tagRomanceThe Perfect Pieces Ch. 03

The Perfect Pieces Ch. 03

byDreamCloud©

Author's note: Chapter 3 of 13. Thank you Tim413413 for selfless editing.

The Perfect Pieces - Chapter 03

" 'Steal Your Face!' " Amber announced happily, looking up at the round window near the apex of east side of the roof. She wasn't lying about liking the Grateful Dead. I had filled the window with a frivolous stained glass ode to The Dead. A purple and red skull with a lightning bolt across the top. It was from the mid-70s album that Amber so accurately named.

"It fits, doesn't it," I said with a proud smile. She nodded as she walked the rest of the way in. I had two sturdy 4x6 tables along one wall with lights hanging low over them. The other wall held metal shelves filled with supplies and my inventory of glass. There were two file cabinets that contained my design patterns and those I had purchased. In the center of the room was a large 8x8 table I used for final assembly. Most of my cutting and sanding was done on the tables along the wall.

"It fits you," she smiled, moving close to a mostly assembled panel in the middle of the room. It was a restoration job. She picked up the old photo of the original panel that had disappeared from an old house. The new owners wanted a replacement that matched the original. I had to guess at some of the colors since the photo had yellowed. "This is really good," she said, holding the photo next to the panel. My ego basked in her praise. It was always worth more than the dollars.

She walked around the room, looking at suncatchers and panels I had hanging on the walls. She stopped before one of my favorites. A medium-sized panel of a lighthouse sitting on the rocks in a storm. The clouds and water had taken me a long time to get right. I wasted so much glass trying to add a forcefulness to the curves. It was one of my pet projects and won't leave my sight until I'm dead.

"You are really good," Amber said, "I can almost feel the wind and rain." I wanted to jump up and down, but remained humbly quiet. Very few people have seen my workshop. A couple of customers who live within a half-days drive and an old friend I go fishing with once a year. He understands me like no one else could. Though Frank doesn't have the toned legs that Amber has, he knew my sordid past.

"Is everything for sale?" Amber asked.

"I only sell commissioned work," I replied, "the stuff you see hanging around is just for me. Well, except for the panel with the four ducks." I pointed at a panel hanging near the door, "It was never picked up." It was an ugly thing when outside of the country kitchen it was meant for. Four cartoon ducks marching in gray galoshes.

"Didn't they like it?"

"It was for an old couple," I said, "the wife died before it was finished, and he had no interest in it. I let him off the hook," I chuckled, "it's kind of ugly anyway."

"Poor ducks," Amber pouted. She moved on making little comments here and there. I had about fifty pieces hanging, and she didn't miss a one. A private showing. "Is it hard to do?" she asked as she looked at some of the small suncatchers. She was admiring one of the three dragonflies I had created. They had four psychedelic free-floating wings each.

"When I started it sure was," I replied, "now I get mired more in the art than the technique. A large window might give me some trouble, but it is mostly the design I struggle with."

"You're the first true artist I can say I know," Amber said, looking at me with her pretty smile. I gave her an exaggerated bow. My mouth wanted to go on and brag about my glass. I kept it shut and was surprised when it listened to me.

"How about some breakfast?" I offered.

"Okay, but I'm cooking," Amber demanded. I knew she felt she needed to contribute. I had no problem letting her. I was a weak cook. Cereal was the highlight of my mornings.

The french toast was good. Very good. We would have to go shopping to replace the bread we just finished, but it was worth it. Amber had mixed some vanilla in with the eggs and sprinkled cinnamon over the finished product. I didn't even know I had vanilla in the cupboard. Must have been one of my ex's purchases. The toast almost didn't need syrup. Almost, but any chance to add sugar was never lost on me.

"So, you were married once," Amber commented after we discussed the existence of the vanilla.

"Yes," I sighed. I didn't enjoy the rehashing one of my greatest failures. "Sandra and I had nothing in common except love in the beginning. Unfortunately, that faded quickly as our differences became known. We hung on for a few years, fighting the inevitable. That was our biggest mistake, holding out until we disliked being around each other. We can't even talk civilly anymore." I needed to apologize to Sandra. I added that to my list of life to-dos.

"She didn't like this place," Amber said. I found her assumption astute.

"It was hell on earth to her," I added with mirth. Sandra actually hated the isolation, not the house or grounds. She needed people, thousands of them around her at all times. She was a city girl. "I suspect your relationship was worse," I said, going off our previous conversation.

"Much worse," Amber replied. She didn't elaborate and I let it go. I could see the pain it caused her. Her face changed, became more sullen. I didn't like it so I changed the subject.

"You promised to show me Dido," I reminded her. Her smile returned. It pleased me more than it should.

"Computer?"

"In my office," I said, pointing to what should have been an extra bedroom. Not that it mattered with only one full bath. We left the dishes and fired up YouTube. Dido live at Brixton Academy. Soft music began on a purple-lit black stage, led by a keyboardist. A delicate voice emerged and a white light illuminated a cute woman with soft blonde hair. The song was in my memory from somewhere, but I had discounted it in the past. Probably never survived my station surfing. This time I listened to the words. Listened to it while watching Amber sway. It was a beautiful song about a stubborn unrequited love. I closed my eyes and let Dido's voice wash over me. I saw glass, perfect pieces of color flowing in my mind. Soft-textured, joined in such a way they blended wonderfully to form a naturescape. Words to shapes and shapes to colors.

"That is a very pretty song," I said. I had never used the word pretty to describe music before. I usually described songs by the emotion they invoked. I think Amber's presence changed that. I was seeing the music as well as feeling it.

"She writes most of her songs," Amber said. I let my stubbornness for classic rock artists fade. I let the value of the new music grow. I wondered how many other musicians I have been discounting. On screen it said that the song was recorded in 2004. I smiled, thinking it was already a classic for most teenagers. It was new to me. I was disappointed when the song ended. Always a sign of a good tune.

"What else have I missed?" I asked seriously.

"Pardon?"

"I stopped listening to new music in the early nineties," I informed her, "I can't believe I let it happen." I was seriously kicking myself. I had a hole where I didn't expect one to be. I wanted Amber to filter out the crap and fill it with the good music I missed. Dido's voice was still echoing in my mind. A wanting tenderness that lit up my imagination.

"You're in love again," Amber smiled, "it's your artistic side." She was right. No matter what sense was being tempted, beauty had a way of drawing me in.

"Not very manly, huh" I admitted. She kissed me.

Shock was my first emotion. That it wasn't a peck on the cheek was even more surprising. The wanting tenderness of her lips made me ignore it all. My eyes closed, my arms drew her in and colors swirled in my mind. I lost myself in the kiss's beauty. My hand traveled up behind her hair, her neck was so soft. I wanted this. She broke away.

"Nope," Amber said, "all man." She smiled slyly, turned and left the room. I stood there, my arms still holding air where her body once stood. There was art in her kiss. I plopped down in the desk chair and stared at the screen. YouTube started another song entitled 'Thank You.' I let it sweep over me as I concentrated on the kiss. I didn't want another woman. No, that was no longer true. I didn't want another Sandra was more accurate. Amber had unknown issues. She also had artistic lips and great taste in music. She liked my glass. My mind wandered to her toned legs and that wonderful smile. I chuckled at the strange purple ends in her hair.

Dido sang, "I want to thank you for giving me the best day of my life." I had to smile. It was one of the best kisses I had ever had. The surprise, coupled with emotion, embodied with the colors it generated, was exciting. I was disappointed when the kiss ended. Always a sign of a good kiss. I went after her.

I found Amber pulling her clothes out of the dryer. She folded them one by one as I leaned against the door and she pretended she didn't know I was there.

"I thought you were afraid I was going to make a pass at you," I said, trying to hide my smile. My mind was concentrating on her shorts as she leaned down to pull out another item.

"Then I was afraid you wouldn't," Amber said, not looking at me as she continued to fold her laundry. I didn't move from the door.

"I really enjoyed that kiss," I admitted, "I was wondering if you enjoyed it as well." Permission. I always needed permission. Why couldn't I just be that guy who grabs what he wants? That kiss should have been all the consent I needed. Amber turned towards me. There were tears in her eyes. Desire fled.

"I shouldn't have," Amber garbled her words, "I wanted to...my life is shit and I wanted something nice for once. It was really nice." I moved toward her and she leaned into me. I let her hide her tears in my shoulder as I held her. We stayed that way for a long time, the laundry forgotten.

I avoided asking about her past. My curiosity was screaming at me, but it wasn't mine to know. I suspected knowing would also cause more problems than not knowing. I could give her my shoulder. That was easy. Watching her cry; that was hard. My history was to run from people whose problems couldn't be fixed with a flip of switch. A day ago she was homeless and hungry and now she was staying with me and using me for emotional strength. What was even stranger, I wasn't fighting it. I wanted to help and thought I wasn't doing enough. How did I get so flipped around.

"We're going grocery shopping," I announced. I felt her stifle a laugh.

"That's your answer?" Amber asked.

"When in doubt, eat," I stated as if it was religious mantra.

"Ice cream?"

"Of course."

"That actually sounds wonderful," Amber agreed. She lifted her head and wiped at the wet marks on my shirt where her head had lain. "Sorry about that."

"I'll take a quick shower and we can be off," I said, after I was sure the tears were over. Whatever was wrong, was powerful. I could see it in her red eyes. I left her to finish her laundry while I showered and shaved. I hoped that her problems weren't as serious as she made them out to be. That didn't make them any less traumatic for her, but would make it easier to deal with. I had come to the decision I would help her deal with them if I could. Somewhere in the back of my head a little voice was screaming 'you are an idiot.' The kiss was drowning the voice out.

Amber played with the radio as we drove. I let her know it was hopeless. I could only receive three good stations out here, and they loved to play ads during the day. She got lucky and found some CCR playing. She smiled, all proud of herself.

"Lucky girl," I commented.

"Lately," she agreed. "This isn't the way to town."

"We're going to Hamond's Country Store," I informed her, "the prices are higher and the selection smaller, but you don't have to burn half a tank of gas and half the day to get there. It's like its own mini mall. Rental trucks, post office, groceries, greasy spoon, cheap clothing and tourist trap for those who don't have enough trinkets."

"Sounds enticing," Amber added facetiously.

"They have ice cream."

"It's sounding better by the minute," Amber laughed. It only took ten minutes to get to Hamond's at the junction of BB and state route 11. It had a parking lot ten times larger than it would ever need with only four cars parked out front. There were two rental trucks parked off to the side. The facade had a charming hick look to it, naked logs holding up the roof of the porch that ran along the length of the building. A few wood benches lined the porch, with old metal-banded wooden barrels as garbage cans. There were numerous hand-painted signs detailing all the facilities the store provided.

"Tom," I said to the tall, gangling fellow behind the counter, "this is Amber. Amber, Tom." Tom moved his hand to his head and tipped an invisible hat.

"Hello, Amber," Tom greeted her.

"Hi," Amber returned.

"Tom ships all my finished glass," I informed Amber, "hasn't had one break on him yet." Tom nodded like it was nothing. His eyes were on Amber.

"Looking for something special, Mark?" Tom asked. He looked at me a second before his eyes returned to Amber.

"Nope," I replied," just some groceries."

"And ice cream," Amber interjected with a smile. We headed off to the food section. Tom kept staring at Amber which seemed a bit creepy. Amber didn't seem to notice. I had never seen Tom ogle a woman before. He was usually more considerate. I let it go when we disappeared into the aisles with a cart.

Hamond's wasn't much for selection. If you didn't like the brand of ketchup they were carrying, too bad, there wasn't another choice. It was something you learned to live with if you didn't want to take a trip into town. For Amber's benefit, we went down every aisle. She brightened as we shopped. We decided on spaghetti for dinner and she grabbed what we needed. She chose mint chocolate chip as the ice cream. We came to the toiletries aisle and a thought came to me.

"I'm going to grab a bottle of wine to go with the spaghetti," I said and pointed down the aisle. "If there is anything you need, put it in the cart."

"Are you sure?" she asked. I leaned over and kissed her cheek. Such a bold move for me. I felt like one of those guys who moved without permission. How I loved the smile I got in return.

"Anything," I reminded her and took off in search of a good bottle of wine. I figured that if she needed any private things, she didn't want me standing over her. I strutted down the front of the store until I entered the liquor section. I knew nothing about wine. Luckily, Hamond's didn't have a lot to choose from. I found a pinot noir that was in a nice looking bottle. I picked it for the glass which I did know something about. The thin layer of dust on the bottle told me others had been ignoring it. I smiled, a homeless bottle for a homeless girl.

I caught up with Amber in the produce aisle. She was putting some lettuce into the cart. "Salad okay?" she asked.

"Sounds good, though we'll need some dressing," I replied. I saw Tom out of the corner of my eye. He disappeared quickly, but I believe he was watching Amber. I had never known Tom to be so blatant. Maybe it was the purple hair. We don't get that many punk looks out here. I decided to stay close to Amber for the rest of our visit.

It took us another ten minutes to finish shopping. It had been a long time since I had bought food for two. I think it had been a long time since Amber had planned meals. She was enjoying herself immensely. I was feeding off her happiness. Maybe avoiding everyone wasn't such a good life plan. I needed to get out more.

We ended up filling four grocery bags. Amber seemed a little unsure about her toiletries, including some feminine products. I tried to reassure her by ignoring the whole scanning process. I just handed over my credit card and pretended like it didn't matter. Tom watched us leave. I waved and he sheepishly waved back. I had no idea what was up with him, but I was glad we were leaving.

"Thank you, Mark," Amber said as we started back.

"You're welcome," I replied, trying not to grin too freakishly. I was really having a lot of fun. I looked over, and she was smiling at me. I let my grin loose. "See if you can find us some music, Ms. Lucky." She, of course, did.

We unloaded and I excused myself to work on the unfinished panel. I was already behind schedule and I had new glass that I wanted to turn into flowers and a hummingbird. My workshop was wired for sound and I used it often. This time I hooked up my phone, kicked on a free streaming service and choose Dido as the base. Her voice filled the room, and I had new motivation.

I attacked the panel, wanting to finish it as soon as possible. I had three more pieces to foil and I checked to make sure I ground the edges of the unfoiled pieces. I never trusted my memory with such things. I began to wrap the edges in foil. Some folks used machines to help with this part. Not me. Good music made the tedium bearable. The pains of the world washed away as the practiced monotony of the task settled my mind. Art was no longer a part of this portion. It was strictly mechanical technique. Years of practice had made this portion easy, but that didn't make it unimportant. A flaw in the work could weaken the completed structure. I found myself humming to the music as I worked.

I finished one piece and ran the fid around the edge to make sure there were no gaps and it adhered to the edge of the glass well. I then had to get to my phone. It seemed the streaming service decided that if I liked Dido, I also liked some boy band. Wrong. I told it so with a thumbs down and it moved on to a pretty piano intro for a song called 'Foolish Games.' I wasn't sure, but it had to be better than the boy band.

I went back to work as dark glass filled my mind. The words to the song felt like they were ripped from the singer's soul. I had to stop every once in awhile to take a breath. I had missed a lot by isolating my music tastes to the geriatric bands. These songs were like 'Dust in the Wind.' Simply beautiful, sung with heart I didn't think existed anymore. The Cat Stevens of my 21st century. It didn't take me long to foil the other two pieces. I refitted them into the glass puzzle to make sure nothing had changed.

I broke out one of my soldering irons and flux. I began tinning the pieces. Brush on the flux and then applying a thin layer of solder over the foil. More comfortable routine to go with the new music. I got lost in the work and only had to correct my phone a couple of times. I was nearing the last of the pieces, bobbing my head to a song called 'The Hunter,' trying to understand the words when I noticed Amber out of the corner of my eye. She was leaning against the door, watching me work. She smiled when I looked up. She looked as comfortable as my work.

I stood and turned down the music. "How long have you been there?"

"Two songs," she replied, without moving away from the door. "I was watching you work. Do you know you suck your lips in when you go around a corner of the glass?"

"I never thought about it," I said, with half a chuckle, "I just get into a rhythm and keep going."

"Dinner's ready," Amber continued, "I didn't have the heart to stop you. The spaghetti will wait for us anyway." I looked up at the clock. A quarter to six. I was truly lost in the work.

"Time to quit anyway," I said, and started to clean up my work, "I'll be there in five minutes."

"You really enjoy that, don't you?" she asked, gesturing toward my work. I stopped cleaning and looked at her. It wasn't a rhetorical question.

"It's predictable and it's mine," I answered. "This place and my work, it's pretty much all I need to be happy. Of course, it helps that people are willing to pay for my art."

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