{Excerpt} A Blessing & a Curse: A Novel by:ReShonda Tate Billingsley & Victoria Christopher Murray

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Chapter 1

Rachel Jackson Adams

”I think Jasmine is your sister.”

Rachel Jackson Adams cocked her head. To the left. Then the right. She studied her father, zoning in to see if his eyes were dialated, his speech slurred. Something. Because it was obvious her father was on the brink of a stroke since he was uttering complete nonsense.

”Jasmine? As in Jasmine all-those- last-names, Jasmine?” Rachel asked her father.

“She only has one more name than you.”

“Okay dad, you’ve got jokes.” Rachel stood from her spot on the sofa, where she’d been sitting watching her father watch their now-defunct reality show, “First Ladies.”

When she’d walked into his house this afternoon, she’d been shocked to find him watching the show again.

When Rachel had joined the reality show on the OWN network last year, she had dreams of syndication, endorsement deals, and becoming a household name. Not to mention that she’d already mapped out how she had planned to take Gayle’s place as Oprah’s BFF. It was supposed to be her ticket to the bright lights. They’d only done one season of the show – reality TV had proven to be too much for even Rachel, who considered herself a reformed drama queen. But her father, the Reverend Simon Jackson, was watching that show like it was the only thing on TV.

“Really, Dad?” Rachel asked, grimacing as she looked at the TV. It was the scene where she, Jasmine, and Rachel’s husband, Lester’s, one-time mistress, Mary had visited a church for Women’s Day, and Rachel had been forced to deliver a Word. For some reason, Rachel had drawn a blank so she’d just started reciting her favorite song lyrics. It had been the most embarrassing thing ever.

“I like this show,” Simon said. “Wait, here comes the part where you talk about if loving God is wrong, you don’t wanna be right.”

Rachel rolled her eyes. “I’m glad you find it amusing.”

He chuckled. “I thought you were gonna break out with ‘A Meeting in the Ladies Room’ next.”

“Back to this sister madness.” Rachel picked up the remote and pressed pause. The television froze with Rachel’s mouth wide open in the middle of a sentence. She shook her head at the image. “Ugh.” Then, she pushed the button to turn the TV off altogether.

“I know you think I’m talking crazy.” Simon’s tone was back to serious.

“You are.”

“No….” he said, scooting to the edge of his seat. Simon began sifting through a bunch of photos that were strewn all over the coffee table. Rachel hadn’t even paid them any attention until now.

“Why do you have all of these pictures out?” she asked, picking one of the photos up.

“I was looking for something.”

“Oh, my, God,” Rachel said, laughing as she looked at the picture. “Is this you?” She turned the tattered black-and- white photo of a much skinnier Simon Jackson in a multicolored button-down shirt and super bell bottoms. “Look at that Afro.”

Simon shook his head as he returned to dumping the rest of the pictures in a box.

“Where’s Mom?” Rachel said, leaning over to peer in the box. “I’d love to see some pictures of her.”

“You can go through the pictures later. I need to talk to you about Jasmine. I have questions.” He glanced down at a tattered photo that was clutched tightly in his hand. “A lot of question.”

“Daddy, what is going on? You’re really not making sense.”

“I told you, I really do believe Jasmine is your half-sister.”

“The only way that would be possible is if you were getting busy with Jasmine’s mother.” Rachel busted out laughing, which she quickly ceased when her father didn’t laugh with her. “Umm, which is ludicrous since you don’t know Jasmine’s mother, right?”

She studied her father, who suddenly couldn’t look her in the eye. “Right?”

Instead of answering, with the slowness of a child waiting for his punishment, Simon extended his hand – and the photograph he was clutching – in Rachel’s direction.

“Who is this?” Rachel asked, taking the picture. The black and white photo was also tattered, but the tall, stunning beauty in the picture looked familiar. Rachel’s heart dropped just a little. She looked…like Jasmine. “Who. Is. This?” she repeated.

“That’s my first love…the first woman that ever captured my heart.” His eyes locked with his daughter. “And the woman I think is Jasmine’s mother.”

Rachel studied the picture again. No. All the no’s in Nodom. This was not Jasmine’s mother. This was a woman who bore a resemblance to Jasmine and her father had watched their reality show so much that his brain was playing tricks on him.

Rachel handed the picture back to her father. Her parents had met in college, so the thought of him being seriously in love with another woman had never crossed her mind.

“I’m not entertaining this. Your first love was my mother. You’ve always said that.”

“No, I said Loretta was my greatest love. Doris was my first love.”

Doris. Rachel’s mind raced, trying to recall Jasmine’s mother’s name. She was coming up blank.

“So, you cheated on Mom?”

“No,” Simon said, inhaling again. “This was before your mom.” He shifted as if he was uncomfortable. “Do you want something to drink? I can have Brenda bring you some tea or someth—”

“No, Daddy. I don’t want anything to drink,” she said, cutting him off. “I want you to tell me what’s going on.”

“Sit.” He motioned toward the sofa and she eased back into her seat. Simon leaned back, ran his hands through his salt-and- pepper hair, then said, “Where do I begin?”

Sweet Home Baptist Church in Smackover, Arkansas, might have only boasted a membership of seventy-three, but they quadrupled those numbers when it came to the annual Bible Revival. Rev. Horace Jackson may not have been able to pack folks into his church on any given Sunday, but they came from all over for his two-week- long Bible Revival.

That’s why when the rickety bus rolled into the dusty parking lot, the words Pilgrim Rest Missionary Baptist Church, Mobile, Alabama, emblazoned on its side, none of the kids playing in the front of the church batted an eye.

There were churches visiting from Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas for the annual event, so none of the kids paid the Alabama bus any mind.

That is, until a vision of loveliness stepped off it.

Simon had been playing kickball with some of his friends and all of them stopped when the young woman stepped off. She had the longest jet-black hair he’d ever seen, the prettiest doe eyes, and a smile that got off the bus before her.

All the boys stopped and gave the girl their undivided attention.

“Doris, you wait right here,” an elderly woman said to her. “I’m gonna go see where pastor wants us to go.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Doris said, before turning back to the group of boys. “Hi.”

“Hi,” several of them mumbled. Simon couldn’t seem to find his voice.

“What’s your name?” Her eyes zeroed in on Simon, or at least he thought they did.

“I’m Clevester,” Simon’s friend said, jumping in front of the young woman. Simon should’ve known he would lay first dibs on the pretty girl. Clevester got all the girls.

“Actually,” she said, leaning to the side and pointing directly at Simon, “I was talking to him.”

“And why you need to know his name?”

Simon groaned as Minnie, his Amazon of a sister, stepped in front of him, blocking his view of the pretty stranger.

“Oh, sorry, didn’t mean to say anything to your boyfriend,” she said.

“Ugh! I’m not his girlfriend,” Minnie replied. “I’m his sister.”

That brought the smile back on the girl’s face and she stood up tall as she twirled her ruffled skirt. “I’m Doris. Doris Young.” She stuck her hand out to shake. Minnie didn’t take it.

But Doris just kept grinning.

“Why you always grinning? You special? Something wrong with you?” Minnie asked, her arms folded across her chest as she gave the girl the once-over.

Doris shrugged. “Guess I’m just a happy person.” She leaned over to look again at Simon, who was all but hiding behind his sister. “Does your brother have a name?”

“Maybe,” Minnie snapped.

“It’s um, it’s S-Simon Jackson,” he said, finally stepping out of his sister’s shadow.

“My brother is shy.” Minnie rolled her eyes. “Unless of course you put a Bible in front of him. Then he turns into Martin Luther King, Jr. or something.”

“You a preacher?” Doris asked.

Simon shook his head. “Nah. I-I just like spreading the gospel.”

“The gospel is good,” Doris said. “My grandfather is a preacher. You kinda young, though.”

Simon stood erect. “I’m about to turn fifteen.”

“I’m fourteen,” she said.

“And that makes you too young for him,” Minnie said, stepping back in front of Simon.

Simon pushed his sister aside. “Minnie, go somewhere.”

She cut her eyes at him. “Fine. I can tell when I’m not wanted.” She grabbed Cleavester’s hand. “Come on, Cleavester. I want you to come pick me some plums off this tree.”

After Minnie dragged Clevester away, Simon finally relaxed and before he knew it, he and Doris were inseparable. She was everything he was not—vibrant, social, funny, and beautiful. If ever there was a such thing as love at first sight, Simon Jackson definitely thought he’d found it.

“We spent every day, all day together for the revival,” Simon said, wrapping up the story. “But then she went back home and of course, we didn’t have cell phones or email but we wrote to each other constantly. Every letter, I fell more and more in love with her.”

“Okay, cute story,” Rachel said, eyeing her father strangely. “But just because some woman from your past looks like Jasmine, doesn’t make her Jasmine’s mother.”

He motioned for her to be quiet. “Would you let me finish?” The nostalgic smile returned to his face as he continued. “Doris came back to the revival the next summer and our love only grew stronger. And then, the summer after that, we were already making plans to one day get married.

“But when she returned home after that, she stopped answering my letters. Just stopped. I was devastated.” Simon shook his head like even recalling that time of his life was painful. “I never could get a straight answer,” he said. “My sister’s nosy behind did some digging, and wrote one of the boys that had been at the revival from Mobile. He told us Doris had a baby.”

“A baby? So her parents made her stop communicating with you because she had a child?” Rachel’s mouth dropped open as if a realization had set in. “Wait. Was it your child?”

Simon shrugged; his tone softened. “I don’t know. I tried to get some answers, but my father was adamant that I ‘leave well enough alone.’ Doris wouldn’t answer my letters and in fact, they started being returned to me as undeliverable. My parents convinced me that the pregnancy was just a rumor and that I needed to go on about my life.”

“Maybe it was a rumor.”

“That’s what I convinced myself of.” He was quiet for a moment, then, as if he was talking to himself, he added, “until I got a good look at Jasmine. I tried looking on that Internet but I can’t find out Jasmine’s exact date of birth because all the stuff on that on there is conflicting.”

“That’s because she’s always lying about her age,” Rachel grumbled. “But I think she’s like fifty or sixty, so she couldn’t be your daughter.”

Simon shook his head. “No. No. She looks just like Doris.”

Rachel stood to leave. She couldn’t process this conversation any longer. “Yes, she resembles Jasmine. But I assure you that’s a coincidence. I mean, Daddy, you’re really reaching. Because if Jasmine is your daughter, that . . .” Her words trailed off, then she took a minute to gather herself before she continued. “That would make her my half sister.” The thought made Rachel shudder.

“Do you know anything about Jasmine’s mother?” Simon asked.

It was Rachel’s turn to shake her head. “I don’t know anything. Except you must be getting senile in your old age. Either that or you’re feeling some kind of nostalgia. But Jasmine is from Florida, not Alabama.”

“Well, her mom could be from somewhere else,” Simon said. “I need to talk to Jasmine. I need to ask her some questions.”

Rachel blew an exasperated breath. Maybe her father was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s or one of those other debilitating mind diseases. But she could tell from the look on his face that he wouldn’t rest until he got some answers. “What do you need to know, Dad? I will find it out.”

“You’ll talk to her?” he said with relief.

“Yes, I’ll ask her her mother’s name, when she was born. I will get all the details you need to know so that we can shut this foolishness down.” Rachel stood, relaxing again as she chuckled. “You need to lay off that prune juice because it’s messing with your mind.”

She leaned in and kissed her father on the forehead. “But if it’ll make you feel better, I’ll call her today so we can nip this in the bud.”

Rachel stared at her father, let out a small laugh again, then grabbed her purse and said, “Me and Jasmine related? Ooh, daddy, you need to be a comedian.” Her laughter trailed her as she walked out the door.
Release: 4/18/17
Click to purchase: (Kindle) or (Paperback)
Excerpted from A Blessing & a Curse: A Novel by:ReShonda Tate Billingsley & Victoria Christopher Murray Copyright © 2017 by ReShonda Tate Billingsley & Victoria Christopher Murray. Excerpted by permission of Gallery Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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