“Oh, I don’t know, Jack….” Beth hedged. She glanced back over her shoulder, up the stairs. “I’m still trying to get everything organized upstairs, and…”
Beth sighed. “Fine. Give me a couple minutes to put something else on.”
Jack waited on the front porch. Several minutes later, Beth came down the stairs, the paint-splotched jeans replaced by a pair that looked new, with a streaming flame-like design in three different colors of sequins racing up along the seam of one leg. The over large tee shirt was replaced with a pale blue blouse. She still wore the khaki vest.
She held up a finger as she dashed past the front door, headed into the Professor’s dining room office. He heard the clatter of her wooden quill and ink kit.
She carefully closed the door behind her, locking both locks with a shiny gold key.
“I can’t believe they make them this small,” she said, slipping the key into the pocket of her jeans.
Jack shrugged, and they raced across the yards to the white station wagon.
Hannah and Charlotte were there, arguing over which of them would sit up front. Rather, they were arguing over which of them would have to sit next to Ellie in the front seat.
Jack’s mother was locking up the house, and came down the front porch steps.
“Neither of you will ride up front. Beth gets shotgun. Jack, keep your sisters from killing each other in the back seat.
“Why am I being punished?” Jack grumbled.
* * * * *
It was a quiet twenty minutes into town. When Jack didn’t rise to Charlotte’s baiting, she huffed, and stared out the window the rest of the trip. Ellie and Beth talked about cartoons. Hannah listened in on the conversation with an odd look on her face.
“Jack, you mean to tell me she hadn’t seen a Bugs Bunny cartoon until yesterday?”
“I… guess her grandpa wasn’t much on TV,” Jack said with a shrug.
“That’s just weird, Jack.”
“He wasn’t some sort of weird cult leader, was he?” Charlotte asked.
“How should I know? She’s sitting right up there, ask her yourself!”
“Ask me what?” Beth asked, turning to look back at Jack.
“Nothing,” Jack said.
“Your pants,” Hannah said, before Charlotte could open her mouth. “Where did you get them?”
“The Professor bought all of my clothes,” Beth said. “I didn’t ask where he got them, though.”
“I’ve never seen any with a design like that.”
“Oh, they were just the plain blue twill until a few days ago. I’ve been working on the design for a few days. It’s not done all the way yet.”
“You did that?” Hannah asked.
Beth nodded. “Why… Is something wrong with it?”
Hannah shook her head. “No, it’s beautiful. It’s just that every time I try doing anything with sequins, the sewing machine just gets all jammed up.”
“Oh, this is all done by hand,” Beth said.
“All that in two days?”
“That would take me weeks,” Hannah said.
Beth shrugged. “There’s not much to it. Just practice, patience, and persistence.”
Charlotte snorted. “Sorry,” she said. “For a minute there, you almost sounded like our Granna Nellis.”
“Is that bad?”
“The worst,” Charlotte said. “But you sound like you actually mean it. Like, speaking from experience.”
“Well, I do,” Beth said. “I helped make all my own clothes up until… um, recently.”
“Five dollars,” Charlotte said, extending a hand in front of Jack.
“You’re on,” Hannah said.
“Two hours,” Jack’s mother said. The window of the white station wagon rolled up, and she pulled back into the traffic along Mulberry Street.
“Are you two coming?” Hannah asked.
“Yeah, we’ll be in in a bit,” Jack said. He glanced over at Beth again.
She was still staring.
“It just keeps going up,” she said.
“It’s only four stories. Well, six once we get inside. There are two more floors underneath.”
Beth looked down.
A small, cramped two-story brick building had been the main library nearly since the town’s founding. The new library opened two summers ago, and was four stories of glass and concrete that covered nearly half a block.
“Come on, already,” Jack said. He took her hand, and practically had to drag her towards the main entrance. The closer she got, the harder Jack had to pull. “Come on, will you?”
“But there’s no—“ she began, and then let out a squeak as the doors slid open.
Jack thought she was going to crush his hand as her grip tightened.
“It moved. All on its own,” she whispered. She let out another squeak as the second set of doors wheeled open before them.
“They do that when you walk up to them,” Jack said. “Stop staring or Charlotte will never let you live it down.”
He led her through the lobby, towards the big map of the building.
“So, what do you want to look at?”
It looked to Jack as if she was trying to read the entire map at once. “I don’t… I don’t even know where to start,” she said. “Where are your sisters going?”
Jack pointed towards the third floor. “Hannah is going for the next book in a series she’s been reading. Some detective thing, I think. More than likely, Charlotte will be heading there, too, to dig through the romance novels.”
“They… write books about that sort of thing?”
“Mountains of them,” Jack said, rolling his eyes. “I think we need to go here,” he said, pointing towards the second floor.
“History?” Beth blushed.
“You really need to work on your current events,” Jack said. “What do you even know about the first or second World Wars?”
“There were… two of them?”
“That’s geography,” Beth said.
“The last president to be assassinated?”
Beth frowned. “It’s terrible, what happened to Garfield.”
It was Jack’s turn to stare. He pulled her away from the maps, walking quickly towards the elevators. “We really need to work on your current events.”
* * * * *
“I think we missed history and went straight to fiction,” Beth said, looking over the books Jack had picked out. “Rockets to the moon?”
“This from the girl who is fascinated by automatic doors.”
Beth stuck her tongue out. Then she bent her attention back to the book opened before her. A timeline of the first decade of the 20th century was spread out across the two pages, with dates and pictures and snippets of information about this or that event. Beth had filled up three pages from the library’s tray of scratch paper with notes written in neat, squared-off printing.
“I don’t get it,” Jack said. “You have such pretty writing, and then there’s… this.”
Beth glared at the pen in her hand. “This… ‘ball-peen’ pen isn’t fit for cursive,” she said. “And what is wrong with the paper? It’s far too slippery.”
“‘Ball-point,’” Jack corrected. “And the paper is just fine. Look.” He took the pen and wrote out his name.
“It just doesn’t feel right.”
“Three pages? This was supposed to be a quick glance over the highlights. You haven’t even gotten up to the Roaring Twenties.”
Jack glanced to the left and right. The small three-person table sat in a small open nook to one side of the long rows of shelves. Six or seven rows down was another table, abandoned. A pair of college students sat at the third such study area.
“When were you born?” Jack asked.
Jack crossed his arms, stared at her across the table.
Beth turned a few pages back in the book. “Eighteen… eighty-three.”