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‘Verify’ is the Page-Turner You Need to Read

'Verify' is the Page-Turner You Need to Read

In a world without lies full of lies.

One girl discovers the treason truth.

That could get her killed change the world.

In Verify by Joelle Charbonneau, Meri Beckley lives in a world without lies. Or so she thinks.

When her mother is killed, Meri starts asking questions no one wants to answer, and her digging leads her into a secret world of history she didn’t know existed. It’s a fascinating and dangerous world where librarians are secretly keeping history alive. And it’s a world Meri could get killed for finding.

Help! We’re obsessed. Enter the world of Verify with Meri and start reading the first book in this epic new duology right now!

 

ONE

My stool creaks in the slate-gray silence. I stretch, then turn once again to stare at the partially finished canvas.

A single desk lamp bathes the picture in a soft light. Shadows dance outside of the light’s glow as I attempt to imagine what my mother was creating when she placed the geometric lines on the canvas over an ash-black background. Some of them, around the edge of the canvas, are thick and strong. Others move at a diagonal and seem to fade into the empty white area in the center of the work, as if disappearing into some mysterious place that only an artist could understand. Some lines at the edge are silver. The ones in the center are a burnished gold. Small red stars in the corners of the image make me believe there would have been more color had Mom had more time.

Now it is up to me to take the next step.

Looking down at the screen in my hand, I pick up my stylus and begin to draw on the copy I made of my mother’s work, just as I have done every single day of the last eleven weeks and six days. I extend the lines—add detail. Match the color of red she used with one from my palette and begin once again to draw.

Sunlight creeps through the windows of my mother’s studio, telling me that the time to get ready for school is approaching. But I don’t move. Not yet. I stay seated on the rickety stool my mother had set up for me years ago when I begged to be allowed to watch her wield her brushes against canvas—a medium no longer used by artists but one my mother refused to completely abandon for electronic screens and the high-tech accessories that could do everything the tools on her desk did.

They can’t do everything, I remember her telling me as she frowned into my eyes. The things on the screen aren’t real. What we can touch—that’s real.

Maybe I should have asked what she meant. Or maybe she should have just told me why she was spending so many late nights in this room using tools the rest of the country had discarded to create images that are impossible to understand. If she had been clearer, maybe I wouldn’t be here right now trying to finish this painting for her.

I push a strand of hair that has escaped my ponytail out of my eyes and return to my sketch, working from the edges inward. I add a door in the empty space my mother left in the center of the work. The door is partially opened, as if waiting for someone to push it and walk through.

Over half my attempts have this door. Although until now the entryway has been closed. This time, without thinking, I painted it open. Does that mean something?

Streams of golden sunlight through Mom’s studio window chase the rest of the shadows away. I layer color and shading until finally, I cock my head to the side and study my efforts.

The image is . . . interesting. If I brought it to my art class today, Mrs. Rudoren would certainly praise my talent, something my mother rarely did. In the middle of the other geometric lines, the entryway seems almost otherworldly with the slight arch I have added at the top and the light coming from somewhere inside. The picture is the most compelling of the dozens upon dozens I have created thus far, with the red patch on the side acting almost like a warning to keep someone from walking through my door.

And still, I know it’s wrong.

I punch the erase feature on the screen. My part of the image disappears in a blink. As if it never existed. But my mother’s work remains. She’s gone, but that is what is left of her, and that’s all that’s left to me.

I rub my eyes, pick up my stylus, and touch it to the center of the screen to begin again. Wait. . . .

Damn it.

A persistent beeping sound echoes from above me. I slide off the stool and hurry through the door of my mother’s studio, into the hall, and toward the stairs. I’ve been so busy working on the puzzle of Mom’s painting that I lost track of the time.

The beeping gets louder with each step. The fact that it doesn’t stop before I reach the landing tells me exactly what I will find as I step across the threshold of my parents’ room.

My nose wrinkles.

The wailing of the alarm continues.

I step on a crumpled shirt and kick aside a pair of wadded-up gray trousers as I pad across the light blue carpet toward the nightstand. A push of a button and the room goes blissfully silent, but a look at the clock’s display tells me I have spent far more time in my mother’s studio than I’d intended. My father isn’t the only one who is going to be late at this rate.

“Dad,” I say, turning toward the bed to where my father still sleeps. His breathing is raspy. His dark, normally wavy hair is plastered against his head. The mouth that once so quickly curled into smiles is mashed against a dark blue spot on the pillow, and a large, empty go cup rests next to one of his hands.

“Dad! Get up!” I snap.

He doesn’t move.

“You slept through your alarm,” I say louder. “If you don’t get up now you’re going to be late for work.” And it wouldn’t be the first time.

I stalk across the room and tug open a window to let the fresh, almost-summer air chase the heat and stale smell out of the room.

“Dad!” I yell.

When he snorts and rolls over, I head into his bathroom and turn the shower on. Then I grab a slightly stiff washcloth, run it under ice-cold water from the sink, and stomp back to drop it on his face.

The cold washcloth does the trick. Dad yelps, sits up, and snatches the wet washcloth from his forehead with one hand while knocking the go cup off the bed with the other. The cup rolls under the bed. Dad blinks his puffy red eyes several times before shifting them to look at me.

“The shower is already running. You can’t be late,” I say as I wait for him to swing his legs over the edge of the bed and plant his feet on the floor. If I leave now there is a good chance he’ll just lie back down. It’s happened before.

“I’m sorry, sweetheart,” he says, running a hand through his hair before pushing to his feet. I wait for him to sway, but he’s steady, and despite the swollen redness, his eyes are mostly alert. It’s an improvement over last week. Maybe I should find hope in that. But I’m not ready for hope.

“Be downstairs in fifteen minutes,” I say, heading for my room so I can get myself ready for another day. It takes me half that time to yank on the pair of navy-blue pants and pale yellow shirt that make up my school uniform. I used to hate it, but now I’m grateful for the required sameness. Figuring out what clothes to wear is one less decision I have to make.

I brush my hair, start to pull it neatly back into a ponytail as is my typical style, but one look at my eyes in the mirror has me leaving it loose. Hopefully, the fatigue won’t be as obvious that way.

The smell of coffee hits me as I hurry downstairs and walk into the cozy yellow-and-white kitchen. My father gives me what I’m sure he thinks is a cheerful smile, but it comes across as more than a little desperate. His hair is still wet from the shower. His face is shaved and he’s dressed in a blue shirt and gray jacket that I picked up from the cleaner yesterday after school. His eyes still look a little tired, but they are way clearer than they have been in the past few weeks. If I didn’t know better, I would think that he was back to the dad I used to know.

He holds out a green apple—my usual choice for breakfast. A peace offering. I shake my head and grab a banana, even though it has brown patches on the skin.

My father sighs, turns back to the counter, and pours himself a steaming mug of coffee. In an upbeat voice he says, “Only one day left of class and two days of finals before summer break. Has the City Art Program made their decision yet?”

“I don’t know,” I say, taking a seat at the butcher-block table. “I didn’t apply.” I frown at the banana, knowing that picking the thing up means I’ll have to eat it.

“Wait a minute.” Dad sets his mug down on the counter. “Why didn’t you apply? You worked so hard on your portfolio pieces. What happened?”

“You know what happened.”

Mom died and my dad started to drink.

We did what we had to do in order to get from day to day. Those things did not include essay writing and portfolio development.

Before he can try to initiate some kind of father-daughter-heart-to-heart thing, I shove back my chair, spring to my feet, and cross to the garbage. “It’s okay.” I drop the overly ripe banana into the can with a thump and shrug as if it couldn’t possibly matter. “There’s another project I’m working on. I’ll have plenty to keep me occupied this summer without being a part of City Art. And I can always apply next year if someone drops out. So it’s fine,” I lie. “Look, I’ve gotta go.”

“I can give you a ride to school,” Dad offers.

No. He can’t. Not without being late for work. It’s an empty offer and I can see from the slump of his shoulders that I’m not the only one who knows it. More than anything I want to call him out. But I bite back the angry words and instead say, “Rose said she might wait to walk with me. She’ll never forgive me if I don’t show up.” I shift the bag on my shoulder and make a beeline for the back door.

My hand is on the knob when my father says, “Meri, I’m sorry. I should have asked before about City Art. I know your future is on the line and I—I’m screwing it up. I’m trying to do better, it’s just . . .”

I glance over my shoulder. My father looks down at the coffee in his hand so I won’t see the tears. But I see them anyway, and even if I couldn’t I can hear the sorrow thickening his voice when he quietly admits, “I miss her.”

Everything inside me freezes. The red-hot anger I stoke like a life-giving fire suddenly extinguishes, leaving me cold and weak and raw.

I can’t breathe.

I can’t speak.

It’s like the moment I relive every night when I try to fall asleep—the one where the police officers come to the door with their serious, rosy-cold faces and stiff words, telling us about the vehicle that slid on a patch of black ice and couldn’t stop in time.

They were sorry. Everyone was sorry. My friends. My teachers. Our neighbors. The guy behind the counter at the market two streets over. Everyone told me first with their words and now months later with a shake of the head how sorry they were that the person who drove the vehicle too fast during a spring snow was alive and well and my mother, who had simply been standing on the sidewalk in front of a potential new design project, was dead.

We’re all sorry. So what? It doesn’t change a damn thing.

“I’ll see you tonight.” I yank the door open and head outside, clinging to the anger that once again sparks inside me. I hate the pain my father is in. I hate that I understand why he drinks, and I hate knowing that if I didn’t force him out of bed every morning he would drink himself into oblivion to forget what we have lost.

His work gave him two weeks off after the accident, and people looked the other way for the month after as Dad showed up late or in the same clothes he’d worn the day before. Finally, Dad’s boss came to the house with a warning that he had to do better or he would lose his job.

The drinking continued, but little by little, day by day, Dad seemed to be doing better. Surrounded by more grays and dark blues than shrouded in empty black. He didn’t have to reach for something to add to his morning coffee in order to face a world without my mother’s lopsided smile and observant gaze.

I hurry down the steps and around the house, toward the street.

A gray squirrel darts across the sidewalk in front of me and bolts under the moving van parked in front of the house two doors down. I used to watch every new person moving into a house on the block for signs of kids my age, especially in the last few years when so many older folks moved away for work or retirement—or just because they wanted something new. Now I was glad not to see any signs of teenagers in the back of the van.

Robins chirp in the branches of the fairly young trees lining the street. The city’s gardeners planted them only two years ago. Between the golden sunshine, this being the final week of school, and my dad’s less glassy eyes, I should be feeling positive about the day. Maybe if Dad hadn’t brought up the City Art Program I would find it easier to be happy about the little things, but thoughts of all the work I had done—the time wasted—what I had wanted so badly until my mother’s death—made it hard to find the good in anything.

I’d worked for months on my portfolio so that I could be one of the four sixteen-year-olds chosen to intern alongside the city’s design and beautification team for the next two years. Being chosen isn’t just an honor. Being chosen gives a student the chance to work with the very best imaginations in the city and maybe even assist in designing one or more of the city’s ongoing projects. It’s one of the sure ways to gain a coveted slot as a visual arts major. Without a visual-arts degree it’s impossible to secure a job as a working artist here in Chicago’s City Pride Department or in similar departments in other cities across the country.

Of all the government jobs, the City Pride Department’s were among the most important and prestigious. Years ago, a pilot program spearheaded by the best artists in the country was launched here in Chicago under the theory that people who lived in beautiful surroundings felt better about themselves and their futures, thereby causing them to make positive choices that would benefit not only themselves but the community they were so proud of. It was a radical idea, but the new City Pride Department was determined to make every part of the city beautiful—especially those most touched by neglect and crime, because the people living on those streets needed to see that they were worthy of beauty.

And it was working. Bit by bit. Block by block. The citizens here blossomed under the inspiration of the city’s new beauty. But the project is never ending, because the city is large and always changing. So often my mother worked long into the night to create the perfect mural for the side of a neighborhood market or select the ideal color palette for a sign intended to draw the community into embracing a new park. She had even received a silver plaque last year to celebrate the work she had done. She was one of the top designers. The work she uploaded into the National Elevation through Arts database was some of the most often downloaded for use around the country.

Was it any wonder that I wanted to capture beauty in an image the way she did?

Everyone assumes my mother wanted me to submit to the summer program. That she encouraged me to walk in her talented footsteps. I’ve let them think it because it’s easier than talking about the way, in the months before she died, she pursed her lips whenever I asked her opinion about my work.

Are you sure that’s the color palette you want to use, Meri?

Is that really what you want to work on or just what you think you should be working on?

Then finally the one I’ll never forget. When she fastened her hair at the nape of her neck with a long-handled, tapered paintbrush and turned to me, eyes shimmering with disappointment.

Maybe you should think about doing an internship at Gloss instead. Designing layouts requires a sharp eye and there’s a lot less competition for those positions than there is for government jobs.

Those words made it clear to me that she thought I wasn’t good enough. Maybe if I hadn’t shut myself off from her from that moment on, maybe I would have found out why. Maybe—

“Hey, I almost gave up on you.”

I look up and spot my best friend, Rose, standing in the shade of an old elm tree.

“Isaac decided you weren’t coming and went on ahead. He’s going through a self-important phase because Dad got him a summer job with city security. I’m not sure what is so amazing about filling in for security officers who are spending the day at the beach, but what do I know?” Rose rolls her eyes, which tells me everything I need to know about her opinion of her older brother’s plans. Then she frowns. “Actually, it’s good Isaac left, because you look terrible.”

I shrug. I could take offense, but she’s just telling the truth.

“Well, you look perfect,” I respond. “So we balance each other out.” The thing is, I’m not kidding about the perfect part. With her thick black hair twisted into a French braid, her glowing brown skin made even more flawless by makeup applied with a skilled and light hand, Rose looks more like one of the models in the fashion e-zine her mother edits than a sixteen-year-old high school student on her way to class.

“I’m not kidding, Meri.” Rose steps toward me. Her intense brown eyes narrow as she studies my face. “You didn’t sleep again.”

“I slept.” Sort of. When Rose purses her lips and gives me her don’t-mess-with-me frown, I add, “Okay, so I woke up extra early and couldn’t get back to sleep. It’s no big deal.”

Rose sighs and slides the straps of her yellow backpack off her shoulder. She unzips the front pocket and pulls out her purple-and-white-swirled makeup kit. “You keep saying that it’s no big deal, but when was the last time you slept for an entire night?”

I wish I could answer that, but it’s been too long for me to remember.

“I’ve had some bad dreams,” I say.

Pity swims in her eyes, then vanishes almost as quickly as it appeared. She gives a no-nonsense shake of her head as she flips open the lid of one of her dozens of makeup compacts. “Lucky for you I have just the thing to fix you up.”

There’s no fixing me. Even if I slept for a week, I would never look like Rose. Boring dishwater-blond hair, pale hazel eyes, and average height are not model material. “You don’t need to go to the trouble.”

Rose grabs my arm as I try to sidestep her. “If you don’t want your teachers calling your father out of concern for your well-being or, worse yet, sending you down to the counselor, you’ll stand still and let me work.”

“We’re going to be late.”

“Not if you keep still and follow my instructions,” Rose says. “And if we don’t get to class in time for the second bell, a call from either one of my parents will get us out of trouble. Deal?”

I sigh, knowing there really isn’t much of a choice. When Rose has her mind set on something, there is little chance of changing it. Besides, I don’t have the energy or the time to put up a fight. “Deal.”

“Good. This won’t take long. Hold this.” She hands me the makeup kit, and I can tell from the colors that half of what she has with her has been brought specifically for me. Knowing that Rose has been worried enough to go out of her way to get these things ties my throat into a knot. Tears prick the backs of my eyes. The world blurs and I blink to chase it all away.

“Stop moving,” Rose chastises. She dabs a sponge under my eyes and on several other spots on my face. I stare at a light green leaf on a tree in the distance and try to clear my mind and my heart the way I can with my tablet. Rose attacks my eyes with a pencil and eye shadow and actually growls at me when I try to move away before she puts the finishing touches on her design. Finally, she gives a satisfied smile and holds a mirror up to my face. “There is no denying that I’m a genius. My mother and Gloss editorials have taught me well.”

She isn’t lying. My skin is no longer blotchy. The peach shadow she used on my lids is almost translucent, but somehow makes them appear less sleep deprived. I seem almost normal—as long as no one looks too hard. The anger and fatigue and distrust in my eyes cannot be smoothed away with powder and lip gloss. Those are beyond even my best friend’s ministrations.

But when I look away from my image and see Rose’s grin, I can’t help but smile back. After so many years, all the changes in our lives, and the bitterness and hurt I have waded through, the thing I am most grateful for is Rose’s friendship. “Thanks,” I say, lifting my eyes to hers. “I owe you.”

“Real friends don’t keep score.” Rose shoves the makeup case back into her bag. Once it’s stowed, she shrugs the bag onto her shoulder and we start walking. “So what happened this morning?” she asks.

“What do you mean?” I wait for a red sports car to pass and cross the street with Rose beside me.

“Meri, I yelled your name three times before you noticed me. That’s not like you.”

I take a deep breath and say, “Dad asked about my submission to the City Art Program this morning. It’s the first time he’s brought it up since . . . before.” I walk faster, as if I can escape the ache that comes with the reminder of my mother’s death. “He was disappointed when I told him I didn’t finish my submission. I guess I thought in some way he would be relieved.”

“Why would you think that?”

“He never goes in Mom’s studio. He took her award off the shelf in the living room. He can’t bring himself to look at her art or talk to anyone she used to work with. And whenever I start sketching or even talk about one of my assignments for art class he goes into another room.”

The things that keep me going drive him to search for a way to forget. The award lives on the shelf next to my bedroom window. I draw for hours every day. A nicer daughter would give those things up to help him. Clearly, I’m not that nice.

“Your father’s hurting,” Rose says quietly. “But he knows how important your art is. He’s not like my dad—determined to make everyone just like him. Your dad would never want you to give up something that makes you happy. Speaking of the City Art Program, I know you said your portfolio wasn’t finished, but—”

“The submission deadline was two weeks ago.” I walk even faster as our school and the dozens of cars and buses navigating the street in front of the redbrick building come into sight. “It’s over, Rose.”

Maybe I’d still get into one of the college art programs, but my chances of becoming a City Art Program designer now were low. And I had only myself to blame.

“Nothing is ever over until you admit defeat. I talked to—”

“Can you just drop it?” I ask. “Please? I haven’t had a chance to ask you about whether you convinced your dad to let you work at Gloss instead of at City Hall this summer.”

“Did you see the new issue? Mom said she sent one to your account. She wanted to know if you have ideas for the logo redesign. She wants something more youthful and striking and thinks a younger designer’s point of view will help.” Rose shakes the smile off her face and settles back into a frown. “But no fair changing the subject. We can talk about me and my summer job later. After you—”

The first bell rings, which cuts off whatever Rose was going to say because in order to make it to our class before the second bell sounds, we have to run. Side by side, we race across the street and down the sidewalk, dodging the other stragglers and the large outdoor screens that flank the front door entry like sentries. The one to the right is dedicated to a running display of times and dates for school- and student-appropriate city events. The other is set to local news, as are the two screens in the cafeteria. As Principal Velshi has said in every assembly, the only way we can be sure what we want to do when we go out into the world is to first understand what is happening in it.

The truth, however, is that no one really cares what the chirpy anchor with the plastic-looking hair is saying about the stepped-up recycling effort as students shove their way to the front entrance. Assistant Principal Schmidt is near the door, shouting over the din for everyone to hurry up.

Breathing hard, Rose pushes her way forward. I’m about to follow when a bus pulls away from the curb. Out of the corner of my eye I catch the flash of red lights. I turn, thinking the light must be from one of the announcement screens, but it’s not. The flashing is coming from atop a police car in the distance. I stop walking as men in charcoal-gray suits shove a struggling person with magenta-and-black-streaked hair toward an open police car door. One of the suits backhands the man he’s escorting across the cheek. I flinch and hold my breath as I keep watching. The suit yells and points toward the street. He’s too far away from me to make out what he said, but several navy-blue-uniformed officers nod and race toward some bushes near the edge of the street.

“Meri, come on!” Rose tugs on my arm, and I start moving again toward the front entrance. I glance back in time to see the suited men shove the cuffed, shouting perpetrator into the police car and slam the door. Just before I step into the school, a uniformed officer pulls something out of a bush.

As I race down the hall trying to beat the next bell, I picture the scene from across the street and the item the officer waved in triumph at the suits.

It wasn’t something anyone used anymore.

Obsolete, but not illegal.

So why, I wonder as the bell rings just as I am sliding into my seat, did the police arrest someone over a piece of paper?

 

TWO

My father once told me that when I was little I would stare at an object for hours. My head cocked to one side. My hazel eyes wide and focused. Never moving or saying a word. He said it was the way that I studied the world that made him realize I was going to be a visual artist, just like my mother. It was as if I was compelled to learn everything about the color and shape of a thing in order to understand it and myself.

I am staring out the window of my math class now at the scraggly bush far in the distance where hours ago the policeman found that paper. There is no sign of the flashing lights or men in suits. Just a sparrow sitting on a rusty-brown branch and sunlight shining on the forest-green leaves.

But still I focus out the window, looking for—I’m not sure what. No matter how I try to think about something else, I can’t erase the image of the man with magenta-streaked hair being struck by the officer before being shoved into the police car from my thoughts. Had that white page the officer dug out of the tree truly been the cause of the violence and the arrest?

It didn’t seem possible. Few people can afford the environmental tax that is charged to anyone who purchases anything made with paper. And even if they can pay the price, most would never bother. There was no reason to. Tablets are just as easy to write on and writing on paper is not only extravagant and unnecessary, it’s selfish. It means you don’t care about fresh air and the environment. My dad was proud that his parents were some of the first to recycle all paper in their house. Mom’s insistence on using canvases was always a sore spot between them, even though the canvases were made of linen, not pulp. He thought it would reflect badly on our entire family if anyone learned we created that kind of waste.

“Five minutes,” Mr. Greene announces. “Some of you might want to think about paying attention to the review in front of you instead of what you intend to do with your summer vacation. These are just like the questions you are going to have on tomorrow’s final exam.”

I look at Mr. Greene, who meets my eyes with a nod. He mouths,You can do it,” and points down at the tablet sitting on my desk. I clutch my stylus tight, and I force my eyes to focus on the problems displayed in black and white on the screen.

If I expect my father to pull himself together and focus at work, I should be able to do it, too.

My teachers for the most part have been understanding of my situation, but I am not the greatest student on my best day. Unlike Rose, I have to really study if I want to get good grades. As it stands now, I have to do well on my finals or, concealer or not, people will start wondering if something is wrong.

I scribble numbers. I list whatever information I can come up with on the proofs that I am not sure how to solve, while wishing that I had taken Rose up on her offer to study with me last night. She is seated near the door, and by the way she is toying with her stylus I can tell she has already completed the work. Not a surprise. Ever since first grade, Rose has caught on to assignments faster than me, probably because she just does the work and doesn’t insist on understanding what practical use the information has. I’m annoying that way.

Somehow, I manage to come up with answers for all the questions by the time Mr. Greene says, “Time is up. Now let’s go over the questions one by one. If we do this right, you should be ready to ace your final exam.”

A bunch of guys behind me groan, and Mr. Greene laughs.

“Think of it this way,” he says, pushing up his green-wire-rimmed glasses. “The sooner tomorrow’s test is over the sooner your summer can begin.”

There are several high fives and calls to cancel the final exam as Mr. Greene quickly talks through the review test. He is going through the last problem for the third time as the bell rings. Everyone grabs their stuff and scrambles for the door. Over the chatter and sound of scraping chairs and desks, he shouts a reminder to get a good night’s rest. Rose raises her eyebrow at me from where she waits near the exit, pausing there so we can walk together to our next classes. I grab my bag off the back of my seat and glance out the window one last time.

A guy in a black hooded sweatshirt, blue jeans, and black high-top sneakers is strolling down the sidewalk toward the bush I’ve been staring at. He slows for a second and I wonder if maybe he sees something the police missed. But he keeps walking.

“How did you do on the review?” Rose asks as we navigate the noisy hallway.

“Fine,” I say. “A few things were wrong, but I understand enough to pass tomorrow’s test.” Which might not be good enough for Rose but is perfectly fine for me.

“Why don’t we get together after school and study?” Rose offers, waving to one of her brother’s friends. “Mom is working at home today, but she won’t mind if you come over.” Mrs. Webster can focus even when Rose and I are at our silliest. Rose’s dad cares less about fun and far more about the rules. I never see Rose when she runs out of excuses and finally has to spend a weekend at his place.

When I hesitate answering, she smiles and adds, “Isaac will probably be around, too.”

Which I know Rose thinks is a selling point. With his good looks and slightly crooked and adorable smile, Rose’s older brother, Isaac, is the reason almost every girl we pass in the hallways would jump at the chance to hang out at Rose’s house. Maybe it’s the fact that everyone else has a crush on him that makes it hard to think of him romantically. Or maybe it’s knowing how hard it would be to keep his attention that makes me not want to bother. I’ve tried to tell Rose that I’m not interested in dating Isaac, but somehow I always pick the wrong words and make it seem as if I might be. I guess there is no good way to tell your best friend that her brother is just too obvious a choice without sounding stupid.

So, instead of that truth, I tell another. “I’m in charge of making dinner tonight.”

“Well, I can always come to your house,” she says. “It’s been forever since I’ve seen your dad.”

That’s a streak that I am determined to continue.

“I could even help,” Rose offers in an overly cheerful tone that raises warning bells in my head. It’s the one that she used after she convinced me to sneak away from our Girl Scouts campout when we were ten and she didn’t want me to realize that she’d gotten us lost in the woods. “It would be great to—”

“What’s going on?” I stop in the middle of the hallway. Someone bumps into me from behind and yells as they shove their way around me, but I don’t care.

“We’re blocking the hallway,” Rose says as a guy brushes past and flips us off.

“I’ll move if you tell me what you’re up to. Because this isn’t about studying.”

Rose blows a strand of hair off her face and sighs. “It’s nothing terrible,” she says. “There’s just something I have to talk to you about and not when there are a bunch of people around.”

“Are you okay?” I ask.

“I’m fine. Honest.” Her eyes meet mine. “It’s actually a good thing, but I really have to talk to you about it today.”

We go down another hallway, which is starting to empty out, and reach the doorway to my last class of the day. One that I am in no danger of failing—Advanced Studio Drawing.

“I’ll meet you at the picnic benches after last bell,” I agree. “We can figure out the rest then.”

“Great! See you there.” Rose bolts down the hall and I head into class wondering what plan my friend is hatching.

Mrs. Rudoren tells us that we can use the class period to work on our final project—a still life of a bowl of bananas, oranges, and apples. Really exciting stuff. I call up my work that I finished days ago so I can turn to it if Mrs. Rudoren comes by. Then I call up the file of my mother’s unfinished work, careful to tilt the screen so no one can see the abstract image. I start drawing and, again, nothing feels right. So I clear the screen and re-create my work from this morning. My mind wanders to the would-be criminal with magenta- and-black-streaked hair. Then to the man in the gray suit and buckled black boots—his hand raised, ready to strike—while lights flash atop the police car next to the deep forest-green bush.

After school, I wait for Rose sitting on the scarred, faded wooden top of the picnic table. I balance my tablet on my legs and continue the work I started in art class. Laughter and shouts ripple the air as people head to buses or down the sidewalks toward home. The public screen behind me chirps about the storms that will be coming our way. I spot Isaac with a group of friends standing under a tree. He grins in my direction and all his friends turn to look at me. I wave, then stare down at my tablet, waiting for the buses to move.

While I wait, I draw the sidewalk and the grass. I add shadows and some patches of sunlight and am starting to draw the boy I saw out the window of my math class—the one who stood in the same spot where the magenta-haired man was arrested—when I hear Rose call my name.

“Sorry, Meri. I got held up. What are you working on?” Rose leans forward and I pull the screen up against my chest.

“Nothing all that great.”

I don’t think Rose saw the arrest this morning, and for some reason I don’t want to mention it. So I change the subject to something else. “I’m starting to think there’s no point in trying to complete my mother’s painting. It’s too late. No matter how much sleep I lose or how much I try, I know that I’m never going to understand what she was trying to create.”

“Maybe you’re trying too hard to do it on your own,” Rose says, climbing up to sit next to me.

“Dad doesn’t know what she was working on, either.” He knows what I know—that in the last six months before she died, almost every night after dinner, she spent hours in her studio or taking walks alone. She told us that she had been inspired by some project she was involved in. Only none of the drawings or photographs we found on her tablet or the projects the other designers talked about her working on resembled anything like the completed abstracts or half-finished painting. “He told me there was no point in trying to figure it out.”

Better to keep your focus on what is in front of you instead of trying to see things that aren’t there, was his advice.

Rose shakes her head at her brother, who steps toward us. He makes a face at Rose before he turns away. “Sometimes,” she says, “the best way to get to know someone is to walk a mile in their shoes. If you were part of the City Art Program . . .”

“We talked about that this morning,” I say. “The deadline for portfolio submissions passed. I didn’t send anything in. It’s over. I’ve moved on.”

“I know, but I didn’t. Don’t be mad,” she says.

I blink. “I don’t understand. Why would I be mad?”

“Because I submitted something for you.”

Before I can decide if I’m mad or not, she rushes to say, “My father explained the situation to someone he knows in the City Pride Department, and they said they would take a look at your work. So my mom helped me put together a few things that you sent me when you were starting on your portfolio, and I sent them in. They haven’t made their final decision yet, and they are interested in seeing more.”

My heart jumps, then crashes back to earth. “You talked to your dad—about me?”

“Hey, I do what I have to when it’s important,” Rose says. “And this isn’t just about your mom’s painting, it’s about your entire future. That’s important, Meri.”

Even when her parents were still married Rose didn’t have to avoid talking to her father because he was rarely around. And when he was around he wanted everything to be done the right way—which meant his way. Rose says it is because he’s so used to being in charge at work. Which could be true, but that doesn’t make it any easier to deal with.

Some days, I’m convinced that Rose continues to be my friend because I am one of the few people who genuinely couldn’t care less that Mr. Webster works in the Public Awareness and Outreach Office down the hall from the mayor or that her mother is the editor in chief of the most popular fashion magazine in the country. Almost everyone in school and most of their parents subscribe for the fashion spreads, feel-good makeover stories, and lifestyle tips. Just tap any picture and acquire what you need to brighten your own world!

When I was little, I had no idea how important Rose’s mom’s magazine was or where her dad’s office was located—which is the reason we are friends now. Had we met in high school instead of knowing each other most of our lives, I would never even have tried to speak to her.

Not that she would have noticed. There are a million others lured into her orbit by her glamorous parents, her stunning beauty and smarts and stature. Rose has no lack of people who would be happy to go to parties with her and gossip about boys and clothes if I disappeared. Yet she puts up with my moods and withdrawal. She tolerates my obsession with my mother’s painting and doesn’t ask questions that I know she must have about why I won’t let her near my father. She insists on being my friend even when I’m terrible at returning the favor. Thank goodness, because she’s the only person I know I can count on, even when I find myself not wanting to count on anyone.

Taking a deep breath, I ask, “The committee—do they actually like my work or are they interested in seeing more because your father asked them?”

“Does it matter?” she asks. “You want to learn more about your mom so you can finish her work. The best way to do that is to talk to the people who might know what inspired that work. Do you really care if having connections is what got you through the door?”

Resentment bubbles thick and black because I do care. The idea that someone would pretend I am talented in order to curry favor with Rose’s father makes my stomach turn. But I bite back my indignation because this is Rose. She wouldn’t hurt me on purpose. And when I set aside my ego and think about her words, I realize she isn’t wrong. If finishing my mother’s work is important to me, then the only thing that matters is arriving at that goal. And having my work submitted means I might still have a chance.

“You have a point,” I admit.

Rose’s laugh rings bright like the sun. “Good. I like to be right. They have to make a decision on who gets into the program really soon, so—”

“How soon?”

“By tomorrow night.”

“What?”

“Don’t freak out,” Rose insists, and waves to her brother, who nods back. “All you have to do is go by their office before then with your real portfolio. My mom told Isaac to drive us, and he said he could if we do it now.”

“Now?” The word catches in my throat. Isaac strides across the grass toward us. His smile is teasing, and the wink he gives me says he knows what it feels like to be neatly trapped into doing something by his sister.

“If I’m going take Meri to Liberty Tower we have to get going. I have to meet Dad at his office later, and you know how he is about being late.”

“If that’s the case then maybe I should just—”

“No backing out.” Rose grabs my arm and pulls me off the picnic table. “We can drop by your house for you to change clothes and download any files you need for your portfolio, then head over there. They said it wouldn’t take long, so you should be back home in no time. And maybe you’ll see or hear something inspiring to you when you’re there. Like your mom did.”

The mention of my mother gets me moving, just as Rose knew it would. We climb into the new black sedan Isaac’s dad gave him earlier in the month. Isaac had wanted a sports car. Instead, he got the same model his father drove, but with bright gold wheels. Isaac mutes the National News Screen on the dash and cranks the music. Rose yells at him from the back seat to slow down.

“Not all of us drive like turtles. Right, Meri?” Isaac yells over the wailing of guitars, drums, and bass.

The trip to my house takes a matter of minutes. I jump out of the car and turn to Rose, who is starting to climb out. “You don’t need to come in. I’ll be out in a flash.” I turn and hurry toward the brick bungalow before Rose can follow.

It takes me just a few minutes to change from my school uniform into a pair of black pants decorated with large yellow and orange and white flowers and a white top. I tuck in the shirt, tie the belt, and slip on a pair of yellow high-top sneakers, knowing full well Rose will complain about my wardrobe choice the minute I get to the car. But when I tie an orange scarf around my neck and look in the mirror, I actually smile at the reflection. While I still see the fatigue beneath the makeup, for the first time in forever I see something other than the hurt I’ve felt since my mother’s accident. I see me.

With a nod, I head to Mom’s studio to transfer the few finished portfolio projects from her computer to my tablet. While I wait for the computer to boot, I glance around the sunlit room at the paintings scattered throughout the space. A large painting created just before I was born shows a gold-and-silver city stretching toward the sky. Sitting behind it—a lake of brilliant blue. Another from a year ago hangs near the hallway door and depicts a blue cobblestone path winding through a park filled with children of all ages. After I pull up the files I need, I step to a corner of the room where a group of small, unframed canvases leans against the base of the wall—out of sight so my father won’t have to see them if he decides to open the door and step inside. These are the pieces she worked on during the months leading up to the accident.

Unlike all her other works, these are abstracts. A half circle of burnished red seemingly guarded by a fence of deep maroon against a background of silver. A heavy, dark-gray form that reminds me of a wrought-iron flower. A stiff beige ribbon that slashes from one corner of the canvas to the opposite corner on the bottom of the other side. What looks like the tip of a black boot on a block of light blue stone. A line of seven red rectangles marked with a strange winged figure painted in gold—and finally, the one that she had yet to finish.

A horn honks, reminding me that I’m supposed to hurry. Still, I take one last look at the group of paintings. While I didn’t understand what drove her to paint them, I recognize the talent that made the images leap off the canvases. All my life I have worked to be as skilled an artist as my mother. I’m not. Even without the small headshakes of disapproval she used to give my screen, I knew that. But if she could take the risk of creating something this different, maybe I should take a chance on the unknown, too.

The horn honks again as I leave a message on the kitchen memo screen for my father in case he gets home before me. Then, clutching my tablet tight to my chest, I hurry outside.

The music has been turned down from deafening to bearable. The minute I get in, Isaac peels away from the curb and Rose begins a steady stream of instructions that cause me to rub my palms on my pants.

“Katy Mitchell runs the City Art Program, but Victor Beschloss is the one that you’ll be meeting with. Dad says he is a good guy.”

Which meant he probably never unbuttoned his collar and didn’t smile a whole lot.

“Tell him all about your love of art and design and why you want to be a part of the program and how important you think the program is to our city and to our national identity.”

“Maybe I should salute the flag while I’m at it?” I ask sarcastically. Although it would be easy enough to do, since every house and business was gifted a flag at the time the new star was added.

Isaac grins at me as he stops at a light. Rose continues her monologue as if I never interrupted her.

“Make sure you smile.”

As if smiling is really my thing.

“Mention how your mother’s pieces, created on behalf of the government, influenced your own creations.”

So basically, lie.

“Tell him how you want to use your art the way she did—to celebrate our society and to do your part to keep the country safe and strong and prosperous.”

Finally something I can say without feeling like an impostor. “Okay.”

“And don’t gnaw on the ends of your hair.”

I drop the strands of damp hair from my mouth and put my hands back in my lap.

“Lay off,” Isaac says as he steers around a cab that is letting a passenger out. “You’re making her nuts, Rose.”

“Meri knows I’m just being helpful.”

“Meri knows you are pushy and is too nice to tell you that you sound like one of the spokespeople for Dad’s office.”

“I’m not that nice,” I say, even though Isaac’s right. Rose does sort of sound like the talking heads on one of the country’s two news channels. They all smile in a way that, in recent months, totally grates on my nerves.

“But I am trying to focus,” I admit. “That might be easier if I just have a little space to think.”

“See.” Isaac smiles at his rearview mirror. Rose sighs but is quiet for the next several blocks. We drive across the Chicago River, sparkling gray blue as it snakes through the city. Isaac honks to get the cars in front of him moving, and my stomach flips when I see Liberty Tower—the building where my mother used to work—come into view. A large screen shows the projects that the department housed inside has worked on throughout the year. It’s a reminder to everyone how far we have come since the days when Chicago was the most dangerous city in the country.

Isaac maneuvers the car to the curb in front of the rust-colored stone building that Mom told me was one of the most historic in the city—built after the Great Chicago Fire on the site of the old City Hall.

“Good luck,” Isaac says as he brings the car to a stop. “Call us when you are ready to be picked up.”

Rose frowns. “But—”

“She can handle this part alone,” Isaac cuts off his sister. “Right, Meri?”

I nod, hoping he’s right. Rose shouts good luck to me and reminds me again about my hair as I walk down the sidewalk toward the arching stone entryway and gold doors that shine in the late-afternoon sun. Other than the required billboard-sized screen above the front doors, the outside of the building is stately and beautiful in its construction. But it is the lobby that once again takes my breath away. White marble columns and walls all etched with gold greet me. I clutch my tablet tight to my chest as I walk under the words “THE ROOKERY” toward a security official ensconced in a white-and-gold marble nook.

I give him my name and nervously wait as he calls up to the head of the City Art Program to see if I am expected.

“Mr. Beschloss will be leaving soon, but he says I can let you up.” He pushes out of his chair with a wince.

“You don’t have to get up,” I say. “I know where the elevator is. My mother used to work here.”

He shakes his head and ambles down the hallway. “Mr. Beschloss is on the eighth floor.” When the gold elevator door opens, he holds up a red-and-white identification badge marked “CSS,” then waves it in front of a small black scanner. “The elevator won’t take you to that floor without this. He’s in suite 802. Good luck.”

“Thanks.” I look toward the atrium that Mom loved, before stepping onto the elevator. A week after she died, the guard on duty felt sorry for me and let me sit in the atrium, staring at the glass ceiling and the sweeping staircases. The building was known for them. The City Pride Department took over the building mainly because of the historically beautifully architecture. The head of the department claimed it was only fitting the group be housed in a place designed to inspire.

The elevator dings, and I exit. Unlike the floor where my mother worked, whose halls were filled with murals of their previous projects and displays of working models of redesigned buildings, the eighth floor is stark. It has bare white walls and metal-gray floors. Aside from the whoosh of the elevator doors behind me, everything is dead quiet.

The few times I came to the office with Mom, there was always the hum of conversation or music playing from someone’s speakers, giving the place a sense of life. There are no voices behind the closed steel doors on this floor. It feels sterile. Vacant. Unwelcoming.

Clutching my tablet tight to my chest, I take three slow steps down the hall, then stop in front of a door marked “ARCHIVES.” It has a black scanner box next to the handle of the door, similar to the one the guard operated in order for me to get to this floor. The high security was another difference from Mom’s level.

“Merriel Beckley?”

I jump and spin at the sound of my name. A red-haired man with a fussy-looking goatee stands in the middle of the hall. He is wearing a dark blue suit with black shoes that shine as if they were bought at the store today. A door that was closed just moments before now stands open not far from him.

“You are Merriel Beckley?”

I swallow hard and nod.

“It is good to meet you. I’m Victor Beschloss. Marcus Webster explained to me your interest in the City Art Program. I’m glad you found the time to come by. It must be hard to be back in the building where your mother worked.”

I shrug as if it’s no big deal. “I’ve never been to this floor before. It’s . . . quiet.”

Mr. Beschloss smiles. “The offices on this floor are utilitarian by nature. We’re not the creative types up here.” His smile fades. “Your mother was very talented and very . . . driven.”

Driven. It isn’t the first word I would have associated with my mother, but I suppose that trait would be important to the people on this floor.

He sighs and turns toward the open door. “I’m sorry to say I don’t have much time. So if you would please follow me . . .”

My footsteps echo in the hallway as I trail behind him into an office lined with windows on the far side. There are large tablet screens on each of the other walls—all displaying one of the two news channels with the volume muted. There is also a dark gray couch that runs along the wall next to the door. In front of it is a glass coffee table. If the decorator wanted to make this office look as intimidating as possible, he definitely succeeded.

“Have a seat.” Mr. Beschloss steps behind the wide black desk that takes up the middle of the office and gestures toward the two high-backed silver chairs across from him. “So Marcus Webster informed me of your interest in the City Art Program and pursuing a career as a national artist. He said the trauma of your mother’s death derailed your ability to focus on your application, but that you are still passionate about your work and your future.”

He hits a button on the console of his desk, and the screens on the walls turn on. Drawings—my drawings—the projects Rose must have given to her father—suddenly surround me on three sides. One is a color portrait I did of Rose—her smile open and warm, but her eyes narrowed with the steely resolve I admire. Another is of Navy Pier with the Ferris wheel, the ride I went on at least a dozen times with my parents, soaring above the boardwalk, surrounded by the glistening lake that the country worked so hard to make fresh and clean again.

The final image looks nothing like the others. Most wouldn’t recognize it as mine. The lines are thicker, darker, and more angular than the other two. The streetlight glows at the edge of the picture, but the illumination barely cuts through the shadows of the night that surrounds the sidewalk and building. It was the first picture I drew in art class after my mother’s accident, for an assignment that asked us to paint a place we recently visited in the city. Everyone else created images of Wrigley Field and Buckingham Fountain. I drew the site of my mother’s death. I didn’t keep a copy, but Mrs. Rudoren must have saved the file after I turned it in and given it to Rose when she asked for it.

“Did you bring other samples for me to look at?” Mr. Beschloss asks.

I nod and click on my tablet. My fingers tremble as I call up the portfolio and hand it over the desk.

He strokes his little beard as he flips through the files. “Your mother must have been proud. Did she work with you on these or influence the subjects you chose to draw? Maybe nudge you to find inspiration by talking about locations she appreciated or ideas she thought should be explored?”

I try to ignore the dark sidewalk in the picture still being displayed on the tablet to the right of me. “She did when I was little. A few years ago, when I got more serious about my art, she took a step back and encouraged me to find my own way. And in the last year she stopped volunteering information about her own projects.” I add the last because I don’t like the insinuation that I drew only what my mother instructed me to draw. Whether the projects are good enough or not, they are mine.

“How interesting.” The flat, beige color of his voice tells me he thinks my words are far less than interesting. “I would have thought with another artist in the house she would have been excited to share her projects and stories about the people she worked with.”

“She used to, and when I asked she did, but my dad isn’t an artist. Mom didn’t want him to feel left out of the conversation, so she tried to make sure we talked about things we all enjoyed.”

He studies me with a sad smile. “Well, I know how your father feels.” He looks down at the tablet in his hand one more time, then stands and holds it out to me. “Thank you for coming in to show me your work. Marcus Webster is right. You have talent. I’m sorry you couldn’t get your application submitted in the typical manner, but I can promise we will consider your work as we make our final choices for this class. We have your information, and if you’re chosen you’ll be hearing from us soon.”

Just like that, I’m dismissed. There is no time to ask about the last project my mother worked on or if her team finished it, because once I take the tablet, he is walking me to the door, talking all the while. He wishes me luck in my finals at school as he escorts me down the empty hallway and tells me to give his best to my father. He pushes the button on the elevator and within seconds the doors open.

“Keep up the good work, Merriel,” he says as I step inside.

The elevator doors close. Disappointment settles in my chest. My hand feels heavy as I push the lobby button. As the elevator starts to move, I hit the number three, and when the doors open I feel my mother beside me as I start down the hall. If anyone asks what I’m doing here, I will just tell them I want to take the atrium stairs on my way out.

The design has changed since the last time I was here. Now instead of vibrant walls of lavender and blue, swirling ribbons of color snake along a background of yellow. Screens are scattered along the walls, all muted but tuned to various programs. One displays a report on the weather—sunny and warmer with no rain in today’s forecast. On the second, a broadcast of the current president addressing a group of smiling workers. Two others flip through slides of a handful of upcoming projects—like a park with an arching, waterfall-like fountain and a new apartment complex in rose and white stone.

An unfamiliar blonde dressed in a bright green top and tight purple pants smiles at me as she ducks into a workroom to the left. A burst of laughter sounds from inside the workroom as I pass. People are standing around a large square table with a model of something in the center of it. I don’t recognize anyone in the meeting space, and there aren’t any familiar faces in the next, but I do spot one person I know in the workroom not far from the stairs.

Kacee Anderson’s back is to me as she draws on a whiteboard. She’s dressed in all black and taps her foot to old rock music that is pumped through the room’s speakers. Her dark hair is pulled into a tight ponytail that sways as she works. Several other artists are working at the table or on graphic-design tablets along the wall.

Mrs. Anderson turns. I hover in the doorway and start to step forward as her eyes widen in recognition. But a small shake of her head stops me in my tracks and she turns back toward her project as if she never saw me at all.

For the second time today, the sting of rejection pricks deep into my heart. Still, I wait for several more seconds, hoping she will look back at me. When she doesn’t, I hurry toward the staircase at the end of the hall. I blink away the tears I refuse to let fall, keep my head down, and make my way to the atrium. Someone bumps me. I grab hold of my tablet to keep it from crashing to the ground and walk on—through the atrium, past the elevators and the security guard, until finally I stand in the sunshine outside the gold doors and am no longer able to control the tears that fall.

Disappointment floods through me. No matter how hard I try to hold on to her, my mother is slipping further and further away, as are the dreams I once had for my future.

I swipe at my cheek and look up and down the street for Isaac’s car. Isaac and Rose probably think I’m still discussing my work and that they have lots of time to kill before I need them to fetch me. And I’m glad. The short time spent in my meeting will give away how badly it went. Poor Rose. She worked so hard, and even enlisted her father—which had to have taken a lot of persuasion. It isn’t her fault that my talent fell short. She shouldn’t have to feel bad because she tried to help. So as much as I want to go home, I decide to walk around the block and get myself together before I call them to pick me up. It’s the least I can do for all that she has done for me.

The light changes, and I follow a bunch of businessmen across the street. I start to turn down the block when I notice a guy standing next to a light post who stops me in my tracks.

I think I know him.

No. I take a step forward and squint into the sunlight. We have never met. But I have seen him before. And when he turns and I see him slide a piece of paper into the front pocket of his pants, I realize where I know him from.

Black hooded sweatshirt. Rich brown skin. Close-cropped hair. Blue jeans that fit like a second skin and red shoelaces that snake up his black high-tops. It’s the guy I saw out the window of my math class, searching the bush after the cops arrested the magenta-haired man and carted him away.

But it can’t really be him. It has to be a coincidence. Still, after going months without seeing any paper, I can’t help thinking the two things are connected. Maybe that’s why I find myself trailing him when he turns and heads down La Salle Street toward the river. His stride is long and quick, and I have to jog a bit to keep up with him. He pauses to wait for the stoplight to change, and I get close enough to see his profile.

He’s younger than I originally thought. Isaac’s age. Maybe a year older. It’s hard to tell, but he’s closer to being a boy than a man.

The light changes. A group of giggling girls in their school uniforms race in front of me, pointing up at a giant screen on a building that in between news programs is featuring highlights from the “USA Proud” pop boy band currently touring all fifty-one states. I dodge around them and hurry forward, determined to keep the guy I’m following in view. He glances over his shoulder, and I try to pretend I’m just another tourist looking up at—what? I fix my eyes on a bronze statue of a man with his fist raised to the sky and wait several heartbeats before glancing back.

Damn. The black hoodie has gotten farther away.

Sweat drips down my neck as I zigzag through the people on the walkway. The boy crosses the street and heads for the bridge that leads over the river. I pick up my pace from a jog to a run.

A horn honks.

Fingers dig into my arm, and I’m yanked backward to the curb. I stumble and clutch my tablet as cars stream by.

A man in jogging shorts and a Chicago Cubs T-shirt helps me get my balance. “I’m sorry if I grabbed you too hard, but I didn’t want you to get hit.”

I stammer my thanks, then rise on my tiptoes and shift from side to side, catching glimpses of the sweatshirt as it gets farther and farther away. The light changes and I bolt forward. I push through people who are crossing the street in the opposite direction. My heart drums faster as I hurry toward the bridge, but when I get halfway across the expanse of the river I have no choice but to admit the obvious. The black sweatshirt and the boy who pocketed the paper have vanished.

How much time has passed in my wild-goose chase, I don’t know, but Rose and Isaac are going to be seriously worried and probably a whole lot annoyed if I don’t contact them soon.

Shaking my head, I turn and walk along the arching, rust-red iron bridge back to the side I came from, feeling foolish for having wasted so much time on . . . whatever that was. The light is red and I tap my foot, impatient for it to flash green. A seagull calls overhead. I look up and watch as the stretched white wings soar against the blue sky, then dip lower. The bird flies in front of the top of one of the large stone support posts that flank the end of each side of the bridge, and even though everyone else starts walking toward the crosswalk, I can’t move. My feet are like stone.

On the top of each of the supports is a set of windows. Above those windows is an artistic iron roof. And in the center of it is a design that I know almost as well as I know my own face. I should. I’ve looked at it every day for the last three months. The hard curves and dark shapes.

It’s an image out of one of my mother’s final paintings.

 


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