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"Boy, you sho' can preach!" Chester Edwards let out a hearty laugh as he slammed his oversize palm on Terrance's back.
Even though he stood a good four inches taller than Chester's small, five-feet- eight frame, Terrance had to catch himself from falling over. He forced a smile and nodded at Chester. "Thank you, Brother Edwards. I try my best."
"Hmph, try? My handsome nephew just got a natural talent," Eva said as she brushed a piece of lint off Terrance's robe. She smiled, admiring his strong features, his smooth, coffee brown skin and cheekbones that could cut glass.
Mamie walked to the other side of Terrance and draped her arm through his. "And what else would you expect, Chester, when he was raised by four of the most wonderful women in the world?"
Terrance blushed. His aunts were so proud of him now. After his grandmother's death, they had stepped up their mothering roles. He'd worked hard to turn his life around. He had stood at his grandmother's funeral and promised God that he would make his grandmother proud.
Terrance dumped his friends, buckled down in school, and shocked everyone when on the one-year anniversary of Essie's death he said he wanted to give his life to God. He went on to college at Clark Atlanta University, then seminary school at Arkansas Baptist College. Not too long after moving back to Houston, he became pastor of Lily Grove Missionary Baptist Church.
Terrance couldn't help the warm feeling that filled his heart when he thought of how happy his grandmother would be to see him as a preacher, of all things, especially at Lily Grove, the church he'd grown up in.
Chester let out a grunt, bringing Terrance out of his thoughts. "It's a wonder that boy know how to do anything the way y'all old hens are fawning over him all the time like he's the Second Coming." Chester quickly looked at Terrance. "No disrespect, Pastor."
"None taken, Brother Edwards." Terrance chuckled. Both men stopped talking as a tall, older woman in a short, tiger-print miniskirt and satin-fringed shawl sauntered out of the sanctuary.
"Afternoon, Pastor," she said, trying to sound sexy. "That was a wonderful sermon you preached today."
"Thank you, Sister Florence." Terrance turned to the beautiful, young woman standing behind her. "Sister Savannah, did you enjoy the service today?"
Savannah nodded. "I did."
"Then why did you sleep through half of it?" Florence cackled as she tossed the strands from her honey blond wig out of her face.
Savannah looked uncomfortable, but quickly replied, "Grandma, you know I was not asleep."
"I don't know nothing but what I saw, and I saw your eyes closed."
Terrance smiled. "I'm sure Sister Savannah was just deep in prayer."
Savannah returned his smile. "That's exactly what I was doing, Pastor." Her eyes lit up as she looked him up and down.
Florence looked at her granddaughter strangely. "Girl, are you openly flirtin' with the pastor?" She laughed. "Please. Tell her, Reverend. As if she stood a snowball's chance of being with a man like you." Florence continued laughing, ignoring the hurt look across Savannah's face. "Come on here, gal. I done told you 'bout them pipe dreams. Like Reverend Ellis would even be caught dead with somebody like you," she mumbled as she made her way down the steps.
Savannah couldn't mask the hurt as she looked at Terrance. She seemed like she wanted to say something, but just clutched her purse tighter and took off after her grandmother.
"That's a doggone shame the way that woman does that child," Chester said as he watched them walk down the sidewalk.
"I guess we just invisible? She didn't even acknowledge us and we're standing right next to you," Eva snapped to Terrance. She turned up her nose. "And look at her." Florence had stopped and was wiggling to pull down her skirt, which had risen up her thighs. "What is that woman, sixty-five? And still trying to dress like she's twenty-one?"
Mamie echoed her sister's disgust. "She's looking like a broke-down Eartha Kitt. And got the nerve to think she's still sexy. Hussy. I don't know why she even bother coming to church. Like she even knows God."
"How do you know what's in her heart?" Terrance admonished.
"Whatever," Mamie said, blowing his question off. "What self-respecting, decent Christian woman, especially someone her age, comes to church in a tiger-print miniskirt?"
"I don't know," Chester replied, licking his lips as he watched Florence walk down the street. "I think she is nice-looking, and that body, Lord, have mercy."
"Don't you have to get home and feed your chickens, Chester?" Dorothy Mae snapped, her face suddenly becoming flush with anger.
"Pigeons. I got pigeons!" he snapped back.
"They're all the same," Dorothy Mae nonchalantly replied.
"They is not! You ever heard of Kentucky Fried Pigeon?" Chester stomped down the steps of Lily Grove. Dorothy Mae had hit a sore spot.
"And if you ever need to communicate with somebody and yo' telephone don't work, don't come asking to use my pigeons!" he called out as he stomped off.
"I promise you ain't got to ever worry about that!" Dorothy Mae yelled after him.
"Now, Dorothy Mae, why you agitating Chester like that?" Eva said, a smile forming across her wrinkle-free face. Eva was almost seventy, but could easily pass for fifty. Years of a careful regime of Dove soap and water had proved to be good to her.
"Cuz ever since he dumped her, she got to give him a hard time," Mamie cackled, her hefty frame jiggling as she teased her petite sister.
"He didn't dump me," Dorothy Mae protested. "It was the other way around and you know it. After Ernest died, God rest his soul, I couldn't keep Chester from sniffing around me. He wanted me, not the other way around."
"Excuse me, ladies, but as much as I would love to hear you all stand around and go at it all afternoon, I need to get going. Brother Edwards was the last one out of the church, I believe, and I, umm, I have some business I need to take care of."
All three pairs of eyes focused on Terrance. He got a temporary reprieve when his secretary, Raquel Mason, stuck her head out the sanctuary door.
"Pastor, I've wrapped everything up," she said, smiling when she saw the three women. "Hello, ladies." They all smiled back as they spoke.
"Will you be needing anything else?" Raquel asked.
"No, thank you," Terrance responded.
"Okay, I have to get home and fix dinner for Dolan."
"When are you gonna get that fiancé of yours to come to church?" Terrance asked.
"When hell freezes over," Mamie mumbled. Eva pushed her arm to get her to shut up.
Raquel either didn't hear her or chose to ignore her. "I'm working on it, Pastor. But you know how it is."
Terrance didn't press the issue because he knew that it was a sore spot with his faithful secretary. It hurt his heart to see the pain in her eyes when she talked about the man she was set to marry in less than five months. But she would never really open up to Terrance about it, so there wasn't much he could do.
"Well, you all have a blessed day. I parked out back." Raquel waved as she walked back inside the church.
She had barely closed the door when Eva turned back to her nephew. "Now, back to you. What kind of business do you have on a Sunday afternoon other than dinner with us?" Eva was trying not to let her attitude show.
Terrance normally spent Sunday afternoons having dinner and visiting with his aunts. It had broken Eva's heart that he'd gotten his own place when he moved back to Houston. The only thing that soothed her was that it wasn't far from her.
"I just have something I need to take care of," Terrance softly responded. Even though he was twenty-nine years old and an esteemed pastor, his aunts still had a way of making him feel like a little boy.
"I know you ain't got a date you haven't told us about," Mamie said.
Terrance bit his lip. He knew at some point in his life he was going to have to cut the apron strings his aunts had tied firmly around his neck. "For your information, I do."
"With who?" all three women asked in unison.
"I don't know why you all feel like my dates need your stamp of approval," Terrance said, trying not to let his frustrations show.
He didn't date much and had never brought anyone home to meet his family. It's not that he couldn't get women. On the contrary, he never had a hard time attracting women. Truthfully, he just had a lot of demons he was dealing with, so a serious relationship wasn't on his radar. And the few women he met that he did like could never measure up to the "Lily Grove" standard anyway.
"Now, Terrance, that is so unfair of you to act like we don't want you to find a woman," Eva said. "Remember, I tried to set you up with Sister Eloise's daughter."
Terrance caught himself from rolling his eyes. "Yeah, the girl with the stuttering problem. Look, I don't want to have this conversation again. If and when it looks like this date is going anywhere, I'll bring her home to meet you all. Until then" -- he leaned in and kissed each woman gently on the cheek -- "get you some business and stay out of mine." He smiled widely, while they narrowed their eyes in disapproval.
"I know, I know" -- he laughed as he walked off -- "as if that would ever happen."
Copyright © 2007 by ReShonda Tate Billingsley