Once the two girls were settled in Sandra’s car, and the front door of the house had closed, Sandra turned to
and handed her a piece of black fabric—a blindfold. Elizabeth
“What’s this for? I thought we were going to the mall.”
“Do you trust me?” Sandra asked as she pulled out of the driveway.
“Of course, but—”
“Then put on the blindfold and stop asking questions.”
Preferring to just trust Sandra than feel her wrath,
tied the blindfold tight over her eyes. Elizabeth
“So we’re not going to the mall?”
“What did I just say?”
“Stop asking questions.”
“Good girl.” Sandra patted
’s arm. “And, no, we’re not going to the mall.” Elizabeth
watched as each Level One in
attendance had their name called and received their new scarf or stole. Pastor Simon didn’t work in alphabetical
order this time, which was painfully clear when Elizabeth was the only one left standing in
the middle of the circle. Her face went
red, feeling the eyes of every member in the room on her. For a moment, but just for a moment, she felt
great disdain toward Pastor Simon for making her wait, making her be the last
to approach the altar. Did this mean
that she was not as worthy as the others who had just been promoted? Had she done something wrong? Elizabeth
nodded her understanding and began to examine the ring on her finger. It was just like Jacqueline’s, only shinier
in its newness, with the green gem in the middle and the small roses engraved
on either side. Looking closer, Elizabeth also noticed
that on the opposite side from the gem was engraved, too small to be seen by
anyone who wasn’t looking for it, Child
of the Rose. Elizabeth
Several minutes later, the car came to a stop and
felt Sandra guide her from the car. They
walked quickly into a building that had a familiar feeling to Elizabeth , although she couldn’t quite place
where she was. Finally, she was guided
to a stop and Sandra helped her off with the bandana. Elizabeth
’s eyes only a few seconds to
adjust, because the room they were standing in was dark except for two candles
flickering in front. It was the same
room in which she had been baptized. A circle
of church members and Rose Angels lined the perimeter of the room and in the
direct center stood several of the Level Ones, including Morgan, who was
standing next to Elizabeth . Derek, however, was nowhere to be seen. Elizabeth
Pastor Simon made his way to the front of the room, taking his place behind the table containing the candles. If the room had been quiet before, it was now as though no one was breathing. Everyone stared intently at Pastor Simon, waiting for him to begin. The Level Ones all shifted nervously at the center of the circle, unsure of what was to come. The Children lining the walls simply watched serenely.
“Welcome, Children, to this joyous occasion for our family,” Pastor Simon began, flashing his trademark smile and opening his arms in welcome. “We have watched these Roses standing before you take root and begin to blossom into key members of this church. Today we welcome them even further into our fold, for these select Level Ones have been deemed worthy to move up in our ranks. Tonight these Level Ones will become Level Twos and become more privy to the beliefs that we all hold so dear to our hearts—the beliefs that define us as the Children of the Rose.”
Those lining the walls gave polite applause. Morgan found
’s hand and gave it a squeeze. Elizabeth
could feel her friend’s excitement and shared it—she knew how proud Jacqueline
would be, as well as Sandra and everyone else.
She looked around at her fellow Level Ones in attendance and noticed
with a jolt of both nervousness and pride that only about two-thirds of their
number was being promoted to the next level.
Somehow, the other third were not deemed worthy, for she knew that none
of them had left the church. And then,
guiltily, she remembered that Derek was not among the worthy two-thirds. Her heart fell a bit, wishing that he was
there too. He had been there since they
had been visitors together, they had been baptized at the same ceremony, she
had seen him at every youth gathering and seminar. She had gotten quite used to his presence;
she had come to enjoy his company and their brief conversations. Her thoughts were cut short, however, when
Pastor Simon began speaking again. Elizabeth
“We must remember what is said in Romans, chapter fifteen, verse one…” Pastor Simon trailed off, looking expectantly at the Children.
Taking the lead, every member in the room, including the nervous Level Ones, recited, “We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves.”
“Thank you. Very good, Children. We remember this verse on the occasions of promotion, for as has been noticed, not all members of a baptism group move through the ranks together. Only those that are deemed strong enough in their beliefs and able to carry the newest burdens and expectations put upon them by the responsibility of being a higher level are permitted promotion. Those who are too weak in their beliefs, or immature in their understanding, must wait for their turn to be promoted to the heavier responsibilities to the church. Thus, those who are the strongest in a baptism group must carry the physical and moral weaknesses of their fellow Roses who are more adrift in their beliefs and in the Children.”
The older members lining the room nodded their heads in agreement, almost as though this was a trained habit.
“Unlike with baptism, the promotion ceremony is walked through alone,” Pastor Simon explained. “Rose Angels do not accompany their charges to the altar. This is symbolic of the added responsibility and maturity which is gained by promotion. While Rose Angels are still, and will always be, an important part of a Rose’s development within the Children, promotion signifies the individualism gained by the Rose. He or she is no longer a rose bud, a baby of the church. Instead, he or she is now one with the church and must begin focusing on how his or her spiritual journey affects the family. There is only so much a Rose Angel can teach you. Now it is their job to gently guide.
“When your name is called, please approach the altar. Take off your stole or scarf and hold it in your hand. I will replace it with your new Level Two stole or scarf,” he held up a dark green scarf embroidered with white flowers, “and you will then join the circle of Children along the edge of the room. Your Level One stole or scarf is yours to keep, a reminder of how far you have come within the Children, and how far you still have to go. You will also receive your Rose ring. I am sure you have noticed the rings worn on the wedding fingers of our older members. These rings signify your increased devotion to the Children—your marriage to it, if you will. Wear them with pride.” With another smile, Pastor Simon placed the scarf he had picked up as a visual back onto the table. “Let us begin…”
“It is tradition for us to promote last the most promising member of a level. In this person we can see the future of the Children and know that this person has put a great level of devotion into the church. We look forward to what this person has to offer in the future and look forward to a full life with them in our church family. This person is one who always does as asked, rarely questions her Rose Angel or church elders, and, while still discovering her place among the Children and the world, shows the most promise to be a devoted member of the church in coming years. This honor has been bestowed upon Elizabeth McLancy.” Pastor Simon gave her a nod and she approached the altar, finally, flushed with shock and pride at this honor.
She pulled off her black and white scarf, held it tightly in her hands. Pastor Simon fixed her new green scarf on her head and slid the silver ring onto her finger. With that, she turned and joined the circle, standing in between Sandra and Morgan. Sandra handed her an unlit candle.
“We pass this light to signify the light that God gives this world, and the light that we must pass among our fellow humans by showing the one true way of the Children,” Pastor Simon said as he took one of the candles from the make-shift altar and lit the candle of the person nearest him in the circle. “As we all know, God has proclaimed to me that the Children of the Rose is the one true sect of Christianity. With that responsibility, as the Children, we are required by God to light the rest of the world again. Passing along this flame reminds us of that requirement, for we cannot light the rest of the world if we do not light our family first.”
watched the flame make its way
around the room, she searched her brain for where she had heard the speech
Pastor Simon just gave, for it sounded strangely familiar. She realized it was the same speech Pastor
Jeffrey had given at the Christmas Eve service, but she didn’t think on it more
after that realization, for it didn’t seem to matter. Elizabeth
Once every candle in the room had been lit, Pastor Simon said, with a smile on his face, “Congratulations to our new Level Twos!”
Everyone in the circle cheered and gave hugs and pats on the back.
, while being
embraced by Sandra, felt a tap on her shoulder.
She turned around to spy someone she had not expected to be here. Elizabeth
“Jacqueline!” she cried, hugging her older sister tight.
“Surprised?” Jacqueline asked, trying to hold back a laugh.
“Sandra told me a few days ago that you were to be promoted tonight, and I just had to come down to watch my baby sister move up in the ranks.”
“Where are you staying? You haven’t come to the house yet…”
noticing the sudden frustration on her sister’s face. Elizabeth
“I can’t deal with those people,” Jacqueline spat. “I wanted to come down to celebrate your success—the last in your group to go through, that’s such an honor!—and I intend to stay away from our family. I’m spending the night at Sandra’s house.”
The church is just as white as she remembers, the wall surrounding the colony just as sturdy. Liz can’t tear her eyes away. Her breath comes in short bursts and feels like her world is crumbling around her. Fifteen minutes in the car and then Liz had gasped at the sight of the colony. Dani had parked across the street from the church and now all of them were just staring out the windows at the building while Liz feels every horrible memory come rushing back at her.
It appears church has just let out, because people are milling everywhere in their scarves and stoles. It’s a rainbow of movement—everything from the purest black of the visitors to the purest white of the highest ranking is represented in that attire. As Liz stares at these people, she thinks how they don’t know what they’re doing. They’re walking around as mere shells of themselves, quoting Bible verses as responses to the even most logical inquiry, and they don’t know what all they’re missing in the real world.
Liz’s hands start to shake as she watches them, remembering how it felt to be one of them, remembering how it felt to be part of the lie. And that’s the truth—at one time, she was part of the lie. She looks over at Jackie and sees that her sister has gone completely white and looks like she could be sick at any moment.
“Liz…are you okay?” Eva asks, in a much kinder tone than she usually uses. “You look like you’re having a fit.”
Liz blinks and shakes her head, trying to keep herself from looking at the colony more. “I’m fine. It’s just…I haven’t seen this place in…” She can’t finish the sentence; her mouth feels like it’s full of cotton.
“Ten years,” Tom offers. “I think it’s been ten years since you’ve even been on this side of town. You avoided it like the plague when you came home from college.”
“Was this your plan?” Jackie asks sharply. She’s usually so even-tempered that everyone in the car looks at her in surprise. “Did you think it would be amusing to see our reactions to this place? Because it’s not funny at all. You know what happened to Liz there!”
Liz cringes at her name. The others only know the basics of what happened.
“There wasn’t a plan, I swear,” Andi says quickly.
“I legitimately forgot this was over here,” Dani adds.
Liz shakes her head. Her voice is small when she speaks. “It’s not a big deal. Let’s just find somewhere to eat. Let’s just…let’s just get away from here. Please.”Dani starts driving immediately. Liz forces herself to not watch the colony disappear as they turn a corner. If only it was so easy for her memories to disappear along with it.