Saturday morning, Daisy received a call.
“So Daisy.” Ellen’s voice was bright and cheerful through the phone. “Are you coming with us to watch the latest Marvel movie? Chris Hemsworth alone is worth the price of admission.”
Daisy could picture her best friend’s sly smile as she said the words.
Of course, Ellen had a Chris Hemsworth lookalike of her own, so it was easy for her to say things like that. Justin was tall, blond, handsome, and athletic, and he and Ellen had been together for a year now. Everyone knew that the two of them were blissfully happy and that wedding bells were imminent.
Daisy sighed to herself.
Ellen could kid about hunks because she had one of her own—and Daisy was happy for her—truly happy.
But sometimes she felt a bit wistful.
“Daisy?” Ellen said. “Are you still there?”
“Yes,” Daisy said. “Sorry.”
“So are you coming this afternoon? Will you join us for the movie?”
Us—it was always “us” these days. Daisy could remember when she was part of an “us” and Ellen was the friend who tagged along. But that was a long time ago now.
“I can’t,” Daisy said. “I’m seeing Leonardo this afternoon.”
“Seeing Leonardo again?” Ellen’s voice became warm and insinuating. “When are we going to get to meet this mystery man?”
“Not just yet,” Daisy replied. “It’s a bit complicated at the moment.”
“Well, don’t let it get too complicated. And I’m glad you’ve met someone. It’s been a while since Dave.”
Daisy glanced at the time. “I’ve got to go. I’m seeing Leonardo early.”
“Have fun,” Ellen said.
“You, too,” Daisy replied.
Then she stashed her phone in her bag and hurried out the door.
Soon Daisy arrived at the Fine Arts Museum, and she stood for just a moment, staring up at the graceful, gray stone building with its row of pillars in the front. Then she started up the wide, marble steps and came to stand in front of the towering, brass-studded doors.
The museum opened every day promptly at ten, and as Daisy waited by the doors at ten minutes to ten, there was a smattering of tourists waiting with her.
The tourists typically made her antsy—she didn’t like to get caught up in a group of people who milled around without any purpose.
But Daisy knew from experience that she could get ahead of them—she knew where she was going, and they didn’t.
When the doors opened, Daisy walked in along with the tourists. She waited patiently in line to have her purse searched by the security guards, and then she followed the slow-moving group up the few short steps to the Great Hall.
The Great Hall was really quite beautiful—it was a work of art in itself. A paned, patterned skylight soared overhead, and majestic pillars surrounded a circular area underneath that was filled with ornate benches. And the hall was full of plants—big, beautiful green fronds and red and yellow flowers spilled out of enormous stone urns. The plants were truly lovely, and Daisy wondered if they were real—she’d never paused long enough to find out.
And she didn’t have time to pause now, either—she had to get to Leonardo.
Daisy stepped nimbly around the small crowd and hurried on to the galleries.
Gallery Five was where she knew Leonardo would be waiting for her.
She reached the gallery, and found George, the security guard, standing by the open entrance. George was bald and bespectacled, and he wore the same white shirt and navy trousers that all the security guards wore.
He smiled as she walked in. “Back again, miss?”
Daisy smiled back. “I can’t seem to stay away.”
There in front of her was Leonardo—or rather Leonardo’s painting. The painting hung by itself on a display stand in the center of the room. It was the museum’s most famous painting and its best-known attraction. The tourists would flock here eventually.
Daisy was in the Italian Renaissance section of the museum—but it wasn’t a painting by that Leonardo, the famous, immortal Italian master, Leonardo da Vinci. Instead, it was a painting by Leonardo Ferrantini, a contemporary of the other Leonardo’s, but not nearly so accomplished. The painting was his only well-known work, and Daisy’s relatively minor local museum had managed to snag it.
It drew hundreds of visitors a day, and lately, Daisy had become one of those visitors.
She had come to see Leonardo—or at least the art he had shared with the world.
The painting was of a young girl—only eighteen—with honey-colored hair and warm, brown eyes that stared off into the distance with a wise, hopeful expression—as if she were seeing the future. The portrait showed her in three-quarter profile, and her slender, long-fingered hands rested on what looked like the back of a chair. Behind her stretched an expanse of trees—lush and green. The occasion of the portrait was apparently the girl’s betrothal, and the painting was simply titled, “Giovanna, in Honor of Her Wedding.”
Daisy looked at the painting now and felt a sense of peace steal over her. She felt like Giovanna—and Leonardo—had something to tell her—some secret to impart.
And Daisy was going to continue to come to see Leonardo’s great painting until she figured out what it was.
Daisy had first come to the museum on a whim one day after work—in the warmer months, the Fine Arts Museum kept later hours. She hadn’t even known that the painting existed, and her discovery of it was a delightful surprise—and she just kept coming back.
She didn’t know why she had never told Ellen she was going to the art museum. Somehow, it seemed more accurate to say that she was going to see Leonardo—rather than to see his painting. Ellen, she knew, thought she was going all this time to meet a person, and Daisy had certainly allowed her to think that.
“She looks like she knows a secret,” said a voice at Daisy’s ear. “Do you think it’s one she knows herself? Or is it one the artist told her?”
Daisy turned and looked up into brown eyes that were just as warm as Giovanna’s. A man was standing just behind her, and it wasn’t George the security guard.
He was handsome, young—about her age—and he was smiling at her.
“What was that?” Daisy said.
“The secret in her eyes,” he said. “Do you think it’s her secret or the artist’s?”
“Maybe it’s both,” Daisy replied.
She felt drawn to this stranger and wanted to talk to him a little more. But she realized he was just making polite small talk, the way people sometimes did in museums and other public spaces. She also realized that if this man was here that the tourists must be catching up to her.
Handsome as he was, it was time for Daisy to be moving on—her time with Leonardo was over.
“Enjoy the painting,” she said and left the room.
She moved on into the next gallery and was relieved to find no one there. There were usually security guards every couple of rooms, and this time she’d found one without a guard.
Daisy didn’t know why, but after talking to the man in the other room, she felt a little unsettled. She needed a few moments to herself to get back to normal.
This room also housed lesser-known artists of the Italian Renaissance, and Daisy spent several calming minutes perusing the paintings. The gallery after that featured Spanish artists of a slightly later period, and Daisy was amused to see that this room was empty also—her luck was holding. She spent some time examining the paintings at her leisure and then moved on.
By the time Daisy made it to the galleries containing paintings by the lesser-known Dutch masters, she began to get worried. All of the rooms she had passed through had been empty—there were no tourists and there were also no security guards. Daisy knew the museum took security very seriously, and she had never gone through three rooms without encountering a guard before, let alone ten.
Daisy stepped out into the hall, puzzled, but the hall was also empty. She looked into room after room—she was all alone.
In a panic, she began to run back toward the Great Hall.
She wondered if maybe there had been an emergency, and she somehow hadn’t been able to hear the alarm.
Daisy reached the main hall with its soaring skylight and its plants, and she found that it was completely empty.
There wasn’t a single tourist in sight.
She hurried down the steps to the guards’ desk by the door, but she found that those guards, too, were gone.
And so was the door.
Daisy hurried up to the wall. Where the brass-studded double doors had once stood, there was now a completely smooth, blank wall—it was as if the doors had never existed.
Daisy ran back up to the Great Hall and then hurried on to the galleries that she had been exploring before. She stood staring down the long hall and shouted.
At first there was no answer. And then a head poked out from one of the galleries.
“Hello?” said the figure.
Daisy squinted. It looked like the man who had spoken to her earlier.
He stepped out into the hall.
“Hello?” the man said.
Daisy turned and ran.
She ran back to the Great Hall and on into the other wing of the museum—she knew there was an exit on that side. She hurried down the hall and ran down the stairs. But when she reached the spot where the door should have been, all she saw was another blank wall.
Daisy ran her hands over the smooth, featureless wall.
She was trapped.
She heard footsteps running down the hall, and she whirled around. Moments later, the man from Leonardo’s gallery appeared at the top of the stairs.
“Stay right where you are!” Daisy commanded, and her voice echoed in the stairwell.
“Okay,” the man said, and he held out his hands in a placating gesture. “I’m—”
“What’s going on?” Daisy demanded. “What have you done?”
“What have I done?” the man said. He stepped down onto the first step.
“I said stay where you are!” Daisy shouted.
“Okay,” the man said. He sat down on the first step, and he placed a hand on his chest. “I have the completely non-threatening name of Harvey. And from the sound of your voice, I’m guessing you’re just as confused as I am. I very genuinely have no idea what’s going on here.”
Daisy eyed him warily. “You didn’t do something to get rid of all the people?”
“No,” the man said.
“What about the doors? Did you get rid of those?”
“What? No. I don’t even know how that’s possible.”
Daisy stepped a little closer and looked at him. His brown eyes were puzzled and frank.
“Your name is Harvey?” Daisy said.
He smiled. “Yes—but my friends call me ‘H.’ ”
“And you really don’t know what happened here?”
“No. I have no idea. I’m still not one hundred percent sure that I haven’t imagined all this.”
“I know what you mean,” Daisy said. “My name’s Daisy, by the way.”
Harvey stood and held out his hand. “Nice to meet you, Daisy.”
Daisy ran up the stairs and shook his hand. “Nice to meet you, too. Though the circumstances are a little unusual.”
She glanced back at the bare wall that used to have a door. “Any idea what we should do next?”
Harvey shook his head. “My cell phone’s dead, which is odd because I charged it just before I left. How about yours?”
Daisy took her phone out of her purse. “Mine’s dead, too. So I guess no one from the outside is coming to help us. And these windows have heavy bars for security. I don’t think we’ll be able to smash one and get out.”
Harvey frowned in thought. “When’s the last time you remember things being normal?”
“That would be in the room with the Leonardo Ferrantini painting when I was talking to you,” Daisy said. “I left that room and suddenly everybody was gone.”
“Me, too,” Harvey said. “I left a few minutes after you did, but that’s when I lost everybody, also.”
“Maybe we should go back,” Daisy said. “Maybe we can get everything to—reset?”
“That’s just what I was thinking. And there’s a nice leather sofa in there. At the very least we’d have some place comfortable to sit.”
The two of them started down the hall.
Harvey glanced over at Daisy.
“Maybe we should hold hands,” he said. “As far as I can tell, there’s only two of us left in the world, and I don’t want to lose you.”
Daisy looked over at him. “I think we’ll be fine.”
“Okay,” Harvey said. “But the offer’s always open.”
Daisy and Harvey walked back down the long hallway toward the Great Hall. They met no one on the way, and as they passed through the Great Hall, they noticed that the door was still missing. They moved on to the hallway on the other side, and they met no one there, either.
They soon reached the gallery where Giovanna’s portrait hung.
There was indeed a couch set several feet from the display stand that supported the painting, and Daisy had sat there on many occasions—the sofa was set at the perfect distance to admire the painting’s beauty.
As they stepped into the room, Harvey waved a hand over the plum leather sofa.
“Pray be seated, my lady.”
Daisy sat down and shot a glance at Harvey as he sat down beside her.
“Let me guess, Harvey,” she said. “You were the class clown in school.”
He gave her a mock glance of horror, but she could tell he wasn’t displeased.
“What makes you say that?”
“First the hand-holding joke,” Daisy said. “And now the ‘my lady’ stuff.”
“Yes—joke,” Harvey said. “And feel free to call me ‘H.’ All my friends do.”
“Why ‘H’?” Daisy asked.
“I guess it’s my attempt at being cool. ‘Harvey’ isn’t exactly a great name. And neither is ‘Harve.’ ‘H’ was the best I could come up with.”
“I’m going to call you ‘Harvey,’ ” Daisy said. “I think it’s much nicer.”
Harvey stared at her. “You’ve got to be kidding. No one has ever liked my name.”
“I do,” Daisy said. “And I’m not joking at all. Not even a little bit.”
Harvey glanced over at the portrait of Giovanna.
“Speaking of joking, Giovanna’s still sitting there smiling as if she knows a secret. What do want to bet the secret she knows is how to get out of here?”
Daisy and Harvey sat and talked for a while, and then they wandered through the galleries, admiring the paintings. They looked in all the restrooms, and they even peeked behind the doors that were marked “staff only,” and found offices in varying stages of tidiness. They tried the phones in the empty offices, too—they didn’t work, either.
Eventually, they wandered back to the room with Giovanna’s painting.
They sat down on the sofa again, and before she knew it, Daisy fell asleep.
When she woke up, she felt relaxed and comfortable.
Then she realized that her head was resting on Harvey’s shoulder.
Daisy quickly sat up.
“Sorry,” she said.
“Oh, no,” Harvey said. “I don’t mind—not at all. Feel free to rest your head on my shoulder any time.”
They both lapsed into silence.
Eventually, Harvey sighed softly. “I have a confession to make—I came here today specifically to see this painting. In fact, I’ve been coming here to see it a lot. For some reason, it speaks to me.”
Daisy smiled. “I did the same thing. In fact, I even told my friend Ellen that I came here to see Leonardo—as in the artist who painted the portrait. She thinks I’m on a date.”
Harvey shot a glance over at her. “On a date with the artist? Now who’s the class clown?”
He looked over at the painting. “I can understand what you mean, though. Giovanna’s portrait was made to commemorate her upcoming wedding. And I have a feeling it was a happy one—the wedding and the marriage.”
He paused. “My own wasn’t so happy. My wedding I mean—the marriage itself never happened.”
Daisy looked over at him. “What happened?”
Harvey looked down at his hands.
“It was about a year ago. I got left at the altar.”
“I’m so sorry,” Daisy said.
Harvey nodded. “It’s okay. I think ultimately she was right—we really weren’t suited for each other. But I wish she hadn’t chosen such a painful, public way to end things.”
“I really am sorry,” Daisy said. “That must have been devastating.”
Harvey nodded again—as if to confirm Daisy’s words and shake off a memory.
“How about you?” he said. “Married? Single? Other?”
“I almost got married once, too,” Daisy said. “His name was Dave. We got engaged—and it was a long engagement. We did a little wedding planning, and we were always talking about it. But somehow we never quite got there. It went on for years—and then we broke up. It was nothing dramatic like what happened to you. We just drifted apart.”
Daisy looked back up at the painting. “And somehow after that, I kind of gave up. I stopped looking—I stopped trying for happiness.”
Harvey smiled ruefully. “I know exactly what you mean.”
“And I think my coming here so often was another way to avoid things,” Daisy said musingly. “Here in the museum everything is perfect and beautiful—and nothing ever changes.”
A thought occurred to her suddenly, and she went on in a rush. “Giovanna over there is forever a young woman about to get married. Her portrait never changes. I’ve been frozen the same way—unable to move on.”
Harvey took a deep breath. “You said it all. I’m right there with you.”
He looked over at her. “You know, I wish we’d met under more normal circumstances.”
“Me, too,” Daisy said.
Harvey stood up. “Well, we’ve been here for hours, and it looks like we’re stuck. Should we see if the café is still here? Maybe we can find some food, even if there are no people left to serve it.”
Daisy stood up also. “Sounds good to me.”
Harvey smiled at her. “In a way, this is almost like a date—we’ve got the whole museum to ourselves, and we’re about to go for a romantic dinner, just the two of us.”
“A date?” Daisy said.
“Yes,” Harvey replied. “It’s just a very weird one.”
Daisy laughed. “Well, I agree. It sounds like a date to me.”
Harvey waved a hand toward the doorway. “After you, my lady.”
Daisy stepped out into the hall, and Harvey stepped out after her.
A moment later, they nearly collided with George the security guard.
He grinned at them. “I was wondering when you two lovebirds were finally going to get off that couch. The museum’s closing, you know.”
“What?” Daisy exclaimed.
She looked around. The hallway was full of people, many of them headed toward the Great Hall and the exit.
“How long have you been here?” Harvey asked the guard.
“All day,” George replied. “It’s my job to guard Giovanna here. She’s our most famous painting.”
Daisy stepped forward as a tourist hurried past her. “And how long have all these people been here?”
George looked at her, puzzled. “They’ve been here all day, too. Saturday’s our busiest day.”
“And it’s nearly closing time?” Harvey said. “Are you saying we’ve been in this room for hours and hours?”
George grinned. “Yes. You two seem a little out of it. You must really have been enjoying each other’s company.”
He winked at us.
“But seriously, it’s time for us to close up now. I’m going to have to ask you folks to leave—but you can come back tomorrow. We open at ten.”
Daisy looked around. “We’re free?”
“We’re free!” Harvey said. He grabbed her hand, and the two of them ran out of the museum.
They didn’t pause for breath until they had run down all of the steps outside the museum and were standing on the sidewalk in the early evening sunshine.
Daisy stared up at the big, gray building. “I can’t believe we made it out.”
“We were really lost in there, weren’t we?” Harvey said. “I thought I’d never see daylight again.”
“Do you think we were really sitting on the couch the whole time like the security guard said?” Daisy asked. “I really can’t believe that.”
“I can’t believe that, either. Maybe Giovanna cast a spell on us—or Leonardo—or both.”
“The artist and his muse,” Daisy said. “Working together.”
“Whatever happened,” Harvey said, “we can’t tell anyone about this—no one will ever believe us.”
“That’s true enough,” Daisy replied ruefully.
Harvey glanced over at her. “We’ll never be able to tell our children how we met.”
“There you go joking again.”
“Yes—joking,” Harvey said.
“I don’t know about you,” Daisy said. “But I’m starving.”
“Would you like to go to a very normal, very non-museum-related place for dinner?” Harvey asked.
“I would love that,” Daisy replied.
On the next Saturday, Daisy received another call from her friend Ellen.
“So Daisy,” Ellen said. “Justin and I saw the new Marvel movie last week, and we’re thinking of seeing it again. Would you like to join us?”
“I’m sorry—I can’t,” Daisy said. “I’m seeing Harvey this afternoon.”
“Harvey?” Ellen said. “I don’t remember hearing about him. When did you meet him?”
“Last Saturday?” Ellen said. “Weren’t you seeing Leonardo last Saturday?”
Daisy smiled to herself. “I was going to see Leonardo, but I met Harvey on the way.”
Thanks very much for reading!