BOZ: Chapter 18-20

BOZ CHAPTER 18: A Wounded Heart

Three friends spent the rest of grade day at Waterford Park. It was almost deserted early on a weekday afternoon, and that was just fine with them. Mary had picked the park because she felt safe there and thought it would be perfect for revealing her secret. The sleeping bags that Boz kept in Bertha provided cover against the damp, fallen leaves and chilly fall air as the trio settle for their talk.

Mary seemed very nervous about what she had to say, but neither Burton had any idea what terrible news the sweet girl could break for them. Finally, after some small talk Mary was ready to reveal her secret.

“I don’t know how to tell you this and I hope it won’t change things between us, but…” she was really finding this hard, “I’m a Mormon.”  Mary had expected her friends to be shocked, but their reaction was nothing of the sort, at least on the surface.

What? Inside Boz was screaming, but he didn’t dare let it show. He had promised his parents that he wouldn’t let Liz know about his association with the Church and he knew that overreacting would tip her off.

He searched his memory frantically for clues that Mary was Mormon. She’d never mentioned the Church to him. And why hadn’t he seen her in church? He’d been in meetings every week for over a month. Maybe that’s why she said I’d be disgusted, Boz thought as he looked into her anxious eyes. Then he remembered seeing her mother’s Book of Mormon the night of their date. In the rush of things, he’d forgotten all about it.  

Mary had also said her revelation would make Liz mad. Early in their friendship, Liz had made a few disparaging remarks about Mormons – mostly because she was worried about Boz – but she had pretty much forgotten about them after that. Mary, however, had not forgotten. She’d felt guilty for not saying something and thought Liz would hate her for it.         

Liz felt nothing of the kind. Mary was now her best friend and she suddenly found herself wanting to understand this religion so that she could understand her friend. Her uncharacteristic silence, from all the questions spinning in her head, caused Mary to hold her breath; but soon Liz just couldn’t hold the questions in any longer. 

“Why are you called Mormons?” 

“It’s a nickname, you know, from the Book of Mormon.” Both Mary and Liz were surprised to hear Boz answering. Boz smiled sheepishly and shrugged his shoulders, hoping Liz didn’t deduce too much from his slip. 

“Are you Christians?”

“Sure, I mean we believe in Jesus…I guess we are… I…” Mary had never been asked that question before. 

Before Boz knew what he was doing, he was teaching what he’d learned from the elders. “It’s probably the most Christian of all churches.” 

“What do you mean by that,” Liz asked, momentarily forgetting that Boz was not supposed to know this much about the Church their parents had forbidden him to join. 

“The real name of the Church is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” he started his explanation with enthusiasm. “When Jesus lived on earth, he organized His Church. He ordained apostles to lead it after he was gone, but said he would always be the head of the Church. He was called the chief cornerstone.”

Mary and Liz stared on in disbelief as Boz, unaware of their shock, continued. “After Jesus ascended into Heaven, his Church flourished and grew. The apostles ran the Church the way Jesus had taught them, but Satan also did all he could to destroy the Church. Soon, there were false doctrines and worldly practices creeping into the Church. The Church was also persecuted from outside and the apostles were killed. Church members started rejecting the true doctrines and leaders and things just got worse and worse until nobody really knew, for sure, which teachings were true and which were false. That’s really what the whole Reformation was about, churchmen looking at the Bible and trying to get the Church back on track.”

By this time the girls were past both disbelief and shock. Mary had no idea that he had soaked up so much from meeting with the missionaries. Liz only knew that her brother had suddenly become a religious encyclopedia.

“Then in 1820, a young man named Joseph Smith, felt prompted by the Holy Ghost to find out which Church was true. With complete faith, he went to a grove of trees near his home and prayed. God and Jesus Christ appeared to him. They told him that there was no true Church and that he had been chosen to restore the true doctrine and authority to the earth. That’s what the Mormon Church is, Liz. It’s the true Church of Jesus Christ restored to the earth by Him.”

For the first time since he started, Boz looked right at his sister, wanting to know what she thought, but one look at her expression made him wish he hadn’t. Liz had moved from disbelief, to shock, to suspicion. She realized that Boz knew way too much about this religion. Her cocked head and furloughed brow screamed, “tell me what you are up to now – or else.”

Boz glanced at Mary, who was smiling sheepishly, and then back at his sister. “I read a lot.”

“Right!” Liz was demanding more.

“All right!” The jig was up. “I’ve been meeting with the Mormon missionaries for over a month now. They’ve taught me all about the Church and asked me to be baptized. I’ve prayed and prayed about this, Lizzard, and I know it’s true. I’ve told the elders I want to be baptized.”

“Do Mom and Dad know about this?”

“They told me I could go to church, but they don’t have any idea I’ve been taking the discussions.”

Liz nodded knowingly as several pieces of his strange behavior fell into place for her. 

“They’re going to kill you, you know.”

“I was going to ask them for permission to be baptized this weekend when I brought home a great report card.” This thought brought them all back to the depressing events of the day.

Mary’s revelation had been the last happy thought of what promised to be the worst weekend of Boz Burton’s young life. Before he faced the expulsion hearing on Monday, he would have to tell his parents, find a way to clear himself and shake the anxious and ugly thoughts that kept creeping into his head.

A dark pall fell over their little group and they all fell silent. Boz’s mind raced back to the events of the day and a depression seemed to settle over him. Liz fidgeted, worried about how their parents would react, especially if Boz was foolish enough to hit them with both bombshells. Mary was just trying to figure out if there was anything she could say or do to help. 

Someone said something about it getting cold and the next thing any of them really knew they were moving slowly toward Bertha. Mary and Liz slid into the front seat and huddled together for warmth. They saw Boz pull his jacket closed and heard him swear at a sudden cold blast of wind. He threw the sleeping bags in the back seat and jumped into the car.

The ride home matched Boz’s mood. He jerked Bertha into gear, tore out of the parking lot and down the road. The friends rode in silence as the cold wind of an approaching storm rocked their carriage. Mary was relieved when they arrived at the Burton home, partly because of the mood in the car and partly because of Boz’s driving. They entered the house with the cold wind howling at their backs only to be greeted by an equally cold reception from Mrs. Burton.

“Honey, I need to talk to you alone.” 

“It’s all right Mom, they know all about it and none of it’s true.”

Mary Ann Burton was relieved to hear her son’s version of the story as it unfolded over the next half hour, but it did not show in her countenance. When Mr. Burton came home, his usually happy mood was sobered as he listened to the tale. 

Dinner was an unusually quiet affair punctuated occasionally by a comment about Boz’s plight. Finally, Mrs. Burton just couldn’t hold it in any longer. “I’ll tell you one thing; my son is not a liar or a thief and I’m going right down to that school and tell them so on Monday morning.”

‘It’s no use Mom. Fisher has my plans and Scott’s plans. He recorded the fact that Scott handed in his assignment first. And besides…”

“Besides what!” Mrs. Burton’s tone was sharp, more out of frustration than anything else. 

“You know the trouble that sent me to Coronado,” Boz glanced over at Mary who hadn’t heard that part of the story yet. Boz found her carefully studying her green beans. “Who are they going to believe, the preppy, straight-A cheerleader or the … me?”

“Son,” Mr. Burton’s voice was quiet, but filled with resolve, “there has to be a way to prove you’re innocent. We’ll find it. And we’ll stand…”

“Yeah, right!” Boz cut his father off in mid-sentence, jumped to feet and stormed to his room. The mood in the Burton home was subdued for the rest of the evening. Mary and Liz went to bed early. Mr. and Mrs. Burton talked and prayed late into the night. 

The next morning, Boz was up before dawn. He got into Bertha and just drove. An hour later, he found himself at Blue Lake, a favorite family camping spot. Snow had fallen overnight and everything looked clean and new. Braving the cold, Boz sat on the hood of his car and lost himself in the beauty. How he wished that he could have a new start – as fresh and clean as the scene that lay before him. He felt at peace for a while, but then the ugly thoughts that had plagued him all night crept back into his head.  

As he’d sat in his room the previous evening, his depression had deepened by the hour. He’d begun to feel hateful thoughts towards Scott Seager and then towards others – the Underdogs, Mr. Fisher, even Judge Merrian.  He hadn’t been able to bring himself to pray before going to bed and by the time he’d finally fallen into a restless sleep, his hate list had grown amazingly long. 

He’d awoke weary, angry, depressed and skipped his morning prayers. With the exception of his first few minutes at the lake, every waking hour of that morning found Boz more angry, more depressed, and more convinced that he wanted to hurt someone. The main target of Boz’s revengeful fantasies was Scott, but he thought about hurting other people. There’s no way he pulled that off by himself. Whoever had helped him deserved just what Scott was going to get. 

And what about all these friends that are supposed to be standing by me? His downwardly spiraling mood made him mad at the Underdogs, his sister and even Mary. By the time he left the lake he’d considered several ways of hurting Scott; told Mr. Fisher and the Underdogs off; and even chastised Liz and Mary for doubting him. About the only people he wasn’t mad at were his parents and he’d probably have gotten around to them, but he had a little distraction. 

Boz’s heavy thoughts transferred to his foot and soon he was speeding down the winding mountain road. He was doing 80 as he rounded a curve and suddenly found it difficult to keep the car on the road. Ironically, he found himself thinking about Newton’s first law of motion as the car veered off the pavement and onto the gravelly shoulder.   

Bertha’s tires kicked up gravel and she began to fishtail toward the undersized guardrail. Boz swore as adrenaline took over. He let up on the gas, steered into the skid and miraculously kept the car from going over the edge. As Bertha served back into the middle of the road, Boz glanced down at her speedometer – it read 55. “Center of gravity,” Boz sighed with relief. Bertha’s heavy and low carriage had made all the difference.  His relief, however, was short lived. Within seconds of regaining control of his car he heard the siren and saw the lights of the State Patrol car.

Talking at the breakfast table stopped as Boz stormed into the house. Slamming his first ticket down on the table he announced, “I hate my life!” He glared at Mary and his family, almost defying any of them to talk. He wanted a fight and was ready to pick one with the first person that gave him an opportunity. 

His mother was first to give it, quietly mentioning that they had a family rule about raised voices in the house. With this Boz exploded. Screaming and profaning, he vented all of his anger on the people he loved the most. 

“Boz!” Mr. Burton spoke sharply as he stood. He loved his son, but he could not tolerate this language or tone. “That will be enough of that.” Boz shot a threatening look at his father and took a step towards him. His father braced himself as he teetered on the edge of anger. “Don’t do anything stupid, Son!” Boz hesitated, but did not back off. The air was thick with tension. 

Simultaneously, Mary and Mrs. Burton jumped to their feet. Each moved to restrain the man they loved with touch and soft words and in moments the anger was gone. The father and son embraced – and cried.

“I’m so sorry Dad. I’m just so mad about this whole thing, I’m crazy.”

“I know, Son! I guess it’s got me crazy too. We’re trying to think of something.”

It was comforting that Mary and his family spent the morning at the breakfast table trying to figure out a way to clear him. Yet every road they went down came to the same two roadblocks – Boz’s reputation and the pile of evidence against him.

“Everyone that knows you found you way too relaxed that last week of the term,” Liz played the devil’s advocate as they started brainstorming again. “You were acting way too much like the old Boz. I mean everybody loved the old Boz, but he was way more likely to pull something like this.”

“Why,” Boz joined her in the advocacy, “would I relax that last week, while all the smarter students were scrambling to finish their projects?”

“If you finished a week early, why didn’t you turn it in until the day it was due?” Mary sounded more like a prosecuting attorney than his girlfriend. 

“I didn’t want Mr. Fisher to think I was cocky, like I thought the assignment had been too easy.”

“And Scott handed in his version of the plans on Monday, almost a whole week early?” Liz’s question made Boz feel a little defensive.  

“I put my plans in my locker on Friday morning. He had plenty of time to get them, copy them and put them back.” That explanation even sounded ridiculous to Boz. Even if Scott knew they were there, how did he get them? Boz could just hear himself in the expulsion hearing: 

It’s easy to get into people’s lockers. The Underdogs do it all the time. We just plant a spy in the office. She gets the combinations for us and – click, click, click – we’re in. That’s why I’ve always kept a padlock of my own on the handle of the locker and only give it out to Underdogs.”

“But you keep that padlock on the handle of your locker,” Liz was voicing Boz’s thoughts, “how did he get that combination?”  

The only obvious answer was too painful for Boz to think about, but betrayal had crossed his mind. His friends had all seemed tremendously loyal until that day in the Physics room. How long had Floyd been planning his mutiny? Or did Seager get to one of them, maybe a newbie that hadn’t been with them from the beginning?      

Clint Bushman flashed into Boz’s mind. He had acted squirrelly that day in the Physics room – like he had something to confess, but it just didn’t make sense. Why would one of them side with Scott? Boz pushed the idea out of his mind, shrugged his shoulders and the brainstorming ground to a halt.

A gloom hung over the house for the rest of the day. Morning melted into afternoon and afternoon into evening. Everyone, except Boz, went to bed early for a second night in a row. He stayed up late, watching television, and went to bed a second night without prayer, without reading the scriptures and without hope.

Sunday morning dawned, but Boz slept through it. He felt guilty for missing church, knowing that Amy would be disappointed, but he’d be too embarrassed to face her. And what would he say to the missionaries?

Around noon, Mr. Burton suggested that the family take a drive – hoping it would help them shake off the awful feeling. They stopped at an ice cream shop where they used to go every Sunday after church.  

“Why don’t we go to church like we used to when Boz and I were little,” Liz asked as they drove home. The ice cream store had rekindled some pleasant memories for her. 

“I guess we got out of the habit of going and quit thinking about it,” her father replied.

“I miss it.”

“We could use some of that feeling today, couldn’t we?” Dad was smiling wistfully. 

“Mark Burton, you know darn well why we don’t go to church like we used to,” Mary Ann Burton’s mouth pursed in a way that made everyone want to laugh. “Every time we think of going back, you make up a new excuse, but you know what it is.”

“Honey, let’s talk about this later.” Mrs. Burton was willing to let it drop, but his daughter was not.

“Dad,” Liz spoke in her little girl voice as she caught her father’s eye in the rearview mirror, “please tell me why we don’t go to church anymore.” Boz smiled. This girl had always been able to get what she wanted from her father and, sure enough, he gave in.

“When we went to church,” he began slowly, “there were a lot of doctrines we didn’t understand. They just didn’t seem to make sense. When we asked the pastor, he just said we had to accept them on faith. At first, that was alright, but there were so many questions and so few answers. We believed in Jesus and wanted to raise our family as Christians so we kept going to Church, but we lost our enthusiasm. We tried going to a few other churches, but as soon as we realized they didn’t have any more answers, we lost interest. We didn’t want to be Church hoppers, so we just quit going.”

“What were the questions?” Liz was wondering if they were the same one’s she’d been asking herself. For the last couple of years, she’d spent almost every Sunday listening to radio ministers and had compiled quite a list.

“Oh, there are a lot of them, honey.” He dad’s voice had an air of finality about it. Turning down their street, he was attempting to wind down the conversation. 

But Boz didn’t want it to end either. He’d had so many questions answered by the elders. He thought maybe if he answered some of his parent’s questions, he’d be able to talk with them about baptism. As the car turned into the driveway, Boz started to suggest they continue talking in the house but a strange scene made his choke on his words. He didn’t know whether to be pleased or horrified to find a geek, a gorilla, a cheerleader and two guys in suits standing on his front porch.

BOZ CHAPTER 19: The Gall of Bitterness

There couldn’t have been a stranger assembly than that which graced the Burton’s porch that crisp autumn afternoon. Clint Bushman gazed toward the car with anxious anticipation. Chuck Worley paced the porch like a caged tiger. Amy Wilson waved as the car eased to a stop. The missionaries smiled like they were expected.

Everyone in the car turned to Boz as if to ask him what was going on, but he had no answer. He shot his father a questioning glance and his father nodded. Boz slid from the car and was relieved to hear it drive around the house to the garage. Liz and Mary watched Boz through the back window until the car passed the house. The last they saw, he was walking toward the group at a slow shuffle, with his head down. 

Liz didn’t wait for the car to stop, jumping out as soon as it began to slow. She ran in the back door and headed for the living room window in order to spy. Mary wanted to do the same, but thought it would be rude. When her parents saw Liz peeking through the blinds, they called her into the kitchen and put her to work fixing dinner.

Meanwhile in the front yard, Boz dragged himself to the porch. He stopped short and took a moment to gather his courage. When he finally looked up, he saw five very different expressions fixed solidly on him. Chuck Worley leaped down from the porch and grabbed Boz in a bear hug. Clint Bushman teetered on the edge of the porch and began to chatter excitedly. The missionaries waited quietly in the background with Amy.

Boz wondered how to deal with all of them. They each wanted to talk with him right then. He did a quick triage and decided to take his time with Amy and the elders, after he had talked with Chuck. But first, he would quickly dispatch with the agitated little nerd that was his least welcomed guest. 

Boz found Clint to be the strangest Underdog ever. He was both infuriating and endearing and this situation was a perfect example. Just two days before, he’d helped brand Boz as a cheat and a traitor and now he was standing on the porch with a pleading look. 

Boz thought about tossing him out into the street, but that wasn’t his style – even with his enemies. Clint grabbed his sleeve and dragged him around the corner of the house. Boz pulled his sleeve free from Clint’s grasp, took him by the shoulders and summoned enough charity for a patronizing smile. “What’s your problem?”

Clint looked up and down the drive and then almost exploded. “We can’t decide what to do with them. I know you aren’t part of us anymore, but would you just tell me what to do with them? If you do, I promise I’ll just go back to ignoring you and …”

“What are you talking about?”

Clint searched Boz’s eyes for a flicker of understanding and then blurted out, “the cans!”

Exasperated that Boz needed a reminder of the one and only Underdog undertaking of the year, he launched into his explanation.

“Reynolds is on to us. Nanny heard them talking. Floyd just wants to let you take the fall and Tom of course wants them out of his locker, but…”

“Hold it. Take a breath!” He’d heard enough to know that this could be more than just a practical joke gone awry. Nanny was the most recent Underdog spy in the main office. The “they” in Clint’s explanation must have been the school secretaries. The Underdogs had learned early that school secretaries knew more about what was happening in the school than even the principal and that they tended to gossip about it. A well-placed office aide could tell the Underdogs all they needed to stay one step ahead of the school administration. So, when Nanny spoke the Underdogs listened.

“Did you hear exactly what Nanny said?” Boz was suddenly serious.

“Yea, I was right there when she told…”

“Tell me exactly what she said.”

Clint cleared his throat with a squeak and spoke as deliberately as his personality would allow. “The secretaries heard Mr. Reynolds talking to the principal. He said they had always thought that it was you and the Underdogs pulling all the practical jokes, but they could never prove it and they really didn’t care that much until it started costing the school money.”

Boz smiled, thinking it was probably the classified ad in the city paper inviting people to dump Christmas trees on the school lawn to be used for a mulching project. A pile of over 300 trees greeted the staff as they returned from the break. The school had to haul the trees to the dump and pay for the ad because the newspaper had received the request for the ad on school letterhead over the principal’s signature.  

“Mr. Reynolds told the principal you were going to be kicked out of school and that there was going to be a little surprise at your hearing on Monday.” Clint paused to take his first breath, leaving Boz in a brief moment of suspense. 

“What kind of surprise?”

“Somebody told Reynolds about the cans. He’s known for about a week, but he’s been waiting for us to use them. Now they’re going to do a surprise locker check on Monday so they can find them and…”

Clint didn’t need to finish. Boz knew that the cans would be used against him at the hearing, linking the Underdogs and Boz, their leader, to the practical jokes. It would be one more nail in his academic coffin.

Boz did a lot of thinking in the minute or so it took Clint to finish his story. He didn’t think his parents would care about the jokes, but this would be just one more blow he didn’t want them to take in Monday’s beating. He also knew it would mean trouble for his former friends and the end of the Underdogs – leaving all the school’s misfits at the mercy of the cliques. 

“We’ve talked and talked and can’t decide what to do. Floyd just wants to leave the cans there. He says it’s your fault for dragging your feet and leaving them in there for so long.”  The mention of Floyd’s name made Boz wince. “Most everybody else wants to get rid of the cans to protect Tom, but they can’t think of a way of getting them out over the weekend. What can we do?” Clint’s explanation ended as quickly as it had begun and he stood waiting for an answer.

Boz realized that Clint had not come so much to save him or the Underdog reputation, but to save the project. Floyd wanted to let Boz take the fall; the others just wanted to save their own skins; but Clint wanted to finish the joke so badly he had come to beg Boz for help. 

With all Boz had to worry about, this kid had come to ask him what to do with a stupid locker full of used aluminum. Being an Underdog was all the nerd had and Underdogs pulled off practical jokes. At this moment those cans meant everything to him. Boz found himself grunting an ironic laugh.

After all I’ve done for those guys. They were nothing before I came along and they’re nothing now that I’m gone. This kid can take a message back to all of them.

“I don’t care if they find them. I’m going down anyway, what do I care?”

As the hope vanished from Clint’s eyes, Boz felt a rush of power. Vengeance was his! He started to say more, wanting to rub it in, but Clint’s humble response stunned him. “I guess you’re right,” was all he said and with that he turned and headed down the driveway. 

A pang of remorse made Boz want to run after him, but he fought it.

“He deserves it; they all do!”

Boz would later regret this as the only cruel thing he’d done in his life, but at that moment, he basked in the sweetness of revenge.

Boz wasn’t the only person with revenge on his mind that afternoon. Chuck Worley had come ready to fight. He refused to believe what he’d heard and was ready to fight anyone who did. His tremendous loyalty overpowered any sense of reason. He’d been the first on the porch that day and had waited for three hours.

Amy’s arrival had calmed him considerably. Besides being pretty and nice, she also believed in Boz. They quit talking about Boz when the elders showed up, but when Clint arrived, Chuck became agitated again. He glared at him and paced as he waited for Boz.   

While Boz’s talked with Clint, Chuck revived the conversation about Boz’s troubles with Amy and the elders. He’d spoken openly to these two young men he didn’t even know. Elder Lee was sure that Boz was innocent and didn’t hesitate speaking his mind. Elder Whitehead, as usual, just listened and waited.  

The conversation came to a screeching halt with Clint’s sudden appearance. They watched him head down the driveway and then up the sidewalk. His eagerness gone, his shoulders stooped and his hands shoved deep in his pockets witnessed his disappointment. The quartet on the porch knew that the conference with Boz had not gone well. 

Boz rounded the house a moment later, head up and shoulders back, trying to look brave. He was ready to deal with Chuck.

“How’s it goin’ big guy?”

“It ain’t, Boz!”

“What’s the matter?” Boz placed his hand on a brawny shoulder and began gently pushing him around the corner of the house.

“Come on Boz!” Chuck stopped short and whirled to face Boz. “You know what’s the matter. Everybody’s sayin’ that you got caught big time and that you’re going to get kicked out of school.”

Boz was uncomfortable now and he gestured towards Amy and the elders.

“They know all about it, I told them and I told them it was all…” 

Chuck had finished the sentence with an expletive that caught Boz off guard. Boz didn’t know if he was more embarrassed for his friend’s language or that the missionaries now knew about his troubles.

 “Come over here.” Boz walked past Chuck and started across the lawn. He’d decided that he needed to dispatch Chuck as quickly as possible, so he headed for the pickup Chuck had left parked at the curb.

“I know who it was,” Chuck spat as he followed Boz. “It was that little pom-pom toter Seager.” Boz would have laughed at Chuck’s weak attempt at an insult if he hadn’t followed it up with, “I’ll beat the crap out of the little sucker for you!” 

Chuck’s threat stopped Boz in his tracks. Not only was his language bordering on vulgarity again, but the idea of Chuck actually beating Scott up shocked him. Boz turned and stepped close to him. “Hey, buddy, don’t talk like that!”   

“I’m serious! I’ll beat him until he confesses. I don’t care if they kick me out of school too. He’s not going to get away with this.”

“Kicked out of school? That would be the least of your troubles! What about the state championship? What about jail time?”

“I tell you I don’t care! Without you, I’d still be settin’ on those bleachers cryin’ my eyes out because the big boys wouldn’t let me play. Look, I might not even have to actually hurt the wuss so bad, the weasel’s been afraid of me since I beat the snot out of him in junior high.”

Boz now knew what he had formerly only suspected. Scott was terrified of Chuck and the more Chuck talked, the more Boz was tempted. He loved this big monkey – the only Underdog that had stuck with him – but he was talking about doing things that would get him in big trouble. Boz knew he had to protect his friend. 

“Chuck, do you trust me?” Chuck answered with an incredulous look. “I will be okay, at least for now, but I have to think hard about this and you are freaking me out. The best thing you can do is go home and cool down.” Chuck seemed to calm and he nodded in agreement.  Promise me you won’t do anything until I tell you. Okay? I may need you coming off the bench.” Boz sounded like he had a plan, but really had nothing.

“Okay! I love you man!” They hugged and then Boz pushed Chuck into the cab and sent him on his way. Chuck’s exit was dramatic. He revved the engine, popped the clutch and the big truck laid a big patch of rubber before roaring down the street.

Boz shrugged his shoulders as he looked over at the elders and Amy. He was embarrassed, but could now turn his attention to them. He jogged across the lawn to greet them, but before he could, he was interrupted by a gruff bark from his father.

Mr. Burton was standing in the front doorway of the house with a most interesting look on his face. “Boz,” he thundered, “it’s time for dinner. Why don’t you invite that young lady in?” And then after a pause, “and the Mormons too!”

BOZ CHAPTER 20: Light in the Darkness

Mr. Burton’s invitation was not as random as it seemed. While Boz had been handling the drama in the front yard, another had been unfolding inside.

Liz thought she was going to die with a soap opera playing out on her front porch and she stuck in the kitchen. With every whisk of the potato peeler she became more anxious. She kept looking at her father hoping to catch his eye and beg for a pardon, but it was no use.

Saying Mark Burton was lost in thought was a huge understatement. It was more like he was in a trance – standing at the sink, mindlessly washing the same cup over and over and staring out the window. Liz saw tears begin to well up in his eyes. She watched out of the corner of her eye as her mom moved close to him and took his soapy hand. They stood silently, holding hands and looking out that window.  

Liz knew that her parents could communicate volumes without speaking. She also knew that when it was happening, it was time for children to butt out, so she played the part of the scullery maid – dutifully and silently.

Liz soon realized that Mary was having even less of a good time. As a guest, she’d endured the worst weekend in Burton family history and was now helping cook in a morgue. Liz’s initial attempt at conversation was weak, but both girls were so anxious for noise that they were soon chattering as usual, really about nothing, because they both had their minds on the action outside.

Soon dinner was in the oven. Mr. Burton went into the living room and pretended to read the Sunday paper. Mrs. Burton fussed with things in the kitchen. Mary and Liz moved as close as they could to the living room window. Liz knew her dad would protest if she’d actually touched the blinds, so she tried, as she made conversation, to peek through the slits. She couldn’t see Chuck or the “little nerd”, but it looked as if Amy and the Mormons were still waiting on the porch.

“Those two guys on the porch, they’re missionaries from your Church, aren’t they?”

Mary nodded and looked in the direction of Mr. Burton who stopped rattling the paper at the mention of the missionaries. She hoped that Liz wasn’t treading on dangerous ground.  

“How much to they get paid?”

“They don’t!”

“How much do they get to live on?” Liz’s tone accused Mary of splitting hairs. 

“They do missionary work for two years and pay for it themselves. Most save up from the time they’re young and if they don’t have enough, they get help from their families.” Mary was seeing a fact of Mormon life in a new and fascinating light. 

This was like the seminary role-plays Brother Peterson used to do back in Idaho. He’d play the investigator and challenge his students to explain some aspect of the Church or its doctrine. Mary used to get frustrated with him for asking such obvious questions like…

“Why would they want to do that?” Liz really didn’t understand.

“They want to,” Mary then searched her heart for truth. This was no time for pat answers. “I think that most of them go out because they believe the gospel … the Church’s teachings are true and they want to help other people accept them and be blessed.”

“Why do they think they have to come convert other Christians. I can see them preaching to heathens,” that term had come from the radio preachers, “but why us?”

“It’s like we were talking about the other day,” Mary was careful not to mention Boz.

Liz arched her eyebrows in recognition what Mary was trying to hide. “Oh, yeah, I kind of remember, but tell me again.”

“We believe the Church is different from other Churches because the true Church was lost in the Apostasy.” Would she know that word? “The Church rejected the apostles’ teachings and the Lord withdrew his priest…,” Another one. “uh, his power and authority and we had the dark ages. It all had to be restored through Joseph Smith.”

She’d heard it before, but Liz was intrigued, partly because she was interested in the two cute boys on her porch, but mostly because of the comfortable feeling she was having. It was different hearing it from Mary.

And Liz wasn’t the only one hearing. Mr. Burton, had put his paper down and Mrs. Burton had come to the door of the kitchen. This is what their son was hearing on Sundays.  

Unaware of the attention, Mary talked on. “So, the missionaries are out trying to let people know about the Restor…,” Darn it, another one. “that the true gospel is back on earth.”

“Can they have girlfriends?” Liz’s made her boy-crazy face. 

“No,” Mary laughed, “they’re not allowed to date or even get too close to girls.”

“You mean they’re like priests and can’t get married?” Liz was disappointed.

“No!” Mary chuckled. “After they get home. In fact, the prophet has told them not to put off getting married or having families. It’s only while they’re on their missions.”

“Mary?” Mary was startled to hear Mr. Burton. She turned to face him and found him leaning forward in his chair. “Did you say prophet?”

“Yes,” Mary answered with a smile and a nod. It felt so good to be able to say it.

Mr. Burton squinted and she could tell he was trying to formulate just the right question. What she couldn’t tell was that he had hung on every word of her explanation and that his question about a prophet had to do with more of a feeling than a need to understand. But he didn’t get a chance to ask the question, for at that moment there came the loud squealing of truck tires from the street in front of their house.

Despite all that had been said about giving Boz his privacy, they all raced for the living room window and each parted a blind. They saw Boz wince as Chuck’s pickup sped down the road. They watched Boz pull his jacket around him and jog across the lawn. Satisfied that no one was hurt, the parents let their slats drop. The girls, however, were not bound to give up their view.

Mr. Burton ignored them as he slipped his arm around his wife’s waist, pulled her close and whispered in her hear. She smiled and nodded. Mary and Liz were still glued to the front window when Mr. Burton yanked the front door open and invited the porch dwellers in.  

“We’re sorry sir,” Elder Lee was startled and a little intimidated, “we didn’t mean to keep him so long. We’ll just talk to him later.”

“Nonsense,” Mr. Burton roared, “You need to come in where it’s warm, have something to eat and tell me something about this cult of yours.” His smile made the comment seem innocent, but it wasn’t clear to the four on the porch if he were kidding or not.

As a matter of fact, Mr. Burton wasn’t sure if he was kidding. He’d asked his wife if he could invite the Mormons to dinner because of Mary’s portrayal – young ministers willing to sacrifice to teach what they believed. He’d also been curious and a little apprehensive. Why were these young men waiting on the porch to see his son? Were they going to ask if they could teach him? Would he allow it?  

Amy and the missionaries entered reluctantly, but within moments the warmth of this family relieved their fears. The missionaries shook hands with everybody and asked their names. They insisted on helping set the table, to which Liz readily agreed.  

Liz noticed, right away, that the elders made a concerted effort to keep distance from the girls, so she decided to play a game. While the elders headed clock-wise around the table placing silverware, she went counter-clock-wise with the napkins.

Elder Lee, in the lead, noticed her coming and stepped back to let her pass. Elder Whitehead, however, who was giving his full attention to making sure the forks were placed “just so”, collided with her. Thinking that she was his companion, he pushed back. When she didn’t move, he playful threw his hip into her. Then he looked up. 

The poor elder fell back as if he’d seen the devil himself. He blushed and tried to explain and apologize at the same time and turned an even deeper shade of red. Liz realized what a wonderful person this boy was. She had just tricked him into breaking one of the mission rules and for all she knew this could be a serious infraction. Would he be sent home in disgrace or kicked out of the Church? And even if it weren’t that serious, he was definitely embarrassed.   

Yet, this young man didn’t show any sign of anger, even at the companion who was enjoying a laugh at his expense. He couldn’t. He didn’t have a malicious bone in his body.

And even in his awkwardness, he showed real poise. Not poise born of experience or worldliness, but of love. She wanted to hug him, but knew that would send him out the door.

Suddenly, it was the usually poised Liz’s turn to feel awkward. She wanted to laugh at the boy and cry for the boy and apologize to the boy all at the same time, so she did. As she babbled, Elder Whitehead began to smile and then to laugh. And while everyone who had witnessed the event thought they understood what had happened, only two really did.

After apologies and explanations both ways, the household was called to dinner. Mrs. Burton was careful to seat the elders and Boz on one side of the table and Mary, Liz and Amy on the other. After grace, things became easier because Elder Lee and Mr. Burton did most of the talking. The dinner conversation was light and polite, mostly about the elders and their families. 

Everyone listened with intent as Elder Lee talked freely about himself. He was from Southern California and had been a surf bum before he’d joined the Church. He was the only member of the Church in his family, who didn’t understand his mission. He had served as an assistant to the president of the mission and this was his last area before heading home in about two weeks. 

Elder Whitehead was more hesitant to share. He had been a member of the Church all his life and was the last of four boys in the same family to serve missions. He had only been on his mission for a month and Elder Lee was his trainer.  When asked where he was from, Elder Whitehead smiled and said, “Franklin, Idaho, Sir. It’s a little town in the south of the state. I’m sure you’ve never heard of it.” 

“Well, I’m sure this young lady knows it.” Mr. Burton gestured toward Mary.

Mary, who was used to blending into the background behind her ugliness, would need a while to adjust to the attention she received, now that Liz had worked her magic. Both elders had enjoyed the view from their side of the table and Mary had been conscious of the fact that the looks were not just directed at Liz and Amy. A slight smile crossed her lips at the mention of Idaho.

“I know Franklin. I’ve even been to Franklin Days. We have a farm over by Blackfoot.” 

Elder Whitehead smiled, “Do you know the Hanson family from up there?”

“Yea,” Mary responded with a drawl that Liz hadn’t heard for about a month, “LaVerl Hanson was my bishop.”

“So, are you just visiting here?” Elder Whitehead had made the connection. If this girl had a bishop, she must be a member of the Church. If she were a member of the Church she must be visiting because he hadn’t seen her in Church.

“No, we moved here last summer. I’m just staying here for the weekend while my Mom is on a business trip. We haven’t been to Church because of Mom’s work.”  She lied just a little.

Mary glanced over at Amy, who had just given a subtle gasp. Liz’s handiwork had delayed Amy’s recognition of this girl she’d set next to in Sunday School and seen walking the halls with Boz.  Mary searched Amy’s face for a clue to her thoughts, but all she read was surprise. Was this popular and gorgeous girl impressed with her new look or was she judging Mary for not being in church for a month?          

“They’re nice folks those Hansons.”

“Real nice.” And the room fell awkwardly silent.

“Anybody for some more spuds,” Elder Lee drawled, rescuing his companion and the sagging conversation with a backhanded Idaho joke. He then turned the tables and began to quiz the Burtons about themselves. Soon dinner was finished and the elders’ volunteered to wash the dishes, but Mrs. Burton insisted that the dishes could wait and the entire party moved into the living room.

“So, what brings you Elders and this lovely young lady to our home tonight?” Mr. Burton was full and feeling jovial. 

“I just came to see if Boz was alright,” Amy hadn’t said much that evening. She’d spent her time watching a quiet and nervous Boz. “I’d heard about the trouble and wanted him to know I don’t believe any of it.” She glanced over at Boz and smiled. 

The smile he returned was weak to say the least and she was about to say something more when Mr. Burton broke in. “Thank you. We’re just praying everything goes right tomorrow.”

For the second time that evening the conversation lagged and Elder Lee attempted a rescue. “We didn’t know anything about Boz’s problems at school. We just stopped by because he missed his appointment with us this afternoon and we wanted to make the final arrangement for his baptism.”

Suddenly, everyone was looking at Boz. If everyone had been as observant as Amy, they would have noticed that he’d been a nervous wreck ever since the elders were invited in. Again, the awkward silence.

Elder Lee felt terrible. He’d assumed, from the warm reception they’d received from his parents, that Boz had talked to them about being baptized. Yet, one glance at the parents’ faces proved this assumption wrong. The mother looked confused and the father looked angry.

“We’d better be going….” Elder Lee was getting up.

“No, please!” Liz felt those words in her heart, but they weren’t coming from her mouth. She expected that they might be from Boz or Mary, but they weren’t. They were coming from the elder with the good heart. “Mr. Burton, we have been teaching your son about our Church and he wants to be baptized.”

Mark Burton’s glare turned toward the trembling missionary. Everyone in the room held their collective breaths expecting him to explode. But there was no explosion, for as soon as their eyes met, the father’s expression softened.

“He hasn’t told you about that and I know he should have. He really intended to, but with all his trouble at school, I’m sure he just couldn’t. If you don’t give your son permission, that’s all right. We aren’t here just to baptize people. We are here to help. We are ministers of the Lord Jesus Christ and we want to help in any way we can. All we can do tonight is share his message with you. You may not think it has anything to do with what your family needs right now – but I know it will help. Please let us share it!”

The timid elder stood looking humble and hopeful. He’d said more in the last thirty seconds than he’d said all night and, from the way he was shaking, it was obvious that it had taken all the courage he had to say it. Everyone in the room gained a new respect for that Idaho farm boy that night – especially his companion. But at least one person in the room was feeling much more than respect.  

Liz Burton felt something she’d never felt before. It burned in her and made her want to laugh and cry at the same time; it made her want to shout “amen”; and, most of all, it filled her with peace and an assurance that everything was going to be all right. She wanted this young man to stay in her home forever so that the feeling he brought would stay. One glance at her mother told Liz that she was feeling something similar and all of the women in the room had teared-up at this point. Both Mary and Amy seemed anxious for him to go on. 

The men in the room were all focused on the patriarch. Elder Lee’s eyes were quizzical, Boz’s eyes were pleading and Elder Whitehead’s eyes were hopeful. Mr. Burton was back in the trance Liz had seen earlier in the evening. He sat quietly and stared off into the space behind Elder Whitehead. Then, with a quick jerk of his head, his eyes met the young elder’s again.

“Young man,” he was now using the same stern, booming voice he’d used to invite them into the house that evening, “this family needs all the help it can get right now. If you think you have a message from God, let us have it!”

At that cue, Elder Whitehead turned to his companion as if he were looking for direction. Elder Lee just smiled and nodded as if to say, “You started this, now finish it.”.

Elder Whitehead pulled a Book of Mormon from the stack of books he’d brought and handed it to the father. “This is the book that makes us different from all the other religions on the earth today.” As he spoke a feeling of reverence filled the room. “Heavenly Father loves us and wants us to be happy. He also wants us to return to live with him again as families. He knew that we would need help and direction to do this so he has given us the scriptures. The Bible is one of the books that he’s given us. That,” he gestured toward the blue book with the angel on the cover, “is another.”

“Another Bible?” Mrs. Burton’s eyes narrowed as she asked the question. She had moved her chair over and was sitting next to her husband. She had wasted no time getting into this discussion because she was not only curious, but the family scriptorian. “I thought there was just one Bible.”

At this point, the older elder took the Book of Mormon from Mr. Burton and thumbed quickly to a verse. “Would you please,” he handed the opened book to Mrs. Burton as he spoke, “read verse three?”

“And because my words shall hiss forth – many of the Gentiles shall say:  A Bible! A Bible! We have got a Bible, and there cannot be any more Bible.”

“Over 1500 years ago, the Lord knew you would ask that question,” Elder Lee who had temporarily taken over the teaching spoke with a disarming grin, “and an ancient prophet named Nephi prepared an answer for you. Go ahead and read verses seven through eleven.”

Mrs. Burton read the verses aloud and when she’d finished, Elder Lee asked what the scripture taught about the need for additional scripture. Her answer was insightful. “It says that there are more than one people that God has revealed himself to and that they would naturally each have a book of scripture; that he would have more than one people testify of God as a stronger testimony of the truth; and that another book of scripture would contain more of his commandments so we could better know his will.” 

About the only person in the room not taken back by Mrs. Burton’s answer was her husband. In their church-going days she had always been the one to read, interpret and ask questions about the Bible. All of those tough questions that churchmen couldn’t answer were hers.

“Elders,” Mrs. Burton was about to unload a bombshell on the elders and Mr. Burton knew it, “I’ve read the Bible from cover to cover several times and I’ve never read a verse that talks about another book of scripture.”

“Yes, you have, Ma’am,” the drawl was coming from the young elder who was handing her is own open copy of the Bible. Liz, who was now sitting behind her parents, glanced over at the book. The well-worn and well-marked book was open to Ezekiel 37.  “Would you like to read verses 15-17?”

“The word of the Lord came again unto me saying: Moreover, thou son of man, take thee one stick, and write upon it, For Judah, and for the children of Israel his companions: then take another stick, and write upon it for Joseph, the stick of Ephraim and for all the house of Israel his companions: And join them one to another into one stick and they shall become one in thy hand.”

The greenie had taken over teaching again and was holding his companion’s scriptures – one book in each hand. “The Lord told Ezekiel that there were going to be two records. One is about the Jews,” he held up the Bible, “and the other is about the tribe of Ephraim,” he held up the triple. “The Book of Mormon is that other record.”

Elder Lee broke in. “The people in the Book of Mormon are descendants of the Ephraimites talked about in the Bible that were brought to this continent by the Lord about 600 B.C. This,” he had taken his triple back from his companion, “is their record.”  

Mrs. Burton sat quietly pondering the elders’ answers and rereading the scripture. The whole room fell silent as she thought. Then, she looked up and asked, “Where did you get this book? I’ve never heard of it before.”

“We thought you’d never ask,” Elder Lee quipped and he started to teach her again.  

This was the pattern of their teaching, like they had been practicing for years. Elder Lee would teach as Elder Whitehead located the appropriate scripture. Then Elder Whitehead would teach while Elder Lee handled the books. Elder Lee, now totally recovered from his blunder, was clever and polished. Elder Whitehead was more serious, but humble and sincere. They answered all of the questions without exception, gaining the confidence of Liz and her parents and making two Mormon girls very proud.

As each elder taught, he would show pictures and quotes from a black binder. Liz spent more time watching their eyes than she did the pictures until Elder Lee showed one of a young man kneeling in a grove of trees.

“…Having made the determination to ask of God, I retired to the woods to make the attempt. I kneeled down and began to offer up the desires of my heart unto God…”

Liz’s eyes were riveted on the picture. It was almost as if it began to move and she could see the scene unfold before her. She felt for Joseph in his desire to know and wanted it so badly for him.

As the elder spoke Joseph’s words about seeing the light and the two beings standing in it, her eyes shifted to the Heavenly beings above him. Did a boy my age really see God?

The idea that none of the Churches were true surprised her. She would have thought that they were all at least a little true. Is that why Mom and Dad couldn’t get their answers?  Did the Lord really restore the truth through a mere boy?

Her mind and heart were full. She wanted to stand right up and tell everyone how she felt. And she probably would have if it hadn’t been for Boz’s tantrum.

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