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Friends & Foes

By ReShonda Tate Billingsley, Victoria Christopher Murray

Read an Excerpt

Friends & Foes

Chapter

ONE


God has a great sense of humor.

Rachel Jackson Adams could remember her mother’s words as if she’d just uttered them yesterday. When Rachel was growing up, it was one of the sayings Loretta Jackson loved most.

Well, God must be some kind of comedian because this had to be the biggest joke of all.

“Why are you sitting there with your mouth wide open?”

Rachel jumped at the sound of Lester’s voice. She’d been so engrossed in the email she’d just read, she hadn’t even heard her husband come in the house.

Rachel didn’t bother to speak as she shook her head in disbelief. “This is unbelievable,” she muttered, more to herself than to him as she leaned back in the leather office chair.

Lester set down his briefcase, walked over, and kissed his wife on the head. “What’s unbelievable? Macy’s is having a going-out-of-business sale? Dillard’s is closing early?” he joked.

The evil eye she flashed at him wiped the smile right off his face. After nine years of marriage, Lester knew when his wife was about to lose it and she was definitely on the verge right now.

“Okay, babe, what’s going on? You look like you’re about to explode,” Lester asked, all traces of laughter gone.

“I am,” Rachel snapped. She spun her laptop around to face him. “Look at this mess.”

Lester peered at the screen. “Okay, it’s an email.”

“No kidding.” She jabbed a manicured nail at the screen. “It’s an email from Yvette.”

“Who is Yvette?”

She huffed and rolled her eyes. “Good grief, Lester, the publicist for the American Baptist Coalition. You know, the woman we hired.”

“Okay, calm down,” Lester said as he continued reading. “I just didn’t immediately realize who you were talking about.” When he got to the end of the email, a huge grin spread across Lester’s face. “That is phenomenal.”

Rachel popped her husband upside the back of his head.

“Wow, what did you do that for?”

“What do you mean, it’s phenomenal?”

He looked at her, confused. “Oprah isn’t phenomenal?” She didn’t answer, just kept glaring at him like he’d done something wrong. “Sweetheart, I don’t understand,” he continued. “The American Baptist Coalition is about to be represented on Oprah and you’re upset about that?”

“You doggone right, I’m upset,” Rachel said, slamming the laptop shut. “Why in the world is she going on Oprah?”

“Lady Jasmine?” he asked, still bewildered.

“Her name ain’t no damn Lady Jasmine!” Rachel yelled. “I told you to stop calling her that. Call her Shady Jasmine, Jas, Jazzy, shoot, call her Pepper Pulaski after the name she used to use when she was a stripper for all I care, but stop calling her that like she’s some type of royalty!”

Lester took a deep breath, trying to stay calm in order to keep her calm. “Okay, let’s back up because I really don’t understand your anger.”

Her husband really and truly could work her nerves sometimes. He could be so naïve. Granted, over the years he’d gotten a little backbone and since he’d become a popular preacher, his confidence had soared. It had gone to even new heights when he’d won the election for the presidency of the American Baptist Coalition six months ago. That had been a brutal fight—not between Lester and the man he was running against, Pastor Hosea Bush, but between Rachel and Pastor Bush’s wife, Jasmine. Things had gotten downright ugly between the two of them, but at the end of the day, Rachel had emerged victorious. Just like she knew she would.

And for the first four months, Rachel had been the shining star of the ABC. She’d increased their visibility, convinced them to hire the publicist, streamlined some of their programs, introduced a few others, and had worked around the clock to make the ABC even more powerful than it already was.

So why in the world was Jasmine the one going on Oprah?

“I’m the first lady of the American Baptist Coalition,” Rachel slowly said. “If O is gonna be talking to anybody, she needs to be talking to me.”

Lester pointed at the email. “But Yvette said Jasmine will be talking about the new community center she’s starting, Jacqueline’s Hope.”

“I don’t care what she’s talking about. It’s. Oprah. The only person that should be talking to Oprah on behalf of the ABC is me! I’m in the driver’s seat. Jasmine is back in the bed of the pickup truck. So why is it that every time I turn around, Jasmine don’t-nobody-wanna-say-all-them-dang-last-names is getting all the attention?”

That brought a small smile to Lester’s face. “Bush. Her name is Jasmine Bush.” He chuckled. “As if you didn’t know.”

Rachel waved him off. “She’s been married thirty times so I can’t keep up. Why are you taking up for her, anyway?” The disdain Rachel held for Jasmine was no secret. The bourgie, over-the-top troll had caused her enough headaches to last a lifetime.

“Rachel, you get your fair share of press, too,” he said, soothingly. “You just did a TV appearance last week.”

“Yeah, on Fox 26 News. That’s local. I’m a global type of woman and I’m resigned to local press? That’s unacceptable.”

“Oh, you’re global now.” He laughed.

Rachel stood, her hands plastered on her hips. Sure, this type of thing didn’t used to be her forte, particularly since she had been a reluctant first lady. But after some rough patches, she’d come to like the power that came along with being an esteemed first lady. “Lester Eugene Adams, I don’t see anything funny.”

He immediately wiped the smile off his face. “Sweetheart,” he said gently, “this really is good news.”

Rachel relaxed a bit, even though her anger didn’t subside. “Why is she always trying to steal my thunder? We won this election fair and square, yet she has been the bane of my existence for the past few months. She thinks because she has Moses’ mama on her side, she can just take over.”

Lester sighed. “You promised to stop talking about Mae Frances like that.”

Rachel didn’t even want to get into a debate with Lester about that crazy old woman who walked around in a matted full-length mink coat that she probably got at an estate sale in 1967. The Bushes claimed that Mae Frances was just a family friend, but something about that old woman turned Rachel’s stomach.

“Lester, I don’t care about that old hag—or Mae Frances,” Rachel quipped.

“I thought you and Jasmine were getting along,” Lester replied.

“No, Jasmine recognized that she lost the election fair and square. And I thought not hearing from her for four months meant that she was gracious in defeat. But she was just plotting to see how she could steal my shine.”

After the election, Jasmine had all but disappeared—thankfully. She’d hadn’t even bothered to reply to the email Rachel sent asking if Jasmine wanted to be her assistant. Then last month, out of the blue, she’d sent the board a press release talking about the center she was opening in honor of her little girl who’d been kidnapped. As a mother, Rachel could sympathize with not knowing where your child was. But they’d found the little girl, and still Jasmine milked sympathy every chance she could.

Rachel felt disrespected because Jasmine hadn’t even bothered to talk to her about the center. Then, she’d gone over Rachel’s head and contacted the ABC ladies’ auxiliary about hosting a fund-raiser. Now, she thought she was about to give the ultimate disrespect and go on Oprah? By herself? Oh, hell no. Not if Rachel had anything to say about it!

“You do realize this is not the first time they’ve done something like this,” Rachel replied. “Do I need to remind you of the article about Hosea on Essence.com last week?”

“That was about his TV show getting syndicated.”

“And did they or did they not mention his role in the ABC? Yet, they didn’t bother to mention your name, Mr. President, at all.”

“Honey, this isn’t about me. Or you. This is about the ABC. One of the things we promised to do was bring more positive coverage. I think it’s wonderful that Jasmine is helping us do that.”

He stepped toward her and tried to take her hand. Rachel snatched it away. Sometimes she wished she could jump into her husband’s body and take it over. He could be so doggone passive-aggressive. But that was okay, she thought to herself. That’s why he had her. Because she was anything but passive.

“Fine, Lester. I’m going to start dinner. My dad will be back with the kids any minute now.”

Lester grabbed her hand and stopped her. “Are you good?”

“I’m great,” she said, feigning a smile. Rachel left the room and instead of going right into their oversized kitchen, she went left, up the spiral staircase and into her bedroom. She grabbed her purse, pulled her credit card out of her wallet, and snatched her cell phone off the nightstand. She punched in the number she knew by heart.

“United Airlines, may I help you?” the voice said.

“Yes . . . I need a ticket to Chicago . . .” Rachel smiled as she leaned back against her headboard. She thought Jasmine had learned that she wasn’t the one to be played with, but it looked like ol’ Jazzy needed to be reminded of that. So, let the games begin!

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