“The kind of trust I want from you and have no right to ask.”
But I want him to ask. I want him to trust me. “I want the same from you.”
More silence follows, too much silence, and I hate the distance that prevents me from reading him. “Where are you?” he asks finally.
“In the studio.” And I tear down one of my walls to try to reach across one of his. “I wanted to be in the place that felt the closest to you.”
“Sara.” His voice is hoarse, like my name is an emotion, a raw burn, ripped from his throat. This is the intensity of what I create in him, and I am not sure he fully understands he creates the same intensity in me.
“Where are you?” I ask softly.
There is a moment of hesitation in which I sense he is relieved to have something to focus on instead of what he is feeling. “I’m in my hotel room, finally. Have you looked at the painting I did for Dylan, the kid I was telling you about?”
“No, not yet. You want me to?”
“Yes. Go look.”
Any excitement I feel at discovering a new Chris Merit work is dashed by the solemness of the request. “Okay. Headed there now.” I push to my feet and head to the back room, flipping on the light to the small fifteen-by-fifteen room where a few easels sit with clothes over the top. There is only one canvas uncovered and I laugh when I see it.
“Am I really looking at a painting of Freddy Krueger and Jason from Friday the 13th?”
He laughs but it’s strained. “Yes. The kid is a horror freak. Do you know which one is which?”
“Aren’t you funny? Of course I do.”
“You didn’t at the storage unit.”
“Okay, so I mix up Michael and Jason sometimes, but I know Freddy by sight, because he scares the crap out of me. I have to say you’ve done a fine job of re-creating the reasons why in vivid color.” I shiver at the sight of the cratered red and orange face. “Who knew you could craft a monster like you can a cityscape?”
“Apparently Dylan. I’ve drawn him a collection of those things on paper. This is the first on canvas.” Any hint of the lighthearted Chris I often enjoy fades from his voice, turning to pure grim discomfort. “I think he likes horror movies because he’s trying to seem brave. But I see the fear in his eyes. He doesn’t want to die.”
His words scrape a path down my spine, and I ache with this man who I am coming to know is so much more than pain and pleasure. “Just know you’re helping make this part of his life better.”
“But I will never erase the torture losing him is going to be for his parents.”
A powerful rush of certainty washes over me. While I don’t understand the depths of where his passion for this charity comes from, I am confident that Chris is trying to make up for some perceived sin of the past, be it subconsciously, or maybe, knowing what I do of him, consciously. And while it is an amazing cause that he is making a difference with, I fear where the pain he’s experiencing is driving him. Will that pain, together with all the rest he has inside, drive him to the brink of disaster?
We end our call a few minutes later, and I lie back on the floor and stare at the tiny white stars painted on the ceiling, but I see the painting of me, and I hear Chris’s claim it is symbolic of trust. He asked me if it scared me. Could it be that this powerful, confident, talented man is scared himself? And if so, of what?
• • •
Morning, and my 9 a.m. starting time at the gallery comes way too early despite my love for my new job, considering a second night of no sleep. Fortunately, Mark isn’t in early, and my several stops by the coffeepot come without encounters.
By ten o’clock I’m jittery and on cup number three but the heaviness in my limbs persists. The “Master” has yet to show up to work. I’m reviewing information on Alvarez to prepare for the evening meeting when an e-mail from Mark hits my box, proving he’s not sleeping late after all. Or he just got up, one or the other. It’s short and sweet. I snort, Mark is anything but “sweet.”
He’s sent me a cheat sheet of topics and answers to wade successfully through small talk related to wine, opera, and classical music and allow me to impress clientele. The information is actually quite good and I wonder why he didn’t give me this instead of insisting I had to learn these extensive topics in record-breaking time.
In contemplating this answer, the journal entry I’d slipped and read before locking them away in the safe comes to mind. I wonder what it would feel like to wake up feeling that passionate about life again, instead of just wondering what the new game will be. I don’t want any part of his games and I hope this switch in Mark’s approach to my work indicates I’ve established this with him.
By ten thirty, I’ve done a light review of the information from Mark and tried calling Ella three more times but I only get the fast busy signal. I take it a step further and call David’s office again, frustrated when my needling the operator for information is unsuccessful. On top of that, I haven’t talked to Chris. I have no idea why this bothers me. It’s not like he has to call me when he starts his day and again I think maybe he hopes I’ll call him. Or maybe he’d think I’m overbearing. I’m a mess when Mary stops by my door, looking as pale as her blond hair and my white suit-dress, but no less hostile as her gaze falls on me.
“You’re not coming to the event tonight?”
“I have an off-site meeting.”