Park Avenue Prince(7)

By: Louise Bay

“These are recent and not particularly valuable, but the photographer was homeless for a period of time, and I think you can see it in his work. He takes pictures of New York through the eyes of someone who’s slept on the street. He sees the contrast between the beauty and the harshness this city offers.”

He refocused on me, his eyes narrowing slightly just before he spoke. “And you like them because of his story, or because of the photographs themselves?” he asked.

I thought about it for a moment. “Both.” I shrugged. “The photographs stand on their own—they’re both pretty and gritty at the same time.” I glanced at Mr. Shaw, who was still inspecting me. “But I think knowing the artist’s story adds something to them. He knows this city like most of us don’t and I think you can tell.”

I lifted my head a little, not wanting to be found lacking under his inspection.

Silence pulsed between us. Did he like what he saw?

“As I said, these are kinda passion projects for me. They’re not necessarily meant for people to buy. The rest of the gallery is more contemporary.”

“They’re not for sale?” he asked, his tone a little confused.

“Well, yes they are.” Of course it was great if people liked them, I just didn’t expect people who liked the work in the front of the gallery to like this stuff. “I guess it’s not the main focus of the gallery.”

He looked at me again and it was as if his stares had built up into something more—into something tangible and I had to stifle a shiver.

Something in his non-response was intriguing, almost as if he were keeping something back—maybe there was a little Batman underneath the Wall Street façade.

“You don’t like the rest of the work in the gallery?” he asked, looking over my head. “Just this little section here?”

“Of course I like all the things in the gallery. Steve’s very talented and the pieces back here are all very collectable.” Had I talked myself out of a sale?

“But you’re not passionate about them.” His eyes were on my mouth as he spoke, and I swept my finger over my lips, almost feeling the burn of his gaze.

“It’s not that.” Wasn’t it? He’d summed it up pretty well. “I just need to wear a business hat. Everything can’t be about what I’m passionate about.”

He nodded and I smiled awkwardly. I’d not explained myself very well, but I hadn’t been prepared for the question. I hadn’t really expected anyone to come back here.

Silently, we wandered back toward the edge of the crowd where Nina was waiting for us. When she pulled Mr. Shaw back into the exhibition, I went to find my friends. I needed a five-minute break from the constant smiling and I wanted to be able to breathe again after holding myself so tightly under Mr. Shaw’s inspection. When I reached Scarlett and Harper, they both squeezed me tight and congratulated me. Over Harper’s shoulder, I found Mr. Shaw ignoring the art and looking straight back at me, his stare unrelenting. He wasn’t embarrassed to be caught, but the glance wasn’t flirtatious either. I couldn’t decide if he was trying to communicate something or he was simply still studying me. “Do I have my skirt tucked in my panties or spinach in my teeth or something?” I whispered to Scarlett and Harper.

They both looked me up and down. “No, you look perfect,” Harper said.

“Beautiful,” Scarlett said. “Why?”

I shook my head. “Just, that guy over there is staring and I can’t work out why.”

Harper looked around and found Mr. Shaw in the crowd immediately. “That one?” she asked. “The really tall, hot one who wears a suit almost as well as my man?”

“He’s not that hot,” I said. He was handsome, just not someone I found attractive. Normally.

“He’s extraordinarily hot and it looks like he’s hot for you.”

“He looks angry,” I replied. “And anyway, definitely not my type.” Our exchange had been a little odd—less small talk and more existential.

“That’s for sure,” Harper said. “He looks like he pays his own rent and goes to the barber regularly. You wouldn’t want any of that, would you?” Harper’s and my taste in men were polar opposites—a prerequisite of a friendship that was going to survive teendom into adult-hood. Too many friends had fallen over the hurdle of the same man.

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