The Fake
Smoke Gets in Your Eyes
Grayson called or texted at least a hundred times that week. I almost answered once or twice, hoping he’d provide an explanation for ruining my father’s career and destroying my trust in humanity. But I didn’t answer.
The apartment was ninety percent packed and I was ready to cut all ties with New York except for with Sydney and Alan Fairchild.
The thought of both made me smile.
When Sydney and I finally made it back to Mr. Fairchild’s office he’d been nothing like what I’d imagined. He was Cynthia’s opposite in every way. He was old with dark brown skin and wrinkles around his mouth and eyes that showed he’d spent a good portion of his life smiling. He wore relaxed khakis and a wrinkly sports jacket.
He’d welcomed us graciously, offering hot cocoa and shortbread from a tin on his side table and then he apologized for the saleswoman and explained that she’d come highly recommended, but hadn’t yet figured out how to be nice to people.
I smiled and the galloping in my chest calmed to a trot.
“Which of you is the painter?”
I squeaked, “I am,” just as Sydney said, “She’s George Foster’s daughter.”
Mr. Fairchild focused his attention on me. “Those must be big shoes to fill.”
“I’m not really looking to fill anyone’s shoes,” I said, as meekly as I could. “I just love to paint.”
His mouth spread into a wide smile. “That’s what I like to hear.” He stood and walked around his wide desk and perched himself on the corner nearest me. “Of course none of that matters if you aren’t any good. You brought this painting for me to look at?”
I nodded and Sydney and I unwrapped the brown paper and revealed the lake scene.
I looked at Mr. Fairchild, hoping to detect his thoughts from his expression. He’d turned his head to the side and scrunched his forehead like he was confused.
The galloping sensation returned as I waited an agonizing thirty seconds.
Mr. Fairchild leaned back and sat fully on his desk. “It’s not what I expected. Not at all what I expected.”
“What did you expect?” Sydney asked.
“Something modern or postmodern. An attempt to push the boundaries of what can be considered art. That’s usually what happens when the child of an artist pursues this course.”
My heart sunk. My little landscape was boring then. Unoriginal.
“This is like an Innes or even a Pissarro. Simple yet evocative.”
Was that good?
The three of us sat there in silence as he stared at the canvas, turning his head this way and that and squinting his eyes.
Finally he looked at us again and said, “I think I like it.”
“That’s wonderful!” Sydney said.
“But I’m not sure if it will sell.”
I nodded, expecting bad news all along.
“But I’d like to try. Would you be willing to give it to me on consignment for a few months? I’ll test the waters and see if I can get interest and if I do I’ll order a few…”
“Yes!” I blurted before he could finish his sentence.
Sydney had been ecstatic all the way back to the apartment. She was sure it would be a hit. She talked about meeting in New York for modeling gigs and art shows and living lives we’d only ever seen our parents live.
I was sure the painting wouldn’t sell, but I didn’t even care. Mr. Fairchild had looked at it and liked it and that was more than enough for me.
The second I got back to the apartment the cloud settled over us again. I’d used a moment for myself and now it was time to remember why we were here and where we were headed. I focused all my energy on packing up the few things we’d brought from home and booking flights and movers and making sure the utilities were turned on before we got home.
I was really starting to worry about Dad. He hadn’t touched his food for days and he was starting to look gaunt. I told Marda we needed something extra special to get him to eat. She whipped together a tray overflowing with tiny quiches, several large slices of pepperoni pizza, potato salad, fresh fruit dusted with powdered sugar, and a chocolate milkshake.
“Thanks,” I said. “Something here will definitely tempt him.”
Marda shrugged as she scrubbed the bowl she’d used to mix the salad.
“We both really appreciate all you’ve done for us while we’ve been here. We’ll miss you when we go home.”
She nodded and continued cleaning. She never talked much, she’d just been a support, working in the background so that Dad could focus on his art and I could focus on school and art and everything else. We would miss the great meals and clean house, but I was sure we could manage for ourselves.
I carried the tray to Dad’s room, knocked on the door and entered. With the blackout curtains drawn and the lights off, the room felt like a cave.
“Brought you some lunch,” I whispered.
“Hey, Claire Bear.” He forced his voice to sound chipper, as he flipped on the lamp.
I sat on the corner or his bed and handed him the tray.
He smiled, “Aw, how can I be a haggard washed up artist with you and Marda constantly trying to sabotage me? You know I can’t resist these little quiches.”
I laughed. “Why do you think I asked Marda to make them?”
He picked one up and popped the whole thing in his mouth.
It was almost enough to make me truly happy.
Grayson’s texts were getting more and more insistent, going from “I really, really need to talk to you,” to “It’s an emergency, Claire, please call.”
I ignored the latest one as I loaded paints and brushes into two large reusable grocery bags. Dad didn’t feel right about keeping any of the stuff Cynthia had used to outfit the apartment so I was tasked with returning the significant amount of painting supplies to the art store. I kissed Dad good-bye and promised I’d be back in an hour, and then I picked up the bags and opened the front door.
Before I could even step into the hallway Grayson was in front of me.
“Please don’t go back inside,” he said as he grabbed one of the bags and led me out into the hallway. He looked and smelled terrible, with greasy hair, and a dried ketchup stain running down the center of his shirt.
“What happened to you?” I asked feeling genuinely concerned.
“I have to talk to you, Claire. I’ve been waiting outside your door since Wednesday afternoon.” He took the other bag from me, set it on the floor, and led me to a sofa on the landing, put his arm around me and said, “I’ve missed you so much.”
Up until then I’d been so shocked, so confused that I did what he asked, but something woke up inside me when I sat next to him.
I shook my head. “Why?” Anger, beyond anything I felt before, bubbled in inside me. “Why would you do that to my Dad? Money?”
I stared straight into his eyes, not letting him look away.
He swallowed hard. “I didn’t get paid.”
My eyes went blurry from gathering tears. “So you betrayed us for free?” I bit my bottom lip in an attempt to stay composed.
He put his hand on his face and sighed. “I did.”
My nostrils flared and I gritted my teeth. “It was when I took you to the gallery right? On our date?”
He nodded.
Rage built up inside me. How could he do this? How could he stand there and pretend to be in love with me and destroy everything I held dear the moment I wasn’t watching. “Please tell me you were working for the good guys somehow. Please tell me you didn’t ruin our lives on purpose.”
His eyes glistened and he blinked hard. “I’m so sorry,” he whispered. “I did some bad things. I don’t have any good excuse. But you have to listen.”
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