Pixels and Paint
For Emma Trinket, life is a delicate balancing act between loving her family and pursuing interests they don’t understand. When the opportunity arises to finally impress them with her job as a computer programmer, she jumps at it even if it means immersing herself in a world she’s despised since childhood.
Unfortunately the one man who could crush her prospects is also the best person to help her navigate the lessons she needs to be a success.
Artistic expression is both Carter Anderson’s safe space and his livelihood, but his fading inspiration has him worried about his place in life. His encounters with Emma spark a passion to create that he hasn’t felt in years and he isn’t ready to let go of his new muse even if she’s threatening the sanctity of his art world with her digital technologies.
As each tries to gain an advantage from the other, Emma and Carter discover they actually might be more compatible than they thought. Will that be enough to unify their opposing missions or will the real differences between pixels and paint tear them apart?
Read an Excerpt
A bag of peanut butter M&M's is not worth the agony I will endure over the next hour as the sights before me burn through the backs of my eyes and imprint themselves in my brain. There is little doubt what my nightmares for the next few nights will consist of.
I should have known I was in for torture when the bag my sister used to bribe me into coming tonight was the reclosable party size. She’d better be prepared to support me when I tell our mother that I am counting this as next month’s Family Artistic Culture Outing, even though it’s only been two weeks since they made me sit through a presentation of Shakespeare’s Cymbeline.
That apparently wasn’t enough of a mind bender because tonight—a mere fortnight later, as the Bard would say—I’m standing here looking at the most unexplainable painting.
The Silent Wanderer by Richie Reynolds according to the plaque on the wall and a work of incomparable genius according to my twin sister.
All I see is a cat in a dancing costume.
It’s a little hard to say because the cat is not actually dancing. It is sitting completely still, staring off into space as cats so often do. Unlike a normal cat, however, this one seems to be wearing a swirly dancing costume like the Romani wear in video games.
Maybe it’s dreaming of wearing one? While the cat itself is a rather lifelike rendering, the dress is, well, not.
I squint, blink, turn my head to the side, step back, step closer, and still I can’t find whatever is inspiring the awe of the people around me. Should I try standing on my head? If I lean enough to have a perpendicular view of the painting, will it make sense?
Experience tells me no. It also tells me the other patrons wouldn’t appreciate such an action.
Although, if what they appreciate is a decent painting of a tabby marred by swirling smears of pink and yellow that vaguely resemble a skirt and cropped top, my idea of appropriate might be off the mark.
“What is that?” My twin sister’s voice is a low hiss near my ear.
I blink. Is it possible she thinks the painting is as weird as I do? Have I completely misread her earlier enthusiasm? If she brought me here so we could bond over not understanding the appeal of something in the art world, I’ll send her a box of those expensive bonbons she treats herself with on special occasions.
“I think it’s a cat.” I grin at the person who looks as different from me as two sisters can look despite entering the world a mere seven minutes apart.
Her gray-green eyes blink at me slowly from beneath a frame of animated-princess-worthy blonde waves. “Of course it’s a cat. I wasn’t referring to the painting.” She points at my arm before widening her eyes in horror once more. “What is that?”
I hold up my arm and inspect the sleeve of the silky, clingy, uncomfortable blouse she considers ideal for events such as this one. Not a stain or a stray thread in sight. That shouldn’t be a point of pride for a twenty-seven-year-old woman with a job and her own apartment, but life’s full of little quirks like that. “It’s a blouse? At least that’s what you labeled it in the Look Book.”
Every year, my sister, my mom, and my aunt gift me a styling adjustment for my birthday. They come in, clean out my closet, add a few trendy pieces or accessories, and leave behind a binder containing details for every ensemble, from shirt to shoes to makeup suggestions to coordinating earrings. All of it organized into neat, tabbed sections.
I drop my arm and look down at the pants that looked like they were going to be exceptionally comfortable but have enough fabric flowing down from the wide, fitted waistband to make two normal pairs of pants, a matching vest, and a pair of socks.
“This was behind the Evening Out tab,” I say.
She rolls her eyes. “I know that, silly. I was the one who put it there. What I did not do was put that watch on the approved accessories list.”
My gaze drops back to my wrist where, yes, my smart watch is fully visible beneath the cuff of the sleeve. I tilt my arm and the blank surface lights up with a generic black and silver analog clock. “But I changed the band and the face.”
According to the dimly glowing watch, I’ve been in this art gallery for eight minutes and thirty seconds. I’m already losing my mind and desperate to leave. This may be a new record.
Amy frowns. “You don’t always use the black leather band?”
As what I normally attach to my watch is a comfortable, stretchy green nylon, I decide not to answer.
She moves on with a quick shake of her head. “Never mind. We placed an appropriate bracelet watch in your jewelry drawer.”
I frown. “That watch face is perhaps a quarter the size of this one and doesn’t light up.”
“Which is why it’s appropriate for formal events.”
“This isn’t formal.” I jut out my leg and the extra fabric drapes down. So far, I’ve only come close to tripping over the extra fabric twice, which I consider an achievement. “If it was, you’d owe me far more than a bag of M&M’s.”
She rolls her eyes and crosses her arms over the fitted top of her sleek, burgundy dress. “Semi-formal, elegant, chic, it doesn’t matter. I know I didn’t include that watch for anything that wasn’t work, lounging, or casual wear.”
“Do you badger your other customers when they veer away from your prescribed plan?”
My mom and aunt own a popular fashion boutique in Benson, the same affluent Atlanta suburb the art gallery I am currently standing in caters to. My sister joined their team after design school and expanded their offerings to include styling services for everything from an event to a closet overhaul with an outfit suggestion binder.
It’s popular and expensive and honestly, they should probably give me credit for the idea. Mom and Amy have been doing some variation of this service since I could put on my own pants.
Amy gives one of those delicate, tinkly laughs that don’t draw attention from outside her conversational circle and shakes her head, sending her blond waves dancing around her shoulders. “Those customers actually pay for our services and cherish the advice and guidelines we give. You, my ungrateful twin, don’t seem to appreciate the value of your annual Look Book refresh.”
That’s where she’s wrong. I greatly appreciate the Look Book because it means every time I see my family, I can be sure my outfit won’t be one that leads to a fight at the dinner table.
If they saw what I wear when they aren’t around and how my straight brown hair is normally piled into a sloppy bun, they’d disown me.