The next afternoon, I bought for myself a poster-sized blank canvas, together with some paints. As I lugged all my art materials to Project 13's living room. I figured she wouldn't mind me painting in her house, as long as I didn't make a mess. I took a seat and stared at the blank canvas. This must be how Project 13 feels like when she faces her laptop screen. I didn't even know why I accepted the rabbit pendent from Annabelle. Probably because it is my personal policy to never refuse gifts from women. I picked up a pencil and started to sketch a rabbit on the canvas.
“What are you drawing?” someone asked. I jumped in shock to see Project 13, standing next to me. It was only 1 pm and Project 13 was awake. She looked at the pencil sketch and cried, “A bunny? Are you drawing yourself?”
“No I'm not. It does have something to do with rabbits though. But I am not exactly sure what the finished product will look like,” I replied.
Project 13 clasped her hands together and said, “Speaking of of drawing, I've been drawing too!” She rushed over to her bedroom and returned with a piece of paper. I glanced at her drawing. “Is that a potato?” I asked.
“No it's my female character.”
I looked at the round and lumpy sketch and wondered, “Is she human?”
“Of course, silly! She is a cool teenager who saves the world,” she said, with a wide smile on her face.
“I think you should stick to writing. Why do you need to draw anyway?” I said, holding the piece of paper upside down. It still looked like a potato to me.
“My novel is a little manga inspired so I thought if I included some character sketches in my manuscript submission, the publisher would have a better chance of picturing the story in their heads.”
I looked at Project 13 and said, “Why don't I help you with it.”
“Really? You would do that?”
“Sure. I haven't drawn manga characters before but it should be fine,” I said. At least I would do a better job than her. “Just give me the characters' description.”
“Bunny, you're the best,” she beamed.
“Anyway, you are up early,” I said, glancing at the clock.
“I know, I am surprised myself too. Maybe it's because I'm finding reality more lovely lately,” she said, walking over to her laptop.
I wondered if everything was going according to plan. At least she seemed to be sleeping less. I turned back to the canvas and didn't know what to draw next.
“I need to go out for a while. We are running low on bread and cooking oil,” I said, getting up.
“See you later, Bunny.”
She was getting used to me. Soon, she won't be able to imagine life without me and that is when she will use whatever it takes to keep me by her side, even a million dollars. Only then can I finally be free. I received a message on my mobile phone. Could it be from Annabelle? Instead, it was from Ming.
He texted, Hey Ethan, the restaurant finally closed down but we saw that coming. The owner passed me your pay before leaving the country. Don't worry I won't steal it. Let's meet.
I replied, Sure, what about tomorrow afternoon at the cafe near our ex-work place.
No problem, was his reply.
The reason why I wanted to meet him soon wasn't because of my measly pay. But it was because I wanted to ask him about drawing manga characters. I used to draw comic book characters when I was younger, but they were the more American-influenced type. I have never really read manga before.
After buying the groceries I saw someone familiar lurking around the neighbourhood. Someone tall, dark and handsome. No matter where he is, he is sure to stand out. The heartlanders were giving him curious stares and I saw some school girls secretly taking pictures of him with their camera phones. I tried to ignore him by walking past him silently but Daniel called out, “I have been observing the both of you and there seems to be a problem.”
In spite of myself, I turned around and looked at him. “Problem?”
“She will never see you as a man if you don't first see her as a woman,” he said, looking pleased with himself.
“I do see her as a woman, just a weird one.”
He came to my side and whispered, “You know, beneath those messy curls and crazy attitude lies a passionate woman waiting to be loved. I don't know what you are doing but I doubt you are doing it right. Soon I'll swoop in and steal her heart away.”
Easy for him to say. He has no idea what kind of person Project 13 was. It was impossible to seduce her in the usual way. Anyway who was he to butt in?
“You and I just have different working methods,” I said, walking off. Although I wondered if Project 13 was capable of falling in love with a human. That night, while me and Project 13 were having dinner (fried rice), I popped the question, “Have you ever fallen in love before?”
“Love?” She fell silent for a moment and I was certain she was going to reply with her pet rabbit but instead she said, “Maybe when I was twelve. There was a neighbour I always played with. Although he was younger than me, I always felt like I could trust him. That was probably the closest thing to love.”
“Did you tell him?” I asked.
“No, he soon moved away and I never saw him again. He's probably a university student or something now,” she said.
“You probably could meet him after you become a famous author. He can come to your book signings.”
“Bunny, that is actually a rather romantic scenario.”
Maybe there was some truth in Daniel's words after all. No matter how non-ladylike Project 13 looks, she may be, like all women, yearning for love.