And yet she did.
She knew who it would be when she would turn around. She knew what she may have to face from the person. But not turning around was not an option that she had. Whether she liked it or not conversing with her guests was something that she was supposed to do tonight. And so she did. She took a deep breath and turned around, “Ms Meyers, good to see you here tonight.”
“Well what can I say. I had to see this show tonight”, the lady responded.
“Ms Meyers, let’s go and get you a drink”, Benjamin tried to steer away the person.
“Oh Benjamin, Bethany is really lucky to have you. You are always trying to get her out of situations that are not very ‘pleasant’ for her”, the lady laughed.
“Well Ms Meyers, Bethany Hill is not only my boss but a very close friend as well. I would do anything for her”, Benjamin replied adamantly.
“I am sure you would Benji. But today I really wanted to talk to Bethany”, the woman said.
“Catherine, are you here to again criticize my work? Because if you are I still wouldn’t care of what you think”, Bethany sounded irritated.
“Bethany my dear, I am a critic and that’s what I do. But please don’t forget I am a fan as well”, the woman flipped her hair behind.
“Oh is that so? It didn’t seem like it when you wrote that scathing review about Bethany’s last show”, Benjamin was defending his boss now.
“Oh Benji, I may have been ruthless in my previous review. But look what it’s done for Bethany”, the woman remained unfazed by the hostility that she was facing.
“What do you mean”, Benjamin asked.
“Look around your Benji. This woman has completely transformed here. I am completely stunned by what she has put forward today. I see the soul of these women that she has captured with her lens”, the woman looked in awe.
‘What I see is bodies – beautiful gorgeous bodies that look sexily elegant through your lens. But that’s what they are just bodies. Where is the soul?’
The words echoed in Bethany’s ears as she took a step back. It was a déjà vu moment for her.
For one lucid moment she went back to that time when she was jilted out of her fame by a total novice. But Benjamin’s voice brought her back to the present.
“You mean it”, he asked.
“Of course I mean it. I don’t know what spurred you on to do this but today I see a whole another Bethany Hill here. These are so powerful photographs. There are no shenanigans here, no glamour, no make believe stuff. These are real – real in every damn way. I am really impressed”, the woman said.
“Wow, you sound impressed”, Benjamin couldn’t believe it.
“Well congratulations for this wonderful effort Bethany. I will take a look around now”, with that the woman excused herself.
“Wow, did this just happen”, Benjamin still looked surprised.
“Uh I don’t know”, Bethany was struggling with the memory.
“I mean Catherine Meyers actually said that she was impressed. The most influential photography critic said that she was impressed”, Benjamin’s excitement was palpable. “Last time she was so ruthless with her review of your work. But this time she seems to be completely bowled over.”
“Hmm”, Bethany responded.
“B you ok”, Bethany’s monosyllabic response struck Benjamin.
“Yeah, yeah I am fine”, she said as she took a sip of the bubbly.
“What is it B”, he asked.
“She said she found soul in my work today”, she stated simply.
“Oh, that’s quite a coincidence”, he didn’t know how to react. “Did you talk to her”, he asked.
“Nope”, she replied sadly.
“I am sure she is busy. She will call you soon. After all she has to congratulate you”, he tried to cheer up his boss.
“I know she will”, Bethany gave a fake smile.
“Come on, we have guests to attend now”, Benjamin dragged her this time.
Time was moving very mysteriously. While on one hand Bethany was struggling to keep up with the guests and critics and media all trying to vie for her attention, on other hand she was constantly looking at the clock wiling it to rush through the next few hours.
Occasionally she would glance at Benjamin who would come to her rescue. But other than that she was handling the attention pretty well. After all one would think she would be pretty used to it being a very popular figure in the world of photography. But only a select few knew that she was good behind a camera and not in front of it. And she was the most uncomfortable with all the press and paparazzi. Benjamin knew that ever since she was a young girl all she wanted to do was go away into the wilderness with her camera in hand and just click pictures, capture magic with her lens. But somewhere down the line, through the art school and everything, she got pushed into this world of glamour where appearances mattered the most.
After the show was done and the guests were gone somewhere around 3 am Benjamin walked into her room with a flute of champagne in hand, his neck tie loosened up, the tuxedo jacket flung away in some corner, and the sleeves of his white shirt rolled up.
“Today was a good start, no let me say it again, it was a fantastic start”, he said handing her the glass. He clicked their glasses in a toast, “To you.”
“Benji you have had enough for today”, Bethany said putting down her glass on the side table and running her fingers through his hair. “I think you should stop.”
“Stop…no I don’t want to stop. I want to celebrate”, he whined like a child.
“You are incorrigible”, she shook her head at his antics and smiled.
“You know, this has been the best show of all times. Did you look at their faces when the curtains were lifted? Man that moment was memorable”, his excitement was clearly visible.
“Hmm”, she responded.
“And the kind of press you are getting on these photos, it’s amazing. They are portraying you in a whole new light. In fact, I overheard David Gomez of New York Times mention that this was the most unexpectedly powerful show from you. The photos are so powerful that they move a person’s soul and being”, he went on.
“That was the whole point”, Bethany sat down on her bed and smiled.
Benjamin looked at her. Dressed in simple pajamas and white tank top, she looked relaxed and at peace. The makeup was gone and her hair was pulled up in a messy bun. She was bare feet as she pulled her knees close to her chest and rested her head on them.
Benjamin walked up to her and sat down right in front of her. He stared at her for a minute without saying anything and then he said, “She called, didn’t she.”
“Hmm”, she hummed softly.
She looked up at him and asked, “How did you know?”
“Look at you and you will realize”, he answered. His shoulders slumped and all the excitement was clearly out of him.
“Oh come on, why are you looking so dejected”, she pulled his cheeks and made faces.
“I am not dejected”, he argued, “I just wanted to celebrate that’s all.”
“And we will but its 3 am and I want to sleep now. God those heels were killing me. Who the hell thinks that making women uncomfortable on heels is sexy”, she rubbed her feet.
“If only the paparazzi could see you like this”, he teased.
“As if I care”, she blurted out.
“I know”, he said and took a sip.
He looked at her as they got engulfed in a comfortable silence. He knew this was not the time to broach the subject but he couldn’t help it.
“B, you know that I love you right”, he asked, hesitation evident in his voice.
“I know Benji”, she smiled.
“No I mean I really love you”, he looked down trying to hide emotions showing up on his face.
“Hey, hey look at me”, she held his chin and lifted his face. “I know. I know”, she whispered.
“So when I say I am worried for you, I hope you don’t see it as anything else but my love for you”, he stated gingerly.
“Benji where is this coming from”, Bethany looked worried now.
“Bethany, why does one phone call affect you so much”, there he said it.
“Because she is a friend Benji. She is a very good person. She is smart, funny, intelligent….”, she tried toe explain.
“Married”, Benjamin added.
“And my muse”, Bethany finished.
“B, do you know what happens to artists who have muses”, he asked.
“You think I am an artist”, she looked incredulously at him.
“I am going to ignore that statement”, he lifted his finger to stop Bethany from saying whatever it was that she was about to say. “You are an artist and the whole world knows that. But what they don’t know is that you have found a muse. A muse who is married and lives on the other side of the globe.”
“So what”, she asked.
“So what? You are asking me so what? B, you can’t be serious”, he got up and started pacing around. “She is married for God’s sake, and let me repeat this happily married. Do you even know what would happen to her marriage if her husband found out about you?”
“Found out what Benji”, Bethany was acting stubborn now.
“Found out that she inspires you. This new work that the world saw today, this new side of Bethany Hill that people witnessed, that is all coming out because of her. She has inspired you in this new work. And when the press finds this out, they are going to hound you and her. They will decrypt your relationship with her to the minutest detail. They are going to weave stories – stories that may not be true but degrading to her. Do you want that for her? Do you have the energy to explain to the people what sort of a relationship exists between a muse and an artist”, Benjamin’s despair was evident now.
“I don’t want to hurt her”, Bethany sounded dejected and hurt.
“I know B. I know you don’t want to hurt her. But you will. The world is an unforgiving place. People don’t understand the mindset and sensitivities of an artist. Why would they even understand a relationship between an artist and a muse? B our history shows that while the muses inspired artists to achieve higher level of excellence, the relationship often soured the life of their muses. The obsession often wrecked havoc in their lives and made things difficult. We have so many so called scandals that happened just because the world and the people couldn’t understand the relationship”, he finished.
“You are right Benji. God what am I doing”, Bethany wiped at a stray tear that fell on her cheeks.
“B I am sorry but I am looking out for you here”, he held her hands now and rubbed them soothingly.
“I know you are Benji. It’s just that for the first time I found somebody that inspired me to do better and be a better photographer. I am just not ready to lose her right now”, her voice cracked.
“I know”, he hugged her. He knew she was hurting now.
“Thanks Benji for everything”, she finally said when the initial sobs died down.
“I am sorry for hurting you”, he apologized.
“No, no you are right”, she replied. “I will end this.”
“Now you better sleep. We don’t want the press to see your puffed eyes tomorrow. Remember we have interview tomorrow with The Global Times. We want you looking fresh and relaxed”, he said getting up.
“Yeah I remember. I will see you tomorrow. Good night”, she wished him as Benjamin opened the door of her room.
“Good night B”, Benjamin wished back and stepped out of the room. He slowly closed the door behind him and sighed.
‘I know I am doing the right thing’ he thought to himself as he started walking away from the door. He switched off the lights in the stairway as he made his way.
Behind those closed doors Bethany shed a few more silent tears and dozed off the last thought being ‘Benji is right. I can’t hurt her.’