Gabriella slips into a ruby red dress and I tighten the knot on my black tie. My fingers reach into my pocket, rub over the card with Bay’s name on it. I never pictured her working in a museum, more like being a waitress in a flourishing restaurant.
“Ready?” Gabriella straightens my jacket. We had stayed at a hotel for a night and we will for two more days: Today, my exhibit, and tomorrow, so Gabriella can visit her old campus.
A cluster of artsy people crowd around the half circle with colorful beams, staring at it, whispering amongst themselves. Asking how in the world have I managed to capture it. How I had found that angle.
I remember the field in orange, how the camera made it that way, not me. I didn’t edit a thing about it. The wheat is the main object, the field behind it swaying, a car whooshing by in the corner, just the tail light intact. It stands large on the wall, horizontal and eyes hungrily looking up at it.
Even more viewers packed together around the lake at dawn, staring at it, whispering amongst themselves. Are they really captivated by it? Enthralled by its beauty, the pink and red and the blue off the water? Is it making them wish they were there, at that moment, gasping like I was, not regretting at getting up so early?
Gabriella wraps her arms around me. “I’m so proud of you.”
Seeing the joy on their faces, the bizarre curiosity to how I got that one shot, it makes me feel accomplished, like I finally completed the one goal in my life. It’s amazing that these people are actually staying longer than five seconds to look at these pictures. The gears in their brains whirling at the scenes, wondering how they could recreate it. Pointing out the little things I thought no one could find.
We stroll over to a wall that has information about me, and it’s my exact biography from the website. Crystal and I are to the side, the caption saying I dedicate everything to her. She is the one who made this happen.
“Charlie, look.” Gabriella points to a smaller note, typed and bold. ‘At the end of the exhibit, you may put down a price if you want to purchase the canvas. When the cycle ends, the highest bidder of each picture will go home with it and the money will go to the photographer.’
“You know what this means?” Gabriella grabs my arm. “We can buy a house! A bigger bathroom, better kitchen…” I’m still glaring at the note. People want to buy these things. I mean, that’s not exactly a surprise to me, but they want to put down big bucks and display it in their house. And someday, someone will look at it and want to know who it was, and they’ll say it was me, and the word will spread. And then maybe a whole country will know about me.
We should probably get California covered first, though.
“Are you Charlie?” A teenage girl comes up to me, a napkin and a pen in hand. “Can you sign this, please? I’m a huge fan of your website.”
“Uh, sure.” I never practiced my signature. I scribble out my name, long but messy. The girl hugs me, knocking me backward. I don’t know what to expect these days.
“My mom is going to be so jealous. Thank you!” And she’s off. Soon individuals come up, then bunches gather and form a line. I had no idea this many people cared for my name. Gabriella still stands by me, smiling upon incomers and watching me. I’m actually enjoying this.
The night is drawing to a close. The line dies out, and even though my hand feels cramped, I want more. It’s exhilarating, to finally feel like something of a celebrity. Maybe these people will go home, pick up a camera, and actually wait for a sunset to snap a shot at.
I’m just glad that people even looked at it.
I wake up to Gabriella putting on her shoes. “I’ll take the car and be back by four. You’ll be okay here?”
“Mm,” I say groggily.
“There are leftovers from last night in the mini-fridge.” She kisses me and quietly leaves the room.
I roll over, determined to stay in bed all day, holding on to the feelings of last night. Then I remember I do need to get out. Bay has arranged a lunch with me.
We meet at a deli that’s two blocks from the hotel. I slide into the seat across from her and hungrily tear into my sandwich.
“You were always so into your lunch,” Bay says with a laugh. “Ate first while I talked and we switched.”
I smile. “How are you?”
“Oh, fine. Life just goes on. Nothing special happening. Just a few roommates from college and we’re all growing up. How are you? Mister my-pictures-have-been-in-a-famous-museum.”
“Ha, you’re funny. Well, I’m engaged. I don’t know if you saw-”
“Yes, I saw her,” she interrupts. Is it just me, or does she look sad?
“Are you okay?”
Her voice shakes. “I just got out of my own engagement. Uh, the guy left me. Caught him cheating.”
“I’m so sorry.” I shake my head and frown.
“No, it’s okay. Wasn’t meant to be, I guess.”
“You’ll find someone, I’m sure of it.”
Bay sighs and turns to her sandwich. “Remember our first date? You freaked out.”
“I really didn’t mean to, I had stuff going on in my mind.”
“And you made me walk home all by myself. I hope you treat your fiancé better than that.”
“Of course. Gee, Bay, you make me sound bad.”
“I’m just teasing. Guess how many people have gone to your exhibit.”
“No idea. It’s still the second week, right?”
“Over nine thousand. We got visitors from the other side of the country. And we expect to get about ten thousand more. And the lineup for the auction is insane. The lake one has a bid so high, you’re almost set for life.”
“Gabriella wants a house, so I don’t know about that.” I push around a fry. While I’m ecstatic for the numbers, I just don’t want a house.
“Why, you don’t want one?”
“It’s a lot of space. We’re perfectly fine in our apartment.”
“You’re being stubborn.” I’m shocked she called me out. “It’s true. Tell me, does she ever get what she wants?”
“Yes. A lot of it. The apartment is the one thing I want to keep.”
“But why? I’d love a house. More wall space.”
I hesitate. “I guess a backyard would be nice, too.”
“See? Give it a chance. When’s your wedding?”
“March 6. I’ll send you an invitation, if you’d like.”
“That’s sweet, but I don’t really want to go to any marriage events for a while.”
“Suit yourself.” We finish our lunch and stand by the street, waiting for her to catch a taxi.
“It was really good seeing you, Charlie.” Bay one-arm hugs me. It’s comfortable now, hugging near strangers. Last night must’ve been the trick. “I’ll call you about your stuff when it’s over.”
“Alright.” A taxi pulls up. “Good luck, you know, with everything.”
Bay smiles. “You too.”
I wonder who’s next to reappear.
I’ve got a cold and I’m at home, nursing another tomato soup. Gabriella’s out dress shopping with Kyla and her mom. I switch on the TV and she calls me, crying.
“I can’t find the right dress.”She’s actually crying, I think.
“How many stores have you gone to?”
“Eight. And about two hundred dresses.”
“Did Kyla and your mom like any of them?”
“Well, yeah, but I didn’t.”
“Why?” It’s best to ask questions with Gabriella. Somehow it makes her think more clearly.
“I didn’t think they’d be perfect enough for you.”
I could care less about the dress. “Look, all I know is that I want to be married to you and you’ll look perfect in anything. You could show up wearing hobo clothes and I still wouldn’t care, just as long as you showed up. Okay?”
There’s a pause, and I know she’s considering it. I hear a sniffle and a muttering to the background, probably to Kyla. “Okay. I’ve got one more dress and I’ll be home in an hour.”
“I’ll be here.” I resume to eating my soup.
Three boring shows later, Gabriella winds in the door and rushes to stuff a bag into the closet. I grin, happy she took my advice and finally just picked a dress. She curls next to me with paper. More wedding details.
“Candles. Lots of it.” Gabriella starts scanning her list.
“It won’t be dark, though.”
“It’ll smell nice.”
“Fine. Where should it be?”
“Underneath our tree house.” She squeezes my arm.
“No. I don’t want to share it with anyone. It’sours, Gabriella. It can be in the forest but not there, specifically.”
“But it’s our story. It’s practically how we met,” she pouts.
“We met through our parents. I really don’t want it at the tree.”
“You just don’t want anyone to go in it.”
“Yes. I’m afraid people will mess it up.”
“Charlie, about ninety percent of our guests is over 21. Even we couldn’t fit into it. I doubt anyone will try to go up.”
“Hm. You’re not inviting Lorel, are you?”
Gabriella hesitates. “Kinda did.” I start to shake my head. “Only because it’ll boost my chances at a promotion! And then we’d have enough to get a house.”
“Why do you want a house so freakin’ bad?” I get up to rinse the bowl in the sink.
“It’s more space. I’m tired of crashing into the walls after my shower. The oven sucks because it’s been used so many times before us. I need something new.”
“Well, I don’t. I like it here.”
“Ugh!” Gabriella smashes her face with a pillow. “Why can’t you see what I need?”
“You don’t need these things. You just need me.”
She gets up. “Sometimes I don’t. Think about that.” She heads for the door.
“Where are you going?” I whirl to face her, and see that she has grabbed the key.
“Where do you think?” Gabriella’s expression looks pained and angry.
Not here, I think.
Gabriella comes back the next day while I was working. I see loads of bags strewn over tables, the floor, on the couch. And her sitting with scissors, slicing off price tags.
“I got stuff for the wedding. I hope you don’t mind,” she says quietly. Her I-pod is hooked up and is playing some soft rock song.
“It’s fine.” I step closer and the objects are candles, little trinkets, rhinestones. “I’m sorry about last night.”
She continues snipping. “Every couple goes through it.”
“Where did you go?” I sit next to her, pick up another pair of candles to hand to her.
“Kyla’s. Went shopping with her.”
It’s awkward for a few minutes, the sound of clipping and tossing aside the tags.
“The office party is tonight. You up for it, do you want to stay home?” Gabriella sets down a pack of rhinestones.
“May as well. I want some outdoor food.” I nudge her playfully.
“Great! It’s been a while since we’ve been out together.”
At the office, Gabriella whispers, “Just avoid Lorel. She won’t bother you.”
I glance at her velvet green dress, hugging her in all the right ways. No, I’ll focus on Gabriella tonight.
“Hold on, I have to go see Tim first. Go over reports and all.” She squeezes my hand and I wander over to the food table. Petit fours, little bits of chicken. It looks so good. I stuff a plate and I don’t care if no one else is eating. They should because they’re all so skinny.
I finish off the small cakes and what do you know, Lorel is standing before me.
“Wanna dance?” She sounds drunk. She’s dressed in a tight red dress, probably to resemble a Mrs. Clause, only a lot hotter. Long black boots strap her legs, but it looks a little hooker-ish. Dangly holiday earrings and a strangely expensive looking necklace that seems to have been given from a special someone, though I can’t imagine her being tied down.
“No, thanks. Just waiting for Gabriella.”
Lorel takes my hands and yanks me from my seat. My empty plate flies to the ground and luckily my champagne is on the table. My eyes widen and I really don’t want to be dancing with Lorel, much less being here. She practically grinds on me, and my breathing is absolutely nonexistent. I push her away, but she seems to take this as some dance move and twirls back to me. She throws her arms around my neck, her face dangerously close to mine.
“Get off me,” I mutter. She doesn’t seem to hear. I push her harder, and nothing registers in her expression. Finally, she stops dancing. She just stands there, glaring at me, glaring at my lips. And suddenly, she’s on me.
I really hope Gabriella doesn’t see her tongue down my throat.