The older members looked at each other, shocked, as though he had just said he had murdered someone. The newer members just looked at Derek with wide eyes, not believing that one of their own would actually admit to this sin.
Pastor Jeffrey closed his eyes, gathering himself before speaking, then opened them again and said, “Having doubts is a weakness, cowardice. It is saying that you do not trust your brother and sister Roses. It is the greatest sin of our church, for doubt is what will keep you from performing the most holy acts and leading others to our church so they too can see the light of our worship. We are all greatly disappointed in you, Derek. For this, you must meet with your Rose Angel for at least two extra hours a day, pray for an extra four hours a day, and you must publicly apologize to this church—both now and at worship tomorrow.” He looked expectantly at Derek.
Derek now moved his gaze to his folded hands. “I’m sorry.”
“For what?” Pastor Jeffrey prompted.
Derek sighed and said. “I’m sorry for having doubts.” He looked up briefly to meet the eyes of Pastor Jeffrey and the others. “I’m sorry for having doubts…I realize now that doubts are weak and…I’ll try to control my thoughts.” His eyes met those of his Rose Angel, who was sitting on the floor and giving him a stern look. Derek flinched slightly. “I…want to be here in the Children, because…it’s the best place for me, and it’s wrong of me to have any doubts about something that’s good for me.”
“Thank you, Derek. You will repeat that apology in front of the rest of the congregation tomorrow.” Pastor Jeffrey said.
Derek nodded and sat back down, not meeting anyone’s gaze anymore.
After the last person had confessed and Pastor Jeffrey had assigned Bible verses to the group, everyone bowed their heads in collective prayer.
“Dear God,” Pastor Jeffrey began. “As we go out into the world again, let us learn from each other’s shortcomings. Give us the strength to rise above these temptations and become better members of this church. Guide us to the right path. Amen.”
“Amen,” everyone else answered.
As the room started clearing out, Liz approached Derek. She took a deep breath before getting up the nerve to say what she wanted to say.
“That was really brave of you to admit that to the whole group. Having doubts.”
Derek shrugged. “Well, you saw how that turned out. I guess I’d rather be here and doing stuff I don’t want to do than to be at home with my dad and being punished for whatever reason he comes up with at any given moment. Anyway, I don’t think I’m going to have much time to doubt over the next week after all that stuff Pastor Jeffrey just assigned me.”
“That’s good, though,” Liz answered. “I mean, it’s keeping you away from that sin, at least. That is good, right?”
“I guess so. It’s just—”
Sandra took hold of Liz’s arm, cutting off Derek. She didn’t smile at Derek like she had before. “
, it’s time to
go. Delia and Morgan are already halfway
down the hall.” Elizabeth
“Okay,” Liz said as Sandra led her out of the room. “I’ll see you later, Derek!”
As the two girls made their way down the hall toward the front doors of the church, Sandra finally let go of Liz’s arm and said, “
he’s not the right man for you to associate with right now.” Elizabeth
“Why? You liked him fine at the end of December.”
Sandra sighed, as though this was the last thing she wanted to talk to Liz about, like a parent having the Talk with a child. “It’s simple. He’s a great sinner right now and young, newer members to the church are more impressionable. You must find the correct men to associate with in the church. You’re a good girl, Elizabeth. You don’t want to tarnish yourself. You don’t want Derek to bring you to temptation. When he has been cured of this sin and this temptation, then he’ll be worthy of your companionship. Proverbs, chapter eleven, verse twenty-two says, ‘As a jewel of gold in a swine’s snout, so is a fair woman which is without discretion.’”
Liz stopped walking. “What does that even mean?”
Sandra rolled her eyes, grabbed Liz’s elbow, and pulled her along again. “Just think about it. Don’t do something that will upset God or Pastor Simon. Come on, let’s go.”
The two of them made their way out into the parking lot and climbed into the car with Delia and Morgan. The whole ride home, Morgan and Liz said nothing. As the car pulled onto Liz’s street, Delia finally turned around to face the younger girls.
“What’s wrong, you two? You’ve barely said a word.”
Liz looked up from staring at her notebook in her lap. Morgan lifted her head from the headrest—she had been staring nonstop at the car ceiling.
“Nothing’s wrong,” Liz whispered. Morgan didn’t say anything, just shook her head.
“I know it can be a little overwhelming the first time you go to a full-youth gathering,” Sandra said in an understanding tone, “but it’s good for you. You have to see how the more seasoned members of the church carry themselves day-to-day. You have to participate in the confession exercises so you can learn from each other’s mistakes and become better Children. Don’t think on this too much.”
Delia raised her eyebrows questioningly. “You trust us, right?” Liz and Morgan nodded. “Then don’t worry about it. We’re not going to let anything happen to you both that’s not good for you and your eternal soul. We want you both to grow in the Rose and become loyal and respected Children.”
Liz rubbed her eyes. “I guess that makes sense.”
“There’s no guessing. It does make sense,” Delia said and then pointed toward the door closest to Liz. “We’re at your house. Go and do your praying and we’ll see you tomorrow for worship.”
Liz gathered her belongings and climbed out of the car. She walked up to the front door of the house and as she went inside, she heard the car pull out of the driveway. She pulled the scarf off her head and leaned against the door, sighing.
Her mom walked around the corner just then. “Liz, it’s three in the morning. Are you just getting in?”
Liz stood up straight again and made her way toward the stairs, squaring her shoulders as she moved closer to her mother. “Yes. Is that a problem?”
“You know your curfew is at midnight.”
“What does curfew matter in the eyes of God? I was working on saving my soul…something this whole family should consider doing.”
Mom looked at her, shocked at what her daughter was saying, and the tone in which it was being said. “There’s no need to take that tone, young lady. A midnight curfew is a midnight curfew. I don’t care if you were with God himself, you are expected to be back in this house at midnight.”
Liz turned around on the stairs to face her mother, glaring. “Well, you should care. And if the worship activities last until ten the next morning, you don’t get to tell me when I should be back from them. I am with my church family and you don’t understand. You and the rest of this crazy family, except Jacqueline, are all outsiders. Pastor Simon’s right about you.” With that, Liz stomped up the stairs and slammed the attic door.