The Expression of Love

Submitted into Contest #242 in response to: Write about two characters who meet and/or fall in love in a museum.... view prompt


Romance Mystery Fiction

Stuart Kerr entered the Dallas Museum of Art and pretended to look at the exhibits. A crime had been committed. If he could only spot some clues. Later, he intended to look at the camera footage of the display being set up. This would pinpoint if the criminal act occurred offsite or during the early stages. For now, he looked for any missed detail others overlooked as they perused the entries. So far, nothing seemed out of place.

Since February 2022, the Museum’s management team has been preparing to run a competition. They chose examples of appropriate exhibits from hundreds offered. Its title, ‘The Resilience of Older Persons in a Changing World,’ was taken from the theme of the second World Day of Grandparents and the Elderly, which was declared by Pope Francis. He chose Sunday, July 24th, as the approximate yearly date. On Saturday, the 23rd of 2022, a special exhibition was launched for visitors to view this artistic collection, which recognized and honored the vital role that grandparents and the elderly play. Appropriately, the final date was set as September 28th, the United Nations International Day of Older Persons.

Today, July 30th, Stuart’s investigation began.

The exhibits covered artistic poems about the aged, death, and the war years, as well as all kinds of creative expressions made by the elderly, showcasing their resilience and contribution to modern life. A large patchwork quilt had been stitched by the elderly women of a Dallas rest home. The patterned fabric pieces followed a theme of blue, sky blue, pink, and purple forget-me-nots, symbolic of the elderly. The quilt would be raffled later to help fund Alzheimer’s research. 

The city’s artists had painted, collaged, or sketched appropriate offerings for this show to celebrate the aged. Pottery and sculptures also adorned this collection of art. His favorite artist, Victoria Trent, had produced one of her abstract works. True to her style, it assailed his eyes with a profusion of swirls and shapes. On closer inspection of the pinks and blues, it had hidden, though visible, old faces peeking out among the splashes of color. Its title is “Hidden Presence.”

The section displaying artwork, by and about retired servicemen showcased a variety of masterpieces. Some are death-oriented, and some are celebration-of-life focused. Pictures or paintings of red poppies enlivened many of these exhibits. 

Stuart finally reached the valuable painting he had the most interest in. One of the city’s renowned artists, Blair Standage, painted it many years before. His son had loaned it for the exhibition from his father’s collection.

A woman stood with her back to him as she studied the painting. Golden blond tousled locks cascaded down her back. She wore a pink sweater, a pleated black mini-skirt, and heels. It’s easy to predict wrongly just from a back view. Was she young? Good looking? He walked up and swept his hand through his sandy hair.

“I wonder,” he muttered and studied the painting. “Hello, Miss.” 

She turned towards him. Green eyes met her sparkling blue ones. 

He felt slightly giddy, and his heart skipped a beat. What a doll, he thought. She looked young and beautiful, but her eyes glistened with tears, and she had perfected a look of devastation. He felt drawn to her but resisted the urge to envelop her in his arms and comfort her. 

“W-whatever is the matter?” he said, despite his mouth suddenly feeling dry. 

 “Excuse me, sir, but there is something wrong. Who do I talk to about a problem with a painting?”

“If you mean this one . . . we know. But how do you know?”

“I’m Mr. Blair Standage’s granddaughter . . . When he did the painting, he put me in it.”

He looked at the collage painting of miniature scenes featuring the elderly, each one merging into those around it. He followed her finger as she pointed to a scene on their left. It depicted an elderly person in a bed with a nurse beside him. He peered closer. The nurse looked like the young woman beside him. Red wisps of hair escaped the cap on her head.

“Well, I’ll be. But your hair is golden.”

“That’s what’s wrong. My Grandfather never painted me with auburn hair. I know that for a fact. Also, the feeling overall is that despite looking similar, it lacks some of the depth of the original.”

“Let me introduce myself. I’m Stuart Kerr, the detective handling the case. Please don’t alarm anyone around us.” He flicked out his ID.

Her eyes opened wide. “My name is Genevieve Standage.” She held her hand out to shake his. “Pleased to meet you.”

His fingers curled around her dainty hand. “The pleasure is all mine. . . Do you think you could help me? I will look at the camera footage of the day the exhibition was set up. You may recognize someone or notice something I don’t.”

“Can you please tell me how you knew this painting was fake?” she asked. 

He finally released her hand and looked around to check if anyone had heard her. “I’ll tell you later. At the moment, we don’t want to alarm anyone.” He put his forefinger up to his lips to indicate silence. He casually took her left hand in his left and tucked his right arm over hers. “Let’s pretend we know each other and are looking at the artwork together.”

She smiled conspiratorially, her eyes twinkling.

“Wow!” he muttered under his breath.


He didn’t want to admit he had said it about her and the fact that she seemed to know him already. Out of the corner of his eye, he glimpsed a massive photo in an adjoining room. “I want to look at this one.” He led her away.

They stood before the large black-and-white print of an older couple standing on a beach. The ocean gleamed in the background. The couple was laughing and looking at each other as they walked towards the camera. They strolled along, clasping hands, a carefree couple with eyes only for each other. "Love's Expression."

“What do you think?” he said.

She paused and then astounded him with her wisdom. “This is amazing. The photographer has captured a lifetime of love in a single moment.” 

“Wow! I would never have thought that. You are right . . . I think we all want love to last, don’t we?” 

Did her cheeks turn a little pink? She looked down.

“Come along, and we’ll look at the camera footage . . . It may take a while.”

“That’s alright. I’m not in a rush.”

“When your grandfather painted you, is it because you are a nurse?”

“I am now. I came today as it’s my day off.”

“I’m lucky to have met you. Is your Grandfather’s exhibit in the same frame?”

“I didn’t notice anything different about the frame. Do you think I can be of help?”

“It depends on what’s been captured by the cameras.” He couldn’t believe how readily she had accepted his invitation to assist. Was she an altruistic nurse? Or attracted to him?

After what felt like hours of watching footage of the arrival of the numerous exhibits, the unpacking, and the setup in various locations of the huge area allotted, Genevieve became animated. “Ooh, I think I know him.”

Stuart rewound the footage a little. A man dressed in overalls similar to the truck and van drivers delivering the various works walked purposefully into the Museum with what seemed to be a wrapped picture about the same size as Genevieve’s Grandfather’s painting. Stuart changed to a different camera’s view as the man progressed through the large hall. Those around him concentrated on what they were doing and paid him no heed. The man had a cap on, but the camera caught a view of his face.

“It is him. I wonder why he was employed here. He is our gardener!”

“And what is his name?

“Grant Alvarez. We never asked him to transport the painting.”

“Let’s see what he does from another angle.” Stuart found footage of Grant’s back view as he continued walking. “Look at him striding towards your Grandfather’s original. Now, he’s stopping. He’s turning to check who is around.”

“The wrapping is getting taken off his picture.”

“Struth! It’s the same painting,” said Stuart.

“Not quite, remember. I spotted the difference.”

“He’s swapped them, removed his gloves, and now he’s packing up the real one. He’s even got packaging tape to secure it—the cheek of it.”

“And he’s leaving in the opposite direction. Out a different exit, no doubt.”

“No one even noticed him doing it. Unbelievable.” Stuart pounded the table with his fist.

“And he’s been at our home gardening as if nothing has happened.”

“Look, I’ll get the police to grab this footage from Management, to watch it themselves. I’ll jot down the time it happened and let them know.”

“Did I help?”

“Yes. Well done. You provided me with Grant’s name. Mind you, we could have run his visage through face recognition. Let’s go grab a coffee and a bite at the cafe.”

Genevieve beamed, placing her arm through his as he led her away.

What is happening? he thought.

The smell of freshly brewed coffee filled the air. When she confirmed her choice of snack, he asked for some egg and lettuce club sandwiches. “A large flat white for me and a regular single-shot low-fat cappuccino for the young lady, please.”

Stuart had chosen a table for two in a secluded corner near a garden window. He placed down the sandwiches on their plate, and they sat opposite each other.

She giggled. “I had no idea when I woke up this morning that I’d end up on a date.”

Stuart smiled. “So, this is a date, is it?”

“Do you want it to be?”

“What can I say? I invited you, and you said yes, two of us are here together, and you’re the prettiest girl in the room. It would have to be a date.”

Their eyes met, and their gaze lasted a few moments before she inhaled and looked down, her cheeks pink. Perfect heart shapes patterned the tops of both coffees, which the waitress had delivered. An omen. Genevieve looked up again and laughed.

“Delightful,” said Stuart, not wanting to sound like he had described her. “Er, this setting, I mean . . . I hate to be a date dissolver, but we need to talk about what we’ve found out . . .”

He told Genevieve not to speak about what they knew, not even to her Grandfather. The gardener, Grant, may have taken photos of the painting in their large family home. One part of the house had been set up to display artwork, collectibles, artifacts, and other memorabilia. Private functions could be booked and held there. Genevieve’s father believed the stately home and gardens should be enjoyed by others, along with his late father’s acquisitions and creations. It would have been easy for the gardener to slip in.

The gardener couldn’t have pulled it off on his own. The perfect opportunity had presented itself to switch the original with a fake. Probably, the photos had been mega-enlarged, and an experienced artist had been employed to paint another work to resemble the original. A frame match completed this part of the operation. How did Stuart find out about it? 

Victoria Trent, who had been taught by Professor Blair Standage at the University both she and Genevieve attended many years before, recognized the painting when she spotted it for sale online by chance. Selling for $50,000. She knew it would be a welcome entry in the exhibition. She doubted that the professor’s family knew about the sale. She checked the list of entries while offering her own painting. There were either two identical paintings or the original was stolen without backup. She tipped off the police, and Stuart had been assigned to investigate which painting was the original, how it had happened, and who had been responsible.

Thus far, the investigation had revealed the mode of theft, and one of the individuals involved. Early days yet. 

He offered to walk her to her car.

“It’s been wonderful meeting you, Genevieve.”

“Likewise. Please call me Genny.”

He took his phone from his pocket and typed ‘Genny’ into his contacts. “If you give me your number, I’ll text back so that you can let me know if you remember anything. And I’ll ring and let you know what we find out. If you don’t mind.”

“Of course, I don’t mind. It’s 6421332442. Is that all you would be ringing about? . . . You know, there are more ro—I mean, imaginative settings to talk about things.” She again looked away, her cheeks flushed.

“Of course, we’ll get together again, but it won’t be about work next time.” 

“Thanks. I’ll look forward to it.” Her cheeks dimpled as she smiled. 

She opened her car door, got in, and waved farewell as she drove away. Stuart stood looking after her, smiling. What a relief to know he would see her again.

March 22, 2024 11:08

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Annie Hewitt
22:05 Apr 07, 2024

Very good story. Two plots going on at once. Nicely done. (We both used the word 'tousled' in our romance stories) funny!


03:24 Apr 08, 2024

Thanks for reading, Annie. Yes, same word used!


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Helen A Smith
14:15 Mar 28, 2024

Lovely story Kaitlyn. I enjoyed the pacing and flow. There was more to this than met the eye as the story unfolded. An added bonus in the chance meeting: I can see these two being happy together.


22:36 Mar 28, 2024

Thanks for reading and thanks for the positive comment, Helen.


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Zavier M. Ames
23:38 Mar 27, 2024

Nicely done! I enjoyed the chance meeting and watching another story unfold at the same time, while the chemistry of the characters changes. Not easy to pull off in a short story format.


03:46 Mar 28, 2024

Thanks for reading, Zavier, and glad you enjoyed it.


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Kristi Gott
20:26 Mar 24, 2024

Engaging characters who draw you into the story. Well developed storyline. I enjoyed reading this! Well done!


22:54 Mar 24, 2024

Thank you Kristi.


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Rebecca Detti
15:14 Mar 23, 2024

Lovely story! Really enjoyed Kaitlyn and loved how you unfolded the mystery


19:59 Mar 23, 2024

Thanks for reading, Rebecca.


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Mary Bendickson
17:45 Mar 22, 2024

Cozy mysterious meeting.


20:00 Mar 23, 2024

Thanks for reading, as always, Mary.


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Alexis Araneta
16:05 Mar 22, 2024

Splendid way to combine two prompts ! As usual, lovely flow and details. Splendid job !


19:58 Mar 23, 2024

Thanks Stella. Means a lot coming from such a great writer.


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