Bottled Beauty: Part Two
School the next day was a fairly standard affair. History, English, Science, Math, and a few electives with lunch thrown in somewhere in between.
I ran into Milo in the hall after science class. Our paths usually crossed throughout the day, even if our schedules didn’t exactly match up. I said goodbye to my lab partner Julia and joined up with him.
“Wanna hear something disgusting?” he asked me, the brown Bori’s face scrunched up.
“I doubt it was as disgusting as science today.” I shuddered, remembering the dissection we had just done. Thankfully, Julia had done most of the physical work while I took notes.
“Someone posted a pretty list,” Milo said, ignoring my science prompt. “Top ten prettiest girls in the school.”
“Wooow,” I said. “How shallow can people be?”
“I know, right,” Milo said, shaking his head.
“So who’s on it?” I asked curiously, yanking my backpack onto my shoulders. I already knew I wasn’t. I was a plain Jane, a purple Acara with brown hair that refused to do anything except wave feebly and a lack of a fashion sense.
“Alyssa, Mary, Veronica...” Milo listed, then shook his head. “What does it matter? It’s totally sickening that someone would do that! People here...”
“Don’t blame them too much,” I said. “Boredom can lead people to do weird things.”
“I guess.” We had reached the outside of his history class. “Where are you heading for your free period today?”
“The dance studio,” I said. “I haven’t seen Cara in a while so I thought I’d stop by and say hello.”
“That’s nice of you.” The brown Bori nodded. He looked into his history class and groaned. “I have a huge test tomorrow. I hope I don’t fail.”
“I’m sure you’ll be fine.”
He shook his head. “I’m not a history buff like you, Celia. Give me a math test any day. My goal this afternoon is to study my butt off. I will get an A on that test tomorrow! You better believe it!” Suddenly the bell rang. Milo winced at the sharp sound and retreated into the classroom before he could be marked late.
Taking that as my cue, I hurried through the halls, went down a flight of stairs, and found the door to the dance studio. Instead of taking gym, some people at my school took dance as a class. Cara had convinced me to take it the previous year but I had had a problem memorizing all of the steps. Times, places, and names I could do. Dance steps I could not.
I walked in through the door. The floors were a nice polished wood and there were two mirrored walls. No one was in there except for Cara stretching at the ballet barre; the dance teacher allowed her to use it when there wasn’t a class going on because she was such an exceptional dancer.
Slow music poured out of the speaker in the front of the room, full of different instruments from violins to flutes. Cara stretched her leg in front of her and pointed her toe. It was a simple movement, a simple stretch, but for some reason the blue Blumaroo carried it off with a beautiful sense of grace. I was actually fairly excited for her big recital.
“Hey, Cara!” I greeted, walking into the room.
She glanced over at me in surprise. “Celia, what are you doing here?” Then she gasped. “Back up! You can’t have normal shoes on the floor in here!”
I looked at her slender ballet shoes and then down at my sandals. “Sorry,” I apologized, backing up so that I was speaking to her from the doorway. “I wanted to see how you were. I haven’t seen you all week. You’re always at rehearsal.”
“The recital is this weekend so I have to practice,” she said simply. She did a few more stretches and then left the barre and headed to the main dance floor. Cara glanced over at me and her face looked confused, as if she was surprised I was still there. “Can you leave? I really need to work on my fouettes.”
I blinked. “I’m just watching.”
“People are going to watch you at the recital; you know that, right?”
My older sister rolled her eyes at me. “It’s different!” she stressed. “Please, Celia, just go! I want to do well on Saturday and I can’t with you looming over me.”
But I didn’t want to leave. Milo had been right. I was being nice, going out of my way to say hi to my sister. I didn’t deserve to be treated this way, like a hindrance. “You’ll be fine at the recital,” I said a bit sharply.
“I need to practice!” she growled.
“You always practice!” I said back, my voice rising. “You’ll be fine!”
“You don’t understand!” she yelled back, her eyes as sharp as glass. “You don’t understand because you can’t do anything, Celia!”
Her words were like a slap in the face. I staggered back.
Cara’s face immediately paled at her mistake. “I’m sorry,” she apologized quickly, her hands cupping her mouth in horror. “I’m so so sorry, Celia. I didn’t mean it.”
“Yes, you did,” I said bluntly. And feeling my eyes sting, I turned and left.
For once I was happy that Cara had rehearsal all the time; it meant that she wasn’t home when I went into my room after school and threw my pillow at the wall.
I lay in bed, staring at the ceiling. I knew that what she had said had been an accident. She was stressed about her recital. I understood that. But I also knew that what she had said was the truth. She had a talent. I didn’t. Plain Jane Celia, through and through.
I glanced over at my dresser. The top of it was littered with my collection of ancient artifacts: fossils, bits of old jewelry, pottery shards, cool rocks. It was all there laid out, the one thing I had a passion for.
Yet what use was a passion like that? No one cared about history except for me. It wasn’t anything special, like dancing or painting or singing. It was a hobby. Something I appreciated but no one else did.
I shifted to my side and my toe brushed over something at the foot of my bed, something wrapped up in heavy paper. I glanced down and my heart sped up. I quickly picked it up before I could kick it off the bed. It was the purple glass perfume bottle I had bought the other day. As soon as I had gotten home, I had forgotten about it. Homework had to be started, dinner had to be eaten, chores... My little purchase had gone unnoticed.
I unwrapped it from its paper cocoon and held the bottle in my paws. It was the same deep purple from yesterday with the same ripples on the side, skillfully blown thousands of years ago by the ancient Qasalans and their knowledge of sand and glass.
But then I looked at it again and my heart rate sped up. It wasn’t exactly the same. The scratches and cracks, which had marked up the bottle the other day, were all gone, as if melted away with reheating. And there also was a stopper on the top made of what looked like a giant purple gemstone.
I blinked. Am I imagining things? I thought, pinching myself. My arm stung; I was awake. And I was 100% sure the bottle hadn’t looked like this yesterday.
I wondered for a moment if someone in my family had come up and replaced the original. Maybe my mom had wanted to dust my room and accidentally knocked it over and replaced the shattered one with this newer model without telling me?
But I ran my fingers over the bumps on the side and shook my head. No, it was too good of a replication. This bottle looked just like the bottle I had bought, minus a couple thousand years of wear and tear.
And then I noticed something else hanging down from the neck of the bottle: a little paper tag with strange letters written on it. I recognized the writing immediately: Qasalan. I took a Qasalan class in school, but I didn’t recognize any of the symbols on the tag. The handwriting was too sloppy, the words most likely too complex for a beginner in the language to decipher.
As I held the bottle closer, trying to decode the writings and racking my brain to see if I could remember the symbols, I heard it: splosh. It hadn’t been loud, but I immediately held the bottle up to my ear and shook it gently. Splosh, came the sound again.
“There’s stuff inside,” I said, wide-eyed. Immediately I uncorked bottle, carefully putting the gemstone stopper besides me on my bed; I didn’t want to lose that. I looked down the neck of the bottle and sure enough there was liquid inside. Not just water, but a sweet smelling liquid that reminded me of flowers and rain and honey all mixed together in the perfect proportions. Perfume.
This is crazy, I thought. It was as if I had gone back in time. I glanced at the window, but my neighbors’ neohome were still there. I hadn’t gone back in time, but the bottle had.
“I have to show this to Milo,” I murmured, sliding off my bed and preparing to walk over to his house. However, I had just reached the stairs when I stopped. He had a history test the next day. I knew if I showed him this he wouldn’t study and I’d feel horrible if it was my fault that he failed.
I sighed and headed back into my room. I guess I’ll just show it to him tomorrow.
I plopped down on my bed, staring at the bottle still held gently in my hands. The smell of the perfume wafted to my nose. Light, airy.
I saw the stopper on my bed. There was a thin glass attachment on it. I picked it up and dipped it into the perfume, saturating it before pulling it back out. I dabbed a bit of the liquid on my wrists and then rubbed them together. I had never worn perfume before. It tingled on my skin. But it smelled amazing.
I closed up the bottle and put it on my shelf. It looked strange next to all of the old relics. But it’s old too, I reminded myself. Thousands of years. It belongs in my collection, another artifact, another piece of a story from the past.
And almost in response, the perfume bottle flashed with a ray of sunlight.
To be continued...