Mystery Romance

(The first two chapters of this story are in the first two Armchair Detectives' prompts)

Marion Jay Alderbright knew Sani McGibbons was smarter than she looked. She was careful not to reveal this, and so he hid it too.

She was also a lot prettier than she looked, which was something Jay was too tired from fighting his feelings to dissect the logic of.

In plain fact, she wore badly cut hair dyed blonde, she was too thin with knobbly knees, and her apparel usually involved denim pencil skirts and chiffon blouses with loud geometric prints and complicatedly billowy sleeves.

His liking Sani was a peculiarity he deemed unworthy to call himself. All the parts of himself he used on a daily basis wanted nothing to do with this 'liking'.

Being unable to simply will it away, he did his best to keep it hidden, but Sani took every trouble to reveal it.

If he were going to like a girl, he thought he should like Viola. She was pretty right off the bat and was unaware of it. She studied enough and no more, leaving time for friends, family, and prévenance. She liked animals and wanted to work at the zoo. Halcyon and tender-hearted, she was the kind of girl boys should like. Jay was ashamed of himself for feeling otherwise. He could only be friends with Viola; no matter how much he tried to convince himself she was the better of the two girls, he never changed his mind.

It was an ordeal to keep himself from seeking Sani's acknowledgment and admiration, but he endured it to salvage his feelings about himself.

He absorbed his father's coldness and used it against himself, treating the golden image of Sani in his head like a piece of garbage. Yet with dread he knew that­—despite the character he displayed to others and himself—he was losing the battle and his heart stayed warm.

Oh, he thought, I've been trying to protect her. And I made sure to sell her painting so she could have money. And I'm so jealous of that unknown boy she's been meeting I could cry.

And then he didn't let on how he suspected her.

Gladly, he struck up a necessary conversation with Tank Gibbon—who had come around the corner of the school building—and was free from his thoughts.

"I have the payment for selling the painting," he said, walking up to Tank.

"You do?" Tank's dark blue eyes brightened with a love of money Jay didn't judge. It couldn't be easy losing your parents. Perhaps you looked for earthly comforts to erase the uneasiness.

He brought out the check. Valdis Seabrook, the buyer, had put the names of the siblings in the place of receiver without asking Jay what their names were, but that was just Valdis being Valdis.

"But that's..." Tank began, startled, "much, much more than I asked for. Has this person even seen what he's buying?"

"What's this about?" came a female voice that threatened to make Jay blush. It was something he could not do, and he pushed away the terrible red from flooding his face and ruining his reputation. With doubt that he had succeeded, he looked up at his conqueror.

"Would you like to tell me what's been bought?" she asked Jay. She didn't have to curve her lips to seem to be smiling; it was all in her eyes.

"He wouldn't," broke out Tank, suddenly fierce and ugly, his timidity vanishing. "Go away, Sani. We both don't like you."

"Really?" She reached out to snatch the check from Jay's hand, and he was horrified to find his grip go limp. She looked at the check, the part where it said her name, and the part where it made note of the object of purchase. And she smiled fully. "Oh, I see." She handed the check back to Jay, but not before she'd made a show of taking his hand. So much for leaving behind my thoughts of her.

"This is none of your business!" Tank growled. "Don't you think you ought to get going when nobody wants you?"

"Considering you sold my painting without my permission, well, I wonder whose business it is, Tank?"

"It's a stupid ol' painting, and you know it."

"No, I know that you feel that way, but it isn't the way I feel at all. I wouldn't have painted it if I thought it was a waste of my time." She sighed. "You're so fond of life, Tank, you can't bear to live without money. But don't you think you ought to earn it yourself instead of stealing other people's gains? Now, Marion I can forgive. He was so very nice to me about the painting." She smiled directly at him. "Thinking it was funny and all."

"I don't think it's funny," Jay asserted.

"Yes you do!" Sani exclaimed, surprised, "You laughed when I showed it to you after I'd finished it."

A sour quiet crept up. It tasted like spoiled milk in Jay's mouth. Tank gave him an odd look. "I was laughing at it, not with you," Jay said, his voice successfully cold, with a touch of anger. She faced him down, and he was forced to stare straight into her eyes. The disappointed, censorious look she returned him didn't help his resolve not to please her.

"Fine then. No one thinks it's funny. But I still painted it, and I want the money for it. Not one cent belongs to either of you." Her voice burned with unhappiness and asperity. "I was wondering where my painting went, and here it is found, in the dirty hands of two boys who can think only of money."

She didn't seem to notice her contrariness, but Jay noticed and could not dispel its portent.

She took the check back, and made a show of not touching him. When she left, he knew he should follow her. Valdis would do it. He had a knack for getting to the bottom of things, and he liked to know everything because you couldn't have a knack without liking something.

Jay was curious as a kitten. He liked to know, and he was gratified with satisfaction when he found the bottom of things. But there were certain times Jay felt it was important for a thing to be left unsaid.

Supposedly keeping a dangerous secret hurt. Well, what about hearing an unhappy truth?

It would do him no good, certainly, to follow Sani McGibbons. But Valdis would do it, and Valdis wasn't here, so Jay had to take on the mantle.

There must always be someone who will find out the truth, to help other people. If they can do, they should.

He said his goodbyes to Tank and went off in the other direction, circling back quickly to catch up with her. This was the perfect time to follow her. He had a feeling she had someone she wanted to laugh about money with.

She went to a lower part of town; not lower in geography, but in morality and quality. She disappeared into an old shed by a tuckered out two room dwelling. Jay crept to the window and peeked over the wild blueberry bushes fanning the panes.

Inside the shed were piles of neatly stacked furniture in pristine condition and cardboard boxes, some open on groups of items without one theme. He couldn't see Sani, but another door at the back was ajar. He heard a voice unlike hers from that direction, someone she must be talking to.

Impulsively, he slipped inside and hid behind one of the stacks of furniture. He was in reach of one of the closed boxes. He quietly pulled the lid open.

It was a box of paintings done by Sani. Some were done in her intentionally comical style that he found so adorable. But underneath them were crude attempts at copying a Master.

At the bottom of the box, there was a painting that looked exactly like the original Master, chipped paint and everything. But Jay figured Valdis would say it wasn't.

Staring at the forged painting, Jay couldn't help thinking unpleasant thoughts.

Right before he was hit on the head and knocked unconscious, he was thinking of how some truths are better left unsaid.

He'd always hoped if you had an ability it was because you were meant to do it, and if you were meant to do it, you enjoyed it. But reading between the lines of crime and seeing Sani's name there, had not given him an ounce of pleasure.

(The next two chapters are in the next two consecutive Armchair Detectives' prompts)

October 25, 2019 21:06

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