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Authors: Hannah; Kay

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BOOK: The Artist and Me
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The pit-pat of the excess water draining from the pipes was tender raindrops as the storm began and the tears started again. I slipped into the T-shirt then hurried back across the hall, leaving my clothes discarded on the ground and slamming my curtains closed and pulling the drapes.

I teepeed myself into my blankets, burrowing into them and pressing my eyes closed. My stomach grumbled. Maybe I should have eaten, but I didn’t move from the spot, even when I couldn’t fall asleep.

The time clicked away—seconds to minutes to hours. Somewhere in the room, my phone vibrated. The door clicked open down the hall. Dad was home. Lights flickered on, starting far off down the hall, reflected in mirrors toward me but slowly illuminating until the door that I’d left open earlier was the pathway to shimmering Narnia. I cringed at the light.

“This was your mom’s coat.” Dad’s voice surprised me and I squinted to see him stooping down to gather the coat up in his arms, pulling down a hanger to gingerly hang it. The more cynical side of me wanted to make a sarcastic remark— “
No, Dad, I had no idea that was my dead mother’s coat that I wear every day. Thanks for sharing that vital piece of information.
” But I was too tired to make a sound.

“I remember the first time I met her, she was wearing this.” His voice was pensive and it caught my attention. I’d never thought about the fact that once upon a time they were happy. Logically, I guess, it would make sense, but I’d never toyed with the idea. “That wild red hair, a white sundress and that blue coat.” He chuckled, still looking at the coat, not me. “She was running through the grass barefoot. I got so distracted that I didn’t realize she was looking in the opposite direction, and she plowed into me.” He was pulling at the coat, fixing it on its hanger. I couldn’t tell if he was actually talking to me anymore. I don’t think he was.

I coughed, raising up off the bed and rolling over to face the wall to make him aware of my presence again. The room was silent for a long moment and I waited for the footsteps that would signal him leaving. Inwardly I groaned as I heard him coming toward me. He kissed my hair and patted my shoulder before leaving my room. As he left, I heard him say something faintly. It might have been to himself if it weren’t for the last few mumbled words.

“He’s worried about you.”

My heart beat painfully once again.

Chapter Sixteen

 

 

 

Lucas

 

Back at the office, everything was wrong. Shadows danced on the walls, wilting the plant in the corner. Even the staff seemed sadder than normal. Maybe that’s just me, though. I’m sad enough for the whole office.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not at all surprised. I never really understood why Julie gave me a chance in the first place. I’m not exactly a handsome guy. I’m not even really a cool guy—or all that funny… The list could go on for days, but I’m merely avoiding the subject. I’m average and there she was, this perfect creature, letting me love her.

Things were going so well, though, that I guess I kind of forgot about all of that. Maybe she could look past the fact that I’m just the nerdy guy and learn to love me anyway. Obviously that wasn’t the case.

I kept turning her words over in my mind, trying to decide what to make of them. She’d said she ‘couldn’t be someone she wasn’t anymore’ repeatedly, but what did that mean? I’d never asked her to be anything she wasn’t. It didn’t make any sense.

Yet, engraved in my mind were her broken eyes and tear-stained face, just before she ran off. I couldn’t shake her image. It hurt worse than her words, than the idea that she wasn’t mine anymore. It was the idea that, without realizing it, I’d hurt her somehow. I wanted to know how so I could fix it.

Her dad told me she hadn’t been out of bed since she’d got home that night. Krista told me she wasn’t answering her calls or texts. I hadn’t tried to call her. I figured I should give her some time. Meanwhile, my heart felt like a black hole.

“Okay, man, we’re getting you out of here,” Mike announced when he walked in on me at my desk, staring at a wall. He lifted his hands and shook his head, making a beeline to Mr. Swift’s door.

I groaned, standing to hurry after him. “Mike, just go to the Diner, I’ll meet you there in half an hour,” I told him, but he shook his head, opening Mr. Swift’s door without so much as knocking. I, flabbergasted, shook my head.
Well, goodbye internship. Nice knowing you.

“Excuse me, Mr. Swift, Alexander, can I call you Alex? I need to pull young Lucas out for mental health. He’s obviously depressed.” Mike gestured to me as if that made his case.

I shook my head. “Just ignore Mike, Mr. Swift. He forgot to take his medicine this morning,” I amended, grabbing Mike’s arm in an attempt to pull him from the room, but truth be told, I’m not all that strong.

“Alex, this boy needs some guy time. Help me out here!”

“Mike, I’m fine.”

“Shut up, Lucas. You need help.”

“I’m fine, Mike. This is ridiculous.”

“Ridiculous? You were just staring at a wall in there. You are far from fine.”

“Just go home, Mike.”

“I’m not going home without you, pouty.”

“Mike,” I cautioned, meeting his eyes for the first time during the argument.

“Lucas,” he countered, crossing his arms over his chest firmly.

This was beyond embarrassing.

“Lucas, take the rest of the day off,” Mr. Swift suddenly interjected, and Mike grinned triumphantly.

“Thank you, sir!” he said and I laughed outright at his sudden politeness as he bounced—I wish that wasn’t a literal verb, I wish it with all my heart—from the office.

I turned to Mr. Swift. “I’m sorry about that.”

He looked tired. “Go on, Lucas. We can hold the fort here.”

“Thanks,” I responded, attempting to smile at him, but I don’t think it came off as sincere. I wasn’t okay. I really wasn’t, and I didn’t think I could hide it from him—if I even wanted to. I wasn’t happy. He didn’t need to think I was.

“Don’t mention it,” he answered, barely looking up from his papers. He didn’t like this, obviously. I wondered if he knew what was wrong, but then again, Julie didn’t act like she and her dad were particularly close. I merely nodded and followed after Mike.

He was waiting outside, leaned up against Hendleson. “Love you too, bro,” he said sarcastically, shoving off and looking at me. “So, I say we head out and get some pizza then just drive. Get out of here for a while.”

I exhaled. “Mike, I just can’t run away.”

“Come on. We’ll be back before the fireworks. I refuse to have a depressed best friend for the Fourth.” Mike’s favorite holiday was the Fourth of July, even when he was a kid—something I always thought was strange. Most kids like Christmas because of all the presents, but no, Mike liked the Fourth of July. Why? To the best of my evaluation, the food.

I sighed. “Okay,” I answered, figuring it was best to humor him.

He grinned. “Great! Let’s go then.” Then he hopped in the cab of my truck.

 

* * * *

 

We ordered two large pepperoni pizzas to eat at Al’s and two large pepperonis for the road and filled our large plastic cups to the brim with Coke before slumping over one of the tables with our trays.

Mike seemed pleased that this should bring me out of my funk. He forgets I’m not him sometimes, though. I took three slices of pizza and piled them on my plate before stabbing my straw against the table to pop it from its cover. “Better already, right?” Mike questioned, wolfing down one of his five claimed slices before washing it down with a mouthful of Coke.

I just chuckled halfheartedly, eating my pizza and trying to push Julie’s crying image from my mind. “I guess.” My reply must have been too halfhearted.

“Man, you’re going to have to accept this. People break up. It happens,” Mike said and I think he heard his own statement, because he retracted it within seconds, but not soon enough for it not to have stung. “I’m sorry, Lucas. That wasn’t cool. I didn’t mean it like that.”

“What else could that mean?” I asked him, shoving a slice of pizza in my mouth to attempt to stop the dull throbbing that suddenly filled my chest at his words. Fun fact—it didn’t help.

Mike let out a long breath, chewing more slowly now to gather his thoughts. “I just mean… I mean, you know how me and Krista fight and break up and get back together. You don’t have to take this so seriously, man.”

I frowned at him. “You didn’t see her, Mike. She was crying.”

“Krista cries,” Mike answered quickly but I knew he knew it wasn’t the same.

I sighed, looking down at my now-empty plate and grabbing three more pieces. Why not drown my problems in food? “I just want to know what I did,” I admitted, starting in on slice number four as Mike slurped down the rest of his Coke.

He let out a long, labored breath, because he knew that this wasn’t just going to go away with four boxes of pizza and a couple of burgers each on the road. “I know, man. I wish I could tell you.” He stood to go refill his drink then looked down at the pizza. “I want cheesy bread.”

Chapter Seventeen

 

 

 

Julie

 

I am a vegetable.

I was keenly aware of the passing of time. I was aware that I hadn’t so much as showered in three days. I was aware that I was living off toast—the only thing my father could make. None of this mattered to me, though.

The walls closed in on me every moment, slowly inching toward claustrophobia. My limbs itched to move, to run, to thrive, but I felt terrible. My entire chest was hollow and my body ached. I missed him. Against every thought, I missed him. That was clear.

“Okay, mopey.” The voice came from the doorway but my eyes were plastered to the window. She sighed loudly, crossing the room in five quick steps to stoop into my line of vision. There was Krista, dressed in a pair of pale pink cotton short shorts and a white T-shirt, hair tied up from cheer practice with a skinny pink bow. Her face glistened with a thin sheen of sweat, but she looked beautiful, as always. “We’re having a sleepover,” she announced with the finality of a judge’s final ruling.

I groaned, recoiling from her perfect, prying eyes and slumping over against the wall. I didn’t speak. Instead, I drew the blankets over my head lamely.

She exhaled sharply, dragging the comforter back to grin at me. “Come on. You need a girls’ night.” She winked playfully. “It’ll be really fun, Jules!”

“Fun,” I mumbled, rolling back over into my covers and flipping over to face the wall. “I don’t feel like having fun.”

She sighed loudly, shaking her head. “Well, that sucks, because you’re going to have some fun today.” She paused. “Well, tonight.”

I exhaled, looking over my shoulder to lift a tired eyebrow at her. “You aren’t going to stop, are you?”

She grinned. She knew she’d won. “Nope.”

I let out a sigh, but sat up, slowly unburrowing myself from my blankets. “Okay, fine.”

She clapped excitedly in response. “Okay, now go take a shower and I’ll get things ready.”

“Things?” I asked, but she just laughed.

So, I guess it had been a long time since I’d attended a sleepover, because when I emerged after my shower, our living room had been transformed into another place entirely. The couch had been pushed back against the back wall and there were about fifty blankets on the floor with matching pillows. The coffee table was a smorgasbord of junk food. There were three bowls—one giant green one full of popcorn, one smaller one that was pink and full of assorted chocolate candy then another smaller one full of just random candy—anything from Nerds to Laffy Taffy. It looked like she’d robbed some little kid’s Halloween candy. To the side of the food was a stack of what looked like ten movies. I couldn’t tell what they were from the doorway, but I was sure it would be an interesting night.

Krista was nowhere to be found.

“Krista?” I called, turning slowly to look for her and laughing when I saw her head pop out from around the corner in the kitchen. She was decked out in a pair of bright pink pajama bottoms and a white T-shirt, golden hair pulled up into a messy top knot, and I don’t know why that was funny. It just was.

“She’s alive!” she joked, winking and stepping back inside. “I ordered Chinese,” she called just as I stepped into the kitchen.

I lifted an eyebrow. “From where?” There was no ‘ordering in’ in Carltonville. It was just too small.

She laughed. “I have my ways,” she answered simply, pulling the coffee pot up and pouring me a huge mug. “It’s not as great as the Diner’s, but it’ll help.” She offered a little smile. I wished I could return it. Instead I took a long drag from the mug.

“Glad you aren’t a coffee hater like your boyfriend,” I answered, and she laughed.

“He doesn’t hate coffee. He just has a respectful agreement with it that he won’t drink it.” She grinned and it reminded me of the warmth of the sun.

I nodded, sitting at the table and adjusting my black T-shirt and white shorts and nibbling my bottom lip. The coffee cup in my hands warmed me and I exhaled happily. Suddenly, I felt more alive. Maybe tonight would be a good thing.

Halfway through the first romantic comedy—why
that
was a good choice, I’ll never know—the doorbell rang. Krista instantly grinned, popping up. “That’ll be the delivery guy.”

I sighed as she excitedly hopped from her spot to answer the door. There was something about the twinkle in her eyes that I didn’t trust. So, naturally, I rose from where I’d been leaning back against the couch and followed her, careful to be absolutely silent.

Once in the hallway there was no hiding my presence, but it wasn’t really necessary. The delivery guy was Mike, wearing a pair of jeans and a white T-shirt. In his hands was a pizza box—Al’s, of course—and a white plastic bag full of white cartons of Chinese food. He was smirking down at her as she retrieved the bags.

“Nice PJs,” he taunted, tugging on the sleeve of her shirt.

BOOK: The Artist and Me
5.79Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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