Ashley is 22 years old and lives in NY. She writes fiction, poetry, and scripts. She enjoys spending time with her friends, listening to music, and watching cat videos. Her poetry ebook series, A Beautiful Journey, is available here: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B017TC9W8M?keywords=ashley%20lilly&qid=1449091180&ref_=sr_1_2&sr=8-2.
Joey stood in the doorway of Anna’s art studio. This room always smelled like paint and looked like chaos. Colors had been splashed all over the white walls and tile floor. A long, wooden table rested in the center of the room, holding bottles of acrylic paint, large mounds of clay, and tin cans overstuffed with worn out paint brushes. Large pieces of canvas leaned against the walls all around the room. Some of them were blank, and others had been filled in with images of sunsets, women, landscapes, and concepts that were too abstract to identify.
A desk on the far end of the room was stacked with papers, manila folders, and magazines. The front of the desk was decorated with a rainbow of used sticky notes. Large paint brushes were hung from the wall behind it the way one might hang tools in a garage. In one corner of the room, there was a large, metal sink. On the floor next to that, there was a mini fridge.
Anna knelt on the floor in front of the long table. She held a pallet that was covered in so much paint that it was practically a work of art all on its own. A blank canvas was propped up on a small easel in front of her. She stared at it, paintbrush in hand, but did not move. A gentle breeze blew in from an open window. The only sound in the room was the beat that could be heard playing though Anna’s earbuds. The wire from the earbuds snaked down into the jeans pocket that hid her silver iPod.
Joey took slow, soft steps over to her. He knelt down and gave her shoulder a gentle tap. He worried he might startle her, but she didn’t even turn her head. She took her earbuds out of her ears and jammed them into her pocket, the wire touching the paint-splattered floor near her bare feet. She turned her iPod off.
“It’s good to see you, Joe. I wasn’t expecting visitors.” She said. She turned to face him with her big, brown eyes and gave him a whimsical smile that made his heart skip. He took a breath and wiped his sweaty palms onto his jeans.
“What’s that you’re working on?” He asked, gesturing to the blank canvas. Anna sighed.
“Something abstract, I think. Or maybe something more realistic. I’m not sure.”
“Well, it looks good so far,” Joey said, his tone sarcastic. She looked at him, her eyes bright.
“You really think so?” She asked. He ran his hand through his blonde hair.
“I mean, I was joking of course. But, um, I’m sure it will look great once you start paint—“
“Shh!” She dropped her paintbrush and placed a finger on his lips. She grabbed his arm and pulled him closer, nodding toward the canvas. “Tell me what you see.”
“Um, a blank canvas?” He asked. His thigh was touching her thigh, and his shoulder was touching her shoulder. He looked at her and then back at the canvas, reminding himself to breathe.
She leaned closer to him so she could whisper. “Look again. What do you really see?” She asked. He wasn’t sure what he was supposed to see in a blank canvas. With her being this close in proximity, all he could think about was holding her free hand in his.
“Hands.” He blurted out. He gulped. ‘What a stupid thing to say.’ He thought.
“Yeah, you know. Like two people holding hands. But ignore me. That’s dumb.”
“No. It’s not. I can see it. Two hands, side by side, their fingers close, but not quite touching. They’re reaching for each other. And there’s tension because maybe one hand is pulling away.” She said, her face excited as she described each detail of her vision. She gave him a playful nudge. “Thanks for the help, Joey.” He raised his eyebrows, surprised that he helped at all. “I knew you had some artistic vision in that head of yours. I’m thirsty, can I get you a beer?”
“Sure. And I’m glad I could help.” He said. She dropped her palette and walked over to the mini-fridge. She grabbed two bottles and brought them over to the table, shoving some tin cans out of the way to make space.
“Sit on a stool. It’s more comfortable.” She said. He got up and smoothed out his shirt before going to sit at the table. Anna had already cracked open his beer. She took a long swig, and he followed suit. “It’s a good thing you stopped by. I really lose track of time. I forget to take my snack break. Speaking of which, do you want some pretzels?” She asked. She didn’t wait for him to answer. She went back over to the mini fridge and returned with a bag of pretzels. She tore it open offered the bag to Joey. “You have to take at least one. If not, I’ll be insulted.” She said, grinning.
“Yes, ma’am,” He said. He took a pretzel from the bag and nibbled on its salty edges.
“So, what brings you here, anyway? You hate my art studio. You always say it’s too messy.” She plopped a pretzel into her mouth and closed her eyes as she chewed, savoring the taste. She was hungry.
“Yeah, well, I knew you’d be in here for a while. And I, I wanted to talk to you.” He said.
“About what?” She asked. She took another sip of beer, made a small burp, and started munching on another pretzel. Joey took a breath.
“About Sunday night,” He said. Anna swallowed her food and then paused. She looked down at the table. “It’s just, I wasn’t sure if you remembered—“
“I remember,” She said. She didn’t meet his eyes.
“Um, great. So, I thought it might be good to tell you—“
“Tell me what?” She asked, her voice sharp. She met his eyes with a cold gaze. He cleared his throat.
“I just thought I should tell you that I feel the same—“
“Stop it,” She said.
“That I feel the same wa—“
“—You don’t know what you’re talking about,” She said. She grabbed a charcoal pencil off the table and stomped back to her canvas. She knelt on the ground and started drawing something. Joey walked over to her, confused.
“I just don’t understand. You told me that night that you were in love with me.” She didn’t respond. She just kept sketching. Her drawing began to take the shape of a man and a woman. Each of them was cut off so that only half of their bodies showed on the canvas. The man was reaching for the woman, but the woman was pulling away. “Anna?”
“I was drunk. I was drunk when I told you that.”
“I know. I mean, I know we had been drinking. But if that’s really how you feel, I just wanted you to know that I like you, too. I have for a long time. I mean, how could I not?” He asked. She kept working on her drawing.
“Joey, have you ever been on a roller coaster?” She asked. He furrowed his brow in confusion.
“Um, sure. You know I have. We rode one at that carnival that one time.”
“Roller coasters are nice, aren’t they? You get strapped in your seat, and the ride starts off all slow. You start to rise, and your heart starts racing with anticipation. And you reach that delicious moment when you’ve reached the highest point, and you know that at any second you’re going to drop and go so fast. You take all of these twists and turns while you’re laughing and screaming. You cling to your seat until you’re brave enough to raise your hands into the air. And then, as quickly as it started, the ride slows down, you come to a stop, and you have this lingering adrenaline rush. You get out of your seat, and your legs are all wobbly like you’ve forgotten how to use them. And you might get back on line and take the ride again, maybe twice, maybe three or four times. But still, you know you don’t want to spend the rest of your life on that ride. It’s temporary. That’s what makes it fun.” She said. She stood from her canvas but kept her back toward him.
“Why are you telling me this?” He asked, his voice soft.
“Because that’s how I am with love. I dive in head first. I move too quickly. And then I get scared. Something about it feels too fixed, too permanent. I feel the need to get off the ride so I can learn how to walk again. So I can remember who I was before.”
“I can understand if you don’t really love m—“
“You know the last guy I was with never let me paint? He thought it was just a silly hobby. He was always pulling me away from my studio. And I let him because he brought me flowers and made me dinner. He was a good guy, really. It’s just, the thing that mattered the most to me didn’t matter at all to him.” She said. Her voice quivered. Joey walked over to her and placed a hand on her shoulder.
“Anna, someone who really loves you will love all of you. Your spontaneity, your smile, your stubbornness, your art—all of it.” He said. He took a breath and shrugged. “Look, we all say things when we’re drunk. It’s fine if you don’t like me. But I’ve just told you that I’m in love with you. Tell me you love me back, or reject me and tell me you wouldn’t be caught dead dating me. Just tell me something. Please.”
She shook her head but said nothing. “Is it because I don’t like your art studio?” He asked. “Because I can totally come here more often. Heck, I can help you come up with more ideas for paintings. I’m not the most creative person, but I could try.” He sighed. “Anyway, I get it. You don’t feel the same way about me that I feel about you. This was my mistake. My mom’s the one that told me to come here, you know. She said people always tell the truth when they’re drunk. That’s the last time I listen to her.” He laughed an awkward laugh. He realized he still had his hand on her shoulder and removed it. He looked down at the drawing of the man reaching for the woman’s hand as the woman pulled away. It had been a mistake for him to come here. “Anyway, um, I’m just gonna go.”
He waited for her to respond, but she said nothing. He walked toward the door, staring at his shoes as he walked. He didn’t know what this meant for him and Anna going forward, but he knew it would be a long time before he could have pretzels and beer again without thinking of her.
“I wasn’t drunk,” Anna said. Joey paused in the doorway. He turned to look at her, tears falling her cheeks.
“Sunday night. I wasn’t drunk. And it’s true, I do love you. And I know it’s crazy, but I want to be with you.” Joey walked over to Anna.
“I love you, too. And I don’t think it’s crazy. All I know is that you’re the kindest, sweetest, most fun girl I know. I really think we could be something. So, what do you say?” He asked. She wiped her eyes.
“I’d let you kiss me, but I’m a snot-nosed mess.” He took a step toward her.
“I want this ride to last as long as possible. Let’s start slow.” He reached out and held her hand in his.