She is a winding cosmos, bleeding and bursting into night. She is a dream. She is dead.
A breeze rushed past, my hair tangled over my face. I reached for it and Nia narrowed her eyes.
“I said be still.”
“You want to draw me like this? With my hair in my face?”
“I want to draw you just as you are.”
I could see the shadow of her hand bleeding across the page and the harsh lines of my face. Ovals and dark shadows. The square of my jaw. I tried not to watch her draw, anticipating the worst. Not because Nia wasn’t good. She was. But because I wasn’t. Not for preserving on a sheet of thick drawing paper.
She’d bought them the week before, almost twenty bucks for a pack of ten. And she’d been waiting to use them until that weekend when we could drive down to the beach.
She wanted me against the tide. She wanted the sunset. She wanted everything to be perfect. I couldn’t tell her no. I couldn’t tell her that I was uncomfortable, that I didn’t even like posing for pictures let alone portraits. And I couldn’t tell her that I was afraid—of what she’d draw, of how she saw me.
“Tilt your head up.”
I shifted, the sun burning my eyes.
“Keep them open.” Nia crawled in front of me. “I want to get your eyes right.”
She traced the shape, then erased, tried again, erased some more. She left the iris bare before dotting the freckles around the outer ring and then carving out my lashes.
She stared at them for a long time, her own eyes unflinching against the wind. I glanced down at the drawing and there were things floating there I didn’t even recognize: dimples and flashes of light, my lashes tangled near the corner of my eye, a dark shadow pooling down to the bridge of my nose.
I closed my eyes for a minute, rubbing out the sting.
I shook my head. “I think you’ve got it.”
She touched the edge of my eyebrow with her thumbnail, pinning me, and then she sketched it low over my lashes. She drew them cinched, the skin between them rippled.
“I look pissed.”
I tried to smile. “No. Just trying not to go blind.”
“Well if you do, at least you’ll have an extra pair.”
I stared at the eyes and they stared back. They didn’t look like mine—dark and narrow, red lines carving into a blue that would rather be grey. They looked alive.
“Do you like it?” she said.
“All of this was there?”
“All of it.”
“It just doesn’t look like me.”
She bit her lip, looking from the sketch to me. “Yes it does.”
I could feel her watching me, still trying to capture all of the things I didn’t want her to see. I turned away and she reached for me. Her hand slid to my face, thumb still tracing the corner of my eyebrow.
“You’re staring at me.”
“That bothers you?” she laughed.
“I don’t know.”
She lowered her voice. “Are you afraid I’ll see something I don’t like?”
I didn’t answer her.
I knew she was waiting for me to look at her but I didn’t move.
“I love you.”
And then I couldn’t. I was frozen. Her hand slipped from my face and she slid back down into the sand. Love. Me?
“What?” The words stumbled out.
“Here,” she said, not looking at me. “You can keep it.”
The corner of the page slid between my fingers, those eyes I didn’t recognize staring up at me, waiting.
She looked at me, shadows peeling the sun from her skin.
“I love you too.”