“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?
It was the second day of the convention, a Saturday, and Rose was again up early though not because of excitement; she was completely nervous. She didn’t know what to expect now that she was engaged to Clinton Green. Assured that her grandmother and Viola were still asleep, Rose pulled Wyatt’s jacket out of the drawer and carefully placed it into her book bag. She rested her head on her hands, lamenting her lost opportunity. There was no reason at all to speak to Wyatt now that nothing could come of it. It occurred to her what a stupid fantasy it was.
She tried to reason with herself. Clinton would be a good spiritual head; no doubt he would be appointed elder soon. He would also be a good provider, taking over his father’s business running the local hardware store. She wouldn’t have to leave her hometown and her elderly grandmother. It really was for the best. Yet as Jehovah’s Witnesses, their marriage would be forever. Rose couldn’t imagine growing old with Clinton, let alone living forever in the New Earth with him.
But what to do about Wyatt’s jacket? She thought she might be able to find out where he was sitting and simply place the jacket on his chair. Still it seemed completely rude not to at least thank him for his kindness and to apologize for any embarrassment that she may have caused him in having to give his convention part in that ill-fitting plaid blazer.
She arrived at the convention early and helped her grandmother and Viola as they selected their seats close to where they sat the previous day. When Rose got their morning breakfast she was overly cautious as she walked back to the seat, watching carefully for any brothers who might bump her and cause her to spill the hot coffee on her dress. When she got back to the seats an elderly sister she did not know congratulated her on her engagement. Rose knew her grandmother would be eager to tell people the news, but Rose wished she would have kept it to herself, at least for a little while instead of immediately broadcasting it to everyone at the convention. Rose tried to enjoy her apple danish, but couldn’t help but to feel like every brother or sister in the section knew and was now looking at her.
When an elderly brother attempted to sit down on the empty seat next to Viola she told him that it was saved, placing her book bag upon it. Rose was confused, they weren’t supposed to save extra seats for others and besides that, they only needed the three seats. It wasn’t until Clinton Green came lumbering up the aisle, briefcase in hand that she understood what was going on.
“Now that we are engaged, I guess we should start sitting together at the meetings,” he said.
Rose nodded, but felt like things were moving way too quickly for her. They were only just engaged, she wasn’t sure she was ready to sit together. However, she couldn’t protest, but only watch idly as Viola and her grandmother scooted over making a space next to Rose, who was sitting on the aisle seat.
Clinton did not move to sit in the now empty seat but continued to stand impatiently looking at Rose.
“Would you like to sit down?” Rose offered the seat next to her.
“Well yes,” said Clinton, “but the man sits on the aisle seat.”
Rose felt stupid, of course she knew that the man should sit on the aisle seat, but it had slipped her mind. She didn’t think she would get the hang of being engaged anytime soon. She moved over and Clinton plopped down on the seat next to her.
“Are you going to eat the rest of that apple danish?” he asked reaching.
Rose reluctantly handed it to him and tried to drink her orange juice, but again found it mostly frozen. As she sipped what little juice was thawed she was surprised to see Wyatt True walking up the section looking around. She perked up in excitement. Was he looking for her? She was going to wave at him, but then had second thoughts. She didn’t want him to find her — not with Clinton there and especially not wearing the childish dress. Rose sunk low in her seat, but it was too late; she had already been spotted.
Wyatt walked over and greeted Clinton. “Hello Brother Green. Good to see you this morning.”
Clinton wiped his hands sticky with frosting on his pants and shook Wyatt’s outstretched hand.
“So is this the girl you’re engaged to?” Wyatt asked.
Rose wanted to die. Did everyone in the whole convention know about the engagement before she did?
“Yes, this is my Rose,” said Clinton with pride.
“Ah,” said Wyatt, “we actually bumped into each other yesterday.” He turned to Rose who was sitting tongue tied. “Sorry again about that. I was wondering if you knew where I could find my suit jacket. It was a gift from my dad back home and he’d kill me if I lost it.”
Rose nodded and went to fish it out from the bottom of her book bag, while her grandmother looked on with curiosity. She handed the jacket back to Wyatt apologizing for the wrinkles.
“No worries. Nothing that can’t be steam ironed,” Wyatt said. “How’s the stain on your dress by the way?”
“Nothing that can’t be dry cleaned,” Rose said.
“Well Clinton I’ve got to dash, I’ll see you around.”
“Goodbye,” mumbled Clinton, his mouth full of danish.
Wyatt turned to walk away, but not before adding, “Again congratulations. You’ve got a beautiful fiancée there.”
So many thoughts were going through Rose’s mind. How did Clinton know Wyatt? More than that, did Wyatt really just call her beautiful? She was pretty sure that he was just being polite, but wanted to believe he really meant it.
Clinton looked over at her. “Are you gonna drink the rest of that orange juice?”
“It is still frozen,” Rose said, but Clinton had already grabbed it from her hand, squeezing the plastic container and dropping chunks of frozen juice into his mouth, chomping.
Why did Wyatt intrigue her in a way that Clinton never did? Was it just that she was used to Clinton, having grown up together? If she was in another congregation and Clinton had expressed interest in her she thought she would probably have been overjoyed that someone noticed her. However the opposite could have just as easily been true. Maybe Clinton was only interested in her because he was used to her and had grown up with her. If she was from another congregation would he have even given her a second look?
When it came time to sing the opening song Clinton stood up with Rose. Rather than use his own song book he draped his arm over her back, looking down to sing off of hers. It made Rose feel uncomfortable but she dare not push him away and draw attention.
During the morning session, Clinton’s smothering continued. When the symposium “Freedom With Responsibility in the Family Circle” began, Clinton perked up, taking notes. The first section was, “The Wife’s Supporting Role”. Clinton leaned over and told Rose to pay attention. “This is for you,” he whispered in her ear.
Rose took notes as the speaker went through familiar scriptures about the wife’s role in the family arrangement. Keeping with the convention theme, the speaker spoke about how by being obedient a Christian wife could experience freedom. With Clinton’s arm pressed on the back of her chair and his legs spread widely apart crowding her, Rose felt anything but free.
Some relief came during the afternoon lunch break when Clinton had to go work the trash detail. Rose was grateful for the minor reprieve that it brought her as she busied herself helping the elderly people fill their lunch orders. Learning from the day before, Rose ordered herself a sandwich and set it aside for later so that she wouldn’t be stuck with the last of the fruit bags.
During the afternoon break she did see Wyatt once where again he was talking to those scantily dressed sisters from the previous afternoon. It irritated her that Wyatt would talk to girls that had blatant worldly tendencies. She wanted to believe he was counseling them for their appearance, but the broad smile across his smooth face suggested otherwise. For all Clinton’s faults at least he wasn’t so shallow as to talk to such girls. But, was it simply for lack of opportunity? Clinton was okay looking — he wasn’t ugly — but he certainly didn’t look as attractive as Wyatt with his deep brown eyes, strong jaw, and terrific hair.
Before Rose knew it the chairman was calling for the afternoon session to begin. Once again, she was so busy filling orders that she didn’t have time to eat, but at least that hoagie was waiting for her. Rose went back to her seat hoping to quickly eat her sandwich before the session started, but when she got there she saw Clinton eating it.
“Thanks for getting me a sandwich,” Clinton said. “I’ve been so busy with the recycling that I wasn’t able to eat. I can tell you are going to be a good Christian wife for me.”
“I raised her right,” said her grandmother.
Rose did not protest. As she had just been reminded during the earlier symposium Christian wives needed to be submissive in all things. She didn’t want to start her new relationship on the wrong foot.
As the afternoon session progressed, the gnawing feeling in Rose’s gut increased. Rose wrapped her arms around her stomach and wished she had some grapes to eat. A couple of hours in, when the talk entitled “Is Marriage the Key to Happiness?” began, Rose’s attention turned to the speaker temporarily distracting her from her growing hunger.
In the discourse, the speaker brought out that in Jehovah’s organization sisters outnumbered the brothers three to one, making marriage not possible for many. Rose looked down, fingering the small gold engagement ring, and told herself that she was fortunate to have him when so many of the sisters were unable to find spouses.
When the speaker gave Biblical advice of the peril of looking outside the religion for a marriage partner, Rose noted her grandmother had a glint of tears in her eyes as the old woman fervently nodded in response. Was that why her grandmother had practically pushed Clinton on her from childhood? Was she scared that Rose would end up with a guy outside of the Truth like her mother?
Rose looked over at Clinton, who was asleep, his head kicked back and his mouth wide open. She didn’t feel fortunate to be with him. She felt claustrophobic. She felt hungry. Rose stood up and stepped over Clinton’s outstretched legs as carefully as someone stepping over a land mine so as not to wake him. She had to get up. She had to get out.
Taking a turn into the hallway, Rose saw two attendants walking, holding signs that instructed “PLEASE BE SEATED”. She slipped by them and descended down the steps into the back service corridors that would provide some space for her to clear her mind.
Down in the back hallways, the speaker’s echoing voice was diminished. “Jehovah is the happy god and he wants his servants to be happy!” he said, cuing a low rumble of applause.
How could she be happy with Clinton? Certainly she could try, but if it didn’t work out — then what? As she approached a vending machine, Rose’s stomach stirred. Maybe if she just got some food she would be able to think straight. Rose waited until she was content that she was alone and deposited a couple of quarters into the machine. Keying the buttons she selected a bag of pretzels and waited for them to drop, but nothing happened. She placed her hands up against the glass and lowered her head in frustration. Perhaps God had short-circuited the machine or something to show his disapproval. She belonged back at her seat with her husband-to-be.
“Problem?” a voice said from behind.
Rose grimaced and slowly turned around fearing that she was caught by one of the attendants. When she saw that it was Wyatt, she didn’t know if she should be relieved or embarrassed. Rose sheepishly cast her eyes toward the concrete floor, waiting for Wyatt to say something.
He moved over to the side of the machine and picked up the cord laying on the floor. “The brothers unplug the vending machines so that no one will be tempted to use them.”
“I didn’t get any lunch and I . . .” She didn’t quite know how to finish her sentence and wanted to run away.
Wyatt pushed the plug into the outlet and the machine lit up. He fished some change out of his suit pants pocket and deposited it into the slot. “Can I get you something?” he said.
“I was going to get some pretzels, but you don’t have to do that,” Rose said meekly.
“Good choice,” said Wyatt. He keyed in the selection, watched the package fall, and handed it to Rose. “I know you work really hard helping our older brothers and sisters during the lunch hour. I am sure that Jehovah understands pretzels.”
His easy-going nature soothed Rose and made her heart melt like her morning orange juice.
“How are you enjoying the convention so far?” he asked.
“It’s probably the best one ever,” said Rose. “I particularly enjoyed watching your part.” She wanted to shrink. That came out all wrong.
If Wyatt noticed her accidental double entendre, he didn’t show it. “I’m glad it came out okay. I was so nervous.”
“I couldn’t tell,” said Rose, encouraging him.
“Thanks,” said Wyatt. “I’m sure I looked pretty stupid up there.”
“The grey jacket? I’m so sorry, you should never have lent me your black one, I had no idea that you had an interview.”
“Oh, not the jacket. Did you notice my hair?” Rose had noticed, but dared not mention it for fear of embarrassing him.
Wyatt went on to explain. “The District Overseer caught me right before I was going to go on and gave me a serious tongue lashing about my ‘rebellious James Dean hair’ and he made me wet and comb it down.”
“I’m sorry,” Rose said.
“It’s okay, but I was pretty rattled by the time I got up on stage.” If Wyatt was rattled he certainly didn’t show it; his delivery was extremely polished.
Just then Rose looked over and saw a frazzled Clinton walking up. “There you are Rose. I was looking for you.”
“Take care,” said Wyatt leaving the two of them. “Enjoy your pretzels,” he said to Rose.
“Hi Clinton,” said Rose, “I was really hungry. I had to get something to eat.” She held up the small bag of pretzels.
“You know we are not supposed to eat from the vending machines,” he counseled her sternly. “I don’t want anyone to see you eating those.” He took the bag from her and tossed it into a trash can.
Dejected, Rose walked back with Clinton to their seats. She tried to push Wyatt True out of her mind, hoping that he would be just like any number of guys she had fleeting crushes on at District Conventions long forgotten. As an adult, she had no room in her life for childhood fancies. Clinton needed to be her focus now; it was for the best she never saw Wyatt True again. Clinton placed his arm firmly over her shoulders, steering her back to the seats. Rose forced herself to smile.