Author's note: Okay, so I lied. But now it's time to come clean about something. The character of Erin is, more or less, semi-autobiographical, at least for the first ten or twelve chapters. While I have never worked as a model or been in a car wreck, I drew a considerable amount of my own personal experiences and funneled them into her (for example, before my family changed their name some hundred years ago, they were the Levis). I won't get into detail about what's true and what's fictional, but Erin is more or less based on me. The point where she and I diverge the sharpest is, oddly enough, her relationship with Shaun, which is really the entire crux of the story. I have never had a relationship with anybody, and I have never been close enough to anybody to seriously consider them a friend. Therefore, many of Erin's experiences after the twelfth chapter are personal fantasies of mine: about meeting that one person who restores your faith in humanity and who makes life worth living.
One more matter before I wrap this up once and for all. I fully intended to quit the story when I first wrote it, let my readers infer what they may, and move on. On a subsequent reread, I realized (aside from how far I've come as a writer) that leaving it at that point was genuinely a mistake, and the story hardly had anything to it, much less the ideas I wanted to pass along. That, adding to the overwhelming responses of readers who enjoyed the first ten or so chapters and begged for more, coupled with a nagging feeling of "giving it a good finish" (perhaps foolishly tacking a "happy" end to what was hitherto a "realistic" story), contributed to the second half of the story. So there you have it. I hope everyone who's made it this far, whether you're just beginning or have been with me since I first started (has it really been four years now?), has gotten something out of this story, and not merely an entertaining read. If you liked "Fields of Elysium", I implore you to read "All Stars", which is easily as good, if not better.
So until then: fight uniformity and stagnation wherever you find it! And as always, have fun storming the castle! After all, our princess is in another one.
(Or: "I can't leave well enough alone just yet!")
Some time later…
Shaun was giggling uncontrollably, and despite how frustrating the situation was, Erin was laughing, too. Even though the fate of Faces was still up in the air, the two artists were not content to rest on any laurels. Shaun was already juggling dozens of ideas for her next project, and even though she wasn't sure if she could surpass herself, that no longer seemed to matter so much. The fact that Erin would be there for her—with her—regardless of success or failure, was encouragement enough. But this? Even from a woman whose life was dedicated to delivering unexpected surprises, this was a shocker.
Shaun really should've known better, though.
"I'm almost done. I'd hate to paint over this tattoo, but it totally doesn't fit in with the motif I have in mind. How long have you had this, by the way?"
"Since my very first project. I spent my paycheck on a tattoo to commemorate the event."
"Ah, I should have guessed. And are these words Scottish?"
"Pictish, actually. They read 'I rise from the ashes to blossom brighter.'"
"So naturally, it's a flower that's on fire."
"No, it's not on fire, it's made out of flames! There's a big difference."
"Semantics." Erin hated slathering paint over such a mystifying image, but such was the way of art. Undressing and allowing Shaun to cover her in colors was nothing new, but now Shaun was model as well, and she the artist. Yet another boundary pushed: the two were naked together, one completely painted and the other only partially finished. Strangely enough, this had been Erin's idea: Shaun had never imagined she'd join any of her models in their portrayals. Yes, the sexual tension was thick, but there was an innocence and even a sweetness to their actions, as if they had gone back to a time before their race knew any shame.
A quick examination of what Erin had painted so far gave Shaun very little hope for this next installment. "Um, sweetie, I hate to break this to you, but you kind of suck at painting. You're just smearing random colors everywhere."
"Right, and who couldn't be bothered to use her own language properly when we first met on Facebook?"
"Personality quirks and artistic butchering aside, I could teach you if you want me to. And don't say 'vice versa'. You've seen my professional emails. You know I only type like that in a casual setting."
"What if I meant you to be a jumble of chaos and confusion?"
"See, now you're being redundant. And even if this was your intention, you're still painting like a third-grader."
"Well, I just thought I'd give it a try. We don't have to do this again. It's just an experiment."
"Honey, I never said it was a bad idea. I'm just offering to help you along."
"And I appreciate that, but you have your vision and I have mine. So what are we calling this? Artist and Muse?"
"Ah, but which is which? Or is that the point?"
"Shut up," she giggled, shoving blue on her shoulder. The effect was nice, so she didn't bother to fix it; she just kept going. Once Shaun's back was done, Erin turned her around, and the two women faced each other, smiling and vulnerable, glowing with the light that only their partner could convey, each having now become the other. The moment only lasted for a moment before Erin grumbled in consternation.
"Just bracing myself."
"For what? Oh." Shaun giggled as Erin finally dove in and touched her bosom. "See, that wasn't so bad! You know, you could probably use a few touch-ups. You mind if I indulge myself?"
"Indulge away. You'll paint me and I'll paint you." The two women couldn't help but smile as they worked away, each mirroring the other. The level of comfort they had reached was spiritual in a sense: nothing save sex itself seemed taboo.
"So, Artist and Muse, eh? I like it."
"Thanks. Say, you know a good photographer, right?"
"Of course, Vivian. You've met her. She'll be glad to help, but we'll have to listen to her advice. She knows how to get a good pose no matter what I make."
"Oh yeah. So what do you think she'll say when she sees us like this?"
"I dunno, I've never been painted before. She might wire us into some pretty erotic poses. Are you comfortable with that?" Erin smiled at her, stopped painting, leaned in close until their noses touched, caressed her face.
"What do you think?"
Oh yeah, life goes on—long after the threat of living is gone.