Chapter Twenty One
Sophie checked her watch. Seven am, it was evening with Bill in Australia. There was a chance if she emailed him now he’d see her message before his final day of racing. Pulling her laptop from the floor, she flipped it open and logged on to her email. Opening his last message she penned a reply that she knew had to be honest and truthful.
“Bill. I need to tell you something and it's important. I’ve just spoken to Miles, I bumped into him when I was out for a run this morning and he told me you called, I had NO idea, and I’m so sorry he answered. We were celebrating at the Lion, Vin and I, I'd just had the confirmation that I had the show. It was late in the evening, he turned up. I don’t know why. I left, straight away, I had no intention of speaking to him...but I forgot my phone, left it on the bar, that’s why he answered it was nothing more than that. But if you truly loved me you’d know that I’d not to anything to jeopardise us. You didn’t trust me at the first test Bill.
“All I’ve wanted this last five weeks is to share my excitement with you, not Vin, not Margo, not my brother and DEFINITELY not Miles, but you and you alone. I love you in so many ways; I mean you’re my best friend, and most recently you’ve become my best lover. But you’ve not been there and it breaks my heart. I understand the physical distance and I wouldn't change that because it's so important to you, and me too, but the emotional absence has been crippling.
“The irony is that this is all because of you. The day you left I was inspired by the greatest creativity of my life. Every work is about you and how I feel about you, how you make me feel. The centre piece of the whole exhibition is an interpretation of your eyes! How ridiculous does that sound? I’m almost laughing at myself. But I painted every one wearing your surfshack hoodie, smelling you, feeling close to you...I’ve slept in your bed every night for the last two weeks. I feel close to you there and it calms me.
“I’m so glad that the cycling has worked out for you, you were always going to be so much more than a banker. You aren’t the sort of person who conforms to that. I can’t wait to see you living your dream on a permanent basis. I hope you read this before the last day of the race. And I hope you win it! You deserve it! I've listened to every stage, followed every twitter feed and it's been enthralling!
“I’ve buried the hatchet with my brother, in a timely fashion as it seems Ma and Pa are hovering on the horizon, we need to be united for that! And it’s such a relief to have an ally like him. And I'm starting to believe that I wasn't unloveable all those years ago, just unloved. I was starting to feel better about myself...
“I’ll always love you Bill, but we can’t ever be just friends, not after all that happened. And if you can’t trust me enough to ask me the truth then I don’t think we can be anything at all. I’ve accepted Margo’s offer and after this exhibition...my big night, I’ll be moving into the attic of the shop. Come and see me when you get back.
“I miss you every day, Sophie.”
That was the truth, she was angry with Bill as much as with Miles. Now that she’d cleared her chest, told them both how awful they were being, how badly they treated her, she found it all calming, relaxing, and very cathartic. It was a closed page. She didn’t deserve to be mistreated, disrespected like that. She had to embrace this opportunity it was her big chance and she owed it to herself. She’d gone months, years without having a man in her life, she could do many more. With a confident smile, she closed the laptop lid and took Margo’s dress out of the protective carrier.
Beautiful! She couldn’t wait to wear it.
It was a sunny day, but she couldn’t concentrate on anything, so she set up a huge canvas in her bedroom and selected her wildest oil paints. It was a day for bright colour, vivid images and passion. Her enthusiasm came across as a wild mess on the blank screen, but as time went on her image became clearer. It was nothing distinct, but to her it symbolised her anxiety over the past, and her optimism for the future. It was mid afternoon when she’d finally agreed that it was finished, but by then she was a mess of paint and dust.
Oil didn’t clean very well and she had to use industrial paint cleaner to get it off her face and hair, and it stank! She was feeling anything but a million dollars when Vincenza came in. She’d taken a half day off from work to accompany her friend.
“What the hell are you doing? The biggest day of your life and you stink like a road worker!”
Sophie smiled as Vin disappeared into the bedroom emerging with a variety of products, and handing them over with curt instructions, “hair, face, body, hair and this is for your hands. Now go!”
Like an obedient school girl she disappeared into the shower to try and salvage herself.
Two hours later she was ready, the vintage dress looked stunning, and Vin had pulled her hair back in a neat pleat, a set of vintage pearl combs gave her a real 50’s chick look. She loved it.
“You look stunning!”
Vin had brought them a half bottle of champagne to celebrate, and as she opened it, there was a knock at the door. Margo. She’d come to accompany them to the opening too. As they sat down together, Vin announced that she’d ordered a chauffeur driven limousine to take them to the gallery.
“You deserve it Sophie!”
As they travelled in luxury to the gallery, it was Vincenza who broached the topic of Bill. Sophie sighed and in a strong fashion explained to them exactly what had happened.
“Good for you!” Margo announced when Sophie paraphrased the email she’d sent.
“I thought he was my ‘one’!”
Margo took her hand, “no man takes our self esteem, and trust is the most important part of love darling. He’ll come good, but it’ll be your choice what happens. I do believe that!”
Holding hands, the three stepped out of the car, and into the glamorous and well lit gallery.
The place was full; Sophie didn’t recognise anyone other than her brother and a few friends. Once she’d introduced everyone, she cut a ceremonial ribbon and everyone flooded into the huge building.
“Congratulations Sophie!” a heavily accented voice lilted from the left. Gino Alessandro beautiful Italian magnate, and Vincenza’s father stood admiring the blue vision, Bill’s eyes inspired painting. “I was wanting this for my new office. It would look wonderful in the reception, but alas!” He pointed to the small red sold sticker.
Sophie felt her jaw open in a rather undignified manner, “already?” She’d hoped that piece wouldn’t sell. It was the most expensive so she was confident it would not be bought, but as it was, it had sold within moments of it opening.
“I will purchase another, I promise, these are wonderful!”
She smiled at the charismatic older man, he’d usually made her nervous, she was in awe of him, but now, today in the height of her success, she felt an equal to him for the first time in her life. Bill had said to her once that ‘success gives you big balls!’, and for the first time ever, despite the absence of said balls, she knew exactly what he meant.
“Thank you Signo...” she saw his glare then smiled, “sorry Gino. Thank you. It’s my life work, and I’m so glad to know that others finally appreciate it!”
He nodded, “I’ve always appreciated beautiful things!” He had the ability to flirt without meaning to. It used to make her nervous, but now, today, she wasn’t at all unsettled, but she did want to find out exactly what had happened to her painting. How was it sold already?
Smiling and backing away, she moved towards Michael who was stood talking to a group of people deep into the gallery. She tapped his arm and he elaborately introduced her to the dignitaries gathered. Once she’d smiled and shaken a dozen hands, she pulled him to one side.
“Blue Eyes. The central piece...It’s sold.”
He nodded excitedly, “I know BEFORE the gallery opened. I had several inquiries. And yes! It sold! I had a call and they met the asking price straight away. Your must be a sensation! I mean, we never normally sell the token piece BEFORE the event. And frankly that is the flagship of the whole exhibition! Congratulations!”
Whilst half of her was happy that she was already a success, the other half was devastated to lose the one piece that really mattered to her. But hey, she’d lost the man; she may as well lose the picture!
With a smile, she turned to search for Nick, his approval was more important than most, he’d always been her harshest critic.
Sara waved excitedly as she approached, hugging her as best she could with hands filled with a glass of champagne and a delicate canapé. “This is amazing! Your work is wonderful...and the food is superb! Beats all the stuffy work things I have to go to with Nick!”
Nick beside her rolled his eyes, “they are hardly that tedious!”
Sophie chuckled, “you’re right Sara, but he’s too stubborn to see that! And the quail’s eggs are sublime!”
Nick hugged her in a male brotherly way, “I am proud though sis. I really am!” He planted a kiss on the top of her head and she sank into him with relief, it was so nice having someone looking out for her, protecting her.
“And I’m so glad you came! It means a lot!”
He nodded, suddenly after years of being at loggerheads they’d found the same hymn sheet to sing from and the solidarity in that had given them both a new lease of life, a new confidence and happiness. Sara let them savour that closeness for a few moments, turning to read the guide book and glance at the blurb that accompanied each exhibit in the room.
“So,” Eventually Sara took her hand and led her to the nearest painting, “what inspired this one?”
“Love!” Sophie sighed, “true love!”
Sara spun to look at her, “you’ve found true love? Really?”
For the first time in days Sophie felt the prickle of tears at the back of her eyes, shaking her head to clear the sadness she smiled, “well for a moment I thought I had! Whatever it was, it inspired me!”
“But if it is TRUE love...” Sara began, but Sophie silenced her.
“Maybe I just had the realisation that love exists Sara, maybe that’s all.” She smiled, proud of that answer.
“But what if it IS true love?” A voice spoke from behind her. Sophie felt everything change, a beating in her ears overrode the noise of the room, heat flushed her body and she thought she might faint. Turning slowly she fought to stop the tears flowing down her cheeks as stood there in front of her, was an exhausted looking Bill.