Elizabeth’s stomach rumbled. She glared down at it and tried to turn her concentration elsewhere as soon as possible. Being a Level Two was hard, that was what she’d learned over the days following her promotion. Everyone was more demanding, there were stricter rules to follow, Sandra was being less patient, and Elizabeth still had no idea what had happened to Derek. She’d seen him from time to time at a distance at the church, while coming and going, but Sandra had always steered her away before she’d even gotten the chance to wave.
And now she was hiding in her attic, as she’d gotten into the habit of doing over the last few days. Every meal had culminated in an argument and every time she’d ended up escaping up here. Tonight had been a particularly nasty fight, during which her mother had been about one step from forcing food down her daughter’s throat. So Elizabeth sat on the futon in the attic common room, her knees folded up under her chin. Her journal was balanced on top of her knees and she was scribbling in it with renewed fervor, as though her life depended on it.
looked at what she had written,
shook her head as though trying to clear it, and then frantically scratched out
the last sentence she had written to the point that there was barely a trace it
had been written at all. She stared at
her words again: Elizabeth
Have I made the right choice?
’s feet dropped to the floor
suddenly and she stared at her mother with a look of pure shock. “They’re not killing me slowly.” Elizabeth
glared at her mother and scooped up
her journal. She stormed into her room,
but turned around and added with loathing dripping in each syllable, “And
killing is one of the Ten Commandments.
Shows how much you know.” With
that, she slammed her door. Elizabeth
rolled her eyes and tried her best
to flatten out her journal’s pages again.
After a few moments, she decided it was a hopeless case. Elizabeth
Dinner was just painful. Mom and Dad wouldn’t stop questioning me about why I was eating so little, and they both just rolled their eyes when I recited that Bible verse Pastor Simon wanted us to memorize about why we need to eat less. Eva kept nagging me, Andi and Dani kept kicking Eva under the table (which really just made Eva angrier and louder) and Greg and Tommy were up to something, I just know it.
This is so hard, rationing what I eat. And I’ve only been doing it for a couple of days. It feels longer.
Have I made the right choice?
She shook her head again and put a few more scratches through the words, as though trying to make sure they were completely gone. Her stomach grumbled again and she bent her knees even closer to her body, before adding to the end of her entry:
And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.
She stared intently at the verse she had just written, willing it into her brain, her stomach, her heart—anywhere that would cause the discomfort in her belly to cease. Footsteps could be heard making their way up the attic stairs and
closed her eyes, willing those to go away too. Elizabeth
No such luck. A tentative knock came at the attic door and
put her forehead
onto her knees before saying, “What?” Elizabeth
Her mom opened the door and poked her head in.
sighed and lifted her head. “What?” she repeated, closing her journal and
placing it behind her, between her back and the futon, where it was safe. Elizabeth
“Are you sure you’re feeling okay, honey?” Mom asked, concern lined on her forehead.
Don’t call me honey. I’m not your honey. “I’m fine, Mom.”
“You barely ate anything.”
You wouldn’t understand. “I said I’m fine. I’m…not hungry.”
“Really? Or is that just something your church has commanded you to say?”
I said I’m fine! Leave me alone! “They haven’t commanded me to say anything. And even if they did, I’d say what they told me to. They’re my pathway to eternal glory in Heaven and I need to listen to Pastor Simon and the others.”
“I’m worried about you.”
Everything worries you. A glare appeared on Elizabeth’s face before she said, “Why should you be worried? Why don’t you want me to be happy?”
“You can’t starve yourself. You can’t keep doing all these destructive things this church, if that’s even what it really is, makes you do. You’re going to get hurt, or worse.”
I’m not starving myself. I ate, didn’t I? “I’m not starving myself! I ate, didn’t I?!”
“You only ate a quarter of what you put on your plate. And even that was less than what you’ve been eating lately.”
Stalker. “Stop paying attention to what I eat. I have to eat less. It’s one of the ways I’ll get into Heaven.”
“How is that going to get you into Heaven?” Mom asked, moving to sit next to
on the futon. Elizabeth turned and stretched out her legs,
so she took up all sitting space. Elizabeth
You wouldn’t understand. “You wouldn’t understand.”
“Gluttony’s one of the seven deadly sins. In order to get to Heaven, we have to overcome gluttony.”
“Just gluttony? Aren’t there seven?”
“Lust. Sloth. Greed. Wrath. Envy. Pride.”
ticked these off on her fingers,
not meeting her mother’s eyes. “We
haven’t dealt with all of them yet. It’s
a process. Soon, I’ll be free of all of
them. And then I’ll be partly ready for
There’s more to it than just that, Mom. “Yes, partly. There’s more to being pure than just being free of the seven deadly sins.”
“Lust, huh? Like how you’re lusting after this church?”
It figures she’d take it that way. “That’s not what lust means. And you can’t lust after a church. That doesn’t even make sense.”
Her mother sighed and looked at the ceiling, as though she was greatly debating asking whatever question she had next. “Then how has Pastor Simon instructed you to deal with lust?”
God, give me strength. “He hasn’t really covered lust with the group yet, but Sandra’s talked to me about it. He picks a worthy husband of the church for worthy ladies of the church. We don’t have a chance to lust. It’s just not how it’s done.”
“Arranged marriage?” Mom looked like she was fighting a look of pure shock, although she wasn’t doing well with keeping it hidden.
“Don’t look so surprised, Mom. It’s just a way to keep us all safe and in the church.”
“Clearly.” There was a pause in which neither woman looked at each other.
looked at the floor and her mother
looked at her hands. After several
seconds, Mrs. McLancy spoke up again, “But isn’t killing one of the seven
deadly sins? Because that’s what it
sounds like this Pastor Simon and your supposed friends are doing to you. They’re starving you—killing you slowly.” Elizabeth
“Sounds like it to me.”
“You don’t understand!”
angrily. “You don’t understand the ways
of the Children of the Rose! They’re not
killing me—they’re not killing anyone! Pastor
Simon’s helping us all get to Heaven on the one true path, on the path that God
told him about! You don’t know
anything! This stupid family isn’t even
religious, so how dare you judge the Children!” Elizabeth
“Wrath,” her mother quietly scolded, desperate to make a point.
Once in the safe haven of her room, she threw herself onto her bed and listened to her mom walking back down the attic stairs. She glared at the wall in front of her, but the anger was still bubbling.
looked at the journal she was still holding in her hand and when her stomach
started rumbling again, she chucked the book across the room, where it hit the
wall hard. Elizabeth
A hard thud came from the room below, as though someone was hitting
floor with a fist. Sure enough,
Evalynne’s yell quickly followed, “Will you knock it off with the loud
noises?! You’re not the only one who
lives here!” Elizabeth
“Shut up, Evalynne!”
yelled back and
stomped across the room toward her journal for good measure. She picked it up and looked mournfully at its
bent cover and ruffled pages from being thrown against a wall. Elizabeth
“Screw you!” Evalynne yelled back, banging
floor with her fist once more before falling silent. Elizabeth
“I can’t do anything right,” she mumbled to herself, rubbing her belly again it emitted another loud rumble. “And you’re not helping,” she said to her stomach. “It would be great if you would just shut up and make my life a little easier.” As though on cue, the rumbling in her stomach stopped and
smiled with victory. Elizabeth