Rena pushed the wild curl back off her sweaty forehead with the side of her arm as she set the hollow rod on the steel stabilizing frame in front of her. Her assistant, Matthew’s dark skin gleamed under the warm florescent lights as he pushed the tip of the rod into the red hot furnace and began rotating it, slow and steady.
Even with the studio doors open wide and the large fan on the ceiling rotating slowly, there was little relief from the heat and Rena’s pale skin was flushed with it. They were almost done however. The design they were working on was done by Matthew and this was their one scaled down practice before he had to execute it himself with an assistant of his own as his last project for his art degree.
He rolled the cart back and Rena snagged the hot pipe off the rack and set the end on a rack some feet away, supporting the end just above the red hot orb of molten glass. She rotated it as she blew into the end and slowly the orange blob at the end expanded.
Behind her, Matthew set out rods of blue tinted glass on a steel table where he stabilized them before fetching a small container of crushed blue glass and a torch. It was quite for once in the studio and if it wasn’t for the furnaces running, it would have been silent. The furnaces run most of the day almost every day. Between the two of them and any guests renting shop space at any given time, it was more efficient to leave them fired up.
Rena was busy blowing the last of thirteen clear glass bubbles and so when Matthew called out, “Loki’s here!” She could only glance up to the man who at the moment looked only vaguely like the character Matthew insisted on calling him by.
“Has she eaten today? Or you for that matter?” Tom asked, scratching at the stubble on his chin for a moment as he always did coming into the studio when the furnaces were running. He’d once told her when she asked why that it was the heat and humidity mixed that simply made him break out into a sweat instantly. Somehow that resulted in his chin having an itch when stepping inside.
It warmed her heart that he asked after Matthew as well as her. He was a good man, a kind man and she couldn’t even begin to guess what she had done to be blessed enough to have him in her life. Somehow, she caught his eye and her obsessive work schedule hadn’t sent him running. Yet.
His curls were dyed dark for his latest project and allowed to grow out. It was a look while only slightly reminiscent of Matthew’s favorite role, Rena was fond of. The dark color of his hair often left his skin looking cool and his lack of a tan at the moment didn’t help. The harshness of the look was lessened by the smile on his face and the flush that quickly climbed his cheeks as he moved into the hot room.
“I grabbed some Subway earlier. I don’t think Miss Rena’s left all day. I threw a bottle of water at her an hour ago but it’s still sitting in the reject bin.”
“Why’s it in the reject bin?” Tom absently asked, coming closer to examine Matthew’s work. The young man had talent and even in the few short months Tom had been hanging around the studio he had been able to watch as his art grew and evolved. Glassblowing was an art so outside of Tom’s frame of reference that he seemed to never grow bored watching them work.
“That’s where it landed.” Rena answered, picking up the rod with the glass ball now about the size of Tom’s head and whipping it through the air as if it was some staff and not a steel pip with a ball of still soft glass that would leave extensive burns behind if she made one wrong move. With each whip of the pole, the ball shifted and contorted just a little more into a raindrop.
Tom nodded, as if that made sense while he watched Matthew melt the ends of the thin clear rods and dip them in the powdered blue glass. Before the torch was turned back on to melt the powder he asked, “So you’ve not eaten?”
“I had breakfast. Got caught up making a castle around lunch and forgot. I had a sandwich about an hour ago though.”
Tom walked, chuckling at her meager excuse for a dinner toward her while carefully watching his step. He’d learned early on that the studio was a minefield on some days with shattered glass and broken projects left on the ground in a fit of frustration.
She was a vision to him. Her tank-top was soaked through in places with a mixture of sweat and the water she often dumped over herself throughout the days. Her dark wavy hair was pulled back into a messy bun that somehow still looked just as it should be. The dark blue paint on her nails glittered in the light as set the rod down on a flat work table with the glass hanging off the edge. She rolled the rod and grabbed a soaked bundle of newspaper.
“Can I help?” Tom asked, rather than saying what he really wanted to say which was that she was more beautiful in her element than any of her stunning creations though he could never understand how that was possible.
“Roll the rod?” And so he did as he watched her run the dripping newspaper under the bubble, refining its shape ever so slightly. Each time she pulled the paper away embers glowed where the paper burned away but she was unconcerned and though Tom had seen this before, it always amazed him that the glass was crystal clear and not marred by ash. This was her element and she was bending the glass to her will.
When she told him to stop, he held the rod steady. By now, the thin glass orb was cooling and becoming stiff though still far too hot to handle with bare hands alone. With one hand on the rod, she handed him a pair of thick leather mitts.
“Oh, Loki’s playing catcher today?” Matthew called from where he was shutting down the furnaces. With all the pieces fabricated and it getting late, there wasn’t a reason to keep them burning. Tomorrow they would assemble the pieces once the glass was cool “Dude, don’t drop it.”
Without much of a choice in the matter, Tom was directed to the end of the rod where he couched down with tan leather mittens covering his hands, reaching up almost to his elbows. He’d seen Matthew and Rena do this countless times but he was terrified of mucking it up and dropping the fragile bubble just the same.
He watched as Rena grabbed a pair of large tongs from a bucket of hot water and ran their tips around the base of the bubble, where it narrowed and connected to the pipe before asking, “Ready?”
“Not really, no.” Tom answered in all seriousness only to have Matthew laugh from across the room. This was a terrible idea, he was sure of it.
She picked up a chunk of wood and with a solid whack, it clanked on the side of the rod once. There was a crack that filled the air and in an instant one very hot, very thin bubble of glass fell into his hands and he let out a breath.
“Come on.” Rena was up and leading him toward the annealing ovens in the back. She was moving quickly and he was struggling to keep up. It was like she forgot that he was carrying a glass orb that was dangerously hot and that if he dropped it there would be a mess of shattered glass on the ground rather like the one to the left he almost stepped in.
Matthew had the oven door open as Rena veered to the side and shut down the main lights. Tom carefully set the glass orb inside as if it was a bomb primed to explode with the slightest nudge.
“Miss Rena, we need to make Loki a tesseract.” Matthew grinned like it was a completely original idea. Yet Tom had to smile because if they made him a glass tesseract he was sure it would be a breathtaking piece of artwork far better than any prop he had used with Marvel.
“Let’s get you graduated first.” Rena laughed and the sound was music to Tom’s ears as it danced around the concrete studio, seeming to fill the space.
It amazed him the beauty that could be found in the simple concrete room with the dull gray walls and floors. The first time he had been here, it was early in the morning and he was picking up a gift for his sister that their mother had commissioned. The studio had seemed so cold when Matthew took him inside. The furnaces had been off and the lights turned off. Only the light from outside streamed into the room and the overcast sky hadn’t done their studio any benefits ascetically though he soon learned how much the cool days were valued.
But then he heard her chuckle in delight as she pulled something out of the large oven that must have turned out just as she wanted and everything about the room seemed to change in his eyes. It was as if creative fairies were drawn to the sound of her laugh and danced around the room, bringing it to life as Matthew powered on furnaces and their warm glow added light to the room.
Now, it didn’t matter how early he visited the studio. It didn’t matter if the furnaces hadn’t been lite in days. There was nothing that could banish the warmth he found in the studio. It didn’t matter because now he knew that this was where her creativity lived, where she took glass and twisted and shaped it to her will.
As Matthew climbed the rather rickety ladder that lived near the ceiling window, Rena went to the large shop sink and turned on the tap. It was Matthew’s job to climb the ladder and open and close the custom ceiling window as needed. That window, Rena had once told Tom, did more to vent the heat that builds up in the shop than the large doors that were left open all day regardless of the weather outside.
Tom watched as Rena ended her day as she always did- by shoving her head under the cool stream of the water until she felt the day had been rinsed from her. Tom couldn’t do that- the way the water streamed down her face would have caused him to pull his head out from under the stream. Rena however remained under the stream until her hair was soaked through and she felt like all the sweat was rinsed from it, than longer still.
She scrubbed at her arms, neck, chest and shoulders, washing away the sweat from the day. It wasn’t a replacement for a shower but left her feeling human enough to leave the studio. She blindly turned the water off before wiping it from her face.
Tom couldn’t say if she knew that he watched her, mesmerized by her end of day routine. Matthew noticed and sat midway down the ladder with a small smile. With a shake of his head, he came the rest of the way down to take his own place at the sink, running cool water over his own dark mass of tightly packed curls.
“I’ll lock up.” He mumbled from under the stream of water leaving Tom amazed he hadn’t choked on any water in the process.
Stepping outside of the studio was always refreshing but today was a bit cooler than normal. They walked hand in hand down the winding path through the garden. Tom told her of his day, of the interviewers who wanted to pry into if he was dating anyone and he dodged. They hadn’t been public yet and thus far had been careful to keep their relationship, young as it is, private in order to allow what was between them to grow unhindered by the public eye.
Once on the street, her hand slipped from his as it so often did. This time however, Tom was quick to snatch it back up. “Rena?”
“It’s dangerous out there.” She laughed at him though he was going to great measures to school his face.
“Yes, the crickets are mighty aggressive this time of year.”
“They are. I’d feel much better if you let me walk you home.”
“Someone will see us.” Rena bit her lip and looked down. “And I look a fright.”
“Let them see us. Let them know that a beautiful artist has captured my heart and my soul with her stunning beauty.”
“What will they say about you?” Rena motioned to herself, wet hair quickly drying to a frizzy mass of waves and sweat mixed with water causing her shirt to cling to her back. “I look like shit. They’ll talk about how terrible it is for you to-”
“You look beautiful. A creative vision in the night. The fantasy I hadn’t known I was looking for and now can’t imagine my world without.” He couldn’t keep his face straight and this time when she laughed at him, he joined her. He was being over the top, knowing that though he meant every word of it, she found such grand words beyond her. In truth, they made her nervous, she was an artist not a poet and worried she’d never be able to tell Tom just how much she truly cared for him already.
She stepped away and he stepped toward her, wrapping his arm around the small of her back as if he couldn’t feel the lingering dampness. “You are so full of shit.” Laughing, she slapped his chest before looking around and making sure no one was watching them. “There’s a guy with a big ass camera.”
Tom looked behind him. “So there is.” Yet he didn’t let go.
“They’ll get pictures.”
“Are you ashamed of me?” He asked softly, knowing or perhaps hoping that she wasn’t. A small smile tugged at the corners of his lips, drawing them up in a peaceful smile as he gazed down at her.
“No- but I look like a mess. Tom, what will they say? Be serious.”
Slowly, he leaned down and brought his face closer to hers. “They’ll say how damn happy I look.” His whispered words left his soft lips brushing against hers as he spoke.
“They’ll say I don’t deserve you.” She mumbled into his lips as they moved just a hair closer, teasing her with the breath of a kiss.
“It is I who doesn’t deserve you.” He answered before removing her ability to debate her point further. The kiss was soft, sweet and full of love not yet given proper voice though it grew by the day within their hearts just the same.
Come morning, the gossip rags would feature their pictures on the front page and talk of Tom finding himself a normal girl and sweeping her off her feet. The world would see their love filled kisses and pictures of Tom slipping into her front door in the night paired with him spotted leaving in the morning, disheveled and wearing what looked to be the same suit after sharing a kiss on the doorstep. There was no doubt that the internet’s boyfriend had found himself a girlfriend.