The Favorite Son Excerpt

Prologue 

Camden was not going to forever hold his peace. His brother Blaine had committed the ultimate offense. But, there was a tiny window, a sliver of an opportunity to speak; to scream loud enough to reach heaven.

Camden rushed through the foyer of the church with his best friend Amber at his heels. “But Cam, Dawn said yes. She said yes! Maybe you should just walk away.”

“I left her alone with him,” Camden said as he turned the corner leading to his father’s office.

“She made a choice,” Amber protested. “Don’t make this any harder for her.”

These words stopped Camden in his tracks. “What about me? Did anyone think about how hard this would be for me?”

Amber threw her arms around Camden’s neck and pulled him into an embrace. He felt his insides shudder. The hug almost made him lose it when he was doing such a good job trying to hold it all together.

He untangled himself from Amber’s squeeze. “I have to do this.”

“Then, let me go with you,” Amber said.

Camden continued toward his father’s office, where Pastor Wilson married couples who couldn’t afford to have a real wedding, or those whose lust had left them in an undesirable predicament. Neither Camden nor Blaine were was supposed to get married in the office. The two sons of the famed and illustrious Pastor B. C. Wilson of Dallas, Texas, were practically royalty—princes of the church. Their nuptials were destined to be star-studded affairs with hundreds of guests in attendance.

Ironically, Blaine was the one who bought into that hype. Camden resisted all of the perks of their father’s position, including the girls, and the cougars who stuffed panties and hotel room keys into his pocket at church conferences. He refused to make a mockery of everything holy.

Finally in front of Pastor Wilson’s office door, Camden reached for the doorknob. Amber covered his hand with hers.

“You sure, Cam?”

Camden’s nostrils flared a bit. He wished he’d told Amber to wait for him in the foyer. “I’m sure.”

Camden threw the door open and felt his resolve and determination evaporate at the sight of Dawn and Blaine. The couple stood before Pastor Wilson, gazing into each other’s eyes. His mother, Lady Wilson, stood next to Pastor Wilson, looking on quietly. Dawn held on to Blaine’s right hand for dear life.

Camden couldn’t stop staring at Dawn’s midsection, which held the evidence of Blaine and Dawn’s lust. There was no bulge in her stomach. Not yet, but Camden knew the baby was there.

Dawn’s mouth opened slightly when she saw Camden. Then, she looked away. Blaine didn’t move a muscle.

“They’re just about to recite their vows, Camden,” Pastor Wilson said. There was no emotion in his tone. No joy for the son getting married. No sympathy for the other.

“I’m sorry, Cam,” Dawn whispered.

“Do you love him?” Camden asked.

Dawn pursed her lips together tightly. Camden knew that face. She made that face when she was holding back a flood of tears.

“Of course she loves him,” Pastor Wilson said. “They’re getting married and having my first grandchild.”

Camden waved his father’s reply away with his hand. “Do. You. Love. Him?”

After a long and pregnant pause, Dawn nodded. “It doesn’t matter, Camden. I do.”

There was no conviction in her voice. To Camden, it sounded like she was still trying to convince herself that this marriage was necessary. It wasn’t.

“Son, just go,” Camden’s mother said.

Camden was at a loss. Learning about the pregnancy and their shotgun wedding had thrown him off balance, as had the sight of Dawn looking incredibly pitiful. Amber lightly tugged on his jacket.

He looked down at Amber. At six foot four inches, he towered over her, but in that moment, he was the one who felt small.

Amber mouthed the words, “Let’s go.”

Camden nodded, and allowed Amber to pull him toward the door.

“Congratulations,” Amber said. “Even though you cheated me out of my chance to be a maid of honor.”

Dawn gave Amber a tiny smile. “But you’re the baby’s godmother. You can throw a baby shower.”

“That will have to do, I guess,” Amber said.

Pastor Wilson sighed loudly. “Are we ready to continue?”

“What about you, Camden?” Blaine asked, breaking his silence. “You gonna be the baby’s godfather?”

Camden was almost out of the office when Blaine asked his question. He paused for a moment, thought of an answer to that question, but decided that he wouldn’t say it in the walls of the church.

Camden stormed out of the office and out of the church. Amber couldn’t match his long strides, but she ran behind him anyway, struggling to catch her breath.

In the church parking lot, Amber caught up to Camden as he got into his car. He glared at her through the window before rolling it down.

“You knew, that it was Blaine from the start. Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I couldn’t. I honestly hoped that somehow you two would end up together anyway, in spite of Blaine and your father’s plans. Pastor Wilson told them they had to get married, or the group would be ruined, and so would the church,” Amber said.

“All my father cares about now is the group! Isn’t that funny? He never even wanted us to sing, and now the group means more than everything. It means more than me.”

A single tear coursed down Amber’s face. “You know that’s not true, Cam. Pastor Wilson loves you.”

Camden started the car. “Good-bye, Amber. I am never coming back here. The next time I set foot in this church will be someone’s funeral, I swear on everything.”

“So you’re gonna leave the group? We need you.”

Camden looked at his father’s church and couldn’t see himself walking through the doors again. On the other side of those doors the only girl he’d ever loved was marrying his brother.

“You don’t need me. As long as you’ve got Blaine, you’ll be fine. He’s the face of the group. I just play the keyboard.”

“But you’re the heart. You brought us together. So G.I.F.T.E.D. is your group.”

Camden sighed and gave Amber a weak smile. He would miss her, and Akil, but he couldn’t look at Dawn or Blaine without wanting to punch a hole in the wall. Or at his twin brother’s face.

“I’ve got to go. Call me, okay?”

Camden sped out of the parking lot with no intentions of ever coming back to Graceway Worship Center. And no matter what anyone said, he wasn’t running. Camden knew his presence would make things hard for Dawn, so he would give them miles and miles of space.

Camden was closer to Dawn than anyone. He knew what she wasn’t saying—it was all over her face when she’d stared at him. Maybe she loved Blaine, and the child they’d conceived, but Dawn loved Camden still. But she hadn’t spoken up. She’d held her peace.

And so would Camden.

  PART I

 Chapter 1

One year ago… . . .

If Camden could have a supernatural gift, it would be the power to disappear at will. In fact, he’d spent the entirety of his twenty-five years trying to fade into the background. Especially when his twin brother Blaine was cooking up a scheme that would undoubtedly earn them a lecture from their father, Pastor Wilson.

But at six feet four inches, and with skin the color of night, Camden couldn’t be inconspicuous. It was always obvious when he walked into a room, and even more so when the equally tall Blaine joined him. Blaine’s contrasting café au lait skin tone and hazel eyes had gotten the twin brothers dubbed with the nickname Ebony and Ivory by the girls at their church. Camden hated the nickname, but Blaine loved it and everything else that would draw attention to himself.

Blaine paced the choir room with his arms flailing. “All you have to do is play your song during praise and worship. It’s ready. We’re ready. You’re just scared.”

Camden didn’t doubt that they were prepared for this. Their singing group, So G.I.F.T.E.D, had been singing “Born to Worship,” a song Camden wrote, for about a year.

“I’m not afraid,” Camden said. “But if we do it, Dad is going to trip.”

Blaine grinned. “He won’t trip if we do what we’re supposed to do, and get the congregation prepared to receive the Word.”

The rest of the group, Dawn, and twins Amber and Akil, and Dawn burst into the choir room, all wearing looks of excitement on their faces. They had been singing together since their senior year of high school, and had perfected their sound in the Texas Gospel Alliance youth choir. The two sets of twins and Dawn, the inseparable five, always sang together.

Amber, Akil and Dawn were wearing royal blue and black to match Camden and Blaine—the church’s colors. Akil, who at five feet eight inches looked small next to Camden and Blaine, wore a royal blue dress shirt and skinny black pants that added to his smallness. The petite and curvaceous Dawn chose an ankle- length black skirt and royal blue jacket, a look that was sure to be approved by the church mothers. Her hair, held back with a plastic headband, brushed her shoulders in a sweet, blunt cut that made her look like a school girl.

In contrast, Amber looked like she wanted the nurses to come and throw a sheet over her. She wore a knee- length blue pencil skirt that was plenty long, but snug enough to let everyone know that she’d been working hard at the gym. Her form fitting sweater wasn’t exactly low cut, but somehow her cleavage managed to swell over the collar. To enrage the church mothers even further, she had a big curly Afro with a flower in the side and full makeup complete with false eyelashes and red lipstick.

“I see you got them yams out,” Blaine said to Amber as he motioned to her heaving breasts.

She punched him on the arm and then laid a hand on her bosom. “Whatever. My produce is ripe, honey. It is here for the picking.”

“There is room at the cross for both of y’all,” Dawn said.

“So are we going to do it?” Amber asked. “Are we singing it or what?”

“It’s up to him,” Blaine said as he motioned to Camden with his eyes. “Ask our leader.”

Camden didn’t miss Blaine’s apparent sarcasm, but he knew it wasn’t for a valid reason. It wasn’t Camden’s fault that everyone deferred to his leadership. He was the songwriter, the musician, and the director of the group. Blaine could fill any of those roles if he wanted to, but he’d never tried. It was almost as if he was comfortable with Camden leading too, except when they disagreed.

“Everyone has a voice in this group. I’m not in control. God is,” Camden said. “If y’all want to do it, I’m down.”

Dawn and Amber sat down on opposite sides of Camden at the piano bench. They sang in harmony, Dawn on the soprano part and Amber the husky- voiced alto. “It’s why I was born. It’s why I’m here. I give Him all of my worship, and He draws near to me. His love is so precious. My purpose is clear. I was born to worship Him.”

Camden played along with their singing and the men joined in on the tenor part. Camden felt tears come to his eyes. They did every time he played the song. The lyrics, the music, the arrangement were all personal to him.

Dawn grabbed a tissue from the box on the piano and dabbed at Camden’s eyes. “See, we need to do this song. I feel God’s presence right now in here.”

“I do too,” Amber said. “God anointed you to write this song, Cam.”

There was a knock on the choir room door before it opened, which made Camden wonder why the person even knocked at all. Of course, it was their father’s assistant, Delores. Although she was just supposed to be Pastor Wilson’s secretary, she took her role to mean that she was the emcee and coordinator of every service, especially the special ones like the revival they were having tonight. She was dressed impeccably, in a pink suit with a matching hat. The pink looked good next to her butter pecan skin and the auburn tendrils that hung from her beneath her hat. No one could say that Delores wasn’t fly, but her attitude took away from her good looks.

“Are you all leading praise and worship?” Delores asked. “Because that does happen at the top of the service, meaning the beginning. Ten minutes.”

“We’ll be there, Sister Delores,” Camden said. “We’re about to pray.”

Delores held out her hands to Akil and Amber, and bowed her head. “I will lead you.”

All the way through Delores’s prayer Blaine bit his bottom lip to keep from laughing. Camden shook his head and smiled.

“Amen and amen,” Delores said when she was finished. “Now let’s hustle.”

Delores and her heels clicked out of the choir room. Everyone knew she expected them to follow behind her, but no one moved.

Blaine said, “She really needs somebody to break her off.”

“Really, Blaine?” Amber said as she slapped his arm a second time.

Akil’s shoulders shook with laughter. “I think you should do it, B. She probably been celibate for a long time, though. She might hurt you. Dig them heels right in and… . . .”

“Stop it, y’all,” Camden said. “We’re about to go into worship. Get your mind on Jesus.”

Blaine puffed his cheeks with air and blew it out slowly. “If all minds and hearts are clear, let’s go, y’all.”

Camden frowned as he followed the group down the long hallway between the choir room and the backstage of the church’s pulpit. Camden was no super saint or deep spiritual wonder, but he didn’t play when it came to leading the congregation in worship. No matter how annoying she was, Blaine and Akil’s joke about Delores didn’t sit well with Camden.

Camden said a quick prayer to ask God to remove his anger and to ask forgiveness. Lastly, he asked God to use them during the service.

So G.I.F.T.E.D rushed onto the stage and took their places behind microphones as Camden sat at the keyboard with the band. He turned to the bass and lead guitar players and nodded a greeting.

“We’re going to do ‘Born to Worship’ after ‘Glory to His Name.’ Y’all good?”

Both musicians nodded. They knew the song as well as the group, because they all practiced together. Camden wasn’t concerned about them. What did trouble him was the ever-present gaze of his father.

Pastor Wilson seemed to be enjoying the praise and worship so far. If they were going to go rogue and introduce new music into the service without his approval, it was a good idea to start out with the Byron Cage song they were doing. He was Pastor Wilson’s favorite gospel artist.

As they transitioned into “Born to Worship,” Blaine took the microphone from its stand and walked to the edge of the stage.

“We need your help on this next song we’re about to do,” Blaine said to the congregation. “I know we sing a lot about purpose and destiny, but no matter what God has called you to do, He has first equipped and readied you for worship. From the womb, you were a worshipper. The first thing you did when you came out of yo’ mama’s belly was to cry out. So, we need everybody to participate on this song. It’s simple. Sing with us.”

Camden glanced over at his father while he played. Pastor Wilson stood to his feet with his hands clasped behind his back. Physically, Camden was a carbon copy of his father. Pastor Wilson was over six feet tall, and his blackness shined under the pulpit lights. His black horn-rimmed glasses were perched on the bridge of his nose and motionless. While Camden couldn’t see any anger in his expression, Pastor Wilson definitely didn’t seem to be caught up in the spirit of worship.

The congregation, on the other hand, was on fire. With every key change, Blaine’s rich vocals rang out over the sanctuary. Dawn hit every high note, Amber came with every gravelly ad lib, and Akil’s deep tenor completed the harmony. If it was just a performance, it would be perfect, but because it was ministry, anyone that who heard them would say it was anointed.

Even if Pastor Wilson didn’t approve of what they were doing, Camden knew he would save his anger for later. The congregation was ready for a revival Word, and Pastor Wilson would never leave them wanting.

After praise and worship was over, Camden got up from the keyboard to go and sit with the rest of the group, for the sermon. Their father had a personal keyboardist who had played for him for years. They had an intricate collection of hand signals and vocal cues, so that the music complimented the tone of Pastor Wilson’s message. Since Pastor Wilson had never asked him to play while he preached, Camden never let on that he knew the signals as well—like an NFL quarterback taking plays from his coach.

Dawn had saved Camden a seat next to her and she smiled at him as he sat down. Lately, Dawn had been making sure that everyone knew that they were an item, and Camden was okay with it. He’d never purposely kept their romance a secret, but he did know that once tongues started wagging about them, he’d only have a short time to marry her before his reputation started to suffer. At twenty-five, he wasn’t sure if he was ready to commit to a lifetime.

When Dawn stared up at Camden, her long eyelashes glistening with a mixture of mascara and her tears from worship, it reminded Camden of the first time he met Dawn at Bible camp when they were thirteen years old. Back then, her chocolate brown face was chubby and she had a mouthful of braces and a big puffy ponytail that stood on top of her head.

“You Pastor Wilson’s son?” were Dawn’s first words to Camden as she stared up at him with a determined look on her face.

She’d caught him off guard with the question, plus he thought that everyone knew his father. It was their church’s camp, after all.

“Yes. I’m Camden Wilson.”

“Well, I hope you don’t think we’re gonna let your team win the Bible Bowl just ‘cause you’re the pastor’s son.”

“I don’t think anything. I know my team is going to whip your team.”

“We’ll see about that.”

Camden had been wrong. Dawn’s Bible Bowl team beat his for the next three years straight until they decided to join forces and co-captain a team when they were sixteen. That was also when they’d started dating.

Everyone thought they were so cute and had been planning their wedding since Dawn wore a puffy white gown to prom. Camden didn’t object to it, because he loved Dawn, but she wanted marriage and children. He wanted to pursue a music career, and he didn’t think he could do that with the demands of a family to take up all of his time.

After Pastor Wilson’s rousing sermon, So G.I.F.T.E.D took to the microphones again and sang a reprise of “Born To Worship.” So many people moved from their seats for prayer that the ministerial staff couldn’t even handle them all.

Blaine made eye contact with Camden and motioned to the edge of the altar area. Camden’s heart leapt into his throat when he saw the thin man in the electric blue suit. He was wearing big glasses that took up half his face, and his rings sparkled as he lifted his hands to heaven. He was Royce London, the highest- selling gospel artist of all time. He could make careers with just one recommendation.

Royce was from Atlanta, and had visited their church in Dallas many times, but he’d never gotten up from his seat to participate in worship. Camden allowed himself to say a little prayer. If this was the time for So G.I.F.T.E.D to take off into the stratosphere, then so be it.

After service was over, Camden and the rest of the group made an escape to the choir room. They always did that after service so that they could decompress, and not have to have conversations with everyone when they were physically and emotionally spent.

“I don’t think Pastor Wilson will be angry,” Dawn said as Camden randomly tapped piano keys. She sat down next to Camden on the piano bench and lightly stroked his fingers as he played.

“He shouldn’t be,” Amber said. “The congregation enjoyed the song.”

Pastor Wilson walked into the choir room—he never did that. But this time he was escorting Royce London into the room. Camden’s midsection tightened, but a huge smile broke out on Blaine’s face. Camden was glad that his charismatic brother was there to do the talking. He was also glad to be seated because his knees would be knocking if he was standing up.

Pastor Wilson said, “Worship was incredible tonight, you all. I just love when you all walk in your giftedness.”

Camden’s eyebrows came together in a confused expression. Pastor Wilson hated when they did anything unscripted. This change of heart had to be because Royce London had taken notice.

“I want to introduce you all to Royce,” Pastor Wilson said. “The two tall ones are my sons Blaine and Camden. Blaine is the lead singer of the group. And also, these young people, Amber, Akil and Dawn have been members of this church since they were little. We just love them here.”

Camden examined Royce’s face closely. Something looked a little strange about his skin. It looked too smooth. Wait. Was he wearing makeup? Yes, he was. Camden could see a slight difference in the shade of his face and the shade of his neck. Also, some of the makeup had streaked onto Royce’s shirt collar. Camden had heard of artists wearing makeup on stage, but to church for a revival?

Camden watched as Royce’s gaze fell on Blaine. “I am pleased to meet you all. I felt the spirit move in a way I haven’t felt since I was on tour with my group last year. Did you write that worship song?”

Blaine blinked twice before he answered. Camden wondered if he was going to try and take credit. “Uh, no. My brother Camden writes the songs.”

Royce quickly turned his attention and gaze onto Camden. “Do you have any other songs in your repertoire?”

“Um, yes. Yes, I do,” Camden said. “Would you like to hear something else?”

Royce nodded, and Camden started playing the introduction to another one of his songs. This one started out with a solo by Amber that really displayed her rich vocal tones. She took a few steps toward Royce as she sang. He closed his eyes and pointed one finger toward heaven. On the chorus, everyone came in and sang perfectly. Royce clapped when they finished.

“That was wonderful,” Royce said. “What is the name of your group?”

“So G.I.F.T.E.D.” Amber was breathless as she said this, from the way she’d just extended her vocals after already singing all night.

“G.I.F.T.E.D. stands for God is faithful, today and every day,” Blaine said. “God’s been faithful by giving us this tremendous gift, and we honor Him by giving it back to Him.”

A faint smile graced Camden’s face as he listened to Blaine explain with pride and relish, the name Camden had given the group. Blaine hadn’t even liked the name in the beginning. He’d wanted to call the group Flame, and had even had some Tt-shirts made with a ball of fire on the front. He’d been outvoted.

“Maybe we’ll get to work together down the road. If you’re in Atlanta, look me up,.” Royce said to Camden.

“We’d be honored,” Camden replied.

Royce reached into his pocket and took out a business card. He extended it toward Camden, but as he stood up to take it from his hand, Pastor Wilson intercepted it. Camden swallowed and sat back down.

“We will reach out to you if we plan to branch out with the group,” Pastor Wilson said. Camden wondered who he was talking about when he said “we.”

Royce clasped his hands and nodded. “Please do. You are doing great things for the kingdom. Thank you for introducing me, Pastor Wilson. You preached an awesome word on this evening.”

“I am happy you were in the house to see that move of God,” Pastor Wilson said. “I believe God planned for you to be in the house tonight. Kingdom business indeed.”

Pastor Wilson led Royce out of the choir room. Before he closed the door he looked back in and gave a nod of approval to Camden. It was a rare gesture that pleasantly surprised Camden.

“We about to blow up!” Akil said as soon as the door closed. He high- fived Blaine and hugged his twin sister. “Royce London is the truth, y’all. And he wants us on his next worship project.”

“Yeah,” Blaine said, “it almost sounded like he wanted to give us a record deal then and there.”

Camden didn’t necessarily agree with that, but he was glad they were all excited. Maybe now he wouldn’t have to twist their arms to get them to practice.

“Does anyone think Pastor Wilson is going to fuss at us about singing that song?” Amber asked.

“Nah. He’s all for anything that will put his ministry on the map,” Blaine said, as his phone chirped in his pocket. He took it out, looked at the screen, and smiled.

“Hey, I gotta get with y’all later,” Blaine said. “My constituents await.”

Dawn rolled her eyes and said, “You are disgusting.”

“But you love me, though,” Blaine said with a laugh.

Camden chuckled. Just about every single woman in their church that who was under fifty had love for Blaine. He could have a date every night of the week if he wanted, and a wife at the drop of a hat.

“Y’all want to go out and get something to eat?” Dawn asked.

Amber and Akil were obviously waiting for an invitation for food, because they grabbed their jackets and purses and headed for the door. Camden stayed seated at the piano bench.

“You not going, Cam?” Amber asked.

Camden shook his head. “I want to work on some music at home. If we’re getting noticed by people like Royce, we have to tighten up.”

“Do you want me to go with you?” Dawn asked.

“No, go on out to dinner, babe.”

Dawn smiled at Camden and kissed him on the forehead as she picked up her jacket. “Okay, babe. I’ll call you when we get in.”

“Okay.”

When everyone was gone and the only sounds in the room were Camden’s exhales and his faint tapping on the piano keys, he let the idea of success sink in and settle into his spirit. Getting a record deal, or even putting a song on Royce’s next record would absolutely mean something, but Camden wasn’t sure exactly what that was.

Mostly, Camden thought, it would prove to Pastor Wilson that his music wasn’t just something he did for fun or to keep from taking on more responsibility in the church. It was his calling.

Pastor Wilson did believe people were called to be musicians, just not his sons. He had a grand vision for Graceway Worship Center, and it didn’t have anything to do with record deals. It had to do with one church and three locations. Three campuses, led by three Wilson men.

Pastor Wilson had it written on his vision board. He’d named it. He’d claimed it.

Blaine accepted it as his manifest destiny, but Camden wasn’t feeling it at all. Camden had done everything but run from the idea.

Camden thought once more about that head nod from his father on his way out of the choir room. Something so small said so much. Maybe Camden didn’t have to worry about being pressured about preaching anymore. Perhaps his father was going to change his mind. Maybe Royce London would rescue Camden from his father’s vision.

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