Bottled Beauty: Part One
“Celia, what do you think of this?” Milo asked me, picking up a small vase and showing it to me. The top was chipped, a long crack ran down the side, and it was covered with ancient Qasalan engravings.
I glanced at the vase and then at the brown Bori. “Nah,” I said. “I’m just not feeling it today.”
Milo groaned and put it back on the table. “Sorry,” he apologized to the Uni manning the stall before following me; I had already started walking away. “Celia,” he groaned, looking at me with his chocolate eyes, “you’re not going to see anything you like today, are you?”
“Psh, it depends on what I see,” I said, catching my reflection in an antique mirror propped up on another table. It was a fairly cool day by Lost Desert standards, but I still looked fairly disheveled: my purple Acara fur was sticking out in awkward tufts, my long hair which I had up in a ponytail was slipping free of its tie, and my white cotton shirt was wrinkled and covered in a thin layer of sand.
Milo shook his head. “And to think,” he said theatrically, “that I gave up my whole Saturday to go antique shopping with you, and you don’t even like any—!”
“Oh shush!” I interrupted with a laugh. Milo was my best friend and I knew he didn’t really mean it. “I’m sorry. Do you want to go home?”
“Nah,” the Bori said, shaking his head. “As long as you find something you like soon.”
“Don’t rush me,” I said, strolling to the next stall. This one had a collection of porcelain figurines, each one hand painted. The dolls were beautiful and petite, but not my style. I liked old stuff. Things found in ruins but cheap enough for me to buy and add to my collection. Things with secrets and cool pasts. Milo, however, picked up a figure of a Blumaroo wearing a tutu, her leg extended in a graceful arabesque.
“Hey,” he asked, pointing to the ballerina, “are you going to go to your sister’s dance recital this weekend?”
“Wouldn’t miss it,” I said. “Cara’s been rehearsing for months.”
My older sister, Cara, was a really great dancer. There was just something about her that could make the simplest movements look graceful. It was as if she had this wonderful gift bestowed on her since birth. My whole family was like that. My mom worked as an artist, painting beautiful landscapes that were hung in art galleries and sold well enough to make a decent profit. My dad, on the other hand, had a brilliant mind. He could solve the toughest math problems as long as he had a piece of paper and a pencil.
I, on the other hand, was just a plain Jane. A normal purple Acara named Celia who had a liking for history so old that no one alive can remember it. And honestly, I was perfectly fine with that.
Milo put the dancer back down. “Let’s move on. You don’t like anything here.”
“You can tell?”
He chuckled. “I’ve only known you for a year, but I think I’ve got you pretty figured out.”
I rolled my light blue eyes, remembering the day I stayed after class for math. Milo had needed community service hours and had offered to help me learn algebra. Soon enough, we realized that we shared a couple of classes and we had been friend ever since. There was always something nice about Milo, something reliable. I was friends with kids in my classes and had a good number of people I hung out with on a regular basis, but he was always the go-to Bori for anything, and I could always trust him.
Still, I shook my head at him. “I’m not that predictable.”
“As predictable as the sun rising.”
“Hardy har,” I said, adjusting the strap of my bag. Which, sadly, was empty. I had brought along enough neopoints to buy something nice, yet nothing was jumping out at me. “Let’s keep looking.”
We walked through the crowded bazaar, ignoring the cries of the vendors selling knock-offs to tourists. I wanted the real deal.
“How about this one?” Milo said, pointing to a small white tent with a hand painted sign that read “Qasalan Finds.”
I glanced over briefly. There seemed to be some artifacts laid out on the table. Nothing too fancy, but definitely some of the oldest stuff we had seen so far. “Okay,” I said, and we walked over to the stall.
“Hello, hello!” the green Bruce behind the table greeted us. His forehead was plastered with sweat from a long day of selling, and his eyes were hopeful at the prospect of new customers. “Can I interest you in some fossils?” he asked, leaning towards us. “I found some great ones just the other day. Or how about pottery chips?”
“We’re just browsing,” I said, scanning the table. Most of the stuff was pretty run-of-the-mill. Nothing really stood out.
“What about glass?” the Bruce pressed, picking up some bluish glass shards and shoving them in my face. “The Qasalans were known for their blown glass.”
“We’re just looking,” Milo said firmly. I caught the annoyed edge in his voice. Milo was a really easy guy to get along with, but he couldn’t stand pushy vendors.
The Bruce took the hint and backed off, sulking. I walked towards the end of the table, my fingers brushing over some of the glass shards. They really were pretty, in crimson reds, sea blues, and golden yellows. But that was it. No back story. No history.
“Let’s leave,” I said to Milo, turning away. However, it was then I noticed something among all of the relics: a small glass blown bottle in a deep purple.
“What’s that?” I asked, pointing to it.
The Bruce’s eyes lit up like a light bulb and he scurried towards it, scooping the bottle up and holding it out to me. “This? This is a blown glass bottle!”
“We can see that,” Milo said, shaking his brown head.
“It’s from old Qasala,” I pressed. “What was it used for back then?”
“Oh, it was a perfume bottle,” he explained. He tapped the glass. “This was a very good find of mine. Very very good. Still intact. Only a few scratches.”
“You don’t want that,” Milo said to me, shaking his head. “It’s too common for your taste.”
“How much is it?” I asked the vendor. I saw Milo’s jaw drop out of the corner of my eye.
“Why would you want a perfume bottle?” he asked, totally confused.
“It looks cool, it’s something different, and it has a history behind it,” I said, listing my criteria off on my fingers.
Milo shook his head. “I guess I haven’t entirely figured you out...” he mumbled.
“Well,” the vendor said, his eyes already glinting like gold coins, “this was a very very good fine. Totally intact. But I’ll give it to you for a bargain price of 10,000 neopoints.”
I shook my head. I’d lived in the Lost Desert all my life. I wasn’t about to be swayed by a Bruce who thought I was a mere tourist. “No way. There are scratches all over it. And there’s a crack on the lip. Plus, the fact you’re selling it in the first place means it’s not one of a kind. I bet you have ten others hidden under this table. 3,000 neopoints.”
The green Bruce shook his head, holding the bottle snugly in his grasp. “10,000 neopoints.”
“No,” I said firmly, and looked at Milo. “Let’s go.”
However, we had barely taken a step back into the hot sun when the vendor cried out “Wait!”
I turned around. The Bruce’s eyes had lost a little of their greedy glint, dimmed by the prospect of actually making a fair sale. “7,500.”
“Still high,” I said. “I won’t pay more than 5,000.”
He licked his dry lips. “6,000—” he started to say, but as I turned my back on him, he caved. “Okay okay! 5,000 neopoints for you, young lady.”
As he scurried off to wrap the bottle up in some paper, I saw Milo shake his head. “Ruthless,” he muttered.
“The vendor?” I asked.
Milo laughed and looked at me, his dark eyes glinting. “No. You.”
After I gave the Bruce his money and I had the bottle safely in my hands, Milo and I left the bazaar and headed home.
“I’m still surprised you bought that,” he said. I had unwrapped the bottle and was holding it in my hand, making sure the vendor hadn’t pulled a fast one on me.
“It’s not the sort of thing I normally go for,” I said in his defense, “but it caught my eye.” I ran my fingers over it. The bottle felt abnormally cool in my hand, and had ripples along its side that made an interesting pattern in the glass, distorting the color slightly. The purple hue was darker than my fur, in a more regal tone that reminded me of sugilite. I tilted it towards me to look inside the neck, but the bottle was completely empty.
Milo smiled. “What are you looking for? 10,000 year old perfume?”
“That would have been cool, but way too hopeful,” I said.
He shook his head at me. “Anyway, my house is right over there. I’ll see you tomorrow in class, Celia. Don’t forget to do your math homework!”
I groaned. “Why do I even have to take math? I want to study history!”
“Life’s not fair,” he said simply, sticking his tongue out at me. And with a wave he was gone.
I rolled my eyes at him and glanced back down at the bottle. Despite what he said, I liked my purchase. It was most definitely different, with an aura all its own. It had been a good find and I was happy to add it to my collection.
Later I would come to regret that purchase with all my heart.
To be continued...