Shelter in place, p.22
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       Shelter in Place, p.22
 

          

  The mouth, so perfect on the then, and with that hint of smug. On the now, that drawn-up corner—not a smile, she thought, adding clay, scoring with a square-edge, pushing with her thumb, her fingers. Flawed, yes, flawed, but it was bitterness hardening those lips.

  As the snow fell, she worked in silence. No music today, no background. Just the clay, giving under her hands, building, forming.

  She felt it, real as life even before she went back to the eyes. The anatomy, of course, with the folds, the tear bags, the creases; but it was always the life in them, the expressions that opened the windows. The thoughts and feelings of a single moment, or a lifetime, could come through the eyes.

  And here, in the face of a lovely teenage girl, the eyes shined with confidence—borderline arrogance. In the woman, the eyes reflected not just the horror and fear of one night, but the results in the face and the mind and the heart of a woman who’d lived through it.

  * * *

  While Simone worked, so did Patricia Hobart.

  Snow fell outside her window as well, as she studied someone else who’d lived through it.

  She’d about had it with Toronto, wanted a change of scene, a change of place. Bob Kofax offered just that.

  He’d been a mall security guard on the big night, had survived two gunshot wounds. His story, his survival, had garnered him more media exposure than Patricia deemed appropriate. Added to it, he continued to—in her opinion—feed off her own brother’s misfortune by continuing to work at the mall.

  A slap in the face!

  Bob, it seemed, considered his survival a message from a higher power to make the most of the gift of life, to help those in need, and to start and end each day with gratitude.

  She knew this, as it said so on his Facebook page.

  Part of making the most would be celebrating his fiftieth birthday with his wife and his two children—one of whom was gay and “married” to another gay, which just offended every fiber of Patricia’s being. As if that wasn’t bad enough, they’d adopted some Asian kid. At least his other son married an actual woman and had a couple of real kids.

  The whole damn fam planned to hold the big bash with a week of fun and sun in Bermuda.

  Their various Facebook pages held all the details she needed, including—for God’s sake—a countdown clock.

  Bob turned fifty on January nineteenth.

  After some thought, Patricia chose her identity, her look, booked her flight and a luxury room at the same resort.

  Then she got down to the fun part, planning the best ways to kill Bob before he reached the big five-oh.

  * * *

  Two days before Christmas, CiCi’s house illuminated the season. She lit her house brightly enough that, on a clear night, its glow reached the mainland. From her tree hung armies of Santas, mythological creatures, gods, goddesses, and hand-painted balls.

  The fire snapped cheerfully. At dusk she’d light the dozens of candles inside, the glass lanterns outside, while the caterers set up the spread for her annual holiday open house.

  Christmas Eve was for her and Simone, and Christmas Day was for the family. But tonight was for the island and was one of her favorite nights of the year.

  It got a boost when she opened the door to Mi.

  “Merry, happy everything.” She gripped Mi in a hard hug before grabbing bags.

  “CiCi, the place looks amazing. Just like you.”

  “I’m so happy to see you. Let’s get your coat, your bags. Let’s get you a drink.”

  “It’s only two in the afternoon.”

  “It’s Christmas! We’ll make it mimosas. You can take one up to Simone—and lure her down here, so I can have my girls for a while. I think she’s hiding in her studio so I won’t bug her about what she’s wearing tonight. How’s your family?”

  “They’re really good.” Mi pulled her cap off her razor-straight bob. “CiCi, Nari’s engaged—well, will be tomorrow night. Everybody knows but Nari. He—James—asked my father for her hand, and earned serious points for that. He’s asking her on Christmas Eve.”

  The boy from Boston had staying power, CiCi thought, pausing with a bottle of champagne in her hand. “She loves him?”

  “She loves him.”

  “Well then.” CiCi released the cork with a cheerful pop. “We’ll drink to her happiness. How about you? Anybody caught your eye?”

  “Mmm. Some catch the eye, but…” She shrugged. “No one’s caught the heart and mind along with it.”

  “You hold out for that. Sex is easy. Love’s complicated. Now, you take this up to Simone, have a little BFF time, then make her come down here. The three of us are going to have another drink, some gossip, then we’re going to make ourselves gorgeous.”

  Mi bounced up two flights of steps, a glass in each hand.

  When she turned into the studio, into the music that masked the sound of her boots on the stairs, she saw her friend painting some sort of red wash over a statue.

  The nude bent back fluidly, nearly forming a circle from the feet to the crown of her head. She held a bow, with an arrow notched, pointing straight up.

  Power and grace, Mi thought. And beauty. She could and would say the same about her friend. Simone wore her hair—a deep brown with bold red highlights—in a short braid, had jeans splattered with clay and paint with holes in both knees, a similarly splattered sweatshirt with ragged half sleeves, and bare feet with toes painted midnight blue.

  She felt a rush of love, a click of all’s right with the world, and a little tug of envy for Simone’s effortless artistic style.

  Simone stepped back, angling her head to study the work, and spotted Mi.

  She squealed (a sound CiCi heard two floors below, causing her to grin), splattering red wash as she tossed down her brush.

  “You’re here!”

  “With mimosas.”

  “You’re better than a dozen mimosas. I can’t hug you. I’ve got paint all over me.”

  “Oh, screw that.” Mi set the glasses aside, grabbed Simone, danced in a circle. “I missed you.”

  “Goes double.” She took a long breath. “Now it can be Christmas.”

  “Let’s drink to that. Or I can drink to that while you finish what you’re doing.”

  “It’s finished.”

  “Who is she?”

  “The Archer. She’s a shopkeeper I saw in Sedona. She had this … bold serenity.”

  “You captured just that.”

  “You think? Well.” Simone picked up the glasses.

  “I love this room,” Mi said, taking one of the glasses. “It’s so you. So different from my lab—which is so me. But here we are.” She gave Simone’s hand a squeeze before she started to wander. “These are inspired by your trip out west?”

  “Most, yeah. I’ve sent a couple pieces to my agent so she can see where I’m heading. Anyway—”

  “She looks familiar,” Mi began, then lowered her glass, turned. “Is this Tiffany? I haven’t thought about her in years, but…”

  “Yeah.”

  Curious, Mi stepped closer, angled her head. “There’s a face on the other side?”

  “You can pick it up. It’s done.”

  Mi lifted it, turned it carefully. “Oh. I see.”

  “One from before, and one from now. I should’ve put it away,” she realized. “We don’t want all that spoiling things.”

  “No, wait. Why? Why Tiffany?”

  “I ran into her a few weeks ago.” Simone shrugged. “It’s so strange. We’ve got a reversal. Once, I believed, absolutely, that this girl…” She trailed a finger over the unlined brow, the smooth cheek. “This girl ruined my life. She stole the boy I loved, the boy I just knew I’d marry and live happily ever after with. I blamed her for my misery. God, Mi. Sixteen.”

  “Sixteen.” Mi slipped an arm around Simone’s waist. “But this girl was still a mean, conniving slut.”

  “She really was.”

  “To have a reversal means she believes you
ruined her life? Blames you? How?”

  “I walked out whole.” Simone traced fingers over the second face. “She didn’t.”

  “JJ Hobart’s to blame for that. What did she say to you, Sim?”

  “Do you see this face? Not just the flaws.”

  “You mean the anger and bitterness? Of course I do. You have a genius for showing what’s inside.” Mi took a casual sip of her drink, matched her tone to the gesture. “So, she’s still a mean, conniving slut?”

  And on a laugh, Simone felt the sticky, strangling vines of stress drop away. “Yes. God, yes, she is.”

  “Tragedy doesn’t necessarily change us. More often, I think, it just brings out more of who we are—or were—all along.” Deliberately, Mi turned the bitter face out, set the bust back on the shelf. “Tiffany was always this inside.”

  In a careless toast, Mi lifted her glass. “Maybe she isn’t as perfectly beautiful as she would have been—on the outside. But she’s alive, and plenty aren’t. She may very well be alive because of you. I am. Don’t shake your head at Dr. Jung. My blood loss? Another ten minutes—fifteen on the outside? I wouldn’t have made it.”

  “Let’s not talk about all that.”

  “No, let’s. Just for a minute because I have something to say. This? What you did with Tiffany—what the hell is her last name?”

  “Bryce.”

  “You remember. I don’t. That says something, too. What you did with your art? That’s healthy.”

  “Is it?”

  “You’re damn right it is. It’s not just who she is, Sim, but who you are. We all survived, and we all became who we are right now. Whatever’s inside you that created her out of clay? It was always there. The sixteen-year-old girl who thought her world crashed because of some horny jerk who wasn’t worth her time—and yeah, maybe I’ll go to hell for speaking ill of the dead, but he was a horny jerk—could have decided to wallow in misery, to throw away her gifts in bitterness.”

  Mi turned back to the bust. “But what I see in this face is someone who’s throwing away the gift of her life in blame and bitterness.

  “We lost a friend, Sim, and it still hurts. It’s always going to hurt. But you’ve brought our friend back to life, you’ve celebrated the life she had, even the life she might have had, in that amazing sculpture downstairs, and in others.”

  “I don’t know…” Simone drew a shaky breath. “I don’t know what I’d do without you in my life.”

  “You’re never going to find out. Me? I’ve channeled my skill, my art, I guess, into working to find ways to alleviate pain, suffering, to improve quality of life. It doesn’t make us special, but it makes us who we are.

  “We’re better than Tiffany fucking Bryce, Sim. We always were.”

  Simone drew in another breath, let it out on a long exhale. And managed a “Wow.”

  “I mean every word, including the jerks dead or alive. And now, every time you look at those two faces, you should remember it. Screw the bitch, Simone.”

  Frowning, Simone took a last study of the bust. “I can be sorry for what happened to her—nobody deserves it—but I can still hate her?”

  “Yes!”

  “I don’t know why I didn’t think of that. Even when I formed those faces with my hands, I didn’t think of that.”

  “That’s what friends are for.”

  “Well, best friend ever, you just answered the question I couldn’t quite grab on to. Yes. Screw the bitch. Now, let’s go down and get a lot more champagne. I’m going to need it to socialize until freaking dawn.”

  “I love CiCi’s parties.” As they started out, Mi turned with a cheerful smile. “I bought a new dress just for tonight. It’s a killer.”

  “Damn you. Now she’ll be all over me, even more. Well, screw that, too,” Simone decided. “I’m throwing caution to the freaking winds. She can pick out my outfit.”

  Delighted, Mi gave Simone a shoulder bump. “This is going to be so much fun!”

  * * *

  CiCi had already picked the outfit, since she’d bought it and hung it in her own closet with the intention of cajoling Simone into wearing it.

  After considerable champagne and gossip, she dragged her girls to her master bath for a makeup and hair session. She decreed sleek and sexy for Mi, then wielded the curling iron to give her uncharacteristically cooperative granddaughter a headful of tousled curls.

  She approved Mi’s choice of off-the-shoulder red with its flirty skirt and tiny waist, and waited until Simone tugged and shimmied her way into the midnight blue.

  The long sleeves and to-the-knees length might have hinted at modesty, but the deep vee front and back, the slit up the right leg hinted at the opposite—especially as it fit like a second skin.

  “This is why you handed me the blue nail polish yesterday.”

  “Good match,” CiCi agreed, then pulled out her next weapon. “Especially with these.”

  The shoes, a series of metallic-blue straps from toe to ankle, boasted high, thin silver heels.

  “Sexy bohemian,” CiCi declared.

  “They’re gorgeous.” Simone sat, strapped them on, stood. “I may limp for weeks, but it’ll be worth it.”

  “Happy Yule.” CiCi grabbed her camera. “Strike a pose, girls.”

  As they hammed for the camera, CiCi thought she’d paint them as young sirens.

  “Crap, that’s the caterer. Jewelry! Mi, delicate. Simone, arty and a little over-the-top. Go!”

  In a flurry of swirling skirts, lace-up booties, and a flying mane of wild red, she rushed out.

  “How does she do it?” Mi asked.

  “I don’t know, but I’m determined to look just that good, move just that fast, live just that big when I’m her age. Let’s play with earrings and get down there, give her a hand.”

  With the wind kicking, the temperatures dropping, CiCi’s house filled with people. The island came out for CiCi, as did off-islanders. People from the art world and the music world mingled with locals over mini lobster rolls, shrimp kabobs, and champagne.

  Some spilled out on the patio with its portable heaters. Music blared from the speakers, or when those with talent and the whim picked up a guitar or played a keyboard and jammed.

  CiCi mingled, enjoying every moment, even as she kept her eye out for one particular person. When she spotted him, she wound her way over to Simone.

  “Sweetie, would you mind running upstairs? I think I might have left my Yule candle burning in my bedroom. Don’t want to burn the house down.”

  “Sure. Great party, CiCi.”

  “I never throw any other kind.”

  As her gorgeous girl went on her fake mission, CiCi headed straight for Reed. He broke into a grin when he saw her.

  “You said it’d be a party to end all parties. You weren’t lying. Merry Christmas.” He handed her a gift bag.

  “Aren’t you sweet? I’m going to put this under my tree.” She kissed him first, brushed a hand down the sleeve of his dark gray jacket. “And handsome.”

  “Gotta dude it up for the party to end all parties. You look amazing. Say, after the party why don’t we run away to…”

  CiCi smiled as his words trailed off, as his face went from flirty to stunned. She didn’t have to look to know Simone had come back down the stairs, just as she’d planned.

  He knew her—of course he knew her face. He’d studied it as he had so many others in his files. He knew her, too, from photographs artfully scattered throughout CiCi’s house, from the painting that had lit a low burn of lust and the fire of wonder inside him.

  But that was art, those were photos, witness statements, a couple of TV interviews.

  This was the woman, in the flesh, and she shut down his brain for a solid ten seconds where the only thing that got through the buzz was a stunned: uh-oh.

  As she walked straight toward him, the buzz got louder.

  “All clear,” the goddess said.

  “Thanks, baby. This is Reed, the island’s soon
-to-be chief of police, and one of my favorite people in this life and all the others. Reed, my most valued treasure, my Simone.”

  “Reed, of course.” Those lips—those gorgeous lips—curved into a gorgeous smile. The voice was like soft mist over a magic pool. “I’m so happy to meet you, finally.”

  He took the hand she offered—did she feel that? Did she feel that rush? “Same here,” he managed.

  “Simone, why don’t you take Reed over to one of the bars, get him a drink. You want a beer, right, Delicious?”

  “Ah, sure. Beer. Fine. Good.” Jesus.

  “Let’s fix you up.”

  Simone gestured and led the way while he tried to pull himself together. It helped a little that a few people called out a greeting, or gave him a slap on the back, an easy punch on the arm.

  She signaled to the bartender, turned to Reed to make party conversation while they waited on his beer. “So, you bought the Dorchet place?”

  “Yeah. I’m, ah, moving in all the way after the first of the year.”

  “It’s a great house.”

  “You been in it? Sure you have,” he said immediately. “I fell pretty hard.”

  “I can’t blame you. The—”

  “Widow’s walk,” they said together.

  She laughed CiCi’s laugh, said, “Exactly,” and he felt some of his balance restore.

  He took the beer, took a chance. “You’ve probably got stuff to do, but can I have a minute?”

  “Sure.”

  He eased her away from the crowd around the bar to a breathing space on the far side of the great room. “I wanted to say, I know a little more about art since hanging around CiCi.”

  “She’s really fond of you.”

  “I’m in love with her.”

  Simone smiled. “Join the crowd.”

  “She opened a door for me I couldn’t quite get through. Anyway, I still don’t know a hell of a lot about art, but that piece over there?”

  He gestured toward Emergence.

  “If I could ever afford real art, and it didn’t already belong to CiCi, that would be mine.”

  She said nothing for a moment, but reached out to take a flute from the tray of a passing server. “Why?”

  “Well, it’s beautiful, but mostly when I look at it I see proof of life. That’s a weird term for it.”

 
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admin 22 September 2018 10:55
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