Laura Resnick is the author of a dozen fantasy novels, including the popular Esther Diamond urban fantasy series (Disappearing Nightly, Doppelgangster, Unsympathetic Magic, Vamparazzi, Polterheist, The Misfortune Cookie, Abracadaver, and the upcoming Goldzilla). Before turning to fantasy, this award-winning author wrote more than a dozen romance novels under the pseudonym Laura Leone. You can find her on the Web at LauraResnick.com.
by Laura Resnick
Yes, she was easy to love, he thought. He hadn’t meant to sound dismissive of Mama Strega when talking with her downstairs. He liked her—and he was so grateful to her. But she was wrong about this. Riley had met the right woman—imprisoned inside a block of marble in a secret subterranean cavern, as it happened—and now love came easily to him.
His heart expanded every time he saw Galatea, touched her, even thought of her. This was the woman he had always wanted. This was the relationship he had always needed—simple, complete, pared down to essentials.
“Oh, that’s lovely,” Galatea said with pleasure, her attention on the television.
“Hmm?” He followed her gaze.
The Natural Woman Cosmetics commercial that Galatea was watching brought Riley down to earth with a heavy thud.
“What’s wrong?” she asked.
He sagged onto the couch, lay back, and closed his eyes. “Oh. My. God. I forgot. I completely forgot.” After a moment, he opened his eyes again and slanted her a look. “Though I guess that’s understandable, given the circumstances.”
Fascinated by the power of the television remote, she continued flipping channels. “What did you forget?”
He explained about the commission Lisa had gotten for him to create a sculpture for the lobby of the cosmetics company’s new headquarters.
“Who is Lisa?”
“She owns a gallery.” Riley explained what that was. “And she negotiates deals for my work.”
“So you intended to give me to those people on the television?” Galatea asked with a frown.
“Not those exact people, but, yes, that’s the general idea. And I wasn’t giving you to them. I was selling you.”
“It’s what I do.” He explained about sculpting and selling the work. That led into an explanation of what he needed money for. “Food, rent, clothes, tools, more clay, more marble….” His voice trailed off as he contemplated his problem. With the birth of Galatea, he had lost his Natural Woman sculpture for the second time. “This project is cursed,” he muttered.
“Would you rather have the marble?” she asked tartly.
He took her hand. “No. But it’s going to be a hell of a job trying to get something finished on time.”
“What’ll you do?”
“Marble, marble….” Something nagged at his memory. He snapped his fingers, jumped up, and started searching for his phone. “Lisa said Victor’s boyfriend left behind some stuff.”
“Marble, clay…. Stuff. Have you seen my phone somewhere?”
“You’re going to ask for this stuff?” she guessed.
“If Victor will sell it to me.” He grimaced and admitted, “Victor doesn’t like me.”
“Why?” she asked, helping him look under furniture and piles of laundry for the missing phone.
“He thinks I’m self-obsessed and insensitive.”
“Why does he think that?”
“Oh, one of my former girlfriends probably gave him that impression.”
“I see. Here’s the phone.”
“Well, if this man doesn’t like you….”
“What?” he prodded.
“Maybe you should let me ask him for the marble you need.”
He stared at her for a surprised moment before breaking into a pleased grin. “Now that is a brilliant suggestion.” Victor wasn’t into women, but Riley doubted he could resist a heartfelt plea from Galatea, even so.
Besides, Riley would make a good offer, if he liked the materials in Victor’s possession. He didn’t have time to shop around.
He kissed Galatea, then he dialed Victor’s gallery number.
They were making love in the shower when the doorbell rang the following week. Galatea nearly jumped out of her skin, since she had never before heard the shrill buzzing.
“Sorry. That’s the doorbell.” Riley stepped out of the shower and reached for a towel.
Dripping wet and gleaming, Galatea stuck her head out of the shower and watched him dry off. Her mouth was still pink and swollen from his kisses. “What does it mean?”
“It means we have visitors.”
Her face brightened with interest. “Really? I’ll get dressed.” She turned off the water, and he gave her a towel as she stepped carefully onto the slippery tile floor of the bathroom. “We need a rug in here, Riley.”
“Uh-huh. Listen, about this visitor….”
“You remember what we discussed?”
She nodded. “Yes.”
He pulled on his jeans and went to answer the door. Although Galatea didn’t completely understand his reasons, she accepted that she was different from other people and that it would be safer not to reveal the truth about her origins. They had successfully navigated their way through their only social encounter so far—at Victor’s gallery. The dealer had been captivated by Galatea’s charm, and he’d sold Riley the marble and some other supplies at a fair price. Victor had even agreed to keep the sale secret from Lisa, who Riley was afraid would have hysterics if she learned how far away he was from finishing the Natural Woman sculpture.
“Speak of the devil,” Riley muttered upon opening his front door to find Lisa standing on the threshold. He cast a nervous glance over his shoulder, hoping he had remembered to throw a sheet over the uncarved block of marble sitting in the middle of the loft. Then he prayed that Victor had kept his promise not to mention Riley’s purchase of the stone.
Since he just stood there staring at her, Lisa finally said, “Are you going to let me in—or would you prefer to entertain me here on the threshold?”
“Huh? Oh. Sorry.”
She pushed past him and entered the loft. Her gaze riveted immediately on a bulky shape covered by a stained sheet. “Is that the Natural Woman piece?”
“You brought it here? Can I see it?” She approached it eagerly.
She turned to stare at him, obviously surprised by his tone. “What’s wrong?”
“I’m just…. It’s, uh….” He shrugged and stuck his hands in his pockets. “I’d rather you wait until it’s finished.”
Disappointed but respectful, she said, “Okay. If you’re that reluctant to let anyone see it yet. But time is…” Her gaze traveled down his damp torso. He hadn’t bothered to button his shirt. “Did I get you out of the shower?”
“No. Yes. I mean—”
“Oh, brother. What I heard is true, isn’t it?” She sighed in resignation. “Your vow of celibacy didn’t last long.”
“Is that why you came over here? To pry into my personal life?”
“Do you have a personal life now?”
He rolled his eyes. “I’ve always had a personal life. It’s just that normally I don’t, um, you know…. Never mind. I don’t think you came here to talk about my love life.”
Lisa suddenly smiled. “Victor said this woman had changed you. I didn’t believe him, but maybe….”
“What else did Victor say?” he asked warily.
“Relax. For once, there was no slander involved. He said you stopped by the gallery to see the show, and that you brought your new girlfriend.” Lisa removed a bunch of sketches from a chair and sat down on it. “I think he’s half in love with her himself. She must be quite a woman.”
“She is.” Riley heard Galatea open the bathroom door. A moment later, she entered the main area of the loft. Her hair was still damp, and she wore a pair of his jeans belted around her waist and an old sweatshirt.
Eyes bright with curiosity, Lisa rose to her feet again. “Hello. You must be the woman who’s finally taught Riley some social skills.”
Riley sighed. “Lisa, Galatea. Galatea, Lisa—my dealer.”
“Galatea?” Lisa smiled. “What a beautiful name.”
“Thank you. Yours is beautiful, too.” Galatea took the hand Lisa extended. “I’m so glad you came to visit us. I haven’t met many of Riley’s friends.”
“I’m his only friend,” Lisa said, though she shot Riley a teasing glance.
Galatea’s eyes misted immediately. “That’s so sad. Riley, is that true?”
“She’s exaggerating.” He cast a warning glance at Lisa.
“Sorry,” Lisa murmured. “Just kidding.”
“Oh! A joke,” Galatea said, her expression clearing. “I like jokes.”
Lisa looked at her strangely. “That’s nice.”
There was a long silence. Galatea looked expectantly at Riley. He ignored the look and stared at his modeling clay. Finally, she gestured to a seat and said to Lisa, “Please, make yourself comfortable. Are you hungry? Thirsty? Tired?”
Still studying Galatea with interest, Lisa said, “Why don’t you and I go out for some lunch? I recognize that expression on Riley’s face. He wants to work, and he doesn’t want to be distracted by mere humans. You and I can get acquainted.”
Galatea smiled, pleased by the invitation. “Oh, yes! I’d like that.” She turned to Riley and said, “I’ll need money, won’t I?”
He shared a secret smile with her; she learned quickly. “I’ll find my wallet.”
“No, don’t bother,” Lisa said. “My treat.” She glanced at Galatea’s old, baggy clothes. “Do you want to change?”
“She doesn’t have any clothes,” Riley said quickly. “She, uh, lost her apartment kind of suddenly. Fire.”
“Oh, you poor thing! When did it happen?”
Galatea looked at Riley. He answered, “Recently. We haven’t had time to get organized yet. She just moved in.”
“Well, then we’ll just have to go shopping, won’t we?” said Lisa. “Riley, give her a credit card.”
He sighed, found his wallet, and handed it over. He had known that sooner or later things like this would start happening. He followed them to the front door, nervous about letting Galatea go out without him for the first time. Sensing his disquiet, she said, “Would you like to come with us? Are you hungry?”
“He’s not invited,” Lisa said cheerfully.
Riley looked at the sketches and clay that littered his work area. He’d hardly done anything with them yet. This would be a good opportunity to work without distractions. To his surprise, he realized he wanted some time alone. “Go ahead. Have a good time,” he said. “I’m going to work.”
“Surprise, surprise,” Lisa said.
She followed Galatea out the front door. Riley closed it behind them. Then, with the feeling of a man returning to his first love, he went to work.
“Do you want to go to the movies with me tonight, Riley?” Galatea asked the following week.
Turning briefly away from the marble, he asked, “Where’d you learn that expression?”
She frowned slightly. “Lisa took me to the movies for the first time a few days ago. I told you. Remember?”
“Oh. Yeah. Sorry, I was thinking about…this.” He turned back to the stone, mallet and chisel in hand.
She prodded, “You haven’t answered me. Do you want to join me?”
“Huh? Oh, no. I want to work.” He waited expectantly for her to say she didn’t really want to see the movie, after all. He knew she didn’t like to go out without him.
“All right. I’ll see you later.”
“Wait a minute. You’re going anyhow?”
She blinked. “Yes. Why? Is there something else you’d rather do together?”
“No. I want to work. I just thought….”
“What?” When he didn’t answer, she spread her hands and shrugged. Her new clothes fit her beautifully. “I love to watch you work, Riley, you know that. But I do get bored after a while. There’s more to life than that. I’ll be home early. Don’t worry.”
He watched her go, wondering when she had learned that there was more to life than what he had shown her.
Trouble started the following week. She didn’t come home until after dark one day, and he pounced on her the moment she walked through the door.
“Where the hell have you been?” he snapped.
Her face clouded at his tone. “Why are you talking to me like that?”
“I’ve been worried, that’s why!”
“But I told you where I was.”
“You left at ten o’clock this morning, saying you were going to go someplace to find out about…about….”
“About learning how to read,” she said impatiently. “Remember I told you how helpless I feel every day?”
“If you’d wait for me before going out, you wouldn’t have to feel helpless out there.”
“You haven’t been willing to leave this apartment for four days! Anyhow, I thought we agreed that I shouldn’t wait around for you, that I should have a life of my own.”
“You should, but you shouldn’t scare me to death. What the hell took you so long?”
“My message explained it all.” Her voice had a new quality in it. Exasperation.
She glared at him. “If you won’t answer your phone, then you should at least check the messages people leave for you. I called at noon to say I’d met some nice people at the reading center, and we were going to spend the rest of the day together. We went to a museum and then to the Empire State Building. Then I went grocery shopping, because you have no food in your refrigerator, and I get hungry every day now that I’m human.”
They stared at each other, feeling the tension in the air. He sighed at last, and her shoulders sagged.
“I don’t want to argue with you, Riley. I love you. I miss you when I’m not with you. I’d rather be with you, but you seem to need a lot of time alone.”
“I….” He shrugged. “I’m worried about this sculpture. It’s not going well.”
“Is there some way I can help you?” she asked—for probably the fiftieth time.
“No. It’s my problem.”
“Maybe you should take a day off. Refresh yourself. Live a little.”
Live a little? “Yeah, you know all about that, don’t you?”
“Do you want to fight again?” she shot back. “Is that what you want?”
“Then what do you want?”
“No. Tell me.”
“Let it drop, Galatea.” He turned back to the marble.
“No, damn it!” She seized the mallet and jerked it out of his hand, shocking him.
“Where’d you learn language like that?”
“From you.” She seized his claw chisel, too. “Look, I’m trying to understand what you want, but you don’t make it easy, Riley. You spend more and more time with this sculpture every day. Even when you’re not working on it, you’re thinking about it. You don’t seem to hear half the things I say to you.”
“Look, this’ll be finished eventually, and then things will get back to normal.”
“What will that mean between us—normal? How do you picture us living?” she asked.
“I…. Well, I….” He shrugged and stared longingly at the mallet and chisel in her hands. Such pretty hands, so tapered and elegant. He loved her. He just wished she would chill out. “We’ll live together here. I’ll work and you’ll…do whatever you want to do.”
“So what you’re saying is, this is normal. The way we’re living right now.”
“No, I….” He scowled, confused and irritated.
“Don’t you understand?” she said at last. “Every day, you’re more and more absent, even though you’re here all the time. I don’t want to change you, Riley. I love you. But I need more than sex a few times a week and the occasional conversation about how your work is going. It’s not enough.”
“I have to work,” he said, trying to sound reasonable. “I can’t not work. Things can’t go back to the way they were when you first came here.”
“I know,” she said, nodding in agreement. “I know that you didn’t do a lick of work for more than a week, and that’s not normal for you. That was a special time. I was different, too, then. I needed you constantly, for everything. I’m more independent now, Riley. I’m learning to make my own friends, find my own interests, and give you time for your work. But….” She sighed and searched through the confines of her limited experience to find the right explanation. “But I need to live with you, to share a life, not just cohabit this apartment with you.”
“Jesus, where are you learning all this stuff? From Lisa?”
She looked puzzled. “No. From you. How would Lisa know these things?”
“She used to say them, too.”
“Really?” She looked astonished.
“Yeah. She used to live with me. She didn’t tell you?”
“No.” Galatea looked bemused. “I suppose she thought it was up to you to tell me about your past.”
“Oh.” Her stricken expression bothered him. “Now what?”
“I thought you said…. You told me that things were different this time.”
“They are,” he insisted. “I love you. I’ve never—”
“I know, I know. You’ve never loved before.”
“That’s right, damn it!”
“Are you so sure you love now?” she asked sadly.
“Oh, Christ, how can you even say that?” He finally stepped away from his sculpture and closed the distance between them.
She trembled when he took her in his arms. “Is that all that’s different? The way you feel in your heart?” she whispered.
“What else is there? Isn’t that enough?”
“I’m not sure.” Her voice shook as she wrapped her arms around him. “I hope so, Riley.”
“It’s enough,” he said fiercely. “It is.” He pushed the sculpture out of his thoughts and followed her up to his bedroom, where they comforted each other in the dark.
“Do you want children?” she asked him a few days later as they were getting dressed.
“Have you seen my socks?”
“No. Do you?”
“What? Oh, children.” He stopped rummaging under the bed and looked directly at her. God, she was beautiful in the morning. His heart thudded heavily. Maybe they should go back to bed for a little while. Then her question hit home. “Children?”
“Yes. You know. Very young people. Small in size.” Her voice was teasing, but her expression was serious.
“I don’t know. I….” He blinked at her. “Are you pregnant?” She shook her head. Then he asked, “Can you get pregnant?”
“I’m not sure,” she admitted. “But I think—I have a feeling—that if we want a baby, then I can have one.”
“Really?” He smiled, because it seemed like another miracle. “I don’t know. I’ll have to think about it. It’s kind of a scary idea.”
She smiled, too, but looked puzzled. “What’s scary about a little baby?”
“They’re pretty demanding. And they’re so permanent.”
She sat down on the bed and looked at him speculatively. “Permanent things scare you?”
That made him sound shallow. “No.”
“A child is an important decision,” she admitted. “We don’t have to decide at once.”
“Good. Want some coffee?”
“Well, we don’t have to decide now, but we can talk about it, can’t we?”
“Parenthood,” she said impatiently. “How we feel about it, how we would do it. What a baby would mean to us. What you’re afraid of.”
“I’m not afraid. Okay?” He descended the ladder.
She followed him to the kitchen. “But you just said that a baby was a scary—”
“Poor choice of words.”
“It’s all right to be afraid of a new life, Riley. I was afraid before I came to you. Maybe you’d have been afraid, too, if you had known I was coming,” she persisted.
“No,” he said emphatically. “I wanted you to come to me.” He paused. “Were you really afraid?”
“Of course. Everything here has been a challenge for me. Everything is new and different and strange. Even love is difficult and sometimes painful.”
“I didn’t think about that.” He put water in the coffee machine. “I’m sorry.”
“Can you tell me how you feel about a baby? Our baby?”
He shrugged. “I’ll think about it.”
“I’m sure you will, but can we talk about it. Together?”
“Could we talk about something together? Not just your work,” she added quickly. “Something besides that.”
“What do you want to talk about?”
“Anything. Everything. What about your dreams? Your fears? Your childhood? The women you say you didn’t love?”
“I didn’t! Will you quit with that, already?”
“How do you feel about me?”
“I love you.”
“I love you. Okay? How many times do you expect me to say it?”
“I don’t care if you ever say it again.” Her voice was sharp. “But I need you to behave like a lover more often.”
He glared at her. “I behaved like a lover last night.”
“I’m not talking about sex.”
“Then what are you talking about?”
“I’m living with you, and I feel all alone most of the time.”
“I can’t be everything to you, Galatea. I thought you understood that.”
“You’re not anything to me, most of the time. I sleep with you, I wake up next to you, I come home to you every day. But lately I feel like just another piece of furniture here.”
“Damn it, I spent all of Saturday with you! I didn’t even take the sheet off the sculpture.”
“I know. And it wasn’t a bad day.”
“Not bad? What more do you want besides my undivided attention?”
“Intimacy. Honesty. En—”
“Don’t be so—”
“I don’t need undivided attention. I understand that I can’t be everything to you either. I understand how important your work is, how much a part of you it is. Your talent is like your blood, and your work is like your heartbeat.” She shook her head. “But I need more consistent attention. Not this all-or-nothing syndrome. Except for sex and a little distracted chatter, you ignore me for eight days and then think everything will be all right because you spend a few hours with me. Don’t you understand how far apart we can grow in just eight days of not communicating?”
He sighed and plopped into a chair. “So you’re saying you want some of my time each day?”
“I’m saying that I need to be more a part of your life, and I need you to be more a part of mine.” When he didn’t respond, she asked, “What do you need?”
“I need you.” He took her hand. “I…know I’m not easy to live with. I never have been. But I want to make you happy.”
She raised his hand to her cheek and closed her eyes, trying to unravel the tension and discontent that was growing between them. At last she opened her eyes and met his gaze. She smiled softly. “Well. We are still learning, after all.”
“I’ll try harder.”
“So will I.”
He had wanted a woman with no troublesome relatives, and now he had one. And although she was making friends and developing interests, she didn’t force them down his throat. Moreover, she didn’t attempt to reorganize his life. She didn’t mind the chaotic mess in the loft. She didn’t insist he eat regularly, though she asked for his company whenever she wanted to eat. She didn’t balance his checkbook or budget his money or criticize his manners, or do any of the trivial, annoying, extraneous things that had stifled him in every previous relationship.
Yet conflicts between them were becoming more and more frequent. And far from making him wish she would just move out, the fights broke Riley’s heart, because he truly loved her. He wanted Galatea to be happy. He wanted to be a better man for her. He hated to hear anger in her voice, and he wanted to slit his own throat whenever he made her cry.
Yet he found his twin passions impossible to balance. And, given a choice between devoting himself to his talent or devoting himself to her, he unconsciously made the familiar, safer, easier choice too many times. Because unlike his sculpture, Galatea was no longer his creation. She had grown far beyond his imagining. She was right; every day, they seemed a little farther apart. And as much as he loved her, he couldn’t help longing for the simple, naive, undemanding creature he had first awakened in the cavern below La Strega.
Galatea was late coming home again one night. Riley was irritated, perhaps more so than he should have been, because Lisa had called earlier and nagged him relentlessly. First she had warned him that he would lose Galatea, the best thing that had ever happened to him, if he didn’t shape up.
“How long do you expect her to go on making her own life and finding things she can enjoy without you, before she finally realizes that she has no life with you?” Lisa warned, “And then she’ll split, Riley.”
“Trust me. She won’t split.”
“Don’t kid yourself.”
“You don’t know our past. We’re together for good,” he insisted.
Lisa had beaten that subject to death, then she moved on to the subject of the Natural Woman sculpture. She wanted to know how soon it would be finished. That pissed him off, since he was working night and day to finish it, and she had the nerve to simultaneously complain that he was taking too long and meanwhile neglecting his girlfriend. He told Lisa the sculpture would be ready soon—if she would just leave him the hell alone, that was. And this was the mood in which Galatea found him when she finally deigned to make an appearance.
“Where have you been?” he demanded, scarcely looking away from the sculpture. It was finally going well, thank God. He hoped Galatea would watch him work for a while. He liked it when she did. Besides sex, it was about the only way they really seemed to connect lately.
“Victor had a party. You didn’t want to go, remember?”
“Come talk to me for a while.”
He could talk from where he was. “What?”
“It’s so sad.”
Her voice sounded weepy. He glanced over his shoulder, hands poised for some delicate work. “What’s wrong?”
“Victor. He’s so lonely. He really misses that young man who left him.” She rubbed her arms as if chilled. “It made me feel….”
“Yeah, it’s too bad about that. Victor’s not really a bad guy, even though we’ve had our differences.”
“Hold me for a while. Please.”
He glanced reluctantly at the delicate folds he was chiseling. Galatea saw that, and her face clouded. “Riley.”
“Yeah. Okay.” He loved to hold her, after all. It was just that putting down his mallet and claw chisel at this particular moment was like stopping right in the middle of making love.
She leaned into his body when he wrapped his arms around her. He nuzzled her hair as his mind filled with visions of what he would do next on the sculpture.
“Oh, Riley,” she whispered. “I feel so lost. Life is very….”
The piece was really coming together at last. He hugged Galatea tightly. For a while, he’d been truly afraid. What with all the turmoil and distractions in his life, his artistic vision had become clouded. He had actually begun to fear that he’d lost his gift. What a relief this breakthrough was.
She pulled away from him. “Where are you?” she asked desperately.
She shoved at his chest, her face flushed with anger. “You’re not with me. You’re with that.” She pointed at the unfinished sculpture.
He recognized the hurt beneath the fury. She was right. Something had upset her tonight, and he should pay attention. “I’m sorry. It’s just that…it’s finally started going well, and—”
“I know. That’s what you said yesterday. I left you alone all yesterday and today so you could work on it in peace. I could tell that’s what you wanted. But right now, I need you more than that thing does.”
“All right, all right.”
“No, it’s not all right,” she shouted. “Look at you. You can’t even keep your eyes off it for ten seconds. Come on! Turn your back on it. Look at me! For just one full minute, look at me, without thinking about it or looking at it or flexing your hands like you want to touch it.”
“What’s the matter with you?”
“I’m lonely and scared and confused and sad, and I need you tonight. In fact, I need you more than every once in a while.”
“Look, you wanted to go to Victor’s, and I didn’t. So—”
“No, Riley! What I want, what I really came here for in the first place, is to be with you.” Her voice grew thick with sorrow. “I didn’t know what life would be like. I had to learn that it takes more than just this terrible feeling of love to make a life. It was hard, but I adjusted to that.” She glared fiercely at him. “And I had to do it without your help. Because as soon as I started exploring life, you turned back to your first love.”
“My work isn’t just a job.” He wished she could understand. “It’s me. It’s what I am.”
“And what am I?” she asked, starting to cry.
“You’re my love.” He made a helpless gesture.
“Oh, Riley.” She shook her head sadly. “You loved me better when I was a lifeless chunk of marble. You didn’t want a woman. You don’t know how to love one.”
Stung by her words and her pitying tone, he snapped, “Then it’s just too damn bad that you became one, isn’t it?”
She gasped, looking as if he’d slapped her. Her face went pale and the tears stopped flowing.
He regretted the words instantly. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean—”
“Yes, you did,” she said quietly. “And I guess it is too bad. Because the loneliness I used to feel whenever you left the cavern was nothing compared to the way I feel every day now.”
He turned away, hating himself for having made her miserable. “This is not what I wanted,” he said. “This is not what I intended.” How had things gone so wrong? What could he do? No matter what she said, she did want him to change. That’s what this was about.
“Nor is this what I imagined,” she murmured. “I wanted to give you everything. If only you had wanted it. I’m sorry, Riley.”
“I just—” He turned at the sound of a heavy thud. “What are you doing?”
She had pushed aside his marble, knocking it over with surprising strength. For a moment, he thought she was going to destroy his work, as another woman had done months ago. But when she stepped onto the pedestal he had bought from Victor, a dreadful terror chilled his heart as he realized what she intended.
“No!” He lunged forward and reached for her as she assumed her pose. “No!” Her skin was so hot it burned his hands. Pain forced him to snatch them away as her clothes glowed like embers, then went up in smoke.
“Galatea! Wait! Stop!”
Ignoring his burned palms, he reached for her again. Her naked flesh was like ice now. It hardened into marble even as he touched her. By the time he seized her shoulders, she was exactly as she had once been: cold, hard, and lifeless.
As autumn turned to winter and the Christmas holidays approached, Lisa grew increasingly worried about Riley. Ever since Galatea had left him, he had changed almost beyond recognition. She had known him to be melancholy and depressed before. And he had certainly gone through periods of neglecting his health before. But she had never before known him to lose interest in his work.
He hadn’t done any sculpting since finishing the Natural Woman piece at the time of Galatea’s departure. He wouldn’t say anything about their break-up, only that she had left him. Lisa saw the life-sized sculpture for the first time the day she brought a crew to take it away. She thought it was the best work he had ever done.
“Galatea was your model? Why didn’t either of you ever tell me?” she asked, gazing in awe at the graceful, sensual sculpture.
He shrugged. Unshaven, unkempt, and unsmiling, he stared morosely at it. “It was our secret.”
She didn’t like the way he was looking at the sculpture, as if it were his lover. No wonder Galatea had split; no woman could compete with Riley’s art.
Even as accustomed as Lisa was to Riley’s moods, fits of temper, and possessiveness about his work, his behavior that day had shocked her. When she brought her crew upstairs to remove the sculpture, Riley had flown into a fit of rage. He refused to listen to reason, and Lisa lost her temper, too. He wouldn’t let the sculpture leave his studio. He wouldn’t let anyone touch it, and he threatened to kill the first person who tried. Lisa delivered a few threats of her own, and they had the worst fight they’d ever had in the course of their long and tempestuous relationship. Even threats of lawsuit and ruination didn’t seem capable of penetrating his thick skull.
“No wonder she left you!” Lisa wound up shouting. “You’re the most selfish man I’ve ever met! Wherever she is, she’s better off without you!”
As soon as she said the words, she would have given anything to call them back. Riley paled as if she’d stabbed him through the heart. All the fight went out of him. With one last, miserable, misty glance at the sculpture, he gruffly told her to take it away.
Her crew quietly wrapped and secured the piece, then hauled it out of the loft. Lisa stayed behind to try to repair some of the damage her words had done. “You really loved her, didn’t you?”
“Yes,” he admitted. “But it didn’t help.”
“Can’t you try again?” When he shook his head, she said, “Don’t be proud, Riley. Ask her to—”
“You don’t understand. When she…left, I got down on my knees and begged her to come back.” He closed his eyes and shivered a little. “She won’t, Lisa. Even if she wanted to, I’m not sure she could.”
She didn’t understand, and he refused to discuss it any further. Finally, hoping it would help, she said, “I know this is painful, Riley, but you’ll get over it. Broken hearts don’t kill people. I speak from experience.”
And then he said something she had long since given up hoping to hear. “I’m sorry, Lisa. About us. Sorry for the way I treated you.”
“I, uh…. Thank you, Riley.” After a moment, she added, “Apology accepted, of course.”
“If I made you feel the way I feel now,” he said, “it’s a wonder you didn’t kill me with a rusty kitchen knife.”
She smiled sadly. “Well, I fantasized about it.”
But Lisa didn’t smile now as she looked back on that conversation. Riley’s physical and emotional condition got worse as the holidays approached. He had refused to attend the gala party that launched the opening of the new Natural Woman building. She’d had to do some fast talking to explain why Riley Barrow couldn’t be at the unveiling of his own sculpture, when it was known that he never left town. Moreover, he was totally indifferent to the wonderful reviews written about the piece. Not even the possibility of more commissions sparked his interest, and she already knew that he would never be ready in time for the new exhibition they had discussed.
She visited him again and worried even more when she saw his studio. He’d hardly done anything since her last visit. A few half-hearted clay models and a few unfinished sketches seemed to be the sum total of his output since Galatea had left. Only one thing caught Lisa’s eye. A nearly-finished marble sculpture of a woman; it was chipped, as if it had been knocked over at some point.
“What’s this?” she asked him.
“Oh, it was going to be for Natural Woman,” he said without interest.
“It’s good. If you’d finish it, we could—”
“I don’t think so, Lisa. I don’t like it.”
“I don’t want to touch it,” he said wearily. “Drop the subject, would you?”
Lisa left without saying anything more. She had never believed that love would finally strike Riley’s heart; and she had never suspected that it would destroy him.
Riley looked out the window and watched Lisa walk away from his building. He knew she didn’t understand. He knew she was worried and wanted to help him. But there was nothing she could do. No one could help him.
Broken hearts don’t kill people, Lisa had said. That was bad news, because he couldn’t bear the thought of living with this pain for the next forty years. Better it should kill him now.
He tensed when he saw a small, black-clad figure approaching the building. Now that the weather was cold, he hadn’t seen Mama Strega in so long that he’d almost forgotten about her. For a moment, he was filled with anger so intense it made him tremble. She had led him to this. If she had never taken him down to that secret, magical place beneath the streets and given him that soul-destroying block of marble….
But that wasn’t fair. He had loved Galatea enough to call her out of the marble, but he hadn’t loved her enough to keep her. Mama Strega had given him the gift, and Galatea had tried to live with him. His heartbreak and Galatea’s death—if, indeed, that’s what had happened to her—were his fault. No one else was responsible.
He leaned his forehead against a pane of glass and gritted his teeth as new, fresh pain assailed him. Would it never end? Would he never stop missing her, longing for her, loving her? He had flung himself wildly at her marble likeness for hours on the night she left him, to no avail. He had crouched by her feet for three days, begging her to come back. By the time Lisa took her away, he knew that Galatea would never return.
His heart twisted with doomed yearning. Love wouldn’t kill him, Lisa had said, yet he seemed unable to go on living. He was stuck. He had lived for his work, and now he knew he would never work again. He had tried a few times, but the feel of clay and marble beneath his hands turned him sick with despair and self-loathing.
Mama Strega paused outside the building and looked directly up at his window. Across the distance that separated them, their eyes met and held. Without conscious thought, he left the window, picked up his jacket, and left the apartment for the first time in days. He would get an answer to his problems from that old witch even if he died trying—indeed, he hoped that’s what would happen.
“Mama, we can’t do this,” Riley whispered. “There are security guards. There are laws.”
“Do you want to be with her or not?” The old woman walked briskly and seemed impervious to the bitter wind that swept the dark streets of the city.
It was nearly midnight as they approached the building that was their destination. Midtown was deserted at this hour. Nevertheless, Riley looked around apprehensively as he reached for one of the huge glass doors beneath the new gold and green awnings of Natural Woman’s new headquarters. It wouldn’t budge.
“It’s locked,” he said without surprise.
“Try another door.”
“Go around the side and try another door,” the old woman insisted.
He did so, then came back a few moments later to tell her the side doors were locked, too. She was waiting for him inside the lobby. When she opened a door to admit him, he demanded, “How’d you do that?”
“Does it matter? Come.”
“Wait!” His heart jumped when he saw the security guard. “He’ll see us.”
“No. He will see nothing unusual,” Mama Strega assured him.
“Just a half-starved sculptor and a Sicilian witch wandering through his lobby in the middle of the night.” When Mama giggled, he added churlishly, “So glad you’re enjoying yourself.”
But exactly as she had promised, the guard seemed unaware of their presence, even when they walked right past him. Then Riley forgot about the guard—and everything else—a moment later when he laid eyes upon her for the first time in weeks.
“Galatea,” he whispered, his feet carrying him toward her of their own volition.
They had given her a prominent position in their grand foyer, right under their logo. She stood in the same pose in which he had initially sculpted her, back arched, arms overhead, body fluid and languid with uninhibited sensuality. But there was something else now that had not been there originally. A lingering sadness, a heartbreaking touch of loneliness.
He reached out to her and stroked the gentle curve of her belly, his eyes misting when he felt only cold marble where once there had been warm, living flesh.
“Mama, what can I do?” he asked over his shoulder. “Should I kiss her again?”
“You have only to want to be with her more than you want anything else.”
“Will she come back to life?” He swallowed. “Will I die?”
“You will be joined,” Mama answered. “But only if you want it more than anything else.”
He continued to gaze at Galatea. What else was there for him? His work? No, that was gone. His talent was no more than a burden now, one that his sorrow made him too weak to shoulder. And life? There was no life without her. Not anymore. He was ready for anything. Whatever he might be risking now, it was nothing compared to what he had already lost.
“Yes,” he said hoarsely. “More than anything else, I want to be with her.”
“Then open your heart,” said the dry, aged voice behind him. “Open your heart to her, and she will answer you.”
He closed his eyes and focused on the sculpture as he touched its flowing lines and curves, running his hands over the cool, smooth surface he had once upon a time sanded and polished for so many hours.
“I love you,” he whispered. “I’ll love you forever. All I want, all I’ll ever want, is to be with you.” He pressed his forehead against the unyielding stone. “Please.”
And as he lay his vulnerable heart bare for her, to do with as she pleased, he felt the magical force of her love reach out to him. He never looked back, never even tried to say goodbye to Mama Strega. He knew the old woman would understand, although no one else ever would.
His heart flooded with joyous homecoming as his love opened her arms to him, accepting his pledge and welcoming him into her world.
A taxi delivered Lisa to the front door of the Natural Woman building the following morning. She had come immediately upon receiving an incomprehensible phone call from the company’s president saying that something had happened to the Riley Barrow sculpture. Lisa had decided to come see for herself before saying anything to Riley. As unstable as he seemed lately, she was worried about how he’d react if the piece had been damaged or vandalized.
The foyer was crowded with people, most of them gathered around the spot where Lisa had last seen Riley’s sculpture. As she pushed her way through the crowd, she spotted the company president.
“It’s not that we’re displeased,” the woman said without preamble. “I mean, the new piece is even more beautiful than the one that’s gone. It’s just that we’re so surprised. Why didn’t he tell us? Of course, the new statue isn’t what we originally wanted, but it’s so—”
“New piece?” Lisa said in confusion. “Do you mean someone replaced the sculpture?”
“Yes. You didn’t know?”
“No.” She frowned. “Has the original been stolen?”
The woman looked surprised. “That didn’t occur to me. I mean, you’ll have to ask him what he did with it. Mind you, we’d like to keep this one, so—”
“You think Riley had something to do with this?”
“Of course. It’s so obviously his work.”
“No, he wouldn’t—”
“Come have a look. I’m sure you’ll agree with me.”
Lisa let herself be guided through the crowd as she wondered what had happened. A moment later, the sight of the new sculpture struck her speechless with surprise.
“It is his work, isn’t it?” the woman asked.
Lisa swallowed. “It’s him,” she croaked.
“Yes, I thought it was him all over,” the woman agreed. “He is a genius, isn’t he?”
No, it’s him, Lisa thought in bewildered wonder. Before her eyes, Riley and Galatea embraced intimately, their nude bodies lovingly entwined for all eternity, their faces passionate and blissful. And without understanding anything, Lisa imagined everything. This was Riley’s destiny, and somehow, it made sense.
The businesswoman at Lisa’s side cleared her throat. “So you’ve never seen it before?”
Lisa shook her head, still staring at the tender, erotic pose. How lonely it made an ordinary mortal feel, to see them together like that.
“The, uh, price remains the same, I trust?” the woman asked.
“Hmmm?” Lisa blinked. “Oh. Yes, of course. He, uh, won’t want anything extra for this.”
“You must convey our appreciation to him.” The woman gave a little laugh. “How eccentric artists are.”
Lisa stood there for long minutes, staring at the embracing couple. Then, with a bittersweet smile, she said goodbye to Riley Barrow, knowing that he had found love—and happiness—at last.
Copyright © 2017 by Laura Resnick.
Heart's Kiss Magazine
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