Sempre redemption, p.43
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       Sempre: Redemption, p.43

         Part #2 of Forever series by J. M. Darhower
Page 43


  Haven’s brow furrowed. “Does what?”

  “That’s it. Keep it up, guys. This is exactly what I like to see—your creativity exploding onto the canvas as I help you reach your peak. ”

  Kelsey coughed loudly, trying to hide another laugh, but others in the class were less successful at containing themselves. The professor didn’t notice, though, or if she did, she didn’t react.

  “Art’s personal. It’s just you and your tools, making something out of nothing. It’s a sensual process. You’re creating love. ”

  “Yeah, definitely on purpose,” Kelsey said. “Miss Michaels is freaky-deaky. ”

  Haven felt the blood rush to her cheeks when she realized what the fuss was about. She dropped her paintbrush and stared at the random shapes and patterns on her canvas, everything suddenly looking sexualized.

  “Beautiful work, Hayden. Absolutely stunning. ”

  Haven smiled softly, her blush deepening as the professor stopped beside her station. “Thank you. ”

  “It’s truly my pleasure. ”

  The rest of the class passed in a similar fashion, more immature snickering accompanying possible sexual innuendos. By the time they were dismissed twenty minutes later, Haven was flustered and about to jump out of her own skin.

  She grabbed her things before bolting toward the exit, hoping to delay the inevitable awkward conversation with her friend, and made her way to the lobby from the seventh floor. Rushing out of the massive brick building, she collided with a form right outside the front doors. Haven bounced back from the force of it.

  Monday was turning out not to be her day.

  “I’m sorry,” she said at once, pulling away from the guy in front of her. He seemed startled, his feet locked in place and eyes wide. They were a strange blue color, bordering on steel gray. His skin was dark tan.

  “No big deal,” he replied, letting go of her. His voice was high-pitched, a thick Brooklyn accent she heard often around New York. “You okay?”

  “Uh, yeah,” she said, taking a step back. “I’m fine. This happens all the time. ”

  “What does?” he asked. “You running into strangers?”

  “Yes. ”

  He let out a laugh, his face lighting up to expose a set of clear, deep dimples. “Gives new meaning to hitting on people, huh?”

  She smiled at his joke, grateful that he didn’t seem angry. “I suppose so. ”

  He started to speak again, but she didn’t give him time. Hearing Kelsey’s laughter in the building behind her, Haven blurted out another quick apology before dodging past the man and into the crowd on the street.

  * * *

  Painting II, also known as Art from the Heart, had become Haven’s favorite class from the first day of the semester. It was the one hour where she threw caution to the wind and allowed herself to truly feel everything inside of her. There was no pretending. Not when painting.

  Soul, the professor had said. And Haven gave it every ounce she had.

  “Do you think Miss Michaels gets off on da Vinci?” Kelsey asked on Wednesday as they strolled out of class together. “Maybe The Last Supper is porn to her. She kept gushing about it today. ” She paused, crinkling her nose. “Gushing. Gross, now I’m doing it. ”

  Haven rolled her eyes. “It’s a religious painting. I doubt she finds it erotic. ”

  “Okay then, Mona Lisa,” Kelsey said. “That’s da Vinci, isn’t it? Or wait, maybe it’s Van Gogh. Picasso?”

  “It’s da Vinci,” Haven said. “How are you an art student?”

  “Totally other side of the industry,” Kelsey replied. “I design things on a computer, unlike you folks who make love to a canvas. ”

  “We create love on a canvas. ”

  “What’s the difference?” she asked dismissively. “Both sound kinky to me. ”

  Haven shook her head, looking away from her friend as they stepped out of the building. Her eyes immediately locked with a pair of blue ones, the same guy from two days ago. He smiled at her, giving a slight wave, and Haven blushed from the recognition.

  “See, I’m right,” Kelsey said, noticing her suddenly flushed cheeks. “All of you artsy fuckers are turned on by it. ”

  * * *

  Friday, when leaving class, the guy was there again, just as he was the following Monday and Wednesday. The cycle continued with curious looks, polite smiles, and subtle waves every other weekday at precisely one o’clock. He was always lingering just outside the building like he was waiting for someone or maybe something.

  On Friday two weeks later, Haven was asked to stay after class. The halls were vacant by the time she left, the street clear of students. She walked out of the building as she situated her backpack, her footsteps faltering after a few feet. On the corner, leaning against the building, was the guy once again.

  He glanced up as she approached. “Hey there. ”

  Haven smiled politely. “Hello. ”

  He pushed away from the wall and stopped in her path. “Remember me?”

  “Yes. ” Her heart raced at the blunt acknowledgment. She already preferred it when he didn’t say anything. “I didn’t hurt you, did I? I’m honestly really sorry for it. I was in a rush and—”

  “Relax,” he said, cutting her off with a laugh. “You just ran off that day before I had a chance to talk to you. ”

  “Oh. ” She eyed him warily. “About what?”

  He shrugged. “About anything. ”

  “Uh, okay. ”

  They stared at each other for a moment, the air thick with awkwardness. Haven took a step to the side to go around him, but he spoke again before she made it that far. “So, can I walk you to your next class?”

  She shook her head. “I’m done for the day. ”

  He started to reply, but she was gone before he could say anything.

  * * *

  He tried again on Monday. “Can I get you some lunch?”

  Another refusal. “I’m not really hungry, but thanks. ”

  And again on Wednesday. “How about some drinks?”

  She mumbled as she ducked past him, “I’m not thirsty. ”

  Friday, just like clockwork, he was standing there. “Can I walk you home?”

  “I’m not going home right now. ”

  Monday, Haven was prepared. She stepped out of the building after class with Kelsey at her side, chatting away, but the guy was one step ahead of her. He pushed away from the wall when he saw them and paused in their path, focusing his attention on Kelsey. “Excuse me, miss. Can I cut in?”

  Kelsey’s brow furrowed. She was momentarily stunned into silence. “Cut in?”

  “Yes,” he said. “You see, I’ve been trying to talk to your friend for weeks, so, well, I’m a little jealous right now. ”

  A smile slowly lit up Kelsey’s face. “Oh! Absolutely!”

  Kelsey turned to her and winked dramatically, barely containing her squeal as she skipped away into the crowd. Haven just stood there in disbelief as the guy smirked. “So, since your friend approves, can I walk beside you wherever you’re going today?”

  She shook her head. Unbelievable. “Why would you even want to do that?”

  “Why wouldn’t I?” he asked. “You’re a gorgeous girl. ”

  Those words sunk in and she gaped at him. He was flirting, she realized. He was flirting with her.

  She shrugged hesitantly. “Uh, I guess. I mean, you can do anything you want. I can’t really stop you, right?”

  “Right. ” The word was drawn out in his accent. “Are you giving me the it’s a free country spiel?”

  “No. Well, yes . . . ” She scrunched up her forehead. “It is, isn’t it? Or at least that’s what they say. ”

  “Yeah, but I don’t want to impose. I know I’ve been persistent, but I just wanted a chance to actually meet you. You can tell me no, and I’ll never ask again. ”

  There was a tinge of hurt in his voice that surprised her. She didn’t wa
nt to be rude to the boy, but his presence alarmed her, the attention unnerving.

  “You’re not really imposing,” she said. “I mean, we’re just walking, right?”

  “Right,” he said again, looking away from her and shaking his head. A smile tugged his lips as he motioned for her to proceed. “Walking. After you. ”

  Haven strolled down the street and he stayed in step beside her, his hands in his pockets and his gaze on the ground.

  “So, where are we heading?” he asked.

  “The library,” she replied.

  “The library isn’t on campus?” he asked. “This is an art school, isn’t it? Just art? Or do they have normal shit, too?”

  She peeked at him curiously. What kind of question is that? “Just art, but I like to think it’s pretty normal. ”

  He shook his head. “I didn’t mean it that way. ”

  “I take it you don’t go to school here,” she said. “Otherwise, you’d know that. ”

  “No, I’m not a student. ” He laughed to himself. “I walk by here all the time for work, though. I’m working down at the construction site on Sixth Avenue. ”

  She eyed him curiously. His clothes were crisp and clean, an expensive watch on his wrist. “You don’t look like a construction worker. ”

  He smiled. “No, I’m more of the supervising type. I don’t like getting my hands dirty if I don’t have to. ”

  Haven loosened up as they walked. He offered to carry her things and waited as she dropped off the books at the library before asking again if he could walk her home.

  “Why?” she asked, standing in the middle of the sidewalk in front of the New York Public Library. People walked around them, casting glares for being in the way, but she wasn’t budging. Not until he answered.

  “Didn’t you already ask me that?”

  “Yes, but . . . ” She paused. “You’re being nice. People just aren’t nice like that unless they want something. ”

  “I am,” he said. “I do want something, though. ”

  Haven’s eyes narrowed. “What?”

  “To get to know you. ”

  “Why me?”

  “Why not you?”

  He was being evasive, answering a question with a question. Haven stiffened. “You’re not the police, are you? You have to tell me if you are. ”

  He stared at her with surprise. “No, I don’t. Or, well, they don’t. Who told you that?”

  “A friend. ”

  “Well, they’re wrong. The police can legally lie to you. ”

  “Are you sure?”

  “Yes. ”

  “Does that mean you’re one?”

  He burst into laughter, so loud it seemed to bounce off the surrounding buildings, startling people walking past. “Most girls would be worried a guy is a serial killer or something. ”

  “You’re not, are you?”

  “No,” he said. “I’m not the police, either. I told you—I’m in construction. ”

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