Emmett stumbled out into the living room, rubbing his eyes. "Daphne? It's six in the morning!"
"It's a quarter to seven."
"Exactly!" He sat down on the couch beside her, thanking his mom as she brought him a cup of coffee. Melody was still in her robe, but she must have already been up. She looked far too perky. She offered Daphne a cup, but when Daphne declined, Melody tactfully withdrew from the room.
"Look, I'm sorry. I wanted to talk to you before going in to work," Daphne said, her hands moving quickly and sharply as they did when she was angry. That woke him right up.
"What's wrong? Are you okay?" Emmett knew that Daphne was working ten, sometimes twelve hour days, trying to get as much community service done before school started back up. Daphne had gotten into some serious trouble over the summer. He wondered what else she had gotten into that no one knew about. She'd been steadily getting into worse and worse trouble since she found out about the whole switched at birth thing. It had to be bad if she was coming to him about it. Daphne rarely came to him anymore. He hated it, but they had really grown apart.
"Oh, no! I'm fine," she assured him. "It's Bay."
"Oh, I see." Emmett knew that Bay was having a really hard time after finding out Ty had cheated on her. It had surprised him, but Bay had come to him about it. He knew she was hurting, but he couldn't stop thinking about that night. About how hurt she looked when she came to see him. How she smelled when he took her in his arms. When she let him take her in his arms. "I think I need to stay out of this one."
Daphne looked pained. "She won't talk to me about it. She won't talk to Regina about it. In fact, she's not talking to anyone." Daphne raised her brows. "Does that sound like Bay to you? If there's one thing Bay does, it's talk."
"She talked to me the other day. Briefly. She's just hurting. Processing."
"She hasn't come out of her studio, except to sleep, in four days. Kathryn's even taking her meals in there!"
"Do you really think I'm going to be any help?" Emmett asked.
"I hope so. This isn't like her. Just...see if you can talk to her, will you?"
Emmett waited until a decent hour to try texting Bay. First, he just told her that he was thinking of her and asked how she was doing, but Bay didn't respond. After a few minutes, he texted again to tell her about an art show opening he had read about. Still no answer. He tried to just leave it be, but Daphne had seemed genuinely concerned. She didn't usually make a big deal out of nothing. He had to be careful, though. He knew that he, of all people, might just be a painful reminder of the hurt Bay was feeling right now. All day, Emmett waffled between going over there and chickening out. The feeling that he needed to do something grew stronger and stronger. Finally, Emmett decided to go in person and see if maybe he could get Bay out of the house. He steeled his resolve and turned to Toby for advice.
“How do I ask out Bay without coming across like a creeper?” he texted.
“You don't. She JUST broke up with Ty.”
“Not like that. Just out of the house. Out like a normal person. Daphne says she's not even speaking to anyone.”
“Dude, I'm on my honeymoon.”
“Exactly! And Daphne's doing community service all the time. She needs someone who's there for her. I want to be that someone.”
“So be there for her. Not you.”
Emmett looked at his phone and considered Toby's advice. “Good point. Thanks! See? There's a reason you got the girl. Have fun. Hello to the missus.”
“Be careful. Hurt her again & I kill you.”
Emmett gave a small smile. “Don't worry. If I hurt her again, I'll save you the trouble and do it myself.”
Toby had a good point, though. Emmett had been obsessing far too much about being Bay's knight in shining armor. He wanted to be the one to swoop in and make everything better. He wanted to see her face light up, only he'd been more concerned about it lighting up for him. Toby's words sobered him. He read Toby's text again: So be there for her. Not you. Once he quit worrying about how he'd come across, he knew exactly what it would take to see Bay light up again.
The next evening, he drove out to the Kennish place. After carefully rearranging his gifts, he knocked on the garage door. As he'd figured, Bay was in her studio. She looked surprised when she opened the door, her hands and an old button-down shirt covered in red and grey paint splatters.
Emmett smiled shyly and held out the bundle of spray cans he had put together. There were six different colors, woven together with a big red ribbon. He'd twined stalks of baby's breath through the ribbon where it wrapped around the center cans.
Bay looked at him dubiously, one dark brow raising. “Is that a bouquet of spray paint?” she asked. Not knowing the sign for 'bouquet', her hands simply said 'flower', leaving a red smudge on her cheek. He resisted the urge to reach out and wipe it off.
Emmett smiled and nodded. He pressed the bouquet upon her and grabbed the second one from its spot beside the door, this one wrapped in white ribbon. “I wanted to bring you a dozen,” he explained one-handedly, “but I couldn't get them to stay together.”
His heart skipped a couple of beats while Bay considered him. To his relief, she smiled. “Thanks. Come on in.” She nodded her head towards the studio and held the door open wider.
As she cleared a space for the cans, he surreptitiously looked around the garage. She'd been busy these last few days. There were half a dozen paintings in various stage of completion. The one she was currently working on was an abstract in different shades of red. Here and there, sharp shards of grey slashed through the color in thin, angry lines. There was a table nearby with an assortment of items: a wooden artist's model, a pomegranate, a model tank, a knife, a jar of sand. After he saw them, he could pick out the impression of the items in the painting. They were...kind of melty, reminiscent of Dali's clocks, except for the grey knives that slashed the painting apart in an almost cubist way.
And there, leaned up against the wall, was a self portrait in much brighter hues that was an obvious nod to Frida Kahlo's work. At least, Emmett assumed it was a self portrait; the girl in the portrait actually had no face, just swirls where her head should be. Another canvas was filled with skulls in thick, brushy strokes, à la Cézanne, while the one beside it featured a large heart – of the anatomical, not symbolic, kind – done in a myriad of tiny dots. He didn't recall what artist had done that kind of painting, but he'd seen it before.
As he looked around the room, he got it. Bay had lost herself. She was taking these techniques of the artists she admired and was using them to interpret the feelings overwhelming her. They weren't mere copies though. It was a marriage of Bay and her heroes. She was filtering herself through their lenses. Bay and her emotions were there, but she was focusing on technique and style more than on Bay. She was stuck in the shadow of their greatness, and that broke his heart in a way that Bay crying in his arms had not.
“When's the last time you did any street art?” he asked her.
Bay looked down, avoiding his eyes, and shrugged. “It's been a while.” She glanced back up at him, a forced smile on her face. “I figure my parents couldn't handle two felons right now.”
Emmett snorted. “Daphne's got dropped to a misdemeanor.”
“Whatever. I'm basking in being the good kid for a change.”
“This,” he said, “is good. Excellent work, really. But it's not basking. It's wallowing." He spelled the word out.
Bay frowned, unconsciously placing herself between Emmett and her work in progress. “What do you know about it?”
“I know this isn't you. Come on!” He walked over to the corner, where she had stacked the cases that hid her stencils. “Let's paint the town red. Literally.”
Bay bit her lip and shook her head. “I'm not really feeling it. Besides, that's all old stuff, anyway.”
He pushed the tube at her. “So make it new.”
After another moment's hesitation, she nodded and scooped his bouquets into a duffel bag, then added duct tape and the art tube he had pushed at her. “Okay. Let's do it.” As he turned to head back out to his bike, he felt a tap on his shoulder. “Just...be a good lookout, okay? Don't let me get arrested.”
“I've got your back. Always.”
It wasn't quite dark, so Emmett just drove around for a while, hoping that the motorcycle was as meditative for Bay as it was for him. It never failed – whenever Emmett was in a bad mood, a ride on the bike always helped. Especially at night, as the lights all blurred into each other and the wind was crisp and refreshing, even in summer. Of course, it was always better with a pretty girl curled up behind him.
As he drove, he kept an eye out for a good spot. He had a good idea for one, so as dusk fell, he slowly began making his way across town. He felt Bay stiffen behind him and began to slow even before her hand crept forward. “Next left,” she signed, and he nodded to let her know he'd seen. She didn't need to say anything else after he made the turn; within moments, he saw the target she'd chosen. He pulled the bike over beneath an army recruiting billboard, hiding it in the bushes as much as he could.
“You'll have to hurry,” he warned her. “The police station is only four blocks over.”
“I'll be quick.” Bay pulled the tube from the duffel bag. “Let's see what you picked.”
Emmett couldn't tell, since whatever it was was made up of several different stencils. He could make out a skirt, one of those flowy, pleated things from the fifties. “Oooh, good choice,” Bay mouthed, stuffing it back into the case. Once her hands were free, she signed, “I haven't used that one yet.”
Car lights swept by, but then the road was clear. It was a straight stretch, so they could easily see anyone coming. Only problem was, Emmett wasn't quite sure how to give warning once they did. He could holler up at her, but, given that she'd chosen a billboard, she probably couldn't get down and make a clean escape in time. “Be careful,” he warned her.
“Ha! Me?” She looked at his stricken face. “I will. Five minutes, tops. Maybe not even that.” Bay rummaged around in the bag and picked out a few colors: green, white, yellow, red, grey. She hid the rest in the bushes. “I'll toss the bag down before I come down. You bag the rest up, okay?”
Emmett nodded, then watched as she climbed up to the top. She finally had that spark again. He wished he'd brought his camera, but he settled for watching her, drinking it all in. Then he remembered that he was supposed to be her lookout, so once she was safely at the top, he tore his eyes away and watched the road. For a few minutes, anyway. It was all clear, so he stole glances at her while she worked.
She was all business when it came to her street art. By the time he glanced back up, she had already painted the green of the skirt and was taping another stencil over top of it. She filled in the skirt's polka dots and a form-fitting top with white – obviously emulating the colors of the depicted soldier's BDUs. A third stencil filled out the woman's form, which Bay painted a dull grey that stood out in stark contrast to the green background of the billboard. She also used the grey to quickly shade in places on the skirt and top, no stencils needed. This was Bay. Her style, her passion. Her pain and her healing.
He belatedly noticed a car coming from the opposite direction. “Hey!” he called, hoping it was loud enough. Bay glanced down, and he pointed up the road. She dropped – as did his heart, though it steadied as he realized that she was safely lying on the base. She hadn't had time to take down the stencil, and he held his breath as the car passed. It didn't slow, and he could only hope that they hadn't seen anything in their rearview mirror.
Bay stood back up, beaming, and gave him a thumbs up before quickly filling in a bright yellow mohawk. It was an interesting juxtaposition with the 1950s dress. The woman held her hands out. What Bay had originally intended the woman to hold, he didn't know, but now she gathered up handfuls of the baby's breath he had given her. She held them out away from the billboard and spray painted them red, then taped them to the woman's hands. She made a few dripping streaks, giving the effect of the woman handing the soldier a bloody bouquet. Bay took the white ribbon he had used for bouquet number two and tied a big bow, which she taped across the flower stems to keep them securely in place. A quick glance showed no cars coming, so she took an extra moment to carefully paint the tape white to match the bow.
As promised, she hurriedly put her stencils away and dropped the bag down. Emmett gathered up the paint cans she hadn't used and was waiting with a wide smile when she safely reached the ground. Bay looked up at her handiwork and gave him an almost shy grin. “Still a bit wallowy,” she signed 'messy', but he understood and nodded. “But I do feel better.”
“You were right. Thank you.”
Emmett gave one last look upward, taking it in. “I like it. I've missed seeing your stuff around town.”
Bay flushed. “Let's go, so I have a chance to do more in the future!”
It was a quick drive back to Bay's place. Emmett was pleased to notice that she held him a bit tighter on the return ride. He walked her back to the door – the front door, this time – and grinned as she turned her wide smile to him.
“I'm serious,” Bay said. “Thank you. I really needed that.”
Emmett nodded. “I know. Me too.” He stared into her eyes for a moment, then admitted, “I've missed hanging out. I've missed you.”
To his horror, Bay lost her smile and literally reached out to push him away. She shook her head, a look of heartbreak on her face once more. “Emmett...I can't.”
Emmett didn't let his smile falter. “I'm not asking for anything, Bay. I'm just saying...it's good to watch you work. You blossom with your art. I enjoy just being with you. I don't want anything from you. Seeing that...seeing you happy like this. That's enough. Truly.”
And it truly was. The rest would come in time. Or not. Emmett found that he didn't really care anymore, as long as she never lost that joy again. Never lost herself.
Bay flushed again, but she held his gaze this time. “Thank you.”
“See you tomorrow?” When Bay hesitated, Emmett added, “There's a new billboard being put up on Lexington. Stark white. I mean, they're begging for it!”
Bay laughed and kissed him on the cheek. “See you tomorrow.”