He was just finishing dinner later that afternoon when he felt his phone vibrating. It was Dan phoning him.
“Hey Dan,” he answered.
“Hey. What are you doing right now?” Dan asked.
“Just finishing dinner.” he answered.
“How’d the appraisal go?”
“Better than I figured,” he replied. He walked out onto the deck and lit a smoke as he continued. “Worth five hundred and forty-eight thousand she figures, so we’re advertising it for five hundred ninety-nine and take whatever offer is closest.”
“Holy crap!” Dan exclaimed. “Well good thing Sarah signed off on it finally then!” he laughed into the phone. “Anyway, that’s not what I wanted to talk to you about.”
“Okay,” responded Darryl, “what’s going on then?”
“Oh nothing,” Dan answered coolly, “I’m just at the auction mart here and we figured out where the goats went when they got sold.”
Darryl’s smoke fell from his mouth and he began to choke. He almost dropped his phone too while he coughed and hacked and grabbed his cigarette from the ground.
“Jesus man, hold it together!” said Dan. “It’s just your goats.”
“Well what the hell are you even doing-” Darryl stopped himself. He took a long breath. “Okay, where did they go? A slaughter house probably, right?”
“Wrong.” answered Dan. Darryl’s heart skipped a beat. “It was that friend of hers. Marilyn.”
“What!?” He thought he was going to fall over. “Why would she – How in the hell did she even know I sent them to the auction? Honoria never found out until the next day!”
“Do you think she still has em?” Dan asked.
“I don’t know,” replied Darryl. “I gotta let you go. I’m going to phone her right now and find out. Maybe she can tell me who she’s sold them to if she doesn’t have them still.”
“Okay, let me know what you figure out.”
Darryl hung up and stared at his phone. His heart was pounding so hard that he could feel the pressure in his head. He could only hope that Marilyn hadn’t sold the goats to anyone else. He looked through the contacts on his list, uncertain that he would be able to remember Marilyn’s or her parents’ phone number without having to ask Honoria.
After several moments of nervously scrolling through several hundred contacts, he was beyond relieved to find Marilyn’s home phone number among the list.
He dialed the number and waited. He could feel his stomach rising to his throat in anticipation.
The phone rang several times before Marilyn’s mother Charlene answered.
“Hello?” came her voice.
“Hello! How are you?” Darryl choked out. He struggled to stay calm.
“I’m good. Who am I speaking with?” she asked, seemingly confused.
“It’s – it’s uh, Darryl.” he stammered.
“Oh.” she replied stoutly. He heard some shuffling, then he heard her call for Marilyn.
A few moments went by, until finally Marilyn’s voice came into the phone. “Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t hang up on you right now, you bastard.” she said.
His heart sank.
“I know.” he answered. “I know you probably don’t want to talk to me of all people, but please hear me out-” he got cut off.
“No, I quite frankly don’t want to talk to an asshole, thanks. You have some nerve phoning me. What is it that you want?” she demanded. “I have no respect at all for what you did to my best friend. I may not know the whole situation but I know that you completely deserted her. And getting rid of her animals? She was trying to work things out to take them, you know.”
Darryl could hardly hold his temper. “I’m not calling you to talk about why I threw her out – but you’re right when you say you don’t fucking know the whole situation,” he growled through the phone. “I’m trying to make things right. I’m going to fix the damages I did to her. I’m no fucking expert but give me a damn break.”
“Then why are you calling? Are you telling me that you made a mistake? You mean you finally figured out that she never actually molested your son, you dumbass?” she threw back. “I can hang up anytime I like, so keep getting mad if you want. You have nothing to be angry about compared to what you’ve done to that girl.”
Darryl drew back, taken by surprise. Did Honoria tell Marilyn the truth?
“How did you…” he whispered. “Did she- did she tell you that?”
“You don’t know her as well as I thought you did.” she said. “I knew from the start that it wasn’t true. It took her a long time to admit it, probably out of fear that I would throw it in your face and tell you what a piece of shit you are for what you put her through. I could slap you right across the face right now, you know that?”
His eyes filled with tears as he listened. She broke him down.
“Hello?” she asked. “Did you hang up or did I leave you speechless?”
“I fucked up. Believe me, I get it.” he muttered in misery.
“I know about her depression. I know that I hurt her. I hurt her on purpose to get revenge on her for hurting my son. I know the truth now. My – my own kids set this up, with their mother, and had one of their little friends try to blackmail Honoria into this bull shit situation. They were pretending Janelle had been kidnapped and that she would be returned safely if Honoria cheated on me with that kid. But Honoria wouldn’t fall for their shit, and so they resorted to something even worse, roping my fifteen year old son into framing her for molesting him. I caught my daughter – I found her in Toronto. She’s alive, and safe – and I need to tell Honoria this, so that she knows. I swear to you I only want to fix this!” he yelled.
Marilyn fell silent.
Darryl took a deep breath.
“You bought her goats from the auction mart.” he murmured finally. “I was trying to track them down and get them back.”
“Honoria’s not getting her goats back until she has a place of her own.” Marilyn answered.
“So you do have all of them.” he murmured. “Does she know?”
“No. She doesn’t need to know right now. She needs to get better. I looked for her cat too but I couldn’t find him.” she replied.
“I got Whiskey back. I tracked him down, he’s back with me safe and sound and he’s not going anywhere except back to her when she’s able to have him.” Darryl explained.
“I’m relieved to hear that. I thought that he was gone for good. She’s actually living in a house in Tomahawk now that my parents bought. They would let her have him there. You should give him back to her sooner than later, it might help her a lot. She’s not doing well at all lately. As for her goats, I’m not letting them go back to your farm. They are hers to take back when she’s on a place of her own, that no asshole will be able to just toss them out without her being able to prevent it. You may be trying to do the right thing now, but you lost my trust and respect when you handled things the way that you did. I will look after the goats until she can take them back. You don’t need to worry about them.” she replied.
He was not sure what to say anymore. It crushed his heart that he couldn’t take the herd back for Honoria – it made him feel pathetic. But he understood Marilyn’s reasoning.
“I’m selling this farm.” he said finally. “The realtor assessed it today. Sarah signed off; she’s no longer involved with any part of this property, nor any other property I ever buy. I am going to tell Honoria everything. I want to fix this. I really do. I don’t care what it takes.”
He heard Marilyn let out a short breath. It sounded like a sigh of relief.
“I wondered if you would ever,” she murmured. “Honoria gave up so much for you, and to be with you. I really wondered if you would ever open up your eyes and give up that damned farm to be with her. She would have stayed even if you hadn’t. But you and your family and ex-wife put that girl through Hell.”
“I know.” he replied sadly. “I know. I’m going to make things right.”
“Her art show is tonight.” Marilyn said. “Will you be there?”
“I wouldn’t miss it for the world.” he replied. “Of course I’ll be there.”
“Good then, I’ll be seeing you there.” she answered. He could hear the tone of threatening in her voice. She was warning him not to let her dearest friend get hurt again. She hung up before he could say any more.
When he’d finished his conversation with Marilyn, he was horrified to see that it was already a quarter after four, so he hurriedly showered and prepared himself for the event that evening. He put on only the sharpest clothing he owned; a pair of black dress slacks, his finest shoes, and his favorite black Harley Davidson dress shirt. If he wanted to get her back, he wanted to look his best for her.
His palms were sweating and he was beginning to feel dizzy by the time Dan arrived at his home to retrieve him.
“Good lord, Man.” huffed Dan. “You need some of this. Drink up.” He handed Darryl a small silver flask.
“What’s this? Why do I need to drink it?” asked Darryl dumbly.
“Whiskey. Drink up. You look like shit.” he answered.
Darryl pouted at the comment, but took a long burning swig from the flask. It seared all the way down his throat. He nearly gagged. Then he took another swig. And one more before Dan grabbed the flask back from him.
“Have you eaten anything since dinner time today?” he asked.
“Sure I have. You’re not my mother.” Darryl retorted.
“You’re right. Let’s go before we’re late for the show.”
It was close to two hours before they arrived in the city of Edmonton. It was just getting dark out and a large orange half -moon hung low in the night sky. It made him think of her even more. His dreams of her. Touching her. Hugging her. Kissing her. The smell of her hair when he held her.
The memory wrenched his heart. He wanted that again. He wanted her again. He had to get her back. It didn’t matter what it was going to take. He wanted his beloved back in his arms, and he would never, ever, let her go again.
He was pulled out of thought and back down to earth when they finally rolled into the parking lot of the gallery.
“We’re here,” Dan murmured as they pulled up beside Bailey’s car. Dale’s pickup sat on the other side of her car.
Darryl could feel his stomach rising to his throat as he stepped out of Dan’s diesel. Dan came around to his side as well as Dale.
“Well don’t you look fine this evening.” Dale commented. “Anyone ever tell you that you don’t look so bad when you clean up a little?”
“I know, he looks so handsome!” added Bailey with a giggle as she stepped out of her car to join the three men.
Darryl could barely open his mouth he was so nervous. He simply nodded at the others with a terribly fraud grin.
Dan handed him a cigarette. He gladly took it, lighting it with a shaking hand. Dale, Dan and Bailey all joined him, each lighting up their own cigarettes as well.
They smoked in silence for several moments. It felt to Darryl as though his friends were almost as nervous as he was.
“It’ll all be fine,” he mumbled finally. His friends all looked at him. “Thanks for coming in with me. Let’s get in there and have ourselves a good night.”
And with that, the four turned together, and walked through the swinging doors into the Emerald Art Gala, not sure of what lay waiting for them that late September evening.
A slim young man stood behind a podium positioned in the entry way, gathering names and collecting tickets from guests as they entered the show.
“Welcome to Emerald Art Gala,” he greeted kindly, “names and tickets please. Also, there is a guest book that the artist would be delighted to have her guests sign this evening.” He waived his arm toward a table behind him where a large white book lay open with a classic ink pen sitting in a holder beside it.
Dan and Bailey were the first to give the young man their names and slips. Then Darryl stepped forward. He handed the young man his ticket and said his name, and the boy’s head shot up and his eyes narrowed as he inspected him.
“What?” asked Darryl, terrified. “Is my name black listed?”
“No,” replied the young man. “Just think I’ve heard of you.”
“Oh great.” he muttered. “Musta been a lot of good things then.”
Dale stepped forward, interrupting the tension. “Dale Kerrick.” he said, handing in his ticket.
The young man nodded to them and began addressing the next guests in line.
The four made their way to the guest book at the next table, awed by the size of the event. A small band was set up on a stage in the center of the large showroom, while several waiters and waitresses scurried about with platters of fruits and glasses of drinks. Tables were set up to one half of the area, the chairs all facing a second stage, larger than the one in the center of the room that the band had been playing at. Darryl could only imagine when he would see the beautiful artist he once called his, emerge onto that stage to address her audience.
“We’re going this way,” Dan said, pointing toward the right side of the show room. There were three general sections of art work for the guests to observe.
“I’ll check out this end. Meet you guys in the middle.” Darryl replied.
“I’ll go with him.” Dale added, striding after Darryl.
They made their way to the first painting they could see at the beginning of the left wall. It was one that Darryl remembered well, since Honoria had painted it while sitting outside on the farm one sunny fall afternoon. It was two ravens sitting together in a tree branch, sharing hold of a yellow leaf in their beaks.
“Girl really had some talent,” Dale murmured, looking closely at the picture.
Darryl nodded, and the two men proceeded on to the next painting. This one was of a mother moose and baby touching noses while submerged under water. It was incredibly soft and tasteful, and it reminded Darryl so much of the bond between mother and child. He’d not seen this one before.
They continued onto another one after several moments. It was another that Darryl recognized immediately – a Mountie on his horse in front of the Edmonton police headquarters. She’d made the painting years ago, in tribute of a fallen Mountie that she knew personally. The RCMP never accepted it from her for some reason, so she had kept it, and presented it wherever she showed, despite how poorly she thought the quality of it was. Even now, seeing the number of people observing it, Darryl knew it was still one of her strongest pieces.
The music flowed softly throughout the showroom. It was truly a peaceful event, the lights dimmed down and people speaking in whisper to one another as they inspected each piece. Spotlights were placed strategically, illuminating each piece of work on its own, making them stand out so much more. Darryl strayed from the consecutive line of paintings along the wall – and caught sight of one down at the end that struck him. He gently slid through the gatherings of people until he stood right in front of it.
It was a painting of herself. In one of her favorite summer dresses, the white one. She was sitting in the rocking chair he’d bought her with Whiskey sleeping on her lap. Her hand was on Whiskey’s head, petting him. The sunlight was specifically shining on Whiskey in this painting. Then he noticed the tears coming from her eyes. She’d painted them so delicately small, and transparent, likely hoping to “hide” this particular detail as she’d done in previous works. He winced when he read the caption. “For Whiskey”
“Darryl,” he heard someone say. He turned his head and came face to face with Marilyn. She spread her arms and stepped forward, hugging him. “I’m glad you could make it!”
They stepped back and he opened his mouth to say something but was abruptly interrupted by a hard slap across the face. Marilyn slapped him so hard his head was spinning. He put his hand on the cheek she’d hit and looked back at her in shock. Several people around them had stopped talking and were now staring intently at the two.
“That’s for everything you did to Honoria.” she announced stoutly. “You deserved it.”
Before Darryl could say anything back to her, Bailey was right in between the two.
“Hey what the hell did you do that for? Who do you think you are!” she demanded, shoving Marilyn back.
Darryl grabbed Bailey by her shoulder, making her turn her head to look at him.
“Don’t.” he said. He pulled her back and she relented, stepping out of the way.
He looked around at all the people now crowded around them. “Nothing to see here,” he announced. “Keep moving.” Then he returned his attention to Marilyn. “This is Bailey, Dan’s girlfriend. Bailey, this is – this is Marilyn, Honoria’s best friend.”
Dale and Dan were stepping up beside Darryl now as Bailey reacted with shock. Darryl promptly extended the introductions to Dan and Dale, who also were shocked.
Marilyn smiled warmly at them all. “Good to see you again. It’s been a long time.” she greeted. “Anyway, sorry about that, Bailey. It’s something a little personal between Darryl and I. Don’t worry though, that’s the only one he gets!”
She looked right into Darryl’s eyes.
“Good to see you again,” he said finally. His cheek was still stinging.
“Anyway, I have to get back. I am helping with set up and take down and I saw you walk in so I had to come say hi for a minute. Honoria doesn’t know that any of you are here. Should I let her know?” she asked.
Darryl shook his head. “No. Don’t ruin her night. She’ll see us.” he replied.
Marilyn smiled and nodded before turning and sauntering off toward the large stage.
“The hell is she slapping you for?” Bailey asked, dumbfounded. “Chick is a fucking psycho. What was that about?”
“It was for everything that I put Honoria through. And for not knowing her well enough to see through the lies and know that she never actually did what everyone had accused her of.” he muttered. “It’s good now. Don’t worry about it.”
Bailey just shook her head in response.
Dan looked at Darryl’s cheek and let out a laugh.
“She got ya pretty good!” he snorted, smacking Darryl on the back.
Darryl didn’t say anything. He was entirely lost in his thoughts of Honoria. All of this artwork hanging in this showroom was created by her. He wanted to see more. So he started walking, and the three trailed behind him.
There was over two hundred pieces to view.
They had seen a good half of the pieces when the music quieted down and a voice boomed out through the large speakers by the second stage.
“Good evening everyone, and welcome to the first annual Emerald Art Gala! Please find yourselves seats in the next few moments as our lovely Miss Honoria Barton will be on stage very soon to talk about her life and journey in art, and the things that inspire her, as well as showing everyone her newest piece!” announced the young man. It was the same young man that had been accepting tickets at the door. The crowd applauded.
“Where’s the booze at?” Dale asked. “I want a drink if I get to sit down now.”
They looked around, and Bailey spotted the bar in the far corner. She pointed and announced, “Over there. I want something to drink too.”
They made their way over and each grabbed themselves something to sip on. Darryl waited off to the side while the three of them ordered their drinks first. He was looking around the showroom, lost in thought.
But then his eyes came to rest on the slender figure beside the second stage, and his heart nearly exploded in his chest. Honoria stood next to the stage in a long silk navy blue evening gown, talking with Marilyn and the young man who’d just announced her presence. Her bright blonde hair hung carelessly down her shoulders and back, flowing as naturally and beautifully as he’d always so fondly remembered. But even from this distance he could see how terribly thin she’d become. She didn’t look healthy at all.
“Darryl? Did you grab yourself a drink?” Bailey asked, gently grabbing him by the arm. “Are you okay?”
He shook his head and turned toward the bar. “Double rye and coke. Two of ’em please.” He requested. The young lady behind the bar nodded and prepared his drinks for him, while Bailey and Dan and Dale looked over their friend with concern.
“Are you sure you’re okay?” Bailey asked him. “You’re pale.”
He nodded to Bailey, but couldn’t bring himself to say anything. Even though he was looking right at Bailey, he could still see Honoria in the background, and it was shaking him to his core.
“Here you are, sir.” he heard the young woman behind the bar counter say. He turned and gladly accepted his drinks from her.
“Let’s go sit down somewhere,” he choked out. He looked toward the stage and saw that Honoria was not there anymore.
Dan and Bailey walked up front and led the way to a table toward the center, not too far from the stage. Darryl hesitated to sit down, so they all looked over at him.
“What’s up?” Dan asked casually. “Wanna sit closer to the stage?”
“Farther.” Darryl mumbled nervously. “She’ll see us for sure if we sit here.”
“Isn’t that what you want?” Dale cut in. “Quit being so nervous man, everything will be fine!”
Bailey nodded in agreement, and pulled out a chair for Darryl.
“Sit down, it’ll all be okay.” she urged gently.
Darryl let out a long, shaking breath and relented. He plopped down onto the chair and lowered himself as much as he could. He was terrified that he would choke up and distract Honoria if she caught sight of him, and end up the cause of her gala being ruined.
More people slowly gathered from all corners of the showroom, taking seats and whispering amongst themselves. He could hear the comments and critiques they had about some of the artwork.
One conversation in particular caught Darryl’s ear. It was the people at the table next to him. Three men and two women sat discussing Honoria, and her potential as an artist.
“She has some incredible skill,” commented one of the ladies, “Some of her artwork looks like photographs!”
“Yes, but these artists nowadays cheat by using projectors and tracing the lines and colors onto their canvases from original photographs. In my opinion, that’s not genuine artistic skill.” answered one of the gentlemen snobbishly.
“Did you read the pamphlet about her? It specifically mentions that she doesn’t use a projector – all of her work is free hand, and some of it didn’t even have photos for her to reference!” exclaimed another one of the men. “I’ve been hearing her name more and more in the last two years. The girl is becoming a rising star.”
Darryl could feel his heart pounding harder and harder as they continued.
“I don’t like any of it.” commented the other lady at the table. Darryl peeked over and saw her sticking her nose in the air. “I am a painter, I’ve gone to university for it. I know artwork like the back of my hand. And this – this stuff is just mindless expressions of things that everyone likes. There’s nothing original about her work. I could out-paint her in five minutes!”
Every hair was standing up on the back of his neck. He wanted to jump up and scream at the lady for calling down Honoria’s artwork. He knew for a fact that Honoria’s work was original, and took days, sometimes months for her to complete.
He was ready to open his mouth when one of the other gentlemen at the table spoke up.
“For goodness sake, Jill!” he exclaimed, exasperated. “I’ve heard this from you at every show we have ever attended! You cut down all these amazing artists and their hard work, and act like you can do it better! When did you last have a show? How many outstanding pieces have you ever painted? Your jealousy defeats you, truly. Be more appreciative of good quality work, or else don’t come to these shows! I won’t hear another word of it.”
The lady dropped her head in embarrassment at her partner’s response. The others at the table fell awkwardly silent and gazed about, avoiding further conversation.
“The heck are you looking at?”
Dale’s question caught Darryl off guard, and he turned his head to see his three friends eyeing him curiously.
“Oh. Nothing,” he answered. “Just listening to them talk about what they thought of the artwork.”
Bailey opened her mouth to say something but stopped when the young man’s voice boomed through the speakers again.
“I see everyone has found themselves a seat,” he announced, “That is wonderful! We hope you have all been enjoying your experience on this fine September evening! If everyone would please turn off their cell phones and quiet down, it would be greatly appreciated.”
Lots of shuffling could be heard as people pulled cell phones from their pockets and purses and switched them to silent or turned them off. The announcer remained silent for a moment, giving everyone time to quiet down again.
“Now could everyone please join me in welcoming our lovely Miss Honoria Barton to the stage?” he asked.
The crowd applauded. Darryl’s heart stopped. Honoria walked onto the stage, waiving a slender arm to the crowd.
“Thank-you,” she said into the microphone. Her melodic voice hadn’t changed at all. “I’m so happy that so many of you made it to the show this evening. This is my first solo show, and the turnout is so much greater than I’d hoped for! I want to begin by telling you all a little about myself, …”
Darryl could hardly breathe. He watched her mouth move as she talked, but all sound drifted away from him as he lost himself to his feelings. He’d caught sight of the long gloves she was wearing. They stretched to the crooks of her elbows. But when she moved her arms just right, he could see the bandaging poking out of the ends of her gloves – the bandaging that had been covering the long gashes on her wrists.
He felt an elbow to his rib – it was Dan.
“You gonna pass out?” he murmured. Honoria had stopped speaking for a moment and was just pulling a cover off of something farther back on the stage.
Darryl looked over at him. He shook his head and tried to smile, then he looked back at the stage. Honoria had just pulled the cover off her latest piece, and the crowd had fallen into an awed hush as they looked at it.
He craned his neck to see what it was.
Tears began to cloud his vision as he got a clear view of the thirty-six by forty-eight painting of himself holding up his daughter in the sunlight. He recognized it immediately. It was from a photo that was taken when Janelle was only six years old, out in the front field. He’d been chasing after her playfully and caught her, scooping her up and swirling her through the air. The game had delighted the little girl to no end, so they had to snap a photo of the beautiful moment. And here it was, painted bold and beautiful, filled to the brim with the happiness that he so dearly missed.
The guilt crushed him as he looked at the painting. It was one of the best ones Honoria had made yet. Honoria stood beside it and remained silent for a moment longer, letting everyone get a good look at it before she started talking again.
“This here,” she began. Darryl could tell her voice was shaky with her own emotions. “This is a painting of two people who I care a lot about. One of them went missing in the last six months, and has since been presumed dead. We spent many sleepless nights worrying for her, waiting for her, hoping that somehow she would come back safe and sound.”
Darryl’s three friends worriedly looked at each other before looking over at Darryl, who was now beginning to shake.
“We tried anything that we could think of, to try and get this little girl back home.” she explained sadly. “But all our efforts failed. This painting is a tribute to her, Janelle Bowden, and any other missing child on our Earth. She was so special, and I still struggle with the loss of her. I am placing this painting up for auction with an opening bid of two thousand dollars. The money paid for this painting is being donated to Canada’s Missing Children Foundation, in the hopes that maybe my efforts weren’t for nothing. I want to help the foundation grow, and prevent tragedies such as this, and tonight I ask for your help. Besides this painting, there are nearly a hundred others up for sale, and fifty percent of each of their proceeds will also be donated to the foundation. I thank all of you for attending the gala this evening, and I would like to give a big thanks to the staff at Edmonton Art Gallery for helping me set up this most beautiful event and making it as special as it could be. I couldn’t have accomplished this without all the support. Thank you all.”
The crowd erupted into applause. Honoria took a step to the side and handed the microphone off to the young man, who stepped up to address the crowd one more time.
“Looks like everyone is happy with her newest piece!” he exclaimed brightly. “At the base of the stage on the little desk there,” he motioned below himself to the small table, “is a setup where you can write your bid and place it in the box, anonymously. I will be sitting at the desk observing your bid and updating the amount for the rest of the guests. Please remember this is a silent auction, so if you see who put the last bid in, please do keep it to yourself! Thanks again everyone, please enjoy the rest of your night!”
The young man turned to Honoria and held the microphone out to her, asking if she had anything more to say.
Darryl stood up and his chair almost flipped onto its back. The noise was enough to catch her attention and for the first time that evening, their eyes locked. Her gasp was audible from where he stood. She had reached out for the microphone at first but then retracted her hand immediately.
“Hey,” Dan said to Darryl, but he didn’t hear him. He stepped away from his chair and began moving through the mess of tables and people, toward the stage. His eyes stayed locked with hers.
People noticed Darryl as he walked through. He could hear them whispering at their tables, recognizing him from the painting.
He stopped at the edge of the stage. He didn’t know what to say. But he refused to take his eyes off hers. He hadn’t realized that a single tear had escaped his own, as he watched tears begin to form in hers.
“You, you came,” she murmured. “You’re here. I thought – I thought-” She let out a short breath, and tried to walk toward him. But the walk turned to a stumble, and the stumble turned into a hard fall. She came crashing down on her knees first, and Darryl knew right then that she’d fainted.