Two days later, I was in my studio staring at the blank canvas on my easel. I was trying to pour myself into my work, inconvenient as it was with only my left hand to work with, but there was nothing. For two days there had been nothing but the violent images that had gone up in flames in my fireplace, and I didn’t want to recreate those. The bare white surface mocked me as I stood silently, hoping for some sort of inspiration to hit me. A small knock on the open door pulled my attention to Sebastian, who was standing in the doorway grinning from ear to ear.
I sighed heavily and pivoted to face him. “What is it now?”
“Sarah McAllister,” he said, taking one step forward. “Only child of Mr. Keenan McAllister of McAllister Shipyard, nineteen years old, native of New York City, telephone number Beekman 3-0863, resident of 530 Park Avenue, Manhattan.”
Bolting to the door, I rudely shoved him aside as I hurried to my home office without a word. A week before, I had broken out in a cold sweat at the mere thought of talking to this girl, but ever since I had decided to find her and confide in her, I had been on pins and needles waiting for information. Sebastian had spent every moment searching for her, and now that he knew where she was, I wanted to waste no time in getting in contact with her. I grabbed the phone off of the hook and cradled it between my cheek and shoulder as I frantically dialed the number. After two rings, a male voice answered.
I took a deep breath and released it slowly. “Hello, I’d like to speak to Miss Sarah McAllister, please.”
“She’s not here at the moment, sir. May I take a message?”
Damn! I pinched the bridge of my nose and closed my eyes. “Yes, thank you. Can you please let her know that Mr. Erik Desmond would like to speak with her about a matter she brought up some time ago? My telephone number is Academy 2-3874. Do you know when she’ll be in?”
“She and her father have left the city for their country home for Christmas, sir, and won’t be back for three weeks, but I will get your message to her as soon as possible.”
I kept my voice calm even though I was seething with frustration. “All right. Thank you very much.”
“You are welcome, sir.”
I waited until I heard the click of the man disconnecting the call, and then I slammed down the receiver. After a pause in which I attempted to calm down and failed, I grabbed the phone, ripped the cord from the wall, and flung the entire thing across the room. It hit the wall and fell to the floor, leaving a phone-sized hole in the plaster. I instantly felt a little better.
I spun around, surprised that I hadn’t heard him approach. “Her father owns property in the country,” I said, walking past him back to my studio. “Find out where it is.”
“At once, master.”
I stopped and glared at him, but he simply stared impassively back at me until I had to smile. “I’m sorry,” I said sincerely. “Could you please attempt to find it?”
He nodded and smiled back.
“And could you please get me some aspirin?” I added, pinching my nose again. “I feel a headache coming on.”
“Not a problem, Erik.”
I resumed my position before the easel and picked up my contemplation of the canvas where I had left off. This time, however, inspiration came, and I lifted a brush in my left hand and started to paint. I had found out quickly that I was actually able to do quite a bit with my non-dominant hand. Not as well as with my right, perhaps, but well enough that I was able to release the nervous energy within me onto the canvas and paper.
Colors blossomed on the stark white of the canvas, rapidly forming the picture from my mind. My brush flew in broad strokes; I lost myself to the art, and it felt wonderful. It was hours later when I finally stopped and looked at the painting.
“She’s beautiful, Erik.”
I nodded as I studied the dark-haired, blue-eyed woman seated in a field of wildflowers. She was reaching for a bouquet that was being held out to her by a little boy with the same features.
“Yes, she was.”
Sebastian moved until he was standing beside me. “Your mother?”
“You look like her.”
“Do you really think so?”
“Mm hmm.” He placed his hand on my shoulder lightly, and I smiled at him. “So,” he continued, “I have some good news.”
I put the brush down and turned fully toward him. “You found the McAllisters?”
“I did,” he said. “They own a house outside of Rochester. Do you want the telephone number?”
“Yes,” I said, wiping my hand on the towel hanging from the easel, “and I also want the address.”
His eyes widened. “Why? You’re not planning on going out there, are you?”
I scoffed. “Of course not. I simply have a package I want to send to her.”
“It is downstairs in the gallery. It just needs an address.”
“Really? I don’t remember seeing anything down there yesterday.”
I walked out of the studio with a small smile on my lips. “That’s because I put it there last night.”
“What’s in it?” he followed me out, practically tripping over my heels.
“None of your business,” I answered kindly.
He stopped walking. “Fine, don’t tell me,” he said. “The address and phone number will be on your desk downstairs.”
I thought he was annoyed that I wouldn’t tell him, but then his lips twitched.
“Thank you, Sebastian.”
“You are more than welcome, Erik.”
The smile still on my lips, I washed my hand the best I could and changed from my paint-spattered shirt and pants into clean ones. I walked down to my office and saw a small slip of paper on top of my desk. I chuckled when I read it:
Erik, here’s the number and address:
Number 920 East Avenue
Rochester, New York
You’d better tell me what’s in the package if you know what’s good for you!
I copied the address down on a separate piece of paper and put the original in my desk drawer. Then I pressed the intercom.
“Yes, Mr. Desmond?”
“Miss Parker, there is a large package in the gallery downstairs. Will you please come here, get the address, and make sure it is safely shipped? I would like it to be done immediately.”
“Yes, sir. Right away.”
I stood and walked to the windows overlooking Central Park. I clasped my hands behind my back and waited. The door to my office opened, and my secretary’s footsteps crossed to my desk. The paper rustled softly as she picked it up, but I didn’t hear her leave as I expected her to.
“Is there something else you need, Miss Parker?” I asked without turning.
Silence. Then she cleared her throat. “Are you upset with me, Mr. Desmond?”
Her question caught me by surprise, and I paused before answering.
“I wouldn’t say that, Miss Parker.”
“Then what is it, sir, if I may ask? Have I done something wrong? You seem…displeased with me.”
I took a deep breath and held it for a moment, trying to decide how to answer. Should I be honest with her and tell her exactly what bothered me about her? My mind flashed back to my mother’s abhorrence for lying and then said, “Let’s just say that I am not thrilled with your attitude toward me.”
“Toward you, sir? I’m not sure what you are talking about.”
“Let me ask you a question, Miss Parker,” I said in answer. “Are you scared of me?”
“No, sir,” she said a little too quickly. “Of course not.”
I frowned. “Are you sure about that? You don’t sound like it.”
“I…” She gulped loudly.
“You see,” I said, “that’s what I’m talking about. You are scared of me.”
“No, sir,” she said more firmly, “I am not afraid of you, but you are very overwhelming. I mean, you are the great Mr. Erik Desmond. To be as talented as you are at such a young age, sir, well, it’s a little intimidating to be around you. What I’m afraid of is disappointing you.”
“Hmm.” That gave me pause. “And what do you think about my…lack of social interaction?”
“Well, sir, I figured you have your reasons. I hadn’t really thought that much about it.”
“Is that so? You’ve never wondered why I don’t let people see me?”
“Of course I’ve wondered, sir, but I try not to let it affect my work.” She paused this time. “Have you been dissatisfied with my work, sir?”
“No, Miss Parker, I haven’t. Your work has been perfectly acceptable.” I closed my eyes and ran my fingers through my hair. “Now, if you don’t mind, Miss Parker, I’d like that package sent off as soon as possible.”
“Oh, of course, sir. I’ll get right on it.”
Her steps retreated across the room and the door opened.
I glanced at her over my shoulder, much as I had with Sarah, and she gasped. I gave her a slight smile. “I’ll try not to be quite as intimidating.”Her eyes instantly lit up, and she returned the smile before leaving the room and shutting the door behind her.