Authors: Lutishia Lovely
Tags: #Fiction, #African American, #General, #Christian, #Contemporary Women
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.
This book is dedicated to the angelic sisterhood
who I know watches over me:
My grandmother Amanda,
My great-grandmothers Alma and Lutishia,
And my great-great-grandmother Fredonia Yates.
Good lookin’ out ladies…I appreciate you.
When I think of gratitude, acknowledgements, thank-yous, and of all the people and experiences that ultimately helped me co-create this moment, I am reminded of just how blessed I am, of how amazing this journey called “life” is, and of how everything and everyone is connected. All of those thank-yous would equal the size of this novel!
But there are those whose thoughts, words and deeds are intricately woven into the fabric of this particular work. Your talent, energy, positive attitudes, senses of humor and love helped it happen. And it is you I thank now.
To Spirit, the I Am, for allowing and enabling me to reflect Your light in the earth. In the beginning was the Word…and we’re still writing. I am so grateful…
To my earliest mentors and, in addition to being my parents, two of my best friends: Willie and Flora Hinton. I love you! To my nieces, nephews, brothers and especially my sisters, Dee and Marcella, for our crazy conversations, laughter and tears, down through the years. Y’all know. To Aunt Ernie (Jackson), for believing in my writing and for living in New York, one of my favorite cities.
To my special family of friends: Sherri Roulette-Mosley, Kai Aiyetoro and Fadzo Chanakira (Wu-Wu!) for your invaluable input, feedback, suggestions and critiques through the rewrites, and through life. To my twin, Storm, for being a much needed sounding board and breath of fresh air. To Micki Guzmán and Tino Struckmann for the unexpected yet treasured friendships during our literary journeys. You’re next! To mi amigo Hugo Perez. Gracias para todo. And to my heart, Cuezalin; my world shines brighter with you in it…
To the Kensington crew: My fearless and flawless editor Stacey Barney (there I go with the adjectives!), Karen Thomas, the pivotal Hilary Sares,
Are you sure you don’t want me to read this?
Also Lydia Stein, Karina Mikhli, Barbara Bennett and Brendan Finnel.
To Kristine Mills-Noble, Jo Tronc and Tracy Marx for the reason this book is flying off the shelves…the cover! Speaking of shelves, to bookstores and booksellers everywhere.
To my legal counsel and the Author’s Guild, Robin Davis Miller and the amazing Anita Fore. Your commitment to writers is first class! To agents Sha Shana Crichton and Natasha Kern. What you women do is no joke!
And to you, yes you, the one who’s so graciously picked up this novel and turned the page. What would a writer be without a reader? Exactly. I pray God’s blessings on your life and your dreams.
If you didn’t see your name, and you believe yours is a name that should be seen? The sequel’s coming, darlin’s. Keep reading…
It squeezed her booty without apology. But that was only part of the beauty of a St. John suit. The other was its flawless design—its intricate stitching—its wrinkle-free fabric. The way it hugged every inch of her curved, firm body. She was a perfect St. John size six. Thirty-eight years and two children later, a perfect St. John size six and she was proud of it.
Vivian Elise Stanford Montgomery stepped back and briefly inspected her image in the mirror. She moved to the dresser and, pushing aside the two-carat diamond studs, decided on the round ruby dangles with matching choker. The black onyx jewel setting provided a fitting backdrop to the precious stones and complemented the black piping around the jacket as if they had been designed specifically for the occasion.
The ruby and the black and the herringbone all worked to complement Vivian’s unblemished, coffee-colored complexion. Well, coffee with a wee bit of cream. She’d been pretty her whole life, although she didn’t always think so. It took Sistah Lillie and Brotha Benson’s son Titus to convince her she
was really pretty, worth a Snickers candy bar and the faux-pearl ring he got out of his Cracker Jack box, but that’s another story. To this day she still wasn’t sure whether Titus really thought she was pretty or if he just wanted her to play hide-and-go-get-it behind Brother Armstrong’s toolshed, but again, that’s another story. She could remember being in the Sunbeams and having the mothers of the church comment, “Ooh, ain’t she a pretty little black thang?”
Her shoulder-length black hair framed her face softly in a trendy flip style, a style that accented the Asian slant of her wide, brown eyes. Sitting at the vanity, she finished her make-up, adding just a hint of blush and a subtle layer of ruby red lipstick to her full, well-defined lips.
Vivian opened the set of double doors to her dressing room and grabbed a snazzy pair of Manolo Blahnik pumps, black with a patch of ruby and black herringbone fabric encased between the leather toe and heel. She slid into them effortlessly while eyeing the matching bag on the lower shelf. She glanced briefly at her watch, and amidst the dazzle of diamonds that caught the light from every direction, was the message that she’d better hurry.
Crossing to the dresser, Vivian splashed on a generous amount of Spikenard, a present from her best friend Tai’s most recent visit to the Holy Land. With one last glance in the full-length mirror, rather a stop-pivot-turn, stop-head-back-pivot-turn again, Vivian exited the spacious master bedroom and entered the hallway.
“Derrick! Elisia! Let’s go!” She never stopped walking as she knocked on each child’s door and headed for the stairway. She knew that Anastacia, the housekeeper and children’s nanny, would have them dressed and ready to go. “We’re down here, Mama!” yelled Elisia, all satin and lace. Derrick was sitting on the settee in the foyer, already looking like a deacon at the ripe old age of seven. Why did he insist on
dressing like that? Because it made him look like his father, that was why, and his father was his hero.
His father, Dr. Derrick Anthony Montgomery, was many people’s hero. Senior pastor of Los Angeles’ latest soul-saving sensation, Kingdom Citizens’ Christian Center, he was a preacher’s son, preacher’s preacher, scholar, teacher, much-sought-after conference speaker and one of the finest brothers this side of glory. Vivian smiled as this last thought popped into her head. But how could she help it as she looked at her husband’s spitting image, albeit thirty years younger, in front of her?
You know how people say when you meet your husband you’ll know? Well, Vivian had that very experience when she laid eyes on D-2’s daddy fifteen years ago. Lord! Where had the time gone? And why did the moment seem like yesterday?
It was back in her home state of Kansas at the Kewana Valley District’s annual Baptist Convention. Vivian hadn’t wanted to go. The only reason she, a twenty-one-year-old communications graduate on her way to becoming the first Black Barbara Walters, had agreed to revisit her old religious stomping grounds was because her best friend’s husband was being installed as the new and youngest assistant moderator of the district, and her friend thought Vivian’s attending would add a bit of “celebrity” to the affair.
Her best friend was Twyla “Tai” Nicole Brook. Vivian and Tai (so named because her goddaughter and namesake couldn’t say Twyla. It always came out “tie-la,” so they eventually settled on Aunt Tai, and the name stuck) had been friends since the ninth grade. That’s when Vivian’s father, Victor L. Stanford, had made a sizeable contribution to Kewana Valley District’s Higher Learning Scholarship Fund, and in
doing so had become even more important than his propensity for eloquent speech and impenetrable loyalty already afforded him. Her father had been invited to join the district’s board, and shortly thereafter invited to a board meeting, family included, in the Florida Keys. Vivian dreaded the trip because she thought she’d have to endure a week of “old fogies” and was delighted when she met fourteen-year-old, auburn-haired, freckle-faced Twyla in the lobby of the posh Hilton Keys Hotel. They had run off to their rooms, donned modest two-piece swimsuits, headed to the beach and shared lifetime secrets, dreams and aspirations that only thirteen-and fourteen-year-old girls could share. They were fast friends from that very day, and even a hundred-mile distance—for that was how far they lived from each other at the time—could not separate them. They wrote each other every week and talked on the phone almost every day from the ninth grade through Vivian’s first couple of years of college.
Just before her senior year in high school, Tai informed Vivian that she was getting married. Vivian was not surprised. Tai’s singular goal after graduating was to become a wife and mother, and she had talked nonstop about King Wesley Brook from the moment she met him. She surmised after their first kiss that he would be her husband, and after their first unofficial date a short time later, a surreptitious meeting in the church parking lot during a midnight revival, said he would be the father of her children. She was right on both counts and became Mrs. King Wesley Brook shortly after her nineteenth birthday and six months before their first child, Michael Wesley Brook, was introduced to the world.
Tai had asked Vivian to deliver a motivational speech at the Saturday Night Youth Extravaganza. Vivian went to the Friday night services to gauge the type of crowd attending the meeting. She wasn’t sure whether to be more spiritual,
religious or political. It was a fine line during this time, the ’80s, and with her ever-increasing personal relationship with God and widening social and political views as a news correspondent, she was always walking that line.
She tried to sneak in after the devotional (which she found boring) and before the offering (where she wanted to be sure and give back to God). She excuse me’d down to the center of the pew three rows from the back and had just opened her program when the lady to the left tapped her and nodded toward an usher who was motioning, for her to follow him. She looked around and saw Tai’s widened eyes which said “come
girl,” so she dutifully excuse me’d back down the row, avoiding a few angry eyes but not missing the “umph”s and “tsk”s of a few sisters before bowing her head and following Mr. Black-Suit-White-Shirt-Pinstriped-Tie down to the second row.
She barely had a chance to squeeze Tai’s arm, giving her a little pinch, when she saw him. He came in with the pastors and others designated to participate in the evening’s program. She was staring without knowing it and, even after she knew it, couldn’t stop. She checked him out from the top of his s-curled, collar-length hair to the soles of his buffed and polished snakeskin boots. Snakeskin boots! Who was this brother?
“Who’s Mr. Snakeskin Boots?” she hissed at Tai. Tai just smiled and rolled her eyes while rocking to the choir’s fiery rendition of “Jesus Is A Rock.” Vivian tried to regain her composure, but snakeskin boots had cooked her collards. He was wearing a dark navy, double-breasted suit that emphasized his broad shoulders which narrowed down—
can we say “vee”
—into a highly huggable waist and then fanned out, oh-so-slightly, to reveal a perfectly shaped, hard butt…Jesus! What was she thinking? And in the middle of church service no less. Right in between “rock in a weary land” and “shelter in the time of storm.”
Pull yourself together, girl!
She tried to divert her eyes as he sat down and even joined Tai in a rock, clap, rock, clap as the choir bumped it up an octave. She threw in an “amen,” raised her arms and closed her eyes, trying to capture the image of Jesus as a rock. But all she could see was curly hair and snakeskin boots, and it was making her hot! She opened her eyes just in time to see Snakeskin staring at her intently. She closed her eyes again and tried to start singing, but since she didn’t know the words it just looked as if she were singing in tongues, and they didn’t play that at the Baptist Convention in 1985! When she stole another peek Snakeskin was smiling broadly, as if he knew she’d been thinking of him.
Vivian was thankful when a lady two rows behind her got happy and started jumping up and screaming, “My Rock, my Rock!” That brought other members of the audience to their feet, and before she knew it Tai was on her feet, thankfully blocking Vivian’s view of Snakeskin. About this time Tai’s husband, King Wesley Brook, mounted the podium along with his father, the Reverend Doctor Pastor Bishop Overseer Mister Stanley Obadiah Meshach Brook, Jr., Vivian’s father and a group of other board members. The song had reached a feverish pitch, and the choir was rocking, literally. Just before delivering the song’s final lyric, they paused. The choir, director with hand in midair, pianist, organist, drummer, lead singer—everybody stopped. It seemed everyone in the audience was frozen, too, holding their breath, all except for the “happy” woman two rows back whose “My Rock!” had toned down to a quiet “Rock” between sobs as she was furiously fanned by two ushers in white. Oh, it was on now! The Holy Spirit was moving, people were remembering how Jesus had been their Rock and there was shouting and crying and dancing going on all around. All that time the choir remained frozen, as did Vivian, but she for a totally different reason. Slowly the lead singer, a Karen Clark-like soprano-alto, sang the final line. She hit every note on the musical scale as she
brought the song to its dramatic conclusion. Adding several syllables to each word, she belted out, “Jesus is my Rock.”
The drummer started a roll on the snares, the guitarist held on to a string, the note reverberating in the air, the pianist and organist seemed to be in a competition as to who could hit the most keys in the shortest amount of time and the lead singer had gone on a journey to find notes that heretofore had not been hit. The song never really ended. It just faded away. The lead singer started her own personal praise as she walked back to the choir loft, the musicians were in their own player praise and the audience added their adorations to the Lord.
Vivian had sat there quiet and still, a small smile playing on her face as she felt the power of God. She stayed that way a long time, through the shouting and the clapping and the praise pause and the player praise. She opened her eyes when she heard the voice of a man that reminded her of her father’s soothing tremor, but the voice was raspier, lighter. She cocked her head as she opened her eyes and stared into those of Snakeskin Boots himself, Derrick Anthony Montgomery.
“Are you ready to go?”
Vivian jumped, shaken from her walk down memory lane. She was sitting in the living room, waiting for her husband to come down. And here he was in front of her, still melting her just like he did fifteen years ago when she watched him deliver his eloquent tribute to King Brook at the Kewana Valley District’s Baptist Convention.
“Yes, I’m ready,” she responded as she grabbed her purse, and, rising from the couch, kissed him lightly on the mouth. They headed to the garage and the iridescent, pearl white Jaguar waiting there. They all settled in as Derrick hit the garage door opener, started the car and drove down the long, winding driveway.
“King called,” Derrick began after a brief silence.
“Must have been important,” Vivian pondered aloud. “He knows how busy Sunday mornings are. What did he want?”
Derrick’s brow creased slightly as he tried to figure that out himself. “I don’t know. I told him I’d call him later today, between services maybe.”
Vivian leaned back and looked out the window. It was a beautiful Sunday in Los Angeles with clear blue skies, fluffy white cumulus clouds and picture-perfect palm trees lining the streets. Her mind drifted to the conversation she and Tai had a couple days ago. Tai had seemed unusually quiet and reserved, and when Vivian asked her if everything was okay, Tai had said she was just tired. Since they had four, Vivian had assumed it was the children. Now she was wondering if it was the kids, or something else?