Pastor Prentiss’ sermon had struck a nerve…or two with Jackie. She had left the church and driven to her dance studio. As soon as she had locked the door behind her, she began peeling off her clothes.
“I cannot believe how I came from the big city to this simple little town only to be shunned and shut out! How dare they? How long will they grieve for Ava? When will they move on? Prentiss is a young man. A handsome, virile man who needs a woman’s touch. He needs me. He’s so sad, but I can bring him back to life! If I don’t do something, that little old woman will have him dry right up all by himself! Well I won’t have it!” she said almost shouting. She had taken off her black chiffon duster and wore nothing but black leotards. She moved to the small bathroom and looked at herself in the mirror.
“I am beautiful. I am sexy. I am a woman. I am a lover. I can be anything–anyone I wish to be, and I want to be Mrs. Prentiss LeBeaux. I SHALL be his wife, and no one will stop me. Not that Poison Iris with her money and her pretty white teeth. Prentiss thinks she is so pretty and so generous and so sophisticated, but I’ll show her! Pretty is for girls. I am a woman. I wanted to be her friend, but she wouldn’t even let me in her house! Why?” a tear sat on the edge of her eyelid.
“It’s just like what happened the last time in Atlanta. Everyone always shuts me out!” she screamed. She grabbed a towel and scrubbed at her makeup violently. The tears continued to flow. “But Pastor Prentiss told ME, with his own mouth, that whatever I made happen for others, God will make happen for me.” She wiped her eyes with the backs of her hands and ran her palm over her short blond hair.
“I have saved the day for Prentiss. I have carried the load for Prentiss. I have played beautiful music for Prentiss. I have loved Prentiss. God, I know you will make those things happen for me. I have sown. I will soon reap. Amen.” Jackie opened her eyes. She did not realize she had whispered a small prayer until she said Amen. She felt her random lapse into prayer was a sign from God. That he had sanctioned her to show everyone at St. Andrew that her purpose in Pastor Prentiss’ life would not be denied.
“I’ll teach them to shut me–Jacqueline O’Shelle Black–out! I will destroy all of them. Prentiss will hate them all, and I’ll be there waiting to console him. Comfort him. Hold him. Love him.” she smiled as she left the bathroom. “That gorgeous man and St. Andrew will belong to me. Everyone will forget about Ava and love me!”
She pressed a button on her bookcase stereo and Jennifer Hudson began belting out “And I Am Telling You.” Jackie began to spin around, kicking up her legs in rhythm. She dipped her head and shoulders low to ground before throwing her body into the air. She leapt and spun and bowed. Her arms flailed to and fro as tears streamed down her eyes and cries tore from her already raw throat. At the dramatic end of the song, Jackie whirled around and landed on the floor with a loud thud. She lay there on the floor, spent and sobbing loudly. After several minutes of crying out in her raw love for Prentiss LeBeaux, she wiped away tears and sweat and pulled her long legs into her chest, rocking gently to and fro, mumbling.
“Iris and Locke left me alone on the lawn, uncared for, and unconnected. Poor Prentiss is under their spell, for if he had known I was outside and uninvited in, he would have spoken up for me. They distracted Prentiss so he wouldn’t see me. But they will soon see me, in all my glory, standing proudly as Mrs. Jacqueline O’Shelle Black-LeBeaux. And heaven help me, if they don’t see. St. Andrew and Sweet Fields will love me.” She stood, ran her hands over her damp, closely cropped curls, and bent deeply at the waist, stretching.
Jackie was too engrossed in her monologue to realize that Locke had just slid by her studio in the sleek navy Cadillac. Locke was on her way to see Maybelline. “That poor woman,” she said out loud as she pulled her car into Maybelline’s driveway. Maybelline’s gold Camry was not in the garage. Locke noticed that it sat in the driveway, askew, as if parked by a bank robber on the run. She stepped out of the car and took note of the clusters of Black Eyed Susans Maybelline had in cobalt blue pots on either side of her yellow door. Locke pressed the doorbell with her gloved hand. She heard stirring inside.
“Maybelline. Don’t be silly. I won’t stand out here all afternoon.” Nothing. Locke followed a stone footpath to the back deck. Maybelline often sat out back drinking sweet tea. But no one was there. As she made her way back to the front she caught Maybelline peeping through one of the panes at the bay window.
“Come on out here, Lena, and open this door.” Locke knew that Maybelline would understand she meant business, when she called her Lena. Locke hadn’t called her Lena since she was a child.
By the time Locke made her way around, the yellow door was open and the entryway unoccupied. Maybelline, however, had disappeared to her bedroom. Locke took inventory of Maybelline’s living room. There were beautiful little trinkets along her fireplace mantle. Her overstuffed sofa was red and decorated with purple and green pillows. The oversized loveseat was also red and draped with a chenille blanket of the same hue. A denim and white chevron pillow sat neatly in the chair. There were things everywhere in Maybelline’s living room, and yet every single item had a proper and perfect place. Maybelline’s house invited guests to visit and never leave. And, if there was one thing Maybelline did well other than playing piano, it was keeping an immaculate house. Even though she made a handsome salary working at PC&G Manufacturing Companies as the managing engineer for all sustainable bottle cap design engineers, Maybelline was content to live quietly in her sage stoned cottage with vines of ivy creeping up the sides.
Maybelline’s house smelled of eucalyptus and mint. Locke liked the cleanliness of the smell. She did not spray.
“Ms. Belle, please don’t lecture me right now,” Maybelline mumbled from the bedroom.
“The hell you say, Lena! Your dress drops around your ankles one time, and you want to go hole yourself up. You didn’t even come to church today. That horrible bird woman, Jackie Black, tried to play like you. She sang like a sick cat.” By now, Locke had made her way to Maybelline’s room, a large queenly space outfitted with an ornate Paul Bunyan bed. Maybelline’s bedding was bright yellow, accented with navy and white. Her bright white sheets were crumpled in the middle of her bed where Maybelline sat wearing a white PC&G T-shirt, very short denim shorts and a head full of the biggest rollers Locke had ever seen in her life.
“That’s easy for you to say, Ms. Belle. All of St. Andrew didn’t see your rump as you walked across the dance floor at the biggest gala of the last 10 years. I’ve never been so embarrassed in my life.” Maybelline crumpled up the sheets even more and wiped at her wet face. She rocked slowly, back and forth.
“Yes, Lena. You have been more embarrassed. Remember the time when you were getting on the church bus to go to the Youth Rally down in Rayton County, and your slip fell down to your ankles? Remember that? Didn’t you keep on living after that? Became an accomplished pianist? Got a scholarship to MIT? Making more money than most folk can shake a stick at, down at PC&G? You’re the only woman manager in that place. So what, they saw a little Spanx last night! It’s about time you did something daring.”
“Ms. Belle, none of those things matter when you’re made a fool of by someone you hardly know. I don’t know why she…”
“She who? What are you babbling about Maybelline? Get yourself together so I can hear you right!”
“That Jackie Black!” Maybelline vomited her name out of mouth, almost choking on the k’s in her name.
“Wait a minute, Maybelline. What has Jackie the buzzard to do with all this?”
“She stepped on my dress, Ms. Belle. She stepped on my dress and smiled while she did it.”
“Now, Maybelline. Your dress was tight. It was hugging you like the skin on summer sausage. You sure it wasn’t a wardrobe malfunction, like Janet Jackson had. Do you know I was there the night that happened? I told my Clive…”
“Ms. Belle. It was Jackie Black. While Nurse Jackson was helping me get myself together, Jackie, walked past me and whispered, thank goodness you’re not the only one who can play piano in this room.” Maybelline broke down after that and flopped back onto the bed. She stretched her arms out and cried. “I’ve never done anything to that woman. Why does she insist on vexing me so?”
“Have you eaten today?” Locke asked Maybelline. Her eyebrows were furrowed.
Maybelline sat up quickly. “Do I look like I need something to eat?” She cried even more.
“Yes. Yes you do. You look a mess. I brought some of my lavender and lime teacakes. They are out in the car. I’m going over to my house and fix you something fresh from my garden. The teacakes will hold you until I get back.”
Locke gathered her dress and started toward the front door to her car. She retrieved the teacakes, which were in a dainty silver tin tied with a purple bow. “Now you eat a few of these, the lavender will calm you down. I’ll be back shortly with something more hearty, filling, healthy. Then you can play me something on that Baby Grande when we’re done.”
“Thank you, Ms. Belle,” Maybelline sniffled. “I appreciate you for stopping by.”
Locke threw her black-gloved hand up in the air as if agitated with Maybelline. “You go in there and pull yourself together.”
Locke thought about Maybelline and the dress and Jackie Black and the embarrassing production she rendered outside on Locke’s lawn the night before. Ever since Sister Jackie Black arrived, things at St. Andrew had been a little off. Now she was messing with Maybelline, who really never bothered anyone. She knew what Maybelline said about Jackie sabotaging the dress was true, even though she didn’t see it herself. What she didn’t know yet was what she was going to do about it. Something would be done, and Iris would have to help her do it, before Jackie struck again.