I married Logan when I was thirteen.
He was thirteen as well. Just barely over the legal minimum. But that didn’t matter. We were old enough, so why complain? It was the only way we could survive.
There wasn’t anything particular I remember about that day, just that I was petrified. Hundreds of thousands of people were swarming at steps of the capital building. Most people were told to go to their town’s city hall, but I was living in a suburb of Minneapolis at the time, and our family was told to go straight to the capital.
I think it was summertime, but it was cold so who could tell anymore? Since the ships began blotting out the sun, every day required jackets and boots. We had been standing out there all day, Mom and Dad and me. They tried not to show it, but they were scared too. For once, they couldn’t tell me everything would be all right. The only glimmer of hope that ever came to their eyes was when they began calling names.
As we waited for them to reach the H names, we watched thousands of families turned into ravenous wolves who began screaming and gnashing when their leaders didn’t choose them. Most of them had to be removed forcefully. I remember one little girl being tugged away from the capital by a man dressed in riot gear. She wasn’t crying, but her cheeks were stained with what could only be tears. Just behind her was her family, being beaten to a pulp because they had tried to penetrate the building in a wave of fury.
My mother didn’t stop clutching my arm after that.
Now that I think about it, it wasn’t long after the little girl passed us that I first saw Logan. Perhaps in any other circumstance it would’ve been one of those sweet childhood moments where the girl and the boy see each other and instantly become smitten. Logan and I wouldn’t be that lucky though.
A couple of people had moved away when the little girl passed them, and in the new space created, Logan’s family took a step forward. I saw him and his mother who held a little toddler in her arms. There wasn’t a father to be seen.
A regular thirteen year old girl would’ve seen a reddish brown haired boy with olive eyes that were so deep and intelligent, you couldn’t help but wonder what he was thinking. What I saw was a boy with dark circles beneath his eyes and fingernails that had been chewed quite viciously. I wasn’t disgusted with his appearance. No, in fact, it comforted me. I wasn’t the only one being broken apart because of it all.
At first, Logan only looked at me once or twice, each glance quick and paranoid. But then he looked at me again, and for some reason, I smiled. I liked him already. Logan smiled back. He began looking at me a lot after that.
I wanted to go up to him. I almost had enough courage. Oh, what was I thinking? My life’s course would be determined in a matter of minutes, and all I could think about was going up and talking to a boy?
Go, don’t go. Go, don’t go.
“Jenna,” my mom whispered. She was squeezing my arm so hard, patches of my skin were turning purple. I looked to my dad, but his eyes were trained on the speaker at the podium.
“John and Vanessa Healey family.” I watched John, Vanessa, and their two little girls march up to the capital doors.
“Samual and Nora Hibbert family.” My jaw clenched. They had already reached the H-i section?
“Christopher and Megan Hill family.” My parents closed their eyes. That was the wrong Hill family. Their names were Thomas and Anne Hill. Their daughter was Jenna Hill.
I could feel Logan’s eyes boring into me. He knew this must be where my family could be called. I wanted to glance back one more time, to have one more look at that boy I saw once by the capital. It could be one of my last, almost pleasant, memories. They called the next name, and suddenly there was no more time for sweet memories.
“Dean and Kayla Hough family.”
Looking back on that moment, perhaps petrified wasn’t the best choice of words. I felt more along the lines of already dead. I immediately looked to my parents, wondering if they were going to break, if I was going to have to be dragged away like that little girl who couldn’t cry anymore.
Instead my parents did nothing. My dad ran his hand through his thinning hair and looked to my mom who was staring at the sidewalk. We couldn’t keep up with time. They were already out of the H names. When my dad realized we weren’t going to move for a while, he just put an arm around my mom’s shoulders and shut his eyes. One by one, Mom’s fingers lifted off my arm until I was free once more. It didn’t matter though; I wasn’t leaving them. Now, we had all the time in the world. We didn’t have to go anywhere. We could stay here, lost in this crowd, for as long as we wanted.
I closed my eyes as well and listened to the speaker pass through each letter of the alphabet with little motivation in his voice. I’m sure Logan was still watching me carefully, concluding that my family had not been called. The M names were called....the S names were called...the W names were called. Still my parents did not move. I had no idea if Logan’s family had been chosen yet. I had no idea if he was even still standing near me. My eyes had been shut for hours now.
They only opened when I felt someone shake my shoulders violently. “Hey,” a new voice whispered urgently. “Hey, wake up.” I saw the boy with the reddish brown hair and olive eyes crouching mere inches away from my face.
“You,” I replied hoarsely.
“This is going to sound very strange,” he said, “but do you wanna marry me?” My mouth fell open, and my throat dried completely. He looked behind his shoulder where his mother waited impatiently. She kept looking back up at the capital.
“I...I.” I couldn’t get the words out.
“You gotta decide quick. We have to go soon, but I can save you. I can save your family. All you have to do is marry me.” No thirteen year old should ever have had to say those words. Those odd but powerful words.
But Logan said them anyway, and because he did, my life would be saved.
“Yes,” I finally squeaked. Before my senses could stop me, I hugged him as tight as I could. “Thank you,” I cried into his shoulder. Marriage was the only way my family could’ve been saved, but it was so unlikely, my parents and I hadn’t even considered it an option anymore. It was a loophole the government made on purpose. When so many families would be left to die, the president insisted on implementing the Young Spouses Protection Act, otherwise known as the YSPA (everyone called it why-spuh for short). It was the only way the government could compensate for the harsh new reality forced upon us. Married couples from ages thirteen through eighteen could bring their immediate families with them into the shelters if one of them was chosen.
“What’s going on?” My dad suddenly growled. My mom’s eyes flickered open.
“Dad, the YSPA,” I said hopefully. “He wants to marry me. We can still get in. His family was picked.” My dad’s eyes narrowed.
“No,” he hissed. “My daughter is not marrying herself away to a random stranger.”
“Sir, I can save your family,” Logan interjected. “There’s a YSPA booth on the other side of the building. They’ll marry us and get us all the right documents. When this is all over, I’ll get your daughter the annulment.” I looked at him curiously. He was unusually mature, unlike other boys I had gone to school with. There really was more to this boy than I could ever imagine.
“Let them, Thomas,” my mom said gently. Her eyes were so lost, so broken. My real mom had begun to vanish since the first emergency broadcast. If she hadn’t, maybe she would’ve stopped me from marrying a stranger. All that was out the window now. She only cared about seeing her family live, and this could happen through my marriage.
My dad looked angrily between his wife, me, and the boy who was now holding my wrist firmly. I looked down and was startled to see his hand there. When had that happened?
“Fine,” he said sharply. “But she’s not going anywhere out of my sight.”
Logan nodded. “Let’s go.” Then he pulled me towards his own mom and younger brother. “She said yes,” Logan informed her quietly. His mom gave me a small smile and began leading us toward the YSPA booth. There were several other families in line, all grouped around their teenagers who were willing to marry themselves away to save their lives.
Logan and I never spoke while we waited. He didn’t even look at me like he had before. He only acknowledged my presence again when he had to nudge me forward. A middle aged woman sat in a folding chair behind a collapsible table, her brown and gray hair pulled back in a sloppy pony tail. Her mouth was pinned into a permanent frown as she sorted through stacks of paper madly before we even had a chance to speak.
“Names,” she said curtly.
“Logan Young.” I hadn’t known his name up until then. He had just been the boy who smiled at me in the crowd, but now that boy had a name.
“Name,” the lady repeated harshly. Logan nudged me again.
“Oh, Jenna Hill.” Logan’s expression softened. That’s right. He didn’t know my name either. I had just been the girl who smiled at him in the crowd, but now I had a name.
“Fill these out and go to him,” the lady ordered as she shoved forms into Logan’s hands. She gestured to a man behind her who was talking with another teenage couple. Our parents attempted to follow us as we stepped behind the table, but the sour lady stopped them. “Ah, ah, ah, step over there and fill these out.” She handed my parents and Logan’s mom their own stack of paperwork.
When all of it was completed, we brought it up to the man who promptly tucked it under his arm. “I’ll sign them after you’re married,” he grunted. He grabbed two thin silver rings from a plastic bag he kept by his feet. He recited a few things we had to repeat, all of it I’ve long forgotten. The man then handed each of us a ring. Logan slid his ring gingerly onto my finger, but it was too big and dangled awkwardly. When this was done, I took his hand and did the same. The man said a few more things before hesitating.
“Ah, for the older kids I’d say, ‘You may now kiss the bride,’ but you two are the youngest I’ve ever married so I think we can skip that part if the parents are okay with it,” he explained. Our families nodded. Logan smiled at me. It was not a happy smile. None of our smiles ever were.
The man signed our documents and handed them back to us. “Congrats, you two. You’re married now.” He looked past us towards our parents. “As long as they don’t consummate, it’ll be easy to undo once things get back to normal.” As I always did when I was unsure of myself, I looked to my mom for answers. I had no idea what consummation meant, but everyone seemed uncomfortable when the word was said.
“What happens if they do?” my dad asked gruffly. “You’ll still be able to divorce them or whatever, right?”
The man groaned. “The YSPA was designed to bring more young families into the shelters, not for actual marriage. A consummated marriage would require a much more difficult process if they wanted to end it. With all the chaos going on, their chances of ending the marriage are much better if they just keep their-you know, if they don’t consummate.”
My mom laughed uneasily. “Well, they won’t do that. They’re just kids.” The man shot a wary glance at Logan and me.
“They won’t be for long.”
“Alright, let’s go,” Logan’s mom said anxiously. Still holding Logan’s little brother in her arms, she began walking towards the front of the capital. My dad put his arm around my weepy mom and helped her walk forward. Logan and I followed them at the very back.
“Thank you, Logan,” I said looking towards the ground. To my surprise, he grabbed my hand and held it tight so my new ring wouldn’t fall off.
“Thank you, Jenna.”
We began climbing up the bright, white steps towards the main entrance of the capital. I didn’t look behind me, but I knew thousands of families were watching us head towards guaranteed safety. They envied us, and I had no doubt many of them would’ve been willing to kill to take out spots. The thought made me grip Logan’s hand even tighter.
“Logan?” I asked. “What’s consummation mean?” I figured he seemed smart enough to know.
“Um, well...” his voice trailed away. I looked up to see the doors had been opened for our two families. Logan paused to let us walk through without bumping into any of the guards.
“Do you know what it is?” I pressed.
“Yeah, yeah, I do,” he said, nervously rubbing the back of his neck with his free hand. I waited for him to give me an answer. “Let me put it to you this way. It usually happens on the wedding night.”
I never asked again.
The next thing I knew, our families, along with hundreds of others, were being loaded onto huge metal trucks and being driven into the countryside. There were no windows, but we had to be driving through miles and miles of cornfields and farmland. Soon we would reach one of the certified underground shelters. There we would be safe. There we could have a chance to live. There we would wait until the strange ships got what they wanted and left.
We never made it to the shelters. To this day, I have no idea what life would’ve been like if the ships hadn’t attacked.