That fool needs to die. I’m talking an acid-in-the-face, burning-in-the-bed, slow and painful death.”
Audra Bowen’s eyes grew wide as she stared at her friend. Juanita Reynolds, or Nita as she was called by those who knew her best, was never one to mince words, and the way she was glaring at Coco, their other friend, in disgust proved she was maintaining her sterling record.
“You need to put some arsenic in his coffee, lace his beer with cyanide, something,” Nita continued.
While Audra would never be that graphic, she definitely felt where Nita was coming from. She also knew that she better jump in this conversation, because sensitivity was not Nita’s strong suit.
“Coco, no one thinks you need to try and duplicate a Lifetime movie,” Audra said, cutting her eyes at Nita. “We are just really concerned about you, that’s all.”
They were sitting in a booth for lunch at Grooves Restaurant, one of the swankier spots in Houston. Audra should’ve known something was up. When the hostess had tried to seat them near the door, where they usually liked to sit so they could see and be seen, Coco had all but had a fit and asked to be moved to the back, in a secluded part of the restaurant. As soon as she removed her sunglasses, they saw why.
“A man has one time to put his hand on me,” Nita said. “One time.” She held up one finger. “Then it’s gonna be a lot of hymn singin’ and flower bringin’.”
“Calm down,” Coco began, slipping the dark sunglasses back on. “It’s a lot worse than it looks.”
“If it got any worse, you’d be dead,” Nita snapped.
The sight of Coco’s puffy black eye made Audra want to cry. It was especially noticeable because of Coco’s light skin. Of the three of them, she was the prettiest. She could pass for Mariah Carey’s sister, except there was nothing glamorous about Coco. She wore her golden brown hair straight and parted down the middle. With her petite frame and passive demeanor, she looked like a librarian. Still, she’d never had any trouble attracting men, which was why they couldn’t understand why she stayed with that psychopath Sonny. But it was useless to complain. They’d been down this road so many times, and no matter how many times Sonny hit her, Coco refused to leave. She was repeating a vicious cycle. Her mother was in an abusive relationship, which she, too, refused to leave.
Nita asked the question she always asked. “Coco, you are a smart woman with your own money and your own job as a teacher. I don’t understand. How long are you going to let him do this to you?”
“I told you, I’m working on an exit plan if Sonny doesn’t get it together,” Coco said, giving the answer she always gave. “Sonny has been stressed ever since the Texans cut him. He’s been worried about getting picked up by another team. I just don’t want to leave him when he’s down.”
“Go somewhere with that bull,” Nita snapped. “Players get cut every day. So you’re supposed to let him beat you because he’s feeling sorry for himself ? I don’t think so, and I can’t figure why you keep making excuses for him.” Nita leaned back in her seat, frustrated.
Audra totally agreed. She had no idea why Coco stayed with her boyfriend of two years. Granted, Sonny had been a gem in the beginning, but over the last year, he’d turned into somebody they didn’t recognize, especially in the six months that he’d been cut from the team. Coco was always talking about the good times they used to have, but Audra was like Nita. After the first time, all the good memories would have been gone—along with her. But no matter what Sonny did, Coco stayed. And now that she was three months’ pregnant with his child, they knew the chances of her ever leaving were slim to none.
“The bastard hit you while you’re pregnant!” Nita said, as if it had just dawned on her. “You’re still in your first trimester and he wants to put his hands on you!”
“Can you guys let me handle this?” Coco pleaded. “This is the first time he’s gone off in months. He’s not going to do anything to hurt me or the baby, okay?”
Nita dramatically rolled her eyes as Audra struggled to find the right words to get through to her friend.
“Just stop judging me, okay? You never know what you’ll do unless you’re in that situation,” Coco said.
“I know I wouldn’t let some six-foot-six man who’s built like an army tank put his hands on me, I know that much,” Nita said, jabbing her finger to emphasize her point.
“Just drop it, please?” Coco said. “Besides, if I had known you guys were going to trip like this, birthday or no birthday, I would’ve bowed out.”
Audra shot Nita a chastising look to get her to back off. Otherwise, Coco would be out the door in a minute.
“Can we change the subject, please?” Coco leaned back as the waitress set their drinks in front of them. “Audra, how was your date last night?” she asked after the waitress walked off.
“Let’s just say his eyebrows were arched better than mine,” Audra said, letting Coco change the subject. Nothing they said would make a difference anyway. “And the fact that he knew my Louis Vuitton was a knockoff spoke volumes.” She sighed heavily. “I’m never gonna find my son a father. I hate men.” Audra spat out the words with conviction, like they resonated from deep within her soul.
“No, you hate your choice in men,” Nita remarked drily as she picked up her Crown and Coke and slurped it down like it was just Coke.
“You need to stop being picky,” Coco added.
Audra rolled her eyes. “And settle for somebody who beats me up on the first and the fifteenth?” As soon as she said it, Audra wished she could take the words back. The smile faded from Coco’s face.
“Coco, I . . . I’m sorry.” She motioned toward the empty glass set in front of her. “It’s the liquor.”
Coco bit down on her lip. “Don’t worry about it,” she said, shifting uncomfortably.
“No, I shouldn’t have said that.” Audra covered Coco’s hand with her own. “I know you love Sonny. We just hate what he’s doing to you. Why don’t you let me come over and talk to Sonny?” Audra figured since the conversation had drifted back to Coco’s boyfriend, she might as well finish it.
“Why don’t you let me come over and make Sonny some hot grits?” Nita scowled.
“For the umpteenth time, can you guys just let me handle this, please? I’m getting a plan together, and I’ll be all right.”
“You’ve been singing that song for six months now,” Nita said. “And don’t hand me that ‘I’m staying for the baby’ crap. If anything, now you should really want to leave so you don’t have to raise your child in an abusive household. Break the cycle, girl.”
“Drop it, Nita, okay? Just mind your own business.” The force in Coco’s voice caused her friend’s eyes to widen in surprise.
“Fine, just don’t invite me to your funeral.”
“Hel-lo,” Audra said, waving her hand. “Can we please not fight? We’re supposed to be having my birthday-slash-pity party.”
“I think it’s a pity the way she keeps letting Sonny beat her ass.”
“Nita!” Audra admonished.
Nita rolled her eyes but shrugged and crossed her arms to let her friends know she was done talking about it.
“Anyway,” Audra said, giving up on further discussion about Sonny, “that date with the metrosexual was a bust, and Jared has been blowing up my phone, trying to tell me that wasn’t him I heard,” Audra said, referring to her ex-boyfriend and their latest drama. She’d really been hoping things would work out with Jared. Not only was he handsome and sexy but he would make a great father.
“Did you not tell him that his number popped up on the caller ID and it’s not like you don’t know his voice?” Nita asked.
Audra nodded miserably. Three weeks ago, she was at home putting her six-year-old son, Andrew, to bed when her cell phone rang. She had spent all evening trying to cheer Andrew up. Jared was supposed to take him to a Houston Astros game, but he’d canceled, saying he had to work late. When Audra saw Jared’s number, she readied herself for his apologies. But he didn’t say anything, and she figured he had called her by mistake, which he’d done numerous times before. She was just about to hang up when she heard Jared say, “Come on, baby. Shake it for Daddy.” That had caused her to go sit on her sofa and listen for one hour and fifteen minutes. What she heard had her in tears on the floor all night long. Never in a million years did she think she’d hear her man having sex with another woman. Pure, unadulterated, buck-wild sex. Even though she knew she should hang up, no matter how much it tore her up, she listened to everything. Finally, she had hung up and tried to call him right back. But, naturally, he didn’t answer.
“I can’t believe he was gon’ pull that R. Kelly ‘it wasn’t me’ crap,” Nita said, snapping Audra out of her thoughts.
“Yeah,” Coco added. “Even when you recounted word for word what he said.”
Audra sighed heavily as she bemoaned her luck with men. “That’s Jared ‘if the evidence doesn’t fit, you must acquit’ Stevens.”
“Well, the evidence fit, so I’m glad you quit his trifling behind,” Nita said. “He should’ve been gone. He’s a professional boxer who hasn’t had a match in three years, living up with you and your son, using your electricity, talking about how he’s gonna be the next Mike Tyson.”
“He was just so good with Andrew.” Audra struggled not to cry. She’d shed enough tears behind Jared, whom she’d put out the very next day after overhearing the phone call.
“It’s not good for Andrew to see his mother so unhappy,” Coco said.
“That’s why you guys need to come with me to the Rockets party tonight,” Nita said.
Audra made a disgusted noise. “I’m tired of the pro scene. It’s not working. We’re too old to compete with those Pop-Tarts,” she moaned. They’d gone to a party for Vince Young last week, and she’d felt more like a chaperone.
“Yeah, I’m tired of parties, too. The last one we went to, you were the only one who walked away with a phone number,” Coco added. “And he wasn’t even a baller. Just a friend of a friend of a baller. I wouldn’t have talked to anyone anyway, but it would’ve been nice if someone had at least tried.”
Audra nodded her head. The pro scene was getting really old. Since college, all three of them had messed with football players, basketball players, all kinds of professional athletes or their friends, and they had gotten nowhere.
“You didn’t have any luck because you guys weren’t working it,” Nita said, snapping her fingers.
“We. Can’t. Compete,” Audra slowly said. Nita enjoyed the pro scene, not just because she attracted the most men but because she logged all of their escapades in her journal, which she wrote in daily. She never let them read it—it had been that way since she’d started writing in the eighth grade. She claimed she might release a book one day, something like Confessions of a Video Vixen. So she had reason to stay on that scene, but Audra was tired. “Besides, most of these players are married or in a serious relationship and only looking for a chick on the side,” Audra continued. “I’m looking for a husband.”
“And a daddy,” Nita playfully teased.
“And a daddy,” Audra replied. “I’m not ashamed to admit it. It’s hard for a single mother. But the pro scene isn’t cutting it. The old heads are settled and the young heads want young girls. We’re all over thirty, or about to hit thirty,” she said, pointing to Nita, who was still twenty-nine. “That game is up.”
“So we get a new game,” Nita casually responded.
“I don’t want a game. I want a good, clean, decent man.” Audra sighed.
“Maybe even a nice Christian man,” Coco threw in.
“See, now you goin’ too far.” Nita tsked as she downed the rest of her drink.
“Really, I’m not,” Coco lamented. “Maybe if I find me a Christian man, I won’t have all of this drama.”
“She’s right,” Audra added, even though she knew if Jesus himself sent Coco a man, she’d be too blinded by Sonny to give him a chance.
“Well, you guys are by yourselves on that one. Because ain’t nothing a Christian man can do for me but introduce me to a bad boy. I need excitement in my life,” Nita said.
“Well, I need something different, and I promise you, I’m going to find a way to get it.” She didn’t know how, but Audra knew, from now on, her search for a man was going in a totally different direction.
“So what, you want to try hockey players?” Nita asked.
Audra turned up her lips. “Don’t be silly.”
“I’m just saying, you have all these grand ideas.” Nita shrugged.
“I don’t have an idea yet,” Audra replied. “But give me a few weeks, I’ll come up with something.”
Nita and Coco eyed their friend. She had that determined look on her face. Her mind was churning, and they knew her well enough to know she wouldn’t stop until she came up with a plan to snag them all some decent men.
© 2010 RESHONDA TATE BILLINGSLEY
Lifelong friends Coco, Nita, and Tia have spent years looking for love in the arms of flashy pro athletes, hoping to land a baller but ending up with a stream of failed relationships. The beautiful and demure Coco has endured years of physical abuse from her boyfriend, Sonny, while Tia, a single mother, has dated her fair share of cheaters and yearns for a stable companion who will be a father figure to her son. And feisty, seductive Nita is tired of being the million-dollar mistress and wants to settle down—if she can find someone worth coming home to.
Changing the Game . . .
Now that the women are approaching thirty, they’re finding it harder than ever to compete with the pro groupies. Determined to change the game and find some worthwhile men, Tia hatches an outrageous plan. Soon the trio is "holy rolling," masquerading as God-fearing churchgoers at a local conference for young ministers in the hopes of snagging a prominent pastor. But will their big gamble pay off? Men of the cloth are still just men, after all. As the three friends meet their potential life partners, they will have to decide how far they want to take their holy rollers scheme—each risking heartbreak while taking a chance on finding a reliable, responsible man to love and cherish, flaws and all.
Author ReShonda Tate Billingsley Talks About Her Previous Occupation
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Reading Group Guide
Rachel Adams is trying to find a way to forgive her husband, Pastor Lester Adams, for having an affair. Her task is made all the more difficult by the reappearance of his former mistress, Mary Richardson, in their family’s church. Now pregnant, Mary claims that Lester is the child’s father and is intent on seducing him away from Rachel. Meanwhile, a tragedy rocks the foundation of the Adams family and everyone involved is confronted with an ultimate decision of forgiveness.
Questions and Topics for Discussion
1. What does Rachel’s dream in the novel’s opening chapter reveal about her fears? How is she able to overcome these fears by the end of the book?
2. Despite Lester’s continual refusal of her affections, Mary protests that the love she feels for him is real. Do you think this is true?
3. Rachel fears that her anger is interfering with her growth as a Christian. Do you agree with her decision to leave the church until Mary is removed? Likewise, do y see more