–in this scene Stephen (a 17 year old pastor, who believes he’s received a command from God to leave his super-isolated town to preach God’s word in the rest of the mysterious Outside World.) sits with his father as his father reveals some shocking details about Stephen’s past–
Stephen walked into his kitchen and saw that his father had already prepared their meal. On the table, next to the stew and rye, were a stack of tattered books and papers. He sat down and picked up the first book. It was a very thin thing with a dark red leather cover. He turned open the cover and saw, for the first time since the morning she died, his mother’s beautiful face.
It was drawn in charcoal and pencil. In the lower right corner was his mother’s name in cursive. “Rosa Anne Bitnar,” he said as he read her name out loud and touched the words with his index finger, “She drew this.” A smile began to blossom, but the corners of his mouth felt like anchors thrown overboard, pulling his smile down into the depths. His eyes were wet with tears and he gave his mother’s picture a light kiss.
He turned the page and there was another picture in charcoal and pencil. It was a portrait of a toddler’s chubby face smiling the widest smile Stephen had ever seen.
“That’s you when you were about one and a half” Stephen hadn’t heard his father approach before he spoke from behind, “She was constantly talking about you to everyone. After she died, for two years I was finding pictures she drew of you, stuffed into books, and drawers. Son, when you came along, that was that for her. She didn’t need anything else.”
Stephen leafed through the rest of that booklet. “I never even knew she could draw. I must get my abilities from her, huh?” Stephen stopped, abruptly realizing that that could not actually be true. He couldn’t have inherited her artistic abilities. He couldn’t have inherited any family traits from her. She was not his birth mother. It’d probably be weeks before that new revelation would sink in.
“If an artistic aptitude is passed down in the blood, then you did not inherit your gifts from your mother. You have a gift, though. No doubt your mother’s artistic sensibilities rubbed off on you when you shared so much time together as a young boy.”
Stephen flipped back to his mother’s self portrait and touched the grooves his mother had made on the paper with her pencil so many years ago. He slowly slid his finger across the markings, half hoping to reach back into the past to touch the hands that made them. He took several deep quivering breaths to keep himself from crying, and then said to his father, “I can’t believe how much I still miss her.”
“Believe me, Stephen, she is keeping her eye on you. She’s still keeping her little bear safe and sound, I promise you that. Whatever happens in this life, when heaven comes for you, she will be the first face you see.”
Stephen looked up at his dad. His tears ran a bit freer now. His dad’s eyes had welled up as well.
“Little bear?” Stephen asked.
“That’s what she called you, Stephen. You don’t remember that? No, I guess you wouldn’t. That was when you were still toddling around. You’d always look up at us and growl with a fierce sweet smile, and we pretended to be afraid every time. You sounded to her like a baby bear.”
Carl sat down across from his son, reached over and grabbed the pile of books and papers. “These are all her notebooks. Rosa, well, your mother, she kept notes and diaries and so there’s a lot in here about your birth father, Adam, and the people he came into town with, but I think this one also gives the most important details about the outside world, and especially about the Below Lands. Your father and his congregation came from a thousand miles south of the Below Lands, or so he said.
Carl angled the book so it would catch more light and the fading pencil would be a bit easier to read. “Here, I’ll read the important bits first.” Carl sat up and began to read:
“—Today Adam, Esau, Carl and I shared dinner at Esau’s home. Esau tried his hardest to convince Adam that he should stay and help run the Paradise Church and send his brother and uncle back, instead. Esau said that having two pastors at Paradise Church would strengthen its message and ease the burden of one person caring for so many souls. Adam said he would absolutely stand behind that pulpit. He planned on it. But he had a son to look after. He needed to make sure that he was safe and healthy and recovered from his injuries.
Adam told us all that his first order of business was to get all his people healthy enough to go reclaim his son from the family he left him with below The Bridge.—“
“Wait,” Stephen interrupted his father’s rather poetic reading, “I’m confused. I thought I arrived with them. Isn’t that what you said?”
“Yes, son, that is what I said. You did arrive here with them.”
“What was Adam—my father I mean—what was he talking about… going back to get me from that other family. He left and came back?”
“No, when he left, we fully expected your father and his people to return. That is why they left you with us. They didn’t want to risk you getting hurt.”
“But, what was he leaving for?” Stephen stumbled over these words with a slight hopeless chuckle. As bright as he was, his mind refused to wrap itself around the new thing he was learning about himself.
‘Well, let me keep reading, how about that, Stephen?”
“— It is not a secret how desperately I want a child of my own. When Adam asked Carl and I to care for young baby Stephen until he returned, my heart packed its bags, leapt out of my chest and made its home in the blankets beside little Stephen’s chubby cheeks. I lifted him out of his basket at once, held him close and told them all, “Young Stephen has a home here until the very end of time. It would fill my heart with love and pride to have him stay here. I will keep him safe, happy and healthy as long as he is under my care.” I didn’t say it at the time, but the same is true for his older brother, too. When Adam returns with his oldest ( a seven year old boy who suffered bad injuries in a fall on their journey north) they may all stay with us and I will take care of them and my husband all at once.—“
“Dad. Do I have an older brother?”
“Yes, son, you do. Or, you did. I’m not sure which, because none of them ever returned.