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Painting the Sun
The frost had finally demanded claim of the naive autumn. The city roads were now coated with thick gray slush, and the buildings displayed fresh curtains of glimmering wet icicles.
Lainie marveled the beauty of the new winter as she wandered through the downtown streets of Portland. After spending long day stroking her brush in her art studio, she was stiff and exhausted, and the only thing she could think about was getting to the bus stop as soon as possible. Silently she passed galleries of little shops, ranging from beautiful antique stores to cozy cafes with the pleasant smell of sweet coffee and caramel. She raised her numb hands to her jacket collar and zipped it up to her chin, careful to secure it so as to not let any cold air seep through. She walked, shoes kicking the snow and several minutes passing, before finally reaching the bus stop.
Once there, she saw that someone else was waiting there also. It was a young man, around Lainie’s age it looked like. His dark curly hair was tucked under a gray beanie, and his eyes were as green as emeralds, glimmering whenever he glanced a different way. He looked like he was even colder than she was, for his pleasant face was blotched with redness from the wind. Under one of his arms he was holding a small canvas facing inward at his side. Lainie was curious to see what was on the front. She stood noiselessly about five feet from him, trying to decide whether to say something.
“Uh, is that a painting?” She asked, pointing a numb finger at the canvas.
The man looked at her and nodded.
“Do you think I could see it?” She asked politely.
He carefully handed it to her, sort of half-trusting, like a mother cautiously handing over her newborn. The canvas felt surprisingly warm in her hands. She proceeded to turn it over. The painting was a slightly hard to make out at first; she could tell he needed a little practice at the stroking and blending of colors. But other than that it was pretty good.
It was of a dark, gloomy, wintry scene, in the middle of which a dark silhouette of a man stood alone, staring at the snowy ground.
Fits the season, Lainie thought with a shiver. “So are you an artist?” she asked.
“Nah,” he shrugged. “I wish I was better at it, but I don’t have the money to go to art school.” He seemed to have shocked himself for letting all that out to a complete stranger.
“Well this is a great painting,” Lainie said, trying hard to make it sound completely truthful.
The man beamed at her with a smile that seemed to melt the iciness right off of her. She was glad that his outward appearance correctly reflected his friendliness.
“But… the figure in the painting… is it you?”
He looked at her with a nervous happiness as if he had been waiting for her to ask that question.
“Yeah, it’s me. I know it’s hard to tell—“
“No, not really,” she assured him as she handed the painting back to him.
Again he smiled.
“Um, I know this is a strange coincidence,” Lainie said, “but I’m actually an artist myself. In fact, I just left my studio a while ago.”
His face lit up in surprise. “Really?
“Yeah, you could come check it out if you’d like. It’s right on Haven Street. You can’t miss it.”
“That would be great.” He said eagerly. “What’s your name?”
“Nice to meet you Lainie. I’m Kale.”
They shook hands, both beaming. When the bus arrived, Lainie sat next to him, feeling glad that something this good could come out of such a strenuous day.
* * *
The next chilly morning Kale was there, with two steaming coffees at hand, waiting for her to arrive at the studio. Lainie saw him and immediately ran to him, thanking him for the coffee and pulling her keys out her pocket. She unlocked the door with a “clink” and welcomed him inside. He looked around in wonder at the various paintings hanging on the walls.
“You made these?” He asked in disbelief.
Lainie laughed. “Yep, it’s my job.”
“They’re amazing,” He said. “They look so real, like photographs.”
He walked slowly around the room, carefully examining each one, once in a while touching the dry paint with his fingertips.
“Though,” he added as he browsed, “there doesn’t seem to be much feeling in them.”
Lainie was confused by this. What did feeling have to do with painting? She had worked painstakingly on each one, putting thought down on paper, but it had nothing to do with feeling.
Kale noticed the puzzled expression on her face. “Lainie,” he continued, “look at this one, for example.” He brought her over to a very large framed watercolor painting of a small child with a pink frilled dress. “The image is very authentic-looking, and the technique is perfect,” he said, “But the child’s expression… it’s blank. What’s the story behind it?”
“Yeah. Every work of art has a story,” he said, like he expected the knowledge of the fact to be built into her.
“I tell you what,” he interrupted with a child-like grin, and then paused to ponder for a moment. His eyes glinted in the soft light of the room. “You teach me better technique with my art, and I’ll teach you better expression with yours.”
Lainie thought the proposition to be odd, but, quite curious. If there was a way to make her art better…. well she should probably take it, she thought. Plus, it meant that she would get to spend more time with him.
* * *
Kale appeared every day early in the morning before Lainie even unlocked the door. And every day he brought one of his paintings, eager to learn a new way he might be able to improve it. Lainie got a lot out his visits also. She had been clueless about how to put emotion into her paintings, but she was learning more and more about it from hearing Kale’s own stories about each of his. He always spoke so powerfully and passionately about them, and Lainie began to realize that even without technique, Kale was truly a better artist than her. And even in a way, she thought, a better person than her. A great friend.
One particular day, Lainie recognized the painting that Kale brought with him as being the one she first saw him with when they met.
“I brought this one,” he said as he took a seat next to her and laid the painting down on a wooden easel, “Because this is the one that means the most to me.”
“How so? Lainie asked.
“The figure in the painting, I told you it was me, right?”
“Well, you see how the scene around me is very dark and cold, and my head is slightly bowed?” He traced his finger around the head of the figure. “That’s a symbol of sorrow, and even pain.”
Lainie saw his expression slowly become sad, and for a moment he was lost in his own thought. She didn’t know what to say. She understood that this meant there had been something painful in his past, and it further made her realize that they had not talked much about their personal life in the few weeks he they had known each other.
“My father,” he finally spoke, still staring at the painting. “He was an addict, violent and rude and horrible to his children. My mother was always out of the house, for Lord knows what. Probably to get away from him.”
He turned away from the painting and looked at Lainie.
“One day I was riding my bike out in the driveway, and I accidentally crashed into his car. I took a pretty hard fall and got the wind knocked out of me. My father came rushing out, screaming about the scratch I made on his car. A little scratch, that’s all it was.” He paused and sighed. “He knew that I had asthma, and I was having trouble breathing from the fall. But even so, out of anger he took my inhaler away from me and left me there, not breathing. Thankfully a neighbor saw me and rushed me to the emergency room. After I told the doctors how it all happened, my father was arrested. I haven’t seen him since.”
Lainie felt his sorrow deeply as if she had been there with him. Kale saw her crying and gathered her into his arms. His warmth reminded her of the sun. Lainie whispered, “I don’t think this one needs any touch-ups,” And they both broke into laughter, bringing a little healing to the sad moment.
* * *
Lainie sat awake in her bedroom the whole night. She was working on her newest painting, it was something Kale had challenged her to make. He had told her to try to create an image of something that meant a lot to her right now. Lainie was enthralled by the idea; it was something that she had never done before. She knew exactly what to make. The whole night she couldn’t stop the paintbrush from stroking the vivid colors onto her canvas. It was like writing in a diary, but even more, because she could actually see the image in front of her. It was by far the hardest she had every worked on a painting, but also the most enjoyed. And when the sun had risen, she took a final glance at her work, carefully placed it into a large black folder, and rushed out the door without even brushing her hair.
The weather hadn’t gotten any warmer. The icy snow was still falling, and the frigid air had to be around 5 degrees Fahrenheit. The downtown traffic was dragging; Lainie supposed it was because of the slippery roads. She had to watch her step even as she strode down the sidewalk to her studio, so as to not slip and fall.
As he was every day, Kale was waiting for her, another one of his paintings in his hands.
“Don’t you have a job?” Lainie asked him, smiling. “How are you able to come here every single day?”
“Ah, well, I do work on weekends… minimum wage.”
Lainie stared at him, shocked. He had never got around to telling her that part. The evidence of the reality hit her like a rock: This means he’s poor, she realized.
Without looking at him she unlocked the door and set her new painting, still in it’s folder, on an easel. Kale helped her take off her coat and tossed both of theirs on a table, and Lainie walked into the back room to get art supplies.
She couldn’t wait to show him her painting. She knew he would love it. It was for him, after all.
She came out carrying a large container of supplies, only to find Kale reaching inside of the folder on the easel to pull out her painting…
“Kale, the paint is still wet—“
But it was too late. As he took it out, the bright paints smeared across the canvas, unrepairable. Lainie dropped the container to the ground, causing objects to scatter across the room.
Kale looked at her with eyes that said accident. But Lainie was overcome with anger. She had worked so hard on it, for him. And now it was gone, a sopping blend of color on a piece of canvas. She just stared at it, wordlessly. Kale tried to apologize but was interrupted with “Just go.” He looked at her, pleading with her, but he saw the anger on her face and proceeded to grab his coat and walk straight out the door, slamming it behind him.
* * *
Lainie knew that she would not have to be there early, for surely Kale would not come today. She took some extra time to make her own coffee and sit by the fireplace. She sat there, thinking, the crackling fire failing to soothe the numbness inside of her. For a person who had once had a hard time grasping emotion, she felt now like she was all emotion, made up of emotion. She fought with her heart and wondered if she should go and find Kale and beg him to forgive her. But no, it was impossible. She would just have to ride out the days and try to mend things herself, she thought.
When she did get on the bus, it was already toward noon, and Lainie felt refreshed and fully awake, eyes finally losing the soreness left from tears. She stared out the window at the passing buildings and cheerful people carrying their newly bought Christmas gifts as the bus carried her to the studio.
But when the bus arrived, it couldn’t find a place to stop; it was blocked by at least three ambulances. A paramedic in a blue jacket jumped out of one of them and came up to the bus, signaling the bus driver to open the door. She walked up the steps and whispered something to the driver, and he gave a solemn nod.
“Hey, this is my studio. What happened?” Lainie asked, and the paramedic turned to her.
“There’s been an accident in front of your studio, Miss.” He said. “Do you by any chance know someone by the name of Kale Perry?”
Lainie’s heart stopped. “What happened to him?” She cried.
“He’s had a severe asthma attack. It’s evident that he’s been outside exposed to the cold for more than three hours.”
Lainie doubled over. Everything inside of her was frozen, time seemed to disappear. Guilt trampled over her like a horse, exposing everything to her mind that she had tried to keep bottled up. He still came…
“Miss, if you want I can give you a ride to the hospital. He’s already there.” The paramedic said.
Lainie and the paramedic stood outside Kale’s hospital room.
“You can go in now.” Another doctor said to them as he came out. “He’s okay, just take it easy.”
Lainie walked silently into the pallid room. She saw Kale lying in a bed by the far wall, an oxygen mask ready at his side incase he was to need it again. He looked a little drained and his face was still red from the cold. He saw her making her way toward him and looked at her with that childlike look he always had.
“I’m so sorry,” she breathed. She didn’t care that tears were streaming down her face or that her nose was running; nothing mattered now but Kale, lying helpless in the hospital bed, all because of her. “I made you relive that horrible incident,” she cried. “My selfishness…”
He gave a weak smile, looking straight into her weary eyes, and whispered hoarsely something that she did not expect:
“I love you.”
Lainie couldn’t feel the floor under her feet, nor stinging of her tears, nor the gaze of Kale’s green eyes. She just stood in disbelief, wondering how on this earth there could be someone so selfless, so forgiving. Despite the doctors watching them from the door, she fell into his arms, never wanting to let go.
* * *
“What’s this?” Kale asked Lainie, referring to the painting in her hands.
The brilliant spring day shone through the glass windows of the studio, lighting up the place where they sat.
“I redid the painting I was going to show you that one day.” Lainie said. “It’s for you.”
Before she was able to hand it to him, he took her face in his hands and kissed her softly, innocently. Lainie’s heart raced, and the warmth that spread through her was the greatest comfort she had ever felt. She blushed, smiling at his pleasant green eyes, and placed the covered painting carefully in his hands.
“It’s dry, right?” he asked, grinning.
Lainie laughed. “Yes, it’s dry.”
Kale carefully removed the canvas from the folder, and he look at it, with silent understanding in his expression.
The painting was of a bright, warm scene, in the middle of which stood two figures. Their heads were both raised, looking up at the sun.