A young artist with big dreams, Brant Lloyd heads to the city after graduation, putting everything on the line for his dreams.
The Museum of Art, his teacher. The city, his inspiration. The girl, his future?
A story of unexpected meetings and dreams.
Brant Lloyd got off the train in the city with twenty dollars in his wallet and his most prized possession — his membership card to the Museum of Art. The orange backpack he carried held the rest of his belongings, a moleskin notebook, pencils, a change of underwear, a clean black t-shirt, eraser, pencil sharpener and a pre-paid Visa loaded with his summer savings — a grand total of $2,323.15.
At eighteen, he was undaunted. The city was his future. He felt it in his bones, had felt it since he first took a school field trip to the Museum of Art. There, in that massive edifice of marble, were paintings from around the world. Some very old, but others new. Paintings created by men and women by hand, not on a computer, but with real brushes and paints. It was a light bulb moment for Brant, when his doodles took on more importance, and a concrete reality. That’s what he wanted to do with his life, create works of art that people would still be talking about a century or more after he was gone.
Going to the local community college, the way his parents wanted, was unthinkable. He had to be in the city. They said they couldn’t afford to pay for him to live in the city. Fine, then he’d go on his own. He could make it work. He’d find ways to make money, and spend his days in the museum studying the work of the great artists.
Walking down the street, engulfed in the mass of humanity around him, Brant was happier than he’d ever been. He was doing it! He knew the way to the museum, he’d memorized the layout of the city before he had left home.
He imagined is mother finding the note he had left on the dining room table. She’d pick it up, seeing the ink and watercolor he’d done of a single rose on the front, with a smile. She wouldn’t really notice the petals that had fallen, not until she turned to the inside and saw the rest and his message.
Don’t be scared, he wrote. I’ll be okay. I can take care of myself now. I’ll write as often as I can.
Letters were cheaper than cell phones, and meant a lot more. He liked writing letters. He was the only one in his graduating class that could write cursive. Everyone else was too busy sending text messages, or emails.
He could have taken the subway but he wanted to save his money, make it last as long as possible. And why hurry? He got to see the city this way. All the masses of people, the sound of the traffic, car horns and sirens. He drank in the sights of the massive buildings rising overhead, but tried not to act too much like a tourist. He wanted to blend in, become invisible. His fingers itched to stop and draw everything he saw.
Instead he pressed on. He wanted to visit the museum first.
The main lobby echoed with the voices of everyone visiting the museum. Their voices soared up to the arched ceiling far above. Brant moved out of the main flow going in and out of the entrances.
His stomach was full of the hot dog he’d gotten from one of the carts outside. He gazed around the space and felt as if he had finally come home. It was here that he would develop his skills. He’d fill the pages of his sketch book during the day, studying. He’d roam the city to practice on portraits. Tourists would pay to have their portraits done. He could do landscapes in the park. Or images of the city overgrown and forgotten. The possibilities were endless.
He turned in place, drinking it all in, and then he saw her at the octagonal information desk in the middle of the space. She was young, his age or not much older. Her blond hair was straight, cut short, ending just above her neck. She was helping three older women, leaning over to point out information in a brochure. She wore two small pearl earrings and her fine features gave her an almost elfin look. She was dressed in a suit, complete with tie and vest.
His fingers itched for the pencil. He wanted to capture her right in that moment. He reached into his backpack, and pulled out his sketchbook and pencil. He flipped it open to a blank page and looked up.
Right at that moment she raised her eyes and met his. She smiled, a friendly, open expression, for only a moment, and then she returned her attention to the women she was helping.
Brant’s pencil danced across the page. He threw down lines, trying to capture the gestures of the scene at the desk. Loose, quick lines flowed across the page. He barely touched the three women, capturing their presence and hardly anything else. The desk was defined more by the blank space between the figures. He focused more on her delicate grace. The curves of how she stood.
“You’ve very good,” a man said behind him.
It startled him and a line shot off across the page. Brant took a deep breath, closed the sketch book and turned to face the speaker, smiling as he did. He didn’t want to be unfriendly to someone that had just complemented him.
The man was older, middle-aged maybe, and very well-dressed. His face was all planes and angles, sharp and clean-shaven. His hair was dark, but with gray liberally sprinkled throughout, thicker on the sides. Diamond cufflinks glittered on his wrist. He smiled.
“Sorry,” the man said. “I didn’t intend to startle you.”
“That’s okay,” Brant said.
The man’s eyes lifted, looking over Brant’s shoulder. “She’s lovely. I could imagine her portrait hanging on the very walls of this museum someday.”
It was uncomfortably close to his own dream. “I’m a long way from seeing that happen.”
“Maybe,” the man said. “I’ve lived a long time, and I’ve known many artists. Some of their work does grace these walls. Even in a sketch of a few seconds, I see potential in your work.”
Right. Brant eased back a step from the man. Whatever his agenda was, it was most likely not something that he could afford. “Thanks. I appreciate that, uh, I’ve got to go.”
Somewhere else, at least until this guy was gone.
“Of course,” the man said, apparently without taking offense. “There is always so much to be done.”
Brant nodded and turned away from the guy, and then wasn’t sure what to do next. He didn’t know where he wanted to go. Then he saw the old women moving away from the information desk.
He walked quickly across the space, weaving through the crowd, and reached the desk just before an Asian couple got to her. She smiled up at him. He smiled back, and noted that her name tag read, Kelci.
“Hi,” he said.
She smiled at him. “Hello. How may I help you today?”
“Do you lead tours?”
“No, I haven’t finished the program yet. I provide visitor services help. There is a tour scheduled in twenty minutes, if you’d like that?”
Brant grinned. “That’s okay. I think I’ll wander around. It’s okay if I sketch, right?”
She chuckled. “Yes. Pencil’s only, please, and respect other visitors by not blocking traffic. You’re an artist?”
“Yes.” It felt so good to say that! He took a breath. “At least that’s the plan. I just got to the city. I left home as soon as I got my membership card to the museum.”
“That’s great. The city is fantastic.”
More people were crowding around up to the desk. The other volunteers were all busy, and her eyes flicked to those behind him. She smiled, acknowledging them before looking back to him.
“Thank you,” he said. “I’m Brant Lloyd. I appreciate the help, Kelci.”
“You’re welcome.” She smiled and leaned forward. “Maybe I’ll see you around.”
Brant knew he was grinning like an idiot and didn’t care. “Oh, I’m going to be here a lot.”
He nodded, raised a hand, and slipped back through the crowd away from the desk. People surged into the opening he had created. He reached a space that was a bit more clear and looked around for the man in the suit. Apparently the man was gone.
Brant breathed a little easier. The man’s obvious wealth, his comments about knowing artists that had their work displayed, it sounded like a line. Maybe it wasn’t. He didn’t know.
Besides, what did it matter. He looked back at the information desk and caught a glimpse of Kelci. Heart-pounding, he looked away. He couldn’t stay here, or pretty soon she’d think he was some sort of creepy stalker guy. The best thing to do was to do what he had planned to do, and go study and practice.
He turned in place and then stopped. The Egyptians! That’s where he’d start. There were lots of cool artifacts to sketch and he could do sketches of the crowds. He went that way, through the impressive entrance to that wing.
The Old Kingdom artifacts gave Brant many subjects to work from. He flipped the page of the sketchbook, on to his fifth of the day so far, and moved to the next statue.
A standing woman, carved of wood. He worked to catch the gestures of the piece. The flow of the lines. As his pencil slid across the page Kelci came to mind. She wasn’t built like this woman, didn’t much look like her at all, really. But it was Kelci he kept thinking of.
Brant stopped and rubbed his eyes. He was being ridiculous. So he had met someone attractive. That was nice, she was nice, but she was doing her job. Most likely, she was married, or at least dating someone. It was his first day in the city.
Besides, it was unimaginable that she was single. And even if she was, so what? He was homeless at this moment. The little bit of money he had saved would go fast if he didn’t make more. He certainly didn’t have enough money to take someone out on a date. If he started doing that, he’d burn through his funds very fast.
No, the best thing he could do right now was practice. And figure out which hostel he was going to stay at tonight. Tomorrow he was going to have to put himself on a schedule, balance studying in the museum with observation practice around the city, and doing portraits and sketches for tourists. He’d need the money. He had to find a place to rent, and it wasn’t likely to end up being on Fifth Avenue. It was more likely he’d have to find a place out of the city. That was okay. The trips back and forth would give him more time to observe, to sketch, to live! He didn’t need much space. Mostly just someplace safe to sleep at night, and keep his paints. He’d meet people.
Brant closed his eyes and tapped the pencil against the sketch book. Not like Kelci. She seemed great, but he was here to start his future. This was his chance.
The voice was female, familiar and close by. Brant’s eyes snapped open and there was Kelci, standing just to the right of the statue. She was shorter than him, probably only an inch or two over five feet. Dainty. That was the word, and she was starting to give him a strange look, because he was staring now.
“Hi,” Brant said. “Hi. Sorry. Kelci. How’re you?”
“I was going to ask you the same thing. Brant, wasn’t it?”
“Yeah. That’s right.”
She pointed at his sketch book. “May I?”
His throat was dry. He needed to find a water fountain or something. He handed the book over without saying anything.
She flipped it open, and of course the first page she landed on was the quick gesture sketch he was doing of her in the lobby, but she grinned. She turned to the next page, lingered, and then the next, both sketches of artifacts in this wing.
She looked at her watch, a thin gold band around her wrist. “These are great, really. I’ve got to get back. I was just on a break, or I’d stay. Are you going to be around in a couple hours? I’m off at four. We could grab coffee or something?”
“Yes.” The word came out without thought. He smiled, and said. “Great. Should I meet you out front?”
“Yeah, that’d be great.” She started to turn, then laughed and turned back to hand him the sketch book. “Sorry. I’m not trying to steal it, even though they are very good.”
He took the book back. “Thank you.”
She waved and moved off out of the wing.
His knees felt shaky and yet at the same time he wanted to run through the museum just to burn off the energy running along his nerves. She’d asked him to coffee. That had happened. It was his first day in the city, he was at the museum and possibly the most beautiful girl he’d ever met had asked him out to coffee.
And he said yes, even after all of his rationalizing. What else could he have said?
“Isn’t that always the question?” A man said.
Brant jerked around. It really was the same man, the one from the lobby, standing casually, comfortable in his skin. And he’d just —
“I didn’t read your mind,” the man said, doing it again. “It’s just my experience. A hundred and fifty-one years on the face of this planet, and I’ve seen that expression, I’ve made that expression, when we find ourselves in that deliciously complicated moment when there doesn’t seem to be any other answer to give.”
A hundred and…
“Excuse me?” Brant said. “Who are you?”
“Right now I’m called Alex Vicari. You’ve impressed me Brant Lloyd, which is unusual for anyone, much less someone as young as yourself. You’ve come here on your own, to the big city, with the burning desire to become a world-class artist. One of the greats! The ego that requires! It’s brilliant. Really brilliant.”
Brant took a breath, and said, “How could you know all of that?”
A shrug. “Easily enough to explain. I eavesdropped on your initial conversation with that charming young creature. When I had your name, it was a simple matter to pull up all of your personal details, those of your parents, everything, more or less, that is known about you this world. It is so much easier, so much quicker today than it used to be.”
“Why? What do you want?”
Mr. Vicari, there was no way Brant could think of him as ‘Alex,’ snapped his fingers and smiled. “Exactly the right question. What do I want? You are observant. You’ve already deduced that I’m wealthy, easy enough for anyone to do, and you suspect by now that I’m quite mad. That is a subject to debate another time. The crux of the matter is this: I want to help you achieve your dreams.”
Mr. Vicari stepped closer. His cologne was light, but manly. Brant never imagined smelling that good.
“I claimed I was a hundred and fifty-one, a claim that you let slide because you doubted the veracity of it, and yet I assure you, it is most definitely true. It is the result of a challenging path I set myself on, much like you are doing, when I was a young man. A path that hasn’t ended, and yet one that I do not wish to walk alone. There have been others, brave men and women who attempted to follow in my footsteps, and failed. There is no guarantee that it will work with you either.”
Now they stood very close, and Mr. Vicari put his hand on Brant’s shoulder. It was a companionable gesture, but Brant sensed the strength in that hand, as if the man might crush stone in his grip.
“If you follow me, many of your current worries shall fade. Where to live, how to get money or food, these are trivial distractions to men such as you and I. Many a potential giant has found his or her potential drowned under the burdens of an ordinary life, of obligations and mortgages and the like. Can you imagine anything more horrible than going to work day after day, spending your years upon this Earth doing work that is as impermanent as a spray of water in the desert? How many potential greats, how many brilliant minds have withered away under the oppressive weight of what other people would deem success? And all the while their own inner dreams fade, wither and die.”
Mr. Vicari released Brant and stepped back. He looked at his watch, and smiled. “Yes, Mr. Lloyd, you have great potential. You cast off your old life to come here and aspire to greatness. You may have what it takes. We shall see. I have other engagements to attend. I will give you time to consider what I have said.”
Brant’s mind was spinning. He opened his mouth and no words came out. His throat was dry. His head pounded. Mr. Vicari walked out of the gallery and was gone in an instant.
A family, parents and two children, were coming through the gallery. No one else had heard Mr. Vicari. Brant went in search of drinking fountain, considering what Mr. Vicari had said.
In his words, Brant recognized his own fears. It was what drove him away from going to the community college. His mother had even said it one day, that he could start at the community college, go to the state school after, and then maybe get a good job teaching art. Maybe at a high school.
The thought of it was terrifying. Not because it was awful, it was what Mr. Vicari had said, about withering away when you’re doing what other people consider successful. He could go to those schools, get those degrees, and he might turn out to be a really good art teacher, but inside he’d be dead. Or if he went into a field entirely different than art, became an accountant or something. How many accountants out there had unfulfilled dreams? Or any profession?
As crazy as the business was about being a hundred and fifty-one years old, the rest of it made a lot of sense.
Brant found the nearest drinking fountain and gulped down several mouthfuls of the cold, cold water. It was great. He finished and took a deep breath and felt much better.
There was an older woman watching him when he turned around. She was wearing an elegant pearl gown. Her gray hair was cut very short, sort of buzzed. A string of pearls hung around her neck. She was beautiful, even though she had to be as old as his mother. She smiled warmly at him, and extended a finger toward the fountain.
“May I?” She said, her voice deep and amused.
Brant nodded. “Yes, sorry. I’m done.”
He stepped aside. She went to the fountain and bent to drink, and moved with such fluid movements that his fingers itched to take out the sketch book and draw her, try to capture that somehow, but he rubbed his hands instead.
She stood up and met his eyes again.
“You must be an artist,” she said.
Brant nodded automatically. “Yes, ma’am. That’s the plan anyway.”
“You either are a thing, or you aren’t,” she said. “It doesn’t matter what you do in this world. If you are an artist, then you are until you decide to stop being an artist. Nothing else will, only you can do that.”
It sounded true. He wanted to believe her, but Mr. Vicari’s words hung in his mind.
“He lies,” she said, folding her hands together.
Brant’s mouth fell open.
She waved a hand. “Don’t go catching flies, son.”
He closed his mouth so fast that his teeth clicked together.
“All I meant was, whomever told you otherwise lied. Only you decide if you are an artist. It doesn’t mean you can’t have a life, or fall in love?”
Kelci’s face came to mind, her delicate elfin features and her bright smile. He must have blushed, because the woman clapped her hands.
“There is a young lady! I knew it.” She smiled. “Some people, they tell you that you must give up everything for your art. And in the end, then what do you have? Nothing. Live life to its fullest, and maybe you’ll have a chance to be the artist that you imagine yourself to be.”
Brant said, “I’m trying.”
“Good. Then keep trying. Give your young lady a chance. Things will work out as they should. You’ll see! Good luck to you.”
She smiled and walked past him and away. Then she was gone.
Brant looked at the time, and pulled out the sketch book. He’d go out into the lobby, sit on one of the benches and just draw until Kelci was done with her shift.
He was completely absorbed in the drawing when he heard Kelci’s voice behind him. “Wow, those are fantastic! Who are they?”
On the left-hand page was a drawing of Mr. Vicari, dark and shadowed in his suit. The right-hand page was a picture of the woman at the fountain, her light dress contrasting with her darker skin. It was a study in shadows and light, and drawing from memory.
He turned, and there was Kelci, just as he had pictured. He closed the sketchbook. “Just people I saw today.”
Later, he’d finish the drawing, adding her in between the two of them, spanning the page. He’d come to the city for a chance. A chance at what? The woman was right. He was an artist, here or anywhere. The city gave him the chance to learn and improve, but it gave him other chances too. He slipped the sketchbook into his backpack, and stood up. He held out his hand.
Smiling, Kelci reached out and took his hand. Her skin was warm, and soft, with a strong grip.
“Where do you want to go?”
“There’s a place I like, it’s a few blocks away, if you don’t mind walking?”
Brant shook his head. “I don’t mind at all.”
His heart was hammering in his chest as he walked with her out the doors of the museum. There, just outside the front doors, was Mr. Vicari talking on a cell phone. Brant met his eyes, and walked on past.
He smiled at Kelci. He was going to do everything he could for a chance at the life he wanted. That’s why he came to the city in the first place.
This story is the 46th weekly short story release, written in October 2013. Eventually I’ll do a standalone e-book and print release when I am satisfied that I can create the cover art that I want for the story. In the meantime I’m enjoying these weekly releases. Stories will remain until I get up the new e-book and print versions and at that point I’ll take the story down.
If you’re interested in longer works, feel free to check out my novels through the links in the sidebar or on the Books page. Check back next Monday for another story. Next up is my story Dumping Ground.