The gown was scratchy. The mortar board felt like it was trying to squeeze her brain out of her ears.
was shifting uncomfortably in the metal folding chair. It was hot, Elizabeth was tired, and she was already so
done with this place—high school. She’d
been done with it as soon as she’d been baptized. This graduation was merely a formality, a way
to make her family happy. Not that she
really cared much anymore about making her family happy—she’d given up that
hope as soon as she’d joined the Children—but the opportunity was kind of
nice. For the first time in months, her
parents weren’t looking at her with that concerned gaze, the wrinkled forehead,
the squinting eyes. They were looking at
her with pride, like she was the only one in their world. She had yearned for that feeling for fourteen
years, ever since Evalynne had been born, screaming every minute from the time
she exited the womb. And now, here it
was—but it was too late. She had the
Children now, she didn’t need the McLancys. Elizabeth
Elizabeth stood with her line and paraded out toward the stage. Jacqueline waved to her from the stands in the football stadium, where she was sitting with Sandra, Morgan, and Delia.
didn’t find it
at all strange that Jacqueline was sitting far away from their family, even
though Jacqueline had moved home from Drighton a couple weeks before. Things had been tenser than ever at home, if
that was even possible. Jacqueline had
been avoiding everyone in the family except for Elizabeth at every conceivable moment. Elizabeth
smiled back at her sister, and lifted her hand a few inches to give a small
wave back, but she didn’t want to attract attention to herself. She listened closely to the drone of the
school dean reading off the names of her fellow graduates, waiting for her name
to be called. The last time she had
listened this hard for her name had been at her promotion ceremony. The time before that had been at her baptism. Compared to those moments, this now seemed so
trivial. How did high school fit into
her journey to Heaven? It didn’t. Elizabeth
“Elizabeth Sara McLancy.”
She reached up and felt her cross necklace through the gown before walking up the stairs to the stage. She walked toward the school principal, not really smiling, took her diploma, shook his hand, and walked back down the stairs. She switched over the tassel on her cap. She realized this ceremony meant nothing to her, not compared to the ceremonies that existed in the Children. She heard her family cheering, she heard her older sister and three closest friends shouting her name.
didn’t even feel pride or greed or gluttony or any of the other deadly
In fact, she didn’t feel anything at all.
Jackie falls to her knees beside Liz and grabs the box bearing her name. Together, they lift the lids. Liz knows what’s inside, but at the same time she can’t entirely remember. She’s quite happy that the rest of the family isn’t down here to witness this moment—particularly since the rest of the family shouldn’t even know about these boxes in the first place.
As the lids come off, both girls gasp. Inside, every item is piled neatly, perfectly packed into the small space. Everything sits in exactly the same place they left it ten years ago. Not a single memento is touched by the dust that had coated the outside. No one has touched these boxes at all. They’ve been hidden well.
Liz blinks back a strange and sudden desire to cry. She doesn’t know if the tears are coming for herself, her sister, the rest of her family, or for those new Children they encountered at the restaurant a couple of days ago. She doesn’t know if the tears are because all of these items are evidence that the worst time in her life actually happened, and it wasn’t just a horrible nightmare.
She blinks quicker as she digs through her box, pulling out each item as she touches it. Jackie is already sifting through her own. They don’t say a single word. This is a personal moment, regardless of how much they shared, regardless of how many similar emotions are held in each item.
Liz’s scarves—pure black, black and white, dark green and white, light green and white—all folded perfectly. The creases are imprinted on each scarf as she unfolds them. She can almost remember exactly how it feels to wear them. The scarves are all misleadingly soft and warm, almost comforting. On the last one is a long strand of brown hair, which apparently has been there since the final time she wore it. She pulls the hair off the scarf, separating another piece of herself from the memory, before placing the scarf next to its companions on the floor beside her.
She pulls out a small jewelry box—cardboard, like what you get at a store. She opens it, laying her eyes on her cross necklace. The chain has gotten slightly knotted, but the rose-wrapped cross is just as she remembered. It’s slightly tarnished now, from age, but that’s the only difference. She once found this necklace to be a symbol of belonging and home; now it makes her feel vaguely ill.
Her Rose notebooks, each page covered with notes of rules and memories of a time long past. The pages are crinkled, as though it maybe came in contact with some moisture in the basement. She can recall all too well the hours spent in the small classrooms off the church hallways, copying down the teachings of Pastor Simon. It’s so fresh in her mind the hours she spent in her room, trying to memorize these rules, verse meanings, things she’d been told Pastor Simon had gotten from God himself.
Her old wooden cross that Sandra had once hung on the wall above her bed. There are a few dents on its edges where it fell off the wall a few times, but other than that it’s practically new. It no longer brings Liz comfort. She wonders how she could have ever thought this decoration had been pretty. She remembers how long it had taken her to finally take it off her wall and put it away, but now she can’t fathom why she would have hesitated.
Her Rose Bible, pages crinkled, she picks up and flips through quickly, catching all those markings of passages assigned to memorize. Most of them are still in her mind, no matter how hard she tries to erase them.
A brief flash of memory hits Liz as she stares at these things spread out on the basement floor, and it hits her so hard that she almost cries out—throwing all of these things into a small bag and carrying herself as best as possible out of that place, that horrible place, past that horrible man. It hadn’t been easy, if only because of the pain. Liz’s hand travels instinctively to her cheek, where a faded scar can just be seen under her makeup.
Jackie tries to catch her eye, but Liz focuses her attention on the items on the floor. She’s shaking. The memories hit too fast and she doesn’t know what to do.