him. When they met, he was dressed in a suit. Not a cheap suit either. Rayna checked his shoes and Bryce wore black Kenneth Cole. He seemed to be doing pretty well. Even still, Rayna had wanted to get to know him personally. At the time, she was not impressed by the fact that by all appearances, he could have taken her to an expensive restaurant.

The following day, he picked Rayna up at her apartment in a rental car and took her to Pizza Hut. While at the restaurant, he explained to her that he actually lived in Chicago and was in Atlanta on business. He worked as a field reporter and was chronicling a news story. He also wrote a newspaper column. His profession seemed exciting to Rayna, because she had written numerous poems and short stories. One day, she planned to write a full-length book. Speaking with a real life reporter/writer fascinated her. As he told Rayna about his travels and how he became a writer, she hung on his every word.

“I have always been fascinated by the written word,” Bryce explained. “You know, it’s funny how I became a columnist,” he chuckled. “A friend of mine used to write a column for Chicago Tribune. She got a promotion and recommended me for her old job.”

“Wow! That was a major blessing.” Rayna smiled.

“I know,” he laughed. “Especially since I had just graduated from college.”

Rayna was not surprised to hear about Bryce’s accomplishments. He seemed so eloquent, well- spoken, cultured, and poised. When they arrived at the restaurant, they talked incessantly. She felt as though she were in a therapy session, because he was so easy to talk to.

“Where are you from?” Bryce asked, looking at her.

“I grew up in Orlando, but my parents and I moved to Georgia about…” she rolled her eyes upward, “ten years ago.” She took a bite of pepperoni pizza.

“Tell me about your family.”

She held up her index finger while she chewed the pizza. After she swallowed, she said, “I’m an only child. My mom’s a pharmacist, and my dad’s a neurologist. What about your family?”

“I have two older brothers and two younger sisters. I’m the middle child. I spent a great deal of my childhood being raised by my grandmother.”

“What happened to your parents?”

He sipped a glass of soda, or “pop” as he called it. “My dad died of a heart-attack when I was five, and I don’t have a good relationship with my mother.”

Curious. Rayna was taken aback. What kind of guy doesn’t get along with his mother? she wondered.

“My brothers and sisters have the same father, and I have my own father,” he explained. “As you can imagine, I was the black sheep.”

“You’re the middle child, yet you have a different dad?” she said more of a statement than a question, trying to make sure she understood him correctly.

“Yes. My mom was married, but she had an affair. I’m the result.” He stared at a scratch in the wooden table before taking a sip of his sparkly drink.

Rayna cleared her throat, not really knowing what to say. His candor surprised her.

He looked at her and sucked in his cheeks as if he were sucking a lemon. “My mom’s marriage suffered because of it, but they stayed together and had my twin sisters.”

“Then why did you have to stay with your grandmother?” She tilted her head to the side.

He looked her in the eye and said seriously, “Because my stepdad didn’t treat me the same as the other kids. He was harder on me. My mom figured that with me out of the house, the family could be put back together.”

“That’s terrible.” She furrowed her brow.

She felt sorry for him. Rayna hadn’t expected to learn such personal information about him on their first date. In a strange way, seeing him in such a vulnerable state attracted her to Bryce. She had finally met a man who was in touch with his feelings and knew how to convey them. Something in his almond shaped eyes expressed sadness. She could tell that his hurt ran deep. He was so nice that she wanted to help him.

Bryce squeezed Rayna’s hand, which was resting on top of the table, and said, “What were you thinking about?”

Rayna had been so deep in thought that she hadn’t even realized that the hostess had placed their drinks on the table.

“How do you know I was thinking?” she answered, smiling. “I could’ve been admiring the scenery.”

“You might’ve started out doing that, but I can tell by the way your eyes shifted downward and to the right that you were remembering something.”

He’s so analytical, she thought. He pays attention to everything. That’s what she gets for hooking up with a brain-iac.

“I was thinking about us,” she admitted. “I can’t believe that after six months of being engaged, we’re finally married.”

Rayna’s decision to marry Bryce was an easy one. He proposed to her three months after they met. They had been talking on the phone every day, several times per day. Maintaining a long distance relationship wasn’t easy. She missed him terribly and wanted companionship. She was twenty years old and a sophomore at Mercer University. Bryce was three years her senior. They were deeply in love.

“Rayna,” he said, interrupting her thoughts once again. “I love you so much,” he grinned sheepishly, licking his pink lips.

“I love you, too.” She gave a faint smile.

“You don’t understand. I love you more than I’ve ever loved anybody, including my own mother. I don’t know what I’d ever do without you, Rayna,” Bryce declared.

Somehow, hearing Bryce say he loved her more than his mother disturbed her, because although she loved him, she didn’t think it could be compared to the love she has for her parents. Never had she met anyone who could make her remotely think that she loved them more than either one of her parents. She couldn’t even imagine. Then again, she thought, Bryce’s relationship with his mother was strained. So was it really far-fetched for him to love someone more than her?

Even though she believed him wholeheartedly, Rayna wasn’t sure how to respond to his statement. The first time Bryce ever told Rayna that he loved her was one week after they met. It caught her completely off guard. She found it peculiar, because she thought it was too soon for them to exchange those three little words that carry a whole lot of weight. She didn’t say it back to him, because she didn’t take saying, “I love you” lightly.

Marrying Bryce seemed to make logical sense to Rayna. He was an avid reader, had an incredible vocabulary, and was well-versed in many different things. And she couldn’t deny the obvious. Bryce was fine and saved. And in Rayna’s opinion, that was definitely a plus. Not to mention that he’s a visionary and ambitious. One of the things Rayna admired about him was the fact that he knew a little about a wide array of subjects. He was able to discuss anything with anyone ranging from jazz music to the Greek classics to the Bible. And her parents loved him. Before deciding to commit, Rayna had a conversation with her Aunt Sylvia, which persuaded Rayna to marry Bryce.

Aunt Sylvia and Rayna had a close-knit relationship. She was Rayna’s mother’s younger sister, in her forties, and has never been married. Based on what she had told her aunt, like the way Bryce would call throughout the day, or send flowers, or take Rayna to nice restaurants, Sylvia was convinced that Bryce loved Rayna. What tilted the scale in Bryce’s favor was when Aunt Sylvia said, “Girl, what are you dragging your feet for? Do you know how hard it is to find a man who wants to get married?”

Rayna was glad when the hostess returned and asked, “How’s the food?”

“Fine,” she replied. That way, she didn’t have to acknowledge Bryce’s declaration.

He bit into his French toast. “Delicious.”

Rayna picked up her cloth napkin and wiped the powdered sugar off Bryce’s full lips. His lips don’t look like the average white boy. Not Mick Jagger, but luscious and sexy. He smiled a dimpled smile. She could tell he appreciated the gesture. They finished their breakfast and walked back to their cabin, glove in glove. As they breathed the cold, crisp air, smoke formed every time they exhaled.

Back in the cabin, Bryce started a fire in the gas log fireplace. They took off their shoes, wrapped themselves in a colorful quilt, and cuddled in front of the blazing fire. It was quite romantic. Rayna closed her eyes, listened to the crackling noises being emitted from the fireplace, and imagined that Bryce would ravish her body and leave her feeling satisfied. Fantasizing and praying helped her get through the remaining three days of her honeymoon. Thankfully, she had her fantasies.

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!


Today's Wild Card author is:


and the book:


The List

Urban Books (February 24, 2009)


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:





Dr. Sherri Lewis is an MD, author, ordained minister and conference speaker. She is the staff physician at a Georgia Department of Corrections’ women’s prison. She lives in Atlanta, GA.

Visit the author's website.



Product Details:

List Price: $14.95
Paperback: 300 pages
Publisher: Urban Books (February 24, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1601629826
ISBN-13: 978-1601629821

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Tick, tock, tick, tock…

There it was. The sound that had been growing louder and louder in my brain – until now, it was no longer background noise. Groaning, I rolled over in bed and pulled a pillow over my face. I peeked out and cast an annoyed glance at my nightstand clock, but it was digital, so it couldn’t be blamed for the relentless ticking in my head. No, it was my own internal clock – the proverbial biological one. And now there was an alarm to go with it. An alarm with no snooze button to make it stop. The AMA alarm. Today was my thirty-fifth birthday and I was officially AMA – advanced maternal age. The age at which my eggs, encased in my ovaries since birth, started to get old and decrepit. If by some magic I were to meet Mr. Perfect tomorrow and we fell overwhelmingly in love and got married within the next six months, then got pregnant right away, I would still be considered a high-risk pregnancy just because of my age.

I sat up on the edge of the bed and stretched my arms upward, resolving that today, I would celebrate my life with thanksgiving, hope, and faith.

Hey, God. Thanks for waking me up healthy, beautiful and strong this morning. Thanks that I turned thirty-five today…

And then, for no apparent reason, I burst into tears. Sobs actually. I rolled onto the floor and curled into a fetal position, crying like someone had died.

I guess someone had. The thirty-five year old woman I had dreamed I would be when I was a little girl. Married to a gorgeous, black Ken look-a-alike – plastic smile and all – with two beautiful children living in a castle on the hill with two ponies in our stable and a thriving career as a firewoman or a ballerina.

Okay, so I was seven.

But still. I didn’t expect to be thirty-five, single and childless. I was supposed to wake up to breakfast in bed cooked by my wonderfully loving husband and two beautiful daughters – all bouncy, bubbly and giggly. They were supposed to burst into the room and scream, “Happy Birthday, Mommy” and cover me with little girl kisses. My husband was supposed to kiss my cheek, say “Happy Birthday, Dear” and give me a knowing look that said as soon as the girls got off to school, he was going to really wish me Happy Birthday.

But instead, I was all alone in my king-sized bed. Well, actually on the floor next to it. I grabbed a pillow, then pulled the comforter off the bed and snuggled underneath it. I could see God looking down from heaven shaking His head. He’d elbow Jesus who would roll His eyes. They’d both look at the Holy Spirit as if to say, “Please, go help our pitiful child.”

I imagined the Holy Spirit swiftly coming to my rescue. He’d come and get under the comforter with me and hold me in His arms, promising to love me until my earthly husband came along.

“God, for the millionth time – why can’t You take it away? Just make me completely satisfied with You and You alone. If You’re not going to fulfill it, then take away my desire for a husband and kids.” I yelled at Him from under the comforter. I imagined the Holy Spirit hugging me tighter. I appreciated the fact that He wasn’t moved by my angry outburst. He loved me no matter what.

I relaxed in His arms. Imagined myself snuggling into His chest and instantly felt better. “God, why can’t You send me a husband just like You? Send me You wrapped up in chocolate.” How awesome that would be. To be married to a guy like God.

I must have fallen back asleep in His arms, because when the phone rang and I looked at the clock, it was two hours later. I wasn’t in the mood for the onslaught of phone calls from people wishing me happiness for my birthday. I should have gone out of town like I originally planned. Instead, I had let my friends talk me into a “Girls’ Day” – some big surprise they had planned. Much as I loved them, I wasn’t in the mood for surprises.

All I wanted to do for my birthday was be alone with God.

The phone rang again and I ignored it. I thought about getting up to do a quick half-hour Taebo tape. Maybe some kicking and punching would get rid of some of my frustrations. Billy Blanks had become my best friend in the year right after my divorce. There was just something about being violent and calling it exercise. I had joined a gym with a big punching bag that I pretended on a regular was my ex and his mistress. I got a reputation at the gym as the girl no one wanted to spar with and would never want to meet in a dark alley.

My stupid ex. This was all his fault. My marriage should have never ended. After eleven years he decided that twenty-one was too young to have gotten married and that he needed to see what else was “out there”…

Fresh tears flowed down my face. What in the world?

Was I really crying over my ex? Really? My divorce was final almost three years ago. I hadn’t cried over him, or even thought much about him in the past two years. Had to check the calendar when I got up off the floor. This had to be my hormones.

I guess it wasn’t my ex I was crying over. It was the fact that the marriage hadn’t worked. That I was thirty-five, divorced, childless, and oh yeah, hormonal.

My cell phone chimed to indicate that I had gotten a text message. I picked it up and looked at the screen.

Get up off the floor. Dry your eyes. Get dressed and get ready to be celebrated. I promise the day will get better, but you have to get up first. Happy Birthday. Please, girl – get over it. Thirty-five is not that old! Love you!!!

I had to laugh. My girl, Vanessa. I decided to take her word for it. Maybe the day would get better if I just picked myself up off the floor.

***

I pulled up at Vanessa’s house an hour later – fresh faced and comfortably dressed as I had been instructed. As I got out of my car, I took authority over my hormones as I did every month. I could overcome in most battles in my life, but once a month, the day before my cycle started, I wound up crying endlessly and reacting irrationally to the dumbest things. Amazing that a strong, successful woman – producer at the nation’s newest up-and-coming black television station – and experienced spiritual warrior could be reduced to such ridiculousness by some estrogen. Please, God. Not today.

Vanessa must have been watching for me, because before I got out of my car, she threw open the door and held her arms out wide, walking toward me. It was rare that her petite frame was casually dressed in jeans and a simple blouse. She was one of those elegant suit ladies who wore shimmery stockings and 4-inch heels with the perfect short, sassy haircut. In spite of her casual attire, her make-up was flawlessly done as if she was about to do a photo shoot. Wearing her signature brilliant smile, she sang out, “Happy Birthday, Michelle!”

She looked so happy to see me and her eyes were so filled with love that I burst into tears. A look of horror flashed across her face. “Oh no!” She shook her head slowly in disbelief. “Hormone day on your birthday? What was God thinking?”

I laughed a little. She took me into her arms and held me for a few minutes. Her comforting voice spoke directly in my ear. “Oh, Father, help us today. We take authority over estrogen gone awry.”

I laughed a little more.

She broke our embrace and grabbed me by the shoulders. “Fix your face, girl, and snap out of it. It’s your birthday brunch.” She rubbed my arm and smiled. “Actually you know what? It’s your party and you can cry if you want to.” I laughed more and sniffled.

I wiped my eyes as she led me into the house. Vanessa was my shero. She had kept me alive and sane during my separation and divorce. She was the ministerial counselor at our church. Through our sessions, I decided that not only did I want to live, but that life could be good after divorce. Not too long after she released me from therapy, her husband died tragically in a car accident. I could only hope I was half the friend to her then that she had been to me. Our losses and our relationship with God had bonded us together into one of the best friendships I’d ever had.

Vanessa’s house was immaculate as always. I was amazed that a single mother of two teenagers, full-time counselor and minister could keep her five-bedroom house perfectly clean without a housekeeper. I, however – single with no kids – couldn’t seem to keep my townhouse straight to save my life.

As we entered her two-story foyer, I looked above the winding spiral staircase and saw a huge banner reading “35th Annual Michelle Bradford Celebration Day”. Simultaneously, I heard several voices cry out, “Happy Birthday, ‘Chelle!”

At the foot of the steps stood my girlfriends, Nicole, Lisa, and Angela. I burst into tears again. Lisa and Angela ran over to hug me.

Nicole stared at me. “Are you serious?” She looked over at Vanessa who winced and nodded. Nicole picked up her purse. “I’m out. You know I can’t stand her when she’s like this.” She got halfway to the front door before Vanessa grabbed her.

“Stop playing, Nicole.” Vanessa put her hands on her hips.

“Who’s playing? I can’t stand being around her snotting and crying because a butterfly splattered on her windshield or Revlon discontinued her favorite lipstick color. Naw, I’m out. I’ll meet you guys for the big celebration later.” Nicole turned toward the door again.

“Nicole.” Vanessa put on her mother voice and evil eye that always snapped her kids into perfect obedience.

Apparently it worked on Nicole too, because she took her purse off her shoulder and came over to hug me. “Happy Birthday, Michelle. You know I love you like a sister, but dang – can’t you take the pills for this? I know God is a healer, but for real though, until your manifestation comes, you need some earthly medicine. ”

“Nicole.” Vanessa said it like Nicole had one more time before she got sent to her room for a time-out. Lisa and Angela disappeared into Vanessa’s massive gourmet kitchen.

I had to laugh. It was funny to hear Nicole using spiritual lingo. She had just gotten saved two years ago and was still a little awkward when it came to using spiritual terms.

She gave me a big hug, which set off a new flood of tears. “Dang, girl.” Nicole called into the kitchen. “Can y’all see if Vanessa has some olive oil or something? Shoot, some Crisco will do.” She looked at Vanessa. “Can’t you lay hands on her and cast out this estrogen demon so we can all enjoy our day?”

That sent me into a fit of uncontrollable giggles. When I laughed really hard, I couldn’t stop myself from snorting. Snorting the snot from crying made me cough until I could hardly breathe. Vanessa pounded me on the back.

Nicole stared at me and let out an exasperated sigh. “What a crackhead.” She disappeared into the kitchen to help Angela and Lisa with whatever they were doing.

I was glad Vanessa had only invited my closest sister circle for brunch. At least they all understood my condition. Premenstrual dysphoric disorder was what my doctor called it. Insanity was what my friends called it. Hell on earth was what I called it. Fortunately, it usually only lasted a day in my case. I hoped it would pass before the big celebration later Nicole had mentioned.

Vanessa led me to the breakfast room table and sat me down. Angela, Lisa, and Nicole emerged from the kitchen a few minutes later, each carrying a tray. Vanessa fastened a tiara onto my afro, wavy from being let loose from two-stranded twists. “Today, we’re celebrating you with your favorite things. Sit back, relax and enjoy.”

I looked down at the trays my girls had brought from the kitchen. There were finger sandwiches – peanut butter, honey and bananas on wheat bread – chocolate covered strawberries, mango slices, crab cakes, jerk chicken wings with rice and peas, fried plantains, and ginger beer to wash it all down with. I clapped my hands and laughed. “All my favorites. Kind of weird together, but still. It’s so nice to be loved and for you guys to know what I love.” I looked up to see everyone holding their breath, as if they were afraid I was going to cry. “Loosen up, guys.” I smiled. “This brunch is perfect.”

I frowned at two capsules filled with greenish stuff on the side of my plate. Vanessa answered before I could ask. “It’s St. John’s Wort. The herb I told you about. I picked up some at the health food store.”

I stared at the pills.

Nicole put a hand on her hip. “God gave us plants for natural cures so it’s not like you’re not having faith for healing.” She picked up the pills and shoved them at me. “Look, we’re the ones that have to spend the whole day with you. The least you could do is try them.”

Angela tsked at Nicole. “Girl, stop being evil. You’ll only make it worse.”

Lisa chimed in, “Yeah, Nicole. At least she can blame emotional craziness on hormones and it only happens once a month. What’s your excuse?”

Nicole shot Lisa an evil stare.

I obediently swallowed the pills, ignoring the organic taste in my mouth.

We filled our plates with my special treats. Everybody was silent for a few minutes as we started eating.

Lisa finally spoke. “So, Michelle, you’re thirty-five today. How does it feel –”

She stopped talking when Angela elbowed her in the side and shook her head. Everybody kept eating.

After a few minutes, Vanessa said, “Michelle, we want you to know that…” her voice trailed off.

Nicole rolled her eyes. “This is ridiculous. We’re all afraid to talk because we don’t want her to cry? I tell you what. Michelle, talk about what’s bothering you – what we know you cried about when you woke up and in the car on the way over here. Let’s get it out in the open and deal with it so we won’t be dancing on eggshells all day. This is supposed to be a celebration. Sheesh…”

Everyone stiffened a little and looked at me.

I stared past Angela and Lisa out Vanessa’s breakfast room bay window at the lake behind her house. The water moved slowly with the sun reflecting off it, creating a tranquil glow.

“Well…” I nibbled on a chocolate strawberry. The bitter sweetness of the dark chocolate blended with the natural sweetness of the strawberry. “I woke up alone this morning. No husband. No babies. And I’m thirty-five. This wasn’t the life I dreamed of. But I have no choice but to accept it.”

I took a bite of mango. Its tropical, tangy sweetness contrasted sharply with the strawberry-chocolate combi-nation. I wondered if being hormonal made my taste buds more sensitive. I watched everyone waiting for the tears as I continued sampling the fruit. I was more surprised than they were when no tears came.

I decided to continue. “I’ve asked God countless times to send my husband, but I guess He’s not listening. Or maybe He doesn’t think I’m ready. I’ve done therapy. I’ve healed and forgiven and realized my mistakes. I think my heart is ready to love again. But I guess He doesn’t.”

I stopped for a minute to listen to the wind chimes tinkling outside the breakfast room door. It was a breezy, spring day and I could imagine how sweet the wind would feel kissing my cheeks. I almost wanted to move the party onto the patio but didn’t want to upset Nicole’s allergies. Her sneezing and snotting, and my crying and snotting would make for a very bad day.

“It’s pure torture. Wanting something you can’t have. Craving something, needing something and it not being there. I’m tired of begging. I want to not want it anymore. Just focus on my career, my friends, and chasing after God and let that be enough.”

Angela and Vanessa nodded. Lisa shook her head like she couldn’t get with me on that.

Nicole reached over and took my hand. “See? That wasn’t so bad. If that’s the worst, we can talk about anything now.”

I smiled. “Yeah. Thanks, Nicki. You can be pretty all right when you want to be.”

Everyone let out a collective sigh of relief, myself included. Maybe today could be a good day after all. Nicole squeezed my hand. As much as she could be evil and blunt, she was full of love – that ride or die chick a sistah always wanted around to have her back. I looked around the table and appreciated God for my friends. Maybe I didn’t have a man, but I had some beautiful, strong women in my life that loved me. For now, that would have to be enough.

I looked out the window at the lake again. There was a long-necked duck with her babies trailing behind her on the water. “Look! Baby ducks.” I pointed and everyone turned to look out the window. “They’re so cute.”

And with that, I burst into tears.

Nicole dropped my hand and shook her head in disgust. “Crackhead…” she muttered as she disappeared into the kitchen.

Vanessa passed me a napkin and I wiped my eyes and blew my nose.

“Oh well, it was nice while it lasted.” Lisa got up and followed Nicole into the kitchen. They both came back a few moments later – Nicole carrying champagne and orange juice, Lisa carrying Vanessa’s crystal flutes.

Nicole set the bottles down on the table. “I’m not sure how smart it is to mix alcohol, herbs, and hormones, but it can’t get much worse than crying over baby ducks.”

Lisa cut her eyes at Nicole. “You were the one that wanted her to talk.”

Nicole answered, “How was I supposed to know there would be ducks on the lake?”

Lisa said, “All we had to do was –”

“Ladies!” Vanessa interrupted. “Chill.” Vanessa opened the orange juice and began filling the flutes. “Honestly, I think Nicole had a good idea.”

Nicole crossed her eyes and stuck out her tongue at Lisa like she was five years old.

“In fact…” Vanessa topped off the glasses with a small splash of champagne. None of us were drinkers, but we always had a drop or two of champagne when we celebrated. I guess it made us feel grown, even though we always ended up throwing away almost a full bottle of the expensive stuff. “…I think it’s a perfect idea for a birthday celebration. Instead of going to the spa, shopping, and eating cake, every woman’s birthday party should be a look at her life.”

Nicole muttered, “Oh boy, here goes the latest Vanessa psychobabbleology. Just when I thought this party couldn’t get any worse.”

Vanessa ignored her. “Yeah. That’s exactly what it should be.” Vanessa stared into space as she pushed the cork back into the champagne bottle.

“What?” Nicole tapped her fingers on the table.

“Shh, she’s thinking.” Lisa smacked Nicole’s arm.

Vanessa handed each of us a mimosa glass and sat back down in her seat, the wheels in her brain ticking. “For a woman’s birthday celebration, she should be surrounded by her sister-circle in a safe, loving environment. She should look at her past and see where she made it and where she missed it. Look at her present and see where she is and where she wants to be, and look at her future and if she’s doing the right things to get there.” Vanessa nodded and smiled to herself. “Then her friends should celebrate her by telling her wonderful things about her, giving her affirmations, blessings and prayers to press her toward her future.”

Angela and Lisa nodded. “I like it.” Lisa said. She turned to Nicole.

Nicole shrugged. “Y’all know I don’t like all that touchy-feely, psychobabble stuff.”

Lisa rolled her eyes. “Lord, Nicole, can’t you get over yourself and help us celebrate Michelle’s birthday?”

“I didn’t say I wouldn’t do it. I’m just saying…” She pursed her lips together and glared at Lisa.

“Okay, then.” Vanessa glared at both of them like they were about to get a beating. “Since Michelle has identified what’s bothering her the most, let’s focus on that. If there are other areas you come up with, we’ll deal with that, too. We’ll break away for an hour or two and everybody take some paper and write something special for Michelle. Michelle – like I said, take an honest look at past, present, and future and whatever else you need to get out, and then we’ll reconvene. Pick your favorite spot – out by the lake, in the sunroom, by the fireplace, wherever you can get comfortable. Okay?”

“But I don’t want to spoil whatever you guys already had planned for me just because I woke up hormonal and lonely,” I said.

Nicole sucked her teeth. “Please, girl. We had planned to watch all your favorite movies. Love and Basketball, Love Jones, Brown Sugar...” She looked around the room. “There’s not enough tissue in the house for that. Even though it’s warm and fuzzy, touchy-feely, this is way better than you snotting and crying all day over a bunch of movies. And we still have your surprise for tonight.” She looked at Vanessa with a nod of approval. “It’s actually a good idea.” She frowned. “Just don’t expect to be psychoanalyzing me for my birthday.”

Vanessa laughed. “I wouldn’t dream of it. I don’t think my years of training or experience have in any way prepared me for that.”

Nicole’s eyes widened with obvious surprise at Vanessa’s dig.

Lisa laughed. “Good one, V.”

“Whatever.” Nicole lifted her champagne flute and indicated for us all to do the same. “To Michelle and celebrating her life. The good, the bad, and the ugly.”

“Nicole!” Lisa, Angela, and Vanessa said in unison.

Nicole looked around at everyone and shrugged her shoulders. “What?” She lifted her glass again. “For real though, we love you, girl. I haven’t known God long, but what I do know is that He’s good. And faithful. And you’re a beautiful example of Him living and breathing on earth. And no matter what, man or no man, your future will be bright and beautiful. I’m looking forward to being a part of it.” She looked around the table. “Is that better?”

Everybody laughed and lifted their glasses. “To Michelle.”

And, of course, I burst into tears.


 
RADIANT LIGHT | Blogger Template Design By LawnyDesigns Powered by Blogger