“Are you excited about your trip to Florida?” I asked.
“Yes,” Ellie declared. “I’ve never been to the beach.”
“When I travelled with Father, we went to museums and the theatre, and landmark monuments. He hated the beach.”
“Well, my dear sister, you have been missing out. The beach is awesome.”
“I understand your condo is right on the beach?”
“Do you ever use it?”
“Not very often. I rarely take vacations. This is the longest I’ve been away from my business since I started it.”
“It’s strange. But it’s been kinda nice.”
“Do you think you’ll ever move to Maine permanently?”
“I’m not sure,” I admitted.
“What about Kinley? Don’t you love her?”
“I do. Very much. But that happened unexpectedly, and very fast.”
“How do you know when you’ve found the one, Harland?”
“I think you just know.”
“Is Kinley the one?”
“So how can you even consider leaving?”
“I have no idea.”
“Seems as though you already have your answer.”
“It’s not that simple, Ellie.”
“Seems pretty simple to me.”
“Oh look,” I said with fake enthusiasm. “We’re here.”
“You’re amusing, Harland.”
“How so?” I asked as I slid into a parking spot near my mother’s gallery.
“You act like visiting your mother is an unpleasant chore that you’d rather avoid all together.”
“You hit the nail on the head. That’s exactly how I feel about visits with the woman who gave birth to me.”
“Then why are we here?”
I put the car in park, killing the ignition. “Well,” I said, running my hand through the scruff on my jaw. “She’s my mother. And while she’s far from perfect, she deserves better than what she got from our father. I never even met her until I was ten. And that wasn’t entirely on her. My father was rich and powerful, she was young and poor. I like to think she signed away her parental rights because she knew I’d have a better life with him, and not because of the money he offered her, but I suspect the truth falls somewhere in the middle.”
“Why are you buying her a gallery?”
“You ask a lot of hard questions.”
“Please don’t insult my intelligence with classic avoidance statements.”
“How about we go inside and get this over with?” I grumbled, reaching for the door handle.
I tried the front door of the gallery, finding it locked.
“The sign says they don’t until eleven,” Ellie pointed out.
I glanced at my watch. It was only ten-thirty.
My mother appeared on the other side of the glass, her hair dyed orange. Bright orange like a fucking carrot. Every time I saw her, her hair was styled and coloured differently. That day it hung in a long braid draped over her shoulder. I had no idea what her natural colour even was.
“Harland, darling,” she gushed, pulling me in for an awkward hug. “I’m so glad to see you, son.”
“I promised you I’d come down and look at the property on Valley Street.”
“It’s nice, honey. But it’s not on the water.”
“As I told you before, Mom, waterfront commercial space is hard to find in Portland.”
“Hello, Ellie,” she said, peeking around me to stare at my sister.
“I don’t believe we’ve met before,” Ellie said.
“We haven’t. But I was at the funeral. Your eulogy was beautiful.”
“I’m Crystal Jenkins.”
“Nice to meet you, Miss Jenkins,” Ellie said, holding out her hand politely.
“Oh sweetie, call me Crystal. We’re family.”
“You’re my half brother’s mother. We aren’t actually related.”
She glanced up at me with a sly grin before turning her attention back to Ellie. “Let me give you a tour,” she suggested, taking Ellie’s hand and leading her down the hall. “Harland tells me you’re a very talented artist.”
“I paint and do pottery.”
Ellie does pottery?
“Do you have a kiln?”
“Yes. My father hired someone to design a studio for me on the third floor of the house. It’s a bright, beautiful space with floor to ceiling windows overlooking the pool. Father recognized my talent and encouraged me to pursue it. He said creative people make excellent business executives.”
“Did he now,” she muttered.
“Mother,” I warned.
“Oh relax, Harland. I’m not going to start bashing your father.” She glanced at Ellie. “Was your mother artistic?”
“She claimed I inherited my creativity from her, but her lack of interest in my studio would suggest otherwise. And she never created anything to my knowledge. I believe my mother possessed grandiose delusions. She wanted people to idolize her, but she had nothing exceptional to offer. Mother thought being wealthy would somehow turn her into the important person she so desperately wanted to be. She couldn’t take credit for my intelligence. My creativity was the next best thing.”
“I wonder who you actually inherited your creative genes from.”
“Genetics do influence our creative ability to a significant degree, however the environment in which we are raised plays an important role in how we utilize and express our talents.”
“Would you like to see my studio?”
I hung out by the door, observing my mother and Ellie while they bonded over paint brushes and kilns. I’d never been up to Ellie’s studio. She didn’t invite me, so I didn’t intrude on her personal space. Their laughter echoed through the room, seeping into my brain and dredging up thoughts that were better left buried.
Don’t go there. Nothing good will come from that. It’s too late.
“Let’s go out in the gallery before it opens,” my mother suggested. “I want to show Ellie the painting I recently finished. Today is the first day it will be on display.”
I followed them back out to the gallery where a woman was dusting and organizing pottery. My mother walked over to a large sheet in the corner. “I painted a portrait of my twelve-year-old self,” she explained. “I’ve never done something like that before. I used a picture. I’m quite proud of how it turned out.”
“That must have been difficult,” Ellie said.
“Are you ready to see it, Harland?”
She carefully removed the sheet, unveiling a huge painting. I blinked rapidly, my throat going dry as I stared at the girl in the portrait. Ellie gasped, her eyes widening as she gaped at the unmistakable resemblance to herself. Her Mensa brain only took about two seconds to solve the mystery.
And then all hell broke loose.
“You’re my father!”