A Different Blue Page 81

“I think I've changed my mind. I want this one instead.” I noticed the sculpture in front of me for the first time. 'Loss' bowed before me in anguished repose. I wanted to turn away. I had been relieved when Tiffa had sent the truck to pick it up. I didn't respond, but looked beyond it, hoping Mr. Wayne would move on.

“It's almost painful to look at,” he murmured. I felt him looking at me, and I brought my eyes to his. “Ah, there's a story here, I can tell.” He smiled. I smiled too, but it felt forced. I knew I should tell him about the piece, sell it, sell myself. But I couldn't. I had no idea how. An awkward silence followed. He eventually spoke, saving us both.

“Someone told me once that to create true art you must be willing to bleed and let others watch.” I felt a little exposed and suddenly wanted to melt into the shadows of the room where I could observe without being observed.

“There is suffering in every line. It's simply . . . wonderful.” His voice was gentle, and I berated myself silently. Here I was on the arm of someone who could be enormously helpful to me in my career, and I wanted to escape.

“Then it's yours,” I answered suddenly. “It is my gift to you, to thank you for this opportunity.”

“Oh no.” He shook his leonine head emphatically. “No. I will buy this sculpture. Thank you, but a tremendous price was paid in the creation of this piece, and it should not be given away for free.” His voice was both tender and kind.

My heart thudded painfully and emotion rose in my chest. “Thank you,” was all I could manage. And we moved on.

The night continued, a blur of expensive clothing and heady praise. I lost my pain in the pleasure of attention and moved from one effusive patron to the next, Tiffa always nearby. Toward the end of the evening, Tiffa stopped and waved to someone across the room.

“He came, luv. Are you still miffed at him? Should I keep him away so you can make him suffer?” My head shot up, finding the “him” she referred to standing in front of the weeping visage that welcomed new arrivals to the gallery. Wilson looked pressed and proper in his black tux. Tall, handsome, his hair slicked back, barely a wave in sight. I wished I could run my fingers through it and tousle it into floppy curls. I turned away immediately. He had seen Tiffa wave and had been in the act of raising his hand in response when he saw me at her side. His hand froze mid-wave.

“And he brought that naff cow with him,” Tiffa moaned. “What is with my little brother? His taste in women is ghastly. Well, now we know what he did with the other ticket. He's positively dead from the neck up.” She muttered the last part under her breath. I wasn't sure what she referred to. Pamela wasn't exactly a cow. Or a dog. Or anything remotely unattractive, as much as I wished she were.

“I'm leaving now, Tiffa. Have I schmoozed and schlepped enough?” I said brightly, already pulling away.

“No! Blue! What in the world is going on with you and my silly brother? This is your big night!”

“And it's been amazing. But I don't want to talk to Wilson right now. We had a pretty tense moment right before I came tonight. I am not ready to be anywhere near him.”

“Miss Echohawk!” Mr. Wayne approached from my right, a small Asian man walking beside him. “Miss Echohawk,” Mr. Wayne extended his hand in introduction, “this is Mr. Yin Chen.” The little man bowed slightly. “He is intrigued by your work. He begged for an introduction.”

Next to me, Tiffa was practically vibrating. This must be someone important. What was his name? I suddenly felt like the top of my head was going to pop off and float away like a helium balloon. Should I bow too? Tiffa did. So I copied her.

“Nice to meet you,” I murmured, clueless.

“Mr. Chen is especially interested in the one you've titled 'Cello,'” Mr. Wayne smiled down at Mr. Chen indulgently.

Mr. Chen! That was it. Not too hard to remember. From the corner of my eye, I saw Wilson approaching with Pamela on his arm. I stepped on Tiffa's foot, probably more viciously than was warranted. Tiffa gasped slightly and moved to engage Mr. Chang(?) in conversation. I turned to Mr. Wayne, and he dipped his head discreetly and murmured softly in my ear, pulling me aside, which was fine with me as it moved me away from Wilson.

“Mr. Chen (Chen!) is a Bei Jing mogul – one of the whales we like to take very good care of whenever he's in town. He fancies himself quite the art oficianado. If he likes your work and thinks you are the next big thing, he will move heaven and earth to buy up as many pieces as he can.”

“Will he buy them all?” I asked, trying not to squeak like a child.

“Unfortunately for Mr. Chen, they have all sold.” Mr. Wayne smiled down at me.

“All of them!” I whispered, stunned.

“Yes. All of them.”

Wilson's tuxedo jacket was flung over the railing and his tie was loose, hanging in a tired curl. His top few buttons were undone, and he was slumped on the stairs, elbows on his knees, hands clasped in front of him. I watched him through the glass of the front door for a moment, wondering what he could say that would make me forgive him. He had revealed too much, and I couldn't get his words out of my head. They blinked in neon, buzzing continuously in my brain.

I had been congratulated, praised, even adored that night. But it was Wilson's words that filled my head. The Bei Jing Mogul whose name I couldn't seem to remember had commissioned five separate pieces and had presented me with a check for $5,000. I would receive another check for the same amount when the carvings were completed, and The Sheffied was letting me take the full commission. The night had been a success that I could build a future on. A success I hadn't even dared dream of. But my heart ached in my chest, and I had felt sick to my stomach all night because of Wilson.

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