Church Hurts: Chapter 4 – “Choir Director”

Chapter 4 – Choir Director

The door clicks behind them.

The choir director quickly locks the door. “Hey, Mr. Judd. You had me down there playing that piano for forever!” “Sorry. I had to handle something. You know that Terita girl came by here again asking for more money,” Judd said with disgust. “I thought you said you were going to handle that one,” Nick said. “Now, Nick, you know it’s not that easy. She knows too much. She could blow our whole cover. It’s imperative that we keep our business between us, her, and God.”

By business, he was referring to their undercover relationship. It had been going on for the past three years. Judd had accidentally sent a text meant for Nick to Terita. And ever since then, she would stop by his office to ask for favors, only they knew the favors were not optional. If he did not comply with her requests, it could mean the end of all their dreams.

“But Judd, you know that every time she comes by, she asks for more than the last time. We have to put an end to this once and for all,” Nick reminded him. “I know, I know. That’s why I’m working on something. I have a plan. You know she’s accustomed to nice things. And right now, the only option she has is to blackmail us. But if we can find her a new supplier, she’ll have a new host to leach off of. She has her eye on one person who should be able to have her set for life,” Judd replied. “And who is that? One of your bishop buddies?” “No, even better. He’s right under our noses. She’s really interested in the youth pastor. She knows he’s sitting on a gold mine. His grandfather is loaded. And with his health deteriorating like it is, he and his mother will be the sole beneficiaries of his estate,” Judd informed Nick. “Is that so? So how quickly do you think we can enact this plan?” “Sooner than you think,” Judd replied.

Judd was referring to the birthday party Terita was throwing for herself. He suggested to Terita that she invite him to a small get-together with a few of her closest friends. And then she could launch Plan B. They were both confident in her abilities. Terita was quite the seductress when she had her mind on it. She would have tried to seduce Judd, but she found out via the text that she was probably not his type. Although Judd was known back in the days B.C. for “getting around” with the ladies, Terita saw that it was likely only a cover in case any questions arose about his attraction to men. And if Terita’s skills could not trap Dave, there was always Plan C.

“Hey, Judd. There’s something else I wanted to talk to you about,” Nick said with downcast eyes. “Well, two things actually. One reason I asked about how you were going to permanently silence Terita was because I don’t want any leaked information to have a negative impact on my career in the ministry.” “Don’t worry about that, Nick. I said I have this under control,” Judd tried to reassure his lover. “I’m just saying. I start recording in the studio next week to lay down the single for this album me and my group have been working on. The last thing I need is a rumor like this bringing me down,” Nick stressed. “I totally understand. You know I have just as much riding on this as you do. You have your hopes of being a famous gospel artist, and I have hopes of being a jurisdictional bishop. If this stuff gets out, if she forwards that text to anybody, we’re both ruined. And we’ve both worked so hard for this.”

Hanging his head even lower, Nick continues on, “But that’s not the only thing I’m concerned about. You know how pastor has been preaching this series on our bodies being the temple of God and everything…” “Yeah, the series has been great. What’s your point?” Judd asked oblivious to the point Nick was trying to make. “Well, you know, I mean, I, I, I’ve been feeling conviction,” Nick stuttered. “Conviction about what?” Judd asked ignorantly. “Well, you know. I’ve been feeling conviction about this. About us.” “What about this? What about us,” Judd pushed. “Come on, Judd. You know I care about you. A lot. But you don’t ever feel weird about what we do?” “Not at all,” Judd replied to Nick’s surprise. “You mean, you never feel weird about being with a man when our denomination speaks so strongly about same-sex relationships? And especially after this series the pastor’s been speaking on? He made the scriptures so plain to me. I mean, I’ve heard all the verses before, but for some reason, this past month, it’s been really getting to me.” “So what are you trying to say, Nick?” “I’m trying to say that maybe we should see about ending this,” Nick said to Judd’s dismay. “Ending this? We’ve been doing this for three years now. Why stop now? If it was so wrong to do, why hasn’t God struck us down dead yet? How come every time you play the piano or sing, people still get delivered? How come every time I preach or teach, people come to the altar to get saved? If it was so wrong, how come God is still using us so mightily in the ministry?”

“Judd, I wonder about those same things. But you know how pastor always says the gifts of God come without repentance. Maybe God is just using us for our gifts. Or maybe God is just being gracious to us. Maybe He’s just giving us a chance before we get exposed. Just like with that Bishop in Atlanta. I’m sure God gave him many chances to repent, but he just wouldn’t. And the rest is history. I don’t want that to be us. I care about you ” “Nick, don’t worry about that stuff. Haven’t you ever read in the bible that God is love? And sex is God’s gift for mankind to express their love for each other. All we are doing is expressing our love for one another,” Judd said defensively. “But, Judd, you don’t even feel a bit of guilt. I mean you even have our bed in your office in the church! I just don’t know, Judd. I have a lot of thinking to do.” But Nick had already made up his mind. This had to end. Judd had been there for him through so much, so he felt bad about just dropped him as the bad habit that he was. But it was hard for him to continue living in something that he felt bad about. There was a time when it didn’t bother him to mess with men in the church because he had ignored that little voice in his head telling him it was wrong. But lately, God had been dealing with him about it. And so many of his friends had been getting sick and dying. All those things kept pushing him in another direction.

Nick unlocks the door and walks down the corridor to his BMW that Judd had purchased him earlier that year. And it was likely bought with the money of the parishioners who trusted in him to practice what he preached and to put their money to good purposes. But Nick didn’t think of them as gullible sheeple because Judd was just that convincing. He could tell you white was black and have you broadcasting to their world the same. I mean, Judd was right about some things. Wasn’t God love? Was there any doubt of the love Judd and him had for each other? He drove off into the sunset towards his expensive downtown loft also funded by Judd.

It was a long ride up the elevator to his top story apartment which overlooked the river. It was such a beautiful view. However, the way he earned it just felt so wrong. He had to engage in behavior that disgusted him in order to attain it. He had received a prophecy as a young boy that God was going to use him in a mighty way to bless others across the nation, and that he would also bless him with the lifestyle that he desired. God couldn’t have meant for this to be the way that he would acquired these things. Was this God’s will for Him? For him to give his temple to a power-hungry pastor who was living a lie? Sure Judd had been better to him than all the other men Nick had been with, but somehow he still knew it was wrong.

He set down his Louis Vuitton briefcase on his hardwood floors. He locked the door behind him. He walked solemnly to his master bedroom to get undressed. Then he ran his bathwater. He felt his emotions bubbling up within him. He got into the tub and scrubbed at his skin until it hurt. He scrubbed so hard to the point that he stopped just before it got raw. He would scrub until he felt clean. Just the thought of all of those men’s hands touching over his body made him feel filthy. Then the tears came pouring down onto his petite body eventually blending into the bathwater.

He couldn’t find the words to say so he just moaned. There were no new words that he could say. He had already had this conversation with God a hundred times. He would feel disgusted. He would feel dirty. He would repent. He would feel sorry. He would feel sinful. He would feel unforgivable. He felt as if it was no way in the world Jesus would have gotten on that cross for a man like him. He engaged in the same sin night after night in the church. There was no way God could forgive him. There was no way Christ would have died for homosexuals. So he just cried and moaned and scrubbed.

Church Hurts: Chapter 3 – “New Membership Orientation”

Chapter 3 – Church Orientation

Sarah is jolted from her heavy sleep with the jarring blasts from her alarm clock. The glowing red 11:10 am makes her roll her eyes. She extends her right arm to slam her palm on the snooze button as her face collapses back onto her pillow. Ten minutes later, with eyes still closed, her fingers crawl over the nightstand to search for the snooze button again. She repeats the process again ten minutes later.

Sarah looks up at the alarm clock and turns it off this time. Those extra 30 minutes gave her just what she needed to peel herself off of her cushy bed onto her feet. She reaches for her glasses and slips her feet into her slippers.

She rubs her twists as she trudges to the bathroom and looks in the mirror. Her hair was flat on one side as usual after a long night of sleeping on her right side. She had the raccoon look that accompanies sleeping in one’s eye-liner and mascara. She finishes her morning routine and heads out the door to the New Membership Orientation. She really had enjoyed the church service and knew she needed to join a church in order to stay out of trouble. She wouldn’t stay accountable otherwise. Her roommate was encouraging her to stay in sin, so hopefully this church, and in particular this cute youth pastor, could help her spirituality. She couldn’t help but smile a little when she thought about running into Dave again. She also wondered if Paul would be there too. She had been thinking about them two all week at work. Which of the two, if either, would God hook her up with? She said a quick prayer over the day hoping that God would move things in her favor.

When she pulls up onto the parking lot, she sees only seven cars there. The new Land Rover must have been Dave’s. She figured he must have come from money since his grandfather had enough clout to have James Tapp throw a half-priced concert in Memphis. Not to mention he appeared to wear expensive clothes from Lacoste and J. Crew. She pulled her black sedan three parking spaces down from his. Something about parking right beside his jeep made her feel a little insecure.

She looked through the glass double-doors when she saw they were locked. It was dark inside. Then she figured the new membership class must be in the smaller trailer building nearby. No need to open the entire sanctuary for a meeting between less than a dozen people.

She walked crossed the parking lot and went up the stairs to the trailer. The door was slightly ajar and she could hear voices within. She tip-toed in self-consciously even though she was only five minutes late. Apparently, this church didn’t get the memo about CP (colored people) time. The chairs were around a rectangular table with sets of paper in front of each chair. The instructor was Paul. Apparently, he was the Outreach Minister. He looked Sarah in the eye, smiled at her, and told her to have a seat. The only available seat was right beside him. “I wasn’t expecting you to be here. Sarah, right?” He pulled her chair out for her. As she looped her jacket and purse on the back of her chair, she caught a whiff of his faint aftershave. Or maybe it was deodorant. All she knew was that it smelled good. “Yeah, I decided to go ahead and join. I had a week to pray over it,” Sarah replied. The other people at the table greeted her with smiles and waves.

Paul makes everyone reintroduce themselves for her sake and then asks her to introduce herself. The lady to her left slides her a sign-in sheet and a pen to sign in with her name, phone number, and email address. Paul then began to go over the New Membership Orientation PowerPoint print-out. An hour later, the class was concluded with each new member signing their name on their membership card and selecting which ministries they thought they might like to participate in. Because Sarah was still in her twenties, she was automatically expected to sign up for the Young Adult ministry which interested her more-so because she knew Dave was over it rather than because she would get to meet other young people her age. She also was interested in outreach which was what she was in charge of at her last church. Something about ministering to the least, the most hurting, the lost appealed to Sarah. She had helped her last church to build quite a successful outreach ministry. They made weekly appearances at the downtown homeless shelters to minister spiritually – and nutritionally – to the men and women there. They also had been working on plans to visit the teens in juvy before Sarah had to leave the church. After she had left there, she had not done anything with a church. Seemed to her like getting involved in church always resulted in hurts. While she loved people, she wasn’t interested in making new friends at church. Her and Denise had followed the motto – NNF no new friends. From elementary school up until college, they had kept the same group of friends and weren’t taking auditions for more.

Before Sarah could make her typical bolt to the door to avoid meeting the other new members, she heard Paul call her name. Her heart skipped a little. Paul looked at her with his green eyes and engaged her in conversation. “So I see you signed up for outreach. That means you’ll be working real closely with me.” “I guess so,” Sarah said. She tried unsuccessfully to stifle a smile. Something about the way he said “with me”, was charming. Paul continued, “So what experience do you have with outreach?” Sarah replied by telling him how she had been the outreach coordinator at her past church. Paul raised his eyebrows apparently impressed. “Oh that’s great! That’s just what we need. I’ve been praying for someone to help me with this. I’ve been trying to begin some new ventures. I’ve even been seeking God about doing a short-term missionary trip later this year.” Sarah smiled within herself at the prospect of going on an overseas trip with this green-eyed cutie. Her straying thoughts were put on pause when she heard the creaking of the trailer door behind her. It was Dave. Her heart skipped another beat.

He greeted all of the new members and walked over to Paul to ask for a key. When Dave recognized Sarah standing there, he gave her a side hug keeping his left arm draped over her small shoulders afterwards. Sarah blushed a little. She noticed an awkward shuffling of Paul’s feet which made her equally nervous. She liked Dave’s arm around her shoulders, but she disliked how it seemed to be making Paul feel. Paul pulled his keys out of his back pocket and singled out a key which he handed to Dave.

Dave, trying to buy more time with Sarah, turned towards Sarah and asks her if she’s seen the entire church. She tells him she has not, but that she has noticed the renovations. He tells her that they were due to the church growth they had been experiencing over the past few years. Their choir had grown, and they had began streaming live on the internet which would explain the choir steps, the camera, and perhaps also the cosmetic addition of the pillars in the pulpit. He invites her to come along for a quick tour to see the rest of the building. She obliges but not before shaking Paul’s and telling him bye. He tells her he’ll contact her about doing some outreach planning sometime next week. He turns away to say farewell to the other new members.

Dave opens the door to the trailer for Sarah and then leads Sarah to the main church building through a side door that he unlocks. She could hear the pianist practicing perhaps for church service tomorrow. Dave gives her a quick walk-through of the church. He stops by a dozen doors or so to let her know where different classes are conducted and where the different offices are. She excused herself to the restroom before he could conclude his tour. He told her that while she was in there, he would go get what he needed so that he could return Paul’s keys.

She closes the door and after a few seconds flushes the toilet and then turns on the faucet. She didn’t really have to use the restroom, she just needed a place to freshen up. For some reason, Dave made her anxious. She reapplies her deodorant and lip chap. She was annoyed to see that a few locks of her hair were sticking straight up and had probably been sticking up even in front of Paul. Something about people made them think it was okay not to tell women with natural hair when their hair was sticking up. Natural hair did not have to mean messy hair. She reaches into her purse to get a bobby pin to control the unruly hair. She spritzes herself with a few pumps of her Curve Crush perfume before she turns off the faucet to feign washing her hands after feigning using the toilet just in case he was listening outside.

She swung open the door anxious to get back to the tour – back to Dave. Then she halted. She hears a familiar voice. She peeks slowly out of the door down the hall to the left and sees that the door Dave pointed out to her that was labeled “Associate Pastor/Treasurer” is now slightly cracked open. Inside, she can see a sliver of “Miss Louboutin” who she remembered seeing in the restroom at the concert. What was she doing here? Was she a member here also? Louboutin stepped out of view and then Sarah saw a sliver of the man who had raised the offering. His deep voice reverberated down the hall. Sarah knew she couldn’t stay in the restroom forever; she didn’t want Dave to think she was doing Number Two. But she also didn’t want to have to face the girl that Denise had Febreezed just a week ago. She would no doubt remember how Denise and her had laughed at her and her friends on their way out of the restroom. However, Sarah was not as brave without her roomie by her side.

Sarah braves up and leaves the restroom. She sees Dave heading towards her from her right and she sees Louboutin leaving the Associate Pastor’s office on her left. They both reach her just outside the restroom doors at the same time. Louboutin quickly looks Sarah up and down just as Dave puts his hand on Sarah’s left shoulder. Dave says, “Hey, Terita! What are you doing here?” “Oh, just running some errands.” Dave then introduces Terita to Sarah to which Terita shakes her head, furrows her eyebrows, and replies, “What is it with you and me and church bathrooms?” Dave has a puzzled look on his face. Terita puts her hand on Sarah’s left arm, laughs, and says, “Girl, I’m just kidding. So what are y’all doing lurking in the halls in the dark?” Dave responds, “I was just giving her a tour of the church. She just joined our church. I want her to feel at home here.” “Is that so,” Terita inquires. “Hey, did you get my text this morning?” “Yeah, I got it. I haven’t had a chance to reply yet,” Dave answered. “Well you got time to show Sally here around the church,” Terita teased, intentionally calling Sarah the wrong name. “It’s Sarah. S-A-R-A-H,” Sarah corrected with a smirk. Dave, noticing the tension, ends the conversation abruptly and tells Terita he’ll reply sometime later today.

Dave tells Sarah there are two more offices she has to visit before she can leave. He takes her by the associate pastor’s office. He knocks lightly on the door until he hears, “Come on in.” Sarah and Dave enter. Sarah immediately notices the ornate, large oak furniture. He had two 17th century style chairs facing the front of his desk. He was reclined in his cushy office chair with an open MacBook laptop illuminating his face. He had plush carpet that her feet sank into as she stepped onto it. After typing a few more keys, he closes the Mac, removes his eyeglasses, and leaves from behind his desk to approach them. “There’s someone I want you to meet. Her name is Sarah. She just joined. I was just giving her a tour of the place.”

Sarah extends her hand for his. He reaches out and gives her a firm handshake. His hands were strong, but his skin felt soft and a little damp. He squeezed her hand tightly so much so that she could feel his large gold rings pressing up against her tiny bones. It hurt just a little. He held her gaze steadily as he flashed his white veneers. He had obviously processed his hair, and Sarah was impressed that even at his age, he had his full hairline. He seemed the type to get hair plugs had his hair thinned. His expensive, overpowering cologne flooded Sarah’s nostrils. He wore a double-breasted suit and alligator shoes. It was obvious that this man worked out.

“Hey, pretty lady. We’re glad to have you as part of the Deliverance family. You look so familiar. Which high school do you attend?” “Actually, I’m 27, sir,” Sarah corrected him. “Well, it’s a blessing to look so young. Your size probably makes you look younger too. Most women in the late twenties start to swell if you know what I mean.” He chuckles. Sarah laughs nervously. Dave looks off to his left. “Well, it’s nice to meet you, pretty lady. I must get back to work. A pastor’s work is never done. I’m working out this budget. I’ll see you around.”

Dave opens the door behind them to escort Sarah out. Just before she leaves, she glances behind her. She had only looked to the left side of the office, but she didn’t have a chance to see the right side. In the back corner, she sees what looks like a twin-sized bed. Dave notices her looking. “I see you eyeing that bed. It’s strange, huh? Pastor Judd works so late at church sometimes that he just spends the night in his office. He lives across town and decided it would be more convenient to just stay here at times.”

Sarah dismisses it as Dave leads her into his office. His desk is strewn with YPWW booklets, teen study bibles, and worksheets. He has an open closet of blazers and dress shirts against the back wall. She notices a copy of James’ Tapp and Lecrae’s CDs on his desk.

“This is the end of the tour, ma’am. Please excuse my office. I’ve just been so busy I haven’t had time to straighten up. I’m not the neatest person. I guess being raised up with a nanny will do that to you. But yep, this is my office for now.” “For now?” Sarah asks for elaboration. “Yeah, my mom says it’s time for me to upgrade. She says God has greater for me.” “What does she have in mind?” “Well, my grandfather – her father – founded this church. When my parents married, my grandfather gave the church to my dad. But when they divorced, my mom and granddad decided the church had began a new era and that it needed a fresh face as pastor. They say my dad’s time is nearing an end. They said the word for this year is, “Out With the Old, In With the New”. I don’t know how I feel about that. I agree that greater is coming, but I don’t know if I’m ready yet.” “Wow. That is a lot of pressure. Paul said this is a thousand-member church. I know I couldn’t pastor that many people at my age,” Sarah said. “I mean, I’ve practically been groomed for birth to take over at some point, so I’m not scared. It’s just that it feels weird to replace my dad,” Dave “Yeah, I can see how that would feel weird,” Sarah sympathized.

Dave reclines in his chair and intertwines his fingers, “So enough about me, tell me about yourself. You seem so reserved. I want to know a little about you,” Dave said. “Well, what do you want to know? There’s a lot about me. I don’t know where to begin. That’s something you just have to find out over time. I’m a woman with many secrets,” Sarah teases. Dave smiles. He stands up, “Well, I guess I’ll just have to stick around to find out. Come on, let’s get out of here.” He puts his hand on the small of her back walking her towards the hall which sent a chill through her body. He had to have known that would happen. Sarah tried to keep her composure.

As they headed out into the hallway to walk to Sarah’s car, Sarah peers to her right. She sees the choir director quietly slip into the associate pastor’s office and close the door. She furrows her eyebrows in confusion when she hears what sounds like the click of a door lock.

Church Hurts: Chapter 2 – “Gospel Concert”

Chapter 2 – Gospel Concert

The rain stops just as Sarah is leaving the drugstore parking lot to head home. Sarah pulls into the narrow driveway of her duplex. She sees her roommate’s black Camaro parked askew which forces her to squeeze her way in with the left side of the car skimming the grass. She slams her door and tip toes gingerly in the muddy grass as there was no room to walk on the gravel. “I’mma get Denise for this,” she mutters under her breath while shaking her head.

“Honey, I’m home!” she playfully exclaims to Denise. Denise is just getting out of the shower wearing her robe with a towel wrapped around her hair and piled high like a turban. She has a toothbrush wedged in her mouth as she flashes Sarah a frothy smile.

“Eww, Denise! Nasty put some clothes on! And don’t be showing me all that toothpaste in your mouth!” Sarah goes on to tell Denise how much she enjoyed church. Then she proceeds to tell Denise about the two cute men she met. Denise raises her eyebrows to denote more interest. She could care less about the service, she wanted to see about getting Sarah a man. She rinses out her mouth and sits attentively on the couch for the details. “Ooh, girl! Tell me about the men. Were any chocolate?”

Sarah laughed. Well, one was. Well, not really chocolatey. He was more like was coffee. The other was light-skinned. Both were cute though. But I’m not trying to get involved in nothing right now. I’m working on me. Plus, I still have unfinished business as you know.”

“Did you get the morning-after-pill?” Denise inquired switching to a more serious face. “Yes, girl. Just in time,” Sarah replied. “Had I been 10 minutes later, it would have been a problem. A WHOLE problem. I shouldn’t have waited so late. They only give you 48 hours to take the durn thing, but I was feeling cheap. Those pills cost $40 a pop!”

“Girl, I know first hand. Those pharmacists know me on a first name basis. When they see me coming, they head back to get it. Haha! Maybe I should get on birth control.”

Sarah remarked, “Me too, but I want to be abstinent. I feel like getting birth control will serve as my license to sin.”

Denise retorted, “Girl, sex is not a sin. God made it. It’s beautiful It’s His gift to mankind.” Sarah replied, “No, it’s His gift to married people. And I don’t want to be partaking of something that’s not meant for me at this time. A gift out of time is worse than not getting a gift at all,” Sarah’s voice faded out. Denise rolled her eyes. “All I know is that if God didn’t want single people having sex, He wouldn’t given us the equipment and the know-how.”

Sarah couldn’t agree with that. She had been raised in church all of her life. Her parents had brought her up in a traditional, holiness church. Everything was a sin there. Drinking, smoking, cursing, and especially sex before marriage. Her father had even made her and her sister wear skirts as little girls because the small country church they were raised up in as children was stricter than most churches. The women were dissuaded from wearing make-up and even extensions. They didn’t even care for them to wear flashy jewelry nor arch their eyebrows. So even though things had changed in her denomination over the years and they had become more open-minded, she still felt a stinging guilt whenever she engaged in premarital sex. Her roommate had always teased her by calling her, “Saved, Single, and Having Sex” after some book they had come across in a bookstore one day. It was humorous, but it still left her feeling convicted.

But Sarah didn’t want to repeat that conversation with Denise. Denise already knew her upbringing. But furthermore, Sarah didn’t tell her the REAL reason she had waited so long to take the emergency contraceptive. It was because up until early that Sunday morning, she had thought they maybe she WANTED to get pregnant with her ex’s child. Maybe it would put an end to all that making up and breaking up. They say the first break never takes, but in her case neither had the second, the third, or the fourth. She just couldn’t get Jason out of her system. And she wasn’t sure that she wanted to. She loved him and had loved him since she was 20. But she realized early that Sunday morning, that this wasn’t a match made in heaven.

Denise interrupted her wandering thoughts by mentioning that she was going to the James Tapp gospel concert in a few hours. Sarah exclaimed, “Oh, really?! Why didn’t you tell me?! You know how much I love him.” Denise replied, “You can still come. It’s not too late. It’s gonna be a few other gospel artists performing there to.” Sarah said, “But I don’t have a ticket. Money has been tight. I had to spend the would-have-been ticket money on that pill remember? And I don’t get paid ’til next Friday.” Denise grinned and said, well you’re in luck. Charron just text me saying she couldn’t make it. Her trifling babysitter couldn’t come through. So she has to stay home and watch Trevor. So it appears I have an extra ticket for anyone who’s interested…”

Sarah gave Denise a big hug and ran upstairs to find something to wear. She’d be wearing the heels tonight. She knew that black gospel concerts doubled as fashion shows. Besides, maybe meeting some more cute men would help her to get over Jason. She raided her closet for something to wear. She was looking for something in particular. She wanted something modest, but something that would also get some male attention. At this point, she didn’t care whether it was negative or positive. Besides, she also knew that whenever you went with Denise somewhere, you had to come correct. Denise had naturally good looks. Typical to her Native American descent, she had long, flowing hair to her waist, fair skin, and high cheekbones. She was also a certified fashionista. It was hard not to be overlooked when going out with Denise. Sarah decided on the high-waisted skirt pencil skirt. The skirt accentuated her narrow waist and gave her the illusion of hips which she was not naturally blessed with. She donned a button-down white long-sleeve blouse made of chiffon. She accented it with the black, patent leather Jessica Simpson pumps with a buckle around the ankle. She applied a glittery MAC lip gloss and a thin black eyeliner to give her a simple beauty. On second thought, she decided to accent her full lips with a deep red matte lipstick. She had prided herself on being au naturel. She wasn’t much for foundation and such. She had clear skin and didn’t need it anyway, but she wore the lipstick to help her to stand out. When both roommates were done, they stepped into Denise’s sports car, inserted the newest Lecrae CD to get them in the gospel music mood, and sped off towards the concert.

***

As they neared the huge downtown church building housing the concert, they marveled at the large crowds that were heading towards the main entrance. Just as she had expected, there was fashion. Dozens of male twenty-somethings strutted about cockily dressed in narrow, well-tailored suits, bright bow-ties with matching pocket handkerchiefs, a long, curve-toed Stacy Adams. Most of the men had either well-oiled and well-brushed waves or freshly-twisted dreadlocks braided back into ponytails and buns. Likewise, the females pranced about in their Christian Louboutin look-a-likes, various assortment of fishnet stockings, and brightly-colored dresses, skirts, and blouses. Everyone was smiling as they crossed from group to group to meet up with familiar faces. The younger girls talked and laughed loudly to get the attention of the nearby huddles of young boys who were discreetly eying them.

Denise and Sarah hurriedly brushed past the crowds towards the doors with their tickets in plain view. While the others were congregating, they wanted to get good seats and to freshen their make-up. They went into the nearest women’s room which was filled with young women primping and preening themselves in the row of mirrors that lined the wall opposite of the toilets. Denise disappeared into one of the empty stalls.

The restroom was bustling with the women competing for mirror space. Of all the women three stood out in particular. They apparently had come together. One was taller than the others. She was shapely. She wore red fishnet stockings to coincide with the long red Remy extensions she had cascading down her shoulders in loose curls. She leaned over the sink in the mirror to apply some matte red lipstick. She then stood up to pull down her tight white dress. The friend to her left was a few inches shorter. She was petite, about the same size of Sarah, so she couldn’t have been over 110 lbs. She likewise wore a tight dress only it was black. She wore a red blazer with the sleeves rolled up just below her elbow. She had her hair shaved low on one side and the other side was full with wavy weave down in front of her shoulder. Unlike the women outside, she had real Louboutins. Sarah wondered if she had the money to buy them herself or if maybe she had to do a favor or two to get them. The third friend was stocky. She had thick long braids that were swept up on top of her head in a neat bun. She was the louder of the three. She had on black tights with a sheer button-down shirt that barely met the top of her tights. Beneath her shirt, you could somewhat see her bra. Sarah wondered if she should tell the lady, but something told her it was intentionally exposed. She had a cute face, but had wore so much contouring make-up it was distracting. The stocky friend playfully nudged the smallest one so that she could see the mirror to reapply her lip gloss. “Girl, move yo skinny butt out the way! You been in the mirror every since we got in here.” The small one replied, “Niecy, you don’t need a mirror to put on lip gloss as big as your lips are. I need to make sure my eyebrows are drawn on straight. The left one looks thicker than the right.” The tallest one seemed oblivious to their conversation. She was too focused on her impressive waist-to-hip ratio. She said to her two friends, “Girls, does this dress make my butt look big?” “The petite friend said, “Yup. Kim Kardashian big.” To that the tall friend smiled and said, “Perfect. Just the look I was going for. Who knows? I might meet my Kanye here tonight.” Her eyes never left her reflection in the mirror as she made different angles making pouty lips.

When Denise came out of her stall, she said excuse me to the three young ladies so that she could wash her hands. The stocky friend replied, “Excuse me,” only it was not in a polite manner. Denise shrugged her shoulders and proceeded to wash her hands. She powdered her slim nose and smoothed down her long hair. When she finished, the three stooges looked at each other and laughed. Denise, not to be outdone, grabbed a can of air freshener and asked Sarah, “Ooh, girl, do you smell that? It stinks in here!” Denise expelled an excessive amount of the air freshener high above the three women’s heads and put down the can. Her and Sarah laughed out loud as they let the bathroom door slam behind them.

Just as they claim their seats, Sarah immediately recognizes the voice of the emcee. It’s the Dave guy from church. “Look, Denise! That’s one of the dudes I was telling you about that I met at church. Ain’t he fine?!”

Dave lifts the mic off the stand and says, “Good afternoon, Saints, and welcome to our Annual Youth Day Gospel Concert! Let me hear you make some noise! Come on now. I know you all can do better than that! These men have come from all over the country to show some love for the youth of Memphis. We even have a Grammy-nominated, Stellar-award winning artist who could have been performing at sold-out concerts in L.A., Atlanta, New York, Houston, wherever, but he decided to put on a show for half the price as a favor to my grandfather and as a token of their love for the Memphis youth and young adults. Half of the proceeds will go to five lucky seniors as scholarships. And we will announce who they are after the concert, so stay until we do that. As some of you may know, I am the Youth Pastor of New Jerusalem which is located just three blocks down the street. Our church was founded by my grandfather Bishop Norris L. Hendrickson. It is currently pastored by my father Sal Hendrickson. Make sure you all come visit some time. But that’s just my plug in. But you all didn’t come to hear about me and my church, you came here to hear these gospel stars. We have a few new artists who will open for the main artist, none other than the Mr. James Sapp! So without further ado, let’s hear a loud round of applause for the first performers, the Hope Boiz!”

The huge crowd goes wild. The Hope Boiz was a new gospel rap group that had recently been shot into fame with their latest album, “From the Trap House to the Church House”. They were all very handsome men who despite their cheesy stage name were very talented. Wherever they went, the women were sure to follow. They were the best of both worlds. So many church girls wanted bad boys, but they also wanted saved boys. They wanted the badness that came with Dope Boys, but they wanted church boys too to please their parents. They dressed like thugs. They were tatted up, they wore sagging pants, and they spoke in slang. It wasn’t Sarah’s taste in men, but apparently it appealed to many other church women.

After the Hope Boiz did their most popular songs followed by a couple of new ones, a couple of other local artists sang a couple of selections. Sarah and Denise and the others were having a great time, but all were waiting anxiously for when it would be time for James Tapp to perform. The crowd went even wilder than before. James Tapp was a cool metrosexual type. He dressed like many of the men in Sarah’s denomination did. He wore a very finely tailored suit. Even from the tenth row, Sarah could see that the suit couldn’t have been less than a $2,000. Beneath the suit jacket, he wore a crisp, white and grey polka dot shirt whose cuffs and collar perfectly matched his socks. He wore diamond cuff links that glistened in the overhead stage lights. It shined just as much as his platinum and diamond wedding band. His light-skinned face was neatly shaven with a low beard and mustache. He had long dreadlocks that were gathered into a low ponytail. The locks swung back and forth as he walked the stage singing and leaving the audience in amazement and awe. Around her, Sarah could hear the men and women alike marveling at his sense of style and his smooth voice. He couldn’t hit a bad note if he was paid to. He had a range like Jessica Reedy and could hit runs like J. Moss. He performed even better than Sarah had expected. Denise and Sarah snapped away with their camera phones and made frequent picture posts on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook to their followers and friends who were unable to attend. What a great way to end what started off as such a bad day for Sarah.

After the concert had ended and the five seniors had received their scholarships, Sarah and Denise filed out into the hallway. After a few minutes, Sarah was pleasantly surprised to run into Dave. He smiled at her and gave her a hug. “Didn’t think I’d see you twice in one day,” Dave said. Sarah introduced him to her roommate, and they all talked about how much they enjoyed the concert. As they stood around people-watching, Dave excused himself. Said something about having to make a quick call to see if the limo was waiting outside for James Tapp. After confirming that it was, he put his focus back on the two roommates. He asked if he could walk them to their car. Sarah obliged. They walked into the brisk evening air just in time to see James Tapp duck into the waiting limo. He cracked his window to thank Dave. The three walked to the black Camaro, and Dave opened Sarah’s door for her and then shut her door behind her. She lowered her window to thank him again. He reminded her of the new membership class which would be this Saturday at noon if she cared to join the church. They all exchanged good-byes.

While Denise looked through her purse for her phone charger, Sarah smiled while humming some of the Hope Boiz lyrics. She looked in the side-view mirror and noticed a limousine pulling up behind them. It was James Tapp’s limo. After a few brief moments, she saw a familiar face. It was the shapely redhead she saw in the restroom. Where were her two flunkies? Sarah kept looking in the side-view mirror. After quickly looking over her shoulders, the redhead smiled mischievously as she crawled into the back of the limousine.