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I am not sorry.
I am not sorry for what I've done. When I was very small, I learned to have no regrets.
I am the girl that no one pays attention to. The quiet one in the corner of the room that hides behind her book, or easel in my case. But, I am normal. I'm not one of those girls who spent her teenage years in therapy or on anti-depressants. I wasn't one of those love deprived, Ritalin hooked children either. No. I had two parents and one younger sister named Layla after the Derek and the Dominoes song. There was more enough love to go around and then some left over. A happy family. A happy childhood. I wanted for nothing. Therefore, if there is some problem with me, it was birthed into me, not created. Regardless, I am still normal.
I've painted for all of my life and that's how I came to know Spot Conlon. I knew his name before I ever laid eyes on his handsome face. He was a much better artist than I and I hated him for it. I hated the attention he received. His sold out openings and black tie affairs. I was just a lowly student, struggling through her third year of college and being reprimanded for never quite mastering whatever the professor thought she should have mastered at any given time. Seems I was never enough in any respect. I was a semi-fine artist in my own right, when I was painting what I wanted and not trying to ineffectively fulfill some poorly created assignment. However what I hated about Spot Conlon was simply that he was better than me. No. What I hated was what he stood for. The way nationwide recognition and sold out shows fell into his lap without him ever having to do anything besides paint. Without ever having to really work. There were no two jobs waiting tables or bartending on the side. There was no school to require assignments or projects to waste his time. Spot Conlon never had to do anything the hard way. He never struggled. In other words...he never really earned anything.
Therefore, I resigned to love my art and hate him. And if it ever came up in conversation and anyone asked why, I simply gave them the aforementioned spiel. It was the truth - I despised him because of all that he stood for. Yet, I secretly kept to myself that my loathing was partly because he stood for all that I could not have. Therefore, it was easier to hate him than to respect him for what he was. Being myself, I always had to swing one way or another. I could never be content to rest in the middle ground.
"This is Spot Conlon."
I'd looked up from my behind easel to see Raven's eyes shining bright before me. Spot Conlon? Where had I heard that name before? It sounded so very...familiar. I shifted my gaze from Ray's glowing face to the man standing beside her. Steel blue eyes looked at me out from under a gray cap pulled low over his brow and my heart stopped beating as I found myself instantly grounded to the place where I stood. My feet riveted to the floor. . As he extended his hand, he shot me a smirk. A //Cheshire/ hooked grin. "Um," I stuttered, shifting my brush to my left hand and nervously wiping it on my pants to remove the paint before touching him./
"Don't bother," he said in a warm voice that I could tell had charmed many a poor foolish girl like myself. "I'm used to it."
"Spot Conlon...Jessie Mercer," Ray formally introduced us with a wave of her hand.
/And then recognition fell upon me like a ton of bricks. He was Spot Conlon. The Spot Conlon. The very one I'd read about in so many magazines and violently loathed as I skimmed over the paragraphs after paragraphs of meaningless flattery by well respected critics. I'd hated him. Now, /s/omething in the way he looked at me at that moment made me die in want of everything from him/.
"I thought you two should meet finally," Ray explained, "since you both are so obsessive about painting that it's completely maddening." She rolled her eyes, laughed, and looked from him to me in hopes that one of us would say something to the other to ease the uncomfortable tension that was settling in. The tension that was not relieved by my silent wide-eyed staring.
"What are you working on?" he finally asked. I think I heard Raven sigh in relief when he spoke up.
"Uh, oh, um," words would not come to me. I struggled to untwist my tongue and speak in coherent words. Words. Speak! "It's nothing," I managed, moving my body in front of the attempt at an expressionistic piece that I now considered utterly pathetic. My face flushed hot and I hoped that he would not press me for more. Eager for something to do with my hands, I twisted a stray lock of too straight copper hair between my thumb and forefinger and bit my bottom lip.
The cadence of what little he had said to me filled me with the oddest sensations. After that brief encounter, I'd confined myself to the studio for hours upon hours and just worked. Worked endlessly, worked tirelessly. I had to do something to occupy my time. I had to do something to make myself better. Though I would admit it to no one, I had a sudden absurd driving desire to strive to make myself on par with him. Yes. Spot Conlon's equal. Plus, if my hands were busy, I was at least somewhat distracted. I was working out my feelings in paint, and producing gorgeously amazing results. He made me feel everything and nothing at the same time. So much so that I was afraid to see him again. While my lips cursed my heart, my mind wrapped itself around him so tightly that if found itself in knots. And I had no idea where to begin to unwind it. Even if my life had suddenly become a mess, my paintings were suddenly abundantly brimming with clarity and profoundness. I only emerged from hiding to attend class and to eat. I'd distractedly munch on green apples with paint stained hands and a brush behind my ear. Ingesting traces of oil and thinner not caring one bit. I barely slept. There was only work. Only work and Spot.
Never before had I acted so oddly. Had my behaviour been so obsessive. Every time I talked to Raven, I'd find myself subconsciously probing her for information pertaining to Spot. Luckily, I was always careful to be just subtle enough to not let make her think that I was just that interested. I'd imagine him there with me for an entire day. (And surprise myself with my ingenuity. I had no idea I could be so inventive.) I feel with violence and intensity and am proud of the scars that it's made. My thoughts soon grew too unholy for convention's kindness. In lieu of having him, I would lock myself in my room and imagine him touching me. Strip myself of my clothing and pretend that my hands were his...his fingertips tracing the curve of my side and over my pelvic bone.
Between my legs.
Rhythmic movements made to the pulsating intensity of the deafening, modern progressive instrumental music blasting from my stereo while my room mate pounded on my door and yelled for me to "turn that God awful music down for chrissakes." Blissful droning spacey fleshed out guitar arrangements throbbing. Meandering as my hands did over my body. Music to drown out the voices in my head that told me that this could never be real. True. I never was any good at listening to anything anyone told me. Much less, listening to myself.
And then after, I'd stand at my naked at my mirror and prod at my skin. Trying to find the bones underneath. Trying to find what was holding me upright and kept me from crashing down into a tragically unbeautiful cataclysm for desperate wanting of him. My obsessions are not healthy, I'll admit. Yet, I craved him more than sleep or rain. Craved him and ached for lack of him. Late at night, I'd lie in bed, the night beckoning me to retreat into my dream world. Surrounded in candlelight, I'd deprive myself of sleep to lie there on an empty stomach and a full heart for seemingly thousands of nights to wonder where the thin line between love and lust could be. There was so much at stake. So much damage and redemption hanging in the balance depending on what move I made.
You see, Ray and I were close. I daresay we were best friends. She was perfection in its purest form. Such grace and sophistication. The kind of girl that could walk in six inch heels and never stumble. Who could down bottles of beer and laugh with her mouth full without the slightest fear of being unattractive. The kind of girl who was everything that I aspired to be but couldn't. Naturally, I was jealous. We'd known each other for three years and developed a friendship far from unstable and faltering. Yet all the while, I'd have given nearly anything to live inside her skin for just a second. I'm not going to play the innocent. I'd sensed that Raven and Spot were on edge lately, relationship-wise. And I did nothing to coax them away from the ledge. In fact, I believe that I pushed them. Pushed. Shoved. I'll admit it...I come on too strong. everything faster, harder, more intense than the last. Push. Push. Push. It was no difference this time.
I wanted to take him from her. There I said it. I admitted it without stumbling over the words or pausing in between. I'm not proud of it, you should know. It plagued me with more guilt than I have words to describe. Still, it's a mere hiccup in an otherwise perfect record. Everyone's entitled to trip and fall at least once in their life, and this was my heart to heart with the ground.
I'd often meet Raven at a coffee place near school. She'd have a cappuccino while I'd fiddle with my glasses and sip on honeyed green tea While I'd also daydream about her boyfriend's smile. Sometimes he'd drop by to pick her up for dinner or a movie. I'd awkwardly watch as he'd embrace her greeting, blue paint streaked across hands. I could tell by just looking at him that he was everything that I wanted. Everything. From his charming smile right down to the magic in his hands that turned mere tubes of messy paint into brilliance on canvas. My defenses were less than paper thin, but my will was strong. Just one touch from him would have been enough to catapult me so deep into something I would not be able to climb out of. Something I would not want to climb out of even if I could. And in my head, I painted the world in the colours I thought it should have been all along. I painted him with me.
"Do you ever feel as though someone is looking through you? Looking deep down inside of you into all those things you harbour up in your heart of hearts? That place where you hide everything you've ever cherished. Do you ever feel like someone could just look through you and somehow know all of them?" I'd asked Ray one day. We were going through a good spell...a close spell. Spending lots of time together via lunches, shopping, and late night movie and ice cream binges at her apartment.
She'd grinned after I'd asked her that and a "knowing" look came over her face. "Is this about a boy?" she asked me with a coy note in her voice.
"Yes," I admitted, hoping that I would not blush too terribly or give myself away.
"Well," she said after chewing on her bottom lip in thought for a moment, "I think that if I ever found a boy that did that to me....that made me feel that way, I'd keep him. Nothing would stop me from holding onto him forever." She grinned.
I grinned in return. "That's what I think too," I told her.
The only periods of time we'd shared alone together were stolen. I still remember him sitting on that park bench, checking his pocket watch in frustrated anticipation. Waiting for the girl I had told he'd left a message saying he'd meet her Chez Clarc instead of in the park. After all, park sounds like Clarc. How easy it would have been to mistake the two. For someone to mishear. To lead astray.
"Who're you waiting for?" I asked.
He turned around, startled by the sound of my voice. "Ray," he said simply, his brow furrowing and concern showing in his eyes. "Hey, you haven't seen her, have you?"
"Not since this morning," was my lie. "Do you mind if I sit? This bench is such an opportune place for sketching." He gestured for me to sit beside him, a light coming on in his eyes. The familiar light of sparked interest. I pulled the black book from my bag that I'd strategically remembered to take with me and opened it on my lap. Took a sketch pencil from it, 4B, and started a drawing. I could feel him looking over my shoulder, inching closer to me to see better. His hot breath, I could faintly feel on my neck.
We talked for a good while that day in the park.. Of nothing and of everything. He made me feel at ease. He only rambled on about Raven once or twice, and I indulged him without the slightest bit of displeasure gracing my face. He told me about his mother and his five older siblings who all lived upstate and I entertained him with my dry, self-deprecating sense of humour. Spot invited me to come to his studio sometime to see his paintings, and I accepted with a coy half smile and a "sure, maybe sometime."
A week later I received an unexpected phone call from Raven. "Well, I broke up with the bastard," she said with forced nonchalance when I answered. "It's over. Completely." Then she laughed like it didn't mean a thing to her, and I let her think that I believed her apathy. However, I didn't dare mention his name in her presence for some time. Spot didn't break publicly. And by then, I had inched my way into his life enough that I could easily step in and play the role of comforter and friend.
Honestly, I didn't mean to find him there that day. It was completely by chance that I did. I walked up the three flights of stairs to the open studios to retrieve a painting of mine that I wanted to varnish for the next critique. Raven had informed me once before that the powers that be let Spot use the studios since he was acting as a sort of visiting artist for the semester.
The door was opened a crack. Something made me stop before abruptly swinging it open. I peered in through the ajar door's opening, and my breath caught in the back of my throat. There he sat, lonely and despondent. His head hung low and there were five empty beer bottles on the table next to his palette and turpentine jar. The room reeked of old smoke and oil. I sucked in a deep breath, the fumes entering my lungs like sweet poison. The door creaked slightly when I pushed it to step inside the room. "What?" he asked, without looking up.
"Oh, I'm sorry," I said, "I just wanted to..."
He glanced up mournfully. And then he shot me a grin. That same hooked Chesire grin. "Jess," he said, "Pleasure to see you here." There was blue paint on his hands and a brush rested in his right. He'd always held a brush so delicately for a man. I'd often imagined him holding me in the same fashion.
"What do you say we get out of here?"
We went to a trendy bar over on Bleecker. A bar where he had too much to drink, and I had enough to make me bold, witty, and carefree. He'd launched into a story of how he and his best friend Jack Kelly had paper routes as kids upstate and I twisted my glass and watched the condensation make a wet ring on the counter. Then he suddenly looked at me with halting intent in his eyes and asked me if I'd like to see the paintings. "Right now?" I asked, and he nodded in affirmation. Though I should have, and everything in me screamed out to, I did not refuse. Therefore, he took me to his place, a loft on 73rd near Madison .
He flicked on the lights and my eyes widened with wonderment at the seemingly hundreds of paintings lining the walls. When I didn't say anything, he sheepishly spoke up. "Well, whaddaya think?"
"I think....I think they're.....so...I can't possibly put words to it."
He gave me a lopsided smile. "Ray never really appreciated them. I think she was jealous of all the women that I painted. We'd have these god-awful fights...they'd go on and on for hours about these goddamn women." He breathed a deep sigh and tapped his fist on the kitchen counter. For a minute it seemed as though he were having trouble keeping his composure.
"What is it?" I hesitantly asked him.
"Oh, nothing./ It's nothing," he said. "So you really like them?"/
He looked at me for a long time and then said, "Jess...would you..." His voice trailed off and he didn't bother to finish his sentence. Three seconds and two strides later, he was inches away from me and his lips gently grazed over mine.
And then I took what I wanted. Took him. Flung myself into his arms and became breathless as he pressed himself against me.. All the while watching the picture of her face on his bedside table. She never smiled in pictures. She'd said on more than one occasion that it distorted her face when she did and she did not want to leave behind a record of the distortion. The picture that he hadn't brought himself to take down yet. I longed to turn her face away and I reached out subtly, trying to grasp the fame in my hand, to turn it away from me. Stop its stare.
But I soon became distracted. I moaned when he thrust into me, and let his hands validate me. My lips parting to receive his eager fingers. Fingertips which tasted of salt and paint. He wanted to be loved again. Or to feel loved for just ten minutes. It would have been enough for him then. He probably closed his eyes and imagined that I was his beloved. But I did not care. Never conscious of the correctness or anti-correctness of what I was doing. No, I was only aware of the way he felt beneath my palm. He felt red. Doubly so.
I smelled him on my skin for days after. And I smelled him still as I put a comforting arm around my friend whose eyes were bloodshot red with tears she refused to let fall. I consoled her and fed her lines about how he was a complete waste of her time. Called him names like bastard and worthless scum. Asshole. It was an odd thing for me: having her cry on my shoulder during the day and then fucking him like mad at night. We kept up this routine for two weeks. Each night spent in each other's arms was always intense and desperate. As though we both knew entirely too well that it would soon end and we were trying to get our fill. But each moment that my skin touched his was utterly beautiful and passed before my eyes in vivid technicolour. After he'd fall asleep, I'd stay awake to watch his chest rise and fall in the pale moonlight and entertain fanciful notions that perhaps it would never end. But then, I'd sigh, and know, tragically, that it was certain to and that it would all be a matter of days. My heart broke a little every time that the realization visited me. He only made one painting during the duration of our affair. It was gray-blue in colour and though the woman pictured did not bear my face, he'd given her my eyes and their wistful, longing stare and titled it, simply "j."
And then it ended, just as I knew it would.
I hear they're engaged now. I'm not surprised. Though Spot told her that he'd had a small fling after they'd broken up, he had the decency to not inform her of who it was with. Ray never found out that it was me. However, as time passed, we spoke less and less. During our last year of college, we drifted apart, and after it was over, it was all too easy to give up speaking entirely. I'd say that I hope they're happy, yet, I'm certain that they already are. How could they not be?
And me? I've settled down with a computer programmer in a rent controlled apartment on the lower east side. He's completely charming and takes care of me better than I could possibly take care of myself. We watch foreign films, cook together, and every now and then discuss names for our future children. He thinks I'm the most talented person he's ever known, and promotes me like mad to anyone he meets. He gives me time and space in which to paint, and will willingly drop anything to rush out and get me a tube of burnt umber or cadmium red hue should I run out. Sometimes we fight like dogs, but the make up sex is breathtaking and is far worth getting into any argument. But whenever I let my mind stray from how happy I am, I keep cannot move past one simple, stinging thought. It trips me every time. Though I have everything I could have ever desired, I find that I am still without.
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