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Opal Lockhart glanced around the crowded backyard and smiled at the many family, friends and invited guests she saw. There was nothing like an annual family reunion to bring everyone together. This one seemed even better than the last, because she and her sisters had a lot to celebrate.
First, she had a new job she loved, although things would be better if her boss didn't have such surly behavior most of the time. Her sister Pearl, who at twenty-five was two years younger than Opal, had sent her new demo tapes to several gospel labels all over the country. And then there was her oldest sister, Ruby, twenty-nine, who had gotten a superior rating on her most recent job performance evaluation. That would definitely keep Ruby first in line for a promotion with her present employer. Everyone knew how important moving up the corporate ladder of success was to Ruby.
But the biggest blessing of all, as far as Opal and her other two sisters were concerned, was that their twenty-one-year-old baby sister, Amber, had finished another year in college, which she was attending part-time, and had set a record by not changing boyfriends more than three times since the last reunion.
She smiled as she glanced over at Amber, but her smile quickly turned to a frown when she saw her youngest sister openly flirting with several of the male guests, most of them from the family's church. Opal glanced over at Ruby, who met her gaze and nodded, indicating she too was aware of Amber's outlandish behavior.
Opal was about to go have a word with her sister when her cell phone vibrated in the back pocket of her shorts. She quickly pulled it out, and her frown deepened when she saw thecaller was her boss. Why on earth would he be contacting her on a Saturday?
She moved to an area of the patio away from the noisemainly the heated discussion going on between her sister Pearl and Reverend Wade Kendrick, regarding the woman's role in a Christian household. Reverend Kendrick, who was only twenty-eight, was their church's new minister. A former "gangsta," he had found faith when he had overcome a personal tragedy.
Opal was thoroughly impressed with him and thought he was a dynamic speaker. Already, the congregation had increased tremendously since he'd arrived. And because he was a rather handsome single man, a lot of the unwed female church members were vying for his attention. At least everyone but Pearl was. It seemed she and Reverend Kendrick butted heads on just about every topic.
Opal slipped onto an empty bench and flipped open the phone. "Hello."
"Ms. Lockhart, this is D'marcus Armstrong. I hate bothering you at home but something of importance has come up and I need you to meet me at the office in thirty minutes."
Opal glanced at her watch. "Mr. Armstrong, my sisters and I are hosting our family reunion and"
"I regret the interruption but I do need you at the office, otherwise, I wouldn't be calling." His tone indicated there would be no discussion on the matter. "You should be able to return to your family function within the hour."
Opal sighed. Now was not the time to make waves with her boss. This was her last semester at the university in her quest for a Business Management degree, and her employment at Sports Unlimited was part of her internship. She even planned to stay with the company after graduation and take advantage of the good benefits and the potential for advancement.
Having no choice, she replied, "All right. I'll be there in thirty minutes." Disappointed, she clicked off the phone.
"Don't tell us you're leaving."
Opal turned around and saw her sisters Ruby and Pearl standing behind her.At least Pearl was no longer debating issues with the new minister. Before her cell phone had gone off, being the diplomat in the family, Opal had thought about intervening in the heated discussion to smooth a few feathers that appeared to be getting ruffled.
She met Ruby's gaze and said, "Yes, I'm leaving but just for a little while. Something has come up at the office."
"And why didn't you tell that boss of yours that you don't work on Saturdays?" Ruby said, a little miffed. "I swear, that man is a tyrant."
Opal couldn't help but smile as she stood up. "Really, Ruby, D'marcus isn't that bad. He has a business to run and wants to continue its success. All those extra hours I work are justified. I am his administrative assistant, so he depends on me a lot. Besides, I can certainly use the money if I plan on moving to another apartment complex."
"The tenants around your apartment are still partying every night?" Pearl asked.
"Yes, and the landlord acts as if there's nothing he can do. I had hoped the situation would get better, but it hasn't. My building has become known as the party building."
Pearl smiled. "Umm, maybe I ought to move in when you move out. There's nothing like a good party every now and then."
Opal shook her head. Good at heart, Pearl enjoyed giving the impression that she was a wild-child, but Opal knew better. Her sister's party-girl ways were just a facade. Opal had a feeling that, in reality, Pearl was someone still trying to find her purpose in life. More than anything, Opal hoped things worked out for Pearl with those demo tapes she had sent out.
"I can handle a good party every now and then," Opal decided to say. "But there are limits to one's tolerance and endurance."
"Things really must be out of hand if you're complaining," Pearl said. "Everyone knows you rarely complain about anything. You just roll with the flow."
Opal couldn't help but smile. It was a known fact that of the four Lockhart sisters, she was the hopeless optimist. No matter what the problem, she believed the result would end up positive.
She then thought of the problem she had detected before answering her phone. "Did you say anything to Amber about her behavior?" she asked Ruby.
Ruby shook her head. "Are you kidding? And have her not speak to me again for weeks? No, I didn't say anything to her, but I did ask Luther to say something. She usually listens to him."
Opal nodded. Luther Biggens, whom they had designated as cook for the day, was a family friend. His father and theirs had been the best of buddies when the two had been alive. A military man, Luther had left the navy SEALs after suffering a disabling leg injury. Now he managed his family's very profitable chain of mega automobile dealerships.
"I hope she listens to him," Pearl said glancing out across the yard. "I don't think Megan Townsend appreciates Amber flirting with her fiancé."
Opal sighed. "Well, let me go. I won't have time to go home and change so I'm going to have to wear what I have on," she said, glancing down at the shorts and T-shirt she was wearing.
"You look fine," Pearl said. "Besides, it will do D'marcus Armstrong good to see you in something other than a business suit. Maybe now he'll take a notice to you. You have greatlooking legs so you might as well flaunt them."
Opal rolled her eyes. "I don't want him to notice me. I just want him to pay me well for the job that I do and give me a good evaluation at the end of my internship."
"Hey, if I were you I would want him to notice me," Pearl said chuckling. "The man might be a tyrant but he's definitely a hunk, and a rich one. Tall, dark and handsome are the things dreams are made of. If I were you"
"But you aren't me," Opal said, laughing. "Just make sure our family and guests continue to have a good time. Let everyone know I had to leave for a while, but I'll be back in an hour."
"If you're not, just make sure Mr. Armstrong knows your sisters plan on coming over there to get you," Ruby said.
Opal returned her grin. "Okay, I'll make sure he's aware of it. I'm sure the last thing he wants is the Lockhart sisters showing up causing problems. I'll be back later." She dashed inside the house to get her purse.