JUST FRIENDS PREVIEW: Chapter 2

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Coming September 22nd!


Chapter 2

He saw her the moment he entered the café. In fact, he entered the café because he saw her through the window, ordering a cup of tea while chatting with the barista.
It was the way she moved. Gracefully, but wholly unaware of how effortlessly pretty she was. Then again, Zachary Feldman thought most women were pretty to some degree or another. He was trained to see the beauty in everyone. Sometimes the greatest muses were the ones other artists decried as nothing special.
It also wasn’t until that moment that he realized he had been in an artistic slump. Because the moment he saw the young woman toss her giant bag of office supplies into one of the white chairs, Zack knew he had to draw her.


People got weird about being drawn, however. If Zack wanted to indulge, he would have to be stealthy about it. Starting with entering the café as if he went there every day, when in truth he must have passed Opal’s several times a week and never once thought to go in. Not his fault it was located right between the marina and his apartment a few blocks away.
But instead of heading straight to his yacht to do some sketches, Zack decided to follow the muse where she led him. And ignore the other muse blowing up his cell phone with texts and voicemails. I’ll get back to you later, Stef. Some of his muses grew clingier than others.
The woman he had his sights on was in her own world and hardly paid him any attention. Good. That made it easier to take advantage of the situation instead of possibly taking on yet another woman who didn’t know how to let go.
Yet like how Zack saw beauty in every person, he also saw inspiration in the most seemingly random and mundane objects. Since the barista was busy in the kitchen, Zack approached the case and counter with a methodical eye that searched every curve of metal, every flake of fake marble, and every sharp corner of kitchen appliances and decorations for even the slightest bit of inspiration.
Zack glanced up and caught another woman’s reflection in the shine of the display case. Hunched over, she diligently worked from a few pieces of papers and a notebook beneath her hand. A dictionary was opened next to her. Either Chinese or Japanese.
He ordered the first baked good to tempt him and a latte to go with it. He had foregone coffee back home in favor of having some on his yacht. This would do well instead.
Too bad he had to start answering those texts the moment he sat down – with a good view of the woman at her other table of course – and opened his drawing pad.
“Where r u bb?” Stef hadn’t shut up for the past ten minutes. “We doin anything 2nite? Maybe some inspiration? ;) ;) ;)”
Sighing, Zack punched in a response. “Not tonight, babe. Catching up on other work.” He temporarily blocked her after that. He knew how she would respond. It was how she always responded. “What??? You kiddin’!!!”
No, he wasn’t kidding. Truth was, he was bored with Stef, and had been for a few weeks. They didn’t have an exclusive relationship, though. Good thing, because Zack was the type to bounce between a different woman every weekend. Hell, every day if he had the stamina. (He often did.) A man had to do something with his days when he wasn’t sailing or creating.
But sometimes women caught him off guard. Like the woman constantly scratching at her ponytail and sighing over a dictionary.
She was both like all the other women he lusted after, and yet nothing like them at all. Zack wanted to sit next to her, to ask her questions, to put ideas of them getting dirty in the bunk of his yacht into her ear. But he also wanted to keep a respectful distance, to watch how she moved, how she spoke, and how she interacted with the big blue world around her. Even if she only commanded her microcosm of whatever the hell it was she did at her lonely little table.
Zack wiped the tip of his pencil clean using nothing but his thumb and forefinger. Lead smudged his skin. He didn’t care. Perhaps it would add a little more character to his project.
You, my dear. He reveled in calling her that without her  knowing. You’re my project.
He wanted to capture her on paper. It wouldn’t be his magnum opus as an artist, but it would hopefully get his creative juices going enough to send him back to his studio and get started on the kind of project that took a week to complete. I haven’t had one of those in a while. Perhaps it was a good sign for the summer. Things had been slow in the creativity department.
Probably because he had spent more time mindlessly chasing tail instead of working. His best friend Seth, also an artist, told him that it was going to catch up with his work one day. Which was rich coming from a guy who fell in love with his muse. But he’s often right about those things. Not that Zack would ever let Seth know that. Might go to his head.
Shut up and start drawing.
That worked.
Zack’s latte cooled, since he soon forgot it was there. Same for the lemon cake, which grew staler the longer he sketched the woman sitting not so far away. He did his best to capture the wisps of her hair, pulled back into a needless ponytail. What was the point of wearing her hair like that in an air-conditioned café? Wouldn’t it be better to let it flow free around her pretty face? Her style choices were interesting as well. Not many women could do the denim shorts and flannel top thing and not look like a try-hard hipster. Her clothes and subsequent style naturally suited her. She was wearing those clothes before they were cool. Maybe she really is a hipster…
It was a simple sketch. One his advisor in art school would have called “pedestrian” and “it’s always good to practice, isn’t it?” That man never cared for Zack’s sketches, anyway. He was more interested in what Zack could mold, be it with clay, stone, or even wood. There wasn’t a single art medium Zack wouldn’t try, although after ten years of intensely going at this whole art thing, he definitely had his favorites. Wood was not high up there.
Neither was sketching or painting, truth be told. But Zack’s best ideas flowed when he put images down on paper first.
He didn’t bother with a lot of shading. Nor did he draw anything below the table, opting to instead depict the young woman as she looked – hand on head, elbow on table, pencil thumping against her dictionary as she inevitably gave up on whatever she worked on.
What’s keeping you from working, my dear? Those were the kinds of questions Zack asked his subjects when he attempted to crack their hardened veneers. What’s got you so tense? Is it money? What’s it like to worry about how you’re going to pay your rent? Zack had never worried about that, but he admitted that kind of life – on the other side of the mirror, as it were – was like for those forced to live it.  Is your work hard? What are you working on? Translating? Writing from scratch? Or are you studying for school? Ah, I don’t mean to be rude when I say you look a bit old for a student. In a good way, though. I’m tired of college co-eds. Zack was finally reaching that age, he supposed.
His phone buzzed with a new text. The message was from Seth.
“Dinner on your yacht?”
Seth was never that direct, unless he was chewing his best friend out.
“Pplleeeassssseee??”
What the fuck? Zack wanted to laugh if it wouldn’t disrupt his workflow. That kind of text was so uncharacteristic for the uptight ex-doctor who gave up his whole private practice to pursue his true calling in the arts. Seth would choke on his own brushes before texting that to any man, let alone Zack, who would never let him live it down.
“Sure, Judith.” It must have come from his girlfriend. How Judith got a hold of her boyfriend’s phone like that, Zack didn’t want to know. I kinda do. Again, distractions.
When Zack put his phone down again, he noticed his new muse was gone. Her stuff remained behind, however. She must have gone to the bathroom.
Just as well. Zack had shit he needed to do. He shoved his lemon cake into his bag and took a big gulp of his latte. The last thing he did, after putting the rest of his supplies away, was rip the sketch out of the pad and approach the barista rearranging the case.
“Could you give this to the young lady over there?” he said. “I’d appreciate it.”
The barista looked between the sketch and the man who drew it. “But, this is…”
“I don’t need it.” Zack lowered his sunglasses and turned toward the door. “I got all the inspiration I need, thanks.”
The sun was warm on his skin and the air smelled of the marina only a few more blocks away. To go home to start working… or the marina to play?
Zack loved that his day became unpredictable. No other kind of life was worth living.

***

Rachel returned from the bathroom, a bit crestfallen that the handsome stranger was gone. So much for the eye candy. Did this mean she had to get back to work?
Apparently not.
“Hey, Rachel.” Parvati approached her table even though a small line formed at the counter. A piece of paper was in her hand. “You know that hot guy sitting over there?”
“Uh, yeah? What? Did he stiff you? Harass you?” Rachel knew it. Men that hot never kept their business to themselves.
She did not expect to see a sketch of herself land on top of her mobile office.
“He told me to give this to you before he left.”
Rachel snatched the drawing paper and held it between both hands. Her eyes widened to see her at work, pretending to ignore Mr. Hot Artist as if he were a man who could be ignored.
He was drawing me that whole time? He… noticed me? He acknowledged my presence?
And he never even said hello?
“What an asshole!” That sneer echoed off the café walls. The two other patrons, each minding their own business, looked up at her. “Least he could’ve done was introduce himself!”
Parvati rolled her eyes. “I’ve gotta get back to work. Have fun with your own. You should frame that, by the way. It’s pretty good, huh?”
While she took a middle-aged woman’s order for a hazelnut latte, Rachel continued to stare, dumbfounded, at the way a total stranger had decided to depict her.
Then she marveled at how big his balls were. Because only a guy with big balls could have thought it acceptable to not only sketch a stranger, but to give her the sketch as well!
No name. No phone number.
Just the slight scent of his cologne. A bit of musk mixed with a hint of something that smelled like pure sea air.
Rachel’s heart and mind vied over what was going to break first. Her brain won. 

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