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Authors: Hannah; Kay

Tags: #Young Adult Fiction

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BOOK: The Artist and Me
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“Good luck today,” he offered as I left, and I just smiled. I wasn’t surprised he knew about the internship. My mom had told everyone she saw for the past two months. I’m not sure why, though. It wasn’t like there was a long line of Carltonville students gunning for an internship at our hole-in-the-wall newspaper.

I rounded the corner to find Mike sharing a booth with Krista, his on-and-off-again girlfriend of two years. Correction, a year and nine months. Mike and I had been friends as long as I could remember. Our moms worked together at the elementary school so as kids we were pulled together by circumstance and friendship took hold. His dusty blond hair and haunting hazel eyes were what I most associated with an overpowering feeling of
home
that could only be born of PB&Js at midnight, blanket forts built in living rooms and too many video games.

“Hey, man,” I greeted, smiling.

“Hey, Lucas.” He grinned back and took a big bite from one of the donuts piled high on the plate in front of them.

Krista grinned at him, tossing her golden, pin-straight hair across her tiny shoulders. “Excited for your first day, Lucas?” Krista had always been too nice to be top of the cheerleading pyramid.

I nodded, chancing a glance at my watch. “Very… Actually, I’d better run so I won’t be late.” I smiled one last time at them. “I’ll see you guys tonight at the barbeque.” Every year on the first day of summer, Carltonville gathered for a town cook-out. Mayor Hightower cooked hot dogs and hamburgers, and the rest was potluck. Mama always took her special brownies. Don’t get too excited. The ‘special’ ingredient is hot fudge. She calls them that to get a rise out of the teenagers that actually show up.

“See ya,” they called before dissolving into each other again. Part of me wondered why they weren’t steadier. They seemed so solid.

I put the insulated coffee cup in Hendleson’s cup holder and pulled from the parking lot back onto Elm once again, driving now toward the business end of town. The post office, the two-floor hospital where you went for everything—even your school checkups, because we didn’t have a doctor’s office—then finally the newspaper office. Elm bottomed out at the school, but I turned into the small parking lot in front of the flat building marked with thick letters reading
Carltonville Gazette
. There were only three cars in the lot but I parked Hendleson smoothly a few places down out of respect before disembarking, coffee in hand. I crossed the parking lot and stepped inside.

My eyes swept across the room, assessing. The entire room was gray and tan and some muted shade of off-white from the cubicles to the water cooler to the near-dead potted plant against the wall.

I sighed. Let day one begin.

 

* * * *

 

So far it had been numbing. Men and women I’d known from church all my life filtered in with little enthusiasm to slump in their chairs and type in their respective cubicles.

I’d been filing for an hour and twenty-two minutes when it happened. The doors opened and
she
walked in.

Color suddenly filled my senses, savory and sweet. Breathing wasn’t an option. All thought of oxygen was lost when she stepped inside, radiant as the sun, then when she slammed into Mr. Swift’s office, it was over. My breath came in a rush. Light and color drained from the room once again.

Legs a mile long, ginger hair that curled delicately to the small of her back and a smile that could generate enough energy to power Carltonville for months on end, she was easily ‘a knockout’. She was beautiful.

Those words felt like an understatement, failing to capture the radiance that was this mysterious girl. She was wearing a bright blue trench coat, only this one wasn’t the kind like sleazy men in the movies wore. Instead, it was pulled in at her petite waist with a wide belt that tied around her middle in a bow before flaring from there to just above her knees.

When I came back down to earth, I was startled by the fact that it was the heat of summer and this girl looked, if not straight off a movie set in Los Angeles, straight off the high fashion streets of New York City. I didn’t have long to dwell on that, because the door swung open again and she strutted from the office like she owned the place.

 

* * * *

 

Hendleson heaved into the packed parking lot on the beach and I sat behind the wheel, staring out across the soft white sand. Kids were running like nothing could catch them, making sandcastles, grinning and giggling and playing come-and-get-me games of tag. Teenagers were huddled up the beach in their respective cliques, most of the girls reclined back on beach towels trying to savor the last rays of the dying sun while the boys threw around a nearly deflated football, kicking up sand. The adults were up beach, standing idly by the tables of food and chatting among themselves.

My eyes merely scanned past all of that. I was peering through the crowd, searching for any sign of that blue coat. It would be unmistakable in this crowd dressed in a splattering of swimming suits, tees and short shorts—or that gorgeous ginger hair. She’d captivated my attention in five minutes. At first look, actually.

’Course I knew the second any of the guys saw her, that’d be it. I couldn’t compete with the jocks that’d crowd her. I wouldn’t be surprised if the cheerleaders didn’t recruit her for their summer training program. She was that kind of beautiful.

There was a knock on Hendleson’s window and I abandoned my search for the girl, dragging my eyes to find Mike, backed up by the Goodman twins. I shut Hendleson’s engine off and pushed the door open, cocking my head to the side at their almost urgent expressions.

“Have you seen her?” Mike urged, searching my expression for a response.

“Who?” As if I didn’t know.

Adam piped up, “Alexander Swift’s daughter.”

“Frank saw her and just about had a heart attack,” Avery added, nodding.

Their identical heads bobbed in eerie unison of blond and blue and I knew I was sunk. Alexander Swift’s daughter. How hadn’t I thought of that? Now it seemed painfully obvious.

“She’s here?” I found myself asking, looking up from my dazed thoughts.

Mike shook his head. “I haven’t seen her—”

“Aw, man, she’s gorgeous.” Avery was a raving lunatic. “Those legs, I mean—”

I wasn’t going to listen to their animalistic description of her. She didn’t really seem like the girl who’d want to be mentally groped by the whole male population of Carltonville.

I forged forward with them, trying to ignore the fact that all three of them had girlfriends. Trying not to picture Krista’s face if she heard Mike talking like this. Trying not to think about the fact that this could crack the fragile balance of their relationship. Trying not to think about how I actually liked Krista. I mean, as my best friend’s girl. She was pleasant to be around and they fit well together… Well, most of the time.

“Earth to Lucas!” Mike was waving his hand in front of my face.

I chuckled. “What?”

“Where’d you go, dude?”

I shrugged.

“Hey, you’re already working this summer. You can’t start going AWOL on us when you’re actually around.” It was a joke. I think.

A quick glance—the other two were gone. I forced a chuckle. “Sorry, man.”

He grinned. “It’s all right. So how’d it go?”

I thought for a moment. “I saw her.” It just came out. Maybe she was the most exciting part of my day. I bit back a laugh, because it was true. Her surprise entrance and departure from the drab news office had been the highlight of my day. I was honestly surprised by the lack of hustle and bustle that went on at the
Gazette
. I mean even the
Eagle
had more breaking news than that place seemed to have. It was all very calculated and uninteresting, what they seemed to do… Needless to say, it wasn’t what I imagined the newsroom at the
Washington Post
would be. The very thought of going back tomorrow was sickening. Only the thought of
her
surprise visits would keep me waking up before noon.

His eyes cut up suddenly, slicing me in half with intensity. “You did?” A slow grin spread across his face. “Finally an opinion from someone other than those hormonal bastards. Is she all they’re going on about?”

We shuffled through the sand toward the water where I could see Krista sitting with her three-year-old baby sister, making a sandcastle. “Yes.” It was more of a croak than a statement. I coughed, picking my words carefully. “She’s beautiful.”

He stopped in his tracks, turning to look at me. “Beautiful, eh?” He was looking at me strangely.

“Yeah,” I responded, shaking my head. I could imagine the language the Goodmans would’ve used. To be fair, all the jock-types except Mike… I grounded him.

He nodded, leaning back on his heels. “Well, what’s she look like then?”

I stared over his shoulder. I could see my mom talking to Mike’s mom, who appeared to have a beach ball under her stretched blue sundress. I’m only kidding. She’s six months pregnant. His six-year-old sister, Maggie, was standing close by wearing one of Mike’s T-shirts over her swimsuit but she, in fact, had stuffed a ball under her shirt and was walking around making all the little kids giggle. My eyes lifted to see our parents’ reaction, but I zeroed in on something else.

The girl in the blue coat was approaching from the parking lot. I could see the golden red glittering in the descending sun. It only made her more radiant. She was trailing beside her father, who was trying to drape an arm around her, but she stayed just out of his reach.

“Lucas—” Mike swallowed the question before it was spoken. He saw her.

Krista, with baby Carrie on her hip, stepped up beside us. “That must be the new girl.” The little girl’s blonde curls stuck up, glistening golden in the sunshine. Krista was wearing a smile, not envious at all, unlike the other members of the cheer team. I could hear their nervous whispers. The football boys fell into a hushed silence, whispering amongst themselves.

I merely nodded, mouth dry. “Yeah, it is.”

I watched her as she slipped her shoes from her feet, padding barefoot onto the sand, now trailing after her father. Her hair cascaded in front of her eyes and she pushed it away in irritation, but it looked effortless with her every move. Then I lost her as she was enveloped into the crowd.

An hour later, I had a sturdy paper plate piled high with food—two hot dogs, a hamburger and a sampling of the ten or so different sides assembled at the ‘Great Summer Feast’—and was camped out on a blanket with Krista and Mike with a perfect view of her. She was with her father, obviously avoiding the creeps who were ogling her. I tried not to think of myself the same way. I wasn’t ogling. I was gazing. I thought she was beautiful.
It’s still creepy.
Rational Lucas reminded Irrational, but I didn’t stop watching her. The way she moved was so elegant, like dancers on stage in London, ballets and operas. She screamed it without saying a word.

Hightower was standing in his ‘Kiss the Cook’ apron at the front of the assembly. His graying hair and deep brown eyes stared out at the crowd, scanning it. “I would like to thank everyone for coming to our barbeque again this year. I’m about to turn things over to the band, but first I would like to wish everyone a great summer.” By band, he meant the drum line from school turned rock band with the addition of a forty-year-old Elvis in tight pants and wearing a wicked smile. Hightower turned to leave, but then turned back. “I almost forgot! I would also like to introduce a rather
special
addition to our little party.”

I could see her cringing into her food, bending over it and hoping to disappear, but there was nothing hiding her. She outshone every star in the sky somehow.

“Miss Evelyn Juliet Swift has come to live with her father. Let’s all welcome her to Carltonville.”

There was no keeping the crowd silent.

I kept replaying her name. It was as beautiful as her. Evelyn Juliet. I shivered suddenly, goosebumps rising along my arm as the night-time breeze kicked up, but I knew it wasn’t the breeze affecting me. It was her.

Chapter Two

 

 

 

Julie

 

The moon followed us home that night from the barbeque. My fascination with it was unparalleled by anything else I’d discovered on this earth. Since Mom died I’ve been wishing more and more that I could just run away to the moon.

I stayed strong, though, because that’s what Mom would’ve wanted. She’d always said she wanted me to become a ‘strong, independent woman’ and this, her terrible untimely death, had pushed me to become just that. I wasn’t running from anything—not this no name town that didn’t even show up on the county map. Not these people who whispered as I passed. And the fact that I was made the town spectacle? I guess that’s just small town charm.

The five-minute ride to our small two–bedroom, two-bath home was utterly silent. Dad had never known what to say to me. He really didn’t know now that Mom was gone, so we didn’t talk. In fact, we hadn’t really talked at all since I’d arrived here last night. He’d gruffly taken me to my room, then he was gone when I woke this morning. He shot me a text asking me to bring some paperwork down to the office and I did just that. Since then, nothing. It wasn’t entirely bad.

BOOK: The Artist and Me
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