In this last chapter, it’s now June 29, 2013 and Lenny Stevens is on his parent’s front porch, trying to become a better artist by painting Sara Taylor’s portrait; she reminds him of Vree Erickson, though she is seven years younger. Lenny pines to have Vree back; the hope that she could return by magic glimmers in his eyes and he believes it could happen if he paints an accurate portrait of Vree. But to do so, he needs to practice … a lot. Discouraged by his lack of skill and troubled that Sara is attracted to him, he stops painting for the day and, upon her encouragement, tells her about the magic green crystal that Vree had found in the sinkhole of her backyard, how she became frightened of it, and that she threw it back before vanishing mysteriously. Sara kisses him before leaving for the day. Lost in memories and troubled thoughts, he sits on the porch with a shard of Vree’s broken mirror (a piece he took from her bedroom when Mrs. Erickson allowed him inside one time) and watches twilight turn to night, long after his mother calls him in to eat; he falls asleep and dreams about Vree.
Cracks In Time
We choreograph the crystal’s dance of light and color to mirror the dance of Creation.
Chapter 3 of 3: June 29, 2013
It was almost four o’clock that Saturday summer afternoon when Lenny Stevens picked a housefly from a mound of oil paint on his canvas. The north end of his parent’s front porch was now part of his makeshift artist’s studio. Heat blistered the air despite the shade and an electric fan blowing a cool breeze from one of three card tables. A young girl in a yellow summer dress reclined on a lounge chair covered in multicolored satin pillows. Her hair was the color of fine gold, her cheeks ruby-red, her smiling eyes like sapphire pools. She glowed of extraordinary purity like a summer sunset in a garden of carnations and lilies.
Well, maybe not the latter, but Lenny liked the poetic way it sounded and how much saying “A summer sunset in a garden of carnations and lilies” reminded him of Vree Erickson.
His newfound model, Sara Taylor, was nine—“Nine-and-a-half,” she’d told him—almost seven years younger than Vree and him. But she owned a beauty similar to Vree’s that he desired to capture on canvas—the way he should have done the first day he had met Vree. Yet the very thing he desired to paint distracted him, filled his heart with a want to have Vree back, to see her lounging on the chair instead of Sara.
The daughter of the woman who owned the bookstore downtown raised a delicate eyebrow and curled up a smile at the corner of her mouth.
“My parents say I can invite you to dinner tonight,” she said. “I hope you like Chicken à la caléndonienne.”
Her voice was the light tinkling of wind chimes in a gentle breeze; the very voice that had sung to him five weeks ago about his amateurish paintings of Vree being absolutely beautiful and emotional and heartfelt.
“With practice you’ll get better,” she had told him. “You can practice painting me, if you’d like.”
Now, anxiety passed over his face.
“Who am I kidding? Vree was the artist. No matter how well I try to paint her image, it won’t bring her back.”
Still, the hope that Vree could return by magic glimmered in his eyes. She had been his true love, the only girl in Ridgewood who had ever been able to reach inside and steal his heart. Being with Vree had made everything in his life seem perfect.
He sucked in a deep breath to help settle his anxiety.
“Chicken à la caléndonienne,” Sara repeated.
“Chicken à la caléndonienne?” Lenny said with a voice like a steel breeze from winter’s coldest hour. “What’s that?”
“Chicken baked in butter, parsley and lemon juice. It’s good.”
It sounded good but Lenny dared not admit it. He said, “Hmmm,” instead and adjusted his paint-splattered smock. Then he took a long flat paintbrush and spread white oil paint across his palette. The milky hue merged into a puddle of yellow, crimson and blue paint until he was certain he had the right color. He approached the large easel with its canvas positioned at eye level, dashed a shaky stroke of color across the fabric, and studied again the face of the young girl he was painting.
He saw it then, it was a look in her eyes: puppy love. He put down the brush, tossed his palette and other brushes on a card table and told Sara the session was over.
“Patience, she reminded him as she rose from the love seat.
“Yes, patience and practice, patience and practice,” he huffed, and then backed down as soon as he saw her amorous face peer at him.
“You’re a really cute guy, Lenny Stevens, and you have talent to be a great artist someday.” She smiled.
“I’m too old for you,” Lenny said.
Sara’s smile remained. “When you’re twenty-five and I’m nineteen, our age difference won’t seem like a big deal.”
“I have a girlfriend.”
“Tell me,” she said, releasing the smile and letting a frown crease her brow. “I want to know what happened to her.” She sat on a metal stool next to the card table cluttered with paint tubes and brushes, picked up an art book and rested it on her lap.
He reached to take the book from her, then pretended he was swatting away a fly from in front of his face. She had helped him find that book on painting people and portraits the day he had gone to Peggy’s Good Used Books, convinced that he could become a better artist overnight simply by reading a how-to book. And he needed to become a better artist so he could paint a true portrait of Vree. Painting lifelike portraits was a magic that people long ago believed stole the soul of the sitter. And if he painted Vree’s portrait well enough and believed in magic hard enough, then he would have Vree back.
That’s how true magic works.
When he finally spoke, his voice rumbled like faraway thunder as he told her everything he knew about Vree finding the magic green crystal in the sinkhole of her backyard.
“She said she threw it back just before her parents had the hole filled. That’s the last time I spoke to her. The police think she ran away from home, but I don’t believe it. Nobody who knew Vree believes that.” He went to the lounge chair, sat, and looked long at his palette of paint next to his easel. Sara scooted the stool closer to him.
“Please don’t stop,” she said. “I want to know what happened.”
“I think her disappearance is connected to the crystal.”
“What do you mean?”
“It brought her magic. But she became afraid of it, like there was something wrong, something hurting her.”
“Black magic,” Sara said. Lenny nodded. He told her about the incident with Frank Bunce, Kathy Montefusco and his computer game.
“They have no memory of it happening.” Lenny sighed. “I know it sounds crazy, but I saw it happen. I became frightened of Vree. And I think it scared her too. She threw the crystal in the sinkhole. And now she’s gone. Vanished. But I know she didn’t run away. That’s not Vree. And I know she isn’t dead.” He tapped his chest. “I’d feel it in here.”
Sara looked away, out at the evening sun casting shadows across the neighborhood. “It’s getting late,” she said. She stood and stepped into the sunlight. “Come have dinner at my place. Go ask your mom.” Her smile returned. It was crooked but beautiful all the same. The evening sun dazzled her body in golden hues.
He closed his eyes to shut out her beauty. She wasn’t Vree. No girl was.
Sara went to him, leaned over his face and pressed her lips against his.
He pushed her away, but the kiss had stirred his soul.
“No,” he said fighting the passion that burned in his heart and made it difficult to breathe. “I can’t.”
“I really like you,” she said.
He stood and covered the painting of her with a white linen sheet. He said, “I have to keep looking. I have to find out what happened to Vree.”
Sara turned to go, then stopped and said, “I’ll help you all I can … if you’ll let me.”
“You’re just a kid,” he said, his voice barely audible.
“Maybe today, but not tomorrow.” Sara left the porch, got on her bicycle and pedaled away.
Lenny sat and got lost in troubled thoughts and memories. Twilight turned to night, long after his mother called him inside to eat.
She came to the door and checked on him at eleven o’clock, then left him alone. He took the shard of Vree’s broken mirror—the piece he had taken from her bedroom when Mrs. Erickson allowed him inside—and fell asleep where he sat, a lonely boy waiting for the girl he loved to return.
In his sleep, he dreamed of her. In his sleep, he smiled and loved again. In his dream, Karrie Erickson stepped onto the front porch at her house on Ridge Road and interrupted a moment when he tried to tell Vree how much he loved her.
“I have banana muffins.” Vree’s mom carried a silver tray.
Lenny took a yellow muffin, held it to his nose, and savored its sweet aroma. Vree swept past them and hurried into the house. A frown chiseled Karrie’s brow and her worried look followed Vree’s wake. “You need to get her back,” she said to him. “She’s lost and I can’t get her to talk to me.” She held open the door for Lenny to enter.
He hesitated, then went inside and climbed a winding set of wide stairs that rose beyond the house. Above the clouds, the stairs ended at a long and wide grand hall of rose-colored marble floors. Bright daylight from an open ceiling far above warmed him. He passed tall and stacked bookcases lining the way like polished oak sentries filled with knowledge and secrets he would never know.
The beautiful blonde-haired girl he looked for was at the center of the room beneath a domed ceiling of colored glass. Prism light swam over her from a bright sun outside. He continued toward her like an awestruck visitor inside a museum of vast riches, who was there solely to see the richest display of all.
A green crystal tarnished the display. It glowed sickly in the clutch of Vree’s left hand.
He slowed his step as he crossed the floor, knowing not to get too close or to touch Vree. The crystal marred her perfection, yes, but she was still beautiful, almost sacred. And this room—her bedroom high above the world—was a sacred place (as ridiculous as it would seem to him when awake at 5:40 and the edges of the dream turning foggy). It was heavenly, if not Heaven itself, proper for the girl who had always spent much of her time reading classic literature and doing highbrow artsy things like writing poetry and oil painting.
She stood at a colossal painter’s easel in the center of the room, in front of a six-foot tall canvas. Her back was to him and he angled his direction so he could see the painting. It was an unfinished life-size portrait of a woman wearing a long, unpainted gown. As he approached, he saw that she had green and ebony eyes on an unfriendly face. Unpainted long hair snaked across bare shoulders done in swift strokes of golden hues next to gentle blues and pink.
“She looks familiar,” Lenny said of the painting. “Who is she?”
“I don’t know.” Vree held no brushes or palette and simply studied the canvas. “Did you want something?” she asked.
Lenny tried to think. The air of his dream shifted slightly. He shrugged. “I don’t remember why I came here.”
“Well, this isn’t a public library.”
Lenny went to her, remembering everything at once. “I need to know where you are. I need to find you so we can be together again … to start over.”
“I’m right here, with her.” She pointed at the painting. When he looked, the cheeks and mouth looked refined, as though someone had added paint to the portrait while he had looked away.
“That’s weird,” he said when he saw the unpainted section of hair fill in with dabs of dark color. As he stepped closer to the painting, the air turned frigid and burned against his cheeks. He felt a sudden winter-blooming nip at the tips of his ears and nose.
“What’s doing this?” he asked Vree.
“It’s the demon,” she answered.
“The demon? What demon?”
“She thinks she’s righteous but she’s really evil. Step back and look.”
Lenny took a step back. Vree, however, took many steps back and motioned for him to follow. When he was at her side again, she pointed at the easel. There, the portrait that emerged was of a woman with long hair—a gorgeous mélange of burnt sienna, gold, and black—that looked soft and shiny and beautiful.
The face in the portrait moved as it came to life. Its dark eyes burned from within green light that grew around the portrait like a strange fog.
Vree said to him, “Do not look away from her.”
The face in the painting spoke and interrupted Vree’s reply.
“Verawenda, my poet and artisan and ever so young and wise pilentum, what have I done to you?” It chortled, revealing canine teeth that were especially long.
Color filled the canvas quickly as the painting completed itself. At the same time, the green fog thickened and grew around the painting for several seconds before it dissipated. The woman stepped down and out of the painting.
Lenny took Vree’s hand—the one without the crystal—and clutched it in his as the woman approached them. Her scarlet silk robe flowed behind her like streams of blood. Vree demanded her to stay back. The woman advanced anyway until she stood a few feet away.
“Foolish girl,” she said as her attention drew to Lenny. “Your Orpheus cannot rescue you,” she hissed.
“I am not dead,” Vree said.
Her attention returned to Vree for a moment. “Neither dead or alive.” She turned and seemed to float back to the easel. “Come, my damaged pilentum,” she said, “and finish the rest of my portrait.”
Several seconds passed before she saw that Vree had not moved. Her face twisted into a horrible scowl.
“I SAID COME TO ME.”
“No,” Vree said as an invisible force yanked her forward, away from Lenny’s grasp. She almost rushed into the woman’s embrace.
“Leave her alone.” Lenny rushed at her, slammed against her, and shoved her against the easel. She shrieked as the canvas dropped to the marble floor and shattered like glass. Each shard of broken glass he looked at showed him the frightened face of Vree inside.
“Let me out,” the faces cried out.
He looked around. Vree was gone. The woman snarled at him, her face twisted into a demented mask of anger.
As he backed away, a tremendous chill fell on him, took his breath away, and caused him to quake as a green fog enveloped him.
He awoke then, bathed in yellow light from the porch light and his chest drenched in sweat as the woman’s curses faded from his mind.
“Just a dream,” he said, picking up the shard of mirror from his lap. But just in case, he searched for a glimpse of Vree’s face inside it. Smoky green fog like the kind in his dream filled the glass and blocked his reflection.
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