“WHAT are you doing?”
The yell made Elizabeth jump to her feet and face her husband, eyes on the floor. The list and pen were both still in her hands and the bag lay opened and half-packed on the bed. She hadn’t heard him come home, but she hadn’t been doing anything wrong. He had never once forbidden her to put clothes in a bag.
“I’m…getting ready to go to Drighton. I have to move in a little over two weeks,” Elizabeth explained in a whisper.
“Excuse me?” Benjamin hissed, approaching her.
She felt him standing close and tried to keep her voice even. “Drighton…the college I’m going to. I have to move there in two weeks.”
He grabbed the list out of her hand and pushed her so she was sitting on the bed again. “Did I ever say you could go off to college?”
“I’ve already been accepted. My Rose Angel and everyone else wanted me to go there. I…I thought this is what I’m supposed to do,” she stuttered.
Benjamin studied the list that detailed everything Elizabeth needed to remember to take to school with her. Even though she wasn’t holding it anymore, she could still picture it in her head—her bookbag, enough clothes to get through a week or two, bedding, her Bible and notebook, her other Rose memorabilia. While she was still staring at her lap, she heard Benjamin spit on the paper. She winced as he ripped it into dozens of tiny pieces and threw it at her. He then pushed her bag and clothes off the bed so they were in a disgruntled pile on the floor.
“I don’t think so, wife,” he said, grabbing her by her wrists and pulling her to her feet.
“What?” Elizabeth gasped, trying to wiggle out of his grasp.
Benjamin leaned closer to her, so his nose was almost touching hers. “You heard me. You’re not going to Drighton. You don’t need college. Your job is to be a wife and have babies…although, you’re not doing very well at that either.”
“But…but my parents already paid for first semester’s tuition…” she said, still struggling in her husband’s hands.
The slap was painfully loud. It echoed off the walls and resounded in every corner of the small cottage. Elizabeth crumpled as much as she could while Benjamin was still clinging to her wrist, but the wrist he had let go of to smack her was merely dangling hopelessly. She sobbed, tears dripping down her cheeks. She knew his hand had left an imprint on her face, as it usually did, but she didn’t touch it in defense.
“I have no family on the outside,” she whispered finally.
“And are you going to Drighton?” he growled, lifting her one arm higher, her body following it up.
“No, husband,” Elizabeth gasped in both pain and tears. “I will stay here as commanded and work to please you.”
“Good choice.” Benjamin then grabbed the wrist he had dropped, spun Elizabeth around, and pushed her face-first into the pile of clothes on the bedroom floor. “Clean up that mess you made and then kneel in the corner and pray until I tell you to stop.”
“Y-yes, husband,” she mumbled from the floor.
When she finally heard him stomping around the kitchen, that was the moment she allowed herself to fully sob. But she only cried for a moment before she stopped and began cleaning up her clothes. Her nose was bleeding, but she didn’t do anything about it. She let it bleed as she retreated to the corner of the bedroom, knelt down, and began to pray for however long Benjamin decided was necessary.
For the first time since she was wedded to Benjamin, he let her leave the colony. He told her she could leave with Jacqueline and Morgan for only an hour, and then she had better come back or else. She didn’t ask what the “or else” was, but she knew it would be painful. As she walked out of the colony, she reflected that it was her eighteenth birthday today. No one had said a single word about this, not that she had expected much from Benjamin, but even Sandra hadn’t remembered. In wake of this, however, not a single tear or feeling of frustration crept into Elizabeth’s system. She was completely emotionless and the fact that her birthday had gone unrecognized was barely of any importance to her anymore.
Elizabeth met the other two on the very park bench that she and Morgan had sat on all those months ago when they had decided joining the Children had been a good thing. She could feel both of them staring at her face, which was bruised and scarred from the Drighton argument the night before, but she didn’t look up at their faces.
“What did he do to you?” Jacqueline whispered.
“Slapped me,” Elizabeth said into her lap after she had sat down on the bench. “I won’t be attending Drighton. Benjamin has determined that I do not need college, that I need to be focusing on my duties as a wife.”
“Is that dried blood?” Morgan whispered, pointing to Elizabeth’s nose.
“It’s nothing,” Elizabeth said, covering her nose with her hand. She had known she hadn’t gotten the blood cleaned up as well as she should have, but she decided she no longer cared. It wasn’t worth caring.
“So things are going well with Benjamin, are they?” Jacqueline asked, a sarcastic bite in her voice.
“Things are going fine. I just need to learn to stop making him mad. I should have known he wouldn’t approve of my going to Drighton. I mean, maybe if I had already gotten pregnant, but I’ve shirked my obligations to him and the Children. This is what I deserve.”
Morgan and Jacqueline exchanged a glance, but didn’t argue. Instead, Morgan said, “Have you heard from Aimee?”
“Not since she left two weeks ago,” Elizabeth answered, shaking her head. “I mean, you should have heard what she said to me. She doesn’t realize how…good…we’ve got it here, with Pastor Simon and the husbands and everyone. She doesn’t realize that she gave up her spot in Heaven. I could never do that.”
“You’ve got it good?” Morgan asked.
“Maybe Aimee had the right idea,” Jacqueline whispered. “I can’t bear to see you like this, Elizabeth. Husband or not, I can’t believe you just let Benjamin hit you.”
“It’s my duty, Jacqueline!” Elizabeth cried. “Don’t you get that? I made a vow. Nowhere in that vow did I say I would talk back to him. I vowed to obey. If I haven’t obeyed him, then he has every right to hit me, to make me pray in a corner for ten hours. He has every right to try to get me pregnant and he has every right to get mad if I don’t uphold my end of the process. He’s doing his job.”
“No man should hit his wife, don’t you get that?” Jacqueline mumbled.
“In the outside, that may be true. But in the Children, that’s not the case. The wives have a duty and made a vow. We all get that. We don’t fight the rules.”
“Maybe that’s the problem! Fight the rules, for crying out loud! You’re stronger than this, Elizabeth. Not once before now have you let someone treat you like this. If Gregory hit you, you’d hit back!” Jacqueline yelled.
Elizabeth finally looked up at her sister. “It’s not the same and you know it! Gregory is not my husband. And, besides, I have no family on the outside. It’s…it’s not the same.”
“Did Benjamin tell you that? That you have no family on the outside?” Morgan asked, for Jacqueline had fallen silent at these words.“It’s true. Benjamin is my family now. My duty is to him and him alone. Don’t you two get it? I have no choice.”