James' brow furrowed as he gazed down at my phone. "You're very talented. Do you have any others?"

"Lots of them." I'd done many more of my mom, all based off photos, of course, and several of my friends—Rosa, Everett, and Johnny, especially. Sometimes I'd done fictional portraits, too, like Cleopatra or Ophelia or Rosalind.

"Are the others of this caliber?" James asked.

"Yeah, I guess so."

"Have you ever tried to show your work in a gallery?"

"Oh," I said, surprised. "Just a few art shows in high school. And I had a few paintings hung in local pubs."

He shook his head. "That's a disgrace."

I stared at him in dismay, and he smiled. "Someone should have snapped you up by now," he explained. "Your work is excellent. I could introduce you to some people if you like."

I had no idea what to say.

"I'm serious," he added mildly.

I frowned up at him. Could that be true? Did he really like the painting, or was he just flirting with me?

"Thanks," I said. "I'll think about. I'd better get back to my tables, though. Maybe I'll see you inside."

"I'd like that." He inclined his head in farewell. I half-expected him to bow. Talking to him was like stepping into a different era, with top hats and horse-drawn carriages and women in evening gloves. "Very nice meeting you, Miranda."


After work, I stood in front of the cheap full-length mirror leaning against my wall for ages, wishing my very pretty sense of personal style would make an appearance and tell me what to wear. The outfit I had on was one of my favorites—skinny jeans and a flowing, silky top—but it didn't make me feel as good as I'd expected. On the other hand, I didn't like the top I had just picked up, either. I was not in a pink mood.

I tossed the pink top on the floor and was debating changing into a dress when I was interrupted by a knock on the attic hatch. I lowered the ladder and a moment later Kaye's white-blonde head popped up. "Hi! Can I come in?"

I smiled. "Of course. What's up?"

"I thought you might like a jello shot before the party starts. They always remind me of freshman year of college," Kaye said apologetically, sitting down on my futon, "but our friends always ask for them. We've stopped trying to make them drink something classy. Ready?"

"Sure." I joined her on the futon, and we downed the shots. I tried not to make a face. It was way too sweet for me, but I appreciated the thought. "I'm so excited for the party tonight," I said. "It'll be nice to meet your friends."

"You've probably seen most of them around town, or at the bar," Kaye told me. "But now you'll have a chance to talk to them when you aren't working. Or you can ignore them and just hang out with me and Andy."

"That sounds nice." I adjusted one of my carnelian dream-catcher earrings. "Have you and Andy always been such good friends?"

"Oh, you know how it is, we hung around with all the same people in high school. Not much choice with such a small school. But after high school, we... only saw each other once or twice, since I was in college." Kaye did not quite look at me.

I repressed the urge to ask her for the uncensored version of this story.

"When I moved back here after college," Kaye continued, pulling on a thread on the hem of her shirt, "I was living with my friend Violet—you'll meet her, she's coming up for the party tonight—but then Vi moved into her own place, so, I moved in with Andy, Scott, and Rusty."

Set Me Free [complete]Read this story for FREE!