The Fake
Dad took me to school in a taxi. He claimed he wanted to stop by the gallery to pick up frames, but I knew he was just trying to ease me in to my new life. From that day on I would have to take a cab alone, or else walk the twenty-three blocks from our apartment to Callas.
He hadn’t said anything about the paintings.
I’d finished another on Sunday night, but when he saw it Monday, he didn’t seem surprised like he had when Cynthia came over. I wondered if maybe he’d been so sleepy he couldn’t remember where he left off, and I worried that whatever was affecting his hands might be messing with his memory too.
We pulled up to the school, an ancient, regal looking building near Wall Street, and Dad squeezed my hand.
“Cynthia said you’re all set. They’ve got your records and you’re registered and everything. Do you want me to come in with you?”
I looked at the creased map on my lap. I’d been studying it all morning so I could step out of the car, walk into the building, and continue straight to my classroom. My sweaty hands had left creases and discolored patches, but I was pretty sure I’d worked it out. I folded it into a pocket-sized square. “No, I’m okay.”
I opened the car door, kissed Dad on the cheek, and followed the walkway up to the double doors as my heart thumped against my ribcage.
Breathe in.
Breathe out.
Breathe in.
Breathe out.
I stepped through the front doors and stopped breathing all together. The atrium rose several stories with carved pillars climbing from the mosaicked floor to the hand painted ceiling. The overall affect was breathtaking. I closed my eyes, feeling almost grateful to be in New York.
“You look lost.”
I opened my eyes.
In front of me a was a tall boy with dark hair and big brown eyes. His lips curved up slightly at the edges.
“I, um, I, think I know where I’m going. 313 is this way, right?” I pointed randomly toward one of the hallways that shot out from the atrium.
He laughed. “313 is on the third floor. That’s why it starts with a three.” He looked me over and his grin widened. “Where are you from anyway, West Virginia?”
“No,” I said, wondering if I should be offended. “Idaho.”
“That’s even worse.” He winked, and I got the feeling he was joking around, not trying to be rude.
“Well, Little Miss Idaho, the elevators are right around the corner and you’d better get up there quick because Mr. Little isn’t very nice about tardiness.”
I nodded and took off toward the elevators, remembering too late that I hadn’t said thank you or gotten the boy’s name. Before I could even press the “up” button, the bell rang.
Mr. Little scowled at me. The class giggled.
“I’m sorry to be late,” I mumbled. “It’s my first day and...”
“I assume you were provided with a map?”
I nodded.
“Then there’s no excuse for tardiness.” He waved to a seat in the front. “Sit.”
I could almost feel the stares of everyone in the classroom as I sat down and pulled out a notebook.
“Now back to the Spanish Inquisition. Ferdinand the second asked Pope. . .” He turned back to the white board, scribbling a stream of unintelligible words and occasionally underlining one for effect.
I’d never even heard of the Spanish Inquisition. Back home we’d been studying U.S. history. Weren’t all schools supposed to teach the same stuff? Or was that only public schools? I bit my lip and tried to blink away the burning starting behind my eyes. I’d imagined that the curriculum would be harder at this fancy school, but I had no idea they’d be studying completely different things.
I hoped my other classes would be better.
They weren’t. In chemistry the teacher expected us to do something with sodium hydroxide and some sort of acid, but no one would partner with me and the instructions may as well have been written in Greek, for all I was able to understand. In French it took me forty minutes to realize they were talking about some book by Voltaire—a book which they had apparently read as a class and understood well enough to discuss using only the French language. I understood three words the entire period—“ baguette,” “incroyable,” and “Voltaire.”
After three hours I was certain my public education would put me squarely on the remedial track at this school.
Plus, no one talked to me. There were giggles whenever I came into a room and judging from the looks I got and what everyone else was wearing I suspected my jeans and t-shirt were less than adequate.
I tried to focus on the beautiful architecture. I tried to think about painting. I tried to tell myself that every moment I spent with these people brought Dad closer to getting better.
I ate my brown bag lunch alone. No one even tried to sit at my table. It was as if I had a sign on my forehead that said, “Beware Weird New Girl.”
As soon as everyone cleared out of the lunchroom, I packed my things and went to the bathroom. I stepped into a stall, locked the door, and lost it.
I cried because I missed my friends and my house and clean air and nice people. I cried because I was tired and overwhelmed. And I cried because my dad needed me and I had to be strong even if things were horrible.
It felt good—cathartic and calming somehow. Like I needed to release all that pressure before I could feel like myself again.
The bell rang and I knew I’d be late for my next class if I didn’t get cleaned up. I wiped away the tears and splashed water on my face and made up my mind that I wouldn’t let anyone get to me. I was here for a higher purpose. I was above their scorn. I was . . .
“You’re Claire Foster, right?”
Another girl had come in the bathroom and was standing two sinks down. She was tall and exotic looking with curly black hair and dimples. She wore cute jewelry and clothes that were definitely not from Target. She looked more supermodel than high school student.
“I heard you were coming and I’ve so wanted to meet you.” She held out her hand as her dimples dipped deeper into her cheeks. “I’m Sydney.”
After all the other interactions I’d had at Callas, I didn’t trust that someone was genuinely trying to be nice. But I nodded.
“I’m totally in love with your father’s work. My mom says he’s the Rembrandt of our time and I totally agree. I think he’s done for realism what Van Gogh did for impressionism. He’s . . . I’m sorry, I know I’m gushing.” She blushed and stepped back.
I smiled the first real smile of the day. “Honestly, I love to hear that people appreciate Dad’s work.”
She grinned. “You don’t paint, do you?”
I shrugged. “A little.”
“Oh my gosh, it’s like you’ve been sent from heaven or something,” she squealed. “Could you give me some pointers? I love art, but I’m a miserable at it. I made the mistake of signing up for Ms. Misowski’s painting this year and it’s KILLING me.”
I wondered if this was the only reason she’d been nice to me, but I didn’t really care. I’d take any friend I could get.
I nodded. “I could show you some things.”
The second bell rang. Both of us were tardy now.
“Would tomorrow after school work? A few friends are going to get pedicures at this cute little shop in Chinatown if you want to join, and then maybe you could come over to my house.” She sucked in her bottom lip like I might say no.
“Really?” I asked, still a little afraid she was messing with me.
“Only if you want to. I know you’re still probably busy with the move.”
“No, we’re not busy,” I said. “That would be fun.”
She smiled. “It’s a plan then. What’s your last class? I’ll meet you there tomorrow?”
I pulled my schedule out of my backpack and scrolled to the end. “Geometry with Dr. Galbraith.”
“Ouch.” She laughed. “Good luck with that one. I had him for Algebra last year and couldn’t stay awake to save my life.” She fluffed her hair and checked her reflection one last time. “See you tomorrow?”
I nodded. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad here after all.

Keep Reading

Chapter 6

All My Friends In New York

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