I watch him curiously as he prepares some paint on his palette.  I know he heard my question, but maybe he thinks I’m prying.  Have I really only known this guy for less than thirty-six hours?  Already, he seems more familiar than any of my friends from back home.  It’s easy to talk to him.  “Come here,” he says.

I walk the expanse of the room over to him.  The outer walls of his art room are complete glass, with roman shades rolled up at the top of most of the windows.  It’s pitch black outside, and I know his house is surrounded by woods, but I still wonder if there are people outside watching us.  

Assuming he wants me to look at his current painting, I stand next to him.  The entire canvas is covered with light greenish-blue paint, with slight hue shifts.  It’s nothing compared to all the other work around me.  “Just starting?” I ask him.

“I’ve spent six hours on this.”

“Six hours?  No offense, but I think I could have finished this in six minutes.”

“Said the girl who doesn’t paint.”

“You don’t have to know how to paint to do that.  C’mon, Nate,” I say jovially, praying he won’t be offended.  

“It’s not finished, either.”

“Well, I guess that’s good.”  He glares at me, but then breaks into a smile.  He puts his hands on my shoulders and guides me to a spot on the floor closer to the warm lamp.  Did I tell him I was cold?  I immediately start to feel the warmth across my skin.  Nate puts his hand under my chin and tips my head up.  “What are you doing?” I ask him as his eyes study mine.  He glances from my stare back to the painting, back and forth.  

Finally, I understand what he’s doing.  “Stumped?” I ask him playfully, blinking my eyes quickly.

“I am!” he admits, breaking his silence with frustration.  “I have never seen that color before.  I’m way off,” he says with a laugh.  “And I’m good at this sort of thing.  I can normally see a color and mix it by memory– and get pretty damn close– but I swear your eyes are never the same color.”

“Yes, they are.”

“Well, then it’s a color I can’t comprehend.  Yet.”  His gaze is intense and focused, and if I didn’t know any better, I’d brace myself for my first kiss.  No, I’d push him away.  I don’t want that.  But his eyes aren’t smitten, or even gentle or loving, they’re evaluating the tones and shades like only a true artist can.  “But, damn it, I will.”

I’m fascinated by his persistence.  “Why do you care?”

“To capture the essence of that… it would be, like… finding a giant squid.  You know no one’s ever seen one alive?  It’s like they’re mythological.”

I start laughing hard.  “The essence,” I tease him.  “They’re just eyes.”

“It’s the color,” he explains.  “It’s unnatural.  That’s the thing,” he starts, and I can tell by his wild eyes that his mind is working quickly now.  “I’m sitting here mixing in colors that I’d traditionally see in people’s eyes, but maybe I need to branch out.  Maybe I’m missing something.”  He shuffles pigments around on his workbench until he settles on something that looks silvery, and pearlescent.  “Like this,” he says.  

“That’s creepy.”

“It’s not normal,” he agrees.  “But I think… maybe… if I could just see your eyes in the natural light, it might help me out.  I’ve never seen your eyes in the sunlight.”  He says, as if he’s just discovered the thing that had been alluding him.  “I won’t mix this tonight,” he finishes, setting the color back down.  He inhales slowly, as if trying to regulate his breathing.  His cheeks flush pink, but it’s barely noticeable on his tanned skin.  If we hadn’t been under this lamp, I probably would never have seen it.

He turns the light off, though, returning the room to its relatively dark state.  The only lights are soft ones that line the walls, highlighting his artwork.

“You get so caught up in it,” I say to him softly, still not fully understanding how he works.

He shrugs his shoulders and walks toward the door.  “Mom says I spend too much time in my head,” he calls back to me, walking out of the room.  I stare after him, and eventually follow in the direction of the hallway.  He comes back in with cushions before I reach the entryway, setting them against the wall by the door.  “I don’t know how else to be.  I grew up alone.  I had a lot of time to myself… thinking about things, reading, discovering things around me.  It’s just like any other challenge.  I work though it until its solved.  Sometimes it’s just about the painting.  Sometimes it’s about something more… something that’s going on in my life…”

“So what’s been going on the past few weeks that you’ve needed to work out?” I ask him.  It’s similar to the question I’d posed before that he avoided.

“Have a seat,” he says.  “Are you cold?”

“Yeah,” I admit.  “I could go get my coat.”

“No, there’s a blanket in the closet here.”  He opens a door that blends so well with the wall I never even saw it there, pulling out two blankets and handing one to me.  “It’s the only bad thing about this room.  With the windows, it tends to get a little chilly.”

We finally sit down on the two cushions– obviously ones he pulled off of a couch from another room.  I pull my knees into my chest, leaning against the wall and pulling the blanket tight around my body.  Situated next to me, he throws one side of his blanket over me as well.  “You can lean on me, if you need to.”

“Thanks,” I tell him, not needing to yet. 

Nate clears his throat.  “It was this girl,” he starts.  “She was my first, uh… well, my first,” he settles on the word that leaves no doubt in my mind as to what he’s referring.  I lean my head on my knees, facing him.  I try not to look surprised.  I guess, honestly, I’m not.  Something about him is admittedly sensual.  He clearly has a lot of passion.

“What happened?”

“Three weeks ago, out of nowhere, she dumped me.  And the next day, she started dating a mutual friend.  Sleeping with,” he corrects himself.  “Just fucking, really…” his voice trails off into a distant whisper.

“Is that what you did with her?” I ask him.

“I didn’t think that’s all it was,” he says, “but the more I think about it, the more I’ve come to realize that there was nothing else really there.  I thought there was.  I truly believed there was.  I was wrapped up in her, completely.  She had all my attention– all the time, really.  When I was with her, when I wasn’t.  She was all I thought about.  Being with her was all I thought about.  She was addictive.”

I look around the room at the different canvases that still sit atop easels.  There are six of them, each with a drop cloth beneath it.  I’m guessing these are his most recent works.  I can only see the front of three of them from where I sit.  “So which one of these is about that?”

“None of them,” he says.  “I couldn’t paint when we were together.”


“She consumed me.”

“That doesn’t sound healthy.”

“Really?” he asks.  “Because some people would argue that what I typically do isn’t healthy.  Isn’t that what love is about?  Being everything to someone?”

“What’s the point?  So that person can just take advantage of you for years and years, making you think they love you, and then one day just suddenly change their mind?  Why would anyone want to do that?  I don’t ever want that.”

“What do you want?”

“I want whatever won’t hurt me.  I want whatever leaves me whole, and keeps my faith in the belief that bad things don’t happen to good people.”

“But they do,” Nate says.  “That’s inevitable.”

“Well, there’s fate that intervenes, and then there’s humanity.  There are people who fuck up.  Who choose to do that.  People who make a conscious decision to hurt another person.”

“Which one do you think happened to my dad?”

“Fate,” I answer quickly.

“No, he fucked up,” he clarifies.  “But I forgive him.”

“But he didn’t cheat on your mom,” I counter.  “He didn’t decide to hurt you and your mom.”

“But he did,” Nate argues.  “He didn’t think his decision through to the conclusion.  Had he thought of the consequences of his actions, he could have saved himself.”

“Nate,” I say softly.  “He probably wasn’t thinking clearly… with the alcohol…”

“There were plenty of times when he was sober.  Times when he should have been considering those sort of things.  By no means was he drunk all the time.  He was never drunk when I was around.  Never,” he says, and I can hear his voice begin to waver.

“I’m sorry, Nate.”

“But would I ever say I hated him, or that I wish I’d never had a father because I know what it’s like to lose one?  Not in a million years.”  He swallows hard while I try to think of something to say.  Words fail me.  “What my dad did was so much worse than what yours has done.  You still have a father.  He may not be the best one right now, but he’s still on this planet.  And he has a lot of time to make it up to you.”

I bite my lip.  I can’t argue with him.  It’s not fair to, because he makes a good point.  But I still think what Dad did is unforgivable.  I don’t want to argue with Nate, but I don’t think I could ever forgive my father.  

“So you didn’t paint at all when you were with this girl?”  Changing the subject is the only thing I can think to do.  He sighs heavily.  I hadn’t realized he was holding his breath, but he was.  He just shakes his head.  “But since then?”

“All of these.”  He motions to the easels around the room.  “And two others in a closet.”

“And have you worked it out?”

“Worked what out?”

“Your feelings.  Have you worked through them all?”

He laughs at my question.  “I don’t think that’s possible.  They never stop, you know.  You get over one emotion, and another comes.”

“I guess so,” I respond.

“Last night’s the first night I wasn’t thinking about her.  It’s the first night I wasn’t angry at her.  In fact, it’s the first night in a long time that I wasn’t angry about anything.”

“That’s good, I guess.  What changed?  Oh, wait– you met me,” I tease him.

He laughs and raises his eyebrows, as if considering it.  “Coincidence,” he finally says.

“Well, I felt special for three and a half seconds, anyway.”  I bump his shoulder with mine.

“Have you ever been in love, Emi?” 

“I don’t think so.”

“Then this is a real shame,” he tells me.

“What is?”

“You’ve never been in love.  You don’t want to be in love.  How does one live their life without love?”

“So, you were in love with that girl?”

“No,” he says.  “I thought I was, but no.”

“Then have you ever been in love?”

“I’m not sure,” he answers, and his eyes linger on mine just long enough to make my heart skip a beat.  “But I want to be.”

©2012 Lori L. Otto

Do you like what you’ve read so far?  This is a prequel to my Emi Lost & Found series.  You can download the first book, Lost and Found, for only $.99!