Read an Excerpt
the yada yada Prayer Group GETS TOUGHa Novel
By neta jackson
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2007 Neta Jackson
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe wedding cake-a modest three-tiered creation from the Bagel Bakery-sat resplendent and untouched on the pass-through counter of Uptown Community Church's kitchen. Ruth Garfield, a navy "church hat" parked on her frowzy brown hair, stood in front of it, hands on hips, muttering something about "... marriage can't be consummated if the newlyweds don't cut the cake."
Yo-Yo Spencer, back in a pair of dry overalls after her baptism in Lake Michigan less than an hour ago, jerked her blonde, spiky hair in Ruth's direction as we folded the friendship quilt the Yada Yada Prayer Group had made for Avis's wedding. "What's got her tail in a knot, Jodi? We can still eat the cake. Heck, my brothers could demolish the whole thing in a couple of hours-oh." The spiky-haired twenty-something looked at me, stricken. "Guess I ain't supposed to say 'heck' now that I been dunked, huh?"
I stifled a laugh just as a crack of thunder outside covered for me. The threatening storm that had cut short Yo-Yo's baptism-and Bandana Woman's, which had shocked the socks off everybody-finally unloaded over the north end of Chicago, washing the high, narrow windows of Uptown Community's second-floor meeting room. Ben Garfield and my husband, Denny, were taking down the Jewish huppah Ben had built for Avis and Peter Douglass's wedding. My son, Josh-Mr. Clean himself with that shaved head of his-was bossing around the cleanup crew of teenagers, all of them still half wet from the "hallelujah water fight" the double baptisms had inspired down at the lake. José Enriquez and his father were packing up their guitars. And Pastor Clark sat knee to knee with a shivering Becky Wallace swathed in several layers of damp towels, his Bible open as he showed her the verses about "all have sinned" and "God so loved the world" and "by grace we are saved."
A huge bubble of happiness rose up in my spirit and oozed out all my pores as I hugged the folded quilt with its individual squares embroidered by each of the Yada Yada sisters. What an incredible day! I wished I could capture it in freeze-frame photography and replay it again, moment by moment:
All the Yada Yadas blowing our noses and smudging our mascara as dignified Avis Johnson "jumped the broom" with Peter Douglass right in Uptown's Sunday morning worship service ...
Yo-Yo in her brand-new lavender overalls "gettin' off the fence and gettin' dunked," as she called it, in Lake Michigan ...
The spontaneous plunge into the waters of salvation by Becky Wallace-a.k.a. "Bandana Woman," the heroin junkie who'd robbed Yada Yada at knifepoint last fall and ended up as Leslie "Stu" Stewart's housemate last week on house arrest, complete with electronic ankle monitor ...
Could any of us have imagined such a day a year ago when we'd all met at that Chicago women's conference? A perfect "anniversary" for the Yada Yada Prayer Group!
Except for the cake, that is. I wasn't sure our resident yenta, Ruth Garfield, would ever forgive Peter and Avis-soaking wet from the silly dunking he'd given her after the baptisms-for deciding to forgo their wedding cake in lieu of getting into dry clothes and setting off on their honeymoon.
"Earth to Jodi!" Florida Hickman's hand waved in front of my face, breaking my thoughts. "You gonna hug that quilt all day or help me convince Ruth we should eat that cake? Avis would want us to!" She grabbed my arm. "C'mon ... hey! Look who's back!"
Nonyameko Sisulu-Smith and her husband, Mark, appeared at the top of the stairs that opened into the second-floor meeting room, looking comfy and dry in sweats and gym shoes. "Uh-huh," Florida challenged. "Thought you guys had ducked out on us."
Mark shrugged. "We wanted to leave you guys with all the dirty work, but we need to talk to Pastor Clark about something." He grinned, and probably every female heart in the room skipped a beat. Our African "princess" had definitely snagged herself an American "prince," even if he was a Georgia-boy-makes-good. Dr. Mark Smith was not only a professor of history at Northwestern University and the father of their two polite boys, but-as Florida would say-"that brother is fine."
Nony rolled her eyes. "That's not the whole of it. You should've heard him complaining because he hadn't gotten any wedding cake!"
"Cake, nothing!" growled Denny, still struggling to dismantle the huppah with Ben. "Give us a hand with this thing, man, so we can get it out the door."
"Better get your hands dirty, Mark," Florida smirked. "I know your grandma taught you: 'Them that don't work, don't eat.'"
Laughter rippled through the motley crew-some damp, some dry-who'd assembled back at the church after the lakeside ceremonies. The original plan had been for Avis and Peter's wedding ceremony to take place during the morning service, followed by a brief reception with cake and punch; then everyone would walk or drive to the lake for Yo-Yo's baptism. But Chicago weather being what it was-the forecast called for scattered showers throughout the day-when the sun came out shortly after the "I do's," Pastor Clark had suggested we all head for the lake for Yo-Yo's baptism and then come back for the reception.
Humph. "Best-laid plans" and all that. Hadn't counted on ex-con Becky Wallace getting zapped by Jesus like Paul on the road to Damascus and wanting to get baptized right then and there too, and everybody ending up in the water in an exuberant celebration of God's ongoing redemption. Well ... maybe the teenagers just saw their chance to dunk their parents or give Pastor Clark a good soaking. Whatever. It had been glorious.
Until the lightning drove us out of the water, that is. Then it'd been a toss-up whether we all ought to split for home and get out of wet clothes or if some of us should go back to the church long enough to do some cleanup first. Most of Uptown's small congregation and about half of the Yada Yada sisters-most of whom attended other churches-decided to go home. (Stu, who lived on the second floor of our two-flat, drove a carload of Yada Yadas so they wouldn't have to ride the elevated train wringing wet.)
Couldn't blame them-that's precisely what I wanted to do too. Walking around in soggy underwear under my damp dress slacks wasn't my idea of a good time. But Pastor Clark hiked up the heat so we wouldn't "catch our death," as Ruth kept muttering, and there wasn't that much left to do. Still, it was nice of Nony and Mark to come back after changing out of their wet African dress and dashiki; they must've left the boys at home with Hoshi, the Japanese university student Mark and Nony had befriended. Nony had told Hoshi about Jesus and then brought her to the Chicago women's conference last year, where twelve of us ended up in prayer group twenty-six ... and the rest, as they say, is history.
"Don't worry, Ruth," Nony was saying gently. "We can lift off the top two tiers-see?-and refrigerate them till Avis and Peter get back later this week."
"Yeah." Florida bopped into the kitchen and reappeared on the other side of the pass-through. "Ain't much in this here fridge once we take out this stuff." The small-boned woman with beaded braids all over her head and a scar down one cheek pulled open the door of the industrial refrigerator and pulled out two plastic jugs of red punch and a liter of ginger ale. Then Florida gingerly took the top two layers of the wedding cake from Nony and slid them carefully onto the nearly empty shelf. "There! That thang'll be safe here till them lovebirds pick it up next Sunday." As the refrigerator door closed with a soft wheeze, Florida grabbed a large knife from the block. "OK, everybody!" she yelled out into the big room. "Cake cuttin' time!"
"Oy vey! Don't be such a nudnik." Ruth grabbed Florida's wrist and took the knife as it hovered over the bottom layer of the wedding cake. "The punch you make, Florida Hickman; the cake I will cut-with the dignity it deserves after being heartlessly abandoned by the guests of honor." She waved the knife at the rest of us. "Nony, set out those paper plates and napkins. Jodi, tell Ben and the other men to get themselves up here. Yo-Yo, wash those hands! You should be so lucky not to end up with a fatal disease after bathing in Lake Michigan-and tell the other shiksa and shegetz they better wash their hands, too, or no cake!"
We obeyed. The men had disappeared with the dismantled huppah, so I assumed they were wrestling it into the trunk of Ben Garfield's big Buick LeSabre outside. I hobbled down the stairs to the front door as fast as my rodded left leg would let me-that and a missing spleen were the only physical scars left over from my car accident last summer. Sure enough, halfway down the block, Ben was tying down his half-opened trunk, which had slats of white-painted wood sticking out the back like vampire fangs, and Mark and Denny were walking slowly back in my direction, talking intently.
They made an odd couple-and not just because of the black and white. Denny was two inches shorter than the urbane Dr. Mark Smith, attractive in his own way-though "cute" came to mind when Denny grinned, sporting a deep dimple on each cheek. An assistant coach at West Rogers Park High School, Denny didn't exactly hang with the same crowd as the professorial Dr. Smith ... and yet God had brought us and the Smiths together through Yada Yada. How cool is that, God?
"Wedding cake!" I called. "Ruth says hurry, and she's in no mood for laggards!"
Denny gave me a wave and bent his ear toward Mark once more.
Huh. What's that about? But I hustled back up the stairs, where Ruth was now ceremoniously cutting the cake, and Florida was passing out clear plastic cups of red punch spiked with ginger ale to the cleanup crew. Pastor Clark and the newly baptized Becky, a tinge of pink tipping her usually pale cheekbones, joined us, and we all sat around demolishing our neat squares of chocolate cake with sugary roses in pink and green icing. I noticed our fifteen-year-old, Amanda, had cornered José and his father, Ricardo, and was showing off her not-quite-fluent Spanish, making them laugh at her innocent stumbles.
"Hey," Yo-Yo said through a mouthful of chocolate cake, "aren't we supposed to meet at Avis's apartment next week for Yada Yada?"
"What is she, a hotel? Give the lady a break. She just got married!" Ruth waved her plastic fork. "In the Bible, a whole year they gave to the new couple without any outside responsibilities. Maybe it's even one of the commandments."
I laughed. "Don't think so, Ruth. But we can meet somewhere else." I was just about to offer my house-though we'd just met there last week-when Yo-Yo cleared her throat.
"Uh, you guys wanna come to my crib? Now that I'm 'washed in the blood' and all that, I mean." She hunched shyly inside her baggy overalls. "I could send Pete and Jerry over to Garfield's or somethin'-but don't tell Ben yet, Ruth. Gotta spring it on him last-minute like, or he'll have time to think of a reason to say no."
Meet at Yo-Yo's? We'd never been there. I had no idea what kind of home she'd been able to create for her two half brothers. But ... why not? Especially since it was her idea. "OK," I agreed. "I'll get the word around."
Denny, Mark, and Ben came tromping up the stairs at last, and Ruth handed them the plates she'd set aside, along with a few grunts of disapproval for being late. "Now eat, eat, so we can send these damp dishrags home before they all end up with the croup."
Fine by me! I was anxious to get out of my soggy clothes. Early May temperatures in Chicago weren't really warm enough to walk around damp-and I was supposed to be careful of getting colds now that I was without my infection-fighting spleen after the accident ...
I shook off the dark memory. I wasn't going to let anything spoil this wonderful day.
Nony sat down beside me, cake in hand. "Jodi, I haven't had a chance to tell you. Mark's former pastor from Georgia recently relocated to Chicago, and he and his wife are starting a new ministry-New Morning Christian Church. They've been meeting in rented facilities for several months, and already the congregation is growing."
I looked at her with interest. "So that's where you and Mark are attending now?"
She nodded, eyes alight. "Pastor Cobbs has a heart for getting kids off the street. Mark's excited about the possibilities. But ..."
"New Morning is trying to lease a more permanent place to meet, but in the meantime, their current lease ran out. So we're looking for a place to meet for a few months. Do you think ...?" She paused, almost as if embarrassed.
"So that's what you guys want to talk to Pastor Clark about!" I grinned. "Sure, why not? He won't bite you." I leaned close to Nony in mock conspiracy. "He's a Mister Rogers clone, all warm fuzzies." We laughed. A few minutes later, I saw Nony and Mark standing off to the side talking with Pastor Clark.
Well. This might be interesting-sharing the same church building with a black church. I wondered when they'd meet. Saturday evening? Sunday afternoon?
ONCE WE GOT HOME, I claimed the bathroom for a long, hot, steamy shower. Josh-still basking in the glow of having his own set of car keys to our minivan-had offered to take José and Mr. Enriquez home, along with Josh's two "pierced" friends from Jesus People USA. "I'm going too," Amanda had announced, beaming at José. Denny and I and Becky Wallace had hitched a ride with the Sisulu-Smiths for the few blocks to our house. Our house, I thought as I let the hot water run over my head, trying to warm up my bones. I still wasn't used to the idea that "our house" was now Becky Wallace's house, too, since she was living over our heads in Stu's second-floor apartment.
By the time I came out of the bathroom toweling my hair, Denny was in the recliner flicking the TV remote between ball games, with Willie Wonka, our rather deaf chocolate Lab, sprawled happily under his feet. I sat down on the arm of the recliner, which put me half into Denny's lap, slyly wiggled the remote away from him, and hit Mute.
"Hey!" He grabbed and missed.
"Hey yourself." I held the remote high over my head. "You can have it back when you tell me what you and Mark were talking about so intensely on the sidewalk back there."
He smirked. "Wouldn't you like to know?"
"My point exactly." I wiggled the remote temptingly.
"OK, OK." Denny rolled his eyes. "Remember what I said to Mark at our Guys' Day Out a month ago?"
I frowned. "Yeah. Something about he should take a sabbatical from the university and go to South Africa with his family for a year or two." It had been a brave thing for Denny to say, since that issue was a hot button between Mark and Nony. I also remember thinking it wasn't likely Mark would budge on Denny's say-so, when he'd stubbornly resisted Nony's pleas to move to her homeland. My eyebrows lifted. "You don't mean ..."
Denny's grin got wider and his side dimples deepened. "Yep. Said he couldn't stop thinking about what I said about Nony 'dying by inches here'-or something to that effect. The thing that really got to him, he said, was my comment that 'God put that fire in her for a reason.' Told me he's actually applied for a sabbatical next year. But"-he wagged a warning finger at me-"you can't say anything, Jodi Marie Baxter! not to Nony, not to any of your Yada Yadas who tend to yakety-yak a bit too much, not even to Willie Wonka. Now"-he grabbed it-"give me that remote!"
Excerpted from the yada yada Prayer Group GETS TOUGH by neta jackson Copyright © 2007 by Neta Jackson. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.