As he drank his champagne in huge gulps, Judas’s gaze washed over the freeloaders crowding the gallery. Most of them didn’t even bother looking at his work. Instead, they hung around in little clusters, chatting about inane things as they sipped on drinks and nibbled on minuscule canapes.
The artist grabbed one of the servers and swapped his empty flute for a full one. He downed it in a single gulp, the server’s arm still in his grasp. Rinse and repeat.
“Let the boy go, Judas.”
Christopher Carlyle peeled the artist’s fingers from the young man’s arm who thanked his savior with a silent nod. The agent offered his own glass and two Xanax tablets to Judas before he could object – not that he would.
“You’re a lifesaver, Chris,” Judas said after downing the white pills with the whole content of the glass. With a crooked smile, he dangled the empty vessel in his agent’s face.
“I think you’ve had enough, love. You still have to speak to your guests later.”
“You’re right, I’ve had enough of this bubbly crap. Why don’t you go and fetch me a nice bourbon?”
Chris knew better than to try and change his client’s mind when it came to booze or drugs. At least Judas was doing much better now than a year ago, back when he still roamed the streets drunk and high from whatever he could find.
When he caught the artist evading winter in his basement, the art critic and dealer saw raw potential in the man’s work. He took a chance and brought the needy man into his home to help him clean up his act. He even went as far as renting a studio apartment not too far from his own so the artist could work in peace.
Sadly, the drinking and using never changed much, even after becoming a somewhat useful member of society. Except that now the drugs were sort of legal and the alcohol actually tasted good. Some kind of victory in Chris’s opinion.
The sound of exploding glass pulled the agent out of his reminiscing. Beside him, a now empty handed Judas had his eyes glued to the front of the gallery, a shocked expression on his face.
Like everyone else who had heard the shattering noise, he turned to see what had drawn the artist’s attention. A man stood next to a huge metallic representation of what could look like his own face. Chris had been right to think the artist’s model was handsome.
A rumble went around the room. People murmured, giggled, and pointed, their gazes going back and forth between the artist and the stranger. The newcomer turned away from the artwork, his eyes searching the room. When his stare settled on the stunned artist, a brief smile appeared on his face. It turned into a determined frown as he walked toward Judas, unbothered by the glass crushing under his boots as he got close.
“Hey,” the stranger said, his breathy voice a contrast to his confident stride.
“Hey,” Judas parroted, his own gaze not faltering from the man’s. “What the fuck are you doing here?”
“Five years, Ollie. We thought you were dead.”
“I’m sorry,” the artist said, only because he felt it was expected of him. “I needed a change,” he added with a shrug.
“Did it work?”
“It did. Until now…”
“So now what?” the man said, insistent.
Judas shrugged again. He wasn’t in the mood to rehash his past, much less in a room full of strangers listening to his every word. He looked at his agent, trying to convey how shit was close to be hitting the fan.
Chris squared his shoulders, stepping a little between the two men. “Now’s not the time or place, sir,” he said, hoping the newcomer would understand the underlying message.
“I saw your show ends at ten. I’ll be back then,” the visitor said without paying attention to the agent. “We gotta talk,” he concluded before doubling back to leave the gallery.
Judas had been able to keep it together but as soon as the man disappeared, the artist’s knees buckled. He would have hurt himself on the broken glass if Chris hadn’t grabbed him before he collapsed. The agent guided his artist toward the backstore, barking orders at the staff to clean up the mess and bring his client a black coffee.
“Are you okay?” Chris asked as he helped Judas sit on the couch, putting a hand on his clammy forehead.
“I think I drank too much, too fast.”
“You’re a functioning alcoholic, Jude. A couple of glasses of champagne shouldn’t be enough to break you.”
The agent’s assumption made the artist chuckle. “Try at least seven glasses, not just a couple.”
Chris huffed, not surprised by his artist’s admission. “Want to tell me who that guy is? Someone from your past, I presume?”
“It’s not important. Do you have anymore—” Judas started to say, wiggling his fingers at Chris.
“Yeah, yeah. Gotta keep my artist happy, right?” the miffed agent said, dumping two more Xanax in the artist’s palm.
Judas swallowed them dry and closed his eyes, letting his head fall on the backrest. “What time is it?”
“Ten minutes until eight. Will you be all right by then?”
“I gotta, don’t I?”
“We can push your introduction to eight thirty.” Chris glanced at his watch. “Everyone saw what happened, they’ll understand.”
“I’d rather do this sooner than later. Plus, I now have the perfect excuse to leave early.”
“The guy is supposed to come back, isn’t he?”
“Just give him the studio’s address when he does.”
Knowing he had to get back to their guests, Chris got off the couch. “What if he’s some kind of psycho?”
The artist chuckled again. “I assure you, he’s not. If anything, I’m the psychotic one with an entire gallery dedicated to his fucking face.”
“Yeah, well… I’ll be keeping tabs on you, all right? For now, just lay low and drink some coffee, I’ll be back later.”
Chris walked back into the gallery, leaving Judas alone. Everyone was still chatting, sipping, nibbling, and moving in little groups. He walked around, tending to the guests since the artist himself wouldn’t. To his surprise, people were generally discreet and didn’t ask about the little incident from earlier. He came to understand exactly why when he stopped by a group made of some of Chicago’s main art critics.
George White greeted his former colleague with a bright smile and a hefty clap on his back. “I should have known you’d treat us with a show stopping stunt, you sly bastard.”
“Dare I say, it was marvelous,” the critic’s wife gushed, tipping her glass at Chris. “So who was that nice looking boy? Judas’s lover?”
“You seem to think I had anything to do with his presence here. I swear that I didn’t, nor did Judas. I don’t even know who the mystery man is.”
“You know I don’t believe you, right?” George said with a knowing smile.
“It’s your prerogative, of course. I do wish I had orchestrated this coup myself… talk about wasted opportunities,” the agent said in a snarky tone before walking away. He really didn’t want to hear the little group giggle and theorize about his involvement in the affair.
After circling the room for a good half hour, Christopher decided Judas may be doing well enough to come back and introduce himself. He couldn’t even pretend to be surprised when he found the back store devoid of the artist’s presence. Judas has fled the gallery.