It was the most absorbing thing in the world.
There was no sense of time, or place, or noise and very littlest concept of surrounding. There was simply a canvas and colors. It was a different level of consciousness, one that was free of thought and full of feeling. One that was both silent and peaceful, and noisy and exhausting. The brush moved, and sometimes Bella didn’t feel like she controlled it. It was her hand that held it, her eyes and chose the colors and textures and her mind that put it all together, but sometimes she felt like the painting was controlling her. When it was finished, she might be pleased or she might be disgusted; but, she was always surprised and never ever knew where it came from.
The rap on the door sent her three feet into the air with a yelp of surprise. She was jumpy when she was absorbed in a picture and it was usually a phone-call or Charlie walking through the door unannounced that sent her brush flying. Luckily she was working on water, and on close examination a second later, she decided that the sudden dip of highlight gave the lake a nice effect so she didn’t try to fix it.
“Come in!” she yelled without bothering to open the door herself.
Charlie had been generous in letting Bella have the old tool-shed as her ‘studio’. It was about the size of a cracker-jack box, but she had fixed it up nicely. Charlie had gotten her a heater and replaced the terrible old lighting, with bulbs that promised a ‘natural’ effect. There was even a bathroom, a toilet, and sink hidden behind a narrow door at the back.
Jacob walked in grinning and shook his head when he saw her. She was wearing over-alls of all things, with one strap twisted carelessly behind her back and the other hanging off her shoulder. Her t-shirt was faded from what might have once been bright blue, to a ragged grey. Her hair was pulled in a careless ponytail. Of the many strands that had escaped, a few were laced with streaks of green and white goop. She had her back to him and briefly glanced over her shoulder to flash him a smile.
“Hey Jake,” she turned back to her work and quickly switched brushes.
“Hey Bells,” he paused for a moment, and then realized she wasn’t planning to stop any time soon.
She had forgotten. He was torn between being hurt and being entertained, he decided to play on the latter.
“I told her that ‘semi-formal’ was too broad of a definition for preferred attire. I knew you would lean toward the informal side.” He paused when he saw her shoulders stiffen, then he smiled and continued when she began to turn around. “But really Bella, it’s my sister’s wedding…”
She was looking at him in horror, taking in his slicked hair and loosened tie. Her brush hung, momentarily forgotten in her fingertips and most of the color drained from her face.
“What time is it?” she choked.
He knew she had no sense of time when she was painting. He had even bought her a big tacky digital watch with a glowing green face. He saw that it was sitting next to one of her many jars, forgotten.
“Five-thirty,” he replied cheerfully, and then looked up at the giant wall clock that Charlie had hung for her. “Well, five thirty-eight, I to be exact.” He threw her an impish grin. “Sorry I’m a little late.”
He was almost afraid for her health when she swayed slightly and her mouth hung open.
“Don’t worry,” he said, handing over the garment bag that had been hanging on the door of her closet, though he should have known better than to check the house first. Bella was always painting… and forgetting.
“Crap Jake!” she began twisting the caps on her paint tubes frantically, and shoved a handful of soiled brushes into the solution of one of her jars. “Crap, crap, crap… Why didn’t Charlie come get me?!” She began yanking at a roll of saran and when it was hopelessly tangled Jacob decided to step in before she hurt herself.
“Charlie left a couple of hours ago to help Billy get ready, he left you a note. Something about cufflinks I think. Here,” he pushed her gently aside, and untangled the offending plastic from her fingers. “Get dressed and I’ll clean up.”
“Okay.” She grabbed the bag and hurried past the three easels toward the bathroom.
He laughed at the stress on her face. “It’s okay, Bells, we have time… sort of. Hey is this oil or acrylic?”
“Oil!” She called back. He heard her yank the zipper of the garment bag down. “But don’t clean the brushes, Jake, I’ll do them!”
“I can handle it,” he replied indignantly, “I’ve seen you do it dozens of times.” He reached for the bottle of turpentine and set to work with a jar and a rag.
“I can’t believe I forgot,” Bella wailed. “Well, I didn’t forget. I came out at eleven this morning thinking that I would just paint for a couple of hours before lunch. I figured that even if I got distracted, my stomach would remind me… Thanks for nothing.”
Jacob laughed, “Are you talking to your stomach?”
“Shut up,” she snapped.
There was more frantic ruffling followed by a low moan.
“What is it?” Jacob was trying to figure out if there was any rhyme or reason to the way the brushes were placed in jars on her shelves. He decided not to risk her wrath if he messed them up, and laid the freshly cleaned ones out on a paper towel.
“My hair!” she moaned again. “There’s paint in it!”
“Don’t worry about it.” Jake tried to sound reassuring as he placed a sheet of saran wrap over the wet paints on her pallet. “Everyone who knows you is so used to it that they probably won’t even notice… and we’ll just tell everyone else that you’re going for an artsy look.”
She groaned again, but opened the door. Her dress was dark charcoal grey and it swung around her knees in three light layers. It was cap sleeved, and square necked and had some sort of twisty effect around the middle.
Jake grinned, “I like it.”
“Thanks.” Bella didn’t have time to smile back, and she was too stressed and angry at herself. “I’m going to run up to the house for a second and get Charlie’s cufflinks, and see what I can do about this.” She pointed miserably at her hair, which was now free of the pony tail and hanging lankly down her back. It was kinked in the middle and streaked with paint in the front.
“Here, I’ll go up to the house, you stay and fix your hair and we’ll be out the door in no time.” Jake threw the rag he was holding onto the top of the pile in the corner.
“They’re in my jewelry box. Second drawer, in a zip-lock bag.”
“Okay,” Jacob hurried out the door of the shed and across the front yard toward the house. He ran up to her room and found the cufflinks quickly. Then he hurried down the rickety stairs, taking them two at a time. In a moment of inspiration he went to the kitchen pantry and grabbed the first box in his reach. Strawberry Pop-Tarts, he shoved them into his pocket and ran back to the shed, hoping that Bella wasn’t trying to be too creative with her hair.
He pushed open the door to find her standing in the middle of the shed with her hair up and tears in her eyes. Before he could even ask, she was pointing to a glob of light grayish paint on the hip of her dress.
“Jessica is going to kill me!” she exclaimed, as she grabbed for a rag and tried to wipe the paint away.
“The Stanley’s aren’t invited,” Jacob told her as he walked over to see what the damages were.
“Well, she’ll kill me tomorrow then when I try to return this dress to her. I borrowed it.”
Her voice was breaking and Jake could tell that unless he did something quickly, she would be a useless puddle on the floor. First thing tomorrow, he promised himself, he was going to finish working on her truck. He prided himself on being on time, and driving Bella around everywhere was diminishing that pride very quickly.
“Well, Rachel is going to kill me if I don’t get there… like, fifteen minutes ago.”
He watched helplessly as the light smear became bigger and bigger. “You’re fighting a losing battle there, Bella, just leave it. No one will notice.”
She walked over to the bathroom mirror and took a look. He grimaced when he saw the miserable expression on her face. His grimace became more pronounced when he saw her expression change suddenly to one of calm determination.
“No, Bella,” he begged, but she had already tuned him out.
She walked over and picked up her sponge tip and the tube of gray. Then she calmly and purposefully squirted another glob over the first stain. She quickly pushed the color out from the center with her brush so that it spread over her waist and down toward her thigh until it faded into the background of the fabric. Ignoring his pleas for her to stop, she squirted another glob at the bottom of her skirt on the other side and worked the paint up. The loose fabric was giving her trouble. She interrupted his current objection that she couldn’t possibly expect to go to a wedding in a dress covered in wet paint.
“This is acrylic, Jake, don’t worry. I’ll be dry before we even get in your car. Hold the hem, will you? I’m almost done.”
He rolled his eyes and knelt down to help her. She finished spreading the paint at the bottom and finished by adding a little at one shoulder and pushing it along the neck line. He had to admit that it wasn’t a terrible effect; in fact, it might even have been an improvement.
“Okay, let’s go.” She threw the brush into the sink and grabbed her purse.
He left the shed the same way he had entered it, grinning.
His 1986 VW Rabbit was his pride and joy. He’d restored it himself, and prided himself on the fact that it had turned out way better than anyone expected. Maybe it wasn’t the nicest car, but it was his first, and he loved it.
Bella slid into the passenger side, carefully holding all of the painted parts of her skirt in the air so that they wouldn‘t touch the seat.
Jacob raised his eyebrows at her and she shrugged. “Well, I might have exaggerated a little. But I promise it will be dry before we get there.”
He gave her a mocking glare and reached over her lap to roll down her window.
“That should help,” he told her and started the car.
Out of guilt for making them late, she didn’t complain about being cold or point out that the breeze might mess up her hair, which she had pulled up into a messy pile on the back of her head, braiding the painted parts and pulling them back with the rest. It wasn’t a bad look, and the streaks of green and white almost looked intentional.
Jacob, who was always bright and helpful when it came to getting her out the door, was sulking now that they were in the car like he always did. He was glowering out the windshield, wishing that there was some way to turn a twenty minute drive into a three minute one. Rachel was going to kill him… Speeding was out of the question with the Police Chief’s daughter in the car. He didn’t think she’d rat him out, but he didn’t like putting her in that awkward position. Being raised by the Sheriff’s best friend had also given him a strong respect for the law that was all his own. Their fathers had been best friends for as long as Jacob and Bella could remember and longer. It was a bond that ran as deep as family and was just as unbreakable.
Bella gauged his attitude and tried to figure out the best way around it. She hated making him mad at her. A familiar song came quietly through the speakers of his fancy stereo and made her smile. She reached over, turned up the volume, and began to sing along.
He fought back a smile as her voice broke over the first line of the chorus.
She saw the tightening of his jaw muscles and knew that she had already won when he couldn’t hide the amused glint in his eye. She went louder to close the deal, holding on to a fake microphone and really trying to control the waver of her voice as the song dipped lower.
He was determined to hang on to his grudge. He refused to look at her, knowing that if he did the battle would be lost. She saw it and yelled over the music.
“Come on Jake, it’s our song!”
Her voice broke over and over as she tried to keep up. She was a terrible singer, but completely oblivious. Half of the lyrics she belted out were completely wrong. Unable to resist, he finally gave in and joined her with a laugh.
She smiled, and when their eyes met she knew she was forgiven.
He suppressed a gasp and looked away quickly, but her image stayed fresh in the forefront of his mind. Her eyes sparkling, he cheeks flushed and rosy. The loose strands of her hair blowing away from her face, and her smile… He felt an odd squeeze in his chest, one that he’d been feeling more and more lately when he was around her. He knew exactly what it meant, and he knew he had to tell her. He had to tell her tonight.
She saw his eyes widen and the way his neck flushed as he turned away, but didn’t say anything. She thought she knew what it meant, and she was happy. She was so beyond happy.
She turned the music back down as the song ended and sighed contentedly.
“It’s such a nice day for a wedding.”
It was actually a perfect day, the best weather you could hope for, for a spring wedding in Washington. It wasn’t raining, and the sun was peeking out from behind the thin cloud layer. It was a little cool, and the air was a little damp, but overall it was beautiful weather.
Jake nodded in agreement and then he remembered the Pop-Tarts. He pulled them out of his pocket and handed her the package.
“Here, sorry they’re a little broken. I grabbed them out of your pantry. I don’t want another repeat of Charlie’s birthday.”
He smirked and she glared as they both remembered the previous summer when she’d been working day and night on a picture of Mt. Rainier for her dad. On the morning of his birthday, he’d found her passed out in the tool shed because she’d forgotten to eat anything in the previous twenty-four hours. The painting was amazing; one of her best, but now Charlie was a little obsessive about feeding her when she was out there. Jacob often helped out.
“That was an isolated incident,” she insisted coldly, but she reached for the crushed pastries anyway.
She hated being taken care of, and hated even more to admit that she needed it. Now that she was back in reality, she realized she really was starving.
“No, I’ll open them, you’ll get crumbs everywhere. Grab the wheel.”
She reached for the steering wheel and rolled her eyes. He was obsessive about the upholstery and cleanliness of his precious car.
She watched the road while he carefully peeled open package of crumbling pastries. He would never understand why she liked them so much.
“Who does this guy think he is?” Bella sounded slightly alarmed as they came around the next bend.
He looked up to see a large white truck weaving into their lane at an alarming speed.
“Jake!” she screamed, as the truck barreled toward them, head on.
The food fell forgotten to the floor as he reached up to place his hands over hers and take back control of the car.
It was too late.
There was a flash of white and the deafening screech of metal as the truck plowed into them. Jacob yelled her name, and it was the last thing Bella heard. The feel of his warm hands covering her own were the last thing she felt before the sharp pain in her head consumed her. The darkness took her, and wouldn’t let her go.