She was fourteen years old and sure that if she shut her eyes tight and concentrated she could see the stars through the roof.
All around her, women were breathing. Regular, heavy, nighttime breathing. One was snoring, and that was Auntie Sara, who had been given a mattress beneath the open window.
She closed her eyes and tried to breathe like the others. It was difficult to sleep, especially because everything around her was so new and different. The sounds of the night and the forest beyond the window in Ostgard were different. The people she knew from the meetings in the citadel and the summer camps were somehow not the same. She was not the same, either. The face and body she saw in the mirror this summer were new. And her emotions, these strange hot and cold currents that flowed through her when the boys looked at her. Or when one of them in particular looked at her. Robert. He was different this year, too.
She opened her eyes again and stared. She knew God had the power to do great things, even allow her to see the stars through the roof. If it was His wish.
It had been a long and eventful day. The dry summer wind had whispered through the corn, and the leaves on the trees danced as if in a fever, causing the light to filter through to the visitors on the field. They had been listening to one of the Salvation Army cadets from the officer-training school talking about his work as a preacher on the Faeroe Islands. He was good-looking and spoke with great sensitivity and passion. But she was preoccupied with shooing away a bumblebee that kept buzzing around her head, and by the time it moved off, the heat had made her drowsy. When the cadet finished, all faces were turned to the territorial commander, David Eckhoff, who had been observing them with his smiling, young eyes, which were actually over fifty years old. He saluted in the Salvation Army manner, with his right hand raised above his shoulder and pointing to the kingdom of heaven, amid a resounding shout of "Hallelujah!" Then he prayed for the cadets' work with the poor and the pariahs to be blessed, and reminded them of the Gospel of Matthew, where it said that Jesus the Redeemer was among them, a stranger on the street, maybe a criminal, without food and without clothing. And that on Judgment Day the righteous, those who had helped the weakest, would have eternal life. It had all the makings of a long speech, but then someone whispered something and he said, with a smile, that Youth Hour was next on the program and today it was Rikard Nilsen's turn.
She had heard Rikard make his voice deeper than it was to thank the commander. As usual, he had prepared what he was going to say in writing and memorized it. He stood up and recited how he was going to devote his life to the fight, to Jesus's fight for the kingdom of God. His voice was nervous, yet monotonous and soporific. His introverted glower rested on her. Her eyes were heavy. His sweaty top lip was moving to form the familiar, secure, tedious phrases. So she -didn't react when the hand touched her back. Not until it became fingertips and they wandered down to the small of her back, and lower, and made her freeze beneath her thin summer dress.
She turned and looked into Robert's smiling brown eyes. And she wished her skin were as dark as his so that he would not be able to see her blush.
"Shh," Jon had said.
Robert and Jon were brothers. Although Jon was one year older, many people had taken them for twins when they were younger. But Robert was seventeen now and while they had retained some facial similarities, the differences were clearer. Robert was happy and carefree, liked to tease and was good at playing the guitar, but was not always punctual for services in the citadel, and sometimes the teasing had a tendency to go too far, especially if he noticed others were laughing. Then Jon would often step in. Jon was an honest, conscientious boy who most thought would go to -officer--training school and -would—-though this was never formulated out -loud—-find himself a girl in the Army. The latter could not be taken for granted in Robert's case. Jon was three-quarters of an inch taller than Robert, but in some strange way Robert seemed taller. From the age of twelve Jon had begun to stoop, as though he were carrying the woes of the world on his back. Both were -dark--skinned, -good--looking, with regular features, but Robert had something Jon did not have. There was something in his eyes, something black and playful, which she wanted and yet did not want to investigate further.
While Rikard was talking, her eyes were wandering across the sea of assembled familiar faces. One day she would marry a boy from the Salvation Army and perhaps they would both be posted to another town or another part of the country. But they would always return to Østgård, which the Army had just bought and was to be their summer site from now on.
On the margins of the crowd, sitting on the steps leading to the house, was a boy with blond hair stroking a cat that had settled in his lap. She could tell that he had been watching her, but he had looked away just as she noticed. He was the one person here she -didn't know, but she did know that his name was Mads Gilstrup, that he was the grandchild of the people who had owned Østgård before, that he was a couple of years older than her and that the Gilstrup family was wealthy. He was attractive, in fact, but there was something solitary about him. And what was he doing here, anyway? He had been there the previous night, walking around with an angry frown on his face, not talking to anyone. She had felt his eyes on her a few times. Everyone looked at her this year. That was new, too.
She was jerked out of these thoughts by Robert taking her hand, putting something in it and saying: "Come to the barn when the -general--in--waiting has finished. I've got something to show you."
Then he stood up and walked off, and she looked down into her hand and almost screamed. With one hand over her mouth, she dropped the object into the grass. It was a bumblebee. It could still move, despite not having legs or wings.
At last Rikard finished, and she sat watching her parents and Robert and Jon's parents moving -toward the tables where the coffee was. They were both what Army people in their respective Oslo congregations called "strong families," and she knew watchful eyes were on her.
She walked -toward the outhouse. Once she was around the corner, where no one could see her, she scurried in the direction of the barn.
"Do you know what this is?" said Robert with the smile in his eyes and the deep voice he had not had the summer before.
He was lying on his back in the hay whittling a tree root with the penknife he always carried in his belt.
Then he held it up and she saw what it was. She had seen drawings. She hoped it was too dark for him to see her blush again.
"No," she lied, sitting beside him in the hay.
And he gave her that teasing look of his, as if he knew something about her she -didn't even know herself. She returned his gaze and fell back on her elbows.
"This is where it goes," he said, and in an instant his hand was up her dress. She could feel the hard tree root against the inside of her thigh and, before she could close her legs, it was touching her underpants. His breath was hot on her neck.
"No, Robert," she whispered.
From The Redeemer by Jo Nesbo, translated by Don Bartlett. Copyright 2005 by Jo Nesbo. Translation copyright 2009 by Don Bartlett. Excerpted by permission of Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.