“Oh! Teddy! I couldn’t imagine life without you!” Estelle opines.
The man holding her in his arms is brooding very handsomely.
“I understand. But I cannot rest now. There are more patients to be seen.”
Tears fill the woman’s eyes. She tries to blink them away, then buries her face in his white lab coat.
“If I could say a magic phrase to make you stay, I would.”
He lifts her head, his eyes sympathetic.
“You can. Say, ‘I love you.’”
“Ah man! That line gets me every time!” Michael says.
I had convinced him to bring a little TV to the shop. Figured if I was going to be spending time here, I might as well watch my favorite show.
It wasn’t entirely selfish. Michael can use it for showing nerdy stuff for background noise when people start coming more often. Besides, he’s using me for clout, I might as well get something out of it.
My laptop is open in front of me as I sketch down notes and ideas in my drawing pad. The book in front of me was filled with half started plans, scribbles and doodles and the words Why are you so bad at this? written off to the side.
However, nothing new had been added in the past twenty minutes. It’s not like I can not watch Doctor Magician, M.D.
“I dunno,” I respond, “I liked him with Angela better. She was feisty.”
Michael was leaning on the counter behind the cash register. Since I came in, he’s had all of one customer. This really is a strange ghost town.
“How’s your first assignment coming along?”
Ugh. Way to change the subject.
“It’s fine,” I tried to say. The second vowel is caught in my throat and pitches my voice an octave higher.
“That sounds super convincing.”
I didn’t realize I’d have to continuously compete in this competition. Before they narrow it down to artists for the tournament bracket, they’re having a public vote.
Anyone currently accepted can redesign and resubmit their entries, and I decided to be dumb enough to do that, despite Kara’s protests.
However, now I feel super dumb because I don’t know what I would do differently. I think I showcased my range in my initial drawings, mixture of lighting and shadow, pose and form. I’m not a colorist, so it’s not like I can go too much further, but I did digitally line and shadow the images too.
So why don’t they feel like enough?
There’s still over a thousand people in the running, and I need to stand out. Sure, what I did was my best, but is it good enough to beat out some other online artist who already has a following? There are people with art accounts big enough to make it, and this is the opportunity they needed.
What do I have?
“I didn’t mean it like that. You’re probably overthinking it.”
I must have been staring at my pad for a while, because Michael was trying to comfort me with his words. I’m not gonna lie, it helped.
Before I can respond, the bell at the front door jingles. The man from the other days enters.
His clothes were different but still as fancy as ever. It’s difficult to put into words how it made me feel. Small? Insignificant? Like a gross little comic goblin?
Huh. Guess I can put it into words.
“Good afternoon, Michael.” The man’s words are smooth, but as cold as I remember. He doesn’t pay me notice as he moves right to the counter.
“I hope you have that issue of Night Fiend I requested.”
“Yes, it came just today.” He reaches down and pulls a package out from behind the counter. “Thank you very much for your patience.”
The man accepts the package and opens it, taking a glance inside.
“Yes, I believe this quality is acceptable.” He sets the package down on the counter and pulls out his wallet.
Michael takes the money, beaming.
“Any time! Just say the word and I can get you what you need.”
“I will admit, I was surprised. My normal shop wasn’t able to find several things on that list. And I thought that Night Fiend issue all but lost.”
“I know a few people.” If Michael was bragging, it almost didn’t show. “Like I said, just say the word, and I can find what you need.”
“Do you like Night Fiend?” The stranger’s words were louder now. He doesn’t really have to shout if Michael is just behind the counter.
“Uh, Jules, I think that was addressed to you.”
“OH!” Crap. What are my thoughts on Night Fiend? He’s all dark and brooding and it feels like he pulls wins out of nowhere. A little too much for me. But he’s so well respected I can’t just say…
“Not a huge fan. He always wins and gets really boring.” Dammit, Jules! Why don’t you listen to your own internal monologue?
“Is that so?” His voice does not sound surprised, but it’s hard to get a read on him. “Interesting choice of words.”
“Excuse me? You asked me for my opinion. What about yours?”
The first bit of emotion crossed his face and it’s bemusement.
“Are you the same boy who told me he was going to enter the art contest without any confidence in his voice?”
He takes a few steps over to my table and invites himself to a seat. Michael watches in awe, unsure what to make of all this.
“So tell me, Jules, what did you enter to the contest to make you so confident?”