Chapter no 17

Hidden Pictures

When I return to my cottage, there’s a two-word text on my phone from Adrian: good news. I call him back and he answers on the first ring.

“The library found something.” “Something like a photo of Annie Barrett?”

“Better. A book of her paintings.” I can hear other voices in the background, men and women laughing, like I’ve reached Adrian in a bar.

“Do you want to meet up?”

“Yes, but I need you to come here. My parents’ house. They’re hosting a dinner and I promised to eat with their friends. But if you come over, I’ll be off the hook.”

I’m still in my running clothes, I haven’t done any of my stretches, and after 8.78 miles I am insanely thirsty and hungry—but I say I’ll be there in thirty minutes. One day without stretching won’t kill me.

I chug another glass of water, fix a quick sandwich, and hop in the shower. Three minutes later, I’m stepping into one of Caroline’s prettiest outfits—a mint-green minidress with a white baby’s breath floral print. Then I hurry over to the Flower Castle.

Adrian answers the door instead of his parents, and I’m relieved. His clothes are country club casual—a pink polo shirt tucked into belted khaki pants.

“Perfect timing,” he says. “We just put out dessert.” Then he leans closer and whispers: “By the way, my parents want to know why we’re so interested in Annie Barrett. So I said

you found some sketches in your cottage, hidden under the floorboards. I said you’re trying to figure out if Annie drew them. A little white lie seemed easier than telling the truth.” “I understand,” I tell him, and I really do, more than he


The Flower Castle is much bigger than the Maxwells’ house but inside it feels smaller and warmer and more intimate. All the rooms are decorated with mission-style furniture; the walls are adorned with family portraits and maps of Central and South America, and it feels like his family has lived here for years. We pass an upright piano and a curio cabinet full of pottery, and there are leafy green houseplants growing in every window. I want to stop and linger over everything but Adrian marches into a noisy dining room with a dozen middle-aged people. They’re gathered around a table that’s covered in wineglasses and dessert plates. There are five different conversations happening at once, and no one notices that we’ve arrived until Adrian waves his hands and calls for their attention.

“Everybody, this is Mallory,” he says. “She’s working as a nanny this summer, for a family on Edgewood Street.”

At the head of the table, Ignacio raises his glass in a toast, sloshing red wine on his hand and wrist. “And she’s a Big Ten athlete! She’s a distance runner for Penn State!”

These people react like I’m Serena Williams fresh off my latest victory at Wimbledon. Adrian’s mother, Sofia, is circling the table with a bottle of Malbec, topping off glasses, and she rests a sympathetic hand on my shoulder. “Pardon my husband,” she says. “He’s a little achispado.”

“She means tipsy,” Adrian translates, and then he points around the dining room, introducing me to everyone. There are too many names for me to remember—the chief of the Spring Brook Fire Department is there, along with a lesbian couple who run the bakery in town, and a couple of neighbors from down the block.

“I understand you’re here for a library book,” Sofia says.

“Yes, but I don’t want to interrupt—”

“Please, I’ve known these people thirty years. We have nothing left to say to each other!” Her friends laugh, and Sofia grabs a file folder off the counter. “Let’s go talk in the yard.”

She opens a sliding glass door and I follow her outside to the most extravagant backyard garden I’ve ever seen. It’s the middle of July and everything’s blooming: blue hydrangea, bright red zinnia, yellow daylilies, and a host of exotic flowers I’ve never seen before. There are benches and stepping-stones and archways draped with purple morning glories; there are birdbaths and brick paths and rows of sunflowers taller than my head. In the center of everything is a cedar gazebo with a table and chairs, overlooking a koi pond with a softly splashing waterfall. I wish I had more time to admire everything—I feel like I’m walking through Disneyland—but I can tell that for Adrian and Sofia, it’s just their backyard, it’s no big deal.

We move into the gazebo and Adrian uses an app on his phone to brighten the party lights strung across the ceiling. Then we all take seats and Sofia gets down to business.

“This is a difficult project to research. The first challenge is that the story’s very old, so nothing’s on the internet. The second challenge is that Annie Barrett died right after World War II, so all the newspapers were still obsessed with Europe.”

“How about local news?” I ask. “Did Spring Brook have some kind of daily paper?”

“The Herald,” she says, nodding. “They published from 1910 to 1991 but we lost their microfilm in a warehouse fire. Everything went up in smoke.” She gestures poof! and I glimpse a tiny tattoo on her left forearm: a slender long-stemmed rose, tasteful and elegant, but I’m still surprised. “I checked the library for physical copies but no luck. Nothing before 1963. So I figured I’d reached a dead end, but one of my coworkers pointed me to the local authors

shelf. Anytime someone in town publishes a book, we usually order a copy. Just to be nice. Mostly it’s mysteries and memoirs, but sometimes it’s local history. And that’s where I found this.”

She reaches inside the folder for a very slender volume— it’s more of a pamphlet, really, thirty-some pages with a cardstock cover and bound with thick, rusted industrial staples. The title page looks like it was produced on an old-fashioned manual typewriter:


“It wasn’t in our computer system,” Sofia continues. “I don’t think this book has circulated in fifty years.”

I hold the book close to my face. It has a musty, pungent odor—like its pages are rotting. “Why is it so small?”

“Her cousin self-published it. Just a small run for friends and family, and I guess someone donated a copy to the library. There’s a note from George Barrett on the first page.”

The cover feels old and brittle, like a dried husk, ready to crack between my fingers. I open it carefully and begin to read:

In March of 1946, my cousin Anne Catherine Barrett left Europe to begin a new life here in the United States. As a gesture of Christian kindness, my wife Jean and I invited “Annie” to live with our family. Jean and I do not have any siblings, and we looked forward to having another adult relative in our household— someone to help raise our three young daughters.

Annie was just nineteen years old when she arrived in the United States. She was very beautiful but like many young women also very foolish. Jean and I made countless efforts to introduce Annie into Spring Brook

society. I’m an alderman for the town council and I also serve on the vestry of St. Mark’s Church. My wife Jean is very active in the local Woman’s Club. Our closest friends welcomed my cousin into the community with many kind and thoughtful invitations, but Annie turned them all down.

She was silly and solitary and described herself as an artist. She spent her free time painting in her cottage, or walking barefoot in the forest behind our house. Sometimes I would spot her down on her hands and knees, like an animal, studying caterpillars or sniffing at flowers.

Jean compiled a short list of daily chores for Annie to complete, in return for her room and board. Most days, these chores went unfinished. Annie showed no interest in being part of our family, part of our community, or even part of the great American experiment.

I had many disagreements with Annie about her choices. Many times, I warned Annie that she was behaving irresponsibly or even immorally, that all of her bad decisions would catch up with her. I take no satisfaction in knowing that circumstances have proven me correct.

On December 9, 1948, my cousin was attacked and abducted from the small guest cottage at the back of our property. As I write these words nearly a full year later, Annie is presumed dead by the local police, and I fear her body is buried somewhere in the three hundred acres behind my home.

In the aftermath of this tragedy, many of my Spring Brook neighbors have reached out to offer their prayers and fellowship. I have compiled this book as a token of appreciation for their support. Despite my differences with my cousin, I always believed she had a creative spark, and this volume is a memorial to her

slight achievements. Collected here are all the finished paintings left by Anne Catherine Barrett at the time of her demise. When possible, I have included titles and dates of composition. May these paintings stand as a tribute to a sad and tragic life cut short.

George Barrett November 1949

Spring Brook, New Jersey

I start turning the pages. The book is filled with blurry black-and-white photographs of Annie’s canvases. Paintings called Daffodils and Tulips have wiggly rectangles that don’t look anything like flowers. And a painting called Fox features diagonal lines slashed across the canvas. There’s nothing remotely realistic in the book—just abstract shapes and splatters and blobs of paint, like something off the spin-art machines at a church carnival.







It’s a massive disappointment. “These look nothing like the drawings in my cottage.”

“But painting is one thing and drawing is another,” Sofia says. “Some artists use different styles for different mediums. Or they just like to mix it up. One of my favorites, Gerhard Richter, he spent his whole career moving between very abstract and very realistic paintings. Maybe Annie liked both.”

“But if that’s true, the book doesn’t answer anything.” “Ah, but wait,” Sofia says. “There’s still one more thing I

need to show you. Yesterday I called over to the courthouse, because that’s where they keep the old wills. They’re a matter of public record, anyone can view them. And you’d be amazed by the things people are willing to share after they’re dead.” She opens the folder and removes a pair of blurry photocopies. “I didn’t expect Annie Barrett to have a will—she died much too young—but I did find the last will and testament of George Barrett. He passed in 1974 and left everything to his wife, Jean. And here’s where things get really interesting. Jean retired to Florida and lived until 1991. And when she passed, she left most of her estate to her daughters. But she also left fifty thousand dollars to a niece, Dolores Jean Campbell of Akron, Ohio. Now, do you know why I find that surprising?”

And at once I understand why the book is such a revelation. “Because Jean and George didn’t have siblings. George said so in his introduction.”

“Exactly! So who is this mystery niece and where did she come from? I wondered to myself: What if Jean thinks of this girl as a niece, but she’s really the child of a cousin? What if she’s a consequence of Annie’s ‘irresponsible’ and ‘immoral’ behavior? I started wondering: Maybe there’s more to the story than George is letting on. Maybe Jean felt some obligation to look after the girl.”

I do the arithmetic in my head. “If Dolores was born in 1948, she wouldn’t be that old. She could still be alive.”

“She could indeed.” Sofia pushes a small square of paper across the table. It has the name “Dolores Jean Campbell” and a ten-digit phone number. “That’s the area code for Akron, Ohio. She’s living in a retirement community called Rest Haven.”

“You talked to her?”

“And deny you the thrill of calling this number? Not a chance, Mallory. But I’m very curious to know who answers the phone. I’d love to hear what you find out.”

“Thank you. This is incredible.”

From inside the house, there’s a sound of breaking glass, followed by uproarious laughter. Sofia glances at her son. “I think your father’s telling dirty jokes again. I should get inside before he embarrasses me.” She stands up. “But tell me again why you’re interested in all of this?”

“Mallory found some pictures in her cottage,” Adrian says. “Stashed under her floor. We already went over this.”

Sofia laughs. “Mijo, you were a horrible liar at age four and you’re even worse now. This morning you said Mallory found the pictures in a closet.”

“Under the floor of a closet,” Adrian insists.

Sofia gives me a look that says: Do you believe this kid? “If you guys don’t want to tell me, that’s fine. But I’m going to suggest you both be careful. If you start poking your noses into family secrets, someone may bite them off.”



I’m tempted to call Dolores immediately, but it’s late, nearly ten o’clock, and Adrian suggests I’ll get better results in the morning. “She’s probably asleep.”

I know he’s right, I’m just impatient. I need information and I need it quickly. I tell him about my latest confrontation with the Maxwells. “I showed them Anya’s drawings. I explained how the pictures keep turning up in my cottage. But they don’t believe me, Adrian. And I mean of course

they don’t believe me! It sounds crazy. I know it sounds crazy. Caroline acted like maybe I’m drawing the pictures, like I’m making up the whole story to get attention.”

“We’re going to prove you’re telling the truth,” Adrian says. “But first we should go to the house and get some churros.”


“Because they’re awesome, and they will make you forget about all your problems. Trust me.”

We return to the house and find the dinner party has kicked into a higher gear. There’s Top 40 on the stereo, everyone has moved into the living room, and Ignacio seems more achispado than ever. He’s demonstrating the paso doble, a dance he claims to have mastered in his youth, and Sofia is his surprisingly game partner, shaking her skirts and following his lead. Their guests are clapping and cheering and Adrian just shakes his head, embarrassed and exasperated. “This happens every time they have people over,” he says. “My dad’s such a ham.”

We grab two cans of seltzer from the refrigerator. Then Adrian fills a plate with churros, drizzles them with chocolate sauce, and brings me outside for a walking tour of the garden. He says his father’s been working on it for thirty years, that it’s his own personal Versailles.

“What’s a Versailles?”

“Like the palace? In France?”

He seems surprised that I’ve never heard of it, but what can I tell you? People in South Philly don’t spend a lot of time talking about French royalty. Still, I don’t want to look like an idiot, so I shovel on more lies.

“Oh, Versailles,” I say, laughing. “I misheard you.”

We wander the trails and Adrian introduces me to all the garden’s secrets: the family of cardinals nesting in the sour cherry tree. A small alcove for private prayer with a shrine to the Virgin Mary. And a wooden bench on the banks of the koi pond, next to the waterfall. We stop and share our

churros with some of the fish. There must be seven or eight of them, bobbing openmouthed on the surface of the water.

“This is a really special place.”

Adrian shrugs. “I’d be happier with a swimming pool. Like the Maxwells have.”

“No, this is better. You’re lucky.”

I feel his hand on my waist, and when I turn to look he kisses me. His lips taste sweet, like cinnamon and chocolate, and I want to pull him closer, I want to kiss him again.

But first I need to tell him the truth. I put my hand on his chest.

“Wait.” He stops.

He looks into my eyes, waiting.

And I’m sorry but I don’t know how to tell him. The whole scene is just too perfect: All the soft little lights are twinkling, the waterfall sounds like music, and the smell of the flowers is intoxicating—and it’s another perfect moment I can’t bring myself to ruin.

Because clearly I am past the point of no return. Lying to Adrian was bad enough. But now I’ve lied to his parents and even his parents’ friends. Once these people learn the truth, there’s no way they’ll ever accept me. My relationship with Adrian doesn’t stand a chance. We’re like one of Teddy’s playtime soap bubbles—magical, buoyant, lighter than air— and doomed to explode.

He realizes something’s wrong and pulls back.

“Sorry about that. I think I misread the moment. But if I talk long enough and fast enough we can just act like it didn’t happen, right?” He stands up, looking sheepish. “We’ve got Ping-Pong in the garage. Do you feel like playing?”

I take his hand and pull him back toward the bench. This time, I kiss him. I put my hand on his heart and lean into his body so there’s no mistaking how I feel.

“No,” I tell him. “I don’t want to leave here.”



But I do leave, eventually.

The dinner party breaks up around ten thirty. From our bench in the shadows of the garden, we can hear car doors slamming and engines starting and guests pulling out of the grand circular driveway.

Adrian and I stay in the garden past midnight. Eventually all the lights inside the house blink off and it seems his parents have gone to bed and I decide I should probably get going.

Adrian offers to walk me home. I tell him it’s not necessary, that it’s just a few blocks, but he insists.

“This isn’t South Philly, Mallory. The streets of Spring Brook get pretty rough after dark.”

“I have a stun gun on my key chain.”

“That’s no match for a drunk mom behind the wheel of a minivan. I’d feel much better if I walked you home.”

The neighborhood is silent. The streets are empty, the houses are dark. And as soon as we leave the garden, I feel like a spell has been broken. As the Maxwells’ house comes into view, I’m reminded of all my old problems, I’m reminded of the person I really am. And once again I feel compelled to be honest. Maybe I can’t muster the courage to tell him everything—not tonight, not yet. But I want to say at least one thing that’s true.

“I haven’t had a boyfriend in a while.” He shrugs. “I’ve never had a boyfriend.”

“I’m just saying, we shouldn’t rush into anything. Until we get to know each other better. Let’s take things slowly.”

“What are you doing tomorrow night?”

“I’m serious, Adrian. You might learn some things about me that you don’t like.”

He takes my hand and squeezes it. “I want to learn everything about you. I want to change my major to Mallory Quinn and learn as much as I can.”

Oh you have no idea, I think to myself. You really have no idea.

He asks if I’ve ever eaten at Bridget Foy’s, his favorite restaurant in all of Philadelphia. I say I haven’t been to Philly in six weeks and I’m in no hurry to get back. “Then how about Princeton? The town, not the university. They have a really good tapas place. Do you like tapas? Should I get a table?”

By this point we’ve crossed the Maxwells’ yard and we’re standing outside my cottage and of course I say yes, I tell him I can be ready by five thirty.

And then we’re kissing again and if I close my eyes it’s easy to pretend we’re back in the castle gardens, that I’m Mallory Quinn Cross-Country Superstar with a promising future and no worries in the world. I’m leaning against the side of my cottage. Adrian has one hand in my hair and another hand moving up my leg, sliding under my dress, and I don’t know how I’m going to tell him the truth, I really don’t.

“This is not taking things slow,” I tell him. “You need to go home now.”

He lifts his hands from my body, steps backward, and takes a deep breath. “I’ll be back tomorrow.”

“Five thirty,” I tell him.

“See you then. Good night, Mallory.”

I stand on the porch and watch him walk across the yard, vanishing into the blackness of the night, and I know I must tell him the truth. I decide I will tell him everything over dinner tomorrow in Princeton. So even if he’s upset, he won’t be able to leave me, he’ll be forced to drive me home. And in that time, maybe I can convince him to give me a second chance.

Then I unlock the door to my cottage, turn on the light, and discover Ted Maxwell lying in my bed.

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