Authors: Mandy Baggot
Tags: #Contemporary, #Romance, #Fiction, #Christmas Wish, #New York, #Holiday Season, #Holiday Spirit, #White Christmas, #Billionaire, #Twinkle Lights, #Daughter, #Single Mother, #Bachelor, #Skyscrapers, #Decorations, #Daughter's Wish, #Fast Living, #Intriguing, #New York Forever, #Emotional, #Travel, #Adventure, #Moments Count, #New Love, #The Big Apple, #Adult
New York Life Gallery, Upper East Side, Manhattan
ayley felt sick
. Here they were standing in front of a gallery she had heard about ten years ago from the lips of Angel’s father. Holding hands with the product of that union, her precious daughter, she took in the red brick exterior. The United States flag hung from a white pole at its centre, and an inch-thick covering of snow blanketed the frames and sills of the windows. A small brass sign declared it was the New York Life Gallery.
‘This doesn’t look as impressive as the Guggenheim,’ Angel said, folding her arms across her chest.
‘Don’t judge a book by its cover. A grand exterior doesn’t mean the finest exhibitions. Usually the ugliest-looking kebab vans make the best kebabs.’
‘Have you been here before? The last time you came to New York?’ Angel asked.
‘No,’ Hayley let out a breath. ‘And I wish I had.’ She caught herself quickly. ‘It’s meant to be good. Which is why I wanted us to come here.’ She squeezed Angel’s hand. ‘Come on, let’s get out of the cold, and I promise, if there’s anything resembling an unmade bed or the contents of someone’s bedpan, we’ll leave.’
‘What’s a bedpan?’
ow Hayley was here
she wasn’t sure what to do. There was a man in the first section of paintings that looked like he was in charge. Hayley couldn’t help but notice his tie didn’t entirely match with his shirt – spots and stripes had never been a thing. She sighed. She just needed to busy Angel with something. A painting with, what looked like over a hundred small flowers on it gave her an idea.
‘Ooo, I’ve heard if someone correctly counts the number of flowers on that painting over there there’s a prize,’ Hayley announced, pointing to the picture. This subterfuge was to keep her from getting caught up in this search too soon. It was for her own good. Anyway, what parent didn’t tell their child a white lie every now and then?
Angel’s eyes lit up. ‘What sort of prize?’
‘The chocolate kind,’ Hayley said.
‘Is there a time limit?’
‘I don’t think so.’
‘That prize is mine,’ Angel said, striding towards the painting with victory written all over her face.
The second Angel had left her side Hayley sidled up to the suited man a few yards away. As she got closer she saw a lanyard around his neck stating he was ‘Carl’.
‘Good morning,’ Hayley greeted. ‘I’m wondering if you can help me.’ Her eyes darted to Angel, wanting to make sure she was fully occupied before she carried on. ‘I’m looking for a friend of mine. I called and I emailed a month ago but no one got back to me … because I’m sure you’re very busy.’ She paused, gathered herself. ‘He’s an artist. We’ve lost touch and I can’t seem to track him down online.’ She began to unzip her rucksack. ‘The last time we saw each other he mentioned this gallery and I wondered if you might remember him or have a record of him if he’s exhibited here.’ Hayley pulled out a photograph. Usually kept in the ten year diary it was starting to look dated and was a little worn around the edges. ‘His name is Michel De Vos.’
Her heart was pumping like an overactive engine piston, driving the adrenaline around her body. Whatever this man said next was going to be make or break. She watched him observing the photograph, giving it his full attention, taking her and her request seriously.
‘I don’t recognise him, ma’am, and the name isn’t familiar to me,’ he finally replied.
Disappointment flooded through her but she held onto her breath and her resolve, not ready to give in to any emotion just yet. ‘Have you been here long? At this gallery, I mean. He may not have exhibited recently. Maybe someone else here recognises the name,’ she suggested.
He passed back the photograph. ‘I’ve been here almost twenty years now.’ He smiled. ‘I’ll tell you what I’ll do. I’ll email the other members of the gallery cooperative we’re connected with, see if any of them can help.’
‘Would you?’ Hayley exclaimed. ‘That would be brilliant.’ She looked to Angel who was still staring at the flower painting, her mouth moving silently. She would buy her the biggest bar of Hershey’s she could find.
‘No problem. If you let me have your details.’
‘And, how long would that take exactly … to get an answer from the other galleries?’ The very last thing she wanted to sound like was someone searching for the one-night stand she’d had ten years ago. People weren’t willing to give out information if you reeked of desperation. But she needed a timeline. She only had a couple of weeks and every second counted.
‘I’ll email today,’ Carl assured kindly.
‘Thank you, that’s wonderful.’ She crossed her fingers behind her back. ‘Could you mark it urgent?’ she added.
Her email address and mobile phone number given to Carl, Hayley joined Angel in front of the painting.
‘Don’t speak! I’m almost done … almost done … one hundred and sixteen, one hundred and seventeen … one hundred and eighteen flowers!’ Angel gasped for breath and looked at Hayley.
‘Ooo so close. It was one hundred and twenty three,’ Hayley responded.
‘What? No, it can’t be! I checked! I counted them twice!’
‘Maybe the artist lost count,’ Hayley suggested. ‘Come on, I’ll buy you cake at the Guggenheim.’
The Guggenheim, Upper East Side, Manhattan
It had taken Hayley almost twenty minutes to get Angel inside the building. The cylindrical white structure of the museum rose up from the street like the spiral inside a shell, so unlike everything built around it. Even to the untrained eye it was a stunning building, clean, curved, giving a hint to the artistry held inside the walls.
Hayley hated to admit she was slightly more interested in the chestnuts being roasted over a barrel just outside. Despite eating a large bowl of pink maize for breakfast she was still hungry and the cinnamon, spice and marzipan infused air everywhere was making her crave Christmas treats. Heavily iced fruit cake, mince pies, Terry’s Chocolate Orange. Would they find that in a bodega?
‘Did you know Solomon Guggenheim was a very successful businessman before he started collecting paintings?’ Angel’s eyes were still in the guidebook Hayley had had to purchase.
As they began to walk through the atrium Hayley’s eyes were on the newspaper in her hands. Right now, thinking about the life history of Solomon Guggenheim and looking at paintings of odd shapes and sculptures you needed to turn your head upside down to understand wasn’t what she wanted to focus on. Half of her mind was still back in the New York Life Gallery, the other half was staring at a cheesy advertisement.
Desperately Seeking Domestics
Majestic Cleaning Services are looking for hygiene operatives to join their expanding company. Must be English-speaking. Hygiene experience preferred but not essential. Contact Ms Rogers-Smythe
There was a phone number. She swallowed. A small job would help tide them over here and give them a bit of a head start when they got home and she had to search for new employment. She shook her head. Was she mad? She couldn’t just apply for a job, could she?
But apart from her part-time party planning, she was officially unemployed and a few weeks in New York couldn’t have come at a worse time. This advert could be the answer.
Her phone buzzed from her bag and she stopped walking, swung her rucksack off her shoulder and retrieved it. She looked at the text message. It was from Dean.
Mum called. Said u got here OK. She said make sure Angel keeps her coat dun up. Left a jacket on dining room chair. It’s Oliver Drummond’s. He left it in Chinese last night. Forgot 2 bring it. Can u drop in 2 the office?
It was Oliver Drummond’s jacket she had squashed and creased down into her rucksack. Perhaps she should have cut the sleeves off to teach him a lesson for deserting that woman last night. Being a billionaire, perhaps he didn’t even wear clothes twice. Maybe they were just as disposable as his dinner companions.
‘There’s an exhibition of paintings from Wassily Kandinsky,’ Angel said as they moved up the ramp. ‘Apparently Solomon Guggenheim has over one hundred and fifty of his paintings in his collection.’
‘He must have liked him. What did he paint?’ Hayley asked.
‘Paintings,’ Angel answered with a grin.
‘Ha ha, funny girl.’
‘Ooo look at this one up here!’ Angel jogged ahead, starting up the spiral path.
Now was her chance. With Angel preoccupied with paintings, but in plain sight, she could call Majestic Cleaning. She hesitated. Should she? They probably wouldn’t even offer her a job. She could just call and see what they had to say. And if they offered her a job? Well, the trip to New York hadn’t been cheap and there was Christmas too. Angel needed presents to unwrap and she couldn’t solely rely on Dean’s hospitality. She stopped walking and tapped onto her phone. The empty search box was just waiting for her to key in a number. Her thumb hovered over the icons. Her eyes were back on the newspaper in her left hand. She could treat Dean and Angel to a night out maybe. A cleaner’s wages probably wouldn’t stretch to somewhere like Asian Dawn but she could probably stretch to a diner.
Watching Angel standing in front of something that looked like a badly drawn steam train, she hastily tapped out the number before she could overthink it. She waited to be connected.
‘Good morning, Majestic Cleaning.’ The voice sounded like a cross between the Queen and a well-connected baroness but with a definite American twang.
‘Oh, hello.’ Hayley cleared her throat, wondering why she felt the need to speak with a cut-glass accent. ‘Is that Ms Rogers-Smythe?’
‘This is she.’
‘Hello, Ms Rogers-Smythe. My name is Hayley Walker. I’ve just come across your advert in the New York Times.’
The exclamation sounded like Ms Rogers-Smythe had discovered an alien life form.
‘Yes. Is that going to be a problem? I’m here for a few weeks and …’
‘No problem! No problem whatsoever.’
‘Good,’ Hayley breathed out. ‘That’s good.’
‘Would you be able to attend the offices tomorrow? At nine?’
‘Well, I …’ Her eyes went to Angel who was inspecting a sculpture that looked like a warty frog. She took a deep breath. ‘Yes, of course. That would be fine.’
‘Oh jolly good. I’ll text the address to this number.’
‘Lovely, I look forward to greeting you tomorrow. Toodle pip!’
‘Toodle pip,’ Hayley responded.
She cursed herself as she ended the call.
. Why had she said that? And how was she going to explain to Angel she was visiting a cleaning firm?
Hayley watched her daughter dipping her head at the warty frog, shifting closer and inspecting its ears. Angel was enjoying every second of this trip already. If only she could get her the icing on the Christmas cake. Her father, gift-wrapped. Maybe Carl from the gallery had already sent the email. Perhaps there was someone in another gallery already typing a response with Michel’s details attached. She just had to keep looking and keep hoping. She walked the ramp to join Angel.
‘Not a patch on Kermit is he?’ Hayley said, nudging Angel’s elbow.
‘His name is Roderick P. Frog and he was sculpted by Henry Von Elderstein.’
‘Oooo a blind artist,’ Hayley said, running her hand over the frog’s bumpy head.
‘Mum!’ Angel exclaimed.
‘The sculptor isn’t blind and you’re not appreciating its unique style.’
‘To be honest I’ve got pots you made at pre-school that look better than this.’
Angel scowled. ‘You aren’t having fizzy wine until we’ve been in every section.’
‘I hope they do very large bottles.’
hey didn’t do
large bottles and everything on the menu was expensive. Hayley watched Angel biting into her slice of carrot cake while swinging her legs from the high white leather stool she was perched on. They’d looked at pictures, information screens, sculptures, models and even some living art for over two hours. And Angel had provided a running commentary from the guidebook the whole way round, so much so that a couple of Japanese tourists walking behind them had ditched their audio and relied solely on the enthusiasm of a nine-year-old. Here she was worrying about getting a job as a
when her daughter had already carved out her own career as a museum curator.
Hayley took a sip of her cappuccino and turned to the view outside. Even with a layer of snow over the ground of Central Park the paths were filled with joggers, walkers, people going about their business as usual. It wouldn’t happen in England. In England, a couple of flakes of the white stuff and the whole country fell apart. Cars skidded, buses stopped running, schools closed and people hid under their duvets. New York wasn’t just a different city, it was a whole different world. But it was a world she definitely wanted to get to know better. She turned back to her ideas book, open on the table in front of her. Warty frogs and pigs with multiple tails weren’t something to inspire the fashionista in her but perhaps the architecture of the building was. She smoothed her pencil over a page.
‘Do you want to share?’ Angel asked, pointing to a portion of cake on her plate.
Hayley shook her head. ‘No, you go for it. I have plans for hot dogs and roasted nuts.’
‘I wish Uncle Dean could have come with us today,’ Angel said, crumbling part of her cake with her fingers.
‘He’s going to finish early, remember? So you can go crazy with the dog.’ Being English she felt she couldn’t say Randy too much in public. She drew a little more, curving a neckline like the exterior of the building.
Angel clamped her hands over her mouth Macaulay Culkin style. ‘We forgot to phone Nanny!’
Hayley looked up from her book and replicated her daughter’s look but with less of the sentiment. She hadn’t forgotten, she had avoided it. ‘She’s fine. She texted Uncle Dean.’
‘I feel bad,’ Angel said, propping her head up on her elbow on the table.