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Steppin' Into the Good Life
By Tia McCollors
Moody PublishersCopyright © 2011 Tia McCollors
All right reserved.
Chapter OneAce couldn't have looked better if I'd plucked the perfect six-foot, six-pack, six-figure man out of my dreams. I was finally at the wedding ceremony I'd envisioned. My happily-ever-after. And I was a stunner, too—from my cascading locks to the delicate diamond toe ring on my right foot. Any other day it would be my mission to make every head whip around in admiration—watching me. They'd stare in envy while I soaked up the attention like a drought-starved plant thirsty for water.
But that day I was incognito near the back of the church. Not just because I didn't want to draw attention, but because I wasn't even invited to this lavish wedding affair. I thought—even hoped—that Ace's marriage to Lynette was going to be simple and understated. After all, this was their second time around. But Ace wasn't a mediocre man, so perhaps I should've expected the archway of white roses at the altar and the aisles lined with five-foot-high candelabra.
I should be in that wedding dress, I thought as I accepted the tissue from the woman sitting to my left. I patted the tears streaming down my face, and she did the same to her own bag-rimmed eyes. No doubt the dark streaks framing her eyes weren't from lack of sleep, but from the mounds of purple eye shadow smeared on her eyelids. The tissue she'd given me felt like it had been wadded between her chubby fingers for the entire wedding ceremony. Actually, the program I was holding said it was the "Recommitment Ceremony of Scott and Lynette Bowers." It might as well have been my funeral program because I felt like I could have withered and died. I was convinced that whoever said, "Love doesn't hurt," had never been in love before. Not like this. Not like I was.
Scott was better known as Ace by everyone who knew and loved him. He'd carried the nickname since his infatuation with airplanes as a young boy. What was once a hobby of toy model airplanes was now a full-fledged career as a pilot. There weren't many with skin as brown as his working in the high ranks for major airlines. Ace was a rare catch. And Lynette had caught him, thrown him back, and then caught him again.
After two years in a relationship with the man I thought I was going to marry, he had walked out of my life. Physically. But there were still little pieces of Ace in my heart. Those remnants were ripping away at my heart right then.
This is too much to handle, I thought as Ace gripped Lynette's hands like he needed her to breathe. He hadn't taken his eyes off of her since she had walked down the aisle, preceded by her two teenage daughters. Ace's eyes were on Lynette; mine were on him. I had to grudgingly admit Lynette looked radiant. She glowed. That's what a good man will do for you. And an exceptional father has the same effect on his daughters. Carmen and Jada looked age-appropriate beautiful. I'd never connected with them—through no fault of my own. Ace hadn't believed in involving his girls in our relationship. Now it made me wonder if Ace knew all along that I was his "temporary" woman. At the time we met, the ink on his divorce papers had been dry for two years so I had had no thought about whether I was a rebound woman.
I brushed away a single tear then happened to notice a brother across the aisle checking me out. I'm sure he thought I was caught up in the moment instead of the truth—mourning a lost love. But love lost can always be found again. At least I prayed so. I might as well take advantage of being inside the four walls of this church.
This was the perfect time for me to wash the remains of Ace out of my system. I sat up straight, elongating my frame, and tried to pretend I didn't know he was watching.
Ms. Purple Eye Shadow shifted in the pew. She unfolded one of those paper fans that spread out like a colorful peacock, then covered her mouth with it.
"That young thing is checking me out," she whispered to me.
She can't be serious, I thought.
"I'm old enough to be his mama," she said.
She fluttered that fan so fast I thought she'd take flight. In my peripheral vision, I could see her adjust her lilac-colored V-neck blouse. Not up, but down. I guess she wanted her so-called admirer to get a peek at her bountiful blessings.
Why she would think his eyes were on her when they were obviously on me, I'll never know. But I decided to let her live in her dream world.
My admirer was paler than I usually preferred; I'd always loved a man who was at least the shade of a toasted piece of wheat bread. I totally missed something the minister must've said that was funny, because he laughed along with everyone else there. He had a deep dimple in his left cheek and eyebrows so thick they almost :net in the middle. He glanced back again, and this time I gave him a smile that said I noticed him, noticing me.
"Ummm. He really must like 'em well-seasoned," the woman beside me said.
Antique was more like it.
I thought about how I could slip him my number without seeming too obvious and without disrupting the ceremony, because by the time Ace and Lynette were pronounced "husband and wife," I'd planned to disappear without a trace.
I had the closure I needed to move on with my life. It had been Cassandra's idea to make this secret appearance so that one of two things would happen. One, I'd realize Ace and Lynette's love was destined and there was nothing I could've done to stop it. Or two, I'd be so angry that Ace walked out of my life the way he did that I wouldn't care what happened with the two of them.
Being here I realized that even if the pregnancy I'd faked in order to try and salvage our relationship had been real, Ace and Lynette would've eventually found their way back to each other. Then not only would I have been alone, but I'd have been alone with the stresses and drama of a being a single mother.
Ms. Purple Eye Shadow was still murmuring things under her breath, but I truthfully didn't know if she was talking to me or having some mental issues.
"God has seen fit to reunite Scott and Lynette," the minister's voice suddenly boomed and brought my attention back to the ceremony. I saw a couple of people in front of me nearly jump out of their seats like he'd shaken them up, too. I think he forgot he was officiating a peaceful ceremony and not preaching a Sunday morning sermon.
"And I tell you, this is like a miracle before my eyes. Nobody can ever tell me that God isn't in the miracle-working business."
I rolled my eyes. There were plenty of miracles I've needed in my life for almost a year, and to date God hasn't worked out a single one. Evidently He hangs out a "Closed for Business" sign when He sees me coming.
Ace slid his arm around Lynette's waist. She looked at him like it was love at first sight and it was the first time they'd met. It was like they'd forgotten they had a church full of spectators.
Two years of your life is a long time to invest in someone and not get your expected rate of return—in this case, the coveted "Mrs." title. The next man I'm with is going to have to know within nine months whether he plans on putting a ring on my finger. If a woman can have a baby in nine months, then surely a man should know if he wants to be married.
Hindsight is twenty-twenty. There had been red flags I'd been too in love to see. Love wasn't only blind, it was stupid. I sighed, and must have done it louder than I thought, because the chubby hand reached over to pat my knee.
"I always knew they'd get back together," the woman said. She wiped her face, leaving light brown makeup on the tissue and small pieces of cotton on her face. "God can restore any marriage if you make Him the head of it." She folded her tan and stuffed it down into the side of her open purse. "And to think Ace had been seeing some other woman for two years when he finally came to his senses. Ain't God good?"
Her comment made my heart patter. I guess I'd been the talk of the family gossip. I'd been reduced to the phrase "some other woman."
This isn't closure, I decided. This is torture.
Chapter TwoWhat had I been thinking coming here? That's the problem: I hadn't been thinking.
Now my pew partner was making it her business to be my personal comforter. I wished I could crawl up in her lap, lay my head on the mountains across her chest, and cry a river. She'd rock me to sleep and promise me that a knight in shining armor would come to my rescue soon. And then I'd wake up and clean the purple eye shadow off my Donna Karan blouse.
If I didn't have at least a few wits left about me, I would've thought she'd read my mind.
She patted me again. This time on my ringless left hand.
"Your day will come. There's somebody out there for everybody," she whispered. She leaned closer to me and brought the smell of some kind of fruity candy on her breath. "I'm married to my third husband. I buried the first one at the graveyard and the second one at the courthouse." She fanned out the fingers on her left hand, then wiggled her ring finger. "Custom made with a ruby instead of a diamond," she boasted. "That's my name. Ruby."
I wonder what Ruby's third husband would've thought of his wife's flirtatious flaunting.
Ruby—and her purple eye shadow—was starting to work my nerves. I wasn't interested in hearing another peep from her. I wanted one husband, and one husband only. 'Til death do we part.
I crossed my legs and shifted my body so that I was slightly turned away from her. She didn't get the hint.
"What's your name?" she whispered.
"She &mdash" I reeled in the truth and threw out a lie. "Cheryl." I could almost see how she would've stood up in protest if I'd told her I was Sheila Rushmore. I had no way of knowing if my name had been tossed around in the family gossip, and I wasn't about to be dragged out of the sanctuary in a headlock.
"My best friend's name was Cheryl growing up," she whispered and flipped that fan out again. "I thought we'd be connected at the hip forever. Some things are only for a season, you know? People are in your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime."
I knew that all too well.
I pretended to look for something in my purse so she'd stop talking. A few people had already glared over their shoulders at us. So much for being incognito. I looked behind me at the exit doors, but there were two burly men standing in front of them like they were guarding Fort Knox. I needed to plan a perfect moment to escape. From this ceremony. From Ruby.
"We're not going to ask if there is anyone here who objects," the minister was saying. "As Lynette's uncle and their pastor, I think I speak for both of them and say that we don't care what anyone else thinks."
I think I was the only person in the congregation who didn't laugh.
Ace looked over his shoulder at the congregation and winked at someone on the first pew. I craned my neck to see who he was looking at. A regal-looking woman with a wide, dentured smile was sitting straight as a peacock, like she knew all eyes were on her. I assumed it was his beloved Grandma Toot, the woman who'd raised him and whom I'd never had the pleasure of meeting. That was one of those red flags.
I adjusted the brim of the hat that swooped down over the right side of my face. At first I thought it might be overkill and that it would draw attention, but there were a handful of southern belles in the congregation who didn't disappoint so I fit right in.
I'd been so lost in my own thoughts that I didn't realize that Ace and Lynette had turned to face the congregation. I shifted quietly in the pew so that I could hide safely behind a woman with a bleached-blonde Afro.
"What you're looking at is a result of prayer," the minister said.
I wasn't. I was looking at the woman in front of me who needed to touch up her roots.
Ruby waved her hands like she was at some sort of revival. "Amen to that."
I thought about the lonely sesame seed bagel that I had left in Cassandra's refrigerator, and my grumbling stomach announced it to everyone on my pew.
"You're not the only one," Ruby whispered. "I hope they have some real food at the reception and not that finger food stuff or some fancy appetizers. I'm starting a new diet tomorrow. Give me some of that stuffed chicken with some rice or potatoes."
The only person paying me attention in this entire church slid out of his pew and out the back door. He looked even better standing up than he did sitting down. I picked up my purse and tucked it under my arm, so that I could pull my disappearing act at the perfect time. Maybe it was God, and not Cassandra, who'd led me here. Maybe the man of my dreams was actually waiting outside the church doors and I'd had to go through all of the drama with Ace in order to get to him. Maybe Ace and I would cross paths again. At the family reunion.
Ruby rambled on and so did the minister. Ace and Lynette were still facing the congregation.
"If there is anyone here today that doesn't know the God that reunited this beautiful couple, Lynette and Scott wanted me to offer you a gift on this day of their celebration. The free gift of salvation is available for anyone who wants to accept Christ into their heart."
Ruby swayed. "Yes, Lord. Do a mighty work in their hearts right now."
All of a sudden she'd turned from wanting to eat to wanting to pray.
Ruby bowed her head, and I did the same. I clasped my hands underneath my chin and closed my eyes even before the minister asked everyone to do so.
"Whether you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Savior fifty years ago, or whether this is the first time you're inviting Him into your heart, I want everyone to repeat this prayer with me."
So I did. I repeated the words he recited. I'd heard a variation of what Ace's old pastor used to called the "sinner's prayer" before, but had never in my life said it. Felt it. It seemed to come with too much responsibility to live the perfect life. I hadn't been ready for it then. I wasn't sure I was ready for it now, but it was like I couldn't stop myself from repeating those words. Feeling those words. Crying because of those words.
For a minute I forgot where I was. It was hard to explain. Joy rose in my heart, crowding out my worries. Peace evicted the chaos that had been plaguing my mind. I'd heard a woman at Ace's old church once say that it was "well with her soul." I wasn't totally sure what that meant, but I thought I was feeling something like it. It was well with my soul ... until my cell phone rang.
Chapter ThreeThat stupid thing was supposed to be on vibrate. Instead the ringtone of one of the R&B hotties interrupted my beautiful experience. I think it was the first time I'd truly felt God, or at least l thought it was Him. But some "drop it like it's hot" music had taken it all away.
I snatched the phone out of the inside pocket of my purse and silenced it, but not before a few people whipped their heads around like they were set to throw daggers.
To make the situation worse, Ruby had the audacity to whisper, "I hope it's Jesus calling."
I stood up, kept my body low and my head down—humped over like the hunchback of Notre Dame—and bolted through the back doors and out into the foyer. The soldiers guarding them didn't have time to react.
I ran right into my admirer. Actually, I rammed the door into his side. I'd bolted out the double doors without putting the brakes on my three-inch pumps and nearly knocked him out. My ankle twisted to the side, and he grabbed me to help me regain my balance.
"My mama always said women would fall for me," he said.
I let him hold my hand while I balanced on one foot then the other to pull off my high heels.
"That was a sorry pick-up line," I said. "Did you think of that all by yourself?"
He looked at me like I was a chilled glass of water in the middle of the Sahara Desert. I knew I'd walked out of the door looking like a million bucks, but his admiration upped my ante to about a billion.
"I'm not trying to pick you up," he said. "I'm trying to sweep you off your feet."
I grinned and playfully rolled my eyes at him. I played the sheepish schoolgirl part, slyly looking away from him. That's when I noticed his shoes. They were brown, dusty, and in need of a good old-fashioned buffing from one of the old men who manned the shoeshine chairs at the Atlanta airport. In fact, those shoes needed to be dropped in the nearest donation bin as soon as possible.
"So are you going to give me a chance ..." He paused, leaving a fill-in-the-blank kind of look so I would insert my name.
I rerouted his intentions while I thought of what to tell him. "Are you a friend of the bride or groom?"
"Lynette is my cousin. Our mamas are sisters." He reached for my hand and clasped it gently. "Reggie."
"Nice to meet you, Reggie. You can call me Marcelle."
"That's what I can call you, but is that your name?"
Excerpted from Steppin' Into the Good Life by Tia McCollors Copyright © 2011 by Tia McCollors. Excerpted by permission of Moody Publishers. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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