The Night Watchman

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“That’s not fair. I honestly don’t care what a man does for a living. It does, however, matter that he has the intelligence to carry on a conversation.”

“A conversation about…what?” her younger sister, Deanne, asked. “Classical music and art history?”

“No. It doesn’t need to be about those particular subjects,” her sister replied a little too defensively.

She hesitated knowing she’d been cornered and said, “Not necessarily.”

“Donna? I’m not calling you a snob, okay? I’m just trying to point out the reason why you have so little luck where men are concerned.”

“I date!” donna said even more defensively.

“True. You do date. Once or twice and that’s it. And there’s a reason for that. You know it, and I know it, but only one of us is willing to admit it. And it has nothing to do with looks, because you are a very attractive woman. For someone who’s…forty,” Deanne said, twisting the knife she’d just plunged into her sister’s ego.

“Oh. Okay. Well, just remember your day is coming.”

“Yes it is. In another five years,” her sister said with the laugh that drove her elder sibling crazy.

Donna Hartley hated being 40. The only thing she hated more was being 40 and single. Then again, she might possibly hate it when her 35-year old sister, Deanne Conway, a wife and mother of two beautiful little girls, picked at her like this even more than that. Okay, it might even be possible that knowing Deanne was right hurt most of all. It just felt so mean and personal, and having recently turned 40 made it all the more hurtful.

“Why do you do this?” Donna asked.

“Do what?” Deanne replied as though she had no idea what her sister meant.

“Pick. At scabs.”

Deanne was picking, but she’d tried every other way she knew to break her sister out of her narrowly-focused mold that involved the two things she loved above all else: her job as a conservator-restorer at The Art Institute of Chicago and classical music. Deanne had no interest in art and she hated classical music. She agreed with her husband, Tim, who said the only thing more boring than listening to it was watching paint dry. But with paint, it didn’t make any noise, and at least there was something to look at when it dried.

Deanne understood it, but she not only didn’t like it, she knew she never would. But that’s because she and her sister were as different as two siblings with the same parents could be.

Deanne was a happy-go-lucky free spirit who’d barely managed to get into a state school, and who barely graduated due to her love of partying and boys. She’d changed a lot over of the years due to the responsibilities that came with raising children, but deep down, she was still a fun-loving girl who preferred going to country bars with her husband on date nights and hoisting a few.

Donna was the older, quieter, more serious girl who’d been a straight-A student in school. As in…all school from elementary through college. She’d majored in art history in at The University of Illinois then spent two years at the prestigious School of the Art Institute in Chicago where she earned a masters degree in Historic Preservation.

Her work was good enough to earn her an apprenticeship with one of the world’s foremost conservator-restorers in the world, Dr. Ira Mazlow, at The Art Institute of Chicago. By the time Donna was 35, she was almost as well known for her talents and skills as her mentor who felt confident enough in her abilities to finally retire, and Donna begun training apprentices herself.

It was during her undergraduate years that she developed a love of classical music, and had it been possible, she’d have done something similar in that field. Due to the very generous salary she was paid for her work, Donna Hartley owned nearly every known piece of classical music ever written. Not the scores themselves, even though she had many of them. They were only copies, but she treasured them almost as much as the music. Rather, she had high-quality recordings of everything from Bach to Mozart to Verdi to Paganini to Chopin to Tchaikovski and many, many more.

Her idea of fun was spending 10-12 hours each day painstakingly working to restore some famous piece of art be it a painting, a sculpture, ceramics, textiles, paper works, books, or historical artifacts then attend a symphony or the opera on the weekend.

Ironically, Donna enjoyed lovemaking almost as much as her other passions. But the problem was finding a man who fit her ideal, an ideal that melded art, classic music, and lovemaking into one man. Her one, ideal man.

It wasn’t that there weren’t men with similar interests in a city the size of Chicago. The issue was more that Donna was extremely good at finding fault with those men. They were either too stuffy, too inattentive, insufficiently attractive to her, or just…inefficient…in bed. And in most cases, she quickly located two or more such faults and that was the end of things before they got started.

Deanne was the only other mersin escort person on earth who knew about this impossible ‘cocktail of needs’ her sister had come up with and now believed was essential, and she was definitely the only person who could get away with telling her how ridiculous and unrealistic it was. Donna really was still a very attractive woman who, well…attracted…a lot of attention from men. But finding this mysterious Mr. Perfect was the elusive Holy Grail of her life.

There was more irony in that Donna Hartley looked so much like Sarah Rafferty, the legal secretary on the hit TV show Suits, who was also named Donna in the show, that it was uncanny. Both were beautiful, strawberry blondes with amazing figures and faces to match. Donna didn’t see it, but she’d heard it so many times she gave up fighting it and thanked anyone who told her she had a TV twin.

In response to Donna’s question about ‘picking at scabs’, Deanne softened her tone.

“I just want you to be happy, Donna.”

“What makes you think I’m not?” her sister asked.

“Seriously, Donna? Yoo-hoo! Hel-looo! I’m your sister. I know you. And even better, you’re the one who’s told me more than once how much you wish you had a husband.”

Deanne let up even more when she brought up the most sensitive issue of all.

“And children.”

Turning 40 was eating at her sister in a way Deanne had never seen before. The reason why was obvious, even if Donna wouldn’t admit it. And that reason was getting married to someone she could both love and respect, and having a baby before she no longer could. So now, with no husband, no boyfriend, and no prospects, Donna was at a low point in her life as she often wondered if she would ever find someone who met all of her prerequisites.

For her, it had all been a matter of priorities. Marriage and a family had to wait until she finished college. But then came grad school, another huge priority. And how could she even think about marriage until she was firmly established in her new career? When that happened, she had apprentices to mentor and there were always new, interesting projects to work on. And then suddenly she was 40 and couldn’t understand how or why.

“I’m sorry,” Deanne said almost immediately. “But would it hurt you to try looking at someone who doesn’t share all of your passions?”

When Donna gave her a raised-eyebrow look, Deanne laughed and said, “Okay. He’s gotta be good in bed. That’s a given.”

When her sister laughed, too, Deanne felt like she’d just forged a new connection.

“I can’t imagine living with a man who’s ideal is watching football on Sunday and drinking beer with his friends,” Donna told her.

“Why do you go to the extreme all the time?” Deanne replied, a hint of exasperation returning to her voice.

Donna started to say she wasn’t, but again, her sister had her boxed in.

“Because I’m trying to paint a picture of a life I would hate to juxtapose with one I’d love.”

She hesitated then smiled before saying, “And I’d hate that even if he was really good in bed.”

The two sisters laughed and shared another moment before Deanne asked, “Okay. So no football. Or even sports. But what if he was say…a man of science? Or how about a writer or a poet? Is there anyone you’d consider who wasn’t as familiar with art and classical music as you are?”

“I already said I don’t care what a man does for a living,” Donna replied rather defensively.

“Would you date say…a firefighter or a police officer?”

Donna made a face which answered the question.

“What if he knew art and loved the kind of music you do?” Deanne said, trying a different angle.

“Then he wouldn’t be a police officer. He’d be an art conservator or maybe a composer.”

“What about a rap star?” her sister asked out a renewed sense of frustration.

“Okay. We’re done!” Donna announced, signaling she couldn’t take any more of The Weekly Inquisition with its star, Deanne Conway.

Deanne never really thought that this particular talk, one in a long line of similar discussions, was going to change anything. She just hated seeing her sister like this, and it was getting to the point where she felt like giving up. It was a bit like having a friend with a terminal disease. No matter how much one might want to help, at some point there just wasn’t anything more to be done.

But Donna didn’t have a disease. She just needed to be more open to… Deanne didn’t have the answer to her own question, but she posed it anyway.

“Can you just maybe…try…to be more…open-minded?” she asked with a little shrug of her shoulders.

“Oh, okay. What you really mean is, ‘Can I just stop being who I am and be more like you’, right?”

Donna wasn’t trying to be mean, but she could tell her words hurt her little sister.

“I’m sorry, Dee-nan,” she said almost immediately using her name the way Deanne pronounced it when she was two or mersin escort bayan three.

“No. It’s okay. I know my endless pushing and nosiness is annoying, so I suppose I had that coming,” Deanne said as she got up to leave.

“I’m glad you came by,” Donna told her as she got up, too, and walked Deanne to the door of her upscale apartment just two blocks from the museum where she worked.

“Same here,” Deanne told her as they hugged goodbye.

“Can I expect you again next week?” Donna asked.

Deanne smiled and said, “Yes. Of course. Always.”

She laughed a little before saying, “Unless you tell me you have a hot date.”

Donna gave her another raised-eyebrow look, and Deanne threw up her hands.

“Okay. I’m done,” she said in surrender.

“Uh-huh. Until next time,” Donna said with a laugh, relieved that the torment was almost over. For another week, anyway.

Deanne’s heart went out for her sister whom she loved very much as she reached out to hug her again.

“You know I love you, right?” she asked as they embraced.

“And you know I love you back, right?” Donna asked rather than answer directly.

“I do. And before I forget, the girls have been asking when Aunt Donna’s coming over again.”

“Soon. I promise.”

Deanne looked right at her big sister then said, “I’m gonna hold you to that,” before opening the door and telling her sister ‘goodnight’.

“Bye, Dee-nan!” Donna told her as she closed the door.

She stood there and let out a long, deep sigh at the frustration she was feeling over the last few months and made worse by Deanne reminding her that the sands of time never stopped flowing.

Two weeks and one visit to Deanne’s later, Donna was thrilled to learn that one of the most famous and beloved paintings in the world was being brought to Chicago for a final display before being entrusted to the Institute’s care for restoration. Even more exciting was learning that she would be in charge of the project.

The painting was called The Night Watch, and had been done by Rembrandt van Rijn in 1642. It was one of her top-ten personal favorites, and she was very familiar with it and thrilled to know that she would be taking the lead on the restoration.

Over the next month, it was all she could do to focus on her daily work which involved important artifacts, but none as famous as the painting that would be on display in just a few more days.

Donna was going to be there when it was revealed, and she planned to spend as much time as she could studying it at night when the museum was closed. There would be plenty of time for a detailed analysis to determine exactly what needed to be done after the display period ended, but she couldn’t wait to get started on the most important project of her career.

When the evening finally arrived for the Institute to display the Rembrandt, Donna was beside herself. She chose a formal, gold-sequined gown she’d been saving for a special occasion, and this, in her mind, was as good as it got. She’d also had her hair done and just before leaving her apartment, she stood in front of a full-length mirror and tried to make an honest assessment of herself. Her 40-year old self.

Her hair looked amazing. It was neither blonde nor red but closer to red with a strong hint of the minor color showing through. She wore it in an updo for the big event, but it normally fell to just below her chin. She’d been blessed with beautiful, thick hair, and it was one of her best assets and went perfectly with her very blue eyes that always looked so bright and alive.

In terms of her figure, she’d also lucked out in the area of ‘endowment’ and perfectly filled a small-C cup bra. Hers were still perky, or at least she believed they were.

She sighed then said, “Well, for a woman who’s 40 years old anyway.”

The size 8 dress fit like a glove, and her hips and waist had just enough curves to give her 5’8″ body a very feminine look. The dress was nearly floor length with a very long slit up the side through which one very shapely leg was visible.

She’d always been considered a pretty girl, and from the time she started junior high school, she’d had more than her fair share of attention from boys. But even then, she’d preferred staying home and studying or quietly listening to music with a friend to going to parties where beer and loud music were the norm.

It wasn’t until she was in college that Donna Hartley discovered the pleasures of lovemaking, and she owed most of that to one young man who’d been three years older than her. He’d been a very experienced lover and patiently taught her things she had no idea her body could experience; things she still yearned for all those years later.

As she took a final look at herself she laughed.

“If only he’d loved art and classical music instead of rugby and Budweiser,” she said to herself, causing another long, heavy sigh before the thought of seeing escort mersin a world-class painting from just a few feet away caused her to smile. And that thought reminded her of the way he’d made her smile…and more…many different times over the year they’d dated.

The weather was unusually warm for Chicago at that time of year, and Donna loved not having to wear a wrap or a coat over the beautiful dress. She took a cab and to the Institute and asked to be let out in the back where she, and a handful of senior employees, had private access.

As she made her way toward the gallery, she passed her desk with the project she’d been working on for the last two weeks. It was important, to be sure, but when compared to seeing a Rembrandt in person, it seemed insignificant in the extreme.

The dim lighting gave way to the much brighter lights of the gallery, and Donna stood there for a few seconds to allow her eyes to adjust. By the time she was ready, the museum’s curator saw her and headed her way.

David Alton Dumond was 53 years old, and for a man his age, very handsome and distinguished looking. Donna knew he found her charming, beautiful, and even alluring, but she didn’t see him the same way. And it was that kind of knowledge that forced her to admit her sister had a very valid point about her propensity to find fault in any man.

David was quite possibly the most perfect match she would ever find. At least on paper. He wasn’t a conservator, but he was as accomplished in the art world as anyone she knew, and he was also a fellow lover of classical music. And the opera as well as ballet. And for all she knew he might be just as amazing in…other areas.

And yet each time she imagined herself with him, all she could see was gray hair and saggy skin, and…

“Donna! May I say you look absolutely stunning!” David said as they faux kissed one another’s cheeks.

“You may,” she replied with a laugh. “And may I say you look equally handsome, yourself tonight, David.”

“Well, we men have one and only one choice, but I suppose I still look reasonably okay in a tux,” he said with a laugh of his own.

“May I?” he asked as he extended an elbow.

“Why thank you, kind sir!” Donna told him as she looped her arm in his.

“I’m not going to ask whether or not you’re excited. Rather, the question is, how excited are you?”

Donna laughed a nervous laugh, mostly due to the anticipation of seeing the Rembrandt in a few more minutes then replied, “On a scale of 1-10, I’d say…a 12!”

“I share your enthusiasm,” he told her…enthusiastically.

As they reached the area set aside for the reveal, David apologized as he moved his arm.

“I do believe duty calls,” he said with a smile a slight bow.

“Of course,” Donna told him as she knew he would be making some opening remarks about the painting before the heavy, purple, cloth curtain in front of it was raised up.

As she made her way to a decent vantage point, she ran into a handful of other senior fellows at the Institute and spent a moment exchanging pleasantries.

One of them made note of the increased security, something Donna hadn’t noticed.

“Have you ever seen so many security guards?” she asked.

Donna had to look as the men in light -blue shirts and dark-blue pants with leather belts and handguns were somehow managing to hide in plain sight. She counted six of them, five more than she’d ever seen in the gallery.

“It’s almost as if something very important is here,” the woman said after Donna turned back her way.

The comment made Donna laugh.

“Hmmm. I wonder if there’s a VIP of some kind here tonight,” she mused, her attempt at humor drawing a laugh in return.

“Yes, if you mean ‘Very Important Painting’,” the woman said before excusing herself to say hello to someone else.

The closest thing to a human VIP was the mayor of Chicago, a man Donna viewed with deep suspicion. Then again, she tended to see most politicians of both major parties that way. The notion that people went into politics to be ‘humble servants of the people’ was laughable, and this particular mayor epitomized the way she felt about power-hungry politicos.

Even so, it was impossible not to look as he walked in with a small entourage of aides and members of his own security detail. The good news was that his arrival meant the reveal could begin, so Donna turned off her cynical mind and waited with genuine excitement for the most important moment of her life.

Only later that night did she realize again how right her sister was. If seeing a painting was the acme of her existence, perhaps she needed to make some changes to her life. But for the time being, the Rembrandt was the be-all, end-all of…everything in her life.

The din of voices in the room trailed off as David walked upfront near the painting. When he asked for everyone’s attention, a hush fell over the gallery.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” he began just as Donna sensed someone standing very close behind her.

She turned to look over her shoulder and saw a man who appeared to be in his mid-30s smile at her.

“You look amazing,” he whispered.

She gave him a look that indicated she was trying to listen, but he either missed the subtle message or didn’t care.

“I see you’re alone.”

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