She remembered the first time they met. It was a cold October afternoon and the leaves on the trees were making their decision to change to amber and chestnut hues, just like they did every year. This time though, each leaf fell with a bit more passion. They fell with the whimsical intricacies of romance. Adaline stood in the museum with her hands folded across her lap. No one else resided in the exhibit at the time so she had space to be within her thoughts to stare at the piece in front of her. Black as night was the portrait and its simplistic quality was what had brought Adaline back to the same portrait 3 times in the past week. The exhibit only lasted for 2 more days and she wanted to get a message from it before it was too late.
The exhibit resided on her college campus, close enough to her apartment that a stroll to the location wasn’t too difficult. She made sure to go during a time when teachers wouldn’t be bringing their students through for a class lecture so she was guaranteed silence. It’s not that she didn’t like the presence of people in the museum, it’s that she would have rather it contain people actually passionate about art. Not people who were ever present solely due to the fact that they were required to be at the museum to get a good grade for class. The art, in Adaline’s opinion, was worth more than an A.
Black. Why was the portrait just simply black? Adaline couldn’t interpret where the artist was coming from and that’s what made her keep coming back. Was the black emptiness? Was it space? Was it not space at all?
“Interesting isn’t it?” Adaline was startled by a voice dipped in velvet. She spun around only to see a young man with marvelous genetics. He stood strong with straight posture, yet had a smile so sweet that sugar would be envious. He was wearing a black polo with the museum logo pressed on it along with “volunteer” imprinted in cursive that rested on his defined pectoral. His olive skin reminded her of a summer breeze and his eyes were so green that she swore she could see endless rolling hills within them. Obviously, he was a sight for sore eyes and Adaline was rarely approached by anyone as good-looking as him, but he was still a distraction from her goal of the day and that was to unlock the riddle behind the black art.
“Yes, very.” She responded bluntly, spinning back to the piece faster than a ballerina.
She could hear his voice hesitate until, “You know, you’ve been here 3 times this week and this is the only piece you’ve looked at. This museum has 2 floors I hope you know.” She felt a smirk rise from his lips.
Adaline spun around one more time, promising herself this would be the last. “Yes, I realize. This piece stands out to me and if you wouldn’t mind, wise guy, I want to go back to enjoying it before it’s gone.”
“You’re right, this piece is only here for two more days, but it’s not the only hot commodity in the room. You see, it’s Thursday and I don’t work again until next Tuesday.” He smiled at her glinting his perfectly aligned teeth. They were too immaculate for him to have not had braces and she wondered if he had a permanent retainer holding his front teeth together like she did. She slid her tongue along the metal bar behind her four front teeth and then responded, “Oh man, whatever will I do without your presence?” She dramatically elongated her words and then proceeded to roll her eyes.
“I suppose you would probably be able to make a conclusion on this so you can put it to rest.” He gestured his body towards the piece mounted on the wall.
“I suppose you’re right.” She sighed and turned around again. “It’s just hard you know? Like is the black representing something negative or is it just there?”
“I think the artist wanted it to be left up to interpretation.” He answered.
“Why do you think that?” She looked at him with eyes of intent.
“Let’s just say I’m close with the artist.” He shrugged with a light laugh.
Adaline’s face turned suspiciously at the panel to the side of the art piece. “Creation. Noah Strike. Third Year Art Major.” It read in silver font. She turned back to him still somewhat confused.
“Hi nice to meet you, I’m Noah.” He reached his hand out as a standard introductory gesture, with a bit of sarcasm laced in between.
Adaline stood back for a moment to catch her sudden loss of breath. She gazed off at the other pieces that surrounded her in the exhibit and for the first time realized that none of them had an aesthetic synchrony. “Is this exhibit a display of student art work?”
“Ding ding. I’m surprised you didn’t know that. Yep at the end of the week that puppy is going back to the corner of my room behind my desk and beside my cat’s food bowl.” He sighed.
“How could you do that!?” She huffed. “This deserved to be displayed somewhere!” Adaline was torn by a sudden defeat that the piece she had been constantly thinking about wasn’t anything that she had dreamt it to be. It wasn’t ever going to be put up for auction for millions of dollars and it wasn’t created by one of the greats. How could she have been so silly to not have looked at the information beside the painting?
“Maybe one day if I make it, that will be on display somewhere, but I doubt it. I’m pretty sure I have to die first.” He laughed once more but quickly erased his grin when he realized Adaline’s unsatisfied features. “So now that you know the piece’s intent, what do you see it as?” He turned the conversation to one of academic taste in hopes that she would continue to speak with him.
“Darkness. What do you see it as?” She reversed the inquiry back in Noah’s direction.
“So metaphorical and thoughtful.” He paused from his sarcastic antics and placed his fore finger on to his perfectly formed chin. “You see it depends on the day. It’s always something different, but today I see it as coffee.”
“Coffee?” Adaline quickly responded.
“Yeah, like an up close and personal snapshot of black coffee. Do you like coffee?”
“I drink it on occasion.” Who was she kidding, if she drank anymore coffee then it would soon replace her blood entirely.
“Well that’s good because there’s a coffee place down the street that has just the cup of coffee I’m imagining. What are you doing at say, 8 Saturday night?” He asked with the eyes of an eager puppy.
“Studying, most likely.” She shrugged still not entirely understanding why he was asking.
“Well, would you like to study at this coffee shop with me? I promise I’m not usually as much of a distraction as I was today.” Adaline highly doubted that.
“It could be arranged.”
“Well I’m taking that as a yes. Meanwhile, I still haven’t caught your name…” He waited.
“Okay, Addie, I’ll see you at Café Luche at 8! Do you know where that is?” Noah began to walk towards the wooden stairs of the museum.
“Yeah I’ve been there a few times. And it’s Adaline, not Addie!” She responded increasing her volume of voice with every footstep that Noah took up the stairs.
“I’ll see you then Addie!” He laughed as he reached the second floor and disappeared behind a large white wall.
Adaline looked once more at the painting and realized her interpretation of it had suddenly changed. Now, she only saw light.
After their first encounter, Adaline and Noah spent a great amount of time together. Their coffee date led to more coffee dates and Adaline began to feel things that she never thought she could ever feel before. They watched movies and wandered through bookstores and antique shops. They ate weird food and laughed so hard that sometimes Adaline swore her abdomen would burst open. He once took her to the top of the mountain and they just sat and looked at the stars. That was the first time he kissed her. All of it was so cliché, but to Adaline the moment felt too real to not want to be engulfed in all of its glory for as long as she could. She was turning into something she told herself she’d never be but she was okay with it. For the past three weeks all she had done was go to class, do homework and then spend time with Noah. She came home at god awful times of the night and lately her apartment had just become a place where she slept. Since Noah had decided to go home for the weekend, this was one of the first times that Adaline was going back to her apartment in broad daylight.
She walked through her front door only for her face to be engulfed with smoke. Her head jerked immediately towards the kitchen where her roommate, Cali, was standing waving a pan in her hand. “I tried to make mac and cheese but I forgot to add the water!!”
“Did you open the windows or turn on the fan!?” Adaline ran towards all of the windows surrounding the kitchen and latched them open.
“I didn’t know what to do so I just started swinging this pan around like a fan!” Cali was her random roommate. Adaline chose a 2-bedroom apartment instead of a studio because the rent was way cheaper and she really didn’t mind having another person walking around. Unfortunately, Cali didn’t walk around. She stomped, slammed, screeched and yelled. She was a very emotionally driven girl from Washington who only had the motivation to tan and party. They were complete opposite people who still found a way to make their situation work and had actually become good friends.
After all of the windows were opened and the smoke had released from the premises, Adaline sat on the kitchen counter and grabbed her computer from her backpack. She needed to write an essay before class the next day and she knew if she didn’t start now, she would be up all night typing away.
“So doll, where have you been? I literally feel like I haven’t seen you for a month!” Cali planted her elbows on the counter placing her elegant hands under her chin.
“I’ve been really busy with school...and I sort of met someone.” Adaline announced with a smile on her face.
“YOU’RE KIDDING. Tell me about it. Who is he, what does he do for a living, how old? Sugar daddy potential?” Cali gave the men with more money, more of her attention.
“His name is Noah and he’s an art major.”
“Oh my god, let’s Facebook stalk!!” Cali pulled Adaline’s computer from her and opened up Safari. “Noah what?” She stared at Adaline with wide eyes, her fingers were ready to pounce on the keyboard.
“Noah Strike.” Her photographic memory pulled her back to the panel beside the black portrait that had his name engraved on it.
Cali typed on the computer and scrolled for a minute. “Found him! Ooh he’s a cutie.” Adaline pulled the computer away to look.
“Yeah that’s him.” She smiled with pride. His profile picture was one from his senior prom and his green eyes pierced through the photo like daggers.
“He also looks really familiar though.” She pulled the computer back.
“What are you doing?” Adaline questioned, somewhat concerned.
“Looking at his tagged photos.” She paused. “Oh my god. Adaline. Oh my god.”
“What!? Tell me!!” She stared waiting for an answer.
“This guy went to my high school!”
Adaline hadn’t even realized that both Noah and her roommate were from Washington.
“No way!? Yeah he went home this weekend to visit his family!” She responded.
“Yeah he used to date one of my really good friends back home. I actually thought they were still together but I guess not if he’s seeing you!” Cali smiled bubbly and unassuming.
Adaline was silent for a second. She and Noah had never really talked about their exes before. It wasn’t something that was ever brought up, but now the subject was suddenly eating her insides alive like a parasite. “Yeah, you’re right. Plenty of people have serious relationships coming in to college and they never last.” She was trying to convince herself.
“Yeah, they were literally together since 7th grade. One of those couples. Probably went separate ways before college.” Cali smiled with a sliver of concern hidden behind.
“Well, is she pretty?” Adaline asked the stereotypical question that she needed to know.
“Look for yourself.” Cali spun the computer around to face Adaline. Her computer screen was a slap in the face. She was stunning and even worse, it was a picture of her and Noah together. They were so happy. Her long brown hair shined with a glimmer that Adaline had ever seen in Pantene commercials. Her smile should have been on a Colgate ad and her tan was a perfect Nutella shade that made Adaline cringe at the sight of her fair but pale skin. They fit perfectly together and Adaline suddenly felt like an estranged puzzle piece that no one can ever find a spot for. “Are you kidding me?” Were the only words she could bring out of her mouth. “Well when was this taken?” She was beginning to investigate.
“It says this was posted two months ago, so like at the beginning of the school year?”
Acceptable, she thought to herself.
“Just talk to him sweetie, I’m sure it’s nothing.” She was trying to sooth like honey but Adaline only felt lemon juice on her open wound.
The next few days were hard. Noah’s absence was a void that didn’t have the ability to be filled and she had questions that she needed to have answered. They had agreed to meet at the park by her apartment to reunite and her heart was full of excitement yet singed with worry. He sat up straight and confident on a bench under an oak tree. His hair was perfectly placed on top of his head and Adaline had to take a deep breath to control herself, which was only ruined because her lungs were then filled with his intoxicating cologne.
“Hi Addie!” He stood up and hugged her tightly with his chiseled arms. She had gotten used to the nickname, but she still wasn’t a fan. He pulled away from her and kissed her with lips she swore were tainted with a substance more addictive than heroine. “I missed you.” He said while rubbing her upper arms almost as if to warm her up. She just wanted to melt into him like a fresh baked cookie on ice cream, but she had to stay strong, for now.
“I miss you too.” She paused, “There’s actually something I need to-“
“Oh! I almost forgot!” He interrupted her and turned around to bring forward an object that Adaline was so very fond of. The black painting. “For you.” He smiled and handed it to her. Her mind told her not to take it but her hands already had.
“Thank you so much, wow.” She choked on her words.
“Are you okay?” He grabbed her gently and gazed into her eyes waiting.
“Noah, I need to know something.”
He stared, puzzled. “Okay, anything.”
“Are you seeing anyone other than me?” They had never really talked about labels before, but through their words and actions it was something pretty obvious as well as something that didn’t really need to be exchanged.
“What do you mean? Like dating anyone?”
“Yes.” She looked at him longing for a response.
“What do you mean not anymore? Were you seeing anyone while we’ve been together?”
He looked down at the ground. “It’s really hard to explain.”
“Try me.” Her face was cold.
“It’s this girl I’ve been dating since middle school. We decided to give it a try in college but since we have it’s been really rocky. She’s too far and we’ve both changed a lot. And then I met you. That’s why I went home, to end things with her.” He stopped and waited for some kind of response.
“So you were with her still? You cheated on her with me while you both were still together?”
“You either did or you didn’t.” She could feel tears chasing down her face like lava.
“Addie, it’s not like I could have just texted her and been like, hey we’re over. She deserved more than that.”
“Do you realize I can’t trust you anymore? You lied to me.” She spun around. Her hands were still gripped tight to the painting and despite the situation, she couldn’t find the ability to let it go. She started to walk away with numb legs, like when you sit down for too long and they become tingly.
“Addie wait! There’s nor reason for this. It’s over between her and I.”
She continued to walk away her body was now in an automatic setting that didn’t give her any permission to turn around. She stared down at the painting, still black as ever but not as black as the mascara threaded tears shedding down her cheeks.
It was that night that Adaline realized a tongue had no bones, but it could break a heart.
She hadn’t eaten real food for days and her soul felt dirtier than the bottom of a lasagna pan after Christmas dinner. She sat on the floor in her room with only her lamp light on and moaned through the silence. She suddenly craved a donut but she knew how empty her pantry was and there was no way in hell she would go to the kitchen only to leave disappointed at its hollow insides.
Her hungry thoughts were interrupted by the default ring of her cell phone. She hesitated to pick it up and look because the previous 35 missed phone calls, 17 voicemails, and 8 novel texts from Noah, made the chances pretty high that it was him. Mom. She had told her mom everything that had happened in the past few weeks and after that she had also been a very frequent caller. Adaline loved her mom for that reason but also needed to be alone. She answered.
“Hey honey, just checking in. Have you brushed your teeth today?”
“Yeah.” She lied.
“Yeah.” She lied again.
“I miss you. I hope you’re doing okay. I also wanted to see if you had contacted Grandma and Grandpa at all lately. I talked to them today and they wanted to see how you were, I said school was going well.”
Her grandparents were the epitome of every love story. Though she never really heard specifics, their 50 plus years of marriage showed a lot about their commitment to each other. Something Adaline hadn’t been able to see in a long time. She then thought of an idea. She knew how to get out of the funk that she had been thrown in.
“You know what? I’ll email them right now! Love you!”
“Oh, okay, well Scooter I love you! Make sure to take your vitamins!”
Adaline opened her laptop with ease, then took the bottom of her black t-shirt and rubbed the screen clean from dust build up and randomly spaced fingerprints.
In the now clear black screen, she could see her reflection and she wasn’t the least bit amused about it. She frowned staring at her tired looking eyes, and messy hair stuck in a bun. Her thumb finger reluctantly searched for the power button, to escape the horror of her face. Once her finger found it, she jammed at it multiple times until a screen of white wiped away the empty reflective black.
She clicked on her email contacts and saw only a few email addresses which were family members. Her Grandparents had moved to Vermont, from Arizona and to this day Adaline had not the least idea why. Only that they definitely wanted to get the hell out of Arizona. It saddened her that all of her family had moved away. She only spoke to her mother’s side of the family due to the fact that her parents had a failed marriage when she was very young and her father made little to no effort to contact her since. All she knew about her father is that he refused to pay child support and had accusations of cocaine usage. He was in hiding like an immature child at his mother’s house, while she protected him from the punishment life and law was patiently waiting to serve to him.
Her parent’s failed marriage was just another part of Adaline’s life that forced her to believe that any hope for love was either extremely rare, or didn’t happen at all.
Adaline opened the email tab on her computer and began to type. Once she finished, she read it over and when she was satisfied she typed in her grandparent’s email to send it. Their username was Ernj4, after their name’s Ernest and Jane. They shared an email due to the immense amount of trust they had for each other, but Adaline knew that the person replying would certainly be her grandpa. There were two reasons for this. The first was the fact that her grandma had no idea how to use technology and the second was that for the past few years her grandma had been extremely ill. Her anxiety levels would sky rocket at any type of stimuli and no doctors, even the ones from all of the ivy-league hospitals, had any idea what was going on. This caused her to be even more distraught because the medical field decided it was good idea to throw an array of medication at her like she was the million-dollar slot machine in order to receive the prize of health.
She hit the send button.
Dear Grandma and Grandpa.
I hope you both are doing well and that the Vermont Fall weather is treating you with the upmost holiday comfort. I was just talking on the phone with Mom and she told me that you talked today. I wanted to let you know that school is going well and I’m finally settling into my major despite the rigor of classes. Though the most important things are going in the right direction, certain life experiences lately have forced me to lose a lot of hope. I know you’ve told me bits and pieces over the years, but I was wondering if you could take the time to share with me how the love between you both began.
The next day Adaline was frozen in time. She waited every few hours to check her inbox, and at 5:00 pm the next evening, she received a response. She opened the email faster than any Christmas or Birthday present.
Wow- There are millions of love stories going on every day. Your request is one that is not easy to provide a simple response. Love is a fragile, beautiful, simple and complex gift. Without tender care, love cannot survive on its own. What we knew and continue to know is that we were drawn to each other immediately and that has continued for some 50 years, since the fall season of 1958.
Your grandmother (Jane Code) was walking across campus, as was I, when I saw her from a distance and the sight of her stopped me in my tracks. From that moment until this very moment I felt and have had a feeling in my heart, an attraction, a love for that pretty young lady. This was my fourth year on campus and we had never knowingly seen each before. A fraternity brother, however, did know this lovely lass and said she was just as special as she appeared to be. In a matter of days we met. Jane was returning from an evening class and I was working on her sorority house deck for the 1958 Homecoming (fraternity brothers some times did this). She stopped and gave me a thank you for my efforts and I also got a close up look at her. Life has never been the same from that moment and my heart was doing some serious pounding. As I found out later, she did some inquiries about me too. Our life together had its beginning. We spent a growing amount of time together, walking, studying, talking and eating. Since Jane was a town girl, we would meet in the campus cafeteria and have morning tea and toast. My fraternity brothers became very fond of this lady and they too began to regularly show up in the morning. After a short conversation with the guys, we would excuse ourselves and find a quiet corner to have our own good morning hellos. We were fairly jealous of what time we had available for one another.
Conversations took us to the real person in each of us. We discussed music, religion, likes and dislikes, our individual weaknesses, families, animals (dogs, horses). After a few weeks I asked if she would wear my fraternity pin, which to us was the same as a commitment to marriage, and with that acceptance our life together began to take on growing seriousness. Watching your grandmother butter her toast in the cafeteria back then really told me a lot about her. She buttered it well and completely, much like she has lived her life.
Mutual Love finds less time for one’s self and more time for the one in your life with whom you are continually falling deeper into love. Love bears the mistakes, errors and weaknesses (of which we all have many) and stands shoulder to shoulder with this ever increasing oneness that you share. The strength of love is an unselfishness that provides genuine care and protection. If this breaks down, the relationship can have serious diminishing potential of success. I mention these things for a very good reason.
Our immediate future challenged us in several ways as we headed towards marriage in 1960. While schooling, fraternity, sorority responsibilities were continually needed to be cared for, your grandmother had to maintain her high grades to fulfill the scholarship requirements, while working evenings and weekends. Neither of us had much spending money but our time together was priceless. This was when ILY become part of our relationship. ILY (I love you) was exchanged between us on many occasions while studying and remains a strong 3 letter word between us to this very day.
During 1960 Mr. Code (your grandmother’s father) passed away from a heart attack. This was devastating for your grandmother. There was true love felt between them. The pain from Mr. Code’s passing is still felt today. We occasionally have turtles (candies) in his honor. It was a treat he brought home on special occasions. Love comes in many forms and varying degrees of depth. You, for instances have a wonderful love for your mother and have experienced love in return.
Two things happened with the announcement of our wedding plans that put a real test to our love for one another. Your grandmother’s family wanted her to finish school and for my family there was a religion problem, as I was not Catholic. This not only put a dampener on the wedding, but caused strained relations for a period of time. Nonetheless, we stood shoulder to shoulder, kept ILY in our hearts and moved forward with the rest of our lives. The families got over the religion concerns and your grandmother became a student of home making and continues to get high grades for how she butters her toast, proved to be the favored daughter in law and the greatest love any man has ever known.
I hope in some ways this letter contains what you are looking for while still understanding that though love isn’t easy, it’s the most precious thing to wait for and hope for. It deserves forgiveness and it requires an immense amount of sacrifice. Trust yourself and never stop knowing what you deserve.
With all of my love,
Adaline gazed at the computer screen for a short period of time. Her mind was whirling in a haze. She had surely heard some of these stories throughout her life, but they were simple and small pieces. Her grandfather was always known as a good man, but a private man. Adaline felt honored by the info. he shared, but more than anything else she felt a flutter in her heart that she hadn’t felt in while. Her soul was cold and all of sudden there was a sliver of warmth peering through in an attempt to melt her steel walls.
Adaline peered at the black portrait that was hidden in a corner in her room and quickly had the motivation to stand up from her position on the floor. She waltzed over to the picture while grabbing two tacks from her desk and picked up the piece with grace. She hung it on the empty space on her wall and as she stood back to look at it, she glimmered a smile and admired it just how she had the very first time saw it.
Cali walked into her room suddenly and startled Adaline with her loud voice, “HEY do you know where my red thong is? The one with the straps on the front? David is coming over tonight and I want to look extra spicy if you know what I mean.”
“Haven’t seen it! Hey can I ask you something?”
“What’s up?” Cali replied somewhat curious. Adaline never really asked her questions because it was always the other way around.
“What do you see this photo as?”
“Uhmm it’s just black… If you want me to get metaphorical on you, I’d say emptiness.”
“Like a fresh start?” Adaline responded.
“Sure?” Cali was confused.
“I like that. It was actually a trick question. This photo is whatever you want it to be and that’s what gives it its charm.” She turned back to it and smiled once more.
“I don’t know where this positivity is coming from but I like it and I missed it.” Cali paused. “I’m gonna go look through my laundry one more time and find this thong, love ya!” Cali slammed the door, being unintentionally obnoxious and Adaline giggled to herself at how she now found her roommate’s loudness endearing.
The photo stood in her room and no longer did it have a negative veil because for the first time, Adaline realized she had all the power. It was her painting and it was her scar that she found a way to heal. Once more, Adaline saw light.
She took out her cell phone and texted Noah. I forgive you.