Adeara and Hawthorne were well-known for the fact that they did not make changes.
Everything in their lives had been the same for the past ten years; even down to the furniture that they'd bought in college and hadn't been able to give up, no matter how ratty the couch/nightstand looked.
But, 2020 had taught them both a valuable lesson.
"My life needs to change."
Neither of them knew that they both were in the same bar, having the same conversation with their respective best friends, Sadie and Perkins. Sadie had only been friends with Adeara for three years, but in all of that time, she'd never known her to change even the brand of her toothpaste. Perkins had known Hawthorne for ten years, and the only thing that had changed in all of that time was the fact that he was now showing interest in changing his life.
"What more are you looking to change?" Sadie asked, looking around the nearly empty room. That was another reason that it was unlikely Adeara would change. This year had changed them all. Being cooped up for nearly a year did that to people.
That was what Sadie and Perkins didn't know. Adeara and Hawthorne had both been staring at the same walls that they had for nearly ten years, and realized that the pandemic hadn't disrupted either of their lives much. While their friends complained about lost jobs and lost time, neither of them found themselves inconvenienced in any way.
They both were quick to say what a blessing that was. Adeara had kept her job as a remote saleswoman while Hawthorne kept his job as an artist (because he could do art from anywhere and all of his friends and family (and most of the art world) agreed that he was so talented that people would use their last cents to buy his paintings. He had a healthy amount of savings stored up that weren't running out any time soon). But, they also recognized that they needed change.
"I want to get out more," Adeara said.
"I'm going to change my career."
Both Sadie and Perkins nearly choked on their beers.
"What?" they both asked.
Despite her job, Adeara was a known hermit. And, well, Hawthorne saying he wanted to change his profession was like Michelangelo wanting to put his chisel down, forever.
Adeara shrugged. "I don't have enough friends," she told Sadie. "I don't even know how I got you, to be honest, but I'm willing to make a bet that you're the last friend I've made in... What, four years?"
"Three," Sadie said, absentmindedly. She searched Adeara and saw the earnestness in her eyes. "All right," she said. "You want to make new friends?" she threw back her beer before she put the now empty bottle down on the table. "Let's start now."
"What?" Adeara asked, panicked. Sadie surveyed the bar, looking for some non-threatening people to quickly introduce Adeara to. "I didn't mean-"
Her eyes landed on two dudes having a quiet conversation. They seemed friendly enough.
"If you don't start now, you never will. Come on!" she said, pulling Adeara up.
"Okay, fine," she said, straightening out her shirt, nerves making her stomach coil tightly.
Perkins was having the same feeling, but for a very different reason.
"What do you mean, you want to change your career?" Perkins asked. "You can't!"
If somebody had told him this morning when he woke up that the responsibility would be on his shoulders to convince an internationally renowned artist to continue on the path he was obviously born for, he probably would've come up with something better than that.
"I already did," Hawthorne said, pulling out his phone from his pocket to hand to him. Perkins imagined all the while that Hawthorne had submitted his request to some higher heavenly authority that would authorize this insanity. When he saw the screen, he blanched.
"You're going to culinary school?" he asked. "You want to become a chef?"
"Your cousin's a chef," Hawthorne pointed out, pocketing his phone.
"My cousin isn't a famous painter who shouldn't be switching careers halfway through his life. And, actually, if he said he wanted to become a painter, I'd tell him the same thing that I'm telling you, because he's actually a really good chef." He shook his head. "Dude, you have a rare talent. Do you remember that one art critic, what was his name, Anthony... something or other-"
"Anthony Bridges, he called me a Renaissance man," Hawthorne said.
"He didn't just call you a Renaissance man," Perkins said, incredulous. "He said you were good enough to be part of the Renaissance. That-" He noticed two women who were walking up to them, masks donned, and while his mind might normally be on other things, he was so distracted that he immediately turned to them when they walked up to the table, keeping their respectable six feet. "Hello, I'm Perkins, and this is Hawthorne Wilson, the-"
"The painter?" the brunette one asked, her eyes wide. More like squeaked. "Oh my god, I'm a huge fan of your work!"
Perkins pointed to her like she'd made his point for him. "Thank you... Sorry, I didn't get your names."
"I'm Sadie, and the one freaking out is Adeara," she said.
"Well, come and join us," he said. "My dear talented friend is talking about switching careers."
"What?" Adeara said. "No, you can't! Your paintings-"
"-are a thing in the past," Hawthorne said. "I appreciate that you like them-"
"Like them?" Adeara asked, sitting down at the table that was six feet away. She still tried to lean forward to get her point across better. "I have six of them in my apartment-"
Sadie put her hand out in front of her, and although Perkins couldn't see the meek smile, he was sure she was wearing one. "What she means to say is she's a huge fan. Why the career switch?" Sadie asked. "If you don't mind my asking."
He shrugged. "It's just time," he said. "I've been painting for fifteen years. I don't want it to be the only thing I've done with my life."
Perkins was surprised to notice how much emotion was actually contained in people's eyes. Right now, he could see, more clearly than if she hadn't been wearing her mask, that she understood something about that. Hesitation filled her eyes in the next moment.
"Could I commission you to do something? Just one more painting?"
"Yes, you can," Perkins quickly jumped in. "Abso-"
"Perkins," Hawthorne said.
"What?" he asked, looking back at him. "It's one more painting."
"I've already said-"
"It would be something super easy," Adeara said. "It's just a portrait of my- my sister."
He saw Sadie look over at her, surprise in her eyes. Adeara looked down, meekly.
"She- um, she passed, a few years back, and I don't- I don't have a lot of pictures of her. I'll- I can even pay twice your normal fee, I just- please."
Perkins looked over at Hawthorne, surprised to see the hesitation in his eyes. Surprise melted into annoyance. "Dude," he said.
Half an hour later, Perkins, Hawthorne, and Sadie were stood outside of Adeara's apartment building, crossing their arms over their chest against the chill of the January air.
Sadie still had never been able to get used to the emptiness of the streets. Where they lived wasn't exactly a bustling metropolitan, but even with the coming of the New Year, people were still reticent to leave their homes. Sadie had actually been surprised when Adeara had texted her to ask her if she wanted to head out for a drink, celebrating. What, she hadn't known. Now, she knew that it was because her best friend wanted to change her life, even if it was just adding a few more people to it.
Sadie felt a weird pride fill her that Adeara'd managed to do it, though she had a sneaking feeling it had to do with the artist standing six feet from her. What were the odds that the Hawthorne Parks, the artist Adeara obsessively collected from, would be the one that they would walk up to?
Adeara interrupted this train of thought when she came out of the building, clutching a piece of paper in her hand.
"Sorry it took so long," she apologized, even though it had taken her less than three minutes. Impressive, considering there were three flights of stairs and an apartment door to get through. "I had to make a copy really quickly, I hope that's okay," she said, handing Hawthorne the picture.
"Completely fine," Hawthorne said, taking the picture. He studied it with an intensity that made Sadie think he was trying to get Adeara's sister to come back to life. She caught Adeara doing that sometimes. Studying the picture as if she thought, if she did it hard enough, Eliza would talk back. She never did, but Adeara never looked disappointed by the prospect, merely setting it aside.
"Can I ask why there are so little pictures?" Hawthorne asked. Sadie thought the way he spoke was strange, like he were a gentleman from the 1800s.
Adeara shrugged uncomfortably, though that could've been due to the fact that her shoulders were bunched up in an effort to get some warmth back into herself. "I- she didn't like to have her picture taken," she said. "We couldn't even sneak pictures of her for Facebook or Instagram or anything. It was like she had a sixth sense, only it was where the camera would be at all times." she smiled a little, looking down fondly, before her eyes got sad like they did whenever she talked about Eliza. She cleared her throat, looking up at Hawthorne. "Anyway, um, how much did you- I mean, the payment and everything-"
The way that Adeara talked was weird, Perkins thought. Like she hadn't done it in a long time. She seemed nice enough, just a bit... odd.
"Oh, no, it's fine," Hawthorne said. "I'll do it for free."
Perkins looked back at Hawthorne as if he'd gone insane. Maybe he had, he thought. Maybe that's all that this was. Being cooped up in his studio for nearly ten years had probably finally driven him insane. "You'll what?"
"Oh, no, I can't-"
Hawthorne waved them both off. "It's not a bother," he said. "Consider it a thank you, for allowing my last painting to have such important meaning."
Adeara looked flustered. Perkins just put his head in his hands, shaking his head.
After living through 2020, Perkins never thought he'd be able to claim that any other year would be weird.
But, there he was. Thinking that 2021 was about to be a weird year.
Six months into culinary school to become a chef, Hawthorne finished Adeara's painting.
She got the call in the middle of a sales call, so she didn't get to talk to the artist. That wasn't a problem. She'd been receiving calls from him over the past six months, asking her strange, personal questions about her sister. They ranged anywhere from her favorite record (Panic! at the Disco, because Eliza did have a vinyl collection but that was strangely her favorite) to her favorite color (purple).
Their conversations hadn't gone much further than that, and Adeara hadn't met anybody else new, though Sadie and Perkins had met for drinks every now and again. Discussing what, Adeara didn't know. She didn't want to feel like a third wheel, and so she'd stayed behind, allowing what was probably a budding romance to bloom.
So, six months later and she'd yet to complete her new year's resolution.
But, she felt hope filling her as she dressed for the occasion to get Eliza's portrait. She'd ask Hawthorne to drinks and they could finally be friends (if a person could be friends with a famous artist, that was).
Walking into Hawthorne's studio felt a bit like walking into Adeara's version of Disneyland. There were paintings scattered all around the open floor plan, the hardwood floors shining, the loft in the back looking regal and no doubt housing his bed where the genius likely slept.
"Thanks for coming over," Hawthorne said.
"Course," she told him. "How're- erm, things?"
"Culinary school's going great," Hawthorne told her. "Bit different from what I pictured it to be, but nice all the same."
Looking around at all the paintings and, by association, Hawthorne's genius, she felt a newfound sense of boldness coming on. "I know you sort of said at the bar, but why are you..." she waved her hand around at all of the paintings. "Giving all of this up?"
Emotion bled onto his face, hesitation and sadness and a strange amount of relief. He looked back at her, though the certainty she'd gotten used to seeing in his eyes when she had looked at his pictures online was absent. "I'll answer that, if you tell me why it was so important for me to paint your sister."
She looked down at the ground. "You were her favorite artist," she said, simply. "That's-that's why I have all of those paintings in my apartment. They were hers."
There was a pause between them, before he cleared his throat.
"Then, in answer to your question... Last year made me realize..." she looked up at him, raising her eyebrows as he hesitated. "When you're an artist, especially one that garners so much recognition during their time... It makes you feel immortal. That's how I felt, for a long time, like I would live forever and this is how I would do it. But last year, I realized that... wasn't the case. I looked around the studio that I had lived in for ten years, where I had achieved the fame and glory that most people sought after their entire lives... and I realized that none of it mattered.
"I was made immortal through my works, but I was not made immortal in the sense that I could see the difference that I had made in people's lives. My uncle was a caterer, and he set himself up to be the main caterer to all of the events in this small town where I grew up. My parents were often away on business so he would bring me along after school when he could to these events and parties and weddings. I saw what joy he brought to the people that ate his food, especially the weddings. Everybody loved my uncle at those weddings, and, in a way... it was like, for a moment, he was this integral part of their lives."
"You were an integral part of my life," she told him. "In the darkest days. I'd never even heard of you until I saw your paintings in my sister's apartment, after..." she cleared her throat, shaking her head. "But anyway. I looked at your paintings and it was like I was seeing a new piece of my sister, like I could learn something about her through your paintings. I was something that helped me to get through my darkest moments. If this is what'll make you happy, then you should do it, but I think... I think you're not giving yourself enough credit in how much you are a part of people's lives."
"I appreciate you telling me that story. But that's just it," he said. "That's the first time I've heard about my paintings making a real difference in somebody's life. An artist's life is a lonely life. You can get all of the fame and the glory, but at the end of the day, all you are is a person standing in a studio, surrounded by paintings. I want to be surrounded by people and joy, and seeing how I've affected their lives for the better. So, I'll become a chef, and then become the best caterer on the east coast."
She smiled slightly. "So you'll follow in your uncle's footsteps?"
"I will. Now, did you want to see the painting?"
Adeara's smile widened.
When the newspapers reported that the famous Hawthorne Wilson was retiring to take up a catering business, everyone in the art world scrambled to get as many of Wilson's painting as they could. One collector, Egeria Kirkland, thought he'd collected the last painting that Wilson had ever painted: a still life of a street. It was filled with pedestrians walking down the street, some looking down at their phones, some laughing at something their partner had said, a hot dog vendor even making an appearance. It was simply titled, Then, and the collector felt pleased at the value of such a painting.
The art world was completely unaware of the painting of a woman who was not smiling, but looking contemplatively at something off to the side. She was neither young nor old, but somewhere in between, her eyes carrying what looked to be a secret that would change everything, the purple flower pinned neatly to the lapel of her dress.
The title was known to nobody except for two people: the artist and the woman he was sharing a beer with. They were celebrating the engagement of their best friends, Perkins and Sadie, and although Perkins had been right that it had been a strange year, it was also one of the best years that any of them could remember having.
Three booths away from the table that had started it all, Adeara and Hawthorne both had the same thought, unaware that they were.
Sometimes, they thought, change can be a good thing.