The blue waves crashed against the rocks, which only came as a dull thudding to Leo’s ears. The gray outside matched his mood today, and he stopped momentarily to stare out the window as he so often did. The sea was especially agitated today, its water pounding away at the shoreline. Clouds loomed above, ready to pour down torrents of rain and soak the sand. Leo could see a small drizzle begin. He scanned the rest of the beach, taking in the bleak view. It was quiet out, and other than the howling wind, there was nothing of interest. Leo had almost turned away his head, when he jerked it back in surprise. Some peculiar figure, dressed fully in black attire, was standing near the water’s edge. Leo smirked; the weather was very deceiving and this stranger was in for a surprise. He was debating between knocking on the window pane as a warning, or allowing the stranger to get soaked in the oncoming onslaught of rain, when his thoughts were interrupted by a familiar whining voice.
“Leo! Come paint with me pleaseee!” Nora dashed into his room, her tangled hair and messy clothes a sight to see. Her eyes pleaded for attention, and she wrung her hands nervously, as if Leo was going to say no to her request. Which he was. She suddenly stopped at the foot of the bay window. “Oh. Did I interrupt your alone time”?
Leo grimaced at her sarcasm. He was definitely going to say no now. He paused for a second, then said, “Yes, Nora, yes you did. And no, I can’t. I have things to do, unlike you.” She frowned. “Go paint with one of your friends.” Nora continued to stand there, lips pressed together. Knowing her stubborn nature, Nora wouldn’t leave until he compromised and gave in. He rolled his eyes and said, “Okay, on one condition. You clean yourself up a bit, and I’ll be there in ten.”
“Fine.” Nora tossed her hair back and swaggered out of the room, a smile tucked away.
Leo closed the book he was reading, and leaned back. He looked at the ceiling, the fan lazily turning in circles. As he was lying there, Leo let his thoughts wander, when he suddenly remembered the stranger he had seen outside on the beach. He glanced out the window again, but the figure was no longer there. Leo sighed. The weather outside reminded him that this day just kept getting worse. He had agreed to paint with his sister, and that was a grueling task in itself. She could be so annoying at times, acting like he had issues he shouldn’t have. He couldn’t help if he had certain…thoughts. Nora never understood how he felt. Leo took a deep breath and rubbed his temples. It hurt sometimes, and the last thing he wanted to do today was paint some pretty pictures.
He waited a few minutes, giving Nora time to get ready, before he sat back up again. Leo glimpsed at himself in the mirror, and groaned in frustration. His hair was a mess. He pushed his fingers through his silky, jet-black hair, in an effort to make it look presentable. It flopped down. “Whatever. I just have to paint,” he said to himself. Leo took one last wistful look at the book he had been reading, then left the room.
Nora had set up the canvases in a corner of her room. The blank white was a stark contrast to her peach painted walls, and Leo suddenly realized that it had been a while since he had been inside Nora’s room. A lot had changed. She had moved around the furniture so that the front of the room was an open space. New paintings lined the back wall, each of them different pictures, yet similar palettes. Her bed had a canopy, and chimes hung from the opposite corner. It seemed like the average girl’s room, but it was missing the toys and books.
Before Leo could ask Nora about the rest of her belongings, she walked toward him and smugly said, “Do I look presentable? I brushed my hair and changed my clothes.” She flipped her hair in his face for good measure.
“Don’t make me leave so soon, Nora,” Leo warned.
She waved her hand, dismissing his comment. Leo noticed his sister had changed into a clean pair of overalls and her black hair was tied back. She walked over to her painting nook where everything had been set up on a table. A dollop of every single color she owned was on a glass plate. From hues of pinks to blues to yellows, Nora had it all. Leo noticed there was no black, but she didn’t seem like the person who used that color anyways. Brushes were in jars, washed and sorted by size. Two glasses of water stood by, ready for some action.
“That one’s yours,” Nora said. She pointed to the canvas on the left, and Leo saw her thoughtful gesture. A tube of black paint was resting on its side.
“Thanks,” he said. She had remembered. It made Leo smile. He sat down on the floor, cross-legged, and picked a brush. Squeezing some black paint onto the canvas directly, he painted it until it was a smooth coating over the whole surface. Leo had an unorthodox method for painting. Usually, people started with a white base and added colors. Leo liked to start with a black base, and sometimes add colors. He couldn’t think of anything to paint, so he looked over at his sister’s canvas for inspiration. She was half-way done already, which was no surprise to Leo, considering he had spent a good amount of time trying to come up with an idea. “You’re painting cats?” he asked.
“Yes. Why do you sound so surprised?” Nora replied.
“Well, it’s just that you’ve never seen one before.”
Nora turned to look at him. “How can you be so sure?”
Leo stared back in puzzlement. “Well, we’ve never had cats for starters. And I don’t think you’ve ever seen a picture of them either.” He paused, deep in thought. “As a matter-of-fact, no one in this town has even seen a stray, let alone owned one.”
Nora just shrugged. Pin-drop silence filled the room, and she turned back to her painting. Leo dropped the subject. If she didn’t want to tell him, then it was none of his business. Leo washed his brush in the jar, swiveling it in circles till the particles dislodged themselves and the water turned black. Now he was curious. Of all things, cats? Someone must have shown her a photograph or something.
As if she was reading his mind, Nora shattered the silence and said, “The girl next door has a cat. It’s orange – well really, more like tan – with these cinnamon colored stripes and -”
Leo cut her off. “The girl next door? Nobody’s lived in that house for years!”
“Yes, but now she lives there. I haven’t met her yet, but I saw her and her cat. They were sitting on the porch.” Nora paused. “Actually, it was a bit weird, because when it began to get windy, she made the cat go in and locked the door.”
“What’s weird about that? The fact that she doesn’t exist? Because no one’s ever lived there?” Leo teased.
“Of course she exists! The weird part is that she put on her coat and shoes, and went back outside!”
Leo laughed. “That’s the second idiot today that wanted to brave the storm.” Nora stared at him blankly, so Leo explained. “Someone was standing near the shoreline. They were wearing full black, so I couldn’t recognize them.”
“Oh! That girl was wearing a black coat! You saw her too!” Nora’s face glowed in satisfaction, knowing she wasn’t the only one seeing things.
Leo rolled his eyes. “Stop looking so smug. You were right. So what?”
“So what? I just proved to you that I’m not crazy!” On an impulse, Nora grabbed her paintbrush, and swiped it across Leo’s face. Bright orange streaks followed on his cheeks and Nora giggled.
“Why you…” Leo trailed off as he grabbed his blue and black paint, and within seconds, it was all over Nora’s chin and arms.
They looked at each other and laughed. Immediately, they each claimed a tube of paint and uncapped the top. Pink, green, yellow. Face, hair, arms. Tumbling over each other in an effort to get at any patch of skin left empty. They fell on the floor, holding their stomachs, tears spilling from their eyes. He looked over at a paint-covered Nora, giggling in her once again messy clothes, her hair flying everywhere. Leo tried to contain his laughter. Paint splatters covered everything, and in due time, they would have to clean up. But he didn’t want to think about that right now. Leo was too happy.
They lay on the ground for a few minutes to catch their breath. For the second time that day, Leo looked at the fan turning in circles above their head. He studied it intently, forming a theory in his mind.
“You have an obsession with fans or something, Leo?” Nora asked.
Leo shook his head. She wouldn’t understand. He was thinking, and something funny had just occurred to him. You could learn a lot about a person from the fan in their room. For example, Leo’s fan was painted plain gray, had five blades, and turned counter-clockwise. But Nora – her fan was fancier. Three wooden blades carved with intricate designs turned clockwise while little decorations hanging from the pull chains swung back and forth. Fans could tell you if a person was more logical or artistic, which side of their brain they used more, what they felt, and so much more. Leo was wondering if he should share this observation with Nora, but decided against it.
Nora interrupted his train of thought. “I’m hungry.” She turned her head towards Leo, waiting for him to say something.
Leo dragged his hands down his face. “Seriously Nora? It’s only like 5 o’clock right now.”
Nora ignored his comment. “What are you going to make for dinner?”
“Air. You can eat air. It’s very filling, trust me,” Leo said.
Nora sighed. She stood up, and started to brush off dry paint. Little flakes floated towards Leo, landing on his face.
“Ughhhh…Noraaaa…” She didn’t stop flicking off paint. Leo pushed himself up and out of the way of the falling flakes. He turned to survey her room. It didn’t look as bad as them.
“Don’t worry about it. I can clean this up,” she said, following his gaze.
“Okay, cool. Make sure you shower, please.” Leo turned to leave Nora’s room, but stopped. “Umm, hey Nora, I had fun. Thanks for asking me to come paint with you.” Nora nodded back at him, and Leo left.
Nora usually cleaned up quickly, so he knew he had less than thirty minute to take a shower and make dinner. He walked down the hallway and into the kitchen, where the first thing he did was put a pot of water to boil on the stove. Grabbing garlic, capers, mushrooms, and anchovies from the fridge, he set them on the countertop and began his search for a cutting board. Leo had just found it in the back of a cabinet when there was a knock on the door.
Leo froze, hoping he had imagined the sound. No one ever came to their house. And in a storm? Never ever in a hundred years. Maybe it was the wind thumping a branch against the door? It was still quite stormy outside, so it wouldn’t come as a surprise. Leo waited, his shoulders tightened, but there was no other noise than the pitter-patter of the rain against the windows. He relaxed, and was just about to go back to cooking dinner, when the knock sounded again. It was more urgent than before, and now Leo was fairly certain there was a person on their porch, not a tree branch. He fumbled around, trying to find a suitable knife, then gave up and picked up the one he was going to chop mushrooms with. Leo gripped it tightly and slowly walked towards the front door. A sound came from behind, and he paused mid-step. A few seconds later, Nora peeked her head out.
“You hear that?” she asked.
“Yeah,” he said tensely.
“Someone’s at the door.”
“Are you going to open it?”
“Shut up Nora.” The person knocked again, and now Leo could feel the fear giving him a rush of adrenaline. With every step he took, his heart thumped a bit louder, a bit faster. Leo inched closer, until he was standing right in front of the door. To think, only a piece of wood stood between him and whoever was on the other side. His sweaty hand reached out to unlock the door, and he waited to see if the person would barge in and, well, act out one of the thousand scenarios rushing through his mind. Behind him, Nora gulped. Leo felt his knees tremble as he timidly opened the door a crack, just enough for the both of them to see who was standing on their porch.