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She should have parked closer. By the time Anise reached the gallery, the makeup she'd applied an hour before was sliding off her face. Summers in Houston were brutal but heading for a meeting with a soon-to-be ex-husband didn't help matters.
She had no reason to be nervous, she told herself, pulling open the door to the Levy Gallery. Kenneth had finally agreed that the time had come to part ways and he'd promised to sign the papers when they met for drinks this evening. He wasn't happy about the situationwho ever was happy about divorce?but he'd assured her there would be no more delays. He accepted the fact that their short marriage was over.
Or so he said.
She stepped into the frigid art gallery and paused under a black vent pouring out icy air. Sarah was nowhere to be seen, but Anise could hear her best friend. She let the cold blast wash over her cheeks and closed her eyes for a second.
"This isn't the right piece for you, Mrs. Worthington, and I'll tell you exactly why." Sarah's voice was full of authority. "Your home is a reflection of your standing in the community.You and Mr. Worthington are stars in the Houston galaxy. You need important art on your walls. Art that demands attention and expects to receive it.You represent the old guard.You can afford the most expensive things. Why not buy them?"
Anise could hear the murmur of another woman's voice but her words were indistinct.
"Yes," Sarah replied, her tone on the verge of condescension. "You're correct there. Borden's pieces are developing a following. But you don't need something from an artist who's developing. You require art from people who've already arrived. Anise's shadow boxes are almost there, but not quite." Sarah's voice faded as she directed the customer to another part of the gallery.
Anise walked to the corner where Sarah and the woman had obviously been viewing her work. More than once, Sarah had explained her reasons for discouraging people from buying Anise's creations but Anise wasn't sure she agreed with the technique. A sale was a sale and she could always use the money. Sarah was in charge of the business end, though, so Anise handled her concern like she did everything that distracted her, by placing it into a box of its own and filing it in the back of her mind.
She focused instead on the display before her. A single black wall hung in front of her, suspended from chains that stretched into the darkness overhead. It swung gently in the air-conditioning. Six black pedestals made of iron were set before it with six spotlights shining down, one light on each stand.
Sitting on top of each plinth was a box. They ranged in size from six inches square to more than a foot. The bottoms were fashioned from wood but the sides and front were made of glass that had been smeared with petroleum jelly. It was impossible to view the interiors distinctly but inside each box were various items that expressed a theme. Resurrection. Absence. Light. Death. No one knew the titles, but in her mind that's what she called them.
She'd sold her first one six years ago for a few hundred dollars. Sarah never let them go now for under five figures.
Anise heard the front door open and close, its chimes sounding softly. Sarah's quick step came next, her progress audible as she cut through the gallery. Like a miniature whirlwind, Sarah projected energy and power, from her mass of dark, curly hair to the brightly colored suits she favored. There were days when just looking at Sarah made Anise tired.
"I thought that was you who came in." She wrapped Anise in a quick hug then let her go. "Guess you heard me not make a sale for you, huh?"
"As a matter of fact, I did hear what you told that poor woman." Anise made a wry face. "What do you mean I'm still 'developing?' If I had an ego, it might be a little bruised."
Sarah tossed her head, her hair shimmering under the halogen lights. "We've talked about this before, Anise. That old witch wouldn't know a Van Gogh if it bit her on the butt. I can't let someone like her have one of your pieces."
"I appreciate the sentiment," Anise answered, "but I'm not sure Kenneth would agree."
At the mention of Anise's almost ex-husband's name, Sarah's face darkened but the expression came and went so fast, no one except Anise would have caught it.
"Louisa Worthington is eighty-five, if she's a day. We want the younger crowd buying you. Her patronage would be the kiss of death. If word got out she was acquiring you, anyone with half a brain would run the other way."
She took a breath and continued before Anise could comment.
"You have money. You need cachet. It's more important that we build your name. And to build your name, we have to make your boxes exclusive. I'd be happy to explain that concept to Kenneth. Even an asshole like him should be able to understand it."
Anise ignored the name-calling. Sarah had never made her disapproval of Kenneth a secret. "I'm on my way to meet him. Why don't you come with me and the two of you can argue about it?" Anise teased instead. "I'd rather listen to you guys fight than talk about the divorce."
"But he already agreed to everything, didn't he?" Sarah's eyes widened, an instant's gleam of alarm coming into them. "I thought you said he'd told you"
Anise held up her hand. "He agreed, but you know how Kenneth can be. I wouldn't be surprised if he changed his mind at the last minute and said no again."
"He better not if he knows what's good for him." Stepping closer to one of the shadow boxes, Sarah adjusted it as she rejectedAnise's words. "This whole mess was Kenneth's fault from the very beginning." She tightened her lips, two angry lines forming around her mouth. "He's an idiot and he has never appreciated you or your work. You're amazing and he can't see that. If there's a failure here, it's his, not yours."
Anise reached out and squeezed Sarah's hand. "I don't deserve a friend as good as you."
"You're right," Sarah retorted. "You don't deserve me but unfortunately for you, I'm all you've got."
Anise and Sarah had been more than best friends since elementary school when Anise's single mother had died in a house fire. Abraham and Rachel, Sarah's parents and the Bordens' next-door neighbors at the time, took Anise into their home and their family, and she'd been there ever since. After Abe had died and Rachel retired, Sarah had taken over the gallery even though she'd only been twenty-five.
Despite their closeness, Anise and Sarah were very different from one another, their opposing sexual orientation the least of it. Anise was the artist but she wasn't a flamboyant diva. She had barely dated before marrying Kenneth and her favorite evening was a quiet one by the fire with a good book. Sarah was never at home and she went through relationships like candy, the women in her world forming an ever-changing parade. She couldn't seem to settle down with one person. Neither could Anise, but their reasons were as different as their lovers.
"Which just means you should go with me tonight," Anise replied. "What kind of friend would make me do this alone?"
Sarah shook her head. "Can't oblige, sorry. Robin's coming over" She glanced down at her watch. "In fact, she should be here by now. We're going out ourselves."
"You could bring her with us. The more the merrier?"
Sarah shook her head. "I don't think so. Robin sees enough of Kenneth at the office. Another hour might just put her over the edge."
Anise nodded. Sarah's on-again, off-again lover, Robin Estes, worked as Kenneth's assistant. In fact, Robin was the one who'd introduced Anise and her husband two years before when she'd brought the handsome tax attorney to one of Anise's shows. They'd hit it off and before she'd known what she was doing, Anise had accepted his proposal, their whirlwind romance and impulsive elopement the only hasty decision she'd ever made in her life.
Anise sighed dramatically. "All right. I guess I'm going to have to tackle this one on my own."
"You'll do fine." As they walked toward the front door, Sarah spoke with even more conviction than she'd used when she'd been talking to her customer earlier. "Getting rid of Kenneth is the absolute right thing to do. You won't regret it for a minute." She swung the door open and the humidity rolled over both of them.
"Maybe." Anise glanced back at her friend. "But I don't intend to go through this kind of turmoil again. It's not worth it."
"Ending a relationship is always tough." Anise shook her head. "I'm not talking about splitting up. That's the easy part," she said. "Falling in love is what I mean. I don't care who comes along next, I'm sticking with my work. It's never let me down."
ANISE CONTINUED up the street to the restaurant where she was supposed to meet Kenneth. Over the past few years, downtown Houston had made its predictable swing back into popularity, exploding with swanky new spots and upscale restaurants. Anise tended to avoid it. She liked the old places where they knew which table she preferred and what she wanted to eat when she walked in the door. Kenneth had picked the spot tonight, though, and she hadn't cared enough to argue. All she wanted was to put the meeting behind her.
She didn't rush as she walked down the sidewalk. He would be late, because he was always late. She'd use the extra time to gather her thoughts and organize her feelings. She hadn't been lying when she'd told Sarah she felt like a failure. Anise wasn't happy with the way her brief marriage had ended but she was looking forward to having Kenneth out of her life. He'd never understood her friendship with Sarah or the time Anise devoted to her art, seeming to be jealous of each, although he'd had no basis in fact for either. They'd argued about it more and more until his constant demands had turned unbearable. At that point, she'd realized that Kenneth's world consisted of Kenneth and no one else. The sun, the moon and the stars all revolved around him. Anything outside of that simply didn't exist. He was never going to change. And neither was she. Her boxes were her life. After a year of marriage, she told him she'd wanted out. He'd fought her for six months and she wasn't sure why but he'd finally come around.
The small restaurant was packed. Had she been on her own, she would have turned around and left but she didn't have that luxury tonight. She gave a groan and fought her way to the hostess stand. To her surprise, Kenneth had made a dinner reservation and the young girl seated her immediately. Even more surprisingly, before Anise could order a drink, Kenneth appeared in the doorway. He waved to her, then started across the crowded room.
Most of the women, and some of the men, watched as he came toward her. At six-one, with dark hair, blue eyes and a self-confident air, Kenneth was a handsome man and he knew it. He would be a very eligible bachelor again.
Arriving at their table, he kissed her, smoothed his jacket then slid into the booth beside her. "I'm on time," he announced. "Aren't you proud of me?"
Anise looked at him and shook her head. He actually thought she should be impressed because he had managed the simple courtesy.
The waitress materialized beside their table. She zeroed in on Kenneth and Anise became invisible. Kenneth proceeded to flirt with the woman then ask her which drinks the bartender specialized in. Anise sat quietly and let him have his fun. This was the last time she'd have to put up with it so why not? After a few more minutes of discussion, the waitress wrote something on her pad then waded through the throng to the bar.
Kenneth turned to Anise. "I'm sure you'll like the Cosmos. That's what she recommended and I've heard they really are the best"
"I could care less what we drink, Kenneth. I'm here for one thing and that's to get these papers signed." Anise went for her purse but Kenneth stopped her, his hand on her arm.
"Can't that wait a bit?"
She raised her eyes to his and started to argue but behind the polished facade Kenneth wore like a second skin, a glimmer of something unfamiliar caught her attention. It looked like anxiety but she decided she was wrong. Kenneth didn't worry about anything, including his practice. His ability to navigate the federal tax law labyrinth was amazing but he had never pushed himself to build his clientele. He puttered along, making a mediocre amount but living large.
"I'll sign them," he promised, "But first I need a few minutes to catch my breath. It was a hell of a day." He put his cell phone on the table between them. "Hope you don't mind, but I'm expecting a call I need to catch "
Before Anise could reply, the waitress reappeared. She held a tray with two glistening drinks on it, their color matching her nail polish so perfectly Anise wondered if she'd planned it. With a flourish she put the drinks down then walked away, sending Kenneth a smile over her shoulder he didn't catch.