"You're going to be late!" Jordan yelled from the kitchen in her usual bellow.
She didn't have to remind me. As I stood checking out my look in the mirror that hung on the back of my closet door, I cringed at the idea that people were going to actually see me in my outfit in just minutes. I looked more like a waitress than a junior assistant to an art gallery owner. A short black skirt and white button down blouse? I might as well be serving pasta down the street at Mama Leone's. Or serving drinks at some gentleman's club. Why my boss thought this was appropriate for an art gallery was beyond me.
Smoothing my light brown hair that fell to just below my shoulders, I leaned in close to the mirror and saw that the tawny eye shadow and the darkest black mascara did their best to make my blue eyes pop. I stroked a final coat of plum lip gloss over my lips and put on my best supermodel face.
Too bad everything below my neck ruined all my hard work.
I made my way down the hallway, stopping by the kitchen to give my roommate a look at my getup. She'd seen it before, but some things never got old.
"And here she is, Miss America," I sang.
Jordan put her glass down on the counter and brought her hands up to her face to cover her smile. A pretty blonde with knockout green eyes, she was my best friend and the only person who knew just how much I hated the outfit. "Oh, honey. At least you make that look good. Good legs make everything look better, and you have great legs."
"I think I've heard that," I joked. At least Jordan helped make me hate this outfit a little less. That is until I got the first sneer from some overly made up woman dripping with expensive jewelry looking down her plastic surgery perfect nose at me. Then I'd hate it again.
"I'm off to work. What are you doing while I'm moving up in the art world?"
"Justin and I are catching a movie."
"So you're doing Justin," I teased. She'd begun dating him a while back, but recently they'd gotten much closer, much to her delight. Jordan saw him as a possible "Mr. Right" and loved that he wanted to move toward more commitment.
"Don't hate," she said with a smile. "You'll be late, and then that nasty boss of yours will be all over you."
"Enjoy. I'm off to pay my dues again," I joked only slightly as I headed out the door.
I walked toward the subway with Jordan's words rattling around in my head, oblivious to the throngs of people heading out for the night. "Don't hate." In truth, I didn't hate the idea that she had found someone. I actually liked Justin. He wasn't an ass like a lot of guys, and he was pretty tolerant of having a third wheel when Jordan dragged me along with them to save me from a Friday night in. And he was just her type—tall, dark, and lanky. While I wasn't as convinced as she was that he was "The One," simply because I wasn't sure that even existed, I liked that she was happy.
It gave me hope that as she was always claiming good things did, in fact, happen to good people.
The crowd of New York art devotees far less knowledgeable about art than parties milled about the Anderson Gallery, champagne glasses in hand and noses in the air as they feigned appreciation for the work of a new artist that odds were would likely be a has-been by this time next year. The artwork wasn't bad, as far as modern art went, but I didn't have the time to stand around feeling unimpressed. As the lowest rung on the gallery's ladder, I was responsible for ensuring that the patrons were happy, full of alcohol and hors d'oeuvres, and convinced that the artist's work was the "next big thing," as Sheila Anderson, my boss and owner of the gallery that bore her name, had made quite clear in the pre-show meeting just hours before.
Her hand-picked outfit for me fit oddly, which was exactly the purpose. The black skirt was far too short and felt more like a big belt in the chilly, air conditioned room. God, my ass was almost hanging out! And the white, button-down shirt one size too small? My biggest fear that night was that a button would pop, fly from my chest, and take someone's eye out. But since my job was to be a "hostess," as Sheila liked to term my employment as her personal slave, this was what I had to wear. The only thing that made it even bearable was that she'd hired two other women to work that night, so at least I wasn't alone in my outfit of shame.
Four years of school and a degree in art history and I was handing out cocktail weenies. But it was a job that paid the bills. Well, barely paid the bills. No matter. I had bigger plans for my life than this, and I knew I needed to pay my dues before the good things showed up.
On nights like this, though, it just felt like I was paying more than anything else.
A tall, blonde standing near the floor to ceiling window at the front of the gallery lifted her glass to alert me she needed a refill, and away I went scurrying to provide her with the much needed champagne. Unlike most of the other gallery patrons, she was at least pleasant and gave me a nod of thanks. Hopefully, Sheila saw that.
In truth, this wasn't such a bad job. I told myself that all the time, and sometimes I even believed it. The best part about it was that I got to be around the art. That made all the awful jobs I was assigned tolerable. When all the people were gone and it was just me, my broom, and the artwork, I could honestly say I was happy. I'd stand in front of a sculpture from some unknown artist and let my eyes drift over the smooth lines and curves of the piece to imagine what may have been in the artist's heart as he or she lovingly molded their masterpiece. The Anderson Gallery didn't have work from the big names like Monet or Rodin, but it had art and that let me convince myself that years of studying hadn't been for nothing.
A crowd of people gathered near one of the paintings hung on the far wall. It was the best piece in the show, so it wasn't surprising, but from the sound of their voices, it wasn't the painting they were interested in. I moved toward them, curious for a distraction from standing around with trays all night. The group was mostly women, each one more beautiful than the next, and I suddenly felt self-conscious craning my neck to see what they were so intrigued by, as if I didn't belong. A few blondes, brunettes, and a redhead who all looked like supermodels and were dressed in names I only knew from magazines circled around someone, laughing and chattering about things I couldn't understand. Then one woman moved aside and I saw him.
He was stunning, even more gorgeous than the women that surrounded him. Over six feet tall with short dark hair, he wore a dark grey suit and black shirt that hung as if they were made especially for him, accentuating every well-built inch of his body. I edged myself closer, drawn to him, and saw his eyes. Deep chocolate brown, they looked as if they had seen all the things I hadn't in this world. He was wealth, opulence, and excess.
A beautiful brunette hung on his arm, an appropriate accessory for such a man, like fourteen caret gold cufflinks or a stainless steel Rolex. As I stood there gawking at him, I heard one of the women say his name.
In that moment, I wanted more than anything for the whole world to fade away until it was just me and him. I'd heard of love at first sight before and never believed in it, but as I watched him take up all the empty space in the room, I was in love.
No, not love. Lust.
He glanced over at me, and my cheeks flushed with heat. His gaze fixed on mine, brown eyes staring at me as if we knew each other intimately. As if he knew the deepest, darkest parts of me. My brain told me to look away, to break the connection, but the rest of my body rebelled. I wanted to feel those eyes on every part of me.
"Nina, what are you doing? I saw at least three patrons with empty glasses as I crossed the room. Chop, chop!" Sheila barked in my ear, tearing me out of my fantasy.
My boss marched away, and I watched as Tristan and his women moved on to another painting. Everything was as it should be with everyone in their correct place. Him with a group of gorgeous women and me with my tray of cocktail weenies. A few minutes later, I watched him leave, never even knowing his last name or what his voice sounded like.
As the show wound down and the sated art lovers made their way to other fashionable locations in SoHo, I began my post-show duties. Sheila had a look of pure happiness on her gaunt face as she said goodbye to her other help for the night, which could mean that she was high or pleased with how the show had gone. As she was coming my way, I'd know in a minute which it was.