Chapter 2

Ellen is back again for another day of diligent doodling or creative highlighting in her sketchpad. Keats can't tell. Today, she faces him from the couch, her knees drawn up near her chin and her book spread open on the apex of her legs.

She's mysterious when Keats can view her expression for however long he likes from his typewriter. He gets to contemplate what she thinks about when she sketches and if anything instructive or philosophical does enter her mind while she creates her art.

Of course, when one works diligently for a stretch, hunger will set in. Ellen has the same thought for she soon is staring inside his forlornly meager fridge. Keats remembers he should've stocked up on edibles. He knows he has eaten already. He just isn't sure he has enough stock to eat again tonight without getting sick of whatever food he stuffs in his mouth.

"Keats, can you tell me something?" comes the muffled perturbed question. They speak more than three words during this visit.

The reporter is being a grammar police as he pores over a page of gibberish he wrote at an ungodly hour today. He inadvertently grins at the word shtick when two letters in mid-word are mixed up to spell a rather bold word not suitable for print. He scribbles it out with his pen. "Mmm?"

"Is this the same sandwich stuff from the last time I came over?"

"No." The lie flows out while he distractedly skims a broken passage.

Ellen shuts the door with a plaintive thud. "It is!" She claps her hands in a stream of inspiration. "I'll pick up something for us right now."

"Yes, dear." Keats, still in his editing zone, mumbles this in sardonic quip, not paying attention to his words.

"What did you say?"

It's the amount of sheer amazement in Ellen's voice that finally pulls Keats out of editing and into reality. Ellen is staring at him wide-eyed.

Keats frowns a bit. Blinks in confusion. He sets down his paper to distance himself from work. Then he remembers what he spoke. They're not married and they're not dating. He amends. "I meant do be a dear and buy something decent. Here." He pats his back pockets for his wallet and stands.

Seeing Keats take out a couple paper bills, Ellen placates him with a wave of her hands. "No, no, I have money."

Keats won't hear it. Funds in hand, he moves in front of her. He takes one of her hands and pushes the cash right into her palm, then closes her fingers over it. "Get whatever you want."

Ellen nervously presses her lips together as her green gaze flits from their nearly entwined fingers to his face. "U-um, thank you, Keats." She becomes excited and brightly smiles. "Ok, I'll go. Can I leave my things here?"

He doesn't mind. While she's gone silence will truly reign in the place. With silence, it will give him a chance to look unchecked at her-

"Feel free." Deliberately, Keats is still clasping her warm hand. How small it is from this view.

Giggling shortly, Ellen lets him go. "Great. Thanks again. Be back soon."

She is merry as her boots slip on her feet. The front door clicks shut. Keats breathes a sigh.

He is alone. Alone with his novels, musings, and the faint aroma of coffee beans in the air.

Keats strolls back to his table and plunks down again. He refreshes his typewriter with a new sheet of paper. His vision grazes past sepia-hued tomes and wood paneling, resting on the vivid colors of Ellen's markers, so sharply contrasting and beckoning for use.

Alone with temptation. He wets his lips.

He isn't going to. He promised himself he wouldn't think about that book.

Scratch that; Keats is going to think about it, but peeking is a whole other issue. He'll invade Ellen's privacy and that is not something he will simply shrug off and forget.

He stands up and his feet tap across the room to his marker-covered couch. Keats feels an irritating rush as his interest gnaws. His fingers wrap around the damned book and he releases it just as quick. His legs swerve him around to his work area. Resistance is a conscious effort today.

Keats stares hard at his typewriter, at the hard black font on sterile white paper. This cruel captivation Ellen has over him.

The door bursts open. Well, it's really a nudge, but Keats startles all the same. He flushes slightly at his timorous reaction.

Ellen doesn't see it because she is busy trying to remove her footwear with one hand while the other clutches the bag of groceries against her stomach.

"Need assistance?" Keats is glad for the intrusion. Save himself from chewing too long on his hard tack of curiosity.

"Please." Ellen teeters as her second boot his giving her trouble. She peeks gratefully around her bag at him.

Keats chuckles at the simplicity of her solution. "You may want to put down the bag before you take off your boots."

Ellen blushes when he doesn't rise from his seat to aid her. "R-right." She follows his advice and when the bag gathers in her arms again, Ellen makes a path to the kitchenette.

He has squirmed enough. Keats gets up and goes to Ellen, watching her unpack some muffins and canned beverages. "What are you working on?"

"Work?" Ellen utters the word like she's never heard it before.

Keats spots a bran muffin but chooses not to snag it until she satisfies him. "The book you brought."

Ellen's eyes glow but her face shies away. "Um, some drawings."

Didn't she have a dedicated place to do that sort of thing? "Don't you sketch at home? Why here?"

"It sounds weird."

Leaning against the counter, Keats raises a brow. "I was in the Netherworld and an invisible man spoke. Try me."

Ellen fiddles with the tab on a juice can, halfway set on breaking the seal. "I can concentrate here."

"There's noise. Me typing and my teeth grinding in thought. How can you concentrate with that?"

Ellen shrugs off his observations.

"May I?" He gestures to the direction of her belongings.

"Oh! Yes. Mmm, maybe no." Indecision makes her tug at her long braid.

"Which is it?" Keats asks impatiently. Being strung along to almost see her artwork for days is not the best motivation to be nice.

"They're not very good. I'm starting..."

"Everyone starts at the beginning." As if that statement isn't rudimentary enough.

It does push Ellen, though. "Right! Ok, take a look, but no laughing." The excitement bubbles off her tongue and she practically skips to the couch. Keats leisurely trails after her. He stops in front of her and waits.

Ellen cracks open her hard cover and flips a couple pages to search. She flashes him a detailed sketch of Scarecrow. Deep, dark outlines and scratches of color shade inside the lines. Her smile is nervous and her eyes bright.

Keats is impressed with the appeal of simple strokes and minimalist coloring. "What an accomplishment. You've made him look... cute." Was that possible? Last time Keats caught an image of him, he wasn't a shrimpy stick. He had been large. Very large.

There isn't a number to define how many watts Ellen's smile lights up to. "You think so? Thank you. Compared to how he was at the end of our Doolin adventure, I think so, too." Ellen flips another page and the next set contains sketches of familiar IDs Keats recalls from his trips to the Netherworld. She passes through additional sketches, some rough, some half-colored. She stops on a spread full of vibrant hues and careful lines. It's obvious this piece took effort. She passes the tome to Keats.

Over the two pages, Livane takes up a side and Herve resides on the other. With an arm outstretched, they reach for one another. Hopeful expressions grace their faces.

Keats' eyes bore in the image of Herve, drawn here with more likeness to the real person he had been and not from the jittery hand of a youngster. Were those encouraging eyes the same ones Herve watched Cecilia with before his demise?

Ellen notices his attention is on that artwork and she taps it. "He looks better than my past attempt way back when, huh?"

He can't argue with that assessment. "Livane's not bad, either." The familiar spirals of hair on the woman conjure previous times in the Netherworld before Keats knew anything about her and how he glared at the back of her head from her enigmatic answers as he followed her from behind. Keats looks inquiringly at Ellen. "Drawing for fun?"

"Yes. I want to make these into a picture book."

"Publishing?" Keats' ears pick up in intrigue.

Ellen nods. "Not a professional expenditure, but like a scrapbook, only with a binding."

"Don't picture books contain writing?"

Ellen shyly twines her fingers. "I hoped you could help me with that part."

Keats arcs his head slightly and his lenses glint from the overhead lighting, obscuring her from sight. "You want me to write for you?"

"A collaboration." Ellen grins.

A fascinating idea he never would have imagined. He adjusts his glasses and Ellen is in clear view again. Her eyes shine with optimism.

"I'll consider it."

His answer is neutral. It doesn't commit, nor does it reject. Ellen's joyous expression brightens.