Things That Are Not ...

A THIRD SEASON ROUND ROBIN STORY


Chapter 6

by Rusty Hough Bader

 

Diana woke. The New York sun crept over the buildings, and the noise was different. It was Saturday. The cacophony of the street’s farmer’s market had nudged out the mélange of taxi cab brakes. She knew Vincent had crept out before the colors of morning had risen. Walking around the empty apartment she saw the portraits were gone. Initially she was a bit bereft then she reckoned he had been right about their being sequestered below. After a tea and a buttered biscuit she wandered to the file with Jenny’s number. Would Jenny still be there?

Below Vincent had propped the portraits on the floor against his bed. “Well, isn’t this a fascinating addition to the Tunnel art collection?” Stepping up behind Vincent, Devin humorously stroked his chin, his gesture in line with his impersonation of Father.

Vincent sought to ignore the conversation, bending to retrieve a few of toddler Jacob’s blocks and wooden train cars. “Your idea of fascination is my idea of vexation.”

In the course of her morning’s visit to this busy chamber Mary, circled the portraits cautiously. “My, my, Vincent. I don’t believe I’ve even seen Diana in…”

Vincent had begun to fidget with the toys the second Mary’s eyes had gone wide at the almost lusty images. “Such a revealing dress?” he finished for her.

Mary’s smile led her to blush at Vincent’s tenor. “Child, I was aiming to say dress. I’ve not ever seen Diana in a dress.” The three of them exchanged humorous smiles when Father hobbled into the room.

“Is Diana feeling any…?” the Tunnel patriarch’s jaw dropped at the art.

Vincent meant to sweep all of this under the worn carpet. “I believe when I left her breathing was easier, and she was sleeping…”

Father cut him off, nudging between them and bending to see the art. “What is this?” his voice carried more indignation than humor. “This isn’t the work of that artist is it? Vincent, how could you?”

The air of the room chilled significantly. “How could I what? These appeared at Diana’s loft exactly as my portrait was left for Catherine. I can assure you I did not pose…like that for an artist.” Vincent’s words were rushed, flush with exasperation.

Father drew a small chair over to sit before Diana’s likeness. “So, I imagine Elizabeth might know more. Seems the artist visited her frequently before that last painting. You know, missing paint, brushes used. He returned them well cared for, even left her some new ones. Didn’t you know?”  His comments caused Vincent’s brows to knit, and he drew his palm worriedly over his chest. He had not been aware of Kristopher involving Elizabeth in his work.

Father stared intently at Gentian’s portrayal; the soft ivory shoulders and Diana’s provocative smile.

“So, I’ll share tea with Elizabeth to see what she may know.” Then Father sat back in the chair and drew a long stroke over his chin, not realizing Devin was shooting laughing daggers at Vincent over the mannerism. With a shake of Vincent’s golden head he turned to leave the chamber as if he wasn’t even needed in his own space.

Realizing that their attention was being consumed in studying the images, Vincent hesitated at the doorway, purposely raising his voice. “I’m going to see Elizabeth and then have an early lunch with Jacob.”

Dismissively his three visitors murmured their goodbyes, Devin watching Diana’s image, Father inspecting Vincent’s image and Mary watching how their mannerisms were freakishly similar.

“Jenny Aronson.” Her voice was light and happy over the raucous sounds of a child’s glee.

“Good morning, Ms. Aronson, we met a few years ago, this is Detective Bennett.” There was a tense silence then Diana heard a sad sigh. “Ms. Aronson, I was wondering if you would spare a moment of your day?”

Diana closed the call and dressed to leave her loft.

Jenny’s life had changed since Diana had last visited. Losing Cathy spun her out of her eternal singlehood and sent her in the hunt for her own special man.  She had found him through the foster care system. Drew was now four, and although he had been slow to smile when Jenny met him, the two of them had made up for lost time in their almost two years together.  Walking back from the front door, Jenny and Diana cut a path through matchbox cards and Legos.

“I’ll bet you didn’t expect this did you?” Jenny smirked as she spread her hands out over the well-lived in room. “Once I adopted Drew I had to find a bigger place, and this is within walking distance of my office.”

Losing Cathy had aged Jenny, mostly around the eyes and the scattered grey hairs at her temple. Or was it parenthood? Diana licked her lips in covert sisterhood; the room looked just like her loft after a visit from Jacob.

They picked their way to the sofa and Diana sat, while Jenny’s lips twitched at how the place looked now that she had a guest.

“I’m going to get Drew a juice box. May I grab you a coffee?”

With the words ‘Drew’ and ‘juice box’, Diana heard pounding footsteps and “Mommmmmm” as he approached. His rubber soled shoes squeaked to a stop as he saw Diana. Drew’s hands gathered at his mouth as his chin tucked. 

“Drew, honey, come meet Mummy’s friend.” Juice box in hand, Jenny caught him in one arm to hoist him onto her hip. Drew was small for his age, with lively green eyes and a well healed cleft palate repair scar. He hid behind the juice box for a moment.

They made their pleasantries and within minutes Drew played quietly on the floor in front of Jenny’s feet. Sinking back into the sofa she finally probed, “So, is this about…Cathy?”

“In a way.” Reluctantly Diana nodded, sitting forward while she watched Drew’s lips move in silent conversation between two Lego figures. “It’s about Kristopher Gentian.”

“Yeah,” Jenny’s smile widened, her eyes sweeping from Diana to Drew and back. “That was a trip; she never showed me the portrait he left her. I got a letter from that quirky Smythe…said he had another slew of themed portraits from Gentian.”

Jenny missed Diana’s alarmed expression. Diana covered by bending to watch Drew in his pint-sized world. The curly headed boy playfully ignored the women.

With a high pitch Diana inquired, “Did he say what theme?” Diana raised her mug before her lips, a brave detective hiding behind an “I Love Lucy” mug.

“Well, his first works were freaky rock-star stuff; sold out totally. The second show was…ah…” Jenny’s head fell back in thought, “Oh, it was…ah…Arabian Nights. A big hit with the men if you know what I mean.” There was a beat of silence before Jenny volunteered, “I haven’t seen the new stuff, is there a problem?”

*                      *                      *

Elizabeth was cleaning brushes when Vincent approached. “Isn’t it your nature to show up just as I’m finishing Jacob’s portrait?” They greeted each other with a warm hug as she pulled Vincent toward the six foot segment of Jacob’s images on the wall.

“Once again you’ve caught his jubilance, Elizabeth; you make my heart soar to see these moments again.” Vincent’s clawed hand hovered over the progress of his son’s happy life. Within a moment of his admiring the images he prodded, “By the way, have you had any unearthly visitors lately?”

Elizabeth’s shy smile and nod opened the conversation. “Last week he left me the nicest Double Thick Filbert. You know it’s an expensive brush. I do hope he didn’t pilfer that.”

Vincent nodded in agreement and then regarded the palette with several fresh tubes of vermilion and ultramarine blue. Kristopher’s gift, no doubt!

“You know, Vincent, he doesn’t tell me what he paints; he borrows and borrows, then he brings everything back, plus something extra.” In her eyes a girlish glee danced. “Who did he paint this time, dear?” Their dialogue took some time.

*                      *                      *

Vincent returned to his son brighter of spirit. These past years he had grown leaner without becoming colder. Young Jacob had seen to that, his light had warmed Vincent’s broken heart. Yet when the boy slept or when he was consumed in the presence of Father or Mary or his peers, Vincent felt the pervasive doldrums of their loss.

Vincent felt he’d aged well, not the way most consider aging, although he’d found a despicable silver hair at his left temple this week. He considered aging as you would regard the wooden bow of an ancient war ship.  The wood darkened by the ocean’s salty tears, the patina honed by the hands tending to the mundane as well as their heroic voyages.             

In accepting Catherine’s love and in healing from her death, he had sailed into a new world within his tunnel life. Was Diana to be his snug harbor? He’d looked death squarely in the face; yet was he truly brave enough to give his heart once more? Catherine’s passion was abundant to bring their love to life with Jacob. Vincent guessed he really had given it too much thought; it was time to get underway.

 

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