“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~*~

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.