Leo is eight, and he prays every night that Heavenly Father will make him a boywife.
Leo is smart. He's skipped two grades and even so he's bored; the teachers let him read textbooks from the grades ahead in the back of the class. But he's small and he's clumsy and he likes playing horses with the girls more than he likes playing football with the boys. The other boys are large and confusing and they hurt him. He comes home from school with black eyes and scrapes and he doesn't tell his dad where they came from. He might still grow up to be a husband, and husbands are supposed to protect and defend their wives.
Men grow up to work construction or drive trucks or farm, and that scares Leo-- jobs outside that leave you sweaty and tired once you're done, jobs for large men who are good at sports, having to be around men who swear and spit and make him want to cry. Boywives get to read books, he's seen them. The books have shirtless men on the cover and he's not allowed to read them until he's bigger, although he doesn't know why he'd want to read them anyway. It doesn't seem like there's any math or science or history in them at all.
Maybe it makes more sense when you're a grownup.
Leo spends hours cuddling his little brother and sister, counting their toes and kissing their noses and reading them board books. He wants to play with his sister-wives' babies and read them stories and teach them their numbers and their colors and their letters. He wants it so badly it hurts.
You're not supposed to speculate about Heavenly Father's will. But Leo knows exactly who he wants Heavenly Father to choose for him: Marlo, four years older than him. Marlo found out some boys were hitting Leo and told them that next time they could pick on Marlo instead of picking on someone littler than them, and since then Leo has hardly had any black eyes. Marlo is brave and noble, like a hero in a storybook, and Leo wants to wear a white dress and marry Marlo and kiss him and be held by him and be sealed to him for eternity.
Leo is eight, and the prophet has just had a revelation, and he is the happiest boywife in the world.
Leo is ten, and he's stupid.
He's slow and stupid and it feels like he's thinking through molasses, and he has to read the page three or four times before it sinks in and he keeps making stupid mistakes on all his math problems and he never finishes all of his homework no matter how hard he tries.
His mom got pregnant when the baby was only five months old, and she's so tired, she's so so tired, and he has to help his mom watch the younger kids as soon as he gets home from school and then he's up all night with the baby so his mom can get some rest and-- he knows it's important to help out but he's so stupid.
He starts getting B's on tests. Then C's. Then D's. Then he fails, and the teachers start talking about holding him back a year.
His mother says, "it's all right. You were ahead already."
Leo is twelve and he doesn't go to school anymore. Boywives don't need to go to school. He'll learn everything he needs to learn from his mom, and she needs the help around the house, with all the kids.
He borrows the textbooks from a friend and tries to read them but he usually can't get more than a page in before he falls asleep.
Leo is fourteen, and he's awkward and gangly and somehow simultaneously too skinny and too fat and he has a big nose and acne and he tries not to imagine how disappointed his husband would be to get him.
He won't end up with one of the important families. Heavenly Father picks, but somehow Heavenly Father ends up picking the most beautiful girls and boywives for the most powerful men. Boywives don't ever wind up being a man's first wife; the first wife should be capable of having children.
He doesn't dream, anymore, of marrying Marlo, except at night, when his hands are between his legs and he's doing something he's pretty sure a good boywife is not at all supposed to do.
He hopes for an older man. Someone kind, gentle, understanding. Patient with him, if he wants to go slow. A man whose other wives would be understanding. A man whose children are all old enough to sleep through the night, and whose wives are too old to have more, so he can get some rest.
Leo is sixteen, and he's not married yet. His mother says that Heavenly Father knows she needs the help. Leo suspects the shy awkward ugly boywife who keeps falling asleep during church is not as popular as one might hope.
The textbooks have gathered dust, but sometimes late at night he can think, and he knows his Bible and his Book of Mormon well enough to think about them even when the baby has been crying for three hours, and he has... questions.
He tells his mother that he's taking the toddlers to the library today, and he lets them play in the children's section, and he searches on the Internet for "questions about Mormonism" and then "questions about Mormonism atheist" and he reads and his stomach sinks to the floor.
Leo is sixteen and Marlo has disappeared with Malcolm LaBaron's boywife and he thinks: "why couldn't that be me?"
Leo is sixteen seventeen eighteen and he's not brave enough to leave the only life he's known to go out into the real world, the world of sex and drugs and sin, where he'd have to be one of those real men whom he still doesn't understand at all and who still scare him to no end, to work construction and take care of a family and have opinions about sports, the world where it matters that he's stupid and slow and can't think right. And he thinks about it all the time but he's not brave enough for the other way out either.
Leo is eighteen and Malcom LaBaron keeps looking at him at church and Malcolm's fifty years old and has three wives and six babies and Leo knows Heavenly Father is going to give the prophet a revelation soon and the thought of touching the man makes him want to throw up and he knows what his life is going to be--
Leo is eight, and he prays every night that Heavenly Father will make him a boywife.
He thinks a word he's probably not supposed to know.
"To Malcolm LaBaron?"
It's not... a surprise.
He didn't expect to be happy about getting engaged, not for years.
It still hurts.
And then the preschooler decides to try to eat dog poop and Leo does not have time to worry about it at all.
"They're marrying another boy off to Malcolm," Sasha says over breakfast. "He's — a little older than me."
He reaches out and takes Sasha's hand and — doesn't know what to say.
"If we go back —"
"I don't want to either but I can't let that happen to someone else."
"Okay." Squeeze. "Okay, we'll make it work, it'll be different —"
"You've got me and I've got you and I'm not fifteen anymore and it'll be different."
Leo feels like he's floating six inches to the left of his body.
At night he imagines Marlo coming for him, saying that he's always known who Leo was and always loved him and now he's come to rescue him and they can go to Salt Lake City and never ever have to go to church again and Leo will never have to change another diaper, and then Marlo kisses him and he knows sex is supposed to hurt but Marlo is so good and sweet that he imagines it would feel nice, with Marlo.
He hears a branch scraping against the outside of their trailer and he imagines it's Marlo coming to rescue him.
Malcolm takes him out for long walks. It's-- fine. It's fine. Leo is too stupid to remember the beginnings of Malcolm's sentences by the time he gets to the end of them. He doesn't love Malcolm and Malcolm doesn't love him but maybe that'll be okay, he'll help with the babies and maybe Malcolm won't bother him too much. He likes women more than men, he has enough children.
Going back feels right and feels wrong, all at once.
He's public about it. Informs the church that he will come back, with Sasha, for good, on the condition that he marries Lev and stays married to Sasha and nobody else is married to Malcolm, ever. They'd wanted him for a position in the church since he was twelve, his family has connections, this will work, he believes it as hard as he can.
He holds Sasha so so tightly at night, and — they figure out how to make the move go as smoothly as it can.
People are whispering about him and staring when he's at church.
It is very, very uncomfortable.
He doesn't know what's happening.
Being in church again feels familiar-but-wrong in exactly the way that gets under his skin the worst.
He sits in the front row where he always sat, Sasha next to him, and smiles and nods to people and looks happy to be there.
(People are staring at them. At Marlo for having his hair long enough to tie back — at Sasha for having his hair obviously cut, it's grown out enough that you can't tell he cut it himself in the bathroom with scissors but it only goes down to his shoulders now — at both of them for being back. Marlo does his best to ignore it.)
At least being stared at is a break from worrying about getting married to Malcolm!
After church he goes to his mother and-- doesn't ask. Just picks up the two-year-old and answers his questions about the sky near his mother.
If you're marrying someone you have to talk to them first. That's the rule, it's a good rule, even if being in this building makes his skin crawl.
He looks for Leo after church is over, smiles at him when he finds him.
Why is Marlo smiling at him.
Why is Marlo here.
he's come to rescue you no don't be an idiot
"Hi," he says, like he likes being here. "Do you want to go on a walk?"
Even just getting out of this building will be better.
His voice squeaks.
"I can take your brother," says Sasha, and reaches out for him.
Marlo is talking to him why is Marlo talking to him
He hands Sasha his brother and tries not to think about the possibility that there's a pickup truck somewhere out behind the church and they're going away--
Once they're outside he says "I don't know if you'd been told, but in case you haven't — Malcolm isn't marrying you. I am."
He stares up at Marlo like Marlo is a winning lottery ticket.
"--No one told me. Maybe my mother was going to after church."
"I'm glad I did, then," and he's smiling. "It'll just be you and me and Sasha, I know that'll be a change."
oh god no babies he'll be able to sleep through the night he'll be able to have a complete thought--
"That sounds nice. Although of course I won't be-- jealous, or anything, when you decide to marry a woman."
"I don't expect that to happen," and if it does Sasha knows he has to make me leave this town immediately, "but I'll keep that in mind for if it ever does."