Tuesday, November 24th, 2009


Day 22 in my novel-in-a-month effort:

Chapter 21: First Date

No person or persons, company or corporation, shall introduce into any State or Territory of the United States or the District of Columbia from any other State or Territory of the United States or the District of Columbia, or sell in the District of Columbia or in any Territory any dairy or food products which shall be falsely labeled or branded as to the State or Territory in which they are made, produced, or grown, or cause or procure the same to be done by others.

—Title 21, United States Code, Food and Drugs, Adulterated or Misbranded Food or Drugs, Introduction into, or sale in, State or Territory or District of Columbia of dairy or food products falsely labeled or branded

The four of them walked, sometimes together, mostly apart, gazing at the art on display. The show’s theme was art work created out of recycled materials, which led to some odd reactions and even laughters of recognition.

Sarah’s favorite work was a coffee table constructed out of used oil filters. Because the filters had been removed from a variety of cars and trucks, the table appeared unstable, even though it sat rock solid on the concrete floor. The diversity of company names and labels on the sides made the work intriguing, even if the aura of greasiness that hovered over it made people unwilling to get too close.

Sam was more taken by a business suit – leave it to a man, Sarah thought – constructed out of newspapers. More specifically, they were all newspaper stories about the “roundups” of undocumented immigrants the local county sheriff had been conducting for the past few years. His campaign against illegal immigration had made national headlines, which means the artist was able to stitch together pages from the Washington Post, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and other papers around the country. Sam especially laughed that the suit’s vest was bright and colorful, completely manufactured out of pages from the Travel section of newspapers, all touting the wonders of Mexico.

It was right about then that the couple realized that they had not seen their daughters in a few minutes. In the span of time between “I’m sure they’re nearby” and “We should call the police,” they heard a crash, loud enough to be heard over the pulsing beat of “Hoof and Mouth,” the band currently playing.

Instantly, like all parents in the room, they knew that their kids were the source of the crash.

Unlike the other parents, Sam and Sarah were correct.

They raced toward the sound. Until a few moments ago, the largest piece in the art show had sat stolidly in the center of the gallery. From its broad base, it had reached up to a height of almost 20 feet. It had been playing a variety of songs and movies out of its embedded speakers and video feeds. It had been topped by a multi tiered wedding cake, crowned by a rooster. And, most striking, it had been constructed almost entirely out of toilet paper rolls, stripped of their paper.

From a distance, Sarah and Sam could see that the space in the center of the gallery now appeared empty. Fighting their way through the crowd, though, they saw that the work had broken into numerous pieces, and the formerly vertical art work was now largely horizontal.

“Olive, Mia, are you OK?” shouted Sarah, over Hoof and Mouth, who decided to play through what they thought was performance art.

Sam began to toss toilet paper rolls aside, thinking the worst. But then, rising from the disaster, he saw four figures emerge like zombies from the grave. They were children, and they were laughing.

“We’re OK, dad,” said Mia. “I’m sorry, we didn’t mean to do it.”

“Yeah, mom, really,” said Olive. “This thing was pretty tippy, and when Mia and I were looking at it, a guy on a unicycle bumped into us, and we fell. Claire and S.D. tried to catch us, but we all ended up falling.”

“Wow,” laughed a girl about Mia’s height, also standing amidst the wreckage, “this thing came down like a house of cards.”

To say that Sam and Sarah were shocked and disoriented would be an understatement. But before they could ask any questions, two things happened.

The first thing is that the gallery owner appeared, visibly distraught. Though she was understanding, and pleased that none of the girls was hurt, she made it pretty clear that someone – her eyes lingering on Sarah and Sam – someone was going to purchase an art work tonight.

The other thing that happened was that another couple emerged from the crowd, looking just as shocked and chagrined as Sam and Sarah, the new owners of “Totally Tubular Waste / Mixed Media, Audio, Video, Toilet Paper Tubes, 2009.” Sam, seeing their panic and exhaustion, pegged them right away as the parents of the other children.

As the crowd disbursed and the gallery owner returned Sarah’s credit card, the two couples stepped toward each other over the recycled materials.

“Hi, my name is Sam, and this is Sarah. Good to meet you.”

The young, attractive couple appeared relieved that something besides blame was coming their way, and they both smiled.

“Hi, I’m Ben Davenport. This is my wife Sabrina.”

As easily as Mia and Olive had joined forces that evening, the four adults relaxed into each others’ company. They laughed at the misfortune, were relieved that their children escaped injury, and marveled that toilet paper had become art. Sabrina offered to buy half of the scuplture – because it would have been easy to shovel up half from the floor – but Sarah declined, saying she had a special place in mind for it at work.

“So those are your kids?” Sarah asked.

“Yes,” said Sabrina. “S.D. only goes by initials, but she’s named after her grandfather. And Claire – “

“Claire is named after a school in the University of Wisconsin system,” interrupted Ben proudly. “We always thought it was the prettiest name. I mean, what were we going to call her – Oshkosh?”

“How about – Madison?” Sam mused.

Ben looked stunned.

“I hadn’t thought of Madison,” he said, his voice trailing off.

“But Claire is really pretty too,” said Sarah, shooting Sam an annoyed look, which he took to be proprietary and, therefore, very alluring.

S.D. poked her head into their circle.

“I call her ‘Ewww Claire’ after the school’s name,” she said, laughing and running off.

“S.D., it’s Eau Claire,” said Ben. But he and Sabrina were smiling.

As the adults sat cross legged on the floor, they watched their four kids interact. Olive and Claire, both thirteen, and Mia and S.D., both eight, spoke with each other as they sat in their own circle. The adults were pleased to see that the older girls didn’t exclude the younger. And the younger girls even appeared to be the jokesters in the circle, keeping all four rolling on the floor, which was littered with disintegrating art.

“Do you come out for First Fridays much?” asked Sarah.

“Pretty often,” responded Sabrina. “It’s easy, because we live acros the street.” She pointed out the plate glass windows toward a building. At first glance, Sarah took it to be a commercial storefront. But then she could see that there was a home behind it.

The kids must have been at about the same place in their conversation, because Mia and Olive shouted out in a rehearsed sentence, “Mom and Dad, we want to live in a house on this street too.”

Without pausing, Sam called back, “Maybe we will someday, girls.”

Then, trying to hide his panic, he tried again.

“I mean, someday, Mia, we might – you never know – I mean – you and me – “

Sarah tried not to laugh at Sam’s juggling act.

“First date?” Sabrina asked.

“Yes,” said Sam, miserable.

“But not last,” said Sarah, squeezing Sam’s hand. His spirits soared again.

Turning back to Sabrina, Sarah asked, “Did somebody park in front of your house?”

Sabrina paused, and said, “No, that is Jeeves, the World’s Largest VW Bus.” Her face was a pattern of conflicting emotions.

Ben’s face was less conflicted.

“Pretty cool, isn’t it? I did the steel work, and others worked on other parts. We’ll have to show it to you.”

“It is cool,” said Sam. Initially, he had thought that the truck was another structure, not a vehicle. “It must be remarkable to drive.”

“It is,” said Ben.

“That thing should be on display,” said Sam. “Now THAT is a work of art.”

Sam couldn’t take his eyes off it. How cool would it be to have created that, and to park it in your yard. Sam started to think about what kind of dollar offer he could make for something that was so one of a kind, for something that kicked ass so totally.

Sabrina saw the calculations behind Sam’s eyes.

“No need to think about it, Sam,” she said. “Despite my best efforts at persuasion, the beast is not for sale.” Her eyes closed as she finished her sentence.

“That’s right,” agreed Ben. “She’s a keeper.”

“I can see why,” said Sam. Two minutes before, he had no idea that on this earth there was a Volkwagen bus as large as a house. Now, he was surprised to find himself sad that he could never possess it. First Fridays could be an emotional outing.

They sat in silence. But that state never lasts long when there are children present. Within a few minutes, calls of “What are we going to do now?” and “We’re hungry” were shared with the adults. In short order, the new friends decided to visit the tiny restaurant next door.

The Chill Out Café was a bright, pie shaped eatery that adjoined the gallery. It contained about eight tables, and the group grabbed two of them. They quickly ordered some Calcutta wraps and tabbouleh and chipotle hummus wraps. The girls also asked for the red curried noodles and veggies and a Panini with brie and pears. They ordered ginger lemonade all around.

“This is perfect,” said Sam. “Just recently, Mia’s developed an aversion to gluten, so it’s good to find a place that indicates what has wheat.”

“Olive too,” said Sarah, “though for her it’s lactose more than gluten.”

They looked over toward their food intolerant children. Sam and Sarah still marveled at how well their kids were getting along. And Claire and S.D. made the group complete.

“You know, Ben,” said Sam, still thinking about the VW. That bus – “

“Jeeves,” reminded Ben.

“Yes, Jeeves. I was just thinking he would be really cool to take to Burning Man.”

“Burning Man?” said Sarah. “I’ve always thought it would be cool to go there, at least once.”

Sam was surprised, and Ben continued.

“I had never thought of that. But now that you mention it, it’s a great idea.”

As their food arrived, they heard a “bang” and a cry of pain. Instinctively, the adults looked toward their kids, whose activities had led to art deconstruction earlier in the evening. But it wasn’t the girls.

Instead, a man sitting at a two top against the wall was bent over, holding his head in his hands – and beginning to holler. The scene appeared tragic, with red liquid sprayed on his table and the wall and floor surrounding him. Only the overturned bowl revealed that it was gazpacho, not blood, that decorated the space.

“I’m going to own this place,” the man yelled. “You guys are in big trouble!”

Fellow diners crowded around, offering sympathy. They soon determined that a small framed picture, propped into a window space above rather than nailed to the wall, had tumbled through space following one too many slams of the restaurant door. The frame’s corner had grazed the diner’s head, causing a lot of shock but very little injury.

The owner came out and spoke with the man, who insisted he be given his meal free. The owner readily agreed, and people drifted back to their tables.

“You know who that is, don’t you?” Sarah asked Sam quietly.

“No, not really,” replied Sam, not needing to be inconspicuous in his stare, as the entire restaurant had been watching the scene develop.

“That’s Alan Spinkter, the Speaker of the House,” said Sarah. “And our firm’s client.”

“What a horse’s ass,” said Sam. “I mean – it’s unfortunate he had a picture fall on his head.”

“Yeah, unfortunate for us,” said Sarah, “if he realizes his law firm is sitting in the restaurant where he suffered such a grievous blow.” She could hardly get out the last words with a straight face.

“But that’s easy,” said Sam. “We’re witnesses – we couldn’t take this matter, even if we were silly enough to want to.”

“True,” said Sarah, “but I don’t want to have to explain that to him. Let’s hope he doesn’t notice us.”

All seemed well, until –

“Sarah Fujii, I presume,” announced Spinkter, standing suddenly at her elbow.

“Oh, hello, Speaker Spinkter,” she replied, hoping she sounded like she had just noticed him. “What are you doing out tonight?”

“The gazpacho,” he said. “That soup is about the best thing you can put into your body. Or ONTO your body, I guess.” Much to Sarah’s surprise, he was laughing.

“Yeah, I noticed the, um, mishap. Are you OK?”

“Oh, I’m fine,” he said. “It’s just second nature for me to yell ‘Lawsuit,’ I guess. All my years with Harvey Shinblock, I assume.”

Sarah smiled, not knowing where this was going.

“Do you mind if I pull up a chair?” asked Spinkter, dragging one closer without waiting for a response.

Sarah quickly introduced everyone at the table. After some small talk in which he also marveled at the VW monster outside – men and their vehicles, Sarah and Sabrina thought – Spinkter turned toward Sarah and lowered his voice.

“This Dedrick of yours – is he all right?”

Sarah’s red flags went up.

“Why, of course, I saw him just today, and he’s – all right.”

“No, no, I don’t mean is he injured. Although I did hear about the boat crash.”

Sarah and Sam – who could overhear – were startled, and showed it.

Spinkter continued.

“I keep close tabs on the media. I happen to know an Arizona Republic reporter was present at the lake, and he even got some pictures.”

They turned ashen.

“It’ll be in tomorrow’s print edition, I’m sure,” Spinkter said. “And it’s online right now.”

He held up his PDA, letting them read the headline and lede:

 

DEAD DUCK

An unauthorized race between two boats on Tempe Town Lake yielded extensive damage to a boat and the dock after one of the boats crashed. The boat was piloted by well heeled lawyer and former state Supreme Court Justice Claude Dedrick, who is the managing partner at Dedrick, Duckworth, Castro & Paine, Phoenix. Dedrick’s Mercedes Benz was also reportedly destroyed in the accident.

Check in later for updates, including possible criminal charges. …

 

Spinkter continued talking, but Sarah and Sam kept seeing the words “Dead Duck” and “criminal charges.” Their firm – their livelihood – had been reduced to a humorous sound bite. That could only mean bad things.

“Soooo,” Spinkter said, trying to regain her attention. “What I want to know is, is Dedrick all there, or is he a few elements short of a charge? You know: ‘All damages, no standing’?”

Sarah didn’t know what to say, so she fiddled with the straw in her ginger lemonade.

“Well,” he continued, “I know you’re going to be loyal to your colleague, but I need to know whether to go forward against the Governor with this guy, or whether to find somebody else. I need to know if he’s what ‘right’ looks like.”

Sarah wasn’t getting into the middle of that.

“So tell Tom Paine I need to get together with him. Feel free to tell him my concerns. He’ll be able to tell me if the firm is completely behind me in this lawsuit.”

He stood up to go.

“Nice boots, by the way,” he said. “If I were a younger man …”

His slam of the door was strong enough to make another picture tremble, and the owner quickly climbed on a chair to remove them all from their delicate perches.

“Work stuff?” asked Ben.

“Yes, work stuff,” replied Sarah. The exchange had deeply troubled her. She had her own case beginning in earnest in the next week; she didn’t want to have to think about another lawyer’s unhappy client – maybe unhappy enough to dismiss the law firm.

When the group finished their meal, Ben and Sabrina said they were heading home, but they all promised to get together again.

The four First Friday survivors – Sarah, Sam, Olive and Mia – began walking south, toward their cars. Sam agreed he’d return to retrieve the toilet paper art work, but he wanted to walk alongside Sarah Fujii once more that evening.

They drew to a stop in front of Chez Nous Cocktail Lounge. Its had recently shut its doors forever – even bars were affected by the economic downturn. The evening had wound down.

“You were really bothered by that,” said Sam, “weren’t you?”

She knew what he spoke about.

“Sure. I decide to join a firm, and it becomes a public joke only months later? Yikes.”

“Well, you should look at the bright side,” he said.

“Oh, and what is that?” Sarah asked.

“At least Dedrick refused to put your name in the firm’s title.”

Sarah had been close to crying, but now she broke out laughing.

“What a pisser you are,” she laughed through her tears.

“Ouch. Mind the mouth, counselor.”

“Oh, I will, counselor. I will.”

And with that, Sarah turned toward Sam, looked him in the eyes, and kissed him full on the lips.

Olive and Mia, skipping ahead, were informed by their children’s radar that something disgusting was occurring in their vicinity. They spun around and, together, said “Ewwww.”

Sam chuckled.

“Well, as long as we can hear the kids whine, I guess we know they’re safe.”

And so, in front of the former Chez Nous Cocktail Lounge, before the assembled smiling faces of the homeless, the prostitutes, Olive and Mia, Sam kissed Sarah back – more than once.

CHAPTER 21.1 is next.

Day 22 in my novel-in-a-month effort:

Chapter 20: Art Detour

The Congress finds and declares the following:

(1) The arts and the humanities belong to all the people of the United States.

(3) An advanced civilization must not limit its efforts to science and technology alone, but must give full value and support to the other great branches of scholarly and cultural activity in order to achieve a better understanding of the past, a better analysis of the present, and a better view of the future.

(4) Democracy demands wisdom and vision in its citizens. It must therefore foster and support a form of education, and access to the arts and the humanities, designed to make people of all backgrounds and wherever located masters of their technology and not its unthinking servants.

—Title 20, United States Code, Education, Support and Scholarship in Humanities and Arts; Museum Services; National Foundation of the Arts and the humanities

The broad and brightly lit store front beckoned passing cars and pedestrians as they made their way up and down the more than slightly seedy but increasingly cool Grand Avenue. Behind the parade of plate glass windows, one could see crowds engaged in conversation or examining the art on display.

The site was Flagg’s Cake Factory, so named for the business that once occupied the ancient building. Transformed in recent years by an artist entrepreneur, Flagg’s was the center of Grand Avenue’s renaissance. Its massive volume contained a tremendous gallery space, almost three stories high, and numerous smaller artist’s studios honeycombed behind. What once had been a dreary and quiet stretch of road way was now vibrant and worth seeing. Even the remaining homeless and prostitutes had to agree, this was a pretty cool joint.

Because of Flagg’s central location and recently allowed street parking, Sam and Sarah had agreed to meet there, thinking it would be easy to spot each other. The volume of the crowds on this sweltering Friday night surprised them, though, and it took each a good twenty minutes of strolling the gallery and sidewalks outside before they stumbled upon each other.

Secretly, both Sarah and Sam had their misgivings about the wisdom of tonight’s outing. They would have laughed to know just how much the other’s worries mirrored their own.

First, they thought, what the hell were they doing? They still worked together, after all. Neither had been born yesterday, and each had seen the negative results that could flow from mixing the sweet with the suite.

Second, neither had dated in quite some time and, frankly, they felt exhausted before they even began. Both Sarah and Sam believed themselves to be pretty difficult to get along with – for Sam, it was largely true – and their previous relationships had been an ongoing negotiation and accommodation to adjust to competing needs, desires, and quirks.

In that, they were like most everyone. But they each suffered more than most from a sense that making a new start with someone else might just be too much work.

How much did Sarah really want to nod with interest as Sam described where he was raised?

Would Sam be able to focus his gaze sufficiently as Sarah described where she had worked in the past, and what brought her to their current law firm?

Was Sarah prepared to feign interest as Sam parsed the difference between a puppet and a marionette, or the relative benefits and challenges of bait fishing versus fly fishing?

Could they really bear to engage in a discussion of whether each had gone out on First Fridays before, and the relative merits of strolling on Roosevelt or Grand Avenue?

For these and many more are the topics that sustain or more often drown a first date conversation. If we were honest with ourselves, all of us also would hesitate to plunge into that maddening endeavor.

For you readers of tender years, this may be a paradox that is completely foreign to you, but Sam and Sarah knew the truth:

Many, many, many people are simply boring. For reals: Boring.

Unlike the teenage years and even the twenties, when all seems new and bright and shiny and full of possibility, both Sam and Sarah knew that the truth was a little gray around the edges. Sure, everyone’s story may be somewhat unique, but how far beneath the surface do we have to mine to reach a glimmer of ore? And how many of us have the energy and bravery to once more don that ridiculous head gear with built-in flashlight to rumble beneath the surface, hoping to find gold?

“So, what kind of music do you like?” Sarah and Sam thought they’d rather throw themselves under a train.

(In fact, this “suicide over dating” impetus had long roots. For example, the history of attempts to legalize prostitution wrongly focuses on the proponents’ sense that adults should be allowed to do what they want. That was a factor, but closer examination shows that in every case of legalization efforts, from 1800 to the present, the proponent had been divorced or separated and was now being urged by his cohorts to “get back into the pool.” So distasteful and exhausting was the prospect that these men and women pioneers simply sighed, “Can’t I just pay for it?” and launched a reform effort – still largely unsuccessful).

Like most people, though, Sarah and Sam found a way to overcome their distaste for dating and showed up for the event. And that reason was the oldest one in the world: their ability to overlook their own knowledge and experience and to yield to their inner child-like interest and optimism. (There was a second reason, of course, but because this is a family friendly narrative, we’ll simply say it was “attraction.”)

To raise their courage sufficiently to allow them to arrive, though, they had to overcome something else related to children: Their own kids, Olive and Mia.

Because they were decent people, both Sarah and Sam had a concern that they were requiring their children to accompany them, not because the kids might love First Fridays, but because the kids’ presence would take some pressure off the adults.

But because they hadn’t dated in awhile – and because both had thought more than once that afternoon about their close proximity and rising temperature as they had lay entangled together on the deck of the Michael Brag – they dispensed with that concern without much effort: “Come on, come on, are you ready to go?” each had urged their daughters. The time for saint like niceties was passed. It was time to get out and ask those inane dating questions, and Sam and Sarah were surprised at how much they looked forward to it.

Like reluctant daters since recorded history began, many – though not all – of their concerns evaporated when they saw each other.

Sarah was pleased by Sam’s appearance, and she was a little embarrassed that she was so surprised that he presented pretty well.

That, of course, has to do with the work place, especially a law office. After all, who does not look good in a suit? Or, at least, whose appearance is not aided by the presence of a suit? It could be said that men are uniformly benefited by being able to wear a uniform.

Sarah, like all women, had come to understand that you have to view a man in various other guises before you can really make a determination about his eye and his judgment. And in this regard, things looked good.

Sam was wearing jeans, dark ones, but not leather or pleather or anything of that sort. They were fitted, but didn’t go overboard, and they were topped by a handsome leather belt with silver grommets.

But it was Sam’s shirt that impressed her most. A collared and buttoned garment, it was dark blue with black stripes. It was buttoned properly, the chest not demanding the viewer’s attention. And, most important, it was not simply a shirt he wore to work during the day with a suit; it was entirely different, clearly bought and used for different occasions. The “repurposed” shirt never worked, she thought, because it hollered “I have too little self respect and imagination to own a non-work shirt.”

His shoes, too, were ones she had never seen in the office. Black leather and coming to gentle points, they were not his grandfather’s shoes, but they didn’t better belong on a teenager. They fit him and who he was.

Sam had done well.

And “Sarah,” Sam thought. “Sarah, Sarah, Sarah.” He could see that she was going to make it extremely difficult for him to feign interest in the art work and to act as though their first date was a casual walk with two families.

She had thought a lot about what to wear, but had opted for something nice that was comfortable. Fortunately for Sam, “nice” and “comfortable” translated to “head turning” and “wow inducing.”

Her black leather jacket said “Saks” more than “Hells Angels,” and that was fine with him (“Target,” she would reveal later). Her dress, which considered going south of mid thigh but wisely stopped where it was, was black with randomly sized gold stars. It was made of a material he couldn’t place, but that he suspected would be soft to the touch. The portion of her legs that was visible were sheathed in black leggings. And reaching up from the ground toward a place Sam tried not to stare were two high-calf boots. The heels were modest height, but entirely befitting a woman who had lifted him from death’s door this very morning. Sam found himself more interested in the stars than he ever had been before.

“Wow, hi, you look great,” Sam said. Once again, the typically glib Sam Adams found himself tripping over his words.

“You, too,” said Sarah. “Nice shirt.”

“Thanks, I bought it this afternoon.”

Sam visibly winced, remembering too late that he had specifically instructed himself not to reveal that fact.

But Sarah smiled, which immediately turned his idiocy into a strength.

“Well, you chose very well,” she said, touching him on the arm softly. Her touch thrilled him but made him mourn the fact that she would likely withdraw her hand soon, which she did in just a moment.

“Actually,” he said, “Mia helped me.” With that, he stepped half a foot to the right, revealing a young girl.

“But you can call me Mum, if you’d like,” said Mia. “I don’t mind.”

The girl’s voice could barely be heard over the dull roar of conversation that filled the gallery in Flagg’s Cake Factory. But Sarah immediately knew that she liked this young girl, whose voice was soft but determined, and unafraid to chat with adults.

“Well, it’s terrific to finally meet you, Mum,” said Sarah. “This is my daughter Olive.”

Olive then stepped forward. She had been gazing about the gigantic room, her eyes taking in the masses of people and the odd art works, as well as the band in the corner moving through its set of original work as well as covers by Death Cab for Cutie, Paramore and Fall Out Boy.

Olive’s age – thirteen going on twenty – and her temperament demanded that she consume every bit of it. She was immediately fascinated by the space, the people and the constant motion around her. The adults in the room saw a large white walled space. She saw a rainbow of colors, each a different person in the room.

Sarah had been concerned that Olive would be indifferent to Sam and his young daughter. She knew that Olive was a very sweet kid, but her burgeoning teenage spirit meant that the sweetness was increasingly masked by a certain sourness. Sarah could never be sure if the tartness was affected and put on, or a part of her growing DNA. Like all parents, she had no way of knowing whether the self centeredness was more standard juvenile development or a sign that Juvie would be her future.

Also like most parents, Sarah worried too much about it. True to her essential nature, Olive stepped forward, extended her hand in greeting, and smiled a smile that added myriad new colors to the room around them.

“I’m Olive, Mia. It’s great to meet you.”

“You too,” replied Mia. “I like your blouse.”

And that was it. Except for the time it took Olive to shake Sam’s hand and say “It’s nice to see you again,” Olive and Mia hardly stopped holding hands the rest of the evening.

The two girls liked each other from the start. The pair of them – Olive in her combination of fashions from Wet Seal, a funky resale shop and Sarah’s own closet, and Mia, in anything that contained a skull or a monkey – looked immediately at home in the gallery. From the first, they laughed at each other’s jokes and gave each other a hard time. Olive, for instance, would never call Mia “Mum,” though she was later to enuniciate “Chrysanthemum” whenever she got annoyed. And Mia took great pleasure in mocking Olive’s interest in boys and featuring her own – Mia’s – superior spelling ability.

Maybe it was the speed with which Mia and Olive became fast friends, or maybe it was seeing them holding hands, but Sam took the initiative as their two daughters walked off, looking for adventure. Acting as if this was the most natural thing in the world, Sam took Sarah’s hand in his own and began walking next to her.

“Afraid of getting lost in the crowd?” Sarah asked with a  smile, not sure how firmly to return Sam’s squeeze.

“More afraid of losing you, Sarah,” Sam replied. “After all, if any boots were made for walkin’, those boots were.”

Sarah laughed, squeezed back, and didn’t mind – not at all, really – when the crush of the crowd forced them more closely together. Sarah could not have known it, but Olive was absolutely right: First Friday had never appeared so full of color.

CHAPTER 21 is next.