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.
Jackie rushed into Liz’s bedroom after she heard her sister’s yell. “Are you okay?”
Liz rubbed the top of her head as she stood up and faced her sister. “It fell down again. This time on my head.” She looked at her desk, where all of her Rose memorabilia still sat, untouched. “Morgan told me yesterday that she threw away everything that reminded her of the Children of the Rose. I just can’t.”
“Me either. Not yet, at least,” Jackie agreed, looking at the desk as well. “Maybe we should just put it all away. Out of sight, out of mind.”
With that decision, both girls pulled shoeboxes out of their closets. Liz gently placed every piece of her Children of the Rose memories into the box. She looked at her right ring finger, where the Rose ring still sat. She couldn’t put it in the box. It was the one thing she left out. She knew that sooner or later, once she had gained back all the weight she’d lost through fasting and cutting portions and basically starving herself, the ring would have to be moved to a different finger. Breaking out of the musings of her ring, she took out a marker and wrote on the box’s lid:
Children of the Rose
She found Jackie sitting in the common room on the futon, cradling the shoebox she had just packed with her Rose items, her Rose ring still worn on her right ring finger. Liz took the box from her and wrote a matching label on its lid:
Children of the Rose
Without saying a word, the two girls quickly walked down the stairs and through the house, ending in the basement. They were grateful that they hadn’t been stopped by anyone, asked what they were doing. They stared at the shelves of boxes and memories that their parents had been storing for longer than either of them had been alive. Liz noticed a small area in a corner where no boxes had been placed—it was a space just large enough for the width of a shoebox. Both girls walked over to the space, placed their boxes together, and slid them into the spot. It was a perfect fit and it was just hidden enough that no one in the family would probably ever find these boxes.
“It’s our turn to add memories to the shelves, I guess,” Liz said as they stepped back to admire their handiwork.
“Let’s leave them here. Let’s not open them again, not until we’re ready,” Jackie suggested, squeezing her sister’s hand.
Liz nodded, squeezing Jackie’s hand in return. She didn’t think she’d ever be ready.
“Now, you’ll call every day and if you ever need to come home…”
“I’ll let you know and you’ll rush up here in an instant,” Liz finished. “Yeah, Mom, I know. You’ve told me a million times.”
The dorm room was too small and she and Morgan had too much stuff. It had taken three hours for them to arrange it the way they wanted, and now the McLancys were about to get in the van and leave their two oldest daughters at Drighton. Hugs were exchanged amongst all the siblings, but Mom would not release Liz.
“Morgan, you’re more than welcome to ride home with us any time,” Dad said as he tried to pry Mom off of Liz.
“I appreciate that, thanks,” Morgan said with a smile. Her parents had left over an hour ago, so she was now finding this goodbye ritual highly entertaining.
“Are you sure you’re ready for this, Liz?” her mother asked, stroking her face. “You just came back to us a week ago.”
“Mom, if I don’t move on, I never will. This is something I have to do. Morgan and Jackie understand. We’re all perfectly ready for this,” Liz answered, rolling her eyes.
“But what if someone from the one up here comes looking for you?”
“I can stand up for myself. The Children of the Rose won’t get me again, I promise.”
“But what if something else tries to get you?”
“Mom, please! I’m not going to join another cult!” Liz caught Morgan snickering. “You are not helping, Morgan Denison!” Liz knew that Morgan was only finding this conversation amusing because she had had almost the exact same conversation with her own family before they had left. She had had to assure them multiple times that Drighton was where she wanted to be—she no longer, nor had she really ever, had any interest in attending an Ivy League school.
Jackie, who had come to help Liz and Morgan get their room situated, joined in trying to pry her mother off her younger sister. “Mom, you have to let go. We’re going to watch out for each other, so stop worrying.”
Ten minutes later, her mother had finally released Liz. Eva had gotten tired of waiting and already went to the car. Greg and Tommy had been distracted by something in the hallway. Andi and Dani had announced that they would go make sure Eva wasn’t doing something dangerous, and they would find the boys as well. Liz hugged both of her parents two more times each, Jackie hugged them as well, and even Morgan had been pulled into the goodbyes. At long last, the three girls watched from the dorm window as the entire family piled into the van that was parked outside and pulled away toward home.
“Finally!” Liz cried, flopping onto the floor.
Morgan and Jackie sat on the floor on either side of where Liz lay. The three girls sat in silence for a long time. They listened to the new freshmen saying goodbye to their families. They could hear the sobbing of mothers, the voices of siblings. Every so often someone else would walk past the room door carrying a box of someone’s possessions. It was a bittersweet moment in so many lives, but Liz felt like she was on the outside. Sure, she had already said her goodbyes to her parents and siblings, but no one else on this floor, she guessed, had been through what she’d been through. No one else on this floor could say they had disowned their family up until a week ago, and now they were moving into college like everything was completely normal.
“Let’s make a deal, guys,” Morgan said suddenly, breaking Liz out of her musings.
“What kind of deal?” Jackie asked.
“Let’s make a vow to each other, right now, that we’ll move on with our lives. We won’t let the Children of the Rose own us anymore, we’ll start anew.”
Liz and Jackie exchanged a glance. “I think that sounds good,” Liz agreed. “And how about…how about we vow to help each other move on? We need to be able to keep each other in check, make sure we’re all doing alright.”
“I like this idea,” Jackie said.
The three girls studied each other as they thought on this plan. They had been through so much together, so much that most people would never fully understand. They had seen each other through one of the toughest tests that their lives would offer. They would see each other through the college years, they knew, and their first loves, their first children. They knew they would see each other through every trial life could possibly bring them to, and it was all because of the Children of the Rose. They knew that even as they vowed to move on, the cult would always be part of them, part of their history together. There was going to be some piece of it that would never fully go away, memories that could never fully be erased. But that was the next test they would face—helping each other through the firsts.
They didn’t say a word. They made no verbal promise to each other. Instead, Liz, Jackie, and Morgan leaned toward each other and sealed their promise with a hug. And that was good enough.