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Chapter 60

The week dropped from the calendar as a leaf drops from a tree in autumn, and it was near time for Conrad, and Robert, to be guests in Barbara’s home. Katherine had returned to school and as expected some fellow students were not sympathetic, but a few had bordered on being abusive.

She had remembered her mother’s words as she alighted from the car at school. Don’t pay your antagonists any attention. You will only hurt herself. To ignore them is the better option, and it will make you mentally stronger.

She decided to heed that advice for she now had a distinct path to where her destiny lay, and its pursuit was achievable.

Not having attended school for a lengthy period, tiredness had a tendency to arrive early for Katherine. She would fall asleep in Sophia’s car long before her journey had ended. Although, come Saturday’s mid-morning she was again in an energetic mood, and it had no relationship to painting. Conrad was expected.

Sophia went to the market early, but Barbara only crawled from her bed after hearing someone in the kitchen pulling pots from a drawer. It was a lazy morning. She discovered Sophia already preparing venison and vegetables for their evening meal, even though it was still some hours away.

“Good morning. Aren’t we jumping the gun a little with tonight’s dinner? It’s only ten. Conrad and Robert aren’t going to be here until six.”

“It’s never too early to start anything. If I prepare it now we can relax, can’t we?”

“I wanted to help, but it looks as though there’s not much to do.”

“You can set the table when the time comes.”

“Okay. Right now I’m going to have some cereal and a cup of coffee. Would you like me to make you a cup while I’m at it?”

“No thanks . . . I had one not long ago. I haven’t decided on dessert. Any ideas?”

“How about a cream pie.”

“Good idea. I think I have all the ingredients. Is Katherine coming for breakfast?”

“I doubt it. She’s in her room, probably fussing over one of her paintings, or trying to decide on what to wear tonight I’d imagine. You know how teenagers are, especially girls.”

“I can’t remember going through that, but then, that was some time ago,” Sophia said, implying her memory wasn’t as good as it should be.

“What was it like when you were younger? Did you have many boys chasing you? You’re an attractive woman, so I can imagine plenty of boys hanging around trying to get a date.” Barbara did not want to appear as though she was invading her past.

“My father put a stop to any boys coming to our house. He was ruthless and not one to get angry. When he told them to get lost, they’d high-tail it in the blink of an eye.” She reminisced.

“Was he a good father?” Barbara asked, as she envisaged her father chasing boys down a street.

“In a way he was a lot like JM. He loved my mother dearly, and us girls, but he was firm.”

Barbara, surprised by her comment, asked, “You have a sister? Ever since I have known you, I have never heard her name mentioned. Where does she live?” Barbara wanted to know more.

“She died. She had cancer.”

Barbara felt uneasy, but curiosity niggled at her. “I’m sorry. What was her name, and how old was she when she died?”

“Maureen. She was older than me by a couple of years, and thirty-seven when she died.”

“I’m sorry you lost her at an early age. Was she ever married?” Barbara didn’t know why she asked the question. What’s the difference if she was married or not? she thought.

“Yes. He was a wife-basher. He’d come home drunk nearly every night, and if things weren’t as he wanted he’d hit her until she was black and blue. Some days, after the beatings, she couldn’t go to work, and he’d bash her again. He would blame her because she didn’t have enough money for the rent. He was a pig! He’s dead, thank God! I never spoke to him after he bashed her the first time. I tried to convince her to leave him and she could live with us, but she wouldn’t. She said she loved him. I remember her telling me . . . it was after she got out of hospital, that she couldn’t leave him because he needed her, and he’d be alone. Can you understand anyone saying that? I would’ve killed him and gladly have gone to jail.”

“It must have been terrible for her?”

“It was, but it was her choice.”

Barbara decided to terminate the conversation, to leave the past buried.

Six o’clock arrived and the intercom buzzed.

“Yes,” Barbara asked, but she knew who it was.

“Hi, Barbara, it’s Conrad.” He was as punctual as ever.

“Just push the door,” she said, as she pressed the button to unlock it.

“Katherine? Conrad’s here,” Barbara called.

Almost instantly, Katherine ran to the landing. She could see he was impeccably dressed, and this aspect of his persona, along with his good manners and knowledge of art, she enjoyed.

As he reached the top step, she rushed forward to hug him, although a large arrangement of flowers was coming between them.

“I’m so glad you’re here. Dinner’s nearly ready,” she said excitedly. It was pure conjecture on her behalf regarding dinner.

He felt intimidated by the affection she was heaping on him, but her outpouring of emotion was also a new experience.

“Great. I’m starving. What about you? I bet you could eat anything and still look the same. I can’t, though. I have to watch every morsel . . . I put on weight easily and it shows.” He pressed on his stomach with his free hand to emphasise his words.

She looked at his stomach as he touched it. “You’re not fat, and Nan has cooked up a treat. She won’t be happy if you only pick at it.”

“I go to the gym every day, but it’s hard work and it doesn’t come easy. I think we should go in and sample the dinner. We shouldn’t keep your mother and Sophia waiting.”

Katherine felt slightly embarrassed by her chattering, but it was fleeting. “Mom, Conrad’s here.”

“Hi, we’re in the kitchen. Where’s Robert?”

“He couldn’t make it, but he sends his apologies.” Pushing his flower-laden arms forward, he said, “Just a thank you for inviting me to dinner. What more could a man ask for than to be in the company of three beautiful women.” He loved to flatter, but he was sincere.

“Two beautiful women and you need glasses,” Sophia fired back.

Throughout dinner, their conversations mainly revolved around art, but Katherine’s chatter meant the evening was only going to end one way, viewing the paintings. Barbara and Conrad were also in similar minds with regard to the paintings, but were hesitant about broaching the subject. As she made fresh coffee, a jubilant Katherine stood. “Do you want to see some more paintings?” she asked Conrad, excitedly.

“I would love to see more,” Conrad said, happily.

“Go into the living room and I’ll bring the coffee.”

“I’ll bring some out,” Katherine replied, eagerly. I was going to show him, but I don’t want him to see my room. It’s a mess.

“I’ll help,” Sophia said.

They each carried two paintings as they entered the living room and placed them side by side directly in front of him, against the bookcase.

A couple of minutes passed before he chose one to examine.

Katherine had sat beside her mother, but in anticipation held her hand. Her anxiety level was slowly increasing from thoughts of him dismissing her work as mere child’s doodling, not worthy of his time.

His expert eye lavished the paintings before he turned to face her. “Have you ever had lessons?”

She could feel her stomach beginning to knot.

“No,” Barbara said, quickly.

“Barbara, please. I know you are anxious for my opinion, but I would prefer Katherine to answer. It would be better, believe me. Some questions I doubt you can answer. Only Katherine will know.”

He indulged himself with the questions. Most were answered, some not.

“Do you really want to be an artist?” With her talent why wouldn’t she?

“Yes. It’s the only thing I want to do.”

“Then, I suggest you finish high school and we’ll get you enrolled at university. These paintings indicate you have a unique talent, especially since you have no formal training. If you decide to go on to university, the education you will receive will be invaluable. Although, in saying that, if you choose not to go down that path, your paintings will still be in high demand.”

Unable to contain her excitement she jumped to her feet and stood beside him.

“Do you really like them?” she asked, as she pointed to her paintings. “I have more, if you’d like to see them?”

“I’d be happy to.”

The other paintings enraptured him, although, the one of her father remained in her room.

“I’m speechless. How long ago did you paint these?”

“Since I came home from hospital.” She realised her inadvertent mistake, but couldn’t retract it.

“How long ago was that?”

“Not long,” Barbara answered. Even though he knew of Katherine’s hospitalisation, Barbara attempted to steer the conversation away from its present direction. “Would you like another coffee?”

“No, thank you.” He turned again to Katherine. “Have you ever sold any of your paintings?”

He already knew the answer, but he wanted confirmation.

“No. Never. Mom has one in her office and all the others are here.”

“How many do you have?”

“Including the one Mom has, eleven,” Katherine said, with pride.

Conrad was trying to come to terms with the expeditious attitude of the young artist standing near. He was in awe. As he studied her, he thought, she’s wise beyond her years. Where did she obtain this knowledge without being taught?

Barbara stood, then asked, “Do you think she can get into university?”

“We’ll make sure she does. I will move heaven and earth to get her there. I promise!” He look to Katherine. “Katherine may not want to.”

Katherine didn’t reply. She was still engrossed in thoughts of him having liked her paintings.

Knowing a person of his influence was mentoring her daughter, Barbara felt a weight lift from her shoulders. She stepped forward and gave him a kiss on his right cheek.

“Thanks for helping us. JM would be proud of you.”

“Katherine? I want you to keep painting the way you are, but don’t worry about the quantity . . . just concentrate on one, or maybe two. When you think you’re happy with what you’ve achieved, tell your mom. She can ring me and I’ll come by. I know it’s a little premature, but I may hold an exhibition for you at my gallery sometime in the future, just so other people can see and judge them. You never know, you may even sell some. What do you think?”

“Would you? Would you really?” She stood next to her mother, grabbed her arm, and squeezed it. “I can’t believe it . . . my own exhibition!

How things change, Barbara thought. A few months ago, she refused to allow anyone to see them, now the world can.

“I think I’ll leave you to reflect on what I’ve suggested about going to university, but if you decide to go you’ll have to put your head down, as they say, and get the required marks. I think it’s time for me to leave. Barbara, and Sophia, I thank you for a beautiful dinner, and to you, Katherine, for showing me your magnificent paintings. One thing, though. You have to sign them.”

“I will.”

Barbara escorted him to the front stoop, and after looking up at the stars shining bright in the night sky, she said, “Thanks, Conrad. You don’t know how happy you’ve made her, and I’ll always be in your debt. I’ll ring you when she’s painted more.”

“Keep me informed. I’m happy to be her mentor. She’s highly intelligent, so I don’t see any problems arising with her schoolwork. If anything is required to boost her marks just let me know. It will be my pleasure to help.”

“As I said earlier, JM would be proud of you.”

“It’s not me he would be proud of . . . it’s Katherine.” He moved his face close to Barbara and kissed her perfumed cheek.

“Thanks again for dinner. I hope to see you again soon.”

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