Authors: Courtney Cook Hopp
This book is a work of fiction. Any references to historical events, real people, or real locales are used fictitiously. Other names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination, and any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2014 by Courtney Cook Hopp
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission. For more information, go to www.courtneyhopp.com
Book cover and layout by Flair for Design
Author photo by Katy Tuttle Photography
Dedicated to my own
Running on the Beach”
Carrie Cook Minns and
of Betty Jane Rice Cook
Table of Contents
It would strike without warning — hard, splintering, non-breathable grief.
Like a hammer slammed down, its cruelty would pierce through every fiber of my body, leaving nothing but a fog of gray. Two and a half years of mind numbing gray.
But they lied.
About the healing power of time.
Because grief knocked me to the ground whenever it damn well pleased.
The hammer’s fluid arc swung forty-eight feet above my head, the black steel cutting through ribbons of purple and pink, woven in the twilight sky. Up, down, up, down, the sculpture’s endless rhythm predictable, keeping time to some unknown beat.
“CeeCee, come on,” Grace shouted from the entrance of the Seattle Art Museum as a late summer breeze rolled up from the Puget Sound, swirling the salt air around me.
I tore my eyes from the Hammering Man sculpture, and followed Grace through the front doors of the SAM — away from my gray reality and into a vibrant world of dreamers.
“CeeCee, your aunt does not mess around,” she shot over her shoulder. “She must donate loads of Franklins to get this kind of treatment.”
“Doubtful,” I replied, absorbing the art, the sophistication, the people — their collective donating power having lured them out for a private viewing of Picasso’s work. I pushed my mess of long, strawberry blonde kinks behind my ear, realizing I should have tried harder to tame their out-of-control nature. “I’m fairly certain Uncle Russell’s landscape business doesn’t rake in this kind of cash.”
Truth be told, I had no idea how Aunt Lucy scored the tickets, or why she would offer them to me. Had it been anyone else I’d have assumed it was a sympathy move, but that wasn’t her style.
Instead, she planned and detailed the entire evening, quietly setting it into motion. The tickets, the town car, even enlisting Grace’s mom to cover our island jailbreak with a “sleepover” fabrication, which helped to pull the wool over Dad’s eyes. Not that it was hard to do. Not since the accident had left him blind.
“You’d be surprised the amount of money people pay out to avoid getting their hands dirty,” Grace quipped, the spring of her black coils dancing around a brightly colored scarf.
“And you’re suddenly an expert on the current pay structures of the working force?”
“Not me, girlfriend, but my parents pay a lot of people a lot of money to avoid doing a lot of things.”
“Must be nice.”
The distasteful smell of the toilet I scrubbed this morning still clung to the hair in my nose. Nobody came to our house, ever, Dad muttering,
“If I can’t see them, then I don’t want them roaming around like ghosts.”
Which was laughable, because he was the only ghost that slipped from room to room.
Grace pressed on with her superior rhetoric, the wake of our presence going unnoticed as we started up the stairs. “I figure it’s my parents’ way of making up for life times of past inequities.”
“Maybe so,” I said, unfazed by her usual bravado, her convictions, her hold-nothing-back attitude. She’d been that way from the day we met.
I’d been determined to hate everything about Vashon Island, Washington. That was until Grace waltzed in on my first day of art class two years ago, dropped down next to me, and began to ooze her infectious personality. It was refreshing, palpable. No hidden agenda or history to explain, just acceptance, allowing me to fly under the radar of her loud disposition.
Flight after flight, we continued up the stairs, aiming for the Special Exhibition Gallery on the top floor.
“This way,” Grace pointed as we crested the last step.
I nodded, my boots striking against the marble floor, bouncing echoes off the static of quiet chatter as we crossed the threshold together — speechless.
My breath caught as I drank in the palettes of brilliant color. To study his art in a book was one thing, but to see it up close — almost touch it, breathe in its scent — was like being in the room with Picasso as he was painting. Creating. Forging.
“Knock me out,” Grace whispered over my shoulder.
I had no words, no reply as I released the trapped air from my lungs, the flow stirring an ache of another life. An ache that hung heavily on my shoulders.
My feet were unhurried as I crept from piece to piece, everything but the art fading from existence. I drank in the color, the boldness, the distortion camouflaging the stories hidden between the lines.
A wash of blue caught my eye, and I braced myself, my feet faltering as I neared the one in the corner.
The piece that held my mom — her story, her spirit — flush against the bright blues and explosion of disjointed energy.
My teeth sunk painfully into my lower lip, trying to override the mounting wave of grief inside me. I stared at the canvas of familiar women, their never-ending race having played out above my mom’s desk. The outer rooms of the art gallery she owned in San Francisco had been filled with original creations, but centered directly above her office desk was a print of Picasso’s “Two Women Running on the Beach” — a bond of sisterhood woven with the determination for victory.
The air thinned and I worked to gulp down a breath. And another. The women a painful reminder of the bond I was supposed to share with her. One that was stolen and wrapped tightly in twisted metal, broken. Forever.
I inched closer to the small canvas as I curled my arms tight around my chest. It was only a foot tall and a foot and a half wide, but the warmth exuded beyond its small borders, inviting you in, the women’s laughter mocking the hush of the museum. I couldn’t breathe. My body was seized by familiar, cruel pain threatening to split me in two, forcing a lone tear to trail down my cheek. I wanted to dive in, to run freely with the women, unburdened, without thought or care.
“It’s a lie.”
I jumped, the male voice displacing my pain, sending it scurrying back to its hiding place. I swiped my cheek dry and turned to face the intruder.
A guy about my age stood directly behind me. His dark hair a little too long, a little too messy, not quite covering a scar that ran from his left temple to the edge of his jawbone. Annoyed, I said, “Excuse me?”
Something almost imperceptible slid across his eyes as he looked into mine before his rough voice repeated, “It’s a lie,” and nodded toward my painting, causing the museum lanyard that dangled from his neck to swing back and forth.
I glanced around for Grace, but she was on the far side of the room, oblivious of the art critic in front of me. I looked back at the stranger. His
mossy green eyes rimmed with tired, dark circles, sunk deep on a bed of Mediterranean skin, drew focus to the gentle slope of his nose.
I turned back to the painting before bitterly replying, “Of course it’s a lie. Who would want to paint the ugly truth?”
He stepped to my side and stared.
I stole a glance. Our eyes tangoed briefly before I faced my running women again. “Has anyone ever mentioned that staring is rude?” I asked in hopes of jarring him along.
“It’s only considered rude if you don’t have a reason to stare.”
I squared my shoulders, determined not to be undone by him. “And what possible reason could there be?”
“First, you’re not the typical pre-viewing patron,” he said matter-of-factly, while his pensive pools of murky green searched for something in mine.
I crossed my arms over my chest. “You mean I’m not old and rich?”
“Are you old and rich?” I asked, eyeing his disheveled appearance.
“No, but I work here, so I’m required to be in attendance.”
“You said, ‘First,’ so I assume there’s a ‘Second.’”
“Second, not many people realize that art is a lie.” His stare was disconcerting. “What made you say that?”
Mom’s face flashed behind my eyes. “Gut. Life. Tragedy. Truth. Any or all of the above.”
“Who are you?” The three words were a breath, bringing him a half a step closer, causing the temperature in the room to rise.
“No, I think the question is,” I looked down at his name badge as I unbuttoned my coat, hoping for a small breeze, “Who are you, Quentin Stone? And what possible reason do you have for bothering me?”
“I thought you might have a question,” he said, pointing back to my women. “You’ve been frozen in front of that painting for nearly twenty minutes.”
Irritated, I looped my hair behind my ears. “So this is how you help patrons, by informing them that art is a lie before they can formulate their own opinion? I didn’t realize there was a viewing time limit.”
I tried to step around him and move to the next painting, but he shifted forward at the same time, causing an awkward, tripping, almost-hit-the-ground moment. His hand shot out and grabbed hold of my elbow. The warmth of the contact set off a strange tingling sensation at the base of my overly heated neck.
Still holding my arm, he asked, “Are you always this feisty, um, I didn’t catch your name.”
“That’s because I didn’t offer it. And what are you talking about, ‘feisty’?” I ripped my elbow from his grip as a drop of sweat slid down my spine. The tingling sensation began to move. It crawled up my neck and across the top of my head, sharpening, like a thousand tiny needles penetrating my scalp. His dark emeralds, flecked with the slightest hints of gold, never strayed from my face as the walls of the cavernous exhibit hall began to push in claustrophobically. “Aren’t you supposed to be helping patrons, rather than hindering them?”
“Yes, he is,” a female voice said from behind us.
We both whipped around toward the new voice. I blinked, unsure if the pain searing through my mind was affecting my eyesight. I squeezed my eyes shut and wiped the sweat from my brow, trying to calm the storm brewing inside me.
But she was still there when I opened them. Elegant, in her daring eyelet dress and heels. Her gray, curly hair, which was barely harnessed to submission, was no match to the stance of her confident posture.
“We were talking about the truths found in Picasso’s paintings,” Quentin offered, nonplussed by the interruption.
“What . . .” My hand clamped over my forehead in an attempt to hold my shattering head together. It was a flash. A memory. A conversation I wasn’t supposed to have heard.
“Did you tell her? You swore you wouldn’t tell her,” Dad had asked Aunt Lucy accusingly.
“She knows about Gretta, but not about your . . .”
Interrupting his sister, he spit out, “I don’t want her help. I don’t need her help.”
“Peter, give Mother a chance. She wants to help.”
“NO! I want nothing to do with that eccentric woman!” he’d bellowed, his blind eyes locking onto nothing, his harsh tongue a foreign language I didn’t recognize.
Quentin Stone was staring at me. At the woman. The woman I’d seen before in framed photos at my aunt’s house, but had never met. I dropped my hand from my head, my heart tripping over each resounding pound.
“Quentin, will you please introduce me to your friend?” she asked.
What? She knows random scar-face-art-museum-worker, but not me? Could she not know who I am?
“Um . . .” Quentin stammered. “Evelyn Vanderbie, this is, um . . .”
His hand brushed over my shoulder as my grandmother stretched hers out before me, waiting. I forced my hand out, the vibrations in my head bending painfully into a debilitating migraine.
“Um, sorry,” Quentin said. “And your name is?”
“CeeCee,” I heard my grandmother say as she clasped her fingers around my own.
A roar of blood whooshed behind my ears, forcing me to close my eyes as a barrage of color exploded behind them. Hues beyond anything I’d ever seen, vivid and bright, boldly butting against one another before twisting into patterns more beautiful than the last. I wanted to disappear into myself, into the splendor, but my grandmother held tight to my hand. Squeezing. Grounding me to reality.
“C e e C e e . . .”
My name blew in like a whisper, scattering the vibrant colors and unleashing a horrific array of black and white images. One after another they painfully tumbled from the dark. Children screaming. Fires roaring. People drowning. Bodies teetering on the brink. Arms stretched out beyond the frames of images, begging to be understood.
I gulped for air, unable to grasp what was happening. I wanted the colors back, but the darkness
prevailed, tipping me left. Right.
Skewing me into a backward slide.
My free hand struggled to grab hold of something solid as a final blast of white light washed everything out.