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Authors: Neta Jackson

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BOOK: 2-in-1 Yada Yada
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SOMETIME DURING THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT, I awoke and went to the bathroom. By the time I came back into the bedroom, my eyes had adjusted to the darkness, and I stopped short. Florida wasn't in the bed. Her side was rumpled, and I was pretty sure I remembered when she'd crawled in. Remembered I'd been glad it was a king, which left lots of room for two people not used to sleeping in the same bed.

But where had Florida gone? Surely she didn't have to have a cigarette in the middle of the night! Curious, I opened the French doors between the bedroom and sitting room and peeked in. Only one lump in the sofa bed. I tiptoed in, shuffling old-lady slow so I wouldn't bang into something. There was another lump on the floor between the sofa bed and the window. The air conditioner— hardly needed in early May—was humming steadily. Florida? Why was she sleeping on the
floor?

I crawled back into the king-size bed feeling confused. Sure, it felt awkward to sleep in the same bed with a virtual stranger. When it turned out we had three in our room, I would have preferred sharing the bed with Avis. Or sleeping by myself on the sofa bed, lucky Avis. But I hadn't thought about how Florida might feel. Was it just too weird sleeping with a white girl? Nah, I told myself. Couldn't be that. Florida seemed cool with that. No chip on her shoulder—not like that Adele. But a sense of rejection settled over me like the kid who got no Valentines.

Suddenly I missed Denny terribly. Missed reaching out and resting my hand on his arm, feeling the rising and falling of his steady breathing as he lay on his side. Missed snuggling against his bare back and fitting my body into the curve of his legs. Missed the comfort and safety that his mere presence fed into my spirit. Missed knowing that I
belonged.

I even missed the kids. Missed getting up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom and peeking into their rooms to be sure everyone was okay. That was when I fell into my deepest sleep, knowing we were all under one roof, safe and sound and together.

Did they miss me? Was anyone losing any sleep at the Baxter house because Mom . . . Jodi . . . wasn't under that roof? Did the house feel incomplete without me?

I sighed. Probably not. Teenagers were too self-centered to even notice Mom was gone. And Denny . . . he would miss me, sure. But once he fell asleep? He wouldn't notice I was gone till morning.

Lying there awake, taking up a miniscule slice of space on the king-size bed, I felt terribly alone . . . and lonely. It wouldn't feel so bad if the conference was over tomorrow—make that today, since it was obviously past midnight already. But I'd paid for two nights.
Two long nights!

From here, Sunday felt like an invisible speck on the distant horizon.

I WOKE UP TO THE SOUND OF THE SHOWER. Rolling out of bed, I pulled back the “blackout” hotel curtains and was nearly blinded as a wash of sunlight poured into the room. Blue sky . . . sunshine . . . what a great day to go for an early morning walk. Denny and I often walked to Lake Michigan on weekend mornings, only a few blocks from our house. “The lake,” as everyone calls it, is Chicago's playground, lapping at the sandy beaches and rocky breakwaters that define miles of parks along the shore, filled with joggers and bikers, in-line skaters and dog-walkers, picnickers and bench sitters, volleyball players and windsurfers, kids and old folks and family reunions. The lake is what made city living bearable for me and a million or so other small-town transplants.

But the steady hum of cars and eighteen-wheelers on I-90 reminded me that on this particular Saturday I was a prisoner in a fancy hotel with undoubtedly
no
place to go walking except the parking lot.

What time was it anyway?

The door to the bathroom opened as I squinted at my watch— six-twenty—and Avis emerged in her caftan with a plastic bonnet over her night scarf. I hadn't seen a plastic bonnet since high school days, when my mother wore one in the shower to protect her monthly permanent. Avis looked at Florida's empty side of the bed, jerked a thumb in the direction of the sitting room, and whispered, “What gives with that?”

I shrugged . . . just as Florida wandered through the French doors in her big T-shirt. She stopped, seeing us both just standing on either side of the king-size bed. “It's not time to get up yet, is it?” She yawned. “Bathroom free?”

“Sure,” I said automatically. But I'd been up long enough now that the urge to pee was growing stronger. “On second thought, just let me go and it's yours.” I dashed into the bathroom. From the relative anonymity behind the almost-closed bathroom door—like a pink-tiled confessional—I called out, “I was worried about you when I found you missing in the middle of the night. What happened?”

Florida laughed from the other side of the door. “You snore, girl! Had to find me another bed if I was going to get any sleep.”

I was so startled I stopped peeing in midstream. “Oh, gosh, Flo. I'm sorry!” I didn't know I snored. Denny never complained. I emerged a moment later feeling both embarrassed and contrite. “It's terrible to pay all this money for a hotel room and end up on the floor. I'll trade tonight, okay?”

“Hey, don't you worry about me. I'm a light sleeper—
anything
wakes me up.” Florida disappeared into the bathroom. “Besides,” she called back, “those long cushions from the sofa made a great bed—better than the one I've got at home. Turned on a little white noise, and I slept like a baby.”

She poked her head back out of the bathroom door. “You guys going to that prayer thang at seven? Don't wait for me. I'll meet you at breakfast.”

SOMEHOW AVIS AND I BOTH GOT SHOWERED and dressed and down the elevator just as the lobby clocks ticked past seven. I had even managed to pour three Styrofoam cups of coffee made in the tiny coffeemaker perched on top of the in-room “mini-bar.” Avis shook her head, which I translated as No-thanks-I-don't-drink-coffee, but Florida, seizing the moment, simply took a cup in each hand.

Strike one against spontaneous deep sharing with Avis. What did one do with a girlfriend if you couldn't go out and bare your heart over bottomless cups of coffee? Or celebrate with an occasional double mocha latte at Starbucks?

Nony Sisulu-Smith was the only other person from last night's group when we made our appearance in Meeting Room 7. She was on her knees already praying out loud, so we just sat down in nearby chairs and joined her. At least I closed my eyes and tried to concentrate on Nony's prayer. Her cultured voice rose and fell like a piece of classical music. But as I listened, her prayer sure did seem full of a lot of clichés.

“ . . .You are the root and the offspring of David, the bright and morning star. The Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. Let him that is thirsty, come. Thank You, Father! Thank You that You have said, Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely . . .”

On and on she went, her voice growing stronger. “I will bless the Lord at all times. Your praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul shall make her boast in the Lord; the humble shall hear and be glad. O magnify the Lord with me! Let us exalt his name together! . . .”

I opened my eyes and peeked. Nony's cheeks glistened with moisture. Avis was on her feet, murmuring, “Yes! Thank You, Father! . . . Thank You, Jesus! . . .” as Nony prayed. I closed my eyes again. Looked like Nony was going for the long haul.

“O God, we know that young lions do lack, and suffer hunger. But if we seek the Lord we shall not want any good thing . . .”

Speaking of hunger, wasn't breakfast at eight o'clock? I took a peek at my watch. Only 7:22. Just then I was aware of a presence behind me, and Avis whispered in my ear. “Psalm thirty-four.”

Psalm thirty-four? Did she want me to look it up? I reached in my bag and pulled out my small travel Bible. Psalm thirty-three . . . thirty-four . . . My eyes skimmed over the verses.
Duh.
Of course! Nony was praying Psalm thirty-four. Had probably been “praying Scripture” all along. And Avis, no doubt, knew right where each Scripture verse came from.
Double duh.

I squeezed my eyes shut.
Okay, God, I feel like a dork. I'm sorry
for thinking Nony's prayer was just a bunch of clichés. You gotta help me
here. Everything's just so . . . different. But I want to learn whatever
You want me to learn this weekend . . . I think.

5

T
he line for the breakfast buffet wound clear out of the hotel café when we arrived at eight, but Avis, Nony, and I managed to get a table for four by the time we got through the line about eight-thirty. The line had thinned, and a few minutes later Florida hustled over with a cup of coffee and a sweet roll. I waved her into the fourth chair beside Nony. “Someone offered us a hundred bucks for this seat, but . . . we saved it for you.”

Florida chuckled. “You did right.” She tore her sweet roll in half. “So . . . was the prayer group good?”

“You're looking at it,” I said.

For a blink Florida stopped chewing. “Well, thank God! At least I wasn't the only delinquent.” She waved her sweet roll at the rest of us. “Though I'm sure God was pleased that a few of you showed up to get your praise on.”

I stifled a grin. Florida talked about “getting your praise on” like it was a blouse or a pair of shoes. Then her forehead wrinkled up. “It was optional, right? I mean, they'll probably have the prayer groups get together again during the conference, don't you think?”

“I'm sure they will.” Nony slipped cream into her tea. “But I was just as glad there were only a few this morning. The prayer time was precious.”

I studied the beautiful woman across from me. I'd never met anyone who seemed so totally unself-conscious when she was praying. Besides Avis, I mean. I thought maybe Avis had some special connection to God that was on “high” all the time. But Nony slipped Scripture in and out of her prayers so easily, it was like a second language.

With time slipping away and the first session of the day starting at nine o'clock, we mostly paid attention to our bagels, plastic cups of yogurt, and fruit juice amid small talk. I gave a quick glance around the room to see if I recognized anyone else from the night before. But mostly I saw women in a variety of “casual dress” with an occasional color-coordinated jogging suit. Guessed I was dressed okay in my beige slacks and off-white cotton sweater. Nony was wearing another African-print tunic over black pants, but she'd left off the headgear. Instead, a head full of tiny cornrows met at the top of her head and cascaded in a ponytail of coppery braids down to her shoulders. Gosh, it was gorgeous. I felt slightly cheated. My thin wash-and-wear hair would never do something like that.

“Hellooo, Jodi. I said, do you want to go back to the room with me?”With a start I realized Avis had stood up and was waiting for me. “I want to . . .” She pantomimed brushing her teeth. “ . . . Before the session starts.”

“If you get on up in there before me, save me a seat!” Florida called after us, still intent on her coffee.

Teeth brushed, a fresh application of lipstick, and Avis and I made our way to the ballroom. Once again the worship band and singers were up and running already by nine o'clock, even though women were still finding their seats. Once more we ended up in row five from the front with Avis next to an aisle. I piled my purse and Bible on the chair beside me to save a seat for Florida.
Unless
Adele comes and dumps them back into my lap,
I thought ruefully. But that would mean she'd be choosing to sit beside me in a room with hundreds of chairs, and I was sure
that
wasn't going to happen.

Soon the lady in the red suit—except it was a creamy tan today that complemented her skin to a golden glow—was back on stage with the hand-held mike, song lyrics were up on the screen, and the place was rocking.

We're blessed in the city! We're blessed in the field!

We're blessed when we come and when we go!

After six or seven repeats of the same song—verses, chorus,
and
vamp (“Blessed! Blessed! Blessed! Blessed!”)—the ballroom was filled with shouts of “Hallelujah!” and “Praise the Lord!” as the worship band quickly slid into another song. The ballroom doors stood open, and I saw some of the hotel staff peek in from time to time to see what all the ruckus was about. Even a housemaid or two. Later when I looked again, the doors were closed. Guess they didn't want us disturbing the other guests.

Avis was totally focused on worshiping. I tried. I really did. But my mind kept wandering, kept looking over the crowd to see if I recognized any of the other women in Group Twenty-Six. But we were pretty close to the front, so I couldn't really turn around and stare. I tried to clap and step to the music, but it was like patting my head and rubbing my stomach at the same time—I couldn't get coordinated. So I just sang along to the unfamiliar songs as best I could.

But after about an hour of chandelier-shaking music, I needed a break. I caught Avis's eye and mouthed that I was going to the bathroom. At least everyone was standing and moving and shouting, so it was pretty easy to slip out of the crowd unnoticed.

In the ladies restroom, I headed for the third stall. Funny. I always picked a stall in a public restroom and kept using that same one (unless it was already in use). Did other people do that? Or was I hopelessly in a rut even about bathroom stalls?

The noisy worship from the ballroom still throbbed in the background, but the peaceful ladies' room was like sitting by Walden Pond with a superhighway somewhere beyond the trees. However, my little oasis of quiet was broken by someone else coming in to use the facilities. While that woman was washing her hands—I heard water running—another person came in.

“Sister Monica!” gushed the newcomer. “I didn't know you were at the conference! How ya doin', girl?”

BOOK: 2-in-1 Yada Yada
11.28Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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