A year had passed. Harley missed Ben every single day, but her calls and emails continued to remain unreturned. The hurt and disappointment drove her deeper into her work. Her comic book thrived, sales improving issue after issue. Her publisher couldn’t have been happier and discussions were in progress about starting another series. Her classes continued to feed her soul, though it was hard sometimes for her to teach since she was now beginning to be in demand for conventions nearby. On one hand, her life was a success.
On the other hand, she never felt emptier. Reminders of Ben filled her apartment, echoes of him in every corner. She finally boxed up all the little mementos of a relationship left behind. She kept a few photos of him on her phone, as a reminder, she guessed. But she just couldn’t quite bring herself to delete every one of them.
Rose watched her friend struggle with her emotions. She did everything she could to help Harley put Ben behind her. Without telling Harley, she even tried contacting Ben, but her efforts also were ignored.
As her best friend, Rose made sure to be at Harley’s on Ben’s birthday, to help heal some of the wounds. The two women had a sumptuous spread of wine and take-out. Harley was distracted, her energy low and muted. Rose finally decided to address the elephant in the room.
“I can’t believe he blew off Vegas,” Rose began.
“No, not acceptable. And then to not call you or return your calls. At least say fuck off or something. But just nothing. For a year.”
Harley just shook her head. “It’s fine. I got too close. He’s always had intimacy issues. I guess…”
“He’s an idiot. At least be a friend and talk about it. Bastard.”
This made Harley smile a little bit, but it didn’t last long. “That’s the last time I let someone get close.”
“You can’t let one chickenshit guy discourage you.”
“He was one of my best friends,” Harley sighed. “He knew me better than anyone, other than you. If he doesn’t want me, who will?”
Rose smiled and took Harley’s hand. “Someone who can handle the full impact of you.”
Harley finally laughed. “The full impact of me? What does that mean?”
“It means that when you love someone, you love them with an incredible force.”
“The full impact of me. Makes me sound like a Mac truck.”
Rose held up her glass in a toast. “The Mac truck of love.”
Harley clinked in return. “Not sure that’s a flattering image.”
Rose chugged the last of her wine. “Forget him. You want something to distract you?
“Other than the next two issues of the book and the three signings I have coming up? Sure. Why not?”
“A friend of mine is producing a play and needs someone to create a fantasy set. I thought it might be right up your alley.”
Harley put her wine down and thought for a minute. “A set? I’ve never done that before.”
“Good challenge for you.”
“I guess. Cuz I need more challenges in my life.”
“There’s some pay, too. It’s a pretty good company so it wouldn’t hurt your reputation.”
Harley looked over at a painting on the wall of a couple in a waltz. It’s one of her few fine art pieces. The couple bear a strong resemblance to her and Ben. She managed to catch a moment in time, the couple seeming on the verge of something. Finally, she looked back at Rose.
“Sure. Why not?”
“Great. His name is Brad Miller. I gave him your number cuz I knew you’d say yes. He’ll be giving you a call. Have fun with it, Harley. You need some fun.”
“I’ll do my best.”
Rose finished her wine and put her glass down. “Okay, as a reward, I’m taking you to the art store to buy something you would never buy yourself. I just got a bonus and I must spend it on something frivolous.”
“Okay, I’ll let you.”
Harley put her glass down and gathered her things. Her waltz painting seemed to come to life for a moment, the two dancers moving a bit apart, an air of melancholy growing between them. Then they returned to their pose, frozen in time, just a heartbeat apart.
After a couple of phone calls, Harley finally agreed to check out the theater and see about doing the set. She figured a new adventure might be just what she needed to break out of her funk.
She pulled up to the theater, a charming older building in a very artsy neighborhood.
Entering the theater itself, she found a hive of activity. Actors and crew were scattered around the black box space, all chattering and all seemed to know each other.
Brad Miller, a handsome, sharply put together man in his mid-thirties, spotted Harley and immediately made his way to her.
“You must be Harley. I’m Ben.” He extended his hand and gave her an engaging smile.
“And you must be Ben. Very nice to meet you.” As their hands touched, there was a small spark.
“So glad you could be a part of this. Rose certainly wasn’t exaggerating when she said you could paint anything. Your online portfolio is amazing.”
“Oh, well, you know, I dabble in a bit of everything.” Harley could not stop looking into his deep green eyes. For a moment, they were Ben’s eyes.
“And you have a comic book out.”
“It’s a bit of the darker side of me.”
“Well, I can’t wait to read it.” Ben noticed that everyone was waiting on him. “We’re gonna get started then. The plan for tonight is to just read through the script and start to put some ideas together of how to stage it. Did you get the script I sent you?”
“Yup. I really liked it and I’m looking forward to hearing it.”
“Great. Grab a seat and we’ll talk after.”
Brad led her over to a seat in the house before going up on stage to his own chair. He gave Harley a sweet smile as he settled in. Slow, sensuous bands of energy weave their way to Harley. She almost allowed them to reach her but they fell a bit short as she turned her attention to the script.
* * * * * * * * *
After the reading, Harley was lost in her sketchbook, not noticing that the theater was emptying out. Several people came over to say good night to her and she responded in kind. But very soon, it was just her and Brad left in the theater. He sat down quietly beside her, trying not to disturb her.
“Hope I didn’t make you wait too long,” he said softly, taking a peek at her sketches.
“Not at all,” she replied, putting her pencil down. “I’ve just been scribbling.”
Harley flipped through a few pages for Ben. The sketches are inspired and full of movement. They were a brilliant hybrid of her graphic style combined with a stronger Art Deco edge. Angels and wings and cherubic beings littered the pages. Ben stunned.
“Wow,” he gasped, “that’s just scribbing?”
“Well, yeah,” Harley responded, blushing a bit at the compliment – and how near he was to her. “Nothing concrete yet but I have some ideas. I really liked the script and everyone was terrific. Rose didn’t tell me you were acting in this as well as producing it.”
“With small theater, it’s the only way to do it. I get to do things my way and get to do the work I want to do.”
“That’s very cool,” Harley agreed, trying not to look too closely into his eyes. “Kinda how I did my graphic novel. I made the first issue and then put it up online. It got picked up as it is, without a whole lot of interference.”
“I hate interference.”
The two looked at each other and there was definitely a connection there. Once again, his energy reached out to her but she pushed it away.
“What’s the next step?” she asked, starting to put her things away so she wouldn’t have to look at him.
“We start rehearsals next week. We open in eight. You’re welcome to come to any of the rehearsals you want, if you need inspiration. It might help if you see how things are going to be staged. Marco, our set builder, will work with you on the logistics. He can tell you what will work and what won’t. Maybe we could meet next week and you could have some preliminary ideas ready. How does that sound?”
“Sounds good.” Harley picked up her bag as Ben gathered his things.
“Excellent.” He settled his bag on his shoulder. “Let me walk you out.”
Outside the theater, Brad locked up the door as Harley tossed her bag into her car. Brad met her beside her car.
“I have to tell you,” he said, smiling broadly, “I’m so excited about this. I love that you have a background in impressionist painting yet you’re a comic book artist. How did you end up there?”
Harley laughed. “A long and winding road, I guess.”
“Have you always been an actor?”
Brad got serious quickly. “It’s all I ever wanted to do. I have an MFA in acting and work at it every single day.”
“When did you realize you wanted to be an actor?”
His intensity eased and he smiled sheepishly. “I guess I was six and I used to put up blankets to make a proscenium.”
As they talked, time passed without either of them noticing. Lights changed, cars streaked by, nothing but blurs of headlights and taillights. They had become instantly easy with each other, with lots of little touches and simple contact between them with no self-consciousness interfering.
Finally, Harley looked at her phone, startled at the time. “Wow. It’s really late.”
“I’m so sorry,” Brad apologized. “I hope I didn’t keep you from anything.”
“Not really. I’m a night owl anyway.”
They smiled at each other and, unexpectedly, a little bit of Brad’s energy reached out and slowly enveloped Harley. Her energy does not reach back, however. She stepped back, breaking the energy and the connection between them. “I’ll touch base with you in a couple of days, when I have something to show you.”
“I look forward to it.”
They hugged easily, like they had been friends forever, their energies finally coloring the air around them with potential.