September 23, 2001
“Oh my god, change it.”
Grant turned the dial on the radio, turning off the offending station. “You don’t like this song?” he asked.
I shook my head. “Hate everything about it,” I said. “I hate their entire discography, actually.”
Grant gave me a look of confusion before focusing his attention on the windshield, probably deciding that it wasn’t worth asking me about.
No questions. About anything.
Though there was a time that I could sit through a Smashing Pumpkins song without wanting to puke, those days were long gone. And though there was a reason for this, it wasn’t anything I could share with Grant, much like my small breakdown in the cemetery the previous day.
Luckily for me, Grant didn’t seem to be one for intrusive questions. He didn’t ask, I didn’t tell. I was beginning to think we made a good team.
After a two hour drive from the motel in Richmond, we arrived in Washington D.C.
Before long, we were driving past the White House. It was more than surreal to see the building I had seen so many times on TV right in front of me. Despite recent events, it stood stoic, just as elegant and put together as usual.
“Look,” I told Grant. “There’s the President’s place.” I looked down at the steering wheel, muttering the last part to myself. “Wonder if he’s planning a war in there.”
If Grant heard this, he gave no indication of such. Instead, he assumed his role as the typical tourist. “Wanna go out there and try to get a picture?” he asked.
I shook my head. “Maybe we’ll try and come see the place later. For now, we’re focusing on finding lunch,” I said. “And by the way, don’t focus too much on getting pictures anywhere. That’s a new rule: take as few pictures as possible.”
“Why can’t we take pictures?” Judging by the sound of his voice, Grant wasn’t keen on our new rule.
“For dignity’s sake,” I replied. “You know who take a ton of pictures at monuments?”
“People who like pictures?” Grant asked.
I shook my head. “Tourists,” I said. “And no one likes a tourist.”
Once again, despite priding himself on his own patience, Grant managed to test mine. “What does it matter if anyone likes us? We’re here for ourselves, aren’t we?”
“When did I say anything about anyone else?” I asked. “Maybe I don’t like tourists.”
“But you are one.”
I sighed. Apparently I had made the assumption that Grant respected my silence too soon. “Do you ever shut up?”
To my surprise, Grant didn’t seem to be intimidated by my snappish attitude. Maybe he was getting to know me a bit too well.
“You know what I think, April?” His tone was different now, serious in a way I hadn’t heard from Grant before.
I tightened my grip around the wheel, not responding in hopes that he’d let it go.
Of course, he didn’t.
“I think,” he continued, “that there’s a reason that you make these rules.” Though I couldn’t take my eyes away from the road, I knew that he was staring at me, green eyes full of an undefinable emotion as he tried to find his way under my skin. “I think that you’re hiding something.”
Approaching a stoplight, I pressed my foot down hard against the brake. The car lurched to a halt.
Hands shaking slightly, I pointed a finger at Grant. Careful not to meet his eyes, I opened my mouth to speak.
“Maybe,” I started, voice trembling, “you should mind your own business.”
After a tense fast food lunch and a twenty minute drive, Grant and I arrived at our first planned destination.
Though I didn’t want to look at him at this point, I couldn’t help but notice how Grant seemed to light up when the building came into view. His reaction this time differed greatly from when we had arrived at the Poe Museum and the cemetery, as if he somehow recognized it.
Apparently having forgotten our earlier conflict, he turned to me, an all-too-wide smile on his face. “Is this what I think it is?”
“Depends.” I yanked the key out of the ignition. “Why don’t you go find out?”
His face fell as he seemed to realize what a foul mood I was in. Without another word, he exited the car.
Knowing I couldn’t give up on my mission to get out there just because I felt a bit pissy, I had no choice but to follow him.
The National Gallery of Art lives up to its name as the country’s most impressive art museum. Divided between two massive buildings on Constitution Avenue, the mere sight of it is enough to send any art lover into a fit of excitement.
I couldn’t help but feel a bit enlivened at the sight of the hulking West building, its gleaming glass sculptures and spouting fountains adding to the grandiosity that made it a national landmark.
Upon walking inside, my appreciation of the museum only intensified. Sunlight pooled onto the sleek black floor from the oculus on the ceiling, creating a circle of warmth in the otherwise cool space. In the middle of the floor stood a large rotunda fountain. A tall metal sculpture of a man stood at the top, seeming to point up towards the sky.
Startled, I whipped around to face the source of the voice in my ear. Surely enough, Grant stood close beside me, staring at me with a smirk that made him look irritatingly satisfied.
“Excuse me?” I asked.
“Mercury,” he repeated. “That’s the name of the statue.”
My blood ran cold. He actually knew something about this place? How was that even possible?
Determined not to let my surprise show, I focused my gaze on the statue without speaking.
To both my shock and dismay, Grant continued speaking. “It belonged to a count from Rome in the 1700s,” he said. “It was done in brass, by an anonymous artist. It changed hands in inheritance until the gallery opened in the 1930s.”
He gazed up at the statue as if everything he just said meant nothing, a wistful smile on his face. I brushed past him to the next exhibit.
Grant’s enthusiasm did not wane whatsoever throughout the course of the visit. Though part of me didn’t blame him as we passed countless iconic pieces I had previously only seen in books, the more obvious his excitement became, the harder I worked to keep mine concealed.
Seeing a Van Gogh piece in the flesh, this proved to be quite challenging.
“This one’s called “Potato Eaters”,” Grant said, pointing toward the lithograph with flushed cheeks and an ear-to-ear grin. “Doesn’t that sound ridiculous? “Potato Eaters?” ”
“Sure,” I replied, staring at the drawing of commoners gathered around a table with my arms crossed.
If the two of us weren’t walking on thin ice earlier in the day, we certainly were now. As hard as I tried, I still couldn’t shake the moment in front of the fountain. As if recognizing the gallery itself wasn’t enough, the amount of information Grant knew about the rotunda alone really freaked me out. He couldn’t even remember his own surname, and yet he remembered specific details about some obscure art? It was unexpected, to say the least.
We moved on to another Van Gogh piece, his famous self-portrait. Grant had something to say about that one, too.
“He painted this one while he was in an insane asylum.” He pointed at Van Gogh’s somber face. “Notice how we can only see one ear. You know, he did multiple self-portraits, but he said that this one captured his true character…”
Though I wanted to grab him by the shoulders and shake him, scream ‘how do you know this stuff?’ in his face, I remained poker faced as I made my way through the rows of paintings. I could only hope he wouldn’t have uncomfortable specifics concerning those, too.
By the time we left the gallery, we had wasted the entire afternoon. At six o’clock, the sunset burned bright as we walked back to the car from the East building.
Once I began to head towards our next stop, however, the sky suddenly clouded over, a downpour seeming to materialize out of nowhere. Though having to drive through a torrent of rain significantly worsened my frustration, part of me was relieved that I wouldn’t have to deal with Grant any more than was necessary, giving me a bit of peace after the disquieting events of the day.
As we continued to drive, however, this seemed to be unlikely.
Every decent, relatively cost-effective hotel we drove by seemed to be occupied. Even after taking a break for another meal, every parking lot seemed to be filled to the brim with cars, occupants scurrying inside with umbrellas over their heads.
Finally, the rain and settling darkness did me in, leaving me to resign in a library parking lot.
“I can’t drive in this rain,” I told Grant, breaking the silent treatment I was giving him. “So it looks like we’ll be settling here for tonight.”
A street light shone through the window, illuminating Grant’s frown. “Is that legal?”
“Worst case scenario, they’ll think we’re homeless,” I replied, turning the car off. “And if they have any hearts at all, they won’t call the cops.”
“You just want to go to sleep now?” Grant asked.
“There’s nothing else to do,” I replied. “So why not?”
“Okay then.” He paused for a moment before speaking again. “Do you mind if I get in the back? It isn’t very comfortable up here.”
He opened the door and navigated his way through the rain, opening the door again to climb into the backseat.
I leaned back in the driver’s seat while he tried to get comfortable, closing my eyes. Though I was most definitely mentally exhausted from the day’s events, I wasn’t tired enough to fall asleep immediately. I considered the sleeping pills in my suitcase, though a voice in the back of my mind told me not to take them until Grant was asleep. The last thing I needed was for him to have any more dirt on my personal life.
After shuffling around for a while, Grant spoke again, his voice quieter now. “Goodnight, April.”
I kept my eyes closed, pretending to have already fallen asleep.
As silence wrapped itself around us, I leaned my head against the window. Feeling the coldness against my skin, the falling rain steady like a heartbeat, I sighed. I reached for my chest, happy to find the pendant still resting against it. I tugged at it lightly, willing myself to be a bit more like the scales. Stable. Balanced.
Focusing on Earth’s constant push and pull, I didn’t even notice when sleep began to overtake me.