"Bella, I just know we're going to find some lovely furniture for your room on this trip. I'm sooo glad you could come with us today."
It was Saturday morning, and we were walking along the main street of Lomax, New York, a Hudson River Valley town that's cute with a capital K. Every place we passed was either a bed and breakfast or an antique furniture store. When we first arrived, I'd asked a salesman at Jane's Junk and Valuables if there was a place in town that sold CDs, and he looked at me like I'd inquired about purchasing a hand-held rocket grenade launcher.
"Charlie, honey, look at this." Sue pulled my father toward a picture window that held a gigantic piece of furniture I now knew was called a breakfront. "Wouldn't that just look yummy in the foyer?"
"It's nice, sweetheart," said my dad. "You want to go inside and have a look at it?"
Sue's eyes lit up. "How do you know me so well? Of course I do." He held the door open for her and she practically danced across the threshold. (At least he didn't carry her.)
"You coming, Goose?" asked my dad. He asked like I had a choice, like if I said no I wouldn't be accused of Having a Bad Attitude. Apparently if you don't think examining ancient wooden furniture in tiny little towns is just the dandiest way to spend your free time, you Have a Bad Attitude. You also Hurt Sue's Feelings, which is a very, very bad thing to do. That's why I was stuck on today's little outing-because last weekend, instead of lying and saying I had a lot of friends or work or anything that might keep me from spending my day comparing late-early Victorian breakfronts with early-late Victorian breakfronts, I had made the catastrophic error of admitting I'm just not all that into furniture shopping. That was last Saturday morning. Last Sunday morning, my dad came into my room and told me that Sue's feelings were very, very hurt, and he certainly hoped I'd reconsider and come with them next weekend. Even though he used the word hope he clearly meant know as in, "I know you'll reconsider and come with us next weekend, or you will be grounded for the rest of your life."
I told him I was looking forward to joining them.
I followed Sue into the store. "Look around, Goose," said my dad. "Maybe you'll find something you like for your room.
As if it weren't bad enough that I was living in a furniture-free zone, Sue had added insult to injury by basically redoing the entire house in the seven months since we moved in. I once made the mistake of asking my dad if it didn't strike him as being just the tiniest bit suspicious that she'd been able to select, order, and have shipped from England an entire living-room set while continuing to claim that there was not a single chest of drawers in the entire New York metropolitan area worthy of my basement bedroom. My dad just got really stern and said, "What are you implying, Bella? That Sue doesn't want to furnish your room?" Actually that was exactly what I'd been implying, but watching him get like that, all cold and scary, totally freaked me out. So I just said, "Nothing. I'm not implying anything," and never mentioned it again.
I pretended to be looking at a dresser roughly the size of the Arc de Triomphe while Sue squealed with pleasure over the breakfront. Finally her cries of excitement ("Look, honey, a tiny drawer!") were more than I could take, and I made my way to the back of the store, where furniture was piled so crazily it was almost impossible to find a space to stand. Then my eyes hit on something that actually got my attention-in a good way.
"Dad! Hey, Dad! Check this out." It must have taken my dad about twenty minutes to respond; no doubt it's pretty hard to pull yourself away from a scintillating breakfront tête à tête.
"Yeah?" he finally answered.
"Make a left," I said. "I'm right around the corner where the little table is."
"Wow, this is terra incognita," said my dad, climbing over a footstool.
"And look what I discovered," I said. Leaning against the wall was an old-fashioned wooden easel. The chain that attached the legs was delicately wrought filigree, and the wood itself was a dark cherry, carved everywhere in an intricate pattern. It looked like an easel Monet or Ingres might have used. "Pretty cool, huh?" I said.
"Oh, yeah," he said. "It's amazing." He knelt down. "Look at this." He pointed toward the floor.
"Wow." I hadn't noticed that the legs ended in tiny, carved lion paws. "That's beautiful."
Kneeling in the dim light of the antique shop, I realized this was probably the first time in almost a year I was actually getting a minute alone with my dad. So it didn't exactly come as a surprise when I heard Sue calling his name.
"Charlie? Charlie, where are you?" Her tone bordered on frantic.
"In the back, honey," he called, standing up. "Make a left at the marble table."
"It's so dusty back here."
Sue prefers her antiques nice and clean. It's okay that furniture's been used, as long as it doesn't look used.
"Look what Bella found," my dad said, pointing at the easel. "Isn't it amazing?"
Sue made a bright face. "Oh, it's lovely!" she said. "What a nice piece. It's like something you'd find in a museum."
Right then I knew I'd never be allowed to get the easel. If Sue had just said it was nice, maybe there'd be a chance, but "It's like something you'd find in a museum" translated to "This comes into the house over my dead body."
My dad didn't get it at first. "Oh, you like it?" he asked.
"I love it," she said, nodding energetically. "It's really a shame we don't have a place for such an original piece."
Unlike my dad, I got where Sue was going with her faux enthusiasm, but I couldn't believe she was really prepared to walk away from something so beautiful. "I thought it could go in my room," I said.
Sue's nodding turned to head shaking and she smiled a sad smile. "I hear what you're saying, Bella. I just don't think it's quite right for the space."
Yeah, 'cause you wouldn't want to buy something that would clash with nothing.
"Well, maybe we could work around it. You know, you could pick furniture that would match it somehow."
"Mmmm, yeah." She pursed her lips, like she was thinking really hard about what I was saying. "Unfortunately, I just don't think that's going to work."
"Well, why not?" I asked. My voice came out sharper than I'd meant it to.
My dad, who had been examining the scrollwork at the base of the easel, looked up. I could tell he'd been too engrossed in the carving to hear a word that was said until now, so as far as he was concerned, I was taking this edgy tone with Sue for no reason at all.
"Bella, I know you're disappointed," she said. "But right now we really have to focus on the essentials."
She turned and made her way to the front of the store. My dad put his hand on my shoulder. "Maybe another time, Goose," he said.
"Yeah, maybe," I said.
While my dad paid for the breakfront and Sue and the salesman set up a good day to have it delivered, I stood by the door, idly thinking about the only good thing that had happened to me recently-that wink I'd gotten from Alec Pearson. I was still thinking about it as we left the store and started walking down the block. He hadn't just winked at me, either, I remembered. He'd given me this really charming smile, too. The wink. The smile. The wink. The-
"Oh, Bella." Sue put her hand on my arm. "I left my jacket back at the store. Would you run back and get it for me?"
The wink, the smile ... the reality.
Cinderella does not get weekends off.