My beta reader has poked at me to try and get me to write a sequel. Do you think it should be followed up, or left hanging?
Maribelle scooted around a cluster of people, mumbling an apology. They ignored her, engaged in discussion regarding the painting they hovered near. She clutched at the glass of punch, wondering if she was brave enough to drink any of the champagne the waiters carried around. Glancing once more at the amber fluid, she shuddered, not wanting to make herself sick. She'd never been able to drink alcohol, and didn't want to test her flaws at the moment.
Sighing softly, she looked around for her friend. Maribelle was becoming uncomfortable amongst all these strangers, and wondered why she'd allowed herself to be talked into this. Because Amanda was trying to be friendly. And I really need to get out of the house more often. A wave of distress filling her, Maribelle prayed Amanda would return soon. It had been years since she had last been in a crowd of this size.
In the meantime, she let herself stare at the portrait to her side. A pair of young women stood between her and the canvas, so Maribelle found herself unable to appreciate the details. From what she could see, though, the family in the painting looked happy, all of them smiling gently. There were just the three of them, the mother seated with the toddler on her lap, the father standing almost protectively behind the pair. Maribelle winced inside, thinking of her own family, thinking of how her father worked so hard he never saw them, and her mother took all her bitterness out on their only child.
Sighing, the young woman tried to feel the happiness the family clearly felt. The mother looked pleased to have a baby, and the husband beamed with pride. They were dressed in loose silks, jeweled and painted with mild cosmetics. Even the baby's lovely eyes were lined with dark blue. A dark blue that matched their sapphire eyes, and the velvety dark blue-black of their hair. Maribelle touched her ponytail, wondering briefly how the artist had somehow captured her own unusual color.
The group of people moved on, allowing her a chance to finally view the large painting. She'd never been to a gallery opening, and didn't know any of the protocols, so she tried to make herself as unobtrusive as possible. Not that she was ever outgoing or pushy in other settings. The young woman skirted the edges, sidestepping the patrons circling the gallery, and, in general, felt shabby next to all the elegant people. She could hear her mother's harping voice reminding her that she didn't belong here, no matter how much Amanda has assured her she was fine, and Maribelle kept blushing and apologizing, ready to leave. But I'm always ready to leave, especially when I'm out of my element. This is the worst.
And if I leave, I'll have to listen to Mother reminding me that I should never have come. And I'll have to hear Amanda asking why I left early. She just wants to see me having fun, and she really means well. I shouldn't let my problems become a problem for her. She had to admit she was enjoying the paintings, and how stunningly executed they all were.
Sipping at her punch, trying to hide her trembling, Maribelle stared at the canvas before her. It was taller than herself, and twice as wide. She couldn't comprehend anyone actually painting on something that large, let alone having the patience to form so many shapes and color blends. She'd been an okay artist in high school, and still sketched with her pen when bored at work, but she'd never gotten this creative.
Depicted before her was a colorful landscape; a fantasy jungle with two moons rising in a greenish sky. The colors were vibrant, surreal without being make believe. The jungle was rich with shades of green, vibrant on top, deep and hidden near the floor.
Maribelle found herself drawn into the painting, able to view it in all its glory with no one between her and it. Her jaw slowly dropped as she noticed the first canopy house, then saw birds roosting in the uppermost branches. The sounds of the crowd fell away as she stepped closer, her eyes now seeking the details so astonishingly wrought in oil.
The jungle was actually part of a valley, and it rose up the gentle slopes of the cradling hills. A river peeked from between the trees, the barest sparkle through the valley. Birds flew amongst the trees, and something large lifted from the distant hills. The tree canopy undulated in shape, rising and falling where individual trees grew taller than their neighbors.
The moons were sharp against the sky, dotted with craters. The faintest clouds captured the rays of sun, and created silver mist across the purplish faces of the moons. Maribelle leaned closer, and saw the sharp lines of cityscapes nestled in the craters, sparkling with lights. Gasping with delight at her discoveries, Maribelle continued to study the painting.
Her gaze was drawn back to the jungle. Now that she was closer, almost touching the canvas, she could see an entire village in the canopy. The houses seemed to be built from the trees themselves, branches woven together to form rooms, vines and leaves laced into bridges, flowers giving off light in colorful hues.
The young woman trembled, tears standing on the lower rim of her eyes, wondering how she hadn't seen this at first look. The village descended into the depths of the jungle, bridges spiraling around trunks to lower levels and broad branches. The buildings were now large hollows in the boles of the goliaths, and filled with looms and easels, even a small forge glowing red with heat. More than flowers lit the darker depths, and Maribelle leaned in even closer to find the light source.
It was then that she saw the people.
They were tall, elegant, yet with strong figures. They looked just like the family in the portrait, and Maribelle wondered if that family was in here somewhere. They dressed in every shade of the spectrum, in flowing gowns and robes, in tight suits, in sparse kilts, in leather armor. They lounged in their buildings, they walked on their bridges, they worked in the shops near the jungle floor. They loved, they laughed, they created.
"They're beautiful," she said with a weak voice, trembling violently. She suddenly wanted to be with them, to share in their happiness. None of them looked like outcasts, none of them looked out of place, none of them seemed sad or haunted or lonely. Biting her lip, her hand started to rise as if to stroke the clothing of the tiny figures.
"You're the first one to notice them," spoke a rich tenor beside her. Maribelle gave a short cry, straightening swiftly, and nearly dropped her drink. Somehow a young man had joined her, and was standing close by her, hands clasped behind his back. She stared awkwardly at the man beside her, blushing painfully, barely seeing him. It was as if her vision refused to work, leaving everything in a haze, and she willed it back to normal. Heat rose hard to her cheeks as she could finally see the speaker.
He gave a friendly smile, stepping closer, and brought one hand forward to touch her shoulder in a familiar manner. "I didn't mean to scare you." Maribelle could only continue to stare, her lips slightly parted, her heart racing. "No one has paid any of the canvasses that much attention, and they've yet to see the people." His voice was slightly accented, his lips flushed, his eyes bright. He dressed in black silk, an outfit that reminded her of kung fu movies, and bore several rings on his long fingers.
"Are they in all the paintings?" she barely choked out, noticing he had the same blue-black hair color she did, that the people did, and that he also wore it half way down his back. As he smiled, she noted the faint sharpness to his eye teeth, same as her, and the same sapphire blue eye color. They were even the same height, with similar builds. She wanted to faint, and bit her lip as she grew dizzy. In twenty three years of life, she'd met no one who looked like her, not even her parents.
"They are. Only those who care to look can see them." He held out a tapered hand, and she took it with trembling fingers. His rings were cold as he lifted her hand, brushing her knuckles with silken lips. "I'm Karvin. I painted all these."
Maribelle blushed, ducking her head. Karvin still had her hand, and warmth pooled in her fingers. "I know that. They're great."
Karvin stepped closer, still holding her hand. She felt her face pale, and could only gape at him as he gave her a secret smile. It didn't feel like he was invading her space, like when others stood too close, and she wasn't unnerved by his presence. She actually wanted him near her, enjoyed the way he smelled, liked the way his skin felt against hers. "And what is your name, oh attentive one?"
She blushed, fiercer than before, and could barely speak. "Maribelle."
He repeated her name as though he was tasting it, his eyes gleaming in the indirect lighting. "Let me show you the rest." Without waiting for her consent, Karvin began to lead her through the gallery. She shook as he kept his hand in the small of her back, keeping her close.
Maribelle could feel the stares on them, could feel all the envious eyes, could even hear the whispers of everyone around them. She caught Amanda's gaze, saw the astonished look on her co-workers face. Maribelle continued to blush faintly, but it was more from Karvin's nearness than the attention of the other gallery goers. Even though Karvin was dressed so richly, so uniquely, she didn't feel awkward or shabby beside him. If anything, she felt like she belonged. With Karvin touching her, her jeans and canvas slip on shoes and threadbare velveteen shirt felt as nice as his silks and leather boots.
The next canvas Karvin brought her to was a winterscape. The artist stayed quiet as they approached, had been quiet since leading her away from the jungle, allowing Maribelle to absorb this piece. The young woman was too excited to appreciate the size of the scene, and immediately went to look for the people, bypassing all other details. She found them, wearing leather and fur, enjoying the snow, hunting the mountains, making merry in the warm cave systems.
Maribelle ached inside as her eyes roved from scene to scene, all the beautiful blue-black haired people on display for her. They are part of their world. They know why they exist, they know what they want to do with their lives. How can they be so happy, and I can't? She sobbed once, tears falling swift and hot down her cheeks. She knew the figures were only oil and pigment on canvas, but they seemed so real to her. Envious of them, she bit her lip, suppressing further tears.
Karvin made a soft sound, pulling her into his arms. Her restraint wavered for less than a heartbeat, then she collapsed against him, conforming to his body, burying her face against the crook of his neck. He was a stranger, she knew nothing about him, yet she clung desperately to him, allowing him to comfort her as waves of anguish ripped her apart. There was no one but him, and she didn't care if she was making a scene. Years of buried sorrow rose, suppressed pain, all the hidden loneliness, the sense of not belonging, the ache of feeling lost, all of it came roaring out. Karvin held her close, one hand stroking her hair, his strength holding her securely.
"My sweet Maribelle, why do you cry?" It didn't matter that he spoke possessively of her. It only mattered that he was there at this moment. His voice was soft, loving almost, whispering gently in her ears. She felt complete within his arms, and never wanted to leave.
"Your paintings make me sad, and yet they feel so familiar." She was surprised by the strength in her voice, even as tears continued. "I can't explain why, but they really move me. They..." She paused, lifting her head to look at him. Karvin looked intent, his lips flushed and eyes fever bright. Maribelle inexplicably knew she could trust him, that he would understand. He would never laugh at her dreams, or call her foolish, or tell her to stop daydreaming, or accuse her of making something up. He would always accept her for who she was, and he would explore her odd feelings with her. Karvin was perfect for her. "They remind me of home."
He grinned knowingly, and moved his mouth to her ear. "That's because they are."