No one else at the Dansbury College Pre-College Young Artists’ Retreat had curated their wardrobe. That should have been a red flag. Many of the girls wore the same cheek-exposing cut-off shorts every day. These people didn’t care about finding themselves while staring intensely at the sun dappled lake. They only cared about smoking weed and having sex in the places that Anna had deemed appropriate for deep, self-searching contemplation. Maybe selves were overrated, and best left to their own devices. Anna would continue to dust her father’s books while wearing solemnly colored separates with her indoor Moccasins while her errant self did it’s thing.
Group critiques were utter torture for our heroine. How could she find nice things to say about self portraits that incorporate real hair or poems that thinly veiled the subject of genitals with references to food? Constructive criticism was even worse. It was like sprinkling glitter on shit. Some kids treated the critiques like therapy sessions, tearing up at the struggles that motivated their work.
“I just want people to know,” a creature called Amber blubbered, “what it’s like to feel so cut off from the world! I felt so… so claustrophobic when I lost my iPhone!” The mere thought of this tragedy made Amber hyperventilate, and she was comforted a precariously tied bundle of extroversion known as Carrie. Anna found that there was an excess of females at the retreat. The boys were equally vapid, but at least they could recognize that her prose was not dry, it was a cool nod to Hemingway.
The only soul that was worth connecting to was that of Jacob Miles, their trusty mentor. He was a dark eyed, scruffy faced, English-teaching God. His vision was to liberate bright young people from the chains of their high school insecurities. One afternoon, when he saw Anna sulking alone under a tree near the lake, he suggested that they go for a walk. Anna accepted his invitation with a dose of excitement that was almost lethal as it fought against her attempts at nonchalance. They reached a clearing with a fallen log and took a seat.
“I know you’ve got a lot going on in there,” Jacob said, reaching out to pet Anna’s dark head, “You’ve got to share it! We need your thoughts to enrich our collective!”
“I…” Anna wanted to tell Jacob that her thoughts were limited edition treasures, not cereal box trinkets for the consumption of the masses, but she didn’t want to sound like a bitch.
“Eventually I want you to open up for yourself, but why don’t you start out by doing it for me?” His smile searched her eyes, and his hand reached her thigh. They walked back to camp after this brief but searing moment. For the rest of the evening, Anna’s entire existence shifted from her head to the point of their contact on her thigh.
Anna’s obsession with Jacob Miles was not new. He liked to sit in the local coffee shop that Anna frequented reading Fascinating Books and looking hunky. Anna noticed Jacob because of his cherry red boots. A ruse of dropping her napkin near his foot allowed her to observe the boots’ name brand. When she looked the brand up on Google, she found that it was obscure and European, the best kind.
The Obscure European Boots breached the cafe’s doorway on a Tuesday afternoon shortly after summer break had begun. Anna noted, while turning the page of book about precocious young folks solving the mystery of a stolen painting, that their owner was posting a flyer on the cafe’s bulletin board. She would have looked at the flyer on her way out if the boots hadn’t found their way to the foot of her table. Jacob smiled and told her that she should come to the flyer’s heralded event, the Retreat for Young Artists.
“I’m not an artist,” Anna said.
“It’s not just for visual artists,” Jacob’s tan hand raked his dark curls, “It’s for writers too.”
“I’m not a writer.”
“But you’re always scribbling,” Jacob pressed, pointing at an incriminating composition book. Anna insisted that she just responded to the books she read and related them to her experience. Jacob argued that that was what all art was about: response to other art and life. Anna didn’t know why she was tripping. She mentally agreed to the event as soon as it was proposed to her, as she would follow those boots to the end of the earth.
She wouldn’t, however, follow the boots’ owner when he shed them to go skinny dipping with the majority of the Young Artists in the rain. The necessity of Anna’s retreat from the retreat was confirmed when a girl who painted pictures of parties she’d attended breached the surface of the rain speckled water and raised her voice to sing that “Tonight We Are Young, Carry Me Home” song. Total attrition dropped it’s pendulous foot when Jacob joined the chorus.
Eventually, Anna would walk to the gas station that the group had passed in their bus shortly before arriving at the lake. At the moment, however, the gravity of her thoughts rooted her to the side of the highway. She was a writer, and she was doomed. Being a writer meant that you had to dig up unearthed corners, past threadbare tropes like the myth of youth, to discover uncharted territory. She had to lure people to these forlorn frontiers in order to reveal their beauty. This would be a lonely process.
A bright, shiny pink bus pulled up and stopped on the shoulder of the highway where Anna was sitting. As a consolation for making her feel more lonely than she’d ever felt in life, the writer in her allowed her to board the bus. As she boarded, she noticed a girl from school named Wendy. She was sitting with a solemn looking young man who had blue hair.