***CHAPTER 1***

Great. Early on a Saturday morning and I have to wake up.

And during summer! Jeez. See what I have to put up? And my VERY own parents are doing this to me. Honestly, they should just….never mind.

So, anyway, right that early Saturday morning, I was lying awake contemplating what to do because that darned clock radio woke me up. As if it wasn’t bad enough, a loud horn blasted just outside my window. I peered my head out. Just as I thought—Joey Parks, reporting for duty.

He was sitting prettily in the driver’s seat of his green BMW, eating a chocolate doughnut and a sandwich at the same time.

HE is SUCH a PIG. Honestly, I don’t know how he can do that. At the same time, he was also blasting the horn again and again, just to spite me.

Since we were in junior high, I’ve been hearing girls call him SuperJoe.

As for me, I call him Porky Pig. Honestly…how could he eat like that?

Okay, alright. I’ll get on with it. I popped my head out the window far enough so he could see me.

“You are too early!” I grumbled. “It’s only seven-fifteen, Parks! YOU are totally crazy!”

“I’ll take that as a compliment!” he shouted back. “Will you hurry up already?” he added.

The things I do for the sake of my family. I don’t know how I put up with this. I must be pretty strong-willed.

So anyway, since at that time I really didn’t have a choice, I stood up and started to get ready. Slowly I got up and went to the bathroom. By the time I was finished, it was already close to eight o’clock. I started to dress when I noticed that Joey’s car engine was turned off because outside it was quiet. Maybe he got out, I thought. I started to get some socks when out of the corner of my eye I noticed that someone else was in my room.

Parks took a long look at his watch and tapped his foot impatiently. “I’m giving you two more minutes, Carter,” he said warningly. “If you are not out of this room in two minutes, I’m gonna-“

“JOEY PARKS!” I screamed out loud. ‘WHAT ARE YOU DOING IN HERE??” Oh, dear God. I’m just glad I had my clothes on…

“I got tired of waiting.” He shrugged. “Anyway, better hurry up or I’ll be-“

“GET OUT OF HERE, PARKS!” I pushed him to the door.

“Two minutes, Carter!” he said as he went out. Then, a second later, he opened the door again.

“PARKS!” I shouted. “Make that a minute and a half. No more, Carter.” He said seriously. Then he went out. Gosh, why’d he have to be so PUNCTUAL?

So, anyhow, I finally got finished (finally). It was almost eight when we finally left the house. He didn’t say anything the whole time we were travelling. He didn’t even say goodbye the way he usually does. Maybe he got mad……I wonder why.

*          *          *

I was late in art class. Don’t wonder why. It was my fault, anyway. And I couldn’t care less if I was late.

BUT Mr. Comprendo’ did. For several minutes, he lectured me as well as the whole class on the importance of punctuality especially when it comes to painters. I really wasn’t paying attention. I was still wondering on why the hell in the world was Parks mad at me? I mean, if he needed to be early somewhere, he could’ve just SAID so. I mean, he couldn’t have been worried about ME being late, when I myself don’t even care whether I got to class early. Funny, he’s been driving me to art class since forever, and this is the first time it’s ever happened.

I was so busy daydreaming that I didn’t even hear the last thing that Mr. Comprendo’ said.

“MISS CARTER, did you hear what I said?” he repeated.

“Excuse me?”

He sighed. “Did you understand everything I have said?”

I nodded vigorously. “Uh-huh. Sir,” I added.

He turned his back. “Go to your seat. Make sure this doesn’t happen again, is that clear?”

“Yes, Sir.” I answered.

“Good.” He turned to the class. “As I was saying before we were unavoidably interrupted, “ he added, looking at me meaningfully, “balance and proportion go under the same category. Why is that so, Mr. Gates?” he pointed at David.

“’Cause to balance an art form, we must know its exact proportions before we can do anything else,” he said airily. Mr. Comprendo’ nodded approvingly.

“Very good, Mr. Gates. Anyone else like to add anything to that?” The class remained quiet. “Ms. Carroll?” Jen shrinked in her seat and shook her head. “Mr. Ackerman?” Jones Ackerman shook his head. “Mr. Stanfield? Ms. Stanfield?” he inquired. “No, sir,” Mack Stanfield and his cousin Angela said the same time.  Mr. Comprendo continued until he had called practically all the students.

Since we really aren’t getting anything done right now, I think it’s time I introduced you to all the members of ART-6R51K— also known as “art freaks.”

You already know three of them, namely, me, Jen, and David Gates. There are sixteen of us taking this class. Allow me to describe them to you as well. Me—you already know me, ‘cept what I look like. Well, I’m golden-blond and blue-eyed, just like the rest of my family. Jen has light-brown hair and green eyes. We’re both incoming seniors in high school. As for David—he has brown hair, blue eyes, and a haughty nature. And did I mention that he’s twenty-two and in college?

Anyway, as for the rest of us—Jones Ackerman has dark hair and dark eyes, and he’s sort of nice to Jen—but not to me. Actually, I was the first girl to turn down his offer for a date—I kind of bruised his ego—but that was back in freshman year. Up until now he still hasn’t gotten over it (I don’t know for sure, but Jen says he still kind of has the hots for me. We’ll see). He’s also an incoming senior.

 Mack and Angela Stanfield are first cousins who both have a passion for art. When you look at them you wouldn’t think they were cousins, but really a brother and sister because they look sooo alike. Both had perfectly perfect blond hair and perfectly perfect pairs of turquoise eyes. And both are extremely perfectly perfect perfectionists that they actually throw most of their drawing paper away. But on the whole? They’re both very nice. They, too, are incoming seniors like Jen and me.

Tiffany Burnett is half-French, half-American and aside from which, she’s also the youngest member of the class. The question: does this class have any requirement? Yes, actually, we do. Since this class is organized by the West Palm Beach Institute of Fine Arts, there are certain requirements that each student has to meet. One: you have to be interested in art. Two: you gotta have the talent. Three: you’ll have to be in college or in high school. Last: you’ve got to make sure you have money to pay for it. Why did I put this under Tiffany Burnett’s credentials? Well—that’s another thing about her. Although she’s the youngest in the class, she can be extremely bossy, mean, and she would never ever let anyone forget that she was the Dean of the Institute of Fine Arts’ daughter (the Dean is a woman, in case you’d like to know). And oh—Tiffany has dark hair and dark piercing eyes.

Aaron McLauchlin was one of those guys who had consistently asked me if I’d go out with him, and whom I consistently turned down. Not because he was older (he’s an incoming freshman in college), not because I didn’t like him, but well—I just didn’t FEEL like dating. Jen complains that there was never a time that I got interested in dating. Anyway, as for him: he’s got blond hair and pretty, merry brown eyes. Plus, he’s also very smart and very nice you just can’t help but like him. I know I do—just not in THAT way.

Kara Haim is an incoming senior and she’s got sweetness and kindness thrown together. Just imagine ice cream with loads of cherry and whipped cream on top—that’s her. She’s so darn sweet that some people can’t help but take advantage of her kindness. And she just loovees male pop stars and cutesy cartoons (she usually sketched these cartoon characters—and extremely well, mind you). Oh, and another thing—she’s  got long curly dark-brown hair and bluey-blue eyes, and the sweetest face you’d ever seen (do I sound biased about her? Well, she’s a good friend of mine.). She’s also darned filthy rich—her family owns a drug company that’s sort of going around worldwide.

Now, let’s get on with the senior-you know, OLDER members of the class. The kids who’ve been in college since forever like David Gates (course, you already know him), Max Sloane, Andrew Keeler, Candy Michaels, Vincent Rourke, Ricky and Ray Bernoulli, and Tyler Banks.

Max Sloane is in his third year this September and he takes visual arts. This class is sort of his extracurricular. I really can’t say much about him because he doesn’t really talk much to anyone. I think he just kind of hangs around and minds his own business. But he looks, well……, he looks—sort of weird, you know……in an artsy sort of way. He dresses in grunge, and his long brown hair is tied in a ponytail. Do all artists supposed to look like that? I’ll be horrified to think so. But you know—he’s kind of OK once you get a word out of him.

Next on the list is Andrew Keeler whose name should have been spelled “Killer” because frankly, I’m totally scared to death of him. I almost fainted when I first saw him because I got really, really scared. (Okay so maybe I’m exaggerating a little—just humor me, please!) He’s pretty OK once I got over the fact that he asked my bestfriend on a date and she accepted. I COULD NOT believe she would do that! But you know what? I found out courtesy of Jen herself that he’s actually a great guy—thoughtful and sweet. And sensitive in the way that he ACTUALLY knew I didn’t like him. And you know what else? Jen says that he was an excellent painter—that he drew the kind of thing I’m interested in! That just goes to show, you can never judge a person’s character by his looks.

The dynamic duo is next on this list—Candy Michaels and Vincent Rourke’. They aren’t partners in crime, not exactly—they’re girlfriend and boyfriend, and, according to some very competent resources, they’ve been “that” since eight grade. Now they’re both in their fourth year in architecture, and STILL, their lives were very much connected. More than a husband and wife, actually. But that’s their choice, anyhow. On the other hand, they’re both extremely nice people and they do make a cute couple. Both are blond-haired and blue-eyed, and angelic-looking. And both are probably very good in art (I’m not sure. I’ve never seen any of their work). Maybe—cause after all, they got into this class—they’d have to be good.

Next in line are the terrible twos. Why terrible? Well, they won’t leave Jen and me alone. Sometimes they alternate between Jen and me. Who am I talking about? The terrible twins, Ricky and Ray Bernoulli. They’re Italian (they say pure Italian, but I’m suspicious) both incoming fourth year students in the college of arts (Ricky in visual, Ray in industrial), both have olive-green eyes and dark brown hair, and sly and mischievous faces. And both are MAJORLY immature. They could be good students if they wanted too, but—really,  sometimes all they do is fool around and annoy Jen and me. Well……I guess they can’t just change the way I want them to. Sigh.

Last, but not least is Tyler Banks. He’s the ringleader. He makes sure everyone does everything and know what? He’s able to do that without sounding bossy, unlike Tiffany. He’s oldest among us, too because he just graduated, and just finishing the course to get his certificate. I’ll be sorry when he goes. He’s a very nice guy—fun to be with, great to work with, and it didn’t hurt that he was also nice to look at—reddish-brown hair, blue-green eyes with lashes that would make any woman jealous, and a patrician face. I wonder who’s gonna be the successor to his position...Tiffany? Ugh. I’d rather eat mud.

Anyway, I guess that’s that. So what happened after Mr. Comprendo’ called everyone ‘cept for me to answer his question? (Just to fill you in: Mr. Comprendo’ has greying hair, beetle eyes, and an extremely odd taste for neon-colored ties.) After he called everyone ‘cept for me, I wasn’t able to take it anymore. So I raised my hand and talked in his face.

“Proportion is the exactness of the measurement of a certain object and without it, you canNOT balance an art form. Balance,” I continued pointedly, “is almost related to it because it is the exact thing we do to equalize each side of the art form AND without it, proportion is somehow useless because the art form will NOT look good at ALL.” I finished. I sat down and gave David a smug look. He seemed insulted.

“Very impressive, Ms. Carter. I’m glad to see that at least ONE of you care to study these incredibly important topics.” He looked at each of us (or them) sternly. “Study the aspects of art. Tomorrow, we will test your knowledge through impractical means. As for you, Ms. Carter,” he turned to me, “you are given five plus points to the test we will have tomorrow.”

“Great!” I said. Then I remembered David. “But Sir, what about David?” I asked.

“Oh, yes. Mr. Gates gets a five plus points too,” he added distractedly, noting everything in his record book.

David looked incredulous. NOW he will have to thank me. (Heh-heh.) He glanced my way. I gave him a big smile.

“Let’s get back to what we’re supposed to do. Get your sketchpads. We will have individual exercise today,” he ordered as he placed some visual material on the blackboard.

I stared at the blank page of my sketchpad and sighed. I looked at Jen who was sitting beside me. Then I looked at the board and sighed again.

“So,” Jen whispered to me, “why were you late? Did Joey’s car break down or something?”

“I didn’t feel like rushing today. It was almost eight when we left.” I lowered my voice even more. “I think Parks is mad at me.”

“Don’t be silly. Because you’re late? Why would he get mad if you were the one who was late?”

“I don’t know. Maybe he’s getting weirder or something.” I started to draw something.

“Talk to him. He’ll be fetching you here, right? Maybe you’re just worried over nothing.” She suggested.

“Maybe you’re right.” I sighed and continued sketching this endless portrait of a bowl of fruit. I knew this was gonna be another long morning. My Saturdays were always long. Think that’ll ever change?

*          *          *

“Parks, over here!”

Joey’s green BMW swirled along the driveway of WPB Institute of Fine Arts. He had a big grin on his face. I guess maybe I got worried over nothing.

It was after twelve and the long hours of Saturday art class were finally over. Yess! But I was still worried as I got into his car. He drove along and I didn’t say anything.

“Carter!” he said loudly. “You seem awfully quiet. Did I miss anything?” he inquired.

“Are you mad at me?” I asked quietly.

He shook his head vigorously. “No. Why? Should I be mad?”

“You didn’t speak to me all the time we were on the car this morning like you usually do,” I pointed out.

“Okay, okay. So…maybe I got a little mad.” He admitted.

“But why?”

“We had an appointment at the Italian embassy early this morning. I thought I was gonna be late because you were so darn slow.”

“Appointment? Italian embassy?” I wondered.

“You’ll be happy to know……we’re going to Italy next week,” he said, grinning. I couldn’t believe what I heard.

“WHAAT? ITALY? You’re serious?” I shrieked. I WAS SO ENVIOUS.

“Yeah, you heard me,” he answered. “We’ll be visiting my aunt and uncles and my cousins.” He added.

“In FLORENCE?” I asked again.

“Yes, in Florence. Why?”

“You know how I feel about Italy……,”I murmured.

“Oh yeah. Your greatest obsession,” he said dryly as he stopped at a red light.

“Parks! I’m serious. Can’t I go with you?” I pleaded.

“Most likely not. I doubt your parents will allow you. You’ll miss art class.”

He was right. I’ll miss art class. Oh, groan.

 “And we don’t have money to pay for you.” He added.

“I’ll pay for me, thank you. Oh…….why can’t I go?” I moaned.

He started to drive again. “Don’t worry, there’s always next year.”

“Yeah,” I said sarcastically. “Next year….” Then suddenly I remembered Jen telling me that she was also going away for the remainder of summer to her cousins in Washington D.C.

I was gonna be all alone this summer……just me and my art. (Groan.)

Great. Just great. I was going to have a great summer. This is just perfect.

*          *          *

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