Normal is an interesting concept, one I often applied to Jacob. Not that he, as a person, was normal, but he had days where he acted normal and days where he didn’t.
Lately, it had been more of the latter, where he had been acting far from his usual teasing grinning happy self. He would go to say something but catch himself, resulting in a frown spreading across his face like ivy. He would avoid me like he was a shy kid who needed to warm up to me before he was comfortable enough to talk. It was like he didn’t know what to say or how to say it or when he could or if he could. It was strange. Out of the ordinary. Unusual.
It all ended on Wednesday; it had been a week since then and a week since I had resumed applying the concept of normal to Jacob Beck. He had come back from whatever Fairy Land he had been residing on, and it couldn’t have been any better.
Except for the planning. The party. Jacob’s birthday.
It seemed the only topic of conversation inside school, my only escape with Parker or Atlas at home.
She called in on Sunday morning wearing the yoga pants I couldn’t imagine her in with the “suggestion” to attend yoga with her. I wanted to, but I had stayed up late seeing how everything turned out with Jacob that 6am felt a little to early to be alive.
Regardless, we were out the door by six thirty and on the beach for her Sunday session before seven. The class was predominantly people around her age, the odd thirty year olds who were insane enough to be up at that hour peppered among the group.
I was the youngest by far, and therefore should have been at least be somewhat skilled. It wasn’t so much the flexibility that got me but the balance. God, the balance. It was near impossible to stay in the poses without toppling over or falling out of line.
Nanna couldn’t stop laughing.
Then we had gone to get a coffee and scheduled to catch up at least once a week. I was determined to assist the change that had already set in motion, fighting for a better relationship with the only grown up family I knew.
Tonight though, it was Parker’s turn to provide a conversation outside of Jacob’s birthday party, which had the entire year level buzzing to make it to the weekend. Yes, they had invited the entire year level, and it was going to be spectacularly miserable.
With that in her mind, she had asked what I got for Jacob for his birthday.
It was then that I knew I was screwed.
Shopping for boys had and always will be impossible; the older they get the harder. I never had any luck with Atlas but could think of something creative or something he might need, but when I thought the words Jacob and present my mind went blank, like a chalkboard had just been wiped clean.
I let out a long groan, my head hitting the back of the passenger seat in exasperation. My sister laughed at me. I would have hit or at least pushed her if she weren’t driving a vehicle and I wasn’t so accident cautious.
“Help me,” I pleaded with her, but she was too far down the road of hysterical laughter to do anything but drive us to Queen Street Mall.
Shadowed by tall buildings on either side, the mall stretched on for at least a mile with shops in aforementioned tall buildings. Parker parked a block away and we walked, reluctant to step into the shade from the sun, disappearing as the season drew nearer to winter.
I don’t know how long we were there for. Early afternoon turned to late to dusk then it was dark and all the shops were beginning to close up.
I was still empty handed.
But then I spotted something, I hadn’t ever noticed before. At the corner where the mall ended and Church Street began there was a small sign, so small I could hardly read it from where we were beginning to lose hope.
It was patterned with colorful swirls and two small words encompassed in the mess; Wolf Art. Something other than my feet led me to the shop, where the door led to steps leading up. The same name was printed on the glass door and an arrow was plastered to the side of the staircase, black and stark against the painted brick passageway. It was a mixture between grunge and stylish and modern and I liked it.
I headed straight up the steps like I was walking into my own home. I almost expected a shout from the top saying “Welcome home.”
Instead I was greeted by a tall wiry man, with wiry moustache and wiry clothing. He wore a tall top hat which too, was wiry, and spectacle glasses atop the rim of the hat.
I felt like I’d been dropped into a drawing by a three-year-old with a thing for mystery tv shows and magic tricks. A bunny jumping out of the hat wouldn’t have surprised me.
“Welcome welcome welcome,” he greeted, his hand gestures swooping and dramatic. The moustache twitched as his lip turned up at one side, and with a tip of his top hat he led us inside.
I knew I had found the right place.
The room was small, quaint, with the same confused feel about it as the stairwell. There was a coffee table in the corner, white, with a vase of flowers and a half empty cup of coffee. It was the only furniture bar the ones hung on the walls.
Paintings. Twenty at least, all with the same feel as the shop, or should I say gallery, had to it. Confused.
What piqued my interest was how every single piece was monochromatic, with a dash of color added for good measure. A portrait of a wolf with life like fur caught my attention first, the only detail escaping the shades were the honey gold eyes.
It rose goosebumps on my skin.
“Do you like what you see?” It was the man again, standing to the side of where my sister and I stood shoulder to shoulder.
“They’re brilliant,” I could only whisper as a response, and he let us alone to wonder about the rest.
I had almost done the full circle and had long forgotten why I had come when I found it. There was no question that I would be struggling with this down the narrow stairway through the mall up a block with only a hope it would make the journey home safe and in one piece.
There were trees, tall and thick and dusted with snow, occupying the entire scene. Almost.
A short trail led out of the forest to leak to the edge of the painting. Perhaps over. I couldn’t tell with the frame. But the trail was inconsequential compared to what was on it.
Two people. A girl and a boy. The dash of color. It was them.
Small, so small if their color didn’t stand out they would blend into the background. The girl wore purple. The boy deep blue.
The detailing was exquisite, but it’s not what made me stop.
The painting sparked a memory to resurface; Jacob Forest. My Jacob’s forest, I now knew. It was an insignificant significant part of our relationship that this represented perfectly, from the cold and the snow to the stillness that hung over the painting.
“Lovely, isn’t it?” The wiry man’s voice came from a little behind me. Parker had moved on, interested in something else. I couldn’t tear my eyes away.
“Extraordinary,” I told him. “Are these yours?”
“Yes yes yes.” I heard his top hat shift as he nodded. “I am of the belief the world is black and white until something or someone comes along and alters it for you. That or they are your color. These paintings would be just fine without it, but the color brightens everything else us, makes it more worth your while. Don’t you think?”
I took a small step to the side to allow the man to take his gliding step forwards. “Would you like it?”
“I would,” I admitted, but such an incredible painting could not come cheap. “How much?”
His eyes focused on me, as if trying to evaluate my worth for the painting and thus how much it would cost me.
“For you?” He asked with clarity, taking one last look before; “Could you spare fifty?”
“I’m sorry?” Fifty dollars was unheard of for a painting of this caliber. I was expecting hundreds and I was expecting disappointment as I walked from the shop empty handed.
“I do not paint for the intention to make money, much like a musician doesn’t play and a writer doesn’t write for the same reason. I paint to provide something meaningful to people, and I can see how much this does to you.” A pause. A stroking of his moustache. “I would provide it free of charge but a man must eat.”
“I’ll take it,” I stammered, stepping back so he could take it down for me. “T-thank you.”
“It is my pleasure,” he said, setting the painting down on a wide stretched floor of bubble wrap behind a door in another room.
He returned within a few moments with it, assuring me it was perfectly secure before attaching handles for me to carry like a bag. Parker didn’t see what I saw, but she could see the beauty in it even without the meaning.
“I hope he likes it,” I muttered as she held the door open for me and his painting. It bumped softly against my hip with every step, anticipation of his reaction igniting an excitement I’d not felt in a long time. I supposed that’s what it was like to like someone, or whatever it was I felt between there and love. Excitement, anticipation, and a certain expectation for how you think things will turn out. The first two I had taken care of; the last I was working on. I had come to the decision that I would tell him how I felt, and I would do it on Saturday. Whether it be before the party, during or after, that is the time I selected for the Great Unveiling. Kaia Sawyer, opening up her heart to a boy who had the power to crush it.
Parker gave me her most earnest smile and said; “He’d like anything if it were from you.”
Wednesday nights were always my night to relax; where I wouldn’t have anywhere to go, anywhere to be, and could do whatever the fuck I wanted.
The plans for the party were just about finalized, with Hayden helping me with the last details such as the music playlist. Apparently my music was too placid for a party.
I had planned to try to get through as many of the books that lay dormant on my floor after I finished homeowkr but then my phone buzzed and the plan changed.
Hayden: wanna meet us at the movies?
I frowned at the screen.
Jacob: whos us and why now?
Hayden: every1 and bc we want 2 c a movie
Hayden: yes, that means Kaia too
Hayden: figured u’d bring her
Jacob: what if I don’t come?
Hayden: don’t be a fuckwit. Kaia’s on her way ik ur coming. Get Ada and haul ass over here asap. It starts in 10
I grabbed a hoodie off the end of my couch, slipped my phone, wallet and keys into my jean pockets and met Ada sitting at the top of the stairs. She was ready.
“Hayden called,” she just grinned, standing up and following me out the door. “I already told Mutti we were going to a movie. She wasn’t happy considering it’s a school night.”
“And because it’s fucking 9pm.”
“That too,” she chuckled.
We drove to the cinema in near silence, the only sound drifting from the radio. It was on the oldies station, pumping out music from the 80s like there was no tomorrow. One song I recognized and instantly flicked it to anything else. Ada was laughing at my reaction.
I didn’t know why I was going when what I really wanted to do was be at home with my books. It wouldn’t have made the slightest of differences if I did, but never the less here I was.
“Something’s bothering you,” Ada observed as we got out of the car. Ever acting the oldest.
I shrugged in the dark of night, only illuminated by the streetlights as we walked up to the theatre. It was one of those old fashioned cinemas with the screenings of movies showing on the white sign out the front, bulbs of light bordering said sign. As we neared the people standing beneath it became evident, though only two were there.
“The movie already started, dumbass,” Hayden greeted us, before looking to my left where my little sister was standing. He winked at her and said “Not you,” before picking her up into a hug.
Standing beside him with her hair gathered over one shoulder and eyes sparkling in excitement was Kaia. She glanced at the couple to her right and let a small smile take control of her lips, before unfolding her arms to hold a hand out to me.
I flicked up my eyebrow and she just grinned, a mix between the Joker and the Cheshire Cat that she somehow managed to make look stunning.
So I took her hand as she explained, “The movie’s already started,” before showing two tickets to the woman at the counter who motioned for us to go to the left.
“What’s with the creepy smile?” I had to ask, one of many questions I had rolling about in my mind. Her warm hand in mine was a reminder of another, but one I didn’t dare pose in case she responded by taking it away.
“I found your birthday present.”
“You didn’t have to.”
“You only turn eighteen once.”
“And you should get a present when you turn eighteen.”
“There’s no such thing as should.”
“You’re seriously ruining this for me,” she said, sounding so disheartened I was about to give up any guilt I felt over her buying me a present just to bring that smile back. “Just shut up and get excited. Okay?”
I held the heavy door open to the cinema for her, the credits assaulting my ears with the sheer volume. It was loud enough to drown out my laugh but Kaia saw it, winked and led me to where everyone else was sitting.
The row was full of couples, lit up by the screen in the theatre void of any other person. I supposed it was late and it was a weekday but I’d never been in an empty picture theatre before. It felt weird, like we should occupy the whole space.
One of my childhood fantasies of sitting in the back row popped into my mind, so instead of sitting down with the rest of them, I regretfully slipped my hand out of Kaia’s and plonked myself in the middle of the back row.
Five heads turned to look at me with one, Zavier’s, shouting “What the fuck, dude?” with my response as good as flipping him off.
I settled into the comfortable seat, my feet stretching as far as they could before they hit the row in front. The screen was the perfect distance and I was the perfect height to see it, and it was exactly how I expected.
Two figures walked in as the last ad came on, Hayden and Ada illuminated as they made their way to the selected row. Kaia stood and spoke with them for a minute, before they were changing places and she was walking up the stairs.
A girl, I think it was Annaliese, or maybe it was Parker, was looking between Kaia’s advancing figure and my still one before saying something to the person beside her.
But then Kaia fell into the seat to my left and put her long legs on the seat in front. Only when she was comfortable did she turn to face me.
“Why?” Such a simple word to entail an equally simple response.
“I’ve always wanted to.”
“Why tonight?” Answered simply if I was honest.
“I didn’t really want to come.”
“Why did you?”
“Why so many ‘why’s?”
“Why don’t you answer my question?”
“Why should I?” I challenged, the theatre going black so she couldn’t see my smirk. When the screen went to life and the familiar sound track began to play, it lit up Kaia’s soft smile. She was looking at me like… Like what?
“If you want to enjoy the movie, I’d answer.”
“Didn’t I just tell you?” I asked. “I don’t want to watch the movie.”
She sighed, letting her chest rise and fall as she thought. About what, I couldn’t tell you, but God did I want to have a look inside her head right now. There was something different about her; there had been since the weekend when I’d showed up at her house on Saturday morning with nerves that melted as soon as her warm eyes met mine. There was no hesitance to her actions anymore, like she had let herself go and do whatever she felt in the moment.
Knowing me and my total ineptitude for other people and their actions I was more than likely wrong, on everything except the difference.
“Why did you come, Jacob?” She whispered, the movie drowning out her voice to make it so.
“Because of you.”
Even I could see the heat rise in her cheeks, or the way her breathing faltered like I’d said something she wanted to hear. Could that be true? Could she have wanted to hear that she was my reason for ditching my beloved books and doing something I so badly didn’t want to do?
That would require something I would never have expected from her. Something that didn’t make sense. Something that would make a difference to what she did.
No. She couldn’t. My mind refused to fit that last piece of the puzzle to reach the only conclusion that made sense and instead complicated things, reasoning the impossibility of such things.
Kaia Sawyer couldn’t like me the way I loved her. It was incomprehensible. It was impossible. It would explain so much.
She didn’t say anything, another unexpected occurrence. It was unlike her to not have a response. Instead she folded up the arm rest between us, put her head on my shoulder and linked her fingers with mine. I drew our connected hands to my lips and pressed a kiss to her knuckles, because if the impossible was possible and she had given up pretending, why shouldn’t I?