When the car reached our destination, the doors opened silently, with no bell to announce our arrival. I took one last deep breath and stepped out onto the balcony before me and moved the six feet to the railing. From there, I could look down to the gallery itself, and I saw that there were already about thirty people wandering around, looking at my creations. Sebastian stood beside me without a sound, and I could hear some of the conversations from ten feet below me. The lighting was such that the balcony was almost completely shadowed while my work was brightly lit.
“Breathtaking,” one woman said as she gazed with shining eyes at a marble statue of a swan. “It looks like it is about to take flight.”
“Amazing,” another said about a pencil drawing of two boys fighting on a city street. “The detail is extraordinary.”
I softly started to walk along the balcony, my hand trailing over the polished oak railing. The accolades continued until I got to the curtained stairs. It was from there that I could see my most controversial work.
Sebastian placed his hand on my back, and I glanced at him and nodded. He nodded back and started down the stairs. He was going to be my representative during this exhibit, as he always was. He was seen so much by the public that one rumor was that he was actually the enigmatic Erik Desmond. He always laughed it off of when someone suggested it, saying that he could barely draw a stick figure, which was true. There were many, though, who stubbornly held onto that belief.
I watched him until he disappeared around the curtain at the bottom of the stairs, and then my gaze returned to the people studying my paintings. My gallery was divided into sections, separated by blood red curtains, with each different medium in its own area. Sculpture, drawings, pastels, watercolor, and oils. It was this last that had people murmuring instead of praising.
There were only seven people in that area, and every single one of them was frowning as they gazed at the images in front of them. Six of the people were obviously couples, with the women clinging to the men. I knew that my paintings were disturbing, and it was because of them that many people thought that I was more than one person. In their minds, they could not reconcile the thought that the same man who carved breathtaking swans and painted beautiful watercolor landscapes also painted these violent oils.
For this show, I had decided to display my least favorite oil series. It was my least favorite because it was the one which hit closest to home for me. I had deliberately positioned all of my work so that I could see the patrons’ faces as they examined it, and my jaw clenched as I watched the reactions to my latest work.
More than one woman looked like she was going to faint, and even the men looked a little sick. The three couples did not spend much time there, and soon, there was only one person left. The girl looked to be about eighteen or nineteen years old, and she was dressed in a beautiful, flowing gown the same color as my curtains. The long-sleeved dress hugged her body from bosom to mid-thigh and then flared out slightly into pleats which hung to the floor. Unlike the current fad of ladies wearing their hair short and curly, hers streamed down her back in a black waterfall that reached her waist. She was beautiful.
Walking slowly around, she gazed intently at each painting, even leaning in at one point. I knew exactly which painting she was looking at, and I watched her closely. She spent a few minutes in the same position, and then, to my amazement, moved to the bench in the middle of the room and sat down. Her head swiveled as she studied the paintings one at a time starting with the first. By the time she got to the fifth and last, I saw tears making their way down her cheeks before she hung her head.
An involuntary gasp escaped me at the emotion she showed, and her head snapped up and swiveled as she tried to find the source of the sound. I took a hasty step backward, but the movement caught her attention, and she raised her head. Although I knew she couldn’t see me fully, I started to tremble as I locked gazes with the most captivating pair of brown eyes I had ever seen. She opened her mouth as if to say something, but at that moment, Sebastian came through the curtains, went to her, and said something I could not hear over the blood rushing through my ears. The young woman reluctantly turned to him, and I took that opportunity to step farther back into the shadows, but not so far that I couldn’t see her.
She nodded to whatever Sebastian said to her, and then he left her. As soon as he was gone, her gaze returned to me, but I knew that I was hidden enough that, to her, it would seem as if I was no longer there. She frowned when she saw the seemingly empty balcony, and I had an intense desire to reach out and smooth away the lines between her eyebrows. The frown remained as she reached into her clutch purse and pulled out a small piece of paper and a pen. I watched as she wrote something down, folded the paper, and carefully slid it into the corner of the frame of the last painting. With one last glance at the shadows above her, she moved out of the oils section.
I followed her as she walked up to an older gentleman in the watercolor section and said something to him that I could not hear. He looked at her with surprise.
“Are you sure? We’ve only been here a short time.”
“I’m positive,” she said with a catch in her voice. It sounded like the tinkling of a horse’s harness bells. “I cannot stay here any longer, Father.”
“Sarah, are you all right?” He reached out one hand and gently tipped her chin up. “No, you’re not all right. Why have you been crying?”
She simply shook her head and said, “Can we just go, Father? Please?”
“Of course we can,” he answered swiftly. “Let me just say good night to our host.”
At her nod, he walked toward Sebastian, and, out of the corner of my eye, I saw him apparently apologizing for their short stay. My eyes, however, never left the girl standing in the middle of the floor, arms wrapped around herself. I risked stepping back up to the railing, gripping it tightly until my knuckles turned white.As if she could feel my eyes on her, she slowly raised her head until I could see the trails her tears had left. I forced myself to stay where I was, knowing that she could not see me fully. She raised her fingers to her lips, and I inhaled sharply when she kissed them and then turned them to face me. I released my hold on the railing and staggered backward until my back hit the wall. From there, I could not see her anymore, but I could see the front door, and moments later, I saw her approach it, her father’s arm around her caped shoulder. As he held it open for her, she glanced once more at the spot I had cravenly vacated. Then she disappeared into the cold, November night.