Marcus Trent entered the door of the gallery. He mingled with the people while furtively looking for his daughter, Victoria. He spotted her but tried to appear like a viewer of the artwork displayed on the walls.
It had been very kind for Uncle Jack and Auntie Ruth to invite him to see Victoria's first exhibition. She had become well known for her fantastic abstract and still-life paintings. Both styles she does equally well. It puzzled him that anyone would choose something from real life and, with lines and splashes of color, render it unrecognizable. He looked at the painting "A Bowl of Fruit."
"If you say so," he muttered. The vivid green, purple, and orange swirls mingled and danced before him. Indeed, it is a work of art you could get lost in. "Lost" is the operative word.
He spotted her across from where he stood, near the opposite wall. She never failed to take his breath away. All grown up, diminutive, slim, long black hair, dressed in a figure-hugging black gown. He couldn't decide if he felt overly concerned as her father or dismayed at missing so much of seeing her grow up. She looked a vision. He peeked from behind a pillar. Should he look at the artwork or go over and talk to her?
Maybe he could extricate her from the young man who stood close to her. Too close. He could ask her to show him her paintings.
He straightened his shirt collar and brushed some lint off his jacket before striding over to her. "Hello, Victoria, my dear."
Victoria looked up and opened her eyes wide. "Dad, you came. How did you know?"
"I was sent an invitation by Uncle Jack and Auntie Ruth. I wouldn't miss this for the world."
"You've come a long way. It's a surprise. . . I'd like you to meet Steven Harper, my manager. . . Steven, meet my father, Marcus Trent."
Marcus shook Steven's hand. He wondered if this Steven was just a professional partner, or more. Fathers do worry about such things, he told himself.
"Can I steal you away, Victoria. I'd love you to show me the paintings. I'd love some explanation about them."
Victoria had a look of dismay on her face. "I-I didn't know you were coming. Have you already seen them?"
Marcus took her arm and began to lead her away. He pretended not to notice her reluctance. "No, I want you to show them to me, dearest. I've travelled a long way to see them."
One part of the gallery displayed numerous abstract paintings. Any number of them would be a spectacular backdrop in the right setting with the appropriate décor. None of them were variations, each a unique artistic expression. Some resembled the style of Van Gogh, others Picasso, some appeared cubist, and others a geometrical fusion of color. Victoria explained her original inspirations and what each painting meant to her.
"And this one here. I saw a beautiful sunset in Hawaii. I went to the beach to paint after a busy day, saw it, and reduced it down to its essence – how it made me feel. Then what that feeling symbolized. Of course, you look at it and want to get it at first glance. Art isn't like that. You need to absorb it and ponder thoughtfully. Think about the emotion behind it. You need to assess the balance of the colors and how they work together. Naturally the painting is centered on the sun which is slipping below the horizon. Hence the lines. You can see fronds of green palms, the kaleidoscope of shades in the sky – orange, red and yellow. And it reflects in the sea where it breaks up the ripples in a multitude of reflected prisms."
He had watched her animated face. "Yes, I do see that. Thanks for explaining." He appreciated why her uncle and aunt had sent her to study Art and Drama at Rutgers University. They had seen her talent for drawing, creativity, and keenness to learn art. Her mother had been artistic as well.
"I'm so happy you had the opportunity to follow your heart. You have always been good at drawing. You wouldn't have had the opportunity, if you lived with me. Jack and Ruth have been so supportive. They must be so proud of you."
"Yes, they are. I'm so grateful to them."
They walked into another part of the gallery, which annexed from the other. It had still-life paintings adorning the walls. The biggest one caught Marcus' eye, and he stared. Even the title, "In Another Life," shocked him. He felt like he couldn't breathe, and his heart thumped in his chest. He looked at Victoria, open-mouthed, and she stared at him, her face turning pinker by the second. He looked back at the painting.
"This is why you asked if I had already seen the exhibits? You expected I may be shocked to see it. I've seen a smaller version. I still have it! It's ancient." He took in the scene. A couple stood in the foreground, on a sandy shore, looking out to sea. Out on the ocean could be seen a vessel. It had a likeness to a Viking ship. Sea and sky melded in a profusion of blues and greens. High in the sky soared a bird. Not a seabird. He could barely breathe.
Victoria looked up at him. "I know what this means."
He looked her in the face, "Who are you?"
"I am your daughter."
"I know you are my daughter in this life. Who were you before?"
"I don't know what happened. I died in a fire and woke up as someone else. This time, I woke up as someone dying. Rose Trent. She died shortly after. Then I became her daughter Victoria. What happened to you?"
"All that happened to you, was during my time in prison. I woke up in my cell. . . Are you telling me that you transferred while I slept?"
"You must have slept through it and woken up as Marcus Trent."
"Is that why you pretended not to know me?"
"How could I let on? I did know you. I'm frightened of being with you. I wanted to survive and have a life."
"As I recall, you did that last time as well."
"Until the last five minutes when your wife shot and killed me."
"It was a tragic accident. I've been so sorry about that. You know how much I wanted to stop what happened. To stay with my family."
"How could I know that? We saw each other for all of ten minutes max. And I told you to leave."
"Do you want me to leave now? It's a wonder you didn't tell me to leave the moment you saw me earlier."
"No, I don't want you to leave. We do need to talk, but not here." She shook her head and sighed. "Can we continue?"
"Fancy doing that painting! It's such a giveaway!"
"Can we just move on now, please?"
"The paintings in this part are more me. There's something tranquil about seeing things as they are in real life, except for that shock earlier. I'm impressed."
"I've been making a comfortable living selling my paintings."
"Good for you. Were you planning on selling "In Another Life?" He couldn't help sounding critical.
"No. Actually, Uncle Jack and Aunt Ruth really like that one and I'm going to give it to them."
"Have you told them the story behind it?"
"Of course not. It's not the kind of thing to tell people."
"Would you have ever told me if I hadn't found out?"
"Please leave it for now, Dad. We will have a good talk another day."
His eyes lighted on a portrait, and he felt annoyed again. "Good grief! What is this?"
The portrait before him bore an uncanny resemblance to Victoria. The young woman wore a dress from during the Industrial Revolution Era in England. Her face looked dour.
"How do you explain this one? It's not in the manner of Mona Lisa. They reckon she almost smiles. I've never seen it. This isn't you. I'd have liked to see a pretty one of you smiling."
"People think it is a self-portrait and wonder why I look so sad."
"It's a tad worse than sad. You never look like that. It's that witch Olivia. The doppelganger from hell."
"It certainly shocked me to have such a twin. Her actions before I became Rowena created a tragedy for Tom and me. I remember the first time I saw her. I thought I was looking into a mirror until I saw the scowl on her face. And she pummeled me. I had no idea what that was about. If I'd had my way, I would never have allowed her impersonation of me from the start. Have no idea how she could pull it off. She was such a vulgar wench. I tried to do a self-portrait, but this is what happened. The ghost of Olivia lives on."
He shook his head as he remembered. "It was impossible to change the course of our fates at that time. I tried to soften her by being kind. . . Will any other paintings here shock me? I remember I nearly fainted when I saw two of your little sketches. One of them was a lie. You had yourself standing next to Tom with a baby in your arms. Especially as you and Tom were not together. We'd kept the fact secret that you were having a baby. It wasn't his baby, and you never gave birth. It creeped me out. What possessed you to draw such a picture?"
"There's something you don't know about back then. I was never going to leave with the family. You were going to go on without me. The sketch was left where Tom would find it, in case he didn't return in time. In case you made me go with you. It showed him my answer. My answer was 'yes.' He wanted to marry me and care for the baby. Unfortunately, evil Olivia got in on the act and ruined everything."
Marcus looked at her with his eyes wide open. "So, you told him everything?"
"He loved me. There I was, a ruined woman. I thought if I told him the truth, he'd be happy to let me go away with you all, but it made him more determined to marry me."
"You have spent all your lives trying to be as far away from me as possible." He looked genuinely pained.
"Dad, it's not really like that. We will talk, and then you'll understand. But not here. Please just look at the exhibits. I promise there isn't anything else here that will bring back bad memories," she spoke earnestly and placed her arm through his. "I'm proud of you, Dad. I know we've been apart. But you've done a lot of good. I know you loved my mother dearly. And you've been in agony since she died."
"Not only did she die, but I believed she'd left me behind. Like Anna got left behind this time. You have no idea how I felt. The only comfort was to be on the farm where I lived before. It wasn't the same as before. But it deadened some of the heartache."
"But I do know how you feel, Dad." Tears filled her eyes. "It's how I felt when Tom came to rescue me from the burning mill, and he held me in his arms at last. We coughed and choked and tried to crawl our way out. We almost made it, but didn't. We died together. I'll never get over him. It was all Olivia's fault. I'm so sorry we haven't been close. When we finally talk about things another day, you'll understand why it's taken until now. I've so much to tell you. I've got a way we can fix this mess. I promise."
"Don't worry. We will talk. It's been a long time coming. What's a few more days?"