“Yeah?” The instructor stood by the tool room Leila could not get into, unlocking it for the class to use as they arrived.
“What’s this piece down here?” Rasheem asked with his hand still on the stone. For a moment, Cheyenne thought she saw a shadow of the woman from last night again.
Mr. Thomas walked over and bent down to look with his hands on his knees.
“I’ll be damned,” he said, brushing the surface. “Never saw that before. Looks like quality, too. Could even be Parian marble.”
Rasheem reached under and gently slid his finger over the edges of it.
“Can I…?” His voice shook a bit and fell off at the end of the question. His dark eyes lit up from the inside.
Mr. Thomas stood up straight and reached up to put his hand on the young man’s shoulders. “Sure, Rasheem. I don’t know where it came from. But you’ve earned a good piece to work with and no one else is here yet to argue their case. It’s yours.”
The look on Rasheem’s face now matched the one in Cheyenne’s imagination from last night. But it was wrong, she thought. All wrong that he should be using her stone because she went through all that effort to hide it.
All day she watched Rasheem study the Gloria marble and make plans to carve it into something not Gloria. The deepest places in her essence hurt. Not like looking at Leila the first time. Not that sharp pain like dropping a tool on her foot but a dull endless ache like a staring at a mistake she had made in a carving, knowing that it could never really be fixed no matter how she tried to work around it. How she wished to be something less ephemeral. Or that she could somehow tell him it must be Gloria. Could only become Gloria. And only she could do it, by God.
Of course, if anyone took her stone, she supposed she was glad it was him. Gentle and kind, he had a calm about him as he worked on any project he took on. And his technique was really coming along because of the constant practice. She suspected that he was almost as skilled as she had been that day those 10 mAmps coursed through her to metal struts of the table, burnt a quarter-sized hole through the sole of her left ankle, and left her spirit hovering in the shop for a decade.
Some part of her thought it would be good to let the stone go. But not her heart. Her heart thought that having to let go of the one thing she loved was bullshit.
And then something more terrible happened at the end of the day. Leila walked into the shop with the course advisor, marched over to Mr. Thomas and shook his hand, glancing immediately at Rasheem and the stone. The advisor introduced her and Mr. Thomas launched into his usual explanation of the program and how he could turn her into a stone carver.
Leila nodded in all the right places and smiled but kept looking over at the stone so often that Cheyenne saw Rasheem start to look back over at her.
“It was lovely to meet you, Mr. Thomas,” Leila finally said at the end of the conversation. “I’m quite certain I’ll be back soon.” She held her hand up to the advisor as he turned to go with her. “I’ll show myself out.” Within moments she was gone, her short legs moving in quick motions as if she had drunk one too many Red Bulls.
“You remember the story about the instructor before you, Bob?” The advisor had turned to look at Mr. Thomas after Leila left.
“The chick who tried to drill a stone with faulty equipment? That shorted out and killed her?” Damn him for bringing up her fatal mistake even more than for calling her a chick.
“That lady remembered the story from the news, I guess. Asked how many female students we’ve had since then,” said the advisor, smoothing what was left of his hair back. “I told her a handful.”
“Huh. You figure she’s going to sign up?” Mr. Thomas was facing the open shop doors now, staring out at the trees dressed in their summer leaves.
“Nah. I’m not sure what she wanted but she didn’t strike me as the stone carver type.”