The tone of accusation in those two words barely registered as I sat with a sense of disquiet in Cole's office, the nearly silent buzz in the library should have amplified her sigh of exasperation as she placed a warm mug of hibiscus tea in front of me but still, it hadn't completely taken me out of my train of thought—
“You should have seen how interested Betty was with that painting.” The words Cole had just said finally caught my attention.
“What painting?” I wanted to confirm my suspicions but ultimately felt dread creeping at the back of my mind after hearing the answer.
“The Portrait of a Lady, the one you called creepy despite all the pastel pinks on it?” Cole meticulously sipped on her own mug of tea as she gave me a questioning look.
“That can't be right..” I mostly mumbled to myself as I leaned back into my seat, but Cole continued to probe me with questions.
“What can't be right?” Confusion evident on her petite face as she slowly lowered her mug to the table.
I looked at her then, trying to find the right words at how best to explain what I saw a few moments ago, my eyes inadvertently grazing the bare wall that used to showcase that painting.
“When I saw it... It was blank.”
“I'm sorry—What??” I could have sworn I heard Roe say 'blank', but I was pretty certain that was exactly what my expression now beheld.
“It was blank! Like it was devoid of—of the dark aura I felt from it before!”
I watched Roe fumble for words but couldn't help feeling relieved that the painting was still safely in Betty's hands—Wait...
“Where did you last see the painting?” I blurted out my question, sure that Roe couldn't have possibly seen Betty with it as she wasn't at the children's story session—
“I saw it with Lee! He took it out of the side alley with some old cloth wrapped around it!”
Roe was adamant in her testimony, but I was certain I last saw that painting in Betty's hands as she left the library... And what use would Hilda's long lost son have from an allegedly cursed object, when Mr. Cross wouldn't even have it?
My unvoiced questions were left unheard at Noel's sudden intrusion, “Cole! The Director's Office got trashed!”
Author's note: Where it all began... My InkWell Story Map. It all began in The Ink Well Fast and Furious Festival and continues on The Ink Well Weekly Fiction Prompt. I'm a work in progress, and so is my story. Thank you for your patience.