“Asa Watkins, say yes already. You know I’m going to wear you down. I always do.”
Bess was the only person in my life who started phone conversations like we were already in the middle of them. It was like she always started without you and expected you to catch up.
“I don’t have time, Bess. I already explained this to Mama when she called half an hour ago. Which, for the record, was a cheap stunt. The two of you do not have me figured out so easily.”
My mouth said I didn’t have time, but I knew she was right. Bess, my best friend since the age of five, knew me like a book, and she also knew I couldn’t refuse her. We’ve done the good, the bad, and the outlandish together, and no matter my level of initial resistance, I eventually give in every time.
“It’s a couple of nights a week for like two weeks. You already know the songs; we just have to see what spin Maurice is going to put on it.”
“Is he really still tinkering with the arrangements on the music we’ve all done a million times? That man is the only choir director I’ve known who can’t ever leave things straight forward.”
She knew I already turned down my mama’s request to come back and sing in Bishop Chambers’ anniversary choir. This was their way, though. Mama used guilt, and when that didn’t work, Bess would bully me and pull the best friend card. What kind of chance did I stand?
I was never in a hurry to return to the fire and brimstone environment that man created. Right and wrong were extremely black and white in the Bishop’s eyes, and he made sure everyone knew that his eyes and what they saw were all that mattered. I could probably get through it, but I didn’t want to. The best part about being forty-five minutes from home for college was that I could get there quickly in an emergency, but could feign exhaustion and distance when I didn’t really want to be bothered.
“Are you listening to me?” Bess was using her ‘do not ignore me’ voice.
“I’m here and all ears.”
“Now, you know Bishop doesn’t work on his anniversary Sunday, so he’s bringing in a guest preacher.”
“So? I don’t want to hear any of them spell out why I’m going to hell, either.”
“Oh, you’ll like this one. It’s Malik Creswell.”
Oh, my Lord. Did she say Malik Creswell? From Mercy High School? He’d been a young guidance counselor during our freshman and sophomore years, and the basketball coach.
“Yes, that Malik, and you already know that.”
“Did I say that out loud?”
Bess was full belly laughing at this point. For a best friend, my discomfort often amused her greatly.
“Asa, I’ve been able to read your thoughts for years, and when it comes to Malik, it’s not even a fair fight.”
Straddling the arm of my couch was getting uncomfortable, and I had too many questions. I slid off and onto the corner cushion to begin my interrogation.
“Why would Bishop ask Malik? He’s the anti-Bishop. Modern, forward-thinking, openly gay, and I’m willing to bet he’s not saving himself for marriage.”
“I sure hope not. When you two finally figure it out and hook up, somebody has to bring experience to the table.”
“You act like I’m a virgin.”
“Oh, please. Missy Holbrook does not count in this situation, or any situation. She was showing her panties to boys for a Jolly Rancher in the second grade. You started driving before any of us, so I’m not surprised she put out for a ride. And don’t get me started on Lance. That lying closet case. Talking about, he kissed you on a bet. Whatever, we are way off-topic. I will send you the rehearsal schedule. Pick out something nice to wear. You have two weeks. I love you and don’t even think about weaseling out of this, or I’ll call your mama back on you.”
I listened to silence for a full minute before I realized she’d ended the call.