+++ Part two is already in progress. All characters are over eighteen. On the subject of sociophobia, I have taken some liberties in how it works for the story. This is a work of fiction, after all. +++
James parked his car and sat a moment, looking at the old house. The rain was heavy and nearly falling sideways in the heavy winds. The window on the living room was bright and warm, and he could see his father and mother walking about. He smiled a bit and tried to cover himself as best he could with his coat before opening the car door.
It was Dana who opened the front door for him. They both smiled wide and hugged.
"Uck, you're all wet." Dana said, pulling back.
"Yeah, sorry. It's really coming down out there." He said, hanging his coat on the hook.
They went into the living room and he said his hellos. He had been gone for almost a year. The last time he had been able to visit was just before he had gotten his job. He only lived two towns over, but he felt like it was much farther. He had not seen his mom in almost a month and hadn't seen his dad or sister since his last visit. He had missed them terribly and was more than happy to be home again.
He had ten days off from work and planned on spending all of it with his family. They all sat around the table for some catching up and a light dinner. Dad had been busy with his real estate ventures, and was doing well with it. His mother was finally making real headway with her leather working business, enough so that Dana was now working for her in the shop part time.
After dinner and a long, happy conversation, they talked about sleeping arrangements.
"The thing is, your old room kind of got turned into my office. So, there's no bed or anything in there." His dad said.
"No problem, I can crash on the couch. I kind of figured you guys would have used it for something else." James said with a smile.
"That couch is kinda lumpy." Dana said, her voice quiet. She was a terribly shy girl. She would only speak close to openly with her brother, and somewhat openly with her mom. When talking to her dad, it was as short of answers as she could get away with, not making eye contact at all.
"Nah, it'll be fine." James said. He knew it was a little uncomfortable but he thought it wouldn't be too bad.
James woke around three thirty. His lower back felt like it was tied in a horrible knot and his shoulders were stiff to the point that he had a hard time sitting up. His neck was stiff as well, and cracked loudly as he rolled it from side to side. He twisted at the waist carefully and his spine sounded like a bag of popcorn in the microwave. He sat for a while, wondering if it was worth it to try to lie back down. He really did not want to wake again feeling like a pretzel, but he had no idea what he would do for a few hours until someone woke up. He went to the bathroom while he thought. He came out and went back to the living room and found Dana sitting on the couch. He could see her fairly well in the low light that came in from the street light outside the house. She was wearing sweat pants and an old t-shirt.
"What are you doing up?" James asked, sitting next to her.
"I have insomnia. I'm always up around this time." She answered, looking down at her hands.
"How long has this been going on? I don't remember hearing about it."
"A few years now, I think. I just kind of started waking up earlier and earlier. Now I wake up around three thirty or four every morning." She said. She wouldn't look at him, but that was normal for Dana.
"Have you told mom? " James asked, concerned.
"She knows I wake up early, but not how early. I don't want her to worry and make me go to a doctor. I don't feel tired or anything, I just don't sleep much." She said. She was twisting and wringing her hands in her lap. Something she did when she was talking more than she wanted to. James thought this might be the longest conversation he had had with her in years.
"Dana, even if you're not tired, you might need to see a doctor. Something could be wrong that needs to be checked out." James said.
"OK. If it goes on for too much longer, I'll tell mom, ok?" She said, finally glancing up to him.
"Ok." He answered, knowing this was probably the best he was going to get out of her. "So what do you do with all the time until mom and dad get up?" He asked.
"I used to do homework or just study. Now that I'm out of school, I've decided to learn how to draw." She said.
"Really? So you just sit and draw for a few hours, practicing?" He asked.
"Yes. It's why I came down here. I wanted to draw your face." She said, nearly whispering as she pointed to the small sketchpad and pencil resting between her feet.
"No kidding? Why didn't you just ask me to sit for you to draw me?" He asked, smiling. He felt rather flattered that she wanted to draw his face.
She just shrugged in answer and stood up, gathering her pad and pencil and walking out of the room swiftly. James watched her go, surprised she had stuck around and talked as long as she did. James thought for a while about what she had said, trying to imagine her sitting in her room for a few hours every morning, just sketching and drawing, practicing shapes and forms and shading and whatever. He had a hard time doing it. He thought he would go mad trying to do something like that.
The sun was just coming up when his mom came down the stairs. She was dressed, but not for work. She chatted with James over coffee at the small kitchen table.
"James I wanted to talk to you about something." She said, frowning a little.
"I'm worried about your sister. You know how shy she is. She doesn't have any friends, she doesn't talk to any boys. I don't want to watch her grow up to be some kind of hermit, locking herself away from the world. She looks up to you quite a bit. When I can get her talking a bit about it she talks about you like you're her hero. So I was wondering if you could talk to her about coming out of her shell a little. Trying to meet people, you know?" She looked frustrated and worried in equal measure.
"Well, I can try, but I don't know how much good it would do. If a person doesn't like talking to people, they don't like talking to people. I don't think it's something you can just change with a couple of conversations." James said. He agreed that Dana should be more social but he didn't think that trying to force the issue would do any good. In fact he thought it could make the problem worse if he wasn't careful about how he did it.
"Ok, but don't be forceful about it, please. Just try to talk about it like it's just something to consider is all. Know what I mean?" She asked, feeling like she couldn't quite word it right. James understood what she meant nonetheless.
"Yeah, I get it. I'll try. I can't promise anything, but I'll try." James answered.
They turned the conversation to lighter topics after that, mostly how his job was going, how hers was going, and current events, waiting for dad and Dana to come down.
James, Dana, and mom spent the day at home; dad had a few showings he had to take care of and would be gone most of the day. Mom tried to get Dana to talk with them a fair bit throughout the morning, but gave it up after a while. Dana seemed content to simply sit back and listen to the conversation. James tried to gauge how Dana had reacted to their mom trying to get her to talk and thought that Dana had been close to leaving when mom had finally relented.
James woke up just before four. He was sore and stiff again. He saw Dana getting up from where she was seated on the floor and starting to leave.
"Dana, wait." He said, trying to clear the sleep from his head. She hesitated a moment, but left. She went up the stairs down the hall silently. He stretched and let his joints and back crackle before following her. He started up the stairs, wincing at the seemingly deafening creaks and groans of each step. He began to wonder how Dana had trotted up the stairs without a sound when they appeared to be made out of rusty nails and chalkboards to his feet. He wondered how often she crept through the house without a sound while their parents slept. It was a little spooky.
He creaked his way to her door. Hers was the first in the hall. The next was his dad's office, then the bathroom, then his parents' room. To the left was just the railing that looked down on the living room, running the length of the hall. He saw a dim light coming from under Dana's door. He tapped on the door softly, his head held close to the wood. When she didn't answer he opened the door and looked in. She was sitting on her bed, her legs crossed under her, the sketch pad in her lap. Her hands were folded, resting on it, the mechanical pencil jutting out from her laced fingers. She was looking down at her hands, and in the low light of the single lamp sitting on her desk he could see that she was blushing madly.
James stepped inside and closed the door as quietly as he could behind him. He saw that the walls were covered in drawings. They were all evenly spaced and aligned, with an even gap running between all of them, making the walls look like a grid of tiles, each tile with its own illustration. He was amazed at the quality and the quantity. The pictures of people and objects almost looked like black and white photographs, and the abstract ones and the fractals were stunning in the complexity and clarity.
James looked again to Dana. She had not moved. She sat there, looking like little girl waiting to be punished for something. James walked over to the bed and sat next to her. She turned her head a little, looking at his chest, but that was about it. He could see the drawing she was working on under her hands. It was just a basic sketch, but the few areas where she began to create actual details were looking very good. He had a hard time believing that his quiet, shy sister was capable of such amazing work.
"Dana, these are incredible. You do know that, right?" He said, his voice low. It was the only thing he could think to say. Dana just shrugged a little and looked back down at her hands.
"When you said you were learning to draw, I didn't think you meant you were, like, an artist. These are amazing. Look at that one above your lamp. That looks exactly like dad when he's reading a book, the little frowny line between his eyebrows and everything. And the one next to the light switch. That looks like a psychedelic sea shell you would see on a stoner poster in a head shop. This is amazing." James said, looking around at all the pictures again, struck again and again by the skill and beauty in each one.
Dana, meanwhile, sat silently, staring at her hands. She did not look at the pictures that James had pointed out. She didn't need to, as she knew every inch of them. She simply sat still as a statue and listened to his praise. It meant quite a lot to her, but she did not know how to express it. For whatever reason, her social skills had never developed, and she always felt out of place and awkwardly afraid around other people. Even among her own family, she preferred to sit back in a corner and simply observe. She did not understand how people could just talk to one another, chatting away like it was the easiest thing in the world. She was terrified that she would say something weird or stupid or offensive, and she couldn't bear the thought of that kind of embarrassment. Her social anxiety was severe enough that she did not even like to make eye contact for the most part, afraid that she might be thought to be staring, leering, or something else. So she stared at her hands and feet a lot, and when looking to others she usually only looked to their hands or chest.
She glanced up at James as he looked around her room. Her eyes were sharp, just like their mother's. 'They could spot a fly from horseback', as her father liked to say. Even in the low light she could see every detail of his face in profile in just a moment. For someone who did not like to look people in the face, she was wonderful at studying them. She could read their emotions clearly in a moment and had developed her ability to draw to the point where she could produce a rough sketch from that quick glance.
The pictures of her mom and dad were drawn without looking at them. She had done them sitting at her desk in the morning hours. She did not need to look at them to know every detail of how they looked in the expressions she wanted to draw them in. For James, she had wanted to draw him perfectly. So she had sat down next to him while he slept and studied him closely. She had just begun when he had stirred and opened his eyes. She did not know what to say to him, so she had left. When he knocked on the door she was too embarrassed to answer. Now she wished she could just sink through the bed and the floorboards below it and disappear. His words concerning her work made her heart sing but she was still mortified that he had caught her watching him while he slept. She felt like a creepy weirdo, even though she knew it was just to draw his face. The fact that she couldn't bring herself to ask him to sit for her had meant she would have to wait for him to be still on his own at a time when she could draw without an interruption. So, when he was asleep.
"Have you shown these to anyone?" James asked, looking back to Dana. She was looking down at her hands.
"Mom and dad have seen them. Mom has me do all the decretive tooling on the leather works now. That's my job now." She said, her voice barely above a whisper.
"I can see why. Have you shown anyone else?"
"Would you like to?" He doubted it, but he felt he had to ask.
"Like who?" She said after a moment of thought. It was more than James had hoped for.
"I don't know. There must be a gallery or something in town or nearby, or maybe you could post a few of them online or something. These are simply too beautiful to keep hidden away from the world." James said, watching her for a reaction. She was looking at his hands, but was still as stone.
"I don't know. I couldn't ask someone to look at them." She finally said.
"What if I asked someone for you? Would that work?" James asked.
Dana looked up a bit at that, almost meeting James' eyes for a moment.
"I guess so. If I didn't have to talk to them. I guess that might work. Why would anyone want to look at them though? They're just little drawings." She said. She knew that she was pretty good with her little pencil, but honestly did not think that her work was anything special or worth someone else's time. She just figured they were a good hobby for her that she enjoyed. She liked to look at the drawings, but did not think that others would.
"Dana, these are far more than 'just little drawings.' These are beautiful. Trust me, people will want to see them." James said, and put his arm around her shoulders. He knew she needed reassurance in many things, and was more than happy to supply it. She smiled a bit, still looking down, and rested her head on his shoulder.
"Ok. Show someone. But I don't want to talk to them. Not if I don't have to." She said.
"Deal. Would you, um, do you want me to sit still for you to draw? So you don't have to wait until I'm asleep?" He asked. He felt awkward at the thought of trying to sit for a picture, but if she wanted him to he would.
She was quiet for a while. James was about to ask again when she finally answered. She looked up and smiled her small, almost sad smile.
"Yes. That would be nice. Thank you."
James sat back on the bed and rested against the wall. He sat as still as he could as Dana went to work. As soon as the pencil began moving her demeanor changed. Her little smile went away, her face became a neutral blank, devoid of emotion. Her head barely moved when she looked from the pad to him. Her eyes would glance up sharply, piercing and intense just under her eyebrows, then back down to the pad. Her hand moved at a manic pace across the page. He wondered how she could control the movement of the pencil with any degree of accuracy at the speed that her hand moved. Each stroke looked like a hard slash, but the pencil moving over the paper was almost silent, so she couldn't be putting much pressure on it. He was drawn to her eyes again and again as they flicked up to him.
They were the slate grey of their mother's eyes. Clear and light. He was entranced by them. She seemed to be looking at him and through him at the same time. He knew she didn't like to look people in the face, and wondered if this was why. If it was because she looked like she was seeing so very deep into their mind with every glance. As she studied his face, he studied hers. Her eyes, always too big for her face as a child, now looked stunning. Wide and almost almond shaped. Her cheeks were smooth and flat, as was her chin. Her lips were thin and pale, just like their father's, giving her a serious look even when she was relaxed. Her nose was the thin, smooth slope that he had as well. Her hair was black, thick, and straight, framing her pale skin nicely. She let it hide her face often. Now, it served to highlight the face it surrounded.
He wasn't sure how long he sat there, but it was a while. When Dana sat up and set her pencil aside her demeanor changed like a light switch again. The blank intensity vanished and her shy innocence took its place in an instant. She smiled a little and held the sketch pad to her chest, hugging it tight, looking down at the bed.
James smiled a bit and waited. If she wanted to show him her work, she would. After a moment, she glanced up at him and held the pad out, her face a bright crimson.
James saw himself looking back. His face in the picture looked serene and confident. It was true to life, even down to the light stubble on his jaw and the ruffled hair. He was stunned by the skill it so clearly displayed. He looked up to Dana. She was staring at her hands again, her hair hiding her face.
James scooted over to her and put his arms around her, holding her tight. Her arms went around him instantly, her face buried in his shoulder.
"Dana, this is the most amazing thing I've ever seen. How could you not show anyone that you can do this?" He asked, his breath tickling her neck.
"It's just a drawing." She answered, her voice muffled a bit.
"It's more than that." He answered.
That day James went into town while everyone else went to work. He had looked for and found an art gallery on the other side of town in the phonebook. It was the only one in three counties, so he felt he had lucked out there. He arrived with a briefcase full of Dana's work. Many portraits and many abstracts. He spoke to the curator for a bit in his office and showed him the pictures. While the curator agreed that the work showed impressive skill he said that he could not accept new works at the time. He suggested scanning them and gave James a list of websites to post them to that would ensure they were seen by many people.
While James was disappointed that the gallery wouldn't take them, he was glad to have a list of websites where they would be seen. That was his intent, after all, that the world could see what Dana could create. He could tell she liked the idea of other people liking her work, even if she did not understand why they did. He got home and hopped onto his laptop, checking out the websites.
Most of them looked pretty good, with a couple that seemed to be focused on pencil and pen works like Dana's. He bookmarked the sites and shut the computer down. He was about to call his dad's cell to see if he had a scanner at work when he heard the door open.
Dana came in, wearing jeans, a t-shirt, and a pair of heavy gloves. She saw James and smiled before looking away. She tossed aside the gloves and started towards the stairs.