I’m snatched from my sleep by voices.
They’re coming from the living room. The first voice is Shayna, my lover, although she likes to be called my girlfriend. She is not my girlfriend. Haven’t had one of those since high school.
The other voice is coming from the television. It’s way too loud, but not unfamiliar. I concentrate for a moment until familiarity becomes recognition. The voice belongs to that preacher Shayna likes to watch every Sunday morning.
Is it Sunday already?
I start a mental rewind in an attempt to recapture my weekend. Friday was standard. Edited a short story for a girl in my writer’s group. She’s entering a romance writer’s contest, and wanted my opinion.
I didn’t give it to her, because I’m possibly interested in sleeping with her. I told her that the uninspired farce was poetic prose. She won’t win the contest, but she won’t blame it on me. She’ll accuse the judges of being amateurs and then come cry on my shoulder. I’ll have tissues on hand – right along with the strawberries and champagne.
Also had lunch with Priscilla. My mother. The obligatory “good son” lunch that keeps me on the family payroll. I call her Priscilla behind her back, but never to her face. She’s petite, cultured and polished but not above going upside a brotha’s head.
We had the same conversation we have every week.
“Darrin, when are you coming to work for your father?”
“The day after never.”
“You always say that.”
“And I always mean it.”
I love my mother, but I hate this conversation.
My father, Mathis Bainbridge, wants me to work in an office at Bainbridge Transports, shuffling papers, giving orders, and hiring overqualified people at ridiculously insulting rates of pay. He calls his company the ‘family business’ but only one person in our three person familia is interested in shuttling elderly people to doctor’s appointments and on shopping trips.
It’s not Priscilla and it’s not me.
“You coming to church with me on Sunday?” Mother had also asked.
I’d let out a frustrated sigh. “I’ll see.”
My sporadic church attendance is Priscilla’s other favorite topic.
“Don’t you love Jesus?”
“Yes, Mother. I love Jesus.”
That wasn’t a lie. I do love Jesus. I just cannot say no to a woman who wants me to take her to bed and I have yet to hear a preacher tell me how.
Priscilla was extra irritated at our lunch date. She got borderline vulgar. “But you’re willing to go to hell over some girl’s dirty panties?”
I’d laughed then, and I’m still laughing. In Priscilla speak ‘dirty panties’ was tantamount to cursing me out.
I’d replied, “Mother, please watch your language.”
Saturday was worse. I’d spent the entire muggy and rainy afternoon at a 10K marathon to benefit cancer research. Put on a fake smile and interviewed the sweaty first-place winner, asking him questions that no one wanted answers to, all the while thinking to myself, ‘Why am I doing this?’
There was a time when I was excited to have comma writer after my name. You know, Darrin Bainbridge, writer. But the glamour that I’d envisioned has not yet materialized, and the less money I make with freelance journalism, the more my father threatens to chain me to a desk.
Then, when I should have been winding down for the weekend I blogged. Blogging is what narcissistic writers do when they don’t have a book deal. Yeah, I’m just a bit narcissistic. Besides, people like to read what I think about social injustice, celebrities and whatever else. Ten thousand hits a day on my blogsite can’t be wrong.
The thing I love about blogging is that I’m anonymous. Like, last week I wrote a piece on Jesse Jackson and how he’s more of a threat to African American progress than the KKK. Then, I chilled with him at a networking function the same night. No harm, no foul.
Since I can no longer drown out the television or Shayna’s ‘Hallelujahs’, I open my eyes and concede to starting the day. I stretch, take a deep breath, and grin at the memory of last night. Shayna’s perfume lingers in the air. A fruity Victoria’s Secret fragrance purchased by me for my benefit, but disguised as a spur-of-the-moment romantic and thoughtful gift. Yeah…I don’t do those. But Shayna was pleased. So pleased that she stayed the night in my den of iniquity and is now watching church on television instead of getting her shout on in a pew.
I jump out of the bed in one motion, landing on the ice cold ceramic tiles. My pedicured toes curl from the drastic temperature change. Yes, a brotha likes his feet smooth. Hands too. What?
My apartment is slamming, and the furniture baller style – especially for someone with such a low income. If it wasn’t for the deep pockets of my parents, blogging and freelance writing would pretty much have me living in semi-poverty. But my mother makes sure that I have the best of the best, and a monthly allowance. I keep thinking that at twenty-eight, I might be too old for a $6000 a month allowance. I’d be satisfied with less, but I’m not turning anything down. Priscilla’s generosity (behind my father’s back, of course) allows me to pursue my dreams, whatever they might be.
I pull on a pair of silk boxer shorts and walk up the hallway to the living room. Silently, I observe Shayna. She is rocking back and forth on the couch, her hands wrapped around her own torso. Embracing herself.
“You better preach, preacher!” she shouts at the face on the screen.
I mimic her movements and hug myself too, but not because I feel the love. It’s freezing in here. Shayna likes to turn the thermostat on sixty no matter what the temperature is outside. Freon laced air rushes out of every vent.
“If you got breath in your lungs and strength in your body, you need to shout Hallelujah!” shouts the preacher.
“Hallelujah!Hallelujah!Hallelujah!Hallelujah!” Shayna’s four-alarm Hallelujah sounds like one word.
I am amazed. How can Shayna feel so worshipful this morning when she just rolled out of my bed a few hours ago?
I’m curious. “Do you send this guy money? He’s in Atlanta, right?”
Shayna looks up from the program and smiles seductively. Can she be any more blasphemous?
“Yes, Freedom of Life is in Atlanta and yes I do send in my tithe and offering on the regular. I’m a partner.” She motions for me to come join her on the couch. I don’t.
“About how many members do you think he has?” I ask as the television camera pans to what looks like the crowd at a Destiny’s Child concert.
“The sanctuary holds ten thousand,” she declares proudly as if it was her own accomplishment, “but there are about twenty thousand members and partners worldwide.”
I’m in writer mode now. I can feel the wheels in my mind spinning. Probably something scandalous going on in a church that size. Pastor either skimming money off the top or sleeping with half the choir. Maybe blogging about a dirty Pastor will attract some sponsors. Exposing rich Black men pays well, and if he’s truly grimy I won’t have a problem spending the money.
Shayna asks suspiciously, “Since when did you get interested in church?”
“Since just now. I could feel the spirit oozing into the bedroom and I had to come investigate.”
“I know you better than that. What’s the real?”
Shayna doesn’t know me at all, but she thinks she does. She assumes that we have a deep bond just because we’ve shared bodily fluids. There is more to me than my sex drive, but she’ll never know that. She’s not the wife type.
I humor her and reply, “Well, I just think that there has got to be a story here.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, this guy can’t be more than forty five,” I’m half-explaining, half-forming the story in my mind. “And he’s got twenty thousand offering paying members? I bet he’s living large.”
Shayna frowns. “What’s your point?”
“You don’t think there’s anything wrong with that?”
“Uh, no. Your daddy lives large.”
I chuckle with disbelief. Didn’t know she was one of those people. The ones who try to compare pastoring a church to running a business.
Just for the fun of it, I quip, “Jesus preached for free.”
“He didn’t have a car note,” she shoots right back.
“Okay, I see this might be hitting a little close to home, but I bet if I go down there to Atlanta I can dig up a juicy story.”
The thought became even more appealing as I put words to it. Atlanta is uncharted territory for me. Fresh stories, different scenery and untapped women. The more I wrap my arms around the notion, the more it turns into a need.
I need to get my butt down to Atlanta and break this story wide open. Blogging on location. Most definitely liking the sound of that.
Shayna leans over the back of the couch pointing her polished fingernail at me for emphasis. “Whatever. Bishop Kumal Prentiss is a man of God and he preaches the Word.”
“Kumal Prentiss? That sounds like a hustler’s name. And what do you know about the Word?”
“I grew up in church sweetie. I’m not a heathen like you.”
“You’re not the only one who was raised in church.”
I’d had so much church growing up, that if church was food I could feed every one of those starving Ethiopian children who convince me every week to be their sponsor. If church was talent, I’d be singing like R. Kelly and dancing like Usher. If church was candy…let’s just say I went to a lot of church.
Every Sunday Priscilla dragged me, unwillingly, into the huge stone building. Me always screaming, “But Daddy doesn’t have to go!” Her always replying, “Daddy’s going to hell.” She’d give me money for my Sunday school offering and send me on my way.
I went through a phase where I enjoyed the services. I was thirteen and my first crush, Alexandra, was fifteen and fully developed. I joined the junior ushers, youth choir and youth department trying to get at that girl.
Then one Sunday morning, old Pastor Davis preached on lust and hell fire. He’d said that if we didn’t repent of our lusts and get baptized, then we’d spend an eternity fighting fire. Since I had been drooling over Alexandra and her tight sweater for the entire service, I was terrified. Walked down that center aisle out of fear while Priscilla shouted, stomped and danced. Went down a dry devil, came up a wet devil.
At age sixteen, I just got tired of pretending that I could walk the narrow road. I prayed about it. Told God that I would come to church when I knew I could live right.
Priscilla wasn’t having it. I think she literally had a nervous breakdown when I told her I wasn’t going back to church. She cried for days; walked around praying out loud, lifting God up and putting the devil under her feet.
I didn’t budge. And for the first time ever, my father defended me. He’d stopped Priscilla dead in her tracks.
He’d said, “Priscilla, you will not make my son go to church if he doesn’t want to. Church is for women anyway, it’s about time he found a more productive way of spending his time.”
The memory brings a smile to my face, makes me want to taunt Shayna about her hypocrisy. “And since you know so much about the Word, what does it say about fornication?”
She must be done talking to me, because she turns back to Bishop Prentiss who has worked his congregation into a frenzy. Had to give it to him. The man had skills.
“You want something to eat?” I ask Shayna, ignoring her attitude.
Her face softens. “You know I do.”
In minutes I’ve prepared a small breakfast feast. French toast on fresh French bread and garnished with powdered sugar, strawberries and carmelized bananas and a three cheese omelet, browned to perfection.
I can cook my butt off.
I arrange everything on the china my mother bought me for a housewarming gift. For me, it’s not just the taste of the food, it’s the look of it. Presentation is everything. I can make a grill cheesed sandwich look like a gourmet entrée.
Shayna’s smile returns as she approaches the table. She tosses her red curls out of her honey colored face as she sashays barefoot over to the table. She looks as delicious as the breakfast wearing her baby t-shirt and boy shorts. I feel a hunger starting inside me that has nothing to do with breakfast food.
Shayna’s a cute girl, not stunning, but standing there at my kitchen table, with her disheveled sexiness, she’s irresistible. But then again, I have the same motto about women that I have about food. Presentation is everything.
“Why can’t you be like the average guy and put everything on paper plates? This looks better than at the restaurant.”
“For one, I’m not the average guy and two you wouldn’t be so sprung if I was.”
Shayna sits down and takes a bite before responding. Closes her eyes and chews slowly. I love the way she savors my culinary creations. She sounds just like a baby relishing the first sips of a warm bottle.
“Is that good?” It’s real hard to hide the cockiness in my tone.
“You already know it is!” she exclaims, smacking her lips thoughtfully. “What is it that I taste? There’s a different flavor in this.”
Her observation fills me with pleasure. “Oh, you’ve been around me much too long if you are noticing flavor nuances. I’m proud.”
She licks her fingers, one at a time. “Mmm-hmm. Maybe I have been around you too long, but baby I am not sprung.”
This woman is hilarious. Shayna is not only sprung; she’s ‘in love’. I’m flattered, even if I don’t feel the same way. She’s been hinting that she wants to move in with me, but that is not going to happen. Rule number one of my cardinal rules is: never turn a bed mate into a roommate.
“Okay, you’re not sprung. I believe you. That’s actually a good thing, because then you won’t miss me when I go to Atlanta.”
“So you’re serious about this?”
I fold my arms across my chest and nod my head emphatically. “It is my duty as a journalist to expose the charlatans and inform the people.”
“You better be careful. The bible says ‘touch not my anointed and do my prophets no harm’.”
“Look at you quoting scriptures. I’m impressed. And don’t worry about me. If your precious pastor is everything that he says he is then he has nothing to worry about.”