In the beginning, my life was bland. Like I was living in a world lacking color. Nothing stood out. Nothing seemed to matter.
Then, with one single drop, the colorless world I lived in burst into something more. Something vibrant, and brave.
He was that drop, the one that shook the foundation of my life to its' core. He unraveled the me that was suffocating in a world I didn't belong in. He was the color I'd been searching for.
He was the reason everything began, and the reason why everything ended.
The crowded college campus was buzzing with life. Students herded to the various courtyards to soak in the sunshine after almost a week of rain. As summer break was just around the corner, everyone was smiling, excited for the weeks of free time that laid ahead. While their exams were creeping up on them, only a few studious individuals had decided to lock themselves away on such a beautiful day, in order to prepare.
Sophia Parker was one of the individuals who had decided that studying took precedence over goofing off. She'd spent the better part of the day inside of her professor's office, attempting to quiz him on possible essay questions. It wasn't the most enjoyable way to spend her time, but when she graduated at the top of the class, her hard work would lead to a high-paying career.
Unlike the rest of her peers, Sophie had a plan- in fact, her entire life revolved around it. Even the smallest details of her daily routine were planned out, so that she didn't waste any time. Rather than being compelled to be perfect, Sophie was practical. She knew that the job market was competitive, and she knew that in order to support herself, she needed to work harder than her peers. If it wasn't for the generous college fund that her grandparents had left her in their will, Sophie would've had to put herself through college. Without any remaining relatives, she would be completely on her own.
As she walked through the campus, she tried to ignore the other students who were spending their time relaxing, or hanging out with friends. She wasn't impervious to the loneliness that crept in at moments like this. After all, since graduating from high school Sophie had lost some of her closest friends to different universities. Her freshman year in college was spent meeting new people, but when her grandmother had gotten sick during her sophomore year, Sophie hadn't had time to keep in touch with anyone. Now, at the end of spring semester in her junior year, Sophie was a loner.
She turned her attention away from the people, to the large willow trees that towered above her head. During this time of year the campus was gorgeous, as the summertime heat had yet to roll in. It felt wonderful to be outside, and Sophie felt guilty for spending the day studying. If it had been up to her, she would've already secured her spot on one of the various benches that lined the campus, with her sketchbook out, and her I-pod turned up to drown out the sound of everything else. However, breaks like that were rare, and Sophie could only dream about them. While she was twenty-one years old, she didn't have time to let herself act her age. She had a future to prepare for.
Realizing that she was going to be late, Sophie quickened her pace. She focused her eyes firmly ahead of her, and brushed passed the groups of students that were standing in her way. Feeling stressed at her already packed schedule, Sophie anxiously flipped her long red hair over her shoulder. She ran her fingers through it, reminding herself that it was only twelve o'clock. She couldn't allow herself to be tired this early in the day.
Sophie smiled once she could see the college's designated art building looming up ahead of her. It blended in well with the other brick buildings on campus, but to Sophie, it was a haven away from all the others. Inside, the walls were painted with bright colors, and paintings were hung up and down the hallways. Unlike the somber classrooms that defined this prestigious university, the art department was an exotic getaway.
"Sophie!" A deep, heavily accented voice called out from behind her. "I was wondering when you'd get here."
"Sorry, Professor Bowman. I just got done studying." Sophie smiled at the aging man, who greeted her with a warm hug. He was a family friend of her grandparent's, and his presence never failed to ease her heart. She didn't get to see him half as much as she would've liked, but talking with him always brightened her day. When he'd called this morning and said he had something he wanted to show her, Sophie was eager to make time for him.
"Studying? On a day like today, I thought you would've been painting." He raised an eyebrow knowingly, and Sophie's smile faded.
"I haven't had time to paint in over a month." She mentioned, trying to sound nonchalant. When she'd been a freshman, all Sophie had talked about was becoming a famous artist. She'd jumped into all sorts of art-related courses. However, over the years her passion had been replaced by reality. Being a painter wasn't going to pay the bills, especially when she was an unknown artist with relatively average skills. Professor Bowman had pleaded with Sophie to not give up completely, but his advice had fallen on deaf ears. With all of the stress in her life, the least of her worries was painting.
"That's a shame." He replied. Sophie understood the meaning behind his words, and she frowned in response. He would never understand why she'd given up her passion, when he could easily embrace his own.
"What is it that you wanted to show me?" Sophie tried to change the conversation to something less depressing.
Professor Bowman clapped his hands together, his smile growing. "A Salvador Dali was just recovered recently. It was stolen back in 2006, and the authorities sent the painting to our university for authentication."
Sophie's jaw dropped. "No way!" It was unexplainably exciting to be chosen to authenticate such a renowned piece of art. "That's amazing!"
"I thought you would be excited. Which is why I wanted to ask if you would like to see it?" The professor's eyes were sparkling with amusement.
"Can I?" Sophie's brow furrowed as she realized she couldn't possibly have the clearance to do so. The authorities would undoubtedly be doubling security on a painting which had already been stolen once before.
"As the leading researcher on the authentication team, I think I have the power to say yes."
Sophie grinned, realizing that Professor Bowman was the only man on campus respected enough for such a task.
"I would love to see it!" Sophie replied, pleased with this surprise. As an art enthusiast, it was unbelievably exciting to see a work of art that had been missing for almost five years. Most of her peers wouldn't care about something like this, but to Sophie it was the most interesting thing that had happened all week.
"I thought so." Professor Brown smiled, then turned absentmindedly to his ringing cell phone. "This thing never shuts up." He muttered as he answered, looking annoyed.
Sophie turned away from him, trying to be polite. Now that she had a chance to really look around at the campus, she found that her former loneliness was replaced with happiness. Small things like this meant the world to her, when everything around her seemed so… boring.
Sophie's life was seemingly defined by the word boring. She had a goal which she was working towards, but she didn't enjoy it at all. She hated what she was studying, and she dreaded the career she was headed for, but she blindly plowed forward, knowing that she didn't have any other choice.
In the back of her mind, she wondered what it would be like to have Professor Brown's job. He was able to do what he loved every single day, while teaching others about his passion, and getting to work on projects like the authentication of the stolen Dali painting.
"What do you mean?" The professor shouted into the phone.
Sophie jumped, surprised by his sudden rage.
"Leave it alone. I'll deal with it immediately." He hung up the phone, scowling. "Sorry, Sophie. It seems a complication has come up."
"That's fine." Sophie replied, her heart sinking.
"If you wait an hour, I'll be all yours." He flashed her an apologetic look, and Sophie frowned.
She didn't want to be rude, but she had other plans for today. Taking an hour out of her schedule would push everything back. She couldn't take that risk, but a part of her was also dying to see the painting.
"Sure." She replied before she knew what she was doing. "I'll wait by the old fountain." She motioned to the courtyard situated to the side of the art building.
"Thank you." The professor seemed relieved that she'd agreed. Before her grandmother had passed away she had asked him to look after Sophie, and he seemed like he was trying to make up for not keeping up with that promise. "I'll be back as soon as I can." He waved before heading off down the sidewalk.
Sophie stared after him, sighing in disappointment. She knew she was making a bad decision, but she figured taking an hour to enjoy the day wouldn't be such a waste after all.
As she sat down on the edge of the fountain, Sophie marveled at how crowded the courtyard was. Couples were sprawled out on towels, a group of men were playing football off to the side, and various art students were sketching away at the picturesque scene around them.
It was the perfect afternoon, except Sophie didn't feel like she was a part of the picture the students were drawing. Everyone else was smiling, laughing, and relaxed. They blended into the scene easily, but Sophie stood out simply by not standing out at all. She was invisible and insignificant.
She dipped her hand into the cool water beside of her, and examined the ripples she was creating. Beneath the surface were hundreds of pennies which had been tossed in for good luck. Reaching into her pocket, Sophie pulled out a dime. She dropped into the fountain, watching it sink to the bottom.
"That's worth ten pennies, so I better have ten times the good luck." She whispered to herself.
"I don't think it works that way." A smooth voice replied.
Sophie turned around, spying a young man sitting only a few feet to her right. She hadn't noticed him before, and she blushed in embarrassment. If she'd known he was so close, she wouldn't have spoken to herself like that.
"Then again, there's no harm in trying." The man's face was turned towards the fountain. The light reflected on the surface of the water rebounded onto his face, and for a moment Sophie couldn't see his features clearly. He shifted his position so that he could see her better, and Sophie caught her breath as she stared into his dark blue eyes.
"You would think the universe would give me something for my generosity." Sophie joked as she examined the man. His features were soft, almost boyishly so. She had a feeling he was older than he looked. "I'm Sophia Parker." She extended her hand, and he shook it awkwardly. "And half of those pennies you see are probably mine."
The stranger laughed. Sophie noticed that while he was grinning, his smile didn't quite reach his eyes.
"I'm Jack Smith." He replied, looking as though he was examining her as well. "It's a lovely day." He began slowly, looking slightly flustered.
"Yeah. If only I had the time to enjoy it." She sighed again, staring into the fountain. She hadn't really spoken to anyone in a long time. At least, not to anyone she'd thought about becoming friends with. Sophie's grandparents had always joked that her best skill was pushing people away. It was hard for her to get close to others, and after her grandparent's had passed away, she'd isolated herself from everyone willing to try and break through to her.
"I guess I have the opposite problem. Too much free time." Jack's eyes hadn't moved from her face. "You should consider taking more breaks. Being a workaholic is no fun."
Sophie laughed, shaking her head. "Unfortunately, you can't major in fun."
"How strange." Jack mused, his expression growing serious for only a moment. "You didn't strike me as the type that enjoyed playing by the rules."
"What do you mean?" Sophie eyed him suspiciously. For someone she'd just met, she felt like he already knew her.
"You look like someone who's very passionate underneath all of those layers." He continued, smiling.
She was about to reply when he suddenly jerked up to his feet. She pulled back, shocked by his unexpected speed. Without warning, he leaned over her, just in time to stop the young child that was reaching into Sophie's purse. She'd left if lying beside of her, but while she was distracted with talking to him, she hadn't noticed the little thief sneak up on them. The small boy was holding her wallet in his hands, and he glared up at Jack when he realized he'd been caught. He dropped the wallet with a scowl, and turned to run off.
Sophie found that she'd forgotten to breathe. It was partly because of her close proximity to Jack, but also because she'd almost lost something extremely precious to her. Losing money to the thief wouldn't even have compared to losing the note she had hidden away inside her wallet.
"Thank you." Sophie muttered, too surprised to say anything more.
"That was scary." Jack joked, rubbing the back of his neck as he leaned away from her. "You should take better care of your things."
She nodded in response. "What was a kid like that doing at a college campus?" She furrowed her eyebrows in confusion.
Jack's smile seemed strained. "You'd be surprised the kind of people that turn up in places like this. I wouldn't think too much about it."
Sophie had never been known for her people skills, but she couldn't help feeling like his words were a warning rather than a friendly suggestion.
Shaking off the feeling, she decided Jack was too friendly for something like that to be true.
"I'd better get going." He said casually, glancing away from her. "I'm supposed to meet someone. It was nice getting to talk to you."
"Yeah, thanks again." Sophie waved to him as he walked away, feeling a wave of awkwardness wash over her. For a moment it had felt like they'd connected, but there was something off about him.
She turned towards her purse, and carefully unzipped her wallet. Slipping out the note she had tucked into a rip in the side, she unfolded the crumbled piece of paper.
In her surprise she hadn't felt as panicked as she should've been. This was the last letter her grandmother had written her before passing away. Sophie's grandmother was like her own mother, and had raised her since her parents passed away when she was three years old. This memento was priceless, and Sophie couldn't believe she'd come this close to losing it forever.
Written inside was a long message which Sophie still didn't understand to this day. Within the letter, her grandmother promised that someone would come to wipe away her loneliness, and to offer her a life that was very different from the one she was leading now. Sophie hadn't understood a word of it, but it still gave her hope. A year had passed since the letter had been written, and still Sophie felt alone. No one of significance had entered her life since then, and she'd half wondered if it was her own fault. She wasn't the warmest person, and she felt like she might've pushed the stranger away.
Clutching the note in her hands, Sophie decided that wishing for that person to come wasn't going to be enough. She'd stopped waiting a long time ago, but there were still grains of hope inside of her heart. Her grandmother had never lied before, and she didn't think this time would be any different. It was just really hard to have faith when she didn't know what, or who she was supposed to be looking for.
As Sophie reminisced about the past, she decided she was tired of waiting by the fountain. It had been too long since she'd last explored the art building, and she desperately wanted to surround herself with something familiar. All thoughts of her schedule had faded, as her mind was filled with thoughts of her grandmother's note, and of Jack's deep blue eyes.
The Art Department was composed of three buildings, all squashed together. While the first two held only lecture halls, it was the third hall where the real creation of art took place. The building which Sophie was headed to now was like a second home. As soon as she'd walked through the massive oak doors, she felt her heart ease.
The familiar hallway took her back to when she'd been a freshman, exploring the campus for the first time.
She'd initially felt intimidated by the regal exterior of the building, though the moment she'd entered, she'd become immersed in the culture which thrived inside.
All along the walls were portraits made by former students, and statues greeted guests from the lavish main hall. The ceiling up above was painted with dozens of angels, which peered down mischievously at Sophie as she walked through the entrance.
Hidden within the three floors of the building were various classrooms where students could choose to learn one of a variety of art forms. On the main floor were most of the sculpting classes, while the second floor was dedicated to both pottery and sketching classes. The basement was reserved for the photography classes, where students would practice using the campus's only dark room to develop their photographs.
Sophie found the spiraling staircase situated in the middle of the main hall, and climbed three flights of stairs, heading towards the top floor. The highest level of the building wasn't separated into classrooms. The entire floor was an open room in which aspiring painters were allowed to paint whatever they pleased. Most students used it to work on assignments given by their professors, though anyone could use the room as long as they were given a pass, which was similar to a library card.
Even before she reached the top floor, she could smell the strong scent of wet paint wafting down the staircase. Sophie smiled, brushing her hair out of her eyes. The chaos that greeted her once she entered the room was heartwarming. Just like she'd seen it three years before, the top level was cluttered with half-finished canvases, open paint tubes, scattered brushes, and the floor was speckled with drops of paint. The windows of each side of the large studio were open, letting a soft breeze stir around the warm room.
Sophie browsed through the paintings, examining the ongoing works of her peers. There was no organization to the paintings, and Sophie was pleased to see the odd collection of works. To her right were Expressionistic paintings, while to her left were what she expected to be attempts at Realism. Abstract paintings were spread across the room, some leaving Sophie impressed, and others leaving her only confused.
To Sophie, this place was where true art was created. She didn't look down on the other forms of art that students practiced, but this was just where she fit in. Even if she no longer wanted to be an art major, painting would always be her passion.
It took her almost twenty minutes to examine the room fully. As she reached the other end, she paused to glance back across the studio. She tried to imagine coming here every day to paint, but the thought only made her heart ache more. She envied the students that could come and go as they pleased.
She sat down near the window, on top of a table which was covered with art supplies. She brushed some of them out of the way, so that she wouldn't have to worry about getting wet paint on her clothes. Sophie turned her focus out of the window, down at the courtyard below. From this angle she could see the fountain, and all of the students sprinkled around it. No one in their right mind was cooped up inside on a day like today, and the studio was completely empty. Had it been any other day of the year, the room would have had at least four or five students occupying it.
She'd become so lost in thought, she barely registered the sound of something dropping to the floor on the other side of the studio. For a moment, Sophie wondered if she'd heard anything at all, when the sound of footsteps started coming her way. From her perch, Sophie could only see half of the room, as some of the larger canvases blocked most of her view. Whoever was heading in her direction had no idea that she was there. While it shouldn't have bothered her, Sophie felt like she'd been caught somewhere she wasn't supposed to be.
When the footsteps drew closer, the stranger stepped around one of the clusters of paintings so that they were in full view of Sophie. She caught her breath as she examined the man. He was wearing a black baseball cap, and had a large book bag strapped around his shoulders. He was moving quickly, though he was obviously trying to be quiet. He shifted his position to look out of the window, and Sophie gasped.
She'd seen this person less than an hour before.
"Jack?" She asked softly, wondering if she was going to scare him.
He didn't jump at the sound of her voice, but he turned towards her with wide eyes. His expression was stoic, but his eyes flickered with interest. He froze in place, deciding not to reply just yet.
"It is you." Sophie said, trying to sound lighthearted. She still felt like their last meeting was awkward, but she didn't want to be rude. She was mostly curious at what he was doing up here. Hadn't he said he was going to meet someone?
"We shouldn't have met again." Jack whispered, turning his eyes away. "I'm sorry, Sophie."
Sophie's eyes narrowed in confusion. "Sorry about what?" She tried to think of a reason why he would call her by her nickname, but she couldn't think of one.
"I tried to avoid this. I really did." He reached up and rubbed his temples, like he had a headache.
"What are you talking about?" Sophie asked, standing up.
When he looked back at her, his expression had changed back to the polite smile she'd seen earlier.
"It seems we were destined to meet again." He said in a bright voice, which was a huge deviation from the tone he'd been using before.
Sophie crossed her arms defensively. "Did you follow me up here?"
"Would I follow someone like you?" He countered. "I could ask the same question." He shrugged, turning to look out the window. "If I jumped from here, what do you think would happen?"
Sophie's eyes widened, as she stared down at the courtyard. "Well, seeing as though we are on the third floor, my best guess is that you might break a leg…or both legs." She wondered if he was suicidal.
Jack glanced up at her with sparkling blue eyes. "Sounds like a challenge." He mused.
Sophie took another step forward just as the alarm to the building went off. She jumped as the siren-like beeping filled the air. She thought it might've been the fire alarm, but as she stared at Jack, another thought struck her.
"What's in your backpack?" She asked coldly. She'd known from the beginning that there was something off about him, but the way he'd obviously not wanted to be seen tipped her off to a new suspicion. Hidden in one of the rooms in the basement of this building was the Salvador Dali painting that Professor Bowman had wanted to show her earlier. If the alarms were going off now, that meant something must've gone wrong.
"You're very clever." Jack commented, watching her with proud eyes. "Just like your parents."
Sophie's heart dropped. She felt like he'd just slapped her. "You stole the Dali painting?" She tried to ignore his comment about her parents. If he really was a thief, it was up to her to stop him.
"Do you know the story of this particular painting? It's one of my favorites." He paused, glancing back towards the staircase, as if judging how much time he had left. "In 2006 four paintings were stolen from the Museu da Chácara do Céu in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The stolen paintings were works by Salvador Dali, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, and Claude Monet. By using a carnival parade that was conveniently passing the museum, the thieves were able to vanish into the crowd."
"What's your point?" Sophie took a careful step towards him, wondering if she should try and forcefully get the painting back.
"Art thieves are amazing, aren't they? It's a shame that this painting was recovered. It would've been better if it had stayed stolen." He turned towards the half-open window, and pushed it all the way open.
"You'll kill yourself!" Sophie warned. "That jump is impossible!"
Jack grinned, shaking off her concern. He paused for a moment, and dug out a card from his pocket. He laid it on the floor, and slid it towards her.
"If you want to learn more about your parents, look me up." He pushed himself onto the windowsill, and his legs dangled outside.
Sophie picked up the card, and noticed how it had the name Robert Locksley printed on the top. Beneath it was an address and a phone number.
"Some thief you are. I could give this to the police, and you'd be finished." Sophie wondered if he was actually clever, or really, really stupid.
"We both know you won't do that, Sophie." His eyes locked with hers. "If you turn me in, you'll never understand anything about who you really are."
Sophie felt like he was challenging her. "Oh, and you know who I am?"
"You'll have to wait and see." He winked, and his lips curled into a smile. "See you soon, Sophia Parker." He laughed as he pushed off from the windowsill.
Sophie stopped breathing, not believing that he'd actually done it. She rushed towards the window, shoving her head out so that she could see below. Her eyes frantically searched the ground, but she couldn't see any traces of him anywhere.
Just when she thought she was going to die of anxiety, a rough hand jerked her back.
"Identify yourself!" A security guard shouted at her sternly.
Sophie watched the guard with terrified eyes. He had a gun pointed at her, and he looked like he wouldn't think twice about firing it. "S..Sophia Parker." She blustered.
"What are you doing up here?" He released her, not looking convinced.
"I'm…waiting for Professor Brown. I'm a student here." She held up her hands so that he could see she wasn't hiding anything.
The guard examined her suspiciously, glancing out of the window to try and figure out what she'd been looking at.
"Did you see anyone suspicious come through here?" He was still glaring at her.
Sophie paused, wondering if she should turn the stranger in. She wasn't even sure what his real name was, and he was obviously dangerous. However, everything he'd said made her second guess herself. Her curiosity was overflowing, and his comments paired with her grandmother's last note were enough to overcome her better judgment.
"No, I was by myself." She answered, glancing down at the card she'd quickly shoved into her pocket before the guard had noticed.
The guard stared at her for a long moment before spinning around and charging back out of the studio.
Sophie sighed heavily, feeling relieved that he'd believed her half-hearted lie.
She turned her attention back out of the window. No matter how long she tried, she couldn't figure out how he'd done it.
Campus security was already closing off the area, though their attempts were failing. Outside a long crowd of people were marching across the street, waving banners, and posters in the air. It had slipped Sophie's mind that today was the college's annual spring parade, where students joined together to march as chaotically and loudly as they could through the campus. It was the perfect opportunity for them to wildly break free from their busy schedules before exams began, and normally the students' behavior went without punishment. However, today campus security was in no mood for the parade, and were hastily trying to disperse the crowd.
Sophie only smiled as she watched the scene unravel below.
"Parade." She whispered, remembering the story the stranger had told her only a few minutes before. "Of course."
She slipped the card he'd given her out of her pocket, and examined it again. The handwriting was sloppy, as if he'd done it in a hurry. She absentmindedly flipped it over, and to her surprise, there was something written on the back as well.
Until we meet again.
Instead of feeling daunted by the message, Sophie felt exhilarated by it. Whoever this stranger was, he brought with him a world that was unlike anything she had ever experienced. She hadn't planned for him to come, and in no way did he fit into her packed schedule. However, she found that she enjoyed his unexpected presence, and looked forward to the day they would meet again. After all, this wasn't the end.
This was just the beginning.
**Author's Note: With this new story I really want to expand from everything I've written in the past. If you've read my other two stories I hope that you will find this refreshingly different. I've been playing with this idea for a couple of months now, trying to figure out how I was going to start. Unfortunately, I'm too busy to start putting out chapters regularly, but I would still love to hear your thoughts on this first chapter.
As always, Quix