Ellis pulled the blanket over Jupiter and then snuggled in beside her on the bed. The gaudy sunlight from the window filtered over them and turned their hands a glowing vermilion shade underneath the quilt. "What did Ezekiel say?" Jupiter asked, her hair had been tide up in a bun for most of the day but with the quilt now draped over them stray tufts began to cover the side of her face.
Ellis rolled his eyes dramatically: "More of the business of masculine duties," he counted from his fingers: "1.) Pride, 2.) Spirituality, 3.) Husbandry, 4.) Fatherhood, 5.) Neighboring, 6.) The Evils In Having Pride Through All Of these - and so on."
Jupiter smiled, but could not laugh.
"And Brenna?" He asked her.
Her smile broadened: "Likewise, she aims to make a good wife of me."
"You?" He joked, "I could live a hundred years and never see it." Her smile turned to a scowl and she pulled his ear back roughly. He winced hollering, "I give up, I give up!"
Releasing him, she folded her hands under her chest. The dark cotton of her dress was stifling in the heat outside, and only magnified by being underneath the quilt. This was her and Ellis' secret place though. It was the only place that they could really talk, and she wasn't willing to leave it just yet. "Tell me what Brenna said?" He asked again.
Sighing, she began slowly: "She feels that I do not know myself."
"What type of question is that?" He seemed oblivious. "How can you not know yourself, when you are yourself?"
Jupiter laughed at that: "I don't know," she hesitated, "I think though, that she did not mean a knowledge of myself, but rather, a sense of myself through God."
They said nothing after that; both lying on their chests underneath the blanket. Their feet propped up, toes touching. They were inhaling the muggy air deeply, and evenly with each other.
"Where is May?" Ellis asked trying to fill the void of silence.
Jupiter lifted up the quilt and slid up to her knees on the bed. From behind the bedpost she faced the window and could see her mother outside working. Her dress was the same dark shade as Jupiter's and she stood hunched pouring liquid ammonia from clear glass bottles into the cracks in the ground. "She's trying to kill the ants again." Jupiter told Ellis, "They keep getting into the houses, this morning she found a dozen of them in the bathtub, all big and black. She had a fit." Jupiter laughed, "And she's been pouring that nasty stuff all day now."
She scrunched back down underneath the blanket with him. "Tell me the prayer of Saint Lucy?" He was lying on his side now, facing her, his hand resting on his head ready for her to tell it.
"I've told you a million times."
"Haven't either, and besides you tell it better then anyone else."
She took a deep breath before speaking:
"Saint Lucy, you did not hide your light under a basket, but let it shine for the whole world, for all the centuries to see. We may not suffer torture in our lives the way you did, but we are still called to let the light of our Christianity illumine our daily lives. Please help us to have the courage to bring our Christianity into our work, our recreation, our relationships, our conversation - every corner of our day. Amen"
"I wonder how it is that light can be hidden under things?" Ellis asked.
"Now you mock it - first you command me to say it, and then you mock it. Saint Lucy was my father's saint, you know that."
Ellis hesitated, "You haven't spoken of him in in awhile?"
"What else is there to speak of, he's been dead for more then half of my life." From the depths of her memory Jupiter could recall her father in hazy outlines. She knew nothing about his height, or the sound of his voice (detail's which alluded her but still fascinated her deeply.) The only thing that she could clearly see in her mind were his eyes, white and vacant, blinded since childhood. He was a part of the life she had before her mother and sister came to the compound. It was a life without solid memory, and it bothered her thoughts often, troubling her that she could not forget that she had no memory of it.
Faintly from beneath the bedroom window that they laid parallel against they could hear Brenna calling for Ellis, her voice hoarse and commanding. Neither of them said anything, sitting in silence, ignoring it until it went away.
"What are you thinking about?" Jupiter asked when the outside sounds quieted.
He shook his head slightly, "Nothing."
"Do you think you should go down?"
"Why, it'll just be her telling me to do something that I can't say no to."
"You shouldn't talk about her like that," she used her words carefully. "In a way she is your mother."
Unlike Jupiter, Ellis had no memory whatsoever of his real family, or any type of life that he might have lead before coming here. Ezekiel and Brenna had found him abandoned when he was three and kept him as a foster son ever since. They raised him and cared for him but everyone at the compound was aware that he is not their real son. Everyone can see a change in behavior as to how they treat Ellis as opposed to how they treat their own children.
Jupiter knew that Ellis hated it when she referred to Brenna as anything close to a mother, but this time he didn't argue with her about it.
They became silent again; long moments passing with nothing but the muted commotion outside and the heavy weight of their breathing under the blanket. Liftingd her eyebrows devilishly Jupiter turned to him: "I heard from momma that Ezekiel plans to have you engaged to Martha Paretta before the year is out."
The look of shock on his face was laughable, "Well that's nothing compared to what I heard about you."
"What did you hear?"
"Well..." he began excitedly, then his face dulled "No, on second thought I can't."
"What do you mean? What did you hear?"
"Something about one of the Fletcher boys, the youngest, I believe."
Jupiter burst with laughter at the thought of it, and Ellis quickly joined her. The air was thick and hot under the blanket now and they could hear someone calling Ellis again from outside. "I was only kidding" he said quickly after the laughter died down.
"I know," she was still giggling slightly at the thought of it. The calling was getting louder now; they could hear the creaking of the stairs outside the door and the persistent beckoning of 'Ellis! Ellis!'
Quickly, before the door opened Ellis leaned over, supported by his elbows and kissed her lightly, his moist lips left a solid imprint on her burning cheeks. Before she could even turn to look at him he struggled his way free from under the blanket and was standing, leaving her alone beneath the strange darkness. "Ellis?" She whispered, not knowing what else to say but as she started to take the blanket off of her the door billowed upon.
"Ellis!" It was Cat, Jupiter's little sister, and when she lifted the quilt she could see Ellis standing by the door waiting for her. "Brenna's looking for you."
"Thanks Cat." He left with no other word and watching him take the stairs two at a time he didn't look back.
After he left Cat approached her sister who was still lying on the bed: "What were you two doing?" Her perplexity wasn't just the mark of youth but a true sense of confusion as to why Ellis and Jupiter would be in the same room, alone together. Despite her nine-year-old frame Cat looked like a duplicate of her older sister, from the shade of their hair to the style of dress. She was curious like her namesake but was meeker then Jupiter had ever been.
"Speaking with one another." Jupiter replied.
"About what?" Cat's eyes were wide but also scared of what her sister would say.
Jupiter smiled lightly to herself, she moved her hand across her cheek and could still feel the wet kiss imprint. She kept her fingers over it, both wanting to save it there, and to hide it incase Cat were to see. "Nothing Cat, just talking. Don't tell anyone though."
"Alright." Cat's white apron, tied across her waist and pinned at the top of her narrow chest was brown with dirt stains from the garden.
"Where's momma?" She kept her fingers over the kiss stain.
"Come, let's see if she's done pouring that concoction yet." Jupiter stood and took her sister's hand, hoping that as they left through the bedroom door no one might notice the glistening mark still on her cheek.
When the community gathered for dinner that night the men and women, all darned in the same muted black, blues, and grays prayed together. Their minister Ezekiel led them in it and as a united group said amen. Afterward, the men huddled in their own dinning room while the woman moved to a smaller room where separately they would eat. Ellis, being fourteen and old enough got to eat with the men and Jupiter didn't have a chance to confront him.
Before sitting down to eat Brenna led the women in there second prayer: "Pray for us that we might serve Jesus better. Help us to overcome our distractions and worries to listen to his words and be present to him this day." Then they collectively said 'Amen' again together and sat.
The older women all sat at one end of the table, with Brenna at the head and then onward it was the girls, and children with Brenna's oldest daughter Sarah, who was younger then Cat, but as bossy as her mother was sitting at the other end. The only person missing was Gloria, who sat in a small chair at the other end of the room. She was not allowed to sit with the others due to her condition of pregnancy, and had for the last several months been eating by herself. Jupiter's mother May would sit on the floor near her from time to time and talk but Brenna and many of the other woman (and Ezekiel) frowned upon this.
Gloria, and her husband Anton were both matched by Ezekiel, and both had been just a year older then Jupiter was now when they were married.
At the table Jupiter was flanked by Noelani Kempfield who at seven was the oldest of the three Kempfield children and Martha Paretta who with her twin sister Ruth were the same age as Jupiter. Both Martha and Noelani ate quietly, their silverware crisscrossing the food spread across their plates. "Sister Jupiter could you pass the water pitcher?" Asked Martha, and Jupiter took hold of the heavy glass and handed it to her, "Here you are Sister Martha." Martha was a bookish girl; not a beauty like her sister Ruth but containing enough of those qualities to make her humble looking and easier to be around then her sister. She was polite but often silent, usually speaking only when spoken to or in the demure tones of a child not worthy when asking things.
Jupiter began to pick at the food on her own plate, nibbling at the yellow corn and warm potato soup. From her place at the table she could see the sun setting across an oily red and purple sky and she was entranced by it.
"Sister Jupiter is the meal not to your liking?" Brenna was staring at her, and now many of the other woman as well. From the corner of her eye she could see Gloria, alone in the back of the room turn from her food in the direction of the table. For a harsh and blurred moment everything was silent and everyone was looking at her.
"No ma'am," the heavy silver fork dropped from between her fingers and slammed like a bell against her plate; her hands fluttered trying to pick it back up again. "I was just..."
"You were not eating, I can see that." Brenna's voice sounded like a clap of thunder, hard but rich when spoken so loudly. Looking at her straight on Jupiter was taken back to the afternoon lessons with her earlier that day when Brenna had pulled her aside from Ruth and Martha and questioned her faith in the lord. Her features then were sloe-eyed and dark as they were now; unyielding, privy to knowledge that both frightened and intrigued Jupiter. "I fear you are unworthy." she had said, "That your heart is not pure enough to take the lord in completely." Jupiter had been too afraid to say anything then, and now was no different, however when she began to eat again, slowly and silently like all the rest of the women the conversation was hesitantly forgotten.
After finishing her meal and helping Arnold Miles, who was Ezekiel and Brenna's youngest son finish his soup by dipping her own spoon in and feeding him like an infant she went into the men's dinning room to clear their plates away with Ruth and Martha. Little Noelani followed Jupiter in and clung to the hem of her skirt while she piled the dirty plates into her arms. "Here Noey!" She handed the little girl a pile of dirty silverware wrapped in a napkin, "Go and take these to the kitchen."
When all the plates had been brought in Jupiter stood beside Ruth at the sink and washed them. Ruth's red hair was glowing copper from the last stretching light coming in through the window and for a moment (though she knew she shouldn't) Jupiter was jealous of her beauty. After the prideful thought had passed she buried her hands underneath the scolding water and pinched herself hard, leaving tiny nail prints across the fleshy part between her thumb and index finger.
May put her hand on her daughters shoulder and with a quick shutter Jupiter let go of herself: "Martha can help Ruth with this, will you help Brother Shane back up to his room?"
Shane Odell was the oldest citizen of the sect, and though weak in body he had still retained the sharp mind that must have been affluently present during his younger years. Of all the people Jupiter had grown up around it had always been Shane who she favored the most, besides Ellis. When she was younger she would climb onto his lap and listen to the stories he told of his life before coming here. Out of all of the citizens he had been here the longest. He spoke of Nathan who ministered to the Sect before Ezekiel came, and of life outside of the community in cities so big that hundreds of people lived there and still had room to spare for more. Her imagination would stretch like poured water at the thought of so many people; so many places.
When she left the kitchen she found him waiting for her by the back door.
Their compound consisted of three houses - the largest was Ezekiel and Brenna's where the community ate every meal and prayed together. They didn't have to share because it was their ministry that cleansed them all, and their leadership was valued above all else. The other slightly smaller houses were shared between the families. Jupiter shared a small room with her mother and sister. While Shane took one of the other rooms and Frank and Enid Kempfield and their children had the other. In the third house Roger Fletcher and his son's shared a room, and Ruth and Martha were in another with their mother, and Anton and Gloria had the third.
Shane's twisted hand took hold of Jupiter's arm and she led him across the small garden and vegetable patch: "Was your supper to your liking Brother Odell?"
"It was Sister, thank you."
She led him in through the backdoor of the house they shared and slowly - taking each step one at a time, she led him to his room. "Help me to the bed won't you." He kept his hands tight against her arm for support. The joints in his legs hurt him terribly and his back had begin to hunch from old age putting more support on his legs then usually would be.
"Here, lean into me." She supported his back with her hand so that when he's body hit the mattress he wouldn't bounce back and hit it. "How's that?" He raised his head up to her and smiled, and though she was slightly out of breath from the weight of him she knelt down and began to untie the laces of his boots. Once his shoes were off she helped him lay down straight across the bed. Shane had taken to sleeping in his clothes for the night and then wait for Frank Kempfield, who helped him prepare in the mornings, to redress him.
She placed his shoes neatly in the corner of the room and turned to him lying comfortably: "Would you like a blanket? I'm afraid it's still quite warm though."
He grinned, "A light one, to have with me just in case."
Jupiter pulled a thin coverlet from the nest of drawers in the chest to his right and placed it next to him. "Would you like anything else Brother?"
"Sit with me for a moment." He was panting lightly; more exhausted then she had been at getting him up here. She smiled broadly to him and sat in the small corner at the end of the bed. "You know I fear I am getting too old for this life style, Sister, soon I shall be too old to even walk the stairs, and then..."
"Don't say that Shane," she took a deep breath, aware of herself. "I mean, God has called you to help in the lives here Brother, you still have many years of service left."
"Perhaps. But who is to say when we shall be called home? I remember, when I first came here during Nathan's ministry and a child died during its first winter of its life, and here I am... What am I now Jupiter one-hundred-and-forty?"
"Not even one-hundred yet" she persisted, "Merely the simple age of ninety-one"
"Alas, why count the years anymore."
"Tell me a story Shane; one I haven't heard before?"
His smile stretched from ear lobe to ear lobe: "What kind of a story would you like." She lifted her eyebrows and arms in a mock gesture of surprise and delight, teasing him to astonish her. "Have I told you the one about the girl named Jupiter yet?" For as long as Jupiter could remember he had been creating stories around her. Retelling them over and over again, and occasionally creating new ones that enchanted her. Stories that she would hold onto for days, and sometimes years afterward.
Like always she played his game and acted dumbfounded: "No you've never told me that one." Shane poured over a familiar story of a younger Jupiter who with the help of Lucy (her favorite of the Saints) made sure that all of the food from the garden was saved from the winter and that the community ate until they burst all through the season. Jupiter laughed cheerfully as she always did and when he finished she clapped her hands. "I do love that one," she added at the end.
"Me too." He patted her hand gently and the two of them altered into the silences of a young girl and an older man. The gap was always evident now, she could only pretend to be a child for so long before the truth hit her, like the conclusion to every story he told her.
"Tell me about the cities?"
"Oh, why do you always ask that?" His voice was gruffy with annoyance, as though she truly had become a child again and was pleading for another story. "I've told you everything already."
"Tell me again," she persisted.
"It's size will always astound you. I grew up there so I know what to expect but you've never seen anything that would match it. It would burn your eyes up with curiosity, and turn your cheeks beet red for the things that go on there."
"What kinds of things?"
"Things that girls your age - any age for that matter - have no need to see or know about." His eyes looked deep within hers: "Dark things, darling, things that will turn your blood cold. That'd shame you. That'd make you question everything you believed in. They change you, and then you'd stop being Jupiter all of the sudden. You'd become someone else, and I couldn't bare that." He reached for her chin and cupped it between his wrinkled fingers; he looked at her for a long time. Memorizing her as he never had before, like seeing a scar or an angle of her face that had always been there but that he was just now noticing. "Stay the way you are, darling, that's all I can ask of you."
"I will Shane!" The pleading in his eyes comforted her as well as frightened her.
He let go of her chin when they heard footsteps coming up the stairs, and children's noises coming from the hall. "The kempfields," she said, and he nodded in agreement: "I should help put them to bed." He smiled to her and she kissed him on the forehead, a patchwork of lines and freckles met her lips when she bent down to him. "Goodnight" She whispered before closing the door.
Once outside Noelani clung to her skirt and legs and Joseph - only slightly younger then his sister - followed her. Enid, their mother was standing before her with the baby still in her arms. "Come, we must go to bed now" Jupiter insisted, and took the baby for its mother's arms. She led Noelani and Joseph into their room; Enid had gone back downstairs. "Say your prayers and then I'll help you undress."
Jupiter laid the baby in her small bassinet in the corner of the room. Though she was mostly asleep she stirred slightly when leaving Jupiter's arms. "Hush now," she whispered, and moved her fingers slowly along the baby's warmly soft cheek. "There now," the baby gurgled and moaned lightly before easing back into sleep.
Noelani and Joseph were both kneeling at the side of the cot they shared; their tiny hands folded in the same intense prayer that their parents performed. She listened to their fast whispering, the childish voices falling over the words: God bless my mother, my father, my brother, my sister. God bless Jupiter, and the community. God bless the ministry. God bless our home. Jupiter laughed when she heard: God bless God, and pulled two tiny white night dresses from one of the drawers. "Here you are," she helped Joseph out of his clothes first since he was too young to accomplish the task unassisted, but Noelani was old enough to dress, and undress herself. Jupiter pulled off Joseph's shoes and dark short pants, then his shirt and lifted his arms above his head to drop the dress through his arms and neck. She buttoned both of their collars and kissed them each on the cheek before helping them into bed.
"Goodnight now," Jupiter said, kissing them each one more time and pulling the blanket over them. She knew that they would act wild for a few more minutes, ruff housing underneath the blanket as brothers and sisters will do, but she also knew that soon they would fall asleep, entangled between each other. A puzzle of arms and legs that only the lord above could set right.
Jupiter tidied up the Kempfield's room for a few minutes, until the sound of Noelani and Joseph's laughter had stilled and they began to breathe deeply and evenly with each other. Their heartbeats echoing the other's.
She left quietly and from the window she could see the sky had become a muted sapphire blue, still bright enough to see by even though the stars hadn't burst from the blackness yet.
With the children asleep the halls were quiet, the rest of the adults were still down at prayer. Tiptoeing, though the old wood moaned under her weight anyway she entered her own room. Both her mother and sister were sleeping - her mother stretched out on her side in the cot in the corner of the room, and Cat snoring lightly in the bed. Changing into her nightdress quickly Jupiter turned off the small lamp by the bedside, left on by her mother for when she came in and crawled in beside Cat. Settled darkness surrounded her as her eyes adjusted to the light. Cat shifted to another sleeping position behside her and kicked at her legs. "Shhh," Jupiter hummed and her sister quickly settled.
Lying flat on her back she could see the stars begin to punch through the sky outside the window. The tranquil buzz of the others praying had always acted as a lullaby to ease her into sleep but on this night she felt restless. Brenna's words from that afternoon poked at her like a sharp stick: "I fear you are unworthy."
In the dark next to her sleeping sister she questioned herself as she had never questioned before. She had been born with her faith in the lord; no one had ever found fault with it. She prayed thoughtfully throughout the day, taking more joy in the act of prayer then Ruth Paretta ever had. As well as praying more often then Martha who as far she knew, only openly conversed with the lord at meal times.
She couldn't see why she was so ostracized, and mistakenly portrayed through Brenna's eyes. Could she see the sin of pride on me? Fearfully, Jupiter had always trusted that that was the true sin that she would have to fight against in her life. She was jealous of the natural affection given to some and not to others, of beauty (though she knew it didn't matter here,) of the ability to show ones faith purely as her mother could, or be unquestioning as Cat always seemed to be.
She tensed in a restless sleep for what seemed like hours. Watching as the sky turned from blue to black, and then to an emptiness that she found beautiful. She thought about Ellis. How she could no longer see her hand in front of her face as she lifted it up to the soft part of her cheek where he had kissed her. She had never been kissed before, and she knew that kissing for forbidden until you had coveted an engagement and even then any kiss would not be as bold as what Ellis had given her. She felt ashamed and awkward. Ellis was her only true friend. Ruth and Martha were friendly, but Ellis was the only one that she trusted.
Could he see the sin in me? She implored herself, the subconscious twirl of thoughts coming faster and faster. Is that why he took the sin of desire and kissed me? "'Sin is seeker of sin, and where one sin breads another will quickly follow.'" Ezekiel had spoken those words aloud in church and she had never forgotten them.
In the dark she clasped her hands together and prayed slowly: Lord, the voice in her head echoed, I trust in your wisdom; I trust in the plans that you have set for me that I am to humble to understand. I trust your judgment. I am fearful though.
She did not sleep that night, but instead after her prayer pulled the same quilt from the floor that Ellis had kissed her under, discarded by Cat due to the heat. Wrapping it around herself tightly like a shield she left the room. Balmy bare feet tapping against the cold wooden floors as she tiptoed down each stair, and then further to the hallway.
When she came out of the backdoor the rush of cool air hit her; she breathed it in sweetly. There were no lights around her but she found her way to the side of the porch from memory and with the blanket still tight around her shoulders she sat on the cold ground and gazed up at the stars.
"What are you doing?" The voice was thick, though not unfamiliar, startling her in the darkness. She saw a figure ahead of her, misty and silhouetted in the dark, it moved, and Ellis' face gradually appeared to her.
She had clutched her fingers to her racing heart and the blanket had fallen from her shoulders. Ellis picked it up and carefully folded it back around her. "What are you doing?" Her voice was shaky, the noise fluttering over her lips like wings.
"I couldn't sleep," he said.
He sat down beside her on the ground and Jupiter became all too aware of his presence. He had always just been Ellis to her, her confider, and often times confessor. Ellis' punishments were always less strict for things then Ezekiel's were when she spoke in confession. As children they had figured that confession was still confession as long as you had your back to your confessor and acted on your penance. Now she was aware of him as a man. Not a threatening man or a powerful man like the others here but the child she could still see outlined through all of his incarnations had changed. Was she a woman now too? Could the change from girl to woman be as abrupt and sharp as a simple kiss?
In the silence they shared while watching the stars a clear divide could be felt between them. Nervously she tried to tuck her loose hair under the blanket, aware that he hadn't seen it down like this since they were children. Ellis, sensing the thickness of the air around them began to pick at a scab hardening on his hand, he wanted to look at her - to speak to her - but he couldn't.
Jupiter wanted to reach out to him. Take the stifling change back and remain what they had always been. But still she could feel the imprint of his lips on her cheek, and in the darkness, while both were waiting for words that they didn't know how to speak, she wished that the memory of that kiss would stay there forever.