Chapter 3: Falling in Love
"What with one roommate paying one-third of the rent and Richard paying another third for his kids to sleep in the apartment, I only have to work every other day." This was Ted's answer to Barbara Garvias' question as to how he could afford to pioneer with them every other day. By "them" she meant Mike Cranston, Eric Potter, Phyllis Dorsey, and herself. They all were striving for slightly less than 100 hours of field service a month ("pioneering"). They usually met in the mornings at the hall. Ted didn’t have a car, so Phyllis picked him up.
He recalled how only that morning they had shared deep feelings and meaningful looks. "I'm worried that I'm a 'fifth wheel', if you’ll pardon the expression," he had said to her, trying to sound sincere and witty at the same time without recognizing their mutual incompatibility, "now someone has to work alone all the time whereas before you four pioneers could work in pairs."
"You shouldn't feel that way, Ted, It's nice to work alone sometimes. Besides, Vonnie Johnson used to pioneer with us, you know. So you've just more or less taken her place," Phyllis replied.
"Oh, I don't think I could ever take her place. She's so proficient at the doors."
"You do real well at the doors. I think you place more than I do. And you're new in the Truth."
"Let's you and I work together all morning," Ted pleaded, "Don't let anyone else work with you; we make such a good team."
She looked at him and giggled, "That might look kind of funny, brother. They might get the wrong idea."
"It would be the right idea as far as I'm concerned." He was squeezing the edge of the dashboard in his right hand and forcing the words out from his heart with apparent effort.
An eternity passed until she finally replied as all women do, "We'll see." She smiled during the rest of the drive to the hall but nothing further was said.
"Ted? You-hoo! Brother Evanston ! " Barbara Garvias called him forth from his reverie.
"Yes, sister? I'm sorry, I was thinking up a presentation. I still get nervous at the doors, you know. What did you say?" This lie was to haunt him the rest of the day. But to confess that he was daydreaming, especially about a physical attraction, would have been too shameful. He instinctively chose what the "old man" felt was the lesser of the two evils and lied rather than subject himself to embarrassment.
"I still get nervous at doors too, Ted, so don't think you're the only one." This bit of encouragement came from Mike Cranston who was at the wheel, driving them all to the territory.
Phyllis added her advice too, "I always say a little prayer while I'm waiting for them to answer the door. That always seems to help."
"Thanks, I'll try that."
When everyone had their say, Barbara again asked what had fallen on deaf ears; "I was wondering how old you are now Ted, and if there wasn't some way we could get you a better job."
"As a matter of fact, I'm 17 today. This'll be the first birthday I won't celebrate." He was going to go on and explain how getting a better job would interfere with his pioneering, but he was interrupted by everyone congratulating him on his determination not to celebrate the pagan custom of birthdays.
"That's just great, Ted," Mike complimented, "You keep overcoming these little obstacles Satan puts in your path and that'll make the big obstacles easier to hurdle."
"You know, I had a lady ask me at the door the other day why we don't celebrate birthdays," Eric related, "and the funny thing was she already agreed that it was wrong to celebrate Christmas. She knew it was all too commercialized and that Christmas trees and gifts and everything had pagan origins. She said she read it in a magazine somewhere -- it wasn't the Watchtower, though. So, anyway, I told her, 'look, if we don't celebrate the Son of God's birthday, we're certainly not going to celebrate our own!'"
Sighs of admiration went up from all in the car for this bit of brilliance, and Eric continued, 'Now I thought that was brilliant, but she says she doesn't see the connection because we know our birthday and we don't have pagan trees or things like that. So then I just fell back on the old argument that the only place in the Bible where birthdays are mentioned is when Pharaoh hung his baker and when Herod beheaded John the Baptist. So it shows that only pagans celebrated their birthdays, and that each time a murder was committed."
"What did she say then?" Phyllis asked.
"Well, she said that maybe others celebrated their birthdays and the Bible just didn't record them because nothing special happened, and as long as we didn't murder anybody it'd be all right."
"Sounds like a hard case," Mike sympathized, "but wasn't Herod a Jew? I wonder if it's correct to call him a pagan."
This question produced a scramble for reference books wrestled from book-bags. Barbara turned to her Make Sure of All Things, Hold Fast to What is Fine book and Eric to his massive Aid to Bible Under-standing book.
Eric was the first to find the information; "Okay, here under 'Herod' it says he 'was nominally a Jew and professedly under the law.' That's why John the Baptist was justified in condemning his actions as against the Mosaic Law."
"But wait a minute," Barbara countered, "Here under 'Holidays' under the subheading 'Birthdays' it says 'Scriptures mention observance only by pagans' and then it quotes the Scripture about Herod's birthday. So according to this he was a pagan."
There was a moment of embarrassed silence broken by Mike, "There must be new light coming out on that, I guess. We'll just have to wait for it."
"But till then," Ted ventured to ask, "are we to think of Herod as a Jew or a pagan? Or shouldn't we think of him at all?"
"He was a pagan Jew," Eric offered, and everyone fell silent until the territory was reached.
It was Mike Cranston, being a ministerial servant, who had the responsibility of assigning how the territory would be worked. He offered to start out working by himself down one side of the street, and suggested that the others work house-over-house. "Now who wants to work with who?"
Usually there followed an awkward moment when this question was asked as no one wanted to show a preference. But Ted wasted no time, "I'd like to work with Phyllis."
At their first house Ted and Phyllis were invited in by an elderly man whose flabby face looked out of place on his thin frame. He had them sit while he remained standing. As Ted began explaining the wonders of the New Order, the man reached behind a table-lamp and took out a thick black Bible.
"Oh, I'm glad to see you've got your Bible. Perhaps you'd like to look up a few Scriptures with us," Ted remarked.
Without acknowledging the remark, the man held the Bible up to the ceiling in his right hand while he stationed his left hand above their heads with his fingers spread wide and trembling slightly. It reminded Ted of Frankenstein's monster: arm fully extended, groping for its victim, but aiming too high.
"Almighty Lord Jesus Christ," he began, his voice trembling more than his hand, "I ask Thee in the name of Thy redeeming blood to open their eyes that they may come unto the foot of Thy cross and rest their faith in Thee. That Thou mayest open their hearts to receive Thee--" By this time Ted and Phyllis had made their hasty retreat from the "fanatic's" house.
"Don't you just hate that," Ted said, slightly shook up from the experience, "when they won't sit down and reason with you."
"They're so blinded by their religion they can't abide hearing anything about the Truth," she agreed with disgust, "so they drive it away from them without ever knowing what they're missing."
At the next door was a fairly young woman who listened to Phyllis' entire presentation and bought the Awake magazine. When asked if they might return, she replied, "No that’s all right. Why don't you two get out and enjoy the nice weather instead? It's a nice day to be out on the beach. Young people like you should take advantage and live your life while you've still got your health."
"Well, the Bible commands us to go forth and make disciples of people for God's Kingdom," Ted informed her.
"Yes, and you're just following the Lord's command, I know. But you've got to draw the line somewhere; you can only do so much. Why don't you just finish this block and then take it easy. You owe it to yourselves, you know."
"Well, thank you. We'll think about it." Phyllis said. They said their good-byes and their have-a-nice-days (as the custom was then) and walked to their next house.
"They just don't understand the urgency of our message," Phyllis remarked.
"I guess not. But she's got me thinking,"
"Of what?" she asked.
"How you would look in a bikini."
"Oh, no!" she blushed, holding her hands over her face and nearly collapsing with laughter. She grabbed his arm to steady herself as they beheld a man in his late fifties making his way around the side of his house, rake in hand.
"Good morning, Sir. You're hard at work today, I see," Ted greeted.
"Yeah. It figures out to be a fine day for cleanin' up the yard."
These pleasantries exchanged, Ted introduced himself and Phyllis and got down to his presentation. But as soon as it became clear that his topic was religious, the man excused himself. "That's good. That's real fine for you young folks. But I'm far out from all that."
"But aren't you interested in a new world of peace and joy?"
"Yeah, that's fine. But I'm far out. That's for you young people to look forward to. Go talk to some of these other young people around here. But not for me; I'm too far out I tell you."
Eric and Barbara were talking at the corner house, so Ted and Phyllis crossed the street to start the next block. When they had put enough distance between themselves and their last householder, they burst out laughing: "I never before heard an old man describe himself as ‘far out’!"
There was no one home at their next house so they laughed themselves out before continuing.
"What’ll people say if they see us standing here laughing like a couple of fools?" Phyllis wondered.
"They'll see what a happy people Jehovah's Witnesses are."
They walked to the third house from the corner where there was likewise no one at home. "We might as well have gone to the beach, sister, for all the success we're having today. Yes, I still say that's a sight I'd like to see."
"Oh stop," she scolded good-naturedly, "the Society says we shouldn't wear bikinis anyway. We're supposed to wear one-piece, modest bathing suits. Besides, I'd look funny in a bikini. I'm not shaped right,"
"I never heard that before," he said with disappointment, "how do they expect you to get a tan that way? Besides, I think you'd look beautiful in a bikini."
"I'm too big," she said, her eyes staring straight ahead, not daring to meet his when discussing such a personal subject, "I'd hardly be contained in one. I'd bounce around so much that I might become exposed." At this she gave a slight sly smile as if secretly proud of the difficulties inherent in her opulent breasts, difficulties that set her apart from most girls.
He decided the conversation had gone too far. He hoped for something to end it without slamming it down so purposely that it might not be opened again in the happy future. Auspiciously, this desire was implemented by finding the next householder at home. It was a tall young woman whom Phyllis spoke to.
"Yeah, well my roommate in college was a Jehovah's Witness and she told me all about it. But thanks for stopping."
Ted wasn't about to let her off so easily. "Could you tell me what you thought of what your roommate told you about the New Order?"
"Well, I just don't believe that way, okay?"
"Yes, you're entitled to your beliefs, he agreed, "but didn't she show you what she believed from the Bible?"
"And don't you believe in the Bible?"
"Then what's your basis for not believing in what she said?"
The girl looked heavenward and shook her head. "Never argue with a Jehovah's Witness." Then she looked behind the door and called to her mother who changed places with her.
"We're Bible-believin' Christians!" her mother pronounced with her fist raised in the air to show the strength of her position.
Ted acted totally unimpressed and, being on a roll, came back with, "That's good; our message is especially for Christians who already believe in the Bible. Otherwise we first have to convince people of the Bible's validity." He smiled as he paused to give the woman a chance to reply. He knew that the reply would probably be unfavorable, but he figured it was better than a nonverbal demonstration of her feelings such as slamming the door.
"Well our own church tells us all we need to know. Why don't you people go to non-Christians who need the Word brought to them? Your time's wasted on us."
"We are in over two-hundred lands." Phyllis broke in, "All over the world our brothers and sisters are bringing the news of God's Kingdom. We feel that here at home we need to contact persons such as you because the churches really aren't preaching about God's Kingdom. Has your church told you much about the Kingdom?"
"Oh sure. Our pastor doesn't miss much."
Phyllis continued unabated, "We find that although many people are praying for this kingdom in the Lord's Prayer when they say 'Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,' they really don't realize that they are praying for God's Kingdom (already ruling in heaven) to extend it's reign over the whole earth and make it a place of peace and joy like heaven itself. And so most of the churches are offering their people a false heavenly hope when the majority of people will be living on a perfect earth. We'd like to talk to you all day about this, but no doubt you're busy. So perhaps we could leave this book with you; it's called The Truth That Leads to Eternal Life. It goes on to explain the prophecies pointing to this wonderful Kingdom soon to come."
"How much is it?"
"It's just a quarter to cover the cost of printing,"
She took the book and paid a quarter, but refused the offered return-visit as they expected she would.
The morning wore on and they all met back at the car around 11:30.
As they piled in, Mike took the wheel and asked if anyone had placed anything.
"We placed a book and a magazine," Ted boasted.
"I placed two books," Eric announced haughtily, "and Sister Garvias placed four sets of magazines."
"Well, sounds like a productive morning," Mike said, "I didn't place anything myself, but I think I might've started a Bible Study with a young fellow. Seemed real interested in the fact that we don't believe in hell,"
"Yeah, that usually gets 'em." Eric opined.
"We almost got exorcised," Ted blurted out in an effort to top them all (seeing as how his boasted placements had been so completely overshadowed.) Phyllis laughed heartily as she recalled the incident in her mind.
"You almost did what?" Barbara asked in astonishment.
"This old man, I guess he must've been almost sixty, a fanatic in any case--he stands over us with his Bible and prays -- not to God but to Jesus -- to open our eyes and surrender unto Jesus and stuff like that. All archaic, you know."
"Oh don't you just hate that," Barbara laughed, "when they think they have to speak in Old English to God or else he won't understand."
"As if Jehovah spoke like the King James Bible they use," Eric said with scorn.
When the others had related their experiences and contented quiet settled over them, Eric came up with his daily diversion, "Did you know," as these ancedotes or odd facts always began, "that the Bible mentions a siesta?"
"No, I never came across that," Mike chuckled.
"Well it does, let's see… it's right here in Second Samuel, chapter four, starting with verse five; 'And the sons of Rimmon, blah, blah, blah, proceeded to go and come to the house of Ishbosheth about when the day had heated up, as he was taking his noonday siesta.'" He paused for dramatic effect, "'And here they came into the middle of the house as men fetching wheat, and they struck him in the abdomen… When they went into the house, he way lying upon his couch in his inner bedroom, and they struck him so that they put him to death, after which they removed his head…'"
"That's really surprising," said Barbara, "you usually only associate siestas with Mexico. But evidently they took them back there in Israel too."
Ted was sitting in front and turned to Mike as he sought an authoritative agreement with his next statement, "So the Bible's against taking siestas then."
Mike glanced over at him and laughed. He continued laughing as he returned attention to the road. Then he looked back and saw that Ted was not sharing in his mirth. "My dad's like that--he can tell a joke with the utmost seriousness and not laugh." After saying this he expected Ted to give up his serious face and join in appreciation of his own joke. He didn't.
It was too fresh in Ted's mind-- this being his birthday-- that they had earlier that day condemned the celebration of birthdays because in the only two places that the Bible mentions them, murders were committed. Now that they had found the same case with a siesta, he naturally felt that the same rule would apply. He couldn't understand why Mike couldn't comprehend this seriously-meant conclusion.
"You were joking, weren't you?" Mike asked with a look of troubled concern. He realized, as did all the rest of the car-group, that the best way to dispose of the irritating argument was to write it off as a joke.
Finally Ted realized what was in their minds and forced himself to smile, "Yeah, just a joke."
They arrived back at the hall and dispersed to their various cars.
This was the time Ted had been looking forward to, when he'd again be alone with Phyllis as she drove him home. However, his wanting this so much and his desire to speak his heart to her was so overwhelming that they sat in silence all the way until she pulled up in front of the house.
"Well, here we are," she smiled and looked at him expectantly.
Her hair was shining golden in the sun, almost like a halo. The trees were casting shadows everywhere else but on her. "Jehovah's shining his spotlight on her," Ted thought, "like his finger is pointing her out to me that she's my destiny: my future happiness."
"I really enjoyed working with you today," she said, "are you going out this afternoon?"
"No, I have to work on my talk. It'll be my first one, you know."
"Oh, that'll be nice. Are you nervous?"
"Dreadfully. In fact, I was thinking -- uh -- it would help if I could have someone listen to it before I give it so they could give me their reaction."
"I'll listen to it for you," she readily volunteered.
"You will? Great! C'mon up. I’ll show you my apartment, too. You didn't see it before, did you?"
"Yes, I saw it when Richard and Vonnie first got married."
"I thought he moved downstairs as soon as they got married."
"No, they lived upstairs for a couple weeks till the end of that month."
"Oh well, that's neither here nor there -- as Richard's fond of saying. Will you come up and listen to my talk?"
"Can't you give your talk in the car? It isn't right for me to be in your apartment all alone."
"You won't be all alone; I'll be there,"
"That's what I mean."
"Don't be silly. I've been with Vonnie all alone in their place. She said that was all right."
"You have?" she asked with some alarm.
Now he was losing patience. She knew how hard it was for him to ask her up to his place, and she knew he had no ulterior motives -- at least no immediate ones. And yet she prolonged his agony and even cast aspersions on his former actions with Vonnie! He formulated the following sentence in his mind and was on the verge of spewing it forth: "Well, why don't you wait till the afternoon field service meeting at the Johnson's to come up. Then everybody'll be downstairs, and if I come at you they'll hear you scream." But he was thoroughly infatuated with her by now and couldn't risk such sarcasm severing the thread-like bond between them. It was only when their relationship grew into an iron cable that it could resist and even be strengthened by disagreement. That thread must grow to a string quickly lest a man go mad; so he gambled his all on a single throw: "Well, perhaps some other time then. I'll see you." So saying he gave her a very insignificant kiss; a touch of his lips to her pure white cheek. Without having the courage to face the consequences or the calmness to await her reaction, he bolted out of the car and flew up the steps to his apartment.
"Hey man, how's it goin'?" asked a sleepy-eyed Paul, still contained in his striped pajamas.
"Sorry, Did I wake you?"
"Naw, I just got up to go to the can. But now I think I'll stay up. So how's everything with you? I don't see you very much any more an' here we're livin' in the same pad."
"We keep such divergent hours and lifestyles. Have you gotten paid yet?"
"’Die-ver-jant’! Where'd you come up with a word like that? Can't you just say diff'rent like everybody else?"
"Just because everyone you know has a limited vocabulary, you needn't assume everyone in the world is like that, " Ted replied. "Now don't change the subject. I told you before you moved in that the rent gets paid before the first of the month. That means you're almost two weeks late. I paid your share for you, and now I want you to pay me back. It's only $50. You can afford that, can't you?"
"Hey man, don't get excited. I'll get it for you by Friday for sure. If not, I'll sell you somethin' like my camera or TV."
"Can't you pay it before then? Look, you're gonna have to start worrying about next month's rent right after that."
"Don't worry about it, man. But what are you doin' home already? Ain't this your day for goin' out in service all day?"
"Yeah, but today I've gotta stay home and work on a talk I have to give tomorrow night at the hall."
"You're gonna give a talk in front of all them Jehovah's? Too much!"
"You wanna come and see it? You're welcome, you know."
"I just might do that. What're you gonna talk to 'em about?"
"Well, how would you like to listen to what I've got so far? It only takes six minutes, and I'd really like to have someone hear it before I have to give it."
"All right. Now you pretend you're a Witness listening to this, a person who appreciates spiritual things."
"Oh, man!" he exclaimed with a mixture of offense and impatience.
"Okay. I have to give a talk on the ‘River of Water of Life’ and the ‘Book of Life’. You've heard of how God's supposed to have a book in which he records all your sins or something like that, haven't you?"
"Is this your talk now, or are you asking me a question?"
"I'm asking you -- never mind." Squatting himself up to give the appearance of a double chin and bodily bulk, Ted draw'led in a very poor imitation of Dale Garvias, "And now we'll hear from Brother Evanston, whose theme is 'Partaking of Life's Water'-- Brother Evanston."
Changing back to himself, Ted rustled the notes in front of him, and after a quick glance at Paul to see if he was still paying attention, began. "Dead --" long pause, "That describes a sea in the Middle East, a sea so loaded with salt that no life dwells in it: the Dead Sea," This opening was a sure attention-getter, he felt.
Ted continued: "How odd, then, to behold this sea suddenly swarming with life and fishing villages set up along its banks. This, however, is exactly what the prophet Ezekiel saw in a vision that is recorded for us in the 47th chapter of his book. How did this miraculous transformation occur? It was from a river flowing into the sea and "healing" it. Not the Jordan, but a river of water of life. Tracing this life-giving river back to its source, we come directly to Jehovah's temple. Here it started as a mere trickle, and flowed, not directly from the Most Holy, but past the altar of sacrifice, then down through the Arabah to the Salt Sea. As it went, this trickle became a mighty torrent. But of what benefit is this vision for us today?"
"Yeah, what?" Paul enjoined, on the verge of boredom.
"Well, certainly we all enjoy life and want to keep living. So seeing that Jehovah is the source of this water of life, we would wisely go to Him in our quest for everlasting life. Just as Jeremiah chapter 2, verse 13 says, Jehovah is the source of living water. And it flows, not directly from Jehovah, but as in Ezekiel's vision, through his Mediator, the 'sacrificial lamb', Jesus Christ.
"We all know that water is essential to life, yet even so we still die. Jesus pointed this out in John the fourth chapter, if you'd like to turn there. That's John, chapter 4, verses 13 and 14." He paused to give his imagined audience time to locate the Scripture in their Bibles. "'In answer Jesus said to her: "Everyone drinking from this water will get thirsty again. Whoever drinks from the water that I will give him will become in him a fountain of water bubbling up to impart everlasting life."'
"If we turn now to Revelation the twenty-second chapter, and starting in verse one, we'll read of the Apostle John's description of this water which imparts everlasting life; 'And he showed me a river of water of life, clear as crystal, flowing out from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of its broad way. And on this side of the river and on that side there were trees of life producing twelve crops of fruit, yielding their fruits each month. And the leaves of the trees were for the curing of the nations.'
"Looking across the page to chapter 21, verse 4, we can see the benefits this river will bring; 'And he will wipe out every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more, neither will mourning nor outcry nor pain be anymore. The former things have passed away.'
"To comply with Ezekiel's vision, this life-giving water will be only ankle-deep at first to meet the demand of the relatively few survivors of Armageddon. But then as the first ones are resurrected, it will become knee-deep. And it will continue to expand to a mighty torrent as all are resurrected.
"How, though, might we survive Armageddon and drink of this wonderful water? Well, by taking in water of truth now," at this he held up his Bible, "and inviting others to do likewise, just as we read in Revelation chapter 22, verse 17. That's on the last page of your Bible proper, just before the index. 'And the spirit and the bride keep on saying: "Come!" And let anyone hearing say: "Come!" And let anyone thirsting come; let anyone that wishes take life's water free,'
"Doing this and obeying God's commandments, we can get our names in the book or scroll of life, thus granting us the privilege of drinking life's water. This requires putting Kingdom interests first in our lives and trusting in Jehovah, not men or political organizations. For we read in Revelation chapter 3, verse 8, 'And all those who dwell on the earth will worship it;' (the Wild Beast, that is) 'the name of not one of them stands written in the scroll of life of the Lamb who was slaughtered, from the founding of the world.'
"This does not indicate predestination on God's part, for in Revelation chapter 3, verse 5 Jesus speaks of blotting out names from the book of life. And Moses spoke of being wiped out from the book. But from the 'founding of the world' Jehovah had determined that no worshippers of the Wild Beast would get their names written in the Book of Life.
"The reference to the scroll of the Lamb would indicate that there are two distinct scrolls. In Jehovah's Scroll of Life are written all who should gain everlasting life. Whereas in the Lamb Jesus Christ's scroll only 144,000 names are listed. These are the names of those anointed to heavenly life as joint heirs with Christ.
"So it appears that only when a person becomes a servant of Jehovah is his name written in the book of life, and only if he continues faithful is his name retained therein.
"After the upcoming thousand-year-judgment-day, those who remain loyal to Jehovah through Satan's testing of them will be granted ever-lasting life. Thus they will continue drinking of the symbolic river of water of life, and will have their names indelibly inscribed in the book of life. But, as we read in Revelation chapter 20, verse 15, 'whoever was not found written in the book of life was hurled into the lake of fire.'
"We would do well to ask ourselves then, 'Am I now in that book, and if so, can I stay there?' The answer is Yes if we continue to accept and extend the invitation to 'Come! And let anyone thirsting come; let anyone that wishes take life's water free.'"
Infinitely pleased with himself and his faultless performance, Ted set down his sheets of notes and looked up at Paul -- who was dozing peacefully.
Ted spent the next several minutes memorizing parts of the talk, moving the papers slowly so as not to awaken Paul. (Although it seems that if his preaching had failed to stir him, such slight sounds would have no effect whatsoever.)
This silence was broken, however, when Bobby came tearing up the stairs with a letter for Ted. These days he looked for any possible excuse to come up and then stay as long as possible.
"Here, I brought you your mail," he panted. "Oh hi, Paul. Are you up already?"
Wiping the drooping eyelids of a man torn from slumber -- Paul grumbled, "How can I sleep with you kids down there runnin' around all mornin'? What you got there?"
"It's mail for Ted. You didn't get any."
"My first mail at this address," Ted commented dryly but with a hint of satisfaction.
"Well open it up, man. Let's see what it is."
"I know what it is; it's a birthday card from my mother." He tore it open, and true to prediction, a colored card with the words "A THOUGHT ON YOUR BIRTHDAY" fell out. Skipping the sentimental verse, he read what she had written inside:
‘Teddy, Hope all is well with you. I baked you a birthday cake in case you came home unexpectedly. Besides--the kids had to have a cake even if you weren't here. I saved you a piece. Why don't you come over this week? Your father will be gone. If you have any dirty laundry piling up, bring it. Say hi to Paul. Love, Mom.’
"Silly woman," he said as he made an exaggerated movement of shaking his head, "she sends me a card when she knows I don't celebrate my birthday anymore."
"Today's your birthday?" Bobby and Paul exclaimed in unison.
"Yeah. But forget about it. What have you got there, Bobby?"
"Sentences," he replied sadly, holding up the large pad of ruled paper on which the same sentence was carefully written over and over.
"I gotta write 500 by Wednesday night before my dad gets home."
"What did you do this time?" Paul asked.
"I hit Joey at the hall Sunday. But he was goofin' off an' stuff with Jeannie."
"What are you up to now?" Ted asked.
"Let’s see," he went back several pages in the tablet and counted by twenties, "20, 40, 60, 80, 86. That's 414 left to go."
"Hey wait a minute, man! Just hold on a minute, now… Yeah! I remember it now. Wow!" Paul was babbling incoherently it seemed.
"What is it?" Ted asked with some irritation.
"I had this really far-out dream, man, I just remembered it now. It musta been while you were reading your talk, you know?"
"Tell us! Oh, please tell us!" Bobby cried, "I just love scary dreams."
"No, man, it wasn't scary. Not all of it anyway. There was like this valley, you know, But it was all made of little marbles -- all different colors. An' there was this guy walking in bare feet and the marbles started swallowin' him till he was ankle-deep.
"And then the guy was me and I started kicking really hard with my feet and the marbles started flying and started an avalanche into the city below. And everybody was killed there except the Jehovahs. And that one girl was there we went out with that time, you know?"
"Phyllis?" Ted volunteered.
"Yeah, that was the one. And she says to me, "There's 144 of us that survived. See our names?" And she takes me inside this place where there's this big book on an altar like in church. And this old priest with a long white beard turns the pages and I see all these names, an' I'm lookin', you know, for mine, an' I can't find it an' I'm goin' crazy lookin' for my name. And while I'm doin' that he goes an' opens this door in the back like of this altar, and there's fire in that room, like it must be hell or somethin' an' he starts motioning for me to come over there, but I'm runnin' my finger through this book 'lookin' for my name. But he keeps sayin' 'Come! Come! Come!' Then you came up behind me man."
"Me?" Ted wondered what he'd be doing in such a dream.
"Yeah. And you smile and say to me, 'Why are you so die-verjant? There's your name right there.' And you point to the book, but I look real hard an' still can't see it, an' I'm about to say so when you wink and shush me. And the next thing you know we're walkin' down that same hill only there's no marbles; it's all grass and trees and people laughin' an' runnin' around. And there's this pretty girl settin' out a feast on a picnic table and she looks at us and says 'Come!' and then this joker here woke me up."
Bobby laughed delightedly to think he had played a part in the ending of the dream.
Ted was fully caught up in the dream. He sighed and remained silent for a long time before he said, "I think you should start coming to meetings at the hall. There's no way I can get you to that cleansed valley without your actually being in that book."
Paul peered at him with a strange mixture of deadly seriousness and living terror and said at last, "Yeah, I think I might come once and see what it's like."
Bobby sat with Ted on the sofa as Paul fixed himself up in the bathroom. The boy's hand traced our carefully the words: 'I WILL NOT HIT JOEY OR FOOL AROUND AT THE HALL' until his hand ached.
Then he went to the window and watched the kids in the next yard playing softball. Ted was having greater success with his concentration: memorizing line after line of his talk. He was, that is, until he heard the pioneers file in downstairs for the field service meeting.
He listened hard to hear Phyllis' voice. Then it was only her memory that he concentrated on. Recalling her features line by line (as it were) from top to bottom: the golden hair, the high brow from which the hair was parted right in the middle, the fine eyebrows, the eyes squinted by the everlasting smile, the mouse-like nose and pale lips (both of which he oddly considered the height of beauty), the whole white face unburdened from any gooey makeup whatsoever. Then there was the ample body containing her still bigger heart.
He though of the rest of her body in equal or greater detail than her face, although he had to rely completely on a vivid imagination. He spent the rest of the day and night thinking of her in this way as well as other ways, until that night in bed he knew he would have to marry her, as he loved her and had thought of her for so long in a way proper only for a married person to think of his wife. He spent most of that sleepless night thinking of what it would be like married to her. Seeing her smile beside him in the mornings instead of the groggy-faced kids he had to force a smile at these mornings.
He thought of such insignificant things with immeasurable pleasure, like coming up behind her as she was cooking and giving her a hug and resting his chin on her shoulder -- as he had seen his father do. Or sitting at the hall with his arm around her as he had occasionally seen brothers do with their wives. He thought of a hundred details of domestic life, seeing only the good side with that halo of gilded hair framing the jubilant smile of the cherubic Phyllis who brought heaven into his life.
Six o'clock the following morning found him in such a state of exhausted ecstasy that he seriously doubted his need to go to work. But he mustered up what strength he had and wrestled his body out of bed.
After a long morning of stacking 100-pound sacks of flour, having them spill off the pallet, stacking them again and discovering a hole in the bottom one which left a two-inch thick trail of white powder the length of the warehouse; getting bawled out for making a mess; wasting 15 minutes searching for a broom to clean it up with when the boss came by and asked why he wasn't working… Ted was more than ready for his lunch break.
He ate his sandwiches hurriedly (for which he would suffer later that afternoon) and fetched his Holy Spirit book from the cloakroom where it had been weighing down his windbreaker.
"Hey what you got there? Ha! Holy Spirit, the Force Behind the Coming New Order." The ugly, sweaty little man with inch-long nose hairs read the title slowly, seemingly without comprehension to judge by the inquisitive look he gave Ted.
"That's right," Ted said too loudly, as if he was taking on the whole dozen men that milled around the break room, "did you ever think of the Holy Spirit as a force before?"
The man looked around him for support from his comrades, "Ha, I never thought of the Holy Spirit before, period." A round of laughter greeted this.
But one of the more intelligent looking men who was transfixed before the out-of-order vending machine didn't laugh. "I've thought of it as such upon occasion," he said without turning around, "but don't try preaching to Jack there; he's liable to understand something and the shock would be too much for him."
"That's true, that's true," Jack laughed along with the rest of them nodding his head furiously and displaying his tobacco-encrusted teeth.
This man who left the vending machine and the room without another word fascinated Ted. "Who's he?" he asked Jack.
"That's Bill Jackson. He's one of the big cheeses."
"No he's not," the fat man across the table corrected with emphatic disgust, "he just works in the office -- an accountant or somethin', that's all."
"You go to hell," Jack countered with an impolite gesture.
"That's right, it's time to go back," the fat man agreed as the bell rang bringing their lunch break to a close. The two men laughed delightedly at their miserable existence; they were the best of friends.
The afternoon slipped by quickly, and Ted found himself packed into a bus which had its air-conditioning broken especially for this, the first hot day of the year. As he stood, he tried to capture the anticipation of giving his talk that night. He knew that terrible thrill lay dormant in his heart and that now, having struggled through work, he could afford to unlock this burst of nervous energy and be possessed by it. This possession kept him from being overcome by the foul breath of the man next to him whom he had silently dubbed "Ash-lungs". He got off at the daily labor office to pick up his $9 and walked home from there, praising Jehovah for the prospect of not having to so enslave himself again until Thursday.
Much to his astonishment, Paul was sitting in the living room reading. This in itself was cause for wonder since Paul never wasted what little girl-watching time he had in any other pursuit but primping himself up in front of the bathroom mirror. But what really floored Ted was the title of the book he was perusing: The Truth That Leads to Eternal Life! And he was already halfway through it!
"Hey man, how you doin'?" Paul greeted and immediately returned to his reading. Ted gaped at him for a moment, trying to decide what to do. His first impulse was to run up and hug him. He quickly rejected that course of action. He searched for something clever to say or a simple question to ask like "What do you think of that book?" But in the final analysis he felt it better not to disturb him any more than he had already done. The thread that tied him to that book was so thin as to be almost nonexistent. Now was not the time to pull him away from it and risk breaking the bond, no matter how profound the words he might speak. So Ted went quietly into the bedroom where he found an even more startling sight, although it was so only momentarily: Joey was hiding under his bed. Ted pretended not to notice, not wishing to embarrass him or cause a disturbance that would break the mysterious concentration Paul was devoting to the Truth book.
A good 15 minutes passed which coincided with Ted's committing the last lines of his talk to an indelible imprint in his mind when a little head popped out from the other side of the bed and said, "Hi Ted!" The head had too much hair to be Joey's. As the rest of the body crawled out, it turned out to be Jeannie.
"Jeannie! What are you doing in here?" he sternly demanded. But her smile didn't fade.
"Me an' Joey were just playing 'hide'."
At this Joey also made his appearance with a look of guilt on his face.
"Joey, you know you're only allowed up here at bedtime. And you shouldn't bring Jeannie up here at all. "
"Bobby comes up here," he retorted.
"He doesn't sneak up here and hide," Ted glared, trying to act the part of an enraged parent and realizing that it didn't suit him at all. He felt he was bound to laugh any minute, or worse, join them under the bed. "You'd better go downstairs now; your mom will wonder where you are."
"Oh, she's down in the basement washing clothes," Jeannie explained as she and Joey made their departure. None of this seemed to disturb Paul who had apparently turned to stone before the Truth book. Ted went into the kitchen, opened a can of hash and fried it up for both of them.
"Mmmm, man, that smells good," Paul said at last, bending over page 141 and laying the book on the coffee table before him.
"It's just ready; sit down at the table and let's eat."
Returning from the sink where he'd just rinsed the pan after dishing out its contents, Ted was surprised to see Paul staring at the plate before him, consuming it with his eyes rather than his mouth.
"What's the matter?" he asked.
"Aw -- nothin'," Paul shrugged and grabbed the fork.
"Wait," Ted said with a gentle gesture, "did you want me to pray first?"
"Well, yeah -- if you want to -- I guess that'd be all right."
Ted smiled so hard he thought he'd cry.
When Paul clambered into the Johnson's car along with Ted, there was, to say the least, surprise. Vonnie and Richard simply greeted Paul at if he always went with them to the hall. But Sherri couldn't display such subtlety. "Is Ted's roommate comin' with us?" she asked in disbelief with her awkward emphasis on 'roommate' and 'us', seeming to put an ungapable chasm between the words.
"Yes, Sherri," Vonnie answered sharply, "and that's all I want to hear out of you for the rest of the night."
"Oh, God!" Sherri exclaimed half as lament and half as disgust.
Richard, who hadn't set the car in drive yet, reached back and grabbed her by the shoulder. She wrenched free leaving him grasping her hair. He gave a firm yank on her hair that brought tears to her eyes and sobbing to her breath.
"What'd I tell you kids about taking God's name in vain? Huh? He gave another yank which forced the words from her throat, "Ow! You said not to do it. Now let go!"
He did, put the car in drive, and looked as if he was about to admonish his kids further to right behavior, when he recalled the presence of Paul.
"We're a little crowded in here, Paul. But that's fine with us; the more the merrier. We're all one big happy family in Jehovah's Organization."
Ted decided that this was the wrong tack. Richard had done it right when he acted like Paul's presence was a common thing. But now he destroyed that effect entirely by calling attention to their overstuffed car. (They had seated Joey and Jeannie between them in front, while in the back were squeezed Bobby, Sherri, Ted, and Paul.) This thought was confirmed in Paul's sarcastic reply, "Yeah, I can see that man."
"Don't be upset over how we discipline our kids;" Richard replied, correctly divining Paul’s thought, "that's the only way to bring them up right. The Bible encourages beating them into obedience--they'll thank us for it later in life,"
There was something that sounded so wrong in what Richard had just said that Ted felt the need to add some sort of disclaimer. "I know when I first started going to the hall I didn't know whether to laugh or cry when a sister really whacked her little daughter across the mouth. I mean she was only two or three and she began singing to herself during a talk, and for that her mother really belted her one. It didn't seem right to me at the time, but now I realize it's what the Bible requires of parents."
Since the Johnson's were now numerically capable of filling up an entire row of chairs at the hall when they sat in one of the side rows (as they always did), Ted and Paul were on their own when it came to choosing a seat. This was just what Ted wanted: his chance to make his sitting next to Phyllis inconspicuous. He waited around until exactly two minutes before the meeting would start and then ushered Paul away from the last in a long succession of brothers and sisters he was meeting, to where Phyllis and her mother were seated.
"Hello Phyllis, Sister Dorsey," Ted greeted.
"Hi Ted, how are you tonight?" Phyllis replied.
"Just fine. Phyllis, you remember my Bible study, Paul Huberman?"
"Oh yes. Mom, this is Ted's study who went out in service with us that time and placed a book. Remember I told you about it?"
"Yes," Martha Dorsey smiled. Her smile, although as broad and intense as her daugher's didn't hide her eyes in as complete a squint; one could see a rapturous look in them, and an ever-ready tear. "How very wonderful to be coming in the Truth now. How exciting! How the angels rejoice to be bringing still another brother into the fold! All of us rejoice to see you here coming to the meetings, Paul. Don't ever give up no matter how hard the Devil tries you. Jehovah's spirit is stronger."
"Yeah, well I --" Paul was embarrassed to be the focus of such acute interest and enthusiasm as he had to endure in these first 15 minutes at the hall, "I’m not in it like Ted here. I just started. I'm not real sure yet, I'm sorta checkin' it out, you know,"
"That's all right," Martha consoled as she reached over and took his hand in both of hers (which required them both to stretch to the limit since Paul was standing and Phyllis was sitting between them).
"It's just like Brother Olson always used to say, 'All the trees don't blossom at the same time.' Jehovah calls you when you're ready, not before." A moment passed between them during which she rubbed his hand and spoke the language of the New World with her eyes, "I just know," she said at last, "you've found your place here."
"Good evening brothers and sisters," Dale Garvias' voice boomed out to announce the start of the meeting.
"Speaking of finding a place," Ted remarked nervously, "we'd better find a place to sit." At this point he hoped the Dorsey's would invite Paul and him to sit next to them, but as this was not forthcoming, he asked if the seats were taken. They said no, and he sat next to Phyllis: mission accomplished.
During the first talk his attention was fixed on the fact that he had set his book-bag down in front of him so that it was touching her purse. He edged himself ever so slowly and cautiously nearer her in anti-type of their handbags. First he moved his right leg until it was so close to her that the material of his trousers touched the fabric of her dress. This emboldened him to let his right hand fall beside his lap onto the edge of the metal folding-chair. As the second talk was coming to a close, he crept that hand over until it bridged the gap between their two chairs. He was breathing heavily by this time.
"Thank you, Brother Fleming. We appreciate that fine talk you gave us," Dale, who had resumed the stage, was saying. He proceeded to highlight Andy's use of gestures during the talk and concluded by giving him a passing mark. "Now I'm told that there'll be a delay in giving talk number three. So if those sisters are ready who are assigned talk four, we’ll hear from them now, please. And this will be Sister Vonnie Johnson with her theme, 'There's Always Enough Time.' And she'll be assisted by Sister Elvira Nelson. Sisters…"
Panic swept Ted's body as Dale left the stage and the congregation watched the two sisters wend their way to it. If talk number three wasn't ready after this one, he'd be next! He abandoned contact with Phyllis and held himself fast with his arms folded and his knees locked so that his mind wouldn't run away. In a few minutes he'd be up in front of the whole congregation! They'd all be looking at him, listening to his words, and scrutinizing his every minute action! What if his nose began to run? What if he had an attack of gas, or worse yet, forgot all his lines?
While Ted was in this state of horrific limbo, Bob Morrow, who was seated in the last row, stood up unnoticed and raked all the heads before him with his eyes. It was not long ago when he still had his privileges in the congregation, and he had often taken the head count at the meetings. So it was that he quickly verified what he had suspected; Elder David Nelson and Julia Salvayez were missing. The latter, he figured, was to assist in talk three, and hence was causing the delay. He walked quietly to the back of the hall, through the cloakroom, and out the door into the twilight.
It was usual practice, he knew, for an elder to give private counsel in Jim Stokes' van. This was due to the fact that there was no private room or secluded corner in the hall to carry out such an action, and to just stand outside meant to be constantly interrupted.
So it was that Jim Stokes' van came to be synonymous with being in trouble. It was, in fact in that van that Bob had himself received knowledge that he would be publicly reproved.
It was now dusk, and Bob found it difficult to see into the darkness of the van, but he waited. After a few minutes a car turned into the hall’s parking lot. Its headlights shone at just the right angle into the van to reveal the image of David and Julia in the back -- locked in embrace!
Ted was trying to concentrate on Vonnie's talk in order to relieve his tension, but he couldn't get past his own characterization of them. "Those two sisters," he thought to himself, "seem alike at first. They're both so refined and talk so delicately. But there's a great deal of difference between them. Vonnie's more down to earth, whereas Elvira seems artificial somehow. Elvira acts as though she never sat on a toilet in her life or possessed the bodily openings requiring such a fixture." He grinned at the thought.
The time which stood between him and his talk was evaporating rapidly; Dale was coming to the end of his criticism of Vonnie's talk and was looking about for some sign whether or not those in talk number three were ready. Ted wished he had the nerve to grab Phyllis' hand to steady himself. Instead, he grabbed the edge of his chair. It happened though that he was reprieved for the time being since Sister Julia Salvayez walked into the hall.
"I see now that our sisters are ready with talk number three. This will be Sister Lorna Gleason and her assistants, Julia and Rita Salvayez. And her theme is 'Helping your Bible Study to Get Free of the Old World."
There was a wave of laughter that came over the hall as the sisters ascended the platform. This was due to the elaborate outfit that Rita was wearing. It consisted of a sort of circular sandwich-board colored to represent the world. On it were written such things as "Material Things", "Free Love", "Do Your Own Thing", and other old-world representations. Further, running from her wrist to Julia's was a chain constructed out of loops of pink paper.
Julia played Lorna’s Bible-study who was trying to free herself from the old world with poor success. Lorna showed her many Scriptures and finally, at the climax Lorna announced, "The old world looks good to you because you're only looking at one side of it. But let's take a look at the other side of it." At this she turned Rita around and there on her back was the world with such words as "Selfishness", "Immorality", "Venereal Disease", and Crime."
"Now I see how wicked the old world is," Julia said, "but how do I get freed from it?"
"Here," Lorna said as she handed her the Bible, "the Truth will set you free." Julia took the Bible and brought it down on the paper chain between her and her sister's wrist, breaking it in two. The congregation burst into a spontaneous round of applause for this clever "talk". (This was unusual because the only time they were supposed to applaud was after the Public Talk on Sundays.) Dale resumed the stage and expressed his appreciation for the novelty of Lorna's talk and then went on to announce Ted's talk.
Ted rose up out of his chair and judged how very far it seemed to the platform. It would take hours to traverse, he felt. He turned his head to seek encouragement from Phyllis' smile, but she was fidgeting in her purse for something. He wished he had pressed her hand in his as he stood up; now it was too late. All eyes were on him as he suffered through the seemingly interminable journey. But somehow he traversed the distance, and at last he was there in front of the microphone, in front of the podium, in front of all those eyes.
"Dead," he said, and paused longer than he had planned. This long pause following such a startling word was propitious however; it was the only thing to make them pay attention after the last talk that was such a hard act to follow. People stopped fidgeting and looked right at him as one large eye. Instead of making him dissolve right there in a quivering mass, this somehow gave him added courage. He ceased trembling a minute into the talk and the words began to flow much like the river of life he was discussing. Each word added momentum and carried him to his conclusion. Before he knew it he was finished.
As he left the stage, he noticed David Nelson and Bob Morrow enter the hall together. As Ted squeezed by Brother Nelson, who squatted down in the aisle to whisper to Jerry Lindquist, he overheard him say, "So make it a point to call on him."
"Thank you Brother Evanston, we really appreciate that fine talk. No one would've guessed that it was your first talk." As Dale complimented him, Paul turned to the now-seated Ted and nodded a smile, "You did real good, man."
"Did you notice what a good opening he had?" Dale asked, "It really grabbed our attention. Unfortunately Brother Evanston wasn't working on his opening. He was working on 'Informative Material Clearly Presented', and I believe he did well here…"
Ted's being the last talk, a song was sung and the Service Meeting begun. The only phenomenal event that set this particular meeting apart was the fact that Bob Morrow raised his hand and was immediately called upon. The congregation was delighted to see him back in full graces again. In fact, he was also asked to lead the congregation in prayer at the end of the meeting. This he did, coming up on the stage and praying through the microphone as the custom was. His prayer, however, lasted a good ten minutes if not more. On several occasions Ted thought he was losing his balance from having stood so long with his head bowed and eyes shut. The prayer went on so long that it became ludicrous. Ted even made bold to look up at one point to test the reality of the situation. Seeing row upon row of people in the same stance, eyes shut to the world about them, and transported to a common communication with their Maker, Ted felt like a night prowler creeping past dormitories of innocent sleepers. He quickly returned to the reverent stance until the end of the prayer.
At last the prayer and the meeting were over. After fending off the many laudations on his talk, paying his respects to Brother Butler, and introducing Paul to anyone he missed before the meetings, Ted returned to Phyllis as she was gathering her purse along with her mother's.
"That was a real good talk, Ted. You didn't seem nervous at all."
"Well I was. Can I talk to you for a minute? You wanna sit down?"
"Sure," she smiled, attentively.
"You know I'll be getting baptized in July, and then I'll be a full-fledged brother. And a full-fledged brother is qualified to marry a full-fledged sister, right? Well, anyway, I think I'd like to get married right away." He said all this while staring hard at the back of the chair in front of him. The nervousness he'd experienced when his talk began was nothing as compared to this.
"Got anyone in mind?" she asked in complete and sincere innocence.
"Let me ask you – Phyllis -- have you ever thought about getting married? She began to answer when he cut her off, "I mean, if you'd like to get married, and I'd like to get married, maybe we could kill two birds with one stone, if you know what I mean… I'd like to marry you."
"No, brother," she lost no time in replying, "I want to stay a pioneer. I want to help as many people into the New Order as I can. And then, when we're in the New Order, we can marry whoever we personally want to marry."
"Are you coming, Phyllis?" her mother called. She picked herself up without a further word and joined her mother at the back of the hall.
Ted came out of his daze two days later. During that time he functioned quite mechanically in service and at work. He sat through the ordeal of the Johnsons’ Wednesday evening family Bible-study when Richard ripped up Bobby's 312 sentences (since they were short of the required 500). He watched blankly and unfeelingly as the command went out for a thousand sentences by Sunday's meeting.
But Thursday night he came back to life at the prospect of again seeing Phyllis at the meeting downstairs. He even brightened up enough to think of Paul and finally ask him what his impressions were of the meetings he had attended.
"It was like, well -- I don't know, man. It's like you're always sayin' there's so much love an' everythin', you know? But it seemed put-on to me. They're all beatin' on their kids while tryin' to act real polite an' everythin'. I don't know, I can't put my finger on it, but somethin' seems wrong there."
Ted looked terribly hurt and shocked, so Paul tried to ease his anxiety: "But I kinda go along with what I read in your book. So I'm gonna go again. It was… interesting."
"But you can't just go to the meetings because you think you won't make it through Armageddon if you don't," Ted warned. "Jehovah doesn't want people who only fear him; he wants people who serve him out of love."
"Yeah," Paul replied, "well one of the guys down there told me after the meeting that he only went because he had to. He said he'd be out at the discos every night if he didn't believe he had to go to meetings to survive into the New Order."
Ted felt like the doctor he'd seen on a TV talk show some months ago. He was introduced as having found a cure for the common cold, but when he came out he was unable to discuss it because he kept sneezing. (Ted hadn't stuck around to learn that it was a comedian's routine.) For Ted the hall was a center of love and unselfish devotion to God. But how could he drill that into paul's head? It was something he had to discover for himself. It would accomplish nothing to say "Look! Love is here!" if, when he looked he saw only selfishness and abusiveness.
"There's a meeting downstairs tonight, will you come to that?"
"Naw, not tonight, man. I might go Sunday, though."
Ted got his second disappointment that night at the meeting: Phyllis wasn't there. She and her mother were "visiting another congregation" again. It was a dismal hour. He was angry at the Dorseys’ ‘congregation hopping’ and so hardly answered two questions. With the exception of Jeannie, Richard's kids were all silent despite constant prodding. It was, to the surprise of everyone, Bob Morrow who was the most vocal. And even more astounding, his father Jack came in a close second.
As they sat around afterwards, David Nelson came and sat next to Ted on the couch, saying in an undertone (which everyone strained to hear while pretending to attend to other conversations): "Brother, I've heard some disturbing things about you recently."
"Oh, really?" Ted gulped.
"Yes, really," David snapped, as if Ted were questioning the truthfulness of his statement. "We discourage any brother from sitting next to any sister who isn't related. It looks bad. What would outsiders think if they found out? No, we certainly discourage that sort of thing unless, as I say, you're related to the sister or engaged to be married. So don't do it again. We're all surprised that you did it at all, trying to qualify for baptism as you are. Well, that's the first thing."
"Of course there's more. Do you think we let single brothers go around kissing single sisters before they're at least engaged? I think you'd better get in step with Jehovah's Organization, my friend. The way you're going you'll be put out before you're in! You control yourself from now on. You don't kiss anyone, and you don't be with sisters alone with the door shut, married or otherwise. That's a real scandal, and I've informed Brother Johnson of it too, of course. He wasn't aware you were ever here alone with his wife. And I've talked with Sister Johnson too. But you, as the offending brother bear the most responsibility. We've decided," (he always had that irritating habit, common to editors and popes, of referring to himself in the plural), "to let it slip by this time with just this private counsel. But watch yourself -- I will be!"
After the meeting Ted was feeling very depressed. This was unusual for him. But as he heard Richard downstairs yelling at the kids for not answering and at Vonnie for not coaching them properly, he felt himself slipping into even deeper melancholy. Had he lost Phyllis as well as a good standing in the congregation? Had he also lost in a flash the friendship and trust of Richard? Bobby and Joey soon came up the steps whimpering. Bobby had a cut above his eye which Ted doctored for him.
"How'd this happen?"
"You know how it happened."
"Yes, I guess I do." Ted bit his lip and forced the next question out, "Did you deserve it?"
"According to him I did. I didn't answer at the meeting."
"Hey, Joey, are you all right?" Ted asked.
Joey had already put on his pajamas and was standing in the bathroom doorway watching them. "This arm's gonna be black and blue, I know."
"Well, you two better go to bed now." He wanted to ask about Sherri, but realized he'd heard all he could take for one night. He didn't want to find out if he could feel lower than he did at that moment.
Friday morning rolled around after a tormenting night. He determined not to go to work; he needed time to brood. Spending most of the morning pacing back and forth from the living room to the bedroom in anger at himself, he managed to tread out his fury into a strained conclusion.
Women, he decided, never say yes the first time. They want you to ask again to make sure of your sincerity. Why should he be so put-off from one negative answer? And so it was that he diverted himself from the fact that she had tattled on him about having kissed her, and on his innocent interlude with Vonnie. Conveniently forgetting this together with all her shortcomings and flaws, he set out to write her a love letter. In it he said many foolish things. He stressed the fact that she could still pioneer after they got married, and pointed to Vonnie as an example. Knowing the restrictions incumbent on Witnesses, he worded the following sentences in strict accordance with the rules (though to an outsider it would seem humorous):
"I would like to marry you. That entails our getting to know each other better, so I suggest we do this by 'dating', as it were."
This seemingly backward procedure -- mentioning marriage before dating -- was justified by the rule that dating was only for people considering marriage.
It was in the late afternoon that he finished this outpouring of emotion in written words. He was walking back from the mailbox when he saw Sandy Wilson emerging from the house.
"Oh, there you are!" she called, "I was just knocking on your door."
"Hello, sister. What can I do for you?"
"Nothing. I'm just here to invite you to Shirley Garvias' party tonight. She thought she'd invited everyone, and then your name came up. She says she's sorry she forgot you and asked me to drop over and tell you about it. It's at 8:00 tonight at the Crescent Ridge Mobile Home Park. You know where that is?"
"Not really, but it doesn't matter -- I don't have any way to get out there."
"Oh God!" she said in exasperation, "I'll have to see if I can round up someone to pick you up."
"Is it that necessary that I go?"
"Well, yeah! I was warned that you were shy and would act like you didn't want to go like a spoilsport. But we all know deep down you want to go and be with all the gang. It's just all the young people from all the congregations around here. Plus the chaperons, of course. It's like a coming-out party, I guess you'd call it, for Shirley. It'll be fun. They rented the game and party room they have there for the people in the trailer court. So we'll see you there then?"
"I guess so. Can I bring my Bible-study?" He now referred to Paul in this manner without even thinking.
"How old is he?"
"Sure, bring 'em along. See yuh!" With that she hopped in her car and roared away.
So, after dinner, Paul and Ted were sitting on the front porch steps waiting for they knew not what exactly, except that it would be a car. Sherri had gotten wind of the social event and was locked in her room for having pestered her father and step-mother past the breaking point over it. In revenge she had turned her radio up full blast.
The car that pulled up was a shiny, red sports car. Ted and Paul were both surprised at this unconventionality, but even more surprised to find that it contained Phyllis Dorsey in the front passenger seat.
"I wasn't expecting to see you here," Ted yelled to compensate for Sherri's radio, "I thought you were visiting another congregation again."
"I am," she yelled back as Paul and Ted made their way into the back seat, "This is Terry Barton from Emerald Lake Congregation."
"Pleased to meet you," Ted shouted as he shook the stranger's hand.
This Terry was an extremely handsome young man, with a trim but muscular build, blond hair, and blue eyes. He was also dressed in a suit that was out of Ted's economic bracket.
"Somebody's got their stereo on awful loud," Phyllis understated as they drove off. The half-hour drive was filled with Terry's vast experiences of travels around the world. He had met every interesting Witness in Europe, it seemed. He had gone door-to-door in London and Paris as well as Athens and several other places Ted had never heard of. Almost before he was done with one story Phyllis was pleading with him to relate another; "Tell them about the time you…" and "Tell us again about how…" were her constant requests.
Before that half-hour was up, Ted was sure that he hated Terry Barton. He couldn't admit that to himself in so many words, of course. Terry was a brother, and one had to love one's brothers. It was becoming evident to him that Phyllis certainly did love him, and that's why the opposite emotion was rife in Ted. He put two and two together and came up with Terry as the reason she was always visiting the Emerald Lake Congregation.
"I'd tell you all the interesting details of my life too," Ted said with secret mockery, "but I'm sure Phyllis has told you all about me."
"Uh -- yeah," Terry stammered, "I think she's mentioned you. Um, what was your name again, brother?" He was told Ted's name and had to admit he didn't recall hearing it.
Ted noticed that he was driving with one hand and wondered if the other was holding Phyllis' hand. "Hadn't you better drive with both hands?" Ted demanded.
"Oh, I'm used to driving like this," he replied as he exchanged a smile with Phyllis.
As soon as they entered the party room, Ted split from them. He had a sudden desire to pose as a flower on the wallpaper. But such was not to be. As he passed the triply spiked punchbowl (each spiker assumed that no one else possessed the nerve to have done it before him), a sister entreated him to partake. He obliged. The disco dancing was just finishing as the last '45 ejected itself in the jukebox. For a moment one could actually hear oneself think.
Ted still sought out some quiet corner where he could brood when Shirley Garvias' voice was announcing the next activity."All right you guys! I mean brothers and sisters…" everyone had a good laugh at this, sounding so out of place to remind them of their religious status when they were trying to think of each other as all young people did, "We've got a little party game now called 'Pass the Lifesaver'. So everyone line up now in two rows. And it has to be boy-girl, boy-girl." This was rather quickly accomplished; they were used to organizing lines quickly from all their experience at conventions. Toothpicks were then passed out and placed in their mouths.
The object was to pass a "Life-Saver" candy from one person to the next by means of the toothpick held in the mouth. The row to do this first was the winner. Of course the real purpose behind such a game was to bring the brothers' mouths as close as possible to the sisters' without actually breaking Witness rules by kissing. When Ted saw this, he made like Joseph when seduced by Potiphar's wife: he ran. He made it out of the building before the big hulk of a sister who happened to have been standing behind him, and who happened to be black, caught him and strong-armed him back to the door.
"C'mon, brother, you're not gettin' away that easy!"
But Ted was determined not to violate his conscience. Hadn't Elder Nelson warned him not to kiss any sisters, and wasn't this tantamount to the same thing? At the very least it was something more than merely sitting next to a sister at the hall where spiritual things were going on. So he braced himself against the doorway and refused to budge. The sister called for reinforcements and much to Ted's surprise and relief, it was Elder Nelson himself, acting as one of the chaperons, who came to his rescue -- or so he thought.
"Come along brother, now don't be a spoilsport. Join in with your brothers and sisters." So saying he grabbed Ted by the shoulder and yanked him free. He walked obediently back with them and resumed his place in line, shaking with embarrassment.
The game began again. It took some minutes before the object of so much intense concentration came near to his place in line. Phyllis and Terry were standing in the line opposite. Noticing Ted's extreme discomfort at the prospect of dealing so intimately with a stranger, Phyllis whispered to Terry that they should change places with the couple in front of Ted.
"Hey you two over there," Terry called to them, "we'd kind of like to trade places with you." The couple in question could see that Terry and Phyllis' line was way ahead in the game, so they gladly switched to the winning side. This put Phyllis directly in front of Ted, which served to make him even more confused. In a very short time a sister passed the candy to Terry deftly. Terry passed it to Phyllis in a longer maneuver in which he purposely drew his toothpick into his mouth as far as he could without losing the candy, so as to bring his face as close to hers as possible in the exchange.
Then Phyllis turned around to face Ted. For a moment she looked as far away from him as the platform did when he got up to give his first talk. Then, in an instant he was an inch away from those pale green eyes, jabbing his toothpick into her lower lip, and feeling hers assaulting his upper. They were hurting each other on purpose, but he got the worst of it as his lip started to bleed. Still he pursued her, jabbing her again and again though something held him back from piercing the skin. Fortunately, the other side claimed its victory just then. Ted and Phyllis ceased their secret hostilities, and both lines broke up.
A short time later Terry approached Ted and said: "Hey, your lip's bleeding. Some of us guys are gonna go out for a drive now, and Phyllis suggested that you might wanna come with us." Ted was about to refuse this offer when he noticed Julia Salvayez approaching the stereo with an armful of records. He knew he was too upset to dance, so he agreed to the drive (where he hoped he could mope in the dark back seat).
It was Paul, Eric Potter, Andy Flemming, and two other Witnesses he'd never seen before who joined them in Terry's car. Soon they were speeding down the freeway laughing at poor jokes made at the expense of the sisters.
Terry pulled up at the "Crazy Charlie" bar as if it were a pre-arranged destination. Ted had resigned himself by this time to go along with whatever other disaster the night might bring, so he walked numbly in with the rest of them.
They sat at a big round table and ordered drinks. They all had beer except for Terry who ordered a vodka on the rocks.
The waitress wanted to see I.D. for Ted and Andy (Paul looked older than he was).
At this Andy began to talk funny to Ted who looked at him in utter perplexity. "Que sa passa? Du est benaca, hombres…" Eric smiled at the waitress and explained, "They're from Spain. They just came over and don’t have their papers with them, but I'll vouch for them. It's all right. It's only beer after all."
At that the waitress gave a disgusted click of her tongue and sauntered away. All of them but Paul and Ted burst out laughing (thus giving the ruse away if it had ever had a chance of being believed). Paul looked at Ted with a meaningful frown that cut him to the quick. Then Paul turned his head away and gave an even more meaningful sneeze (as it recalled to Ted's mind the simile he had made before about the sneezing doctor).
"There were some pretty good lookers at the party tonight," one of the brothers Ted didn't know commented.
"I'll say," the other agreed, "did you see what Gloria Sterns had on? Wow!"
"You mean what she didn't have on!" the first corrected.
"Take it from me, guys," Terry counseled, "don't let those good looks fool you. Beauty isn't what you should look for in a woman."
"Yeah, they're already sisters," Eric put in, "so what more do you need? Just pick out the best looking one. I've got my eye on Sandy Wilson myself. It's just a matter of time."
"You know," Andy, who had regained his native tongue, confessed, "girls are the main reason I'm in the Truth. I mean my folks, they said I had to get into religion, that I could pick whichever one I wanted as long as it kept me out of drugs an' stuff. So I looked around for the one that had the best lookin' broads and the friendliest -- and they're here. And you're a fool not to take advantage of it. There's more sisters than brothers in the truth, so they're all pretty desperate and easy pickin's, I figured."
Not giving Ted time to recover from this last revelation, or Paul time to rub his face in it, Terry set them straight on what he meant.
"You guys aren't thinking straight at all. You know what's gonna happen in the New Order?" There were so many possible answers to this question that everyone remained silent to see what he was getting at. He continued as he sipped his vodka, "In the New Order, my dear friends, everything's gonna be beautiful. You, me -- well I am already -- but everyone, including the sisters. They'll all be beautiful then with perfect bodies. So what's gonna distinguish between your Sandy WiIson, say, and My Phyllis Dorsey?" He paused to see if anyone would venture an answer. When none were forthcoming he answered his question himself: "Character! Right now you all think I'm a fool for taking Phyllis since I could have any of 'em. Phyllis is fat, it's true. She's not the greatest lookin' broad in the world. But she's got a great personality. She's real submissive, whereas your Sandy Wilson is something of a bitch --"
"That's true," Eric laughed.
"So look for the personality in a body that's just passable, I mean something you can live with now, and Jehovah'll take care of making it perfect for you in the New Order. Besides, if you take someone now who isn't a striking beauty, you won't have to worry about anyone else wanting her. She'll be all yours -- easy to get, easy to keep."
As they all sat around admiring this sage wisdom and slurping up their beers, Ted felt like saying: "I want her. I think she's beautiful now and hope nothing ever changes her." Instead he took a different tack, a stronger one guaranteed to pulverize them all. "I've heard it said that in the New Order the peak population will soon be reached, together with resurrected ones, and since nobody'll die off --" the drinks were going to his head together with the events of the night, making him slightly incoherent but he got his thought out: "there'll be no more reason for sex. No more babies. And Jehovah'll take sex away from us. Then there'll be no more difference between a Sandy Wilson... a Phyllis, beautiful, Dorsey, or a Terry, gorgeous, Barton."
This time only Paul laughed, and the fact that he was alone amidst all those terribly depressed faces didn't act as any restraint to his guffawing.
They returned to the party without getting drunk. Julia Salvayez grabbed Ted and forced him into a wild dance until the night spun down.