Light seemed to love him, she thought as she distractedly moved her pen. It didn’t seem to bounce off him like it did other people’s skin. Instead, it seemed to mingle with his radiance. Fascinating. Could she ever catch that effect with her paints? Was it even conceivable to evoke that subtle, knowing expression in his eyes?
She blinked and stared down at the napkin that had been beneath her coffee cup. She hadn’t been entirely conscious that she’d been sketching him. A flash of sad compassion went through her for her students. She’d given them an impossible task, trying to capture the essence of Everett.
She glanced at the clock.
“Please set down your pencils,” Joy said, gathering her things and standing.
A few groans went up.
“I know, I know,” she said, understanding completely the young artists’ discontent with not being able to finish their task. “I’ll be keeping the time constraint in mind when I grade your projects. I’m not expecting perfection,” she soothed, walking among the students and easels. “You’re free to get your things and go. I’ll gather your sketches.”
“But what about the pictures of Everett?” Shelby asked, her voice vibrating with excitement. Several of the students seconded this as they stood.
She gave Everett a pitying, amused glance. He’d just pulled his T-shirt over his head. His arms were raised, pulling his abdomen muscles especially taut. He grin seemed to say, Don’t worry—it’s no big deal. His easygoing grace amazed her.
“I’ve got a minute or two,” he said, whipping his arms through his sleeves.
“Get your phones, then,” Joy told the students reluctantly. They moved so rapidly to their desks and backpacks, it was like a teenage tidal wave.
“Do you mind if we post the photos on Facebook?” Chancy asked Everett several minutes later. He’d patiently posed while they all had taken pictures with him. The students were standing in a ring around him now, their faces radiant at the idea of bantering so casually with Everett Hughes.
“Okay by me. But thanks for asking, Chancy,” Everett replied, giving her a nod of respect. Chancy glowed with pride that she’d asked the responsible question and been given permission aboveboard to post Everett’s picture publicly.
“Okay, time to go,” Joy shooed, knowing the students would hang around Everett for as long as they were allowed to. “Don’t forget to come a half hour early tomorrow for our field trip, and don’t bring any large backpacks or purses if you don’t want to check anything at the museum,” she called loudly to their retreating backs. The door shut behind the final student a few seconds later. Joy turned to Everett and smiled.
“Thank you. Thank you so much. They’ll remember that for the rest of their lives.”
“No problem. They’re nice kids. They respect you a lot,” he said, walking toward her desk to pick up his leather duffle.
She shrugged. “That’s one of the nice things about teaching advanced students. They all plan to make art their careers. It’s easier for teachers and students when they have that commonality.”
He slung his bag on his shoulder and faced her. “Maybe, but they respect you as a person, too. I could tell.” He glanced at the clock on the wall. “I should be going.”
Her heart seemed to stagger. With all the excitement and distraction of his staying to pose for her class, she’d completely forgotten he was leaving town . . . and that she might never see him again. She was at a loss as to what to say.
“I was going to call you about this, but I was wondering if you’d consider taking a little trip
“What?” she asked stupidly.
“You mentioned that summer school is almost over, and I assume you have some time before the new semester starts?”
“Good, because Rill has asked your uncle Seth to visit Katie and him in Vulture’s Canyon. Seth has definitely agreed to do makeup. He must have had a good night coming up with proof he’s the guy for the job.”
“Oh, I’m so glad,” Joy said, pride for her uncle flooding her. “This is going to be a terrific experience for him, working with Rill.”
“Yeah. Anyway, Rill wants to exchange some ideas for costume and makeup for Razor Pass. His costume designer is flying in on Sunday morning in order to meet with Seth. He wants me there, too, and Katie has invited you as well for a long weekend. It’s Labor Day. When do you start school again?”
“Not until the week after Labor Day,” Joy said. “We go on a quarter system here, so the kids have a bit of a break before the fall quarter begins.”
“So this would work out great. Katie and Rill have built a little guesthouse on their grounds. It’s nice—right in the middle of the Shawnee National Forest. Very relaxing. I thought it’d be a nice getaway for a couple days . . .” He faded off, and Joy realized he was studying her narrowly. “What do you think?” he asked.
A puff of air flew past her lips. She laughed raggedly. “I thought maybe I was never going to see you again after today,” she said honestly.
“Why would you think that?”