“That’s marvelous news!” Jack’s mother beamed, when Beth made the announcement over dinner.
“Just wait until we tell your mother,” Jack’s dad said with a grin.
“Well, we wouldn’t want to say anything until Jack had decided whether or not to accept.”
They both looked at Jack, and he half-shrugged.
“I don’t know if I’m ready for that yet,” he said. “I mean, it’s one thing, painting Beth.” He felt his face grow hot. “But… someone else? A whole bunch of people I don’t know? I don’t know….”
“Take some time, think about it,” Jack’s father said. “Maybe it would be best to wait until after this art show up north.”
Jack nodded. One hurdle at a time. No need to jump them all like the crazy guy on the motorcycle.
* * * * *
Jack’s nerves kept him up most of the night before the trip north, to the gallery. People, strangers, not even people from his town, going to his school, would be looking at his work. He rolled over, facing the wall. He never should have let Beth pick out any of those pieces for the exhibit. People would look, all right. And laugh. How could he go back to doing any kind of work after that?
Or worse, what if they liked what they saw? What if more of them wanted him to do work, like Richard did? What if Beth accepted their offers, and he messed things up?
He rolled over again, and pulled the comforter up over his head, blotting out the large red numbers glaring from his clock.
He sat up even before the tapping came at his door, and shrugged into his new robe before opening the door.
“What are you doing up?” Beth asked, as he opened the door. “You should be asleep. Big day tomorrow.”
“Then what are you doing coming up here in the middle of the night waking me up?” Jack growled.
Beth waved a hand. “I knew you’d be up. Besides, there will be plenty of time to sleep on the ride north. It’s like, three or four hours.”
Jack gave up trying to argue, and simply stepped aside, opening his door a little wider. Beth slipped past him, patting his hand as she passed, plopping down on the chair by his desk. It wasn’t until she’d spun around a few times that he realized she was wearing his old, striped robe.
“You haven’t even packed!” she said, staring at the small empty overnight suitcase tucked away beside the desk — empty. She got up, and opened his closet.
“Hey! What are you—”
But it was obvious what she was doing.
“These, I think,” she said, sliding a pair of charcoal-gray slacks from a hanger, and rolling them up.
“Wait, you can’t— they’ll wrinkle! And I was going to wear the tan ones.”
Beth placed the rolled-up pants along one edge of the suitcase. “Rolling them up like this, they won’t wrinkle. Trust me, I’ve done this for my dad a million times. And you don’t want to wear the tan ones at this time of year. Dark, dark gray, since you don’t have blue or black. Blue would be perfect, with a ligher blue shirt to match. Blue is a powerful color: calm, even, balanced.”
“What do you mean? Those are black,” he said, pointing at the suitcase.
She gave him a long, level stare. “And you call yourself a painter,” she said, quickly folding his white button-down shirt, and placing it along the bottom of the compartment.
“Socks and underwear on top there,” she said, pointing.
Jack pulled open the top drawer of his bureau, and tossed a couple pairs of socks into the bag.
“One more,” Beth said, his black dress shoes dangling from her fingers. She frowned as he tossed in another pair of sweat socks. “Not those! Black ones! For the dinner.”
“Who’s going to be looking at my feet?” Jack asked, rummaging until he came up with a pair of dress socks that he tossed in.
She shook her head, and wedged the shoes into the side compartment of the suitcase.
Beth at least let him pick out the ‘normal’ clothes to wear — a couple pairs of jeans, and two long-sleeved shirts.
She arranged things in the bag just so, leaving room for the overnight kit, then sat back down on his chair, spinning in circles again.
“Sometimes,” Jack said, laying on his back on the comforter, and staring up at the star map, “you can be worse than my mom, you know that?”
She stopped spinning. “Was that… a compliment? Or something else?”
Jack shrugged. “I’m just saying….”
He sruggled for the right thing to say that wouldn’t come out sounding wrong.
“I’m just saying… without you, I’d be wearing tan slacks at this thing tomorrow night. And white socks.”
“It will be fine. Just you wait. All those other students and their work to see. Just think of what you can learn from them!”
Jack shuddered. All those strangers.