When Arts Collide
Julie Baker and LA Tucker

"If you’re fond of sand dunes and salty air…" The door to the small gift shop opened, letting in a burst of cold air and a bundled figure. Stomping the snow off her feet, Marion picked up an enamel lighthouse lapel pin.

"Is this new?" she called to the back of the shop. "It looks like the Round Island lighthouse." Taking a few steps further she paused in front of a painting of The Old Mackinac Point Light. Pulling off her multi-colored hat while admiring the talent of her reticent friend, she spoke a little louder. "Such an incredible talent and you have to survive the winter months painting schlock for some greeting card company nobody ever heard of!" She shook her head, and snickered at the music playing through the small shelf stereo system. "...quaint little villages here and there…"

Enough was enough. She didn't like being ignored. "Oh c'mon, Claire. I mean, can the Patti Pagearooni already!" She wound her way through the aisles of the cluttered store and made her way to the small studio in the back. A tall dark haired woman stood holding a portfolio in one hand and an overnight bag in the other, looking harried and not at all pleased at her friend's arrival.

"…you’re sure to love Old Cape Cod."

Marion's teasing continued at a rapid clip. "I hate to be the one to break it to you, Van Gogh, but Mackinaw Island sure as hell ain’t Cape Cod. The only sand dunes 'round here are 200 miles away, down on Lake Michigan. And the only time there’s salt in the air is when Joe tosses some over his shoulder to keep the bad juju away when he accidentally spills it."

Claire turned her blue eyes to her friend and frowned. "I'll bad juju you. I like Patti, she reminds me of summer and…well…more lucrative times." When Marion sighed and crossed her arms, she too crossed her arms and stared her down with disapproval. "You're late, which is nothing new." She squinted and stared hard at her friend. "You were probably racing that sled of yours over the Mangrove's front lawn again, taking the short cut here, weren't you? Huh? You did, didn’t you? Ripping up poor Mrs. Mangrove's precious frozen azaleas. You're going to have a hundred threatening phone messages on your machine when you get home. Nice knowing you." She reached and flipped off the stereo while giving the shop a final once over. Glancing at the desk near her easel, she quickly picked up a piece of paper, and slipped it carefully into her portfolio, smiling to herself with quiet satisfaction. "Okay, Miss Marion Dale Earnhardt, Jr. I think I’ve got everything. Are you parked out front?"

"Yep, the sled’s all warmed up and ready to go. I promise no short cuts." Marion grinned and added, "This time."

Motorized land vehicles were illegal on the island during the summer tourist season, and now, during the frigid snow covered winter months, the year-round residents of the island got around on foot and by snowmobile.

Claire, the tall and lithe owner of the shop, grimaced at the mention of the sled. As long as she had lived on the island, she adamantly refused to buy one, and she did everything she could to avoid being a passenger. All of her needs were within walking distance and she saw no reason to get one of the earsplitting, snow and turf chewing beasts. Between whining, sputtering jet skis in the summer and growling, churning snowmobiles in the winter, it was a toss up over which vehicle she hated more. They were noisy, they stunk, they were hell on the environment and she just flat out thought they were uncomfortable to ride. She had memories of blackened, bruised thighs from trying the evil machines at weaker moments. But she was practical enough to realize that riding on the back end of a dreaded snowmobile was a necessary evil if she wanted to get to the dock and catch the ferry for the trip across the strait to the mainland. Thankfully, she had enough friends like Marion who were ready at a moment's notice to offer her a lift. A fast, scary and teeth rattling lift of course, but probably not unlike some taxi rides in much larger cities.

"How long are you going to be on the mainland?" Marion asked as they walked toward the front of the shop. She put her knitted hat back on, tying it under her ample chin.

Claire looked at her friend and swallowed back a laugh, for the wild, homemade hat looked exactly like she'd plopped a multi-colored octopus on her head. The bohemian artist in her appreciated the wild juxtaposition of colors it contained, so she chuckled instead. "Just a day or two. I’ve got to submit a stack of new prints to them and go to some meeting or something. How would I know? I've never really met them face to face. It shouldn’t take too long." At least I hope not.

Marion looked at her with wonder, "You've worked for them, what, for two years now as their principal artist, and you've never gone to meet them? No schmoozing, no long lunches on their expense account? That's what those mainlanders do, or so I'm told. That clinches it, Claire Long of Bones, you are a bonafide hermit!"

Claire shrugged her shoulders and finished locking up the shop. She climbed gingerly onto the back of the sled, wrapping her long arms around her friend, getting a good tight grip. She certainly didn’t need the warning when Marion called back to her as she gunned the sled's engine. "Hang on, kiddo!" The front skis lifted off the ground as they sped off down the middle of Main Street in the direction of the docks.

The artist buried her face in the back of her laughing friend. "And everyone around here who drives these things thinks they have only one speed … breakneck!"



"Roses are red, violets are blue, I write like a hack and this doesn't rhyme!" The speaker of this truly bad poetry was a blonde woman who was swaying back and forth in her chair as she hit the delete button repeatedly in a staccato rhythm on her computer keyboard. Erasing forever what she considered to be insipid, maddeningly pedantic prose, she looked around her office and spotted a pile of greeting cards on the corner of her desk. Each one had one of her short, flowery poems inside and she detested every last one of them … with a passion.

Standing up, she grabbed her trashcan and positioned it carefully by her office door. She took the time to line it up just so and then walked the few short steps back to her desk and picked up the top card in the stack. Reading it with a disdainful eye, she gleefully crumpled it into a tight rounded wad and precisely shut one eye as she drew her hand out and back in front of her face, aiming her shot. Throwing it forward with a dramatic follow through, it landed perfectly in the trashcan. "Nothing but net! Garbage!" She picked another one up and read it aloud in an exaggerated nasal voice before crunching it up in her hands and tossing it. "Another three pointer! Crapola!" she shouted as it landed with a muted thunk in the can. With the next one she announced her intentions as she spun her chair around so her back was to the can. "Let’s make this interesting! More interesting than this bullshit I write!" She flipped it over her head. "Slam dunk, not really! Sell out!" As she spun in her chair to judge her free throw, she was embarrassed to find the company's only salesman, Mitchell Marshall, standing in the doorway holding the crumpled card in his hand.

He flattened the card on his leg as he looked skeptically at the company’s top writer. "Lee Moore. I'm shocked and appalled. Mostly appalled. Tell me, please tell me, I didn’t just walk in here to see you desecrating perfectly good company property."

"Okay. Mitch, you didn’t just walk in here to see me desecrating perfectly good company property. Does that work for you?" Lee remained comfortably in her chair and pulled herself back over to the remaining cards on her desk. Picking up yet another, she crunched it with flair and used her free hand to impatiently motion him to the side. "Now move your butt out of the way. You’re screwing up my artistic flow."

Mitchell took a wide step to the side and watched, bemused, as she arced her shot into the trash. "Foul shot! Poor excuse for a writer!" She cheered as it hit home.

Mitchell reached into the can to retrieve the latest free throw, and tossed it between his hands. "For the last time Lee, it’s Mitchell not 'Mitch'. And stop trashing your work. Every store that takes these cards tells me they go faster than coffee at an AA meeting. Your stuff strikes a chord with people, so why can’t you just be happy with that?"

Knowing he really didn't expect a reply, Lee rolled her eyes and took a deep breath. Her displeasure with her work for the company was a long standing argument between the two of them and she pondered for a moment the idea of recording this particular chat for posterity. That way she could just play it back when he came in her office and save her the time it took to repeat herself. "Because, Mitch - hell. This is just a way to pay the bills until I sell one of my stories, my plays, my … well, anything but this trite crap!"

He returned the eye roll and smirked at her, and she spun around, turning her back to him, and swore under her breath.

Mitchell stuffed his hands into his pockets and stared at her back. He knew very well that Lee had been writing stories and poetry since the first time she picked up a crayon in kindergarten. As the years rolled by, every literary effort was more dramatic and imaginative than the last.

In her senior year at Harbor Spring High School, Lee wrote a play for the Christmas follies, and the critical thought afterwards was that the suicide hotline ought to think about soliciting more volunteers to man the phones after each performance. Patrons left heavy hearted and depressed. The writing wasn’t all that bad but the storyline made Dickens read like Disney. The lead character spent the bulk of her time searching for the love of her life only to lose her lover in a terrible accident. The lead character then decided to follow her lover into the afterlife. Not exactly uplifting, holiday faire.

Mitchell sat down in the empty chair near the desk, and ran his hand through the greeting cards there. "I hate to repeat myself, but I have to. You have a talent for this. Why is that so hard for you to appreciate?"

Lee spun her chair 180 degrees so she faced him again. "Talent? You call what I do talent?" She pointed at the beige wall adjacent to her desk where she had hung a framed original drawing. "That’s talent. That's heart. That’s imagination. That’s original."

The drawing was of an angel, abstract with primary colors wildly abundant. "Look at that, and tell me that’s not true, mind blowing talent. I’m just a hack, writing glib rhymes for the sentimental set. Just shoot me now."

Mitchell rose from his chair and studied the painting, and then back at his friend who was lost for a moment, gazing at the art with a wistful look on her face. Looking from her to the picture, he realized he hadn’t seen this artwork before. "Where'd you get that?"

Lee started to fidget and actually blushed slightly as she answered, "I saw it propped up in the art department and, well, I snagged it for myself before anyone could ruin it, even me, with some sort of hokey prose." Mitchell looked at her wide-eyed, and she averted her eyes, and spoke in a low voice. "There’s something about it... It just touches me and well, I didn’t feel like sharing it with anyone else."

Mitchell gave her a stern look although he really didn't mean it. Lee immediately got defensive. "Don’t give me that look. Those college clowns have so much artwork lying around down there; they’ll never even miss it."

The stern look continued, although Mitchell was hard pressed not to laugh aloud, because Lee was still speaking so earnestly about the art. "I was planning on contacting the artist to offer to buy it." She then emphasized her point by sticking her tongue out at him.

"Seriously, Mitch." She picked up a card from her desk and read the gooey, bland sentiment inside. "God, this is just so awful! And I'm the one to blame for it!" She held it up so he could see the front of it. "Look at this! Why do we have to put a sunset on the front of two thirds of our cards? Are sunsets the only romantic things in the world? "

Rifling through them, she reiterated, "Look. How original, a painting of a sunset with a silhouette of a female couple looking at the water." Another card flashed at him. "Oh wait, this is different. A drawing of a sunset with a silhouette of a male couple looking at the mountains." Reaching back to the pile she held up another, "A watercolor of a sunset with a silhouette of a family looking at a cloud. Gag a maggot. And I have to write the sludge that goes inside!"

Mitchell tugged at his bolo tie and shrugged off her disgust. "Lee. Lee. Lee. All I know is that your words go perfectly with those paintings. And our card buying customers eat it up like whipped cream on a Tom Cruise sundae. Did Sue tell you that the No Boundaries book chain made us an offer to pick up our line?" Lee turned in her chair and gave him a semi-bored, semi-interested look. "Yep, you heard me right. The No Boundaries bookstore chain. Now folks can peruse our cards while they suck on their lattes. Now tell me again about what a hack you are. Your so called lame stuff is what got us this majorly huge contract. With the bonus I'll be getting, I may even get to go to Disney this year for Gay Days. And you're coming with me. We gotta get you a woman. You do remember what a woman is, don't you?"

As was her nature, Lee was loathe to admit her interest in the possibility of selling the cards she helped to create through a major book chain. Instead, she opted to draw the conversation away from herself, and especially her social life. Giving her friend a visual once over, she leaned back and put her feet up on her desk. Folding her arms behind her head, she smiled up at him. "You know, I think you’re the only gay man on the planet who has no sense of fashion, whatsoever. Who dresses you, Pee Wee Herman?" She gestured to his feet with a nod of her head. "What exactly do you have on your feet? Bowling shoes? There must be twenty inches of snow on the ground and you’re walking around in bowling shoes. Trying to pick up a spare?"

The salesman looked down at his feet, and then pointed to Lee’s, which were still propped up on her desk. "Like I would take footwear advice from you, ‘Queen of the Hush Puppies’. Do you own any other brand of shoes? Keds? How about a nice pair of Chuck Taylor's? Buster Browns?"

Lee pulled her feet off her desk and stood. "Nope, nothin’ but Puppies for my dogs. I treat my feet well and in turn they treat me well, Mitch -E- Double Toothpicks. Now get out of my office. I feel a foul mood coming on."

"And this is new how, exactly?"

Lee picked up a CD and scooted past him. "Mitch L, do me a teeny weeny favor will ya? I just remembered I have to run this copy over to the layout department and yak with them about it. And cross your fingers for me, I’m expecting a call from a publisher about one of my short stories today. Will you sit here and answer my phone until I get back? Pretty please?"

Mitchell walked around the back of her desk and propped his feet up, and mimicked her position from a few moments ago. Folding his hands behind his head he flexed and wiggled his bowling shoe clad feet at her. "Sure, Lee baby, I’d be happy to play secretary for you. I'm just going to sit back, close my eyes, and think happy thoughts about sunsets. Sunsets and mountains. Sunsets and softly lapping waves. Sunsets and the lovely, meaningful sentiments that the rest of us poor slobs depend on you to write for us."

Since his eyes were shut, he never saw the crumpled up greeting card sailing his way that bonked him squarely in the nose.



Claire sat in the back of the cab checking her portfolio one last time before she arrived at the card company. Satisfied that her work was ready for public consumption she prepared to zip it closed as they arrived at the front of the building. Before closing it, her eye caught the paper she had slipped inside just before leaving her shop. The card company always sent her samples of the poems and greetings that would go with her artwork, to give her an idea of the type of cards they were creating. One particular verse stood out from all the others they had sent her. It was different, heartfelt, and made her heart soar.

In my dream, the angel shrugged and said,

If we fail this time,

it will be a failure of imagination

and then she placed the world gently in the palm of my hand.


She read it several times over before she replaced it carefully in her portfolio. Her mind turned back to the subject of her trip, and how odd it was for her to travel off the small island she called home. It would have been far simpler for her to mail her art as she had done in the past. The reason she chose to deliver her work in person this time was to see if she could catch a glimpse of the person who wrote this verse that was so different from the standard and rather banal faire the company usually used. When she told Sue that she would be coming to the mainland, the owner/CEO said that she was anxious to meet her and she’d like her to sit in on a company meeting that they would be having later that day.

She paid the driver, gathered her things and stood in front of the building for a moment. The shy, gawky artist felt out of her element as she peeked inside the bay window of the three story brownstone building. It was not like her to put herself in the position of meeting new people. She much preferred to paint quietly in her shop on the island where her contact with strangers was limited to the summer tourists who came into her shop and snapped up her many lighthouse depictions. Steeling her nerves, she pulled the door open and stepped in out of the cold. The hair twirling and gum chewing teenager, who Claire assumed was the receptionist for the small company, greeted her by looking up from her magazine and blowing an impressive bubble with her gum.

Claire introduced herself and said she had a meeting with the owner. The girl gave her directions to an office and went back to her article. Walking down the hallway, Claire noticed the plates on closed doors indicating the Art Department, Layout, Design and Sales. Next to the sales office she noticed the nameplate next to the open door of a rather untidy office. ‘Lead Writer: Lee Moore’. She took a moment to smooth her hair and bangs before she glanced inside the office. The figure at the desk was too preoccupied with the papers in front of him to notice the tall brunette standing just outside of the door. She noticed his feet sticking out from the bottom of the desk. Two tone bowling shoes were topped off by fluorescent pink socks, and around his collar was a turquoise and silver bolo tie. His hair, is that a mullet? Pulled into a ponytail? I know I'm from the sticks, but even I know mullets are bad news. Her thoughts were interrupted by the sound of someone calling her name.

"Claire? Hey. Yeah, you. Are you Claire Foster?"

Claire turned to face a woman who was actually taller than she was, a rare thing in her limited world. The shock must have shown on her face. The short haired woman stuck her hand out to the artist and introduced herself. "It’s a pleasure to finally meet you, I’m Sue Zawodna, owner of this little mess we call ‘Greetings and Salutations, Ink’. Did my idiot niece show you around? She stopped by to bum a twenty off me, and I told her if she wanted to borrow money from me, she could work for it by answering the phone until I got back from the deli. No way would I have that girl around here on a permanent basis. She’d be hitting me up for advances on her paycheck like there was no tomorrow."

Claire shook her head. Then nodded. Then decided to keep it still, because she wasn’t sure which sentence she was reacting to and didn’t want to give the President of the company she moonlighted for the impression she couldn’t keep up, even if she was a bit bewildered.

Sue grabbed her by the arm, and led her down a short hallway into a very tiny office. Boxes were strewn everywhere, and the taller woman merely shoved a few off a chair in front of a desk, and took the seat behind the desk. Artwork was propped everywhere, and Claire smiled as she sat down because the majority of it was hers.

Reaching into the grease stained bag with the words 'GastroGlory' imprinted on the front, Sue unwrapped what may or may not have been a hamburger. Taking a hearty bite, she finally remembered her manners. Between chews, she held the sandwich up to Claire’s eye level, "Would you like some?" She dug fitfully through the papers on her desk as she took in another large mouthful. "I’ve got a knife around here somewhere. I could split it with you if you haven’t had lunch yet. I haven't, I'm starved."

Claire’s stomach rumbled on cue. She was certain it wasn’t from hunger but more of a protest warning her that it would be instant heartburn if she had one bite of the greasy sandwich being offered to her. Her anxiety hadn’t allowed her to eat that morning, but she declined the offer as gracefully as she could.

Licking her fingers before she spoke, Sue got down to business. "I can’t tell you how pleased I am to finally meet you. Your artwork is what really grabs the public, which is really the reason I wanted you to be here for our staff meeting today. I want you to meet the folks who owe part of their living to you."

Sue’s compliments where cut short as she heard a scream and the sounds of a door slamming down the hallway. A small, very irate blonde woman stormed into the office, exclaiming, "Sue, that ancient piece of shit copy machine just ate my transcript and now it won’t shut off." Her hands punched the air. "And you expect me to be creative working in these conditions. Only thing I could create around here is a headache." As she started to leave she noticed Claire sitting there, quietly watching her. She stilled, and forgot her rant for a moment as she locked eyes with the bashful woman. She immediately went red-faced, and as she turned to make a hasty escape, she unfortunately mis-aimed for the first time that day and smacked into the doorframe instead. She left holding her head in her hands in mock pain. It was just a ploy to keep the office visitor from seeing the embarrassed flush that came to her cheeks.

Sue stood up and yelled out after her retreating form. "Listen, Edna, you shouldn’t be complaining about the poor working conditions when I let you do your personal stuff on company time!"

Turning to Claire she softened her tone and smiled an apology. "Artistic temperament runs rampant around here. With that one especially. Come on, you can keep me company while I fix the copier. We’ve still got a bit of time before the company pow-wow." Claire followed Sue down the hall curious to see the inner workings of the small company. After a short walk, they came to a door marked Layout Department.

Sue opened the door and instead of the hustle and bustle Claire expected, the room was a case study in haphazard organization. The copy machine was barely visible under the pile of boxes placed on top of it. Sue reached through a pile of card stock and retrieved a rubber mallet, speaking over her shoulder to Claire as she walked to the back of the machine. "You’ll have to excuse the mess. This whole building serves as a warehouse and I’m running out of room to put it all." After inspecting the machine she picked the mallet up as she ran her hand across the back of the machine as if feeling for a heartbeat. "Ah ha, here we go!" Raising the tool up, she gave the machine a hardy thump. It immediately shut off. She gave Claire a triumphant whack on the back that nearly loosened her molars. "Who says you can’t use the wrong tool for the right job? Look at that, good as new. Come on, let me get you a cup of espresso and show you the Art Department."



Lee returned to her office to prepare for the meeting. In Lee’s case that meant refilling her coffee cup and picking donut crumbs off her linen jacket. Stepping inside, she found that it was empty. "Dammit Bitchelle, where are you? So help me, if the publishing company called while you were out I’m gonna cut your ponytail off." Peering down at her desk, she noticed that her files where out of order. "Salesmen are without a doubt the ballsiest people on the planet." She plopped down behind her desk and put her forehead on the desktop. "I’m having a full fledged conversation with myself. If that’s not a sign that I need a new job, I sure as hell don’t know what is." After another moment's thought, she questioned aloud, "And who was the woman in Sue's office? She must think I'm a maniac."

Just as the words left her mouth Mitchell reappeared. "Is this a private crazy conversation or can any psycho join in?"

Lee raised her head up, as well as her middle finger. "I thought I asked you to phone sit for me. Where in the hell did you run off to?"

"I had to feed the meter. My car's parked out front again." He gave her a sad look, and then continued, "Listen, Lee, the publisher called and ..."

She could tell by the look on his face that he didn't want to finish his sentence. She lifted a hand to halt him. "Say no more. They said no, didn't they?"

He nodded, and then tried to give her an encouraging smile. "C'mon, Lee, one of these days some publisher will wake up ..."

She stood up, and sighed. "No, Mitchell, one of these days, I'll wake up and ...well, never mind. Let's get to the meeting."

They walked silently down the hall together, and Mitchell nearly laid a comforting hand upon her shoulder, but thought better of it. He wasn't sure how she'd react.



Claire's emotions were bouncing back and forth between feeling exhilarated and confused. When Sue said she wanted to get her a cup of espresso and show her the Art Department, she meant it literally. The room housing the ‘Art Department’ was in fact a clever disguise for a makeshift cafeteria. There was indeed artwork strewn about, piled on top of unused drafting tables and leaning against empty easels. There was a large computer and a few scanners too. Intermixed with the equipment and art were a small fridge, microwave, an espresso machine and what looked like a rather sticky cotton candy maker. And somewhere amongst all of the mayhem, two worker bees were toiling away, no doubt overdosed on caffeine and sugar to the max.

Claire was flattered by the remarks of the two college interns when Sue introduced them to her, but the boss kept up a running monologue throughout the tour, and Claire had little time to respond. The long legged CEO quickly explained how the company started as a print shop that started producing their own cards for local shops. One day while trying to find a suitable card for her partner’s birthday she decided the gay and lesbian market was virtually untapped. After a bit of research she decided to move in that direction and now the lines they created were exclusively for same sex couples and families. Although not highly profitable, they were increasingly in demand. The one small problem is that most of their target market didn’t know the company existed. Now with the interest of a major bookstore chain, that problem might soon be resolved.

Sue did interrupt her monologue long enough to explain the doorplate on the Design Department. She opened the door to reveal a unisex bathroom. "This is where I do most of my deep thinking."

Claire couldn't tell if Sue was being serious or not, so she just nodded sagely in understanding. Sue was a few steps ahead of her, and stopped long enough to motion her to yet another doorway, this one adorned with the title, 'Conference'. Not knowing what to expect, she took a deep breath and followed her in.


It was a real conference room, at least what would pass for one in this bewildering building. There was an honest to goodness long and polished wood table with antique mahogany chairs around it, and Claire smiled shyly at the few people who stopped their chatting long enough to notice her presence. She sat in an empty seat next to Sue, and tried to tamp down her nerves. She thought briefly about getting up and excusing herself to make a quick trip to the 'Design Department', but Sue had already brought the meeting to order, and was introducing her to the small staff of eight. Claire had to smile when she noticed Sue's niece parked comfortably with her feet under her, still raptly perusing her magazine and studiously ignoring what her aunt was saying.

She also noted the presence of the blonde woman who had made the brief but memorable ranting appearance in Sue's office earlier. She was seated across from her. Right now, she looked rather unhappy and subdued, but when their eyes met, she gave Claire just enough of a smile that it made Claire blush. They both looked away, pretending to listen to what the CEO was talking about. But again their eyes drifted to one another, and Claire felt a tingle all the way down to her toes before the glance was ended.

The day was already catching up with Claire. She'd gotten up long before dawn, her nervous apprehension keeping her from getting much sleep the night before. The snowmobile ride, the trip on the ferry, the bus and then the cab ride from the bus station were all spent wide awake and in a state of nervous flux. Her quiet existence over the years on the small, familial island did nothing to prepare her for what she considered a pretty big deal - that of going to a business meeting, even if the staff was smaller than the crew at the island's Shipshape Diner. This was Claire's 'big time', and she couldn't help but feel as though she was sitting in on a meeting with the Joint Chiefs of Staff. At least that's how her stomach was reacting. Even with the pleasant jolt of feeling she got from the short eye contact with the blonde woman, her mind kept centering on plans for making a quick escape to the Design Department/restroom.

But her plotting was soon interrupted, and her attention was brought back to the meeting at hand. To be exact, it was brought back by yet another outburst from the same blonde who had earlier inelegantly made her presence known.

The blonde noisily shoved her chair away from the table, a pile of cards in her hands. She was pointing to them, and frowning and saying the most ... uncomplimentary things.

"And another thing. I was just mentioning this to Mitchell this morning. For the billionth time. What's up with all the goddamned sunsets?" She pitched a few cards onto the table top, and the staff all stared at them stupidly, including Claire. "I never get to see a damned sunset. The view from my apartment building is of the Starbucks across the street, and their parking lot. Can we interject a little realism into the artwork of these cards or something? Sunsets, my ass. How am I supposed to come up with something remotely interesting if all I get for artwork is these damned rosy-butt sunsets? Get real!"

Claire's mind disengaged from thinking about her need for a restroom, and got her mouth working instead. Much to her own chagrin, she found herself saying, quite haughtily, "Well, some of us see those kinds of sunsets every night. I can't help it if your imagination is limited by the sight of neon signs and parking meters. Some of us really live like that, seeing the sun set every night, or would like to. Or, excuse me, some of the people out there may have really spent an evening like that, one romantic evening with their loved one, and they want to relive it, if only in a greeting card." The room remained quiet, and since Claire's frayed nerves were driving her mouth, she continued, picking up the same cards that Lee had tossed onto the table, opening one up to the verse inside. "And if we're discussing artistic merit here, can I just say that these sentiments inside could use a little tweaking themselves? I mean, c’mon, listen to this!"

And she read aloud to the rapt audience of virtual strangers, pointing her words directly at the offensive blonde who had so recently dissed her artwork.

I see all the colors of the rainbow

When I look into your eyes

The lights of the heavens

The hues of the sunrise ...

She stopped there, because the blonde was staring at her with what looked like a death glare. Perhaps Claire had overstepped her bounds. She clamped her mouth shut, and returned the challenging glare.

The small contingent of staffers and CEO alike looked from woman to woman, waiting for one of them to speak. Even Sue's niece looked up from her magazine and stopped her gum chewing.

The two women fidgeted in their own way, looking away from each other. The fidgeting was contagious each staff person adjusting uncomfortably in their chair, picking at paperwork, shooting quick glances at each other.

Finally, a male voice cut through the haze. "I'll be right back." Mitchell announced, and he scooted through the doorway before Lee could call him a yellow-bellied traitor for leaving her alone in the thick of her battle with this arrogant yet undeniably attractive sunset artist.

Although immensely critical of her own work, no sunset aficionado was going to put down the crap that Lee spewed out into these greeting cards. No, that privilege was allowed only to her and her alone. Them there were fightin' words in Lee's book, and the recent disappointment from yet another dismissal from even the most obscure of publishers fueled her ire and disdain.

She outright challenged her new nemesis. "Are you calling me a hack? Is that what you're saying? I'm a hack writer?"

A gas bubble lurched around in Claire's stomach, but she didn't back down. "You're the writer? Well, if you're accusing me of creating art suitable for hanging in cheap motels, well, yeah, then I suppose I am suggesting that your work could use some improvement. Like maybe a rhyming dictionary?"

Lee scowled at her. "And I suppose you could use a little different inspiration, too, maybe get a different view of the world other than your perch from your coconut tree on Gilligan's Island?"

More glares, more silence.

Finally, the CEO remembered she was supposed to be in charge of something, so she spoke up. And she stood up to get the attention of her staff. "Now wait a minute. Whoa. If you two find these cards lacking, well, don't blame it on each other, blame it on me. I'm just doing what sells. I've been pressing Claire for these sunset images all along, she must get bored doing them, but hey, they sell and I'm of the mind that what sells is good for our bottom line."

She looked directly at Lee, and chided her. "And you, Miss Edna St. Vincent Millay wannabe. I know you feel a little stifled by these simple little rhyming verses, but simplicity also sells. So, the both of you artistes, knock off insulting each other's egos a minute, and blame the whole thing on me. You were both producing what I asked for, and even if you hate it … well, look at where it's got us, in the green for once. I can finally stop using my inheritance from Aunt Betty to supplement your incomes. We have a contract pending, a lucrative one with No Boundaries now, and well, maybe the sunsets have to go, or something… I don't know. That’s why we're having this meeting. Not for our principal contributing artists to take potshots at each other's work."

More glares, more silence.

Sue stood up even taller, and rapped on the table. "So, here's why we're here. To toss around a few ideas for our stuff for No Boundaries. We need something fresh, something unique for them. I don't think they're so hot on the sunsets and Hallmark rhymes either. We need something a little … I dunno ... quirky maybe? Something that is solely ours? I need some ideas so we can throw together a package for them. If they like it, it could mean not only greeting cards, but coffee cups and calendars. We can really make an impact in the gay and lesbian market if y'all come up with something fresh." She looked from Claire to Lee and back again. "You two just imagine your art and words on bookmarks, t-shirts and even boxer shorts if all this works out. I need you two to put your heads together, not bang them against each other."

They both blinked at Sue, and tried to downplay their discomfort. Neither one was in the habit of losing their temper; much less with people they just met, so they both felt a little self-conscious about their poor behavior. But each time Claire tried to apologize to Lee with her eyes, Lee quickly looked away.

Claire was at a loss. Her first big corporate meeting, and she'd made an ass of herself, which was not her style. Her style was quiet evenings spent in front of an easel or on the couch with a sketch pad and her colored pens. It was true she was abysmally tired of composing sunsets, but the writer's assertions about her work and her sheltered life on the little island on the coast of Lake Huron were patently untrue. Although she was upset with the blonde, and her stomach was upset with her, she couldn't help but admire the woman's outspokenness, if not her rudeness.

It was time to make amends, not only to salvage her future working relationship with the writer, but so she could make a hasty retreat to the ladies' room.

She was struck by a two-cups-of-espresso-fueled good idea. She reached for her portfolio, and rummaged around until she found what she was looking for. She cleared her throat to gain everyone's attention, and once Sue's niece had silenced the popping of her gum, she said, "Well, here's something that inspired me recently. It was with some of the other verses that were sent to me. I like it so much; I can't even begin to tell you. I even did a drawing for it, just a little bright trifle, but I guess Sue didn't like it. I was hoping you'd reconsider; I can try other art to go with it. I don't know which one of you wrote it, but it's ... quirky, like Sue wants, and at the same time, very affecting."

She read it aloud, her voice laced with emotion:

In my dream, the angel shrugged and said,

If we fail this time,

it will be a failure of imagination

and then she placed the world gently in the palm of my hand


Claire, a little flushed from being so assertive, sat back down again and waited for some reaction. There were quiet murmurings at the table as the piece of paper was handed from person to person, and they reread it and pondered it to themselves. When the paper reached Lee, she didn't even look at it, she kept her eyes steadily on Claire, an unreadable look on her face, and passed it on to Sue's niece, who read it several times, cracked her gum and a huge smile, and pronounced it, "Cool."

Sue looked it over, and puzzled a moment. "This is good. Different. I like it. But I don't know who wrote it. Nobody here. I've never seen it."

Claire couldn't hide her disappointment. "But, well, I, well ... it's just something I really liked, and I ... thought maybe I could do something different with my art for it. If you didn't like what I sent you… Well, maybe it's a bad idea. It was just a thought. I wish I’d kept a copy of the original I drew. I guess I just assumed it would be here ..."

Mitchell made a breathless reappearance in the room, a framed piece of art in his hands. "How about this, was this like what you were talking about?"

Claire was shocked to see the drawing she was talking about in Mitch's hands. So beautifully framed too. She looked at him questioningly, and he grinned at her, holding up the picture for the whole room to see. He winked at Lee, who was sitting open mouthed, and said, "I heard you reading that verse as I was coming down the hall. It sounds vaguely reminiscent," he looked pointedly at Lee, "of a certain hack writer's meanderings ... stuff she jots down on napkins ... at Starbucks ... when I can get her out of her house ..."

Claire and Lee looked at each other. It was hard to tell whose eyes were bigger as they realized how they had treated each other, some faceless person they had both secretly admired from afar.

"You wrote that?"

"You drew that?"

They said it almost simultaneously. And the smiles they exchanged were bright and inspired and tinged with a promise of a multitude of previously unimagined possibilities.


Months later, when the hundreds of No Boundaries Bookstores were busily setting up large displays from their newest vendor, Greetings and Salutations, Ink, two artists of varied dispositions were adjusting to life commuting between two shared households. One on a small island sadly lacking of coconut trees but rife with snowmobiles, and the other directly across the street from the comfy and welcoming neon sunset glow of a Starbucks, readily supplied with a mountain of white napkins for the jottings and doodling of a proud hack writer and her artist lover.

~ End


Happy Valentine's Day from LA and Julie, 2003.

Lee's angel verse is the very clever work of Brian Andreas, who indeed has some very inspiring artwork and verse for sale out there. For quirk and romance fans, he's the ticket.

The hack verse is attributed to the bad taste and terrible imagination of the writers of the story.

Patti Page sang Old Cape Cod. With any luck, the song will now be running through your head for hours and hours.

Apologies to Katherine Fugate, who wrote one of the best, if not the best 'Xena' episodes ever, for our bastardization of the title of that episode to name this story.

Thanks to Sara, our very valued beta reader, for getting this done at the last minute.

And a disclaimer: Neither harm nor foul was meant towards sunsets. We like 'em.

Feedback gratefully accepted at Julie Baker. We'll both read and respond.


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