Jenny hit Send and looked out the window at Boylston Street below. Boston was usually sleepy, but it was oppressively quiet a few minutes past midnight. She had been in the office since 8:37 Sunday morning, thirteen minutes after the special, high-pitched ping she had designated for emails from her boss, Michael, had woken her. Call me now, the email said. She put him on speaker so she could listen to him bloviate about the upcoming settlement discussions while she quickly braided her hair, threw an oxford and a blazer over the pair of yoga pants she’d slept in, and topped off the outfit with her black, shin-length down coat. She walked the ten blocks from her South End condo to the office with her hood pulled tightly around her face, trying to gird herself against the sharp winter wind. Michael wanted her to run all the settlement numbers again. Each and every contingency. The economic experts had already been through it—three times—but Michael didn’t care. It would be tedious, and it would take at least twelve hours. Maybe sixteen.
Jenny hadn’t planned an exciting weekend anyway, but there was something especially depressing about beginning and ending her week in the same exact spot, thirty stories above the street, drinking the same stale plastic pod coffee from the office kitchen and eating the same turkey sandwich from the deli in the lobby as she did almost every day.
She counted the billable hours up in her head: 14.4 hours for Sunday, 0.1 for Monday. Maybe all her work would get her a begrudging “thanks.” She wondered what Michael had done during the day. Probably played a round of golf in Tampa. She never knew where he was, but she was expected to be tethered to her phone and mere minutes from the office at all times. Only two more years to go until she paid off her law school loans. What next? It didn’t even matter. Anything but this. At least she knew that tonight, she’d get herself home, warm up, take a shower, turn on something on Netflix, and fall asleep in front of the TV before another high-pitched ping from Michael snapped her back into reality when the sun came up.
As she was throwing her phone into her bag, she heard an alert—the low guitar strum for her best friend from college, Davis. You up? the text message read.
Yup, all ok? Jenny typed back quickly.
Where are you?
Office. Going home.
The phone rang. “Michael is such a bastard,” Davis said by way of greeting.
“He is that,” Jenny responded, grateful that Davis was always on her side, without even knowing what had happened.
“Okay, so I know your day has sucked, but I need a favor. I’m at work right now, too. Can you meet me?”
Jenny sighed. The plan for her last few waking hours really sounded good. She had planned on opening a bottle of wine, too. But Davis hardly ever needed a favor. He had even stopped haranguing her about how little they got to hang out. They had lived together when she was in law school, and he was getting a PhD in art history. Now he was an assistant curator at the Albus Booker Museum, located only a few blocks from Jenny’s office.
“I’ll be right there,” Jenny said, wishing she’d worn long johns and warmer socks. The T wasn’t running, and it was a cold walk.
Davis was waiting for her at the service entrance, holding an armful of folders. His normally gelled hair was a floppy, pancaked mess on the top of his head, his contacts had apparently dried up so he was wearing glasses that were too small and wiry to be fashionable, and his normal uniform, a black T-shirt and slightly tight black pants, looked stretched and wrinkled. When Jenny remembered what she was wearing and where she’d been for the last several hours, Davis confirmed what she feared.
“You look like hell,” he said. She twisted her braid into a knot at the top of her head and straightened her cashmere scarf.
“You too,” she said, following him inside.
He stopped in the stairwell and slumped against the railing. “She’s upstairs so we have to whisper.”
Davis’s eyes got wide. He leaned toward Jenny and whispered, “Blake Harrison.”
Jenny looked back at him, not knowing the name or why she should. In response to her silence, Davis said it again, a little more slowly. “Blake Harrison.”
“The star of this year’s Whitney Biennial. She did those huge towers made of hair.”
Jenny wanted to laugh but could tell that Davis would have been hurt if she had. This was why she didn’t like contemporary art. She had some Monet posters on her wall at work. That was about as far as she’d go. She had no interest in towers made of hair. That’s why she usually liked the Albus Booker Museum, which Bostonians just referred to as the Albie. It was small, but it was focused on the classics. Its founder was some Frick-like baron who collected stodgy western art—all unquestionably Jenny’s taste. They had some Greek amphoras, a few Rembrandt drawings, one of the world’s few Vermeers, Degas watercolors, and a few Rodins. Just what she liked. It was one thing she and her boss Michael had in common.
“Well, Blake is upstairs where we’re installing her show, and she’s freaking out and threatening to walk, and I need a lawyer.”
A lawyer. When Davis started working at the Albie, he invited Jenny to events and tried to fix her up with his friends. After about a year of Jenny standing him up because she had to fly with Michael to interview a witness, or Michael needed her to rewrite a brief, or Michael needed her to go to D.C. immediately because a settlement had fallen through, Davis got creative. The museum needed occasional pro bono legal help with its art lending contracts, and Davis recommended Jenny. Michael let Jenny do it, because he liked bragging that the firm was a “sponsor” of their more high-profile shows. Jenny, in exchange, got to spend a few hours every month at the museum with Davis, reviewing and drawing up new contracts. It was her favorite thing about her job, and it wasn’t even supposed to be part of it.
Jenny sat on the stair next to Davis and patted his hand. “Start from the beginning.”
“Blake’s show opens Friday. We don’t usually do contemporary, but this new installation of hers is in conversation with the masters, so the director went out on a limb, said I could book it. So it’s on me.”
Jenny nodded. “Okay, congrats. What happened?”
“I mean, before the Biennial it wouldn’t have been a big deal, but now here she is, and we’re already getting press.”
Davis’s knee started bouncing frantically. Jenny squeezed his thigh, gently, trying to root him in the moment. “And?” she said.
“She’s refusing to work because we transposed two of her measurements. For one of the rooms there is an 18-foot-long wall with a door, and a 14-foot wall without a door, and we put the door on the wrong wall, and now she says she refuses to install the exhibit, and she’s going back to New York.” Davis’s voice was speeding up in a kind of panic.
“So, you want me to—” Jenny searched Davis’s face. His brows were knit.
“I’d call the General Counsel, but she’s in Rome dealing with that Greek amphora thing and didn’t answer my email, and frankly, I want to be able to handle this myself, I mean, handle it with your help. I just don’t know what to do. She won’t even talk to me now.”
Jenny sighed. This Blake character sounded like far too many of Davis’s artist friends. An irrational, arrogant bully. “So, she’s refusing to work because one wall is the wrong length?”
“Two walls, actually, but yes.”
“What’s going in the walls?”
“Nothing. Nothing at all. I mean. Lights. It’s nothing but light. She’s recreating paintings, but just the light. To give the feeling of being in the painting, but with…uh, well, without the painting.”
Jenny suppressed an eye roll. “You have the contract?”
Davis handed her the stack of paper. Jenny thumbed through the folder and checked the key provisions as he looked at her expectantly, knee still bouncing. She hadn’t drafted the contract, but whoever had had done a decent job. The museum was well protected.
She gave Davis a smile. “This looks good. So. What do you want me to do?”
“Jenny, she’s a little scary. Like, she’s just sitting there refusing to work because of the walls. If she goes—I’m gonna lose my job—”
“You want me to tell her she’s legally obligated to stay?”
“Just make sure we open on Friday, okay? It’s going to be an amazing show. She’s brilliant. I mean—”
“She sounds like a fucking diva,” Jenny said. As the words came out of her mouth, the door at the top of the stairwell swung open with a clunk and light flooded in.
A woman was standing in the doorway, backlit so her thin silhouette was well-defined, but her features were still visible and bathed in a kind of dim golden light. Her chin was turned up a little, but Jenny could see a slight smile and heart-shaped lips. Her eyelids were dark and heavy, which made her light brown eyes seem especially alive. Her hair was short, like a few months ago it had all been shaved off, and the tidy strands looked like if a palm ran over them, they’d shoot sparks. She was wearing an oversized silk button-down shirt and leggings. Her feet were bare. She had only appeared at the top of the stairs for a moment, but Jenny felt like she’d been taking her in for hours.
Finally, the woman spoke. “That’s not a very nice thing to say about someone you’ve never met.”
Jenny’s face flooded with heat, and she looked plaintively at Davis, who leapt to his feet and looked back and forth at both of them for a few beats until he swallowed audibly and said, “Um, hi, Blake. We were just—”
“And you are?” Blake said, looking down at Jenny, still with a slight upturn on her lips.
“Jennifer O’Toole, the museum’s attorney,” Jenny said, in a loud, low voice she didn’t know she had.
A new author, hopefully not her last. This book is well written, excellent pacing and a beautiful, sensual story! Loved it!