46 - Art Lessons

The Guardian Dolphin

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She laughed.

"She called this place-the restaurant and house-my 'legacy'. Built it for me, so that I would have a way to make a living. She really loved me, you know."

"You must have loved her, too."

"I did. Actually."

I sat down on an old footstool. It had a needlepoint cushion.

"I was raised by an old codger," I said, "a wonderful character. I think he would have done anything for me. I really miss him."

She put the box down.

"I only stayed because I promised Mother. All these years, I've kept my promise. But I can't have Julie trapped here. She needs something better."

"Something better?" I said.

A small canvas leaned against the foot of the easel. I reached down and picked it up. I was going to let her tell me as much as she would before running down.

"When she was little," Ann said, "I spent hours teaching her to draw. I bought her paint sets, art lessons—when we could afford them."

I rubbed the dust from the corner of the canvas with my thumb and held it so it caught a splinter of light that stabbed through a crack in the shingles.

The initials caught me by surprise.

"You did these?"

I had broken the spell. She glanced at the canvas and nodded.

"When I was Julie's age. But there was no money, and Mother needed me, to keep the restaurant going."

I picked up another, amazed.

"Did you just give up completely?"

Her voice was quiet.

"Mother needed my help."

I realized what had bothered me.

"Then that's your easel?"

"It was. My father got it at an auction. It made Mother furious—she thought it was a waste of money. I'm giving it to Julie for Christmas. I don't know why I didn't give it to her before."

She reached out and ran her finger along the easel's edge.

"The thing is, I couldn't do it."

"Couldn't…?"

"Oh, maybe once there was a chance—I was quite good, really—but, well, I'd promised Mother. It's too late for me. But Julie's different. She can do it."

I waited. I knew there was more, and this time I was going to keep my mouth shut.

After a while she looked me in the eyes.

"She's got more talent in her little finger than… You think Mother will forgive me for selling the restaurant?"

I chose my words carefully.

"I think the living care a lot more about promises than the dead do."

Ann nodded, satisfied.

"I've kept her dream alive all these years. It's Julie's turn now."

Julie's turn.