Six years ago, Kathryn and her family had moved into Megan’s congregation, or ‘ward’, as the Latter Day Saints call it.
From the beginning, it had been clear that Kathryn would never be comfortable among the lip gloss and chunky heels, the bubbly enthusiasm and regulated friendshipping, the afterschool gymnastics and lacrosse, of the Young Women.
Kathryn’s mother had evidently failed to take her daughter aside, during that critical summer after fifth grade, and introduce her to good friends 24 Hour Fitness, Tan Republic, Calvin Klein, and those besties Abercrombie and Fitch.
Her mother had also failed to instruct Kathryn in reticence when it came to talking about the books she read for English, the excitement and social drama of her debate tournaments, and her family’s monthly trips to the theater. Kathryn learned this last one quickly, however, when her excited gushing one Sunday about a staging of Fred Ebb and John Kander’s Cabaret earned only glassy stares and a thudding silence from the Young Women.
When she had cried to her parents, they’d advised, “Katie, take an interest in the girls. Ask them about themselves. Every girl likes to talk about herself.”
So, twisting her fingers, Kathryn had stumbled over to Natalie, she of the gold braces and platinum highlights.
“So, um… how’s school?” Kathryn tried.
Natalie’s frosted pink lips parted, and she stared at Kathryn, astonished by the unforgivable faux pas. Her fierce Revlon eyes flicked from side to side, scanning the room for girls who would willingly serve as her witnesses in court. Her tongue held a bit of blue gum in her cheek.
“What’s your favorite subject?” Kathryn prompted further.
Natalie resumed chewing and snapping her gum, still desperately looking for support as she rocked on her heels. She shrugged at Kathryn. “I dunno. Volleyball?”
Katherine’s face fell. “Oh. Um… d’you win any games?”
“Well… that’s good.”
After this triumph, Katherine decided she didn’t like the feeling of being flayed alive, and she did not speak for the next three years.
She was mute in Sunday school, and on Wednesday activity nights she slunk around, copying whatever the least forbidding clique was doing. Of the few signs of life Kathryn showed, Megan remembered two in particular.
The girl had mysteriously chuckled when the Mia Maids teacher mentioned something called ‘Mountain Meadows’.
Later, when the teacher tried to compare the personal ethics of the Mormon presidents favorably against those of contemporary U.S. presidents, Kathryn had blurted, “What about Brigham Young’s polygamy?”
On this occasion, she had received only the smooth, confident retort: “That was called of God.”
Not long after that, Katherine disappeared from the West Park ward. Gradually, it became clear to Megan that Kathryn and her family were never coming back. With a pang of guilt, she remembered what now seemed like a fateful incident at Wolf Lake.
The fit, tan Sister Bingham zoomed around the artificial lake in her big white sports boat, trailing four Young Women on inner tubes. Kathryn swam over to Megan, who was idling in the shallows near the boat launch. With a ridiculously chummy smile and vacuous pleasantries, Kathryn attempted a conversation. Megan feigned deafness and drifted over to Natalie, Ashley, and Kelsey. They tread water and gossiped, and a shaken Kathryn did not join them.
This damning memory heavy on her conscience, Megan had asked her dad if they couldn’t be good missionaries and coax Kathryn’s family back into the fold. Her dad had been vague, muttering that it wasn’t that easy. When Megan pressed him, he explained that Kathryn’s dad had done the unthinkable: he had written a letter of resignation, striking out his name from the Salt Lake City records, where it had been inscribed upon the date of his own birth.
This was a most final and binding arrangement. Without the link Kathryn’s dad provided – as a worthy Mormon male – to the Kingdom after death, Kathryn and her family were thereby cut off from the salvation that would have been their birthright.
Megan had accepted this explanation and dropped her inquisition.
It was also true that Kathryn’s dad had issued the (surprisingly necessary) threat of legal action if anyone from the Young Women program dared show up at the house (most assuredly with a plate of baked goods and a saccharine message) when he was out, but Megan’s dad neglected to share this with her.
Megan hadn’t seen Kathryn since. On occasion, her mind lingered on the memories, and the old guilt flared up. For a long time, Megan had hoped to run into Kathryn and do or say something to induce her to return.