He’d spent the past hour trying to comfort his model, but with every passing minute, Rick seemed to grow more nervous. Aidan had tried to calm him with the help of some caffeine. He even tried to explain to him what he was doing, but it only seemed to aggravate his anxiety. Finally, he decided to simply ask.
Aidan sighed. “What can I do to make you relax, Rick?”
“I’m sorry, Mr. Ross,” Rick said with his eyes lowered. “But I told you, I’ve never done this before.”
“You don’t have to do anything. Sit there, look at me and hold that position.”
He looked up. “It makes me uncomfortable.” His voice was shaky.
“I imagine it would. But if you can’t sit straight for too long, let me know, we can take a five-minute break, and you can rest your back for a while.”
He shook his head. “Sitting isn’t the problem,” he countered, “but looking at you is.”
“What do you mean?”
Rick averted his eyes. “I can’t look at you while you’re eyeing me like that.”
He smiled in amusement. “Like what, Rick?”
“Like ...” he stammered, “Like you’re eye-fucking me.”
Aidan couldn’t hold his laughter back. “Is that what you think I’m doing?” he asked, in between his bouts of laughter. “Eye-fucking you?”
He couldn’t have imagined Rick turning as red as he was at that moment. “No,” he replied, “But if you were, you’d look like that.” Aidan laughed harder and couldn’t stop. He watched Rick’s small smile growing before he giggled too. “I know it’s stupid, I’m sorry.”
Their laughter slowly subsided when Aidan’s cheeks began to hurt. “Damn! I’ve never laughed so hard in my life.” He chortled a bit more. “I promise I’m not eye-fucking you. I need to look at you to understand the best way I can draw you on my canvas.”
Rick nodded. “I do get it. It’s just…”
His voice trailed off, but Aidan had understood what he meant. Rick wasn’t a professional model he could yell at for not doing his job well. He was naïve; new to this world. Expecting something more out of him wouldn’t be fair on Aidan’s part. Rick had warned him he might not be able to do what Aidan had wanted. But the artist in Aidan had yearned for him. Moreover, Aidan was certain he could help Rick. So all he had to do now was think of a way to ease the guy’s nerves.
An idea clicked in his mind. “Please try and relax, okay?” His model nodded vigorously. However, as soon as he started drawing, Rick’s face tensed up again. The innocence Aidan wanted to capture in the portrait was lost. He cleared his throat as he continued to work on some other details and said, “By the way, you know quite a lot about my family. It’s been bugging me that I’ve shared so much with a total stranger.”
“Yeah, I mean I hardly know you.”
Rick smiled and asked, “What do you want to know?”
“Anything.” Aidan shrugged. “Whatever you feel comfortable sharing.”
“Um…well, I’m Rick. Richard Eugene Mahoney. I’m twenty-seven years old, originally from Missouri. I moved here to LA a few months back after my mom kicked me out.”
“Kicked you out?” That’s rough.
“She stays with her husband and my four-year-old step-brother. She couldn’t deal with taking care of me along with the baby. Uh…well, I’m a guy with special needs, and I think it became too much for her.”
Aidan worried his forehead and looked at him concerned. He couldn’t see any hint of sadness in Rick when he spoke and that depressed Aidan, a lot.
“Doesn’t bother me, really. You see, my dad took care of me when he was alive. But he died, and my mom remarried. And I became like a third wheel in her new life. I don’t think her husband liked to have me around, so I mostly stayed in my room.”
“That must’ve felt like a prison to you.”
Rick gave a nod. He didn’t speak for a couple of minutes. When he did, his voice was heavier. “When the baby came,” he started but had to stop to swallow a lump in his throat.
“Do you need some water?” Aidan had nothing but sympathy for the man.
He shook his head. Aidan looked away and continued to draw on the canvas. It made him feel awkward. He had wanted to distract Rick by getting him to talk about his life. However, it was the worst idea he could have had.
“When the baby came,” Rick said in a more composed tone this time, “my mom grew impatient with me. She’d yell around and blame me for ruining her life. She and her husband used to fight a lot, and the arguments got worse every single day.” He laughed sardonically. “One day, she sat me down and talked about how she had loved my dad and how sorry she was that he wasn’t alive to fix our life problems like he always had. And then all of a sudden, she told me, she couldn’t have me around anymore. She gave me all these lame excuses and then she said she’d arranged for me to move in with my sister in LA.”
Aidan sat still in his seat. Rick’s cheeks were wet. The room had fallen silent.
“Can we take a break? I need to use the washroom.”
“Sure, let me help you.” Aidan stood up and went over to Rick. He helped him back into his wheelchair and walked with him into the hallway. He wasn’t sure if Rick would need him inside the washroom and he dreaded to ask.
However, Rick made it easier for him when he said, “If you can show me where the washroom is, I’m okay by myself.”
Aidan heaved a sigh of relief and pointed in the right direction. “Um…there, just go straight ahead. You’ll see a room to your left. You’ll find a washroom in there.”
“Cool, thanks.” He wheeled his chair in that direction and disappeared into the room.
Aidan checked his watch. It was almost time for lunch. He went to the kitchen and found Mrs. Hutchinson stirring a curry and the most amazing aromas wafted around. When she saw him, she beamed. “Good afternoon, Aidan. Lunch is almost ready. Would you and your guest like to eat now?” She was a stout lady with grey hair. Mrs. Hutchinson had been with his family for the past ten years, and Rick was addicted to her cooking. So, when he moved out, he insisted on having her come with him to his new house too. Nothing made her happier than to cook for Aidan, she’d said.
“Yes, yes, please.” He nodded. “I’m really hungry, and something smells good.” He snuck a teaspoon and tried to steal a taste from the saucepan.
“Oh, no, you don’t! This is for dinner tomorrow evening. You should know by now a curry is always at its best the day after it’s made. Today’s lunch is in the oven. Get yourselves settled at the dining table and I’ll have it served right away.”
When he came out of the kitchen, he watched Rick coming back from the washroom seeming in a much better mood. He had an amused smile on his face. “Is that your bedroom?” he asked.
“Because it looks like it was hit by a tornado or something.” Rick giggled.
Aidan felt his face become hot. He laughed remembering the mess he’d left in his room that morning. “Sorry about that. I’ll have to get to it later.” He pointed behind him and said, “Lunch is being served. I think we should eat now and continue with our work later on after our stomachs have settled.”
“Sounds good to me.”
Aidan ushered him toward the dining table and excused himself to go pee. Quickly, Aidan cleaned himself up and joined Rick at the table. Meanwhile, Mrs. Hutchinson brought their plates out. He rubbed his hands together in excitement. “Ooh, meatloaf!”
Rick smiled. “I love meatloaf, too.”
They both dug into their meals and barely talked. When they were halfway through, Rick called for his attention. “Mr. Ross.” Aidan looked up. “I want to apologize for how I behaved earlier.”
Aidan took a gulp from his glass of water and asked, “For what?”
“For being an emotional fool in front of you.” He cast his eyes down on his plate and played with his fork. “You didn’t need to see me like that.”
“It’s alright, Rick. You’ve every right to express yourself however you want.” They shared a smile and Aidan continued, “I’m just glad you’re out of that whole mess.”
“Yeah,” he said softly and took a bite.
Aidan watched him eat and wondered if something else was bothering him. “Are you happy here in LA?”
“You might say that.”
“Doesn’t sound too convincing to me.” Aidan chuckled.
“I mean my sister loves me and cares for me genuinely. But my brother-in-law is a homophobic bastard. Ever since he found out that I’m gay, he’s been really mean to me. My sister tries to keep him in check, but when she isn’t around, he calls me names and insults me all the time.”
Aidan remained silent. He was afraid to open his mouth. From the second he’d seen Rick Mahoney for the first time, he’d not only wanted to ask him to be his inspiration for the next project, but he also wanted to ask the guy out on a date. Only the fact that he didn’t know whether or not Rick was into men kept him from crossing that line. However, now he knew, Aidan wasn’t sure if it would be appropriate because Rick had been hired by him to model for his paintings.
“Does it bother you?” Rick asked, and Aidan raised his eyebrows. “That I’m gay?”
“Not at all. I am too,” he rushed to explain. “Well, actually not gay, I’m bisexual. But I’ve dated more men than women in my life. So I’d really easily fit into your brother-in-law’s hate-list.” Bratty meowed from somewhere beneath the table, and Aidan felt her moving near his feet. “Stupid cat won’t even let me eat in peace. Mrs. Hutchinson?” he called out.
She came immediately. “Yes, Aidan. Do you need dessert?”
“Nah, I’m done. Rick?”
“Cool,” he said and turned to Mrs. Hutchinson again. “Will you please feed the cat? I think she’s hungry.”
“Sure.” Mrs. Hutchinson collected up their empty plates, then her sweet voice called, “Come on kitty.” The cat sprinted off behind her to the kitchen.
For the next couple of hours, they locked themselves in the art studio, and Aidan worked on getting the layout done. He kept Rick talking so he stayed relaxed and unflustered. This time, though, Aidan tried to keep him off any heavy emotional stuff relating to his life. They chatted casually about the songs he liked listening to, the sport he followed and his father.
From what Aidan gathered, Rick had been really close to his father. Losing him must have been the biggest loss he’d suffered in his life. The situation with his mother had left emotional scars that would stay forever. Aidan had noticed Rick’s lack of self-esteem. He kept apologizing for things that weren’t even mistakes, let alone the mistakes he unintentionally made. There was an innocence in him Aidan saw in his eyes and on his face.
Behind that face, was a truly brave man, hiding his scars from the world and attempting to move on.
How was Aidan going to express all that through his painting?
When he decided it was time to stop, he had the sketch all done, and the next step would be for him to put the colors on to finish it off. “Can I see?” Rick asked. But Aidan refused, promising to reveal all when it was fully finished. Rick seemed disappointed but didn’t counter his decision.
Aidan’s phone buzzed. “Will you please wait outside for me? I need to take this call.” Rick nodded and wheeled himself out of the room.
It was Kim, who had called to give him an update on her meeting with the manager of an art gallery in New York. He was interested in displaying some of his old paintings. “I’ll email you the details in a while. Let me know what you want to do next, okay?”
“Alright.” He finished the call quickly and walked out to find Bratty sitting comfortably on Rick’s lap. He was too busy caressing her to notice Aidan’s presence. “Hey,” Aidan said getting his attention. “Looks like Bratty has found a new friend.”
He smiled. “I guess. Is she pregnant?”
“I think she is. I may be wrong, but I’ve been around a pregnant cat before so I know a few things. You should get her checked out.” Bratty purred with her eyes closed as Rick continued to stroke along her back.
Aidan nodded. “I’ll call up the vet for an appointment right away,” he said. “But I seriously hope to God you’re wrong.”
Next chapter will hopefully be posted on Thursday. Let me try this twice-a-week posting (Sunday & Thursday)