Friday, November 23, 2012

Free From Guilt by Pat Simmons

Free From Guilt
Lift Every Voice; New Edition edition (September 20, 2012)
Pat Simmons


Cameron Daniel Jamieson wasn’t going down like his brothers and cousins in the romance department. No woman in the world would get him to a prayer altar as a prerequisite for the wedding altar.

Absolutely, he wanted to get married, and he somewhat was on the prowl for a wife. His criterion was she had to be the one his heart refused to let get away. Furthermore, he had a major stipulation. Cameron didn’t believe in mixing religion with politics—at the workplace or in relationships—and definitely not outside of the church walls. That was nonnegotiable.

He did a quick sweep of his relatives gathered in the dressing room of the small St. Louis, Missouri, church. Cameron noted the common thread among the men. Their wives had dug their stilettos into the ground, refusing a diamond ring, unless their Jamieson men humbled themselves to Christ first. How ridiculous was that? Yet, that’s exactly what happened to them.

His cousin Aaron “Ace” and Ace’s wife, Talise Jamieson, were moments away from renewing their wedding vows in an elaborate ceremony. A few months earlier, the couple had married a mere three weeks before their precious daughter was born.

This was a happy ending to their tumultuous courtship. Cameron paused in his thinking. He guessed there were always exceptions to any rule. Maybe, if it wasn’t for Jesus intervening in the couple’s troubled relationship, he wouldn’t be standing there about to witness the renewal of their wedding vows today.

Nonetheless, Cameron took credit for introducing Talise and Ace, even though they eventually split on bad terms. Later, when he learned that a future illegitimate Jamieson child was at stake, Cameron didn’t hesitate to intervene in his cousin’s business. He refused to lose any connections to his ancestral tree.

Once Ace got his act together and proposed, Talise had two stipulations to her holdout of saying yes. First, she didn’t want to be pregnant in a wedding dress. Second, her sister, who was serving in the Persian Gulf, had to be present. Today, Talise had her wishes fulfilled. Women and their demands could really put a strain on a brother.

Oddly, the “groom” was nervously pacing the floor.
“Chill, dude. You’re already married. It’s not like Talise is going to leave you standing at the altar.” Cameron taunted his cousin, who was more like a third brother to him.

“Today is all about my baby. You have no idea how important this is to her. Everything has to be perfect,” Ace replied. With a thoughtful pause, he stared down at Talise’s wedding rings and his band. Now cupped in his palm, those very treasures had been on their fingers a day earlier.

At that moment, Ace’s s cell phone rang and ended the discussion. When he answered, the photographer snapped a picture. Listening to the one-sided conversation, Cameron sensed something wasn’t going as planned.

“She did what? You’ve got to be kidding me!” Ace roared. After listening a few minutes longer, his voice softened. “It’ll be okay, love,” he consoled. Then exhaling, he finished the conversation, “I’ll see you in a few. I love you, babe.”

“Something is not okay. What’s going on?” Cameron, along with the other groomsmen, was ready to spring into action.

“It’s Talise’s stepmother, Donna,” Ace responded. With a quick glance around the room, he checked to see if his father-in-law had returned from the men’s room.

“She’s in the bridal chamber giving Tay all kinds of grief. Among other things, she’s complaining about why she had to wear pink instead of white. You’d think it was her wedding day. If that’s not enough, the woman’s harping on why we couldn’t renew our vows in Talise’s hometown
of Richmond. Her parents still live there, but my wife hasn’t lived there in years.”

Cameron knew Ace didn’t hold his tongue if anyone upset his wife. This was supposed to be a joyful occasion.

“The final straw was when Donna demanded to be escorted down the aisle as part of the wedding party. Thank God, Grandma BB stepped in and put the woman in her place.”

“Yikes.” Cameron stuffed his hands in his pockets. It was a known fact that Talise did not refer to Donna as her stepmother. After the death of her mother, the best Talise could manage was to claim the woman as her father’s new wife.

“Yikes is right. Grandma BB shoved Donna out the door with a warning. Unless Donna wanted to go home with a limp, she’d better not even try to put her big toe in the center aisle.”

Cameron barked out a laugh. He would never get use to the antics of Mrs. Beatrice Tilly Beacon, better known as Grandma BB. Ace shook his head. “We’d better keep an eye on her, or Grandma BB will be fighting in church.”

“Stranger things have happened,” Cameron mumbled, recalling the notorious behavior of the woman who has claimed to be seventy-something for years. Interestingly enough, she vehemently maintains her status as part of the family–even though she doesn’t have a drop of Jamieson blood. The childless widow takes her role as grandma seriously.

The photographer snapped a few more shots and walked out just as Talise’s father entered the room. “Wait until you see her. She’s beautiful and happy.” Frederick grinned and shook hands with Ace. “Keep her that way and there won’t be any problems.”

After that statement, Parke, Cameron’s oldest brother, suggested they pray. Linking hands, the men bowed their heads.

“Father, in the Name of Jesus, we come before Your throne of grace. We worship You today for this opportunity to witness the love between husband and wife. I ask that You bless my cousin’s marriage and bless his life in this Christian journey. Most of all, Father, bless their precious daughter.”
Parke paused, before adding, “And, Lord Jesus, please bless every married man and their households represented here today. Help us never to fail You as the strong Christian men You created us to be, in the Name of Jesus. Amen.”

A series of Amens echoed around the circle. One by one, the men patted Ace on the back. Frederick, the proud father-in-law, had the first honor.

Ace tilted his head. “Ah, it appears there’s one man standing in this room who isn’t hitched. Cameron, you’re the lone ranger.”

“Not for long. Even the Bible says it’s not good for man to be alone. With thirty-two knocking on my door, who am I to argue with God?”

“You argue with us about God all the time,” Parke reminded him. “Why stop now?”

“Trust me,” Cameron said with a wink. “I don’t need God’s help on this. I’m fully capable of choosing my own woman. Her body and beauty have to attract me, her intellect has to mesmerize me, her ambition must impress me, and a strong sense of family ties will keep me.”

“She’s taken.” The echoes went around the room, as each Jamieson claimed they had already married that woman.

Cameron confidently asserted, “There’s one more, and she won’t get away.”

Chapter One

Gabrielle Dupree, and her sidekick since college, Denise Rayford, quickly squeezed into the church pew. The processional was about to start any minute. It had been one delay after another. Their flight from the East Coast was late, their rental car wasn’t ready, and then they made a wrong turn. It was amazing they’d made it on time.

Talise and Gabrielle had become extremely close when they worked together at an airline in Boston. Before she relocated to St. Louis, Talise had come to depend on Gabrielle as her confidant for friendship, advice, and prayer.

As a result, Gabrielle wouldn’t have missed Talise’s big day for anything. Denise, on the other hand, had her own agenda for attending the ceremony. Her sole purpose was to verify if she was related to the wedding party. It was a long, complicated story that still confused her.
If Gabrielle could have rearranged her work schedule to be there days earlier, she would have been a bridesmaid along with the others. Still, Talise wanted to include her in the wedding pictures and ordered her to wear pink.

About two-hundred guests packed the sanctuary. Besides the many floral arrangements positioned throughout, silver and pink satin bows adorned the ends of each pew. Suddenly, the lights dimmed and candles flickered.

Romantic was the only word Gabrielle could utter to describe the setting. Minutes later, a minister led a group of five tall, buffed, and jaw-dropping handsome groomsmen to the altar. She had to exhale over the awesome spectacle. Particularly noting the one with a shaved head and a goatee, Gabrielle thought, Wow, bald never looked so good on a man.

With a laser-like focus on the back of the church, the groom stood erect by the minister.

Denise nudged her. Gabrielle was breathless with awe. “The darker ones are almost carbon copies of my brother.”

“Really?” Gabrielle said casually. “I have no complaints about God’s handiwork. They are all fine. My girl has good taste,” Gabrielle whispered to her friend, whom she had dubbed the “wedding crasher.”

Denise was under the impression Talise’s husband and brother-in law could be her half-brothers—all because of the last name Jamieson. There must be thousands of Jamiesons in the world. Still, Denise was on a mission to track down and unite the eleven children her deceased
father, Samuel, had spawned in his younger years.

“But, are you sure?” Gabrielle looked around to see if anyone nearby was eavesdropping. She had never met any of Denise’s brothers, only her older sister.

“Now what?”
Frowning, Gabrielle leaned closer. “What do you mean, ‘now what’? You’re the one who masterminded this scheme.”

“I know. When you said your friend was marrying Aaron Jamieson from Boston, I cross-referenced his name with the information I’ve gathered. There were too many coincidences for me to ignore. But how do you approach someone who is possibly your sibling and say, ‘We have the same no-good daddy. I thought we should meet and get to know each other’?”

This was all Gabrielle’s fault. Somewhat regretfully, she had mentioned an invitation to a Jamieson wedding. When Denise asked her if she was taking a date along, Gabrielle responded no. She had yet to understand why there was an unspoken rule about attending nuptials alone. Yet, she didn’t think having one of her brothers to escort her was necessary. All of that gave Denise a perfect opportunity to invite herself.

Gabrielle glanced around at some of the guests. Many were coupled off. A few seemed to be in hushed intimate conversations. Love was thick in the air. She sighed. It had been awhile since a man who put the Lord first in his life had come her way. Being the romantic that she was, Gabrielle believed just witnessing the ceremony would renew her hope that true love was still possible for single Christian women.

As the music shifted to the wedding march, guests turned their attention to the back of the church where the double doors slowly opened. As though she were the main attraction, an elderly woman stood smiling and then slightly bowed her head. With what appeared to be a death grip on her usher’s arm, the woman began her slow, unsteady walk. Watching her proudly holding her chin high, one would have thought it was a runway performance.

Murmurs increased with her every step. As the distinguished matron neared her pew, Gabrielle blinked. Although elegantly dressed, she raised a brow at the woman’s peculiar choice of footwear. Two-tone burgundy-and-white Stacy Adams shoes seemed to swallow up her delicate feet. The shoestrings were replaced with pink satin ribbons that complemented her rose-colored evening gown. Eccentric was the only word to describe her.

“Who dressed her?” Denise whispered.

“I think she did. I believe that’s Grandma BB. Talise told me about her. The woman is a force to be reckoned with.”

“I’ll remember that if she’s related on the Jamieson side.”
Next, as a memorial to Talise’s deceased mother, a female usher slowly walked down the aisle, carrying a single white candle with a pink bow around the base. She paused at the altar and then proceeded to light a large candelabrum nearby.

Waiting in the wings was Talise’s mother-in-law. Sandra stood regally in a pink satin dress that wrapped around her slender but shapely figure. No one would believe she was in her mid-fifties.

Watching her walk down the aisle, Gabrielle hoped she had a body like Sandra’s when she hit fifty. The stately woman’s legs rivaled Tina Turner’s. Talise told her it was a long story why her mother-in-law had never married.

Oohs and ahhs could be heard as Sandra moved in step with the music, cradling Talise and Ace’s infant daughter in her arms. Ten-week old Lauren was also adorned in a long, pink satin dress and bonnet. She looked more like a porcelain doll than a baby.

“Wow.” Gabrielle sighed, as she followed the graceful glide. Her eyes misted in happiness that her friend had found the love of her life, even if Ace had to beg for her forgiveness. Talise called him a jerk during most of her pregnancy.

“Do you think I should say something?” Denise asked, breaking into her reverie.

“Huh?” She blinked, not appreciating the interruption of her thoughts. “What? I don’t know. This is a festive occasion. If they don’t already know about you, then I don’t think now is the time. Saying something that might dampen the mood, I’m sure, will not go over well. You’re only supposed to be an observer, remember? Not an interloper.”

Gabrielle placed her finger to her lips. “Shhh. I’m trying to get caught up, surrounded by all this love.”

After the five bridesmaids and the flower girl made their entrances, two musicians rose to their feet and blew their trumpets. Throughout the chapel, the guests also stood. Beaming with a proud look, Talise’s father escorted his ecstatic daughter down the aisle. From the expression on her face, one would never know that she had been married already for more than two months.

But Gabrielle had witnessed firsthand Talise’s heartaches that came before the bliss. Standing on the sidelines, she had cheered the couple on. She was a true believer that love would find its way. Unfortunately, it hadn’t made it to her yet.

With Talise’s move to St. Louis, Gabrielle felt the void. As close friends, they had become inseparable. Often complimented on their beauty, there was no competition between them. Now staring at Talise in yards of tulle and satin, Gabrielle doubted if she would ever duplicate that spectacular look if God blessed her with a mate.

Turning her attention to Ace’s face, Gabrielle sighed at the tender loving way the man was looking at Talise. Her mind captured another wow moment to pen in her handbook of romance. It was one of those silly notions she had started as a teenager when she began writing fanciful ideas in a spiral notebook.

Gabrielle loved weddings. It didn’t matter if she was a guest or part of the bridal party. It was the atmosphere, the romance, the gaiety, the peace-on-earth feeling that always engulfed her.

She withheld a chuckle. Gabrielle was the only girl in a family of three brothers, and none of them were married. Since her brothers welcomed her to the thirties club last month—she wondered what her siblings were waiting on. For her, it was definitely the perfect God-fearing man.

Her main requirement in a mate was that he had to be a practicing Christian man, not a Sunday morning pew warmer . . . Add to that description, the love of her life must be highly romantic . . . Okay, for her future children’s sake, she definitely needed to add good looks.

Ace’s eyes sparkled as he locked on Talise’s every movement. Even when Lauren whimpered in his mother’s arms, he never took his attention away from his bride. When Talise was close enough, Ace stepped forward and reached for her hand. Lovingly, he escorted her to the altar.

Admittedly, Talise’s pregnancy was the reason behind their hasty nuptials a couple of months ago. The couple’s initial vows had taken place in a pastor’s office back in Boston. However, there was no doubt in Gabrielle’s mind that Ace loved her friend. God blessed them in a mighty way after they repented for their sins and followed the Lord’s complete plan for their salvation, which includes: repentance, baptism, and the gift of the Holy Ghost. From now on, they have the power to live godly.

Unexpectedly, Ace knelt before Talise and looked up into her glowing face. Gabrielle thought she would faint from his public display of seduction and admiration. She strained to hear every word of their renewed vows.

“Baby, you gave me everything when I met you. You’re beautiful, you love God, and you love me. I promise to cherish you—”

“Hey,” Denise whispered, nudging her again, “he even sounds a little like—”

Gritting her teeth, Gabrielle shushed Denise. Bringing her along was definitely a bad idea.

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