The Diffident Muse

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Paula Tate sits reclined on the navy blue chaise lounge. Her legs are stretched out together in front of her, the left ankle just resting on the right, her hands loosely clasped across her stomach. Remaining perfectly still, only her hazel eyes move from time to time, scanning the room she has sat in so often before.

It is a large, double-height space, with windowless cream-coloured walls. Yet there is no need for artificial light. The gradually weakening rays from a mid-May sun, now getting low in the sky, still pour in through angled glass panes that run the length of the ceiling.

The silence is almost total, broken only by the occasional mumble from Nathan as he gives one of his evening-class students guidance on how their depiction of Paula’s naked form could be improved.

She enjoys these weekly sessions, because they are a couple of hours spent in total relaxation. That she is unclothed does not faze Paula at all, although that had definitely not been the case when she had begun her life class modelling career almost a year ago.

Then, fresh out of university and fresh in to a dead-end telesales job that barely covered the rent, she had answered an advertisement placed by the local art college. Paula needed extra money but, as she usually arrived home from work near-exhausted, she did not relish the prospect of trying to hold down a second job.

So it seemed very appealing, perhaps almost too good to be true, that she could supplement her income by just sitting around. It would also get Paula out of the dingy apartment she shared, reluctantly, with another girl from her office. But a scant knowledge of the art world meant she failed to appreciate that nudity would be a fundamental requirement of the role. That necessity, however, quickly became apparent upon her first meeting with Nathan.

It was during that interview that she could have – maybe should have – declared her mistake and quickly left. But a desire not to appear stupid, plus a nagging urge to want to do something faintly daring for once, to shock herself even, made her remain.

Also, completely irrationally given that she could have escaped and never crossed paths with him ever again, Paula did not want Nathan to think any less of her. Despite his slightly affected wannabe-bohemian look of unkempt dark shoulder length hair, goatee beard and too vivid purple paisley shirt, she found herself instantly warming to him, his anecdotes about some of the hopeless models he had used before reducing her to giggles.

But a reluctance to expose her ignorance of what being a life model entailed meant that she would, in time, have to literally expose herself. And that was something Paula was not used to doing. It was not that she considered herself a prude, it was just that she had been brought up by strict parents who instilled in her the belief that revealing too much bare skin was unnecessary.

Only during her university years did the realisation hit that maybe she was somewhat repressed when it came to her fashion choices. Indeed, especially during the increasingly warm months that lead up to summer break, her girl friends seemed content to wander around campus in tiny skirts and skimpy vest tops, while Paula remained in her jeans and loose fitting t-shirts.

In time, and away from the influences of her family, her wardrobe did become more relaxed, although most of these new clothes stayed firmly hidden in the suitcase during visits back home. She even managed to wear a bikini for the first time, rather than the usual swimsuit, when she and five others went on a post-graduation holiday to Crete. Even so, it had taken all of the first week for Paula to feel comfortable wearing so little on the beach, and she could barely conceal her astonishment when two of her friends decided to sun-bathe topless.

So it was with almost overwhelming trepidation that Paula had turned up to her very first class. Nathan was there to greet her, his kind words of reassurance no match for her nervousness. At one stage, as he lead her to a small, partitioned area in the corner of the studio, she was tempted to confess her fears and run out. Something however kept Paula there: perhaps a fear of wasting everyone’s time and looking stupid, or maybe a feeling that doing this could help combat her imposed hang-ups.

There was no door to what Nathan, without irony, described as the dressing room. Just a tatty curtain across the opening where a door should have been isolated her from the main studio space beyond. Paula undressed as slowly as possible, although the task was difficult to prolong too much, as beneath her un-seasonal overcoat she wore only a thick black pinafore dress over a pale blue blouse.

It had been Nathan’s request that she should not wear any underwear for at least a few hours before her sitting. The impressions that would be left on her skin by an overly tight bra strap or the waistband of her panties were, apparently, details his artists did not need to see.

So earlier at work, around Escort Ankara mid afternoon, she had slunk from her desk to the ladies’ room to remove the offending garments. Walking back into the main office, she unsuccessfully fought off a blush as she sensed – incorrectly – that every set of eyes were trained on her. Surely all of her colleagues had instantly sussed out she was now wearing less than had been the case ten minutes previously?

In the dressing room, she had been thankful there was no mirror. To have seen herself naked that first time would merely have panicked her. Instead, she reached into her bag to retrieve a thick towelling robe and put it on, also as per Nathan’s briefing. Securing it tightly around her waist, Paula allowed herself a wry smile as she remembered it had been a gift from her mother last Christmas; it was doubtful this was ever an intended use.

Remaining in the dressing room until summoned, Paula could feel her heart begin to pound, and her palms getting clammy. As she was wishing there was a slug of brandy to hand, she heard voices. The exchange of muted pleasantries signalled the students’ entry into the studio. Then came the clatter of chairs and easels being dragged across the parquet floor as the budding artists prepared themselves.

After what seemed like ages, Nathan appeared, poking his head around the curtain.

‘OK, ready to face them Paula?’ he asked, smiling.

‘Um… sure, I think,’ was all she could say.

‘It’ll be fine, just make sure you get comfortable so you don’t have to move too much. Oh, and a tip I was given: if you’re ever nervous in a roomful of people, just imagine them all naked.’

Paula’s brow just tightened in bewilderment.

‘Sorry Paula,’ Nathan continued, ‘that was supposed to be a joke to help relax you… I guess it didn’t really work. Anyway, come on, time to go.’

Without another word, Nathan turned around and began to walk, Paula following obediently behind.

She could only stare at his back for the short journey towards the centre of the studio. Then Nathan peeled off to help one of the students complete their setting up, leaving nothing between Paula and what would be her perch for the next couple of hours.

It was a simple arrangement, comprising of a wooden dining chair with a generously upholstered base and back rest, concealed by a white cotton sheet which had been casually draped over it. There was no stage or dais because, as Nathan had explained, raising the model up above the artists would give their work an odd perspective.

Paula approached the chair, her heart now thudding against her chest, desperately trying to suppress the trembling she could feel starting in her limbs. Looking straight ahead to the far wall, she fumbled at the belt around her waist, eventually managing to untie it.

After letting the robe hang loose around her for a few seconds, Paula wriggled her shoulders a little. She felt the heavy material slipping over her shoulders. Then down it went, over her arms and hips, before dropping to the floor in a heap around her feet.

She was expecting a reaction from the people around her: perhaps a gasp, or a snigger, or at least a grunt of admiration. But there was nothing. A quick scan of the room revealed that her newly-nude state had gone largely unnoticed, with most of the class still arranging themselves in preparation for the session about to begin. Not even Nathan had turned to look at her.

So, forcing her brain to accept that this group found nothing remarkable in a naked body, Paula concentrated on arranging herself on the chair. Getting into a comfortable, simple pose, she sat upright but tried to be as relaxed as it was possible to feel at that moment. She ensured her thighs, knees and ankles were firmly together and kept her hands resting on her lap.

Then, seemingly without prompting or instruction, the activity began. Paula became aware that she was being studied, but purely as an inanimate object. From keeping her eyes firmly fixed on the floor in front of her, she glanced surreptitiously at the people who were sketching and painting her. Well those within her field of vision, at least; her head had to remain as still as possible.

The surprise was the variation in ages and sexes of the assembled group. One of her many anxieties had been that Nathan’s class would attract mainly archetypal dirty old men, keen on seeing a bit of naked flesh. He however had been swift to emphasise at their first meeting, even before she had a chance to raise the issue, that his sessions only attracted serious artists.

Nobody was permitted to attend the life class until a lengthy foundation course had been completed, part of his strategy to weed out the perverts. Nevertheless, very occasionally one or two people would be asked to leave if, as Nathan euphemistically put it, they did not share his artistic vision.

Perhaps the only thing common to all the participants was the absorbed expressions on their faces. Ankara Escort It occurred to Paula that it was actually irrelevant who she was or what she looked like, she was just a form to be studied and transferred onto paper or canvas.

It was during that very first session that, possibly for the first time, Paula thought she might one day feel moderately comfortable about her body. Or slightly less uncomfortable, at least.

That is not to say there were any reasons why she should have been ill at ease with it before. Indeed, the boyfriends (three, all while at university) that had seen it had always paid her what seemed like genuine compliments. Nevertheless, she had always maintained an aversion to undressing in front of them, always insisting that the lights be off before she took a rapid dive beneath the bedclothes.

Even now, reclining on the chaise lounge nearly a year later, she can still be overly-critical about her figure. Paula allows her eyes to peer down, once again convincing herself that her breasts could do with being a little larger. She concedes that she likes her nipples though, which are fairly wide in diameter without protruding too much, and sit atop pale pink areolae that almost blend into the surrounding skin.

Definitely too big, however, are her stomach and hips – at least according to Paula. Most impartial observers would simply describe the gentle bulge of her belly and the curve of her hips as being femininely attractive. After all, she is not overweight, but neither is she a size zero. She is just normal, average, but not plain.

Her gaze wanders further, over her hands resting on that stomach, until it fixes on the patch of dark, almost black hair that begins below her abdomen and continues down between the very tops of her thighs. Apart from a little topiary at the edges, Paula prefers to leave things natural down there. Perhaps it is a remaining throwback to her upbringing, but she has simply never considered giving it a severe trim, let alone taking a razor or – heaven forbid – wax to it.

And she has been glad of her decision. There have been many classes that she has posed for, and many poses, but Paula has never once knowingly exposed what lies between her legs. That thick bush of hair and the design of the female anatomy thankfully combine to prevent any students from getting a too intimate view of her.

Not that there is a need for Paula to display everything as, to her relief, she had realised soon after she first embarked on her modelling career. This was art, not pornography, and by her logic pornography likewise could not be art.

Nathan appears in her peripheral vision and, unnoticed by his students, he looks across to Paula and flashes the briefest of smiles. She wants to respond, but Paula knows he would not want her to change her facial expression while she is modelling. Watching him now, Paula recalls what an enigma he had been to her during those early sessions.

She had initially noticed it the second week she came to the studio. Perhaps he was just being overly professional, or maybe he just felt unsure whether Paula would hang around for long (indeed, the thought to not return after that first class had crossed her mind but, strangely, her predominant sentiment had been one of release, rather than the anticipated feelings of shame and embarrassment).

Whatever his reasons, it seemed to Paula that Nathan’s initial friendliness had disappeared. He remained polite and respectful though, and he would often remind her how grateful he was that she could hold a pose without fidgeting or shifting around, talents sadly lacking in many of her predecessors.

This had continued for a few weeks. Their conversations before and after the classes were pleasant, but had become almost perfunctory. Consequently Paula hardly knew anything about him, which frustrated her. She would not describe herself as lonely, but the only other people Paula had met since moving away from home to start work had been her telesales colleagues, and most of them were not all that appealing. Nathan, on the other hand, seemed interesting. Or, at least she believed he could be interesting if only he would open up more to her.

His enigmatic manner compelled her to contemplate his personal life as she posed. Estimating he was probably around five years her senior, Paula’s favourite theory was that he had married a rich older widow, whose financial support now allowed him to pursue a bohemian lifestyle. Either that, or he was gay, hence his obvious nonchalance at being in the company of a naked woman.

In her more fanciful moments, Paula could even imagine Nathan as potential boyfriend material. However, that situation would require a web of white lies to explain to her parents how they had met, a question bound to form part of the inevitable grilling her mother would instigate. Paula imagined news of her modelling would not suit her parents’ sensitive dispositions.

Then, exactly eight weeks after she had started, Ankara Escort Bayan Nathan’s demeanour towards her thawed. It was as if some kind of implicit probationary period had been passed. Paula had demonstrated that she was not going to disappear without warning, leaving him to run a life class with no model. She knew that was something which had happened to Nathan several times before.

They fell into a pleasant post-class routine. After all the students had left, Nathan would pack away the easels and stack any chairs that had been used, before dismantling whatever props Paula had been posing on. Meanwhile, she would put her clothes back on in the privacy of the dressing room, looking forward to their few minutes’ chat.

These after-class conversations gradually became longer, allowing both of them to share little pieces of information about themselves. Paula slowly built up a picture of Nathan’s life, and it appeared that her theories about him were way off the mark.

He just about made a living from selling his own works (mostly imposing landscape watercolours, portraits and a few nudes) via small-scale local galleries. His clients mainly chose his pictures based on whether they would go with the interior decoration of their homes though, rather than in appreciation of any artistic merit.

The teaching work at the evening classes was apparently a welcome addition to Nathan’s finances, something Paula could readily identify with. However, he had also inherited an undisclosed amount from a long-dead distant relative, which she suspected was the main reason he remained solvent.

It was during one of their after-class talks, as he finished clearing up, that Nathan made a request which was to change their fledgling relationship.

‘Paula, I need a favour, please,’ he asked.

‘Sure, what is it?’

‘Well, I, um, would like you sit for me… if you don’t mind?’

‘Nathan, I sit for you every week,’ Paula replied, smiling across at him.

‘No, I don’t mean for the class. For me. There’s an exhibition coming up, and I’ve been asked to contribute some paintings. But I’d understand if you felt uncomfortable about it,’ he continued, trying hard not to blush.

Paula thought for a moment. It was endearing how shy Nathan was in asking her, but it still made her feel slightly strange. This man had seen her naked once a week for three months, but it was not as if he had actually been studying her. His attention was always on his students’ work, not on her. It would certainly be an unusual first date.

‘OK Nathan. No problem, I’ll do it,’ Paula conceded, not wanting to make him feel awkward, or drive a wedge between them.

‘Really? That’s great,’ Nathan replied, his wide smile showing how delighted he was. ‘But just to let you know, I don’t make a habit of doing this… it’s just that you’re one of the best models I’ve ever worked with,’ he added quickly.

‘One of the best?’ Paula replied, in a show of mock indignation.

So the following Sunday, in the middle of August, Paula found herself standing on the corner at the end of her street. Although it was only just approaching ten o’clock, a sultry heat was already brewing. The sun burnt down through a cloudless sky, and there was hardly a breath of wind to diminish its effect.

Her mind was wandering, thinking about what she was doing. Sure, it was nice to be spending some time alone with Nathan, but was it right to yet again be unclothed in front of him? Paula’s deliberations were abruptly disturbed by the sound of a car horn.

Looking up, she saw Nathan pull up in his car, a battered old Renault. He waved her across, and she jumped into the passenger seat.

‘Hi Nathan, very punctual,’ she said teasing him.

‘Thank you, I like to make the effort,’ he grinned back at her, as he started to drive off. ‘There’s a nice place out in the countryside I thought we’d go. It’s very quiet, not many people know about it.’

‘What – aren’t we going to the studio?’ Paula asked, her smile morphing into a frown.

‘Oh… sorry… I’m sure I mentioned we couldn’t use it. It’s not too late to change your mind you know, I won’t be offended.’

‘Well, I didn’t realise we’d be outside. What if anyone sees us? I’d be mortified.’

Nathan reassured her as best he could that that was unlikely. It was a quiet spot, remote and off the beaten track. He tried to keep the chat going for the rest of the journey, but Paula’s responses were monosyllabic. Evidently her attention was on the changing scenery as they drove out of town.

Half an hour later, Nathan turned the car off the road and onto a dirt track. Bouncing along, it was clear the worn-out suspension could hardly cope. After only a short distance, he pulled into the entrance to a field and stopped the engine.

‘Are we here?’ Paula asked, looking around her.

‘Not quite, there’s a little bit of a walk, but it’s not far.’

In front of them, the grass-covered field rose up the side of a gently sloping hill, which was topped by thick deciduous woodland. They both got out of the car, and were immediately struck by the lack of noise. Only birdsong could be heard, not the usual urban sounds of traffic, sirens, and music being played too loudly through open windows.

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