The mirror acts like a frame. But I would never paint on a shiny, reflective surface like that. Canvas draws the paint into it, draws the eye into it, draws the mind into its world. Mirrored glass shows too much, and too little. I came here to get away from games played with mirrors.
I always knew there had to be someone else who saw the games for what they were, someone else who hated them as much as I do. That's why I came to Whitman High School for the Arts-to meet this person. Only now I'm not so sure. Why should he care about meeting me?
"Well, Charles, are you coming or not?" Adrian demands. His voice fills our dorm room, easy and amused, blue-green tones flecked with golden highlights. "This was your idea, remember."
I remember. In the mirror I see sweaty fingers wiping themselves on a T-shirt as if they were paint-smeared, then fumbling to smooth the stretched-out cotton. Above the fingers I see frowning eyes that might be mistaken for angry instead of nervous.
"Having second thoughts?" asks Adrian.
I grab a rust-colored flannel shirt and shrug into it, letting it hang open over the T-shirt. Glancing in the mirror one last time, I meet my new roommate's hazel eyes. Sleek in black jeans and an open-necked gray shirt, a plaid so fine it looks like graph paper, Adrian smiles at me, an ironic smile that masks a brain like a shrink's. No one's been so on-target reading my mind since my mother when I was a little kid, and I don't like it.
He cocks his head and raises one eyebrow suggestively over long lashes. If I were to sketch Adrian, I think I'd show him charming his prey. He'd have them trapped, spellbound: a siren wooing Odysseus. It's been two days since I met him, and I already know he can charm anyone, girl or guy. Turns out the guys are the only ones he's interested in.
I can't believe he's my roommate-you'd think they'd put something like that on the dorm questionnaire. I'm not sure how I feel about it, actually. I know how I should feel, but I don't. What does that say about me? Maybe...just that I don't care. I didn't come here to meet Adrian. He doesn't matter-he's only a stranger in the other half of the room. He pretends he's interested, but he doesn't know me, for all that shrink's brain of his. He sees only what the school calls me: artist; the way it calls him composer. He's already heard that no one knows what I paint. He probably thinks I'm either the next thing to hit the Museum of Modern Art or the next overrated boy wonder to hit the trash can. But what would he think if he saw my work? Maybe he'd shut off those signals, at least.
"So let's go," I tell him, sliding my sketch pad into a small backpack and slinging it over my shoulder. I keep my voice light, like I don't care one way or the other about the evening. He doesn't look like he buys it, though. If he's a composer, he probably has a fine-tuned ear. Well, he can hear what he likes. It doesn't make any difference to me.
We walk through the muggy Houston evening, hearing the screech of shadowy birds clustered in the trees above. I breathe through my mouth to avoid the pungent reek of their droppings. A migratory stop- What does that say about Whitman, as a cowbird dumping ground? We keep our pace steady and stay silent, not wanting to alarm the birds.
I could have gone to this meeting alone. But Orientation Week parties are set up by department. I went to the one for visual arts last night and saw hardly any new students from other subject areas. Adrian's music bash is tomorrow. Neither of us has an excuse for crashing the writers' party tonight. No one was checking lists last night, but I thought I'd stand out less if there were two of us from different departments. Maybe they wouldn't realize it was just me who wanted in.
Clear of the birds, Adrian leans his head back so the warm breeze ruffles his longish russet hair, this come-take-me look on his face. I glance away. Then he whistles Borodin.
I hear the lyric in my head-"Take my hand, I'm a stranger in paradise"-and have to grin. This place is paradise, for all of us. No more high school math and science nerds, no more worries about SATs, no more jocks, no more gangs, no more parents hanging over us, thinking they know better because they've already grown up. We have to take some regular classes, sure, but it's clear they take a backseat to our real work. Studios, practice halls, performance auditoriums-they take up more campus space than classrooms. If there's a place I might actually fit in, it could be Whitman.
Adrian glances at me and breaks off his whistling to grin back, and for a moment it's like having a friend. Then I look away.
The student center swims hazily into focus through the twilight, and I wipe my forehead, wishing I hadn't pulled on the flannel shirt.
"One word of advice, dear," Adrian murmurs. "Never let them see you sweat."
"Then I'll have to either get out of Houston or start lugging around my own air conditioner," I retort, though it's not just the outdoor temperature that's making me sweat.
Adrian wrinkles his nose. "Now that would surely make you sweat."
Now we're past the cobblestone front walk and at the massive bronze doors bordered with reliefs of the muses. Corny, but also neat to see the arts taken seriously, like coming home-or more, almost like belonging. That would have been reason enough to come to Whitman, even without wanting to meet him. Or maybe they're not such different reasons.
Adrian pulls the door open grandly, and bows me into the air-conditioned front hallway reeking of lemon-scented polish. Sometimes I think he should be in the theater department. Maybe we both should. As I walk past, Adrian declaims, "Show time!" and I wince inside. How can he read me so well?
In the jumble of bodies in the main room, I can already spot the new kids-too keyed up, wary, wanting to make the right impression but not yet sure whom to impress. No-that's how they felt last night, at the visual arts get-together. And that's how they'll feel tomorrow at Adrian's music party. But tonight everyone knows whom they want to impress: Graeme Brandt.
Copyright © 2002 by Elaine Marie Alphin
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