Hello Radishes! As you may or may not have noticed, this story is being posted not on the first of the month. That’s because I didn’t write it on time. Or, actually, I haven’t written it yet. For various reasons both interesting and mundane, it didn’t happen, but the biggest one is that I’m in a bit of a creative drought at present. However, in the last day or so I started having an inkling for a story based on the prompt Sarah gave me (the first line of my story must be “No way!” and the last must be “You still owe me twenty bucks.”) and just now I’ve decided to let you all see what a first-ish draft for me looks like because I’m making this up as I go 🙂
“If you have a problem, you can keep your eyes closed. Or just watch a movie. It’s a nine hour flight and if you watch me with more than a passing interest for more then ten seconds – ”
“I get it, I get it.” Even though Nick understood Claire’s tone loud and clear, that did not make the questions about what she was doing vanish. He roughed his hand through his short blond hair and rubbed the sleep away from his eyes, leftovers from their first flight of the day.
Though her head was down giving the illusion she was fiercely focused on the tray table before her, Claire did see Nick’s perplexed expression. She assumed it was perplexed, anyway. Her glasses were of no help when it came to peering out of the corner of her eye. Still, it was more than ten seconds and he was still looking. “If you have something to say, say it.”
“I just… I didn’t expect this.” Golden boy stammering? This was a surprise. In all their verbal sparring matches over the past week on their school trip – across the Atlantic, up and down Italy, and now back to the west side of the ocean – Nick had never been at a loss for words. Truthfully, Claire found it just as fun as it was annoying. “I guess I assumed you were drawing people and places is all.”
She pressed her lips together to mask a small smile. “I do. I did. It would be a crime to come to a place like this and not. See?” It was a mystery where this wave of generosity was coming from, to show her work with someone else, let alone a guy who probably had no appreciation for art. How often had her friends and family begged to look inside her sketchbooks? Her teachers only got to because it was required. Otherwise she insisted people look at her online portfolio where only her best works were available for public commentary.
Without the Moleskin in her hands, Claire spun a pencil round and round in her fingers, pushed her glasses back up the bridge of her nose, tucked her auburn hair behind her multi-pierced ear. Her nervousness was cute, in a dorky sort of way. Not the kind of thing Nick usually noticed, especially from a girl who made his head spin so much, but over the past seven days, every once in a while moments like this slipped through his filter.
The colored pencil drawings were impressive, even to his untrained eye. Claire had done many of the sights they had taken in absolute justice, even preferring her renderings to the crisp and clear photographs on his camera. But those weren’t the drawings that had caught his attention and started this particular conversation in the first place.
As the son of one of the more popular English teachers at their school, Nick had been raised with the idea that words could be beautiful. It was a fact that he was much more aware and appreciative of than he let on to his friends, and he spent just as much effort hiding his awe from his friends as he did trying to replicate the magic of his favorite writers. But what Claire had done here was make words visually beautiful.
On one page, she’d written – or was it drawn? Illustrated? Done portraits of? – the names of the thirteen students and three chaperones on the trip this week. The hand-lettering was impressive to put it lightly – this clearly wasn’t something she had just picked up. The evidence of years of practice was obvious in that all the drawings looked effortless. Each one was like a font, careful and immaculate, and perfectly matched the personality of the individual.
She’d even done one for him.
In the dark cabin of the plane, Claire knew it was unlikely Nick could see the blush creeping across her freckled cheeks and down her neck. Still, with the smirk pulling at his lips, maybe he could sense it somehow?
“Wow.” He looked at her. “This is awesome.”
So it wasn’t a smirk. It was a smile. A genuine one. She’d never seen it at school before, not that they ran in the same circles, but during this trip as they explored old castles and ate gelato and inside jokes were born among what had so recently been a group of strangers, she already knew how to spot the difference. “Thanks.”
A sadness pinched the corners of his eyes as he handed the book back. “I could never do anything like that. It’s really cool.”
“Have you ever tried?”
He shook his head. “It doesn’t come up much in Journalism. We use the same font for everything. And I was never much of an artist.”
Claire knew he wasn’t looking for pity, and she wasn’t about to give it. He was stating a fact and she was receiving it, a simple transatlantic transaction. “I like it, though.”
Sleep was a force as strong as gravity against Claire’s eyelids, but she fought it. “I have an idea.” Without warning, her notebook and pencils fell into his lap. Her tray table was up and she wrestled her backpack up from beneath the seat in front of her, a task made more challenging by the fact that it was fully reclined. They both smiled at her victory before she unceremoniously kicked the bag back down below.
Nick surveyed what she handed him as she took her drawing supplies back. The small metal tin contained twelve colored pencils, and the book, well. “A coloring book?”
“I am not.”
He flipped through it, and it wasn’t an ordinary coloring book. The black and white illustrations were intricate and challenging, and even though whimsical wasn’t really his style, Nick’s hands itched to try. It beat watching another movie he’d already seen before, right?
“You know you want to,” Claire said, reading his mind. “I won’t tell anyone. Your secret and your Man Card is safe with me.”
He tried to hand it back, but she refused, already invested in a new drawing of her own. “Would it help your pride somehow if we made this interesting? Put a wager on it?”
“What do you have in mind?”
She took the book, flipped through the crisp pages until she found one she hadn’t started work on. Handing it back, she made a proposal. “How many Euros do you have left over?”
He didn’t feel like making the effort to get his wallet out in the confines of his seat, so Nick guessed. “I think only ten. You?”
“Eight in change. So let’s put it all on the line. I bet you won’t last half an hour coloring.”
Nick snorted. “That’s nothing.”
That’s when he noticed the sparkle in her eyes. “So prove it. Eighteen Euros on the line. That’s about twenty bucks.”
It didn’t make sense to him, why she was being so nice to him after all the teasing and toying. His epiphany didn’t strike until he was in the middle of filling in all the leaves on a tree in the image before him: Claire was losing on purpose.
She didn’t look up, only paused from her work to shake the cramps from her drawing hand. “Hmm?”
“All week you and I have gone head to head and now suddenly you’re throwing this bet away. Why?”
Claire set down her pencil and looked at him. “You wanted to try, didn’t you?” She took his silence as confirmation. “So I gave you a cover story.”
“I don’t know. Because you’re nice, kind of, when you want to be which is most of the time when your bros or whatever aren’t around. And why not? This week was fun and it was fun getting to know you and I saw the way you took a thousand pictures of frescos when you were standing in the back of the group. Anyone can do art. Look at you. You’ve done a good job of it for the past hour.”
Nick was about to protest, but a glance at the clock on Claire’s phone she held up made it a moot point. He had in fact been coloring for over an hour. And he’d even liked it. For the first time in far too long, he’d been able to turn his mind off. No thoughts of upcoming college applications or prom or March Madness.
And he’d really liked it.
Claire smiled to herself as she put her tray table up and looked over the page before her. It wasn’t her best work – a few boughts of turbulence made her lines shaky – but she’d gotten in a few sketches of plane passengers. Especially of the passenger next to her who had been so engrossed in his own project that he didn’t notice her’s. It wasn’t a perfect drawing, but there was no such thing anyway. It was damn good, and she’d take that as a win. Well worth losing twenty bucks since it meant he won too, and not just the money.
The notebook made its way back into her bag and her earbuds came out instead. “You going to stay awake?”
“You’re the travel expert,” he replied. “What time is it back home? I don’t want to get slapped too hard with jet lag.”
“Probably wouldn’t be a bad idea to try to sleep now. And even if it is, I don’t care. I can’t keep my eyes open much longer.”
“Okay.” But he didn’t make a move to join her in Dreamland. Instead, he picked up a colored pencil and got back to work, both of them grinning as he did.
It was a while before she actually fell asleep though, and while she waited, Claire thought. If this was a movie, this would be the part where she and Nick would start making out. After a week of European adventures and sparing, they would have evolved from being misunderstood enemies to friends to more. And not that she would have opposed being good and kissed, but that’s where the stories always ended, and she didn’t want this to be the end of a story.
Maybe just the end of a chapter.
Still, reality pushed at her heart.
The most likely scenario for Claire and Nick and the rest of their travel companions that come Monday morning when they were back at school, the bond they’d formed through their mutual experiences would start to thin. They’d all go back to their respective cafeteria tables, and the smiles and nods would fade in time. At graduation and prom – occasions all about nostalgia and reminiscing about days gone by – there might be a few new pictures taken, but only for a moment and then on to the next thing.
As he continued to make his way across the page, similar thoughts crossed Nick’s mind. Perhaps it was the gelato still in his system, but he was dreaming with eyes open of a more optimistic outcome. Of future travels and being partners with these people in class projects. Of hanging out with them in the hallways before school and convincing a certain stubborn redhead that the newspaper staff could really use her talents next year so their spirited debates could continue.
He looked so peaceful sleeping that Claire almost hated to wake him up. Almost. But the flight attendant was coming with food and she didn’t want Nick to see how they’d fallen asleep resting against each other, shoulder to shoulder and head to head. “Hey,” she nudged gently. He squinted one eye, then the other. “Look at you. You’re still coloring.”
Sure enough, the green pencil was still in Nick’s right hand. His left, however, was mere millimeters away from Claire’s. Her eyes were on it, too, and when they met each other’s gazes, neither them moved. Instead a dare silently passed between them, each one saying Well? What’s it going to be?”
“Still drawing,” Nick said with a grin that Claire returned with a full-fledged smile and pinking cheeks. “And you still owe me twenty bucks.”
Not terrible for a first draft, right? I’ll take it! And now, Sarah’s Prompt: Speechless! See if you can write a whole scene in which no one talks. That’s not to say they can’t speak in flashbacks, but I’d really like to see if you can tell a story without it. Good Luck!