Read The Art of Appreciation Online

Authors: Autumn Markus

Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Contemporary

The Art of Appreciation (7 page)

BOOK: The Art of Appreciation
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He dragged his attention back to the task at hand. “Okay, this all looks fine, and I think you’re a good fit physically. The last thing I want to go over is the time commitment involved.”
Time speech #1
, Matt thought. “Out of respect for the real lives of my models, I try to keep regular hours, but there might be times it’s not possible. And the hours themselves will change, since sometimes I’ll need you in the studio physically, and other times I’ll be working from photographs and won’t need you at all for irregular stretches of time. That can be hard on personal relationships. And posing with Zoe…” He nodded toward a particularly provocative shot he’d taken. “Will that be an issue?”

Jason studied the picture. “Maybe?”

Matt smiled. An opening. “What’s her name?”

“Abby.” Jason scratched the back of his head and lowered his voice confidentially. “She’s a bit older than I am, but whatever. And she did say she’d go out to lunch when I called this morning, so it must not bother her either. Can these things work out, do you think?”

“I’m the last person you should ask about that.”
Don’t count on it, kid
, Matt thought, leaning back in his chair and crossing his arms across his chest. “I’d have to be cruising nursing homes to have a real opinion on the topic.”

“Right,” Jason scoffed. “What are you, about thirty or so? Abby’s not that much older than I am.”

Matt rose from his chair and extended his hand. “You’re hired, if only because you seriously misjudge my age.”

Jason rose, too, and shook Matt’s hand.

“Be here tomorrow for some photos, and we’ll go from there. Don’t have too much fun on your lunch date. I need you here and whole tomorrow.”

“It’s lunch, dude. Can’t get up to much trouble there.”

You’d be surprised what can happen at lunch
, Matt thought, but he kept his mouth shut. No need to give Jason any ideas. After setting a time to meet the next day, Jason headed out.

Before the door was completely closed, Matt was on the phone to Claire. Looking at Jason had his brain working; ideas for poses that would be classical yet fresh were already forming. After going through the receptionist at the gallery, Matt heard Claire’s greeting.

“So, do we have a deal with Bambi and the corpse?” he asked.

Claire laughed. “What happened to ‘Hello, beautiful woman that I want to run away with’?”

“Self-preservation kicked in. Charles would beat me down, and I wouldn’t want to mess up his pretty face.” They both laughed and then got down to business. “Deal?”

“Of course, sweetness. I always come through for you.” Claire named a figure for six sculptures that left Matt gasping.

“Holy shit. That’ll set me up for a while.” Matt thumped down on a chair. “I don’t even know what to say.”

“Don’t thank me yet. There’s a catch. They want to display at least three of the six at their annual shindig in mid-September.”

“There’s no way.” His wonder deflated.

“Matt. Think rationally. They aren’t looking for high art here, and you know Bambis are never big on originality. We’re talking a few twists on run-of-the-mill Grecian-ish statues. And you only have to get half out to them in almost three months. You have until the end of the year with the rest.” She paused. “What else were you going to do this summer?”

“Well, I wasn’t planning on spending sixteen hour days in the studio, that’s for damned sure.” Matt rubbed his forehead with his fingertips. Six months of hell in exchange for at least three years of freedom to do whatever he wanted. Matt took a deep breath and let it gush out. “Okay. I’ll try. I must be insane.”

“Just very smart, lovey. These people may be idiots, but the geezer has influence with friends who
do
know something about real art
and
have money to burn. You’ve done well so far, but this is something else entirely.” Matt agreed and sat silently for a moment.

Claire started again on a less serious note. “One night you’re taking off is the twenty-fifth. Charles will be in town, and we’re planning a party at the Poet that night to celebrate the birth of our favorite artist and meal ticket.” Claire acted as if the commission Matt paid her for selling his sculptures kept them afloat, but Charles’s status as trust fund baby made Matt’s contribution to their budget superfluous. “Any prospects for a party companion?”

Matt thought about Pret—
Abby
—and smiled. “Maybe. I don’t want to jinx anything, but…maybe.”

“Wonderful! Make sure you bring her along so we can grill her unmercifully and embarrass you to death.”

Getting three sculptures out quickly was no joke, however, and Matt ended up spending just about every waking minute in the studio, taking photographs of the models and then starting the process of sculpting the first figure in clay. The times he stole away to try to catch Abby at home, no one had been there. Claire was thrilled to hear he’d met her newest “find”—she’d shanghaied Abby into helping with the summer art studio she sponsored for local kids—and gave her blessing to his pursuit, but it went nowhere fast. He did have the joy of hearing all about how much fun Abby was having with Jason on her off hours, though, from the man himself. It chapped his ass that he could be losing his chance with her by default.

By the night of the party, he’d resigned himself to listening to Claire heckle him all night about his lack of a date. After a shower, he put on his favorite jeans and hesitated over a shirt, deciding on a chambray button-down instead of his usual T-shirt, in honor of the occasion. As he strapped on his watch, he reminded himself to not drink too much. Jason was in Indiana for a few days for a race, and that left him working alone with Zoe. He had to be on his toes for that, because if she wasn’t bitchy she’d be flirty, and Matt didn’t want to deal with either state while he had a hangover.

Running his hands through his hair a couple of times, he hollered for Chris. His cousin and his single duffle bag of clothes had taken up residence in the spare bedroom the day Matt made his sculpture sale. Matt didn’t mind having him around; he was clean and quiet and someone to talk to at the end of the day.

Chris came out of his room, tugging on a T-shirt and slipping on his sandals. Loose cargo shorts hung easily on his hips, and Matt had a moment of regret that Bambi hadn’t liked Chris’s form, because it was a challenge and a pleasure to try to capture the lean muscle he carried.

“The Poet and the Patriot, right?” he asked, and Matt nodded. “Thank God. No pool, but no headache from screaming over music, either.”

“There’s darts, if Claire got there early enough to get a board. Good beer and good music, too.”

“Oh joy. Drunken people throwing sharp objects,” Chris joked, shaking his blond waves away from his face. “Charlie gonna be there?”

“Yep.” Matt smiled crookedly, knowing why Chris asked. Charles Eastman’s easygoing approach to spending money was legendary in Santa Cruz, and shopkeepers rubbed their hands gleefully when he was in town.

“Free drinks, then. Excellent.” Chris slapped Matt on the shoulder and grinned. “Happy birthday, cuz.”

The Poet was pleasantly busy for a Sunday night: full, but not the crowded mess it became on weekends when the university was in full swing. Claire greeted Matt with a kiss when he and Chris stepped into the darts room. Matt waved at several friends who lounged around the tables. Charles grinned broadly, shrugging before he rose to shake Matt’s hand.

“How much did this private party room run you, Charlie?” Matt asked, shaking his head.

“Happy birthday, Matt,” was his friend’s only reply, given with an arched eyebrow as he swept his hair back from his forehead and sat down next to Claire. He pulled one of her legs across his lap and massaged her knee.

Drinks flowed freely as the party guests mingled and chatted, taking turns at the six dartboards and having a great time. Matt took a certain amount of ribbing about his advanced age, of course, but it was all in fun. He eventually had to make a bathroom run and was surprised at how crowded the front section of the bar had become in the hours since he and Chris had arrived. Envious glances at the roped-off dart room made him feel vaguely guilty as he stepped into the men’s room…but not really. He could accept a birthday present with the best of anyone.

Stepping back into the short hallway outside the restrooms, Matt glanced at the back of the woman exiting the ladies room and smiled. He let the door close behind him and moved behind her until he could grasp her forearms from behind. “Hi there, Abby,” he murmured in her ear. “Is it safe to let go of your arms yet? I might not be able to move fast enough this time.”

Abby relaxed and twisted her torso to smile back at Matt. “Who told you my name? And if you’d stop sneaking up behind me, you wouldn’t have to worry about the boys, you know.”

“True.” He ran his hands down her forearms until he had to reluctantly let go when she turned to face him. She leaned against the wall.

Matt studied her large, dark-lashed eyes and full lips, imprinting the soft oval of her face on his mind. He was anticipating forming it in the covered clay figure at the back of his studio. “You’re a hard lady to get hold of, Miss Abby. Ask a guy for coffee, and then you’re never home.”

Abby looked uncomfortable. “Well, I saved some coffee for you for a while, but when I didn’t hear from you, I started giving it to Jason.” She bumped the heel of one shoe against the wall. “We’ve been seeing a lot of each other. When you let him out of your dungeon, that is.”

Matt chuckled. “I’m found out too, I guess.” He wiggled his fingers in the air. “I play with clay for a living. How do you like that?”

Abby’s lips twisted into a smile. “That’s strangely fitting. And it makes this even harder to say.” She combed her fingers through the side of her hair. “Listen, Matt. I’ll feel really stupid if I’m misreading things, but I think there’s some interest here?” He nodded. “Um…I don’t know if I’m saying this right. I don’t see more than one person at a time. Maybe you do, but I don’t. Too confusing.”

“I don’t either. There’s nothing going on between me and Zoe other than her modeling for me every once in a while.” Matt reached out and snagged one of her hands. “See just me.”

Looking down at their joined hands, Abby shook her head before gently disengaging her fingers. “You are the devil. Way too tempting,” she said softly, making him smile. “It’s not fair to Jason. He’s not even here to—I need to talk to—”

Matt pushed away from the wall and took her hand again. “Nothing has to be decided tonight. Let’s just have fun. It’s my birthday today, and I’d like you to come to my party. Beer, darts…” he coaxed, drawing her into the main room.

When she saw that they were headed toward the cordoned-off darts room, she laughed. “So you’re the one causing all the congestion in here. You’re not very popular tonight.”

He shrugged. “Coming with me?”

Abby hung back, but Matt could see anticipation growing in her eyes. “I have Sarah with me. She only came here because she wanted a drink, and I refused to visit the meat market again.”

“Bring her along. My friends are nice, and they don’t bite. Much.” Matt tugged Abby’s hand gently, smiling at her. “I want you to. I promise, no cha-cha, cher,” he drawled in his best Cajun accent.

Abby groaned and dropped her head back, laughing. “Accents! Now you do accents! Totally unfair.” She shuffled nearer, so close that Matt caught a whiff of her perfume. For an instant, he toyed with the idea of drawing her that crucial inch toward him.

Instead, he started walking backward, still holding her hand and towing her along, toward the tables where the rest of his party sat. He let Abby catch up with him. When they were toe-to-toe, he brushed her hair back from her face. “I have no shame when it comes to using whatever I’ve got to get you to change your mind.” Abby caught her breath as Matt’s cheek brushed hers, and he smiled. “Let’s find your friend.”

Abby changed her grip, towing Matt toward a table where Sarah sat, looking bored. She was game to join the party, especially when she recognized some people from her bike group. Claire rose to pull Abby into a hug, and the women were off, discussing kids from the program and a planned show of their work.

Matt reclined in his chair, smiling. Living in the same town for years had its advantages, and having many friendships wasn’t the least of them. His eye lingered on the honey head leaning close to the ash. Being a destination town had its advantages too.

When his foot was nudged under the table, he glanced over at Charles, who was grinning. “Birthday taken an upswing?”

“Perhaps.” Matt grinned back.

“Has Cupid perhaps…?” Charles mimed shooting a bow.

Matt snorted. “Hardly.” He finished his drink and wiped his mouth with a napkin. “What is it with you and C? Trying to get rid of your third wheel?”

Charles leaned back in his chair. “Just want you to have the tiniest bit of the bliss I feel every day. And we need a fourth for tennis.”

“That’s deep.” Matt laughed and studied the Claire’s profile. “You guys are practically twins. Creepy matchmaker twins. I want no part of you.”

BOOK: The Art of Appreciation
10.25Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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