Church Hurts: Chapter 6 – “Birthday Girl”

Chapter 6 – Birthday Girl

Terita pressed 7 on her cellphone to buzz in her guests at the gate. She had invited about 30 people to her birthday get-together and about fifteen were here so far. And of course, some of those guests took the liberty to invite a few other friends so she expected many more people. She was glad she had asked the caterer to bring extra food. Every time she pressed 7, she waited anxiously for Dave to knock at the door. But still no sight of him. He had replied to her text late Saturday night saying that he would try to attend. But she needed him to be here. She had long-term plans for him. And they began tonight.

She looked back at her bedroom mirror to reapply her hot pink lipstick. She looked flawless. Her dark-almond shaped eyes sparkled as she batted her thick false lashes at her reflection. Her smile revealed two perfect rows of neat, white teeth thanks to the thousands she had paid for veneers two years back. She had two dimples perforating the center of her cheek. She had three earrings in a row in her left ear – the side with the short hair. She had curled the long side of her hair into ringlets which cascaded down her face and shoulder with variegated highlights. Her beautician had told her she would run the risk of looking “ghetto” with the hair color, but Terita just shrugged. What the hey? It was Memphis. When in Rome, she had told her.

When she heard a knock at the door, she heard one of the attendants say, “Who is it? Oh, hey, it’s Dave, y’all! The door’s unlocked.” Her smile became wider and her dimples became deeper. She slipped out of her flats and into her high-heeled hot pink, bejeweled Christian Louboutin pumps. She knew her strut would get her the attention she wanted.

She turned the corner out of her bedroom into her front room. She exclaimed, “Hi, Dave! I’m glad you could make it. She gave him a big hug as he told her happy birthday. He handed her a card. She wondered if there was money in it but knew it would be tacky to check right now. She’d wait. She told him to grab a plate and to get something to eat. After he did so and greeted the guests who were all mutual friends of theirs, he sat on a stool at the bar counter between her kitchen and front room. Terita sat down beside him. Lucky for her, there were only two barstools there, so that would greatly decrease their chances of being interrupted.

“I’m so glad you could make it,” Terita beamed at him like an outgoing five-year old. She laid her hand on the back of his hand to drive home the point. “Well, of course I’d be here. You know you and me go way back.” Terita had been the girlfriend of one of Dave’s closest friends back in high school. They were known as the popular church kids who had nice clothes and well-educated parents. There was a group of nine of them that hung out all the time. Most of them were musicians or singers. Terita was talented in liturgical dance. Dave could play the guitar well, but he was most popular for having the richest granddad in the county. They went to private schools and vacation bible school together every summer. They attended the most anticipated revivals in the city together. They dated the most popular, well-dressed, most talented, and wealthiest of the church “elite”.

Church Elitism was quite obvious in their denomination. It was something like a caste system. A social order so speak. At the bottom were the poorest. They dressed most modestly. The women typically wore ankle-length jean skirts and flats. Their women and girls frequented inexpensive clothing stores like Cato’s, Simply Fashions, and Rainbow. They would wear their relaxed hair in low ponytails or home-rolled curls. Some would wear outdated hairstyles like fingerwaves and pompadours. They were humble, but tended to be more judgmental. They usually came from small towns in the Dirty South or the Midwest. And because they came from small towns, they had small town mindsets.

Next in pecking order were the middle-class bunch. They could afford to shop at stores at the mall and outlets. They were usually college-educated. They worked from paycheck to paycheck just as the poorer one’s did only without any government assistance only they had decent paychecks. Some would usually look in pity at the lower “caste” and look up in admiration and aspiration at the upper class.

And then there was the upper echelon. This was where people like Dave and Terita resided. They were the sons and granddaughters of jurisdictional bishops, their parents and uncles were politicians and successful business owners in their cities, most of the people they associated with had master’s or doctoral level degrees. They lived in neighborhoods often as the sole black family on their block. And they wore this privilege proudly. They had tailor-made suits, they could afford real animal skins for coats, shoes, and purses, and they shopped solely at boutiques or either had their clothes custom-made. Their memberships were coveted because their tithes alone were enough to sustain the church more than 200 of the other members’ tithes could. They had the highest titles in the denomination. They married the most beautiful women of etiquette. Their women were members of social clubs and their menfolk were members of exclusive country clubs.

Everyone at Terita’s birthday party was of the higher order. There was Barry the church pianist from the megachurch down the street. His father was pastor there. There was Sheila who had just graduated from Harvard law school following in her mother’s footsteps. There was Marcus who had been successful at opening a male suits clothing store with fine suits that he and his twin brother designed and sold to gospel artists. Lucinda was there. She was a niece of her aunt who was also a member of a famous gospel group that started in the late 80’s. Her aunt had raised her when he mother had died unexpectantly when she was five. Anthony’s father had just been re-elected as the Memphis City School’s superintendent; it was his third term. He saw to it that Anthony never had to pay a bill. Melissa and her sister Megan sat on the couch sipping their punch. They were somewhat antisocial. Their claim to fame was a father and mother who had graduated from MIT as engineers. They were just as smart and withdrawn as their parents.

And then there was Terita. Her dwindling wealth came from her charismatic charm with successful and prosperous men. Terita was brought up poor, but fortunately she had good looks and a great personality. She used these assets to her advantage. She had met a much, much older widowed bishop who was quite lucky in the stock markets. He wanted a PYT to share his riches with. Terita heeded the call. She saw this as her chance to ascend the church ranks. Her plan worked as they always had. After a brief marriage that ended in his timely death from old age, Terita was a young widow who had inherited all of his wealth being as her deceased husband had no children or any other beneficiaries. He had loved her and would have left her everything even if he had had children. However, her shopping addiction did not afford her any wise spending habits so she was losing money hand over first. Whereas before she had enough to last her for a lifetime, she now only had enough to last her the next five years or so. And she had no intentions of slowing down. She had to find a new donor. Dave looked as if he’d fit the part. She was no longer heralded as the youngest bishop’s wife. To be in the elite, it was not enough just to have money and nice possessions. You had to currently hold a high title or be known for your skill at a thing. Terita knew she did not want to go down in church history as the old bishop’s widow who excelled at church mime until she died old, wrinkly, broke, and alone. She figured this time that she ought not just to marry rich, but to marry rich and young. Her mistake was that she had married rich and old. And as much as that man loved her, she didn’t care that the old man had passed. She was disgusted every time he touched her. Every time she went to bed with him, she had to remind herself to do it for the money.

“Happy Birthday, Terita! So, Terita, when’s the last time you talked to Stephen?” Dave was referring to his friend, her ex. “Oh, it’s funny you ask. He sent me a happy birthday message on Facebook as soon as it was midnight.” “Oh, well that’s cool. You do know he’s single now. Things didn’t work out with that Marissa girl. She was too clingy. Called the man all day. Asking what he ate, who he was hanging out with, and all kinda questions. He had to let her go. But yeah. He asked me about you the other day,” Dave said trying to do as Stephen had asked in trying to hook them back up with each other. “That’s interesting. Marissa did seem kind of stalker-ish. But as far as I’m concerned, I’m kinda interested in another guy. No offense, but I’m kind of over him. The past is the past. Like your granddad says, ‘Out with the old, in with the new.’ I’m looking at something new.” “Oh, really? And who just might this be?” Dave inquired curiously. “You know the guy. He’s real cute,” Terita hinted. “Is it that Derek guy who’s been visiting our church lately?” “No, not him. Don’t try to guess because I’m not going to tell you who it is. Not yet. Real soon though.” Terita grinned.

Interrupting their conversation was Anthony bearing a red velvet cake with sparkling candles covered with fondant icing in the replica of a Louis Vuitton bag. She beamed from ear to ear as her wealthy friends belted out an ethnic rendition of the happy birthday song. They surrounded her as she closed her eyes and a made a wish. She only hoped Dave would cooperate in fulfilling it.

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