“And there are rose petals in your hair.”
I smiled and patted the flower crown I’d crafted at the floral shop before I came. It was made up of roses, tulips, and baby’s breath, and it sat on top of my hair, which was placed in a big French braid that lay over my left shoulder. “Do you like it?” I asked.
“It just seems a bit childish,” he replied, placing his glasses back on. “I just…I thought I told you how important this event is to me, Lucy. To my career.”
I narrowed my eyes. “I know. Richard, this is all amazing. What you’ve done is amazing.”
“Yeah, but it just looks a bit odd for you to arrive dressed in such a way.”
My lips parted, uncertain what to say, but before I could reply, he excused himself, saying he needed to go say hello to some very important people.
Clearing my throat, I walked off by myself and wandered around the room before eventually making my way to the bar, where a nice gentleman smiled at me. “Hey there, what can I get you?”
“A different dress,” I joked. “And maybe a shorter pair of heels.”
“You look beautiful,” he remarked. “And between you and me, I think you’re the best dressed in the room, but what do I know? I’m just a bartender, not an artist.”
I smiled. “Thank you. I’ll just take a water with a lemon slice for now.”
He cocked an eyebrow. “You sure you don’t want vodka? This seems like a room that needs serious quantities of vodka.”
I laughed, shaking my head. “While I agree, I think I’m already drawing enough attention to myself. No need to allow the drunken version of myself to escape.” I thanked him for the ice water, and when I turned around, I saw the back of a man standing in front of one of Richard’s paintings. Beside him sat a car seat that held the most beautiful child in the world. A wave of comfort washed through me at seeing them before me. It was hard to explain how seeing those two familiar faces brought me a level of confidence.
“You made it,” I exclaimed, going over to Talon and bending down to lightly kiss her forehead.
Graham turned my way just a bit before looking back at the painting. “We did.” He stood tall in an all-black suit with a deep gray tie and gray cuffs. His shoes were shiny, as if freshly polished for the gala. His hair was slicked back with a bit of gel, and his beard was nicely groomed.
“Does that mean you finished your chapters?”
He shook his head once. “I’ll finish once I get home.”
My chest tightened. He hadn’t even finished his work, but he’d still made time to make an appearance.
“Why am I staring at a twelve-by-twelve-foot painting of your naked boyfriend?”
I giggled to myself, sipping my water. “It’s a self-discovery collection where Richard dived deep to express his inner thoughts, fears, and beliefs through how he sees himself using different mediums, such as clay, charcoal, and pastels.”
Graham glanced around the room at the rest of Richard’s self-portraits and clay creations. “Is that a six-foot-tall statue of his penis?” he asked.
I nodded uncomfortably. “That is indeed a six-foot-tall statue of his penis.”
“Hmph. He’s quite confident in his”—he tilted his head slightly and cleared his throat—“manhood.”
“I like to believe confidence is my middle name,” Richard joked, walking up to our conversation. “I’m sorry, I don’t believe we’ve met.”
“Oh yes, right, sorry. Richard, this is Graham. Graham, this is Richard.”
“Lucy’s boyfriend,” Richard said with a bit of bite to his words as he reached out to shake Graham’s hand. “So you’re the one who’s been stealing my girlfriend’s time day and night, huh?”
“More so Talon than myself,” he replied, dry as ever.
“And you’re an author?” Richard asked, knowing very well that Graham was indeed G.M. Russell. “I’m sorry, I’m not exactly sure I’ve heard of your novels. I don’t think I’ve ever read anything you’ve published.” He was being oddly aggressive, making the whole situation uncomfortable.
“That’s fine,” Graham responded. “Enough other people have, so your lack of awareness doesn’t inflict any damage on my success.”
Richard laughed obnoxiously loud and slugged Graham in the shoulder. “That’s funny.” He chuckled awkwardly then slid his hands into his pockets. Richard’s eyes traveled to the glass in my hand and he raised an eyebrow. “Vodka?”
I shook my head. “Water.”
“Good, good. It’s probably best for you to not drink tonight, right, sweetheart?”
I gave him a tight smile, but didn’t reply.
Graham grimaced. “Why’s that?” he asked.
“Oh, well, when Lucy drinks, she becomes a bit…goofy. Very talkative, if you can believe it. It’s like it heightens all of her quirks, and it can be a lot to handle at times.”
“She seems grown-up enough to make her own choices,” Graham countered.
“And her choice was not to drink tonight,” Richard replied, smiling.
“I’m sure she can speak for herself,” Graham said, his voice cold. “After all, she was given her own vocal cords.”
“Yes, but she would’ve just said exactly what I have stated.”
Graham gave a forced, tight grin. It was the unhappiest smile I’d ever witnessed in my lifetime. “Please excuse me, I must go someplace other than right here,” Graham coldly stated, lifting the car seat and walking off.
“Wow.” Richard whistled low. “What an asshole.”
I lightly pushed his shoulder. “What was that? You were a bit aggressive, don’t you think?”
“Well, I’m sorry. I just don’t know how comfortable I am with you being at his place all the time.”
“I’m there helping taking care of Talon, who is my niece, my family. You know this.”
“Yeah, but you seem to have left out the fact that he looks like a freaking Greek god, Lucy. I mean, Jesus Christ, what kind of author has arms the size of the Titanic?” Richard exclaimed, his jealousy loud and clear.
“He works out when he has writer’s block.”
“There must be a lot blocking that writer. Anyway, come over here. There are some people I need you to meet.” He took my arm and started pulling me forward. When I turned around to check on Graham, he was sitting on a bench, holding Talon and staring my way. His stare was intense, as if his mind was running with a million thoughts.
Richard took me around the room, introducing me to a bunch of people who were dressed much fancier than me. Every time, he’d speak about my outfit, mentioning how it was quirky, like my heart. He said it with a smile, but I could sense the frown underneath it.
“Can I take a break?” I asked after speaking to a woman who looked at me as if I were trash.
“Just two more people. This is important—they are the couple to talk to tonight.”
Apparently my break would have to wait.