Subject: Unplanned love chapter 10 Nifty is a free site, but still requires funds to continue operating. Please provide a donation at This story is 100% fictional. Any resemblances to actual people (living or dead), organizations or companies, events are entirely coincidental. Comments are welcomed and would be very much appreciated. Asterisk (*) will be used for past events, dreams and thoughts. …… . …… Chapter 10 The vernissage has started a little over half an hour ago and I circulate among the screens and panels, checking if everything is going according to the plan. I managed to allocate the space where a warehouse used to be. The structure with pipes and tubes exposed on the brick walls is perfect for an art exhibition. I notice Stefanie’s appetizing canapes disappearing from the trays, the sparkling wine in the hands of the guests, the low lighting highlighting the canvases – everything seems going smoothly so far. The theme of Ivan’s vernissage is “The millennium of ostracism”. The collection of inkblots in shades of green and brown in almost every work probably symbolise some kind of self-imposed isolation, but, hey, I’m just an event producer, not an art critic. I spot Nina at the entrance greeting a lady adorned by expensive jewellery. My friend nods discreetly, assuring me that she has everything under control. Erik is also circulating in the room, calm and smiling. Michael is near a panel whose lights gave him a hard time this morning and he’s staring at them, making sure that they don’t malfunction again. I look around trying to spot Katya, but the young man in the plaid beret and suspender over his short-sleeved shirt blocks my view. “Where is the press?” Ivan demands, frowning. “Why isn’t this shit packed?” I try to put a smile on my face, “This is a private exhibition. Only a few selected people were invited. Also it’s still early, more people will come later.” “Bullshit. There’s supposed to be shouts, photos, autographs. How the fuck am I going to post this fiasco online?” The moody artist turns his back on me, going to the easel in the centre of the exhibition and takes a brush from the sideboard, carrying out his audacious idea of painting during the event and auctioning it at the end. A few people approach to observe, at the same time I retort with a shudder. A lot can happen to that canvas with so many elbows and hands not very stable due to the champagne. I even try to explain the risks to Ivan, but the guy is as stubborn as a mule. If he behaves with the press in the same way as he does with me and the rest of the team, we’ll have a huge problem to solve the next morning. Philip is the only journalist I know in there. We dated back when we were in university. But the relationship didn’t work out and we both decided that we fit better as friends than lovers. I look at him and see this at the moment he’s more interested in a tray of salmon canapes than in Ivan’s work. I turn around, willing myself to hop into the kitchen and ask Stefanie if she needs anything, but end up with my face shoved into a broad chest. “I’m sorry.” I whisper. The person tries to help me with my balance, which doesn’t work, as the touch shoots a violent wave of shivers through my body. I don’t need to look at their face to know who that hand belongs to. What I want to know is what the hell Marcel is doing here. My first thought is to confront him, but reason prevents me from leading an argument in my work environment, so, aiming for the back door, I go around him and start walking. “Liam, wait.” he calls, after two steps. I stop beside a huge panel and turn around to face him, hating myself for noticing how handsome he looks in that dark grey shirt with the sleeves folded up to the elbows. “Can we talk, please?” he adds softly. “What do you want? Is tormenting me at home not enough? Do you have to do it at my job too?” He presses his lips together into a thin pale line. “That’s not what I came here for. I just need a minute.” I let out an annoyed sigh, but I keep standing where I am. He mistakes my lack of action for acquiescence and steps forward until he’s practically breathing the same air as me, maintaining eye contact. If staring at someone like that is considered just eye contact… “Liam, I’m sorry for what I said earlier. I really didn’t…” “Apology accepted.” I cut him off and try to turn around. “Wait, please.” He reaches out to hook his index finger in mine. The touch paralyzes me as it awakens that restless electric wave, starting from the point where our skin meets to the rest of my body, the fire quickly consuming everything it finds along the way. Quickly, I pull my hand away, crossing my arms, closing my fingers into a fist to stop the tingling. I’m still not sure if he also can feel that force pulsing between us. He seemed to flinch for a tiny second, but it was so fast I may have imagined it all. Marcel is very good at keeping his expression impassive. “I didn’t mean to hurt you this morning,” he continues with a serious expression in his face. “I’m sorry for what I said. You’ve been going through a lot lately and I had no right to make such a cruel criticism. I don’t believe that you destroy people’s happiness. That’s not what you did to your ex boyfriend. That’s why my comment tormented you so much, isn’t it?” I focus on the buttons of his shirt and give no answer. He steps forward, coming so close I can feel his body’s warmth. “There’s no excuse for my behaviour.” He lets out a sharp intake of breath. “Not just for today. I just… you drive me… “Crazy?” I help, looking at his face. He flashes me an awkward smile. “The truth is, knowing that all this time you could hear what I was doing in my room really pissed me off. Not at you, but at myself. I didn’t want to expose you to that kind of situation. I promised you an easy time living me and I did the opposite. Besides, I don’t… That’s irrelevant.” He shakes his head, uneasy. “What matters is that I really didn’t know, and I’m very sorry for disturbing your nights. That’s why I came here. To apologize and say that I heard everything you said the other day about household chores.” I raise an eyebrow. “You mean you’re going to read the paper I gave you?” The smile he gives me disarms me. “I’ve already read it. You’re good with organizing.” His gaze sweeps across the warehouse. “You’ve created something special for these canvases. They’re almost unnoticed.” “That was definitely not the intention.” “But it should be. Have you ever taken a good look at these things?” He makes a funny face at a painting and I laugh a little. He follows me, running one hand through his hair, looking relieved and something else. Eager for… I’m not sure what. Whatever it is, it’s enough to stir the particles of tension in the space that separates us, regrouping them to form a kind of unbreakable bond. This time Marcel feels it too. I know this because his eyes darkens two shades, becoming deeper than the ocean, the heat from his body breaking over me in warm waves. The air escapes my lips in a shuddering breath. The soft hiss seems to awaken Marcel, who sways lightly, as if hundreds of nails have sprouted in the soles of his shoes. Half flushed, he contemplates one of the paintings. “The advent of electronic media” he reads on the plaque under the work, where a skull comes out of a computer screen to devour a human brain. “I don’t know whether to be amused or personally offended.” I have to bite the inside of my cheek to keep from laughing again. All the fun is gone, but when he steps aside to get a better view of the work, standing right next to me – and by that I mean his elbow brushes against my arm – and the contact shoots a violent tremor through my body. Discretely, I pull away a little in hopes of interrupting whatever these new sensations are. “It’s been a long time since I visited an art exhibition,” he comments out of the blue. “There’s never time.” “I understand. I can’t remember the last time I managed to go anywhere unrelated to work. Sometimes I get the feeling that I’m doing everything wrong.” He turns his back to the screen and gently pulls me closer when a waitress rushes past, her tray inches from my shoulder. I glance around the room, checking if everything is in order. Ivan has started the painting and seems happier with the attention that the brush strokes are getting. Everything is going well. Ok, I’m just going to stay here for a minute and then I’ll get back to work. “I know what you mean,” Marcel replies, getting my attention Blog İçerik Tabanlı Sosyal Ağı Sitesi back to him. An understanding smile curves the corners of his mouth. “I ask myself every day when I wake up and tie my shoes why I spend so much time chasing the future if I have no time left to enjoy the present. Can you imagine what it would be like to slow down for just one day? Not having to rush back from lunch so you don’t miss a meeting or something.” I nod lightly. “Even on my days off I can’t stop thinking about everything I have to do the next day. I haven’t taken a vacation for so long that I can’t even remember what it’s like not to think about work. The last memory I have of a vacation is the one I took before moving to Frankfurt. And it was terrible.” “Why was that?” I haven’t intended to continue the conversation, but his curiosity and piercing gaze compels me to open my mouth. “A few friends from school invited me to spend a week in their home town, which was a very small village in the middle of nowhere.” I explain. “Have you ever been to a small European village as black man?” He laughs, “Yes, I’ve been to a village before, but not as a black man. I don’t think that would be possible.” I laugh back but at my own stupid question, “Well, it wasn’t a nice experience I’ll tell you that. I think I prefer the big city over the countryside. Not that I don’t face racism here but it’s better here than there, you know.” “I’m sorry.” He says with compassion in his eyes. “It’s fine. You don’t have to apologize. I got used to it. Not everyone is okay with the colour of my skin…” “I like the colour of your skin. I think it’s beautiful.” He says almost immediately, taking me by surprise. “Thanks.” Silence falls between us. But for the time, since we met, it’s not awkward. If anything, we feel comfortable with it. His lips spread slowly, a spark illuminating his eyes even deeper in a way that turns me inside out, making my throat dry. “What?” I ask, twisting the watch on my wrist. “This is new. Being with you for more than five minutes and not pissing you off.” He rubs his neck. “What am I doing wrong?” I try to hold in my laughter. And fail. “Don’t worry. It won’t be long before you say something that will make me very irritated.” “I hope so.” That deliciously sensual smile arouses a sudden warmth in my chest. It’s impossible not to smile back. “Until that doesn’t happen…” He holds out his hand. “… friends?” I study his hand. Marcel knows how to annoy me like no one else, but the offer of a truce will make my life at home easier, so I slip my palm into his, already anticipating the reactions that such an action will trigger in my body. And I’m not disappointed. I extricate myself from his touch as soon as possible, tightening my fingers around my watch in an attempt to keep the tingling sensation from spreading to the rest of me. “Can we have a drink later then?” he offers. “After you’re done here of course.” Shamefully, it takes me a few seconds to sort out my thoughts and understand what he’s really trying to tell me. “Are you asking me out?” He can’t ask me out. Not just because he’ll make it clear he isn’t interested… as I am. Marcel has affairs, lovers, whatever term he prefers to use. What matters is that I don’t want to get into that kind of mess. And Marcel is a huge mess. We are housemates now. Going out with him will be like juggling flaming torches wearing alcohol-soaked clothes. So, no, he can’t ask me out. “It’s just a beer or a coffee if you prefer,” he says smugly. “It’s just a formal apology to seal the peace between us. Nothing more than that.” He takes a step closer, “And your answer is…” No. No way. Of course not. On the other hand, he made it clear that this isn’t a date, but a friendly hanging out. I can’t say no, can I? Before I can make up my mind, a commotion at the entrance of the exhibition attracts my attention, as well as almost everyone else’s. The few journalists present make a sort of mini-strike, shooting flashes at the newly arrived couple. I see Bianca giving a wide smile as she joins her hips in a well-trained pose, her hand with the engagement ring hanging on Fred’s arm. Further back, her mother maintains a bored expression. My ex isn’t that distracted by the press and sweeps the vernissage with his eyes until they land on me. He twitches his lips over his teeth as he glimpses Marcel standing next to me. Then – and only then – I remember that I still haven’t told Marcel about our fake relationship. I look from Fred to the guy he thinks is my current boyfriend, and to Nina, who is waving her arms at the vernissage entrance. This is bad. So bad. If Juliana or Maxine finds out that I lied to them about Marcel, then I’ll have to look for another job somewhere else, preferably in hell, where Maxine will surely send me. What about Marcel, what will he think of me if he knows about all of this? That’s all Nina’s fault. Why couldn’t she say I’m straight or something and I wasn’t interested in her soon to be son in law. No. Maxine was in the room and she knows I’m gay. Also, it’s weird how Juliana straight up assumed that I was interested in Fred. Since the moment she stepped into Fontaine, she was acting weird with me. I wonder if she knows of anything about me and Fred. I shake my head. That can’t be. She wouldn’t allowed her daughter to marry him if she knew he’d been cheating on her for a year, right? Especially with a man. Bianca finally sees me and cracks a surprised smile as she notices that I’m not alone. She pulls the sleeve of Fred’s jacket, pushing him away from the journalists’ view, directly towards me and Marcel. Ah, shit. Supershit. I have to get Marcel out of here. There’s no way I can allow them to meet. The problem is that Bianca is only a few steps away, and there’s no time to drag Marcel to the back door. There’s only one way to keep them apart. I turn to Marcel, who frowns as he analyses my terrified expression. “Is everything alright?” In another time I might have reconsidered. But in the midst of a crisis, I only have time to act. I step closer to him, grab the collar of his shirt and pull him to me. His eyes widen in surprise, and that’s all I have time to register before I clamp my mouth to his. Alright, it isn’t my brightest moment, I confess, but in this state of agitation, kissing Marcel is the only idea I can think of to stop him from finding out the truth. And it’s not even exactly a kiss… it’s more of a static clashing of very astonished mouths. He remains completely still, his heart hammering against my palms, his eyes locked on mine, inquiring. Shit. He’s going to push me away, and then accuse me of sexual harassment, right in the middle of the vernissage with journalists present. And he won’t be in the wrong for doing so. I just kissed him without his consent. It’s not fair that I have to pay for Nina’s lie. It’s true that I went with it and didn’t tell anything to Marcel, but only because I didn’t have time to do so. But that’s irrelevant right now. I have to find a dignified way out of this situation. And I might even succeed, if my disturbed brain didn’t register something that buries any thought in a dark corner of my mind and changes the atmosphere immediately: Marcel is moving his lips. It’s subtle, a delicate, slow, almost experimental rubbing. He’s kissing me back. Alarmed by it, I let go of him, jumping a metre away. Marcel stares at me half dazed, half panting, the flames dancing in his eyes, consuming everything in front of him. My mouth itches with the urge to return to his. “I… Uh… need to…” go away from you “…go back to work.” I stammer. Without giving him a chance to utter any words, I spin around and practically run to the back of the room. I don’t notice that Erik and Nina are watching me from the back door, stunned, until I practically collide with them. “You kissed Marcel!” Nina babbles. “You really did!” “In the middle of your work hours.” Erik blinks quickly, smiling a little worried. “And everyone saw it.” I try to keep myself calm as best as I can, avoiding facing both of them. “I don’t have time to explain anything, but I need you to keep an eye on Marcel. Don’t let Fred or Juliana get close to him. Bianca too…” Erik nods immediately, and I hurry into the kitchen. Stefanie raises her dark eyes from the canapes she’s decorating. “Liam, are you okay?” she wants to know, her face filled with concern. I just nod my head, consumed by the chills and the heat, and don’t Sesli Kitap Dinle realize Nina has followed me until she stands between me and the countertop where Stefanie and her team are working. “I did think this would happen eventually but I wasn’t expecting it to be so soon.” She comments. “I know I told you to be careful with him, but it’s been two months and got to notice that maybe he isn’t so bad. And I think you did too because you kissed him! You and Marcel! You and Marcel!” She does a silly little dance, not caring about the snickers from the buffet staff, too lost in the fantasy world to hear anything but bells ringing. Seeing my friend’s excitement, Stefanie understands that there’s no crisis in progress and goes back to work. If only she knew\… “I can’t believe you kissed him in front of everyone!” Nina repeats. “It’s a good change you know. At least he isn’t scared of assuming his sexuality publicly, unlike the scumbag that you were dating…” I push her into one of the chairs next to the tower of wine boxes. “Nina,” I complain, resentfully. “You should be suffering with me, not dancing.” Her eyes become two tight slits. “Oh, yeah. Poor you. I’m so sorry you had to kiss a man like that. I’m almost crying from pity.” I huff, holding her by the shoulders. “Nina, for God’s sake pay attention. I live with Marcel now. And I kissed him to keep Fred and Bianca from telling him we’re dating without him knowing.” “This part might be issue.” She wrinkles her nose. “Or the solution to your problems. From what you’ve been hearing late at night, Marcel’s skills in bed could help you erase your ex from… Hold on!” She arches her back, pulling back from my hands dangerously close to her throat. “I was only kidding, Liam.” Uncertain whether to yell at her or cry my eyes out, I bury my face between my hands. “I should be worried about the damn auction and the possibility that no one will bid, since no canvas have been sold yet. But I’m here getting all worked up because Fred and Marcel are in the same room and everyone might find out I’m a big idiot and I’ll possibly lose my job.” I groan. She laughs, “Have I mentioned that I find it interesting the way you react every time someone says Marcel’s name? You may not admit it, but I know what I see on your face right now. You’re glowing, Liam. You look like you’re made of glitter. Marcel lits you up.” “You’re seeing things where there aren’t any.” I throw my hands up impatiently. “Nah, I know what I’m seeing. There’s something there, Liam. And you should give yourself a chance to find out. It could be important.” I straighten my spine to stare at her in desperation. “Nina, I kissed the guy out of blue.” I massage my temples throbbing with guilt. “How am I supposed to explain the kiss to him? What can I say without sounding that I’m into him?” “Stay calm.” She squeezes my shoulder. “We’ll think about it later. Right now, the important thing is to keep Marcel away from the Giesinger family. I’ll try to keep him busy. Leave everything to me.” Before I can beg her not to do any more stupid things that can result in me getting fired, she disappears from sight. I fix my blue shirt and grey pants, still trembling. It’s not supposed to be like this. I should’ve never gone along with this stupid lie. I shouldn’t have kissed Marcel. In my desperation to get him away from my lie, I ended up reinforcing it even more, I realize, mortified. I spot an ice bucket with three sparkling wines near Stefanie’s elbow and advance to the bottle. “Hey, can I have this one?” I ask her. She arches one of her eyebrows, almost hiding it under the white bandana, “Something really phenomenal must have happened,” she remarks with concern. “You never drink on duty.” I also don’t make up fake relationships or attack people with kisses, so I figure it’s okay to break the rules just once. I pour myself a glass, drinking it in one gulp. Blessedly, Stefanie makes no further comment and goes back to her work. Even icy cold, the drink can’t placate the burning sensation on my lips, nor erase the memory of that kiss – so brief, so soft, so warm – or the taste of Marcel’s mouth. But an event, like everything else in life, is marked by the turning of the pointers in the clock, so I have to go back to the other room minutes later, even though inside me feels like a pressure cooker with a clogged valve. I see Bianca’s group talking next to a red panel with three smaller paintings. I keep scanning the room until I find Marcel. Erik is talking to him under Nina’s surveillance, three meters away from them. A handsome looking man obscures my view. “Philip, hi!” I greet him, a little nervous. “How nice seeing you.” “I’m covering for a colleague. He usually attends this kind of event, but he got stuck on the other side of town.” He replies, as always giving me more information than I ask for. “Ah, well I hope you’re enjoying the event…” I stop talking as soon as Sarah approaches me. “Liam,” she greets me. “I didn’t know you were in charge this event. It looks great!” “Thanks.” I smile at her, “I didn’t see your name on the guests list. Did I miss it?” “No, you didn’t.” She mimics my smile, “I was invited directly by Ivan. We were in the same art class.” “I see.” How small the world is. Not in a million years I would have guessed that Sarah and Ivan know eachother. That’s probably how Marcel got to enter the vernissage without an invitation, since Sarah is married to his best friend. “How are you, Derek?” I ask turning to her husband standing next to her. “A little anxious, to be honest.” He gives me a gentle smile as we shake hands. Always very polite, he also greets Philip. I make the introductions, and a few smiles are shared. “What do you think of the exhibition?” Philip ask them. “Are you interested in any of the works?” Derek cringes, while Sarah frowns. “Oh, God, no.” She gazes at a painting nearby. A giant vagina giving birth to a computer. “I’m just here as a friend. Ivan’s art is very…” “Sarah? Is that you?” And the world is really small. Wayyy too small. Bianca approaches us from behind, pulling Fred with her. He looks irritated and bored at the same time. Sarah doesn’t look so happy to see them either and gives the impression of wanting to run away, but Bianca hurries to introduce her fiance to the group, and Sarah feels obligated to do the same. “Bianca, this is my husband, Derek Williams,” she says with a straight face. “Derek, this is Bianca Giesinger, the girl that accused me of stealing her phone while I was in restaurant with my mother. Turned out the phone was in her purse all along.” “Oh, my God.” Bianca touches her blushing cheek as Philip arches an eyebrow, already pulling out his phone. “I can’t believe you still remember this. My mom told me you had it and I believed her. I already apologized.” Sarah just sighs as she rubs her round belly. Derek slips his arm around her waist and pulls her back a little. I step to the side to give them more room, and catch Juliana on the other side of the room, watching the artist’s latest brushstrokes without hiding her fascination. I still have work to do. I have to take the easel and canvas to the small stage as soon as Ivan finishes. I plunge into a pair of dark blue irises at the far end of the display. From the way Marcel tweezes his eyebrows, he seems to have been watching me for some time. “How does it feel to be the one in charge of Bianca’s wedding, Liam?” investigates Phillip. With some effort, I manage to escape Marcel’s gaze and focus on the journalist, whose fingers are flying over his phone’s screen. “I guess I’m a lucky guy to have the chance to make the dream of such incredible woman come true.” I smile. “Where is the ceremony going to take place?” He turns to Bianca. “If you’ll excuse us.” Sarah tries to leave the group. “Oh, wait!” Bianca grabs her hand, not noticing the sharp look Sarah gives her “Fred and I are getting married at my family’s beach house. Of course you will be invited. I insist that you attend.” Bianca begins a detailed narrative of the couple’s honeymoon plans in Italy, and I figure that with her monopolizing the conversation, it’s safe to leave them with Fred around. I prepare to sneak out, but then Bianca reveals something that makes angry. “…or maybe Norway,” she announces, laughing. “We were there for winter holidays last year. It was great!” Last year’s winner holidays, Fred told me he spent it with his mother in the hospital, suffering from a terrible hypertension crisis. Only he was in Exxen Norway with his girlfriend. I stare at him. He avoids looking at me and stands further behind Bianca, who continues talking. “Fred even suggested that we cancel all the plans and get married in Norway” she says, pulling her red hair over her shoulder. “It would be a dream, of course, but I don’t think it’s possible. We have too many guests. Almost five hundred…” I stop listening to her. So this is Fred’s plan? Convincing Bianca to get married in Norway. The anger, before only an outline, takes shape and gains intensity. I imagine that Fred notices it, because he jerks his chin in a way that I used think it was cute, but at this moment it makes me want to shove his face inside the giant vagina screen. *I need another drink.* It’s either that or break Fred’s neck. Luckily, a waiter with a tray full of glasses of wine is passing nearby. I turn in his direction without paying attention to where I’m going, and end up bumping into Marcel. What is he even doing here, half a meter away from Fred and Bianca? Why didn’t Erik or Nina intercept him? “I’m sorry.” I step back and straighten my clothes, as if I can also organize the mess inside me. “It happens all the time.” A half cynical smile, somehow full of secrets warms his countenance and raises the temperature of the room. Maybe because I’m on the edge of reason, I find it funny and laugh a little. My phone vibrates and I quickly check it. It’s Erik’s message: ‘I’m sorry, Liam. I tried to distract him, but he wanted to say hello to Derek. I couldn’t stop him.’ Derek punches Marcel in the shoulder. “You really came. Are you alone?” “I made a last-minute decision.” He studies Bianca and Fred with curiosity. “Bianca, how nice seeing you here.” What now? How does Marcel know Bianca? Of course he does, because nothing in my life can go smoothly fine. Just like that, I know someone out there controlling my life thought that I’m not suffering enough and decided to play this shit on me. “I also decided at the last minute.” She replies with a smile. “I confess that I used the vernissage to get away from my cousin. He didn’t stop tormenting me all day all day about the implementation of a new security program at the company.” “I also heard that story at lunch.” Marcel nods briefly. My gaze flies to Marcel, then to Bianca. Marcel works in an IT company. I try to remember the name. He said the name before. LYRA inc. Quickly I google the name and it shows Bianca’s grandfather as the founder and and Bianca herself as the CEO. Oh, my God. Marcel and Bianca work together! Oh, shit. Oh, shit. Oh, shit. Oh, shit. Shit, shit, shit. Why the hell I never heard about Bianca being the CEO of an IT Company? Why did Nina have to make up that story? Why did I have to kiss Marcel? Why didn’t someone lock me in a cell to stop me from doing so much shit? Why? Why? Why? “Well, Marcel…” Bianca glances at Phillip, who is still writing down everything he hears on his phone. Just great. This will be my end. “I guess tomorrow everyone will know I’m engaged, so there’s no need to hide it from you. This is Frederick Schulte. Frederick, Marcel Bergmann is the guy I told you about last week. One of LYRA’s best hires in recent years.” What else is left to happen? Me finding out that Bianca and Marcel are childhood friends and exchange little secrets over lunch? How can I keep them away from each other if they see each other every day? And how can I explain the misunderstanding to either of them, with Phillip watching our every breath? But that isn’t even the worst part. No, it isn’t. The worst part is watching Marcel figuring out that Bianca, his boss, is the same Bianca, my client and my ex-boyfriend’s pregnant fiancee. ‘Her?’ he questions me with a look, stunned. I give a short nod, wishing the ground would open and take me to hell. There’s no other way. I have to come clean to Marcel before Bianca or Fred do and he gets it all wrong. I swallow hard as I touch the sleeve of his shirt. “Marcel, I was wondering if we could…” My phone vibrates, but I ignore it. I can’t leave these three together here. No way. It vibrates again. And again and the fourth time, I pick up. “Are you sure I have to hold it? It’s a little soft.” Michael’s voice sounds muffled, “Liam? Finally. You need to come here.” I immediately turn to the stage, where Nina is being helped by Michael as she climbs the stage, balancing on her arms the canvas that has just been painted. “Michael, what are you doing? Where’s the easel?” I assume my tone alerts Marcel that we have a problem, because he looks around, his brow furrows. “Ivan said it would interfere with the concept of his work.” Michael explains. Letting go of Marcel, I head for the centre of room, hurriedly ducking the guests, phone still glued to my ear. “That’s stupid. The paint is fresh. I’ll get the easel.” “Nina already tried to convince him.” he snorts. “But the guy threatened to throw paint at her.” “We can’t be responsible for Ivan’s crazy ideas. He’ll have to accept the easel. Hang on, I’m coming.” I hang up and I fly to the centre of the warehouse, now less crowded. From my peripheral vision I see Katya and Erik rushing into the ladies’ room, and I try hard not to worry about the panicked expression on the girl’s face and concentrate on the easel, which is heavier than I imagined, as I try to lift it by its base. The thing’s legs close in, almost guillotining my fingers. *Fuck. I have to disassemble it.* The high-pitched sound of the microphone explodes into the room. “Okay, everyone, here’s the star of this exhibition,” Nina announces over the stage. “I think this is the most anticipated moment of the evening. Let’s start the auction of this beautiful work, still fresh, by the talented Ivan Sokolov!” Ivan jumps onto the stage, waving both hands. “No, wait!” I pick up my phone and try to call Nina. But there’s no more time. Delighted with the applause, Ivan doesn’t notice that Michael is struggling to keep the painting still. “I want to thank you all for supporting me in this madness that is art,” announces the artist. “The idea of this vernissage came up when my sister sent me a message. She was in the kitchen, and I was in the living room.” “Fuck!” I struggle with the lock on the easel. I call Erik and he picks up in the first ring. “What’s going on in the bathroom?” “Nothing very good. Some asshole had the unfortunate idea to throw rolls of toilet paper into the toilet of all the reserved ones and flushed them. One of them was stuck. Water’s leaking out everywhere.” I almost scream. I look at Michael holding the painting. It’s slipping. The fabric looks like it’s about to rip. I give up disassembling it and opt to drag, with difficulty, the hardwood easel (required by Ivan, just for the record), between the crowd. After half a metre of stumbling and and swearing, I feel someone lifting the wood. I crane my neck in time to see Marcel holding the base of the easel. Was he watching me and came to save me or was he just nearby? Whatever it is, I have no time to think about it. We have to hurry. “Thank you!” I gasp in surprise. “Please, I need this easel on the stage. For tomorrow.” “I guessed it,” he says, already moving. We carry it to the stage as Ivan continues his speech. “…it has become a myoma in our society, infecting our system without our noticing…” Someone from the other side of the audience cheers. For a second it sounds like Juliana’s voice, but I don’t get to check, paralyzed to see Ivan telling Michael to bring his newly painted piece of art to the front of the stage. Then everything happens in slow motion. Michael tries to support the large canvas on his biceps – staining his black shirt – at the same time that Ivan, very foolishly, forgets that the paint is still wet and leans his elbow on the corner of the painting. Nina’s eyes widen with horror and despair, mirroring my own as soon as the canvas slides down. “Noooo!” I let go of the easel and launch myself forward like a wrecking ball, but it’s too late. The painting slides down Michael’s arms and lands on the wooden floor. The room falls in absolut silence, undeciding as to whether the scene is part of the show or an actual accident. “Oh shit,” Marcel murmurs. It’s okay. All isn’t lost yet. We can pretend that the destruction of the painting is part of the vernissage, which is what Ivan intended all along, like when Banksy shredded his painting after it was auctioned for millions of dollars. It won’t be difficult to convince the guests. I just need Ivan to collaborate with me. Unfortunately, the artist ruins my plan before I even start it. His scream of horror cuts the air, his eyes rolls back, his knees meet the floor. Then a deafening thud as the rest of him collapses to the floor, fainting.