A Moonlit Secret
Originally written: February 6th, 2019
The backstory for this piece is that my class had just read Talented Mr. Ripley, and our teacher wanted us to play with two things: using free indirect discourse, and writing something where one character knows a secret the other does not.
The characters in this are from one of my larger projects, but you don’t need to know any backstory to follow along.
Nadiya never aimed to hurt anyone, only to have fun conversation. Fun was her forte, her branding, and so every morning followed the same pattern.
“You hear how Leo hurt his wrist the other day?”
Mansurah sighed, and didn’t bother to turn her way. “What about it?”
“It was by hula-hooping.” The lack of attention didn’t stop Nadiya from grinning. “Fatima told me. Apparently he’s been taking classes.”
“And let me guess, she heard it from Karina?”
The chair scrapped against the floor as Mansurah sat down. She nursed a fresh cup of coffee in her hands, and the look she shot Nadiya said ‘It’s way too early for this.’
“Come on, you have to admit it’s pretty interesting. Leo doesn’t seem the type.”
“Yeah yeah,” Mansurah said, “you find everything interesting.” She paused then, taking a sip of her coffee before continuing, “I think Emilio’s hiding something from me.”
Oh, boy. Nadiya kept her face pleasantly neutral. “Why do you say that?”
“He’s been acting weirder than usual. Sneaky bastard—he blasts his stuff everywhere, my stuff everywhere, yet he thinks he gets to keep secrets all of a sudden? No way.”
The two had had some sort of rivalry going on for as long as Nadiya had known them. It was typically no major concern of hers, but with the information she now held, keeping her face blank in response to Mansurah’s words was difficult. What she knew could provide months-worth of burn fuel, but Emilio had sworn her to secrecy.
“I doubt it’s anything important. Maybe he got an embarrassing tattoo?”
Mansurah looked incredulous at the thought. “He doesn’t understand the meaning of the word ‘embarrassing.’ If he did, he wouldn’t have pulled that stunt in the office yesterday. Did I tell you about that?”
She had. Nadiya remembered the rant clearly, but she shook her head ‘no’ anyway. Given her cue, Mansurah began a dramatic retelling of some slight Emilio had caused her. Despite seeming half-awake moments before, she came alive at the chance to shit talk Emilio. It made pretending to know nothing easier, and Nadiya found that as much as she enjoyed fun conversations, she enjoyed watching Mansurah’s overactive imagination at work more.
“Anyway, I’m telling you. He’s hiding something.” Story time was over, and it was back to grumbling between sips of coffee.
Nadiya hummed in lieu of reply, working hard not to grin. Mansurah had been living with her long enough now that she could easily decipher what wasn’t being said simply by how many teeth Nadiya showed when smiling. It was lovely, her attention to detail. It would make her a wonderful artist.
Of course, the question was would it make her as wonderful an artist as Emilio was? The man had a surprising amount of skill, but never attached his name to anything. It had been pure chance that Nadiya returned to her classroom late at night to retrieve something and found him there, paint in his braid and dyeing his freckles.
He’d flustered instantly, and before she could even say anything, he’d rushed up to her and said you can’t tell anyone. Especially, he’d added, not Mansurah.
Oh but how she wanted to tell her. It would be so amusing. She’d never been more than a spectator in this rivalry. To have some actual influence on it was nothing short of a power trip. Mansurah spoke of him so often that at this point, even if Nadiya hadn’t discovered his secret, it felt as though she knew him just as well.
The image that Mansurah projected of him was different from what she’d seen, however. By all accounts, save for when he apparently moonlighted as one of the town’s best anonymous artists, Emilio wasn’t exactly known for his shame. He wore his heart on his sleeve so brightly it was blinding. Disgusting—at least according to Mansurah.
Which is why it had floored Nadiya later that night when she realized she hadn’t learned just one of Emilio’s secrets, but two. As she brushed her teeth Mansurah had walked by, and the angle, the lighting—it made Nadiya whip around in shock so fast that she choked herself with her toothbrush. Mansurah had rushed over and smacked her back a few times before shoving a washcloth into her face in a silent order to clean up.
Nadiya did, and apologized for scaring her. She laughed, made sure to smile in a way that said ‘just being stupid old me,’ and only dropped it once Mansurah left. Alone in the bathroom, Nadiya turned towards the mirror, looking at her reflection bring its hand up to cover its mouth. The smile it hid was better off hidden not only from Mansurah, but from herself as well.
Because it was the smile that said ‘I found out a really big secret, and it’s taking all my physical and mental strength not to blurt it out right now.’
So, she thought, Emilio Gallo wasn’t only the town’s best anonymous artist. He was also a man who found Mansurah a very, very inspiring muse.
“I’m going to find out what he’s hiding, I swear.”
Nadiya sipped her tea, and chuckled at Mansurah’s energy. “I have no doubt you will.”