Chapter Two

"Hey, Jack," I say, walking in the doors of the apartment building. Jack looks up and gives me a quick wave before returning his attention to the complaining woman in front of him, looking weary. I slip past them quietly and make my way to the elevators, the woman's shrill voice ringing in my ears irritatingly. Sometimes I wonder how Jack can work at such a patience-consuming job and still be the cheery, good-natured fellow he is.

I am all alone in the elevator. This is normal- at this time of day, most occupants are at work. I shift my backpack and wait for floor 5 to come up. There is a ding, a computerized voice says, "Floor Five," the elevator doors open smoothly and I step out. All actions done precisely the same way they've been done for the past three months, ever since my dad started living here.

I reach his door and let myself in, not bothering to knock. "Dad?" I call, setting my backpack down beside the black couch.

"In here, Mick!" he answers. I follow his voice to the bedroom and then to the attached balcony, where his laptop sits at one end on a small table, unattended. My dad is at the other end with a colorful canvas before him, dabbing at it with a paintbrush, occasionally stepping back to take a look at the whole. He does a perfect impression of Mr. Bean when the guy is painting.

Oh, yeah- did I mention my dad's an artist?

He's not nationally acknowledged or anything, but he sells his best work to small local art galleries and people who want to buy them. Jack Hunter paintings are sort of a fad among adults here, you could say. Nearly every grownup I know likes them, except my mom, of course. He paints landscapes, mostly- views of Orient Hills and the like. I have a Grand Canyon scene hanging in my room.

It's this habit of his that my mom detests most, I think. She used to claim he worked on his paintings too much and not enough at his job. It didn't help that my dad got fired a few times, although he always found another job pretty quickly. My mom plays the flute and the piano, but she doesn't like visual arts much.

Right now, he's adding the final touches to a painting of New York as seen from the Empire State Building. I think. There's certainly enough blue for it to be that. He turns and smiles at me, pushing up his glasses absentmindedly. "Hey, bud. How are you?"

"Fine, Dad. You? What's that?" I gesture to the painting. He likes it when I ask him about his work.

"I'm good. Oh, this is a picture of Mount Olympus as it must have seemed from ancient Athens. I think I overdid the clouds a bit, don't you?"

A bit? "It's fine. That's very cool- where Zeus and Hera lived, right?"

"And Poseidon, and Athena, and a lot of other Greek gods. That history is so interesting, Mick- you must read up on it sometime."

"Yeah, okay. I'll, uh, I'll just go get something to eat, alright?"

"There are cookies in the oven!" he calls after me. I nod, but I don't need the advice. My nose has told me that already. I go to the kitchen and put a couple large cookies on a plate, pour myself a glass of cold milk, and return to the balcony.

"Sit." My dad gestures to the chair behind the table, and I oblige, moving the laptop to make space for the food. "How was your day, Mick?"

"Fine." I take a bite of cookie and chew. The taste of chocolate fills my mouth. "Mom signed me up for sessions with the new counselor every Tuesday."

"Oh?" He doesn't turn around, but his voice holds the tiniest bit of... something. I can't identify it.

"Yeah. His name is Mr. Hilliard."

"Let me guess... Josh Hilliard, right? Blue eyes, blond hair?"

Surprised, I nod. "Yes... Do you know him?"

My dad turns around and snorts, grinning. "Do I know him! We were best friends back in school. He went off to college in Missouri, though, and I never saw him again. He messaged me that he was coming back to Orient for a while, and that he's a qualified kids' counselor now."

"Er... Okay." I process this information slowly. I wonder how I'm suppsed to react to this. "That's great, Dad! So you finally get to see your old friend again!"

"Yeah." He smiles nostalgically. "I know he'll try to help you, Mick, so don't be difficult with him, alright?"

This surprises me. As far as I know, I've never been 'difficult' with any adult before. I'm a good kid, I get average grades, I do well in sports... I lie once in a while, but since no one has ever caught me, that's something only I know. "Of course I won't, Dad."

My dad paints for a while longer before he answers me. "That's good, then."

I finish my snack in silence, gazing out at the great view from the balcony. In my opinion, this building should be a hotel, not an apartment. It has all the requirements- fantastic hill views, good climate, located remotely but not too far away from town.

Eventually, I get up and gather the plate and glass. "I have to go, Dad. I'll see you tomorrow?"

"Of course, Mick, see you." He turns and waves, his brown hair catching the sunlight for a second.

I wave back and exit, pausing to stack the dishes in the kitchen and grab my backpack. On my way out, I look for Jack, but he's not at his desk. I shrug and leave the building, walking back down the road toward the town.