Page 15 of Doctor Next Door

“I– That’s not– I didn’t mean to–”

Edgar chuckled, voice wickedly smooth and tantalizing. He sounded far more amused than upset. Carefully, he picked up his glass of red wine and took a sip, watching me intently. My hands were itching for something to do, so I mirrored his movements and brought my own glass to my lips. I swallowed greedily, desperately praying that the alcohol would calm my nerves.

“Will you tell me what happened?” he asked me after a moment. “At the market. What made you so upset?”

I sighed, but knew I had to get everything off my chest. Breaking up with Todd, the stress of moving to a brand-new city, and being cast aside in favor of another artist by the gallery was starting to fry my nerves. A part of me was worried that I’d overshare, that I’d talk way too much and annoy Edgar further. But on the other hand, he did ask. There was an openness about him that I hadn’t notice before, a willingness to listen and understand. Todd never gave me the time of day, which was probably why I didn’t recognize the look in Edgar immediately.

“I’m an artist,” I explained slowly. “I actually made a pretty decent name for myself back in my hometown. But it was a small place. The kind of area where everybody knows everybody. I moved to Sacramento to prove to myself I could make it in a big city. There’s this little art gallery on the corner of Sackville and Greens –it’s called the Bodega– that I was hoping to host my first real show next weekend. I’d planned everything out. It was going to be perfect. I’d invited friends and fellow artists, and even a few critics to come and see my work. The event would have been the perfect opportunity to gain more exposure and maybe sell a few of my paintings.”

“Then what happened?” he asked, genuinely curious.

“Smaller galleries tend to charge artists for showcase space.”

“Kind of like renting a billboard for advertisements,” he commented thoughtfully.

“Exactly right. It’s how the gallery makes money, and in turn I’d be provided with the chance to sell my pieces for personal profit. But I received a call from the museum curator. She said that another artist was willing to pay more for the space and they decided to go with them instead.”

Edgar’s brows pulled together into a steep frown. “That isn’t fair. They can’t just toss you aside like that on such short notice. Didn’t you have a written agreement?”

I swallowed at the dry lump in my throat, shaking my head slowly as I cast my eyes down to my lap. “No,” I admitted quietly. “I was so excited about the show that I’d completely forgotten all about the legal side of things.” The corners of my vision started to blur as hot, angry tears welled up in my eyes. A terrible pressure in my chest threated to make me cry, burning humiliation twisting at my heart.

Do you honestly think you’ll make it?

“I know, it was really dumb,” I whimpered, biting on the inside of my cheek.

You’re nothing but a small-town girl. The city will eat you up and spit you out.

“And now I don’t know what to do,” I continued, voice shaky and weak.

You know what people call artists like you? Suckers. Just give up already, Daliah.

“I really thought I could do this one thing. I thought I could prove myself right. I feel so stupid.”

I’m just trying to look out for you.

My thoughts were interrupted when Edgar reached across the table and placed his hand gingerly over my own. His palm was warm and calloused, long fingers firm. The gentle touch set my skin alight, overwhelming like a colorful firework show.

“You’re not stupid,” he said boldly. Edgar spoke with such conviction that he almost had me entirely convinced.

“You don’t have to sugar coat it,” I mumbled. “I made a mistake by not being thorough.”

“But that’s exactly what it is. A mistake. They’re chances to learn and grow. You’re not stupid for chasing your dream.”

I found myself smiling at him, genuinely pleased to hear him say such wonderful words. “Thank you,” I whispered. “But it doesn’t change the fact that I don’t know what to do now.”

Edgar slowly took his hand back, hesitant like he didn’t want to pull away at all. He leaned back in his chair, a pensive look in his eyes. Edgar opened his mouth a little, as though to say something, but promptly chose to take another sip of his wine.

“I’m sure you’ll think of something,” he said. “Good things come to those who wait.”

“That’s sagely advice from someone who says he isn’t an old man,” I quipped, albeit tiredly.

He snorted. “Didn’t your parents ever teach you to respect your elders?”

“They did. I just get a great deal of satisfaction from teasing you.”