In an early draft of Painting Celia, León and Celia have a long getting-to-know-you chat the evening he moves in. I had to cut it for obvious reasons—it’s way too long, too much exposition, and not very exciting! It didn’t go through all the editing the book did, so is draft quality with continuity and POV challenges. But I can still picture them on the daybed, nothing in common, no idea what’s in store.

León has finished moving into the poolhouse. He politely turned Celia down when she offered him dinner, but she looked so dejected that he’s changed his mind.


León recalled Andrew’s advice to him that morning.

“If you want her to relax,” Andrew had said, “just ask for food. She lights right up. Oh, and don’t talk about her parents. That shuts her down.”

León opened the door at Celia’s knock, accepting a bowl of chili and standing back so she could come in. He sat cross-legged on the daybed to eat, waving at her to join him.

“I don’t mean to intrude,” she said, sitting down. “I thought maybe you could use something I have on hand.” Most of the room was in darkness, only the lamp by the bed lit. She frowned. “Maybe another light.”

“It’s fine,” he said around his first mouthful of food. His eyebrows raised. “This is good!”

Her smile reached her eyes. “Thank you. I won’t push food on you, I promise. I just have a lot. It’s hard to make a single bowl of chili.”

He smiled, spoon poised. “Then you have some for the next day.”

“Yeah, but then I can’t cook until it’s gone!”

“You actually want to cook every day?” His eyebrows raised at her nod. “My mother would cook enough to last a few days, just to get a break. And that was a lot, with three kids and a husband and whatever cousins were there.”

Celia thought it sounded chaotic, but tried to be nice. “That sounds interesting. A full busy house.”

“It was chaos,” he grinned. “Sometimes a little hard to find privacy.”

Again he mentioned privacy. Celia wondered how long she should stay before extricating herself and giving him space. Maybe after another minute or two of small talk, it wouldn’t seem too early for her to go. “How’d you get those easels and things here from New York?”

“Andrew knew someone out here with extra easels. There’s always someone tired of storing them. The paintings, my parents shipped.”

“They’re in New York too?”

“Yes. My whole family is, we just stayed where we grew up. Not Mom and Dad, they moved there from Puerto Rico when they got married.”

Celia inspected the floor thoughtfully. “My parents are from San Francisco. Mom’s further north now.”

“Do you see them much?” León appreciated Andrew’s advice but hey, she’d brought up the parents herself.

“No.” As usual, she didn’t elaborate. That was probably enough talking anyway. “I’ll let you eat, you can bring the bowl back any time.”

He held out a hand as she started to rise. “Stay, would you?”

She sat again slowly, surprised.

“I’m not really that tired,” he said. “I didn’t have much stuff to move. I was just feeling a little weird, being in a new place. It’s better with someone here to talk to. If you don’t mind.”

She smiled. “I don’t mind.” She watched as he set down the now-empty bowl, having inhaled the food. It was always nice to see someone eating what she’d made, and even better when they’d enjoyed it.

He took a sip of water from his bottle, then sat up. “I’ve got beers, would you like one?”

She didn’t really, but wouldn’t turn down his overture. He got up and went to the mini-fridge, coming back with two beers, twisting off the cap before handing one to her.

“Is that fridge going to be big enough?” she asked. What else was there to talk about?

He nodded. “It’s not an apartment, I know that. It’s a temporary place for me to stay. It’s way better than Andrew’s place, believe me. And I’ll get my own place eventually. I’ll sell a few paintings. If not, I’ll wait tables.”

“Can you really support yourself as a painter? I mean, not you in particular, but people?”

“Sure, if you’re good. If you paint enough. If you get known. One big sale can set you up for a few months.” He eyed her. “You’re not planning on making a living at it, are you?”

“Not immediately.” Ha. Make a living. Her living was already made and there was nothing left to do.

“Too bad. Knowing you have to paint to eat can really get the creative juices flowing.”

“That’s what I have trouble with, actually,” she ventured. “Creativity. I can make things, I just have a hard time picking what to do, what to say. I know that’s not something that can be taught, though.”

“Of course it can be taught!” he said, surprising her. “Technique is only half the battle, the easy half. Creativity can definitely be taught. Not everyone can recognize what they’re feeling and figure out how to get it on canvas, but everyone has the ability. You just have to show some people how.”

Excitement coursed through her, and she tried to keep it inside. “That’s what I’ve been missing. I can never figure out how to draw something sad without just, I don’t know, drawing a frowny face.”

He laughed. “It’s in the colors, the energy of the brush strokes, the angles and lines and curves. I’ll show you.”

She struggled not to grin in excitement.

He cocked his head at her. “I can see you’re excited about this but trying to sit still. Why?”

She felt a little shock. She wasn’t used to being noticed, not that accurately. Her friends didn’t mention it because they knew she preferred not to draw attention to her emotions. She suddenly wondered how much they really saw.

“Well, I am excited,” she admitted. “I just don’t want to be too eager.”

“Why not?”

“I’m afraid of scaring you off, I guess. I’ve never had private instruction before. I want to be cool about it, so you don’t feel weird staying here so close.”

“And I’ve never taught before. Don’t worry too much, I’m not the easily scared type. You should probably be more afraid of me,” he grinned.

“Really, why?” she asked, her cheeks turning faintly pink.

“You really set the bar high with this place. It’s a good deal for me.” He looked around the dim room, his easels already waiting for tomorrow. “I’m going to have to teach you to paint or lose it all. And that’s not necessarily an easy thing for either of us.”

She was fascinated. He stopped to search her eyes with his, and her cheeks suddenly felt hot.

“You know,” he said, “You’re going to have to feel things. This stuffing down excitement isn’t going to fly. If you don’t know what you feel and want to tell others about it, you’ll never paint anything good.”

That did make her nervous. “Trevor tells me that sometimes. I’ve tried. But I’ll try again.”

“I might be hard on you about it. That’s the easiest way to get someone to express themselves, you know. Make them mad.”

She shifted on the seat. “Ah, great.”

He glanced at her fidgeting hands, so she stilled her fingers. “My father used to make me mad when I was starting out,” he said. “I’d told them this was what I wanted to do. They bought me supplies, paid for classes, worked so I had free time to paint. Then when I struggled with what to make, Dad would come in and provoke me until I yelled back. All so I could make a painting about the injustice of tyrannical fathers.”

“That’s… amazing.” It sounded horrible.

“Yeah. It’s part of why I moved out here, away from them. Not him making me mad, I mean, but to show that I can make it without them helping me. I mean, I was supporting myself the last ten years at least, but only just. I did end up on their couch between moves, sometimes. I need to advance my career, get bigger, make more money so I can repay some of what they did.”

“Show them it was worth it.”

He smiled. “Yeah. So here I am, already being supported by someone else. I do appreciate you offering this place. I know this isn’t a long-term thing. I’ll have to sell a canvas before I wear out my welcome.”

She looked down, thoughtful. “I don’t think anyone ever yelled at me to purposely help me out. What a funny concept.”

“Not even your parents?”

Celia felt a cold tightening inside but tried to remain casual. “Sometimes.”

He looked at her earnestly, eyes briefly scanning her shoulders. Why was he always watching like that? To catch her in a reaction?

“Did you yell back too?” he asked.

“God, no. The less I said, the better.”

He winced. “That explains a lot about you, then.”

Celia felt suddenly ashamed. Why had she told him that?

He pursed his lips, then looked away. “So, did you mean it when you said I could bring women in here?”

The abrupt change of topic took her off guard, but she was grateful. “Yes, of course. I mean, if you think you’ll meet someone who thinks a guy living in a pool house is good bet.”

He met her eyes again, amused. “Maybe not a good bet, but a good time.”

Her cheeks were hot again.

If he was trying to look serious, he was failing. “I’m just trying to make sure we’re on the same page. There are things we’ll have to iron out. Like, do I knock if I want to go in the house in the middle of the night, or only knock during the day when you’re up?”

“Well, I already gave you the door code. Honestly, I can’t think of a time I’d need you to knock.”

“What if you have a guy over?”

“That doesn’t really happen, I was teasing Andrew.”

“Still.”

“Okay, if I want you to knock… didn’t people used to leave a tie on the doorknob or something? I could hang a scarf through the handle, I guess.”

“That old standby. Well, people use it because it works. I’ll hang a towel up if I’m painting or find a lady with low standards. It’ll probably just be painting though. And if you do actually need something, you can still knock. It’s your house.”

“I’ll respect your towel,” she said. She returned his little smile, but his eyes on her just made her feel clumsy. She looked at the celiing instead, at the aqua lights dancing on the ceiling, reflecting through the water outside. “Oh, the lights! I usually leave them on in case I want to swim at night. Do they bother you?”

“I sort of like it. The patterns are relaxing. Don’t worry about that.” He leaned towards her, and she couldn’t lean away without being rude. “Is swimming at night a thing out here?” he asked. “Kelsey mentioned it too, the other night.”

“I don’t know if it’s a thing, but night can be much more comfortable than a hot day. Swimming at night is relaxing, a nice way to cool off before bed.”

“And no sunscreen.”

“That too.” She took a deep breath. “I sometimes float around at night before bed. Will it bother you? I don’t make much noise.”

“Of course not. It’s your home, do what you want. If late-night splashing keeps me up, maybe we can talk about it again, but I doubt I’ll even notice.”

Her beer empty, Celia stood slowly, then picked up the empty bowl. “I guess that’s good set of rules for day one. I promise not to try to feed you too often. But I do usually have plenty.”

“I may take you up on it. We’ll just see how it goes.” He smiled at her from his seat on the cot.

“I’m sure we will. See you around, León.”

“See you.”