It was Friday, the day before Laird’s wedding. Antonia was feeling really cut up about it but what could she do about it? As much as she wanted to, she couldn’t prevent it from happening. Tomorrow, she was going to sit in the church and pretend to be happy like everyone else when she was going to be all torn up inside. How cruel of her father and everyone else to force to watch the man she loved marry another woman–a woman whom she detested and wished would suddenly drop dead. Why couldn’t tomorrow be Martina’s funeral instead of her wedding?
Feeling sick to the stomach, Antonia quickly changed, grabbed her coat and run out of her room. She couldn’t bear to stay in the mansion any longer. She was sick and tired of hearing about the bloody wedding. She had to get out of there or go insane. She didn’t even bother to tell her father that she wasn’t going to join him for dinner.
She jumped into her car and just drove. At first, she had no idea where she was going. All she needed was to be alone and as far away from the mansion as possible. Then, she thought of the art gallery, the one Emma and Martina mentioned when the three of them had lunch. Maybe she should check it out.
At the traffic stop, she googled the name of the gallery to see where it was located. She headed over there. It was opened until 9pm on Fridays. I was now seven-fifteen. It took her about twenty minutes to get there. She pulled into the parking lot and turned off the ignition. She got out of the car and closed the door.
Antonia stood there, looking at the art gallery and debating whether or not she should drop in. She was curious to meet this friend of Laird’s. It bothered her that he had so many female friends, especially ones who were single and looked like models. And it bothered her that they knew more about him than she did when she had known him the longest. Her mouth tightened. Damn him for making her sick with jealousy like this.
She remembered what Martina and Emma said about this artist friend. They had known each other for fifteen years. They met three years after he graduated from Oxford. They had been friends much longer than he and Emma had been friends. And he had introduced Martina to her. He never introduced her to any of his friends. She met Emma when she and Mr. Pendlebury went to the opera and he introduced them. If it weren’t for Emma, she never would have known about this Embeth.
Why didn’t Laird mention her when they had lunch together or encourage her to visit the gallery? It was as if he wanted to keep that part of his life from her and that hurt. She wanted to know everything about him–to be a part of every facet of his life.
Well, she was going meet this Embeth even though she was going to be at the wedding. Resolutely, she walked away from her car and through the parking lot, making her way towards the gallery. What was she going to do when she got there? Pretend to be interested in the exhibits?
She paused before she opened the door and went inside. There were a few people milling about and she looked around wondering if Embeth was there. It was a nice, brightly lit and modern looking space with a mixture of paintings, photography and sculpture. She stood in front of a painting of a half-naked man sitting in a chair with his shoulders hunched and his right hand propping up his head while the left hung over the side. She turned up her nose at it, thinking that it wasn’t her idea of good art and moved on to the next painting.
There was another painting of a little girl playing with a puppy. Happiness and love shone on her face. It was a beautiful painting and it tugged at her heart. The little girl reminded her of herself and the happiness she used to enjoy when Laird and she were children. Oh, Laird, she thought as sadness came over her. If only we can go back to those happy times before things changed and you left.
“Are you all right?” a voice asked, startling her.
She turned and found herself staring at a woman with a thick mass of red hair. “Yes, I’m all right. This painting just resonated with me.”
“Yes. It has resonated with a lot of people.”
“I’ve never had a puppy but I know what it’s like to love the way this little girl does.”
“Yes, it reflects the love a parent has for a child or the love God has for us.”
“Or the love of a woman for a man.”
“Yes. And the love a man has for a woman.”
“A couple of friends told me about this gallery and I thought I would stop by today. I’m glad I did because of this painting.”
“I’m happy you stopped by too. We have events which you might be interested in such as fundraisers, presentations, Photography and Art Workshops, etc. You can grab a brochure on your way out or visit our website.”
“Are you a gallery attendant?”
“No, I’m actually the owner.”
“You’re Embeth Loughty?”
“I’m Antonia Pendlebury.”
“Yes. I’m Laird’s sister.”
“Oh. I didn’t know that Laird had a sister.”
“I’m his adopted sister.”
“Oh. Well, it’s a pleasure to meet you, Antonia.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you too.” They shook hands. “You have a very nice gallery here.”
“Thank you. Owning a gallery was something I had wanted to do for years and I finally did. Laird was very supportive and he came to the opening.”
“You and he known each other for a long time.”
“Yes. For over fifteen years.”
“Were you and he ever more than friends?”
“No, but we had a long standing joke between us that if neither of us was married by the time we turned forty, we would marry each other.” She laughed.
Antonia stared at her, not smiling. She didn’t find the remark funny at all.
“Well, he’s 39 now and he’s engaged to be married. I’m so thrilled for him. I met his fiancée, Martina in June when they came here. She and I immediately hit it off.”
“Are you going to be at the wedding?”
“Of course! Laird would never forgive me if I’m not.”
“I guess it would mean a lot to him if you were there.” And it probably wouldn’t make a difference to him if I were there or not, she thought resentfully. She could see why Emma’s husband thought this woman was a model. She was stunning and that made Antonia dislike her all the more. Was Laird ever attracted to her? Was that why he had made that foolish pact with her about marrying each other if they were still single at 40? She couldn’t help wondering if there might have been something between them despite everyone’s insistence to the contrary.
“Yes, it would. And I wouldn’t miss it for the world. I have to make sure I walk with a lot of tissues because I know that I’m definitely going to cry at this wedding.”
Antonia glanced at her watch. “Well, I’d better be going.”
“Again, it was nice meeting you. I’ll see you at the wedding.”
“Yes. Goodbye.” She forced a smile and then, turned and walked away.
Embeth watched her go with a puzzled expression on her face. She got the feeling that Antonia’s visit had nothing at all to do with the gallery. And she sensed that she didn’t like her and that it had to do with Laird. Was Antonia in love with him? It would explain a lot of things–like her interest in their friendship and her reaction when Embeth mentioned their foolish marriage pact. She hadn’t cracked a smile. Before that she had asked her point blank if Laird and she were ever more than friends. Why should she care about that? And more to the point, why didn’t Laird ever mention to her that he had an adopted sister?
Shaking her head, she turned and went over to a man who looked like he had a question about one of the paintings. One of these days, she was going to ask Laird about Antonia. Perhaps there was a reason why he never mentioned her. Maybe there was bad blood between them even though they weren’t actually related.