Arthur got into the car when Max arrivedlate, sans both coffee and donuts and the two of them headed down Cahuenga into Hollywood, creeping in a sludge of traffic. Max apologized for not bringing any breakfast, and Arthur lied and said he'd eaten at home, and when Max called him on it, they pulled into a gas station and Arthur ran inside for two cups of coffee and a box of Ho-Hos.
"You eat like a freaking teenager, Rook," Max said. "One of these days your metabolism is going to implode, creating a black hole that sucks this entire universe into it."
"I am the destroyer of worlds," Arthur said. He was tall and thin and had a recurring nightmare in which he grew thinner and thinner until he was a skeleton holding a sword and shield, like the vengeful dead in Harryhausen's Jason and the Argonauts. When he told Amy, she smiled and said she'd still love him if he were a special effect. She laughedI might even love you moreand Arthur thought, Of course you would.
Max parked in the faculty lot of Hollywood High and they hauled their equipment into the front hall, just like they had last year on school picture day and the year before that. Then Max disappeared to speak with their office contact, and Arthur, chewing a Ho-Ho, unpacked the lights and the backdrops and the cables and cords. It was 8:458:43 was the time of the first missed call on his cell phone.
From 9:15 to 10:30, Arthur stood behind the tripod and told one hundred and fifty freshmen to smile like they meant it. This was his favorite part of the job. It was the reason he became a photographer: for love of the moment when his subjects showed themselves to the camera and to him. Arthur loved people. He didn't really understand them or feel like he belonged among them, even, but he adored being a witness to their existence. He loved how various they were, how fragile and tough and strange and each his own universe: self-contained and whole. He was a Watcher. Amy told him, one afternoon six months after they met, that he would be unbelievably creepy if he weren't so damned good.
"You think I'm good?" Arthur had asked. He didn't care if Amy thought he was creepyhe was a little creepy, he knew that; anyone who goes through life preferring to watch than participate will trend that way but he had been enchanted that she thought he was good. "You mean pure of heart?" he asked. "Valiant?"
"Not quite," Amy said. They were in bed. "The truly pure don't know how to do that."
"Sometimes they do," he said. "When they've been driven to it."
Amy grinned at him. "What I mean," she said, "is that you believe other people are basically worth living for, and it shows."
"You mean I'm an optimist."
"I mean you see people, you see people all the time, and you don't get bored or tired of them. You don't start to hate them. How do you manage?"
He remembered the weight of her hand on his face, the pressure of her thumb against his cheek.
"How do you do it?" she said.
"You give me too much credit," he said. "I hate them plenty."
"You are such a liar. Name one person you hate, one person."
"Adolf Hitler. Douchebag."
"Cigarette- Smoking Man." Arthur counted on his fingers. "Iago."
"I mean one real person"
"Short people who recline their seats all the way back on airplanes."
"I mean who you know, personally, that you hate."
Arthur kissed her to buy himself time to think. "That guy," he said. "That guy at the restaurant the other day."
"With the bad suit and the tacky tie."
"Who yelled at the waitress and made her cry?"
"Yeah, him," he said. "I hate that guy."
Arthur couldn't hate people, any more than he could hate water or grass or stone. Ordinary people, like the chubby freshman girl slumping on the padded stool in front of default Backdrop A (Mottled Blue Slate), were too magnificent and too oblivious to hate. He asked for her name and homeroom.
Excerpted from This Must Be the Place by Kate Racculia. Copyright © 2010 by Kate Racculia. Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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