I thought that was a bit of an odd way to phrase that, but sometimes artists can be eccentric, so I let it go. She was tall, taller than I expected. She was pretty, and she was pale, but there was something as unsettling about her as about her paintings. I thought maybe she wore too much makeup, but I looked again, and that wasn't it. She had a dominating presence. I tried to figure it out without staring at her. She was wearing a black velvet floor length dress and it was summer in the South. She should be sweating or panting or fanning herself or something, but she wasn't. Aside from that, it was a social no-no. But everyone in the room seemed to want her attention and her favor. The whole thing threw me.
She went off to mingle with other guests, leaving me alone with Dani again for the moment.
“How do you know her?” I asked, realizing for the first time that I was a bit jealous of their seemingly deep and longstanding friendship.
“I met her through one of my professors at university,” she said. I thought I detected some defensiveness. Maybe I was projecting.
“What IS your major?”
“Visual arts,” she said, as if she'd told me before.
“Ah, ok. Then why work at a law firm? Why not a gallery or studio or waitressing or something?”
“Because my parents and my aunt thought I needed some structure and discipline... and I certainly need the money.”
“When do I get to see your work?” I was disappointed she hadn't shown me her own, but instead dragged me off to a social event to see someone else's, someone she obviously idolized.
“Soon, if the cards come out right.”
Cards?, I thought. Are we talking Tarot? Gambling? Some art series she's working on? And whose cards, exactly?
I wandered around the gallery some more, wishing I had money to buy that disturbing portrait of the little girl. Some day, I told myself. I was lost in thought when I noticed that most people had left. I checked my watch. Just shy of 10. I went to find Dani again.
“Shouldn't we head out? You said opening and then party, and judging by the looks of this place, I don't think the party's here.”
“Sure, wait for just a minute. Mara's just getting her things.”
So apparently I was driving all of us.
We walked back to my car, a few blocks from the gallery. The sun had gone down a long time ago, but it was still hot. Walking in a suit was an effort. Being outside, without air conditioning, still did not seem to faze Mara. She took a deep breath and gazed up at the sky and spread her arms and sighed as if she'd just had a really good meal or really good sex. I guessed she was happy with how the opening went.
When we got to the car, Dani deferred to Mara, so Mara rode shotgun and Dani got in the back. I hoped that Mara was better with directions than Dani was. Dani's deference bothered me, and not just because I was jealous. I remembered doing the same sort of thing to people I looked up to, and I got hurt because of it. And I didn't want Dani to get hurt.
“Ok, so...” I began to ask where we were going.
But Mara cut me off as if she anticipated my question. She answered it with one of her own: “Do you know where Anne Rice lives?”
“Good, because it's nowhere near there.”