by Zahra Barnes
“Wait, you actually moved out?” Liv stopped in her tracks and was promptly shoved forward by the sweet-looking old lady behind her. She couldn’t have been more than 5’0 and less than 90 years old, but she whipped her head around and gave Liv the evil eye as she zoomed by.
“Yes, it was for my sanity,” I said after I stopped laughing. “And just so you know, you shouldn’t stop walking in the middle of a New York City sidewalk unless you have a death wish.”
We rounded the corner and headed into the bustle of Chelsea Market. It was one of the most sweltering days of summer, so Liv and I had taken a field trip of sorts in search of some relief in the form of gelato. This was only possible because Marian was on a flight to Ibiza for a week of relaxation away from New York’s oppressive heat and relentless crowds.
“You know Justin Bieber’s been running around Ibiza all summer,” I said to her on her last day in the office. “Maybe you’ll bump into him?” Since his smackdown with Orlando Bloom, Ibiza had been synonymous with Justin Bieber in my mind.
A blush crept across her cheeks. “What—I—Absolutely not! I despise that young man,” she stuttered.
“Of course,” I nodded, ducking my head to hide a smile. Who knew even Marian could be a Belieber?
Liv and I had waited until we knew Marian’s flight was in the air, then flipped the “We’ll be right back!” sign and went forth into the teeming city streets. I always had my work email linked to my phone, but I made sure to divert any office calls to it as well. We’d only be gone for about half an hour, but I couldn’t risk missing a call from Marian. I figured she’d comply with the airline’s cell phone rules, but I could also picture her calling me in brazen defiance of the flight attendants, seized with a genius idea she needed me to work on right away.
In Chelsea Market, Liv and I made our way over to L’arte Del Gelato and took in the swirls of creamy goodness.
“So, how are you doing?” I felt her watching me, trying to suss out any cracks in my “I’ve got it all together!” veneer.
“I’m really good. It’s been tough, but I’m adjusting.” Even though it was true, I kept my gaze steady on the gelato. I didn’t want to make intense eye contact and turn the conversation into an after-school special. Honestly, I had had enough intensity since I found the texts in Grant’s phone. Even though I wasn’t sure how I was going to deal with him, I just wanted everything to lighten up.
She seemed to accept my response. One thing I’d realized about Liv as I watched her track down new artists was that she was dogged to the core. I liked it.
“And your new roommate is cool?”
“I absolutely love Celine,” I gushed. “She seems pretty laid-back most of the time, but since she’s a designer she also needs to go to all these parties and schmooze with people. She’s the perfect mix of introverted and extroverted.”
I made my choice and looked up at the sales attendant, a teenage kid whose Adam’s apple bobbed up and down as he swallowed.
“Dulce de leche, please. A large.” I beamed at him. It really is the simple things.
Once, the bodega guy near my old apartment told me that he loved how cheerful I was. At first, I was baffled because my bitchface has scared off tons of people, even the ones I don’t want it to. Then I realized: this man gives me my ice cream, of course he thinks I am sunshine personified. It all made sense.
Liv and I speed walked back to the office, dodging tourists and trying not to drip on ourselves. Even though I kept checking my phone and had no calls or emails, I couldn’t let myself take a leisurely pace on the way back. I could see Marian in my mind’s eye, narrowing her eyes over both the fact that we stepped out and the fat content in my gelato.
“Breakups are the worst,” Liv said.
“Tell me about it. I still think about him a lot. I know it’s normal, but it’s kind of making me crazy.” I scraped the bottom of my cup. Why must I always hoover my desserts? A family friend who was about a month from giving birth once told me I have the appetite of a pregnant woman. She didn’t mean it as a compliment, but I sure took it as one.
“You know the best way to get over someone?” Liv shot a mischievous smile my way.
“I can’t really get under someone else just yet. It’s a good idea in theory, but—“
“No, not that! You need a hobby. Something really involved that you can just throw yourself into.”
I contemplated her words as we walked into Grey & Boehm. It’s true that between Grant, my job, and my friends, I hadn’t spent much time doing things I loved just for the sake of doing them.
“You might be right. But it just seems like such a cliché get-over-your-ex thing, you know?”
“Yeah, well, clichés exist because they’re true.”
She had a point.
“Okay, I’ll think about it.” I tossed my empty cup into the trash and jiggled my mouse impatiently.
“No.” Liv pointed at me emphatically with her spoon. “Less thinking, more doing. Are you busy tonight?”
I shook my head. The only thing I had on my schedule was unpacking. Pretty much everything I took out of a box just reminded me of Grant, so I was procrastinating in a big way.
“Perfect. We’ll leave at 6:00.”
For the rest of the day, I begged Liv to tell me where we were going. No dice. The woman had a way with secrets.
Finally, we packed up and emerged into the sticky night, my body humming with excitement. After getting turned around on the subway, we ended up in front of a warehouse in Williamsburg. Liv turned to look at me with an expectant look on her face, eyes shining the way I was learning they always did when she was excited.
“Great! What…is it?” I didn’t want to seem unenthusiastic, but it just looked like a gray slab of building to me.
“How do you work in the arts and not know about The Grid?” Now that she said the name, I recalled vague bits of a Times article I read about new art warehouses popping up all over New York.
“I may have heard of it, but what are we doing here?”
“We’re going to make art,” she said, waving her arm with a flourish as we walked in. In the bare-bones space, gallery types mingled with preppy bankers who were obviously on first Tinder dates.
I was still confused until I saw three circular groups of easels set up, each with a pad of paper and charcoal on the stool in front of it.
“Wait, we’re taking an art class?”
Liv nodded with a hint of a smug smile, then said, “Even better. We’re getting drunk, too. It’s all you can drink beers for $20.” She thrust her chin at a bar in a corner. It was so surrounded by people it was hard to see at first. “I’ve never been before and was planning on trying it out tonight since Marian isn’t here to keep us late.”
I fished around in my wallet then handed her some cash. “Bottoms up,” I grinned.
“Hello!” A woman with John Lennon-esque glasses and a buzz cut called out to the crowd. “Welcome to The Grid! If everyone could please take their seats, we’re going to start in just a few minutes.” Liv returned with our beers and we staked out some easels on the far side of the room.
“So!” The woman clapped to get our attention. ”Our three models will come in soon. You’ll draw each one until I ring the bell, then they’ll switch groups. It’s like sketching and speed dating combined. You have lots of paper, so don’t be shy about using as much as you need.”
With that, she rang the bell and a murmur spread through the room as our first model made her way over to us. She was the only one I could see so far, and she was as naked as the day she was born.
She was a round woman who looked like she would be the ultimate grandmother. Her dove-gray hair was piled into a bun on top of her head, and her body was all soft curves and comfort. Her cheeks dimpled when she smiled at us and assumed her first pose, a simple seated position on the stool in the middle of our easels. I knocked back some beer and picked up my charcoal.
As time went on, the model contorted herself into more flexible positions. The bell rang just as she stood and bent over, her head kissing her knees. A few people in the group looked relieved, but I wished I had more time. Trying so hard at something I was so terrible at silenced the Grant ticker-tape parade in my brain.
Liv leaned over to peek at my pages. I dusted off my hands and tilted my head, trying to be optimistic. They were okay as far as sketches go, but they made it obvious that I was better off enjoying art than producing it. At the same time, I could see Grey & Boehm running some sort of exhibit if some renowned artist had done them. But the first exhibit Grey & Boehm did was placing piles of dirty laundry throughout the space, so that didn’t mean much (they were “a physical embodiment of the detritus of our society’s collective soul,” the artist said). I glanced at Liv’s easel and did a double-take. Her drawings were shockingly good.
“Did you take me here just to show off?! I had no idea you were an artist.”
“I’m not really,” she shrugged. “I just sort of grew up drawing. My parents put me in tons of classes.”
I stared at them in awe. We’d only been with the model for 20 minutes, but Liv had managed to make her come to life on the page.
Our grandmother model padded away and took her peaceful energy over to the adjacent group. The next model was a clean-cut 40-something man whose stiff body showed this was probably his first time at the rodeo. For the second time, I lost myself in drawing, at times penciling soothing strokes and at others, making frenzied jabs at the paper. The bell rang, the models switched, and again I was impressed by Liv’s art.
Then, time slowed down as our next model approached. Tall and tan with muscles that actually, literally rippled as he took his seat, he was gorgeous. Liv and I immediately looked at each other, trying not to gape. I turned back to the model and watched him get settled. Thankfully, he started with his back to us so I could give myself some time to focus. It’s just a body, Tessa, I reminded myself. Pretend he’s a statue at The Met.
It didn’t work. I couldn’t get into the same headspace where I disassociated and saw the person in front of me as nothing more than a cobbled together mass of lines and curves. With each mark I made, I was almost painfully aware of the corresponding shapes of his body. I finally gave up and just scrawled a mass of squiggles on top of his neck, trying to simulate the brown curls that topped his head. They looked so silky, and I wondered at how guys so often end up with hair and eyelashes Disney princesses would kill for.
The model got up to reposition himself but, instead of choosing a radically different pose, just turned so he was sitting facing me instead. He leaned an elbow on his knee and rested his head on his fist.
I started making an overly detailed drawing of his feet, deciding to focus on what had to be the least sexy part of him. The thing was, I had gotten so used to constant sex with Grant. Now that I was trying to get over him I put a moratorium on all sex thoughts, or tried to, anyway. I knew it would only make me miss him more. Now my libido, obviously offended at having been forgotten and overjoyed to be making a comeback, was roaring back to life.
Forgetting myself, I glanced up into the models’ eyes, noticing that one was hazel and the other blue. They locked onto mine and my stomach warmed. No matter how much I told myself to avert my gaze, I couldn’t look away. Then, some movement made my eyes dart downward. When I saw what caused it, I snapped my charcoal.
“You okay?” Liv whispered.
I nodded and rooted through my remaining charcoal, trying to slow my pulse.
Did it—did it just twitch? Did his penis seriously just twitch after we made eye contact? Was it some sort of involuntary response or was he just a perv? I glanced up at his face incredulously. He was blushing furiously and had his eyes closed. He was embarrassed, and I was right. Because of his position I was probably the only one who had detected it, but I knew what I had seen.
For the remainder of that pose, I just doodled, not wanting to risk fainting or ripping my clothes off and jumping all over him. I couldn’t decide which would be more mortifying, so I thought it was safest to avoid either. But when he switched poses for the last time and stood, again with his back to us, I couldn’t help admiring the view and trying to get it all down on paper.
The woman rang the bell for the last time. “Okay, everyone! Thank you for your time. You can spray your drawings then take them home, but you’re welcome to leave them with us. Please give the models a round of applause as they go.” I forced myself to clap normally instead of doing what my inner Mindy Lahiri commanded, which was to give a standing ovation on top of my stool.
Liv turned to me. “What did you think?”
“He was unreal. He’s probably an actor, right? Doing this for extra money on the side or something?”
She looked confused, then laughed. “I meant about the entire thing, but yeah, that last guy was beautiful. You should go talk to him!”
“I feel like it’s weird to approach a guy after this since it’s just a job for him, you know? Plus, he probably gets girls doing that all the time.” As people flowed toward the exit, I saw pairs of women just like us, obviously talking about the exact same thing. “But seriously, Liv, thank you for taking me. I had a blast.”
We sprayed our pads with fixative so they wouldn’t smudge and headed towards the front of the room.
“Of course. I’ve been through bad breakups, I know how it goes.”
As I made to pile my pad on top of all the others, Liv grabbed my arm.
“No way,” she said. “You’re keeping that.”
“What? Why would I keep this? I’m good at a few things but this isn’t one of them.” I held it up so she could see my main attempt at the second model. It only vaguely resembled a human; actually, it looked more like the drawings freaky children always make in horror movies. “Plus, I already have too much stuff.”
“You should keep it as a sign of the first day you made a real effort to start moving on,” she responded, looking at me encouragingly with her huge eyes.
In the cab home, I realized Liv was right. Grant hadn’t crossed my mind once the entire class. I felt like I was always either thinking about the breakup or actively trying to not think about it. It was quickly becoming exhausting. Not only had I forgotten about him for a few blessed hours, I’d been able to appreciate a gorgeous guy. I’d been wondering how long it would take me to be interested in someone else—six months? A year, even? But I’d been able to feel something, albeit just physical, for the model. I glanced down at the haphazard scribbles on my sketchpad and, in them, saw the start of something exciting.