I stared harder at the picture, uncomfortable with the odd sense of familiarity I felt. Looking at the woman's graceful yet agonized form, I felt as though I should recognize her.
Bothered by my increasing disquiet, I stood up and walked closer. This was not your typical campus painting of daffodils and laughing students. I had seen this particular kind of art several times before. I leaned in to try to see the details in the poor lighting. And there it was- the tiny patterns on the woman's dress composed of dozens of Xs.
I didn't notice any numbers or words in this picture, though, so I didn't understand what its intent was. It was my understanding that X's paintings held the clues to the location of the club, Compulsion. But this picture seemed to have nothing to do with that.
This was a painting created for some other purpose.
"So what do you think?"
I looked over my shoulder to find Maxx standing behind me. I turned back to the picture, not bothering to answer him. The truth was, my outburst in the group had left me feeling raw and vulnerable, and seeing him so soon after making a gigantic ass of myself was embarrassing.
As he came up beside me, the sleeves of our jackets brushed against each other. Maxx inclined his head toward the painting and asked me again, "Well, what do you think of it?"
I shrugged, not really in the mood for small talk. My pounding head couldn't handle a go-around with the group Romeo. I started to walk away from him when he grabbed hold of my arm.
"Wait, Aubrey. Please." It was that word that did it. Please. It was uttered softly and sincerely. And it held me as fast and surely as if he had put his arms around me.