A/N: Please forgive me if the timeframe is a little out of whack here….I'm not sure what part of the year it was when Season 5 ended. Also, I do not remember if Daphne's cousin was named in the last episode, so please overlook it if her name isn't right here – LOL!
Justin hurried up the steps of the New York Fine Arts Association building. He was supposed to be there at 11:00 a.m., but thanks to the subway train running late, it was already 15 minutes past. He wasn't even sure why he was asked to come here, actually.
Justin had to smile a little, though, as he silently rehashed the conversation he had had earlier today with his gallery manager, Brad Henson. Brad had called him about 9:30 this morning, growling that he had to "get his ass" over to the NYFAA building by 11:00. When questioned why, he was just told "you'll find out. Don't question the expert. Just do it!" Justin knew that beneath the man's gruff exterior, he was a passionate supporter of Justin's work. Thanks to Brad's interest, in fact, Justin had been able to successfully market several of his works in New York City in just the six months he had been there. So far, his work had not sold for a great deal, but on average Brad was successfully selling the majority of his paintings for several hundred dollars each, enough for Justin to finally be able to support himself financially.
Thanks to his friend, Daphne, Justin had been able to move into a small apartment he shared with Daphne's cousin, Annie. The apartment was a tiny one, but it at least had two bedrooms and was clean. Thanks to the proceeds from Rage, Justin had managed to accrue a small nest egg that enabled him to pay his part of expenses until his paintings began to sell regularly.
As he entered the massive front door of the Fine Arts Building, he approached the circular desk in the lobby. A man in a dark navy security uniform looked up as he approached. "May I help you, sir?"
Referring to a note he had scribbled earlier while speaking to Brad, Justin replied, "Yes, my name is Justin Taylor. I have an appointment to meet with Gerard Murphy."
Peering down at a clipboard, the security guard confirmed his name was on the visitors' list. "Yes, Mr. Taylor, you need to take the elevators to the 11th floor. When you get off, turn to your right and Mr. Murphy's office is at the very end of the hallway." He pointed toward the elevators in a polite sign of dismissal.
Justin nervously pondered why in the world he was being asked to meet with Gerard Murphy as he waited in the elevator for the 11th floor. Although he had never met the man, he was very familiar with him and the Fine Arts Association. It was the premier organization in New York City that critiqued every facet of the artistic and performing arts world, including everything from painting to sculpture to acting to music. Their reviews were frequently written up in several well-known publications, including the New York Times, Playbill and New Yorker magazine. Gerard Murphy was the president of the association; he was featured prominently in social columns and his photo appeared everywhere, it seemed. Mr. Murphy had been its president for over 20 years, and his impression of an artist could literally make or break the person's career.
Arriving at the correct floor, Justin turned to the right and approached the gilded, double doors with the NYFAA insignia on it. Taking a deep breath, he pushed them open. A female assistant looked up at him as he entered. Tacking on a professional smile, she asked, "Yes? May I help you?"
Trying to work up his courage, Justin cleared his throat; just being in the offices of Gerard Murphy's organization was quite intimidating. "Yes, my name is Justin Taylor. I have an appointment with Mr. Murphy for 11:00." Smiling apologetically, he explained, "I'm sorry I'm a little late. The subway was running behind."
"I understand," she replied evenly. "If you would please have a seat," she instructed him, picking up her phone to apparently call her boss. Justin had just begun to sit down when the assistant informed him that Mr. Murphy would see him immediately. He followed the woman as she led him through the convoluted maze of hallways until she reached a foreboding, oak door. Knocking briefly on it, she opened the door and ushered Justin inside.
A distinguished, silver-haired man sat behind a massive, mahogany desk. Standing up, he reached for Justin's hand as he gestured in dismissal to his assistant, who closed the door as she left.
"Mr. Taylor. It's a pleasure to meet you."
Shaking the man's extended hand, Justin replied, "It's an honor to meet you, sir. Although I must admit, I'm not sure why I'm here. My gallery manager called me this morning and told me to come here."
Motioning for Justin to sit, the man acknowledged, "Yes, I phoned Mr. Henson and asked him to have you meet with me this morning. I like to meet with all of our recipients personally."
"Recipients?" Justin's brows furrowed at the man's statement. "I don't understand."
"Mr. Taylor, you have heard of the Young Artists Awards?"
"Are you kidding? Of course I have. The NYFAA gives out those awards each year. Any artist would die for one of them. No amount of publicity could take the place of getting selected……" Justin suddenly stopped talking in mid-sentence as he realized why the man was asking him. "You're not saying that I, uh, I mean, are you trying to say that…?" He found himself stammering while he heart suddenly started hammering rapidly in excitement.
Mr. Murphy smiled. "That's exactly what I'm saying, Mr. Taylor. Congratulations. The Fine Arts Association has just named you as the winner of the Young Artists Award in the painter's category. You should give yourself credit, young man. We had over 30,000 entries for just that category alone this year. To persevere under that kind of competition takes a very special type of talent."
Justin beamed at the compliment. He was so excited! Just being named the recipient of this award meant his work would be publicized in several trade publications and would undoubtedly increase the value of his paintings. He couldn't help thinking, wait until Brian hears about this!
The thought of Brian brought Justin suddenly back down to earth. It had been six months since he and Brian had parted ways, in hopes of Justin pursuing his dream of becoming a successful artist in New York City. Immediately after he left, he and Brian had spoken regularly on the phone and had managed to visit each other several times. However, lately their contact had tapered off. Kinnetik was doing very well; in fact, it was doing so well that it seemed like Brian was constantly having to travel out of town to meet with important clients. Justin, too, was working part-time in a nearby diner, and was being kept quite busy with his artwork; Brad was always urging the artist to complete another painting for him to sell. Despite their best of intentions to continue their relationship, maintaining their closeness from a distance was beginning to become difficult for both of them.
"Mr. Taylor?" Justin was brought out of his reverie as he realized he had been lost in thought. Turning back toward Mr. Murphy, he noticed the man waiting for his response. Sheepishly, he replied, "I'm sorry. You were saying?"
"I was mentioning the awards banquet on the 17th. It's being held at the Mont Chateau Hotel. There will be a dinner, then a presentation to each of the award winners afterward." Handing Justin an envelope, he advised, "The invitation is for two. I presume you will be able to attend?" At Justin's affirmative nod, he continued, "This will be a great opportunity for you and your work to be showcased, Mr. Taylor. There will be a press conference with several media representatives tomorrow at 2:30 here in our meeting room downstairs to announce the winners. My assistant can show you where it is. There will also be photos taken immediately following the press conference to accompany an article in the art section of the New York Times later this week."
Justin's head was spinning. This was an opportunity that all the money in the world couldn't buy. Shaking Mr. Murphy's hand before he departed, he practically ran out of the building after checking with the man's assistant on where he needed to be tomorrow. He was so nervous about tomorrow's press conference, but also very excited.
As Justin had suspected, Brad knew before he did that the artist was indeed one of the winners of the prestigious NYFAA awards. The wide smile the manager had on his face as soon as Justin walked into the gallery was a quick indication of that. Oh, and also the big bottle of champagne he was holding up. The cork shot out of the bottle as he hoisted it up in a salute to the artist.
"Way to go, Justin! Do you know how BIG a deal this is?" Brad celebrated as he twirled Justin around. "Not to mention this will make the value of your paintings go WAY up. Along with my commission, of course," he laughed, winking.
"NOW we get to the REAL reason why you're so excited for me." Justin had to smile back at his manager, however; he was just as excited as the older man was. "I know – I can't believe it! This is SO awesome! And Mr. Murphy said there would be press people there tomorrow. And they're going to take our picture to go with an article in the art section of the Times. Can you believe it?" He repeated. It all didn't quite seem real yet.
"Justin, my boy, I'm proud of you! To be chosen out of so many others is HUGE. Congratulations!" He slapped Justin on his back and clasped his hand firmly.
"Thanks. Listen, I'm going to head back to my apartment. I can't wait to tell everybody at home!" He was grinning from ear to ear as he rushed out of the gallery.