I Know I've Been Changed

I Know I've Been Changed

4.1 16
by ReShonda Tate Billingsley

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A successful television reporter discovers that family is more important than fame and fortune in this hilarious and heartwarming family drama from bestselling author ReShonda Tate Billingsley.

Raedella Rollins left the dusty town of Sweet Poke, Arkansas, on a Texas-bound bus with four mismatched suitcases, a newsroom job offer, and a promise to herself: never…  See more details below


A successful television reporter discovers that family is more important than fame and fortune in this hilarious and heartwarming family drama from bestselling author ReShonda Tate Billingsley.

Raedella Rollins left the dusty town of Sweet Poke, Arkansas, on a Texas-bound bus with four mismatched suitcases, a newsroom job offer, and a promise to herself: never look back. Now, less than a decade later, she’s a top-rated talk show host, a celebrity news anchor, and fiancée to Houston’s star councilman. The future looks bright for Rae, and Sweet Poke is nothing more than a distant memory.

But now that she’s reached the top, her ragtag family comes knocking. Mama Tee, the grandmother who raised her, calls with unwelcome family updates; and Shondella, her jealous older sister, guilts her into sending money. To Rae, nothing could be worse than an unexpected reunion with her over-the-top relatives. But when her picture-perfect life turns out to be an illusion, Rae's family calls her back to Sweet Poke and to the life she left behind. Can Rae let go of the pain of her childhood and open her heart to the healing that only faith and family can provide?

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Grabs you from the first page and never lets go. . . . One of the best reads of the year. Bravo!" — Victoria Christopher Murray

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I'm outta here and I don't care what anyone has to say.

Shondella, Reno, Auntie Mel. Even Mama Tee. I don't need none of them. Tell me I ain't gonna make it. I'll show 'em all. They can have this funky town.

Here I was, standing in front of Eddie's Filling Tank, the lone gas station bus stop in town, with all my belongings stuffed into four tattered suitcases. There was no turning back, not that I'd even want to. I was tired of Sweet Poke and all that it didn't have to offer. The one-stoplight town didn't even have a movie theater or a mall. The only three stores in the town were the five-and-dime store, McConn's, an overpriced old-people clothing store, and Piggly Wiggly. We didn't even have a freakin' Wal-Mart. If you wanted a decent pair of underwear, you had to drive twenty minutes to the next town to get it. And the nearest major city, Little Rock, was an hour and a half away. Sweet Poke was simply not a place where you could thrive. And it definitely wasn't a place for someone like me.

Shondella, my jealous older sister, had laughed when I'd first announced my intention to leave and go work in Tyler, Texas. She said I would probably end up hooking on the street. Then there was my great-aunt Mel, who had helped my grandmother raise me since my no-account mama had decided she didn't want to be a mama anymore and left me, Shondella, and my twin sister and brother, Jasmine and Justin, at this very bus stop. Auntie Mel had prayed over me like I needed to be exorcised or something. Mama Tee wouldn't even say good-bye. She just acted like I was goin' to the corner store or something.

I glanced at my watch. The bus was over an hour late and the wind was kicking my tail, messing up the $40, spiral-curl hairstyle that I'd had to sleep sitting up to maintain. People were always telling me I looked like former Miss America Vanessa Williams, so I'd tried to copy the hairstyle she always wore.

Some of the dust being kicked around by the wind got lodged in my throat and gave me a coughing fit.

"Just another reason to get out of this place," I muttered. Sweet Poke, Arkansas, was known for its twisterlike dirt clouds. And that about summed up all this town had to offer. On the list of progressive places in the country, Sweet Poke would rank at the very bottom. That's why I had to leave. Ever since junior high school, I've known I was bigger than this place. My family, friends, Reno, none of them could ever understand that. Some of my relatives called me uppity, but they just didn't understand. It wasn't only the slow pace that was driving me insane. I simply couldn't live in poverty. Since the average salary in this town of three thousand people was just over $14,000 a year, poverty was very real. Growing up, we were dirt-poor, although you'd never know it because Mama Tee was always hollering 'bout we was rich in spirit. Yeah, right. Tell that to the light company. They ain't trying to hear nothin' 'bout no spirits.

No, my future would be nothing like my past. I refused to be like Mama Tee, struggling to make ends meet, yet still singing every church song in the book. Forget that. Don't get me wrong, I haven't completely stopped believing in God, I just don't think He makes frequent stops in Sweet Poke. If He did, everyone here wouldn't live such miserable lives.

I used to pray that God would make things better for us, that he would bring my mama back. That was a pipe dream. All the nights I cried, all the nights I prayed for hours, begging God to bring my mother back didn't make a bit of difference. I wanted, no I needed my mother in my life so much I tried to bargain with God, saying stuff like I'd get straight A's and never trouble Mama Tee again if He would just bring her back. Yet, it never happened. So despite what Mama Tee is always saying, to me it don't look like God answers prayers. Least he ain't never answered none I sent up.

That's why I stopped waiting on God to change my situation and set out to change it myself. I was headed for bigger and better things. I was going to show the world that I wasn't some discarded little girl.

I pulled my scarf over my hair. I definitely didn't want any dirt getting in my hair. After I was sure I had it adjusted to where it was covering my entire head, I stepped out into the parking lot and peered down the road. "Finally," I mumbled as I noticed the big gray bus making its way through the clouds of dust.

For the first time that day, a smile crossed my face. I watched the Greyhound bus pull into the service station, wishing it would just slow down long enough for me to jump on board, then keep going.

"Evening, ma'am," the portly bus driver said as he stepped off the bus. "Will you be joining us?"

"Naw, I'm just standing out here in a dust storm for my health," I snapped.

The driver narrowed his eyes. "No need to get smart, little lady."

"No need to ask dumb questions." I was not in the mood for cordial exchanges. I was anxious to get out of Sweet Poke, the place I'd called home most of my life. "Yes, William," I said, reading his nametag. "I'm waiting on you. I've been waiting for the last hour and a half." I thrust my ticket toward him.

William forced a smile and shook his head. "They don't pay me enough for this," he mumbled as he took the ticket.

"What?" I asked, my hands firmly planted on my hips.

"Nothing," William responded. "We'll be taking a five-minute break, then we'll be heading out."

"Fine." As irritated as I was, I had waited all my life for this. What was another five minutes?

The driver rolled his eyes, then made his way over to where my luggage sat and began loading it on the bus. My entire life, stuffed in four pieces of unmatching, frazzled luggage. One was a Samsonite I had borrowed from Auntie Mel, and the other three cheap pieces were Mama Tee's. She'd probably gotten them on sale at a thrift store.

I huffed and was just about to board the bus when I heard someone say, "So you really gon' do this? Raedella Rollins is really gonna just up and leave?"

I stopped and turned toward Reno, my boyfriend of six years. Make that ex-boyfriend. We'd broken up two months ago after I'd caught him coming out of the only motel in Sweet Poke with Ann Paxton, the town tramp. I was hurt by his actions, mostly because he knew in a town as small as Sweet Poke, he wouldn't be able to cheat and get away with it. Still, he did it anyway. In fact, it was my sister who had come running home, out of breath, to tell me Reno was at the motel. The motel clerk had called somebody, who called somebody, who called my sister. Since we mix like oil and water, Shondella took great pleasure in bringing me the news.

"I guess you thought I was joking," I responded as I made my way to the side of the bus where he was standing. "I told you, Reno, I'm outta here. I'm destined for bigger and better things."

"This is about Ann, isn't it? I told you she don't mean nothing. She kissed me." Reno smiled that crooked smile that had captured my heart when I was just a freshman in high school. His eyes twinkled as he stood there in his Dickies overalls, holding a can of Coca-Cola. I'd known Reno since I was a little girl. But he'd moved away when he was nine years old, after his parents divorced. When he returned to live with his father, he came back a handsome young man who had every girl within a hundred miles of Sweet Poke feenin' for him. Even now, he was as handsome as he was the day he'd first stepped foot in my freshman English class. His honey-brown complexion, short-cropped hair, enchanting eyes, and deep dimples almost made me think twice about my decision to leave. Almost.

"Whatever, Reno," I said, snapping out of the trance his eyes were luring me into. "That was your tongue down her throat, not the other way around. Anyway, I'm not going down that road with you again."

Reno displayed a big, cheesy grin. I used to believe Reno was one of the good guys. He went to church all the time. He was loving, attentive, and honest, or so I thought. That's why his cheating hurt me so much. I never saw it coming. He tried to give me some line about Ann claiming she had dropped something down the sink in that motel room and needed his help to get it out. I told him he must think I was Boo-Boo the fool if he expected me to believe that.

Reno reached out and tried to take my hand. "But we're a team. Always have been, always will be. Even when you tried to play hard and break up with me, I knew where your heart was. We belong together."

"Save that crap for your next victim," I said, jerking my hand away. "We broke up months ago. And this is about me wanting more than this two-bit town can offer. So Ann can have you because I don't want you."

"Tell that to someone who doesn't know you." Reno laughed, infuriating me.

"Let me explain something to you," I said, wiggling my neck. "You are a country bumpkin, a low-down, stank dirty dog. That's why I wouldn't get back together with your broke behind. And you have no aspirations to leave this place. You're happy working your minimum-wage job at the railroad. But me. . . CNN is calling, baby." I stood with my head held high.

Reno narrowed his eyes, looking at me like I was crazy. "Shondella told me you're going to Tyler, Texas. That's a long way from CNN."

"But it's on the way!" I was sick of people degrading my decision to take a job as a reporter in Tyler. Auntie Mel said I was just jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire by leaving one small town to go to another. Both she and Mama Tee had blasted me for going away to a town where I didn't know a single soul. But I'd let my family talk me out of going away to college, even though I'd desperately wanted to leave this place. Between being broke and madly in love with Reno, I'd been suckered into commuting to college at the University of Central Arkansas at Conway, which was about thirty minutes from Sweet Poke. Still, I stayed focused, earning my degree in broadcast journalism and sending out audition tape after audition tape until I finally got a job offer in Tyler. "I have to pay some dues. Anyway, I'll only be there a few months before some big-time television station snatches me up."

Reno doubled over with laughter.

"Forget you, Reno. You ain't gotta believe in me. That's why I'm leaving your country tail. And you will be sick when you see me on CNN, or Entertainment Tonight or 60 Minutes!" His disbelief made me even more determined to fulfill my dream of becoming a nationally known news anchor.

"Yeah, right," Reno said between laughs. "You call me country? Your behind still talking 'bout 'Can I axe you a question?' How you gon' be Barbara Walters and you can't even talk right?"

Reno eased his laughing and leaned in, running his hand across my face, which was on fire with fury. "Baby, face it. Sweet Poke is where you belong. You just a little ol' country girl. Your people are here," he stressed as he leaned in closer. "It's where you were born, where you gon' die. You can't run from it. It's in your blood."

His words made me shiver. This couldn't be my destiny. I'd get away from Sweet Poke or die trying.

"Lady, if you're catching this bus, you best get moving."

I hadn't even noticed the driver get back on the bus. I shook myself out of the trance Reno's words had put me in. "We'll see who has the last laugh," I said.

With that, I turned and boarded the bus, leaving Reno standing in the midst of the dust storm.

Within minutes, I was settling into a seat near the front of the bus. As the bus took off I leaned my head back and closed my eyes tightly. I refused to look out the window at Reno or Sweet Poke. All of that was my past. I was headed to my future.

Copyright ©2006 by ReShonda Tate Billingsley

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Meet the Author

ReShonda Tate Billingsley’s #1 national bestselling novels include Let the Church Say Amen, I Know I’ve Been Changed, and Say Amen, Again, winner of the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work. Her collaboration with Victoria Christopher Murray has produced three hit novels, Sinners & Saints, Friends & Foes, and Fortune & Fame. Visit ReShondaTateBillingsley.com, meet the author on Facebook at ReShondaTateBillingsley, or follow her on Twitter @Reshondat.

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