Belize Survivor, part 45

From the McArthur Causeway to Miami Beach, white skyscrapers reflected majestically on the rippled surface of the intercoastal waterway. As huge ocean-going vessels made their way to Dodge Island and the Port of Miami, tall-masted sailboats glided gracefully over the face of the water, while an assortment of sleek low-slung speed boats cut through the light chop, leaving a V-shaped wake like a flock of geese heading south for the winter.

The House of Crafts was to beads and cordage what the Flower Market in San Francisco was to plants. Within its one-hundred fifty thousand square feet of warehouse, Alexis, Rita, and Richard saw semiprecious beads of every imaginable size and description: jade, carnelian, lapis, bloodstone, rose quartz, sodalite, turquoise, malachite, tourmaline, garnets, and tiger eye. Within the variety contained in bins, tubs, and baskets were round beads, barrel beads, flat beads, square beads, and nuggets. There were hundreds of colors and cuts of glass beads, as well as trade beads of Venetian glass and African amber – both antique and contemporary versions. In another partitioned area, enormous spools hung from strong steel supports in the ceiling with all manner of fibers: waxed linen, unwaxed linen, nylon, cotton, wool fiber, rope, string, and jute – all for sale by length or by weight. Now faced with the individual decisions that might spell success or failure, Alexis took her time, spending the entire afternoon making her purchases. She had to decide what styles, colors, and designs would be saleable in the Key West tourist market. After all, it would take a realistic combination of Max’s good business sense and Alexis’ artistic flair to make or break the enterprise.

The mood was mellow that night. Richard and Rita's house was extraordinarily old-fashioned, yet artistically deliberate, tucked there at the edge of affluent Coral Gables. Throughout the house were beautiful wall hangings, exotic plants, and Richard's distinctive artwork: framed line drawings, palette knife acrylics, watercolors, and oil paintings. With a warm and colorful atmosphere, her hosts had been helpful in every way. And now that Alexis’ traveling bag was comfortably ensconced in the loft along with her bead purchases, she was feeling that the trip had been most worthwhile.

"Alexis?" Rita called from the kitchen. "Richard should be back any minute. He just ran to the market to pick up the wine. Are you ready for some dinner?"

"Sure," she called back from the loft. "Can I help? Want me to make a salad?”

“That’d be great.”

Alexis descended the steep stairway and went in to join Rita. As she chopped the vegetables on the built-in cutting board on the island in the middle of the room, Rita finished wiping down the rest of the kitchen counter tops, and then went into the living room. She knelt on a large dark red pillow beside the coffee table, and opened an ornate hand-tooled leather box.

"Are you up for a toke?" she called out.

"Heck yeah, anytime," Alexis said, as she finished drying her hands on a towel. She came into the living room and began to peruse the artwork as Rita busied herself rolling a joint. "Does Richard do all these paintings himself? There are so many different styles."

"Yes. Amazing, isn't it? He started out doing impressionism, later changed to surrealism, and then surprised everyone by doing primitives. His newest thing is charcoal nudes."

"My girlfriend, Marcy, in Key West used to do some posing for a guy in Hialeah. He had a showing at some gallery there, years back."

"How about you? Did you ever pose?"

"In the nude?" Alexis smiled. She looked at Rita, and then realized she was serious. “Yeah, actually,” she admitted. “In college once or twice.”

"Richard told me he was going to ask you."
Alexis shivered involuntarily. Wouldn’t it make Rita feel strange? Besides, Max would freak out.

"Oh, don't worry. I don't care,” Rita added light-heartedly. “Our relationship is very relaxed. You'd be doing him, and me, a real service. I recognize that it's hard for him to find appropriate models."

"Well, I don't know if I'm…I’m comfortable with that," Alexis stammered. She thought about all their help and hospitality. How could she diplomatically refuse?

"Please?" Rita pleaded. “As a personal favor to me?”

An hour and a half later, Alexis found herself sitting on a bar stool, wrapped in nothing but Rita's white terry cloth robe. She shifted nervously as Richard first arranged various low-level spotlights and reflective umbrellas around her to create the optimal lighting effect, and then used a knife to pare down the point of his favorite charcoal pencil. Opening his oversize portfolio case, he took out a large sketch pad, and positioned it on the easel. Just then Rita called from the front foyer. "Richard? I'm all set; I’m leaving now."

"Okay, have fun," he responded casually.

"Rita? You're going out?” asked Alexis, taken aback. “Where're you going?"

"I have to go teach my yoga class in Coconut Grove. I'll be back in a few hours. You guys have a good session. See you later." The door thumped shut with finality.
Alexis sat there, dumbstruck. "I didn't know she wouldn't be here tonight."

"Yep, she teaches classes three nights a week," Richard mumbled absent-mindedly, as he looked down and made an adjustment to the easel. "Okay, you can disrobe now. Just drop it around you, I’ll tell you how to position yourself, and then after that, don’t move. It’s easy." Then he looked up at her. “Relax. It's okay." Reluctantly, Alexis followed his instructions. "Good. Now to the left, just a touch. Perfect. Hold it."

Every few minutes, Richard coached her into a slight variation of the original position. But after seven or eight poses, he came over and physically rotated the stool so her back faced him. Then he angled her upper torso sideways so the profile of her breast, and its perpetually hard nipple, stood proud. He lifted her chin, bringing her face around to look back over her shoulder, moved her arm, and arranged her long blond hair to fall forward seductively.

"That's great, Alexis. Now just turn your head a little more toward me; bring down your chin. Drop your shoulder a touch more. Good. Okay, hold it right there. This is some good stuff I'm getting. You have marvelous high cheekbones, and great curves. The lighting is perfect, and your eyes just sparkle all the time. You really are lovely, you know."

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