Taking a group through the museum was like a dream job for me. Cooper had another race on Saturday. He’d texted me about it just that morning. It started at two, though. I just wouldn’t be able to celebrate afterward. “Yes,” I said. “I’ll be here.”
“Great. Thank you. Make sure there’s a blazer that fits you in the closet.” Mr. Wallace looked at the mop, the painting next to me, then my phone. “Is everything okay?”
“Yes.” I held up my phone. “My brain hit pause while it was trying to make a decision.”
He gave an agreeable grunt. “I hate it when that happens.”
“Yeah. Me too.”
Mr. Wallace started to walk away. “I have two weeks left, right?” I called after him.
He turned with a confused face on. “No, the tour will be this Saturday.”
“Right. I know. I mean for the showcase. You’re informing applicants in two weeks, right?”
“Yes. But I thought we talked about this.” His face had a tired look that seemed to say, this is why I had banished you to the ticket counter—to avoid this conversation.
“I want a chance. I’m working on my depth.”
“I can’t imagine that in this short of time anything has changed enough in your technique that will affect my decision.”
“I just want a chance to prove myself.”
He sighed a heavy sigh, and it was probably only the super-pathetic pleading face that I’d put on that made him say, “I’ll take a look.”
“Don’t get your hopes up, Abby. You don’t meet my age requirement, and you have a lot of really strong competition.” With that he finished walking away.
It was a reluctant yes, but it gave me the hope I needed to continue on my quest.
I moved to put the mop back in the bucket when I realized I still held my phone with the open text window. I sent two texts. The first was to Elliot.
Let’s just meet there.
I was already changing something by going to the party in the first place. I didn’t want to feel trapped, though.
The second text was to Cooper.
Hey, I won’t be able to celebrate after your race on Saturday. I will be trying to convince four-year-olds that art is more interesting than snack time.
I tucked my phone away and dipped the mop into the soapy water. My phone buzzed against my thigh before I even had time to take it out again. I thought it would be Elliot, but it was Cooper.
You can’t even convince me that art is more interesting than snack time. How will you ever accomplish this?
Not sure. Especially when half the art is replications of food.
But you’ll still make the race, right?
And I need to finish up my list and two more paintings.
Help me think of something else.
I’ll ponder it.
Have you finished your classic?
Me neither, I texted.
Okay. I wouldn’t want to be stuck in a car with me either.
My brows went down in confusion before I realized I was reading a pop-up text from Elliot.
I responded. It’s not about that. It’s more about not wanting to be trapped at the party.
We can leave anytime you want.
My phone buzzed again before I had time to answer Elliot. What does epoch of incredulity mean anyway? Cooper was asking. I vaguely remembered that line from the beginning of A Tale of Two Cities.
Did you start over? I gave you the summary. Did you not trust my summary?
I switched back to Elliot’s text and answered. Okay, I’ll drive over with you. Do you have my address? It’s what I had originally planned anyway.
No, but if I’m going to read the book, I had to at least read that famous paragraph. I don’t do things halfway, Cooper responded.
Except chemistry projects. And English papers. And cleaning your bathroom.
Fine. Things I care about.
I smiled. He cared about the list. That made me happy.
Another text from Elliot popped up. I already know where you live. But I’m not a stalker. My best friend lives on your street and I saw you pull into your driveway a while back.
Who’s your best friend?
To Cooper I wrote: It’s a period of skepticism. Or disbelief.
You are. Why? Cooper wrote back less than a second after I had hit send.
I am? What did that mean? I was a period of disbelief? I kind of felt like I was going through a bit of skepticism right now in regard to him, but he couldn’t possibly know that. I looked at the text again. Oops. I’d crossed texts.
No, he really does. Ben Williams. Do you know him? Elliot responded to my skepticism text.
I sent you the wrong text. That was meant for someone else, I wrote to both of them.
Elliot answered first. Oh. That makes more sense. So I’ll see you Tuesday then. Eight o’clock?
Cooper responded a few minutes later. Who was it meant for?
Why were you asking Elliot who his best friend is?
Because I want to know if he’s looking for one. I’m searching for a replacement.
I thought so. Gotta run. This floor isn’t going to mop itself.
You’re mopping floors!? You’re out of ticket purgatory??
Yes! So happy!
You’re the only person I know who is happy to mop.
BTW, good job on texting Elliot.
When my shift was over, I made my way up the wide stairs with the glass half-wall railing and walked the halls slowly, trying to figure out which paintings and pieces to show the children I’d bring through on Saturday. We changed out the art all the time. There were very few pieces that were permanently housed here. It’s what brought patrons back time and again—new artists to see. But there was a permanent one that was always a hit with the kids. Mr. Wallace had hired a paper artist to come and create a flowing, swirling design made of paper that covered an entire corner of the upstairs hallway. It was three-dimensional and mesmerizing. That was a must-see.
We’d just gotten a modern art piece on loan, and I hadn’t had time to look at it until today. The kids might appreciate the bright colors and strong lines of the painting. We’d done an art workshop last summer, and I’d discovered that kids loved to paint with bright colors. Remembering those kids’ paintings, I had an idea.
I ran down the stairs and searched out Mr. Wallace. I stopped in front of him, breathless. “Could we display some of the kids’ art?”
“The preschool group that’s coming through. Can you contact the teacher and ask her to bring by some of their drawings or paintings before Saturday, and I could hang them upstairs? I think it would be fun for them.”
“You’ll come in early and do that?”
“Yes, I will.”
“The children would probably like that.”
“Of course they would. Everyone likes to see their own art displayed.” I hadn’t meant to say that with a hard edge to my voice, but I did, and he noticed. I quickly finished, softer this time, with “I’d love to do that for them.”
He nodded. “Good idea, Abby.”
“Thank you.” Perhaps it was seeing those kids at the soup kitchen that made me think of it. Or maybe it was just that forcing myself to think differently was creating new ideas in other areas of my life too. Either way, I was happy I’d come up with it.
My phone buzzed in my pocket with an incoming call as I headed for the door. I waited until I was outside before I answered it. A breeze played with my hair and brought with it the scent of the ocean.
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