38. Bonus: Volume 13-called-Prequel-1 (L.B. Rising) spoilers

Spoiler (Volume 13-called-Prequel-1): Why do we call “The Rising” Volume-13-called-Prequel-1?

Answer: Some readers enumerate the Left Behind series as a twelve-volume set, three prequels, and one sequel. Other readers—such as your host—count sixteen volumes, based strictly upon order of publication.

When readers use different methods of counting, there can be two books taken or mistaken for Volume 13 (either Prequel 1 or Sequel 1). Thus your host numbers the post-Volume 12 books as follows:

The Rising=Volume 13-called-Prequel-1;
The Regime=Volume 14-called-Prequel-2;
The Rapture=Volume 15-called-Prequel-3; and
Kingdom Come=Volume 16-called-13 (Sequel-1).

Volume 12 was published c2004. Therefore we choose to list the first prequel (c2005) as Volume 13 of the series.

Spoiler: Meet Rayford Steele.

Answer: A scene from the life of Captain Rayford Steele of Pan-Con Airlines makes a framing device, a set of bookends (pp. ix-xiv; 360-368).

Pilot Steele and co-pilot Christopher Smith are flying a Pan-heavy from Chicago to Los Angeles. A check-engine light comes on. Rayford and Chris backtrack. The maintenance log notes that Engine One’s air filter should have been changed in Miami, Florida. The mechanic on duty had noticed metal fragments in the filter. Nevertheless they must have been within safety tolerances, as the log had been signed off.

Rayford and Chris are unable to resolve the alert. They shut down Engine One and increase power to the other three engines. It makes more work for Rayford, but he can handle it. As a courtesy, Rayford informs the passengers. He doubts they would have noticed any change in speed. The plane updates its transponder to warn other planes not to crowd them, as their maneuverability may be affected.

Today LAX has poor visibility. As they prepare to land on instruments, they cannot see anything until they are only thirty feet above the runway. To their horror, a US Air 757 is taxiing on to the same runway. The second plane claims they were given clearance to take off.

The Pan-heavy is about to hit the US Air’s rudder, all four stories of it. If somehow they avoid it, the Pan-heavy’s left wingtip will strike the ground. If somehow they avoid that, they will bottom out. If they try nothing, they will strike all three. Pilot and co-pilot frantically try to ascend on three engines. Rayford, manipulating the rudder, feels a slight roll and realizes he may have made a fatal mistake.

The tower shouts and swears. Chris Smith shouts and swears. Rayford’s family flashes before his eyes: his love for them, his regrets. He thinks about the passengers on the two planes. Rayford shouts, “God, help me!” Chris replies, “Amen! Now fly!”

[ …. one volume later …. ]

Rayford’s mind pleads, I’ll never miss another Sunday at church as long as I live. And I’ll pray every day. The Pan-Con misses the US Air by inches. Chris Smith says, “Your prayer musta been answered, Cap. Praise the Lord and pass the diapers.”

They receive a new runway assignment and land on auto-pilot without incident. Rayford wonders if God had answered his prayer by making him make the mistake with the rudder. “Strange kind of intervention, Rayford thought, but he had made a bargain. This time he just might have to make good on it” (p. 368).

Spoiler: Describe Rayford Steele’s childhood.

Answer: Nine-year-old Rayford Steele of Belvidere, Illinois, scores a goal in a game of soccer. He finds the whole business annoying. His teammates want to lift him on their shoulders, as if a blowout against the worst team in the league is worth anything. His father cheers too loudly. His old man really is an old man. Other parents mistake Mr. Steele for Rayford’s grandfather. And Rayford hates soccer. He hates playing it, he hates watching it, and being the best player in his league does not make him stop hating it. He only plays to keep fit for other sports during the off-season.

Rayford likes football, basketball, and baseball. He is tall for his age, has good endurance, and does well in fourth grade. “He had it all. Smartest, best athlete, fastest, cutest” (p. 13).

But Rayford “feels like the brat he is.” It hurts him to be “a popular kid and not have the stuff that should go along with it” (pp. 16-17). His parents are in their late fifties and not at all glamorous. They are frugal. Their car was six years old when they bought it, and they intend to keep it for many years. “It’s plenty good for the likes of us. We’re plain and simple people.” The family tool-and-die small business provides well enough. They may live in “the seediest house in the neighborhood, but at least it was paid for and his dad wasn’t in debt and yeah, we may live paycheck to paycheck, but there are people a lot worse off than we are in the world” (p. 16). Rayford knows the speech and hates it.

Rayford never invites friends to his house. He prefers to visit them at their homes. There he can see the possessions and lifestyle he wants. Someday, he tells himself. At least he can personalize his room. His bedroom ceiling is filled with model planes, “from ancient props to tiny fighter jets to massive modern supersonic transports” (p. 17).

Rayford plans to work hard both at sports and at aviation. Both careers would make a lot of money. He is aware of the condescending smiles when he mentions sports, but a career in aviation is considered realistic (p. 18). He would not have to go into debt if he can make enough money to buy the nice things he wants.

Rayford saves his allowance for nearly a year to buy a flight jacket. He feels like a pilot, albeit a nine-year-old one. He is stunned when his friends laugh at his new jacket. Moreover, his father praises him, “which normally would be the death knell of any outfit.” Mr. Steele likes both the new look and the self-discipline Rayford showed with his money (pp. 119-120).

Rayford asks if his father will help him come up with enough money for flying lessons. A student can fly before he can drive. Mr. Steele looks at his son admiringly. Yes, he will help (p.120).

Mr. Steele tells his son that when Rayford is thirteen, Mr. Steele will give him a part-time job at the tool-and-die. It will be clean-up work: sweeping, trash, etc. If Rayford works hard, he can earn enough money to pay for half of a set of flying lessons when he is fourteen (p. 164). Mr. Steele will pay the other half of the cost (p. 133).

Rayford is overjoyed until his father adds that Rayford will be taught how to operate the machinery—how to operate the business. But why? asks Rayford. Mr. Steele intends that Rayford will take over someday. He is the obvious and only heir. Rayford asks, “Are you going to make me do it? Do I have to promise to take over the business to keep this deal, the work, and the flying lessons?” His father sighs. He will not force Rayford, but it is what he wants for Rayford.

Rayford thought his father wanted him to be honest. Mr. Steele wants him to be grateful. Rayford protests that he is grateful. But he asks his father to keep an open mind—that his father will not be insulted if Rayford does get a sports scholarship or does become a pilot. Mr. Steele asks his son to keep an open mind—that a boy who is “not yet ten” cannot yet know what he wants if he has not tried it. Besides, no one will love the family business like family. It is Mr. Steele’s life’s work (pp. 134-135).

Spoiler: Describe Rayford Steele’s religious upbringing.

Answer: At the Sheep-and-Goats Judgment, Jesus Christ gently takes Rayford’s face into His hands and says, “I was there when you were born. I was there when you thought your mother had abandoned you. I was there when you concluded that I made no sense” (Volume 12, p. 297).

As a youngster Rayford becomes aware of things that trouble him. He is invited to a sleepover at Bobby Stark’s house. They have laser hockey, video games, and movies. But Rayford does not enjoy his visit. Mr. Stark asks Rayford, as the guest, to say grace at supper (pp. 31-33). Rayford prays, “God is great; God is good. Now we thank Him for our food. Amen.” Bobby and his little sisters laugh at him.

Mr. Stark asks, “Is that how your father prays over a meal? I mean, I’m just curious. It’s a child’s prayer. Uh, you’re a child, but you’re becoming a man.” (Rayford Steele is nine years old.)

Rayford tries again, this time praying like his father: “For what we are about to receive, may we be truly thankful. Amen.” Rayford realizes the other children want to laugh again but have decided not to humiliate him further. No way will he be talked into praying again at breakfast. He only knows three prayers, and the third is Now I lay me down to sleep; I pray thee, Lord, my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray thee, Lord, my soul to take. He can only imagine their reaction to that (p. 33).

[Trivia alert: the Stark family never do provide their version of a “real” or “appropriate” prayer.]

Bobby Stark becomes very quiet. Then he witnesses to Rayford (pp. 33-37). Which church does he attend? Do they believe in Jesus? Some churches don’t believe. (Answer: “Yeah, they’re called synagogues.”) Do you have Jesus in your heart? (Answer: “what does that mean?”)

Bobby is concerned. Does Rayford have Jesus in his heart, really? Rayford replies, “My dad grew up in Central Church. He’s real religious …. [My mom] grew up in Michigan, but yeah, she’s religious too …. I’ve been going to Central Church since I was born, and I never heard anything about getting Jesus in your heart. But there’s pictures of Him everywhere, even in the windows, and He’s what the pastor preaches about. Just because we don’t call it what you do doesn’t mean we’re not religious” (p. 35). Bobby replies that it is not about religion. It is about being a true Christian.

Bobby asks, doesn’t Central teach that everyone is a sinner? Without Jesus in his heart, Rayford is going to hell. It’s in the Bible. “It says everyone has sinned.” Rayford says confidently, “Not my mom.” Bobby says, “Bet she has.”

Rayford retorts that he may not know everything his church teaches. “But I think we believe everybody’s good at heart. We try to do good things all the time, do what God wants us to do.” Bobby shakes his head. He is sad. Rayford sins. Everyone sins. Bobby doesn’t want Rayford to go to hell. Rayford asks if Bobby is going to be a missionary or something. Bobby shrugs: whatever God wants him to be (pp. 36-37).

Rayford says Bobby sounds “wacky.” Bobby says Rayford is. After all, Rayford won’t even admit he is a sinner. Bobby admits he has sinned. So, is Bobby going to hell? “I was,” said Bobby, “till I got Jesus in my heart.” He still sins, but he has been saved by grace. Bobby starts to talk about why Jesus died, but Rayford cuts him off. Bobby invites Rayford to his church. Rayford thinks, not in a million years (p. 37)

Mr. Stark asks what Rayford will be when he grows up. Rayford replies: pro athlete, or airplane pilot. Mr. Stark give Rayford an attaboy. “You can serve the Lord in a profession like that. You don’t have to be in full-time ministry like Bobby’s probably going to be.” Rayford has never heard the term “full-time ministry.” As for “serve the Lord,” Rayford cannot make it compute. “Surely God didn’t need to be flown anywhere” (pp. 42-43).

But the sleepover disturbs Rayford. He asks his parents, “are we Christians?” His mother replies: of course they are. Where did he get the idea that they were not Christians? Rayford repeats what Bobby Stark told him.

“Fundamentalists,” his father concluded. “Holy Rollers. Wouldn’t surprise me if they were snake handlers …. Some people, some churches, just take everything a little too far. They take every word of the Bible literally, believe Jesus has to crawl inside you, that you have to bathe in His blood. If the Bible says you can handle poisonous snakes if you trust the Lord, they do it just to prove the point.”

“I don’t think Bobby’s family is into any of that.”

“Maybe not, but keep your distance. Those people think they’ve got the inside track on the truth.”

Ray had no more idea what his dad meant than he did about what Bobby had talked about.

(—Volume 13-called-Prequel-1, p. 47)

But the incident continues to trouble him. The Steeles go to a fast-food restaurant. Rayford asks why they do not pray over their food when they are out in public. They pray over meals at home. Mrs. Steele replies, “That would be showy, dear. The Bible says we’re supposed to pray in secret, not to be seen by men” (p. 53).

Rayford replies that the Bible says “a lot of things we don’t agree with.” The Bible says that all are sinners; all are born that way. It says “that God told the children of Israel to kill every man, woman, and child of nations that didn’t believe in Him.”

To his surprise, Mr. Steele agrees: the Bible does say those things. It also says that “when the children of Israel disobeyed, God slaughtered a bunch of them. Now you tell me. If that’s true, if that’s literal, what does that say about God?” asks Mr. Steele. The God Who “is willing that none should perish” seemed so willing in the Old Testament for many people to perish—if one take the whole Bible literally (pp. 53-54).

Mr. Steele adds that people who “take everything [in the Bible] literally” get confused. Bobby Stark “probably thinks Jesus is the only way to God.” Rayford asks, isn’t that what their family believes? Why else would they go to a Christian church? Mr. Steele replies, they go there “because that’s what we know. That’s how we were raised. But the minute we start thinking our way is the only way, well, if you ask me, that’s not godly.” He thinks that all religions worship the same God. “It’s like God is at the top of a mountain.” Any religion “that makes you want to be a better person, help your fellow man, that kind of stuff—will get you there.” Different paths, one mountaintop. To Rayford this finally seems reasonable (pp. 55).

Mr. Steele concludes that the Old Testament stories which are troubling Rayford cannot be taken literally. They must stand for something else. Then what does it mean, asks Rayford. Mr. Steele admits, “I don’t know. I just know it can’t mean what it says.”

Mrs. Steele adds, “Some things are not for us to know this side of heaven. You can ask God when you get there.” And Rayford’s parents are sure that they are going to Heaven? “Of course,” says Mr. Steele. “By doing the best we can, treating people right, following the Golden Rule, making sure our good outweighs our bad.”

“Ray got a new view of his father that day. He could be an embarrassing old guy, but he sure was smart” (pp. 55-56).

Rayford finds himself listening more carefully to the things he hears at Central Church. He repeats his father’s comments about the “judgmental and fearsome” God of the Old Testament. Does that sound fair? Does that sound loving? His questions “rattle” his Sunday School teacher. Their quarterly lesson kits are about New Testament stories and parables. Maybe Rayford “should save those questions for—[pause in the text; no dialogue].”

Rayford notices that the pastor only preaches from the New Testament. “His point usually was that ‘believers in Christianity ought to exemplify godly virtues in this world.’”

That was fine with Ray, except that if God was God and God was perfect and God was love, what about all that ugly stuff in the Old Testament? If Ray was “a believer in Christianity”—and he was starting to wonder if he really was or if he had just been dragged to church all his life—was one of those godly virtues murdering people who disagreed? (—Volume 13-called-Prequel-1, pp. 66-67)

Mr. Steele finally summarizes, “your mother believes I shouldn’t have gotten into all that stuff with you.” He agrees with Rayford’s mother. At Rayford’s age he does not need to be thinking about “the major issues of life and God and all that.”

“Listen, I was born and raised a Christian, and I don’t understand it all. All we can do is the best we can and try to be good people. Respect other people. Don’t talk politics or religion with them. I mean, you’d rather be a good person than a bad one.”

“’Course.”

“And you are a good person, Rayford,” his mother said.

“And that’s all you need to worry about,” his dad said. “Some stuff just isn’t for us to know.”

“This side of heaven,” his mother said.

(—Volume 13-called-Prequel-1, pp. 67-68)

Rayford never has a Rapture-induced panic attack, but only in the sense that he has never heard of the Rapture. He does have a Rapture-styled panic attack (pp. 77-84).

When Rayford is still nine years old, still in fourth grade, his mother brings him along on her errands. She goes into one store while sending him to purchase batteries in another store. In this way they can finish quickly and return home in half an hour. Rayford buys the batteries and takes a nap in the back of the car (both because he is tired and because he doesn’t want anyone to see him sitting up in that old beater).

He awakens with a start. His mother has been gone for an hour. He is unable to reach either of his parents on their telephones. He searches the store and cannot find her.

Rayford berates himself for being a fourth-grade “baby” and “wuss” and “fool” (pp. 77, 80). He is acting like Mommy’s Little Raymie, like a six-year-old, like a four-year-old (p. 78). He starts crying. He prays, “God, help me! Please bring my mother back. I’ll do anything you want. I’ll quit swearing. I’ll quit sassing. I’ll go to church and really listen” (p. 81)

He imagines horrible things. Kidnapping. Murder.

And, he was shocked to admit to himself, he found one other option even worse. What if Ray’s mother had abandoned him? Simply left him? She and his dad had had it with him and had taken off. If and when he called the police and made his way home, he would discover the house empty and his parents gone forever.

What was the matter with him? That was ludicrous. Yet why did it seem so logical and possible? And why did it seem so absurdly worse to him than his imaginings of horrible fates befalling his mother?

(—Volume 13-called-Prequel-1, p. 80)

Only after he loses his mother does he realize how much he loves her (p. 80).

As he sobs in the car, Mrs. Steele returns. She had caught her foot in the door of the store. The employees led her to the staff lounge and tended her bleeding foot. She felt silly, and was relieved to suppose that Rayford had napped through the whole thing (p. 82).

But Rayford is furious. He swears at his mother, calls her “scatterbrained,” then “turns his guns” on his father (pp. 83-84). Why didn’t Dad answer the telephone? (Answer: Mr. Steele was on the phone with an important supplier—and it was long-distance from Ohio.) And why didn’t God just let Rayford find his mother? “Maybe there was a God, but He sure didn’t seem to make any sense, not in the Bible and not here and now in real life” (p. 83).

Rayford feels himself “retreating farther and farther into his shell. He felt guilty about making promises to God that he may have meant at the time but now seemed crazy and empty. He had no intention of keeping them” (p. 85).

For as long as Rayford lives at home, Rayford’s parent make him attend church and Sunday School and youth group. He mostly tunes it out (p. 170).

Nevertheless, enough of it permeates his consciousness that he feels guilty when he adopts collegiate “values and attitudes that violated every sensibility he had been raised with.” Those include credit-card debt, lying, underaged drinking, and premarital sex (p. 292).

Spoiler: Describe Rayford Steele’s early teenaged years.

Answer: Rayford’s twelfth birthday brings growth spurts. No matter how many times his mother purchases new clothes, too much sock is always showing at the end of the pants (p. 163). He also endures three years of acne, severe enough that Mom and his doctor do not hit upon the right medication to treat it until his sophomore year in high school (p. 190).

His prowess at sports stagnates. Other students are catching up with him. As football quarterback, he throws more interceptions than touchdowns. The only reason he does not get replaced is that Fuzzy Bellman, the football coach, still believes he has potential (p. 203). In basketball Rayford sits the bench all season, having lost his position to a younger player (p. 204). In baseball he hurts his pitching arm. He never throws a 90-m.p.h. fastball again. He merely plays first, bats eighth, and cannot hit .300 all year (p. 204).

Without his good looks and his sports celebrity, the girls disappear. His guy friends change too. He becomes the butt of teasing instead of the one dishing it out. Rather than laughing it off the way the other guys did, Rayford is humiliated. He becomes defensive and obnoxious (p. 205).

Rayford’s parents try to counsel him, but he drifts away from them. They could not possibly understand him. Besides, he is “a good citizen, if nothing else.” He is not into smoking or drugs or sex (though he wishes and hopes for that last one). He mostly just sneaks an occasional beer. It’s illegal, but that is why he loves it (p. 205).

At thirteen Rayford duly begins working at Steele Tool and Die. The six adult workers accept him. They do not care about his awkward appearance. He is deferential. He works hard. And his father shows him no favoritism. Mr. Steele also assures the workers that their jobs are secure. “By the time he’s old enough [to operate the machines alone], he plans to be on to other things,” says Mr. Steele. Rayford does not know if his father has really resigned himself to that eventuality, but it is nice to hear him acknowledge it (pp. 164-165).

Rayford gets his piloting lessons. They go well. He cannot fly as often as he would like, with his busy schedule. But his instructor assures Rayford that he will get his private license by the time he is eighteen, a senior (p. 204).

Spoiler: Describe Rayford Steele’s later teenaged years.

Answer: At age sixteen, Rayford takes his first solo flight (pp. 195-199). His instructor asks, “What if I told you that I misadjusted something [on the checklist] on purpose, just to see if you’d find it?” Of course the instructor will not let Rayford launch if the instructor knows there is something wrong with the aircraft. But Rayford has to check every list, every time, as if his life depends upon it (which it does).

As the prop plane takes off, Rayford thinks there is something on the runway. A small animal? A tool? He does not know. He hits it hard but takes off. Rayford tells the radio that he thinks he hit a bird. Whatever it was, he knows it was not a bird. (Birds don’t rattle.) If he tells the truth, he will be asked to land immediately for maintenance.

Half an hour later, Rayford lands. The right tire is flat. The plane spins upon touchdown—but the fuel gauge reads empty; reduced danger of fire. The mechanic announces that Rayford has been flying for half an hour with a flat tire and a severed fuel line. Was a solo flight worth the lie? Was flying solo worth his life? Rayford tells no one—because he does not know what to say (p. 199).

By his senior year, Rayford grows into his long limbs (p. 190). He reaches six-feet-four-inches. He finally finds a flattering haircut. He is elected president of the student council, narrowly defeating a popular cheerleader. The pair get elected king and queen of Homecoming (pp. 205-206). Rayford is popular again, big man on campus again.

He enjoys the renewed attention, but it all seems so shallow, so phony, so “surfacy.” He worries that he might be that way too. He hopes not. He is so suspicious of the motives of others that he cannot maintain a boy-girl relationship for more than a few weeks (pp. 213-214).

Rayford’s arm heals. He becomes football quarterback again and has a good year—but not good enough for Belvidere High to make the playoffs. He doesn’t even make all-conference; the league is loaded with good quarterbacks. There is too much competition at the university level as well. Coach Fuzzy shops Rayford everywhere but gets no response from Division I colleges. He tries second-tier. All he can get for Rayford is “form letters from three small schools where I wouldn’t even recommend you go, unless all you want is to play football.”

Coach Fuzzy advises Rayford to get an academic scholarship. Rayford can always try out for the football team at whatever college he attends. He might even make the team. But he will not be a quarterback (p. 206).

Rayford renews his efforts in basketball. He returns to a starter position and leads the team in scoring. But Belvidere finishes third in their conference. Again no college recruits Rayford (p. 213).

After these disappointments, Rayford is more realistic about baseball. He doubts he can hit .400 anymore. In fact, the last baseball player in his league to get a Division 1 college scholarship had to hit .600 to get recruited. The elder Mr. Steele still remembers little Raymie the sports star, and naively believes that Rayford could hit .600 now. What do coaches know, dad says (p. 220).

Rayford finds his only solace in flying. There is nothing phony about it. It is the perfect case of cause-and-effect. He knows what to do and how to do it. The plane responds. And the plane does not care about his looks, his athletic ability, his grades, his popularity—or his parents’ plans (p. 214). He gets his private license at eighteen (p. 219).

Rayford signs up for Reserve Officer Training Corps (p. 219). The ROTC will pay his way through college in exchange for a few years of service in the Armed Forces.

“The fireworks” come when Mr. Steele outlines a scenario for Rayford’s future that still includes Steele Tool and Die. Now that high school graduation has come, they cannot postpone this argument any longer. Mrs. Steele smiles sadly. She has been dreading this day. “She was a lot of things, but dense wasn’t one of them” (p. 221). Her husband is going to lose this battle, and she knows it.

Mr. Steele enthuses, “What do you think, Ray? Good education. More hours in the planes. A little military training. Job waiting for you. Future secure, huh?”

Mr. Steele always has assumed that a pilot can own and operate Steele Tool and Die. He explains, “I wish I could fly, own my own plane, jet myself to my suppliers and customers. You could do that, have yourself a fun life” (p. 134). Rayford has never wanted that.

[Rayford:] “I’m not coming back to the tool and die, Dad.”

[Mr. Steele:] “What, you know that already? You hate me and my business so much that—”

“C’mon, Dad! You know that’s not true. I admire what you’ve done with it, but you can’t force me to—”

“If I was paying for your education I could, couldn’t I? But you made sure you didn’t need that.”

“You TOLD me you couldn’t put me through college! That’s why I’ve tried all these different ways to get help! …. I just want you to know now so you can make other arrangements. Groom someone else.”

“My people are too old. And none of them has what it takes.”

“So hire an heir apparent.”

“YOU’RE the heir, Ray! You! It’s been my dream all my life!”

“But not mine, Dad. You wouldn’t want me in the saddle if I didn’t want it, would you? What kind of a job would I do then?”

[snip]

“And you’ll come back to the tool and die only if all your dreams are shattered somehow.”

“I wouldn’t come back anyway, Dad. If for some reason I couldn’t fly, I’d want to teach aviation. Or coach. Or both.”

“You really do hate me.”

(—Volume 13-called-Prequel-1, pp. 221-222)

Rayford Steele graduates high school “with more accolades than anyone else—scholar, athlete, athlete of the year, and a couple of peer-voted honors: best-looking male and most popular” (p. 250). He enjoys being congratulated, although such trappings leave him feeling empty inside. And whenever someone congratulates his parents, he can hear his father mutter, “Of course I’m proud of him, but a lot of good it does me.”

In the fall Rayford will attend Purdue University [Indiana] on academic and ROTC scholarships. He hopes to be admitted to the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, but he does not want to make the military his career. He plans to be a commercial pilot. It will give him the money, the house, the cars, and the wife, that he wants (p. 250).

Spoiler: Who is Katherine “Kitty” Wyley? What is Rayford Steele’s connection to her?

Answer: At the Sheep-and-Goats Judgment, Jesus Christ tells Rayford that He was there for all of the days of Rayford’s life. “I was there when you almost married the wrong woman” (Volume 12, p. 297). Kitty Wyley is that woman.

Rayford mostly enjoys Purdue University. He feels like he “might as well have been on one of the coasts, as far as he felt from Illinois” (pp. 279-281). The “best part” is that he has fully grown: “six-feet-four-inches and 220 pounds of muscled, in-shape, square-jawed man.” He had always thought that it was guys who ogled girls. Now that he is “the most attractive and popular guy outside the scholarship athletes and frat brothers,” he realizes that women also look.

The students all have “riffs” [elevator-speeches; monologues] of their lives. Rayford’s speech is:

“Belvidere, Illinois; only child; son of self-made, hard-working parents; high school sports star (resigned to intramurals now); studying liberal arts with some mechanical subjects thrown in; aiming to be a commercial pilot; and active in ROTC” (Volume 13-called-Prequel-1, p. 280).

But other students react strangely to that last point. “Anything connected with the military, with discipline and uniformity and the establishment, was viewed with suspicion by the modern collegian.” Rayford defends ROTC at first. It offers scholarships, training, careers, and a future. But “no one was buying” except for other ROTCs. He soon stops talking about it.

Now Rayford must invent a second riff as to why he is not in a fraternity. He says dismissively that “I was rushed by all the houses” and could not decide. “Anyway, I’m the type of person who gives his all once he’s committed, and I don’t have the time to be the kind of fraternity brother I would want to be.” Katherine-call-me-Kitty is the first person to call him out on it: “Well, aren’t we impressed with ourself [sic].”

Kitty is a former cheerleader. Even in jeans she is impeccably stylish and “irresistibly” beautiful. “She reminded him too much of the high school girls who had ignored him as an underclassman and angled for dates when he was a senior and big man on campus.” Rayford suspects that if she had seen a photo of his gangly, pimply teenaged years, she would have done what the other girls did (pp. 282-283). But the Purdue ladies are all “New York wannabes” with “severe shoes and all-black outfits,” short blunt haircuts, and no makeup (p. 282). “Katherine-call-me-Kitty” at least is easier to abide than these.

Kitty is a business major, who yet strikes Rayford as “shallow” (p. 283). In his mind Rayford also calls her “impudent” (p. 283), a “thin-sliced character” (p. 284), and “skin-deep” (p. 285). She whines (p. 285), uses baby talk to him (p. 298), cajoles, begs, and plays to his vanity (p. 295). She makes fun of Rayford’s parents behind their backs—and Rayford adds his own embarrassing stories to please her (pp. 292-293).

Kitty is forward. She giggles at Rayford’s name and promptly renames him “Ray.” Kitty fetches them drinks, although she is three years under legal drinking age and he a year away. [Trivia alert: therefore the legal drinking age is 21 years.] They start drinking as part of their socializing. Rayford is never carded, and Kitty has a phony ID (p. 299).

Kitty enjoys the mild notoriety of dating an ROTC man—a man outside of her social circle. She comes from a wealthy family and makes Rayford “her arm candy.” He may be middle-class now, but they both know that he too is “on the path to a comfortable life, and she was excited to be along for the ride” (p. 295).

“It took Rayford almost a month to realize he had stumbled upon an irresistible formula. He hadn’t meant to do it. The whole thing had been a product of his deep distrust, spawned by the way he had been treated in high school.” Rayford fears that “something was damaged inside him. He couldn’t trust anyone, especially someone trying to compliment him” (p. 283).

Rayford and Kitty play games with each other. “Somehow his disdain for Kitty Wyley’s manipulative approach made him come across as mysterious, aloof …. It took him a while to realize that the very reason Kitty was pursuing him was that he didn’t seem to care …. [It] had merely made him appear unattainable to her” (p. 284). Kitty in turn invites him on a date when she knows he already has a date—with a lowly freshman named Irene [Nameless]. Kitty decrees that he must end the evening with Irene as soon as possible. Rayford complies.

It doesn’t help that Rayford and Irene have an awkward date. Rayford compares it to dancing with “his ugly old aunt” (p. 287). Dancing with Kitty feels entirely different. “He gathered her in gently, and they seemed to fit. She was warm and soft. She laid her head on his shoulder and hummed with the music as they moved together, and she was on key.” She wraps her arms around his neck, as if they were made for each other. Rayford “breathed in her essence and fell in love” (p. 290).

“The year Ray Steele spent in love with Katherine Wyley proved the worst of his life …. He learned what addiction was” (p. 291). He enjoys being seen with “one of the most dramatic lookers on campus.” He loves the idea of being in love. But his grades suffer. He rarely spends time with the ROTC or even with the other students in his dorm (p. 291).

Only Irene remains. “Dowdy Irene,” Kitty calls her. “A nice girl with no sense of fashion,” Kitty decrees. “Bet she winds up with one of the ag students. She’ll make a nice farm wife.” This is a rotten thing to say, thinks “Ray.” After all, “some of the ag students had gorgeous girlfriends” (p. 292).

“Ray” feels he is losing himself. Is Kitty that strong a personality? Or is it the sex? “They had quickly fallen into that routine, and there was no denying she was fun to sleep with. Could he have become as shallow as she, putting up with values and attitudes that violated every sensibility he had been raised with, all because he enjoyed the sex?” (p. 292).

He wonders what other people think about it. The couple visits their intended’s parents. Mr. and Mrs. Steele put Rayford and Kitty in separate bedrooms. Kitty’s two households (father with stepmother; and mother with stepfather) put the couple in one bedroom. None of the three families think there is anything unusual in their house rules. But Rayford notices (pp. 292-293).

Irene is the only one who calls him out on it: “is the sex that good?” Rayford laughs and says, “it’s awful good.” But Irene does not think it funny (p. 325). If Rayford cannot tell the truth to his own parents, then what is he doing?

Mrs. Steele dotes on Kitty and seems to love everything about her. Mr. Steele is distant and formal, especially after Kitty-the-business-major cannot hide her boredom at the tour of the Steele tool-and-die business. For his part, Rayford is “disgusted” by the Wyleys. He dislikes the country clubs and their members. Also, Rayford (the former child athlete) proves to be “spectacularly bad” at golf (pp. 292-293).

Nevertheless, Rayford and Kitty seem to be on the same path. “He had not formally proposed, but after six months of dating they talked about the future as a foregone conclusion. They discussed his career, the fastest route to becoming a commercial pilot, where they would live, whether she would work.” (Answer: no.) “He felt as if he were sliding down a mountain on his rear end with nothing to stop him but jagged rocks …. But he also wanted many of the trappings required to keep a woman like her happy …. And didn’t houses and cars like that come with trophy wives?” (pp. 294-295).

Only once do they talk about God, and then only because Rayford’s conscience is bothering him. (He and Irene had been talking about God earlier that day. –pp. 296-299). At that, Rayford wonders if he and Kitty can only talk about a serious subject because they both have been drinking (pp. 300-301).

“God helps those who help themselves,” says Kitty with a smile. “Ray” realizes that his father says the same thing. Kitty admits that she prays about Rayford. Specifically, she prays that she will please him.

[Kitty:] “I promised God a lot if I could have you … And She came through.”

[Rayford:] “So what was your end of the bargain?”

[Kitty:] “That I would keep myself in shape, never get fat, never embarrass you by being sloppy or dressing bad.”

Ray couldn’t even force himself to smile …. No promise to go to church, be a better person, do something for the poor or the handicapped? Nothing like that? If God gave Kitty what she wanted—Ray himself—she promised to be more of what she already was, basically a self-possessed nothing.

[snip]

[Kitty:] “Talk to me, Ray, You’re scaring me. I need you to tell me how I’m doing.”

[Rayford:] “How you’re doing?” he said, loathing himself. “Who could do better than you?”

It was a nonanswer, a skate, but of course she had heard what she wanted to hear. “You love me, don’t you,” she said, telling rather than asking.

And feeling like the world’s greatest liar, Ray reached for her and pulled her toward him across the table. “With all my heart,” he said.

(—Volume 13-called-Prequel-1, pp. 300-301)

Rayford is twenty when he meets Kitty (p. 284) and twenty-one when their relationship ends. Kitty is eighteen when they meet and nineteen when their relationship ends.

Spoiler: Who is Irene [Nameless]? What is Rayford Steele’s connection to her?

Answer: Irene [Nameless] is an ROTC freshman at Purdue University.

Irene might not turn heads like Kitty, but she didn’t put on airs either. She had been an army brat, living in bases all over the world before her dad was killed in combat. She wasn’t even in ROTC for a military career. Irene was just comfortable with the type of people who joined because she had been raised around them.

(—Volume 13-called-Prequel-1, p. 285)

Rayford and Kitty have not yet been on a date—they had just met three weeks ago; p. 284—and so Rayford and Irene make a date to attend an ROTC dance. They agree in advance to meet at the dance. He does not actually know where she lives, and she does not volunteer the information.

They linger for about ninety minutes. It is a long, awkward, and stilted ordeal between a quiet girl and a poor dancer. Irene does not dance with anyone other than Rayford, and no man asks her. Rayford wonders if it is because he is “so physically imposing and they appeared to be together.” Perhaps her luck will improve after he leaves. When Irene releases him to go meet Kitty, both appear relieved. But to his chagrin Rayford watches Irene leave alone. He realizes she really was there only to be with him (pp. 287-288).

Compared to Kitty, Irene is “plain.” But she looks nice with makeup. Irene also is trim, athletic, smart, funny, and warm (p. 305). Their date may have been undignified, but as friends they become comfortable enough to talk about anything. “In some ways, the provincial Irene reminded Ray of his own mother.” She is a put-your-feet-up kind of gal, like himself. She calls him by his real name. When she does shorten it, it is “Rafe,” a name that is unique to the two of them. She has depth. Because she has lived in so many places, she has learned a lot about people. “And because of the loss of her father, a soberness deep within her seemed to give her earthy values” (pp. 295-296).

Irene is the first outsider to discern that Rayford does not like Kitty, whom he claims to love. Rayford shrugs and says he is not going to find anyone better than Kitty. Irene protests and lists his accomplishments. Rayford asks, has he been bragging? Irene shrugs: perhaps. That is why she noticed when he sells himself short now (p. 296).

One day Irene thoughtfully brings Rayford a cookie and a cup of coffee, done the way he likes it. He realizes that Kitty has never done anything nurturing for him, not even little things like this (p. 298). They both fetch coffee for each other as needed (pp. 302, 324).

Rayford first realizes he has feelings for Irene when he becomes “obsessed” with her date with ROTC Commander Bodil Olsson. Rayford claims he thinks of her as a sister, and he does not want to see her get hurt. Olsson may be an upstanding officer, but he is twice-divorced and twice Irene’s age. “Good grief, she was probably a virgin. No wonder the poor thing was susceptible to an older man’s attention.” Bodil and Irene “have no business” with each other, Rayford thinks (p. 305).

This bothers Rayford so much that he looks up the military regulations (p. 306). Alas, Irene is a civilian. Her scholarship came from her father’s service; she herself has no plans to join the military. She can do what she wants. Rayford realizes that he has never seen her date anyone. He has never heard her speak of boyfriends from her past. He has never seen her wear makeup—until now. And now he is “driving himself nuts,” worrying that one date could lead to marriage.

Rayford does not realize how much he is preoccupied with Irene until he mentions it to Kitty. Kitty replies, “Hey, good for her.” After all, who else would have “Dowdy Irene”? (p. 306). Rayford reflexively thinks that “anything that looked good from Kitty’s perspective had problems written all over it” (p. 307).

Spoiler: How does Rayford and Kitty’s relationship end?

Answer: Kitty takes Rayford to shop for rings (pp. 307-316). She informs him that she already has ordered her wedding dress and chosen her bridesmaids. Her father and stepfather will share the expense of the dress. As for the date, she has it narrowed down to summer.

The sales clerk knows Kitty by name and has seen pictures of her wedding dress (the better to select a matching ring set, of course). Rayford realizes that the cheapest diamonds in the marquise category cost triple the amount he anticipated. Unfortunately, Kitty and the clerk have selected a 2.5 carat marquise diamond, for which “Ray” is expected to pay. The horrified groom replies, “That’s half my starting salary if I got a job flying jumbo jets tomorrow,” an event which of course is many years into the future.

Some hours later (and many pages later), Kitty and the clerk have exhausted “Ray” into purchasing the ring at four (4) percent down payment. Kitty offers to make the down payment herself. She says that Rayford can repay her later. “Ray” asks her plainly: “You want to buy your own ring?” Yes, she does (p. 314). Her dad and stepdad can help. Rayford feebly protests that they should buy their own ring. Kitty still agrees.

But when the bill is presented, Kitty makes no move. Rayford makes the crucial down payment. He never kneels, never proposes, and never “asks one of her dads for her hand.” She just puts on the ring and rejoices all the way back to Sorority Row.

Rayford declines to walk her to the door. What about his “reward,” murmurs Kitty. Rayford decides he is too much of a “coward” either to claim “the reward” or to outright refuse it. “All Ray could think of was that he had taken pride in never before having paid for sex. So what, now he was engaged to a high-priced [pause in the text; no dialogue]. There was nothing he wanted less than to sleep with her tonight” (p. 316).

Rayford returns to his dorm and contacts Irene. He confesses to Irene that he has begun praying again (sort of). He admits freely that he prays only for himself. He prays to know whether he should marry Kitty. What answer does he hear? asks Irene. Rayford laughs. “I’m getting nothing! Shouldn’t be surprised. Last time I was in church was when Kitty and I were at my parents’ [house]. They just assumed we would go [to church]. First time in almost two years for me. Kitty said it was her first time since junior high, when some Holy Roller girlfriend talked her into going.” Rayford affects a high-pitched voice and mimics Kitty: “‘Never again, I swear!’” (pp. 296-297).

Irene asks what he thinks an answer from God would be, if he had gotten one. Rayford admits he feels “rotten, like it’s the wrong thing to do and I know better.” Irene wonders, “Maybe that’s what God is. Our conscience.” To Rayford, this makes sense. He does know better. Therefore, he has his answer (p. 298).

This is why, when Rayford asks Kitty if she ever prays, he is repulsed by her answer (pp. 300-301). She does not say anything that reminds him of a conscience.

As for Rayford’s own conscience, he secretly is pleased that Irene and Bodil had an awkward date. He tells Irene that if she will reject her gentleman friend, he will reject Kitty for her (pp. 316-317).

Irene tells Rayford flatly that she will not be a “rebound” fling. She also is not interested in being Rayford’s mother, making him do what he ought to do (p. 329). Rayford must break up with Kitty properly, and then remain single for at least two months (pp. 317, 329, 338). That should give him time to learn both honesty and grown-up behavior.

Irene (p. 339) and Rayford (p. 328) agree that “Kitty never hid who she was.” It was Rayford who pretended that he loved and liked Kitty. Honesty is very important to Irene (pp. 324-329). Irene is so honest that when Rayford says, you have lost respect for me, she cannot deny it. She respects his honest confession. But he wants to tell Kitty, I’m in love with someone else, and Irene considers that tactic dishonest (p. 327).

Rayford visits Kitty the next morning. The tearful Kitty asks if she has done something wrong. Was she too hasty? Whatever she did wrong, she can learn, she says. Will he give her another chance? Rayford tells the truth: he does not want to marry her. Kitty protests, “Where did you think this relationship was going? You think I was sleeping with you for fun?” And why did they plan Rayford’s future if she would not be in it? (pp. 334-335).

They agree that they cannot be friends. “We’ve been way too close for that to ever work,” says Rayford. “This has to be it, and we have to become a memory of something that almost worked” (p. 335). Kitty even returns the ring (p. 336).

Within a week, Katherine-call-me-Kitty Wyley drops out of Purdue University and returns home (p. 338). Three of her four parents call Rayford to tell him exactly what they think of him. To Kitty’s mother and stepfather, Rayford is a “scoundrel.” Only Kitty’s father seems to understand. He had been the one who had an affair and abandoned Kitty’s mother, “probably inflicting upon himself many of the same travails Rayford faced.” Rayford takes it quietly, telling them, “I accept the blame. I handled it all wrong. She’s a wonderful girl, and I wish her only the best.”

“Word soon came from northern Indiana that Kitty Wyley was engaged” (p. 338).

Spoiler: Describe the courtship of Irene [Nameless] and Rayford Steele.

Answer: Irene is true to her word. She makes Rayford wait for two months before he may ask her out on a date. They do socialize now that Rayford no longer has “an obligation,” which is what they call the departed Kitty (pp. 338-339). Other than that, Irene will not allow Rayford to speak poorly of his former girlfriend. Irene reminds him that Kitty never hid who she was, and that Rayford made his own mismatched choices (pp. 338-339).

Rayford decides it is love when he stops seeing Irene as “plain” (p. 305). “What but love could make him see [Irene] in his mind’s eye as prettier even than Kitty?” (p. 330).

Rayford’s undivided attention has some effect upon Irene. She always has a spring in her step now, and she always looks her best. Their first real date goes well (offscreen). Soon they are both deeply in love (p. 339).

But Irene is unapologetically strict about physical contact. The most she will allow are the occasional embrace or a peck on the cheek. She will not even hold his hand. As for sex: not until they are married. They are not planning that until the end of his senior year. And if Rayford is twenty-one when he breaks up with Kitty, then his graduation is another year away. That’s a long time.

As the months pass, the “amorous” Rayford tries to “wear her down, weaken her defenses, make her succumb to her own love and desires” (p. 339). When she refuses, Rayford becomes “sullen.” Finally Irene tells him,

“If this is going to become an issue, I’m going to quit looking forward to being with you.”

“Because I want to love you?”

“There are all kinds of ways to show your love for me, Rayford. Including waiting. We’re going to talk about this, because it’s important to me. And what I care about, you need to care about, or this will never work.”

“Since when did you become a virgin, Irene? I mean, in this day and age? You’re not telling me …”

“I didn’t say I was a virgin. But I can’t say I was ever really in love before either. I just want us to wait. And if you love me—”

“Got it,” he said. At times he still tried to push her, but he soon realized she was resolute.

(—Volume 13-called-Prequel-1, pp. 339-340)

Rayford and Irene give some thought to their life after their wedding. Irene’s mother and new stepfather go through a difficult time in their marriage for an unspecified reason. Rayford wonders if the military life might have had something to do with it. Again he decides to spend as little time as possible in the Air Force (p. 340). Besides, the real money is in civilian commercial piloting, which always has been his ultimate goal.

For her part, Irene considers going back to church when they have children (p. 323).

Spoiler: Describe the wedding of Rayford and Irene Steele.

Answer: In its entirety from page 340: “Because Irene had been a military brat and had never sunk roots anywhere else, she was content to be married in Indiana. They had the wedding in the spring of Rayford’s final year of school, so the crowd at Wayside Chapel [ca. 13 miles from Purdue University] was made up mostly of school and ROTC friends.”

At the wedding Rayford notices the early stages of dementia in his father. Mr. Steele keeps getting lost in the tiny church, and he repeats the same stories. Mrs. Steele bursts into tears. Having parents who are almost seventy years old had been “an embarrassment” when Rayford was young, but now the family has real problems.

“I suppose it would be too much to ask,” [Mrs. Steele] said, “that you help your father sell the tool and die.”

Of all the things to bring up on his wedding day. “Yes, it would be too much,” he said. “I know nothing about the business end. And with me there he would get it into his head that he didn’t have to sell. He would be on me every day to just take it over, and that’s the last thing I want. Mom, if his mind is fading as fast as it appears, you’re going to need me making as much money as I can to help take care of him.”

(—Volume 13-called-Prequel-1, pp. 340-341)

“Rayford could have had no idea how prophetic that was.” Within six months of the wedding, Irene is pregnant and the elder Mr. Steele has to be placed in a memory-care facility. Rayford logs as many hours as he can at the small Air Force installation near Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. The newlyweds do indeed provide “as much of Rayford’s monthly income as he could afford to bridge the gap between the cost and his parents’ insurance” (pp. 345-346).

Spoiler: Why does Rayford feel restless and guilty?

Answer: The elder Steeles make it to their thirtieth wedding anniversary. “What a sad event that turned out to be.” The doctor suspects Alzheimer’s disease (p. 344). Distant relatives who had not attended Rayford’s wedding somehow manage to attend this gathering, “believing they were seeing the last of the elder Mr. Steele as they knew him. Saddest for Rayford was watching his parents sit for the formal photo. He read panic on his mother’s face …. The best photo showed Mr. Steele with a childlike smile of wonder, and Rayford knew he would likely not remember posing for it” (pp. 341-342).

Mrs. Steele begs Rayford to pray for something. From the day they fell in love, Mr. and Mrs. Steele had hoped to celebrate their fiftieth wedding anniversary. If they live that long, then they will be almost ninety years old. No, he no longer notices or cares, but she cares. It is Mrs. Steele’s last goal in life. It is all she has left of the man she loves. She implores Rayford to pray that his parents will live twenty more years to see that day. “I believe in prayer,” she says. I don’t, thinks Rayford (pp. 341-346).

“It wasn’t that Rayford begrudged helping” his parents. But he and Irene “slog through their days” in a tiny apartment. He feels no closer to obtaining the big house, cars, and “all the other things that made life worth living.” He loves his family, of course, but his life is not yet what he dreamed it could be (p. 346).

As much as he enjoyed his wedding day, his honeymoon, and the birth of his daughter, “the happiest day of his life” is the day Pan-Con Airlines hires him to become a cockpit flight engineer on the 747-200. (He had trained on “the monsters” in the Air Force.) The Steeles have been married for five years. Within a month Rayford is “dreamily, satisfyingly, as deep in debt as he could afford.” Although Irene protests the expense, they both know she loves their first house. “A woman on a mission,” Irene makes a house into a creative, precise, neat, and gorgeous home (pp. 348-349).

But the elder Mrs. Steele deteriorates. The fact that her husband does not recognize her or even acknowledge her crushes her spirit. Worse, Rayford and Irene detect the same symptoms in Mrs. Steele that Mr. Steele had manifested before he was diagnosed.

Rayford’s mother also is placed in the memory-care facility. Rayford finds himself “drowning in the details” of selling his parents’ house, trying to salvage something from the sale of the tool-and-die business, and trying to keep his own family solvent. He actually buys their two best cars after institutionalizing his parents: a sedan for Irene and a BMW convertible for himself. He tells Irene, “Don’t deny me the pleasure of buying you something nice” (pp. 348-349). Although there is “too much month at the end of the money,” he cannot deny himself either.

Though it racked him with guilt, Rayford began wishing his parents would die. He told himself it would be better for them. His father had long since been virtually gone, unaware of his surroundings, enjoying hardly anything resembling quality of life. And his mother was hard on [her husband’s] heels. They would be better off, and so would Rayford and his family.

(—Volume 13-called-Prequel-1, p. 349)

Irene talks about having another child, but Rayford will not hear of it. Their finances are delicate enough as it is. Nevertheless in their eighth year of marriage, Irene has to tell him they are having another baby. Rayford is mollified somewhat when she tells him it is a boy. She has already named him Rayford Junior, nicknamed Raymie (p. 355). Rayford suggests that they purchase a bigger house, but Irene says no. As long as they are providing for Rayford’s parents, they cannot afford it (p. 350).

Spoiler: When does Rayford Steele first start showing gray in his hair?

Answer: Little Chloe is seven years old (p. 350). Irene became pregnant within six months of the marriage (p. 341). Therefore, Rayford and Irene have been married for eight years.

The series tells us repeatedly that Hattie Durham is fifteen (15) years younger than Rayford Steele (Volume 3, pp.154-155; Volume 15-called-Prequel-3, p. 140; etc.). If Hattie the newbie flight attendant cannot be younger than eighteen (18) years old when they meet, then Rayford cannot be younger than thirty-three (33) years old when they meet. However, they meet when the Steeles have been married for “a dozen years” (p. 360), and Rayford is going gray four years before that time. Therefore Rayford is approximately twenty-nine (29) years old when his hair starts to go gray.

Rayford and Irene both like the tips of silver. It makes him look distinguished (p. 350).

Spoiler: In Volume 1 Irene presses Rayford not to drink so much. Name two times in a month that Rayford had too much to drink.

Answer: Both incidents happen during Irene Steele’s second pregnancy. Raymie will be born very soon. Chloe is seven years old (p. 350). Therefore, Rayford and Irene have been married for eight years.

Rayford has just been made a Pan-Con captain. He is getting his finances under a modicum of control. He now welcomes the upcoming birth of his son. He takes pride in his “perfect safety record …. Rayford was proud he had never allowed his love for alcohol to impede his work” (p. 355).

One December afternoon, a snowstorm shuts down O’Hare Airport. Rayford assumes that he will be sent home, so he and a few colleagues drink martinis in the pilots’ lounge. But the snow stops. Planes will fly in half an hour. The other pilots state that they feel fine. Rayford also feels fine. Nevertheless Rayford tells his supervisor, Earl Halliday, that he is grounding himself. He is willing to accept the loss of the day’s pay. Halliday seethes at the short notice. (“Are you sure two martinis are going to have an effect on a big guy like you?”) Rayford holds firm and leaves the premises.

“On Rayford’s way home—confident to drive himself but not to be responsible for hundreds of passengers—he took a call from Earl.” Halliday has decided to pay him for the lost workday. “You did the right thing, Steele, and I’m proud of you. You gave me a headache, but the alternative could have been a nightmare. Good man.”

Irene loves to tell this story. Secretly Rayford is thrilled that she is proud of him (pp. 355-357).

“That was why his brush with infidelity would have flattened her. He could never tell Irene, and he lived with the guilt of it—even though, thankfully, it stopped short of actual adultery—for years.” Two weeks after Rayford grounds himself for drinking, he drinks at Earl Halliday’s Christmas party. “He wasn’t scheduled to fly that night, of course, and knowing he could get a cab home, Rayford did not temper his thirst” (pp. 356-357). The result of this “thirst” is the next spoiler.

Spoiler: Who is Trish the intern? What is Rayford Steele’s connection to her?

Answer: Trish the intern is the Christmas party girl with whom Rayford had a “private necking session” (cf. Volume 1, p. 3.)

Rayford attends Earl Halliday’s Christmas party (pp. 357-359). Irene stays home; she is so pregnant it is making her sick. She tells her husband to go and have a good time.

(Trivia alert: in Volume 1, page 3, Irene is “uncomfortably past her ninth month carrying their surprise tagalong son Ray Jr.” Technically Irene is ten months into her pregnancy. Here in Volume 13-called-Prequel 1, page 357, Irene is described as being “two weeks from delivery” i.e. 8.5 months pregnant with Raymie. Either way, she is great with child, ill, and probably miserable.)

Trish, a beautiful young intern in Earl’s office, flirts with Rayford all evening. They regularly notice each other at work, and she has always smiled at him.

Rayford is not “the type to dance on tables, but he sensed himself getting louder and friendlier as the night wore on.” Tonight, Trish’s boyfriend is out of town. She keeps saying that she “would love to get Rayford alone.” When she says it “one too many times,” Rayford says, “You’d better quit advertising if you’re not selling.” Trish replies, “Oh, I’m selling, if you’re buying.” She grabs Rayford’s hand and leads him into a secluded closet.

Five minutes later, after some heavy necking, Rayford pulled away. “I’m not going to do this.”

“Oh come on, Captain, I won’t tell.”

“Neither would I, but I would know. And I’d like to be able to face myself tomorrow. Irene is—”

“I know,” she said. “Go home to your pregnant wife. There are more where you came from.”

(—Volume 13-called-Prequel-1, pp. 357-358)

Two days later they discuss it at work. Rayford, “racked by a guilt he would never fully shed,” dreads the encounter. But Trish apologizes.

“Don’t give it another thought,” said Rayford. “We were both drunk.”

“Not as drunk as I got later, thinking about my boyfriend. He’s about to pop the question, and I feel terrible.”

“Imagine how I feel, Trish.”

“Forgive me,” she said.

“It never happened,” he said.

But it happened over and over in his mind for the next several years. The pangs hit him at the strangest times. It might be when he was frolicking with Raymie or playing with Chloe or just talking with Irene. At times he felt such a compulsion to confess to his wife that he had to find other things to distract himself.

Nothing had really happened, and while it had been stupid and would have infuriated him if it had been Irene with some guy, he knew telling her would only hurt her and that nothing positive could come of it besides getting it off his conscience. Trish had long since left the airline, married, and moved away.

(—Volume 13-called-Prequel-1, pp. 358-359)

Rayford’s only consolation is that his church does not make him feel guilty. They are inspirational, friendly, and generic. He never feels like “a worthless sinner” with them. “No wonder people enjoyed going there” (p. 359).

Spoiler (Volume 13-called-Prequel-1): Who are Viviana Ivinsova [Viv Ivins] and Marilena Titi Carpathia? What is their connection to each other?

Answer: Viv Ivins is a thirty-something Russian émigré to Bucharest (p. 3). She teaches a self-help workshop that invites students to use the occult to solve their problems. She is drawn to Marilena Carpathia, a new student.

Marilena has a companionate marriage with Sorin Carpathia. She is “reasonably” happy. She loves books, and he is so smart that he is “a god” to her (p. 6). Viv asks how happy Marilena can be in a sexless, loveless, childless marriage (pp. 1-11).

Somehow Viv becomes part of Marilena’s life. When Marilena insists she saw a car run over a little girl—but no one else sees it—Viv interprets it as a vision that Marilena wants a child (pp. 22-23, 92-94; 96-100, etc.). When Marilena’s husband abandons her for another man (pp. 71-73), Viv comforts her. When Sorin refuses to give her a baby as a parting gift (pp. 90-91, 93), Viv suggests sperm donation (p. 115). When Marilena wonders how she can support a child without a husband, an income, or a home, Viv announces she has wealthy friends (p. 138) who own real estate (p. 110). Viv even moves in with her to help her raise the child (pp. 147, 151, etc.)

This approach would alienate other women, but it is what Marilena knows. Marilena has a history of idolizing her teachers and letting them run her life for her. Sorin Carpathia was Marilena’s favorite college professor, and she was his Teacher’s Pet (p. 6).

Spoiler: How did Nicolae Jetty Carpathia get his name?

Answer: Nicolae’s surname is Carpathia because his legal father Sorin’s surname is Carpathia (pp. 1, 91, 94). Marilena admits she would be embarrassed to have a child under her maiden name. Sorin ponders whether she should sign a contract “to abandon [the Carpathia] name should the child ever do anything to embarrass me.” As a college professor, he is concerned about his reputation (p. 91).

[Trivia alert: If Marilena Titi Carpathia had been single when she gave birth, her son would have been named Nicolae Titi; as in, “Nicolaitans.” See Rev. 2:6.]

Marilena’s handlers—who turn out to be Satanists—inform her that the child is to be named Nicolae “because it means ‘victory of the people’ and was thus prophesied” (pp. 105, 130). At minimum, it is predicted in the sense that the bills are paid by Jonathan Stonagal (pp. 181-183, 253, 352-353)—and Stonagal named the enterprise “Project People’s Victory” (pp. 58, 69).

Marilena chooses the middle name “Jetty” because her son was born on a jet-black night (pp. 154, 157-158).

Thus the Antichrist, the rival to Jesus Christ (“JC”), has the initials “NJC”. On the night Jesus was born, the angels filled the skies with glory and song (Luke 2:13). On the night Nicolae was born, his mother had never felt a more ominous silence, had never seen a darker night than this.

Spoiler: Is it true that Nicolae has two daddies?

Answer: It is true. Nicolae Jetty Carpathia has three biological parents (pp. 115, 137, 252). Viv Ivins finds a sperm bank that can splice the sperm of multiple men. Viv reassures Marilena that the sample is “not likely [to have] more than two” contributors. “Don’t thumb your nose at science, dear. Imagine [your child] having the best physical traits from one donor and the best intellectual traits from another” (pp. 115, 252).

Marilena’s handlers know that she is “so grateful that she will not be contributing to the child’s appearance” (p. 254). They show her a computer-generated image of what her son might look like. The picture shows a “more than gorgeous … blonde with a square jaw, perfect teeth, and piercing blue eyes” (p. 137). As an adult, Nicolae Carpathia will be described as “handsome as a young Robert Redford” (Volume 1, p. 232). The actor Robert Redford had intense blue eyes and strawberry-blonde hair.

But Nicolae’s three parents are:

1. a black-haired woman with a thick and plain frame; a “dowdy” thing who looks like “a domestic working woman rather than a professional” (pp. 1-2; 60, cf. p. 254);
2. a “strange-looking,” short, wiry, red-haired man with male-pattern baldness (pp. 1, 6); and,
3. a “tall, dashing blonde” with fair skin and aging freckles (p. 20, 252).

Baby Nicky is blonde with olive skin (p. 160). Aside from hair color, Nicolae does not look much like any of his biological parents.

For further proof, Marilena does not recognize the face of the fathers in the computer-generated image, or in the face of her son. Unbeknownst to Marilena, she already knows all of the sperm donors. She would have recognized them if Nicolae looked like them.

As an aside, the sperm sample in question cost approximately ten million U.S. dollars (p. 138).

Spoiler: Are we certain that Nicolae has three parents rather than two?

Answer: Marilena herself asks this question. At first, she asks only if Nicolae will be her son, or “will he belong to” the Project (p. 138). They respond that her son will be her son until he attains twenty-one years of age (p. 139). That doesn’t truly answer her question.

Marilena’s handlers tell her that she “would be impregnated at the optimum opportunity during her reproductive cycle” (p. 137). The first attempt works (p. 145). She is content and stops asking.

But when her child attacks her, Marilena’s doubts revive. “Was it possible her own son had never connected with her, never returned her affection, because he was not hers at all? Was he merely a product of the spirit world—a pseudo cheap imitation of the Christians’ Incarnation—and not flesh of her own flesh? She could not accept it, not abide it. She was bonded to Nicky as if he were part of her—an organ, a limb, an extension of herself” (p. 256).

That is to say, Jesus was Incarnate of the Holy Ghost and the Virgin Mary (Matt. 1:18-25; Luke 1:31-35). Jesus had no biological father. Marilena—and the Gentle Browser—must ask if Nicolae has no genetic mother. Did the Project contribute hybrid sperm which joined with Marilena’s egg? Or did they implant a mutant zygote which never needed an egg? That is the question for which Marilena seeks an answer.

When Marilena is abandoned in the Cluj cottage, she examines the files that Viv Ivins and the Satanists have withheld from her. One document states: The carrier of the chosen child must be bright, well-read, and at least agnostic, if not one of us. According to the spirits, the looks may come from your lover, but the intellect must come from you and whomever you choose to bear the child (p. 252) [emphasis added by your host the poster].

This is the closest thing we have to evidence. Page 252 suggests that Nicolae has three biological parents. The Satanists wanted an intelligent mother who would contribute her genetic predisposition toward producing intelligent children. It also explains why they persisted with Marilena—who refused to give her heart either to God or to Satan (p. 142)—when the Project had “countless other candidates” (p. 139) who might be ordinary but would be more loyal and cooperative.

Spoiler: Who is Star Diamond? What is Nicolae’s connection to him?

Answer: Star Diamond is Nicolae Carpathia’s first pony (p. 167) or horse (p. 251, 267, 269).

When Nicky is five years old (p. 167), he reads a book of short stories about a girl who had her own horse. He badgers and badgers until Viv Ivins buys him a pony. Marilena yields, on the condition that she can obtain riding lessons for her son. He refuses. “[Marilena] watched in horror as he entered the makeshift corral and the animal stiffened and backed away. Nicky stood in front of the pony and spoke to it. ‘Your name is Star Diamond, and I am going to ride you.’” Within minutes, he does exactly that.

In fact Nicky proves to be a very competent owner. He reads everything he can find about horsemanship. He looks as if he had been born in the saddle. Marilena describes him as “a five-year-old teenager” (p. 167). That is, his years do not reflect his advanced abilities. He even appears to have diligently mucked out the stall.

Four year later, when “Aunt” Viv removes nine-year-old Nicolae from Marilena’s custody, Marilena finds herself stranded in the Cluj wilderness with only Star Diamond for company (p.251). Marilena is under the impression that they might visit in a week. “Was the horse now her responsibility? She hadn’t thought of that. She had never mucked out a stall and wondered how cruel it would be to leave Star Diamond wallowing in his own waste for a week. But why should he have it any easier than she? And what made her think it would only be a week?” Marilena is very ill. None of these things are the innocent horse’s fault. When she can, she will find a shovel and do her duty.

When a stranger arrives unannounced, Marilena realizes that her life is in imminent danger. She turns to Star Diamond (p. 267). She clumsily gets a bridle on him but lacks the strength to lift the saddle. She crawls onto his bare back and tries to ride him. He is curious but willing.

But the new doctor appears in the stable doorway. Star Diamond stiffens. At Marilena’s urging, the horse stamps and tries to move out. The man steps in front of him and orders Stea Diamant to Whoa and halt. This stranger should not know his name. “The horse clearly was spooked but seemed to look to the man for instruction” (pp. 268-269).

Marilena yanks at the reins, “trying to get the horse to move, to rear, to buck, to do anything. She would rather die being thrown against the barn wall than be captured by this pretender.” But Star Diamond is not the kind of horse to throw her or trample him. Marilena half-dismounts, half-falls off the horse and feebly runs for her life (p. 269).

When Viv Ivins informs Nicky that they will be moving to Bucharest, he “will have none of it.” What about Star Diamond? Viv shrugs: he can get another horse someday. No, says the boy. Nicky wants him. If the only way they can keep the horse is to stay in the cottage in Cluj, then that is what Nicky intends to do. “For some reason, people did what he wanted.” And that is what they do now (p. 277).

At eighteen, “Nick Carpathia” is ready to attend the University of Romania at Bucharest. But he will not be staying in a dormitory. “I want to stay at the InterContinental. And I want Star Diamond boarded as close by as possible” (p. 349). He does not care that the cost of his wishes will be exorbitant. Viv Ivins apparently has been put on earth to do Nick’s bidding (p. 350).

The horse/pony Star Diamond could not have been younger than a yearling when Viv Ivins purchased him. (He probably is older. A horse is considered an adult at four to six years old.) “Nicky” is five years old when he gets his horsie, and Nicolae will be over forty years old at the Glorious Appearing. Therefore Star Diamond is not one of the horses that Jesus Christ melted to death (Raiders of the Lost Ark-style) in Volume 12 (pp. 273-274). Star Diamond would have had to be a minimum of 36 years old, and horses usually do not live that long. We never do learn what happened either to Star Diamond or to the “huge” horse that Nicolae Carpathia was riding at the Glorious Appearing. The text is very specific that Jesus Christ did not melt either Carpathia’s or Fortunado’s horses (Volume 12, pp. 274, 277, 285-286).

Spoiler: Name five normal things about young Nicolae Jetty Carpathia.

Answer: That many?

• He learns to walk and talk at the average age for these milestones (p. 160). It is only after he can speak that he learns languages, etc., at an accelerated rate (p. 166).

• His mother loves him very much (p. 172).

• His mother reads to him every night and sings to him (pp. 159, 165-166).

• He is endlessly curious. At five years old he becomes fascinated by nature: dirt, roots, bugs, and small animals (p. 166). He loves to play soccer, to hike and climb in the mountains, and to ski (pp. 168-169). At the country art fairs, he asks how people make things and what they do with them (p. 169).

• He has a normal puberty in the sense that most children have the puberty that is normal for them. In Rayford’s case, it is embarrassing but normal to have growth spurts, acne, and a defensive and obnoxious attitude. In Nicky’s case, it is normal that he grows gracefully, always in proportion, and never experiences facial blemishes on his “glowing” skin (p. 349).

Spoiler: Name five things about young Nicolae Jetty Carpathia that are unpraiseworthy but normal (or at least realistic, unsurprising).

Answer: Only five?

• Nicky is a docile child when he gets his way, but his temper is truly explosive (pp. 157-160, 166).

• He got that temper because he is spoiled by Viv Ivins and her allies. Of course he acts presumptuous and entitled. He eats what he wants, disobeys when he wants, and speaks disrespectfully even to “Aunt” Viv, his favorite (pp. 166-167).

• He asks his mother about their religion (pp. 199-203). Unfortunately their religion is devil worship. It is one of the only times he truly listens to her.

• He thinks he can become Teacher’s Pet by being a notorious tattletale (p. 217).

• Teacher adds that Nicky is so obsessed with winning that it becomes no fun for his teammates. He encourages and cajoles—but he also badgers and belittles. He plays children against each other. The other children do what he says, just to get him to stop (p. 218).

Spoiler: Name five abnormal things about young Nicolae Jetty Carpathia.

Answer: Just five?

• Nicolae Jetty Carpathia never moves in the womb, at all (pp. 105, 146-147, 150-152, 154-155, 157). The OB/GYN explains various reasons a baby might not move: “paralysis; retardation; brain dysfunction.” Viv Ivins says she “was told” the baby would not move; there is no need to worry. Marilena believes her OB/GYN. Viv replies, “Ye of little faith.” Although the baby never moves, “Marilena felt tiny protrusions here and there. Only occasionally did they feel normal, as if she could make out his position and form. Most of the time it seemed she detected too many bones, too many limbs, and good grief, sometimes what felt like two heads. What if she was carrying a monster?” (p. 148). She has a painful delivery. At the instant Nicolae emerges from Marilena’s body, Viv Ivins kills (sacrifices) a mouse. The baby squalls and moves normally (pp. 156-157).

• Teacher calls Nicolae a “pathologically manipulative” nine-year-old (p. 216). As an example, Nicky recently tampered with a school election. The teacher had nominated a different boy and a girl to run for Class President (to prevent Nicolae from being one of the candidates). Nicky promptly became the girl’s campaign manager. Somehow she won unanimously. Even the opponent voted for the girl. Next, the girl chose Nicolae as her vice president. The girl then resigned from office. (“She said she realized she would be better as a helper than a leader.”) Nicky is now class president. Why did the candidates do what they did? asks Marilena. Answer: Nicky promised that the losing candidate would be vice president. Nicky kept that promise. As for the girl, she gets to be Nicky’s girlfriend (pp. 216-217). Marilena winces at the prospect of having to give her son The Talk About Girls (p. 223). It never happens. The next day is the day that Marilena’s handlers move against her.

• Nicky never loved his mother. His mother does not suspect this—she knows this (pp. 172, 256). Even as an infant, he stiffened and pulled away from his mother’s touch, resisting all contact other than nursing.

• In fact, nine-year-old Nicky devises the plan for her death and sets it in motion (p. 260). Even Viv Ivins admits she will miss Marilena a little (p. 276). Nicky replies, “Good. At least someone will.” Viv tells Nicky that his mother loved him. He shrugs. “Everybody does” (p. 276).

• Nicky knows that Marilena’s doctor has died at the Cluj cottage. He can sense the death before anyone tells him. He knows that his mother killed the doctor. “Excellent,” he says (p. 279).

• When Nicolae is twenty-four (p. 374), a robed and hooded “spirit” manifests on his rooftop at night. Nicolae awakens, points a Glock, and is transported (unarmed and in pajamas) to a desolate wasteland. He loses the creature comforts of his spoiled life. He notices the heat of the day, the bone-chill of the night, every crawling second, the howling of wild beasts, hunger, fear, darkness. He would walk home, but he does not know the way (pp. 370-371). His hair and beard grow. He becomes bony, his teeth filmy. He screams for hours. He curls up in fetal position. He cannot keep track of the days. Filthy and miserable, he surrenders to his fate. He has had a good run. But he is important! He doesn’t deserve this (pp. 373-374). After 40 days in the wilderness, the entity returns to test him (pp. 376-379). Nicolae accepts the temptations that Jesus rejected (Matt. 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13). When he opens his eyes, Nicolae is back home, in bed, still filthy. Viv Ivins summons a cook, a barber, and other staff to attend him (p. 380).

Spoiler: How do Nicolae Jetty Carpathia’s parents die?

Answer: Marilena tells her son (now nine years old) to fasten his car seat-belt. He refuses. They get into a shoving match and swear at each other. Nicolae bites her forearm so ferociously as to require fourteen stitches (pp. 222-228). Their handler “Aunt” Viv Ivins scolds Marilena and declares that she is taking custody of the boy. Viv leaves with Nicolae, never to return.

As Marilena’s condition deteriorates, she breaks into Viv Ivins’ bedroom and reads the files that the Satanists had collected on her. Among other surprises, Marilena learns that the conspirators were grooming her for at least three years before she even met Viv Ivins (p. 9, cf. p. 254). The words “vessel” and “expendable” convince Marilena that she was provoked into fighting with her son so that her doctor could poison her (pp. 250-256, 259, 262, 265, 271-273). She shoots the doctor, but not in time to save her own life (p. 279).

Marilena remembers hearing voices from someone other than Satan and his followers, but she thought it was “megalomania. Only someone thoroughly insane would believe that God and Lucifer were competing for her soul” (p. 108). She remembers when three British college students came to her door as missionaries (pp. 120-125). She found them cheerful and engaging, and she spent hours with them enjoying the debate as an exercise. At the time she had said, “No, not tonight.”

But the voices in her head had persisted (p. 127). She had challenged the God of the Bible to “show Yourself. Do something. Compete.” Instead, God kept telling her what she should do: resist the devil and he will flee from you (p. 127). Marilena finally told the “still, small voice” to leave her alone. “And Marilena got her wish. Silence. Blessed silence” (p. 143). She had never heard from God since.

Marilena frantically calls for a taxicab (pp. 241, 258, 260-261), a church (p. 245), her ex-husband (p. 246), and a doctor (p. 263). All of these options somehow go wrong. She even a calls for a God Who might answer a Sinner’s Prayer (pp. 243-244, 261, 263). “If the dark side of the spirit world was real, then God was real. And if God was real, how could He ignore such a request?” She has made a cry of the heart before, although not in Sinner’s Prayer form (p. 119). She felt and heard nothing then. She feels and hears nothing now.

As Marilena is dying, she again calls the Christ Church (pp. 256-257) but only reaches the answering machine. Marilena prays and begs the Christian God to save her (pp. 243-245, 274). Fade to black.

When Nicolae is told that his mother has died, he shrugs and tells Viv to make him breakfast (p. 276).

(Trivia alert: In Volume 7, Nicolae’s childhood is falsified for public consumption. A video montage purports to show him at his fifth birthday party and later “hugging his parents at high school graduation” [Volume 7, p. 328]. Neither event happened. Sorin Carpathia left Marilena. Marilena acquired her baby via sperm donation. Marilena and “Aunt” Viv brought up Nicolae with no participation of either a father or a father-figure. No family parties are mentioned; Marilena always thought Viv was too indulgent. [Viv bought him a pony.] Also, as just mentioned, Marilena was murdered a decade before the purported graduation.)

When Nicolae is nineteen, he demands to learn the identity of his sperm-donor father (p. 351). The fictional Antichrist never knew until now that he has two biological fathers. They are a homosexual couple who deceived Marilena to become their unsuspecting rent-a-womb. Their sperm had been spliced through experimental genetic engineering (pp. 115, 253). They are Sorin Carpathia (Marilena’s husband) and Baduna Marius (Sorin’s husband; pp. 148, 247, 252). Nicolae is blasé about having two biological fathers, but he is displeased that the Satanists have paid them a lavish pension for two decades. He gives orders that his fathers shall be killed immediately (p. 352). Fade to black.

Spoiler: Why are there more spoilers about Rayford’s world and fewer spoilers about Nicolae’s world?

Answer: The Gentle Browser is most perceptive. About two-thirds of the novel describes Team Antichrist. Only one-third of the novel describes Team Rayford. The spoilers in this post do not reflect that balance.

There are two theories behind this imbalance:

Theory #1: the Team Rayford chapters tend toward biographical fiction. The Team Antichrist chapters tend toward psychological thriller; i.e., Marilena Titi Carpathia is gaslighted slowly and inexorably until she realizes she is in way over her head. These are very different genres. One of these genres is a lot easier to write up as spoilers.

Theory #2: it creepeth us out.

Spoiler: How does Irene [Nameless] Steele get saved?

Answer: Irene [Nameless] grew up as an “army brat.” She lived in army bases all over the world until her father was killed in combat (p. 285). The unspoken but obvious corollary is that Irene did not grow up under the guidance of one particular church, one denomination, one congregation, one Sunday School teacher, or one pastor. Her church life would have been as nomadic as her home life.

Irene tells Rayford, “I don’t pray anymore. I miss it …. [I used to go to church.] Raised that way. Never seemed to work for me, though. I prayed and prayed for stuff that never happened. I don’t know. Maybe they were selfish prayers” (p. 297).

Irene lost her little brother. [Nameless Nameless] was born with spina bifida cystica—“the bad kind. Myelomeningocele.” It was unfair. What did he ever do to deserve that? “I prayed—and I mean prayed hard—that he would be healed. Some victims live to young adulthood. He died before he was ten” (p. 297).

Then Irene’s father was killed.

“Guess I should have prayed harder for my dad too. When he went into combat it seemed we prayed all the time. At the base church they prayed for all the people who were over there, but nobody seemed to mention that it worked for some and not for others. When moms and dads and sons and daughters came back, people would say their prayers were answered. But when soldiers came back in boxes, nobody said their prayers WEREN’T answered. That’s how I felt.

“My mom couldn’t drag me back to church after my dad’s funeral. And I haven’t prayed since.”

[Rayford:] “But you miss it?”

She nodded. “Don’t know why. I never got any answers, but I have to say it seemed like when I prayed, I was sort of communicating with God. I couldn’t hear him, and nothing ever worked out the way I asked. But sometimes it felt like He was there and listening.”

(—Volume 13-called-Prequel-1, pp. 297-298)

As Irene and Rayford talk about Rayford’s dilemma, Irene wonders if God has been trying to tell Rayford what she has been trying to tell Rayford—and what Rayford’s conscience has been trying to tell him. Irene suggests, “Maybe that’s what God is. Our conscience” (p. 298).

Rayford thinks about this. He asks, “So, you don’t believe in God anymore?”

Irene pauses. “I still believe in Him, I think. Of course I do. I’m just not sure I like Him much. I sure don’t trust Him” (p. 299).

One day Irene wears makeup to the ROTC drills. Rayford is thrown, taken aback. The ROTC commander teases her about having a date. She simply smirks. Irene tells Rayford that she is “trying to impress someone.” She refuses to name the man. Rayford sniffs that maybe it is Cadet Janie. Irene replies, “I’m not gay and you know it.” Her date is with the twice-divorced ROTC Commander himself. Bodil Olsson asked. She accepted. Apparently he is interested in her. She blushes at the thought (pp. 301-304).

Irene soon finds herself red-faced for a very different reason. She tells Rayford all about it. Bodil Olsson took her to a fine restaurant. He was chivalrous in the sense of holding doors and pulling out chairs. But in terms of conversation? “Bottom line: it was like church,” she groans. “He kind of grossed me out, really. First, he said I should not be alarmed—because even though this was a real date, he wasn’t looking for a wife” (p. 319). Irene had replied that at his age, she sees him as a father figure. Bodil Olsson had appeared “crestfallen” (p. 320).

Rayford crows, “So he really was looking for a wife?” Irene felt badly about it—but that quickly changed. Bodil told Irene that he dares not seek even a potential relationship. “I don’t believe I’m free to marry again as long as my former wives are still alive” (p. 320).

Irene winces that “he did everything short of having me sign a paper, stipulating that our evening was going to be totally civilian in nature and that nothing he said or did should be construed as ROTC or military related.” She tells him to his face that “you’re creeping me out” (p. 320). He laughs and apologizes. The truth is that Bodil only invited her to dinner to witness to her (pp. 321-323). He cannot do that in any official capacity.

Irene does make note of his story. Last year, a man on a street corner had given him a leaflet which changed his life. He read it, found a Bible, looked up the Bible verses, and got saved. It sounded Baptist to her, all this emphasis on getting saved. Rayford asks, does the Commander think he is a chaplain now? Irene replies that Bodil Olsson indeed plans to become a chaplain. So he was trying to get Irene saved? Yes, he was.

Irene says she would consider religion again if she ever got married and had children. “I can’t imagine raising kids without church in their lives. It at least makes you think about being a better person” (p. 323). But this is not that day.

“I told [Bodil] that God and I had some deep problems because of my brother and my dad. He tried to tell me that God knew what it meant to have a family member die. That was kind of creative. But I always thought if that whole Jesus-on-the-cross thing was true, that was God’s choice, right? And He raised His Son from the dead after that. No such luck for me with my dad.

“The commander told me I should talk to God about it. I told him I had done that till I was sick of it. He said God could take it and that I should be honest with Him, tell Him I disagreed with Him, hated Him, whatever I felt. Have to admit I hadn’t heard that one before.”

(—Volume 13-called-Prequel-1, p. 323)

Since Irene has no home church, she is content to marry at Wayside Chapel (p. 340). [Trivia alert: it is not Rayford’s church either. They choose it because Rayford has led his parents to think that Rayford attends that church; pp. 323-324.].

After Chloe is born, Irene selects a church for her family. “All I’ve learned is that I don’t know so much,” admits Irene. “I miss the best things about it, and I told you years ago that I didn’t want to raise a child without religion in her life” (pp. 323, 347). Irene picks a big church where Rayford can get lost in the crowd and slip out afterwards if he wishes. And Irene is pleased enough.

But when Irene is close to delivering Raymie—after her husband’s incident with Trish the intern—Irene grows restless. “There has to be more,” she keeps saying. She used to feel connected to God when she was little, until He didn’t answer her prayers. Rayford is cautious. He does not want to become “some fundamentalist or literalist or whatever they call those people who talk to God every day and think He talks to them too” Irene does not want to be called names, but otherwise she thinks that sounds great (p. 359).

When Raymie is in prekindergarten, Irene’s restlessness is noticed. Irene has been fighting “to inject deeper meaning” into her family’s lives. All she has gotten for her trouble is a life of sleep deprivation. Rayford is bored by family picnics or family walks. He does well enough with the children, but his days off tend toward golf and television. She always knew he would travel for a living. He had never hidden his materialistic streak (p. 371). Maybe this was life.

Carpathia’s forty days are written as if simultaneous with Irene’s forty days. One day another young mother named Jackie asks Irene if she is happy with her church. Is she very involved with it? Well, they are “big … lots of stuff for the kids … have outings for the men: golf, fishing tournament, a [Chicago] Bears game … women’s circle collecting stuff for inner-city moms.” Jackie offers that if Irene is unhappy—if she wants something more or different—she is invited to New Hope Village (Jackie’s church). It is “smallish, just a couple of hundred people. Nondenominational. Just a bunch of born-again Christians trying to get other people to heaven.” Irene sighs. Jackie sounds Baptist (pp. 372-373).

Irene declines the offer. “Jackie seemed to relax, as if she had fulfilled an obligation and could get back to being a friend.” Jackie chatters on about her peace of mind, reason for living, purpose, where she is going …. But she doesn’t expect Irene to answer, and Irene does not ask, “despite the fact that she was dying for her own answers to those very questions” (p. 373).

Irene and Jackie have been acquaintances for a year. Now Irene endures her own forty days of spiritual trial in the city park and marriage-wilderness. Jackie brings up the subject every day, and Irene’s “politeness” seems to encourage her. “It wasn’t good enough for [Jackie and her church] that you were a Christian and a churchgoer. You had to be their kind of believer. Next thing you knew, you’d be rolling in the aisles, speaking in tongues, and getting healed” (p. 374).

Jackie asks if Irene’s church really teaches salvation. Irene replies, “We’re going to church because we believe in God and want to go to Heaven.” Jackie protests, “But that’s not how you qualify for heaven. It’s not something you earn. It’s a gift.”

Irene will not admit it to Jackie, but “the fact was that Irene’s church did not emphasize salvation. It was assumed they were all Christians, all on their way to heaven, all doing the best they could in the modern world.” Irene does not feel it offers “something deeper, something more personal, a way to connect with God.” Irene is torn. She wants to hear more. But if she asks, “she could imagine the floodgate of sermonizing” that would follow (p. 375).

Jackie finally asks, “If I promise to never bring this up again unless you ask me to, can I just give you a piece of literature and leave it at that?” Irene is moved at Jackie’s new approach. Is it pride that keeps Irene from blurting out her questions? She cautiously accepts the brochure. Late that night, she reads it (pp. 375-377).

“Irene felt unworthy. The idea that she had been born in sin, was a sinner, had always repulsed her. Now it seemed to reach her. Something deep within told her it was unfair to hold against God what had become of her brother and her dad. If what the Bible said about her was true, did she deserve any better? In fact, she deserved worse. She deserved death.” The Bible verses reach her: John 1:10-12, Acts 16:31, and unspecified others (pp. 377-378).

Silently Irene weeps. She reads the brochure again. Could it really be this easy? “Confess to God that you are a sinner. Ask Him to forgive you. Receive His gift of salvation through the death of Christ on the cross. And then you are saved?” Irene is smart enough not to be swayed solely by emotion, but something is happening to her. She kneels and prays. She does not care if Rayford or her children walk in on her.

“God,” she says aloud, “I know I’m a sinner and need Your forgiveness and Your salvation. I receive Christ” (p. 379). Fade to white.

Spoiler: How does Rayford Steele meet Hattie Durham?

Answer: In its entirety from Volume-13-called-Prequel-1, page 361:

The only other newbie on the [Pan-Con 747-400] crew was a young flight attendant named Hattie Durham, who looked enough like the infamous Trish that Rayford had to once again slug it out with his conscience over the Christmas party fiasco a few years before [i.e., four years ago].

Hattie was introduced to him by his favorite senior flight attendant, Janet Allen. When she sent Hattie back to her chores, Janet whispered, “Just between you and me, Captain, she’s a little ditzy. Ambitious, though, I’ll give her that. Wants my job on an international route.”

[Rayford:] “Think she’ll make it?”

[Janet:] “I’m not sure she knows when we’re in the air or on the ground just yet.”

(—Volume 13-called-Prequel-1, p. 361)

Rayford and Irene have been married for “a dozen years.” Chloe is eleven, and Raymie is three years old (p. 360). Since Chloe is 20 at the time of the Rapture (Volume 1, p. 373), and Raymie is 12 at the time of the Rapture, the math shows that Rayford meets Hattie nine years before the Rapture.

The series tells us repeatedly that Hattie Durham is fifteen (15) years younger than Rayford Steele (Volume 3, pp.154-155; Volume 15-called-Prequel-3, p. 140; etc.). If Hattie the newbie flight attendant cannot be younger than eighteen (18) years old when they meet, then Captain Rayford Steele cannot be younger than thirty-three (33) years old when they meet.

This also means that Hattie Durham cannot be younger than twenty-seven (27) years old at the time of the Rapture. Rayford Steele cannot be younger than forty-two (42) years old at the time of the Rapture.

We later learn (pp. 361-368) that flight attendant Hattie Durham was aboard that Pan-heavy plane which almost crashed at LAX. The day that Rayford almost died is the day that Hattie joins Captain Steele’s crew—that it is the day Rayford and Hattie first met.

{[Almost the] End.}

NOTE: no Discussion Topics post for Volume 13-called-Prequel-1 is prepared or planned at this time.

{End.}

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Good Bible verses: the other 72 percent

(So called because Tim LaHaye once wrote that 28 percent of the Bible is prophecy. See Revelation Unveiled, c1999, page 27.)

These verses also make for good sermons.

  • I was saved (Romans 8:24, 1 Corinthians 6:11, Ephesians 1:4, Ephesians 2:4-8, Titus 3:4-5)

 

  • I am being saved (1 Corinthians 1:18, Phillipians 2:12-13, 2 Peter 1:10, 1 John 1:7)

 

  • I hope to be saved (Romans 5:9-10, Romans 13:11, 1 Corinthians 3:12-15, Matthew 24:13, Ephesians 1:14, 1 Thessalonians 5:8

 

  • Faith (1 Peter 1:3-9; Hebr. 11, esp. verse 1). Faith is knowing that the sun is shining even when your eyes are closed. Faith is knowing that a handful of seeds contains a garden.

 

  • Perseverance (Luke 18:1-8, 21:19; Rom. 12:11-12; Heb. 2:1-3, 10:32-39; 2 Pet. 2:20-21). Will not God vindicate His faithful ones who cry to Him day and night? But when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?

 

  • Worship. God’s people should avoid “will worship” (Col. 2:11, 23; Rom. 13:14; 1 Tim. 4:7-8; 1 Pet. 3:21; Jude 1:23). “Will worship” often has “a show of wisdom and humility. It typifies any use of carnal means to kindle the fire of devotion and praise” (Lev. 10:1-6, SRB-1917, p. 193). Rather, God’s people should worship in spirit and in truth (John 4:21-24, 9:38; Phill. 3:3; see also Matt. 2:2, 11; Luke 2:37). And they should worship together (Hebr. 10:25). A coal separated from the fire swiftly grows cold.

 

  • Discernment (1 Kings 3:9-12; John 16:12-15; Rom. 14; 1 Cor. 2:12-16; James 3:17; 1 John 4:1-6). “Ask and it shall be given to you” applies to protection against “itching ears” too.

 

  • Obedience (Matt 22.1-14; Matt. 25; Mark 4:1-26; Luke 13:6-9). Those who love God keep His commandments. God cannot redeem anyone He cannot command. How can one claim to love God if they have no interest in learning about His character, His nature, His will, or His plans?

 

  • Commitment (Luke 9:51, 62, 22:42; John 10:11; Eph.6.10; Hebr. 10:35-39). Jesus could have chosen to leave the Garden of Gethsemane. He chose to stay, for us and for our salvation. The hands and feet of Jesus remind us of His love for us. Can we not stay awake with Him for one hour?

 

  • Presence (Psa. 139:1-18; Isa. 43:2; John 14:23, 20:22; Rev. 3:20). When Jesus promised the Holy Spirit He is saying I will give you the very breath of My life. We can never run away from the Ever-present One. That is not a threat; it is a gift. God is not out to break hearts but to melt them.

 

  • Hope (Jer. 29:11; Lam. 3:21-26; Psa 10:17, 16.5-8, 33:18-22; Rom. 5:2-5, 8:24-25, 12:12, 15:4, 15:13; 2 Cor. 4:16-18). From an old rugged cross to an empty tomb, a hopeless end became our endless hope.

 

  • Peace (Matt. 8:23-27; Mark 4.37-39; Psa. 23; Psa. 107:23-30; Isa. 43:2). “Master, carest Thou not that we perish?” Yes, He cares. The storms of life won’t always be calmed—but He gave us Himself to calm the storms inside.

 

  • Death (John 11:25, 14:1-6; Rom. 14:8; 1 Thess. 4:14; Phill. 1:21; Psa. 23:6, 116.15; John 3:16). For the Christian, death is not the extinguishment of the light, but rather the candle going out because the dawn has come.

 

{End.}

37. Bonus: L.B., The crook of his neck (special feature on Hattie Durham)

(Because an awful lot happens on a single page of Left Behind, Volume 3, p. 179)

Special feature on Hattie Durham, a character in the Left Behind series

For an Antichrist, Nicolae Carpathia is something of a prude. Here is the “Sexiest Man Alive” (Volume 1, p. 270) who got the job after the reigning SMA shamed the name of People Magazine by trashing a hotel room. (If the real world aspired to the lofty standards of the fictional one, Justin Bieber would have been deported years ago.) And what does the Sexiest Monster Alive do? He who has his choice of beauties from Hollywood, Bollywood, Wellywood, and the Esther-and-Abishag Bureaucratic Beauty Contests selects, of all people, Rayford Steele’s girlfriend. Then, having gotten Hattie Durham pregnant, the Antichrist vanishes and never publicly takes notice of any woman, anywhere, ever again. Henry the Eighth, this tyrant ain’t.

Which leaves Hattie and Rayford spinning their wheels at the Global Bistro. For Hattie this is something of an info-dump, a dizzying rollercoaster of the twists and plunges through her forlorn lost romance. Her retconned “testing” of Nicolae with that televised Public Display of Affection. Her decision not to “force” Nicolae to marry his baby mama. Her contemplating an abortion “every day.” Her heretofore-unmentioned mommy issues—“guess who gave me this crazy name”—and her subsequent anxiety around Amanda (“I don’t recall your first wife being this possessive”).

Rayford’s response to all this—including, incredibly the abortion confession—is to send Hattie to Go Ask Your Mother. Oh, Rayford does have a fleeting holier-than-thou reaction:

Why did he expect Hattie to live like a believer when she was not?

To which Hattie asks Rayford plainly, “Don’t most of you church types consider [Nicolae Carpathia] the Antichrist?” Rayford’s answer? “He decided it was too soon to come clean.” Of course he did. Much as Buck and Chloe Williams fretted in Volume 2 whether to tell Hattie that her boyfriend is the Antichrist and she should leave him—and they chose not to do it. They all do this, despite the fact that Hattie says she has read Buck’s articles and she “likes his writing.” She chose to read Buck’s articles. She is looking for answers. Her self-professed friends are looking for reasons not to tell her. Like the fact that they almost all chose to work for the Antichrist and they don’t want to lose their jobs, for starters.

Here’s one reason they’ve overlooked: if Rayford comes clean, he will be forced to admit that as much as he searches his Bible, he is unable to find any reference to Satan having grandspawn. The sooner Hattie converts, the sooner the God of the series will see-to-Himself to delete this little plot hole. Honestly, though, there isn’t much that Saved Hattie could contribute to the story. There’s little enough for Chloe and Amanda to do as it is. For good or ill, Unsaved Hattie draws readers, and it may be purely coincidental that said readership dropped off somewhat after Volume 9, when Hattie was written out of the series.

Instead, Rayford urges Hattie no less than four times to adopt Amanda as a mother figure and let Mom discipline her. In Rayford’s mind, having his wife and his ex-girlfriend adopt each other is a really good idea. The parenting of women, after all, is a recurrent theme in this series. Buck speaks to Chloe “sternly” in a tone “condescending, even parental” (Volume 2, pp. 193-194). Chloe implores Buck “Don’t parent me” (Volume 4, p. 306).

Granted, the characters are not the only ones who do this. We can find many cultural examples. Deborah Tannen, (You Just Don’t Understand), upon reading the poetry of Cheryl Romney-Brown, invites us to count how many times in television and film an actor/adult man assumes the body language of a parent and the actress/adult woman the body language of a child. (Your host’s personal moment of Whaaat? was Eowellywyn laying her head in the crook of Farfromthebookamir’s neck.)

Hattie responds that she doesn’t need more exasperated, exasperating parents.

“ … You don’t know [Amanda],” Rayford said, “She’s the type who doesn’t even have to like you to love you, if you know what I mean.”

Hattie raised her eyebrows. “What an interesting way to say that,” she said. “I guess that’s the way parents feel about their kids sometimes. My dad once told me that, when I was a rebellious teenager. He said, ‘Hattie, it’s a good thing I love you so much, because I don’t like you at all.’”

The characters did not invent this line either. Psychologists spout this loving-versus-liking line to reassure children that no matter what they do, their parents’ love and care will not stop being a given. Such blithe promises can have unfortunate repercussions. For one thing, it won’t help when children believe, or even know, that it is not true. As Josh Turner might sing, “I might not know what love is, but I know what it ain’t.”

Janet Dight (Do Your Parents Drive You Crazy?) notes that parents are supposed to love their children, but no, they may not like them very much. A macho dad may not like his studious son, or a homemaker her career-focused daughter. You may remind the parent of a relative they dislike. They may feel that your birth trapped them into the life they now live. In Hattie’s case we have no idea why her dad disliked her enough to say it to a child’s face.

Then again, maybe we do. The authors imply that the family breach must be solely Hattie’s doing. Hattie calls herself a “rebellious” teenager, a word almost never used by children because it is so one-sided. One of the first things a writer learns is that almost no one considers themselves to be the bad guy, even when they admit to doing bad things. Also, it is possible for everybody to be the bad guy without anybody being the good guy. Dight’s examples include the stress of having a “saint” as parent. One interviewee complained, “When [Mom] and I had problems, I always assumed, and so did everybody else, that I was at fault. Throughout my childhood, it was my mother, the marvelous human being, versus me, her rotten kid. I didn’t have a chance.” Although we cannot prove it, it is possible that Hattie grew up in a similar situation.

But Hattie also is written as immature. The narrative consistently speaks as if Hattie is much younger than Buck, although they are approximately the same age. Fifteen years ago Hattie was a “rebellious teenager,” so she runs away now (Volume 5, 392, 397), behaves like a “teenager” now (Volume 5, p. 377) and even a “schoolgirl” now (Volume 3, pp. 169, 378). She even prays that way now. (“Hattie quickly entwined her fingers under her chin, like a little girl kneeling at her bedside” –Volume 3, p. 375).

The fact that Hattie clings to people who dislike or mistreat her suggests she also has boundary and abandonment issues. Maybe Hattie, who always has to earn the love of the men around her, originally wanted to have a baby for the same reason immature people have a baby: to have someone who will never leave them and who will love them unconditionally. They don’t always see the work involved or that children don’t always stay with parents. Children don’t always please their parents. Children don’t always love their parents. Hattie herself is proof of these.

There also is the loving-versus-liking issue itself. Much potential for confusion here, because it’s about not just feelings. You love someone, of course you have to like them! You like them, of course you have to love them! At least, that is what they say.

It’s not just the infamous “Nice Guy” who assumes that the obsession he feels for his target is both love and liking and who expects the target to feel the same. (Other people have the right not to fall in love with you.) Many decent people “fall in love” with someone they never would have chosen as a friend. There’s also the good guy and great gal who have no spark together but won’t let go, figuring they can find a way to love the consolation prize. Hattie, for one, is assuredly boundary-challenged.

So if Rayford wants to convert Hattie, he’s wasting his time reviving her mommy issues while dodging the Antichrist issues. (By the way, believing in the Antichrist is not the same as believing in Christ). Many threads in the series suggest that Rayford would have better luck (sort of) to try “father-wound theology”. This strategy urges potential converts to contemplate the failings of their earthly fathers to convince them that their Heavenly Father will treat them better.

Such an approach, like the Left Behind novels themselves, may get a newcomer into a church, but it also shapes their faith to be childish, simplistic, and often fragile. It’s judgmental. It holds grudges. “Your God is too small.” (Your host believes in a God Who can turn swine into pearls, tares into wheat, and Cain into an ancestor of the Son of David. By the way, did you ever notice how many Gentiles are fine with their personal Lord and Savior being descended from the Bible’s most notorious sinners, but they flip when they realize that they are too?)

Most of all, a “father-wound” foundation can breed a faith that staggers under the weight of the Crucifixion, the Akedah, Job, Noah, Abel, David’s baby, and Uriah. Say, about five seconds after the convert learns to spell “theodicy.” We can filibuster about the difference between the divine Permissive Will versus Ultimate Will until the Last Day, but there are times when it really does take a saint to love God under the circumstances.

It is worth noting that nowhere does the Bible command children to love their parents. They are commanded to honor them. Yet we as children of God have the Great Commandment to “love the LORD your God with all your heart and soul and strength and mind, and thy neighbor as thyself; in these are fulfilled all the Law and the Prophets.” How on earth can we do that? Part of it may be to see the statement as being also a promise and a hope. By any standards—love, like, honor, or trust—being in relationship with God is hard sometimes. But the hard times don’t last forever. And God is more present with us than we realize. Where is God when it hurts? As Pastor Fred Rogers said, “look for the helpers.”

None of this factors into Rayford’s calculations, however. Father-wound strategy won’t necessarily distract Hattie with the failings of Big Daddy Durham. It’s much more likely to open her eyes to the failings of the man who is trying to parent her now, Mr. Rayford Steele. And that just wouldn’t preach.

{End.}