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When I'm Gone; Chapter 10
Chapter 10-August 9, 2001 (Claire)
It was time to paint my classroom. I glanced around the room, noticing the bare walls and empty desks. I had asked the principal beforehand before I went to buy the paint. He agreed under one condition; that it was school appropriate.
“Ready Alex?” I smiled at him. Alex had just carried in the last can of paint. He eased into one of the desks and held up a finger.
“Give me a minute. Those paint cans are heavy. And I had to carry them across the school,” he breathed. I laughed and ruffled his hair. He pulled away, a grimace on his face.
“Let’s do this,” I said and pulled him to his feet. Together, we laid out tarps along the wall and set two cans of paint beside each one.
“What are you going to paint them like?” Alex rested an arm on my shoulder. I pulled on the hem of my painting shirt and smiled.
“You’ll see,” I told him and handed him a paint brush.
“Ugh,” he groaned. I let out a laugh.
“Now, let’s get to work.”
A few hours later, we had painted the bases of the walls. They were all pitch black and a little menacing-looking.
“Are you going to do anything else to them?” Alex asked with a pained look on his face.
“Of course,” I replied. “But, that is for Sunday. Let’s just finish painting the backgrounds.”
“But, what about that wall?” he asked, pointing to the far wall beside my art easel. It was still the pale yellow the other walls were before we painted them.
“That wall?” I repeated. He nodded. “Come on.”
I led him to the wall and picked the top off the can of paint. Inside, the paint looked like the same black the other walls were.
“It’s just black,” Alex commented and looked at me. Smiling, I poured the paint out into a pan.
“It may look like ‘just black’, but actually, it is chalkboard paint,” I explained. I laughed at his blank look.
“Chalkboard paint?” He looked doubtful.
“Yes, chalkboard paint. After it dries onto the wall, you can write on it with chalk and then erase it when needed. I thought it would be cool for my students to write on the walls.” Excitement lit up his face and he grinned.
“Cool!” he shouted and grabbed his paint roller. He dipped it into the paint and rolled it onto the wall. Soon enough, we were both going at it on the wall and on each other. Black was everywhere, even on us. Laughing, I placed a streak of paint on Alex’s chest.
“Excuse me?” A loud voice interrupted our laughter and I turned towards the door.
A petite girl around my age leaned against the door frame with a smirk on her face. Her fiery red hair was in curls around her heart-shaped face. She had bright blue eyes and very pale skin that sparkled in the flourescent lights.
I placed my roller on the pan and wiped my hands on my jeans. I walked over to her and stuck out my hand. She returned the gesture and we shook hands.
“Claire Barnes. You teach art for the seniors,” she finished for me. When she saw my expression, she just laughed. “I saw your forms on the principal’s desk. She never files her stuff.”
“Oh,” I murmured.
“Who’s behind you?” She sounded too curious.
“Oh, that’s my brother Alex,” I stated and Alex nodded at her. Her grin flickered but only for a second.
“I’m Lauren Elizabeth,” she introduced herself. “I teach theater.”
“Oh yeah,” I said. “I just recalled that this is a school for the arts.”
“Yeah,” Lauren laughed.
“Oh, I’m just waiting to see how you do on your first day of class. These students are serious about their work. And I mean serious.” She put a lot of emphasis on the last word. I shrugged.
“So am I, but that doesn’t mean they can’t have fun with it,” I said. Lauren shook her head and laughed at my comment. Underneath my skin, I felt my blood start to boil.
“Honey, you must not know a thing about rich teenagers,” she teased me. The blood drained from my face and my eyes narrowed into slits.
“Well, I’m sorry that I grew up by myself, poor and alone. I’m sorry that I wasn’t rich like all of these other teenagers,” I retaliated. Lauren’s eyes widened and she took a small step back.
“I-I’m so sorry. I-I didn’t know,” she stammered. I rolled my eyes.
“Of course you didn’t know. Who cares to ask about somebody’s past?” I raised my voice an inch. She took another small step back and lowered her eyes.
“Claire,” she started.
“Don’t even worry about it,” I cut her off. She looked back up at me and frowned. Even I knew that there was still fire in my eyes.
“Lauren?” A deep voice called out.
“In here, Jeff,” she shouted back and turned to me, an apologetic smile gracing her lips. A few seconds later a tall man came into view and placed an arm around Lauren’s shoulders.
He had dark wavy hair and molten brown eyes. The smile on his face lit up the room and made the corners of his eyes crinkle, making him look younger than he really was. He was well built and about a half of a foot taller that Lauren. She smiled up at him, with a look of adoration.
Behind me, Alex cleared his throat. Startled, she looked back at me. She placed her left hand on his chest and I noticed a slight sparkle on one of the fingers. Looking closer, I realized a small three carat diamond rested on her ring finger.
“Um, Claire, this is my fiance, Jeff,” she said. “Jeff, this is the new senior art teacher, Claire Barnes.”
“Nice to meet you,” he greeted me and we shook hands.
“Same to you,” I told him through clenched teeth. He smiled tightly and turned back to Lauren.
“Honey, we have to go. We have an appointment at the church in half an hour,” he murmured and gave her a kiss on her forehead.
I turned away and looked at Alex. I stuck my finger down my throat and made a gagging noise. He shot me a look and shook his head. I quickly spun around to find out that Lauren was now alone and staring at me.
“Sorry,” she said, trying to catch my eye. I knew there would be hurt in them, so I kept looking at my Vans. “But, I have to go. The wedding is in a month and we have to do last minute details.”
“You don’t have to explain to me,” I replied, trying to get her to leave.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” she repeated.
“You don’t have to apologize all the time either. It’s really annoying,” I shot at her.
All of a sudden, her stance hardened and she tensed up. I glanced at her and she glared back at me. I raised my eyebrows and watched her carefully.
“What?” I asked. She let out a long breath and kept staring at me.
“People can call me many things, Claire. They can call me ugly or weird or even a sl**. But, when people start trying to judge me right after I meet them, gets on my last nerve. You don’t know me, Claire, and yet, you are judging me completely. You know what? I can do the same thing.”
“What are you talking about?” I asked with a blank look on my face.
“I can judge you the same way you are judging me. Honestly, the first time I saw you painting your walls, I thought that you were a freak. That you weren’t mature and that you acted like a kid. I thought that there was no way you could be a teacher to seniors and yet the principal hired you.”
I felt my cheeks get hot and I glared at her. She let out a haughty laugh.
“See, Claire? I can be just like you. And when I am, you don’t like it so much. So stop being so freaking cynical and distant and act like an adult.”
With that being said, she stormed off. I looked back at Alex who just shrugged and looked away. Then, I noticed the wall which was done.
“I finished it while you two were talking,” Alex said with nonchalance. I laughed and pulled him into a hug.
“I love you, you know that?” I exclaimed.
“I think you’ve told me that a few times before,” he teased and pushed me away.
“Now, we have to clean up,” I groaned and Alex chuckled.
“We can do it.” He flexed his arms. “We’re strong people.”
I did the same and said in a low voice, “We are, aren’t we?”
Somehow, in only an hour Alex and I were able to throw away the paint pans, the rollers and the paint brushes. We had picked up, folded the tarps, and put them in the supply closet. And we were also able to put up the paint cans for future use.
“Let’s go sis,” Alex said, tugging on my arm. I laughed and let him lead me out of the school and into the blinding sunlight.