Read Starry Nights Online

Authors: Daisy Whitney

Starry Nights

Endpaper images courtesy of Bridgeman Art Library: Left-hand page, clockwise from the top:
Olympia
, 1863 (oil on canvas), Manet, Edouard (1832–83)/Musée d'Orsay, Paris, France/Giraudon;
Still Life with Open Drawer
, Cezanne, Paul (1839–1906)/Private Collection/Photo © Christie's Images;
Young Girls at the Piano
, c. 1890 (oil on canvas), Renoir, Pierre Auguste (1841–1919)/Musée de l'Orangerie, Paris, France/Giraudon;
Starry Night over the Rhone
, 1888 (oil on canvas), Gogh, Vincent van (1853–90)/Musée d'Orsay, Paris, France/Giraudon;
Rouen Cathedral, the West Portal, Dull Weather
, 1894 (oil on canvas), Monet, Claude (1840–1926)/Musée d'Orsay, Paris, France/Peter Willi. Right-hand page, clockwise from the top left:
Dancing at the Moulin Rouge: La Goulue
, 1895 (oil on canvas), Toulouse-Lautrec, Henri de (1864–1901)/Musée d'Orsay, Paris, France;
Dr. Paul Gachet
, 1890 (oil on canvas), Gogh, Vincent van (1853–90)/Musée d'Orsay, Paris, France/Giraudon;
Ballet Rehearsal on the Stage
, 1874 (oil on canvas), Degas, Edgar (1834–1917)/Musée d'Orsay, Paris, France/Giraudon;
The Japanese Bridge
, 1918–19 (oil on canvas) (see detail 382336), Monet, Claude (1840–1926)/Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris, France/Giraudon;
Dance at Bougival
, 1883 (oil on canvas), Renoir, Pierre Auguste (1841–1919)/Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts, USA/Picture Fund.

This book is dedicated to my amazing friend Theresa.
How lucky am I that our paths crossed so long ago
and that we've stuck together through the years?
Love you so much

Contents

Prologue: The Lovers' Bridge

Chapter 1: Of Painted Peaches, Cats, and Dancers

Chapter 2: Silver to Life

Chapter 3: Chocolate-Plum Iris

Chapter 4: House History

Chapter 5: And Music Is Her Scent

Chapter 6: Voices in the Cellar

Chapter 7: A Vision in Flames, Then Sizzles

Chapter 8: Holding Hands

Chapter 9: When Paint Becomes Body

Chapter 10: One of These Things Is Not Like the Others

Chapter 11: The Gnarled Hands

Chapter 12: The Appearance of a Key

Chapter 13: Rubies Found

Chapter 14: An Accent Is Worth a Thousand Words

Chapter 15: Invisible Girl with Real Lips

Chapter 16: Degas Dancer, to the Fifth

Chapter 17: For Everyone's Eyes

Chapter 18: Coffee Cup Thief

Chapter 19: Irises in Hand

Chapter 20: Inside the Cage

Chapter 21: The Masters

Chapter 22: Falling in Moonlight

Chapter 23: The Flooding

Chapter 24: Layer Cake Paris

Chapter 25: Healed Rose, Sliced Skin

Chapter 26: The Reckoning

Chapter 27: The Calm Before

Chapter 28: When Paintings Weep

Chapter 29: Travel Plans

Chapter 30: Last Dance

Chapter 31: Night at the Museums

Chapter 32: Freedom

Chapter 33: Drawn to Dust

Chapter 34: Dancing in the Streets

Chapter 35: Write Me Anew

Acknowledgments

Author's Note

Prologue

The Lovers' Bridge

Several Weeks Ago

The padlock glistens with rain. Hooked into a link on the lovers' bridge, it is snuggled against countless other
cadenas d'amour.

But not for long.

“Bolt cutters, please,” I say to my best friend, Simon.

He couldn't be happier to be wingman. He never liked Jenny, and he especially didn't like her when she took off with Christophe last week. I didn't like that either.

“As you requested.” He hands me the orange bolt cutters. I press on the handles, slide the metal teeth around the loop of the lock, and slice. Within three seconds, the wet padlock falls into my open hand. I used to wonder if it was the police or fire department that cut old padlocks from the bridge to make way for new promises, but now I know it's neither.

“And with that she's ancient history,” I say, hoping she truly will feel that way soon. I tuck the bolt cutters into my backpack
and drop the broken padlock in the nearest trash can. Jenny insisted on hanging the
cadenas
a few months ago. As is the custom, she wrote our names in black Sharpie—
Jenny
+
Julien
—then clamped the lock closed on a link of the bridge. She tossed the keys into the Seine, and I pictured them touching down next to thousands of keys lining the riverbed. Then I told her I was crazy about her and we kissed. Stupid me. Tourists and locals fasten locks with their names to this bridge every day, but I bet few couples stay together for long.

“Now, on to part two of the Purge of Jenny from Pittsburgh,” Simon declares as we catch the Metro to Oberkampf.

“Jenny? Who's Jenny from Pittsburgh?” I say, as if I've never heard the name.

“Exactly, Julien. That's exactly the kind of attitude I want you to foster.”

On the train, Simon tips his forehead to a pair of pretty girls sitting not far from us. They're dressed for a night out, with low-cut shirts and lots of leg showing. “We should invite them to come along,” he says.

“It's as if you can read my mind.”

“Or maybe just that my mind is on the same thing all the time.”

“What else is there to ponder?” I say, and we knock fists and head over to the blonde and the brunette. Simon says hello and asks where they're going. When they say the same stop as us, he flashes a big smile. “What are the chances?”

It's my turn. “There's a group of us going to this club. We would love it if you'd both come along,” I say, and it's the best I
can do, given my state of mind, but it's enough, because they say yes, and that's all I really need right now anyway.

We exchange names as the train rattles into the next stop. The doors open, and the four of us walk down the cobbled street in search of a neon-lit door that leads to an underground club. Inside, the music is so loud that I can't hear anyone—not the girls we just met, not any of my other friends from our school, or from nearby schools, and nearby cities too it seems, that Simon has corralled into the dimly lit corner. Everyone dances and moves to the pounding bass from the sound system, including the girls from the train, one on each side of me. I banish Jenny from my mind, and the music helps because it drowns me in a riot of sounds that give no room to think of her.

Soon our group thins, the girls say good-bye, and the night has served its intended effect.

I leave well after the trains have stopped running, and even then I don't go home. My parents are out of town, so I go to the Musée d'Orsay, where I lead tours after school. There's no tour now in the middle of the night, but I'm allowed in whenever I want. This place is like a home to me, and the paintings on the walls are often the best kind of company. I say a quick hello to the security guard and take the stairs to see my favorite Van Gogh. But I don't make it to the second floor because I spot someone in a skirt rushing into a nearby gallery.

There's only one guard here at night, and I haven't a clue who could be roaming the halls. When I turn the corner, I nearly stumble and fall. I grab the doorframe, then blink several times at the
scene unfolding before me. A girl is pirouetting across the floor. I spin around, looking for the security guard, looking for corroboration, but he's strolling the galleries, making his rounds, blind to the young dancer twirling in a flurry of white as if she's rehearsing for a ballet in the museum's main thoroughfare.

If I were seeing genies riding on magic carpets while huffing on hookahs, I'd be less shocked. Instead, all my senses are ignited, and my brain is buzzing, and it feels like I'm dreaming, but I know I'm wide awake and seeing art come alive. This girl has danced her way right out of a Degas.

Chapter 1

Of Painted Peaches, Cats, and Dancers

Present Day

A peach falls out of a Cézanne.

I grab the fruit before it rolls down the steps and out to the lion sculptures, near where the security guards make their nightly patrols. This peach looks tasty, the kind that would drip juices on your chin and you wouldn't care. I run my thumb over it, fuzzy and tender, begging to be eaten, then bring it to my lips. If I take a bite, I will know whether it's real or a figment of my imagination. But I don't entirely want to know if my mind is playing tricks on me, so I resist.

Instead, I do what Cézanne did—capture its likeness. I rustle in my backpack for my notebook and pencils, then kneel down on the floor, the soles of my heavy boots pressing against the polished hardwood. Quickly, I sketch. When I'm done, I look at the peach, then I look at my drawing, and I see an anatomically correct peach. Nothing more. I have just drawn a page for a
how-to-draw-a-peach handbook, not something delicious you want to wrap your lips around. Not the kind of peach that makes the girls swoon, that makes a girl like Jenny leave you for another artist. A
better
artist, like Christophe, the oh-so-talented young sculptor.

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