Distant Shores Page 30


She tried her best to move invisibly as she sidled around a pressboard bookcase and toward a vacant seat. She held her canvas bag against her chest as if it were a bulletproof vest.

Behind her, the door opened, then closed softly. A male voice said, "Welcome to Beginning Painting. If you've brought macrame supplies, you're in the wrong room."

He walked between the chairs in that easy, loose-hipped way one associated with cowboys or dancers. He wore a black T-shirt that pulled taut across his shoulder blades, and a pair of faded Levi's. When he reached the chalkboard and turned around, Elizabeth drew in a sharp breath. She didn't think she was the only woman who reacted that way.

He was young--no more than twenty-nine or thirty--but my God, he was good-looking. Brad Pitt in Thelma and Louise good-looking.

"I'm Daniel Boudreaux," he said, flashing a white smile. "I'm your instructor for the next six weeks. My job is to introduce you to painting." His blue-eyed gaze moved from face to face; it paused for a moment on Elizabeth, or had she imagined that? "Hopefully, this'll be the start of a love affair that will last the rest of your lives. For those of you who care about such things--and you shouldn't, this is art, after all--I studied at RISD and Yale. I have an overload of knowledge and an appalling lack of talent. However, that doesn't stop me. I fish in Alaska all summer and paint all winter." He moved away from the chalkboard and stood by the table with the fruit.

"Let's talk a little about composition . . ."

Elizabeth's heart was pounding hard. Soon, she thought, soon he'd say, "Okay, class, let's begin."

". . . The truest expression of art can't be found on the tip of a brush. It's in the artist's eye. . . ."

Elizabeth had been a fool to think she could do this. She'd forgotten how to think like an artist, how to let her emotions flow into a paintbrush.

". . . Like anything else, painting requires some preparation. None of that mixing your own oils yet. We'll start with acrylics and make a working palette. Do you see the foil-covered oval I've placed by your chair?"

Elizabeth unpacked her supplies in slow motion. The lethargy made sense; she was using muscles that had atrophied.

". . . We'll begin on paper, and work our way toward canvas. So pin your paper up . . ."

Elizabeth clipped a long, rough sheet of paper onto the easel in front of her chair. She started to reach into her bag, then realized that no one else had moved. She put her hands back in her lap.

". . . Now look at the fruit, really look at it. Study the way the lines curl and slice, the way light reflects on the flat surfaces and disappears in the hollows. Painting is about seeing. Look at the bowl, feel its texture in your mind, discern the colors that combine within it. When you're ready, begin. Later on, we'll start with sketches and ideas, but for now, I want you to dive right in. Imagine yourself as a child with a set of paints. Freedom in its purest form."

Elizabeth heard the sound of paintbrushes being smashed into paint--too hard--the thwop of overwet bristles hitting the paper.

She cleared her mind of everything except the fruit. Just that. Light and shadow; color, lines, and composition . . .

She realized with a start that she wasn't alone. He was beside her, Daniel, and he was bending down.

"Is something wrong?" he asked.

She felt herself flush. "I'm sorry. What did you say?" She turned to look up at him so fast they almost conked heads.

He stepped back and laughed. "What's your name?"

"Elizabeth."

"Okay, Elizabeth, what's wrong? You haven't started."

"I can't see it yet."

"The apples? You could move closer."

"No . . . the painting."

"Ah. Now, that's an interesting answer. Close your eyes."

She followed his direction and immediately wished she hadn't. In the darkness, he felt nearer somehow; she could smell the tangy scent of his aftershave.

"Describe the fruit."

"It's in a wooden bowl, hand-carved I think by someone who wasn't very good. It's from a solid piece of wood. The table is one of those metal lunchroom tables, probably with a wood-grain top, that you've covered with an inexpensive white cotton cloth. The apples are McIntosh, red with strands of green and black, almost heart-shaped. Light hits them on the right side. There's a feather at the edge of the table, maybe a blue jay's."

He was quiet for a moment. She could feel the beating of her heart. It was so loud she wondered if he could hear it. Woman drops dead in art class because hunk tells her to describe apples. Story at eleven. "You don't like the look of them," he said at last. "Something's wrong. I've set them out badly. How should I have done it?"

"The tablecloth should be yellow. There should be one apple; no, an orange. No bowl. Everything else is clutter."

He leaned closer. She felt the separation of air as he moved, the sound of his breathing. Then he touched her hand. She flinched, tried to pull away. He wouldn't let her. The next thing she knew, she was holding a paintbrush.

She opened her eyes. He was looking right at her.

"Show me what you can do, Elizabeth."

He was so near she couldn't think straight, couldn't draw an even breath. She tilted the paintbrush in her hand, let it settle into its place.

Suddenly all she could see was the painting--her painting. A single, plump Sunkist orange. Everything around it was bright sunlight and yellow cloth. The shadow it cast was the palest lavender. A tiny green blemish marred the orange's puckered peel. She dipped the sable tip into the paint--Naples yellow--and began.

She couldn't stop. Her blood was on fire, her hands were a whir of motion. Her heart was pounding in her chest and in her temples. It felt like the start of a migraine, but she didn't care. It was better than sex--better than any sex she'd had in years, anyway.

When she finished, her breath expelled in a rush, and she realized only then that she'd been holding it.

She was shaking, sweating. She felt sick to her stomach and exhilarated. Slowly, she looked around.

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The room was empty.

She glanced up at the clock. It was eight o'clock. An hour after the end of class. "Oh, my God." She laughed, feeling great.

"Where did you study?"

She turned and saw Daniel leaning against the bookcases in the back of the room. He was staring at her with an intensity that was unnerving. She felt a flutter in the pit of her stomach, a kind of restlessness that set her on edge. "The University of Washington. About a thousand years ago."

He moved toward her. "Was Waldgrin there?"

That surprised her. "Yeah, he was. Did you know Leo?"

"Are you kidding? I hitchhiked cross-country to study with him."

"He's a wonderful teacher."

Daniel came up beside her. For a long moment, he looked at her painting--a childish explosion of color, she saw now; no precision, no sophistication--then he looked at her.

She felt it again, that tightening in her stomach that reminded her of high school. And she knew what it was: attraction. She was attracted to this man who was probably half her age.

Oh, God. Could he read it on her face? What if he asked her out--what would she say? You're too young. Too handsome. I'm too old. My underwear is the size of a circus tent.

Had she actually thought that? Fantasized about him asking her out? In Jamie-speak: As if.

He smiled slowly. "Why are you in my class?"

"I haven't painted in a long time."

"That's a crime."

Her fingers were trembling as she removed her painting from the easel and put the supplies away. Holding the damp paper gently, she slung her canvas bag over her shoulder and headed out. She was at the door when he said, "You have talent, you know."

Elizabeth didn't dare turn around. Her grin was so big she probably looked like the Joker--and with her wrinkles that'd scare pretty boy to death.

She smiled all the way home. More than once, she laughed out loud.

At home, Elizabeth taped the painting to the refrigerator and stared at it.

She couldn't remember the last time she'd felt this good. She'd accomplished something. And not something easy, like negotiating a good deal for an antique or picking the right fabric for the sofa. This was something that mattered.

She poured herself a glass of wine, then grabbed the phone and called Meghann. The answering machine picked up.

"I painted, Meg. Painted! Yee-ha. And just for the record, my instructor is a doll. The perfect age for you. Call me when you get home."

Laughing, she put on a Smash Mouth CD. "Hey Now, You're an All Star" blasted through the speakers. She sang along, dancing all by herself in the living room. As she twirled past the fireplace, she caught sight of the photo on the mantel and came to a stop.

It was Jack and the girls. She couldn't quite remember when it had been taken, but there was snow in the background and everyone was dressed for an overnight stay in the Arctic.

Jack wore a sheepskin-lined beige suede jacket; his hair was too long. The first threads of gray shaded the hair above his ears.

Suddenly she wished he were here right now. He would be proud of her. The old love, the feeling that had been such a part of her, came back now, reminding her that life had once been good with Jack. She'd almost forgotten that.

She moved on to the picture beside it. This was an old shot, taken years ago. She was dressed in a plaid skirt and a shetland wool sweater, with a strand of pearls at her throat. He wore Calvin Klein jeans, a letterman's jacket, and a football star's cocky smile. Behind them, the ice cream cone of Mount Rainier floated above Frosh Pond.

The University of Washington.

The sand castle years.

She closed her eyes, swaying to the music, remembering those days . . . the first time he'd kissed her . . .

They'd been studying together, sitting on a flat, grassy place in the Quad. It had been late spring; the cherry trees were just past full bloom, and tiny pink blossoms floated randomly to the ground. All around them, kids in shorts and T-shirts played Frisbee and kicked Hacky Sacks around.

Jack leaned over and slapped her book shut. "You know what they say about studying. If you do it too much, you'll go blind."

Laughing, she flopped back onto the grass and rested her hands behind her head.

He lay down beside her, on his side, with his head supported on one hand. "You're so beautiful. I guess your Harvard fiance tells you that all the time."

"No." Her voice was barely above a whisper. A pink cherry blossom petal landed on her cheek.

He brushed it away, and at the contact, she shivered. Slowly, he leaned toward her, giving her plenty of time to stop him, to roll away.

She lay very still, breathing too quickly.

It wasn't much of a kiss; no more than a quick, scared brushing of lips. When he drew back, she saw that he was as shaken as she. She started to cry.

"Could you ever love a guy like me?"

"Oh, Jack," she answered, "why do you think I'm crying?"

She touched the photograph, let her finger glide across his handsome face. No other man's kiss had ever made her cry.

For the first time in weeks, she wondered if there was still a chance for them.

Now that she'd painted again, anything seemed possible. Color and passion had come back into her world; she was no longer a woman drawn in shades of gray.

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