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Heaven Right Here
By LUTISHIA LOVELY
DAFINA BOOKSCopyright © 2009 Lutishia Lovely
All right reserved.
Chapter OneBaby Daddy
Stacy Gray, Hope Taylor, and Frieda Moore sat enjoying the breeze coming off the Pacific Ocean. Stacy's son, eighteen-month-old Darius Crenshaw Jr. sat cooing and clapping in his high chair, obviously enjoying the early November weather as well. Stacy and Hope belonged to the same church and saw each other almost every week. Hope and Frieda were cousins. But it was the first time in months that all three of these thirty-something ladies had hung out together. The good food and great conversation was just what the doctor ordered.
"I don't care about what she did-I love Conversations with Carla. That sistah keeps it real!" Frieda jabbed a fry in the air for emphasis.
"I like her too," Hope said. "I'm just saying it's amazing how someone who fell so low could rise again so quickly."
"I'm with Frieda," Stacy added, taking a napkin and wiping mashed potato from her son's face. "She did wrong, and she was punished. She lost her husband, her ministry, dignity, respect. No one on the outside looking in will ever truly know how much her present success cost her."
Minister Carla Lee Chapman had paid dearly for the scandal she had endured a year and a half ago. A secretive, short-term affair with a church associatehad become very public via a cuddly, late-night photo and tell-all article in LA Gospel, a Los Angeles-based magazine targeting the Black church community. Her husband had promptly divorced her and married the woman who had revealed Carla's secret. Carla's base of Christian women supporters-that had once numbered in the hundreds of thousands-dropped to four figures, and all but a handful of Christian bookstores pulled her DVDs. But now, less than six months after her nationally syndicated television show debuted, Carla was attracting a following that promised to eclipse that of her former popularity-a new popularity that included women of every race, religion, and socioeconomic status. Her Dr. Phil-style directness and Oprah-like warmth, combined with her religious sensibilities and Southern charm, had endeared her to the masses. Fortunately for both her and the MLM Network, her scandal and shame had garnered sympathy from the secular public. They embraced the contrite woman whom the religious community had ousted. The show's sky-high ratings were her final vindication.
"Did you see the girl on there the other day?" Frieda asked. "The sixteen-year-old who already had two kids? I wasn't expecting Carla to get with girlfriend like she did, but telling that little sistah to put a closed sign on the punany was real talk!"
"She said that?" Hope exclaimed.
"Pu-na-nny. On national TV. That's why women love her."
"What did the girl do?"
"Boohooed and then promised Carla she'd put her stuff on lock and focus on taking care of her kids."
"What I liked," Stacy interjected, "is that Carla offered to be her personal mentor-that she cared enough to get involved with a guest like that."
Stacy and Frieda kept talking, but Hope didn't hear. Idly twirling a strand of jet-black, shoulder-length hair, she tried to stave off the wave of depression that often accompanied any talk about babies. She and her husband, Cy (pronounced like the sigh his fine frame evoked from most women), had been trying for almost two years to get pregnant. She'd gone to several doctors and gotten mixed diagnoses: one said she was fine, another that her uterus was tilted, and a third said something about low-producing ovaries. Her first lady at church, Vivian Montgomery, had told her she just needed to relax and stop trying to get pregnant. But Hope had just turned thirty. She and Cy wanted at least two children. It was time to make it happen.
"I know one thing," Stacy was saying when Hope finally began to listen again. "If Darius thinks he's going to force me to have my son stay in that den of sin he and Bo call home, he'd better think again."
"But he the daddy, girl," Frieda reasoned. "Let that boy get to know his father and his 'uncle,'" she said with a wink, referring to Darius's lover, Bo Jenkins.
"You can't keep the boy away from his father," Hope agreed. "A child needs both parents."
"Yeah, well, his father should have thought about that before he chose Bo over me!"
Stacy flung her black, sixteen-inch Indian Remy weave away from her face so hard the hair slapped the face of the man sitting at the table behind her. He turned and glared, but Stacy didn't notice. She was too busy looking at yesterday.
Time had not dimmed her resentment at the way Darius had chosen to end his bigamous ways-to remain in the civil union with his male lover and have his marriage to Stacy annulled. It hadn't helped matters that his subsequent coming out hadn't received the backlash she'd hoped it would. Granted, it had generated all types of controversy in religious circles, and he wasn't getting many requests to play in churches, but his concerts were selling out, and his attempt to cross over from gospel into R & B was proving successful.
"Having a child is a blessing, Stacy," Hope said softly. "Don't miss out on the joy of it by holding on to anger. I'd do anything to have a baby right now."
Just then they were interrupted by a well-dressed man stepping up to their table. "Stacy Gray?" he asked, looking from one woman to the other.
"This is for you." He handed her a large envelope. "You've been served," he added brusquely and quickly walked away.
"What the ..." Instead of finishing the sentence, Stacy put down her drink and tore open the envelope. Her eyes scanned the papers quickly.
"Oh, my God, I don't believe this crap. He cannot possibly have this kind of nerve." She flipped through the pages quickly before throwing the document on the table. "He's out of his ever-loving-"
"Calm down, Stacy," Hope interrupted, putting her hand on the woman about to go postal. "What is it?"
"It's Darius, acting like the asshole he is," Stacy responded, her eyes welling with tears. "That fool is taking me to court. He's suing me for full custody of my child!"
Chapter TwoToo Much Drama
"Let me see that," Frieda quietly demanded as she subconsciously ran her hand through the short pixie cut that emphasized a narrow face and high cheekbones. She read parts of the document aloud-paragraphs outlining charges of slander, malicious intent, and willful disregard of joint custody arrangements previously set up by the courts after Darius and Stacy's marriage had been annulled.
"How often does Darius get to visit his son?" Hope asked as she reached over to Darius Jr. and took the spoon that had become an annoying drumstick against the wooden highchair. Before the child could inhale enough breath for an all-out wail, she'd replaced the noisemaker with a quieter, crowd-friendly pair of plastic straws. She was rewarded with a gummy grin, signaling that all was forgiven. If only adults could forgive and forget as quickly, she thought.
Hope pushed the issue. "As often as the court dictates?"
Stacy's facial expression made words unnecessary. She apparently was not keeping up her end of the custody arrangements.
"All I asked was for him to keep Bo out of our business. I did not, and do not, want that man influencing my son. But does Darius listen? No! He acts like he can't walk without Bo saying which leg goes in front of the other. I think he clings to Bo just to piss me off."
Frieda chuckled. "Girl, he clings to Bo because he's in love."
Stacy rose from her chair and lifted a stained but happy toddler from the highchair. She methodically cleaned mashed potatoes from his hands, toes, shirt, and pants as she continued. "It's simple, really: if he wants to see Darius more, make sure I see Bo less. There," she added, referring both to her cleaning job on her son and also to her son's father. "I'm not asking too much, am I, little man, huh?" She nuzzled his neck as he emitted peals of laughter. "I'm not asking your daddy for too much."
"I say let the child see his father," Frieda said. "I know you don't want to hear this, Stacy, but the man pays child support. He has a right to see him. So what if his booty-bumping buddy comes along for the ride. Hell, I say the more love, the merrier. Besides, if you'd let the man see his son more often, we probably wouldn't be sitting here looking at court papers." Frieda ignored Stacy's venomous stare and continued. "Look, I'm your friend so I'm going to call it like I see it. Darius doesn't want drama right now. He's probably just doing this to make a point. Go home, give the man a call, and work on an arrangement you both can live with. You might even be able to get some more money out of the deal, and you might be able to put in a request for solo visits-visits without Darius's 'husband'-into the actual custody paperwork. Because unless that madness about you not wanting Bo around your baby is not only legal but justified, Darius will do a Kevin Federline-style drive-by, and they'll be sitting over in Bel Air talking about 'And baby makes three.'"
Hope agreed with Frieda but wisely chose to keep this information to herself. "What are you going to do?" Hope asked instead.
Stacy swung the diaper bag over her shoulder and positioned Darius on her hip. Her stance matched the attitude that poured from her lips. "I tell you what I'm not going to do. I'm not going to let some fake faggot pseudo-celebrity run my life. This is my child, and his welfare is my business. Darius wants a fight? Darius wants to do battle in court? Well, I'm going to call his sorry ass and tell him it's about to go down!"
Hope watched silently as Stacy navigated around filled tables and raised eyebrows, crossing the patio with her head held high. She's about as big as a minute, Hope thought as she watched her five-foot-three, size-four friend walk away. But if she ran into them, I think she could kick both Bo's and Darius's butts right now.
Frieda shook her head once Stacy had turned the corner. "That's the very reason why I will never have two things-a child or a husband. Unh-unh. Too much drama." A beep alerted Frieda that she had a text message. She looked at her Blackberry and typed in a quick reply, speaking to Hope as she did so. "It's about time Giorgio got his butt back on this side of the country."
"Giorgio? I thought that relationship played out a while ago."
"It did. But he's still a friend ... with benefits."
"Too much drama, huh?"
Frieda winked at Hope and then reached for the wallet inside her purse.
"No, no-my treat," Hope insisted. She pulled out her black Centurion American Express card and motioned for the waitress. Then she returned her attention to Frieda, who was busy texting away. "What happened to Jonathan? I thought things were heating up with you two."
"That's who I'm texting now," Frieda said without missing a stroke. "I'm moving our date to tomorrow so I can pick up Giorgio from the airport." Her eyes widened at Hope's exasperated expression. "What?" Frieda asked in as innocent a voice as she could muster. "Giorgio always gets Saturday nights if he's in town. That man loves to party and knows some of everybody who's anybody." She continued typing as fast as her thumbs could move.
"You know what? You keep saying you want to find a good man and settle down, and every time we talk you're mentioning a new name ... or, in Giorgio's case, bringing up an old one."
"Good man? Settle down? Didn't you hear what I just said about marriage? Besides, how am I supposed to find a good man without looking for one?"
"If all you were doing was looking, and if it were only one, we wouldn't have a problem."
"We don't have a problem now. But I hear a sermon coming, and it's nowhere near Christmas or Easter-my official dates with the Lord. So hold that thought, cuz. I gotta run."
Frieda gave a stunned and still seated Hope a quick hug. "Thanks for lunch and your wonderful company." She hurried across the patio and threw a quick "Love ya!" over her shoulder before finishing her grand exit.
Hope's smile lingered after Frieda had gone. This was her crazy "I am who I am" cousin, and one thing was for sure, what you saw was what you got. As much as she chided Frieda for her fast-lane lifestyle and questionable dating etiquette, she also admired Frieda's ability to live life to the fullest and on her terms. As Hope prepared to leave the restaurant and signed the receipt, adding a twenty-dollar tip to the fifty-dollar total, she decided to do more of that herself-live a full life-beginning with doing whatever it took to become a mom.
A smile spread slowly across the face of the person who sat directly behind the table just vacated by Stacy, Hope, and Frieda. She couldn't believe her good fortune on hearing the juicy drama that had just played out. She always knew Stacy had had that child to try to trap Darius, just like she'd always known he'd never stay with her. And not for one minute did she believe that her idol, the man of her dreams, was gay. Everybody knew Bo was Darius's business partner, and that gay chitter-chatter that had been all over the news had been planted by Darius simply to keep people like Stacy away from him.
"What are you smiling about?" her date asked. He gave her a seductive gaze, and hoped the smile was for him.
It wasn't, as her next words confirmed. "I'm smiling because what we just heard puts me one step closer to what I want. And I always get what I want." She rocked her leg and twirled the straw in her drink as she pondered which plan to put into play. Then the smile faded, her eyes narrowed, and the young, determined woman made a declaration: Darius Crenshaw is as good as mine!
Chapter ThreeBabies Are Blessings
"Are you sure you don't want to fly over here? My business wraps up in a couple days. We can take an extended European tour and then go down under for the Australian Open." Cy's voice dropped to a near whisper. "Maybe sneak into the stadium at midnight and make love on the main court."
Hope smiled as if Cy could see her face through the phone. She knew her six-foot-two, one-hundred-and-eighty-five pounds of caramel goodness would do anything to make her feel good, which is why she tried to put on a happy face around him and now respond with a cheerful voice.
"That would give new meaning to tennis balls, now, wouldn't it?"
"Not to mention the things I'd do to you with my racquet," he said, laughing. "But if we continue this discussion of racquets and balls much further, I'll have to cancel the rest of my meetings and fly home now."
"Promises, promises," Hope countered. "I love you, baby, but handle your business. I'll be here, ready and waiting, when you get home."
"Last chance for this first-class ticket, baby." Cy's want to see his wife had turned into need. "Especially since your mom canceled her trip. And speaking of, how's Earl? Still improving?"
"Daddy's much better. In fact, Mama said he may be released in a couple days. Thank God this wasn't an actual heart attack. It was a warning, though. Mama said she and Lena are joining forces to play food cop. Of course, Daddy was in the background begging for smothered pork chops."
"If Earl's joking around, he's definitely on the mend. That's good to hear, baby. Maybe you should fly there instead. I can even meet you in Oklahoma if you want."
"That's a good idea, Cy. Maybe I will. I'll either call or e-mail you as soon as I make any plans."
They shared a few more naughty innuendos before Hope gently placed the receiver in its cradle. She fought to maintain the lightness and joy that had transpired during the conversation with her husband. The happiness lingered briefly, especially as she thought of her mother and father genuinely getting along for the first time since they had divorced more than a decade ago. Hope felt a small sense of pride knowing their attendance at her and Cy's wedding had been the catalyst to her parents' platonic reconciliation. Lena was a big help too. She and Earl had recently married, and Lena had immediately offered her friendship to Hope's mother and Earl's ex-wife. "We're all family, Pat," she'd said. "You loved him then, I love him now. So we've already got something in common." When Earl complained of chest pains and couldn't catch his breath, Pat's was the second number Lena dialed, after 911.
That's some kind of woman, Hope thought as she flipped through hundreds of television channels. Her mother was the kind of woman Hope doubted she could be. If she and Cy ever divorced, heaven forbid, could she be friendly toward his new wife? Hope felt she would have to try, for the sake of their children ... if there ever were any.
Excerpted from Heaven Right Here by LUTISHIA LOVELY Copyright © 2009 by Lutishia Lovely. Excerpted by permission.
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