She walks into the parlor, admiring the decor and the lighting of the place. It's not too bright, nor too dim. The candles on the walls are numerous enough that they match the light from any bulb she's seen, and there is something to be said for the mellow flickering of fire verses the almost harsh light of a lamp.
"I've heard so much about you," she says, clasping the artist's hands. They aren't calloused hands of a worker, but neither are they the soft hands of a man who spends too much time avoiding work. She smells something faint, and pleasant, coming from an adjacent room. "They say there's no one better with a pencil."
He smiles, and it reaches up to his eyes. She feels a little more at ease with what she's signed up for. He's pleasantly surprised by what he sees. He expected another high society woman; haughty, her hair pulled back too tightly, her face covered by too much paint. With this woman, he sees he won't even need to ask her to take her hair down. It's already in gentle curls around her face and resting on her shoulders.
"I'm flattered. I just find there's peace in drawing, and if I can make someone else happy while I do it, so much the better. Please, have a seat."
She sees the small table covered with various artists tools, and the easel that's waiting for its paper. She seats herself on the chaise lounger while he sits on the stool next to his station.
"I do have a privacy screen I can put up while you undress, if you'd like. Once you're in a comfortable position, I'll need you to be as still as possible for the duration. Don't worry too much about needing to scratch your nose, I understand that the body does strange things when required to stay in one place."
"I understand, and..." she blushes, "I'd like the privacy screen, please."
He smiles again.
He stands the screen between them, looking away politely as she begins to remove pieces of her clothing. She notices that he's mentioned nothing of the reason she's there; the fiance she knows will love this surprise. She wonders if this is standard practice, and finds that she doesn't want to be the one to bring him up. While looking into the artist's eyes, she'd all but forgotten the reason she called on him in the first place.
He's seen more beautiful women than his client, but there's something about her he can't quite put his finger on. Perhaps in drawing, it'll come to him.
She stretches out on the chaise, feeling vulnerable, embarrassed, and a little excited. She tries not to think about how many other women have been here before, just as naked, waiting to be studied by him.
"I'm ready... I think." She giggles, then cuts it off abruptly when she hears the obvious nervousness in the laugh. It's just a drawing, for pity's sake! She hears him chuckle in return, and he slides the screen to the side.
She's laying on her side, head resting on an outstretched arm. Her other arm is stretched down the length of her, with her fingertips resting lightly on her thigh. "Is this okay?"
He nods once, taking in every detail of her body... for his sketch, of course. He tries to be purely objective, this is a job, after all. But he thinks it would be foolish to deny what the candle light does to her skin, the curve of her hip and the swell of her breast. He takes out his pencil, and a fresh piece of parchment.
"I hope you're comfortable, you're going to be here a while."
There is no time when there are no clocks ticking. There is no night and day when the only light is candle-born to begin with. He starts with basic curves, gentle lines. He stops every few seconds to make sure the angles are just right, that he's bringing her to life on paper. He's trying desperately to forget why she first came to him, and instead focuses on the slight smile that keeps creeping to her lips, then disappearing. He's drawing the smile whether or not it's on her face when he looks at her, for it does something beautiful to the rest of the picture.
He's studying her. He's drawing her. He's falling in love with her.
She's never been looked at this way. She's wondering if coming here is the mistake, or if the mistake is her plan to marry someone else.
Neither of them know how many minutes or hours have passed once he drops his pencil for the final time. He continues to stare at her. She knows he's finished, but can't bring herself to look away. She wants to approach him, be close to him without the privacy screen coming back to bring her to her senses. In her hesitation, the moment passes, and he's left her to dress. In his hesitation, he's stopped himself from a potential embarrassment and serious breach of etiquette. The screen divides them.
He memorizes the picture on his easel as best he can. He knows she'll come back to his dreams, but will her image be this clear in his waking life? She pulls the screen aside, tucked safely within the confines of her clothing. Her cheeks are still a bit flushed, and she looks a little sad. She's feeling as if something is missing, and doesn't want to admit what it is.
He shows her the sketch, and another nervous giggle escapes her. She takes the drawing and hastily looks away. "It's... well, I've never seen myself this way."
"You hardly looked at it," he teases, fighting the urge to tell her she can't have the drawing, that he wants to keep it for his own. He doesn't want another man, who's probably seen her naked dozens of times, to see this picture.
"I'll look at it more closely when I'm not being looked at. I can't stop blushing."
She's already paid him ahead of time, so there is no exchange of money. She stands at the door, and sees that night has closed in around them. They stare at each other again, and the air is thick with everything they aren't saying to one another. "Thank you." She whispers, turning to leave his home.
He says nothing as she disappears. He waits another few endless moments, plagued by indecision.
"Oh, hell." He says to the silence. He grabs his coat and dashes out the door.