The next morning dawned far too early for Liz, who was woken up by Jackie shaking her frantically. “What?” Liz whined, pulling the sleeping bag up to her chin. Jackie merely flipped on the light, resulting in Liz’s agitated groan and her putting a pillow over her head.
“Come on, we’re having a prayer session in the hallway,” Jackie said, while grabbing Liz’s arm and pulling her sister to her feet.
“What time is it?” asked Liz. She rubbed her eyes and, a moment later, felt a piece of fabric hit her face. It was her church scarf and Jackie had just thrown it at her.
Jackie picked up a hair elastic from the desk and forcibly pulled Liz’s hair back into a ponytail. “Put on your scarf, for crying out loud!”
“What time is it?” Liz repeated.
“Five. Jennifer is already outside.”
“In the morning?!” Liz’s eyes went wide and she looked out the window. Sure enough, the sun had not even come over the horizon yet.
“Yes, Elizabeth. And Jennifer is already outside.” With that, Jackie snatched the scarf out of Liz’s hand, tied it on her sister’s head, grabbed her hand, and led her out into the hallway.
It appeared to Liz that every resident of Jackie’s hall was a member of the Children of the Rose, for the hallway was lined on both sides with college students. Jackie didn’t give Liz the chance to consider this idea for too long, however, because the two girls were no sooner standing outside the room than Jackie was pushing her sister down the hall to who seemed to be the person in charge, a tall man who looked to be in his mid-twenties. Liz noticed the man was wearing a pure white stole around his shoulders, which was not a color she had seen much in the church, especially on someone so young. Most of the people Liz had seen wearing white scarves or stoles had been far older than the typical youth group that she spent most of her time with.
, this is Jonathan. He brought all of us into the Children and
comes over to lead prayer and Bible study sessions with us here at Drighton,”
Jackie explained. Elizabeth
“It’s wonderful to meet you, Elizabeth!” Jonathan said, grasping Liz’s shoulder in a warm and comforting way.
“Jonathan has been in the Children most of his life, haven’t you?” Jackie looked thrilled to be announcing this news to her sister.
“Since I was six,” Jonathan announced proudly. “My parents were some of the first people Pastor Simon brought to the church and to whom he preached the Truth. I’m so lucky they brought me along with them. It’s great when the whole family’s involved. I’m sure you two understand, being sisters and all.” He stared at the two sisters, smiling widely, for a moment longer before adding, “Well, you two go find a seat, we should get started.”
Jackie grabbed Liz’s hand again and pulled her over to one side of the hall, near where Jennifer was sitting. As they got settled on the floor, Liz glanced around at the other people in the hall. She immediately recognized Scott, Peter, and Heather from her first visit to the church.
“Did Jonathan convert every single resident of this hall?” Liz whispered.
“No, just a good handful of us. There are some people that just wouldn’t let him show the light to them,” Jackie shrugged it off. “It happens. The important thing is he tried. But the reason there are so many people here is because all of the Roses on campus gather here with us on Mondays. This hall has kind of become the central meeting point on campus for the Roses that attend Drighton. Everyone here has been a member of the church for varying years. Jonathan has that effect on church members, I guess, because he’s been a Rose for so long.”
“Has he seriously been in the church for fifteen—”
Liz was cut off by Jonathan standing on one end of the hall. “We will now clasp hands and join together in prayer.” He sat down in the make-shift circle that was formed in the hallway and grasped the hands of those on either side of him, with the rest of the group following suit.
“As is said in Psalms, chapter ninety-five, verse six…” Jonathan began, then looked expectantly at the members in the hall.
At this cue, everyone in the hall intoned, “‘O come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord our maker.’”
“Amen,” Jonathan said.
“Amen,” everyone else repeated.
“Let us bow our heads to pray.” Each member in the hall followed Jonathan’s lead, closed their eyes, and put down their head. “Lord, we thank you for this morning and this opportunity to pray to you as a group…”
The prayer went around the circle, each person picking up where the last had left off. Some spoke for what felt like half an hour. Others, like Liz, spoke for a handful of minutes, if that. By the time the prayer had made its way back around to Jonathan, Liz couldn’t even remember what she had said at her turn.
“We lift up these concerns and wishes to you, oh Lord,” Jonathan said confidently, after each member had spoken his or her prayer. “We thank you again for this glorious day and ask that you lead us down the path of righteousness during the school week ahead. We know there are many temptations that will come into our lives during the next several days, and we pray that you will not let us stray from the teachings of Pastor Simon or yourself. Amen.”
“Amen,” the rest of the hall repeated.
Liz felt movement on either side of her and finally opened her eyes. She looked down the hall at the far window. The sun was now full and bright. Jackie, who had yet to let go of Liz’s hand, pulled her sister to her feet and dragged her back down the hall into her dorm room.
“What time is it now?” Liz asked, pulling her scarf off her head and folding it into a neat square.
“Almost eight,” Jackie answered half-heartedly, shrugging this fact off.
“You don’t have an eight o’clock class?”
“Not this semester, no. I did last semester, but I usually skipped on Mondays.”
“You do this every Monday?”
“Of course!” Jackie smiled wide. “It’s the perfect way to start the week, don’t you think? What better way to focus yourself before heading out into the temptations that college life brings?”
Liz shrugged, not sure how to answer that question.
“My classes are insanely boring, so I don’t think you’ll want to go to those with me,” Jackie announced. She didn’t meet Liz’s eyes while she said this, but instead hunted under her bed for something.
“I don’t mind going to your classes with you!” Liz cried. “Besides, what else am I supposed to do all week?”
“And for that, Jonathan had a solution,” Jackie said brightly, finally resurfacing from under her bed, having not found whatever she was looking for. “He suggested you go with him over to the Drighton colony. It’s not a bad walk from here and pretty much all of us spend our free time there anyway. The rest of the students here usually stop in throughout the day, whenever we don’t have class, so you’ll never be alone. And you can help out with a service project or something. It would be a great way to get yourself acquainted to the colony you’ll get to spend time at when you’re here next year.”
“I haven’t been accepted yet,” Liz mumbled, but Jackie didn’t appear to hear her.
Suddenly, Jonathan was standing in the doorway. “Ready to go,
? The colony is a great place to hang out when
you don’t have anything else to do, as I’m sure Jacqueline has told you.” He gave Jackie a meaningful look. Elizabeth
“Of course I have,” Jackie said. She then turned and smiled at Liz. “I’ll be down at the colony after I’m done with my classes and we’ll get to talk. Have fun!”
With that, Jonathan grabbed Liz’s hand and pulled her out of the room.
The walk to the colony took a good twenty minutes. Liz followed Jonathan down several side streets, through the town, and away from campus. She realized suddenly that she hadn’t seen where the Children of the Rose church was located as her mom had driven her into town. This led her to believe that it was on the very edge of town, much like it was back home. Jonathan kept up a steady stream of commentary regarding the wonders of the Drighton colony, how many students were members of the church, all the good service they did for the town. Liz only listened half-heartedly, determined to see exactly where they were going.
“And, of course, the Drighton students who are proud Roses are very devoted to the colony. It’s kind of a second home to them. Church before school, always…” Jonathan said in an incredibly enthusiastic way. He smiled at Liz, who smiled back.
They turned down another series of streets. The houses became more scattered, the farmland more visible. And then, suddenly, there rose the steeple that so clearly belonged to the Children of the Rose’s church colony. The church was an exact twin of the Central colony’s, although it certainly had an air of being a few years younger. The white paint on the building seemed brighter, less faded by the sun and general wear and tear. Much like at the colony she was used to, just beyond the church, attached to one side and then wrapping behind, was a large wall. The stones in this wall were a slightly darker grey than those in the Central colony’s. Through a similar steel gate in the wall, much like the one in the wall back home, she could again spot an array of small white buildings.
“How many Drighton students are Roses?” she asked Jonathan suddenly as they approached the front doors to the church.
“I’m not sure of the exact number, but if I were to hazard a guess…” he trailed off, squinting his eyes, apparently thinking hard, “…if I were to guess, I’d say there are maybe fifty current students, but there are plenty of Drighton alumni who joined the Children when they were students and have stuck around this colony or gone on to one of the other colonies. This colony, I’d say, probably has the most college students of any of the others. It helps, I guess, being in a college town and not just at the edge of a city or suburb, you know?”
Liz nodded and followed Jonathan into the church. He led her down one of the halls. As they approached one of the many doors in this hall, the sound of voices became progressively louder. Jonathan opened the door and motioned Liz inside. She smiled at him in thanks and entered the room, looking around. Sitting on the floor were about ten people who were apparently Drighton students, because their backpacks and textbooks were propped haphazardly against the far wall, discarded carelessly. They were all immersed in some kind of sorting project. Piles of clothes and material possessions lay in the center of the room. The group members were digging through this pile and would every so often put an item in a different, smaller pile that was along the perimeter of the room. Liz watched this process for a few seconds before Jonathan stepped up behind her and cleared his throat for attention.
“Guys, this is Elizabeth McLancy. She’s Jacqueline’s younger sister and was baptized down at the Central Colony. She’s here visiting for a few days and is going to be hanging out here,” he announced with a smile.
The group sitting on the floor flashed identical warm smiles at Liz and intoned, “Hi, Elizabeth!”
A couple of the girls scooted in opposite directions, clearing a space in the group for Liz, and motioned her over. With a small sigh, but feeling very welcome, Liz sat down in the spot allotted for her. One of the girls gave her a hug.
“We’re sorting donations,” the girl explained, waving her arm over the pile in the middle of the group. “We need to figure out what exactly is here and sort them into male and female, clothes and…not clothes…”
“Sounds easy enough,” Liz said.
“It is! And it’s a great way to connect yourself to God and the purpose of the Children. These items, completely unnecessary to a Rose, are going to go on to someone who will appreciate them and hear that it came from us and perhaps will come to understand why we don’t need them.”
Liz nodded, smiling. The girl picked up a bright pink blouse, examined it, then tossed it into the pile that was clearly female clothing. Seeing how the system worked, Liz joined in and stuck her hand into the pile, pulling out a pair of jeans. Without a second thought, she tossed it into another pile.
This afternoon, Mom’s coming to pick me up from Drighton, where I’ve been “visiting” Jackie for the last week. I kept meaning to write in here, but I’ve been kept so busy at the Drighton colony of Children of the Rose that I’ve been completely exhausted by the time I get back at night. I haven’t seen much of Jackie either…just mostly Jonathan and the other colony members. I mean, Jonathan is perfectly nice, but the point of this week was to visit my sister. I understand that she’s been busy lately. It’s hard for her to try to balance class and church, but she does her best. That’s mostly the only time I’ve seen her all week—at church. I went to some youth group meetings with the colony members Jackie is friends with up here. From how I understand it, most of her friends here were baptized with her, or soon after. Even Jennifer hasn’t been around much. It sounds like the colony keeps her busy most of all. She’s pretty quiet to begin with, anyway.
Liz looked up from what she was writing just in time to see her mother walking through the dorm room door. At the same time, Jackie looked up from where she had been reading at her desk. Their mom stopped in her tracks, looking around the room in shock. Liz knew that her mother was taking in the lack of decorations. She could almost hear her mother thinking whether or not to comment on this new addition to the oddity that was going on with the two girls. Apparently, she chose against an argument, because she purposefully put a smile back on her face before talking to Liz and Jackie.
“Hi, girls!” their mom exclaimed. “How was the week?”
“Fine,” Jackie muttered. “It was just fine. Look, I have to get to class, so just make sure you shut the door behind you.” She picked up her book bag then gave Liz a hug. “I’ll talk to you soon.” As she walked past her mother, she mumbled a goodbye, and left the room.
Mom looked at the door uncertainly and picked up Liz’s luggage. “Did you get to spend a lot of time with your sister?”
Liz started to follow her mom out of the room, certain to shut the door behind her. “Yeah, tons of time,” she lied. “We got to visit a lot.”
“That’s nice,” said Mom.
That was the last thing the two of them said to each other the entire way home. As the car drove down the highway, Liz stared out of the window, just as she had done on the drive up a week before.
Liz only pays partial attention to her surroundings as she sits curled up on the front porch swing, her journal on her lap. Every so often one of the little kids shrieks and she looks up, but for the most part she’s focused on writing in her journal. Her one constant companion. Several of the adults are playing some complex game of tag with the kids. Mostly the guys, because they all like acting five-years-old anyway.
Yesterday’s falling-out between Eva and me…and some of the others…it seems to have been pushed into the background. There haven’t been any more incidents or arguments. Not about that, anyway. Eva, for the first time in her life, has actually started thinking before speaking. Surprising, I know.
I don’t know why I got so upset yesterday morning. I don’t like this sudden rush of memories. Particularly these memories. They’re memories I’ve worked so hard to suppress over the last ten years, ever since I left. I’m amazed I was able to survive four years at Drighton. No wonder I couldn’t come home. It took all my energy not to think about the cult there.
Suddenly, Liz comes face-to-face with her purse. She looks up, fully prepared to tell off whoever chose to both steal her purse and then throw it in her face, to find all six of her siblings staring at her.
“What?” she asks suspiciously. She glances at Jackie, who looks as thoroughly confused as Liz feels. Jackie’s right arm is being held firmly by Greg.
“I thought you guys were playing tag,” Liz points out, closing her journal.
“Yeah, well, Tom and I figured there was probably something more important to be doing,” Greg answers with a shrug, like this conversation isn’t weirding out Liz at all.
Tom, standing near Liz, grabs her arm and pulls her to her feet. “Sibling bonding time. Blame the girls.”
Andi shoots Tom a glare and says, “We need time to ourselves away from the kids and the spouses or fiancés or significant others or whatever everyone’s classifying themselves as now. The anniversary party is soon, so we’re going to end up using all our spare time getting ready for that. We haven’t hung out, just the seven of us, for years.” She points an accusatory finger at Liz. “And you and Jackie need to get out and about and away from whatever painful memories you’ve been wallowing in for the last two days.”
“Wallowing?” Liz mutters, raising her eyebrows.
“Oh, please. I’m twenty-one. I can use the word ‘wallowing’ in casual conversation.”
“But…the kids…” Jackie, apparently not paying attention to the conversation, motions toward the front yard and tries to subtly pull out of Greg’s iron grip. He clasps her arm harder. “Ow!” She punches him in the shoulder. “Cutting off circulation is so not necessary!”
“The kids are going to be fine,” Eva answers. “There are fifty-thousand people here to look after them.”
“There are actually only seven other people here to look after them,” Liz points out.
“Don’t interrupt me,” Eva shoots back. “The point is they’re fine. Mom and Dad and all of our spouses and fiancés and significant others and life partners…” She pauses and studies Liz. “What are you and Eric now anyway?”
Liz shrugs. “I don’t know. Life partners?”
“Whatever. They’ve all agreed to look after the kids so we can go for a drive.”
To emphasize this, Dani waves the keys to her car in the air. “And go for a drive we shall. You two,” she points at her oldest sisters, “haven’t been in town for nearly ten years. It’s time for a tour.”
Tom starts pulling Liz away from the porch swing. Liz grips the swing’s chains. “I don’t think this is a good idea.”
Losing all illusions of patience entirely, Eva shrieks, “We need sibling bonding, damn it!”
“Can’t we do sibling bonding here at home?” Jackie asks, still trying to wiggle her arm out of Greg’s hand. Greg grabs hold of her with his other hand and she punches him again. “Seriously, Greg! Stop squeezing my arm!”
“Then stop squirming!” he retorts.
“Then stop cutting off my circulation!”
“Then stop squirming!”
Jackie shoots him a glare, but stops struggling.
“We’re doing sibling bonding away from the house, away from all this chaos, and away from the people who aren’t our blood siblings! And you two are going to like it!” Dani cries. “Now, for the love of all things good in this world, get in the freaking car!”