"I haven't seen you for some time," he said.
It was almost calming. Sedate and nearly soundless, the voice seemed to emanate from some other distant place that was neither here nor now. At first she dismissed it as a portion of her mind that had never quite let him go. She had met him only once, albeit briefly and most definitely mysteriously. She had thought about him more often than she would ever admit to anybody including herself. On some level it was wrong even to entertain his image for more than a second at a time. 'Handsome' was not a word she would've used to describe him, nor was the term 'attractive' even applicable, but he had something within him, beyond the skin and bone of mortal man, something hidden and yet so overtly exposed that his mere presence announced it in deafening yells... except nobody had heard it.
She turned slowly and looked upon Jabez as she would one of her unfinished sculptures. Again she endeavoured to penetrate and solve the enigma, but even then she knew that sight alone was not enough to unravel the thread. The eyes, however, imparted a somewhat different story as they had done that night at the graveyard. What lay behind those eyes was just enough to disclose minor but telling portions of the soul. He was a page torn from an unfinished tale, the epicentre of a breeding and brooding mystery.
Mina was speechless. Her adrenalin levels had already increased, fashioning discernible shivers in her legs that prompted her quickly to reach out for the door frame in order to steady herself.
"Are you ill?" he enquired as he stepped closer.
"I'm tired," she lied. "What are you doing here?"
"These are magnificent," he replied avoiding the question. "Did you make them?" he enquired as he looked about the shop.
"Are you here to buy something?" she asked as she applied a little more firmness to her voice.
"What would you recommend?"
"If you want to buy something then look around for yourself. Whatever I recommend might not be to your taste."
"Very true," he smiled, "one's tastes can differ. Would you call the police while I look around?"
"Why would I do that?"
"Because you know they are looking for me. I wager that you are not a simpleton, Mina."
"No I'm not," she answered calmly. "Now either buy something or steal something. Just get out," she told him as her voice shuddered slightly.
"Steal something," he whispered, "yes, it would be wrong of me to steal something from somebody else," he continued as he stepped closer. "Perhaps it would not be considered theft after all if the thing I wished to steal was more than willing to be stolen."
"What's that supposed to mean?" she asked as she withdrew slightly, brushing her back up against the curtain.
"One should never restrict oneself just to one work of art," he said as his fingers explored the immaculately sculpted and curvaceous figure of Venus, one of Mina's most prized creations. "One should be able to explore beauty in all of its forms without fear of persecution," he continued as she watched his fingers trace the spine and linger around the base. "Do you not agree?"
Mina pressed her lips together and imprisoned a breath.
"One should be able to venture beyond the curtain that separates beauty from... desire," he smiled as he looked briefly towards the curtain behind her.
"And perhaps we should remain on the side that pleases us most," Mina replied hesitantly.
"And in doing so then you would be denying yourself that otherwise distant world of further intrigue. The key to so many doors would remain forever closed to you."
"There's nothing wrong with appreciating what you already have," Mina returned slowly as she endeavoured to choose her next sentence wisely. "Sometimes the more you admire something the more you discover about it. What good is there in moving quickly from one piece of art to the other without truly knowing the work and understanding its soul? Knowing art and experiencing it briefly are two very different things."
"I understand," Jabez replied with a touch of disappointment as he drew closer. "Yet you have created so much," he added as he further scrutinised her work. "You have given perhaps more than your soul could possibly permit. Surely your own personal and varied experience of beauty must have played a role in honing your passion?"
"No," Mina disagreed instantly and confidently. "I don't need to travel the world or have encounters with others to find those experiences, and neither do I need to seek experience elsewhere in order to find other forms of... beauty. I've already found my muse," she said now with resolve as she smiled meditatively, "and he is all I've ever needed."
This sudden epiphany was an unexpected shock to her own system, but she was more than content finally to acknowledge it.
"Hal," Jabez whispered as he stepped closer and took Mina's s trembling hands in his own.
"How do you know his name?" she asked with panic as her nerves weakened. "Who are you?"
"You have already asked me that," he said softly.
"And you never answered me," she tried to reply sternly as she sought strength in failing limbs.
"We might have been companions in another lifetime, Mina," he said, "exploring the beauties of the world together and gorging ourselves on the experiences it proffers. In that other lifetime, that other world beyond this one, beyond that curtain... would you have come with me?"
His eyes became all at once mirrors in which she could see every one of her weaknesses exposed. Breathing became a burden and the ability merely to focus an irritation. Below, unwanted sensations forced knots in her stomach and drove seducing spears into the more reserved region of her womanhood, that now fragile place governed by unwanted and guilt-ridden lust. She didn't answer him. She dared not answer him.
Jabez loosened his delicate grip on her hands and ran his fingers slowly up and down her forearms. He felt the now raised hairs on her skin prickle his own unexpectedly tingling flesh.
"You are a rare and beautiful flower," he whispered, "and you are sunlight itself over darkening plains. Be safe, Mina," he said as he leant forward and placed a single and lasting kiss upon her cheek. "It does you justice to remain on this side of the curtain."
Mina wasn't even aware that Jabez had left the shop until the door clicked shut. Slowly her wits returned but, as for the rest of her, it had been left dishevelled and strangely sullied. She leant back slightly and gripped the door frame, this time with both hands on both sides while the curtain shifted slightly to expose that possible and most likely perilous world beyond.