“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~*~

Friday, April 12, 2013

The End

           “We can’t do it,” Liz whispers to her family sitting around her.  Eva listens intently for the first time in her life.

            “You can’t do what?” their mother asks kindly.

            “We can’t leave it behind.  We’ve tried for years, but we can’t leave it behind,” Jackie explains.

            “You left, didn’t you?” Eva asks.  “You quit, you walked out, Liz kicked a man in the crotch.  You came back to us.  And now you tell us that you can’t move on?  Don’t you think that’s a little…I don’t know…late?”

            Liz shoots Eva a look.  “You know what?  You spend nearly nine months in a cult like that, then tell me how easy it is for you to forget it.”

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Chapter Twenty-Four, Part Two

          Boxes upon boxes sat in the attic common room.  Half were marked as being for Liz’s dorm room, the other half marked as being for Jackie’s.  They had spent the last three days putting everything they would need for college into these boxes.  Tomorrow, they would be moving into their respective dorm rooms.

            Liz sat on her brand new blue bedspread, reading through her old Rose notebook, tormenting herself with these rules for the last time.  Finally, she reached a certain highlighted page.  She had never asked Sandra about this passage she had found.

            “I returned, and saw under the sun,” Liz read out loud, “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.”  She stared at the words for a while longer before a single phrase suddenly popped out at her—nor the battle to the strong.  She wasn’t strong, not physically, and for a while she hadn’t been mentally or emotionally strong either.  She hadn’t wanted the battle that had come to her.  But the battle had come anyway and she had somehow won it.  She ripped the page out of the notebook and tucked it into the suitcase that lay on the floor beside her bed.  Liz leaned back again, her back hitting the wall.  Without warning, the cross that Sandra had mounted above her bed fell down the wall and hit her hard on the head.  It was at least the fourth time it had fallen down since she had moved home.  She hadn’t taken it down, because she still thought it was a nice-looking cross, but this was the final straw. 

            “I give up!” she yelled.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Chapter Twenty-Four, Part One

         The first chance that they got, Liz and Jackie went with their sisters and mother to replenish their wardrobes and get new decorations for their bed- and dorm rooms.  If nothing else, it gave them a chance to catch up on what they’d missed over the last several months.  They stocked up on jeans, t-shirts, tennis shoes, short skirts, and sweatshirts.  They bought every single thing they had not been allowed to wear in the Children.  The freedom was exhilarating—no longer was someone dictating to them what they could and could not wear in public.  The group also stopped by a salon.  Jackie and Liz both sat down and got their hair cut.  And while they were out, Mom insisted they take Liz to the doctor.

            “There could be something seriously wrong, Liz,” she explained as they pulled into the parking lot of the family physician.

            “But where will she start?” Eva asked sarcastically.  Liz turned around so fast to glare at her sister that she almost gave herself whiplash.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Chapter Twenty-Three, Part Two

          Without noticing it, she had arrived at the cottage.  Silently, she walked through the front door.  For a moment, she had managed to convince herself that Benjamin was out.  That idea disappeared fast when he came storming into the room.

            “Where have you been?  The bell signaling the birth rang over an hour ago,” Benjamin said.

            She pushed past him, answering, “We had to bless the baby and find out the name and pray.”

            “Sandra stopped by.  You are required to attend a seminar tonight with a group of the new Level Fours,” Benjamin said.  Elizabeth walked into the bedroom and picked up her tote bag that she used to carry her Rose Bible and notebook, but she also threw in her journal and scarves.  “I am not your secretary, wife!”

            He stormed into the bedroom after her, grabbed her by the shoulders, and whipped her around to face him.  Elizabeth pushed against his chest and tried to twist out of his grip, but he just squeezed harder.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Chapter Twenty-Three, Part One

        Throughout the weeks that Elizabeth spent as a wife of the colony, she quickly learned how self-sufficient the community actually was.  Besides having its own school, there was a large garden from which they grew their own organic vegetables, they had a doctor that was a member of the church, and there was a midwife to help the wives through their pregnancies and natural births.  It was truly its own little town and it would be easy enough for someone to live at the colony and never again see the outside world.  There were only a couple of pregnant women in the colony when Elizabeth moved there, so she got to experience her first birth only four days after her talk with Morgan and Jacqueline in the park.

            It had started at six in the morning, just as Elizabeth was waking up and beginning to prepare Benjamin’s breakfast.  A loud and fairly obnoxious knock sounded at the front door.  Elizabeth hurried to answer it as Benjamin yelled, “Answer the door, woman!”

            She opened the door to find Mary and Caroline standing on the stoop, looking more excited than most women looked in the colony.

            “What…?” Elizabeth asked, looking suspiciously between the two women.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Chapter Twenty-Two, Part Two

           “What if we left?” Jacqueline whispered.

            “What?” the other two asked simultaneously, shocked.

            “What if we left the Children?” Jacqueline repeated.  “Maybe Aimee was right.  There’s something not right with this whole thing.  And I didn’t see it before.  But…I can’t keep seeing you like this, Elizabeth.”

            “We’ll go to Hell!” Elizabeth cried.  “And, besides, I can’t leave.  Benjamin may very well kill me!”

            “Look, I’m not leaving without you, Elizabeth.  You’re my sister.  I’m not leaving you behind for Benjamin to torment.  If and when you decide you’ve had enough, when you finally decide to become your old self again and fight back, then I’ll leave too.  But it has to be your choice,” Jacqueline said.

            “I can’t leave,” Elizabeth whispered.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Chapter Twenty-Two, Part One

            “WHAT are you doing?”
            The yell made Elizabeth jump to her feet and face her husband, eyes on the floor.  The list and pen were both still in her hands and the bag lay opened and half-packed on the bed.  She hadn’t heard him come home, but she hadn’t been doing anything wrong.  He had never once forbidden her to put clothes in a bag.
            “I’m…getting ready to go to Drighton.  I have to move in a little over two weeks,” Elizabeth explained in a whisper.
            “Excuse me?” Benjamin hissed, approaching her. 
            She felt him standing close and tried to keep her voice even.  “Drighton…the college I’m going to.  I have to move there in two weeks.”
            He grabbed the list out of her hand and pushed her so she was sitting on the bed again.  “Did I ever say you could go off to college?”

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Chapter Twenty-One, Part Three

           Sometimes while Benjamin was away, Elizabeth would take her journal out of its hiding place wrapped in her old visitor’s scarf in the bottom of her drawer, and she would write.  Benjamin didn’t approve of her sharing all of her thoughts with a piece of paper.  It showed independent thinking, he said, and she was supposed to only be thinking about how to please him and bring a baby into the world.  For this reason, she hadn’t written for a while and felt the need to update her journal on the goings-on in her life in the colony.  She took a second look around the cottage, and looked out the front window, just to make sure her husband was not in fact around.  He was spending time with the other men of the colony at the church, doing whatever the men did.  He had told her that he wouldn’t be back until late and expected a hot dinner on the table upon his arrival, but in a rare moment of softness told her to enjoy her time with her friends.  And then the softness ended and he ordered her to not forget her purpose.

            Now she was waiting for Jacqueline and Morgan to show up.  She had spent time with Sandra and Aimee a couple days before, now she needed to catch up with her sister and best friend.  Finally satisfied that Benjamin was not coming back for a while, Elizabeth settled herself down on the floor of the bathroom and opened her journal.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Chapter Twenty-One, Part Two

          There was chaos at the front gate as the two wives approached.  The men who were on duty to keep it shut off to outsiders were actively arguing with whoever was on the other side.  Elizabeth pulled the gate open and stepped outside toward the noise.  Facing her were people she had not seen for three weeks, not since before she had gotten married to Benjamin.

            “Mom?  Dad?” she asked and then also passed a glance over all five of her outsider siblings.  “What are you all doing here?”

            They all stopped arguing with the men and looked at her in shock.  She knew they were staring at her black eye, but she didn’t shy away from them.  “What are you all doing here?” she repeated louder.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Chapter Twenty-One, Part One

       Dutifully following her new husband’s orders, Elizabeth quit her job at the bookstore two days after the wedding and gave herself over to being a full-time wife.  She would spend her days with the other colony wives in their own special seminars or Bible studies, cooking, and raising the colony children.  She had never realized before how many children there really were in the colony, mostly because she had never seen any of them before.  But there they were.  They were quieter than kids should be.  Every last one of them was more reserved than any child on the outside was.  None of them played with grand toys or challenged each other to games of tag.  Instead they read their Rose Bibles, or listened as their mothers read the Bible to them, and attended school with the other colony kids in the small school house.

            Following her duties as a Rose wife, she spent almost every night allowing Benjamin to force himself onto her in the harshest way he possibly could.  Elizabeth had come to terms with the fact that he wasn’t going to give up until she was pregnant with their first child.  And even after that, after their first child was born and he had met with Pastor Simon to determine what their family would look like, she knew that he wouldn’t give up until she had given birth to how ever many kids she was required to give birth to.  In her mind, the cycle was never going to end—that might very well be the case.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Chapter Twenty, Part Three

          “Turn to face your espoused,” he ordered.  As they all turned to face their new husband or wife, he explained, “The rings I have handed you are a symbol of eternity, of an unbreakable bond.  Husbands, please place the ring upon your wife’s finger, saying, ‘With this ring, I thee wed.’”

            Benjamin forced Elizabeth’s left hand up and pushed the ring onto her finger, above her Rose ring, while saying with the other men, “With this ring, I thee wed.”

            Pastor Simon continued, “Wives, please place the ring upon your husband’s finger, saying, ‘With this ring, I thee wed.’”

            Benjamin held his left hand out expectantly and Elizabeth dutifully slid the ring onto his finger while whispering with the other girls, “With this ring, I thee wed.”

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Chapter Twenty, Part Two

           Pastor Simon’s prayer droned on and Elizabeth struggled to stay focused.  She had been forced to sit next to Benjamin during worship.  They sat in the front pew with the other betrothed couples.  Every member of this group wore a red rose pinned to his or her clothing.  The girls all sat with their eyes focused on the ground, the men with their eyes held high and proud of having a woman to control.  Elizabeth had only looked up once to see Jacqueline, Aimee, Sandra, Delia, and Morgan all sitting together on the other side of the church, but her hand had then been squeezed so hard by Benjamin that she had quickly returned her gaze to the floor.

            “Dutiful wives keep their eyes focused on the ground during worship and when addressing their husbands, Elizabeth,” he had hissed when he released her hand.  She then realized why every woman she had ever seen in the colony had not looked into her eyes.  “Don’t forget that.  I will not remind you again.”

            “Yes, Benjamin,” she had whispered.  He had nodded his approval of her obedience and then turned his attention back to Pastor Simon.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Chapter Twenty, Part One

            The girls spent the night in one of the spare church rooms with their Rose Angels.  Just as the sun was beginning to come up, the ceiling lights were turned on.  Every Rose Angel was already awake.  Sandra helped Elizabeth to her feet and handed her a large bag.

            “Where are we going?” Elizabeth asked as she rubbed her eyes and adjusted her scarf.

            “To your house,” Sandra said.  She grabbed Elizabeth’s hand and led her out the door and toward the parking lot.

            “My house?  It’s, what, six in the morning?”

            “Four in the morning,” corrected Sandra.

            “No one’s going to be up at four in the morning.”

            “That’s kind of the point.  We want to make this as smooth and free from temptation as possible for all of you.  Thus, right now, while your outside family is still asleep, you’re going to go in, pack your things, and come back to the church for worship.”

Friday, January 25, 2013

Chapter Nineteen, Part Two

          True to her word, Sandra picked up Elizabeth at exactly eight o’clock in the morning on the Saturday of the retreat.  They drove silently over to the church.  The only sound in the car was Elizabeth clicking her teeth together in nervousness.  Over the last few days, she had gotten to thinking—she had met Benjamin only that one time and they hadn’t even really said anything to one another.  She didn’t actually know the man she was supposed to marry—the man she was supposed to be bound to for eternity.  These thoughts hadn’t helped her nerves.

            Upon arrival at the church, Sandra immediately took Elizabeth’s hand and led her to the outdoor entrance to the colony, rather than to the church.

            “What’s this retreat for anyway?” Elizabeth asked finally, adjusting her small bag of clothes on her shoulder.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Chapter Nineteen, Part One

          Elizabeth didn’t tell her family about Benjamin.  She didn’t want to deal with the raised eyebrows, the disappointed stares, the shocked faces.  It was hard enough for Elizabeth to digest what Sandra had gotten her into, what Pastor Simon had told her.  The last thing she needed on top of that realization was her family.  For this reason, she took to locking herself in her room even more often than usual, if that was possible.  She ignored phone calls, she stopped eating downstairs, she didn’t answer when her siblings pounded on her door or yelled at her or tried to get her attention.  Her father had attempted taking down her door, but that had failed miserably.  Elizabeth still hadn’t emerged from her room and she ignored everyone as actively as before.  She even took to avoiding Jacqueline.  She didn’t want anyone to know what was going on, not yet.  Instead, she sat on her bed and read her Bible and prayed and waited until Sandra would tell her when the retreat would be.

            One night, she flipped absent-mindedly through her Rose notebook, only half reading the notes she had made.  The phone rang, but she ignored it.  Let someone else get it, she thought and turned another page.  Staring back at her was the Bible verse she had copied down and highlighted so long ago that she had intended on asking Sandra about:

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, January 21, 2013

Chapter Eighteen, Part Two

           “What do I need to do?  How do I get forgiveness now that I’m a Level Three?”

            Pastor Simon paused again.  “First of all you need to pay the Children.”

            “How much?” Elizabeth asked as she pulled out her check book.

            “As much as you have.”  Pastor Simon didn’t so much as blink when he said this with the air of telling her that all she needed to do was donate a nickel.

            “But I’ve been working so hard for that money,” she argued.

            “If you are truly sorry and truly want to be forgiven, then you won’t be bothered by donating your money to a good cause.”

            It only took a minute for Elizabeth to write her savings over to the Children of the Rose and she handed the check to Pastor Simon with haste.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Chapter Eighteen, Part One

          Elizabeth had stopped talking.  She discovered it was easier to stop talking to Sandra about anything outside of the Children than to watch her words.  She knew if she ever once mentioned Derek that would be the end of it.  Sandra would get angry with her and never trust her again.  She knew that simply mentioning Derek wouldn’t get her expelled, but she knew if Sandra heard her mention him, she might as well be.

            “How are things going?” Sandra asked over the phone one day.  Elizabeth had only reluctantly taken the call.  She’d hoped that Sandra only wanted to pray with her, not chit-chat.  Unfortunately, Sandra wanted to do the latter.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Chapter Seventeen, Part Three

         Everyone in the sanctuary was shifting uncomfortably.  Pastor Simon was late to worship, which basically never happened, and the whole colony had been instructed to not bring visitors today, which definitely never happened.  No one knew what was going on, but no one dared speak.  They merely shifted, stared around at each other, tried to deduce things for themselves, which was mostly impossible.  Elizabeth, sitting in between Sandra and Aimee, looked around for Derek and finally found him sitting in the front pew next to his Rose Angel, who appeared to have a firm grasp on Derek’s shoulder.  Derek looked utterly defeated…and at the same time as though he still had some life left in him.

            Elizabeth squinted at the back of Derek’s head, remembering the exchange she had overheard between him and his Rose Angel in the atrium.  They had been standing in a corner, Derek with no means of escape and glaring weakly at his companion, who was standing with his arms crossed, looking intimidating.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Chapter Seventeen, Part Two

         “As obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance.  First Peter, chapter one, verse fourteen.”  The girl who was speaking looked expectantly at Pastor Simon, who nodded in approval.  She breathed a sigh of relief and sat down on the floor again.

            Elizabeth’s stomach rumbled, but she didn’t let herself respond to it.  For the entire day, a whole group of the Level Twos had been assigned to fast.  And now they were sitting uncomfortably in possibly the tiniest room in the church reciting practiced answers to each of Pastor Simon’s questions.  They all sat completely rigid, cross-legged on the floor, their eyes staring directly ahead until they were called upon and stood.  Sandra had told her that today was a test—these were the Level Twos that had been thought ready to move up, and now Pastor Simon needed to make sure.