LINK TO CHAPTER ONE HERE.
“Amazing,” Dominique said as she tilted her head left, then right. “It’s um…a unique composition. Almost as if…well, he was such a handsome man in real life. And this…. It almost reminds me of a caricature. The way it exaggerates his most unflattering features. But they do that, don’t they? These grotesque pictures of very famous people. It’s so interesting because I feel like I’m looking at a different version of him. And yet, the work is so striking but also off-putting.” Dominique leaned in to examine the artist’s signature. “Who is the artist?” she asked as she turned back to face Mia.
Mia stared up at the portrait. “We don’t know. I took this from my childhood home several years ago, and I didn’t even think to ask who the artist was. We were trying to include it under our insurance policy earlier this summer, but without any history or even knowing who the artist was….” Mia shrugged. “They told us it was impossible to estimate a value without more information.”
“You should take it to some of the dealers in the city,” Dominique suggested. “I bet they could help you figure it out.”
Mia nodded. “I’ve thought about it. It’s just one of those things you never actually get around to taking care of, I guess.”
“I can’t even begin to imagine what it must have been like for you. Growing up? I mean, the stories you must have.” Dominique smiled wide at this—an open invitation for Mia to tell her a story, any story about a childhood spent growing up as the daughter of arguably the most famous film director in the entire world, Raphael Renaud.
Mia opened her mouth to respond but realized that even after all these years, she still didn’t have a straightforward and easy way to convey the inevitable information that must come next. Or if it was even something she wanted to share with this woman she barely knew.
Dominique watched her, her eyes wide with a hungry expectation, and waited for Mia’s reply.
Maybe this was why she avoided getting to know new people, this need to constantly explain her past. Because there wasn’t any way to have relationships with other people without them learning, almost immediately, about the singularly most tragic event of her life.
It was all because of him. Raphael Renaud. If her father had been nobody special to anyone else, she would likely avoid these questions for as long as she pleased.
No one would ever have to know unless she chose to tell them.
But her father wasn’t a nobody; he was one of the biggest somebodies of his generation. And the public’s continuing love and admiration of him and his extensive body of work meant that Mia never got to avoid her past.
Because her past was always the one topic everyone most wanted to hear her talk about.
“The truth is,” Mia said. “I don’t remember a thing about him.”
Dominique furrowed her brow and pulled her head back in surprise. “What do you mean?”
Mia glanced over her shoulder and checked that the kids were still too occupied with their own chatter and snacks to pay attention to her and Dominique. When she turned back, she could see that Dominique looked confused.
Mia inhaled once, then reached for the sheet of her jet-black hair on the right side of her head and swept it back and over her shoulder to keep it out of the way. With her slender index finger, Mia pointed to the place on her forehead where her scar began and traced its path down her face. “You already know how my father died?” Mia asked, knowing the answer was yes. The entire planet knew about Raphael Renaud’s tragic and untimely death.
Mia drew in another breath and continued. “Well, what is less well known is that I was there when he was killed.”
“Oh god, Mia.”
Mia held her palms up. “But like I said, I don’t remember a thing about him. Not anything from that night either. Everything I know is what I’ve been told or read, but there isn’t anything I know just from my own experience. Apparently, I walked in right after the intruder shot my father.”
Dominique opened her mouth, decided against whatever she was going to say, then changed her mind again and asked. “I’m sorry, and I know this isn’t any of my business, and you can tell me to go to hell if you want, but—”
“He pushed me,” Mia said. From our third-floor landing, over the banister, and headfirst onto the marble floor below.”
“I should have died, and I was very near death for months after. There were years of surgeries, painful rehabilitations…therapy.” Mia sighed. “And on many fronts, I’ve made tremendous progress.”
“I think that’s an understatement.”
“Thank you. But when it comes to my memory…there just isn’t anything before my early conscious days in the hospital after the accident. If it weren’t for my sister, photographs, articles about my father and our lives, well, the public part of our lives anyway…I wouldn’t have any sense of who I once was or where I came from.”
Dominique looked shocked. She shook her head twice, then looked back at the portrait. “I’m so sorry, Mia. What a horrifying thing for your family to endure…and it was never solved? Is it still a cold case?”
“Yes. My mother and sister were able to give a description of the man. But he was never found.”
“He’s still out there,” Dominique blurted. It was the same thought that ran through Mia’s head every day.
“Doesn’t that scare you?” Dominique asked, but then seemed to realize how invasive she was being. “I’m sorry. I guess I don’t know what to say,” she confessed.
“If it’s any consolation, I’m not sure anyone else ever does either.”
“You don’t know me, I get that, but please know I would never repeat—”
“No,” Mia shook her head. “I know you wouldn’t,” she lied. She expected Dominique would share the details with her friends as soon as she left. But Mia couldn’t worry about that now; she needed to get through the rest of this visit. If Dominique felt overwhelmingly sorry for Mia, that may be for the best. “Of course, you wouldn’t. Can I get you something to drink? More wine?”
Dominique checked her phone. “It’s nearly five,” she said. “And I do need to get home and get dinner started…but I could probably stay for one more glass.”
“Perfect.” Mia forced a smile. “I’ll go grab another bottle from the cellar.”
A quarter after six, Mia finally said goodbye to Dominique and Caleb and closed the front door. The relief of having them out of her house was immediate. It wasn’t that she didn’t like them, not at all. She felt the same way about having anyone over to the house—Mia found socializing exhausting. It didn’t matter if it was one of Alexander’s, far too many, New York dinner parties or this fellow mother from Sasha and Everly’s class.
If she should ever be allowed to do what she pleased when she pleased, Mia might not ever speak to anyone beyond her own immediate family ever again.
She realized this put her twin girls at an incredible social disadvantage.
Both were curled next to each other on the family room couch, ten minutes into their hundredth viewing of Beauty and the Beast, with a bowl of popcorn between them. Despite the girls’ ability to quote the movie from beginning to end, Mia knew neither one would move more than an inch for the next hour and a half.
Mia slid her last and final pill from her pocket and into her mouth as she turned to collect her and Dominique’s dirty wine glasses from the portrait room. But when she stood over the coffee table, she realized that, even though the 2012 Silver Oak cabernet bottle was empty, Dominique’s glass was still full.
Mia lifted the glass to eye level and could plainly see there was not a single mark on the glass. Not a smudged fingerprint, not even a hint of Dominique’s plum lip balm. Dominique had sat here, talking to Mia for over an hour, without taking a single sip of wine.
Mia placed the glass back on the table and lowered herself onto the pale blue couch. She had drunk the entire bottle herself? How had she not noticed that Dominique was completely ignoring her own glass?
Her mind spun, trying to recapture the events, the conversation, from the last hour. But it was a blurry film, overlaid and distorted by the drinking and her meds. What had they talked about?
Her eyes drifted to the portrait of her father hanging above her, and that’s when she knew—they had talked about him. She didn’t remember exactly, but Mia had a broad stroke of Dominique’s questioning and then her own acquiescence.
Mia leaned forward, plucked Dominique’s glass from the table, and raised it to her lips. What had she said? What had she revealed about herself and her family? She took a large swallow, stood up, and walked several unsteady steps toward the fireplace beneath the portrait.
With her free hand, Mia steadied herself by grasping the ornately carved white oak mantle. Then, she reached for one of the silver-framed pictures among the many on display.
Most of the photos were of the girls, she and Alexander, and their family vacations. There was also Mia, and Alexander posed on their wedding day in the Hamptons. But this photo, this photo was grainy and old. Mia tried to make her eyes focus on the subjects, the four people standing in their early 90s summer clothes at the center of the lush, green lawns of their gold coast home, Beaumar Manor.
The combination of wine and medication made it impossible to focus, and time had drained all the life and color from this photo but this was her family. Not the one she’d created with Alexander, the one she’d been born into. Her father, Raphael, her mother, Pixlie, and her older sister Holly. Years before a man broke into their home and changed their lives forever. A man who was never found and never held accountable. A man who could be anywhere.
What if he was watching her?
Mia managed to avoid answering Dominque’s question. Did it scare her?
The answer was yes. It scared her. Every minute of every day.
Mia closed her eyes to stop the room from spinning.
She needed to call her sister.
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