Sara R. Turnquist
Among the Pages
Chapter 1 Sneak Peek
Troublesome Ways About Her
Brianne’s heart stopped. She sat in her third class of the day, stuck in the uncomfortable jail of a student desk. Frozen in place. Her Psychology professor had barely introduced himself before launching into a tirade about what he would and would not tolerate. His words rang in her ears.
“I invite ideas and input, but I will warn you, I expect higher-level thinkers. I don’t want to hear anything without scientific basis. Weak minds are not welcome. Things such as this idea of Creationism. I am tired of such notions. Come on…an Almighty God created everything in seven days…excuse me, six days?”
He stared at the class, a smirk on his face.
Brianne’s stomach dropped.
What was he saying? Did people actually talk like this? She’d never heard anyone say such things. The fact that God created the world and everything in it was all she’d ever known. Hadn’t she just been a counselor for three camps this past summer, sharing with a myriad of kids that this was truth?
Sure, she’d had vague lessons about evolution in high school, but her parents explained that God divinely influenced the process, if such a thing even happened. Hadn’t her Biology teacher even admitted there were holes in the theory? But now…
“What more does science have to prove? In this class, we will use reason, deduction, and study to reach our conclusions. There is no place for religion, and anyone who believes in Creationism is just stupid, stupid, stupid.”
Swallowing hard, the lump in her throat blocked her. And her mouth suddenly felt like sandpaper. She had been so hopeful when she slid into the desk just moments before. True, the excitement of the day had begun to drain her. Still, this particular class held such promise. It was the only one connected to her major. And the professor might play a larger part in her college career. Likely, he would teach more of her classes. Her stomach twisted.
Wasn’t college a place to be exposed to different ideas? And she had been eager to explore new ways of thinking. But she hadn’t imagined an outright challenge to her core beliefs. And on her first day.
Or that she would shrink at such criticism.
Glancing around the room, she longed for a familiar face.
No surprises there. Though many of her friends also attended the University of Memphis, she came from a small town. She was not likely to see any of them here.
In one of her earlier classes, she spotted a couple of girls from Frosh Camp. Only one waved back. Awkward. She had always been good with faces, much better than most.
The weeklong camp for freshmen had been action-packed and busy. It didn’t surprise her that the other girls didn’t remembered her. Besides, she was rather forgettable. Her curly light brown hair seemed quite common. With dull blue eyes and freckles scattered across her nose…she was rather plain.
Forcing herself to look at Dr. Grant, she took in his appearance—much more casual than the professors in her previous two classes. He sported a polo shirt and slacks. With a medium build and height and gray hair that fell over his ears, he did not seem intimidating. But his manner was harsh.
He had continued talking amidst her musings. What’s more, the students were responding to him.
“I’m Jesse. I love horseback riding. I’m from Louisville, Kentucky,” a girl with long auburn hair said.
“Jesse, horseback riding, Louisville. Got it. Next.” The professor indicated the boy sitting behind Jesse.
What had he asked of the students? Would she be expected to answer as well?
“I’m Dan. I’m on the swim team. And I love pizza.” The boy had blond hair and a deep voice.
“Dan, swim team, pizza. Got it. Next.”
On and on the interchanges continued. The students gave their name and two facts.
What did Brianne want to say? That she was a Creationist?
Her face warmed.
Soon enough, the girl in front of Brianne spoke.
Dear God, what do I say?
Her mind went blank. What was the name of her hometown again?
The girl finished.
Dr. Grant’s dark eyes shifted to Brianne. They bore into her. He surely must see her secret. She caught her shaking hands and pressed them into her lap.
“Let’s start with your name,” Dr. Grant said, his words drawn out, dripping with sarcasm. “Can you at least share that?”
Snickers filled the room.
“Brianne,” she said, her voice small. Why couldn’t she just vanish?
“What was that?” He turned his head and placed a hand to his ear.
“Brianne.” She attempted to put more force behind her voice.
“Are you sure?” He cocked an eyebrow.
“Yes.” Couldn’t she just die right here? Right now?
“Can you share two other interesting tidbits with the class, Brianne?” His features contorted, eyebrow raised and one side of his mouth upturned. He seemed skeptical.
She cleared her throat. “I like painting. I’m from Clarksville.”
“Finally! Brianne, painting, Clarksville. Next, please,” he said to the girl behind Brianne who shot out her name and two things.
Brianne wanted to drop her head in her hands. But she dared not. No, that would only make it worse. Instead, she forced her chin up and maintained her posture.
After the little ‘get to know you’ round, Professor Grant passed out his syllabus. There would be random quizzes on the reading assignments. Each student was also expected to participate in one of the university’s ongoing psychological studies. Finally, there were unit tests and two papers during the semester. It seemed do-able.
But Brianne only wanted to know one thing: was there time to transfer into another Psychology class?
Scott Baker relieved his coworker of her post. At least on this planet, there was no job more boring than minding the computer lab. The only upsides—it gave him free time to work on software projects, and he could earn some money while doing so.
He just had to remember that when students came to the help desk, they were not interrupting him, they were his job. This proved quite difficult when he became absorbed in his programming.
Planting himself behind the lab monitor desk, he set his book bag on the floor and glanced across the room.
Nothing out of the ordinary.
He would have to make the obligatory walk down the aisles in a few minutes to ensure none of the students were abusing the Internet policy or looking at inappropriate sites. Ugh, how he hated that part of his job. Even more, he hated that it was necessary. He found those people more often than he should and had to revoke their lab privileges.
Running a hand through his thick, wavy brown hair that ended above his collar, he settled into the seat that was comfier than the standard rolling desk chairs out on the lab floor and set a timer for thirty minutes. Then he lost himself in his work.
All was quiet but for the soft clicking of computer keys and the occasional whispered conversation.
The timer went off before he found the solution to the bug that plagued him. Had it been thirty minutes? His eagerness to figure out the bug had him hooked. Still, he pulled himself away from the screen and rose.
Stretching, he found his muscles tense from being in the same position. He stood and began his vulturine rounds. Feeling like a leech, spying over peoples’ shoulders, invading their privacy, he made his way around the room. All because of a few bad apples. Oh well.
So far, nothing out of the ordinary. As he turned down the last aisle, he prayed it held true.
Halfway down, he passed a girl with the most beautiful hair—the color of cinnamon, with curls that touched her shoulders.
That was all he saw from his vantage point. Except her frustration.
She clicked her mouse repeatedly with one hand and pounded the computer desk with the other. Grunts and grumbles filled the otherwise silent section of the lab.
He peered at her screen: the scheduling program. Nothing violating policy there, so he averted his gaze.
“Excuse me.” He leaned toward her.
She and the young man beside her both turned.
Scott indicated he spoke to her.
“Miss,” he said.
She peered at him with blue, piercing eyes, widened by her frustration and perhaps partly due to his sudden appearance. Her skin was smooth and fair, broken up by the faintest hint of freckles. Quite a pretty picture.
Her eyebrow rose.
“I wondered if you might need assistance. I’m the lab monitor.”
“Oh.” Her shoulders relaxed.
Was she so relieved? Perhaps she feared his motives? Did he appear to be some creep?
“I’m, um, trying to transfer into a different Psychology class, and I can’t seem to make this work. I have to admit…computers and I don’t get along.”
“May I?” He reached toward the machine.
“Please.” She shifted, sliding her chair to the side.
Now he had open access to the mouse and keyboard.
Her fingers moved over the screen. “This is the class I’m in. And this is the one I want to be in.”
“You want to move out of an Honors class?”
“Don’t ask,” she grumbled. “But yes.”
“That may affect your Honors certificate, just FYI.”
She laid a hand on his arm. “Honors certificate?”
He tried to steady his voice. The contact of her fingers on his skin caught him off-guard. Pleasantly so. “Yeah. You have to take so many Honors classes and the Honors Forum to earn your Honors certificate upon graduating.”
Her eyes met his. They were even more striking than he first thought.
Was she reconsidering her class change?
She blinked and swallowed hard. “No, I need to transfer out. Regardless.” She removed her hand.
“You’re sure?” He met her gaze. It was easy to look into those azure pools.
She paused, but only for a second. “Yes.”
He focused on the screen and made a couple of clicks with the mouse, noting the reaction of the different pieces of the scheduling program.
“I see the problem.” He turned to face her.
“What is it?” Her voice was eager, desperate almost.
“This section…it’s full. You can’t transfer into this class.”
“No, no, no, no, no!” Putting her hands on her forehead, she leaned back. “That’s the only section that works with the rest of my schedule. If I can’t transfer into that class, I can’t transfer! And I can’t just cancel it. I have to take Psych 1101 this semester.”
A twinge in his gut caused him to wince. Whatever her problem, he hated it for her. Schedules became frustrating. When these kinds of things didn’t work out, the situation became impossible pretty quick.
“Sorry.” He shrugged. “Wish I could help more.” It was weak, but what else could he offer?
“No, you did what you could. Thanks for your help.” She offered him a genuine smile.
“Of course.” He straightened and moved away. But something gave him pause. Turning, he wished for something more to say. Something that wouldn’t make him sound like the creep she’d first pegged him as. So, he said what seemed appropriate to this girl he’d likely never cross paths with again. “For what it’s worth, I hope you can figure it out.”
When she met his eyes again, he noticed unshed tears. It bothered him. More than it should. And he once again hated that he was stuck. Wasn’t there anything he might say? Or do? But what?
“Thanks,” she said at last. Looking at the screen, she sighed. When her gaze moved back to where he stood, her brows furrowed. “I don’t want to keep you.”
“Yeah,” he said, shifting his weight to his other foot. “I best get back to it.” He indicated the lab monitor’s desk with his thumb.
She nodded, clicking the mouse again before pushing back from the small desk. Standing, she gathered her books.
He watched for a moment more before making his way to his post. Sitting in the more comfortable chair, he tried to focus on his software, but found it impossible. When he glanced back to where she had been, her spot was empty.
She was gone.
And he didn’t even know her name.
“Be careful!” Mother warned as Brianne carried the first box up the narrow staircase.
Home for the weekend, Brianne had been tasked with packing the rest of her bedroom so it could be converted into a guest room.
Thanks, parental units, I feel so loved.
But she did understand. It wasn’t that she couldn’t stay in her room. They just didn’t want their guests looking at her clutter or going through her things. Perhaps she should appreciate their thoughtfulness.
Brianne neared the top of the stairs and slowed. The attic had never been her favorite place. She rarely came up here. And she wouldn’t be here now if there were any other choice.
Dad had been called to work on a water heater in one of the rental properties, and there was no way she would ask her trip-prone mother to brave these stairs. Besides, Mom had her errands.
Breathing in the warmer, mustier air, she prayed against the spiders lurking in the crevices, just waiting.
Ridiculous. Just ridiculous.
But that didn’t assuage her fears. Yes, she might have an irrational fear of the tiny creatures, but that was a fear she’d learned to live with. It seemed nothing she told herself could stop the shiver that ran down her spine or the chills that broke out all over when facing down one of the eight-legged monsters.
Stepping ever so carefully, she carried the box to the place Dad had designated. She set it on the floor and stood back, glancing around for the army of spiders that were sure to have cut off her exit.
There weren’t even hordes of spider webs as she had expected.
Dad must have gotten after them with a broom.
Great. Angry, vengeful spiders.
Still, she appreciated that this attic, unlike most, was quite roomy. She stood to her full height in the middle, although Dad, with his over-six-foot frame, still had to duck. Off to the sides where the house’s roof and ceiling angled downward, the space was much smaller. And the staircase, albeit narrow, leading up to the attic was much better than the precarious folding ladder she had seen in most of her friends’ homes.
Clapping her hands together, she sighed. Time to go for more boxes. She made her way across the attic and down the stairs.
Mom stood at the base, purse on her arm.
“Oh,” Mom said, hand over her heart. “You startled me. I was about to yell up to you.”
“Yeah?” Brianne raised a brow.
“I’m headed out.”
“Okay.” Brianne pressed into her mother for a quick hug.
“Need anything from the store?”
Pulling back, Brianne offered a smile and a wink. “I’m happy with anything but dried noodles.”
Mom’s lips widened. “I’ll be making Poppyseed Chicken tonight, you know that. You can’t think you’d come home and I not.”
Brianne grinned. Her favorite. Mom was so thoughtful. “Thanks. You’re the best.”
“I don’t want you going up and down those stairs with no one here.” Overprotective mom. Always worried.
“Isn’t Claire in her room?”
“Yes.” Mom frowned. “I suppose if she’ll come into the living room you can keep at it.”
Brianne stood straight and mocked a salute. “Yes, ma’am.”
Mom gave her a quick kiss and headed toward the front door.
Brianne made her way through the house to her younger sister’s room. She knocked on the door and held her breath as she waited for Claire’s response.
Their relationship was not what it could be. Claire was a junior in high school, and the two of them had just come out of a catty phase in which they oscillated between getting along and getting on each other’s nerves. Teenage drama.
Claire opened the door only enough to look out, a scowl on her face. “What?”
So, it was going to be one of those moods. “Mom asked me to finish moving my stuff to the attic. But you know Mom, she’s worried about me carrying the boxes up with no one to hear if I fall to my death. Can you hang out in the living room for a while so you can call someone if I break my neck or something?”
Claire pushed a breath out through her teeth. She was going to say ‘no.’
Brianne prepared herself. Maybe she could pass the time reading a book or something.
After a moment, Claire nodded. “All right. I suppose I can find something on TV.”
What? Did Claire just say she would?
Stomping out of her room, Claire closed her door, glaring at Brianne the entire time. Did she think Brianne was that interested in her tornado-like private space?
As Claire moved in the direction of the living room, Brianne headed opposite toward her room for another box.
Nearly an hour later, Brianne carried the last box up the stairs. After setting it in her little alcove, she stood.
She had done it!
Wiping perspiration from her forehead, she let out a breath and placed a hand on her hip.
In the spirit of keeping the peace, she should go downstairs and relieve Claire from her post. But in her many trips, Brianne had lost her fear of the vicious spiders. She also became rather curious about the treasures around her.
Next to the boxes she had just placed, sat those containing her childhood toys. She opened one—full of dolls. Pulling one out, she remembered the Christmas she received it. Such a hard Christmas. But she hadn’t known it at the time.
When she and Claire were children, their parents didn’t have much. Money went into the rental business Dad was growing. But Brianne never felt they lacked anything. Even now, as she looked at the amount of clothes and accessories for her dolls, she marveled at how her parents and grandparents still managed to provide for many of their wants during those lean years.
The next box held favorite books from those younger years. Why had Mom kept these? She glanced over the various covers and reread some of the back cover texts. How these stories had enraptured her young mind! Reading had always been a passion of hers.
She spent the next several minutes going through other childhood things. This stack bled into the pile of toys she played with when this house belonged to her grandparents. Her family moved into this larger house to help care for them when they became advanced in age. But when she was a child, this had been Granny and Grandpa’s house.
A small dollhouse, complete with furniture and tiny dishes, had been the prized thing. And here it was, covered in dust. Memories of Granny flooded her mind. The way her kitchen always smelled of stewing beef and vegetables. And the art projects she did with them. Granny had been an artist and an art teacher. Hadn’t Brianne spotted some of Granny’s paintings up here?
Maneuvering around boxes and random objects, she sought them out. Finally, she found several leaning against a far wall. They were beautiful. Landscapes mostly. Even one of the local university in an early phase. Did Mom and Dad even know the artwork was up here? She made a mental note to tell Dad. These needed to be on display.
She continued to scan the area. This back corner of the attic did not hold boxes. Trunks and other more permanent containers had been left here. Crouching, she opened one—dresses. More of Granny’s things? She pulled one out. It definitely had a Germanic flare. The stories of Granny and Grandpa’s lives in Germany when Grandpa was in the Army played through her memory.
How she loved those stories!
The memories of after were…hard.
When Grandpa’s depression got ahold of him. The once proud man, so strong in his faith, began fighting delusions of grandeur one day and the depths of despair the next.
How long had he and Granny struggled in silence?
Brianne’s eyes stung.
Now was not the time.
She refused to remember him that way.
Holding up the garment, she admired the fabric and lines. These dresses were lovely, but too petite for her fuller, curvy figure. Perhaps they would fit Claire.
She set them down and scooted that trunk, and those thoughts, to the side.
The next held knickknacks collected from all over the world during their travels. Dad may know their names and uses. On and on the containers yielded numerous treasures. Some she was able to identify as belonging to her grandparents, some probably from other relatives long gone.
A beat-up trunk became her nemesis. She struggled to open it. Had the latch suffered from being mishandled or from age? But she was determined. So, she worked and maneuvered the old latch until, at last, it gave way.
Though she was no historian, she supposed that the objects within were much older than her grandparents. She pulled them out with gentle hands, examining each, trying to guess what their purpose might be. Most were complete mysteries.
There was one, however, that she could easily identify—a book. She lifted it from the trunk with care and opened the cover, dried and crackled with age.
“This journal belongs to Margaret Johnson” was inscribed in a rather formal cursive.
She turned the page, glancing over the first entry. And opened herself to someone else’s world.
October 20, 1915
Another crisp afternoon in Buffalo. The leaves have long since changed colors. It has always been my favorite time of year. The world is as vibrant as any work of art. Though it brings with it a season of warmer dresses and outer coverings. As these colder months come, it will soon be too cold to remain out of doors more than absolutely necessary. How I dread that time—being shut in. Not that it ever mattered to Mother. She was always shut in, no matter the season. Chained to her household duties. Oh, that I could save myself from such a life!
My day has been filled with normalcy. Until evening. After a rather typical day with my students, I ventured out. There was quite a chill in the air. But I had a reason for being out…
Margaret hugged her wrap tighter around herself as a breeze cut through her. Touching her scarf, she was thankful for its warmth, since her brown hair was pinned up. She moved through the town streets with purpose, a slight stealthy-ness to her steps. Was she afraid she would be caught and turned in to her disapproving parents? Yes, they would look down upon their daughter wandering the streets in search of a rally to discuss such things. It was not proper.
So said society. But was it truly so?
What did God say?
In answer to her prayers, He had been silent on the matter. Should she wait for an answer? Or move forward until she got the sense she went too far?
A sound behind caught her off-guard. Her gaze darted about.
Had someone followed her?
A silly notion, of course. Perhaps some random bit of trash had been blown about by the wind or a stray animal skittered by in an alley. No one knew where she was. And that’s how it must remain.
Rounding the last curve of the street, she spotted the gathering. Small. But that would change. It would. The group was comprised of women, young and old, many appearing as unsure as she. A few stood tall and proud, confident, but many were more timid, hesitant almost.
By the time Margaret joined them, one woman had stepped forward and started speaking. She appeared to be several years older than Margaret. Her voice carried from a full, squat body. But passion shown from piercing eyes as she scanned the crowd. The confidence of her words stirred Margaret.
There was no mistaking this woman’s stand on any issue. She spoke with such assurance. Bold, clear, and sure in her oration, she was everything Margaret wanted to be.
“And why shouldn’t a woman be able to educate herself in the schools a man can? Have not some medical schools opened their doors to women? And those women are graduating with high honors. But is our society ready for women doctors? No! They still face adversity in setting up their practices and finding patients or colleagues that will listen, or trust them. And why? Not because they are not educated. Because they are women!
“Then they tell us our place is in the home and that we need to be protected. Have we not birthed babies for millennia? What, then, shall we need protection from? From pain? What more can a person endure?
“And they say we cannot gather and not speak of the vote. What exactly shall be their reasoning for not permitting us the vote? The lack of education from whence they first deprived us? This, and their own insistence that we are not knowledgeable about the workings of the government, politics, and society? And why should we not be? Because we are consigned to the home.”
The crowd murmured in agreement as the speaker continued driving her points.
Margaret nodded along, lost in the speech.
Voices in the crowd grew more aggressive. And progressively louder.
Margaret glanced around, her gaze shifting from one side to the other.
People around pressed in toward the speaker.
Margaret’s heart squeezed. This could not be good. It would not end well. She scanned the faces nearby. So many. All caught up in emotions provoked by the speaker’s words.
What would happen? This could not escape the notice of others. Of those who would oppose…
She swallowed. Hard. Her breaths came rapidly as she thought about the gathering being moved upon.
Jerking her head from side to side, she spotted an opening in the bodies around her. She slipped through and moved farther away from the group.
And once she deemed herself at a safe distance, she took notice of the onlookers. Their disapproving glares stabbed at her.
Dare she defend the women? The speaker?
Her hands shook. And her heart raced.
She just…couldn’t. So she shrunk back across the street and watched from an even greater distance.
Moments later, hoof beats clomped on the pavement.
Her breath caught in her throat.
Police swept down upon the gathering. Had they come to break up the meeting or intimidate?
She didn’t stay to find out. Shrinking farther into the approaching darkness, she slipped into anonymity.