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“Let’s check out South Market Street, Karl.”
“Don’t you mean North Market Street?”
“It’s pretty much the same thing, but can we please check out the marketplace?”
The pair of siblings stood on a busy street in the Southern humidity of Charleston, both on business visiting antique shops in the South Carolinian city. Clusters of people pushed through the cracked sidewalk, some obvious tourists (their straw hats and Hawaiian shirts were painful to look at), and ran into the two. They were brother and sister, and their appearance mirrored each other.
The man, Karl, looked skeptically at his sister. Every feature on his face was reluctant, but the pleading look in his sister’s eyes waived his opinion.
He inhaled sharply. “Why?”
Karl shot her a look. “Lyra, seriously. I really want—no, need – to check out The Silver Vault on King Street before it closes.” Briefly he glanced down at his watch – it read a quarter past four. “It closes in about an hour, and I want to go over their French collection.”
“It won’t take more than ten minutes, I promise you! I just want to take a quick peek at some of the shops.” The tone of her voice was sincere and almost breathless; something unusual for Karl to hear. Normally, Lyra was a composed, collected woman, with a smooth, yet controlled voice that always managed to reassure the customers back home.
Karl hesitated in his tracks, before he gave in completely. “Okay. Ten minutes. I’ll wait right here.”
“No, no, that won’t do. You need to come as well.” A small smile began to tug at Lyra’s painted lips.
Her brother returned the smile with his own fake one, and made a waving motion with his hands. “I’ll pass.”
“Fine. I’ll just pick out the painting to go along with Mother’s frames on my own.”
At her words, Karl froze. A few months ago back in April their mother had bought and given them wonderful golden frames all the way from Switzerland for their birthday present. Both Karl and Lyra had been in awe upon seeing them, and their mother’s only request was to find a painting worthy of the frames. They both had wholeheartedly agreed to that, and the fact that Lyra wanted to, thought to, find a picture in this little marketplace was beyond him.
And before he knew it, he was hurriedly walking after his sister, who had started towards the market.
The inside of the long building was packed with sweaty bodies and short tempers, each person trying to look for a way out or a way to get to the stall they wanted. Karl felt like he was swimming against a school of salmon that were blindly rushing to the end of a waterfall.
On either side of him were stalls selling a variety of things. To one side, a regular vendor was selling clothes; to the other, a guy selling bumper stickers with both crude and clever sayings on them. African American women selling sweet grass crafts were dispersed throughout the entire exits and entryways, toiling away at their work, hands careful and steady in their precious tradition. The smell of sweat mixed with the sweet fragrances of flowers and kettle corn, almost too much for one to bear, lingered throughout the various sections of the edifice.
All this time he had been trying to keep an eye on his sister, but now she had slipped out of his gaze.
But he didn’t even care about the painting.
He was thinking of the antique shop on King Street.
He was thinking of what he would buy from the French collection.
He was thinking of where he would put the marvelous dishes in his own antique store back home.
Karl's thoughts were abruptly interrupted as he nearly tripped over a sandal-clad foot.
The foot belonged to a girl with long, tan legs; upon further notice, there were several just like her, all rather tall and pretty, crowding around a particular stand in the market.
Among the throng of girls was his own sister, who looked more than delighted. Unusual, Karl thought, raising a brow. He approached her slowly, suspiciously, and tried to peer over the heads of the women to see exactly what they were looking at.
It was not exactly a 'what', but a 'whom'. The group (his sister included) had taken to the stall because of the young man who worked there. He was quite handsome, with astonishingly pale blue eyes and a striped tank top that complimented the upper half of his body. His blonde hair was styled and pushed out of his tanned face, and a pair of stylish sunglasses sat perched on top of his crown of dirty blonde. A makeshift nametag was pinned on the left side of his chest that read 'Michael' in strikingly neat letters.
A high pitched, giggly voice came from one of Michael's adoring fans. “So, what's the name of this painting?"
"That one?" Michael bent down to pick up a rather simple painting and steadied it on his lap. The picture depicted an African American woman in a white dress against a mesmerizing blue background, with white laundry sheets floating around her. "It's called 'White Breeze' by Jonathan Green. 1995."
The crowd was quiet for a moment as they tried to stare into the soul of the painting, but ultimately failed to grasp the meaning of it. Michael could sense their attempt, and a twinge of disappointment ran through him.
"I'll take it."
All heads turned to the Asian woman in the floral dress, who stood erect, shoulders back, delicate chin lifted with a sense of sureness.
It was Lyra.
Karl blinked, hard, and took another step towards his sister. When he was close enough, he leaned in over her shoulder, and harshly whispered, "What? Why?"
For once, Lyra did not immediately answer her brother. Instead, she repeated her words, with a more definitive note. "I'll take it."
Michael shifted in his seat. "Quite a good eye you have for art," He started, trying to contain the excitement in his words. "Now, would you like it no--"
"We're not taking it, sorry."
Lyra and Michael stared at each other for a blank second, before they whipped their heads towards the offending words.
"Karl!" Lyra sounded horrified. She turned back around and apologetically shook off her brother's words. "No, no - we'll take it."
This time, Karl swept his arm in front of his sister, pushing her back gently. "Sorry, but this won't do," He told the vendor, his tone sounding anything but sorry. The brother had taken on his 'work' face, one which oozed charm and indifference at the same time.
Michael studied Karl's expression for a moment, before he glanced behind the man's shoulder and looked at the pained eyes of the sister. His gaze returned back to Karl, and then let his chin rest in the palm of his hand. "Why?"
It was one word, but it was a tricky question. Karl did not want to go on to verbally attack the picture (and the vendor) in front of his sister, but at the same time, he wanted to feel justified in his trivial disagreement with the blonde man.
"It won't go well with our frames at home," Karl offered. An empty smile passed over his face.
Michael sat up straighter. "What color are the frames?"
"Gold," Lyra interjected before her brother even had a chance to part his lips.
"Then there shouldn't be a problem."
Karl's eyebrows furrowed. "What? Why?"
"You see," Michael drew in a breath and stood up, gently cradling the painting in his arms. "The painter, Jonathan Green, intends to have his pictures set up in gold frames. So, sir, I'll think you'll have no problem in seeing that the ones you have will go wonderfully with this painting."
Lyra suddenly grabbed her brother's arm and jerked him towards her. Shocked, Karl only looked at her - however, her face said it all. Those dark eyes were begging once more, begging Karl not to cause any stupid fights, begging him to just lower his pride for once and go with her choice. Both of them knew that Karl was just being a fool, and knew that he also thought the Jon Green painting was worthy of those gorgeous Swiss frames.
"Please," Lyra said after a while, in a soft voice that only Karl could hear. He sighed, and turned back to Michael's stall.
"It'll look beautiful," Michael chimed in, a sincere smile crossing his lips. His eyes steadily stared back at Lyra first, and then moved to Karl’s disapproving gaze. "I promise."
The sister sucked in her breath and glanced up hopefully at her brother. "Well?"
A moment of silence glossed over them as Karl's eyes went from the painting to the vendor's face. He kept on trying to read and pick Michael apart, trying to determine if the man was honest. If there was one thing Karl despised, it was a swindler – he had to deal with them all the time in the business of selling and buying antiques. Had Michael been trying to sell a painting to his sister just because he thought he could due to his good looks, he had another thing coming.
"Fine," Karl said, this time louder. Nothing in his voice suggested that he was truly pleased, but it could not be helped; he knew he was being quite difficult about something so ridiculous, and his pride was not allowing him to just go on ahead and accept Michael's positive critique on the painting. There was just something about the vendor that irked him…
Maybe it was the way Michael flashed that disarming smile of his at his sister.
Anyways, he was not thrilled about it.
“Come on, Lyra, we need to go. The Silver Vault is only open for 20 more minutes, and I have no idea how we’re going to make it on time.”
The next month when their Mother came to visit them, she was absolutely approving at how well the picture complemented her golden frames.