An Uncertain Confidence – Excerpt

Cadmium Red Light and Yellow Ochre acrylic paint used in the evening’s lesson speckled her fingers and hid the small pale pucker of a burn scar. She’d been marked by worse. Even so, Charlotte held her cell phone high while trying to avoid touching the glass. “Everyone raise your masterpieces and say Cork and Canvas,” she called out. The group of smiling women in front of her did as instructed, each displaying their version of the demonstration painting located on the center easel. Charlotte clicked the button on the screen with her thumb, leaving a smeared print behind in spite of her effort. “Great. You all look wonderful.”

She’d post the group shot on the studio’s social media channel after she finished cleaning up. Charlotte’s smile slipped as the women lowered their artwork and returned to their workstations to collect their belongings. The class itself might be done, but Charlotte’s work was far from over.

A couple of empty wine bottles remained on the back table along with the lingering perfume of one of her guests. Charlotte couldn’t imagine how strong the scent was when first applied if it managed to overcome the smell of the acrylics, especially after a full hour of work. “I hope you had a good time,” she said, waving to the group while walking backward. “Remember to take a card on your way out and give it to a friend.” She pointed at slips of paper stacked at the edge of the workspace closest to the door. “Both of you will get a discount on your next visit.” The words rolled off her tongue on autopilot. Charlotte said the phrase so often she wasn’t surprised to be told she said it in her sleep.

Elbow deep in soapy water and surrounded by cups filled with rinsed brushes, Charlotte spent the next several minutes scrubbing used paint trays. The bell on the door chimed. “Sorry,” Charlotte said without looking up from her work, “that was my last class for today.” She paused, realizing she was turning a potential customer away. If her business partner, Rhea, had been there to witness it, Charlotte wouldn’t have heard the end of it for days. “But I’d be happy to sign you up for a class next week, or are you looking for a gift card? Give me just a second to finish up.” She placed one of the trays on a nearby rack to dry.

“I’m not here about taking a class.”

Charlotte turned around. A man stood in the entranceway. He appeared to be in his early forties, with thinning hair and a physique that once might have been athletic, but now had more mass around his middle than muscle. Drying off her hands on a rough towel, she left the remaining trays in the industrial sink and walked toward him.

He held up an envelope. “I apologize if I’m here after operating hours, but I saw the lights were still on. Would you happen to be Charlotte Row?”

Charlotte glanced at the letter in his hand but saw nothing that might indicate its contents. “I am,” she answered. She tucked a strand of errant brown hair behind her ear. Her stomach performed a flip-flop as her imagination took over. Bills weren’t hand delivered. It’s a lawsuit. Or a summons. I know it. She couldn’t think of a reason she might be served either, but a minor detail like that never stopped her brain from jumping to the worst possible conclusion. It was the downside of her creative spark, but then again, her most outlandish ideas had been proven right before.

The man smiled as he extended his free hand. “Darin Hastings.” His grip crushed hers as he shook it. Releasing her hand, he gave her the envelope. “I didn’t want to trust the mail to deliver this to you.”

“What is it?” asked Charlotte, while fighting the urge to drop everything and massage her bruised fingers.

“It’s a letter of introduction about myself and my company. I am a corporate art consultant and artist representative. I called the other day and spoke to your associate. Didn’t she mention me?”

“Art consult—” Charlotte frowned. Rhea took care of much of the day to day administrative tasks associated with the weekly paint and wine classes she hosted to pay for the studio space. Most phone calls were routed to Rhea’s cell phone. The arrangement allowed Charlotte to focus on creating the type of higher end art that could be sold to a much more discerning clientele when there wasn’t a class to teach. I really do need to do a better job checking DartBoard.

Her husband had developed the program in his spare time. It was supposed to help her track leads, appointments, and billings, but the user interface was awful. However, after watching him spend weeks creating it for her, weeks that he might have spent helping her in other ways around the house, she didn’t have the heart to tell him. “Oh, that’s right,” she lied. “But I’m not clear as to why you called. What exactly does a corporate art consultant do?”

Darin’s eyes twinkled. “I help play matchmaker between artists and businesses interested in curating their professional collections.”

“Ah,” she said as her mind began playing connect-the-dots. She thought of her success with Nations Bank last month. Rhea had cornered the manager, an acquaintance of her husband, Brian. The man hadn’t stood a chance against Rhea’s charm. Charlotte wound up selling five pieces at a significant profit, thanks to her friend jumping on the manager’s offhand comment regarding the bank’s lack of local flair. “Like picking out what art goes on a bank’s walls?”

“Sure.” He smiled. “That’s an aspect of it. But I like to think we offer our clients more than simple wall decorations. We develop entire art programs for them, reflecting and reinforcing brand values while also helping them gain appreciable assets.”

The envelope in her hand became a lot less scary. “And you’re interested in my work?” Now she really wished she had logged into the system and checked her messages. Rhea never seemed to have the same problem with the program she did and would have provided notes from the call. She wondered what they would have said. Charlotte glanced at the clock on the wall. She would be joining Rhea in less than an hour. She relaxed her jaw, realizing she’d clenched her teeth. She wouldn’t have to stress herself out by login to the system after all. Her friend’s facial expressions would tell far more about what her friend thought about Darin and his organization than any comment box on DartBoard.

Darin’s smile deepened. “As a curator, yes, but I’d also like to talk to you about your representation needs.”