Page 25 of Tribulation Pass

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“Why would you do that?” she asked.

“Because my work isn’t about the money,” he said.

She could see the fierce passion in his eyes as he talked about his love. “I paint because I have to. Because there’s a vision or a story that has to get out of me or I’ll explode. I don’t have a choice in what I do. It’s a beautiful gift at times, and sometimes it’s a curse. But I can’t stop it. Something takes over and the need gets louder and louder until it’s screaming in my head unless I do something about it. So I paint. And the visions in my head come to life on canvas.”

She nodded. She could see it so clearly. And because she could see it, she could understand it.

“I saw a painting of yours once,” she said. “It was so beautiful. A little boy, no more than a few years old, was sitting on a stool staring at the rain through his bedroom window. It was as if I could have reached out and touched the windowpane, it was so clear, and as if I could have felt the wetness of the raindrops on my fingers. But it was one of the saddest things I’d ever seen.”

“Boy on a Stool,” he said, remembering it well. “It went to the New York gallery.”

She nodded.

“Why did you find it sad?” he asked.

“You might look at it on the surface and think he’s sad because it’s raining and he’d rather be outside playing. Or you might expand the imagination a little more and think maybe he’d been sent to his room as punishment. But there were little touches, so subtle they made my breath catch. The hem of his pajamas was frayed. There was a button missing. His feet were dirty. There was a crack in one of the windowpanes, just a sliver that was hard to see at first because it looked like a raindrop had smeared across the surface.”

She sighed and shook her head. “And then there was the smudge on his face. At least, I’d thought it a smudge at first. But then I realized it was a bruise. And there was a look of such hopelessness in his eyes I wanted to yank him right off the canvas and pull him into my arms. You’re so very talented. It’s an incredible gift you’ve been given.”

He stared at her for several seconds and then he took her hand again and squeezed it. “If that painting hadn’t sold I’d get it back for you so you could have it.”

She laughed awkwardly, but didn’t remove her hand this time. “You guys really need to stop giving stuff away.”

“O’Haras are eccentric, and we pretty much do what we want. It’s a family trait. Do you understand why I have to paint you now? If you can see what it does to me to give life to these stories, then you know I’ve got to do the same with you. I wanted to paint you the second you fell into my arms. Before I knew your name. Before I knew anything about you.”

She paused and looked at him—really looked at him—and she saw the passion and integrity for his work in his expression. She knew he was talented. She’d seen it firsthand. Critics and curators had dubbed him as the artist of the century—a rare talent who would span generations like the old masters. Hattie knew it was true. She just didn’t understand why he wantedher.

“No one will ever see them?” she asked.

“No one,” he promised.

“Okay,” she finally said. “I’ll do it.”

Mac came back and removed their dishes. “Duncan must be trying to get you to let him paint you,” she said. “He’s got that bullheaded O’Hara look on his face. My mom says whenever they get that look it’s best not to argue because you’ll never hear the end of it.”

Duncan snorted. “Your mother is the champion of this look. And Hattie already agreed to sit for me so don’t try and talk her out of it.”

Mac rolled her eyes. “It takes forever. And you’re just sitting there. It’s torture.”

“Hey, that’s what you get when your mom gets the bullheaded O’Hara look on her face. Blame her.”

When Mac walked away Duncan said, “Her mom, Sloane, is my first cousin. Between me and my four brothers and her four brothers you can believe that she grew up knowing how to handle herself.”

“I can only imagine,” Hattie said.

Duncan subtly put his credit card in the folder Mac had left with their ticket, and set it on the edge of the table.

“Now that we’ve got the hard part out of the way and you’ve agreed to sit for me,” he said. “There’s something else I need to tell you.”

“So serious,” she said, noting the change in his tone.

“Very serious,” he agreed. “Remember how I told you I sometimes just know things.”

“I’m sure your artistic ability makes you sensitive to certain things,” Hattie said diplomatically.

He nodded. “You could say that. I don’t believe there are coincidences in life. Everything happens for a reason. Do you hear me? The good and the bad. They’re all experiences that help us grow and shape the people we become.”

Hattie swallowed, but there was a lump in her throat.

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