Boz: Chapters 12-14

BOZ CHAPTER 12: Two Girls and a Bench

Liz Burton had never gone to Waterford Park alone and hadn’t planned on doing so that Sunday either, but as she stood in front of Julie’s house that morning, she felt dread. She rocked back and forth for several minutes, staring up at Julie’s window.  She’s probably in pretty rough shape.

With that, Liz headed down the street toward the park. She walked quickly, trying to get away from her thoughts and feelings. Her plan was to sit at her favorite spot – a bench overlooking Waterford Falls – and let the sound of the rushing water wash all the hurt and fear away, but there was little chance of that.

Liz felt some relief as she passed through the park gate. The squeaky iron hinges seemed to empathize, echoing her mournful feelings. Her mom and dad may not understand her; she might not have a real friend left in the world; but this little patch of nature knew her, understood her and loved her. And Liz loved this park back, especially in the fall.

The huge oak and maple trees were turning colorful and soon leaves would shower to the ground with the slightest breeze. An autumn-colored quilt would covered the grass as it slipped into its winter sleep. And already, fat faced squirrels scampered through the dry leaves in search of a few more nuts to pad their hoard.

Her pace slowed as she shuffled through some already fallen leaves. She loved to hear them rattle and crunch. She wanted that sound to replace the clanging in her head – the regret, the guilt, the dread. She took a deep breath, caught the aroma of the decaying foliage and was immediately carried away in a happy memory.

She was five years old, running toward a giant pile of newly raked leaves. She leaped into the air and felt the crisp autumn air sting playfully at her cheeks. She giggled as she landed on the multicolored mountain, sending leaves in every direction. Rolling over she looked up into the smiling face of her father.

Liz moaned as she reached the bench. Her father had not been smiling that morning. Their fight was not a happy memory. Her parents had been sitting at the kitchen table when she stumbled in from her room, still very tired, but driven by hunger. She had just poured herself a bowl of cereal when the questions started.

“Liz, where were you last night?”

Liz froze. What do they know? She let her spoon drop into the bowl.

“Liz,” her father sounded angry, “your mother asked you a question. Please answer her!”

Slowly Liz looked up and mumbled an answer. “At the party.”

“All night?”

“What do you mean?” Liz was stalling for time, hoping to think of a clever lie.

 “Were you at the party all night?”

A wave of guilt swept over her. She knew she’d been wrong in leaving the party to go riding with Terrell and Alan, but Julie wanted to go so badly and Alan had coaxed her too. 

Liz had felt a rush as Alan opened the car door for her. She didn’t know that much about cars, but from the reaction Terrell got from the guys at the party; she knew his new car was special. The 1969 Challenger R-something with a four-speed something-mesh transmission had rated four “groovies” and a couple of “cools.” But hearing about the candy-red car was not half as groovy as seeing it or as cool as sliding into the back seat of the matching interior.

She sat in back with Alan. Julie got to sit in the front seat with Terrell, but Liz didn’t mind; she found Alan much cuter. Liz didn’t know if she was more excited that Alan slipped his arm around her shoulder or that she could feel the vibration from the powerful (she remembered that it was a special 440 that had replaced the stock 318) engine. 

“Liz, answer me.” It was her father again. 

“No, we went for a ride with some boys.”

“Who?”

“You wouldn’t know them; they’re just a couple of boys from school.”. 

“Well,” Mark Burton’s face showed some color, “if you are out with them I ought to know them. And who gave you permission to leave the party?” 

“Nobody.”

“So, you think you can just take off like that? You know what the rule is around this…”

For the first time in her life, Liz cut her father off in mid-sentence, “Yes, I know the stupid rule and I’m sorry we went to have a little fun. What’s the big deal?”

“I’ll tell you what the big deal is young lady; we are responsible for you. We want to know where you were and what you were doing and we want to know now!” For the first time in his life, Mark Burton yelled at his daughter.    

Most of the argument was a blur. All Liz remembered was that it had escalated and that she’d become more defensive as her father got closer and closer to the truth. Finally, he had come to the point. They had smelled marijuana on her when she had come home that morning and they wanted to know why. That’s when she had left; that’s why she was at the park. 

Liz wiped the tears from her eyes and looked around to see if anyone was watching. Another girl was walking slowly along the river path, but she was too far away. Liz would have a few more minutes of privacy at least.

She gazed into the waterfall and tried to forget, but it wasn’t long before she was again reliving the events of the previous night. At first it had all been fun – the car, the music, the laughter – but then in an instant it became scary. 

“Let’s have our own party, huh, Alan,” Terrell said as he eyed Alan in the rear-view mirror.

Alan slipped his arm from around Liz, leaned between the bucket seats, and pulled a small plastic bag from the glove department. The rest had happened so fast. From the bag Alan produced a joint. “This number is better than any of the goodies they had at that party.”  Terrell chuckled at the joke and urged Alan to light it up.

Alan put the joint gingerly in his lips and lit it with a lighter he’d taken from the bag. As the end began to glow, he took a big drag. Liz watched the glowing end grow as the paper and drug burned before it. Alan held the smoke deeply in his lungs as he handed the cigarette off into Terrell’s back-stretched hand. 

Liz couldn’t remember being more terrified in her whole life. Her parents had warned her about drugs and had pled with her to stay away from them. She had promised them, and herself, that she would. Now she was in a car with two boys smoking marijuana. How did I get here?

The smoke smelled like burning rope and suddenly Liz wondered if the fumes could make her high. She felt sick. She sat back, slid to the other side of the car and covered her nose with her hand just as Alan let out the breath he’d been holding. 

“Man, that stuff is dank,” he smiled absurdly as he looked in Liz’s general direction. 

Liz closed her eyes, hoping nightmare would end, but it only got worse. The boys, not satisfied to just smoke the joint themselves, offered it to the girls. Since Julie had decided to do whatever it took to be accepted by her new friends, it had taken very little coaxing before she gave in. She took the half-smoked offering from Terrell’s hand and held it just as she’d seen the boys do.

“Jules,” Liz pled from her corner of the back seat, “don’t!”

“Let her go,” Alan’s voice was now mocking and rude.  

Liz gasped as she watched Julie put the drug to her lips, but the sound was drowned out by the laughter and praise from the boys. “Hold it in,” Terrell had coaxed as Julie tried to cough. She choked back the cough as best she could and handed the joint back to Alan before exhaling.

Before she knew what was happening, Liz found three sets of eyes upon her. She saw Alan holding the cigarette towards her. “It’s your turn. Hurry! Don’t waste it. This stuff is not cheap.”

Liz closed her eyes and tried not to listen, but it was no use. They pleaded, they begged, they teased. Even Julie was coaxing her. She felt dizzy and wondered if the smoke hadn’t already affected her. She opened her eyes and glared at her friend.  

“No!”

Liz’s voice resonated through the car with the authority of someone with real conviction. “No, I won’t!” She slapped the joint form Alan’s hand, knocking to the floor. The powerful refusal caught the three tempters off guard and for a moment they sat stunned. “I want you to take me home right now,” Liz demanded and Terrell started to pull over.

By the time he reached the curb, however, he had regained his composure. “Get out!” 

“What?” Liz wasn’t even sure where she was. “Take me home.”

Alan pushed Julie’s seat forward trying to get out of the car and pull on Liz’s arm at the same time. Terrell pushed Julie out of her seat. “You, get out too!”

Between Terrell and Alan they soon had Julie out of the car. She tried to step over the curb, but tripped onto the sidewalk, letting out a yelp of pain. Liz sprang from the car to her friend’s defense, helped her up and turned to confront the bullies, but all she saw were taillights as the muscle car sped away.  It was a long, cold, silent walk home that night with both girls too embarrassed to think of calling for a ride.

Liz was met at the door by her parents, shocked to find out what time it was. They told her to go to bed and that they would talk in the morning. She’d collapsed on her bed too tired to move, but couldn’t sleep. Instead, she cried for an hour.

Liz was suddenly back in the park and shaken from the memories. The other girl had come much closer and Liz realized she might have to move if she wanted to be alone. 

Mary Olson had also gone to the park, taking one of the few buses that ran on Sunday. Her mother had been called into work, so they didn’t go to church. Besides, she didn’t know if she was in the mood for church. Ever since her date with Boz, she hadn’t been in the mood for much of anything but to think about him. She’d brought her scriptures with her, but didn’t really expect to do much reading. It would be pretty hard to concentrate. 

It probably wouldn’t be so bad, she exited the bus at the rear entrance to the park, if he had called yesterday. He just kissed me, fell out the door and I haven’t heard from him since. She laughed and blushed at the same time recalling his awkward exit. 

There were so many questions. Did he really like her enough to be the first girl he’d ever kissed? If he liked her so much, why didn’t he call? Would he even pay attention to her at school or would he be too embarrassed? 

Mary dreaded the idea of going back to school the next day. It was almost as bad as the first day. Actually, it’s going to be worse. The first day of school she had her protective shell and no one was going to penetrate it. Now it was open and she was vulnerable. If he ignores me… a shiver stopped that scary thought cold.

She looked off in the distance and noticed another girl on her favorite bench by the falls. She hoped the girl would move by the time she got there, so she slowed her pace. The slower stride slowed her thoughts and she tried to sort things out. The worst thing is that I don’t have anybody I can really talk to. Mom tries, but she is so old. Mary’s forty-year-old mother would have winced at that thought, but to Mary it was true. She stopped and closed her eyes. She prayed a silent prayer, a little unsure what to ask for. 

Heavenly Father, I don’t know why I am so scared. Everyone else around me seems to be so brave, especially Mom. Oh, thank you for Mom. I love her so much. Please give me… Did she really want it? Please give me courage and help me feel strong again. Amen. She began to open her eyes but then realized there was something she really did want, so she closed them and added, and please, send me a real friend.

Mary smiled thinking that her mother would have been happy with that Hannah prayer. The Bible story of Hannah had been one of Lori Olson’s favorites since she was a child. From it, she’d learned that simple, heart-felt prayers were answered. She had developed a habit of sincere prayer early in her life and it had served her well. 

Early in her married life, she’d uttered a simple, heart-felt prayer standing outside a doctor’s office, just as Hannah had in the tabernacle. The doctor had told Lori that she’d never be able to have children, and like Hannah, that is what she wanted more than anything else. Ten months later she’d given birth to a miracle baby – Mary Louise Olson.  

Mary had heard that story dozens of times and had listened to her mother’s simple, sincere pleadings a thousand more. In the last year those pleadings had become more personal and direct than ever. Mary’s mother made courageous decisions based on the answers and tried to teach her daughter to do the same. Maybe, Mary thought as she opened her eyes.

Mary focused on the only other person in the park, still sitting on the bench where Mary had the strongest urge to sit. She didn’t want to share it; she wanted to sit right in the spot the other girl was occupying. She’s been there long enough and it’s my turn. I’m going to walk right over to that bench and sit down. If she feels uncomfortable, she can just move.”

As she approached the bench, however, her courage faltered. She was just about to turn and head home when the other girl got up and started towards her. It had worked! The girl was leaving!

Mary felt guilty for being pushy and tried to avoid eye contact, but for a brief moment their eyes met and there was a jolt of recognition. Mary and Liz stood face to face. They both stopped and stared and waited for the other to say something.  

They were a picture in opposites. The beautiful and stylish Liz, so popular and so alive stood face to face with the frumpy and un-kept Mary, who was known and loved by few. Yet, they were also alike in many ways. They were both sensitive and caring. They both had hopes and dreams and fears. And at the moment they both needed someone to talk to.

“Mary!”

”Hi, Liz, I’m not chasing you away am I?”

“No, I, uh… Honestly, yes! I really wanted to be alone and you looked like you wanted this bench.”

“I’m sorry, I can come back later.” 

“Mary, please,” Liz almost begged, “come sit down.” Liz really didn’t want to be alone and, because Mary didn’t either, she accepted the invitation. 

They sat on opposite sides of the bench and for a few minutes neither girl spoke. It was Liz who finally broke the silence, “How was your date with my brother the other night?”

“Ohhh,”

“That bad, huh, and I thought he was bad at home.”

Mary smiled. “No, no he wasn’t bad at all. I just made such a fool of myself.” 

“I doubt it!”

“Oh yes, I did! You know a place Boz calls The Overlook?”

“He didn’t take you up there did he?” Liz was shocked. Mary just nodded. “Do you know what that place is? That’s where everyone goes to…”

“I don’t want to hear it.”

“He didn’t…”

Again, Mary didn’t want to hear it. “No, he was a perfect gentleman.”

“Whew!”

“But I thought he was going to and I said something awful to him.”  Mary was really happy to have someone to tell this all to. 

“What did you say?” Liz sat up straight and scooted closer to Mary.

“I said…” Mary put her hands to her face, but Liz reached over and pulled them away. 

“Come on, you can tell me.” Liz was loving this.

“I said, ‘Go ahead you masher, plant one right here,’” Mary pointed at her lips. 

Liz’s eyes were suddenly big and her mouth formed a perfect “O”. Then, as quickly, she broke into a giggle. “Masher,” she repeated, “where did you get that?”

“I don’t know,” Mary laughed, no longer embarrassed. She went on to describe Boz’s reaction, how she’d run from the car and how Boz had come after her, but she left out the parts about Boz’s confessions and their kiss. 

“My brother is a bum. He should have at least given you a goodnight kiss.” Her comment made Mary blush. “It sounds like your weekend ended up better than mine.” The playful mood evaporated and neither girl spoke for a long minute. Liz was waiting for Mary to ask her about her weekend and Mary was not sure she wanted to hear. 

Finally, Liz couldn’t wait any longer and she blurted out, “Mary, can I tell you something that you promise not to tell anybody?” Liz went on without waiting for an answer. “I’m the one who’s made a fool of herself. Last week Julie Johnson and I ditched the Underdogs and moved down to C-hall.” Mary knew this part of the story. It had been the subject of gossip all week among the Underdogs.

“Julie was mad at the Underdogs and wanted to join the Preps. And I, I, I…” Liz stammered trying to think of a lie that would cover the fact she’d really wanted to go too, “…had to support my friend. So, we went down there and they were so rude to us at first, but then Julie began to flirt with some of the guys and they were a little nicer.” 

Mary was an unwilling confidant, but decided to just let Liz ramble. She seemed to need it right then. “And then the next day, when we went to school, they were all super nice. They almost fell all over us and even Scott Seager came to talk to us. I mean, nothing against the Underdog guys, but it was really nice to have some of those cute, rich guys pay attention to me. I think the Preppy girls were a little jealous, but even they were nice to us after that first day.”

Liz quit talking for a minute and Mary got the impression she was trying to gather some courage. When she did, she was obviously embarrassed. “By the end of the week I really started to think that I was something. I started to act just like them – talking about people behind their backs and saying really rude things; ignoring people when they talked to me in the halls. I even told a new girl she couldn’t…” Liz stopped, looking as if she were going to cry. 

“Friday at school, Scott Seager invited us to a party at his house on Saturday. He told us that he only invited cool people to his parties and he thought we were pretty cool. Sitting here talking to you it sounds stupid, but I can’t believe how cool I thought I was at that moment. We went home and asked our parents and they told us we could go. Julie’s mom took us there and we were supposed to get a ride home from some other girls, but Scott Seager introduced us to a couple of guys and …”

It was a long time before Liz spoke again. She needed more courage. She told Mary about leaving the party with Alan and Terrell and what had happened after that. She even told her about the fight she’d had with her parents. 

She hadn’t wanted to hear this story, but by the time Liz had finished, Mary was glad she had. Liz had borne her soul and Mary had caught a glimpse into her heart. She liked what see saw. Liz was honest, she was brave and she would make a good friend. 

“I’ll never be able to look my family in the face after that,” Liz was suddenly embarrassed she’d dumped all of this on a girl she barely knew.

“Oh, Liz, I don’t think that’s true. I think it took a lot of guts to do what you did last night. I’m sure if you tell your parents everything…”

“I can’t!” Liz buried her face in her hands. 

It was now Liz’s turn to experience the stubbornness of this Idaho farm girl. “Liz, have you ever lied to your parents before?” Mary had taken her glasses off, cocked her head to one side and opened her eyes wide. Through her parted fingers Liz looked into those eyes and wondered how, all of a sudden, this waif of a girl could look so wise. 

“I, I…” Liz was searching her mind for a time she had, “No, I never have.” Liz really couldn’t remember a time she’d ever lied to her parents. “You’re right. They will believe me. Thank you!” Liz whispered as she took Mary’s hand, “I see why my brother likes you now.” 

Mary would forever recall that day as the day she and Liz became good friends; Liz would remember that day as the day she made one of the most important decisions of her life. She’d been struggling with her feelings about leaving the Underdogs and striking out on her own. She felt stupid and hollow when she was with the phony people Julie wanted to impress and the events of the previous night had convinced her that she didn’t want to associate with them. But she wondered if she really wanted to spend her whole high school life in Boz’s shadow. 

Sitting on that park bench, looking at Mary, Liz began to conceive a plan. Little did Mary know that she’d just become more than Liz’s new friend, she’d become Liz’s mission in life. Liz would show Julie and her friends; and Boz and the Underdogs that she was her own person; that she had something to give. This was going to be fun.

BOZ CHAPTER 13: Give and Take

As the first term drew to a close, Mary found herself wondering which Burton she loved most. Boz had given her a life, but Liz was showing her how to live it. Since that day in the park, a month earlier, she and Liz had become best friends.

On that path of friendship, however, there had been some interesting twists and turns. Mary had been suspicious of all the attention Liz showered on her, wondering if Boz was behind it, but she soon realized that Liz’s affection was genuine. She worried when Liz steered her away from the Underdogs because, weird or not, they had been her only friends. But she learned that Liz was more friend that a whole kennel of Underdogs.

Liz was only interested in Mary, or it should be said, the new Mary. And when Mary realized that Liz was trying to make her over, she fought her every step of the way. She didn’t want to change! Liz, however, did not let that little detail derail her plans. 

The first phase of Liz’s plan had to do with changing the way Mary thought about being female. “Sister,” she would say with a look that made Mary giggle, “men don’t rule the world. We just let them think they do. Women have all the real power.” And she offered demonstrations, manipulating some poor, unsuspecting young man into doing her bidding and make him feel like a man for doing it. 

Mary couldn’t deny the power that Liz wielded, but insisted that real women didn’t stoop to such tactics to get their way. None of Mary’s arguments registered with Liz however. She’d just wait for Mary to finished, give her a pitiful look and start the lesson over.  

Mary knew it was all a game for Liz – a game she played very well. Of course, she’s good at it! She has all the right equipment and moves and she’d had plenty of practice.” Mary was a little jealous of her new friend, doubting she would ever get to play the game. She had played the game of “Hide and No-seek” for so long she didn’t know any other.

Even the wonderful experience she’d had on the date with Boz hadn’t helped much. When she saw him the next Monday at school, he’d been very attentive for about a day and then just seemed to lose interest. He didn’t ignore or avoid her, but when he was with her, he wasn’t with her. He even called off their after-school study sessions.

Mary was really upset until she realized that he wasn’t paying much attention to anyone. He’d become a hermit, even more a recluse than before. Except in classes in school and at meals at home, no one saw much of him at all. 

One Saturday as the two friends shared a chilly October afternoon at Waterford Park, Liz confided in Mary that she was worried about Boz too. “I think he’s going bonkers,” she grumbled as she poured Mary some hot chocolate from the thermos, “he took on too much.” 

They’d been friends just long enough for Mary to feel she could reply without thinking. “I tried to help him with Math and English, but I’ve heard that Mr. Fisher’s Physics class is tough. It would all be way above my head.”

 It was the Monday after their date, Mary remembered, that Mr. Fisher lowered the boom. He had given a monster midterm exam and then, with his pupils in shock, had handed out a crazy assignment that had something to do with dropping eggs off buildings. All the Physics students had been complaining. 

Mary found it fun to watch the Physics students walk around in a daze, until she remembered that Boz was one of them. And Boz seemed to stay in his daze. Mary would have worried more about him, but Liz’s makeover attempts kept her dazed.

Liz intended to make Mary over into a carbon copy of herself, but between Mary’s stubbornness and the magnitude of the task, Liz was soon willing to settle for social acceptability. After her initial lessons on the role of women, she launched into lectures on poise.

“Stand up straight!” Liz nagged, sounding like her mother. “Why look like the hunchback when you can show off your nice shoulders?” Mary had expected Liz to emphasize another part of the female anatomy considering the candid way Liz spoke about such things. “Put you head up when you walk into a room,” she’d coach and model at the same time, “and toss your hair like this. Look people in the eye and speaking of eyes, have you ever notice what happens when you wink at a guy who’s not expecting it?”

Mary bristled, thinking Liz was going to jump on her “women power” soapbox again, when Liz said something that shocked her. “You ought to work on this; you’d kill them with those eyes.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Some people don’t know what they’ve got or how to use it.” Liz sounded envious as well as disgusted. “You have the most beautiful eyes I’ve ever seen. I’d kill for eyes like that!” 

Mary couldn’t have been more pleased if the compliment had come from Boz himself. She thought Liz was one of the prettiest girls she’d ever met and had spent most of their friendship being jealous of her. Now the beautiful Liz was coveting her eyes.

Liz not only knew how to handle boys, but girls too. Totally obscure to the male population of Empire, there existed – within each clique and throughout them all – a subtle, yet powerful female culture. Savvy observers could pick out the respective queen bees, workers and drones; and would be careful to not upset the hives. The verbal and psychological stings from any of these swarms could be emotionally and socially deadly. 

Mary had run afoul of a couple of these female mafias during those first few weeks of school. Yet, during the month she and Liz had been on their own, she’d watched the most powerful of these queen bees rendered impotent by Liz’s strong personality, wit and sharp tongue.   

Everyone had heard about Julie and Liz’s fight and, at first, Mary wondered if it was that news that caused these girls to cow. Yet after she watched Liz verbally trounce some pretty tough girls, she knew it was a different kind of power. 

The power was not all negative. Liz had the same loving and caring nature as her brother – winning her many more friends than enemies. She used her wit and good nature to defuse many more situations than ever came to confrontation. Her confidence allowed her the freedom of not caring what others thought and gave those who associated with her the strength and courage they needed to feel the same way. 

As a matter of fact, while there were some girls that didn’t like her, there was only one that didn’t respect her. That was Julie Johnson. Liz confided in Mary that losing Julie’s friendship had hurt more than anything else.

 Liz had already told Mary all the ugly particulars about the end of her friendship with Julie. The fight had not been nearly as damaging as the marijuana incident. “After that,” Liz had shuddered as she shared the story, “I had a cold feeling about her. It was evil, like…” Liz hesitated, almost as if she couldn’t believe what she had felt. “It was like she’d sold her soul.”

Liz and Julie had a few minor spats after that, with Julie accusing Liz of betrayal and gossip and Liz demanding that Julie stop her venomous verbal attacks on Boz. Liz moved back up to her locker in the Run and Julie started getting rides to school with Preppy friends.

Then came the Saturday night that Liz came home from the movies to find all of the clothes and shoes Julie had borrowed lying on her bed. There was also a note that simply said Julie was taking all of her things back – which she had. They had not spoken since that day and, from the way they acted, you’d think neither of them really cared, but Mary knew the truth. She knew that much of the energy Liz poured into her, flowed from her frustration toward Julie.

As intense as Liz could be about the makeover, their relationship was not all about that. Most of their time was spent just being friends and having fun. Liz could be comical, even funnier than Boz. Often, she’d have Mary laughing so hard she couldn’t stand. She was interested in and had an opinion about almost everything. Both of them loved to read and, while Liz usually found it hard to sit still for any extended period of time, they would sometimes just sit for hours and share ideas from the books and magazines they’d read.

They were always busy. After school they would study together, usually at Liz’s house, where they would watch television or play games after they were finished. They frequented Mary’s apartment too. Mrs. Olsen liked Liz and was very happy that Mary had found a friend.

On Saturdays they loved to hop the bus and just go places – the movies, the museums and, of course, the malls.  Liz especially loved the malls. Sometimes she would have money, other times she would just window shop, but mostly she would watch the people. Mary was not as comfortable around crowds, but she enjoyed watching Liz watch the people.

One Sunday afternoon Liz came to see Mary. She’d heard a radio minister preaching about the Resurrection. He’d quoted a scripture that said all men would either be resurrected to Heaven or go to Hell and she wanted to know what Mary though about that idea.

Mary told her she wasn’t very good with the Bible, but pulled her Mother’s copy off the bookshelf and after some searching found the scripture the minister had used. It was John 5:29.

            “And shall come forth; they that have done good unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil; unto the resurrection of damnation.”

Mary looked up from reading the scripture aloud to see Liz’s sad and pleading eyes. Her mouth was forced into a frown and her bottom lip quivered. Seeing Liz so unhappy made Mary want to cry too.

“What’s the matter? Why does this bother you so much?”

Liz took the Bible from Mary’s hands and stared at the scripture for a long moment before answering. She spoke with the trembling voice of one who had sincerely contemplated her eternal destiny for the first time. “What if you’re only partly good, or partly bad?” There was a thoughtful silence. “How good do you have to be to go to Heaven and how bad do you have to be to go to Hell?”

The depth of this question shocked Mary and opened a floodgate of questions inside her. Was Liz asking the question for herself or someone else, like Boz or maybe Julie? Suddenly, Mary found herself wondering about her own standing with God. Did it make a difference that she hadn’t been to church for over a month? 

Since this last question was too painful to contemplate, she turned her efforts to answering Liz. And although she didn’t feel quite worthy of God’s love and help at that moment, she prayed in her heart for guidance to help her friend. 

“Didn’t Jesus say that he had prepared many mansions in the house of his father?” Liz’s face suddenly softened and Mary hoped her prayer was being answered.

“I think I’ve heard that,” Liz was absent-mindedly thumbing through Mary’s Bible as she spoke, making Mary wish she could take the book and turn right to the perfect scripture. “But what does that mean?”

Mary held her hand out for the Bible, not sure why. Liz handed it over and then sat with eager eyes, waiting for an answer. Mary toyed with the pages. After all that she’d taken from this girl, this was her chance to give back and yet she had no idea where to start. She wished that she knew the scriptures better. Again, her heart called out to God for help.  

Suddenly, Mary knew what she had to do. She laid the book aside as the words came tumbling out. “Liz, I don’t know the scriptures very well and I can’t quote you chapter and verse, but there are some things I do know. Heavenly Father loves all of his children and wants us all to come back and live with him.”

Mary fell silent as she flipped open her notebooks and began to sketch. At first Liz thought she might be doodling while collecting her thoughts, but then she realized that Mary was making a diagram. Mary finished, slid next to Liz on the couch and turned the notebook so they could both see. Sketching the diagram had given her time to collect her thoughts, so she now spoke with conviction.

“We lived with God before we came here,” Mary was now using the point of her pencil to indicate a circle she’d drawn in the upper left-hand corner of the page. “He is our father, the literal father of our spirits – what’s inside of us.  He doesn’t just want us to come back and be with him, he wants us to be like him.” Mary paused, trying to read Liz’s face. She was pleased to see that Liz was nodding. 

“He created this world,” Mary’s pencil was now touching another circle in the middle of the page, “created bodies for us and gave us the chance to come down here to live. We came to learn to be like him.” The idea of coming to earth to become like God didn’t make sense to Liz and she almost said so, but she decided to let Mary finish.  

“This life is like a test, to see how well we’ll obey. And after we die,” Mary’s pencil passed over a little grave and headstone on the diagram, “our spirits go to a place called the Spirit World.” Her pencil came to rest on another circle divided in two. Liz saw the words “Paradise” and “Prison” printed on either side of the line that divided the circle; equated them with Heaven and Hell; and the fear that had brought her to Mary’s apartment gripped her again. 

This time Liz couldn’t help but break in. “That’s Heaven,” she said pointing to the left side of the circle. “And that’s,” she almost choked on the word as she pointed to the other, “Hell.” Mary wanted to explain that that was partially true, but before she could say anything Liz moved on. “That’s what I need to know. What’s the line?” Without thinking, Liz had taken the pencil from Mary’s hand and was now tracing over the line that divided the circle.

Mary was a little shaken. Liz seemed to be even more upset now. Mary wondered if she had done the wrong thing trying to explain all of this and just hoped she hadn’t made a mess of it.  Please help me help a friend.

“You’re asking the wrong question,” Mary had no idea where that idea had come from, but the words were definitely coming out of her mouth. “You think the line represents how good or bad a person is, don’t you?”

Liz turned and almost glared at Mary. “What else could it mean?”

“Liz,” Mary was confident again, sure of what she had to say, “Heavenly Father knew that all of us would commit … make mistakes.” Liz cringed. “That’s why he sent the Savior. Jesus came to show us the way and to pay the price for our sins,” the word was now appropriate. “Because of what he did, we can repent.”

Repent? Liz thought the word rolled off Mary’s tongue too easily and besides, what did that have to do with the line between Heaven and Hell? Mary had nothing to repent of. It was easy for her to talk about these things. She on the other hand…

“That is the line,” Mary now had Liz’s full attention again. “The line doesn’t represent how good or bad you are, but whether you’ve completely accepted the Atonement and repented.” Liz didn’t really understand what the atonement was, but she knew it had something to do with Jesus. And although she somehow, in her heart, knew that what Mary said was right; she didn’t quite understand in her head. She hoped she would explain more.  

“What’s the difference between being good and repenting?” Liz tone was softer; she was trying to understand. “What if somebody only partly repents?”

Mary smiled as if she had been waiting for that question all along. “In my father’s house are many mansions.” The discussion had come full circle. “See, not everybody will accept the gospel with the same degree and so Jesus prepared more than one degree of reward.” The pencil was moving again and Liz’s eyes followed. It rested on three circles drawn in a vertical row – labeled Celestial, Terrestrial and Telestial.

“This,” Mary pointed back at the divided circle, “is not the eternal Heaven or Hell. It’s only temporary – part of the learning to become like Heavenly Father. This,” she was back to the stacked circles, “is where you go for eternity.” Liz could not have been more interested in this strange new idea. 

“Three Heavens,” Liz was trying to finish the lesson herself, “and no Hell?”

Mary responded to the question by simply moving her pencil down to a cloud at the bottom of the stack of circles labeled “Outer Darkness.” 

“What’s that?”

“This is eternal Hell,” Mary answered as if she really didn’t want to bring Hell up again, “but it’s only for those who totally and completely reject the Savior and fight against him. But these,” Mary was back to the three circles, getting off the subject of Hell as soon as she could, “are the mansions Jesus prepared for those that would accept him and try to be righteous.”

Neither girl spoke for a long time. Mary was hoping (and praying) that she had said the right things. Liz was basking in the feeling. She did not understand it all, but she felt a hope and peace that she had not felt in a long time. 

“There’s more to this, isn’t there,” she smiled as she looked into Mary’s hopeful eyes. Mary nodded. “I’d like to hear more about it sometime,” Liz had her answer and was closing down the conversation. It was now becoming a little awkward. “I thought you said you didn’t know the scriptures very well. Where did you learn all of this?”  

Mary had been asking herself the same questions, but she still had to think about it for a moment. “When my father died last year, I really wanted to know where he was and so, for the first time in my life, I started thinking about what happens after we die. I started asking questions too, but I think I knew all of this all along. It’s just what I’ve learned going to church,” Mary winced, thinking how long it had been since she’d been in church and how she missed Brother James’s Sunday School lessons. Her Mom had been called into work every Sunday for a month and she just didn’t like going alone. 

“Maybe I should go to church with you sometime then.” Liz felt a little strange inviting herself. It had been years since her family had been to church.

“Yeah, that would be fi…great!”

“Can I have this?”

“Sure,” Mary said, taking care in tearing the picture out of the notebook. She smiled as she handed it to Liz.  Liz returned the smile as she took the paper and then stood looking at Mary as if she didn’t quite know what to say or do next. Then suddenly she knew exactly what to do. Wrapping her arms around Mary, she hugged her tightly. “Thank you,” Liz whispered and with that she turned and headed for the door. 

Mary found herself half-expecting Liz to trip over the hassock as Boz had done the night of their date. But had she known how Liz was feeling, she would have known there was no chance. Liz was not walking out of the door; she was floating. For the first time in a long time, she felt hope.

Mary and Liz didn’t talk about religion again for a long time, but their relationship changed forever that afternoon. Liz had more respect for Mary and treated her less like a project; Mary loved Liz more, having seen the deeper part of her. And while the relationship now included a whole new dimension, their focus still seemed to be fun.

And fun, at least for Liz, seemed to include a sleepover. Liz begged Mary to spend the night many times, but Mary declined, suspecting what Liz had in mind.  Overhauling Mary physically was the one phase of Liz’s plan that she just wouldn’t give up. She’d told Mary that if she ever “got her hands on her” for twenty-four hours she’d make her the most beautiful woman Empire High had ever seen. Mary had tolerated all of Liz’s other makeover pursuits, but had stubbornly resisted all attempts at a physical transformation. And Mary knew a slumber party implied this Frankenstein-type project – she could see it in her eyes. 

Then came a day when Liz was visiting at the Olson’s apartment. Mary’s mother came home and announced that she would have to go out of town for some training.  “I have to leave Thursday and won’t be back until Monday night,” she sounded worried. “Liz, do you think your parents would mind if Mary stayed at your place?”

Mary’s mother was setting her up for an extended sleepover.

“I can take care…” Mary began to protest, but Liz was not going to let this opportunity slip through her fingers.

“That would be great!” Liz gushed. “We’d love, to have her.  It’ll be fun.”

“Mom, we don’t want to put them to any trouble.”

“Are you sure it will be alright with your parents? We don’t want to…”

“Oh, don’t worry,” Liz loved the fact that Mary was trapped, “this is just perfect. Friday is just grade day at school and we could just stay up all night if we wanted.” She gave with the Dr. Frankenstein look and Mary just had to giggle.

“No, you need to get to bed. You’d better behave.” Mrs. Olson spoke knowing that her demands held no weight, but she really wasn’t worried. There was nobody she’d rather leave her daughter with than the Burtons. 

“We will Mom.” Mary had surrendered to the sleepover idea, but not the makeover. She tried to stare Liz down, but ended up breaking into a smile. 

As Thursday approached, Mary became more and more excited. She felt like a six-year old going to her first slumber party. And to make her even more excited about the prospect, Boz was back.

He’d appeared suddenly about a week earlier, flashing an enormous smile and acting like he owned the world. Liz and Mary were convinced he’d gone totally insane. While the rest of the serious students, especially the physics students, were suffering beastly anxiety over assignments and term exams, Boz acted like he didn’t have a care in the world. 

The Underdogs were especially happy to have him back carousing with them. The mood in the Run was almost party-like and the buzz was that the little surprise they’d been cooking up for Scott Seager would be ready on the Monday after grade day – a great way to start off the new term. 

 Boz even paid some attention to Mary, especially when he found she was staying over. He invited her to the little end-of-the term party he was throwing for the Underdogs at his house Thursday after school, but Liz whisked her away before she had a chance to answer. Mary was thankful for that, still not sure how to feel toward the boy who claimed to have given her his first kiss and then hardly talked to her since. 

Mary was even less sure how to feel as the first day of her stay arrived. She kissed her mother goodbye and cried a bit as she left for school. She carried a small suitcase with her to school and thought she must have looked very much like that six-year-old, because that’s the way she felt. It had been so long since she’d done anything like this with a girl friend. 

And yet, in the back of her mind, there was the same nagging feeling she’d felt the night she went out with Boz. She knew this girlfriend would try to talk her into the hair, the makeup and the clothes. She was not going to come out of her shell, no matter how hard Liz pulled. 

In addition to all that Mary was feeling inside herself, she could feel a real tension in the school when she arrived. That Thursday was the last day of the term with exams and assignments due. The stress level was much higher than anything she’d experienced at her rural Idaho high school. The only students that didn’t seem worried were Boz and the Underdogs.

The jovial mood and noise level in the Run, was in stark contrast to the murmuring and almost tomb-like silence in the rest of the school. Mary, knowing that Boz had to be worried about his heavy load of classes and tests, asked him how he was doing that morning. “It’s all under control,” he cooed as he gave her a wink. Mary went to find Liz and confide in her that she was sure Boz had “stripped his gears.”

The party that started in the Run that morning, continued that afternoon at the Burton house. This tradition had started two years earlier when Boz told his mother about the end of the term stress. She’d suggested that they have a little party to celebrate the end of the term and agreed to host it. 

Liz, Boz and Mary arrived home to find the dinning room table spread with a party feast and Boz started to pick at it right away. As the Underdogs began to arrive, the music came on and soon the room was filled with the strangest collection of misfits in the school laughing, chattering, eating and dancing. 

The feeling was contagious – pure fun. Even Mr. Burton, when he came home from work, went right into the living room and started dancing with one of the girls. The whole room erupted into laughter as Boz put his Dad in a playful headlock and dragged him toward the kitchen. 

Boz saw Mary standing in the kitchen, watching the fun through the doorway and invited her to join, but Liz declined for her.

“No way turkey,” she challenged him. “This girl is going shopping with me and I don’t even want you to see her until tomorrow. Then you’ll have to beg her to come to one of your parties.”

“I’m begging now,” Boz shot back playfully.

“Yeah, but tomorrow you’ll have to stand in line.”

Liz enlisted Mr. Burton as chauffeur and they were off for the mall where Liz ran from store to store finding things for Mary’s makeover. At first, Mary was upset that Liz was spending so much money on her and asked her to stop. When Liz just ignored her, Mary determined that it was all going back the next day.

When Liz saw a sweater that she said would be perfect and realized she didn’t have enough to buy it, she begged her dad for the money. Mary was now embarrassed. She was even more embarrassed when he opened his wallet and handed over the cash. Liz grabbed it and ran into the store and Mary was left standing next to him.

“I’m really embarrassed about this,” she said in a painful voice. “You are far too generous. I’m letting her have her fun, but this will all go back tomorrow.”

Mr. Burton smiled. “I am just pleased that my daughter has a good friend like you – you’re worth every penny. Besides, I never did pay you for dating my son. I’ve had to pay all the girls he’s gone out with.”

“Yeah, right! You’re just wonderful! Most parents wouldn’t let their kids have a party like the Underdogs are having right now.”

“Well, I think Boz is a good son and most of those Underdogs,” he wasn’t used to the term for his son’s friends, “are too. Besides, I’d rather have them at my house having fun than out looking for it somewhere else.”  

Mary was enjoying talking with Mr. Burton so much that she didn’t notice Liz return with the bag. Mr. Burton stuck his hand out for the change and Liz reluctantly gave it up. He pocketed it and they headed home.  

By the time they returned, the party had wound down. The music was off and the Underdogs were filtering out. Liz insisted that they sneak in the back way and avoid Boz until morning. She said she wanted him to be totally surprised. 

From Liz’s room, they could hear a few of the Underdogs talking. The doorbell rang and there was a different voice. They heard footsteps go by Liz’s door and down the stairs to Boz’s room.  

“Boz has gone downstairs. The coast is clear.” Liz almost whispered. “Go out and raid the table. We’ll need some edibles before the night’s over.”

Mary slipped out of Liz’s bedroom, across the dark kitchen and into the dinning room. She grabbed a plate and filled it before she heard the voices coming from the living room. It was Boz and Floyd. She almost said something until she realized that Floyd was talking about her. 

As she listened from the darkness, she almost dropped the plate. Tears began to fill her eyes and she had to stifle a cry. She put the plate down carefully and stood perfectly still. She listened for a response from Boz, but it didn’t come. She heard the front door slam shut and the voices continue outside. 

Mary buried her face in her hands and cried. 

BOZ CHAPTER 14: And Ye Shall Receive (Boz)

“Our Father in Heaven…”  

I listened carefully as Elder Whitehead prayed. I always listened carefully when the Elders prayed, wondering how these guys, only a year or two older than me, could be so spiritual. Elder Whitehead was quiet and shy. He wasn’t as polished as Elder Lee, but he loved everybody and always seemed to know what they were thinking and feeling.

“We are thankful for Boz, for his good heart; and we ask Thee to bless him in his school work and in his relationship with his family.”

It had been a rough month in the Burton household and things were just getting back to normal.

Liz told Mom and Dad what those Prep jerks had done to her. They believed her, but things were still tense. When she told me, I offered to sick the Underdogs on them, but she told me that she didn’t want any more trouble and to just let it go. And it was just as well, I was so stressed about school, I probably wouldn’t have pulled it off anyway.

The first half of the term had gone pretty well, but it was because I was getting so much help from Mary. She didn’t seem to mind, but I felt like I was cheating. I really felt like I had to do it on my own. And I planned on telling her that right after our date.

I was going to tell her a whole bunch of things that day. First, of all I was going to tell her that I really liked her. I wanted to tell her about the part of my life I’d been hiding – the truth about going to Coronado, going to the Mormon Church and that I was actually reading the same book as her mom.  

But that was the Monday Fisher dropped his bomb in physics. He gave us an assignment to design a space capsule that would allow its raw egg cargo to survive the impact of a fall from the top of the school building. The thought of building a capsule sounded fun, but Fisher didn’t want us to build it, he wanted us to design it. The assignment was to draw a set of plans and use the principles of physics to explain why our design would work. 

The instructions for the assignment were three pages long and talked about “Newton’s laws of motion,” “kinetic energy,” “impulse,” “elastic and inelastic collisions.” I freaked out and I wasn’t alone. It was like Fisher was asking us to give ourselves a crash course and everyone was freaked.  

If the smartest kids in school were worried, imagine how I felt.  When I wasn’t working on my other school work, which I was determined to do without Mary, I was pouring over my physics text trying to find answers. I skipped lunch to go to the library. I went right home after school and spent the whole night in my room studying. I felt like I was going to suffocate.

By the end of the week I was exhausted. I slept in on Saturday and then spent the rest of the day in front of the boob tube watching football. I planned to do the same thing Sunday, but remembered my promise about attending church. And now it was a promise to Amy too. Once I was up, and on my way though, I was actually excited.

“We are thankful for the Wilson family, that they have been willing to open their hearts and home to help Boz learn the gospel.”

Amy was waiting for me at the door of the church. “So, we didn’t scare you away last time? I looked for you at school, but didn’t see you. Were you avoiding me?”

She was the last person I would avoid. “I just had about ten tons of homework.”

“Ten tons?”

“Give or take a ton, but with that monster project Fisher laid on us. I tell you I am not Joe Student. I just don’t know if I can handle it.”  

“You’re tough, you can handle it,”

“That’s easy for you to say. You’re the smartest girl in school. You could do that physics assignment with one brain tied behind your back.” 

She stopped in the middle of the hallway and gave me a look. “You’re a lot smarter than you give yourself credit for. I know you’ve been slacking off the last couple of years, so maybe you deserve a little spanking. Nobody’s finding this assignment easy, but nobody’s got a better chance of pulling it off than you.” She smiled and batted her eyes at me. 

I’d expected sympathy, but got a pep talk instead. I wasn’t used to that kind of treatment, but I liked it. I suddenly felt strong and confident. I like this girl.

Everybody at church was very friendly and, of course, wanted to shake hands. Mike Reese found us in the chapel, said hello and then sat on the other side of Amy – a little too close for my liking. The missionaries made a beeline for me, shook my hand and sat next to me. I felt a little uncomfortable with all the attention. 

“You’re expected for dinner,” Amy reminded me as we walked out of Brother James’ class – as if I’d thought of anything else all morning. 

“Yeah, I’m looking forward to it. I’ll give you a ride and you can show me the way.” 

“Sounds good.” She headed down the hall to let her mom know and then when she came back, “Let’s go. If we’re lucky we can beat the crowd.”

As we came out of the church, I saw Bertha as if for the first time. I wondered what this beautiful, preppy girl would think about riding home in a bright yellow station wagon. I wondered if I should be embarrassed.

“I’ve always wanted to ride in that thing! I love it!”

“If I’d known that…”

“She is so cool. What’s her name?” Amy was already headed for the car. 

I was relieved that Amy liked Bertha. I rushed to catch up and swung her creaky door open wide. I was glad I’d found the energy to do at least one thing the day before – give Bertha a long overdue cleaning. Within moments I was in the pilot’s seat backing that boat out of the parking spot. It took a little doing to navigate through the parking lot, but soon we were headed down the street.  

We stopped at a light behind two guys in suits riding bicycles. “Look at these guys, the way they’re dressed you’d think they could afford a car.”  One of them turned around and I recognized Elder Lee.  

Elder Lee recognized us right away. He smiled and waved, then said something to his companion. Elder Whitehead turned and smiled a shy smile. Amy rolled down the window as we passed them.

“Wanna race?” Elder Lee shouted over the sounds of the traffic.

I laughed. “Do you want a ride? We could put your bikes in the back.”

Thanks, but we don’t have that far to go. We’re headed up to Bishop Wilson’s for dinner.”  I drove past and watched in the rearview mirror as the elders turned right. 

“I’m sorry, that was our turn.” Amy laughed as the fact had become obvious.

I turned at the next street and soon we were back on course. She gave better directions after that and soon we were pulling into her driveway. 

I was suddenly worried. “Amy, if the missionaries are coming to dinner are you sure it’s alright with your parents if I come. I don’t want to be a problem.”

“Oh, don’t worry. In this house three more people aren’t going to make any difference!” She smiled at me, bounded from the car and threw open the garage door.

I was to discover that three more people really didn’t make much difference in the Wilson household. My fist clue was the size of their house – it was a huge. My second clue was what looked like a dozen bikes of different sizes lined up neatly along a rack inside the garage. But the most convincing clue came as the family station wagon pulled into the driveway.

It was like the clown car at the circus. Mrs. Wilson emerged followed by eight kids. I guessed that Amy was the oldest and two-year-old Jacky was the youngest. I stood stunned as Mrs. Wilson and each of the kids filed through the garage and up the stairs into the house. Amy started to giggle.

“Nine kids?”

Amy took my hand and led me into the house. She told me I could relax in the living room while she changed and helped her mom with dinner.  “Oh, and would you please watch for the Elders,” she asked as she skipped up the stairs. 

I watched until she disappeared past the second landing, then turned and surveyed the Wilson’s large living room. I was a little surprised. With that enormous family I expected clutter and chaos, but there was neither. The children had all disappeared to their rooms to change and someone had put some quiet music on the stereo. The living room was modestly furnished, and while I usually didn’t pay much attention to people’s furniture, I noticed that there was not a tear, scratch or stain on any of it. I also noticed that the coffee table looked recently polished, as did the small upright piano, and that the magazines and music were neatly arranged.

It dawned on me that they’d had to work hard to get ready for my visit. I felt a little guilty as I visualized the whole family scurrying around on Saturday, cleaning and arranging. It was then that I noticed the back wall of the large room. 

The top half was a giant built-in bookcase with hundreds of books on the shelves.  I was drawn toward the bookcase because my grandmother Platt had been a librarian and I, as a child, spent hundreds of hours with her learning about and caring for books.

I pulled one of the older-looking books from the shelf to examine it. Grayson’s Comprehensive History of the Americas– the once gilded title was now just an impression in the cover. This book, published before the civil war, was in amazing condition. The spine had been repaired but other than that there was not a tear or mark on the cover, or a wrinkled or torn page. The gilding along the edge of the pages was gone and the book fell open easily to just about any page. It had been well read, but not abused.

I felt respect as I held this book in my hands and suddenly realized that this family did not just do a rush job on this living room to get ready for Sunday visitors. The children had been taught to appreciate and care for the things they owned. I thought of the bikes arranged neatly on the racks in the garage and the contents of the garage neatly packaged and stacked. I looked at the bottom half of the bookcase and found nine custom built bins that rolled out. Each had a child’s name on it. I pulled out “Robert” and found neatly stored textbooks, study supplies and tape recorder.

I wondered if this was a family or a military school. What do these people have to do to get their kids to be this neat and orderly? Are they allowed to have any fun? Do they ever play or just relax?

I looked around for a television but couldn’t see one. Are Mormons allowed to watch TV? Can they dance? Do they ever rock out or just listen to hymns?

I was just about to open little Jacky’s bin on the end, to see what they expected of a two-year old, when Amy came dancing down the stairs, looking perfectly normal, actually way better than normal.

“Have you seen the Elders yet?”

“No, not yet,”

I was now seeing this beautiful girl through different eyes. She was still the prettiest thing I’d ever seen, but now I understood why she was so smart. All her parents allowed her to do was study. 

“Keep your eyes pealed. They were right behind us. I’m going to go see what kind of help Mom needs,” and with that she headed off into the dinning room.  

I was sliding the beautiful old book back into place when the next entry in the Wilson Family Parade came down the stairs. He was tall and slender with a confident smile behind bright silver braces. 

“Hi, there. I’m Robert.” This kid seemed normal. “I’ve seen you at school, but you probably don’t know me. I’m just a sophomore, but I know your sister Liz.”

I was a little embarrassed that I didn’t know him. There were 2700 students at Empire, but part of my mission had always been to get to know as many of the new students as I could. I thought about Clint – my lone Underdog recruit – and felt a little better.

“It’s good to meet you. We’ll have to get to know each other better.”

Robert seemed pleased by my suggestion and smiled as he excused himself to help in the kitchen too. Maybe Mormons only let their kids study and help with dinner.

I was about to go help, when a pair of chubby twin boys came rumbling down the stairs. These two looked less like the rest of the family – sporting flame red hair and ruddy complexions.  

“Hi,” they shouted in unison. They stood at the bottom of the stairs and stared at me. What’s your name?” 

“I’m Boz.” They cocked their heads in unison, acting like my name was strange. 

“Get moving Nephi and Lehi you’re in my way.” A boy looking to be about six or seven spoke the first gruff words I’d heard in that house, but I couldn’t help liking the mischievous look in his twinkling blue eyes. He parted the twins with the back of his hands, squeezed between them and once around the edge of the banister he grinned at me. “Are you Amy’s boyfriend?” 

But before I could say, “I wish,” the kid was off for the kitchen. The twins rounded the banister and followed him taunting, “Amy’s got a boyfriend! Amy’s got a boyfriend!” 

“That’s enough of that you little monkeys,” Amy playfully scolded from behind me. I turned to see her coming through the dinning room. She spatted the twins on the bottom as they ran past. If she was embarrassed by the boyfriend comment, she didn’t show it. 

“Mom told me I could skip dinner duty today and come entertain you. What do you want me to do, sing or dance?”

“What?”

“Entertain you? Sing? Dance?”

“Very funny,” I was a little off. Meeting Amy’s family had almost overwhelmed me.

“These are my sisters,” I heard Amy through the fog and turned to see three girls standing at the base of the stairs. I think they would have slipped by quietly if I hadn’t been in their way. “This is Darla, Jennifer and Maria,” Amy introduced three pretty, slender girls that look very much like snapshots of their mother at various ages.  

“Hi there!” They just giggled and squeezed past the us. “Cute! I think that makes six, seven and eight.” I was teasing her now.

“Oh, and here comes number nine.” I turned to see the littlest Wilson standing timidly on the second landing. She was peeping at me though the spindles. “It’s okay Jacky sweetheart, you can come down. This is my friend Boz. Can you say hello?”

“Hewwo.” She sounded like an angel. She came downstairs, looking very much like a smaller version of Amy – emerald eyes, olive skin and dark hair.

I met her at the bottom of the stairs and put out my hands, hoping she would let me hold her. She put her arms up and I picked her up. She buried her face in my shoulder and I fell in love.  

Amy took her, set her down in the doorway to the dining room and patted her bottom. “Go find Darla.” Then turning to me, “Yes, Mr. Burton, that makes nine,” She was now teasing me back. “You should have seen your face…” Amy couldn’t finish for laughing.

“Nine kids? How do your parents do it?”

She didn’t get a chance to answer because just at that moment the front door burst open and the missionaries came through with Mr. Wilson. The peace and order of the house was temporarily interrupted as the whole clan came through the dinning room to greet their father. He hugged and kissed and tousled hair.

Mrs. Wilson came through the dining room and with a quiet word dispersed the hoard so that she could give her husband a kiss. At that point, I understood that the credit for the miracle I’d witnessed that afternoon belonged to Mrs. Wilson. 

I gave her credit for much more before the day was through. It wasn’t long before a delicious meal was devoured and I was helping the elders with the dishes, while the family gathered in the living room.

I watched the elders carefully as we worked. Elder Lee turned the chore into a contest, seeing if he could wash faster than Elder Whitehead could rinse or I could dry and put away. He complained when I helped Elder Whitehead catch up, but it was all in fun. Seeing these ministers act like regular guys made me much more comfortable around them.  

After the dishes were finished, we joined the family. We found the younger children playing with toys pulled from their bins and the older children writing letters or reading. Amy was talking with her parents. Soon the conversation turned to the Sunday School lesson that Amy and I had enjoyed that morning.

“I really like the way Brother James teaches. He makes you think”.

Amy’s dad was smiling. “I’ve known Brother James for years and have always loved his teaching. Speaking of teaching, the elders tell me you want to know more about the Church.”

“I want to, but I’m not sure that my parents will let the Elders into our house. Maybe we could meet at the Church or something.”

“We would love to have you hear the discussions in our home. Would that be okay?”

I was excited. “Yeah! When could we do it?”

“Well the elders are here, why don’t we start today?”

I nodded and the elders pulled out a black binder with pictures in it.   

“Just one thing,” Mr. Wilson sounded serious, “Boz, you will need to tell your parents sooner or later that you are learning about the Church. It ought to be sooner.”

I knew he was right and nodded. I prayed to know how and when.

“We thank Thee that Boz has come to know that the Church is true and that he has the desire to be baptized.”

I listened carefully to everything the missionaries taught and learned much more than I expected. I asked lots of questions and the elders had answers, but I needed to know if those answers were true.

One thing about the Mormons that impressed me was that they all seemed to know how to pray. I prayed memorized prayers, that my mom had taught me, since I was old enough to speak, but Mormons’ prayers made me feel warm and confident. These people weren’t just saying prayers, they were praying to a God they knew. 

At the end of our discussion, the elders taught me a simple lesson on prayer and asked if I would be willing to give the closing prayer. I was nervous, but tried to let the words come from my heart. That afternoon I felt comfort and peace and knew that what the elders had taught was right.

Before I went to bed that night I prayed again. For the first time in my life, I had a real conversation with God. I confided all my hopes, dreams, fears and worries. I crawled into bed with a confident feeling about several things in my life, including my desire to handle the Physics assignment.    

Thou hast helped him with so many things and we ask that Thou wilt help him with one more.”

I prayed again the next morning and felt those same feelings. That day I dove into my schoolwork with a renewed vigor and found myself working faster and better. It was as if a light had come on that wasn’t there before. Each night I thanked God for His help and each morning I pled for more. Things got better every day.   

I decided to begin tackling the physics assignment. I poured over the index of the text, looking up the terms Fisher had outlined. As I read the text, I saw pictures in my mind that explained the concepts much more clearly than the words or pictures in the book. It was as if angels were teaching me in a way I could understand. I began sketching plans and ideas; and trying out theory after theory – amazed at what I was learning. The picture of my capsule became clearer and clearer.

My weeks were busy. School occupied more of my time, but Thursday nights and Sunday afternoons I met with the missionaries. I became more and more convinced of the truth. Each day whizzed by in a blur; each night found me on my knees.  

Everything came together the week before term end. I was proud and excited (as well as amazed) that I’d finished my capsule plans. I took them to school intending to turn them in early, but decided to leave them in my locker and turn them in at the last minute so Fisher wouldn’t think I was too smug.   

“Please help him as he talks to his parents about being baptized. Soften their hearts and help them understand.”

The one thing that bothered me was keeping my meetings with the elders a secret from my family. Although I never lied to them, I still felt guilty and there were so many things I wanted to share with them. The Sunday I accepted the elders’ challenge to be baptized, I knew that I had to tell my parents. The next Friday would be a good time. That day I’d be bringing home my best report card ever and they couldn’t help but see what a good influence the Church had been on me. I was so very happy.  

I was happy the whole week. With all of my school work done, the pressure was off. I spent most of my time with the Underdogs. I was even happier when I found out that Mary, who I’d practically ignored for weeks, would be spending the whole weekend at our house. I would surely find time to explain all of my bizarre behavior to her then. 

Thursday had been the best day of all. I handed in the physics assignment and smiled as Fisher said something about “the last minute.” That afternoon my parents threw our traditional Underdog end-of-the-term party and it had been a blast. 

The only bad part of the entire week happened right after the party. All of the Underdogs had left, except for Floyd. He acted like he wanted to talk and one thing I had learned was not to rush him. I invited him to stay and help to clean up a little and he started to relax.  

Just when Floyd seemed ready to talk, the doorbell rang. I answered it to find Chuck Worley filling the doorway. Chuck had missed the party due to football practice. He was a big part of the best football team Empire had ever had and he made us proud. Chuck struggled with his classes and I was suddenly sure he’d come with bad news about his grades and sports eligibility, but I was wrong. Chuck had come with good news. He’d done very well and was only having trouble in one subject.           

“I went to see Mr. Garcia about my history grade before practice today and he said he would cut me slack if I would get some help tonight and retake my final in the morning. Then he asked me if I knew a guy from his first period class named Boz Burton and told me to ask him for some help. Are you the Boz Burton?”

I chuckled and told Chuck that I’d be glad to help. I asked him to go down and wait in my room. Chuck went, leaving Floyd and I standing awkwardly by the front door. We both knew he had been waiting to say something and Floyd realized that this would be his last chance so he just let it tumble out.

“Boz, I gotta tell you, man, I thought you were losin’ your freakin’ mind when you showed up on the first day of school with that Cat Woman. She is such a loser! You had everybody trippin’. They thought you were crazy for hanging out with her, but I knew you were too cool to really be groovin’ on her. Then you took her out!  Man, I was freaked. Of course, you were just workin’ the magic on her uh? Up to The Overlook, I bet! I know. We all know. You’ve just been usin’ her to beat the system, haven’t you? You know, the homework and stuff. You are so cool! Don’t get all bent out of shape, man, I ain’t tellin’ anybody. I’m just glad you gave it all up before your brain melted and ran out your ears.”

I was so shocked, I didn’t know what to say, so I let him ramble. Then I tried to interrupt him, but when I opened my mouth nothing came out.  All I could think to do was get Floyd out of the house before anyone heard him. Without thinking, I grabbed Floyd by the front of his shirt and dragged him out the door. It wasn’t until the door was shut behind us that I realized how angry I was. 

I stood there looking at him with that stupid grin on his face and I lost it. I was madder than I’d ever been, way past wanting-to-punch-Seager-out mad. Once we were out of the house, I gave him a tongue-lashing. I kept my voice down, but I gave it to him.

“Now you listen to me Floyd! Mary is my friend, my real friend. And maybe she’s more than a friend.”

“Come on Boz….” He tried to interrupt but I wasn’t going to have it. 

“Just shut up and listen,” my words slashed through the cold fall air like a knife. “Mary is a great person. Groovy, g-r-o-o-v-y, get it?” Yes, I was mocking the way he talked. “Now, I know that I have been a jerk in the past. Let terrible things be said about the girls I’ve dated and I’m sick about it. I’ve used people before, but not any more. It all ends now. And you and everybody else had just better lay off Mary.”

As I lashed out, Floyd’s expression morphed from smirking to confused to angry. He was embarrassed and hurt. He pushed me back against the house and whirled. I knew that I’d been stupid to lose my temper, especially with one of my best friends.

“Floyd, wait. I’m sorry.”  It was too late; he was gone. I almost went after him, but knew it would be better if we talked after we had both calmed down. Besides, I had to see what I could do for Chuck before I left for my appointment with the missionaries. 

Later that evening, as I sat listening to Elder Whitehead’s prayer, I thought about Floyd. The thought flashed into my mind to call him, but I told myself he would calm down by morning. At least nobody had heard him say those stupid things – especially Mary. I smiled knowing she was still at the mall, safely tucked away under Liz’s wings.

In the Name of Jesus Christ, Amen.  

Now that Elder Whitehead had prayed for me, I knew that the next day was going to be one of the best days of my life. Everyone in the room smiled as they heard my loud “Amen!”

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