I was in Montreal on business, though this day certainly wouldn't be as arduous as others. A client of mine had invited me and 100 of his closest friends to celebrate the purchase of his fourth home. Known for his extravagant tastes (usually quite urban), this house was surprisingly located on Lake St. Louis in Beaconsfield—an upscale, but very private area.
I could tell this was going to be the usual business soiree when I pulled up to the house. In a street lined with the newest models of BMW, Mercedes, Porsche, Lexus, and Audi, my 1991 Saab and I were probably the last to arrive. Modestly so. I didn't plan to stay long…just a polite 'hello' to my host and acquaintances and I'd return to my apartment in the city, and get back to the reading I so longed to do.
Following the sounds of speech and laughter coming from behind the house, I entered through the gate on the side. As I walked through the crowd on the patio, I saw some familiar faces—people I had dealt with in various galleries, clients I had seen at exhibits, artists I had met at some point in time. Others were unknown to me, though I suppose the nouveau riche all take on a certain similar, incestuous appearance over time.
Roger Saban, the host of the party, was in the far corner of the patio, standing near an obnoxiously ornate ice sculpture. He's a tall, well-built man, with a head of jet black hair, deep bronze skin, and ocean-blue eyes. In spite of his striking features (and deep pockets), he was not a handsome man, yet he was quite popular with women. But oddly enough, he was never able to stay committed to only one for a long period of time. Roger was an eccentric, charming, pretentious—though extremely loyal—client. A trust fund baby by profession, he loved the good life, and sharing it with many of his kind. Unlike others I've worked with, I appreciated his business and his friendship.
Noticing his conversational entanglement with potential wife #4 (at least that's what she seemed to think), I decided to delay my greeting a few minutes and take a seat at an empty table near the fountain on the outer deck. Walking over, I looked up into the sky, the hazy clouds barely veiling the sun, intensifying the heat of this typical July day. In California, this would be called 'monsoon weather,' and blamed on Arizona (Californians are known for finding a scapegoat for anything uncomfortable—even something as seemingly uncontrollable as weather). But here in Quebec, things were different. Surveying the crowd from this short distance, I was thankful for that.
A glare suddenly struck my eye, and I winced from the pain. Turning my head to the left, I spotted the cause of this brief affliction—a silver pinky ring with a stone of some sort. The hand that bore it was striking: long, slender fingers, nails neatly manicured. My eyes gazed along her forearms, toned and bronze, very feminine. She was wearing crème linen: a camisole top with matching angle-cut trousers. The pale color against her skin gave her a healthy, sensual glow. On her feet were green and crème woven mules, accented by a single silver buckle—probably Prada, I thought. Her long hair was chocolate brown, accented by wisps of sun-kissed highlights. Clipped back loosely, it formed a 'v' to her mid-back. It would sway gently as she laughed or turned her head. She was about average height, but small-framed, seemingly delicate.
As I began to listen closely, I could hear her laugh from time to time as she spoke. When she'd smile, her painted lips would reveal beautiful white teeth—perfect in form. It was the kind of smile that could be seen in the entire face, not just the mouth. Only her eyes were hidden behind silver-framed, black lenses. Sitting there, I tried to imagine those eyes—their color, shape, what they told.
"Well, well. If it isn't Katie Verneau," I heard, suddenly started from my daydream. My sun was now blocked by art dealer Rake Lindstrom, a man whose mother named her only son after her favorite Stravinsky opera. I resented him for many things, above all how he called me "Katie."
"How are you, Rake?" I asked, feigning a smile. With my profession, I do it so often that it actually appears genuine. "It's rather warm, just thought I'd sit a while before I approached our favorite multi-millionaire."
"Yes, Roger does quite well for himself," he said, surveying the grounds with his beady eyes. "And that blonde barracuda on his arm seems to be doting on the fact."
The woman with the ring laughed again, and I looked in her direction. Rake, nosy as ever, followed my line of sight. "She's his niece, but you'd never know it," he said with a sneer. His unshielded eyes studied her body. "Who would think that such a strikingly beautiful creature would be related to Roger. Must be a large variance in the gene pool."
I looked at Rake as I would a child who snuck a cookie before dinnertime. "He's always been good to us, Rake. Don't be so hard on his appearance." Although Roger was indeed unattractive, he did have a generous disposition—at least toward those he deemed worthy of it. But Rake was right in that his niece was of exceptional beauty.
"Such a shitty day for one of these things, don't you think?" Rake whined, reaching into his inner jacket pocket. He extracted a gold case, removing a thin cigarillo. Tapping it lightly against the case, he caressed it with his fingertips.
Given that I can't stand the smell, I stood as he put the cigarillo between his lips. Placing a hand on his cheek, I gave him a mockingly sorrowful look. "Poor Rake," I said, evoking a smile from him. "I'll be back—going to say hello to Roger." Rake puffed away, nodding.
The crowd of people seemed to have grown a bit larger in my retreat. But Roger was still in the corner—now speaking to his accountant, sans gold digger. Glancing to my right as I walked through the crowd, I saw his niece speaking to a Swiss artist I had met years ago, though his name escaped me. As I walked behind her, I listened for her voice. I detected a slight British accent as she spoke of a painting by Ulrich Schuler. Yes, that was his name…Uli Schuler. Her perfume was musky—not the typical scent of a beautiful woman. Maybe an oil base, like sandalwood or patchouli. It blended well with her skin.
Roger saw me approaching and set down his wine glass. "Kate!" he called loudly, "How good of you to come!" Extending his arms, he kissed both my cheeks as he pulled me close. "You know Taylor, my accountant," he smiled, nodding toward the man. Roger always called his male employees by their last names. I found this odd, but amusing. Hal Taylor and I shook hands, exchanging polite greetings.
Roger recaptured and cradled his wine glass. "I want to thank you again for that Matisse you tracked down for me. I've decided to put it in my study." He turned to Hal. "This woman is amazing—she's always gotten me exactly what I needed. And her suggestions have been fabulous." He winked at me. I smiled, somewhat embarrassed, as others began looking over in response to Roger's booming voice. "You know, Kate, I'm actually looking for another piece…as sort of a gift."
"Oh?" I asked, actually glad that he had brought up work amidst this uncomfortable crowd. It made me feel more secure.
"Problem is," he continued, "that I don't really know her taste all that well." I assumed he was referring to his new love, as dollar signs danced in my mind, thinking of what she'd fancy. "You seem to read people well, Kate. Think you could make a recommendation for me?"
I smiled. "I'll do my best, Roger."
"Good girl, you never let me down." He winked again. I jumped, somewhat startled as he suddenly raised his voice. "Darcy! Could you come over a moment? There's someone I'd like you to meet."
I was looking at Hal, who was obviously uncomfortable as he kept glaring at his watch. He didn't fit into the conversation, yet couldn't think of a way to excuse himself. I was glancing at his watch too as that heady scent overtook me.
"Kate Verneau, I'd like you to meet my niece Darcy."
As I faced her, she regarded me formally, extending her hand. "It's a pleasure, Ms. Verneau."
I took her hand gently, her long fingers gripping mine delicately. "Please, call me Kate," I said, my heart racing from her touch.
"Darcy is a writer, Kate," Roger began. "She's incredibly gifted—but that runs in the family." He nudged Hal, as Darcy and I giggled at his poor humor.
"Oh, Uncle Raj," she smirked.
"What do you write?" I asked, genuinely curious.
Her languid smile carried from Roger to me, soon fading. "I'm actually completing a dissertation on German literature—selected works of Hesse, Goethe, Schiller. So it's really not my own talents I'm known for, contrary to what my uncle may tell you." She smiled again, her eyes still hidden behind the dark glasses.
My eyes gazed over her left hand, casually studying the pinky ring. It looked quite elegant, yet simple: silver with two embedded diamonds. Aside from a silver watch, that was her only jewelry.
"That's interesting. Hesse's Beneath the Wheel is actually one of my favorite books," I said.
She looked at me, pausing with her response. Had I said something inappropriate? I didn't mean to debase her work. "Yes," she finally said, "Hesse was known for his complex plots. Blatant sexual innuendos also," she added, with a reserved tone.
I felt uncomfortable by this remark. Roger wasn't any better, judging by the look of surprise on his face. "Did you see the Matisse in the study, Darcy?" he asked suddenly. "Kate is the marvel who obtained it for me."
"No, Uncle, I haven't seen it yet. But I'd love to." She smiled warmly.
"Kate, would you mind?" Roger asked with a wink.
"I'd be delighted, Roger." And I was.
The blue nude hung on the west wall of the study, centered over the leather arm chairs. I stood back, admiring it in its new home—so far from the now repossessed Californian mansion which had housed it for so long. Darcy stood to my right, her arms loosely folded as she studied the painting. The heels of her shoes clicked and resounded against the wood floors as she approached to get a better look. She stopped, placing her left hand to the back of her neck, the ring once again catching my eye.
"I've never liked Matisse," she said blandly, her back to me. "Nor any of the impressionists, really. They lack passion, they don't speak to me."
I studied her body as she spoke. The way she'd move her arms—so fluidly, gracefully. She gave off an air of such confidence, arrogance almost. Yet she was remarkably feminine, sophisticated.
"What do you think, Kate?" She was suddenly facing me. God knows how long she'd been looking at me, at my eyes now staring at her legs.
Recovering quickly, I responded. "I agree with you on impressionism in general, but I like the blue nude. It's romantic, motherly, sensual…"
Her hand suddenly touched my shirt as her blue eyes smiled into me for the first time. She and her uncle shared that beautiful feature. Using her left hand, she pulled a single blonde hair from my shoulder, letting it fall to the floor.
Not stepping back from me, she looked over her shoulder at the painting again, then back to me. "I prefer the frenzy of a Meidner, or the abstraction of Klimt over Henri Matisse." She spoke the latter's name in a mocking French accent. I smiled, appreciating the sarcasm. "You should see my collection," she added.
"I'd love to," I said precociously.
She paused, looking first to me, then to the desk. Walking over to it, she said, "Tomorrow then? How is 6ish?" Lifting a pen from its case, she scribbled her address on a piece of embossed stationery and held it out to me. "We can have dinner and discuss some pieces."
I started to say that I had already made plans for that night, when we heard a conversation including Roger's voice approaching the study. "Oh," he said in the doorway, "I didn't know you two ladies were still in here. How do you like the painting, Darcy?" he smiled.
"It's absolutely beautiful, Uncle Raj," she gleamed. "I love the presentation." Darcy's eyes shined with pseudo-admiration, but I knew better.
Another woman approached the doorway, calling Darcy back onto the patio. Darcy touched my arm as she walked past me. "It was a pleasure, Kate. Au bientot…"
Temporarily ignoring his companion, Roger approached me as Darcy left the room. "Any ideas, Kate?"
I looked after Darcy as she walked back onto the patio. "A few, yes, but give me time," I said with a wink of my own.
Having cancelled my plans, I laid out my clothes the following morning. Standing in front of my bedroom mirror, I switched out dresses, slacks, blouses…all with different combinations of shoes. It's true that I have a very expensive, tasteful wardrobe. But you'd never know it unless you were to see me at a gallery or some mandatory social event. I decided on the black Armani slacks with a fitted periwinkle sweater. I wore no rings, only my own silver watch. I decided to take a dessert wine, not knowing what we would have for dinner.
Darcy's condo was located downtown— in a rustic building in the heart of the city. Stepping inside, it wasn't quite what I had expected—books and papers were strewn in piles and loose stacks everywhere, a laptop computer sitting in the middle of the living room floor. Yet the place had a warm feel to it—hardwood floors, area rugs, familiar paintings, lots of earth tones. It just didn't seem to fit the woman I had met yesterday. And her appearance tonight was much more casual—light, tan pants and a fitted black sleeveless shirt…no shoes. Regardless, she was still stunning.
Dinner had been ordered in from an Italian restaurant a few minutes away…chicken marsala and chopped salad, a bottle of chianti, and tiramisu for dessert. We ate on the coffee table, sitting on the couch. She wasn't much for cooking, she said. The food was excellent. While eating, we spoke of our experiences in the art world, acquaintances we had in common, exhibits we've seen. But the conversation took a much more personal turn as I commented on the ring that was absent from her finger.
She automatically traced her finger where the ring would occupy, had it been there. "It was a gift from a very good friend," she said softly. "We've known each other for years, but it's not a romantic involvement…even though others tend to think so."
I nodded in acknowledgement, sending I may have touched on a sensitive topic. "It's beautiful…the two stones."
She straightened up a bit, her eyes and hand still touching her pinky finger. "It's Bvlgari," she said shallowly, giving the conversation a more superficial glaze. She laughed almost mockingly. "I almost lost it when I was in Bremen last summer." Looking up at me, her eyes met mine for a moment. "I really don't wear it very often," she said quietly. Silence ensued, yet it stated something. "Would you like another glass of wine?" she asked, suddenly cheerful, "this bottle you brought is wonderful."
"No, I really shouldn't…"
"Don't be silly—we should at least finish the bottle." She winked at me, her blue eyes igniting against her skin in the candlelight. As she walked toward the kitchen, I lazily allowed my eyes to study her again—hair pulled up in a twist, bare shoulders, the cut of her shirt tapering to her waist, these casual pants curving beautifully over her hips and ass.
She returned as I sat smiling to my fantasy of caressing her smooth skin, envisioning my lips along the back of her neck, across her shoulders, down her back…. Sitting beside me, she smiled. "Last one, I promise." Handing me a full glass, she toasted, "Salud."
I did not expect her to clink her glass against mine, and when she did, it spilled down the front of my sweater, into my lap, dribbling onto the sofa. We both gasped, apologizing profusely to one another. She ran her hand under my sweater, touching under the crimson stain. "I'll have it cleaned for you; I'm so sorry," she said, half amused, half apologetic.
I laughed, more at the excitement of her touching me than at the situation. "Don't worry about the sweater. It's the couch that concerns me," I said, looking down.
"Oh shit! I didn't see that!" She placed her hand on the beige cushion as if it would remove the stain. Her eyes widened, looking at me with surprise. She then collapsed forward in a fit of laughter, her head and hands falling into my lap.
"I am so sorry," I said, hardly suppressing my laughter.
Waving it off, she smirked. "I'm not even going to think about that until morning." Looking at me, she added, "You're staying over, right? I mean, you're in no condition to drive home."
I honestly hadn't planned on it, but as I stood up, I quickly realized she was right about me not being able to drive. "Uhm…yeah. I can just sleep on the…" We both laughed as I looked at the couch, spotted with splashes of wine.
"Come with me, butterfingers," she said teasingly, leading me down the narrow hallway. That familiar scent overcame me as I followed her steps. We entered her bedroom, which was done in similar décor as the rest of the house: an iron queen bed stood in the middle of the room flanked by two maple nightstands, all atop a rust-colored area rug which covered the wood floors. As in the other rooms, books littered the floor, here and there. The walls were a coffee color, each adorned with a single painting. I found it interesting that she had no personal photographs in her home—all keepsakes were artistic in some way. As I stood inspecting the room, I could hear Darcy rustling in what sounded like her closet. I flinched suddenly, as I felt something hit my upper arm. Tossing the old t-shirt at me, she said,"You can wear that, if you like. At least get out of that sweater, maybe soak it in the bathroom sink? Sorry again about the spill." She laughed again, her apology losing credibility. "The bathroom is just in here," she added, nodding her head to her right. I had to walk sideways to get past her, my hand grazing her waist briefly. Our eyes met in the mirror on the wall as I looked back at her.
Once in the bathroom, I shut the door and held up the t-shirt. It was a soft, worn grey cotton with a small hole on the collarbone seam. Its only logo was a singular, faded blue 'A' on the left breast. I removed my stained sweater, setting it into the sink, and turned on the hot water. Slipping out of my slacks, I felt myself already damp from these brief confrontations with Darcy. I'm sure the wine was an aid in that as well.
"There's some soap under the sink if you want to use it," she called, with a brief rap on the door.
"Thanks," I said, unsnapping my bra. I retrieved the soap, blending it in the sink with my shirt. I looked at myself in the mirror over the sink, standing there in only my panties. At that moment it felt strangely familiar to be there—standing with the water running, the single toothbrush in the copper can on the counter top, the unlit vanilla candle on the shelf. I thought of Darcy in here, washing her face, maybe drying off after a shower. I wondered if she had ever had sex in this room, letting my eyes wander over the angular possibilities. Then I remembered myself and laughed aloud.
"What the hell are you doing in there?" she called out.
"Just washing my face, getting this stain taken care of," I responded. Lowering my face over the sink, I splashed a warm spray of water over my skin. I used her towel to pat my face dry, the soft fabric smelling of her perfume. Slipping the t-shirt over my head, I saw it only came to the bottom of my ass. If I was sober, I probably would have cared more, but I dismissed it with a sigh.
I opened the door and turned off the bathroom light. "Sorry I took so long. I was…" God it was dark. I didn't think she would turn off all the lights on me. Had she gone to sleep already? How long was I in there? As I walked further into the room, I smelled marijuana, and smiled as the scent heightened my senses.