Thirty minutes after that, with the smell of McDonald's burgers and fries filling the car, they were flying high toward San Jose.
Nothing they saw when they got there brought them down. There were crowds and crowds of fans, light shows and smoke, sets that rose from nowhere to produce the man himself, who sang hit after hit without a break, longer-than-ever versions of each, and how could Rachel not be into it, with Hope and Samantha dancing beside her? If she was conservative through the first song or two, any self-consciousness was gone by the third. She was on her feet dancing, clapping high, singing. She cheered with Samantha and Hope when familiar chords announced a favorite song, and shouted appreciatively with them at song's end. The three of them sang their hearts out until the very last encore was done, and then left the arena arm in arm, three friends who just happened to be related.
It was a special evening. Rachel didn't regret a minute of it, not even when Samantha said, "Did you see that girl right in front of us? The tall one with the French braid? Did you see the tattoo on her arm? The rose? If I wanted something like that, what would you say?"
"No," Rachel said as she drove south through the dark.
"Even a tiny one? A little star on my ankle?"
"But it's way cool."
"Because she was older than you. When you're twenty-five --"
"She wasn't that old."
"Okay, when you're twenty-two, you can think about a tattoo. Not now."
"It has nothing to do with age. It has to do with style."
"Uh-huh," said Rachel, confident on this one, "a style that makes a statement that you may not want to make at twenty-two, if you set your heart on a particular person or thing that doesn't appreciate that kind of statement."
"Since when are you worried about conformity?"
"Since my fifteen-year-old daughter is heading straight for the real world."
"Tattoos are hot. All the kids have them."
"Not Lydia. Not Shelly. Not the ones I see getting off the school bus."
Samantha crossed her arms and sank lower in her seat, glowering for sure under the brim of her hat. Hope was curled up in the back, sound asleep. Her hat had fallen to the side.
Rachel put in a CD and drove through the dark humming along with the songs they had heard that night. She loved her hat, loved her boots, loved her girls. If she had to fall behind in her work, it was for a good cause.
She wasn't as convinced of it the next morning, when the girls woke up late and cranky. They picked at breakfast on the run and even then nearly missed the bus. Rachel was wildly relieved when they made it, and wildly apprehensive when, moments later, she stood in her studio and mentally outlined the next three weeks.
She worked feverishly through the day, breaking only to meet the girls at the bus stop and have a snack with them, her lunch. Samantha was still on her tattoo kick, so they reran the argument, verbatim at times, before the girl went off to her room in a huff. Hope hung around longer, holding her cat. Finally she, too, disappeared.
Rachel spent another hour in the studio. Half convinced that the otters were done, she stopped and put dinner in the oven. When she returned to the studio, it was to fill another sort of need. But the otters caught her eye again. She gave herself another hour.
Now that the hour was gone, things were flowing. It was always the way.
One minute more, she told herself for the umpteenth time. With alternating glances at field sketch and photograph, she used the fine edge of her palette knife to add texture to the oil on her canvas. The sea otters were playing in kelp. Her challenge was capturing the wetness of their fur. She had started with raw umber and cobalt blue, and had found it too dark. Using raw umber with ultramarine blue was perfect.
Reproduced with the permission of Simon & Schuster.
Copyright © 1998 by Barbara Delinsky.
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