In fact, she didn’t mind drawing Wiktor. For one thing, he was so nearsighted he never made eye contact with the students, which was a bonus. No matter that she had been drawing nudes for years; she still found it unsettling, sketching one of the younger male models, to look up from a study of his penis—a necessary study; you couldn’t exactly leave the area blank—and find him staring back at her. Karou had felt her cheeks flame on plenty of occasions and ducked behind her easel.
Those occasions, as it turned out, were about to fade into insignificance next to the mortification of today.
She was sharpening a pencil with a razor blade when Zuzana blurted in a weird, choked voice, “Oh my god, Karou!”
And before she even looked up, she knew.
An unveiling, he had said. Oh, how clever. She lifted her gaze from her pencil and took in the sight of Kaz standing beside Profesorka Fiala. He was barefoot and wearing a robe, and his shoulder-length golden hair, which had minutes before been wind-teased and sparkling with snowflakes, was pulled back in a ponytail. His face was a perfect blend of Slavic angles and soft sensuality: cheekbones that might have been turned on a diamond cutter’s lathe, lips you wanted to touch with your fingertips to see if they felt like velvet. Which, Karou knew, they did. Stupid lips.
Murmurs went around the room. A new model, oh my god, gorgeous…
One murmur cut through the others: “Isn’t that Karou’s boyfriend?”
Ex, she wanted to snap. So very, very ex.
“I think it is. Look at him….”
Karou was looking at him, her face frozen in what she hoped was a mask of impervious calm. Don’t blush, she commanded herself. Do not blush. Kaz looked right back at her, a smile dimpling one cheek, eyes lazy and amused. And when he was sure he held her gaze, he had the nerve to wink.
A flurry of giggles erupted around Karou.
“Oh, the evil bastard…” Zuzana breathed.
Kaz stepped up onto the model’s platform. He looked straight at Karou as he untied his sash; he looked at her as he shrugged off the robe. And then Karou’s ex-boyfriend was standing before her entire class, beautiful as heartbreak, na**d as the David. And on his chest, right over his heart, was a new tattoo.
It was an elaborate cursive K.
More giggles burst forth. Students didn’t know who to look at, Karou or Kazimir, and glanced from one to the other, waiting for a drama to unfold. “Quiet!” commanded Profesorka Fiala, appalled, clapping her hands together until the laughter was stifled. Karou’s blush came on then. She couldn’t stop it. First her chest and neck went hot, then her face. Kaz’s eyes were on her the whole time, and his dimple deepened with satisfaction when he saw her flustered.
“One-minute poses, please, Kazimir,” said Fiala.
Kaz stepped into his first pose. It was dynamic, as the one-minute poses were meant to be—twisted torso, taut muscles, limbs stretched in simulation of action. These warm-up sketches were all about movement and loose line, and Kaz was taking the opportunity to flaunt himself. Karou thought she didn’t hear a lot of pencils scratching. Were the other girls in the class just staring stupidly, as she was?
She dipped her head, took up her sharp pencil—thinking of other uses she would happily put it to—and started to sketch. Quick, fluid lines, and all the sketches on one page; she overlapped them so they looked like an illustration of dance.
Kaz was graceful. He spent enough time looking in the mirror that he knew how to use his body for effect. It was his instrument, he’d have said. Along with the voice, the body was an actor’s tool. Well, Kaz was a lousy actor—which was why he got by on ghost tours and the occasional low-budget production of Faust—but he made a fine artist’s model, as Karou knew, having drawn him many times before.
His body had reminded Karou, from the first time she saw it… unveiled… of a Michelangelo. Unlike some Renaissance artists, who’d favored slim, effete models, Michelangelo had gone for power, drawing broad-shouldered quarry workers and somehow managing to render them both carnal and elegant at the same time. That was Kaz: carnal and elegant.
And deceitful. And narcissistic. And, honestly, kind of dumb.
“Karou!” The British girl Helen was whispering harshly, trying to get her attention. “Is that him?”
Karou didn’t acknowledge her. She drew, pretending everything was normal. Just another day in class. And if the model had an insolent dimple and wouldn’t take his eyes off her? She ignored it as best she could.
When the timer rang, Kaz calmly gathered up his robe and put it on. Karou hoped it wouldn’t occur to him that he was free to walk around the studio. Stay where you are, she willed him. But he didn’t. He sauntered toward her.
“Hi, Jackass,” said Zuzana. “Modest much?”
Ignoring her, he asked Karou, “Like my new tattoo?”
Students were standing up to stretch, but rather than dispersing for smoke or bathroom breaks, they hovered casually within earshot.
“Sure,” Karou said, keeping her voice light. “K for Kazimir, right?”
“Funny girl. You know what it’s for.”
“Well,” she mused in Thinker pose, “I know there’s only one person you really love, and his name does start with a K. But I can think of a better place for it than your heart.” She took up her pencil and, on her last drawing of Kaz, inscribed a K right over his classically sculpted buttock.
Zuzana laughed, and Kaz’s jaw tightened. Like most vain people, he hated to be mocked. “I’m not the only one with a tattoo, am I, Karou?” he asked. He looked to Zuzana. “Has she shown it to you?”
Zuzana gave Karou the suspicious rendition of the eyebrow arch.
“I don’t know which you mean,” Karou lied calmly. “I have lots of tattoos.” To demonstrate, she didn’t flash true or story, or the serpent coiled around her ankle, or any of her other concealed works of art. Rather, she held up her hands in front of her face, palms out. In the center of each was an eye inked in deepest indigo, in effect turning her hands into hamsas, those ancient symbols of warding against the evil eye. Palm tattoos are notorious for fading, but Karou’s never did. She’d had these eyes as long as she could remember; for all she knew of their origin, she could have been born with them.
“Not those,” said Kaz. “I mean the one that says Kazimir, right over your heart.”
“I don’t have a tattoo like that.” She made herself sound puzzled and unfastened the top few buttons of her sweater. Beneath was a camisole, and she lowered it by a few revealing inches to demonstrate that indeed there was no tattoo above her breast. The skin there was white as milk.
Kaz blinked. “What? How did you—?”
“Come with me.” Zuzana grabbed Karou’s hand and pulled her away. As they wove among the easels, all eyes were on Karou, lit with curiosity.
“Karou, did you break up?” Helen whispered in English, but Zuzana put up her hand in an imperious gesture that silenced her, and she dragged Karou out of the studio and into the girls’ bathroom. There, eyebrow still arched, she asked, “What the hell was that?”
“What? You practically flashed the boy.”
“Please. I did not flash him.”
“Whatever. What’s this about a tattoo over your heart?”
“I just showed you. There’s nothing there.” She saw no reason to add that there had been something; she preferred to pretend she had never been so stupid. Plus, explaining how she’d gotten rid of it was not exactly an option.
“Well, good. The last thing you need is that idiot’s name on your body. Can you believe him? Does he think if he just dangles his boy bits at you like a cat toy you’ll go scampering after him?”
“Of course he thinks that,” said Karou. “This is his idea of a romantic gesture.”
“All you have to do is tell Fiala he’s a stalker, and she’ll throw his ass out.”
Karou had thought of that, but she shook her head. Surely she could come up with a better way to get Kaz out of her class and out of her life. She had means at her disposal that most people didn’t. She’d think of something.
“The boy is not terrible to draw, though.” Zuzana went to the mirror and flipped wisps of dark hair across her forehead. “Got to give him that.”
“Yeah. Too bad he’s such a gargantuan asshole.”
“A giant, stupid orifice,” Zuzana agreed.
“A walking, talking cranny.”
“Cranny.” Zuzana laughed. “I like.”
An idea came to Karou, and a faintly villainous smirk crossed her face.
“What?” asked Zuzana, seeing it.
“Nothing. We’d better get back in there.”
“You’re sure? You don’t have to.”
Karou nodded. “Nothing to it.”
Kaz had gotten all the satisfaction he was going to get from this cute little ploy of his. It was her turn now. Walking back into the studio, she reached up and touched the necklace she was wearing, a multistrand loop of African trade beads in every color. At least they looked like African trade beads. They were more than that. Not much more, but enough for what Karou had planned.
Profesorka Fiala asked Kaz for a reclining pose for the rest of the period, and he draped himself back across the daybed in a way that, if not quite lewd, was certainly suggestive, knees just a bit too skewed, smile bordering on bedroom. There were no titters this time, but Karou imagined a surge of heat in the atmosphere, as if the girls in the class—and at least one of the boys—needed to fan themselves. She herself was not affected. This time when Kaz peered at her from under lazy eyelids, she met his gaze straight on.
She started sketching and did her best, thinking it fitting that, since their relationship had begun with a drawing, it should end with one, too.
He’d been sitting two tables away at Mustache Bar the first time she saw him. He wore a villain’s twirled mustache, which seemed like foreshadowing now, but it was Mustache Bar after all. Everyone was wearing mustaches—Karou was sporting a Fu Manchu she’d gotten from the vending machine. She’d pasted both mustaches into her sketchbook later that night—sketchbook number ninety—and the resulting lump made it easy to locate the exact page where her story with Kaz began.
He’d been drinking beer with friends, and Karou, unable to take her eyes off him, had drawn him. She was always drawing, not just Brimstone and the other creatures from her secret life, but scenes and people from the common world. Falconers and street musicians, Orthodox priests with beards to their bellies, the occasional beautiful boy.
Usually she got away with it, her subjects none the wiser, but this time the beautiful boy caught her looking, and the next thing she knew he was smiling under his fake mustache and coming over. How flattered he’d been by her sketch! He’d shown it to his friends, taken her hand to urge her to join them, and kept hold of it, fingers laced with hers, even after she’d settled at his table. That was the beginning: her worshipping his beauty, him reveling in it. And that was more or less how it had continued.
Of course, he’d told her she was beautiful, too, all the time. If she hadn’t been, surely he’d never have come over to talk to her in the first place. Kaz wasn’t exactly one to look for inner beauty. Karou was, simply, lovely. Creamy and leggy, with long azure hair and the eyes of a silent-movie star, she moved like a poem and smiled like a sphinx. Beyond merely pretty, her face was vibrantly alive, her gaze always sparking and luminous, and she had a birdlike way of cocking her head, her lips pressed together while her dark eyes danced, that hinted at secrets and mysteries.
Karou was mysterious. She had no apparent family, she never talked about herself, and she was expert at evading questions—for all that her friends knew of her background, she might have sprung whole from the head of Zeus. And she was endlessly surprising. Her pockets were always spilling out curious things: ancient bronze coins, teeth, tiny jade tigers no bigger than her thumbnail. She might reveal, while haggling for sunglasses with an African street vendor, that she spoke fluent Yoruba. Once, Kaz had undressed her to discover a knife hidden in her boot. There was the matter of her being impossible to scare and, of course, there were the scars on her abdomen: three shiny divots that could only have been made by bullets.
“Who are you?” Kaz had sometimes asked, enchanted, to which Karou would wistfully reply, “I really don’t know.”
Because she really didn’t.
She drew quickly now, and didn’t shy away from meeting Kaz’s eyes as she glanced up and down between model and drawing. She wanted to see his face.
She wanted to see the moment his expression changed.
Only when she had captured his pose did she lift her left hand—continuing to draw with her right—to the beads of her necklace. She took one between her thumb and forefinger and held it there.
And then she made a wish.
It was a very small wish. These beads were just scuppies, after all. Like money, wishes came in denominations, and scuppies were mere pennies. Weaker even than pennies, because unlike coins, wishes couldn’t be compounded. Pennies you could add up to make dollars, but scuppies were only ever just scuppies, and whole strands of them, like this necklace, would never add up to a more potent wish, just plenty of very small, nearly useless wishes.
Wishes, for example, for things like itches.
Karou wished Kaz an itch, and the bead vanished between her fingers. Spent and gone. She’d never wished an itch before, so, to make sure it would work, she started with a spot he wouldn’t be shy to scratch: his elbow. Sure enough, he nudged it casually against a cushion, scarcely shifting his pose. Karou smiled to herself and kept drawing.