At summer’s end, Aadhya called Case to see if she could take Kiki to the Romance Festival.
“But it’s in the city,” Case had said.
“But it’s only a half hour bus ride,” Aadhya replied.
“But it’s forecast to rain.”
“But we’re waterproof.”
“But Case,” Aadhya said, with authority, “over-protective much? It’s an experience every teen should have. She’ll be with me! We’ll be fine!”
At last he agreed, with the provision that they be back by 9:00 p.m.
They stopped for dinner first, at a hip vegan place on the wharf that Aadhya knew about, but Aadhya had loved the jasmine tea and stayed for a second cup, and then she got into a long conversation with the waiter, and another long conversation with the owner, and so by the time they arrive at the festival, it’s growing dark, and it really is raining.
“Oh, this is not at all what I had imagined,” Aadhya says.
She keeps her umbrella to herself.
“It’s turning a bit nippy, don’t you think? How about if we skip the festival and tuck into the karaoke bar for a little nip to fight the nip, eh?”
“I really wanted to go to the festival,” Kiki says. She’s read that painters gather there, and if you’re lucky, you can find an empty easel and maybe pick up some tips from some of the local experts.
“Fine, then,” Aadhya says. “You go. I’ll just be in here if you need me.”
And with that, she and her umbrella head into the warm bar.
Perhaps because of the rain, now a soft drizzle, one of the easels is open. A supply table holds free canvasses, palettes, oil paints, and brushes.
Soon, Kiki is immersed. She has no illusions that her painting is any good, but it kind of doesn’t matter to her. The paint feels smooth on the canvas, and she slides into that tunnel where the sounds and sights around her recede, and all that’s there is this moment.
“You know, you’d have a much better result if you paid attention to perspective,” says a voice behind her.
“See how you made the flower as big as the butterfly? The eye doesn’t know where to settle. Think about what’s in front, what’s behind. Add some space.”
It’s one of the local experts, the resident youth artist at the art center, and she’s stopped to give Kiki advice!
“You’re right!” says Kiki, visualizing how much better the painting would look if the butterfly were more in the foreground.
“Wait, you’re not mad?” says the local expert.
“Huh? No! Why would I be? I was hoping to get advice, and here you are! With free advice, even!”
“You only think that it’s free,” says the expert, with a sly gaze.
“What’ll it cost me?” asks Kiki, feeling happy that she has caught on to the expert’s joke.
It costs a conversation, which twists and turns into the province of friendship, and slowly, the festival-goers leave, and the rain drizzles on, and Kiki and the expert are the only ones in the courtyard.
Until, that is, Case arrives. At 9:00 p.m., he had gotten worried. And when Aadhya didn’t answer her phone at 9:05, or 9:07, or 9:10, or even 9:15, he hopped on the bus.
He’s not happy to see a nearly empty festival plaza at 10 p.m. In the city. In the art district. With who-knows-what lurking who-knows-where.
He spies Kiki standing near the easels.
“It’s after 10,” he says.
“Case!” says Kiki. “Hi. I made a friend!”
She tells him all about getting free advice from the expert, for the price of a conversation, and how they were able to talk without even noticing the time, and how, next to him and Ira, she’s not sure she’s ever been able to talk with anyone like that, and how, wow. The Romance Festival really is a cool place, because not only does it have painting, it has friends! Or a friend. Which is pretty cool.
“But where’s Aadhya?” Case asks.
“Oh, she went into the karaoke bar to get something to drink and get out of the rain. I’m sure she hasn’t forgotten about me, completely.”
“Well, you’re safe!” says Case. “That’s what matters. Let’s go fetch Aadhya and catch the last bus home.”
And Kiki’s new friend waits politely nearby, expecting, perhaps, to be introduced to Case or to have a quick parting conversation, or something. But Kiki just says, “Bye! Thank you for the advice and the great talk!”
And off they go to fetch the chaperone.