The Second First Lady
Vanessa W. Snyder
Recently widowed Clairmont Jenkins is a 40-year-old pastor in a small Southwest Florida town. He’s a progressive preacher with a sincere desire to do God’s will and make a difference. But his high school sweetheart and wife of 15 years dies unexpectedly. Now he is alone with the ministry and his 14-year-old son.
Pastor Clairmont Jenkins III stared at the perfume-scented tithe envelope that Deacon Lloyd Harris, his longtime friend, had just slipped on his desk.
"I'll leave you alone with this one," Lloyd said with a slight grin on his face.
Picking it up, he fingered the edges gently as if doing so would change the contents of what was inside. For a brief moment he considered tossing it in the waste basket. But as usual, his curiosity got the best of him.
Here we go again, he thought irritably. Looking down at the envelope, this one was addressed, "to Pastor C.J." and written in red ink was the word "Private."
Pastor C.J. was the nickname he'd been given when he started out as youth pastor of the fifty-year-old Mount Jezereal Baptist Church. He didn't mind when he was younger, but as he began to mature he preferred to be called Pastor Jenkins. But old habits are hard to break, and the members who had known him the longest still insisted on referring to him that way.
Picking up the ominous-looking envelope, he looked at it suspiciously. He couldn't help but think, One thing for sure, there probably isn't any money inside. No, more than likely it was yet another anonymous note inviting him to do God knows what with God knows whom. Not wanting to prolong the suspension, he opened it quickly.
"Even Jesus had needs, let me fill yours. Stop by my house after service for an early dinner so we can talk." The note read.
Clairmont rolled his eyes at the ceiling and rubbed his forehead. He would've laughed, but unfortunately it wasn't funny. To make matters worse, he was pretty sure he recognized the handwriting. He couldn't believe dear old Sis. Riley would send him such a suggestive message. She must be twice his age—or close to it.
Why couldn't a certain segment of the congregation get the message and just let him be? Not being able to endure it any longer, he crumbled the paper and tossed it in the basket next to his desk.
"Great. Now I've got church mothers writing me love notes," he whispered to himself.
Leaning back in his chair, he said a little louder, "This is ridiculous. This can't be what being a single pastor is about."
The more he was confronted by this persistent problem; Clairmont didn't know what to make of it all. Giving up the task of figuring it out for the moment, he surrendered, "Well, Lord, I obviously know nothing about women."
It had been six months since he'd even bothered to pick up the phone and tried to call someone for a date. He just wasn't ready, especially after that dreadful fiasco with Tonia. He didn't know what he'd been thinking when he got involved with her.
Not to mention the barrage of women who'd visited him almost daily for nearly six months right after his wife passed. He couldn't believe the parade of "covered dishes" he had to put up with.
It all started with Rhena's "best friend," Carmen. She phoned the very night Rhena had died. At the time, he had been completely shell-shocked and barely able to speak.
"C.J.," she called him. "I don't want you to take this the wrong way, but if you need a woman to help ease the pain and soothe your aching heart, I know Rhena would want me to be that woman."
Clairmont couldn't respond right away. He remembered thinking that maybe he was dreaming or confused about what she had said because everything was happening in a blur. But just when he was sure he had heard her wrong, she continued to make her case. The more she talked, the more clearly he understood her message.
"You know, she and I were like sisters. We were so inseparable . . . people used to call us twins. And . . . I know all about you. We used to talk about you all the time. I know what you like to eat. I know how you like your coffee. I know your favorite colors and sports. Oh . . . and yes, I do know what you like in the bedroom."
She whispered the last part as though she was suddenly embarrassed at the sound of her own words.
With only the slightest hesitation, she went on, "And, honey, I know this might sound a bit harsh—but instead of just wallowing in your pain—why not just move on as quickly as you can?"
Carmen promptly ended the conversation after that by giving him a much needed out. "You don't have to answer right now. Just give it some thought. Okay?"
Clairmont hardly knew what to think. He just hung up the phone and tried to calm his emotions. At the moment, all he could feel was a dull throb, pulsating in the pit of his stomach. In fact, every piece of him was hurting physically. This had to be a nightmare. It just couldn't be happening to him. He was sure he'd wake up and find it was all a bad dream. But it wasn't.
Thinking back, he now realized that he had been too grief-stricken to notice that women were lining up to "comfort" him. If they weren't dropping by with those "covered dishes," they were calling and offering to come and clean his house. To make matters worse, most of the women were his own church members and that made it even more awkward.
There was Sister Paula who stopped over the day after Rhena died. She brought a four-course meal that made him sick for the next two days. Thankfully for him, the embarrassment alone sent her away.
Then, while he was still recovering from food poisoning, the now former minister of music dropped by. She was the one who couldn't seem to teach the choir anything but "I've got the blues" type songs. This unwanted visitor showed up wearing nothing but a fur coat—in August.
"Pastor, wouldn't you like to see what's under this fur?" She purred as she ran her bright red claw-like nails slowly down the front of her coat. Watching her peeling back the fur just a bit was enough to send him scurrying to the phone. He called his sister, Lillian, who came over as fast as she could to rescue him.
Thank God Lil lives only a few blocks away. She really saved me that night, he thought as he reminisced.
It all made him shudder and chuckle a bit now, but that was definitely not the case when he was going through it.
Fortunately for him, his sister arrived just before the woman started her strip tease act. The whole incident was incredible. He was beginning to feel like prey for a pack of wolves.
After that episode, there was the "mystery lover" who kept calling and attempting to disguise her voice. Of course it only took about the third phone call for him to hear little Jeffrey Hughes yelling in the background. That's when Clairmont figured out that the mysterious woman was none other than Juanita Hughes, a three-time divorced mother of six.
When he called her by name, she quickly confessed, "Oh, Pastor! You know I was just joking around." She giggled, trying to lighten the awkward moment.
"I just wanted you to know I'm here for you. You can cry on my shoulder anytime," she had explained.
Finally, his best friend, Lloyd, and the deacon board had found a tactful way to let the congregation know that he wasn't ready to "court" just yet. He didn't know exactly how they had handled it and didn't even bother to ask. He was just glad to be left alone. At last, he was allowed to grieve in peace.
It had been a long road and some days he really wasn't sure he was finished with the mourning process. Maybe he never would. Even now, almost three years later, he'd sometimes wake up in a cloud of bewilderment and the whole experience would still seem unreal.
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