The watchman

By Jefftaur 
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My name's Alec and I'm an art student here in the city. I come to the museum almost every evening and just wander around sketching. I made a deal with the late-night security here so I can stay long after hours. Sometimes I don't leave until after midnight.

It's wonderful in the museum at night. The huge open spaces are silent, but it never feels empty because of all the works of art on the walls and on pedestals throughout the rooms.

Sometimes I work with paint. I've made some reasonably good reproductions, and even sold a couple. I've made some really bad ones too, but I don't let anyone see those.

Mostly I sketch. I grew up sketching constantly, so it's what I'm best at, and I enjoy it the most. Sometimes I'll turn a sketch into a complete work, usually with pencils, but it's the sketching that's the most fun.

Sometimes I sketch portraits or landscapes, but mostly I sketch sculpture. Michelangelo, Donatello. It's not just that they're naked men (although I must confess that's a part of it), it's the pure beauty of the complete work, the composition. With each sketch I strive to capture at least a part of it.

After coming here for three months, you'd think I would have exhausted the possibilities, but I'm always finding more.

And adding my own ideas. But I'm not ready to share those with anyone. At least, I wasn't.

So, like I said, I came to the museum most every evening. I got to know most of the security guards pretty well. They'd stop and chat when they came across me on their rounds. Most of them were really nice and really enjoyed walking around the museum at night. They weren't great students of art or anything, but they could at least appreciate what they were guarding. Sometimes I'd let them look over my work. It's nice to have an audience sometimes, and it broke the tedium for them.

About three months after I started coming to the museum, one of the older guards, Mr. Weston, moved to a daytime shift and a new guard, who I heard was named John, started the night shift. I didn't actually _meet_ him until a few days later, but I saw him on his first day.

And I'll never forget it.

He was tall and well-built, filling his navy and black uniform well. He strolled confidently and gracefully down the hallway as I looked down from the upper level. His strong, erect posture forced his bulging pecs out, straining his uniform shirt. His muscular arms were clasped casually behind his back. As he turned to the side, I saw his face. Sharp, angular, handsome features under short, jet-black hair. And eyes so blue I could see them from fifty feet away.

He noticed me and winked, waving a casual hello. I think I managed to wave back, but I wasn't sure. He smiled and turned to walk the other way, continuing his rounds.

I tried to go back to sketching, but I could only think of him. Soon I had pages filled with different attempts at capturing his face, his torso, his arms, his posture, his—although it seems silly to say—grace. That was what most fascinated me about the sculpture I sketched: its gracefulness of form, of composition. And John was that, made flesh.

It wasn't until three days later that our paths actually crossed.

I, as usual, was frantically trying to capture some detail of the sculpture before me, when I felt someone over my shoulder. I turned to look up, and saw that it was him. The eyes were even better at two feet than at fifty.

I nearly fell out of my chair.

“Sorry,” he said. “I didn't mean to startle you. That's very good.”

“Um, thanks,” I managed. Pull yourself together, Alec! I extended my hand. “My name's Alec.” He took my hand in his. I suddenly realized my palm was sweating, but his handshake was firm and reassuring. “I'm John. It's nice to meet you. All the other guards say great things about you.”

“Really?” I asked, weakly, feeling extremely self-conscious. “Uh, thanks.”

“I thought maybe you'd show me some of your work… if you don't mind, that is.”

“Not at all! All these pages are sketches of this statue here. I've been trying to capture the way the arms are positioned. It's so natural and graceful, but it's difficult to replicate.” His beautiful eyes were searching with fascination over the pages. “But some of these sketches are in different poses,” he said, without even looking up.

“Right. I've been trying to capture the grace, the flow of the composition rather than just the exact pose. All though I've been working on that, too.”

“I like it,” he said, finally looking up at me.

I tried hard not to blush. “Thanks.” There was a pause, in which I desperately searched for something intelligent to say. “So you're new here.” Ugh, couldn't I do better than that? “Ever worked in museums before?” I was groaning inwardly at my inability to make conversation, but John lit up. “No, I haven't! I've always wanted to work here though. Well, ever since I became a security guard.”

“Really? When was that?”

“After high school. My father had died and I couldn't afford college, so I started the security gig. I like it well enough, so I guess things turned out fine. I've always liked art, but I don't think I have the aptitude or talent or whatever to do much more than look at it.” We talked about art for a while. He was certainly eager, but I was surprised at how little he actually knew. I picked up my things and followed him on his rounds, telling him everything I knew about all the paintings and sculptures we passed.

His face, that handsome face, was animated with pleasure. He looked like a kid in a candy store. I thought I was passionate about art, but seeing him get so excited made it that much more alive and awe-inspiring for me all over again.

Before I knew it, it was half past two in the morning. I gasped when I saw my watch.

“I'm sorry,” I said, hurriedly. “I've got to get to bed or I won't be able to get up for class tomorrow.” Then again, an evening with John, even though I'd only just met him, seemed worth missing any number of classes for.

“I'm sorry I kept you. Maybe when you're back again you could show me some more?” I was again amazed. To think he'd want to spend time with me. To think he'd worry that he was a burden. “Sure, I'll be back tomorrow. I'll come find you.” He smiled broadly. I nearly cried. “Thanks,” he said.

He looked like he was trying to make up his mind about something. Then he hugged me. It was incredible. His warm muscular body all around me. His thick chest pressed against mine. His bulging arms wrapped around me. His handsome face right next to mine.

All too soon, he let me go. “I really enjoyed it.”

“So did I,” I said, blushing, and wandered off to the exit.

The next night we met almost immediately and fell into step.

“Walking around last night after your tour, I started noticing things in other pictures that you talked about in the ones we saw. It made everything so much more interesting!” He showed me pictures in which he had seen the techniques and styles he now recognized, and I added what I could, but he was catching on quick. I'd have to start bringing my art history book with me.

We met on six of the next eight nights. John arranged his rounds to cover new parts of the museum each time.

“So do you just sketch?” he asked me on the eighth night, when we were walking down a concourse that, while architecturally admirable, had few works on display.

“No, I paint some, and sometimes I make complete drawings in pencil from my sketches. But certainly I make at least a hundred sketches for every complete drawing I manage.” He was silent for a while. “I really like this place,” he said looking around. It must have been at least the hundredth time I'd heard him say it, but it never got old because of the wonder in his voice. “I just wish I had some things on my walls at home. My apartment's pretty drab.”

“The museum shop has lots of prints. Their markup is a little steep though.”

“I know. I've found one or two posters there that I'd really like, but unfortunately money's too tight even for that right now.” I was about to say, there are cheaper places to buy the prints, when an idea struck him. “Hey, do you ever do commissions?”

“Yeah, I guess. I've never been asked before.”

“You're kidding.”

“No, really.”

“Well, how much would a drawing or a sketch be?” I had no idea how much to charge him. I would have gladly done it for free. “Um, I dunno. What would you want?” He thought for a while. “I don't know. There's so much to choose from and I've just learned so much from you. How about you choose? Then you can draw whatever you'd like.” He grinned. “Just pick the most beautiful thing in the museum, and draw that!” I grinned back, and tried desperately to think of a subject other than him.

Back at my dorm room the next day, I worked and worked on the drawing. It was probably impossible, but I wanted to have it done for him that evening.

But nothing was working. All I could think about was him.

Finally I just pulled out all the sketches I'd made of him that first day and stared at them. A vivid picture formed in my mind, of that first, unforgettable view of him. Close-up, even though I'd been yards away.

I had to draw. Him.

I began to sketch frantically, trying to capture my idea on paper, organize the composition. It flowed beautifully. I'd never had anything come together so easily.

Only three hours later, I had a large, poster-sized drawing in pencil completed. It was probably the best work I'd ever done. And it hadn't really been work.

It was John, standing tall, handsome face looking bravely into the distance. His muscular arms, every contour visible despite his shirt, were clasped behind his back as they had been on that first day. His muscular chest strained at the fabric of his shirt without being grotesque. The strong, angular lines of his face had come out perfectly, and although the pencil drawing was only black and white, his eyes had that glow to them, without looking at all strange.

I slumped back in my chair, amazed. I'd worked for four hours straight, and I hadn't even stopped for a drink of water. But it was finished.

“But should I even show it to him?” That night at the museum I didn't look for John, I just sat down somewhere and started sketching. It wasn't very good. I was worried and distracted.

Then John walked into the room, smiled, and headed right for me. He looked amazing. I thought that in making the drawing I might have imagined him even better than he looked, but he lived up to the drawing, and more.

“How's it going Alec?” he asked, slapping me on the shoulder.

“Hi, John.”

“What are you sketching tonight?”

“Nothing much.” Trying not to think too much about it, I carefully pulled the completed drawing for him out from under my pile of papers. “Here,” I said, standing and handing it to him. “I finished a drawing for you.” He was shocked as he it took it from me. Clearly he hadn't expected it so soon. The question was, what would he think of the subject? The shocked expression didn't leave his face as he studied it.

I hung my head. “If you don't like it, I can draw something else. I was just—”

“Alec.” I looked up at him.

“I love it. Thank you.” Now it was my turn to be shocked. He smiled and pulled me into a hug. I had to try not to cry; I was back in heaven. This time as he let me go, he brushed his lips against my cheek.

“Y-you're welcome,” I stuttered, still in shock.

Without any prompting, I picked up my things and followed him again on his rounds. This time we didn't talk as much, although we still discussed some of the more interesting paintings. Most of the sound was a soft pair of footfalls echoing in the cavernous spaces of the museum.

We would just look at one another and smile. We'd casually brush up against one another. I never wanted to leave.

But at midnight, we ended up by one of the exits, and stopped for a moment. In warm, comfortable silence.

“I guess I'd better let you go.”

“I guess.” Another pause.

“How much do I owe you for the portrait?”

“Nothing.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah.”

“Thank you.”

“You're welcome.” Another pause.

“Are you working tomorrow night?”

“Yeah, all the usual rounds. You be here?”

“Yeah.” Another pause.

“Well, see ya.”

“See ya.” I turned to go.

“Alec!” I turned back. John grabbed me by the arm and pulled me in again. To a kiss.

I had thought his embrace was heaven. It didn't even begin to match. This was all of that and so much more.

It lasted an eternity and yet no time at all. When it was over, I was breathing like I'd been running.

“Good night,” he said.

“Good night.” He slowly let me go. I smiled at him and reluctantly left, or rather, wandered out in a daze.

Outside, I just stood breathing the night air and staring at the moon. I was replaying the last five minutes over and over again in my mind.

Finally, I looked at my watch, and decided the sooner I got to bed, the sooner tomorrow would come.

Predictably overeager, I arrived at the museum earlier than usual, and John hadn't even started his shift yet. Mr. Goodwin noticed my dreamy look as he let me in. “You got a date or sum'in'?” he asked.

I blushed. “Yeah, kinda.”

“Good for you, Alec my boy. 'Bout time.” No kidding. I thanked him and went to one of my favorite Michelangelos to wait for John.

I was casually sketching, but I was thoroughly aroused at the idea of seeing John again. I thought I might lose it the moment he came into view.

Sketching and arousal combined trigger weird responses in me. I said before, I sometimes add new ideas to the sketches I make. That doesn't mean just changing the poses of figures. I often improve the equipment on the nude male statues I sketch, since the original artists were sometimes perhaps a little stingy in that department. Occasionally I go a bit overboard on it. But that's not the weird part.

Sometimes I add extra limbs.

I can't help it. It's a fantasy I've always had. It's one of the reasons I started sketching in the first place, to get the ideas in my head down on paper. I mean, if some guy looks fantastic with two bulging, muscular arms, wouldn't he look even better with four? The very thought of it gets me hard.

Arms, legs, and, yes, cocks, all multiplied in various arrangements. I've got a drawer stuffed full of sketches like that. I've never been able to complete a drawing. I can never get it just right, perfectly natural and graceful like it is in my head.

Sometimes I wonder if that's the only reason I study art, to be able to get it right one day. But only sometimes.

Now, I wasn't even thinking about that, I was just sketching, growing and multiplying and rearranging the limbs of the statue before me. Sketch after sketch, each a slightly different take on the theme.

Soon I was so hard it hurt.

I put my pad down upside down, and went off to search for a drink of water.

When I returned, I was struck speechless with horror at what I saw. It was John, standing there, turning over the pages of my sketches in his hands.

Suddenly he looked up and realized I was there.

“Alec,” he began.

All my fear and tension exploded at once. “What the hell do you think you're doing?” I shouted, darting forward and tearing the pages from his hands. “Leave my stuff alone!” He looked at me with widening eyes. Moving frantically, I gathered up the rest of my supplies.

“Alec,” he said again, moving forward.

“Leave me alone!” I practically screamed, and ran from the room, clutching the papers to my chest.

I ran all the way home. I was past exhaustion. I was crying so hard I started hiccuping. I couldn't believe that John had seen my sketches, that I had yelled at him, that all my dreams had been shattered so quickly. Just when I was so close. I stood over my trashcan, sobbing, viciously tearing the pages of sketches I made. Smaller and smaller pieces. Shattered. Irretrievably.

I considered burning the lot along with everything in my drawer, but finally a more reasonable part of my brain kicked in and decided that that would be a bad idea, more likely to trigger a fire alarm than to give me satisfaction. Instead, I just fell into bed, and drifted uncomfortably into a fitful sleep.

All through the night I had this nightmare. It was John. He was handsome and muscular as ever, and now he had four arms. And he was laughing at me.

“So, the pathetic little faggot likes guys with four arms does he?” Four fists planted at his waist, bulging chest straining his shirt. Sadistic laughter. “You'd like to suck me off wouldn't you?” One of his four hands moved down to his groin. “You'd just love to go down on one of my cocks, wouldn't you, faggot?” I couldn't move, I couldn't talk, I couldn't get away, I couldn't stop it. All I could do was nod.

“Well, how'd you like this?” Suddenly, another of his arms moved and a fist flew at me. He laughed as I was thrown across the floor. I would gather myself up and run to another room. And it would happen all over again.

I woke up in even worse shape than when I went to sleep. I went through the day on auto-pilot. By the afternoon, I was so gone I didn't even really realize I'd wandered to the museum. Until a guard tapped me on the shoulder. I spun around.

“Geez, Alec, are you okay? You look like death.” It was Mr. Goodwin.

“I'm fine, thanks, Mr. Goodwin.” He didn't push but I could tell he was concerned. “John ain't here tonight but he said to give you this if you showed up.” Mr. Goodwin handed me an envelope.

I took it and just stared at it. It was plain white with my name written in block capitals on the front. Even his handwriting was masculine and attractive.

“Maybe you should just go home and get some rest.” I looked up and half-smiled. “Maybe I'll do that. Thanks, Mr. Goodwin.”

“Bye, Alec.” He turned away to continue his rounds, leaving me to stare at the envelope again. Finally, I sat down on a bench and opened it. The handwriting on the note inside was more hurried and uncertain.

Dear Alec, I'm so sorry I messed with your stuff. I didn't think you'd mind, since we were getting (“so close” was scratched out) along really well, after all, and I really like your work. Especially the drawing you made for me. I can't thank you enough.

Oh, Alec, I'm so sorry I screwed up. I was so looking forward to being with you and now it's all gone. I didn't mean to mess it up. Everything was going so well.

I'm sorry. I can't say that enough. I want things back where they were. I want to wander through the museum with you again and talk and laugh and learn.

Please tell me what I have to do. I'll do anything to make it up to you.

See you soon, I hope.

John P.S. I never got to tell you, I hope you won't mind, but I _really_ liked those sketches.

I reread the note three times to make sure I'd gotten it right. John seemed as stumbling and lost as I was. And he _liked_ my sketches! I leaned back against the wall and stared at the ceiling. I had to answer. Somehow. What could I say? My letter to him could be almost exactly the same. “I'm so sorry I screwed up. I got scared. I was so looking forward…” Almost exactly the same. Except the postscript. The postscript.

Suddenly, it came to me.

I pulled out a large sheet of paper and pencil and started to work. I didn't have any of my reference sketches, but I knew I wouldn't need them. I remembered every detail.

I was recreating my portrait of John. With a slight change. Two more arms.

I hardly needed my eraser at all. The image just flowed from my mind, through my hand, onto the paper. It was perfectly natural.

His broad shoulders became even thicker as two pairs of arms hung from them, one behind the other. His shirt still didn't hide a single detail of the four bulging, muscular, beautiful arms. All four hung gracefully, naturally at his sides, all in slightly different positions. All natural. All beautiful. All John.

In only two hours, the portrait was finished. It was even better and had flowed more easily even than the first. I looked at it for a moment, imagining it real, and then carefully rolled it up and put a rubber band around it. I attached a small leaf of paper that said merely, “John,” and took it to Mr. Goodwin.

“I'm going to go get some sleep now,” I said. “Could you give this to John when he comes in tomorrow?”

“Sure, Alec. Hey, you look better all ready. I guess you just needed to relax and draw for a bit.”

“Yeah, that was what I needed.” I smiled at waved goodbye as I left.

It turned out to be pointless to give the drawing to Mr. Goodwin, since I arrived at the museum before John came on shift anyway. I went back to the same Michelangelo and started sketching again. Less anxious in some ways, more anxious in others. The sketches were pretty similar, though.

Suddenly, I felt a hand on my shoulder. I looked up. It was John. Smiling.

“I got your drawing,” he said. “Thanks. It's even better than the last one.” I jumped up and hugged him. “I'm sorry I got scared.”

“I'm sorry I messed with your stuff.” Suddenly, I felt his arms around me. At my shoulders _and_ my waist. I jumped back with a start.

There, in front of me, was my drawing made flesh. John held all his arms open wide and inviting for me to see. “The drawing is great, but the real thing's even better.” I was shocked, blown away, but my face was plastered with an irrepressible smile. “What? How?” His hands dropped to his sides. “I figured you knew. I didn't do this.” He folded his rear arms behind his head, the bulging biceps straining his shirt. “But I like it.”

“So do I,” I breathed, hardly able to stand. He took me into all four of his arms again and began to kiss me. On my lips, my jaw, my neck.

“When?” I managed to get out, between kisses.

“About—ten o'clock—last night.”

“Just when I finished the drawing.” He pulled back a little, his four hands holding my shoulders and waist, and looked me in the eyes. “Really?”

“Yes. I wonder….” He looked thoughtful. “If that's the case, I've got some more ideas for drawings you can do. And self-portraits, too.” My head spun with the possibilities. I stepped closer to him and his front arms rested lazily on my shoulders while his rear arms reached to encircle my waist.

“So,” I said, kissing him on the cheek, “when do you get off work?”

“Not soon enough!” he groaned, but still grinning pulling away. I continued to stare in wonder at his arms.

“Wanna walk?”

“Sure!” He wrapped his two left arms around me, one at my shoulder, one at my side, and we started on his rounds. We were talking and laughing just like usual. Except maybe even more so. He could point out two different things at once with his right hands. His left arms remained constantly around me.

Suddenly, something occurred to me. “Hasn't anyone noticed?”

“You're the first one so far. We might just get away with this.”


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