Jared could see the brightly colored vintage clothing from a block away. It was like a beacon of hope on a gloomy, stormy street.
Jared’s gait quickened as the warmth from Miriam’s Vintage Boutique called to him. He secured the glass vials of herbs in a tight fist within his trench coat against his chest.
He wasn’t used to the street’s cold glare as passersby with steely eyes would sniff the air in curiosity around him.
Jared pulled the collar of the overcoat higher and tighter around his neck. He was consciously aware of people’s heads turning and whispers. A little girl with a blue beret revealed their thoughts.
“He smells like lavender flowers” she murmured to the older woman gripping her hand sniffing the air with eyes that brightened in response.
Jared usually smelled like a mingle of herbs and spices had a fist fight. But he had just acquired several bushels of lavender that had taken 4 months to arrive. They hung upside down along the ceiling of his shop, drying in fragrant rows. The scent must have settled on his clothes.
He picked up his pace relieved to come upon the glass door to the boutique. He paused; his hand rested on the handle. There she was, glowing under fluorescent lights. Miriam’s dark waves curtained her delicate face. His heart quickened and his hands beaded with sweat.
Normally he didn’t do deliveries. He gave that job to the neighborhood boy, who needed the extra coin for food. But the chance to finally meet Miriam couldn’t be bypassed.
Jared had seen Miriam walk to her shop. He was immediately entranced by her bounding, energetic step that matched her wavy hair, large almond brown eyes, full lips and 20’s style. He even overheard the neighbors’ glowing reviews about her shop. And about her.
What was he thinking. This was ludicrous! He didn’t do things like this. Things like leaving his shop and venturing out to meet people willingly! He released the door handle ready to leave, but the jerk reaction caught her eyes and fate lifted her head.
Her nose ring glinted in the light and shone in her eyes as she grinned motioning for him to come inside. He nodded and entered, shaking like a wet dog. She lifted off her stool reaching out a bangled hand in greeting. Her vibrant hand shook his, while he could only give a limp one in return.
“Hi! I’m Miriam. How can I help you?” She raised her velvet eyebrows after a beat awaiting his response.
“Uh…I…uh” was all he could sputter. Miriam released his hand pulling back, her eyes fixated on his hand as he pulled it from his trench coat, revealing the vials from within.
“Oh! You must be Jared from the Apothecary! Are those my herbs?”
He could only nod, a corner of his mouth twitched upward.
“How much do I owe you? I so appreciate you doing this. Coming all this way. I would have come to you, but I can’t leave the shop right now.” She scurried around the counter, pulling out her purse and setting it down. She rummaged around inside.
Jared’s mind emptied as Miriam chatted on. Her full lips were mesmerizing.
A clatter caught Jared’s attention, interrupting his revere.
“Oh dear, you see what I mean?”
Jared’s eyes scanned the area and fell on a capuchin monkey in a jean vest, staring back at him from atop a knocked over display.
Miriam picked up the display stand the monkey had tipped over.
“This is George, and he is quite mischievous” she chided George as he scurried up her arm.
Jared recovered from his initial shock. “It was no trouble. Glad to help.”
Miriam grinned. “I picked up George off the street. I saved him from some animal cruelty type. Unfortunately, he is a nervous wreck and gets into tons of trouble. I can’t even leave the store!” Miriam huffed in exasperation, tickling George under his chin.
“Maybe you can get a monkey sitter.” Jared chuckled to himself.
Miriam’s eyes lit up. “That’s a great idea! Oh Jerry…um Jared, could you please watch him, just a moment, so I can run an errand and get something to eat? I am starving! I haven’t been able to eat since breakfast.”
“Oh well, I don’t know anything about monkeys.” He stumbled.
“Oh please?” Miriam’s vibrant eyes glowed, her flecks of gold shone brighter in her brown eyes.
Jared was again mesmerized and caught himself nodding in agreement. To Jared’s delight, his agreement earned him a warm hug from Miriam that he melted into. The cold air hit him again when she pulled away rushing around, grabbing her things.
“Don’t worry. I’ll be quick and I’ll lock up, so you don’t have to worry about customers. Food is in the back in his cage if you can get him in there. I have been trying to get him in there for days! His toys are to the right of his cage, and they keep him entertained for the most part and out of trouble.”
She waved at George. “Bye George! I’ll be right back! Be good for Mr. James!” She called as she rushed out the door, a draft of cold air whipping behind her.
Jared, still reeling from the hug, waved with a silly grin on his face at the retreating Miriam. He would have stayed there the whole time, watching the door, if it weren’t for a loud clanging behind him. George had upended another display, with bangled, necklaces and earring strewn across the floor between cluttered clothes racks.
“George no!” Jared gasped, chasing the capuchin monkey. George merely flicked his tail and skittered up a post and ran balancing along the maze of pipes on the ceiling.
Jared wagged his finger and proceeded to pick up the scattered jewelry. He set up the display, haphazardly placing each piece on as best as he could. What was he thinking? Offering to take care of a monkey! He knew nothing about monkeys!
He glared at George who cocked his head sideways atop his perch. He observed as Jared tried to hang up a stone filled necklace and earring set. George chittered at him as if sensing Jared’s thoughts.
“Look, I’ll make a deal with you. If you behave, I’ll bring you a special treat.” Jared’s voice went an octave higher on ‘treat’, hoping to catch the Capuchin’s attention and entice him.
George only tilted his head to the other side, eyeing Jared below.
Jared sighed, smoothing down his light grey button up shirt and trousers. He adjusted his suspenders, hoping he would not have to go into battle.
Whatever. George could stay up there all he wants. As long as he didn’t make any more messes, it would suit Jared just fine to leave him up there until Miriam returned.
Suddenly, the door clanged open. Jared jumped. No one was supposed to be able to come into the shop. Miriam had locked the door when she left.
“Hey Miriam! I finally got the order in for…” A short, portly man had entered halfway in the door and stopped short staring at Jared in confusion. He held a long rectangular box in his meaty hands.
“Who are you?” the short man accused.
Jared stood taller, squaring his shoulders at the intruder. “I’m helping Miriam. She went out on an errand. Who are you?”
The short man straightened, measuring Jared with his eyes. “I’m her supplier. I come several nights a week for deliveries.”
“How did you get in?” Jared eyed him up and down.
“I have a key for after hours, in case she is out for an errand.” Both men stared each other down. A draft from outside blew in chilling Jared. He shivered but refused to let this intruder win their staring contest.
That is when George took his opportunity to scurry down and leap onto the intruders’ shoulders. The short man jerked in surprise, breaking eye contact with a yelp.
Jared felt a moment of satisfaction until George screeched at the newcomer and bolted out the open door. The short man ducked, yelling in surprise.
“No George!” Jared held out a hand, but it was too late. George was already out the half open door and into the windy late afternoon. “Look what you did!” Jared snapped. The short man bowed his head in embarrassment as Jared pushed past.
His pulse quickened as he watched George gallop down the sidewalk, passing vendor after vendors outside displays.
The short man heled up his hands. “Sorry I didn’t know.”
Jared sighed and chased after George. “Don’t lock up when you leave! I need to get back in!” He yelled over his shoulders. He huffed, pulling his trench coat tighter around him.
Drizzle pattered on his fedora. It made the sidewalk slick and the vendor windows blurry. But there was no mistaking that curled tail and flash of George’s jean jacket.
Jared dashed after him mumbling “excuse’ me” as he scuttled around signs, people, carts and displays. A car horn blared. Jared waved off the angry driver that narrowly avoided hitting him. He didn’t have time to worry about cars.
George was sitting on a garbage can at the end of the block, nibbling on something. Jared slowed his steps and hid behind a life size portrait of a cartoon ice cream cone. George munched eagerly on a half-eaten muffin. Jared watched George’s overhanging eyebrows move up and down, his teeth barred. The capuchin would chew, then pause to search his surroundings, then continue chewing.
Jared’s breath puffed in front of his face. He tried to time George’s pauses. Once George began eating, Jared counted to three than leapt from behind his post.
But George had caught wind of Jared’s plan. He jumped out of Jared’s out-stretched arms, grabbed the edge of the striped canopy of the outdoor market and crawled on top of it.
Jared growled in frustration. He glanced around and spotted an emergency ladder on the side of the building. Pushing back his coat tails, he rubbed his hands together to warm them. He placed each hand carefully on the rungs and pulled himself up on shaky limbs.
The rungs glistened wet in his hands. Halfway up, his foot slipped, and he gasped gripping the ladder tight. He snaked an arm through a gap between 2 steps using the crook of his arm to steady himself. Taking a few breaths, he set his foot back on the rung and methodically checked each slick grip. After assuring his hands and feet were secure, he would climb the next step.
Panting, he flung himself onto the roof, cold sweat beading on his forehead. George sat a few paces away chittering at him. Mocking him. Jared rolled over. He stayed low to the ground in a squat and stalked George. When he was within a couple feet of the monkey, Jared hurtled himself with cat like speed at George. But the monkey was keen and faster.
George skirted along the rooftops before disappearing into a crack between two buildings. Jared rushed to the spot, peering over the edge, feel dizzy. But there was no George in sight anymore.
“Argh!” Jared yelled at the sky. He turned and walked back to the ladder and down. He called out to George, past the garbage can, and street vendors. He looked in displays, windows, and down alleys. He looked around rank smelling dumpsters and garbage cans. When he didn’t see the capuchin, he trudged back to the shop with his head hanging low.
People cast him sideways looks as he passed. His wrinkled trench coat, foggy glasses, and disheveled hair gave him an odd look.
The short man had left the door unlocked and lights off, as Jared had hoped. The fluorescent bulbs zinged and buzzed to life. The shop’s warm spicy air did nothing to remove the chill from Jared’s bones. He found a worn cushion bench in the corner of the shop and plopped down. Jared sunk his face into his hands. He had failed Miriam. How could he face her?
Should he just flee the scene and go back to his shop? Pretend he hadn’t agreed to all of this? Would he never come down this street again? He could avoid her altogether. Possibly.
But Jared knew he couldn’t. Even if he could his father ingrained taking responsibility during his childhood. He would face Miriam and accept his fate. His watch ticked a slow gonging reminder of his inevitable confrontation. His knee bounced, and his shoe clacked on this linoleum floor.
When he could bare it no longer the clink of the lock turned. Icy air rushed into the warmth. Jared realized he was sweating in his trench coat he had forgotten to remove. The scent of jasmine floated along his nostrils. He inhaled deep enjoying it for the last time.
“I’m so sorry. The errand went longer than I had planned. Everything and everyone took forever! Then with the rain! Oh my, a mess.”
Miriam paused in mid fling of her wool jacket over the counter. “Oh, I’ve upset you with my tardiness!” Her smooth brow furrowed.
Jared realized he had an intense gaze. He was so nervous about his confession, he had hardly registered what Miriam was saying. He stood. “Oh, no…Mir…Miss. I’m just uh. You see…”
“Where’s George?” Miriam straightened her eyes scanning the shop.
“I hope he wasn’t too much trouble.”
“Oh yea, well you see…”
Miriam scurried around the shop, clicking her tongue, calling for George. “I’m listening.” She called behind a rack of clothes. Jared followed her as they wound their way around the shop.
“Miss. Uh you see. Uh. After you locked up.”
“George!” Miriam continued clicking her tongue and circling.
“The guy, he just opened up the store.”
Miriam bolted upright. “What guy?”
“Uh, I don’t know his name. Short guy. Said he had a delivery.”
“Oh! Mr. Shephard!” She beamed. “Yes, he brings me late deliveries. He has a spare key in case I’m in the back and can’t hear him, or if I’m out. I’m sure I’ll find the delivery where he usually leaves it.” She continued her search.
“Yes, well, he left the door open.”
“Yea, he does that. It’s easier for him to get the things in.”
Jared touched Miriam’s elbow. She paused and glanced up at him. “Miriam. I’m trying to explain to you. About George.”
“Oh, where is he?” Her eyes brightened more.
“I’m sorry. I uh…You see George. He…”
Miriam shoved a finger on his lips. Jared’s body warmed. Her head snapped around and she grabbed his hand. They tip toed to the back door. She peered around the frame, then whipped around back to him her eyes gleaming.
“He’s in the cage!” She breathed pointing.
“What?” Jared mumbled peeking around the door to see George sitting in his cage, nibbling on nuts, and chittering to himself.
Miriam placed a finger on her lips and with silent steps, crept to the cage. With a flash, she pulled the door shut and locked it in place. George bounded up and down, screeching until Miriam handed him a piece of fruit, that he ate squeaking to himself.
Miriam squealed and threw herself into Jared’s arms. He clung to her in shock.
“Thank you so much! How did you get him in the cage?”
“Uh. I left him be…I guess.”
She planted a kiss on Jared’s cheek that made his knees buckle.
“How could I ever repay you?”
Jared, still lovestruck from the kiss, shrugged. At that moment, his stomach made an angry growl. His face reddened.
Miriam laughed, like tinkling chimes on a fall day. “Oh my! I feel ya! I have an idea. I’ll close up shop completely and you can stay for dinner! My apartment is upstairs, so we don’t have to go back out in this chilly rain. Do you like naan bread, white rice, and curry chicken?”
Jared could only grin.
She smiled her dazzling smile of white teeth. “Great! Come on up. I prepped it earlier today, so it won’t take long to cook. Oh! And don’t worry. My curry chicken is not that spicy. Well, I’ll leave the spicy out.” Miriam led the way upstairs, behind a door to the right of George’s cage.
“I don’t mind spicy.” Jared piqued.
Miriam paused and cast him a look that threatened to make his knees buckle again. She winked her long lashes.
“Ok. Maybe I’ll make it a little spicy.”
She sauntered up the stairs. Jared grinned and stumbled up behind her. George chittered his goodbye behind them.