“I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race [is] not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favor to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.”

~*~Ecclesiastes 9:11~*~

Monday, December 3, 2012

Chapter Fifteen, Part One

           “And then you say…” Sandra prompted.

            Elizabeth rolled her eyes and sighed.  She stared determinedly at the car ceiling as she recited in the most bored, monotone voice she could muster, “Aimee Jones and Kristen Peters, today is a special day.  We put it to you both again…do you trust us?”

            “Good girl.”

            Elizabeth dropped her gaze from the ceiling to the side of Sandra’s face.  Sandra was too busy focusing on driving to notice.  “We’ve been over the whole thing about fifty times.  Can we please stop now?”

            “No,” Sandra said sternly.  “You have to know exactly what to do, be able to do it in your sleep.  I don’t want you to embarrass Pastor Simon, me, or yourself.  You don’t want that either, right?”

            Elizabeth sighed again and returned her gaze to the ceiling.  “Right.”

            “Good answer.  Now, at the ceremony, the first person called to be baptized will be a decoy.”

            “A decoy?  You mean Melody didn’t really baptize with us?”

            “Don’t look so shocked.  It’s just so all of the newcomers can see how it’s done first, make them comfortable.  There’s no evil plot at work here.  We’re the Children of the Rose, after all.”

            “Right, of course.  Sorry.  Go on.”

            “Okay, so, once Aimee’s name is called, you…”

            Elizabeth’s voice dropped back to monotone as she recited, “I walk her up to the altar, take off her scarf, do everything in my power to make sure she answers Pastor Simon’s questions correctly, and then help dunk her head.”

            “Correct.  Then?”

            “After Pastor Simon baptizes her, I help her dry her face a little, put her new Level One scarf on her head, let her light her candle, and then lead her back to where we were standing.”

            “Good girl.  You’re ready.”

            Elizabeth gave Sandra a weak smile and looked down at the blindfold she was holding on her lap.  Sandra had given it to her as soon as she had gotten in the car.

            “Now, when we get to Aimee’s house, be sure to remember to tell her to change into all black, Rose-appropriate clothes and her visitor’s scarf.  Go with her if she needs help.  Whatever you do, don’t tell her she’s being baptized tonight.  That’s supposed to be a surprise.  And make sure to tell her to be quick.”

            By now, they had pulled up in front of Aimee’s house.  Elizabeth wondered how surprised Aimee would be to see them—they had never told her what time she was being picked up for the “little youth gathering” they had invited her to.  After a quick shove from Sandra, Elizabeth got out of the car, tucking the blindfold into her sleeve as she approached the front door.  Tentatively, she rang the doorbell.  A few seconds later, she could hear the lock click open and someone eased the door open just wide enough to peek out of it.

            “Aimee?” Elizabeth asked.

            The door opened the rest of the way and there stood Aimee in a ratty pair of pajama bottoms and a sweatshirt.

            “I thought you guys had forgotten about me,” Aimee whispered, but her eyes had brightened.

            “Of course not!” Elizabeth said.  “We could never forget about you!  The youth gathering was a surprise—we didn’t even know the time until tonight.”

            “Oh, that makes sense.”  Aimee looked slightly confused.

            “You still want to go, right?” Elizabeth asked.

            “Yes, of course!”  Aimee’s enthusiasm was almost contagious.

            “Good!  Because it’s going to be great.  I just need you to change into all black, Children-of-the-Rose-appropriate clothes and your scarf.  Quickly.”

            Aimee nodded, eyed Elizabeth’s all-white clothing for just a moment, and hurried back inside.  Elizabeth turned to look back at the car and saw Sandra was standing outside it now, leaning on the hood.  Elizabeth gave Sandra a reassuring smile and wave, which Sandra returned.  Several minutes later, Aimee returned, decked out in her all-black and scarf, her hair pulled into a fairly short French braid.

            “Come with me,” Elizabeth instructed, holding out her hand, which Aimee took gratefully.

            As she led her back to the car, Sandra stood up straight and gave Aimee a stern, but kind, look.  “Pastor Simon teaches us that in order for there to be a strong relationship in a church family, there must also be a level of trust.  We must all know we are all looking out for each other’s best interests and we are safe with each other, no matter what others say,” she began, then looked pointedly at Elizabeth.

            “Each person interested in the Children is asked to proclaim their trust.  Sandra and I have already proclaimed trust in the Children.  Now we ask you, Aimee Jones…do you trust us?”

            “Yes,” Aimee answered.

            With that, Elizabeth pulled the blindfold out of her sleeve and fixed it over Aimee’s eyes before guiding her into the back seat of the car.  Once they had started down the road again, Sandra announced, “This is a time for silent reflection, Aimee.  Think on all your friends in the Children, think on Pastor Simon’s sermons, think on your own growth since you started visiting.”  Aimee nodded her understanding and sat quietly.  Elizabeth was impressed by her trust, her willingness to do as told—Elizabeth had had a million questions on the night of her baptism.

            When they had pulled up in the church parking lot, Elizabeth noticed Delia and Morgan standing outside a car.  As soon as they were parked next to Delia’s car, Sandra and Elizabeth exited.

            “You’re late,” Delia whispered harshly to Sandra.

            “Maybe you were early.  Ever think of that?” Sandra whispered back.

            “How’d it go?” Elizabeth quietly asked Morgan as the other two continued to argue over who was late or early.

            “Fine,” Morgan answered in a whisper.  “Kristen’s in the car, reflecting.”

            “So is Aimee.”

            “You guys were late, you know,” Morgan whispered, giving Elizabeth a mischievous smile.  Elizabeth gave her a playful punch in the arm.

            “Perhaps reflecting time is over?” Sandra whispered.

            All four girls nodded and Morgan and Elizabeth opened their respective car doors.  Aimee and Kristen were led out and stood, still blindfolded, in front of the other four.  Sandra prompted Elizabeth to start speaking with a rather painful nudge.

            “Aimee Jones and Kristen Peters, today is a special day.  We put it to you both again…do you trust us?”

            “Yes,” Aimee and Kristen answered together.

            “Good, let’s go,” Morgan said.

            Elizabeth took Aimee’s hand and Morgan, Kristen’s.  They led their new charges into the church, past the sanctuary, down a hall, and finally into the same room they themselves had been baptized and promoted.  They guided the girls into the lines in the center of the room and waited.  Sandra and Delia took places off to the side.  Pastor Simon stood at the front, beside the altar-table decorated with candles, Level One scarves and stoles, the basin of water, and the rose wreathes.  They were still clearly waiting for more arrivals.  Pastor Simon passed a warm smile over the group of new Rose Angels—most of whom were Level Twos, Elizabeth noticed.

            Finally, after the stragglers had arrived, Pastor Simon began with words Elizabeth recognized from her own baptism:  “The Children of the Rose is a close-knit family—a family that focuses its priorities on doing God’s work and bringing people to an eternity in Heaven.  This is an eternal family.  The first step to an eternity in Heaven, however, is baptism into the Children.  One of the most important factors of making our family successful is a strong level of trust.  You have already declared your trust in those Children who have now played a significant role in your first weeks as visitors.  Remove your blindfolds.”

            Elizabeth watched as Aimee untied her blindfold and looked around at the room.  She looked in wonder, awe—complete nervousness and confusion too—at what she saw.  Elizabeth remembered that feeling.  Pastor Simon continued with the ceremony, but Elizabeth was only half listening—just enough so she wouldn’t miss her cue.  She thought back to her own baptism, to the first time she saw Jacqueline openly defy their parents in the name of the Children, to the night when she had made this commitment.  It felt like ages ago.  She had changed so much since then—for the better, she reminded herself.  This was the best thing that had ever happened in her life, after all.  And now she got to share it with Aimee, help guide her, calm her, show her the path.

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