Invisible (a short story)

art exhibit - invisible

I can be invisible.

No, really. I have proof. We’ll get to that.

I can see myself in the mirror, and other people can see me if they want. You probably could if you wanted to. So I don’t think my invisibility is supernatural. It’s more like out of mind, out of sight.

It hasn’t always been this way, and I don’t just mean that people ignore me at school, though they mostly do. In the halls that’s a good thing. Even as a seventh grader, I’m too tall for ninth graders to stuff me into a locker, but that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t try.

Mostly it’s my sister, Joanie, and her best friend, Charlotte. They’re both three years older than me, so they’re sophomores. They go to high school.

Joanie’s friends get to call her Jo. As for Charlotte, everyone calls her Shar – except me, because I like her real name.

I’m Stefan, but Stef is fine too. I’m an artist.

I especially like to draw in pencil. I’m good enough that my elementary school art teacher told my parents I had real talent and I needed a private art teacher. He showed them some of my work and explained what he thought was so “promising” about it.

They got me Mrs. Reynolds. I’ve had a one-hour lesson with her almost every week for the last two years. This summer we mostly worked on drawing people, which is where the Advanced Drawing class at school started this fall. (It’s usually for ninth graders, but they let me in early.)

I work pretty hard. I spend at least three hours drawing, most days. But maybe it’s also a gift, like they say, because I know some things before people tell me. For example, most kids draw a human hand all stretched out, but hands usually don’t look like that in real life. So you draw them in a natural pose instead, maybe resting on a table, with thumb and fingers relaxed. The thing is, nobody ever had to tell me that. I just knew.

My junior high art teacher was Mr. Giordano, or Mr. G. On my first day of seventh grade he told us to take the first half hour to draw one of our own hands, doing anything we wanted – except flipping the bird, he said, when one of the ninth graders asked. When we were done, he walked back and forth, behind each row of us, looking at our work. Then he asked if he could take my drawing for a minute.

“Okay, everyone. Good work. Now look at Stefan’s drawing. Take a good look. Then I’ll have you tell me why his drawing is better than we expect on the first day of class.”

(I know I promised you proof that I’m invisible. We’re getting there.)

Bedtime was 9:00 p.m. on school nights. About the fortieth time my parents caught me drawing in my room after midnight, they made a rule: No drawing in the bedroom. At all. Not even before bedtime, because obviously I couldn’t be trusted. But it’s not like they banished art from the house. They gave me a corner of the family room, sort of a nook, to be my studio. They even added some lighting, so it wouldn’t be too dark. They told Joanie I could be there anytime I wanted, before bedtime, and if she and her friends wanted to be in the family room too, they had to leave my art alone, and they couldn’t tell me to leave.

She didn’t have that many friends over. I figured it was because she didn’t have many friends, because sometimes she was mean. Mostly it was just Charlotte. At first they left the room, if they wanted to talk without me hearing them – about boys, mostly, I thought, and maybe periods.

After a few weeks, they didn’t leave the room. They just whispered. I heard most of what they said anyway, whether I wanted to or not. Usually not.

Pretty soon, though, they talked and acted as if I wasn’t even there. And I don’t mean they were just ignoring me. They’d forgotten I was there. I had become invisible.

It’s true that I was usually concentrating on my work, so I didn’t pay that much attention. But I heard things. Lately they’d been talking a lot about a problem I had never heard of before, which they really wanted to solve. I listened more carefully for a week or two, and I finally realized that having “virgin lips” was the problem of never having been kissed, when you really wanted to be. Or never having kissed someone, when you really wanted to, which seemed about the same.

That’s my proof. They never would have talked about that – and they especially wouldn’t have talked about certain boys they really wanted to help them with their problem – if I hadn’t been invisible.


In October Mom said she was going to tell me what she and Dad wanted from me for Christmas. It was usually pretty hard to decide what to give them, so I was glad. She said I should draw portraits of each member of the family – Mom, Dad, Joanie, and me – for them to frame and hang on the wall, and I should sign them. I could do them any way I wanted, and she’d get the others to pose for me, if I asked. She thought the hardest one would be the self-portrait.

I didn’t exactly have Mom and Dad pose for me, but I got their permission to draw them while they were sitting, reading, and watching TV. I took my first tries to my lessons with Mrs. Reynolds, and she helped me make them a lot better. She even coached me on how to include my signature so it would look good. By Thanksgiving my parents were done, and my self-portrait was mostly done – and no one but me and Mrs. Reynolds had seen any of them. Oh, and Mr. G, because they were also my semester project at school.

I didn’t think Joanie would want to pose for me, so it wouldn’t be good if Mom forced her to. I had to draw her when she didn’t know it. My first few tries weren’t good. I came pretty close on the Friday afternoon after Thanksgiving, when Charlotte came over, and they both sat on the sofa in the family room, while I drew in my corner studio. I had set up an easel just off my line of sight, with a photo of a boy standing in wheat field, so she wouldn’t realize I was drawing her, if she saw me looking that way.

They chattered about Charlotte’s date that night with one of the boys she liked. His name was Andy, and I knew him from church. It was their second date, and she was hoping her lips would lose their virginity before the evening was over. I wondered without asking (duh!) if just any kiss was enough for that, or if it took a special kind of kiss.

Late Saturday morning, I was drawing in my corner again, when I heard the front door open. I heard muted squeals, but I kept working. Before I knew it, Joanie and Charlotte were in front of me. Charlotte was sprawled luxuriously – maybe even blissfully – on the sofa that sat at a right angle to the love seat.

“You have to tell me everything,” Joanie said. “At least twice. This is so cool! No more virgin lips for you! I hope I’m next. Tell me everything.”

My eyes went wide, and I almost made some sort of sound, which is a terrible idea if you’re invisible. But it wasn’t what you think. It was what I saw. Joanie was sitting with her chin in her right hand, and her elbow was on the arm of the love seat. Her eyes sparkled as she looked at Charlotte. It was the perfect pose for her portrait.

I turned to a blank page and began to draw.

When you draw three hours a day for years, sometimes you can work quickly and confidently, even when you’re only in seventh grade. Ten minutes later, my first rough sketch was complete. Joanie was still in the same pose, and Charlotte still chattered away. Joanie interrupted now and then with questions about lips or hands or saliva.

Eww.

When she finally moved, it was okay. I’d sneaked a few photos with my phone for reference.

The truth – which, as her little brother, it was my job to keep to myself – was that Joanie was cute. She had an oval face with brown hair that curved around it and just brushed her shoulders. I couldn’t do brown eyes perfectly in pencil, but her eyes were really pretty, especially when she smiled. When she listened to Charlotte talk about kissing, her whole face lit up. Her cheeks almost dimpled, but not quite.

I didn’t get her eyes right until I took the drawing to my lesson, along with my photos. Mrs. Reynolds helped me see a few lines and some shading I could change to make everything work.

It was the best portrait of the four. It was a pity to waste such quality on my sister, but it was really a gift for Mom and Dad. I was proud of the whole series.

The next Saturday afternoon, Charlotte was back, but there was a cloud of gloom over her and Joanie when they flopped on the sofa together.

Joanie sounded very earnest. “I can’t believe they grounded you for a month. You’ll miss everything!”

“I know,” Charlotte moaned. “All the Christmas everything. New Year’s Eve too.”

“Wait,” said Joanie. “If you’re grounded, how can you be here? Did you sneak out? That was probably a dumb idea.”

“I’m not that dumb. The grounding specifically doesn’t include your house.”

“Why not?”

I wanted to know that too.

“Because you’re a good girl, and this is a good family, and I obviously need all the good influences I can get in my life right now.”

All that goodness gave me a warm, happy feeling on behalf of my whole family and our house, but Joanie eyed her suspiciously. “How obviously? Spill.”

Charlotte shrugged. “I went out with him again last night, like I told you. The movie was good. The kissing was better. I was home on time.” She sighed. “I like kissing Andy.”

“What got you grounded? Somebody saw you and told your parents?”

“No. Andy came over this morning to bring me my ski cap. You know, the purple one? I left it in his car, so he’d have to bring it to me. Everyone else was out shopping, so I invited him in, and we sort of got carried away.”

She eyed Joanie for a second. “I really like getting carried away.”

Joanie sounded hesitant. “How carried away did you get?”

Now Charlotte blushed. “We just kissed.”

“Just kissed?”

“For maybe an hour.”

“Just kissed for a whole hour?”

“Well, it didn’t seem like an hour. And there’s kissing, and then there’s kissing.”

“What were you kissing? What was he kissing?”

Again, eww.

“Just on the mouth. And, um, in the mouth.” I wanted to see her expression, but I didn’t dare move my eyes.

“French kissing?” Joanie’s voice was a dramatic whisper.

Charlotte breathed deeply, and I heard her exhale. “Yeah. We were pretty … focused. Didn’t hear them come home. When Mom and Dad – and Emma and Ellie and Lizzy – saw us, he was sitting on that piece of our sectional that doesn’t have arms or a back, and I was on his lap, and …”

“And?”

“I kind of had my legs wrapped around his waist.”

I tried to imagine how that would work.

“That was my idea,” Charlotte said. “I don’t how long they watched us, before we knew they were there. Probably not very long. But the garage door opener’s really quiet. It was this amazing, open-mouth kiss, and it lasted almost forever. Nobody made a sound – well, except us, probably – until we came up for air.

“And okay, so I’m grounded. I am so grounded. But it was totally worth it. I can live on just the memory for at least a month. And maybe Andy and I can find a way to sneak away and kiss some at church on Sundays. It’s probably our only chance.” She sighed. “Jo, he’s really cute. And besides, we didn’t take any clothes off, and nobody’s hands wandered anywhere naughty.”

There was silence for a moment. I held my breath. Finally Joanie spoke.

“Oh my gosh, Shar! Oh my gosh!”

There was a dry giggle from Charlotte. “Is that, ‘oh my gosh, you little tramp,’ or ‘oh, my gosh, I’m so jealous’? Because with Mom and Dad it was pretty much the first one. I had a boy over when no one else was home, which is like a felony or something all by itself. And we were kissing. And my little sisters saw us.

“I admit it would have been better if we were standing up or something, and if it wasn’t obviously that kind of kiss. And if I hadn’t told them he’d been there for an hour. But I had to tell them that, because they could check the log on the stupid smart home system. But Mom is totally exaggerating this. We were not ‘practically having sex with our clothes on.’ I can think of lots of ways it could have been worse with our clothes still on. So anyway, what do you think? Little tramp? Or jealous?”

“The second one,” Joanie said. “Totally. But you should be more careful next time.”

“I know, right? I regret not hearing them come home, but that’s all I regret. Well, that and some of the Christmas parties and stuff. Oh, and the New Year’s Eve dance. But Jo, I really like that boy, and it is so good when we kiss!”

“Okay,” said Joanie with authority. “Here’s the plan. We’ll make a fancy lunch to celebrate. That’ll take your mind off being grounded.”

“With ice cream?”

“Totally with ice cream. Well, not totally. We’ll make those Monte Cristo sandwiches you like. And some other stuff. Then we’re going to hang out all afternoon and paint our nails and everything. And I want every possible detail.”

“I’m in,” said Charlotte. “I should run next door and tell the parents I’m here for lunch. I promised to check in personally about now.”

I drew all through their lunch. I’d grab something later. Then they came to the family room for the girl stuff. I didn’t pay much attention, until they started talking about Andy and Charlotte kissing again.

“Is Andy okay?” Joanie asked.

“He was really embarrassed. I mean, seriously, Mom was his Cub Scout leader and Dad’s his Sunday School teacher, and he’s hardly ever been in trouble for anything. He says he’s never kissed anyone like that before. How could he not be embarrassed? But they didn’t yell at him.”

“What’d they say?”

“Well, I got … off him … and stood up. He grabbed his coat and stood up too. He held my hand, which was sweet. And very brave. He apologized, and Dad said, ‘You should probably go,’ and he did. I texted him later, to tell him I was grounded and see if he was okay. Here’s what I wrote.”

Joanie read aloud from Charlotte’s phone. “’I’m so sorry we got caught. I know you’re embarrassed. But that’s the only part I’m sorry about. Are you okay?’”

“Now read what he said.”

“’I’ll be okay, Shar. I really like you. Your parents haven’t talked to my parents yet. Maybe I should tell them first. But it was totally worth it. Sorry you’re grounded. I probably will be later.”

“Then some X’s and O’s,” Joanie added, “which I think we have to take seriously, under the circumstances.”

They started painting their toenails, while Charlotte narrated the whole hour of kissing in distracting detail. I tried not to look up from my work at all, but I did a few times. And I didn’t try not to listen.

One time, when I looked, Charlotte had moved to the floor, not six feet from me. She was wearing her short shorts – even in December – and a faded red t-shirt. One long leg was stretched out, and the other was bent at the knee, while she painted a nail orange. The one next to it was red, and the one next to that was purple.

If Joanie was cute, maybe even pretty, Charlotte was gorgeous, but I hadn’t fully appreciated it before. She had curly blond hair, and her shirt and shorts traced some nice curves. Her eyes were green, and her cheeks dimpled cutely when she smiled. But it was her legs that made me need to draw her. I didn’t quite understand that.

Her long, long, long, long legs. My view of them from my invisible corner was as good as if she were posing for me. Which she was. She just didn’t know it.

She was breathtaking.

I had to breathe.

I’d never drawn someone in a pose like that before. I had to sketch her legs about nine times before they started to look right. I hadn’t learned legs yet. Overall, my sketch didn’t come close to doing her justice, but it was a good start.

I knew this would be my best portrait ever, if I got it right. My teachers would call it candid and natural.

Too bad I could never show it to anyone else.

I drew all of her, including the cute little pout in her lips, when she concentrated on painting a nail. Her hands were hard to draw. So were her legs.

I had trouble focusing when I imagined her arms and her long, long legs wrapped around Andy while they kissed. Weird things happened in my head and chest and stomach. My terror of getting caught pushed all that aside for a minute, while I sneaked a reference photo, but then it came back.


I worked on my masterpiece hour after hour, day after day. I took it to two of my art lessons, which really helped. I studied Charlotte a little more than before, when she was over during those weeks, and if I admitted the truth, it wasn’t just for reference.

When it was done, I could look at my drawing and feel what I felt looking at her. She came to life on my paper.

I was an artist.

Then I made my mistake. Mr. G’s assignment for our semester project was a series of four pieces, but he said we could have extra credit if we made it five. I didn’t need extra credit, but I included the picture of Charlotte with the other four anyway, when I handed them in.

Two days later, he called me to his table during a work session in class. He spread out my five drawings and leaned over them. He was already shorter than me, so I saw the top of his head and noticed for the first time that his black hair was thinning.

“Three of these are very good,” he said, pointing his delicate, permanently stained fingers toward my self-portrait and my parents. While he described some details he liked, I wondered what he thought about the other two. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe they weren’t even good.

He turned to my portrait of Joanie. “This one is even better. I remember your sister. In fact, I saw her the other day. And I guarantee you these portraits are a better gift for parents than anything I’ll get for Christmas from my kids this year. It’s good payback for funding all those art lessons.”

My cheeks were warm. “Thanks.”

“It’s your first commission. Not your last, I’m sure. Well done.”

He put the drawing of Charlotte directly in front of us and shook his head. “This piece is hands down the best work I’ve seen from you. Who is it?”

Now my cheeks were hot – because of his praise and his question. “Charlotte. My sister’s friend.”

“You’ve captured her beauty. There’s life here. Passion too, kind of a poignant admiration. It’s realistic. Heart-breaking, almost. It’s not Impressionism, but it’s the kind of everyday image they painted a lot. Hold that thought!”

He turned to his bookcase for a big, thick book and opened it next to Charlotte on his desk. “It’s like Renoir’s young woman combing her hair.” He pointed to a painting in the book. “See this one? It’s a pose but it doesn’t look posed. It’s beauty, effortless and natural. She could be the girl next door.”

“Charlotte is the girl next door,” I said.

“Okay, I meant the Renoir, but that works. There’s an even better example.” He thumbed through the pages. “Here we are. Camille Pissarro. He was a guy, by the way, one of the early Impressionists, taught some of the most famous ones. This one is his ‘Young Woman Bathing Her Feet in a Brook.’ I saw it in Chicago once. Studied it for at least an hour. It’s breathtaking.”

He looked up at me. “Does she know you drew this?”

“No.” I couldn’t see my face, but scarlet turned out to be a color I could feel.

“She didn’t pose for this? The pose is brilliant.”

“No. She was just painting her toenails with Joanie in our family room.”

“You should show her. Maybe give her a copy.”

“First I’ll have to apologize for drawing her without asking.”

“I think she’ll forgive you.”

“I don’t know.”

“Well, it’s up to you. But remember, our first semester exhibit is next Friday. I’m not a judge, but I think this could win the grand prize.”

I was cheerful and light on my feet for days, after what Mr. G said about my art. Mom and Dad noticed, and I explained that he loved some of my drawings. They said they weren’t surprised, and Mom’s eyes twinkled.

I didn’t worry about Charlotte then. I could do that later.


On the day of the exhibit, after the bell, I stood for a while in front of my family series and admired the blue ribbon next to it. The last thing in the world I expected was Joanie’s angry voice over my shoulder.

“What the hell? You jerk!”

We weren’t allowed to swear at home, but that didn’t stop her when we weren’t home and Mom and Dad weren’t around.

I jumped about six inches.

“You drew me without asking?”

“I’m sorry. I can explain.”

“You better. I can break your arm.”

The bigger danger was the drawing she hadn’t seen. That was around the corner. Charlotte really had won me the grand prize.

“Mom said that what she and Dad want for Christmas from me is portraits of all four of us. I don’t think Dad knows. She probably decided for both of them and didn’t even tell him.”

She pursed her lips and glared. “Get to the point.”

“I didn’t think you’d ever agree to pose for me. I’m sorry, I guess, but I think I drew you really well. This is just about the best I’ve ever done. You’re almost as pretty here as you are in real life.” I wasn’t lying, but I was laying it on a little thick. I’d never called her pretty to her face.

She stared at me. Her ears were red and her lips were still pressed together, and that was never good. Then she looked past me, at her portrait. She tilted her head a little this way, then that. Her mouth made about six different shapes, and some of the color moved from her ears to her cheeks.

She cuffed the side of my head and began to smile. “You know what? I’m sorry. This is really good. Mom and Dad will love these. You even did a nice job on yourself.”

“Really?”

“Tell you what. Ask next time, but this time I won’t kill you, on one condition.”

“What’s that?”

“I want a copy of mine. And could you digitize it for me too? I can already see it on my Instagram.”

“Uh, sure. I can do that.”

“You know what?” she said. “I want a copy of all of them. Even you. After Christmas. And I won’t tell Mom and Dad how good these are. It’ll be a nice surprise.”

I was so relieved that my head went a little numb, which was weird.

“Let’s go,” she said. “Mom’s waiting. She sent me in to get you.”


By Christmas morning my grand prize drawing of Charlotte was safely tucked away, and the four family portraits were framed, all 9-by-12, and wrapped together under the tree. Joanie had helped me choose the frames at Target, and she’d insisted on doing the wrapping. That was good, because she’d already told me my gift for Mom and Dad was a lot less lame than hers, and I knew that, if she helped with mine, she couldn’t be so mad about that.

Mom had Dad unwrap them. He was speechless. He picked up each portrait in turn, holding it with both hands in front of him, looking at it, nodding slightly and smiling a bit, before passing it to Mom. He studied hers the longest.

When I looked at Mom, tears were dripping down her cheeks.

“These are so beautiful, Stefan. I never imagined …”

Dad reached for her hand, then looked at me and said softly, “Thank you. These are stunning.”

After Christmas dinner there was pie, and that was perfect too – right up to the point where Mom said, “Stef, you told us you won first prize with our portraits, and we can see why. But Mr. Giordano said you had an even better drawing, and it won the grand prize for the whole exhibit.”

I nodded.

“Where is it? May we see it?”

Oh, no.

No, no, no.

I needed to swear, but I couldn’t. I also needed to lie, and I couldn’t do that either. I blushed terribly instead.

“Stef?”

“It’s upstairs. I’ll show you later.” Maybe if I timed it right, I could show Mom and Dad, but not Joanie. Then she wouldn’t kill me. And I could swear them to secrecy.

Within twenty minutes I had the perfect chance. Charlotte came over for a video, and Mom excused Joanie from kitchen cleanup. They disappeared into the family room and closed the door.

Mom was in such a good mood that she excused me too, after a while. I ran upstairs and brought down my masterpiece. The table was already clean and dry, so I put it there.

“Son,” said Dad, “this may be the best you’ve ever done. It’s so real, so alive. Her face is perfect. And I know hands and legs are hard, but wow! This is art.”

Mom was crying again, and she hugged me. “No wonder you won the grand –”

“Damn you, Stefani!” (Joanie called me Stefani when she was really upset, or when she wanted me to be. It worked both ways.) She slammed her empty steel popcorn bowl on the table. A few old maids popped out and scattered across the floor. The bowl followed them with a clang.

I hadn’t heard the family room door open. If it was possible to shrivel with fear, I was doing it.

Mom and Dad started to object to her language, but she kept yelling. “You’re a dead man! You are so freaking dead! You won’t live long enough to be a dead man! You’re a dead little boy!”

“Joanie! Calm down!” Mom hissed. “And watch your language. You know better.”

Dad didn’t sound as angry. “What’s the problem, Joanie? He won the grand prize with this. It’s practically a masterpiece.” He leaned over and picked up the bowl from the floor.

Joanie’s mouth fell open. She stared at Dad with her red, angry face, then at my drawing. I was about to snatch it away, so she wouldn’t rip it up.

She started to say something, then stopped, then started and stopped again. Then she shook her head and looked almost sad. But still furious.

“Honey,” Mom said, “Dad asked you a question.”

She exhaled loudly, and part of her face went pale. I’d never seen that before, and I’d seen her angry a lot. Her fists were at her sides, but I didn’t fully believe they would stay there.

“She’s my friend, and she’s right in there.” Joanie turned to me. “Did she know you were drawing this? It’s not like Mom told you to draw her too. You can’t use that excuse for this.”

Then she really did go pale.

“When did you – That was when –” Her eyes were huge. “You were there the whole time, listening. You know what? You suck. You’re not an artist. You’re a voyeur. You violated both of us. I’m never going into that room again, when you’re there.”

Mom’s tone was sharp. “Joanie, that is absolutely enough. Chill out. Now.”

Dad’s voice was calm. “Son, did Shar know you were drawing her?”

I hung my head, shaking it slowly.

“Does she know now?”

I shook my head again.

“She’s about to,” Joanie snarled, and strode purposefully toward the family room.

“Joanie, wait,” Dad said quietly. Somehow that worked. She stopped and turned.

“What?” her lips quivered like she was about to cry. That’s when I realized I hadn’t just made her angry. I’d embarrassed her, maybe even humiliated her. And it was about to get worse.

“All in good time,” he said. “Stef, do you know what a voyeur is?”

I shook my head.

“It’s someone who watches people when he shouldn’t, and maybe when they don’t know he’s watching and wouldn’t want him to. It’s a hard line to draw for an artist, I think.”

I looked up and mumbled. “What should I do?”

“Shrivel. Up. And. Die,” Joanie said. “You’re a freaking perv!”

“Joanie, enough!” Dad said. “We’re working through this. Be patient.”

He turned back to me. “Maybe you should show her what you drew and apologize for not asking her. There’s nothing wrong with the drawing. It’s beautiful. She’s beautiful. There’s nothing embarrassing about her pose or what she’s wearing or the way you drew her. You just need to tell her. And show her.”

“What if she wants me to rip it up? Do I have to?”

“She’ll rip you up,” said Joanie. “I’ll help her.”

Mom silenced her with a glare, then turned to me. “Stef, that’s one of those things you shouldn’t worry about unless it actually happens. If it does, we’ll talk first, before anything gets ripped up.”

“Okay,” I said. “When?”

“No time like the present,” Mom said.

Oh, no. No, no, no, no, no.

“I’ll get her,” Joanie volunteered, and this time Dad didn’t stop her.

On their way back to the dining room, I heard Joanie say – probably for my benefit too – “I’ll help you kill him when you’re ready.”

Charlotte was usually cheerful, but she could be a little scary. Sometimes, not often, she was kind of a witch. This could go bad in a hurry.

She was smiling, which was the one thing I wasn’t prepared for at all. “You drew a picture of me, Stef?” I had turned it over before she arrived. “Can I see it? The ones with your family are really good.”

“Yes, and yes, and thank you, and …” I looked up at her. “I’m sorry.”

“For what?”

“I didn’t ask if I could draw you.”

“Oh, that.” She waved dismissively. “Can I see it?”

I turned it back over. My hand shook so badly that she must have noticed. Even if she was being nice about it so far, I still thought she might hit me or something when she saw it.

She didn’t hit me. She didn’t even look angry. Her smile got bigger.

“I don’t know what to say, Stef.” She took her time studying my drawing. “This is amazing. I knew you were good, but … Look at my hair and my face. And my hands and feet. Even my toes. This is amazing!”

“It won the grand prize in the junior high exhibit last week,” Mom said proudly.

Charlotte looked up at me. Her eyes were so bright.

“Really? We won the grand prize? Can I get a copy of this? Please?”

Joanie stared in disbelief. “You want a copy?”

“Sure. Why not? It’s incredible. And look.” Her voice was suddenly deeper, and she grinned. “I have pretty nice legs.” She stared at Joanie for a moment. “Jo, why are you pissed?”

Mom and Dad wouldn’t correct her language, I suspected, and I was right. Not for just “pissed.”

“Okay, first of all, he drew you without asking, and you didn’t know he was doing it.”

“I can fix that,” she said.

“What?”

She took a step toward me and kissed me on the cheek. My face burst into flame. “Stef, you can draw me anytime you want. And if you want me to pose sometime, just ask. Did you get a cool ribbon or a trophy?”

I started to tell her about the ribbon and the $50 check, but I got drowned out. In fairness, I wasn’t talking very loud.

“Dammit, Shar, think about where we were when he drew this.”

Mom huffed, shook her head, and raised her arms in frustration. Joanie was officially in trouble, if she wasn’t already, once Charlotte went home.

“We were in your family room, painting our nails. He was in the corner being an artist, as usual. I mean, I don’t remember him there, but obviously he was.”

“No kidding. Remember what we talked about? While he was there listening? Which I always totally forget, by the way. It’s like he’s invisible.”

I couldn’t tell if Mom was amused or suspicious. “What were you talking about?”

Joanie blushed, but Charlotte didn’t – which seemed pretty strange, given what I’d heard that day.

Charlotte turned to Mom. “I was telling Jo about my date with Andy. You know, Andy Beeler from church? I told her how he brought me my ski cap the next day, after I left it in his car – on purpose, of course – and my parents caught us kissing in the living room and grounded me for a month. Eleven days and counting down, by the way.”

Dad’s eyes twinkled – but so did Mom’s. Joanie was wide-eyed, maybe because Charlotte told the story so calmly.

“If you’re grounded,” Dad asked, “how is it you’re always over here?”

Charlotte giggled. “Mom and Dad say Joanie’s a good influence on me, and so is your whole family, and I need all the good influences I can get right now.”

Joanie shook her head and face-palmed.

Charlotte turned to me. “I really would love a copy.”

“A peace offering for your parents, Shar?” Dad might have been teasing her.

She giggled again. “Maybe. Or maybe I’ll give it to Andy and tell him he gets to keep it for a while, but he has to return it when we break up. Which we will, right? Because we’re in high school? Maybe I’ll hang it in my bedroom. That’s after I show it to Andy. He won’t be seeing it there.”

Mom and Dad laughed. Joanie groaned and did a two-handed face-palm this time. Dad said, “Stef, why don’t you make her a copy right now in my office?”

“Um, I thought I would draw a copy.”

Her face lit up. “My own drawing? Really? I could pay you.”

I shook my head, and I should have said no thanks, but I just said, “No.”

“Up to you,” she said. “Now come here.” She reached toward me.

This was weird. I took one hesitant step. Apparently that was enough. She put her hand on my shoulder, which gave me chills. Chills and sudden visions of long, long, long, perfect legs.

“Stef, I already have a boyfriend. That’s why I’m grounded. Well, more or less. So you can’t be my boyfriend. Not that you would want to be. You’re a little young. Or I’m a little old. And kind of a ditz sometimes, I guess. But you are now officially my favorite artist.”

I was speechless. Also paralyzed.

“Well,” said Dad, sounding amused. “What do think of that, Stef?”

I had no thoughts at all, of any kind. Then my brain started to reboot, sort of. “I could make you a photocopy. For now, I mean. Could I give you the new drawing in a couple of weeks?”

She beamed. “Perfect! Tell me when it’s ready, and I’ll come get it.” She kissed me on the cheek again. Which made me a little dizzy. And which was also, you know.

Perfect.

Joanie was still fuming.

“Come on, Jo,” Charlotte said. “Lighten up. Little brother here is an artist.” She turned back to me. “Artist Stefan, you will never be invisible to me again. I promise.”

She put her arm around Joanie, who looked rigid. “I love how he drew me! You have to forgive him. Or let him off the hook or whatever. For my sake. Because we’re friends.”

Charlotte was good at cheering up Joanie. Joanie stared stiffly, then produced a faint smile. If she looked at me, it was only for an instant. “Okay. But we have to be a lot more careful where we talk about some things. And who else is there.”

Charlotte shrugged, and I could have sworn she winked at me. “Okay, maybe. But it’s not like he didn’t know boys and girls kiss, until he heard us talking about it.”

Mom spoke up. “Still, Joanie’s right. There may be some things he doesn’t need to hear yet. And some things you two shouldn’t have very much to say about for quite a while yet.”

I got brave for a minute. Or maybe stupid. I can never tell in advance. “I don’t actually listen that much. I mostly ignore you and focus on my work.”

Which turned out to be a smart thing to say, because then Joanie couldn’t be sure what I’d heard and what I hadn’t.

“Girls,” Mom said. “Time flies. You should finish your video, if you’re going to. Shar, we’d like to remain a good influence on our favorite juvenile delinquent. Let’s try to get you home on time.”

“Okay,” said Charlotte, sounding bouncy. “Stef, want to come with us? You can draw while we watch. As usual. Or you can watch with us. And I’m not kidding. You will never be invisible to me again. Oh, and you can show me what you’re drawing, whenever you want. Especially if it’s me.”

Joanie rolled her eyes back into her head, but she didn’t say anything.

“What a merry Christmas this turned out to be!” Charlotte exulted, as I followed her and Joanie down the hall. “I love how he drew my face. And Jo, for a seventh grader, little brother really knows legs.”

Joanie cursed under her breath, and it was a really bad one, but Mom and Dad didn’t hear it. And I wouldn’t tell. It was still Christmas, after all.


Acknowledgements and Photo Credits

Artist and art teacher Chris Wettstein consulted and saved me from some errors involving art; any that remain are my fault alone.

Photos are by Justyn Warner and Muhammad Raufan Yusup at Unsplash.com.


From the Author

David Rodeback

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