Identity Series Book 2: I Am Sarah

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Chapter 3

The calendar on my wall showed March 12, 1939, and I was standing in front of my closet trying to decide what to wear. All of my dresses were long-sleeved to hide the scars on my wrists, and, although I would have loved to cut my hair in a currently-stylish bob, I didn’t dare, for then I would also have to wear dresses with necklines to my chin; the scars on my back were even worse than the ones on my wrists. I finally pulled out an emerald-green gown that my father had bought me for my nineteenth birthday in December. I brushed out my waist-length, straight black hair and arranged it carefully so that my back was hidden.

A knock on my door caused me to turn with a smile. I ran to the door and flung it open. My father stood there, and he looked at me with such love that tears came to my eyes.

“Oh, Sarah, you are lovely. That dress is perfect for you.”

I threw my arms around him and squeezed. “Thank you, Daddy.” I pulled back and straightened the tie of his tuxedo. “But then again, it was your impeccable taste that chose it for me.”

He laughed. “That is very true. Well, I will continue to choose beautiful dresses if you promise to keep doing them such justice.”

“I promise,” I said, my smile growing.

“Well, then, shall we go?” He held out his arm, and I took it. He guided me down the main hallway to the front door where Adam was holding my black cloak. As my father put on his overcoat, Adam held the cloak for me, and he draped it around my shoulders, making sure not to disturb my carefully positioned hair.

“Thank you, Adam.”

“You are very welcome, Miss.”

I practically danced to the car. We were going to attend Mr. Erik Desmond’s newest art show, and I couldn’t have been more excited. I had met him almost five months earlier, and, while I thought he considered me his friend, I hoped to become something more. Since meeting him, he had opened up to me about what had happened to him as a child, and he already knew my own story. We had connected in a way that most people couldn’t understand, and tonight, I was going to try to deepen that connection, at least so far as my father and my nerve would allow.

Ten minutes later, we were parked in the underground garage of The Desmond Building, and my hands shook slightly with excitement as I thought of what I had planned.

As we emerged from the garage, I looked across Central Park South into the park and sighed. My father heard it and smiled as he draped his arm across my shoulders. I loved Central Park, and I often spent many hours there. In addition, the Park had its place in my plans for the evening.

We entered the gallery to the sound of a small bell above the door, and a young man quickly took our outerwear and hung it up.

“Sebastian,” I said with a smile, “it’s so good to see you again.” I held out my hand, but he just laughed and pulled me into a hug.

“Good to see you, too, Sarah.” He pulled back and held out his hand to my father, who was standing behind me, a smile on his face. “Mr. McAllister, sir, it’s always a pleasure.”

“Mr. Holdaway,” my father answered, shaking his hand, “thank you for inviting us.”

“Oh, trust me, sir, it wasn’t me who invited you. Erik insisted that you two have a private showing of his latest work before the crowds come.”

“Well, then, I’ll have to thank him when I see him.”

“You are more than welcome, sir.”

I spun around with a grin at the deep, rich baritone behind us. Erik stood there, his tall, muscular body resplendently clothed in a midnight blue tuxedo with black tie and cummerbund. I rushed to him, threw my arms around his waist, and laid my head on his chest. His arms encircled me briefly as he returned the hug, and then he took my arms and pushed me back.

I frowned at him. “What’s wrong, Erik?”

“Nothing, Sarah.” He traced small circles on my upper arms with his thumbs and smiled. He leaned down close to my ear and whispered, “I missed you.”

I loved it when he smiled, partly because he didn’t do it often enough. When he did, his eyes sparkled, and I couldn’t help but return it.

“And I you,” I answered as he stood straight and released me. “What have you been doing with yourself that I haven’t seen you for over a month?”

“That is what you are here to see,” he said, his smile growing, and I suddenly had a vision of how he might have looked as a boy, excited for Christmas morning or a special trip, even though I knew he had never had either of those things as a child. He turned to my father. “Mr. McAllister? If you’ll follow me, please?”

My father nodded, and Erik took my hand before turning and making his way through the curtain to his left, still smiling. I took one step forward and then froze. My father grunted and moved around me, but then he stilled as well. Erik laughed and released my hand before moving to the middle of the room. He flung his arms out wide and slowly turned in circles, presenting his work to us. He stopped after three or four turns, and his deep blue eyes twinkled.

“So,” he said, “what do you think?”

I couldn’t speak. The beauty in the room overwhelmed me, and I slowly moved to one of the benches in the room and sat heavily.

Every canvas and paper showed a landscape—mountains, prairies, forests, meadows, small towns, and large cities—and Erik had used more media in creating them than I had ever seen before in one place. As I looked around, I saw chalk, charcoal, oil paint, pencil, watercolors, and even sand. There was an abundance of color, but the black and grey of the charcoal and pencil drawings contrasted nicely with it. Every piece looked as if you could reach out and pick a flower or smell the crisp, snow-filled air or lay down in the soft, flowing grass. All of the works had the undeniable touch of genius that screamed Erik Desmond.

“Erik…” I breathed. I turned toward him and gaped. He knelt before me and took my hands in his.

“Tell me you like it, Sarah.” Some of the joy in his eyes had turned to nervousness, and I laughed.

“Like it? Erik it’s absolutely incredible.” I raised my left hand and placed it on his unblemished cheek. “You are absolutely incredible.”

He had yet to allow me to touch the jagged scar that ran from his left temple down over his cheek to the corner of his mouth, but at least he hadn’t flinched or pulled away from me this time as he had numerous times before. It had taken weeks of daily visits and countless hours of talking before he’d trusted me enough to permit me to touch his face at all. It hadn’t been long after the first time I did so that he had sequestered himself in his studio and had refused all of my attempts to see him. At first, I had been hurt that he avoided me, but Sebastian had quickly reassured me that he wasn’t angry at me, and he wasn’t hiding away; inspiration had simply hit him “over the head with a baseball bat,” as Sebastian had put it, and he was furiously working, barely stopping to eat or sleep, much less socialize.

As he gazed at me now with shining eyes, I resisted the urge to lean forward and brush my lips across his. I wanted to do so desperately, but I had been raised to believe that women who did things like that were forward and brazen, and I didn’t want to be seen as either of those things, especially by Erik.

“Do you really think so, Sarah?”

I snapped out of my contemplation of how a kiss from him might feel. “Do I think what?”

“That I’m incredible?”

The nervousness was still there, and his question reminded me that, in many ways, he had never grown up. Even at twenty-two years old, he was still very much a child who had an exceptionally poor image of himself, regardless of what I or the art critics or his public said about him and to him. I knew it was the result of his father’s constant abuse for the first sixteen years of his life, and I was doing my best to get him to believe that he was not the worthless person his father had always told him he was.

My thumb traced his cheek, and I smiled. “Of course I think that, Erik,” I said softly. “When will you believe me? When will you believe your critics, your patrons, your friends?”

He sighed and placed his hand over mine, pressing his cheek into my palm as he closed his eyes. “Someday, maybe I will.” He opened his eyes and grinned, and my heart skipped a beat at the beauty before me. “If I hear it enough.”

I smiled brighter. “Then I will continue to say it until you do.”

“As will I.”

Erik’s eyes glowed like sapphires at my father’s voice behind him, and he squeezed my hand lightly before standing up and turning around.

“Thank you, sir; I appreciate it.”

“I mean it, Erik. You are the most talented artist the world has seen in fifty years.”

The laugh that came from Erik was the most beautiful sound I had ever heard, and I determined in that moment to do everything I could to get him to laugh more, to smile more, to enjoy life more.

“Again, thank you, sir, but I don’t believe that. What about Gauguin, Munch, Rousseau, Van Gogh, dozens of others? They all far surpass me.”

“No, Erik, they don’t.” My father spoke sternly, and I nodded in agreement. “This,” he swept his arm in a circle, “this is wondrous; it is breathtaking, stunning. Your work brings tears to my eyes, and that doesn’t happen often.”

Erik’s mirth remained, but he simply inclined his head respectfully toward my father.

“Erik?”

He turned back to me.

“How much time until the doors open?”

He pulled a silver pocket watch from his jacket and clicked it open.

“About an hour. Why?”

I took a deep breath and stood up.

“Time enough to take a walk with me? I’d like to ask you something.”

I glanced at my father and was pleased to see approval clearly etched on his face. I had told him of my plan, and he had agreed to let me try. My gaze came back to Erik in time to see him nod.

“There’s time enough,” he said. “As long as we keep it short.”

“It doesn’t need to be long. I just want to go to The Pond.”

He nodded, and we made our way back to the door. He helped me put my cloak on, and then he took his overcoat off of the rack, but as he was putting it on, Sebastian stepped up to him.

“You can’t go out that way, Erik. There’s already a line of people forming. You’d never make it to the Park.”

“Damn!”

The muttered curse caused my eyebrows to rise, and Erik looked at me sheepishly.

“Sorry,” he said softly.

I threaded my arm in his and whispered, “I’ve heard worse.”

He laughed again and then turned to Sebastian. “We’ll go out the garage. On our way back, though, we’ll be coming through the door, so be ready to let us in.”

“You got it, Erik.”

Erik slipped his hand down and clasped mine. “Come on,” he said. He led me to the stairs in the corner of the gallery and quickly climbed them. I laughed as he strode down the hallway to the elevator, pulling me behind him. He glanced down at me, and the happiness on his face made my heart swell. We stopped in front of the elevator, and the doors opened an instant after he pressed the button.

Once inside, during the fifty-flight ride to the only other door in the elevator shaft, I watched him. He had stopped smiling, but he stood tall and relaxed, his hands clasped behind his back. It was much the same stance he had taken the first time I had entered his office, but then he had been stiff and formal, and now, he was peaceful. I suddenly decided that I didn’t need to take a walk to fulfill my plan, and I moved to stand in front of him.

His eyebrows rose, but he said nothing as I placed my hands on his arms and looked up at him. At six feet, four inches tall, he towered over me by a foot, and my head tilted back as his tilted down. His deep blue eyes bore into my plain brown ones, and I caught my breath. I was about to speak, but just then, the elevator door opened onto his living room.

Erik stepped back slightly and held his arm toward the open door. “Shall we?” he asked, swallowing thickly.

I nodded and walked before him into his home. I had been there many times before but never with the intent that I had today. Erik exited and started to move toward the stairs which would lead us to the public elevator and then the garage, but I grabbed his arm. He looked down at me questioningly, and I took a deep breath to gather my courage.

“Let’s…” My voice cracked, and I cleared it noisily. Erik just stood there staring at me. “Let’s just go out to the balcony instead of taking a walk.”

“Why?”

“Because I can’t wait any longer to ask you my question,” I blurted out. I could feel my cheeks heating up.

The corner of Erik’s mouth twitched upward, and I could tell he was trying hard not to laugh at me. “Oh, really?”

I frowned at his teasing. “It’s not funny, Erik!”

He became instantly serious. “I’m sorry, Sarah, but I’ve never seen you like this before, and I’m trying to figure you out.”

I huffed in exasperation, but it was directed more at myself than at him. I grabbed his hand and pulled him toward the balcony. Pulling open the door, I braced myself against the wind that always blew up there. It was cold, but I didn’t want to be inside during this. Erik stepped up behind me and placed his free hand on my shoulder.

“Sarah, what are we doing out here?”

I turned around, dropped his hand, and placed my palms on his upper arms. I took a moment to admire, not for the first time, the way his biceps filled out the sleeves of his jacket. Then I took a step closer to him and gazed up at him.

“Erik, do you like me?”

His eyebrows came together, and he frowned. “That’s your question? How can you even ask that?”

“No,” I said, shaking my head, “that’s not the question, but I need to know the answer before I can ask what I really want to.”

Confusion filled his eyes, and he laid his hands on my shoulders before slowly trailing them down to my elbows and back. When he spoke, he sounded as if his throat was constricted.

“You know I like you, Sarah. Very much.”

It was time. I raised my hand and cupped his right cheek. He closed his eyes and sighed.

“Do you like me enough to kiss me?”

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