I rush down the front steps, but stop at the bottom, feeling completely lost, as if I slipped into another universe and found myself on this rainy sidewalk. Do I go left or right? Or up or down?
Case by case, he guides me through the galleries of butterflies, mollusks, abalone, fossils. There’s a garden out back, and a million taxidermied birds—California condors, ahoy! And when he finally points out the preserved baleen whale eye, I think it might haunt me forever. Especially when, as I’m leaning over to inspect it, Porter gooses my sides. I squeal so loud, a group of small children are startled. He can’t stop laughing. I think we’re in danger of getting kicked out, so I pretend to slug him in the shoulder a few times, and that alarms the children even more.It’s always the quiet ones who are the most violent, he tells one of the wide-eyed toddlers as I drag him away.
You’re a menace to society, I whisper.And you’ve got terrible taste in boys. It’s time for our appointment.I follow him back through the galleries to a small gift shop, where we meet a jolly, brown-haired security guard named Ms. Tish. You look just like your dad, she says, shaking his hand heartily. For the love of surfing, does everyone in California know the Roths? And do they all have an opinion on which parent Porter favors the most? It’s ridiculous. Then it hits me that Ms. Tish is a museum security guard . . . and Porter’s a museum security guard. Is there some secret guard network I don’t know about?
Porter introduces me and says, So, yeah, like I said on the phone, Bailey maybe wants to be future curator in an actual real museum—not a schlocky tourist attraction like the Cavern Palace—so I was hoping maybe you could give us a peek behind the curtain.Not a problem, she says, nodding toward a door marked STAFF. Follow me.
I’m in a daze as she leads us through the back hallways. First she gives us a tour of the archives and storerooms, where a guy and girl are quietly tagging fossil samples at a big table, listening to music. They are nice enough when we’re introduced, but you can tell that they’re relieved we’re heading back out. I don’t blame them one bit; the solidarity I’m feeling is total and complete. Swap out those fossils with old movie stills, and this would be my dream job: peace and quiet, nothing to do but concentrate on what you love. Absolute bliss.
Then we’re on to the museum offices, which look a lot different than the Cave’s. It’s smaller, sure. But people are actually working on stuff that matters back here. Real museum things—not making sales quotas and driving more customers. There are desks and clutter and flurry, and people are discussing exhibits and education programs and outreach.The bell rang, and I shoved my notebook into my backpack. I stood up, and someone knocked against my shoulder as he walked by.
Hello. Distance, Frank said, and kept walking.At least you stayed dry this time, he threw back over his shoulder, and then exited the classroom.
For a second I was confused, but then I remembered the lake that morning. Frank had been the guy on the WaveRunner. He had sprayed me on purpose. An entire year in the same small class as Frank Young was not going to be fun.When I got home from school, I stopped by the kitchen, where Mom was stirring a pitcher of iced tea.