theme: never forget my smile
by victoria minks
She sat in the corner of the coffeeshop, cradling her cup in her hands and inhaling the bitter perfume of the dark brew. People chattered around her, but she had become a pro at mentally blocking everything out as she curled up alone at the farthest table.
"Claire?" A voice called from behind the register across the room. She glanced up, pushing a strand of hair back from her face.
It was a different Claire that they meant. A tiny girl with a pink beanie over her long, swinging black hair rushed up to the counter to grab her to-go cup then dashed out into the rain. Claire in the corner watched for a minute, then turned back to poring over her notebook.
The notebook was a giant one, but it was stained and crumpled from use. Chock full of pencil doodles, it went everywhere with her. She sketched in her college classes, she hid away in coffee shops and drew stunning portraits of the people surrounding her. As she flipped through the book now, faces flashed by and made her smile. There were a few regulars. The businesswoman with glasses and an Americano every day, a slim laptop her best friend. The two teenagers who giggled in the middle of the shop with their fancy blended drinks, taking snaps for their social media to prove how amazing their life was. The guy by the window, with a tablet and stylus. He came a lot and always ordered a caramel macchiato, then sat by the window and split his time between staring outside and writing with his stylus on his tablet. He was almost always wearing a hoodie, and Claire had sat in her corner and drawn a total of eleven portraits of him. Not that she had counted. She had, but she was too embarrassed to even acknowledge it to herself.
She flipped back through her notebook, watching as her drawings grew slightly less polished and quirkier the further back she went. One year, two years-- her breath caught in her throat and she stopped abruptly to stare at the page. It had been a while since she had seen the drawings of her dad.
Dad. He was the best person she had ever had in her life. Even through the raw, unpolished state of the sketches she could see the laughter crinkling around his eyes.
She didn’t cry anymore. She was past that stage. But something very soft and very painful filtered into her heart for a moment. Dad was in heaven, so he was free from his illness-riddled body. He had suffered for six years, and Claire knew that he was in a better place. But in moments like these, though grief didn’t come like it used to, she still felt a sadness. Somehow, life had slipped away along with her father.
She heaved a sigh, still studying the portrait, motionless. Vibrant images of backyard barbeques and tramping through slushy March puddles flitted through her mind. Red rain boots, blue patio chairs, yellow sun, Dad’s favorite green shirt. Did sunshine have a smell? She thought she remembered a faint, fresh kind of scent that she associated with sunshine.
Light filtered through the window suddenly, blinding her. She glanced up. The raindrops on the window across the room were catching the light and tossing it across the walls and floor. They splashed across the hoodie-guy’s back and he glanced up too, to look outside. She took out her pencil, but hesitated.
Turning her head to view her notebook, she eyed it critically. The black-and-white portraits looked back at her. She put her pencil away.
Four days later, the coffee shop’s door jangled as she walked in. She ordered her black coffee like normal, and without thinking, turned her steps towards her corner. In her hand, she clutched some colored pencils along with her notebook.
“Claire?” It was for her. She paused to grab her coffee, and noticed for the first time that the girl’s name was Sarah, and that she was smiling at her. Claire flashed a smile back, suddenly confused. She cradled the cup of coffee in her hands and stood uncertainly in the middle of the coffeeshop. Then, with a quick step, she walked to the window.
The hoodie guy was three seats down-- a safe distance away. Claire settled in the new chair, an odd sensation sweeping over her as she saw the expansion of glass in front of her.
The guy was busy with his tablet. She peeked through her hair, and her eyes widened. He was drawing too.
She pulled out her pencils slowly, still sneaking glances over in his direction. Somebody walked by outside the window and she jumped at the movement, then laughed at herself. The world was much more open suddenly, and Claire was almost stunned by the colors that everything seemed to be wearing. When had things become so saturated with such hues?
“Excuse me?” the guy’s voice startled her, because it was a lot nearer than she expected. “Are you an artist too?”
Heart leaping into her throat, Claire slammed her notebook shut. “Oh, yes, but just pencil sketches--”
He laughed and pointed at the window while handing her his tablet. “I look outside usually to draw funky, colorful street scenes. But then I saw you in the corner.”
A bright, geometric Claire-in-the-corner popped up on the screen. Without even thinking, Claire smiled.
“I’m trying to bring more color into my drawings, lately,” she admitted, slowly pulling her notebook out again. “Maybe you can teach me some tips.”