Nineteen: Conversation Is Hard

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"Folks, I don't trust children. They're here to replace us."

~Stephen Colbert



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The PTA meeting on Monday morning is suffocating. Karen is dripping with sweetness, probably to cover up for The Incident on Friday.

She completely ignores my existence, of course, but to everyone else, she's like Mother Theresa trapped inside a Barbie's body.

I haven't been this sickened since Costco was giving out free samples of every item in the frozen foods section and I ate all of them. The worst were the chimichanga chunks that had been cooked in a microwave. My stomach curls.

But I survive the meeting (the International Peacock Day party is coming up soon), and head to Finn's classroom.

That's the other thing giving me chimichanga chunk flashbacks.

I haven't seen him since The Incident, when he was talking to Eloise. Barb told me to go talk to him...and to apologize.

I've never apologized for anything. And it's not like I did anything wrong, exactly. Maybe I could just smooth things over and call it a day.

I walk in through the back door, and Finn is at his desk.

I look at the mural inching up the wall, and my heart skips a beat. He must've worked on it over the weekend, because it's halfway done now...and more beautiful than I could've imagined.

The five-foot panel of wall looks like Victorian wallpaper, with a faded teal background and old golden scrolls lacing around it. But the majority of the "wallpaper" is peeled back, revealing a window into another world. From where I'm standing, it's like the walls are open to a ballroom in the 1800's. There's so much depth, I feel like I could walk right through and be transported inside.

After staring at it for a long time, I turn distractedly to Finn. "This...I don't...it's amazing."

Finn looks up and follows my gaze to the mural, smiling fondly. "I think the children will quite like it."

"Da Vinci would swoon over it, man," I breathe.

I blink away the fog that the mural brought over me and inch towards his desk. "Hey..."

I struggle to find the words.

Finn turns his eyes up at me innocently. "Is Eloise alright?"

I hadn't expected that. "Uh...yeah. Yeah, she's okay now. She didn't get suspended."

"Oh, I don't mean about what happened on the soccer field," he explains.

I knit my eyebrows together. "Then what was she upset about?"

Finn squints at me for a moment, before realizing that I have no idea what he's talking about. He gives me one of his half-second smiles and rubs the back of his neck. He stands up to sit next to me on his desk. "Ah, well, I don't—I didn't—mean to intrude. I just happened to be walking past..."

"It's okay," I say, surprised at the softness of my voice. Wasn't I supposed to be the one apologizing? "I'm glad she could talk to someone."

He flashed a nervous grin before averting his eyes again. "She was rather upset about her father. His illness."

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