The Artist

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Ken Billings carried his partially filled black garbage bag over to a site next to the park where a lot of people dumped their trash. It was early in the morning, and there was still dew on the grass. He liked what he was doing — it was partially a civic favor, and partially a treasure hunt. A civic favor, because he wasn’t hired to clean up the trash — he just felt good doing it, making his little area of the world tidier. And a treasure hunt because he sometimes found items that would inspire his artwork. He was quite a skilled artist, but it helped to have trinkets and doodads that might suggest a theme for his next work of art. And he had a couple of commissions that he needed to begin to paint.

As he came over the small rise that bordered the gully, he was surprised to see a good sized tarp laid out down below. It looked to be in pretty good condition. “I wonder why anyone threw that away?” he muttered as he descended the slope.

When he reached the tarp, he grabbed a corner to start to fold it. To his astonishment, as the material moved it uncovered not only the ground and grass… it also uncovered a young girl or woman.

Upon seeing him, she curled in a protective ball, fetal position, whimpering, “Please don’t hurt me. I have no money, honest!”

Even though he was shocked, he spoke softly and calmly. “I’m not going to hurt you. It looks like you might need some help. My name’s Ken. What’s yours?” He figured that identifying himself, he might establish a little rapport.

After a lot of hesitation and staying protectively curled, she replied, “Amanda. Well, Mandy.”

“Are you hurt, Mandy?”

“No, I’m not hurt… Ken, is it? I’m cold and wet, but not hurt.”

“Why were you on the ground, under this tarp, Mandy?” he asked with a curious tone.

She uncurled from her tight ball, apparently feeling that his mannerisms indicated he wasn’t a threat. “To make a long story very short, I have no money. Sleeping under this tarp was the best arrangement I could make last night.”

“Oh my gracious! You slept here overnight? You have no money, Mandy? What happened?”

Sighing, she related her story. “I got off the bus from Pittsburgh and started walking around the city. Within 2 or 3 blocks of the bus terminal, I was mugged. The guy took my purse and also my suitcase and ran away fast. At least he didn’t hurt me or anything, but I was left with only what I’m wearing.”

Ken saw she was wearing a baggy sweatshirt that had the Denver Broncos logo on it. “So are you from Denver?”

“What? No,” she answered, looking confused for a moment. “Oh this sweatshirt — I pulled it out of a clothing donation bin. It may have been a bad thing to do, but I was so cold.”

Ken could see she was shivering. “I’m sure that whoever donated the sweatshirt hoped it would be put to good use,” he reassured her. Getting practical, he asked, “When did you last eat, Mandy?”

With a small voice, she replied, “Two days ago.”

“Come on then. I know a place that has great hot soup. I’ll also get you coffee, hot chocolate, or tea,” he promised. As she got stiffly to her feet. He was ready to help her stand, if she needed it. But from her skittish body language he prudently avoided any contact with her unless absolutely necessary.

The nearby diner was brightly lit, and warm. As they entered, a smiling waitress greeted them, saying, “Hi Ken.”

“Hi Louise. This is Mandy, and she’s hungry and thirsty. Mandy, I told you the soup is terrific, but please order anything you want,” he said as they slid into seats on the opposite sides of the booth.

“The soup sounds wonderful. Can I have that, and some hot coffee?” Mandy asked, tentatively.

“Sure thing, hun. Ken? Your usual?” Louise asked.

“This time, I think I’ll also have the soup and coffee, Louise. Thanks,” he said keeping his voice cheerful.

The coffee arrived in seconds. Mandy wrapped her hands around her cup, holding it close to her face, capturing the warmth of the dark fluid as much as she could, sipping occasionally. Watching her, Ken stated, “You said you got off the bus from Pittsburgh. So is that where you live?”

Louise delivered the soup, and Mandy took a careful spoonful. For the first time, she smiled. “No, Ken. I’m actually from North Dakota. Pittsburgh was only one leg of my journey here to Virginia.” She actually giggled, the food in her stomach making her giddy. “I wanted to escape the cold of North Dakota, and ended up even colder here.”

They had one more coffee along with a slice of hot apple pie for dessert. When they’d cleaned their plates and drained the last dregs of coffee, Ken asked, “Mandy, do you have any friends or relatives in town or nearby?”

Feeling a lot more human, she grinned at him. “Ken, if I did, would I be sleeping in the park under a tarp, slowly starving to death?”

“Then come home with me for now, until we can figure out what’s best for you,” Ken said carefully, looking into her green eyes to communicate sincerity. “I erdemli escort can offer you a hot shower and I can clean your clothes. I imagine you need a few things like a toothbrush and a hair comb — things like that. We can get those at a pharmacy on the way.”

Mandy considered his offer. He hadn’t leered at her once, or made any suggestive comments. His body language signaled nothing but a desire to be helpful. In her judgment, he was what he appeared to be — a nice guy, trying to help her. She decided to accept, but tried to lighten the mood by saying, “Thanks, Ken. I guess anything is better than crawling back under that tarp, so I accept.”

They chatted about inconsequential things as they shopped briefly, then finished the walk to his apartment. It was small, but contained a living room, kitchen, studio, laundry area, bedroom and bathroom. It was also tastefully furnished and elegant. Mandy made a mental note to ask about that later. Turning to Ken, she pointed at the bathroom and asked, “OK, so how do we do this?”

The light of understanding dawned in his eyes. “Oh! Just a moment.” He went away, and quickly returned with a large bathrobe. “I suggest that you take this into the bathroom with you. Shut the door, and open it a little so you can pass me your wet clothes. Then you can wear the bathrobe until your clothes are clean and dry. Do you know if they need to be washed in hot water, medium, or cool?”

She thought for a moment, visualizing what she was wearing. “I think cold would be safest. I wouldn’t put anything stretchable into dryer heat, though. Those things can air dry.” Before she entered the bathroom, she looked him in the eyes and stated, “You’re a really great guy for helping me, Ken. Thank you.”

He smiled in return. “You’re very welcome, Mandy.” The door closed. As he patiently waited, he heard faint rustling sounds. The door then opened a slit and he saw Mandy’s face peering around the edge of the door as her bare arm came through the opening, handing him her sodden clothing.

“Is it OK if I use your shampoo?” she asked.

“Sure. Use anything you need, Mandy,” he told her. The door shut, and a few moments later he heard the sound of the shower being turned on. A little pleased, he noted that he had not heard the bathroom door being locked. He headed for the laundry area. Into the washer went the sweatshirt, a T shirt, and what was probably a sports bra. These were followed by some socks, jeans, and panties. He tried hard not to look too closely at the panties. Adding detergent and loading some softener, he started the washer’s cycle, and sat down to read a book.

About 20 minutes later, the bathroom door opened, and Mandy emerged, wearing the bathrobe and a towel wrapped around her wet hair. Smiling brightly, she almost crowed, “That was delightful! I feel like a new woman!”

“Awww, I hardly got to know the old one!” he jested, which made her laugh.

“May I have that comb and toothbrush you got for me, kind Sir?” she asked.

“Certainly. They’re right here. I was about to make myself a cup of hot tea. Would you like some?”

“That sounds perfect, Ken. I’ll be out soon,” she promised.

The washer buzzed, so Ken sorted the appropriate clothes into his dryer and activated it. The sports bra and panties he clipped to a small line to air dry. Then he went to the kitchen to busy himself, making tea. Meanwhile, Mandy was towel-drying her hair as best she could. When she’d carefully combed the tangles out of it, and brushed her teeth, she almost wept at feeling so clean again after her ordeal.

She curled herself into one corner of the sofa in the living room, chastely arranging the bathrobe around herself. Ken entered and handed her a mug of tea, asking if she’d like milk or sugar for it. She shook her head, wrapping her hands around the warmth of the mug and took a careful sip. Looking him in his dark eyes, she inquired, “So, Ken, what were you doing in the park? Other than uncovering tarps from women, of course.”

He laughed, and replied, “I was enjoying some fresh air and exercise, while looking for odds and ends that I could use in my art classes, as well as performing a civic duty of cleaning up the place.”

“Yes, I did look rather a fright, didn’t I?” she asked, a twinkle in her green eyes as she stared at him over the rim of the mug.

He blushed. “I didn’t mean… I wasn’t referring to…” A little flustered, he brushed back some of his dark hair that tumbled over his forehead.

She giggled and interrupted, “I was just kidding. I understood perfectly. So you’re taking art classes?”

He grinned. “Actually, I teach art classes. The ‘found objects’ I encounter sometimes suggest at least elements that can be used in the compositions, like an interesting shape, or details on some label… things like that.”

Mandy again looked around at his well furnished place. “You must be a very good art teacher. It looks like it pays well enough, and you show great taste in anamur escort your interior design here.”

He chuckled. “Teaching the classes is more enjoyable than profitable. My main income is from commissioned illustrations.” Seeing her lack of comprehension, he added, “Let me show you one of my sketchbooks.” He retrieved an oversize artist’s spiral bound sketch pad from his study. “This may give you the idea.”

Intrigued, she set down the mug of tea, and flipped the cover up and back. On the first page were squiggles that didn’t resemble much of anything. She looked harder at them, but didn’t achieve any better results. She flipped the page up to look at the one beneath. More squiggles, but there was a faint resemblance to a stick figure at least in some of them. The third page was a little better, but not much. Perplexed, she murmured, “I don’t know much about modern art, Ken… but…”

“Mandy, you’re still only looking at what we call ‘gesture drawings’ on the first pages. At the start of a drawing session, the model quickly moves from one gesture or pose to the next, and we only have a few seconds to try to capture the essence of the pose. It not only warms up our drawing muscles — it also frees and focuses our mind on what are the main lines of the body, like how it’s reacting to gravity. Keep looking. You’ll get to the longer poses soon.”

And she did.

After flipping several pages, she came upon a drawing of a nude male. It was done with several masterfully sketched lines, with shading to give it depth — the appearance of a third dimension. The face was drawn so artfully that Mandy felt she’d be able to recognize him upon meeting him. Other sketches depicted nude females, young and old, and clothed people as well. There were also several drawings of objects — probably the ‘odds and ends’ that Ken said he looks for as he cleans the park.

She looked at him with new eyes. “Ken, these are impressive. Excuse me for saying it, but I’m amazed. I’ve never met a real artist before. You must be a fantastic teacher. But you said something about commissioned illustrations? I’m still not sure what that means.”

Silently, he plucked a book from a set of them on a nearby shelf and handed it to her. On the cover was a tall, slender woman dressed in a black, skintight suit and black leather boots that came to the middle of her thighs. She had a brown ammunition belt strapped around her narrow waist and another strap that ran from her right shoulder, down between her breasts, until it ended at the waist belt. The latter strap drew your eye to her breasts, and emphasized their shape and size. The material clung to them, suggesting a hint of erect nipples. She had one hand on her left hip, and held a gun, pointing down, in her right hand. The expression on her face conveyed the idea that she knew how to use that gun, and was very willing to do so, if necessary.

Mandy drank in the image, and then whispered, “You drew this?”

“Painted it, actually,” he replied. “That publisher hires me to create paintings for the books’ covers. She wants them done in oil paintings, rather than using computer generated images. She says the paintings give it more a feel of realism. Secretly, I think she collects the paintings, or perhaps resells them. I don’t mind if she does, because she pays handsomely for my art. And she’s not the only publisher commissioning things from me.”

“That’s fantastic, Ken. I really mean it,” she enthused. “So you go from the sketches to an actual painting?”

“Sure. I’m working on one at the moment. Would you like to see it?” he asked, obviously pleased by her praises.

“I’d love to!” But first, Ken checked that her clothes were dry. Actually, he let Mandy finger the sports bra and panties on the line, testing if they were dry enough. Meanwhile he pulled the warm, dry clothes from his dryer.

“These will do,” Mandy pronounced, pulling her undergarments from the line. Ken handed her the rest and she retired to the bathroom once again to shed the bathrobe and don her clothing. Fluffing out her hair as she checked in the mirror, she decided she looked presentable. Emerging from the bathroom, she proclaimed, “OK! I’m ready to see your painting now.”

They went into his studio. There, on an easel, was a canvas covered by a cloth. Ken carefully removed the cloth and heard a gasp from Mandy. The image showed space, with a planet in the far left background and a spaceship overlapping it, clearly nearer to the observer. But the right side of the painting was occupied by a full sized image of a nude woman. She was looking back over her right shoulder toward the spaceship, and her right arm was back, pointing at it. The way her arms and legs were placed gave the impression of weightlessness. Great detail had been given to the woman’s facial features, her hands and feet, her breasts — including her nipples and areolae, and the cleft of her sex, just visible below her smooth mound.

Mandy cleared her throat and swallowed mersin escort hard. “It’s certainly beautiful, Ken. But are they going to publish a book with that on the cover?”

He chuckled. “It’d be nice if they would, but it’s not finished yet. Exposed like that in space, she’d quickly die. Drawing the body parts before covering them helps me accurately keep her proportions. Next, I’ll add gloves over her hands, and a blaster in her right hand, with a ray shooting from it. I’ll cover her feet with boots, and her head with a helmet that will be clear on its front and sides, so we’ll still see her face. Finally, I’ll cover her nude body with a skintight space suit that will cling to and display her breasts and sex without actually exposing them. The person viewing it will see she’s wearing a spacesuit, but will be titillated in knowing she’s not wearing a thing underneath it.”

“Wow!” Mandy gushed, visualizing the final image. “I bet that’ll sell a lot of books!”

“That’s the idea,” he agreed, laughing.

They had lunch, and then chatted, learning more about one another.

They shared dinner, and then chatted some more, enjoying the conversation. It became time for bed. “I have a class to teach tomorrow, Mandy. So I’d better get some sleep. You can have my bed, and I’ll take the sofa.”

“Nonsense, Ken. This is your home, and your sleep is important. You take the bed and I’ll take the sofa. Besides, I’m shorter than you, by a little, so I’ll fit better. One thing, though. I’d hate to sleep in these freshly cleaned clothes, and I wouldn’t be comfortable sleeping in the buff. Do you have any suggestions?”

“Hmmm… I don’t have any pajamas that will work, but I’ve got an idea.” He went into his bedroom and the sound of drawers being opened and shut could be heard. He came out displaying what was probably a very large T shirt. “Will this do?” he asked.

She accepted it from him and held it against herself briefly, looking down at it. “It’s worth a try. Thank you.” She went into the bathroom to change and prepare for bed. By the time she came out, she saw that he’d made up a sort of bed on the sofa, complete with pillow, sheets and a blanket. Mandy was touched that this nice man was going to all this trouble for her. As she walked toward him wearing the oversize shirt, he caught the merest glance of her panties, which she’d decided to leave on for modesty. Standing in front of him, she stated, “You’ve been so wonderful, caring for me and taking me in, Ken. I want to thank you once more from the bottom of my heart for rescuing me, feeding me and giving me shelter.” With that, she gave him a chaste kiss right on his lips, and whispered, “Good night. Sleep well.”

Grinning a beaming sort of grin, he also prepared for and got into his bed. They both slept well, and their dreams were pleasant.

The next morning, Mandy woke to the sounds and smells of perking coffee and sizzling bacon. Ken was obviously a morning person. “Good morning, sleepy head,” he called out. “Breakfast will be ready in about 10 minutes.” Mandy dragged herself off the sofa and into the bathroom to do what had to be done. It was more like 12 minutes before she reappeared, fully clothed and eyes at least partially opened. Ken asked how she liked her eggs and since scrambling them took hardly any time at all, she was being served while still sipping the first few sips from her coffee.

“I have an idea or two about today, Mandy,” Ken stated. “Let me know when your brain can process ideas.” She liked that about him. Not rushing into detailed conversation until she had time to come fully alert. Later, after polishing off her bacon and eggs, toast, and 2 cups of coffee, she felt ready.

“OK,” she said a little sheepishly. “As you may have guessed, I’m not much of a morning person. But I’m ready to hear your ideas now, Ken.”

“Great. How’d you like to come and observe at my art class today? After that, we can do a little more shopping… maybe get you some more clothes, and… anything else you might need.” He’d finished that last sentence a little hesitantly, and Mandy could guess why.

“You mean things like tampons, Ken?” she asked playfully.

He turned an interesting shade of scarlet. “Ummm… yeah… girl stuff,” he mumbled lamely.

“Ken, I’m a big girl and know a lot of things. It’s OK if you ask if I need tampons, or anything else. We’re both adults, and I hope no words are taboo.”

His scarlet hue faded to pink and he smiled bashfully. “OK, no euphemisms,” he agreed. “So does that sound like a plan for today?”

“Ken, I’d love to see you teach… so sure! As far as you spending more money on me… I’m not in a position to refuse, since my wallet is so empty that I don’t have a wallet. And you’re the most generous person I’ve ever met. But we need to keep track of what you’re spending, so I can pay you back sometime soon.”

“Mandy, you can think of these things as a gift or as a loan — that’s your call. But what I’m spending to me is trivial. Also, I’m really enjoying having someone to share meals with and talk to about interesting things. If you want to pitch in here and help with cooking and laundry, that would be wonderful as well. But we need to get going, so I don’t keep my students waiting.”

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