Friday, April 17, 2015
Release Date: March 23, 2015
She sighed and grumbled and got out of the car. He followed her to the steps at the entrance, skirting a green metal sculpture by Robert Murray, and they made their way inside. The hush and calm of the museum atmosphere settled around him like a hug as he paid their admission and accepted a gallery guide from the attendant.
“You wanted to see the Bellows pieces,” Mel said as she unfolded the guide, obviously determined to continue navigating for him. “They’re upstairs in Gallery G.”
“That’s not all I want to see,” he warned her as she trudged up the broad steps, passing a large and aggressive Lichtenstein. “There’s a Winslow Homer here and a Chihuily.”
“It’s a really nice piece. If you’re interested, there’s lots of Chihuily at the Franklin Park Conservatory,” Mel added and then frowned at some fuzzy photographs at the top of the stairs.
“You like Chihuily?”
“You don’t have to sound so surprised.”
“I’m not surprised. It’s just not what I expected.”
“The unexpected is usually surprising.” Mel seemed irritated with him again. “I appreciate art.”
Now that was a pleasant personal detail. “What’s your favorite piece here?”
“It’s hard to say.” Now, she put on a vague air, her eyes unfocused as she stood in front of a soft-looking printed textile. She was probably thinking about Larry and maintaining professional distances again. Too late, he wanted to tell her.
“Tell me about one.”
Sighing as if she was in actual pain, Mel stared at him from under her eyelashes. “That’s really personal.”
“I don’t think Larry would consider discussing art preferences to be improper. Is Larry a passionate art collector? Does he develop instant likes and dislikes of people based on their favorite French Impressionists?”
Mel snorted. “I’m pretty confident Larry has no strong opinions about any sort of Impressionists. I have a feeling that the Pirelli Tire Calendar is as sophisticated as he gets.”
“Don’t knock it, those photographs are great.” The Herb Ritts one was brilliant, but Terry Richardson’s was awful, to be fair.
“They’re lovely. I was trying to imply it wasn’t the photography that he admired.” Mel considered him as she folded and unfolded the gallery guide. “You probably hung out with those models at some fabulous Italian villa, didn’t you?”
“I don’t make enough money for women like that to notice me. I’m sure they are nice women, but they are definitely in a different social stratum. Oil money and inherited titles.”
Crossing her arms, she gave him a balky stare as she tilted her head. Why showing him artwork she liked was too intimate, he wasn’t sure. He wanted to see something she appreciated and then entice her into talking about it with him. Every interchange with her made him more curious, and every little fact he gathered about Mel Sheraton resided in a deep part of his brain.
“You’re going to stand here until I show you, aren’t you?”
He nodded, trying not to let on he was enjoying himself. Thank God he was an actor.
“Just walk over and stand next to it. You won’t actually have to tell me anything, just act adoring.”
“Adoring? I don’t think I’ve adored anything in my life.” Mel radiated skepticism as she raised her chin and watched him as if he was going to throw a spitball on board her bus.
“Try it. Live a little,” he coaxed her and hoped he didn’t show how much he enjoyed provoking her.
“I’m walking away now.” Shrugging her shoulders, Mel headed down the marble lined corridor, illumination from the skylights blazing in her twisted bronze hair. She was wearing a skirt today, and her calf muscles flexed very distractingly as she walked. As she made a left into a gallery, he lost sight of her for a moment, and then found her standing in front of a stark Edward Hopper. The barely dressed woman in the painting looked anxious as she sat on her plain bed and stared out the window.
Clean lines, clear color, and a sense of tension; it was impressive.
“What’s she thinking about?” Thomas asked quietly, staring at the melancholy woman painted decades before.
“She’s thinking about all the work she has to do that day and hoping that she has the energy to manage it,” was Mel’s equally quiet reply. Thomas stopped studying the art and glanced over at the woman standing there next to him, hardly looking adoring but certainly weary.
“You’re probably right. Let’s keep looking around.” He didn’t want the painting’s sad mood to infect them. Mel glanced over at him.
“Do you want to see another one of my favorites, or am I too much of a downer?”
“I can handle one more. Then we need to see something with some life in it.”
She walked away again, not waiting to see if he followed. Sculptures on plinths watched them go by until she came to a halt in front of a dark canvas covered by vibrant splotches of colored fireworks shimmering down toward their reflections in the water. It was unusual and magical, and he sighed when he saw it.
“Now that’s lively.”
“That’s why I like it,” Mel said, tilting her head as she inspected it. “It makes me think of mysteries.
Everything is obscured, uncertain. I think the artist wants us to wonder about how it might be good to go toward the bright light, but it also might be better to stay in the dark. Should we go into the unknown, or is it safer to be still, to avoid challenges and change?”
Thomas thought about that for a moment as he tracked orange and red and pale coral brushstrokes through the gloom. “I want to know what’s hidden. How about you?”
“Me too, even if it’s sometimes a disaster.” They shared a quiet moment of accord.
He hated to break the mood, but if he didn’t, he’d begin to wonder what she had hidden under her clothes, and that would be a disaster. “So you don’t see this and think ‘Oh, cool, fireworks!’?”
“No, I don’t. Should I?”
Thomas shook his head, very entertained by her. “Think what you want. That’s why it’s art and not a math test.”
Mel bobbled her head back and forth as she considered this. “Why are we here looking at art? I have to say if you’d asked me what I thought you’d do on a day off, this never would have crossed my mind.”
A personal question! He was making progress with the self-contained Mel Sheraton. “I minored in fine arts in college. My major was drama.”
She peered at him, and he was again shaken by the light in her serious grey eyes.
What was going on in there? Why did she always appear as if there was an elaborate scene playing inside her head?
“What did you do? Artwise?”
“Do you do it anymore?”
“When I can.”
Nodding with apparent satisfaction, she turned back to regard her rocket’s red glare painting.
“What did you think I did on my days off?”
“Work out. Go to trendy restaurants with beautiful and fascinating people. Evaluate what your stylist picked out for you to wear. Lie by a pool in the sun with a drink.” He laughed at the images; it seemed he wasn’t the only one who’d had a few preconceived notions. She grinned and turned away from the painting and started to amble through the gallery, pausing in front of a few canvases but not stopping for long at anything in particular.
“The only one of those I do consistently is work out. But I have to for my job and my health, so it’s not really much fun. My trainer is mean to me.”
She turned her mouth down in pretended sympathy but didn’t pull it off. Mel wasn’t really an actress, which was incredibly comforting. He hadn’t realized how nice it was to be around a person with little pretense. Not especially relaxing, since she could suffer an outbreak of irritation at any moment, but still, it was genuine when she was upset. Or happy.
Lynn Rae makes her home in land-locked central Ohio after time spent in the former Great Black Swamp, beside the Ohio River, and along the Miami and Erie Canal. With professional experience in fields ranging from contract archaeology to librarianship along with making donuts and teaching museum studies, Lynn enjoys incorporating her quirky sense of humor and real-life adventures into her writing (except the naughty bits). She writes sci-fi, contemporary, and historical romances.