Happy post-Halloween Sunday! Hope everyone has recovered from the candy. I have not. Ate one too many Twix bars… then tried to convince myself that eating bread and cheese would counteract the sugar… BAD idea! Note to self: if your stomach is hurting from too much food, the answer is not more food.
Anyway, as promised, and because Sunday used to be posting day for Thirty Nights when it was just a seedling, I thought I’d give you the first full-length excerpt today. Meeting Aiden Hale. Enjoy! (30N Pros: do you see the differences?) Be back with more. xo, Ani
EXCERPT 1: MEETING AIDEN HALE
A tall man, dressed in a tailored charcoal suit, white shirt and cobalt-blue tie, is standing a few feet from the gallery desk, scrutinizing a painting. His dark brown hair is swept back in casual waves. His eyes burn an intense sapphire blue. On the corner of his right eye is an inch-long scar, bleached by time. Beautiful in its savagery. Like something sharp could not resist his beauty but ricocheted at the last minute, desperate to mark him as its own, yet unable to defile him.
Attractive. Much, much too attractive. In fact, only someone so bewildering could reach me in this final hour. For a wild second, I wonder whether my brain has snapped and has created him, like a hallucination, to get me through the next thirty-seven days alive.
Despite his magnetic pull, something about his posture creates a force field around him. Untouchable. Distant. He stands straight, away from everything, his back angled toward the wall. His broad shoulders are tense, as though he senses an invisible, uninvited presence behind him. I scan the gallery, expecting to see something or someone other than Kasia. But it’s utterly empty, except a tall man, the size of Shaquille O’Neal, standing in the far corner like a security guard.
“Would you like something to drink, Mr. Hale?” Kasia simpers, her voice higher than usual. She sounds like she is faking a British accent. I snort.
“No, thank you,” he answers coldly, continuing to stare at the painting in front of him.
I follow his gaze and stop. I feel a twinge of satisfaction to see that he is looking at a painting of me. Not that he would know that. I never model my face, just random parts of my body. This painting portrays only the curve of my throat and jawline, my hair slightly swept back, exposing the skin. The rest of the canvas recedes into darkness. That’s Javier’s style—he never paints blatantly erotic things like breasts, arse, pubic hair. That’s not the point, he says. The point is to force the viewer to imagine the rest of the beauty. Good thing too. I couldn’t have posed naked for anyone, especially Javier. Today, we are painting my waist and left hipbone, but I have a long white sheet to cover the rest of me.
“We could probably have that painting done in color as well.” Kasia is melting. “But the artist feels that the black, white and gray colors allow the real beauty to shine through.”
He does not respond to her. I feel a tiny bit of sympathy for Kasia now. Really, anyone would be a mess. I need to leave, but suddenly I want to hear his voice again. It’s cold and cutting, as if every word is intended to crack a canyon between him and the world. But it’s also hypnotic. Like you would do anything it bid you to do.
My short-lived sympathy evaporates like smoke when Kasia turns to me with a raised eyebrow.
“Isa! Why are you standing there? You know Brett’s instructions. Cleaning ladies in the back.” She cocks her head to the side, pointing to the back door that leads to Javier’s secret studio.
Fuck off, Kasia. I start to walk away but Mr. Hale turns to see what has offended Kasia. He moves with paradoxical military grace. Fluid, yet erect. As if he expects to defend himself at any point but is confident about the outcome. He regards me intently, his eyes narrowing slightly at the corners. There is something endless about his eyes—like you enter through them and perhaps never come out. For a moment, I panic that he can see a similarity between me and the woman in the painting. That he knows it’s me.
But I recover quickly. There is nothing in the painting that can link its subject to me. That’s Javier’s point. That the woman on the canvas can be any woman, any fantasy, any emotion because only a small, unidentifiable part of her is exposed. Mr. Hale’s impassive face confirms Javier’s genius. He turns to Kasia and his voice is, impossibly, colder.
“I will purchase the painting. Is it part of a series?”
Kasia fumbles as she takes his credit card and hands him the purchase agreement. She blushes and stammers and finally manages, “Umm, no—I mean, yes. Yes, it is. The one you’re purchasing is the first. The artist is working on the final, and there are three others in the back. Would you like to see them?”
I know the other paintings. One is of my right shoulder and collarbone. The other one is just my belly. The last one is my left leg, knee down, standing on tiptoe.
“With the same model?” Mr. Hale asks.
“Yes—er, I mean, technically no. The artist says the model is not real, Mr. Hale. He imagined her.”
He does not speak. For an instant, I feel like I’m fading. Like I truly don’t exist here anymore. Adrenaline spikes in my blood and I have a compulsive urge to throw myself between them and say, It’s me! I’m the girl you want!
His voice whips through the air again. “I will buy them.”
Instantly, I feel the first warmth of the day. He kept me. I may be gone in a month but at least some parts of me are ending up on the wall of an earthly Adonis.
“I’ll call you when the final painting is finished, Mr. Hale,” Kasia gushes. She would have an easier time lifting the Portland Memorial Coliseum with her pinky than getting a reaction from him.
He starts reading the purchase agreement, and I get the feeling he is simply avoiding looking at her. “Double the price if it is finished by the weekend.”
Kasia’s mouth pops open. So does mine. Feign sells those paintings for $10,000 apiece. Of course, Javier gets only $400 and gives me $50. Who buys art without looking at it? At regular price, let alone double? Mr. Hale is now poring over the care guarantee agreement. Frustrated with his indifference, Kasia takes it out on me.
From my peripheral vision, I see his head whip up but I scuttle away to where Javier is waiting, not daring to look at the cold stranger.