The Secret That Dare Not Speak Its Name
Ollie was in aisle five of Galaxy Art Supply stocking oil paints when Clio Ford emerged from the manager's office. From her vantage spot by the modeling clay, she could watch him for a moment, drink it all in.
Ollie Myers. Absurdly tall at six-foot five. His hair was shaggy today. He was wearing a deep navy blue button-down shirt and a wide, seventies-style tie. He looked down over the slots that the little tubes went into, carefully making sure that the right colors went into the right places. He cared about that, and it killed her. It really did. She could watch him putting paints away all day. Sad, but extremely true.
Time for the show.
She was standing straight, so she slumped a little and arranged her face into a mask of minor melancholy. She approached slowly.
"Hey," she said.
Ollie turned. Good reflexes. (He used to do all-terrain skateboarding. Very badly, he said. Very, very badly. Humble as well. Could you ask for more in a man? No. It was impossible. All human wants had been fulfilled in him.)
Which was why this could never work. She had to be dreaming.
"Well?" he said.
"Well . . ." Clio began. "I'm only a junior in high school, and apparently, most Galaxy employees are in college. And I have no retail experience. No job experience at all, actually."
"Oh," Ollie said. His face fell.
"But . . ." Clio went on. "I have this."
She held up her arm, showing the long tattoo that wound around her right forearm: an electric-blue-and-pink zipper with three yellow-and-black stars flying out of the toggle.
"You got the job!" he said.
"You know it!" Clio said, feeling herself beaming.
Clio had prepared for the interview with her typical precision. White jeans, gently streaked with lavender paint from when she repainted her room. A pink short-sleeved T-shirt from a manga publisher. A chunky belt she'd made herself by attaching laminated matchbook covers to a plain old leather belt from a thrift store. Long, honey-brown hair worn up, pinned in place with two green cloisonné chopsticks. And the master stroke, her tattoo boldly on display. No long sleeves, no arm warmers, no sticking her arm behind her back. No excuses. The freak flag was flying at full mast.
Her cell phone buzzed in her bag. It had gone off four times during the interview. She ignored it.
"I'm still amazed," she said. "I didn't think they liked to see tattoos at job interviews. Unless you're applying to work at a meth lab. Or a tattoo parlor. I guess that would make sense. . . ."
"Or an art store," he said. "I told you that tattoo would do it. Daphne loves Masahiro Sato. You were in the second she heard he drew that."
"She did get excited," Clio said, remembering the glow in the store manager's eyes when she said the name of the man who had drawn her tattoo. He was one of Tokyo's most famous manga artists. He had a massive cult following.
"This may be a historical moment," she said. "This is the first time one of my dad's insane impulses actually worked out for me."
"Your dad wanted you to get the tattoo?" he asked.
"Not exactly," Clio said. "It's a long story. A long, boring story."
"I doubt that," he answered. "I guess I'll have to make your name tag. I can even make it now. Want a name tag?"
Ollie was from Texas, and he had a voice that dripped low and slow into Clio's ear. He could draw out the words name tag and make it sound like something you would deeply want and cherish forever. She found herself nodding heavily. He took her to a back corner of the store, where there was a small cabinet and a computer. He reached into the cabinet and produced a little machine.
"Okay," he said. "It's C-l-e-o, right?"
"Is that a family name or something?" he asked.
"Not exactly," Clio said. "I was named after a Muse."
"A Muse? As in the Greek Muses?"
"Yep," Clio said. "Weird parents. What can I tell you?"
"You're a muse," he said. "I've always wanted a muse. Can you help me paint?"
"I'm the muse of history," she said. "Is that any help?"
"A muse is always a help," he said, typing into the label maker.
Muuuuse. How had she never noticed the magical power of the Southern accent before? In the eight months that she had known Ollie, she had realized that it was attractive, but she hadn't heard it much. Their exchanges took place at the counter, when he was telling her how much stuff cost. Even still, he could make things that cost "eight dollars and sixty-four cents" seem worth every penny.
It wasn't until this last month, when he started talking to her as he restocked the shelves, that she got to hear the accent in all its glory. He was a painter and a freshman at Penn. He shared her obsessive love of beautiful, rich inks. He usually wore a vintage pinstripe jacket, rode an old purple bicycle, and smelled like an art studio—a faintly chemical, extremely familiar and homey smell. He missed his sisters in Austin, had no spare cash, and wasn't above attending openings of art exhibitions he didn't like just to get the snacks.
Clio, on the other hand, was a high school junior with a past and yet very little to say about the present. She tended to make her own clothes. (Out of other clothes, so it didn't really count. It wasn't like she was wearing homespun or sweaters she had knitted herself.) She lived in a massive, messy Victorian right near the Penn campus. And once upon a time, her parents had been married, and she and her father had invented a little game . . .