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When I'm Gone; Chapter 13
Chapter 13-August 12, 2001 (Michael)
I listened silently, as my boots clomped across the tile hallway. I kept glancing at the doors, trying to find the one I was looking for. Finally, I saw a door with a sign hanging on it that had Claire’s last name on it. I studied the painting for a minute.
It was dark blue with yellow letters-the school colors-and along the edges, faces were painted. There were different races and they trailed along the outside as if they were a connect-the-dots problem. I ran my finger along Claire’s last name. When I got the the loop of the ‘e’ and pushed on the door, wincing as it creaked.
Inside the classroom, Claire was working at a table-probably painting something. But, when I stepped inside, the first things that I noticed were the walls. I could tell that they were freshly painted and done beautifully. The background was black and there were neon paint splatters covering most of it. The far wall, though, was completely black and someone had written Claire’s name on it in chalk.
Chalkboard paint, I thought to myself as I looked at it.
“Can I help you with something?” Claire’s voice traveled across the room clearly and I glanced over at her. She stood up with her hands on her hips, a white spot of paint on her forehead. I smiled and walked over to her.
“Hey Claire,” I said easily and looked up at her ceiling. “I just came to check on your sprinklers in your classroom.”
“You do this to every classroom?” she asked. I nodded.
“Yep,” I lied quickly and looked around her classroom. “You have a ladder around here somewhere?”
“In the supply closet,” she said and pointed at a closet next to the desk where she had been painting. I sauntered over to it, pulling the door open. My eyes wandered over to her painting where she only had painted the canvas white. I pulled the ladder out and set it in the middle of the classroom. I could feel Claire’s eyes on me as I tightened my grip on the clipboard I brought with me.
“Could you help me?” I asked, pointing to the ladder. She shuffled over to it, then looked back at me. Confusion clouded her face and she raised her eyebrows. I almost wanted to laugh at her, but swallowed it back.
“What do I do?” Her hand went up and she started twirling a lock of her hair. I could tell she was starting to get annoyed.
“Just hold the ladder. I don’t have anyone to spot me,” I explained and grabbed her hand. I placed them on the ladder where they were supposed to be. When I dropped my grasp, she hesitated, shooting me a look.
“Is this safe? It’s very high,” she said haughtily as if she didn’t believe me.
“It’s fine,” I soothed and lightly touched her shoulder. She stiffened and slid from my grasp. I shrugged and started to climb up the ladder.
Once I reached the top, I took a ceiling tile off and placed it on the top of the ladder. I started to mess around with the wires up there, making it look like I actually had something to do. I “made a note” on my clipboard. Laughing silently at my little doodle dog, I looked down at Claire.
“How is it?” she inquired carefully. I could hear fear taking over her voice. Her grey eyes widened and she swallowed loudly.
“Perfect.” I smiled and doodled another dog on my clipboard. “Let me just chack one more thing.”
“Okay.” Her voice flooded with relief. Suddenly, she cleared her throat and glared back up at me. “Well, make it quick. I have to finish my painting.”
“What are you painting?” I tried my best to stay nonchalant.
“A sign for another teacher’s room.”
“What does she teach?” I heard her exhale hard and let go of the ladder. It wobbled a bit before she placed her hands back on the metal. The ladder stilled and I sighed.
“God, are you always this nosy?” she interrupted. I looked back down at her. Her eyes had a hard glint to them and her mouth was set in a tight line.
“Sorry,” I muttered and turned away. She exhaled again.
“Why do you want to know so much about me?” she asked.
“Why do you keep pulling away?” I countered. She laughed softly.
“It’s a long story,” she managed. That time, I laughed.
“I like long stories,” I told her, and looked back down. She watched me warily and tensed her shoulders.
“Okay,” she murmured.
“How about you tell me this ‘long story’ on Tuesday?” I chose my words carefully, as to not let her think it was a date.
“Tuesday?” Doubt filled her voice.
“Yeah. Tuesday afternoon. What time do you get off of school?”
“I can get off at two after lunch. Then the rest of the afternoon is free,” she said.
“Then I will pick you up at two,” I replied.
“I think Alex will be okay with it. He doesn’t have anything to do,” she continued. I let out a surprised gasp and climbed back down.
Once down on the floor, Claire glanced at my shocked expression.
“What?” she questioned.
“I actually meant that it would just be you and me,” I explained. Surprise flashed in her eyes and she looked down with embarassment.
“Oh, sorry. I didn’t know,” she said.
“It’s cool,” I forgave and smiled slightly. She glared back up at me.
“Is this a date?” she seethed. I laughed quickly.
“Of course not. This is two friends having an outing,” I lied through clenched teeth.
“Good,” she uttered. “Because, I don’t date.”
“I just don’t, okay?” She raised her voice. “I wish you would just leave it alone.”
“Okay, sorry.” I shrugged and started to make my way towards the door.
“Wait,”she called out. I turned back to face her, “so Tuesday? Two?”
Smiling, I nodded. She let out a breath and relaxed her stance. I raised my eyebrows, waiting for her to say something.
“You better be on time. Two o’clock sharp,” she warned. I laughed and nodded.
“I will. Don’t worry. See you Tuesday,” I said and walked out of her room.
Oh, Claire, I laughed to myself. You just wait to be dazzled.