We are weaving through several side streets and Chris cranks up the radio to the old AC/DC song ‘Back in Black’ and I laugh. “Old school rock n’ roll? I guess it goes with a Mustang obsession.”
“I use music to paint by. This one reminds me of a particular work I created not so long ago.”
“Every piece of art has a song attached?” I’m thrilled to see inside his creative process.
“Some pieces I play the same song over and over. Some I have a collection of songs I use.”
“And this song goes to what work?”
“A ‘Stormy Night‘ San Fran piece I sold at auction last year.”
We begin to cross the Bay Bridge and I am growing curious about our destination, but not as curious as I am about Chris. “A Dark Sea ,” I say, knowing exactly the work he means.
He casts me a sideways look. “You do know your art and artists, don’t you?”
I smile and sink lower into my seat, wondering if I will truly know this artist. “It sold for an astounding amount of money, Chris.” Seven figures.
“Yeah,” he agrees. “It did.”
I turn to face him, studying his profile. “How does it feel to have people pay seven figures for your creation?”
It’s not the answer I expect. “Surely you’re well beyond needing validation?” He steers the car out of the city and onto a major highway.
“I create in solitude and then take whatever I put on the canvas out to the world. And not all of my work sells for big money. A lot doesn’t.”
“You make millions a year on your art, Chris. That’s big money.”
“It’s not about the money. I donate most of it anyway.”
“You donate your art proceeds?”
“Some years back, I was talked into an event held at the Los Angeles Children’s Hospital and it was pretty mind-blowing. All those brave kids, and the parents who were dying inside right along with them. I knew I had to do what I could to help and I have since.”
He donates his money to save dying children. There are so many layers to this man — deep, dark, wonderful layers. I know he’s f**ked up. I know he’s damaged. I know this need to help children must call to some part of him that’s raw and bleeding. Which part?
“Have you guessed where we’re going?” he asks, before I can find the words to express how much I admire what he’s doing.
I glance around and realize we are on highway 29 North. “Napa Valley?” And it hits me he’s taking me to a winery to show his support of my career.
“Have you ever been?”
I laugh. “No. I wasn’t kidding when I said I have zero knowledge of wine. Well, I guess now I can say I have some knowledge but not much.”
“We’ll fix that,” he promises.
My lips curve. I’m going to my first winery. I’ve always thought it would be a neat thing to do. “I’m excited, Chris. Thank you.”
He grabs my hand and kisses it, cutting me a mischievous look. “I’m looking forward to having you alone and well wined.”
I bite my lip. “Chivalry will get you everywhere.”
“I’m counting on it.”
“You didn’t sleep much,” he comments. “Maybe you should rest your eyes so you can enjoy our getaway.”
“What about you? You slept less than me.”
“I slept enough. Rest, baby. This is the one place you can count on me letting you sleep this weekend.”
My lips curve. “Sounds like I should take a nap.” I let my eyes shut, the soft hum of the car vibrating through me, and Chris at the wheel. I find I am more relaxed than I have been in a very long time.
“Wake up, baby. We’re almost there.”
I blink to feel Chris’s gentle hand on my arm. “Where?”
“I don’t remember closing my eyes,” I admit. “How long did I sleep?”
“Half an hour, out cold.”
I sigh and sit up, aware of the hollow moan of my stomach as I stretch and bring the scenery into view. I gape at the miles and miles of beautiful green mountains and countryside. “It’s gorgeous. Absolutely spectacular.”
“The Mayacamas Mountains. And yes, they are.”
“I’m surprised they haven’t shown up in your artwork.”
“I’m not a landscape guy. You know that. I can’t believe you’ve never been here. You’ve lived in San Francisco since college, right?”
I nod. “Yes. I just…it’s the out of sight, out of mind thing.” And a teacher’s pay, I add silently, as my eyes light on a gorgeous hotel property and the name on the sign. Auberge du Nuit, the hotel for the rich and famous, like Chris. I remember reading about it in a magazine I’d tossed in the trash because it was torturing me with all I couldn’t do and see.
“I’m going to put an end to that out of sight, out of mind thing, baby. Just you wait and see.” He whips the vehicle onto the long driveway and I shove aside the tension his words create. I’m not going to think about adjusting to him being gone, and he will be gone. For once, I’m living for the moment, and for the dream I am chasing.
The instant the Porsche is under the awning at the front door, a bellman in a sharp black suit opens my door. I step out of the car and Chris does the same on his side.