Authors: Molly O'Keefe
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Humor, #United States, #Women's Fiction, #Contemporary Women, #Romance, #Contemporary, #Romantic Comedy, #Contemporary Fiction, #Humor & Satire, #American, #General Humor, #Sagas
“I do,” she said. “Do you need some help?”
“Tomorrow night, actually. I got a fifth-grade boy who isn’t quite ready to be left alone, even though he might think otherwise. It’s just a few hours. I live across the street from the Art Barn.”
“Yeah, actually, that would be great.” Her smile was so composed. She reminded him of Shelby—a little self-contained universe.
“You got a hot date?” Sean asked.
His instinct was to tell Sean to fuck off, but everyone else was staring at him.
“I guess you could say that,” he answered.
“Where are you going to go?” Gwen asked.
“The Pour House?” Sean said, quickly.
“Not if I want the night to go well,” Ty joked. But not really.
“Who is your date?” Ashley asked, all wide-eyed. Ashley was not a self-contained universe. She was a sponge, soaking up everything.
“Shelby Monroe,” he said.
It was as if he’d detonated a bomb at the table. Everyone jerked back. And then they all started looking at one another, having little silent, meaningful conversations about his taking Shelby out for dinner.
The surprise was palpable and the judgment rolling off Sean was suffocating.
And that was the end of lunch with these people. Maybe they were good people, maybe in a few more months he’d be on the inside and this shit wouldn’t bother the fuck out of him like it did, but right now he just needed to go.
He gave Gwen a smile, because he needed a babysitter and he didn’t need her scared off. “Tomorrow at seven,” he said. “I’ll order a bunch of pizza and pay you whatever babysitters get paid. Feel free to take me to the cleaners.” He grabbed his gloves off the bench and took off without a backward glance.
Art class. With Ms. Monroe.
Casey crossed the road up to the Art Barn on Friday after school, feeling, he didn’t mind saying, like a stud.
An art class stud.
“I,” he whispered, liking the way his breath poured out of his mouth like he’d just smoked a cigarette, “am an art class stud.”
Ty didn’t want him to walk over here by himself, because Ty had been a freak-out just waiting to happen ever since the meeting at school. But Casey managed to
convince him not to walk him over to Ms. Monroe’s barn like he was a baby.
Hard to be an art class stud when your dad-type person was dropping you off.
At the door, there was a sign made out of wood and sparkles and feathers and paint. It said “Open for Art.” It didn’t look like the kind of thing that should be outside; it was really fancy. He touched one of the blue feathers and it fell off the sign onto the ground.
. He grabbed the feather and tried to stick it back on, but instead he knocked another feather off. And then a big, shiny fake pink gem fell off.
Casey grabbed all the stuff and took a big step away from the barn so that nothing he did would ruin the sign any more. He shoved the feathers and the gem in his pocket and pulled open the door.
Inside it was like that Willy Wonka chocolate factory movie, but for art instead of candy. Art was everywhere; it hung from the ceiling and on the walls. There was one whole wall of paper flowers. Even that was cool, and he hated flowers. There were shelves of paper and trays of markers. Tinfoil and feathers and gems and sparkles and scissors. Glue. Paint. Big, fat blobs of clay in a whole bunch of colors.
And in the middle of it all was Ms. Monroe.
“Whoa,” he breathed.
“Hey!” she said with a nice smile. It wasn’t really big, that smile, like those of a lot of teachers and counselors and social workers who thought that if they smiled big enough, he wouldn’t notice how shitty his life was. Or how they were making it even shittier. Ms. Monroe’s smile just made him feel like she’d been waiting for him and she was super glad he was there.
She glanced over at the clock on the wall. “You’re early.”
His stomach fell into his shoes.
. That was impossibly lame. He didn’t want to go home; he supposed he could go outside and sit for a while. He took a shuffling step backward. “I can come back.”
“No. It’s awesome you’re early. I need some help.” She held up the diamond in her hand; it was huge.
“Where’d you get that?” he asked.
She pointed to the metal light sitting in the middle of the table. It was one of those things that hung from the ceiling.
“It’s a chandelier. I’m just polishing the crystals.”
“Crystals?” He stepped closer, and next to her in a faded blue towel on the table were a bunch of those diamond crystal things. “They’re not diamonds?”
“No.” Again she smiled, and he didn’t feel like a bone-head for thinking they were. “I wish they were. Here.” She handed him a cloth and kicked out one of the tiny chairs across from her. “I could use your help.”
He sat down and took one of the heavy crystals from the blue towel. Sucked that it wasn’t a real diamond.
“How was school?” She held her crystal up to the light.
“Fine good or fine bad?”
“Fine fine.” He watched her hands on the crystal and copied what she did, running the cloth over the sharp edge. She hummed and picked up another crystal.
“Where are you going to put this thing?” he asked. The metal looked like a plant with leaves and stuff, and he guessed when these crystals were put on it, they would look like the flowers.
He liked this light.
She pointed up. There were about four other lights like this one hanging from the rafters.
“You barely see them up there.”
“That’s all right.”
“But if you bought it—”
“I didn’t buy it. Someone just dropped it off. People leave stuff out here all the time. Stuff they don’t want.”
“You use it all?”
“I try to. Rugs. Butcher paper. Chandeliers. I have a piano back there.” She pointed into the shadows over his shoulder. “And couches over there.”
Over her shoulder next to the wall of flowers were two couches.
“That’s cool,” he said.
“I think so, too.” She put the crystal she’d been polishing in a row with a few other ones. He put his down next to hers.
There were ten of them all lined up, shooting rainbows around the barn.
A long time ago, his mom had these earrings some guy gave to her and they were a lot like these crystal things. Shiny and sparkly. Fancy. She used to put her hair up in a ponytail and wear those earrings. When she would lean over and kiss him good night, they were so long they brushed his cheek. One night she came home messed up with a split lip and only one of those earrings. Pissed off, she threw the other one in the garbage under the sink.
When she’d passed out on the couch, he grabbed it from under the sink and hid it on his bookshelf. But a few nights later, she woke him up in the middle of the night, shoved all his clothes in a garbage bag, and skipped out on rent.
The earring had been left behind.
“Have you seen the dogs?” he asked.
“The strays?” She pursed her lips. “People drop their dogs out here. I try to call the shelter in Masonville, but it seems like there are more every day.”
“We’ve got this stray that eats our garbage.”
“You should tell your dad to call the shelter. They can be dangerous.”
Casey was never going to tell Ty to call the shelter. Ever.
“Casey,” she said with a little laugh, as if she’d read his mind. “Some of those dogs are really sick with rabies, or they’ve been trained to fight. You shouldn’t try to make friends with them.”
“I won’t.” She narrowed her eyes at him as though she knew he was lying and he laughed. “I promise. I won’t.”
“Do you like Mrs. Jordal?” she asked, after they both went back to polishing crystals.
“Yep,” he said. “She’s nice.”
“Nice?” She laughed. “I don’t think she’s ever been called nice.”
“She’s nice to me,” he said with some pride. Because Mrs. Jordal wasn’t nice to everyone; that was totally obvious.
“Then how come you’re in so much trouble all the time?” She watched him out of the corner of her eyes.
He shrugged. He got in trouble on the playground and in the lunchroom, and sometimes in the computer lab. But never in Mrs. Jordal’s class.
The crystal was hard under his fingers; he could feel its sharp edges even through the cloth and he wondered if he could break it. And as soon as he thought it, he wanted to break it. That’s how his brain worked sometimes. As soon as a bad idea got in there, he wanted to see it done. He wanted to see what would happen.
Carefully, he set the crystal down.
He didn’t want to talk about why he got in trouble. He didn’t want to talk about why he was so angry and how sometimes he couldn’t control it and how sometimes when the world seemed so unfair and like it just wanted him to die, all he could do was fight back.
He hated talking about that.
One of his counselors told him that when things got bad, he had to pull up all the bridges around himself. That he couldn’t let the things he saw, or the stuff Mom did, or the way that they lived get inside his head. He had to pull up the bridges, close his eyes, and be an island.
Sometimes he was amazing at that. Sometimes he was the best island in the world—nothing got to him. But sometimes he was too late with those bridges and he was totally swamped by not just bad stuff but good stuff, too. And what was weird was that the good stuff was worse than the bad stuff.
Like the other day, when Ty took him fishing. Even though they didn’t catch any fish, it had been the best day in his whole life and he’d tried not to show Ty how happy he was. How close he was to bawling like a baby. So, at the restaurant they went to after fishing, when no one was looking, he took a pack of cigarettes out of a woman’s purse when she went to the bathroom.
After that he didn’t feel like crying anymore.
“What … what sort of stuff do we do in the class?”
“Scott from your class is working on some miniature sculptures.”
Scott was a pretty cool guy. He had been in Casey’s group for the medieval castle project at school and he’d made this really awesome tiny throne and some soldiers and horses for the castle.
“Look over there,” she said, pointing to a low shelf in the middle of the room. The top of it was covered in tiny clay figures. He recognized half the figures from the Skylanders video game.
Ty got him that game. And the second one. Ty had bought him like a gazillion video games when they moved here and he’d put them all in Casey’s bedroom. Which had been awesome for a while; Casey had played
video games all night, but now he’d totally figured out that Ty did that so he wouldn’t actually have to look at Casey. Or talk to him.
“These are cool,” he murmured, picking up a little elf character with a flaming arrow notched to a tiny bow. “Really cool.” This was where Scott must have done the work for the castle project. He imagined Ms. Monroe helping him, and his skin itched he was so jealous.
“Well, if you’d like, I’ll give you some clay and you can work with that today.”
He bent down, peering closer at the tiny flames eating up that arrow. They looked so real.
“That would be all right, I guess,” he said.
She started to gather up the crystals and cloths. “I’d better get ready.” She picked up the metal chandelier and the towel of dirty crystals and headed down the hallway on the other side of the barn.
He looked down at the crystal in his hand. It caught the light, and a bright little circle showed up on the clay figures in front of him. He moved the crystal in his hand and the circle shifted from figure to figure, like a little spotlight.
He put the crystal in his pocket, where it sat heavy and hot.
And then he picked up that elf with the flaming arrow and he put it in his pocket, too.
“I don’t need a babysitter.” Casey was picking the pepperoni off the pizza Ty had ordered. The kid, as far as Ty could tell, had a pizza eating system. Eat all the pepperoni, eat the cheese, eat the crust. Repeat.
“So you’ve said.”
“I’ll just watch video games in my room. It’s not like I’m going to burn the house down.”
“I’m pretty much done talking about this.” Ty stood at the front windows, looking for any sign of Gwen. It was nothing but dark out there, the lights of Shelby’s house set back from the road the only break in the thick blackness.
All the lights were on in that house, again. Which was weird. Even the little window up in the eaves.
I wonder what’s going on
“Can I have another piece of pizza?” Casey asked.
“How many have you had?”
“Five,” Casey burped the answer.
Ty winced and turned on his kid, who was beaming as if he’d won the talent show. “I’m going to give you a little advice, buddy. This girl that’s coming over? She’s pretty. Really pretty. And that garbage, that won’t impress her.”
“Is she as pretty as the girl you’re going out with?” Casey asked, angling for information. Ty hadn’t told him who he was dating because he worried his dad dating his teacher might be weird for Casey. When he was Casey’s age, if his dad had done that he would have died
a thousand horrible humiliated deaths. Not that his dad would have ever had a chance with one of his teachers, and not that Mom, no matter what phase of broken up or together she and Dad were in, would have ever let that happen.
“Save Gwen some pizza,” Ty said.
“Gwen,” Casey muttered. “What kind of name is Gwen? Is she like a hobbit?”
Ty smiled and went back to looking out the window. Casey was going to eat those words when the pretty blonde showed up.
Finally, some headlights slid through the night and pulled into his driveway. The headlights went dark and two people stepped out of the car. Two women.
The motion sensor lights over the garage clicked on as they walked past and he recognized Gwen, but the other woman, dark-haired and tall, wasn’t familiar. She was drop-dead gorgeous in black jeans and tall black boots.
But not anyone he’d met yet.
There was a knock at the front door, and much to his surprise Casey jumped and tore down the hallway to open it. Ty followed at a cooler pace.