Iris, completely wrung out from Saturday night’s festivities, managed to look as fresh and fabulous as she usually did the next day for Sunday service. Antoine insisted kelly green was her color and convinced her to wear it again. Iris slipped into her kelly green pencil dress with a smug smile. She fastened her skinny black patent leather belt and looked at herself in her granny’s floor-length mirror. She had always known she was attractive, but last night, she owned it. She patted her messy bun of curls, straightened the black jeweled brooch at her neck, and slipped her bare feet into her favorite pair of black patent leather Louboutins.
While Iris was home dressing for church, most of the men who comprised the deacon board of St. Andrew had already congregated at their favorite gab corner near the back of the church. The renovations that took place at St. Andrew afforded them a tricked out, but still appropriately sanctimonious, den to count money and handle petty church disputes. Most of the time, the men used the church’s version of a man cave to sit, drink coffee, and gossip.
There was much to be said, because Hughes had managed to gain a brief audience with Iris. The men were anxious to see how the conversation went. And Hughes was anxious to embellish the conversation to engage their curiosities. “Yeah, I sat and talked with her. And you know how some women are real pretty until you get up on them? Not this one, brethren. Her pretty held its ground. It didn’t lie.”
“I’m surprised you said anything to her, Hughes. You know how you get to stut-stut-stuttering when you get around a woman.” Deacon Clemson Callahan delivered the low blow. And he got away with it, because he was chairman of the deacon board, a position that Hughes hoped to have; he was, after all, next in line. Hughes figured Clemson would be around a while. No one really knew how old he was, because he had more energy than a hummingbird. Unlike the hummingbird though, Clemson was not a man who’d live a short life. He probably would never die. Hughes thought it was because of all that juicing he did. He called it holistic living. To William Hughes, a meat and potatoes man, the clean eating Clemson was always blabbing about was probably nothing more than another passing fad.
Clemson continued, “but, I understand. When you get around a pretty woman, like my Judith. It throws you off a bit.” Callahan was standing over Hughes, who had sat in one of the wing chairs near the large flat screen TV mounted on the longest wall above the faux fireplace. Clemson propped his foot up on a small stool upholstered in rich burgundy tapestry. His shoes were so shiny, that Hughes could see the reflection of his own jet black hair in them. Clemson’s shoes were the kind that laced up to the ankle, black with a shiny round toe that was accessorized by a meticulously stitched double seam across the top. This was the only telltale sign that Clemson may have been up in age. “Well, tell us what she said Hughes! We don’t have but twenty minutes before church starts. Maybelline will be tickling those keys right on time.”
“Well at first she was kind of shy, but then, she said she heard that I did good work on, well, pipes and such. She invited me over to check on hers. Said, she’d like for me to look at a coupla things around the house.” The other men of the board drew closer to Hughes, interested. Hughes leaned back in the chair and kicked Clemson’s foot from the stool to replace it with his own. “Yep, that’s what she said.”
Clemson squinted. Hughes knew of his own hyperbolic tendencies, but sometimes he couldn’t help coloring the story, just a little–especially when there was a captive audience. He waited for Clemson’s response. He knew the older man would call his hand. “Hughes, don’t go getting any ideas off of a two sentence conversation. You probably couldn’t hear her over that band sitting up in that box at the gala. Maggs’ house needs work, bottom line. Maggs hadn’t hired a man to fix up around that house for years before she died. There’s sure to be some problems. Sister Murphy ain’t stud’n you.”
“Sister Murphy hadn’t had a working man around her either, unless you count that piece of man she helped write all those books. What kind of job is writing anyway for a real man? She needs to know better. I can make her know better,” Hughes chuckled his last sentence out with confidence.
“You can hardly make a sentence, doc,” said another deacon said with a guffaw.
“You have to get her to sit long enough to wait for you to get your words out first,” one of the deacons muttered from the back of the room.
“What you really have to worry about,” Callahan said as he ran his fingers through the hair he still processed after 40 years. He peered into the blank screen of the TV for stray strands, “is Locke. It’s like she’s got a padlock on the woman. She’s just like her husband, God rest his soul. She puts a lock on anything that has to do with money.”
Hughes stood up and straightened his suit jacket. He pinched at the crease of his pant leg and drew his fingers all the way down each side. “I can handle Belle Lynne Locke,” he said with a fond smile, “she’s as cold as steel, but she still has the warm softness of a woman down in there somewhere.” This was something Hughes knew for sure, because he’d seen it for himself when his mother died. Locke showed him kindness and compassion that had surprised him.
“Well, it sure was some kind of night to remember. Judith and I were so worked up over all that classy dancing we did, that we couldn’t keep our hand off of each other in the car. We drove up to Process Point and…”
“Aaaaaaaaaah, naw brother,” the other deacons wouldn’t let Clemson finish his sentence. They knew where it was going, and they didn’t want to join the ride.
Iris arrived at St. Andrew just in time to see the fraternal exchange of the well-dressed deacon board walking from the back of the church and to watch Locke, dressed in a flowing linen dress that was unmistakably one of Antoine’s designs, consecrate her seat. She caught Locke’s eye, nodded and seated herself in her own consecrated space. The church was buzzing. People were still excited about the night before. Some women had slept “pretty” so they could show off their elegant hairstyles, while one or two ladies opted to wear their dresses again so those who didn’t attend the gala could see how beautiful they had been the night before.
The deacons filed in, followed by the deaconesses. Some organ music had started, but Maybelline was not the musician. Poor Maybelline. Iris wondered if someone had gone to check on her last night. She doubted anyone did. When the pianist began to sing, Iris’ head snapped in the direction of Locke. Locke, recognizing the the singer as Jackie Black, tightened her lips and narrowed her eyes.
“She sounds terrible,” Antoine whispered. “Crying and screaming always makes people look and sound like jackasses.”
“Shhh. You can’t say that in church!” Iris whispered after letting an audible laugh escape her lips.
“I can’t say she sounds like a jackass? Why not? It’s the truth. Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.” Antoine said sucking his teeth and rolling his eyes. “Anyway. Jackass is in the Bible. In fact, Jesus rode a jackass, so I can say it in church.” Iris giggled. It had been a while since she had giggled–well, she had giggled last night. She had actually laughed out loud–at both that handsome devil Rick Carson and at Jackie Black. Jacqueline Black made laughter much too easy for Iris. Her behavior at Locke’s nightcap, though no laughing matter, was laughable, to say the least. Iris could not get the scene of the night’s fiasco out of her head.
After the gala, Locke had invited twelve of her most special guests to her home for a nightcap. Some of them knew each other, and some met for the first time. A convoy of limousines and luxury sedans made their way slowly through the quiet streets of Sweet Fields and lined Superior street in front of Locke’s brick home. Her home, dressed in the same colors as the armory– polished blacks, creamy whites, and pale golds–welcomed the guests. There were three waiters still dressed in white at the ready. One tended the finger foods, another made specialty drinks in the oversized French country kitchen, while the third circulated among the guests tending to their drink requests. The lady Iris spotted earlier hanging decorations stood guard at the door. The last guest to arrive had been Prentiss; this was no surprise, as he assumed his traditional pastoral duties at the door thanking guests for their support.
Prentiss had come in and settled into a large chair next to Locke in the grand parlor. All seats–occasional chairs, sofas, settees were comfortably occupied. Iris was sitting in front of the picture window on a loveseat with Antoine, the fashion designer whom Locke had discovered making costumes for female impersonators in New York. They’d become fast friends at the gala. He, too, was mesmerized by Iris in her kelly green.
Jean Paul, a Frenchman, whose gambling had cost him and his sister, Genvieve their shoe store in France, occupied a settee near the fireplace. Because of Jean Paul’s gambling debts, the bookies had assaulted and tortured Genvieve–she had not spoken a word since.
Celeste was the daughter of friends of the Lockes. After hearing her sing, Clive and Locke paid for her voice lessons and her trip to an American Idol audition. The famous singer was curled in an occasional chair with Kofi perched in a window seat nearby. Clive had found Kofi on a trip to Africa, took him off the streets, and placed him in a home with some friends in America. He was now a bodyguard for Celeste.
Ethan and Patricia were sitting with Jackson Reed on an oversized sofa chatting quietly about money. Ethan Stone was Clive’s nephew who had traveled to Italy to become a chef. He owned one of hottest restaurants in Atlanta. Patricia was a single mother/business student who had been waiting tables at one of the Locke’s favorite eateries when the two met. Locke, after getting to know Patricia, had insisted that she and Clive invest in her business, a daycare center. That had been ten years ago. Patricia’s business idea had blossomed into a chain of daycares for single mothers. Jackson’s father and Clive had been boyhood friends. Clive convinced Locke to attend a political fundraiser for Jackson Reed’s mayoral campaign, and she had been smitten with the dapper wordsmith ever since.
Anita and Tony were huddled together on another sofa. Anita was a playwright who had wowed the Lockes with an off-Broadway show. The Lockes, impressed with her refreshing and pure talent, invested in her Theatre Troupe. Tony was a brilliant mathematician whose mother, during his senior year of high school, was raped and killed. Locke couldn’t help but reach out to the hurting teen. She and Clive had paid for his college education.
Locke, like a Queen Mother, sat near the doorway in a navy velvet wingback chair with brass tacks around the edge. The merriment overflowed much like the sherry and champagne until it was interrupted by the ring of the doorbell.
Locke looked to the front door with a snap. Ruth, the doorkeeper for the evening, answered, “Good evening. May I help you?”
Jackie Black’s voice cut through the merriment like a switchblade. She threw her head back and retorted, “Yes. I’d like to come in.”
“Your name, please?” Ruth asked looking over her black-rimmed glasses.
Jackie laughed. She thought the pomp and circumstance of having a doorkeeper was a joke. Surely they expected her, especially with Prentiss there. “Why, Jacqueline O’Shelle Black.” she said with a deep curtsy. The feathers of her dress shimmied and rustled as she slid up from the curtsy.
“Please wait here,” Ruth said and closed the door gently in Jackie’s face. While Ruth conferred with the mistress of the house, Jackie took the opportunity to enter–on her own, uninvited. Ruth was still with Locke when Jackie made her presence known.
“Good evening, everyone.” She said standing in the doorway wearing a hideous peacock feather-trimmed shawl about her shoulders. Jackie’s priceless pageant smile was plastered across her face. She was posed, as if everyone had been waiting for her. She stood in classic fifth position, and if the guests looked closely enough, they would have seen an iridescent purple peep toe pump with one lone feather draping the arch of Jackie’s right foot, the wicked eye of the feather looking up into the faces of Locke’s gifted band of twelve. The hush that came across the room was only interrupted by the hiss and swish of the feathers settling around Jackie’s lower body. Sentences and glasses of champagne hung silently in the air, unfinished.
“Jacqueline. This engagement is invitation only. We will see you tomorrow at church.” Locke maintained a sickening sweet tone while looking into Jackie’s faux gray eyes. Kofi moved stealthily in the background and was beside Jackie before she could end her dramatic gasp. He placed one hand at the small of her bare back while the other took charge of her elbow and guided her out.
“Pastor LeBeaux, are we not meeting tonight?” she asked over her shoulder. Her voice, the question, was barely a whispered and was carried by a desperate tremor. Prentiss did not answer. Jackie, in response to his silence, spun around to see Prentiss engaged in conversation with Iris. They were laughing! “Prentiss!” she cried.
“Oh! Jackie. Are you leaving already?” he asked when he snapped out of his laughter with Iris. “Of course, you must be tired after all the excitement of the gala. Your having to fill in for Maybelline at the last minute must have drained you. Let’s talk after church tomorrow. Goodnight.” he said pleasantly, completely unaware she was being thrown out of the party.
Locke said nothing. She watched the situation unfold with a pleasant smile. She nodded as she watched Kofi escort Jackie out onto the front lawn. He locked the door upon his return. Kofi perched in the window seat near Celeste who was talking with Antoine about dressing her for the upcoming red carpet season. The server with the finger foods made a round as did the server with more glasses of sherry, wine, and champagne. As Iris stood to join Antoine and Celeste in their conversation about fashion, she heard a loud wail. She looked out of the picture window behind her just in time to see Jackie Black standing on the grassy lawn stomping her feet and shouting in what sounded like French. She continued to stomp away, until the feather flew from one of her awkward purple shoes.
“What is she saying, Jean Paul?” Antoine asked. Jean Paul stood with his glass of wine and joined Iris at the window. After listening for a few seconds, Jean Paul dragged his hand through his curly white hair and stroked his fluffy beard.
“Je suis plus digne d’une invitation a cette bande de marginaux.”
“I don’t want to say in the company of women, monsieur. It is not very good French, but I get her point.”
“Ce petit lutin rétréci d’une femme ne sera pas me tenir loin de lui. Je vais avoir mon jour!” She yelled louder.
“Which is?” Antoine asked arching a perfectly shaped brow.
“Nothing. Her point is moot, whatever it is.” Locke said raising her glass. “A toast!”
Prentiss who was then talking to Jackson Reed, raised his glass and said “To generous friends!”
They raised their glasses and yelled a rousing “Salut,” as Jackie shouted something else in French. She whirled around and around, causing the tail of her dress to take to the air around her like wings. One by one feathers began to disassemble from the bottom of the dress. Jackie stopped mid spin, recognizing that she was losing herself and her accoutrements. Frantically, she scoured and scraped the ground in search of her precious peacock feathers. All the while, she continued to rant in French.
“Je ne vais pas être en reste par une femme orpheline curieux qui se habille comme Poison Ivy. Iris, vous ne avez pas entendu le dernier de moi.” Iris recognized her name in the verbal outburst. While the others drank merrily, Iris sat down her glass and left the grand parlor quietly with her cell phone in her palm. She said nothing to the others, but Kofi followed her to the door.
“Let me, Iris.” He said in a deep baritone voice.
“No. She called me out. I shall answer.” Iris said. Iris was tired of people calling her name for no good reason. She had abided all the chiding and harassment she was going to–tabloid reporters were one thing, but a desperate troublemaker was another. It was going to end. Tonight. She glided carefully down the brick steps and walked the footpath to the lawn where Jackie was then squatting with her feathered train all around her.
“Jackie, what do you want?”
“Why wasn’t I invited?”
“This gathering is for Locke’s very dear friends. That’s why.”
“But Prentiss was invited.” She said pouting.
“That’s because Prentiss is a very dear friend.” Iris was perplexed by Jackie’s child-like behavior.
“Prentiss is my dear friend, too,” she whined, “we should have been invited together.”
“Listen to yourself Jackie. You make absolutely no sense. Now, if you really want Prentiss to see you tonight, I can call Officer Martinez to come and cart you off to jail for trespassing, and maybe Pastor LeBeaux will add you to his list of sick and shut in. He will be sure to come visit you then. Is that what you want?”
“Out of my face, Iris!” she swooshed her hand through the night air as if it held a magic wand. “I was here before you!”
“And I’ll be here after you, “ Iris said taking one step closer to Jackie who had started pulling the peacock feathers from her shawl and dress in a fit of anger. “Get your rumpled, ruffled, raggedy feathers together and get off this lawn, or so help me, you’ll be a very popular bird in the county jail,” Iris said with her eyes narrowed into slits.
Jackie said nothing, but screeched in agony. Defeated agony. She threw off her shawl and plucked the feathers from her dress while tears streamed down her face. Iris’s boldness didn’t dissipate. She drew even closer to Jackie Black and whispered, “and do NOT pick off another feather from that dress. I won’t have Locke’s lawn littered with the feathers of a naked bird.” Iris returned to the grand parlor and closed the blinds overlooking the lawn that was the stage for Jackie Black’s tantrum. She rejoined the conversations and found Locke talking to Prentiss but looking directly at her. The dialogue between the two looked very official. Prentiss’s eyes never left Locke’s face, and therefore, he knew nothing of Jackie Black’s obsessive fit of the evening.
And now, on the Sunday after the gala event of the season (with all of its drama), Jackie was sitting on the organ trying desperately to sing “How Great Thou Art” with a raw throat and red eyes. Pastor Prentiss LeBeaux sang excitedly unaware of the instability that sat so close.
Pastor Prentiss LeBeaux was full. He was overwhelmed with gratitude to his parishioners and the community of Sweet Fields. He was especially grateful for Locke’s friends who had given so generously just because she was affiliated with St. Andrew. His sermon was much shorter than usual, because he was overcome with emotion.
St. Andrew, y’all really outdid yourselves last night! You really made me proud. I have never seen such generous people give as freely as you did to help get this academy and daycare built. As I reflected on this grand occasion, I thought about Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. Turn with me to Ephesians 6:8; it reads: 8 Knowing that whatsoever good thing any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord, whether he be bond or free. 9 And, ye masters, do the same things unto them, forbearing threatening knowing that your Master also is in heaven; neither is there respect of persons with him.
St. Andrew Family, I’d like to share with you with this thought: What you make happen for others, God will make happen for you. You have been there for me in my darkest hour. You have held me up in prayer. You have rejoiced with me. You have loved me. Supported me. Fed me. Last night, you all gave your all–not just to me on behalf of my sweet Ava, but to the entire community. Many of you gave your hard-earned money, several gave of your time and talents, and a few special people gave themselves. For those of you who gave to this ministry until it hurt, I love you and appreciate you. I want you to remember that what you make happen for others, God will make happen for you. God will never leave you alone–unavenged, uncared for, or unconnected. He will never leave his children abandoned, all alone out in the wilderness. But when he brings you out, He wants you to do the same for someone else. Turn to your neighbor and say “what I make happen for someone else, God will make happen for me!” Because you all have made so much happen for me, I want to return the love, the kindness, and gratitude.