“Guess who just booked the Lehmann for your next art opening?”
A veritable chill went through Dean’s body that had nothing to do with the wind whipping up in the street around him. Tightening his jacket, he pressed the phone closer to his ear, hoping to drown out the traffic. Perhaps he misheard? Maybe misunderstood... Oh fuck. This is real. This is happening.
“That’s great Jody. Really. That’s... awesome.”
“Well try to sound a little more excited about it why don’tcha” came his manager’s reply; she was about as straightforward and no nonsense as her hair cut suggested. “This is Lehmann we’re talking ‘bout – the big leagues! I worked my ass off to get you guys this gig.”
Dean gulped, feeling instantly guilty, and dug deep to redouble his efforts. He pictured his roommate receiving the news – the big galumph would be throwing his hat with joy and shaking his ass all over town. But it was a struggle to emulate, given the early hour and lack of caffeine in his system. She doesn’t have to do this he reminded himself sternly. She has better things to do with her time.
“Sorry Jodes. I mean it. Honest.” The silence warmed up a few notches. “When’s it booked for?”
“July 5th –" Shit! “-so I hope you’ve made some headway with your work.”
“Yes ma’am!” Dean mock saluted, pushing aside the memory of half empty canvases waiting for him at home - He crossed the street, too deep in his head to look out for oncoming traffic. A taxi beeped angrily. Nothing new there; they all did that here in New York - A quick subject change was needed before Jody uncovered the lie. She was like a fucking bloodhound when it came to stuff like that. “How’s home life going?”
“Urgh,” came the tense reply, which Dean just had to laugh at “I forgot how peppy she was! She was up making pancakes at seven today, sang me ‘good morning’ and everything. Not one cup of coffee in her body! Remind me why I thought moving in together was a good idea?”
Dean smiled fondly at the image of the bubbly blonde ball of sunshine smiling at a grouchy morning Jody. She may have been his manager nowadays, but he and Jody went way back – looking out for Dean and his brother back when they first arrived in the city – and in all the years they’d been friends, Donna, her partner, had been the best thing that ever happened to her. Besides him and Sam of course. They were as different as the sun and the moon, and just as perfect for each other. The kind of relationship that Dean aspired to have and envied in equal measure.
“Because, and I’m quoting your last drunken text to me, you ‘wuv’ her.” Jody grumbled; a sure sign that Dean had won.
“Anyway,” she started, switching topics back to more important things “I best get on and tell Benny the good news too – maybe that way one of you will remember the date.”
“What makes you think I’ll forget?”
“When did I say it was?”
Dean stopped, racking his sleep-deprived brain. Jeez, he needed coffee and fast. “Good point.”
“It’s like I know you or something.” She signed off, hanging up the phone. Dean pocketed his own, burying his hands deep in the warm leather lining. It was a beautiful spring morning down in Williamsburg, Brooklyn; the sun, just poking its head above the brow of the buildings, cast a watery glow down the street that brightened even the dustbin bags out waiting for collection. Shop signs were being hauled out, signalling the start of a brand new day, interspersed by trees filled with the blooms of spring – bright, hardy flora designed, he suspected, to withstand the extreme temperature changes and air pollution. Beautiful. And he was far too tired to appreciate it.
What he needed was a Red Eye, stat!
The glass of Dean’s favourite coffee shop coming towards him was both a blessing and a curse, because, well, coffee was within his grasp! But judging by the bloodshot eyes staring back at him (although pale in comparison to the skin on his nose and cheeks – it was like freaking Rudolph was staring back at him), Dean was overdue his fix by about 12 hours. Nothing quite like a looming gallery opening and artists block to keep you up at night.
He grumbled, scrubbed at the scruff on his face, and entered.
The queue in Crowley’s Cafe, as it was every morning, was full to the brim with early bird commuters; doctors, lawyers, pilots, even an office manager or two, suit after suit after suit lining up for the same legal pick-me-up to get them through their busy days. That was the thing about this city, Dean mused, basking in the warmth the shop had to offer – it didn’t matter if you were the lowliest janitor or the highest judge, everyone was the same when it came to coffee. Yet he still tried to sneak to the back of the queue, hoping his paint splattered jeans didn’t ruin the line’s aesthetic as they inched closer, one by one, towards nirvana.
As the hustle and bustle of the shop rambled on, Dean thought back to where he left his roommate thirty minutes earlier – bundled in blankets on the sofa, snoring his goddamn head off – and felt the envy rise as the coffee poured. Unlike him, Benny was well ahead of schedule on his own work. Lucky bastard. Why wasn’t he out getting their coffee? Why did he need coffee anyway? Dean would have been sorely tempted to ‘forget’ his mate’s order, but he couldn’t sacrifice the breakfast that was inevitably waiting for him back home. Dean salivated; there were many, many things Dean would be willing to forgo when Benny’s bacon baps were on the line...
“Hey Reindeer Games! Triple red eye and a mocha, take it while it’s gross.”
Shaking himself back into consciousness, Dean plucked the cups from the brunette’s hand, her sore excuse of a smile disappearing as soon as his money was hers. Dean couldn’t really blame her, morning shifts were a drag, but was the stink eye really necessary? He walked off, choosing instead to focus on more important things.
After dumping half the sugar sachets into his coffee (none for Benny, he was ‘cleansing’) Dean breathed deep, letting the warm aroma fill his nostrils, letting it settle in his bones before taking his first gulp, head buzzing happily from the rush. He sighed, contented; nothing quite like a shot of pure caffeine to the veins to wake you up in the morning. With the warmth of their coffee seeping into his skin and the thought of bacon dancing in his head, Dean left the coffee shop a darn sight happier than when he had entered. A happiness that felt like he could take on the world, do anything, even make some headway on his gallery pieces...
A happiness that was short-lived as the door flew open, a man walked into him, and his coffee’s got sent flying in all directions.
“Watch where you’re going, asshat!” Dean snapped, the last reaches of his patience snapping like a twig as he looked down in outrage at the stain on his jacket; the one good thing he had going today and it was gone! His hands - one empty, one gripping a scrunched Styrofoam cup - were held aloft to highlight his indignation for everyone to see. The still open door let the cold morning wind slap across his face, doing little to harbour the anger blossoming in his chest. He didn’t care if he was making a scene. Nor did he care for the laughter that rippled from the man as Dean bent down to rescue what little remained of his other mug.
“My apologies sir. I’ll endeavour to ‘watch’ where I’m going in the future.”
Dean was too caught up in staring sullenly down at his lost coffee to really pay attention to what the man was saying, but he couldn’t fail to notice the big bundle of fur parked next to him on the lino. Especially when said haystack started licking his face with its big, wet tongue. Green eyes met brown as he finally looked up, coming face to face with a big happy Labrador – tongue lolling, smiling away despite the recent drenching it just experienced. Experienced not only by him, but by everyone else in the building which, rather suddenly, came screaming back into Dean’s world view.
The entire room had pitched from a general noisy hubbub to pin drop silence, and not the haha you idiot, this film’s being uploaded to Youtube kind of silence either. More like the icy, you’re a real fucking dick you know that? kind of silence, one that had Dean’s skin crawling, knowing without looking that he’d cocked up in a really bad way. And only when he dared to look up, up, up did he notice the dog’s luminous jacket, bright against the once-golden fur; followed the handle up to where the dregs of his much longed for drink were dripping down the man’s jumper - a yellow and black striped number, almost as dazzling as the dogs. For the record, it kind of looked like it should come with a pair of deely boppers - and finally, the dark, dark sunglasses perched on the end of the guy’s nose, and right above a righteous smile.
Tension ramped in the room as his brain shut down, mouth gaping uselessly open. No sentences would come, no words would form. Bullet sized sweat started to bead on his forehead as he shuffled - worse than the fleabag likely does on parquet flooring. Dean gulped; this was without a doubt the worst, most awkward moment of his life.
I can make this right; I will make this right…
Oh fuck. I just told a blind guy to ‘watch’ where he was going!
“So let me get this straight,” Sam said, face scrunched in unbridled disbelief at the story Dean just told, “You spill hot coffee on a guy and his dog – a blind guy at that – and instead of trying to help him you run away?”
Dean nodded, head buried deep in his hands as he slumped on the saggy sofa; a red leather number they’d found sitting on a street corner. He was back at the flat after running at breakneck speed down 5th, questioning glances thrown his way the entire sprint (they must have thought he’d robbed a paint shop or something). His best friend and his brother certainly had a few when he came barrelling in, drenched in a sweat/coffee bean mixture and holding an empty Styrofoam container.
“I know alright? I already feel bad about it without you piling on.” Running fingers across his face he stared doggedly down at Sammy, sitting cross legged on the floor in front of him. Despite being buried in a sea of lofty law books and notepads (seriously, they were fanned out in a circle, taking up half the floor space in their self appointed living room area) he still had time to throw a bitchy eye roll Deans way.
The loft was all open plan and steel girders with a beautiful view over the New York Harbour, little hints left over of its previous life as a warehouse. Some bright spark had decided it would be a great idea to convert it into a set of studio apartments for those hip, trendy people who had a dime to their name to truly showcase what little furniture they had. Ridiculous for most, but for Dean and Benny it was perfect. They’d snapped it up the second they saw it, having searched for weeks for something that could hold more than a paintbrush. And for a fraction of the price too; Dean suspected the seller was about as desperate as they were.
It was so big it even dwarfed Benny; the man had a bouncer’s physique and a teddy bear attitude, and somehow managed to look both threatening and sweet at the same time. A cheeky smile broke through his beard as he wafted Dean’s coffee in front of his face, teaslingly, temptingly.
“Quit poutin’ Chief, I made it just the way you like it.” Squinting, Dean weighed up his options.
“Sickeningly sweet ya weirdo.” Well, Dean couldn’t say no to that.
“I hate you” he grumbled, holding the warm ceramic close to his chest – one of Sam’s early childhood efforts.
“Love ya too brother” Benny replied, ruffling Dean’s hair just the way he hated. He responded by throwing him his dirtiest stink eye over the rim of his mug, refusing to give him the satisfaction of a contented sigh; Benny made a mean coffee.
“So what are you even doing here Sasquatch?”
“Library’s full and I have an exam next week.”
“Yes, and don’t you have a perfectly good apartment to study in? One that I’m helping to pay for might I add?”
“Yes, but that flat is also home to a roommate who smokes weed when he’s stressed." Sam grumbled. "Between that or here, I pick here.”
“Ok but don’t go complaining when you get paint splatters in your books again.”
“You’re still working on that piece from two weeks ago?”
“Sammy, we’re on Version 3.0 of that one from two weeks ago.” Benny jumped in, plopping a fresh coffee in front of the student.
“Why? What was wrong –"
“-don’t say it-“
“-With the other two?” Sam finished. Benny clapped a hand over his face and groaned, waiting for the speech.
“What was wrong with them?!” Dean cried.
“Here we go.”
“The brush work was sloppy, the colours refused to blend right, and don’t even get me started on the friggin’ concept –"
Slightly wide eyed at his brothers’ tirade, Sam cast a quick peek at the canvases stacked angrily in the corner. Each one was a beautiful landscape of the New York skyline that, to Sam’s mind, perfectly captured not only their iconic beauty, but also why Dean was one of the hottest young artists in the city right now.
“Dean, they look fine –"
“They really don’t Sam! They’re boring and unoriginal and clichéd as hell. You don’t understand because you’re not an artist.”
“Oh yeah Chief, and what does that make me? I’m an artist and I’ve been telling you they’re fine for months.”
Dean scowled, pouting stubbornly, arms crossed tightly around his chest.
“You’re my friend, you have to say that.”
Sam stared up at Benny. Benny raised an eyebrow, I told you so written all over his face. “I regret even asking.” He finished, turning back to the logical embrace of his textbooks.
“Brother, we’ve been over this; your work is just as good as your previous stuff.”
"And that’s the problem, Benny! It needs to be better than ‘just as good’. At the moment it’s –“ he stared around at his work, propped up and drying against a skyline he’d painted last year “-exactly the same as what I’ve already done. I can’t showcase old news. I need something different, but...”
“What, the muses aren’t speaking to ya?” Benny smirked around his coffee. Dean threw him a done look to shut his stupid face, but as much as he didn’t want to be one of ‘those’ artists who could only work when something moved them... hell, who was he kidding? He was exactly one of those artists. And right now the only thing moving was the 12.15 cruise ship outside their window.
“Shame. Washed up at 25. So sad.” Benny may have been joking, but that was genuinely what scared Dean the most – that he would be outed as the one trick pony he really was, the art world would reject him, and all his hard work would have been for nothing. And if it was just his head on the line he wouldn’t have cared so much. But it was Sam’s head too – with school over as soon as his exams were done, Sam had every intention of going to Stanford in the fall, to earn his law degree and become the state’s top lawyer (well, Dean thought so at least. Sam was just focusing on being a good one) but he couldn’t do it without help. And help was hard to come by when thousands of kids were chasing the same scholarship. So if Sam didn’t get a full ride then he was going to need Dean’s help. How was he going to do that if he was living out of his car again…
“So what are you going to do?” Sam asked, clearly oblivious to the mental torture his brother was putting himself through.
“I dunno – sell my body? Draw caricatures of tourists on the boardwalk?”
Sam looked up, squinting. “I meant about the blind guy, Dean” he said as if it was obvious. Dean blinked, then again, all the excitement of the morning coming racing back to him.
“Look, it’s not even like I’ll see the dude again. New York is a big place, and there are plenty of coffee shops. Besides, even if he did, how’s he gonna know? It’s not like he could pick me out of a line up...”