Ultimate Dilemma: Forgive Me Lord

Prelude


   "Monique Cheri Payne, you are going to bust Hell wide open! You can't just come between a man and his wife and think God's not gonna take notice. The Devil is a crack head liar if you think that I raised you to be a home wrecker and I know that I certainly didn't raise you to be a hoe," Bernadette Payne said as she stood over her daughter wagging her finger in her face. "What happened to your morals girl?"

     Cheri dropped her head. She had grown up in this house. In this kitchen, from this very table, she had learned many of life's lessons from her mother. Bernadette had raised both her daughters here. So far, they had turned out well, graduating from college and becoming an asset to society. Sonja, being seven years older than her sister, first started off as a math teacher at the local high school. Then after getting her master's degree she became principle and now she was Dean of Student Development at the community college. But she was most proud of Monique Cheri, who at first could not seem to find her way in the media industry, was now a local celebrity anchoring the morning news for channel six in Philadelphia and she did not want anything to tarnish these banner accomplishments.  

    Cheri had always been secretive. However, her mother never imagined that her baby girl would turn out to be the mysterious woman that had been having a long time affair with one of the most prominent pastors in South Jersey. "What is wrong with you, girl?" She said to her as if she was trying to make some sense out of the whole thing.

    Cheri looked up at her mother with pleading eyes wanting desperately to make her understand, "I love him, Mama." Her words came out brokenly.

   "You don't know what love is," she said between clenched teeth.

   Once again, Cheri dropped her gaze to the floor. Her mother was head usher at Zion AME Church where her family had been members since before her mother was born, "I can't help how I feel."

   "It's not about what you feel, it's about obeying God. I can't believe Pastor Owens would leave his wife and children disgracing himself before the All Mighty and for what? Feelings? It's a scandal and a shame, and to think a child that came from my own body has allowed this vile thing to be committed through her." Her mother walked toward the kitchen sink, snatched off her apron tossing it onto the counter. She looked up to the ceiling, in searching for the words to say to make her child understand that what she was about to do was not only immoral but selfish. "How can God be pleased with this... this... horrendous thing you speak of doing? It's an abomination to the Lord."

   Bernadette Payne was short in statue, but large. She weighed over two hundred and fifty pounds and she carried her weight with the appearance of authority.

   "Mama, please, just let me explain," she implored.

   Her mother either ignored her or simply didn't hear her plea, "Jesus, Lord what are people going to say? He's supposed to be a man of God, but now I know all the talk about him is true. I know you heard about him being caught at the Red Roof Inn with his secretary so you know you're not the only one. If he'll leave his wife for you, then expect to be the next victim do you hear me? You reap what you sow."

   "Mama, just give me..."

   She cut her off, "I've never seen a farmer plant corn and it come up peas. You reap what you sow, you hear me?"

   Cheri didn't say a word to defend her man even though she knew the real story behind the rumor. The fact of the matter was it was her who had met Pastor Preston Owens at the Red Roof Inn on that now famous day. After they made love he had fallen asleep and she quietly left him in the room spitefully taking his clothes with her. She had been angry with him. Angry because she wasn't Mrs. Preston Owens and angry because she was a thirty-one year old woman who had never been married and he had denied her something mostly every woman in the world wanted, children. So on that day, she left the hotel with everything except his shoes. Pastor Owens had to call his secretary to bring him one of the suits he kept at the church. His secretary had been mistaken as the other woman when a member from another church saw her leaving the hotel moments before the pastor. It was because of this that the rumor started exposing a half truth.

   When Cheri didn't acknowledge she had heard her mother, Bernadette asked with an edge of disgust, "how did you let this happen? That's all I want to know. How in the world did you let this happen?"

   "He wasn't married when I met him, Mama, you know that. You said you liked him. You told me he'd make me a good husband."

   "Yes, yes I said that. But I said it when he wasn't married and you and him were single and dating. Now the fact is he didn't marry you. You should have left him alone, gave him his walking papers when he picked another woman over you. But you've allowed that man to have his cake and eat it too."

   "Mama, you don't understand. Please, let me explain. Preston allowed his..."

   "No, no, no... I don't want to hear how you let some hypocrite compromise you."

   "Then let Preston talk to you. I'm sure you'll see..."

   "I don't want to talk to that man. I don't want him in my presence and I certainly don't want him in my home," she hissed.

   "What do you want me to do?" Cheri's heart was breaking.

   "You tell that man to go home to his wife and children," her mother wagged her finger two inches from her face. "If that man didn't respect the vows he made before God and a church full of family and friends, what makes you think he'll be faithful to you when you take vows with him in some judge's chamber?"

   Cheri was quiet as she watched her mother move to sit in a chair opposite her at the kitchen table.

   "So we're supposed to live miserable for the rest of our lives denying our love for each other?" It was a question she'd asked herself too many times this past week.

   "That's the choice he made when he married his wife over you," her mother finished bitterly.

   How many times had Cheri heard her sister Sonja say, Preston made his own bed hard when he married a woman he didn't love, so you need to leave him alone and let him lay in that hard bed, without you.

   "But why should I suffer for one mistake that can be corrected?" She asked almost in a whisper.

   Her mother softened when she heard the pain in her daughter's voice. "Cheri, look at me sweetie."

   Cheri raised her head to look her mother straight in the eyes.

   "He had a choice and it wasn't you. He must honor the vows he made before God to his wife."

   Cheri dropped her head and for a long time she didn't say a word. Her mother thought maybe she had finally gotten through to her.

   That hopeful moment short lived when she heard her reply, "But, he wants to fix his mistake. He wants to marry me and start again."

   Bernadette wrapped her arms around her youngest child. "Oh baby I can only imagine how you feel. But you have to move on. Don't let him drag you down along with him."

   "But I love him, Mama. I love him."

   Bernadette dropped her arms in frustration.

   "Be happy for me, Mama. I'm finally going to be with the only man I've ever loved."

   Her mother shut her eyes knowing she had failed to convince her daughter to do what she thought was the right thing to do. "I can't celebrate this travesty with you. I won't be a part of it 'cause if I do, I'd be condoning it." Her mother looked at her sternly with a mixture of something she'd never seen in her eyes. "You'll never be recognized as the real wife and no decent Christian community will have him as pastor knowing what he has done."

   Cheri's mind was made up. "It doesn't matter, because I'm marrying him anyway. The bible says to obey the law of the land and as long as he divorces, he can marry me. The bible gives clear directions on how to handle a divorce."

   Her mother looked at her with fire in her eyes and said, "You are your father's child that's for sure."

   "What does Daddy have to do with this?"

   Her mother disregarded her question, "If you do this, then you will no longer be a daughter of mine."

   Cheri gasped, "Mama, you can't mean that!" she could not believe her mother had uttered those words.

   "I mean it. So you hear me and hear me well. If you marry that man then forget I'm your mother. I never want to see you again and I will pray God has mercy on your soul."

   Cheri found the conversation so ridiculous she almost laughed. "I love him, why can't you understand that?"

   "You choose this day who you will serve, your flesh or the Lord?"

   Cheri did not want to lose her mother over this. That would be the ultimate sacrifice.

   Her mother rose from her chair. "Now, if you choose to repent..." she nodded her head a few times, "I'll... I will support you through this.  It will simply be said that the pastor took advantage of you. He's a minister of the cloth and that you trusted him and he took liberties of your being naive. I'm sure this can be salvaged for you." She gazed at her with a mixture of compassion and sorrow. She then turned away, "but if you choose to marry that man, then I want you to leave my house and never return not even when I die."

   "Mama..." Cheri had tears in her eyes now. She knew her mother meant what she was saying. Yet she could not understand how she could disown her as if she wasn't flesh of her flesh. How could she just write her off as if she was a worn out pair of shoes? "Mama, please. You don't know what you're saying." She almost laughed finding it ridiculous. "You can't mean that."

   "Oh, I mean what I say. You want to try me? Marry him and see. You will no longer be welcome here. I don't want you contacting me for anything, and I mean that." Her mother stared at her for a few moments with what could only be described as repugnance as no more words passed between them. Then she stood, "You know your way out," and her mother walked out of the kitchen.

   Cheri watched as she disappeared into another room. She blew out a long sigh knowing there was no way to make her understand her point of view. She would need time.

   As she walked out the back door to her car, she turned to look at the house that held so many memories and wished things could be different.

   It seemed ironic to Cheri that a song recorded by Luther Ingram long ago, If Loving You Is Wrong, I Don't Want To Be Right, would be playing on the radio as she drove away from her mother's house. What was she to do? Give up the best thing that she'd ever had? She loved Preston Owens more than she wanted to and although she felt deep in her heart that it was wrong, she still needed him like the air she breathed. And just as the lyrics of the song said Preston had a wife and two children that depended on him being a loving husband and father. She was sure his children loved and adored him more than words could ever express with pure hearts that only a child's heart could give. As for his wife, Nadine, she could only imagine how she felt. Nadine owned the right to have his affection, soft caresses, tender kisses, fiery passion, mixed with an intensity that only true love is able to render, yet all of it was given to her, alienating Nadine from the affection of her husband for more years than she cared to admit.

   Cheri leaned back in her seat and tightly closed her eyes after pulling into a parking space at the restaurant where she was scheduled to meet Preston. She thought about everything her mother said. She knew she was right. Preston would never preach again, at least not in this area. Too many people knew all too well the stories of his infidelity.

  Cheri spotted Preston as soon as she entered the dining room of Ponzio's Restaurant. She gave him a weak smile as he stood to pull out her chair and kiss her cheek. After retaking his seat he signaled for the waiter. "I can tell it didn't go well so... let's eat first and then we'll talk.  I'm hungry and I don't want to hear any news to upset my appetite."

   Cheri nodded wordlessly. Her mother had made it crystal clear, her or her man?

   "Are you ready for me to take your orders?"

   "Yes," Preston answered. "I'll have..."

   Cheri could not even think about food. She had to make a decision. Losing her mother meant losing her only sister too. No one in the family would speak to her again. Her mother had that much power.

   "Cheri.... Cheri..."

   "Yes... Sorry."

   "You know what you want?" Preston asked.

   "Just a club soda, thanks," Cheri was still distracted.

   "He's taking your food order too," Preston informed.

   "Oh, I'm not very hungry, nothing for me."

   "What about a slice of cheese cake, it's very good," the waiter inquired.

   "No, thanks just a club soda."

   After the waiter walked away Preston reached across the table taking both her hands in his. "It was that bad?"

   "Worse."

   "You want to talk about it now?"

   "No, I'd rather you eat first."

   Preston nodded.

   The meal was half eaten when Preston just couldn't take it anymore, "tell me what happened?

   "Finish your meal, then I'll tell you everything," she was being considerate.

   "No now. You have that all is doomed look on your face and I need to know what happened."

   Cheri paused before saying, "I can't marry you, Preston."

   Preston gave her a look that asked, have you lost her mind? "What?" His ears had to be deceiving him.

   "I'm sorry, but this just isn't right. We need to go our separate ways. My mother said she'll stand by me as long as I do what's right."

   "I asked you to let me talk to your mother."

   "My mother wants nothing to do with you," Cheri stood, "I'm so sorry, Preston. I really didn't want it to be this way, but I can't lose my entire family for a man that... that may or may not be with me for the rest of my life," she choked out.

   "Sit down, baby."

   "I want..."

   "Sit down... now," Preston said with authority.

   Cheri stared at him without blinking.

   Then he softened his voice, "please, Cheri. I need a chance to understand why you've come to this conclusion." When she continued to stare he said, "I'm begging."

   She retook her seat.

   Preston almost whispered when he said, "I don't know what your mother said to you, but whatever it was it couldn't have been pretty I'm sure. I love you, baby. I have always loved you. I messed up. You know it and I know it. Now, please don't turn your back on me now that      I've made the ultimate sacrifice."

   "What sacrifice is that, Preston? Leaving your wife and children?"

   "No, leaving the church," he answered without hesitation.

   She looked at him as water welled in his eyes.

   "All I have left is my family." She was hurting too.

   He nodded, "and all I have left is you."

   "We can't stay in this city. But I know you don't want to leave your children."

   "My children won't even speak to me. My parents won't have anything to do with me. The members of the church have turned their backs on me. All I have is you."

   Cheri thought for a moment, "God has truly forsaken us. But if we do the right thing and repent, then maybe... just maybe we can be redeemed. I don't want to live in exile and I sure with time..."

   He cut her off, "tell me what your mother said to you."

   "You don't want to know."

   "Yes I do, tell me." He straightened in his seat knowing he had to be strong for the both of them.

   Cheri paused. Did she really need to say all those hateful and hurtful things to him? "I don't want to tell you. She was downright mean."

   "Tell me anyway. I'm a big boy."

   She did not want to do it, but she told him.

   "I see, she threatened you by saying she won't speak to you ever again and that's childish, but I understand. She has strong convictions.       She's protecting you and the family from a disgrace that's already lodged. Our reputations are already damaged. That's why we're moving to another state. Nobody will know us and we'll have a brand new start."

   "I can't just leave my family," she whined.

   "I left mine and now we have each other. We're family now," he put her hand to his lips and kissed her index finger, "don't abandon me," he kissed the next finger, "I don't want to live without you," he kissed the next finger. "Don't allow your mother to kill our dreams," he said kissing another finger, "your mother has lived her life and she can't live yours," he kissed the palm of her hand then pressed it to his face.

   He already had her at the index finger. Every time he touched her it felt like a hypnotic caress. The very breath from the sound of his voice made her want to give this condemned marriage a fighting chance. She remembered, "I love you." It had been that way since the day they met.