The scenery of the Ohio country passed by the car window. Liz had her forehead pressed up against the window, allowing her breath to fog the glass. Her mother, who was driving, kept throwing concerned glances at her daughter, although the two hadn’t spoken since they had left the house. Liz twirled the edges of her Rose scarf in her hand—it was sitting in her lap.
Only a week ago, as Jackie had been talking to Liz on the phone in one of their regular conversations, this whole trip had gotten planned.
“Your spring break is next week, isn’t it?” Jackie had asked.
“Yeah, it is,” Liz had answered, curious as to why her sister was bringing this fact up now.
“You should come up and visit me at Drighton!” Jackie had exclaimed. “It’ll be the perfect opportunity for you to see the campus and get to know the colony up here and some of the other Roses that you’ll get to hang out with next year when you’re here.”
“I haven’t been accepted yet.”
“Only a small detail. Do you want to come?”
So that had been that. And now Liz and her mother were enduring the most awkward car ride in the history of the world—or, at least, that was Liz’s opinion. They hadn’t been able to leave the house without getting into an argument, this time about Liz’s outfit.
As Liz had come downstairs with her suitcase, her mother had stopped her. She took one look at Liz’s outfit—a long black skirt, long-sleeved beige t-shirt—and immediately commented on it.
“Honey,” she had said cautiously, “you’re going to stay at a college for a whole week.”
“Thanks, Mom, I’m aware of that,” Liz had answered sarcastically.
“Why don’t you wear something more youthful? There’s no reason for you to not show off some skin or figure or something. You’re a very pretty girl.”
“Thanks, but I don’t think so.”
“It’s not that hard to wear a pair of jeans. Don’t you want to fit in with the other people up at the college? Don’t you want to look like your age?”
Liz had rolled her eyes and simply said, “‘The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman's garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the Lord thy God.’ Deuteronomy, chapter twenty-two, verse five.”
Her mother had sighed and then offered, “Well, how about some jewelry? You could wear that pretty watch you used to always wear and I have a few necklaces you’re more than welcome to borrow.”
“‘In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array.’ First Timothy, chapter two, verses nine and ten.”
Since then, the two hadn’t said a word to each other. They had put Liz’s suitcase in the car and left for Drighton. The moment when the sign for Drighton finally came into view didn’t come soon enough for Liz. She sighed with relief as they turned onto the campus and started unbuckling her seatbelt even before the car had come to a full stop in front of Jackie’s dorm. Jackie, who was sitting on a front step, waved and ran over to the car, embracing Liz as she exited the car.
“You have no idea how glad I am to finally be here,” Liz whispered in her sister’s ear. “The ride was unbearable.”
“Well, don’t worry about it now. You’re here and we’re going to have a blast this week,” Jackie whispered back, just as their mother approached the two of them with Liz’s luggage.
“How are classes going, Jackie?” mom asked, handing the luggage over to her daughters. She looked at Jackie hopefully, like she was thinking that maybe things were back to normal now. Like the tension over Christmas break had never happened.
“Fine,” Jackie answered coarsely. She stared at the ground.
“Okay…” their mom looked back and forth between the two girls. Both of them avoided her eyes. “Well, then, I guess I’ll leave you two to your fun. I’ll be back Friday afternoon to pick you up, okay, Liz?”
“Fine,” Liz mumbled. Her mother gave her a quick kiss on the cheek and, with a hesitant wave, got into the car and drove away, leaving the sisters on their own.
“Finally!” Liz cried. “She’s been getting even more difficult, if you’ll believe it. You’re so lucky you live here and not at home where our entire family is just watching your every move.”
“You’ll be getting away soon enough,” Jackie smiled and picked up some of Liz’s luggage as they began to walk inside the dorm building. “Just think of living at home as a test of your faith and obedience to the Children. It’ll make you feel better.”
Liz nodded—it made sense to her—and followed her older sister into the building. The dorm held the feeling of college—the smell of popcorn and beer filled the hallways. Almost every door was open, revealing students sitting at desks, studying on beds, watching television from bean-bag chairs. Three stories up, the two sisters finally arrived at Jackie’s room. The name tags on the door read “Jennifer” and “Jacqueline.”
Liz pointed to one of the tags. “Jennifer?”
“Yeah,” Jackie answered. “You remember her. You met her on your first visit to the church.” Jackie opened the door to the dorm room. The room was barer than the rooms they had passed on the way up. The only decorations on the walls were a cross over each bed. Every item in the room was modest.
“Where’s all that colorful stuff you bought during the summer?” Liz asked, motioning to the bare walls. “The bean bag chair…the posters…the bedspread?”
She distinctly remembered Jackie coming home, on several occasions, waving these things like they were prizes. “These will make my dorm room perfect!” she had claimed, adding them to the ever-growing pile in the garage. The posters, mostly recreations of famous paintings or photographs of nature, Jackie had been most excited about, rolling them up carefully for transport and announcing, “I can’t wait to hang these up on my walls!” She had also bought rugs of varying hues (“The carpet’s going to be gross, I just know it,” Jackie had claimed), a bean-bag chair that was the brightest and most obnoxious pink she could find (“If this doesn’t brighten up a dorm room, I don’t know what will!”), and a tie-dye bedspread decorated in greens, pinks, and blues (“It’s me, don’t you think?”). All of these were gone now. In their places were practically nothing and the bedspread had been replaced by a brown woolen blanket.
“I donated them to the church,” Jackie said, waving off Liz’s concern. “You know that Pastor Simon believes materialism is wrong. What could be more material than all those neon decorations? I don’t need anyone to think my room is ‘pretty’ to be happy. All I need are the bare essentials. All those things are making someone else happy now—someone who, sadly, does not know the love of the Children and needs bright colors to make their life have meaning. Why would I want that?” Jackie smiled, but Liz could swear that, just for a moment, her sister glimpsed sadly at her bare walls.