The eleventh installment of the first draft of a novel written by our old friend Terra Cognita. Our Sunday Serial.
Terra welcomes all suggestions and feedback — this is draft — you can note them in the comments.
I walked into my bedroom and said, “We’ve been invited for dinner.”
Roxy—fully clothed—rolled over on her side. “With Dev and Cindy?”
“I wish. With my dad and brothers.”
“They know about my situation?”
“A little bit. They don’t know everything.”
Roxy leaned up on her elbows. “You don’t look real happy.”
“I like my dad and all that. He’s cool. It’s just that…this whole thing is none of his business. Or my brother’s.”
“But you’re living in his house—or at least on his property. And he is your dad. And you and he visited that lawyer together…what’s his name.”
“So? What’s the big deal?”
I sat down on the side of the bed. “I don’t know. It’s just…”
“What time is it?” Roxy asked.
I glanced at my cell. “A few minutes before six.”
“Wow. I’ve been asleep a while. When’s dinner?”
She shoved me out of the way and got out of bed. “Okay, let’s do this thing.”
I had to introduce Roxy to my family, so that night, Roxy and I ate dinner with Dad, Jack and Jake. Dad already knew most of the story and didn’t contribute much to the interrogation. Between question and answers, Jack or Jake swore they couldn’t believe what they were hearing. Neither could they believe I’d joined Scientology—“the most infamous cult in the world.”
“Dude, didn’t you check em out on the Internet first?” Jack asked. Apparently, I’d forgotten. “What a frikken douche,” Jake said.
Both brothers were intrigued with Roxy, who, after the basics, spent the rest of dinner regaling them with tales of the Sea Org. I’d only just joined the cult. She’d been born into it and had more stories than I did.
“What do your parents think of you leaving?” Jake asked.
“I’m not sure they’re even aware I’ve blown,” Roxy answered. “My dad works on the ship; my mom works at Flag.”
“Flag is what they call their headquarters in Clearwater, Florida,” I clarified. “And the ship is this old cruise ship that sails around the Caribbean where they deliver the highest level of Scientology processing.”
“Processing? Like auditing, where you’re hooked up to an e-meter?”
“So what is this top level?” Jack asked. “Like what are people supposed to get out of it?”
“Google it,” I said. I couldn’t wait to leave the table. My cell pinged and I glanced down at the screen. Dev texted me that he and Roxy had come up with a plan and to meet them at the Pit—officially designated Arroyo Burro State Beach. We didn’t stick around for dessert.
Roxy and I parked near the top of the parking lot, took off our shoes, and walked down to the beach. Dev and Roxy were waiting for us in foamy, ankle-deep water. A half-moon had just crested the mountains to the east, and to the south, a golden retriever swam after a tennis ball, oblivious to what lurked in the dark water below.
“Hey,” we all said before strolling northward.
“So,” I said. “What’s this big plan you got?”
“A website,” Dev answered.
“We start an anti-Scientology website.”
“And that would contribute to our well-being…how?”
Roxy chuckled. “We’d all be declared in a second.”
“What does that mean?” Cindy asked.
“It means the church would issue a proclamation stating that we were all suppressive persons and nobody should have anything to do with us.”
“Which would be perfect, right?” Dev said. “We want them to back off and not have anything to do with us.” He turned to Roxy. “Especially nothing to do with you.”
“What exactly is a suppressive person?” Roxy asked.
“Per Scientology, an SP is anyone actively working against Scientology. Which can be anything from telling another staff member that you plan on leaving staff, to publically disavowing Scientology. It’s all bogus. Basically, anyone who becomes a Scientologist is forever-after expected to follow their policy and toe this super straight and narrow path. So like even if you said you had a great time but were leaving, you’d be declared an SP.”
“Exactly. And the other thing is that all Scientologists are required to disconnect from all SPs—anyone who’s been declared. Even if it means disconnecting from family members. Like parents disconnect from their kids, and vice versa, all the time. There’re parents and kids who haven’t talked with each other for decades.”
“Oh my god. That is totally sick,” Cindy said.
“And which means if you, Roxy, got declared, you could no longer talk to your parents—or vice versa. Right?” Dev asked.
“Yep,” Roxy said.
Nobody said anything for the next couple of minutes while we thought about the significance of getting declared.
“Well…” Cindy said, “It doesn’t sound like getting declared would make any difference for anyone but you, Roxy. Not getting to talk with your parents would be a bummer, for sure.”
“Somewhat,” Roxy said.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean…we’re not all that close. They’re both Sea Org members and work back east. The last time I saw them was a couple of years ago when my grandma—my dad’s mom—died.”
“And you haven’t seen em since?”
She shook her head. “Listen… They put me in a Scientology school when I was three and I’ve been basically working as a Sea Org member ever since. I hardly ever see em. Especially after they got transferred back east.”
“How come you didn’t go with them?” Cindy asked.
Roxy let out a deep breath. “The Sea Org splits up families all the time. So no, I didn’t go with them. By then, I was on post and expected to do my job.”
“You sign one of those billion year contracts?”
“When I turned twelve.”
“So you got a few more years to go,” Dev snorted.
“Just a few.”
“But back to your parents,” Cindy said. “If you’re declared, your parents won’t talk to you ever again?”
“Not unless I recant and do this program to work my way back into the good graces of the church,” Roxy answered.
“Would you ever do that?”
“Not in a million years. I’m done. Never going back.”
“Yeah, but your parents…? Won’t they eventually talk to you?”
“You gotta understand, to them Scientology is more important than sons or daughters. They think they’re saving the planet. And on top of that, Scientologists believe we’re all spiritual beings who’ve lived millions of lifetimes. So I’m not really ‘their daughter;’ I’m just a being who happened to pick up a body that was gestated inside my mom.”
“Oh my god. That is so far out there. And kinda sick, in a way.”
Roxy shrugged. “Listen. I’ve been living on my own for years, anyway. I mean…it’d be a bummer, for sure, but… it’s almost like they’re just acquaintances; like not even family members. There’s a part of me that kinda loves em and wishes we were closer. Or at least…they’d treat me like a real daughter.” She shook her head. “At this point, though, I don’t know if I could ever forgive em. They pretty much abandoned me.”
“One way or the other, though, you’re gonna be declared. Right?” I said.
“For all I know, I already have been. You blow the SO, you get declared. Simple as that. There are no exceptions. No extenuating circumstances.”
“If that’s the case, why are they trying to get you to come back?” Cindy asked.
“They don’t want me talking shit about Scientology to the outside world. They don’t want me spreading what they consider lies about the church. They want me to come back so they can control me. It’s all about the control.”
“But you’re not saying or doing anything. You just want to be left alone,” Cindy said.
“Try telling them that. Half the shit they do doesn’t make sense.”
“You gotta understand,” I said. “This is a classic cult we’re talking about. They gotta control all communication about Scientology. Like Roxy said, they don’t want anyone exposing the truth about what really goes on inside. So they’ll go to any lengths to try to bring her back into the fold so they can control her.”
“Anything?” Cindy said. “Like kidnaping?”
“I don’t think they physically kidnap people,” Roxy replied. “They just harass people until they finally give in and come back.”
“And people give in and go back? Seriously?”
“More than you can imagine. Especially people who have no resources on the outside. Like imagine working in the SO your entire life for less than fifty bucks a week. You have no saving. No credit cards. No cell phone. Your family is all inside. You have no friends outside the church. Your education has been next to nothing. You have no skills that are transferable to a regular job.” She paused and stared out to sea. A shimmer of moon reflected off the surface of the water. Foamy water lapped at our ankles. Was a beautiful night. “A lot of guys who get out have nothing. They’re basically homeless—without a dime to their name.”
I draped an arm over her shoulder. “You don’t have to worry about any of that.”
“Thanks,” she said. “But I do.”
“You can stay with me as long as you like.”
“You could stay with me, too,” Cindy said.
“Thanks guys,” she said. “But what about this website idea?”
“I was thinking we’d use it as kind of a blackmail tool,” Dev said. “Like we tell em to back off or we start publishing all sorts of shit about em.”
“I wasn’t in very long and I already have a ton of stories I could contribute,” I said. Like having my twin die while doing the Purif.
“But wouldn’t that make em come after you even harder?” Cindy questioned. “Like if you threaten em, won’t they just attack? That’s their policy, right? Attack, attack, attack.”
“It’d sure feel good, though,” Dev said.
“What do you mean?” Cindy asked.
“It feels good to get back at someone who’s been messing with you. And all we’d be doing is just telling the truth, anyway. It’s not like we’d be making up lies about em.”
“Like they’d inevitably do to me,” Roxy said.
“So what?” Dev said. “Besides us, you don’t have any friends outside of Scientology. You don’t have a job so you don’t have a boss or any co-workers to worry about. You don’t have any brothers or sisters. And your parents are, like you said, pretty much out of the picture. So you wouldn’t have to worry about anyone you know reading stuff they say about you. And besides, assuming we add a forum to this website, and we’re the moderators, we can censor any comments or replies we want. We wouldn’t have to post anything we didn’t want to.”
“But what if they created a website about me and posted all sorts of lies and made up stuff,” Roxy asked.
Dev threw out his arms. “Who the fuck would even visit the site? The answer: nobody. Like you think anyone would go searching for you on the Internet? Nobody outside the church even knows you exist.”
“Just think if we got a shit-load of followers,” Cindy said. “We could create a crowd-funding site and people could donate money for your reintegration into normal life outside the church.”
“No one’s gonna send money to some random girl who left Scientology,” Dev said.
“They might,” I said.
“Guys,” Roxy said. “It doesn’t matter. We don’t even know if anyone would visit our website.”
“Speaking of which,” I said, “I know next to nothing about a) creating a website, b) maintaining it, and c) whether anyone would give a shit and visit it.”
“Creating websites are dead easy,” Cindy said. “There’re tons of templates out there in which you basically just fill in the blanks and the program does the rest. And once it’s up and running, there’s nothing to maintain except to moderate the comments.”
“And the part about getting people to visit?”
“We’d promote it.”
“By going to other anti-Scientology websites and blogs and writing that there’s this new site out there about this girl who was held hostage in the Sea Org and…”
“I wasn’t held hostage,” Roxy said.
“Not literally. But almost. The point is, it doesn’t matter. What matters are all your stories about life in the Sea Org and how Scientology fucked you over and came after you after you left. We’d leave links to our site at all the others.”
“Who would maintain this site? Like who would moderate all these comments?” Roxy asked.
“You would,” Dev said. “It’s not like you got a whole lot of other stuff going on in your life right now.”
“I plan to get a job and go to school.”
“It wouldn’t take all that long to sort through the comments. And we could all help out. Like take turns, maybe.”
I followed Roxy’s gaze out to sea. A half mile off shore, a bank of fog threatened to roll up on us. Not that I cared. A person would have to be a moron to get lost on a beach. We turned around and walked back to our cars.
I flipped on the kitchen light in the Little House and grabbed a quart of milk from the refrigerator.
“Care for a bowl of cereal?” I asked Roxy.
“It’s midnight,” she said.
“And your point is?”
“I don’t know. It’s just that in the SO, we never ate after dinner.”
“Occasionally, we’d get a leftover snack from some event, but…” She shrugged. “We didn’t have money. Nobody had a car—at least nobody with whom I was a friend. And by the time we got off post…we were beat. Oftentimes we worked until the early hours of the morning. Sometimes we worked all night. Even if there’d been food, it’s not like we would have had the time to sit down and eat it.”
“So…you open to try new things? Join me in a bowl of cereal?”
“What do you got?”
“All right. Grab me a bowl.”
I pulled down two bowls from the shelf and the box of cereal from the cupboard and brought everything to the table. Roxy watched me add the cereal and milk to my bowl, as if what I was doing was some kind of exotic operation.
“You took half the box,” she said.
“There’s another in the cupboard,” I said. And more in the main house.
She filled her bowl halfway with cereal and milk and took a bite. “Holy shit. This is frikken fantastic.”
“I take it you didn’t eat a whole lot of corn flakes in the Sea Org.”
“Not sugar-coated. This is fuckin awesome.”
A minute later, she paused and said, “So…about the sleeping arrangements…”
Sea Org members were nothing if not direct. “You get right to the point, don’t you?”
Her gaze never wavered. “You got a sleeping bag or blanket I can borrow?”
“The bed’s already made.”
“I was talking about the couch.”
“The bed’s way more comfortable. As you already know.”
She took another bite of cereal. I took another bite.
“You expecting sex from me?” she asked.
I just about choked on my corn flakes. “What? No! I’m not expecting anything from you.”
I stared at her, my mouth agape. Then, “Are you always this direct?”
“In the Sea Org, you gotta be married to even kiss. As you already know.”
“In case you hadn’t noticed, you’re not in the SO anymore.”
“Some habits die hard.”
“You saying ‘not kissing’ is a habit? Because we have kissed before.” And I’ve seen you in your bra and panties.
“I’m just telling you the way I was raised.”
“Listen…I’m not trying to pressure you into anything. If you don’t want to do something, you don’t have to do it. I’m not your senior. You don’t have to take orders from me.”
“So you were ordering me to sleep in your bed with you?”
“No! I didn’t say that. And you were the one who brought up the sleeping arrangements. Not me. But just so you know, you’d be perfectly welcome to sleep there.”
“In your bed?”
“I’ve never slept with anyone else before. Or…had sex.”
“You told me that back at Int Base, remember?”
For the next few minutes we concentrated on eating our cereal.
“You have protection?” Roxy asked all of sudden.
I just about choked for the second time. “Yes,” I managed to say. An image of the box of condoms in my dresser drawer flashed through my mind.
“I’m not saying I’m having sex with you. I was just checking.”
“And I’m definitely not marrying you.”
I laughed. “And I wouldn’t expect you to. Outside here in the real world, people hook up and have sex all the time without getting married. In fact, most people don’t get married without first having sex.”
“Which isn’t necessarily a good thing.”
“True. But more times than not, it is a good thing. Like making sure you’re both compatible.”
“You know this from experience?”
“I’ve never been married.”
“That’s not what I was asking.”
“I told you I wasn’t a virgin, if that’s what you were asking.”
“How many times have you had sex?”
“Enough to know what goes where.”
“How many times?”
“I don’t know.”
“Bullshit. Boys keep track of things like that.”
“How the hell would you know that? You’ve led a cloistered life.”
“Just because SO members don’t have sex before they get married, doesn’t mean they don’t talk about it. And since a lot of SO members don’t join until they’re older, they’ve had sex on the outside. So…how many times?”
“None of your business.”
“You embarrassed to tell me? Like maybe you’re not as experienced as you let on?”
“What difference would it make anyway? But just so you know, I’ve had sex with two girls.”
“Was it good?”
“Yeah, it was all right.”
“Just ‘all right’?”
“Better than alright.”
“I’ll think about it,” she said. She pulled over the corn flakes and began to read the back of the box.
“Think about what?” I asked.
She didn’t look up from the box. “Sleeping in your bed. With you in it.”
“We’ve hardly even kissed.”
“You’re saying we need to kiss some more before we have sex?”
“No, that’s not what I’m saying.” Or maybe it was. “I’m just saying that boys and girls usually make out a while before having sex.” I’d never had a conversation close to this in my life.
“You suggesting we make out?” Roxy asked.
“Wouldn’t be a bad idea.” It was a great idea.
“What if you don’t like the way I kiss? Or I don’t like the way you kiss?”
“Then we probably wouldn’t get to second base?”
“Which is what exactly?”
“I think it has something to do with feeling each other and stuff like that. But I’m not totally sure.”
“Feeling each other’s…stuff?”
“Uh huh. And I can’t believe I’m having this conversation with you,” I said out loud.
“You uncomfortable talking about sex?”
“It’s just not the kind of conversation boys and girls usually have.”
“The way out is the way through.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It’s something LRH said, meaning a person has to confront whatever is in front of them and deal with it and keep going until it’s resolved. Like just keep ploughing forward. It’s usually used with reference to auditing. Like if you encounter some incident you don’t want to look at, the thing to do is force yourself to look at it and just keep going. Like confront it and get it over with.”
“So what are you saying exactly?”
“I’m just saying that we should talk about all this. Honestly. You know…like confront it and deal with it.”
“I’m a virgin. And you want to have sex with me. And I’m not sure what that would mean. And I’m a little scared. Like what if you decide you don’t like me and kick me out and I’m out on the street with no money and no place to go and…”
“That would never happen.”
“But you don’t know that. Not for sure.”
“I’ve seen you in your underwear and I liked what I saw.”
“Which isn’t the same as seeing me completely naked. And making out. And… Having sex.”
“True. But like you said, ‘the way out is the way through’.”
“So you’re saying the way to get rid of my anxieties is to just go ahead and have sex with you?”
“I can think of worse things,” I smiled. “But no, what I’m saying is that you might at least want to step up to plate.”
“You referring to getting to second base again?”
“I’m saying we might at least kiss and see where things go from there.”
“So first base is just kissing?”
“I think so.”
“And second base is touching and feeling each other?”
“I think so.”
“Then what happens on third?”
“Because I assume getting to home is having sex, right?”
“So third base. What happens?”
“I think we just gotta just use our imaginations.” Mine was running wild.
I shoved my bowl to the side and held out my hand. Roxy stared at the upturned palm and then into my eyes. I gestured to the hand with my eyes. She put down her spoon. And looked at the proffered hand. And then back up into my eyes. And took a deep breath. I almost said, “The way out is the way through,” but didn’t; I just kept my eyes locked with hers. Waiting for her to put her hand in mine. Which might have been considered stepping up to the plate. I wasn’t sure. I just waited. And a few seconds later she lowered a hand into mine and I closed my fingers around it.
I stood and pulled her up and took her into my arms and kissed her. On the lips. She closed her eyes and leaned into me and I flipped off the lights before we stumbled over to the couch and sat down with our arms wrapped around each other.
A couple of minutes later, she pulled back and said, “I think we’re on first base.”
I nodded and said, “You taste like sugar-frosted flakes.” And when she frowned slightly, I added, “The best fuckin corn flakes I’ve ever tasted.”
She pushed me down on my back and smiled before lowering herself onto my chest. And our lips came together again. And we made out like that for another five or ten minutes or however long we lay there on the couch. Because the whole space/time continuum had pretty much warped. And pretty much nothing else in the world existed except the girl pressing down on me.
Sometime later, she rolled off to the side and put her lips to my ear. “I think I want to check out second base.”
It’d wanted to check it out the second after she’d shoved me down on the couch. Second base was like a blinking neon sign. A half dozen times, I’d had to think of sitting in math class to keep from coming in my pants. I almost did again when Roxy reached down and ran her hand down my thigh. And then back up again. Not stopping until her fingers came to rest on the bulge between my legs.
“Okay,” she said. “I think I’m on second base.”
Her hand was exactly where I wanted it to be. I said, “Uh huh.”
She gently bit my ear and moved her hand up a couple of inches. And then back down. And then up again. And I might have groaned. And before I could reciprocate, she abruptly sat up.
“Okay. Second base,” she said.
“Second base,” I swallowed.
“Let’s go for a walk.”
“A walk. Like we used to do back at Int Base. Remember?”
I sat up. “Yeah…but…”
“I’m not ready for third base… Or Home. I just want to take things slow.”
“I know, it sounds cliché, right?”
“But I think we should,” she said. “Take things slow. It just seems like the right thing to do. So… Let’s go take that walk.”
She grabbed my hand and pulled me up from the couch. And when I reached out to resume my march to second base, she put her hands on my chest and said, “Let’s go for that walk, Rick.”
I nodded and followed her out the front door. At one A.M. the air was cool and moist and the streets were deserted.
I woke up the next morning in just about the same aroused condition as when I’d tried going to sleep the night before. I waited for a few minutes for things to settle down before checking on Roxy in the other room. She was standing barefoot at the stove making coffee when I padded into the kitchen. My old football jersey didn’t cover all that much of her white thighs.
“Hey,” I said. “How was the couch?”
“Totally comfortable. Believe me; I’ve slept in a lot worse,” she answered, turning back to the stove. “How do you like your coffee?”
I stared at her backside. “With lots of cream and sugar.”
“I’ve never actually made coffee before. So…” She shrugged.
The bottom hem raised another half inch when she raised her shoulders. I wondered if she was wearing anything underneath. Or rather, I tried to discern if she was wearing anything underneath. Just as well I couldn’t tell.
“I thought I’d fry us up a couple of eggs, too,” she said.
She turned and faced me while the coffee brewed. “About last night…”
“I just want you to know… It was kinda…special,” she said.
“Even if you did only get to second base?”
“I kinda had a good time myself,” I admitted. The coffee smelled good. The thighs looked fantastic.
“Dev and Cindy are picking us up in an hour,” Roxy said.
“They texted you.”
“You read my phone?”
“It was just sitting on the table. I didn’t think you’d mind.”
The coffee was slightly bitter and the eggs a bit hard but the sourdough toast had been browned perfectly. It was the first breakfast Roxy had ever made on her own. Afterwards, I invited her to save water by joining me in the shower. She declined. Third base, whatever that was, would have to wait.
Later that morning, Dev, Cindy, Roxy, and I were sitting around the kitchen table in the Little House. Dev and Cindy shared one laptop. Roxy and I shared mine. The smell of shampoo on her hair was a constant distraction.
“See, I told you,” Cindy said. “Making a website is dead easy.”
We’d chosen a website-development-program based on reviews, low prices, and its ability to support WordPress, the app we’d use to create and write our articles.
“Hosting the site is gonna cost money, though,” I said. I told them about the fee schedule I’d seen quoted at WeHost.com. I considered asking my dad to chip in for the first year’s subscription. I didn’t have to wait long. He poked his head in the front door ten minutes later.
“Hi, Mr. Shade,” Dev said.
“Hi, Mr. Shade,” Cindy said.
Roxy raised her hand in a halfhearted wave. “Hey.”
“Hey, Dad,” I said. “What’s up?”
“I was just going to ask you the same question. Have you heard from your attorney, Kellan Connelly?”
I shook my head.
“What about Detective Gardner?”
“No news is good news, right?” Dev said.
“Let’s hope so,” Dad said. He glanced down at our open laptops. “What you working on?”
“Just stuff,” I answered. Which was the same answer I’d used a thousand previous times. But then I remembered about asking him if he might pony up for the cost of hosting our web site. So I told him our plan.
“You don’t think this is a little dangerous?” he asked.
“How so?” I said.
“The church could sue you for libel.”
“Who says we won’t be telling the truth?”
“Who says they care and won’t come after you anyway?”
“There’re lots of other sites that talk trash about Scientology every day,” Dev said. “And they haven’t been sued.”
“Are you sure about that?”
We all looked blankly at each other.
“Not totally,” I said. “But some of them have been churning out daily posts for years. If the church had sued them, they would have written about it.”
“Well…just be careful,” Dad said. “I don’t want to have to retain Connelly for this, too.”
“Don’t worry,” I said. “We won’t post anything that isn’t true.”
“Which might not make a difference. Like I said, they still might decide to come after you. Just because you and Roxy swear something happened, doesn’t mean you can prove it in a court of law. Especially if a hundred of their staff swore what you said never happened. I imagine, too, they have a bit more money than we do to finance a prolonged litigation.”
“You know, Dad, you’re really a downer. Have you checked out the other major blog sites about Scientology? Like I said, some of them have been up and running for years.”
“Freedom of speech. First amendment and all that,” Dev added.
“I hear you. Just be careful,” Dad said before walking out the door.
The next couple of days were uneventful. I didn’t hear from Detective Gardner nor my lawyer, Kellan Connelly. My dad pretty much left us alone. Jack and Jake were impressed with the whole situation—and with a girl living on the premises. On day three we enrolled Roxy at Santa Barbara City College. Around seven A.M. on day four, her parents called.
I was lying in bed—alone—and didn’t recognize the number on my cell but answered it anyway. “Hello?”
“May I please speak with Roxy? This is her mother calling,” a middle-aged voice said.
“How’d you get this number?” I asked.
“Never mind how I got your number. May I please speak with my daughter?”
“Sure. Just a minute.”
I got up and walked into the living room. Roxy was sitting on the couch wrapped up in her blanket reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. I held out the phone. “It’s your mother. She stared at the cell, like it was a piece of rotten meat before finally taking it and walking outside to the backyard. I sat down at the kitchen table and watched through the window. Fifteen minutes later she came back inside. She looked miles away.
She wrapped herself back up in her blanket and curled up on the couch. I walked over and sat down beside her.
“So…how’d it go?” I asked.
“Basically, they tried talking me into returning to AO.”
“I would guess that wasn’t altogether unexpected, right?”
“I’m only surprised they took so long to call.”
“You were on the phone a long time.”
“First my mom talked with me. Then my dad. Both recited the standard shit: your eternity depends on what you do now; working in the SO is the greatest good for the greatest number of dynamics; don’t throw your life away; bla, bla, bla.”
“I take it, then, they didn’t talk you in to returning.”
“I told em, no way. I’m done. I’m not going back in. That chapter of my life is over.”
“They couldn’t have been too happy with that decision.”
“They threatened to disconnect with me. At first. After I said I wasn’t going back, they said they’d have no choice but to disconnect from me and we’d be over as a family. And then they just kept hammering on me. Return or my life was fucked. Either that or we were done.”
“Pretty harsh ultimatum.”
She curled into a tighter ball.
“And that was it?” I asked.
“They said they’d call back in day or two…after I’d had a chance to think through the ‘ramifications of what I was doing’.”
“Just so you know, you’re welcome to stay here as long as you like.”
“I know. Thanks. And just so you know, I’ve been thinking about getting a job. I’m going crazy with all this free time. Since I could remember, I’ve been working these crazy long days. Like ten or twelve hours minimum. I feel like since I’ve been here, I’ve taken more free time than the rest of my life combined. It feels kinda weird.”
“I can only imagine.” I rested a hand on her knee. “So…how do you feel?”
“About getting a job?”
“No. About your parents disconnecting from you. From never seeing them ever again.”
“I never saw em when I was in.”
“Not often anyway. But you could have if you wanted to.”
Roxy looked at me like I was crazy. “Not hardly. Getting time off is next to impossible in the Sea Org. And since I never had any money, how the fuck was I supposed to get from California to Florida? Walk? Hitchhike? Ride a bike?”
“They could have flown out here.”
“Except they don’t have any money, either. And if they somehow got any, they never used it to visit me. It’s like I’ve said all along, Scientology is more important than family. They think they’re trying to save the planet. Which takes precedence over everything else. To them, I’m just some girl that happened to be born when they slipped up and didn’t use protection. They don’t care about me. They never have.”
“Come on. That can’t be totally true. Or they never would have called you.”
“Oh really? Like you think they called on their own determinism? No fuckin way. I guarantee they were ordered to call me and get me to return.”
“No! You come on! They don’t fuckin care about me! They never have! I’m nothing to them except another fuckin thetan who happened to attach herself to them nineteen years ago! That’s all I am. Just another thetan who’s lived a trillion other lifetimes and who’ll live another trillion and so this life is no big deal. Except it kinda is, because for the first time in all of eternity we have a chance to pull ourselves out of the trap we made for ourselves quadrillions of years ago. That’s what they think!”
“I got that,” I said. “But aren’t you just a little sad. Like…they’re still your parents and everything.”
“Fuck them! And fuck you!”
She threw her blanket on the floor and grabbed her shoes. And once they were laced up, she stormed out of the house without looking back. I ran after and asked where she was going. She answered by flipping me off. I thought it best to give her some space so I just watched as she strode down the street. I called Dev when she hadn’t returned by noon.
“Give her a little more time,” he said. “She has to return. She has nowhere else to go.”
“What if some Sea Org guys pick her up, though?”
“She said she’s never going back.”
“But what if they force her?”
“They don’t use physical force, right?”
“But what if they do?” I asked. “Or what if they just talked her into it? Or got her parents back on the phone and they talked her into it. Like they promised to visit her or something like that?”
“She said she and her parents have had little to do with each other,” Dev said.
“But they’re still her parents. So there has to be some sort of emotional connection. She still loves em—at least a little. Right?”
“Maybe. You know her better than I do.”
“I mean…she never told me how she actually feels about em—like if she loves em…or even likes em. She just said that Scientology is more important to them than she is.”
“Which, to your point, doesn’t mean they don’t love each other.”
“I think she’s convinced they don’t love her,” I said.
“But she could still love them. They’re still her parents,” Dev replied.
“Except they abandoned her to the Sea Org years ago and have had little to do with her ever since. And she’s had nothing to do with them.”
“But they’re still her parents and parental bonds are strong, hard to break.”
“So what should I do?”
“For now, there’s nothing much you can do except sit back and wait for her to return.”
“Yeah, but what if she doesn’t?”
“Bummer for you, dude.”
By five o’clock, Roxy still hadn’t returned. But Doug had. He wasn’t due back to sup at the org until six-thirty. After making sure he was alone, we walked outside with a couple of root beers and sat down in the two beach chairs under the shade of the jacaranda tree.
“Gotta admit, I didn’t expect to see you here,” I said.
“Gotta admit, I didn’t expect to come here,” Doug said.
“So why did you? To try to talk me and Roxy into coming back?”
He took a sip of soda and gazed up at the branches. A bird alighted toward the top, spotted us below, and flew off.
“Speaking of Roxy,” he said, “where is she?”
“Taking a walk. So, why are you here, Doug?”
“This whole thing about Joan…” He shook his head.
“What about it?”
“It’s pretty fucked up.”
“And this is what you came here to tell me?” I snorted.
“They’re saying it was all your fault.”
I nodded and stared across the yard.
“They’re saying you could have saved her,” he continued. “Or prevented it from happening. Like noticed she was distressed and did something. Like you were totally responsible.”
“Don’t think that hasn’t crossed my own mind a thousand times,” I said. “I think about it all the time. Like whether I shouldn’t have left her alone in the sauna or…”
“But you were sitting just outside the door. People do that all the time. You hardly left her alone.”
“But I wasn’t in the sauna with her.”
“Regardless, there’s nothing you could have done. She had a heart attack and died. Truth is, she never should have done the Purif to begin with. She was too out of shape.”
“That’s kind of a bold concession, Doug.”
“I’ve been thinking about it too. A lot. And all the stuff that happened afterwards. And a lot of other things about Scientology.”
“You having second thoughts? Reservations?”
“I just can’t keep looking the other way anymore.”
“From all the shit that goes on inside Scientology. From all the stuff that just isn’t right. Like all the lies.”
“How long you been on staff?”
“Three years. I got into Scientology two years before that.”
“So you’ve had a chance for…”
“The cognitive dissonance to take hold.”
“Remind what cognitive dissonance is?” I asked.
“It’s like when you see something that doesn’t make sense or you know isn’t right and you look the other way. Like pretend it doesn’t exist. Or rationalize that there’s something the matter with you for not understanding it. Like it doesn’t make sense not because it’s simply fucked up; it doesn’t make sense because you have an MU. Or you skipped a study gradient. Or you have overts and withholds. It’s never about the church or LRH. It’s always about the individual.
“This thing with Joan is just one example,” he continued. “I knew she never should have done the Purif. Like I said, she was just too out of shape.” He shook his head. “And as for being a supervisor…I just can’t keep telling people to find their MU anymore.”
“As opposed to what?”
“As opposed to sitting down with students and having honest conversations. I’m tired of believing LRH was infallible and the last word on everything. But especially…I can’t take how upper management is running Scientology. I can’t take their lies. I can’t take how they say everything is great when it’s obvious not. Like they say Scientology is expanding at this incredible rate and yet the local org is practically empty. And from what I’ve learned from friends at other orgs around the country, their condition is the same: empty and insolvent. Practically everything David McDermott says is a lie.”
“And you’re telling me all this…why?”
“First off, I just wanted to let you know that I don’t hold you responsible for what happened to Joan. It wasn’t your fault. If anyone was at fault, it was Brenda and me for not calling an ambulance. And despite what they’re saying, I know it wasn’t your idea to move her.”
“Thanks for that,” I said.
“And the other thing is, I can’t talk about any of this with other Scientologists. I’d get written up and thrown into Ethics.”
“For just talking to them about your concerns?”
“Without a doubt. You can’t say anything negative about Scientology—or even question a piece of tech or policy—without being considered disaffected.”
“Which means you’ve committed all kinds of overts against the church.”
“So what you gonna do?”
“Except for talking with you, not sure.”
“Did you want to talk with Roxy, too?”
“At some point. For now, I just wanted to get this off my chest. Like talk to somebody who understands what’s going on without reporting me.”
“The last thing I would do is write up a report on you, Doug. Like rat you out.”
“So you gonna route out? Like check out of Scientology?”
Memory refresh: “Routing out” was a long and arduous process that included lots of sec checking and a promise to pay back your Freeloader Debt—all the money Scientology had spent on you while you were on staff.
“Or are you just gonna walk away?” I added.
“Might be simpler to just walk away.”
“That’s basically what I did,” Roxy said, walking through the gate and joining Doug and me under the jacaranda tree. “Just so you know, I’ve been sitting out in the driveway for the last ten minutes.”
I wanted to jump up and hug her. But remembered about giving her some space. So I just smiled and asked, “So you’ve heard everything we’ve said?”
“Everything over the last ten minutes,” she replied. “Been sitting with my back against fence. Just listening.”
“So what do you think?” Doug asked.
“I think you should do whatever you feel is best.”
“That doesn’t help much.”
Roxy shrugged. “Everyone’s different. Me? I just walked away.”
“More like escaped,” I said.
“I take it you have no plans on returning?” Doug asked Roxy.
“Nope. My career in Scientology is over.”
“What are your plans?”
Roxy told him about enrolling at CC and her plans to get a job.
“So you’re saying I should just walk away, too?” he asked her.
“No. I’m just saying that’s what I did. Kind of like ripping off the band aide. You do whatever you want.”
“I’m leaning on just walking away. If I try to route out via regular channels, I’ll be tied up there for months.”
“As opposed to just walking away and becoming a productive member of society,” I said.
Doug nodded. “Unfortunately, I work for Don Donaldson—who is a Scientologist.”
“He runs that insurance claims company, right?” I asked.
“Right. So if I just walk away, I can kiss that job goodbye.”
“Then we’ll be in the same boat,” Roxy said. “Both unemployed and looking for work.”
“In the meantime, how about some dinner?”
“I gotta get back to the Org,” Doug said. “I’ll have to pass.”
I’d gotten in the habit of glancing in the rear view mirror every couple of blocks since returning to Santa Barbara, so I became suspicious of a white Chevy sedan several car-lengths back as we wound through the neighborhood. It was seven o’clock and Roxy and I were on our way to dinner at the new Rusty’s Pizza Parlor a couple of blocks up from the beach.
“Check out the white car behind us,” I said to her. “It’s been behind us ever since we left the Little House.”
Roxy twisted in her seat and looked back over her shoulder. “Looks like two guys sitting up front. Both wearing white shirts. The passenger is smoking.”
“Sea Org guys wear white shirts,” I said.
“And smoke like fuckin chimneys. Because real Scientologists don’t get cancer. Cancer is for Wogs.”
“Think we should try to ditch em?”
“Why? They already know where you live. And if they want to watch us eat pizza…” She shrugged.
I parked in front of Rusty’s and got out of the car. We ordered at the counter before sitting down at a table in the back. Most of the three dozen picnic-like tables were empty. The two guys from the white Chevy joined us a couple of minutes after our pizza arrived. Maybe they were just hungry and didn’t have any money for food.
“Love the nautical décor,” the blonde one said.
“Love your black and white uniforms,” I replied. “You guys got names? I’m sure you already know ours.”
“My name is Granderson,” blondie said in a British accent. I couldn’t tell if it was English or Irish.
“And mine is Stan,” said his black-haired partner. I couldn’t tell if his accent was Germanic or Eastern European.
Both looked to be in their mid-twenties. If I didn’t know they were SO, I would have guessed they were cross country runners at one of the local colleges. I didn’t offer to share our pepperoni.
“I suppose you know why we’re here,” Granderson said.
What the fuck had his parents been thinking when they’d named their son.
“You want us to come back to LA with you,” I answered.
“Good guess. So what do you say we cut with all the crap and get this over with?”
“Just go with you? Like get in your car and drive down to LA? You’re serious?”
“Dead serious,” Stan said. He turned to Roxy. “If you’re gonna leave, you need to route out properly. Tie up loose ends. Make sure you’re hands are clean. Work your way up the conditions. Like do things the right way.”
“And if I choose not to come with you?” she asked.
“Then you’d be making a huge mistake—one that would follow you for the rest of your life. Come with us. Don’t leave with all this shit hanging over your head. Don’t leave holding all this baggage.”
Baggage? She’d left with hardly anything.
“The only thing I regret is that I didn’t leave sooner,” she said. “You guys should try it. The feeling of freedom is incredible.”
Granderson smiled. Narrowly. “We’re not leaving without you.”
“Those your orders?”
“Then you’re gonna be here a long time. Because I’m not going anywhere with you.”
“You’ll never see your parents again if you don’t,” Stan added. “They really want to see you.”
The needle on my bullshit detector swung wide to the right.
“Talking to em on the phone was enough,” Roxy said.
“You say that now, but down the road…you’ll regret disconnecting from them.”
“She’s not the one disconnecting,” I said. “They disconnected from her years ago when they dumped her in the Cadet Org.”
Granderson stared into my eyes and shook his head. “You wouldn’t understand. Our purpose is greater than anything you’re even remotely aware of.”
“Because my brain is so small,” I said. “Because I’m a Wog?”
“Because you haven’t recognized the condition of the planet and what we’re doing to save it.”
“So why don’t you go back to saving it and leave us alone?”
Granderson turned back to Roxy. “Let’s go.”
She shook her head.
“You’ve been SO for most of your life, Roxy. We’re your family. Not this guy sitting here.”
I grabbed another slice of pizza. Three down, five to go. The cheese was starting to solidify. I needed to hurry. Not that pizza wasn’t good at any temperature.
I looked up and said, “I think you guys should leave.”
“Not without Roxy,” Stan said.
“And what if I call the cops? Tell em you’re harassing us?”
“You call this harassment?”
“Not a lot, but yes.”
Stan and Granderson smirked at each other and shook their heads.
I took another bite of pizza. Roxy had slowed up but was still eating. Not only was Rusty’s crusts the ideal thickness, their ratio of sauce to cheese was perfect. The aroma was intoxicating. Must have been hard for Stan and Granderson to watch us eat. Especially as skinny as the two were. I wondered what they’d meant when they said “You call this harassment?”
What could they do? Picket the Little House? Send threatening letters to Roxy? Jam up her email? Post unflattering things about us on the Internet? Or something more physical? Like pouring sand in my gas tank and ransacking the house. Would they eventually resort to physical means? Would they grab Roxy when nobody else was around and whisk her away in the trunk of a car? I couldn’t be with her all the time. Why couldn’t they just leave us alone?
“The last piece is yours,” I said to Roxy.
“I’m full,” she said. “You go for it.”
So I did. I washed down my last bite with the last of my lemonade. “Ready to go, Roxy?”
She shoved her plate forward and stood up. Stan and Granderson followed us out to the parking lot. They’d parked their white Chevy next to ours. Stan positioned himself in front of my passenger door and crossed his arms, effectively blocking Roxy from getting inside.
“Move aside, please,” she said to him.
“Come with us,” he said. “You know it’s the right thing to do.”
“Move aside, please,” she repeated.
“Come on Roxy. You know what the right thing to do is. The greatest good for the greatest number of dynamics is to return and follow Ron’s policy.”
“Come over here,” I said to her. “You can get in on my side.”
Or maybe not. Granderson side-stepped and leaned his ass against my door handle.
“Get out of my way, please,” I said.
He stood his ground.
“Please,” I said.
He didn’t move.
We were the only ones in the well-lit parking lot. Twenty yards away, tourists strolled up the sidewalk along State Street. Nobody paid us any mind.
“Come on, dude,” I said. “Let us into the car.”
Granderson shook his head. “Roxy needs to come with us.”
“Haven’t you been listening? She’s not going with you. So please just stand aside.”
He shook his head. I glanced at the people strolling up State Street. I glanced at Roxy on the other side of the car. I glanced back at Granderson. I thought of slugging him. In the jaw. An upper cut. He’d probably never been hit in his short SO life. On one hand, I wasn’t the type to initiate contact. On the other, I’d had enough. So I shoved him. Not too hard. Just enough to send him staggering a couple of steps to the right.
Before I could open the door fully, he bounced back and kicked it shut. When I went to push him again, he was ready for me. He grabbed one of my arms, pulled me toward him, and tripped me to the pavement. Fuck! First he’d karate-kicked the door closed and then he’d flung me judo-style to the ground. Had he been sent specifically because he’d been schooled in the martial arts?
I jumped quickly to my feet. The less time spent sprawled in the parking lot, the better for my self-esteem. Add to that, Roxy had run around the car so that she was now standing at my side.
Without thinking, I grabbed Granderson by his white shirt and pulled him away from the car. He karate-chopped my hands away and kicked me in the chest—much the same way he’d done to the door. Hitting the ground twice wasn’t a big ego boost so I jumped up and rushed him. Fuck Bruce Lee.
I managed to get my arms around him but not before my nose had slammed into something hard. Like a row of knuckles. At least, I hadn’t hit the asphalt for a third time. Blood from my nose had splattered onto his white shirt. I followed a left to his side with a right to his jaw but before I could repeat the operation, Stan slammed into my side. I rolled so that I ended up on top of him and punched him in the eye before Granderson booted me off with a kick to the shoulder. The smell of parking lot was getting old fast.
I jumped up and spun around. Stan and Granderson stood hunched over with their hands on their knees in front of my car door. “Get the fuck out of the way,” I said. I sounded like I had a cold—like the worst one in my life.
They didn’t say anything and they didn’t move. Granderson’s shirt was stained red and Stan’s left eye had closed to a slit. They didn’t look like runners anymore. I stepped in front of Stan, who looked up just in time to see a right fist explode into his jaw. On his way to the ground, Roxy kicked him in the nuts. Good girl.
We ran around and jumped in the passenger-side door but by the time I got behind the wheel, Granderson had flung open the door and was grabbing at my arms. I maintained a death-grip with my right hand while chopping and punching him with my left. I yelled for Roxy to get the keys out of my right pocket. Before inserting the car key in the ignition slot, she stabbed Granderson in the arm with one of the keys. He squealed and let go of my arm. Good girl.
I pulled the door shut, locked it, and turned the key. I glanced in the rearview mirror before backing out—so as not to run over Stan. He was just sitting up and Granderson was holding his arm to his body when I shifted into drive and flew out of the lot.