Dilemma Series Book #4
Barnes & Noble.com
Dreams Publishing Company
Preston Owens, a Baptist minister, divorces his wife of twelve years not revealing to his congregation or family the true reason why. Soon after the divorce is finalized Preston weds Monique Cheri Anderson, a local news reporter. But because of the secret not being told that caused the divorce, people form there own opinions about Preston and Cheri actions which sounds much better than the truth. Because of the rumors, Preston and Cheri are shunned by their families. So they flee to another state in an effort to rebuild their lives together. But when Preston is asked to take a position as assistant pastor of a church, the need for the past to be revealed becomes more important than the people the secret protects. Soon everyone will learn things are not always as they appear to be.
“Monique Cheri Anderson, 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 crackhead liar if he thinks that I raised you to be a home wrecker, and I know that I certainly didn’t raise you to be a ho!” Bernadette Anderson 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 assets to society. Sandra, seven years older than her sister, first started off as a math teacher at the local high school. After getting her master's degree, she became principal, 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; now she was a local celebrity, anchoring the morning news for channel six in Philadelphia—and she didn’t want anything to tarnish her banner accomplishments.
Cheri had always been secretive, but her mother never imagined that her baby girl would turn out to be the mysterious woman having a long-time affair with one of the most prominent pastors in South Jersey. “What is wrong with you, girl?” Bernadette asked as if trying to make some sense of the whole thing.
Cheri looked up at her mother with pleading eyes, wanting desperately to make her understand. “I love him, Mama.”
“You don’t know what love is,” Bernadette replied between clenched teeth.
Once again, Cheri dropped her gaze to the floor. “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 Almighty—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.” Bernadette, short in stature but large, walked to the kitchen sink, snatched off her apron, and tossed it onto the counter. She weighed over two hundred and fifty pounds and she carried her weight with the appearance of authority. She looked up to the ceiling, 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!”
“Mama, please, just let me explain,” Cheri 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 you can expect to be the next victim. Do you hear me? You reap what you sow.”
“Mama, just give me…”
“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 she who had met Pastor Preston Owens at the Red Roof Inn on that now infamous 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. She was also angry because she was a soon to be 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 for 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 had 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. However, 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 Cheri’s 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 be miserable for the rest of our lives, denying our love for each other?” It was a question she’d asked herself too many times during the 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 Sandra 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, blinking back tears as she gazed into her mother’s 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 again and for a long time she didn’t say a word.
Her mother thought maybe she had finally gotten through to Cheri, but that hopeful moment was short-lived when she heard her reply. “But, Mama, 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 right. “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’s 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.”
Bernadette sighed. “You are your father’s child, that’s for sure.”
“What does Daddy have to do with this?”
Her mother disregarded the question. “You have to know something,” she said, and her voice was low and serious. “You have to know that if you do this, then you will no longer be a daughter of mine.”
Cheri gasped, her eyes widening in shock. “Mama, you can’t mean that!”
“I do 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.
Bernadette stood up. “Now, if you choose to repent …” She nodded her head a few times. “I’ll … I will support you through this whole mess. It will simply be said that the pastor took advantage of you. He was a man of the cloth and you trusted him, and he took advantage of your being naive. I’m sure this can be salvaged for you.” She looked at her daughter with a mixture of compassion and sorrow before turning 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’s eyes watered. She knew her mother meant what she was saying. Yet she could not understand how she could disown her as if she weren’t flesh of her flesh. “Mama, please. You don’t know what you’re saying.”
“Oh, I know exactly what I’m saying. 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 and shook her head in silence. “You know your way out,” Bernadette said and walked out of the kitchen.
Cheri watched as her mother disappeared into the next 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 get into her car, she turned to look at the house that held so many memories and wished that things could have been different.
It seemed ironic to Cheri that Luther Ingram’s long-ago song, 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 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 who all depended on him being a loving husband and father. She was sure the children loved and adored him more than words could ever express with the pure hearts that only a child could give. As for his wife, Nadine, Cheri 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 Cheri.
Cheri pulled into a parking place at the restaurant, leaned back in her seat, and closed her eyes tightly. She was supposed to be meeting Preston there. She thought about everything her mother had said. She knew Bernadette was right. He would never preach again, at least not in this area. Too many people knew all too well of his infidelity. Taking a deep breath, she went in and saw Preston almost at once. She gave him a weak smile as he stood to pull out her chair and kiss her cheek.
Preston sat down and 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.
Cheri couldn’t 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 asked.
“Just a club soda, thanks,” Cheri massaged her left temple with her fingertips.
“He’s taking your food order, too,” Preston said.
She shrugged. “I’m not very hungry, nothing for me.”
“What about a slice of cheesecake? It’s very good,” the waiter suggested.
“No, thanks, just a club soda.” Would he never leave?
After the waiter walked away, Preston reached across the table, taking both her hands in his. “It was that bad?”
There were tears pressing against the backs of her eyeballs. “Worse.”
He massaged her hands. “You want to talk about it now?”
“No, you’re right, you should eat first.”
He only made it through about half his meal. Cheri looked miserable. “Tell me what happened,” Preston urged.
Cheri paused, then swallowed hard. “I can’t marry you, Preston.”
“What?” His ears had to be deceiving him.
She looked at 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,” he reminded her.
“My mother wants nothing to do with you.” Cheri stood up. “I’m so sorry. I really didn’t want it to be this way, but I can’t—I just can’t—lose my entire family for a man who … who may or may not be with me for the rest of my life.”
“Sit down, baby.”
“I want …”
“Sit down, now,” Preston said sharply.
Cheri stared at him without blinking.
He softened his tone. “Please, Cheri, I need a chance to understand why you’ve come to this conclusion.” When she continued to stare, he added, “I’m begging you.”
She sat down silently.
Preston was almost whispering 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?” She was being sarcastic.
“No. Leaving the church,” he answered without hesitation as tears 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’m sure with time …”
He cut her off. “Tell me what your mother said to you.”
“You don’t want to know.” She shivered.
“Yes, I do: tell me.” He knew he sounded demanding but he needed to know.
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 told him everything.
“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. And she’s right about us not being respected here. 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 job,” Cheri protested. “I worked hard to get that position. And what about my family?”
“We’re family now,” he said, putting her hand to his lips and kissing her index finger. “Don’t abandon me,” he said and kissed the next finger. “I don’t want to live without you,” he added, kissing the next finger. “Don’t allow your mother to kill our dreams,” he pleaded, kissing her last finger. “Your mother has lived her life, and she can’t live yours,” he finished, kissing the palm of her hand then pressing it to his face.
He’d 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 relationship a fighting chance. “I love you,” she managed to say.