“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 first day of the District Convention and in their hotel room Rose tossed and turned in the full-sized bed she shared with her grandmother. She glanced over at the clock and was disappointed to see that it was only six in the morning. The excitement of the convention made it difficult to sleep. There was much to look forward to, such as the new Watchtower publications, the encouraging Bible discourses, the entertaining costumed reenactments of Bible stories, and seeing others of her faith. Maybe she could even meet a young brother. Rose tried to maintain some optimism even though it had never happened yet. Unable to fight her restlessness, Rose slipped carefully out of the bed so as not to disturb her slumbering grandmother next to her.
As she walked over to the bathroom she slid her hand across the polished dark wood dresser with the large television sitting on top of it. Because she didn’t have a television back home, it was a treat to watch it after the convention. Her grandmother allowed an hour of viewing provided the show wasn’t immoral or on HBO. At the dressing sink, Rose smiled checking out the little bottles of shampoo and tiny wrapped soaps labeled “Ramada Inn”. It was such a nice hotel and there was no way that they could otherwise afford to stay there if not for the discounts that the Society arranged for convention delegates.
Nearby Viola stirred in her bed. “Good morning, Flower,” she whispered, turning toward Rose.
Rose walked over and knelt down beside the bed. “I’m sorry; I didn’t mean to wake you. I couldn’t sleep,” she said softly.
“How many summers have we been doing this?” Viola smiled. “I’m getting used to it.”
“I’m going to get ready,” said Rose. “I’ll try to be quiet.”
“Wait, I’ve got a surprise for you,” said Viola. “Go to my suitcase and bring me the black plastic bag.”
With excitement, Rose retrieved the package handing it to Viola.
“Close your eyes,” said Viola, placing something soft in her hands. It felt like it might be a small throw or wrap, which would be welcomed because the arena air conditioning was often chilly. “Open your eyes, Flower,” she said with hushed excitement.
When Rose opened her eyes she couldn’t believe what she saw. It was the stunning white dress she had wanted. She looked at the dress, and then at Viola, and then back to the dress, but no words came to her mouth.
Viola beamed, “Well?”
Rose still didn’t know what to say. The dress was so beautiful, she couldn’t believe it. “But what will Grams say?” Rose finally asked when her tongue loosened.
“Don’t worry about her,” Viola said, keeping her voice low as she cast a glance over to the next bed. “I’ll make her understand that you are growing up and need to look the part.”
“Thank you so much,” said Rose as she smoothed the dress in her hands.
“Go and try it on,” said Viola excited. Rose did not need the prodding; she hugged Viola tightly, and eagerly took the dress with her to the bathroom. Rose tried it on and marveled at just how nicely the dress looked on her. Her grandmother was right, it did make her look more mature, almost like she was a successful business woman instead of a simple country girl. She place her hands out to her side and twirled around, looking over her shoulder to view herself from behind. She was amazed at how well it fit, following her curves nicely without being immodest.
Rose walked out of the bathroom and Viola stopped washing her face in the double sink when she caught sight of her. Viola clasped her hands in front of her face. “Oh my!”
“What? Is something wrong?” Rose looked down at the dress.
“I can’t believe how lovely you look!” Viola declared. “This will be a District Convention to remember.”
Rose blushed at Viola’s fawning and took a seat at the end of the bed. As she did, Rose noted in alarm that the dress hemline moved up past her knees. All of her dresses were much longer and she feared that she was showing way too much leg. Her heart sunk as she thought of Viola’s hard work on the dress.
“What’s the matter?” said Viola, as if picking up on Rose’s disappointment. “Don’t you like it?”
“I love it, but I hope it isn’t too short.” She tugged a little on the hemline, trying to get it to move down past her crossed knee.
“Don’t worry about that. Your legs are beautiful, you can show them off a little bit,” Viola comforted. “Besides, some of those city Witness girls will have much shorter skirts.”
Rose laughed. “Well they don’t have Grams to scold them for immodesty.”
“Are you two talking about me? My ears are burning,” said the grandmother, stirring from her sleep.
Rose stood up abruptly, nervously smoothing down the dress. “Good morning Grams!”
The grandmother reached over for her thick eyeglasses from the nightstand and placed them on her round face. Her eyes focused on Rose and then went wide. “What is this?” she exclaimed.
“Viola made it for me,” Rose said. “What do you think?”
“Well I don’t quite know what to think. It certainly is a different look for you.”
“It’s the look of the fine young lady she’s become, Imogene,” said Viola standing off to the side, gathering her meeting books.
Rose looked at her grandmother with pleading eyes, hoping that she would understand just how much it meant to her.
“I guess there’s no time to change now,” said her grandmother relenting. Then she looked up at Rose and smiled kindly. “Besides, you look beautiful.”
Rose clasped her hands in front of her chest with joy. “Thank you Grams,” she said, leaning down to quickly kiss her on the forehead. Rose looked over as Viola gave her a friendly wink.
Later that morning, at the door to the St. Louis Arena an attendant greeted them. “Good morning sister,” he said with a smile as he handed Rose her convention program for the weekend. The program matched her name badge pinned to the front of her dress. It was a pastel drawing of three seagulls soaring through a blue sky and puffy white clouds with “Lovers of Freedom District Convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses” written underneath.
“It is good to be back at the Checkerdome for another District Assembly,” declared Rose’s grandmother upon entering. The building hadn’t been called the Checkerdome for nearly a decade and it hadn’t been called a district assembly for even longer. It seemed she was too old to be bothered keeping up to date with what things were called.
Together they continued on to find their seats for the day, stopping along the way at one of the food service stands to get breakfast. In the hallways she couldn’t help but notice some of the other sisters her age with their boughten dresses. She knew that her dress wasn’t nearly as fancy as theirs, but she couldn’t help to still feel a bit prideful at how well the dress made her look. While Rose was busy sizing up the sisters, a young brother brushed past her, going the opposite direction. Rose’s head turned in his direction as he disappeared into the crowd streaming in the auditorium to find seats. It was an old habit to chase around a young brother at the convention hoping for — well she didn’t know what she was hoping for exactly. Perhaps the guy would notice her. Rose rolled her eyes at her own foolishness. At eighteen, she was too old for such nonsense.
Getting to the reserved elderly section, they selected a set of three seats near an aisle close to the convention stage which was decorated beautifully with flowers, plants, and even a fountain. It looked like a painting of the future paradise earth from their literature come to life. The convention theme was displayed prominently on each of the four sides of the stage, where it could be seen by all seated around the Arena. While her grandmother and Viola drank their coffee and ate their muff-n-eggs, Rose peeled back the foil top of her orange juice and attempted to take a drink, only to find that it was completely frozen. She wrinkled her face in annoyance and set it aside to thaw, nibbling on her apple danish, just slightly frozen.
Rose was busy enjoying the danish and did not notice the hemline of her dress riding up over her knees. Her grandmother apparently did.
The old woman passed over a small blanket to her. “So as not to get cold,” her grandmother said, although Rose thought it was more of a case with her grandmother wanting to protect her modesty.
Rose thanked her grandmother and took the crocheted blanket, draping it to cover her exposed knees and legs. Her grandmother had been so nice to let her wear the dress, she didn’t want to unduly stress her out.
As they finished up their breakfast, the morning session opened up with a speaker who introduced the convention to thunderous applause. The brother invited the crowd to rise to their feet and sing the opening song, number nineteen, “Joyful All Day”. From her ground floor seats Rose looked up at the upper tiers filled with thousands of smiling, happy faces equally excited to be there. She felt privileged to be a part of such a group; truly there was no other organization like it on the face of the earth. Together all in attendance sang out to the cheerful tune. “Come rejoice! Leap for joy!” Their voices echoed throughout the stadium and Rose really felt lifted, like she might literally leap for joy. With such boisterous singing around her this was one occasion where Rose was able to sing out boldly without self-conscious concern.
As they sang about loving brothers and welcoming others, Rose looked at the crowd. All over the arena families were standing in suits and dresses singing out brightly. It felt good to be part of such a big family from all races serving Jehovah hand in hand. It really was a foregleam of what would be enjoyed in the coming paradise where people from all over the world would dwell together in Christian unity, just as the song lyrics declared, “We have the peace of being of one mind.”
The song called attention to the growth of their religion. “Look and see how it has grown!” Rose scanned the nearly five thousand in the audience on that morning and then looked over at her grandmother and Viola. In her heart Rose felt truly joyful and determined that there was nowhere else on earth she would rather be. Why had her mother chosen to leave such a wonderful association? It was unthinkable.
During the opening session, Rose listened attentively while diligently taking notes. She was focused on the convention chairman’s delivery, “Welcome All You Lovers of Freedom”, when she happened to glimpse a young brother standing in the aisle of the section of seats opposite the stage. Her eyes and mind drifted away from the speaker. Rose was sure that it was the same brother she glimpsed in the hallway that morning. Wanting to get a closer look at the young man, Rose embarrassed herself by pulling out the binoculars she had packed. With her binoculars raised, she peered past the speaker focusing in on the young brother. There was something unusual about him. Was he even a brother? Rose noticed that he wore his sideburns long, nearly to the bottoms of his ears instead of cut straight across above the ear like most of the brothers she knew. His hair too was more stylish than others, short on the sides but longer on top, moussed and blow-dried in a feathery wave.
She was certain that she didn’t know him, not that it was entirely unusual, but it might mean that he was merely a newly interested person, visiting for the first time and not a baptized Jehovah’s Witness brother. In other words, off limits to her. Rose adjusted the binoculars, tuning in the focus to attempt to make out what name and congregation was written on his lapel card, but the writing was a blur in the distance. She scanned upward and back to his face as she wondered how old he was. He carried himself maturely, but his face had a certain youthful quality to it.
His head scanned side to side as if searching for someone, finally stopping to look straight ahead in recognition.
Rose jumped in her seat; through the binoculars it looked as if he was staring right at her with his deep brown eyes. Afraid that he had caught her looking, she quickly jerked the binoculars to the side where they rested on a small child busy digging in his nose. Repulsed, Rose quickly turned back to look again at the young brother, only to find that he was not in view. She scanned the section furiously looking for him but did not find him, even as she pulled the binoculars down to expand her field of vision. He was nowhere in sight. Rose knew that she would spend the rest of the convention searching for this captivating young man no matter how foolish.