"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
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
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,"
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
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
"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
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
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
Cheri dropped her head and for a long
time she didn't say a word. Her mother
thought maybe she had finally gotten through
That hopeful moment short lived when
she heard her reply, "But, he wants to fix
his mistake. He wants to marry me and start
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
"Be happy for me, Mama. I'm finally
going to be with the only man I've ever
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
"Yes," Preston answered. "I'll
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.
"You know what you want?" Preston
"Just a club soda, thanks," Cheri was
"He's taking your food order too,"
"Oh, I'm not very hungry, nothing for
"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?"
"You want to talk about it now?"
"No, I'd rather you eat first."
The meal was half eaten when Preston
just couldn't take it anymore, "tell me what
"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
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
"I asked you to let me talk to your
"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."
"Sit down... now," Preston said with
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
"What sacrifice is that, Preston?
Leaving your wife and children?"
"No, leaving the church," he answered
She looked at him as water welled in
"All I have left is my family." She
was hurting too.
He nodded, "and all I have left is
"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
"Tell me anyway. I'm a big boy."
She did not want to do it, but she
"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
"I can't just leave my family," she
"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.