Sea gulls cried for bread scraps, circling and battling one another above a group of children gathered on the street corner where Simone worked. July sun danced among the oaks lining the park, casting shadows of light and dark across the laughing children’s faces – matching the mirth they shared with the eager gulls.
Simone took it all in, radiantly smiling as life on the square melded into the paint on her canvas. Ever since Lucette’s death two months earlier, children, water and sea gulls were ever-present themes – gently appearing in pastel-like mixtures of softly playing color.
She smiled more these days, as if the little creole girl was always beside her, watching with those bright rapt, brown eyes – insuring the work flowed from her heart. Death became life, and with it, Simone’s work flourished.
Maria was right. Art WAS her heart, freely expressed in tinted mixtures of oil and pigments – lovingly stroked onto stretched canvas with the caress of a lover’s touch.
People noticed, admiring her art more and more. While Lucette’s parents hadn’t moved forward with the commission, others purchased her paintings and improved her reputation. Groups often gathered just to observe, much like the couple standing beside her now, watching her paint.
“Bonjour,” Simone said, smiling. She tilted her eyes into a glittering radiance, as if this couple were the most amazing people on earth and she wanted to make sure they knew it through her smile.
“Bonjour, Mademoiselle,” the man said, clasping the hand of his auburn-haired partner and staring at the painting. His eyes never strayed from the canvas as he said hello, instead looking deeper into what Simone was creating.
“Bonjour,” the woman clasping his hand said, watching her lover’s eyes and not really seeing Simone. The greeting was rote, as if required to say it because it was the proper thing to do.
Simone noticed her, but paid more attention to the man. She especially enjoyed the manner in which he leaned into her art, with his broad shoulders almost filling the space.
“What is it you see, Monsieur?” Simone said, sitting taller on her stool. He cocked his head, eyes narrowing as he looked. She followed his gaze.
“There’s an energy surrounding the gulls,” he said, twirling his finger in a spiral – tracing the birds just above the paint. “It spins, especially the way the color fades into the others.” He shook his head, then smiled.
“I can’t really explain it, but it’s so dynamic. And the children. Delightful!”
“Tomas,” the woman said, sounding bored with the entire conversation. She tugged at his arm. “I want to go to the market.”
The man nodded, his reddish blonde hair dancing across his brow. Dressed in greens and florals, he looked like a man of means, though surprisingly young. Maybe thirty, Simone thought? The felt hat was a nice touch. A shame his coat was knee length, as it hid the more interesting parts.
“Of course, Marguerite,” he said, patting her hand. “In a moment.” He still stared at the painting, and Simone’s eyes sparkled with interest as her breathing became heated.
“What is the title, mademoiselle?”
“Market Gulls, Monsieur,” Simone said, allowing her eyes to drift over his body. Not too tall, she thought, thick arms. He worked, that was clear. Soft fingers, strong hands. A writer, perhaps? No.
Nice legs, she thought, wishing he’d turn around. He must be a planter, especially with those bright, tight trousers. She frowned and sighed. It figured.
“Market Gulls,” the man said slowly, allowing the words to linger on his tongue, as if tasting. “Market Gulls. I like that.”
“Tomas,” his partner whined, her eyes focused across Levee street, toward the green-roofed building. “Can we go now?” He sighed and nodded again, still looking into the painting.
“Oui,” he said, turning toward Marguerite. “Let’s be on-“
He met Simone’s eyes.
“…our way,” he said, slowly finishing his sentence with gaze fixed up on Simone’s. Her head spun in a rushing swirl of energy, and her heart skipping a beat with her sucked-in breath.
I know him, she thought, while her spinning head dulled her memory of when that might have been. Not wanting to miss the moment, her mouth blurted what her mind was thinking.
“Have we met, Monsieur?”
That got Marguerite’s attention. The Belle snapped her head around and looked into Tomas’s eyes, then into those of Simone. “Tomas Laiche!” Marguerite said. “We will be going. Now.”
He blinked, the trance broken and met his partner’s glare. “Ah, yes,” he stammered. “The market. Of course, my darling.” He took a deep breath, releasing the energy of the look with Simone.
“Thank you, Mademoiselle,” he said, dipping his head in a bow. “Your art is beautiful.”
Simone smiled, feeling the familiar heat of longing stir deep within her abdomen. Trailing fingers through her hair, she pushed the draping black strands from the front of her face and over her ear.
“My pleasure, Monsieur,” Simone said. “It will be finished by this evening, if you care to purchase it for your darling.”
Marguerite snorted and tugged. “It’s hideous,” she said, dismissing the thought with a wave of her hand. “Who wants a picture of sea gulls? We might as well have paintings of rats on the wall.” She tugged the planter’s hand.
“Let’s go, Tomas.”
Simone smiled, nodding at Marguerite. “Madame is wise,” she said as the pair took steps toward the market. Since Simone’s easel was set up at the corner of the Square and Levee, the market was only across the busy, carriage-filled street.
“What would you prefer for your walls if not gulls?”
“Flowers,” the rude Belle said from over her shoulder. “Painted by a real artist, not some second rate street vendor.”
“Marguerite!” the planter exclaimed, pulling his arm away from the feisty lady and glaring. “How rude.”
“Why would you say such things?”
They were well within earshot, so Simone heard the conversation. A pair of white open carriages rolled toward one another, the mules hooves clip-clopping on the reddish brown bricks of the road. This forced the couple to wait before crossing.
“She’s a tramp, Tomas,” the Belle said, blinking into his eyes as they waited. “She’s just trying to convince you to buy her terrible picture.”
The man shook his head as the woman wrapped her arm around his slender waist. She lay her head against his chest. Simone laughed quietly, watching the exchange unfold.
No matter what the rude woman thought of her art, he wasn’t just a pretty face. He’d seen her art as more than streaks of paint on a canvas. Curiosity tinted the desire racing through her, and in that moment, she had to learn more.
“Buy me some flowers?” the Belle said coyly, looking up and into his eyes. Simone imagined she batted her eyelashes like most of the plantation belles tended to do when coercing their beaux to do their bidding.
“Yellow ones. And red roses, too,” she said, her voice fading into the background noises of the busy docks behind the market.
“They’ll look so delightful on my nightstand in the morning, reminding me of you.” He chuckled and nodded, wrapped his arm around the woman.
“Certainly,” he said. “From monsieur Gullette’s stall. He has the best this time of year.” The woman placed her head against the side of his chest as they crossed the street, but the man named Tomas twisted just enough for Marguerite to not notice the look he gave Simone.
Simone lifted her eyebrow, a practice she’d perfected when attracting attention. Monsieur Gullette, she thought, recalling in her mind’s eye exactly where the man’s stall was within the market. I think I want some flowers.
He winked, recharging the tingling energy she felt when they first met eyes. Her head tingled, buzzing like a flight of hummingbirds gathering nectar – nestled behind her temples. The look was brief, yet powerful as the heat in her stomach swirled.
Simone now understood Sister Maria’s words. The man named Tomas had SEEN her art, igniting desires that she’d kept doused since Paris. She’d kept them hidden, pushed away out of reach. Lucette’s death had reopened her heart. Now a look, a smile and a wink from a dandy-dressed planter had set a spark that threatened to set it ablaze.