I wake up the following afternoon to several texts waiting for me on my phone.
The bulk of them are from Doug. I open his thread and immediately gag when I see an unsolicited picture of his disgusting dick. The rest of his texts are asking me if I’m still mad and asking if he can come over.
I’ve never been more turned off by a human being. I delete his text thread entirely.
I also have one message from Tony. Seeing his name there causes butterflies to leap around in my stomach.
His message says: my boss said yes to my idea! meet me at the store tonight. shift starts at 5 pm
At around 4:45 PM, I head over there with everything I used for the talent portion of the beauty pageant. I set up my canvas, my painter’s stool, and all of the colors right beside Tony’s checkout counter.
“Do you think people are really going to want me to paint portraits of them?” I ask, as I sit there feeling anxious.
“And you think people will pay $25 dollars a piece for them too?”
I silently nod as we sit there, waiting for people to stop in for some shopping. We calculated the math on reaching $1,000 dollars and it would mean that I need to complete 40 portraits at $25 dollars per. I’m game to make it happen. I’m just nervous that no one will care to pay for my artistic services.
Mrs. Byrd walks in and grabs a carton of milk out of the fridge. She’s the mother Bianca, of one of my girlfriends from high school.
“Hi there,” she says as she’s checking out with Tony.
“Hi, Mrs. Byrd,” I say waving.
“I’m so sorry to hear about the pageant, dear,” she says, giving me a look that is filled to the brim with pity.
“It’s alright. I’m doing just fine.”
“What have you got going on here?” she asks, pointing at my paint station.
“Just painting portraits for anyone interested. $25 a pop.”
“Oooh!” she squeals. “Well, I’d like to have one done.”
“You would?” I ask.
“Yes indeed!” she chirps. I can’t tell if she’s volunteering to do this out of pity for my pageant loss or because she actually thinks I’m talented. Either way, I’ll take it.
I paint her face making sure to leave out all her wrinkles and flaws so that she looks more like what she looked like twenty years ago.
She is blown away when she sees the final result. She hands me a $50 dollar bill instead of the $25 I was asking for.
“Keep the change, Nora. This is absolutely breathtaking! I’m going to have to send Bianca down here to get one of these done. My husband too!”
She leaves excitedly with her portrait and carton of milk. I had no idea at that moment, but my luck was genuinely about to change based on that sole interaction.
Mrs. Byrd ended up going home to tell her daughter Bianca who then told everyone we knew from high school about my portrait paintings. Mrs. Byrd also raved about me to the women in her book cub, coupon clipping club, and bible study group.
For the following couple of weeks, more people were visiting Hartford City’s local convenience store to get a portrait painted by me than to actually do any shopping.
I look over at Tony around the end of the second week and smile at him. He smiles back at me and for the first time I notice just how handsome he really is. I always knew he was kind of cute but it's jumping out at me now.
“Thank you for making sure I had the opportunity to do this,” I tell him.
“This was all you,” he says to me from behind the cashier’s counter.
I want to kiss him. In fact. I actually want to do much more than that with him. His thoughtfulness and consideration have stirred up some emotions inside of me. I think I’ve developed feelings for Tony Paulson. The boy I once considered unnoticeable.