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Beneath The Skin(9)

By´╝ÜDaryl Banner



He smiles, his every word gentle and carefully chosen. “Pussy … is asking us, the viewers, a question. Yes? Perhaps what we’re lacking from your work is the answer.”

“Oh. I see.” I consider the room of agreeing faces for a moment, then turn to my professor again. “Should I provide a spoon with my picture, then?”

Linus doesn’t follow. “A spoon?”

“Yeah. So you can spoon-feed yourself my work instead of having to think on a solution or an answer on your own,” I spit back. “God forbid my art causes anyone to think for themselves. Isn’t that the point?”

Iris blows air through her lips, rolling her eyes. “I love how you pass this pretentious crap off as ‘art’,” she mutters, making air quotes with her fingers.

The class is unrested for a moment, stools shifting and a whisper of scandal bursting here and there. I toss my hair at all of it and grab my work off the easel, refusing for it to be judged any further by these elementary morons. I head for the door.

“Nell.”

I stop only because it’s Linus who says my name. I turn, allowing him my last ounce of patience.

“Sometimes we must hear the opinions of others. It’s the only way we can grow as artists, don’t you agree? It’s important to process the—”

“I’ve processed enough,” I say, cutting him off.

He lifts his brow, surprised by my lip, I assume. Then, with a tilt of his head, he asks, “Do you know when an artist dies?”

I stare at him, deadpan. “Is this some kind of knock-knock joke? How many artists does it take to screw in a light bulb? What are you getting at?”

“Do you know when an artist dies?” he repeats.

I frown, then humor him. “When?”

“When she thinks she has nothing left to learn.”

The heads in the class turn slowly to face me, as if they’re afraid of my reaction to his frigid last words to me. The clench I have on my artwork tightens. My eyes narrow, hating everyone in the room in an instant, and suddenly I’m in sixth grade again clutching a picture of a girl cheerily hugging an enormous white dog. I’m in sixth grade and I’m wearing that bright green dress, feeling so proud that I could burst, and can’t wait to take my pretty picture home to show my mom—a pretty picture she’d never see.

I miss that girl in the bright green dress.

I let the door shut loudly behind me as I leave. When I pass the nearest trash bin, I throw my Pussy into it, then shove out of the double doors and into the courtyard. Ten seconds and a deep breath later, I slip back into the building, return to that same trash bin, and pull my work right back out, smoothing it gently against the wall. The longer I look at it, the more I start to calm down. One deep breath in, one deep breath out, and I give my deranged, whorish cat a soft smile.

I really, really miss that girl in the bright green dress.

Back outside, there’s something about passing through the tunnel that has me thinking about that guy named Brant again. Instantly, the cloud of bitterness around me parts, disintegrating to let in the sunlight. That sunlight happens to be his cocky face, and the further the clouds fade, the more of him I see: his smooth toned pecs, his rippling abs, his taut thighs and shapely calves.

His big dick.

I find myself smiling suddenly, all the anger from my art class gone in an instant. The girl in the green dress is very much alive; I have to believe that. The guy named Brant, though I know him for precisely what he is, is also the only guy who’s dared to breach my bubble in a very long time. Everyone else is too intimidated. Everyone else prefers to stare at me from a distance and whisper to their friends. I can only imagine what they say. “She’s a witch,” I’m sure I’ve heard. “She sacrificed her own sister for some Satanic blood ritual!” I wouldn’t doubt they’ve said that, too. “She keeps one of her ex-boyfriends in a basement and cuts off a tiny piece of him every morning to put in her breakfast cereal!”

Maybe I made that last one up.

The point is, I have no idea who the hell that goofball womanizer-wannabe Brant is or where he came from, but I’m determined to test him at every opportunity, no matter how adorable or sexy or hot I think he is—and no matter how strong he comes on to me.

He wants to have fun? He’s going to learn fast that I get my fun first.

When I emerge from the other side of the tunnel, I sit down on the grassy knoll outside the psychology building and pull out my phone. After tapping her face on the screen, I bring it to my ear.

“Bitch, please,” is the first thing Minnie says. “Again?”

I sigh. “They were talking shit about Pussy and just weren’t getting it. I’m so ready to get the hell out of this school.”

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