The Art of My Life Excerpt
Ever have a painting you’ve stared at for years—and loved? Then, one day, you see something which alters the way you view the piece forever. And you have to decide whether the art has been irreparably marred or merely deepened.
Aly at www.The-Art-Of-My-Life.blogspot.com
Cal walked through the tinted glass jail doors into the loamy scent of Bermuda grass, pine bark, and freedom. The surf shorts and T-shirt he’d worn three months ago when the cop clamped metal on his wrists hung loosely, misshapen, like a life that no longer fit.
He scanned the weather-bleached asphalt, the smattering of cars roasting in the Daytona Beach summer. Sun glinted off the windshield of a silver Honda—Aly’s?—blinding his eyes, yanking her last words to him into the whiteness. I love you, John Calvin Koomer. Usually he blocked out Aly’s admission, but in jail the video had played over and over—the certainty in her eyes, the tremor in her voice.
He squinted at the Honda. Sweat slicked his armpits and tickled the side of his face.
Maybe he should have slept with Aly when she offered. He shook his head, dissolving the idea. No. It didn’t matter that protecting her from another guy taking what he wanted had earned him two and a half years of looking at the back of her head. It had been the right thing to do.
He’d smoked weed to forget her, crammed Evie into Aly’s place inside him, but going to jail had ripped away everything but the truth.
He loved Aly. Always had. Always would.
And it was time to do something about it.
The rumble of an engine pulling into the lot jerked his head around. His mother’s minivan puttered toward him, mowing down the stubble of his hope.
He glanced back at the Honda. No college graduation tassel dangled from the mirror. No silhouette of the Virgin Mary was rusted into the right front bumper.
The car was empty. Like he felt inside.
Mom angled into a parking space, her maneuvering as precise as everything she did.
His flip flops scraped the blacktop as he shuffled toward her. As his hand closed around the chrome door handle, heat branded his palm. He climbed into the stream of the air conditioning blowing from the dash, and the door clunked shut behind him.
Mom reached for him, and his breath stuttered.
When was the last time they’d touched?
She wrapped awkward arms around him. “I—I’ve wanted to hug you ever since the first day I visited you at jail.”
His hand lit on the fabric stretched across her dancer’s back. He sucked in gulps of human affection and the talcum scent of childhood while his mind tried to solve the puzzle of his mother. He coughed, searched for words to fill the silence, and found none. For a heartbeat he was ten with tears pricking the backs of his eyes.
She released him.
Relief, then the desire to cling to her, flushed through him making him feel lightheaded.
His mother’s slim fingers shifted the car into reverse. Her dark hair, slicked back from her face in her customary ballerina bun, exposed the scar running from her temple into her hairline. It whitened now, the only hint of emotion on her face.
According to Grandpa Leaf, Mom had been dropped on her head as a child—causing her to rebel into conservatism from her hippie upbringing. Leaf always cackled after he told the story.
Why couldn’t Henna—his lumpy grandma—have picked him up? He pictured her, in one of her bird of paradise muumuus, beaming at him—someone he didn’t have to measure up for.
“Your grandmother is giving you her boat.”
His jaw swerved toward Mom. She might as well have said Cape Canaveral would launch another Discovery with Henna as pilot. The forty-one foot Catalina he’d sailed a thousand times materialized in his mind.
“Your father and I thought it might give you a fresh start. You could run charters like you and Fish used to talk about when you were kids.”
That was before Fish fell in love with politics in tenth grade. He could almost see Fish’s perennially sunburned face. God, it had been a long three months without Fish.
His mind swerved back to Henna, the dots connecting. Henna held herself responsible for his going to jail. He’d tell her she didn’t owe him anything. But he knew she’d make him keep the Escape.
So what if he’d been caught with Henna and Leaf’s weed? He’d rather do the time in the Volusia County Correctional Facility than watch his grandparents go to jail. They were more like leftover flower children than drug dealers. And he loved them. His favorite childhood daydream had been imagining Mom sitting him down and saying, all serious, that she was sorry, but Henna and Leaf were his true parents. He’d sniffle, plow a hug into Henna’s soft middle, then race free and wild into the rest of his boyhood—the way he was meant to be raised.
As they passed the New Smyrna Beach City Limits sign, Mom glanced at him. “I don’t have to tell you that whatever you do in this town sticks to you for the rest of your life. Promise me you’ll never smoke pot again. Salvage what’s left of your reputation.”
He’d always been The Scream to Mom’s American Gothic. “Your reputation. I don’t care about mine.”
“How can you go to jail, have to report a record every time you apply for a job—”
“Leave it, Mom.”
“Is pot why you never got through college?”
“I never got through college because I hated everything but art classes.”
“Maybe you’re self-medicating for ADHD—”
“I can paint a canvas for six hours straight.”
“Or bi-polar. You’ve always been mercurial.”
“Yeah, I get it from you.”
“Funny.” She didn’t crack a smile as she wheeled the van into a marina parking space.
He could sure use a good smoke about now. Maybe it was time to quit weed. But it wouldn’t be because his mother extracted a promise. It was his own damn life.
Mom killed the engine.
The car popped and crackled in the silence.
He gripped the armrest, poised to escape.
“We want to give you a shot at making something of your life.”
His failures throbbed in the car, the ones she’d spoken and the ones left unsaid—his part-time job at Stoney’s Ink Slab that fell short of Mom’s idea of a career, his want of religion. Did the list ever end?
“We moved your stuff from Henna’s place to the boat. She kept your studio set up, so you can still paint there whenever you want.”
He heard the but in her tone, the word that always followed her praise.
She dug the boat keys out of her purse and handed them to him. “Your father and I are on the title for now because you need us to cosign for a startup loan. But if you default, you’ll have to sell the boat to pay off the loan.”
The whiskey shot that he was twenty-five and couldn’t sign for his own loan burned all the way down. “Fair enough.” He swallowed. “How much is the loan?”
“We figured forty thousand would cover repairs and get your business off the ground.”
His head knocked against the headrest. He’d never had more than two hundred dollars in the bank at one time. And now he was getting a ninety-thousand-dollar boat and more money than his brain could compute. Henna had always been wacky generous, but his folks cosigning a loan—mammoth. Was it a last ditch effort to shove him into the sausage casing of society? Well, maybe he was willing this time.
“I drew up a business plan—not so different from the one I did for my dance studio. We meet with Aly tomorrow at three to find out if the loan has been approved and sign the papers.”
He sucked in a breath. “Aly?”
“Who else would we go to? Aly’s practically family. She’s a loan officer—”
He wrenched the door open. “Right.” He stepped out and turned back to face Mom. “Thanks for the lift. The offer of the loan.” He stared at her, gratitude and shame stopping up his words, dampening his eyes. “I’ll think about it.”
She opened her mouth to argue.
He held up a hand. “I said I’ll think about it.”
Her brows arched into triangles and her lips pressed into a flat line, but she turned the key in the ignition.
The minivan eased out of the parking space, his mother sitting ramrod straight.
He released the air crowding his chest.
He swung open the pier gate and breathed in the familiar fishy, gasoline scent of the marina. The shock of freedom left him feeling exposed.
Afternoon sun baked his shoulders as he walked, dissolving the weirdness, leaving only a buoy of hope. A charter business could give him a life. In the next heartbeat the physical craving to paint washed over him. He inhaled, imagining he could smell the Vaseline scent of his oils.
Selling his work, someday seeing his face on the cover of People magazine throbbed in his gut. But it was time to kill that dream. He’d always paint, but Aly needed a guy who owned yard tools, tires worth rotating; who carried AAA, Visa, and voter’s registration cards. His stinking driver’s license wouldn’t even be back in his wallet for another three months.
If he worked the Plan B his family had dealt him and succeeded at running a charter sailing business, he’d gain a shot at Aly.
The only shot he’d ever get.
Cal walked out of jail and into a second chance at winning Aly with his grandma’s beater sailboat and a reclaimed dream of sailing charters.
Aly has the business smarts, strings to a startup loan, and heart he never should have broken. He’s got squat. Unless you count enough original art to stock a monster rummage sale and an affection for weed.
But he’d only ever loved Aly. That had to count for something. Aly needed a guy who owned yard tools, tires worth rotating, and a voter’s registration card. He’d be that guy or die trying.
Ann Lee Miller earned a BA in creative writing from Ashland (OH) University and writes full-time in Phoenix, but left her heart in New Smyrna Beach, Florida, where she grew up. She loves speaking to young adults and guest lectures on writing at several Arizona colleges. When she isn’t writing or muddling through some crisis—real or imagined—you’ll find her hiking in the Superstition Mountains with her husband or meddling in her kids’ lives.
Barnes And Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-art-of-my-life-ann-lee-miller/1112910892?ean=2940015675597