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She nods in understanding.

“That’s what it’s like when I’ve finished a painting and someone tells me their confession inspired it. When I’m painting, I create a story in my head of what inspired the confession and who it came from. But when I find out that the image I had while painting doesn’t fit the actual image standing in front of me, it somehow invalidates the art for me.”

She smiles and looks at her feet again. “There’s a song called ‘Hold On’ by the band Alabama Shakes,” she says, explaining the reason behind her flushed cheeks. “I listened to that song for more than a month before I saw the video and realized the singer was a woman. Talk about a mind-fuck.”

I laugh. She understands exactly what I’m saying, and I can’t stop smiling because I know that band, and I find it hard to believe anyone would think the singer was a man. “She says her own name in the song, doesn’t she?”

She shrugs and now I’m staring at her shoulder. “I thought he was referring to someone else,” she says, still calling the singer a he even though she knows it’s a she now.

Her eyes flutter away, and she walks around me toward the counter. She’s still holding the confession in her hand, and I let her hold it. “Have you ever thought of allowing people to purchase anonymously?”

I walk to the opposite side of the counter and I lean forward, closer to her. “Can’t say that I have.”

She runs her fingers over the counter, the calculator, the information cards, my business cards. She picks one up. She flips it over. “You should put confessions on the backs of these.”

As soon as those words leave her mouth, her lips press into a tight line. She thinks I’m insulted by her suggestions, but I’m not.

“How would it benefit me if the purchases were anonymous?”

“Well,” she says, treading carefully, “if I were one of the people who wrote one of these”—she holds up the confession in her hand—“I would be too embarrassed to buy it. I’d be afraid you would know it was me who wrote it.”

“I think it’s rare that people who write the confession actually come to a showing.”

She hands me the confession, finally, and then crosses her arms over the counter. “Even if I didn’t write the confession, I’d be too embarrassed to buy the painting for fear that you would assume I wrote it.”

She makes a good point.

“I think the confessions add an element of realness to your paintings that can’t be found in other art. If a person walks into a gallery and sees a painting they connect with, they might buy it. But if a person walks into your gallery and sees a painting or a confession they connect with, they might not want to connect with it. But they do. And they’re embarrassed that they connect with a painting about a mother admitting she might not love her own child. And if they hand the confession card to whoever is going to ring up their purchase, they’re essentially saying to that person, ‘I connected with this horrible admission of guilt.’  ”

I might be in awe of her, and I try not to look at her with so much obvious fascination. I straighten up but can’t shake the sudden urge to hibernate inside her head. Ferment in her thoughts. “You make a good argument.”

She smiles at me. “Who’s arguing?”

Not us. Definitely not us.

“So let’s do it, then,” I say to her. “We’ll place a number below every painting and people can bring you the number rather than the confession card. It’ll give them a sense of anonymity.”

I notice every tiny detail of her reaction as I walk around the counter toward her. She grows an inch taller and sucks in a small breath. I reach around her and pick up a piece of paper, and then reach across her for the scissors. I don’t make eye contact with her when I do these things so close to her, but she’s staring at me, almost as if she’s willing me to.

I look around the room and begin counting the paintings when she interrupts and says, “There are twenty-two.” She almost seems embarrassed that she knew how many paintings there were, because she glances away and clears her throat. “I counted them earlier . . . while you were in the shower.” She takes the scissors from my hands and begins cutting the paper. “Do you have a black marker?”

I retrieve one and set it down on the counter. “Why do you think I need confessions on my business cards?”

She continues to meticulously cut the squares while she answers me. “The confessions are fascinating. It sets your studio apart from all the rest. If you have confessions on your business cards, it’ll pique interest.”

She’s right again. I can’t believe I haven’t thought of that yet. She must be a business major. “What do you do for a living, Auburn?”

“I cut hair at a salon a few blocks away.” Her answer lacks pride and it makes me sad for her.

“You should be a business major.”

She doesn’t respond, and I’m afraid I may have just insulted her profession. “Not that cutting hair is something you shouldn’t be proud of,” I say. “I just think you have a brain for business.” I pick up the black marker and begin writing numbers on the squares, one to twenty-two, because that’s how many paintings she said are hanging and I believe her enough not to recount them.

“How often are you open?” She completely ignores my insult/compliment regarding her profession.

“First Thursday of every month.”

She looks at me, perplexed. “Only once a month?”

I nod. “I told you it’s not really an art gallery. I don’t show other artists, and I’m rarely open. It’s just something I started doing a few years back and it took off, especially after I got a front-page feature last year in the Dallas Morning News. I do well enough the one night I’m open to make a living.”

“Good for you,” she says, genuinely impressed. I’ve never really tried to be impressive before, but she makes me a little bit proud of myself.

“Do you always have a set number of paintings available?”

I love that she’s so interested.

“No. One time, about three months ago, I opened with only one painting.”

She turns and faces me. “Why only one?”

I shrug, playing it off. “I wasn’t very inspired to paint that month.”

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