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"Welcome to the wonderful world of Advanced Life Drawing," Andie McPhee sang out to her friend Joey Potter as the two of them found seats in the art room.
Joey pulled her new sketch pad out of her backpack. "I ask you, Andie, what would anyone in this microscopic slice of adolescent angst known as Capeside High School know about drawing life? Being able to draw life sort of assumes that we actually live life, which we do not."
"Yes we do, in a limited, stereotypical, small New England coastal town sort of way," Andie said. "I find us very sweet."
"Swell." Joey pulled her hair back and refastened her scrunchie. "So, do you draw?"
"Let me put it to you this way. In fourth grade our teacher had us all draw pictures of springtime. He said my drawing of a groundhog seeing his own shadow was so good, he put it up on the bulletin board."
"So you can draw," Joey surmised.
"Not exactly. It was supposed to be a self-portrait. You know, Andie frolicking in the spring rain, looking at her shadow in a puddle that kind of thing. Needless to say, I took the A and kept my mouth shut."
"Well, I'd say that bodes well for you to ace Advanced Life Drawing." Joey rummaged through her backpack in search of the charcoal and art gum eraser she'd thrown in there that morning.
"I hope," Andie replied. "Actually, I didn't have much choice about this class. The computer messed up my schedule, so it was either Advanced Life Drawing, Introduction to Sports Coaching, or...Lust for Life."
Joey laughed. "Dream on. I know that charcoal is in here someplace...."
"The movie, Joey, the movie," Andieexplained. "Lust for Life? Young, studly Kirk Douglas as Vincent van Gogh? Look up."
Sitting on a stool at the front of the room was a guy who looked eerily like young Kirk Douglas, only hotter.
"I would have to say: Wow."
"My sentiments exactly," Andie agreed. "But unlike van Gogh, he appears to have two ears. Maybe you should get up close and personal so we'll know for sure."
"Thank you, but I'm sure my imagination can fill in any anatomical parts that might be missing." She finally unearthed her charcoal. It was stuck to one of her nephew's pacifiers. "Oh, yuck."
Andie got a tissue out of her backpack and handed it to Joey, her eyes still on the guy across the room. "You think he's the life model?"
"No, I think he decided to wear that bathrobe as a fashion statement."
"That's more Pacey's style," Andie said dryly as she reached for a notebook. She opened it and began checking things off on a list. "Witter's Law #3: Why dress up when you'll just have to undress again at the end of the day?"
Joey opened her pad. "To know him is to love him."
"Unfortunately, I agree," Andie said.
Joey raised her eyebrows. "Unfortunately?"
"Pacey is...well, you know what Pacey is." She tapped her pen thoughtfully against her list. "Let's see, if I grocery shop right after school and the lines aren't too long, I can make something really easy for dinner, and then if I don't have more than an hour of bio homework, that'll still leave me enough time to get to the library for my research paper. Oh no, wait, I have to study for the history quiz, too." She added it to her list.
"Did you schedule in time to wash, brush your teeth, breathe, little things like that?" Joey asked.
"I've decided breathing is a self-indulgent waste of precious time," Andie said, still studying her list.
"I thought Pacey told me you two were going to the movies tonight."
"That was Plan A," Andie admitted, "but Plan A died about eight o'clock last night, when we moved on to Plan B."
"Meaning?" Joey asked.
"Meaning he called, I cancelled." Andie threw her notebook into her backpack. "I don't have time to see a movie. Pacey wasn't exactly happy with me, either. Actually, we had what you could call a minor disagreement."
Andie sighed. "On a seismic scale of one to ten, with ten being California falling into the ocean, I'd say we're talking a six-point-five."
Joey winced. "Ouch."
"I know," Andie agreed. "It's just that Pacey always wants to have fun. I don't have time for fun right now."
Joey nodded. She knew Andie's mom had serious emotional problems, which meant that when her mom went through a bad period, Andie had to pick up the slack at home. It wasn't fair any more than it was fair that her own mom was dead, but it was just the way it was.
"So," Andie went on, "the upshot of this little wrinkle in our relationship was that we okay, I sort of decided that we should both be free to see other people."
"Color me shocked," Joey said. "That's what you want?"
"Yes. No. Well, maybe," Andie said. "It just feels like as much as I'm into Pacey, I don't have time to be his girlfriend right now. At least not the kind of girlfriend Pacey wants me to be. Party hearty and all that."
"Oh, come on, Andie, he wants you more than he wants "
"I break dates with him all the time lately," Andie said, her voice rising. "He's always saying 'relax, Andie, life is too short,' like he doesn't even get what I'm going through. It's just...it's more pressure than I can handle right now."
Andie's fight with Pacey kept playing over and over in her mind, like a tape on endless rewind. Thinking about it was even more exhausting than trying to be his girlfriend.
Andie checked her watch. "Mark Ms. Lewinger tardy. Let's talk about something less serious, okay? Like art."
"Art is serious," Joey said.
"For you. But, then, you have talent. No one would mistake your self-portrait for a groundhog."
Joey smiled. Joey Potter, Artist. She rolled the phrase around in her mind. Could a too tall, formerly awkward, still shy girl from the wrong side of the tracks find her true self as an artist?
That was exactly what seemed to be happening to her. So many people had encouraged her lately even Professor Harris at the college art class she had taken that she was kind of starting to believe it herself.
After all, if Dawson Leery, her best friend since forever, could find himself making films, why couldn't Joey Potter find herself making art? Dawson always said that if you had a passion for something, then...
She stopped her own mind from completing that thought. Why did she spend so much time thinking about what Dawson said, what Dawson thought, what Dawson did?
He isn't your boyfriend anymore, she reminded herself. And even if he were, it's not about him, it's about you. You deserve a passion that is yours alone, one that has nothing to do with Dawson Leery. Or any other guy, for that matter.
She'd told herself this many times before. Which was why it was so maddening that her mind drifted to him so often. Old habits just died hard.
"Students, your attention, please?"
Joey looked up. The principal's secretary stood in the doorway. "Ms. Lewinger has been detained," the secretary said. "She'll be here shortly. Please stay in your seats and talk quietly." She smiled and left.
Immediately a dozen kids left their seats and the room filled with loud, boisterous voices. Someone turned on a radio and rap music filled the air.
Joey closed her eyes. She was no longer at school. Instead, she was at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. In her mind, she could visualize the incredible paintings by Romare Beardon she'd seen there a few months earlier. The exhibit had changed her life. Now, in her free time, she often found herself sketching. The more she drew, the more she loved it. That was the good part. The bad part was, the more she drew, the more critical she was of her own work. She had so much to learn.
"You have to admit, that guy gives new meaning to the word fine," Jen said.
Joey and Andie both craned their necks around. Jen was sitting on Tolliver Heath's desk, her chin in her hand, staring at the male model. Tolliver, a small, nerdy guy who was the best artist in the school, looked as if he had died and gone to heaven.
Jen Lindley was a gorgeous, curvy blonde who had moved to Capeside from New York City. She lived right next door to Dawson with her grandmother. Dawson had been crazed for Jen when she first came to town. It had made Joey insane with jealousy.
That was then, Joey reminded herself. This is now.
"Jen, how would you like it if some guy drooled over you the way you're drooling over him?" Andie chided.
Jen smiled. "That's a joke, right?"
"Okay, so guys drool over you all the time," Andie allowed. "My point is, you are reducing him to a sex object just because he's good-looking and a model."
"I know, I'm terrible," Jen smirked. "Wonder what's under that bathrobe, don't you?" She got up and sauntered across the room to talk to some other classmates.
Andie watched her walk away. "I wonder what it's like to be that self-confident."
"I wouldn't know," Joey admitted.
"Hello, class, so sorry to be late."
Everyone scurried to their seats. The art teacher, Ms. Lewinger, had long, frizzy gray hair, wore a mid-length gray skirt, and Birkenstock sandals Joey was pretty sure she hadn't shaved her legs since Burn Your Bra Day in 1968.
"Whoa, check her out, serious time warp," Andie whispered. "Which way is Woodstock Nation?"
"Welcome to Advanced Life Drawing," Ms. Lewinger said, smiling broadly. "I hope this class will excite, challenge, and nurture the artist that is inside each and every one of you. Since this is an advanced class, we're going to jump right in with figure drawing."
Joey had experience with figure drawing. In fact, Andie's brother, Jack, had once been her model her nude model.
"You okay?" Andie whispered to Joey. "Your face just turned bright red."
"I'm fine," Joey whispered back. She forced the image of a nude Jack out of her mind and concentrated on what the teacher was saying.
"The human body, in its many variations, is beautiful," Ms. Lewinger continued. "As this class progresses, you'll have the opportunity to draw models of many different sizes and shapes. Our first model is a young man from the community college who has a great deal of experience as an artist's model." She nodded at the handsome guy sitting on a stool. "His name is Aaron Poole."
The tall, rangy guy nodded at the students.
"I think I'm in love," Nicole Graff murmured from her seat on the other side of Andie. Redheaded Nicole was a recent transfer student from a private school. Rumor was she'd gotten thrown out for being too wild.
"Aaron, if you would, please," Ms. Lewinger said.
"Hey, if he would, I would," Nicole quipped.
"Would you please be quiet so we can " Andie stopped speaking in mid-sentence. Her jaw hung open.
"What?" Joey asked.
Andie pointed. Joey looked at their model again and she understood why Andie was blushing.
The model had dropped his robe. And what he was wearing underneath it was...nothing. Well, close to nothing, anyway a very tight, racer-style Speedo bathing suit.
"He's...he's..." Andie stammered.
"Andie, get a grip," Joey hissed at her. "What do you think figure drawing is?"
"What I want all of you to do is to execute a quick sketch of Aaron," the teacher said. "Take no more than a half hour. Don't edit yourself; let the art flow from inside of you. I'll circulate around the room to offer guidance, but, remember, in my class there is no right and there is no wrong. Please begin."
Joey picked up a piece of charcoal and studied the model. She refused to be embarrassed. Nothing could be as embarrassing as the time Jack had posed for her and his towel had fallen off. Since then, she'd drawn nudes for Professor Harris's class and drawn them well. Andie, however, still had her jaw hanging open.
"Close your mouth, you're catching flies, McPhee," Nicole said.
Andie clamped her jaw shut, but her eyes still looked as if they were going to pop out of her head.
"Oh, come on," Joey chided her. "You have a brother. It's not like you are totally unfamiliar with male anatomy."
"Brothers don't count as male anatomy," Andie said.
"Anyway, he's wearing that horrible little Eurotrash bathing suit thing," Joey added. "He's not even naked."
"He should be," Nicole said, a wicked gleam in her eye. "How's about if we vote on his stripping?"
Joey just shook her head and began to draw, lightly sketching in the line of the model's back, trying to personalize her work as Professor Harris had taught her.
Andie leaned closer to Joey. "Just out of curiosity," she began, "how many naked guys have you seen in your life?"
"Do paintings count?" Joey muted the line she'd just drawn with her art gum eraser.
"Come on, how many?" Andie pressed. "Not counting my brother under any circumstances, because that thought is just too gross for words. Twenty? Four? Any of them named Dawson?"
Joey sketched in one muscular arm. "I grew up with Dawson. Of course I've seen him naked."
"Yeah, but I mean since he...grew. Up, I mean."
"Draw, Andie," Joey said.
Andie picked up a pencil and began to sketch. "You think Jen has seen Dawson naked?"
"What Jen has or hasn't seen of Dawson does not concern me in the least."
"You need some work on those lying skills." Andie added a few more lines to her drawing and sighed. "This is starting to look way too groundhog-esque."
Joey tuned Andie out and lost herself in her drawing.
"That's really good," Nicole said, leaning over Joey's drawing.
Joey looked up, startled. She glanced at the clock. She'd been drawing for twenty minutes, but it had seemed like two. She covered her drawing with her hand.
"Oh, sorry," Nicole said. "I was just on my way to the john. You know, your drawing made Mister Model over there look like someone else. Who could it be?" she mused. "Oh, I know. Dawson Leery!" She headed out the door.
Joey looked down at her drawing. Then she looked up at the model. His face morphed into Dawson's. Dawson. Sitting there. Naked. Almost.
Joey blinked twice. The model turned back into Aaron.
He was now staring directly back at Joey.
His gorgeous eyes met hers.
And then he winked at her.