Pieces of a Picture
"Near," Linda said, "let me paint a picture of you."
Near turned one side of the Rubik's cube, watching in dull satisfaction as it clicked into place. He had completed this puzzle a thousand times over; it had become boring. He wanted something more challenging, something that would really make him think.
Linda started speaking again. "Please, Near. I've drawn all my other friends. I even drew Roger…I want to draw you now." She fidgeted slightly, biting her bottom lip and twitching her fingers.
Near tossed the Rubik's cube into a pile of other miscellaneous toys. Twirling a lock of pale hair between two thin, spindly fingers, he looked up at Linda, finally acknowledging her presence in his play room.
"I don't like pictures of me," Near said simply.
Linda had prepared herself for that; she knew Near very well. "The picture won't be shown to anyone but you," she assured him. "I won't tell a single soul—it will be kept a secret until it is finished."
Near contemplated that. He trusted Linda enough; he enjoyed her company and was positive that she would never intentionally do anything to hurt him. And what harm could a portrait do? Linda was very protective of her drawings, keeping all of them under lock and key in a place only she knew about. And Linda would never, ever admit to where that place was.
"…Okay," Near finally said, with obvious reluctance. Linda's eyes lit up with joy and she clapped her hands together.
"Oh, thank you, Near!" she exclaimed. "This will be my best portrait yet!" She jumped up and made a motion as though she was going to run over and hug him, but stopped in mid-step when she remembered that Near disliked physical contact. Instead, Linda skipped out the door, giggling with glee.
The following afternoon Near was sitting beneath a large bay window in a small, secluded tea room. He watched the snow fall gently outside, and with his finger he traced the icy frost patterns already adorning the glass. Linda stood not far away, her easel propped up, focusing on the smooth curve of Near's neck as she delicately gripped a small silver pencil.
Linda had told Near that he didn't have to stand completely still. He could twirl his hair, or sit down, or do any of those strange things he regularly did. Linda only had one request: that he stayed in one place.
Near obliged faithfully. He honestly didn't move around much anyway.
Linda was a quiet artist, for which Near was grateful. The only sounds in the room was the harsh whistling of wind, and the slight rustle of paper.
A little while later, perhaps an hour or so, Linda announced that Near was free to go.
"Please come back tomorrow, at the same time," she said. "I'll be in your play room."
Near nodded balefully. Walking towards the door, he watched Linda put away her art supplies in a small felt bag she always carried around. Should he help? …Maybe.
"Linda," Near said hesitantly, "do you require any help?"
Linda grunted as she folded her easel and hoisted it into her arms. It was a large easel, obviously heavy, and she was a small girl…
"No thanks, Near," Linda replied. "I can do it myself." She gave him a small smile. Near felt something flutter in his stomach.
The next day Near was putting together a puzzle. It was a new one, the smooth pieces all completely black, with only one that was white. He had all he pieces spread out before him on the carpet. Linda was straight ahead, sitting on the floor this time, with a small collapsible desk. A little white dish next to her foot housed a multitude of light, soft coloured paints. All shades of grey, white, black, and pale lavender. She had yet to open them; instead, Linda was tracing over her previous pencil drawing with charcoal.
Near studied his half-completed puzzle. He was very glad he discovered it; it was challenging and caused him to think in a different way.
Earlier in the day there had been a large power outage from the snowstorm, which had evolved into a cold mixture of sleet and rainy snow. Some areas of the Wammy's House still did not have power. Near's play room was one of them. Distantly, he hoped that the darkness would not hinder Linda's drawing ability.
Today, Linda was talkative.
"I arrived at Wammy's House sometime after you did," she said conversationally. Near glanced at her. Her fingers were smudged with dark charcoal and there were a few bits on her face as well. He had an urge to laugh, but suppressed the emotion.
"I know," was all he said.
Linda went on, unperturbed. "I don't remember the exact day. I was so little. I think I was four years old. That's what Roger told me, anyway."
Near's puzzle was just a few pieces away from being completed.
"It was sometime during early summer," Linda said. "June, maybe July. I remember thinking, 'It's so nice and warm here!'. The first person I saw when I walked into the House was you. You were sitting in this very room, solving a Rubik's cube. You looked so determined to get it finished…"
Her voice turned to a sadder note. "Roger told you to say hi to me. Your voice was cold and you didn't even look up. I thought you were strange, but then I learned that you were an outcast from all the other kids, because you were so much smarter than them and you never participated in their games. That's when I decided that I'll be your friend, even if you didn't like other people."
Near was one puzzle away, now. He had saved the white one for last. He twirled it in his fingers, stalling.
But Linda said no more. She packed away her unused paints and little bits of charcoal.
This time, when Linda leaned over to pick up the little desk, Near stood up to help her. He grabbed one end, his hand brushing with hers.
"This looked heavy," Near said by explanation. "I will help you."
Linda looked grateful and smiled with relief. "Thank you, Near," she replied.
The next day, Near could not find Linda.
He looked in various rooms. He searched in all the places he knew. He discovered a few rooms he'd never seen before. Linda was in none of them.
He asked a few kids he had seen playing with Linda before. They didn't know where she was, either. Near tried to summon up the name of one of Linda's closer friends—what was it, again? Oh, yes…Aoi.
"She's in her room," Aoi said. "She doesn't want anyone to bother her. She said that she's working on a very important picture." Then Aoi winked slyly. "For someone she likes."
"Thank you," Near replied. "Can you tell me where her room is?"
"It's the third door on the floor above yours," Aoi said. "But I wouldn't advise bothering her. She always gets upset when someone bothers her when she's working."
"I know the feeling," Near said, and left.
It was only a few days until Christmas. The Wammy's House traditionally celebrated the holiday every year. Each child received two presents and a candy cane in their stocking. Near remembered Linda telling him once that Christmas was her favourite holiday.
"Not because of the presents," she had said. "It's because everyone is so warm and happy…Mello isn't so tense, either. He's nicer around Christmas."
Linda had asked Near if he remembered Christmas before Wammy's House. Near said yes, he did. But it was not a pleasant memory.
Linda hadn't said anything else, only mentioning that she didn't remember her family or much of her life before Wammy's.
Near hadn't seen Linda all day. He was beginning to get worried—usually she would try and talk to him throughout the day, usually just giving a cheery "hello" or "good morning". Near felt that something was missing. It was an uncomfortable feeling.
On Christmas Eve, sometime late in the middle of the night, Near saw Linda sitting before the huge Christmas tree in the main living room. She had her easel with her, and Near could see that she was painting the Christmas tree.
He walked up to her and laid a hand on her shoulder. "Linda," Near whispered, and she jumped.
"Aaah! Near!" she shouted. "Don't sneak up on me like that!"
"I'm sorry," Near apologized. Linda gave a sigh.
"What are you doing out here?" Near asked. "You should be sleeping."
"I wanted to paint a picture of the tree," Linda said. "I tried doing it earlier, but it was too loud and there were too many people around. It's quiet and peaceful now."
Near nodded with understanding. He pulled a leg closer to his body, moving into his typical sitting position. He rested his head on his chin and stared ahead at the soft lights.
"The little lights are not twinkling," he commented. Linda laughed.
"Matt was trying all day to get them to do that!" she said. "He kept fiddling around with the wires, until Roger told him that he was going to hurt himself."
"Matt is better with technology than most people in this house," Near replied. "I doubt he would have hurt himself."
"I know," Linda said. "Roger worries too much."
They were silent for a while. Linda added a few finishing touches to her picture. Near leaned over her shoulder and noted that it was a brilliant likeness to the real thing.
"You are terrific," he stated. Linda blushed slightly.
"I mean it," Near replied. "You are a very good artist…I wish to see the picture you drew of me."
"I've been working on it nonstop," Linda said eagerly. "…I…I wanted it to be a Christmas present for you."
Near blinked. A Christmas present? For him? The shock must have shown on his face, because Linda gave a small laugh and stood up.
"Of course it's for you," she said. "Let's go see it."
Linda's room was a mess. There were papers and books everywhere, even on her bed. Near almost slipped on a loose pack of erasers as they trudged through the sea of things.
Linda set her little desk at the foot of her bed and threw her art supplies bag on her pillow. At the far end of the room stood her easel, with the portrait of Near.
It was beautiful.
Linda sat on her bed, nervously plucking at the sheets. Near just stared at the portrait.
"Do you like it?" she asked hesitantly. "I tried over and over again to get it just right…you're a difficult person to draw, especially your hair, but…" She trailed off.
"It's…perfect," Near whispered. He didn't speak any louder for fear of shattering such a perfect painting.
"Is it really?" Linda asked, also whispering. Near clambered onto her bed, pushing away a pack of coloured pencils.
"…Yes," he said. "Thank…you…"
"You're welcome, Near."
I came up with this story while falling asleep the other day. Yesterday I spent almost the whole day writing it. I'm entering it in a contest for the Near fan club Nia-Bozu-FC on deviantART. The theme is "holidays", and I'm not quite sure this fits, but I'll try anyway.