Monday, August 28, 2006

EXCERPT - Meet Me At the Altar

Meet Me At the Altar
By Tamika Johnson
Publisher: Leading Lady Publications
ISBN: 0977674673

~Chapter Two Excerpt~

Shana pulled into the nearly full parking lot of Love Temple Baptist Church and was happy to see that she wasn’t the only one late. It was 10:45 and a mass of people were walking through the front door. When Shana and Kayla reached the door, Shana was delighted to discover that she wasn’t late at all because service didn’t begin until 11:00. She didn’t know when Love Temple changed the time of the service, but she was glad they had. She was even happier that Kayla had put up such a fuss to attend service today. And I will give children to be their princes, and babes shall rule over them…that’s what the Bible said in Isaiah 3:4.
“Good morning, Baby!” An older woman greeted Shana, pulling her into a bear hug before Shana could focus on her face.
“I am so happy to see you Baby. Where have you been?” the woman asked. Her face looked familiar. Wanting to greet her by name, Shana quickly searched her mind but was saved when the woman turned her attention to Kayla.
“This can’t be little Kayla. I haven’t seen you since you were three years old.” She smiled down into a pair of adoring eyes.
“Mother Howell!” Kayla exclaimed, throwing her arms around the robust woman.
“That’s right, Mother Howell was her name. That’s two saves from Kayla today,” Shana thought as she plastered a smile on her face and hugged Mother Howell. She’d always liked the woman. Mother Howell was Shana’s image of a classic grandmother figure; she was plump, always smiling, and smelled of sweet baked goods. She’d also been wearing the same short curly afro wig for as long as she could remember. Mother Howell was real; she was constant, something Shana hadn’t had in a long time. Kayla, ever the social butterfly, quickly found a friend from school and the two ran off to Children’s Church.
Just when Shana found herself feeling out of place, Mother Howell pulled her down and whispered in her ear, “Let the Lord have his way, Baby. Don’t think about anything that is going on in your life; just let God be God!”
That’s exactly what Shana planned to do – let God be God. She couldn’t explain it, but she felt good being in church. She even smiled at a few people she knew as she was escorted to the third pew – her old seat from when she was a music minister years earlier. The placement of the seat, the smell of the building, and familiar faces caused a plethora of memories, both good and bad, to flood her mind. Shana was happy to be in church, but this was just too much too fast. She turned to find the usher, to protest and ask to be moved, but lost her voice when she found herself staring into the eyes of what had to be the most handsome man she’d ever seen.
“Praise the Lord, Sister,” he greeted her with an alarming smile. To her horror, Shana found that she’d lost control of all social skills. She tried to smile, but her face was frozen in place; Shana attempted to speak, but she couldn’t seem to get around the marbles in her mouth. Shana simply stared like a schoolgirl – that was until she saw his eyes roam her body appreciatively.
“Have an eye problem?” She whispered coldly.
“Uh…” he stuttered. He had the nerve to look embarrassed and his apologetic face softened Shana a bit, but only for a fleeting moment. He needed to be taught a lesson about respecting women. Had he even thought about the embarrassment he had caused her by devouring her with his eyes?
“Uh, what?” Shana raised her voice slightly and she was happy Kayla was in Children’s Church, so she didn’t have to see her get ignorant.
“I’m sorry,” he muttered.
“Well you should be.” Shana started to really light into him when he gave her that sexy grin again.
“It’s just that you’re so beautiful, I forgot where and who I was.” He gave her a pointed look. Shana was used to men saying things like this to her, but…good God from Zion, he was serious!
“Don’t let it happen again,” was the only reply Shana could muster after a comment like that. He’d called her beautiful. Truth be told, she hadn’t had a man look at her like that in years, not anyone she found attractive anyway. This was going to be a long day.
Realizing she’d left her Bible in her car, she turned to ask him where the extra Bibles were kept when he stood abruptly.
“By the way,” he extended his hand, “I’m Derek. Derek Chance.”
“Shana Jackson,” she replied, putting her small hand into his large one. Despite its warmth, she found herself shivering from his touch. Before the conversation could go any further, Mr. Chance moved to the front of the church and began singing “Praise Is What I Do” by William Murphy, III. Derek had a beautiful baritone voice that commanded the attention of the congregation. All conversation ceased and everyone began to worship as Derek continued to sing, and the organist followed him with heavenly music.
“So this is the person who replaced me as praise and worship leader,” Shana thought dryly. She tried to sit in her seat, unmoved by his voice and the words of the song, but tears soon burned her eyes, and she lifted her right hand, then left hand in surrender.
“This is it,” Shana thought to herself as tears flowed down her cheeks. “This is what I’ve been missing and needing in my life.” Not bothering to wipe away the tears that had clustered on her chin, Shana threw her head back and began to sing. As if a microphone was placed in front of her, her voice filled the small sanctuary and a few members turned to see who owned the angelic voice.
After leading the congregation in two more songs, “The Best is yet to Come,” by Donald Lawrence and the Tri-City Singers, and “Because of Who You Are,” by none other than her girl, Martha Munizzi, Derek returned to his seat. Derek had experienced Shana’s voice with everyone else and felt that they’d made beautiful music together. Their harmony had been perfect, and Derek found himself wanting to remain in worship forever beside this majestic creature called Shana Jackson.
Shana could feel Derek’s gaze as she tried to get herself together after that last song. She thought about everything the Lord had done for her. For some reason, God had allowed her business, Alpha and Omega Public Relations, to prosper even though she really hadn’t been to one church service in more than two years. Shana remembered how God had kept her sane after her ex-husband tried to destroy her; and she reflected on the last three years as a single parent. Her child didn’t lack for anything. God had been good!
Derek handed her a Kleenex, his eyes full of questions. When he opened his mouth to voice them, Shana shook her head as if to say, “Don’t ask.”
“What was he going to say?” she wondered. Would he ask if she was okay? She didn’t know what he was going to say, but the last thing she wanted was anyone’s pity at the moment. She just wanted to bask in the glory of God. It had been too long since she’d been in His presence – much too long.
Bishop Howell, Mother Howell’s son, preached a wonderful message about being bold when approaching the throne of grace and asking God for something. He came from Psalms 82:6 - I have said, ye are gods; and all of you are children of the Most High. Stating that as children of the Most High, they had the authority to command things to happen here on Earth. Shana was so moved at times she lifted up her hands and joined in the steady chorus of “yes!” and “preach!” with the rest of the congregation. It was as if Bishop Howell was preaching directly to her spirit – she had forgotten who she was and to whom she belonged. She was a servant and child of the Most High God.
Shana wasn’t surprised when Derek spoke to her after the service; she’d noticed him sneaking glances at her throughout the sermon.
“I remember you from before,” he said.
“What?” Shana’s replied tersely.
“You used to lead praise and worship service,” he explained. “I remember your incredible voice. Back then I sat in the back row.”
“Oh.” Shana, who had never learned to pack light, was struggling to balance her large pocketbook in one hand and her Bible and three-ring binder in the other.
“Let me help you…”
“I don’t need any help,” Shana replied curtly, moving into the aisle behind the other members who were migrating slowly toward the door. Why didn’t he just leave her alone? Couldn’t he see that he was having a profound effect on her? Didn’t he understand that every time he moved she was inebriated by his cologne?
“Okay, okay.” Derek held up both hands in surrender. “So where is your husband?” Derek blurted as they stepped into the sunlight, not wanting to let her leave just yet. He wanted to kick himself for the stupid question; he knew she wasn’t married anymore. He wasn’t sure of the details, but he remembered that the church was split for quite some time over Leon and Shana Jackson. So why did he ask that dumb question? It was probably because he hadn’t had a lady friend in more than three years and didn’t know why this one was making his insides turn to liquid.
“I’m single, as in not married, so mind your business,” Shana answered cutting her eyes at him. Sheesh! Everyone always wanted to be in her business.
“And a little sassy,” he said, giving her that unnerving grin.
He was definitely getting on her nerves; but why did that smile make her go weak in the knees. And those hands, they were big and strong like a man’s should be. Shana could only imagine those hands on her…
“You are going straight to Hell, Shana; you shouldn’t want this man like this!” Shana admonished herself. But so help her, this man was fine!
“I’m…I’m…sophisticated,” Shana stuttered breathlessly. She cleared her throat. “Sophisticated.” She said the word a little stronger this time before turning to walk toward her car.
“I hope he isn’t watching me walk away,” she thought and then realized that not only was he watching her walk away, but he was also following her. She tried to play it cool, like she didn’t see him, but the horror of all horrors happened…she tripped! Her Bible and binder flew one way, and the contents of her purse the other. As her right knee hit the ground, Shana put her arms out in front of her to cushion what she knew was going to be a painful fall, but someone caught her under her arms. Catching a whiff of the intoxicating cologne, she knew it was Derek.
“Careful now,” he whispered in her ear, steadying her by the waist with his hands. Those big, strong…
“See what you made me do?” she practically yelled. Her face was flushed with embarrassment as she knelt to collect her belongings.
“What did I do?” he asked trying to keep a laugh from tumbling out. She had looked so comical flailing her arms back and forth. Shana looked at him for a moment before sucking her teeth and turning back to her retrieval project. He knew that he should be helping her gather stuff, but Shana was bent over in a position that made him hold his breath.
“I saved you from scratching your pretty face.” He answered his own question in an attempt to shake himself out of the trance. “Miss Sassy, Single, and Sophisticated” was nothing short of mesmerizing.
Shana whirled around at the words. “I wouldn’t have fallen if you weren’t stalking me!” Shana exclaimed, breaking into a brisk walk toward her car. She didn’t care that she had left some pens and about three dollars worth of change on the ground. Shana also wasn’t prepared for the pain that shot through her entire right leg and darn if she didn’t trip again! This time her purse and its contents flew under her car.
“Whoops!” Derek couldn’t help it…he doubled over in laughter.
“Shut up,” Shana said, kneeling to collect her things for the second time in less than two minutes. If he wasn’t so fine, she would have smacked him right in his mouth.
“Here, let me help you,” Derek said getting on his hands and knees. A lipstick applicator had rolled to the midpoint under Shana’s car and she was attempting to get it without showing all of her goods or putting pressure on her wounded knee but wasn’t having much luck…her thigh was peaking out from under her dress. Derek would have loved to continue watching Shana squat before him, but he was raised better than that.
“I don’t need you or your so-called help you…you…stalker.” She tried to push him out of the way. Before she could blink twice, Derek was handing her the lipstick applicator, and…a tampon.
“Could this moment be any more embarrassing?” She asked herself, snatching both items out of his hands, and ignoring the gleam in his eyes.
“Thank you,” she offered grudgingly.
“That doesn’t sound very grateful, Sis,” Derek teased.
“What do you want me to do, get down on my hands and knees and kiss your feet?” she asked angrily.
“That would be a good start,” Derek said with a straight face. He winced as Shana turned a pair of dark brown eyes on him. If looks could kill, he would have vaporized into thin air.
“Look,” Shana started to reply but was interrupted by Kayla, who was holding the hand of Mother Howell.
“Mom?” Kayla questioned.
“Yes, Baby?” Shana responded, though her eyes never left Derek’s face.
“What happened?” Kayla asked, her eyes focused on Shana’s swollen knee. Shana could feel the blood trickling down her leg.
“Nothing, Sweetheart. Mommy just had a little accident. Why are you out here?” Shana tried to change the subject.
“You forgot to pick me up from Children’s Church,” Kayla accused.
Shana took in Kayla’s red eyes and runny nose and knew instantly the child must have broken into dramatic hysterics when Shana didn’t show up sixty seconds after church was over.
“Thank you, Mother Howell,” Shana said. “I apologize for being late.”
“It was no problem…” Mother Howell began but was cut off by Kayla.
“You weren’t late, Mom, you just didn’t show up.” Kayla put her hand over her eyes and let out a wail.
“I cried so much, Mommy, I thought you’d left me!” The three adults shared knowing glances and swallowed their laughs.
“Alright, Miss Academy Award, let’s go get something to eat.” Shana ushered Kayla into the backseat.
“What are we going to eat?” Kayla asked. Although no tears fell from her eyes, she sniffled for effect.
“I was thinking we could go home,” Shana said, buckling Kayla in.
“I think,” Kayla, sniffle. “McDonald’s would do the trick. Don’t you, Mom?” Kayla sniffled again for effect and Mother Howell roared with laughter at the precious child; she just had too much wit.
“We’ll see, Sweet Pea.” Shana shut the car door, and went about the task of getting behind the wheel.
“You need to get that knee checked out, Baby Girl,” Mother Howell offered lovingly as Shana struggled to bend her knee into place. “You can’t drive on that knee. Let Derek take you home.” Derek’s head snapped at Mother’s suggestion.
“Uh – sure, I can do that,” he stammered.
“No, no, I can drive just fine,” Shana said with much more gusto than she felt. Truth be told, her knee hurt so badly she wasn’t sure she would be able to walk once she got home, let alone drive.
“Besides,” she turned the ignition and the BMW purred to life, “I’m not sure if I want Mr. Stalker to know where I live. Bye, Mother Howell, see you next week.”
With that she pulled her left leg into the car, shut the car door, and pulled out of the parking space.
“See you next week, Baby.” Mother Howell’s amusement showed in her smile. Mother Howell had seen the way the two young folks were looking at each other. She wasn’t fooled by Shana’s display of annoyance. Shana wanted that man, and he wanted her.
“Have Thine own way, Lord,” she prayed walking back toward the church. “Have Thine own way.”

About the Author
Described by SisterDivas Magazine as “Young, Powerful, and Determined!” and nominated as one of Maryland’s Top 100 Women for 2006, Tamika Johnson, is the CEO of Leading Lady Publications. Tamika is also the award winning author of "He Loves Me Not, But I Love Myself! A young woman's guide to conquering dating violence and finding safe love” (Re-publication Date October 1, 2006)."

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