BLOOD: by Trinity Morgan.
Such an anticlimactic title for something that was very nearly my entire existence. I spent two years preparing for this night. I even quit my job. And now my defining moment was here. Tonight was my first art show.
This was my chance to make a name for myself, and more importantly, a chance to escape my own personal hell; my dismal, one bedroom apartment in Sunnyside, New York. Everyday the walls inched closer, creeping in to suffocate me. I did what I could to make this dump feel like home by hanging artwork everywhere and decorating in calming colors. But nothing would ever make this place shine.
The plaster on the buttercream colored walls was deteriorating, exposing rusty pipes underneath. My patchy carpet and faded linoleum were the same ugly shade of shit brown. The air conditioner never worked in the summer, and the temperature rarely reached sixty-five in the winter. Since my only bedroom had been turned into a makeshift studio, my bed also served as my couch, and my dresser became my TV stand. The only furniture to even hint that this was a living room was a dingy, faded blue recliner circa nineteen-eighty.
A white garment bag lay across the ancient comforter on my bed. I spent six hundred dollars on the black designer dress waiting inside. That dress would be the nicest thing I had ever worn, but it also represented half of next month’s rent. If I didn’t sell some paintings tonight, it would become a serious liability.
I removed the dress and slid it on with a smile. The satiny fabric felt more like lingerie than outerwear. The open back plunged down to my tailbone, with two strips of fabric draped across my shoulder blades. The hem was short, and the front dipped low enough to show some cleavage. I would have paid twice as much for it.
The dress also left my entire tattoo exposed. The obscenely nude woman being swallowed in the flesh of my left arm was a half-sleeve version of one of my own works. I could only afford such a large piece because I gave the artist a painting in trade.
I did a slow twist in the mirror and readjusted the clip that tamed my long tresses. My naturally blonde curls had always been one of my favorite assets, but at this moment, I wanted to chop my hair off and dye it black. That seemed much more appropriate for the subject matter of my show.
A quick glance at the clock told me it was six twenty. Don, my overweight, over-the-hill agent, promised to send a car for me at six forty-five. Can’t have his artist take the subway to the show. That would look unprofessional to potential buyers.
I needed to hurry and finish getting ready. I gulped the last of my vodka and Kool-Aid and sat at my rickety old computer desk, the only spot I could comfortably apply makeup. I already had some on, but obsessing about my face seemed like a good idea. I grabbed the mascara first, and carefully applied another coat while I stared into the muted green of my own eyes, wishing they were several shades brighter.
Immediately to my left was the photo of my foster parents that I felt compelled to display in a weak attempt to make up for our lack of communication. Their judging eyes bore a hole into my forehead right now. They never loved me enough to bother making our little family official, for there was no real adoption, but they didn’t hate me enough to send me away either. I hadn’t returned to Missouri to visit Sara and Hank Anderson since I moved to New York four years ago. I considered not telling them about the show, but I felt I owed them. The news did not go over well.
Sara and Hank didn’t approve of my choice of careers. Painting was frivolous and I needed to grow up and get a real job. Even more horrifying in their eyes was what I painted. My artwork scared them. They viewed it as a crime against God, outright blasphemy. What kind of person drew pictures of monsters and people being torn limb from limb? The obvious conclusion, to them, was that I was insane. My drawings as a child led to a steady stream of psychologists who only confirmed their suspicions, at which point they turned to another venue. The Church.
I spent almost every day of my childhood there, while priests tried to drive the demons from me. I don’t think it worked. And I despised Sara and Hank for it. I reached over and slammed the frame down on its face.
My paintings were too much for some people. But I was compelled to paint them. If I can’t get my visions out, I find myself in mental anguish. And no matter what my foster parents, or anyone else, thought about my artwork, I found it beautiful. Maybe I was a little dark and twisted. That doesn’t have to be a bad thing.
A majority of my most recent paintings depicted women being tortured in some way or another, but that wasn’t where the controversy originated. This show was about something else.
I cut myself one night as I worked on a painting of a young woman in bondage. Without realizing it, I smeared a decent amount of blood right on top of the paint, and then a great revelation came to me. How could I ever portray a more graphic scene than by using real blood where she was supposed to be bleeding? Granted, this was not the first time anyone thought of this, but it was the perfect fit for my brand of artwork.
My agent said it was genius. That was not the standard reaction from everybody else. Maybe that’s why I was so nervous about tonight. What if everyone ran out screaming? Or worse, maybe they’d finally commit me this time.
There was one painting in particular I was apprehensive about showing. I had never done a self-portrait before. So I finally decided to devote myself to one. The painting itself was rather large, five feet by three feet, and showed me as I normally depicted others; naked, tortured and tied down, bleeding and writhing in pain.
For all my other paintings, I used pigs’ blood mixed with acrylic paint (to hold the color). This one I felt had to be more personal. I drew my own blood by making a shallow incision into my wrist with a razorblade. I did what I could to collect an adequate amount of that precious liquid while still keeping my wound manageable. It was a somewhat failed attempt. I almost blacked out, but the rush experienced from such an endeavor was phenomenal.
The sound of my phone ringing interrupted my thoughts. I grabbed the cheap cell phone and flipped it open. The screen inside just showed one word, Slave. I grinned and pulled it to my ear.
Lucas Steele was, or thought he was, my boyfriend. He was a heavily tattooed mechanic, which is what I told myself I was looking for, so he was the closest thing I had to a real relationship.
“Hey, sexy.” I could hear the smile in his voice. He always seemed happy to talk to me. I rarely reciprocated his enthusiasm, but I was almost always glad to hear it.
“You have impeccable timing you know. I’m about to leave.”
“Yeah, yeah. Just calling to wish you luck. Not like you need it.”
“I do need it. I’m about to have a panic attack.” That sentence was more honest than I intended it be.
“Are you sure you don’t want me to come with you tonight? I could change real quick and meet you there…” He trailed off. I knew he didn’t really want to go, but I was flattered he at least pretended. Besides, I definitely did not want to appear tied down to anyone tonight. A date was out of the question.
“No, don’t worry about it. Maybe we can meet up afterwards. I look way too good to make this an early night.”
He laughed. It was a warm and inviting laugh, his usual. For someone who looked as intimidating as him, it almost didn’t fit. He wasn’t overly tall or muscular, but the shaved head, metal jewelry and extensive tattooing overshadowed the kind chocolate eyes and sweet smile. He really was an easygoing and compassionate guy, much too nice to date a chick like me.
I cut him off mid laugh, “Hey, I really need to get going, the car’s gonna be here any minute.”
“That’s alright. Just call me afterwards, okay?”
“Yeah, I will.” Probably.
When I shut the phone the screen read six forty-four. A wave of anxiety washed over me. I ran to the kitchen cupboard and grabbed a pill bottle from the middle shelf. My Xanax. These little babies worked miracles. Twenty minutes from now I’d have no worries. They were not prescribed, but that didn’t keep me from having a steady supply. I popped a couple in my mouth and swallowed without the aid of water. The remaining pills went into my handbag, and out the door I went.
I sprinted down the hallway to the elevator as fast as I could manage in heels, shoes much too ridiculous to take the stairs. Another wave of anxiety sank in as I waited for the exhausted old thing to come to a whining stop. The doors cried out in protest as they strained open. It was empty, thank God. Not that I was very heavy, but any extra weight in here terrified me. I’d be surprised if these elevators had been inspected in the last ten years. One of these days someone was going to get stuck, and I just hoped it wouldn’t be me.
Seven tense floors down, past the filthy entryway and mailroom I saw a green Camry waiting for me outside. Don’s drab car. Not exactly what I had in mind. Showing up in your agent’s passenger seat was hardly more dignified than riding the subway.
I slipped inside and gave him a big smile. I didn’t even have a chance to say ‘hi’ before he was all business.
“There will be some pretty big names in attendance tonight,” he beamed. Don had a lot of faith in my abilities, or at least my abilities to make him money. “I’m sure they’ll be more interested in your stuff than that crap Ivan passes off for sculpture.”
“Still bitter he didn’t pick you for his agent?”
He didn’t seem amused. “This is serious. You’re lucky I’m so good at my job. Gallery New York doesn’t normally show unproven artists. You’ll have to seriously work it if you want to make any money.”
I folded my arms across my chest. “I thought that was your job.”
“I got you the booking, that’s more than most agents could do.” He paused and looked me over. “Good call with the dress. I was worried you’d show up in a tank top.”
“I look better than you do,” I teased, but I wasn’t lying. Don was past his prime for sure. He probably had been attractive in his youth, but that was long behind him now. Twenty years ago the art world chewed him up and spit him out. So he gave it up, put on some weight, and started pushing other people’s work instead of his own.
Located in the middle of West Village, Gallery New York attracted the art world’s A-list for their clientele. That’s probably why my show was a double booking. To ensure the gallery’s success this evening, my possibly controversial paintings were paired with a man named Ivan Stately. He was a sculptor with a decent following, whose pieces were mostly semi-erotic abstracts of the female form. I thought they were boring and predictable, but what did I know? His stuff sold, and that’s all that really matters.
The place was already packed when we arrived. Several large banners outside depicted various samples of my paintings and Ivan’s sculptures. The bold print across the top read Presence of Life by Ivan Stately and introducing BLOOD by Trinity Morgan. There were also smaller, individual signs for Ivan, with sultry imagery for Presence of Life. The ones dedicated to me were a lot bolder, with BLOOD in red dripping capitols, and the tortured eyes of my pretend victims. I definitely liked mine better.
The kicker was the marquee. I will never forget the joy of seeing my name four feet across in lights. I stopped in my tracks to stare up at it. Don had to drag me by the arm to pull me away.
Inside, the gallery was one large rectangle with a bar in the back. My paintings were spaced evenly on the white walls, and Ivan’s sculptures were scattered around the middle, smaller ones on pillars and larger pieces directly on the beige tile floor. The classical music played quietly under the bright lighting. It was wall-to-wall people, all of which were dressed to kill. At least in this dress, I wouldn’t look as outclassed as I felt.
Two minutes after arriving, Evelyn Counter, the curator spotted us and waved us over.
“Trinity Morgan, so very nice to see you again.” She flashed me a plastic smile.
“Nice to see you too, Evelyn.” I gave her a fake grin as I gagged on her overuse of perfume.
“It looks like we may have an excellent evening. Your work complements Ivan’s quite nicely.”
Complement Ivan!? I opened my mouth to snap at her, but Don took one look at my face and intervened. “Your decision to book them together looks to be panning out nicely. Ivan never brings in this size of a crowd on his own.” He had the smile of a proud parent, not the type of thing I was used to seeing in my life. “After tonight, everyone’s going to know who Trinity is.”
“Yes, I’m sure everyone here will have strong opinions of her work,” Evelyn addressed Don, but she eyed me suspiciously. “One way or another.”
I clenched my teeth and cussed her out silently in my head. “I guess we’ll have to just see, won’t we… I’m going to get a drink.”
I stormed off before she could say anything else. In hindsight, that was probably not the best way to handle things. But I never claimed to be mature.
As I approached the bar, the young blonde behind it smiled at me. “Would you like some complimentary champagne?”
“I would love some.” I separated each word to emphasize the urgency. While she poured me a glass, I leaned against the bar to try and get a read on the reaction to my paintings. I could see quite a few people looking at them, and no one was screaming. I took that as a good sign.
The bartender set the glass of champagne next to me. I lifted it to my lips immediately. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” she said. Her smile looked innocent. I wondered if she would still smile at me after I’ve had ten glasses. “Are… are you Trinity?” She asked shyly.
“I guess I am…just haven’t decided if that’s a good thing yet.” I took another drink then watched the bubbles rise from the bottom as I lowered the glass. It was almost empty already. “I think I’m going to need another of these, if you don’t mind.”
“Oh, of course!” She grabbed the bottle again with a flush in her cheeks. “I just want you to know I really like your paintings. They’re…they’re kinda scary.”
I laughed. “Thanks, I’ll take that as a compliment.”
She nodded in agreement and set another glass next to me. I slammed the last of my drink and traded it for the full one. Then I thanked her again and walked away.
I weaved slowly through the crowds of people, wondering what I was supposed to do this whole time. I passed a group that was hovering over one of Ivan’s larger sculptures, the torso of a woman dancing out of a wave. They seemed to think it was a masterpiece. Idiots, I snickered to myself. I made my way towards a couple that were staring up at one of my creations. I tried not to be obvious about eavesdropping by pretending to look at a sculpture as I snuck in on their conversation.
The woman looked appalled. “That’s disgusting. What kind of person would like this stuff?”
“You’re being too sensitive.” Her date replied.
That wasn’t the reaction I hoped for, so I kept moving. The people gathered in front of the next few sets of paintings seemed to be enjoying themselves more. I heard a couple words of praise as I walked by and smiled to myself.
During my journey through the crowd, I spotted the resting place for the one painting I should have left at home. My self-portrait hung isolated and emphasized like none of the others. I stopped twenty feet away and stared up at my own sick version of my face. I felt just as vulnerable and naked as I looked in that painting.
Just as I was about to walk away, an elderly woman, dressed in an exorbitant sequin dress and gaudy gold jewelry, paused to look at my doppelganger; she covered her mouth with her hands and starting ranting something I couldn’t make out from this far away. She resembled someone who had just found the rotting corpse of a rat in her bed.
“You can’t please everyone, can you?”
That smooth, deep voice sounded like it was spoken right into my ear. I spun around to see who could have gotten so close without me noticing.
The man standing next to me turned my brain to mush. His eyes caught me first. They were so intense and beautiful, an odd shade of brown that came across almost red, with golden centers and dark lashes. His jet-black hair was parted over his right eye and hung in layers down to his chin. He wore a dark blue dress shirt, untucked with the top few buttons undone, revealing a glimpse of what I imagined to be a chiseled chest. He had broad shoulders and thick arms, the type of look that required countless hours in the gym.
“Some people have no taste.” He nodded in the direction of the old lady, and held his hand out to me. “Vino Amante.”
I released a breath I didn’t realize I was holding, and feebly reached out to take his hand. The second we touched a current pulsed up my arm and spread through my chest. My heart lost its rhythm for several beats. I couldn’t believe I was reacting like this.
“I’m Trinity Mor…”
“I know,” he interrupted. “You looked lost. I felt compelled to come introduce myself… My family and I attend a lot of these things. It’s been awhile since I’ve come across anything that’s piqued my interest.” His eyes lingered over me. “I’m very glad I came tonight.”
Why was this man affecting me so much? I was twelve all over again and he was the first boy to ever talk to me. I swallowed hard and reached a hand up to my necklace. “Um, thank you. I’m glad at least someone appreciates my work.”
“I’m sure I’m not the only one. You’ve captured the perfect expression of rapturous pain. Gives me a chill just looking at it.”
I made the mistake of looking back into his eyes and was stunned again. It took a second to regain my wits. “Wow, thank you. That’s not the reaction I’ve been getting from most people.”
“Maybe you’re surrounding yourself with the wrong people.”
He aimed a sly smile at me, and all my baser instincts took over. My whole body overheated. Was he hitting on me? I sure hoped so.
Vino leaned in and lowered his voice. “Do you mind if I pick your brain a bit? I have a few questions that I’m dying to ask you.”
“Yeah, sure.” Having him that close affected every muscle in my body. I lifted my forgotten drink and took a sip to calm my nerves. “What exactly do you want to know?”
Vino turned to the painting we were standing closest to, and motioned to the woman crucified in the center. “Is this what you dream about at night, torturing young women to the brink of death?”
“I—I guess I do.” My answer was dumb enough to make me giggle. After a moment, a better explanation came to me. “As far back as I remember I’ve always drawn this sort of thing. When I was a kid everyone just thought there was something wrong with me.”
“I don’t see anything wrong with you.” He looked me up and down again for emphasis before he continued. “You used animal’s blood for these paintings, didn’t you?”
While I was busy swooning, I managed to nod. “Pigs’ actually. I got it from the deli down the street from my apartment. They thought I was crazy. Don’t think I ever did tell them what it was for.”
I thought he would laugh, but he must not have got the joke, because he continued as if I never answered him. “And that one…” He pointed to my self-portrait. “That’s your blood on that painting, isn’t it?”
I sucked in a quick gasp of breath. How could he know that? I didn’t remember telling anyone. “Yeah—How?”
That response he found hilarious. “You just told me. Had a hunch, that’s all.”
Real funny. I’m glad he was enjoying himself. I was going to have a heart attack by the time this conversation was over.
Then his laughter came to an abrupt stop. His head turned to the side as if he was listening to something coming from behind him. I watched his eyebrows drop down and a grimace spread across his face. But I only caught a glimpse. When he noticed me watching, he smiled again. It wasn’t the sly smile he’d been showing me just moments before. This one was fake.
“It appears my father has arrived. He wants to speak with you,” he said.
I looked around us to see who he was talking about and saw no one, so I searched Vino’s face for an answer. He was still smiling, but his jaw muscles were flexed like he was clenching his teeth, and his hands were balled into fists.
That’s when I saw them.
The crowd parted by some invisible force as two men and a woman glided towards us. The man in front was just unreal, easily the best looking person I’d ever seen. He reminded me of a seasoned rock star, regal even. He was tall and lean, but the way he carried himself implied strength. The grey vest he wore hugged his chest over a long-sleeved white shirt with the buttons at the neck undone, and the cuffs at his wrists rolled back. His scarlet tie had been loosened and pulled down a few inches, a casual look that must have been painstakingly planned down to the last detail.
His slightly graying blond hair was just long enough to be combed back with a few strands strategically falling down his forehead and into his eyes. Those eyes, those radiant, god-like eyes, seemed to emanate with their own light. A blue glow so deep and bright it would never be duplicated. Flanking either side of him, the other man and the woman were a matched set. Only a few inches separated them in height, and they had the same thin build. They were dressed in all black in feminine and masculine versions of the same suit. Their chestnut hair was thick and straight, hers to her mid back, and his in a short, messy spike. The features of their faces were almost identical, large deep-set eyes and small pouty lips. I couldn’t tell if their eyes were hazel or green, but they were frightening.
I was dreaming, wasn’t I? I had to be hallucinating. People did not look like this. They did not have this presence about them. I knew my sanity was riding a fine line, but this was unbelievable.
The blond man walked directly up to me with the most hypnotizing smile and grabbed my hand. It shocked me, and I’m sure I jumped. A sickening warmth radiated through my body as he slowly lifted my hand to his lips. Without looking away from my eyes, he leaned forward and kissed the top of my hand. My heart seized, and I felt like someone punched me in the gut.
“Good evening, Trinity. My name is Sebastian Amante. These are my children, Amelie and Andras.” He released my hand and motioned to the two at his sides. The fluidity of his movements were so graceful they looked rehearsed, like a ballet.
Sebastian turned his attention to Vino then, who was standing with his arms folded over his chest. “Vinicio, you always find such lovely friends.”
Vino shrugged and looked around the room without answering. He didn’t seem to be looking at any thing in particular, just avoiding Sebastian the way a rebellious teenager would never look directly into the eyes of their scolding parents.
Sebastian didn’t notice, or care. His startling blue eyes bore into mine as if he was searching for something. “Your work is quite impressive. I’d love to have one for my collection.”
“I’m glad you like them,” I said, struggling to compose myself enough to have an adult conversation. Something about this man felt wrong, I couldn’t put my finger on it but my subconscious was screaming for me to run away. “Which one did you have you eyes on?”
“Several, actually.” Sebastian paused to look at Vino, who was trying to walk away. His back was already facing us, but he stopped immediately and mumbled something under his breath. Sebastian turned his attention back to me as if nothing happened. “You have a very unique gift, my dear. I’m amazed you went unnoticed for so long.” He studied me for a moment. “Those women in your paintings, the expression on their faces is sheer perfection. So real it makes me feel as if I’m right there, torturing them myself, causing them all that pain. For you to have visualized this so accurately…”
“You speak like you have experience in that area.” I took a nervous drink from my glass, emptying it.
The evil intent behind his smile said more than any verbal answer he could have given me. But it was so sexy, I melted anyways. “Let’s just say I find beauty in the same elements you do.”
He reached out to take the empty glass from my hand, letting his fingers linger over mine for longer than necessary. That small touch flooded my body with unnatural warmth again. This time it was accompanied by a surge of hormones. I could feel the blood rush to my cheeks.
From the look on his face, Sebastian noticed my reaction. He handed my glass to Amelie without looking away from me. “Would you mind getting us a few drinks? It appears Trinity needs a refill.”
I was utterly lost in Sebastian’s features. Somehow, the laugh lines around his eyes managed to make him even more attractive. How old was he? I wouldn’t have put him a day over forty, but if these three were really his children, that wasn’t possible. Vino looked at least thirty, and the other two couldn’t be much younger. That meant that he was probably in his fifties. He was just so flawless it didn’t make sense.
“There was one painting in particular that I refuse to leave here without.” Sebastian turned and pointed across the room, aiming directly at my self-portrait. “That one there. The subject matter is to die for.”
What!? Why on earth would he want the one of me? I couldn’t imagine anyone actually owning that piece, let alone hanging it up in their home and looking at it everyday. I frantically tried to pull myself together. “Why that one?”
His expression transformed into something more devious, as if there was some private joke that I was missing. “It is by far your most exceptional piece. It’s much more personal than the others, I can see the emotional investment you put into it.
“I was wondering,” Sebastian continued. “Could I also commission you to do a piece for me? You would be well compensated.”
“Yes, of course,” I blurted out before my brain had a chance to tell me I should find out more about what I was getting myself into.
“Fabulous!” He reached out to take my hand, and that nauseating warmth radiated through me again.
I felt the urge to pull away but couldn’t. I blinked a couple of times to clear my head and regain some composure. “What exactly did you have in mind?”
“We can discuss specifics later, dinner perhaps, Wednesday?” He said. “I’ll send a car for you at seven. If that’s alright with you, that is.”
“It’s a date then.” He glanced in Vino’s direction. “We’ll make an occasion of it. I’ll bring the whole family.”
The twins, as I assumed they were, returned with two drinks piece, providing a much-needed distraction. Amelie handed one to Sebastian, he took it without acknowledging her. Andras gave me his extra. I mumbled a quick, “Thanks.” He didn’t answer.
Very slowly, Sebastian lifted my free hand to his lips again. The second they made contact it sent a jolt through my heart. The room and all the people around me faded away. I was paralyzed, stuck there in that moment, where there was nothing but him. I wanted to run away in horror, and yet, I never wanted him to break that touch.
When he peered up at me again, a triumphant expression on his face proved he could sense the power he held over me. He looked positively sinister right then, and all I could do was stare into his eyes as they burned with some invisible fire that melted the blue into swirling, liquid pools. There was no way what I was seeing as real. But I didn’t care. I never would have dreamed there could be something that gorgeous.
He sighed and lowered my hand without releasing it. “I suppose we really must be going. I look forward to seeing you again, Trinity.”
“It was really nice to meet you, Mr. Amante.” My voice came out weak and quiet. My mind was still spinning around somewhere, trying to find its way back to reality.
“To you, my dear, it’s Sebastian.” He winked at me, a gesture so seductive my heart doubled its speed. I was putty in this man’s remarkable hands, and we both knew it.
Then he released my hand and we were back in the crowded gallery. “Wednesday,” he reminded me, and walked away.
The other three didn’t bother to say goodbye, they just disappeared into the crowd. I stared after them in wonder. Did all that really happen? Had anyone else been affected the same way I had? A quick look around the gallery provided no answers. I couldn’t see one person in the room who was so much as looking in my direction, let alone the direction of the strange group I was just with.
When the feeling came back to my legs, and I felt confident about moving again, I made a beeline to the restroom. I needed to be alone. I threw my handbag on the counter and leaned into it, staring at my face in the mirror. My eyes were a little wild, but otherwise there was no physical proof I lost my mind. I reached up and pulled the skin down on my right eye to take a closer look. No, nothing out of the ordinary. I would have splashed water on my face too, but that would have destroyed my makeup.
I shook my head a few times, then reached into to my bag and popped a few more Xanax, chasing them down with my champagne. At least it wouldn’t be long until I was too intoxicated to remember what was bothering me. I lowered my head and closed my eyes, taking a few calming breaths. The door opened and another woman walked in. I didn’t pay any attention to her as she occupied the nearest stall. I took one more deep breath, smoothed out my hair and dress, and left the bathroom.
Out in the gallery, everything was back to normal. There was no sign that I just had a mental breakdown in the midst of all this. The strange, beautiful characters that captivated me were gone, leaving behind no trace. I had control of my own mind again, all the people were real, and the room and everything in it was just as it should be. As far as the rest of the world was concerned, the encounter never happened.