Page 14

That thought warmed me as I walked down the long hallway lined with lockers, across the commons area to a set that sat alone in the middle of the floor next to the library. I specifically requested a locker here because, even though it wasn’t with the rest of the seniors, the library was surrounded by a wall of glass, and the librarian, Mrs. Boesch, always kept a watchful eye between classes.

I pulled books out of my backpack and hung it up on a hook. The morning sun streaming in through the front windows of the school was suddenly blocked, and I looked to my right to see Weston leaning against the locker next to mine.

“What are you doing after work tonight?”

I shrugged.

“Let’s eat at Los Potros.”

I looked around, and then nodded.

Weston beamed and walked away, not trying the slightest bit to conceal our conversation. I shut my locker, and Sara Glenn stared at me with her big, dark eyes.

“Are you screwing Weston Gates?” she asked.

I narrowed my eyes at her, disgust weighing down my face. What was it with small-town people automatically assuming that because two people of the opposite sex were speaking, they must be having sex? “No.”

“What was that, then? He just asked you to dinner. Why is he asking you out?”

“He didn’t ask me to dinner. You heard him wrong,” I said. Technically, it was the truth. He didn’t ask.

“I heard him,” Sara snapped. “I’m telling Alder.”

“Go ahead. She won’t believe you. She’ll assume you’re trying to get them to break up so you can take a stab at him.”

Sara thought about that for a moment, and then walked away, her confidence gone.

I took a deep breath and continued to class, my hands shaking and my heart trying to beat its way out of my chest. That sudden burst of courage came from deep inside; a place I didn’t know existed. The thought of Sara ruining my little bit of happiness made me desperate enough to offer a threat that I myself found frightening.

Everyone was too excited about South Padre to bother giving me grief. By the time I’d made it to seventh period, as weird as it was to say, I’d actually had a pretty good day. Weston had pulled his stool over to my desk, and a combination of nausea and exhilaration swirled in my stomach.

“Check this out,” Weston said. His poster-sized project was spread out across the table, and I looked it over with an uncontrollable smile. It was a girl looking out the window, her face in shadow except for her bright blue eyes. She held her knees to her chest, and a small necklace hung loosely from her fingers. It was a silver heart with intricate detail chiseled around the border. In the middle appeared one word: Happenstance.

“It’s incredible,” I whispered. “She’s so pretty.” I felt an urge to run my fingers over it, but didn’t want to smear the charcoal.

“It’s you.”

I looked up at him, in shock. We’d been working on this project for three months. My eyebrow shot up, and I shook my head, unconvinced. “You’re such a liar.”

“I’m completely serious.”

“Is everyone ready to reveal their final project?” Mrs. Cup said as she sauntered into the classroom, dressed in a black shawl and pants suit. “I know you have all been working incredibly hard. In years past, you’ve taken home these projects and framed them, given them away, or did with them as you choose. But I’ve asked more from you this year. We’ve learned about Faulkner’s lessons and that as artists, you must learn to kill your darlings.” She sighed. “For your final grade, I’m going to ask this of you.” She held up Shannon LaBlue’s poster-sized painting and ripped it in half, length-wise. It made a quick, high-pitched sound, and we all gasped.

Shannon’s mouth fell open. She looked around, unsure of what to do.

Mrs. Cup walked to Zach Skidmore, who sat next to me. “Well?”

“Are you serious? I thought this was going to be the crowning project of my high school years. I worked my ass off on this, Mrs. Cup!”

“It’s your final grade.”

Zach stared at the ground for a moment, breathed out through his nose, and then took his project, a beautiful landscape, and ripped it in half. We all winced, as if he’d cut his wrists.

The teacher stood in front of my desk. I had worked hard on my project, a charcoal piece featuring a dark hallway with Victorian paintings. It made a horrid ripping sound as I separated one side from the other.

Mrs. Cup took a step, standing in front of Weston. His project was still laid out on my desk, behind him.


“This is cruel,” he said.

“It’s a lesson. Not all lessons are easy. The best ones—those you learn the most from—are the most difficult.”

“I’m not doing it,” Weston said, shifting just slightly, protecting his elegant and tender rendering of me.

“It’s your final grade, Weston. It was the whole point.”

He stood, pulled his poster from the desk, and rolled it carefully. “Then I guess I fail.” He left the classroom and walked down the hall toward the parking lot.

Mrs. Cup shook her head, then took a step toward the next horrified student.

“It was you?” Frankie asked, a little stunned.

I nodded.

“An art project he’d been working on for three months . . . and it was you?”

“It was me.”

“Whoa. And he failed his art class to keep it. That’s . . . that’s kind of poignant.”

“I kind of thought that, but I wasn’t sure if I was reading it wrong.”

“How can you read that wrong? It’s so romantic I could die!” She bent over, nearly in half, pretending to sob in a very unflattering way.

“That’s ugly,” I said, trying to stifle a grin.

“It’s soooo beautiful! I can’t stand it! Agh ha ha!”

“Stop,” I said, scooping M&Ms into the cup of vanilla I’d just pulled out.

She stood up. “Sorry. I had a moment.”

I handed the M&M Blizzard to the little girl. She turned on her heels, revealing my next customer, Alder. Her eyes were red, and she was beyond pissed.

“What are you doing?” she asked, her voice already breaking.

“We were just joking around. What can I get you?” I asked.