A soft knock sounded on Sally’s door and she groaned.
“Please leave me alone.”
The door creaked open.
Sally wiped her tears and rolled over to face her little sister. She forced a smile at the wide-eyed sprite who appeared completely confused.
“Hi, Amber,” said Sally softly.
“Why are you getting married right now?”
Sally sat up and looked at her disheveled hair and red eyes in the mirror across the room.
“Because Papa thinks it’s for the best. I should get dressed soon. Everyone is waiting. Did they send you up here?”
Amber shook her head.
“I knew you were sad. Will you be gone forever?”
The thought of leaving home forever as a married woman scared every inch of Sally’s being, but she had no more strength to cry.
“I’m afraid so.”
Sally’s two best friends came in then. At the sight of their concerned looks, her initial numbness melted away. She covered her mouth as everything in the room swam.
“It’s all right,” said Sarah. “We are here for you.”
“Jeremiah is a good man. He will take good care of you and you’ll have a beautiful view of the river,” cooed Lisa.
“It’s not that I don’t like Jeremiah. I just don’t know anything about-”
Sally sunk to the floor next to her bed and Amber cried along with her. Lisa and Sarah sat down on the plush carpeting next to Sally until she was able to find her composure.
“I think that every girl feels the same way that you do on her wedding day,” said Sarah. “It will just take some getting used to.”
Sally stretched her arms out to gather Amber into a warm embrace.
“Always sisters,” she whispered. “Please visit me on his farm.”
“Always sisters,” whispered Amber.
Amber rushed out of the room, leaving the three teen-aged girls alone with the thick silence. Sally’s mind wandered to a boy she once knew who had the most beautiful eyes. Gabriel. He was Jeremiah’s best friend. He lived in a town that was a weeks’ journey away, but a part of her always hoped he would return for her when she was old enough to court. Her deepest hopes faded away into nothing.
“I think I still love Gabriel,” sighed Sally.
Lisa gasped. Sarah bit her lip and looked away.
“I know it isn’t proper to speak of it right now, but this morning I did not have the slightest clue that I’d be marrying his best friend of all people. This just isn’t fair.”
“Oh Sally, life will never be fair to anyone,” said Sarah. “You are going to have to bury your feelings for Gabriel or they will eat you alive.”
Sally groaned and buried her face in her hands.
“We need to make you look beautiful,” said Lisa, standing up and pulling out Sally’s finest dress from the wardrobe.
It was a pale blue frock with white lace trim. Sally had only worn it once on what had been one of the most fun evenings of her life. Over a year ago when Gabriel was still in town, she wore the dress to the annual summer carnival. Those were simpler days when she was still just an innocent girl with silly dreams.
“The wedding is in an hour,” said Sarah.
“Oh my God,” breathed Sally.
“Life has a way of waking us up rather harshly,” said Sarah with an empathetic smile.
“Your maid has prepared a bath for you,” said Lisa. “Come on, get up now.”
“Great,” muttered Sally. “Maybe I can drown my sorrows.”
“It will be okay. You’ll see,” said Lisa airily. “I find this all so exciting and romantic. Yesterday we were playing games with the other school children and tonight you will be a married lady! You are the first one of us to grow up, you know. I’m a little jealous.”
Sally could only stare at her dim wit for a friend. It did no one any good to paint over the terrible situation and try to make it seem like some sort of work of art.
After Sally returned from her bath, she felt no less disturbed.
“Sit here, Sally,” said Sarah, “I’ll brush out your hair.”
Unable to look at her own reflection, Sally stared down at her hands resting on her lap as Sarah styled her hair. She longed to escape into her special world, but the reality was too heavy to escape from. Her friends helped her get dressed and they made a few final finishing touches. Both of them looked at her with glistening eyes and it was then that Sally knew the truth of how they both felt. They were just as sorry to see her get married as she was, but they would never dare to say so. It was simply the way of things.
“You look so beautiful,” said Sarah.
Sally blushed and stared at the floor.
“I’m going to run home and ask Papa if I can take a picture of you and Jeremiah so that you can remember your special day,” gushed Lisa.
Sally was about to tell her not to bother, but the daft girl already ran out the door.
“She won’t be long,” said Sarah. “I will pick you a nice little bouquet of flowers from the garden and then it will be time. Perhaps you can take some time to enjoy your final moments of freedom.”
“Thank you,” said Sally.
Her final moments of girlhood passed away far too quickly. First Sarah returned with six pink roses and then Lisa returned with her father and his camera equipment in tow. It felt as though her heart had collapsed into her stomach and it hurt to breathe.
The sound of Mama’s piano playing filled the house. Sarah gently squeezed Sally’s hand before taking her place behind Lisa. Each of them held a solitary rose. They slowly descended the staircase and it felt as though the world had shifted into a new, depressing reality.
Sally closed her eyes and followed her friends down the steps and into the heavily perfumed room. Mama looked over at her from her place at the piano; her mouth curved upward into a delighted smile that did not quite reach her blue eyes. Her father stoically approached her, took her arm, and led her to the end of the dining room where the pastor and Jeremiah stood. At the sight of the young farmer staring at her with the same horrified expression that she must have worn, her heart nearly stopped.
She blinked back tears, telling herself not to cry in front of everyone. She would have the rest of her life to cry.
She met the gaze of Pastor Davis. His gentle warm brown eyes settled some of her nerves. In that moment, she was very grateful to have him as the shepherd of her church. He would always be there for her even when her parents weren’t.
Papa let her go and Jeremiah took her hand. It was warm and firm. She stared into his eyes for comfort, but she found none. He looked away from her with unmasked annoyance.
The moment passed by in a blur as Sally repeated her vows after her pastor and became Mrs. Jeremiah Smith.
It was dark by the time they reached the farm. His property remained relatively untouched by the tornado. The next day, he would work from sunrise to sunset tending to the cattle and building a new pen for all of the upcoming newborns. It was a wonder that the terrible storm hadn’t caused some of the cows to give premature births.
Beneath the inky sky flecked with twinkling stars, the farmyard looked eerily peaceful. Sally shifted next to him and he inhaled a hopeless breath of the fresh night air.
“Well, here we are,” said Jeremiah.
“Yes. My parents got what they wanted,” muttered Sally. “You have a lovely farm, by the way.”
“I am glad you like it. It is yours, too.”
“Jeremiah, I know nothing about…”
“Don’t worry yourself. I have a guest room for you.”
“Oh… well, I will go unpack my bag now.”
The relief in her voice eased a bit of his tension. He had been correct to assume that she needed her own room. She left him alone beneath the starry skies and he watched her retreat. With a tiny build and a spritely gait, she appeared far too young to be anyone’s wife. He would probably be able to get away with going on the cattle drive with his friend Gabriel in the fall. She was in no position to tell him what to do.
With a satisfied smirk, he turned in for the night.