10: Half A Wife

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Two days later, a small wedding party assembled at the front of Bountiful's chapel with little ceremony. Only the parents of the bride and groom filled the pews. At the couple's request, the Bishop had agreed to perform the joining in private. The excuse given to the rest of Bountiful was simply that Erlan and Ever wanted to wait until her return from the North to have their "real" wedding, but Jared was sure there had to be other reasons. Looking across the small aisle at Cambree Betenson, who had agreed to stand as Ever's witness, he wondered just how much of this business had been Ever's idea.

The news had come to him first through his father, who had told him with a tenderness Jared was unused to, and then through Erlan himself, who had asked him to stand up for him during the ceremony.

Jared remembered feeling his father's pity when like a tangible thing: the unspoken words—you waited too long—hung in the air between them. He had barely come to terms with the fact of Ever's departure, and now this...that night, Jared had lain awake for hours wondering how he had gotten himself so deeply involved in a situation like this.

Close to dawn, he had been forced to admit to himself that he had been avoiding Ever since he heard the news that she was to be part of the expedition party. Oh, he had waved to her and been friendly when their paths crossed in the village, but they hadn't spoken. He had convinced himself it had been coincidence, that his duties as a Scout and as his father's assistant had simply become overwhelming. Really, though, you just didn't—still don't—have any idea what you would say to her when you saw her again.

Accepting that he was too young to go on the mission himself had been one thing; there was simply no way around the age requirement. It made sense that the young men sent to the Maine should be Elders with the full authority of the higher priesthood. He had been disappointed but not truly upset.

This was different. Knowing that Ever Oaks would soon be leaving the comparative safety of Bountiful's walls to venture deep into the wilderness, a journey that would take her through apostate territories and expose her to attack by the Damned, weighed on him heavily. A gnawing feeling that had begun the moment he heard had only gotten worse with time.

Standing behind and to one side of Erlan in the awkward silence of the chapel—Ever had refused even a hymn to accompany the ordinance—Jared felt a feeling he could only describe as misery. It didn't make any sense. Only days before, he had been happy and self-assured. His life was simple and fulfilling. Then he had gone to Golden Neck with Ever and everything had changed. It couldn't have happened that quickly.

But it didn't, did it? You knew for a long time. Since your friend first noticed her. For years. You only started paying attention recently.

Bishop Royce appeared from a side door and took his place on the stage at the front of the chapel. Several long minutes later, punctuated only by an occasional cough or whisper, the doors to the chapel opened and Ever appeared on her father's arm. Giving the bride away was a custom too deeply ingrained in Blessed weddings for even this hasty ceremony to do away with it, but the bride and her father nevertheless wasted no time with pomp. Walking at a measured but efficient pace, they came up the aisle to where Erlan stood waiting, and Elder Orton handed his daughter off to the groom.

Was Jared imagining things, or had Elder Orton's expression been somewhat resigned? After he took his seat with Ever's mother, Jared was forced to look at the bride herself, whose eyes flickered to his briefly before focusing on the Bishop.

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