Page 9

This isn’t entirely the truth. It was when I first began seeing Palindrome Hannah, and most of my time was spent inside of her that month, attempting to focus on her body and ignore the fact that I didn’t connect as much with her mind. Auburn doesn’t need to know any of that though.

“What was the confession?”

I look at her questioningly, because I’m not sure what she’s talking about.

“The one painting you did that month,” she clarifies. “What was the confession that inspired it?”

I think back to that month and back to the only confession I seemed to want to paint. Even though it wasn’t my confession, it somehow feels like it was now that she’s asking me to tell her what my only inspiration was for that entire month.

“The painting was called When I’m with You, I Think of All the Great Things I Could Be If I Were Without You.”

She keeps her focus on me and her eyebrows are furrowed as if she’s trying to get to know my story through this confession.

Her expression relaxes and keeps falling until she looks disturbed. “That’s really sad,” she says.

She glances away, either to hide that this confession bothered her or to hide that she’s still trying to decipher me through the confession. She glances at some of the paintings closest to us so that she’s not looking directly at me anymore. We’re playing a game of hide-and-seek and the paintings are home base, apparently.

“You must have been extremely inspired this month, because twenty-two is a big number. That’s almost a painting a day.”

I want to say, “Just wait until next month,” but I don’t.

“Some of these are old paintings. They weren’t all made this month.” I reach around her again, for the tape this time, but it’s different. It’s different because I accidentally touch her arm with my hand, and I haven’t actually touched her until now. But we definitely just made contact, and she’s absolutely real, and I hold on extra tight to the tape because I want more of whatever that was she just unintentionally delivered.

I want to say, “Did you feel that, too?” but I don’t have to because I can see the chills run up her arm. I want to put down the tape and touch one of those tiny bumps I just created on her skin.

She clears her throat and takes a quick step back into the expansiveness of the room and away from the closeness of us.

I breathe, relieved by the space she just put between us. She seems uncomfortable, and honestly, I was becoming uncomfortable, because I’m still trying to wrap my mind around the fact that she’s actually here.

If I had to guess, I would say that she’s an introvert. Someone who isn’t used to being around other people, much less people who are complete strangers to her. She seems a lot like me. A loner, a thinker, an artist with her life.

And it appears as though she’s afraid I’ll alter her canvas if she allows me too close.

She doesn’t need to worry. The feeling is mutual.

We spend the next fifteen minutes hanging the numbers below each painting. I watch as she writes down the name of each confession on a piece of paper and correlates it with its number. She acts like she’s done this a million times. I think she might be one of those people who are good at everything they do. She has a talent for life.

“Do people always show up to these things?” she asks as we walk back to the counter. I love the fact that she has no idea about my studio or my art.

“Come here.” I walk toward the front door, smiling at her innocence and curiosity. It gives me a nostalgic feeling reminiscent of the first night I opened over three years ago. She brings back a little of that excitement, and I wish it could always be like this.

When we reach the front door, I pull away one of the confessions so she can take a peek outside. I watch her eyes grow wide as she takes in the line of people that I know are standing at the door. It didn’t always used to be like this. Since the front-page feature last year, word of mouth has increased the amount of traffic I get, and I’ve been very lucky.

“Exclusivity,” she whispers, taking a step back.

I attach the confession back to the window. “What do you mean?”

“That’s why you do so well. Because you restrict the amount of days you’re open and you can only make so many paintings in a month. It makes your art worth more to people.”

“Are you saying I don’t do well because of my talent?” I smile when I say this so she knows I’m only teasing.

She shoves my shoulder playfully. “You know what I mean.”

I want her to shove my shoulder again, because I loved the way she smiled when she did it, but instead she turns and faces the open floor of the studio. She draws in a slow breath. It makes me wonder if seeing all the people outside has made her nervous.

“You ready?”

She nods and forces a smile. “Ready.”

I open the doors and the people begin pouring in. There’s a big crowd tonight and for the first several minutes, I worry that this will intimidate her. But regardless of how quiet and a little bit shy she seemed when she first showed up here, she’s the exact opposite now. She’s flourishing, as if she’s somehow in her element, when this probably isn’t a situation she’s ever been in before.

I wouldn’t know that from watching her, though.

For the first half hour, she mingles with the guests and discusses the art and some of the confessions. I recognize a few faces, but most of them are people I don’t know. She acts like she knows all of them. She eventually walks back to the counter when she sees someone pull the number five down. Number five correlates to the painting titled I went to China for two weeks without telling anyone. When I returned, no one noticed I’d been gone.

She smiles at me from across the room as she’s ringing up her first transaction. I continue to work the crowd, mingling, all the while watching her out of the corner of my eye. Tonight, everyone’s focus is on my art, but my focus is on her. She’s the most interesting piece in this entire room.

“Will your father be here tonight, Owen?”

I look away from her long enough to answer Judge Corley’s question with a shake of my head. “He couldn’t make it tonight,” I lie.

If I were a priority in his life, he would have made it.

“That’s a shame,” Judge Corley says. “I’m having my office redecorated, and he suggested I stop by to check out your work.”