Christy woke up and looked at the clock. It was 2:38am. She grabbed a pillow, pulled the covers up over her shoulders and gently tapped each finger counting how much time she had left to sleep. “2:38 I’ll say 3:00… 4:00, 5:00, 6:00, three more hours to sleep.” She smiled and drifted off.
When her alarm went off at 6:00am, she didn’t press the snooze button. She stiffly rolled out of bed, turned on the hall light and stood in front of the full-length mirror. This morning she expected to see somebody else in the mirror looking back at her. To her surprise, she was still there, only distant and almost unrecognizable. Too many dreams flooded her sleep, and she woke unsure of what they meant.
Christy couldn’t wait to leave Minnesota. She had never been to Florida, and she felt so professional getting on a plane for a job interview: first-class airfare and hotel paid for by her – fingers crossed – future boss. She had to win him over, and she had three days and two nights to do it. She wanted this job more than anything even though she didn’t know what the job was. This was it. Her life was changing. But doubts and negative thoughts kept nagging at her.
In Miami, the heat and humidity enveloped her as soon as she stepped out of the airport. She stood in line waiting for a cab and listened to all the languages. She liked Florida.
Christy stood at his door knocking. She was anxious to see him, to see more of his work. She could hear painful coughing on the other side of the door. She hoped she wouldn’t catch his cold.
The door opened and there stood a thin, sickly looking man. “Christy?” he asked.
“Yes. Paul?” she asked back, hoping it wasn’t.
“Yes. Come in.” He coughed again and stepped aside to let her in.
She hesitated then stepped into his place. He closed the door and she followed him down the dark hallway into the kitchen. His jeans and t-shirt were hanging off him like he was nothing more than a skeleton with clothes.
“How was your flight?”
“It was good. This is my first time in Florida. It’s so warm… and green.”
“Can I get you something?”
“No, I’m fine.” Christy didn’t want his germs.
She was feeling uncomfortable and wanted to leave. She regretted letting him fly her to this interview. She didn’t expect this. “Listen… if this is a bad time?” she asked hoping for a way to escape.
“There is no such thing as a bad time for me, only little time.”
She was too afraid to ask what he meant and followed him into his studio. He sat down at his desk, and she sat on the black leather couch by the painted brick wall. She set her bag next to her and uncomfortably looked around as he watched her. The large, open room was loaded with cameras on tripods, lights, backdrops, fans and props. In the office area where they sat, much of his famous work was framed and hanging on the brick wall.
“So you’re into photography?” he asked.
“Beginner, but yes.” “Did you bring some of your work?”
“No, I didn’t bring anything. I wanted to meet you to start with. I left it in my hotel room.”
“It doesn’t matter. Craig sent me your portfolio. Not bad, for no education.”
Christy hid her anger at Craig for not asking her if he could send her portfolio and at Paul for his education comment.
“Craig speaks highly of you. He said you are the best model he’s ever had, but wondered why you stayed working as a nude model for so long. He believes you should be the one creating the art, not being the art. So here’s your chance… what do you think?”
“I’m not sure,” she said, then added, “I do love your work.”
He stared at her for a moment and was impressed she didn’t look away. “What do you think is wrong with me?” he asked.
She stared back and didn’t answer.
“Good answer,” he said and coughed. “You’re right, I have AIDS.”
Christy’s heart sank. She didn’t want to hear it, and especially didn’t want to be around this man. It wasn’t pain he was in, it was anger and she didn’t want to deal with it. He talked to her like he hated her, and he didn’t even know her.
“And I’m gay. My partner died three years ago. And I have, oh… one to five months to live.” He coughed again. “Now what do you think?”
“I think you’ve given up,” Christy said.
He started laughing. Then suddenly serious he said, “Fuck you, Christy!”
Christy grabbed her bag and stood to leave. “Don’t go… I didn’t mean it. You’re right. I’ve given up. I’m ready to go, to be with him again.”
“Your partner?” Christy asked and sat back down.
“Yes, I miss him. I miss company.”
“There are so many groups and support. Don’t you…”
“Yeah, yeah! I know! No, I don’t! I have nothing in common with any of those people except that I’m dying of AIDS. Besides, I’m not a group kind of guy.”
“Neither am I,” Christy agreed.
He smiled at that. “You’re very pretty, Christy.”
“Thanks, but I’m not here to model.”
“I know. I am,” he said.
“What do you mean?”
“Christy, I’ll teach you everything I know. I’ll introduce you to all the right people and give you all my equipment when I go in exchange for a few things.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I want you to record me dying of AIDS. When I’m gone, I want the book of photos published and to be available everywhere. I may do some writing along with it. I’m not sure. I want the book handed out at bars, malls and street corners, everywhere. I have enough money to cover all costs and any money made from this book must go to AIDS research. Christy, you won’t make much money from this. Just what I pay you, but when it’s over you’ll be famous and a working photographer until you retire. I can promise you that.”
Christy listened with a knot in her stomach. She was willing to take it on — not for the fame, equipment or connections, but for the opportunity to be a part of something so important. Her own fears reminded her that even if it was too late for Paul, it wasn’t too late for so many others, including herself.
“Am I to move in with you?”
“You’ll have to, to capture important moments. Christy, you’ll be with me all the time.”
“As a nurse?”
“Well, I may need help in time. What you can do I’d appreciate, but if it gets too tough I’ll hire a nurse to finish it out. I’m not going to a hospital anymore.” He turned away, coughed and said, “You know, there’s risk involved, not a lot, we’ll be very careful but…”
“My whole life’s been a risk. I’ll do it.”
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