Life Imitates Art

The next two days passed in a blur of meeting other gallery owners, shopping and eating out. Every once in a while, Twila would mention Joshua. Usually some comment about his body, his tight ass, or the way his pants fit so well, or his smile.

One evening she gave Sara a blow by blow account of the one date Twila had been on since coming to New York. Sara had finally threw her out of her bedroom.

The ninth day in New York, Sara sat watching a mime waiting for Twila to bring back hot dogs and pretzels from the street vendors.

"Hi. Umm, you may not remember me. Joshua Blackburn, from the gallery."

Long legs in white jogging pants.

Sara blushed slightly, remembering not only the way she had acted at the opening, but the comment Twila had made that night. "Hi. You're actually one of the few I do remember easily." She gave him a shy smile. Oh my God, how is he going to take that? Sara's heart was racing. "I just got so overwhelmed by it all. It was my first show and my first time in New York." Watch it, Sara. Don't say something stupid. You acted wonky enough that night.

"No problem, I understand." His voice was full of humor. She remembers me. A small bemused smile spread across his face.

"So, do you live in New York?" For God's sake, Sara. Look at him when you're talking to him. He probably already thinks you're a twit, and you don't need to make it worse.

"Yes. May I sit down?"

"Uh, sure." God, he can probably hear my heart pounding, it's so loud. Slow, even breathing, Mclintock. Don't hyperventilate. She moved slightly to give him more room on the bench.

"I would really like to see more of what you have done." He watched the mime, not ready to really look at her, she might see what was in his eyes. He could feel her body heat, a slight clean smell. She doesn't wear perfume. His reaction to her was immediate and he crossed his legs, trying to hide it from her. Calm down, he swallowed and closed his eyes briefly. You've only met her twice, she shouldn't be having this affect on you. But she is. God, she's so beautiful.

Is that…? No, it can't be. He's just sitting more comfortably. Why do I feel like running away and screaming?

"A group of us are hitting Fellows again tonight." He was pleased that his voice was steady, that none of his desire seeped through. He glanced over to where his roommate Ted was talking to Twila. "Your roommate will be there. Will you… If you like, you are invited as well."

Caution warred with… something. Desire? No, it can't be. You've just met him. Does he feel it too? No, why would he? I'm nothing special.

"Well…" Stop being such a ninny and running scared. It's just a bunch of people at a bar. If he tries something, you can deal with it. Thump him one. "If Twila's going, I guess I will too," Sara said in a rush before she could change her mind. She focused her attention on the camera in her lap. Sara picked it up and fiddled with it, adjusting the lens for the current light level without putting it to her eye. "I brought most of my portfolio with me for Thea to see. I suppose I could bring some of the prints." God, I want to touch him. Someone pinch me. I must be crazy.

"Great!" He surged to his feet and began walking away. "I'll see you then!"

He turned and dashed toward his roommate.

Twila walked back, watching Sara watch him. Plopping down on the bench, she handed Sara her hot dog. "Looks like someone hit you between the eyes with a semi, friend of mine."

Twila's eyes twinkled and a smile tugged her mouth. God's breath, girl, someone would think he just finished fucking you. Oh, when you fall, you fall hard.

Sara stuck her tongue out at her friend, then whipped up her camera and shot a dozen pictures of Josh and his friend walking away. Sara sighed, then put her camera in her lap and took her hot dog from her friend.

"To be perfectly honest, Twila, I feel like one did. I just agreed to go to Fellows tonight, but only if you went." Sara shook her head. "What the hell is going on? Whenever I see him I want to jump out of my skin and run away as fast as I can. I've never been this nervous before, not even when I did that speech at the fundraising rally at the university." She stared at her hot dog for a few moments, then took a bite.

"I mean, I don't even know why he talks to me, other than his interest in the photographs. It's not like I'm a famous artist or anything."

Twila glanced sideways. If I tell her why, she'll beat me back to New London. "Maybe he wants to get to know the artist. The person behind the photos."

Twila looked in the mirror and applied the last of her makeup. She glanced at her watch in surprise, usually Sara was griping about the time by now.

Sara was still in her bedroom, fussing with her clothes. She wanted to take off the tight black jeans she was wearing and put on the baggy slacks she had, but she had promised herself she'd try and change what she was wearing while she was here in New York. It's not as if I'm going to be seeing any of these people again, so if I look ridiculous here, it won't matter when I get back home. At least these have some give, so if I have to fight, I've got some mobility.

Sara adjusted the oversized white silk shirt she was wearing, conscious that it was Joshua's favorite color. I'm not wearing it because of him. I'm wearing it because it goes great with these jeans, and it was an excellent buy. She turned sideways and examined her reflection closely. You know, Twila may be right. With all the exercise and training I do, my legs don't look that bad. But I'm not going to wear that mini-skirt she bought for me. It's just too much. Sara jumped when she heard Twila's voice form the door.

"Nice shirt. You look good, Sara." Twila swallowed the rest, completing it in her mind. Josh won't know what hit him. But I can't tell her that, she'll bolt. Why, Sara? Who hurt you so badly?

"Let's go."

8:00 p.m. Fellows

Fellows was a small Italian restaurant, full and noisy. Josh saw the two walk in and stood up to wave them over to the large table near the back. Eight other people sat around a table filled with food and drink. Quickly they made room for the two new comers, introductions were made and the conversation continued.

Twila watched Sara, as she sat quietly letting the conversation wash over her as she always did. Twila smiled as Josh slowly, patiently drew Sara in. How patient are you, Joshua Blackburn? Sara was now leaning on the table engaged in verbal battle with the couple across the way. Twila had missed what the conversation was about. She glanced over at Josh as he moved his head back and forth between the two sides, content to listen.

One the people beside Sara leaned past her to talk to the person on the other side. Sara caught the whiff of alcohol.

Sara stiffened and sat back quickly. Her face became an emotionless mask as she tried to compose herself. Get a grip, Sara. It's just someone having a drink with dinner. It doesn't mean anything. After a few moments, Sara began talking again, but not as enthusiastically. Don't glare at the man, Sara. He's just enjoying his dinner. I'm sure he's going to be responsible. She ordered another Diet Coke and sat back, sipping it silently.

Twila noticed Sara's reaction. She had seen it before, knew of Sara's aversion to alcohol. She watched Josh notice Sara's reaction. Watched him frown as he watched the guy, who had no idea what was going on right in front of him. Josh looked from Sara back to the guy. Twila leaned forward. He's trying to puzzle it out. What caused her reaction.

Josh's eyes met Twila's. She could see the question there. She raised her glass, moved it in a tight circle. His eyes narrowed and he looked at the drink in his hand. Slowly, he pushed it away. He arched an eyebrow. Twila nodded and finished her coke. He's quick.

The night continued, people left and new people showed up. Both Twila and Sara glanced at their watches. 1:23 a.m.

"Geez, look at the time," Sara said, surprised at how quickly the evening had passed by. "I'd better get going. I've rented a darkroom for tomorrow morning, and I have to be there at 8 a.m. Are you going to stay, Twila?"

Sara pulled a couple of bills from her wallet and put them on the table to pay for her drinks. She apologized to the others for making them move, then stood and absently straightened her blouse. It had slid forwards off her shoulders and caused the neckline to plunge a bit more than she realized, the lace-edged top of her bra just visible over the button.

"It was really nice meeting all of you," Sara said to the assembled group. She looked at Twila. "I'll catch a cab home. Do you want me to leave the light on for you?" Sara teased.

"No," Twila said, collecting her things. "I'm coming."

Josh surged to his feet, "Uh, let me go to bathroom and I will walk the two of you home."

"That's nice of you, Josh," Twila smiled, "I could do with a night stroll. How about you, Sara? It's only 10 blocks away."

"It's nothing. I run more than that," Sara answered. What's with her? She knows that. Is she trying something?

The group called their goodbyes and went back to their conversations, the same as when others had left.

Josh caught up to the two women outside. Twila noticed that he was chewing gum and he placed himself so that Twila was in the middle. As they walked, Twila and Josh bantered back and forth.

Sara's senses were on full alert, keeping track of everything going on around them as they walked. She also noticed every move Joshua made, every sound he made. Oh man, is he good looking. And he's so nice. Sara pushed aside the sudden pangs of jealousy. Where the hell did that come from? Why am I feeling this way? I barely know him, and Twila's my best friend.

A scruffy looking man stepped away from the wall he was leaning against and moved towards the trio. She gave him a warning glance and flexed her arm, letting him know to forget he had any ideas of harassing them.

The man shuffled back to his spot and Twila burst out laughing after they had taken a few steps. "I must be the safest woman in the city with you two glaring even at the bums."

"Yes, well, sometimes a glare works better than the black belt," Sara replied, smiling.

Josh's eyes met Sara's over Twila's doubled up body and he smiled, with a slight twist of his mouth. He reached up and ran a hand through his hair. Twila was still laughing as she inserted the key into lock.

Josh cleared his throat. "Well, I guess I should be going. I had a wonderful time."

He took Twila's hand and kissed the back of it. He then turned and smiled at Sara, "My lady," he murmured as he took her hand. His eyes never left Sara's as his lips brushed the back of her hand, ever so gently.

Sara's heart skipped a beat and her hand felt like it was on fire. The heat spread quickly through the rest of her body. "Thank you for the invitation. You know, you never did get a look at the photographs." She worked hard to keep her hand from quivering.

"Are you inviting me in, Ms. Mclintock?" Josh asked softly, straightening slowly, a slight shift and he seemed closer. His tongue darted out and wet his lips. His hand tightened and then quickly let go. Again they brushed against his pants.

Oh God, what do I do now? Sara sent a panicked look at Twila. Should I?

Twila tried to get herself under control. Pushing open the door, she spoke over her shoulder, "I'll get some coffee made. All's in that's coming in."

As she passed Sara, she gave her a slight nod and a wink.

Sara replied with a grateful smile. She ushered Joshua into the apartment. "Take a seat," Sara said, indicating the sofa. "I'll be back in just a second with the rest of my portfolio." Sara headed towards her bedroom, but detoured into the bathroom. She ran cold water and splashed it on her flushed face. I can't believe this is happening. Oh God, if Mom knew, she'd have a cow. I'd better not tell her, and tell Twila not to mention anything to her either.

Sara patted her face dry, took a couple of deep breaths, and fetched her portfolio.

Josh stood up as she came back. Twila brought a couple of coffee mugs out and placed them on the table with cream and sugar.

"Coffee will be ready in a few minutes. Sara, would you keep an eye on it? I'm for a shower and then bed. Don't stay up too late." Again, she winked at Sara. "Does anyone have to use the bathroom?"

Sara shook her head giving Twila an exasperated glare, and looked at Joshua.

Sara sat down on the sofa and placed her portfolio on the coffee table. She took out several file folders of prints, each one labeled with a name or course code. "As I think I remember saying at the show, most of the work I have that I'm willing to show people are things I did for the various courses I've taken. Each file is labeled with the purpose of the study, whether stills, portraits or landscapes. The pictures are a combination of black and white and colour. This file," Sara indicated a rather thin one. "Has pictures with a new technique I'm trying–taking a black and white and putting colour to it in specific places. I'm still in the early stages of trials, but I think these have turned out reasonably well." Sara began to close her portfolio with two folders of pictures still in it.

Josh sat beside her as she talked, his eyes on her rather then the pictures. He caught the last bit and reached over to touch the portfolio. The result was that most of his side was pressed against her and his lips only centimeters from her ear. She uses herbal shampoo. The thought was a distant breeze. He reached up with other hand and lightly brushed back her hair.

"What are the other folders?"

His hand brushed hers on the folder. The hand that had brushed back her hair moved to her shoulder and then drew a gentle line down her back. Josh's heart began beating double time, and he felt himself stir. He leaned forward and brushed his lips lightly against her throat.

Sara stiffened involuntarily. She bit her lip and fought back the beginnings of a panic attack. Her heart was in her throat and she swallowed convulsively. He's not going to hurt you, Sara. You won't let him. Remember, you can defend yourself. Oh God, what am I feeling? Is this the desire that Father Raymond said would eventually happen, and I shouldn't be afraid? What am I going to do? I want…

"The other folders?" Sara's voice was soft and unsteady. She cleared her throat. "One of them is the photos that Thea didn't use for the show. The other is a personal project I'm working on. I'm working on a book which will be sold as a fund-raiser for a group of charities back home, dealing with street kids, drugs and gangs." Take it slow, Sara. You can always say no and tell him to stop. If he doesn't, you can make him stop. Sara forced herself to stay where she was and not put more distance between them.

Josh felt her stiffen. Focusing on her words, he struggled to decipher what she wanted. Was she telling him no? She had not moved away or even really acknowledged his kiss.

Confusion, desire and his mother's upbringing warred inside his head. He glanced towards the bathroom. He could hear the shower running and a wobbly rendition of some song. When in doubt, ask! his mother's voice thundered in his head, followed by the mandatory slap upside the head.

"Sara," he pitched his voice low, trying to keep his desire out of it, "I would like… would you like… May I kiss you?"

A kiss?! Sara's eyes widened in surprise tinged with wariness. She bit back the question 'Why?' Sara caught her lip slightly between her teeth, and looked him over evaluatingly. I should be able to deal with him if he tries anything else…

Sara nodded once, then held her breath, unsure of herself, and half afraid she'd botch it somehow.

Josh stared into her eyes. He could see… wariness? Fear? Of me? He reached out and ran a finger lightly down her cheek and across her lips. A tremor ran through him and he closed his eyes. Opening them again, he took a deep breath.

"Sara, are you afraid of me? There is no need to be. I would never hurt you. I just… You're so beautiful…"

He leaned in brushing his lips against hers, when she didn't pull back, he kissed her again, darting his tongue along her lips.

He's so gentle. Sara's eyes fell closed and her lips parted as she released her pent-up breath. This is different. Not like before. There's no reason for me to be afraid. She willed herself to relax, to concentrate on the sensation and blocked out the dark memories.

Josh felt her relax, felt her breath brush his face. His tongue darted out again and finding her mouth open, plunged in. He moaned into her mouth, inviting her tongue to play with his. So sweet. Again, it was a distant thought. He shifted, running his hand into her hair, the other fell to her waist and then moved to her thigh.

"Sara…" he moaned again, and caught his breath. He kissed her chin, running his tongue along her jaw line, "you can touch me, you know."

His mouth came back to hers, slanting over it, demanding entrance again. He moved his hands to the chesterfield and levered himself up. He needed to be closer, feel her body against his. Slowly he lowered himself, moving her slightly so he could lay her on the chesterfield. His mouth moved to her throat and then back up.

I want… I want… No, I can't do it. Sara's body began to shake, and she wrenched her mouth away from Joshua's. "I… I have to check on the coffee." Sara slid out from under him and she fled to the kitchen.

When she was out of sight, she leaned against the wall and wrapped her arms around her waist. Oh God, I want him. Why can't I just let go? Why can't I forget? Sara slammed her fist down on the countertop in frustration.

She stayed in the kitchen, puttering around until she was back in control of herself. Sara pulled the pot from the coffee maker and went back into the living room. I've probably ruined everything. He probably thinks I'm a tease. What am I going to do? Her eyes brightened slightly with tears, but she fought back the mild despair.

Josh was standing pacing, running a hand through his hair. He started when he saw her. "Um… I should go. You have to get up early."

He backed toward the door shoving his hands into his pockets. His whole body was stretched tight. If she touches me… The door knob hit him in the back and he fumbled with the door, finally wrenching it open.

"Um, bye."

He fled into the hall, slamming the door behind him.

Sara stood where she was, staring at the closed door. What have I done? Now I'm never going to see him again. Her eyes began to fill with tears. She put the coffeepot down on the heat pad and started to gather up the files, her actions slow and wooden.

"Josh left already?" Twila asked from beneath a towel.

"Yeah. It was getting late and he decided he ought to get home." Sara's voice was emotionless. She shoved the folders into the portfolio and held it with white knuckles. Twila's head snapped up at Sara's tone. She crossed the room quickly. Her arms went around Sara.

"What happened?" she asked softly. "Sara!" Twila gave her a shake, fear clenching her stomach. I was only gone for 15 minutes!

"He asked if he could kiss me," Sara answered after a moment then she glanced up at Twila, almost ashamed. "I said yes." She looked away, refusing to meet her friend's eyes.

"I screwed up, okay?" Sara was suddenly angry and defensive, and stalked away from Twila. "I froze, now he probably thinks I'm a tease. I fucked everything up. Is that what you wanted to hear?" Sara was almost yelling at this point. "The only man I've ever been interested in since I was… What's the point. Why the hell do I even try?" Tears streaming down her face, Sara hugged her photographs to her chest and fled to her bedroom. Twila could hear sobbing from Sara's bedroom.

Twila paused. Since… Oh God, Sara. She walked into the bedroom and took her friend into her arms, rocking her gently. She searched desperately for something to say, to make it all right.

"I'm sorry Sara, this is my fault. I knew you were feeling something towards him. God knows he definitely… I knew you had never shown any interest before. I should have done this before. Did you want to talk? About what you're feeling? I don't know if I can help, but I'll try."

"Oh Twila, I want him so much. I'd love be able to kiss and hold him. I just don't know if I ever can." Sara grabbed a handful of tissues, wiped her face and blew her nose. She looked vulnerable, like she was a young teenager. "Whenever I think about getting… intimate with a man, I get terrified. You see," Sara said, pulling her knees up under her chin. "When I was 15, my best friend and I had stayed late after school to work on a project and we had to walk a couple blocks to her house. We were attacked, ambushed, as we were walking home. Linda and I… we were raped. Linda by members of a street gang and I, I by a guy in my classes at school. They were in the alley, waiting for us." Sara's voice faded away.

Twila closed her eyes, Sara didn't need her tears right now.

"Aron had been drinking. He was cruel, both physically and mentally. It was over six months before I would venture out of the house alone, and almost a year before I'd go out after dark. I don't know if Linda ever recovered." Sara's voice was filled with remembered pain. "It was Father Raymond who found us after the attack, and got us to safety and to the hospital. He was one of the people instrumental in getting me sane, helping me deal with what had happened. It's why I have a second degree black belt in jiu jitsu, and why I work so hard helping with the self defense classes, organizing the after-dark security escorts for female students, and all the other stuff."

"The worst part of it is, Aron swore to me that he'd make sure I'd never forget what he did to me. And he's right. I can't. It's still there in my subconscious. As much as I try, no matter how much I want to have something with a man, with Joshua, I can't. It's still there, in the back of my mind."

"What am I going to do, Twila? I really like Joshua, but I'm just so scared. I know he wasn't going to hurt me when he was here, when he was kissing me and tried to lie down with me on the sofa. But something just went off in my head, and I froze. I pushed him off of me and I ran away like an idiot to the kitchen. When I came back, he left like I was going to bite him or something."

"Okay. There are a few things we can try. Sara, let me get this straight okay, so I can understand what happened here tonight. Joshua kissed you. How did you feel about that? I know its hard and embarrassing but you can do it. Did he ask? Or did he just kiss you? Did he say anything? Where did he touch you? Hush, honey, its okay. Hush. Just tell me. We have to figure what he did to elicit your response and then we are going to talk about why."

Twila twirled her hair. "Um, it would be better if Joshua was here. If you told…"

"No!" Sara was adamant. "I've seen how men react to a woman who's been raped. I don't want his pity. I'd never know, I'd never be able to trust the motive behind his actions. If he was being nice because he really likes me, or is it because of what happened to me." She shook her head. "No, I don't want to tell him. Not yet. Not until I'm sure."


"What did I react to? Do you mean tonight, or from the very first time I saw him?" Sara asked with a wry smile. "Tonight, it started when he first touched me. Well, it wasn't just a touch. My hair had fallen forward and he brushed it back. His hand continued down my neck and then down my spine, all the time a very light touch. He was sitting right up next to me, his body up against mine, and he leaned forward to look at the folders I had left in the portfolio and our hands brushed. Then he whispered in my ear and brushed his lips against my neck."

"When he did that, I stiffened, and I tried really hard not to jump out of my seat and run. He pulled back, paused a second, then asked if he could kiss me." Sara's face softened, remembering the pleasure. "He kissed me a second time–a french kiss. He had one hand in my hair, and the other touched my shoulder, then my waist, then my thigh. He kissed my chin, then ran his tongue along my jaw and told me it was alright for me to touch him. That's when he moved, kind of pushed himself up on the sofa to shift the two of us. I think he wanted to lie up against me on the sofa, if not on top of me. It was when I began to lean backwards that I panicked."

"The touching and the kissing was fine. Well, not necessarily fine, but I'm pretty sure I can handle it. It's the idea of him on top of me, I think. I have the same problem in class, that if during a bout my opponent lands on top of me, he ends up across the room."

"Okay. It's the weight that is part of the problem. Does it bother you if the opponent is female? But you enjoyed the kiss? Did you touch him back?"

"If the opponent is female? No, it doesn't bother me. As for the kiss, after I convinced myself that he was gentle and wasn't going to do anything I didn't want him to," Sara sighed. "It was wonderful. I didn't have the courage to touch him when he said it was alright, but before I knew it, I panicked."

"Okay, the next time it happens, you'll have to make the first move and make sure he's on his back."

"What?" Sara said with surprise. "I couldn't do that. I mean, what would he think?"

"He'll think you enjoy being on top," Twila commented dryly, "but you just confirmed that there will be another time. You like the way he looks don't you? Makes you feel breathless?"

"The very first time I saw him I was torn between wanting to touch him and wishing I had a camera so I could get a shot of him so I'd never forget." Sara blushed slightly at the memory. "I still am."

Twila grinned.

"Now let's clear up this idea that you have that you ruined everything. If it was any other guy I'd say yeah, you are not going to see him again. I think you will see Joshua again. Honey, I'm surprised he waited this long. One, he did more then kiss you. He owes you an apology. Two, he really likes you, Sara."

"You think so?" Sara grimaced. "I sound so stupid, like those airheads in high school. I feel like one too. I mean, I've never wanted to kiss a man, let alone even think about doing anything else." Sara gave a dry laugh. "I'm almost twenty three years old, and the only experience I have is what happened during the attack. Not a very promising beginning."

"But why does he owe me an apology?"

"Because he went considerably farther then a simple kiss. Which was all he asked for. If you had let him I'm sure it would have gone farther still. I bet he forgot I was in the apartment all together." Twila sighed and then grew thoughtful. Or did he? "Anyway, you'll get a good indication on what type of man he is if he does apologize without prompting."

"Sara, are you sure you want this? Because it is not going to be easy. On either of you. I will help as much as I can. I will be here to talk to, to yell at, tell your dreams to, whatever they are. I love you kiddo, I want you to be happy."

"I think so. Jenna and Father Mallory have taught me that nothing truly worthwhile comes without hard work. Besides, if I don't try, I'll always be wondering what might have happened. I want to take that chance, and even if it doesn't work out, at least I'll have tried. As they say, nothing ventured, nothing gained."

"And if he decides it's not worth the effort, then it's his loss. He'll never know what he's missing," Sara finished with more courage than she felt.

"That's the spirit!"