Imagines: Not Only in Your Dreams, page 1
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Table of Contents
“The One That Got Away”
“Channing Tatum’s Dance Academy”
“A New Connection”
Imagine . . .
The bus you take is crowded to the point of standing room only, and the guy closest to you smells like stale cigarettes and too much cologne. His unshaven beard is full of white flakes, pieces of paper from a napkin, you assume. His brown eyes flick to you and he catches you staring at him. You quickly look out the window, catching a massive billboard advertising a new movie. The movie star’s face is pale, his jawline is sharp, and his blue eyes are keen, questioning the thousands of small people who lay eyes on him. You continue to stare at the billboard until it disappears from sight and you’re forced to find something else to distract you from the cigarette box of a fellow passenger until the bus stops.
The bus driver hits the breaks roughly, throwing you into the window. You grip your bag tightly and promise yourself that you’re going to do whatever you have to do to get a car within the next month. You can’t keep taking the bus, and Los Angeles doesn’t have a functioning subway system like New York. You’re beginning to question your choice of city.
You grew up in a quiet town where the biggest accomplishment was having all of your children by the same man and living a nice, quiet life. The typical goal of existence there seems to be to stay undisturbed, have an easy life, pay your bills, and die. But you don’t want to pay your bills and die. You want to disturb and be disturbed. You want adventure. You want something more than having children with a man who may treat you well but doesn’t think the same way you do. You know that no one there thinks the same way you do—or they would have left too. You don’t want to have the same routine as your mother, packing some second husband’s work lunches and organizing luncheons for the other housewives. Actually, you can’t remember the last time your mother even talked about herself in a conversation. It’s always him, him, him, his job, his son from his previous marriage, him again. You watched as she lost her identity to the gray of the sky there, her flare disappearing with the jobs when the plant closed down. The town was sucking everything out of her, pulling at every string inside of her. And one by one, her strings had snapped, and you swore that you would never be a puppet.
When the bus stops again, you jut forward, barely catching yourself on the rail next to you. Your supply bag drops, scattering your markers onto the dirty floor. The entire array of colors—blue, violet, red, green, orange, yellow—slides backward down the angled floor. As you scramble to grab at least a few of them, a couple of people make a generous effort to help you. You shove your small pad into your bag and graciously thank the few kind strangers who hand you the markers. Five of them. Five you got back out of a new pack of twenty. Certainly the strangers around you assume the markers are just plain old Crayolas or something, but they aren’t. You picked up two extra shifts just to be able to buy the nicest set you found, and now you’ve lost most of them.
But focus on the positive: five people on the bus were willing to get their hands dirty to help a stranger. This makes you smile, and when the bus doors open at your stop, you couldn’t be happier to get off. You breathe in fresh, non-cigarette-infused air and cross the sidewalk.
The community center where your art classes are held is only a ten-minute walk from the bus stop. Which is great, but doesn’t quite offset the three hours it took you to get there by bus. When you saw the ad for the class tacked up on a Malibu Starbucks bulletin board, you hadn’t realized it was actually ten miles north of Malibu. Which means a couple of transfers and nearly three hours by bus for you. You try to forget about this—focus on the positive—and you map the address with your phone so you don’t get lost.
You’ve never taken a class before, but you’ve always loved creating things and having new experiences, and you liked the simplicity and lack of care taken in making the advertisement—mechanical pencil on crumpled paper; it made you feel like it was more authentic, more your scene. From music to painting, you enjoy every form of art. Of course, you’re better at some than others. For example, you wouldn’t sing in public even if someone paid you, but you can create a colorful world, deeper than the one we live in, on an easel with only a few markers and a sheet of white paper.
You pass two men sitting on the sidewalk sharing a forty covered with a brown bag. The beer swishes over the side of the bottle and dribbles down the bald man’s shirt. The other laughs and takes their treasure back into his hands. He lifts the bottle, and you burn their faces into your memory for later.
The classroom is in the community center on the grounds of El Matador Beach Park. When you googled the place, the only posted review gushed over the beautiful view of the rocky beach below, so there’s that to look forward to. You cross the street in search of a small shop to find new markers. You assume that the community center will have some supplies, but you aren’t sure, and you don’t want to look too unprepared for what is going to be your first and last day of attending the class.
You find an eight-pack of Crayola markers and laugh to yourself while checking out. They’re better than nothing. You also buy a bottled water and a pack of gum. The small man behind the counter tosses your change into a small donation can without asking. You think about protesting, but decide it’s time to go to the class anyway. You’re thirty minutes late, even though you thought you’d get here an hour early. You cross the narrow street and read the list of small building numbers printed on a wooden sign. It’s like another world out here. The only time you see handwriting in West Hollywood is when restaurants stick their suggestive little chalkboards with their specials written in luscious cursive on them on the sidewalk.
Five small, identical white buildings are positioned in a half circle. You scan them, looking for building number five. You walk toward the building farthest to the right and count the cracks in the sidewalk on the way to the small porch. The door is slightly ajar, and you push it the rest of the way open. The lobby area is empty, so you follow the first hallway you see to the end. A flimsy sign hangs on the door: CLASS IN PROGRESS. Entering, you find a small room with endless shelves of cans and bottles lining the white walls from floor to ceiling. Paint-splattered aprons hang on wooden pegs near the door. Eight, maybe ten students of all ages and races sit behind easels. An elderly man sits in front, his hair white and wispy. His apron is much cleaner than the ones on the wall, and his glasses hang heavy on his face. He looks bored; his attention doesn’t even sway to the door when you walk in. No one even makes a peep when you bump into a desk, sending a folder full of papers to the floor. You bend down and pick them all up; each silent second feels like an hour, and you keep your eyes on the empty stool in the back corner of the room as you put the folder back on the desk. No eye contact with any other students. No introduction from the instructor.
You park your ass right on the empty stool the first moment you can. You don’t look up from your bag as you dig the markers—your five good ones—and the pack of Crayolas from the bottom of the bag. You lay them out on the small table next to you and turn your cell phone to silent. When you look up, you look directly at the instructor’s work. You can feel eyes on you, but you would rather not awkwardly look around the room to find their source. You stumbled in thirty minutes late; of course someone is looking at the lazy one. You would be too.
On the instructor’s easel is a bowl of fruit drawn in pencil. It’s shaded in harsh lines and not very well blended around the edges. This is definitely a beginner’s class; you learned to shade this exact same bowl of fruit when you were taking Freshman Art 101. You sigh before you can help it. You had slightly higher hopes for this class. Painting, screening, something . . . you had hoped for more than shading fruit or shapes. You probably should have investigated further before signing up. But you needed something to do.
An accented voice comes from your left: “It’s pretty lame, huh?”
You turn to him and meet a pair of deep blue eyes. The man they belong to is tall, really tall. He’s taller than the canvas that rests on a wooden easel before him. His white T-shirt is covered in gray pencil marks. The V neck is stretched slightly, causing the fabric to hang loosely under his collarbone. He raises a thick brow to you, inviting you to respond.
“The lesson?” you ask, just to be sure he’s referring to the class, not your tardiness.
“Yes—well, the fruit bowl sketch. I’m positive that everyone in here has already done that once or twice.” He smiles, lighting up his slender face. His smile is almost too big for his face; his jaw extends to show even more of his teeth. A dimple marks his cheek—of course it does.
You smile back at him, grateful that at least something here is a tad interesting. “At least it wasn’t the shapes—you know, learning to draw and shade the perfect set of cones, cubes, and spheres,” you reply.
He smiles again. It seems to come very easily to him.
He lifts his hand in front of him and points to his easel. “Oh, it happened.” He lifts up a few blank sheets to get to the one that’s drawn on. “You just missed it because you were late,” he says with mock disappointment, and you laugh along with him. He’s really friendly, more so than anyone you’ve met of late.
“I did it purposely,” you fib. Turning to the front of the room, you partially cover your mouth with your hand and whisper sideways that you had planned to miss the beginning all along. You can tell he doesn’t believe you; you’ve never been good at lying, joking or not.
The instructor clears his throat, and you steal a quick glance at the man next to you. His paper is still blank, and he has a pencil between his teeth. He’s looking toward the front of the room at the instructor, but you’re positive that he’s not listening to what the older man is saying about blending the center of the apple.
The stranger beside you chuckles. “I’m going to sketch you.” He raises his leg to rest one foot on the stool’s metal bar. The toes of his tan boots are faded, etched with angry gray marks. He leans over, his pencil still in his hand, and he taps his blank paper with the tip of his finger.
“Sketch me? No, thanks.” Somewhat nervous, you stand. You look at his blank paper before finding his eyes. The blue of them is deep, intimidating, and somehow familiar. You’ve never spoken a word to this man before. You wouldn’t have forgotten his easy smile, or the way he stares directly into your eyes when he looks at you. You notice the paleness of his eyelids; hints of blue veins span their skin when he blinks them closed.
His eyes open again, and you shake your head at him. A lock of hair falls over your cheek, and his eyes follow your fingers as they tuck the hair back behind your ear and travel down to touch the ripped leather seat of the stool. Without missing a beat, his eyes go directly to yours. It’s unnerving, but you can’t help feeling like there’s something larger-than-life about this guy.
As interesting as he seems, you don’t want him to sketch you for more than a few reasons. For one thing, it will be so awkward if he’s drawing you and you’re supposed to be sitting still—but what if you have to pee or your phone vibrates really loudly? In reality, you’re pretty sure that you don’t have to sit quite that still, and you know that no one is actually going to call you, but still.
He gives you a large grin; it’s playful and dangerous, menace blurring the pink of his lips.
“Come on, let me sketch you. I’m bored with this.” He waves his hand around, his long fingers playing at the air when he gestures toward the front of the room. “I was drawing bowls full of fruit when I was a wee lad. I need something more challenging. You have a nice face. Let me draw it?”
“Well, when you say it like that . . .” You roll your eyes at him and he chuckles, bringing his hand up to cover his mouth.
The two people in front of you turn around to look at you, both of them annoyed at the disruption. One woman’s overgrown eyebrows are drawn together at the base of her wrinkled forehead. Her hair is a messy nest of gray and black, and she looks like a total badass. She also looks like she wants to kill you for interrupting her sketching of fruit. The woman next to her reaches over and rubs her hand across the other one’s back, slowly and lovingly. The annoyed one’s eyes soften immediately with the gesture. She leans into the woman next to her and looks away from you. You sigh, admiring the way her annoyance quickly vanished at the touch of her partner. You can’t even remember the last time you were touched that way, and you can’t name a single person who could calm you like that. You’ve been single for over a year—not that you’ve exactly been looking. Your last relationship wasn’t the best, and by the time you realized it, you barely recognized yourself. Since then you’ve moved to a new city, changed your major in college, dropped out of college, and enrolled again. You’re spending your time figuring out who you are, and you don’t see how bringing another person into your life would be productive in your journey.
“I’m a man of few but honest words,” the guy beside you says, and you almost believe him.
You know better, though, you remind yourself.
“You’re judging me,” he says, surprising you. His British accent is thick, and he speaks quickly, pointedly.
You clear your throat. “What? I am not.” You look away and pretend to be listening to the instructor’s words.
The charming stranger moves from his spot and stands in front of you, between you and the easel. “You so are.” He makes eye contact with you again and keeps it as he continues: “I can see it in your eyes; you’re trying to find things wrong with me. I suspect you do this a lot.”
What the hell? Who does he think he is? You’re immediately defensive despite his wide smile and soft blue eyes. “That’s a pretty heavy assumption to make about a stranger.”
He pats the seat of your stool with his hand, and you sit down. He continues to stand in front of you, closer now. “We aren’t strangers. We’ve been friends for at least”—he looks down at his bare wrist as if he were wearing a watch—“five minutes.”
Your defenses lower, and you can’t help but smile at the strange yet endearing man. His fingers pluck out a pencil from the tray on the easel, and he looks at you.
“Okay, friend,” you goad him, a sarcastic smile playing on your lips. “I’m going to need to know more about you before I let you draw me.”
He seems pleased by your idea. He nods, smiling again. You’ve never met anyone whose smile comes as easily as his. You’re slightly envious of him; you can’t remember the last time you smiled as much as he has in the last five minutes. It’s inviting, it’s odd, and he’s doing it again.
“Ask away.” He raises his hands like he’s surrendering, and you pull your lip between your teeth in concentration. You have no fucking clue what to ask him.
You glance around the room for a moment, trying to think of som
“Waiting . . .” He interrupts your people-watching.
You look at him. “Your name?”
He sits down on the stool, still holding the pencil. “Is that a question?” he teases.
Sarcastic . . . you like this about him.
“Daniel, and yours?”
You tell him your name while you think of the next question.
“Where are you from?” you ask.
He raises his hand to the paper and drags the tip of the pencil across the blank white sheet. He draws what looks like a half-moon; his pencil makes small marks, and you watch him closely, waiting for him to answer.
A few seconds tick by and he still hasn’t answered. He’s making more lines on the page, completely enthralled by his work.
“Hello?” You remind him that you’re there, waiting for his response.
“I agreed to let you get to know me,” he says matter-of-factly. “Not to let you ask questions that you aren’t even trying to make interesting.”
Then he laughs again.
You stare at him pointedly, and he continues. “You don’t get to know someone by asking them where they are from or their name. I expected more from you.” He pretends to look disappointed and points his finger at you the way your dad used to. You try not to laugh, but fail miserably. He’s funny, this stranger. The laughter feels unusual, even slightly uncomfortable, because you aren’t used to laughing with tall, handsome men in art classes you’ve randomly chosen to attend.