09. October 2014 · Comments Off on PORTRAIT OF YVONNE · Categories: ---

My name is Payton Browning. I had been Marketing Director for a major nonprofit foundation in Honolulu for five years when I met Yvonne Dumont at a charity ball. Yvonne was slim and stunning in a slender pale green satin gown, set off with emeralds sparkling in her tiny ears and an emerald bracelet gracing a delicate wrist. After just one dance, I had already begun to think I might be falling in love.

On our first evening out together, we went to a luau on Waikiki Beach. After settling down around the low table, I said, testing her just a little, “I adore these luaus, don’t you? They always have such interesting food. I love to try new food. Are you game for some poi?”

Looking straight into my eyes, she said, “I hate poi, don’t you?” I was impressed in spite of myself; no faking for this stunning young lady.

We danced under the stars while I sang softly into her ear, and later, when I saw her to her door, instead of telling me what a fascinating time she had had, all she said was, “Next time, let’s go to a place I know where they have karaoke music. They won’t care how badly you sing.”

Although I was a little stung by that, it appeared that Yvonne was a very sincere and honest person. She was quite beautiful, too; I was always gratified to watch as men caught their breath when she walked by.

I daringly declared my love for her on our fourth date, and she assured me that she loved me too, even though I was only a working man with an average income. She said she saw potential, and would be happy to help me to get ahead in the world.

As we continued to date, I have to admit, if I were being honest, that there were times when I wondered what she could possibly see in me. Though I was well built and slender, with what people told me was a beautiful smile, and might be considered nice-looking, I was no hunk. I also wondered whether I could really afford her in the long run. But it was a foregone conclusion that the next time she kissed me, I’d forget all about these worries.

If pressed, I would have to agree that she was an expensive date. She wanted to go to every charity event I set up, even though I was not required to go, and when we attended these events, she coaxed and wheedled me into renting a luxury car or arranging a limo for us. Then she usually spent the evening comparing her jewelry and attire with that of the wealthy ladies who paid admission, or flitting from man to man, “making contacts,” she said. It was quite true that her job as personnel manager for one of the luxury hotels required her to do a lot of networking, but when she did this, I was often left to drink away my loneliness on the sidelines.

Yvonne adored the multitude of fine restaurants in Honolulu, and hinted often to be taken on luxury cruises to the other islands. And it was only the third time I bought her a jewelry gift that I saw how much sweeter she could be when the gift was made of diamonds.

Yvonne

Payton stood silently on the threshold as I unlocked my door after our fourth or fifth date. I could see him wondering if he should ask himself in. He could barely keep has hands off me, but when I reached over and took his face between my hands and kissed him tenderly, he stopped thinking entirely.

“Thank you for a wonderful evening,” I whispered softly. I wanted him to strain to hear me, aware that my voice sent shivers through him.

“Thank you, Yvonne,” he said sincerely. He stood silently for a long moment, just staring down at me, until I smiled, curled my hand behind his head and gave him a quick peck on the lips. I could hear his heart hammering in his chest; he was eager for me to ask him in, I knew. But I turned and stepped through the door, pulling it shut behind me without looking at him again. Always leave them wanting more, my mother had told me.

I watched through the peephole as he stood there a moment longer, then turned to hurry back to the taxi whose meter had been running for the past ten minutes. He dismissed the cab and began the long walk home, and I knew he’d never even notice the distance while he floated on air.

The next evening I took special pains as I dressed for our anniversary dinner—it was already three months since I’d met Payton, and I still enjoyed our dates very much.

***

Just a few weeks ago, I’d met a new man. Michael, the hotel manager, had been showing a young up-and-coming artist around the hotel, and he stopped me as I was leaving for a meeting.

“I know you’re on your way out, Yvonne, but I’d like you to meet Al. He’s a rising young artist in the islands, and he wants to offer several of his paintings to the hotel for display for a month.” The gentle-looking man, maybe fifteen years my senior, shook my hand gravely; his hand was dry and his handshake firm—more like a businessman than an artist. I wasn’t quite sure how I should react—Michael gave no indication of his own attitude toward the man.

“That sounds great,” I said, thinking it would be a safe comment. “What kind of art do you do? Orchids?”

“Not much, no. Mostly I do sort of impressionist art,” he said. A large leather folder came out from under his arm and he opened it, presenting photographic prints of several very attractive pictures. From a quick glance, they seemed to be both city and countryside views, and there might have been something quite different about them. But I had to go.

“Works for me,” I told Michael as I rushed out, not failing to send a sweet smile to the good-looking artist.

I met him again the next evening at a Chamber of Commerce meeting, after which I began posing for him. It wasn’t long before we were having an affair, meeting in the late evenings, often right after a date with Payton. Al knew about Payton, but I wasn’t sure yet whether I should drop the younger man and lose out on the great places to go, in favor of an aspiring but relatively starving artist, so I didn’t want Payton to know about Al.

But I’m greedy, I thought; why can’t I have both of them?

Payton

One evening, as I waited for Yvonne to get ready for our dinner date, I noticed a new painting in her apartment. A raging seascape, the light and movement in the painting made it very difficult to tell that one wasn’t looking through a window at an actual live scene.

When she came out of the bedroom, I said, “That painting has an odd beauty, doesn’t it? There’s something special there, but I just can’t figure out what it is. The artist is excellent; who is he?”

I moved toward the painting to see if I could make out the signature, but she quickly pulled me away to help her with her coat and said, “Where are we going? I’m starving.”

Though I broached the subject a couple more times during dinner, she seemed to evade the question each time and I never did learn the name of the artist. But she was particularly sweet to me that evening, and I hoped she’d invite me in for a nightcap.

Yvonne

Once back inside my apartment that evening, after a quick goodbye kiss on Payton’s cheek, I rushed to the bedroom to change, quite satisfied with the lavish evening just past. It hadn’t been easy diverting Payton’s interest in Alex’s painting, and I wondered if I shouldn’t hang it somewhere else—in my bedroom, maybe.

Soon, wearing a comfortable but sexy blue jersey dress, I peeked through the curtains to make sure he had left. It was a quick three blocks to Alex’s, where I climbed into bed beside him and congratulated myself on my power over both men.

The next day, I met Payton for lunch. As I sat down, he said “You look fatigued, sweetheart.” He gazed into my eyes and I almost felt guilty.

“I know,” I said. “For some reason, I just didn’t sleep well last night.”

 ***

I modeled for Alex regularly, but insisted that he leave my face out of his paintings, just in case Payton saw one. His artistic strength was not in portraits anyway, and often I was only there to provide inspiration.

After a few weeks of seeing him, it was obvious that Al was in love with me. He tried to persuade me to come and live with him, assuring me that even though he hadn’t earned a lot of money yet, it was just a matter of time. His agent assured him that he had a big future ahead of him, and I couldn’t help but agree. His paintings were definitely amazing.

But Payton had a good job with a healthy income now, and I have to admit I enjoyed the balancing act. So I did my best to keep Al on a long lead.

***

Al and I were in bed together late one night, after he had finished his newest painting. He sat up, took my hands and said, “I’m going to show my new painting in Italy next month! My agent is working on an exhibit in Milan or Florence! Won’t that be thrilling?”

“And could I go with you?” I asked. “I’ve never been to Europe at all, and I’ve always wanted to see it. What’s the subject of the painting?”

“Some canals in Venice,” he said, “and it just might be the best thing I’ve ever done!”

“I’m so glad you’re happy,” I said as we twined in the bed together. “You’re a wonderful artist, and it’s about time you were appreciated!”

The next day while Payton and I were lunching, he told me he had something very important to talk to me about. I suggested we go somewhere quiet and private, thinking he had some news about a promotion or an idea about us moving in together. I still hadn’t brought up the idea of my going to Europe next month, but maybe this would be my chance.

That evening, as we waited for our dessert, Payton took my hands in his and made his announcement. “I’ve just learned that my Uncle Herb Browning died back stateside.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry,” I said, having no idea how close he’d been to this uncle. But he didn’t even notice my sympathy, and went on.

“He’s left me twenty million dollars!” A big grin split his face, and his eyes sparkled. He poured a glass of champagne and waited for my response.

“Oh, my God! Twenty million? You inherited forty million dollars?” I couldn’t believe it! So much money! I was really glad I hadn’t let Al come between me and Payton.

Grinning as if he’d never stop, Payton took both my hands in his. “And I’d absolutely adore to spend some of it on you. I got this for you today.”

With a satisfied grin, he handed me a sleekly wrapped package. I opened it to discover a Gump’s silver box, inside of which was a spectacular diamond and ruby bracelet.

Payton

Yvonne and I spent the next two days window shopping, and planning our new penthouse apartment. She asked my opinion on silverware, on wallpaper, and on which expensive pedigreed dog she should buy. She seemed to be stepping up her campaign to convince me that she loved me desperately, simply because I was “so much man”—nothing to do with the inheritance—and before long I invited her to a luxurious, romantic dinner.

Before we even ordered drinks, I could wait no longer and presented her with a five-carat pear-shaped diamond ring.

“I want us to get married,” I said.

“What?” she asked, as if this was an entirely new idea to her.

“I want you to marry me,” I repeated. “Will you?” She smiled and seemed thrilled, slipping the ring on her finger immediately, but I was a little worried about her response. It seemed just a tad uncertain.

“Oh, I’ll have to think about it, sweetheart,” she said.

I couldn’t even eat for the next ten minutes while she thought it over, turning her left hand from side to side to admire how the lights danced off the diamond.

“Tell you what,” she said finally. “I’ll give you my answer next Friday night, if you’ll make reservations at the Beachcomber Inn. Okay?”

“Absolutely!” I said, thrilled that she would seriously consider my proposal.

Yvonne

I wasn’t just stalling about thinking over his proposal. I really did want to think it over carefully. Marriage would be such a very big step—giving up my artist would be essential, but would I have to give up all gorgeous men, forever? And Payton was sweet and very, very generous, but would he want to burden me with kids?

On Friday at the Beachcomber, one of the most exclusive restaurants on the island, I gave Payton my answer. After thinking over the pros and cons—twenty million dollars, even if it did involve having kids, versus an aspiring, not-yet-discovered artist who might someday be famous, maybe—the only possible answer was, Yes!

Payton

Several weeks later, I found my bride-to-be hanging a new painting in the dining room. She told me it was a wedding gift. It was painted in a style that looked similar to the painting I’d seen in her apartment earlier—the intriguing seascape. The seascape had disappeared, but this one was a large, mostly gray painting of a volcano whose eruption was just about finished. One could see the devastated forest on the slope, and a small village in the distance almost covered by the lava flow. It might have been depressing and morbid, but instead seemed to instill an odd sensation of hope. But I still couldn’t see the artist’s name.

Yvonne told me she would be interviewing a wedding planner the next day, and asked me to meet her for lunch. After we ate, she sat back and grinned, much like a satisfied canary-eating cat.

“We have to select a wedding site,” she informed me. “The planner I spoke to has three possibilities, and she wants you to accompany us to look them over.”

“Certainly, darling,” I nodded. I had quit my job by now, and aside from an occasional golfing date, my days were disappointingly bleak while she worked, or shopped and spent my money.

The first site on the itinerary turned out to be the Island Golf & Country Club, where Yvonne hoped to garner a membership after the wedding. Entering the grounds through a high white wrought-iron gate, at the end of a long curving drive, we caught glimpses of the lush golfing greens and the Mediterranean-white clubhouse and resort. Gently breaking waves were visible along the shore, and everywhere we looked there were clumps of exotic flowers and swaying palm trees. As we got closer to the clubhouse, I was overwhelmed by the sight of a magnificent waterfall off in the distance. Elegant and graceful birds dipped into the river or rested on a lagoon that was crossed by a small, romantic-looking bridge.

“We don’t have to look any further,” I said. “This is an ideal spot for our wedding.”

The wedding planner and Yvonne grinned at one another, and the deal was closed. I couldn’t help gloating that we wouldn’t even have to look at the other two sites.

***

That evening, as we perused what must have been the fiftieth wedding magazine, I told Yvonne, “Honey, tomorrow I’m invited to the Albemarle Museum of Art for a private showing of a new exhibit. You see, part of my inheritance makes me a museum Board member.”

“I’ve been at that museum,” Yvonne said. “All I saw were a lot of abstract paintings and some statuary. It’s interesting, but not really my cup of tea. You may like it better.”

“Well,” I told her expansively, “you don’t need to go if you don’t want to.”

She declined to accompany me, citing appointments to select invitations and bridesmaids’ gowns, and to have her nails done.

***

The next morning, I followed the smug curator through the closed museum to the new art exhibit. As a new member of the board, I merited special service. This would be my first glimpse into a world suddenly opened to me with the inheritance of my uncle’s fortune.

I didn’t know much about art, but I enjoyed the sumptuous luxury of the Albemarle. As we reached the Special Exhibit Room, James Robard, the long-time curator of the Albemarle Museum of Art, swept a hand theatrically at a large painting on the twelve-foot wall. “And here’s our latest addition, Alex Devry’s new painting.”

It was something like nine feet wide by five feet high, set in a gold leaf frame and matted on a velvety, almost insubstantial blue fabric. It hung alone on the stark white wall so there was nothing to distract the eye. The topic was a shimmering canal in old Venice, with the grand and noble ancient buildings standing watch on either side of a lovely arched bridge spanning the center of the canvas. The artist had used abundant shades of blue—in the sky, the water, the sunlit mansions, and in the striped shirts of the two gondoliers.

“Alex Devry is a respected artist whose works have increased in value over the recent past,” Mr. Robard explained. “It was a coup of the highest order that I was able to convince the artist to hang his latest painting in this museum. He resisted me for weeks, preferring, he said, to take this particular painting to a European gallery; something about the model.

“But I persisted until Alex could no longer hold out,” he nodded smugly.

“Congratulations,” I said. “This painting is quite nice, I agree. But where could the artist have seen my beloved?”

The curator turned to search my face, but saw no lightness there, only a sincere question in my eyes. He turned back to the painting and shook his head.

“But it’s just a bridge in Venice.”

“Yes, but her image shimmers in the water.”

The curator squinted to focus more closely on the painting, then backed up to stand ten feet away, slowly shaking his head.

“Are you sure? I don’t see anything.”

“And there, in the clouds! Can’t you see it? She’s so beautiful!”

No doubt now, the curator obviously thought; I was demented. Obviously wondering how to get rid of this odd new Board member, he decided to try humoring me.

“Okay… Do you want to move on to our next collection?”

“No, I just want to bask in my dear one’s beauty. And look, over here I see Yvonne’s own sweet hands.”

“Yvonne…?”

“Tell me, what’s the title of the painting?”

“Uh… Portrait of Yvonne.”

***

On my way to her apartment, I worked out the truth. Yvonne had been the model for the Devry painting I had just seen. The curator had said the artist finished it only recently, so Yvonne must have been seeing him lately. And she hadn’t said a word to me. I wondered what else she hadn’t told me, and decided to confront her.

Marching into the apartment living room where Yvonne was flipping through bridal magazines, I attacked. “What is there between you and Alex Devry?”

“Alex?” she said, taken aback. “I don’t know Alex Devry. Isn’t he an artist?”

Incensed, I rounded on her and demanded that she tell me the truth. “Your image is right there in his painting,” I shouted, caring nothing for the neighbors. “You can’t deny you posed for him.”

Caught, she admitted it. “Okay,” she said, “so I posed. That doesn’t mean anything.”

“But you just said you didn’t know him,” I accused suspiciously.

“Well, I know him, yes. But there’s nothing between us.”

“You don’t deny you posed for him?”

“Well, no. But just because I posed doesn’t mean there was something between us. It’s you I love, Payton—don’t you know that?”

“Well, if you love me, why did you lie to me? And why didn’t you tell me about him before?”

Silence. I stood for a moment staring angrily at her. Then I nodded and turned to pace around the room, trying to calm myself. Pausing in front of the painting on the wall, I studied it without saying anything. Then I stalked into the bedroom where the other painting now hung above her bed. The two new paintings were indeed signed by Alex Devry. She watched me without saying anything.

Finally I turned to leave, trying to look as if I accepted her excuses. But I had privately decided to find out more, even if I had to hire an investigator.

A few days later, my research had confirmed all of my worst suspicions. I also learned just how important my recent financial windfall was to her. My investigator had found several creditors who had been promised the entire amount due in just a few weeks, after we were to be married.

When I confronted Yvonne again, she broke down and admitted the entire affair with Alex Devry.

“It happened before I fell in love with you,” she wept. “But I can’t keep lying, I was dating both of you at the same time. I’m really sorry, Payton—for seeing him behind your back, and for lying to you. I promise that it will never happen again.”

I paced around and around the apartment, this time not calming down at all. Actually, I couldn’t be certain it wouldn’t happen again. As she watched me, she became more and more anxious and finally asked, “What are you going to do, Payton?”

“I don’t know,” I gritted out between my teeth. “Maybe I’ll just make sure it can never happen again.”

“What do you mean?” She tried to stop me as I strode toward the door, but I pushed her aside. Feeling that I had nothing left to live for, I headed for the artist’s studio.

Yvonne

When Payton pushed me, I must have fallen and hit my head. I lay unconscious but awoke just a few moments later, realizing that Payton was so angry, he might do something terrible. Should I call the police? But what’ll I say? My fiancée is going to kill my lover? They probably wouldn’t even care. Maybe I can catch him. I rushed out the door but he was no longer in sight. I thought he’d probably taken a taxi, since his car was still there.

I rushed back inside and dialed nine and then one, but stopped just before the last one. It had better be the police, I thought, and turned to the phone book to find the number of the local police precinct.

I didn’t explain the situation very well, but the Sergeant who answered the phone said he would send someone to Alex’s place right away. I paced back and forth while I waited to hear, and wondered just what was going to happen now.

Payton

After I knocked Yvonne down and stormed out of the apartment, I headed off to Alex’s studio, possibly to kill him. But within a few blocks I’d begun to simmer down and start thinking.

“I’m not a killer,” I reminded myself. “This is stupid.”

I stopped in at a bar and realized I couldn’t kill Alex now, anyway. Yvonne would have warned him, and she had probably already called the police. As I cooled off, I decided I should just sit back and analyze the situation, as if it were a problem in marketing for my foundation.

I went through the choices I could see: I could kill Alex, or I could kill Yvonne. Or I could kill myself. On the other hand, I had no gun or knife, so beating him to death would have to do. I would confront him and, if he refused to back off, maybe I’d hit him. I hadn’t hit anyone since I was 14, but adrenaline was surging in my veins and I thought I might really be able to do it.

But as I swallowed whisky after whisky, I soon realized that hitting Alex, and probably getting hit back, didn’t seem like such a good idea after all. I knew it would be a while before I stopped loving Yvonne, even though she had betrayed me, and I didn’t really want to take her out of the world. And I certainly didn’t want to kill myself.

As for Alex, I told myself, I’m not really a violent man. I’m a compassionate person who worked for a humanitarian foundation and arranged charity events. I don’t kill people.

But if not death, what? There were only two other choices: to do nothing and just get on with my life without Yvonne, or to ruin them both.

As soon as I thought of this alternative, I smiled. I hated Alex, and felt betrayed and devastated by Yvonne’s actions, and it felt right that I should get back at them. And then I could move on.

I went home and, for the next few days, ignored Yvonne’s frantic phone calls. I frowned in confusion and puzzlement when a police detective tracked me down to question me about my threats to kill Alex. A week went by and I heard nothing more from my former lover.

But meanwhile, the Albemarle Museum exhibit was closed and two newspaper art critics reviewed the work Alex was showing in local galleries. They apparently didn’t like his paintings, and three of the four galleries requested that he remove his pictures. Somehow, the offer from Italy to show his “Portrait of Yvonne” fell through. And when the fourth gallery was purchased by a new owner, Alex’s paintings found themselves on the floor in a stockroom.

As for Yvonne, the new owner of the hotel where she worked expressed dissatisfaction with the current management and replaced it within the week, including her. When she tried to use the contacts she had made at charity events, she found that oddly enough, no one recalled her name. Her diamond engagement ring and her ruby and diamond bracelet provided her with income for the rest of the year, but Alex, believing he had lost his creative edge, no longer seemed so enamored of her.

When my private investigator told me all this, I smiled. “Alex was a fantastic artist,” I said, shaking my head. “It’s too bad he couldn’t paint this situation—he could certainly have done it justice.”

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