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“That’s it?” Alex tried not to let her voice betray the disappoint that washed over her. “I mean, it’s really, really unfair,” she added, hoping she sounded sympathetic.
It’s not that Alex didn’t care that Jason had been suspended from high school in the middle of his junior year—it’s just that the reason was ironically predictable. Of course, the only kind of trouble Jason would get into would be the sort that could be categorized as an injustice. It made perfect sense that he’d be one of those unfortunate honor roll kids victimized by the rigid zero tolerance public school policies that you read about in the newspaper from time to time: the Boy Scout who accidently forgot to take his pocket knife out of his backpack after the campfire, the dutiful grandson found with a stray butter knife in the back of his car after helping Grandma move over the weekend. Only Jason was the community-minded volunteer busted with a bin full of scissors he and his mom had used during an arts and crafts workshop at a homeless center.
No friend of nonsensical laws, Alex couldn’t help but feel outraged. But she also couldn’t help the feeling of inadequacy that was creeping back into her mind now that she realized that Jason still had no real flaws. Before the disappointment had a chance to sink in, she noticed that Jason was shaking his head. “If only that were it,” he said. “There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t wish that was—” Jason’s stopped his sentence abruptly as he swerved around an obstruction in the road and skidded the car to a stop.
“You OK, Lexie?”
“Yeah, but what was that?”
Jason grabbed the rearview mirror and squinted into it. “Yep. Just what I thought. Come on, Lexie, it’s time for a photo shoot.” Jason exited the car, immediately opening the back door and pulling out an enormous black bag. “See?” he said, pointing to the hump in the middle of the road. “That’s got to be the biggest turtle I’ve ever seen.”
“Wow.” Alex said. “A turtle? That big? No way!”
“Hey,” Jason said, approaching the big, brown bump, “I know you’re probably just fast enough to get to the other side of the road before the next car passes on this country road, but let’s not take any chances.” He swung his bag across his back and bent down to pick up the turtle, which he could lift with two hands and obviously more effort than anticipated. Holding the turtle, he stood in the road and glanced around.
“What are you doing?” Alex asked.
“Assessing the light,” Jason answered, before taking a step toward a grassy area on the opposite side of the road from where their car was parked.
Alex followed him as he as hauled the turtle toward the open area, heavy bag on his back and the weight of the turtle in front forcing his gait into a doubled-over waddle.
Jason placed the turtle carefully on the ground and began pulling equipment out of his bag with pro-level efficiency. He twisted a lens onto a camera body as he sank to the ground snapping rapid-fire shots the whole way down. Alex lost count of the number of angles at which Jason approached the turtle: crouching front views, camera-tilted side shots, and extensive set of close-ups captured while he was lying on his stomach mere inches from the bored-looking tortoise. Jason shot frame after frame, stopping only to switch out various filters on the arsenal of lenses he swapped on and off his camera body.
Before watching Jason at work, Alex would have listed photography among her hobbies. She enjoyed snapping photos of her friends and activities and even inanimate objects that caught her eye. She liked testing out the various effects programmed into her point- and- shoot digital camera, and considered herself pretty adept at knowing when to use the “sunset” mode over the “party” setting. But watching Jason effortlessly handle equipment she didn’t even recognize convinced her that when it came to photography, she was operating at approximately Pre-K level.
“Hey, Lexie, why not get into a few of these shots?” Jason asked, motioning her in the direction of the turtle.
Alex slowly approached the reptile, crouching stiffly about three feet away from where it was idling inching its way across the grass. Jason chuckled. “I was thinking of something a little more fun, “ he said. “Why not get behind it,” he suggested.
Alex moved closer to the turtle, heeding Jason’s suggestion to approach it from behind. “These guys have some pretty vicious chompers, but their necks are only long enough to use them on annoyances in close proximity,” he said.
Alex sat on the ground, legs splayed on either side of the turtle. Jason instantly began snapping pictures. Alex got brave and actually leaned on the turtle’s shell at one point, but that move signaled an end to the turtle’s patience. He snapped into the air and began to waddle away. Jason snapped a couple parting shots, before sliding his lenses and filters back into his well-organized camera bag.
“Can I see?” Alex asked, reaching toward the camera hanging from Jason’s neck.
“Not yet,” Jason answered.
“Why not? Come on, I want to see!”
“Then you’ll have to be patient,” Jason laughed.
“Because we have a lot of work to do first.”
“Work? What do you mean?”
“We’ve got to spend a couple hours in the darkroom after dinner tonight if you want to see these pics,” Jason explained.
“You used film?” Alex blurted. “Why?”
“Because it’s much more fun. You’ll see. Patience, Lexie, patience.”
Alex gave the camera strap a gentle tug. “Errr…” she growled playfully. “Patience isn’t my gift.”
“Then the darkroom is the perfect place for you to learn a valuable life skill,” Jason answered with a laugh.
Alex and Jason continued a light, friendly banter as the got into the car and headed back down the road. Indeed, the encounter with the turtle had lightened the mood to the point where Alex felt uncomfortable reintroducing the unfinished subject of Jason’s suspension. She was dying to know what ever bit of information was still left in his story, but it felt wrong for her to jump back in to the conversation, especially considering her lack of patience had already served as a topic.
It wasn’t long before Jason but her out of her misery. “So, Lexie, we have unfinished business to discuss.”
“Yeah, I was just thinking that,” Alex said.
The sense of relief that flooded through her veins lasted as long as it took for Jason to open his mouth and say, “So what exactly was going on in that Red Cross class yesterday?”
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