|The Last Leaf, Extended Version by Ophelia Henry
Author: Persevera PM
Sue and Johnsy are beginning their life together and attracting the attention of others-some welcome, some not. Secret love is further complicated by obsession, suitors, illness and even voyeurism. Can someone be redeemed from a despicable act?Rated: Fiction T - English - Romance/Hurt/Comfort - Chapters: 20 - Words: 36,561 - Reviews: 204 - Favs: 4 - Follows: 4 - Updated: 10-06-12 - Published: 05-05-12 - Status: Complete - id: 3019827
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
The unclothed model sessions were a final test for art professors to single out the most promising students from the dilettantes. The women who snickered and were too distracted to draw or paint the model in her diaphanous gown were advised to pursue another area of study the next year.
Posing was only one job that Sue had at school to pay her expenses. Her chestnut hair falling free, adorned with leaves and flowers, and pale skin lent to the depiction of her as a wood nymph. She kept from smirking with difficulty, knowing that, if positions were reversed, there were a couple of women in the class that would have set her to tittering or staring, rather than sketching.
The professor watched for those few female students who were able to concentrate on the model's features and limbs, wanting to capture them literally or the essence of them in an abstract. These were the artists that the professor moved to the center of the room.
Sue appeared to maintain her pose and dreamy gaze into space. Her eyes wandered though to the blonde woman the professor had just moved front and center. Being from Maine, Sue had never really seen a woman whose skin was tanned. The color made such a contrast to the pretty blonde's glassy blue eyes. Sue caught her attention and the woman gave her a little smile and returned to her work. Sue couldn't tell if the smile was inviting or simply friendly but she wanted to explore the possibility.
Another one of Sue's campus jobs was working in the school's administrative office, typing the long list of dormitory assignments for the next semester. Sinclair, the professor had called her. Sue glanced down at the student roster on the desk and committed the name to memory...Joanna June Sinclair.
It was a luxurious hotel room overlooking the river. The view from the window was framed by thick velvet drapes that prevented any drafts from sneaking into the room. The foghorn sounded in the distance. The gray morning sky was a good harbinger for the day's start on the overseas voyage.
There was a luxurious bed, with soft, snowy sheets (now rather rumpled) and piles of blankets, all covering a sturdy, plush mattress.
And there was a luxurious bedmate, with smooth curves, flowing hair and years of experience. Sue ran her hand down Tilda's back as she rose from that bed and walked to the desk in front of the window.
Their ship was leaving later that morning so they had stayed at a hotel close to point of departure. Officially Sue was Mrs. James' traveling companion, a not uncommon position for young, educated women without the means to go abroad on their own. The person whom one was hired to accompany though wasn't usually as lively or attractive as Tilda. But it was a good cover for them.
She looked over the letter she'd begun last night before Tilda had drawn her from her task. She had to finish it so it could go to post before they embarked.
Darling Johnsy, it began. 'Maybe I should just say dear,' Sue considered…'Or just Johnsy…no, she'll always be more special than that.'
Reading on…My ship sails tomorrow and I had to say good-bye to you. I can't tell you how excited I am.
One of our first stops will be England. Tilda has contact with some of the suffragettes there and we've heard they're closer to getting votes for at least some women than here in the States. It will be a good experience for me to work on that campaign and will make it harder for the law schools to deny me admittance when I apply next year.
Then, of course, there are all of the beautiful, romantic places to see. I'll think of you when I'm in Naples. Maybe you and George can visit it soon for you to paint the bay…perhaps on your honeymoon. I don't like to think of you giving up on your dream…
She heard the rustle of sheets as Tilda stirred a little in bed. Sue turned her head in that direction, the corners of her mouth lifting in a slight smile, and sighed in contentment.
She could never be as open with Matilda as she might like, but she'd always known that would be the price she'd have to pay to have what she wanted and needed…with Tilda or Johnsy or any other woman. A silent laugh went through her at the idea of another woman. She was much too happy with what she had now…shadowy as it may be of necessity.
The sounds of morning bustle from adjoining rooms reminded Sue that she didn't have much time and she returned to her letter.
…giving up on your dreams, none of them.
I know, obviously, that as the wife of a successful businessman you'll have other dreams-family, society-much like your mother's life. Dear Johnsy, don't let what you scorned in her life become your new goals. You are a talented, sensitive artist. Please don't lose sight of that.
But I guess that's not really possible, living where you are with Mr. Behrman's wonderful, brave spirit to motivate you. I feel the same urging from him that I'm sure you do. He gave up so much for us. We both must always strive to be worthy of his sacrifice.
The sun was becoming brighter, the scene through the window losing its early-morning haze. Tilda was stretching and making her usual waking sounds that Sue loved to hear.
I'm sorry that you won't be here to wish me "Bon Voyage," she continued writing, but the wintry sea breeze would not be good in your lungs. Please take care of yourself-no more napping on benches or walking in the damp yard in dainty satin slippers.
I don't know when we'll see each other again, but I know that we can be comfortable and happy when we do, remembering we were each other's first loves, who had the good sense to know when it was time to change.
Yours forever, Sudie
"Sulu," Tilda crooned, smiling from her pillow. "We have a little time before we have to get ready for the ship."
Susan Louise Clark rose from the desk, slipped off her robe and slipped back into bed with Matilda Clara James.
Johnsy received the letter in the afternoon mail and sat in the re-decorated parlor reading it. She had replaced the heavy Victorian furniture with less somber pieces and grouped all of Behrman's paintings on one wall. She'd chosen some of her own paintings that she deemed to be near the quality of his work for the other walls. The space over the fireplace was blank, awaiting the return of Christina's portrait, which was being re-framed and repaired.
George hadn't been able to give a satisfactory explanation for its attempted destruction, except to say that he'd lost his head when he realized the extent of Johnsy's relapse and what that meant for their reunion. The portrait had lain broken in the garret since then until two days ago, when George had suddenly said he'd have it fixed and enhanced with a new, ornate frame to match the room's modern décor.
From the hallway Johnsy could hear the sounds of Benita and Nicholas, laughing and emoting dialogue with instruction from the no-longer reclusive Mr. Graham. She smiled and continued reading… "Dear Johnsy, don't let what you scorned in her life become your new goals."
She sat curled up in one of the two new window seats at the front of the room and considered that. "My new goals…what are they? Family, of course, though for now it's enough to have Benita and her family and all of the life they've brought to the house."
She looked out the window. The weather was warm and bright for December, a pleasant change after the freezing rain earlier in the week. The streets were now dry and busy with normal city activity. It was a good day for Sue to begin her journey.
Johnsy read again the section of the letter about the Bay of Naples and huffed. At the moment a honeymoon with George sounded…tedious.
She leaned her head back on the padded window frame and exhaled again. Johnsy's frustration and confusion over her fiancé had only increased recently. He hadn't even been there the last couple of days, except to pick up the painting.
He was obviously losing interest but what could she do to recapture him? Her attempts at seduction had fallen flat. He still liked looking at her and romancing her but beyond that, all of the ardor at which he'd hinted when he first came back just hadn't come to…anything.
She read Sue's encouraging words to continue her art to honor Mr. Behrman. She walked across the room to his paintings. Sue had told her about Mae Campbell. She'd said Mrs. Campbell had grieved for Mr. Behrman because he had died, knowing that he hadn't created the work that everyone would recognize as his masterpiece.
Johnsy touched the signature, F Behrman, on one of the paintings. "His masterpiece," she said softly, "that everyone would recognize…"
Her mind wandered to the lecture hall at Vassar for her art history class. There weren't that many students in the cavernous room, but they were still seated far from the professor's podium and alphabetically. From her position in the upper third of the classroom, she could barely see the instructor. Professor Morton, a tiny, round man with straight black hair plastered to his head, looked very much like a fly zipping from one end of the dais to the next. She often drew him that way when she could no longer stand the drone of his lecture. She only remembered one significant remark from him… "A masterpiece is determined long after the artist is gone, not by the beauty of the piece or its complexity, but by mankind's recognition of the artist's contribution to the human experience."
She'd rolled her eyes at the arrogance of the pronouncement at the time but thinking about it now, Professor Fly might have had a point.
She hurried to her room with a new zest and returned with her art supplies.
She didn't want to think about the setback with George anymore. Marriage, motherhood and mentions in the society page were in the future. Right now she was a talented, sensitive artist, motivated by a wonderful, brave spirit, and she had a new goal.