New York, New York
The city scared me. The buildings towered over us and I could barely see sky and the streets were so crammed and frantic even the sidewalks seemed daunting.
There weren’t even cabs where I was from. Now they were buzzing by me on all sides, the colors smearing together in globs of yellow, grey, and black. Green was nearly absent, which I guessed was why paintings of the city almost always felt a little depressing.
Dad promised it was temporary. His work had been suffering and Cynthia, the owner of Gilcrest Gallery, wanted him close so she could keep an eye on him for a while. Once she was assured he was painting like the pro he was, we’d be able to go back home to Idaho and he’d send the gallery monthly shipments of new masterpieces just like he used to.
Movers pulled carefully wrapped canvases out of a big gray truck someone had managed to squeeze into a parking spot meant for a compact car. When I’d offered to help unload, the burly man in charge just grunted and I assumed he didn’t want me in the way. Dad had gone up to the apartment to direct move-in traffic and I’d spent the last three hours sitting on the edge of a planter box watching cars go by our new building.
After three hours outside my eyes felt like dried up sponges and the smog finally convinced my country-air-breathing lungs to go in search of something purified. Plus, I was desperate to get my hands on a paintbrush.
Between packing and moving preparations, it had been a whole week since I’d had time to paint. Just before we’d left, I’d done a little landscape in Dad’s studio with the early autumn breeze blowing through the open windows and the leaves on the cherry tree just starting to turn.
We’d miss all that here. The sad trees growing up in cement enclosures could never compare with the bright autumn back home. Here we’d only have plunging temperatures to remind us the seasons were changing.
I promised myself I’d paint the lake the first chance I got—to remind me that we’d make it back someday—hopefully some day soon.
I got up, brushed off my pants, and turned toward the door.
A man in a red coat pushed it open and waved me in.
“Hello, Miss Foster,” he said. “We’re so honored to have you and your father in our building.”
I tried to smile, unsure of the appropriate response. It was weird being in a place where people knew about Dad’s paintings. In Cascade he was just a normal guy. Our friends knew he painted, I guess, but I don’t think anyone realized he was famous.
It felt like everyone knew all about him here. Three different women in the airport flagged us down to gush about his work and ask when his next show would be. Our driver bragged that he’d recently seen an exhibition at the Guggenheim that featured some of Dad’s early landscapes. Even a waitress at the coffee shop cornered me when dad went to the restroom to ask if he was THE George Foster.
The truth was, before now I hadn’t realized how famous he was either.
I got to the elevator just as the doors opened, revealing my disheveled father.
“Hey, Claire Bear. You’re just the person I was hoping to see. ” His eyes were tired, but he grinned and stepped out of the elevator, wrapping his arm around my shoulders and squeezing me tight.
“How does it look up there?” I asked, worried by his expression that all the dishes had broken in the move or they accidentally lost Dad’s brushes or something.
“Like your grandmother’s house the morning after bridge club. ”
My eyes got wide. “That bad?”
“Not quite. ” He laughed, and I instantly felt better. Dad was the one constant in my life. Everyone else came and went, but Dad was always there for me. I had to keep reminding myself that this time I needed to be here for him.
“The movers let me know, very nicely, that I am in their way and if I wanted this to get done tonight I ought to leave them alone for an hour. How about some pizza?”
We wandered around for an hour before we found a pizza place, which was kind of ironic given that New York is supposed to be famous for its great and abundant pizza. The restaurant we found was a hole in the wall called Greg’s Pizza and Pasta. I wondered about the quality of pizza made by a guy named Greg, but it was actually pretty good. The crust was soft and chewy and the cheese was thick and yellow. Heidi, my best friend back home, would have whined that it wasn’t authentic, that pizza isn’t real if the crust isn’t thin and crunchy and the cheese isn’t white, but I wasn’t picky about stuff like that.
“I was thinking we’d get settled in tomorrow and then get you to your new school Monday morning,” Dad said as he bit into his pizza.
My stomach twisted. I should have been excited about Callas Preparatory. It was supposed to be the best high school in the whole Northeast, and maybe even the country. The gallery had to pull major strings to get me in, and they used it as a selling point to get Dad to come out for a while. But school wasn’t really my thing and the added pressure of going to the best school in the nation made me want to curl up and die.
Dad must have sensed my apprehension, because he took my hand in both of his and smiled. “You’re going to love it. Cynthia says it’s amazing there.”
I tried not to roll my eyes. I was pretty sure Cynthia’s idea of amazing was different from mine. Once she visited our house in Cascade and was horrified to find we didn’t have a built in water purification system on our sink. Dad told her our water was so clean we could open our own bottled water company straight from the tap, but she still wouldn’t drink it.
Dad smiled and lifted his glass to his mouth.
And I saw it again.
His right hand trembled.
It was hardly noticeable and may not have been significant if it had happened to someone other than my dad. But this was George Foster—a man who was known for his hyper-realistic painting. His style was often described as being “surgical.” And just like surgery, his profession required steady hands.
A woman with a large camera and greedy eyes stepped up to our table. “Excuse me,” she said. “You’re George Foster, right? Would you mind if I got a picture?”
Dad smiled and motioned for me to scoot over into the shot.
“Actually,” the woman said. “I’d just like you, if that’s okay. I’m doing some freelance work for The Post and I think they’d probably love some proof that you’re in town.”
Dad scowled. He used to love reporters, but after his last show’s less than enthusiastic reception he was more skeptical.
“That would be fine,” I said, “Right, Dad?”
He nodded, grudgingly, and didn’t smile for the photo.
Once the woman left he took a few more bites of pizza and was back to himself.
“Cynthia said she’s hiring a housekeeper to come three hours a day. Can you imagine us with a housekeeper?” Dad laughed. “I’ll have nothing to do but paint, which I guess is the idea.”
I forced a smile.
“She’s also going to make us dinner every night, so you’ll have all the time in the world to hang out with friends.”
I nodded. He was making the best of this situation and I hoped he wouldn’t realize I didn’t have friends here. I was the last thing he needed to worry about. He just needed to get better—get back to himself.