Kingdom Keepers

by Allison Grace Myers

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Allison Grace Myers received her MFA in Fiction from Texas State University, where she held the W. Morgan & Lou Claire Rose Fellowship. Her work has been published in Crazyhorse, Reed, and Image Journal. Her story “Conditions” won the John Steinbeck Award for Fiction, and her essay “Perfume Poured Out” received honorable mention in the 2017 Best American Essays anthology. She lives in Bastrop, TX with her husband, poet Jason Myers, and is at work on her first novel.

Myers was interviewed by Texas Review assistant editor Stephanie Savell.

SS: What inspired you to write “Kingdom Keepers”?

AGM: For several years when I was growing up, I attended a Christian summer camp that closely resembles Kingdom Kamp—the chants, the insistence on misspelling words to begin with “k,” the hyperactive “on fire for Christ” type of spirituality. I remember desperately wanting to feel the type of enraptured, religious transcendence that everyone around me seemed to be experiencing.

When I started to write this story, I was interested in not only capturing the bizarre microcosm of the Christian camp world, but also exploring that sensation of being slightly apart—and I was surprised to find that I was imagining the story from the perspective of the mother, instead of the camper herself. In the character of Beth, I think I recognized the complication of feeling simultaneously amused by the spiritual frenzy and also somewhat envious of it. I found myself wanting to write a story that, rather than being purely dismissive of the silly and performative aspects of the camp, treated seriously the deeper spiritual longing underneath.

SS: Faith and motherhood are both key elements in the story. In what ways do you feel they intersect? Diverge?

AGMWhen I wrote this story, I was not yet a mother—it was published shortly after I became a parent through adoption—so I definitely view the connections between faith and motherhood through a different lens now.

Looking back at the story, I notice especially Beth’s remark about how her daughter is nothing like her, and the way she seems both frustrated and grateful for this. I think it is an act of faith for parents, whether biological or adoptive, to live in that tension between connection and difference—to accept that this tiny, magical person whom we feel inseparable from is actually their own individual, and to commit to nurturing what is unique in them, even if (or especially if) their personalities and interests and religious views are completely different from our own.

It’s easy to get trapped in narrow visions of what both faith and parenthood are supposed to feel like—that’s the main tension that Beth is experiencing in this story—but in reality, faith and motherhood are both full of so many complicated and contradictory emotions, often all present at the same time. I think of the Psalms—the way they swing so violently back and forth between gratitude and anger, praising God in one breath while lamenting in the next. That feels very similar to motherhood: the way joy and frustration and awe and anxiety are all tangled up together.

SS: “Kingdom Keepers” touches on this notion of confession, religious and otherwise, and what we say and what we choose to keep for ourselves. Was this something that occurred naturally in the narrative or that emerged while writing?

AGMThat’s an interesting question. The theme emerged naturally, and I don’t think I noticed the connection—between Amy’s mysterious religious confession and Beth’s own internal tension between privacy and honesty—until you pointed it out. Beth is definitely a character who keeps most of her thoughts to herself, and when she does speak in the story, she is often not being entirely truthful (like her lie about still dating Neil.)

 The moment when Beth hears her daughter describe confessing her sins at the Kandelight service felt like a pivotal moment for the character, realizing that her daughter has an internal spiritual life that she doesn’t understand. Beth is appalled, but also curious. Regardless of whether Amy’s confession was sincere or not, it does prompt Beth to want to engage her daughter in an honest and authentic conversation. She says she wants to hear what it felt like to be forgiven, so I do think Beth craves some form of confession—or at least that level of vulnerability—even if she’s not sure what she wants absolution for, or how to articulate it.

SS: Beth, as a character, feels like a woman apart; a kingdom, a family, a religion, and a community of Kamp goers are all microcosms Beth feels, and is in some ways, excluded from. Her endling lines, however, suggest a turn toward reconciliation. Can you explain how you see the resolution of these conflicts working in the story?

AGMEven though Beth is disdainful of these communities that she’s excluded from—she finds Kingdom Kamp ridiculous, and she is so introverted that, in many ways, she relishes her outsider status—she is also envious of them. I think the slight turn toward reconciliation at the end is more about Beth’s acceptance of that contradiction within herself. I don’t see much potential for her feeling welcomed by any of those communities, or for her embracing them either, but in that scene on the swing she does glimpse a way to connect to her daughter, to find a sliver of common ground between Amy’s brand of Christianity and Beth’s much more ambiguous faith. I think she is given a glimpse of what it feels like, not necessarily to have a spiritual experience, but to want to have one, and that longing is something that she and Amy can share.

Kingdom Keepers

Allison Grace Myers

Beth misses her daughter—of course she does, a little—but the solitude is a relief. She can’t stand the word blessing, the smugness of it, the way people so recklessly slap its label on breakable, temporary things like health or children or marriage, but the silence of this house, these two weeks that Amy is away at summer camp, is the closest to a blessing she’s felt in years. In her letters, Beth tries to sound like she’s pining away, counting down the days until her beloved’s return. And at least her heart does flitter in anticipation—the way a good mother’s should—whenever she sees the mail truck approaching her driveway.

In the five years she’s lived here, Beth has never bothered to ask the name of this kind-looking mailwoman—short and oval-shaped, singing along to a portable stereo in an enchanting alto—and so, embarrassed, she waits until the truck has turned down the block before venturing outside to the mailbox. And today, tucked between a stack of coupons and a fundraising appeal from the Atlanta Symphony, she finds a postcard. Finally. Greetings from Kingdom Kamp!

The original Kingdom Keepers Kamp changed its name last year, acknowledging a bit too late the unfortunate abbreviation. Otherwise, Beth never would have agreed to put her daughter in their care for the summer.

The note on the back of the postcard is in Amy’s unmistakable print: the curves replaced with careful straight lines, the c’s and n’s and u’s tiny identical boxes opening in different directions like an ancient code. Her daughter takes what seems like an hour to write a single sentence, intensely focused as if threading a needle. Beth has always found this neurotic handwriting obsession strange since Amy’s personality is otherwise carefree, some might say careless.

Hi Mom,
I’m having an AMAZING time at Kamp! I’ve made some great friends and I absolutely love my Kounselor. (We spell everything with a “k” here—haha!) Today I played soccer in the morning and went swimming in the lake (but the water is soooo cold) and we had an awesome Bible Study this afternoon. Thanks for your letters! Can’t wait to see you this weekend!

Beth reads the note again, disappointed, searching for hidden depths. What did she expect? She should be grateful Amy is having fun, too immersed in the excitement of camp to compose pensive, homesick letters.

The Bible study, though—that worries her. Beth’s ex-husband is married to a cheerful evangelical, and was only willing to help pay for a camp that was “gospel-based.” Beth has tried to keep an open mind. Why should she object? She’s not as passionate about her agnosticism, obviously, as Bryan is about his newfound faith. She doesn’t believe in God in any traditional or clearly defined way, but she can appreciate the sense of hope and purpose that people find in organized belief, even envies it at times—the sense of community, the comfort of collective certainty, agreeing to agree.

It wouldn’t be the end of the world if Amy were to discover a little spirituality during her three-week sojourn in the mountains. Maybe her daughter will come back with a renewed sense of wonder, some Christ-like humility. A dose of God might be good for her, temporarily.

Tonight Beth is cooking dinner for Neil. She hasn’t wanted to introduce him to Amy, so this is the first time she’s invited him over. Since joining (reluctantly, at the insistence of a coworker), she has endured countless forgettable first dates—plus a few embarrassing instances of getting her silly hopes up, only to discover that she was someone’s forgettable first date. She’s trying to stay open to the possibility that she and Neil might be a decent match.

He arrives right on time at 7:01, reminiscent of her ex-husband. He passes her a bottle of red wine with quick, straight-armed directness, like he’s relaying a baton.

“Hello, beautiful,” Neil says. “Hope you’re not having fish!”

Beth’s cheeks flame. Has he told her before that he doesn’t eat seafood?

“Oh, well, I’m actually roasting salmon. But I can definitely make something else instead. Pasta? Or I think I can. . .”

“No, no, I just meant because of the wine. I should have asked first—red or white.”

“Oh, I see.”

Beth laughs, embarrassed by how eagerly she offered to change her plans. How can it be that she’s lived four full decades—that she is the mother of a happy and self-assured sixth-grader—when she feels like a teenager in awkward disguise, uncertain how to maneuver in this world of confident adults?

Neil wanders around the living room, commenting on her photographs of family and friends.       

“Who is this—this old woman on the beach?”

“My aunt.” Her mother’s sister radiated a quiet, solemn kindness, and Beth adored her, but from a distance.

“Where was this one taken—you riding a donkey in the desert?”

“Ah, that’s in Morocco.” She was twenty-six, traveling with a friend who died a few years later in a car accident.

Even if she were to explain, to narrate, it wouldn’t help. It seems ridiculous, exhausting—to invite someone into your life midway through, when they’ve already missed so much.

“And here, is this Amy?”

Neil squints at a picture of her daughter, clapping her toddler-hands in delight as her dad blows a cloud of shimmering bubbles into her face. It’s the only photo Beth displays of Bryan.

“She looks so much like you in this photo! What a cutie.”

“How about we open some wine?” Beth says.

The salmon with dill-roasted potatoes and lemon-garlic kale turns out well. Neil seems impressed. Beth wasn’t attracted to him during their initial coffee date back in May, but she’s since decided that he is somewhat handsome, in a certain light.

During the meal, Neil asks questions about Amy. He’s asked about her before, inquiring politely after her well-being, but tonight, being in Beth’s home seems to have jarred him, making him realize how little they know one another, how wide a distance they’ve kept. Beth brags about her daughter’s soccer skills, her love of musical theater, her bubbly charm.

“Amy is the type of kid who could grow up to be some sort of celebrity. You look at her, and you can just see her giving interviews on morning talk shows, signing autographs in airports.”

“She sounds wonderful. Must take after her mother.”


Neil tilts his head at this.

“Amy is nothing like me. Sometimes I wonder if we’re even related.”

Neil says, a beat too late, “But I think you’re charming.”

Beth laughs. “It’s strange, isn’t it? How a child can be a parent’s exact opposite. I was a complete shock to my mother, and now Amy is a complete shock to me.”

She’s had too much wine. She can hear it in her voice.

“Yes,” Neil says, “very strange.” Then he changes the subject, launching into a story about a bird that flew into his office window this morning. He names and describes his various coworkers, how they all banded together like an army squad, like a sitcom family, to save the poor pigeon.

Beth knows she shouldn’t fault him for not having children, never getting married, living the less complicated life of the unattached. Is it pity she feels for him, or envy?

In a moment of tipsy clarity, Beth realizes that she doesn’t want to sleep with Neil tonight. Probably not ever.

She drives to Kingdom Kamp on Saturday morning. Atlanta’s high-rises, ugly and sun-glittered, recede in the mirror as she heads north. The highway narrows, the billboards decrease, and soon the view opens like a curtain to reveal the Blue Ridge foothills. They lack the majesty of a bigger mountain range, no sharp lurching edges or snow-capped peaks, but their curvy beauty is soothing.

Even though she’ll be staying only one night, Beth has packed enough for a week. She has hiking clothes—in case parents are required to participate in the outdoor activities to which they’ve subjected their children—and since she will be in the presence of Bryan and his new wife Marjorie, also a flattering pair of jeans, her favorite sweater for the chilly mountain air, and the red heels she wears when trying to trick herself into feeling attractive.

She can’t remember the last time she and her ex-husband had a conversation face-to-face. When Bryan picks up their daughter every other weekend, he no longer comes to the door, just honks or calls Amy’s cell phone to let her know he’s outside. Beth has no delusions of impressing him. The nice clothes and high heels are for her own benefit, to boost her confidence.

Beth hated sleepaway camp as a child. Her mother (who loved to reminisce about her own long-ago summers, slipping love letters under the doors of the boys’ cabins, being voted Lady of the Lake) had been sure that camp would be the solution to all Beth’s social problems; it would liberate her from the daily routine, the entrenched school-year labels of popularity and unpopularity, and transform her into the person she was meant to be, at least for the month of June. But Beth was not transformed. In her letters home, for her mother’s benefit, she had tried to conceal her misery. She’d focused on detailing the schedule of activities, listing the full names of each girl in her cabin, describing the personalities of the horses. Now, decades later, she can still remember the weightiness of her chest as she lay on the bunk’s plastic mattress, trying to silence her sobs.

It’s appalling, the idea of exposing her own daughter to that torture. But Amy had begged. (All her friends were going!) Besides, she takes after her grandmother, whom she never even met, more than she takes after Beth. She must have inherited some gene—skipping a generation—that allows people to feel immediately comfortable in any given situation, to float through the world with ease.

Shortly after crossing the Tennessee border, Beth exits the highway, following a bumpy road through dense woods. Her GPS suggests in a restrained but concerned tone that she please return to the route, but then, like a holy vision, Kingdom Kamp rises into view. The campus is sprawling—unnatural with its primary-color buildings, its man-made rock walls and manicured sports fields.

A pack of crazed counselors are at the gate, cheering and clapping, jumping up and down to welcome Beth as if she is carrying the Olympic torch. The one who presses his wide-mouthed grin up to her window—a blond guy with skin the color of a flawlessly toasted marshmallow—seems so genuinely thrilled to meet her that Beth is almost flattered.

He explains where to park, and hands her a loose-leaf booklet that includes the day’s schedule plus scripture meditations. Not for a second does he waver in his enthusiasm, each sentence throbbing like a climax. Already, Beth is exhausted.

The camp teems with ecstatic kids—Beth spots a pair of girls literally skipping, arms linked at the elbows—and slower moving parents, eyes darting about hopefully as they try to catch a glimpse of their child. The adults are supposed to be making their way to the outdoor auditorium, but the campers are spinning off in various directions. They have one more activity with the counselors before being reunited with their families.

Beth finds a seat in the back of the tent-vaulted auditorium, and before she is aware of scanning the crowd, her eyes land on Bryan. He is wearing a familiar lime-green polo shirt. He did always cling nostalgically to threadbare clothes, keeping pants three sizes too small in the back of the closet just in case. His sharp-featured face (“such a striking bone structure,” her mother remarked when they were first introduced) is more fleshed-out now. Beth can’t decide if he has gained weight, or if the contentment of his new marriage has softened his edges.

Marjorie sits beside him, her blonde hair sticking to her sweaty face, but she looks as alert and energetic as any of the campers. She spots Beth before Bryan does and waves with windshield-wiper frenzy. Beth waves back, with less bombast, and Bryan nods, offering her a nervous smile.

It’s been seven years since the divorce. Beth no longer hates him. In fact, when Bryan finally broke up with the dental hygienist he’d left Beth for, she’d briefly imagined that they might reconcile. But now that he is remarried again (his third attempt), Beth can feel her resentments creeping back. She can’t understand the attraction to Marjorie. Sure, she’s relatively young and relatively pretty, but is that enough to make up for such extreme religious fervor?

Maybe Bryan is sincere in his conversion. Maybe his guilt finally overwhelmed him and he turned to God for salvation—yet another phase of his ever-evolving midlife crisis.

The camp’s director delivers a speech in the center of the auditorium. “Your kids have had a totally life-changing experience these past few weeks,” he says. He reminds Beth of the hyperactive team mascots that launch T-shirts out of plastic guns into the crowd, but he looks like an Olympic swimmer, an Abercrombie model.

“Your kids are on fire for Christ! They have made lifelong friendships. They have excelled in their God-given talents. They have experienced the wonders of creation. Don’t be surprised if they haven’t missed you at all.”

The parents laugh, nervously.

“Now, I want to give y’all a bit of an introduction to the theme that your kids have been exploring in their small groups these past few weeks: Carrying the Light Down from the Mountaintop.”

Beth tries to listen, hoping to be able to speak thoughtfully about this mountaintop idea if Amy wants to discuss it. But she is distracted by a small red bird that hops nonchalantly over her foot like it’s a crack in the road, then by renewed eye contact with Bryan, and then by trying to fix her face into the same serene expression of spiritual contemplation—titled head, slight smile, inexplicable glow—that every other parent in the auditorium seems to have mastered. She wonders if they have practiced this expression, or if it radiates naturally from within.

Finally, the director announces that it’s time for the kids to join them. In the distance Beth can see a herd of children marching toward the auditorium, waving their arms and chanting.

“What are they saying?” she whispers to the woman seated next to her. She is wearing a sweat-stained visor with Kingdom Keepers Kamp – Summer 2009 printed on it.

“Each cabin has their own cheer,” the woman explains, her eyes fixed on the approaching campers. “But when they all recite their cheers at the same time, it sounds like gibberish.”

“It’s a little creepy,” Beth says.

She worries that she has offended the woman, but glancing at the face under the visor, she sees a slight smile.

The kids take their seats in the bleachers at the front of the auditorium, facing the stage. Beth has not yet spotted Amy; she is not among the campers who keep swiveling their heads around to search for their parents. As the director gives out Fruit of the Spirit Awards to individual campers, he is interrupted nearly every sentence by a boisterous cheer. Each time the word like is uttered, the kids shout in unison, “We like it, we love it, we want more of it!” Each time the director asks for a round of applause for an award winner, all the campers jump to their feet and clasp their arms above their heads in the shape of an oval, crooning in a deep hum, “Standing oooooooh-vation!”

“They’re really into traditions here,” the woman says.

“I can tell,” Beth says.

“Just be prepared: for a few weeks after your kid gets home, you’ll be constantly interrupted. Try to avoid the word ‘Bible.’ The response for that is ten minutes long.” 

When Beth sees her daughter approaching—her skin several shades darker than when she left Atlanta, her light brown hair streaked with sun—she feels a sudden panic. Who will get hugged first?

“Hey guys!” Amy says. Grinning, she embraces her father.

Beth winces. But Bryan is the closest in proximity, the practical choice. Amy doesn’t approach Marjorie at all; after hugging Beth, she offers her stepmother only a polite hello. Beth adores her for it.

Amy leads them on what she calls a family tour, as everyone strains to appear at ease. “This is my cabin over here. We’re the Choctaw Cabin. And that’s our sister cabin, the Cherokee.”

“In the shape of real teepees!” says Marjorie. “How wonderful.”

“Two of my very closest friends are in Cherokee. The rest are in Choctaw with me.”

 “Did you get claustrophobic at night, with the sloping walls?” Bryan asks.

This is exactly what Beth has been wondering, too. For a moment, she remembers what it was like to be in love with him.

Amy rolls her eyes, as if he is joking. She shows them the Ropes of Hope—a skywalk obstacle course swaying between the tree branches—and then, deeper into the woods, a collection of stone benches facing a wooden cross. “This is The Sanctuary. We have chapel service here every morning, but this is also where we have Candlelight, spelled with a k of course! That’s probably my favorite activity.”

“What is Kandlelight?” Bryan says.

“A worship service at night. We hold candles, so all you can see are the flickering lights and the stars. Everyone gets to stand up and give a confession, and then we pray for each other out loud.”

“Sounds incredible,” Marjorie says.

Beth nods, but she is stunned. What did her daughter confess? Did she make something up—creating out of her imagination a twisted history of transgressions for dramatic effect? Or does Amy have genuine regrets, for which she has secretly craved atonement?

She tries to picture it: Amy tearfully confessing some minor sin as the young earnest Christians lay their hands on her shoulders in prayer, whispering forgiveness. Beth feels a pang of guilt: has her daughter been longing for some sort of divine approval, for spiritual community, and she never even noticed?

“It was totally life-changing,” Amy says. “I’ve never felt so close to God before. I mean, I’d heard at church about grace and stuff, but I’d never felt it for myself. Not until now.”

Marjorie nods knowingly, radiating that soft, spiritual glow, and then turns to Bryan, who appears close to tears. The three of them, Beth realizes, now share a common language of reverence. Marjorie, Bryan, and Amy—they are all part of the same club, apparently, sharing the sacred intimacy of believers. Beth is surprised by the force of her jealousy.

They walk back to the auditorium for the next scheduled event. “Okay if I sit with my friends? I can’t believe I’ll have to say goodbye to them tomorrow!”

“Sure, sweetie,” Beth says.

Amy joins a row of girls seated near the front. The one to her left leans in to whisper something in Amy’s ear, and Beth watches her daughter’s lovely, narrow, tanned shoulders shiver with laughter.

“Seems like she had such a great time,” Marjorie says.

Beth nods. She hates the way Marjorie is beaming, like a proud parent who has bought their child the perfect Christmas gift.

“I’m relieved,” Bryan chuckles, “considering how much both of her parents hated summer camp.”

Marjorie’s smile droops ever so slightly, before she reconstructs it. “I never knew you didn’t like summer camp, Bry?”

“Hated every minute of it.”

“And you, too?”

“Yes,” says Beth. “Pure torture.” She can’t help but smile at Bryan, remembering how, when they were dating, they had bonded over their stories of adolescence. They’d both spent prom night in a movie theater, both talked about middle school lunchrooms the way soldiers talk of battle, and they had both laughed, though not without shame, at their traumatic memories of summer camp: Bryan’s of sadistic hazing rituals, Beth’s of more subtle embarrassments—whispering girls’ shifting allegiances.

“He never tells me anything,” Marjorie says. She shapes her voice into a tone of playfulness, pretending to only pretend she’s offended. “Sometimes I forget he had a life at all, before I came along.”

Instead of responding to this—how would one respond?—Bryan kisses Marjorie on the mouth, lingering a moment longer than necessary.

When Beth was married to him, this was something he never would have done. Kissing was how he indicated his intentions to have sex—like a sensible driver’s turn signal—and was not performed in public.

“So,” Marjorie says to Beth, “are you dating anyone right now?”

It’s hard to tell if she is asking out of sympathy or spite. “Yes,” Beth lies. “His name is Neil.”

In fact, they broke up, after the dinner of salmon and dill potatoes, as Neil stood in her doorway attempting to kiss her goodnight. At least, Beth is pretty sure that they broke up. It was polite and seamless, without any of the shattering—of identity and hope and dinnerware—that accompanied the end of her marriage.

“Wonderful! Isn’t that wonderful, honey?”

“It is,” Bryan says.

“We’ve only been together a couple months now, but it feels like something that could be promising.”

“We’ll both be praying about that,” Marjorie says.

“Oh,” Beth says. “Thanks. Okay.”

The program is about to start—the director is bounding up to the stage, a Bible cradled like a football under his armpit. Bryan and Marjorie take a seat at the nearest bleacher and leave space for Beth to join them. “I need to find a toilet,” Beth says. Another lie, but she can’t bear the thought of enduring another pep talk disguised as a sermon while sitting next to her newly faithful ex-husband, who may or may not be praying for the success of her love life. She escapes to the restroom, where she spends several minutes staring at her reflection in a pollen-filtered, mosquito-speckled mirror before sneaking out in the opposite direction of the auditorium.

The campground in its eerie stillness feels like a deserted carnival, a setting for a horror film. Beyond the teepee cabins, the cafeteria, and then the infirmary—which has painted on its wall, under the traditional, thick red cross, Praise the Lord, O my soul, who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases—Beth finds a single, neon green swing set on a patch of grass overlooking a guard-railed cliff.

A girl around Amy’s age is rocking gently back and forth on one of the swings, her feet planted on the ground.

“You skipping the ceremony?” Beth says.

The girl shrugs, not looking up.

“Don’t worry,” says Beth, “I’m supposed to be in there too.”

A smile drifts across the girl’s face, but it is gone so quickly that Beth wonders if she has only imagined it. She settles into one of the swings. The groan of the plastic seat is comforting, the way it sags and shapes into the curve of her body.

Beth pushes off the ground and pumps her legs. She swings slowly at first, then gathers momentum, wild and giddy. A hot breeze rushes over her face, and strands of hair slap against her throat. She thinks about Neil, how easily the lie about being a couple slipped out of her mouth.

The girl is swinging now too. She reaches the height of her upswing when Beth is the furthest back, like they are on a floating seesaw, invisibly tethered. Where are this girl’s parents? Beth considers trying to strike up a conversation—maybe she should offer some encouragement—but she doesn’t want to break the silence, this illusion of a kindred spirit.

At the highest points of the pendulum, Beth can see over the cliff—the nearest foothills a ribbon of deep green, the distant mountains fading into a hazy, watercolor blue, like a child’s painting of ocean waves. She can understand how someone might feel more open to the idea of God here, might find themselves more prone to believing, or wishing they could believe.

Beth hasn’t said a prayer since she was a child, and even then she never felt much. But as she swings, she can imagine it, the way prayer is supposed to feel.

She’ll be able to tell Amy that, at least.

When she is finished swinging, pleasantly light-headed—almost the same as being tipsy—Beth nods goodbye to the girl and walks back to the auditorium. The program appears to be over. The crowd of families is drifting toward the parking lot. According to the schedule, parents are encouraged to take their campers out to dinner—their first noncafeteria meal in three weeks—before returning this evening for a late night worship service.

Amy is outside the auditorium, introducing Bryan and Marjorie to several of her friends, and to her friends’ parents. Beth watches from a distance until Amy waves her over.

Marjorie says, “We’re talking about all of us going to that roadhouse off the highway.”

The group of kids, and some of their parents, nod enthusiastically.

Beth feels her chest tighten. She doesn’t want to have dinner with this collection of strangers; she wants to have dinner with her daughter, alone. She wants to ask Amy questions about these past few weeks, to find out what Amy confessed, to hear what it felt like to be forgiven. She wants to tell Amy that she too has faith in something, sort of—although, even if she could articulate it, Amy would surely roll her eyes, unimpressed.

“The roadhouse sounds good,” Beth says.

“I don’t know,” Amy says. “Maybe we can do dinner just us? As a family.”

Beth can barely resist the urge to kiss her daughter, right then and there, in front of all her friends.

“Of course,” Bryan says. “Just family.”

Amy meant the four of them, Beth realizes, not just her. But that’s fine. She can handle a family dinner with Bryan and Marjorie. She will save her questions for Amy for tomorrow, for their drive back home.

As they walk toward the parking lot, Beth drapes her arm around Amy’s shoulders. “I sure missed you,” she says, trying to make her voice sound unsentimental, unembarrassing. Amy says, “I sure missed Netflix,” then grins and adds, “Just kidding. You too.”

Behind them, a few paces back, Beth can hear Bryan and Marjorie talking quietly. They are laughing together about some inside joke, the way couples do, the way she and Bryan used to, back when she was happy in a different way.