by : Chad D. Christy
He knew he shouldn’t, but it’s not like he controlled those sorts of things. And he didn’t really blame her. Not really. It wasn’t like she chose the dress and the shoes and did her hair and put on her make up just for him. She didn’t even know he’d be there. He hadn’t seen her for years. Five? Six? Something like that. Not since his brother had been in high school. And then she was, what, sixteen? A girl, really. No, he couldn’t be held responsible. Well, shouldn’t be. He knew he would be.
Those sterile white walls, a giant empty expanse between each vibrant, but angry painting. It was his brother’s show, and he was proud, but he didn’t get it. He liked the paintings, but he just didn’t get them. They were interesting, sure, but he knew he was missing a crucial piece of understanding. So, he was bored, just kind of leaning against a corner near a sculpture. It was flower pot filled to the brim with white sugar. In the center, a pistol had been jammed in with the grip sticking up. He liked the contrast of color. Maybe that’s why she stood out.
She was wearing a black dress. Shoulders bare. It fit her without being too tight. No cleavage. Black, low heel shoes. Her hair was up, creating a cascade of brown curls that ended just above her neck. She held a small black purse, and her eyes were blue fire. She noticed him staring and met his eyes, refusing to flinch. He didn’t know what to say, and his smile felt awkward.
“Derek?” she asked.
He didn’t recognize her right away. She smiled brightly and walked around the sculpture.
“It’s Taylor,” she said. “Used to hang out with your brother?”
Then he remembered. “Yeah, yeah,” he replied.
“So, what are you doing now?”
“I don’t know,” he laughed. “Little of this, little of that. How ‘bout you? Done with school?”
She rolled her eyes and laughed. Music.
“No, not yet. One more year of undergrad, then I start my masters.”
“I don’t really know. I’m getting my education degree now. I want to write text books, so something that’ll help with that?”
“I know, nerdy, right? I don’t care.”
“No, it’s interesting. Not many people say that.”
“Yeah, I guess.”
They stared at each other a moment before Derek pointed at the gun-sugar pot. “So, what do you think?”
“I don’t get it. Or much else here.”
Taylor smiled. “You don’t have to. I’m not even sure we’re supposed to. He’s kind of ironic that way. Some of it is supposed to communicate, while other pieces are sort of anti-art.”
“Is the name tag part of the piece, then?”
“I don’t know. This is the first time I’ve seen it.”
“Go ahead. Critique.”
“Oh, no,” she shook her head. Her curls danced, drawing his eyes to her neck again. “I don’t pretend to be an art buff.”
“Where are you going to school now?” Derek asked, turning toward her a bit.
“Oh, it’s about forty minutes from here. State college.”
“Talk to Jack much anymore?”
“Not since graduation, really. Emails occasionally. Phone calls on birthdays.” She smiled as if remembering something pleasant. “I miss him.” She glanced down at her purse, then back at Derek. “Have you seen him yet tonight?”
“Yeah, he’s—” Derek gestured with a shooing motion, “—whatever. He’s the artist. No time for big brother.”
“Yeah,” Taylor agreed. “Or the ex-girlfriend.”
“I didn’t know you two dated. What did he do to screw that up?”
“Him? Nothing. Not really when you look back on it. We were young, lazy and impatient. You don’t realize how much work a relationship is, and we were both too selfish to really make a solid attempt.”
“But that’s different now,” Derek said.
“Well, I don’t know,” Taylor responded thoughtfully. “Do we ever truly lose that selfishness? We just fake it better, I think.”
“So, are you faking it with anyone now?”
Taylor laughed loudly, then clamped a hand over her mouth, blushing with embarrassment. A moment passed and the quiet murmur of polite conversation continued.
“Are you hitting on me?” she asked.
“You brought it up.”
“We were talking about Jack.”
“And his ex-girlfriend.”
“Listen,” Taylor said, stepping close to Derek and lowering her voice to a near-whisper. “You might have been something in high school, but we’ve all grown up since then. You don’t remember me, because if you did, you’d be apologizing for all the horrible crap you said about me. You see a pretty girl in a dress and assume she’s gonna fall all over you because—well, because they always do, don’t they?”
Derek started to get angry, and tried to keep it from showing on his face. Why was this girl attacking him? So he misread her, was that so bad? She’s the one who brought up her dating status. Why couldn’t he ask her about it? And why was she still scolding him?
“But when somebody sees you for who you really are, when they see past your pretty boy demeanor, down to the shriveled black part of you that used to be a soul, they know—I know—there’s nothing there. Nothing but narcissism and self-serving prattle.” She leaned even closer, her lips close to his ear, her voice a venomous hiss. “Your charms are wasted.”
And he knew he shouldn’t, but he couldn’t just let her get away with what she was saying. This girl didn’t know him. He knew he’d regret it, but he just had to. He needed to remind her who she was talking to.
Suddenly, much faster than Taylor had anticipated, his arm snaked around her waist. He pulled his head back slightly and kissed her hard on the lips. She instantly began to struggle, but his strength was surprising. Realizing the futility, she tried another tactic.
She parted her lips slightly, relaxing her body, and inviting him. When Derek committed, she took his lower lip between her teeth and bit down hard. He shrieked and reeled back, releasing her. Before she could retreat from him, though, he lashed out with a wide punch. She leaned into it, covering the side of her head with her arm, but the impact sent her crashing into the podium that held the sculpture. The pot smashed on the marble floor, covering her in shards of clay and sparkles of sugar. The gun clattered free, landing near Taylor, but just out of reach.
Derek took a couple steps toward her, blood flowing from his lip, down his chin, then noticed everyone staring at him. He sneered down at her, this girl who dared attack him, and with a noise akin to a growl, whirled away and stalked toward the rear of the small gallery.
Taylor said calmly, “He’s leaving through the back. Be ready.”
Copyright © 2014 Chad D. Christy
All rights reserved.