To the world, New York gallery owner Gayla Patton has it all: a fabulous career, a beautiful adolescent daughter, a devoted lover. But beneath the surface is a past she’d rather forget. Things start unraveling when David Kinney suddenly reappears in her life.
Witness to a terrible crime, David was ten when he was brought into Gayla’s childhood home. Now, after serving time in prison for a crime he insists he didn’t commit, the controversial artist is stirring up dark memories . . . and awakening reluctant desires. As he coaxes out Gayla’s deepest fantasies and her own explosive secrets, she begins to question whether people—including herself—can truly change.
A tender and moving exploration of the ties that bind, Family Affairs is a novel about forgiving the sins of the past and finding the courage to move on.
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Read an Excerpt
"Morning, Teddy." Gayla looked at the wall clock and grimaced. "Or should I say, good afternoon. I bet everyone's waiting in my office," Gayla said as she swung through the open door and past the middle-aged security guard.
"Hello, Miss Patton. No, ma'am. The meeting is in the conference room. Mr. Coleman kinda took over when it was supposed to start at ten. I told him you'd called about being a little, late."
"Mr. Coleman is here?" Gayla asked in surprise, then stopped short and frowned at the sounds coming from somewhere toward the back of the first floor. "What is that banging?" She stuck a finger in her ear.
"It's the installation. Some of the artists have arrived to put up their work. I know you like to check them in first and all that, but Mr. Coleman told them to go ahead. Hope that was okay with you."
It wasn't, Gayla thought in annoyance. But it was her own fault. She appreciated that Bill thought he was helping, but there were procedures to be followed. "I would have liked to have registered them first, Teddy, and made sure all the work meets the requirements of the exhibit. And you surely know that the artists have to sign an agreement for insurance purposes ..." Gayla realized that she was almost shouting to be heard over the racket.
"Well, I tried to tell Mr. Coleman that, but he's a board member."
"Mr. Coleman knows the process as well as I do," Gayla said, putting her tote and attach on the floor and unbuttoning her coat.
"I'm not blaming you, Teddy," she hastened to assure the guard.
"This is not turning out to be a great day ..." Gayla began but was again distracted by the sounds.
Teddy chuckled behind her. "Hard to believe that all that noise and all that stuff spread out back there is called art."
"It probably doesn't look like much right now, but it will come together. Maybe I should take a look."
"Mr. Coleman said I should let him know the minute you arrive. He said he had something important to discuss with you."
"I'll be right there," Gayla said, detouring in the direction of the activity.
She entered the first gallery and immediately saw three artists organizing their works according to a plan which had been previously approved and worked out by herself and Marc Sterling, the exhibit designer. For a moment Gayla allowed herself to be drawn to the large, vibrant canvases, sculptures and other constructed pieces waiting to be hung, There was no loud noise here, only conversation among the artists, and a small boom box playing soft jazz for company.
Gayla nodded a greeting and moved on to the next salon. She glanced only perfunctorily at the framed work leaning against the walls. Usually she enjoyed taking her time to examine the individual entries, or to spend a few minutes chatting with the artists. But Gayla, curious about what sounded to be heavy construction rather than the simple hanging of work on a clean white wall, continued to the last space.
She entered the main salon and stared at the scene before her. A man was leaning over a makeshift worktable of two sawhorses and a wooden plank. Wearing work goggles, he was using an electric saw to cut off a measured length of a board. Another man, also wearing goggles, was kneeling on the floor hammering the pieces of wood together to form open frames. Some had already been finished and were piled on the floor. What also caught Gayla's attention were several boxes filled with what looked like plaster body parts. Heads and hands were sticking out of the pile.
"What is this?" Gayla asked in a stunned voice. "What's going on?"
At first both men ignored her. Finally the man on the floor glanced over his shoulder at her. He was wearing a white breathing filter and all Gayla could see of his face was a close-cut beard on his jaw and cheeks. He didn't say a word, but silently regarded her through the goggles.
The buzzing whine of the electric saw was beginning to irritate her, as did the continued lack of acknowledgment from either man. Then the one kneeling on the floor slowly stood up and reached to remove his goggles.
She turned at the sound of her name and faced Bill Coleman. In his white business shirt and conservative tie he was a little out of place in the chaos of the pre-opening setup. He looked every bit the lawyer he was, rather than someone who had once dabbled in printmaking and fancied himself a painter before realizing he had no real talent for either.
"Bill, who are these men?"
"Teddy called me and said you were down here. Didn't he tell you I had to talk to you?" Bill reached for her arm and firmly guided Gayla away from the scene in the gallery.
"Yes, he did, but ..."
He glanced at his watch as he urged her back to the front of the building. "I didn't think I'd be filling in for you at a meeting this morning. I just stopped by to give you some information. I have to get back to my office ..."
"I'll explain. Let's go upstairs."
They reached the security desk, where Teddy handed Gayla her bags. She held off asking any more questions in his presence but once on the elevator for the short ride to the third floor of the small narrow building, Gayla faced Bill.
"Bill" she tried again.
"Me first," he interrupted, holding up his hand for her attention. "Are you all right?"
Gayla smiled at his thoughtfulness. At six foot three inches Bill Coleman was thin and rangy, a bit scholarly-looking, but his self-assured voice always commanded attention. Gayla had learned it was a trait within Bill which made him an effective lawyer; people didn't get away with ignoring him, but neither was there a reason to be intimidated by him.
"Yes, I'm okay. I misjudged my time this morning and got backed up on all my appointments."
"Did Allison mess you up?"
"No, I can't blame it on Allison this time," Gayla said, suddenly hesitating.
Bill frowned and took hold of her arm, squeezing through her winter coat. He studied her expression. "Did you have a bad night?" he asked quietly.
She nodded. "Thank God for Tylenol."
"So why didn't you call me?"
Gayla sighed patiently. "There's nothing you can do. You know that."
He bent to stare into her eyes as the elevator slowed to a stop. "I could have just been there with you."
Gayla shook her head as Bill held the door open to let her exit ahead of him. "I don't like anyone watching me when I'm having an episode. Sickle cell is something I have to live with. I try not to burden anyone else with it."
He grunted. "Your pride again."
"No, it's not," Gayla defended as they walked to an open doorway. Low conversation could be heard from within. "It's the pain. It's all I can think about or feel. And I'm hardly at my best. I appreciate your concern, Bill, but sympathy just doesn't help."
"How was Allison?"
"Asleep, so she wasn't even aware. I try to keep it from her if I can. She gets very scared and upset."
"It's understandable." He leaned toward her and said quietly, "You know I'm here for you, Gayla. I'm good in an emergency."
"I know. Thanks." Then she stopped short and glared suspiciously at him. "But you still haven't explained what's going on in gallery three."
He nodded as they entered the room. "I will ... Look who I found," Bill announced to the three people sitting at a cluttered conference table.
"Sorry I'm late. Did you all get my message?" Gayla asked.
"Something about a missed doctor appointment and the buses and trains running late."
"Close," Gayla murmured dryly as she shrugged out of her coat, placed it in Bill's outstretched hand and took her place at the table. She nodded a greeting to the other occupants.
The conference room door was closed behind her blocking out the loud sounds of activity coming from the first floor.
"I forgot to pick up a prescription from the pharmacy, and Allison missed the school bus." She opened the leather attach and quickly assembled her notes and papers in front of her.
"So you had to take her, right?" Margaret Donahue guessed.
"No, I didn't," Gayla said. "I put her into a cab." She scanned through several notebook pages, and accepted an agenda from Bill, seated to her right. She nodded when Bill used his pen to point out where they were on the list.
"You haven't missed much," he said. "Do you want some coffee?"
Gayla smiled briefly at him. "Thanks, I'll get it as soon as I get organized here."
He squeezed her arm. "No problem." He got up and left the room.
Margaret, seated to Gayla's left, chortled. "My mother would have made me walk."
"It crossed my mind, but it's a bit too far. Anyway, she had some test she had to take. As annoyed as I sometimes get with Allison, I wouldn't risk her missing anything at school. I'm going to make her pay me the fare back out of her allowance."
"I don't remember getting any allowance, either," Margaret further commented.
"Look, I appreciate your patience with me and Allison this morning, but don't let her take over the meeting in absentia, okay? What did I miss?" She accepted the mug of coffee from Bill and he sat down again. "Wasn't Keith supposed to be here with a final proof of the program from the printer?"
"He's with the printer even as we speak. Some mix-up," Bill said.
"Actually it worked out. We had to make some changes anyway in the copy," Margaret added.
"I don't like the sound of that," Gayla said, referring to a list. "The exhibit opens in less than a week, and there seems to be a lot of things that aren't settled yet. Do we have the caterer confirmed for the reception?"
"I spoke with them last night. Everything is fine," Margaret said.
"What about the quartet? Marc, you're taking care of that." Gayle raised her brows at the young man lounging on the other side of the table.
He leaned forward. "I'm on it."
"I've never heard of this group. What's it called" The Moody something-or-other?" Shauna Bickford, the gallery manager, asked.
"Mood Indigo. After the Duke Ellington number," Bill said.
"My brother's in the group," Marc informed them.
"Besides, we can't afford the groups you've heard of, Shauna," Margaret said. "This is a fund-raiser, remember?"
"If someone can get me a price listing from the artists for their work and some promo cards, I can have my office do a mailing to collectors and dealers. People who are going to spend money," Bill offered.
"Good," Shauna said. "We have no more money for another mailing."
Gayla turned to regard Bill Coleman with a smile. "Thank you. But you've already gotten your office to handle all the contracts and registration forms and the insurance ... That's a lot of resources, Bill. One of these days ..."
"I'm going to get fired? Not with the kind of billing I bring in. I'm a partner, remember? I have my own reasons for committing to your organization," he said quietly to her.
Gayla noisily shuffled papers, cringing at Bill's comment. It struck her as almost personal, and she wondered if anyone else noticed.
"He's scoping out the next Romare Bearden," Marc filled in.
"Not only that," Margaret continued. "There are a lot of businesses and corporations in this city that spend money on artwork for offices, conference rooms and reception areas. Why shouldn't talented black artists get in on the action?"
"That's one of the reasons I'm here. To see that the wealth gets spread around," Bill added.
"I wish we had more support like you," Gayla said, glad the conversation had veered back to safe ground. "Did the press releases go out?" she asked.
"Yes, and I talked to a photographer at the Amsterdam News, who said he would try to make it to the opening night," Marc informed them.
"That's good, but I was hoping for some of the bigger papers to turn out," Gayla lamented. "It's so hard to get the media here for our shows."
"That's 'cause nobody's ever heard of the artists," Marc pointed out.
"Well, they have to start somewhere. I don't see MoMA or the Whitney giving many of our artists a chance," Gayla said.
"At one time nobody had ever heard of Romare Bearden, either. I think we, have a good lineup for this show, even though we're down one artist."
Gayla became, instantly alert at Shauna's comment. She frowned. "What do you mean, we lost one artist?"
Shauna raised her brows and looked at Bill. "Did you tell her what happened?"
"No, he didn't," Gayla answered, turning to him.
Bill calmly leaned back in his chair and crossed an ankle on the opposite knee.
"What happened? Which artist backed out?"
"The Trinidadian artist who was going to do murals and recreate a marketplace in gallery three. His mother and a sister were killed in a street accident sometime yesterday morning and he's had to return home."
"Oh, my God," Gayla said sympathetically at the news of the tragedy. "I'm so sorry to hear that. Of course his family matters come first."
"You were in Albany so Shauna and Margaret tracked me down," Bill said.
"I told him we'd be glad to schedule him for a later show, when he's had a chance to recover from the loss," Shauna said.
"Good." Gayla turned to Marc, "Make sure we send condolences from the staff ..."
"Bet." Marc nodded.
"So is this where you explain that all that noise, and two men I don't recognize in gallery three, and boxes of plaster heads has something to do with the artist we lost?"
"Pretty much," Bill said. "You know that gallery three is the largest room. When we lost our Caribbean entry to the show we lost what was probably going to be the biggest part of the exhibit, the culmination. It was hard finding a last-minute replacement to fill that space."
Gayla was waiting for the punch line. "So, who is the replacement artist? What kind of work are we getting? Is it any good?"
"The work is a combination of sculpture, construction with found objects ..." Bill began.
Gayla frowned. "What?"
"That's what I said," Margaret commented. "Sounded to me like someone had emptied out their closet."
"It's ... innovative," Bill responded carefully. "It's very hard-edged. Political ..."
"He means it's street art," Marc said with a sly smile.
"I don't like the sound of that. It means that there's no formal background or training," Gayla said to Bill.
"Well, he's a little short on that side, but I heard his stuff is interesting ..."
Gayla tried to clarify. "So, you don't actually know this artist or anything about him?"
"That's sometimes how it is," Bill said reasonably. "I think you're getting yourself worked up before there's a reason to, Gayla."
"What's his name and how did you find him?"
"David Kinney. I've never heard of him."
"I'd never heard the name, either," Margaret said. "We've established a pretty good network of creative artists and pretty much everybody knows everybody else."
"I was with a colleague and friend yesterday afternoon...."
"David ... What was the name again?" Gayla requested, cutting into Bill's explanation.
"David Kinney ... after I got the call about the artist dropping out of the show and knew we had a problem. I was going to call you with the bad news, but then this friend of mine said he thought he could help out."
Gayla stared speechlessly at Bill as he explained. But she was trying to decide what the chances were that either she had heard him wrong, or that he had the name wrong ... or that there were possibly two people with the same name.
"Hey, the man didn't even want to do this show. I was told he doesn't seek out a lot of attention."
"David Kinney ... is that ... his full name?" Gayla asked.
Bill looked at her quizzically. "Yeah, that's it." He lifted a sheet of paper sticking out of a manila folder in front of him. "Wait a minute ... it's David Alan Kinney, to be exact. Why? Have you heard of him?"
"Where did you find him?"
"You are not going to believe it," Shauna said with an incredulous shake of her head.
"I can tell you it wasn't from one of the colleges, or a studio," Margaret offered.
"Hey ... don't forget that guy two years ago who was living on the streets on the Lower East Side. We did a whole show on his stuff," Marc reminded everyone. "The man was profiled in Emerge magazine a few months ago."
Gayla was still focusing on Bill Coleman for a response. "Bill?" she prompted.
"Upstate," Bill said.
"Near Ossining," Margaret added.
"You mean Attica," Marc corrected.
"Prison ..." Gayla concluded in a flat voice. Yes, knew exactly who he was.
"Thank you all for staying," Gayla said as everyone gathered their belongings at the meeting's conclusion. She stretched her back, and absently crossed her arms to rub her elbows.
"Don't worry, everything's going to be fine," Margaret said to her as she passed behind Gayla on her way out of the office. "I'll call the printer about the programs."
"I'm sorry the meeting took so long." Gayla apologized.
"You get no more work out of me until I get something to eat. It's way past lunch. Care to join me?" Marc asked Gayla as he stacked his files and tucked them under his arm.
"No, thanks. I have things to do. My daughter is meeting me here after school."
"Then I'll see you in an hour or so."
"Marc, thanks again for arranging the music. I appreciate that your brother's group has agreed to play."
"Yeah," Marc cackled. "But nobody asked me if he's any good."
Gayla laughed. "Do you play an instrument, too?" she asked him.
Marc shook his head. "No, but it's not as if my mother didn't try. I studied the piano for a couple of years, but I figured the world already had a Ray Charles and Bobby Short and Herbie Hancock."
"Didn't like the competition?" Gayla asked as they entered the elevator and it started down.
He shook his head. "Didn't like the piano. My goal is to be a set designer for theater and films. So, why work in a small not-for-profit gallery, you will ask? Because black folks with money are just like white folks with money ... They like to buy things with it, like original art. At the last exhibit we did I met someone who is with the Smokey Joe's Cafe show. He was with this woman who works at the Public Theater."
"So you made a contact."
"Being talented helps a lot," Marc said as the elevator arrived on the first floor. "But who you know is even better. What happened yesterday is a good example. I'm telling you, if Bill Coleman hadn't gone ahead with this Kinney guy from upstate, would you have let him exhibit in this show?"
Gayla thought about it for a quick second. "No." She shook her head. But not for the reason Marc implied.
"How come you don't ever try to show your own work?" Marc asked Gayla as the elevator reached the first floor and they headed toward the front of the gallery.
Gayla shrugged dismissively. "I don't consider myself an artist."
"Hey ... a lot of people say they're artists who have no talent. I've seen your work. Sounds to me like maybe you're the one worried about competition."
"I have a daughter to support in the style to which she's become accustomed ..." Marc laughed. "There's a lot to be said for the regular paycheck and health benefits."
"You're just scared," Marc scoffed.
"I'm going to suggest a staff show, or maybe one with work from our permanent collection. Then you'll get to strut your stuff, girl."
Gayla grinned as Marc continued on to the exit, waving an airy goodbye. Teddy looked at Gayla.
"Ms. Patton, one of the artists said she had to talk to you."
"Oh-oh. I hear a complaint coming on," Gayla said wryly. She was aware, too, that the awful banging of that morning had stopped. She wondered if the two men were still there. She wondered if one of them really was ...
"Here she is now," Teddy informed Gayla, interrupting her thoughts.
She blinked at the approaching young artist, whose expression clearly registered annoyance. Gayla smiled brightly at her, immediately forestalling any temperamental displays of ego.
"I'm so glad you agreed to participate in this show," Gayla complimented her.
The artist returned the smile, her features visibly softening. "Thank you. But there is one problem. The space I was given is smaller than anyone else's."
Gayla nodded and sighed inwardly. "Why don't we go to my office," she suggested. She cast one curious glance in the direction of the third gallery before giving her attention back to the woman.
Between the unplanned meeting and phone interruptions it was more than an hour before Gayla returned to the first floor. She was sorry, now, that she hadn't asked Marc to at least bring her back a salad. More questions to be answered from a few other people on staff, a UPS package to sign for, an unexpected drop-in visitor ... the day was almost over.
Gayla returned to the first floor, saying good night to some of the artists.
"I'm waiting for my daughter to arrive. Call me when she comes in."
"I'll just take a quick walk through the gallery," Gayla added.
"You go right ahead," he said.
Gayla waited until he was sitting behind his desk at the front door. And then she sighed, feeling as though she'd been holding her breath the entire afternoon. It was quiet now, all activity suspended for the day. There were still ladders opened with tape and tools resting on the rungs, waiting for the mounting work to continue the next day. There was no music playing or conversation as most of the artists had left as well. But the lights in the third gallery were still on. Gayla began walking down the corridor in that direction. Earlier she had felt a sense of disbelief ... and a sense of invasion. Like she'd come all this way from being a headstrong girl, growing up and having a child of her own, developing a career ... but never actually getting away from the past at all.
Gayla's footsteps echoed softly as she walked down the hallway and into gallery three. The first thing she noticed was that some of the pine frames had already been hung on the wall, although they were empty. Others were suspended by thin catgut from a white beam just below the ceiling. Whatever this contribution to the exhibit was going to be it wasn't finished yet, either. And then Gayla realized she was not alone. She wasn't surprised.
She turned to her right ... and he was there. Squatting down on his haunches, knees spread with his back braced against the wall. He was wearing black jeans and a black turtleneck sweater. Chalky patches of white dusted his clothes, and the white breathing filter and goggles he'd had on earlier hung around his neck from their straps. He stared openly at Gayla, not moving. His utter stillness reminded Gayla that there had always been something predatory about him; he would wait, biding his time ... and then attack.
"Dak ..." she said.
She stayed where she was. Slowly, he pushed himself up until he stood straight. She could see that he was still slender, but the large hands had gotten bigger, more adult with thick wrists. Nor was his face one of a boy anymore. The short beard covered most of it, adding style and maturity. The eyes had not changed, however. They were still direct ... seeing more than she thought David Alan Kinney had a right to. One more thing had not changed. She still did not trust him.
He knew she would come back.
As well as he knew that it wasn't curiosity that had drawn her back, but disbelief. The waiting had been worth it to see Gayla s expression. Stunned. And confused. What was he doing there? As if he didn't have the right.
He'd had all afternoon to get over not surprisenothing surprised him anymorebut his reaction when she'd first walked in on him. Two things had immediately come to mind. The first was recalling the time when Gayla Patton had told him he was little more than a lowlife hood. The second had been the time he'd come upon her crying.
To be honest, Gayla looked good. She had a figure now and wasn't just skinny. She had grown into her own style, knowing what clothes most flattered her. She was wearing a knit charcoal gray dress and a red scarf wrapped loosely around her throat. The dress was calf length and worn with black suede boots. A red barette at an angle over her short, feathered hairdo. Very little jewelry, silver ear studs and a necklace of similar rounded beads. No rings. She'd always made a point of not looking like everyone else. He remembered she used to be fresh and smart-mouthed ... like himself. She used to give as good as she could take.
Gayla stepped toward him to take charge.
"My mother never told me you were back in the city." She didn't bother with a greeting. It wouldn't have been sincere.
"Your mother doesn't know."
She raised a brow, kept her attention on the worn and dusty clothing as if they held more significance than the man who wore them. "Is there any reason why she doesn't?"
He hesitated. He had a notion to be honest with her, and then decided not to. She might hold it against him. He shrugged. "Didn't have a chance. Between moving and this show ..."
"When did you suddenly become an artist?" Gayla cut in.
He slowly put his hands into the front pockets of his jeans. The stance gave him an air of masculine indifference. He narrowed his gaze on Gayla, assessing the question.
"What difference does it make when? It's what I am now."
"Among other things," she said tartly.
He nodded. "Among other things."
"Who was that other man I saw here this morning?"
"Someone I paid to help me out. A local student who was recommended. I had a lot of work to do to get here at the last minute."
"I thought you were living upstate. You moved pretty fast to get here."
He pursed his mouth, hesitating long enough to quell his annoyance at her dismissive tone. He shrugged. "There wasn't much to move. I brought what I needed."
She glanced quickly at him, unsure if he was being reticent or very honest.
Gayla turned away, eyeing the disarray of his equipment and work. She walked slowly around a set of sawhorses, gingerly picking up one thing and then another spread out haphazardly on the plank of wood which served as a workbench. "So, which of this is the art?" Between her index finger and thumb she held up a child's stuffed teddy bear. One of the button eyes was missing, and one of the arms hung by threads, nearly severed from the body of the toy.
He took his time answering. "All of it."
Gayla sighed and put the toy down. "Look, I don't know how you managed to"
"Get myself into your show? Didn't Bill Coleman tell you how it happened? He came to me. I was very happy minding my own business until I got a phone call yesterday."
"Bill is a trustee of the gallery. He's not an artist, an arts administrator or a curator."
He relaxed back against the wall, bending a knee and carelessly placing a boot on the pristine white wall. "Don't you trust his judgment?"
"It's not that," Gayla said patiently.
He smiled slowly. "I know. It's me."
She opened her mouth to respond and couldn't. He was right. Nothing had changed.
"So, if you didn't want to be here, why did you say yes?"
Doubt flickered in his eyes but he quickly recovered. There were a number of reasons, none of which he was willing to share with Gayla Patton, and all of which he was sure she'd ridicule. But the most compelling? He was afraid not to; that's how he knew he had to.
She didn't wait for an answer. Impatiently Gayla glanced at her watch. "The gallery is closing soon. You have to leave. Tomorrow you can ..."
"Then you're going to let me stay in the show?"
"It's too late now to do anything else."
He chuckled softly. "But you sure would if you could."
She ignored the sarcasm. "I suggest you go through the normal channels and be processed like the other artists."
With a swift and easy motion he pushed away from the wall. He took his hands out of his pockets and crossed them over his chest. But the effect was the same. He looked solid and grounded ... and unintimidated by her.
"In case Bill Coleman didn't tell you, I didn't want to be here. You and your gallery aren't doing me any favors. I don't need your approval for my work or anything else I'm doing."
"Well, that's a good thing, since I haven't seen anything that would rate."
"That's because you'd already made up your mind. The moment you knew I was involved. Right?"
Again she couldn't think of an adequate response. Not that she didn't have one, but Gayla could feel the truculent streak in her that insisted on going tit for tat.
"There was no reason for me to think that you have any talent. Why should I have thought of you for this show? Where did you take classes? Where have you exhibited before? My mother never told me you were interested in art."
"Probably because she knew what you would say." There was no rancor in his words. It was just a statement of fact.
"Then there was no way for me to know, was there?"
"Sure there was," he said easily, walking slowly her.
She held her ground, watching him approach, sensing all the old stuff about him that put her on the alert. He didn't stop until he was just three feet away. Gayla could now see closely the way his facial hair lay smooth and neat against his cheek and jaw, the edges finely shaped and trimmed with a razor. His eyes were sharp and probing as he looked down at her.
"You could have asked me."
She noticed the way his jaw flexed. Was he angry or just nervous? "If I cared."
As they stood silently staring each other down, it was several seconds before either of them registered the footsteps. Someone entered the gallery behind Gayla and broke the chill of the standoff.
"Hi, Mom. Teddy said you were back here ..."
The young girl stopped in mid-sentence as she saw the second person in the room.
Gayla turned and scolded her. "Didn't I tell you you are not to call Mr. Stewart by his first name? It's disrespectful."
The girl was not chastened. She kept her gaze on the man. "Teddy said I could."
"I'm telling you you can't. Where are your schoolbooks?"
"I left them at Ted ... at Mr. Stewart's desk."
The girl came to stand next to Gayla but her attention was still riveted on the man. He was staring back, both fascinated and surprised.
Gayla tugged on the collar of the girl's coat to realign the neckline. "This is my daughter, Allison," she said without having been asked.
His eyes briefly shifted to Gayla, and he registered the touch of defiance, the unmistakable note of pride in the announcement.
Allison suddenly lowered her gaze and turned half away from him. "Hi," she mumbled.
"This is Dak Kinney. He's one of the artists in the show next week."
That got the girl's attention. She blinked at him. "Dak?" she questioned skeptically. "That's not a real name."
"No, it's not," he interrupted Gayla.
"What does it mean?"
"My full name is David Alan Kinney. Nice to meet you, Allison." He made an awkward gesture, as if to hold out his hand to the girl, and then changed his mind.
"Why did my mother call you Dak?"
Gayla could see the questions were making him uncomfortable, but she did nothing to help him.
"It's a street name," he said reluctantly. "Made up of the initials."
"Like those names that guys spray-paint on walls? You know; to mark their territory and stuff like that?" Allison asked with a tone of derision. "Do you belong to a gang?"
"I'm too old for a gang."
"But did you ever belong to one?" she persisted.
Gayla gave David a warning look as she broke in to address her daughter. "Allison, I think you've asked enough questions."
He ignored her. "I used to. When I was about your age."
Allison pulled away from her mother and began to wander around the room. "Dak is a stupid name," she said.
Gayla wasn't expecting that, but before she could react, he spoke first.
"Yeah, I guess it is pretty stupid. That's why no one calls me that. I'm not a kid anymore."
"Come on, Allison. We have to go ..." Gayla reached out to the girl, who was busy inspecting things on the workbench in pretty much the same manner she had a moment before.
"What's this for?" Allison asked, holding up the teddy bear carelessly.
Instinctively Gayla started to instruct her daughter to be careful with the fragile toy, but David was already approaching her to lift it out of her hand.
"It's part of a piece that's going to be in the show."
"Are you an artist?" Allison asked.
He glanced at Gayla, keeping his expression blank. "I think you'd better ask your mother. She's the judge."
Gayla addressed her daughter. "I haven't seen his work before. He's new."
"My mother's an artist," Allison said, tilting her head and boasting coyly. "If she wanted to, she could make a lot of money selling her work."
"Really? What does she do?"
Allison shrugged. "All kinds of things. She made my grandmother a bowl out of clay. She made me a quilt when I was a baby. And she made this ..." Allison dug into the neck of her coat, inside a crewneck sweater to extract a silver pendant. But she didn't really intend that he see it closely. The object twisted and swung before Allison abruptly scooped it into her hand and dropped it back into her clothing.
"Your mother's a Renaissance woman," he said.
"What's that?" Allison asked, ignoring her mother's beckoning hand.
A small smile broadened his lips through the thin beard. "Someone who knows everything."
"Come on ... Let's go, Allison," Gayla said. She headed toward the gallery opening. Allison didn't follow. "Allison," she urged, her impatience growing at Allison's lack of obedience. But she didn't want to create a scene in front of David.
He spoke up as if he hadn't noticed Gayla's attempt to leave. "Are you going to be an artist, too?"
Allison looked as though the idea had not occurred to her before now. Finally she shook her head but didn't enlighten him with any other options.
Gayla reached out to Allison. "Go find Mr. Stewart. Tell him we're ready to leave. Mr. Kinney is leaving, too."
"Okay," Allison said obediently. Without a look or word in his direction she left the gallery.
The chill descended again.
"Congratulations," he said quietly.
"On what?" Gayla asked.
Gayla narrowed her eyes, scanning his features for signs of sarcasm. "Thank you," she said shortly.
"She's very pretty."
Gayla was pleased. She accepted the compliment with a nod.
"When did you get married?"
She looked sharply at him, but the question was not unreasonable. Gayla tightened her lips.
"I'm not married," she responded, but saw no satisfaction at her admission, only mild curiosity. "I've never been married," she added. She turned to leave the gallery.
"Wait a minute. There's something you ought to know."
"What is it?" Gayla asked impatiently. She was anxious to get away.
"I used to be very young and dumb once. Dak was a kid I made up when I wanted to show people how down and bad I was. Dak was somebody who was rough and angry all the time." He was standing right over her now to make his point. "But he grew up. And like the Bible says, I put childish things aside. My name is David Alan Kinney. Period. Remember it."
Gayla had no answer ready. None that would have served her well. So she silently conceded the point to him, and walked away, refusing to acknowledge what he'd said.