Paint by Numbers Excerpt

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Paint by Numbers Excerpt:

Kassandra sighed. Another math problem, and not a particularly pretty one at all, it reflected browns and grays. She glanced at the blank canvas on her easel with longing. Not now, her mother had said; finish the assignment and then you can paint.

A twinge of pain stabbed between her eyebrows. Planting her elbows on each side of the homework paper, she massaged her temples, making a teepee over the equation. A Laplace transform stared back at her. So tedious. Why was she doing differential equations when all her friends were struggling with calculus?

You have a gift, her mother's cold voice replied in her mind. Her mother acted so tense about mathematics all the time. Kassie wondered why--a full math scholarship to the local university was all but assured. Mom's aura used to be a soothing blue, but now a bright red flamed around her that seared into Kassie's eyes.

Kassie's gaze slid back to the canvas waiting in the corner of her bedroom near the double windows. Her paintings hung on every inch of wall space, they were piled on the floor and stacked on her dresser--only her twin bed and desk remained clear. Okay, so maybe she was a bit obsessed. But the potential of that white space called to her. It was her headache release. The only time the pain stopped was when she surrendered to the colors and painted.

With effort, she refocused on the math problem. She grabbed a pencil and wrote all the steps to the answer. Heaven forbid if she skipped steps. She gasped with mock horror. How would Mom ever know if she really did the work and didn't just Google it?

Her mood improved as she worked through the calculations. The problem became prettier as she moved through it. There were lots of twos. Twos were aquamarine, and the solution promised more color. Taking a break, Kassie stared absently at the easel. She wouldn't have time to paint tonight. Then a compromise jumped into her mind. Perhaps she could do both.

Excited by the idea, Kassie went to her computer and activated her color software. She placed a clean palette under the dispenser. The dispenser was made of a ring of thin metal tubes with rubber nipples on the ends. Each tube contained a specific color of paint, and, when guided by the computer, the nipple spat out a measured portion onto the palette.

The dispenser had been a gift from her father when his laboratory had updated to the latest model. He needed the newest equipment, since he was a well-known fertility expert with an unprecedented ninety percent of conception rate. A surge of pride warmed her chest. Without his skills with in vitro fertilization, she wouldn't have been born. And he was famous enough to have distracters. Other fertility doctors claimed his work was immoral, yet her dad has never been investigated. Funny how jealousy and back-stabbing wasn't confined to high school.

Despite her mother's chagrin, Kassie had been thrilled over the dispenser. Her father knew how she hated to mix colors with a paintbrush, how hard it was to precisely match them. Once programmed, the dispenser consistently solved this problem, mixing the exact colors she needed for her paintings.

She punched the math equation into the computer. The dispenser spun and doled out quarter-sized gobs of paint. When the palette was full, Kassie painted the math problem on her canvas. Back and forth from canvas to computer, Kassie worked on the Laplace transform, painting the colors of the numbers and symbols. Colors only she could see.

Kassie was so engrossed in her painting that she didn't hear her bedroom door open.

"Kassandra Reed," her mother said. Her voice was as tight as last year's fashions. "Is your homework done?"

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