“It’s a beautiful painting isn’t it?” Christina asked as she stepped up to the girl in front of the Bruni Sablan painting.
“Uh, yeah,” the girl swiped away a stray spiral of black hair, tucking it behind her ear. “If you say so,” she shrugged, her tone slightly bitter.
“You have a preference against Bruni Sablan?” Christina asked curiously. She personally loved the woman. Her textures and color combinations with oil paints were amazing.
“No. Just can’t see it.”
“I get what you mean. I, um, work at this gallery by the way and I know that this painting of Billie Holiday that she did can be pretty… harsh… to look at if you don’t know her history, and if you do, it only gets sadder. She was a jazz musician, back in the early 30’s I think. Her life was pretty awful. Like any artist, really. But Holiday was black, and she was born into a pretty bad environment; absent father and teenage mother who couldn’t really take care of her. Which made her early life all the more harder. She bounced between being at home with her mom or to those homes for troubled kids. But she had such an amazing voice. She started singing at hole-in-the-wall clubs but as soon as an agent spotted her talent she went to sing in the orchestras. She became this huge jazz icon in an era where there were hundreds of them. A real star.
“Then her mom died. Holiday took to alcohol and drugs to make herself feel better. Or maybe feel nothing. She got arrested and when she got released, nobody wanted her in their clubs anymore. It all spiraled downhill from there. Even though she still had her amazing voice she kept breaking the laws. Eventually she O.D.’d.”
She sighed, “And that’s what I love about this painting. That sounds awful to say but listen -- Bruni Sablan captures her entire life -- Billie Holiday's -- on one piece of canvas. Her skin is hit with a golden light and her red lipstick is perfect, but in her head? All rainclouds and thunderstorms and black skies.” She side-eyed the girl, not quite turning towards her. “Now do you get it?”
The girl’s brows furrowed behind her sunglasses. She must have just come from outside. She was just wearing shorts and a tank top with something written on it and a small backpack hanging low from her shoulders. She probably didn’t plan to go inside an art gallery, just wanted to have fun at Lincoln Mall, maybe duck inside the nearest building with AC in it.
She hummed slowly. “Still can’t see it. And before you say something deep and philosophical about paintings and artists again,” she cut in before she could go on another art tirade, “I can’t see it because I’m blind.”
Christina took in an immensely loud wheeze. “Ohmygod, ohmygod. Oh. My. God. I am so sorry about that. Like, yeah, of course you’re blind. Not that I mean that you deserve to be blind or you act blind or anything,” she back tracked when the girl slightly stiffed up. “Also not to say that there’s something wrong with being blind! Like, gosh, I love blind people. They’re great. I-- I have… I don’t have a blind friend, actually. You’re the first one I’ve ever met. Which is kinda surprising considering the circumstances,” she said laughing nervously.
“And why is it so surprising?” The girl turned around.
Oh no, she’s mad and I made her mad and, gosh, she's really pretty.
Christina ducked her head as she twiddled with her braid. Now that they were facing each other though, it was extremely obvious that she was blind. Literally. The chick’s black tank top said “I’m Blind. What’s your excuse?” in bold, white cursive letters. Not to mention the fact that she had a collapsible walking stick tucked into the mesh pock on the side of her backpack.
Why are you such a mess, Christie? She thought to herself as she bit her lip and looked up at the ceiling with an expression purely made out of regret and self-hatred. God, why-oh-why are you such a mess, ‘Sus Maria.
“Uuuuuuummmmmmmmmm… it’s just, y’know we’re in a-- in a… y’know,” she squeaked out quietly. Christina waved at the air vaguely before immediately jabbing her hands into her blazer pockets. Right. Blind. Can’t actually see me waving my arms around like an idiot.
“Art museum? Was that what you were going to say? Is it surprising to you that a blind person is at an art museum?” The girl’s lips stretched out into an expression that looked like a sneer and a grin all at the same time. Christina had some hope that she didn’t screw all this up, but for the most part was severely confused and filled with incredible anxiety and, god, why wouldn’t the world just swallow her whole and end her internal misery already? She just wanted to chat during work with a cute girl about art — the only thing she ever really knew about without messing up or stuttering — but here she was looking like a complete moron like always.
“Um, well yeah,” her mouth blurted out for her.
Before she could apologize for her entire existence, the girl told her, “I like the music.” She said it so simply, plain and without any trace of a care.
“I like the music,” she repeated. “Haven’t you noticed? Every piece has it’s own theme music. I like this one.”
A grin spread across her face. Christina did know. Because she picked almost all the songs herself, perks of working at the gallery for so long.
“Oh, really? I had no idea,” she said playfully, pretending to be naïve. This was Sinatra right? “Hmm, this sure sounds like Frank Sinatra. Am I right? I love his music don’t you? I think this is Lady Day. Doesn’t it sound like it?”
The girl smiled, “Might be. Can’t tell with how pretentious you sound right now.”
She slapped herself. “God, I’m so horrible at this,” she groaned, her face burning.
“Basic social interaction? Yeah,” the girl laughed a little, nodding and grinning along, “you really are.”
She doesn’t sound mad.
Christina took a moment from staring at the very fascinating close-up of her hands to really look at the girl and she seemed to have a… smile on her face? And it wasn’t sassy or ironic either, she genuinely looked happy, fond even. Not at all annoyed or inconvenienced.
Did I do something right for once?
“I'm so sorry. For, like, everything I've ever said to you ever," she apologized. "Can- Can we please start over?” She stammered. “Like, I think if I insult you one more time I might have to call the custodian in to take me away.” She turned away from the girl, the heat in her cheeks dying down but still there. The whole can’t see thing didn’t matter when Christina knew everyone in the gallery room could feel her radiating embarrassment. “M-My,” she breathed in to calm herself down, “My name’s Christina,” she said firmly. “What’s your name?”
The girl snickered, soft and giddy and beautiful. “Alicia.”
“Alicia,” she echoed, grinning ear to ear. She automatically held her hand out to shake her hand, then cursed a second later when she realized why Alicia was still just grinning at her and not taking it.
Her eyebrows furrowed behind her dark glasses. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing, it’s just um…” She bit her lip and then after a thought she breathed in. “Actually, uh, would you mind holding your hand out? I- I want to- can we shake hands?” she explained when Alicia looked like she was going to do something awful to her. The frown melted away into another one of her small smiles and with a mumbled, “Sure,” they were holding hands.
Alicia’s palms were warm but her fingers were cold. She wasn’t at all clammy nor were her soft hands full of calluses like her own and Christina couldn’t help but be conscious of the fact that her nails were actually manicured and painted in an incredibly adorable pattern of black with bedazzled gold hearts on them compared to her plain and short-clipped mandatory french tips.
God, her hands were beginning to sweat. After three shakes Christina disentangled their hands, albeit slowly.
“So, uh,” she wiped her palms on her blazer. Something crackled as she felt a lump in one of the inside pockets.
Oh, man I forgot I had these.
“Y-you want, um, some peanut butter cups?” They were pretty melted, and mostly crumbs by now to be honest, but she didn’t exactly have any other conversation topics up her sleeve.
Alicia grimaced dramatically. “I’m allergic to peanuts.”
“Oh my god, sorry, if you want I can run over to the vending machine over there and —!”
She cut off her ramblings, “I’m not really allergic to peanuts, Christina,” she laughed, “just messing with you.”
“I thought we went over the fact that I can’t take a joke.” She chuckled awkwardly, self-conscious.
Alicia looked guilty for the first time since they started squabbling with each other. “Sorry. I’d love some,” she said gently, “And… I’m sorry that I was so mean to you earlier, too. People usually want to pamper and take care of me because I’m blind. Whether they just find out or’ve known me for years. I thought you were going to be that way too.” She smiled, “But you weren’t. You aren’t.”
Like, not to be a horrible person or anything, but Christina was really glad Alicia was blind right now because even her dark skin couldn’t hide the mass flush of red that was now her face. “Well, lucky for you,” she sputtered out while fiddling with her snack wrapper, “whenever I’m near a pretty girl I don’t really think about what comes out of my mouth, I just talk and talk and talk and just say the first thing that comes to my mind y’know like - “
“Like what you’re doing right now?”
“Uh, um, yeah,” she croaked out.
Alicia cupped a hand to her ear and put on a concentrated face. “Y’know I’m pretty sure the custodian is right behind you.”
“I didn’t even insult you right now!”
“Your presence insults me.”
Christina scoffed, “You’re such a jerk,” she lightly slapped her on the arm.
“Art nerd,” she fired back.
“Says the girl who’s a liar liar pants on fire!”
Alicia laughed again and Christina had a fleeting thought she would never get tired of it. “You have the absolute worse insults ever, oh my god.”
“But they’re true.”
“Unlike yours?” she challenged.
Christian pouted indignantly, “I can take a joke!”
“Oh, you can, huh?” she taunted. A sly smirk spread across her face. “Then I would absolutely hate it if you gave me your number right now and I definitely don’t want to have lunch with you after your shift.”
She bit her lip as she smiled. “Well, then I guess I’m just going to have to be an awful human being and tell you I get off in,” she checked her phone, “About an hour. But I can get off earlier if I tell my manager. I don’t exactly take advantage of my sick days.”
"So... soon then?" Alicia asked, glee seeping out of her voice. The fact that she seemed just as excited as her only made her cheeks redder.
"God, I hope so," Christina sighed dreamily. "Just, um," she lightly ushered Alicia to a bench and told her to sit down. "I'll be right back!"
She got off of work early, just like she thought she would, her manager Mrs. Coleman practically pushing her out of the back room as soon as she said the words "cute girl outside." She grabbed her messanger bag with all her stuff and rushed out of the office immediately, skidding to a stop in front of Alicia, slightly out of breath.
"That was quick," the other girl grinned at her general direction.
She was too happy to be embarrassed at the jab. Instead she just hummed happily and gently grabbed Alicia's hand and slowly rose her up from her seat. "Ready to go?"
"Yeah, let's go." She nudged her towards the exit and on their way out Alicia hooked her arm into hers smiling. “Don’t you have your walking cane?” she grinned at her lopsided.
“Well, I do,” she drawled out, “but that takes out the casual romantic approach I was hoping to achieve.”
“Oh,” she said as she bit her bottom lip. “Carry on then.” Alicia snickered then rested her face into the crook of her neck. Her curly hair smelt like cherry blossoms and it was fluffy and comforting and as great as nuzzling a soft, cool cotton pillow against your cheek after a long day of work.
God, I’m totally hooked.
They passed by the painting of Billie Holiday as they walked out. Sunset had come and gone in Miami and now Lincoln Road was lit with the string lights hidden in the palm trees during the day, the electronics immitating passing falling stars. The song Lady Day followed them as they strolled onto the streets arm in arm, and as the melody dissipated the further they went, Christina thought that perhaps for the first time she understood what craving for something was truly all about. If drugs felt anything like the high she got from hearing Alicia's laughter and seeing her smile she finally understood the twisted appeal.