This novel is limited to 100 free copies due to its part in Inkitt’s Novel Contest.
“Amateur, at best,” I grumbled, swirling my spoon viciously through my coffee. “Come back when you have worked on your style a little more.” How could they say that about my work? More importantly, how was I going to pay the rent this month without that paycheque?
I huffed out another frustrated sigh as I sipped on probably my last real cup of coffee I would be having for a long time.
This was the third gallery this month that had rejected my pieces and the tin I kept hidden under my bed, with my life savings was starting to gather a serious layer of dust.
I had been in New York for over two years now and had only managed to sell three pieces of art. Personally, I think the last guy took pity on me when I broke down and started to hyperventilate in front of him.
This was also one of the many reasons I liked to lock myself away in my studio/apartment for as many consecutive days as I could manage. I pretend to blame it on the need to hone my artist focus and channel my inspiration but usually I like to avoid human interaction at all costs.
Holing myself up in my run down, shoebox sized apartment also stops me from spending money I not only don’t have but also from lamenting over the things I might be able to purchase if I did have it. Things like food and clothes without gaping holes in them are luxuries I just can’t afford in my current financial state. Thankfully, after moving out of my brother’s apartment a year ago I have avoided him ever seeing where I live because if he did I can almost be certain that he would judge me more than he already does.
I would have stayed living with him, like he would have liked, had it not been for the daily fights we would suffer through which always ended with him slamming his apartment door and returning early into the morning, loudly stumbling to his bed. He rarely made it there and somehow always ended up on the living room floor beside his expensive, if somewhat uncomfortable leather sofa. Whenever I sat on it I always felt as if I was being examined by a psychiatrist.
My brother may be a talented lawyer but his taste in furniture left something to be desired.
"Freya," came my friend's voice from across the cafe. Her brown hair pinned back perfectly and her grey suit sitting exactly as it should as she pushed through the midmorning rush of mothers and their young children. I could barely tolerate the screaming or the incessant nagging from the moms to get their kids to act civilised so they could gossip with their friends.
I plastered a fake smile across my face as Darla approached, internally groaning when I saw she had brought her dull boyfriend with her.
The two worked in an office downtown for Marcus’ uncle and had apparently fallen madly in love a few months ago, but how anyone could fall in love with a man whose hairline was already receding at twenty-five is beyond me.
"Hey Darla," I greeted flatly, my mood too sour to achieve the level of perk she always seemed to have. ‘Alfalfa,’ I nodded, tersely as the two took the seats across from me. His grim face didn’t even twitch, his bushy eyebrows never flinching from where they sat atop his dull brown eyes. He didn’t even bother returning my greeting, not that I could blame him, I was less than welcoming.
"How did the gallery go?" Darla asked, looking over at Marcus and sharing a private look before returning her attention to me.
"Terrible," I answered, swirling the remnants of my coffee that had now gone cold. "They didn’t like my pieces."
"That’s horrible," she cooed and I flinched from her insincerity. When we had met after I arrived in the city two years ago with my brother she had been calming and sympathetic towards me. She had helped anyway she could when we had both been working at a local cafe busing tables but after she started working at Marcus’ office and he had somehow won her heart she had started to drift away from me. Probably because of my aversion to the man sitting beside her but in my current fragile state I was happy to blame her for our fractured friendship.
"They said my pieces were too juvenile, my style wasn’t what they were looking for, or some rubbish like that," I dismissed, running my finger through some spilled sugar on the black table we were sat at.
"Don’t worry, I’m sure the next gallery you visit will love your pieces," she promised and I couldn’t stop the snort from escaping.
"Maybe if you were to finish your degree a gallery would be more inclined to pick up your work," Marcus suggested haughtily. His voice more monotone than ever.
"Maybe if you developed a personality I would be less inclined to fall asleep when you talk," I shot back, glaring at him as he watched me with a bored expression.
"Marcus," Darla scolded, nudging him in the shoulder as he muttered something under his breath. ‘Sorry about him,’ she smiled returning her attention back to me. ‘I think you’re a talented artist and any gallery would be lucky to have your artwork displayed on their walls.’
"Thanks Darla," I smiled weakly, pushing my cup away from me.
"Darla, we need to go," Marcus announced, tapping annoyingly at his expensive watch.
"My uncle is expecting me," he answered with a pointed look.
"Right," she answered hurriedly before looking back at me. "I’m sorry Freya, we really do have to go."
"Right of course," I muttered. "You have a real job."
"You’ll get there one day." She smiled sympathetically, almost condescendingly and I held my tongue. The only reason she had the position she had now was because she was sleeping with Marcus. She had been just as lowly as I had been only six months ago when she had been dreaming of becoming an actress when we had both been busing tables still.
"Maybe," I shrugged, gathering my tattered shoulder bag, that had more patches than bag left. It was mere threads away from falling to pieces, not that it held anything of value, other than the keys to my hovel of an apartment. ‘I’ll see you Sunday.’
"Actually," she started hesitantly and I reluctantly brought my eyes to her again feeling a sickly sensation wash over me. "I’m-We’re busy Sunday."
"But, we always go to Central park on Sundays. It’s a tradition. We get dressed in work out gear and meet up by the fountain before we decide that exercising isn’t for us and instead go get coffee at Stefan’s Cafe and eat a ridiculous amount of red velvet cake until we are both so full we declare we will never eat again." I rushed out, barely stopping for a breath.
"I know but…well, Marcus and I we have plans on Sunday. We’re, well…last night Marcus," she paused for a moment, looking over at Marcus with an excited smile before continuing. "He proposed."
"And we’re looking for venues on Sunday. We want the wedding to happen as soon as possible and that means we’re both going to be extremely busy over the next couple of months, you know…planning and everything."
"Right," I muttered, gripping hold of my fraying bag strap tighter.
"It’s all very exciting," she beamed, turning her excited look back at me and I realised I should have had one of my own mirrored back at her.
"Of course…con-congratulations," I choked out, feeling an odd sensation start to wash over me.
"Thanks," she breathed out wistfully before her arm was tugged by the incessant Marcus.
"Come on Darla," he pressed, trying to get her to move through the hoards of mothers and their uncontrollable children. One child was on top of the table screaming so loudly that his face was turning red and all I could think was, he was lucky. He could scream as loud as he wanted, from whatever table he wanted and society wouldn’t think he had lost his mind but if I did that the men with straight jackets would be called and I would be shipped away to a padded room. Yet, at this moment it was all I could think of doing.
"Sorry Freya, we need to go." There is was again, ‘we’, not I, we. Darla was the one friend I had, admittedly she wasn’t the greatest but in a city like New York it was nice to know you weren’t alone. She was the friend that barely had her life together and yet here she was getting married, pushing papers in her nine to five job whilst I was busy getting rejected from every art gallery in Manhattan. When had my world shifted? Had I been asleep all this time?
"I'll make sure you receive an invitation as soon as we decide on a date," she promised as Marcus pulled her from the cafe.
"Lucky me," I muttered sarcastically before making my own way through the mess of people, pulling my threadbare coat tighter as the fall breeze whipped fiercely through the city streets.
I strangely found myself wandering the cold streets of New York hours after leaving the cafe. I couldn't bring myself to return to my apartment and stare at my unwanted pieces of art. Instead I found myself on the exclusive side of the city where all the trees were nicely trimmed and the sidewalks were clear of leaves despite the cold October chill in the air. I wandered the streets feeling small in comparison to the grand buildings that lined the streets and I couldn’t help but wonder what it was like to live without the fear of whether you would make the rent this month or if you would be able to pay for dinner tomorrow night.
Did they have friends inside those intimidating walls, or were they as alone as I was? Was it true that no amount of money could buy you company? However, from where I was standing beneath an arched entrance of a stone building, the absence of money didn’t mean friends either. Surely, if we are without friends, without someone to rely upon money might just be a good fallback. A way to silence the gaping whole in my chest as the wind whistled through it. Living inside those walls couldn't be all that bad when my life was the alternative.
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