“We’ll start with Albert.” Tina pointed to his painting of the castle, waves now frothing up against the walls. The blue-gray ruins were cast in shadow on one side, and the blackness spread out in dissipating swirls, like dark spirits escaping. “What is this castle to you?” Tina asked.
“My heart,” he answered promptly.
“The empty ruins?” Tina asked.
“Full of ghosts.”
“I think most of our hearts feel like that at times.” Tina looked down at the image. “Is it how you feel now or most of the time?”
“I will feel this way until I die,” Albert said, his thumb tapping erratically against his leg.
“Was this castle once filled with laughter?” Tina asked.
Albert cleared his throat. “A long time ago.”
“Do you think you can find one small room in it to hold some joy? Just a tiny space?” Tina pushed the paper back at him.
Albert stared at the image, shaking his head, but Tina picked up a new brush, dipped it in the damp red paint, and passed it to him. “I think it’s already there. I think you refused to color it in.”
Even Clementine sat up to look as Albert held the quivering brush over the painting. I stifled a little gasp behind my mask. Tina had been right. In one small window, the shape of an empty hurricane lamp just barely registered in the deeper grays of the shadows.
“Light it,” Tina said, but I couldn’t see how Albert could paint something so small, so fine, due to the intense shaking of his hand.
He didn’t seem to think so either, but then he aimed, and the brush fell true, filling the space inside the lamp with a warm glow, the red blending into the gray. With another gentle swish, the color spread in a halo above the shadow, diminishing the dark in a rosy haze.
It was just one small window in a giant castle, but the effect of the small bit of red in a gray-and-blue image was to draw your eye and focus your attention. The painting changed completely in tone and meaning with that one addition. Instead of leaving you feeling desolate and alone, it gave you hope.
We couldn’t pull this day off without Jenny. I waited downstairs in the lobby for her to appear in her Kermit coat. She would head up first and take Corabelle’s parents to the apartment, ostensibly to pack some things up for when Corabelle got discharged.
Then Corabelle and I would come down. We’d meet up with Tina and all go to the lab on the first floor, just outside emergency, to have the test done.
I didn’t know what Corabelle might say to Rosa, or what point there was to seeing the boy if he would prove not to be mine. But I wasn’t going to deny her, not now, now that she knew. And truth be told, I was glad to have her.
Rosa would be going back to Tijuana after this, although I didn’t know how she was going to manage the boy if her brother kicked her out of the apartment.
God, it was so screwed up.
I saw the pink hair bobbing before she even got to the doors. No green coat today, but a gray wool number that looked like something my mother would wear over black tights and boots. “What happened to you?” I asked. “You look like someone forgot to color you in.”
She spun around. “My grown-up-girl coat. My mother got it for me, thinking she could convince me to look normal.”
“Yeah, I figured I’d tone it down for Cora’s family. When in Boringsville, act boring.”
We threaded through the hallways to the elevators.
“You ready for your baby-daddy test?”
I shrugged. “I’m ready for this to be over.”
“Cora seems to be rallying. Her texts are all about the skanky ho and sending her packing.”
I smacked the elevator button. “I think that’s your spin on her position.”
Jenny pulled out a little mirror and poked her fingers at the corners of her lashes, where she had enough eyeliner to write the Constitution. “Too much?” she asked.
She snapped it closed. “True. And sure, skanky ho might have been my reinterpretation. But she’s definitely got your back on this.”
The doors slid open and a tall doctor poking at an iPad glanced up.
“Holy hospital beds!” Jenny said. “Can we get a room?”
The man’s face filled with confusion. “I’m sorry?”
I pulled on Jenny’s elbow to drag her to the back corner of the elevator.
“But I’m feeling sort of weak!” Jenny said.
I actually wanted to laugh, but I felt sorry for the flummoxed doctor. I couldn’t unleash the full force of Jenny on some unsuspecting stranger. “Remember the TA,” I said, nudging her.
“I’m into polyamory,” Jenny said, staring at the man’s shoulders. “We should ALL be into polyamory.”
The elevator lurched up, and I leaned forward to tap the correct floor.
“I’m going wherever HE’S going,” Jenny said, peering at the illuminated numbers.
“Not today,” I said, holding on to her arm when the doors opened and the doctor stepped out.
Jenny sighed. “All right, all right. I’m taking this one for the team. But I’ll be on the lookout for Dr. Malachi Patinsky.” She pulled out her compact to check her eyes again. “This isn’t the right look for the future Mrs. Dr. Malachi Patinsky.” She softened the hard edge into a lighter smudge. “There.”
I shook my head. “You’re something else.”