Before Rhapsody came into his life, Benjamin Jeffrey was a very careful man. He never did anything without having planned it out thoroughly and well in advance. He had a plan for just about every situation. If he didn’t have a plan for a thing, rare were the times that he could be persuaded to do it.
He’d been that way since right around the age of ten, though if you asked his parents, they’d have never been able to point at an exact cause for it. Before that, he’d been as spontaneous and carefree as any child. At ten, he’d begun carrying a three-ring binder full of specially reinforced looseleaf notebook paper and a cheap stick pen with him everywhere. During recess, he’d sit by his classroom door and write. His classmates teased him mercilessly about it. “Plan-it-out Ben” they’d call him. That is, until they found out that his plans actually worked.
That was the thing about Benjamin’s plans. They almost always worked. He would spend hours in the library about once a week doing research to make sure that they would. He’d spend even more hours just sitting in front of his laptop computer, which had taken the place of his binder sometime in the middle of college, coming up with new plans or reviewing his old ones and making contingencies, just in case.
As a result, at thirty, Benjamin was already moderately well-off. Not rich, of course, since Benjamin had decided in high school that he’d never be entirely happy as a rich man. Just comfortable enough that he never had to ask anyone for money if he needed it. It was no surprise to the people who knew him that Benjamin ran a consulting firm. What’s more, quite often, the children that used to tease him in elementary school now, as adults, often asked him to come up with plans for them, which he’d do quite willingly. These same people that, in their youth, used to call him “Plan-it-out Ben,” now called him Mr. Jeffrey, or Benjamin if they were being informal. No one ever called him Ben anymore. Benjamin had decided at twelve that the name “Ben” just sounded too impulsive. “Benjamin,” on the other hand, sounded well thought out, which was how he liked everything to be. That is, before he met Rhapsody.
To be fair, her real name wasn’t Rhapsody and the way that they met was so completely unplanned that it took Benjamin by surprise. Benjamin was sitting, as usual, at a picnic table in the park, working through one of his newer plans when a stranger tapped him on the shoulder.
“Excuse me,” asked a soft voice. “Would you mind if I painted you?”
“What?” Benjamin said intelligently, turning to see who it was. Standing before him, clutching an easel, a large rectangular canvas and a small vinyl satchel with paintbrushes sticking rather haphazardly out of it, was one of the most beautiful women Benjamin had ever seen. Her hair was the color of an early morning sunrise on a cloudless day and her smile was so open and friendly that Benjamin, who hadn’t planned on meeting anyone at the park, couldn’t help but smile back.
She laughed. “Do you mind if I paint you?” she asked again.
“Not at all,” he replied, lifting an eyebrow. “But why me?”
“I dunno,” she shrugged, moving a few feet away and beginning to set up. “I’ve just never seen anyone with a laptop in the park before.”
Benjamin went back to his computer, but he watched her out of the corner of his eye and didn’t really get anything significant done. She had the appearance of a woman who had just gotten out of bed. Her hair had been cropped short and it stuck out every which way, she didn’t appear to be wearing any make-up and she was dressed in a pair of old jeans and a paint-stained blue tee-shirt with an unrecognizable logo on the front.
When she had her equipment set up, Benjamin expected her to pull out a pencil and start sketching. Once she had him all sketched out, she could fill in the colors later. However, once she had everything arranged to her satisfaction, the woman surprised Benjamin by immediately pulling out a paintbrush and dipping it in paint.
“Aren’t you going to do a sketch first?” he asked, surprising himself with the impulsiveness of the question.
“I don’t like sketching,” she said in distracted tones as she painted, glancing first to him and then back to the canvas. “I think that pencil lines steal the life from a painting. I like my work to flow directly from my brushes.”
“How do pencil lines steal the life from a painting?” Benjamin asked.
“I’m sorry,” the woman said, stopping abruptly, “I’m interrupting your work, aren’t I?”
“What?” said Benjamin, surprised at this response. “No, not at all.”
She smiled and returned to her painting. Benjamin tried to return to his work as well. He read through the plan he was working on. He was consulting with an accounting firm on how to improve their productivity during tax season. However, just when he thought he’d managed to forget that someone was watching him, he’d catch himself stealing another glance at the strange woman and her easel again.
“There,” she said, suddenly, pulling a stained rag from a back pocket of her jeans and beginning to clean her brush with it. “Done. Thank you.”
“What?” said Benjamin, surprised, yet again. “I mean, you’re welcome.”
She laughed. “Don’t you wanna see it?”
“Certainly,” Benjamin replied, beginning to stand up.
“That’s okay,” she smiled and, before he could come completely to his feet, she seized the canvas from the easel and flipped it around so that he could see the painted surface.
What he saw was a riot of colors; red, yellow, pink, green, purple; surrounding a little man hunched over what looked like a slim computer, all worked in dull blues and grays. Benjamin was speechless.
“That’s not what I expected at all,” he whispered.
“It wasn’t what I expected, either,” said the woman, laying the painting on the table. “It just seemed right. I mean, most people come to the park to enjoy nature, right?”
“I suppose,” Benjamin replied, still staring at the painting.
“I didn’t catch your name,” the woman said, smiling again. Somehow, she seemed to make everything right with that smile. “I want to use it in the title.”
“It’s Benjamin Jeffrey,” Benjamin said, forgetting the painting for the moment.
“Thanks,” she smiled again, stuffing paints and brushes back into her vinyl bag and deftly collapsing the easel. “Mine’s Louise. Louise McHenry.” She reached out a hand to him and, without thinking, he took it. Her hand was remarkably soft and her grip was comparatively firm. She laughed and Benjamin suddenly realized that he was still holding her hand. Self-consciously, he let go. “It was nice meeting you, Ben,” she said, carefully picking up the painting. “Maybe we’ll meet again some time.”
“I’d like that,” Benjamin heard himself say. She smiled and walked away. Benjamin watched her go, not letting his eyes leave her retreating form until it was lost from view. Carefully, Benjamin saved his work, closing his laptop with an audible snap. He sighed, surprised at how difficult it was to breathe, now. He closed his eyes and found that he could still envision her, delightfully haphazard in a most beautiful way. Like a piece of beautiful music composed just for that one moment in time. His very own rhapsody in blue. “Louise” is too common a name for such beauty, he’d thought, picturing her in his mind as he put his computer back into his briefcase. Rhapsody would be better. Standing, Benjamin found himself wishing he’d accompanied her, wondering when he’d be likely to see her again, planning out what he’d say to her the next time they met. Somehow, he knew none of it would help him.