|Portrait of the Soul
Author: Losille2000 PM
With his own demons haunting him, Kristoffer finds some peace within himself when he paints a portrait of a woman from his dreams. But she's only that—a dream, a reflection of himself at the time of creation. Or so he thinks...Rated: Fiction M - English - Drama/Romance - Chapters: 4 - Words: 14,090 - Reviews: 14 - Favs: 13 - Follows: 9 - Updated: 01-22-12 - Published: 12-19-11 - id: 2980772
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Many, many thanks to everyone reading. Sorry about the wait on this… life has a way of conspiring against us. Enjoy! ;-)
"Ow, Mommy, that hurts!" Mia cried as she caught a tangle of hair and paint.
Lily sighed and grabbed the clump of hair above the tangle, holding it tight as she pulled the come the rest of the way through. She'd been combing for the past half hour and the paint still wasn't all removed from Mia's hair. The pair of scissors across the room was looking like a more viable option each time she passed the comb through the hair, but Lily couldn't do that to Mia's beautiful hair.
With a sigh of resignation, Lily dropped her arm and sat still, waiting for the feeling to return to it. She's used it too much and now her shoulder and elbow ached from the repetitive movement.
"Alright, kiddo," Lily said. "That's just going to have to do."
Mia popped up and hopped over to the mirror, bending her head a bit. The apple red spots were bright, but she merely shrugged tossed her damp hair over her shoulder. "Can I watch the movie now?"
"Don't you want to watch something else?" Lily asked. She was hopeful that today was the day Mia decided she no longer wanted to watch Phantom of the Opera. Clearly, it wouldn't be Lily's luck… she cursed that day last October when she took Mia to the movie theater to see the twenty-fifth anniversary live telecast of the show taking place in London. Ever since, Mia had been obsessed with the musical. Which wouldn't have been so bad if Laura, Mia's babysitter, hadn't fueled the addiction by giving her the most recent movie version and the accompanying soundtrack as a Christmas gift. It would have been different if it were Michael Crawford's dulcet tenor floating through the house all the time. Rather, it was Gerard Butler's gravely, untrained Scottish warble she found herself suffering through.
"No," Mia said.
Lily rolled her eyes. "Okay, go put it on."
Mia fled the master bedroom and ran down the stairs making as much noise as she could manage. Lily shook her head when she heard the first strains of the music float up from downstairs. She sighed and started cleaning up the mess she had made, eventually ending back downstairs just as the title track started playing.
Lily grabbed the costume she had brought home Sunday morning from the club and settled down on the living room couch with her sewing box to fix the ripped seam. Instead, however, she sat entranced with the movie playing. She just didn't get why Christine could be such an idiot and go for the pretty playboy when clearly the better choice was the disfigured musical genius. At least the second choice cared for her. The playboy just looked at her like she was insane. And he was smug. She couldn't stand smugness.
She sighed, tuning out the music and threading a needle with purple thread. The work was methodical to her by now after so many years of sewing ballet shoes and assisting in costume creation and repair. It was good to lose herself in this. At least it prevented her from having to think about what was really threatening to invade her mind… Mia's new summer camp teacher.
She didn't even know why she was thinking about him. He didn't deserve her attention. What right did he have anyway asking her out for a fucking drink? After just meeting her? Who did that? He was lucky Jack had walked in when he did because she was ready to continue her argument with him about the paint issue. And then she would set into him about being too forward.
And yet, she couldn't shake the memory of the shiver that had gone straight through her body and centered in places she refused to acknowledge when he had pinned her with that dark gaze of his. It was unsettling and unwelcome. She had no want to even contemplate something like that with someone at the moment, much less some artist who was probably just as flighty and unsteady as all the other ones she'd met in her life. Mia needed a father figure, not someone who would be in and out and had no semblance of constancy in their life.
Lily startled out of her thoughts and focused on Mia. She was holding her cell phone out in front of her. It was ringing. She couldn't believe she'd been so involved with the sewing and her thoughts that she hadn't heard the particularly obnoxious ringtone.
"Thank you, Mia," she said and grabbed the phone, tossing her stuff aside and getting up to go to the kitchen so the swelling music in the movie didn't fight with the call.
"Hello?" Lily said into the phone as she sat at the tiny table.
"Hey, Lil," said the sweet voice on the other end. "What's up, girl?"
"Just stitching up some costumes," Lily replied. "I didn't recognize the number. Where are you calling from?"
Hailey giggled on the other end. "Oh, you know how it is. You're Facebooking while you're in the bath and you accidentally drop the phone in the water."
Lily rolled her eyes. She loved Hailey, but Hailey was absentminded and accident prone. There wasn't a day that went by that Hailey didn't have some form of catastrophe befall her—from tripping over her cat or slicing a finger open with a kitchen knife.
"This is Craig's home phone," she said.
"I thought I told you I didn't get a good feeling about him," Lily said. "He's bad news, Hailey."
Hailey sighed. "I know you don't like him, but he's so sweet. He bought me this gorgeous pair of diamond studs. I can't wait to show them off this weekend."
Hailey was also young. Well, younger than Lily's slightly older twenty-five, but Lily had packed a lot of life experience into twenty-five years of life. Hailey had been sheltered until she moved out of her parents' home at twenty. Now twenty-two, Hailey was just beginning to spread her wings.
And making horrible choices.
Of course, Hailey had to make those choices herself and live with the consequences. That was a part of growing up. But that didn't mean it didn't bother Lily that Hailey refused to listen when she tried to tell her that getting involved with a wealthy patron was a recipe for disaster. Lily knew firsthand how dangerous a situation that could be. Rich men didn't want them as wives. All they wanted were pretty play things they could dress up and take out to have a good time. That was it.
"Anyway, I was just calling to see if it was okay that I missed rehearsal tomorrow," Hailey said.
Lily sighed into the phone. "What for? If it's not a doctor's appointment or someone died, then no."
"Oh, come on, Lily!" Hailey exclaimed. "Just one day?"
"This isn't just one day, Hailey," Lily said, pinching the bridge of her nose. "This is happening almost every week now. We only have a few days where we can rehearse our group numbers together. You know that."
"Well, if it makes you feel any better, I technically have a doctor's appointment," Hailey said.
Lily scoffed. "Screwing Craig does not count."
"Why not? He's a doctor," Hailey said.
"Look," Lily said. "If you want to take off tomorrow, be my guest. But you're not dancing in the group numbers this weekend."
"Lily," she whined.
Lily snorted. "If you really think whining is going to get you anywhere with me, you'd be mistaken. I have a child. I'm immune to the whining and I can tune you out with the best of them. I'm serious about this, Hailey. If you're not there, you don't go on this weekend."
"Maybe I'll just bring it up with Colette," Hailey threatened.
"Please, be my guest," Lily replied. "Colette's the one that chewed me out last week because you weren't hitting your marks. People are starting to notice, Hailey. Colette doesn't run some truck stop joint where no one cares. These guys pay thousands of dollars for a membership. They want quality."
Hailey laughed derisively. "They all want the same thing. Tits and ass. A spade is still a spade whether your wrap it in a costume made of gold leaf or a cheap spandex g-string."
Lily pursed her lips together, trying to maintain her calm. She didn't want to argue with Hailey. It would undermine her position as her supervisor at Colette's club. Hailey had a point, though. Rich men and women came to their club looking for exactly the same thing that they could find at any strip joint. The only difference was that they did it… artistically. Even Lily had referred to herself before as the thinking-man's stripper.
And really, that was the best way to describe burlesque. At least, modern burlesque fit that description. It held an air of class to it that other exotic dancing did not; it married the burlesque of the past used as a parody of life with the burlesque of today with more skin. They performed a tableau, where their stripper counterparts just gyrated around a stage and threw their clothes off. A fine line, yes, but it was one that they never crossed.
That was why Colette could charge so much. Burlesque didn't hold the stigma stripping did, and was the more socially acceptable of the two. So while they still came for tits and ass, the wealthy mean—and women, too—who came to their shows wanted more than a pole and some baby oil slathered on everyone.
"If you aren't at all the rehearsals this week, you won't be performing this weekend," Lily replied. "I love you, Hailey, but you need to get your priorities straight. Do you want to keep dancing, or hope that you can keep Dr. Craig's attention?"
Hailey was silent. "I have to go, Lily."
"Yeah," Lily said. "Have a good night and hopefully I'll see you tomorrow."
Lily hung up the call and set the cell phone on the table. She still didn't know why she had let Colette talk her into becoming the choreographer. While most of the women and men who worked in the show at the club created their solo scenes, the few larger group stories they did fell to her to implement, direct and rehearse. It was a management position that Lily knew she should be grateful for. She just hated being the tough guy in situations like this.
Hailey would get over it. And she'd end up making the right decision. Eventually. Lily had faith she would realize the path she was on would lead her nowhere.
With a deep, relaxing breath, Lily shook her head and headed back into the living room to finish her sewing.
"Goodness gracious, hold your horses!" Kristoffer heard the mellifluous Southern drawl before the door opened up to reveal the round-faced, auburn-haired woman. She was dressed in a power business suit, tailored and snug against her amazing body with the subtle pin striping elongating her legs and making her appear taller than she actually was. Sometimes Kristoffer had to do a double take whenever he saw her; she'd made a huge transformation from the first day he'd met her back in October last year.
"Kristoffer!" she said, throwing her arms around him. "What're you doing here?"
"Well, I came to see what you were up to and if you'd like to go get some food and a drink," he replied.
Rory laughed and stepped back from him, motioning for him to follow her inside. "We actually just ordered in… there should be enough for you if you'd like to join us."
"It's only going on six. It's a little early, isn't it?" he asked.
"Erik and I have a party we're hosting for that trade fair," she said. "It isn't until 8, and we had to feed Max."
Kristoffer stepped into the foyer and followed her back into the main great room the hall opened up onto. The late afternoon light filled the room with a warm, golden glow. His eldest and youngest brothers were sitting in the separate dining room, passing Chinese food cartons back and forth between each other.
"Kristoffer!" Erik said through a mouthful of food. He swallowed quickly and wiped his mouth. "I said tomorrow."
"I know," he replied. "I came to beg an audience with your fiancée."
"About?" Erik raised a brow curiously.
Kristoffer chuckled. "Not about you."
"Well, sit down and get something to eat," Rory instructed.
"It's okay," Kristoffer replied. "Rory… I just really need to talk to you in private."
Both Erik and Max looked at each other quizzically.
"Okay," she said.
Clearly, she was confused by his abruptness and request as well. He didn't make a habit of keeping things from anyone. In any normal circumstance, he would have shared everything about his love life with his brothers. But this matter required a bit of restraint. He didn't want Erik or Max to think he was crazy. Well, more crazy than they already thought he was.
"Come back to the study," she said.
He followed her further back into the left wing of the house and into the study. She shut the door behind them and he flopped into one of the brown leather couches in the center of the room. Rory went straight for the sideboard.
"Is this going to be a one finger or two finger day?" she asked, grabbing two tumblers and the decanter of whiskey.
"Just give me the whole fifth," he said.
Rory shook her head and poured two fingers in each glass. She handed him one when she came back and sat on the couch across from him. "Now what's the problem?"
"Do you believe in foresight?" he said. It came out as a rush. A heavy breath. For some reason, the enormity of the situation hadn't really caught up to him yet. Now it had.
"Huh?" Rory asked.
Kristoffer downed the whiskey and set the glass on the table between them. He bent over himself, resting his arms on his thighs. "Do you remember the painting you saw the first night you came to my loft?"
Rory's eyes squinted. "Of the girl? Yeah."
"She's real," he said. Now his hands were shaking. Why were they shaking? "Only, I didn't know she was real."
"You're confusing me, Kristoffer," she said. Rory got up from her seat and walked over to his couch. She sat beside him and placed a comforting hand on his back. "Just take a deep breath. Start from the beginning."
Kristoffer folded his hands together, hoping the pressure stopped their movement. But that only made the tremor shift through his body. Emotion welled in his chest and he felt prickly tears forming on the back of his eyes. "Her vision came to me in a dream a long time ago. I honestly had never glimpsed her or met her before… but she just walked into my life a few hours ago. She's not some dream. She's real. And I completely blew it with her."
Rory remained silent for a few moments, probably trying to make heads or tails out of the situation.
"So, could it really have happened? Could I have had a vision?" he asked. "Were we meant to meet someday?"
She blew air from her lips and shrugged her shoulders. "I don't know, Kristoffer. It's been my experience that things like that don't happen. But that's just my experience. Maybe they do happen and I just haven't been lucky enough to encounter it. I don't think anything is predetermined for you… are you sure it's the same woman?"
Kristoffer gave her a hard look. "Rory, I've been staring at her picture for more than nine years. I know what she looks like. It was her. Her eyes… I knew her eyes before anything else."
"Well, then, I believe you," Rory replied. "How did you meet her?"
"Her daughter is one of my summer camp students," he said.
Rory nodded. "Ah, so she's not exactly the picture you had in mind."
Kristoffer shook his head. "No, she is. She just doesn't have that light in her eyes… the light I could never capture in the painting. But then I blew it today. I just met her, and she was yelling at me for letting her daughter get paint in her hair, and I asked her out. It was like word vomit. Just completely… out there."
"You didn't tell her about the painting, did you?" Rory asked seriously.
"What? Oh, god, no," he said. "I'm not that stupid. How good would that sound? 'Hi, I painted your portrait a long time ago and I've been thinking about you ever since.' Yeah, that'd go over well. Right before she called the cops and asked for a restraining order."
Rory giggled at that and rested her head on his shoulder, wrapping her arm around him to give him a comforting squeeze.
"I just… I don't know what to think," he said. "It was so difficult for me to restrain myself from doing anything else. She has this power over me that scares me… and I don't even know her."
"Don't think about it, then," Rory said. "Trying to read into something you don't understand—or weren't meant to understand—will only give you a headache. Let it happen."
"The only problem is, I don't think she wants it to happen," he said. "I mean I could tell she was attracted, but I don't know."
He let his words trail off and he looked across the room. He didn't even know what he should be feeling.
"And then…" he began, emotion choking his words, "and then… it just brought everything back to me. Do I even want to keep being reminded about the circumstances of her painting… of her first coming into my life?"
Rory held on tighter, anchoring him in his spot and in the present. She was the rock they had all needed in this family, and he felt fortunate that she understood him enough to know when he just needed a shoulder to lean against.
"Rory, I never told you," Kristoffer said, "about the time right before my twenty-first birthday when I painted her."
"You don't have to, if you don't want to," she replied. "Erik and I have talked about it before."
Kristoffer sighed. "He doesn't know everything. He doesn't know that the only reason I'm here now is because of that painting."
"What do you mean?" she asked.
"I was so close to just throwing it all away," he replied. "To letting it all go. I took a lot of pain medications the night I dreamed of her. I had hoped it would do what I was too cowardly to do with a knife or a gun… but I hadn't taken enough of it, apparently."
"Apparently?" Rory said, flabbergasted. "Luckily! Oh my god, Kristoffer!"
"And then I dreamed of her that night. Or had a hallucination. Something," he replied. "I couldn't leave this world without painting her. And then I couldn't get her eyes right. I wasn't satisfied with it. To this day, I can't do it… I guess… I don't know… She kept me alive, Rory. Without her, I wouldn't be here. She pulled me through until Erik showed up and refused to leave until he made sure I was well enough."
Rory sniffled beside him, pulling him into her arms and hugging him close. "Oh, Kristoffer."
"So I don't know," he said. "Was she some guardian angel sent to me to keep me alive? Maybe what I feel for her isn't romantic. Maybe it's just adoration? Does it matter?"
She shrugged and shook her head. "I don't know, Kristoffer. If I could divine the answers for you, I would. But I can't. And I'm sorry I can't. I can see how much this is disturbing you. It kills me that I can't help you with it… after all you've done for both Erik and me. I think we all owe her a debt of gratitude for making you want to stay with us."
Kristoffer bent his head and picked at the paint speckles that still covered his left hand. "I've never told anyone about that."
Rory sighed. "As blockheaded as your brother can be at times, I think he knew what he walked in on that night wasn't all that met the eye."
"Don't tell him, Rory," Kristoffer uttered. The tears were there now, brimming in his eyes. He reached up and swiped at his cheeks. He sucked in a deep breath and shook his head.
"I won't say anything," she replied. "I just wish I could help you decide what to do. I'm terrible at this stuff."
Kristoffer chuckled and reached around her shoulders to hug her. "You're perfect. I just needed someone who would listen to me instead of telling me what I should do… like everyone else in my family."
"My advice is to just try to get to know her," Rory said. "Maybe be careful and don't let paint get into her daughter's hair? That might be a good start."
He laughed loudly at that. "No shit."
There was a knock at the study door, interrupting them. Rory sighed and called. "Yeah?"
Erik opened the door and poked his head in the room. "I hate to interrupt, but our car's going to be here in a half hour… and you take forever to get ready."
Rory laughed and stood up. She bent over and kissed his forehead, meeting his eyes. "Everything will work itself out. It always does."
Kristoffer nodded and watched her move across the room. She stopped in front of Erik and stood on her toes to give him a deep kiss. Kristoffer wanted to gag, but he resisted the urge. Though his brother and Rory had finally reached a place of domestic normalcy with each other with their lives in easy synchronicity, their attraction to each other hadn't seemed to diminish. In public, they maintained the acceptable loving-yet-proper distance, but whenever they were around family and friends, they did not hold back. It made him ill.
Erik watched Rory disappear down the hall, his eyes clearly interested in the way her ass moved judging by the way his eyes glittered with mischief. He turned to look at him and grinned. "I can't wait to leave tomorrow."
Kristoffer rolled his eyes.
"Is everything okay?" Erik asked, growing serious.
"I'm fine," he said. "What I had to ask her about was more of a thing you go to a woman for. And since Mom isn't here…"
"You know if you ever need to talk about anything, I'm here, right?" Erik said.
"I know," Kristoffer said, patting his brother's shoulder. "Rory said I could eat… is there food left?"
"You better get out there before Max polishes it off," Erik said.
Kristoffer nodded. He felt better even though he still didn't have a clue in the world as to how this was going to turn out. But he'd figure it out. He hoped, anyway.