The Rent.

Part 18, Unveiling.

Tonight, the party was on the patio, and a DJ with a sense of humor had actually started playing that ZZ Top classic, until someone told him to stop and get back to the easy listening stuff he was being paid for.

At one end of the patio, on a raised platform, was the statue, still under its cover, its secrets protected from prying eyes.

Nina wished it would stay that way.  There were a lot of people at the house, most of whom she didn't recognize.  Those she DID recognize were all from the side of her life that knew about her nude lifestyle.

Talking with some people in one corner was Jacob Dah, his booming Scottish accent occasionally audible over the general throng.

Near the pool stood the Russian artist they had met at Buffalo Beach, Boris Berednov, the Beard.  He looked very different in clothes, quite attractive Nina thought.  Beard was talking with Helen, who was dressed for the occasion in a single silk wrap about twenty feet long.  Gold, and trimmed in a silver leaf design, it wrapped many times around her body and over her left shoulder, giving her a definite East Indian appearance.  Nina knew that under it, poor Helen wore nothing at all, not even shoes.  Yet, she didn't act as if she cared about it at that moment, and Nina had to admit you couldn't really tell that was all she wore.  The silk was sheer, but its many layers gave her visual protection.

Nina looked around some more, smiling a greeting whenever she was addressed; yet still, she felt nervous.  She saw the grocer, Mr. Diotelli, talking with Brian Cook and Sarah Wickland.  The dapper little Italian looked quite elegant in his white tuxedo, and Nina had spent a pleasant fifteen minutes with him earlier brushing up on her still rusty Italian.

She was watching him now and didn't see whom she bumped into until after it was too late.

"Excuse me," said the young man.

"No, it's my fault," Nina replied, turning to look at him.  "Christopher!" she exclaimed.  It was Kelly's twin brother.

"Hello Nina, how are you," he said with a friendly smile.

"I'm fine, how are you?" Nina replied, glad to see him.

"Very good.  You look lovely tonight...different, I like it.  I'm happy to see that Grandfather lets you dress some of the time."

Nina blushed.  The last time she had seen Christopher she had been nude.  She wasn't now, but she might well have been.  She was dressed in another IO creation, an odd outfit made up of ten gossamer thin pillowcase sized panels placed in layers over her body.  IO had literally sewed her into the outfit.  Nina didn't see much point in it, though.  Under bright light, the material might as well have been invisible, her body easily seen, but out here on the patio, it was dark enough to give her a little covering.

Nina shivered at Christopher's frank gaze.  "I'm glad you like it!"

They engaged in a little small talk, and then Christopher excused himself to go find his sister.  Nina knew she wouldn't be hard to find, Kelly was the only genuine nude at the party.  It was what told Nina for sure that this group was one of Brian's special groups, and it was why Nina was nervous.  With THIS group, Nina knew she would be out of her clothes, such as they were, at some point before the end of the evening.

Nina took another sip of her drink.

Nina wondered why she had been given something to wear in the first place; she was soon to find out.

"Nina," said Brian, edging through the crowd.  "I need you now.  We're about to unveil the statue and I want you up there with me for the auction."

"Auction?" Nina said.

"Yes, the charity auction.  Didn't I tell you about that?" said the old man.

"No, Sir," replied the girl.

"I'm getting forgetful in my old age.  Well, come along and you'll soon find out."

Nina nodded and carefully followed her host toward the platform.  As thin as her dress was, she didn't want to catch it on anyone or anything; it was all she had.

Brian reached the platform first and reached underneath it to flip a switch.  The white cloth wrap covering the statue instantly burst into light, and Nina realized that a large black light had been turned on.

Climbing the steps to the platform, Nina got another surprise.  Her plain and almost invisible looking garments suddenly blazed with color, the threads reacting strongly with the strange light.  Suddenly Nina didn't feel so naked; it was impossible to see anything under the gauze she wore.  She smiled as she joined her host, and to her surprise, Helen also joined them on the platform, although she stood to one side out of the light.

"Ladies, Gentleman," Brian said to the crowd.  Quite unnecessarily, as the bright glow of the statue and Nina's glowing outfit had already caught most people's attention.

What little conversation was left quickly died out, and all focused on the platform.  Nina began to blush under all the eyes.  She could barely feel the gauze covering her body, yet she knew she was well covered.  It dawned on her that for as long as she stood under the black light, she was effectively dressed in nothing but light.  It was rather surreal.

"Thank you, Ladies and Gentlemen for coming tonight, to see the unveiling of my latest work," Brian Cook began.  "Beside me as you can see is Nina, whom most of you have met.  She has been my inspiration for this piece, and I could not have done it without her.  Nina, I thank you."

Brian started applauding, and soon the rest of the crowd joined in.  Nina smiled and blushed even further.

"And now, to begin.  The piece is unnamed, as is my custom.  Its new owner has that honor."  Without further ado, Brian walked around the statue and gently pulled the cover from it.  Nina bit her lip in anticipation, and then stood startled at what she saw.  She KNEW the statue was a nude of her, but someone, most likely IO, had dressed it in exactly the same outfit Nina now wore.  The both of them glowed in multicolored splendor.

There was applause from the crowd who moved closer for a better look.  The figure of Nina stood about four feet high.  It showed her standing, her head slightly down, but with her eyes looking up at the viewer.  Her arms were by her side, fists clenched.  Its entire body language suggested restraint, someone resisting the urge to flee, to cover up, to hide.  There was a haunting look about the face that hinted at a nakedness far beyond the body.  It was a magnificent piece of work, despite the fact that it wore clothes.

Brian gave the assembled guests a few minutes to get a good look, before moving on to the next part of the evening.

"Those of you who have been here before know it is my custom to offer my new pieces for auction at their unveiling; a practice my agent despises, by the way."

General laughter by the crowd.

"As most of you already know, I also do not sell my work for profit.  All proceeds from the sales go to charity; and tonight the proceeds will be split between the Riley Children's Hospital, and the Wells Community Food Bank."

More applause and agreement from the crowd.  Nina, who knew nothing of this, was quite impressed, and thought that maybe having a nude statue of herself being sold wasn't quite so bad anymore if the money went to charity.

Brian waited until the murmuring died down.

"Tonight, however, you are all witness to something new.  I'm sure you have noticed the beautiful outfit the lovely Nina has been wearing all night, courtesy of IO; give him a hand, please."

IO smiled and turned to acknowledge the crowd.

"You have also noticed that the statue is wearing an identical outfit, not at all what you were expecting.  Well, I can tell you that the outfit is not a part of the piece, but a continuation of its unveiling, and to continue requires your co-operation."

There was a general murmur from the crowd as they wondered what Brian meant by that, while Brian walked over to the statue.

Nina noticed Helen walk up to her.  "Do you know what's going on?" Nina whispered to her.

Helen nodded but avoided looking Nina in the eye.  "Brian explained it to me just a little bit ago.  I'm sorry, Nina."

"Sorry for what?" Nina asked.

Brian began speaking again, and Helen didn't answer.

"Both Nina's outfit and the statue's consist of ten pieces.  In order to remove each piece, I must know who to give them to.  In order to know that, you will have to dig a little deeper into your wallets, for I am going to auction off each piece to you.  But not just the statue's, oh no.  The winner of each auction claims the identical panel from both the statue AND Nina!"

There was a gasp and polite laughter from the crowd, who moved forward again, crowding the platform a little.

Nina stood stunned, not quite believing what she had just heard.  Not only was she going to be stripped on stage in front of everyone, but also Brian was actually going to sell each item she had on to the highest bidder.  It was almost too much for her, but she couldn't bring herself to protest.  One thing that stopped her was the benefit to the charities.  Nina had always been a sucker for charities.

"So let the bidding begin!" Brian said.

Nina stood still and listened as various people called out monetary amounts.  The first winner claimed his prize at the cost of $1,000.  Brian removed a panel covering the statue's waist and Helen did likewise for Nina.  Nina just bit her lip, unable to move.

Prize claimed, Brian started the bidding again.

The next four pieces all went for $1,000 each, and by the time the panels were removed, Nina's legs, back and midriff were bare.

Panel number six went for $1,400, and this panel covered her upper chest.  Helen pulled it away from Nina, exposing her cleavage.  From this point on, anything removed would expose her significantly.

As each panel was taken from her, the crowd showed their polite appreciation with applause and congratulations for the buyer.  They also eyed both Nina and the statue, giving her encouraging and at times sympathetic looks.  Only a few looked at her with anything that could be taken sexually.  One of those was Sarah Wickland, Nina's boss, who had come to the front of the stage.  She winked at Nina and waved her finger.

Panel number seven sold for $2,600, and Brian removed the single panel covering the statue's rear end.

Helen did the honors with Nina, carefully pulling at the tiny stitching so that she could pull the wispy cloth away without destroying the rest of the outfit.  Nina thought she might have imagined it, but she could have sworn she felt the difference between her butt covered and uncovered.

Panel eight went for $5,000, and this time it was the one covering her left breast.  Her breasts had been encased bikini fashion; one panel for each side, and the release of one left the other just barely covered.

Nina felt like she wanted to run and hide, but she gritted her teeth and hung on.  She didn't know it, but she had unconsciously adopted the same pose as the statue itself.  Most of the artists present noticed, though, and they were impressed with the detail Brian had been able to achieve with stone.

Number nine went for $8,000, and as expected, her right breast was now...unveiled.  All that was left was a panel across her hips.  It glowed brightly in the black light, hiding her treasures from the crowd, but it wasn't to last.

"Final bidding," Brian said.

Nina closed her eyes and listened.  $1,000 came and went in a flash, $5,000 was passed without slowing down, at $10,000 the bidding grew almost silent, but the winning bid was $11,500 from, of all people, Mr. Diotelli.

Helen carefully pulled at the last piece of stitching and gracefully exposed her friend to the crowd.  There was an enthusiastic response, and Nina stood blushing furiously as she was applauded.

"Thank you, thank you," said Brian.  "There will be a short break before bidding on the statue itself commences.  Please feel free to come up and inspect it."

People came up and Nina stood silent, not knowing what to do.  She looked around for Helen, but she was off delivering Nina's clothing to the different winners.

Sarah stepped up to her and smiled.  "You did good tonight.  We're all proud of you."

"Proud of me?" Nina said.

"Yes.  Proud.  We all know that many wouldn't have stood here and taken what you did.  In fact, I'm surprised that Brian put you through it.  What did you do to piss him off?"

Nina thought about the pressure she had put on Brian to let Helen stay with them while her apartment was being fixed.  Surely, he didn't hold a grudge.  Nina shrugged.

"Anyway," Sarah said, "I'm going to go look at the statue.  I think it might look nice in one corner of Franklin's office.  I know HE would like it."

Nina's eyes opened wide; the thought of that statue being there where anyone in the firm could see it horrified her.

"Oh no, please!" Nina begged.

Sarah laughed.  "Don't worry, I'm not that cruel.  Besides, Franklin doesn't deserve a treat that expensive."

Nina sighed.  "Good."

"I'd probably just take it home and keep it there," Sarah continued, and she grinned and walked away.

Nina shuddered, and was approached by someone else.  During the entire break, she stood nude while talking to various people who congratulated her and complimented her.  Several artists inquired as to whether she was available for modeling, and Nina said she was.  This made a lot of people rather happy.

Eventually Brian came back, and the group left the stage so the auction could continue.

Brian didn't waste any time, and the first bid came in at a firm $10,000.  $20,000 quickly followed, but it bogged down after that, going up slowly but surely.  Sarah Wickland offered a $26,000 bid, winking at Nina as she did so, but it was quickly raised past that point and she didn't bid again.

Nina stood in silent wonder, amazed that so many people were willing to pay so much for a statue of HER!  She didn't know whether to feel flattered or afraid.

$40,000...$50,000...bidding seemed to stall out at $58,000 with a portly looking gentleman near the back looking rather pleased with himself.  It took Nina a moment to recognize him, even though she saw the man almost once a week.  It was the nude shopper from Diotelli's grocery store, and it was the first time Nina had seen him dressed.

Brian called out for more bids, but none were forthcoming.

"Any more?" he said, looking around at the silent crowd.  "Then the bidding is..."

"WAIT!" yelled a voice from the house.  The crowd turned to look behind them.  It was dark back there though and the man was invisible.

"Yes?  You wish to bid?" Brian called out.

"Sorry I'm late; what's the bid?" yelled the man.

"$58,000, Sir," Brian replied.

"Well then, I bid $80,000!"

The crowed gasped, and the man began to make his way to the front.

Brian smiled and asked for more bids, but no one was willing.  He waited until the young man made his way to the stage and then called it.

"SOLD, for $80,000.  Congratulations, Mr. Barb!"

Nina was stunned once more in an evening she thought couldn't hold any more surprises.  For she knew Mr. Barb very well; Mr. JIM Barb, that is.

Jim climbed up on the stage and shook Brian's hand.

"You get to name it!" Brian said.

Jim grinned and turned to the nude young lady it was modeled on.  "There is only one name, 'Nina'," he said.

"'Nina' it is then," Brian said with a smile.

The crowd applauded, and Jim walked over to Nina.  "Hi!" he said with a smile.

"How...I mean...where...what are you doing here?" Nina said, or at least tried to say.

"I was invited.  Almost didn't make it.  Glad I did, though; I really wanted that statue."

" don't have that kind of money!" Nina said.

"What makes you think that?" he said with a smile, and he took her hand.  "Come on, I'll tell you about it over a drink.  I came all the way up here to see you."

Nina smiled and allowed herself to be led off the stage, no longer caring about her nudity.

The crowd broke up now that the auction was over, and the happy buyers all talked about their purchases.  Brian was ecstatic, and looked forward to presenting checks to both the night's charities.

Only Helen seemed subdued.  She stood in the shadows and watched Nina and Jim together, and wondered why she didn't feel settled.

The unveiling over, the evening went on.

End of Part 18.