Cursed(5)

By: S.J. Harper



“You waiting for an invitation, Monroe?” Zack calls out before climbing into the Suburban and closing the door, effectively dismissing Miss Fancy Pants.

As I approach she turns on her heel. A confident toss of her head in Zack’s direction says she’s gotten her message across. Now that she’s seen me, now that she’s convinced I’m not a threat, she doesn’t bother to spare me a second glance. By the time I reach the Suburban, she’s returned to her car, climbed inside, and fired up the engine. With a squeal of tires, she’s gone.

But not before I notice the license plate. South Carolina. It’s reflex to store the number away in the back of my mind.

I open the car door. “I get the feeling she doesn’t like me.”

Zack is waiting behind the wheel, hands at the ten and two o’clock position, knuckles white. He avoids looking me in the eye. “She doesn’t like the fact that we slept together.”

He says it casually.

“You told her we slept together?” I ask, sliding into the passenger seat.

His gaze meets me head-on. “Would you have preferred I lied?”

“She your girlfriend?”

He throws the car into reverse and steps on the gas. “Ex.”

I wonder if the status came before the revelation and how long they were together. I’m guessing a few months, a year at most. The breakup seems fresh. In the month we worked together, he never mentioned being involved with anyone. There were no calls to apologize for having to work late and no women showing up at the office. But I did come to know Zack’s moods well enough to interpret this one. With one single syllable, he’s effectively closing the door on that subject.

It’s okay.

Zack can have his secrets.

I certainly have mine.





CHAPTER 2


Zack wasn’t bluffing. He gets us from our office in Kearney Mesa to the Haskell Gallery on Prospect Street in La Jolla without a single hesitation or wrong turn. We’ve managed to miss the early-morning rush hours on both Highways 15 and 52, so it only takes about twenty minutes.

La Jolla is an enclave of the rich and famous. Prospect Street is aptly named. It’s the mother lode. A street lined with boutiques, a luxury hotel, fancy restaurants, and galleries of all sorts, the connecting artery to the center of town. Zack scores a spot right in front of the gallery.

He’s been uncharacteristically quiet on the ride over. I don’t recall Zack being one to hold back. I suppose he’s still thinking about the unexpected visit from his ex. I am, too. What’s she doing here? It’s not exactly an afternoon’s joy ride from South Carolina. Or he might be bracing himself for lunch and what he anticipates is going to be a major confrontation.

We sit for a minute, facing the gallery. It’s located in the middle of a block built of gray cut stone, arched entryways separating one business from the next. We could be in the center of a European village, the intent of the architects who planned La Jolla’s exclusive shopping areas. The gallery is not the largest storefront. In fact, some of the businesses on either side are bigger. There’s a simple banner reading HASKELL GALLERY above the door, and adding to the old-world charm, flower-filled clay pots sit on either side of the entrance.

“Ready?” Zack says.

He has a notebook and pen in his hand.

I nod and push open the car door.

We enter into an airy open space broken only by partitions displaying what I presume are Amy’s works. The walls are painted dove gray, the floor is an oak hardwood, and the partitions are stark white—colors picked to emphasize the brilliant hues in Amy’s paintings. They shine like jewels under the subtle lighting.

“Abstract Expressionist.” It’s more of a statement than a question as Zack steps to take a closer look at one of the canvases. It’s about three feet by six feet and ablaze with the golds and crimsons of a fiery sunset, all intertwined until the canvas looks more like a piece of woven cloth than a painting. “Reminiscent of Jackson Pollock, only more controlled, purposeful, less chaotic, more deliberate. I like it.”

Before I can react with surprise to Zack’s adept appraisal, a voice calls out, “Very good.”

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