The light blared down on them from above. The blonde girl accepted the needle and pointed the tip towards her thigh. She held it there for a few seconds before pulling it away from her body and handing it back to her friend. They looked at each other and smiled.
Rosalyn heard a gasp from the audience, and sighed. She signaled for the light technician to dim the spotlight, and turn on the house lights. Her best friend shrugged. One of the women in the audience stood, picked up her purse, Bible and coat. With her shoulders pressed back, she stormed past Rosalyn and Phoebe, without a second glance.
Gianna stood up from her position in the front row, and motioned for Rosalyn to come to the front of the room. Phoebe nudged her, pointing her head toward Gianna. Her feet felt like lead as she walked up the steps to stand in front of her actresses. Knowing they waited for the next cue, she signaled for them to return backstage.
“Thank you for coming out this evening for our rehearsal. I hope you had enough time to read over the information I sent in your email invite and will consider having us do an HIV/AIDS awareness day at your ministries. Hopefully, you've seen enough to get a gist of what we'll be covering in the prevention, treatment and hope seminars following the skit. Anyone interested in signing up, please stop and see Phoebe on your way out. Are there any questions?” Rosalyn wiped her hands on the side of her classic cut jeans. She rocked back and forth on the balls of her feet, before taking a step towards the stairs. A hand shot up in the middle of the seats.
“How soon will you and your group be ready to present this with your other seminars?” the short man with his hand raised said.
“Two weeks.” Rosalyn flashed him a big smile. Others in the crowd crossed their arms and legs as she looked around. Her own pastor and his wife gave her quick thumbs up before she stepped off of the stage.
People began standing up and walking out as the lights on the stage dimmed. She looked at the signup sheet on the table in front of Gianna. The short man stopped at the table. Several women in ankle length skirts and loose tops gathered around a tall slim woman in her sixties, with a head of silver hair pulled back into a tight French roll. Pastor and First Lady Daniels blocked Rosalyn's view of the other invited guests exiting the auditorium.
“It looked even better than before. You're going to help a lot of people.” First Lady Daniels smiled and placed a hand on Rosalyn's forearm.
“I don't think the other's agree with you.” Rosalyn felt the beginnings of a headache tiptoe behind her temples.
“Don't worry. Everything will work out. Trust God.” Pastor Daniels smiled. He placed his hand behind his wife's back, and guided her toward the door.
The tall silver haired woman approached Rosalyn, and stopped just within speaking distance. Rosalyn gave her a bright sincere smiled. She leaned forward to take a step toward her, but stopped when the woman took a small step back.
“Young lady, what you're proposing is appalling.” The lady frowned, before clearing her throat. “This subject matter has no place in anyone's church. This …problem is part of the world, not the church. If you weren't out doing whatever you did you wouldn't have it. You should be ashamed of yourself. “
Rosalyn gasped. Her face turned red. The vein in her neck started throbbing while hot tears pooled behind her eyes. “You mean, hateful, ignorant old- how dare you!”
“You're the one out of line. I suggest you keep your awareness whatever out of the church. The church is no place for this mess. You people need to deal with the consequences of your actions, and stop trying to suck other people in to contaminate them.” The lady crossed her arms, and looked down her nose at Rosalyn. She looked back toward the stage, shook her head again, then turned on her heel, and walked out of the auditorium.
Phoebe walked up beside Rosalyn. “Rosy, you okay?”
“Thank God I still have a day job.” Rosalyn turned to her friend as a tear slid down her cheek. She shook her head, threw up her hands and walked away.
To Phoebe, the stack of bills on the table seemed to glow. She paced up and down in front of the couch as Lazarus read off the information from the website sales from the previous month. There was no way they could continue to support themselves if the sales didn’t increase.
Two of her job interviews in the last four days had shown promise. The art gallery seemed really interested, but it had several more candidates to speak with before making their decision. The antique store was a long shot. Even she found it hard to sell her experience with art as a good reason to hire her over another candidate. It was definitely an employer’s market. With either position, not only would she be working odd hours, but she would be making less than two dollars more than she did when she graduated college. Gas bill, water bill, and mortgage, a minimum wage job paycheck did not meet.
Phoebe sighed. Her faith continued to shrivel as she allowed worry and doubt to crowd her mind. It seemed too small to come against all of the obstacles that recent changes in business trends presented. The economy was unstable, and all of the natural disasters coupled with a slow recovery from the recession meant people were not buying art.
Phoebe played with one of her two strand twists. It had been months since she'd been to a salon. If Rosalyn had not moved in, they would have been behind in their mortgage months ago. It amazed her how it seemed God worked things out just enough to keep them from going completely under. Every day she prayed Rosalyn would knock on the back door, and tell Phoebe the company had found a new position for her.
“Phoebe, did you hear me?” Lazarus looked up at her from the couch.
“No, Laz, my mind drifted. Say it again.” Phoebe sat next to her brother in law and gave him a warm smile.
“There are some ideas I want to run by you I think could really pick things back up. I don’t believe the art industry is doing as bad as you think it is. I have seen several spots in the area with great stores, but their websites are atrocious. We could reach out to them—” Lazarus turned to the door.
Solomon opened the door and strolled in with a large pizza, and bags from the regional deep discount grocery store. He waved at his brother and Phoebe held her breath. Even with everything they were going through, she still loved to look at her husband. From his dark ash blond hair to his pale green almost grey eyes, she loved her man. Loved him enough to leave the warm beaches and salt air in California to relocate to Chicago, and start over.
Lazarus stood up from the couch, and took the food and bags from Solomon. He nodded when Solomon patted his arm and nodded thanks.
“You look stressed, Pheebs. Is everything alright?” Solomon took her in his arms and kissed her full on the lips.
Phoebe smiled and wrapped her arms around her husband. She pulled in his scent, and laid her head on his shoulder.
“Didn’t we pray this morning, before I left for that second interview?” Solomon pulled Phoebe onto the couch with him.
Phoebe nodded. Then she wiped her eyes.
“Well if we prayed, don’t worry. Cause we gave that worry to God when we prayed. Do you want to pray again?” Solomon held Phoebe’s hand.
“No, I want one of those art galleries I interviewed with to call back. I want the bills to be paid miraculously so I can go to the hair salon.” Phoebe smiled at her husband. “I'm not worried, I’m tired. You know I'm not used to this.”
“I know, but I believe I have some good news for you!” Solomon stood up, and walked into the kitchen.
Phoebe stood up from the couch.
“How many slices of pizza do you want?” Solomon called from the kitchen.
“Two.” Phoebe sat back down with a sigh. The yearning to tell her husband they could not afford pizza, lost to her desire to have an evening without stress.
Solomon walked into the living room holding two plates. He handed Phoebe a plate with two slices, and kept one with three slices in his lap.
“Thank you. The sales are down another three percent from last month.” Phoebe lifted a slice of pizza to her mouth, and then sat it back down. “We need to say grace.”
Lazarus walked into the room with three slices of pizza and a glass of juice. He balanced the plate and glass as he sat in the recliner next to the couch Solomon and Phoebe shared.
“God bless this food for nourishment of our body, in Jesus name. Amen.” Solomon bit a slice of pizza. “So that is what has you all riled up.”
“I know things are going to work out honey. It’s just frustrating looking at our sales. We don’t have any savings. We’re hand to mouth. I don’t know how we’ve made it this far most days. Yes it’s the grace of God but how long can we keep this up?” Phoebe took a bite of her pizza. “If we don’t work, we won’t eat.”
“Well, we’re working plenty, hence the pizza. You haven’t heard anything from any of the companies you interviewed with since last month? What about the store over on the Southside?” Solomon said.
“They ended up not needing the help. His daughter came home from school, and is transferring to a state school to save on tuition. One of her scholarships was unable to renew this semester.” Phoebe took another bite of pizza.
“Well, I'm glad I kept my licenses current because the only reason I was hired over the other candidate they liked for the position at Game Challenge was that my credentials are current and I have training on the latest technology.” Solomon stood up and walked into the kitchen. “You want some soda or juice, Pheebs?”
Phoebe stopped chewing, and stared at Lazarus.
Lazarus shook his head, shrugged, and grinned.
“Solomon Phillips,” Phoebe placed the plate on the coffee table, and joined her husband in the kitchen. “You got the job.”
Solomon smiled, picked Phoebe up from the floor, and gave her the deepest kiss she could stand. Phoebe locked her arms around his neck as he dipped her back.
“Can someone bring me another slice of pizza when y’all finish playing tonsil hockey in there?” Lazarus called from the living room. “Don’t get any of your kissing germs on it either.”
Phoebe locked eyes with her husband as he pulled her back upright.
Solomon smiled at Phoebe, and shrugged.
Phoebe stepped out of his embrace. She placed a slice of pizza on a paper towel, and sashayed into the living room.
“How about you meet me in the bedroom after you give that pizza to Laz? I have to tell you all about my new gig.” Solomon called to Phoebe from the kitchen.
“I told you not to worry, sis.” Lazarus smiled and accepted the pizza. “Now remember I'm rooting for a girl. Ross needs a godsister.”
Phoebe handed the pizza to Lazarus, smiled, and waved goodbye as she walked back toward the kitchen.
Rosalyn looked at everything on her desk. She giggled at the shiny spot on the corner where she anointed it each morning and asked God to make her position permanent. There was a shiny spot now on the door, on the window, and on her chair. One of the women at the church told her to claim the position in the name of Jesus and anoint her office so no ungodly spirits would be able to hinder her from getting it, so she would be hired. It sounded a little off to Rosalyn, and she couldn’t find any scriptures supporting it in the Bible but, with medical coverage, daycare, and a paycheck at stake she was willing to try anything.
The old Rosalyn would have stretched this project out as long as possible. To make this transition a two-year project, instead of a year project, would have taken little to no effort on her part. She just couldn’t bring herself to do it. Instead of dragging her feet, and prolonging deadlines, Rosalyn made it a point to meet her deadlines early and give every part of the project her professional best. Something inside her just couldn’t work like no one else watched anymore. Even if no one else knew what she did, she knew. God knew.
Rosalyn sighed. Since she rededicated her life to God, everything changed. Performing her job duties as if she reported directly to God, filled her days, and her son and family, filled her evenings. Asking God to keep her company, and reading filled her nights. Rosalyn sighed again. She had to take up reading because she definitely had a long life of lonely nights ahead. The hardest part of the night was when her body remembered all the “fun” she had before her pregnancy, and HIV status.
The phone rang. Rosalyn looked at the display, and smiled. She pressed the speakerphone button.
“Rosalyn Bell, Baal Labs.”
“Good morning, Rosalyn. It’s Daniel.”
Rosalyn felt two gardens full of butterflies gather in her stomach. “Good morning, Daniel.”
“Going to grab a bite to eat. You coming?” Daniel cleared his throat.
“Of course. Is it okay if we go check on Ross on the way out? He had a little insomnia last night. Hoping he isn’t driving the ladies in the daycare crazy.” Rosalyn chuckled and reminded herself this was not a date. They were friends and co-workers. Nothing less. Nothing more.
“Not a problem. Meet you at the elevator at a quarter to twelve.” Daniel said.
Rosalyn pressed the release button. Daniel was dangerous. He stood six feet four with almond brown skin so smooth you could spread it on toast like butter, and shoulders broad enough to roll around in all day. If a person wanted to do that sort of thing.
A picture of Rajj flashed in her mind, and all thoughts of rolling around in anyone else’s arms halted. In addition to being HIV positive, first and foremost, Rosalyn had a responsibility to her child. Party and fun days ended the moment the doctor confirmed her pregnancy. In another space and time, she would have definitely wanted to do that sort of thing.
Time flew by despite her attempt to ignore the clock and focus on the final numbers for the consultants. An instant message from Phoebe popped up on her smartphone.
[Do you have a minute to talk?]
[Going to lunch with Daniel, call you when I get back. K?]
Rosalyn locked her station and picked up her coat. Spring was over but no one notified summer. It shouldn’t be possible to have temperatures so cold in the middle of June. The smell of microwaved food filled her nostril as she passed by the employee break room. Less than two minutes, and she would be in front of Daniel. Being saved didn’t mean she was blind and having HIV didn’t mean she was dead. Close proximity to a man who fit her physical and mental preference to the “t” wreaked of irony, she never thought life could be so cruel.
“You wanna try that new pizza place two blocks over. I hear they are putting themselves on the map.” Daniel pressed the down button.
Ding. The elevator doors opened and several people filed off.
“Sure, been a while since I had an authentic Chicago style pizza. I hope Ross is sleep. He gives those girls a fit when I check on him in the middle of the day and leave.” Rosalyn stepped onto the elevator in front of Daniel.
“Don’t do it then. They will call you if they need you.” Daniel looked into her eyes and winked. “Get us to the pizza that much sooner.”
Rosalyn tapped her hand against her hip. She tilted her head and looked up at him. “Okay, I’ll be nice today.”
“You’ll thank me later.” Daniel flashed his winning smile.
“I would say or beat you, but we’re still at work. Only time will tell.” Rosalyn pulled her eyes away from his. She cleared her throat and looked at the floor numbers. “What are you getting on your pizza?”
Daniel pulled the chair out for Rosalyn. A tall buxom woman with an almost translucent complexion approached the table. Her smile caught Rosalyn off guard until she realized it wasn’t for her. Some people were bolder than good sense allowed. Two years ago she would have chopped the waitress down to size and stiffed her on a tip.
“I'm Vicki. What can I get for you all today?” Vicki kept her eyes locked on Daniel.
“I don’t know.” Daniel intertwined his fingers with Rosalyn, who squirmed for a moment in her seat then flashed him a nervous smile. “Did we decide on pepperoni or our favorite?”
“Half in half like we normally do. You get your favorites on your half and I get my favorites on mine, bay.” Rosalyn bit back a laugh.
“I’ll have pepperoni on my side and she’ll have pineapples and ham on hers. Can we get a pitcher of water and some lemon on the side?” Daniel never took his eyes off Rosalyn.
Vicki wrote down the order and turned away from the table.
Rosalyn pulled her hand back and laughed. “You are wrong for that.”
“It was that or watch you rip her to shreds.” Daniel smirked.
“Nah, I was just gonna stiff her on her tip.” Rosalyn smiled. “My shred ripping days are over.”
“You’ve grown a lot over the last few months Rosy. It’s like you're a different person.” Daniel said.
“It’s hard for me to believe it sometimes, too.” Rosalyn shook her head. “Thankful for everything. Things could be a lot different. Several of my friends back in Texas still don’t have jobs.”
Daniel cleared his throat.
Vicki brought the water and lemons back to the table with two glasses. She poured water in each of them and nodded toward Rosalyn.
Rosalyn smiled back at her.
“I didn’t bring you here to talk about work, Rosy. We could have done that at the office.” Daniel smiled. “When are we gonna go out again?”
“Um, did you blackout when we went bowling last Friday night?” Rosalyn sipped her water.
“Not with the group from the church, or with Phoebe and Solomon. Us. Alone. The way we did last year,” Daniel said.
“You know how I feel about that. I don’t think it’s a good idea.” Rosalyn looked at the door.
“Tell me what you want me to do, Rosalyn.” Daniel weaved his fingers with hers again. “I would love to get to know you better.”
“We work together. Talk to me when that is not an issue.” Rosalyn pulled her hand back and clasped them together in her lap.
Daniel’s smartphone rang.
“I care about you. I want to make sure you’re taken care of, no matter what happens with this job.” Daniel pulled his phone out and placed it on the table. “You can’t tell me you don’t feel something for me.”
“I feel like we are great friends. I'm happy with that.” Rosalyn looked his phone as it beeped.
“Well, I'm not.” Daniel’s phone rang again. “I have to take this call excuse me.”
Daniel stood up and stepped out of hearing range of the table.
Vicki walked over to the table and placed the pizza and two plates down. “Did you and your man need anything else?”
Rosalyn cut her eyes at the waitress and smiled. “No, that is fine.”
Vicki looked at Daniel for a moment. She gave Rosalyn an apologetic smile, and walked away.
Daniel sat back down at the table and turns the ringer on the phone off. “Where were we?”
“Was that about the contract workers?” Rosalyn looked at the name on the screen.
Daniel turned the phone over.
“They didn’t like the proposal I put together? What? Tell me I can take it.” Rosalyn said. She placed her arms on the table and leaned toward Daniel.
Daniel leaned across the table to kiss Rosalyn on the lips. “I’ll tell you what they said when we get back to the office. Right now is not about work.”
Rosalyn sat back in her seat and touched her lips. “Why did you do that?”
“I'm trying to have a relationship with you, woman. It means I want to see where we're going with this.” Daniel sighed. “Don’t you?”
“I just want to live long enough to see my son become a man. You’re great with him, but that doesn’t require us being in a relationship does it? That part of my life is over. I can’t live in the dreams of my past.” Rosalyn picked up a slice of ham and pineapple pizza.
“Never thought you would. I plan on being a part of today’s dream.” Daniel placed three slices of pizza on his plate. He took Rosalyn’s hand and bowed his head.
Lord, don’t let me fall for this man.
Rosalyn didn’t hear what Daniel asked God for over the pizza because she was too busy hoping she wasn’t wearing her feelings on her face.