When Eden Jacobson was young, too young to be making big life decisions and too young to understand how far-reaching the consequences of those decisions would be, she got married.

*

The wedding was a joyous occasion, blessed by God and everyone who attended, everyone all smiles for their righteous decision to marry in the Mormon temple. Her husband, James Sanders was twenty-six when they met, still finishing his undergrad at BYU because he’d been serving the Lord for two years (in Louisiana, where he’d learned how to make gumbo). Now he had a freshly printed business degree and was going to join his father in the family business — running a chain of charming (never quaint) bed and breakfast inns dotting the eastern seaboard. He proposed, graduated, and moved with Eden cross country to his hometown. They’d met and married quickly, very in love and also trying to obey their religion’s strict rules about what they could and couldn’t do together before marriage. It was a relief not to have to stop him every time they started to do anything other than kissing, anymore. Now, Eden planned to take classes online to finish her degree in family studies, which was a degree in virtually nothing at all. At twenty, she felt like she had plenty of time to figure things out.

All of their wedding presents had been sent to their new home — the one she hadn’t seen yet — and she spent the first two weeks unpacking some of her own treasures, like old hardcover editions of the Little House on the Prairie series and a t-shirt quilt with all her high school teams and activities on it. But mostly she unpacked the untouched potential of her new life. Glistening sharp knives, glowing ceramic dishes. A little cow-shaped thing that she learned was meant for heating up the very special all-important locally harvested maple syrup she was now expected to be loyal to.

In the course of dating and marrying Jim, Eden found that she never exactly missed the big group of friends she’d had before they met. It seemed that all of them were also getting married and moving on, and they rarely kept in touch. It was just how things were. From one phase to another. And she had always prided herself on being adaptable. Easygoing. It was part of the reason her husband had been drawn to her, rather than any of her more uptight roommates.

“It just works, Jim and I, you know?” she told her friends, who all agreed, because a whirlwind romance was what they had all experienced, though they all considered themselves unique in their quickie marriages.

One thing Eden did miss, however, was the desert. She was accustomed to an all-consuming wind sweeping through every inch of what she could see and touch, stirring up dust and making the sagebrush bow. She knew how to style her hair to get a windswept look and not to wear too loose of a skirt, lest she risk a “Marilyn moment” at the outdoor mall, revealing her modest underpants.

But here, in Vermont, her hair was a ball of frizz and nothing she wore seemed to matter since it was always under a raincoat.

“We just didn’t really have much ‘weather’ other than hot, dry, wind in the desert,” she said to everyone who asked her how she was adjusting to her brand-new home in New England.

She said it to her new husband, Jim, more than anyone.

“Have you noticed my hair is a mess, but my nails have grown almost twice as long?”

No, he hadn’t noticed.

Some days she felt gloomy about it, all the humidity and the rain and the wetness, while on other days it felt wild and promising. But she tried not to let her moods be reflected in her outward countenance. She was choosing joy.

*

It was Wednesday, the day she traditionally went into town, to shop at the little market that never had everything she needed. She had been hunting through recipe blogs, trying new things, reading the personal stories that took up the bulk of the posts, finding herself riveted and invested in these strangers journey to the perfect frittata. Tonight she planned to create some form of chicken parm, a magical dish according to the blog, one that proved you loved whoever you made it for … providing the market came through.

“How about that rain, eh?” asked the man at the checkout, an old man who she assumed owned the store. He always wore plaid, which appeared to be the official Vermont state uniform, and he always spoke to her kindly and conversationally, though they’d never introduced themselves. It had been weeks now, and she was too embarrassed to ask his name.

“Well, it’s not what I’m used to,” Eden said, an ellipsis hanging at the end of her words because today she was mad at the incessant downpour. But she said it brightly since that’s how she had been taught to interact with strangers. “I’m from the desert,” she confided. “We just didn’t really have much ‘weather’ other than hot, dry, wind in the desert.”

“Then you don’t know about Mud Season?” he asked. She shook her head. “Oh you’re in for it. All this rain, all the dirt roads … everything becomes a swampy, soggy mess. You can’t walk, can’t drive, it just turns to mud. Mud, mud, mud.”

She felt the goosebumps on her arms rising, and she knew her eyes had widened without her telling them to. But the way the old man said it sounded like it was a great horror marching slowly toward them and there was nothing they could do about it.

She heard echoes of his warning all the while she cooked dinner before her husband came home from his new job. Mud. Mud. Mud.

*

It surprised her that nobody else had warned her about what seemed like a dangerous and impending situation. Even at church, where she’d met two other young couples who promised to start a rotating dinner group, and a few well-meaning older women who had taken Eden’s arm and steered her to the front middle of Relief Society with the warning that only the inactives sat in the back, nobody had said a word. Everyone had been so nice otherwise. Offering recipes, tips on marriage, little jokes about when she and her husband would be starting a family.

They weren’t really jokes, of course, but Eden wasn’t ready for kids. She still hadn’t unpacked the box labeled “Mission Stuff,” because on the surface there had been a letter to Jim from the other Eden, a girl who said she’d wait for him before marrying someone else, and it was signed “love,” and that had made this Eden’s stomach flop . She couldn’t be a mother if she was going to let a silly thing like that bother her. Moms had to be strong.

“You are the superior Eden,” Eden had told herself.

After dinner, she searched online for “best boots for mud.” Her hope was confirmed when expensive Hunter rubber boots popped up on every list. She had wanted a pair of Hunters ever since her semester abroad in England, when the wealthier girls all bought a pair and she had hesitated to commit to such an extravagant purchase. When would she need rain boots in the desert?

But she wasn’t in the desert anymore.

Driving to the Shoe Shack to pick out her boots, she was struck once again by the trees. In the summer, there had been thousands of bold, green leaves. In hues of emerald and brassy green-yellow, and everything in between, the many trees were so foreign to her, she was never totally sure if they felt comforting or suffocating. She couldn’t see through them, couldn’t see past them, and there they always were, waving at her with their rich show of life. Now, the trees were sentinels on the outskirts of everything. Bare and craggy, looking sharp and permanently frowning in the incessant downpour of rain. She shuddered a little, imagining them trying to stop her if she attempted to run.

But run from what?

Mud. Mud. Mud.

A bright yellow pair of boots caught her eye, but she knew she didn’t want to evoke the thought of children jumping in puddles whenever someone saw her. She needs something more adult. Thinking of the constant green of the summer leaves, she selected a green set of Hunter boots, holding them like two babies stacked on top of one another.

The boots were heavy, heavier than she expected, and comically floppy with the tall, thin rubber jiggling in her hand. She thought of Jell-O. Which reminded her of home. She rarely let herself consider home, not in a way that was fully formed. Just some shapes, maybe a smell or a feeling. She was a Vermonter now, and preparing for stay-at-home motherhood by making their home and building their community.

Standing in the store holding the boot babies, she was distracted by a flash of curly black hair near the sock rack. Fumbling with the shoes as her fingers went slack, she drew in her breath. Of course that wasn’t her sister. Her sister was dead. The girl with the hair was simply restocking socks.

If she didn’t think about home often, she absolutely never thought about Sariah. Her younger sister had died in a car wreck because she got in a car with a boy who had been drinking alcohol, and he ran them into another car when he tried to beat a red light. The intersection had been blocked off for days, and Eden couldn’t bring herself to drive past it. She hadn’t gone to the funeral, either. It wasn’t necessary to mourn the dead when you knew that on the other side of the Veil they were living with Jesus Christ.

She had been determined to move on when Sariah died. Get married to Jim, move back East, learn to be a wife and eventually mother. Those were the steps, and she was getting good at checking off each part of that list. Her sister, it had been decided within the family, would probably still be alive if she had been more obedient. Even if she hadn’t been drinking (and nobody knew for sure), she knew to avoid the appearance of evil.

And she did love Jim. Right? What was love, even? A question she hadn’t asked or answered of herself before declaring it in front of her 14 closest friends and family in the temple sealing room. Then laughing and dancing with 200 more people at their open house reception. Love was commitment and a three tiered cake. It was a Williams Sonoma registry, and sparkling apple cider in champagne flutes, and dancing to the Twilight soundtrack.

It was also a new pair of green Hunter rain boots. She hugged them to herself and reconsidered again if she was ready for motherhood. Checking out, she saw the sales clerk who she had mistaken for her sister. They looked nothing alike.

She drove home with the boots sitting in their open box on the seat next to her. She kept glancing at them in their seat and breaking into a grin. It wasn’t really time for them, but now she felt prepared. The warnings of the man at the grocery store lost their power. She forgot about the woman with Sariah’s hair.

And still the rain pounded on.

*

It was a few days after her shopping trip when she suddenly realized she had spent almost $200 on the boots that didn’t belong to her, but to them. She approached Jim timidly and told him about the man at the market.

“And he said everything turns to mud, and I realized I didn’t have the right shoes for that at all. So I made kind of an impulse purchase,” Eden told Jim. She showed him the boots, and he laughed, and then she explained about England.

He scowled.

“I really thought you were above all that kind of stuff,” he said.

Eden wasn’t sure what he meant — was she supposed to be above wearing weather- appropriate boots, shopping for brand names, or competing with her London Study Abroad friends — she decided not to ask him.

The boots went in the back of her closet, dinner was served, and Jim offered to help with the dishes.

*

Not long after her confession to Jim about the Hunter boots, the dirt roads around their house started to transform. She watched, fascinated, as the driveway to their little cottage went from a solid entity to a sea of wetness and squelching, endless mud. She pulled out the boots, staring at them appreciatively for a long time before starting to pick the perfect outfit for their debut.

She settled on a dress, navy blue with pink and orange flowers, the boots the exact shade of the leaves on the fabric. Navy tights and a pink sweater completed the main layer, then she stacked a dark blue rain slicker on top of it. There was a cheery yellow umbrella (a purchase she had allowed herself in England, one of the things she insisted on mailing cross country) near the door, and she grabbed it as she went out.

Two steps out the door, she realized she had nowhere to go. But she looked so cute, and her boots were begging to be tested in the fresh mud of the season, so she decided just to take a walk down the little path into the woods behind their small house.

She never would have anticipated the feeling that met her feet. It was like the quicksand she’d been scared of as a child, holding her till she sunk. She slowly pulled one foot up, making a squelching sound that made her giggle, flexing her foot hard to hang onto the boot. Then the other one. If she walked quickly enough she could stay on the surface of it, creating prints that she entered the woods, absently wondering if this was really the best way for her to be spending her time. But her online classes didn’t start for a month, and she hadn’t made any social commitments for weeks, and the house was more than clean.

The rain felt like a friend once she was standing out in it. The pleasant little plip plops of the drops on her yellow umbrella were comforting — cozy, even. And the trees she had been so unsure of seemed to be less intimidating up close, with their ever-present tips now visible, unlike when they zoomed past her car windows. And the little path was friendly enough. It wound through the thick layer of soggy leaves on the ground, meandering through the trees like it didn’t know where it wanted to go either. It was perfect for a walk.

The further Eden got, the density of the trees meant it became darker and darker — she almost wished she had a flashlight. Her steps made no sound in the sogginess underfoot until she splashed unknowingly into a rather large puddle of standing water. Annoyed that she hadn’t gotten to enjoy a proper stomp in it, she made to step backwards and try again, but was surprised to find that her foot slid right out of her right boot, which was firmly planted in the invisible sludge beneath the puddle’s surface.

She swayed on her left foot, the right one dangling precariously. She tried sliding it back in the boot and lifting it out with her foot, but the strain hurt. Leaning down, she pulled on the boot with both hands, but not quite hard enough to dislodge it because she was afraid the recoil of the boot would send her toppling over onto her bum. Plus she had to hold the umbrella.

The water was nearly sloshing up and over the lip of her boot, threatening to drown her foot in its own container. She couldn’t balance on one foot forever. So she stepped carefully, sinking into the muck, feeling it coagulate around the rubber, constricting the opening a little. She wiggled one foot, then the other. She tried to step. Some of the water trickled into her shoe, wetting the sock all the way down. Then she knew the truth. She was well and truly stuck in over eight inches of thick, black mud.

She looked around. Would she remember where she had left the boots if she brought reinforcements back to rescue them? Jim could pry them out of the deep mud with a shovel, even if he did think the boots were ridiculous.

She looked down at her feet, then burst into tears.

Slowly extracting one foot and then the other one, she walked backwards a few steps in the cold, squishy mud. She stared at her green Hunter boots. She resisted the urge to say goodbye to them out loud, angrily wiping her tears away.

Then she turned and walked back to her house, slipping and crying all the way there. She made a mental plan — she would take off her ruined tights and throw them away. She would run a hot bath, make a cup of (herbal) tea, and try not to think about her boots. Out there in the woods. Alone. Filling up with rain.

*

She debated telling Jim, taking him to the place where her purchase was being slowly claimed by the elements, and every time she tried, she’d open her mouth and no sound would come out.

Weeks passed. Habits were formed. Mud Season gave way to a vibrant sprint. The newlyweds became simply weds, and made a home together.

*

A year later, Eden made a Shepherd’s Pie for dinner and tidied up the house, which needed no tidying.

Eden and Jim had never had a conversation about the division of labor. But it was established by The Family: A Proclamation To The World, that he was the breadwinner and she was the caregiver. And he usually said thank you, which was a generational difference from their fathers.

“Thanks for that meal,” Jim said later that night, patting his stomach. “I’m stuffed.”

She said he was welcome. Then: “I cannot believe it’s raining again.”

“It’ll be over soon,” he said. “It’s like any season. Feels too long until it’s the next one, then you miss it. The sun comes out, dries it all up, and you’ll be missing the rain.”

“I am really trying, but if I don’t see the sun soon I’m afraid I might go a little nuts.”

“Well you should probably stop complaining. You love it here in the spring — the real spring, when everything is growing,” Jim said. “It’ll only be a few more weeks. And all this mud will be springing up with grasses and wildflowers and you’ll wonder why you’ve been so whiny.”

She didn’t think she’d been whining. She made a note not to complain about the rain anymore.

That night, she had a dream she was in the desert, the hot sun beaming down on her with its wide grin. There was wind ruffling her hair, and she could see for miles to the hazy mountains in the distance. She was warm, and dry, and all alone. She shouted into the distance, but not for her husband. She called the name of her sister, Sariah. When she looked down, she was wearing the green Hunter boots.

*

She suspected Sariah had come to her in a dream to tell her something. She wasn’t sure what it was, but she knew it required her retrieving those boots.

Finding them was going to be tricky, since she had given them up last year and never let herself think about retracing her steps to rescue them. They were her mistake, and she had to live with that every day. The wasted money. The foolish optimism.

And now it was raining again — Eden had made it into her first whole year with Jim, living in Vermont, with no privacy among the trees. They were always present, listening, tapping your window as a reminder that they were there. Sometimes they brushed her arms or hair when she walked by, which felt condescending. “We’ve trapped you here as our pets” the trees were taunting her. We are taller than you. There are hundreds of us.

Lying in bed, heart still pounding from her desert dream, she considered getting up and pulling on some clothes to look for the boots now. It wasn’t a good idea, but it seemed impossible to continue to lie there and stew in the dark.

Getting up, she quickly grabbed a mish-mash of clothes, nothing matching or coordinated. She’d learned long ago that no one in Vermont cared what she looked like. Including her, now. She ended up grabbing a pair of leggings with two different socks, a BYU sweatshirt she believed belonged to Jim, and a rain jacket of unknown origin that gave her pause as she tried to identify it. She snagged her yellow umbrella on the way out.

In the darkness of the woods, her heavy flashlight giving her a weak sense of direction, she started to speak out loud. Not that way, she told herself, it was more over here. She searched for quite a while. It gave her time to think about Sariah. Jim, probably following Eden’s lead, never mentioned her. They hadn’t really known each other, when she died, since Eden was at college and Sariah was still at home. Sariah was just a teenage girl to Jim. Any old teenage girl. A girl who foolishly got into a car with a boy who she knew had been sinning. The only thing Jim had ever said about Sariah was that he was glad he got the good sister. Eden had agreed with him. But thinking back on it, that was a horrible thing to say.

They meant to move West together, or at least that’s what they’d said as kids. To live near the beach, across the desert in the warm California sunshine that felt familiar enough to be comforting but foreign enough to be exciting. They’d be waitresses to the stars, and go to comedy shows, and go thrift shopping for exotic, layered SoCal fashion finds. Eden hadn’t thought about any of this in very much detail since she’d met Jim. She’d forgotten her plans with Sariah because her plans had changed. She was checking off her boxes with her returned missionary, her righteous young husband and his sparkling future.

She knew her footing, wearing a pair of old sneakers that were soaked through and stained with mud already. She’d learned to trip lightly over the sickly squelching mud, not to leave an impression or force her presence on its finicky surface. The trees grabbed at her, but she swatted them back. And finally, she spotted her green Hunter boots.

They were cracked from the hot summer, faded from the dappled sunlight through the trees, full of sticks and weighed down with water. One of them had a small chunk taken out of the top, and it looked like teeth had been responsible for that. They were a mess, but she suspected that with a scrubbing, they would still keep her feet dry in the rain.

A branch snapped in the distance.

“Squirrel,” Eden said out loud. “It’s a squirrel.”

But a figure was moving toward her. She knew at once that it was Sariah, answering her call from the dream. She looked the same as Eden remembered her — long curly hair, dressed mostly in black. A wrist full of bracelets.

The trees waved in the rainy wind, but their howling was drowned out by the sounds of splashing raindrops. Eden didn’t know what to say, how to apologize for ignoring her sister’s memory. How to apologize for ignoring herself. She felt no fear, only guilt. There, standing in the mud, in the rain, in the trees, she felt more at home than she had in a long time.

“Get out,” said the shape of her sister. The shimmering thing that both was and was not Sariah didn’t change its expression, or make a gesture. It simply spoke in a deadened voice. “Go home.”

So she did.

writer and actress