Sara R. Turnquist
Between the Lines
Chapter 1 Sneak Peek
A New Beginning
February 17, 2020
Cherry Lane Inn
What did one look for in a place to get married? Brianne Marshall let out a breath. She didn’t want to make it such an all important decision, but it was. To her. Scott seemed quite a bit more laid back. Sometimes that read as a lack of care. But she wanted to believe that she was wrong. She told herself as much. Several times over the last few months.
But they were getting married. After everything, Scott stayed by her side. Through the depression, the recovery, the highs and lows…everything. She couldn’t be happier to be marrying him in just a four short months. June seemed so far away, but right around the corner.
“The chairs will line up here,” the tall woman said, indicating one side of the room.
Everything about the event space coordinator was long and lean. And she smiled a little too readily at Scott. It dug at Brianne a little. When she turned to Scott, the way his eyes gleamed when he met Brianne’s gaze, she knew she had found a man who treasured her. That’s what she needed.
“What instruments were you thinking you would need? We have space in that corner.” The woman pointed a perfectly manicured hand.
“We thought a pianist. And a singer. Right?” Scott turned his brown eyes on her again.
She nodded. “Unless you thought we would need more?” After all, Scott was the musician. But she had kindof always dreamed of a simple wedding.
He reached for her hand. “I like the idea of the pianist and singer. It’s easy. And uncluttered.”
Brianne smiled in spite of herself. And squeezed his hand, which warmed more than her fingers.
The coordinator smiled sweetly before looking at her clipboard. “I think that’s all I needed. Do you two have any questions?” She spoke to them both, but it seemed her gaze settled on Scott alone.
Because he was easy to look at…he certainly was that. Or because the woman didn’t think Brianne’s opinion mattered?
Goodness! she chided herself. What has this woman done to deserve such judgment? Nothing.
Brianne refocused on Scott, who was shaking his head. “Nothing I can think of.” He tugged on Brianne’s hand, bringing her a little closer to himself. “You?”
Disintangling herself from Scott’s hold, she flipped open her binder and thumbed to the section on venue. She scanned the page, but everything seemed to blur right before her. It may be time to call it a day. Closing the wedding binder and hugging it to herself, she shook her head.
“Well, if you think of anything, please call or email. You have my information?”
“Yes,” Brianne was quick to say. She had compiled the pertinent contacts early on.
Scott moved closer to her and set a hand to her back.
She loved that he kept contact with her, but her nerves plagued her around this woman who apparently had no flaws.
“Then I think we’re done here.” There was that perfectly white smile flashing at them.
Then the coordinator turned and moved toward the front of the building.
Scott pressed gently against the small of Brianne’s back and urged her forward as well. He leaned in and whispered, “You okay?”
This was no time for such a question. Not in front of this woman. Brianne tensed.
He rubbed his hand in a small circle, but said nothing further. Perhaps he was weary of reassuring her.
As the coordinator reached for the door knob, she paused. Then turned. “Oh, there is one more thing.”
Brianne had to stop abruptly to keep from bumping into her. But Scott’s hand on her arm helped her retain her balance.
“What’s that?” Scott asked. Though his eyes were on Brianne, eyebrows raised. Did he have to be so concerned? She hated being a source of worry.
“Due to…the unfortunate circumstances in our world right now,” the woman was slow to talk. It was as if she really didn’t want to. “…we are having to talk to all of our couples about contingencies.”
“Contingencies?” Scott’s brow furrowed.
What could the coordinator be referring to? Then, it rushed through Brianne. The corona-sars virus. A shiver went down her spine.
Scott rubbed a hand up her back and to her shoulder, giving it a squeeze. Again, he was reassuring her.
And perhaps it was necessary. This virus moving across the world, and even into the Unites States earlier this month despite travel bans, had Brianne wanting to run to the hills. But there was no guarantee she’d be safe there. Or anywhere. Oddly, that was the thing that kept her grounded and still in Memphis. That, and Scott’s insistence that it was much ado about nothing. The media exaggerates, he would say…they need to sensationalize for their story.
The coordinator had continued talking. How had Brianne spaced out? But she tried her best to focus. The anchor in her gut and rush of apprehension through her body didn’t help matters.
“We just need to have a plan. It’s not likely we will need it.” The woman waved a hand in the air. “But it’s best to have it.”
“We will discuss it,” Scott said, swallowing hard. Was he upset the coordinator brought it up? Or at Brianne’s reaction? “And get back to you.”
“That will be fine.” There was that smile again. “If you could do so by the end of the week, that will help us solidify things.”
“Sure thing.” Scott looked at Brianne.
She attempted a smile, though it felt uneven, and nodded. “Of course.”
“Are you headed back today? Or plan to enjoy the area?” The woman led them outside and toward the parking lot. Why did she ask that? Making small talk? Or overly curious?
“We plan to check out the Italian restaurant in downtown. We’re not from Murfreesboro, so we are narrowing down where we want to have the rehearsal dinner.”
“That is a wonderful place!” Again, the beaming smile. “I hope you have a fantastic meal.”
“Then I think we’ll stay the night in Clarksville and head back to Memphis tomorrow.”
“Y’all are superstars…planning a wedding so far from your location. People do it, but it requires a lot of organization.”
Scott’s smile spread across his face and he tugged Brianne closer. “Brianne has that in spades. You have seen the binder, right?”
Wait. Was he teasing her?
“I have.” The woman’s laugh seemed uneasy.
Or maybe Brianne was still being judgmental. Perhaps unnecessarily.
“Have a great lunch. And we’ll touch base soon?” Again, she looked at Scott. Was she so averse to communication with Brianne? Or did she wish for more of the exchanges to be with Scott? It was difficult to discern. And Brianne was tired of second guessing everything.
The woman turned and walked back to the building, leaving them alone by Scott’s car.
Brianne moved toward the passenger side door.
Scott was close behind, reaching for the handle. But as he opened the door, he paused. “You didn’t answer me. Is something bothering you?”
She shrugged, not wanting to have this conversation. They had had it before, and as understanding as Scott was, she felt like a heel the whole time. “It’s nothing.”
He lifted his eyebrows and set hands to her shoulders, steering her to face him. “Really? It doesn’t seem like nothing.”
She shook her head. “It’s just all the planning. And this stuff about that virus.” Brianne leaned back against the car. “It worries me.”
“I know it does, honey. But we won’t gain anything but headaches from trying to figure it out. Remember,” he said as he let his hands run down her arms and cover her hands, still on her binder, “God’s got this. Nothing about any of this surprises Him.”
“That’s true. But,” she started, then stopped herself.
She bit at her lip. Then decided it was best to be honest with him. “How do we know God’s plan doesn’t involve hard things? He promises to be with us, but He never promises things won’t be hard, or there won’t be loss, or—”
Scott pulled her to himself, wrapping his arms around her. “It’s okay.”
“Is it?” She actually sniffled as she leaned into him.
All of a sudden, her binder was in the way.
He slipped it from her grasp and set it on the hood of the car. “Yes, it is. Because, whether bad things happen, or we face hard things…His grace is sufficient, and His plan is perfect.”
She nodded into his shoulder. And closed her eyes, wishing she could believe that as strongly as he did.
The three hour drive from Clarksville to Memphis had dragged on. Surely it had been longer, Scott thought as he considered how the silence had stretched, becoming thick in the air.
It bothered because he and Brianne did not have such silences between them. Four years together and they had not run out of things to say. Was she mad? At him? He had no clue. Would it be worse for him if he asked? Was he supposed to know what he had done?
He glanced at Brianne, but only saw her profile. She stared out the window as if keenly interested in something on the horizon. What was there that she hadn’t seen a million times on this drive?
Swallowing against his trepidation, he reached a hand out and covered hers.
She laced her fingers through his.
There was that. He let out a sigh. Too late, realizing it was probably audible. His gaze flew to her, but she didn’t seem to notice anything. A blessing for certain.
Resisting the urge to squeeze her hand, he cleared his throat. “Hey,” he said, careful to keep his tone soft. “We don’t have to go to my parents’ house for dinner. We can hit up Dixie Cafe. Get some comfort food.”
Her gaze was on him then. He felt it. Glancing briefly, he attempted to gauge her mood. But her face was a mask. Except her eyes…they seemed all the more deep in that moment in a way that made him want to pull her closer and soothe her aches.
“Do you not want to eat with your folks?” Her words belied a confusion that surprised him. He thought his intentions were clear.
“No, that’s not it. I just didn’t know if you needed some time for just us.” He squeezed her hand gently. “Or maybe just want me to take you to your apartment?” Though he offered it, he prayed that was not what she opted for.
She shifted in the passenger seat, angling toward him. “It almost sounds as if you’d rather I just go to the apartment.”
Great. He’d found himself in a trap. “No, Bri, that’s not it. I just…I want you to have options. I want you to be comfortable.”
She turned her focus back to the road. The silence even worse than before.
“I’m not saying any of this right,” he grumbled. “I’m sorry.”
She rubbed a thumb across his hand. It was the sweetest reassurance she could have given him.
“You’ve been…” He wanted to say off. The word was on the tip of his tongue before he caught it. That would not come out well. “…distracted.”
She murmured something. Then shifted to look at him again, bringing her other hand around to enfold his from both sides. “You’re right. And I’m sorry.”
His nerves settled. “What’s on your mind?”
For a moment, there was nothing forthcoming. He feared she wasn’t going to answer. But then she spoke.
“I…just have a lot I’m thinking through.”
“Worried?” He probed where he might shouldn’t. But since her breakdown a few years back and the diagnosis of her mood disorder, he wanted to address the reallity head on. No way was he going to let that rear its ugly head. Not if he could prevent it.
“Yeah,” she said, looking down at their hands. The word was barely a whisper.
“Want to talk about it?”
She seemed to consider his words, then shook her head. “I’m not sure what I think yet. I just need some more time to process some things.”
Now that surprised him. She usually processed out loud. What weighed on her? As if he didn’t know. The wedding. The COVID virus. All of it. Could he blame her?
He brought her hands to his lips and pressed a kiss to the one on top. “You know I’m here when you are ready.”
“And, really, we can skip my parents’ house. They’ll understand. It’s been a long weekend.”
“No,” she said, shaking her curled locks. “I want to go.”
He smiled. “Good.” Then he shifted and took the car out of autodrive. “‘Cause we’re coming into Arlington.”
Kissing her hand again, he released her it so he could have both of his hands to steer. They would be at their exit soon.
Sure enough, only a couple of minutes later, the Bartlett exit shone despite the darkening sky. The sun was setting and a burst of oranges and purples filled his vision.
He turned onto the exit, pulling off of I-40 west. They’d had their fill of that interstate for some time. Though they’d likely be back, eastbound toward Middle Tennessee. A wedding in Murfreesboro was not his first choice, but he did like the venue they selected. And Brianne had wanted to be closer to her hometown. That was more important to her than his preference to plan the ceremony to be local to where they both lived.
The familiar streets of Bartlett passed him by as he headed toward the two-story brick house he had called home the longest. His parents had moved around a bit, but settled in their current house years ago when his dad opened a counseling practice in nearby Cordova.
In less than ten minutes, Scott turned into his parents’ driveway. He set the car in park and took a deep breath.
“You okay?” Brianne asked him the question he had earlier voiced.
He set his gaze on her worried features. “No. Just worn out from the drive.”
“Ah.” Then she looked away.
“It’s fine,” he was quick to say. “I just need to collect myself.”
She attempted a smile, but it was slight. And her eyes didn’t reflect the levity of the action. Indeed, there was a weight on her mind. Could he coax it out of her? Surely she’d feel better if she talked about it.
But he didn’t want to push. So he offered her his smile and said, “Ready?”
She nodded. “As much as I’ll ever be.”
There was a lightness to her tone, as if this was intended to be a joke. But Scott wondered if there was truth behind it. She still wasn’t completely comfortable with his parents. He wasn’t blind…he could see it. His mother and Bri both had big personalities. And he prayed they would find a rhythm to their relationship.
He opened his door, and rushed around to the passenger side; however, she was already halfway out of the car. That wasn’t like her. She knew he enjoyed helping her out. Was this a message?
Shaking his head, he opted not to see too much into her action. It would be clearer once she was ready to talk.
He held out his hand and slid her fingers into it. Giving her a little tug, he drew her closer to his side as he walked the sidewalk to the front door.
His mother was there before he could ring the doorbell.
“Scott, Brianne, so glad you got here safely. You can’t know how I worry when you’re on that drive.” She rushed them inside the house.
The smell of apple pie assaulted him. Of course she would make his favorite. He should expect nothing less.
“I am twenty-five, Mom. I think you can give me some credit.”
She waved a hand. “It’s my job to worry.”
Then she turned and moved toward the living room.
“Please, come in, have a seat.”
Something in her manner was almost giddy. What was going on here? He offered Brianne an apologetic shrug. They would soon find out what was behind his mother’s behavior. He was certain of it.
He held out a hand for Brianne to settle on the couch. Then he sat beside her and wrapped an arm around her. The little touches in the car had been nice, but he craved more connection with her. Not just pulling her closer to his side. But to be on the same page emotionally. He wasn’t sure they were lately.
She hesitated to let him tug her closer. But only a little. Her gaze shot to his mother. Did she think his mother disapproved of the action? Not that it mattered to Scott. He wished Bri wouldn’t be so anxious about what others thought, for her own sake.
Mother sat in the nearby armchair. Only then did he notice a shoebox sat on the side table. It was out of place. And nothing in his mom’s world was ever out of place. Or so it always seemed.
“How was the trip?” she asked, practically bursting with energy. Or a secret.
“It was fine. Nothing eventful.”
“Well, that’s good. How was your time in Murfreesboro?” There was a crease forming in Mother’s forehead. Scott had already guessed his mother wasn’t excited about the wedding location choice.
“Good,” he said as he looked at Bri. “Our venue has all the options we wanted. Now, we just need to keep the lines of communication open until the wedding.” He squeezed Bri’s shoulder at that mention of their special day.
Brianne plastered on a smile and nodded along.
He almost pressed out about the need for a contingency. But he sensed that it would be best he and Bri talk about that before he included his mother’s opinion. This was all such a minefield.
“Mom, you look as if you might burst.”
“I found something for you.” She beamed.
“Found something for me?”
“Yes, I was going through some of the things in the storage closet, clearing stuff out. And I found this.” She set a hand on the shoebox.
Scott had a couple of questions. Why was she clearing things out? And what was in the box? Something from his childhood perhaps? He settled on the more curious thing. “What’s that?”
Mom pulled the box into her lap. Then held it out to him.
He took it, taking his arm off the back of the couch.
“Open it.” She appeared ready to jump at him if he didn’t comply.
Looking toward Bri, he saw that she was rather curious. More so than he was. Interesting. Then he lifted the lid.
Old discolored, slightly tattered envelopes wrapped in ribbon lay within.
He met his mom’s gaze “What are these?”
She moved over to the couch to sit next to him.
He and Brianne had to scoot to make room.
“These are letters my grandfather and grandmother wrote to each other leading up to their wedding!”
“Oh, my.” Scott said, looking down into the box. At the same moment, he heard Bri gasp.
“These are important. But I don’t understand what that has to do with me?”
“Don’t you see?” Mother chidded. “You are planning your wedding. I thought these would be perfect for you two.”
Scott didn’t know what to say. He just stared at the letters. This was something precious to entrust to he and Bri. It warmed Scott to think that his mother must think much of Brianne to share these. More than he’d thought.
“Thanks, Mom,” Scott said slowly. He looked to Bri. The look on her face was unreadable. Was she awed as he was? Touched as he suspected? Something else? He hated that he was never very good at reading people.
“Yes, thank you.” Bri’s voice was timid.
Mother’s smile spread over her whole face. “Go ahead, read one.”
A timer beeped. And Mother looked toward the kitchen.
“Shoot, that’s the roast. I just need to go check on that.” She rose.
Brianne started to stand. “Do you need any help?”
Mother shook her head. “No, dear. You sit and relax.”
Then Mother was through the door and out of the room.
Scott gingerly touched the stack. The script on the front was faded, but fanciful. What a treasure. He focused on Bri. “Amazing, isnt’ it?”
She nodded, but her gaze remained fixed on the letters. “It really is.” Her voice wavered.
He wrapped an arm around her and pulled her to himself for an embrace. “We can look at them later. For now, I’d rather sit here and enjoy you.”
A shiver went through her. What was going on in that head of hers?
Pausing and closing his eyes, he prayed for guidance.
Brianne hated the quiet between she and Scott. Dinner with his parents had been awkward to say the least…even more so than usual. But how could she explain to him what was in her mind and heart without creating more challenges. So she remained quiet.
Scott sighed. He was likely very tired formt he drive today. Combined with the strain of the mealtime. Though his mother had been eager for him to open the letters, he had excused himself from doing so, begging off that he was too tired to focus. And promised he would get to them soon.
“Are you okay?” Her voice was small even to her ears. But he had been so focused on her and how she was, it was time to direct her attention to him. After all, he had to have feelings, right?
He leaned toward her. “Yeah. I’m just tired of being in the car.”
“I know.” Guilt slammed into her. Visiting her parents and doing wedding stuff in Middle Tennessee was what pushed them into this three hour drive almost every weekend. All because of her. But it was her wedding, right? It should be near her hometown. That’s what was customary.
A gentle whisper in her thoughts reminded her that it was his wedding, too. Was she giving enough allowance for his wants and dreams?
Looking at her hands in her lap, she prayed that she would be more mindful. Listen better.
But that wasn’t all. He seemed fatigued beyond the day.
She reached for his hand.
He interwove their fingers and squeezed.
“I love you,” she said, gazing at his profile.
He smiled at that. She only wished it wasn’t such a tired smile. Still, it was genuine and it alleviated some of her guilt.
“I love you, too.” But his gaze never left the road. That was to be expected. It was darker and he needed to be mindful of the conditions outside the car.
“Maybe some good sleep will help.” Did she believe that? Not really.
He nodded. “Perhaps.”
She could always count on two things from him: the truth and the benefit of the doubt. It was so good of him to give her the space she needed with her thoughts, but support her along the way. Her prince. And she did love him so much.
“Something on your mind?” His question was delivered with a gentle tone, but there was worry underneath it. She sensed more than heard it.
The car fell into silence once more. Then he spoke. “Want to talk about it?”
“No.” The word came out before she quite filled out her thought on a reponse.
He let out a long breath.
“What?” Her tone accused. Did she feel that way? Apparently so.
His eyebrows lifted. “Nothing.”
“It doesn’t sound like nothing.” She grumbled. Why was her tone so biting? Where did this layer of animosity come from?
“Brie, let’s not do this.” His words were laced with weariness. Did he find her tiresome?
Dread filled her. What was he hiding? She pressed her voice into a quieter tone. “What exactly am I doing?”
She was being a bit less mature than her age. Did this have to be so dramatic? Fighting within herself, her own emotions, she wondered if this was a reflection of things pushed down for too long. Were there things—feelings, thoughts—he wasn’t voicing?
He squeezed her hand. “Brie…”
She slipped free of his grasp.
Switching on the right turn signal, Scott maneuvered the car into a nearby parking lot.
As he set the gear shift to park, she pressed out, “Why did you do that? I thought you were eager to drop me off and then get to your bed.”
She didn’t really know why she was striking out at him. Or how to stop the momentum that had startd this.
He still gripped the steering wheel. “Just because I’m tired, doesn’t mean I want to get away from you.”
“That’s not what I’m saying.” That was exactly what she was saying. But why? Did she need him to prove his love for her so much she would push this issue? That wasn’t the grown up way to express oneself or to garner reassurance.
She dropped her head. She had two choices: continue down this path, or be brave enough to stop. Which meant apologizing and being vulnerable. “I’m sorry.”
When she turned to look at him, his eyes, widened, were on her features. And there appeared to be a glint of moisture about them. A knife cut through her heart at the pain she caused him. Had that been her intention? It wasn’t what she really wanted.
“What’s going on? I wish you would tell me.” He covered her hand, still on her lap, with his larger one, his thumb stroking her fingers.
She shrugged. The desire to hold it in was still strong. Could she share her jumbled thoughts? Let him talk her down? Part of her wanted that. But a bigger part feared he would dismiss her concerns. And she had them in spades.
“Talk to me, Brie.” He leaned toward her, setting his other hand on her forearm.
She shook her head. “I don’t know that I can.”
His eyes glistened in the moonlight. So much emotion. And she was responsible for it.
She watched him as she tugged her hand free. “I want to. But I can’t understand it for myself. There’s so much.”
“Didn’t your counselor say that it’s good to share? That the challenging thoughts only have power locked in your mind?”
She nodded. “But this is not like that.” Her voice was neutral. Was she, too, worn with the conversation?
She sensed his gaze even though she refused to look at him again. She couldn’t. It was too disconcerting to see the lines of his features…the pain.
Then the pressure of his eyes on her alleviated.
She glanced at him.
He stared forward. And all was silent again.
What should she say? What could she do? She wanted desperately to reach out to him, but didn’t know quite how.
“I don’t know what to do.” His voice was soft. Turning, he met her gaze again. “I love you. So much it scares me.”
“I’ve never felt anything like this before. I want to protect you. And I know that sometimes that means pushing you a little. I hate it, but I want you to be okay.”
She fell a little more in love with him in that moment. Reaching out, she set a hand to the side of his face. “I know. And I will share. I just…need time.”
He dropped his regard to the console between them. Then he lifted his gaze to hers. “You mean the world to me.”
She leaned across the center compartment as much as she could and pressed her lips to his. When the gentle kiss had served to reconnect them and reaffirm her, she pulled back and set her forehead to his. “I know. You mean everything to me, too. We have to trust each other and trust God.”
Was she saying this to him? Or more to herself? Either way, it was truth.
He placed a kiss on the tip of her nose, his warm breath caressing her features. “You’re right.”
“We should probably get going. My pillow is calling and I think yours is, too.”
He smiled at that, slowly settled back into the driver’s seat, and started the car.
One thing was certain: all the confusion and conflict within her was not going to permit her any sleep tonight.