On the Fence

Page 13


I wanted to tell them where I was going, and if it were just Braden, I might’ve. But I wasn’t ready for questions from Gage. “Work. Inventory.” It hurt me to lie to him like that. We were close. I usually told him everything.
“Have fun.” I started to walk away, thinking I should just turn around and tell them I was going to a concert. Maybe they’d even want to go with me. But then Gage said, “Braden, go stand over there. I can make five pieces.”
“Are you sure you’re ready to lose five bucks?”
“Do it.”
I looked once over my shoulder as I headed for the door and saw Braden standing up to be the target for Gage’s popcorn. Our eyes met for a moment, and normally I would’ve said something like You shouldn’t have made a bet like that when your mouth is so big. Or Popcorn in the eye sounds fun. But instead I just stared until my foot caught on the edge of the carpet and I pitched forward, nearly falling flat on my face. The sound of laughter behind me propelled me right out the door.
When I jumped into the front seat of Amber’s car, I took the elastic band out of my hair, then peeled off my sweatshirt and threw it in the backseat. She pulled away from the curb.
“You’re not wearing much makeup.”
I usually wore none. But tonight I had applied a coat of mascara and my ChapStick. I never do is what I should’ve told her, but instead I said, “I didn’t have time to put a lot on.”
“There’s a purple case in my bag in the back. You can borrow some.” She reached over and flipped down the visor in front of me, revealing a mirror.
An image flashed through my mind of me sitting in the backseat of a car, watching my mom apply makeup. She looked back at me, sunlight turning the outline of her dark hair white, and smiled. Then she put a hand on my knee before going back to her task.
The memory was like a jolt to my mind. I squeezed my eyes shut and flipped the visor back up. “I think I’m okay.”
“Okay. Oh, I meant to ask you if you could be the canvas for Antonia. The girl she arranged with fell through, and this is her first class at this store.” She opened the center console and pulled out a flyer. “I told her you might do it. I’d do it, but I’m doing my cousin’s makeup for her wedding. It’s this Sunday.”
I took a deep breath, trying to forget the flash of memory, and stared at the flyer, not processing anything. “What time?”
“In the afternoon, I think. Doesn’t it say on there?”
It did. “Sure. I just have church in the morning, but we’re done by eleven, so this will work.”
“Thank you. She’ll be so relieved.”
Amber found a parking spot on the street and we hopped out. Even before we got to the doors, the music poured out of the building and into the night. The place was crowded and the energy of the people pushed against me as we made our way inside. I wasn’t used to feeling so much excitement buzzing outside of a sporting event. I wasn’t sure what to do with it. Normally I’d run or push back or charge. This wasn’t exactly the place for that. The group in the middle of the club was jumping up and down to the beat of the song. Maybe I needed to be in there.
The music went quiet, though, and the guy onstage announced that the next band would be out in five minutes. I hoped we hadn’t missed the one Skye wanted me to see—her boyfriend’s band. After searching for a while, we found Skye toward the back.
“Charlie! You came.” She gave me a side hug. “I wasn’t sure if you would.” She gave my outfit a once-over. “You look cute.”
“Not that I’m surprised. You have killer style.”
I let out a laugh but was surprised when neither she nor Amber laughed along. So that wasn’t a joke.
“Oh, look, Toad’s back on,” Skye said.
“Toad?” I asked.
“Henry.” She gestured toward the stage. “It’s a nickname my friend gave him and it’s stuck.”
“Is that why they named themselves The Crusty Toads?”
“No, actually. The nickname came second.”
I’d had a lot of nicknames in my life. “Toad” wasn’t any worse than “Charles Barkley,” which was what my brothers called me sometimes.
“Who’s the singer?” Amber asked. “He’s dreamy.”
“Mason,” Skye said, then leaned closer so we could hear her over the music. “So I was talking to Linda the other day, Charlie, and she showed me your pictures. They were great.”
“She did? Sorry you had to suffer through that. She’s just proud.”
“Of course she is. She’s going to be your Mama Lou soon too,” Skye said, giving me a wink.
My mind flashed back to the image of my mom in the car, smiling at me. “She’s not going to be my mom.”
I must’ve said it with an edge, because Skye’s eyes widened. “I didn’t mean your real mom. I just meant that she’s everyone’s mom.”
My skin itched. “I think I’m going to go dance for a while.” I pointed to the group in the center of the room. I needed to burn off the stagnant energy hanging around me.
“Me too,” Amber said, trailing after me.
Dancing wasn’t quite the same as running . . . or any sport, for that matter. I didn’t feel like I had a purpose, a goal. But after a while I let my mind relax and realized not everything had to have a point. Some things could just be for the fun of it. I looked over at Amber dancing next to me. She smiled, then hooked her arm in mine and twirled me around. My surroundings blurred and I soaked the moment in, deciding this night was something I could do again.
Chapter 19
The makeup venue for Antonia was bigger than Linda’s store. The word must’ve gotten around about these demos because there were more people, too. Probably close to fifty. I wove through groups until I got to the front and found a slightly panicked Antonia.
She grabbed my arm, relief flooding her eyes. “I thought you weren’t going to show.”
“I’m sorry. Am I late?” I glanced at my cell, which showed I had a ten-minute cushion.
“No. I’m just nervous. There are so many people. I guess there’s a bridal show in town this weekend and all these brides are here.”
I looked around and saw lots of white. “Oh, this is a bridal store.”
She laughed. “Yes. I’m showcasing the bridal line today.”
“Okay. Where do you want me?”
She pointed to a high stool and I positioned myself in the seat. A man in a suit walked up and introduced himself as the owner of the store. “The photographer will be here soon to get some photos of the session.”
He opened a folder he held, then ran a finger down the first page. “I got your parental waiver for that, right? You’re . . .”
Antonia went wide-eyed from where she stood slightly behind him. “Chloe. She’s Chloe.” She gave me a pleading look.
“Right,” I said. “I’m Chloe.”
“Right. Here you are. Thanks.” He walked away.
“I’m sorry,” Antonia said. “I forgot about the stupid waiver he told Chloe to bring in when I thought she was doing it. Thanks for covering for me. It’s just so he can take pictures for the portfolio that will be next to the display in the store. Are you okay with that?”
“It’s fine.”
She must’ve thought I didn’t mean that, because she kept going. “It’s not really a big deal. Mostly extreme close-ups anyway, of, like, your eyes or your lips. No one will know it’s you.”
Extreme close-ups were not a good way to sell anything. But I knew what she meant. “It’s fine,” I said again.
She squeezed my arm. “Thank you.”
Antonia wasn’t kidding about extreme close-ups. It felt like the photographer was inches from my face throughout the session, taking pictures as Antonia progressed through the stages. I was seeing stars from the flash by the time it was over.
As the last people left, Antonia turned to me and blew air between her lips in an expression of relief. “I’m so glad that’s over. It was way harder in real life than in practice.”
I laughed. Now that I could relate to. My nerves were always way more intense at an actual game than during practice.
“Let me buy you dinner for bailing me out.”
I smiled. “Sounds fun.”
It was late when I got home. I was still fully made up (Antonia didn’t have makeup wipes like Amber did), I could feel the foundation thick on my face, and my eyelashes were heavy with mascara. Plus my hair was down because I’d forgotten to bring an elastic. I needed to get in the house unseen.
I stealthily walked the front path to my house. The window next to the front door was dark, so I let myself relax as I slid the key in the lock and eased the front door open. Gage reclined on the couch, watching television, and he looked over at me with a nod—then did a double take, seeming to take a moment to process my identity.
“I just had some very unclean thoughts about my sister go through my head. I feel disgusting now.”
I offered a weak smile of apology.
“You look different.” He pointed to his own hair and face. “Are you wearing crap all over your face? I shouldn’t be worried that you work in the red-light district at night, right?”
I wadded up my sweatshirt and threw it at his head. Since his question was rhetorical as far as I was concerned, I continued upstairs, grabbed my pajamas, and then jumped in the shower.
I scrubbed at the makeup on my face, wanting it gone. At home, that other part of my life seemed so foreign.
When I emerged, I found Gage sitting on my bed, along with Nathan.
I rolled my eyes.
“She doesn’t look any different to me,” Nathan said.
Gage shook his head and pointed at my face. “Her hair was wavy or something and she was wearing lots and lots of makeup. Her eyelashes and her lips and her cheeks—”
“Gage. Out.”
“Not until you explain.”
“Ugh. It’s nothing. I’ve just been the mannequin for a makeup line.” I thought about my choice of words and the stupid mannequin in Linda’s store. I felt like that lately—like all my pieces had been taken off and put back together lopsided.
“What?” Nathan asked. Then he looked to Gage when I didn’t answer. “What does that mean?”
“Do you mean modeling? You’ve been modeling?” Gage asked.
“Not really. Just sitting there while a girl puts makeup on me. Now get out before I beat you both.”
“Does Dad know?”
I groaned. “No. And he doesn’t need to.” He’d die if he knew I’d been lying to him about this. They both looked at me skeptically. “Can I buy your silence? I’ll give you each fifty bucks if neither of you says another word about this.”
“What are you, Ms. Money Bags now? Exactly what kind of modeling are you doing?”
“Oh. My. Gosh. Get out.”
Gage pointed to my dresser in a lightbulb moment. “That girl. Amber. You really do know her. You work with her.”
“Your brilliance knows no bounds.” This time I grabbed him by the arm and dragged him to the door. Nathan followed willingly. Before he left, Nathan turned back and said, “If you don’t tell Dad, you know I’ll have to.”
“Of course I know that, Nathan. You’ve never broken a rule in your life. Are your insides twisting up right now with my secret?” It was supposed to be a joke, but my insides were the ones all twisted up.
Nathan smiled but didn’t deny my accusation.
Gage, whose arm I still held and who I was trying to shove out the door, finally stepped out, but not before he said, “Since when do you keep secrets from me?” The way he said it, and the sadness in his eyes, hurt. Before I could defend myself, he’d walked away.
Chapter 20
I tossed and turned until the clock read midnight. I slid out of bed and padded to the bathroom, where I splashed cold water on my face. I leaned into the counter and stared at my bloodshot eyes. Water dripped down my face and onto the counter. I grabbed a towel and patted it dry.
Downstairs, I pulled out the box of pictures my dad kept in a drawer beneath the coffee table. I flipped slowly through the ones of my mother. I wanted them to tell me something different. Something they’d never told me before. Clues about her life. Her personality. But they didn’t. They just told me what they always did.
She was beautiful. People said I looked like her, and maybe our faces resembled each other, but her body was wispy and soft. Even in pictures I could tell she was graceful. Maybe she could’ve taught me to be graceful. I wondered if she would have been disappointed with a sporty daughter. Or maybe she’d have been disappointed in who I’d become lately—a liar and a fake.
I tucked the pictures back in the box and headed to my room. The light was off, so the first thing I saw when I walked in was my lit-up cell phone. It was a text from Braden: Are you awake?
Yes. On my way out.
“Everything okay?” I asked him at the fence.
He didn’t answer for several beats. “Fine.”
“Braden. Don’t lie to me.”
He sighed. “It’s just the same old stuff. What’s the point in talking about it?”
“Your dad?”
I bit my bottom lip, not sure how to help him with this. “Why don’t you talk to him?”
“About what?”