Footprints

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Chapter 4

Mornings were hard. Especially if they came after nights fuelled by drinks and food and artistic discussions and overt appreciations. The mornings became extra hard when the hullabaloo of the night extended way past into the early dawn. The calm of the mornings killed the buzz and the excitement of the night. Mornings shred the veil of the make believe and bring us flat in front of reality. They can be hard at the same time they can be damn good cleansers – bringing perspective and new dimensions to worn out dreams and hopes. But not everybody loved mornings. And so was the case with one of the inmates of this house.

The sheets rustled as the morning sun crept in through the small gap between the two curtains. Although not sharp, it was sharp enough to elicit a moan from the lifeless body spawning spread eagled on the bed. Attempting to catch some more sleep the person slid further into the covers. But even that attempt seemed to be futile as the shades were pulled up mercilessly allowing the sunlight now to enter the room fully and mock the sleepy head.

“ugggghhhhhh”, the person grumbled from the bed.

“Wake up sleeping beauty”, the person who had pulled the shades replied.

“Why are you so chirpy”, came the next question.

“It’s 8 and you know you need to wake up now”, it was an order this time.

“You know you are standing in my room right now and ordering me to do something that I don’t wanna do”, Benji stretched.

“As if I care”, Bethany shot back.

“You know I can be in really compromising situation right now”, Benji argued as he tried to detangle himself from the sheets.

“I repeat, as if I care”, Bethany shot back again.

“I don’t get it. How can you be so fresh and chirpy in the morning after having gone to bed only at 4 am”, Benji now got out of the bed and wrapped the sheets around his waist.

“Don’t think so much so early Benji. I have put the coffee on and the breakfast is ready. Just get dressed and come out”, with that Bethany left the room.

The minute the door was closed, Benjamin jumped back in the bed. But his child like glee was short lived as Bethany shouted from beyond the closed door, “you better not try to get into that bed again.”

“Damn that woman is gonna kill me some day”, he grumbled and walked into the attached bath.

After 15 minutes, Benjamin walked out into the kitchen where Bethany sat reading the newspaper. A cup of coffee sat there half filled indicating that it was not getting the attention it deserved first thing in the morning.

“Reading politics section again”, he said as he filled up his cup and settled down in front of her.

“Hmm”, she replied evidently engrossed in whatever she was reading.

“I will take this”, he quipped as he took the cartoons section.

“You need to grow up”, she commented taking a sip of her coffee but not looking up from the newspaper.

“And you need to learn how to have some fun”, he shot back wryly.

After 15 minutes of comfortable silence, Benjamin couldn’t take it anymore. He got up and filled two plates with scrambled eggs and toast. He filled up their mugs with coffee and put them on the table. He then grabbed her newspaper and put it aside. “Eat”, he said as he handed her a spoon.

“I will”, she made a face and turned her focus to food.

“There’s a lot of coverage about your show in today’s art section”, Benjamin broached the subject.

“I didn’t read”, she bit into her toast.

“They are raving about your new work”, he informed.

“Let them”, she still didn’t show interest.

“B, it’s an appreciation of your art. You ought to read this”, he tried once more.

“Benji, I just capture photos. They become a piece of art on their own. And I don’t do it to define that moment. I do it to define myself in that moment”, she replied.

“Well you keep doing that and I will keep basking in the glory of your praises”, he picked licked his fingers as he finished the last piece of his toast. “So what’s today’s agenda”, he asked.

“The cleaners are already in the gallery cleaning up yesterday’s mess”, she picked up her dish and mug and put it in the dish cleaner.

“Ahhh”, he replied sheepishly knowing full well that he had forgotten to check on that.

“So I am going to drop you off at the gallery and I will go to the studio”, she ruffled his still wet hair as she walked back to her room.

“10 minutes”, he shouted behind her and tried to get his hair back in place.

“That’s all that I need”, she said cheekily before closing the door.

And indeed in 10 minutes she was ready wearing a black and blue silk shirt that was knotted in the front over a black skirt. She had applied a very light shade of pink on her lips and had put on her huge black glasses on. She had left her hair open. An ethnic styled bracelet adorned her left hand. Anybody who saw her last night at the opening would not be able to believe that it’s the same Bethany Hill that oozed sex and glamour. Today she looked like a photographer who was determined to finish a shoot. Today she looked in her element.

She walked out with her camera in one hand and keys in another. She tossed the keys towards Benjamin as she packed up her camera and gathered her laptop.

“You drive”, she said.

“Yes ma’am”, Benjamin said excitedly. There were very few times when he got to drive. It was always Bethany who preferred driving. It was one way for her to unwind and let go.

In another 20 minutes Benjamin was dropping Bethany at the studio.

“I will check the gallery and come back here. Is it ok”, he asked as she got out of the car.

“Yep that’s fine by me”, she closed the passenger door and started collecting her stuff from the back seat.

“You have any lunch plans”, he asked.

“Nothing yet but we will see how it goes”, she replied.

“Alrighty, I will be back soon”, and with that he zoomed away.

Bethany walked into the studio and placed her stuff in one corner. She looked around and took a deep breath. She was finally in her comfort zone. She was where she could lose herself. This was the place where she had done many a photo sessions. While she did travel around a lot for outdoor shoots, for indoors she always preferred her studio. The place was huge, had right kind of natural lighting that could be easily modified, and it was quiet. She and Benjamin had erected so many different sets in this one place for different photo shoot projects. Romantic, rusty, gory, natural, mystique, cozy – you name it and they had created an ambience with that feel here in this place. This is where she had captured some of the most titillating shots.

She moved around the place for a bit and then started tidying up. She moved some of the heavy light stands into one of the corners. She then brought out the projector screen. She connected her laptop to it and started projecting. She was looking at some of the work that was not displayed during the opening night when she heard movement behind her.

She turned around and was surprised to see her guest.

“Catherine, what are you doing here”, she asked tersely making it clear that she was not at all happy about the unscheduled visit.

“Well I wanted to see you in your natural forte”, the woman replied stepping in further.

“I don’t think we had an appointment today”, Bethany indicated.

“No we don’t. But then I never cared for calendars”, Catherine smiled.

“What do you want”, Bethany folded her arms trying to close herself off from this person.

“I wanted to see your work”, Catherine said pointing at the now frozen image of the basket weaving lady on the projector screen. “The healing hands, isn’t that what you named her photo?”

“Yes I did”, Bethany was not sure where this was going.

“Hmm interesting, I like it”, the woman was sounding mysterious now.

“Come on Catherine what do you want”, the photographer was now annoyed.

“I told you already, I am here to look at your work”, the woman was not revealing anything.

“In that case, you need to be at the gallery. I don’t show here. The photos are at the gallery to see”, Bethany replied.

“Did you read my review of your show last night”, Catherine asked turning around and looking straight at the photographer. Dressed in pencil skirt, white shirt, and gray suit, she looked intimidating.

“I didn’t need to”, Bethany replied.

“Why”, the questions continued.

“I don’t need your approval as a critic on any of my work Catherine. I have told you already write what you want. I don’t care”, the reply was rude and arrogant.

“Well I think you might have been pleasantly surprised if you had read it. I did mention this show as being your reincarnation show”, Catherine ran her finger delicately and seductively over the projector lens mounted on Bethany’s desk where her laptop was placed.

“I still don’t care”, Bethany powered off the projector.

“You always say that”, Catherine smiled.

“Come on Cath, stop playing these games. Why are you here, just tell me”, Bethany sounded exasperated now.

“I need you to do an interview for me”, Catherine now started talking business.

“No”, Bethany replied without even taking a minute to think about it.

“You did not hear me out completely”, the said.

“I don’t need to”, Bethany was not going to take this for long.

“Beth, this interview is going to be the biggest one of your career. It’s in fact not an interview but kind of like a documentary”, Catherine continued.

“No”, the answer remained.

“It will be different. It will change the path of your career and will make you an epitome of success. You will be right there in the top league”, Catherine looked visibly excited.

“I am not interested Catherine. I am happy with my career and my life”, Bethany responded.

“What is wrong with you”, the woman was now losing her patience.

“What is wrong with me? You tell me Catherine. You seem to know so much about me”, Bethany’s tone rose as she got agitated.

“That was a low jab”, Catherine realized where this was coming from.

“Low jab? You call that a low jab? And what would you call the shit that you wrote about me in your article”, Bethany’s aggression surprised Benjamin who had just stepped in.

“B, B calm down”, he rushed to her side and stood between her and Catherine trying to shield her.

“What you doing here”, he turned around and asked Catherine.

“Benjamin, I was just trying to get Beth here to agree to do a documentary with me”, she replied.

“Do not call me Beth”, the woman had still not simmered down.

“Alright Bethany it is then. But you can’t hold my past writings over my head. I didn’t do that when writing a review about your show”, Catherine argued.

“I told you I don’t care what you wrote”, Bethany shot back.

“B, she has written a very positive review. In fact, it’s very encouraging”, Benjamin tried to mend the broken bridge between the two one time friends.

“Benjamin, please try to put some sense into her. I was just doing my job when I wrote that article. I had to do it to save my ass”, Catherine replied.

“Oh yeah? So you mean when you wrote about my mom and how because of her past I objectify women today, you were just doing your job”, Bethany’s eyes teared up.

“I didn’t mean to hurt you”, Catherine explained.

“But you did. Whatever I told you back then was off the record. It was an exchange that happened between two friends. I shared those things with you considering you a friend. But you clearly had ulterior motives”, Bethany now turned around and vigorously wiped away the tears that threatened to fall.

“Benjamin, please talk to her. My editor had asked me to write a salacious piece on her or else I would end up losing my job. I couldn’t let that happen. And given the kind of work she was doing, it made sense”, Catherine tried one more time.

“That doesn’t justify anything Catherine. B trusted you and broke that trust. You wrote those things to advance your career without thinking about how you would taint her”, Benjamin was still not won here. “Tell me something, do you seriously believe B objectifies women? Does she really look at women as objects? Are they just sex dolls to her? Do you really believe that”, he questioned.

“No”, Catherine replied, “and that’s why I am here. Last night I saw a new Bethany Hill. Damn it, the whole world saw a new Bethany Hill. We had never seen such emotions and sensibilities captured by her. And trust me it has had a profound effect on a lot of people. People are talking Benji about her, about her work, about those photos. But those stories that she talked about yesterday, they are incomplete. I want her to use them as a platform to reach higher. And give me a chance to right a wrong that I did”, Catherine explained.

“That’s the different between you and me Catherine. You use and I don’t”, Bethany replied sharply.

“You know what, you need to calm down. I will check with you again later Benji. Hope you can put some sense in her”, and with that Catherine put on her sunglasses and walked out the door.

Benjamin turned to Bethany but before he could say anything she stopped him, “No, don’t you say a word.”

“I wanted to ask you if you are ok”, he stepped back.

“I am sorry. My frustration came out on you”, the photographer felt guilty.

“Hey hey it’s ok, no problem. Remember I am your punching bag”, the man tried to hold her close.

“That doesn’t give me a right to hurt you”, she quivered into his embrace.

“You are not hurting me. I am just worried about you”, he placed a soft kiss on her head.

“Thank you Benji, thank you for everything”, she looked up at him.

“Is that it? Are we now coming down to this”, he asked.

“Just shut up”, she slapped him lovingly on his shoulder and wiggled out. A small smile broke out on her face.

“Ah see, there’s the smile that I was missing”, Benjamin joked as she giggled. “But seriously B, think about it. Catherine has a point there”, he tried again.

“I don’t trust her Benji”, Bethany said point blank. “After what she did last time, I don’t want to reveal anything to her.”

Benjamin couldn’t argue there. He knew the history. He knew how Bethany had shared her past with Catherine, her one time college friend and how the woman had betrayed her. He knew how ashamed Bethany was after the story related to her mother was published. It created such a huge scandal. It even strained her relationship with her dad. She was chased around by paparazzi for more information. She faced crass from journalists wanting to exploit her situation. She got howled at and even verbally abused at some places. Given all this Benjamin could clearly understand her denial to entertain Catherine any more.

But Catherine’s proposal was also something that could not be overlooked. The woman was a powerhouse today in journalism. A documentary by her would do wonders to Bethany’s career. And he being her manager had to think about that as well.

So what could he do? How does he broach this subject with his dear friend and boss? He had to think of something. But could he forget what Catherine did to Bethany? How could he! It was still so fresh in his memories as if it happened yesterday. It was something that was neither forgotten nor forgiven.

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