In a small, square room, a circle of demure figures sat on metal folding chairs. Each clasped her hands in her small lap, or placed her palms on each thigh. Slim legs were shaved immaculately, and bare knees kissed each other chastely. They were a flurry of white cup-sleeved tops and powdery pink-and-blue skirts.
Sister McCall, Jennifer's Mia Maids teacher, had just posed the following question as a thought exercise: who is a role model for you? Who do you admire?
Megan giggled her answer, like a guilty child, blushing and twisting her fingers. "My mom…"
"Yeah, my mom, I guess," Carly acquiesced.
"Well, Orlando Bloom is pretty hot," Kelsey drawled.
The circle of mice tittered nervously. A key buttress of Sister McCall's grin buckled.
"But if we're talking about 'role models'…" Kelsey amended, "I guess it would be my mom. Yeah."
All eyes flicked to Jennifer. The girls' eyes and teeth, Sister McCall's lips, and the dangling drops at the woman's ears glistened at Jennifer under the blazing panel lighting. She felt like she was going under the knife and staring at the operating lamp above her.
Under such harsh light and scrutiny, Jennifer didn't feel brave enough to break the commandments and lie, as she had done last night.
"I– I just found out about this actor named Conrad Veidt. He's dead…"
At the mention of something so dark, Sister McCall's and Megan's faces moved into expressions that a little girl might make if someone ripped apart her favorite stuffed animal. Jennifer faltered; she'd caused them pain.
"…but he's really great," she finished lamely.
Sister McCall was now smiling brightly again, though her eyes blocked the smile's upward progression. She valiantly held that face for a good long moment, as if baring her orthodontia-perfect teeth would scare the awkwardness of Jennifer’s presence away. Then, without further inquiry of the girl, Sister McCall's face flicked back to the group, and the other girls' laser eyes left Jennifer to examine her lacerations.
"Isn't that interesting?" Sister McCall sang. "The people we admire most are often rock stars or actors or athletes!"
It occurred briefly to Jennifer that nobody had mentioned any rock stars or athletes.
"But you are all Daughters of God," Sister McCall continued, "and He has placed special men on this earth to guide you on the path to heaven. God's prophets have been through everything you girls are experiencing right now in these tender years of your life."
Jennifer wanted to blush furiously and cry at the same time, because she hated when adults fondled her body with their words: their voices either 100 years old, greasy, and male... or wailing, 10 years old, and female. Inwardly, Jennifer cried madly that Sister McCall was a grown woman but so, so wrong.
"Listen to their counsel and you will be blessed," Sister McCall admonished. "Now, don't you think such great men are worthy of our admiration and attention?"
But they're so dull! Jennifer blurted, but only within the safety of her unobserved mind. How could I possibly admire Gordon B. Hinckley or Boyd K. Packer over true artists?
I don't remember anything after hearing them speak at General Conference… I've learned nothing from those old men… I'm so stupid.
But it's not my fault! You know, I bet they personally trained their voices to be the most boring thing they could produce.
It feels so much better to go see Conrad do his magic in the dark, from beyond the grave. I guess it makes sense that temptation appeals more to me than doing the right thing. That's pretty much what Satan's famous for, right?
Why does doing the wrong thing feel so right? I think I could do it forever and eventually get rid of my feelings of guilt. If it's truly wrong, then I shouldn't be able to do that, right?
For the remainder of Sister McCall's lesson, Jennifer was lost in dreams of red velvet curtains, mysterious worlds hidden in reels of black and white film, and the eyes of the magic man.
She planned her next visit to the cinema. This time, she thought she might walk into the coffeehouse across the street and order a drink. Maybe Satan himself would pop out of her mug and eat her. Or maybe, as she was beginning to suspect… it would just be an ordinary drink.