Emma Frost snapped out of a daydream when the taste of blood hit her tongue. “Damn it.” She reached into her purse, searched its contents, and pulled out a wrinkled tissue crusted with snot.
Pressing it against her ragged cuticle, she winced. Shit, I hope this doesn’t ruin my chances. After shoving the tissue back into her purse, she breathed deeply, filling her diaphragm, and calmed her nerves.
One after another, visitors entered the museum’s Great Hall, gawking at the immensity of the room with the white limestone, the pillars, and so many arches that some might complain of vertigo.
Emma smiled, recalling her first visit. She’d been enthralled, too, thinking she’d walked into a palace, a building of unearthly capabilities, its massive collection magical.
She couldn’t understand how artists used simple tools to create scenes and images that could electrify the brain, making one contemplate light and color or consider emotion in history. Those exhibited in The Met were sorcerers, time travelers, and gypsies wielding powers in the form of brush and paint.
She’d come back to the museum again and again, memorizing its halls and declaring favorite benches, depending on which pieces they faced. Then, two months after completing her master’s at Columbia, the position for Assistant Curator of American Art had been posted, and she’d nearly fainted.
If she didn’t get this job, any other would be a disappointment.
Emma shifted on the marble bench when Craig Wolff emerged between two limestone pillars on the far side of the room. Shorter than she remembered and his beard longer, he navigated his way over the mosaic floor, steering through dozens of people without giving them a single glance.
She closed her eyes, breathed again, and imagined the sun setting over a white sandy beach, a coping mechanism she’d practiced since high school. Looking again at Craig, she stood, smoothed out the front of her navy suit, and waited.
“Emma Frost?” His voice was raspy, as though he might be getting over a cold.
“Mr. Wolff, nice to see you again.” She shook his hand, matching the firm grip.
“We met once when you gave a guest lecture at Columbia last year. I came up afterward and asked about The Hudson River School.”
“Yes, of course.” His eyes narrowed, and he scratched his neck, as though trying to remember.
By the way he continued to look into the distance, Emma doubted that he did.
“Please, call me Craig.” He stretched his arms out in front of him, accentuating his round belly, which resembled an inflated beach ball. “Welcome to The Metropolitan Museum of Art.”
Emma had the urge to tell him everything she thought was amazing about the museum, but before she had a chance to formulate the words, he coughed.
“Well, are you ready then?”
She hadn’t finished nodding before he turned and walked back from where he’d come.
Wait, was on the tip of her tongue, though she dared not say it. Instead, she grabbed her purse and caught up with him.
They walked through the Greek and Roman Art Hall to an elevator tucked behind a sculpture of three naked female bodies, arms draped over shoulders. Like so many of the other sculptures, they were white and headless, their stillness converting the museum to a mausoleum. She’d never been fond of this type of art, and as she stepped onto the elevator, she tried to rub the goose bumps from her skin.
“Do you come to the museum often?” Craig asked after the elevator doors slid shut.
In the tight confines, she smelled an unsettling combination of pickles and cologne. She took a small step away and prayed he hadn’t noticed. “Uh, yes. Many times. This was my favorite place to study. I find it…” She paused. “Inspirational.”
“Inspirational? Well, I guess that’s the right word for it, isn’t it? So much talent in one space. It’s enough to make your head spin. Never enough time to experience it all, is there?”
Emma noted Craig’s use of experience, not see. It was perfectly accurate. Art was so much more than paint and canvas, its journey into the imagination endless.
The door opened, and Craig stepped out, nodding in the direction of a long hallway, before taking off again, his quick strides inconsistent with his portly shape.
Emma lagged behind, imagining what lay behind each door she passed—walls crowded with paintings, cabinets full of sculptures, and shelves piled high with prints. She’d never gone beyond the museum’s public halls, and she believed this was where most of its collection was stored.
Craig stopped to wait. “You okay?”
“Perfect,” she whispered, still looking around. “I’m just wondering what’s in all these rooms.”
Emma sidled up to him. “Paper?”
“Yes.” Craig sighed. “Behind most of these doors are books, catalogues, and magazines—information. I wouldn’t get too excited about it all. You’ll only walk away disappointed.”
“Where are the collections then?”
“All over. This is a big building. This hall just has offices.” He took a set of keys out from his pocket. “Well, here we are.” He pointed at a door and opened it.
Emma practically bumped into him. She was about to apologize but froze at the sight of Craig’s office. It was the size of a classroom and overflowing with framed artwork, furniture one could only find in an antique shop, and bronze, marble, and glass sculptures.
“Oh, Craig, this is so much more than paper.”
“I’m sorry about the clutter.” He pointed at a chair in front of a large desk. “Shall we begin?” He sat in a plush leather seat on the other side and grabbed a notebook and pen.
Emma nodded, lowering herself into the chair.