The bell rang, and Jack let out a breath he felt like he’d been holding all weekend.
Beth stood behind him, careful not to stand too close. They drew looks and whispers enough on the bus. She kicked his chair.
He jumped, turning, glaring up at her. “What did you do that for?”
She smiled at him innocently. “Lunch. Let’s go,” she said.
He got up slowly, took his time stuffing his books into his backpack.
“Today, Jack,” Beth said from the doorway.
He followed her slowly down the halls.
The art room sat at the far end of the school, tucked back and away from the rest of the classrooms, almost like it’d been added to the blueprints at the last minute.
Windows lined most of one wall of the room, frosted, turning the afternoon sunlight into a cool, white glow. The back wall was taken up by cubbies of art supplies, racks and cabinets and a couple saw-horses. The wall opposite the windows was lined with students’ work from over the years: paintings, hanging sculptures, portraits, along with candid photos of the students at work. Painted along the wall behind Mrs. Chase’s desk was a mural, depicting the stretch of school and schoolyard behind that same wall.
Mrs. Chase’s desk, though, was actually a huge drafting table. The students were on their own to find one of the dozen or so stools scattered around the room, most of them by the easels or along the workbenches that huddled towards the back of the room.
Beth knocked at the green double-doors, peeking in to find Mrs. Chase sitting at the drafting table, her lunch arrayed out before her as she looked over a stack of classwork.
“Beth! Come in, come in. I was just thinking about you. Where’s your partner in crime?”
Jack eased into the room behind the girl, giving the teacher a wave.
Mrs. Chase was tall, with fiery red hair and bright blue eyes.
“I hope you have something for me,” she said, pushing her salad to one side.
Beth produced a folder from her backpack, setting it down in the blank spot the teacher had cleared.
“This is it?” Mrs. Chase asked.
The teacher frowned a bit. “It’s awfully thin.”
“He’s modest,” Beth said, jerking a thumb over her shoulder.
“Jack? You’re sure about these submissions?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Jack said. He swallowed, his throat suddenly gone dry.
Mrs. Chase smiled at him. “All right, then, I’ll mail these in and we’ll see them again in a few weeks.” She swept the folder into a larger envelope, twisting the string around the two rings.
“That’s it?” Beth asked. “You’re not even going to look at them?”
“Well, I trust your judgement,” Mrs. Chase said. “You wouldn’t let Jack slip any ‘figure studies’ in here, now, would you?”
Beth went almost as red as the teacher’s hair. Jack felt his throat constrict, and the hairs on the back of his neck tingled as Mrs. Chase grinned at him. She was one of the few teachers at the school still young enough to get away with grinning.
“Oh, sweet, innocent youth,” she said, almost to herself.
“There was one more thing,” Beth said.
“Anything for you two,” Mrs. Chase said.
“Anything?” Beth asked.
“Well, within reason. You are my two best students.”
“Would the use of the art room and its supplies be within reason?”
Mrs. Chase’s eyes widened. “Well, that’s a bit of a surprise,” she said. Then her eyes narrowed. “What’s the deal?” she asked, her voice not so much suspicious as it was… conspiratorial.
“Jack,” Beth said, pulling up a stool and sitting at a corner of the drafting table, “has his first commission.”
Mrs. Chase beamed over at Jack. “That is fantastic! Congratulations! So I’m guessing you need a need a studio. And supplies.”
Jack and Beth both nodded.
“You can use the art room on lunch hour, and for a few hours after school, if you like.”
Jack’s eyes widened. “Just like that?”
Mrs. Chase smiled. “Jack, you are the best student I’ve had in years. It would be criminal for me to deny you an opportunity to work like this.”
“I’ll pay for the supplies,” Jack said. “For whatever I use.”
Mrs. Chase waved a hand. “Don’t you worry about that. There’s a little bit of stretch in the art department budget. The look on your face is almost payment enough,” she said.
“You see, Jack? I told you she would go all mushy. We didn’t even have to show her the picture.”
Mrs. Chase laughed. “Well, do I get to see it anyway, since I’m so ‘mushy’?”
Jack fished the photo out of one of his pockets. He set it down on the drafting table, sliding it towards Mrs. Chase’s lunch.
She leaned forward, plucked the picture up. Her eyes widened, twinkling, her smile dissolving into an ‘O’ of wonder. She looked from the picture, to Beth, then back to the picture.
“Your sister took this, didn’t she?”
Jack nodded. Hannah was one of Mrs. Chase’s first students.
“How on Earth did she get the light to do that to your hair?” she asked Beth.
The girl just smiled. “She told me I wasn’t allowed to tell.”
“I’m going to need to buy more yellow,” the art teacher said.