The painting in front of me was terrifying. It made my stomach tense up but I also couldn't look away. The raw emotion was practically screaming at me.
The painting showed a girl or a young woman, I couldn't decide yet, sat in the corner of a hollow cold room staring off into the distance. Her eyes, glazed over and dull, her hair limp to her head. Closing in on her was darkness, shapes, crooked lines that could be mistaken for fingers. It was clawing to get closer to her and she'd given up, instead cowering in the corner. White, grey and black were the only paints used yet they were bold enough to steal my attention.
'What do you think?' I was startled when the voice spoke to me, I'd momentarily forgotten where I was.
I turned to see the artist himself watching me with a look of amusement on his face.
It was a Thursday night and I'd just spent the last hour walking around a new exhibition at Jake's parents' art gallery. It was opening night so there were quite a few people here but most of them were too busy chatting rather than taking in the paintings. I, on the other hand preferred the company of the paintings.
The artist in question was the guy that Jake had mentioned to me a little while back. The artist that used his previous addictions as inspiration for his work.
Looking at him now he wasn't what I'd expected. I'd pictured an awkward older man, maybe a little rough around the edges. The one that was currently stood beside me looked like he was in his 30s and as if he didn't have a care in the world. I guess the saying does go don't judge a book by its cover. Or maybe in this case don't assume the artist by their paintings.
'You've been stood here for a long time in silence. So long that I'm starting to get a little nervous. Give me your true honest opinion. I promise I won't be offended.' He held his hands up as if to try and convince me more.
So, I was honest.
'I can't take my eyes off it. I hate it, but at the same time..I connect to it.'
The silence after I'd spoken would naturally concern anyone that they'd said the wrong thing but when I turned and saw the impressed look on his face my worries died.
'Wow, now that's a compliment.'
'Huh?' Didn't sound like much of a compliment to me. I'd actually been so brutally honest that I thought I'd offended him.
'You get it. On a personal level. That feeling when it feels like fear is going to consume you. When you want to give up because you feel like there's no hope.'
Yes, I definitely knew what that felt like. Thankfully I felt like I was finally rid of that fear. For the time being anyway.
'How did I do?' He asked pulling me out of my thoughts.
When I gave him a confused look he carried on.
'Sometimes I feel like I shouldn't be the one standing up and giving advice.'
Oh, he meant his speech. When the crowds were at their fullest earlier in the evening he had stood up on a makeshift stage and given a small speech about his work. I hadn't been paying too much attention but even I could tell he was uncomfortable giving it. I guess I could sympathise with not liking being the centre of attention.
'I understand, but really you're one of the best people to do it. They can't exactly argue that you don't know what you're talking about.' I gave him a sly smile which in turn made him burst out laughing.
'You're not wrong there. I'm Ander.' He said extending out his hand.
I took his hand and shook it enthusiastically.
'Ah so you're Jake's friend. The one that wants to be an artist?'
'Well trying. It's not as easy as it sounds.'
'Sure it is. All you gotta do is say something. Art without meaning is like an impression. It's good but everyone knows it's a copy. Say something meaningful and you can't go wrong.'
Automatically I chuckled and Ander turned to me with a look of confusion etched on his face.
'And here you thought you weren't good at advice.' I explained.
'Now I didn't say that. I'm just not the most comfortable preaching that the worlds going to be fine and dandy as long as they buy one of my paintings.'
'Here here.' I clinked my apple juice against his beer.
I'd expected him to excuse himself at that point but he surprised me.
'So tell me about your work.'
'Really? ' I raised an eyebrow. 'Trust me, I'm sure I don't have anything more interesting to say than those guys over there.'
I pointed to a group I'd been introduced to earlier in the evening. They were all adults who'd been in a youth institute when they were younger. They now went to a weekly art therapy classes held by Ander to help them vent their feelings. I'd caught a few snippets of their conversations earlier and I could most definitely say they had stories to tell.
'I disagree.' Ander shook his head. 'You look like you could be a good story teller. And trust me, I'm not often wrong. It annoys my wife to death.'
'Ok, but I don't think it would be right if I told you. See my story for yourself.'
I pulled out my phone and opened a file on my phone that had all my art work on it.
'It's not the real thing but it gives you an idea.'
Ander took my phone and started scrolling through the photos. Whilst he was looking at the screen, I focused on his face to see if I could tell what he was thinking.
'Give me your honest opinion. Don't worry I won't be offended.' I said mimicking his words earlier.
He smiled and handed the phone back to me.
'Well Evie, that's some talent you've got there.'
I'm sure he was just being kind but his compliment still brought a smile to my face.
'If you don't mind me asking, where did you get this idea from?' He pointed to the photo that was still on my screen that showed my latest painting. It was the painting that had been inspired by the bird cage in the weird and wonderful shop I'd stumbled across. It showed a girl, although she could probably be described more like a giant, stuffed into a bird cage. Her limbs had forced themselves through the bars and she hung helplessly. Her body was contorted and in some places her bones broken.
'The feeling of being trapped? Escape? I found the idea in many places. I can't lie and say that I didn't get inspired by your work. I guess I'm always afraid to show ugly but when I saw your work, I don't know, I saw the beauty in it I guess.' I said shrugging my shoulder nonchalantly.
'See, I told you. You're a story teller.'
'I don't know, a lot of the time I fear I don't have anything interesting to say.'
Ander leaned over and tapped my phone screen.
'I don't believe that for one second. Can I see that again?'
'Sure.' I handed the phone back to him.
After a few minutes of trying to find what he was looking for he smiled at me.
'I run these classes downtown every Tuesday and Thursday evening. A few friends, colleagues, people I've met along the way come along. It's kind of just a motivating space to create in. I think you'd enjoy it. How about I leave the details with your friend Jake and if you fancy it you can come along?'
I took my phone back and inhaled to stop myself from getting too excited.
'Wow, that sounds great.'
'Good. Well I should probably start talking to a few other people.' His smile turned into a grimace. 'God it's during things like this that I remind myself how much of an introvert I am. I'd love nothing more than to be at home curled up on the sofa watching a cooking show right now.'
'I know what you mean.'
With a smile he turned to walk away. I went to look at the painting in front of me again until a voice called out to me.
'Oh and Evie. I promise you, you have something interesting to say. I heard it within the first few seconds of talking to you.' He dipped his head and disappeared into the crowd.
There are some moments throughout your life where even though you've just lived it you wonder, did that really just happen?
I didn't see Ander for the rest of the evening. I carried on spending an excessive amount of time studying all of his painting until I'd narrowed them all down to my top 5. I took photos of the ones that made the cut and made some notes for my art project. As much as I was mostly just here because I wanted to be this could definitely be used as research for my project.
When I decided it was time to leave, I quickly said goodbye to Jake's parents and thanked them for inviting me. I did a quick swivel to see if I could see Ander but as he was nowhere in sight I gave up and headed to the main desk.
It was as I was coming down the stairs that for the second time tonight, I stopped dead in my track and wondered, is this really happening?
Jake was maning the desk like he had been when I'd arrived but stood next to him was Harrison. The two were locked into a conversation and listen to this, they had smiles on their faces. I know, I too almost thought I'd travelled to a parallel universe.
Jake suddenly looked up and noticed me standing watching them.
'Hey Evie! What did you think?'
'It was great. He's a really talented artist.' I answered when my brain stopped glitching.
'He's a nice guy too.'
'Well you certainly made a good impression on him. He left this here and wanted me to remind you about the class on Tuesday.'
I walked the remaining distance to the desk and took the piece of paper from his hands. Written on it was an address and a website.
'I've heard my parents talk about those classes before. They're like legendary or something. So many great artists have been to them.'
I raised my eyebrows in shock.
'Wow, I didn't think he was being serious.'
'He clearly sees the talent that just about everyone else sees.' Harrison said wrapping an arm around my waist.
'We should probably get going if we want to get to mom's in time for dinner.'
'Ok well see you later Jake.' I waved.
'Bye Evie. later bro.'
'Yeah see ya.' The boys first bumped before Harrison took my hand and dragged me away.
Harrison was either ignoring me purposely or was completely oblivious to the shocked look on my face. I wasn't until we were outside and walking to the car that I gave up and just came out with it.
'What was that about?'
'What was what about?'
I pulled a face like it was obvious.
'You and Jake. Since when did you two become chummy?'
'Chummy?' He teased.
'Friends.' I clarified.
'If you must know we had a chat the other day and we decided that maybe our little feud had gone on long enough. I know his friendship is important to you so I want to make an effort with him.
I wanted to awww even though I did hear him mutter he's can still be an asshole under his breath. He was trying, they both were and that was all I cared about.
As he reached to open the car door for me, I paused and kissed him.
'I love you, you know that.'
'I do and I intend to shout it from the roof tops until everyone knows.'
At school on Friday the day had been re-arranged so that 10th, 11th and 12th graders last period classes were cancelled. Instead the school had organised an assembly to be held in the gymnasium so that they could celebrate the most recent school achievements.
Most of the sports team's competition seasons were over so instead of waiting until the last school assembly at the end of the year they decided to celebrate them now. The school also did something called gifted and talented. It was this completion they held for every class subject to award students that were either exceptionally high achievers in that subject or had a talent that the school wanted to recognise. I was told anyone in all three grades could win and the prize was getting to go on a school trip to a theme park just before we broke up for summer.
Once we were all sat on the bleachers the assembly started with a performance from the cheerleading squad and drill team.
So that's was another thing that was still new to me. I didn't know a drill team was a thing until I started here but the in-sync routines were crazy talented.
After a short speech from Principal Marks about how proud he was of the school's latest achievements he played a video that the sports department had made honouring the different sports team.
We all watched as photos came onto screen showing the funny and brutal moments all the teams had gone through throughout the year. I had to laugh along with everyone else when a photo of the football team taken a few months ago came onto screen. It was supposed to look like a professional photo of the team all stood side by side but we'd decided I should lay on the floor on my side with my hand propping up my head to add a little humour to the photo. Coach pretending not to be amused but we all knew he thought it was pretty funny as well.
After the video ended Principal Marks along with the team coaches came up to hand out awards to the sports teams.
After about an hour when I thought they'd forgotten about us it was the football teams turn.
'Now I would like to start off by saying how proud I am of the soccer team. I'm sure they can all agree with me that they've had their ups and downs this year but I'm so impressed with how they managed to support and push each other to keep going and work harder. That team is a unit and their hard work and dedication didn't go to waste. I'm proud to say that their unity is what got them all the way to the finals and earned them second place in the leagues after an incredibly difficult season against tough competition.'
I thought back to that day and smiled. It turned out we did end up having to rematch Stamner's football team and sadly it ended up being the final game.
Like the first our match it was tough and close to the end it started to sink in that this year wasn't going to be ours. We didn't however let it dishearten us and carried on fighting until the end.
The days leading up to the match I'd wondered what it would be like if we'd got all the way and didn't win. I thought I'd be really upset but actually when the final whistle blew a feeling of pure happiness filled me. Yes I was disappointment that we didn't win but I was also so happy that we made it all this way and came second.
We weren't losers. We'd won plenty of games against incredible teams so really, we were still winners. I didn't think a couple of months ago when there was a massive divide in the team that we'd even get this far but we moved passed it and became stronger because of it.
The fact that I loved every member of the team like they were my brothers (well except Harrison) made us winners in my eyes and it seemed like everyone else agreed with me. As soon as the game was over the whole team joined into one massive hug and celebrated. We knew we were winners and we didn't need a dusty old trophy to prove it.
'I ask everyone to join me in a round of applause to bring them up onto the stage.' As everyone started clapped coach called out all of our names one by one.
Joseph and I jumped up out of our seats and headed up onto stage with the rest of the team. Squished into side hugs with Joseph and Tom we grinned as our fellow classmates cheered for us. If I wasn't mistaken, I was sure I saw a tear in coach's eye.
We stood and took photos and coach handed us out personalised bomber jackets that the school had made for us.
After we'd all gone back to our seats, they started dishing out the gifted and talented awards. It took a while but it was great to see so many people I knew being awarded for all their hard work. Of course, the chosen photography student was who I was rooting for the most but then I was a little biased.
When Harrison went up to collect his certificate, I think I was the loudest person in the room. I was so proud of him and I had no doubt in my mind that he was going to win. He was my handsome talented boyfriend.
'Next up we going to celebrate the chosen gifted and talented Artist.' Ms Stevens voice bounced off the gymnasium walls.
'Now we thought long and hard about who to award this too but in the end, it seemed that we all had the same individual in mind. This young lady has been on a journey this year and I've been so lucky to have been her teacher. She's developed leaps and bounds and it seems like her classmates also agree.
I think the whole art department can agree that I don't think we've ever had this many students coming to us, saying we should award this one individual.
Although she's only been with us for one school year, she's definitely made an impression, not only the staff but her fellow students. Please all put your hands together and celebrate our Gifted and talented Artist, Evelyn Townsend.'
A grin broke out on my face as my friends all clapped and hollered. Old Evie would've been embarrassed by all this attention but new and improved me enjoyed the moment.
As I rose out earlier my seat and headed towards the stage, I focused all of my energy on not falling over as all eyes were on me. When I made it on stage, I collected my award and posed for a picture.
'You're going to make me cry!' My voice accidentally boomed before I realised how close the mic was to me. Luckily although everyone heard they thought it was funny and a chorus of chuckles filled the room.
'Now I'm sorry to say Evie that our speech for you isn't over. A few months ago, Evelyn and I sat down and spoke about a competition we thought she should enter. The prize was a scholarship to the prestigious Goodwin art school in London. We always knew it was a tough competition and that thousands of people across the globe were entering for a chance to win a place to study there.'
I frowned as I wondered why she was bringing this up now. To be honest I'd almost forgotten I'd entered as it was so long ago but I definitely didn't want the embarrassment of half the school finding out I didn't get it. The thought of the sympathetic looks I was going to get was enough to bring colour to my cheeks.
'As we hadn't heard anything since she'd submitted her entry we thought maybe this year wasn't her year. However, it seems that we're not the only ones that can see your talent Evie.' My eyes went wide as I started to understand what she was getting at.
'You've made it onto the shortlist Evie! You should be incredibly proud of yourself to get this far and you never know, this time next year you could be studying in London!'
Cheers and clapping created a roaring in my ears but I couldn't seem to recreate everyone's excitement. Ms Stevens was grinning ear to ear and I placed a smile on my face for her sake but suddenly everything was sinking in. A few months ago the thought of going back to London sounded like bliss but now...the thought was enough to make me feel sick.