(You can find Part One of Sally’s story here)
Sally’s cheeks burned brilliantly against her pale skin. She couldn’t read his tone or the look on his face.
“I told you,” Sally began, “drawing is a hobby, nothing more.” Her fingers continued to tug at the ends of her sleeves. Barnabas stared back into the journal, his thick black eyebrows pinched together.
“I don’t understand,” said Barnabas, his voice incredulous.
“Would you please give it back?” Sally pleaded. Between her soiled sweater and her long-lost childhood crush rummaging through her private journal Sally’s vulnerability was beginning to suffocate her. Barnabas closed the journal and handed it to her across the table. Sally snatched it out of his hands and shoved it inside of her purse.
“You could sell those,” Barnabas said matter-of-factly. Sally whipped her face towards his more eagerly than she had meant to. “I know a guy, artist friend of mine, he owns a studio and is looking for something new. I think you could be it.” Sally frowned.
“I seriously doubt that,” said Sally, “I’m an amateur. It’s an escape.”
“Three hours every single morning is quite an escape. What are you running from?” Barnabas rebutted jokingly.
“Who said I’m here every morning?” Sally snapped, her cheeks reddening once more. Barnabas shrugged.
“I asked the barista how often you come,” he said with a shy smile. “I told her that I’d seen you in here a couple of times. She said you’re a regular, here every morning for your coffee and toast.” Sally smiled but couldn’t help feeling a little annoyed. She cherished her invisibility, with the exception of Barnabas.
“So?” Barnabas asked, “Would you like me to set up a meeting with Xander or not?”
“Xander?” Sally echoed.
“Alexander. But ‘Xander’ goes a bit farther in the industry,” said Barnabas.
“Right,” Sally replied dryly. She forced herself to meet Barnabas’s eyes. They were kind and safe, unlike so many of the eyes she has seen in the faces of men. This morning couldn’t have turned out more differently then she had expected. A year ago Sally’s life had become a living hell. Today was supposed to be a day marked by fear and instead she is having coffee with Barnie Jones.
“Yes,” said Sally, “I’d love to meet Xander.” Barnabas smiled all the way up to his eyes. He pulled out his phone and within a couple of seconds was on the phone with his friend.
“Xan, it’s Barnabas. Listen, I think I’ve found what you’ve been looking for. How about meeting us for dinner? Tutus at six?” Barnabas winked at Sally before saying his goodbyes and sliding his phone back in his shirt pocket.
“What is the name of his studio?” Sally asked.
“Vindicta,” said Barnabas, “ever heard of it?” Sally shook her head. She had never heard of Vindicta the studio. She had, however, received 365 letters from Harker Slade Prison. All of them containing one word:
To be continued.