Both Aimee and Kristen looked so hopeful.
found it fascinating—she
couldn’t help but think that she had been exactly like this when she had first
visited. Now she was far along on her
journey to purification and salvation, she could hardly remember those moments
of wonderment. She couldn’t fully
remember anymore what it felt to be an outsider looking in, but she was pretty
sure that she hadn’t enjoyed it as much as being part of the Children. How could she not like being in the Children
more? They were saving her, they were
her path to Heaven and her path to being a better person. Back when she was an outsider, she hadn’t
known how it could feel to believe so strongly in these things, in the teachings
of Pastor Simon. She hadn’t known how it
felt to have such great friends who were so concerned with her entire
well-being, with her soul and her safety.
realized with a jolt that she liked this feeling still, the same feeling she
had when she was baptized—that she was someone important. She hadn’t always felt that in her
family. It was hard growing up with six
siblings, but suddenly, even as a Level Two, she wasn’t lost in the mix. Sandra cared, Delia cared, Morgan cared,
Jacqueline cared, and now she got the chance to care for Aimee. What more could a girl want but to be loved
by a family that loved her back? Elizabeth
By the end of an hour-long dinner, when Kristen’s and Aimee’s plates were completely clean and the other four were only half gone, the whole group had talked so extensively about Children of the Rose and Kristen’s and Aimee’s lives and how much they thought that they would fit in with the church family that Elizabeth was completely exhausted. It was tiring trying to convince these girls to baptize. Finally, all six girls stood up, made their way to the front doors, and out into the parking lot. With hugs, they all said good-bye and went to their respective cars and promised to call each other soon.
“We’re having a little youth group gathering on Sunday night. It’s really special, just for visitors who are most interested in joining the church. I think it would be great if you came,”
told Aimee as
sincerely as she could once they pulled up in front of the girl’s house. Sandra had cued Elizabeth to say this by a note passed under
the dinner table earlier that evening. Elizabeth
“I would really like that,” Aimee said. Her smile was so wide and so bright that she could light a room. “Thanks for all your support,
. It means a lot to me.” Elizabeth
“And thank you for coming to dinner with us. I know we all enjoyed so much getting to know you better,”
said. Sandra gave her a small nod of approval. Elizabeth
“I guess I’ll see you both on Sunday night then.” Aimee climbed out of the car and
gave her a tight hug through the open window.
She practically skipped up to her front door and turned to give
Elizabeth and Sandra a wave before going inside. Elizabeth
“You did a good job tonight,
. I’m really proud of you,” Sandra said. She patted Elizabeth lovingly on the arm. Elizabeth
smiled warmly. This, right here, was
what she loved about her friends—the unconditional love and support. It blocked out all of the other doubts and
questions that plagued her sometimes. Elizabeth
But only sometimes.
The morning of the anniversary party dawns with the normal chaos the McLancy family seems to inspire. In order to avoid drama, everyone is assigned different jobs. The boys are on tent duty. Half the girls are decorating the house in streamers and balloons; the other half are in charge of cleaning. Liz and Jackie, much to their dismay, are on the cleaning crew. It’s a blessing in disguise, though, because they’re able to claim the basement as their cleaning area and are able to escape the constant questions from their siblings. It’s not like anyone’s actually going to go into the basement, but they don’t care—the amount of stuff that has accumulated down there over the years is astounding.
“Look at all this dust!” Jackie cries as she wipes off an old wooden table. It would be the perfect size for the refreshments.
“Guys!” Liz yells up the stairs as some of the guys pass the basement door. “We’ve got a table down here that might be useful!”
An argument breaks out over who is going to go down to the basement and carry the table back up. Finally, Greg, Tom, and Eric trudge down the stairs.
“Where is it?” Tom sighs.
The three guys drag their feet to the table and, grumbling under their breath, pick it up and carry it awkwardly up the stairs.
Jackie, meanwhile, has wandered over to a shelf packed with boxes of all shapes and sizes. Upstairs, some of the girls on decorating duty are arguing over where to put balloons. They are drowned out only a bit by the vacuum, the guys running back and forth from the house to the party tent, and the kids playing a land-based game of Marco Polo. Compared to the noise upstairs, Liz is peaceful down here.
“Check out these boxes,” Jackie says, still facing the shelf. “These things are ancient.” She starts reading off the labels. “Boys’ baby clothes, girls’ baby clothes, apartment dishes, Jody high school…”
“Geeze, can you imagine our parents in high school?”
Jackie doesn’t answer, just continues to stare at the boxes, reading the labels out loud. Liz tunes her out, focusing more on what she’s doing. This keeps up until Jackie gasps loudly and calls out Liz’s name frantically.
“What? Did you see a spider?” Liz jumps and looks around on the floor.
“No, just…just come here.”
Liz hurries over and stands next to her sister, who points at where two large shoe boxes are sitting on the top shelf, tucked into a dark corner where they would otherwise be difficult to find. They are coated in more dust than any of the other boxes. Ten years. It’s been ten years since these boxes have been seen.
Liz reaches up and pulls the two boxes off the shelf, placing them on the floor. Jackie remains standing, staring, as Liz brushes the boxes off and reads the labels on them aloud.
“Jackie—Children of the Rose…Liz—Children of the Rose.”