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Fortune & Fame

A Novel
By Victoria Christopher Murray, ReShonda Tate Billingsley

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Fortune & Fame

Chapter

ONE

Jasmine Cox Larson Bush


Jasmine sat with her eyes opened wide and her mouth clasped shut. But even though not a word passed through her lips, the living room was filled with the joyful sound of laughter.

Slowly, Jasmine rose from the sofa, leaving Mae Frances sitting alone. There was no way her friend would be able to stand right now; Mae Frances was buckled over, laughing so hard that Jasmine was sure she was going to bust a vein.

But Jasmine didn’t turn her head to the left or the right. Her eyes remained focused only on the plasma TV centered on the wall.

“I cannot believe this,” Jasmine said, finally speaking.

She took two steps toward the television as if that would help her hear Shaun Robinson, the anchor for Access Hollywood,, a little better.

“This has to be quite an exciting time for you,” Shaun said. “Especially since you’re going to be on the OWN network.”

Rachel Jackson Adams stood next to Shaun, cheesing like she was in a Colgate commercial. Her hand was on her hip as if she was posing for the camera, though she came off looking more like a posing seal.

“Well, you know, I was supposed to be on Oprah’s show last year,” Rachel said to Shaun, though her eyes were on the camera and not on the anchor. “But due to circumstances where somebody else acted like a fool, my appearance was canceled.”

“Fool?” Mae Frances cackled as she pointed at the television. “I think she’s talking about you. She just called you a fool on national TV.”

Mae Frances cracked up, and Jasmine’s eyes narrowed as she watched the unfolding interview. For a moment, she wondered if the steam coming out of her ears would set off the smoke alarm in Mae Frances’s apartment.

On the screen, Rachel spoke, her eyes still on the camera. “But even though that didn’t work out, Oprah and I kinda became friends and after we hung out a couple of times, Oprah said that I would be the perfect First Lady to be on television because there are so many misconceptions about pastor wives.”

“Liar!” Jasmine growled at the screen.

Still chuckling, Mae Frances said, “Why’re you calling her a liar? There are a lot of misconceptions about First Ladies.”

Jasmine shook her head. “I’m not talking about that part. This whole story about how she and Oprah are friends, you know that’s a lie. Oprah’s not her friend. Nobody’s Rachel’s friend. Anyone who knows Rachel for more than five minutes would never be a friend of hers.”

“Hmph . . . I thought you two were friends.”

“No,” Jasmine said, sinking back down onto the couch. “We’re more like frenemies. I would never call someone that I couldn’t trust a friend.”

“Y’all were sure acting mighty friendly last year when you were in Chicago. By the time we got down to the Caribbean, I thought you two would be BFFs forever.”

“Yeah, well,” Jasmine said, thinking about everything that she had done for that juvenile-delinquent-on-the-loose. If it hadn’t been for her, Rachel would be sitting in a ten-by-ten concrete cell facing the death penalty for the murder of Pastor Earl Griffith. Of course, it might not have played out that way once the world discovered the truth that Earl Griffith wasn’t dead. But in her mind, right now, Jasmine had wonderful images of Rachel being dragged down a long corridor toward the death chamber.

“So, the reality show is set to begin soon, right?” Shaun asked Rachel.

Rachel nodded, though she still didn’t face Shaun. Her eyes were steady on the camera. “We’re going to begin taping in a few weeks, and Oprah told me she expects this show to be one of the fall hits.”

Yes, Jasmine should have definitely left Rachel rotting in that Chicago jail. If she had, then she’d be the one with a reality show. Not that being on one of those shows had ever been her heart’s desire. Reality TV was just not her thing. Jasmine found the women on those shows uncouth and classless. She had too much intelligence to sit in front of a television and watch women share the misery of their lives.

But the fact that Rachel was about to have a reality show made Jasmine reconsider. Maybe a reality show about First Ladies was just what America needed. A show with class and substance—the kind of show that had nothing to do with Rachel Jackson Adams.

“How in the world did this happen?” Jasmine wondered.

Though she hadn’t directed the question to Mae Frances, her friend answered, “That Rebecca girl must have more than those two brain cells you’re always talking about. Somehow she figured this out.”

“Her name is Rachel, Mae Frances!” Then she groaned out loud. “I can’t figure out how she kept this from me. I’ve talked to her at least a dozen times over the last year and she didn’t say a word.”

“We’re still in preproduction right now,” Rachel said with her eyes still on the camera. “We’re trying to figure out everything about the show. Of course, I’m the star, but the producers are still trying to determine who will be in the supporting roles.” Rachel grinned and her eyes peered into the camera as if she was trying to see into everyone’s living rooms.

Silly woman! She didn’t even know that she was supposed to be looking at Shaun, not at the camera.

Shaun shifted, taking two steps to her right as if she was trying to get Rachel’s attention. But Rachel wouldn’t turn her head. “Well, we’re excited,” Shaun finally said, speaking to the side of Rachel’s head. “We’ll be watching. By the way, Oprah hasn’t released the name of the show yet.”

“Oh, it’s a secret,” Rachel said, then batted her false eyelashes.

Jasmine hoped that a couple of those lashes would fall right into her eye! Blind her right there on TV.

“But we will announce it soon,” Rachel added.

“Just make sure you come back here and tell us first.”

“Definitely,” Rachel said.

“Thank you for sharing this with us.”

“Thank you for having me.”

Jasmine shook her head. That was what . . . a two- to three-minute interview? And that swamp pony had never once faced Shaun. How was she supposed to carry a show? There was no way that Oprah had ever spent any time with Rachel or else there wouldn’t be a show. How had Rachel pulled this off?

To the camera, Shaun said, “Who’s the latest Hollywood couple to adopt a baby in Africa? We’ll be right back with that story after this break.”

Jasmine grabbed the remote, pointed it at the television as if it were a weapon, and clicked it off. The moment the screen faded to black, Jasmine opened her mouth and released a scream that shook the bricks of the Upper East Side building where Mae Frances lived. And as Jasmine shrieked, Mae Frances howled with laughter.

“Ugh,” Jasmine growled as she paced in front of her friend. “I just cannot believe this. Rachel is going to have her own television show.” She spoke as if she was trying to convince herself that this was a fact. “This cannot be happening to me.”

“Well, this is gonna happen, unless you’re thinking about shutting it down.”

Jasmine slowed her steps. “Yes! That’s what I need to do. I need to shut it all down before Rachel becomes a star. Because can you imagine what she’d be like if that was to happen?” Jasmine shuddered. “There would be no talking to her. No.” She shook her head. “She cannot have that show.” But then Jasmine paused and tapped her forefinger against her chin. “Wait a minute. Maybe I shouldn’t shut it down. Maybe what I need to do is get on that show.”

“You want to be on the show with Raquan?”

“Yeah,” Jasmine said, this time, ignoring the way Mae Frances had made up yet another new name for Rachel. She couldn’t focus on that while this idea was still forming in her mind. “First, I have to find out what’s really going on because Rachel is such a liar, she could have made this whole thing up.”

“Well, you’ve told a few lies in your lifetime, Jasmine Larson,” Mae Frances said, calling her by the name she’d been using from the first day they’d met. “So, maybe you shouldn’t be so quick to call that buffoon a liar.”

“My past sins have nothing to do with this. This is all about Rachel. I have to get some information. But how?” She took a few more steps, then stopped. Her eyes settled on her friend.

Mae Frances.

The two had been friends for more than eight years, since weeks after Jasmine had moved to New York. And if there was one thing that Jasmine had figured out during that time, it was that Mae Frances knew everybody in America, and beyond this county’s shores. That meant that Mae Frances surely knew Oprah.

Jasmine sat down next to her friend on the sofa. “You can help me.”

“How?” Mae Frances looked at her sideways.

“You need to call Oprah. You’re friends with her, right?”

Mae Frances crinkled her nose like she smelled something bad. “Did I ever tell you I was friends with Oprah?”

Jasmine’s shoulders slumped. This was unbelievable. There was someone that Mae Frances didn’t know? “I thought you knew everybody.”

“I do. But Oprah ain’t everybody. In fact, she’s nobody to me.”

“Well, Oprah’s the person I need for you to know right now because I have to get on that show with Rachel,” Jasmine whined like she was about to throw a tantrum. She surely would if she couldn’t find a way to contact Oprah.

“Well, if that’s all you need to do, we don’t need to be talking about Oprah.” Mae Frances pushed herself off the sofa. “ ’Cause I can make a call right now and get in touch with the person who’s in charge of everything that has to do with Oprah.”

Jasmine blinked like she was trying to clear her thoughts. “If you’re not friends with Oprah, who are you gonna call? Gayle?”

“Gayle King? Please. She might run one or two things here and there, but I’m talking about the real Negro in charge of Oprah and her business. I’m calling Stedman.”

Now, Jasmine’s eyes were wide. “Stedman Graham?”

“You know another Stedman?”

“Oh, my God, you know him?”

“Yeah,” Mae Frances said in a tone that sounded like it was no big deal. “Stedman’s the reason why Oprah and I aren’t friends.”

“Because of Stedman?”

“Yeah,” Mae Frances said with a little chuckle. “He’s one—” She glanced over at Jasmine, who was staring at her with wide eyes, and Mae Frances cleared her throat. “Let me just make this call. Stedman will get you on that show.”

Mae Frances turned toward her bedroom, and Jasmine followed. Suddenly, Mae Frances stopped, making Jasmine bump right into her. She faced Jasmine. “Where are you going?”

“With you. I wanna hear what Stedman’s going to say.”

“Excuse you . . . but this is a private call. You don’t need to know what Stedman says to me as long as he says yes.” Mae Frances walked into her bedroom. “I’ll be out when I’m finished.” She closed the door, and Jasmine’s mouth opened in shock when she heard her friend click the lock.

Jasmine folded her arms and stood in the middle of the living room, stunned. She should have been insulted, but how could she be? Mae Frances was about to hook her up!

“Oh, yeah,” Jasmine said as she plopped back down on the couch. It wouldn’t take Mae Frances more than ten minutes to work it all out. Jasmine Cox Larson Bush was about to crash Rachel’s party.

She laughed as she thought about the look on Rachel’s face once she heard the news that she wasn’t going to be the only First Lady of reality TV.

There was a new First Lady in town. And this one had class.

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