Chapter Thirty-Seven

I spend the rest of the afternoon at the gallery still reeling from this recent turn of events. I don’t know which is more shocking, the fact he actually smiled at me or his phone call later that afternoon to say, yes, that’s fine, his uncle has a room, and no, it’s not expensive.

Mr Sullen’s real name is Vincent and he’s actually quite chatty once you get to know him. Thanking him profusely, I take down all the details and promise to pop in to the diner when I get back to tell him how it all went. So that’s sorted, I think, hanging up. I’ve got my flight. I’ve got my hotel. All I need now is to get Nate to come with me.

That’s a bit like saying, ‘All I need now is a billion dollars,’ I think gloomily.

On the back of a press release I’m writing about Artsy, I doodle a list of options:

1. Kidnapping? No. Impossible to smuggle on plane. Carries life sentence if caught.
2. Threaten? What with? My stiletto heel? A bridal magazine? Weapons of mass destruction? No. Don’t have weapons of mass destruction. Saying that, it’s never stopped anyone before.
3. Bribery? No. Ditto above. What with? Once I’ve paid for the room in Venice, I’m broke.

I’m just trying to think of another option when I hear the door and look up to see Daniel walking in.

‘Oh, hi, Daniel.’ I wave, quickly hiding my list. ‘How are you?’

It’s a redundant question. He looks totally miserable. Wearing a crumpled navy suit that looks like it’s been slept in, he hasn’t shaved and has dark circles under his eyes. ‘Hi, Lucy.’ He forces a smile. ‘Is Mom here?’

‘Yeah, she’s in the back.’ I gesture to the office. ‘You two going out?’

‘No.’ He shakes his head. ‘I came to pick her up and take her home. I’m helping her pack up her apartment.’

‘She’s moving out?’ I look at him in dismay. ‘Already?’

‘Yeah, ’fraid so.’

‘She didn’t tell me,’ I murmur.

I feel a wave of sadness. All day long Magda has been her usual indefatigable self, entertaining me with outrageous stories, being excited about the Artsy exhibition. Yet all the time, underneath, was the knowledge that she was packing up her home that very evening. Moving out of the place she’d lived in for the past twenty years.

‘Where will she go?’ I ask anxiously.

‘She’s coming to live with me,’ replies Daniel, and smiles ruefully. ‘At least that’s something. You know it’s every Jewish mother’s dream to live with her son.’

Despite myself, I can’t help smiling.

‘So how’s Robyn?’ he says after a moment, trying to sound nonchalant and failing terribly.

‘OK,’ I say vaguely. I don’t know what to say. Do I tell him the truth? That I think she’s making a huge mistake, that I’ve tried and failed to talk some sense into her? Or do I keep out of it and not interfere? Take a leaf out of her book and accept that what will be will be?

‘I guess she must be really happy about finally finding Harold,’ he says, nudging for a reaction.

We look at each other, neither of saying what we are really thinking. ‘Yeah, I suppose so.’ I shrug non-committally. I bite my lip. Oh God, this is killing me. ‘Look, Daniel, I think you two should speak,’ I blurt, before I can help myself.

Well, I’m sorry. Sod leaving things up to destiny. If I’d followed the rule of what will be will be, I’d have flat stringy hair and thick bushy eyebrows. Sometimes you need to give things a helping hand, whether that involves hair products, tweezers or your best friend interfering in your love life.

If I’m expecting him to yell, ‘You’re right!’ and rush off to declare his undying love, I’m sorely mistaken.

‘No.’ He shakes his head resignedly. ‘She’s in love with someone else. It would be unfair of me to come between her and her soulmate.’

‘But he’s not her soulmate!’ I cry, a feeling of desperation rising up inside me. ‘Robyn isn’t in love with Harold. She thinks she is, but she’s not. She’s in love with—’

‘Daniel, my boy!’

I’m interrupted by Magda appearing with a shriek of delight.

‘Hey, Mom.’ He blushes beetroot as she flings herself against him, burying her head in his chest as if it’s their last goodbye.

‘My boy, my beautiful boy,’ she wails, clinging on to him. Then she pushes him away from her so she can get a better look. ‘What’s wrong? Why do you look so sad?’

‘I’m not.’ He pins on a smile. ‘Everything’s great.’

‘Wonderful!’ She beams, her face flushing. ‘And how is Robyn?’

Watching them together, I suddenly realise he hasn’t told her yet.

‘Great. She’s great.’ He nods, flashing me a glance as if to say, Please keep schtum.

I run my fingers over my mouth as if to say, My lips are zipped.

‘See, if you had trusted me with my matchmaking . . .’ she says, throwing a pointed look in my direction. ‘So where is Robyn? Is she coming to the apartment?’

‘Oh, no, she’s busy.’

‘Busy?’ Magda starts grabbing her plethora of bags and packages. ‘No, you have to wait. Mommy is busy,’ she instructs Valentino, who snaps around her heels, wanting to be picked up. She turns back to Daniel. ‘What is she doing?’

‘I . . . um . . .’ Daniel looks incredibly awkward. ‘Here, do you want me to help you?’ He reaches down, but Magda bats him away.

‘Not with your bad back, Daniel.’

‘Mom, I’m fine.’

‘Remember what Dr Goldstein said about your sciatica?’

Valentino is still jumping up and down trying to get attention. Daniel bends forward to grab a bag, and I’m not quite sure what happens, but suddenly there’s an ear-splitting howl and Daniel goes flying, along with the bags and Valentino, who shoots out from underneath him like a bullet, and Daniel lands in a tangled heap on the floor.

‘Oy!’ shrieks Magda, rushing to her son’s aid. ‘Are you hurt?’

‘I’m fine, Mom.’ Throwing Valentino a furious glare, Daniel starts scrambling to his feet and brushing himself down, while Magda fusses around him. ‘Seriously, I’m fine. Don’t worry—’ Suddenly he breaks off. ‘Oh shit.’

‘What is it?’ gasps Magda, her eyes wide with concern. ‘It is your back? Oy! I knew you would hurt your back, I knew it!’

‘No, Mom, it’s not my back.’

‘Then what is it?’ She’s almost shrieking. ‘Oh, no, is it your heart? It’s your heart, isn’t it? You’re going to take after your father.’

‘No, it’s the painting.’ His face is ashen.

Magda stops shrieking and frowns in confusion. ‘What painting?’

With a stricken expression Daniel points to the wrapped package that was leaning against the side, along with some of the bags. It’s the painting that Magda’s aunt left her. She’d obviously brought it out from the back office to take back to Daniel’s, but now the wrapping is all ripped off, and underneath the canvas is torn.

‘Jeez, Mom, I’m sorry. It must have been when I fell—’ he begins apologising, but she stops him.

‘Oh, don’t worry about that.’ She quickly bats away his concerns. ‘It was terrible.’

‘What was it?’ I ask curiously. I’ve been watching this whole thing unfold, and now as Daniel picks up the painting, the wrapping paper in shreds, I look at it with interest.

‘Looks like a clown,’ says Daniel, peering at it.

‘I hate clowns.’ Magda gives a little shudder. ‘They are so creepy.’

‘Maybe you could fix it,’ I say, standing by Daniel’s shoulder. ‘I’m sure we could find a restorer.’ Reaching over carefully, I peel back the torn flap of canvas with my fingers.

‘No, I don’t care. Throw it away.’ Magda wrinkles her nose. ‘I never liked it.’

‘But it was from Great-Aunt Irena,’ Daniel protests. ‘She wanted you to have it.’

‘Hang on, wait a minute.’

They both stop squabbling and turn to me expectantly.

‘What?’ asks Magda. ‘What is it?’

‘Look, underneath,’ I say, feeling a beat of excitement. ‘There’s another canvas hidden beneath.’

‘Oh wow, yeah, you’re right,’ nods Daniel. ‘It’s another painting.’

‘Well, would you believe it,’ gapes Magda. ‘Aunt Irena always did say appearances could be deceptive.’

‘I wonder what it is,’ muses Daniel.

‘Well, there’s only one way to find out.’ I glance across at Magda. ‘May I?’

She throws her hands in the air as if to say, Sure, go ahead, and so, taking a deep breath, I tear back the tattered canvas of the clown, with its gaudy colours and amateurish brushstrokes, to reveal a whole new painting. A naked portrait of a woman, reclining on a cushion, while cherubic angels dance around her.

‘That’s kinda nice,’ murmurs Daniel with approval, but I can’t reply. My heart is thumping so loudly in my ears I feel dizzy.

The distinctive muted colours. The familiar religious subject. It can’t be. It just can’t be . . .With trembling fingers I turn it to the light and peer at the initials in the far corner. It is.

‘Oh my God,’ I gasp, my voice barely a whisper.

‘What is it?’ asks Magda.

‘Your aunt was right, appearances can be deceptive.’ Turning to her, I can barely say the words. ‘It’s a Titian.’

After that it’s bedlam. Daniel’s straight on the phone to a renowned art expert at an auction house, Magda has to sit down before she falls down, and I just stare dumbfounded at a priceless masterpiece. I can’t believe that it’s been here all this time, propped up in the back office, being completely ignored, and would have probably remained stuffed somewhere out of sight for years unless Daniel had fallen against it.

It’s like finding you’ve got the winning lottery ticket. If it’s genuine, it will be worth millions. I mean, just imagine. It will be the answers to all Magda’s prayers. It will change everything!

With all the excitement at the gallery, I lose track of time and it’s only at the last minute I remember that the play Robyn gave me the tickets for is tonight. I’d almost forgotten. Reminded, I leave work and head to the theatre.

Despite everything, I’m actually quite looking forward to it. I managed to sell the spare ticket yesterday for a whopping hundred and fifty dollars, as it’s supposed to be a really good play and all the tickets are sold out, so it will be a good distraction from everything. It will be nice to lose myself for a couple of hours in a totally different world.

One that doesn’t involve Nathaniel Kennedy, I muse, glancing at my phone and toying with the idea of giving it one more try. I check my watch. I’ve got a few minutes before the play starts. It’s worth a shot. Dialling his number, I wait for it to connect. He probably won’t pick up, I tell myself, listening to it ringing. He’s probably screening his calls.

‘If this is to ask me to go to Venice again, the answer is still no,’ barks Nate, picking up.

We dispensed with the ‘hello’s and the ‘how are you’s quite some time ago.

‘Nate, please, just listen—’ I try persuading, but he cuts me off.

‘Lucy, how many more times?’

I heave a sigh, struggling to remain calm. ‘Look, I know you think this is a bad idea.’

‘I think it’s probably the worst idea you’ve ever had,’ he huffs down the phone, ‘and that’s saying something.’

I feel a twinge of annoyance crank up a notch. ‘I really think you should think about it,’ I reason.

‘I have thought about it and the answer is no.’

I check my watch. Damn, the play’s about to start. I need to go in.

‘Hang on,’ I hiss into my phone, and hiding it under my jacket, I give my ticket to the usher and walk inside the theatre. I’m momentarily taken aback. Wow, it’s impressive. I feel a buzz. A real Broadway play. How exciting. ‘Sorry, where was I?’ I say, retrieving my phone.

‘You were hanging up,’ deadpans Nate.

‘And that’s it? You’re not going to change your mind?’ I begin walking down the aisle, checking the letters on each row.

‘What part of “I’m not going to Venice” do you not understand?’

Finding my row, I start shuffling down it towards my seat number. I’ve got to get him to change his mind, but how? How?

‘Anyway, I’ve got to go,’ he snaps.

‘No, wait. What about the cab the other day?’ Excusing myself to the people already sitting down, I head towards the middle, where I can see two empty seats.

‘What about it?’

‘We’ve got to make it stop, once and for all, otherwise you and Beth—’

‘Lucy, stop this. You’ve got to get a grip.’

‘I have got a grip,’ I retort, peering at the numbers on the back of the seats. Twenty-two, twenty-three, twenty-four . . . It’s silent on the other end of the phone. ‘Nate, are you there?’

‘Yeah, I’m here.’

Gosh, how weird. For a moment his voice sounded like it wasn’t coming from my phone, but right next to me. Bingo. There’s my seat. I glance up, and come face to face with someone who’s been working their way down the row from the opposite direction.

‘Nate!’ I stare at him in shock. ‘What are you doing here?’

You’d think by now I would have got past the surprised bit, wouldn’t you? But no, here I am, staring at him, open-mouthed.

‘What?’ Still on the phone, he looks up at me in bewilderment. ‘I’ve come to see the play. That’s my seat.’ He points to the empty seat next to mine.

I glance at it in astonishment, then back at him, as suddenly it registers. ‘You were the person who bought my spare ticket on eBay?’

‘It was your spare ticket?’ He looks at me aghast.

There’s a pause as we stare at each other, frozen, until the lights go down and we’re forced to take our seats. The audience falls silent, waiting for the curtain to rise and the play to begin.

It’s then that I hear a whisper in my ear.

‘So when do we leave for Venice?’

You're the One That I Don't Want