My anger transforms into near panic. “No. I don’t want that. I want to do more. I can do more.”
“Then trust me.”
I swallow hard, taken aback by his words. “Yes. I...okay. I’ll learn what you need me to.”
His eyes light with approval. “Good. I’ll give you a reprieve tonight. Go home and study. First thing tomorrow morning I’ll test you to see just how far we are from where we need to be.”
It is a dismissal confirmed by his reaching for his phone.
“Thank you,” I murmur, and head for the hallway in a blur of confusion. It baffles me how I’ve let a summer job become a plea for a new life but it has, and there is no looking back. To work for Riptide, even through this gallery, would be a dream come true. I want this as I have not wanted ever in my life.
I pass my door and scent the roses from the hallway. Back stepping, I realize I’ve left the candle burning for all these hours. I’m eager to escape this place, to get home and try to analyze what has happened to me today, what has happened to me since the day I began reading Rebecca’s journal.
Quickly, I blow out the flame and note a letter sized envelope on my chair with my name scribbled on it. I recognize the handwriting. I’ve studied his signature, his script. Rounding the desk I snatch the envelope and rush for the door. I do not want to stay here and open it. I want to be alone before I dare a peek.
Finally, when I am locked inside my car with the engine running, I stare at my name on the yellow paper, not sure what I am waiting for. In a frenzied rush of movement, I unseal the flap and pull out a piece of drafting paper and gape.
Inside is a drawing of me sitting at the coffee shop table in deep concentration, and signed by the artist. I have become a Chris Merit original.
You can’t keep thinking of everything as being Rebecca’s or you will make yourself crazy, I tell myself as I settle into my office chair, on day two at the gallery. It’s a hard earned conclusion I’d come to while lying in bed the night before, staring into the darkness. Thus why I am exhausted today, but at least I’ve resolved to claim this place as mine. I have to, otherwise how will I rise to the challenge my new boss has put before me? How will I truly reach for the dream of a successful career in art, after all of these years of convincing myself I could not?
With a vow to form my own identity at the gallery, I sink deeper into my leather chair, behind my desk. Before me sits my impulsive purchase of a new, beautifully jeweled, red leather journal that I’d picked up at Ava’s coffee shop a few minutes earlier. My hope is that writing down my own thoughts will help me stop thinking obsessively about her thoughts, or at a minimum help me to understand why confusion rules my every waking moment.
I pick up the red ink pen I’d also purchased and open to the first blank page, where I write ‘August 21, day two at the Gallery’. Guilt twists in my chest, and I set the pen down again. You are not forgetting about Rebecca. You’re simply clearing a path to finding her.
Inhaling, I pick up the pen again and stare down at the journal, seeing only a mental image of the drawing of me that Chris had left me the night before. Or rather, of a woman who looks like me, but different. I am not the girl that a famous artist is inspired by, but yet, I am, or I was yesterday.
A buzz from the phone on my desk jolts me from my thoughts and I answer automatically. “This is Sara McMillan.”
“Good morning, Ms. McMillan.” There is an unexpected smile in my new boss’s tone and I relax, if only marginally.
“Good morning, Mr. Compton.”
“I’ve been called away to New York on Riptide business until Thursday.”
The tension in my gut uncurls and my spine relaxes. Breathing room. Yes. Yes. Yes.
“That doesn’t mean you can sneak onto the sales floor,” he chides, as if he’s plucked the idea from my brain before I ever had it. Which I hadn’t, but, well, I would have. “Friday, Ms. McMillan. Your goal is to be as ready to impress me then as you possibly can be. I trust you studied well last night?”
“I certainly did.” I want this opportunity. I will not allow a knowledge barrier to defeat me.
“Excellent. Then you can log into your email and click on the link I’ve sent you to begin testing. I won’t grade the test, at least not for now. It’s simply a tool for you to use to see how you’re progressing.”
The good news keeps coming and I know my smile can be heard in my voice. “That sounds perfect.”
“Ms. McMillan,” he says sharply, prompting a reply that I dutifully offer.
“Yes, Mr. Compton?”
“Have a good day.”
The line clicks and goes dead.
Two hours later it’s nearly noon, and I’m making myself crazy. The names and regions of wines, and wine manufacturers, are running together and I decide to turn to my old faithful solution to all that is wrong in life. Coffee. It is my one real vice, so I figure why not indulge with an Olympic-style commitment? Besides, Ava mentioned having lunch together. She hadn’t been at the coffee shop when I’d bought the journal and I haven’t heard from her either. I figure it can’t hurt to try and catch up with her now. My curiosity over what she might share about this strange new world I inhabit is killing me. And despite my grand declaration of owning my new office and job, on some level I know I will never fully feel that I do, not until I uncover the mysteries of Rebecca’s whereabouts.