From work in progress, Evergreen Love:
A light breeze teased Kyle with a floral scent. Odd how it seemed heavier now than it had earlier, and more like roses than lilacs. The thought was distracting him from painting, so he stepped back. He surveyed the half-completed painting on the easel in front of him and swore softly. Then he flinched as the word automatically brought Eve to mind.
“And you eat with that mouth?” Eve’s voice came to him from the porch of the tiny cottage.
Kyle froze as his mind processed. Had he heard that or imagined it? Rubbing his forehead, he slowly turned around. The porch was empty. He let out a cautious breath, not sure if he was relieved or more concerned. He shook his head. Haunted, hearing voices, imagining things. In the end it amounted to the same thing: Crazy.
He whirled. She stood frowning at his unfinished painting with her hands on her generous hips, a Hawaiian print caftan dress of the style she favored flowing like a robe about her bare feet. Kyle reeled backward a few steps. He squeezed his eyes shut and counted to ten, cautiously opening one eye, then the other.
She was staring at him, one eyebrow raised. “Explain this mess, Kyle.”
He drew a shaky breath. “Oh boy, I need a drink.” Stabbing a finger in Eve’s direction, Kyle shook his head. “You’re not here. You can’t be here.”
Eve looked down at her colorful dress, doing a cha-cha move with her hips so the fabric caressed the tops of her feet. “Okay, if you say so.”
Kyle stared. Why wasn’t she going away? He closed his eyes again, slowly counting to ten.
“What are you doing now?”
Kyle opened one eye. The last time he’d seen Eve so annoyed, he’d been a recalcitrant student in her basic art class and she’d called him out for not giving serious attention to nurturing his talent.
“I’m counting to ten. You’ll be gone when I finish.”
“Oh, really.” She leaned back, peering at him along the line of her nose. “What number are you on?”
“Fifteen,” Kyle admitted, releasing an exasperated breath.
Eve snorted. “I don’t guess it’s working too well for you then.” Shaking her head, she turned back to his work in progress.
Kyle scrubbed a hand over his eyes. “I don’t understand. Why am I seeing you? Are you really here then? I’m not imagining you? Are you—haunting me?”
His mentor shot him a pointed look. “Haunting, imagining. It all adds up to one thing, right?”
Kyle stared. Had he spoken that thought out loud?
Eve gestured to his painting. “Now, are you going to tell me about this mess on your canvas? What are you trying to accomplish?”
Maybe if he ignored her, his mind would turn off the steady stream of living color hallucination. She’s not here. But just in case, he edged his way around her to stand in front of the canvas again.
Picking up his palette and brush, he began touchups on the lilacs at the edge of the canvas. He loaded his brush with umber, then added a stem. Turning the brush over, he added a leaf.
“Why lilacs? I mean they’re nice but what are you going to put in the center of the picture?”
His hand shook at little on the next leaf and he stopped, pulling in a deep breath before he continued applying paint to canvas.
“It’s obvious you’re missing something here. Do you have something in mind or are you waiting for inspiration?”
Kyle gritted his teeth, refusing to look up. “Not here.”
Eve sighed. “Have it your way. For now.”
He loaded another brush and added a few splashes of lavender, holding his breath as he waited for the peanut gallery comment. No sound came but the slap of the distant waves kissing the shore.
After setting the brush down with determination, Kyle did a slow three-sixty of the area. He was alone. He looked at the coffee mug sitting on the small table next to him and considered switching to decaf.
He set the palate next to the brush then stepped back to survey his work and grimaced. Eve had been right. It was definitely lacking inspiration.
Making an impatient noise, he pressed his hands to his temples, as if he could squeeze out the intrusive thought. Where the devil had it come from? Bad enough he’d hallucinated his old mentor, talked with her even. But now he was admitting his hallucination had been right. Kyle kicked a pebble across the clearing.
You are definitely losing it, man. Haunted! Right.
He forced his mind to the canvas in front of him, no longer seeing the flowers, but instead seeing the subject he really wanted to paint. Black hair, skin like a porcelain doll, smoky eyes. He’d struggled with that likeness earlier, from the sketches he drawn at the fort the other day, but the exercise had been an epic failure. In his frustration, he’d snapped the handle on one of his best brushes. Her image was there, just at the edge of his consciousness but he couldn’t quite reach it, couldn’t pull it out of his mind to get it on the canvas.
“Excuse me, I wonder if you can help me.” The voice behind him was soft, melodic, with a hint of Midwest accent.
“No way,” he whispered, recognition kicking in. He knew that voice. The world seemed to slow as time spun out. Kyle pivoted, nearing losing his footing in the dew-laden grass.
She stood at the entrance to his garden, all spring and sunshine, in her white Capri pants and diaphanous lavender shirt. The wind toyed with her her black wavy hair. Her lips were outlined by a hopeful smile. “I must have run through some glass or something. My bike has a flat.”
“It’s you,” he murmured, afraid to move, afraid to discover he was victimizing himself with yet another hallucination.
“Wait! Don’t go!” blurted Kyle. Hastily, he crossed the yard. If this was an illusion, bring it on. His inspiration had arrived.
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