“Okay. Anyway, I prepped for the audition by studying the previous movies—and yes, Keaton was fabulous—reading some of the comics, boning up on the mythology. I probably overprepped.”
She shrugged off what had been a major blow to her at sixteen. “You do your own art?”
“Yeah.” He studied her as she studied the cover. Look at that mouth, he thought, and the angle of her chin. His fingers itched for his pad and pencil. “I’m territorial and egotistical. Nobody can do it the way I do it, so nobody gets the chance.”
She flipped through as he spoke. “It’s a lot. I always think of comics as about twenty pages of bright colors and characters going BAM! ZAP! Your art’s strong and vivid, with a lot of dark edges.”
“The Seeker has a lot of dark edges. I’m finishing up a new one. It should be done in a few days. It would’ve been done today, probably, if you hadn’t distracted me.”
The wine tucked in the curve of her arm took on another level of weight. “How did I do that?”
“The way you look, the way you move. I’m not hitting on you on a personal level.” He slid his gaze down. “Yet,” he qualified. “It’s a professional tap. I’ve been trying to come up with a new character, the central for another series, apart from the Seeker. A woman—female power, vulnerabilities, viewpoints, problems. And the duality . . . Not important for today’s purposes,” he said. “You’re my woman.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Dr. Cass Murphy, archaeologist, professor of same. Cool, quiet, solitary woman whose heart really lies in the field work. The discovery. Prodigy. Nobody gets too close to Cass. She’s all business. That’s the way she was raised. She’s emotionally repressed.”
“I’m emotionally repressed?”
“I don’t know yet, but she is. See.” He pulled out his sketchbook, flipped to a page. Angling her head, Cilla studied the drawing, studied herself if she wore conservative suits, sensible pumps and glasses.
“She looks boring.”
to look boring. She doesn’t want to be noticed. If people notice her, they might get in the way, and they might make her feel things she doesn’t want to feel. Even on a dig, she . . . See?”
“Hmm. Not boring but efficient and practical. Maybe subtly sexy, given the mannish cut of the shirt and pants. She’s more comfortable this way.”
“Exactly. You’ve got a knack for this.”
“I’ve read my share of storyboards. I don’t know your field, but I can’t see much of a story with this character.”
“Oh, Cass has layers,” he assured her. “We just have to uncover them the way she uncovers artifacts at a dig. The way she’ll uncover an ancient weapon and symbol of power when she’s trapped in a cave on a mythical island I have to create, after she discovers the dastardly plans of the billionaire backer of the project, who’s also an evil sorcerer.”
“I’ve got some work to do there, but here she is. Brid, Warrior Goddess.”
“Wow.” It was really all she could think of. She was all leather and legs, breastplate and boobs. The boring and practical had become the bold, dangerous and sexy. She stood, legs planted in knee-high boots, masses of hair swirling and a short-handled, double-headed hammer lofted skyward.
“You might’ve exaggerated the cup size,” she commented.
“The . . . Oh, well, it’s hard to tell. Besides, the architecture of the breastplate’s bound to give them a boost. But you hit on what you can do for me. Pose. I can get what I need from candid sketches, but I’d get better with—”
“Whoa.” She slapped her hand over his as he flipped to a page covered with small drawings of her. “Those aren’t character sketches. That’s me.”
“Yeah, well, same thing, essentially.”
“You’ve been over there, watching me over here, making drawings of me without my consent? You don’t see that as rude and intrusive?”
“No, I see it as work. If I snuck over here and peeked in your windows, that would be rude and intrusive. You move like an athlete with just a hint of dancer. Even when you’re standing still there’s a punch to it. That’s what I need. I don’t need your permission to base a character on your physicality, but I’d do a better job with your cooperation.”
She shoved his hand away to flip back to the warrior goddess. “That’s
“And a great face it is, too.”
“If I said I’m calling my lawyer?”
At Ford’s feet, Spock grumbled. “That would be shortsighted and hard-assed. And your choice. I don’t think you’d get anywhere, but to save myself the hassle, I can make a few alterations. Wider mouth, longer nose. Make her a redhead—a redhead’s not a bad idea. Sharper cheekbones. Let’s see.”
He dug out a pencil, flipped to a fresh page. While Cilla watched, he drew a quick freehand sketch.
“I’m keeping the eyes,” he muttered as he worked. “You’ve got killer eyes. Widen the mouth, exaggerate the bottom lip just a hair more, diamond-edge those cheekbones, lengthen the nose. It’s rough, but it’s a great face, too.”
“If you think you can goad me into—”
“But I like yours better. Come on, Cilla. Who doesn’t want to be a superhero? I promise you, Brid’s going to kick a lot more ass than Batgirl.”
She hated feeling stupid, and feeling her temper shove at her. “Go away. I’ve got work to do.”
“I take that as a no on posing for me.”
“You can take that as, if you don’t go away, I’m going to get my own magic hammer and beat you over the head with it.”
Her hands curled into fists when he smiled at her. “That’s the spirit. Just let me know if you change your mind,” he said as he slid the sketchbook back into his bag. “See you later,” he added and, tucking his pencil behind his ear, headed back down her driveway with his ugly little dog.
SHE STEWED ABOUT IT. The physical labor helped work off the mad, but the stewing part had to run its course. It was just her luck, just her
luck, that she could move out to what was almost the middle of nowhere and end up with a nosy, pushy, intrusive neighbor who had no respect for boundaries or privacy.
Her boundaries. Her privacy.
All she wanted was to do what she wanted to do, in her own time, in her own way—and largely by herself. She wanted to build something here, make a life, make a living. On her own terms.
She didn’t mind the aches and pains of hard physical labor. In fact she considered them a badge of honor, along with every blister and callus.
Damned if she wanted her steps, her movements documented by some pen-and-ink artist.
“Warrior goddess,” she muttered under her breath as she cleaned out clogged and sagging gutters. “Make her a redhead and give her collagen lips and D cups. Typical.”
She climbed down the extension ladder and, since the gutters completed her last chore of the day, stretched right out on the ground.
She hurt every damn where.
She wanted to soak herself limp in a Jacuzzi, and follow it up with an hour’s massage. And top that off with a couple glasses of wine, and possibly sex with Orlando Bloom. After that, she might just feel human.
Since the only thing on that wish list at hand was the wine, she’d settle for that. When she could move again.
With a sigh, she realized the stewing portion of the program was complete, and with her mind clear and her body exhausted, she knew the core reason for her reaction to Ford’s sketches.
A decade of therapy hadn’t been wasted.
So she groaned, pushed herself up. And went inside for the wine.
WITH SPOCK and his bear snoring majestically, Ford inked the last panel. Though the final work would be in color, his technique was to approach the inking as a near completion of the final art.
He’d already inked the panel borders, and the outlines of the background objects with his 108 Hunt. After completing the light side of his foregrounds, he stepped back, squinted, studied, approved. Once again, the Seeker, shoulders slumped, eyes downcast, face half turned away, slipped back toward the shadows that haunted his existence.
Ford cleaned the nib he’d used, replaced it in its section of his worktable. He chose his brush, dipped it in India ink, then began to lay in the areas of shadow on his penciling with bold lines. Every few dips he rinsed the brush. The process took time, it took patience and a steady hand. As he envisioned large areas of black for this final, somber panel, he filled them in partially, knowing too much ink too fast would buckle his page.
When the banging on the door downstairs—and Spock’s answering barks of terror—interrupted him, he did what he always did with interruptions. He cursed at them. Once the cursing was done, he grunted a series of words—his little ritual incantation. He swirled the brush in water again and took it with him as he went down to answer.
Irritation switched to curiosity when he saw Cilla standing on his veranda holding the bottle of cab.
“We’re cool, Spock,” he said, to shut up the madly barking dog trembling at the top of the stairs.
“Don’t like red?” he asked Cilla when he opened the door.
“Don’t have a corkscrew.”
This time the dog greeted her with a couple of happy leaps, and an enthusiastic rub of his body against her legs. “Nice to see you, too.”
“He’s relieved you’re not invading forces from his home planet.”
“So am I.”
The response had Ford grinning. “Okay, come on in. I’ll dig up a corkscrew.” He took a couple steps down the foyer, stopped, turned back. “Do you want to borrow a corkscrew, or do you want me to open the bottle so you can share?”
“Why don’t you open it?”
“You’d better come on back then. I have to clean my brush first.”
“You’re working. I’ll just take the corkscrew.”
“Indian giver. The work can wait. What time is it anyway?”
She noticed he wasn’t wearing a watch, then checked her own. “About seven-thirty.”
“It can definitely wait, but the brush can’t. Soap, water, corkscrew and glasses all conveniently located in the kitchen.” He took her arm in a casual grip that was firm enough to get her where he wanted her.
“I like your house.”
“Me too.” He led the way down a wide hallway with lofty ceilings framed in creamy crown molding. “I bought it pretty much as it stands. Previous owners did a good job fixing it up, so all I had to do was dump furniture in it.”
“What sold you on it? There’s usually one or two main hooks for a buyer. This,” she added as she walked into the generous kitchen with its wide granite serving bar opening into a casual family room, “would be one for me.”
“Actually, it was the view, and the light from upstairs. I work upstairs, so that was key.”
He opened a drawer, located a corkscrew in a way that told her his spaces were organized. He set the tool aside, then stepped to the sink to wash the brush.
Spock executed what looked like a bouncing, nail-tapping dance, then darted through a doorway. “Where’s he going?”
“I’m in the kitchen, which sends the food signal to his brain. That was his happy dance.”
“Is that what it was?”
“Yeah, he’s a pretty basic guy. Food makes him happy. He’s got an autofeeder in the laundry room and a dog door. Anyway, the kitchen’s pretty much wasted on me, and so was the dining area they set up over there since I don’t actually dine so much as eat. I’d be a pretty basic guy, too. But I like having space.”
He set up the cleaned brush bristles in a glass. “Have a seat,” he invited as he picked up the corkscrew.
She sat at the bar, admired the stainless steel double ovens, the cherry cabinets, the six-burner range and grill combo under the shining stainless hood. And, since she wasn’t blinded by end-of-the-day fatigue, his ass.
He took two red wineglasses from one of the cabinets with textured glass doors, poured the wine. He stepped over, offered her one, then, lifting his own, leaned on the bar toward her and said, “So.”
“So. We’re going to be across the road from each other for quite a while, most likely. It’s better to smooth things out.”
“Smooth is good.”
“It’s flattering to be seen as some mythical warrior goddess,” she began. “Odd but flattering. I might even get a kick out of it—the Xena-meets-Wonder-Woman, twenty-first-c entury style.”
“That’s good, and not entirely off the mark.”
“But I don’t like the fact that you’ve been watching me, or drawing me when I wasn’t aware of it. It’s a problem for me.”
“Because you see it as an invasion of privacy. And I see it as natural observation.”
She took a drink. “All my life, people watched me, took pictures.
me. Take a walk, shop for shoes, go for ice cream, it’s a photo op. Maybe it was usually set up for that precise purpose, but I didn’t have any control over that. Even though I’m not in the business, I’m still Janet Hardy’s granddaughter, so it still happens from time to time.”
“And you don’t like it.”
“Not only don’t like it, I’m done with it. I don’t want to bring that by-product of Hollywood here.”
“I can go with the second face, but I’ve got to have the eyes.”
She took another drink. “Here’s the sticky part, for me. I don’t want you to use the second face. I feel stupid about it, but I like the idea of being the inspiration for a comic book hero. And that is something I never thought I’d hear myself say.”
Inside, Ford did a little happy dance of his own. “So it’s not the results, it’s the process. You want something to eat? I want something to eat.” He turned, opened another cupboard and pulled out a bag of Doritos.
“That’s not actual food.”
“That’s what makes it good. All of
life,” he continued as he dug into the bag, “I’ve watched people. Drawn pictures—well, I drew pictures as soon as I could hold a crayon. I’ve observed—the way they move, gesture, the way their faces and bodies are put together. How they carry themselves. It’s like breathing. Something I have to do. I could promise not to watch you, but I’d be lying. I can promise to show you any sketching I do, and try to keep that promise.”