I pull open the curtains of the main window in our shop, sunlight sparkling over my emerald eyes then change the closed sign to open. The Wanderer Art Gallery is a creation of my mother. I started working here after finishing my masters in English from Canada.
The Wanderer, located in one of the sunny streets in California is a four storeyed vintage structure where art covers each of the walls, the halls and the stairs.
Mom started this as a small business when she was twenty five years old. This building has completed its silver jubilee now.
Here, we teach advance courses on art- painting, sketching, thread-work, pottery, crafts. You name it. We have it all.
“Rhiannon,” Mom calls me from the stairs. “Aunt Hannah is going out of town for the summer. Your cousin is having her baby in two months so she wants to be there for her.”
“That’s great,” I reply, twirling my blonde hair while checking the list of things we have to buy at this month’s end to replenish our supply.
But my cousin, Briar had already told me that. So, why’s Mom saying this as if it holds more significance than I can fathom.
“She was supposed to teach the kids crafts for their summer course.”
Crap! That is why Mom is worried. It isn’t Aunt Hannah’s fault but now we have to find a replacement for her since all our staff has their fixed schedules. And I wish Dad had any idea how to even make a paper plane. However he doesn’t and we can’t ask him to fill in the empty position.
Plus, his law firm might crumple to dust without him since my brother’s so hot headed, he will fire all the employees for a single mistake in Dad’s absence.
I look up at Mom who is still standing on the last but one stair. “I can teach them.”
“Lovely,” she chimes giddily. “You start tomorrow.”
Wait, what? I open my mouth to protest but Mom hurries up the stairs knowing I would complain. I sigh and resume my work. Guess, I am promoted now.
I reach the gallery by 9:00 am next morning and within an hour the school age kids rush in. Six of them about age of six to ten, guided by their parents or grandparents. It is a Saturday morning and 10 o’ clock at that so we provide everyone with morning drinks like healthy fruit juices for the kids, coffee for the adults.
“Welcome, guys!” I grin at the four feet tiny humans. “Dear grown-ups please find yourselves a fitting activity while we young people enjoy making crafts.”
The adults laugh and disperse into the other rooms. The ground floor has two classes- the pottery and the poster making.
My office is in the first floor and I shall be taking the class today in a room across my office with a huge balcony.
“Before we start, I am gonna make sure I know you all. So, let’s start with the intros.”
I check my iPad for their names. Katy, Dan, Imogen, Brian, Molly and Will. There is one girl missing. Her name is –
“Are we late?” an attractive male voice asks.
My eyes meet a pair of onyx irises. The man is extremely good looking with high cheekbones, dark raven hair and a light scruff. He is dressed in a t-shirt and jeans, matching his denim jacket.
Umm, what was I saying? When I finally get my voice back after an eon has passed, I speak up. “This class isn’t for adults.”
“Yeah, of course. Thank God, we aren’t late.” He smiles at me. Damn!
I think I have seen his face somewhere. And that voice. I am definitely sure I have heard it somewhere. But I have never met him.
“We?” I ask confused.
A little girl pokes his face out from behind him. I guess this must be my missing student. Lilly.
“Hey!” I wave at her with a grin. She doesn’t smile back. Normally kids wave back enthusiastically when I greet them.
The man offers me his hand. “I am Liam Tate.”
Liam Tate, yes! He is a famous guitarist and singer from around here. His single- ‘Midnight’ was a hit a few years ago. I even kept it as my caller tune for a year.
“Hey, Rhiannon Wilson. The instructor.”
“Wait, you are the owner of this gallery?” he asks amused.
“No, my mother Amber is. And aren’t you the Liam Tate? Famous singer, with hit singles.”
He chuckles. “Guilty as charged.”
Lilly comes out of his shadow and stands behind him. Liam doesn’t have a daughter. It would be all over the news if he even married a woman. His past two girlfriends made the news immediately.
“This is my niece, Lilly. Her father passed away two months back. My sister and she have been staying with me.”
“Oh, I am so sorry.” I crouch in front of Lilly. “Hi, Lilly. I am Rhiannon. Your new friend.”
“Friend,” she repeats finding that single word worth it.
“Yes. I am the one who your uncle here sends songs to, to make sure they are good.”
Lilly smiles a little getting the joke. Liam glances at me with a pleased look on his face. “Yeah, Lils. She never likes my songs.”
“Liar,” I roll my eyes. Okay, this is definitely weird. I have never talked to this guy. Like he is Liam Tate. But it doesn’t feel like it. Rather, we are conversing as if we have been friends for ages. “Well, Lilly why don’t you join us for today’s class? These kids are also going to be there. You can make new friends.”
She doesn’t seem convinced. Her eyes reach upto her uncle. “It will be fun, kiddo,” he says reassuring her. “Rhiannon’s my friend. She will take care of you.”
“Yes.” I don’t miss the adjective he uses. Even if it was casual, he said it with a tag of sincerity.
“You stay,” Lilly grabs his shirt expectantly.
I feel sad for her. Such a young kid with so much sadness in her eyes. I wonder what her mother would be feeling. “Lils-” Liam starts to object but then concedes when she makes a disappointed face. “Of course.” He glances at me apologetically. “I hope it isn’t a problem.”
“Nope,” I grin at him. “Not at all. Unless you disturb me while I’m teaching them. Then you and I’ll have a serious problem.”
He gives me a soldier’s salute. “Aye aye, captain.”
“Okaaay. So, first I am gonna give you kids and one particular adult a tour.”
I give them a sneak peek into all the classes we have, our recreation room, the library we have, our cafeteria, doctor’s room where Liam says that there are big injections for those who will create mischiefs.
I narrow my eyes at him. “I heard it hurts adults more than it hurts children.”
“Haha!” everyone laughs in unison.
“You are spiteful, Ms. Wilson,” Liam remarks with a smirk.
“And you are mischievous, Mr. Tate,” I tease him.
His grin widens as he follows me into the room where the class will be held. The kids sit down on the tiny chairs and Liam flops down on one of the couches at the end. Lilly takes the seat nearest to him.
I take out a stack of coloured papers from the cupboard and put it on the huge table in the centre. “Whose favourite colour is which one?”
The kids rummage through the stack to find their favourite colours. Lilly is the last one. She picks up a white paper and goes back to her seat. “Good choice,” I say encouragingly.
“What’s yours?” Liam asks from his seat. His deep gaze is focused on me making me conscious.
“Blue,” I reply boldly.
He nods slightly. “Like my jacket?” Is he flirting with me?
“Like your jacket, yes.”
I open the French windows to let the sunlight come in. “Today we will be making paper flowers.”
The class goes on smoothly with Liam occasionally trying to bother me at first and then repeatedly glancing my way. Our eyes meet for a countable number of times during the whole two hours we stay in that room.
Lilly tries to follow my instructions and make the flowers but when she gets it wrong; she quickly throws the papers away and picks another one. I can see how hard it is for her to deal with all these emotions and the situation she is currently in.
She is just a kid after all.
“It’s okay,” I pat her shoulder. “We’ll try tomorrow.” I give everyone each a paper flower I have made while teaching them and they thank me by giving me hugs.
Lastly, I offer one to Liam who was apparently the most excited one in the class. “For you.”
He smiles, the one that makes my heart flutter. “And what do you want in return?”
“Maybe you could sing a song for me.”
“Or maybe I could take you out for dinner and sing for you there.” Liam Tate just asked me out, whoa! He hands me his phone. “Your number please, Rhiannon.”
I enter my number in his phone and he immediately sends me a text. “I shall be here tomorrow at 8:00pm sharp.”
And he doesn’t make me wait. In fact he arrives ten minutes early in a black Audi, dressed in a blue dressed shirt and white pants. “For you,” he hands me over a bouquet of blue lilies.
“Thank you, these are beautiful.” I put them in the nearby vase then tug the hem of my beige floral dress.
“You look beautiful.” He kisses my cheek shocking the hell out of me. We have met today and haven’t even known each other for a day. “I want privacy so do you have a back exit?”
We leave the building through the back gate to avoid the paparazzi. Liam keeps me steady when I stumble on my heels. I hand him over the keys to my Ford. “So, where are we going?”
And it isn’t anything I was expecting. He has brought me to his studio. For our first date. “I don’t bring any women here,” he confesses climbing out of the car and opening the door to my seat.
“Thank you. But why here?”
“I don’t know. I just thought if I saw your safe space today why not show you mine? And I also owe you a song.”
His personal room is filled with different style guitars- classics, electrics. And there is a huge balcony where he has arranged a small dinner table, two chairs and candles in the middle.
“It’s so sweet,” I whisper getting sentimental. My dates have never been this sweet ever. “Thank you, Liam.”
“I am glad you liked it.” After we are seated, he pours us two glasses of red wine and serves the steak and noodles. “My sister made this. She loves to cook. And when I told her all about how you helped Lilly she wanted to thank you.”
“She didn’t need to.” I taste the food. “It is delicious. Please convey it to your sister.”
Then he takes me back inside and offers me a seat on his sofa while he picks up his guitar to sing. “Midnight for you, my all nights for you…”
I get lost in his enthralling voice and my favourite song of his. “You’re a legend.”
He chuckles embarrassed. “I am honoured if you think so.”
We talk for what seems like hours. He tells me everything about how he became a singer. What role his dad played in his career. How his mom came and stayed with him when he had a major downfall in his career.
And I talk about my family, my studies, everything.
We finally stop when I see that the time is 12:00am already. “I’ll take you home.”
Our house is in the same street as our gallery is. He walks me to the door. “I really liked tonight,” I say smiling.
“Me too,” he takes my hand and kisses my palm. “I have a recording to do this week so I have to fly to New York. But I’ll be back next weekend. And I can’t wait for you to give me another one of your crafts.”
I laugh softly. “Sure. What about a dreamcatcher?”
“I would take anything you give me.”