“And his arm looked like an eggplant,” Clary muttered to herself in exasperation. The drawing just wasn’t working. With a sigh she tore yet another sheet from her sketchpad, crumpled it up, and tossed it against the orange wall of her bedroom. Already the floor was littered with discarded balls of paper, a sure sign that her creative juices weren’t flowing the way she’d hoped. She wished for the thousandth time that she could be a bit more like her mother. Everything Jocelyn Fray drew, painted, or sketched was beautiful, and seemingly effortless.
Clary pulled her headphones out—cutting off Stepping Razor in midsong—and rubbed her aching temples. It was only then that she became aware that the loud, piercing sound of a ringing telephone was echoing through the apartment. Tossing the sketchpad onto the bed, she jumped to her feet and ran into the living room, where the retro-red phone sat on a table near the front door.
“Is this Clarissa Fray?” The voice on the other end of the phone sounded familiar, though not immediately identifiable.
Clary twirled the phone cord nervously around her finger. “Yeees?”
“Hi, I’m one of the knife-carrying hooligans you met last night in Pandemonium? I’m afraid I made a bad impression and was hoping you’d give me a chance to make it up to—”
“SIMON!” Clary held the phone away from her ear as he cracked up laughing. “That is so not funny!”
“Sure it is. You just don’t see the humor.”
“Jerk.” Clary sighed, leaning up against the wall. “You wouldn’t be laughing if you’d been here when I got home last night.”
“My mom. She wasn’t happy that we were late. She freaked out. It was messy.”
“What? It’s not our fault there was traffic!” Simon protested. He was the youngest of three children and had a finely honed sense of familial injustice.
“Yeah, well, she doesn’t see it that way. I disappointed her, I let her down, I made her worry, blah blah blah. I am the bane of her existence,” Clary said, mimicking her mother’s precise phrasing with only a slight twinge of guilt.
“So, are you grounded?” Simon asked, a little too loudly. Clary could hear a low rumble of voices behind him: people talking over each other.
“I don’t know yet,” she said. “My mom went out this morning with Luke, and they’re not back yet. Where are you, anyway? Eric’s?”
“Yeah. We just finished up practice.” A cymbal clashed behind Simon. Clary winced. “Eric’s doing a poetry reading over at Java Jones tonight,” Simon went on, naming a coffee shop around the corner from Clary’s that sometimes had live music at night. “The whole band’s going to go to show their support. Want to come?”
“Yeah, all right.” Clary paused, tugging on the phone cord anxiously. “Wait, no.”
“Shut up, guys, will you?” Simon yelled, the faintness of his voice making Clary suspect that he was holding the phone away from his mouth. He was back a second later, sounding troubled. “Was that a yes or a no?”
“I don’t know.” Clary bit her lip. “My mom’s still mad at me about last night. I’m not sure I want to piss her off by asking for any favors. If I’m going to get in trouble, I don’t want it to be on account of Eric’s lousy poetry.”
“Come on, it’s not so bad,” Simon said. Eric was his next-door neighbor, and the two had known each other most of their lives. They weren’t close the way Simon and Clary were, but they had formed a rock band together at the start of sophomore year, along with Eric’s friends Matt and Kirk. They practiced together faithfully in Eric’s parents’ garage every week. “Besides, it’s not a favor,” Simon added, “it’s a poetry slam around the block from your house. It’s not like I’m inviting you to some orgy in Hoboken. Your mom can come along if she wants.”
“ORGY IN HOBOKEN!” Clary heard someone, probably Eric, yell. Another cymbal crashed. She imagined her mother listening to Eric read his poetry, and she shuddered inwardly.
“I don’t know. If all of you show up here, I think she’ll freak.”
“Then I’ll come alone. I’ll pick you up and we can walk over there together, meet the rest of them there. Your mom won’t mind. She loves me.”
Clary had to laugh. “Sign of her questionable taste, if you ask me.”
“Nobody did.” Simon clicked off, amid shouts from his bandmates.
Clary hung up the phone and glanced around the living room. Evidence of her mother’s artistic tendencies was everywhere, from the handmade velvet throw pillows piled on the dark red sofa to the walls hung with Jocelyn’s paintings, carefully framed—landscapes, mostly: the winding streets of downtown Manhattan lit with golden light; scenes of Prospect Park in winter, the gray ponds edged with lacelike films of white ice.
On the mantel over the fireplace was a framed photo of Clary’s father. A thoughtful-looking fair man in military dress, his eyes bore the telltale traces of laugh lines at the corners. He’d been a decorated soldier serving overseas. Jocelyn had some of his medals in a small box by her bed. Not that the medals had done anyone any good when Jonathan Clark had crashed his car into a tree just outside Albany and died before his daughter was even born.
Jocelyn had gone back to using her maiden name after he died. She never talked about Clary’s father, but she kept the box engraved with his initials, J. C., next to her bed. Along with the medals were one or two photos, a wedding ring, and a single lock of blond hair. Sometimes Jocelyn took the box out and opened it and held the lock of hair very gently in her hands before putting it back and carefully locking the box up again.
The sound of the key turning in the front door roused Clary out of her reverie. Hastily she threw herself down on the couch and tried to look as if she were immersed in one of the paperbacks her mother had left stacked on the end table. Jocelyn recognized reading as a sacred pastime and usually wouldn’t interrupt Clary in the middle of a book, even to yell at her.
The door opened with a thump. It was Luke, his arms full of what looked like big square pieces of pasteboard. When he set them down, Clary saw that they were cardboard boxes, folded flat. He straightened up and turned to her with a smile.
“Hey, Un—hey, Luke,” she said. He’d asked her to stop calling him Uncle Luke about a year ago, claiming that it made him feel old, and anyway reminded him of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Besides, he’d reminded her gently, he wasn’t really her uncle, just a close friend of her mother’s who’d known her all her life. “Where’s Mom?”
“Parking the truck,” he said, straightening his lanky frame with a groan. He was dressed in his usual uniform: old jeans, a flannel shirt, and a bent pair of gold-rimmed spectacles that sat askew on the bridge of his nose. “Remind me again why this building has no service elevator?”
“Because it’s old, and has character,” Clary said immediately. Luke grinned. “What are the boxes for?” she asked.
His grin vanished. “Your mother wanted to pack up some things,” he said, avoiding her gaze.
“What things?” Clary asked.
He gave an airy wave. “Extra stuff lying around the house. Getting in the way. You know she never throws anything out. So what are you up to? Studying?” He plucked the book out of her hand and read out loud: “‘The world still teems with those motley beings whom a more sober philosophy has discarded. Fairies and goblins, ghosts and demons, still hover about—’” He lowered the book and looked at her over his glasses. “Is this for school?”
“The Golden Bough? No. School’s not for a few weeks.” Clary took the book back from him. “It’s my mom’s.”
“I had a feeling.”
She dropped it back on the table. “Luke?”
“Uh-huh?” The book already forgotten, he was rummaging in the tool kit next to the hearth. “Ah, here it is.” He pulled out an orange plastic tape gun and gazed at it with deep satisfaction.
“What would you do if you saw something nobody else could see?”
The tape gun fell out of Luke’s hand, and hit the tiled hearth. He knelt to pick it up, not looking at her. “You mean if I were the only witness to a crime, that sort of thing?”
“No. I mean, if there were other people around, but you were the only one who could see something. As if it were invisible to everyone but you.”
He hesitated, still kneeling, the dented tape gun gripped in his hand.
“I know it sounds crazy,” Clary ventured nervously, “but …”
He turned around. His eyes, very blue behind the glasses, rested on her with a look of firm affection. “Clary, you’re an artist, like your mother. That means you see the world in ways that other people don’t. It’s your gift, to see the beauty and the horror in ordinary things. It doesn’t make you crazy—just different. There’s nothing wrong with being different.”
Clary pulled her legs up, and rested her chin on her knees. In her mind’s eye she saw the storage room, Isabelle’s gold whip, the blue-haired boy convulsing in his death spasms, and Jace’s tawny eyes. Beauty and horror. She said, “If my dad had lived, do you think he’d have been an artist too?”
Luke looked taken aback. Before he could answer her, the door swung open and Clary’s mother stalked into the room, her boot heels clacking on the polished wooden floor. She handed Luke a set of jingling car keys and turned to look at her daughter.
Jocelyn Fray was a slim, compact woman, her hair a few shades darker than Clary’s and twice as long. At the moment it was twisted up in a dark red knot, stuck through with a graphite pen to hold it in place. She wore paint-spattered overalls over a lavender T-shirt, and brown hiking boots whose soles were caked with oil paint.
People always told Clary that she looked like her mother, but she couldn’t see it herself. The only thing that was similar about them was their figures: They were both slender, with small chests and narrow hips. She knew she wasn’t beautiful like her mother was. To be beautiful you had to be willowy and tall. When you were as short as Clary was, just over five feet, you were cute. Not pretty or beautiful, but cute. Throw in carroty hair and a face full of freckles, and she was a Raggedy Ann to her mother’s Barbie doll.
Jocelyn even had a graceful way of walking that made people turn their heads to watch her go by. Clary, by contrast, was always tripping over her feet. The only time people turned to watch her go by was when she hurtled past them as she fell downstairs.
“Thanks for bringing the boxes up,” Clary’s mother said to Luke, and smiled at him. He didn’t return the smile. Clary’s stomach did an uneasy flip. Clearly there was something going on. “Sorry it took me so long to find a space. There must be a million people at the park today—”
“Mom?” Clary interrupted. “What are the boxes for?”
Jocelyn bit her lip. Luke flicked his eyes toward Clary, mutely urging Jocelyn forward. With a nervous twitch of her wrist, Jocelyn pushed a dangling lock of hair behind her ear and went to join her daughter on the couch.
Up close Clary could see how tired her mother looked. There were dark half-moons under her eyes, and her lids were pearly with sleeplessness.
“Is this about last night?” Clary asked.
“No,” her mother said quickly, and then hesitated. “Maybe a little. You shouldn’t have done what you did last night. You know better.”
“And I already apologized. What is this about? If you’re grounding me, get it over with.”
“I’m not,” said her mother, “grounding you.” Her voice was as taut as a wire. She glanced at Luke, who shook his head.
“Just tell her, Jocelyn,” he said.
“Could you not talk about me like I’m not here?” Clary said angrily. “And what do you mean, ‘tell me’? Tell me what?”
Jocelyn expelled a sigh. “We’re going on vacation.”
Luke’s expression went blank, like a canvas wiped clean of paint.
Clary shook her head. “That’s what this is about? You’re going on vacation?” She sank back against the cushions. “I don’t get it. Why the big production?”
“I don’t think you understand. I meant we’re all going on vacation. The three of us—you, me, and Luke. We’re going to the farmhouse.”
“Oh.” Clary glanced at Luke, but he had his arms crossed over his chest and was staring out the window, his jaw pulled tight. She wondered what was upsetting him. He loved the old farmhouse in upstate New York—he’d bought and restored it himself ten years before, and he went there whenever he could. “For how long?”
“For the rest of the summer,” said Jocelyn. “I brought the boxes in case you want to pack up any books, painting supplies—”
“For the rest of the summer?” Clary sat upright with indignation. “I can’t do that, Mom. I have plans—simon and I were going to have a back-to-school party, and I’ve got a bunch of meetings with my art group, and ten more classes at Tisch—”
“I’m sorry about Tisch. But the other things can be canceled. Simon will understand, and so will your art group.”
Clary heard the implacability in her mother’s tone and realized she was serious. “But I paid for those art classes! I saved up all year! You promised.” She whirled, turning to Luke. “Tell her! Tell her it isn’t fair!”
Luke didn’t look away from the window, though a muscle jumped in his cheek. “She’s your mother. It’s her decision to make.”
“I don’t get it.” Clary turned back to her mother. “Why?”