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His Bloody Rose

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I tapped furiously at my keyboard on my computer. It's the middle of the night, almost 2:30 in the morning, and I have this stupid project due in the morning.

My head perked up as I heard my coffee maker beep. I sighed and decided a break was a break, at least.

I followed the trailing scent of freshly brewed coffee down the hallway to the kitchen. I felt dreary, and loopy, and ready to sleep. But my stupid procrastinating butt managed to "forget" to write the ending paragraph for an essay due tomorrow morning at 11:00 A.M.

Well, more like two or three paragraphs.

Well, maybe more than a few paragraphs.

Okay, the entire essay.

Fuck college, man.

I glanced at the time on my coffee maker. 2:38 AM. I have less than four hours to complete this essay before I have to leave for school. Then I have a two hour bus ride out to my college, then I have to work until 11, then turn in my half-assed essay. Granted that's if I manage to print it out in time too.

I groaned, rubbing my head as a headache began to develop. I walked to the fridge and grabbed some creamer, hoping to prepare my coffee quickly so I can finish this essay and get at least an hour of sleep to go about my day.

Grabbing a snack out of the fridge, I pour my coffee and make my way back to my room.

Today looks like it'll be hell if I don't play my cards right. . .

-

I walk into the gallery at 8:30 in the morning. I set my stuff down and go about turning on all the lights. I glance around and take in the paintings that have been hanging for the past month. I've seen them all already, not that I've memorized the artist's name or really care. He paints nude women or super imposes their nude photographs onto canvases and paints abstract work around them. Especially after listening to him talk at the opening night, it sounded more as an excuse to portray women's naked bodies for the pleasure of seeing them.

The art department doesn't always select the best artists, in my opinion. But then again, that's my opinion.

I rub my aching head as I recall his story behind one piece hanging thankfully out of sight. A photo of a woman standing with her legs together, hands at her side, staring at the audience, completely nude, blonde hair swept back so her breasts were exposed, no emotion in her face, body cut and pasted onto a picture of an empty street in front of a shop, stained with yellows and browns to give it all a dingy look to it. The story behind that piece was about the artist's family member knowing someone who's kid died of a drug overdose after doing too many drugs on the streets. The piece was supposed to be about how the use of drugs are bad and no one should use them, and the artist chose a young adult woman in front of a shop when the person who died was a late-teens boy that did drugs in an alley.

This most annoying thing to me is every piece in the room was over $1,000 each. Some with a price of $15,000 or more. It irked me because the work didn't feel like there was any soul put into it.

I either don't understand art myself, or the repetitive copy-paste models that look alike don't really shout "artistic statement" to me. Structure, okay. Composition, okay, but often messy. Subject, far too many young adult women with exactly the same body types. Colors, always very muted and very yellow.

I glance at some of the statues the artist did, having taken casts of all his models and rebuilt them using plaster and miscellaneous materials. I frown at the blue statue in the middle of the room, the fact it's a nude adolescent always bothers me whenever I come in here.

I really don't like this artist. Or his work.

"Ahem."

I leaped out of my seat and turn to look towards the door. A man stands there, with a friendly-looking smile on his face, leaning in to look at me despite the glass doors being propped open and being transparent glass.

At first glance, he seemed a little odd. He was dressed very nicely; formal pants and shirt covering his form perfectly, a matching coat left hung open to combat the cold morning outside. His fine clothes perfectly matched his face, a sculpted-looking jaw fit his face like he was a model for a fashion company. He looked like he could be in his thirties, crows feet just beginning to be visible by the eye I could see, but the one to my left - his right eye - was covered by his hair. It was combed straight over his eye, not his entire face. It caught my attention at first, a man in his potential thirties and still hiding his eye behind his bangs. Then I shook it off mentally, it was a college, and early morning college to boot. Literally anything goes.

"Excuse me, I was wondering if you could point me in the direction of the office, ma'am."

A European accent danced across my ears and I perked up. My mind initially began to try and discern what kind it was, but I quickly brushed off the impulse and stood up.

"Sorry, I hope you weren't standing there too long." I said as I walked from the glass desk to the door.

"No need to apologize, I had just walked in. I wasn't certain who was hear this early."

I shook my head. "Not many people except for some early morning classes, unfortunately."

"No rest for the artists, to borrow the phrase."

I walked out the door and gestured he follow. As I pass him I notice a very nice smelling cologne, something I'm not used to in an environment of twenties-something college kids.

Across from the gallery entrance was a map of the large art building and all the different forms of art - save dancing - that were crammed in. I pointed to the second floor of the map and pointed to where we were standing.

"You got unlucky where you walked in," I chuckled to myself. "The gallery is literally on the other side of the building, down to the right here, from the office in the top left on the second floor."

"I see." He laughed too. "I'll have to keep that in mind. Which door is it, then?"

"Quite literally the last door across from the stair door. Right next to a giant window overlooking the rest of the campus. If you walk down this hallway you'll see a large staircase that will take you to the second floor. A little further down is the elevator, if you need it."

He smiled at me, wider than his friendly smile before. "Thank you, miss. You are quite a helpful worker."

I laughed a little. "Don't worry, you're not the first person to get lost in the arts building. You're certainly nicer than some I've had come in here."

"Have a good rest of your morning, ma'am." He said as he turned on his heel and began walking down the hallway.

A black leather portfolio caught my eye, tucked under his left arm, arm swinging slightly with him as he walked. His loafers clicked almost delicately along the linoleum, a strangely soothing and cathartic sound after hearing so many squeaking of tennis shoes through the halls. It made me realize how I had never seen anyone as well dressed or as well taken care of as him, walking along the hallways so casually.

I shook my head slightly as I turned to walk into the gallery again. I can't help my perceptiveness sometimes. I'll pick up on the slightest detail, which is helpful in some cases, but not often when I've just met someone - especially someone I doubt I'll meet again.

I sit back down at the glass desk, mind swimming with the details I picked up from that man. I did not need this, not today. People are exhausting, and I don't need more exhaustion.

I pull out my laptop to see if I can review and fix anything else on my paper last minute, hopefully I can get the printer in the office working long enough.

-

I pull the pages off the printer and look over them. Crisp ink, warm and malleable pages, words neat and pristine looking back at me. I glance over what I've written once more, hoping to catch one last mistake or incorrect idea before the dreaded turn in time.

I let out a little breath and organize the pages, patting them all neat and precise in a pile. I set them on the desk carefully as I go to get the stapler I keep in my bag. Whatever is in the essay is in the essay. Everything is now up to the grading gods, i.e. the professor.

I pick up the small pile, tapping it in place to ensure all the pages are neat and perfectly centered together, thumbing through them one last time to ensure they are all in order, then tapping them again to even them out one last time.

I may have quite the issue with making sure everything is as it should be.

Or a neat freak, as some might call me.

The sound of the stapler is loud in the silent room. It reverberates off the cement floor and white walls briefly before silence consumes the room once again. I sigh internally, I do not like loud noises, even when I brace for them.

I sit down at the desk and put my essay along with my stapler in my bag, careful not to rumple the pages or catch the staple and tear anything.

I turn towards my laptop, closing out of the word program, out of the printing window, out of the pdf I was using for research, and the hundred-odd tabs of the same purpose.

I open firefox, having accidentally closed it, and go to YouTube. Maybe watching something will calm my nerves. But not too calm, I still have a class to go to.

I pull out my earbuds and plug them into my computer, scrolling down the recommended feed to see what I might want to watch.

A knock catches my attention.

"'Scuzé?" I hear from the doorway.

I glance up, seeing the man I had helped before standing before me. He no longer wears the smile from before, just a slight smirk stretching towards his ear.

"Forgive me for intruding again. I'm afraid the person I'm meeting with isn't here yet. Would you mind if I wait here?"

"Of course not! That's what the gallery is for, after all. It's meant to let people explore art at their leisure."

He glances towards the art I had been mentally critiquing all month long, and while he still held a smile I could almost see something of a grimace cover his face.

"Ah, thank you." He says, but the kindness has left his voice.

He takes a step inside, then glances around. He walks towards the desk I'm sitting at, holding his portfolio in both hands. The scent of his cologne washes over me as he approaches, and I'm embarrassed to admit how nice it smells. I'm not generally one for artificial scents, but his was oddly calming and comforting.

"Do you mind if I leave this on your desk while I look around?"

"Feel free!" I say, trying to sound enthusiastic and not sleep-deprived. "I know how it feels walking around holding onto portfolios or even large sketch pads with nowhere to set them down."

He laughs slightly, and sets the portfolio down on the desk gently, then turning and walking towards one of the canvases by the door. I feel my curiosity peak, making me want to look inside. I wondered if he's looking to be a teacher here in the arts department. Or maybe he wants to do a gallery show here.

Oh god, please let it be the gallery show. I have had such issues with this current installment, I'm almost certain nothing could be worse than this. Maybe straight up porn would be worse.

"Are these your works?" The mans voice cuts me out of my thoughts. I glance up to see him slightly turned towards me and pointing to a painted canvas with a nude woman lounging in a field of sorts.

"Oh, no, sorry." I bite my tongue, having almost said Oh god, no.

A weird look passes over his face. Almost as if shifting emotions or masks for an audience. Or almost as though relief had passed his face before he corrected himself.

"The artist's statement is on the wall over here," I point to a hanging piece of foam with a printed statement from the artist, "if you want to learn more about the artist."

The man smiles politely and nods. "Thank you, I will certainly get to that soon."

I sit back in my chair, turning back to my computer. I put in my earbuds, selecting a video I've watched a few times before, and just tried to keep my eyes open. I grab at my coffee thermos and sip gingerly from it. This much coffee was bound to make me sick, but I can't wait until I can go home and pass out for 12 or more straight hours.

The well-dressed man made his way around the room slowly, as though trying to study and absorb all of the pieces. I saw him in my peripheral either tucking his knuckles under his chin and supporting the arm with his other hand, or walking with his hands behind his back. It was obvious he took art and its imagery very seriously.

I would catch him glancing at me from time to time, eyes focusing on me briefly, but I couldn't discern - or care - if he was gauging whether to steal or deface the work. I made sure he knew I was keeping an eye on him; difficult not to when the desk has a vantage point of the whole small gallery.

He finally made his way to the piece I disliked most, and then to the artist statement. He looked over it carefully, reading each sentence thoroughly. He stood there, hands resting behind his back, almost motionless.

When I glanced at him, the smile he had been wearing had disappeared. A taught line on his lips showed what was either his fight against a frown or a grimace.

He hummed slightly, turning to the desk and putting his hand in his pocket. He pulled out his phone and glanced at the screen, unlocking the phone and fiddling with it for a moment. Then he frowned slightly.

"What are your thoughts on the gallery?" He asked coolly, keeping his even and pleasant tone.

"My thoughts?" I pulled my earbuds out and paused my video.

"Yes. I'm curious how this gallery is being received." He pulled up a chair by the table. "Even if you are simply the attendant, you must have your thoughts on this work."

"I suppose it's all right." I tried to match his inflection, failing horribly.

"Oh? Simply all right?" He pressed, smoothing his gloved hands over his portfolio, making me itch to see what was inside again.

"Well, the men seem to like it, for obvious reasons. The women tend to have issues with it for the same reason."

"And you?"

"I... it's generally not my favorite." I look over to the statues in the room. "While I understand each artist has their niche and style, this particular art I'm simply not fond of. The meanings behind the pieces don't resonate or come across, and the color palettes are just not my preferences."

He leaned forward as he listened, crossing one of his legs over the other as he got comfortable.

"Personally the pieces don't generally strike me as story telling or having messages behind them. They seem too... repetitive? Each picture is different, but the formula is exactly the same. Even the compositions seem similar each time."

A smile crossed the mans lips as he looked at me intently.

"Oh, excuse me." I put my fingertips over my mouth and forced a quiet giggle. "I didn't mean to ramble. I'm rather passionate about art. I have issues with too much repetition from artists sometimes, but it's not up to me to discern what's art or not. That's what makes things art, of course."

The man leaned onto the desk, elbow resting gently on it and arm crossed behind his portfolio. His polite smile was back, though something shimmered behind his grey-green eyes. His smile tugged to one side, showing the wrinkles in the corner of his eyes.

"Forgive me, I haven't introduced myself yet." He held out his hand across the table.

I extended my right hand, his leather glove firmly grasping my hand and shaking it. "I'm Rose. Rose Olian."

"I'm Stefano." He said smoothly, a gleam coming to his eye. "Stefano Valentini."