Secrets Amongst Friends Excerpt


CHAPTER ONE

Naomi sat in the back seat of her parents’ car, staring out the window, apprehensively studying the small towns they passed through. Her father, Mark Marshall, was moving from Michigan to Arkansas to pastor at Greater Faith Church. Her grandfather, Elder Robert Jamerson, the pastor of Greater Faith, had passed away. With the Bishop unable to find a suitable replacement to pastor the church, Mark telephoned and offered his services.

Elder Jamerson had always been like a father to Mark. It was the Elder who had saved him, who had introduced him to God at an age when influence could take a child in either direction. It was under the Elder’s care when he met Naomi’s mother, Patricia, the Elder’s own daughter. When Mark graduated high school, a football scholarship sent him to Flint, Michigan, but four years later his heart led him back to Patricia. Within a week of their reuniting they were married, and Patricia left Arkansas and moved to Flint, so the two could start building a life together.

Since her father’s passing, Patricia reluctantly agreed to move back to Arkansas after several months of prayer for much needed direction. She understood why Mark felt it his duty to accept the Bishop’s request to not just make him acting Pastor, but to hold the position permanently at Greater Faith. According to the Bishop, the congregation and clergy needed familiarity, and since Mark has literally spent every available hour at the church, in both Arkansas as well as Michigan, he would be the right choice to lead the congregation’s faith through these trying times, and on into the future.

“Do we really have to move all the way to Little Rock?” Naomi asked with a pout on her face.

At fifteen, all Naomi knew was Flint. It had always been her home, where her entire life was at. All her friends, and Bradley. Just the thought of him sent her nearly to tears. It wasn’t fair that she didn’t have at least a say in something as huge as moving and starting an entirely different life in another state. Of course she had visited Arkansas a few times, but she would never have imagined living there. The place too quiet and boring. There was nothing there for her to look forward to.

“Yes,” Patricia replied. “They need your father to pastor granddaddy’s church.” The mere mention of her father brought Patricia a sense of grief that pierced her heart to the core. So many things she wished that she would have said to him, so many unanswered questions. She braced herself as a flood of childhood memories played in her mind.

As she drifted into moments of yester-year, she began to feel like that adolescent again, and Patricia dreaded having to face history. She prayed long and hard for the strength to keep on. Fighting back more tears that welled up in the corners of her eyes, she took a slow deep breath and let God’s grace be the fuel of her perseverance. “Heavenly Father, please give me the power to not only face this, but endure it for as long as I must, for I know that your word is more important than my fears,” she whispered to herself.

“Is everything alright, baby?” Mark asked rubbing his wife’s arm. He felt reassured when Patricia covered his hand with hers. He knew that she hurt, but he also knew that together, they would all get through this. Mark glanced through the rear-view mirror at his daughter with a smile. “I think that you’re going to love it out here. You’ll see, wait until you meet the rest of the congregation. Watch and see how fast they become like family.”

Naomi gave her father a fake smile, and continued to stare out of the window. Practically born in the church, she was comforted with the fact that her father felt so highly about the congregation. Yet, as a teenager, she couldn’t fight the void that widened at the fact that she had friends whom she would miss very much. Still, the changes her life would take, the mystery in it, left her both frightened, as well as curious.

They made it to Little Rock, Arkansas a little past noon. After another fifteen minutes of commuting through quiet residential streets they arrived at a huge two-story brick affair with navy-blue shutters around each window. The porch spanned the width of the house and held a porch-swing. Naomi swept the scene of the still neighborhood before turning back to the large house. This was going to be home.

The two houses on either side were much smaller and made theirs stand out, especially with the two car garage and curved driveway. Mark pulled the car onto the drive and killed the engine.

The front door opened onto the foyer and the hardwood floors creaked underneath them as they entered. The place smelled of past times and fresh paint. A curved staircase lined a side wall and led to the second level. The house had three bedrooms and two and a half baths. The basement could be entered through the kitchen. It was a huge kitchen with a center island, and a spread of counter tops and cabinets. The dining area was set adjacent, with the guest bedroom and half bath off to the side with the living room just beyond.

The living room was styled with a molded fireplace and accented with a large chandelier hung in its center.

The second level of the house held the two bedrooms and two bathrooms, one common, and the other inside of the Master Bedroom. There was an entrance to the ceiling at the far end of the hall which led to the attic.

As everyone explored the house and returned to the kitchen, Patricia felt a budding excitement quell her angst, “Honey, this looks better than the pictures.”

“I had renovators come in so they could enhance a few things.” He turned with a smile. “Now you can start up that catering business that you have always wanted to do.”

“It’s perfect,” she said sliding her fingers between her husband’s and squeezing his hand. They lingered for a time, Mark allowing his wife to take in everything. Patricia was very impressed with the appliances, and there was even a small TV with internet access underneath one of the cabinets. She turned and kissed her husband on the cheek.

“Maybe I could help out until we get settled in,” he said pulling his wife into his arms.

“Or not.” Patricia teased, smiling for the first time in a long time. She did love Mark, with all her heart. “You won’t be able to spend more than a few days away from the church, and you know it.”

Mark had to concede that point, “Well, maybe we at least organize a housewarming party and invite everyone over. That way you can reunite with old acquaintances and perhaps begin building some clientele.”

“Now that sounds like a plan.” Patricia’s mind recalled faces from her younger years in school, around her old neighborhood, unfortunately, some of those faces reminded her of why she’d left in the first place. She brushed it out of her mind and focused on the person that made Flint, Michigan the only other place she wanted to go.

After everyone familiarized themselves with their new home and given every room a name, it was time to unpack a few things. Naomi would take the bedroom closest to the bathroom, and was glad that she would have her privacy since her parents had their own bathroom in their room. Naomi let out a yelp when she saw the walk-in closet, and immediately made plans to fill it to capacity.

It took the better half of the day to unpack and get everything situated. Naomi helped her mother make dinner as her father invited some of the town folk, who had showed up to welcome the new neighbors; perhaps also to be a little nosy. Within the hour dinner was ready, and the visitors were invited to eat with the Marshall family.

As the group dined, the house became filled with the nurturing energy of laughter and conversation between family and guests. Everyone was surprisingly getting along quite nicely. Patricia had even gotten a few names and phone numbers of others within the community who might be interested in utilizing her catering skills.

As the evening came to a close the guests thanked the family for a lovely meal. The only question left was whether to clean the kitchen now or wait until morning.

Naomi and Patricia sighed staring at the dreadful mess. “Well, I guess it’s time for me to go to bed. Growing child, can’t stay up too late.”

“Oh no you don’t.” But Naomi was quick, and was already up the stairs. Now Patricia took a long look at the kitchen trying to find her own excuse. Naomi had been through enough so Patricia decided to allow her this escape and she painstakingly began scraping food out of the plates.

“I’ll help.”

Patricia was startled at the voice that came from behind her. She thought that everyone had left. When she turned she saw Juanita Benson, the lady from right next door. Patricia gave her an inviting smile, “Well, thank you. I really would appreciate another pair of hands.”

Juanita was a petite woman with a fair complexion and beautiful jet-black hair. Besides a slightly worn look in her eyes one would never have been able to tell that she was thirty-six. The woman was quite beautiful.

Patricia was a very attractive woman herself. A bit older, she still held a near perfect shape with her tall frame. Perhaps not as slim as she once was, she was able to maintain her coke bottle figure by keeping physically fit since college. Long dark-brown hair framed a face of smooth almond covered skin. At thirty-nine, she felt that she didn’t look a day over twenty-five.

“You have a lovely home,” Juanita remarked admirably.

“Thanks. I can’t wait for the rest of the furniture to arrive so we could really get settle in.”

“So, a caterer, huh?” Juanita asked while pre-rinsing plates from the stack. Her cellphone rang and she gave it a quick glance then silenced it, “The food tonight was delicious, I mean it, everything. I’m sure you’ll be a wonderful caterer.”

“Thank you,” Patricia took plates from Juanita as she passed them and filled the dishwasher. “I will be doing something that I love. Plus my mother would cater all the church events when I was young. I guess I inherited her love for cooking.”

“Michigan. So, what brings you guys her to Arkansas?”

“Actually, I was born and raised here. After my father, Reverend Jamerson passed away, my husband and I decided to move back home. So here we are.” Patricia didn’t mind the questions. She understood new faces with old stories they’d left behind. In a quiet town, efficacy was a major collective contribution by residents wanting their town to remain quiet. Besides, she felt the exact same way. “Tell me something about yourself. Have you always lived here?”

“I’ve lived here about ten years.”

“Is it just you?”

“No. My husband Joe, he’s welder. And my daughter, Mya. She’ll be a junior this year. My daughter and I moved here from Texas. Joe has lived here all his life.”

Patricia noticed that their daughters were about the same age. “Mya. That’s a pretty name. I would like to meet her, maybe introduce her to Naomi.”

“I would love for Mya to meet a nice girl like Naomi. It would be good for her. Maybe your daughter could rub off on mine.” Juanita silenced her phone for the second time, this time fostering a look of ease as she continued, “I sear, that girl can really get beside herself sometimes.”

“Well, you know how teenage girls can be. We were once their age,” Patricia said with an encouraging air as she reflected moments of her younger years.

The women shared some experiences with each other realizing they had more in common than they thought. They both were on cheerleading squads, and both held offices in their class. Before long they were done cleaning, and the two women plopped down on the large sectional in the living room. Juanita took a deep breath and allowed herself a moment to luxuriate within the plush cushions. Then with a sigh she rose again. Her phone rang once more and she said, “I really have to go.”

The question of who was calling was at the tip of Patricia’s tongue, but she swallowed it back. She can’t be getting all up in people’s business, especially those whom she had only known for a few hours. Still, a subtle feeling of unrest persisted as she showed her guest out and bid her farewell. Then exhaustion returned, and Patricia thought about that tub, and hypnotically headed toward the stairs. She was glad this day was done.

***

Juanita walked through her front door and headed straight for her recliner and reared it backward. She had to go to work at the nursing home in a few hours, and needed some time to relax.

Lately, Juanita questioned more and more how long this overwork was going to last. It had been seven years already, that she’d had to work two jobs just to hold together a home that was breaking down from the inside out.

Mya. Juanita thought about their last argument, and the slap that she wished she could have taken back as soon as her hand fell across her daughter’s face. She had never hit her child before, and promised never to do so again. But Mya knew how to test her patience some kind of bad. “Momma, I miss so much. I wish you were here to help me now,” she whispered.

“I was calling you, mother.” Mya was at the end of the hallway, her hair was wrapped in a towel, and her expression was of pure resentment.

Juanita eyed her daughter. Such unjustifiable anger. She recalled Patricia’s claim of having been young also, but Juanita couldn’t remember ever being so angry all the time. And her childhood was far from a comfortable one. “Where’s Joe?”

Mya rolled her eyes, “Not here, thank God.”

Juanita wondered where he could have went, but was silently relieved that he was gone. She had no energy for him at all. Then she notice the towel, “You took another shower?”

“Is there a law against that?”

A sigh, “No, I was just asking.”

“The real question is why you didn’t answer your phone. Anything could have happened to me. Don’t you even care?”

Juanita narrowed her eyes, “What happened? What’s wrong, Mya?”

A face that wanted to say something faded into a contemptuous glare, “Now you want to know, huh? Well, it’s a little too late now isn’t it, mother?”

Right there, that is what makes Juanita want to smack her daughter’s face. But she took a deep breath and whispered herself some patience. Teenagers. As she watched her daughter stomp up the stairs a part of her wanted to follow after her, to try and comfort her, to at least try and understand what was wrong with her, but Juanita was so tired. She shouldn’t have even went to the neighbor’s home, but meet and greet was what she had committed to when she first moved into the neighborhood. Still, she felt like some nosy neighbor, and even more-so felt guilty because while she was being nosy her daughter was trying to contact her. Perhaps she had missed a much needed opportunity and that made Juanita’s last moments of consciousness fill with feelings of being a failure as a mother. Then like that she was asleep.

CHAPTER TWO

Naomi awakened to the aroma of bacon and coffee, eggs and buttered toast. The muffled sounds of activity, the hums of her mother as she made her way around the kitchen, it emanated made her feel as if she was in her old home in Michigan. This was how the weekends began in the Marshall family home, and it worked in making this place feel like just that…home.

Naomi took a deep breath, inhaling the mouthwatering smell of breakfast. Peeling the covers back, she turned and sat on the side of the bed, and rubbed the sleep from her eyes. The foreign feel of a new house in another state seeped in as she focused on the disarray of boxes and furniture out of place. Unpacking meant facing the reality of this life and the thought brought a flood of faces from the one lived just a day before which now felt like it was a world away. Now there would be a new school, new faces, and her as the new girl. This was something that needed to be unpacked all in itself. As far as her belongings, Naomi would empty each box and bring order to the disarray; and with that she would face her future. Just not that day, but definitely some time before the end of the summer.

She slid her feet into her purple slippers, and curled her toes into the soft plush of the insole. The smell in the air made her stomach growl. Walking into the hall, the morning sunlight beamed through the sliding glass doors that led to the balcony. It shed calm across the neutral colors of the interior walls. She walked over and leaned against the glass and took in the blue sky beyond while reflecting the old house they’d just left. A large part of her was still there, yet a small piece felt she could grow accustomed to waking up like this also. Perhaps Arkansas wouldn’t be so bad after all.

Naomi made it to the newel post and stretched before hoping down the flight two steps at a time. When she made it to into the kitchen she was surprised to see a grey-haired woman humming that familiar tune her at the stove, “Grandma?” Naomi beamed, “I thought you were mom. She hums that same tune.”

“Where do you think she got it from?” Her grandmother, Margerie said before smiling wide and turning as she wiped her hands on her apron.

The last time Naomi saw her grandmother it was under terrible circumstances. And loss was the mood in this house, and Naomi was reminded of it as soon as she saw her grandmother’s still beautiful face, it was there, and Naomi reached over and gave her a big warm hug. “I’m so sorry, grandma.”

Margerie was struck with emotions at her granddaughter’s show of affection, “I am too. But I’m also glad to see you, baby.”

“Are you staying with us, grandma? Are you going to be living with us here?”

A smile spread across Margerie’s face, “No, baby, but I will be close. Close to you that is.”

Naomi looked at the food, “This looks good.” As soon as she was seated at the table and served she scooped a spoon full of eggs and shoved them in her mouth. Then she turned to see her mother walk in from the hall.

“Momma?” Patricia said entering the kitchen. She was surprised to see her mother, “How did you get in?”

“Mark let me in. I had to come by and bring him the keys to the church. I knew that he would not be able to go a day without going over to that church.”

“I want to go with him,” Naomi said. It had been so long and she wanted to get out of the house anyway for a while.

Patricia hugged her mother as she answered her daughter, “Are you sure you want to go now? You know how your father is, there will be plenty of work to do.” As she sat next to her daughter, Patricia’s mother turned to begin preparing another plate. That was when Patricia popped Naomi on the arm and whispered, “You could have told me that she was here.” Naomi shrugged her shoulders and then both played still as Margerie turned back around, pausing to eye them both before serving her daughter. Patricia received the plate, “Thank you momma.”

Margerie watched two generations of her family in one place, eating and spending time. It had been a long time, too long. She waited until both plates were clean, and for Naomi to head upstairs, then she sat and looked at her daughter who pretended not to be trying to avoid her stare. “So, Patricia, how are you?”

“I don’t know, momma. I don’t know how I feel. So much has happened so quickly.” Then she looked into her mother’s eyes, “And so many memories have resurfaced.” Patricia didn’t want to be rude or disrespectful, but she knew that her mother would try and talk about things she didn’t want to even think about, especially now, when her father was gone; now that it was just the two of them alone, face to face, yet separated by an ocean of history.

Margerie hoped that the loss of Patricia’s father would convince her daughter of how important family was, how suddenly they can be taken away, and how to cherish the time left. “I just wanted to see how you were holding up. We haven’t spoken since the funeral, and I know how you get with this sort of thing.”

“Oh yeah, how do I get, momma?” Patricia reacted more than she responded and immediately regretted the implications in her tone. However, with the many emotions coursing through her spirit, she just wasn’t ready to be alone with her mother, and even wished that she hadn’t shown up this morning so soon after they had gotten to the house. In truth, the sight of her mother began to intensify Patricia’s resentment. She found herself torn between love and hurt, between feelings of loss and scorn, and her mother’s face represented the core of it all.

Margerie watched as her daughter rose and walked over to the sink with her plate. She stood facing the window, and Margerie knew that the hurt of losing her father was not the only thing that rode her daughter’s mind. She took in a breath and let it out slowly, “Baby?” No answer, just a woman in pain who believed that avoiding hurt would diminish it. “Please, baby, talk to me.”

“I’m fine, momma, okay? Please, can we just leave it at that? I just…”

“You’re not fine, baby,” Margerie said with guilty tears rolling down her cheeks. “How could you be? But bottling it up won’t make it go away.”

“What, now that daddy’s gone you think that we can discuss it as if the villain is no longer in our presence?” Patricia’s accusatory eyes momentarily intended to hurt, then she blinked it back, “Just leave it alone, momma.”

“His name is David—”

“Don’t you get it? I said leave it alone!” But the seed had been sewn, and it would prove to reap unbearable fruit. “Get out, now, please, go.” Patricia turned to escape to the bathroom when she saw Mark descending the stairs with a look of worry on his face. A part of her wondered how much he’d heard. Mark knew of the stormy relationship Patricia had with her mother, but not why. At this point in time she could only look past him and continue on into the bathroom. She had to get away.

Mark paused. His timing couldn’t have been worse. He heard the last words his wife had said to her mother and felt the sting behind them. He said a silent prayer before entering the kitchen. His mother-in-law was turned toward the sink with her head hung low. Mark sighed, “Hey momma.”

“Hello Mark,” Margerie said before mechanically turning and grabbing her purse. “Here are the keys to the church.”

Mark took the keys and placed a nurturing hand over Margerie’s, “Just give her some time, she’ll come around. You know how withdrawn she could get sometimes.”

But Mark had no idea. Margerie couldn’t be sure that Patricia would ever heal, or ever forgive. When she met her son-in-law’s eyes, hers filled with emotion. "She’s all I have left, and I’m afraid I may have lost her too.”

CHAPTER THREE

Mark and Naomi arrived at the church mid-morning. Mark wanted to get an early start on re-familiarizing himself with the place that literally saved his life. As he pulled onto the church grounds he felt like that little boy still under the Elder’s wing. His heart ached for the old man, the only father he ever had. Elder Jamerson, Mark Marshall’s savior.

Growing up in the streets of Little Rock, Arkansas without a biological father, and a crack addicted mother, Mark began life at a disadvantage. He was the middle child of three. He had an older brother, Royce, and a younger sister, Shanice, each from a different father who had also been absent from their child’s lives. Mark’s bother, Royce was murdered at the age of sixteen, running behind an older crowd who was involved in a drug deal gone wrong.

Mark reflected the time right after his brother’s death. He thought about how it affected his mother, how she had disappeared for days before being found by one of the ol’ dope boys three towns over after having been beaten and left for dead on a binge hunt. It was the longest week of Mark’s life.

Thinking about it now he knew that God was looking out for him and his little sister. He remembered the packages left in the mail slot, the knocks on the door, and the envelope full of money.

“Daddy,” Naomi said interrupting her father’s thoughts. “Are we going in or are we supposed to just sit here in the parking lot?”

Mark took a deep breath. He stared at the huge letters on the front of the church building that read: “The Greater Faith Church.”

Inside, the church had three usher isles with the entry double-doors leading up the center. There were four sections of bleach-wood pews that spanned the auditorium like sunrays surrounding the stage platform. The pulpit jutted from the front stage and was flanked on either side and across the front with gleaming brass crosses. An organ sat on one side and a drum set and speakers on the other. There were stacked cases which held a variety of other instruments. The rear of the platform held three levels for the choir and a massive sectioned color-tinted frosted window as a backdrop which rose all the way up to the ceiling. The glass was molded with Jesus hung in the blessed thorned torment of sacrifice. The walls were ordained with framed scriptures and biblical still-images, and beautiful draperies covered the windows. The floor was onyx marble, the stage parquet, the front door mahogany, the energy angelic, and the memories saturated with emotional charge as Mark stood at the threshold and swept the interior, which looked exactly as it did when it had been the center of his world over twenty years ago. For better or worse the place stirred a deep sense of nostalgia and he took a moment to allow the austral feel to envelop him. Then he turned toward his daughter, “There doesn’t seem to be much straightening up to do. A broom, a mop, a little dusting.”

“It looks exactly the same as I remember it.” Naomi thought back to when she was a kid and tried to jump from pew to pew and nearly broke her neck. She recalled her grandfather’s face when he came running after he heard her crying out. The worry of his expression, and the trouble she had gotten into also brought with it the feel of real loss. She turned to her father, “It’s almost as if I can still feel granddaddy in here.” Just then a warmth spread over her and in that moment she knew he was in fact all around her.

“Your grandfather devoted his entire life to this church, to his congregation, and to his community. He was a genuine man and I hope I can offer the same fulfillment to the parishioners as he did. The old man has incredible shoes to fill.”

“You are just as committed to the church, daddy.” Naomi encouraged. “Everyone still remembers you too, and I’m sure that the history you bring is worthy of finding a place in the hearts of those who praise here.”

Mark turned to his daughter astonished. He hadn’t been looking at her as she spoke, but the words she used… “Thank you, baby. I really do appreciate that.” Then he smile, “You truly are maturing into a fine young woman, so intelligent. I am very proud of you, Naomi.”

Naomi flushed. Her father was a good man who deserved the support of the congregation. Then she looked around and sighed, the child re-emerging, “Are we always gonna have to clean up in here? This place is huge.”

***

Patricia tried to forgive. She tried to forget.

Closets carried crippling truths which could destroy if revealed. Sometimes blame was irrelevant. Sometimes fingers could point in all directions, yet the hurt maintains it intensity.

Some things are better left unsaid.

Patricia felt she had to come back. Mark’s duty was to her father, she understood that. Still, this town, this state, and all its history was why she ran away the first chance she could. She loved Mark with all her heart. A love that intensified with every new experience of his devotion, to her, to their child, and even now to her father and the church. The congregation needed familiarity and it was her husband who was best suited. Faith heals when it is answered and Mark was that answer. The sheer passion he expressed in his sermon, the power in his baritone, the truth in his eyes. Yes, she had to come back. So Patricia would endure, she would accept, and she would keep it from him. Even if it destroyed her, because the only alternative might destroy them all.

The picture of the sonogram she held, frayed and worn, now had a name to it. Patricia was numb. She hated that her mother had even told her his name. She was relieved that someone knew something, but also felt betrayed because it meant that her mother knew all this time.

Patricia had the most intimate choices taken from her. Far away from this place praise had always been her resolution, now the church called her back, but would the evils of Arkansas overpower the goodness bestowed by the power of God?

He was alive. Would she know him if she saw him? Where was he? With whom was he with? Could she dare care? Patricia was the victim of rape when Mark was away at college. Her attacker was a man who wouldn’t take no for an answer, who forced himself on her and took from her the innocence she intended to save until she was married. A purity of soul which could never be reclaimed, and then he fled into the night. Only to be captured some time after, his list of victims turned into his life sentence. But lain in the wake of evil was her tragedy; a stern father, a complacent mother, both devout; the abomination of abortion would become Patricia’s own life sentence.

This teen would come to term and birth a child conceived through sin. She would find herself torn between disgust and maternal devotion; her torture would lie in the child’s presence, her torment would be in the child’s absence. Her father would take control of her body, and then he would take the choice of her motherhood. His promise of finding the child a decent home did little to ease what this teen at the time wished could have just been erased. Patricia’s father said he would never tell, and with his death Patricia assumed to be that secret gone forever. Now she was told that her son’s name was David.

Patricia never forgave her father for forcing her, never forgave her mother for allowing it to come to pass. Now she had to return out of loyalty for her husband. This secret she intended to keep from him, but why would her mother bring something like that up, now that her father was dead? But Patricia knew why, and that truth terrified her far more than merely having to face it herself. She refused to know, or to tell, and abruptly shredded the faded image of the sonogram, walked over to the master bath, and spilled the pieces into the toilet. She pushed the lever, and as it flushed she turned to the mirror and stared at the reflection that stared back. Her hair was a mess from the constant fingers run through it. Her bottom lip trembled as she raised her glass before closing her eyes and tilting her head back. Then she walked over to the half empty bottle that she needed to take the pain away. She would be strong again, for her family, but only after she slept. And she would heal alone because some things were better left unsaid.

This concludes the unedited version of this book. Please leave your feedback.


#love #relationship #marriage #loss #family #teenfiction #youngadultfiction

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