Suzette

“The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge. He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” Ps. 18:2

Lindy Mitchell scanned the fellowship hall amidst the crowd.  Nice decorations, she thought, fingering pieces of “Happy Birthday!” confetti strewn across a table.  Blue and white streamers swagged to the lights.  Shiny helium balloons tugged on their ribbons.

Two Beal Street Church deacons came in, parting the crowd like Moses at the Red Sea.  The blindfolded man they escorted, still looking dignified in the navy suit and tie he’d worn that day to preach in, was none other than Bill Peters, senior pastor at Beal Street.  The men carefully sat the pastor down in a chair at one of the paper-covered tables.

Which was Lindy’s husband Mace’s cue to thunder, “All right, Suzette!  You’re on!”

Suzette Tambeau, her wiry hair and brown skin set off by a coral cotton top, edged backwards through the kitchen door. In her hands tiered an enormous chocolate cake. Everyone in the room held their breath.  Instead of the usual candles, lit sparklers graced the top.  It was nothing short of a miniature fireworks display.

Suzette set the dessert down.  The blindfold was removed, and Bill Peters audibly gasped.  She flashed a white smile.  “For Brother Bill,” she said, “and may God give you many more.”

Suzette began to sing, joined in by the rest of the congregation.  Her alto shimmered in fluid vocal runs, the words falling like gentle rain:

Happy birthday to you—

 Happy birthday to you—

Happy birthday, Brother Bill—

Happy birthday, to you.”

Suzette gave the older man a hug, and the place erupted with cheers.  Julia Peters hugged her husband as well.

“My goodness!”  Brother Bill said. “Suzette, don’t tell me this is your wonderful Doberge cake!  Oh, somebody find me a fork,” he hollered, “and do it quick!”  There was an appreciative ripple of laughter.

Suzette removed the defunct sparklers and handed him a cake server.  “Since it’s your birthday,” she said,  “you can cut the cake, you.”

“Pastor gets first piece,” somebody in the crowd yelled.

“You better believe I’m getting the first piece,” he said.  The crowd tittered.

He sliced into the frosting and stopped.  He sawed harder, stopped.  He tried once more, really leaning into it, without success.  Other than a huge divot of displaced chocolate icing, the cake was still intact.

Brother Bill’s mouth gaped in disbelief, he closed it.  He opened it again, closed it.

“Hey y’all, for once I think Brother Bill’s speechless,” a church member piped up.

“God says in Ecclesiastes there is a time for everything,” said someone else.  Everyone laughed.

Suzette stepped in.  “Here, cher, let me show you somet’ing.”  Lindy noted Suzette’s “cher” came out with a Louisianan flare, pronouncing it like the “sha” in “shack.”

Cake server in hand, Suzette proceeded to bulldoze the chocolate icing from the cake’s top.  Brother Bill groaned.  “No worries, no worries,” she said, patting his shoulder.  “But Pastor, you couldn’t eat this here cake, even if you wanted to.”

She took Brother Bill’s index finger, punched it deep into the exposed layers.  His eyes widened in recognition.  “Hey, it’s foam rubber,” he said.  “Suzette—you made me a fake cake!”

Suzette grinned a devilish smile.  “I did, sir, I did.”  She nodded to the kitchen.  “The real one’s in there, so don’t nobody go nowheres.  I’ll bring it out, and then we have some real goooooo-oddd cake!”

The church family broke out in claps and whistles.  Men standing near Brother Bill slapped him on the back.  Some even stepped up to take a poke at the cake themselves. Happy sounds filled the room.

Suzette headed towards the kitchen, with Lindy close behind.

Suzette Tambeau sang in Mace’s adult choir, was one of the church’s most talented singers, though Lindy barely knew her.  They were relegated to opposite ends of the choir loft, with Lindy barely managing a decent soprano and Suzette commanding the entire alto section.

Lindy cautiously approached.  The plump young woman was bent over the real thing, busy at work.

Lindy cleared her throat. “Suzette, you need any help?”

Suzette whirred around, the knife coated in sticky glaze and cake crumbs.  Her dark eyes took Lindy in, and she grinned.  “Cher, I never turn down help, you’ll find that out tout suite.”  She motioned to a stack of paper plates.  “You hand me some of them plates there, put the pieces on that big tray, take them out for me, okay?”

Lindy hustled the full tray out.  Each piece was claimed quickly, and Lindy returned for more.

Lindy licked frosting off her pinkie as she watched the woman’s practiced hands move in a blur.  Suzette began cutting yet a second similar cake, sliding the pieces onto the tray.

“So while we here, Mrs. Mace,” Suzette said, “tell me ‘bout you.”

“Me?”

“Yes, you.”

“There’s not much to tell,” Lindy said, rearranging a few plates.

“Go on, you. Tell me anyway.”

“Let me take this out first.”  Lindy took the cake out, quickly emptying her tray again.

Suzette continued in the kitchen in the meantime, although the chatter had now dried up.  She’s waiting, Lindy realized.

She started by telling Suzette how,  after she and Mace had married and opened up Maces’ lifelong dream, a sporting goods store,  God ended up calling Mace into the ministry.  So they trusted God, sold the store, packed off to seminary for two years.  When the position at Beal Street Church became available after Mace’s  graduation, they felt God calling them there to serve.

Suzette snuck a look Lindy’s way.  “You how old?”

“Twenty-six.”

Suzette lifted her chin, pushed out her lips. “What you do all day, Mrs. Mace?”

“I write.”

“You write, huh?  What you write?”

“All kinds of things, mostly articles for magazines.  I get an assignment, I research it, then I write it.”

“You like that?”

Lindy squinted.  “Yeah, I do. My degree’s in elementary education, but a friend got me started in freelance writing.  It’s worked out great because I can control my hours, write when I want to.”

“I tell you now, that’s why I make cakes and clean houses.  I can do it when I need to, so I can be there for my kids.  Ain’t nothin’ more important than that,  ‘specially if you doing it by yourself.”  She sighed.  “But I don’t want to clean and bake forever.  I got plans, big plans, you know what I’m saying, cher?  One of these days, I tell you, I won’t be doing that no more.”

Ambitious lady.  Lindy watched her another moment and knew she’d get there, without a doubt.

Lindy nodded to a small sliver of cake, fallen to the side.  “You mind if I take this one off your hands? I’m dying for a piece.”

“Go ahead, Mrs. Mace.  Tell me what you t’ink.”

Moist, thin layers of chocolatety goodness filled her mouth, accented with secondary notes of  a full-bodied semisweet frosting.  Then another explosion, this time from the chocolate custard cream oozing out between layers, hit her.  What a heavenly dessert!  She ate it all, licked up every crumb.  “Suzette, that’s the best chocolate cake I’ve ever had.  No joke.”

“It is good, that cake.   I make it the way my grand-mere show me.  She worked in a bakery in New Orleans called Gambino’s where they come up with the recipe.”

“Well, it’s gooo-oooddd, as you say.”  Lindy grinned.

A girl, her hair neatly cornrowed and clipped in purple barrettes, ran into the kitchen.  She crossed her arms over her chest. “Mama, Devaun’s making fun of me!  He’s calling me a baby around the other kids.”

Suzette waved the knife.  “Lindy, this is my Portia.  Portia, this is Miss Lindy. Say ‘hi.’”

“Hi,” the child said.

Lindy smiled.  “Hi, Portia.”

Suzette put a hand on her hip. “You go tell your brother I said he needs to stop doing that.”

“I did, Mama, but he won’t listen.” Tears threatened.  “Devaun just won’t listen to me.”

“Brothers can be like that,” Lindy said.  “I know.  I have an older one too.”

Suzette finished off the second cake, rinsed her hands in the sink, pushed Portia toward the door.  “Then we just go find Mr. Devaun and tell him what’s what.  You not a bebe; you six years old, last time I looked.  Too old to wear diapers and too old for a pacifier.  Not a bebe at all.”  She looked at Lindy.  “Will you excuse us?”

Suzette stopped on her way out.  “I’m glad I know Mrs. Mace better now.  See you in choir, cher.”  She pointed.  “And keep it real, okay?”

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Comments

  1. Very interesting cast of characters. Can’t wait to see how they all mesh into a great read. . Keep them coming.

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