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Chapter 14: Bethany
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Friday, January 3, 11:00 A.M.
Ronni Masterson stretched and kicked off the covers. Jason will have to talk to the church board about the valves on these radiators, she thought dispiritedly. Here it is in the dead of winter and I wake up in a sweat, even with a shortie on. Slowly she rolled over on her tummy and checked the alarm clock. The fact that it was eleven in the morning brought no discernible reaction.
Over on her back again, she stared at the water-spotted ceiling and reflected on how lucky she was to be capable of sleeping in. Many of her friends told her they couldn't stay in bed past seven without getting a headache. And why not sleep late? Who's to say that sleeping is less virtuous than racing around the kitchen and baking up a lot of high cholesterol pastries that will hasten our trip to the grave. Or maybe pastries aren't high in cholesterol. Who cares? They're fattening, that's for sure.
Thinking of getting fat caused Ronni to caress her flat tummy with the palms of both hands. I wonder if I'm pregnant again. In the confusion of the move, she had mislaid her pills and last night she was unprotected.
Ronni stretched drowsily and patted her tummy again. So what if I am pregnant again. Jason Junior is due for a little sister to brighten his adolescent years. Little Sister ought to hold off at least a year, though. Got to get this place fixed up a little bit first. Her gaze shifted to the spotted ceiling again and she wondered idly if the rusted pans in the attic were properly positioned to catch the drips from the leaky roof. Have to check that the next time it rains.
The sound of a flushing commode caused her to reach down and pull the sheet up to her shoulders. Her husband had gone up to the Susquehanna Valley Mall in Selinsgrove to get some things for the house but Jason Junior was home from school with an upper respiratory infection.
"Mom, when we gonna eat?"
Ronni smiled with warm affection at the 11-year-old boy standing in the bedroom doorway. The top and bottom of his pajamas did not match in color, pattern, or fabric. And his sleep-messed hair stuck out from his head in a way which gave him a somewhat justified Dennis the Menace aura.
"Morning, Tiger. How're you feeling this morning? Come here and let me feel your head."
Jason Junior padded over and sat on the edge of the bed beside his mother, smelling very much like a boy. "You seem cool enough. Tell you what. Get a quick shower and brush your teeth and then we'll talk about lunch."
"Aw, Mom, do I hafta? I'm not going to school today."
Ronni smiled in spite of herself. "Yes, you hafta. I'm people , too, you know. I have a nose. Now scoot! Toasted ham and cheese be okay?"
"Can I have Coke?"
"Yes, you can have Coke. Now go, and close the door, please."
After Jason had closed the door, Ronni hopped out of bed and dressed quickly. She brushed her teeth and washed the sleep out of her eyes at an old-fashioned lavatory sink mounted on the bedroom wall. It's basin was rust-stained and its unmatched faucets didn't mix, but it added a small measure of convenience to the one-bath parsonage.
Later, downstairs in the kitchen, Ronni heard a well-worn episode of Happy Days moving toward a conclusion and checked the sandwiches. Just right, and she smiled. Her finicky son hated crunchy toasted ham and cheese sandwiches. They had to be gooey on the inside and greasy on the outside.
In a moment Jason appeared at the table. "Man, that sure smells good. I must be getting better, hungry as I am."
"It's all ready, Tiger, except pouring your Coke. You can do that after you pray."
Jason Masterson, Junior bowed his freshly-combed head. Ronni believed it was perfectly all right to watch and pray so she glanced at the teapot clock above the kitchen table as her son began his prayer. The sweep second hand had just passed the 3 on its way to high noon. She turned her attention back to the prayer.
"... for this food and ask You to bless it to our bodies. And help me to get better so I can go outside and play in the snow. Protect Dad on his trip up to Selinsgrove and bring him back to us safe again. In Jesus' name we pray, Amen."
As Jason Junior prayed, his mother watched him fondly and marveled at how rapidly he had grown in the last year. He had lost his little-boy chubbiness and was fast developing into quite a young man. A small tuft of hair had escaped the lick-and-a-promise ministrations of his comb and Ronni had a motherly urge to reach across the table and smooth it down.
Instead, she closed her eyes for the final seconds of his prayer and then opened them on the "Amen".
It was too late to fix his hair. Her body was already frozen in a state of instant granite. With the first sound of the trumpet she knew it was the Rapture. She also knew she was not going.
As the mother stared at the still-bowed head of her 11-year-old, she screamed an anguished prayer to the God she had known about and read about and talked about most of her life. But her screams were silent and her prayer echoed hollowly in the dark and empty chambers of her own soul.
God! God! Please, God, don't take him. Please don't take him! Don't take my only son. Please leave him here. Please, God, I can't bear to lose him. Not forever! Not for eternity! Please leave him here! Please don't take him!
The only part of her body which could move were her eyes, which were dry in spite of the anguish in her heart. She stared at the bowed head of her son and the same "don't take him" prayer rolled endlessly through her mind.
But there would be no stopping the inevitable and she knew she would be forced to watch it happen. He would have to take on a new body, an incorruptible body, specifically fitted for the joys and glories of eternal bliss.
And it did happen, just as she knew it would. As she watched with mingled joy and sorrow, a shimmering vapor flowed down over Jason's body. Where she had seen a typical sixth grader, there sat a creature of total perfection with just a hint of Jason Junior around the eyes and at the corners of the mouth.
But wait! Something else was happening. She became acutely aware of a tingling sensation low in her abdomen. It felt like a slender probe had been inserted far into her body and was delivering a series of mild electric shocks. Dropping her gaze to her lap, she saw a wisp of vapor permeate the fabric of her slacks just below the navel and float out toward the center of the room.
Instantly she knew what was happening. Little Sister did exist, after all, and was being raptured, too! But not as a zygote, or an embryo, or a fetus, or even a tiny baby. Now we know, she thought incongruously, that life really does being at the point of conception.
Rapidly the tenuous vapor swirled away from her body and, in the middle of the kitchen, took on the form of a beautiful woman of about 21. Of course, she realized with a flash of insight. They will all be 21. Perfection times the trinity.
And there her new-born baby girl stood, dressed in a soft gown of gentle pink, smiling sweetly at her brother. Suddenly Ronni realized she didn't have a name! But how could she have a name? She was conceived less than 12 hours ago. Quick! What can her name be? She has to have a name. Then a calendar on the wall within her range of peripheral vision caught her attention. She was able to read BETHANY COMMUNITY CHURCH. Of course. Bethany is a Bible name, too, a perfect name for a young lady in a state of rapture.
Frantically she sought Jason Junior's gaze. Her name's Bethany, she called silently. Tell her that I named her Bethany, after the last church her Dad pastored. Tell her, Jason Junior. Please tell her.
But the two splendid siblings were totally oblivious to the soul cries of their immobilized mother. They stood smiling sweetly into each other's eyes and then the girl spoke.
"Hello, Jason," she said in a voice sweeter than a carefully tuned hard. "My name is Bethany and I'm your sister in Christ."
"I know, Bethany," Jason replied in a voice equally melodious but richer in timbre. "Isn't it wonderful?"
To Ronni, each syllable was like struck crystal and her heart broke into a thousand shards of misery. The pair turned, still holding hands, and faced toward the east. She knew they were about to leave Planet Earth for the jubilation of the Rapture, and she couldn't bear to see them go.
Especially Bethany. She'd always wanted a girl, had hoped that Jason Junior would be a girl. But now her unborn but transformed baby girl was about to cross the line of worlds and she hadn't even been able to touch her. Or hold her, or bathe or change or feed or rock her.
God, just one request before she goes. Please, God? I know you have to take her, and my husband and son, too. But let me touch my new baby girl just once. Let me hug and kiss her just once. Just once, God? Just once?
As Ronni watched with desperate hope, Bethany dropped Jason's hand and lifted both arms toward the eastern sky above the shabby parsonage. But then she turned gracefully and glided to her mother's side. Slowly she reached down and cupped the marble face in the softness of her palms.
At once Ronni was released from her trance and rose to her feet, her arms embracing the beautiful creature in pink. Their cheeks touched and Ronni turned her head to press her dry lips to Bethany's face. Nothing had ever felt smoother or softer.
"I'm so sorry, Mother," and now the notes of the harp were muted and somber with sadness. "He's calling and I must go. Good-bye."
And with that simple farewell, Bethany slipped from her mother's arms and turned to take her brother's hand again. Before another thought could cross Ronni's mind, they rose and passed right through the kitchen wall, between the corner cupboard and the refrigerator.
At that moment the trumpet music, which had gone unnoticed by Ronni earlier, crescendoed and died.
Ronni glanced up at the clock again. Through a haze of tears she saw the red second hand begin moving and it was five seconds past twelve noon. She was able to move again, too.
Crying hideously she stumbled through the swinging door into the dining room and fell face down on the threadbare carpet.
mantel clock, always a little slow, began striking twelve.
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