A/N: This was the initial version of an AU fanfic I'd written for my FanFiction account a few years ago, but I reformatted it into an original story. Did a bit of revising, and the result didn't turn out too bad.


- I -

"Julia, your sister is on the all-A's honor roll again at her high school. Did you make the college president's list this semester?" Craig Fellworth demanded of his eldest daughter, who cowered from his ominous aura.

Julia stared up at him as his imposing figure eclipsed the ceiling lamp. His dark silhouette towered over her seated form, daring her to state that she'd achieved anything less. Unfortunately for her, she had achieved something less. She started her major coursework this semester, the workload of which resulted in the first instance where she failed to make the president's list.

"Um… well… I made the dean's list," she said hesitantly, not bothering to buffer it by using her major classes as an excuse. No matter how legitimate her justifications were, they only made confrontations with her father worse.

Craig's eyebrows shot together. "What?" he boomed, not only unimpressed by her declaration but also seemingly insulted by it as well. "The dean's list? That's a second-rate recognition! Do you think I'll be proud of you for being second-rate?"

She lowered her eyes as her father proceeded to launch into one of his typical rants about her shortcomings and inadequate traits as the heiress to the Fellworth name. In the back of her mind, she knew she shouldn't have come home to visit. Her interactions with Craig often involved his tendency to fuel her inferiority complex by comparing her to her younger sister Karen, his complaints about her perceived incompetence as a person, and his very vocal doubts about her ability to become the next head of the family.

In short, she wasn't sure why she subjected herself to this abuse by choosing to visit the main house every weekend.

And now that her father had gone on a lengthy tirade, she sure as hell wasn't going to stay for it.

"Dad…" she started, trying to wedge into his vocal tantrum. "I think I'll be going—"

"…Always so weak-willed, no self-discipline to work hard…" he went on, ignoring her. Now facing the opposite wall, he had evidently lost all memory of her perfect scores up to this point. "…Poor at academics, incapable of measuring up to your younger sister's performance…"

Julia stood from her seat and began making her way to the door, walking past her father without a word. It wasn't until she reached her vehicle that he stomped out after her, even more enraged at her silent departure.

"Listen well, Julia. If you don't accomplish something great by the end of this semester, I will officially deem you unfit to be the next Fellworth head, and Karen will take your place," he snarled as the vein in his forehead throbbed.

She refused to look at him. The urge to defend herself welled up in the back of her throat. She could have retorted that she had accomplished many great things since she'd started college, that she had a solid work ethic and always did her best. She could have pointed out her status on the president's list and her 4.0 GPA prior to this semester. She could have given her father a piece of her mind for his blatant favoritism between his children.

But she didn't.

The assertiveness rising within her dissipated almost as quickly as it had formed. Standing up to her father was something she had never even attempted. Such was her nature: to remain passive and reserved, no matter what. Especially when it came to members of her family.

After pausing for several seconds, she moved to unlock the door with trembling hands.

"Remember what I said, Julia," Craig rumbled before turning on his heel and stalking back to the house. "You have until the end of the semester."

She climbed inside her car and refused to allow the tears to fall as she started the ignition.


That last altercation had haunted Julia for the past two weeks.

"If you don't accomplish something great… deem you unfit to be the next leader… Karen will take your place."

She had never been good enough in his eyes. And now he wanted her to accomplish "something great"?

Such as what, exactly? She had been at the top of her game during her first and second years at the University of West Florida, winning honors for her grades and even national awards for the research study she had conducted before starting her major in forensic science. She did volunteer work, donated to charity, and made extra money as a tutor for general studies.

"Something great"? What else could she do?

Sighing, she looked up and found herself standing in front of the Fine Arts building. With a start, she realized she had been wandering aimlessly across the university campus, lost in her thoughts and paying little attention to her surroundings. Deciding she might as well continue on her journey of self-pity, she entered the building. The mingling scents of wood, paint, and brass greeted her as soon as she passed through the doors. Distantly, she heard faint sounds of instruments tuning and vocalists practicing. The art, music, and theater students all shared this building, the largest on the entire campus.

Julia glanced around in interest, as this marked her first time inside. The lobby was well-maintained and engulfed in natural light from the large pane windows. Several students littered the area, either quietly conversing amongst themselves or studying. Three halls branched off from the opposite side of the room, each leading to classrooms, studios, and auditoriums for the majors under the Fine Arts department.

She found the atmosphere hushed and calming. In the center of the lobby, a large indoor fountain featured an Adonis replica that poured circulating water onto the base. Drawn by the trickling sound, she approached it and gazed down at her reflection. Even with the rippling, she could see dark circles under her eyes. Long black hair hung in tangles around her thin shoulders. Her entire face looked tired, her expression worn out. Sleep went more than it came lately. At this rate, she would probably expire from anxiety before managing to fulfill Craig's impossible expectations.

Momentarily pushing the memory of her father and his ultimatum from her mind, she left the fountain and walked toward the reception desk, where a scribbled note of OUT TO LUNCH sat in place of the receptionist. A number of flyers, brochures, and pamphlets had been stacked in neat piles on the surface next to the note. One flyer in particular caught her eye.

It was an advertisement for a painting exhibit in the gallery of the art wing. Several photos of selected paintings decorated the page and accompanied short descriptions. She squinted at the small thumbnails, making them out as partially clothed or nude women. Warmth crept to her face as she replaced the flyer and turned away. Never having been into art very much, she didn't understand why female nudity was such a persistent presence in paintings and sculptures throughout history. And to display an entire gallery of them?

Yet, she couldn't deny that her curiosity had been piqued.

The flyer scheduled the exhibit's opening for the next day. Likely, the majority of the paintings had already been set up. Something about the subjects' poses stuck with her, but she couldn't quite put her finger on it. Her sight drifted toward the art wing as she felt some invisible force beckoning her down the hall. Spontaneously, she decided to walk by the gallery.

The felt carpet was quiet under her steps and the smell of paint began to overpower the other scents as she traveled deeper into the art wing. While passing by the open studios, she noticed all the art students busy at work on their pieces, speaking only to ask their instructors questions. She continued on until the main hall led to a smaller lobby.

Where to now?

She scanned the area until she spotted a directory on one wall, with an arrow for the Fine Arts gallery pointing to a set of stairs. She followed the directions and eventually reached her destination. The glass entrance allowed her to see inside, and she noted that the paintings had indeed been hung and prepared for the opening of the exhibit.

Although the lights were on inside the gallery, she detected no other presence on the silent floor. Moving toward the glass doors, she cautiously tried the handle.


She was uncertain whether she was allowed in here or not, given that the exhibit wasn't officially open until the next day. She also found it strange that the doors of an art gallery had been left unsecured, especially when all the pieces were on display without the artist or a faculty member around. Still, she warily entered the premises.

The thumbnails on the flyer did nothing to prepare her for the full-sized versions. Images of nude women engulfed her when she strode to the center, and her cheeks reflexively flushed as she surveyed them. One painting depicted a woman clothed only from the waist down, hanging by the arms over a cliff at sunset. Another depicted a nude woman leaping upward from the sea, her water-soaked body twisting gracefully in midair.

Three paintings occupied another wall, seeming to make up a series. The first was of a long-haired woman around Julia's age, sitting in front of a window with her bare back to the viewer. The second depicted the same woman, this time in tears as she wept in front of the same window. The third showed an angle from the opposite direction, revealing close up that the window was actually the bars of a cage imprisoning the crying woman.

Julia felt her embarrassment melt away as she stared at the paintings. She failed to grasp the artist's exact message, but even she could feel the powerful impact that went past the mere visual aspect.

She ventured further into the gallery, taking time to really examine at each painting. Finally, she came across one that took her breath away.

Alone at the far wall hung a life-size painting of a woman wearing nothing but a green cloak. Her arms were crossed over her bare chest, and the hood cast a shadow over her neck and the top half of her face. Her pose implied a defensive stance, and it was clear why.

The woman's mouth and heart had been cut away to leave jagged, hollow spaces. Julia swallowed at the striking features, experiencing a plethora of undefined emotion that surged up within her. Before she realized what she was doing, she reached up to touch the canvas. It had been carved, not just painted. The artist was portraying a woman whose mouth and heart had been ripped out.

"Do you like it?" came a deep voice from behind her.

She gasped and retracted her hand as if she'd been burned. Whirling around, she found herself staring at a tall, dark-haired man. "I'm sorry!"

He only shook his head, his face void of expression. "I didn't say you were doing anything wrong, just asking if you like my painting."

She hesitated as his words registered in her head. "You… you painted this?"

"Yes." He presented her with a polite smile that didn't reach his eyes. "I think I recognize you. Julia Fellworth, right?"

"That's right," she replied. Though he did seem vaguely familiar, she couldn't put a name to his face. "I'm afraid I'm not sure who you are…"

He laughed shortly at that. "Well, we went to high school together, but I guess we never really talked. I'm Adam Bordeaux."

She shifted in unease, her palms growing damp. The familiar sense of awkwardness settled in as she wracked her brain for what to say next. She fared badly in social situations outside her group of friends, and as her heart started racing, Adam peered down at her with a peculiar intensity that only increased her discomfort.

"So, Adam… you said you painted this?" she asked, desperate for his dark eyes to move elsewhere.

Thankfully, they did. He looked over his artwork as he told her, "This one is my best work to date. It's called Dehumanization. Kind of a feminist piece showing how women portrayed in art and media aren't seen as humans. They're seen as objects."

Julia blinked. She watched as he stepped forward and reached out with his fingers to graze the jagged edges of the canvas where she'd just touched. Women in art were seen as objects? The other paintings in the gallery seemed to glorify the beauty of the female form.

"But… I thought all the women in these paintings were beautiful," she stated meekly. "Even with the… nudity and all."

He glanced at her, bringing his hand down. "You think so?"

She nodded up at him. "I'm sure this exhibit will be very popular when it opens tomorrow."

He didn't ask her what she was doing here now, like she expected. Instead, he said, "Well. let's hope so. I didn't work on these paintings for nothing."

"Oh, you painted another one on display here?" she inquired, scanning her surroundings to guess which one.

His laugh this time was more authentic, and he swept out an arm in a grand gesture. "I painted everything on display here. This exhibit is my senior project."

Julia's eyes widened in astonishment. She gaped at the paintings around the gallery, taken aback by the news that one person had created them all. The subjects displayed a spectrum of emotions, from happiness to anguish to wrath. She thought it amazing that an artist with such an expressionless face could depict all that.

After recovering from her surprise, she managed to remark, "You're very talented."

He studied her again with that same intensity, something calculating about his gaze. She averted her eyes under the scrutiny and began to fidget. Just as she made to mumble an excuse to leave, he interrupted her.

"Want to be the model for my next painting?"


A/N: Not my best piece of literature, but I liked the premise well enough. May pick it back up later on.