What do you do when you have an unrequited crush on your best friend? Make a list of course! Kasie West, author of perfect love stories like BY YOUR SIDE and THE FILL-IN BOYFRIEND, is back with another effortlessly adorable novel!
In LOVE, LIFE, AND THE LIST, aspiring artist Abby has just been rejected from an art show because her work “has no heart.” So, Abby enlists the help of her best friend Cooper, who she’s not-so-secretly in love with. They decide that they’re going to complete a list of ten things, ranging from face a fear (#3) to learn a stranger’s story (#5), that she thinks will help change her artwork… and maybe her heart too.
If you’re looking to fall in love with a sweet and funny new story, start reading the first 3 chapters of LOVE, LIFE, AND THE LIST by Kasie West right now!
“Hot or cold?”
“Hot. I hate being cold. You know that about me.” Just the thought made me shiver even though it was the middle of summer, which was probably what prompted Cooper’s question. It was hot. So hot that sweat was beading on the backs of my knees. We had been standing in line for the movie on the beach for twenty minutes already, and I was looking forward to when the sun went down and the breeze picked up.
He shook his head. “I do know that, but I mean, would you rather die from freezing to death or overheating?”
“Morbid.” I pursed my lips. “But you’re right, that’s a different question. I’ve heard that dying from being cold is blissful.”
“Who did you hear this from? Are ghosts of people who froze to death visiting you?”
“Yes. Every day. Speaking of, would you rather be cursed with seeing ghosts or zombies?”
“Cursed? Cursed?” He gripped one of my shoulders and shook it. “Neither of those is a curse in my opinion. Totally amazing. I’ll take them both.”
“That’s not how the rules work. You have to pick one.”
“Ghosts. Hopefully they can tell me about my future.”
“Ghosts don’t know the future,” I said as we shifted forward in the line, inching closer to the ticket table. Sand slid between my foot and flip-flop and I shook it free.
“Says everybody, Cooper. If anything, ghosts know the past.”
“Well, yours may not, Abby, but my ghosts are future-telling ghosts. It will be awesome.”
The girl standing in line in front of us turned around and smiled at Cooper. She probably thought he was adorably charming. Because he was. She was around our age. Her hair was pulled up into a purposefully messy bun and I wondered how people made that look purposeful and not just messy.
“Hey,” he said to her. “How are you?”
“Better now,” she said with a giggle, then turned back around.
I shook my head. “Don’t mind me. You know, the girl standing next to the boy you’re flirting with.”
I was sure by my tone she knew I was joking, but Cooper still put his hand over my mouth and said, “The best friend of the guy standing here. Just friends. Said guy is totally available.”
I freed my mouth and laughed, even though the “just friends” part was not by choice. I had, in fact, professed my love to Cooper Wells exactly one year ago that very month. It had been more than obvious by his reaction that the feelings were not reciprocated. So I had to play it off like some joke. Some joke he had been more than willing to go along with. And I let him, because I didn’t want to lose him as a friend. He was the best friend in the world.
A voice sounded from behind us. “Which begs the question, would you rather hang out with your best friends one more night or pack all night for the trip your parents are dragging you on for the entire summer?”
I whirled around, a smile taking over my face. “Don’t use the word begs, Rachel. My eighty-year-old grandpa uses that word,” I said.
Rachel stood there with her hands on her hips and her dark eyes sparkling. “That’s where I picked it up. And he’s only sixty-eight.”
I bumped her hip with mine, then gave her a hug. “How did you know we were playing would you rather?”
“Aren’t we always?”
“I thought you weren’t going to make it tonight,” I said.
There were four of us in our tight-knit group of friends: Cooper, Rachel, Justin, and me. Justin had left last week and would be gone for the summer on a mission to South America with his church. Rachel was leaving tomorrow for a tour around Europe with her parents. So for the rest of the summer it would be just Cooper and me.
“Me too. Now, back to my begged question,” Rachel said. “Packing or best friends?”
“That’s a tough one, Rach,” Cooper said. “Probably packing.”
She shoved his arm. “Funny.”
We finally reached the front of the line. Cooper stepped up to the covered table that served as the ticket booth every Friday night throughout the summer. A guy standing behind a cashbox said, “Are you Cooper?”
“Yeeees,” Cooper said warily.
“That girl paid for yours.” The guy nodded to Messy Bun, who had been standing in front of us and was now walking toward the entrance. She must’ve heard me say Cooper’s name at some point.
“What about ours?” I called after to her, linking arms with Rachel.
The girl threw us a smile over her shoulder, then waved.
“You punk,” I said to Cooper. “Where are the people willing to buy my Friday-night entertainment?” I dug into my beach bag, past the towels and sweater, until I found my wallet. I handed the cashier my money and collected a ticket. Rachel did the same.
“You have to work on your charm,” Cooper said.
“I am the most charming person here.” I slung my beach bag back onto my shoulder and it rocked back and forth like a pendulum. “Charm oozes from my pores.”
“Gross,” he said. “If that’s the case, you’re doing it wrong.”
“Come get your oozing charm, boys!” I yelled to the line behind us.
“Move your ooze along,” someone called back.
Rachel dragged me away from the line, probably embarrassed. Cooper headed left, toward the food stand just past the barriers.
“We’re getting expensive food tonight?” I asked.
“Seems I have some extra money. I can afford a ten-dollar popcorn now.”
“I hate you. I’m eating all your popcorn,” I said.
He laughed. “You do ooze charm, Abby Turner. Loads of it.”
I blew him a kiss. “We’re going to stake a claim on our spot. You get food.”
“I’m on it.”
I had already committed to walking away with Rachel when I saw that the girl who’d bought Cooper’s ticket was now in line at the food truck. I almost changed my mind and sent Rachel to our spot without me so I could join him. But then I didn’t. I didn’t need to witness all his flirting. I already saw enough of it.
“So you’re never going to guess what my parents decided,” Rachel said as I pulled a couple of towels out of my bag and we spread them out on our spot next to the right-side barriers.
“That you don’t have to go with them and you get to stay with me all summer instead?” I guessed.
“You know how spoiled you sound that you’re complaining about traveling Europe for nine weeks?”
“With my parents. My parents. It’s not like a youth hostel backpacking trip with friends. We’re going to have to visit ancestors’ graves and random plots of land that they think my great-great-grandfather’s brother once peed on or something.”
“Wait, your ancestors are from Europe?”
“Some of them. You don’t think there are any black people in Europe? Come on, Abby.”
“It’s not that I don’t think . . . you’re right, I’m dumb. So, anyway, what did your parents decide?”
“That it’s a technology-free trip.”
“What does that mean?” I sat down on the towel and slipped off my flip-flops. “No Google Maps?”
“No cell phones.”
My eyes went wide. “You can’t take your phone?”
“A detox, they called it.”
“I agree!” She plopped down next to me. “You’re not allowed to do anything fun this summer, because I won’t be able to hear about it.”
“Don’t worry. You’ll come home and everything will be exactly the same,” I said. Exactly. The. Same.
“It better be.”
I dug my toes in the sand and watched Cooper walk toward us holding a popcorn and a bottle of water. His blond hair was slightly wavy tonight and was reflecting the last bit of sunlight like a halo. His blue eyes, lit by his smile, met mine and I couldn’t help the smile that spread across my face.
“How was the concessions truck?” I asked.
“Concessions? And you made fun of Rachel for sounding eighty?”
“Blah blah blah, whatever.”
He sat down on the yellow-and-white-striped towel on my right side and handed me the bottle of water.
“What’s this garbage? I want caffeine.”
“Just yesterday you told me you were giving up soda. You said it quite dramatically, in fact. And then you said, keep me honest, Cooper.”
“What?” Rachel asked from my left side. “You had forty-four ounces of Mountain Dew at my house last night.”
“Shhhhh.” I pressed my finger against her lips. “We’re not talking about that.”
Cooper scoffed and Rachel pushed my hand away.
“Who do you all think I am? Wonder Woman? Geez.” I uncapped the water and took a drink.
“Her name is Iris,” Cooper said, nodding back toward the food truck and the girl who’d bought his ticket.
“Oh no,” Rachel said.
I gave a faux sympathetic hum. “The kiss of death—an unshortenable name. Little did she know telling you her name would be the end for her.”
“It can’t be shortened at all. I. I’m supposed to call her I?” Cooper asked.
“You could get over your lazy tendencies and just call her by her full name.”
“It’s not about being lazy. It’s about my relationship goals. I want to be able to call my girl by a shortened version of her name.”
I huffed. “I know you think that makes you seem sexy or whatever, but really it doesn’t.”
He took a handful of popcorn and shrugged. “Regardless.”
I thought for a minute. “What about Ris?” I wasn’t sure why I was trying to help him with this new girl aside from the fact that it made me feel like I had been successful in smashing down my feelings. The feelings nobody knew about but me . . . and my mom . . . and maybe Cooper, though I was pretty sure I’d convinced him I was joking last summer.
“Ris is cute,” Rachel agreed, taking her own handful of popcorn from Cooper’s bucket.
“Huh,” he said. “That might work. Good thing I got her number.”
“She should’ve bought me a movie ticket. I just saved her chances.” I watched the sun sit atop the edge of the ocean before it dipped below it.
“What about you two?” Cooper asked. “What are your relationship goals?”
“My immediate goal,” Rachel said, “is an Italian boy with long wavy hair and an accent so thick I won’t know what he’s talking about, but he’ll be an exceptional kisser, so it won’t matter.”
I laughed. “Is this before or after you and your parents find the plot of land your great-uncle peed on?”
“Definitely before . . . and then after as well. What about you, Abby?” Rachel asked. “Relationship goals?”
I flopped onto my stomach and began drawing in the sand with my pointer finger. “An artist for sure. Someone who can paint or draw or something.”
“But then what if he’s better than you? Why would you want someone who has your same skill set?” Rachel asked.
“Yeah,” Cooper agreed. “It would turn into a competition.”
“Just because you turn everything into a competition, Coop, doesn’t mean everyone does.”
“See, my name is perfect. It can be shortened with epic results.”
“I don’t know that it qualifies as epic, but it’s adorable,” I said.
“Actually, that reminds me,” Rachel said. “Someone was asking about one of your pieces the other day. He remembered seeing it in the art room before school let out and hasn’t been able to get it out of his head.”
“Who was asking?”
“I didn’t know him. He stopped me in Starbucks. I guess he knew we were friends.”
“Cool,” Cooper said.
I bit my lip and smiled. I wanted to yell, see, Cooper, I have something going for me. I’m not so laughable a catch. I’m an artist.
“So as far as relationship goals go,” Rachel said. “Would appreciating your art be just as good as being an artist? Because if so, you need to ask mystery boy out.”
“Yes! You should,” Cooper said.
“Appreciating art would be a close second to being an artist. Good thing you have so much detailed information about who he is, Rachel.”
The movie started on the large screen in front of us, music blasting out of the speakers.
Rachel leaned close to my ear. “I need to go to the bathroom. I’ll be right back.” She scurried off.
Cooper moved onto his stomach, positioning himself alongside me so our shoulders were touching. He started drawing stick figures in the sand next to my art. “Just you and me this summer, kid,” he said.
My heart gave a jump at those words. We’re over him, I reminded my heart. He’s one of your best friends, after all. We could handle a summer alone with Cooper Wells. “Yep.” I reached over and added wheels onto the bottom of one of his stick men. “You racing at the dunes this week?” Cooper raced his quad in an amateur local league put together by some serious quad lovers.
“Wednesday. I expect you there with a big sign that says, ‘Cooper is number one.’”
“But what if you come in second? Then that will be awkward.”
He bumped his shoulder into mine.
“I will be there. Am I ever not there?”
“Well, you usually come with Rachel and Justin, so I wasn’t sure.”
“I used to come without them all the time.” I’d met Cooper first, eighth grade. We’d been friends ever since. Rachel and Justin joined us freshman year.
“That’s true. And I’ve decided you’re my good-luck charm, so you have to keep coming for all of eternity now.”
“I will.” For all of eternity I’d be Cooper’s fangirl. That pathetic thought almost made me march out of there that second and gain back some of my dignity. But then he smiled at me.
In the summer, I usually slept in as long as possible. But the next morning a strip of light from the window crept into my room through a partially open blind and wouldn’t go away. I stood up, crossed my room, and shut the blind completely. I snuggled back under my covers, pulling them up around my ears. It didn’t stop me from hearing my phone buzz on the nightstand next to me. I thought about ignoring it, but when it buzzed again, I couldn’t help my curiosity. A text from Rachel lit my screen.
This will be the last text I send you for 9 weeks.
That text was followed by: What will you do without me?
Probably get more sleep.
True. Me too. What happens if I like being without a phone? No. That can’t happen. Even if I like it, I would never let my parents know. They’d enjoy that too much.
I smiled and rubbed my eyes. I’ll miss you! Don’t like any hot Italian boys more than me.
Pretty sure I’m not in danger of liking any hot Italian boys in the near future.
Funny. I meant the missing you part.
I know. Safe travels. Call me from a pay phone if you ever get a chance. Do you think they still have pay phones?
I don’t know. We shall find out.
I stared at my phone, but there was nothing more to say, and it stayed quiet in my hand. It really was going to be a slow summer without Rachel and Justin. My finger, almost as if it had a mind of its own, swiped across the screen and pulled up a website I had saved as a favorite. Wishstar Art Institute Winter Program Application. The program of my dreams. The program that my art teacher told me would bolster my college applications and help me get into a really good art school. Plus, it was Wishstar. They had amazing instructors, and I was dying to spend part of the winter holiday with other artists. We would spend two solid weeks learning new techniques, working with all sorts of mediums, and being inspired by the speakers sharing their success stories. I wanted to meet actual professionals in the field and, along with bettering my own art, this would help me do that.
I studied the page again, like I had a million times in the last six months. I read through the requirements, which hadn’t changed. Age, experience, letter of recommendation, display/sales history. I was finally old enough. They only accepted high school seniors and above. And in the fall I would be. I had heard most attendees were college students and even older, but that wouldn’t stop me. I had experience—a whole portfolio of paintings I could attach. I knew who I wanted to write the letter for me. I had only one more thing to accomplish before sending off my application: display/sales. I had never had my art on display anywhere outside of school. And I had definitely never sold a painting before. But I had a plan. I smiled, excited by the thought again, and threw my covers back.
I shuffled down the hall into my bathroom, where I nearly tripped over my mom, who was lying on the floor. The cupboards were open and shampoo bottles and hairspray and window cleaner lined the floor next to her. In one hand she held a flashlight, which she was pointing under the sink, and in her other hand was a flyswatter.
“Uh. What are you doing?” I asked.
“Have you ever heard of a brown recluse?”
“Yes. I was just making sure you didn’t have one under your sink.”
“Did you see a web under there? Or is there a sucked-dry mouse corpse?” I squatted down to get a better look and sent a bottle of conditioner toppling.
“No, I read a story about a teenage girl who got horribly disfigured by a brown recluse spider when reaching under the sink for her Herbal Essences. Then I remembered that’s where you store your extra shampoo. I figured I’d better check.”
“Mom.” I picked up the bottles on the floor and began shoving them back under the cupboard. “Stop reading horrific internet stories and immediately applying them to our lives. If I’m going to be horribly disfigured, it better be in my own original way.”
She sat up and gave me a stern look. “Abigail. Don’t joke about that.” Her dark hair stuck up in crazy waves around her face, like she’d rolled straight out of bed and into my bathroom.
I clicked off her flashlight and brought it to my mouth like a microphone. “Can I have my bathroom now? I need to use it.”
She sighed and stood. “I have to check the other bathrooms anyway.”
I locked the door after her and turned on the shower. My eyes went to the cupboard. I opened the door and peered in, then shut it quickly. I rolled my eyes. There were no spiders in the bathroom.
After a quick shower, I pulled on my standard summer wardrobe of cut-off shorts and a tank top. I arranged my blond waves up into a ponytail and went to the kitchen. The oatmeal was on the top shelf in the pantry, so I stood on my tiptoes and fished two packets out of their box, poured them into a plastic bowl, and added water. By the time the oatmeal was done heating and the timer went off, my grandpa was awake. His feet made a scuffing noise on the tile because he didn’t pick them up very high when he walked.
“What’s this?” he asked, coming into the kitchen. “The princess doesn’t need her beauty sleep today?”
“Your grandma used to think I was funny. No woman has found me as funny since. It’s a tragedy.”
“Her death or that no one has found you funny since?”
“Oh, a wise guy, huh?”
My grandma had died from cancer three months before I was born, so it was literally a lifetime ago. Not knowing her made it so I couldn’t really miss her. But I knew my grandpa did, even when he joked about it. Grandpa had moved in with us after she died.
“Do you want some oatmeal?” I asked Grandpa, holding out my bowl, which I hadn’t eaten from yet.
“No, I want something with lots of sugar in it.”
“I’m sure this has plenty of sugar. It’s two cinnamon-and-spice packs.”
“But it’s masquerading as healthy, and I can’t forgive it for that.” He got himself a bowl and a box of cereal from the pantry.
“Grandpa, how did you live to eighty when you eat so bad?”
“I am not eighty. Why do you always insist on adding years to my life? It’s like you’re trying to get rid of me.”
I retrieved a spoon from the drawer and sat at the table. I pulled my bare feet up under me and took a big bite, then immediately regretted it, because my tongue was on fire. I sucked air into my mouth.
“That’s instant karma right there,” Grandpa said.
“You’re mean,” I mumbled through my mouthful.
My mom joined us. “Our house is spider free.”
“Did you spend the morning killing spiders?” Grandpa asked.
“No, hunting spiders,” I said. “Internet spiders.”
She put her hunting gear on the counter.
Grandpa sighed. “You need to stop reading stories on the internet.”
She ignored his statement. “What are we eating?” She peered into my bowl and then my grandpa’s.
“Oatmeal,” I said.
She raised her eyebrows at Grandpa. “That isn’t oatmeal.”
“I didn’t say it was. Your daughter is eating oatmeal. I have Cocoa Krispies.”
“That’s too much sugar for a prediabetic.”
“Well, when you feel like going to the store to stock up our shelves with acceptable items, let me know.”
The smile fell from her face. My mom hated going to the store. She hated going anywhere outside of her comfort zone. Especially when my dad was gone, like now, deployed to the Middle East until the end of August. Eleven more weeks. We could handle eleven more weeks. My mom was always a lot better when he was around. It hadn’t always been like that. She used to have a tight community of military wives at each place we moved (five different cities between my first year of school and my seventh), who seemed to help her transition better. But four years ago she decided she wanted me to have more stability, so when we moved to the central coast of California, we bought a house away from military housing, and she declared it our permanent home. I was so happy. For the first time, I had friends I knew I wouldn’t have to leave. But my mom seemed to struggle. More every day.
“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?”
“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?
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.
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.”
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.
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, 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.”
“You’ve been doing your homework, I see.”
I slid my portfolio closer to him. “I’m just asking for a chance.”
He sighed and reached for my portfolio. I sunk into the chair opposite him in relief. I’d accomplished the hard part. My art spoke for itself. He began slowly flipping through the folder. I’d blown up most of the pictures to at least ten by twenty. He studied each one closely. After what felt like forever, he closed the cover and looked up at me.
I gave him my winning smile.
“Abby, you will be perfect for the show when you meet the age requirement. Is that next summer?”
“Wait . . . what?”
“You’ll be the right age next summer.” He patted the closed folder. “Bring me some more samples then.”
The smile slid off my face. “Yes. But why? I’ve seen the art you’ve had in here for amateur exhibits. Mine is just as good. Are you really going to hold me back because I’m not eighteen yet?”
“It’s not just about your age.”
“We have limited space and I need every sale I can get to keep this place going. This is my one and only fund-raiser for the year. We’re a museum, not a gallery, so I don’t get to do this just anytime I feel like it.”
I moved to the edge of the hard chair. “But what if I sell a few of my allowed paintings? That would help you, right?”
He pushed my portfolio back toward me. “You won’t.”
“Because you’re not ready. Your paintings aren’t good enough yet.”
The air went out of my lungs so fast it felt like someone had punched me in the gut.
When I didn’t say anything, he went on. “I have every reason to believe that they will be. But you’re not quite there.”
“What do you mean? What are my paintings missing?”
He stared at my closed book. “Experience . . . heart.”
“They’re technically good, but they look like you copied a picture. I want to feel something when I look at your paintings. They’re missing a layer, and that’s understandable. You’re young. You haven’t experienced enough in life to add that depth to a painting. But you will. You are exactly where you should be in your progression as an artist. Just keep moving forward. You’ll get there.”
I nodded numbly. After years of art teachers, my parents, my grandpa telling me I had talent far beyond my years, this was hard to hear. I stood and tucked the book under my arm.
“I’m sorry,” he said as I walked away.
I went through the back to avoid Ralph. I didn’t want him to ask me about the huge folder I held. I didn’t want to have to explain to him what I was doing with it.
The museum had a courtyard, and right now, outside, a recycling exhibit was on display. The artist had taken trash and turned it into art. I passed a tree made of shaped iron for branches and green tinted bottles for leaves, then I wound around two old bicycles that were fused together. They seemed to defy gravity by balancing on a single wheel. The last piece I flew by before reaching the side gate was the rusty hood of a Volkswagen Beetle. On the domed section was carved a lopsided heart. I slid to a halt.
These were all pieces in a traveling exhibit that we only had for two weeks. Next week we’d pack it up in wooden crates with shredded paper and ship it up the coast, to Pismo or Santa Cruz or some other artsy beach community like ours. I’d spent some time out here admiring the pieces. I loved art. All different kinds. But now, this rusty old hood with its uninspiring heart seemed ridiculous. Mr. Wallace considered this art, but not my paintings? Was this really that much better than what I had shown him? Maybe I had no idea what art was after all. And maybe I had nothing to offer anyone.
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