"Jennifer Graves. I'm in Mr. Woodbridge's." She was pale and had flat brown hair, pulled back in an unforgiving ponytail. There was an angry red spot on her chin.
"Jennifer, hi," Arthur said. "I'm Arthur."
"Hi," she said.
"You don't look like you want to get your picture taken."
She crossed her arms and scowled. "What gave you that ideaoh, do you have eyes?"
Arthur smiled at her. "You know what they say about high school?" He ducked to look through the viewfinder.
"That they're the best years of my life?" She had a truly scorching glare. He framed her in the camera sight. "These are my glory days?"
"Only the strong survive," he said.
She twitched a smile. He saw it through the lens and captured it, plucked it out of time and space and made a digital copy in ones and zeroes. And in two months when Jennifer Graves's parents opened the folio of their daughter's freshman-year portraits, Arthur thought they'd see someone familiar in her eyes, her lips, the lift of her cheeks. Not the sullen unhappy girl who slammed her door and said mean things just to say them. They'd see the little girl who'd known the joy of running naked through a sprinkler. Who'd spent the better part of 1994 lumbering around the house after her delighted little brother, pretending to be a Tyrannosaurus Rex. They'd see a hint of the person Jennifer would grow up to be, after she'd bested this phase of her life simply by outliving it.
They'd see what Arthur Rook had seen.
Max took over for the sophomores. Arthur stepped outside with what was left of his cold coffee and watched the traffic roll by. It had never felt right to him to have a high school this close to so many cars, so much exhaust. There was a gas station down on the corner, and the Walk of Fame was only one street up. He could see the top of the theater where they held the Oscars. Growing up in Los Angeles was unfathomable to ArthurLos Angeles period, as a place where people lived normal lives, was unfathomable. When he first arrived, it had felt like the city was teasing him, rubbing up against him in a way that felt embarrassing and unreal, like a stranger crowding him on an otherwise empty bus. Alien vegetation, spiny and thick-leaved, sprouted beside walkways and highway medians or waved their triffid fronds high above his head. The world smelled of fresh-turned earth, of wet dirt. The murals that lined Hollywood BoulevardBette Davis, Bob Hope, Marilyn Monroe rippled like mirages on storefront security gates, disavowing anything so pedestrian as death. There were a million pictures of corpses in Hollywood: eyes smoldering, cowboy hats tipped forward, skirts blowing up around their thighs forever. The city romanticized eternity by reminding you how many people were already dead, and in the presence of so many beautiful zombies, Arthur felt doomed.
Then he met Amy. He'd been in town for a montha long dreadful month, with no job secured, no apartment rented, no friends met. No validation that his decision to come to LAonce so appealing for its diametrical opposition to Bostonhad been anything other than a poor decision. He'd driven around the boulevards of North Hollywood aimlessly, refusing to get on the freeways (he had never owned a car, had never had to develop any quick instincts behind the wheel). When he accidentally turned onto Mulholland Drive, he was so frightened by the hairpin curves that he drove straight back to his motel and didn't go out for three days. He didn't speak to anyone in that time without the assistance of a telephone, and when his mother told him that no decision is absolutely permanent and he could come back to his old room any time, he didn't say no. He said, I'll think about it.
Fantasizing about flight yet refusing to leave Los Angeles before he'd properly seen it, Arthur mustered his courage and drove down to Hollywood. He passed the Chinese Theater and a man dressed as Dr. Frank-n-Furter stuck out a beautiful fishnetted leg and tried to wave him down. Arthur waved in return but didn't stop. He passed the Roosevelt Hotel and the Chateau Marmont and the Viper Room, knew he would never be cool enough to step inside them, and was grateful for it.
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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