The Boss Vol. 6By: Cari Quinn & Taryn Elliott
“And this boy—”
I reached out and gripped her shoulder. “It’s me.”
She bolted off the stool as if I’d scalded her from the warmth of my hand. “You told me you knew her. You just didn’t tell me when, or how, or why. Goddammit, why?”
Swallowing hard, I laced my fingers behind my neck and paced around the counter and back again. She gave me a wide berth.
I suspected she’d be doing a whole lot more than that soon enough.
“What other photographs are there? Show me.” When she made no move to oblige, I sat at the laptop and slid my fingers over the trackpad, prepared to do the honors myself.
Instead I just stared into my own angry, mistrustful eyes.
We’d both been children back in those days, Grace more so than me. I’d been fully a teenager then, shuttled to a summer art program in the hopes I wouldn’t end up bleeding out in a gutter somewhere as my father had. That was the legacy he’d left me, you see. To threaten and cheat people while I smiled in their face and waited for the day a knife appeared between my ribs.
I’d grown up using my fists. Kids talked, as they always do. They knew my mother raised me alone, and they made comments. Innocent things sometimes, usually not. They called me a bastard and other things, names that I used as fuel later on. At first, I’d ignored them. Then came the day I beat a boy until his mouth was raw with blood and I knocked out his front two teeth.
After that, I’d been transferred to a school for problem children. An alternative school, they called it. My grades were fine. More than. I was acing all my classes. But I didn’t fit in. I was a potential threat to the other students.
Me, the one they’d taunted. I was the one who needed to be sent away.
School let out during the summer, of course, and my mother hadn’t had a clue what to do with me. I didn’t need remedial classes. Far from it. Somehow I’d ended up at an art camp at the Beacon School in Marblehead, miles away from my own district in Lynn. The two towns weren’t far apart geographically, but when it came to money and opportunities—well, they might as well have been at opposite poles of the Earth.
I’d shown some aptitude for art at my own school, mainly because it was another way to segregate myself. Most of the other kids—especially the boys—wouldn’t have been caught dead with a paintbrush or a ceramic piece, but I’d found the intricacy of creation quieted my mind. When I was involved in a project, I wasn’t thinking about my mother working three jobs to make the rent, or my father breezing in and out with some trinket when it suited him, or the neighborhood criminal types who knew I’d eventually give in and join up with them.
What did I have to lose? I was so fucking alone.
Glass work had been my first class at art camp. My mother had signed me up, hoping I’d turn my vague interest in art into a usable skill. At the very least, maybe I’d meet a girl. I was so angry back then that even the opposite sex barely got my attention. When I needed relief, I saw to myself.
The class in glass design had shown me a whole new avenue in artistic exploration. It had also given me Grace.
She’d been small for her age, with eyes too big for her face. Eyes she kept riveted on her demo pieces even as she tried to instruct the class in her low, halting voice. I’d had a feeling that she too had been sent there for a reason other than her own desires. Surely not to keep her out of trouble. She’d seemed about as dangerous as a rainbow. A million different colors, diffused by the light. Utterly untouchable.
Her grandmother came up to me one day as I stood outside smoking and generally being pissed at the world. She’d asked polite questions. Was I enjoying the class? Did I feel like I was learning a lot? What kind of art did I gravitate to?
I couldn’t figure out what her angle was. Even at that age, I’d known she had one. Everyone did, especially the fucking rich. But even after Grace’s brief time assisting the teacher ended, Annabelle returned and spoke to me. Once or twice, she gave me a ride back to Lynn.
Eventually she admitted she knew my father, rat bastard that he was. She’d been aware of my existence before I’d ever showed up at camp. In fact, she’d purposely contacted my mother and paid my tuition for the summer, offering to serve as my patron of sorts. My mother hadn’t questioned it. She knew I was a gifted art student, and she’d been eager to get me out of her hair and off her troubled mind.
I’d known right away Annabelle felt sorry for me. She was obviously a very wealthy, connected woman, and I was the poor wrong-side-of-the-tracks son of her supposed friend.
Of course I’d suspected that friendship was more than that. But she’d never said, and I’d never asked.