Authors: Delphine Dryden
Peering over the pink-on-pink scarf she was draping carefully around a black spherical support, Lindy gazed enviously at the blonde girl who stood at the far wall of the main gallery space with a measuring tape and a clipboard.
Lindy had no idea how Eva, the gallery manager, always appeared so cool and unwrinkled. She looked like she existed in a personal bubble of climate at least fifteen degrees cooler than the surrounding air. While Lindy fretted and frizzed through her preparations for the show, Eva sailed through the heat wave with no signs of stress and with every pale hair neatly in place.
Dropping the scarf and just letting it fall over the pedestal into a slouchy spiral that looked surprisingly good, Lindy stretched her arms over her head and thought about the changes the past few days had brought.
Even without Red House, things were definitely looking up lately, she reminded herself. Lindy already had more demand from local boutiques than she could possibly supply by herself. The show would bring more press, and she had every reason to hope it would be positive exposure. The local critics seemed to love her work, though she was still always startled to hear herself referred to as a designer rather than an artist. She had only started messing around with fabrics because she needed an extra non-art elective credit in college and the textiles course was cross-listed under home economics. But she’d loved it, and now she was well on the way to making a successful career out of her favorite hobby.
And then, of course, there was Richard. Or, she corrected herself, there was the confidence she’d gained by knowing she had finally taken the matter of her overripe virginity into her own hands. So to speak. And perhaps that confidence had even been part of the reason her meeting at Red House had gone so well.
But she’d thought having sex with Richard would cure the daydreaming about him, not worsen it. She’d expected greater clarity once she had dealt with the mystique of her attraction for him by sleeping with him. Instead, she had spent the whole afternoon in a fog after leaving Paul Maddox’s office. She hadn’t seen Richard all day, she had left without talking to him that morning, and now she missed him terribly. And though she tried to deny it, she’d felt guilty more than once during her lunch with Paul. She’d felt guilty for having lunch with a man other than Richard, which was ridiculous since it wasn’t a date and she wasn’t involved with Richard in any case. And she’d felt guilty for thinking about Richard when she was having lunch with Paul, which was equally ridiculous because it
wasn’t a date and she wasn’t involved with Paul, either.
Lindy sighed, stretching again and trying to ease the tension in her shoulders and neck caused by long hours of sitting as she worked. She wondered if she’d have time to make it to a Pilates class that night, to work some of the knots out. If she didn’t go to class, she knew, she wouldn’t exercise at all. Her sedentary job took its toll on her back and it certainly didn’t help her waistline, but there was no good way to knit and work out at the same time. And forget using a sewing machine while trying to multitask.
When Lindy giggled a little hysterically at the sudden mental image of a treadmill all fitted out with a commercial grade Singer, Eva turned around, raising an eyebrow.
“Nothing,” Lindy assured her. “Just thought of something funny. I think the heat is getting to me.”
“Yes, it’s very unpleasant,” Eva acknowledged. “The humidity is more of a concern for the artwork than the heat itself, of course.”
“Tell me about it.”
“Can you give me your input? I’ve been looking at the Weems installation, and I’m concerned about the transition from his section to yours, given the high level of visual interest in both. I’m wondering if we need to move McClure over here and Weems over there instead.”
The way Eva said “visual interest” made Lindy suspect she meant “it looks too busy”, and she had to admit that between her vivid fabrics and the hand-painted light panels of Mr. Weems, there was certainly quite a lot to look at.
“I think you might be right, but of course I’d be staying here either way, so I guess it’s up to you. And it’s pretty late in the game. Having to move when they’ve already set up may not make them too happy.”
Eva pursed her lips a little. “Well, it’s always better when the artists are happy.”
“I am incredibly happy,” Lindy assured her, and turned back to her work. She felt anything but happy, but at least she had a moment of joy a few minutes later when she discovered a ponytail holder in the depths of her jeans pocket. With the heavy mass of her dark auburn hair finally off her neck, Lindy felt vastly better prepared to face the unexpected late September heat.
prepared for was a ghost-touch of fingers against her shoulder, and Richard’s voice in her ear.
“Richard, what are you doing here?” She tried to calm her fluttering heartbeat and stifle the buzz of sexual energy his fleeting touch had triggered. “It’s great that you’re here, I just wasn’t expecting to see you.” And she wasn’t expecting him to touch her, or to smell faintly of spicy aftershave, or to have a tiny bead of sweat right at the base of his throat just begging to be licked off.
“I figured you’d be pretty caught up in getting ready, so I brought you some dinner.” He held up a white plastic bag that was apparently full of take-out.
“That was very nice of you,” she said, “but you didn’t have to do that.”
“And yet I
do it. It’s the kind of stuff friends do. Come on, don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. Just eat.”
It was Chinese, and she hadn’t realized how hungry she was until she caught the waft of steam from the beef with broccoli. Eva declined Lindy’s invitation to join them and took herself off to parts unknown while Richard spread out the contents of his bag on a canvas drop cloth, dished up the food and regaled Lindy with amusing commentary about the artwork surrounding them while they ate.
The problem, Lindy discovered, was that she kept forgetting to distance herself. When Richard grazed his fingers along the inside of her wrist after he passed her the steamed rice, it felt so good that she forgot they weren’t supposed to be doing that now. She had to stop herself from gazing dreamily into his eyes as he spoke. They ate and laughed and any awkwardness of the past few days was forgotten.
And that was all. A Chinese picnic dinner in the middle of the gallery and a lot of light conversation. Lindy kept expecting him to make a move, but he never so much as hinted.
He kissed her on the cheek when he left, and Lindy was annoyed at herself when she realized she’d been hoping for more. Richard was a great artist and a very good friend, but he was moody and had an abysmal history when it came to relationships. He had earned every bit of his reputation as a player back in college, and although he had cut down on volume since then, he had only done so to get involved with a woman who was disastrously wrong for him.
It would be beyond foolish to become his friend with benefits, Lindy told herself firmly. She had started the whole thing harboring a crush that was dangerously close to love already, and she’d been wrong to think she could just walk away from him unaffected. Sleeping with him yet again when she knew he only saw her as a friend, a cute kid…it would be stupid, and Lindy wasn’t that stupid.
She watched him walk out then opened her fortune cookie and munched it reflectively as she made a final pass through her exhibit and discovered there really wasn’t anything left to do. When she read her fortune, she had to wonder if there was some truth to the notion that these random slips of paper really
have predictive powers. Or if perhaps Richard had planted it for her, for some reason. It was a quote attributed to H.L. Mencken.
“Love is the triumph of imagination over intelligence.”
Richard had also placed a single rose with a fat, pink bud on her windshield. He had tucked the tied-on note under a wiper blade to secure it, and there was a faint gray arc smudged over the words he’d written.
“Beautiful and unexpected. Reminds me of you. Richard.”
Lindy pressed her nose into the flower’s silky, slightly cool petals as she scanned the message and tried to figure out what the hell Richard was playing at.
* * * * *
Maintaining the fiction of “just friends” was turning out to be harder than Richard had ever imagined. He had known things were going to be weird. Things were going to be weird any time he was expected to be in a room with Lindy and not think about what it felt like to be inside her. Or any time he was expected to be away from her and not daydream about the way she sometimes smiled in her sleep. He had discovered that, of course, while watching her sleep; he still wasn’t sure why he’d felt compelled to do so.
He had been “just friends” with many girls in his time, and some of those friends had come with benefits. But he hadn’t felt like this about any of them, benefits or not, and Richard was beginning to suspect that was because Lindy hadn’t really been “just” a friend for a long time now. It had taken sleeping with her to make him realize that. His problem now was that he couldn’t seem to un-realize it. And he wasn’t sure he wanted to.
The one thing he was sure of was that he wanted her again. Leaving Lindy with only that chaste peck on the cheek had taxed Richard’s restraint sorely. He was so distracted he missed a turn on the short drive home from the gallery and he dropped his key twice before finally managing to unlock his door.
Once safely inside, he closed his eyes and just let the imagery hit him, the graphic daydream of taking Lindy on the floor of the gallery, takeout boxes and chopsticks flung recklessly aside to make room for their frantic coupling on the paint-spattered tarp. Lindy crying out his name as he buried his face in her newly waxed pussy. It was so pink and perfect, as pouty and full as the lips on her face.
lips he’d imagined before, of course, even before they’d slept together. He was male, she was cute and close at hand, and he had to think about something in the shower. She had always looked great in his imagination, kneeling in front of him with that shy little smile disappearing as she slid those luscious lips around his cock. Of course he’d thought about it. But that early, unfounded fantasy could not remotely compare to the memory of Lindy actually taking him into her mouth. Or the way it had felt to finally,
y push his way into her agonizingly sweet, tight pussy, knowing that he was the first and only one to do so.
He tried again to convince himself that Lindy was his buddy, his old college friend, his ideal neighbor. Too nice a girl for him to mess around with. She was all Mona Lisa smiles and homemade soup, and he knew he shouldn’t be thinking about her smooth, velvety pussy lips and how soft her inner thighs had felt against his cheeks. And he should definitely not be dwelling on what she had sounded like when he licked her into a frenzy, sucking and tonguing her hard until she came.
By the time he got to the part where he shouldn’t be thinking about Lindy on all fours, her naked pink cunt slick with readiness and his handprints all over her sweetly rounded ass, Richard was in the shower. He fisted his cock hard and cursed at himself as he spent his frustration down the drain.
He was stiff again by the time he finished washing his hair.
Richard left his door open in the morning, knowing the smell of brewing coffee was usually enough to lure Lindy from her loft. He invited her in at her knock on the doorjamb. “You want breakfast with the coffee you’re here to steal? I only have bagels,” he added apologetically. “No bacon, sorry.”
“A bagel sounds great, actually. Onion?” She perched on a bar stool and started braiding her hair. He suspected she was doing it to give herself something to do with her hands, because she seemed a little edgy. He also thought she looked like something Renoir would have stopped whatever else he was doing to paint.
“Of course. And I even have lox.”
“So what are your plans for the day? Doing anything to keep your mind off this evening?”
“I hadn’t really given it much thought. I got everything done last night, so there’s nothing left to do at the gallery. I guess I should be doing more marketing stuff, putting fliers out and all that.”
“Nah. You hate that part.”
“So do you.”
“Everybody hates that part,” Richard said. “You should do something fun. Go to a movie, go shopping, something like that. But don’t go with your sister, she’ll just stress you out more.” He applauded his own will power for not making the first several suggestions he’d thought of for how to take her mind off things.
“True. She’s back home anyway, for
“Oh that’s right. Your football-hero brother. Matching set with the cheerleader sister, right?”
“I know. How could that same family have spawned someone like me?”
He pushed a mug of steaming coffee across the bar. “Family finally decided it was time they got a little beauty, culture and intelligence, I guess.”
Lindy snorted, trying unsuccessfully to hide a grin. “Smooth, Richard. Very smooth.”
’ for the ladies,” he mugged, relieved that his compliment had fallen acceptably within the “friends” guidelines.
“Was the rose on my car just practice too?”
“Yeah, something like that.”
Richard cursed himself silently as he smeared cream cheese on his bagel with more force than necessary. He wanted to suggest they spend the day together but he couldn’t think of any sufficiently tempting activity that didn’t involve copious amounts of sex. And since he was trying to woo on the down-low while he maintained the illusion of mere friendship, he knew he had probably exhausted the “let’s do it just this one last time” reserves.
“Richard? You okay?”
She was looking at him over the rim of her cup, a bemused expression on her face. He thought about his shower fantasy of the night before and swallowed hard. And he noticed that her hair glowed a perfect carnelian red wherever the morning light struck it.