Bottled Beauty: Part Four
“This,” said Milo, shaking his head slightly in disbelief, “is incredible.”
“I know, right?” I said, watching the brown Bori cradle the perfume bottle between his forefinger and thumb.
We were sitting on the couch in my living room. Bright afternoon sunlight filtered in from the windows behind us, highlighting everything in the room in a cheery yellow cast. I loved the living room. It was the one room in the house that reflected my entire family. My mom’s favorite paintings of fields of flowers hung on each of the walls, side-by-side with my father’s framed diplomas. The floor was a beautiful honey-colored wood that Cara had liked to dance when she was younger, and on the mantle over the fireplace were a few of my bazaar-hunting finds on displays.
But my favorite piece was the piano. My dad had bought it in Neovia when I was six, but it was dark and old and perfect. Although no one in my family could play more than simple one-handed songs on it, it anchored the room and drew all eyes to it. And on top of the piano, proudly displayed, were pictures of my sister and me as we grew up. A chronicle of time.
“You’re not trying to trick me, right?” Milo asked, drawing me away from the piano. His face was wary, his dark eyes slightly narrowed. “Did you swap the bottles?”
“Why would I do that?” I said with a sigh, leaning back against a navy blue pillow. “Plus, where would I have found an almost exact replica? A perfect new replica.”
“They sell lots of good knock-offs at the bazaar for tourists,” the brown Bori mumbled in defense. He uncorked the purple jeweled stopper and sniffed inside. “Mmm,” he said, his eyes growing wide. “This smells so good. Like bottled amazingness.”
I laughed at him. “Bottled amazingness?”
He flushed. “I’m good at math. Descriptions aren’t my thing.” He re-corked the glass bottle and reached for the tag around the neck, the little card with ancient Qasalan scribbled on it in black ink. “So you don’t know what this means?”
“Do you?” I asked hopefully.
He shook his head. “I’ve taken Qasalan as long as you have and I’ve never seen any of these symbols before, though that one kind of looks like a three, or maybe it’s the letter K.” He paused for a second. “My mom may know, though.”
I blinked. “Your mom?”
He nodded. “She’s a curator at the museum. Come on, Celia, you know that.”
“Ahh, I forgot!” Milo’s mom was the sweetest woman in the world. She made the best chocolate chip cookies I had ever tasted and was always willing to tell some embarrassing childhood story about Milo. I associated her so much with her amazing baking and storytelling skills that I completely forgot about her job. “Do you think she could translate this for me? I really think it has to do with the weirdness going on recently.”
Milo shook his head. “Celia, people giving you compliments isn’t ‘weirdness.’”
I looked at Milo. “You have to admit it’s weird. You can’t even deny it. You saw everyone in math today! We didn’t start class for a half hour because we got into a whole discussion about my clothes!” I winced at the memory. I wasn’t used to being the center of attention, and it had felt awkward.
He sighed. “Fine, I guess that is a little strange.”
“What I think is even stranger,” I suddenly wondered out loud, sitting up, “is why you’re the only one who hasn’t gone crazy over this whole thing.”
He grinned triumphantly. “I guess magical perfume is no match for my immense mental capacity.”
I rolled my eyes at him, stifling the laugh rising up in my throat as I heard front door open.
I turned around and watched as my mom, dad, and sister walked in. Cara was dressed in a pink tutu with a pair of ballet shoes held in her hands: the blue Blumaroo had obviously just come back from another long day of dance rehearsal. My mom, a green Kougra, and my father, a Shadow Ogrin, were both holding a bag of groceries in their arms.
“Milo!” my mom greeted with a bright smile. Golden hoops glinted in her ears. “It’s so nice to see you.”
“Nice to see you too,” he said politely.
“We just came back from the store,” my dad explained, holding out the filled paper bag for emphasis. “We’re going to make Puntec Fruit Pasta tonight. You’re welcome to stay and indulge.”
“Thanks, but I actually should be getting home. Lots of homework tonight.” He stood up and I saw him discreetly remove the Qasalan tag from the perfume before passing the bottle to me. He turned to me. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Celia. I’ll see what I can do about the translation.”
“Thanks, Milo,” I said, standing up as he waved goodbye to my family and headed out the door.
“Celia, honey,” my mom said, drawing nearer with a slight frown on her face. “Did you do something... different today? With your clothes perhaps? Or hair?” She reached out and touched my purple Acara fur. “Maybe used a different body wash in the shower?”
I sighed, closing my fingers around the perfume bottle and putting my hand behind my back. Here we go again. “No, Mom.” My eyes landed on her groceries. “Here!” I said, extending my arms in an attempt to change the subject. “I’ll carry that to the kitchen.”
“No, honey, it’s fine, we got it,” my dad interjected. The Shadow Ogrin’s eyes fell on me for a second as well. “Hmm, you do look nice today, Celia.”
“Well, I’m going to start dinner,” my mom said, giving me a peck on my cheek. “Come on, honey,” she said, gesturing for my dad to follow her as she disappeared into the kitchen.
With my parents gone, I turned to head upstairs to my room, but I felt pressure on my arm: Cara. “Hey, Celia,” the Blumaroo said, shifting slightly as she let go of my arm, “can I talk to you for a second?”
I frowned. “Um, sure. What’s up?”
“Listen,” she said, looking me in the eyes. “I’m really sorry for what I said yesterday in school. I didn’t mean it.”
With the whole perfume bottle mess, I had completely forgotten about our spat the day earlier.
“It’s okay,” I said, actually meaning. “You’re stressed about the recital Saturday. I’m sorry I was pestering you while you were trying to practice.”
“That didn’t make it okay for me to say what I said. Please forgive me?”
I gave my sister a smile. “Already did.” I gestured towards the stairs. “But now I really need to start my homework. I’ll see you later, Cara.”
She nodded her head quickly and I started my way up the steps. However, before I could reach the upper landing, she called my name.
I paused and turned around. “Yeah?”
She stared at me quizzically, as if I was some sort of math problem she couldn’t quite figure out. “Mom’s right,” she said slowly. “You do look really good today.”
* * *
The sky outside my window had turned a deep navy, dark and rich like the gorgeous dyed silks sold at the market each Thursday. Embedded in this dark sky, like diamonds embroidered onto a dress, were thousands of stars.
I was lying in bed, but I couldn’t sleep. My eyes had picked out the familiar figures in the stars, constellations that Neopians thousands of years ago had probably stared at as well. But I wasn’t focusing on the beautiful patterns in the sky. My mind was on the perfume bottle, still clenched tightly in my paw as if I was afraid it would suddenly vanish if I didn’t hold onto it with all my might.
How did this happen? I wondered vaguely. I knew there had to be some sort of magic involved. The bottle had to be bewitched, with some spell that had made the old look new. And the perfume obviously was enchanted as well. Some sort of bottled beauty that had withstood the test of time.
But what I really wanted to know was why me. Why had I found this bottle in the market? It could have been merely a coincidence... or it could have been more than that.
Cara told me yesterday I didn’t have a talent, I thought to myself, switching my gaze to the perfume bottle. Maybe this is fate’s way of giving me something to call my own. Something more than a liking for chipped pieces of pottery from thousands of years ago. Something that others can appreciate as well. Beauty.
I took out the stopper. Clear perfume sloshed around inside the bottle, letting out a whiff of the sweet fragrance. It made my head swim with images: bright oases with flowers, the sky letting down drops of rain while the sun sparkled overhead.
I couldn’t help it. I dabbed some on my wrists, lost in the scent. My fur tingled and I felt warmth flood my veins. I was pretty sure that didn’t happen with normal perfume, but I didn’t care. It felt absolutely wonderful.
And with the thoughts of green oases and rain and flowers and every other beautiful thing I could think of swirling around in my head, I fell asleep.
To be continued...