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THE AMAZING THING WAS, EACH time she looked at them, Etta still saw something new—something she hadn’t noticed before.

The paintings had been hanging in their living room for years, in the exact same spot behind the couch, lined up like a movie reel of the greatest hits of her mom’s life. Now and then, Etta felt something clench deep in her stomach when she looked at them; not quite envy, not quite longing, but some shallow cousin of both. She’d done her own traveling with Alice, had hit the international violin competition circuit, but she’d seen nothing like the subjects of these paintings. Nothing like this one, of a mountain with its spiraling, shining path up through the trees, toward the clouds, to its hidden peak.

It was only now, leaning over the back of the couch, that Etta noticed Rose had painted two figures working their way up the trail, half-hidden by the lines of bright flags streaming overhead.

Her eyes skimmed over the other paintings beneath it. The view from the first studio Rose had lived in, off Sixty-Sixth Street and Third Avenue. Then, the next painting: the steps of the British Museum, spotted with tourists and pigeons, where she’d done portraits on the spot after moving back to London. (Etta always loved this one, because her mom had painted the moment that Alice had first seen her, and was walking over to scold Rose for skipping school.) The dark, lush jungle reaching out to caress the damp stone of the Terrace of the Elephants at Angkor Thom—Rose had scraped together enough money by the time she was eighteen to fly to Cambodia and sweet-talk her way into working on an archeological dig site, despite her complete and total lack of qualifications. Next was the Luxembourg Garden in full summer bloom, when she’d finally studied at the Sorbonne. And below that, perched on the back of the couch and leaning against the wall to the left, was a new painting: a desert at sunset, cast in blazing rose gold, dotted with crumbling ruins.

It was the story of her mom’s life. The only pieces of it Rose had been willing to share. Etta wondered what the story was with the new one—it had been years since Rose had had the time to paint for herself, and even longer since she’d used the paintings as prompts for bedtime stories to get a younger Etta to fall asleep. She could barely remember what her mom had been like then, before the endless traveling to lecture on the latest restoration techniques, before her countless projects in the conservation department of the Met, cleaning and repairing works by the old masters.

The keys jangled in the door, and Etta jumped off the couch, straightening the cushions.

Rose shook out her umbrella in the hall one last time before coming inside. Despite the early autumn downpour, she looked almost pristine—wavy blond hair, twisted into a knot; heels damp but not ruined; trench coat buttoned up all the way to her throat. Etta self-consciously reached up to smooth back her own hair, wishing she’d already changed into her dress for the performance instead of staying in her rainbow-colored pajamas. She used to love the fact that she and her mom looked so much alike—that they were a matching set—because not having to see her father looking back at her from a mirror made it easier to accept life without him. But now, Etta knew the similarities only ran skin-deep.

“How was your day?” Etta asked as her mom flicked her gaze down at her pajamas, then up again with a cocked eyebrow.

“Shouldn’t you already be dressed?” Rose answered instead, her English accent crisp with the kind of disapproval that made all of Etta’s insides give an involuntary cringe. “Alice will be here any moment.”

While Rose hung up her coat in their small apartment’s even smaller coat closet, Etta dashed into her room, nearly slipping on the sheet music spread over her rug and almost tumbling headlong into the old wardrobe that served as her closet. She’d picked out the ruby-red cocktail dress weeks ago for this event, but Etta wavered now, wondering if her mom would think it was too informal, or somehow too cutesy with the ribbons that tied at each shoulder. This was a private fund-raising event for the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Etta didn’t want her mom’s bosses to think she was anything less than a true professional.

Etta wanted to see her mom smile again when she played.

She put the red dress away, pulled out a more serious, subdued black dress instead, and sat down at her desk to start her makeup. After a few minutes, her mom knocked on the door.

“Would you like some help with your hair?” Rose asked, watching her in the mirror that hung on the wall.

Etta was perfectly capable of taming her hair, but nodded and handed her the bundle of bobby pins and her old brush. She sat up straight as Rose began to work the tangles out of her hair, smoothing it back over the crown of her head.

“I haven’t done this since you were a little girl,” Rose said quietly, gathering the waves of pale blond hair in her hand. Etta let her eyes drift shut, remembering what it felt like to be that small, to sit in her mom’s lap after bath time and have her hair combed out while listening to stories of her mom’s travels before Etta was born.

Now she didn’t know how to reply without sending Rose back into her usual tight, cool silence. Instead she asked, “Are you going to hang up the new painting you finished? It’s really beautiful.”

Rose gave one of her rare, soft smiles. “Thanks, darling. I want to replace the painting of the Luxembourg Garden with this one—don’t let me forget to pick up the hardware for it this weekend.”

“Why?” Etta asked. “I love that one.”

“The play of colors will work better,” Rose explained as she plucked one of the bobby pins off the desk and pinned Etta’s hair back into a twist. “The flow of darkness to light will be more obvious. You won’t forget, will you?”

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