Hello, I hope you will enjoy today’s sneak peek at Zaria Garrison’s new release Hannah. I am sure you are going to enjoy.
Hannah Myles lay on the sofa in her office for almost an hour unable to move or completely comprehend what had transpired that evening. It was against her normal routine to work so late at the church, but she knew that she had to finish preparing the yearly budget, so that the officers would be able to vote on it the following evening. Hannah arrived in the church office early that morning. After leaning over her desk for almost twelve hours her back hurt, her stomach was growling and all she really wanted to do was to go home and crawl into her bed. Instead, she scrolled through the excel spread sheet on her laptop and continued marking off items.
She’d been the Pastor of Greater St. Luke Fellowship in Atlanta, Georgia for three and a half years. Many of the people who knew her as a child and were aware of her family background were surprised that Hannah, of all people chose to go into the ministry, but she knew that she’d done so because of a sincere calling from God. Hannah possessed a strong desire to make a difference, along with the passion to reach a community. Her heart was big enough to shepherd people and she had the fire and desire to preach. She first felt God calling her at the age of twenty while still attending college. Hannah accepted that call and was ordained at the tender age of twenty three. She began in youth ministry and pastoral care serving at several different churches throughout the city of Atlanta and after twelve years in the ministry she found a home with the people of Greater St. Luke.
“Pastor Myles, I’m glad I caught you,” he said as he barged into her office without knocking. “I was hoping we could talk.”
His request seemed innocent enough, but her flesh crawled as soon as she looked up from her desk and into his amber eyes. On most men, amber eyes with brown flecks and golden brown skin would be handsome, but on Ezekiel Grayson, they were a complete waste. He stood barely five foot four inches tall, although he claimed to be five foot seven, and his stomach protruded out so far that he looked like a walking potbellied stove.
“Brother Grayson, I’m very busy. My secretary has left for the day, but I’m sure if you call tomorrow she can get you an appointment in the next couple of days, and we can speak then.”
“No, this can’t wait. You’re supposed to be my pastor and spiritual counselor. Look here, woman, I need counseling.”
She hated when he referred to her as “woman”, however by comparison it was one of the least of his unsavory qualities. Ezekiel chewed peppermints incessantly in an attempt to hide the fact that his breath smelled like rotting eggs and his teeth looked like niblet corn. When talking to her or anyone else he always spoke extremely loudly, for no apparent reason and she always had to caution him to use his “inside” voice.
With all of that in mind, it was against her better judgment, and every intuition within her that Hannah allowed him to enter her office that evening. He’d been gone for over an hour before she finally found the strength to sit up and slowly peel her bare thighs up off the sticky faux leather couch and pull down her skirt. He’d ripped her underwear and tossed them across the room near her bookcase. She picked them up with the tips of her forefinger and thumb then placed the ragged material inside her purse before finally leaving the office.
Her intent was to go home, but she drove around aimlessly through the streets of Atlanta as tears streamed down her face, until finally she found herself sitting in the driveway of her sister Etta’s home. The two story Craftsman’s style brick house was completely dark and she thought that everyone was probably asleep, so she pulled out her cell phone and sent a text message. A few minutes later the porch light came on, and she saw Etta wearing bright green flannel pajamas with yellow ducks on them standing in the open doorway peering out into the darkness. Her cinnamon colored asymmetrical bobbed hair was tightly wrapped in a matching green silk scarf. She motioned with her arm letting Hannah know that it was okay to come inside. Hannah stepped out of her car and immediately felt the pain of the gravel driveway as she suddenly noticed that she wasn’t wearing any shoes. Gradually tipping and pausing she made her way up the steps and into the house.
Hannah slowly followed Etta through the family room towards the sofa. The ringlets of Hannah’s curly black hair were tousled and skewered all over her head. That morning she’d chosen an outfit that included a pink peasant blouse and a grey pleated skirt with a flared hem and pink and grey strappy heels. The skirt was now skewered haphazardly hanging on her hips, and the blouse was ripped, wrinkled and open with only a few buttons still hanging on. Hannah imagined that her shoes were lying somewhere on the floor of her office.
“Oh my God, what happened to you?” Etta asked.
Hannah’s mouth opened. “I…he…” Her mouth closed again as her jaw ached and she winced in pain. She rubbed the bruise that was beginning to form on her cocoa colored cheeks in the same spot that Ezekiel had repeatedly slapped her into submission, while his hot breath singed the fine hairs on her neck. She wanted to speak, but could not find the words. Instead she sat weeping as Etta stared at her with a worried and panicked look on her face.
“Talk to me, girl, what happened. Do I need to call the police?”
Hannah rapidly shook her head as she was finally able to get words to fall from her puffy purple lips. “No, don’t do that,” she said softly.
“Let me get some ice to put on your face, and then you are going to tell me what happened to you?”
Hannah nodded and waited patiently for Etta to return from the kitchen. As she took the ice pack into her left hand, Hannah notice that three of her acrylic nails were missing and wondered if they were still embedded in Ezekiel’s arms. She’d clawed at him like a rabid cat, but it didn’t even slow him down.
“Do you need anything else? Etta asked.
Hannah’s head slowly shook. “No, this is good.” She placed the cold ice against her burning skin.
“Take your time, and just tell me what happened.”
Her voice cracked as the words spilled out. “I was working late tonight, you know going over the church budget. I was at the church all alone when he just showed up. Normally, I would not allow a man to be in my office at that time of night, but he said he would only be a few minutes.” “Who was only going to be a few minutes?”
“I tried to stop him, but he just…he just…” Hannah’s voice trailed off. She wiped her running nose on her sleeve.
Etta’s eyes grew wide. “Who are you talking about? Tell me who did this to you.”
“It was…it was…Ezekiel Grayson. He…he…”
“Do you mean that jerk from the men’s ministry? He’s the one who’s always groping you when he thinks no one is looking. Oh my God, girl.”
Hannah nodded. “I tried to tell him that it was wrong, and that he needed to leave, but he just doesn’t understand the words no, don’t and stop. He’s a lot stronger than he looks.”
Etta covered her mouth with her left hand then slowly pulled it away. “Are you saying he raped you?”
“No, no, this wasn’t some stranger in the bushes with a weapon. This was one of my church members, in my office at the church. He just didn’t understand that I just really didn’t want to do this.”
Etta scooted closer to Hannah on the sofa and looked into her eyes. “Listen to me, this was rape. If you said no, and you didn’t want it to happen that is rape. Look at yourself, he tore your clothes, he assaulted you and forced himself on you. How can you say that he didn’t rape you?”
“I…I don’t know. Maybe, I led him on. Like you said, he’s always pinching my behind or touching my breasts and I’ve never asked him to stop. I should never have let him into the office so late tonight. This was partially my fault.”
“No it wasn’t. This is not your fault at all. Now, look, I’m going to get dressed and take you down to the police station. You need to get a rape kit done, and file a report. Let me just let Marlon know I’m leaving, so he can watch the kids.”
Hannah suddenly jumped up from the sofa. “No, we can’t do that. I’ll call him and tell him that it was a mistake and can never happen again. He’ll understand, but I can’t have the head of my men’s ministry arrested.” Etta stared at her. “Are you kidding me?” she asked. “Hannah, do I need to give you a mirror so you can see the bruises on your face? This man hurt you and he needs to go to jail.”
“No, I mean, as a pastor I should never allow one of my parishioners to feel that way about me. My butt is way too big for the skirts I wear sometimes…and…this blouse is kind of low cut. I could button it higher and…and…” Hannah’s words became tangled in her tears.
Standing up from the sofa Etta enveloped her in her arms. “It’s not your fault, sweetie. It’s not your fault,” she whispered. “Believe me when I tell you that you did not do anything wrong. Ezekiel is a lecherous little leprechaun who deserves to be punished for this.”
“Nobody will believe me. They’ll say that I led him on, and that I wanted it. I know that’s what everybody will say.” Etta buried her head in Etta’s shoulder and sobbed. “They’ll call me a liar and a hypocrite.”
Etta gently rubbed her back to soothe her. “It’s gonna be okay, sweetie. I promise you it’s going to be okay.”
For the next several hours Etta tried to convince Hannah that reporting the rape was the best thing to do, but Hannah was not listening. Even if it wasn’t her fault, she reasoned that reporting it would certainly do more harm than good to her church family. Ezekiel Grayson had been the leader of the men’s ministry for many many years, and although he wasn’t well liked, his family was one of the founding families of the church. There were no cameras and no witnesses and she knew that the outcome would become a matter of he said, she said. Some people might believe her, but others would definitely believe him. Hannah understood the politics of rape laws as well as the patriarchal structure of the church.
“Etta, if Ezekiel Grayson were to become angry and leave the church he might take more than half of the congregation with him. I’ve spent my entire time here trying to rebuild the membership. We’ve had over one hundred new members to join since I arrived.”
“You would get new members. The Bible says that God will replace anything the devil takes or destroys.”
“What if the board decides to replace me? If that happens what would become of the clothing and food bank we started? What about the dance ministry or the youth choir? They all were started under my leadership. I’m not saying that they would fail without me, but I love working with the seniors and the youth so much and I might not get another ministry appointment for a very long time.”
Etta continued to argue back and forth with her, but Hannah’s mind was made up. She decided that she wanted to do her best to put the incident behind her. The following day she covered her bruises with a thick coating of Mac makeup and called the head of the new security squad she’d just hired at the church to come speak with her at the office.
“Brother Derricks, I think that we need to install new locks here at the church. My office is not secure. Sometimes I work late at night and anyone can just walk in off the street.”
“We could install a new intercom and doorbell. Anyone arriving at the church would have to be buzzed in. There would be a button under the secretary’s desk to press that opens the door.”
“What happens after my secretary goes home? I’m often the last person to leave each night.”
“I can install a camera that feeds to your laptop. If someone rings the bell, you can see them from your desk and decide if you want to let them in or not. We can also put a button at your desk. That way no one gets in, who isn’t buzzed in.”
“That’s perfect! Let’s install that and also I want security cameras at each door. We wouldn’t want a tragic incident like the one that happened in Charleston to occur here. Let’s keep our members and staff safe.”
“How many employees do you have around here? What I mean is how many different people have keys to the church?” Brother Derricks asked.
“There’s me and my secretary, the associate pastor, the new youth pastor, the janitorial staff, the groundskeeper, and the musicians who need to get in and out for rehearsal. All total that’s about ten. Also, all of the board members and trustees have keys I think.”
“What we need to do is take up all of the keys, get rid of the locks and use key fobs that are connected to your security cameras and alarm system.”
Hannah was intrigued. “How does that work?”
“Each person gets a badge to swipe, instead of a key. The badge would have an updated picture of the person it belongs to. I’m sure you’ve seen them for employees of schools and large buildings. The badge acts as identification as well as assists with entry into the building. The scanner also will feed information back to your computer and you have a record of who is entering and leaving the building.” “So who gets a badge?”
“That’s totally up to you, but I would limit it to essential personnel. It’s not safe to have random people wandering around the building. Also if someone leaves employment and you can’t retrieve their badge, we can change it and block their access. You can’t be too careful in this day and age. When an employee is disgruntled, even a former church employee, it becomes a security risk. Of course on Sunday mornings the main doors would be opened to allow worshippers to enter, but after service everything would be locked down again.”
Hannah agreed with all of the recommendations and Brother Derricks had the new locks and doorbell installed. Taking her suggestion into account, the board decided to only issues badges to the building trustees and employees of the church which included the custodians and musicians who needed access, but left out ministry chairpersons like Ezekiel. If he needed to get inside for a meeting, he’d have to be escorted by a trustee. Hannah felt safe knowing that Ezekiel could never walk uninvited into her office ever again.
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