The Artist.

Chapter 1: The Encounter

"The day I met Isabella Gray was, in fact, a rather dreary day."

It was a typical day of work at Green Mountain Café… then again, every day that something extraordinary happens starts in an ordinary way.

Not to be confused with the ever-so-popular Green Mountain coffee, Green Mountain Café, (referred to as GMC by its staff), was running on its usual Sunday, after-Church, crawl. One would think that the café would be abuzz, but there were only rows of empty booths, a few people scattered here and there.

"It's no problem at all, Clara," Caleb Green assured his co-worker as she guiltily donned her bright yellow raincoat. Her GMC apron hung around her neck loosely and he gently pulled it over her head as she fumbled around in her pocket for her cell phone.

"Are you sure, Caleb?" she asked, her voice muffled by her rainbow-colored scarf. Cell phone in hand, she secured the straps on her bag, making sure her new clogs were hidden from the rain. Her feet now sported bright lemon-colored rain boots which matched her coat in an innocent and childish way. "I feel bad because I know it's my Sunday to close up, it's just that my mom called and said one of my college applications came back in the mail, so I need to drop that off at the post office again before bringing Maddie to her piano lesson and Kyle to his flute lesson…"

Clara took a deep breath, her disheveled blond hair peeking out from beneath her hood. Clutching the frog-shaped handle of her bright umbrella, she gave Caleb a quick hug of gratitude.

Caleb, in return, couldn't help but laugh. "You, my friend, just might be one of the most frazzled seventeen-year olds I know," he said, giving her a pat on the back before suggestively ushering her to the door. "As much as you and Mindy beg to differ, I am a big boy now and can handle locking up on a almost business-free Sunday afternoon."

His manner of speaking was light and it caused a light smile to pull at Clara's lips. It was a relief that Caleb was responsible enough to take care of it, but, as Clara reached into her pocket to hand over the lock-up keys, she groaned in despair.

"The keys are in my purple jacket!" she exclaimed, horrified, realizing her error.

Caleb looked at her curiously.

"I was going to wear my purple jacket today because I thought the weather was going to be nice, but when I opened the front door it was raining, so I switched to my rain coat but didn't take the keys out of my other jacket!" Clara, a bit of a worry wart, began to stress over how to get the keys to Caleb while still balancing her other tasks. "What can I do? I can't walk back this way, it's not even in the general direction of the post office or Maddie and Kyle's lessons, and if I come back here with them—"

Caleb put his hand in the air as if in school, earning a small smile from Clara, whose dreams were to become a kindergarten teacher after college. "May I suggest something?" he asked calmly, continuing as Clara nodded her head. "Why don't you have Jason drop off the keys on his way to work?" he asked, referring to Clara's fifteen year old brother who volunteered at the near-by animal shelter. "I'll stay a few minutes longer, get the keys from Jason, and lock up, and everything will be okay."

After a quick peek at the clock, Clara had no choice but to agree and quickly scampered out of GMC, waving a short goodbye to Caleb as she raced down the street to catch the bus to 15th Street.

Still standing by the door, Caleb shook his head, used to his co-worker's crazy schedule. He quickly bounded over to the counter where a customer handed him the money for their coffee (and a good tip). Although others dreaded having Sunday close-up duty, Caleb didn't mind it at all. He felt at home in the cozy café, surrounded by the smell of coffee and the sound of light rain.

It was 2:30 when Clara left, leaving a half hour for the rest of the dozen Sunday wanderers to slowly meander towards the forest green door, the little bell at the top signaling one less person in the warmth provided by GMC's toasty fireplace. By five minutes of three there was only one customer left in the café and Caleb, who had been cleaning up everywhere but where she was, went to check if she needed anything else before he finished cleaning up the kitchen.

Caleb cleared his throat a bit awkwardly before addressing the girl who was seated on the cushioned bench next to the window. "Can I get you anything" he asked, eyeing the empty mug she had in front of her.

The girl had pale blond hair sticking out from beneath a light gray beret and her wide eyes regarded Caleb with a blank stare. She had her back propped up against the wall and her knees pulled up as a easel for a sketchpad on her lap. A box of pastels was on her right and a crumb-covered saucer was on her left.

"Do you need anything else?" Caleb asked her, sure that she had not heard his question the first time.

The girl looked at him blankly still, waiting a few seconds before shaking her head 'no'. She looked from her sketchbook to the raindrop-covered window and Caleb followed her gaze, only to find an empty street and, beyond that, the empty park.

With a short sigh, Caleb let himself slide down onto the cushioned bench opposite the girl, just resting until Jason came back with the keys. His presence suddenly registered to the girl, who moved as if she just woke up.

Jerkily, she straightened out her legs, kicking over the empty mug which met the tiled floor with a tinkling crash. "I'm so sorry!" she cried, fumbling to get her feet on the floor beneath her. Her legs, sore from being bent for so long, stretched awkwardly, and her arms flailed as she regained her balance.

Caleb, wide-eyed, just watched the scene unfold before him, letting silence set in as the girl watched him with guilt and shame drawn across her pale features. When the silence stretched over the situation he let out a charming laugh, quiet at first but picking up as he realized what had happened.

The girl, confused, asked him what was funny.

"I like you," Caleb managed to say between laughs. "You remind me almost exactly of my co-worker, Clara." He grabbed the broom off of the back of the door and began to sweep up the broken glass, speaking as he swept. "She sometimes floats into her own world, only to come crashing down when someone interrupts her." Caleb went to his knees to sweep the pile dust and glass into the dustpan. "The only difference is, well, she doesn't actually crash down like you do."

A tinge of rosy embarrassment rose in the girl's cheeks and Caleb smiled, quickly throwing out the contents of the dustpan. He hung the broom back on the door and sat back down on the bench again.

"Caleb Green," he offered, holding his hand out. "Employee at GMC and professional glass-sweeper."

The girl smiled timidly. "Isabella Gray," she answered, giving his hand a light shake. "Employee at the Blake-Monet Art Studio. Professional clutz." Her voice was delicate and quiet, and to Caleb her words seemed to dance around weightlessly.

"Blake-Monet? Ah, so you're an artist," he summarized, nodding his head slightly at her sketch pad.

Isabella shrugged. "More or less," she said uncertainly. "I don't know, I feel like I'm hardly an artist. I've been told I haven't yet found a style that really suits me."

Caleb reached forward for her sketch pad, hesitating until Isabella nodded her consent. It was open to a pastel sketch that Isabella must have painted from where she sat, Caleb concluded, because the background was very accurately drawn to the street and park opposing Isabella's window view. She had an amazing way of glossing over the ground and the leaves on the trees, giving them the effect of rainfall.

Perhaps the most captivating part of her sketch was the figure in the middle; the back of a yellow jacket. A green frog umbrella was held high and yellow boots were caught in mid-run and Caleb laughed as the edges of a rainbow colored scarf peeked out from the side.

"Your picture is amazing," he commented in awe, his compliments further flustering the already blushing Isabella. Still looking at it, Caleb gently set the sketchbook down on the bench and pulled Isabella's sketchpad closer to him. "There's just one thing I think is a little off…" He looked at the picture again, his chocolate colored eyebrows pulled together in thought.

Isabella's smile instantly fell. "There always is," she admitted quietly, reaching out to reclaim her book.

Caleb pulled it a little bit out of her reach, instead grabbing her arm to have her move to where he was. "See this?" he asked, pointing to the pale yellow of the rain coat. "This is my friend, Clara, and this jacket," he said, pointing at the coat, "is nothing close to pale yellow. And this," he said with a smile, pointing to the green frog umbrella, "is such a vibrant green that if she was to twirl the umbrella around, it'd be sure to give you a migraine."

A weak smile pulled tentatively at Isabella's lips. "I only have pale colors," she said quietly, showing him her box of pastels. "My friend at Blake-Monet said I have no taste for real color." She pointed out the rest of the picture. "Besides, I think the pale colors look good with the light grey sky and the pale green leafs… don't you?"

Caleb shrugged, "I think you need a little contrast in there, Bella. A little something to capture the viewer's attention. Maybe if you just had a splash of bold color hidden in the pales, like maybe Clara's rainbow scarf, then it would add to the texture of colors… wouldn't it?" Realizing what he was saying, Caleb began to laugh. "Listen to me, I sound like an art critic." Starting to stand, he said, "You don't have to listen to me, just do what you want to—"

His knee bumped against the box of pastel s and they fell to the ground, a dozen light colors snapping as their delicate bodies met the harsh fate that Isabella's glass had met minutes before. It was Caleb's turn to turn red and, as he scrambled to pick them up, something outside caught Isabella's eye.

"I have to go," she said quietly. She turned to the pastels sadly. "You can just throw them out," she said quietly as she tucked her sketchpad under her grey sweatshirt. "They were just about worn out anyways."

Caleb looked up, catching sight of the taxi waiting outside the café. He scrambled faster to pick up the broken pastels and arrange them haphazardly in their small cardboard box. "Wait, I have most of them—"

Isabella turned to Caleb, who was still on his knees, his arm outstretched with the box. "It's alright. Really. Anyway, like I told you, I'm hardly an artist. Maybe pastels just aren't my thing." She turned to leave. "Thank you, Caleb," she said quietly before disappearing out the door.

Caleb stood, watching her light graceful steps carry her right into the back seat of the taxi cab and away, leaving him alone to wait for the keys to lock up.