The morning after Constance said ‘yes’ to going out with him, Gage Briody woke up feeling better than he had in years. Well, she didn’t exactly say ‘yes’ to dating him, but ‘tea’ with Constance was a step in the right direction. He was excited.
She had agreed to meet him for tea at four o’clock on Monday afternoon. It was her half-day. He had a feeling tea-time-at-four was going to be his new favorite hour and activity. Anything to stare into her beautiful browns and hear her talk about literature. He suddenly had found reading to be sexy.
It was then that he was hit with the realization that he needed a job. There was no way he could wine and dine Constance without having a steady cash flow. Plus he figured he needed to have some direction in his life and appear to be somewhat responsible. Attending university in the fall wasn’t enough. Constance deserved the best, and for that, he’d need some dough.
When he wandered downstairs, he wasn’t surprised to see no one beside his cousin, Sam in the dining room. Rhoda worked nights at her mysterious job… er… criminal activities. Aunt Missy attended mass on Sunday mornings, said she needed to get back in touch with God. Gage went to church on Saturday evenings with the Broke family so he was usually home and reading the paper at the breakfast table.
“Milk’s low,” he remarked through the open door to the dining room.
Sam sighed, and took out a small pen and paper, making a note. “I’ll pick some up during my shift tonight.”
“I can grab it today if you want,” Gage closed the refrigerator and decided dry cereal was better than nothing. “I was thinking of going into town.”
His cousin worked part-time at EverFresh Delights Supermarket in town. The store wasn’t quite what Gage would consider a ‘super’ market, given it was much smaller than its chain sister from the Valley. However, the people were much more friendly. He’d even met his new neighbor, Ginny McDermott when he picked up a candy bar and some soda the other day. Apparently, she and her husband partnered with EverFresh to sell their homegrown produce.
Gage had been subtly snooping all over town, trying to learn all he could about Constance Shelley before their unofficial date. Ginny had seemed perky and pleasant last time they conversed. She also had two school-aged children, one of whom was in elementary school and a frequent attendee of story hour at the library. Perhaps she’d have some more details about the evasive, yet elegant librarian.
“Really?” Sam’s eyes lit up. “Thanks.” He stood up eagerly, nearly knocking over the remnants of milk in his own cereal bowl. “I’m supposed to go over to Ruby’s tonight after my shift so if I pick up groceries, I’d have to come home first.”
Gage waved his hands. “Hey no problem, man. Give me the list.”
Sam gave his thanks as he walked over to the sink to wash his dishes.
“Hey, does your store need any help?” Gage asked.
“What kind of help?”
“Like are they hiring? I need something with flexible hours, decent pay, and good experience.”
“Oh, probably. We’re always hiring, though the hours aren’t really up for negotiation and the pay is pretty crappy…but if you’re looking for a job, you should check the papers. You might find something better.”
Gage perused the Sunday “Wanted” section, finding a request for a bartender at the local watering hole, a lifeguard at the River Front Swim Club, and a live-in nanny for the Ivanov family given the parents traveled frequently for shows. Gage had zilch experience with bartending. Although he was a decent swimmer, he hadn’t been swimming since… well… that night with Kass… and he wasn’t a particularly strong swimmer. Male nannying did not sound like a dignifying job, and he really wasn’t sure about taking care of two little kids anyhow.
Gage sighed. He was about to close the paper and wait until tomorrow when another ad caught his eye. It was on a different page than the rest, almost like it got misplaced.
The words read,
Up and Coming Artist Seeks Like-Minded Individual to Assist With Art Gallery. Art Lessons Included with Comped Pay. Must Like Weird Hours and Be Willing to Work with an Eccentric Artist.”
That was it. There was a name – B. Caspian – and a phone number.
Gage looked at his watch. It was after nine-thirty on a Sunday. It was a respectable hour to call. He had dabbled in art in high school, and kept scribbles and scraps on pieces of paper he could find here and there. He never saw himself as an artist, though he wouldn’t mind improving.
Hey, it beats being the male version of Mary Poppins, Gage chuckled to himself as he dialed.
B. Caspian turned out to be Billy Caspian. Gage put the call on speaker to scroll through the Internet on his phone to see what he could find about the guy. He was young, mid-twenties, and a former student of the great Hank Ferdinand until the man disappeared. Billy had dropped off the radar and only recently had popped back up in Riverview to manage the Octagon House, the town art gallery and museum.
Billy was enthusiastic. He told Gage he’d like to meet him right away. Apparently, Gage was the first person to respond to his ad. Gage told him he would be over within the hour.
As it was Sunday, there was no bus line passing by the Bagleys once every half-hour. When Gage realized the next bus wouldn’t be by for another hour, he decided to hoof it downtown. It couldn’t be that far. The day was pleasant enough, not too hot yet. Gage started walking, and then realized perhaps he should’ve worn something else.
What exactly does one wear to meet an eccentric artist?
Gage hoped his faded jeans and orange striped button down and tee sufficed because he didn’t have time to go back and change. When Gage reached the Octagon House, he waved to the only man standing outside. He figured the guy was probably Billy.
Billy introduced himself in all manners of excitement and shook Gage’s hand vigorously. Gage wondered if they were going to move inside, but Billy insisted on conducting this spontaneous interview outside. Gage didn’t really mind.
Once assured of Gage’s background in art, albeit limited, and his ability to produce documentation of his identity, proof of address, and former work references, Billy hired Gage on the spot.
It all seemed too easy, but Gage wasn’t going to complain. He needed the work. Maybe Constance would find the “starving artist” job attractive too.
Gage made a mental note to call Granny Jade from his former coffee shop stint and retroactively give her a heads-up. She had promised him she would be a reference when he moved.
“So about the art lessons?” Gage inquired.
“Oh yeah, so I can’t pay you much. The city pays me and they don’t pay a crapload or anything. I can, at best, do about a dollar above minimum wage,” Billy explained. “Someday when I open my own studio and all… I can… maybe… if I make it big… like my mentor.”
“Yeah so you worked with Hank Ferdinand,” Gage replied. “That guy was a genius. I liked his realistic portrayal of mortality in his paintings. In fact, he inspired a bit of my own dabblings in art… like…” he paused, thinking about Jennifer. “…I did a sketch of my foster mom’s final resting place after she passed… once I got my head clear and all… you know…” he chuckled uneasily. “…though alcohol seems to enhance my skills… either that or I just think I’m better when I drunk.” Gage wished he had kept his mouth shut. “Uh… not that I drink all that often… or… er… I’d never drink on the job or anything.”
“Hey man! No judgment here. I get it. The bottle can be an interesting motivator,” Billy said. “A sober mind isn’t always the most creative mind in my experience.”
“Thanks,” Gage felt his shoulders relax. He could see himself working well with Billy. “I’m glad you understand. Though I’d like to sharpen my skills when I am sober. I’ll probably do better in the long run that way.”
“We all gotta start somewhere,” Billy shrugged. “Have you ever sculpted?”
“Sculpted? Like with clay?” Gage moved his hands around to demonstrate. “Not really… uh… I made a vase once for Mother’s Day I think. My foster mom liked it, but I thought it was a piece of crap. She liked art. Always spent a lot of time at museums and stuff when she traveled and she enjoyed the pieces entered in the fair. I’d be willing to give it another go-around… to honor her memory in a way…”
“Interesting… I can work with that…” Billy rubbed his chin thoughtfully.
“I’m probably not the best artist you can hire, but I’m a quick study.”
“Yeah, well as long as you don’t mind the mess. I can’t give you lessons here at Octagon so it’ll have to be my place if that’s okay with you. We barely have an art room in back and that’s mostly for just supplies, but I figured the city is getting off cheap with hiring labor and my employees deserve more… at least that’s what Hank always said. I’m happy to offer you lessons here and there… anything you want to know… as a way to compensate for the dirt pay.”
“I’ll take it,” Gage shook his new boss’ hand.
“Well, speaking of the job, let’s go inside and I can show you the database and all you’ll be working with,” Billy said as he turned around and walked up the stairs.
He was going to become an artist. The thought excited him. Jennifer would be proud. She had always encouraged him to try new things, but he had always been shy about his art, unwilling to show others. He knew he could use the improvement, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to learn before he got busy with fall classes. Billy seemed like a decent guy, and he felt like he’d enjoy working for him.
He unlocked the front door and stared back at his new employee and pupil. “You are coming, aren’t you?”
“Oh… yeah…” Gage snapped out of his thought world. “I was just… uh… thank you…”
Billy looked surprised.
“…for the job… for giving me the job… and the lessons…” Gage hated how he sounded like he was stammering. “Um… I mean… it’s great to work with a real artist.”
“Yeah,” Billy waved his hands in mock-annoyance. “Just get in here before I change my mind.”
Gage grinned. “Aye, aye, boss.”
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