Hadley Hemingway is my Beta-love-soul-star-sister.
This is for my girls.
At 11:47 on a Tuesday night, Bella Swan met her match.
She had been doing this for years and tonight was no different. The practiced ease was becoming nearly therapeutic. She could feel something urgent and unfulfilled building within her when she went too long without releasing, like a smoker addicted to the burn in their lungs.
A drinker lusting for the fire in their belly.
Yearning for something that was probably bad for her health, but felt too good to quit.
She wore a mask, but secretly loved the stench.
She had watched the wall for nearly two weeks before she decided that it was safe enough to attempt. Lodged between a toy store and a high-end clothing boutique, twelve square feet of perfectly smooth concrete that had her fingers itching before the idea even really formed. The upscale business district sported only a few security officers who seemed to nap more than they secured, and the only traffic through the alleyway was delivery vans and trash trucks. Even in the middle of the night, the spot was shadowed from the street but still had decent light to work under.
It had taken her nearly four hours, but would have taken much longer in a different location. She didn't have to duck the searching lights of cop cars every twenty minutes or hide from random, stumbling drunkards looking for a place to piss. Didn't have to wait while busboys emptied trash as she crouched in the dark on the other side of the dumpster, holding her breath and her nose. Four unbroken hours that gave her enough time to paint an ocean, the entirety of which had used up the last of her favorite can of indigo blue. Four hours of spraying graceful tendrils of water over and under and around towering columns of kelp, fondling leafy fingers in a mesh of blue to green. She'd started an octopus but quickly banished the idea, letting the water trail its limbs instead. Letting each shade of blue curl around itself in a languid tangle, almost like hair underwater. Letting the pressure from her finger be the only say she had.
Letting the can lead.
Letting the paint speak.
She had climbed up onto the dumpster to add a whale, grey and white and barnacled, floating up out of the water as though it was headed for the sky.
She didn't bring her supplies tonight, she was only back to get a look at her latest piece. To check on her ocean and she brought Edward with her. He was tall and lanky and and almost too good looking for her tastes. He smiled more often than she thought was really necessary and laughed out loud a lot more than she did, but he was her trusty partner and partners usually came along for this kind of thing. They met in an alleyway on the corner of Hudson and Maple nearly four years ago. He watched her paint from the dark for nearly an hour before she knew he was there, nearly scaring her into a heart attack when he emerged from the shadows, complimenting her work.
They'd been painting together ever since.
He taught her about lookouts and stakeouts, watching walls and traffic schedules and deciding when to finally fold on the perfect stretch of brick. Planning escape routes and what to say if you got busted. She showed him stencils and how she used a tiny little spiral cut out of a piece of vellum a hundred times over to make the chaotic leaves of a tree. How to slap a sticker down on a wall, spray a giant bloom of color down over it, and then peel the sticker away to find art in the hollow space left behind. How to use your chosen canvas to your advantage, roughly poured cement with shapes already hidden in the texture if you looked hard enough.
How to give it up and just let the concrete speak.
Because even buildings can tell stories.
The alleyway was not deserted when they arrived, like Bella thought it would be. A girl stood in front of the wall, her hand splayed against the paint as though she was trying to push through the concrete and into the water.
She was nearly done painting a mermaid.
Right in the middle of Bella's ocean.
"Uh oh," Edward muttered beside her, fully aware of what was about to unfold.
"Hey!" Bella shouted, the silence shattered as her voice echoed against brick and stone. "What the fuck do you think you're doing?"
The can of paint dropped from the girl's hand with a clatter, rolling to a puddle gathered in the low center of the alleyway. She glanced over her shoulder at Bella and Edward, half of her face hidden beneath a cheap blue mask, the kind you got at the hospital. Her hands fisted at her sides, fingers covered in paint, and she bolted, quick as a flash.
Dressed all in black and shifty as a shadow.
Bella chased the girl for two blocks before she lost her.
Edward was waiting for her at the mouth of the alleyway when she returned. He was holding a black backpack that look just like hers. Smoking a cigarette, three butts already littered at his feet as though she'd been gone for hours.
"Didn't catch her?" he asked, though he knew the answer. Bella wasn't the type of girl to return empty handed if she could help it.
"Obviously not," Bella panted, hands to her knees as she tried to catch her breath. She was out of breath and lightheaded. She might not smoke, but the paint fumes probably didn't do her lungs any good.
"She left this." He held out the backpack and Bella took it from him, starting to unzip it. "There's nothing in there with a name. I checked," he shook his head.
"Figures," Bella muttered and shouldered the pack, following Edward home a lot more slowly than usual, her legs feeling like jelly.
"I really thought you were the only chick painting this city," Edward mused as he unlocked the front door ten minutes later, letting her enter the building before him. Up until about an hour ago, she had thought the same thing too. She thought that most girls were too scared to get caught, too timid to venture out on their own, too small to run with the big boys who slathered this town with their tags.
She'd obviously thought wrong.
She had only caught a split second glimpse of the girl's eyes, but they were the same shade as the indigo blue she had exhausted on the ocean wall.