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» SACRAMENTO »  » Neverwhere


Neverwhere

1 9 9

1

San Francisco| Autumn 2021

Anthony MacIntyre & Warren Maude
At first it was really awkward, but after a while it all made sense. (c)

+3

2

Ébauche - the first rough sketch or underpainting, usually in regards to oil-paint, which often still leaves parts of the white canvas shining through.

It was a perfect night in every way imaginable. Everything has been meticulously planned down to a second, people have spent months fighting (but mostly just paying more than the next guy) to get onto the guest list, the atmosphere has been carefully curated to make the best of the art at their disposal. Oh, and what a superb art it was. No wonder the author was famous, no wonder this was going to be one of the spotlight events of the year, no wonder they chose the best gallery to host tonights affair.

It should have been a perfect night for everyone. Guests were enjoying themselves, the food and the drinks. Fellow art dealers were using this as a perfect opportunity to meet new people and make some introductions. For the gallery - fantastic way to put themselves out there and to make money. For the artist behind todays wonders - much the same.

All things considered, Warren was doing his best. At least he wasnt shouting at his assistant anymore and was able to put a smile on his face, even thought it was devoid of its usual warmness. To be fair, his assistant almost messed up some of the last minute preparation, and it would have been a disaster if not for Warrens keen eye for detail. Even with everything else, even if he felt more like tossing himself off the Golden rather than being here tonight, he still had a job to do. However, hiding behind a practical mind was barely keeping him upright today.

There was an open bar - of course there was an open bar, they are members of the art society, not savages - which has been calling his name, so far, in vain. As a good and gracious host, he had a duty to fulfil - todays event was the biggest one for the gallery this year, and he had to maintain the mark. A couple of words with an old colleague, some well-wishes for a fellow dealer whod recently gotten married, a short conversation with a pretty journalist from a local art magazine. She was very well-dressed and would have preferred to continue this conversation somewhere more quiet, which is why Warren had to quickly excuse himself and pretend that there was an important matter in need of his immediate attention.

Arthur would have liked her - whispered something at the back of his mind. Just his type - continued the voice.

Warren had to grind his teeth to make it stop.

As the night went on and as people came and went, one of the managers of the gallery has been updating Warren on the latest sales - not only from todays artist, but also from their main exhibition. It was one of the few conditions he had laid out before they agreed to host this event - a small part of the gallery will still be dedicated to the artists Warren himself chose to spotlight. No one with a name - a couple of kinds from Los Angeles, a nice enough (even if too chatty) lady from the Midwest, a painter from upstate New York and a few others. Not too many to be overwhelming - after all, today was all about a different person. However, the news was good - the art was selling, the gallery was making money, he was making money.

Any other day, this news would have been wonderful, one of the few things that could truly excite him.

Today though, it felt like a hollow echo of something he used to enjoy.

You are never going to host an exhibition like this for Arthur - the little voice kept nagging. Not after now much youve failed him.

It was becoming too much.

Like a constant drilling inside his skull that made him want to scream.

Suddenly, he caught a glimpse of the main character of todays show - he was moving thought the crowd, some peculiar expression on his face. For a fraction of a second their eyes met, his odd mismatched gaze moving away quickly.

They didnt know each other very well. You could say they didnt know each other at all. An odd thing for two people who spent a lot of time in the same circles.

Suddenly, this trail of thought was rudely interrupted by a firm grasp of someones hand on his shoulder, which made him freeze in place. Warren wasnt a fan of being touched without a specific reason, but the person who was standing next to him didnt care.

- Warren, my boy, what an evening! - it was the voice of James Reed, one of the art dealers invited to attend tonight. Warren turned to see his unpleasant face, which was made even worse by the effects of alcohol. Red blotted his skin and his fingers looked swollen. - Listen, I wanted to talk to you about something, lets go sit down.

Without waiting for a response, Reed dragged Warren to the side of the gallery, where some tables have been set up. This was one of the few people Maude had to work with whom he actually despised. Actually, now that he was thinking about it, he was probably the only one ever to enlist such an emotional response from him. Warren usually treated people around him with practical indifference - it was just easier this way. No need to bring emotions in. Reed, however, was a horribly unpleasant person who, for some reason, thought that they were friends. Probably because everyone wanted to be friends with him - Warren knew all too well what having good connections meant in their world.

- Is it urgent? - he asked after they stopped next to one of the tables. - You should enjoy the evening, and I have things to keep track of.

- Dont give me that, - Reed braked a laugh in response. Somehow, he looked like an overstuffed turkey on a thanksgiving dinner table. - I know you and you always want to make money. So Ill give you a good deal.

- A good deal? If you are interested in the artwork displayed, Im afraid the prices are not negotiable. Good evening to you, - Warren turned around to leave, but was once again rudely caught by the arm. A part of him wanted to turn back and break it.

- No, I mean for your late brother's work. He left behind a bunch, no? And you are holding onto it to raise the price, am I right? Get us all fighting for it, not that there wont be anymore coming. I know your game, Maude.

Something broke inside Warren as soon as he heard that. Probably the last shred of his sanity. Most of the people here tonight knew of his brothers death, some even attended the funeral. It wasnt a secret. However, none of them were insolent enough to bring it up. Not a single one. Even if Warren caught a couple of stares full of pity.

- You know what, Reed, - focusing his gaze on the man in front of him, who looked so full of himself that it seemed like he was going to burst any moment now. - Ill make you a deal. I wont punch you in the face right now, because today is not my show and because I dont want to upset the crown. But I will kick you out. And I will make sure that you never show your face here again. Good day to you.

Stopping quickly by one of his co-workers, he relayed this message and then watched as a couple of security guards escorted Reed off the premises. The anger inside was barely manageable, almost enough to push him over the edge and do something to make him look like a fool.

He desperately needed a drink.

And to get out of here.

Time to come up with some lazy excuse and get out. Enough. Even Warren had his limits. He wasnt able to cancel the exhibition - the contract wouldnt allow it without paying a hefty fine - and so he went on with it.

But in reality, he wanted to be anywhere else but here. Anywhere. Maybe not exists at all just to get out of this commitment.

As he made his way to the bar, he spotted another figure there. Anthony MacIntyre - the creator behind tonight spectacle - stood there with a look on his face that Warren recognised almost immediately, because it was the same look that was on his own face.

Deep desire to be anywhere but here.

Ordering himself a gin and tonic - how very British of him - Warren searched desperately for something to say to the man nearby. It felt like he had to say something to him, thought Maude couldnt quite grasp why. Maybe it was the look he saw, maybe a common courtesy, maybe a search for a distraction that would get his mind off the last conversation.

Who knows.

- Congratulations. Im told your art is selling very well tonight, - not finding anything else, Warren reverted to his usual businessman self, but he immediately knew it was the wrong choice. - Its an honor to host your exhibition, - his old etiquette teacher would have been proud - nothing better than some well-placed praise.

+2

3

It's been... a while. Weeks - hell, probably even months, all silently passed by like strangers on the morning route to their offices, while Anthony was stuck, confiding himself to his house in London, stuck in his room, stuck in his own mind like a prisoner of paranoia. While the reason for his actions was understandable, he clearly chose the unhealthiest coping mechanisms, really, which included drugging himself to sleep with a mixture of sedatives and sleeping pills, refusing to talk about the assault, developing legit agoraphobia and, above all that, successfully feeding his drug-addiction, his worst curse ever.
Luckily, time heals all. Anthony didn't let therapists - or anyone, at this point - help him recover and surely failed to find a proper way to recover himself, but time made a difference. As days followed one another, he finally learned to sleep peacefully, not having to wake up from nightmares about his kidnapper. He learned to look outside, even out of a window, but he wasn't afraid to be spotted by some wrong person anymore (not to such a great extent at least). Social media were still a taboo - too easy to track his life through numerous platforms, so he continued to avoid them.
And finally came the day when Anthony managed to step outside and leave his house for a walk.
It felt surreal, honestly; it felt like it had been years, centuries, since his last time outside, which of course wasn't true, it hadn't been that long - the world didn't change much, the technology and everything were still the same, but to Anthony it all felt different. It took him some time to stop looking around nervously, quite literally running away from people who were standing too close. But he managed that, too. Maybe Anthony MacIntyre was actually stronger than he himself believed.
Vivian kept nagging him that it was time to go back to the US. He tried to be gentle, given the circumstances, and truly intended to give the artist as much time to recover as he needed, but Anthony could say he was growing impatient. Vivian was a nice man, but he was also a man of business. Anthony kept reminding himself how much he owed to Vivian; it was Vivian, after all, who managed the financial side of art, he was the one who made a name for Anthony MacIntyre, and sometimes during most heated arguments he threw it right into Anthony's face, words like "you're nothing without me", and he was probably not that far from the truth.
Eventually Anthony gave in, they traveled back to the States, and Vivian immediately started planning on a triumphant comeback. Though Anthony spent some time away from the public eye, it was merely not enough to make the public forget him, not really enough to ask questions about his absence or something. Anthony was free to join the art world any minute if he wanted to. Did he want to? That was the big question.
He had to, he knew that much. Leaving the public eye for longer time would be no good for business, that's what Vivian said. Anthony didn't know and didn't care much for business, but he finally started realizing that he couldn't go on like this, hiding in his bedroom, avoiding people forever. He was a public person after all, he enjoyed the attention when it was desired.
He wasn't going to let one crazy psycho ruin his entire life. Ruin him. He's been through so much in his life, survived a stupid teenage drama that almost cost him an eye, got over his parents early passing, got over the heartbreak with Brandon leaving him for good, occasionally struggled with drug-addiction and consequences of being famous, and he wasn't going to stop now. Anthony was not a brave man by any definition, but he was so fucking done being scared. If anything, now, when he tried to control his fears, he was getting angry. And one wouldn't want to cross the angry artist's path.
This is how Anthony ended up here, in San Francisco, at a wonderfully beautiful night that would've been even more beautiful somewhere away from the big city, where smoke clouds wouldn't cover the star sky view. He looked his usual best: a perfect hairstyle, some make-up, a colourful yet elegant suit accompanied by a pair of eccentric high-heel boots made of leather. By his age Anthony learnt to fake a smile, and actually at the very beginning of the event the things were going pretty smoothly for him; there were some fans of his unique art style, so he signed a few cards and took some photos, though the photos made him a bit nervous, but they were okay. The guests were polite and the conversations were pleasant, so Anthony was coping well... until the press barged in.
Anthony hated reporters. Those people had nothing to do with love for art; they wanted news and cared little for anything else, like common ethics. Not here in the States, anyway. They could flash their cameras right in your face and make all sorts of provocative comments. In his dear old England reporters usually wrote for art magazines and were somewhat fine, but in the US they were completely atrocious, because they wrote for their own mass-media blogs and vlogs and behaved like the entire world was their own playground. Anthony couldn't stand them, not now, and did his best to slip away unnoticed, but failed to do so. Long minutes of dialogues that resembled interrogations followed.
When the vultures were done with their main course, they finally moved on, leaving Anthony nervously shaking and in desperate need for a drink. Old demons started creeping up his spine, making him involuntarily recoil from the crowd.
What if... what if that guy, that psycho, was somewhere around? Sacramento is not too far from San Francisco. What if he hears the news, sees the photos online - thanks to social networks, they must be already circulating the internet - and comes here? Comes here for him? He didn't finish whatever he wanted from him, did he? What if he is already there, in this very crowd, hiding behind a wide hat?
"Stop it, you're getting paranoid", - Anthony scolded himself and bit his lip. He needed to come to his senses, but he also needed a distraction. A glass of whiskey would do.
He took a sip and muttered under his breath:
- I got this. Yeah, I got this.
The whiskey felt too bitter to his liking. He put the glass down and helplessly looked around, hoping to see Vivian's face somewhere. He wanted to tell him it was too much. He wanted to ask Vivian to drive him back to his apartment, located in a safe and guarded area. He just wanted to get away from it. From all of it.
When Anthony heard a strange voice right next to him, he almost jumped with a scream, but thankfully let out just an abrupt sigh. The man talking to him was no stranger, but not familiar enough for Anthony to remember his voice that well. And he, being the host here, had every right to spark a conversation. Not a stalker, not a psycho. They were safe. All was good.
- You startled me, - Anthony confessed, voice thick with panic, but he quickly got himself together and offered a smile. - Apologies, it seems I was miles away for a moment, but here I am now.
He stared at Warren Maude, the brother of poor Arthur, whose tragic passing upset a lot of people in the art community, but surely no one could be more upset than Arthur's family. Warren seemed completely distraught at the funeral, and Anthony knew the feeling: he had lost his whole family within days. Though he couldn't find the right words to express his condolences, his sympathy was sincere.
Now Warren looked much better - his eyes, for example, didn't look as baggy and exhausted as they used to. He looked healthier overall, however, something was oozing through his polite smile, a glimpse of that same exhaustion, only now it was buried deep down below. Anthony wondered how he himself looked right now - confused? Lost? Tired? They studied each other's faces for a few seconds. There was a mutual understanding hanging in the air, an agreement to get away, like a plan two partners in crime invented on the spot.
- Do you smoke, Mr Maude? - it seemed the easiest trick at the moment. Funny, Anthony considered himself a friend of Arthur and could easily say what kind of substances he preferred, but he had actually no idea about Warren's habits and preferences. - I saw a balcony on the upper floor. As you know, reporters love giving me a hard time, so I could use some fresh air. No offense, but you look like you could use some, too.
He headed towards the stairs, waited for Warren to join him. Somehow he knew he would.
Anthony felt blessed with cool night air against his skin. He leaned on the balcony rails and pulled out a pack of cigarettes - ridiculously expensive, of course, and he liked it that way. He offered Warren a cigarette and took one for himself. Weird how minutes ago Anthony craved for some peace and quite alone, but found it in a stranger's company - well, not exactly stranger, but two men knew little about each other apart from names and art-related things. It felt weird, but it also felt good.
The lighter didn't work in Anthony's hands. His fingers were slipping off the wheel, shaking due to stress - or maybe it was the wind to blame. It took him a few efforts to finally get the small flame out.

Anthony MacIntyre (2022-07-05 00:41:57)

+2

4

- Pardon me, - Warren apologized hastily, realizing all too late that it was probably rather rude of him to approach someone like this with no warring and no proper greeting as too. His anger got the better of him, clouding his judgment and common sense. The worst way to be. - I didnt meat to startle you.

Now knowing that Anthony was spacing out, Maude felt like his instincts were somewhat confirmed. Looked like he wasnt the only one looking for a brief respite, a quick escape, even if just into yourself. No batter place to go if you are in a pinch. Its a wonder how well a human mind was able to protect itself from its surroundings when needed.

Their eyes met again as Warren sipped his drink feeling a bit of nice relaxation finally reaching his face, which has been contorted into an unnatural smile this entire evening. Almost as he was about to say something else, Anthony spoke again.

- Smoke? - he tilted his head a bit to the side now studying the men next to him. It was a very neat escape, he had to give him that. And for this, Warren was ready to dust off his somewhat forgotten bad habit. - Sure, yes, I could use some fresh air.

He didnt like you smoking, - the voice reared its ugly head again from the backroom of this consciousness. - With all of his vices, Arthur was never fond of tobacco. Preferred smoking other things. But I dont have to tell you that.

Warren downed his glass in one go and got a second one before following the artist.

Nights cool air was a nice relief from the stuffy atmosphere of the gallery. In addition, Warren has been spending too much time indoors lately - his work was keeping him busy, of course, but it was more than that. Most of the days he felt too exhausted to do anything else other than perform his usual commute from the gallery to his apartment. He wasn't sleeping well, he wasnt eating well, and he found it impossible to bring himself to do anything most evenings. Even something as simple as going outside for a bit of fresh air.

Paralysed. Petrified. Stuck.

Spending evening after evening in his brothers room - even thought Arthur had a place of his own, Warren wouldnt move from the apartment they got when they first came to San Francisco years ago, and so the extra bedroom was just there, a safe place for his brother to come to whenever things got bad. Warren had no use for it now, other than coming in almost every night and going over things inside once again, making sure nothing has been changed.

Preserved like a pinned butterfly in a nice frame.

That halfway finished sketch in his brother hand will one day be completed. That mess of his bed will provide him some comfort after a long days work. That view - the best one in the whole apartment - might one day inspire something in Arthur, that his eye will see something beautiful in the mundane, the way only he could. Like Vincent Van Gogh, who once painted the view from a window in his insane asylum and it became one of his best-known works. There was always a crowd in front of The Starry Night, most of the visitors having no clue what inspired it.

Slipping away into his memories became something of a habit for Warren as of late. It made the days more manageable, made the nights seem like nothing has changed. Hes tried to fight it at first, but the urge was stronger than even his considerable willpower.

He pulled himself out of this thought spiral, focusing instead on the man offering him a cigarette, which he took with a quick thank you. Warren had his own pack in his pocket, but refusing seemed too rude. Placing his glass on the flat railing of the balcony, he turned around and leaned on it. Good thing it was sturdy enough that Warren didnt have to worry about it breaking and sending both of them flying down. Though, even if that were to happen, it wouldnt be a long fall down.

- Do you need a light? - he saw that Anthony was struggling with his lighter, but while Warren was pulling his own out, the man near finally managed to ignite a spark from his. Warren proceeded to light his own cigarette - asking Anthony to do it seemed a gesture almost too intimate for two people who barely knew each other.

They smoked in silence for a couple of minutes. It wasnt that uncomfortable silence which made one want to say just about anything to break it, not really. Yes, there was a note of something awkward in the air, but it was only natural since they barely knew each other. Still, not one of them wanted to break the stillness of the night air around them, finally enjoying being away from the party, which still raged on downstairs. Warren could still hear the music from the first floor as well as some familiar voices, thought he was unable to hear what they were actually saying.

- Apologies for the reporters, - he said after finishing his smoke. - They are like sharks sniffing for blood - wont leave you alone until they have a good bite.

Arthur hated them too, - the constant voice inside was becoming tedious to deal with.

Warren paused before continuing:

- We tried to limit their numbers, but it seems like its not the count we needed to worry about, it was the intensity, - another pause, almost a hesitation to continue. Maybe it would be better if they just continued to stand here in silence? After all, getting out of the crowd was usually an attempt to find some peace. - For what its worth, they looked like their appetites were satisfied.

Probably why the next time they will go just as hard. Once they get a good thing, they will do anything to have it going.

- Almost makes one wonder if all of this, - he made a vague hand gesture pointing down to where the party was going - is even worth it. Hopefully they havent ruined the night for you completely. Please let me know if theres anything we can do to make it more manageable, - maybe it was just the mask of a gracious host coming back to the surface or maybe something in the artist made Warren actually want to look for a way to fix it.

Who knows?

+2

5

Anthony inhaled the tobacco smoke, thick and delicious. The best thing about paying a fortune for a cigarette pack is the taste. You can get real pleasure from smoking if the tobacco is of premium quality, and you'd better enjoy something if you know this thing can potentially give you lung cancer in ten years or so. Warren was kind enough to offer his help with the lighter, but Anthony gently shook his head:
- No need, thank you. It gets a bit stuck sometimes... I should buy myself a new one, - he smiled, as if it wasn't obvious the lighter wasn't the guilty one here.
He returned his attention to the cigarette. Its taste and smell offered a comfortable feeling of a well-known ritual, a normal routine, a piece of his former life, the one he'd had before the stalker appeared in it. Anthony didn't want to think of his life as the "before and after" cliché, but in his case the cliché was true. What happened has changed his life and changed him, too, in the way he didn't like.
Warren went on, comparing reporters to sharks, and Anthony nodded in a silent approval. Sharks would be more accurate. Vultures tend to feed on dead prey. Sharks are the real predators. The murderers. Attackers with razor-sharp teeth, tearing the flash apart, gnawing at bleeding wounds and biting deeper and deeper still, until they find the real treat. Anthony smiled; Warren was being nice. He'd always given vibes of a nice man, the typical Good Boy from the Good Family, at the first glance at least, which was so completely different from Arthur, because Arthur was chaos. Anthony remembered him well and missed him dearly and sincerely. They shared many good moments and created many fun memories together, which now will only be stories to tell. Past. History. And Warren was right there, speaking with this perfect British accent, naturally, like he was born with it. It took Anthony literate months of practice to teach himself the same accent, to speak like someone from noble circles, of noble blood. He was so proud of himself for getting rid of the village boy accent. Speaking like that in his current position would be a catastrophic disaster ruining his perfect public image, wouldn't it?
Yes, of course. Even driven to the edge of insanity, Anthony still worried about his public image. So typical of him.
- Oh, if I gave you the impression that any of this, - he waved his hand in a gesture describing the reporters and unwanted interactions, - is something of your responsibility, please know that I had no such intention. - he truly didn't. Just complaining a little, that's all. - I couldn't be more thrilled and fascinated with this night. I might be a little tired, but I am perfectly alright.
He did his best to smile as genuinely as he could, considering that some people outside marching back and forth below the balcony were getting on his nerves. What was their business there, randomly walking the street? Were they waiting for someone? Watching someone? Him?
God, this has to stop at some point.
Warren looked like he actually cared, and Anthony felt bad about giving him a plain common phrase for an answer, even if he had excuses for not telling the truth. His smile was all fake, quite literally, the horrendous crooked teeth he had in his youth now replaced with perfect rows of pearl-white veneers. Even his last name was fake, and he actually told that Arthur once, when they shared an extreme dose of smoking substances. "Wait, what? You're actually a MacDonald? No way! Like in that kiddie song?! Old MacDonald had a farm, e-i-e-i-o..." - "Artie, trust me, if I could choose my last name right upon birth, I would become a MacIntryre much sooner." - "So you faked your entire bio then? Classy! Don't worry, I'll take your secret to my grave, ha-ha!". Somehow Anthony was sure Arthur fulfilled his promise. He was a reckless guy, but surprisingly loyal to certain people.
The silence fallen between him and Warren felt so good that Anthony didn't want to break it, but something inside him kept pushing for a conversation. A small-talk, nothing fancy, nothing deep or private, just two men chatting the night away. It would serve as a good distraction from his relentlessly growing paranoiac thoughts, too.
- I am really glad I met you tonight, Mr Maude, - that was the truth, and Anthony made sure it sounded like one. Grateful, appreciative. - It's been a while since I last heard a proper British accent. Makes me feel kind of homesick. San Francisco is a fine city, but don't you just miss London? - because Anthony missed London very much, he assumed everyone did the same. - I'd like to tell you a secret, Mr Maude. There is a small restaurant called The Duke's, located at the corner of Mansell and John Shelley streets, it is not widely advertised and is quite costly, but it has the best atmosphere of a truly British place I've ever seen in the States. I think it's owned by an English couple... they did a fantastic job. I always go there when I miss England. Which happens more than I'd like to admit, - he chuckled, and suddenly his face went all white and pale again, devoid of all blood, it seemed. Did anyone hear this? Him disclosing his favourite spot for drinking the real British tea? He carelessly gave the address to Warren, because he trusted him, but what if someone else?.. Someone who could and would follow him there and?..
Anthony's grip on the rails became too strong, knuckles turning white with the effort, eyes widening with horror, pupils dilated.

Anthony MacIntyre (2022-07-07 20:22:11)

+2

6

Even though the darkness had already descended upon the city like a heavy blanket, the nights air was still warm and somewhat stuffy. Warren was grateful to have a cold drink in his hand, though the ice inside has been melting at a steady pace, diluting his drink and making it lose some of its flavour. No matter, the alcohol had served him well. Warren was beginning to feel some waves of relaxations move across his exhausted body - his shoulders felt less tense, his face felt more natural, and the odd tingling of tiredness in his neck was disappearing now too. It felt good, thought he was scared he might collapse right here and right now.

Maybe thats why he was beginning to get more chatty too. Warren was a master of small talk - you dont grow up the way he did without becoming one - but real conversations were sometimes difficult for him. Difficult for him to really enjoy, as he had a pleasant enough disposition to chat up anyone, but more often than not it all felt like a chore.

Arthur was probably the only person who could never elicit such a response from him - it was always a pleasure to hear his voice, to hear his thoughts, to hear his gentle words fall into place like pieces of music. It was their conversations Warren missed the most. Maybe thats why this little voice that was now a constant presence in his life - like an echo, a slight reminder of someone gone - often spoke in his brothers voice. Maybe thats why the voice sometimes called him Ren - the nickname only Arthur was allowed to use.

Yet somehow talking to Anthony felt similar, thought Warren couldnt quite figure out why. Was it his voice? There was a familiar softness around certain sounds, but that was a feature anyone with their accent possessed. So what then? Maybe it was just the way he spoke? Or maybe something in his face reminded him of the one who was gone forever? Warren caught himself sneaking glances at a man next to him, as if he was looking for some familiarity there to explain his odd feeling. However, Anthony didnt look like his brother was all - his colouring was all wrong, even in his fancy heals he was shorter than Arthur was, his posture was different as well as his mannerism. It was an odd thing really - nothing about the artist was even remotely similar to what Warren had lost, yet somehow it was almost familiar.

Its the eyes, - whispered the voice in his brother's words. - Remember what I always used to say? Look into someones eyes for long enough, and youll know everything about them. Truly a window into someones soul.

- Sounds like you miss the old country quite a lot, - smiled Warren in response. It wasnt a feeling he was familiar with - hed traveled around so much that it was impossible to know where his home truly was now. Even when he visited London, things felt wrong, and he felt like a foreigner. San Francisco wasnt it as well. - I get it. And its good that you have a place that calls you back whenever you are away - its a true sign of home.

He now pulled his own pack of cigarettes from his pocket, quickly offering one to Anthony, not insisting as his tobacco wasnt nearly as fancy as the one they just shared. He still had to offer, not because of politeness or manners, but because it was an excuse to keep talking. To stay here. To continue to hide from whatever was going on downstairs, from the whole world if need be. It was a silent offer to stay just a bit longer, to keep each other company - an offer, which Warren was sure Anthony wasnt going to refuse. He looked quickly down at the artists hands around the railing of the balcony - his knuckles were turning white from how strongly he was gripping it. Warren didnt say anything, of course, and looked away quickly, not allowing his glance to be notices.

He wasnt the only troubled soul here tonight. Now he was sure of it, it was clear as day. And whatever demons hunted Anthony, they were causing him just as much pain as Warrens grief was causing him.

- You dont have to call me Mr. Maude, - he added afterwards. - Please just call me Warren, - he wasnt too fond of familiarity, which Americans liked so much. They almost never had any respect for ones proper name, insisting on using nicknames and not even caring about someones last name. - Things arent so different for us here in the States.

Or maybe he just wanted to be called by this first name by someone with a familiar accent. Who knows.

- If you dont mind me asking, why are you in San Francisco, then? - the way Anthony spoke about their shared homeland made Warren think he wasnt all too happy to be here. - Sounds like you would have preferred to stay in London. An artist of your caliber could choose to work from anywhere in the world, - it wasnt empty praise too - Warren was always realistic about his opinions about artists he had the pleasure to work with. He never allowed himself to be carried away by an empty reputation. - Or it is San Francisco you like? This city has a lot to offer, I have to say. I was surprised when we, - he caught himself quickly, not stopping for even a fraction of a second - when I first came here.

In truth, it was Arthur who chose this city for them. Warren wanted to settle in New York - where the old money was, the perfect breeding ground for his kind of work. However, his brother was adamant about their destination. Warren never managed to figure out why.

- You know, this conversation made me feel a bit homesick too, - he shrugged, looking at the sky and watching cigarette smoke disappear up ahead in gentle swirls. - Maybe I need to visit this restaurant too. Im afraid Ive never been there. Maybe we should grab a drink there some time, - these worlds slipped from his mouth before Warren could grasp their meaning. However, now that he had said it, he didnt regret it. Quite the opposite - for some reason, he didnt want this to be the last conversation they shared. Maybe he was beginning to understand why his brother was friends with this person. - Who can appreciate much an establishment better than a couple of Brits missing the old country?

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7

The strangers outside finally started to move, their steps untraceable from the balcony, but Anthony could clearly see the figures moving. They were moving away from him, in the opposite direction, and he liked it.
His grip on the railings got weaker. He collected himself. Warren's voice touched his ears, gently turning his attention back to the conversation.
- Of course, Warren, - Anthony managed a weak but genuine smile. - Please, call me Anthony then. As much as I love my last name, it's way too long for a chat.
And oh heavens, did he love his last name! MacIntyre. You say it and instantly see a picture of a noble lord in your mind. Well... Anthony wasn't sure there actually was a lord with this last name, but it certainly sounds like one any lord would be absolutely delighted to have.
Why indeed did he chose San Francisco?
- To be honest, I... don't know, - he chuckled and shook his head. He didn't choose this city. He didn't choose this country. Years ago he hated it all with every fiber of his soul; now he just got used to it. Artist is always busy with painting rather than sightseeing anyway, so... And cocaine, his favourite cure, made it all better. And it was cheaper than in the UK. And much easier to get. Almost unbelievably easier.
- And if I'm completely honest, I only moved to the US by my agent's suggestions. San Francisco is good for business, and... it's not too bad, actually. It's not London, yes, but on the other hand, it's not Texas either, thanks Heavens. Here people at least are more or less educated. - his remarks were harsh, and Anthony wasn't ashamed of it. He knew he wasn't a good person, but no one's perfect... especially in the States.
Anthony noticed, however, the slightest slip of Warren's tongue, the "we" he quickly replaced by "I". He briefly wondered who was the other person, out of sheer curiosity, he tried to picture Warren walking hand in hand with an elegant lady dressed in a luxurious dress or a gentleman wearing a ridiculously expensive suit. Maybe a drama of a traitorous heartbreak took place. Or maybe the things were much more ordinary.
Warren indeed seemed a bit down, but finally his expression turned into something bittersweet. Homesickness itself was not a bad feeling - it stirred up joyful memories and all kinds of reasons to thank God for some of the events from the past. Not all for them, true. But smallest things are also worth it.
- We definitely should, - Anthony agreed, a bit surprised by the invitation, in a pleasant way, though. They still knew each other quite poorly, even after this conversation, clearly not enough to be drinking morning tea discussing juicy gossip about politics and social crisis, but they proved to be good at small talk, and Anthony found Warren's company bizarrely comfortable and somewhat comforting. Like seeing a familiar face in the crowd. Which was sort of close to their situation: San Francisco is a huge city, and meeting someone you know is a lucky occurrence.
They didn't make any specific arrangements, and Anthony left it at that. Maybe they would meet again, the art world is small, after all, and now when Warren had plans to visit Anthony's favourite restaurant it seemed likely their next meeting would be just as random, but unavoidable.
- Too bad we can't stay here forever, - he said, glancing at the other man, - but it truly was a pleasure, Warren.
Soon they were back inside and straight into the chaos of guests, mingling and starving for their attention. The friendly chat was soon out of Anthony's mind, and his focus shifted to the tasks at hand, which meant more small talk, photos and autographs. When he finally returned to the safe cocoon of his apartment, he exhaled with great relief and vaguely remembered Mr Maude - Warren - smoking on the balcony, chatting about nothing. It was a nice moment to lazily recollect before slipping into the softest embrace of the dream world.

Days after Anthony's guess came true. They met indeed, and it was perfect random.
Early in the morning, Anthony, an early bird, was enjoying a cup of amazing green tea, savouring each sip. He never used sugar, preferred milk instead, and was reading an actual newspaper. He could easily read the news on his tablet, but he liked the way wide paper pages covered his face, a thin, nearly non-existant wall separating him from the world. It brought this irrational feeling of safety a child feels when hiding under the blanket; evil intruders were left outside and had no power to barge in his personal space. An illusion so real he believed it.
Today, though, the illusion crumbled to dust. One moment he was sipping his tea, feeling a deep rich flavour settling on his tongue, following the line of printed text, next moment there were footsteps loud enough to understand the walker's destination - someone was approaching his table. Anthony's heart skipped a beat, but before he could truly panic he heard the familiar voice greeting him in a delicate manner.
The manner was delicate, alright, but Anthony jumped anyway. He dropped the newspaper, and the corner of the page drowned in the cup. He quickly realized he had no reason to get overwhelmed when he saw Warren's puzzled face. Now Anthony wanted to laugh, and a nervous laughter actually escaped his chest. Their meeting back at the gallery started just like that, what a coincidence. Only then it had been a long day, and Anthony's jumpy reaction was excusable - unlike now. Now it was plain awkward.
- Oh, yes, good morning to you too, - he moved the newspaper away and gestured to the second chair, - join me, please. I'd be glad. Would you like some tea? I find green tea best in the morning. - Anthony asked the waitress to bring an extra cup for Warren. - Sorry if I... if my reaction made you feel like you weren't welcomed, because it is certainly not true. What is true, however, is my horrible habit to stay up later than I should. When I don't get enough sleep, I might struggle a bit in the early hours.
He smiled to make Warren sure he didn't have to worry about a single thing.
- So, you decided to pay a visit to the place I recommended. Very nice of you, indeed. I hope you like it - at least the design, for now. Tell me what you really think when you try your tea.

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8

They spent another few minutes up on the balcony, quietly talking and enjoying their little escape. Warren caught himself thinking that this was probably one of the few conversations in the last few weeks in which saying every word didnt feel like pulling out a tooth. It was odd really - Anthony was a curious one, but definitely not the type of person Warren would normally associate with. Still, it was kind of fun watching him - there was some incredibly entertaining about the way this artist presented himself. And Warren had a good point of reference - hes spent all of this adult life working with people like this.

Even with that, he couldnt get rid of a feeling that he was watching an actor on stage, watching a performance rather than looking at a real person. It was a curious discovery, and as they parted ways for the night, Warren decided that if they were to meet again, he would not avoid his new acquaintances company.

As it turned out, he got a chance to deliver on that promise just a few days later.

After spending yet another night tossing and turning and being unable to have a proper sleep, Warren felt as broken as ever. This has become this new normal - he never had any issues with sleep before. On the contrary, his nighttime routine was always very well-defined. He was an early riser and never compromised his sleep, even for his work, always ensuring to get his proper eight hours. Warren never agreed with people who tried to present their lack of sleep as a monumental achievement of a busy mind - after all, that just left one unproductive the next day. It was inefficient. Impractical. All that Warren, being himself a person who valued efficiency about everything else, always tried to avoid.

Yet, it seemed that now he had developed a problem. He managed to hide it from people around well enough, but the lack of proper rest was now catching up to him, fogging his mind and letting tiredness affect him to the point of losing any ability to finish his work. He knew, of course, that he needed to do something about his situation, but that exactly was that something was still unknown to him.

That morning, he remembered the conversation he had with Anthony, and the place that the artist recommend. Looking up the address and discovering that it was not too far from his place, Warren decided to leave earlier than usual and drop by the restaurant to have some good breakfast, hoping that at lease that would brighten up his day.

He looked immaculate as ever, and anyone would be hard-pressed to find any evidence of not having had a good rest on Warrens face. If there was anything that his upbringing taught him, it was his to keep up his appearances. Nothing more important to the British upper-crust than to make sure they look perfect, even if their inside was all broken.

And if Warren was anything these days, he was broken.

There was a nice surprise awaiting him at the restaurant - a face of Anthony McIntyre, half hidden behind a newspaper, deep in his thoughts. Warren knew he had to say hello, but intended to have his breakfast alone, so after placing his order with a nice-looking waitress, he left his table and walked towards Anthony.

- Good morning. Its a nice surprise to run into you again, - he smiled, as he approached the table. Still, it looked like his greeting startled the artist. Once again, just as it happened in the gallery before. Warren caught the same look he noticed that night. - Pardon me, I didnt mean to startle you again, - he repeated the same worlds he said before, as if they were a script.

Ugh, always so formal, - the voice sounded off in his head. Well, of course it would appear right now. - You need to relax it with the attitude.

- Oh, sure, Ill join you if you dont mind, - the offer was a surprise - Warren only intended to say hello, but refusing was not only going to be rude, but would also deprive him of another opportunity to have a pleasant conversation with the artist. Anthony caught the waitress and asked for another cup, and Warren followed the request with asking her to bring his order to this table. - You know, I found it over the years that the lack of sleep has the most profound effect on ones mind. No greater pity than to be undone by such an easily manageable thing, - fearing that he now sounded too sententious, Warren added: - I, however, found myself with the same issue this morning, so I decided to try to fix it with a nice cup of tea and a good breakfast, and that reminded me of your recommendation. Im sure Im going to like it here.

The waitress brought another cup and his order - not quite what they would call a full English breakfast, but still good food. Warren poured both of them another cup of tea, and they settled in to have another pleasant chat.

- Dont you find it funny how Americans are obsessed with coffee? Some of them are unable to make up a coherent thought in the morning before having a cup, - Warren smiled as he tried the tea. It was indeed very good. - But then again, they are probably laughing at us and our love of tea, even though some types of black tea have almost as much caffeine as coffee, - he took another few sips, marveling at the taste. - This is good, very good. Thank you for your recommendation. I gather youve been coming here for a while?

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9

Anthony took another sip of his perfectly delicious tea. His morning routine was disrupted, but it didnt bother him. Warrens company didnt bring any discomfort or inconvenience, quite on the contrary, who could enjoy sharing a cup of tea with a controversial artist of English origin better than someone used to various art peoples quirks, besides, of English noble blood as well? Anthony let him talk and listened politely, watching the mans face with a gentle smile. He pictured Warren and Arthur young, two siblings having breakfast together in a huge fancy canteen, surrounded by nannies they mustve had nannies, right? All kids of noble blood had them, it was a common fact. So different from Anthonys own childhood, with dad always at work and mom always at church, him running around the street with his only childhood friend. For a brief moment he wondered how Brandon was doing. Art world is a small world, how come theyve never met? Crazy. Brandon drifted off to Americas shores decades ago, he mustve made a name for himself very fast. Somehow Anthony never doubted him. He also never doubted that Brandon used his own name instead of lofty ones, never signed his paintings anything other than Brandon Cox, because he never felt shame for his name or his life or simply who he was. So unlike Anthony Anthonys invented so many fantasies and lies, weaving them around himself like a shiny cocoon, and got so used to them now that he almost believed in them, too. He was a magician, composing one magic spell after another, and the only true strength of a magician is to keep the source of his powers secret. Maybe not the most accurate comparison, but it was precisely what Anthony did, hiding his true self away from the world and presenting a better version instead. For that his mom, forever dreaming of a perfectly ideal baby boy, would be proud, had she been alive.
And what were Warrens parents like? Anthony and Arthur never really spoke of their childhoods, so he could only guess. He assumed Warren went to a prestige public school, one of Eton calibre, graduated from Oxbridge, picked up smooth gentleman manners and lots of connections on the way. Was Anthony jealous? Well thinking of his young years he was misunderstood by his peers and therefore bullied, one occasion left him partially blind in one eye, and since he didnt have any powerful figures in his life, no one stood up for him. Ever. Then miracles happened London, university chaos but blissful chaos. Life in the capital drastically differed from one in a small village place. He finally met fellow artists and other creators, queer people who could understand and accept him for who he is. Some of these meetings turned into life-lasting friendships. And then the fate got him again: mom died, dad died, Brandon broke his heart and moved overseas, choosing money and fame over love and the damaged chaotic state of a person Anthony was at that time.
And, honestly, Brandon made the right choice. Deep inside Anthony knew it.
He watched the waitress, composed and high trained as always, deliver Warrens order to his table, which was now their table. The girl wore a pleasant shade of nude lipstick and put her hair in an elegant hairstyle, which would make you think she too graduated from Oxbridge. They didnt hire simply anyone here, only experienced staff. All more points to the place and more reasons to respect the owners.
- Coffee obsession will bring the Americans into caffeine hell, wait for it, - Anthony ruthlessly promised in a casual tone, - hell constructed of nine circles filled with people dying of cardiac arrest due to coffee drinks overdose. The first circle is called New York City. The final one is called Starbucks.
Oh yes, his humour could be shockingly dark, but Anthony loved shocking people, so whats wrong with that?
- I am pleased to see you find this place as charming as I do. And you gather correctly. Would you believe it, I stumbled upon it by pure luck! And now I come here twice a week at least. I used to come here almost every day for breakfast, before
He caught his tongue. What the hell, Warrens company made him feel so relaxed and at home, at peace with everything, that he almost lost his concentration. Thats not good. He had to shift back into focus. And find a witty way to save his words, of course.
-before I locked myself away from the world to finish the painting I suddenly got the inspiration to finish, - not very funny, but believable. Hes an artist, after all, what could be more normal? Everyone knows artists are weird ones. Warren should know it very well, growing up with a brother like Arthur.
Poor little Arthur Anthony felt a strongest urge to mention his name, talk about him, because they both knew him well and could exchange fond memories and funny stories showing Arthur as a free spirit he was, but Anthony wasnt sure whether it was a good idea. Chaotic by nature, he usually never thought twice before acting on his whims and impulses, ego-centric by nature, too, but something in Warrens eyes, in his whole appearance made Anthony actually stop and think. Think about what another human being might be feeling, for once. He genuinely liked Warren and had no intention to break the silent line of quiet understanding that connected them now.
Besides, Warrens presence was waking something inside Anthony. He spent so much time hiding and running from everyone, he almost forgot what it was like to talk to someone, not out of business duty or other necessities, but out of sincere sympathy and interest in communication. He felt like a loner walking in the desert, drinking only hot water to balance his body temperature with the temperature of the outside world, and now this loner accidentally came across a fountain full of cool water, touch it, poured it on his face and it made him truly alive, washing the sweat off the sunburnt skin, diving into the pores, refreshing, energising. Good Heavens! He wilfully avoided human contact, and when he found that person he was comfortable with, he was craving for it.
- Tell me about some places you enjoy most, - Anthony asked, smiling. I should like to widen my list of good restaurants in the States, as it is rather short. I have to confess I am really picky when it comes to cuisine matters.
Maybe they could meet again like this, wouldnt it be splendid? Maybe they could even make it a thing. Visit restaurants, talk about food and drinks, about English dominance and silly political fuss the Americans always make. What lifts ones patriotic spirit higher than gossips about all other nations troubles? Yes, he could use someone like Warren in his life. Someone who wouldnt bug him about new paintings, who wouldnt talk to him about work at all, or about his recent interviews, or ask about when upcoming interviews will be published, or any other obligations and duties Anthony didnt want to think about.
The weather changed, though. The sun, one second peacefully shining in the sky, pouring rays of morning warmth onto strangers walking the streets of San-Francisco, waved goodbye and shied away to hide its face behind a group of pretty white-cotton clouds, which soon turned wolf-grey and then threateningly black. Anthony felt the first drop of rain touch his hand.
- Good Lord, wed better hurry inside, - he grabbed his newspaper, and then the rain hit the ground hard, as if it was trying to destroy it, crash the cars, the streets and their little cozy table with half-empty cups trembling on its surface. The nature attack could be frightening to anyone but surely not to someone who had lived in London, so instead of running away screaming with terror, like a lady in a bright yellow dress did (and she had good reasons as the rain ruined her hair and make-up), they casually but quickly walked to the entrance doors and asked for a table inside rather than on an outside terrace. The little water they still got on themselves made their clothes wet a bit, and Anthony thought for a second his hair was ruined, too, but somehow it didnt make him angry. In fact, it made him laugh. Laugh like a little country baby boy who welcomed rain because it meant good harvest for mommy and daddy.
- Oof! Just like London, no? I honestly didnt know this place serves British weather as a garnish.
Anthony gently touched his hair to assess the damage, but it wasnt so bad; he smoothed it with his left hand, as he was also left-handed.
- I hope your breakfast mood is not ruined yet, Warren? Lets have some more tea, it will warm us right up.
The waitress, who successfully avoided collision with rain, poured the tea, following the request.
- I realised something, - Anthony shared, warming his hands against the hot cup, - if you think American tea is bad, you should never try the liquid they call tea in France. France is ten times worse! But their wine is good, I have to give them that Have you been to France? Paris, maybe?
The railroad now connected two countries across the English Channel, but Anthony couldnt imagine a sane Englishman travelling to France for fun. What kind of fun is there? Eating frogs? Dirt and this stupid stubbornness to speak English, thats what can be found in France! But business takes sacrifices. Anthony knew it because he himself spent two months in Paris and ran away, screaming, swearing never to come back.

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