When the Sun Goes Down…

By: Crystal Green

1


“GOODBYE TO GIRL FRIDAY,” Juliana Thomsen said, leaning back on a bench at Atami Harbor and giving in to her jet lag just for a second. The flip-flop time change from California to Japan was finally catching up to her after yesterday’s reprieve, and sitting here with her feet in a public foot tub with 113-degree water wasn’t doing much to keep her perky.

Her friend and traveling partner, Sasha, tested the water with her fingers and jerked them back. Her strawberry-blond curls fought against the tight ponytail that contained them, but the salt-laced breeze wasn’t coaxing even a strand out of place as she gave Juliana a what-are-you-talking-about? glance.

“Girl Friday,” Juliana repeated, lifting her own long blond hair off her neck, which was clammy with the early-June humidity. “My family started calling me that when I came back to Parisville to take over the managerial duties in our bookstore after Aunt Katrina decided to retire. Maybe it’s just that my life is over there and I’m here, but this trip makes me think I can actually leave all that behind for a while.”

Sasha smiled and fixed her gaze on the gleaming water, where boats cut through the blue. “Best of luck then, because that’s sure not why your aunt sent you overseas.”

Sighing, Juliana took in the decadence of sitting on a boardwalk bench in an exotic country, with its pagodas and koi fish and geisha. Underneath the ornamentation, there was an undercurrent of something hidden—dark alleys under rainfall, neon flickering in the night—and it reflected how she felt about herself, too.

Unexplored.

It had only been on the plane, away from her loving yet majorly attentive family, that freedom had enveloped her.

This would be the perfect time to explore those dark alleys and find something different, something away from the overly interested gaze of the great-aunt who had raised her for the past twenty-four years, since her parents had died in a small-plane crash when she was only eight.

Yet Aunt Katrina was the reason Juliana was even in Japan, and she loved the woman who’d become her surrogate mom too much to goof around and let her down.

So, maybe it really would have to be duty before adventure, Juliana thought, preparing herself for the task she’d been sent here to do: securing the painting her family had been chasing for generations—Dream Rising, a watercolor that had been lost for over a century.

And an obsession for the elders in the Thomsen family.

A Japanese art dealer named Jiro Mori had uncovered the notorious painting in a Phoenix flea market, then shipped it here with the intention of selling it in his Tokyo gallery. Mori had played hardball, saying he had a lot of business in Japan and couldn’t make it to the west coast of America for another month, so when his phone negotiations with Aunt Katrina had gone bust, the canny woman, the historian of the family, had put Juliana on a plane. The elder Thomsen thought that her great-niece, with her “persuasive blond good looks and head for business,” might be able to negotiate more effectively in person—before it was too late.

In other words, before the Coles, the family who’d also been tracking the painting, found its location.

As Juliana stared at her painted toenails under the hot water, her heart clutched, her belly swirled, and her gaze blurred into a different image altogether—a memory of a sketch she’d seen of Dream Rising.

Misty curves and entwined limbs. Out of the tangles, a woman, her hair loose, her body explicitly bared and vulnerable, seemed to rise, reaching for something just beyond her grasp.

Juliana had first seen the sketch when she was nine, after her parents’ deaths, after she’d drawn into herself in her grief. In an attempt to help, Aunt Katrina had told her stories about the watercolor—how, generations ago, Terrence Cole, the artist, and his model Emelie, Juliana’s great-great-grandmother, had once loved each other. How he’d painted her and captured their affection.

It had only been years later that Juliana had heard the rest: the couple’s love had imploded when Terrence had been pressured by his family into an arranged marriage, and he’d asked Emelie to be his mistress.

She’d refused, and that’s how the feud between the Thomsens and Coles had started; when Emelie and Terrence had broken apart generations ago, she had thought that Dream Rising had been his sentimental farewell gift to her, and he had insisted that it wasn’t. When she’d reported the painting as stolen, a bitterness had been born, morphing through the years into disagreements between the two families about such things as disputed property lines between the Coles’ ranch and the Thomsens’ land, opposing views of political matters in Parisville, a car accident that had injured one Thomsen while the Cole party had gotten off scot-free.

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