Currie set up her easel by the front doors. Brent gave a deep sigh and plopped in the chair across from her. “Let’s get this over with. I won’t be able to stand the suspense until I know what my project is and if I can rise to the occasion.”
His sarcasm didn’t bother her. Currie picked up her pastels and began to sketch his narrow face. “What animal do you want to be?”
“It’s a caricature. I don’t do your regular body. So most people pick an animal for me to finish them.”
Brent frowned. “What would you be?”
“That’s easy. An otter.”
“An otter? Why?”
“They’re smart. They’re fun. They love to play, and they crack abalones open with rocks to feast on seafood.”
He thought about that. “Okay, you’ve inspired me. I’ll be a dolphin. They’re sleek, they can communicate, and they can beat the shit out of sharks.”
“Good choice.” She sketched a streamlined body leaping from the waves and drew Brent’s face for the head. As she filled in the details, she mechanically drew a huge red heart in its chest and put black bars around it.
“What did you do that for?” Brent asked, staring at the finished picture.
“Because that’s where your problem is,” Currie said. “You’re holding something back, playing it safe.”
Brent’s face went pale. “Not true. I give my job one hundred per cent, and I’m the life of the party every night. I enjoy life till I drop.”
“The sketches never lie.” Currie hesitated, studying her artwork. “Nope, that’s what I see. It looks like a deep craving that you won’t let yourself have.”
Brent pushed himself up and grabbed his crutches. “I’m not listening to any more of this psychobabble. I’d rather read the newspapers in the library.”
“Don’t you want to know what your project is for this month?”
“No, I’m not staying. I’m leaving when the ferry leaves next week.”
He wasn’t her client, but she knew this would work for him. “Too bad, you’d enjoy this. Thora, in the kitchen, is going to have a baby. I was going to ask you to help her paint and decorate the nursery.”
“Why in the world would you think I’d be any good at that?”
“Because, look at your drawing. You have a big heart. You’d make the nursery beautiful.”
He scowled. “Is she having a boy or a girl?”
“Good thing, because you can’t ask a guy to do pink and lace--if a guy’s your next victim for the job. That would be asking too much.”
Currie raised an eyebrow. “What would you do for a boy’s room?”
“Plain blue’s too obvious, and none of that sports stuff. . . Hey, wait a minute! I didn’t say I’d do it.”
“If you did, you’d like Thora. She’s funny. She makes me laugh. You’d like hanging out with her for a week.”
“You mean there’s someone on this island with a sense of humor? For God’s sake, introduce me to her. The sooner, the better. And it’s just for one week. Got that? Seven days. No more.”
“Whatever, but then you’d better work fast, or I’ll have to assign the nursery to someone else.” Currie took his picture off the easel and carried it inside, where she tacked it to the bulletin board in Brie’s office with Brent scrawled across the bottom in black marker. Then she led him to the kitchen and introduced him to her friend.
“Want to help me rinse dishes while we talk?” Thora asked him.
He pulled a kitchen stool under the stump of his left leg for balance. “Why not? I’m stuck here until the next ferry over. At least you seem fun to talk to.”
Currie left them and went back to her easel. She wanted to sketch as many clients as she could tonight. Who knew what other surprises she’d find when she colored them in?
Most of the caricatures came fast and easy. Leann, the woman in her early fifties who’d befriended Keri, in her thirties, had wide gray eyes and steely gray waves that framed her face, but the animal body she chose for her sketch was a golden retriever’s, and it suited her--warm, friendly, and open. When Currie colored it in, its torso was filled with a dull red ache. “Does this fit you?” she asked.
“Oh, yes.” Leann wiped away tears as she looked at her picture. “I lost my son in a car accident last November. He was only twenty-seven years old. My heart, my guts--they still hurt.”
Currie sketched Teri next. “Do I have to be an animal?” Teri asked. “Could I choose a plant?”
“Sure. Whatever suits you best.”
“I want to be a cactus,” Teri said. “Barren and brittle.”
Currie sketched the long, lean limbs of a saguaro and blended Teri’s face into the top branch. She lined the tough shell of the cactus with sharp needles.
“It’s perfect,” Teri said, studying the thick shell and spiky defense. “I just lost another baby. The doctor says there won’t be any more.”
“I’m sorry. You must be devastated. I would be.” Currie pointed to the healthy green of the cactus. “But you’re healthy, and you still have a lot to offer others.” She rested her finger on a tiny owl roosting in a hole of the desert plant, revealing a golden interior.
Teri blinked and stared. “But I feel dead inside.”
Currie pointed to the hole. “Even your wounds can offer solace to someone.”
Leann put an arm around the young woman’s shoulders. “Come on. We’re both down, but we’re not out. I had a son and lost him. You can’t have a child. I’m not sure which hurts worse.” And the two women walked off together to explore the island.
“Me next,” a man in his late fifties grumped. “Then I’m gonna look around and see why I’m paying so damned much money to stay here.” Ted Krashor, one of Saffron’s clients, hunched into the chair to be sketched.
“Each person picks an animal body,” she said.
“Just plain stupid!”
“That’s the way it is,” Currie said. “What do you want to be?”
He lowered his head and hunched his shoulders. “Make me a rhinoceros, big and strong.”
The resemblance was uncanny with Ted’s bulldozer of a body and fierce disposition. When Currie finished the head with its salt-and-pepper hair and small, cold, ice-blue eyes, Ted nodded approval. “I think you got the real me.”
Not everyone would be pleased with the hard look of the picture, Currie knew, but then not everyone was Ted. She studied the drawing. Saffron’s specialty was spirituality, but as far as she could tell, Ted didn’t have one ounce of it. She’d drawn a thick layer of gray skin on the rhino, almost like armor. If anyone, even Saffron, could penetrate that, Currie would be surprised. There was a small, hard nugget of blue fear deep in the rhino’s belly, though. Ted was facing something that scared him, and he’d buried it deep inside.
“So what’s my project? I want to get started on it and be done with it,” Ted said.
Currie shook her head. “My sister Saffron will know. Your name’s on her list.”
“So that’s how it works, huh? You divide us up?”
“Makes sense. More efficient. Either that, or all three of you would be messing with each person, wouldn’t you?”
“You sound like a business man.”
“Own a construction company. We’ve built all the big projects in our area, and we do damn fine work.”
Ted grimaced. “My sons are watching over it now, until the doc gives me the okay to go back to work. I’ll be lucky if it still makes a profit by the time I get back.”
“Why? What happened?”
Ted pointed to his chest. “The old ticker tried to quit on me. Almost died.”
“So you’ve come here to recuperate?”
“I guess. Couldn’t stand just sitting around the house. My wife wouldn’t let me go to the job sites. Threatened to leave me, damn the woman.”
Currie nodded. Whoever was married to Ted must be a strong woman. Saffron was going to have her hands full.
“Give me that thing, will you?” Ted ripped the paper off the easel. “I’m going to show it to your sister and she can tell me what the hell I’m supposed to do.”
“She’s showing people the island right now. I don’t suppose you’d like to walk the trails?”
He waved his hand as if he were brushing off a pesky mosquito. “Waste of time.” And he plodded off to the main building. “I’ll find a newspaper and see what the market did today till your sister gets back.”
“If anyone’s in the library, ask them to let me sketch them, will you?” Currie called after him. And in a few minutes, Price Compton strolled out the door to sit for her.
He grinned. “Ted Krashor told me to get off my sorry ass and come get my picture done. It sounded better than staying in the library with him.”
Currie shook her head. “Sorry, but I’m glad you’re here. You’ve probably already heard that you have to choose an animal’s body.”
“I like the idea, and I’ve picked a wolf.”
She couldn’t hide her surprise. “Most people are afraid of them.”
Price hurried to explain. “I think they get a bad rap. They’re beautiful animals. They can be social in their own pack, but they don’t mind being loners either. I like being around people, but I need my alone time. AND. . . they get to howl at the moon. How can you beat that?”
“Did you know that we have wolves on the island?” Currie asked. “And you’re right. They’re beautiful, but most people grew up with stories of Little Red Riding Hood and werewolves. They think of them as dangerous.”
“I can sympathize with wolves,” Price said.
Currie smiled. “Then let’s see how you look as one.” And she had to admit that, once again, a client had chosen something that seemed a natural for him. Price’s long, lean limbs and sinewy build suited the wolf’s wild, rangy frame. So did his thick brown hair and pale-blue eyes. When she began to color in her quick sketch, though, a strange thing happened. She’d drawn the wolf, facing her, and she colored its left half black and chalked its right half white. When she was finished, she looked at the picture, amazed.
Price narrowed his eyes and studied it. “You see a lot when you draw a person, don’t you?”
“More than I usually realize. What does it mean?” He was one of her clients, and she was curious how he’d interpret his sketch.
“It means that I lead a double life. I’m one person when I work and do sales--shrewd and cunning, another person when I’m relaxed and can be myself. And for right now, until I heal, half of me is dead,” he said, his voice dull. “My fiancée committed suicide a few weeks ago. It feels like I’ve lost everything good in my life. When I’m with people, I can push it away. When I’m alone, I fall into a deep, dark hole.”
“I knew that she had problems with depression, but since I was happy, I thought WE were happy.”
“Maybe nothing could make her happy,” Currie said.
He nodded. “I thought I was too old to fall for that sappy feeling that love conquers all. I’m a salesman. I should know that happy slogans are usually bullshit.”
“We all need to feel loved.”
“I need to deal with her death, and the feeling that I didn’t give her enough, if only I’d. . .” He broke off. “Well, you can see why I’m here.”
But when Price left and promised to send Avery Ritter out to her--“He’s buried himself under a pile of books about feeder fish, but I’ll roust him,”-- she stared at his sketch again and couldn’t quite rid herself of a feeling of disquiet. He was either black or white. No gray.
Avery wandered out to her next and proved an easy subject to sketch. With his stocky build and intellectual air, he picked the perfect animal, too. “Make me a silverback,” he said. “Gorillas fascinate me.” Brain and brawn, a perfect combination for the man before her.
She’d finished everyone’s sketches except Ward Darrow’s before the sun set, so she carted her easel across the side lawn and made her way to his cabin, hidden in the trees. She knocked on the door, but no one answered.
Oh, well, there were no rules on the island, she reminded herself. She was trudging back to the common room when she looked across the rolling lawn and saw a dark-haired man sitting beneath the willow tree by the lake. Her heart caught in her throat. Her father always sat there. Slowly, cautiously, she went to see who it was. The tree looked better, more cheerful, and it surprised her to see that Ward Darrow, the man she’d intended to sketch, sat beneath its hanging branches.
He looked up as she approached. “Oh, sorry, I forgot about the pictures.”
Currie swallowed a lump in her throat. “My dad used to love this spot.” She dropped to the ground beside him.
“I love willows. Always have. Had one in my front yard when I was kid, had a tire swing in it.” He looked across the smooth water of the lake. “I love this whole island.”
Currie nodded. “We’ve been lucky. This is our home.”
“It’s perfect.” He didn’t ask the question that most people did. How did you go to school? Were there other kids? Were you lonely?
“Do you mind if I sketch you? You’re the last one.”
He shook his head absently.
“You need to choose an animal’s body,” she said.
He frowned. “What kind?”
“An animal that appeals to you, that’s fascinated you.”
“Easy. A panther. I look for the one at the zoo every summer.”
Black, like his pitch black hair and dark eyes, Currie thought. And powerful, like his muscular build. Tense, ready to pounce. There was a restless energy about Ward. And a great sadness. “Why did you come?” she asked as she finished his sketch and saw a crimson ache that spread even farther than Leann’s did with her lost son.
“I couldn’t save her,” he said, “and I need to forgive myself.”
“Couldn’t save who?”
“I’m a fireman. A two-story went up in flames. When I looked up, a little girl pressed her face to the window and cried ‘help’. By the time I got to her, she was gone. The smoke had gotten her.”
“But you must have done all you could.” It sounded trite, even to her own ears.
“My best wasn’t good enough, and I hate that.”
“But you can’t hate yourself.”
It didn’t matter what she answered. His gaze was already far across the water. And Currie guessed that he wasn’t seeing the lush foliage and flowers. He was seeing a little girl’s face pressed against a second floor window.