Chapter 2

THE CALL TO Avery was easier to make the next morning than Francesca had expected. Once she spoke to her, she felt better. They chatted for a few minutes and laughed about her father’s latest antics. In many ways, he was charmingly adolescent, which Avery found lovable, and Francesca had learned to forgive his failings as a father. And after an easy exchange Francesca got down to business and told her what was going on. With a catch in her throat, she told her about the breakup with Todd, and her dilemma about the gallery and the house, and how upset she was.

“I’m so sorry to hear it,” Avery said immediately with compassion. “I had a feeling something like that was going on. We haven’t seen much of Todd in the last few months.” In fact, they hadn’t seen him at all, and Francesca had visited them alone in Connecticut several times that summer. She had made excuses for him, but Avery had suspected there was more to it than that. And Henry had said as much himself, but didn’t want to pry and intrude on his daughter, who was always extremely private. “She’ll tell us when she’s ready, if something’s going on,” he had commented to Avery, who agreed with him. So when she heard the news, she wasn’t entirely surprised. “And that’s tough about the gallery and the business. Are you losing money at the gallery?” She wondered if Francesca could sell it.

“Not really. But we’re barely breaking even. I don’t think anyone would buy it with no profit. Todd thinks that if I raised prices, I’d be showing a profit in another two or three years, but he says that if I stick to emerging artists, it’s never going to be a big money-maker, and I really don’t want to start selling bigger artists. That’s a whole different deal and not what I wanted to do when I opened.” She was very idealistic about art, which was one of Todd’s complaints about their business. He wanted to get more commercial to increase what they made, and it was a compromise Francesca hadn’t wanted to make, but she realized that now maybe she’d have to, although she would hate to do it. She loved serious artists, even if they were unknown, and commercial art wasn’t her thing, even if it was Todd’s. She had just acquired a new Japanese artist, who she felt had enormous talent. He had received great reviews on his first show, and she was selling his work for next to nothing. But she didn’t feel she could charge more for an unknown. She was very ethical about what she sold, and how she sold it.

“You may have to compromise a little on your ideals, and sell a few midcareer artists,” Avery told her practically. She had learned a great deal about art from Francesca’s father, and knew a lot about the business end of it. But his art was in a whole different league, and thanks to Avery, his work now sold for huge prices. “Why don’t we talk about the house first? Have you got anything you can sell to raise the money to pay Todd his half?” she asked practically, and Francesca felt miserable. She didn’t. That was the whole problem.

“No, I don’t. I put everything I had into the house. I can barely scrape up my share of the mortgage payments every month. I’ve figured out what I can do about that. I can take in roommates. I think with three, I can make it, which would solve that problem at least.”

“I can’t see you living with strangers,” Avery said honestly. She knew her stepdaughter was an extremely private person, and as an only child she had always been something of a loner. But if she was willing to take in roommates, it would certainly help. It told Avery just how determined she was to keep the house, knowing that having roommates in her home would be a big sacrifice for her. “But I guess if you can stand it, it solves the issue of the monthly payments. What about the rest that you’d owe Todd if you keep the house?” Avery sounded pensive as she asked her, and then suddenly out of the blue she had an idea. “I don’t know how you feel about it, but you have six paintings of your father’s. They’re some of his best early work, and they’d bring a lot at auction. Enough to pay your whole payment to Todd, I think, if you’re willing to sell them. I can even call his principal gallery uptown. They’d go crazy to get their hands on his early work. There’s always a market for it.”

Francesca winced as Avery said it. Just thinking about it made her feel guilty. She couldn’t imagine selling her father’s work, and she never had before. But she’d never been this desperate before either, and she had nothing else to sell. “How do you think he’d feel about it?” Francesca asked, sounding worried. He was a little crazy, and a flake, but he was still her father and she loved him, and she had a deep respect for his work. She loved the six paintings she had.

“I think he’d understand,” Avery said gently. “Before we got married, he was always selling something to stay alive. He knows better than most people what that’s like. He even sold a small Pollock once to pay your mother money he owed her. You do what you have to, Francesca.” She was a practical woman, which was why Francesca had wanted to talk to her, more than to her parents.

“Maybe I could get by with selling five. That way I could keep one. Daddy gave those to me. I feel like a real jerk selling them to buy a house.”

“It doesn’t sound like you have any other options.”

“No, I don’t.” And she hadn’t thought of the paintings. She had absolutely nothing else with which to pay Todd. For a minute, she thought of agreeing to sell the house instead of the paintings. But she didn’t want to do that either. “Why don’t you call his gallery and see what they say? If they can get a decent price for them, I guess I’ll sell them. But only offer them five. I want to try and keep at least one.” She was extremely sentimental about them. This was going to be a big sacrifice for her, yet another one.

“I’ll do that,” Avery assured her. “They have a list of collectors for his work. I suspect they’ll pounce on them pretty quickly, unless you want to wait and sell them at auction.”

“I can’t wait,” Francesca said honestly. “Todd has been wanting to sell the house for months, and I promised him I’d pay him or let him sell the house by the end of the year. That’s less than two months away. I don’t have time to wait for an auction.”

“Then we’ll see what the gallery says. I’ll call them as soon as we hang up.” And she had another idea then too, although she wasn’t sure what her husband would say about it. She shared her idea with Francesca. “Your father’s been very excited about what you’re doing at the gallery ever since you opened. He loves emerging artists the way you do. I’m just wondering if he’d like to go into partnership with you, kind of as a silent partner, not that your father is silent about anything. But it might be exciting for him to help you with this, until the gallery starts to make a profit. From what you said, Todd wants a pretty small amount for his share.” He had been very fair about it. What he wanted was more of a token payment, barely more than what he had put into it in the first place. The house was a different story, and had appreciated considerably in four years, but he was being fair about that too. He was counting on getting more money out of the house, so he could buy an apartment. He had been very decent through the entire breakup and the untangling of their joint holdings. It was hard and a big disappointment for him too. They had never expected this to happen, but they were both sure now that it couldn’t be worked out, and they both wanted to get it over with quickly. Francesca was moving as fast as she could, given the enormity of the problem for her.

“I never thought of asking my father to invest in the gallery,” Francesca said, sounding intrigued by the idea. “Do you think he’d do it?”

“He might. It would be exciting for him, and I’m sure he’d like to help you. It’s not a big investment. Why don’t you have lunch with him and ask him?” Francesca liked the idea, and he was far more likely to help her than her mother, who had disapproved of both projects right from the beginning. She never had any interest whatsoever in art, although she had several of his now-very-valuable paintings too. She had hung on to them more out of sentiment than because of their value, but now they were a windfall for her. Thalia had at least a dozen of his early works, which were going for such high prices. She always said she would never sell them. Francesca never thought she would have to either.

“I’ll call him and ask him to lunch tomorrow,” Francesca said, sounding hopeful for the first time in two months. “You’re a miracle worker, Avery, and a genius. My father is so damn lucky to have you.”

“No luckier than I am to have him. He’s a good guy, especially now that he’s not a collector of women.” She had met several of his old girlfriends, and liked a lot of them, although some of them seemed pretty crazy to her. She was far more down to earth than any woman he had ever dated before her. And she had a fondness for Francesca’s mother too. Thalia was so outrageous in her own way, that Avery found it hard not to love her, and be amused by her. But she could also understand Francesca’s discomfort about her. Even Avery had to concede that Thalia would be embarrassing as a mother, particularly for a child who wanted a mother like everyone else’s. Thalia was definitely not one of those. And Henry was fairly eccentric and freewheeling too. They were anything but traditional parents, and Francesca had become extremely self-effacing as a result. The one thing she didn’t want when she grew up was to be like them, and she wasn’t. She was much more like Avery than like either of her biological parents. And Avery was aware too of what an odd match Henry and Thalia must have been. They were entirely different people, and she was surprised the marriage had even lasted seven years. The only good thing to come out of it was their daughter, and Henry and Thalia were now casual friends. But Thalia liked Avery a great deal. They all did. One had to respect her, and everyone liked her easy, friendly, intelligent ways. She was a smart, wholesome, unassuming, real person. Everything Francesca’s mother wasn’t.

“I think you’ve solved all my problems,” Francesca said with a sigh of relief.

“Not really. I still have to call your father’s dealer, and you have to talk to your father about the gallery. But I think we’re off to a good start,” Avery said encouragingly, and she was hopeful it would work out for her. She loved Francesca, thought she was a good person, and she deserved some reward for her hard work. She hated to see her lose everything because of the breakup with Todd.

“I knew you’d help me figure out something,” Francesca said, sounding happy and hopeful for the first time in months. “I just couldn’t see where to go with all this. I couldn’t find a solution.”

“You’re too close to it,” Avery said simply. “Sometimes it takes an outsider to come up with a plan. Let’s hope this all works. I’ll let you know what your dad’s dealer says, as soon as I talk to him. Your timing is pretty good. They’ll be going to Art Basel in Miami pretty soon, and if he doesn’t have any collectors waiting for your dad’s early work, he’ll see a lot of other people there. You might just have your money by the end of the year.”

“That’ll make Todd happy,” Francesca said sadly, thinking of him.

“It should make you happy too if you get to keep the house,” Avery said. With or without a marriage license, they had a lot to work out and split up. It was almost as bad as a divorce.

“I’ll be happy with the house,” Francesca confirmed. “I guess I’d better tell my parents about Todd. To be honest, I dread it. Dad will be okay about it, but my mother is going to remind me seven hundred times that she warned me of this in the beginning. She thought we were crazy to buy the house and start the business without being married.”

“That’s what people do these days. A lot of people who live together make joint investments.”

“Tell her that,” Francesca said with a wry grin.

“I wouldn’t want to try,” Avery said, and they both laughed. Thalia had a million of her own opinions, and it was impossible to sway her in any direction other than her own.

“I’ll call Dad and set up lunch with him. And I’ll call my mother about Todd. Let me know what the dealer says.”

“I will. I promise. And keep your chin up in the meantime. We’ll work it out,” Avery reassured her, and a moment later they both hung up. It was what her mother should have said and never would have. Thalia was more an Auntie Mame than a mother. And Avery was more of a friend.

Francesca sat at her desk, thinking for a long moment before she picked up the phone again. She was feeling better after her conversation with her stepmother. Avery had helped her, just as Francesca hoped she would. She always came through, and had some truly good, solid ideas, which usually worked, just as they had for Francesca’s father. He had been so impressed with her in the beginning, and still was. She had wrought miracles for him, and the proof was in their very comfortable lifestyle. Avery had money of her own too. She’d had a lucrative career and invested well. And the idea of being dependent on anyone other than herself would have made her laugh. As she put it, she hadn’t worked her ass off all her life in order to be dependent on a man. She did what she wanted with her money-and always had. None of that had changed when she got married. Henry had benefited far more than she from their relationship. Financially, he had needed her, she didn’t need him. But emotionally, they were dependent on each other, which seemed like the way it should be to Francesca. She thought she had had that with Todd, but she didn’t. And now they were pulling everything apart, and it hurt. A lot.

Francesca’s next call was to her mother. Thalia barely asked her how she was, and launched into a long conversation about herself, what she was doing, who she was annoyed at, what a terrible job her decorator was doing, what bad investments her stockbroker had made recently, and what a worry it was for her.

“It’s not like I have a husband to support me,” she lamented.

“You don’t need a husband,” Francesca reminded her practically. “Don left you set forever.” Her two shopping malls had grown to ten over the years, and she had other investments as well. She wasn’t the pauper she pretended to be, by any means. And her small, chic penthouse apartment on Fifth Avenue was ample testimony to that. It was a beautiful place with a splendid view of Central Park.

“I didn’t say he didn’t. But it’s very unnerving not having a husband to protect me,” she said, sounding momentarily small, which she wasn’t either. And Francesca didn’t say that she should be used to it by now, sixteen years after her last husband had died in Rome. He had left her with the title of Contessa, which she enjoyed very much. Thalia was only sorry he hadn’t been a prince, and she had admitted to Francesca years before that she would have loved to be a princess, but countess wasn’t bad. She was the Contessa di San Giovane.

Francesca decided to dive in then at one gulp. “Todd and I broke up,” she said quietly, waiting for her mother’s reaction.

“When did that happen?” Her mother sounded startled, as though she had suspected nothing, unlike Avery and her father.

“It’s been coming for the last several months. We tried to work it out, but we couldn’t. He’s going back to working at a law firm, and he wants me to buy him out of the gallery and the house.”

“Can you afford to?” her mother asked her bluntly. It wasn’t sympathy, just a question.

“Not yet. But I’m hoping to work it out by the end of the year.” She didn’t tell her mother that she had discussed it with Avery, and asked for her advice. She didn’t want to hurt her mother’s feelings. But Avery’s advice was a lot more useful than her mother’s, who relied on other people to manage her money. Avery made all the big decisions herself.

“I told you that you shouldn’t have bought a house and started a business with him. That’s a crazy thing to do if you’re not married, and guaranteed to turn into a mess. Is he being difficult about it?” Thalia had liked him, but not the fact that neither of them wanted to get married. She strongly disapproved of that, and in some ways was very old-fashioned.

“Not at all, Mom. He’s being very nice. But he wants to get his money out of the house, and a little bit out of the business.”

“Can you do all that?”

“Maybe. If not, I’ll have to sell the house and close the gallery. I’m trying my best not to.”

“What a shame you got all enmeshed with him. I never thought it was a good idea.” She never let her daughter forget it.

“Yes, I know, Mother. But we thought we had a sure thing.”

“We all do, until it falls apart. And when it does, you’re much better off with alimony and a settlement than just a broken heart.” It was the only thing she knew, and the only career she’d ever had.

“Alimony’s not a job, Mom. Or at least not the one I want. Hopefully, I’ll be able to work it out.” As usual, her mother annoyed her.

“Why don’t you just sell the house? You can’t handle it without him anyway. The place is always falling apart.” It was exactly what Todd had said to her, that she would never be able to manage it alone. She was determined to prove both of them wrong. “Can you even cover the mortgage payments?” her mother asked her, without offering to help her. But Francesca wasn’t surprised. So far the conversation had gone exactly as she had expected, starting with “I told you so.” There were no surprises here. There never were with her mother.

“I’m planning to take in roommates to help cover the payments,” Francesca said in a tense tone.

Her mother responded instantly with horror. “Are you insane? That’s like having hitchhikers in your house. Are you serious? Rent to strangers?”

“I don’t have any other choice, and I want to keep the house, Mom. I’ll be careful who I rent to. I’m not going to put up signs on the street. And I’ll check them out carefully first.”

“You’ll end up with an ax murderer in your house,” her mother said, sounding distressed.

“I hope not. Hopefully, I’ll find some good ones.”

“I think that’s a terrible idea, and you’ll regret it.”

“If I do, you can remind me that you told me so,” Francesca said wryly. She knew her mother too well. Thalia always reminded her of her mistakes and that she had warned her beforehand.

“I want you to rethink that,” Thalia persisted.

“I can’t,” Francesca said honestly. “I can’t make the mortgage payments otherwise without Todd. Once the gallery starts making money, I can give up the roommates. But for now, I have no other choice. I’ll have to bite the bullet on that one.” And all else. She was going to have to give up a lot to keep the gallery and the house, her privacy in taking in roommates to pay the mortgage, her father’s paintings to buy Todd out, and if her father didn’t want to invest in the gallery, she might lose it entirely. It was all upsetting to think about.

“I think it’s utterly crazy. I won’t sleep at night, worrying about who else is living at your house.”

“There’s safety in numbers. With three of them, I should be fine.”

“Should, but maybe won’t be. And if they sign a lease, you’ll be stuck with them for the duration of the lease. You can’t just throw them out if you don’t like them after a while.”

“No, I can’t. So I’d better pick good ones,” Francesca said practically.

She got off the phone as quickly as she could after that. She had told her mother all the pertinent information, that she and Todd were breaking up and she was trying to keep the gallery and the house. She didn’t need to know more than that, nor the gory details. And her mother had done just as predicted. She had criticized her, and offered no help at all. Some things never changed.

Her call to her father was easier and quicker. All she did was invite him to lunch the next day, and he accepted. She was planning to tell him everything then and he was much more easygoing than her mother. They agreed to meet at La Goulue for lunch, which was his favorite restaurant uptown. It was close to his gallery and he went there often. He was part of the celebrity landscape there. He sounded happy to hear from her.

“Everything okay?” he asked her before they hung up. He wondered what it was about. She rarely invited him to lunch.

“Okay enough. We can talk about it tomorrow.”

“All right. I can’t wait to see you,” he said pleasantly. He still had the voice of a young man on the phone although he was sixty-five. And he looked far younger than his years as well, as did his wife. Francesca thought her mother looked older than Avery, and being desperate to find a new man gave her a certain frantic look of desperation, and had for years. Her father was far more relaxed and free and easy. It was his nature, but he also had Avery at his side. Her mother hadn’t had a serious relationship in years. Francesca had a theory that she wanted one too badly, and it showed. It was a good lesson for her to remember herself now, as she had to face the dating world again, for the first time in five years.

The thought of it depressed her profoundly, and she wasn’t even remotely ready to think about going out with other men yet. She couldn’t help wishing that she would never have to face dating again. She wasn’t looking forward to it. As far as she was concerned, it was the worst of all possible worlds. She had to look for three roommates to share her house if she found the money to keep it, and eventually she’d have to start dating again, if she didn’t want to be alone for the rest of her life. It was a big decision, but not one she had to face in the immediate future. Todd hadn’t even moved out yet.

Her lunch with her father the next day went smoothly. He hopped out of a cab in front of La Goulue, just as she was arriving, after a brisk walk from the subway. And as always, he was looking very dashing. He was wearing a black and white tweed coat he had bought in Paris years before, the collar raised against the wind, a battered Borsalino hat he had bought in Florence, boots, and jeans, and he looked half GQ and half artist. He had a lined, craggy face with a square chin with a deep cleft in it that had fascinated her as a child, and he instantly put an arm around her and hugged her. He was a much warmer person than her mother, and he looked delighted to see her.

It was easier to tell him about Todd than she had expected, and he admitted that he wasn’t surprised, and told her that he had always thought they were too different. Francesca had never thought so. She thought they had everything in common. And in the beginning they had, but no more.

“He was just a tourist in the art world,” her father commented as their lunch arrived. He had ordered onion soup and a dish of haricots verts, which was how he kept his long, lean, slim figure, not unlike her own. And he thrived on Avery’s good healthy cooking. Francesca was always more haphazard about what she ate, especially lately with Todd gone. Most nights she was too lazy to cook herself dinner and had been losing weight since the breakup. “I always figured he’d go back to Wall Street eventually,” her father said as he started in on the onion soup. Francesca had ordered the crab salad.

“That’s funny,” Francesca said pensively, “I never thought that. I guess you were right. He says he’s tired of being poor.”

Her father laughed at that. “Yeah, so was I, until Avery saved me.”

She told her father then about trying to buy Todd out of the house, and with a guilty look, she told him that she might sell his paintings, and he was very nice about it. It was easy to see why women had always loved him. He was easygoing and charming, rarely critical, and all-forgiving. He made her feel better about it immediately, and assured her he wasn’t upset about it at all. By the time their coffee arrived, she had gotten up the courage to ask him about the gallery, and he smiled at her across the table. Avery had warned him about it cryptically, and said she needed his help, and told him to be nice. But he would have been anyway. She was his only child, and however unreliable he had been as a father, he was essentially a kind man.

“I’m very flattered that you would ask me,” he said simply, as he sipped a caf? filtre. “I’m not sure I know any more about running a gallery than you do, probably considerably less. But I would very much enjoy being your silent partner for now.” She told him how much money she needed to satisfy Todd, and it wasn’t a great deal, but it was more than she had. “You can always buy me out, when the gallery takes off,” he said confidently. “You’re not stuck with me forever.”

“Thank you, Dad,” she said, genuinely relieved. They looked very much alike as they sat smiling at each other. She was deeply grateful for his help and had tears in her eyes. He had just helped her save the gallery she had worked so hard on for four years.

She got a call from Avery after lunch that was the first step to saving the house. Her father’s dealer had been thrilled about the paintings she wanted to sell. He had buyers for three of them immediately and thought he could sell two more in Miami in December. But the money from the first three would keep Todd happy for now.

Her father had gone to see his dealer at his gallery, and as Francesca headed toward the subway to head back downtown, she felt as though she had gotten a reprieve from the guillotine. Thanks to her father, and the paintings he had given her over the years that had increased so much in value, she was going to be able to hang on to her gallery and the house she loved so much. It was better than she would ever have dared to dream. As she hurried down the stairs to the subway, Francesca broke into a broad smile. She was off to a good start, and the breakup with Todd didn’t seem quite so bad now. There was hope. She still had a business and a home, and a very nice dad.

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