Promise Me

By: Cora Brent

PART ONE





“Remember, all men would be tyrants if they could.” -Abigail Adams



“Ditat Deus.” God enriches. -Arizona State Motto



“You are now beyond Hope.” Painted billboard outside Hope, Arizona.



“No man can judge me.” -Words tattooed on Grayson Mercado’s left shoulder.





Chapter One




The dress was beautiful. The women who were to be my sister wives had shopped for it in Phoenix. They’d meant it to be a kindness. The four of them presented the large box to me at my mother’s house the day before the wedding in the presence of my father and the Bishop, who was also my uncle. I accepted it with false gratitude and held it up to my body as they exclaimed over the sight in one voice. It was a lovely material, though plainly patterned with no embellishments. The sleeves were unfashionably long to accommodate the church’s modest requirements but the bodice was fitted and the skirt was full.

My mother brought her small dressing mirror and held it up so that I might see the way my red hair showed a stark contrast to the blindingly white fabric. The satin was soft against my skin and I knew it had to be expensive.

Yes, the dress was beautiful.

And I’d never hated anything more.

“Well, girl,” my uncle clucked me under the chin, “it’s been a long time coming and you’ll make a fine bride.”

My gaze swept the beaming faces. Only my younger sister, Jenny, lowered her eyes with sympathy. She was the only one who suspected the dread which consumed me over this arrangement. Winston Allred had first announced his intentions for me when I was Jenny’s age, sixteen. My father, at the command of his brother, had agreed.

But then several things happened at once. The state of Utah raided our sister city due to an anonymous tip that underage girls were being forced into plural marriages with men old enough to be their grandfathers. Families were separated and some of the prominent leaders of the Faithful Last Disciples and Saints were taken away. And though our town of Jericho Valley was across state lines, we knew the leaders of Phoenix eyed us suspiciously.

The men had tried to run off the media trucks which kept idling curiously through Jericho Valley. We’d always been taught that our fame came from envy. That the nation looked at us with the mysterious puzzlement of the covetous and desired the simple lives we enjoyed. The women who were chosen by the select few elders of the church were blessed to carry in their bodies the next generation of Faithful. The fact that they had no choice in the matter seemed scarcely relevant.

Also, there had been several tragic births in recent years. Joyous occasions turned to terrible ones. There was only one midwife in town who was able to tend nearly eight hundred women and she didn’t have too many years left in her.

Meanwhile, the attentions of the media and the looming threats of law enforcement were taking took its toll. My uncle pondered what to do. One of his own daughters, a wild and beautiful girl named Rachel, had left Jericho Valley in the dead of night only hours before she was to become the sixth wife of Emory Thayne. Her name, thereafter, was a curse.

I supposed the fact that they chose me had something to do with my father. He favored me among all his daughters. Though the girls of Jericho Valley were pulled out of school by their ninth year, I had always shown an academic aptitude and was easily tutored sufficiently to pass the high school exit tests. I supposed that was the other reason I was chosen.

It hadn’t mattered to me why at the time. Why I was selected. I was elated for the opportunity to attend the Hale College of Midwifery in Salt Lake City. My own mother had suffered a stillbirth in my childhood. She had nearly died herself of blood loss and shock. Once I completed the four years of training I would be enormously helpful to the exhausted women of Jericho Valley. More crucially, my marriage to Winston Allred would be postponed until I graduated.

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