Sarah sat with her head down and her hands on her lap doing her best impression of a good Mennonite girl. This was her last church service before finally escaping to university and it was seemingly taking forever. She knew there were things she would miss about this place, but church was not one of them. She could barely concentrate on what was being said and didn’t join in when everyone ended the prayer with an “Amen”. It startled her and she looked up, hoping nobody noticed. Of course her eldest brother spotted her daydreaming and was now scowling at her. It isn’t such a big deal, it’s not like I killed someone, she thought, but averted her eyes immediately. She wasn’t going to start a stare down with Noah, the brother who most took after their stern father, she was sure to lose. Three days, she reassured herself, closed her eyes and fought the urge to slip back into fantasy. I’ll be long gone in three days.
She opened her eyes and tried her best to suppress a yawn. This drew the attention of her mother who shot her a sideways look of disappointment that froze Sarah in her seat. Sarah kept perfectly still during the rest of the sermon, ignoring the trickle of sweat sliding down her spine and the crazy itch on her knee. She vowed to be the perfect daughter for once if it killed her, she could do this.
After service her mother pulled her aside and whispered “Remember to invite the people we talked about” in a fierce voice. Sarah’s family was having a going away party for her that afternoon and in their small Mennonite community it was considered extremely rude if she didn’t personally invite each and every guest. Sarah hated standing out though, she survived her family by hiding from them as much as possible, and public events by disappearing into the background. The thought of approaching several people she’d known her entire life sent her into a near panic, she just didn’t do well with others. The stupid thing was that they all knew about the party, she was just being forced to uphold some old tradition for the sake of her family’s reputation. It isn’t even in the Bible, somebody just made it up some time and it stuck.
Sarah was exhausted by the time they drove home. Her mouth was dry and her hands were clammy. Come on body, how does this even make sense? Her mother spoke nonstop about the upcoming event and her father drove slowly, staring ahead and barely responding, only supplying the occasional grunt in agreement when he deemed it necessary. Sarah’s stomach twisted and growled, drawing the attention of her little sister Rebecca.
“You never make it a single Sunday without your stomach going crazy!” Rebecca giggled and pointed at her noisy midsection. Rebecca was a bright and bubbly 14 year old, the baby of the family. She also had an iron disposition and could manage the traditional Mennonite Sunday fast with ease. Sarah, on the other hand, always felt weak and shaky by the time they were able to eat their one large meal in the afternoon.
Sarah’s mom turned around and snapped “Girls, settle down! You’ll eat when it’s time.”
Sarah looked at Rebecca across the back seat and suppressed a giggle. It never failed, this exact thing played out every Sunday. Sarah thought she might not miss many of her family when she was gone but she would definitely miss Rebecca.
“Sarah, you’re not stirring. Pay attention or you’ll ruin it.” Sarah’s mother broke through her daydream. She had been imagining her first day of school, wondering what the classrooms look like and if she could handle the transition from high school to university.
“Yes mom, I’m sorry,” she replied and began stirring the pot of plumamoos, a hot fruit soup that was popular at most Mennonite gatherings. She loved the flavours, but hated the work that went into producing it. Sarah had a bit of a lazy reputation among her siblings. It wasn’t that she hated work, she just preferred to be curled up somewhere away from the crowded house with her face in a book. She was addicted to reading and usually snuck books home from her high school library on a daily basis. That was the one positive thing about being forced to attend public school in her ankle length skirts and hand sewn blouses.
Sarah grimaced, still stirring, and fought the urge to slip into her daydreams again. Her back ached and she was dripping sweat, it was hot outside and even hotter in the kitchen. She heard the back door slam shut and the loud piercing voices of her nieces and nephews. Each of Sarah’s five older brothers had married young, and married well. Their wives were all dutiful and were working on overpopulating the planet, sometimes two at a time if you consider David’s wife Mary and her set of twins. Sarah shot them all a warning glare, that she wasn’t in the mood to be teased today, but nobody caught it and all the kids raced past her one by one, taking swipes at her skirt on the way. If only she had the backbone to stand up to any of them, but all her brothers were like small clones of her father with the same long, disapproving faces and downturned mouths. Their children were bratty because they knew that they could get away with it, nobody took Sarah seriously.
“So the big day is coming soon,” said Mary, her overpopulating sister in law as she approached the stove. She was 25 and far along in her fourth pregnancy. “I hope you find what you’re looking for, I really do.” She reached out and touched Sarah’s arm, there was a flash of something in her eyes. Was that longing?
“I don’t know if I’m looking for anything necessarily. I am just happy that mom and dad are giving me this chance,” Sarah replied, hoping she kept her words modest enough. She didn’t want to be seen as bragging about her education. It was unseemly and she was still afraid her parents would change their minds.
“I’m sure you’ll find something though, how could you not with such an amazing opportunity?” Mary said, rubbed her stomach and sat down at the kitchen table. She started stuffing the perogies Sarah’s mom was rolling out and cutting. Potato and cheese, Sarah’s stomach growled again, both women looked up from their work at the sound. Mary laughed, Sarah’s mother frowned.
“She’d better find a husband fast,” her mother said. “Before he finds out how much this one eats and how many meals she burns.”
“I’ll treat my husband like a God,” Sarah said, feeling a little sassy, “I’ll give him burnt offerings.”
Mary laughed and said “Sarah! You are so funny!”
Her mother looked at her, pursed her lips and muttered “Such rudeness. Lord please help this child of mine find a strong hand to guide her.”
Sarah lowered her head and got back to stirring, her stomach protesting the entire time.
Once, when they were 13, Sarah and her best friend Naomi snuck in to see a movie at the small theatre in town. Most Mennonites didn’t ban things like music or movies, but Sarah’s family wasn’t like most Mennonites. They were old school fundamentalists, like ‘Amish Lite’ as Naomi would say and laugh. Most Mennonites dressed like normal people...well, almost normal, their pants always seemed a bit too long and their shirts a bit outdated, but mostly they blended in. Sarah’s mother insisted in hand making everything the kids wore, except for underwear and the yearly sensible shoe purchase.
The movie was magical, Sarah could still close her eyes and get back to that place. The actors were beyond good looking, the popcorn was perfection and the vibrating bass of the speakers was almost too much. She didn’t remember exactly what the movie was, some action thriller filled with explosions, cars and lots of passionate kissing. At this moment though, there was one scene that stood out for her. The heroine had just survived an assassin hit and was sitting in the middle of Times Square Station looking off kilter and out of sorts. The crowd of people passed around her in slow motion, completely oblivious to her suffering as they went about their business. They were filmed in sepia, the heroine was in bright colour.
Sarah felt like that heroine right now. The house was packed with people who were supposedly there to send her off. This was possibly the last time she would see some of them for months or even years, and not one of them talked to her. She was hunched in a cloud of misery on the living room sofa, half eaten plate of food on her knees and a bundle of nervous snakes squirming in her stomach. She couldn’t eat, she felt invisible and she wondered if she would ever come back here again.
She got up and walked through the crowd to the kitchen. A couple of people made small sounds of congratulations in her direction as she passed, but she kept walking. She set her plate on the table and turned to head outside. On the way out she heard Old Milly, their closest neighbor, ask her mother “Is she ok? Should I go after her?”
“She’s fine. If anything she could do with eating less. She’ll end up a chubby little thing by the time she’s thirty,” her mother laughed. “Hopefully she’ll be long married by then.”
“Oh Edith, you don’t have to worry about that one, she’s pretty. She will have no problems finding a husband.”
Sarah shut the door behind her and balled her fists to keep herself from screaming. It had been a lifetime of this, always being picked apart because she couldn’t shell peas or bake a perfect loaf of bread. The days spent listening to her mother tell her “You’ll never find a husband if you can’t do this or that...” and the nights spent hiding under her covers reading and dreaming, her passions surfacing like fevers, burning brightly at night to disappear in the light of day.
She ran past the main barn to the west pasture and lay down in the middle of it, letting the sun warm her face and the light turn everything golden. A few cows stared at her, curious, but went back to chewing grass when they realized she was just visiting their world, not intruding on it. She felt the grass under her body, cool and moist, and allowed the buzzing sound of grasshoppers calm her mind. Three more days, that’s all you have to wait, she reminded herself. Three more days and all of this will be your past, but not your future. She reached down and hiked her skirt up to her thighs to help herself cool off, savouring the kiss of the breeze on her bare skin. She smiled imagining her mother’s reaction to finding her daughter, grinning and exposing herself in the middle of the cow pasture. Sarah wondered where she had tipped off the path of righteousness and ended up becoming so argumentative. Even now she was full of crazy thoughts and ideas. She imagined herself reaching down and sliding her fingers into her underwear, rubbing until she hit the forbidden sweet release she had been craving so much lately. She felt sometimes as though she was in a constant state of arousal with all her urges and desires, for knowledge, for experience...for sex. I wonder what it’s like, to lay with a man. She whispered “Kiss me, I’m yours” to the wind and closed her eyes. She felt like she was floating away and grabbed a hand full of grass to keep herself tethered to the earth. Where did this overwhelming longing for more come from?
Ten years ago Sarah walked into the public library when she was supposed to be picking up eggs from her mother’s friend who worked in town. Their chickens had been moulting so her mother grudgingly decided to buy some, handed Sarah a crumpled wad of bills and explained where she could meet Faith. Faith had recently lost her husband and was forced to get a job as a receptionist at an insurance company to cover the bills. The women in the church would tsk tsk like it was a bad thing, but Sarah secretly thought Faith radiated happiness now.
She got to the insurance place to find Faith was on her lunch break. The lady at the reception desk suggested she spend the hour in the library next door where it was cool. Sarah’s heart had jumped, guilt flooded her, but she couldn’t possibly resist. Most Mennonites were completely fine with their children reading anything they wanted, but Sarah’s mother took offense to Sarah wanting to read anything other than what was already in their house, and Sarah could only read the Bible so many times.
She still thanked God for those stupid moulting chickens. She made friends with the librarian that day and got her own library card. A few months later she picked up what she thought was a novel and was instantly hooked on the field of human evolution. She knew about it from taking science at school, but it was considered a false testimony in her house so she never paid much attention. The book she found was about Lucy, an early human ancestor, from that moment on just the word australopithecine made her happy, the way it rolled off the tongue. She imagined this is what prayer was supposed to feel like, the same connection and magic she got when reciting lists of early hominid species. The idea of God had never really taken hold, she always assumed she was unworthy, that her lazy mind prevented a meaningful connection. She would often glance around at church and envy the looks of pure joy on people’s faces when they felt filled with the holy spirit. Sarah was a much more logical thinker and the idea that we were all created on the whim of a vengeful being a few thousand years ago unsettled her. It was much more comforting to imagine yourself with a deep, millennium old biological connection to every living thing on earth. If her parents knew this is how she felt, they would be devastated so she kept these things to herself. She hid her science magazines the way her wayward brother Elijah hid his Playboys, out in the barn in the tack room, underneath a bin of grain. It was their one shared connection.
After Lucy there came other books about evolution, paleoanthropology, archaeology. If it was old and involved digging stuff up, she was all over it. The librarian would special order journals for Sarah to devour along with the usual texts and books. It became her entire life and filled a hole that she didn’t realize was there.
Three more days, I can do this, she thought as she pulled her skirt down and sat up. She looked around at the wide open field, the green grass blowing in the wind and the big eyed cows grazing their lives away. Three more days and I can leave the pasture, I don’t have to be a big eyed cow sold off to my future husband. I can do this.
She walked back to the house, some of the party guests were already leaving and the sound of choppy laughter flowed over the yard. She sighed, brushed herself down again, and went back in to face her family.
Sarah flipped her hair back and thought once again about getting a pixie cut. If she didn’t have such a baby face she might be able to pull it off. Sadly she lacked the cheekbones for it, but at least she had stopped braiding her long hair and now let it hang free. At the moment the wind was not agreeing with her decision and she had to pull hair out of her eyes before she tripped and landed on her face. It also worried her that her parents would kill her if she cut it all off, and even though she'd successfully fled to BC, she was still concerned about their reactions if they found out. Up until she and Naomi actually boarded the bus a little over a week ago, she hadn't been convinced they would ever let her go. It all worked out though, and here she was, rushing across the university for her first day of classes.
She did stumble on the stairs going up to the Academic Quadrangle, she was wearing a long hand sewn blue cotton skirt with a buttoned up white blouse and flat canvas sneakers. She realized now that she looked alarmingly like a character from one of her favorite book series, Little House on the Prairie. Her parents still dictated her wardrobe, although at 18 and out from under their thumbs, she was now determined to start buying her own clothing. She passed a beautiful girl with short black hair, a short skirt, knee high leather boots and dark made up eyes. She turned her head and almost tripped again. She felt like an idiot, staring, but yeah, she really needed to update her church mouse wardrobe. Those boots...those gorgeous boots!
Simon Fraser University itself was a series of blunt, grey concrete buildings set in steps down the gentle slope of Burnaby Mountain. It was designed in the sixties by architect Arthur Erickson, and was considered one of the pinnacle achievements of his career. Sarah researched the university before their move and devoured every brochure they had given her in the student services building. She came up here a few days ago to map out her classrooms and figure out which bus stop to get off at. She and Naomi had wandered the quiet campus and marveled at the architecture and sweeping views of the mountains to the North and Vancouver to the South. It was exhilarating to be here, on her own, pursuing her dreams.
She pushed a glass door open and walked through the large hallway on the way to the lecture theatre. Her first class, Archaeology 101, was an introductory course focusing on physical anthropology, and taught by a professor she had been reading about for years. He was an expert in the field of human evolution and she could not wait to see him in person. She almost wished she had brought one of his books for an autograph, she was that excited.
She found the lecture theatre with no problem and walked down the stairs to settle down near the front. She noticed most of her classmates were clustered at the back, at the top near the exit, she worried that she had taken a seat in a reserved section. Do they even have a reserved section in a classroom? She thought, glancing around. This wasn’t church after all, she could probably sit where she wanted. I hope.
She set up her laptop, turned and scanned the room, trying her best to look nonchalant. Everybody looked so young and fashionable, would she ever fit in with these people? She noticed one guy in the back at the top staring at her. No, he isn’t staring at me, is he? She smoothed her hair and tried to look at him out of the corner of her eye. He really is gorgeous, she thought and felt small thrill course through her body as she tried her best not to stare back. She could tell he was tall, his long legs stretched into the aisle and he has his thick, muscular arms crossed in front of him. He was the picture of easy confidence, her total opposite. He had tanned skin, darker than she was used to, with black hair that he had carefully worked to look messy and spiked. The most amazing thing about him though were his tattoos. She could see black tribal designs twisting and curling from his wrists and continued up his arms to under his t shirt. She wondered where they ended and thought about how broad and muscular his chest must be, was it patterned with dark images as well? Sarah had been obsessed with tattoos ever since a rebellious boy from a good family had run away and come back covered in them. She never found that boy good looking until he was tattooed, but they had added an air of mysterious bad boy to him. She never did find out if he was a bad boy, but she briefly thought about exploring that with this guy.
Sarah felt a red heat creeping up her face when she realized she had been staring just a few moments too long. The hot guy leaned forward and gestured, waving at her and smiling. She couldn’t believe it, was he really waving at her? This is crazy! She was already dying to tell Naomi all about it. She was looking at him directly now and waved back, a timid swipe of her hand. She saw his expression turn to confusion. He shook his head and pointed behind her. She turned around the other way and saw a gorgeous blonde girl laughing, the one he was waving at.
Sarah felt her heart stop and her stomach drop, leaden and cold in her middle. She faced forward and hunched over, absolutely crushed and humiliated. Why on earth would I think he was waving at me? She felt like such an idiot and didn’t know how she would get through the rest of the day. She felt a sharp pang of homesickness and for the first time questioned her decision to branch out away from her family. The gorgeous blonde girl ran past her, giggling and squealing along the way, Sarah saw her jump into his lap. Somebody kill me now, she thought, why did I have to choose the front of the classroom? It would be impossible to sneak out at this point.
The door swung open with a clatter and the professor entered, he paused for dramatic effect at the stop of the stairs, scanned the crowd and strode down to the front. He was tall with a lean muscular body, greying dark hair and piercing blue eyes. I never imagined he’d be so young...and good looking! She leaned forward to watch him pass. He was carrying an armload of books and bones, and deposited them all on the table at the front with the thump.
“Good morning my enthusiastic young learners, my name is Dr. Adam Summers, but you all can call me Adam. I’m impressed you all chose a class at nine in the morning. Either you really are eager to learn, or you want to get your day over with so you can hit the pub by noon,” he grinned and her classmates tittered. He had an British accent that made Sarah’s toes curl with excitement. Compared to the home grown Albertan farm boys she knew, he seemed positively exotic.
Sarah looked down when he made eye contact with her, he said “I’m glad to see some of you do seem genuinely enthusiastic. Did you know that studies have proven over eighty percent of the A level students in any given course sit front and centre?” A nervous hush went through her classmates. “You had better show up early next class, young lady,” he said directly to Sarah, flashing a killer smile, “I think you’ll find you have a small crowd vying for your spot.” He winked, Sarah was sure she was as bright red as an Atlantic lobster by now. After what felt like hours, he turned, walked to the front of the class and pulled down a large white screen. She thought she heard the gorgeous blonde laugh as he set up the projector. She didn’t think she could slide any lower into her seat, but she tried.
The lecture was progressing smoothly, Sarah was captivated by Dr. Summers, Adam he said to call him Adam, but still horrified by the embarrassing mistake she made with the waving. She hated being singled out, even among her siblings back home, but in front of a class of 50 strangers? She didn’t know how she was going to survive. Luckily Adam was an excellent speaker, and time went by faster than she could have hoped. When it was over, she took her time packing up, letting the rest of the class leave before her so she didn’t have to face Mr Hot and the gorgeous blonde...or any of the others who might have laughed at her expense.
“Excuse me, Miss, could you come over here?” She looked up, surprised that Adam was speaking directly to her. He was holding the projector and his briefcase, all the books and bones were still on the table.
“You mean me?” she asked, not wanting to make that same mistake twice.
“Yes, please, what’s your name?”
“Sa, Sa, Sarah, Sir.”
“SaSaSarah, remember, call me Adam.” He flashed that amazing smile again, and Sarah wanted to climb under a seat and hide. “Could you help me with these things? I can’t possibly carry everything back to my office, and my TA seems to have forgotten where he’s meant to be.” His accent really was dreamy and his eyes were mesmerising.
“Sure, I guess,” she mumbled and picked up her backpack.
“If I’m being a terrible inconvenience to you, I could always call for assistance,” he said, frowning slightly and looking at his watch.
“Oh, no, not at all. I’m sorry. I’m just nervous, it’s my first day.”
“Well SaSaSarah, you don’t need to be nervous around me...I don’t bite,” he said with that incredible smile and Sarah allowed herself to look for a half a second, it was like looking into the sun. She managed to return a small smile in return before she glanced away.
He loaded her arms with books and bones that turned out to be casts of early hominid fossil species. Sarah felt honoured to be entrusted with such a task, her parents would be angry to know she was delving in human evolution, but she couldn’t help herself. They believed she would be focusing on Biblical archaeology, and thought she could work somewhere in Jordan helping to prove their belief that God created the entire world a few thousand years ago. Sarah always felt dirty, lying to them, but her curiosity to learn overrode any guilt they might impose.
She trailed behind him through the Department of Archaeology, waiting patiently while he stopped to chat up the secretary and check his mail. The secretary smiled at Sarah and introduced herself as Maya, this small gesture made Sarah’s presence seem real somehow, as though she was meant to be there, she was meant to study archeology. She felt much more relaxed by the time they got to Adam’s office, it was isolated at the end of the hall past a series of labs. He excused the long trek, and explained that he had no tenure, so he ended up with the farthest spot from the main office.
Once inside, he asked her to stack the bones and books up on a high shelf, and she had the distinct feeling that he was watching her as she stretched. This unsettled her and she fumbled, almost dropping one of the precious fossil casts. Adam was there immediately, catching it and pressing himself against her inadvertently. She felt his hard body touching hers, she blushed again and pulled away. Adam laid the cast on a shelf and asked her to sit, as though nothing had happened, as though he hadn’t just been in total contact with her body moments before. I’m being foolish, she thought to herself, he’s a professional, he deals with prettier girls every day, of course he’s not hitting on me. I doubt my floor length Laura Ingalls skirt is giving him a hard on.
“Would you like some tea, SaSa...ok, I know, that’s getting old,” he laughed. “Sarah, would you care for a cup of tea? I have this amazing Nepalese blend I picked up in Kathmandu this summer. You have to try it.” He started packing loose tea leaves in a strainer, set it in his small clay teapot and turned the kettle on.
She glanced at her watch, over an hour until her next class, “I would like that, if you want.” She was surprised her voice had come out so smoothly. Here she was sitting across the desk from one of her academic idols like it happened every day.
He leaned back in his chair, stretched his arms and settled his hands behind his head and said “Of course I do, I like to make time for all my students, especially first years. I feel it is important for them to feel a connection to the faculty. I still remember how I felt, my first year. It was a terrifying experience." He noticed Sarah’s skeptical look and laughed. “Oh come on, I’m not that old, I can still remember that far back.”
Oh my god, I’ve offended him. “That’s not what I meant,” Sarah replied, horrified. “I mean it’s hard to imagine somebody like you being scared of anything.” The kettle came to a boil and clicked off, Sarah jumped and hoped he hadn’t noticed. Why am I afraid of my own shadow? Suck it up Sarah, as Naomi always tells me. Adam poured steaming water over the strainer, filling the little pot. He pulled two small tea cups from a drawer in his desk and continued talking.
“Oh believe me, I’ve been scared Sarah. Fieldwork is not all fun and games. I remember when I was conducting research for my PhD in Kenya, our camp was raided by bandits. We were already annoying the locals, always hanging around asking questions about bones and such. None of them would help us. We ended up walking back to the nearest town, it took three days. You haven’t known fear until you’ve spent a night or two camping on the open savannah with nothing to protect you. Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!”
Sarah gasped, her brain couldn’t even place herself in such a situation, it would have been so terrifying.
“Oh don’t look so frightened, Sarah, you know how the story ends, spoiler alert...I made it out alive,” he chuckled and reached for the tea pot. He filled each cup with the amber liquid and handed Sarah hers. She wrapped her hands around it and put it to her lips, not drinking, but breathing in the steam that curled around the top. It smelled earthy, like a freshly ploughed field after a spring rain. She said so just then, and Adam laughed, throwing his head back, his smile wide and beautiful. She felt extremely naive and unschooled, completely out of her element. Is he laughing at me?
“Sarah, you are a treat. You know I see hundreds of students, hundreds of young girls come parading through my classes year after year. They all look the same, think the same. I have to say, you are a refreshing change. Do you mind me asking where you’re from? What’s your background? I detect the smallest of accents if I’m not mistaken.”
She shifted in the chair and looked away. Sarah had worked for years to erase any hint of an accent from her speech and she was appalled that he had picked up on it. “I’m from Alberta, a little Mennonite community in the south,” she said, “and I know, my clothes are weird and I talk funny, I’ve heard it my whole life.”
“I didn’t mean it like that Sarah, I’m sorry if I offended you,” he leaned across his desk, holding his hands out. “Forgive me if I’ve upset you.”
“No, it’s my fault, I’m too sensitive." She felt like a fool, making a mountain out of a molehill. "I really should go,” Sarah said and got up too quickly, almost spilling her tea when she set it down on the desk. He called after her, but she fled, too embarrassed to stay and see his worried expression. God, I’m such a freak, what is wrong with me, her inner critic scolded. She walked past the office, barely managing to return the kind secretary’s greeting as she kept her head down. She just wanted to race back down the mountain and hide out in her bed for the rest of the day. She couldn’t though, History 121, Ancient Rome, was next, and English 101 after that. Her day was full, and she couldn’t duck out of anything. She paused in an alcove and regained her composure. I’ve got this, I can do this, Sarah told herself until she began to believe it again.
Sarah opened the apartment door and hung her jacket up on the hook in the hallway. She was tired, it was only three in the afternoon on her first day and she already had course work to do. The rest of her day had gone well, but she was still grateful to be home. She and Naomi found a good deal on a two bedroom apartment just at the base of the mountain, a short bus ride to the university. The building was old, built in the sixties, and slightly dilapidated, but it was perfect for the two girls. Sarah had given Naomi the larger room near the entrance, and she had taken the smaller room to the front, with the large sunny window and a little more privacy. They had gone out last week to buy a few scattered furnishings from the Army and Navy thrift store, her room had an old dresser, a comfy faux velvet chair and a double mattress on the floor. They had decided to wait until their student loans came in to buy new clothes, but after today, she wished they had gotten the clothing first.
She dropped her backpack on the bed, flopped onto the mattress and ran the day’s events through her mind.
Two things were at the forefront, Mr. Hot and Adam, each of them represented a point of humiliation and attraction for Sarah. Mr. Hot was like nobody she had ever seen, with his chiseled jaw, muscled body, and those crazy beautiful tattoos snaking along his dark skin. What would happen if I brought him home for family dinner? she grimaced imaging her parent’s reactions to such an exotic man. Adam was charming, but he was off limits as her professor and idol. Still, she couldn’t help herself from picturing his brilliant smile and the familiar way he spoke to her in his office. He made her feel so welcome in archaeology, she needed that after her embarrassing mix up with Mr. Hot. It had been an interesting first day, and meeting not one, but two attractive men was completely unexpected. If you can just loosen up and stop being such an insecure freak, this might be a good year after all.
She rolled over and pulled out her laptop. Her first assignment was for her Roman class, a short essay on the Roman emperor of her choice. She had some research to do. First off though, a quick survey of the faculty website, she needed to read Adam’s bio again now that she had met him. His photo was stunning, he was standing in the middle of an excavation pit, his smile wide and charming. Why did I not notice how cute he was before today? She must have had her Mennonite blinders on. In the photo he had a shovel in one hand, and a screening tripod was set up just behind him. She wondered where the excavation had taken place, the photo was recent, possibly from the summer. Hadn’t he mentioned Tibet in the summer? She wondered what kind of amazing life he lived, travel, excavations, and exotic people. She sighed and dared to imagine herself with him for a moment, by his side on his adventures. She already felt like a wild thing escaping her strict community, but daring to dream of other countries made her palms sweaty. She didn’t even have it in her to imagine what they would be like on her own, she needed the safety of being with Adam, somebody who had already done it, was already skilled and confident.
She heard Naomi come in, jumped up and yelled “Hey” as she went to see her. Naomi tossed her backpack and jacket on the floor, Sarah bent down to hang them on the hooks near the front entrance.
“Oh Sarah, you don’t have to pick up after me, your mom’s not around to bitch you out over every little mess,” Naomi said.
“I know! It’s just a force of habit. I’ll get dirty soon enough, don’t worry,” Sarah replied, wishing she was carefree enough to not be bothered by little messes stacking up here and there. It did bother her though, maybe not just because of her mother’s influence, but mainly because if she could keep her surroundings neat then Sarah felt like she was in some semblance of control. She watched her friend grab a bottle of water from the fridge and take a long drink, then leave the half full bottle on the counter. Sarah fought her urge to pick it up and put it back in. Naomi noticed and said “Just let go Sarah, lose control, be a wild thing and leave that damn bottle of water on the counter…you can do it!”
Sarah laughed and said “Ok, I promise I won’t touch it,” although her fingers practically twitched, betraying her urge to put things in their place. Sarah envied Naomi’s confidence, she didn’t seem to be bothered by much, if anything. Naomi already fit in with the normal world, her style was taken from her favorite decade, the eighties, but she had a contemporary flair that made it work. She was tall, had red hair, green eyes and a lithe body with a cat like confidence. People always said she was the kind of girl you could drape a horse blanket on and it would look couture. Funny, I don’t even know exactly what couture means. I’ll have to Google it later so I can drop it in conversation. Today Naomi had chosen skinny jeans, high heeled granny boots and an oversized sweatshirt, off the shoulder with her bra strap showing. Sarah stared at the bright pink strap and wondered if she would ever be comfortable showing off a bra strap, let alone a pink one. Naomi caught her looking, rolled her eyes and said “Sarah, for real, we have to get you some new clothes. Let’s go celebrate student loan money and go shopping. Lougheed Mall is a few minutes away, you can tell me all about your first day as a wide eyed Mennonite girl alone in the big bad world.”
Sarah nodded, grabbed her purse, and they left. If anyone else had mentioned Sarah’s outdated clothes, she would have retreated into her room and been too hurt to come out. She knew Naomi had the best of intentions, so it didn’t bother her. She had known Naomi longer than almost anyone. The first time they met was in church daycare when they were around three. Even then Naomi had been wilder than the rest of them, and it had just gotten worse as they grew. Once they hit grade seven, Naomi starting driving everyone crazy with her constant questions and demands to know the answers from church elders. Sarah would shrink away from Naomi’s angry queries, explanations for everything from evolution to gay marriage, but she would quietly cheer her friend on when she was arguing with an adult. It was partly Naomi’s idea that Sarah come to SFU to study, she knew how much Sarah loved archaeology and knew if she stayed back home, her parents would marry her off, expect her to start having babies and work the farm. Sarah thought of herself as lucky for being able to escape, and have the support of a friend like Naomi.
They wandered through the mall looking for sales on clothes that were Naomi approved. It was tough, they only had their student loans and small family allowances to live on so they had to be frugal. Naomi seemed to have a built in radar to like the most expensive items, but they had fun looking. A couple of hours later, Sarah had the basics for a decent look, several makeup products she didn’t know what to do with yet, a new pair of low heeled shoes, and the most amazing pair of knee high boots with brown butter soft leather and a 2 inch heel. The highest she had ever attempted. She couldn’t wait to get home, trim her hair, learn some basic makeup application, try on her clothes and learn how to walk in her new boots. They stopped at the Sobeys for a few groceries, Naomi threw in a bottle of Tylenol and said “You’ll need these for your feet, until you get used to the heels.”
They paid for their items and headed home. “So you never did tell me much about your day, I’ve been talking your ear off,” Naomi said as they were crossing the street. "You're always so quiet Sarah, don't let me steam roller you."
“It's ok, you know I love your stories,” she said. It was true, Naomi talked enough for both of them, it allowed Sarah time to carefully observe people or get lost in her own thoughts. “My day was pretty good, I like two out of three classes so I count myself lucky. English is a bore, but I’ll live. There is a hot guy in my first class, but I was a total dork and embarrassed myself.”
“Awe, come on, I’m sure he didn’t even notice. You are so adorable, you have a rockin body and have this whole ‘don’t realize how hot you are’ thing going on. Guys eat that shit up,” Naomi reassured her. “Besides, after tonight, you’ll know how to show it off and he won’t even care about today.”
“Well he would have noticed this, I waved at him thinking he was waving at me. Yeah, turns out he wasn’t and I looked like an idiot. The gorgeous blonde he was waving at thought so, she was laughing at me the entire class.”
“Who cares what a stuck up bitch thinks, right? Any other guys on your radar? Now that you’re free from your crazy family, I am dying to get you hooked up!”
“Not really...well...Adam is pretty attractive, but I wouldn’t call him hot. He’s sophisticated, dashing, handsome...dreamy,” Sarah smiled.
Naomi came to a complete stop right in front of their building. She looked at Sarah and demanded “Tell me everything! You met a dreamy guy and withheld the info? That’s a crime, I’m sure of it.”
“Ok! Ok! He’s not really a guy though, he’s my archaeology professor, and he’s gorgeous.”
“Oh. Your prof, that doesn’t count then. Let’s get inside and get you made up.”
Sarah trailed behind her, savouring the moment. She waited until Naomi had pushed the elevator button for their floor and said “He invited me back to his office for tea though.”
Naomi spun around and yelled “Get out! You fucked your prof on the first day?” Naomi loved being melodramatic and it always made Sarah laugh.
The elevator door slid open and an elderly lady with a poodle on a leash stepped out, glaring at them as she passed. They got on the elevator and Sarah said “Naomi! Keep your voice down. Oh my god, now that woman thinks I’m a total slut! And no, I did not...ahem..sleep with him, we just talked. I messed that up too though.”
“Sleep with? What are you? Ten years old?” Naomi teased. “Come on, you can say it, fuck. Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck. Just say it Sarah, your mommy and daddy are hundreds of miles away.”
“Uh, I can say it, I just don’t want to, ok?”
“Come on...just once, just for me. I don’t think I’ve ever heard you swear. You’re the kind of girl who wouldn’t say shit if your mouth was full of it!”
“Gross Naomi! That’s a disturbing image. And I do swear, just not around people that much,” Sarah fibbed. She never really swore but she thought this was as good a time as any to start. She took a deep breath and exclaimed “FUCK! There you go. FUCK! FUCK!” It was rather liberating to let it out.
The elevator stopped and the door opened on their floor. An older well-dressed Asian man shot them a weird look as he got on and they got off.
Naomi was laughing so hard by now that she had tears rolling down her face. “Oh my god, the whole building is going to think we’re slutty girls with mouths like sailors!”
Sarah had to laugh with her, it was funny, their bad timing. Her whole day had been about bad timing and errors, but sharing them with Naomi made them all seem harmless.
They were unpacking the groceries and talking about making dinner when Naomi said “Don’t think you’re off the hook by the way, I need to know everything about sexy Adam the professor. You lucked out, there are no hotties in my classes. Maybe I’ll find some when I get into pre-law, all those sexy lawyers and all.” It occurred to Sarah that she had never seen Naomi dating, she knew that Naomi must have fooled around when they were in high school, but didn’t even know her type.
“He is pretty sexy. He’s older, obviously, like in his thirties at least. He’s tall, maybe six two, with dark hair and blue eyes. He’s got some grey hair too, salt and pepper I think it’s called?” Naomi nodded and Sarah continued, “well, after making a fool of myself, I waited until everybody left. Adam asked me to help him move some things to his office and then offered me tea. We were talking, he was telling me about being attacked by bandits in Africa, then he upset me.”
“Oh no, what did he say?”
“He didn’t say anything really. He just asked about my accent, but I overreacted. I got embarrassed and left his office, I feel so stupid Naomi. How can I face him again next class?”
“With your total makeover, he won’t even recognize you! You’ll get your second chance, with the Mr. Hot and professor Adam. Now let’s work on your model walk.”
No matter how low Sarah felt, Naomi could always pull her out of it and make everything right again. When they were little, they had been teased at elementary school for dressing funny and using weird words. Mennonite families often spoke a form of German at home, so that was their first language. By high school things were worse, Sarah had become the target of one group of girls who took great pleasure in making her life a hell. If it hadn’t been for Naomi, she didn’t know how she would have survived those last few years. Sarah’s response to being tripped or called fucking bitch on a daily basis was to retreat into her own hidden world of fantasy. Naomi’s response was to call them worse names and push them harder. She ended up gaining an uneasy acceptance with the popular crowd, and was even invited to their parties from time to time. Sarah always declined tagging along with Naomi, even if they weren’t attacking her, those kinds of girls terrified Sarah. The gorgeous blonde in the classroom today had reminded her of those kinds of girls, it hurt doubly that Mr. Hot might end up being one of those kinds of guys. She comforted herself with thoughts of Adam instead, to soothe the hurt.
“Come on, you’ve got to wiggle your hips and hold your shoulders up,” Naomi said as Sarah paraded her new boots up and down the living room in their little apartment.
“I’m trying. You sound like our gym teacher, Mrs. Lawson,” Sarah laughed, stumbling as she made the turn around the coffee table.
“This is serious business, you’ve got a day to make sure you don’t mess up again,” Naomi said then quickly added “not that I’m saying you messed up Sarah, I just want you to feel as good as you look. It’s like you honestly have no idea how pretty you are. I know how hard your mom was on you and I want you to find some happiness, you deserve it.” Naomi was staring at her with a strange look in her eyes, almost like a proud mother. Sarah shook her head, straightened her back and started walking again. She kept going until she could walk in her new boots with confidence.