“The hardest choice she ever had to make was between true religion and true love.”
Rose Gluck thought she had everything in life. Just out of high school, she spent her days working as a pioneer minister of her Jehovah’s Witness faith, going door-to-door teaching others about the Bible and the happifying future God had planned. She thought she knew what it meant to be happy, but things would change when Wyatt True shows up.
Drawn to the dashing young brother, Rose experiences feelings that she never knew existed. Meanwhile, despite his vow of singleness, Wyatt can’t but help to fall for the beautiful young sister. But the Presiding Overseer of the congregation has his own plans for Rose. Will Rose find eternal happiness?
In her hotel room, Rose hastily changed into the other dress that Viola had made for her, the frilly light blue thing that her grandmother had picked out. She pinned her blotchy name badge to the front and looked at herself in the mirror. Rose groaned loudly at how silly she looked in the dress with the ruffles running down the center and the pleated skirt trimmed with pink lace. However, there was no time to change into anything else with her grandmother and Viola waiting for her in the hotel lobby.
Rose paused at the room door, her hand lingering on the knob. She turned back to look in the direction of her meeting bag that contained Wyatt’s jacket. It wouldn’t hurt to look at it one last time. Rose pulled the wrinkled jacket from the bag, pressing it up against her chest. She didn’t quite know what she was going to do with it. She had to give it back, that was certain. But how? Maybe she would find Wyatt under different circumstances and it would be easier to return it. Until then, Rose took care to conceal the jacket under her clothes in a dresser drawer, but not before one last sniff of the back collar and that sweet fragrance.
By the time Rose made her way back down to the hotel lobby, the Greens were already waiting. Her grandmother pointed her out saying, “There she is!”
Clinton Green walked over to her smiling. “Sorry I missed you all day Rose. I was busy with the recycling.”
“That’s okay. I’m glad you volunteered. I’m sure the money that we get helps out with convention costs.”
Jasper Green came over, wearing his typical stern, joyless expression. “I saw you on the floor today, Rose.” The Presiding Overseer had a way that always made Rose feel guilty, even when she was perfectly innocent.
She thought back to the grapes she was eating during the session. Had he seen her?
“It is a good thing that you help our dear elderly brothers and sisters,” he said.
Rose breathed a sigh of relief when she found out that the elder didn’t intend to reprimand her.
“That sure is a pretty dress,” said Clinton, hovering.
“Yes it is,” her grandmother said in response, her face aglow with pride.
She wondered why everyone was acting so strangely; Clinton never complimented her looks. They walked outside and Clinton helped Viola and Rose’s grandmother into the middle seat of their full-sized van. Rose and Clinton scooted into the far back.
As they pulled out of the parking lot, Jasper spoke to them from the driver seat. “It was a great first day at the convention wasn’t it?”
“The best one yet,” Viola said.
“Jehovah certainly feeds us well,” her grandmother declared.
“Yes he does. I’m so full I don’t know if I can even eat dinner.” Betsy chuckled at her own joke.
In the backseat, Rose didn’t feel full. Had they not been invited out she would already have had her McNuggets.
Meanwhile, Clinton was staring at Rose in a way that made her uncomfortable. Was he feeling well? He leaned in close and she could smell his breath that reeked of Doritos. “Is that a new perfume you have on?” Clinton said quietly to her.
“Excuse me?” Rose said. She didn’t wear perfume and didn’t understand what he was talking about.
“You smell better than normal,” said Clinton, twitching his nose and arching his eyebrows.
Rose raised her arm up, sniffing her wrist. Wyatt’s fragrance greeted her seductively. It must have rubbed off from his jacket. Rose didn’t know how to respond to Clinton. Usually he completely ignored her, it felt weird for him to sit there commenting on the way she smelled.
Jasper called back in his booming voice. “Rose what was your favorite part of the convention session today?”
Normally she would be able to instantly respond; however, the whole incident with Wyatt had completely fogged over the convention in her mind. In fact his part was the only thing that came to her. “I liked what that Brother Wyatt True had to say about serving Jehovah as a single brother.”
“Of course remaining single isn’t ideal for most brothers. Too much temptation out there,” said Jasper in a way that made Rose feel like she had given the wrong answer.
“Just look at what happened to Daryl Jenkins,” Betsy chimed in from the front passenger’s seat.
“Now Sister Green you know we don’t discuss private congregation matters,” Jasper reprimanded his wife. Of course in their congregation most of the inside scoop on private congregation matters channeled through Betsy.
“All I need in my life is a nice wife,” said Clinton, beaming at Rose who grew even more uncomfortable with his smothering attention.
Thankfully the car drive was short and Rose now saw that they were in a parking lot of a Red Lobster. Rose couldn’t believe it. She had never eaten at Red Lobster, but she thought that they were fancy, expensive restaurants.
“Can we afford this?” she said surreptitiously to her grandmother as they unloaded out of the van.
“Jasper said it was taken care of,” her grandmother quietly whispered back.
They entered into the restaurant and gave their name to the host. “We are from the District Convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses,” Jasper said. “You’ve probably been seeing a lot of these.” He tapped his finger to his convention badge.
The host smiled. “Not really.”
Meanwhile Rose looked wide-eyed at the lobster tank and wrinkled her nose at the ugly, mottled creatures with their claws rubber-banded shut.
“Do you like lobster?” Clinton asked her, hovering above.
“I’ve never had one.” Rose hoped that there was something else on the menu other than those oversized crawdads with their beady eyes and long twitching antenna. Rose wondered why the Greens would take their family out to eat. The only time they ever went out to eat was after the memorial and even then it was at the small family restaurant in town, nothing as fine as Red Lobster, and they always picked up their own tab. Clinton continued to hover over her and Rose estimated that he had said more to her in the last hour than he had all year.
After about a twenty minute wait the host escorted them to their table. Clinton pulled Rose’s chair out for her, drawing looks from Viola and Rose’s grandmother. Embarrassed, Rose took a seat and Clinton attempted to scoot her under the table, but the chair caught on the carpet and he ended up thrusting her into it. Clinton sat down next to her grinning from ear to ear while Rose winced and rubbed her sore mid-section.
“Order whatever you want,” Clinton said as Rose was handed a menu. Rose scanned the menu not knowing what to pick out. The only seafood she had ever eaten was the salmon patties that Viola made or the tuna salad her grandmother fixed. She saw neither on the menu and she didn’t know what to get until she spotted chicken strips on the appetizers section. It seemed to be a safe choice. Clinton on the other hand jubilantly ordered a lobster.
When the waitress brought back the Cheddar Bay biscuits and their caesar salads they paused to pray. They did so quietly to themselves so as not to draw attention unlike other church people that said loud showy prayers in public. When the food came Rose looked sideways at the disgusting red creature sitting on Clinton’s plate. He seemed to not know how to eat it, clumsily ripping into it with his fork and knife in a way that squirted lobster juice on Rose’s face. She wiped it off with her napkin, while Clinton continued to dissect his dinner.
Her grandmother took small bites of her tuna fillet and told Jasper what a wonderful treat this was.
“It is such a good occasion to celebrate,” Jasper said in a knowing way.
Certainly the District Convention was a happy time, but Rose didn’t understand why they had decided to go to Red Lobster; it was like a secret that everyone was in on but her. She continued to eat her chicken strips that somehow didn’t taste quite as good as she had hoped. If only they were McNuggets.
After the meal was finished, Clinton excused himself from the table with a sideways look to Jasper who nodded in a reassuring manner. Betsy fished a camera out of her purse and set it on the table. Rose’s grandmother was almost crying. Rose felt increasingly awkward as everyone sat in silence looking at her in expectation.
In a moment Clinton returned to the table carrying a handful of roses in his arms. Standing beside Rose he nervously fished a small piece of paper out of his pocket. Then placing a rose down in front of Rose he read: “This one rose represents the eighteen years that I have known you.” The blank stare on Rose’s face resembled a deer caught in the headlights. At that point she would have been grateful for a car grill to put her out of her misery. Then Clinton placed the other roses down next to her, “and these eleven roses represent the forever that I want to spend with you.”
Betsy snapped another picture and Rose wondered exactly what was happening. It seemed like Clinton was proposing, but she couldn’t believe it.
What he did next erased all doubt. Clinton knelt down next to her, nervously looking over at his mother, who smiled at him. “Rose,” he said with his voice trembling. “Will you?” He cleared his throat loudly. “Will you marry me?” He fished out a small diamond ring from his pocket and presented it to her.
Clinton’s show had drawn attention from the entire restaurant and Rose felt as if she could feel their eyes burning a hole into her. She looked over at her grandmother, Rose’s eyes pleading for help. Her grandmother was in teary-eyed ecstasy, as if overjoyed that her prophecy had come true. Rose gulped, but her throat had gone dry.
Clinton lingered on the floor uncomfortably on his knee while Betsy worked her camera like a strobe light and Rose’s grandmother bawled hysterically.
“Well?” Viola said impatiently in a way that made everyone but Rose chuckle.
“Uh,” said Rose nervously. She looked over at her grandmother and then at Viola and then back to Clinton. Rose opened her mouth. “Yes?” It came out like a question. What else could she say?
People at tables nearby clapped in response. Clinton smiled broadly as he plucked Rose out of her chair and hugged her with his hands stilled covered with bits of lobster goo. Rose slid the ring on her finger as the waitress came out with a piece of chocolate cake and two forks.
“Congratulations,” she said placing it down in front of the two of them.
Rose felt like she wanted to say something in protest, but when she opened her mouth to speak, Clinton pushed a big chunk of cake into it.