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  Just Breathe chapter 1
By Rakefet Sadan

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Jeffrey stepped out of his car and took a long hard look at the building in front of him. He stared at the golden steel sign that was up on the wall and smiled. ‘Welcome to the McNeill Museum’ it read. Those words excited him every single time he saw them. He took a deep breath and made his way towards the stairs. A small child bumped into him as he walked into the building, almost making him drop his briefcase. The sudden blush that appeared on the child’s face reminded him so much of himself when he was younger. He looked at him for a moment as a young blonde woman suddenly appeared, grabbed the child and dragged him away. "I am sorry, sir. Sometimes he’s a handful" she said quickly. Jeffrey smiled at her softly and stared at the two until they disappeared into the statues gallery.

"Good morning, Mr. McNeill".

His secretary’s voice startled him and he swiftly turned around, just to see her smiling at him. "I am sorry…did I startle you?"

"It’s alright, Diane. Good morning".

He tapped his shoulders to remove the tiny snowflakes that sat comfortably on his coat and shook his head. "I guess it’s still snowing…" she laughed. "Here, let me help you". She helped him remove his long black coat, took it away, and returned after a few moments. "Thanks, Diane. What would I ever do without you?"

"Your Museum wouldn’t last a day" She laughed. "Come on, walk with me". He walked behind her as she led him to his office and filled him in on the details of the morning. "Mr. Hood, the sculptor, was here earlier. He brought us another one of his statues. I think it’s dreadful but, of course, it’s up to you".

"You know I trust your taste, Diane".

She smiled at him mischievously and continued. "And I think I have found a painter that would really make your little business the museum of the decade".

"Really? Who is this wonderful painter?"

"I have no idea".

He sent her a surprise glance as they walked down the stairs towards the left wing. A few people passed them by, wandering around the galleries.

"Well, it’s very strange. I walked into my office this morning and the guard said that a young woman came by, left a few paintings and run off. She never did say her name. I haven’t seen her myself but I did see the paintings and I have to tell you, I have never seen anything so stunning in my life".

"Is that so? I guess I just have to see those paintings…" he enthused.

"Of course. They’re in your office now. I know we have no idea as to who the painter is but I think it would be a terrible waste not to let the world see those paintings".

"You always have been the dramatic type" he laughed.

"You can laugh now but you will see I am right about that one" she smiled "Oh, well, here we are. You can see for yourself".

He reached for the handle to his office door as she turned to walk away. As he opened the door he heard her voice from the hallway.

"Oh, and your wife phoned already. Twice".

* * *
Gloria sat on the couch with her legs crossed, trying unsuccessfully to learn her lines. She only had a few more minutes before the filming started and she had no recollections of her script. Her mind was racing. Did I do the right thing today?…

She never thought she would actually take those paintings and bring them to the museum. She knew that their absence would be noticed at some point but that day she wasn’t thinking about that at all. She just had to do something. That morning she woke up early, even before the sun came up, and loaded the paintings into the trunk of her red convertible. Nervously, she drove quickly towards the museum and parked her car in front of the building. She waited until the guard was too busy drinking his morning coffee to ever notice her, and unloaded the paintings against the wall. Then, turned back to the car, creaking her high heels on the sidewalk as she ran. She wanted to make sure the guard did, in fact, see the paintings and took them into the building, so she sat in her car and waited. She stared at him as he noticed the paintings and looked around in astonishment. She prayed he wouldn’t notice her as she watched him pick up the phone at his post. Another man came out and the two chatted for a few moments. Her heart was beating fast and her mind was racing as she watched them carefully pick the paintings up and take them inside. Then, she let out a breath she didn’t even know she was holding. Suddenly, the guard came out and turned to look her way. As she felt a panic lump in her throat, she turned the keys and started the engine. She heard him calling for her just before she drove off but didn’t dare to look back.
Now, she was sitting on the couch in her dressing room, trying to calm down and finally memorize her lines. She knew she was up for the next scene and didn’t want her secrets to show on her face. She took another close look at her script and tried to concentrate on her lines but all she could think about was the events of that morning. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath.

Relax…Gloria…relax…" she whispered to herself. "Just relax…"

* * *

Jeffrey landed in his chair and peered around his office. What a beautiful morning…he thought as he tried to decide what do to first. Finally, he stood up, walked towards the window, opened the blinds and took a long deep breath of the morning air. The noises of the morning didn’t seem to bother him at all. He thought about what Diane said a few moments earlier about the new statue and the anonymous paintings and knew he had to see them right away. The statue was standing on his dark oak desk. It was a small stony statue, made in shape of a woman’s face. The touch of it was cold and very smooth. All he could think about was that the look in the woman’s eyes was rather empty. He stared at the statue for another moment and nodded. It’s indeed a dreadful statue…he thought and smiled to himself. As always…Diane was right.

He looked around the room again searching for the paintings and noticed three large paintings leaning on his office wall, wrapped in some brown paper. He got closer to where the paintings were when the phone suddenly rang. He reached for the phone and picked it up.
"McNeill here".

He could hear his wife on the other side laughing for a moment, then she said "Hello, darling. How are you this morning?"

He ignored her unexplained laughter and replied "Quite alright, Eve. How about you?"

"Fine. Didn’t that secretary of yours tell you that I called twice already?" she asked in an angry tone.

He ignored her implied anger and answered "As the matter of fact she did. I just walked in".

"I see. I was wondering if you are coming home for dinner tonight. If not, I will be going out, if that’s alright with you".

"I have to work late anyway, Eve. I have some new art works to look at today and I have to meet with one of my painters. I forgot to tell you about it this morning. But, you go ahead. Don’t worry about me".

"Are you sure?"

"Absolutely".

"Alright. You can find some leftovers in the fridge just in case you come home hungry and I am not here yet."
"Alright. Thanks, darling".

Only after he hung up the phone he realized he didn’t even ask her where she was going to, but he didn’t think about it for more then a moment. He was too curious about those paintings and headed right towards them. The first painting was slightly bigger then the others. He tore the brown paper that covered it and revealed a beautiful view of an ocean mixed with the horizon. His breath halted for a moment when he carefully touched the canvas and admired the colors and the emotion the painting was expressing. "It’s beautiful… just splendid…" he beamed. His eyes were fixated on the painting. The blue green color of the water mixed with the azure color of the sky was breathtaking. Diane was right again…her taste in art is indeed exquisite…he thought as he started to unwrap the second painting. It was a medium sized painting of two wild horses in full gallop. He took a good look at the painting and noticed that it was well detailed. He could see the grass on the horses’ hooves and the tiny pieces of mud sprinkling from their legs. It was almost as if the horses were alive. His heart was beating faster and faster as he slightly touched the canvas and imagined the warmth of the horses’ bodies. He always enjoyed the sight of wild horses but this particular painting was more then mere enjoyment. It reminded him so much of his childhood. He walked back and landed back in his chair as recollection of his past flooded him. In front of his eyes appeared the rock that was hanging slightly over the cliff. It was his and Annabel’s. It was their secret place. Like most kids had their hid-away place, he and Annabel always climbed up the mountain to sit on the huge stone and watch the wild horses down in the valley. They would come marching down the shallow river that run trough the gorge and spat the water drops high up with every plunge on their hooves. He and Annabel could sit for hours just watching the horses. Sometimes, they would dare to ride the horses through the green grass of the valley. He loved the smell of Annabel’s hair as the wind blew it on his face and the warmth of her hands against his thighs. As they grew older, she would bring along some paper and pencils and make sketches and drawings of the graceful animals. He used to sit by her side and simply stare at her for hours.

Jeffrey opened his eyes and took a long deep breath. The sight of the painting shook him for long minutes after and he just sat in his chair, trying to serene himself. A sudden laughter of a few children that were passing by his office door cut off his thoughts and took him right back to reality. He had one more painting to look at.

Heavily, he stood up again and quickly reached for the painting. Curious, he tore the brown wrapping. He never expected the sight that was revealed to him. He stared at the painting, shocked, and could hardly catch his breath, then reached for the arm of the couch and leaned on it as if he was going to faint.

Oh, my god…

His eyes were fixated on the painting as he examined the image of the little boy that was staring at him. The dark curly hair…the big blue eyes…"Oh, my god…" he murmured to himself "It’s me…This child is…ME"

 
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