"Do you think I'd make it big one day?" "Hmm?" "Like, would you ever picture me, standing center stage in Broadway, singing as loud as my voice of would allow?" Claire beamed at the male sitting in the alcove, before dismissing him with a wave of her hand. "Ah, go on, go on. Sorry for disrupting."
"It's fine," Alex chuckled, turning back to his sketchpad. He drew another heavy line down the edge of his subject then sighed in quiet satisfaction. "I'm done anyway." Claire's eyes lit up at this. "Can I see?"
He was sure if he looked closer he would be able to spot ears and a wagging tail. Resisting a smile to no avail, he replied a solid, "No." "Why not?" she demanded, throwing down the sofa cushion and bolted to her feet, just in time for Alex to close the sketchpad and secure the ends with a clamp of his hand.
"I bet it looks just fine! It's you after all! Give me one of your artworks worse than your fashion sense and I might consider treating you to a couple of drinks tomorrow night."
Alex threw his head back and barked out laughing. "Rude of you to say," he replied, but no tone of hatred had risen into existence. He was aware of how comical his choice of clothing was. He wouldn't have gotten through high school without warranting a laugh from the vast population if it weren't for Claire herself.
He hopped off the alcove right before she could pounce for his drawing pad. Alex decided to put their one-foot height difference into good use by lifting her target up closer to the ceiling, earning himself a loud miserable groan from her. "Unfair!" Claire squawked, jumping, only to have Alex step back. She hopped once more, and he avoided it a second time.
If he didn't start moving, he was certain she'd reach it the next few jumps. Alex couldn't name anyone sportier than her, after all. Claire was a natural-born athlete. "Give it! What are you hiding anyway? It's not like there's a single thing you could hide from me!" "I can name a few, really."
"That so?" She pulled his arm down with heavy intentions of tearing it off of him. Alex yelped, feeling traces of red from her downward momentum come forward into visibility. "Ow! Let go!" "You let go!"
Deafened by their own conundrum, the two hadn't heard the light footsteps emanating outside, nor could they have heard the door creak open. They hadn't taken notice of the eye that peered through the crack until Mrs. Redmann had cleared her voice, loud enough to pierce through the childish turmoil of an atmosphere.
"Ahem," she began and both fell silent, standing side-by-side, as if there was any way for them to pretend they weren't running wild around the living room. "Both of you, quiet down, please." Mrs. Redmann was interrupted with a yawn and groggy eye rubbing. "It's a school night." "Yes, Mrs. Redmann," piped Claire.
"Yes, Mom," piped Alex. Claire took it as a chance to swoop down and grab the sketchbook from his hold. All color had drained from his face as he cried out after her, "Oi, give it back! Claire!" Mrs. Redmann dismissed herself with one last smile before closing the door, leaving the two as they sped off like cars on a raceway.
Claire ran around the sofa, loitering by one arm as Alex stood in position by the other. If he moved one step to his left, Claire would do the exact same thing. If he moved to the right, Claire would mirror it with ease. "You're not making this any easier for me, you know," he told her, trying his best to silence his breathing.
"I'm not trying to," she smirked before drifting her eyes towards the sketchpad. Alex took a step to the left, just for her to take the bait and avert her attention. "Nuh-uh-uh. Not happening." "Claire, give it back." "Not until I see what you drew."
"Don't!" Alex bounded over the sofa, garnering a yelp from the female as she scurried away to the opposite side of the room, leaving him to wallow in a messy pile of blankets and pillows. "I... I don't understand," she said between pants, just as breathless as he was. How could she sport a smile even then? "What difference does this new artwork make? You...
You always showed me...!" "I drew someone, that's why." Alex lazily rolled off the sofa, stepping on a cushion he dropped in the process. He grunted, pushing himself off the floor, only to hold his body up with hands on his knees. "Someone," he continued, hesitating, but the words were out before he could tell himself to stop talking. "Someone I
like." "You're... interested in someone?" Alex didn't reply as he staggered towards her. Claire hadn't even tried to escape. She let him approach, eyeing the sketchpad with a look he couldn't read, up until he could finally swipe it back into his possession.
"Thanks," he breathed, skimming through the pages just to examine collateral damage. "You never told me." "Told you, what?" Claire formed a straight line with her lips. "That there was someone on your mind." The two of them fell into a suffocating silence, fortunately
short-lived as she decided to break it by adding, "Is it someone from uni?" "It is." "Why'd you never bring this up before?" Alex tucked the drawing pad between his side and an arm. "You're my best friend, and we've been together since
diapers, a fact," he said, "but that doesn't mean I tell you everything." "Ah. That's how it is, then." For a moment, Alex saw pain flash across her face right before she whipped her head away and muttered an apology. Alex sighed.
There probably wasn't a single thing about her that he didn't know. He and Claire met way before kindergarten, given that she lived across the street. His childhood was an entire collection of sleepovers enough to make their parents want to conjoin houses instead just for their convenience. Even as kids, Claire exuded the spirit of a kinetic. She would beat him at running up the hill
down the block, skipping rope, tag, hopscotch, and even climbing trees. She was the kind of girl who would make on-the-spot choreography for ice cream truck themes, the kind that would perform anytime anywhere. At Alex's seventh birthday, she even blew the candles for him, earning herself a laugh from the neighbors who came over, even Alex himself.
"You're amazing, Claire." "I am?" "Mmhmm. We can run around the block and you can run circles around me at the same time." Her eyes gleamed in excitement in a way that it almost scared him. "That sounds fun! Wanna try?"
"No thanks." "Boo." She sat herself back down next to him. "But you're amazing, too, you know. You draw, you paint, and I can't do anything better than a stick figure and the sun! You should become an artist!" Ten-year-old Alex sighed, hugging his legs close to his chest. "Dad says painters don't make money."
"Who cares about money?" "My dad does." "Well, I don't! The world runs on happiness, not cash." Claire scrunched up her features in disgust. "A world overrun by filthy rich people sounds like a dumpsite to me. Why not just choose a path where you can be happy? Mr. Redmann probably won't be so sad if you're happy."
Alex didn't reply. In high school, Claire joined the drama club, and her entire life began to revolve around the dream of appearing on the big screen, and billboards. But she never really did leave him behind, no matter how large her circle had expanded in contrast to his.
In college, Alex chose an art course and Claire had never been so happy to hear anything in her life. And into their second semester of their third year in uni, within the Redmann living room, there stood the two of them, Claire wrapped in his arms, the sketchbook, once so important to warrant a game of indoor chase, discarded on the floor.
"Why are you hugging me?" she demanded, weakly pushing against his chest. "Let go, weirdo." Alex parried. "Are you mad at me for not telling you?" "No. It's not like we had a promise to not keep anything from each other." "So why won't you hug me back?"
Claire avoided the question. "She must be very pretty." "Who?" "The girl you like. You wouldn't fall in love with just anyone, right? I'm actually pretty proud of you." She lifted her arms and encompassed his shoulders, moving to claim his neck. "You're... growing up."
"I wouldn't think so, really." "Don't leave me behind, though." "I won't." Claire patted his back twice, signalling him to pull away. "Alright, I'm fine. Thanks. Now then, is she someone I know? Someone from class, maybe?"
Alex withdrew, hoping his face wasn't as red as he thought it was. He bent to grab for his sketchpad. "Mm. Maybe." She clicked her tongue, rolling her eyes as she straightened the creases in her clothes. "So, when can you show me the sketch?"
He hugged the drawing pad closer to his chest and sported a weak, almost embarrassed, smile. "When I can finally draw you better."