The Erotic Mind-Control Story Archive

Drawing from Life, Part 4

* * *

“More brown?”

Joshua examined the painting. Both of his arms ached, a dull throb. His vision was fuzzy from the paint fumes. “Yeah, more brown.”

Meera turned back to the sink, and started grinding up something foul. Ketan lounged on the sofa. “So, how much longer before the masterpiece is done?” he asked, not looking up from his magazine.

Nearly falling over, Joshua stood up, stretched. He looked at the painting. “Shit, I don’t know. Another couple of hours, maybe.” Meera put a small jar down next to the easel, and started rubbing Joshua’s shoulders. “Are you sure this is going to work?” he asked, of no one in particular. He sank back into Meera’s touch.

“No idea,” Ketan replied. “And if it doesn’t, we’ll probably be in jail. Life is full of mysteries, isn’t it?”

Joshua stared at him for a long time, and sat back down. He patted Meera’s hand. “Thanks.” He picked up his brush, and started in again.

* * *



Joshua put his hand on the painting again. “Nothing. It didn’t work.”

Meera and Ketan stood right behind him. “How can you tell?” Meera asked, after a long pause.

Joshua turned, slumping. “I don’t know. But I can. There’s just something wrong with it. It doesn’t... it doesn’t glow like the others. It’s just a painting.” He stood up, collapsed onto the couch. “It doesn’t even look right.”

Ketan looked it over. “It looks fine to me,” he said, his good humor sounding just a bit forced.

Joshua stood up, stalked over, waving at the canvas with his brush as if he were trying to punish it. “No, it’s wrong. See, there in the mouth, and over there in the eyes. They’re not right. I’m too tired, or I’m just not good enough. Fuck, Ketan, get yourself a real painter, one who knows how to do realism right.” He threw down the brush. Meera put out a hand, but Joshua turned first, blinking, a sudden thought flashing through him. “A real painter, that’s what we need.” He raced to the door, grabbing his jacket.

Meera raced after him. “What’s happening? Where are you going?”

Joshua turned, smiling, all fatigue erased from his face “I need a latté. I’m going to Brainwash. Want to come?”

* * *

“Really?” Dana asked, attempting not to squeal.

Joshua nodded, vigorously. Dana’s face was radiant, excited. Joshua thought, if I could make a lover look like this, I’d be the best damn lay in the world.

Meera and Ketan sat at a table, sipping drinks, Meera looking at Joshua and Dana having a conversation at the counter, Ketan’s nose buried in a book.

“Yes, of course, I’d love to learn from you! I mean, when you said I was any good, it was great...”

Joshua nodded again, trying to stay casual and patient. “So, would you like to start right away?”

“Yes, yes! How about, ah, I don’t know if, I mean, I’m sure you’re busy.”


“Now?” Dana blinked.

“Yes, this very instant. My studio’s right around the corner, pretty much.”

“Um, but I don’t get off for another...”

Joshua cut the air with his hand. “Time to start suffering for your art. Get your coat.” He turned to walk back to Ketan and Meera. Without looking, he could see the scene behind him: Dana pausing, turning, saying something to her coworker, him shrugging, her reaching under the counter. He nodded to Meera; she tapped Ketan, and stood up.

* * *

“Dana. Painting. Not view, painting.”

Dana turned, back to the easel. She pushed her glasses back up. “Oh, sorry, this is just such a great view...”

Joshua nodded, trying to be the stern instructor. “We’ll do landscapes later. You want to learn my technique, right?” Thank god, he told himself again for the tenth time, that Dana had been working today.

Dana nodded, vigorously. “Yes, of course, but...” She looked at Meera, working at the sink, and Ketan, sitting on the couch, reading. “But this is kind of weird...”

“You’re an artist. Weird is expected. OK, first lesson.” He pointed at the copy holder next to the easel. “Duplicate that. I’ll talk you through the colors, but make it an exact copy. I want to see every pore.”

Dana blinked. “But...”

Joshua shook his head. “No buts. And you have six hours to do it.” He held up the hair dryer, trying to suppress the trembling in his tired arms. “Speed painting. It’s all the rage.” He put down the hair dryer, lifted a blank canvas onto the easel. “If you are very good, I’ll give you bathroom breaks.”

Dana blanched. Joshua managed a laugh. “That was a joke, Dana. Sit down, and get going. My lovely assistant Meera, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine,” Meera bowed, “will be making up paints faster than you can burn through them. Ketan over here,” Ketan waved, not looking up from his comic book, “will provide pithy commentary of dubious value.”

She sat down, poking at the paints with a mixing stick. “Joshua, what the fuck are these made out of? They smell like hell.”

Joshua flinched. “That’s very apt, Dana. Trust me, you don’t want to know. OK, first part, canvas prep...”

Dana wrinkled her nose, but picked up the brush.

* * *

The four of them stared at the painting. It stared back.

“You did it, Dana,” Joshua said, breathing out softly.

Dana looked. “It... well, yeah, it looks just like the original.” She did not sound impressed with her handiwork.

“No, look. See around here,” Joshua said, pointing carefully. “It’s like a nimbus around it.”

Dana looked again, carefully. “Yeah. It does. That’s wild... I didn’t paint that in, I mean not on purpose. Did the paints do that?”

Ketan and Meera looked at each other. Joshua chuckled, without much humor. “They sure did. Listen, you need some rest. Can we start again tomorrow evening?” Ketan shook his head, vigorously. “Er, maybe the day after?” Joshua corrected himself.

Dana looked around the three others, clearly convinced that they were all mad. And you’re absolutely right, my cute friend, Joshua thought. “Sure, that’d be great...” she managed. She took another look at the painting, another look at Joshua, and walked over to get her coat.

* * *

“That’s great, Harlan. I’ll see you tonight.” Ketan hung up the phone, and turned to Joshua. Joshua looked up, huddled on the couch in Ketan’s office. “OK, Joshua, we have our meeting with Nachez. He thinks I’m about to jump to his company in exchange for buckets of money.”

“I didn’t know you knew Nachez.”

“I know Nachez awfully damn well. The top of the tech business is pretty rarefied air. Everyone knows everyone. He’s been trying to get his hooks into me for years.”


Ketan blinked. “And what?”

“And why haven’t you bitten?”

Ketan looked at Joshua, startled. “You’re nuts. You know what he’s like.”

Joshua shook his head, slowly. “You’re right, we’re nuts. This is never going to work.”

Ketan shrugged. “Maybe not, but at least I know how big a raise to ask my boss for. Let’s go upstairs to marketing.”

Joshua blinked, and stood up. “Upstairs? What’s upstairs?”

Ketan pushed open his door, bowing for Joshua to pass. “The biggest fucking ink-jet printer you ever saw in your life.” He grinned, broadly.

* * *

“I can’t do it.”

Ketan looked at Joshua, expression blank. “Maybe not, but you’re going to.”

“We’re both going to get fucking killed.”

“We’re not going to get fucking killed, or even just killed. It’s going to be fine.”

“I can’t.”

Ketan reached over from the driver’s seat, put a hand on Joshua’s shoulder. Nachez’s house sat before them, dark and malignant, like a huge spider. “Josh, stop letting things happen to you. Do things. Do this.”

Joshua looked at the house, and nodded. He got out of the car without looking at Ketan. Ketan followed, carrying a large painting case. They approached the door, all leaded glass and expensive imported woods. Joshua knocked. After a long pause, Nachez answered, impeccable in a dark suit. He paused, looking surprised.

“Hello, Ketan. Joshua. I’m surprised to see both of you here.”

Joshua opened his mouth, then closed it. Ketan stepped in. “Joshua and I go way back, Harlan. I thought he might enjoy seeing how the other half lives.”

Nachez laughed, stepping aside. “Happy to see both of you, come in, already.” He kept talking over his shoulder as he led them through the house, towards the center. “If you keep up your career, Joshua, you’ll be inviting me over to show how the real rich live soon enough.”

Joshua said nothing. He looked around the walls as he followed; art everywhere, expensive, superb taste. Rich things. A few yards of the corridor cost more money than most people would see their entire lives. The whole house was constructed as a mirror of Nachez’ ego; it was his bright stripes, warning everyone that he was dangerous, he was poisonous, he was not to be touched.

The living room was empty, a fire roaring in the central fire pit. Joshua noticed two paintings leaning up against the wall, face away. He knew exactly which two those were. He sat, listening.

Ketan sat as well, accepted Nachez’ drink, made small talk. Nachez was not in a mood for small talk, his appearance of joviality notwithstanding.

“So, Ketan, let’s talk business.”


“What is it going to take to pry you loose?”

“I’m not leaving. You know that.”

Nachez paused. “That wasn’t the impression you gave this morning.”

Ketan shrugged. “Impressions can be deceiving.”

“OK, Ketan, what the fuck is your game? If you aren’t interested, why are you here?”

Ketan smiled, a friendly, expansive smile. “OK, Harlan, I played a joke on you. Joshua has a business proposition for you. I think you’ll be interested.”

Nachez laughed. “Fuck, he could have just made an appointment. OK, OK, OK. Joshua, you have my undivided attention. What’s your elevator pitch?”

Joshua took a deep breath. “You have two paintings of mine. I’d like them back.”

Nachez cocked his head to one side, as if he hadn’t understood what Joshua said. There was a long pause. He burst out laughing, nearly doubling over. “Fuck. Tostig. Fuck,” he gasped. “You just now figured it out?”

For a moment, Joshua wasn’t sure what he meant. “Figured it out?”

“Stuff it. You know perfectly well what I mean. You finally figured out that your paintings control people?” Nachez said, recovering.

Joshua tried to keep his voice even. “Yeah, I figured it out. That’s why I want them back.”

Nachez shook his head. “Forget the stupid pictures. Fuck, Joshua, think. Think! You have a power that can change the fucking world. You can have anything you want. Anything!”

Joshua thought. “Anything?”

Nachez’ voice was careful and measured, lecturing the slowest kid in the class. “An-eee-thing. Can you even begin to imagine what you’ll be able to do with this power? I don’t blame you for not seeing the potential; it’s obvious this thing just fell into your lap. But there is nothing that you couldn’t get with this. Nothing we won’t be able to get.”

“We, Harlan? Um, what ‘we’?”

Nachez rolled his eyes. “No offense, Josh, but world domination doesn’t seem to be one of your core competencies. I can help with that. You just need to paint, and cash checks. Really, really, really big checks.”

“I don’t think you’re getting it, Harlan...” Joshua ventured, feeling the conversation get out of his control.

Nachez laughed. “I think I get it better than you ever will, Josh, which is why I’m who I am and you are who you are. Listen, you want the paintings back? They’re yours, with all the extras.” He looked at the open doorway. “Kylie! Hannah!”

Joshua stared at Nachez, trying to keep calm, feeling a lump rise in his throat. He heard motion behind him. He shifted on the couch, slightly, and looked.

Kylie and Hannah were standing next to each other. They were wearing kimonos, Hannah’s green and white, Kylie’s black and red. Joshua flinched when he saw Hannah’s figure; the kimono had been cut for her waist, her bust spilled, absurdly full. She was shifting slightly, constantly, as if there was some itch she couldn’t scratch; her expression was distant, distracted. She noticed Joshua noticing her, and smiled a slightly crooked come-hither smile, swaying her hips. If she recognized him, there was nothing in her eyes to show it.

He looked at Kylie. Kylie regarded him back, her long black hair spilling down over her shoulders, her green eyes full of... warning? Recognition? Desire? He couldn’t read them, but her whole posture was slightly collapsed, pulled in. Defeated.

He turned back to Nachez. “Harlan, I appreciate...”

Nachez said, “Joshua, you have discovered something that the world has been looking for since we dropped out of the trees. And I bet you haven’t even gotten to enjoy it. Hannah, our painter friend here looks tense, do something about his shoulders.”

He could feel a rustle behind him, and he knew that Hannah’s kimono had dropped to the floor. Soft hands began stroking his shoulders, his neck, rubbing gently and firmly. He could feel her breasts lightly grazing the back of his head.

Nachez nodded his approval. “Kylie, I think he could benefit from your stress-reduction treatment.” The black-haired girl walked around in front of the couch, stood before Joshua. Their eyes met again, as she undid the kimono and let it fall. He tried not to, but his eyes scanned her body, just as lush and desirable as he remembered it. He was getting hard. She stepped closed, and dropped down onto her knees in front of him. With a last, unreadable glance, she undid his jeans, her mouth opening. He thought of all those times he had remembered their night together, masturbated fantasizing about her, wanting to have her again. Her mouth full and lush, wide open and ready, her tongue slightly extended, she leaned forward and down...

He put a hand on her shoulder. “Thanks, but that’s OK, Kylie.” He guided her back up, then reached down to close his fly. He reached behind him, and gave Hannah a gentle push away from him. Kylie stood up, her face a mixture of confusion and, Joshua hoped, relief. She stood to one side, and Nachez appeared again, his face dark.

“No, Harlan. No deal.”

Nachez stared at him; Joshua worked up all his strength, and returned the gaze. “You are an idiot, Tostig,” Nachez sputtered. “If you won’t play, I can do this without you. You know it’s the paints, not anything about you, and you are going to be very inconvenient. You can either take a modest little sum to keep quiet, or you can be a problem, and I don’t like problems. They tend to be removed.”

Joshua opened his mouth, but Nachez wasn’t finished. “And you,” he said, turning on Ketan, “had better be ready to play ball as well, or you and your cute little wife will be back in India trying to get rupees out of tourists, unless she ends up on her back, joining Kylie and Hannahn under me. Do you understand?”

Ketan smiled, but Joshua knew this was not Ketan’s usual smile. He felt his stomach turn over. Ketan leaned back. “That all sounds just great, Harlan, but I think there’s something you need to know about first.” He opened the top of the case. Joshua, his legs made of lead, slowly rose, and walked over to him. Ketan reached in, and lifted up a picture; Joshua took it, turned it around, and showed the picture to Harlan. The picture was of Nachez himself, staring out grim and full of determination. Joshua gestured to it. “We took out where it said ‘Newsweek’ at the top... pretty good, though, don’t you think?”

Nachez slowly rose, approaching them, his steps so firm that Joshua was surprised the floor did not shake. “Give me. That picture. Now.” Joshua nearly recoiled, but he heard a click behind him; Ketan was next to the picture, holding a rather long hunting knife, a fraction of an inch from the canvas. “National Guard Armory, Harlan. I can move faster than you can,” Ketan said, conversationally, his other hand gripping the edge of the canvas tightly.

Nachez stopped. He took a deep breath, not looking away from the knife. A long, long silence. “OK. What do you want?”

Joshua found his voice. “The paintings, Harlan. Those for this one.”

Another pause. “That’s it?” Nachez asked.

Joshua nodded. “That’s it.”

Nachez gestured towards them. “Deal. They’re yours.”

Ketan never moving an inch, Joshua walked up, retrieved them, and slid them into the case. He didn’t look at Hannah or Kylie; he couldn’t let himself lose focus. He gently took the picture away from Ketan, and passed it over to Nachez.

Nachez took it, looked at it. He turned back to the two other men with a wry smile. “What do you think? Over my desk or in the living room?”

Joshua let a breath out that he had not even known he was holding. “Up to you, Harlan. You’re the art patron.” As Ketan stood, he turned to Kylie and Hannah. “Could you get dressed and get your things, please?” Scooping up the kimonos, they left, Kylie looking between Joshua and Nachez briefly.

Ketan and Joshua looked for the door. “One last thing,” said Nachez, and they turned. He had the picture next to him, as he sat in his chair, next to the fire. He smiled.

“Yes, Harlan?” Joshua asked, his voice breaking slightly. He could feel Ketan move a bit closer, touching him; this is it, he knew Ketan was saying to him, don’t break down.

“You two are complete, utter, fucking morons.” Nachez stretched, then sat back up. “Take the paintings and the girls. When I am done, I will have flattened you two into the ground, and you won’t even see it coming. I’ll have the girls back, I’ll have whatever else I want, and I’ll have both of your cocks nailed to my wall.” He grinned. “Ketan, I thought at least you had a good head for business.” He gestured at the painting. “Don’t give away your only bargaining chip.”

Ketan smiled back. “You know, Harlan, I knew you were unethical, I knew you were an utter prick, and I knew that you were a complete waste of water, but I didn’t know you were stupid.” He reached down, and lifted the last painting out of the case. It was an exact copy of the one next to Nachez’ chair. As Nachez rose, Ketan gestured to the painting. “After all this time, you can’t even recognize a bluff? Have fun with your copy... pretty cool what you can do with a color ink-jet these days, huh? You can mount it on the ceiling of the bedroom and jack off to it.” He turned the painting in his hands. “This one, I think, is going to be my Christmas present to my boss. I wonder what he’ll do with it?”

He slid the painting back into the case, and turned to Joshua. “Our dates are ready, Mr Tostig, and we shouldn’t keep ladies waiting.” He turned to Nachez. “Have a nice life, Harlan. We can find our own way out.”

Nachez rose, and stood utterly still. He heard the door close. With a sudden bellow of rage, he threw the painting onto the fire.

* * *

The two women sat in the back of Ketan’s car, Joshua riding next to Ketan, Ketan driving. He stared out the window into the night. Idly, Joshua opened the case, reached in, stroked the painting of Nachez. He stopped, touched it again. With sudden terror, he pulled it up and looked at it.

Ketan said, “What’s up?", not looking over.

Joshua stammered, “We... we fucked up, this isn’t the original, this is the copy...”

Ketan’s voice was cool and firm. “We didn’t fuck up.”

“Ketan, this isn’t paint, this is the ink-jet paper.”

“Right, that’s the copy. We didn’t fuck up.”

“But we gave Nachez the fucking original!”

I gave Nachez the fucking original,” Ketan replied. “I could have handed you a Byzantine religious icon, and you wouldn’t have noticed, you were so scared.”

“But we’re fucked if he notices... why the hell did you...” Joshua trailed off, staring wildly at Ketan.

“I know Nachez. He won’t notice until it’s too late,” Ketan said, his voice as sharp and bright as the knife he had held less than an hour before.

Joshua just stared, unable to think of a thing to say. Ketan made himself a bit more comfortable in the car seat. “I don’t like it when someone threatens Meera,” he said, to no one in particular.

* * *

Kylie and Hannah sat on opposite ends of the couch, looking across at the huddle of Ketan, Meera and Joshua as they conferred in hushed tones. Kylie was in jeans and a t-shirt, Hannah in layers of sweaters and a skirt.

“I think this will do it,” Meera said, staring down into the transparent, viscous goo she had prepared in a coffee can.

Ketan was gently working at the canvases, taking them off of the stretchers. Joshua looked down into the can. “OK, so we coat the paintings with that stuff, and we wrap the girls in them, and then...?”

Meera continued stirring the contents of the can. “And then we need to do a ritual.”

Ketan popped out another heavy staple. “If you’ll forgive me for saying so, no shit. What kind of ritual?”

Meera looked up at Joshua, ignoring her husband. “You took the soul out, you need to put it back in. You’ll need to be the conduit.”

Joshua nodded, trying to act like he understood any of this. “OK, fine. But what does that mean?”

“A sex ritual is probably the best path,” Meera said, turning back to the mixture.

“When all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail,” Ketan chuckled, carefully detaching the second picture and laying it on the floor. Meera took a playful swipe at him, not looking away from her work.

Joshua looked over at Kylie and Hannah. Although neither of them could have heard the exchange, both pairs of eyes had grown very wide.

* * *

Some minutes later, a semblance of a private area had been created out of paintings, blank canvases, miscellaneous fabric hangings and bits of furniture. The portrait of Hannah lay in the middle of the stretched-out futon couch, glistening with Meera’s mixture. Hannah herself was sliding her panties off, her breasts threatening to pull her to the floor. Joshua watched, wearing a robe, not quite believing this was about to happen.

Hannah stood up, stretching; Joshua attempted not to stare at her tits. She smiled, seeing his discomfiture. “It’s OK, really, Joshua. I know you’re trying to help me... and it’s OK that we fuck. I love sex.” Joshua started undoing his robe. Hannah came over to him, body swaying. “Let me see if I can get this started...” With a smooth motion, she sank to her knees, and slid his cock into her mouth. She started sucking him expertly, soft moans coming from the back of her throat, one hand between her legs. Her full lips stroked up and down on his shaft, huge eyes looking up.

Despite his nerves, he was rock-hard within a minute. She stood, and climbed onto the bed, hands and knees, huge breasts dangling down. “My favorite position!” she giggled. She spread her legs, wide, her pussy and thighs slick from her moisture. He carefully picked up the painting, and draped it over her, wrapping it around under her; it stuck to her where it touched her.

When it was done, he knelt behind her, pausing. She turned around, smiling, arching her back. “I’m ready, Joshua. I’m yours,” she said, her voice full of lust and promise; she ground her hips, her bare cunt pressing back towards him. He guided himself into her, and she gave a loud cry, her body shuddering. “Oh, GOD, that feels so good...” she gasped, as he grabbed her hips and started stroking.

“J... Joshua?” she gasped, turning around. He met her eyes. “Could you, ah... could you pinch my nipples when you get close?” she asked, panting. He nodded, and began speeding up; her cunt clenched, milking him into her, as he plunged faster and faster... He could feel himself getting close.

He reached down, squeezing hard; Hannah gave a loud scream, her hips bucking back. It tipped him over the edge, and he screamed himself, pumping into her as he felt himself spray again and again into her waiting, eager pussy.

She gave a sudden cry, and collapsed, her legs giving out, panting. He pulled out, alarmed, and unwrapped her from the painting. The paint stuck to her body, coming clean off of the canvas, a mass of mixed colors, her sweat dissolving it. She stretched for a moment, languid, her distended breasts a mass of colored swirls.

Suddenly, her eyes flew open, and she sat bolt upright, looking around. “Uh... I feel... I feel... Oh, shit...” She jumped up, looked at Joshua with wild eyes, and raced off, nearly knocking him out of bed as she ran out through an improvised curtain.

Joshua followed, grabbing his robe, delayed a few moments as he fumbled with the ties. He came out, and saw the bathroom door closed; sounds of retching were coming from behind it. Ketan and Kylie were both staring at the door, eyes wide; Meera was nowhere to be seen.

After a minute, the door opened, and Meera came out; she closed the door behind her. She looked at the other three. “It’s fine. It worked.” She walked to the sink, and turned on the water, rinsing her hands. “Don’t worry about her being sick,” she said to Joshua, over her shoulder. “All that mass in her boobs had to go somewhere. Once she’s out of the shower, you take one, and then it’s Kylie’s turn.”

Joshua and Kylie turned and met each other’s eyes.

* * *

Kylie sat down on the bed, still dressed, and stared at the painting. “I... I don’t understand any of this.”

Joshua sat down, and pulled his robe tighter. “I’m sorry, Kylie. I never thought anything like this would happen. Really. When...”

She reached up, and put a finger over his lips. “I know, I know. I know you didn’t. I’m just a little nervous.”

Joshua nodded. “Me, too.”

She looked at the painting again. “So, we put me in that, and then we...”

“... have sex,” he finished, staring at the painting as well.

“Um, look, I... I’m...” she started, then stopped. She turned to him. “Listen, I need you to do something.”

Joshua met her gaze, blinking with surprise. “Sure. What?”

“Tell me to do it,” she said, steadily.

“I... I don’t get it,” he replied, trying not to look at her body.

She hugged herself tighter. “Until you fix this, I’m still that girl in the painting. An odalisque. A slave girl. I fuck when I’m told to fuck. If you want me to have sex with you, order me. That’s what I need.”

Joshua looked into her eyes for a long moment. “Kylie, I want you to strip naked, and then you’re going to let me roll you up in that painting.”

Her head bobbed down. “Yes, Master,” she said, a sigh of relief escaping her lips. She stood and began undoing her jeans.

* * *

Kylie lay on her back, wrapped up, staring up at the ceiling. “Master, this stuff itches like crazy.” Her legs were spread wide, and she was stroking herself, getting herself wet for him, just as he had told her to.

“Uh, Kylie, are you sure this is OK?” Joshua asked, kneeling between her legs. Despite Hannah, he was rock hard again; Kylie’s body just did that to him.

Kylie met his gaze. “You’re my Master. I’m your slave girl. You get to fuck me anytime you want. Please, Joshua, do me... please.” Her voice took on a note of pleading. He nodded, and lowered himself down onto her; she took his cock into her hand, and guided him into her. His mouth found hers.

Within seconds, she had come for the first time, her hands on his ass, pulling him in. “Oh, yes, yes yes THANK YOU MASTER!” she screamed, her legs wrapping around him.

* * *

He slowly pulled out from her; her eyes were closed. As soon as he was out, she let her legs down flat, collapsed onto the bed. He sat beside her, gently petting her hair. Tears were running down her cheeks.

“Kylie? Are you OK?” he asked, softly.

Her eyes opened; more tears leaked out. “I... I’m fine. I’m... I’m me, Mmas...” She paused. “I’m me, Joshua,” she concluded, a smile starting to form.

He returned the smile, softly. He stood up, pulling the robe on. “I’ll let you get cleaned up,” he said.

* * *

Joshua sat on the now-reconstructed couch, still in his robe. Kylie was in the shower. Hannah had left while Kylie and Joshua were together, leaving the briefest word of thanks with Ketan and Meera. Ketan’s cell phone rang.

“Ketan. No, I haven’t heard anything. Shit. No shit? When? Of what? Yeah, I think a leadership team meeting is called for. Tell Larry that I can be there at 8am. Thanks for the call... Yeah, we should do a press release. I gotta go. OK.”

Joshua and Meera looked at him as he hung up. He put the phone away. “Harlan Nachez died of a heart attack. He must have gone minutes after we left his place.” He looked out the window. “Everyone kept telling him that he needed to work on his temper, or it would kill him.” Meera looked at him for a long moment, and went back to cleaning up the mixing area. Joshua looked away.

* * *

Meera and Ketan had left, Meera extracting a promise from Joshua to call her later. Kylie had joined Joshua on the couch, back in her clothes. They were looking out the window towards the east. It was beginning to get light.

She picked up some of her hair, looked at it. “I think I’m going to keep it this color,” she said, with a small laugh.

Joshua smiled at her, arms wrapped around his legs. “It suits you.”

She looked out the window at the sunrise, then over at him. “Joshua, listen... thank you. Really.”

He shrugged. “I fucked it up. Least I could do.”

She smiled. “And thanks for two great times in bed.”

He let his smile grow. “Thank you. Next time, maybe we’ll skip the canvas. It’s not really my kink.”

She turned away, quickly. “Um... I’m not sure about next time.”

There was a long pause. He looked out at the sunset. “That’s OK. After all, you getting to decide was the whole point, right?” He hoped his voice was steady.

She looked at him; he didn’t dare look back. “Yeah, I guess it was,” she said, standing. “I’d better take off.” She looked down at her shirt. “Fuck. I don’t have a bra. Harlan wouldn’t let me wear one.”

Joshua turned around, pulled open a drawer. He fished out a black lace bra. “This is yours.”

She took it from him, looking at it. “Oh. I’d forgotten I left it.” Suddenly, impulsively, she leaned down and kissed the top of his head. “Thanks... I’ll wiggle into it downstairs.” She walked quickly over to the door, grabbing her bag. She turned, started to say something, but stopped. With a small smile, she let herself out, closing the door quietly behind her.

Joshua stretched out on the couch, looking at the colors of the sunrise develop. He closed his eyes, blinking away pointless tears. He opened them again, and rolled over towards the wall. “Dana, 7:30pm” was written on the wall calendar.

Despite everything, he smiled.