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The Dust of Daily Life

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Arthur’s therapist — because he has a therapist now; it was mandated by his boss that he see a therapist to deal with his “anger issues” after he threw a stapler and it dented the office fridge (a feat which, frankly, Arthur thinks he should be commended for, because a) he’d been aiming at Nash and b) the fridge was around the corner in the kitchenette so he must have gotten some wicked spin on that stapler) — anyway, Arthur’s therapist thinks that he needs to find a hobby.

“A hobby,” Arthur says flatly.

“Yes,” Yusuf says. “Something therapeutic.”

“Therapy isn’t therapeutic enough?”

“Therapy isn’t a hobby. What do you like to do?”

Arthur wracks his brain for an answer. “I like… food?”

“Oh, cooking is a good hobby!”

“No, I mean I like eating food. I don’t like cooking.”

“Ah. That’s really less of a hobby and more of a… necessary life thing.”

“‘Necessary life thing’? Is that a technical term?”

“You’re deflecting. What do you do in your free time?”

Arthur stares at Yusuf blankly. “I… sleep?”

Yusuf sighs and scribbles something on his notepad. “All right. How do you feel about sport?”

“Ranging from apathetic to actively hostile.”

“Do you play any instruments?”

“My middle school music teacher described me as ‘unteachable.’”

“Erm… poetry?”

Arthur doesn’t even respond to that, just glares.

“All right, no poetry. Art?”

Arthur opens his mouth to object, but no objection is readily available. “I’ve never tried it,” he admits.

“Excellent!” Yusuf beams as though Arthur has just had a major breakthrough. “The local community colleges usually have art classes. Before our next meeting I want you to look through some course catalogs and pick a class to attend.”

 

***

 

Arthur is prepared to let this homework assignment go the way of his mood journals and his breathing exercises — which is to say, he has no intention of actually doing it — but he makes the mistake of mentioning it to Dom “the Squinty Steamroller” Cobb the next day.

“How’s therapy going?” Dom asks him, leaning against the cubicle divider as casually as it’s possible to lean against a wall that can support maybe 10% of your body weight.

“Fine,” Arthur says.

“That’s great!” Dom is really enthusiastic about Arthur’s therapy, probably because he’s the one who told Arthur he needed to go to therapy in the first place.

“He wants me to take an art class,” Arthur complains.

“That sounds like a fantastic idea!” Dom thinks most ideas are fantastic — unless those ideas involve transforming office supplies into projectiles, apparently. “Oh! One of Mal’s friends teaches art classes at Smithborough; you should check him out. I’ll get her to text you the guy’s name.”

Mal does one better and actually shows up at Arthur’s apartment with Smithborough’s continuing ed catalog in hand and reads out the names of all the courses that her friend is teaching. Then she watches over his shoulder as he goes to the school’s website and enrolls.

“Is this really necessary?” Arthur asks as he enters his billing information.

“Yes,” Mal says, crossing her arms. “You would never do this if I weren’t here making you.”

It’s seriously inconvenient how well Mal knows him.

 

***

 

Arthur chooses “figure drawing” because it seems like it would be applicable to his job. He has to give powerpoint presentations to clients sometimes, and it would probably be useful to have nice-looking figures and diagrams. Mal meets him after work one day — ambushes him in the parking garage, more like — and drags him to the art supply shop to pick up the necessary materials.

It’s kind of weird that he needs to bring paper and charcoal — he’d have expected they’d be doing all the diagram-drawing digitally — but maybe you have to start with the fundamentals in order to get really good at it, he reasons.

 

***

 

Arthur is 20 minutes late to the first class meeting, due to a combination of traffic and not actually caring. He finds the right classroom and quietly enters, carrying his art supplies under one arm and a cup of coffee in the other.

Miraculously, he doesn’t drop either when he sees a naked woman standing at the front of the room.

“Sorry!” he blurts out, averting his eyes. “Wrong classroom!”

“Are you here for figure drawing?” someone asks.

“Yeah?” Arthur says, still looking at the ceiling.

“Then you’re in the right place. Find an easel and get set up!”

Arthur isn’t so sure that he’s in the right place, but he can’t check the course catalog with his hands full, so he looks around the classroom — carefully avoiding the elevated platform at the front — and finds an empty easel to set down his stuff. He pulls out his phone and does a quick Google search, which reveals that he should have done a quick Google search much earlier.

He suddenly understands why Mal looked like she was stifling a giggle when he chose figure drawing.

“No mobiles allowed in the classroom,” someone says. Arthur looks up from his screen; there’s a man standing next to him. The instructor, judging by the look of disapproval on his admittedly handsome face. “It’s disrespectful to our model.”

“Sorry,” Arthur says. “I was just putting it on silent. I wasn’t, like, taking photos or anything.” In fact, he hasn’t looked at the model since he first set foot in the room.

“Yes, well.” The man arches a brow that is surprisingly well-groomed given the state of the rest of him. “I’d also appreciate it if you didn’t come in late again. It’s disruptive and you’ve already missed all the one-minute and three-minute poses.”

“Sorry. I had trouble finding the place,” Arthur lies. The instructor doesn’t look like he believes him. Possibly because Smithborough is in the middle of a suburban wasteland where all roads eventually lead to the campus.

“Then I trust you’ll be on time in the future. I’m Eames, by the way. I teach this class.” The man holds out a hand and Arthur shakes it.

“I’m Arthur.”

“Oh, you’re Mallorie’s friend!” Eames’s expression suddenly brightens. “She told me you’d be coming. Well, ‘warned’ might be a more accurate description.” He glances at Arthur’s pristine newsprint pad and the charcoal still in its blister package. “I’ll just let you get drawing, then!”

Arthur mutters his thanks and starts setting up his supplies, venturing a few brief looks at the model. It’s like stepping into a hot shower, he reasons — best to acclimatize yourself slowly, because if you just leap right in you’ll definitely scream and you might faint. There’s a girl at the next easel over, working with her tongue between her teeth. She moves her charcoal across the paper in swift, confident strokes, darting her eyes back and forth from easel to model.

Eventually she notices Arthur watching her. “What’s the matter, never seen a naked lady before?”

“Not in a classroom setting, no.” Not really in person, either, but Arthur’s not about to share that with some random twenty-year-old girl he’s just met.

“You should probably unwrap your charcoal if you’re going to draw with it,” she offers helpfully.

“Thanks,” he says. He peels open the package and, with a fortifying breath, he looks — really looks — at the model.

She’s maybe around 40, a few lines on her face and a bit of gray in her long, straight hair. She’s sitting on a stool, head turned to the side, one arm bent with the hand on her other shoulder. She looks relaxed and unselfconscious, like she’s sitting in her bedroom at home and not on a stage in a classroom while twenty people stare at her naked breasts.

Arthur picks up a piece of charcoal and tries to figure out where to start; he decides her arm is as good a place as any, and starts to sketch in the point of her elbow. His first attempt at the angle is all wrong, so he wipes it away and tries again, but his second attempt isn’t much better. He erases and starts to try again, but then an alarm beeps and the model suddenly moves into an entirely new pose, standing with her arms raised above her head, reaching toward the ceiling.

Arthur turns to a clean page and starts over. He begins at a wrist, draws the forearm slowly widening, the angle of the elbow, the flare of the upper arm. He goes in with his eraser to refine the lines, make them less blocky. He feels like he can’t make the charcoal move in the ways he wants it to. Just when he’s given up on improving the arm and decided to press on, the alarm beeps and the model moves again.

Arthur exhales through his nose and looks over at his neighbor’s easel before she turns her page. Her drawing is messy but pleasantly loose, somehow manages to capture the entirety of the model in only a handful of lines. And Arthur drew an elbow.

He turns to a fresh page, decides to start with a leg this time. He begins with the shin, which is easy enough since it’s just a straight line. He tries to sketch in the curve of the calf but he can’t capture the roundness, the way that gravity pulls on the model’s flesh. He retraces the line over and over again, growing increasingly agitated, until it’s as wide as his thumb. The alarm beeps.

Arthur huffs in frustration. Eames wanders over.

“With these quick poses, you can’t be a perfectionist,” he says. “You’re just doing a gesture drawing. Getting the basic form down.” He moves his hands in a way that Arthur assumes is supposed to convey “getting the basic form down.”

“What’s the point?” Arthur asks. “Why do a drawing when you don’t have enough time to make it actually good?”

“It’s about the process, Arthur,” Eames says, looking irritatingly amused. “Nicely done, Ariadne!” he comments to the girl at the next easel, before moving on.

It’s about the process, Arthur,” Arthur mocks under his breath to his newsprint. Judging by the snort coming from Ariadne’s direction, it was maybe a bit louder than he’d intended.

Eames makes it sound so easy. So Arthur shouldn’t focus on details? Fine. He smirks to himself as he starts to draw a stick figure in the same position as the model. He squints between his easel and the model, trying to get the positioning as accurate as possible; if he’s going to make a mockery of Eames’s “instructions” he’s going to do it well, dammit. He’s just adding the final touch — two circles for boobs — when the now-familiar alarm chimes.

“Much better!” Eames says, materializing out of nowhere to clap a hand on Arthur’s shoulder.

Arthur raises an eyebrow. “It’s a stick figure.”

“We’re all stick figures, underneath our flesh,” Eames remarks sagely. “You start from there and you build on it.”

“A four-year-old could have done this.”

Eames clicks his tongue. “Don’t undersell yourself. You’ve done an excellent job with the proportions.” After a pause, he adds, “This is the work of at least a ten-year-old.”

“Aren’t you supposed to be encouraging me?”

“I’m supposed to be teaching you. Which is not always the same thing as encouraging you.”

“I’m taking a class with a fortune cookie,” Arthur remarks to nobody in particular.

“Breasts are more of a teardrop shape than a sphere,” Eames says, walking away. “You won’t learn that in a fortune cookie!”

The model has put on a robe and is drinking some water, so Arthur assumes they’re taking a break. He wipes his hands clean with a damp paper towel and he’s considering just gathering up his stuff and leaving, but the girl next to him starts talking as she makes adjustments to her latest sketch.

“This your first art class?”

“Gee, how could you tell,” Arthur says, looking pointedly at his stick figure.

“Hey, everyone’s gotta start somewhere. I’m Ariadne, by the way.”

“Arthur.”

“I’d shake your hand, but I’m covered in charcoal and you look like you’re fussy about your cuffs.”

Arthur looks to his cuffs, which are still mercifully pristine, and decides to roll them up so as not to tempt fate. “You a student here?”

“Nah, I’m an architect. I like to go to these classes to keep things loose, y’know?”

Arthur doesn’t know, but he nods anyway. “So you’re here, like. Voluntarily.”

“I wasn’t aware it was possible to go to an art class non-voluntarily, to be honest,” Ariadne says.

“You’re really good,” Arthur says, gesturing to her easel and changing the subject.

“Thanks! I’ve been doing it for a long time. When I started out I wasn’t any better than you.”

“I find that hard to believe.”

Ariadne shrugs. “Whatever. You’ll get better; you’ll see.”

Arthur doesn’t say anything, but he knows he won’t get better. He’s never gotten better at anything. Either he succeeds right away or he considers it a lost cause. He spent a lot of time pretending to play the recorder in sixth grade.

Eames claps his hands at the front of the room and announces that the model will be doing two longer poses for the second half of the class. The model disrobes and gets into position, and Arthur sighs and picks up his charcoal.

With the luxury of time, Arthur is able to get beyond the elbow, moving up through the shoulder, sketching in the torso, the hips, the thighs and calves. At a certain point he realizes how strange it is that it doesn’t feel strange, staring at this naked woman, scrutinizing her body. No, not scrutinizing — that suggests judgment, and what’s so strange about this experience is that there’s no judgment, simply observation. There’s a nipple; there’s a gentle roll of fat at the belly; there’s the slope of a shin, the strange knobbly protrusion of a knee.

The time is still up before he expects it, and when he steps back and looks at his drawing, he discovers that it’s… pretty terrible. The legs are different sizes and the arms seem to be protruding from the woman’s torso in ways that violate not just human anatomy but the laws of physics. Somehow a line that started out as the top of the left arm turns into the bottom of the arm by the time it reaches the hand, like a poorly-executed optical illusion. It looks like he drew the thing with his eyes closed.

“Well, that’s… um… cubist?” Ariadne offers.

“It’s fucking terrible,” Arthur says, moving to rip the sheet off the pad so he can dispose of it. As he starts to tear it away, though, he’s stilled by a warm hand at his wrist.

“Don’t get rid of it,” Eames says. “It’s part of your progress.”

This is progress?” Arthur asks, gesturing to his drawing the way one would gesture to a turd lovingly deposited on the living room carpet by the family dog. (It’s Dom’s fault that Arthur knows what that gesture looks like.)

“Start with a gesture drawing for the next pose, and then flesh out the details,” Eames replies.

“You mean another stick figure?”

“Yes. It will help you get your proportions right.”

“This is so pointless,” Arthur says, even though Eames is already walking off to talk to another student.

But he follows Eames’s directions, and the resulting drawing is slightly less horrifying. The appendages are all in the appropriate places, at least, and at angles that wouldn’t make an orthopedist wince.

 

***

 

Arthur considered not showing up for the second week of the class, but Yusuf and Dom both seemed so proud of him for going that his guilt propels him along. He arrives early this time, and Ariadne waves to him from across the classroom and gestures to the empty spot beside her.

He’s not sure why she’s being friendly toward him, but he’s not about to look a gift horse in the mouth. It probably boosts her confidence to have someone so bad at art sitting next to her.

They chat about their weekends while the model — a young, heavyset woman this time — gets set up. Ariadne shows Arthur the photos she took of the leaves changing at the arboretum, blazing reds and golds. Arthur thinks about maybe making a trip out there himself.

“Don’t forget your gesture drawings,” Eames says at Arthur as he walks by.

Arthur rolls his eyes. “Stick figures. Got it.”

The one-minute poses, which he missed last time, are an exercise in frustration. It’s impossible to get anything down on paper before the model is moving again; even his stick figures are only partially complete when the alarm chimes. The three-minute poses aren’t much better. Arthur doesn’t understand how Ariadne is calmly standing there sketching when all he wants to do his pick his newsprint pad up and hurl it out the window.

He must turn the page on his pad especially violently, because Eames strolls over and says, as though soothing a wild animal, “Embrace the imperfection, Arthur.”

“This is so stupid,” Arthur complains. “Why are there even poses this short? I know, I know,” he adds, before Eames can answer, “it’s all about the process.”

“See, you’re already learning.”

Eventually the torture of the short poses ends and the long poses begin. Arthur starts with his godforsaken stick figures and adds the flesh, sketching in the curves of calves and hips, negotiating the hollows of an underarm. The results are better than last week, but still pretty bad. His figures look… flat. Dead. Not like Ariadne’s, which look like they could spring right off the page.

“You’re already improving!” Eames tells him.

“I guess,” Arthur says.

Ariadne chirps “See you next week!” as she slings her pad under her arm and Arthur nods without thinking about it.

 

***

 

The fourth week, Eames sidles up to Arthur at the start of class and says, “Today, I want you to only draw the shadows.”

“But shadows aren’t… things.”

“Precisely,” Eames says, with the matter-of-factness Arthur is starting to realize he always imbues into his cryptic statements.

The model — this time a man, tall and olive-skinned — disrobes. Arthur has significantly more familiarity with the male form, but it turns out that doesn’t make a difference for his drawing skills. His short pose sketches are, as usual, a total fucking disaster; they look like random scribbled lines.

With the longer poses, he tries to follow Eames’s instructions and draw the shadows. He squints his eyes until everything is blurry, tries to look only at the differences between light and dark. It’s surprisingly difficult to ignore his brain’s instinct to interpret what he sees, and it feels like he’s just drawing a series of disconnected blotches, but after he’s finished a leg — and who knew that a knee had so many goddamned shadows? — he takes a step back and looks and sees… a leg. It looks more lifelike than anything he’s managed to draw before, even though it’s just a bunch of blobs. He actually feels vaguely proud when Eames praises it. It’s just a leg, and it’s not even that good. But he did it, and he couldn’t do it last week.

 

***

 

“I have literally never paid this much attention to a flaccid dick,” Arthur grumbles in week five, trying to capture the tiny shadow under the glans.

“They’re way more interesting this way, don’t you think?” Ariadne says.

“Not in my experience, no.”

Ariadne whacks his shoulder with the back of her hand. “You know what I mean. It’s got more character. Erect dicks are all like” — she affects a deep, raspy voice — “‘Hey, look at me, I’m a cock,’ but when they’re limp they’re, like, more complex. Like a John Cusack character in an eighties movie.”

“So soft dicks are like Lloyd Dobler?”

“Well, I mean, a soft dick has never worn a trenchcoat and held a boombox up outside my bedroom window—“

“There’s still time. Don’t give up hope yet.”

Ariadne snorts and they return their focus to their sketches. A few minutes later Ariadne pokes him in the side and gestures to the corner of her paper, where she has drawn a boombox balanced on the head of a flaccid penis wearing a trenchcoat. It’s actually really good, and Arthur slaps a hand over his mouth to smother the guffaw that’s threatening to emerge. Unfortunately, it’s the hand he’s been using to draw, and judging by the giggles that Ariadne immediately lapses into, his face is now covered in graphite smudges.

“You two are a bit old to be giggling at nudity, don’t you think?” Eames asks, appearing between them. He looks at Ariadne’s easel and crooks an eyebrow. Arthur and Ariadne duck their heads like reprimanded schoolchildren.

“Less chatting, more drawing. Of the model, not Lloyd Knobler over there.”

“Oh my god! Lloyd Knobler!” Ariadne whisper-shrieks and they start giggling again and fruitlessly shushing one another. Arthur would feel bad, but he’s pretty sure he sees a smirk on Eames’s annoyingly attractive face as he walks away.

When class is over, Arthur takes his phone out to photograph Lloyd Knobler. Ariadne grabs the phone and starts entering in her number.

“Don’t worry, I know you’re not into this whole business,” she says, gesturing to her body. “I just think we could hang out. You know, discuss which actors different penises resemble, that sort of thing.”

Later that night, Arthur texts Ariadne.

 

  

Erect dicks are definitely Vin Diesel.

OMG I am never going to be able to look at him again without seeing a penis

Sorry I ruined the Fast and the Furious franchise for you.

Actually I think you might have improved it

 

***

 

On Thanksgiving, Arthur shows up at Dom and Mal’s with a decent bottle of wine and a store-bought pumpkin pie, as he does every year. Mal greets him at the door (with her customary cheek kiss), takes the pie (with her customary judgmental nose crinkle) and the wine (with her customary nod of approval), and tells him, “The boys are in the living room.”

Arthur stops short in the doorway to the living room when he sees Eames sitting on the sofa, holding a bottle of beer and talking animatedly to Dom about French cinema.

“Um,” he says, eloquently.

“Oh! Hello, Arthur,” Eames says, as though he often runs into Arthur in the Cobbs’ living room. He stands up to shake Arthur’s hand. “Mallorie mentioned that you’d be coming.”

“I always come here,” Arthur says. It’s not like he’s a second-grader who thinks his teachers live in the school, sleeping in the little cubbies under their desks — he knows, abstractly, that Eames has a life outside of the classroom — but it’s still strange to see him standing here, wearing a sweater, drinking domestic beer. His hands look unnaturally clean without the graphite that’s usually caked into his skin. Arthur absently wonders if he gets manicures.

“Ah, right.” Eames scratches the back of his neck. “Well, I’m sorry if I’m crashing your holiday. Mallorie invited me when she found out I usually spend my Thanksgivings eating frozen suppers and watching reality television.”

Arthur is struck with a pang of guilt. “No, I mean, it’s fine. I just wasn’t expecting you.”

Eames gives Arthur a smile that makes him feel unaccountably warm. “Don’t worry, I won’t take your behavior today into account when determining your course grade,” he says, winking.

Arthur escapes to the kitchen to get his own beer. Though he pauses on the way, shouting back, “Wait, I’m getting graded?” Eames’s only response is laughter.

Mal tsks at him but hands him a spoon and tells him to stir the gravy.

Dinner is surprisingly normal. Dom tries to carve the turkey, and as per tradition Arthur takes over when he decides the turkey has suffered enough without the desecration of its carcass. Phillipa refuses to eat anything except mashed potatoes and James spends more time squishing his peas with his fork than actually putting them in his mouth. Eames compliments the wine Arthur brought and Arthur pretends he isn’t pleased.

When all the food has been distributed, Eames says, “So, Arthur, you work with Dom?”

“Yeah, technically he’s my boss.”

“What do you mean, ‘technically’?” Dom demands. At Arthur’s raised brow, he concedes, “Okay, fine, I get it.”

“And what is your job?” Eames asks.

“Actuarial stuff. A lot of number crunching.” Arthur shrugs. “It’s not very interesting.”

Eames swallows his mouthful of turkey and asks, “How did you decide to take an art class?”

Arthur rapidly tries to come up with a plausible lie, but his attempt is rendered moot when Dom cheerfully proclaims, “His therapist made him sign up for it to help with his anger management issues.” Mal smacks Dom’s arm and hisses something French at him.

“Thanks, Dom,” Arthur bites out, feeling his face burn.

“Has it helped?” Eames asks.

“Um.” Arthur stops glaring at Dom in order to glance at Eames, who is looking at him curiously. “I haven’t really thought about it.” Eames’s gaze continues to bore into him. “I guess it… helps me be more tolerant of sucking at something?”

Eames nods. “You strike me as the sort of person who isn’t accustomed to being less than perfect at things.”

“I kind of hate it,” Arthur confesses. “But it’s also— like, I can see that every week I’m a little better than I was the previous week. And that’s kind of awesome.” He can tell he’s blushing again.

Eames’s face breaks into a brilliant smile. “That’s what I love about teaching. Seeing people make that progress.”

“I figured you just liked looking at naked people all day,” Arthur says.

“Ah, but the models are nude, not naked,” Eames corrects.

“There’s… a difference between those two things?”

“Have you ever done nude modelling?”

Arthur barely manages not to choke on a green bean. “Um, no?”

“If you had, you’d know that the way people look at you feels quite different when you’re nude than when you’re naked.”

Eames is staring at Arthur calmly, and it’s pretty much impossible for Arthur not to imagine Eames looking at him when he’s nude, or maybe naked — pinning him in place with that piercing gaze, letting it wander across his bare skin. He’s never seen any of Eames’s art but he suspects Eames would manage to make him look interesting.

Arthur realizes he’s been silent for an abnormally long period of time. He clears his throat and decides to change the subject. “So, Mal. You never told me how you know Eames.”

“Ah!” Mal sets down her wine glass and pats at her mouth daintily with her napkin. “Eames and I met in Berlin.”

“What were you doing in Berlin?”

“Drinking, mostly,” Mal says, dreamily. “Eames made the best martini in Germany.”

“Only for you, darling,” Eames says, blowing Mal a kiss. “You were the one patron who never tried to chat me up.”

Mal scoffs. “Had I been looking for a lover, a gay bar would not have been my choice of venue.”

“Wait, that was a gay bar?” Dom asks, alarmed. “You didn’t tell me that was a gay bar!”

“Dom, my love, 90 percent of the clientele were men, and they were all dancing with each other.”

“I thought they were just compensating for the lack of women! I thought it was, like, friend dancing!”

“Most of them were shirtless.”

“It was hot in there!”

“The name of the bar was German for steel pipe.

“I thought they were going for an industrial vibe!” Dom’s eyes widen. “Oh my god, that guy who asked me if I needed a hand in the bathroom wasn’t just being helpful?”

Mal is throwing her hands up in disbelief and Eames is watching Dom’s epiphany with amusement and Phillipa and James are flinging cranberry sauce at each other and Arthur can’t help it — he bursts into laughter. He laughs so hard he has tears rolling down his face, laughs until his stomach muscles hurt, laughs harder than he has in a very long time. Gradually everyone else joins in, including the kids, who have no idea what they’re laughing at.

When the hysteria has subsided and everyone is recovering, wiping their eyes and stifling the new spasms of giggles threatening to return, Mal stands up and announces that it’s time for dessert.

“You have a lovely smile,” Eames says softly, leaning in to Arthur. “I wish I saw it more often.”

Arthur bites his lip and tries not to blush for the third time this evening. He fails.

It’s a pretty good Thanksgiving.

 

***

 

By the next time the class meets, Arthur has accepted that he has a completely cliched crush on his art teacher. It’s nothing he can’t handle; he’s a grown man.

So naturally the universe decides to toss a grenade in his path.

Eames clears his throat at the front of the room, getting the class’s attention. “Our model had to cancel at the last minute,” he announces.

Arthur moves to pack up his supplies — maybe he’ll actually get to watch one of the million “Daily Show” episodes saved on his DVR tonight — when Eames continues, “So I’ll just do double-duty today, hm?” and whips off his shirt.

Arthur drops his charcoal stick on the floor, where it shatters into tiny shards that he’ll probably step in and track all over his living room rug later. But he isn’t thinking about that right now because Eames is shirtless and he has muscles and tattoos and he’s undoing his belt and there’s no way Arthur is going to survive the evening.

By the time Eames has stripped all the way down Arthur has nervously chugged his entire cup of coffee and his whole torso feels sweaty. Ariadne is looking at him with a knowing smirk. He wonders if he’s being punished for something he did in a past life.

Or maybe he’s being rewarded, he thinks, as Eames climbs the steps to the stage and Arthur is treated to the view of his ass muscles flexing.

Except then Eames is turning to face the class and his dick is right there and Ariadne was right, flaccid dicks have way more personality. He wants to have a conversation with Eames’s cock. He wants to discuss politics with it and do the Sunday crossword with it, curled up in bed.

Arthur isn’t sure when he lost his mind, but it’s a safe guess that it was sometime around when Eames’s belt hit the floor.

He practically sobs with relief when Eames starts the pose timer, because the frenetic pace of the quick poses keeps him preoccupied, replacing sexual frustration with the more traditional kind. It’s like a switch is flipped, and he goes from ogling Eames to dispassionately observing him, trying to capture the complexity of his body in a few frenetic swipes of the charcoal.

When he switches over to longer poses, Arthur’s gaze has more time to linger on the details: the hair on Eames’s belly, leading down to his groin; the swirls of ink covering his shoulder; the dent of his collarbone; the peak of a nipple. But instead of feeling the heat of lust, Arthur feels… inspired.

(art by robinredr)

Eames’s body is beautiful, sure, but one of the things Arthur’s learned from two months of classes is that when you’re drawing, all bodies are beautiful — each one its own amalgamation of curves and straight lines, bulges and hollows, smooth and rough, dark and light. And at some point Arthur started enjoying trying (and failing) to do them justice with his clumsy pencil-strokes.

So he draws Eames: draws his broad chest and his big arms; his strong thighs; his penis, lying softly against his leg; his chin, raised high, and his plush lips, curved into a gentle smile. When he starts to sketch in Eames’s eyes, Eames winks — at him? — but he’s too busy trying to capture the precise folds of Eames’s eyelids to react.

Before he knows it, the time is up, and Eames starts to pull his clothes back on as the room fills with the rustling sounds of everyone putting their stuff away. Arthur steps back and looks at his drawing.

It’s… good. It’s not great — he’d never be mistaken for an actual artist — but there’s something about it that makes him happy. He drew this, however imperfect and clumsy it may be.

“Very nice,” Eames murmurs, looking over Arthur’s drawing. “I’m assuming you think so too, judging by the smile on your face.”

Arthur hadn’t realized he was smiling. He shrugs. “It’s okay, I guess. It’s not as good as Ariadne’s.”

“You can look to other artists to see what else is possible, but never do so to find the inadequacies in your own work,” Eames says. “I think I look quite handsome.”

Arthur shrugs again. “Yeah,” he concedes. “So you’ve done this before?”

“We all do, in art school, at one point or another. Getting extra drawing practice outside of class.”

“And at some point it stops being weird?”

“Rather quickly, actually. Perhaps you can find out by letting me draw you.”

Arthur clears his throat and desperately hopes he’s not misreading the situation. Eames is standing very close to him. “You mean, uh, nude?”

“No,” Eames says, and his eyes seem to spark. “I mean naked.”

“I’m still not sure I understand the diff—“

“He’s asking you out, dumbass,” Ariadne interjects.

“Thank you, Ariadne,” Eames says.

“Wait,” Arthur says, “aren’t there rules against student-teacher dating? Like, isn’t it inappropriate for you to sleep with someone you’re grading?”

“Arthur, this is a continuing education class. There are no grades.”

“But at Thanksgiving you said—“

“I was flirting with you, darling.”

“Oh. Then that… could probably be arranged. The, uh, naked thing.”

“Wonderful,” Eames says, handing over his phone so Arthur can put in his phone number.

Ariadne mutters “boys” under her breath as she heaves her bag over her shoulder. As she retreats she makes a gesture to Arthur behind Eames’s back that clearly means we are going to have a very detailed discussion about this.

Arthur hands the phone back to a grinning Eames and makes a mental note to buy Yusuf a really nice bottle of Scotch for the holidays.