Three months later it was Hannah who wowed the Sunday school class with her memorization as she recited the books of the Old and the New Testament. During that time, she not only became Amberlin’s best friend, but also learned that Amberlin had learned the books of the Bible and several of Missy Stover’s favorite passages, not so much because she believed everything in the Bible should be taken literally but more to keep Missy Stover off her case.
Ben Stover, who often accompanied his mom when she met with Rose over the endless important matters of the Community, took the opposite approach. He pretended to know nothing about the Bible, because he knew how much it got his mom’s goat, even though as Hannah learned later, he probably knew more about the Bible than the two girls combined.
“Why do you like to bug your mom so much?” Hannah asked one day as the three of them lounged around the Sanctuary’s classroom, which doubled as their “clubhouse” when Amberlin’s school was not in session.
“Because she works so hard to come across as Miss Goodie-Two-Shoes. It’s disgusting.”
“Well, she is married to a minister,” Hannah pointed out.
“Yeah, I know. It’s a fact that has been thrown in my face for as along as I can remember. So, we’re supposed to be holier than thou, but seems to me some of the worse evil in the world is done in the name of goodness.”
“What’s that mean?” Hannah persisted, even though she could feel him start to bristle.
“Well, for example, the Crusades. While no one really knows how many people died during the Crusades, most estimates is in the tens of thousands, if not millions. For what? Because Christians and Moslems both felt so strongly that they had the right religion and that the other side was wrong. In other words, thousands, if not millions of people were killed in the name of good versus evil.”
“And what does that have to do with your mom?” Amberlin asked, finding herself drawn into the conversation, and remembering the story Papa Herb had told her about Emily Rogers and the spiders.
Ben didn’t answer at first, suddenly nervous that he’d said too much. “Oh, nothing I guess. I’m just mouthing off.”
“Really?” Amberlin pressed him. “What aren’t you saying?”
Ben took a deep breath. “I don’t know. I guess it just real hard to be good all the time, least for me, and I’ll never measure up to what my folks think I should be so why bother even trying? Besides, sometimes it’s just a lot more fun being bad.
“So, let’s go see what kind of trouble we can get into without getting caught.” And with that he jumped off the couch where he’d been slouching and started towards the door.
Amberlin and Hannah glanced at each other, neither of them too excited about getting in trouble just to get in trouble.
“I’ve got a better idea,” Amberlin said. “Let’s go see if Rose’s peanut butter cookies are ready.” She remembered Rose telling her several times, “the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.” She figured it was probably a pretty good way to keep a young boy out of trouble as well, at least for a little while.
“Yeah, and if they are, we’ll snitch some,” Ben replied.
“Well, except we really don’t need to steal them, since Rose made them for us to enjoy,” she reminded him.
“Yeah, but it’s more fun to pretend we’re swiping them.”
“Whatever,” Amberlin said as she and Hannah raced Ben to the kitchen.
Later that night, Amberlin dreamed about the mysterious lady for the first time. While she didn’t recognize her, she felt like she’d known her all her life. In the dream Amberlin felt like she was the tiny baby in the woman’s arms and then as the woman gazed down at her, she felt a sudden, powerful jolting connection, and suddenly she was the woman looking down at the small infant. In that moment she felt such a strong wave of total love that it jerked her awake, but even as she lay in bed dazed by the dream, she felt waves of love slowly ripple through her.
Tears of joy streamed down her face. Who was this woman she’d never seen but knew so well? Papa Herb had taught her that Divine Spirit, one of his favorite terms for God, often communicated through the dream world with those living their soul’s purpose here on Earth. If so, then this dream had to be one of those, but what was the message? Or was it really a message at all, or did it simply mean she’d eaten too many of Rose’s cookies? She’d had several more after dinner for dessert, and had slipped a couple more into her room for a late night snack. Could the dream just be from an overdose of sweets? As she lay in bed slowly drifting back to sleep, she pondered the question, but she knew in her heart that the dream was more than a case of indigestion – perhaps a lot more.
“What do you make of Ben?” Hannah asked a few days later, when they got together on one of the few days that Missy Stover and Ben weren’t visiting the Gentrys.
“I don’t know. What do you mean?” Amberlin replied not sure where Hannah was going with the question.
“Well, that stuff about evil masquerading as good, and all. And he’s always trying to get us to do things that he knows is wrong. Seems like he’s bent on proving he is as mean and evil as his mom is bent of proving she’s a saint.”
Amberlin considered Hannah’s comments before replying. “Well, I think you make a good point…because I’ve been checking in with Ben lately.”
“You have?” Hannah said, suddenly much more interested in the conversation. She knew that Amberlin’s phrase, checking in meant she’d been using her gift of reading his true inner nature. She knew Amberlin had an uncanny knack of reading what was really going on with people, and over the last few month’s Hannah had come to accept her friend’s gift even though she didn’t begin to understand it.
“And what have you learned?”
“Well, it’s not very clear at this point. I’ve not had a lot of practice, you know. I have learned I can usually tell more about someone when I make physical contact with them for a while…and well, I’m just not ready to start holding Ben’s hand.”
They both giggled over the thought of how that would go over with Ben.
“But you got something, right?”
Yeah…” Amberlin wasn’t sure she was ready to reveal everything she’d been learning, particularly since she really didn’t trust this relatively new gift of hers.
“Well, come on. Spill the beans. What are you getting?”
Amberlin walked over to the window that looked out the back of the Sanctuary into the groove of trees where she and Herb were building a tree house. It was one of her favorite spots because she felt so connected to life in nature.
“Well, it’s really as much from what I’ve observed as from what I’ve felt,” she continued. “A couple of times over the past few weeks I’ve seen Ben out by the lake not far from the church.”
“What was he doing there?” Hannah asked, prompting Amberlin to continue.
“Well, I’m pretty sure he was feeding the ducks.”
“Really, Ben? Are you sure he wasn’t trying to catch one for dinner? That would be more like what I’d expect from him.”
“I know. But no one else was around, and it really looked like he was enjoying himself.”
“So, what are you saying?”
Amberlin paused again, then with a soft sigh said, “My gut says he’s…huh, conflicted, mixed up, not sure what or who he is. Like the jury is still out.”
It was Hannah’s turn to be silent now. Finally she said, “Wow, Ben feeding the ducks. Who would have ever thought?” After a few more minutes, as the two friends sat with their own thoughts, Hannah said, “I know how you can get a stronger read on Ben without him thinking you’re making a pass at him.”
“Challenge him to an arm wrestling contest…but be sure he wins. I don’t think his fragile male ego could stand losing to a girl.”