Everybody Say Amen

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  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 2007-07-10
  • Publisher: Gallery Books

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Gold Pen Award-winning author ReShonda Tate Billingsley returns to the Houston congregation of her #1 Essence magazine bestseller, Let the Church Say Amen, in this warm and powerful sequel.When her husband hears God's call to become a preacher, Rachel Jackson Adams is distressed -- she grew up a preacher's daughter, and knows how difficult life under the microscope can be for a reverend's family. But hot-headed Rachel has toned down her wild ways, and for the sake of her marriage and her two children, she is now the reluctant first lady of Zion Hill, unafraid to rock the boat with her unconventional ideas for revitalizing the church. When her son, Jordan, begins fighting at school, Rachel turns to the boy's father, Bobby -- Rachel's first love from years ago. Married now himself, there should be nothing between them except their concern for Jordan -- so why does seeing Bobby again feel so distractingly tempting? With her brothers facing dramas of their own, and her father, Reverend Simon Jackson, recovering from illness, Rachel must listen carefully to discover what God truly wants for her -- and to decide if Bobby is the lover of her dreams or the devil in disguise



If looks could kill, Lester Adams would definitely be pushing up daisies.

Rachel glared at her husband and silently played her mantra in her head: Do not act a fool. You are a strong, mature woman who has left those childish ways behind you. Whatever you do, do not act a fool.

That had been Rachel's theme for the last five years, and had helped her out of numerous situations. It wasn't working today.

This fool must be on crack. Rachel inhaled deeply. "What did you just say?"

Lester got up and began his usual pacing as he tried to explain to his wife the reasoning behind his decision.

"It's not like this is something I just want to do on a whim," he said.

Rachel massaged her temples. She had done so well at walking the straight and narrow since she'd tied the knot. Marrying Lester had been the best decision she had ever made. He kept her grounded. No, he wasn't the most handsome thing, but he loved her unconditionally, and that love had made her want to be a better woman. But what he was saying now was absolutely insane.

"I talked this over with your father and he's pleased with the decision," Lester added nervously.

Rachel remained at a loss for words. She stared at her husband. The red pimples were gone from his sandpaper-colored skin thanks to Proactiv, and she'd convinced him to shave off the red mop that had sat on his head for years. Now he wore a closely cropped fade. Right about now, though, she wished she could grab that head of hair and shake some sense into him.

"Baby, I know you don't understand this." Lester sat down next to her. She immediately stood up. It was her turn to pace their spacious three-bedroom apartment.

"You're right. I don't," she said. "I don't believe you're standing here telling me this."

"Come on. You act like I'm telling you I had an affair or something," Lester tried to joke.

"I think I might be able to handle that better than this." Rachel shot him a look to let him know she wasn't joking.

Lester sighed. "Rachel, when the Lord calls, He calls. This is my destiny. You know how I've been telling you I was tired of insurance and felt I had a greater calling. Well, this is it."

Rachel spun on her husband. "A preacher, Lester? You want to be a preacher? Even worse, you want me to be a preacher's wife?" She stared at him as if that was the absolute craziest thing she'd ever heard.

"That's exactly what I want, Rachel."

Rachel cocked her head in confusion. "What makes you think those people at Zion Hill -- 'one of the most prominent churches in Houston,' as they like to boast -- will let you be their preacher anyway?"

"Come on. After Reverend Wright got arrested in the pulpit, I think the board wants someone safe like me."

She could understand that much. That whole situation had been a fiasco. Deacon Wright had finally gotten his wish a year ago when Rachel's father, Rev. Simon Jackson, had stepped down as pastor of Zion Hill. The deacon was able to get his nephew, Milton Wright, in as the church's new preacher. The only problem was that Reverend Wright never informed anyone of his outstanding warrants for hot checks -- more than fifty thousand dollars' worth.

The police had come and arrested him right in the middle of Sunday morning service. Wright had taken off running right in the middle of the sermon with the police chasing him all the way down the street. It was a nightmare that took Zion Hill months to live down.

But what Rachel couldn't understand was why her husband had to be the replacement. "Since when did you even want to be a preacher? Besides, you haven't been to theology school or anything."

Lester sighed in frustration. "Not every minister is trained in the Word. For some, it's just a calling."

"You really think those people at Zion Hill will let somebody with no experience be their preacher?"

"I've been a member of that church since I was born, Rachel. They support what I'm doing wholeheartedly. They know me and they don't have to worry about any mess like what happened with Reverend Wright. And it's not like I'll just jump in the pulpit. Your father has agreed to mentor me. I can also take part in a six-week theological seminar. And I'll work closely with the deacon board."

"Lester, this is insane." Rachel tried to reason with him. "You can't possibly want this. Is this some early midlife crisis or something? If so, go buy a motorcycle or get a tattoo."

"Rachel, if you half paid attention to me you'd know that I have always felt something was missing in my life! I've been praying on it and meeting regularly with your father about it," Lester said. "I've even preached a couple of times at different churches in the city already."

"What? When did this happen and why didn't I know anything about it?" Sure, she was wrapped up in her own little world most of the time, but surely she would've known about her husband having a desire to preach, let alone actually having preached somewhere.

Lester cast his eyes downward. "You never show an interest in what I'm doing. I didn't want to hear you try to talk me out of it, so I didn't tell you what I was doing."

Rachel shook her head as she continued walking back and forth across the room. She looked at the family photo of her, Lester, Jordan, and Nia. Both of her kids loved Lester to death. For Nia, he was the only father she'd ever known, since her real daddy didn't half fool with her. Jordan's father, Bobby, was in his life, but the nine-year-old still loved him some Daddy Lester. Rachel couldn't believe she was about to lose the happy home she'd worked so hard to build. But that was what was about to happen because there was no way on earth she would ever be a preacher's wife. She wasn't as buck wild as she used to be, but she definitely wasn't first lady material and didn't care to be first lady material. "This is too much," she said. "This is just coming out of the blue. Are you sucking up to my father, trying to be like the great Simon Jackson?"

Lester jumped to his feet, his frustrations becoming evident. "It's not like that at all. This is not a decision I've made lightly."

Rachel put a finger in the air and began wiggling her neck. She had been doing so well in keeping her ghetto ways at bay. But so much for that. "Decision? So you've already decided?"

He lowered his voice, obviously trying to remain rational. "Rachel, please understand..." He reached out to try and take her arm. She snatched it away.

"I'm not understanding anything!" She leaned in and pointed her index finger in his face. "You understand this. I ain't trying to be a preacher's wife. I spent my life as a preacher's daughter. I hated it growing up. The church always coming first in my family. My daddy never being around. Those holier-than-thou people watching my every move and passing judgment on me. It was horrible! But I didn't have any choice then. I have a choice about this!" She was fuming and was not about to back down. She had to let him know she meant business. Lester was a softie when it came to her. Always had been. She had to make him see this idea wasn't remotely feasible.

"What are you saying, Rachel?" Lester looked like he wanted to cry.

"What does it sound like?" Rachel stared defiantly at her husband.

"It sounds like you're giving me an ultimatum: either you or the Lord."

Rachel didn't budge. "You can make it sound as horrible as you want, I'm just telling you, I ain't trying to be a preacher's wife. Let me rephrase that. I'm not gon' be a preacher's wife."

Lester inhaled deeply before speaking. He looked her in the eye. "And I am telling you," he said, his voice taking on a strength she'd never heard, "I give you everything you want and then some. I cater to your every need, your every wish. But this is something I'm not wavering on. This is my calling and if you don't like it, you can leave." With that Lester turned and stomped out of the house.

Rachel was shocked. In their five years of marriage Lester had never so much as raised his voice at her, let alone issued her an ultimatum. But he had to be confused if he thought his little temper tantrum would change her mind. He was just going to have to find another "calling," because there was no way in hell she was going to be a preacher's wife.

Copyright © 2007 by ReShonda Tate Billingsley

Chapter One

Rachel adjusted the brim of her huge lavender hat. She brushed down her lavender suit as she surveyed her reflection in the floor-length mirror. Her auburn-tinted hair rested comfortably on her shoulders. She had to admit she was looking good.

"Girl, you make a bomb first lady," she muttered to her reflection. She couldn't help but smile. If her mother wasn't already dead, this was a sight that would have surely killed her. Nope, never in a million years would Loretta Jackson have believed her only daughter was decked out in her Sunday best, preparing to take her spot next to her husband at Zion Hill's Pastor Appreciation ceremony.

Rachel was having a hard time believing it herself. She'd actually left Lester a year and a half ago when he didn't give in to her ultimatum. But after one week of living with her father, she returned home. Besides the fact that Simon still didn't have cable, he spent every day telling her how wrong she'd been to walk out on her husband, trying to preach to her about how Lester was doing the right thing and how she was being unreasonable. Then, to top things off, her brother, David, was living at home and his crackhead girlfriend, Tawny, was always coming around begging for another chance.

David had gotten hooked on drugs after an injury ended his promising football career. But after his mother died seven years ago, he quit cold turkey. He said he'd been clean since then; everyone else believed him, but Rachel wasn't quite sure that she did.

Plus, even though her other brother, Jonathan, had his own apartment, he was forever at Simon's, too. That place was like Grand Central Station.

And despite what she told herself, she had missed Lester something terrible.

"Hey, honey. Are you ready?"

Rachel turned toward Lester. He actually looked quite dapper in his three-piece navy suit. Nia was clutching his hand tightly. They stood in the doorway of the master bedroom, looking like the perfect father and daughter.

"Wow, Mommy, you look so pretty," Nia said. "Don't she, Daddy?"

"Doesn'tshe, sweetheart," Lester replied. "And yes, she is an absolute vision of loveliness."

"Tell me something I don't know." Rachel giggled and wiggled her hips. Nia and Lester chuckled.

"Well, we'd better get going," Lester said.

Rachel knew he was excited. Today marked his year anniversary in the pulpit and even Rachel had to admit that he was an awesome preacher. After Lester trained around the clock for six months with her father, the board agreed to offer him the job permanently. There were a couple of dissenters, but everyone knew it was personal against her father because he hadn't stepped down right after her mother died and their family drama escalated out of control. Ultimately, no one could deny what a dynamic preacher Lester was. It also didn't hurt that his grandmother was a longtime member of Zion Hill and a huge benefactor to the church.

"Where's Jordan?" Rachel asked, snapping out of her thoughts.

"Where else? In front of the TV playing that PlayStation," Lester responded.

Rachel shook her head in disgust. She'd told Jordan's father, Bobby, not to buy that dang thing. Now all Jordan ever wanted to do was play that stupid game.

Rachel followed her family downstairs and, after dragging Jordan away from the PlayStation, they headed out to church.

Fifteen minutes later, Lester navigated the family's Ford Explorer into the reserved parking spot in front of the church's back office door. Rachel noticed Sister Ida Hicks and Layla Wilson lollygagging around outside. Layla was Bobby's sister-in-law and had never liked Rachel. So Rachel made sure she took her time getting out of the car. She wanted to make an entrance.

As usual, Lester was oblivious to her showboating. He quickly made his way inside to prepare for services. Nia followed him into the building.

"Sister Wilson, you look wonderful. When is your baby due?" Rachel asked, eyeing her stomach.

Layla glared at her. "I'm not pregnant."

Rachel moved her hand to her heart. "I am so sorry. I thought I heard you were expecting."

"No. I'm not," Layla snarled.

"My apologies again." Rachel tried her best to look apologetic. She knew she was wrong. But she had overheard Layla talking about her last week and since she knew Layla was self-conscious about her plus-size frame, she couldn't help but take a dig at her.

"Hey, nephew." Layla tried to flick Rachel off as she leaned in and hugged Jordan, who was standing next to his mother. "I had a blast with you last week. Your mom can't stop talking about what a great time you, her, and your dad had."

Now it was Rachel's turn to snarl. Layla knew Rachel didn't want Jordan calling Bobby's wife, Shante, "Mom."

"Come on, Jordan," Rachel said, grabbing his hand. She ignored the snide look on Layla's face as they made their way into the church.

The choir was just beginning to sing, signaling the start of service. Rachel took her standard seat at the end of the fourth row. Much of the service was business as usual, and she had to struggle to stay focused. She nodded as her husband prepared for his sermon. He was going into that zone, the one where he concentrated on nothing but delivering an inspirational message.

She still couldn't believe she was somebody's first lady. She'd even quit her job in an upscale Galleria-area boutique to work full-time at the church handling all of the youth activities. She'd toned down some of her wild ways and was trying her best to be nicer to people. (Layla didn't count.) It had been hard adjusting at first, because she definitely wasn't used to being in church every Sunday, and especially not on time. But she'd adjusted a lot better than she'd thought she would. Still, Rachel already knew some things were gon' have to change around Zion Hill. She'd been patient, trying to let Lester get acclimated, but it was time for her to do her thing.

"Good morning, church!" Lester said as he stepped up to the podium. "Have I got a message for you today!"

Rachel couldn't help but smile. Lester definitely seemed to have found his calling in the pulpit. It was like he came alive. No, it was like he became a totally different person. She, on the other hand, always found her mind wandering to a million other things, but she'd learned to plaster on a smile and throw in a couple of nods and "Amens" for good measure, so no one ever really knew.

Lester must've been fifteen minutes into his sermon when a loud shout broke Rachel out of her mental trance.

"Take it back you pig-faced punk!"

Lester abruptly stopped preaching and -- along with everyone else -- directed his attention to the pew where the ruckus was coming from.

"I ain't taking nothing back. My mama said yo' mama is a tramp and your uncle is a fag."

Before anyone could move, Jordan jumped from his seat, pounced on Sister Hicks's ten-year-old great-grandson, who was sitting next to him, and pummeled the boy's face.

"Lawd, have mercy," someone muttered.

"Jesus, they fighting in the Lord's house," someone else said.

Both Rachel and Lester raced toward Jordan at the same time. It took both of them and three deacons to pull the boys apart.

"Let me go! Let me go! I'ma kick his funky butt!" Jordan shouted.

Rachel heard several members gasp. But she couldn't deal with them right now. "Jordan!" she admonished. "Have you lost your mind?"

"Tell him to take it back! I'm sick of him. I hate him!" Jordan screamed.

One of the deacons had the other little boy pinned down on the pew. His nose was bleeding and he was huffing heavily. "Don't nobody care 'bout you hating them. Don't nobody like you no way, stupid."

"I got yo' stupid!" Jordan tried to dive toward the boy again. Rachel caught him and pulled him back.


"Son, you need to settle down," Lester said, trying to take Jordan by the arm. Jordan snatched his arm away.

"Don't tell me what to do. You not my daddy!"

Rachel slapped Jordan upside the head. "Boy, what have I told you about saying that!" Even though he was close to Lester, lately, whenever Jordan got mad that was the first thing out of his mouth. Lester always took it pretty well, though; even now, he kept his calm demeanor.

Jordan was trying desperately to fight back tears. Rachel let out a long sigh as she dragged him away, mumbling an apology. She knew Lester would try to clean it up before finishing his sermon, but he might as well just dismiss church because no one would be listening.

Rachel ignored all the people staring at her and shaking their heads as she dragged Jordan down the aisle and out of the sanctuary.

"These kids today just ain't got no discipline," one longtime member muttered.

"They need to let me at him," an elderly lady said, "I'd beat some sense in him."

"Lord, Lord, Lord, this family is just full of drama," said another member, Sister Viola Smith.

Rachel rolled her eyes. She considered responding, but knew there wasn't much she could say because Sister Smith was right on the money. No matter how hard she tried, she just couldn't escape the drama.

Copyright © 2007 by ReShonda Tate Billingsley

Excerpted from Everybody Say Amen by ReShonda Tate Billingsley
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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