“Is this Liya?”
“Yes? Who is this?”
“My name is Aubrey Fosse, and I’m an artist. I was hoping…”
“Oh my goodness! Mr. Fosse! You really called! What can I do for you, Sir?”
“Well, thank you! I hear a compliment in there, somewhere.” Aubrey smiled, faintly. Already he wasn’t sure that this girl was going to work out. He was tired of people gushing about his past work. He hadn’t managed to paint anything worth a damn in years, and this constant fawning wherever he went in the world, seemed condescending somehow. Genius was more of a curse than people gave it credit for being, and he had been cursed while still a child. Now, at 45, he had outlived his passion by about ten years.
“Simeon Steele from the Edna Manley College gave me your name, Ms. Preston. He said that you were a model, and that I might be able to hire you to do some private sessions with me. You came very highly recommended, I might add.”
He paused; contemplating lighting a cigarette. He changed his mind. He’d need to think about why it was that even the thought of painting again brought on this anxiety.
“I don’t normally do portraits, but I have been thinking that I need to take my work in another direction for a while,” he continued. lamely.
He didn’t know why he added this last bit, since he didn’t know the woman. In any event, if she knew anything about the Jamaican art scene, then she would know that he had returned to the island last year, after years of self-imposed exile and international jet-setting. It had seemed to be the thing to do when his career had stalled. Who knew, she may have had a better idea than he did about why that had been.
“It’s okay, Mr. Fosse; I understand. When, and where, do you want me?”
Aubrey smiled again at the unwitting double entendre. It occurred to him suddenly that this Liya Preston person had a very sexy voice. He shook his head; though a jaded old fart, he still appreciated sensual young people: men and women. Maybe she could help him after all.
After only thirty seconds’ acquaintance Aubrey had to acknowledge that already, Liya Preston was proving to be much more than he had anticipated. The vision of a seeing-eye dog helping a fairly attractive young woman up the steep driveway to his studio had left him speechless. He had wondered, fleetingly, if Simeon had played a joke on him; then it occurred to him that this was the first time since he could remember that he had been surprised about anything. He shook his head still disbelieving what he was seeing, and made a mental note to remember to thank Simeon for the kick in the pants. A blind life model! Trust Simeon to still be able to surprise him with the unusual!
He opened the door to step out into the yard to help her, but thought better of it since he was afraid that she would be offended. He would have been wrong about that since the girl staggered to his doorway, and clung to the railing trembling, and catching her breath.
“Mr. Fosse?” she panted softly, obviously not being sure, but clearly suspecting that someone was standing in front of her watching her progress.
“Yes, I’m here, my dear,” Aubrey replied, gently, oddly moved by her. “Was it difficult to get here? I didn’t realise…”
“No, no!” she hastened to assure him. “It’s just that I’m a little afraid of heights, but I didn’t want to just not show up. I know what it means for an artist if his model doesn’t come for the session,” she gasped. Please, may I come in for a bit? I’m not sure if you still want me…now that you know…”
“Of course, forgive me! I just didn’t think to offer to pick you up at the bottom of the hill,” Aubrey hastened to let her in.
“No, no, that’s not necessary. It’s just Rusty and me at the moment, and we take care of each other. I got a lift to the nearest bus stop so we were fine. It’s just that I got a little nervous when we kept being directed uphill. I could feel it. I’ve never been very good with heights since I can’t see where I’m going. I’m sorry! It’s not your problem. Since I’m here though, I’ll do the assignment as agreed, please think nothing of it.”
Their first session had gone outstandingly well. Liya Preston had been a consummate professional who posed well, striking interesting and dynamic postures, and who held them for as long as Aubrey needed her to do so. Aubrey found himself fascinated by her, and by how well her dog had behaved in his studio. At first he had been a little nervous about that; but since he had spent so much time overseas he had become sensitive to the fact that she would probably sue him if he turned her away because of her dog; especially if it hadn’t actually done anything to destroy his studio.
The young woman was about 173 cm tall, just where he could rest his chin on the crown of her head. He had discovered that when he had had to lean into her to help her achieve a particular pose that he had wanted. They had laughed at this, and he had made another joke about her being his crutch. Liya Preston also had the pleasingly well-turned limbs and figure of a modern dancer; and beautiful dreadlocks that she told Aubrey she had been growing for about seven years.
He made another appointment to see her in two days, and he was surprised at how excited he was about the prospect of sketching her again. He found himself buying groceries so that he could offer her something to drink and nibble during her breaks from posing for him, and he put on a clean shirt, and combed his hair, though he knew that she would not have been able to see him.
“Beautiful, Liya! Beautiful! Give me some mystery now, my dear!”
Liya picked up the scarf that she had brought with her and threw it casually across her chest and hips, effectively clothing herself from the gaze of the man in the room; but leaving interesting length, line and curve for him to sketch. He paused and gazed at her for several minutes; not drawing anything at all.
“Mr. Fosse?” the young woman seemed puzzled. “I don’t hear your pencil. Are you alright?” she asked, softly.
“Yes, my dear. I am. I was just thinking that I wanted to paint you in this pose; not just do a sketch.”
Liya’s smile brightened into a full grin, and Fosse’s eyes widened as the image of a nymph, emerging from a deep sleep on a tuft of forest grass, to greet the dawn, flashed through his mind. Dear God, yes; he had to paint her!
“Tell me about yourself, Liya” Aubrey Fosse commanded during one of their sessions. They had been working together for nearly two months, and now that the new semester at the Edna Manley College was about to begin again he had a queasy foreboding that she might go back to that, and that he would lose her services. He felt selfish, and pathetic at wanting to keep her with him, but he had already decided that he was prepared to pay her anything necessary to prevent her from leaving his employ. He couldn’t bring himself to beg; though he knew that he would, eventually.
“What would you like to know, Mr. Fosse?”
“Well, for starters, how did you get into this business? Now that I have got to know you a little, I’m surprised that you are a life model.”
“I needed a job, and it felt okay doing this. I hate having to take my clothes off in front of strangers sometimes, but it pays well, and there aren’t many high-paying job opportunities in Jamaica for a person who can’t see,” she said, frankly. “I only do the private sessions, like yours, by referral; so it’s not as if I’m laying myself carelessly around the place. I’m either in a room with several students of both genders, or with one professional. I didn’t mention it, but you came highly recommended by Mr. Steele as well. I didn’t really expect you to call me when he asked me for permission to give my number to you, but when you did, I was happy to work with you. I had heard of you, of course, even before he had mentioned you.”
She grinned at him brightly; and Aubrey wondered what she had heard. He didn’t ask.
“Liya, I have to thank you for something,” Aubrey murmured one day in February. They had been working together for several months, and he could not remember being more contented. The passion to do his work had returned, but even so, it was not as it had been before. He had to admit to himself that he no longer had the driving ambition that he had had earlier in his career. He supposed that that was because he had conquered all worlds too soon in his life. He had had things too easy. He had pretty much seen, and done it all, and that was what had nearly killed his spirit; until Simeon had thrown him the lifeboat that Liya had turned out to be.
Recently, what Aubrey realised was that he had an urgent need to show this Jamaican beauty to the world. He couldn’t remember when it was that he had decided that Liya was a beautiful woman, and that she was worthy of being immortalised; just as any of the famous muses through history had been. She was his Lisa Gherardini; his Christina Olson; his Helga Testorf. He would make her more famous than Zhou Chunya’s German Shepherd. He would celebrate her sleek lines, her burgeoning hips, the round buttocks and full breasts that, under other circumstances, he would have wanted to have held in his hands. She wasn’t really a classic beauty; he had seen and bedded more attractive women, but she captivated him as no one had before. He found himself wanting to know her more desperately than he could have ever imagined possible.
“Really, Mr. Fosse, what’s that?” Liya asked bringing him back from his little daydream about her.
“You’ve saved me, my dear. You’ve made me want to paint again. I didn’t think that that could happen for me, but you have done it. I will forever be grateful to you!”
“Wow! Thank you for saying that! That’s really big! I’m sure that you would have found your muse again eventually, but I’m happy to have helped, even a little.”
She paused. Aubrey saw the spasm of painful regret flit across her features before she suppressed it quickly. He felt himself tense, ready to go to her. He froze; his first realisation that if he touched her at all that he didn’t know where it would lead. He had had the odd affair… okay; he had had four very disastrous affairs with his models over the thirty years of his professional career; but he didn’t want that with Liya. She had become too precious to him for something sordid to come out of his relationship with her; but he realised that the dreams that he was having about her at night were threatening to spill over into his waking moments. He had decided consciously that he had no intention of touching her since she had made it clear that she wanted to stick to the rules governing the relationship between fellow professionals. Her behaviour had proclaimed that she was there to sell him a service; nothing else. He only hoped that his subconscious would listen to him.
“Is this your way of saying that our work is nearly done here?” she asked, tentatively.
“No, no, my dear!” Aubrey exclaimed. “Our work is just beginning! I wanted to ask you if we could work on a special series of portraits. I have agreed to do a one-man show for the National Gallery to celebrate Jamaica’s 50th Anniversary of independence in August, and I wanted to have you in several of the pieces. Would you like that?”
She didn’t have to say anything; the expression on her face told him all that he needed to know; her subconscious was giving her trouble too.
“What’s going through your mind right now?”
“I was thinking about what you just said; you want me to have an expression of quiet serenity mixed with suppressed excitement?” she laughed. “You don’t ask for much, do you, Mr. Fosse?”
“Why don’t you call me Aubrey?” he asked for the umpteenth time.
“I’ve told you before; I’m just more comfortable calling you Mr. Fosse. It’s the way I was raised, I guess.”
“You make me feel so old when you do that!” Aubrey sniffed.
Liya laughed out loudly, and Aubrey sat there and watched her, delightedly. He knew that he wanted her, but since she had given no indication of wanting him in return, except, of course, for the time that she had looked so unhappy at the thought that their arrangement was coming to an end, he had kept her in his employ just so that he could see, and paint her daily.
He found that he thought about Liya constantly, and reflected that she may have misunderstood his reluctance to allow anyone else into his studio while she was there. He was not ashamed of her; he just didn’t want anyone else in the little world that he had created here with her. He didn’t know how he could convey that sentiment to her without being thought of as abusing their professional relationship.
Today he had decided to do a series of Mona Lisa-like facial portraits in which he wanted her emotions to be undefinable, so he had searched his mind for a series of themes that he wanted to try with her. Over their morning snack, he had explained to her about needing a muted excitement but with a serene undertone. He had thought of it being something like hearing that she had been shortlisted for a prize. Her wide, open-mouthed, gleeful grin when he suggested that was enchanting, and he had sketched that, quickly, but it was not the emotion about which he had been thinking. They had tried for it for several minutes but she seemed to have some difficulty in getting it just right.
Aubrey hesitated. He knew what he wanted to suggest, but it was risky.
“Do you trust me, Liya?”
The woman’s eyes widened.
“Of course I do! How could you ask that?” she reached out to touch his arm, reassuringly.
“I’m going to see if I can’t get you in the mood. Close your eyes.”
She obeyed immediately, but Aubrey noticed that she tensed slightly. He blew out a small breath, steeling himself against her magnetism. He leaned near her.
“I was thinking about a taste test,” he whispered directly into her ear. “It would be just you and me, naked, in bed with a bottle of wine, and a plate of exotic cheeses. Does this sound good to you, Liya?” he kissed her earlobe, gently. “Of course, I’m not all that interested in the wine or the cheese, as much as I am in tasting you; and I know you taste pretty darn good, my love!” he nuzzled the back of her ear. “I want to suck on that luscious bottom lip of yours,” he sucked her bottom lip, nipping it gently before he continued; “and sample your neck,” he licked and kissed her neck; “and sip up that stream of droplets that is running from your navel,” he whispered while pulling away from her, before he did anything truly, and incredibly stupid.
It worked! After an initially shocked expression, Liya seemed to understand what he was trying to do with her, and she relaxed and listened to him. A slow, enigmatic smile settled on her lips and she dipped her head shyly. When she looked up again Aubrey was captivated by the expression on her face. It spoke to him of a woman who knew that she was deeply loved, and that she awaited, with muted excitement and expectancy, her lover to come to her.
“Beautiful, Liya! Just beautiful!” he said as, ignoring his own erection ruthlessly, he did the sketch quickly.
The sun strained its rays through the leaves of the trees and dappled Liya’s skin nicely as she hid herself amid the ferns outside Aubrey’s mountain-side studio. She looked like a scantily-clad woodland sprite and Aubrey was photographing her this time, since he knew that she was afraid of the heights on which she found herself, and since he didn’t want to have her outside for too long because she was completely nude.
It had taken some doing to coax her outside, but she was ever the professional, and Aubrey could tell that she did not want to deny him anything that he wanted from her. He worked as quickly as he could photographing the abject fear on her face as she scrambled up his piece of hillside through the bushes, and the movement and lines of her limbs as she climbed from one level of his garden to the other over the natural boulders left there by Mother Nature. Eventually, covering her with a blanket that he’d acquired in Mexico during one of his trips there he guided her back into the safety of their little haven.
Liya looked inquiringly at him when they got inside, obviously not wanting to ask if she had done well enough for him. Aubrey was touched by her obvious desire to please him.
“You’re such a brave girl, Liya,” Aubrey said sweeping her into a tight hug, and kissing her forehead. “I am so sorry that I had to do that to you, but the photographs that I got were simply incredible!”
“Thank you!” she whispered, returning his hug.
Aubrey released her when his arousal threatened to overwhelm him again. He wondered, again, if it would not be better for him to just sleep with her, and scratch this terrible itch that he felt.
“Do you have a boyfriend, Liya?” he asked, tentatively, during one of their breaks later that day.
“Yes I do!” she beamed happily at the memory of the mysterious man who, had just dashed his hopes.
Aubrey felt irrationally jealous. His mood settled into depression after a few minutes. He was really just a job to her after all!
“Wanton wildness with a touch of shyness? You know, Aubrey, I swear that you come up with these things just so you can whisper into my ear!” Liya laughed, cutting across his thoughts, and Aubrey grinned at her, weakly. He wondered, fleetingly, if he could take her away from this boyfriend.
“Touche!” he said. “And see, it didn’t kill you to call me, Aubrey!”
“Touche!” Liya said, lifting her glass of juice in his direction.
Oddly enough, after a bumpy patch, the unexpected boyfriend being out in the open, made things easier for them. They both knew what was happening between them, but the thrill of their denied, growing sexual attraction made their time together far more textured than it would have been under other circumstances and from when he imagined her to be as pure as the driven snow. Aubrey found that it added a dimension to his portraits of Liya that he did not think that he would have been able to do otherwise. He worried thought about that sometimes; wondering about how much of his soul he was revealing in the paintings. He worried too that she would know that sometimes he was nude while he painted her!
“So? How do we do wonton wildness with a touch of shyness? Are we doing that today?” she had asked, looking expectantly in his direction.
Aubrey had had to defer that session until after he had calmed down from learning about Liya’s boyfriend. Artists crafting genius from the pieces of their broken hearts was a highly overrated myth. He had needed to sulk for a while, and so he had aborted the session when he found out a little too much about her. He was feeling much better about the whole situation now. True, he was still jealous, and irrationally angry with the young woman at times. Though he was still fantasizing about how he could make her a love him instead of the man whose name he was too afraid to learn, he could now look at her again without wanting to strangle her. It had taken him two weeks to get back to that happy place of being with her. The strain of his turbulent emotions had shown up in the violent paintings of her that he had done during that period. He didn’t plan to show those to anyone else, and thought that he had best burn them before they were seen.
He knew that his bad mood had been transmitted to the young woman in stereo, because she was subdued around him, and had gone through a period of actually flirting with him to get him back to her side. Aubrey had appreciated the effort that she had taken to appease him. She had saved him the embarrassment of feeling that his love was completely unrequited.
“Alright, give me a minute let me think and get a glass of juice for us,” he said, getting up to put some clothes on before approaching her. He had gone to the bottom of the hill, as he had done every morning to collect her when she got off her bus, and the morning had gone so well that he had relaxed enough to shed his own clothes. He didn’t want to have certain desperate parts of his anatomy reach out and touch the young woman, however, and he couldn’t trust himself to behave if he got too close.
“I thought of you again this morning,” he whispered into her ear. “You were naked,” he hesitated shyly over the words. “It was a post-strip tease session,” he smiled, hurrying on with the fantasy that he was weaving to get her in the mood that he wanted. “You were warm. You were just snuggled against my side.”
It was all he could do not to climb up onto the couch on which she was reclining, and cuddle her. Her eyes were closed and Aubrey wondered, yet again, at the trust that she displayed when in his presence.
“We didn’t want to get out of bed,” he said remembering what it had been like for him only that morning when he had awakened from a dream about her. For one fleeting moment he had been truly happy, believing her to be asleep next to him, and then he had realised that it had only been a dream, and he had got up, disappointed, and got himself a cigarette to calm down again.
“I lay there stroking your back and shoulders. You smelled and looked so good to me, baby!” he whispered and kissed her, gently. “Your hair was mussed and you looked contented, my dear. Lovely! Quiet. Happy! I love watching you sleep…”
“I have it now,” Liya whispered back. Smiling, impishly, she closed her eyes, tossed her hair back and looked toward Aubrey over her shoulder. It was the attitude of a coquette, but Aubrey knew just the expression in the eyes that he needed to fill in in order to make the portrait complete; another triumph.
“Good girl!” he exclaimed, and got to work again.
The time for the exhibition drew closer and the issue of what they would do after this series of paintings was completed, emerged again. Aubrey knew that the paintings were very good, but he wondered if they would be appreciated by the public in the way that he felt they deserved. His agent and Simeon had liked the few pieces that he had shown them a lot, and they had both congratulated Aubrey on finding his mojo again.
He and Liya had sat quietly on his patio with her dog, Rusty, listening to what the two critics said about the paintings after Aubrey had left them alone, and when they thought that no one was listening. They really had loved the work; and Aubrey and Liya had both overheard Sheena Griffiths’ speculation that they had to be in love since the paintings demonstrated depth of feeling far beyond anything that Aubrey had been capable of in recent years. She recommended to Simeon, sotto voce, that he advise Aubrey to keep the girl, and use her to good end, since her charms were obviously working on him. This last remark caused Aubrey to bustle back inside before Sheena could say anything else to spoil the magic completely that he and Liya had had in their little retreat.
Even Aubrey could hear his lack of glee at being pronounced ready for his next major exhibition. Sheena and Simeon made plans about announcing his return to the world, but he was not a part of these grand speculations. He knew what he had to do. He had thought long and hard about his next move, and it would be risky. He had taken risks with Liya before, and the indications were that these had paid off handsomely.
“Liya,” he said after his guests had left them in peace again. “I want to do a new series of portraits of you. These would be a little different from what we’ve been doing, and for an entirely different market.” He smiled at her, and managed to convey his amusement in his voice.
The girl leaned forward, clearly intrigued. Aubrey was pleased to think that she would want to keep working with him in the future in their little haven. All he needed to wrest her away from her nameless boyfriend, was time; he was sure of it.
“I’m into BDSM and non-Con sex; what are you into?” he asked, quietly.