It’s definitely been a while since I put a new story up. Things are finally winding down on Tangled though, so my hours should get much more normal. (if you haven’t seen the new trailer, check out my previous post.) This week’s artist is the brilliant John Singer Sargent and is entitled Elizabeth Winthrop Chanler. Sargent is one of the most celebrated portrait artists in the world, and you can probably see why. His work is incredible and it’s well worth your time to investigate. For this short story, I was going to do a period piece, but nothing was clicking. So I changed it up and only used the idea of a girl in a fancy dress on a couch. The story came much easier at that point. 990 words.
Liz slid back into the couch, wishing it would just swallow her up. She felt like a fool, here at the ridiculous party she’d been forced to attend. Boys and girls in masquerade costumes danced in front of her, but she had no desire to join in.
Someone had snapped her picture as she gazed out across the room. The flash and haze shimmered in front of her eyes for ten minutes afterward. The picture would probably turn out all right. She actually thought she looked decent in her dress. But the picture wouldn’t capture where Liz’s eye were looking. It wasn’t at anything in the room. It was out past the mass of bodies and the guys getting drunk in the parking lot. It was out toward the dark side of town where a boy was no doubt sitting on his bed, strumming a Johnny Cash song on his broken down guitar.
Jake was going to set the world on fire, going to tear out into the night and never look back. Liz knew it, and ached to follow him. But Liz could barely talk out of turn, let alone skip off into forever. That’s what you get when you’re the daughter of the richest man in town. You get ponies for you birthday, you get lavish costume balls that all your friends are going to talk about for months. You get everything you could possibly want, just not always the things you need.
Liz had found one of those things once. She’d ditched school one dull Thursday. Hard to do in a private school, but she managed. She’d first met Jake down where the alleys lead to darkness, where you don’t always want to meet the eyes of those you pass. He said that she was being followed. Whether it was her father’s men or someone more devious, she never found out. Jake led her through a maze of concrete and wood and rotten life. She was hopelessly lost as they scrambled up and down and through, but it didn’t matter. Her hand clung tight to Jake’s, and as she stumbled along she could barely keep up with her heart.
Jake took her to his room. Her father would disapprove of her being in any boy’s room, let alone one in a beaten up dirty part of town like this. Jake’s mom was there, dark-eyed and almost beautiful. She just smiled a welcome as they passed through the house. Jake closed the bedroom door and they shared a silent moment. Liz got her first real look at this boy with the sandpaper hair and olive skin. His blue eyes flicked to hers and then to his guitar. She nodded and smiled.
He sat on the bed and began to play. It was raw and intimate, the way he played. She almost felt like she was spying on him, like she should look away. Then he started to sing. A voice ragged but true rang through the little room. Liz had heard of Elvis, had heard of the commotion he caused with all the young girls. She knew it must have been something like this. She knew why they jumped up and down and screamed when Elvis sang his songs. She knew because she had to fight to suppress the urge with Jake.
He played three songs before the pounding on the front door started. She heard loud voices and knew they were for her. She kissed Jake on the cheek and rushed down the stairs. She didn’t want anyone to know about Jake. Who knows what her father would do if he found out. She’d say she got lost, that she was sick and confused, and this sweet lady had been nice enough to let her in and get cleaned up. Boy? There was no boy. She was so earnest they couldn’t help but believe her. She was so earnest because she couldn’t let them snatch him away from her.
If she thought it was hard to ditch school before, it was impossible from then on. She didn’t even try. But after school each day she would wait on the front lawn, staring out across the trees to where the land turned gray, knowing that Jake was out there somewhere. Finally she would get into the car, holding back the tears as she rode home.
It took her a moment to realize the music at the party had changed. The strum of a guitar had replaced the synth beats and for a few seconds everyone looked confused. Then the dance floor emptied as the song continued. A scratchy-voiced crooner began to sing. Liz didn’t know who Hank Williams was, but she knew the music cut into her heart.
She looked up, just as a boy walked up to her. He was wearing a mask, but she knew those blue eyes. He held out her hand and she took it, catching her breath as she stood. He twirled her twice, then stopped and looked at a large window. It was open and she could see the pale night through it, the moon hanging heavy beyond a ridge of trees. He looked into her eyes and squeezed her hand. He didn’t need to ask and she didn’t need to answer.
They both set off at a run. Liz glanced to the doorway. Her father’s men were fighting through the crowd of students. She looked back to the window with just enough time to gasp before they plunged through into the crisp night air. An old car sat idling in the driveway, and she and Jake flung themselves into the seats. Jake’s foot was on the gas and the tires were screeching before Liz was even settled, and they tore away into the darkness. Liz looked back to see if they were being followed, and in the back seat lay Jake’s guitar. She smiled to herself. Everything was going to be fine.