After the service, Sandra took hold of Liz’s hand and led her out into the atrium. A large table was set, filled with donuts, cookies, and large containers of lemonade.
“Grab some food,
,” Sandra said. “We have some time to socialize.” She handed Liz a plate with a couple donuts
and cookies. Elizabeth
“Aren’t you going to have more?” Liz asked. She noticed Sandra only had a small sugar cookie on her plate.
“Nah,” Sandra shrugged. “I’m not very hungry. But that’s no reason for you to not enjoy!”
As the socializing ended, the congregation split into two groups—one group was filled with the members of the church who had been there longer. The other group consisted of the newly baptized and the older members who had helped baptize them. Jackie headed off to the group with the older members.
“Wait! Where are you going?” Liz squeaked, grabbing hold of her sister’s wrist. And then she let go quickly, realizing that she sounded like a little kid.
Jackie smiled and squeezed Liz’s shoulder. “Don’t worry. I’ll see you in a bit.”
Liz kept her eyes on Jackie until Sandra took her hand and led her off down another hallway, away from the larger group of older members.
“What’s going on now?” Liz asked as they followed Delia, Morgan, and the others into a large room.
“It’s seminar time,” Sandra answered. Prompted by Liz’s perplexed look, she continued, “It’s like an extended and more in-depth sermon. Our beliefs are really important to us and seminar is when we discuss them.”
Liz nodded and sat next to her friends on the floor. Sandra pulled identical notebooks out of her bag and handed one to Liz saying, “Here. You’ll want to take notes. It’s helpful to you to be able to reference the seminars later.” Reluctantly, Liz took the notebook. This was starting to feel like school. She looked over at Morgan and noticed her friend had a notebook too.
Pastor Simon meandered his way into the small room and those who were still standing found seats on the floor. As he walked to the front of the group, he flashed his trademark smile to each person sitting in the room.
“Before we begin this evening’s seminar, I would like all of us to participate in a small relaxation exercise. We all need to leave behind the frustrations of the outside world so we may better focus on our eternal souls,” he began. Various members nodded their agreement. “Everyone please move to sit in a circle and hold hands.” Everyone shifted positions so they were lining the perimeter of the room, but not close enough to the wall that they could lean against it. Pastor Simon moved to a boom box situated in a corner and turned it on. The soft beat of a drum filled the room. “Now, everyone close your eyes and squeeze hands in time to the drum beat. Repeat out loud the phrase, ‘Please help us, oh Lord.’ Let these words and these motions fill your soul.”
Immediately the room was filled with only the sound of the drum beat and the mumblings of “Please help us, oh Lord.” Several minutes later—or it could have been several hours, Liz wasn’t sure—as her hands were getting numb from the repetitive motion and she was tired of repeating that phrase, Pastor Simon turned off the boom box. Liz opened her eyes again and blinked in the light. She looked for a clock somewhere to tell her how long they had been at that exercise, but there were no clocks to be seen.
“This evening we will be discussing our belief of veganism. You may have noticed that our members do not intake any animal products. This is a strong belief of ours and the first that our newly baptized Roses learn…”
Some time later, Liz began falling asleep. Her writing in her Rose notebook was getting more slanted, sloppy, and illegible. Her eyes kept closing, her head kept nodding, and Sandra kept nudging her in the ribs. Pastor Simon had encouraged them to write a single phrase multiple times as he spoke, after he got past the core of the seminar. Looking down at her notes, Liz could only read:
It is right to be vegan, the outsiders are wrong.
It is right to be vegan, the outsiders are wrong.
It is right to be vegan, the outsiders are wrong.
It is right to be ve
“…tonight I want all of you to pray on this for an hour before you go to sleep. Let God work in your life and lead you in the right direction in our beliefs. Listen to your Rose Angels as well—they know what’s best for you and your soul and they will help to expand your knowledge on the right path.” With that, Pastor Simon gave a nod and the older members stood up, followed by the newly baptized. Sandra gripped Liz’s wrist and led her out of the room.
“See? Wasn’t that illuminating?” she asked.
“Uh, yeah. Yeah, it was. I never knew all that spiritual stuff about being vegan,” Liz mumbled, rubbing her eyes. “What time is it?”
“Oh, yeah, we don’t allow clocks or watches to be worn or displayed in the church. They are a distraction from our spiritual purpose.” Sandra reached into her purse, pulled out a watch, and glanced at it. “It’s one in the morning.”
“Don’t worry about it. Your soul is more important than the time.”
Outside of the church, the group of friends reunited as Jackie joined them from her own seminar.
“How was yours?” Jackie asked Liz and Morgan as the group walked to the car.
“Tiring,” Liz mumbled.
“Long,” added Morgan.
“We talked about veganism,” Sandra said.
“How was yours?” Liz asked with a yawn.
“Enlightening, as always,” Jackie said. She smiled. “And don’t worry about the length. You’ll get used to that as your studies progress. You’re going to learn all kinds of important things, it won’t even matter anymore how long seminar is.”
“Huh,” Liz mumbled, choking back another yawn. The girls climbed into the car and began the ride home. Liz and Morgan fell asleep on each other’s shoulders before Delia had even settled on a single radio station.
The next thing Liz realized was Jackie nudging her awake.
, we’re home,” she whispered. Elizabeth
“Huh,” Liz slurred from exhaustion. “Didn’t we just get in the car?”
“You fell asleep.”
As Liz climbed out of the car, Morgan fell sideways and ended up sprawled across the backseat, without so much as blinking awake for a second.
“See you soon, Elizabeth!” said Sandra. “I’ll call you later. And remember to pray tonight, like Pastor Simon told us to.”
“Yeah,” Liz mumbled half-heartedly.
Jackie guided her sister up through the front door and to their attic common room, quietly, so no one else from the family would be disturbed.
“We have different prayers,” Jackie offered. “So we should go to our own separate rooms. I’ll see you tomorrow morning, though.”
“Okay. Good-night, Elizabeth.”
Liz wandered into her bedroom and changed into her pajamas. She sat down at her desk, knowing if she tried to pray at her bed, she would fall asleep. She could hear her older sister mumbling prayers from the next room.
“Uh…okay.” Liz nervously linked her hands together, her elbows on her desk. “Uh…God?” She paused, biting her lip. “I don’t really know how to do this, so I’ll just make it up as I go, I guess. Um…I’d really like some guidance regarding this whole vegan thing. I know it’s wrong to eat animals and we’re right and the outsiders are wrong and everything, but I don’t know if I’m strong enough to defy my family’s views of me.” She paused again here. “Am I really even strong enough to be one of the Children? I’d, uh, I’d really appreciate it if you could prove to me that I’m strong enough for this…that I’m worthy of these people and these friends and all this…”
Not long after this, Liz started to slur her words together more. By the time her hour of prayer was up, she had been asleep with her head on her desk for thirty minutes.
The more time that passes, the more convinced Liz becomes that this whole reunion was a bad idea. Her siblings can’t stop staring at her and she catches her mother giving the ring on her pinkie a wary glance more than once. At dinner, she makes the mistake of passing on the pork chops, which only gets her questions.
“Are you sure you’re okay, Liz?” Greg asks.
“I’m fine,” she mutters, not meeting her brother’s eyes.
She notices that no one asks Jackie why she’s not eating pork chops either. It’s been like that for ten years. Jackie’s not adjusting very well either, but Liz is hardly adjusting at all. Liz had the hardest time, has the biggest scars. So Liz gets all the concern.
That night, she can’t sleep. The memories are just coming back too strong. When she slides out of bed, Eric rolls over.
“Liz?” he mutters, only half-awake.
Liz leans over and gives him a small kiss. “I can’t sleep. I’m going downstairs to read for a while.”
Eric mumbles something back that Liz doesn’t understand. She chooses to take it as a grumble of understanding. Even if it isn’t, she’s long since stopped needing a man’s permission to do anything.
She never does get her alone time, because Jackie is curled up under a blanket on the couch, watching an infomercial.
“Can’t sleep?” Liz asks.
Jackie jumps and turns to face her younger sister. “Oh. It’s just you.”
“Who’d you think it was? A mass murderer?”
“Or Eva. Although, at this point I’d probably prefer the murderer. I can’t deal with anymore of Eva’s attitude tonight.”
“You’d think she’d have grown out of that by now.”
Jackie shrugs and holds up a corner of the blanket. Liz slides underneath it.
A silence passes between the two of them for a few minutes until Jackie finally mutters, “Isn’t Eric concerned about you? Andrew doesn’t know what to make of any of this.”
Liz shrugs. “I guess. Probably. He hasn’t said anything since we got here. He doesn’t get in my way, though. When I need to be alone, he knows. He’s not controlling. He’s not like—” She cuts herself off, choking back the words. She won’t think about this. Not now.
Jackie shifts suddenly, almost knocking Liz off the couch. “I know he’s not like that. What made you think of that?”
“I don’t know! We should be over this by now.” Liz glares at the perky spokeswoman on the television, who’s now rattling on about all of the amazing things her blender can do. It just looks like a blender. Apparently it’s so much more.
“Does Eric know about…?”
Liz cuts her off, but there’s nothing to interrupt. Jackie wasn’t going to dare to speak the name anyway. “Yes, Eric knows about him. He knows about all of it.”The conversation comes to an abrupt halt. That’s the only good thing about talking about these things with Jackie, in Liz’s opinion. She knows when to stop. Because Liz doesn’t want to talk about any of it, think about any of it, feel any more of it. She just wants it to pass into distant, painful memory.