Skip to main content



The Fall of Grace

Since the two of us became friends, I’ve taken hundreds of pictures of Cecily. Hundreds of us together. I glance at the wall behind my bed. I started with a thumbtack and a photo of Mom and me, taken on the balcony of our place in Newport with a tripod and timer. Now that picture is surrounded by a collage of photos that covers nearly fifteen feet of wall. Some are shots I took for assignments or subjects that caught my eye. But most are memories. The wall is my history. Me. Mom. Cecily. Our group of friends. More recently, Gabe.

As Cecily sinks on the bed beside me, she points to the flat-screen that’s mounted over my desk. “I’ve seen this episode before. The two mothers get in a hair-pulling fight.”

I glance up. It’s one of the wedding shows Cecily and I love—the volume is so low that I forgot it was even on. I dig the remote from under my discarded photos and hit the mute button.

She tilts her head and studies the prints. “God, I hate you.”

“What?” I look at her. Her blue-green eyes are emphasized with eye pencil and lash extensions, not that she really needs them. She’s one of those tall, willowy blondes who could be a bikini model if her father weren’t a politician.

“They’re all perfect. Exactly like your life.”

“Shut up.” But I have to fight my smile, because the eye doesn’t lie and they are fairly perfect.

“What do you get if you win?” she asks.

“There’s a cash prize, but I’m in it for the fame and glory.”

“As if you need it.”

“I’d like to be recognized for the pictures I take, not the pictures I’m in.”

She points to the extreme close- up in the center. “Is that Gabe?”

My heart skips. I know it’s silly to be giddy over a boy, but I can’t help it. I don’t want to help it. I love this feeling—the breathless possibility that comes with having a boy say he likes you and you saying the same thing back. Mom, of course, is horrified. She says giddiness is an affliction of the young. “I just took that last week,” I tell Cecily.

“Before he kissed you,” she teases, “or after?”

“If it was after, the shot would have been blurry— my hands were shaking too much.”

We both laugh. It was just a few weeks ago that Gabe and I were assigned to photograph the school play. We’d always been flirty with each other, but it was different being flirty in the dark wings of a stage. We stood so close, the sound of my heartbeat drowned out the actors.

During final tech run, Gabe whispered that he liked me, and he had since the first day of school. I was glad for the darkness offstage because I was blushing like a sunburned tomato when I told him I liked him, too. “I’m going to do this,” he said, “before I talk myself out of it.” And then he leaned in and kissed me.

Neither of us had gotten a single decent shot that day.

The photo Cecily is pointing to I took a few days later using a macro lens. It captures the geometry of his face. The curve of his cheek. The answering curve of his blond lashes. The slope of his nose. “I love the shape of it,” I say. “I love that it’s Gabe.” I could very possibly love Gabe.

“The lighting is really cool,” Cecily agrees.

“This one, then?”

“I don’t know.” She flips her hair to her other shoulder.

“The lunar eclipse is still a favorite.”

“What if other kids submit the same thing?”

“But it’s not the same perspective, right? I mean, you capture the leaves in the foreground, Grace. It’s cool. You’re so good with details.” She sighs and the edge of the photo flutters. “You see things that I would completely miss.”

“I just look for what’s beautiful.”

She tilts a photo toward her. “Is this one new, too?”

“Yeah.” The image causes my breath to catch, which is what a good photo should do. It’s of my mom, a quiet moment with her on the couch going through a stack of mail. As I watched, the sun hit one of the tall cutout windows and beamed yellow-g old over the silk of her hair. I focused the camera and said, “Mom.” She looked over and I caught her with a bemused smile. An unguarded smile. As soon as I snapped it, I knew I’d captured something real. Janelle Pierce is so many things to so many people, but this shows the heart of the woman I know—t he one only I get to call Mom.

“You’re lucky,” Cecily says in a quiet voice.

I reach for her hand and squeeze. “You know she thinks of you as her daughter, too.”

“If only.” She smiles wryly. “I say go for it.”

I nod. The decision feels right. “This is the one I’m going to submit.” I brush the others aside, and before I can change my mind, I get the manila envelope Mr. Dean passed out last week. I slip the photo of Mom inside and seal it. Then I scramble off the bed and carefully slide the envelope into my backpack where it’s leaning by the door. I’ll turn it in tomorrow.

Happiness floods through me: relief that I’ve decided and certainty that the photo is good. Maybe even really good.

Then, from behind me, I hear Cecily. “Grace!” There’s a thread of fear in her voice. A chill runs down my back without my understanding why.

I turn to face her as she says, “Is that your mom on TV?”


Excerpted from THE FALL OF GRACE. Copyright © 2018 by Amy Fellner Dominy. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.

The Fall of Grace
by by Amy Fellner Dominy