The Art Project

The Art Project

A Story by Jacob Clifford

A tale of friendship and bonding.


The Art Project



Mr. Barfkus addressed the class, telling us in his usual dry way of our assignment. We were to form groups and paint something of our choosing. Before he even ended his sentence, the classroom was seized by excited whispers. Their excitement was understandable; Mr. Barfkus’s art classes were normally a boring business, endured in isolation or with the people sitting around us who may or may not be our friends, and with very specific instructions. Today was a chance to choose our partners and our subject. Lord knew what had gotten into Barfkus, but they weren’t about to complain. This was the opportunity of a lifetime. There was just one problem.

            As the classroom erupted with noise as kids ran to their friends and hurried to the poster board and the paint and knocked over a chair or two in their haste, I stayed right where I was. The second-grade class hadn’t developed cliques yet, but the foundations were already forming. Most of the kids around  me would grow into jocks and preps, the kind who preferred likeminded company. That left no one to work with the small, shy Asian kid who’d made no friends since he moved here, an achingly long two months ago.

            I waited for Barfkus to realize we had a straggler and assign me to some unwanting group. Mrs. Lamar always did that, in our homeroom class. After a minute, Barfkus did notice, but he spared me the awkwardness. “You can work individually, if you wish, or in groups no larger than four,” he called over the chatter. “You have until the end of the day on Friday.” He was careful not to single me out, but a few kids took notice anyway and gave me strange looks.

            I took the carrot and went to retrieve my supplies. As I passed the rows of tables, a girl caught my eye. She sat alone, with no paint or paper in front of her. Could it be? Another person as lonely as I? What was her name again? Vivi, or Vivian, or something? I was sure it started with a V. Before I knew what I was doing, I found myself standing in front of her. She looked up. She had dull brown eyes, just like mine. That made me feel better. Most of the kids here were blonde and had light eyes, making me stand out more than I already did.

            “. . . Hi,” I ventured. I swallowed. “Do you want to work together?”

            She regarded me for a few seconds. I wanted to slap myself. Of course she didn’t want to work with me. Why would she? Anyone in her right mind would rather work alone than be embarrassed by working with me.

            “Okay,” she said with a nod.

I stood there, stunned. Was it really that easy? Just walk up and say hi, and suddenly you’re partners? I realized I’d been staring and closed my mouth, averted my eyes, and sat next to her. A few seconds of silence followed.

I cleared my throat. She looked at me. “What’s your name?”

What was my name? Was I really so forgettable? “Green.”

She furrowed her brow. “That’s a weird name.”

“My mom give it to me. She doesn’t speak English that good, but she wanted me to have an English name so I wouldn’t stand out.” If only Mom had been smart enough to realize naming your kid after a color was a stupid idea. I felt bad for being angry, but she wasn’t making my life any easier.

“It’s still a weird name,” the girl said.

My face got warm. “Well, what’s your name?” I asked this very rude girl.


I wanted to tell her that her name was stupid too, but it was actually sort of pretty. I mumbled something and picked at my fingernails. A few more seconds of silence.

“So,” I prompted, “what do you want to do?” When she didn’t respond, I clarified. “For the painting, I mean.”

She shrugged. Maybe this whole socializing-with-other-kids thing wasn’t so simple after all. I was about to suggest we paint a house, like the kids at the table next to us were doing, when her face lit up. I could practically see the lightbulb over her head.

“A farm.”

“A farm?”

She nodded. “My uncle lives on a farm. I’ve been to it before. We can paint that.”

Not having any better ideas, I simply nodded. “How do we start?”

Veronica furrowed her thick eyebrows as she thought it over. Without saying a word, she stood, grabbed a piece of poster board, and came back. “We can put the barn here,” she said, indicating with her fingers. “There can be a little window here for the chickens. And then a cow downstairs. And a pen over here, and a . . .”

She rattled off a list of farm animals and their homes faster than I could keep up. Just when I thought my head would explode, she stopped and looked at me, as if for confirmation. I nodded again and tried to smile encouragingly.

Without missing a beat, she outlined the rest of the farm, fingers moving like blurs. I didn’t get half of what she said, but I had the general gist of what she wanted. I felt a bit guilty at having nothing to contribute; I unfortunately inherited my mother’s lack of creativity. But Veronica more than made up for it.

When she’d talk my ear off a bit more, she stood up mid-sentence and walked toward Mr. Barfkus’s desk for the paints. She picked up a red jar and returned. The whole time, she kept talking, seemingly to no one. The air must have been a good listener

Veronica sat down and popped off the cap, and Mrs. Lamar’s voice rang out across the classroom. “Alright, class! Let’s get things wrapped up here and head back to the homeroom.”

Veronica frowned and puffed her cheeks. We had all week to complete the project, and while I was in no particular hurry, she was clearly anxious. I wondered how good of an artist she was. If she was half as skilled as she was passionate, we would be getting an easy A.


A couple hours later, I was sitting near the front doors, staring out the window and waiting for my babysitter Max to come pick me up. At the sound of footsteps, I turned and saw Veronica walking towards me. She sat in the chair next to mine. There was a short, charged pause.

“I’ve been thinking,” she said philosophically. “We should have a goat.”

“What?” I said, more so out of surprise than lack of understanding.

She nodded. “Every farm has to have a goat,” she said firmly.

After I overcame my surprise, I thought about it. “Won’t it get lonely?” It sounded stupid, but I wanted to contribute something.

“She,” Veronica corrected. “A mama goat. She’s going to have a bunch of baby goat kids.”

A mama goat. Why not? “The dad?” I asked.

“France,” she answered.

“. . . The dad is in France?”


 “Why is he in France?”

“That’s where my daddy is.” Before I had a chance to ask, Veronica stormed ahead. “They can have a little pen all to themselves. And the pigs can live next to them . . .”

My ears started ringing.

Eventually, the door opened and Max came through, smiling and raising her eyebrows at us. She glanced at Veronica, then looked back at me. She extended her hand. “Ready to go?” I took her hand and let her lead me out. As we exited, I looked back at Veronica and waved. She waved back, bored.


As soon as Barfkus released us to our own devices, Veronica rushed towards the paint, grabbing a half dozen colors before hurrying back. Barfkus gave her a disapproving look, but she didn’t notice. He let out an annoyed breath and strode over. He put his hand on Veronica’s shoulder just as she was about to touch the brush to the paper. She jumped.

            “Young lady,” he drawled, “do you really think you need all of those colors right now?”

            She nodded vigorously. “Oh yes. A farm has a lot of colors. We�" ”

            “I asked you if you needed them all now. Leave some for the other kids to use, then go back later and get the other colors you need.” Wordlessly, he scooped up the red, blue, purple, and black cans and returned them to his desk.

            Veronica puffed out her cheeks. Her face turned pink, then red, then purple. I feared she would faint. Finally, she let it out with a loud fwoosh. She remained motionless, seemingly content to do nothing but pout all class.

            “What should we start on?” I asked.

            She stayed still for a few seconds before sighing and tapping a spot on the paper. “We can start on the barn.”

            I looked at the two remaining color we had: brown and green. “You want a brown barn?” I guessed. “Why not red?”

            She frowned like the suggestion offended her. “My uncle’s barn isn’t red.” As if that settled everything, she picked up a brush, dipped it in the brown paint, and, at long last, touched it to the paper.

            I watched on in horror as she smeared paint across the bottom. I grabbed her wrist, acting mostly out of instinct. She gaped at me.

            “What are you doing?” she asked.

            “What are you doing? Barns don’t look like blobs.”

            She scrunched her face up. “That’s not a blob!” she said, louder than was strictly necessary. A few kids snickered, and I felt Barfkus’s infamous Doom Stare boring a hole into the back of my head.

            “W-w-well,” I stammered. “Uh . . .” I ripped out a piece of notebook paper and put it in front of her. “Show me what you want the barn to look like on this paper.”

            She looked back and forth between me and the paper like she was deciding which one of us disgusted her the most. Then she gave a defeated sigh and moved the brush towards the paper.

            “Ah! With a pencil. Paint will leak through.”

            Her eye twitched, and for a second, looking into her eyes, I felt terror the likes of which I’ve never felt again. Wordlessly, she set the brush down, picked up her pencil, and started scribbling on the notebook paper. She kept her arm over her work, preventing me from seeing it. After about a minute, she lifted her arm and smiled smugly.

            I looked at it for a few seconds, my face stupidly blank.

            “I thought you wanted a barn,” I said at last.

            Her face went red. She opened her mouth, but I held a finger in front of my mouth. Quiet. “That is a barn!” she half whispered, half yelled at me. She pointed to it, as if that would help me understand.

            I swallowed. “That isn’t a tree?”

            She stared at me like I was the dumbest person she had ever met. “No!” This time, her voice contained more yell than whisper. Barfkus cleared his throat.

            Desperate for an idea, I rotated the paper. “Uh . . . Look! This brown can be the sun. If we turn the paper around, it looks like it's in the sky.”

            Her face fell. “But my barn!” she protested.

“We can make another one.” I tried to sound reassuring. I tapped the “barn” she had sketched. “It only looks like a tree because it’s brown,” I lied. “If we make the barn red, it will look better.” I hoped she wouldn’t point out that the sun wasn’t supposed to be brown, either.

She crossed her arms and sunk down in her chair. “My uncle’s barn isn’t red,” she muttered, almost to herself. “We don’t even have red paint! He took it away.”

            “That’s okay. We can just use it later. Today, we can make that road you wanted, and make the . . . barn look more like a sun. And make some grass.”

            Her eyes narrowed into slits. “Fine.” She pulled the paper toward her, but I put my hand on it.

            “You can work on the sun, since you already started it. I’ll do the grass.” I felt uncomfortable telling her what to do, but I didn’t want to witness any more horrors.

            Veronica gave me another glare, but she picked up the brown paint and turned her attention to making the mousey brown blob look more like her vision of a sun. I fearfully kept my gaze away.

            Using a pencil, I drew the faint outline of a square, representing the barn. From there, I used the green paint to fill in the grassy fields.

            I glanced up at Veronica periodically, trying to think of something to say, something to make up for upsetting her. As usual, my brain supplied me nothing. It took me a half hour to think to ask if she painted often.

Without looking up, she nodded. “Yes.” I waited, but when no more information was forthcoming, I decided to let the idea of conversation drop.

            The hour seemed to stretch on endlessly, and my frequent glances at the clock did nothing to speed it up.

            Veronica finished making the sun and wanted to start on the barn, but other kids were using the red paint. So she instead sat and watched me work. To get her prying eyes away from me, I could have suggested she work on the road, but I was too afraid to see what she’d do to it.

            When the time finally came to head back to the homeroom, I sighed in relief.


During recess the next day, I found myself sitting on my usual swing, waiting for the bell to signal the end of recess. I really didn’t mind doing nothing; it gave me a chance to let my run-down brain recover from a morning of grueling elementary academics.

            I didn’t even notice the two girls walking over until they were right in front of me. Looking up, I saw Veronica and a blonde girl a few feet away. I thought they would ignore me and take the open swings, as everyone else did, but they came even closer.

            “Do you want to play tag with us?” Veronica asked. Her face was completely unassuming, but the invitation made me sweat. I didn’t know the first thing about playing with other kids. I wasn’t sure I even knew how.

            Before I could respond, the blonde spoke up. “I told her boys aren’t good at tag, but she said we should ask you anyway.” Her words and tone seemed insulting, but she said it with such a straight face I couldn’t help but wonder if I was mistaken.

            They looked at me expectantly. My face grew warm. “Okay.” The word surprised me the moment it left my mouth.

            The blonde smirked. “You’re it!” She took off, leaving a trail of dust in her wake. Veronica seemed just as surprised as I was but recovered more quickly. She ran, following her friend.

           I stood and chased after them. Though it pained me, I quickly realized that I really was no good at tag; I couldn't run fast enough to even come close to catching them. But let it be known that I did my best. A few minutes in, I was panting like a dog.

            I let my legs go out, and I hit the ground. Veronica and her friend stood over me.

            “Told you,” the blonde said. “Boys are no good.” I didn’t like her. Her or her stupid blonde hair and stupid green eyes.

            She prodded me with her foot. “Did we break him?” she asked after a pause.

            I lashed out and wrapped my hand around the blonde’s ankle. Before they understood what had happened, I was off and running. “You’re it!” I shouted over my shoulder. I wasn’t able to see their reactions, but I liked to imagine surprise mixed with awe at my genius strategy.

            Despite said clever maneuver granting me a significant head start, they caught me in about ten seconds. Instead of a friendly pat on the shoulder, the two competitive little she-devils tackled me, sending me yet again to the ground and knocking the wind out of me. I tried to get back to my feet, but my arms were held down with such an unmoving force that each of them must have been holding one down. I tried to get my legs beneath me but couldn’t.

            “Let me go!” I demanded after twenty or so seconds of feeble struggling. I looked over my shoulder. Veronica stood a few feet away. Her face was bright red and she held her hand over her mouth as her shoulders shook.

            The arms holding me shook (I’d like to think it was from the strain of holding me down, but more likely it was because of laughter), and I finally managed to break free and roll onto my stomach.

            The blonde put her hand on her friend’s shoulder for support as she cackled like a maniac. My face seemed to be on fire. At the time, I didn’t know what pride was, but mine was certainly wounded.

The end-of-recess bell rolled, saving me from any further embarrassment. As we walked back into the building, I realized what class I had next and groaned. There was no way Veronica would ever let me live this down.

Mr. Barfkus reminded us what we were to do today and implored us to be considerate of our classmates and not hog the paint. He gave Veronica a sharp look to which she seemed oblivious. As soon as he was done speaking, she darted to his desk, grabbed the red paint, and sat back down. She looked sideways at me, a smug look plastered on her face. I tensed when she opened her mouth to speak.

“I got the red paint today.”

I waited for some snide remark that never came. Finally, I nodded and looked at the partially completed farm. With a certain amount of pride, I realized our work in progress actually vaguely resembled a barn. Sure, the road was missing, there were no pens, and the barn was just a pencil sketch. And, sure, the sun looked like a rather large, unwieldy t**d, but, hey, what can you do? It was a start.

We set about to our own projects, Veronica with her barn and me with the sky and road. After a time, I dared to check on her progress. My jaw went slack.

Feeling my gaze, Veronica looked up at me, beaming. Seeing as how the project was too far gone to salvage, I simply smiled and nodded.

“While you get down with that,” I said numbly, “I’ll make the animal pens.” Wordlessly, she returned to smearing her precious red paint.

While we worked, I thought of a way to start a conversation. I didn’t have to strain my brain or mumble awkwardly. It just came to me like magic. “What kind of animals does your uncle have?” I asked.

Veronica looked to the ceiling as she thought. “He has chickens, a�" ”

“The chickens go in the barn, don’t they?”

She nodded. “And he has a cow, and three goats, and pigs. And a fat little baby pig!” She held her hand about a foot apart, like she was saying she caught a fish this big. It took me a moment to get her meaning

“The baby pig is that fat?” I asked, not having to feign surprise.

She nodded. “She’s so fat she walks funny. Like, she just kinda waddles around.”

“Should we make pens for all those animals?” I asked after a moment.

She eyed the paper and shook her head. “That would be too many. But we should have the cow and the pigs.”

I went to work on the pens. All the while, we made idle conversation. I would ask her about one of the animals, and she would tell a story about Geoffrey the cow, or about Amy the fat pig, or Walter the bullfrog who slept in the house.

Before I knew it, Mrs. Lamar was there, telling us to pack things up. I felt a tinge of sadness. I had actually been enjoying myself.

The next day, the girls invited me to play tag with them again. I hadn’t been overly fond of being humiliated yesterday but accepted their offer anyway. Was it my fault I was in such high demand? My usual spot on the swing could wait. My performance wasn’t much better than the previous day, but that didn’t bother me, for some reason. Even the blonde girl�"whose name I learned was Sienna�"didn’t seem so bad. I was sort of jealous of her cool hair.

            When art class rolled around, I was excited to get back to work. The painting was coming along as well as could be expected, and she was much more open to my suggestions. When the time came to turn it in, I felt we’d done the best we could.

            I returned to school the next week feeling nervous. Now that the art project was over, would Veronica keep acknowledging my existence? It seemed all too likely she and Sienna would go back to playing with themselves, and I would be reunited with my swing.

The next day, they found me on the swing and invited me to join in their game. I accepted with a smile. Then, after classes, Veronica found me by the front door and sat with me while we waited to be picked up. We didn’t always say much, but her presence alone made the wait much less tedious. It became a routine. Each day, I would play with the girls during recess and sit with Veronica after school. It wasn’t much, but I looked forward to it.

            As the school year came to a close, I was surprised to find myself dreading the summer break. I was going to miss spending time with the girls. What was I going to do without them?

Was this what it was like to have friends?

© 2019 Jacob Clifford

Author's Note

Jacob Clifford
This is a revised version of a story I uploaded to this site ages ago. I'd always had a fondness for it and wanted to do the story justice. The original's quality was fairly poor, so there was only so much I could do to make it better this time around without completely redoing it. I hope you enjoy, and feel free to tell me what you thought.

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Featured Review

This is one of your best sparkling stories. Not sure if I remember it from before, but every detail is perfectly honed & sparkling. I especially love how you show the narrator's thoughts often & it sounds very realistic, just like such a kid may be actually thinking. I saw some analogies between these girl-boy scenarios & the way adults connect, often with bossy women and placating men. But that idea faded quickly becuz I was more entranced with the child-version storyline. This really felt believable & honest & compelling (((HUGS))) Fondly, Margie

Posted 3 Years Ago

1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Jacob Clifford

3 Years Ago

I think there's a lot of "adult" things that can be observed in kids' behavior - they're often more .. read more


This is one of your best sparkling stories. Not sure if I remember it from before, but every detail is perfectly honed & sparkling. I especially love how you show the narrator's thoughts often & it sounds very realistic, just like such a kid may be actually thinking. I saw some analogies between these girl-boy scenarios & the way adults connect, often with bossy women and placating men. But that idea faded quickly becuz I was more entranced with the child-version storyline. This really felt believable & honest & compelling (((HUGS))) Fondly, Margie

Posted 3 Years Ago

1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Jacob Clifford

3 Years Ago

I think there's a lot of "adult" things that can be observed in kids' behavior - they're often more .. read more

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Added on February 8, 2019
Last Updated on February 8, 2019


Jacob Clifford
Jacob Clifford


Thank you, my Cafe family, for all that you have done for me. This has been a wonderful period of my life. If any of you ever want to reach me, feel free to send me an email at [email protected] more..

Cracked Cracked

A Story by Jacob Clifford