“DEIRDRE, I love that new top.” Cassie grinned as Deirdre walked out of the bathroom. It was a Friday night and Deirdre had a date with her new boyfriend, Felix.
“Thanks Cass,” Deirdre answered, smoothing the silk fabric of her new peach tunic. The color looked amazing against Deirdre’s skin; her plain, black slacks and ballet flats completed the outfit nicely.
“Where is Felix taking you?”
“We’re going to try that new Thai place, near the college,” Deirdre explained. “Felix has a late class tonight, so I’m meeting him there.
Deirdre had met Felix at the art college where she posed for classes. She’d started by modeling for hobby photographers, but over the last several weeks she’d sat for painters, sketch artists, and sculptors. She’d been offered the job after she’d gone to Simon, the photography instructor, and told him about the teenager at the hibachi restaurant who’d somehow ended up with one of her nude photos.
Simon had been outraged, and had assigned his graduate student Felix to get to the bottom of the situation. Felix had researched everyone in the hobby class, and found that only one had a teenaged son. Simon himself had visited the middle-aged student, and alerted him to the fact that his son was going through his things. The instructor left with all of Deirdre’s photos; Felix had gathered photos from the rest of the students, to ensure that Deirdre would never be put in that position again. Simon changed his class policies; only works that didn’t depict the model’s face could be kept by their creators. Most of the students were sympathetic to the reasons behind the new policy, and many began sketching and painting the faces of their classmates onto Deirdre’s body.
After the new policy went into effect, Deirdre happily agreed to pose whenever Simon needed her. On her second trip to the school, Felix asked her out on a date. The graduate student was kind, genuine and thoughtful, and Deirdre hated herself for thinking of Parker Hamlin when she was with him.
A month had passed since the last time she’d seen the gorgeous billionaire, but his face still haunted her thoughts. That morning at his studio, she’d been convinced that he was falling in love with her. She’d already allowed herself to fall in love with him. But then, just as she’d feared, he’d decided that she wasn’t the type of person he wanted to be with. Ironically, the job that had brought her to Felix was the same job that had made Parker walk away. Deirdre still wondered what her life would be like now if they hadn’t run into that teenager. She sighed out loud.
“What’s the matter, Dee?” Cassie asked knowingly.
“Nothing,” she replied quickly. Deirdre knew exactly what her best friend would say if she knew that Parker was still in her thoughts.
“Are you sure? You seem distracted… pensive even.”
“I’m just stressed about school, Cass,” Deirdre assured her. “I feel like I’m never going to finish.”
“It’ll take as long as it takes, Dee. It doesn’t matter when you graduate. It just matters that you keep working at it.”
“That’s nice of you to say, but it does matter. The sooner I finish school, the sooner I can get a better job and move D’Angelo to a better neighborhood.” Thoughts of her brother’s safety were always at the forefront of Deirdre’s mind.
“You’ll feel better next semester,” Cassie assured her, “when you’re on campus.”
Deirdre smiled at the thought of going to real, live lectures as opposed to online classes. She’d managed to land another weekly singing gig that paid better than her Thursdays at Fuseli’s. That, combined with her regular modeling sessions at the art college, had made it possible for her to quit her job at the hotel. She’d be able to spend most of the summer home with D’Angelo, and start classes on campus in August.
“Would you have ever thought that my saving grace would come from Carl?” Deirdre laughed. Her ex-boyfriend Carl had been the one who had found her the modeling job.
“Yeah, I bet if he’d known you’d hook-up with Felix, he’d have never set you up in the job.” Cassie laughed. “But that’s Carl for you. He never thinks things through. I still can’t believe what happened to him.”
Deirdre nodded. Towards the end of her relationship with Carl, she’d suspected that he was involved with one of the local gangs. After she left him, he’d stopped trying to hide what he was up to. He’d even tried to use her apartment as a stash pad for his illegal activities. Deirdre had refused, and two weeks ago Carl had been arrested for possession of stolen goods and a laundry list of illegal substances. The other gang members were perfectly happy to let Carl take the fall, and word on the street was that he was looking at forty years in a federal penitentiary.
“Maybe he and my mother can reconnect,” Deirdre said flatly.
“Have you talked to her recently?” Cassie pressed. Deirdre hardly ever talked about her mother, and talked to her even less.
“I send her pictures of D’Angelo. He used to write letters to send along with them, but he doesn’t anymore. She writes once a week… apologizes, says she’s changed. She’s even found God, apparently. But I don’t have anything to say to her.”
“Well, we have more important things to think about, don’t we?” Cassie smiled. She’d been friends with Deirdre since grade school, and was almost as hurt by Pauline’s drug use as her children were. “You need to get going, you don’t want to make Felix wait.”
Deirdre took one last look in the mirror, kissed D’Angelo goodbye, and rushed out the door.
Deirdre arrived at the small, storefront restaurant and saw Felix’s Audi already in the parking lot. She walked through the door and found him sitting at a small, private booth near the back wall. She smiled broadly as she walked over to join him, and he rose to greet her.
“You look beautiful.” He smiled as he leaned down and kissed her cheek.
“Thanks,” she offered graciously, “how was your class?”
Felix sighed. “It’s a freshman level humanities class… no one is there because they want to be, they’re there because they have to be. And that includes yours truly.” He shrugged.
Deirdre sat across the table, studying her date. Felix was tall and lanky, with blue eyes and curly auburn hair that hung down over his ears. He was attractive in that free-spirited, down-to-earth way. Felix was in his final year of the art college’s Masters of Arts program. An artistic genius, he’d attended a progressive liberal arts high school that allowed him to take college art courses. He’d received his bachelor’s degree just one year after officially graduating high school; he was on track to finish his master’s degree at only twenty-two.
“I’ll be teaching what I want to teach soon enough.” Felix smiled. “How has your day been? How was D’Angelo’s awards assembly?”
Deirdre smiled, surprised that he’d remembered. The last day of school awards assembly at D’Angelo’s school had been that morning. Deirdre had mentioned it to Felix only once, and that had been at least two weeks ago.
“It was fantastic.” She beamed. “D’Angelo got the Presidential Award for Academic Excellence, and also the Presidential Fitness award. He was the only one in his class who got both. He’s ready to make you pay up on his report card too, he has straight A’s.”
Felix whistled. “And I said ten bucks an A, right? I may have to renegotiate my price for next year or that kid is going to break me,” he teased.
Deirdre felt incredibly lucky to have found Felix, if for no other reason than the fact that he was so good with D’Angelo. Felix had lost his own parents in a car accident when he was ten, and afterward his older brother and sister-in-law had raised him. He understood the boy’s situation better than Deirdre could ever hope to.