Sheila was broken-hearted the day she sold the last of Evan’s drawings. And then the wall that had belonged to Evan Lorne for years was empty. She had no idea where he was, what he was doing, if he was all right. Rose, her assistant, said she saw someone who looked like Evan in town a while back, but he was wearing a military uniform and was on crutches, so it couldn’t have been him. Sheila held on for three months. Three months of an empty wall belonging to Evan Lorne, and then she gave in, filled the space with art from another artist. She had bills to pay. But the night she took down Evan’s name plate and tucked it away in her desk drawer, she cried.
She’d bought a couple of Evan’s pieces for herself, one of his two main characters, the spiky-haired, pointy-eared knight and his blue-eyed mage partner, another of the sea beneath the multiple moons, and she wished she’d thought to buy more, because she missed them. Sometimes, when it was just her in the gallery, no patrons, no Rose, she’d look at the old photos she’d taken of Evan’s art to post on the website, advertising them for sale. She missed Evan’s world. And she missed Evan, the letters he’d send with his newest pieces, with warm greetings and fond farewells and tantalizing anecdotes about the characters in the pieces - the plant-mage who could make things grow seemingly out of thin air, or the warrior with the dreadlocks and the superhuman strength who, when no one was looking, would sit cross-legged with his sword at his side and write poetry.
Six months passed since the last of Evan’s pieces sold, and Sheila was very worried about Evan. She sent letters to his PO box address, and none of them were returned as undeliverable. She called his cell phone, but all she got was an automated message that the network subscriber was outside of the range of service. And then one of Jonathan’s friends came in, one of his coworkers from the garage, that pretty, green-eyed young man named Dean. Only Dean was wearing an Academy cadet uniform, and he wanted to know if Sheila had heard from Jonathan, if he’d ordered any of Evan’s artwork. Sheila hadn’t heard from Jonathan. If Dean hadn’t, that had to be concerning, right? But Dean just nodded, thanked her, called her Ma’am, and went on his way.
When Dean’s father, John Eric, came in, asking if she’d heard from Jonathan, Sheila was panicked. She knew she ought to file a missing person report, or call the police, or something. Jonathan had no family that she knew of, though, just Dean and John Eric. John Eric asked if she had any of Evan’s artwork, because it was Jonathan’s favorite, and Jonathan might like a new piece for his birthday. John Eric looked very troubled when Sheila explained that Evan hadn’t sent her any art in nine months, that she had no idea where he was either. At John Eric’s dark expression, Sheila hastened to say that maybe Evan’s day job was keeping him busy, or maybe he had artist’s block, but John Eric smiled grimly, thanked her, called her Ma’am, and went on his way.
Two days after that disturbing visit from John Eric, Rose came running into Sheila’s office, eyes wide.
“Come quick - you have to sign for this!”
Rose was out of breath and frantic, wisps of red hair escaping from her usually pristine chignon. She was also perfectly capable of signing for packages herself. She wasn’t usually one to get excited, though, so Sheila followed her around back to the delivery door.
“Sign here, ma’am.” The delivery man in the brown UPS uniform looked amused.
Sheila accepted the stylus he handed her, scrawled something approximating her signature on the digital pad, and then the UPS man went to wheel a massive box into the gallery. Sheila directed him to put it in the back room, and she gave him a tip before he departed with his red hand truck. Once he was gone, Rose tugged Sheila around the box.
There was an envelope taped to the wooden box. Sheila’s name was written on it in perfect schoolteacher cursive. She plucked the envelope off the box and turned it over. It was sealed with wax. The design in the seal was some kind of intricate circle.
Sheila opened the envelope.
“It’s from a secret admirer, isn’t it?” Rose said, peering over Sheila’s shoulder.
Sheila unfolded the letter inside, smoothed it out.
Pardon the drama. I am sending this via my amanuensis, who has much more artistic handwriting than I, even though of the two of us I am the artist. I apologize for my long absence and silence, and I understand if you don’t have room for these right away. I’m also experimenting a bit with a new style, so price them however you think is fair, so they actually move. Girl’s gotta eat, right?
Wishing you and Rose all the best,
Evan. Lorne. Sheila’s eyes went wide. She tucked the letter back into the envelope and put the envelope into her pocket. “Rose, go get me the hammer.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Rose skittered out of the office, came back with the claw hammer.
Sheila used it to pry open the box. Inside were three new paintings. They were stunning. All of them were of galaxies, constellations, stars, woven through with what looked like fractal patterns. The way they flowed and curved on the canvas was fantastic. And then Sheila realized - these were canvas prints of photographs. Photographs of paintings on - a human body.
The galaxies were curved because the surface on which they’d been painted was curved. The first painting spanned someone’s ribs, down to the dip of the hip and upper thigh. It was of an entire galaxy, brilliant purples and blues and whites and fine geometric lines interlaced into it all. The second painting was on someone’s back, along one shoulder blade and over to the spine, warm autumn colors for a solar system.
The third painting was along someone’s collarbone and chest, icy whites and blues and greens for a constellation picked out among a sea of diamant stars.
Sheila couldn’t breathe.
Evan was back, and he was better than ever.
“Rose, find me some space.”
“Right away.” Rose ducked out of the storage room and onto the gallery floor.
Sheila actually closed early so she and Rose could make room on the walls to display Evan’s newest pieces. The moment when Sheila could put Evan’s name plate back on the wall felt like flying.
Sheila took photos of the paintings, and she posted them on the website that night while she was at home with her laptop, celebrating with a glass of wine.
When she woke the next day, all three paintings had been purchased at asking price.
The paintings from Evan kept coming regularly, every six weeks, two or three paintings, always natural landscapes or skyscapes or seascapes or more visions of outer space, always painted on a human body (Sheila suspected the same one). The paintings sold faster than Sheila could handle, and when she raised the prices, sales barely slowed.
Sheila bought one herself, didn’t even put it out on the wall or on the Internet for display, just wrote out a check for Evan and took the painting home. She propped it up against her wall, and she’d sit on the couch and gaze at it. It was the only painting that gave a hint of the subject’s identity. The main subject was of the multiple moons and seas, painted in miniscule detail along the human canvas’s throat, down to the collarbone and almost to the shoulder. But the photograph was taken from such an angle that Sheila could see the edges of the painting, the truth of the golden skin beneath, and the canvas’s jaw and his mouth, his kiss-plumped red lips and his amused smile.
Sheila was pretty sure that the person in the picture was Jonathan.
She remembered that day, in the gallery, when Evan came to drop off some more work and Jonathan came in to buy a new piece, and Jonathan had lied to Evan, said he was twenty-one.
She wondered if she ought to tell John Eric and Dean that Jonathan had run off with Evan, but she decided against it. She knew John Eric was an ex-Marine, that Dean was a cadet at the Academy, and she didn’t want their friendship with Jonathan soured because of his relationship with Evan.
Sheila was in her office sorting through the books when Rose came dashing into her office, glasses askew, panting and out of breath.
“You have to come see this,” she said. “Now.”
Sheila rose up, followed Rose out to her computer. Rose was streaming a news video on her computer.
“ - In what people are calling the kiss of the new millennium,” an anchorwoman was saying.
A video clip started to play. It was shaky camera footage, but the two men in the video were definitely Jonathan and Evan. Both of them were wearing what looked like military uniforms, and they were looking at Jonathan’s cell phone.
“Check it out. Guy wasn’t kidding. They really repealed it,” Jonathan said.
Evan said, “Huh.”
Jonathan looked at Evan. “You know what this means, right?
Evan lifted his head, blinked at Jonathan. “What?”
Jonathan stepped forward, put his hand on Evan’s shoulder, and dipped him for a long, enthusiastic kiss. Just like the V-Day poster.
Sheila stared. So that time Rose saw that man in town, the one who looked like Evan, only in a uniform, that had actually been him.
“Did you know he was a soldier?” Rose asked.
Sheila shook her head, dumbfounded.
The video clip faded, and the anchorwoman said, “Sources close to the Pentagon have revealed that the two men in this video are Major Evan Lorne of the United States Air Force and Dr. Jonathan O’Neill, a civilian consultant with a classified military project. Neither man nor their commanding officers or supervisors could be reached for comment.”
“Did you know Jonathan was a doctor?” Rose asked.
“No. He never said. No one ever said.” Sheila barely had time to recover before the phone rang. She answered it, pleased when her voice wasn’t shaking. The person on the other end was speaking at a mile a minute, and it was a moment before Sheila recognized her voice. “Yes, ma’am,” she said. “The paintings in my gallery by Evan Lorne are by Major Evan Lorne.” It was one of her biggest clients, the wife of someone in some brewery dynasty. “All of them? I only have two at the moment. He hasn’t sent me anything new. For that much, I can ship them anywhere you want them.”
Sheila’s website, with the photos of Evan’s paintings (all of them watermarked for copyright purposes), nearly crashed the next day, and she was on the phone with her web developer for hours trying to get it fixed.
Over the weeks that followed, the news slowly trickled out. DADT repealed. The poster boys for that historical moment were involved in the Stargate Program, a highly classified international joint military and civilian project that had spent the last decade exploring other planets and even galaxies. Rose came to Sheila with more updates, and as the information came in, Sheila realized. The spiky-haired knight was none other than Lieutenant-Colonel John Sheppard, Evan’s CO and the military commander of the Atlantis Expedition. The City of Atlantis was what had landed in San Francisco Bay after fending off an alien attack that would have annihilated Earth. The knight’s mage companion was Dr. Rodney McKay, a genius physicist from Canada who was the foremost expert on highly advanced alien technology. The queen was Elizabeth Weir, the Expedition’s original commander.
Names and faces spilled faster and faster in the news, and Sheila realized she’d seen every single one of them in Evan’s paintings and drawings. She’d even seen Atlantis in his paintings - it was the spiky castle. And that painting Jonathan had bought, with the fountains - those fountains were actually stargates. People across the world were clamoring for Evan’s artwork, but Sheila had none left, and people who’d bought some of his pieces were contacting each other, trying to buy each other out, build massive collections. Sheila knew Jonathan had a substantial collection, but she had no idea what had happened to it after he’d apparently taken off to Atlantis to join Evan there.
She kept waiting for the Air Force to show up on her doorstep and demand her purchase records, demand to know who she’d sold Evan’s painting to.
The Air Force did show up on her doorstep, but not nearly how she’d expected.
Sheila was in her office arguing with her web developer again when Rose tip-toed in. Her shoulders were hunched and her eyes were wide and she looked terrified.
“Toast, I’ll have to call you back.” Sheila’s web developer had the strangest nicknames for himself and the others at his company. She hung up. “Rose, are you all right?”
“There are some people here to see you,” Rose whispered.
Sheila really, really wished she’d taken her father’s advice and carried mace in her pocket. But she threw her shoulders back, lifted her chin, took a deep breath, and strode out onto the gallery floor, ready to confront anyone who wanted to give her trouble. She faltered inside when she saw the men in fancy blue military uniforms and somber dark suits. Still, she pasted a smile on her face.
“Good afternoon, and welcome to my gallery. How can I help you?”
The men turned, and Sheila stopped short. It was Evan, and John Sheppard, and Rodney McKay, and Jonathan.
Evan in uniform was quite the sight to behold. He was standing very straight, had his cover tucked against his side. But as soon as he saw her, he ducked his head sheepishly, blushing.
“I’m sorry I never told you,” he said. “It was hard to explain.”
“Going to other planets and galaxies? I’ll bet.” Sheila put her hands on her hips. “Come to find out who I sold all your paintings to, so you can take them back and try to sweep this all under the rug?”
“No,” Evan said gently. “I just wanted to say thank you, for supporting my art over all these years. And I wanted to give you one last piece, just for you, not to sell.”
“Oh. Thank you.” Sheila smiled. “You really don’t have to. I -”
“Boys?” Evan asked.
McKay, Sheppard, and Jonathan had been supporting a massive canvas, but had angled themselves so Sheila didn’t notice till they turned it around.
Sheila’s breath caught in her throat. The painting was of one of those stargate fountains, symbols glowing, as a man rose out of the water. The images of the man rising were staggered, started off as an older man - General Jack O’Neill, Sheila realized - and got younger and younger the further out of the water he rose, until the man climbing out of the fountain, dripping wet and sleek, was Jonathan.
“Enjoy, and good luck.” Evan leaned in, kissed Sheila on the cheek.
“Where do you want this?” Jonathan asked.
Sheila knew exactly where it should go, in the space on the wall where she’d hung the first piece Evan ever gave her to sell, above his name plate. John Sheppard and Rodney McKay turned out to be handy with a hammer and a picture hanging kit, though they squabbled like an old married couple the entire time they hung the painting.
After the painting was hung, Evan hugged her, Jonathan shook her hand, and the men bade her farewell.
In the months and years to come, no matter what Sheila heard about the Stargate Program and it successes and failures, she never sold that painting, and she knew that whatever else those soldiers and scientists had done, they’d brought the beauty of other worlds home.