Shattered Chapter 1-5

He’s trouble. She’s falling apart.

LIZZY
I should have known he was trouble when I watched him drive his motorbike onto campus, leaving a trail of people whispering as he made his way into the Art Building.
Word around here is, he doesn’t date. So why do his eyes keep following me? Why does he want to talk to me?
Rumor has it, Hunter’s good at two things: making art, and getting into fights. I love art, but I can’t stand violence. I’ve been on the receiving end of it too many times.
My life is simple, it needs to be if I want to graduate and keep my eating disorder at bay… I sleep, I eat, I go to class and I definitely Do. Not. Date.

So why do I feel so safe in his strong arms?

HUNTER
She’s like a spooked little mouse. Not my type at all. Until she looked up at me and I was caught in her azure eyes.
But I won’t let her get close. In the last four years, I’ve lost everyone I’ve ever loved. I will never trust anyone ever again. The second I do, I’ll find myself alone again. So, what’s the use?
So I create big metal installations, I go to class when I feel like it, I drink and get into fights at the bar.
I have to stay away from Lizzy, because my darkness will only make hers worse. I know I have to, but that isn’t what my heart wants. When I see the pain in her eyes, I can’t resist her. I want to help her, touch her…

Protect her.

 

Chapter 1

Lizzy

“I don’t know if I can do this again.” I pull the sleeves of my dress down as I lean back in the car seat. It’s almost nine in the morning on the last Monday of August—it’s supposed to be the end of summer, but the sun is already making the inside of the car boil. “I feel like I’m four years old all over again.” It’s early, I’m tired, and I barely slept last night because I was so stressed. To say that I’m in a bad mood would be an understatement.

“Of course you can do it. It’s only college. And if you run into problems, Lola will be there too.” Mum puts her hand on my leg, squeezing in what she probably believes is a comforting way, but I only want to pull away. Of course, my sister, Lola, my twin. The one who is beautiful, and smart, and good, and everyone’s favorite.

“Yeah, she’ll be doing her graduate degree, and I’m still here trying to finish my undergrad. You know it’s not the same.” I sigh, but I know that I’ll need to get out of the car eventually. I can’t stay locked up in here all day, no matter how much I’d like to.

Mum checks the clock on the dashboard and eyes the other students walking past the car. She needs to leave, she needs to get to work, not worry about her twenty-year-old daughter having a meltdown. “You’ll be okay. They’re all first-years, you’ll just be one of the group.”

Yeah. That was what I thought last year. I thought that it would be easy to start over at a new college, that everybody would be a first-year and I’d easily make friends… Not so much. Lots of people already had friends and having a different accent and a preference for black clothes didn’t make it easier. Of course, I did make some friends, even had a boyfriend… But it all went horribly wrong, and now I’m stuck back at home. Great.

Mum reaches out again, touching my arm, and I flinch, a stupid reflex. I see the pain go over her face. She pulls her hand back and stares out the window again. “It’s not scary. It’s just a class with Tamara. You’ve done that many times before.”

“I know.” I open the car door, grab my bag, and get out. “I’ll be back before dinner.”

“Just make sure that—” She eyes my bag, but then stops, putting on a big smile instead. “Good luck, sweetie!” she calls out, her happy voice way too forced, before I close the door. Then she turns the car back on, waves, and drives off.

Great. Now I’m stuck here until the next bus comes. Or until I dare to walk into the class…

Going back to college is one of those things that my parents want me to do, like having dinner with them every night and making college my priority instead of other things. I turn to the big gray block behind me, the arts department. As I walk towards it, I wonder how they managed to put the most creative department into the most uncreative gray cube they could find.

I pass small groups of students, people chatting with each other all around me, and I feel so alone. I don’t have any friends here—never had many friends at high school anyway, and being gone for a year doesn’t help. Someone bumps into me, and I nearly lose my footing, but as I turn around, they have just walked on, ignoring me. Everyone here seems to know each other already. Either they were already friends, or they connected during student orientation last week… which I, of course, couldn’t attend. My illness and social issues wouldn’t let me party all day and night.

I swallow hard, feeling so invisible, unwanted, unwelcome. I squeeze my hands closed, the tight feeling in my chest growing.

Starting all over again? How many times have I done this now? How many times will I have to introduce myself to others before I can finally settle down and have a normal life?

I squeeze my eyes closed for a moment and then blindly walk into the closest bathroom, closing the door of a stall behind me and sitting down.

No matter what other people think, I can’t do this.

* * *

I try to keep my breath steady as girls come in and leave again, chatting excitedly about classes and boys—no surprise there. I don’t want anyone else to know I’m here. I don’t want any questions or assumptions about me. I hiccup and pull some toilet paper from the roll, dabbing at my eyes with it. I hate crying. It’s always so obvious afterwards.

A knocking on the door stops me in my movements.

“Hi?” A soft voice reaches me.

I keep quiet, hoping the girl will go away if I don’t say anything.

“If you don’t want others to know you’ve cried, you shouldn’t use toilet paper to dry your tears.”

I grit my teeth but keep quiet. What is she doing? Why is this girl talking to me?

“If you want I can help you with your make-up so others won’t know what happened.”

“Why?” She has my attention now, even reluctantly. “How did you even know I was here?”

“I’m not a stalker, I promise. I just saw you go in and you looked like you could use a friend.” The girl knocks again. “The classes have started, so there won’t be many people coming in here for another hour or so.”

“How do you know?” I stand up, throwing the last bit of toilet paper into the toilet and flushing.

“Ehh… It’s how schools work.” I can almost hear the shrug in her voice. “People won’t come early unless they have to, especially not on the first day of class.” I can hear her step away from the door and after I’ve made sure that my dress is draped right and isn’t bunched up anywhere, I take a deep breath and open the door.

The girl in front of me has black hair with bright red streaks, a black tank top and wide jeans that are tucked into her army boots at the front. She holds her head to the side as she looks me over. “Hi.”

“Hi.” I step in front of the mirror, looking at the dark streaks on my face. No matter my attempts to rub them off, they still leave marks.

“Here.” The girl tugs on my shoulder to turn me towards her, but pulls her arm back when I flinch. “I can help.” She opens her bag and shows me her make-up.

I nod and turn to her, leaning against the sink.

“Do you trust me?” She takes some face-cleaning stuff and some make-up from her bag, putting it to the side.

It takes me a moment to think but then I nod. Why not? It’s not like she can make it worse.

“Close your eyes.”

I do as she asks, trying to control myself so I won’t flinch when she touches me again.

The girl wipes my face with a soft cloth and then I hear the opening of the liquid eyeliner. “Keep your eyes closed.” I feel the cold brush on my eyes as she skilfully applies the make-up. Her movements are careful, almost as if she is used to doing other people’s make-up. “Open your eyes.”

I turn to the mirror and look at myself. The make-up is applied very neatly, better than I can do myself, even after years of practising.

“Now, only dab at the inside of your eyes, before the tears fall, and don’t push too hard. That should keep your eyes clean.” Her smile is infectious, and I find myself smiling back at her.

“Thank you.” I look at the girl again. “I’m Lizzy.”

“I’m Hanna. Not very inventive, right?” She’s right, Hanna was a pretty popular name when I grew up. I’ve always had at least one Hanna in my class.

“Better than Lizzy.” The girl opens her mouth, but I cut her off before she can even start. “No, it isn’t short for anything.”

Hanna laughs. “You get the question all the time?”

I roll my eyes. “Not just that, some people insist I’m making it up to make it easier on others or something. Seriously, being called Elizabeth or Isabella would have been so much easier. Nope, I’m stuck with Lizzy.”

“Hey. I know classes have already started, so just walking in right now would be weird. Do you wanna go somewhere else?” She shrugs and I have to admit that the prospect of walking into the class late isn’t a happy one.

I check my phone to be sure and realize it really is too late to just drop in on Tamara’s class. “I guess…” Not attending my first class of the year… Great start. “Lead the way.”

* * *

“Sometimes it’s for the good of everyone involved.” Hanna balances her wallet, a bag of snacks and her college pass in one hand as she tries to order a coffee from the machine. “You know?”

I nod, not having a clue what she is talking about. She seems to be bad with quiet and apparently doesn’t need much prompting to keep chattering on. It’s only been a few minutes, but I’ve realized that I don’t mind her chattering. She has a comfortable voice to listen to, or space out to…

“And then there was this one girl. Gah. She was so annoying. She was all, ‘I already studied with this guy, so I know what he likes.’ And you know what happened?” Hanna looks at me for a second and hands me the snacks as she grabs her coffee from the machine.

I stare at the bag of chips in my hands. Chips, when was the last time I had those? I can’t even remember. But just holding the little thing I can almost sense the fat, salt and calories in them. I shiver. Bad, bad, bad.

Almost without thinking Hanna takes the bag back from me and walks in front of me out of the cafeteria. “I know this amazing place to sit. Lots of people-spotting there.”

I follow her, simply listening to her chattering. I’ll be okay, I’ll be okay. I didn’t touch the chips themselves. People who don’t know about my eating particulars can be so annoying, but if I want to make friends, I’ll need to put up with this.

“Here.” Hanna stops, and I almost bump into her. “This is the place.” She motions around and I can see what she means. This corner is kind of secluded because of the way the art building is angled, but I can see the parking spots on both side of the building, and we have a clear view of everyone coming and going. “It also has great sun during the afternoon, you should totally try it out.”

“How do you know all this?” I turn to Hanna at the exact same moment as she opens her bag of chips, and quickly turn away again.

“Ah.” She blushes, almost as if caught out on something. “I moved here in the second semester last year, so technically I’m still a first-year. What about you? I didn’t see you last week.”

“I’m not that comfortable around big groups of people. I’m a first-year though.” I shrug. Better put it out there right now.

“What class were you supposed to be at?”

“Drawing, with Tamara.”

“Tamara? Tamara who?”

“Oh.” Of course, here she is a professor, not a friend. “Tamara Winters. I used to have art classes from her years ago, when I was still in middle school.” Tamara runs a local workshop where kids who like to experiment with art can follow classes after school. It was probably the best part of my week.

“Ah. Her. I heard she is very strict.”

I shrug. I can’t remember if she was or not. She was pretty cool though, at least for thirteen-year-old me. “No clue. She might be worse here. What were you supposed to be taking now?”

“Prof Winters too, but I’ll talk to her on Thursday. I’ll just have forgotten today’s class.” Hanna smiles and then offers me the bag of chips.

I try not to flinch and muster up a smile for her instead. “No, thanks, I just ate.” My doctor’s approved breakfast of oatmeal and fruit… I probably won’t be hungry for another while.

“Your loss.” She happily munches away as she stares out over the college grounds. She was right, this is a great spot to sit—nice and secluded and not too busy.

* * *

A loud noise makes us both look up. A motorbike drives onto the parking lot, weaving its way past cars and groups of people. We’re not the only ones looking—everyone between the art building and the end of the parking lot is staring as the bike pulls up to the building and a guy steps off. He pulls off his helmet and unzips his leather jacket, his movements precise and proud. He runs his fingers through his bleached white hair, spiking it. Then he puts his helmet on top of his dark red bike—the helmet even matches the color—as he shrugs his jacket off, revealing a tight black t-shirt that hangs just over his snug black jeans. He grabs a lock from somewhere on his bike and bends over to attach his helmet and his bike to one of the rings in the wall.

My mouth goes dry as he stands up straight, his muscles moving under his clothing. There are few words to describe how perfectly he moves, but I know that I can definitely draw it, and I probably will. It doesn’t happen often that you run into a guy who puts Michelangelo’s David to shame.

He picks up his jacket and walks into the building, unaware, or maybe even ignoring, the looks he gets from everyone since he came onto the campus.

“That is Aitch.” Hanna pulls me from my daze.

I probably heard that wrong. Aitch doesn’t sound like a name. “Who?”

“Aitch, from Hunter,” Hanna explains, but it takes a moment for me to connect the dots. Aitch, H, Hunter, of course.

“He famous or something?”

“Infamous, maybe. He’s got a temper and dropped out last year after… after something happened.” Hanna looks uncomfortable.

“Something happened?” Something always happens, that’s kind of how life works.

“The guy’s had a stroke of bad luck in the last couple of years. That is all. And he doesn’t date.” Hanna pretend pouts and then smiles.

“You tried?” Of course she would have. What healthy girl, or guy, wouldn’t have tried?

“He was already gone before I came here, but I’ve heard the stories from classmates. It’s… bad.” Hanna doesn’t smile anymore, but looks at the building. “I haven’t seen him around town. It seems he is keeping to himself mostly. I don’t really know the details. People here like to gossip about him, but I don’t think most of what they say is true, if any of it.” Hanna looks at me. “Sorry, it’s just such a damn shame. He’s gorgeous. Many would love to get him back into the dating game. And the bike is definitely a plus.”

I nod. Yeah, the guy has that something about him. He has charisma and attraction, but his darkness is all-consuming. It’s like a shadow that makes him radiate danger in a way that attracts some, but also keeps others away from him. It’s… intriguing.

“Hey, do you have literature this afternoon?” Hanna stands up and sweeps crumbs off her jeans, then extends her hand to me.

“Yeah, don’t know where, though.” I look up at her and grab her hand, pulling myself up. The campus has changed a lot since I came here for the first time, back when Lola was looking at colleges to attend. I never considered coming here, so I didn’t bother taking a good look. The art building is still the same, so I knew what to look for, but the college has changed a lot in four years, extended in all directions.

“I’ll take you there. Do you wanna go into town while we wait? We’ve got like three hours or something left.”

Three hours, including lunch. “No, thanks. Maybe next week. I need to talk to Tamara—uh, Prof Winters—about something first. See you here in… two and a half hours?”

“Sure. Good luck. Don’t tell her that I was here.” Hanna grins, embraces me for a moment, and then steps back. “It was nice to get to know you, Lizzy-not-short-for-anything.”

“You too. Thanks for saving me back there.” I watch as Hanna walks off towards the bus stops. I never thought that I would actually meet someone here on the first day. Maybe this year won’t be so bad after all.

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Chapter 2

Hunter

Not showing up for my first class of the year, that will set a great record. I fume on the inside, but it’s all my own fault for first stressing out about going and then sleeping right through my alarm.

Well, it’s not like Tamara will care that much. She knows I took these classes last year too. But it’s always better to apologize in person than to do it over email, especially with Tamara.

I look around the hallways. The contrast between the gray exterior and the colored interior couldn’t be bigger, but somehow the campus—or the county, whoever—wouldn’t sign off on painting of the outside. Too bad. I follow the color scheme from green into blue and then purple. The drawing teachers have their offices here. Color coding, so smart for people who are supposed to be adults. I get it, it’s the art building, but sensible numbering would be better than figuring out that P21 stands for room one on the second floor in the purple part of the building, right between red and blue. The rest of the campus uses the standard numbering scheme.

I knock on the door with Tamara’s name. The door is already slightly ajar, like she’s waiting on someone. “Prof Winters?”

“Hey, H, come on in,” Tamara calls out from inside, and I step through the door. The contrast turns around in her office again, Tamara’s specialty is black and white drawings so there is very little color in the office. “I missed you in class this morning.”

I run my hand through my hair, tugging slightly. To lie or not to lie. “I couldn’t get out of bed.” Apparently, I decide to go with the truth, without much input from the sane part of my brain.

Tamara nods and points to a chair in front of her desk. “Are you sure you’re up for classes yet, then?”

Up for it? Maybe not. But I can’t keep sitting around the house, it’s making me stir-crazy. I shrug. “I guess.”

“You guess? We’re being decisive again, aren’t we?”

I scratch at a spot on my jeans. Paint stain, no surprise there.

“Okay. I need to finish this email and then I’ve got to talk to you about a few things. You wanna wait here or…?”

“I’ll wait here.” I pull out a book from my bag. I might have done these classes last year, but I never did finish the reading list set for our literature classes. The Great Gatsby by Fitzgerald was never one of my favorites, but I know the exam question for it will be one of the easier ones.

Tamara taps away at her keys, keeping her concentration on whatever she is writing. She can be such an adult when she’s serious, though I’ve seen her with her art and art students outside of this gray box and she is a totally different person there. Someone to look up to, someone to aspire to being.

She’s saved me many times in the past. First when I was just starting out with scrap metal art and I needed to learn to have confidence in what I did. Then when I returned from high school and Joey was ill, and then again last year after the accident. She’s always been there for me, and I can’t repay her enough. Ever.

There is a soft knocking on the door, almost timid. “Tamara—uh, Prof Winters?”

I look up and a girl in a long black dress steps in. Her dark hair reaches to her waist and hides her face from view as soon as she realizes there is someone else in the room. Her style is a combination of goth and something I can’t really put my finger on, I can’t help but stare at her. Something about her keeps drawing my eye.

“Sorry, I can come back later.” Her neck flushes and she is ready to turn around.

Tamara stands up. “No. Come on in, come on in. It’s okay.” Her voice is soft, careful, as if talking to a scared kitten. “I need to speak to you both anyway. This way I don’t have to have this talk twice.” She looks at me for a moment, thinking. “Hunter, can you get us something to drink from down the hall? I’d like a tea, unsweetened and no milk, and if I remember correctly, Lizzy drinks coffee, right?”

“Ah, um. Just some water, please.” The girl Tamara just called Lizzy steps back, out of the way of the door.

I get it, I get it. I need to make myself scarce for a moment. I get up, leaving the book on the chair, and walk down the hall to the teachers’ lounge. Tamara. No ordinary student would dare to call her that, unless they knew her personally. So is she another one of Tamara’s child art prodigies? I haven’t seen her before, though that wouldn’t be strange, since I’ve been away from here for all of high school and I haven’t been going to the workshop often after my life spiraled out of control.

I grab a cup of coffee, a cup of tea and fill a paper cup at the water cooler. I dawdle at the table with food and bring three cookies back with me. We’re in a meeting with a teacher, there are hot beverages involved, so some cookies should be allowed.

I saunter back to Tamara’s office and knock on the door before stepping in, closing it behind me. “I’ve brought snacks too.” I put the cookies on the desk together with the drinks. I see the quick glance Tamara gives Lizzy. “Not good?” I turn to Lizzy too, who shrugs.

“It’s fine. Thanks.” She looks at me and tries to smile, but it never reaches her darkly lined eyes. Eyes in a beautiful pale shade of blue I’m sure I’ve seen before, but I don’t know where. It’s such a contrast with her dark style that I can’t help but stare. She reaches out to the table, making sure neither she nor the long sleeves of her dress come close to the cookies, as she picks up the cup of water. Her movements are timid, almost as if she is scared. She puts the cup to her mouth, but then sees me look and moves the cup away, keeping it in two hands instead. She pinches her perfectly lined, dark red lips together, avoiding my glances.

“So.” Tamara breaks the silence and I pick up my book to sit down again. I glance at Tamara, who nods. Okay, everything is okay. I didn’t just do something stupid, even though I feel like I did. “You both didn’t show up for this morning’s class.” She holds up her hand as Lizzy wants to interrupt. “I get it, no worries. If I had seen you then, this speech wouldn’t have been much different.” She moves some paper around on her desk and picks a couple of them up. “Do either of you have classes tomorrow afternoon?”

I shake my head. Nothing. I had hoped to spend it in my parents’ barn working on a new project, but I can do that any time I want.

“Well, that makes this easier.” Tamara hands us some papers. “As Hunter knows from last year, I normally don’t teach first-year art classes, but because of some scheduling issues, I do this year. Which puts me in an awkward position with you two. I’ve worked with you for so long that I can’t be as objective about your art as a teacher should be. So, if you don’t have any clashing commitments, I advised the board to move you two to second-year art classes. Drawing in your cases.”

“But…” Lizzy moves forward next to me.

“The teacher, Prof Cartwright, has already seen your work, and he agrees that you’re both at a sufficient level for his class.” Tamara smiles. “It’s actually a blessing in disguise. I can’t be as objective about your work as I should, and you can do a class that you love at a higher level.”

I know Prof Cartwright from last year. He was cool, and I wouldn’t mind taking classes from him again. And Tamara is right—it would be weird to be taught by her when we’ve worked so closely together before.

“If you can fill out the paperwork and get it to the administration office as soon as possible, that would be great. Prof Cartwright has agreed that you can start following his classes tomorrow, as long as you get your paperwork ready in the next weeks.” Tamara hands us some more papers. “And those you will need too, so they know at administration that Prof Cartwright and I have already figured everything out. Questions?”

“Is this really okay? I never finished first-year classes.” Lizzy moves in her chair, and as I look at her, her brows are knit tightly together. Right now, the only look on her I’ve seen is one of worry. I’d love to see her smile, see if her eyes will sparkle like I think they will.

“It’s totally okay. And it’s better for you.” Tamara smiles at her encouragingly.

“But I was looking forward to your classes.” Lizzy fidgets and I want to reach out to her, but she flinches when she sees me move. Ouch.

“Ah, yes. Well, that brings me to the second reason I wanted to see you two.”

Another reason? I look at Tamara, slightly confused, but she smiles broadly.

“I’d like to open my new workshop to you two. Not as students of this college but as artists who may need a place to work on their own art. It’s not the same as when you were young—there won’t be set times when you come in or when you leave, but there will be a lot of space to work on whatever you’d like. I know that some people need a place away from home and away from campus to really focus on their honest art.” Tamara looks at us expectantly.

“Can I think about this?” I try to imagine what I could be doing on my own art in the workshop. Most of my work is with metal and is just too big or hot to do anywhere but a specialized place. But then again… maybe a change of pace and location might get me out of the funk I’ve been in ever since last year.

“Of course. It’s an open invitation.” Tamara looks at Lizzy. “What do you think?”

“But… I like to listen to music when I work, and I move a lot, and… and… I don’t know yet.” Lizzy fidgets with the papers in her hands, her leg under her long skirt jumping up and down.

“That is okay. Let me know what you think and I’ll give you a copy of the key so you can get in on your own. There are some other students who also come and go. They work with a mixture of mediums, so there is likely to be someone at any moment of the day. If you want to check it out before you agree, you can always see if there is someone there already or come find me.” Tamara sits back with her cup of tea, which has probably cooled off by now. “Now we’ve taken care of that, how are you finding your classmates?”

I glance at Lizzy, hoping that she went to student orientation last week and has something to share, but the sheepish look I get back confirms my fear. We’ve got no clue who our classmates are.

* * *

“H?” Lizzy follows me out of the art building.

I turn around. How does she know that name already? Tamara has only called me Hunter in front of her, right?

“Is it not okay to call you that?” Lizzy loops the edge of one of her sleeves through her fingers as she evades my eyes.

I let my breath go. “It’s fine. You just surprised me.” I reach out to her fidgeting hands, but she quickly pulls them back. No touching. “What did you want to ask?”

“Do you know where the main hall is? I’ve got one of my classes soon, and I think my guide is already there.”

Her guide? A friend or something else? Though I guess that if she really had a lot of friends, we wouldn’t have spent three hours in Tamara’s office talking about art. Right? “I need to be there too. You can come with me.”

Lizzy nods and then looks at me for a second. “Thanks.”

I start walking, Lizzy following closely behind me. “How do you know Tamara?” I try to walk next to her, but she keeps walking slightly behind me.

“She used to teach me when I was young.” So I was right, she is one of Tamara’s child prodigies.

“Yeah? Me too. When did she teach you?” Maybe I’ve seen her at the workshop before, and that’s why I remember her eyes.

“Middle school and into high school.”

“She just taught me in middle school. I went away for high school. What is your skill?”

“Drawing and painting. Yours?”

“Drawing and metal scrap art, mostly. I sometimes dabble in some painting too.”

“Scrap art?” Lizzy now walks next to me, curious.

“I use metal and other leftover or discarded things to create art. It’s fun, but the costs can run high.”

“Do you have pictures?”

I pull out my phone and show some installations that I’ve created.

“I’ve seen that one. It’s right outside town.” Lizzy points at one of the pictures.

“That one is in my parents’ yard.” I show her another one. “You must have seen this one too.” I’m proud of it—it’s one of my earlier works.

“That used to be in the hallway to the workshop.” Lizzy looks at me. “That’s yours?”

I nod, and when I look up I realize we’re almost at the building. I walk slower, glad to share enthusiasm with someone about my art. I don’t want to break the moment. Lizzy just lights up when she talks about it, it’s mesmerizing to watch.

Lizzy looks up too, her smile faltering and her step slowing. A wall is pulled up between us right before my eyes. “Thank you for bringing me here. I’ll see you tomorrow in Prof Cartwright’s class?”

“Yeah. See you tomorrow.”

Lizzy nods and I look after her as she walks off. Interesting girl. I pull a packet of smokes from my bag and light one as I walk to a smoking area close by. She is so timid, but I saw a small spark when she looked at the installations I made. Only that happy girl is hidden, hidden behind layers of… pain. The word comes to me, and I realize that is what I’ve seen. She is hurting on the inside too, hurting so deep that she doesn’t know how to climb out, though maybe she only can through art. Like me.

I stub the cigarette off in a bin and slowly walk to the building. Literature. I hate literature.

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Chapter 3

Lizzy

“Where were you?” Hanna is waiting for me right inside the doors, swiping her card over the payment point of the snack machine.

I shiver. There is nothing but chocolate, sugar and other calorie bombs in there. “Sorry, the meeting with Prof Winters ran late.”

“Really? She always seems so to the point and strict.” Hanna grabs a chocolate bar from the tray and opens it greedily. She breaks off a piece, pops it in her mouth and offers me some too.

Eww. I shake my head, hoping my disgust is not visible. Chocolate is one of those things that people just can’t convince me has any use… Why would I eat it when there are other foods that are healthier and taste better?

“You sure?” Hanna eats another piece. Fifty calories in just one bite.

I nod, not trusting my voice.

“Glad you found it on your own. See, it’s not too bad on campus.”

I want to tell her that Hunter showed me the way, but given the way she looked at him before, that might not be a good idea. And I still have no clue how to get here. I just followed him through the campus, trying not to stare too hard at him. When he showed me pictures of his art installations, I could see the boy underneath the darkness. His art was big, bold, daring, like his bike, like the way he looks.

“Let’s go upstairs. I don’t want to be late. Prof Doyle can be a pain in the ass if you don’t get there on time.”

“And not showing up?” I’d love to leave right now. I’ve seen enough people for just the one day. I want to curl up in my blanket and draw, release the stress.

Hanna stares at me for a moment but then moves again. “Ehhh… no idea. I haven’t dared to try that with Prof Doyle yet.”

Now the idea is stuck in my head and as I follow Hanna up the stairs, every step makes it harder not to turn around and leave again. Fuck classes. I’ll have them the rest of the semester too. But I keep following Hanna up and up the stairs. The literature class is in one of the highest rooms in the building, built to look somewhat like an old British school or chapel, I guess.

“Here.” Hanna points to the end of the hallway, where twenty or so more students are waiting outside a door. She runs her hands over her shirt, smoothing it down. “Great for the figure, all those stairs.” Then she looks me up and down, like she’s measuring herself against me. “Not that you need to worry about that.”

I’m not sure if I should be flattered or insulted, but the image of the bar of chocolate Hanna just wolfed down is still in my head and I know that even walking up and down those stairs four times would not negate the calories from that. I don’t say anything but look behind me as I hear heavy shoes on the stairs downstairs. Just the sound of them intrigues me somehow. I can hear them come up each of the three floors and as they stomp up the last flight of stairs, short bleached hair comes into view. My heart beats. Hunter.

He looks up, and our eyes meet, making him stop for a moment. He nods at me and then climbs the last steps, waiting at the end of the stairs instead of coming closer to the door, keeping himself separate from the rest of the group. His crossed arms in front of his chest makes his shoulders look even bigger, more imposing.

Hanna nudges me, and I turn to her. “I thought you didn’t know him.”

I shrug. “I don’t.” Not really anyway. How well can you know someone after just a conversation?

“Then why did he acknowledge you? He never does that to anyone.”

Not to her, she means. “I don’t know. I’m standing closest to the stairs?”

Hanna laughs and her attention is diverted away from me again.

I look at Hunter from the corner of my eyes. The shoes that made such noise don’t look like anything I recognize. They sort of look like army boots, but not like the models I know. And I don’t see any particular brand designs on the laces or the shoes. There are bands of leather instead of laces, and they are higher than most army boots.

Hunter makes a noise, and I look up, my cheeks flushing.

I clear my throat. “I’m sorry?”

“They’re tank boots.” He obviously saw me stare.

“Tank boots?” I feel Hanna grab my arm, and I turn to her. “What?”

“We need to go in.” Hanna points towards the door, and a group of students spills out.

I step back, away from the crowd. The group coming out is loud and rowdy and I step back further, a panic coming on. I bump into something. At first I think it’s the wall, until the wall moves.

“Let’s leave.” Hunter’s whisper is close to my ear and even though he pulls on my arm for a moment, he immediately lets go and turns around, merging into the crowd. I twist after him, barely able to grab the sleeve of his jacket before he disappears from view.

Yes, leaving, not being here. My chest becomes lighter just at the thought of it.

* * *

Hunter stops outside the building and turns to me, his eyes scanning my face. “You okay?”

I nod, not sure what to answer. I just followed a guy I don’t know, skipping another class on the first day, and I’m actually glad about it. I don’t normally do this, especially not with guys I barely met. I promised myself that I would never do anything someone asks just because they asked, especially when they were of the opposite gender. But it wasn’t like he asked—it was more that he vocalized what I had thought only moments before. I didn’t want to be stuck in a room with way too many people, not now, not today.

“Hey.” Hunter touches my shoulder, and I pull back. No touching. “Sorry. You’re just a bit pale.”

Pale? I guess he didn’t look closely at me before. I’m always pale. “I’m okay.” And I’m not lying—I’m okay now we’re outside.

“You want to go into town or something? Now we’re not going to class anyway.” Hunter points towards the buses.

“Sure.” It’s not like I have anything better to do. Nobody expects me home yet. I would have to face more annoying questions if I returned right now. “Don’t you need to take your bike?”

Hunter’s eyes go wide, a darkness passing over them just for a fleeting moment, but then shakes his head and it’s gone again. “Nah, I can take the bus back here and pick it up later.” His voice is a tad too casual, his smile a tad too forced. “It’s easier to get somewhere by bus anyway.”

I nod. It probably is, but that doesn’t explain him being uncomfortable. Hunter walks towards the edge of the campus and I follow him, staying slightly behind him, not wanting to focus attention on myself. Sometimes I hate how people ignore me, and at other times I hate it when people stare. Though it doesn’t help that people are staring anyway right now. Hanna was right, they’re not used to seeing Hunter interact with other people.

Walking behind him has the added advantage that I can take a better look at him without him noticing. He isn’t just broad. Since he is carrying his jacket in his arms I can see how his back triangles to a slim waist. The muscles in his back move as he walks and his legs flex under the tightly fitting jeans. How do people do it? Being so slim while not being thin? Hunter is broad but I don’t see anything that isn’t rock-hard muscle. I almost bump into him as he stops and turns around, too lost in my own mind. I blush hard when he cocks an eyebrow at me.

“Where do you want to go?” He almost reaches out, but then steps aside and moves his hands away. He learns fast, but why is there something inside me, a small voice, that wonders what it would feel like to have his hands on me?

“Ehh… I’ve got no clue. I don’t go into town much.” I take trips to the art store, but that is basically it. I don’t like going shopping and I’m not a people person.

Hunter smiles, his face lighting up, and then turns to look at the schedule near the bus stop. “I think I’ve got an idea.”

* * *

I walk after Hunter through streets that are barely wide enough for a single car to go through. I’ve got no clue where I am. I’ve never been here before. But I’m sure we’re still in the town I’ve lived all my life, because I didn’t see us leave the city.

“Where—” I start to speak, but Hunter puts his hand up.

“We’re almost there.” He slows down and walks next to me. “I’m sure you’ll like it. It’s a wonder you’ve never been here before.” How does he know? I’ve got no clue where we’re going, he didn’t ask, and he somehow just assumed.

As the street opens up into a square, all the different small streets converge here. It’s like a little hideout. “Where is this?” I look around but part of my view is obscured by Hunter, who keeps standing right in front of me.

Hunter grins and steps aside. In the middle of the space is a huge metal dragon on a block of cement.

I must gape as Hunter laughs and softly pushes me towards the center of the square. “You made this?”

Hunter nods. “A few years ago. You didn’t recognize it when I showed you the picture before, so I was pretty sure that you’d never been here. This is not a place many people quickly forget. Come.” He motions at the statue and as I get closer I can see that there are drawings on the cement block. “Wanna find an empty spot?” He pulls two black markers from his backpack and gives one to me.

“Is this okay?” I take the marker but don’t step forward yet. I know that other people have drawn on it, but that doesn’t mean I’m keen on breaking the law by doodling on some statue.

“It’s what it is meant for. Look around you, there is art everywhere.” He points towards the benches and other things around the square and I realize that nothing is painted. Everything is drawn on in different colors, covered in doodles that from further away give the appearance of the items having been painted, even if they aren’t. Hunter breaks my stare. “This is a get-together place for artists. It can get quite busy during the late afternoon and evening. The square is closed off—no cars can come here. The streets are too narrow to allow for safe navigation around this part of town. So the county decided that it could be an art hangout spot.”

I step closer to the cement block and check the art on it. Most of it I don’t recognize, but here and there are styles that bring up memories from years ago. It feels weird, the good kind, to see that the people I used to know from Tamara’s workshop also come here. “Cool.” I find an empty spot and open the marker, deciding what to draw on it. Nothing comes to mind and I almost close the marker again but Hunter draws a water drop in the spot.

“Now you do something with that.” He smiles and steps back again.

I draw a semi-circle around it and then Hunter steps in again. We keep going back and forth, completing the drawing as we go. When the spot is filled I step back, looking at the picture, at how it interacts with the doodles around it. While everything is different, the whole thing together creates something that has some sort of whole-ness.

“See? This is what this spot is created for, to have a place to create things together.” Hunter walks to a bench nearby and flops down. “I’ve spent a lot of time here the past couple of years.”

I sit down nearby on the cement edge of a raised bed of plants. “The idea is cool.” I know why I’ve never been here before. My parents would never have allowed me to come to this neighborhood—it’s in the older part of town, but not the nice older part, the slightly rundown older part. They’re so scared something bad will happen to me that they’d never allow me to come here. Always being watched by my parents and not having my own car, or a motorbike like Hunter—yeah, I didn’t really explore much apart from areas they were okay with.

The blood drains from my face as the world around me starts to spin slightly. I close my eyes, fighting against the feeling. No, not now. I can’t faint right now.

“Liz?” I feel Hunter next to me in seconds, hovering, still not touching me.

“I’m okay.” I keep my eyes closed as I reach for my bag, searching for my water bottle.

“Let me.” Hunter takes the bag from me, and a few moments later the cool bottle of water touches my hand. “Here.”

I open the bottle and take a few gulps. Not enough food, I know, and not enough liquids. But I don’t want to worry Hunter even more, so I open my eyes, not focusing on anything in particular, just opening them to show that I’m okay.

“Lizzy.” He kneels in front of me, his blurry outline still imposing. “Maybe you should go home.”

“No, I’m okay.” I stay seated, not moving one bit. If I don’t move, the darkness won’t take me.

“If that is what you want to believe.” I’m not sure I’m supposed to have heard those mumbled words as blurry Hunter walks off.

If that is what I want to believe? No, it’s what I want him to believe. I don’t want to worry him, don’t want to scare him. But he seems unfazed by most things I do, too unfazed to be normal.

* * *

I don’t hear him for a while and as the faint feeling fades, the worry is growing. “Hunter?” I call out for him, but he doesn’t answer. I push myself up, not wanting to be vulnerable in a place I don’t know. I slowly stand up, blinking to stop the spinning. When the world is back to normal, I look around, starting to worry. No Hunter, no one in the whole square.

I take up my bag and search for my phone, wanting to call someone to pick me up, but then Hunter reappears at the side of my vision.

“I was getting something to eat. I was hungry,” he explains as he holds out a paper bag and sits on the bench. “Come, you must be hungry too.” Nothing that he’s saying or doing betrays what he feels about what just happened. He nearly saw me faint, and all he did was buy food?

I shake my head but he keeps pointing to the other side of the bench, so I sit down too.

He grabs a huge sandwich from the bag and then hands me the bag. “I hope you like it.” I don’t normally accept food from just anyone, but at the same time, it would look bad if I didn’t accept it.

I look at him, worried about what he got me, but then he points towards the bag, urging me to look in. In the bag there is a small clear box with fruit. Pineapple, mango, grapes and a few ones I don’t immediately recognize, generic light colored fruits like apple or pear. I’m glad that he didn’t get me a sandwich too, but still, this is too much for me, too much to eat. And in front of Hunter too… I can’t eat in front of strangers. I smile though, trying to make it as genuine as possible, and take the box from the bag. “Thank you.”

“No problem.” Hunter happily eats away at his sandwich and looks around, ignoring me.

I eye him for a while longer, and then look at the tub in my hands. I know I should at least eat something, or I might actually faint. I really don’t want to, but I can’t get around eating with Hunter right next to me. Walking away now would be rude and I really do need to eat. I open the foil lid of the top a slight bit, just enough to take a grape from the box. I bite the grape in half, checking for seeds, when I don’t find them, I chew on the half in my mouth. Carefully chewing, grinding everything into tiny pieces, taking just long enough time, not too long, not too short. When I’m finished, I take a swig of water and then look at the other half. I bite it in half again, chewing on it carefully.

From the corner of my eyes I see Hunter look at me and I turn my head, but he quickly looks away. Ugh, this is why I hate eating in public. People stare. Like they’ve never seen someone eat before…

I put the last bit of the grape into my mouth and put the box down on the bench next to me. I don’t like being looked at while eating. I refuse to eat when people stare at me.

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Chapter 4

Hunter

I look away from Lizzy. Someone told me years ago that some people hate being looked at when they eat—they feel like you’re judging them. I don’t remember who said it, or why, but I guess Lizzy is one of those people. She is not going to eat like this, and I try to come up with a new plan, a way to distract both me and her.

I look at the dragon in the middle of the square, remember what I was doing and thinking when I made it. It takes me a moment before I realize I’m starting to babble, filling the silence, keeping Lizzy’s attention on me instead of her food. I keep out the part about Joey, as he was going through one of his bad stages at the time. I also keep out the crappy ending—his death, just days before the dragon was revealed. The dragon he loved so much that he had spent weeks watching me create it, that he looked forward to watching being put together piece by piece as his body broke down. I keep babbling, the words flowing out, and from the corner of my eyes I watch Lizzy eat a few more pieces of fruit. Though eating is too big a word for what she is doing—it’s more like nibbling, like a small mouse. She’s so focused on listening to my story that she doesn’t even realize it.

When we came down the stairs of the college building and the blood drained from her face, I suspected that something was up. But the episode just now confirmed for me that she probably hadn’t eaten yet today—low blood sugar. With her slim form, I’m not that surprised. Girls who look that skinny often skip breakfast.

“Hunter?” Lizzy is looking at me and then reaches out, though she pulls her hand back before she touches me. “Thank you.” She looks sincere, though I’m not sure why.

I blink. “For what?”

“For getting me something to eat. That was really nice of you.” Lizzy puts the box back into the bag.

I try to smile, hoping it seems genuine. “No problem.” We’re just playing parts, exchanging niceties without meaning, and we both know it. We both know that she didn’t eat a lot and that she’s trying to hide it. “Where do you want to go next?”

“Ehh.” She checks her phone. “I don’t know, it’s still early.” She looks around, standing up and moving around the square, looking at the art on the ground and the walls.

I stay seated, letting her do what she wants, just observing her movements, the way she sways as she moves and how her hair swishes around her lower back. I want to draw her, but I’m too lazy to hunt around for pen and paper in my bag, and I don’t think she would appreciate if I put her on a wall for everyone to see. I close my eyes, basking in the sun, relaxing as the sounds from all around me make me sleepy.

“I think I want to go home.” Lizzy is right next to me and I startle.

I stare at her for a moment, wanting to say something, but in the time I had my eyes closed, a darkness has taken over her eyes. She looks tense, her shoulders are hunched and she avoids my gaze. I want to make that darkness in her eyes go away, but I don’t have a clue how to. “Let’s go then.”

I stand and I’m suddenly so close to her that I can smell her sweet orange scent. If I even move one bit, I could kiss her hair. God, she smells good. I step back and try to smile at her again. No matter how tempting it is, that would not be a good idea. “This way.”

* * *

“Will you get home okay?” We stand at the bus station near where her bus will leave.

“I’ll be fine. I’m not a little girl.” She grins, baring her teeth, but there is no spark in her eyes. Which somehow worries me, even though it could simply be exhaustion, because I feel that too.

“Okay. Just wanted to make sure.” I rub my arms for a moment, then run my fingers through my hair.

“If you don’t leave now you’ll miss your bus.” Lizzy points towards the bus stop where the bus to the college campus will leave soon.

I nod. I want to stay here, wait for her to leave, but I know that I’m crowding her and it also means that my trip will take half an hour longer. “See you tomorrow?” I reach out to her, then just leave my hand outstretched.

Lizzy looks at my hand, my face, and then back to my hand. At last, she shakes it. “I’ll see you tomorrow in class.” There is a fleeting smile before she turns and walks to her bus stop.

Now there is nothing more for me to do than get to my own bus stop. I sprint as I see the time, and the door of the bus is about to close when I reach it. I walk through the aisle, aware of the people staring at me as I pass. The crazy one. The insane one. The damaged one. The fighter. I know what people say about me, about who I am, what I do. I wish I could fight it, but it’s true. After Tessa’s crash, I went off the rails. Even before that I had a reputation for being a fighter, but after that I… I stopped caring for so long.

I sit down and stare out of the window, ignoring everyone around me.

The city passes me by, the roads familiar, though unfamiliar at the same time. I’m not used to riding the bus anywhere. For the past five years I’ve gotten everywhere by bike. Tessa by my side. I put my hand over my chest, the pain still stinging and only ever so slowly fading. I don’t close my eyes, I can’t close my eyes. I don’t want to see the yellow bike wrapped around the tree, Tessa stuck in the mangled mess.

I grip the chair, squeezing so hard that it hurts. Move on, moving on. Don’t linger there, or the darkness will overtake me.

The campus comes into view and I stand, wanting off the bus. Now.

I jump out of the bus, my face back to being plain. I walk towards my bike, and see Tamara come out of the art building. I want to turn around, but she already notices me.

“Hunter,” Tamara calls out for me, and I walk to her, a smile on my face.

“Hi. Just grabbing my bike.” I point to it. What a stupid thing to say.

Tamara frowns, confused, but then nods. “Sure. I just wanted to check with you that it was okay.”

“That what was okay?” I’m confused now. Did I miss something?

“I sort of sprang the whole moving to a different class onto you. I wanted to make sure it was okay. I didn’t have time to talk to you about it beforehand.” She walks with me to my bike, talking while I unlock the bike.

“Yeah, it’s fine. I get why you had to do it.” I put the helmet onto the bike and put the lock away.

“Good. I don’t want to make this all harder for you than I have to. I thought that this might be a better idea than having you in the class.” Tamara puts her hand on the bike. “This one is different from the one you had before the summer.”

I flinch. That came totally out of nowhere and I’m definitely not ready to talk about that just yet.

Tamara pulls her hand away, looking at my face. “Sorry, I shouldn’t pry.”

“It’s just…” I breathe in deeply and let out a short sigh. “Too many memories. I’d had that bike since I was still in high school. I needed a change.” I needed to break from my past before it broke me, broke me even more.

She steps aside, nodding, her eyes clouded. “I get it. Anyway, good luck tomorrow. I need to get going to the workshop before people break it down.”

“Break it down?” I grin, glad for the change of topic. “Are they that bad?”

She looks to the edge of the campus, her eyes further away. “You don’t wanna know what those photographers get up to sometimes. Nothing has been broken, yet, but it’s not all safe. The things they build to take the perfect pictures…” She sighs as she looks back at me. “You can come with me if you want to.”

“Nah, I’ve got to get to my parents’. Mondays I work at the horse riding school.” I put the helmet on as Tamara nods.

“Have fun. I’ll see you soon.” She steps back as I get onto the bike.

I kickstart it and take off, the sudden movement making my heart race, making me feel alive. I don’t feel like working at the riding school today, but it’s a good way to keep busy and I think my parents really like it when I’m there with them. I turn off the car park and make my way to the edge of town.

* * *

I speed-walk through the hallway. I’m so fucking late for class. I stayed over at my parents’, as I often do, and when I woke up this morning, I suddenly felt the urge to draw. That hasn’t happened to me in a long time. I think going back to classes may have triggered something, at least a little bit. I check the numbers over the doors. I should be nearly there. I look around, but the hallways are quiet. I got so wrapped up in drawing that I lost track of time, and now I need to hurry.

I open the door and all eyes are on me. Great.

“Ah, Hunter. How nice of you to finally join us. Please take a seat as I explain what we’re going to do this semester.” Prof Cartwright turns back to the board behind him, clicking on a few things and then pulling up a document.

I quickly sit down in the only empty chair, right next to Lizzy. She looks at me for a moment but then looks back at the professor. Okay, way to be ignored.

“The first couple of weeks will be to test your skills, and to improve where needed. The final assignment will be a portrait of a classmate. I will announce the pairs at the halfway point of the semester. This will be based on individual strengths and skills. The task will be to portray the person and their dreams. You can go big, you can go small, but it has to be creative.” He turns back to the class. “Any questions?”

Everybody stays quiet. I don’t think there is much to ask right now. I know that Professor Cartwright is usually fair when grading and his classes are interesting. Or, at least, they were last year.

“Okay. Let’s get the supplies out. I’ve got a couple of items laid out and I want you to draw them, paying close attention to shadows and details.” He walks to the middle of the room and pulls a piece of cloth off a table. On the table there is a glass bottle, a creepy doll, a box of matches and a book. “Go ahead.” He steps away and then turns to the class. “You’ve got until the end of the class, so… about three hours.”

I take my supplies from my bag. Luckily I was using them just now, or I might have forgotten them in all the rush to get here. I look at the objects, at their angles, at the surfaces. So many things to consider. I slowly start to get to work, getting a feeling for what is going on.

When I take a peek at Lizzy, she is already working, concentrating as her pencils move over the page. She looks beautiful like this—the full concentration in her eyes, the decisive movements, her hair pulled back so that it won’t get in her way. It’s nice to really be able to see her when she’s not aware. I’d like to draw her like this, but I guess that’s not the task for today. I turn back to my paper as I realize Prof Cartwright is standing right next to me.

“Are you sure you’re up for this?” His voice is soft, but I nod.

“I was distracted by something, working on my art. I won’t be late again.” I put pencil to paper and get back to work as he moves on to look at the work of another student. Conversation avoided.

Now I just need to get through this class.

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Chapter 5

Lizzy

I slowly make my way out of the classroom. So many people around, so crowded. I’m not used to it yet. I’ve been locked up in my room or my parents’ house for most of the summer, and if I escaped, I went to the forest behind the neighborhood. I didn’t really go places where there were a lot of people, no matter how much Lola or my parents begged me to. They took me away from my dream college, I don’t think they deserve to put more pressure on me now.

I stop when the sun hits my face as I step out of the building. Oh. This feels nice, the rays hitting just right, warming me up, while there is a little bit of a breeze, not too hot and not too cold.

A laugh behind me makes me twist around. Hunter is staring at me, still standing inside the building.

“What?” I put my hand on my side as I shrug my bag up higher.

“I wouldn’t think that you’d like the sun. With all your black clothes and gothic stuff and things.” He steps outside, next to me. The sun hits his bleached hair, making it whiter than it really is, creating a halo that doesn’t match his personality.

“So? What’s it to you?” I don’t get why he keeps saying weird things to me.

“Hey, I’m just enjoying myself. No worries.” He steps away but then turns around to me. “You wanna take a look at Tamara’s workshop?”

I could go home and have fun with some paint and pencils… On the other hand… I guess checking out the workshop would be a good idea too. It’s not like I’ve got places to be. I shrug. “Sure, why not?”

Hunter walks in front of me. Apparently he knows where the workshop is already. The warmth makes me a bit fuzzy, in a good way. It’s nice to just feel comfortable. To not feel cold all the time.

“Aren’t you hot like that?” Hunter breaks through my thoughts.

“Why?”

“You know, dressed in black with long sleeves and all that.” He stops and really looks at me.

I keep walking. I hate it when people stare at me, and he’s definitely staring. I’m not hot because I’m always cold. What does it matter anyway?

“Not very talkative, I guess.” He walks next to me. “Did you enjoy Professor Cartwright’s class?”

I shrug. Why all the questions? It’s not like this is any different from what I did last year. Drawing objects, it’s easier than having to draw people.

“Can you at least try a little bit more? It’s hard to keep this conversation going on my own.” Hunter laughs, but I’m done.

I take one hard look at him and turn around. I’m better off going home. There is no need to hang out with people who will try to change whatever I do or say. No, I’m not very talkative, deal with it.

“Lizzy.” Hunter walks after me, and I automatically swerve to the side. His hand grazes my arm. He tried to grab me! So predictable. “Please. Stop. I didn’t mean anything by it. I’m just curious.”

I shrug and keep walking. That’s not my problem.

Then Tamara pops up from the parking lot. She smiles as she sees us. “Are you on your way to the workshop? I’ll let you in. I was going that way too.”

I shake my head. I was going home, away from all the crazy people.

“Aww. Just… come on. You’ll love it, and you haven’t been to the new workshop yet. Neither of you have.” She touches my arm for a moment and then starts walking. “I’m looking forward to seeing some new work from both of you. I know that you, Hunter, haven’t done much drawing in the last couple of years. Are you feeling up to it this year?”

“Definitely. I was working on something new this morning.” Hunter walks on my other side. Now I’m between them and I can’t do anything but just follow them. “I guess that actually knowing that I should be working on my art, and having deadlines, works better than playing to be working on my art.”

I can’t imagine not working on my art. Even when I’ve been at my worst, I was always creating. Then I remember what Hanna said, something really bad happened to him—something that made him drop out of class and get into trouble and stuff like that. I look up at him. When he talks about his art, he’s just a different person, he relaxes and even smiles. But when he came into class this morning… that was a whole other Hunter. The darkness in his eyes and the scowl… So not attractive.

Then we stop, standing in front of a modern building. I wouldn’t have guessed that this would be the place, but it says it on the door: ‘Winter’s Workshop.’ I laugh. That sounds like a Christmas shop, not a place for artists.

As Tamara opens the door I can already hear voices inside, loud voices. To the side, in the hallway, there is the steel bench that Hunter showed me a picture of yesterday. I’ve seen his art for years without knowing it.

Hunter sits down on it, sprawling. “I didn’t think you’d keep it.”

“Why not? It’s functional and shows that my students are the greatest.” Tamara waves us further into the building. “Out here there are the toilets, the storage room and my office. You need to be through here.” She steps into a large open space.

When I say large, I mean huge. It is maybe three floors high and as large as a gymnasium. In one corner a couple of people are trying to raise some white curtains with ropes and pulleys and other things. It doesn’t look very safe. Just off to the side there is a tripod with a camera on it. They must be some of the other artists.

“Tamara!” One of the boys from the group comes over, a big smile on his face. “We’ve nearly got the curtains up. We got them for a couple of bucks at the thrift store.”

“That’s great. Do you think you can make it work?” She follows the guy to the others and Hunter and I stay, looking around. There are some paintings, some clay statues, other mediums, all strewn around the room. When I look up, I realize that even the lights overhead are pieces of art. I’ve definitely been away too long. Just seeing all this art in one place makes me want to stay here and work on something myself. Just being here makes me want to be creative.

After a while, Tamara comes back to us. “This is the main room. There are some small, more private, rooms off to the side. And upstairs there is a small kitchen. We’ve got anything you need here.”

“Do you have stuff for scrap metal?” Hunter gives her a look like he’s challenging her. This must be something that they’ve discussed in the past.

“Okay, almost anything. You know that metal and welding supplies would be much harder to store.” She rolls her eyes with a smile and walks to the other end of the room. There are some couches and a door to the outside. “We’ve even got some outside space, for spray painting, but also to just hang out if you’d want. Also”—she looks at Hunter—“no smoking inside.”

“I assumed as much. I wouldn’t do that with all the cloth and paint fumes.”

We step outside and there are more couches out there too. Tamara sits down on one.

Hunter pulls out his cigarettes and lights one as he slumps down on another couch. They both look at me and I lean back against the wall, right next to the door.

“What did you think of your first classes?” Tamara talks to both of us, but looks at me.

I shrug. What is it with everyone and all the questions today?

Hunter starts talking and I zone out, just listening to his voice and standing there in the sun. I don’t care if I get a tan. The black clothes are mostly just because people won’t talk to me when I wear them, and, I guess, a leftover from when I was still in high school.

My phone buzzes and I check it. It’s a message from Lola. ‘Hey, I’m done for the day, you want to go home together?’

‘Yeah. See you at the car park.’ I reply and look up. Hunter and Tamara are both looking at me. “I’ve gotta go. My sister wants to go home together.” I turn around, and I’m gone before they can say anything back.

I like the place, but I’m just too tired to really deal with people right now. I want to curl up with my drawing tools and make something, or maybe even just curl up and do nothing at all.

* * *

“Are you sure it’s okay?” I wrap myself around the pillow in front of me. Lola is sitting on the other end of the couch. She’s been really cool about letting me have the garage. I know that she may have wanted it more, a place of her own, but I just didn’t want to live in the house with our parents and everything, so we converted the garage. This way I’m close without actually being in the same house. I like my independence, even if it’s only a little bit of it.

“Of course. I don’t mind living at home. It’s not like I’m used to anything else.” She shrugs. “I like it when there are people around.”

Lola likes people, she always has. I don’t remember her as anything but a social butterfly.

“Hey, I thought you were supposed to work on that?” She points to a canvas at the back of my small living room.

“I know. I was…” Distracted? Everything that happened yesterday just left me wanting to do some pencil art instead of paint.

“Do you have something new to show me?” She leans forward. She knows that when I’m not painting, I’m doing something else. I’m always doing something creative.

“Not yet.” I don’t want to show the drawing of Hunter’s dragon from the square we went to to anyone just yet, especially since it’s not done. “It will probably be done in a couple of days.” I’ve taken his design and just added more and more things. I like where it’s going, but for now, it’s not ready to be shown to anyone just yet.

“Fine.” She pouts. “Then I won’t tell you about the new story I’m working on.”

“No fair!” Lola is magical with words, she can do such awesome things with them. While my creativity is on the hands-on side, her creativity is all about words. Novels, short stories, even lyrics for music.

“Okay, fine.” She sticks out her tongue and then sits next to me on the couch. I lean against her and she wraps her arm around my shoulder. She is the only one. She is the only person who is allowed to touch me. I like curling up with her, because it feels like we’re back to being one person, one ball of creativity.

As she talks about the plot, the idea, the story, I can see it in front of me, slowly unfolding, and it gives me more creative ideas to keep working on. We’ve worked together before, made a short children’s story, with text and images, all together. It’s still somewhere in a drawer. Maybe we should do that again.

 

That's the end of the first five chapters!!

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