Chapter 12: London - Vanessa Carlton
I was boring in comparison to my friends. The world knew it. Each of them had a thing that made them special. Elle was a jack-of-all-trades. Izzie had an offbeat sense of humor. Sami was a rebel. Finn was brilliant. Ryan was a charmer. Milo was exotic. Nick was knowledgeable about music and films. When I tried to think of what made me unique, I couldn’t find anything.
My mom was Japanese and my dad was Jewish. Her genetics were more dominate in my appearance and I had visited Japan several times to visit relatives. I had a Bat Mitzvah when I was twelve. I went home for all the holidays. My grasp on Hebrew was limited, only the passages that I needed to recite on holidays. My Japanese was stronger. I really didn’t see it as my call to individuality. I wanted something of my own. Something that would make my friends miss me when we went our separate ways after graduation.
“Good morning, Fern.” I leaned down and petted my calico cat.
She purred in approval when I itched between her ears. I stopped after a little while and resumed my journey outside.
“What are you up to today, Sweet Pea?” My father asked, looking up from the model boat he was making with my brother at the kitchen table.
“I’m going to paint on the deck. I picked up some new watercolors that the craft store yesterday. I’m anxious to test them out before work.”
He smiled. “Sounds fun. Are you making time to start your college applications?”
I nodded. “I’ve got my test scores and my list finalized. I need to fine tune my portfolio.”
“Why have you picked up extra hours this summer? You attend SMA on work/study. You can afford to relax. In fact, I insist.”
“I need the money for college.” I looked down.
“I thought UMass was all but guaranteed. You will attend tuition free because I work there.”
“I rather not attend school where you work. A little independence would be nice.” I adjusted the strap of the tote bag filled with art supplies on my shoulder.
“Where is your top choice located?”
“London.” I sheepishly admitted.
“Overseas?” He dropped the piece he was holding and put his hands on his hips.
“Oxford University’s Ruskin School of Art has a phenomenal program. I probably won’t get in, but if I do, I want to go more than anything.”
“What if something were to happen? What if it is difficult for you to make friends? You’re not tough as nails, Sweet Pea. I’d hate for someone to hurt your feelings and be unable to get our support immediately afterward. Your mother and I would be much more comfortable if you remained local.”
“I’ll apply to UMass.”
“That’s more like it. We’d barely see you if you went so far away.” His smile returned.
“We can’t have that.” I looked down. I continued my journey to the deck.
I placed my back on the ground and set up my easel. I pulled up one of the patio chairs. I removed my drawing pad next. I flipped to the landscape drawing I completed last night and clipped it into place. I poured a bottle of water into the glass jar I brought to clean my brushes. I sat down, selected an appropriate brush for my subject matter. I dipped in the jar to moisten it. I touched it to my dry pallet and placed it on the paper. I allowed myself to get lost in my work and forget everything else.
The temperamental nature of watercolor had always appealed to me. Add too much water and the color would be too transparent to notice from a distance. Not use enough water and it would be too saturated, appearing to be acrylic paint, instead of what it truly was. Place a loaded brush in the wrong area and it would bleed through, tainting an area that was deemed as complete. The idea that I could morph the concrete reality of the way the paint worked into a metaphor intrigued me even more.
“I need your help.”
Elle, Izzie, and Sami graced my laptop screen. Well, the top of Sami’s newly partially blue hair was, the rest of her face was buried in her arms. Elle was in her workout gear, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. Iz was in her usual median slot; relaxed, but attentive in what appeared to be her pajamas.
Sami lifted her face, but rested her chin on her folded arms. “What’s up?”
“Why are you so tired?” I observed the heavy bags beneath her eyes.
“Stayed up until 7 AM talking to Watson.”
“Awwww!” Elle clasped her hands together.
“So tired it turned your hair blue?” Izzie joked.
“I needed to break a rule. I decided to ignore one of my own. Just wait ’til Nana gets a load of this.”
“You just live for pissing people off.” Elle wiped her water bottle with a sanitizing wipe.
“That is why I am consulting with you. I am in need of an awakening. My dad wants me to go to UMass. It is a good school, but I want my own life.“
“They hover because they love you too much. You do not need to revolt, simply sit them down and talk. I am sure they will listen.” Izzie advised.
“I don’t think so, Dude. Running wild for a moment could be essential to your liberation. You have always been the responsible and dutiful daughter that they have always wanted. You need to get their attention.” Sami protested.
“I love both of you to death, but you couldn’t be more wrong. Hon, you need to stay true to yourself and do the things you have always wanted, but have been too worried about their approval to try. You’ll win London by asserting your independence.”
“So just do my own thing?” I pushed my falling glasses.
“Yes. No one is asking you to stop being yourself. We love you.”
“You do?” I looked down and lowered my voice.
Sami slapped her hands on her desk and lunged forward. “Is that a joke? You hold this shit show together.”
“I just feel like all of you have a thing. I’m basically the appointed kill joy.”
“Sweetie, you are selfless, unconditionally kind, and supportive. That is why we call you Mom. You don’t have to play a part to live up to it.” Elle smoothed over.
“We can even stop if you’d like. The last thing we want to do is hurt your feelings.” Izzie concluded.
“No, I love the definition Elle just gave too much. I just needed to know it was okay for me to loosen up. I want to go to London so badly. I’ve been saving since my Bat Mitzvah.”
“I’ll make sure you get there. Don’t worry about it.” Sami vowed.
“How are you going to do that?”
“Don’t worry about it.”
“You always worry me when you say that.”
“Why ever would you say that?” She batted her eyelashes.
“That’s all I wanted to say. I have to start getting ready for work.”
I worked at the library every day from noon to 6. My job mostly consisted of restocking the shelves. My favorite part by far was conducting story time in the children’s’ corner. I had always loved kids. Their excitement was transferable. Positive interactions with them landed me several regular babysitting gigs.
After finishing up at the library, I drove to the Wilson’s home. The children – Scout, 5 and Patrick, 3 – were my favorite to look after. They had difficulty behaving at times, but they were sweet.
I rang the doorbell, adjusting the strap of my purse on my shoulder.
“Oh, Morgan, thank you so much for coming over on such short notice. Dean failed to mention that I needed to attend his office party.” Mrs. Wilson hugged me.
“No problem. I’m always happy to help. Where are the little ones?”
Pat and Scout ran into the foyer shrieking. They were fleeing from their father, who was crouched down and making monster noises. They sought shelter behind me. He scooped up Patrick and started tickling him.
Scout looked up at me. “Are you going to play with us?”
“I sure will.” I ruffled her hair.
“Honey, we need to leave. I hate being late.” She fastened the back of her earring.
“Right.” He placed him back on the ground. “Thank you for agreeing to look after them. You are their favorite.” He shook my hand.
“I love them too.” Pat bounced at my feet with his hands up. I scooped him up and placed him on my hip. “What are tonight’s instructions?”
“They have already eaten dinner and taken their baths. They will want a snack before bed. There are celery and carrot sticks in the refrigerator. Don’t let Scout talk you into giving them ice cream. They need to be in bed by 8:30. We should be home around 11. All of the emergency numbers are on the fridge. Any questions?” Mrs. Wilson detailed as she corrected her husband’s tie.
“No. I will contact you if that changes.”
“Great. Bye, babies. Be good for Morgan.” She gave both of the kids a kiss.
“Be more than good for Morgan.” Mr. Wilson did the same.
“I left money on the counter for you to order yourself dinner. “ Mrs. Wilson picked up her clutch.
“No, thank you. You are truly a lifesaver.” She pressed her cheek to mine and made a kissing sound.
“Now who is the one making us late?” Her husband called to her as he held open the front door.
She waved goodbye one final time and the two of them were gone.
“So, what are we going to do?” I tickled Pat’s tummy.
We ended up building a blanket fort in the living room. I kept them entertained with shadow puppets and books I checked out from work. I did different voices for each of the characters and made sure they were able to see all of the illustrations. I offered them a snack thirty minutes before bedtime. Teeth were brushed, a pull-up changed, another story read, and the two of them were in bed with their eyes closed by bedtime.
I ordered myself a gluten-free pizza to comply with my allergies. I cleaned up the living room as I waited for it to arrive. My phone chimed from my purse. I rushed to it before the caller hung up.
“Hey, Nick, how’s it going?” I walked back to the fort I was deconstructing.
“Fine, doing what everyone else is – scrambling to figure out what to do next.”
“I thought you were gearing up for Berklee next year.” I pinned my phone to my ear with my shoulder.
“I was, but then reality set in and I calculated the costs. I will be paying it off for the rest of my life if I go there.”
“Do you have a plan B?”
“UCLA has a film scoring certificate program. I have never been the best at school. It will be strictly music – working towards a certification, instead of a full-fledged degree. I think I can manage it better. Sami is going to California. Rooming with her would cut down on costs.”
“How are you going to talk your parents into all of that?”
”That is why I called you. You must be making headway with your parents and London. You are a planner.”
“I’m trying, but it is not going anywhere any time soon. My parents want me at UMass.”
“Will you be applying there?”
“Yeah. It is a good school. The no tuition aspect is beautiful as well.”
My eyes became glassy. “It was never actually realistic, was it?”
“You gave me hope for people like us.”
“We both know I’m not cut out to be a beacon.” I whispered to keep my voice from cracking.
“Maybe you are. The light just hasn’t switched on yet.”
“Maybe you should be too.”
I smiled. “Your mom coddles you, but she is reasonable. Your dad will be on your side. He’s the reason you’re at SMA. Get him on your side about Cali and you’ll be there.” I folded the blanket I was holding.
“You always give the best advice.”
“That’s why I’m Mom.”
The doorbell rang. I used my hand to prop up my phone. “My pizza’s here. Can I call you back?” I walked to the front door.
“No need. I’m done talking your ear off.”
“Text me. I’m babysitting.”
“I will. Bye.”
I answered the door and paid for my food. I poured myself a glass of water. I went to the living room and watched television as I ate dinner.
“I had a bad dream.” Pat whined.
I looked over my shoulder. He was rubbing his eye the back of his hand and dragging his stuffed elephant behind him. I walked over and scooped him up in my arms.
“What happened in your dream?”
“Monster eats me.” He looked down at the elephant separating us.
“Do you want to go back to your room? I can check under your bed and in your closet for them.”
He shook his head. “Scared.”
“We can’t have that, now can we?”
I turned off the television. I retrieved another book from my bag; it was his favorite – Goodnight Moon. I draped a blanket on him. He cuddled with me, resting his head on my shoulder. A familiar story and a protector was all he needed to overcome his fear and return to sleep.
“Never grow up.” I kissed the top of his head.