River's Transparent Desire
Author's note: It's more of a short story than a novel
The AcquisitionThe sun felt good beating down on his back and bare legs. He was glad he had changed into his swim trunks. He grabbed a cigarette from his pack and lit up, inhaling the sweet smoke that had become his closest friend.
The walk to the art store was longer than she had made it seem. Not unenjoyable, but long. By the time he got there, he guessed he had been walking for at least the past twenty minutes. He didn’t really care though. It wasn’t like he had any sort of time limit.
He felt out of place in the streets of San Diego. His pale skin made him look like a ghost compared to the sun-kissed tans and bleached blonde hair of the natives. Everyone looked at him like they knew he was foreign.
The familiar smell of paint slapped his face as he entered the art store. The place wasn’t very big, but it had exactly what he needed. He stood in front of the canvases; examining each one before realizing she never specified which size she wanted. He pulled the money out of his pocket and counted up how much he had. His sixteen bills totaled up to three hundred and twenty dollars, so he decided to buy four canvases. He could tell she wasn’t the type of girl who would mind having her picture painted more than once, and he definitely wasn’t the type of guy who would pass up an opportunity to just stare at her.
He grabbed the varying canvases and headed over to the paint and brushes. He picked out a set of basic acrylics and a good-looking pack of brushes before making his way to the register. He regretted not getting a cart when he entered the store, and practically threw everything onto the counter.
“Hello sir, did you find everything you were looking for today?” asked the guy behind the register, who looked like he was taken straight out of a magazine ad for Southern California.
“Yeah,” he mumbled, fishing around in his pocket for the cash. The guy behind the register took the hint and decided against an attempt at small talk. The guy continued to ring up the items, but kept looking at him, like the guy was trying really hard to see him.
“Are you from around here?” he finally asked.
“Uh, no. No I’m not.” The guy pursed his lips and nodded.
“Ok, well your total today is one fifty-nine, ninety-five.” He counted out his bills carefully before sliding them across the counter. The guy at the register didn’t look away from his face once, even as he was getting his change. It was like he’d never seen someone who hadn’t spent their entire lives engrossed in the sun’s rays.
He rubbed his hand through his shaggy hair, using that as an excuse to look away from the guy behind the register. He knew he looked different, but had they really never seen anyone like him before? The guy’s staring was getting more and more uncomfortable and he wished the guy would hurry up and rings up the rest of the items. It seemed liked the guy was ringing up everything as slowly as he possibly could, in order to have an excuse to look at River for a longer period of time.
“Five cents is you change. Have a nice day.” He grabbed his bags from the counter, and slid the larger canvas under his left arm before heading back out to the street. Most guys his age he saw in San Diego had a surfboard under their arm; he had painting supplies.
By the time he got back to Carol’s house the sun was beginning to set. He made his way across her front lawn and over to the fence that divided the pool from the rest of the world.
There was a mutt standing in the opening of the chain link fence, it’s hind legs facing him. The dog’s back was hunched slightly, and it was obvious to see that every hair on every inch of its body was standing on edge. He didn’t have to see the dog’s face to see that its teeth were clenched and it was snarling viciously.
He considered waiting for the dog to leave; after all, this was a stray dog more than willing to attack whatever it was it was looking at. But then he decided he didn’t care. And he walked right past the dog.
Oddly enough, it seemed to calm down when it saw him. Probably because it realized it wasn’t the dominant species in this situation. The dog turned and trotted away.
“That damn dog is so angry all the time. I have no idea why. He used to be this super nice, adorable neighborhood dog. But after my whole wrist accident, he just comes over here to snarl at me on a regular basis. They turned people against me, they turned dogs against me. Man those girls were just too good,” she said, shaking her head slowly. She was fully clothed again, but the towel was covering her folded legs like a blanket. It was the first thing she’d said to him that he didn’t really find interesting. So he brushed it off and changed the topic.
“I didn’t know what size you wanted, so I brought options,” he said, presenting the canvases to her. He could see the grin slowly spread across her face like a disease.
“Can you do them all?” she asked, looking up, earnest interest over flowing her voice.
“Sure, I guess. If you’re willing to pose for all of them.”
“Of course I’m willing to pose for all of them,” she said, as if that was more than clear.
“Oh right. I forgot the whole wanting to be famous thing.”
“Yeah, well when I tell you my life story in under an hour I can understand how it would be easy to forget some details.”
They smiled at each other. He wished he could see her eyes making contact with his, but she was still wearing her sunglasses.
“Ok, so why don’t you come over tomorrow at noon and we can get started. I have this really old school looking couch in my living that would probably be good for a back drop since it’s in front of a plain white wall.”
“Alright. I’ll be over at noon.”
“Cool. And do you mind keeping the painting stuff with you? I’m just going to be totally honest: I don’t want to deal with it right now.”
“Sure. I’ll take it with me.” He couldn’t help but think to himself that this was the perfect example of the absolute power she held over him.
“Thanks,” she said, smiling sweetly.
“Oh, hey,” he said, reaching into his pocket. “Here’s you change from the paint store.”
She didn’t even look at the bills wadded up in his palm.
“What?” he asked, more taken off guard then he thought he would have been.
“Yeah, consider it payment for doing this for me.”
“I’m not going to make you pay me.”
“I don’t care.”
“I can’t accept this. It’s way too much. And I really want to do this just for the sake of painting. I didn’t even consider asking for payment.”
“River,” she said, getting up from her chair and moving inches away from his body, her eyes ferociously plunging into his. He was a good four inches taller than she was, but her stare made him feel tiny. “I appreciate you doing this for me, and I appreciate that you were willing to do it for free. But just take the damn money and run, ok?”
His face was blank for a second, but then he grinned.
“Wow,” he muttered, looking down at his newfound cash. “Thanks, I really appreciate it.”
She shrugged and walked back to the chair, picking up the Simba towel. She stretched her arms high above head, and bent backwards slightly. He could hear a faint yawn.
“I’m pretty much dead right now. I have to go to sleep or I think I might fall over.”
“And you’ve got to be well rested if you want to model properly for me tomorrow.”
“Of course. There is always that.”
“I’ll see you at noon,” he said, slipping the bags over his shoulders and grabbing the canvases.
“Yes you will,” she said. He studied her face one last time before she began walking to where the back door was located on the other side of the house and wondered if tomorrow she’d still have the glasses. He’d make her take them off while he was painting her. He needed to see her eyes. Then he got serious with himself: he’d never make her do something if she wasn’t completely on board with it.
He walked back to Carol’s house and set all of his supplies down in the front room by the door. For some reason, her wave of tired had completely infected his body.
He walked up the stairs and got in the shower, turning up the heat as high as it would go, which wasn’t very high. Carol kept the house freezing at all times because she thought San Diego was too hot. He didn’t feel like actually cleaning himself though. He just stood under the pouring water for twenty minutes until he felt somewhat satisfied.
All of the towels in the house were rough, so he didn’t even bother using one to dry his body. He threw on a clean t-shirt and pair of boxers and used one of the towels to dry his hair.
He could see her house perfectly from his bedroom. He glanced out the window at her house. None of the lights were on. She obviously wasn’t kidding when she said she was so tired she thought she would die.
He pulled back the sheets and laid down, his view of her house still perfect. When his eyes closed, visions of her face clouded his mind. He kept thinking of different ways he could paint her. He wanted to depict her in a way that perfectly exhibited how complex she was. Every few minutes he would break away from those thoughts and look out his window again, as if he was checking to make sure it was still there, that it wasn’t all a dream.