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Running into Coverage Ch. 4.5

A little extra cushion for Marcus and Hadley
Chapter Four cont’d

As the later morning drew on, Hadley woke to the aroma of food cooking. Sometime after another thrilling session of who could top who, they fell asleep against the pillows. The clock displayed it was almost ten. With great reluctance she crawled out of the huge bed and followed the delicious scent down the hallway. The television set was turned down low and naturally fixed on Sports Center.

A broadcaster could have been speaking gibberish for all she knew, but it captured Marcus’ attention as he stirred eggs in a frying pan. Even from the kitchen he grumbled to the announcer as if he could be heard. “You try breaking through that line when you’re not blocked. Fucking idiot.”

Hadley had a quiet stride when she walked and for some reason, she wished her feet had been a little louder coming into the room. Marcus had a stream of obscenities for the announcer and turned to face the screen waving a wooden spoon, but came up short at the sight of her.

She leaned against the wall leading into the kitchen, wearing his pale blue dress shirt from last night. The buttons were all together except for a sweet opening at the base of her throat. Instead of ranting at the screen, he dropped his hand to his side the spoon and spoke wickedly.

“Sleep well?”

Sauntering over, she smiled up into his face before looking at what he was cooking. “Meh, it was okay. I kept getting woken up.”

Marcus wrapped his arms around her from behind and nuzzled her neck as he stirred the eggs, making sure everything was cooked through. His lips were nipping a tender spot he had been obsessed with in bed, a spot that she would kill him over if it had a mark later that day. Or maybe dig her nails deeper into his skin the next time. Pressing her back into his chest to enjoy the warmth of his body around hers, all of her typical responses were lulled by their open display.

“Funny, I did too.”

“What are you making?”

“I was making breakfast in bed, but seeing as you’re up that defeats the purpose.”

Marcus handed her the wooden spoon while he fetched her a cup of coffee and refilled his own. “Sure does.”

She gladly accepted the coffee before he guided her away from the stove and made her sit at the bar so he could plate up the scramble he’d made. Even at the stove, he moved with a grace she associated with him catching passes on the field. As he sat at her side, Hadley’s eyes kept glancing over at the clock on the wall and back to Marcus in their breakfast nook. Today was the only day where she had a full day to brush off the canvas and make sure the painting was gallery ready. A familiar feeling in the pit of her stomach kept her from eating much more than a couple of forkfuls while he scarfed down two plates.

When he came back to the bar to refill her coffee, he finally caught on that she was a million miles away. “Earth to Hadley.”

“Hmm? I’m sorry, what did you say?”

Marcus laughed, “I was asking when you needed to get to the studio. You did say several times this week, and I quote, ‘today was the day of no distractions.’”

Shaking her head, she laughed at his imitation of her. “You are such an ass. I did say that didn’t I?”

“Yeah you did. Can I see the painting when I drop you off?”

“You want to see it?”

He shrugged his shoulders while washing the pan. “Sure, you’ve been talking about it for a couple of weeks. It’s important to you.”

It was important to her, but she wasn’t about to admit that to him. “You aren’t going to like it, I can guarantee it.”

Marcus turned to look at her searchingly. “It doesn’t matter if I like it or not, you worked hard on it. You hate sports but you’ll watch a game.”

He had her, and knew it. All week she had been venting to him about whether or not her work would get shown in her new city. Confidence wasn’t something she lacked in, but this was her first presentation in Chicago and she didn’t know what to expect. When Marcus asked if she wanted him there for her at the appointment she stalled, only to say no. it wasn’t like her to fall back on anyone and she didn’t want a single person, especially him, to see if she was rejected.

A little over an hour later, Marcus stood behind her as she unlocked the doors to the studio and slowly let him inside. The last time he had been to visit was when the roof was leaking, and that had been several weeks before. Since then she had finished a couple of pieces for clients and shipped them off. For the gallery display, the painting was something she had to create on her own without ideas or personal visions. She had dug deep within herself, pulling from every creative corner, making something that represented raw freedom and a personal sense of beauty.

The studio itself was small, so small that Marcus felt out of place. Standing over six-two with two hundred and five pounds that was all muscle but could glide easily, he felt cramped. Standing in the cramped space filled with easels and small tubs of paint, he couldn’t help but think that he had invaded Hadley’s mind. His eyes darted from side to side, catching glimpses of paint flecks on the ratty wood floors. The walls were impeccably white; the sight made him smile and then also laugh at the random canvas that hung on the wall where she smeared excess paint from each of her bushes. While she went to grab the gallery canvas, he looked over the different strokes of paint. Several types of green roamed down the ridged material. On the floor lay a cup filled with several different sizes of brushes that were amazingly clean.

In the kitchenette, she had converted the little space into a cleaning area. Brushes lined the countertop on paper towels to dry. Every inch was used, whether as a cleaning section or a color creation spot. Hadley did not believe in wasting anything. As he took in this small studio, Marcus felt as if he had entered the guarded mind of the one woman he desperately wanted to keep unguarded free.

Huddled in a corner, Hadley was struggling with moving a three foot long canvas that held a medley of colors. Marcus rushed over to her when she cursed out loud. Together they leaned the painting against the wall. Hadley stepped walked away to grab some paper to wrap around the piece, protecting it while she got from the studio to the gallery. As she had her back turned away, Marcus took a minute to take in the brooding picture that was displayed.

Heavy colors covered the canvas, deep browns and morbid reds slashed down the matting. The painting was filled with anger and frustration but brimmed with an explosion of something new. In the center, thick aluminum pieces were bunched together, the harsh panels of red that poured out of the gold foil reminding him of scarlet ribbons trailing a textured balloon. Marcus stared at the piece and couldn’t believe that it had come from Hadley, someone who embodied life and was the exact opposite of what she had created. His concentration was jarred as she blew out a breath behind him.

In a soft voice that was hardly recognizable, she spoke. “What do you think?”

He didn’t know how to respond. If he told her what his thoughts were, she would slug him. If not, he knew she would gladly reach for several of the paint brushes and shove them down his throat. Instead, he attempted in keeping his thoughts vague. “It’s interesting.”

Turning around to look at her, he was stunned to see her looking so unsure. Her eyes were focused on the painting, one of her hands toying with the horseshoe charm on her necklace. Several minutes of silence passed between them before she looked up at him with wonder in her eyes. “Go ahead, say what you really think.”

Bringing a hand to the back of her neck, Marcus rubbed the soft skin and continued to look at the art. A part of him wished he held back, but the other part wanted to explore her. “What were you thinking about when you painted this?”

The muscles in her neck were tight, his fingers massaging the skin only made it tighter. “A bunch of different things. I kept thinking about the way things were before and then starting over. In heartache comes rebirth, I guess I wanted to show that, only it came out in such a dark way. I made another piece that’s over by the window, but this one is bolder. It has a voice.”

The piece itself was much more than that, but she didn’t want to say out loud just how much it meant to her. She had struggled her entire life, and for a long while she had been living for everyone around her. Helping people who struggled to get by, but damn little did anyone do for her as she experienced hard times. This piece represented her own breakout, the power of taking charge. There was something about Marcus that made her feel comfortable to her bones, she fed off of his confidence that was sure and true and used it to release hard feelings she had kept within. When she started this canvas, it had been blank. One night he called her from a fundraising event to have her cheer him up, something in the phone call broke through with her and that night she stayed up sketching. That sketch turned into the piece she would be showing.

“I don’t have a lot to compare it to, but….” He stammered trying to word his thoughts properly. “It’s really sad.”

“What do you mean sad?”

Marcus pointed to the vibrant reds falling away from the crinkled gold aluminum in the center. “It’s beautiful, Hadley. It really is.”

“Then why did you say it looks sad?”

Looking down at her he tried to read her eyes that were pained. “I don’t know, the colors of it maybe. They’re cut deep, it looks like a world of hurt.”

Her shoulders slumped, breath pouring out of her. “You don’t like it.”

“It’s not that I don’t like it, I do.”

“Don’t sugar coat it, Marcus. Say what you mean.”

Raising his hands up at her, he took a step back. “I just did. I like it, Hadley. I can’t believe you made this, it’s unexpected, that’s all.”

Her brows bunched together in frustration and worry. “That’s it?”

Pointing to the piece by the windows, he spoke forcefully. “That one looks like the day where this one is more of what goes on at night.” She stared at him and couldn’t figure out where she had gone wrong, if she had at all with the painting. Was it sad?

Gathering her in his arms, he held her close and dropped his face to her neck. She smelled sweet and spicy; a scent that he couldn’t seem to get enough of. Her body remained firm in the embrace. “Stop thinking about putting yourself down, it’s provoking.” His breath soft against the skin caused her to shiver. “They’re going to love it.”

****

The cab ride out to the gallery in Lincoln Park took forever. Hadley’s heel tapped the back of the driver’s seat until they finally pulled up. With a deep breath, she got out of the cab and screamed as it started to drive away before she could open the other side and grab her artwork. The driver shrugged off her verbal assault and she hoped that nobody heard her antics apart from the people walking along the street.

The canvas was heavy, and being as small as she was, she was thankful for the cab. There was no way she would have carried that thing around on a crowded bus, no matter how desperate she was. Marcus had left shortly after his confession about the piece. After hearing his thoughts, she wanted to cry. He didn’t know how to censor himself, or maybe he didn’t want to. Rather than walking him down to his SUV, she left him at the door without so much as a kiss goodbye. Tears streamed down her face as she worried about whether or not to believe if he liked the painting. An hour went by before she had to leave for her appointment, which she spent standing in the doorway mulling over the artwork.

Now she entered the stylish gallery and was told by a man at the front desk to wait by the benches at the front. There were contemporary pieces along the wall that seemed standard for an entranceway. Leaning the covered canvas against the bench, she casually walked around to take in the pieces. One was filled with flowers painted in vibrant pinks and deep greens. Her fingers itched to trace over the textured paint. With her head close to the painting, the owner called out to her.

“Ms Wilkerson, there are several of us who are ready to view your artwork.”

Drawing a deep breath, Hadley calmed her nerves and brought herself back to reality. She had painted the picture and was proud of the piece. It grew from her hopes and fears; why shouldn’t she feel confident to present work such as that? She followed the well groomed man to a room in the back of the gallery that had been closed off. While she was looking over the paintings at the front, the man from the front desk had picked up her piece and taken it back.

“Would you like to remove the paper, or shall we?” Several other individuals came in and she immediately figured that they were collectors, or donors for the gallery.

Hadley smiled to the group and walked over to the easel. “Please, let me.” Her fingers trembled as she carefully undid the paper packaging. Folding it lightly and placing it on the floor against the easel, she stood back and waited for the reactions.

Two of the people viewing began taking extensive notes on a notepad; one of the men kept moving his head from one side to the next. Another man faintly whispered to a woman next to him, her lips parted before whispering back. Sweat trickled down her spine but she stood still and waited for what felt like an hour, but was, when she noticed, fifteen minutes. One by one, the group left the room leaving Hadley standing there. She felt awkward and didn’t quite know what to do next. There were no questions, no thoughts or words passed aloud among them. After several minutes of being alone, Hadley gathered up the paper and began to cover the painting. The door opened behind her as the gallery owner came in with a business card.

Taking a last glance at her piece that was half covered by the paper, he handed the card to her. “Thank you for showing us your works, Ms Wilkerson. Your use of different textures is impressive but does not quite flow with our current displays. In three months there will be a different display and I would encourage you to call back for an additional viewing for consideration.”

With that, he left the room without as much as a goodbye. Without thinking of his words, she blindly placed the gallery business card in her handbag. The man from the front desk politely helped her carry the canvas outside of the gallery where she hailed a cab. The hands in her lap shook terribly, her breaths short and choppy. Defeat wanted to claim her, but she would wait until she got home to get upset. A light vibration came from her bag and she dug through the contents in search for her telephone. She hoped it was a message from Marcus; but knew he was in practice and wouldn’t send anything. Instead it was an email from her client in New York. She had sent him multiple angle shots of the canvas to make sure it was what he was looking for. The email was enthusiastic and she was given the go ahead to ship, at the very end of the email was the final amount for the check he would have his assistant send out immediately upon arrival. At least the whole day wasn’t a bust.

She struggled to get the canvas up the stairwell and when she finally got into her apartment, Hadley crashed on the couch and started sobbing. She cried for the entire process of getting the canvas to and from the gallery, the looks on each of the spectators’ faces as they tried to distinguish the strokes of paint. Lastly she cried about what Marcus had said about her painting and figured he saw exactly what everyone else did. He saw something that she couldn’t.

Hours later, Caitlin walked into the apartment after her classes and noticed Hadley sitting silently on the couch, and, deciding to give her space, she went to her room to study. Hadley’s eyes were swollen from rubbing them over and over as she stewed about the turn of events that day. By ten that evening, she still had yet to hear from Marcus and hated that she kept watching her phone for his call.

Knowing she had a morning shift, she left the couch and crawled into bed, only to get woken up by a text message just after midnight. It was a text from Marcus, he was asking how the appointment went. His late night text brought a whole new wave of frustration over her. Turning the phone over, she ignored it and tried her hardest to go to sleep.

****

The following morning Marcus’ head felt tight as he woke up with the remnants of a slight hangover. Rolling out of bed for the early morning practice proved to be a hell of a lot harder than he thought, so he grabbed a bunch of aspirin and figured anything would help. Yesterday had been a whole world of interesting that started at Hadley’s studio. He never meant to hurt her feelings or upset her after saying all he did.

The truth was it wasn’t the painting that startled him. It was the way she acted in showing him, and then how quiet she got afterward. He knew she was bothered but more than that it was the fact that she wouldn’t say anything or express herself. When he left for practice, it pissed him off how she shut him out, so he steered himself away from her for the rest of the day. Practice had been brutal and more than anything he had wanted to go home and stay home.

Unfortunately for him he had to make an appearance at a fundraising function for KEEN, a local group that made a conscious effort in getting kids exercising. The event was held at an upscale restaurant on the north end and he wound up having a great time with a few other teammates who were advocates for the organization. Even while he was standing up on a stage and helping with the auction taking place, Marcus couldn’t get Hadley out of his thoughts. He wanted to know how the rest of the day went for her. Once the function was over, the restaurant closed and opened its doors for the public. That was when he let himself loose. It had been awhile since he had partied with some of the guys, in a lively place like that. He’d never been one to over-party, but knew when to put rules to bed and have some fun.

By the fifth drink he wasn’t having near as much fun as he wanted and broke down to text Hadley. She was so damned stubborn it didn’t surprise him that she never responded. Not even when he got home and checked his phone for the last time of the night was there a missed message. The pounding in his head made getting ready unbearable, but some of the medicine was kicking in and he was beginning to feel a little better, if not less queasy. When he pulled the Escalade out of the parking garage, he nearly coughed up every last one of the aspirins as Hadley’s name filled the screen. Holding the phone in his hands, he wanted to give her a piece of her own sass and not answer. Who was he kidding, he picked up after the fourth ring, but didn’t greet her.

“Marcus? Are you there?”

“Hey.”

A deep in drawn breath filled the speaker on the phone. “I was such a jerk yesterday, you didn’t deserve that.” When he didn’t say anything she kept talking. “I just…I don’t know what happened. Do you hate me?”

He hadn’t expected her to say that, but she did deserve to know he wasn’t pleased. “No, I don’t hate you.”

“What are you thinking?”

“I’ve been wondering why you didn’t believe me that I liked your work. And you practically kicked my ass out of your studio.”

She paused for a moment trying to figure how to say what she felt. “I can’t explain it, when I have shown my work to people up until now--they have always been so generous with their thoughts or suggestions. Yours were hard for me to take in.”

“So you kicked me out without talking about it?”

“That’s why I’m calling you now, jackass! I can’t lose control in front of someone if they say something I don’t want to hear. It hurt so I needed to calm down and do that alone.”

“I’m not just someone, Hadley…”

“I know, but it’s still hard. I’m not used to opening up so much to anybody.”

“I’m not going to rip you a new one every time you act like a girl, Hadley. What exactly were you mad about?”

“I wasn’t mad, confused more than anything else. I figured anyone looking at that piece could see that it’s not supposed to look angry at all, it’s only...oh…I don’t know.”

“No, go on. You know exactly what you want to say, stop bullshitting and say it.”

Anger boiled within her depths and from the very center of her core, she blurted everything out. “It is sad! Life is not easy. Do you think anyone wants to do half of the things that get shoved on them? No, they don’t. I didn’t want any of it, but I did it all and kept a great poker face for everybody. That painting, that’s what it’s all about. We have dark times, but even at our lowest points, it can only get better. I wanted it to look dark and broody, but have a center that was radiant…because I still believe it can happen.”

On the other end, Marcus was speechless. For the first time since they had met, she was able to let go of all pretenses and speak what was on her mind. Granted, she always spoke out but this was far different. By having her lash out just then, he saw her for who she really was. The woman he knew she was, but she was afraid to embrace. In a soft voice, he spoke coolly. “It will happen. I believe in that.”

“Thanks, Marcus but you’re only being nice.”

He scoffed, “I mean that. Since you didn’t answer my text last night, how did your appointment thing go?”

Hadley was glad he couldn’t see her; she covered her eyes and held back the tears that longed to drop. “Nothing important, the canvas doesn’t match with their displays right now and the owner told me to call back.”

Marcus heard the tremor in her voice and wished he didn’t have practice so he could at least support her. “I’m so sorry, Hadley. Chicago has a million galleries to try for.”

“Yeah, I guess so.”

“Hey, you still were able to paint something that you wanted. I’d say that’s winning.”

He made her smile, but also remembered the email from the client. Treading lightly, she decided to tell him about it. The phone blasted from his boom of laughter. “See, have some faith. You may not have won over some artsy gallery here, but you did wow a client somewhere else.”

Finally after what seemed like a lifetime, she started to laugh on the phone. Marcus reveled in the sound and savored every second of it. The little bit of his hangover that he could feel wasn’t that bad at all after hearing her. “Has anyone ever told you that you are like a cheerleader?”

“Of course they have, I have an outfit at my house.”

“No you don’t!”

“That’s something you’ll have to figure out for yourself then, I guess.”

They talked for the remainder of his drive to the Cougars’ practice field outside of Rockford. Hadley hadn’t realized how much time they had been on the phone as she had asked Rob, the manager of the coffee shop for a fifteen minute break that turned into her entire lunch hour. He told her about the night out and she told him she wished he would throw up during practice. By the end of the call, it felt as if their short estrangement was over. The muscles in her back relaxed and for the remainder of the day she often smiled and joked around with several of the patrons. Feeling like herself again, she was more than happy that things were back to being okay between them and was excited to see him later that night for a dinner date.

This story is protected by International Copyright Law, by the author, all rights reserved. If found posted anywhere other than Lushstories.com with this note attached, it has been posted without my permission.

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