My sister, Miriam, linked her arm in the crook of mine and sighed. Nephi was running through the market, headed in our direction.
“Speak of the devil and he shall appear.” I giggled. She elbowed me in the ribs and whispered, “Do not embarrass me, Abigail.”
Nephi halted in front of us, his face red and his breath shallow. “Your father said you must come quickly! The baby is almost here.”
“Oh, thank you, Nephi,” I said.
“Yes, thank you,” Miri replied, her voice shaky.
“You are most welcome.” He grinned at her. As we stepped past him to start home, he reached out and gave both our braids a nice tug.
“Ouch!” Miri and I yelped.
Nephi chuckled as he ran the other direction.
“See, I told you he liked you,” I said to my sister as we hurried through the crowded street.
“Why? Because he pulled my braid?” She scowled.
I nodded, smirking.
“How does that mean that he likes me?” Her eyes had turned hopeful.
“Thirteen year old boys are thick.” I tapped my forehead. “Believe me, in a few years he’ll be dropping flowers at your feet. He doesn’t know how to handle those feelings yet and he’s probably as mortified of you knowing how he feels as you are. So he pulls your braid.” I shrugged.
Her forehead furrowed. “But he pulled your braid, too.” Her eyes went wide. “Maybe he likes you.”
I laughed and shook my head. “No, he pulls my braid because he does not want to single you out. If he only pulled your braid when I was standing next to you that would be almost like admitting his feelings for you.”
“Oh.” She sighed again and lost herself in thought for a moment.
"Which boy do you wish would pull your braid?” she asked, studying my face.
"No one,” I said a little too fast. “I’m too old for that.”
“You’re only thirteen, like Nephi. Only a year older than me."
My face turned red, but I said nothing.
“I see you looking at Sam. I know how you feel."
“Sam who?” I laughed, my voice shaking.
She threw a hand to her forehead and swooned. “Oh, Sam, will you please tug my braid."
Now I elbowed her in the ribs. “Don’t be ridiculous.”
We were finally home and not a moment too soon. A baby’s cry rang through the air. Miri and I ran through the door to see Father pacing, with our little sister, Isabel, urging him to sit down. Two of our older sisters, Leah and Rachel—named after Jacob’s wives—were helping mother in the birthing room. Hannah was working on the evening meal.
“The baby is here, Father. Everything is fine. Sit down,” I coaxed. He looked into my eyes, his face softening and nodded. He sat down on the chair. He leaned his head into his hands and began muttering.
The bedroom door burst open and Leah rushed out. “It’s a girl!”
I glanced at Father, waiting. He threw his head back, thrust his arms toward the ceiling. “Why do you keep sending me daughters? No more daughters!” He leapt to his feet and ran to the bedchamber.
Miri looked dejected. I giggled. Her eyes shot to mine. “What are you laughing about?” she hissed. “He doesn’t want us.”
I laughed harder. “Of course he wants us. He does not love us more or less than our brothers. Didn’t you see? He ran in there to meet his new daughter. It only took him a moment to gather his wits.”
“Why does God keep sending girls to this family?” Miri asked.
“Yes, why? Girls are not important,” Isabel, my seven year old sister asked.
I sat down beside her and put my arm around her. “Why ever would you think such a thing?”
“Because the scriptures only talk of men,” she said.
I threw my head back and laughed. “That’s because men wrote the scriptures. If females had written them, they would have been so much more interesting.”
Miri’s face turned ashen. “You blaspheme, Abigail!”
I rolled my eyes. “Have a little fun with me. How would the scriptures be different if women had the choice of what to include?”
Isa bounced on her knees. “Less war and more romance.”
I clapped. “Yes, it would be every girl’s favorite book. Instead, the only romance we get is poor Jacob who had to work seven years and then is tricked into marrying Leah. Then he has to work seven more years for Rachel’s hand.”
“Don’t forget Queen Esther,” Isa said.
“True, Isa. And you see, those are our favorite stories,” I said smugly.
“But God told the prophets to include what He thought was important,” Miri added, probably trying to protect us from being struck down.
“I agree, Miriam.” I smiled. “But I think we girls sometimes feel like God doesn’t love us as much and I can’t believe that’s true.”
Isabel looked at me with her trusting eyes, waiting for more.
I crouched in front of her and said, as if I was telling a great secret, “I think girls have miracles every day, they just aren’t written in the scriptures.”
“Really?” Isa replied.
“Have you had any miracles?” she asked.
“No, but I will.”
I had to. I just had to.
* * * * *
“What are we naming her?” I asked, as I stared into my new sister’s sleeping face. I nudged her soft cheek with my nose and inhaled.
“Sarah,” Mother replied from the bed.
“We are running out of girl names,” Father said.
“No, we’re not, Ishmael. It is fine.”
Sarah stretched in my arms and let out an ear-piercing cry.
“Bring her to me,” Father urged. I placed the baby in his arms. He leaned down and pressed his lips to her cheek. I could imagine how it must feel—his beard brushing up against her skin. She calmed instantly.
“Abigail, I want you to walk out to Lehi’s house and let Sariah know that the baby is
here,” Mother said.
“Can’t Miriam do it?” I asked. She would enjoy the task so much more than I would.
“No, Miri is helping Hannah prepare the evening meal. I want you to go now, please.”
“Yes, Mother.” I leaned down and kissed her forehead, sending a silent prayer
to God for preserving her through one more childbirth.
As I walked toward Lehi’s house, my stomach tensed and my heart thudded against my ribs. It was this way every time I knew I was going to see Sam. I always wondered—Will today be the day? Has my time come? Will he finally notice me?
By the time I reached their vineyard my hands had turned clammy. My calves burned as I climbed the hill toward their house.
I was at the last row of trees, almost to their yard when I heard a snarly voice.
“Well, if it isn’t Gabby, Abby!” Shana ben Levi said. I groaned inside.
Everyone knew Shana had eyes for Sam, and any girl who threatened that was destined to be humiliated.
I glanced over to see her and Sam standing next to a tree. I must have interrupted their time together. I felt the dread rise in my throat.
Sam leaned away from her, embarrassed at her words. “Shalom, Abigail.” I hated the way he was always so formal with me. I glanced into his dark brown eyes, looking for something. But there was nothing.
“What brings you all the way out here?” Shana asked, eyeing me up and down like she wanted to devour me for dinner.
“I…I’m…” I couldn’t remember why I’d come. I could feel my face flushing.
“Did your mother have the baby?” Sam prodded.
“Yes, could you please tell your parents?”
“Of course,” he said with a smile. A tiny dimple appeared beside his mouth and my heart jumped. I felt my face turning even redder. Shana was smirking now, a knowing look in her eyes. I needed to get out of there before the dog attacked.
“I have to go,” I said to them. I turned and started down the road, trying to escape Shana’s steely glare.
“Isn’t that cute? She’s got a crush on you, Sam!” she said when I was still well within hearing range.
“Leave her alone!” he hissed. "She's just a little girl."
I sped up, the tears burning at the back of my eyelids. A little girl? I was only two years younger than him.
Shana again. “She could hardly look at you. Did you see the color of her face?” I could barely hear her now. “It was the color of a beet!” she laughed.
I broke into a run. I flew down the road, lifting my robe so I wouldn’t trip over the hem. Mother would be horrified if she saw how much leg I was showing, but I didn’t care. I ran harder than I ever had in my life. When I got to the road that would take me back home I didn’t turn. Instead, I kept running straight, out of town.
Once I reached old Aharona’s olive grove on the fringes of the countryside, I turned, losing myself between the branches of the trees. My legs flew, brushing over and over against the cloth I was wearing. I was almost there. Finally, I found the tree I was looking for. It had a twist in it, perfect for me to sit and get lost from the view of any passersby. I crawled up the trunk until I was tucked into the crook of the branch. I tucked my knees up against my chest and began to cry as the breeze swirled my dark hair around my face. I sat that way until long after the dinner hour. Then I began to talk to myself.
“Why do I feel this way inside?” I whispered. “I hate that I’ve always cared for Sam. He only hurts me.” I sobbed. Sam ben Lehi was not the type of boy who would hurt any one knowingly, yet my heart broke every time I saw him because he did not see me the way I saw him. I’d tried everything to get rid of these feelings, feelings I’d had for as long as I could remember, but they seemed to be stuck.
“Dear Heavenly Father, the God of all Miracles, please help me. Please free me from these feelings,” I cried, tears now dripping off my chin. “I want it to stop!”
The breeze died suddenly.
“Be still,” I heard a voice whisper.
My head jerked up and I looked around to see who’d said it. But there was no one in the grove. I leaned my head back against the rough bark and closed my eyes. It came again.
“Be still, Abigail. These feelings are for a wise purpose.” I squeezed my eyes tighter, disbelieving this was happening to me. “One day Sam will love you and you will be his wife.”
My eyes flew open; searching one more time to be sure this voice wasn’t being spoken by someone playing a cruel trick on me. But I already knew from where the voice had come, because no mere human could place in my chest the peace that was now burning inside of me.
I sat in the tree for a while longer, my tears now drying up; my sorrow turned to happiness, waiting to be sure the miracle was over. When I was sure, I jumped down out of the tree and took off running for home.
God spoke to me!
* * * * *
When I neared my home, I heard my mother’s voice break out into a wail through the open window. My stomach tensed. Something was wrong!
I rounded the corner of the house and almost ran into Sam, sitting on the doorstep, blocking my path. He jumped up.
“Oh, sorry! Abigail, I…” he started. When he looked into my face—I’m sure still red from my crying—his expression turned ashamed.
“Not now, Sam.” I had to get to my mother. I brushed past him.
He followed me through the door, my heart racing from the fact that he was actually trying to talk me and from the fact that something inside wasn’t right.
“Abby! Where have you been?” Miri cried. Her expression was panicked.
“What’s wrong?” I asked. She grabbed my hand and led me to the room where we greeted guests. Sam was right behind me.
“This is foolishness!” my father bellowed to Lehi.
“No, it is not,” Lehi said. “For many years I have felt that Jerusalem will be destroyed. The Lord has told me that my family must leave or we will be killed.”
“They are leaving?” I whispered to Miri. She nodded as she wiped her cheeks with her sleeve.
“For good. They are never to return,” she whispered.
“Where are they going?” I asked.
She shrugged. “To some promised land that God has saved for them. It means that we will never see them again!”
I slid my arm around her waist. She leaned her head on my shoulder. I glanced over at Nephi, who was watching her. He glanced away. He did not look happy, but he did look resolved.
What did this mean? How could I marry Sam when he was leaving, never to return? Had the feeling I just had really been from God?
For over an hour, Lehi tried to persuade my Father to go with them. But Father would not agree. “My wife just had a baby." ”We have no provisions! We can’t leave all of our possessions!” On and on it went.
“Then it is time for goodbyes,” Lehi said, defeated.
Mother stood first, pulling Sariah against her. They began to sob. I felt a tear slide out of the corner of my lid. I brushed it away.
Nephi stepped in front of Miri and I. “Goodbye,” was all he said. His forehead was creased, and I could tell he was holding back the tears.
Miri grabbed him and pulled him into a fierce hug. His eyes flew open but his arms slid around her. He hugged her tightly for just a second. Then he stepped back.
I hugged him, too. Nephi had always been one of my favorite people, and I would never see him again. Another tear trickled down my cheek.
We hugged them all, one by one.
Finally, Sam stood in front of me. He grabbed me by the elbow and led me to a corner of the room.
“Abigail, I wanted to apologize for earlier, for what Shana said,” he whispered.
I held my hand up to stop him. “It’s fine. Really, I’m alright. You shouldn’t waste your time worrying about me,” I nodded.
He gazed into my eyes for a second, and I knew what he was doing. He was trying to figure out if Shana knew what she was talking about, to find out if I did have a crush on him. I kept my expression as neutral as possible. Finally, he nodded too.
I held out my hand. He grabbed it tightly and we shook.
“Good luck…with everything,” I said, fighting the tears that were determined to fall.
“You too." Then he turned and walked out the door.
So much for miracles.
* * * * *
One Year, One Month and 6 days later
“Can you girls hear me?” I heard a soft, deep voice calling from the edge of my dreams.
I sat up in my bed with a jolt and leaned my head toward the window.
“Girls, are you up there?” it called again.
It sounded oddly familiar, but I couldn’t place the voice.
I heard the person mutter to someone else. “I’ll try one more time.” It sounded too normal to belong to someone menacing.
My curiosity got the best of me. I ran to the window and stuck my head out. My hair cascaded down to my waist. I looked down, thankful that it was a full moon, so I could see.
Two figures stood below me. My eyes narrowed, trying to focus.
“Nephi? Is that you?’ I whispered.
He nodded, craning his neck to look at me. He was grinning wide. My eyes darted to his left.
“Sam?” I cried too loud. They chuckled.
“Hello,” he said. He was staring at me with this odd look on his face, like I was someone he’d never met.
“Are you back for good?” I asked them.
Nephi shook his head. “No, we came to obtain the plates of brass from Laban. Father wants to have those records before we go any further in our journey. Sam and I only have a few moments before we have to go.” He smiled.
“Let me wake, Miriam. She will be so happy to see you."
A few moments later, I returned with a groggy Miri.
“Nephi?” she laughed softly.
“Hello.” His voice floated up.
“I can’t believe you’re here,” she laughed again.
“They’re not staying,” I whispered.
“Oh.” Her voice was disappointed and I knew that for one second, she had hoped.
“I brought you something, from the sea,” Nephi said. He reached out, showing us an object in his hand. He lobbed it toward us. Miri missed it, but I caught it.
I held out my hand and gave it to Miri. It was a starfish.
“Oh, it’s beautiful!” she said.
“You’re by the ocean?” I asked, looking at Sam. I figured I might as well take this opportunity lest I never get the chance again.
He nodded, still staring at me with that strange look on his face.
“Do you see many people there?” I asked, wondering if he was betrothed.
“Sometimes, but usually it’s just us."
“You look different,” Miri said to Nephi. “Hairier.” She laughed. They both needed a haircut.
“So do you. You look…really good,” Nephi said, and even in the muted light I could see Miri’s cheeks flush.
“We better go,” Nephi said.
“Will you be back again?” Miri asked.
Nephi shook his head. “No, I don’t think so. Don’t forget me.”
“I could never forget you, Nephi,” Miri’s voice shook.
I glanced at Sam once more. “Go with God.”
“We will. Shalom, Abigail.”
Then they darted into the night. I could feel Miri sobbing silently next to me. I guided her back to her bed.
“He must think of you, often,” I tried to comfort her. “He brought you a starfish.”
“It was for both of us.” She sniffled.
“No, it was for you."
“Did you see the way Sam was looking at you? I think he fell in love on the spot.” She laughed through her tears.
But I didn’t laugh. “He’s delirious from the journey.”
She reached for me. I gripped her hand as she cried herself back to sleep.
Miri had only hoped for a short moment, but it took her months to shake the despair she felt from losing Nephi after she thought he might have returned. As for me, I was more confused than ever.
The next year was full of the same old things; baking, cleaning, prayers. Nothing was happening, and I was beginning to believe it had all been in my mind. I prayed everyday to understand God’s will, wishing to feel that same peace I’d felt so long ago. Then, when I’d almost given up hope, I came home from the market one day to find Sam standing in my house, along with Nephi, Laman, Lemuel and Zoram.
“What can I say to convince you?” Lemuel pled with my father, eyeing Leah.
“Nothing! We are not coming!” my father bellowed.
“We must have wives.” Laman's voice was earnest. “And your family is full of daughters.”
“Then you will have to find some where you are going,” Father said.
“There are no women where we are going,” Zoram said.
“Why would God tell you to go somewhere where there are no people?” Father asked.
Lemuel’s face turned rigid, angry. Nephi held up a hand to stop him.
He spoke calmly, looking my father in the eye. “This is what God wants you to do, Ishmael. Can’t you feel that? He wants your family to come with us. To be a part of this new, promised land. It is a land flowing with milk and honey, saved for this purpose and you are supposed to be a part of it. Will you deny that peace that you are feeling right now?”
Father opened his mouth to respond but Mother cut him off. “I feel it, Ishmael. Nephi is right. We are supposed to do this,” she said.
“But you love Jerusalem!”
“And what good will that do me when it is destroyed? My family and my God are the most important things to me. Listen to your heart.”
Father stared at her for a moment before he stormed out of the room, muttering the whole way about how we had all lost our minds.
Miri looked exuberant, her eyes sparkling like all her dreams had come true. Nephi grabbed her by the hands, pulling her to the corner so they could talk.
Lemuel too began talking to Leah. They began breaking off in pairs, couples. The men had already worked this out in their minds—who they would end up with. Sam glanced at me nervously and took one step toward me, but I turned away. I ran to my room and shut the door. I lay back on my bed and stared at the ceiling.
I didn’t like this. Not one bit! Was this the only way God could assure me as Sam’s wife? It was like I was Sam’s…Leah. I wasn’t what he wanted, I was just what he was going to get because he had no other choice. Well, I wouldn’t do it! I would rather never marry at all.
A few minutes later Miri came and told me that Father had ‘come to his senses’ and we were leaving as soon as we gathered provisions. Zoram and the sons of Lehi stayed with us all day, helping us prepare. Every time Sam approached me, I turned away from him. That night we stood in the courtyard securing our pack animals.
“What will we do with Sarah?” Mother asked Father. Sarah was still too little to walk very fast, and Mother was again with child. Father was getting old, and I worried for his health.
“I will carry her,” I said.
“Are you sure? I can do it,” Sam said, watching me carefully.
“No, she’s my sister. I’ll do it."
Father hefted Sarah on my back. I turned to look at my home for the last time. I wiped my tears quickly and fell in step behind Miri.
Sam stayed by my side, glancing at me every few moments. A few times, he tried to talk to me, but I was short with him. I did not want his hand because he lacked someone better to marry.
“Why don’t you let me take Sarah for a while?” he asked at least four times the first night.
“No, I’m fine.” I said even though I was exhausted. By mid-day most of the other couples were holding hands. I’d even seen Nephi give Miri a kiss on the cheek. Of course she was beaming. I felt the jealousy rise up.
Each day it went this way; everyone getting closer as Sam and I stayed an arms length apart. Everyday Sarah rode on my back while I refused any help. And then there was the matter of an uprising against Nephi, where certain people who will remain nameless, decided to bind him only to be humbled when he broke the bands. But that’s a story some man will include in the record.
After weeks of walking, we reached their camp.
* * * * *
“I won’t do it and you can’t make me!” I said to my Father.
Sam looked like I’d slapped him.
“Why not?” my father said.
“Think of what this means for you, Abby,” Mother tried. “You will remain single your whole life. You will never have children. You don’t want that.”
“I have thought of that. I will be a wonderful Aunt.”
“What is wrong that you will not take Sam as your husband?” Lehi said, looking frustrated and confused. “He is the logical choice for you. He is a good man! Everyone else has already chosen. You are the only two left. He’s two years older than you. It’s perfect.” That was exactly my problem. None of those reasons were good enough.
“He can wait for Isabel to grow up,” I said. Sam’s faced turned white at this.
“I have made my choice, and I know the consequences.” Then I turned on my heel and walked out of the tent.
I dashed past Miriam and Nephi who had been standing outside, listening to the conversation.
“Abby! What is going on? I don’t understand!” Miri called after me. But I did not stop. I ran down to the shore and took a long walk, talking to God the whole way. I don’t want Sam unless he loves me, I told Him.
I knew my parents were embarrassed by my behavior. They found me foolish; wanting love when I’d been born into a society of arranged marriages. But I couldn’t bear the thought of a lifetime with Sam if he didn’t love me. To love him so dearly while he felt nothing in return…it was too much.
When the sun started to set, I turned back for camp.
I came up over a hill to see Sam standing there skipping stones into the water. I spun around to leave.
“Abigail, I’ve been looking for you. I want to talk to you.” He grabbed me by the hand. I yanked it away and glared at him. “Please? We’re old enough to talk this out. We don’t need our parents to figure it out for us.” His eyes were soft.
I walked to a rock only big enough for myself and sat.
He knelt down next to me, his eyes tortured and confused. “Am I so awful that you can not marry me?”
I looked away. “Sam, it’s not like that.”
He grabbed my chin and pulled it back so I had to look him in the eye. “Then tell me what it’s like, because I don’t want to marry Isabel. She’s cute, but she’s nine.” It softened my heart and I laughed. His eyes lit up and he smiled.
But it didn’t change things.
“I just…I don’t….I don’t want to be Leah,” I stuttered.
His forehead furrowed. “What’s wrong with your sister?”
I shook my head. “No, Leah from the Bible.”
He stared at me for a moment. His face lit up with understanding. “Ah, you want to be Rachel.”
My face flushed, and I nodded. I jerked my chin away and laid my forehead into the palm of my hand.
“You want a love story,” he whispered. I nodded again.
“You’re expecting a lot from a wilderness expedition where you’ve only got one man to choose from.” He chuckled.
I shot my eyes back to him. “I don’t care if I’m expecting a lot. That’s what I want and if I don’t get that, then I don’t want anything.”
I looked away again, my arms folded across my chest as I stared into the distance.
“What if I told you that I’ve thought about you every day since Nephi and I came to see you last year?”
My heart thudded crazily. I looked back at him. “It’s probably just because you haven’t been around a girl in so long."
He laughed for a second before he exhaled. “That might be true, I don’t know. But I don’t think so.” He reached out and ran his thumb across my cheek. “I think it’s because you’re so beautiful, in every way. I just never noticed it before that night.”
Now I could feel my blood pounding in the back of my neck. I looked into his eyes as he continued.
“And when we found out that we were coming back for your family, I chose you first before any of my brothers had a chance to. Laman was talking about you, and I put a stop to that,” he said, gazing into my eyes.
“You did?” He nodded.
I stared at him for a long moment.
He cleared his throat. “Aren’t you going to say something back? Like how you’re madly in love with me?” His eyes were hopeful.
“I’m madly in love with you,” I whispered staring right into his eyes.
“I know, Miriam already told me." I smacked him in the arm, and he laughed, his eyes twinkling.
Then his face turned serious. “I’ve been watching you these weeks, and I’m certain of one thing. I like you more than I’ve ever liked any other girl. A lot more. I don’t know exactly how Jacob felt about Rachel, but I’m sure it must have started something like this.”
I nodded. It was good enough for me.
He stood and offered me his hand. “Should we find out together?”
I took his hand in mine. And squeezed.