Chapter 1 – Sam
One more stroke of red... and done! My cramped fingers reluctantly released the paintbrush. After six hours of non-stop painting, no part of my body wanted to move, but all of it needed to. When in the zone, I never felt the strain of time—only after the project did it catch up to me, the aching muscles and burning pain in my hand, the serious need to pee.
I darted for the bathroom attached to the art studio, but nearly tripped over my still-asleep legs when they failed to move as instructed. With a groan and a very full bladder, I lumbered in and relieved myself, then returned to my easel and stretched all of my angry muscles.
A deep voice startled me out of my back stretch. "Wow, Sam, this has got to be your best work yet." Mr. Krevner, Mr. K for short, stood in a shadowed corner of the studio and stared at my painting.
I'd never seen him so enraptured by any of my work. I'd never seen him speechless before, either, and that stroked my artistic ego as nothing else could. The 16x24 canvas oil painting that had stolen my social life for the past two months radiated an aliveness and color that I'd never been able to capture before.
My art professor came forward, walking as though in a church and speaking in a hushed voice. "Where did you get the inspiration for this? The layers of texture and use of tone are extraordinary, and the juxtaposition of fluid brush strokes and harsh, jagged lines creates a dynamic movement to the piece, a conflict that has been missing in your other work. Extraordinary. What are you calling it?"
The hitch in my voice betrayed my nerves. "The Color of Thought. It represents how I 'see' the world, with the thoughts of everyone swirling around me, and the conflict I feel at having so many minds invade my own. I went with a more abstract style to capture the frenetic energy of my experiences. I know my work is usually more realistic, but...."
Nothing in my art had ever been so personal. Maybe great art had to be ripped from a person's soul, before it could evoke emotion in others.
"Do you think it's good enough for the International Art Contest?" I dipped into his thoughts, but he spoke exactly what was on his mind.
His long fingers intertwined, and his thin, penciled-in eyebrows shot up and down in excitement. "Good enough? It's better than that. It's incredible! In two weeks, you'll be the winner of one of the most prestigious art contests in the world. It'll make your career and get you into Sarah Lawrence."
I covered my painting with a piece of canvas, careful not to touch the wet paint, scrubbed my hands and brushes in the sink, and grabbed my book bag. "I haven't even gotten accepted yet."
He walked me to the door. "You will. Don't worry about it. Your future is assured."
I adjusted my backpack onto my shoulders. "I'm going to get something to eat. I'll come back later to talk about the contest details with you."
When Mr. K smiled, his hawk nose and skeletal facial features transformed into something less reminiscent of Jack Skellington from The Nightmare Before Christmas—his usual look. He was almost, for just a moment, handsome—though not my type at all. Way too old.
"Enjoy your dinner, Sam." He walked back into the studio, his long scarecrow body swimming in his khakis and Grateful Dead t-shirt.
The great clock above the Headmaster's building chimed four times. Where would Lucy and Luke be this fine Saturday? I cocked my head and listened for their mental signatures, but a blast of unwelcome thoughts barraged me.
'Can't believe I have to study today.... Where is my sock...? Really need to get this fire under control.... Wish the weekend would last longer....'
Our secret school for kids with para-powers only had about 500 students, grades seven to twelve, but that's still a lot of minds to wade through. Finally, Lucy's distinctive mental voice pierced through the rest.
I stood on the southeast end of campus, where a cluster of classrooms made up the fine arts department. Each building on our campus looked like a small mansion that had transported itself from the Tudor period in England. The meticulous landscaping, complete with bushes trimmed into animal shapes, reinforced the illusion of a proper English estate. Only the high voltage fences surrounding the perimeter spoiled the effect.
The winding cobblestone path led me west from the studio toward the phys ed building and training courtyard. Spring hadn't yet given way to summer, but today felt like a small victory over a long winter. I basked in the warmth of the sun as I looked for my best friends.
I knew what I'd see upon arriving, and wasn't disappointed.
A small crowd had formed around the outdoor training court, where layers of mats lay on the ground and my two favorite people stood center stage. Lucy had her much bigger and taller twin brother, Luke, in a chokehold, from which he struggled to remove himself. Students passed small wads of cash back and forth, clearly betting on the winner. When Luke flipped Lucy on her back and pinned her petite frame to the mat, those who had bet on Luke started cheering.