It wasn’t the fastest way to get to Hallett, but on Saturday Madeleine puttered up the road in her Dyane from Verecunda city to meet with her favourite tennis student. It was something that made her happy, but this time was a little different. There had been trouble “in the sticks,” but Carla wouldn’t give her the details and the papers were about as uninformative as her friend. It had been chilly the night before, but the day was starting to warm up. Dressed in her tennis outfit and having lived on the Island too long, Madeleine found the car heat comfortable, even at 15°C.
Madeleine picked Carla up at her house. Carla embraced her more tightly than ever, but wanted to wait until after they played a while to talk about what had happened. They headed for the municipal courts in Hallett proper. The courts at the school were better, but there had always been fewer questions at Hallett’s own courts.
They played for the longest time; Carla was impressed by Madeleine’s own recovery, and was having a hard time staying even with her. They had a larger crowd than usual; everybody in town knew what had happened. Carla and Madeleine worried about hogging the court too long, but people just kept telling them to keep playing while they clapped and cheered, telling Carla how much they loved her and appreciated the stand she was taking. Finally they found themselves needing some food, so they broke and went across the street.
There they found the Coral Café, the town’s unofficial “civic centre.” The entrance of two attractive girls in tennis outfits was enough to turn heads, but for the town’s heroine to come in meant that they had to visit just about every table, which made their hunger all the more intense by the time they sat down in a corner booth.
“What do you girls want to drink?” the waitress asked.
“Sweet iced tea,” Carla said.
“The same,” Madeleine echoed.
“I just want you to know that we’re all proud of you,” the waitress said. “We can’t believe what’s going on. My husband wants to move back to Vidamera, if we can find work.”
“You’ll be all right,” Carla assured her. She then turned to Madeleine. “Remind me, where did you learn to drink iced tea?”
“South Carolina,” Madeleine replied. “It was necessary to learn to drink it. Now I like it. So what is happening here?”
“You know I got thrown off the tennis team,” Carla said.
“Oh, yes,” Madeleine confirmed. “Vannie told me—she is Denise’s porte-parole for things like this.”
“So you think Denise is behind this?”
“There’s not much doubt about that. It is the same with Jack Arnold, and his problems.”
“I heard he went up to Serelia and trashed Denise.”
“And she responded by having him beaten up by thugs.” Their voices became lower at this line of conversation. “But he is doing better. But how were you expelled from the tennis team?”
“Mr. Noll, our new Headmaster, called me in and told me that, if I was going to represent the school, I would have to join the sensual society. I wouldn’t, and that was it.”
“You are a brave woman, Carla,” Madeleine said.
“I had to do it. I’m a Christian, Madeleine. You know that. I never thought I’d have to pay that kind of price in my own country, but the Bible said we’d be hauled before governors and kings for his sake. I guess that includes headmasters and guidance counsellors who are members of the UCPL.”
“Uranan Committee for Personal Liberty,” Carla explained. “That’s why I dumped little Sammy Connolly—his mother’s big in that, and his sister Lillith’s coming up as well. I didn’t like the idea of having every move I made ratted to the Committee. I guess this is their revenge as well. But I haven’t had a boyfriend since.”
“Neither have I,” Madeleine said. “So what happened after that? I heard there was some kind of demonstration.”
“When the team found out, all but two of the girls and four of the guys quit in protest. The coaches quit too, they’ve brought somebody from University to pick up the pieces. Everybody got so riled up about it, they planned a protest for Friday at lunch. I told them not too; it wasn’t worth it, and it wouldn’t change anything. I’ve beat my head against the wall at home and at church long enough. They did it anyway. A bunch of them—twenty or thirty, I think—got together in front of the school with signs. They were just standing around, they weren’t even picketing properly, when a group from the University—CPL people, probably—showed up with that old water truck they use. They turned the hose on everybody and started laughing. Our people tried to stand their ground, but they couldn’t, and things got worse when we got that downpour about ten minutes later. The CPL people got back in the truck and left.”
“Were there any police around?”
“One or two. They just watched. They knew better than to fool with a CPL group. The school did the same. Then they wrote the demonstrators up for being absent from class and put them on detention. Now some of them are mad at me for not showing up.”
The waitress came and took their order at this point. They had an empty booth behind them, so they were able to continue.
“Obviously people here in the town are more sympathetic to you.”
“They knew it was useless from the start,” Carla said. “The whole mood around here is souring. I go out on deliveries, and it’s the same thing; everybody complains about how this government’s done them. It’s obvious we’ve been had by this government of ours, but no one knows what to do about it.” She sipped her tea for a long time. “Can we change the subject, Madeleine?”
“Of course,” she replied. “I find it depressing myself.”
“I have a confession to make.”
“Confession? How can you make a confession if your church does not have priests?”
“You’re the only one I want to confess to,” Carla said. “Besides, it involves you anyway.”
“Let me explain. When we first met and you started to come up here to help me with my game, I knew you were French, and you were Catholic, and you were different. We didn’t drink wine at home like you people do. We didn’t drink it anywhere. In our church, we’re supposed to come to the place where we make a decision for Jesus Christ to be our Lord and Saviour. After that, we get baptised and join the church. I remember when that happened. But I knew you hadn’t been through that. A lot of people at church—my parents, Sunday School teachers, preacher—wanted me to witness to you.”
“Yeah, present the gospel to you so you’d get saved. And then they wanted me to get you to leave the Catholic Church. But I couldn’t bring myself to do that. There was something about you that was, well, special, and I couldn’t put my finger on it. You were so patient in getting me though all of those lessons you gave me—I know you found it frustrating.”
“Not at all,” Madeleine corrected her. “You are a good student and an excellent tennis player. It is a tragedy what has happened to you and the team. I enjoyed being with you and teaching you. I’m to the point where I find myself happier teaching others than playing myself; it is too difficult for me to understand all of the things that surround competition in this place.”
“When you got sick, I was scared that you would die and I wouldn’t know how you stood with God. That’s one reason I prayed for you so hard.”
“Your concern was wonderful, but there was no reason to worry,” Madeleine said.
“After the miracles started, our preacher got up and said that they were not from God, that miracles ended with the New Testament and were not for today.”
“How can this be?” Madeleine asked. “God has not changed. Why should there be no more miracles? Besides, how is this different than how Denise and the government feel?”
“It made me mad that he said that. I knew what kind of person you were, and I knew that what you were doing—for Terry Marlowe, for the Yedd girl, and for me—didn’t come from the other place. I told him that and he became very angry. So did my father. But I didn’t care.
“What I want to say—and please don’t take this the wrong way—is that I have had to realise that you are born again, Madeleine. I don’t know how or when it happened, your life is so different, but somewhere you made a decision of some kind to follow Jesus.”
“I have always been a Christian,” Madeleine said. “I cannot think of myself otherwise.”
“More than that,” Carla continued, “what you have done in the last few weeks—the miracles, taking the heat for them—you have done in Jesus name. All of it. The Bible says that ‘If we suffer, we shall also reign with him.’ You’ve paid the price, Madeleine. That’s more than a lot of people have done.”
Madeleine sat thinking about what Carla had said. “So, are you going to ask me to join your church?”
“I can’t,” Carla said. “They don’t believe in the miracles. I don’t know what to do.”
“Neither do I,” Madeleine said. “Papa always said that you people here were good people, but your religion was strange. What you have said was difficult for you to say, and you are very kind to say it.” She stopped again. “As for myself, I don’t know what to do either. I know that Papa loves me, and Maman loves me. . .but I don’t know if my church loves me any more or not.” Carla caught something that she had never seen before, namely a tear emerge from Madeleine’s eye. “All my life, I have tried to be faithful to the Catholic Church—I almost never miss Mass, keep up with confession, until I moved here I prayed the Rosary regularly. I did everything. Madame Seignet, my French teacher, is an atheist. She thinks I am crazy—as many French people do—about my religion. And, of course, our church teaches chastity and purity, which is becoming impossible in this country, as you know. Since the miracles, our bishop has put pressure on everyone he could—including my own father—to have me deny that the miracles took place when it is undeniable that they did. Now, last night, Papa told me that he has discovered that Bishop Santini has written a letter to the university I am admitted to in Belgium, telling them about all of the miracles and how the church here does not believe they actually happened. They are trying to discredit me, and it is serious because this is a Catholic university. Fortunately Papa has many connections, so he does not think it will be a problem. But I cannot understand why they have treated me in this way.” She got her handkerchief out in an attempt to dry her face; it was all Carla could do to stop from going to pieces herself.
“My church doesn’t like me either,” Carla said, “although I’ve been kinda rude lately. But don’t give up. God loves you, Madeleine. . .and I do too.” Madeleine’s crying stopped at that statement; she stared at Carla in wonderment. “The Bible says that ‘there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother.’ I guess you’re the closest thing to a sister I’ve ever had. I guess I’m so weird I had to import one, but. . .thanks.”
At that point their food came out. The waitress detected the two girls were under duress. “Are you two okay?”
“These are hard times we live in,” Carla said, trying to cover. “We’ll be all right.”
“They sure are,” the waitress agreed, and left.
“You pray this time,” Carla said. “This food looks like it needs a miracle,” and that set the girls to laughter. Once they got through that and their prayer, they started in.
“Are you planning to come back here after you go to university in Europe?” Carla asked.
“No, I am not,” Madeleine admitted. “You know my visa was changed after Carol’s healing.”
“I remember that.”
“So my parents—and you—will need to come see me. I have lived in Anglo-Saxon countries for a long time. But I have never seen anything like this. Even without the visa change, it is too dangerous now. Besides, I have many relatives in Europe; there is no urgency to return.”
“I’m not coming back either,” Carla replied. “Never.”
“Never? Why?” Madeleine said, a little shocked. “Your family is here, most of it. This is your home. How can you not come back at all?”
“I do have relatives in the U.S. But that’s not the point. I’ve had enough of this. I’ve had enough of a country that’s trying to destroy Christians and turn this place into a people’s republic, and I’ve had enough of Christians who are too busy trying to be ‘respectable’ and ‘good citizens’ to stop it. That includes my parents. I can’t tell you how many nights I have argued with my father and mother about how I should respond to all of this. I think they’re finally getting the idea—me getting thrown off of the team did it—but now it’s too late. We’ve lost too much time. Now the taxing authorities came to our church last week and stated they want to audit our books.”
“For what?” Madeleine asked.
“They say they want to make sure we are operating properly and not defrauding our members. Madeleine, Baptist churches are self-governing. We elect our deacon council, we call and vote on our pastor, we pass our budget, we do everything. We don’t need some stupid bureaucrat from downtown to tell us what to do. They’re just trying to find fault so they can seize our assets and shut us down. But there are people in the church who think it’s okay, that we’ll get through. But it’s not okay.”
“They are looking for an excuse to close the church and take your property,” Madeleine said.
“That’s exactly right. But what can one girl do? The school has hated me since I decided to go to that very conservative Christian university. The next thing you know, they’ll flunk me out so I won’t get a diploma. Didn’t they threaten you with that?”
“Of course,” Madeleine said. “But there are other ways for both of us.”
“Promise me you’ll stay in touch and won’t forget me,” Carla said impulsively.
“How is it possible for me to forget you?” Madeleine asked.
“Then promise me that you’ll show me Paris someday,” Carla added.
Madeleine thought for a second. “I wouldn’t miss the opportunity for the world. You, Carla, are something the Parisians have not prepared for.”