“Right. The store.” Mom disappeared into the pantry and I shot my grandpa a look.

“What?” he asked.

“Mean,” I whispered. Then I called out to her, “When does Dad get to video chat with us again?” We’d just talked to him last week, so I probably shouldn’t have asked. It would only make her more upset. But when my mom started obsessing over internet stories and rarely going out, I always thought of my dad and how I wished he wouldn’t leave so much. I knew if he had a choice he wouldn’t, but it was easy to blame the person not here.

“Probably in a few weeks,” she said, coming out with a box of shredded wheat. She set it on the table, then took a clean bowl out of the cupboard and rinsed it thoroughly under steaming-hot water. “What’s on the agenda today?”

“Not much,” I said. “I’m scheduled to work at the museum. Mr. Wallace has me cleaning the storage room. You should see it. It’s a nightmare. Almost like a bunch of creative people are in charge of it.”

“Is Mr. Wallace going to let you display your paintings in the July showcase?”

I bit my lip to contain my smile. I’d finally gotten all my pieces organized, copied, and put into a portfolio that I was going to show him. “I don’t know, but I’m going to find out.”

Mom kissed the top of my head. “How could he say no? You are so talented.”

“Did you include my favorite piece?” Grandpa asked. “The flower fields?”

“I did.”

“Then you’re golden,” Grandpa said.

My phone buzzed from where I’d left it on the table. It was a text from Cooper: Did I leave my green and white board shorts at your house?

I headed for my room to check.

Sure enough, Cooper’s board shorts, along with one of his T-shirts, were thrown over a chair in the corner of my room. He must’ve left them after we went swimming at the beach last week. I picked up his shirt and absent-mindedly held it to my nose. It smelled just like his beach scent—cherry ChapStick and sunblock.

Yes, they’re here, but I’m on my way to the museum so you’ll have to get them later.

Are you going to ask Mr. Wallace about the show?

Yep!

Good luck!

The once-a-year showcase Mr. Wallace hosted to raise money for the museum was the perfect opportunity not only to display my paintings but, hopefully, to sell one too. Problem: there was an age requirement of eighteen. But I had my art, my persuasive speech, and the fact that he liked me on my side. This was happening.

THREE

The problem with the storage room at the art museum was that Mr. Wallace was a hoarder and he didn’t even know it. He saved everything. Every piece of signage, every program, every single decoration from all his past exhibits and shows. The room was bursting at the seams. I’d worked at the museum for about a year (a job I’d applied for because of my love of art), and I’d never had to clean it. By the looks of it, none of the other employees had cleaned it either. Not that they would. As the newest employee, I did the grunt work around here. The docents conducted tours, Tina mainly did ticket sales, and Ralph, the security guard, never traded his badge for a mop. So the storage room was probably the result of years of neglect.

The second the museum closed for the day, I moved a box of papers out into the hall and started sorting through it.

I’d made three piles so far: one was “definitely throw away,” one was “maybe,” and the third was “keep.”

Mr. Wallace came by and saw me, and I wished he’d leave, because otherwise my “definitely throw away” pile was about to shrink.

“What’s this?” he asked. Mr. Wallace looked nothing like what I’d picture an art curator to look like. Not that it was something I’d pictured on a regular basis. But if I had, the curator in my mind had an eye for fashion and style. Mr. Wallace looked like a used-car salesman, with a cheap, slightly too-large suit and slicked-back gray hair. But he was nice and seemed to have an eye for art, if not the kind he wore on his body.

“Just piles,” I told him as he stood over me. “I’m organizing.”

“Why are there three?”

I picked up a few pieces of the “definitely” pile. “Look, these posters have dates on them. You won’t use a decoration for any event this year that has a date from five years ago, right? So this is in the ‘definitely get rid of’ pile. That one is the ‘maybe.’” I pointed to the middle stack. “And this is the ‘keep.’”

He toed the definitely pile. “I never planned on using this thing again, but I saved it so I could remember the idea. It was a good theme.”

I pulled out my phone. “Then we can take a picture of it and save it that way.” I snapped a picture. “You can have a file on your phone or computer of decoration ideas.”

He nodded. “That’s a good idea, Abby. I knew I kept you around for some reason.”

“Funny. You better watch it or I’m going to turn your name in to that hoarders show, then you’ll be in trouble.”

“You wouldn’t.”

I smiled and he left. It had just been Mr. Wallace, Ralph, Tina, and me on the clock tonight. Tina had taken off right when we closed, so I had the wide hallway all to myself.

Now that I’d basically been given permission to take pictures and throw away, my discard pile grew bigger by the second.

A text came in on my phone in between shots: Where are you?

It was Cooper. I told you. At the museum.

Still?!

Just getting started. Where are you?

Waiting for little sister outside of music lessons.

I actually know Amelia’s name. And fourteen isn’t so little anymore.

I know. Our girl is growing up. Have you asked him?

I’m going to in a little bit. If I clean some more, he’ll be happier.

You shouldn’t have to bribe someone to put your art in the show. Your art speaks for itself. It’s brilliant.

A bribe never hurt anyone.

Ask him!

Ask him. Ask him, I told myself as I transferred the discard pile into two big trash bags. As I took those trash bags out to the Dumpster in back. I was going to ask him. I stopped by my car on the way back inside and grabbed my large portfolio. It was mostly pictures of my work, because the canvases themselves were too big to lug around. But I did bring a few of the original smaller pieces. My grandpa’s favorite piece was the first, and looking at it made me happy.

Mr. Wallace was in his office writing something in a notebook. His office was almost as bad as the storage room—piles of papers on his desk, easels in need of repair leaned in a messy pile against one wall, a trash can overflowing in the corner. He looked up when I stopped in the doorway.

“You heading home?”

“I am, but first I wanted to ask you about the show at the end of July.”

His gaze went to the large folder I held.

“I brought some samples to show you.” I set my portfolio on his desk.

“Abby, there is limited space, and I have applications from all over.” He opened a drawer and pulled out a stack of papers, as if I wouldn’t believe him.

“I’d like to throw my hat in the ring too.”

“Eighteen is the age requirement.” He pointed at a random spot on one of the applications.

Now for my well-rehearsed speech. “Sir, I believe that art doesn’t have an age limit. Michelangelo sculpted Madonna of the Stairs at sixteen. Picasso was granted entrance into a prestigious art school at fourteen. At the age of fifteen Salvador Dalí had his first public art exhibit. I’m not saying I’m anywhere near as talented as they are, I’m merely pointing out that age shouldn’t be an indicator of ability.”

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