A small figure that was sitting at the kitchen table jumped when Ryan turned the light on. It had been four am when he'd stumbled out of bed and walked into the kitchen, unable to sleep any longer.
"Sorry," Ryan said softly. Kirsten shut the pad in front of her and capped her black pen before she put it on the table.
"It's fine. Couldn't sleep?" She asked. Ryan nodded, walked over to the 'fridge.
"There's some juice on the third shelf. I went shopping yesterday." Ryan found the juice, nodded his thanks.
"Want some?" He asked. Kirsten shook her head.
"I should probably try to get some more sleep before daylight. I was just so wide awake…" Kirsten trailed off, tracing her fingers over the black cover in front of her. She'd only been home for a week, had needed to readjust to normal life, unstructured and different as it was compared to Suriak.
"'Night," Kirsten let a hand trail down Ryan's arm as she left the room. He'd noticed she seemed to touch people more, as if making sure they were really there. Or maybe that she was really there. Sandy had said before that she wasn't much of a hugger, but when she came back from rehab, she'd been partial to hugs, touches, ruffling Ryan and Seth's hair. Ryan didn't want to admit it, but he liked it. It was as if she'd opened herself up a little more, brought down some of the barriers she had previously erected around herself.
Ryan brought his juice over to the table, sat in a chair adjacent to the one Kirsten had occupied. He could still smell her shampoo in the air, a faint trace of peaches and cinnamon, the lack of which being one of the most poignant reminders of Kirsten's absence.
The house was entombed in a thick silence. The air was still and smelt faintly of salt. The unmarked sketch pad that had been sitting in front of Kirsten lay on the table, unopened, tempting. Ryan finished his juice and rinsed the cup in the sink. He sat back down at the table, wanting to respect Kirsten's privacy as he knew she would respect his. He also knew that if he or Seth had thought about Kirsten, watched her more closely, taken any notice of her, she might not have left them for months. Ryan pulled the pad closer to him, opened it tentatively. On the first page was a date. Ryan recognized it as a week after Kirsten had gone to Suriak. He guessed the days she had been there before had been taken up with detox and settling in.
The second page contained a vivid image of the ocean, drawn with watercolours. The sea looked furious and seething, deep blues raging beneath a limpid, lighter sky. Ryan checked the date on the first page, saw that it was Kirsten's writing. He didn't know she could draw. He knew she'd have to be able to do tech drawing at least, to be able to change architectural plans, but he didn't know she had the talent and finesse of a fine artist. At least he knew where Seth got his skills from.
The next page was a geranium, resplendent orange almost burning a fiery hole in the page. The following few pages had a sunset drawn in its several stages. Red competed with inky blackness. All of the drawings seemed to have an anger about them, the colours used reminiscent of rage. There was a few pages with sketches only started, as if the artist had plans to go back and finish them but never did. Ryan flicked past several pages of Kirsten's writing, not wanting to intrude, interested in seeing more drawings. Ryan whistled softly under his breath as he turned to a page where Kirsten had drawn Sandy. She had drawn a close up of his face, capturing his character perfectly. He could almost see the kindness in his eyes. She'd done the drawing in Indian ink, which had bled into the page slightly, leaving a softened look to the image. The next page was a drawing of a hand, unrecognizable as anyone's in particular. Ryan turned the page again and allowed himself another soft whistle. This time it was Seth, drawn as perfectly as a photograph but with more liveliness. He looked as if he had just heard something that had particularly struck a tone with him, and his eyes were serious though a grin was slowly working its way across his mouth. Ryan traced the contour of his face, the hair. It was such a perfect image.
The next picture was another one of Seth, but as if he was viewed from a distance. His eyes roamed the horizon, looking for something in the distance. His shoulders were rounded, hands deep in his pockets. His hair was wind tousled, and his lips were pursed. Ryan was amazed at the likeness, at the way Kirsten had managed to remember so many details of both Seth and Sandy. He was about to turn the page again when he heard footsteps that could only belong to Kirsten. She was too close to miss him shut the pad, so he left it open, waiting for the inevitable, the hurt look in her eyes, the way she would withdraw from him, a punishment that she sometimes didn't even realise she was administering. She stood behind him, her hand resting on his shoulder. Her other hand reached over, flicked the page so that another image came up to greet Ryan. It was him, wearing a wife beater, arms crossed. He had expected Seth and Sandy to be drawn perfectly, had known that Kirsten had seen them nearly every day for all of Seth's life and a large part of Sandy's, but he didn't imagine that in a few years she would be able to capture him as perfectly.
"Do you like it?" Kirsten asked him, and he was aware of her hand still lightly on his shoulder, her face leant over so that it was beside his, studying the picture. He didn't trust himself to speak, so instead he nodded, reached out to touch his exact replica, drawn in black ink on the page, drew his hand back. Kirsten reached out, turned the page again. Another Ryan, closer up, sky reflected in his eyes. His brow was slightly rumpled, as if he was contemplating something big, and his mouth was slightly open, as if poised to speak. Kirsten left his side, sat in the chair she'd been in earlier.
"I thought if I left it out here Seth would probably see it, claim it for himself. If he so much as sniffs a sketch pad out, it's gone."
"I'm sor-" Ryan started to apologize for looking at something that was obviously very private, but Kirsten cut him off.
"It's okay, Ryan." She shrugged, honoured him with one of her rare smiles, vaguely shy yet slightly luminescent at the same time. A slow silence followed, as dawn started to creep up the lawn.
"I didn't know you could draw so well. These are amazing." Ryan shut the pad, pushed it over to her.
"Thanks. I never really got time to draw when I worked, but at Suriak…" Kirsten trailed off, not wanting to burden Ryan with details of what had been both a needed rest and a kind of hell for her. She'd had to face up to a lot of demons, a lot of little hurts caused over the years that she had allowed to fester under the surface, all the while smiling and smiling at the world, presenting herself as Kirsten Cohen, career woman and mother extraordinaire.
"The first few looked a little…angry." Ryan looked at the table, not wanting to see Kirsten's reaction as he called her on an emotion she rarely employed vocally.
"I was upset… Angry at myself." Ryan looked up, surprised at her words, had thought she would have been angry at Sandy, Seth, Hailey and Ryan, who had staged the intervention that sent her to rehab.
"When you're young, you never think you're going to end up letting your family book you into rehab. I think I was angry about the way things turned out, how I couldn't be the person everyone wanted me to be." Kirsten stopped talking, curled her fingers around the edge of her sketch pad, as if seeking comfort.
"I'm sorry. At Suriak, it's all talking. I'm going to be pouring my heart out to anyone who'll listen." Ryan smiled at her, knowing she was lying but enjoying the grin she gave him. In all the time he'd known her, Kirsten had been a very private person. He doubted if even Seth or Ryan had been let into her world past what she wanted. He couldn't find the words to tell her that he loved that she could tell him things like that, feel safe enough in his company to unburden herself of such private thoughts.
"I'd really better go to bed before Sandy wakes me up because he can't find his shorts for surfing." Kirsten allowed herself a rueful smile and Ryan remembered again how much the household had faltered without her. The Cohens weren't really the Cohens without Kirsten at the helm of the ship. In her absence it had been undeniable how much she meant to everyone. In truth, Sandy always seemed like the strong one, but it was Kirsten who stood behind him, allowing him his strength.
"'Night," Ryan said. Kirsten replied the same, and he watched her figure retreat into the darkness of the hallway. He wanted to tell her how much he appreciated being drawn in perfect detail, how his feeble nod hadn't come close to showing how safe and loved it made him feel, that she could remember enough of him to capture him in eternal black and white. Instead, he retreated back to the pool house, knowing there were words that could go unspoken but still known between them, like a secret code. It was only her he shared it with, her stillness allowing them this bond. Sandy and Seth, both talkers, would never get him the way she did, never capture him perfectly both emotionally and, with a careful hand and a remarkable memory, in black ink.
So the ending was a little abrupt. I just didn't have anything else to add to it… They'd both left the room! And I realised I rhymed just a little bit much- completely unintentional. As always, please review, it always helps. I love writing Ryan and Kirsten in midnight-type chats. They're both such internal people that it's a privilege to try and capture what they might be feeling, even more so when you guys like what you've read! I'm also always open to challenges, so if you have something specific you'd like me to try and write, let me know either in a review or via email-