“No, that one’s no good,” Jack said, looking over Beth’s shoulder as she paged through another of his sketch books.
She looked up, over her shoulder at him, frowning. “What’s wrong with it?”
“Beth, it’s in crayon. I can’t—”
“You do some of your best work in crayon,” Charlotte said from her spot on the floor, watching TV.
“Shut up about that, already!”
“No,” Jack said, crossing his arms. “That one is not going in my portfolio.”
Beth turned another page, then another.
“Oh, this is cute!”
“No! I drew that for Ellie. It’s hers.”
“You just don’t want to show it because it’s pink,” Beth accused.
Jack sighed. They’d been at it the better part of the morning, going through stacks of Jack’s old sketchbooks, looking for pieces to add to his portfolio for next month’s exhibit. So far, they’d managed to find three, maybe a fourth picture that Jack felt was representative of his progress.
“Some of this stuff is really good, Jack.”
“It’s doodles. I wasn’t even trying half the time.”
“I know. Your stuff is amazing when you put your mind to it. Like, here… Look at this one.”
She’d flipped to a colored pencil rough along one corner of the page, Ellie playing in the yard.
“She just got that doll, wouldn’t put it down,” Jack said, pointing to the sketched bundle in sketch-Ellie’s arms.
Beth tore it out of the notebook.
“It’s going in.”
“Jack, it is good enough.”
He sighed, again. “Fine.”
Beth set the sketchbook aside, slid one out from close to the bottom of the stack.
“Hey, we’re looking for older stuff,” Jack reminded her. “That one’s from…” he squinted at the date in the corner. His mother had suggested he put dates on them, when she’d had to buy him his second batch of sketchbooks, back in first grade.
“Last summer,” Beth said, opening the cover.
On the first page was an elongated sketch of the house next door, the “For Sale” sign topped with the “Sold” placard. A line of ghosts were trooping out the door, ghostly bags-on-sticks over their shoulders.
Beth laughed. “That is SO going in!”
“Beth, no, that’s a doodle. It’s not serious enough for—”
She tore it out, pausing as she caught sight of what was on the other side of the page.
It was done in charcoal, a contrast of sharp, bold lines and carefully smudged and shaded areas. It depicted Beth, a foot up on one of the boxes, tying her shoe.
“I remember that!” Beth breathed. “So that’s why your fingers were all black! Why didn’t you show me this?”
“It was one of my first tries with charcoal,” Jack said. “Look, I got fingerprints all over it. And Charlotte doesn’t like when I draw her without her knowing. I didn’t know how you’d react to it so….” He shrugged.
“Your mom told me about the other picture you drew of me.”
“Other…?” Then Jack remembered. The notebook. He swallowed.
“I only saw it in your dream, Jack. Can I see the real thing?”
Jack got up, went up to his room, dug it out of the bottom of one of his drawers. He’d found an old picture frame, and had placed the drawing in there for safekeeping.
Beth’s eyes grew wide as she looked at it, then she blinked, rapidly, wiping at her eyes.
“What?” Jack asked. “I knew you’d hate it, that’s why I didn’t—” He reached for the picture.
Beth snatched it away from his fingers.
“She didn’t say it was this good,” she said, with a sniffle. “And, I’m sorry, Jack, but it looks much better than you give yourself credit for.”
Jack reached for it again, but she turned, placing the picture frame atop the pile of other pages.
“Beth, no! That picture isn’t—”
“Jack, it’s too good not to go.”
“It’s too good,” she repeated. “You give me one good reason why it can’t go in with the rest.” She crossed her arms.
Jack sucked in a few deep breaths, his gaze going between Beth and the picture frame.
“I need to keep that picture safe, in case you Disappear again.”
Jack reached over, picked up the picture frame. Beth put her hand atop it, holding it down.
“I want people to see what you’re capable of, Jack.”
“Didn’t you hear me, Beth? I need—”
“If you’re worried about forgetting what I look like, just draw another picture of me.”
He blinked. “I can’t do—”
“You did two just fine, and I just gave you permission to make more. Draw me as much as you want, whenever you want, but you have to let people see that other picture.”
“That’s just…. weird, Beth.”
“And skulking around, drawing her without her knowing isn’t?” Charlotte asked from across the room.
“You stay out of this!” Jack said.
“So, come on, Jack. I want you to do my portrait. Properly, this time.”
“I can’t just—”
“You won’t make it as an artist if you turn down commissions,” Beth said. “Come on.” She sat up straight, assuming a portrait-like pose.
“You’re serious about this?”
“Jack, I have never been more serious.”
“I’ve never done a portrait before.”
Beth sighed. “How hard can it be? You’ve done still life. A portrait is just like that, but… um… with a person.”
“Yeah, just think of her as a big bowl of fruit,” Charlotte snickered.