Art Saves the Day
Cindy scrubbed the damn floor again. She had mopped it earlier in the day, but Kate had gotten home an hour ago from the club and was in a foul mood. Evidently this tennis instructor hadn’t gotten the message about returning all his instuctee’s advances or at least rebuffing them in a manner that made it seem his fault. Cindy thought he’d probably be without a job tomorrow and with a little note on his record that said he had made ‘improper advances’ towards Kate. Nothing pissed her stepmother off more than a straight man who didn’t want her. Kate could just barely manage to accept that there was such a thing as homosexuality, but she looked on it as something pathetic and to be ashamed of. Cindy personally thought Kate believed this because in her mind it excluded any poor ‘pathetic’ gay man from the wonderful opportunity to have sex with her. Kate was a bit of a nympho, really. Anyway, back to the reason she had to scrub the floors again. Kate had been so pissed off at this random tennis instructor for whatever he didn’t do, that she took it out on Cindy, and ‘accidentally’ dropped her whole glass of red wine onto the floor. Of course, this was the white stone tile floor, so she had to start scrubbing immediately with all of her various cleansers that she had stored away for Kate’s hissy fits like this.
Cook took an instant while Kate was eating her dinner to ask in a low whisper if she needed any help, but Cindy just shook her head. She knew Kate well enough by now. Kate meant for her to have to take the time to clean up this mess, and if anyone else helped, Kate would just end up punishing Cindy more. “What’s that you’re saying, Cook? Surely you aren’t asking the wonderful Cindy if she needs help, are you?” Kate’s piercing voice rang out from the dining room. But all of the servants that managed to stay more than a few months had gotten used to lying to Kate, and Cook had been in the household since before Cindy’s father died, and she ventured into the dining room to cover up. “No, ma’m. I was just asking her if she thought you would enjoy a nice dessert with your after dinner glass of wine or not. She said to ask you yourself.”
Kate was a bit of a lush, too. The “after dinner” glass of wine came right out of the same bottle that the glasses of wine during dinner came from, a bottle that was finished every night. “A dessert?! Are you trying to make me fat? Do you know how hard I have to exercise?” Cindy didn’t know quite how Kate could hit that screechy note without doing irreparable damage to her vocal cords, but her stepmother managed, hourly it seemed. Cook backed out of dining room, making a face at Cindy, who smiled back and continued scrubbing. Just a few more minutes and the stain would be gone. Then she could get going on her other chores. She might even have some time to paint tonight before falling asleep.
“It’s beautiful, darling, just like everything you do. Now tell me the truth; is Kate being too awful to you?” Cindy smiled up at Norman as he put aside her newest painting. “No, sweetie, only as awful as usual, nothing special.” He was the sweetest man she had ever known and she had been disappointed that her father, Bruce, hadn’t left her stepmother for him. But Norman had forgiven her father for it, telling her that there was nothing they could do. “You sold another painting this week, darling. It was the tree with tiny fairy skeletons underneath. And to the same person that’s bought the last three. And maybe a few more along the way.” Norman had a suspicious looking twinkle in his eyes. “Norman, are you going to tell me anything about this buyer?”
He opened his mouth, but he was interrupted. “Mr. Ryder, have you reconsidered introducing me to your secret artist?” Cindy turned around, breathless. She was Norman’s secret artist. They had been selling her art in his gallery for four years now, with only the initials CR on the paintings. The man talking was only a few inches taller than her, but his face was so kind. He reminded her of both her father and Norman, the two kindest men she had known. “Ah, my dear Arthur, what a pleasure to see you. I told you to call me Norman, though, dear boy. I have, in fact, and here is the artist herself. Cynthia Ryder, meet Arthur Weston.” Cindy shot a panicked look at Norman. He wasn’t supposed to introduce her to anyone, even if he was using her fake name. Especially not a member of the Weston family, the county’s wealthiest and most influential family. Kate bragged about it every time she played tennis with Mrs. Weston at their country club.
“Cynthia, it’s a pleasure. I’ve begun quite a little collection of your work. Where did you study? Did you bring a new painting today?” Cindy opened her mouth to answer and was struck dumb by his actual interest. “I’m sorry, Cynthia. Here I am, pestering you with questions the second after we meet. It’s just that Mr. Ryder, Norman, has refused to tell me anything about you. I’m sure you have your reasons. I just wanted to let you know how much I admire your work.” His eyes were gentle, a soft blue that made her think of the sky on a summer day. “Mr. Weston, I’m very flattered by your interest. Norman keeps my information secret because I ask him to.” He smiled at her, a kind smile that made her think of her father again. “Well, far be it from me to deny a lady her secrets. I would be glad if you would allow Norman to contact me whenever you bring a new painting in so that I might have first crack at it.”
It was like a dream come true. A dedicated collector? Artists painted for years to gain that sort of notoriety, particularly ones like Cindy who didn’t have any college education whatsoever. If she kept selling paintings to Mr. Weston, her college fund could reach her goal. Kate was her guardian until Cindy turned 21, and she had told Cindy that there was no chance of her going to college. But she had been saving every penny for the last four years. Her birthday was in two months, and she had been accepted to her first choice for art school. Now she just needed to raise the last $800 for room and board. “Of course, Mr. Weston! I actually have a painting today, if you would like to see it…” Cindy got a little bit embarrassed by the end of sentence by her own excitement, and trailed off in a quiet voice.
“Yes, of course. Please, call me Arthur.” Norman set up her painting on the empty display easel in the back corner of the gallery, and Arthur started examining it. Cindy stood as still as she could, although her entire body was squirming inside and begging to run outside, away from the judging of her precious baby of work. This one was a massurrealist effort, where the birds you saw as you looked at the picture turned into the skeletons of women. It had taken her ages to learn how to properly draw bones. “This is…it’s actually quite beautiful, even though it’s also quite creepy. I think I’ll buy it just to put in the guest room my mother insisted I decorate.” Arthur’s eyes twinkled at her, as if she could share in his joke. “$200 for it as usual, Mr. Ryder?”
Cindy sucked in a breath. Norman was supposed to be selling her paintings for $75 a piece. “That’s right, Arthur. Just come over to the counter.” If Norman had been overcharging this whole time…at least, charging more than she told him, the man was an art connoisseur who had owned this gallery for 30 years…it was no use, she was too flustered to do the math and figure out who much she might have. Kate would never let her take money from Norman, she had told Cindy that years before at high school graduation. Kate had a deep hatred for Norman, and had ever since she learned that Cindy’s father had fallen for him.
When the two of them had decided to run away together, and take Cindy with them, Kate had blackmailed Cindy’s father. Really, she had blackmailed all three of them, even though Cindy was only 8 at the time. Kate had sworn that if Bruce dared to leave, she would tell everyone that Norman had sexually abused Cindy. Neither one of the men had doubted her, and Kate had adopted Cindy when she married Bruce, so she had all the rights of a mother. So Cindy grew up with two loving fathers (who couldn’t marry each other or even show their love) and a truly evil step-mother. Kate had even sworn she would tell the same lie if Norman gave Cindy money for college. After all, what was better than a free housekeeper that you kept tragically linked to your house through a lack of money?
Arthur Weston paid for the painting, gave Cindy a few compliments that she was too dazed to pay attention to, and left. “Norman. Have you been charging that much for every painting?” He laughed a little at her. “More or less. It depends on their size. So, you want to know how much is in your checking account?” She frantically nodded at him. “Oh, just enough for tuition. And room and board. For all four years, when you add in your scholarship.” She couldn’t help it. A sob left her lips. She would be free in one month and 24 days, precisely. “Oh, Norman! Daddy would be so proud of you!”
He hugged her tight. “Sweetie, your father would be proud of you. It didn’t hurt that Mr. Charming kept buying up all your paintings. As soon as you turn 21, we’re going to tell that witch just what we think of her, and you’re going to move in here with me. All you’ll do until school starts is paint!” They hugged each other tight, and Cindy finally felt the ball of worry in her stomach disappear.
©2012 Erin Sharp