Read The Art of Appreciation Online

Authors: Autumn Markus

Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Contemporary

The Art of Appreciation (9 page)

BOOK: The Art of Appreciation
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With a deep sigh, Jason folded himself into the cab of the truck and shut the door, beeping as he drove away.

Maneuvering past the hanging door and trying to tug it back into place as she passed, Abby entered the house through the front door to find Sarah lounging in her chair and flipping through a magazine. She set it aside as Abby closed the door. Lacing her fingers over her chest, she stared. Abby shook her head and went into the kitchen for a bottle of water. Returning and dropping onto her chair, she spun the top off and took a swallow before looking at Sarah again. Sarah smiled thinly. “Spill,” she demanded.

“What?” Abby asked, raising the bottle to her lips again and sipping.

“‘Tired,’ Abby? Really? I seem to remember that you didn’t get up until noon today, and the most strenuous thing you did was get dragged around a hardware store for a few minutes.”

“I was up late last night, finishing a book. And I hauled a bratty six-year-old to her mother’s car.”

Sarah blew a raspberry. “So what? You stay up all night reading or writing grants for your museum all the time and walk the hell out of me the next day. And how about that ‘my night to cook’? When did we institute that little gem? I seem to remember that dinner lately has consisted of salad and whatever cold thing we could scrounge up because it’s so freakin’ hot outside.”

Abby shrugged.

“Trouble in paradise? ’Cause otherwise I can see no reason that you wouldn’t be hittin’ that hard and often, woman. No commitments, no drama, no baggage, just twenty-four seven lovin’.”

Abby rubbed her palms on her legs. “I don’t know. I like Jason, and he’s a great guy. Funny, smart, great kisser…but it’s not there, you know? Is there something wrong with wanting…more?”

“If you can say he’s a great kisser, he obviously doesn’t repulse you. Or are we on that ‘perfect man’ thing again?” They crossed themselves without thinking. “Enjoy what you have today, because we’re going home sooner than you think.” She thought for a minute and then giggled. “This wouldn’t have anything to do with the birthday boy, would it? He looks at you like you’re a cupcake and he’d like to take a bite.”

“Be serious,” Abby said. “I haven’t seen Matt since that night, except in passing. I barely know him. And remember, I don’t want a man at all.” She rose from her seat and headed for the kitchen. “Since I did say that I’d cook, how about some Ahi and rice with our salads?”

With the subject changed, Sarah set about deciding on a wine while Abby made dinner. They spent the evening settled into their outside chairs while they watched the sunset and discussed their jobs; Abby’s behavior with Jason was forgotten.

Or so she thought—until they were heading up the stairs to bed. Sarah turned in her doorway and leveled a glance at her friend. “Abby, seriously…don’t be hasty in writing Jason off. He’s a nice guy, way good-looking, and he’s into you. This is just a summer fling—it doesn’t have to be a luuuve connection.”

Abby looked askance; casual hookups weren’t exactly her personal style. But then again, “her style” had stuck her with Eric for two years.

Sarah seemed to read Abby’s mind, and she grinned. “Change is good, baby.”

“I thought you said ‘change sucks’?”

“Change sucks for me. Because I’m an idiot. It works for you.” Sarah looked Abby over in satisfaction. “I haven’t seen you this relaxed in years. Must be all those strenuous workouts with the stud?” She looked at Abby hopefully.

“Good night,” Abby said, waving in Sarah’s disappointed face as she closed her door.

The next day was a comedy of errors. Abby woke up late after a restless night and ended up rushing to the park to help Claire. Responding to her distraction, the kids seemed more interested in eating the tempera paint than creating masterpieces, leading to a personal panic and a call to Poison Control. To top off the day, all the anxiety upset little Michael Jacobs, and he spewed electric blue paint down Abby’s front. And she still had to face a damn bike ride with a damn guy she couldn’t figure out how to shake.

Cursing art, Jason, and whatever insane urge she’d ever had to work with children, Abby stomped up the walk, recklessly tearing the front door off its tenuous grip of the top hinge. She woke Sarah from a catnap, ordering her to make coffee. After a shower, she shimmied into Sarah’s spare pair of bike shorts and her own sports bra. Yanking a pink moisture-wicking T-shirt over her head, Abby smoothed it down and French-braided her hair so Sarah could adjust the fit of her helmet. All outfitted, Abby stood in front of the bathroom mirror and looked at herself, noticing that her eyes were wide and her cheeks flushed.

Sarah placed her folded hands on Abby’s shoulder and rested her chin on them. “Someone is nervous already. I wonder who she’s more excited to see.” There was a glint of devilish humor in Sarah’s eyes.

“Someone looks like an incredible dork with this thing on her head and is wondering whether she’s fated to die from embarrassment or exhaustion first today.” Abby shook off Sarah’s hands and headed out the door. She set off across town at a leisurely pace, determined to arrive at the studio after Jason.

After almost spilling at a traffic light when she forgot how to get her foot off the pedal, two near sideswipes by gawking tourists in cars, and a chorus of wolf-whistles from Tyler and his boys as they whooshed past her on their long boards, hair flying back and beanies pulled low, Abby glided to a stop in front of a low bungalow on a corner lot. She checked the address that Jason had given her, but even without verification, she was certain this was the right place. Each house she’d passed had its own character, but this was an abode realized in its surroundings. The Craftsman-style cottage seemed to grow right from the earth; it and the plants growing in the yard and up the lattice at the sides of the deep porch complimented each other perfectly. Different shades of green and silvery plants were layered and drew the eye toward the faded, sea-green paint and soft redwood hues of the house itself. The look was pure art.

Jason had said that he’d meet her around the side, by the street entrance to Matt’s studio, so Abby wheeled her bike in that direction, hoping he’d be waiting with a smile.

No luck, but she did hear loud music. Catching a snatch of a memorable bass line, Abby tried to identify the song. With a chuckle, she realized that she recognized it from either junior high or high school. Checking the door, she found it unlocked. She pulled it open just enough to slip through and found herself in a small foyer with a desk and a few chairs. Curious, she peeked through an inner doorway and into the studio itself.

Despite the popular conception of artists as crazy, messy people with a tendency to fly from one thing to another as inspiration struck, Abby had known enough artists to not be surprised by the clean, organized space. Tall cabinets lined two walls, and worktables were set in several spots. One corner held a host of screens and photographic lights and equipment, while another had a revolving table holding something, presumably a sculpture, covered by a cloth. Everything was lit by overhanging fixtures.

Abby’s eye stopped on the figure in the center of the room.

Matt was a picture of concentration as he circled a nearly finished sculpture. Though the two-foot terra-cotta statue was set on a low, revolving table and a stool sat nearby, he moved around the piece himself. He held a carving tool in his hand, and he flipped it between his fingers absently as he studied his work, often referring to photographs tacked on a wheeled, chest-high corkboard. He squatted, well-muscled thighs and calves flexing as he balanced on the balls of his bare feet and shaved a tiny amount of clay from a couple of spots before referring to his pictures again. He stood and hooked the stool with his foot to pull it closer. Balancing on the edge of the seat, Matt made minute adjustments to the statue’s shoulder, his own shoulder and arm muscles shifting and bunching under his worn T-shirt. Smoothing the spot he’d carved with delicate fingers, he stood again, wiping clay residue on the front of his shirt. He moved to his left, giving Abby a perfect view of his profile, and stood motionless, only his eyes moving between his work and the pictures on the corkboard. With a satisfied chuckle, he dropped the carving tool on the table. He stripped off his shirt and wiped his fingers carefully on the cloth in his hand.

Abby had managed to stand quietly while he worked, unable to tear her eyes from the graceful movement of his body and hands. His hair was clay-flecked from his habit of pushing a hand through the strands as he considered his sculpture. The analytical side of her mind admired his careful work, his economical motions. A deeper, more instinctive side simply admired the man, from the tiny frown lines on his forehead as he concentrated down his body to his single article of clothing, a pair of faded cargo shorts that rode low on narrow hips.

She must have made some sound, though it was hard to believe he could hear anything over the pounding bass line, because his head turned toward her, and he studied her as well. He traced her shape from shoulders to feet, lingering at hip and breast and hands and throat, until his eyes met hers with an intensity that sent her pulse flying. Abby could sense how those hands would feel against her skin, and her breathing became shallow, sure in that instant that he was thinking the same thing.

Matt blinked, lashes brushing his cheeks for an instant before he smiled and sent whatever was going on between them underground. “Hey.” Abby read his lips and pointed to her ears, shaking her head. Matt grinned. He crossed to a small desk and turned the volume down.

He walked back toward Abby, still holding his shirt. She forced herself to stop staring, remembering that she was there for Jason. Not willing to meet Matt’s eyes quite yet, she nodded toward the stereo that sat on a low shelf beside his desk. “Smithereens, Matt? Really?”

He rested against his stool and motioned Abby closer. “It’s my studio, my music, even if it does date me.” The song playing changed to a grunge classic, and they both laughed. “At least Jason doesn’t complain about this one,” Matt said. “Apparently Soundgarden is still acceptable, though he calls it oldies.” They both winced.

As the laugher died down, Abby found herself falling into Matt’s eyes again. He stood up, startling her. “I could use water,” he said, heading toward a small refrigerator near the desk. He looked back over his shoulder as he opened the door. “How about you?”

Though Abby’s mouth was desert-dry, she shook her head, afraid that the slight tremor in her hands would be revealed by water sloshing around in a bottle. She turned to his sculpture. “Is this the finished piece?”

Matt laughed, stopping where he was standing in the rear of the studio and opening his bottle. “Hardly. The client wants poolside statues. That’s just a mock-up.”

“Damned detailed for a mock-up. What medium for the finished sculpture?”

He shrugged. “Bambi hasn’t decided. I’m pushing for terra-cotta, like that one.”

Abby raised an eyebrow. “Bambi?”

He grinned, and she looked at the statue again.

“Marble would be traditional for this style.”

“True, but terra-cotta is easier and will stand up to the salt air around here better. Personally, I’d like to see it in granite, but I won’t suggest that. Takes too long to work.”

Abby had visions of Matt’s upper body working as he wielded hammer and chisel on stone. “What’s your time frame?”

“Three complete sculptures by mid-September.”

She spun to look at him. “Are you crazy? No one does that. You’ll kill yourself. No wonder you want the terra.”

Matt smiled and took another sip. “Right. So, what do you think?”

Walking around the model, Abby studied it from every angle. From the corner of her eye, she could see Matt watching her. The motion of his throat as he swallowed was almost as distracting as his bare chest, but Abby dragged her mind out of the gutter and back to the statue in front of her. “You’ve captured Jason well, Matt. You’re good.”

“So I’ve heard. I’m working from photographs as well as live modeling,” he said as Abby returned to the front of the statue. “The client hasn’t decided if she wants full nudes or not, so I haven’t had Jason or Zoe in nude poses yet. Some of that is guesswork.”

Abby’s gaze went immediately to the sculpture’s groin, and Matt laughed. Raising his bottle to his lips, he said, “Maybe you can tell me how far off I am.” He smiled slyly before drinking.

“Funny man. Fishing?”

“Maybe.” He put his bottle down and leaned back on one hand, scratching the back of his neck with the other before gently placing it on the cloth-covered item beside him on the worktable. His fingers moved restlessly, shifting the cloth, and Abby could see what looked like the base of a roughed-in sculpture. Matt caught her gaze and edged the cover down again. He flushed and said, “Hell. Yeah, I’m fishing.”

“You should know that a lady doesn’t kiss and tell,” Abby joked. She walked toward him.

Matt took her hand, drawing her forward until her legs were almost touching his knees. “I’ve seen the kissing,” he said. “I’m wondering about what comes afterward.” His eyes were intense as he traced the lines of her face.

BOOK: The Art of Appreciation
7.13Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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