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I glanced up at the man, then back down to my sketchpad. I hashed in the shadows on his cheek, the line cast by the frame of his glasses, the dark circles under his eyes. My drawing was not a likeness; it came closer to a caricature – the tired doppelgänger of this nameless middle-aged person, hunching over in front of his MacBook with his coffee removed to a safe distance. Forgettable in so many ways. But the light through the cafe windows had caught him – the backlighting made him somehow more real, more present – and thus, interesting.
Stroke by stroke I caught something of him, pinned it to paper.
Then he shifted and the scene shattered. I willed him to stay still, but he glanced at his watch, pulled a face, collected his accoutrements and stood to go.
I set aside my pencil and evaluated the partial portrait, sighing ruefully. I knew I wouldn’t complete it; it would join the many others in the mostly forgotten darkness of my storage box.
I packed my pencils and pad back into my bag. I still had time; some thirty minutes before I needed to be back at work. I picked up my tepid coffee, stepped out into the street and looked up, considering the state of the day. It was still clear, still bright, and the dome of St Pauls Cathedral beckoned to me.
The north-east edifice of the Cathedral raked the sky above me. I’d roughed in the architecture of the wall, and was now trying to capture the brooding manner in which the building loomed over London. Fluffy white clouds drifted into view over the small section of visible dome high above me; I paused and watched one meander through my patch of sky. Then I winced, stretched, and took a moment to glance around me.
A young woman walked into the churchyard from the square. She sat down on the bench next to mine, tucking her shapely legs up against her. She pulled a battered paperback out of her equally-battered shoulder bag, and tucked a rogue waft of her amber-gold hair behind her ear as she settled against the wooden backrest.
I couldn’t help myself. Something primal compelled me. I recognised the urge, knew I would never forgive myself if I ignored it.
I selected a new pencil, turned to a fresh page, and started to draw the perfect arcs of her body. I captured the way she’d clamped the tam-o-shanter down to control her glorious mane. I hinted to the texture of her boots, and to how her thigh-length burgundy coat clung to her waist and shoulders, the way the small section of cream polo-neck beneath it sheathed the curves of her slender body…
And then I realised that she was watching me.
“I’m so sorry,” I apologised, after a few moments of mortified silence. “It’s… a terrible habit of mine.”
“I don’t mind,” she answered. She let down her legs, leaned forward, smiled. “Can… can I see?”
I nodded, gestured. “Please,” I replied, smiling back nervously.
She joined me, perching on the bench beside me.
“Wow…” she said, after a moment. “That’s… really good. Are you an artist?”
“No,” I laughed, somewhat bitter. “In another timeline, maybe… but not in this one. Maybe in a year or two…”
“Shame,” she breathed. “It’s really beautiful. Um… so… do you want to finish it? I could … I could go sit and model for you, if you’d like me to?”
“Please,” I murmured, captured by the warmth in her eyes.
She grinned, stood and returned to her bench. She tucked her legs up, and guided by some curious instinct she assumed very nearly the exact same pose once more – except, that was, for the small Mona-Lisa smile.
That smile. I looked down, thought.
I could capture that for her.
So I did.
And when I was done, I rolled the familiar tension out of my neck. She took that as her cue to rejoin me, and we sat in silence for a moment, looking down at the serendipitous work that I cradled in my lap.
“You’re really talented,” she said. “Really, really good. Wow.”
I glanced away, blushing from the unaccustomed praise. Then I did something that I’d never done before – I slowly, gently tore the sheet free from my pad, and offered it to her. Her eyes widened and she hesitantly reached out, then paused.
“Sign your name?” she begged me. “Please? I’ve never had anyone draw me, and I’d love to have your name on it? Please?”
So I signed it, a neat cursive *Kay Jackson* slanting over the bottom right corner. She took the sheet reverently from me, and tucked it carefully between some papers in a plastic binder that she wrestled from her bag.
“Thank you,” she said softly. She paused, as if she wanted to say more. Then she shook her head slightly and stood. She walked off, glancing back once, thoughtful. I watched her until she rounded the corner, then sat back with a sigh. I looked down at my forgotten and now deeply uninteresting study of rocks. Then I stood and set off for the office. Time to be an adult once more.
I couldn’t believe that I’d given the drawing away. In all my reams of works, my books and pads and napkin sketches, there was one drawing as good – antalya escort a boy and his model boat at Battersea Park. I had captured him perfectly. This had been my second masterpiece… and I’d given it away. I could have framed it, hung it on my wall, and people would have assumed it was the work of a master – as good, as wondrous as a modern-day Raphael.
Instead, I’d handed it away to a beautiful girl who’d merely had to spend twenty minutes sitting still while I drew her.
I sighed, rolled over, stared at the faint square of street light surrounding my blackout blinds.
I was being unfair. Her hand had been shaking as she’d accepted it; clearly she’d been deeply affected. I hoped she’d frame it and display it, that it wouldn’t be tucked away somewhere and forgotten, or worse, discovered years later as a vaguely-recalled memento of her youth.
I rolled over again, closed my eyes, and curled my legs up, hunting warmth and oblivion.
Sleep came eventually, and morning followed in its usual cruel way. I lurched to the tube station, watching my fellow commuters as they fought their way through London’s daily salmon run. I studied them all, but none compelled me like she had, so I merely aped them and made my way to the office, where I prayed to the resurrection of the body with a double espresso which carried me through my morning meetings. Spite and stubbornness kept me going until lunchtime and my abortive date with St Paul’s churchyard and the north-eastern wall.
I sat on my familiar bench, glaring up at the stones. The light was wrong. Hopeless. Execrable. I fought the childish urge to scream, to tear the page out of my notebook, scrunch it up and fling it away.
Instead, I closed my eyes and tried to find some sort of calm. I regretted the drawing. I regretted giving it away. But I knew that I’d had no choice – the childlike wonder, the joy on her face had made it impossible for me to do anything else but give it to her.
Footsteps approached, and I sighed as I heard someone sit down. I hoped that it was just a fellow city worker, and not a nutter I’d have to try to extricate myself from. I took a breath, and opened my eyes.
It was her.
“Hello,” she said, with a small smile.
“Um… hi…” I answered, feeling strangely weak and unexpectedly happy.
“I’m glad you came back,” she said softly. “I… saw you sitting here and came over. I hope that’s ok?”
She looked down at the aborted architectural study in my lap. “What, no young girls to draw today?”
“Nobody inspired me. And the light is all wrong for the church today. So… I’ve given up in despair and I’m just sitting and thinking, I guess.”
“Do you come here often?” She leaned back, turning towards me. Her eyes were a rich, almost honey brown, and it took a moment for me to remember she’d asked me a question.
“I try to… it’s a beautiful oasis of calm, if you can ignore the tourists…”
She grinned. “And the nutters.”
“They’re mostly on the west side of the cathedral, though,” I continued. “They come for the stairs and the interior. I’m here for… well, nothing at the moment. Call it a sanity break from work if you will.”
“Where’s work?” She tilted her head slightly, watching me.
“Just south of here, near Cannon Street. We have space in the WeWork there.”
“Hello, fellow local,” she said. “Oh. I forgot to introduce myself. I’m Sophie.”
“I’m Kay… but then you already know that.”
“Thank you, by the way. I’ve never owned anything of which I’m so proud.”
“Oh… I… I’m glad.” I could feel myself blushing, and I glanced down at my lap again.
“So… oh gosh,” she said softly. “So… I know we just met, and I’m a nutter, and thus this is going to sound weird, but… some friends of mine and I are meeting tonight for drinks. It’s right near you. The Do Not Disturb?”
“I… think I’ve walked past it.”
“It would be awesome if you could come?”
“I’m a writer. Of sorts. Ella’s a singer. Danny’s an amateur magician. We’re short a forth member of our band. Come on. You’d fit right in. We’re completely harmless. Please?” she added, fluttering her eyelashes at me.
I couldn’t help myself. Laughing, I nodded.
“Great. We’ll be there from 6pm. See you there… Kay.”
She stood and smiled down at me, then turned to go. She turned once, and I felt a strange lightness of being when she waved.
The afternoon crawled slowly by; I fuelled myself with caffeine and a croissant that I liberated from the common area. Dull day, dull work, dull mid-afternoon meetings that made me seriously contemplating gnawing off a limb to escape. Momentary flashes of her smile kept me sane until it was time to pack up and escape. Despite my misgivings and my general dislike of social events, I made my way to the Do Not Disturb.
I pushed my way through the door and then stopped, awed. The interior of the bar looked like it had been lifted directly from the thirties, with a deep burgundy ceiling spotted kepez escort with amber art-deco lamps. The opulent interior was scattered with leather booths and elegant tables populated by beautiful people. I felt extremely underdressed, but drew some comfort from the many other city women dotted around the room in suits, jeans or leggings.
I slunk quietly to the bar, ordered a Gin and tonic from the immaculate barman, and fought down the powerful urge to draw the other patrons as I slid onto a stool. I sat, sipping my drink, and spent an enjoyable moment or two appreciating the Gershwin piano soundtrack pouring softly from the bar’s sound system. I stared at the lights, the shadows, and the way they softened the edges of everything so wonderfully.
I felt Sophie’s hand on my shoulder, and I turned to face her. “Hello you. So glad you came. Come on,” she added, “we’ve got a booth.”
She took my hand and led me to a corner table, where a man in a nice grey suit sat next to a tall, slender woman. “El, Danny, this is Kay.”
“Hello,” they offered, and El blessed me with a smile as Sophie ushered me into a seat next to her.
“So you’re the mystery artist that drew our Soph so nicely?”
I flushed and El laughed gently at me. “Shy, isn’t she?”
“Be nice to her, and maybe she’ll draw you too,” Sophie answered. “I showed the drawing to all of them, sorry. I couldn’t resist,” she said in an aside to me.
“Nothing like cheating to get the first official portrait,” El observed.
“Losers weepers,” Sophie smirked.
“I’d say cheaters never prosper, but that would be patently false now, wouldn’t it?”
Sophie stuck out her tongue and then grinned behind her wineglass.
“So I’d like to call this meeting to order,” Danny announced. “First item on the agenda – alcohol. Second item, more alcohol. “
“I can only do two,” El interjected, “because… drum roll please… I’ve got an audition tomorrow!”
“Oh my god, finally!” Sophie squealed.
“Congratulations, El,” Danny cheered. He leaned in and kissed her cheek. “That is the best news I’ve had all year.”
“Don’t jinx it, don’t jinx it,” she laughed. “But someone connected heard my last performance and pulled some strings… so I need to be good tonight so that I’m at my best tomorrow.”
“To El. May this be the start of great things.”
“To Ella,” Sophie agreed, raising her wine.
And from there, drinks followed in quick succession as the gang dug into my past, worked out that I was single and lonely and bored at work, and, after liberating my phone and rooting through the photos of my work that I kept on it, that in their opinion I was officially their new artist in residence. They discovered that my dream was a house with a south-facing study in which I could draw and paint, and Sophie smiled at me as she confessed to the same longing; for somewhere that she could have wall-to-ceiling shelves of books that she loved.
I felt curiously welcome, curiously at home, curiously content in my seat across from her.
“My mouth tastes foul,” I complained.
“Schnapps. Sorry,” Sophie said. “It always happens. One drink turns into many. Danny is a terrible influence. They like you.”
“El and Danny. They have declared you to be one of us, you are now unable to escape our clutches. We own your ass.”
I snorted and she laughed.
“Oh god, I’m going to feel horrid tomorrow.”
“Need help getting home?”
“Nah. Just have to stumble to the Northern line, then south to Clapham.”
“North or Common?”
“Snap. Same as me,” she said, surprised. “Come on, it’s getting cold, let’s go.”
She took my arm and we staggered to Bank station, down the escalators and onto a train. We found two seats and collapsed into them, Sophie giggling slightly. As we set off she glanced at me, smiled, and laid her head against my shoulder.
“Using you as a pillow,” she explained. “Always wanted one on the tube. Shush, pillow, Sophie is sleeping.”
I snorted, but didn’t move. The scent of her shampoo surrounded me, and after a moment I closed my eyes and leaned my head against hers as we rattled and shrieked our way southwards. The strange ache in my chest was back, and I didn’t want to disturb her for the world.
“Our station is next.”
“Heartless. I was so happily asleep.” She sat up and yawned, then shot me a small smile. “Thanks for being my pillow.”
We exited the station and stood for a moment on the pavement. Then Sophie linked arms with me again, and we stepped off, our gaits synchronising naturally within a couple of steps.
“Where are you?”
“It really is a small world. You could throw a stone and hit my mum’s place.”
“London’s like that.”
“True,” she smiled. We walked on in silence for a minute or two. “Well,” she said softly, “this is you. Drink some water, Kay. What time do you leave for work?”
“Seven manavgat escort am or thereabouts… why?”
“Want some company?”
“You know what… that would be really nice,” I said softly.
She smiled. “See you tomorrow then.” She took a breath. “Hug?”
I nodded, tongue-tied, and she stepped forward to give me a laughing squeeze. Then she turned and walked off, hair flouncing gently with every step. Two lampposts on she turned and waved, and I raised my arm and waved back, knowing in my heart that she was smiling.
Then I sighed out the breath I’d been holding and turned for home.
I let myself in quietly, walking quietly out of habit to avoid disturbing my flatmate Sue. I drank some water, then crept upstairs to my room. I was wide awake, too keyed up to sleep, and I knew I had to capture her on paper. So I sat at my easel, tacked a fresh sheet of paper to the board, and started to draw, wild free slashes pinning down the essence of her, of Sophie, as she turned and waved, backlit by the streetlights of Clapham.
It was early by the time I crawled into bed.
She stepped away from the nook she’d been sheltering in, and smiled up at me as she took my arm in hers.
“My mouth tasted like something peed in it,” I grumbled. “I can’t believe how rough I feel after one night out. All your fault.”
“It was a good night,” she agreed with a grin. “Fun. I enjoyed it.”
We swiped our Oysters and made our way down to the platform. The tube was rammed, and Sophie genially forced a tunnel for us onto a carriage, where we stood, pressed in a corner, chatting and laughing as we shook and shuddered our way into the city. Several sharp bends or applications of brakes pushed her into me; each time she laughed up at me, eyes sparkling, and each time I felt an unfamiliar catch in my breath, a fleeting weakness.
It was with no small measure of regret that I said goodbye as we reached street level at Bank station.
“Wait,” she said. “Don’t just run off. Give me your number, so we can meet up for lunch later.”
“That… I’d really like that, Sophie.”
“Soph,” she smiled. “Call me Soph.” She gave me a brief missed call, and smiled as I glanced down at my battered Samsung. “Gotta go,” she sighed. “Busy period at the mo. Big clients, angry bosses… So, half past twelve?”
“Meet you at the churchyard and we can take it from there?”
“It’s a date.”
“If only,” she said softly.
“Nothing. See you later, Kay!”
She smiled and walked off, and once more I found myself compelled to watch this beautiful, fae creature with her golden halo as she walked away.
Then I sighed, and turned, fighting my way to the office. I begged an aspirin off a colleague, diluted the blood in my caffeine stream, and then started on the newest round of designs requested by Soulless Marketing Gimp, as I’d uncharitably labeled him. For once the morning passed without drama, and I looked at the clock one or twice, each time surprised at how time was for once fleeting.
Midday arrived, and my phone buzzed.
– Can’t make lunch 🙁 – from Sophie.
I thought for a moment. It was a quiet spell, half the company had disappeared to Spittalfields Market to raid a pop-up steak stand.
– I will bring you something. Where do you work? –
– Seriously? Oh wow. My hero. 2a Friar street, near Blackfriars. Ping me and I’ll run down. –
I queued at the corner cafe and bought two coffees and a brace of pain au chocolat. It was a short walk to Sophie’s work, and I sent her an – I’m here – as I turned into the street. A few moments later, I smiled to myself as she dashed out into the street, spinning on her toes as she craned her head to look for me.
“Minx,” she laughed, as I handed her her lunch. “Thank you. Meetings everywhere today.”
She put an arm around me and squeezed me to her, then smiled up at me. “Drinks after work? To say sorry for bailing on you?”
“I was… going to go home tonight.”
“Please, Kay? Just one teeny, tiny, little drink with moi?”
“Well… ok. If you insist…”
She flushed, victorious. “Same time, same place? Do Not Disturb? You seemed to like it.”
“Ok. I’ll… see you there.”
“Bye, Kay,” she said with a smile. She ducked back indoors, turned, and blew me a kiss. I blushed, spun around, and stalked off towards the churchyard to sit and think.
Six pm found me perched at the bar, nursing my Gin and Tonic. I looked around at the people, drinking in the atmosphere, the soundtrack, the gloriously romantic lighting. I reached down into my bag, retrieved my pad and my pencils.
“Do you mind if I draw?” I asked the barman, quietly.
He smiled at me. “Go ahead,” he answered.
And so I did. I tried to capture the sense, the subtle emotion of the room, the soft susurration of conversations half-heard around me, the way the gentle light made angels from humans. My drawing hinted at shapes, forms rather than faces, and I realised I was capturing something akin to a dreamscape rather than reality, stylised and beautiful in its own way…
A touch, cool skin against mine, a whiff of scent. I took a breath, exhaled, continued to draw as Sophie leaned over my shoulder, her cheek against mine, watching.
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