Charcoal Ch. 02byLillywriting©
Thank you so much for all the encouragement! This is the longest story I have begun to write, and every kind word, and even critique makes me want to write more and improve! It is wonderful to know that people have read, understood, and even enjoyed what I have written, so thank you.
Jon was relieved when he came into the dorm to find Soul watching videos on his laptop.
"Done with the nightmare pictures?" The words slipped out before Jon thought. He didn't think Soul would be a good person to be in an argument with. Luckily Soul didn't take it badly, he was still flying high from his perceived upper hand in his competition with Scott.
"Yup all done. I hope that Professor White likes them. They are more like my portfolio. They definitely aren't worse than what I drew in class." Soul laughed. It wasn't like what Jon remembered Soul's laugh being like before. It seemed more like something like the pictures. Something devoid of light and color. Jon shivered.
"So, did you know that Scott draws?" Soul asked suddenly. He sat up. The lights were off in the dorm, even the reading light. The blue glow of the computer screen on Soul's skin was disconcerting. It emphasized the darkness of his eyes and hair. Jon had to swallow twice before he could speak.
"I knew he liked to, but I didn't know he was any good. Is he in one of your classes?" Soul smiled again. Jon curled under his covers. He really didn't like this new side of Soul.
"He decided to draw me as his project. But he takes forever to draw. I think he has only two drawings. We need at least five."
"Why do you hate him? He is kind of a jerk, but I don't think he means it." Jon sat up in bed. Even without the pictures he didn't think he would be getting much sleep.
"He is terrible!" Soul's eyes flashed in the blue glow of the computer screen. "He made me look stupid, he thinks peoples faults, even those that aren't their creation, are funny. He drew me without asking. He isn't just a jerk." Soul closed his computer, and the sudden darkness was worse than the blue glow. Jon wasn't afraid of the dark. But this dark, the confined space, and the silence were certainly discomforting.
"Soul?" Jon asked, there was no answer.
Soul woke early the next morning, he was excited to show Professor White his art, even if the pieces weren't what he was driven to create, he knew they were good, and even better he knew that Scott wouldn't have anything to show. Even if he did, it couldn't be as good as what Soul had.
"Welcome to class, I hope you all checked the website and found your first assignment." Professor White walked into class talking. It was early enough in the day that the students stopped talking quickly after he began speaking. Soul was busily setting up his drawings. Some of the earlier ones were stubbornly sticking to their rolled shapes and he was working on clipping them to his easel. He was so attentive to his task that he missed Scott hurrying into class moments late, but with portfolio case in hand.
"I know some of you had trouble drawing something on command last week- I am very interested how you incorporated that into your project. While I walk around I would like you to sketch something that reminds you of home. It can be something that you have with you, or something form memory." The professor walked as he talked, so as he finished his pronouncement he smoothly transitioned into speaking with the first student.
"How did you use your daisies in your pictures?" Soul looked up, startled. Scott's cheeks were a bit flushed, but other than that he looked fine. He didn't look like he had been up all night trying to finish an impossible project, he didn't even look stressed.
"How did you even finish?" Soul retaliated. He pushed his hair out of his face and began to think of the project. Something that reminded him of home. There was Michelle and David, but the longer he was away from them the less they seemed like friends and the less his house seemed like home. In fact the longer he was away from his house the less connected to anything he felt. Home was safe, or he had thought it was, he had thought he had friends, but now- nothing was as certain. Even the thing he was best at seemed to come and go. He didn't stand out, even as the awkward quiet kid. He was surrounded by talented people, talented people who had overcome things far worse than shyness. Soul had lost his niche, and had no way to deal with it.
"Well I did what I had to do." Soul rubbed his eyes. He had gotten a good night sleep, even after Jon had made him question his hatred of Scott. He hated him. Scott was terrible. Soul didn't have to have a reason, the guy was basically a stalker, and he was a morning person. "It wasn't too bad. I don't like to draw from memory, but I found some photos. They aren't as good as they could have been of course, but I'm hoping Prof White will give me a break since it's the first project." Scott wouldn't be bad to draw either. If he wasn't such a terrible person. Soul considered. If he had to learn to draw things from observation the angles in Scott's face might be fun to play with.
"Well boys, how did you fare?" The boys had been quietly watching each other for longer than either realized. Long enough for the professor to go through half the class to get to them. "Soul, no sketch, I thought we went over this last week. There will come a time when we will do projects entirely in class; you cannot just wait for the mood to strike you. The life of an artist is especially hard. The lucky ones often work on commission and that means deadlines." Soul blushed and began to look for a sketchbook. He had never followed directions well, or particularly cared to, but now, with this professor, and with Scott watching, he really didn't want to look like an idiot. And the more he didn't want to look stupid the worse he seemed to act.
When Soul looked back Professor White was paging through his drawings with an unreadable expression on his face.
"How did you feel when you were working on these?" The professor asked. Soul shrugged and began digging for a pencil.
"I wanted to draw them at the time, then when I was done I didn't feel strongly either way. I know they aren't bad pictures, but I don't really feel a connection to them. Most of the things I draw I feel almost- compelled to redraw, or rework in some way, these I was just done with."
"Mmm" The professor nodded and ran a hand through his graying hair. "How did you get the inspiration?" His voice sounded flat. It was such a contrast from the excitement and joy that usually flavored his rich tenor that Soul felt that he had somehow disappointed him. Suddenly Soul felt tears threatening. He had worked hard to finish the assignment, to find some way to fit flowers into his usually angular dark style, and still he had failed.
"I don't know. I just really didn't want to mess up the assignment." Soul had more to say, but his voice was threatening to crack and Scott was right there.
"Yes, but, how did you get the idea to use them in these ways." Professor White gestured to the various interpretations of petals. Finally settling on one in which the petals were made of tangled eyelashes. The center a tear filled eye. Soul wrapped his arms around his body and shrugged.
"I don't know. I'm telling you. I just drew what came into my mind. Why does it even matter?" The professor's eyes grew colder. He looked right into Soul's eyes.
"It matters more than you know. Maybe more than you will ever know." He then seemed to gather himself and turned to Scott's pictures.
"I see you used some color." Scott nodded. Soul frowned. It didn't seem like Scott could get a bad critique from anyone.
"I used some color in some of the other ones too, I know it wasn't required, but I though since we are doing a collection it would add some continuity." Professor White nodded again thoughtfully and began to page through the rest of Scott's drawings. Scott continued, "The light was so beautiful I couldn't help it, the sun was setting through the trees and I knew without color I wouldn't be able to do the scene justice. I hope I didn't overstep-" The professor shook his head until Scott stopped him, pointing at one of the pieces.
"This one's my favorite. I usually can't draw without the subject in front of me, but I think this expression will stay with me for my whole life." The professor nodded in seeming sympathy.
"This is really a good piece of work Scott. Not what I would have expected going from your sketch last week. I'm glad this is the direction you've taken." Scott blushed and nodded. Soul couldn't take it anymore. He knew he was the subject of the drawings, and if he could see what it was, what was getting all the praise in the whole class maybe he could figure out what the professor wanted from him.
The picture was of Soul; it was of him sitting in the library, in the window seat. It was as if a photo had been taken just as Soul discovered Scott sitting sketching him. But what made the picture extraordinary was the expression on Soul's face. It was a mixture of surprise and indignation, relief and anxiety. It was amazing that such a young artist was able to capture such an expression and render it so perfectly.
Soul could not remember feeling anything but irritation when he discovered Scott sketching him, but the drawing was so perfect- there was no way that anyone could have worked that complex of an expression onto a face that had never worn it.
"What are you doing?" Soul looked up into the cold eyes of his professor.
"I wanted to see what all the hype was about. I figured if this miraculous picture was of me that I should get to see it." It was the wrong thing to say, and Soul knew it the second the words were out of his mouth. "So sorry." He hurried back to his side of the easels and picked up his pencil and sketchbook. The problem was he still didn't know what to draw. He didn't know what home was. The longer he was at school the more disconnected he felt from everything. He had thought he had friends, but the more he was around school and people that were really friends; the more he realized that David and Michelle were never his friends. He wondered what they really thought of him. Soul had never been especially close with his mom, he didn't know his dad. Nor was he close with anyone or anything else. He was too worried about being a loner-tortured artist to be attached to anything but his art. Nothing was home but drawing. And that was just too much of a cliché for Soul to draw.
"Soul." He looked up. Lost in his thoughts, but not enough to not regret his words, and be scared shitless of the professor looking down at him. "Stay after class." Soul found that even though he was older, the words that were terrifying in middle school held just as much horror in college. Fighting the butterflies and bats that threatened to climb from his mouth Soul forced him to draw something that could be interpreted as home. He got as far as a kitchen with a faceless mother baking a birthday cake when the rest of the class began packing up their materials.
"Don't forget to check my website" Professor White called from his own easel at the front of the room. Soul shuddered. This was supposed to be his safe class. And instead it was turning out to be worse than math.
"Hey, don't worry so much." Scott was taking extra long to pack up. "Do you want to get coffee or something later?" Soul couldn't believe his ears. It was good he hadn't eaten breakfast because the butterflies would have made themselves seen in ways that were not the regal colors of monarch and blue butterflies-
"I don't know what you mean." Scott sighed, and Professor White, who had somehow snuck up on them laughed.
"Silly boy, it couldn't possibly be that easy. Now go, we won't be long." And with that Scott left and Professor White turned to Soul.
"You must be feeling a bit lost right now." Soul opened his mouth to speak, but Professor cut off his words with a simple raised hand. "None of what I tell you is going to make sense. But I hope in time you will come to accept it." The professor leaned against the wall and crossed his ankles. It was the most surreal thing Soul had ever experienced. He sat up straighter on his stool and prepared to be told he was adopted, or that Scott was his long lost evil twin. Or that White was his grandfather. He was nowhere near the words that came out of the professor's mouth. ** "Soul, your name is no accident. Though your mother's description of how you got it is as accurate as any, it, as many things, does not tell the whole truth. I also cannot tell you the whole truth. But I can begin to." Soul realized then that this discussion was not going to be about his art. At least not entirely.
"Your mother was an extraordinary woman. You may not realize it now, and you may never really comprehend what she gave up to raise you the way she did. And it may not have been the best for anyone but it was what she believed in. she didn't want you to know about your Talent, and she did a damn good job. But there have always been people in your life, and there always will be, people that want to draw it out." This was stupid. Soul was just waiting for the camera crew to jump from the walls.
"This isn't some weird fantasy movie. I don't have some talent. I just like to draw, and according to you I'm not even that good. And if I do have so talent why won't you just say what it is?" The professor smiled warmly.
"I haven't mentioned because it is so hard to believe. If I didn't know your mother, if I hadn't witnessed your birth and watched you grow up I would have sworn there was a mistake. There would be no way this quiet sarcastic- rude," here he gave a rather significant look, "child could be the one that all the elders speak of in hushed voices. But there you are. Mysterious ways and all that. " Soul was getting frustrated.
"What am I supposed to be able to do? Why won't you just tell me?"
The professor looked down his nose at Soul; he didn't speak for a moment. Right before Soul was going to gather his materials and leave he began.
"It is a sad story, your mother's. But I must begin there for any of this to make sense." The professor turned away from the easel and rubbed the bridge of his nose. "If you are willing to listen this will be a rather long story. We should go somewhere more suited to talking."
They ended up in a small student run cafe under the library. It was nearly empty and the broken in leather armchairs felt like a warm embrace. Soul sat forward in his chair, knees tucked under him. The feeling of being in the chair was too claustrophobic. He didn't want any hugs, especially not one from a dirty old chair.
"Before you were born your mother lived a very privileged life. Everything she knew was given to her. Her family had enough money that jobs or finances were never spoken of. But there was also little freedom." Scott was in line to get coffee, when he returned he brought Soul a chai. He set it on the edge of Soul's chair. This felt like a set up so Soul ignored it, the coffee and Scott's presence.
"Little freedom? Try none." Scott curled, catlike into his chair. He didn't quite meet Soul's eyes when the other boy looked at him, surprised. "I'm lucky they let me come here. If they knew you were here- well I guess that wouldn't really make much of a difference." Soul was becoming more confused by the second. If this was some sort of elaborate prank it was going too far. No one would like it if it were televised.
"Scott is right, in a way, but his life was also different than your mother's-"
"What the hell is going on? You should just tell me if this is real, and quit saying stupid vague things. If you are going to tell some long winded story then get on with it." Soul took a deep breath through his nose, not understanding where the venom was coming from. He wasn't someone who yelled, he stewed, and brooded, and held wicked grudges. But he never raised his voice.
"Your mother was raised Claire. Even if she didn't have the Talent she was still forced to go through all the training, and she had enough of the Talent to pass it on to you. Claire is not a place as many people think, it is not a city made of glass or anything of that nature. It is closer to a state of mind. Many people study the discipline, but your mother's family, and Scott's, lived in a community with those dedicated to the art. There was no other option for her, or for Scott." This explanation was far from satisfactory.
"What's the talent? You keep saying it, but I still don't know what it is." Soul managed to keep his voice close to level, but he was still frustrated.
"All in time." The professor took a leisurely sip of his coffee, rubbed his temples and crossed his legs before beginning to speak again. Soul though he was going to burst. If any of this nonsense was true his whole life was going to change. But these two, with all the answers wouldn't do anything to make what was supposed to happen clear.
"When I was in college I first thought I wanted to study parapsychology. I looked into all the lab trials that had failed to show evidence of ESP and realized that maybe there was something about the lab environment that was messing with the power, or talent, or skill. I went searching for people who could do the things I wanted to learn about. I started in Lilydale, but soon found that I was more interested in the actual act, not the show of it. For several long years I searched. It was difficult. Those who really have the Talent usually try to hide it, and those who don't are usually locked in communities like the one your mother was born into. I managed to get an invitation to a ball through a friend of a friend and that is how I met your mother." Soul frowned. This was sounding more and more like a bad TV show. Or maybe one of those crime shows. Maybe Professor White was going to lead up to some elaborate reveal of how he was some inbred child of a serial rapist or something. Or maybe his parents were from some sort of poly-amorous community where everyone was related.
"Are you like my dad or something?" The professor laughed and shook his head. "If only I was, maybe I could be of more help to you. I know very little, that is why I am being so vague, I don't mean to be. That is where Scott comes in. But first I want to finish my story." Soul stood and walked around his chair, too frustrated to sit, too curious to leave. The barista behind the counter looked up suddenly, as if just becoming aware there were costumers. Soul scowled at her, and she quickly went back to reading her book.
"I met your mother, and was stricken with her beauty. I wanted her." Soul made a face, the image of his mother and the Professor, together, was too disgusting for him to think about. " I think she may have noticed me, but I will never really know. I will only know from that point forward I never could bear to be without knowledge of her for long. I had my friend send me updates about her life. And when she was paired, I crashed the ceremony. It was like a wedding, but fancier, and with more ritual, I imagined I could feel the magic in the air. I could tell, though, by your mother's face that she didn't love the man she was to be with, she flinched whenever he leaned toward her. I couldn't watch the end of the ceremony, well, I'll spare you the details, but I was later told that is the night you were conceived." People watched that? Soul was disgusted again, and more so that his own professor had been there to see it, that his own mother had- fornicated-in public. He shivered and walked back to his chair. He didn't sit, still unwilling to feel the suffocation of its embrace, especially after hearing of his own conception.