“I was just thinking…”
said, stealing a glance at Morgan out of the corner of her eyes before
continuing. “I was just thinking, don’t
any of you ever wonder about your choices?
I mean, were you always so sure about your religion…about being a
Rose…don’t you ever question what Pastor Simon says?” Elizabeth
“Are you questioning what Pastor Simon says?” Delia said sharply.
a glare and elbowed her in the arm,
willing her to shut up. Elizabeth ignored the
signal and said, “I don’t know. I
guess…sometimes…” In her peripheral
vision, she saw Morgan put her head in her hands hopelessly. Elizabeth
“I’m very disappointed in you, Elizabeth,” Sandra sighed. “I thought you had gotten beyond this. You were promoted last in your group!”
“It’s just…I was thinking…why hasn’t Derek been—”
“Seriously?” Delia interrupted.
“You’re still stuck on Derek?” Sandra gasped.
“Who’s Derek?” Heather and Jacqueline asked at the same time.
looked over at Morgan, silently
begging for help. Morgan was still
sitting with her head in her hands. Thanks, big help, Elizabeth thought. Elizabeth
’s nerves calmed down a little, and
she saw the concern erase itself from everyone else’s faces. Elizabeth
laughed. “Alright, alright. I forgive you. Just stop making that face, you look
pitiful.” She sighed, looking ahead at
the older girls. “It’s going to be a
long night, isn’t it?” Elizabeth
felt a sharp tap on her head. Sandra loomed over her. Elizabeth
merely nodded and allowed herself
to be steered into the dark room, where the other girls were already sitting in
a circle. After they had joined the
circle and clasped hands with the others, Heather began, “Lord, please forgive
us for our sins…” Elizabeth
“He’s a boy who was baptized with these two,” Delia explained, gesturing toward Morgan and Elizabeth. “You remember him…he’s very awkward, very quiet.”
“He questions everything and he wasn’t promoted to Level Two with these two girls, because his doubts are putting a black mark on his soul. His Rose Angel has been working him diligently since then, trying to get him back on the right path. He might be ready for promotion soon,” Sandra explained before turning her disappointed glance back on
. “I had told Elizabeth she was not to fraternize with
“I don’t fraternize with him!”
Sandra continued to talk over her. Elizabeth
“…and apparently she didn’t listen to me. I told her Pastor Simon will give her to a man of the church he deems worthy when he thinks that she is ready to take that step in her commitment to the Children. I told her to stop thinking about Derek; that until he had proven himself worthy of her attention, he could steer her onto the wrong path; that his questioning of everything the Children of the Rose stands for is dangerous and he must be controlled before
graces him with her friendship.” Elizabeth
As though a chastised child, Elizabeth crossed her arms across her chest, leaned back in her chair, and clenched her jaw into almost a pout.
, how could you?” Jacqueline asked,
shaking her head in disappointment. Elizabeth
“I didn’t do anything!”
cried. “It was simply a question. I haven’t even seen Derek since before my
promotion, so it’s not like I, I don’t know, had sex with him or something! I haven’t done anything wrong!” Elizabeth
“This concerns me,” Heather admitted. “The fact that you don’t think you’ve done anything wrong concerns me. Questioning Pastor Simon, your Rose Angel, and Children who are more mature in their journey is a grave sin, a great wrong.”
“Don’t worry, sweetie.” Heather reached across the table and patted
arm in a motherly way. “This can be
fixed. We’ll all spend the night at my
house, focus on our religion, get you back on the right track. Easy enough to do, especially since I think
this is just a small detour. It’s not
like we’ve lost you completely.” She flashed
kind smile. Elizabeth
“Yes, this will be a quick fix. We’ll spend the night praying, reading the Bible, studying our religion with each other,” Sandra agreed with a sigh.
All of them stood up to leave, taking their uneaten food to the trash can.
took the moment that the older girls were distracted by their trash to elbow
Morgan in the arm. Elizabeth
“Hey!” Morgan whispered angrily, rubbing her arm. “What was that for?”
“Just repaying the favor,”
glaring. “Thanks so much for the help.” Elizabeth
“Look, I’m sorry. It’s just that Delia’s always so mad at me anyway. I don’t want her to have another reason to be disappointed. Sandra loves you…she’ll get over this in a day or two…Delia would have held a grudge with me for weeks. I can’t seem to make her happy,” Morgan explained. She pouted, looking at
with a pathetic
puppy-dog face. “Please forgive me?” Elizabeth
Morgan shrugged, then nodded. The two girls followed their friends out the door.
The night passed even slower than
anticipated. When the girls weren’t
participating in long group prayers or being forced to pray on their own, they
were reading and reciting Bible verses, reviewing teachings from old seminars,
or being quizzed by the older girls.
Finally, around three in the morning, Sandra announced that they should
all take a short break from their studies.
escaped into a corner under the stairs with her journal. Elizabeth
This is torture. My mind feels like it’s melting. I can barely think. This is worse than any seminar I’ve ever been to.
“Group prayer, let’s go,” she said simply.
stood and Sandra looped her arm through ’s. “I know this is hard now, but it’s for the
best. I can already tell you’re feeling
better…feeling more yourself…less questioning.” Elizabeth
The chime dings over the door in the small burger joint the McLancy siblings have ended up at for lunch. No one at their table pays any mind to the newest arrivals, but Liz looks up. Her heart stops and she kicks Jackie in the shins under the table.
“Ow. What?” Jackie says.
Liz nods toward the small group standing a few feet away from the counter, and her older sister’s gaze travels in that direction too. She gasps.
“Now, remember, to consume an animal product is a great sin. Save yourselves from the temptation and make sure to get a cheese-free salad, okay?” the tallest woman says to her group, a cluster of teenagers wearing the attire of visitors and Level Ones of the Children. The woman has black hair braided down to her waist and covered in a white scarf. Her eyes are as stern as Liz remembers.
Standing next to her, just as intimidating, but with a kinder face, is a woman with long, braided red hair, also covered in a white scarf. She nods along with what the first woman is saying and then adds, “If you aren’t sure, just ask one of us. We’ve been in the Children for many years and we’re here to help you in your journey.”
The small group disperses and the red-haired woman looks over toward Liz. She nudges the black-haired woman and motions toward the table. As Sandra and Delia approach, Jackie stands up hastily, almost knocking her chair over in her desperation to shield her sister.
“Isn’t this sweet,” Delia says. “Liz and Jackie. It’s been…what? Ten years? We always knew you’d want to come back.”
“The Children don’t own this restaurant,” Jackie says.
“If I recall, you swore you weren’t going to set foot near the colony again,” Sandra reminds them.
Now it’s Liz’s turn to stand up. “We can do whatever we want. You don’t own us anymore.”
“Yes, you’re very threatening,” Delia says with a dismissive wave of her hand. The conversation is drawing the attention of the other people in the restaurant, particularly the attention of the group that entered with Delia and Sandra.
Sandra looks down at Liz’s left hand, immediately spotting the diamond commitment ring from Eric. “I see congratulations are in order. But you’re damned anyway. Adulterer.”
“I’m not an adulterer,” Liz says with hatred in her voice. “I made a clean break from the Children, which includes anyone Simon might have tried to force on me.”
“Ah,” Sandra adds as though Liz didn’t say a word, her gaze traveling over to the Rose ring on her pinky finger. “Maybe you haven’t made such a clean break after all.”
“We’re not using these rings as an association with the Children,” Jackie says.
“We’re using them as a reminder to not make that mistake again,” Liz spits out.
“You’re the ones who made the mistake,” Delia hisses. “When we’re sitting in Heaven in eternal glory, you’ll be burning in the fires of Hell.”
“Those scare tactics may have worked on us ten years ago, but not anymore,” Liz says. “So go back to your little brainwashed followers over there and leave us be for once.”
Sandra’s and Delia’s mouths both fall open. Before either gets the chance to respond, the McLancys have gathered their things and headed toward the door, and Liz brushes hard against Sandra’s shoulder on her way past. Eva punches both of the women in the arm, saying, “You gave our sisters hell! Screw both of you!”
Before leaving the building, though, Liz doubles back to the group of visitors and Level Ones standing quietly by the counter. “You don’t have to do this, you know. You can still get out. Simon’s not as right as he thinks he is. Don’t get so far in that you get hurt…like me. Just don’t.”
Liz gives the small group a quick once-over, noting their shocked expressions, before she walks away. She can only hope that her words have sunk in, that those kids aren’t all so lost in the Children that they can’t be saved from the torment.