Indy could barely keep her eyes open at breakfast the next morning.
“Remind me one more time why campers aren’t allowed to have coffee?” Puja moaned out loud to nobody in particular.
Indy forced a smile at her tablemate, who meant well but was just way too loud at this hour. She sat and stared at her poached egg. She felt hungover.
She surveyed the cafeteria, but Nick was nowhere to be found. If she had a choice, she would have slept through breakfast too, considering how late they’d worked.
They. It was like booze or weed, or a crazy chocolate dessert, the way that word made her feel. Like she and Nick were equals.
After breakfast Indigo found her assigned room (Beat Poets cabin, Ferlinghetti suite) and began to unpack her bags. A minute later, in walked Eleanor Dash, the gossipy ballet dancer.
Eleanor slammed the bedroom door behind her. “I can’t believe Nick is here,” she hissed, tossing her purse on top of the dresser. She bounded over to her bed and spread out on the floral-print comforter. “I mean, after what happened last summer.”
“What are you talking about?” Indy said, hoping to sound nonchalant. Why was Eleanor talking about Nick? Did she know about her crush?
Eleanor took a deep breath. “Well,” she said, “there’s something you may not know about your art instructor. I heard he was fired because there were indiscretions. With campers. Specifically, your pal Lucy.” She tucked a phantom strand of blond hair behind her ear and sat down on her bed. “I heard he took her virginity in his cabin, by the pool, last summer.”
There was a pause then, as Indy put down a pile of her sketchbooks and slowly absorbed what she had just heard. She finally turned her head and looked Eleanor right in the eyes.
“What?” Indy said. She kept her expression as neutral as she could under the circumstances. She didn’t need to give Eleanor any bait.
Eleanor smirked. “I mean, I assumed you knew when Lucy lost her virginity, because you guys are so close. She didn’t tell you? Isn’t that what best friends are for?”
Indigo stood by her bed with her arms at her sides, deciding when and how exactly she was going to tell Eleanor to shut the hell up. But Eleanor took her reaction as a cue to keep talking. She was enjoying this.
“What’s more,” Eleanor went on, “Lucy was dumb enough to leave herself logged in to her Gmail on one of the iPads in the computer lab. And Nick emailed her a very raunchy message.”
Indigo’s heart felt like it had dropped into her stomach. “Really?” she heard herself ask. “What did it say?”
“Oh, the usual,” Eleanor continued casually. “‘Thanks for last night, I’ll never forget it. I’m so glad I was your first, hope I didn’t get you preggers.’ That kind of thing. I can’t remember it by heart, but I have a copy of it somewhere. I can show you.”
Indy felt sick.
“I’m sure this is hard for you…” Eleanor began, but Indy was already out the door.
The first thing Indy noticed when she walked into the painting studio was that Nick wasn’t there. The second thing she noticed was that it was really crowded. There were all the girls from her drawing and painting electives, working on projects for the upcoming Industry Showcase, a yearly show attended by scouts and gallery owners looking for the next big thing to pluck from obscurity and brandish as a prodigy.
“Hey, Indy!” Suzie yelled from across the room. “Join the party.”
“Hey,” Indigo said. She walked over to her workspace, grabbing a large pad of Bristol paper and a bunch of colored pencils on the way, and started drawing, letting her hand lead her, trying hard not to judge what it made.
After amassing page after page of scribbles, she finally plugged herself into her earbuds and hit play on a Ting Tings playlist on her iPod. She was determined to shut out the outside voices and her inside demons, the ones telling her she couldn’t do it—screaming that she had no time, no ideas, no talent, no vision, and no ability. Remembering an exercise that Nick had given her to do when she was just 11 and he was lecturing his class on the subject of artist’s block, Indy gave herself the task of drawing one of the empty chairs in the studio, just to prove that she could still draw from life. “Because once you tap into the fact that you still have a skill,” she remembered him saying, “you can free up the muscle memory that goes into actual creativity.” Back then, he’d taught her that art was mostly about the cardio of just showing up and doing the work anyway. If the determination to create something great was there, it took a little patience. Very rarely did magic just flow out of the pencil or brush instantly—you had to clock hours to see real results, like anything else that was worth doing.
And after what seemed like ages of darting her eyes to the chair and back to the lines she made on the page, making sure the two looked like each other, and that the piece looked not just true to life but also good in its own right, Indigo realized that she was alone. It seemed the studio had cleared out for lunch without her noticing. And it was a relief. Because even though the drawing of the chair turned out to be just OK—not great—it was enough to keep Indigo working.
She worked through the next period and the next. She worked through dinner, churning out drawing after drawing of that same stupid chair—each one slightly better than the last. And she realized in the process that she was able, at some point, to somehow focus on something besides the clamor of others in the space—in their space—in Nick’s space. On Nick.
Indigo took little comfort acknowledging what she had accomplished. All she had to show for her efforts was a stupid—however well drafted—series of colored-pencil drawings of a folding chair. She paused her iPod, which was now blasting a Ted Leo and the Pharmacists song, having shuffled through all her other artists alphabetically and landed back on T, and went to the sink to wash her hands, trying not to panic. And as she looked out the studio window above the sink, she saw hordes of girls on the hill in the dusk, wearing sweaters and sweatshirts and jackets over their summer clothes, walking in the direction of Theater Row.
Crap. The clock on the wall said that is was 7:45, which meant Puja’s play, starring Lucy, was starting in 15 minutes.