“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, 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.

August 14

            I was promoted today to Level Four.  At this very moment I’m wearing my beautiful new dark yellow scarf.  Morgan promoted with me.  Jacqueline moved up to Level Five (Sandra and Delia moved up a little while ago).  I wonder when Aimee will be ready for her first promotion.  She’s pulling away from me.  I spent some time with her a couple days ago and I think she noticed the bruises on my neck and wrist.  It freaked her out a lot and she didn’t seem to pay much attention when I told her it was no big deal.  Sandra says that I need to work harder to get her ready for the next level, but I don’t know when I’ll have time to do that.  Being Benjamin’s wife is a full-time job as it is.  I barely have time to take her to her youth meetings and seminars.  The rest of her group is moving up in a couple more weeks and if I don’t get her ready for promotion soon, she might be in trouble.

            Benjamin made me take another pregnancy test last night.  Still no baby.  I’m afraid that if I don’t get pregnant soon, he’s going to get so mad he’ll really hurt me.  But I really can’t help it.  That’s God’s will.  Anyway, last night he practically threw me across the family room he was so mad at me.  I have a cut on my face now and a black eye…again.  Then he made us try four times before he let me sleep.

            It’s for my own good.  I just have to stop making Benjamin mad.  It’s my own fault I have these injuries.

            A knock sounded at the front door and Elizabeth quickly hid her journal again before opening the door.  Standing there were two of the happiest faces she had seen in a long time.

            “Morgan!  Jacqueline!  You’re here!” Elizabeth cried.  Both girls pulled her into a massive hug, which threw her off-guard, and she gasped when they squeezed her mid-section.

            “Are you okay?” Morgan asked, holding Elizabeth at arm’s length.

            “Yeah, I’m fine,” Elizabeth answered and ushered her friends into the cottage.

            “Where’s the husband?” Jacqueline asked, taking a look around.

            “I don’t know,” Elizabeth said with a shrug.  “He went off to do something with the other men of the colony.  He won’t be back again until late.”

            The three girls sat down on the couch in the family room.  Morgan shared gossip from life outside the colony, but Elizabeth could feel her sister staring at her intently.

            “Are you sure you’re okay?” Jacqueline finally asked.  Elizabeth looked over and noticed that Jacqueline was squinting at her.

            “I told you I’m fine.”

            “Oh, please.  I’ve known you for seventeen, almost eighteen, years.  Don’t even try lying to me.”

            “I’m fine.”

            Morgan was now joining in on the studying of Elizabeth.  “Where’d that cut come from?  And why did you gasp when we hugged you?”

            Elizabeth touched the cut on her cheek and looked down at her lap.  “Look, Benjamin gets mad sometimes.  It’s my own fault.  I deserve whatever punishment he sees fit to give me.”

            “He hits you?!” Morgan cried.

            “Well, yeah.  Most of the more recently married husbands do to their wives.  We are still learning the ways of the colony and what is expected of us.  And if they need to assert their authority over us until we learn, then…that’s what they do,” Elizabeth said confidently and she shrugged.

            “So you gasped when we hugged you because…” Jacqueline prompted.

            Elizabeth sighed and said, “Because sometimes, if Benjamin gets really mad and says I’ve sinned, he’ll hit me in the stomach.  Usually that happens because I failed another pregnancy test.  Yesterday he pushed me across the room when I failed him.  It’s my own fault.”

            “You failed him?  You have no control over whether you get pregnant,” Jacqueline pointed out.

            “I’m not getting pregnant because God is punishing me for something.  For sinning in some way.  And until God stops punishing me, I won’t get pregnant, and I’ll keep being punished by Benjamin.  He’s tried to get me pregnant every day for the entire month since our wedding…he’s doing his job.  I just need to do mine.”

            “Elizabeth…” whispered Jacqueline kindly, reaching out to touch her sister’s face, but Elizabeth recoiled.

            “Please, Jacqueline.  Can we please change the subject?  I don’t want to talk about this.  I want to hear about the outside and the other new Level Fours and the visitors and the newly baptized.  I don’t hear anything anymore.  Please,” Elizabeth begged.

            Jacqueline nodded and the subject was changed.  Morgan started telling Elizabeth about her job as a waitress and what had happened at the latest youth gathering.  Elizabeth stayed focused on Morgan’s story, but she could still feel Jacqueline watching her closely, trying to figure out what had become of her younger sister.


            “Where’s Aimee, Elizabeth?” Sandra asked as a group of them stood in the atrium.  Sandra, Elizabeth, Delia, Morgan, Kristin, and Aimee were having their own special Bible study that day and Aimee was late.

            “I don’t know,” Elizabeth repeated for the third time and continued to stare at the front door of the church.

            “She told us her mom was going to drive her today,” Morgan explained.

            “She’s late,” Delia mumbled.  “We’ll wait for you two in the classroom we’re using.  You know which one, right?”

            Sandra nodded and waved the other three off, choosing to wait with Elizabeth for Aimee.  At long last, and twenty minutes late, Aimee came through the front doors, carrying a paper grocery bag.

            “Where were you?” Elizabeth asked her charge, but Aimee didn’t answer.  She merely handed Elizabeth the bag and stepped back.

            “I can’t do this anymore, Elizabeth,” Aimee whispered, looking over Elizabeth’s shoulder at Sandra.  “I don’t think this church is for me.  I’m leaving.”

            She turned and walked out the door again.  Elizabeth looked in the bag and saw Aimee’s visitor’s and Level One scarves, her Rose Bible, notebook, and necklace.  She looked up in shock at Sandra, who strode over to her and snagged the bag out of her hands and started pushing her toward the front door after Aimee.

            “You have to convince her to stay.  Do whatever you can.  You can’t lose your charge!” Sandra ordered.

            Elizabeth hurried out the front door after Aimee and caught her by the arm just as she was heading back to her mother’s van.

            “You can’t go!” Elizabeth cried.  “You’ve been doing so well.  You’ve been saved.  If you leave…your soul is completely doomed to Hell for all eternity.  It’s a grave sin to leave, to give up your baptism, to give up God.”

            Aimee wiggled her arm out of Elizabeth’s grip and looked up into her Rose Angel’s eyes.  “This isn’t for me, Elizabeth.  This life shouldn’t be for anybody, actually.  And I’m not giving up God, I’m just giving up this…church, if that’s even what you’d call it.  There are too many rules, those in charge are too demanding.  This can’t possibly be right.  It just can’t.”

            “But I’ll really miss you.  We all will.  And you’ll never be able to come back again…you’ll be shunned, your soul will be considered to be of the Devil.  Do you really want to take that risk?”

            “Yes.  Look, Elizabeth, I really appreciate you taking me under your wing and trying to show me the light or whatever, but…this isn’t right.  There’s something wrong about this place, about these people, about the demands they make.  And I know it’s not your fault, you’re just doing what you’re told, but you’ll realize it sometime.  I’m sure of it.  You’re not like the others, not really.  And you’ll realize it.”  Aimee pointed at Elizabeth’s face, which was scarred and bruised.  “I mean, look at you!  Your supposed husband, who you were forced to marry, not by choice, is beating you.”  Elizabeth opened her mouth to protest, but Aimee continued, “I know, you think you deserve it.  But you don’t.  And any church that allows that to happen to its members…well…that’s not a church I want to be part of.  I’m sorry.”

            With that Aimee walked the rest of the way to her mother’s van, got in, and drove away.  Elizabeth felt frustrated, angry, prayed Aimee would come to her senses and have her mother turn around and bring her back.  Prayed that Aimee would ask for forgiveness and take whatever penance was commanded of her and move up to Level Two.  But she didn’t turn around, she didn’t come back, and Elizabeth just stood in front of the church watching the street.  Under all the frustration and anger and prayer, though, under it all, so deep down that even Elizabeth didn’t realize she realized it, she knew that Aimee was right.

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