Ted knelt beside The Painter’s statue and tried to pray himself out of existence. He’d managed a few minor miracles during his training–he’d captured the scent of a still-life lily and animated a painted dove–surely The Painter wouldn’t make him go through with this ridiculous marriage? He visualized himself fading like a watercolor left out in the rain, his pigments washing away drop by drop.
It didn’t work.
Marcie, the prime cause of his unhappiness, stomped up behind him. “I figured I would find you here. You need to stop moping.”
Ted sighed. “I am not moping.”
“No?” He could hear her arched eyebrow. “What would you call it?”
“I’m praying,” he snapped. Maybe if he didn’t look at her, she’d go away. All he wanted was for her to go away.
Marcie sighed. “I don’t like this any better than you do. I’m not exactly head-over-heels for you. But our fathers have decided that we’re going to be married, and that’s that.” She laid her hand on his shoulder, and he flinched away from her touch.
“I’m a priest. I have devoted myself to the church,” he whispered. “The path before me is toward the divine, not the secular.”
“Sometimes the canvas of our lives is covered with unexpected pigment.”
Ted looked up at her. He hadn’t been expecting her to quote scripture.
“I was trained at the temple,” she said. “I never got beyond mixing paints, but I was happy there. Then my brother died, and I was called home.”
“Don’t you miss it?” Ted asked. “The magic? Feeling The Painter’s hand upon you? Knowing that your life has a purpose?”
Marcie shrugged. “I guess I just found a new purpose.”
Marcie was as pretty as a picture in her simple wedding dress. She walked up the aisle like an angel, and he couldn’t see a trace of bitterness in the smile she gave him.
How could she be so content? She hadn’t chosen this path, either. Ted’s eyes ached from angry weeping, and he’d painted nothing but dark, twisted self portraits for weeks.
The priest–lucky bastard–sang the marriage vows and painted gold rings on each of their palms.
Ted hesitated. Every eye in the chapel fell on him. Marcie squeezed his hand, and her eyes pleaded with him. They were the color of the sky after a rainstorm. A pale, fresh blue. How had he not noticed that before?
Maybe she didn’t resent this marriage because she actually wanted him. The thought sent unfamiliar butterflies dancing in his stomach. It felt almost like magic. He bowed his head, plucked the heavy ring from his skin, and repeated the vows.
His old dreams fell away, but as he slid the ring onto Marcie’s finger, new dreams replaced them.
Marcie curled beside him in their bed. Figures danced on the insides of Ted’s eyelids. No matter how he tried, the estate’s books never seemed to balance. He’d always hated math. He missed painting.
“You know,” she said, “I can handle the books.”
Ted blinked at her.
She snuggled into his side. “You’ve done nothing but work since our wedding. It can’t be making you happy.”
“No,” Ted admitted. “It’s making me miserable.”
“Let me help. We’re partners now, remember?”
Ted had never had a partner before. He kissed her forehead. “I’ll try to keep it in mind.”
Ted squeezed Marcie’s hand while the midwife urged her to push. Something was wrong–Marcie’s strong fingers were limp in his, and her colors were faded and distorted, like a picture that had been left out in the sun too long.
“Don’t leave me,” Ted whispered. “We’re partners. I need you.”
“You’ll be fine. Find a new path.” Her eyes slipped closed. “Take care of our baby,” she whispered. Her voice sounded far away. She slumped back into her pillows, and her hand slid from his.
Ted’s tears fell on her faded cheeks.
Long moments passed, and he pulled himself together. Then panic clutched his chest. “Why isn’t the baby crying?”
Ted returned to the temple. He poured all of his energy into his training. He performed scores of miracles. People traveled for hundreds of miles for his blessing. He had everything he’d dreamed of as a young man.
He painted Marcie and their stillborn son a thousand times. But no miracles touched his brush, no life ever moved the painted faces.
Still, he held onto hope–onto faith. The Painter had placed him on this path–surely this wasn’t his destination. He picked up his brush and started again.
Jamie Lackey has attended James Gunn’s Science Fiction Writer’s Workshop at the Center for the Study of Science Fiction in 2010. Her work has appeared in The Living Dead 2 and Stories from the Heart: Heartwarming Tales of Appalachia. Another of her stories is forthcoming in Daily Science Fiction. Jamie Lacky is also a slush reader for Clarkesworld Magazine.