Authors: Judith Arnold
Tags: #opposites attract jukebox oldies artist heroine brainiac shoreline beach book landlord tenant portrait painting
The Magic Jukebox: BOOK TWO
By Judith Arnold
Copyright © 2014 by Barbara Keiler
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Table of Contents
“We’ve got a problem,” Monica said.
Emma set down her paintbrush and blinked
herself into the here and now. She’d been lost in her work, dabbing
shadings into the stone façade of the castle behind Ava Lowery’s
half-finished face. To Emma’s left stood an easel holding a pin
board that displayed twenty close-up photographs of Ava, a
five-year-old bundle of energy who hadn’t wanted to sit still while
Emma had snapped the pictures, so some of them were a little
blurry. To Emma’s right stood another easel holding images of
medieval castles, unicorns, jewel-encrusted tiaras and satin gowns.
Directly before Emma stood the easel containing the painting she
was working on—her very first Dream Portraits commission since her
arrival in Brogan’s Point four months ago.
A warm wash of sunlight flooded the loft
through the glass wall behind her stool. If she turned around, she
would be rewarded with a spectacular view of scattered trees and
rooftops and outcroppings of granite sloping down toward the heart
of town, and beyond it the ocean. But she needed that wonderful
natural light behind her, spilling onto her canvas, way more than
she needed the distractions of a beautiful view.
Immersed in her painting,
she hadn’t heard Monica climb the stairs to the loft. The stairs
and loft were floored in white wall-to-wall carpeting—what sane
person covered the floor with white?—but Emma had spread a
patchwork of canvas drop cloths across the floor of the loft to
protect the ridiculously impractical carpet from paint spatters.
She should have heard Monica’s shoes scratching across the canvas.
she hadn’t been so intensely focused on the castle she was
Despite that intense focus,
she’d heard Monica’s voice. In particular, she’d heard the
“I’ve already used up my allotment of problems for this year,” she
said. She was smiling, but it was true. Things had finally turned
around for her—thanks, in huge part, to Monica—and she really
wanted to enjoy a few problem-free months before the next onslaught
of problems crashed over her.
She’d been sleeping on her ex-boyfriend’s
cousin’s couch in the Dumbo neighborhood of Brooklyn when Monica
had phoned last November and said, “Look—you and Claudio are
history and you’re living out of a suitcase. And I’m living in this
fabulous house for dirt-cheap. There’s plenty of space here, and a
sun-filled loft where you could paint. Three and a half bathrooms.
Kiss New York goodbye and come to Brogan’s Point.”
Emma had come. She’d scrounged up a few local
art students. She’d knocked herself out promoting her Dream
Portraits business, and she’d finally gotten her first commission.
She wanted only good news from now on.
Maybe the problem Monica had mentioned was
something simple. A clogged toilet? Emma knew how to use a plunger.
A blow-up between Monica and Jimmy? Emma had survived her own
blow-up with Claudio. She could nurse Monica through a heartbreak.
Jimmy wasn’t good enough for Monica, anyway, although Emma was wise
enough to keep that opinion to herself.
Monica didn’t look heartbroken, however. Emma
tore her gaze from the painting she’d been working on and
scrutinized her friend’s expression. As an artist specializing in
portraiture, she knew how to read faces. Monica’s face was not sad
or dejected. It was concerned and annoyed.
Clogged toilet or the equivalent, Emma
thought with relief.
“Our asshole landlord wants to sell this
house,” Monica said.
That was not the equivalent of a clogged
toilet. “What do you mean, sell it?”
“Sell it. Find a buyer and unload it. Stop
renting it to us.”
That was a problem. In fact,
it was a
Emma had no idea what property values were in this picturesque
seaside town an hour north of Boston, but she could guess that any
house as spacious and new as the one she and Monica were renting,
with a gorgeous ocean view and three and a half bathrooms, had to
be worth some serious money. “I don’t suppose we can buy it from
him,” she said.
Monica laughed bitterly. “If someone dies and
leaves us a million dollars, maybe. I just got a call from
“My mother’s friend. The realtor who got me
this deal. The landlord—Max Something, I can’t remember his last
name—lives out in California or somewhere, and he’d asked Andrea to
rent this house out until he figured out what he wanted to do with
it. He didn’t want it sitting empty while he did whatever the hell
it is he does in California, or wherever the hell he is. I got a
year’s lease—way below market value, because he thought I was doing
a favor for him, occupying the place, turning lights on and off and
scaring away potential vandals.”
“You’re so scary,” Emma joked.
“Well, not me in particular. A tenant, any
tenant, as long as I was responsible. Which I am,” Monica insisted,
evidently in response to Emma’s smirk. “I got this deal because my
mother knew Andrea, and she knew I didn’t want to live down the
hall from her and my dad at the inn. Anyway, our landlord—Max
Whatever—can’t evict us until June, because of the lease. But he
might want to start showing the house now, which means we have to
give Andrea access and keep the place tidy.”
“Oh, God,” Emma groaned. “Tidy? Anything but
“It isn’t funny.”
“I know.” Emma drummed her
fingers on one denim-clad knee. Her overalls were speckled with
paint. So, she noticed, were her fingers. She would probably have
less difficulty keeping the house clean than keeping herself clean,
but either way,
didn’t come naturally to her.
Monica was much tidier than Emma. Right now,
on a day off from her job, she was wearing stylish skinny jeans, a
fitted blouse, and ballerina flats that didn’t have a single scuff
on them, let alone freckles of paint like Emma’s battered canvas
sneakers. Monica often worked weekends at the Ocean Bluff Inn and
got a couple of weekdays off in exchange, but her schedule varied
so much, Emma couldn’t keep it straight. Fortunately, she didn’t
have to. When Monica had a day off, she did her best to stay out of
the loft, leaving Emma in solitude to paint, staying out of the way
when Emma was working with her art students. Emma sometimes heard
Monica downstairs, unpacking groceries, running the vacuum cleaner
over the ridiculous white carpet, or chatting on the phone, but
Emma had the ability to submerge herself so deeply in her work that
she was hardly aware of whatever was going on in other parts of the
Creating art in this house, in this loft, was
so much easier for her than her situation in Brooklyn had been.
There, she’d been forced to paint while sharing space with three
other artists in a converted factory broken into floor-through
lofts. None of them could afford to rent a studio alone, so they’d
pooled their resources and split the rent on a loft in the
building. They’d each claimed a quarter of the loft space and did
their best to ignore one another while they were working. Not
ideal, but the arrangement had worked well enough as long as Emma
had been living with Claudio.
But then she’d caught him screwing around
with a naked model in his much grander, unshared studio—that would
teach Emma to surprise him with a spontaneous visit in the middle
of the day. He’d owned the co-op apartment they’d been living in,
so she’d been the one to move out. Fortunately, his cousin Marie
had insisted she liked Emma better than Claudio—“Can I get custody
of you?” she’d asked—and Emma had wound up on her couch for a few
months, until Monica had bailed her out by inviting her to move to
this house in Brogan’s Point.
Which was leased in Monica’s name. The story
of Emma’s life, she thought with a sigh. Maybe someday she’d earn
enough money to be able to sign her own name to a lease.
Actually, if their landlord insisted on
selling this house out from under them, someday might have to come
soon. “If he evicts us, you’ll move back to the inn, right?”
Monica nodded grimly. “I’m not moving in with
my parents. No way. But they’ve got an efficiency apartment there I
can use.” Monica’s parents owned the Ocean Bluff Inn, a landmark
hotel nestled against the shoreline just north of downtown Brogan’s
Point, and Monica was apprenticing her way into the management of
the inn. She’d been working there since high school, first as a
chamber maid, then as a waitress in the inn’s assorted dining
rooms. During college, when she and Emma had met and become best
friends, she’d worked summers as a desk clerk in the lobby. Her
parents insisted that she experience every job at the inn so she’d
learn the business inside and out.
Emma didn’t just adore Monica; she was
intrigued by her. Emma was an artist, and she’d grown up in a
ramshackle old house in Vermont, where her parent grew their own
food, her father did carpentry and her mother snagged part-time
jobs when money grew tight. Business people—people who got steady
paychecks, people who paid their income taxes on time, people who
dressed stylishly even on their days off—were like another species
In college, she’d met plenty of members of
that species, but she’d mostly hung out with her fellow art majors.
Pure chance had assigned Monica as her roommate. However, in spite
of their differences, they’d instantly become fast friends. Maybe
it was a case of opposites attracting. Or maybe it was simply that
Monica was smart and kind and loyal—and as intrigued by Emma as
Emma was by her.
“I really don’t want to move back to the
inn,” Monica confessed. “Not into that tiny apartment, anyway. My
parents have a gorgeous suite there, six rooms, eighteen hundred
square feet. I guess that’ll be mine if they retire and I take over
management of the place. But that’s a long way off. And I can’t
stay there with them now, not with Jimmy.”
Emma considered pointing out that, as a
twenty-six year old woman, Monica was certainly entitled to invite
her boyfriend into her bed—even if he wasn’t good enough for her.
But she recognized the awkwardness of doing that in her parents’
home. There simply wasn’t enough privacy.
At least Monica had access to the efficiency
apartment she’d just mentioned. Emma would have to make her own
living arrangements if she got evicted from this house. Brogan’s
Point wasn’t exactly overflowing with rental housing, let alone
rental housing affordable to an artist just getting started. She
could move to another, cheaper town, but then she’d lose her
students, the main source of her income.
And she’d need a studio, too.
Shit. This wasn’t just a
problem. It was a
“All right,” she said, determined to remain
optimistic. “We’ve got until June. He can’t kick us out before
then. Maybe something will happen in two months.”
“Yeah.” Monica was clearly the less sanguine
partner in their friendship. “Someone can die and leave us a
million dollars. Better yet, Max the landlord can die.”