"As soon as Rudy made the announcement, I put some feelers out to other galleries, so we'll see." Ella hoped she'd hear back from someone soon, but in the meantime, she wasn't entertaining any pity parties. Not her own, nor anyone else's.
Certain she had everything now, Ella retrieved her purse from the desk drawer and returned to where Josie stood, touching her arm lightly. She really did believe in Josie's potential and wanted her to achieve all her goals. It wasn't that long ago that Ella had been this eager and excited to make her mark in the art world. She was hit with a pang of sadness at the realization that she wouldn't get to see all her goals come to fruition here at Liberty, and she hurriedly pushed it away.
"You're graduating this spring, so another full internship isn't necessary," she told Josie. "You're more than ready to walk into any gallery and handle whatever job they offer you."
"I really liked working here." Josie frowned. "I liked working with you, Ella. You made me feel seen in a way I never have in that fancy art school. Like I really belonged here instead of just being the recipient of what was basically a hardship scholarship. Like I could really do this job, and one day I could become a curator at another gallery. And in these past months, everyone has welcomed me. I've learned so much..." There was a pause and then an exaggerated sigh. "I don't really like change."
Ella grinned. "Can't say that I blame you, but you know you'll never grow if you stay in the same place forever." Warmth spread instantly through her chest at the memory of her aunt Addie saying those very words to her the morning she graduated from high school. That seemed like so long ago, and yet she recalled the day and that advice so clearly. It always amazed her how seamlessly Mama's older sister had slid into the parental role when Ella was eleven and had become an orphan.
"See," Josie said, pulling Ella into a hug. "It's when you say stuff like that, I know I'm going to miss you so much. Who's going to give me great advice at some new gallery?"
Josie was hugging her so tight that Ella could barely breathe, but she didn't pull away. Instead, she held on for a few seconds too, letting the reality of tonight really sink in. For the past two weeks since Rudy had announced the gallery closing, she'd been busy trying to arrange new commissions for some of her artists, packing and shipping paintings and sculptures to other galleries, and making sure all her records were in order for the person who would see them next. According to her "no pity party" mantra, she hadn't taken one second to absorb the magnitude of leaving the place where she'd worked for the last seven years. Or how her life might drastically change because of it.
"I'm gonna miss you too," she told Josie and meant it. The girl was so much like Ella when she'd been in her last year at college. Bright, enthusiastic, and ready to take the art world by storm. Now they'd both have to channel that energy in a new direction.
"Well, if you're trying to ditch this party for real, you'd better head out the side door. And you can't forget Mr. Elf," Josie said when they parted, and she dropped the elf into Ella's bag.
Ella stared down at the silly elf and couldn't resist a small smile. It was fleeting, and seconds later she set her purse on the edge of the desk and grabbed her coat from the second guest chair to put it on. "I wouldn't exactly call it ditching," she said. "Laurie from accounting brought me a gingerbread cupcake earlier, but she didn't know what I wanted to drink so I had to go out there and grab a cup of festive punch."
"And how long did you stay out there?" Josie asked with a smirk. "Right. About as long as it took you to get that punch and hustle your way back to your office."
Unable to argue, Ella shrugged and slid her purse strap onto her arm. She picked up the box and Josie put her other bag on top of it. "No lies detected," she said. "But really, this just isn't my favorite time of year. And that doesn't totally rest on the fact that the gallery is closing. I haven't enjoyed Christmas in a very long time."
They were both at the door now, and Josie turned to give Ella a Quizzical look. "Honestly?"
Ella nodded. "It's just another month to get through, and some years it's a little harder than others. This," she said, "I can tell is shaping up to be one of those years."
As if the universe were determined to prove her point, a different song drifted from the party down the hall to Ella's office. All Christmas carols were familiar to her, but this one had her stopping, her heart pounding as she listened to the lyrics about spending Christmas away across the sea.
"Christmas Island" by Ella Fitzgerald, the jazz singer Mama had adored so much she'd named Ella after her, was playing just loud enough to hear. Memories of last night's dream slammed into her, and Ella tried to steady her breathing to keep the pain from resurfacing.
"Hey, you okay?" Josie came to stand next to her again.
The movement had those bells on Josie's sweater clinking together, and Ella gave a little chuckle. "Yeah." She cleared her throat. "I'm fine. And your sweater's jingling," she said.
Josie laughed. "That's right," she said and shook her shoulders so the jingling would continue. "That's the sound of Christmas joy!"
This excerpt ends on page 15 of the paperback edition.
Monday we begin the book Appalachian Song by Michelle Shocklee.