‘Don’t give up Julie. I know he cares.’
The words ‘Don’t give up’ resonate. A memory resurfaces. The only thing that had never fit was the fatherless thing, but if Vann is Blake’s brother then he is fatherless. ‘Oh my God, the fortune-teller was right.’
‘The one at your wedding.’
Lana laughs. ‘That was just for fun. I didn’t think she was particularly good.’
‘What did she tell you?’
Lana makes a face like, How obvious? ‘She told me I’d found my soul-mate and I’d have three kids, two boys and a girl. And she told me not to go swimming on my own after the age of thirty-five. Otherwise, she saw bright and happy life ahead. What did she tell you?’
‘She told me not to give up on a strong, tall, fatherless man. She also told me evil was trying to touch me and I must not let it. She didn’t elaborate and even more intriguingly she made me give her a coin so I wouldn’t owe anything. As if she was afraid me owing her would somehow taint her.’
Lana’s face changes. The secrets come back into her pale face. Now I am dealing with the woman who wrote the diary.
‘What do you think she meant?’
‘I don’t know, Julie. If you heard my conversation with Vann, then you will know I know hardly more than you.’ Lana takes my hands in hers. ‘But Vann is right, there are many things hidden that are best left hidden.’
‘Lana, why were you always so nice to me when we were kids?’
She shrugs. ‘Don’t know. For some weird reason I always wanted to as a sister.’
She nods. ‘Are you still coming tomorrow for the art exhibition?’
‘I don’t know if he will want me there.’
‘He does. Blake offered to arrange your transport and he agreed.’
‘Really? He does?’ My heart feels like it would burst.
‘Yes, really. Have you got something to wear?’
‘Most of my clothes are a bit tight now. I’ll go shopping tomorrow.’
‘Shall I arrange for some cocktail dresses to be sent over here and you can come around and pick what you like?’
I stare at her in disbelief. Would I like to? ‘Hell, yeah!’
She smiles. ‘Got any color preferences?’
Do you know the only thing that gives me pleasure? It’s to see my dividends coming in.
—John D. Rockefeller
Darkness has not yet fallen when Tom comes to pick me up. Billie is already in the car. She smiles at me.
‘You look amazing,’ she says.
She says it like she means it, and I blush with pleasure and wonder what it must be like to be kissed by a woman. All soft lips and silky skin. ‘Thank you, Billie. As it happens, I don’t think I have ever seen you so beautiful.’
And it is true. She is dressed in a mini silver dress that is covered in tassels. Every time she moves all the tassels agitate, shimmer briefly and settle down. She looks almost molten.
‘It’s a present from Lana.’
I nod. Of course it is. For the first time in my life I feel nothing but warm love for Lana. I am not in competition with her. She has Blake and I don’t have Vann, but maybe I will. Maybe the gypsy knew something I don’t. I won’t give up hope.
Tom drops us off at the Serpentine gallery. I feel incredibly nervous. The sky is shimmering with myriad colors. As I step out a woman comes up to the car.
‘Yes.’ She is wearing perfume strong enough to cut through steel. Once I doused myself in that way too. Once, when I was a different person.
‘Come this way. You are the guest of honor.’
Billie winks at me. ‘Go on,’ she says. Once I would have gone. Skipped away and left Billie to her own devices, but I am different now.
I hold my hand out to her. ‘Where I go, you go.’
Billie grins. We walk together through the entrance. There are so many people, and they are all so finely dressed.
‘You’re cutting off my circulation,’ Billie whispers in my ear.
I relax my fingers. ‘Sorry.’
‘No problem.’ She smiles. ‘It’s just that I kinda like having fingers.’
That makes me smile.
Vann is coming towards us.
Billie gently unknits her fingers. ‘You’ll find me at the bar. I’ll be drinking up the place.’
I can’t even turn my head to look at her or make any kind of answer. Oh my! How gorgeous can a man look? I have never seen Vann in a tux before, and he is simply magnificent. Without doing anything he dominates the room, simply with his presence alone. I watch him walk towards me, his gait unhurried, deliberate, confident. A lion roaming the savannah. And yet, when he stands before me, he appears ill at ease, his eyes without laughter or life.
‘You look very handsome,’ I say softly.
‘Thank you. You look exactly how I imagined you would in an evening dress.’
He doesn’t elaborate further, but I blush like a schoolgirl.
A waitress appears with a mirrored tray bearing a selection of canapés. She waves her free hand towards them and tries to tempt us with creamed, piped anchovies, lobster mousse, or even blue cheese with poached pears.
Even the thought of food makes me feel ill. Both Vann and I politely decline. A waiter comes by with flutes of champagne and both Vann and I reach for them immediately.
Vann looks at me. ‘You are the star. Don’t get drunk.’
My head rears back. ‘I’m the star?’
‘Yeah. I want you to see the collection before it opens to the public. Come,’ he says, and, laying his hand on the small of my back, guides me towards an area sectioned off with red ropes. With an untouched drink in my hand I follow him into the viewing area.
That’s f**king me! On that canvas. And… I am beautiful beyond anything I have seen in the mirror. Not beautiful as a human being is, but as an image can be. And… I am much, much larger than I really am. And yet I am luxuriously, gloriously beautiful. I remember his words. You will be desired, cherished and possessed for the very things you are ashamed of.
How can I describe Vann’s art to you? Only to say it is what all great art should be—beyond words. Indescribable.
I stand there shocked.
There is only one word for my state of being. Overcome. As I move from canvas to canvas, Vann my silent shadow, I don’t gasp or exclaim or utter a word. You see, I couldn’t make a single sound. Until the day I die I will be glad I never made a sound. A sound would have broken the magic language of his art. For Vann has woven a vivid story that speaks to my soul.