I also take up painting. Not because I remember Julian saying that Maria was good at drawing, but because I find it both entertaining and relaxing. I had enjoyed art classes in school, but I was always too busy with friends and other activities to give painting a serious attempt. Now, however, I have plenty of time on my hands, so I start learning how to properly draw and paint. Julian brings me a ton of art supplies and several instructional videos, and I soon find myself absorbed in trying to capture the beauty of the island on canvas.
“You know, you’re very good at this,” Beth says thoughtfully one day, coming up to me on the porch as I’m finishing a painting of the sunset over the ocean. “You’ve got the colors down exactly—that glowing orange shaded with the deep pink.”
I turn and give her a big smile. “You really think so?”
“I do,” Beth says seriously. “You’re doing well, Nora.”
I get the sense that she’s talking about more than just the painting. “Thanks,” I say dryly. Should I add that to my list of achievements—the fact that I’m able to thrive in captivity?
She grins in response, and for the first time, I feel like we truly understand each other. “You’re welcome.”
Walking over to the outdoor couch, she curls up on it, pulling out her book. I watch her for a few seconds, then go back to painting, trying to replicate the multidimensional shimmer of the water—and thinking about the puzzle that is Beth.
She still hasn’t told me much about her past, but I get the sense that for her, this island is a retreat of sorts, a sanctuary. She sees Julian as her rescuer, and the outside world as an unpleasant and hostile place. “Don’t you miss going to the mall?” I asked her once. “Having dinner with your friends? Going dancing? You’re not a prisoner here; you could leave at any time. Why don’t you have Julian take you with him on one of his trips? Do something fun before you come back here again?”
Her response was to laugh at me. “Dancing? Fun? Letting men put their hands all over my body—that’s supposed to be fun?” Her voice turned mocking. “Should I also shop for sexy clothes and make-up, so I look all pretty for them? And what about pollution, drive-by shootings, and muggings—should I miss those, too?” Laughing again, she shook her head. “No, thanks. I’m perfectly happy right here.”
And that’s as much as she would say on that topic.
I don’t know what happened to make her so bitter, but I strongly suspect Beth hasn’t had an easy life. When we were watching Pretty Woman, she kept making snide comments about how real prostitution is nothing like the fairy tale they were showing. I didn’t ask her about it then, but I’ve been curious ever since. Could she have been a prostitute in the past?
Putting down my brush, I turn and look at Beth. “Can I paint you?”
She looks up from her book, startled. “You want to paint me?”
“Yes, I do.” It would be a nice change of pace from all those landscapes I’ve been focusing on lately—and it might also give me a chance to get to know her better.
She stares at me for a few seconds, then shrugs. “All right. I guess.”
She seems uncertain about this, so I give her an encouraging smile. “You don’t have to do anything—just sit there like that, with your book. It makes for a nice visual.”
And it’s true. The rays of the setting sun turn her red curls into a blazing flame, and with her legs tucked under, she looks young and vulnerable. Much more approachable than usual.
I set aside the painting I was working on and put up a blank canvas. Then I begin to sketch, trying to capture the symmetric angles of her face, the lean lines and curves of her body. It’s an absorbing task, and I don’t stop until it gets too dark for me to see anything.
“Are you done for today?” Beth asks, and I realize that she’s been sitting in the same position for the past hour.
“Oh, yeah, sure,” I say. “Thanks for being such a good model.”
“No problem.” She gives me a genuine smile as she gets up. “Ready for dinner?”
For the next three days, I work on Beth’s portrait. She patiently models for me, and I find myself so busy that I hardly think about Julian at all. It’s only at night that I have a chance to miss him—to feel the cold emptiness of my king-sized bed as I lie there aching for his embrace. He’s gotten me so addicted that a week without him feels like a cruel punishment—one that I find infinitely worse than any sexual torture my captor has doled out thus far.
“Did Julian say when he’s going to be back?” I ask Beth as I’m putting the final touches on the painting. “He’s already been gone for seven days.”
She shakes her head. “No, but he’ll be here as soon as he can manage. He can’t stay away from you, Nora, you know that.”
“Really? Has he said something to you?” I can hear the eagerness in my voice, and I mentally kick myself. How pathetic can one get? I might as well put a stamp on my forehead: another stupid girl who fell for her kidnapper. Of course, I doubt many kidnappers have Julian’s lethal charm, so maybe I should cut myself some slack.
Thankfully, Beth doesn’t tease me about my obvious infatuation. “He doesn’t need to say it,” she says instead. “It’s perfectly obvious.”
I put down my brush for a second. “Obvious how?” This conversation is fulfilling a need I didn’t even know I had—that for a real girl-to-girl gossip session about men and their inexplicable emotions.