Snow. It bothers me so. Ugh, while of course everyone around me sees it as this beautiful crystal white stuff that it fun to play in, I see it as something that gives people colds, frankly an annoyance.
I huff of irritation causes another cloud of grey smoke to emerge from my mouth filling the crisp night air, and I take the cigarette out with two fingers while my nose fills with the burn of smoke. I look back up to the sign of the place I work at that is right beside a small pizza place. The Rose Tattoo Parlor letters light up, the only place a lonely artist like me would be able to get a paid job at. My grey scruff of a beard and rugged wrinkled features on my face, aftereffects from smoking nonetheless, has prevented me from you know sweeping any girl off her feet. Who knew huh? A thirty four year old man single still, these days they are either divorced or married it seems. Another breath of defeat escapes and more smoke twines out of me.
Scanning around the parking lot of cars, as usual there are a few parked in the lot of the small pizza place, snowflakes melting onto the windshields. A red Ford truck, a blue Ram truck, wait the ram truck has a black shadow inside it. Squinting my sagged eyes to see with the help of the glowing lights, it seems to be a young teenager listening to the radio by the way her mouth is moving but she is not talking on one of those pricy cell phones. Ugh, teenagers.
I toss the cigarette in our bowl outside and trudge back inside the parlor, might as well before the darn snowflakes start to soak my tattered clothes. Walking into the parlor, my eyes roll at that stupid bell that we have and rings every time someone enters, just goes to show how desperate we are for business.
“How was your smoke outside Bill?” Steve asks me from the desk that you pay at and stuff when you first come in.
Steve is a young man, he is a divorced guy, see what’d I tell you? And has buzzed black hair and a little scrawny but has muscles, he’s got these brown eyes though that make you feel small and creep me out a lot.
“Is what it is Steve, how much longer is this shift again? Geez, these nights go by slow.” Of course no one would come here between the hours in the evening of five to ten pm.
“Ah hang in there Bill.” He nods at me and then goes back to doodling something on a piece of paper. Sighing I am about to walk to the back when I hear that stupid little bell ring, but that irritating sound sounds like a prayer answered in my mind. That is until when I actually turn around and that teenage girl is standing there with her hands behind her back and looking a little shy with her face trained on the floor.
“Um…how can I help you?” Steve asks and he has one eyebrows quirked up in question, he is obviously as confused as I am.
The girl fidgets uncomfortably, tucking a strand of her brunette hair behind her ear as it is still peppered with snowflakes. She is tall and thin, dressed casually in a pair of jeans and a blue sweatshirt with sneakers, and she finally gathers her pride to look up.
“Um…I was wondering if I could talk to the artist who draws all these pictures here.” She points to the pictures that line up and down the walls, her eyes seem to scan every line and color used in each one.
Steve glances at me, possibly looking even more confused than I am. My jaw is hanging open, what business would a smug teenage girl want with me? I approach her carefully, and she still stands there rocking on the back of her heels, obviously a little nervous.
“What do you need girl?” I ask in what I hope is the most not irritated voice, my eyes shift to Steve who is giving me a warning glare to try and be polite. Inwardly, I roll my eyes, gosh kids were like snow to me. Not needed, and annoying.
She looks down with a guilty look, noting my irritation, and force down the small shame that gathers a lump in my throat. “I…um…just wanted to ask how you are able to draw that.” She points to the ink drawing I did of a phoenix behind a red moon.
“Look kid you should really be getting back to your mother, she must be worried.” Then her stance changes and her gaze snaps to mine, her back straighter, and her face more determined.
“No offense, but I’m no kid. And I’m just interested on how you got the beak and the feathers so realistic. I try all the time at different angles and stuff but it never really works out,” the girl gestures with her hands to the drawing. The stubbornness in her voice makes me actually step back. But her curiosity makes me blink and actually remind myself that there is a girl in the parlor asking me for drawing advice.
I come forward to where the girl is standing confidently, and narrow my eyes at her, truthfully, I just want her out of here.
“I’ll make you a deal, if you come back here next week, exact time, and bring me your own version of the phoenix, then I will teach you how to draw one exactly like the one up on the wall.” I hold my hand out for a deal. She glares at me with her brow raised.
“Promise? Meaning that you won’t break our deal?” I roll my eyes, teens.
“Yes I promise.” Then a small soft smile creeps on her face, and I actually feel my expression soften at it. She shakes my hand firmly, impressive grip for a teenage girl.
“See you next week.” She says and then she is walking confidently out of the parlor.
“Wait, if I am gonna see you again, you should tell me your name sweetheart.” I yell out to the girl before she steps out in the snowy night. She stands frozen, then turns to me with a smirk on her face like she knows some secret I have yet to discover.
“Sweetheart’s not my name sir. Since you insist to call me a girl and a kid then you should know that mother always says never to give your name out to strangers, goodnight sir.” And with that the mystery child steps out of the parlor and I see her car drive away.
Looking over at Steve, my foot almost misses a step to see that he has a large toothy smile spread out.
“What?!” He chuckles and shakes his head from side to side.
“That girl told you man. But did you see the interest? I mean this girl really wanted to learn how you drew that! She’s going to be here next week you know man.” I just snort and walk to the back of the parlor and sketch out some new things, putting the whole incident in the back of my mind. I really don’t expect the girl to be back, I was just looking for a way for her to leave. Cursing about kids underneath my breath I start drawing a new image. Later I curse even worse and nearly scream when I realize that I am sketching another version of a phoenix.
Next Week…..Same day….Same time
Ah. Stupid snow. God does it ever stop snowing here? I toss my cigarette and march into the parlor, seven pm. Empty as ever. Like usual. Steve is typing something on his computer and I am again grumbling about shifts being too long like I am practically all the time, and then, stupid bell, it rings and I am too tired tonight to even bother to look over at who it is.
“Wow you kept up your end of the deal, impressive.” I hear Steve say to whoever came in and I whip my body around to see that girl from last week looking just like she did before. Her hair is twirled in a braid and she is wearing that blue hoodie again with black jeans and sneakers, and she has a proud look on her face. In her hand is a leather sketchbook. Then it comes back to me, oh my gosh the deal, she actually showed up. My grey eyes widen and I stumble a few steps forwards to where she firmly stands.
She hands me the sketchbook in silence, and my hand catches onto the rough leather cover. I gulp and wordlessly open the sketchbook. Her sketches are amazing, a graceful dancer, so elegantly with precise lines and lovely shades of the calmest green. I go through every one, doing the same thing she is doing with my pictures, tracing every detail and color. One peculiar drawing she drew is deep and emotional, with a hidden beauty inside it. A black and white sketch of a small girl petting a black dark wolf that has sharp serrated teeth and knotted black fur, the most monstrous wolf I have ever seen. But there is calmness in the monster, its blue eyes match the blue ones of the child, the only color to be found in the picture. I stare at that picture for a few seconds before moving on till I get to the phoenix drawing.
I motion for the girl to come and she comes over, looking over at her own drawing.
“See look your problem is that you need to line the size of the head with the beak and the texture for the feathers are wisp lines.” I nod and hand her back the sketchbook, she looks back over her version of the drawing, then back at me as I step away with a disappointed look on her face.
“That’s all you’re going to tell me?” I hear Steve snicker behind me. Huffing I give her a pointed look and ask in a raspy voice, “What more do you want me to do girl?” She raises an eyebrow at me.
“Oh no, even though it is my family’s weekly pizza night on Fridays, do you think I would’ve come all the way down here just for some size and line advice? No I want you to fully teach me how to draw it. Step by step, line for line, you know stuff like that.” She looks at me with a glint in her eye.
“You’re enjoying this aren’t you sweetheart?” I ask pointing a small glare at the girl.
“Extremely sir.” I do one look over at her, and realize that there is no arguing with her. Huffing, I start walking to the back and I hear her footsteps right behind me. Once we are inside of my office I look to the girl to see her with a beaming smile on her face, looking all around at the ink sets of colors and designs lining the walls. Allowing a timid smile drift across my face, the girl certainly is a young artist at heart.
“My name is Bill.” She snaps her gaze over to me and she is practically laughing in joy.
“My name is Alice.” I smile back at her and gesture to her.
“Now let’s start with the feathers.”
One month later………..
It’s that day of the week again. Seven pm. Friday night. Alice should be showing up right now.
Today is Christmas Day, and ever since that first Friday night Alice has showed up every week and I would teach her how to draw, pretty soon I just started calling them drawing lessons in my head, but of course I’d never tell Alice that, but she is an excellent student. I would always deny that she would show up the next week, and she would always smirk and say something like ‘you wanna bet?’, although we both knew she would show up.
Throughout the course of a month Steve would always point out here and there that I was cleaning up better, and I never denied it, cause I have. After a night where Alice pointed out all the affects that smoking can have, I have casually began to quit, a silent victory every time I chose gum over a smoke outside, the light smile Alice always shows me is worth it. Now I laugh freely, smile a lot, and try not to glare at Steve when he points it out. I know her favorite color and she knows mine, I know what her fears are and she knows mine, we talk all the time.
But tonight something feels wrong. So here I am, pacing back and forth around the parlor, Steve and I looking back at each other worriedly. Then the ring sounds and I think at that moment nothing could sound more glorious. Yet that moment is shortly lived when I see Alice’s appearance.
She is trudging in with mud smeared at the bottom of her sneakers and ripped jeans, her blue hoodie has some dark stain on it, her usually bright blue eyes are drained of light and her face is as pale as a sheet of paper. Then my train of sight is focused on a spot on her head, brown hair is soaked and plastered to the side of her forehead and then I see the crimson drops clinging to the strands.
Steve and I rush over quickly and I just manage to catch Alice as she collapses into my arms with eyes fluttering. We both call 911 and Steve drives me to the hospital they brought her to.
We are both sitting there, mixed emotions coursing through our systems. Then the doctor comes out and he says that she will be fine, just a few stitches, but that apparently overtime there have been various bruising on her during the course of a few years.
Steve and I nod and the doctor escorts us to our room then leaves. I can feel my eyes watering at the sight. Alice is not the confident girl I have come to know, she looks broken, defeated, like she has been holding the world on her shoulders and she has just cracked. Yellow, blue, bruises cover her arms, and her long hair has dried blood on it. She just looks so pale, so pale.
The doctor comes back in and says her parents have been abusive to her, hitting her every time she broke a simple cup. Apparently her father was drunk tonight and she took a fatal blow to the head with a beer glass, the doctor concluded that Alice was able to walk to the parlor from her house. Alice, she has no one to go home to, she never has, except me. Turning to the doctor I mutter something like staying with me and having a suitable home for her, but it all just a jumble.
Then I hear a ragged breath and turn to see Alice smile with joy written all over her face.
“We can make it work, can’t we Alice? What do you say? Wanna come and live with old Bill sweetheart?” She is practically jumping up and down in her hospital bed, and the light in her eyes is bluer than ever.
“Yes of course, sir.” Steve and I take Alice to my house and I am nervous, I have never taken care of a kid before, well here’s to firsts. But I am dreading the disappointed look Alice will give me when she sees the small apartment I live in. Yet when we step inside, she is still beaming, practically glowing with excitement and I realize that yeah, this will be great.
“Hey look it’s snowing!” Alice shouts from the downstairs and she and Steve go outside, while I am watching from the small patio with a smile. Alice turns to me, and quirks an eyebrow crossing her arms.
“What?” I ask with innocence, though I know just what she is going to say.
“Come on! If I am going to live here you have to be able to go out into the snow, dad!” I can’t even describe the amount of love I feel for this teenager. So with a new amount of energy I run out to where Alice and Steve are laughing hysterically, caught in a snowball fight.
Smirking, I get a ball of snow myself and throw it to where Alice is looking in another direction. The frigid ice soaking my gloves, but I don’t frankly care. The snowball hits her shoulder and I am laughing my head off at her face, red spreading on her nose and cheeks from the cold and snowflakes in her hair. My beautiful daughter, and she is mine even is not biologically, this Alice, stubborn and talented teenage girl, can be my daughter, my family.
Before I can get another snowball I feel one hit my own shoulder and see Alice laughing and running away, before Steve hits her with his own snowball. So we spend the rest of the day making snow angels, and building forts. Then when we are all sitting in the living room watching a Christmas movie, drinking hot chocolate and Alice snuggled to my side with her head on my shoulder, I think on how Alice is like my 14 year old little angel, saving me from a life alone. So when I look outside at the snowflakes frosting the road, I chuckle.
“What’s so funny daddy?” Even as a teenager this girl will call me daddy, and I will never tire of it. She peers up at me with her ocean blue eyes.
“Nothing sweetie, I just like snow.”