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The Visitor--an inspirational short story series

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"...Choose only entertainment and media that uplift you. Good entertainment will help you to have good thoughts and make righteous choices...Do not participate in entertainment that in any way presents immorality or violent behavior as acceptable."
For The Strength of Youth

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The Visitor--an inspirational short story series
    Ch. 58 -- On Wings of Angels
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    Ch. 61 The Music Within
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The Visitor--an inspirational short story series
    Ch. 44 The Wisdom of the Wise
 
Submitted by Steven ODell on 12 January 2009 - 5:25pm.

The Final Exam
Steven G. O'Dell ©2009

“What did you get on the exam you were so worried about?”

“You don't want to know. There are many things I am good at, but music isn't one of them. I don't know why I ever took this course to begin with.”

“Because you 'like music and want to know more about it'. Remember?”

“What are you, a recorder?”

Ray laughed softly to himself at the question. Those were the exact words Larry had used when he signed up for the course and now he acted as if he resented ever saying them or hearing them again.

“It isn't funny, Ray. I want perfect grades. This was only the first exam, but I've blown it already. If I get some help, I can bring the average up enough to salvage the course and feel half-way decent about myself. Right now, I can't look at myself in a mirror.”

“What a perfectionist you've always been! Some of us are happy to be average in our lives and you can't stand it if you aren't number one in everything. Why is that? Why did I remain friends with you for so long?” He chuckled again and ribbed Larry good-naturedly.

“I don't know...to both questions. Any suggestions?”

“Yes. I should find new friends.” The sheepish grin showed he wasn't serious.

“Smart Alec! I mean about getting the grade point level up.”

“Well, if I were you, I would find a tutor. Not just any tutor, mind you; but a really good-looking one.” He winked meaningfully.

Ray couldn't resist his friend for long and he, too, began to smile and relax. “That's pretty good advice. There is one girl in the class that seems to get it easily. Gives lots of answers while I'm still scratching my head at the questions.”

“She sounds absolutely perfect. I hope the two of you will be very happy together.” Again he ribbed Larry as they walked across campus to the cafeteria.

Amid the bustle of bodies in the cafeteria, Larry suddenly spied the girl he had told Ray about. “There! That's her,” he said, pointing.

“The one with the mole on her nose, with the hair in it?” Another grin.

“What?! No, you jerk, the pretty one in the blue sweater and black skirt.”

“She's coming this way. Why don't you invite her to sit with us? Remember, she's your tutor. She just doesn't know it yet, so it's your duty to tell her.”

“Uhhh...okay, I need to do this, if I plan to ever pass that class.” Larry took a deep breath and blew it out to relieve his tension and then stood to greet the young woman that approached.

“Hi, I'm Larry. I'm in your music class. I wonder if you would care to sit with us...my friend Ray and I, I mean.” He felt like a stumbling fool.

“I'm Ashley. I would shake your hand, but....” She nodded at the tray she carried.

“Oh, sure. I understand.” He expected her to refuse the offer and politely move on, when she abruptly set the tray on the table next to him and sat down herself.

“Thanks for the invitation. So, you're in the class, too. I don't recall seeing you. Do you sit in the back?”

“Yes, I do quite often. Well, actually, I do all the time,” he corrected. “I notice you seem to know all the answers. I'm afraid it all comes rather hard for me.”

“I do find it rather easy. But I guess other things balance it out; I'm not very good at math, for instance.” She smiled sheepishly, as if embarrassed.

“Oh, really?” Larry perked up at the news. “I'm really comfortable with math. Maybe we could arrange a trade of sorts. I could tutor you in math and you could help me in music. I'm really interested, but it all sort of buffaloes me.”

“I think that's a great idea. We both win!” Ashley grinned brightly and dug into her meal. Ray grinned, too, as Larry relaxed and envisioned that he might save his grade after all.

The tutoring sessions were going well and Larry was getting as comfortable with music as he was with Ashley. She had a way of explaining to him that made it all seem so easy. And evidently she was as pleased with his method of teaching as he was with hers. She had asked him many questions of a more personal nature, so Larry figured it was high time he asked some back or risk appearing uninterested in her as a person.

“Tell me, Ashley, are you from this area since birth?”

“No, actually we moved here from Utah when I was about twelve. But I like it here. I have lots of good friends here, both in school and in the church.”

“Church? What church is that? Are you a Mormon?”

She brightened. “Yes. Have you heard of it?”

“Barely. You now have the sum total of my knowledge on the subject. I just know that Mormons are from Utah quite often.”

Ashley laughed out loud in a contagious way and Larry found himself smiling involuntarily. “Not always from Utah, but yes, we do have a lot of us there. Maybe sometime you would like to know more?”

“Religion isn't really something I get into. That and politics.”

“Let me guess. Never discuss religion or politics because it only causes arguments?”

“Yeah, that's right.”

“Fortunately I don't believe in that philosophy. Not only can I discuss it and enjoy it, even if we should differ in our views, but what is more important than issues that decide your temporal and eternal salvation?” She looked him straight in the eye and waited for an answer.

There was something convincing in her manner, as though she spoke with some degree of confidence, authority or secret knowledge, but it made Larry uncomfortable.

“You may be right, but I'm not ready for that yet, I guess.”

“Okay. Just tell me when you are, alright?” There was no offense, just her characteristic bright smile that he had become so familiar with. Although no raving beauty, there was a light in Ashley that shone forth conspicuously in some mysterious way and Larry was anxious to know what caused it. She just seemed so happy all the time.

Several tutoring sessions went by and then came the next exam. Larry was surprised that he felt relaxed about the information and had retained almost all of what they had studied. He realized that he hadn't expected that high a score, but nevertheless it had happened. The way Ashley taught him to recall the information made sense. There was now obvious structure to it.

“How did you do?”

“ Ashley, I passed with a ninety-seven percent. How was your math test?” He couldn't help but look pleased.

Now it was her turn to beam with pride. “I got a ninety-eight. Thank you for the help.”

She seemed extra luminous today. Here eyes sparkled like never before and her smile was something he could have sat and studied for hours on end. Larry suddenly jumped with the shock that he was becoming smitten with this girl.

“What's wrong? You twitched.”

“Oh, uhh...nothing wrong. So, we both did great on our tests,” he said, recovering quickly. I guess whatever system we have is working, wouldn't you say?”

“Yes, I would. Let's make it a standing arrangement, shall we?”

Larry wanted nothing more.

The course was almost at an end and Larry was now completely taken with Ashley. It was time to ask her out. Besides, Ray had been almost unbearable to him. It was all too obvious to Ray how Larry felt and he kept asking every time he saw Larry, 'Have you asked her out yet?' Larry was tired of saying no and getting scowled at.

“Ashley, I really appreciate how much help you have been to me in music class. Are you going to be taking more next quarter?”

“Not music, but definitely more math. I may still need your help with it.”

“That's great! Er,.... I would be happy to help you at any time. In fact, I was wondering if you would care to go out for a pizza and soda some night soon.” He swallowed hard and waited.

“Larry, I'm flattered and honored that you would ask me, but I have a strict policy of not dating outside my own faith. Thank you, though. I hope you understand.”

His heart fell twice as fast as it had risen. He just stood there with his mouth open, not knowing how to respond.

“I did offer once to teach you more abut our beliefs. Would you like to do that now?” She searched his face with real intent, looking anxiously for any sign of interest. After what seemed an eternity, his answer came.

“I don't know. I never really thought about it.” And he hadn't. Not only that, but he wasn't recognizing through his shock the opportunity to learn more now.

“Oh, okay....” She was a bit deflated herself. Larry was a nice guy and she had hoped to share with her new friend that which was most valued in her life. It appeared that goal would have to wait indefinitely.

“Alright, buddy, what's wrong? Someone kick your dog?” Ray was his old irreverent self, but Larry knew he was sincerely concerned or he wouldn't have asked.

“I asked her out, Ray.”

“I take it that it didn't go so well.”

“You could say that. She only dates other Mormons.”

“Whoa! That's harsh.”

“No, she wasn't mean about it. She just stated it as fact. She wasn't trying to hurt me. Still... it does, kinda.”

“Well, there's plenty more where that one came from, right?” He punched Larry good-naturedly on the shoulder.

“Yeah...I guess.” Larry wasn't sure he was convinced, but the far off gaze began to dissolve and the world came into view again.

More weeks went by and the final exam was given. Ashley passed with no problem. Larry passed with very good grades, too, but the last one was more of a struggle for him. He had found it difficult to concentrate on anything but his time with Ashley. Why did she have to interest him so much?

One day as Larry was crossing campus, he spied a man sitting under a tree and reading a book that was making him smile. Just as Larry was about to turn away, the man looked up, met his gaze fully and smiled more broadly, as if in recognition. Taking one hand from the book, he raised it to wave at Larry, then purposely closed the book and stood as if to invite conversation. Larry was just intrigued enough to stop and find out the stranger's intent. Did he actually know this man?

“Hi, how are you today?” The man asked pleasantly enough.

“I'm doing fine, I guess. And you?”

“Me? Oh, I'm feeling wonderful. I just thought that you looked a bit lost today. Usually you are much more cheerful.”

“I'm sorry...do I know you?” Larry's puzzlement was genuine.

“No reason you should. But, then no reason you shouldn't either.” He extended his hand. “My name is Kumen, almost like the spice.”

“Unusual name. I'm Larry.” Not knowing what to say next, he chose the obvious. “What are you reading?”

“This? It's the cause of my happiness. It's called the Book of Mormon.”

“Now that's weird. I've been tutoring a girl that's a Mormon. And she's been tutoring me, too.” The surprise was genuine. What were the odds?

“Ahh! So, she's teaching you about the church, is she?” His smile broadened noticeably.

“No, she isn't. Just in music.”

“Oh. Why isn't she?” He looked puzzled.

“Well, I wasn't interested.”

“Not interested? How can that be? Anyone who wants to know his purpose on earth would want to be taught about the Mormon church.” He stated it so matter-of-factly that Larry was a second time struck with the air of authority and certainty he had felt from Ashley.

“I...I don't know. I guess I was just too busy with other things. She wanted to teach me, but the time wasn't right for me.”

“Well, don't wait until you have no time left to want to learn what's most important in life, okay?”

“Okay. Umm...I have to get to class. I'll see you around, okay?” And he began to turn to leave.

“Hang on! Here.” He reached to pass the book to Larry. “Take this with you and read it. I believe you'll find it worth your while.”

Larry took the book and looked at the cover and title. It felt strange in his hand. What did they teach and believe? Were they like the Krishna's or something similar? Larry raised his head to thank the fellow, but intending to refuse the book and return it. He got the shock of his life. There was no one there! Turning quickly all about, Larry searched in vain for the man. How could he have vanished so completely? The area was wide open and no man could have simply disappeared like that. That this had been no ordinary man was now quite obvious. And Larry knew instinctively that it was no accident that this had happened to him, either.

There was no way Larry could refuse to read the book now. What he had just experienced was unusual beyond words. Something told him this was a pivotal point in his life—something of great significance.

That night, Larry began to read the Book of Mormon. It was a strange story, relating a journey of an ancient family escaping from Jerusalem. This was a lot like the Bible, Larry assumed. Maybe the Mormons had another book instead of the Bible. He read late into the night until exhaustion overtook him and he fell asleep in the chair with the book still on his chest.

The next morning was Saturday and Larry read for an hour before he even got up from the chair to eat. With a hasty breakfast out of the way, he then began to read again. By Sunday afternoon, he had read the entire book and felt convinced that some great power pervaded its pages. Now he had questions for Ashley.

Monday at the college, Larry begged away from Ray as quickly as he could and sought out Ashley near the Math and Sciences building. Boy, would she be surprised by the sudden change.

“Ashley! Ashley, I need to talk to you. I don't know where to begin, really. I've read the Book of Mormon and I want to ask you some questions about it. When will you have some time?”

She was obviously stunned. “You read the whole thing? I thought you weren't interested.”

“I wasn't. Not then. But I am now.”

“Okay, you're going to have to tell me what made the sudden change. This is rather amazing!”

“I'm not sure I can explain it myself, but that can wait. Can we meet tonight just to talk this over? I mean, no math or anything, just this?” He held the book up to illustrate, unnecessarily, his point.

“Sure! Tell you what—I have some friends who can probably answer your questions a lot better than I can. Do you mind if I invite them over, too, if they can come on short notice?”

“No, I guess not. I just want to know more about this. I have a feeling it's important somehow.”

“Believe me, Larry, it's more important than you can imagine right now. Alright, then, I will arrange for them to come teach you tonight. I'll see you then. 'Bye!” She reached out to touch his hand and squeeze it, then smiled brightly and turned to go. Larry's heart nearly jumped out of his chest. Maybe she did like him after all. Or maybe she just wanted to teach him her faith. It didn't matter right now. The book was all-consuming to him.

Over the next two weeks, the missionaries taught Larry the Gospel—the Plan of Salvation, the concepts of chastity, tithing, the Word of Wisdom and so much more. He felt like a kid in a candy store. At the end of each lesson, he wanted to know, 'Is that all?' And always the reassurance came that there was more yet to learn. Whereas he felt it might have intimidated him at one time, he was now nearly overwhelmed with the excitement of knowing that there was more to come. In fact, the Elders told him, there would be a lifetime of learning, if he wanted it. And somehow, he did.

Larry was baptized on a Saturday afternoon and confirmed a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints the next day in the church meeting house. The gift of the Holy Ghost was bestowed upon him at the same time. Here, in front of all these strangers, he felt more at home than he had in years. A sweet peace washed over him and suddenly he knew what made Ashley glow with a radiance that showed outwardly to all who knew her. It was the peace of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He now had it, too, and the tears of joy began to flow easily down his face.

“Ashley, now that I'm a Mormon, too, will you let me take you out on a date?”

“Larry, I'd be honored.”

“Can I ask,...why wouldn't you before?”

Ashley smiled the widest he had ever seen and she said sweetly as she winked, “That's easy. You hadn't taken your 'final exam' and passed it yet. Now you have. Welcome to the Church, Larry.”

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