The Journal Entries

Aldea, Nenim 16, 03199

A Pleasing Shape, Chapter 8: Equilibrium

Darzi spent the next two months working on still-life paintings. He did one a week, on small canvases, although he did another of his beloved hallway in the still autumn light. He attended classes where Madame Quenilda alternated between urging him on to greater techniques and excoriating him for the lack of passion in his work. "A great artists sees even a broken heart as material," she had said one evening. Darzi had left early.

He had the sense not to get drunk again; it only discouraged him further. Instead, he stayed home and set up his easel in the bedroom. Jouet awkwardly pushed herself into a sitting position on her bed with the same quiet interest she had shown since his fight with Peren. He put on his padd for a moment, flitted through interfaces until he found holos of Peren, chose a pose he had not yet painted, and set to work. He managed to create the most basic rough sketch, a simple collection of gestural studies that were intended to capture the motion she might be making, before he threw the charcoal pencil across the room, sat down on his bed, and began crying.

Eventually, his tears subsided to the point where blowing his nose became a priority. "Darzi, why don't you talk to her?"

Startled, he looked up. Jouet was looking at him, her own eyes surprisingly wet.

"I didn't know you could cry."

"I didn't know how much I could feel, Darzi. But you have to go talk to her. Surely you are over me?"

Darzi smiled through the trembling in his jaw. He crossed the room and joined Jouet on her bed, touching her face the way Peren had said once that she liked. "Jouet, you just get more interesting, not less. Why would I be over you?" He felt jittery as he spoke, as if all he was doing was spinning a line to get laid and might blow it with a word. This was Jouet, though. He was stuck with her.

"Because you have not had sex with me for months. And I miss that. But I miss your relationship with Peren more. Surely this is ready to try again?" She casually tapped his crotch with an outstretched finger.



"But I thought you were supposed to do what I wanted."

Jouet shook her head. "No, I'm supposed to do what you need. I saw how much pain you were in that night with Peren. Your problem was relying too much on me. You may rely on me when--" She froze silent for a moment. "When you no longer need to."

"That's not fair!" he said.

"Life isn't fair. I read that somewhere."

Darzi swore and nearly hurled himself off the bed. "Why do I even keep you around, then?"

"Because," she said, the musical tones reminding him of Peren far too readily, "Someday we may have a working relationship again." She smiled at him, a surprisingly natural smile. It was the kind of smile Peren had after a hard day of practice and passion and work. It was a smile of worth.

Driven out of his own bedroom by his anger, Darzi cast his eyes over the wreckage of this life. He had fugued at least once before, and had only a letter to tell him anything at all. He knew nothing at all about the Darzi who had written the letters. Even the promise that he had a past seemed deceptive. He glanced up at his latest painting, a simple still-life, and saw the shallow, dead promises hidden within it.

He reached for his padd and pulled up an image of his first painting of Peren, the classic nude, with her red-gold fur and melancholy colors and shy, beautiful smile. Peren was shy underneath her boisterous camouflage, afraid to be found wanting if she showed too much of herself.

Darzi's hand hesitated over the padd. A simple phone call wasn't good enough. He couldn't pretend that they'd just go back to being artist and model again. He wanted more from her. He wanted her fire, he wanted her passion, he even wanted to see her fear and put it down in oil and brush. "I'm going out," he said.

He cared that Jouet cared.

The walk to Peren's apartment didn't take long, but the double flight of exposed brick stairs to her apartment winded him. He took a deep breath. The entire trip may have been wasted, Peren might not even be home.

The door opened before he knocked. "Darzi?"

"Hi. Sorry. I forgot... I was wondering-- " His face flushed, his mouth turned dry. "I've been trying to paint for a couple of days, but... that doesn't seem to be working for me either. I was wondering if you'd model for me. Again."

"What, right now?"

"Well, I... I hadn't-- I didn't plan this out. I just wanted to ask."

She gave him a wan smile and shook her head. "Fah, Tower, what am I going to do with you? How many second chances do we want to give this?"

"I dunno. One more? A lot more?"

"Yeah. Why not? Let me grab my stuff. Wait here." He stood out on the stoop, and she eventually returned from inside with her white overcoat, a duffel over one shoulder and what looked like a soft guitar case over the other.

"What is that?"

"My new instrument. My brother got it for me. I'll show it to you when we get to your place."

The light in town changed as they walked back. Dusk settled over the town, but everything looked brighter to Darzi, the browns and greens and reds of the trees and the brick and cobblestone all looking better already. He hoped it wasn't just an illusion.

Back at his place, Peren said, "I see Jouet is still here."

"Well, I couldn't just get rid of her," he said. "She missed you too."

"She did?"

"Yes, I did," Jouet said, standing at the doorway. She wore the modest black dress that Peren had bought for her almost a year ago, the bows delicately tied, her hair brushed back. "It's good to see you again, Peren."

Peren's mouth sagged open, the spliff in her teeth falling. "You really have improved, a lot."

"Can I speak with you?"

Peren looked over at Darzi, who shrugged, more surprised than he had the night he sold his first paintings. "Sure, I think. I don't see... yeah."

"Come inside. Close the door." They left Darzi in the main room to wonder. He knew trouble was in the air when two women disappeared into a room to talk about him, but did Jouet count? He had no idea what they would talk about, except him. Maybe music. With nothing to do but wait, he set up his easel and surface, picking a modestly sized one-by-three-quarter meter canvas that he'd stretched himself a few days ago. He opened his wooden box of paints and sorted through the colors. He had spare tubes in Peren's colors, and that made him smile.

The door opened and Peren came out. "Getting set up?"

"Just laying out my colors. If you wanted to pose, that is."

"Tower, right now that's exactly what I want to do. How about..." Her eyes settled down on the guitar case. "I know. Let's do cheesecake."

He grinned. She knew the lingo now, at least from the model's perspective. "Like what?"

Peren began stripping. Darzi knew he was supposed to keep a professional persona when dealing with models, but Peren was a special case. He'd slept with her. He thought he'd been in love with her once, and might even be still. Watching her move was like watching the very air come to life with warm flame, and he couldn't bear to think that he might have almost chased her away.

She opened up the instrument case and pulled out a slim, stylish guitar in shiny black and white. She put the body of the guitar down to the floor and held it up by the neck, two fingers extended. "Like this?"

"Needs something," Darzi said. He walked around her. "If we're doing cheesecake, let's do it right. Push your butt out a little."

"Like this?"

Darzi couldn't help his smiled. "Yeah. Damn you look good. That arm is so still. Can you hold it up?" She did. "Good. Thumbs up. And wink."

"Ouch, Tower. This is gonna be hard."

"Can you hold that for five minutes?"

"I can try."

"Thanks. Now smile. Big, excited smile. Yes!" He pulled out his canvas pencil and began to scribble like mad. He could see in her face the strain of the position, but he had to excise that from the final image. His excitement at having her back, her pleasure at posing again, had to be in the image. He had to capture both of those emotions in the five minutes he had, in the lines and gestures and suggestions of her fur and her body and her mouth. The alarm went off. "Take five."

She collapsed. "Fah, Darzi, is it supposed to be that difficult?"

"You're the one who wanted to do cheesecake."

"There are a lot of positions you can do for pure cheesecake. We could have done something else. Face down on the bed, maybe, on my elbows to show my boobs or something."

He grinned. They were back on solid ground again. At least, as artist and model. "The next one you do dressed, lying down. Another pose by the tree. A riff on Rousseau."

"That sounds a lot easier." She looked happy, but the happiness faltered. "Jouet wanted to know if I thought you and I would make it. I didn't understand where she fit in, and I don't want to disappoint her. But I don't want to be disappointed myself, either."

"Peren, I was useless without you. You were my model, my... my muse. Jouet isn't that. Even if I paint other things, I don't think I'd be happy knowing I couldn't paint you."

"For how long, though?"

"Do you care? Until we're no longer alive in our own bodies, until we're bored of ourselves, until we've worn out our welcome." He laughed. "The difference between Jouet and myself is that I know that I did that at least once, according to my biography. Is there another Darzi I've left behind? Will you care in three centuries?"

"I don't know what I'll be like in three centuries," Peren said, tapping her chin.

"A popular composer with a thousand die-hard fans."

"You think so, huh, Tower?"

"I'll be fan number one."

"You'll have to fight Jouet for that."

"I might. You'd win. Another five minutes. Ready?"


They worked for almost an hour. Finally, he said, "I'd ask you to pose again, but I'm done."

"Just like that? You're not going to do more?"

He pointed toward the window. "It's late. The supply store is closed and I don't have any acrylics. This kind of art can't be done with oils. It's not right. You have to be shiny. Glossy. Almost surreally vibrant. It's not a technique I've worked with a lot."

She came around the easel and looked at his canvas. The pose he'd chosen had a buzzing kind of energy surrounding it, even in the thin pencil sketch outline he'd done of her body and the more precise look on her face. She shook her head. "It's like seeing something divine. I'll never be that beautiful."

Darzi touched her bare shoulders. It was the first time he'd touched her since she'd come back into his life, and he hesitated only briefly. "Peren, that's what I see."



"Fah, Tower, you're either crazy in love or the biggest liar I've ever known. And you don't lie well." She turned, her naked body sending ripples through the reality he saw all around the two of them. She barked a laugh and her hand pawed at his kilt. "I guess this does like me after all."

"We don't have to."

"I want to," she said. She reached for the hem of the kilt and lifted it up, exposing his cock to her eyes. She opened her muzzle and took some of his cock into her mouth. Darzi shivered as wild pleasures coursed from her mouth through his cock and into the rest of his body. He touched her head gently, rocking back and forth. "Mmm!" she said, and he stopped. "Let me do this, Tower."

He nodded and tried to hold still as she pleasured his cock with her mouth. She let it go and it stuck straight out from his body in the air. "Mmm, that looks right. Take those clothes off."

The kilt came off with a simple tear of the buttons, and his shirt followed instantly. Peren giggled. "Guys look so silly in just their socks." He moved to take them off and she said, "No, no, Tower! Priorities!" She grabbed his hand and the two of them tumbled to the floor of the living room. Peren's head nearly hit her guitar. Darzi landed on top of her. "Get inside me."

Darzi eagerly advanced on her, sliding into her wet tunnel with all the joy he'd missed for so many months. "Oh, yes," he whispered.

"Yes, Darzi, I missed you."

He kissed her as their bodies merged there on the hard wooden floor, his cock buried deep in her pussy, holding on to each other, laying claim to one another. Darzi knew that he loved Peren desperately, wanted her to say, and knew that fucking wasn't the way he convinced her but it was surely a way to please her. He couldn't give her everything she needed out of existence, either, but he could surely give her this.

Peren came before he did, and when he climaxed it was an affirmation of his love and desire for her, a kind of art, a color he wished he could save and spread out onto the canvas and make everyone see just how wonderful Peren could be.

"Fah," she whispered. "I've been waiting too long for that." She looked away. "I'm so sorry, Darzi. I was too afraid to call you. I thought... maybe I was right. About you and Jouet." She rolled over on the floor and cuddled up next to him.

Darzi accepted her into his arms and said, "As long as you want to pose for me, I'll want to make love to you."

"It's a deal."