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Each night for the past year, he'd had a vision. A huge wall of television monitors spewed murder and profanity upon the populace of Kansas City. In these dreams, the monitors suddenly brightened with pictures of encouragement and love as Jourdan spoke from the pulpit, spreading the word of God. Worshiping converts would fall to their knees before Zion Baptist's altar. Overwhelming peace filled Jourdan's heart, both in his dreams and now.
Not since his call to the ministry had a message been this clearly spoken to him: his destiny lay in saving sinners.
"Don't tell Dad about your TV plans." Evelyn chuckled. "He's already jealous because your church is bigger than his."
Jourdan simply smiled.
The sanctuary slowly emptied. Cranberry upholstered pews fanned out in four sections from the altar, sitting atop lush mauve carpeting. Behind the podium was space for an even larger choir than the present one. And Zion had room for a small band.
Despite generous lighting, Jourdan thought it seemed dark and hollow all of a sudden. The brightness had followed the lovely woman who'd stood before him only moments before. Passion.
He scolded himself silently. How could he be thinking about another woman?
He focused on the serious mien of his mother-in-law.
"Will you be over for dinner?" she asked. "The district attorney will be there."
"I'll be by at about four-thirty." He planted a big kiss on Evelyn's cheek in an effort to cheer them both.
The weight of guilt had settled even heavier in Jourdan's chest. Her mention of Kansas City's incompetent DA caused him to remember an unsolved murder. His wife's.
Had it been only two months since she'd been killed? And here he was lusting after another woman.
Passion threw her yellow purse across the room, then her yellow pumps went flying into the closet.
She regarded herself in the vanity mirror. "Stupid, that's what you are!"
Passion turned to answer the silver-haired woman in the doorway. "Not you, Shirleen. Me."
"You right about that, chile." She giggled more like a child than a sixtyish woman. "What was you stupid about now?"
Passion smiled sheepishly and watched her plump friend finish an ice-cream cone. "Well, I went to see the reverend," she said.
Shirleen rolled her eyes in amusement. "What happened?"
"I only wanted to get a look at him, you know, so I could see what makes him so special." Passion sighed. "Cece was so fireworks-in-the-sky in love with the man ..."
"You're gettin' off the subject," Shirleen scolded.
"I went for the altar call, meaning to tell him--"
"You didn't!" Shirleen gasped.
Passion shook her head quickly. "No. I didn't say anything ... I mean I couldn't." She shrugged, helplessly trying to find the right words to explain what had happened. "I don't know, Shirleen, I got there and all of a sudden there was this feeling between us--like nothin' I've ever felt before."
"Don't say it." Shirleen wagged a pudgy finger.
"I think I'm in love with him," Passion confessed. She'd thought about it all the way home on the bus. There wasn't any other explanation.
A sigh preceded the older woman's slow steps toward the bed. She sat down heavily and gave Passion a look of pity. "Does you really believe dat?"
Passion folded her arms. "Why else would I tell the reverend I'd accept Jesus Christ as my savior and, while I was at it, take him on the side?"
Shirleen burst into laughter.
Passion began to chuckle as well.
Shirleen wiped tears from her eyes. "I'm sorry. I 'spose that was pretty embarrassin'. What did he say? What did he do?"
"Asked if I was a temptress, then just stared at me like he knew I was a whore and ... that was that." She lay down on her bed, flat on her back with arms spread wide like the fallen angel she imagined herself to be.
"Now don't you worry, chile. You surprised him is all. Anyhow, you ain't a ho, so stop puttin' yo'self down like dat."
"Shirleen, what do I do now?" Passion rubbed her still-flat stomach. "What happens when this baby comes?"
"We'll get along some kinda way, so don't you fret about it. We'll be fine, just fine. I gets my social security every month, you still have some of that money Miz Watters give to ya."
"I thought about giving the baby to its father. He's much better off financially. And--"
"Now don't go talkin' crazy ..."
"Yeah, but her partial payment won't go that far."
Shirleen took Passion into her stout arms and started to hum and rock her as if she were comforting an infant.
"Shirleen?" Passion pulled away from the older woman.
"Do you really think I deserve a good man after the things I've done?"
Shirleen looked Passion straight in the eyes. "Baby, nobody deserves one more."
But did she? Passion left the bed to stare through the security bars on the window. She looked in disgust at the graffiti-splattered buildings and overturned garbage cans, and heard teenage boys talking trash in the alley.
She wanted to be somewhere safe and clean. A place where children and drug addicts didn't end up shot or stabbed in the alley below her window. Somewhere nice to raise a child.
Passion Adams had never known peace. She was determined that this child would.
"I'm yo' friend," said Shirleen. "And I'm tellin' you, ain't no man gonna respect you 'til you respect yo'self."
"One thing's for sure. Reverend Watters hasn't got an ounce of respect for me now. I mean, he acted just like I expected him to, I guess. But it hurt when he asked me what kind of temptress I was. Like I'd asked him to throw me down right there in the church or something. It's like he could see every sin I've committed."
"You only done what you had to do, remember dat." Shirleen gave Passion one of her serious-business looks. "You mine now. I'll look after you, and we'll both look after that young'un in your belly." She stood beside Passion at the window and put an arm around her. "You don't need no man to take care of you."
Passion, a little startled, turned to face the short, plump woman. "Shirleen, I know I can take care of myself. No man has ever given me anything out of the kindness of his heart. But once, just once, I'd like a man to look at me with love instead of lust--like I had more to offer than tits and a--" She stopped at Shirleen's censorious look. "You know what I mean."
"I knows what you mean, sugah." The old woman's hand went to her breast and her eyes clouded in remembrance.
Passion had grown familiar with Shirleen's brief moments of reverie, knowing her thoughts were of William. Even after his death, she seemed spellbound by her husband's deep, lasting love.
Passion let her forehead rest on the cold glass of the window, feeling deep inside her that Jourdan Watters was the one man who could give her spellbinding love.
"I want a man to wake up on the pillow next to me every morning, instead of a quickie before midnight and a promise for next time. I want to have that man's children. I want a life like Cece Watters had." Passion stood straight and looked directly into her friend's eyes. "And, like you said, I deserve it."