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Atelier

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Atelier: a workshop or studio, especially one used by an artist.

His studio is sparse - almost Spartan. Contents - an easel with a deep well filled with paint pots and brushes. An assortment of blank canvases of various sizes rest against one wall, a few unfinished pieces against another. The only other furnishings are things he uses to set his models or his props: a simple wooden chair, a round table, a chaise. The walls are bare and whitewashed. It isn't pretty, but it's utilitarian.

The one thing you can't ignore, however, is the light - southeastern facing with broad skylights that allow maximum exposure, truest colors, the open sky visible and not much more than that. It is his haven and one of the few places where he feels free.

He prepares his paints, his thinners, his brushes. When he's at last ready to work, he pulls the sheet covering the active canvas off and steps back to assess his progress. Clipped to the top of the easel is an enlarged photograph. It's an antique, a photo made from film and chemicals reacting with light and paper. It's photography as it once was - an art form that used to require more than creativity alone; one that demanded an understanding of process, nature and how to manipulate an image by hand. He appreciates the complexity of it.

The image on the canvas reflects the image in the photograph, a reference point in the absence of the living subject. The subject is a girl, slim with large dark eyes and a mischievous smile. She looks over her bare shoulder at the viewer, the sleeve of her dress having been pulled down flirtatiously, though her eyes betray humor. A pale blue ribbon encircles her head, giving the impression that her hair is longer and merely pulled aside.

The artist draws the wooden chair across the floor until it rests several feet away from the unfinished portrait. He sits down and ponders the image he's created from nothing more than vision, technique and memory.

The eyes in the painting watch him with the same bright fire he always saw there, challenging him to be someone other than who he pretended to be - someone he'd kept submerged for so long that he'd nearly forgotten who he was. He wishes he could thank her for the gifts she gave: her kindness, her generosity, her innocence. That was what she truly modeled every day that they shared together and he'd squandered it.

The clipped photo catches his attention, then. He stands and walks to the easel to stare at the photo. It shows the girl as she appears in the painting, but with other figures, too. It recalls a happier time when they all were younger and less aware of the world's harshness. How ironic that he considered himself worldly and wise at seventeen. Now he knows how little he knew then and guesses he doesn't know much more, even now.

The photo reflects his social circle on the day of the girl's first Ouran Fair, taken after the event was over and their continuity as a club was reaffirmed. The girl, Haruhi, is caught in a candid moment by her friend Renge, who was snapping photos like a madwoman declaring that the drama that preceded this particular photo would make record profits for them. The photo, to be sure, was never seen by anyone other than the artist who confiscated the camera immediately following the taking of the image he now observes.

Behind Haruhi, standing together and watching with interest are two tall boys - one fair, the other dark. They look suited to one another as friends often do. The blond is laughing at something somebody must have said, his smile engaging and filled with joy. The brunet watches him with amusement, like a parent indulging a child.

They are people he scarcely remembers, despite the fact that he is the dark-haired boy. So many things had changed for them all. The blond left Japan and returned to France. The others in his circle had gradually drifted apart, as often is the case with friends we think we will know forever only to discover that people, like time, move on. And the girl? The girl, now a grown woman, lives somewhere in Tokyo, but won't speak to him. His betrayal of her trust was more than she could bear.

He looks around the room. Here is where they first made love in those blush-filled days of youth, when neither of them were very experienced. He loved her then. He loves her still. But it was never enough to keep his interest. The blond always came between - a beautiful distraction. He wishes he could have been two people: the one who loved the boy for his devotion and his beauty and the girl he loved with all of his heart for everything she was and he could never be. Both satisfied his needs in different ways - body and soul, yet neither could satisfy both, simultaneously.

A deep sigh grips him. He couldn't choose between them then, and he still can't. And so, he has neither and they have one another, a friendship unsullied by the lure of the flesh, left wholesome and intact. He gets a text from each of them now and again, hears that they're doing well. He doesn't have the energy to respond, so he texts them pictures of innocuous things in his life. They certainly have read about his accomplishments in the newspaper. Or maybe that's just his hope.

It's a lonely life and he's contemplated suicide more than once. It is only the portrait before him that keeps his hand from clutching an over-sharpened palette knife and ending things. The portrait and the last actual letter the blond ever wrote to him, in long hand. All it said was "Kyo - I am ever your friend. Tam"

The artist is no longer the young man he was in the photo and his youthful friends are long gone out of his life - moved away or lost touch. He wishes he hadn't let that happen. Their warmth had sustained him at a precious time of life when everything was possible and nothing was out of reach, in their minds.

He steps back and pulls the sheet across the canvas, but not before looking once more into the eyes of the girl. A tinge of moisture, or perhaps it's merely rheum, coats his eyes and he runs a hand through the cropped gray hair on his head. He looks at the bottom of the canvas and sees the name that has earned him millions in business, but little in matters of the heart.

"Fool," he says of himself and drops the sheet, covering the canvas - the last thing he sees disappearing his pseudonym's initials - S.K. He closes the door of the studio and locks it with the only key against intrusion. Sad, but replenished, he heads down the staircase and through the empty, elegant hallway to rejoin his esteemed and notable guests in the opulent dining room below.

End - Atelier