Chapter Twenty-Seven

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Ferdy followed me down the stairs and into Claire's kitchen, whining as if I'd taken away his favorite toy.

"What is it?" I asked him finally, turning to him. He sat down in the middle of the kitchen and barked at me. His adorable, hoarse bark somehow made me feel worse. The sound of something happy amplified my own sadness.

"I can't play with you," I told Ferdinand. A tear slid down my cheek. "I'm sorry."

I had to go home. I had to decide if I could stand to stay on the island even though Owen was furious at me. Even though he didn't love me.

Or, even worse, Owen might make my decision for me by moving to California. The thought was unbearable, torturous.

Ferdy got up, nosed the painting under my arm, and barked again.

"I'm just borrowing it," I said stubbornly. "I'm not stealing your mom's stuff." Even if I did steal it, I didn't think Claire would mind.

He nosed the painting again. With a sigh, I set it on Claire's kitchen table and sat down in one of her chairs.

After the bombing, Owen had stood beside me while I sat in this same chair. He'd tucked my hair behind my ear, his strong fingers trailing across my cheek, and he'd looked at me as if I were special, with that sad, beautiful smile.

Now he'd never smile at me like that again. I didn't think either of us wanted it to be over, not even him. But I could no longer see how we could be together. I couldn't share him with Suze forever. And I couldn't accept being banned from his past, even though I understood how badly he wanted to let it all stay buried.

I glanced down at the painting lying unwrapped on the table. The numbness pervading my body gave it a strange clarity, as if I'd paused a dramatic scene in a movie. It was such an odd painting, so unlike Suze's other work. It was as if she'd thrown it together in an afternoon in a frenzy. She hadn't even taken the time to frame it properly. A corner of the canvas was folded over. The imperfection was fascinating, because I'd have bet any amount of money that Suze was a perfectionist about her paintings, like Owen was about his woodwork. The two of them were both brilliant, both consumed by their art.

I found myself turning the painting over, laying it facedown on the table. My fingers plucked at the clasps holding the frame in place. I lifted up the backing, expecting to see only the back of a sheet of canvas. Expecting it to be blank, of course, because what else would it be?

It wasn't blank. On the back, there was a full, finished painting. It was clearly one of Suze's, with her usual signature, SUZANNA, at the bottom right, but it was... different. Not frenzied, like the flowers, but more photorealistic and less colorful than her usual impressionism. It looked almost noir.

The painting showed Suze, dressed to the nines in a black cocktail dress and shimmering jewelry, walking out of a red brick restaurant on a city street. A single streetlight illuminated her expression of longing and sadness as she gazed back over her shoulder. The light trickled across her skin to the steps of the restaurant entrance, where a man stood in the shadows, watching her, as he lit a cigarette.

I peered more closely at him. I couldn't make out his features, but he had dark hair and a firm jaw. Something about the way he stood suggested effortlessness, an easy, graceful charm.

No—it couldn't be. There had to be some mistake. There was no way they could have known each other.

I ran back upstairs, taking the steps three at a time. Inside the attic, I pulled the door open and whisked each painting out of the closet, tearing the paper off each and every one, examining them all, front and back, until dust motes glittered in the air like the smoke that comes after fireworks. None of them—the little houses and barns, the pine forests and dewy meadows—were right. None of them answered the question screaming inside my mind.

Finally, I picked up the last painting, my heart slamming, my body trembling. I unwrapped it to see not flowers, this time, but big, blue tears, outlined in black, jammed oddly into the frame. I turned the painting around and lifted up the backing. This one was not blank.

I knew what had happened to Suze.


YOU GUYS. You guys. Click through to ch. 28 and you'll find out, too. :O

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