Beck picks up his plate of sushi, turns so that he’s sitting sideways to face me, and begins eating. His teeth bite through the first piece, and he arches an eyebrow at me in silent question. I can’t tell him I’d rather watch him eat, so I pick up my own plate and start with something I don’t recognize. It’s good, but I think almost anything would be with Beck for company.
“I know we talked about what it’s like being back, and I could tell by your voice that you were hiding how much you miss your studio.” He skips the small-talk, going straight for the heart of it all. “What was your favorite part about art school?”
I add sugar to my tea and blow on the steam rising from the cup in misty curls. “Not interacting with anyone before at least ten.” Most nights had me up until midnight working on various projects. “If you were unlucky enough to land an earlier morning class, even the teachers were hugging coffee pots.
“Actually, I think it was wearing overalls and a faded, thrift store flannel shirt for like four days in a row without anyone noticing until I took a trip to the laundromat, washed it, and cleaned off the paint.” Even to my own ears, my voice sounds richer as I discuss my life as an artist.
“That reminds me of my first days of building Huntsworth. I ate, slept, and breathed my work, and I loved it.” Beck’s wistful tone echoes mine.
“Beck, it was so damned refreshing being around other artists all day. I mean, there were the usual squabbles over best lighting and who stole somebody’s brush or welding gear…” My eyes catch on Beck’s throat as he laughs, his Adam’s apple bobbing as he throws his whole head back with the emotion. “But,” I continue, “we got each other. The peer groups we formed by discipline truly became family.”
Warmth covers my hand, and it takes a minute before I realize Beck’s fingers are intertwined with my own. I squeeze them back, memorizing the strength in his grasp.
His voice breaks as he speaks. “And now you’re far away from the first people who really understood you.”
“I had you and Tasha first,” I blurt without thought. Glancing up, I want to see his reaction. There isn’t one on his face, but I can’t find it in me to be disappointed. His eyes are on our joined hands, and neither of us move to let go.
Minutes pass before he speaks again. “What’s harder: being away from your chosen family or not having the freedom to do your art whenever you want?” The night breeze toys with his hair, sending wayward waves into his eyes. He hasn’t had it cut in a while. I brush them back with my free hand, relishing the sensation of those silken strands slipping between my fingers.
I don’t want to talk about my art. It hurts too much. “I miss my studio. I miss the way the afternoon sun would reflect off a carefully placed mirror and fill the space with warmth.” Closing my eyes, I sink into the memories. “It smelled of chai spices from the tea I kept at the counter for guests. I miss rolling off my pull-out couch in the back room and getting to work without worrying about overstaying my welcome or disturbing anyone. There was this exhibit I did…” My hands release Beck’s and flutter around as I speak, so excited even now as I describe the photographs I took and how I recreated them as paintings and sculptures.
“That sounds amazing. I wish Tasha and I had been able to come out. I remember when you sent us the postcard about the show. I think she has one in her scrapbook, and the one you addressed to me is in my desk at home.” Beck serves himself some of the fried rice and manages to make eating it look like an advertisement for the world’s most perfect food. I’m happy that I haven’t spilled sushi rice down my front.
“I still have a few of the paintings that didn’t sell. I might try to get them into a boutique downtown to make some money. Maybe then Jean won’t keep reminding me what a failure I am.” The label sticks with me and will continue to until I can somehow make it as an artist again. If I can. “Even if I fail at doing anything with my art, I do love making it. I love creating.”
His hands reach for me, clasp my shoulders, and squeeze until it is almost uncomfortable. “You are not a failure, Lia. You gave it your all, but the economy let you down.