I awoke to pale light shone through the curtains and peeled myself away from the leather couch. I stretched, finding red imprints of creases scattered along my forearm while I looked for Adam. I listened for crackling bacon or a shower spray, but silence greeted me instead.
I lifted myself from the couch, feeling a blanket fall from my shoulders. The morning chill set in and I rubbed my arms as I walked down the hall. I wandered to the last door on the right. I reached for the knob and twisted, but it held, denying my entrance into Adam’s room.
I rapped my knuckle on the door. “Adam? Are you awake?”
Silence weighed in as a response. I turned away and traveled back to the living room where I folded the blanket and carried the half-full mugs of cocoa to the kitchen. I dumped out the chilled liquid and rinsed them, running hot water in the sink while I retrieved a couple frying pans from the cabinet. I stopped the water and set the pans on the stove, turning to the fridge to grab eggs and sausage. I grabbed dishes and silverware and set the pile on the counter. I swept my hair behind my shoulders, tucking it behind my ears. I washed my hands and got to work, cracking the eggs and slicing the sausage into patties.
I laid patties in one of the pans and set the stove to medium heat. The sausage sizzled while I beat the eggs and set them aside as I watched the meat brown and bubble in its own grease. I inhaled the salty aroma and flipped the patties, listening to the crackle.
“Adam! Breakfast is almost done.”
I flipped a few patties onto each plate and started the eggs, scrambling them within minutes. I plated the rest of the food and set the table, settling in a chair to wait for Adam. Minutes passed in a heavy silence, so I tried Adam’s room once more.
“Baby, breakfast is getting cold.”
I heard a faint shuffling in his room and waited for a moment for the door to open. I traveled back to the kitchen when he didn’t come out, sitting down again. I picked at my food for a few more minutes. My patience wore thin when Adam didn’t turn up, so I polished off the food on my plate and set his on the stove. I scrubbed the dishes and set them on the wire rack, returning to the living room. I settled in on the couch, wrapping myself in the blanket and cracking open a novel.
Time flew as I lost myself in the novel world, my mind occupied in the words and images they conjured. When I took a break, I read the clock on the wall.
“Noon already?” I wandered back to Adam’s room again, trying the door.
When it didn’t budge, I debated pounding on it just to wake him, when the door swung open and he appeared in the doorway.
His words came out slurred with fatigue as he rubbed his eyes. “Good mornin’.”
“Try again, it’s noon, Adam. You slept half the day away.”
“Aw, damn. I’m sorry…”
I looked up at his eyes, the oceanic depths clouded with exhaustion and adorned in purple shadows. “You look horrible, are you okay?”
He yawned and stretched, blinking his weariness away. “I’m fine, just stayed up late last night.”
“I noticed. I missed waking up with you.”
He slipped from the doorway and closed the door behind him. “I’m sorry. I woke up, and you were out like a light, so I left you on the couch.”
“I wanted to wake you up for breakfast, but your door was locked. I left your plate on the stove.”
He reached for my hand and let me down the hall. “Thank you. You didn’t have to do that.”
I stopped him at the entrance to the living room, turning his paint coated hand in mine. “I know how you can make it up to me.”
I turned him back toward his room. “You can show me your masterpiece.”
He lifted and spun me back toward the living room. “I don’t think so.”
“What’s the big secret? You spend so much time behind locked doors, but you won’t let me in.”
“It’s better that way. You wouldn’t like them.”
“How can you say that unless you let me see them?” This time, I rushed down the hall, reaching his room and opening the door before he could stop me.
Landscapes lined each wall, and drop cloths hung over other paintings. I peered into forests, watched the rolling waves, and gazed at the stars, looking at all his paintings.
I reached out to touch the painting of a flickering candle when Adam caught my wrist and yanked it back.
My head whipped around to look at him, and my questions died in my throat, staring at his terror-laden features. I gripped his hand in mine, stepping away from the painting.
“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have… It’s just, I wanted to see what you were hiding. They’re so beautiful!”
He gripped shoulders, making me focus on him. “Promise me you’ll never come in here without me.”
For a moment I stared at him as he held onto me, wide-eyed and trembling. “Adam, I promise. I shouldn’t have come in without your permission.”
He squeezed my shoulders and took a deep breath. “It’s not my permission I’m worried about. I don’t want you to get hurt.”
I took his hands from my shoulders and held them in mine. “You’re not making any sense-”
Before I could question him any further, he led me back to the painting of the candle and reached toward the flickering flame. He laced his fingers in mine and pressed his free hand to the golden painted glow. For a moment, nothing happened, and I stood there, gripping his hand while he stared at the candle. Then a scream tore from his throat and the smell of burnt flesh overwhelmed the room. He squeezed my hand and ripped the other away from the painting as he sunk to his knees.
I dropped beside him and took his free hand, trembling as I watched blood flow from the fresh burns. “How? How is that possible?”
He shook his head as he cradled his wounded hand.
“What aren’t you telling me?”
He turned and stared at me. “You wouldn’t believe me if I did tell you. You’d think I was crazy…”
I took his injured hand and stood, urging him to come with me. I led him to the bathroom and ran cold water to soothe his burn. “I would never think that, promise. You know you can tell me anything.”
He sighed and hung his head. “I tried to stop, but my mind wouldn’t let me.“
“Stop what, stop painting?”
He nodded and took over washing his hand. “When my mind wanders and comes back with a new idea, a new image, it takes over.”
“Your imagination is strong. There’s no shame in that.”
He slammed his hands on the counter. “But it’s not normal! My paintings shouldn’t leak into reality, Ellie!”
I cringed and rose, taking his injured hand. I dug in the medicine cabinet for bandages and dressed his wound. After I finished I scrubbed my hands as he hovered behind me. I dried them and led the way back to his room. He froze in the doorway, gripping my arm to keep me from entering.
“Don’t go in there, please. I don’t want you to get hurt.”
I slipped my hand into his and squeeze, urging him in. “No matter what happens, I know I’m safe with you.”
He wrapped his arm around my shoulder, pulling me close. “I just want to protect you from what my mind forced me to create.”
“Maybe you can learn to control it. It doesn’t have to overwhelm you.”
He stepped back. “I wouldn’t know where to start.”
“I’ll help you. You won’t have to do it alone.” I led him through the doorway and started at the closest painting, a group of vibrant feathers.
I reached forward and brushed my fingertips against the canvas. I felt the light silk touch my fingers and trailed up the soft blue feather, weaving the frayed barbs between them. I led his hand to the twin feather next to it. He smiled at the delicate innocence of his creation, flicking the feathers in the painting to make them float and swim in the air before returning to their original state.
He faced me and wrapped me in his arms. “I’m the work in progress now.”