Author's note: Okay, I had to add even more to this chapter to make it flow into the second one. It should run smoothly now. My problem is that I don't think in a neat line, so my stories come out all over the place and I end up having to shuffle things around to make it all work. So if you've already read part of this chapter, just go down to where you stopped. At least I managed to keep the first half in order .

**~**~**~*

"It is not lopsided!" I argued, adding in a few vertical lines on the right for good measure. "It's a perfectly acceptable ... thing."

Aimy laughed. "That's my point. It looks like someone lost a set of blocks in another dimension and somehow those blocks ended up on your paper."

"Aw, shaddup ... I'm an incredible artist- you just can't see. I'm misunderstood, you know."

"Mmhmm ... if misunderstood means a lot of lost lines ..." She grinned impishly at me.

"Oh, some supportive friend you are! My poor castle has had its feelings hurt."

"Castle! Is that what it is?"

"Didn't I tell you to shut-up?"

She didn't reply, just laughed again and crossed behind my chair, resting her arms heavily on my head. "Well, I suppose from this angle it could maybe represent some abstract version of a moose ..."

"Oh! Really, now? I'll be a famous artist someday. You just wait."

"I thought the best artists were only famous after they were dead," she retorted, snatching my pencil from my fingers and twirling it in her own above my head.

"Well I'll be different."

"Of course you will."

"Now gimme back my pencil."

**~**~**~**~*

Forward four years. I am seventeen.

"Nice landscape," my friend Aimy says, and she means it.

I look at it with my head cocked to one side. "I suppose," I say as I carefully shade the last tree. "But it's missing something. They're all missing something." I sigh, frustrated. Dropping the pencil, annoyedly onto my newest drawing, I shove myself back from the desk in my room. "I've been different lately, I don't know why."

Aimy shrugs uncomfortably, she tries to attribute my attitude to an artist's moodiness but I know sometimes she's not sure. "Don't worry about it ... you're incredible."

"Yeah." I would never accuse Aimy of being dishonest, it really was never one of her traits. But she's wrong. My drawings aren't right, they're ... confused. Or maybe it's just me that's confused. I guess I really don't know. I can't explain it, so I don't try.

"There's an art festival next weekend. Are you submitting any of your stuff?"

"I don't know. Maybe."

"You should. Submit this one that you've just finished," she pulls is out from underneath my pencil, holding the corner gingerly, almost reverently. It's a savannah landscape in shades of grey pencil, tall waving grass, a wildebeest, and a few crooked trees for good measure. A colourless sunset blooms from the horizon.

"I said, 'maybe'."

She gives me one of her, "oh, come on!" looks, and then changes the subject. "Hey, did you see the new kid at school today?"

"No." She waits for me to inquire but I don't. I know her better than she thinks I do.

"Well? Don't you want to hear at least a little?"

"Why?"

"Come on, you must be a tiny bit curious."

"Whether or not I ask you'll tell me," I retort, but I'm teasing her and she knows it. Apparently she doesn't really care because the next thing she says is-

"He's in my physics class. Pretty cute, really ... in a quiet sort of way. If you like that kind of thing, I mean," she shifts her weight, smirking with a twist about to surface. "I'll introduce you two, if you like-" I laugh. "Oh come on Annah, he's completely your type. You know, the soulful artist thing. I'm sure you'll hit it off talking about Monet or something ..." Even though I wince at her American pronunciation of Monet's sacred French name, I'm still snorting with amusement.

"I'm sure. Just like John and Lloyd and Matt and Harold ... and that guy with the tomato for a nose."

"Steven."

"Yeah, Steven."

"But this one is different, I promise. All of class he was drawing this terrific caricature of Mr. Simmons. When Sarah saw it, she laughed so hard I swear she was about to start hyperventilating." She's in earnest now, pleading in a way that, if it hadn't been Aimy, I would deem rather pathetic. "He's really cool. You gotta meet him, Annah, just promise you'll let me introduce you two."

I look at her and I can't help it. "Alright, fine. You can introduce us." Just like John, Matt, Lloyd, Steven, and Harold ... I let her talk me into this one too. After all, all she wants to do is aquaint us. What harm could it really be? I mean, I'd meet him sometime anyway. Little Sequoia High isn't miniscule, but it isn't enormous either.

"So he's cute, but I still don't know his name."

"Oh, that's easy. Tom Jenings."

That would be Aimy, hopeless matchmaker. I forgive her, though. She really can't help herself. So, as the conversation turns to the latest development in the planning of prom, a committee which Aimy is the head of, I forget Tom and his (hopefully) less-than-tomato nose. I instead become the wonderful, comforting friend that I am while Aimy explains the disappointment of their inability to secure what would otherwise have been a "wicked location". Not that I'm actually concerned by any of this. I've only been to prom once before-with Harold my junior year. Considering it was a nearly blind-date event for me, I think I was fortunate to escape with nothing but memories of sweaty palms on my back and immature, awkward silences. It was fun, I suppose, but I'm not really planning on going again. Much to Aimy's dismay, I believe that my time could be better spent elsewhere. Like drawing. Well, at least until lately.

"We're going to the dollar theatre to see Moulin Rouge tonight, wanna come?"

"No, not really-thanks, though."

"Come on, Annah, it's Saturday night, you can't just sit in the house!"

I laugh. "You mean, you can't sit in the house, I am perfectly capable."

She rolls her eyes at me. "It'll be fun. You know it will. Come on. The movie starts at seven. It's only two hours and seven minutes-" Moulin Rouge is her favourite movie. "-and we're going to grab something to eat afterward. Maybe at Domino's Pizza or something-"

"At nine o-clock?" I ask, eyebrows raised.

"Well, yeah, why not?"

"I'll think about it," I respond.

"Okay, fine, then you have five minutes to think because I have to leave for dinner in ten."

"How are you going to eat at Domino's, then?"

She shrugs, "Just as long as I eat something at dinner, my parents'll be happy. It's that whole sit-down-together stuff that they go for." I nod.

"Sounds like a blast."

"It is." She agrees solemnly. "I get to watch my baby sister stuff carrots up her nose. You're jealous, I can tell."

"Well, that is pretty once-in-a-lifetime," I return.

"I wish. Does your sister ever make you eat dinner with her?"

"Sometimes, if she takes it into her head to make something special . and when they go out to eat she and Rob usually take me." Not that I mind. My sister is a busy person and I respect that. I'm not about to ruin the fact that she's letting me stay with her in the first place.

It's quiet and we both find ourselves looking at my drawing again, which Aimy has put back onto my desk. After a moment, I push it aside with an irritated sigh and she glances at her watch with a groan.

"Alright, I gotta go. I'll see you in an hour, okay?"

"Okay." I walk her out of my house.

The movie is fun, just like Aimy promises it will be. I've seen it a few too many times, though, and it's beginning to wear on me. I already know the words to all of the songs by heart. But, still, it's good enough, I mean, so far as love-stories go, and all.

Anyhow, one thing follows another, and I end up spending the night at Aimy's house with our other friend, Rachael. Even though Rachael is a little more Aimy's friend than mine.

Sunday morning and afternoon we spend hanging around, watching re-runs and plotting our revenge on the school's English department which, believe it or not, has taken it into its head to make all Sequoia seniors read War and Peace. Don't ask me. Must be some pet project of theirs intended to torture and otherwise mentally disturb all of the students in order to 'prepare them for college'.

I head home around 5:30 because Aimy has dinner at 6:00. Mrs. Kreps invites me to stay, but I decline. I'm tired and I want to go home anyway. Of course, when I get there, I end up wishing I had just stayed.