And Saul said, I will give him [Michal], that she may be a snare to him, and that the hand of the Philistines may be against him. Wherefore Saul said to David, Thou shalt this day be my son in law...
1 Samuel 18:21
The lace throw on the back of Barb's couch is faded with age, yellowed at the edges. Nicki's grandmother made it, her painstaking stitches visible in the dying light. Nicki runs her hand over it, tattered edges of memory curling under her fingertips. She's never learned lace-making, nor too many of the other old arts. Seemed too time-consuming in a world with catalog shopping and UPS. Handiwork belonged to Mama and the wives. They used to buzz about, a constant hum she never noticed until it was gone and she started to miss it.
Nicki didn't bring enough of Juniper Creek with her; she knows that now. Her biggest reminder of home is herself. She stands defiant against the tidal wave of modern opinion: in the world, but not of it. She knows the neighbors stare at her long hair and modest skirts, but she doesn't care. No, in her heart she knows that's not true: she does care. She delights in her difference. She is one of the true saints, albeit lost in this worldly wilderness.
It's hard being the wife of strangeness and obligation, but that doesn't change the fact that she is a wife. And a wife must cleave to her husband, even if her father may have had other intentions when sending her out into Satan's den of iniquity, away from her people and their ways...
"Penny for your thoughts?" Barb asks, settling on the couch and clasping her hand over Nicki's. Warmth spreads through Nicki's arm and settles in the pit of her belly. She feels less like an alien with Barb holding her hand.
"Just thinking about how different things are here," Nicki says. She rests her cheek against Barb's and breathes in her scent. Barb is too kind to be a Jezebel, even if she adorns herself in an unseemly fashion, skirts all the way up to her knees. After three months of living here, Nicki's stopped thinking Barb looks strange. She's just Barb.
And He said, "Hagar, Sarai's maid, where have you come from, and where are you going? She said, "I am fleeing from the presence of my mistress Sarai."
Nicki stands at her bedroom window, fingering the sill with the paint she didn't choose. It's been six months since her wedding, but it still doesn't feel like this is her home; it belongs to Barb and Bill. Everything seems tilted at a strange angle, like she's on some wooden ship of old, the deck shifting under her feet.
She wants to get in her car and drive back to Juniper Creek, past low scrubby brush and sere landscape to the security of the compound. Yes, God has sent her here, by Papa's word and blessing, but she feels like Hagar, Abram's Egyptian bondswoman. Her father has cast her forth into this land of strangers, and she wants nothing more than to run home to him.
Dragging a stiff-sided suitcase out from under the bed, she dumps the contents of her undergarment drawer into it. Untidy chaste cotton mocks her with the reminder that a good wife is sealed to her husband for all eternity. Nowhere to run.
The rumble of a car under her window breaks Nicki's reverie. Barb parks her station wagon in front of the house, and gets out, singing along to the radio as she takes Teenie out of her car seat. Nicki dries her tears and goes down to open the door. Teenie squirms out of Barb's grasp in that indignant way kids do when they've learned to walk. Barb sets down her purse and looks critically at Nicki.
"Everything okay?" she asks.
Nicki takes in Barb's warm smile and tired eyes. She's still not well, the treatments for her cancer taking their toll, though today is a better day than most. Add in a toddler, and that's a difficult row to hoe. But will Barb take Nicki's news hard?
"I am blessed with child," Nicki says, ducking her head and stumbling over her words, she's trying to get them out so fast.
Barb's smile doesn't falter, and she embraces Nicki gently. It's almost like she doesn't mind that Nicki will be the only one giving Bill children now. And maybe she doesn't; they are one family, links in a chain stretching behind them and before them. Nicki squeezes Barb, and if she's crying just a little, these are happy tears.
And it came to pass, that in the morning, behold, it was Leah: and [Jacob] said to Laban, What is this thou hast done unto me? did not I serve with thee for Rachel? wherefore then hast thou beguiled me?
Nicki sections an orange, pours some black coffee, and butters some toast before arranging it all on a tray and bringing it upstairs. Barb is sitting up in bed, her eyes tracking Nicki's movements.
"You didn't have to bring me breakfast in bed," she says, her voice raspy with sleep. "Did the kids get off to school?"
"Bus picked them up a few minutes ago," Nicki says, settling the tray over Barb's lap.
Barb sips the coffee as Nicki busies herself about the room, picking up yesterday's pajamas and Sarah's discarded toys. Silence hangs heavy in the air between them, a thread that Barb suddenly snaps.
"Why are you being so kind? I know this can't be what you wanted in a marriage. Second wife to a man who didn't--"
"I know I'm the Leah to your Rachel," Nicki said, rubbing her eyes with the heel of her hand. "You didn't expect to have a sister-wife any more than you thought you'd get cancer."
She keeps her back to the bed. The window is streaked with heaven's downpour, and the ground is wet with matted leaves sticking to the ground.
"You're right; this isn't what I bargained for when I married Bill. But you're not an obligation. You're a blessing."
Nicki turns back from the window. Conflicting emotions war within her, but she sees the unexpected and it gives her pause. Tray on the nightstand, Barb reaches for her. Nicki is drawn by the inexorable tug of need, that bond between women tied together through men's choices and their own longing.
She kicks off her slippers and climbs into bed with Barb, who wraps a strong arm about her. Nicki buries her face in Barb's shoulder, breathing deeply. The baby flutters in her belly, and she smiles. This is home now.
And Ruth said, Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God...
"This is what it means to live the principle," Nicki says earnestly. "We have a new sister-wife. I changed my vote so we'd all be happy."
Barb doesn't look convinced. She's been in a mood ever since the wedding, and now that Bill and Margene are off at a hotel in Salt Lake City, Barb is downright cranky. Rooting around under the sink, she comes up with a bottle. A sinful bottle, by the look of it.
"You know what, Nicki? I'm going to have a glass of wine. Maybe more than a glass. And I don't want to hear anything about it."
After Barb's second glass, she's smiling again. Nicki feels guilty for letting her drink, but can't suppress her curiosity when Barb pours more wine into the same glass and pushes it across the kitchen table towards Nicki. A sip, and then another. A warm burn that lingers, and a heaviness in her head. She's sinning, but it's with Barb, and that's a place she wants to be.
They end up on the couch in front of the TV, some black and white movie flickering at the edge of Nicki's perception. Nicki kicks the bottle over on the carpet, but it's empty. Barb's moment of panic launches them into another fit of giggles and turns into mock fury when Barb realizes there is no need for alarm.
Nicki sticks out her tongue at Barb, then nuzzles her neck. This togetherness feels right, her hand at the small of Barb's back, Barb's fingers trailing along Nicki's waist. Barb bites her lip, and Nicki can't resist kissing her. Barb's lips are soft and pliable, and Nicki parts them, flicking Barb's tongue with her own.
Nicki's heard whispered stories, yeah, and they aren't the first sister-wives to find comfort together. God looks after His own.
But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me.
Assuredly Bill is the head of the family, just as Christ is the head of the church. But when Margie doesn't do her chores and Nicki has to pick up the slack, it's Barb to whom she brings her complaints.
"Margie was supposed to watch the boys today, and I came back to a total mess," Nicki says.
"We all have to pitch in and help, Nicki."
Barb dispenses wisdom like it's on a two-for-one sale, but Nicki isn't listening to her admonitions. She's heard them all before; patience with their youngest sister-wife, the shared burden of plural marriage, and all that. Nicki's just watching Barb's face: eyes lighting up, smile fading into seriousness and then breaking anew.
The realization, when it comes, isn't quick or sudden, but slow like dawn: Nicki loves this woman. She nods in agreement with Barb's carefully made points, then touches Barb's arm.
"I don't know what I'd do without you, Barb."
There's a long pause, and Nicki freezes. Has she gone too far? Does Barb not want to be reminded of that night, months ago, when they were so close? Is Barb ashamed?
Her heart leaps and then calms when Barb smiles and rests her hand on Nicki's.
"Oh, Nicki. You have me for time and all eternity."