I've been staring deadpan at my painting for nearly an hour. For nearly 2 weeks, I've been experimenting, a personal project so to speak. I decided to start a journal where I record my dreams, so I can use them for inspiration for my work. It'd be my personal equivalent of Carl Jung's Red Book, only not so much writing and more imagery. As of late, my vivid dreams have been taking a toll on my perception of reality. The dreams start out like some psychedelic, surreal Salvador Dali trip, which then slides and crashes into some Zdzisław Beksiński dystopia. Is it the idea that my vision of the world has been and is still 'sugar-coated?'. Is it the harsh truth that people have been trying to put a veil over my eyes and guide me into an alluring hypnosis that's hellbent on rendering me oblivious and stupid...? Well, congratulations Jane's unconscious, you've caught up with the rest of the brain. Maybe next time you can aid me when I'm memorizing for math tests.

So right now, my thoughts are kinda jumbled. This is definitely not the first painting of the 'series', and I don't want it to be the last. There's something intriguing and unintentionally haunting and sinister about them. I'd done a number of them, including a painting with Jesus wearing a balaclava, holding a distressed child and standing in front of a burning building. I remember feeling a particular rise in anger and frustration after waking from that one. I remember the smell of smoke and loud noises. I think there was a riot. My point is that things seemed unfocused. Messages were going crazy in my head once I started recording, what I could decipher from them anyway. They came out faster than I could write them down. That was a particular discipline I had to set for myself, which was waking up in the middle of the night, so I could take notes before it escaped my memory.

Recently, I've noticed a pattern. My mind seems to have finally settled on a particular theme and I've been perplexed about it for my last few paintings. There's a reoccurring use of hues: always blacks, greens and reds. The appearance of these works are always sharp and deliver a blunt contrast. At first, I was worried I was stumbling into abstract territory, because it almost just looked like I had Artist's Block, just squares and scratches of paint on the canvas. I then started to form something like cubist paintings. I'm not a fan of the style, but it's just what seemed to work. Reds seem to be isolated, locked away or just absorbed and conquered by black. Green seemed to be overwhelming in these pictures. I wonder if that's of some significance?

My ears pick up on a distinctive sound, footsteps, coming towards my room. Without tearing my stare away from the canvas, I call clearly.

"Come in, Daria"

The click and squeak of the door handle confirms her entry. "There's something intimidating about how you automatically know it's me" shot that monotone from the doorway. Although some people may find the nature of her tedious speech a wear in their patience, I find an oddly assuring vibe about it.

"Shall I not give a warning next time and just abruptly drop on you, like a stealth ninja?"

"Why not? Having you deliver me from such a mundane existence would be an act of mercy"

I can't help but have my lips curl into a small smile in amusement.

"So, has your style gone completely Rothko slash Picasso, or is there still a ounce of Jane Lane somewhere in there?" she verbally pokes, wandering over to the piece in progress.

"I don't really know if I'm stuck or just coming to terms with a new style for myself" I admit with a defeated shrug. There's nothing I'm sincerely proud of in anything I've done recently.

"I thought this was just an experiment" Daria queries, obviously pondering my dedication for the private pieces.

"Well,... it is"

"So, what are you worried about?"

That's it. I can't look at this damn thing anymore. It's driving me nuts. I walk away from it and turn on the TV, lounging on the bed.

Daria follows suit, sitting cross legged beside me with a book.

"One flew over the Cuckoos Nest? Again?" I ask.

"Hey, it's a good book"

"Reaches close to home for you, you reckon?" I joke, returning my eyes to the flickering screen.

"All to well, minus the shock therapy. A lobotomy for my birthday would be the best thing ever"

"Make sure to sign me up for one too then" I say, my smile growing into a grin.

I can feel her eyes lock onto me from the side. We both know we can't stand some days with the same morons every minute of every hour. Being in each others company, even if for the sheer silence or the pizza, feels like a form of relief. We both tire so much and so often. We're each others therapy when things don't go quite right. Right now, it kinda feels that way for us both. It's how long that persistent silence lasts that begs for questions. We hide little from each other. Speaking of pizza...


"Have you ever experienced lucid dreaming?" Daria asks, muffled by the mouthful of cheese and pepperoni. There's a hint of genuine curiosity in her voice.

"I did last night. It's something I'd be expecting. People said I would be experiencing it at some point due to these paintings"

"So what did you do? What happened?"

"Eh,... I can't give you the skinny of it just yet" I reply hesitantly.

"Skinny?" she delivers, puzzled.

"In other words, I don't think I can tell you"

She's taken aback by that, but then shrugs dismissively. What would she think if I told her? I mean, that's what this painting was about... On my canvas are two distinct figures, painted in white, in a bed of black, merging between etches and cloudy smears of dark green and red. Instead of them being separate, according to the consecutive nature of the last paintings, the colours intermix within the dark. Unlike the previous works, there's an oddly... intimate feel about it. It's warm, despite the hard colours and I now just keep furthering my attention to the two figures, who appear to be floating or descending in a large space, one reaching for the other, as they apparently fall.

My heart starts racing, thinking that if even if I refrain from explicitly telling Daria about my dream, she'd be able to tell the story from my painting in a second. Perhaps if I play dumb, she'll over look it and forget about it.

"What do you plan on doing with these paintings?" Daria's voice arises from the silence quite sharply.

"Do with them?" I ask stupidly.

"Are they gonna be in a portfolio or is it intended to be kept private?"

"Err, I haven't really decided. I'd like to exhibit them I guess"

"I'm just thinking you should be careful about how personal you make these"

"Well, I don't have to tell people the full or real reason for them. A few of my favourite artists got some of their most successful pieces from nightmares and times that really tested them"

"Whatever you say" she sighs, her eyes returning to her book.

My brows narrow in irritation. "What's the problem?"

"I don't have a problem. I just think when it comes to some forms of expression, people may say or do things without thinking of the consequences. You may uncover some memories, fears or thoughts in this experiment you'd rather have buried and forgotten. Taking into account what other people think too. But, if that's the last thing on your mind, then go for it"

"Daria, artists have to develop a thick skin. I can take criticism for the quality of my work"

"That's not what I mean" she says, serious. My heart skips a beat at that and I go quiet. She sighs, flicking her hair back, brushing strands from her eyes and puts down her book, walking over to the painting. Instinctively, for whatever reason, I stand in front of the painting, arms stretched out. "Jane, what're you doing?"

"You can't see it yet". She raises a brow at me, a rare sight.

"I can't make my point, until I see it"

"It's... nearly finished" I stutter, desperation in my voice. What is wrong with me? If I could step outside myself for a moment to observe my actions, I'd kick myself or push myself across the room, far out the way.

However, Daria takes a step back, her eyes darting about at my reactions and turns back to the bed. "If I'm being intrusive to your work and interfering I can leave"

"W-wait! No... err..."

I know full on well I'm not acting like myself. What do I care if people see my work? But this isn't just any painting and this isn't just any person. It's my best friend. It's Daria.

"Give me just a few minutes and I'll show it to you"

She stares me down with that casual, disinterested, but not empty, expression "Well, okay".


Daria distracts herself by finishing off the rest of her book. I can feel her occasionally gaze in my direction. She could feel that I was nervous. The atmosphere was tense and tight in the room, like I was being strangled and Daria was the one doing it. I could just say no to her, but there's a determination in me to want to show her. Is it because I think the image will be more clear than my words? What was I even trying to say?

After a painstaking 15 minutes, I throw my paintbrush carelessly into the cup of water, a high pitched 'TINK' signifying my finish. I look it over. Now I feel I'm awaiting an execution.

"Done" I mumble and stand clear away from it to show her, arms folded, looking to the side, like it's nothing. That's right Miss Lane. You just keep telling yourself that. Just chill.

The lingering suspense, the weight in my chest and stomach, dissipate. No, crumble, and reassemble into a straining clump in my throat, so I can't speak. My friend pushes herself off the bed and walks over. She squints her eyes for a moment, then studies the picture.

"I'm drowning" she says plainly.

Yep.

"And you're... diving in to save me?"

"No"

"No?"

"I'm joining you" I mutter, trying to find my confidence again. This information is little surprising to her, but she continues.

"I notice the use of colours is really different. Instead of being blocked and intensely contrasting, they're intertwined and blended"

Maybe I worried about this too much. Maybe she won't pick up on it.

"What's your diagnosis, Dr. Morgendorffer?" I finally emit, uplifting myself and the general mood a tad.

"Is it to go on the basis of what I think, or is there an actual meaning behind this?" she wonders aloud.

"I've estimated my own conclusion, but I'd like to see what you'll surmise"

She stands back, adjusting her glasses and gives her impression: "From what I've gathered, this particular art has a certain importance to it, distinguished by its visual deviance from the previous paintings and emotional investment that was implied by your reaction quarter-of-an-hour prior to me observing it. From what I can tell, it communicates a sense of desperation seeded in our friendship, that we're incapable of survival in this world without the other and that if one ventures into a dark, overwhelming period of their life, it won't be faced alone. Also judging by the poses and positions, seeing I'M the one who is drowning, it seems as though you've experienced seeing me being in those times and desire either to be with me during that time for re-assurance or suffer along with me. It also implies you have the power to get me OUT of that situation, seeing as you are reaching for me and have an opportunity to 'save me', but instead follow me into the depths, giving the idea that the fate in which we face, which is inevitable, is more desirable to the concept of feeling we must live according to particular societal standards".

I smile widely at that analysis, it being probably a lot more understanding than I anticipated, certainly being more observant than other forms of criticism and praise I'd received from teachers.

"That's pretty much-"

"I have one more theory" she states firmly.

"Oh?"

"That being that you're trying to reach for me, but cannot. Instead, you're in a form of limbo, constantly trying and putting your efforts into something that ultimately won't guarantee any reward. That you're trying to tell me something, but your words either fall on deaf ears or you cannot communicate what you're trying to, despite the scenario threatening to drag the both of us deep into a pressurized, harsh situation"

My smile vanishes and my heart plummets deep into my stomach. How the hell did she piece together something like that? Am I that obvious? I gulp a little and look away, seeing my death sentence has been given the green flag.

Her voice appears oddly soft now, still carrying the traditional monotone and she turns her head to look at me "ARE you trying to tell me something?"

I wonder slowly back over to the bed and sit down, staring at the box of half eaten pizza. Way to go, making things god-damn awkward, Jane Lane. Why can't you just shut these feelings out and walk on? What are you expecting out of this anyway?

"C'mon, Jane. You can tell me"

She's come over to me now. My head is in my hands and I stare at her boots. I can't bare looking up at her. "You were right, about everything in the painting"

"Everything?"

"Yeah and... well, you mean a hell of a lot to me, not meaning to get mushy or anything, but..."

"You? Mushy? And I thought that painting was FAR from any sentimentality"

I frown playfully at her sarcasm.

"You figured I was gonna think you were mushy? Is that it? That's what you were worried about?"

"No, that's not it" I sigh, a blush tainting my cheeks. She can't see it, as I'm facing the floor. I feel a weight on the bed next to me, as she sits down and the blush spreads further. Dammit. Since when did I start feeling like this for Daria anyway? It's so ridiculous.

"Are you going to tell me or shall we leave it as a suspenseful cliffhanger?"

"I'm scared I'll lose you. I know it sounds stupid, but time seems to be going quickly now. Everybody's starting their OWN lives and I just hate to think what we have is temporary" I confessed, sadness evident in my tone.

"It doesn't have to be"

I go silent. I don't know what to say anymore, which is fine, because she keeps it going. "Things are going to change for everyone. It's the way it is, but our friendship isn't going to disintegrate because of it. Friendships take work, just as much as relationships. Over time, they'll either strengthen or fade, but don't you believe for a second that I'd be willing to let it die so easily"

A little hope sparks in my chest and I finally lift my head up. She looks to me with a sincere, determined expression. The one that says 'you can trust me' and 'life sucks majorly'. I feel my heart go haywire in my chest again. Yeah, there was no mistaking it. I had a big stupid crush on my best friend. Why are these feelings so persistent and annoying? I frown a little.

"You believe me, right?" she queries. Dare I pick up a bit of sadness in her voice too? Highly distinctive from her usual tone. She's certainly no misery chick. Underneath her hard exterior, I may have been foolish to think for a moment she wouldn't have considered this too at some point: that there lingered the possibility of us parting, going separate ways. I can't stand that and that thread of reluctance, of fear, that's been holding me back, snaps and my arms wrap around her, drawing her close. I feel her breath hitch into a gasp, but I don't detect any resistance or want for pulling away. She sits and accepts it, relaxing into the embrace. My heart keeps thumping in my chest. Christ, I hope she can't hear it. She soon warms more to the gesture and I feel her arms reach around and hold me too.

This probably wasn't the smartest move. But, like she said, some people don't put thought into their actions when they're expressing themselves. Perhaps since this was the 'lesson' today, she'd give me a pass and forgive me for this one.

"I love you"

I blink. Things are vague with these high run emotions right now. Who said that? Her? Me? Was it me?

She pulls away and gives me a look, half quizzical, half shock.

Holy crap, it was me! What the hell, brain? Blame it on the pizza! The heat of the moment! What? Just, fricking WHAT?!

"D-Don't get the wrong idea, Daria! I meant as a friend. Obviously. Of course, right?"

"Cool it, I haven't said anything yet. It just surprised me. I guess you are a mushy one after all"

"Oh, shut it" I snap, folding my arms like a grumpy child.

"I feel so overcome with emotions. What would happen if you said that in a romantic context? Would you break my legs?" she pondered, dripping with sarcasm.

"Nah, I'd tie you up and let the Fashion squad escort you away somewhere to be their beauty guinea-pig for eternity" I reply with a smirk.

She responds with a restrained huff, almost a laugh "Wow, you must really love me"

I give an amused smile and she seems to return it.

"So is that your painting in a nutshell? It was a love letter to me?" she questions, returning to her serious tone. I spot a hint of red on her cheeks.

"K-Kinda..." I admit, embarrassed. "You aren't weirded out by it, are you?"

"The subtext is flattering, it's symbolic, I think it's cool"

I smile warmly in relief.

"Still, that's kinda a lot to build up just to say you care about me. Did you really care what I thought that much?"

"Of course I do. I mean I don't really know how well you take displays of affection and reckoned this would be a safe way of doing it"

"I wouldn't say anything cruel to you, though"

"And you haven't"

"So why were you so doubtful and embarrassed?"


It's so cold. My body is swallowed by the salty waters, sending a violent spasm throughout me at the sudden drop in temperature. I can hear, almost feel, the firing of raindrops, littering the surface of the water above me. It's amplified due to the absence of other sounds, apart from a dismal groan, developing into a thunderous bellow far below me. Opening my eyes, I notice the green of Daria's jacket as she begins to sink into the dark. Immediately, my concerns for warmth are discarded and I start swimming after her. I let out a mouthful of air, hoping I drop faster as my lungs empty. Deeper and deeper. The pressure starts to crush me from all around and tears sting my eyes, not really knowing if one can cry under water. It's no use, she just keeps sinking further and further, just out of my reach. My heart is on the verge of shattering as she begins to disappear from my vision. I have no care for resurfacing now, just as long as I can grab a hold of her.

IT'S JUST A DREAM.

A sense of awareness finds me. That helplessness I once had, the feeling of abandon and loss, evaporates and I can suddenly feel my arms fighting against the water, almost as if I gained super strength, like I can do anything, as I pick up the pace, swimming, sinking, faster. I reach out, my fingers just brushing hers and they interlock and I pull her to me. Her eyes open wide and she sees me. She's terrified, then relieved as she sees me, her pupils normal having shrunk from terror. I offer her a re-assuring smile, stroking the side of her face affectionately and press my lips to hers. It's getting darker now, colder, but at least now, you're not alone.


She's still sat there, awaiting my response.

"Earth to J. Lane " she humorously waves in my face.

"Huh?"

"Cripes, I was worried pizza micro-organisms had hi-jacked your brain. Why did you doubt my reaction to your art piece?"

My heart aches. Her reaction, the thought of our friendship finishing. I can't tell her. I'd dare not risk it.

"No reason" I mumble.

End of Part 1