Halfway through my cigarette, I check the time.  Twenty minutes until art.  I just hope I can hold it together.  I hope it’s not awkward between us.  I hope she can’t read what’s been on my mind non-stop since I left her on her doorstep yesterday morning.

Still sleep-deprived– three hours isn’t enough since Friday night– I realize I’m not thinking clearly.  I’d painted nearly non-stop, trying to focus, to get the frustration out, but nothing had worked.  Taking one last drag, I hope it calms me enough to act normal for the next hour and a half.

Since the lunch period is still on-going, I don’t have to sneak in, and go in the side doors to the cafeteria.  I see Emi first, and just as jealousy spikes in the pit of my stomach, I realize she’s sitting with her brother.  The two of them sit across from one another at the end of a table, deep in conversation.  She’s laughing, which is a welcome change from the sullen girl I met on Friday and the angry one I’d spent my Saturday evening with.  This is the Emi I left on the steps.  The one that called out to me that she liked me.

Her brother had not been so welcoming Sunday morning, and I decide to try and talk to him.  Fingernails digging into my hand stop me on the way to their corner of the room.

“Hey, Nate.”  Lauren greets me wearing a smile and a nearly-sheer dress.  A very short one.

“Hey,” I tell her, politely removing my hand from hers and shifting my books in my hands to give them a purpose.  “You look, um…”  I’m speechless.  She looks sexy, and this is exactly what I don’t need to see right now.  “Nice dress.”

“Thanks,” she says flirtatiously.  “I was going to wear it Saturday night, if you’d have come over.”

“Yeah, it almost does look better-suited for a bedroom,” I tell her, my voice quieter.  She holds the hem of the dress delicately in her fingers, lifting it just enough to make my imagination go crazy.  I lower my books below my belt.  “Listen, I’ve got to catch up on some homework with a friend,” I say, needing to get away from her before I do something I’ll regret.

“Maybe some other time?”

“Yeah, maybe,” I agree, looking her over once more as I walk away.  I don’t stop at Emi’s table.  In fact, I barely smile at her when those green eyes find mine.  I have to keep walking.  I either need to get laid, or I need another cigarette.  Knowing I can only have one right now, I find the nearest exit and have one more smoke.  Ten minutes later, I realize it’s not helping like I need it to.  I decide to head up to the art room early and pull out my history book, reading about the revolutionary war.  Nothing sexy about that.

“Get some sleep?”  I look up to see Emi smiling down at me, kicking her work stool back with her boot.  “Because you look like hell.”

“Thank you,” I tell her, touching the bags under my eyes.  “And not enough.”

“Why not?”

“I can’t stop painting,” I admit.  “I did three paintings yesterday.”

“Suddenly inspired?”

Suddenly inspired to take you out of this room, find a back hallway and kiss you like you’ve never been kissed before in your life.  Has she been kissed before?  I stare at her lips, imagining them on mine.

“I’ll take that as a yes,” she says, rolling her eyes and sitting down.  “You’re weird sometimes.”

“Sorry,” I apologize, knowing how awkward that moment was.  “I’m just tired,” I lie.  “Did you get in trouble?”

“Not really,” she answers, pulling a manilla envelope out of her backpack.


“Does Mrs. Martin have any, like, glue or rubber cement?” she asks me, now emptying the contents of the envelope onto her desk.  Hundreds of small scraps of paper spill out.  She corrals them all to her side of the bench.  “And some poster board?”

“Yeah, just a sec.”  I get up to go get a canvas for myself and grab supplies for her on my way back.  “What are you doing?”

“I get these art magazines, and they had this typography project that was really interesting.  I wanted to try it.  My cousins have this band and they’re putting together a demo.  They need a CD cover.  I think this would be cool.”

“So you do graphic design?”

“I guess, so.  Yeah.”

“That’s really cool,” I tell her.  “I hear there’s a lot of demand for graphic designers.  Much more demand than, say, for a fine artist.”

“I’d trade my talent for yours in a heartbeat,” she says.  “You saw my painting last week.”

“Yeah, I painted over that yesterday.  Sorry.”

She smiles and gets a wild look in her eyes.  “How cool will that be?  Someday, they’ll be dissecting your four-hundred-year-old painting and find some crap underneath it.  They’ll always wonder… who’s Emi?  Damn.  If only I could be around for that,” she laughs.

“Maybe you’ll be famous in your own right.  Maybe we’ll become famous together, and they’ll always mention us in the same sentence.  Nathaniel Wilson and Emily Hennigan.  Can’t you see the headline?”

“Yeah, right.  You hear about world renown graphic designers every day.”

“Andy Warhol,” I suggest.  “That was what he studied.  He just made it into fine art.”

“Well, no one knows him,” she says, picking out small letters from the pile of paper.  I stare at her until she looks up at me.  “Kidding,” she says, kicking me playfully under the table.

“I was just about to end our friendship.”

“Over Andy Warhol?  Now that’s just dumb.  End it over betrayal.  Lies.  Finding better friends.  Don’t end it over Andy Warhol.  What, then, did he live his life for?” she asks passionately.  She stares into my eyes and continues.  “No, Andy Warhol wouldn’t want that,” she says so seriously that I’m afraid to laugh.  I can’t hold it in, though, and eventually let out a quiet chuckle at her statement.  She finally starts laughing with me.

“Nate?  Emi?  You two should be working.”

“Sorry, Mrs. Martin,” I say, looking at the blank canvas in front of me.  Emi ducks her head close to the table, trying to shield her pink cheeks as she continues to laugh.  This time, I kick her shin.  She kicks me back, suddenly looking up with this innocent expression on her face as she applies some fixative to the back of a large letter “P.”

“You’re crazy, Em,” I whisper, starting to mix colors on my palette.

“Then I’m perfect for your weird.  I see the beginning of a long, crazy, weird friendship.”

“I couldn’t have said it better myself,” I laugh again.

Half-way through class, she speaks up again.  “Did you figure out the color?”

“You know, I didn’t work on it anymore.  I mean, without you there to compare it to… I didn’t see the point.  I guess you’ll have to come back over.”

“You don’t have to ask me twice,” she says.  “Although if I do, I may not want to hang out with you.  I might just want to spread out… get comfy… that type of thing.”

“I don’t mind being used.”

“Cool,” she says.  “What do you think?”  She holds the poster board back about two feet so I can see her work.  I can see a few words in the letters she’s arranged, and the shape is beautifully curved and distinct, formed with these scraps of paper into thick and thin lines.

“Okay, so now I’ll admit you’re an artist.  I wasn’t sure until now.”

“You like it?”  I nod, still staring at it.  “When it’s done, I’ll make copies of it to reduce the size, and then draw over each letter with ink pens.”

“You’ll draw over those letters…”  I can’t imagine how many hours that would take.


“How tedious is that?”

“A little,” she says, “but I like it.  I like the precision.  I like the finished piece.”

“It seems so confining.  I couldn’t do that.”

“Well,” she says, “I couldn’t do that.”  She nods at my painting.  “That is beautiful, Nate.”

“You like it?”

“I love it.  Who knew there were that many shades of red?  And, like, still… I wouldn’t call a single one of those pink.  It’s incredible… how you do that.”

“Thanks.  You can have it… when it’s finished, and dry.”


I’ve been thinking about her non-stop since I started this painting.  It already belongs to her.  It is her.   “Yeah, if you really want it.”

“I’d love it.”  She looks to be in awe of it, staring at it as I would stare at her, if I could.  She puts her hand over her heart.  “I love it.”  It makes me euphoric to know that I am the cause of that expression on her face.  That gentle smile.  That look of wonder.  She is so beautiful.

I think about what I’ve just promised her.  This painting that represents her, and the feelings she’s stirring up inside of me.  This painting that I want to possess as my own.  I’ve just given it to her, with no objection.  It’s as if I know that I can’t have her.  But I want her.  I’ve never wanted anyone like I want her.

~ * ~

After school, I have a smoke behind the school with my eyes on the parking lot.  I finally see Emi and Chris, walking to his car.  I’d hoped to see her smiling again.  I’d hoped that she’d still be thinking of me, like I have been of her, but she’s just biting her lip… silent… following a few steps behind her brother.

I drive the speed limit all the way home, and even wave to the cop who’d been sitting on the side of the road, radar gun in hand.  Mom isn’t there when I get home.  She has left a note, letting me know they had a fundraiser and wouldn’t be home until late.  She left me instructions on how to heat up the eggplant parmesan Elsa had prepared earlier in the day.  Not having eaten lunch, I make an early dinner so I can spend the rest of the evening in the art room.  I can turn the music up as loud as I want, broadcasting to all the speakers in the room, and hopefully get all of this pent-up discontent out of my system and onto canvas, for good.  It was producing some amazing artwork, but it was inhibiting my sleep, my thoughts… it’s been consuming me for days.

After I eat, I head up to the third floor and open two of the french doors.  Maybe the cold air will help, too.  I change into one of the paint-stained t-shirts that I keep in a bureau, throwing the shirt I’d warn to school into the corner.  I hadn’t had a chance to reorganize my CDs yet, but it was easy to tell which pile contained the music that Emi liked.  I decide on one from that pile– Nine Inch Nails– feeling that it suited my mood perfectly.  I skip through Closer the first time through, not knowing if I can keep myself from abandoning the painting and heading down to my bedroom.  Maybe I just should.  What the fuck am I waiting for?

I stare at the painting in front of me and I have my answer.  I’d mixed the pearl-color with the blue, green and white I’d already created and think it’s pretty close.  Two strokes into it, I angle the canvas toward one of the open doors so it can bask in the sunlight.  Small flecks from the added paint reflect the light, and I remember how Emi’s eyes had glistened as she gazed into the sun’s rays the day before.  It’s definitely close.  I keep painting.

What I do isn’t for Emi, though.  I don’t think it is, anyway.  The truth is, I’ve never been so inspired as I’ve been the past few days.  Maybe it’s her influence, her energy.  Whatever it is, I like what I’m doing.  I can recognize that each painting is better than the last, and I’m afraid that changing any of my routine will break the spell… will hinder me from doing this.

I keep painting.

As I start to lose the sun, I abandon that painting once more.  It needs the brightness of daylight.  I wonder if she’ll come over after school one day this week so I can study those eyes a little more.  So I can finally perfect this color and paint something masterful with it.

Finding a different painting I’d started yesterday, I mix some colors and start adding details with a small brush.  The song I’d been avoiding comes on again, the CD on a continuous loop.  I try to paint through it.  A part of me wants to skip it again, but another part, a feral part that needs release, forces me to listen to it.  To every beat, rhythm, lyric, until I’m pretty sure I’m going mad.  I drop my paintbrush on the drop cloth and go downstairs to my bedroom.

Unable to avoid these feelings any longer, I pick up the phone and the slip of paper with her number on it.  I hesitate, but only for a second.  I need this.

“Hey, it’s Nate,” I tell her, and I’m sure she can hear the urgency in my voice.

“What’s up?” she asks.

“Are you alone?”

“Yeah, my family just left.  Why?”  I can hear the smile on her face.

“Can I come over?”

©2012 Lori L. Otto

Closer ©1994 Nine Inch Nails

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!