Here’s an excerpt from Chapter 1 of the second book of the Painting Sage series
Four Months Later
“STOP! HOLD THAT BUS! WAIT FOR ME!!!”
Fierce, without a single moment’s ounce of hesitation, I pounded my legs furiously against the hard, cold concrete as fast as I could, propelling my body forward with all the strength I had to give. Swish, swish. Back and forth. Back and forth. The inner music of my own heavy breathing danced recklessly, relentlessly, throughout the corridors my mind.
With heavy, almost onerous plods, my messenger bag thumped up and down against my body, whacking my side in a series of rhythmic, repetitive, slapping thuds. With the entire weight of my left arm, I bore down against the bag, cumbersome, but securing it tightly as best I could, hoping to end those aggravating—and kinda a bit painful—smacks right in their tracks.
In my right fist, I clenched a cup of coffee. It was the ridiculously overpriced kind, purchased from one of those obscure, yet uber trendy, hole-in-the-wall coffee shops that had seemingly sprung up on Houston Street overnight. Farrah, one of my closest friends, had somehow managed to wrangle me inside the damn place, and I quickly found myself regretting it. With each motion made as I sprinted down the street, just teeny, tiny droplets of liquid spurted out from the lid’s opening, like lopsided spots of cocoa colored confetti, dotting the pavement below.
New York City’s infamous—indomitable—rush hour traffic hadn’t quite started, but there were so many people. Swarms of them, countless, simply overwhelming the senses. They had me surrounded. Oblivious and immersed within their own little individual anxieties, dreams, and destinations, they somehow merged together, becoming a single impenetrable force, one with the seemingly endless dance called pedestrian traffic. I dodged, ducked, and eventually even shoved strangers aside as I whipped across the sidewalk—gaining closer and closer—in hot pursuit of the crosstown bus that I had just missed moments earlier, by literally seconds.
I cried out once again, pleading for the bus to stop. But eliciting only a few stares (some puzzled, others annoyed—mostly from tourists not accustomed to the crazed rantings and ravings of New Yorkers), I watched in dismay as the bus drifted farther and farther, away from my grasp.
“SAGE!” I heard Farrah’s voice ring out behind me as she struggled to keep up with my mad dash across 42nd Street. But with my gaze still fixated on that bus, I only willed my legs to move even faster. I wasn’t about to give up just yet.
“SAGE!” Farrah screamed a second time, but I still didn’t stop. “You do realize this is New York City, don’t you?” she heaved. “There’s going to be another bus pulling up. Probably in ten minutes!” Farrah finally caught up and kept pace, running alongside me. “Where did you learn to run like this? I’m at the gym every day and I can barely keep up with you! You’re like some sort of girl-power superhero!”
I certainly didn’t feel like one, though. Defeated, I watched the bus go as it zipped farther and farther away, before disappearing from my field of vision completely. Slowing down to a gradual jog, then eventual stop, I uttered a few angry, choice expletives under my breath. Then, overtaken by a sudden surge of impulsivity, I swung my leg to the right, kicking the nearest sidewalk corner trash can with all my might.
“Woah! Sage! Chill!” Farrah looked shocked. I knew it was a bit rash, even for me.
“Sorry. I used to run cross country in high school. Remember? And college. I thought I could catch up with it.” Used to. There were a whole lot of used to’s before I had graduated from the College of St. Luke that previous spring. Floating somewhere between apartment hunting, countless shifts at my now-alma mater’s campus dining hall, and insufferable girl drama that was digging into my last nerve, I felt lost. To think, it was only four months since I had gazed out into the vast world’s unknown, spread my novice wings, and fallen flat on my metaphorical bottom.
Oh yeah. And then there was the whole part about being bipolar and managing that on a daily basis.
Yes. My name is Sage Sloane, millennial extraordinaire, and I am bipolar. Actually bipolar. Not the insensitive slang term thrown around loosely to describe highly unpredictable people, as my mom would say. To be a little more accurate, it would be better to say that I am managing bipolar disorder because to use bipolar as an adjective just isn’t accurate. It’s not an adjective, like fluffy puppy or pink bunny. It doesn’t define who I am, what makes me … well … me.
Farrah slowly shook her head from side to side, obviously still in disbelief. She then gave me one of those looks. It involved a sort of tightening of her lips in conjunction with an eyebrow-raise that clearly conveyed the message: What are we ever going to do with you, Sage? Nope. Farrah didn’t have to utter a single word. Just shoot that look. I read her loud and clear.
“What?” I asked, shrugging my shoulders in mock defense.
Placing her hands on her hips and transitioning into full-on-mother-mode (which was somewhat ironic considering that, for as long as I’d known Farrah, her own mom was usually MIA), she lectured, “Sage. We can just walk to your dad’s from here at this point. I don’t think he’s going to get upset with you. You said it yourself. He’s busy with all kinds of meetings, especially today. So what if we’re a few minutes late? It’s Friday afternoon. Everyone at FEADURHEDZ is probably dying to go home anyway if they haven’t already.” Her tone then took on a corny approach. “We can do this! Girl-power superheroes!” she exclaimed, raising her hand for a high-five.
Ugh. That was regrettable. I stared at her blankly in return.
What Farrah had neglected to include in her impromptu motivational speech (even though I knew she was thinking it) was that it was an unpaid internship. I wasn’t in danger of getting canned, regardless of how late I showed up. Unless I did something super outrageous, like pull the fire alarm or toss the remainder of my fancy-pants coffee on the CEO’s laptop keyboard, I’d be just fine.
The thing was, I wanted the internship to become more, much more. Even if the end goal wasn’t necessarily gaining full-time employment at FEADURHEDZ itself, I could learn so much more about photography (and the social media world in general) there, than at any campus dining hall. Photography was my life and I needed HEDZ in my corner. Somehow.
Besides. I didn’t plow through four years of college so that I could earn minimum wage at some job that bored me to tears.
“You don’t get it, Farrah. Dane is going to have my head if we don’t get there on time! It’s bad enough they’re already cutting down my hours at the photography department. I don’t need Dad’s personal assistant nipping at my heels as well. You don’t know Dane like I do. He’s like this … wacked-out force not to be reckoned with. I do not want to end up on his bad side!”
But Farrah just cocked her head a little bit to the side, like a curious but befuddled young puppy trying to decipher people-talk. Unable to quite grasp the full weight of my words, Farrah stood there silently, awaiting further explanation. And honestly, when I took into consideration that she was a councilman’s daughter, currently being groomed for New York City society greatness, Farrah’s reaction really didn’t surprise me. Although quite knowledgeable and worldly when it came to many diverse topics, common sense did not exactly fall within her range of expertise. Enrolled in graduate school for art history (of all things—art history), and not an ounce of student debt to impede her, Farrah didn’t have to worry about real world problems. So, on occasion, I’d have to break down various facts of life for her—in terms she might understand.
I took a few seconds to plan my delivery, carefully choosing words that might resonate with her more clearly.
“Farrah, it’s like a ladder. And I’m here,” I pointed all the way down to the pavement below. “I’m zero. I’m lucky to even have an opportunity to show up and use their Wi-Fi. But I want to get here,” I motioned somewhere between the ground and my hip. “In photography. Consistently. With pay. It doesn’t even have to be a lot of money. Just enough to pay rent and eat lunch every day. And if I want to get to that level, even though it’s not a very high level to begin with, I can’t show up late. Not now. Not ever.”
“But your dad—”
“Even though my dad is here,” I interrupted, motioning higher, about shoulder level, “there are people here,” I stood on my tip-toes and reached way over my head, “who will never, ever let me move up the ladder if they think I’m slacking.”
Farrah nodded her head instantly, her eyes beaming as if to excitedly declare: I got it! Only she could manage to present first-world ignorance in a way that was non-confrontational, to the point of almost coming across as endearing. It was truly no surprise that her father was one of the city’s most popular—and successful—politicians. “Okay, I get it!” she finally said.
“Are we meeting my roommates for dinner and drinks after this? Shaina’s cousin knows the bartender.”
Cue the record scratch. Annnnnnd, we were back to La-La-Farrah-Land.
“I don’t know …” I began.
“Oh come onnnnnnn, Sage. New Peruvian restaurant. Just opened on Houston. I overheard some classmates talking about it the other day.”
“We were just on Houston, Farrah. You even … coerced me into buying this ridiculously expensive coffee. It didn’t even taste fancier than the normal stuff.” I held up the cup at eye level, as evidence, and lightly shook it back and forth. I had surrendered an awful lot of coffee to the sidewalk while chasing after that stupid bus.
Farrah waved her hand dismissively. “Just think about going out tonight before you automatically pooh-pooh the idea.”
“Did you seriously just use pooh-pooh in that context? What is this? 19th century New Port, Rhode Island?”
“Sage! Anyway, let’s get a move on. We’re just standing here like jerks. You can’t be late, right? Climbing on up that cooperate/creative ladder, and you said so yourself. Got a way to go. Come on!”
“Okay,” I relented. There was no point in arguing over dinner plans and, well, how I just wasn’t in the mood for any of it … especially dealing with some of Farrah’s uppity and annoying grad school friends. Bleh. And I couldn’t very well afford to just stand there on the sidewalk any longer. I decided to just make something up to appease Farrah for the time being. The good ol’: ‘Tell em’ what they want to hear, then do what you want anyway’ strategy. “Fine. Let’s walk. And I’ll at least think about dinner.”
And so, we were off.
We marched up north for a while before swinging west to Madison Avenue, over to Fifth, and we eventually reached Avenue of the Americas, on foot, struggling upstream against the obstinate current of the crowds, cars that dared to defy red traffic lights, and the occasional bicycler daringly weaving through it all.
I couldn’t help but marvel at all that surrounded us. Even though I had practically lived and breathed the city almost my entire life, there was still something unmistakably alluring about its hum, rhythm, and unpredictable synergy that invoked this sense pure energy and infinite happiness from deep within me. In those moments, we became a part of the noise, the chaos, the commotion. One with the cacophony that belonged to New York City. There simply wasn’t anywhere else like it in the whole entire world. I knew deep down that it was my truly my perfect place. My home.