46 - Art Lessons
"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."
"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."