The prospect of returning to school the next day made Liz uneasy. She didn’t have many friends in the first place, and those she did have she was afraid to encounter. She didn’t want to hear the comments they would have about her wardrobe or her new diet. That morning, she dressed carefully. She selected a long denim skirt and long sleeved black t-shirt. She pulled her hair back into a French braid, as she had done so many times since her baptism, pinning back the stray ends with bobby pins. And lastly, she fastened her Rose cross around her neck. Sandra had given it to her at the last church service.
“A small token,” Sandra had said as she handed Liz a long, thin box. “Just something to commemorate your baptism. Each Rose has one.”
Liz had opened the box carefully. Inside was a silver chain with a single charm—a cross wrapped in a rose. She had pulled it out of the box and stared at it with fascination. When she had seen this same necklace on Jackie’s neck, it had meant nothing to her. Now, she was actually excited to have one of her own.
“Allow me,” Sandra had said with a smile, taking the necklace out of Liz’s hand and fastening it around her neck. “I’m so proud of you, Elizabeth. Have I told you that?”
Liz had returned the smile. “Yeah, you’ve told me.”
“Well, I felt I had to tell you again. I don’t think you have any idea how blessed I feel to have you as a sister in Rose.” Sandra had then wrapped Liz in a tight hug.
Liz shook her head and returned to the present, lightly touching the cross on her neck. What were her friends going to say?
“Liz! The bus will be here in ten minutes! You’re not that pretty, so stop gawking at yourself in the mirror!” Eva yelled up the stairs.
She rolled her eyes, trying to keep herself calm. She decided there was no use responding to Eva; her words would just get twisted and the fight would last for all eternity. She turned, picked up her backpack, and headed down the stairs to the entrance way.
“Took you long enough,” said Eva, throwing Liz’s coat at her. “Greg’s already left to go down to the bus stop.”
Because the high school started earlier than both the middle and elementary schools, the rest of the siblings sat in the kitchen in their pajamas eating breakfast.
“Have great first days back to school,” their mom said, hugging both girls. She glanced only once at Liz’s outfit, her face giving off a hint of worry for only a second, but she never commented. “I love you both.”
“Yeah, yeah, whatever,” Eva mumbled. She waved her hand dismissively behind her as she left the house.
Mom shrugged at Liz, smiling. “Teenagers, what am I going to do?”
“I don’t know,” Liz said, flatter than usual. “See you after school.” And then she followed her younger sister out the door.
By the time the bus arrived at the school, Greg and Eva had gone over every possible thing wrong with their older sisters, loud enough for Liz to hear a seat behind them. They had suggested cases of schizophrenia, the need for the two of them to do what the other one was doing all the time, and, finally, just decided that their sisters were simply crazy. Liz had thoroughly ignored every claim, even though with each suggestion her brother and sister turned slightly in their seat to look at her out of the corner of their eyes. She continued to stare at the passing scenery out the bus window.
As soon as she got off the bus, she escaped from her siblings. She lost them completely in the crowd of students and was determined to not encounter them again until the bus ride home. She gave a sigh of relief when she was finally away from them. Her separation from people only lasted for another few minutes, until she was at her locker, and her friends found her.
“Liz!” one called at her. She turned to face Ellen, Grace, and
Lena. The four of
them had been friends since elementary school.
“Hey, guys,” she greeted them, giving a smile.
“What’s up with your clothes?” Grace laughed. “You look Amish.”
“What’s that around your neck?” asked Ellen.
“Is that a cross?”
“Yes, it’s a cross,” Liz countered. “It’s a cross for the Children of the Rose, this amazing church my sister told me about.”
“Which one?” Ellen asked. “I bet it wasn’t Eva.”
“Or Andi. She has an attitude now, doesn’t she?” Grace said.
“It was Jackie, okay?” Liz answered, getting more annoyed as the conversation progressed. “There’s a branch of the church up near her college.”
“That surprises me,”
Lena announced. “I
have a hard time picturing any of your family being very religious.”
“Well, I am,” Liz spat. “And I’d appreciate if you three would just drop it.”
“Someone needs to chill,” Grace whispered to the others.
“We’ll catch up with you later, when you’ve calmed down,”
Lena started walking away
from the group. The other two wandered
away in different directions as well, leaving Liz alone at her locker, which
she slammed shut.
“Great,” she mumbled to herself. She had just scared away the only three good friends she had at this school. She would have to control her attitude if she wanted to help the Children spread their word.
Lunch could not have possibly come slower for Liz that day. She knew that she wouldn’t be able to avoid her three friends forever, and she knew that they would probably find her in the cafeteria. She got there first and settled herself down at a table, opening her journal, and she began writing.
My friends are just as distant as my family now. I don’t know what everyone’s problem is. I haven’t changed that much. Everyone seems so focused on the fact that I dress and eat differently. They can’t see any deeper than that.
She felt someone sit down next to her. “Look, I’m really sorry…” she began, thinking it was one of her friends that she had angered that morning. Looking up, she saw three faces that she didn’t recognize, but each person was wearing a necklace matching her own.
“Elizabeth, right?” one of the girls asked.
“Great! We thought it was you, but we weren’t completely sure.”
“You might not recognize us, but we’re Children of the Rose members too,” one of the boys announced. “Would you like to eat lunch with us?”
Liz nodded again and took the hand that the third girl offered.
“There’s a group of us here,” the girl who had taken her hand explained. “I’m Marie, and this is Julia and Adam.” The other two smiled. Marie led Liz over to a table in a far corner of the cafeteria, where two other people sat. “And this is Jacob and Nina.” The two sitting at the table also smiled at Liz and scooted over to make room for her.
“We saw you sitting by yourself and we said, ‘No Rose should sit by themselves!’ We’re a family, after all,” Julia explained.
“We eat here together every day,” Jacob spoke up. “You should join us.”
“Remember what Pastor Simon says—it’s important for all of us to love and trust one another,” Adam added.
As Liz sat down with the other Rose members, she looked behind her. Standing by the table she had just walked away from were her three old friends, looking confused and deflated. Liz only looked back that one time before turning to her new friends and joining them in prayer. She didn’t look back again.
“So you met other Rose members at your high school?” Jackie asked that night.
Liz stared at the ceiling. She was lying on her bed, a phone pressed to her ear. “Yeah. They’re all really cool, too. It’s so nice to not be judged negatively about how I’ve changed. The way Ellen,
Lena, and Grace reacted to me today you’d think I’d
gotten some kind of contagious disease.
And our siblings and parents are just as bad as ever.”
“Don’t think about them, okay?” Jackie said. “Sooner or later, they’ll warm up to our new way of life. And when they warm up, maybe you can get them to come to a church service.”
“I don’t know. Mom seems really upset. And Eva’s…being Eva. And you know that if Eva feels one way, the rest of them tend to follow.”
“Not always. The boys sometimes form their own opinions.”
Liz continued to stare at the ceiling, but didn’t say anything. She heard Jackie sigh and then, “Okay, fine. The boys have fewer opinions than our sisters, but the girls just follow whoever they respect the most out of all of us.”
“And if they think the two of us have lost it…”
“Then they’ll follow the next in command, which is Eva.”
Suddenly, a click sounded on the line. The conversation came to a halt and the sound of someone breathing took over.
“Hello?” a timid voice came, as though it realized it had interrupted something.
“Dani, I’m on the phone,” Liz said, as calmly as possible.
“With Jackie.” Silence. “I’ll let you know when I’m off.”
Then came another click and a new voice found its way into the conversation. “Liz McLancy, you’ve been talking on the phone for an hour!”
“Get off the phone, Eva!” Liz said.
“No! You’re hogging the phone line and there are other people in the house that need to use the phone!”
“I’ll tell you the same thing I just told Dani: I’ll tell you when I’m off.” Liz was getting more frustrated with the situation. She could hear Jackie start to snicker in the background. “Jackie, you’re not helping!”
“Jackie’s on the phone?” asked Dani.
“I just told you that!” cried Liz.
“Hi, girls,” Jackie sighed, still trying not to laugh.
Another click, another new voice. “What? I’m missing a party?”
“You have got to be kidding me!” said Liz. “Greg! All of you! Get off the phone! This is a private conversation!”
“Our eldest sister just left for school a day and a half ago. There is nothing in the world that you two should have to talk about for this long already,” Eva said.
“As usual, no one asked for your opinion, Eva. Get off the phone.”
“I’m just saying, your life is not that interesting.”
“And I’m just saying that if you, Dani, and Greg don’t get off the phone right now, none of you will live to see tomorrow.”
“Bye,” said Dani, followed by a click.
“Just get off the phone, guys. We’re almost done,” Jackie said calmly.
“The death threat still stands…” Liz mumbled.
“Fine, but you’d better tell me when you’re off,” said Eva, followed by another click.
“Greg…” growled Liz.
“You don’t scare me,” Greg countered.
“Alright, I’m going. But you really need to take a chill pill or something.” Another click.
“Finally,” sighed Liz.
“I guess we should hang up, then, before our adorable little siblings have a cow.”
“Alright. Talk to you tomorrow?”
“Good-night, Jackie…um…Jacqueline.” Liz hung up the phone and yelled down the attic stairs, “I’m off the phone, you weasels!”
“About time!” Eva screamed back.
Liz sat down at her desk and opened her journal.
I can’t even have a simple conversation on the phone without my siblings butting in. Halfway through a normal conversation with Jackie, three of my crazy siblings all came onto the phone line. How ridiculous is that?!
The phone rang. To avoid another falling out with Eva, Liz chose to ignore it.
They’re so annoying that I’m actually looking forward to going to church on Wednesday. I’m always excited to go to Children of the Rose, though, so that’s not new. It’s a new thing for me…being excited to go to church…
The attic door opened and suddenly someone pounded on Liz’s bedroom door.
“What?!” Liz cried, crossing the room to throw open the door. Eva’s annoyed face stared back at her. She pushed past Liz, picked up her sister’s phone, and pushed it into her chest.
“The stupid phone’s for you…again,” Eva grumbled before leaving the room again. “Don’t take too long, you phone hog!” She yelled from the attic stairs.
Liz rolled her eyes and put the phone to her ear. “Hello?”
“How are you?”
“I’m fine. How are you?”
“Doing well. I thought I’d call and make sure your day was going well.”
Liz closed her bedroom door and sat down on her bed. “It’s going fine. I met some Rose members at my school. They’re nice.”
“Ah, yes, there are a few at your high school, aren’t there?” Liz could hear Sandra smiling. “I made sure to tell them to look out for you. I know it can be hard, everyone persecuting you for changing your life for the better.”
“They looked out for me,” Liz reassured her friend. “They found me at lunch, introduced themselves, and we hung out for that period.” She sighed. “My old friends were really mad at me,” she added, almost as an afterthought.
“Don’t worry about them, Elizabeth. If they judge you just because you have religious beliefs, then they’re not real friends, now are they?”
“I guess so…”
“LIZ! LET SOMEONE ELSE USE THE PHONE!” Eva’s piercing scream echoed through the house.
“I should probably go. My sister’s having a fit.”
“That’s fine. I just wanted to check in. Remember to say your two hours of prayer tonight, Elizabeth.”
“I will, Sandra. I promise.”
“Good girl. I’ll talk to you later!”
Liz hung up the phone, stormed to the attic stairs and shouted down, “Feel free to stop having a cow, Eva!”
Eva’s face appeared at the bottom of the stairs. “Are you off the phone, oh great older sister?” Her voice was dripping with sarcasm.
“Why do you care so much?” Liz snapped back. “Do you even have a social life? I’d have thought people got sick of putting up with your attitude.”
Eva glared. “Don’t you have a Bible to read or some prayers to say or some such religious junk like that?”
“As a matter of fact, I do, thank you very much,” Liz retorted. With that, she slammed the attic door shut and returned to her room.
Thank god I have a church family now, because my real family drives me completely and totally INSANE.