Hey there, hi, hello! Just joining us at Quilled Sister? Welcome! I like to think all of my stories could stand alone, but you might enjoy this one more once you’ve gotten to know us all better. Can I interest you in Carry (our beginning) or Struck (a standalone)?
She came into my shop today, and I was on the phone.
It wasn’t really an important phone call. I had just rang up Mother to see how she was, and it turned out her neighbor Marie, who I adore, was over to share some neighborly gossip so they put me on speaker because I love that shit and we’d been chatting for a near 36 minutes while I dusted the higher shelves and sorted receipts.
I’d just pulled out the glass cleaner, and Marie had just started in on Mrs. Cricket’s atrocious lawn ornaments, when the young woman walked into my shop. So I hung up.
Not in embarrassment! It’s my shop, I can be on the phone if I like. There’s no manager for me to report to, or report me to that is. No, I hung up because I just really didn’t want to be on the phone the first time I met the Main Character.
I felt my phone buzzing away in my apron. No doubt the ladies on the other line thought we’d been accidentally cut off, or worse- my mother’s worrywart brain thought the shop was getting robbed. As if Tina’s Trinkets would be where the bank robber would search for his gold! Ha!
But she seemed interested, and that in itself was interesting.
I’d never seen one in person before. All my people were run of the mill people like me. Regular folk tend to gather around other regular folk, and that’s perfectly fine! We had our own problems and excitements, like Mrs. Cricket’s lawn ornaments or a favorite cousin’s wedding. I liked being ordinary. My great aunt once told me that robins were ordinary too- and just listen to them sing. Beautiful. “And look at the heron, Tina! Gorgeous, out standing in the waters like a king. Every artist wants to paint him. But oh how lonely he looks. Best to be a robin in her comfy crowded nest, I think,” she’d said.
But when a heron ever did wade into your side of the pond… it was hard not to stare.
She ran her pale hands along the cases, and I noticed her upper arms were much tanner. Gloves, outside? Such a Main Character quality. I wondered where those gloves were now.
I mentally pinched myself: Get it in gear, Tina!
“Anything I can help you with, dear?”
She jolted- I jolted a bit in return. Do robins and herons have a common language?
Her brown eyes went wide. Now that was odd. I assumed a Main Character would have bright blue eyes, or something unusual like green or gray. But these were still captivating! She held me with them as she stalked towards me, and I realized they weren’t really just brown, but a deep chestnut, with streaks of copper and brass rising out of them. I made a mental note to look closer at my own brown-eyed reflection that evening. Maybe there was more to mine too, wouldn’t that be nice?
“Actually yes, I do need some help if you don’t mind.”
Her voice was familiar, but I knew I had never heard it before. It was just one of those comforting womanly voices. The kind that makes teachers advise one to go into nursing or preaching, the one that draws all the children into the kitchen even when they have their own children. It had a bit of downy softness to it, which I couldn’t tell from youth or recent overuse.
“Of course! What can I find for you today in my little trove of treasures?”
“Well,” she placed her pale hands on the counter in front me, tapping them gently as she peered through the glass below, “I’m looking for something shiny.”
I laughed, “Shiny we can do! Any more particulars?”
She thought for another moment, now splaying out her fingers wide. I noticed her nails were clean, cut short, but unpolished. Another unusual bit. I’d always been a bit jealous of my lunch club ladies, who were able to keep their nail polish unmarred throughout their daily tasks, hobbies, even gardening! Looking down at my own bare fingers, I gave them a little wiggle. Perhaps clean was classy. Neat, graceful. Meant we had rather more important things to tend to.
My store phone rang. I ignored it. It rang again.
“Do you need to get that?” She looked up at me with those intriguing eyes.
“Oh, yes, just a moment,” I reluctantly shifted down the counter to see Mother on the caller ID. I picked it up quickly, “Yes… I’m fine… withacustomercallyoubackinamomentloveyoubyenow.” And shifted back down.
My Main Character customer smiled, “Parent or spouse?”
I smiled back, “Mothers never stop being mothers, dear. Even when you have as many gray hairs as they do!”
I saw a little shadow go across her face, a tension grasp the edge of her smile. Hmm, I touched on part of her Back Story I suppose. What an honor!
After a few heavy moments, she tapped her fingers on the glass once more, decided, and said deliberately lightly, “I think I need a ring, ma’am, don’t you?”
“A lady can’t have too many, and I have plenty of those! Of course they might be a wee bit old fashioned for you, dear,” I started to pull our the cases from under the glass anyway, “If you want something like all the New Age gals are wearing, you’ll have to go to-“
“No, no.” She firmly stopped me, and I was thankful for it. I can’t believe I almost recommended another shop! Main Character or not, a sale was a sale.
“Looking for vintage, then?”
“Yes,” she nodded, and started delicately sorting through the rows of silver-trapped pearls and golden-wrapped gemstones.
I couldn’t help but follow those fingers up, past the strangely spaced tan lines, to the muscle padded shoulders that led under her simple running tank to-
Wait. Running tank?
I drew back a small step. I had been so distracted by her presence as a whole that I had failed to notice she was not dressed at all for a day of browsing shops. Her top was a peachy running tank with sheer sides, and I could see through the glass that her bottoms were plain gray joggers, a pocket on her right side bulging with something oddly shaped. Was it her wallet? Because I saw no purse.
“Is this for…” I began, now uncertain, “a gift?”
“No, I’m treating myself today.” She reached for her waistband, I tensed. My God. My mother was right. I AM getting robbed today. Here I was all giddy about the Main Character in my store, and it was one of those stories. Lord have mercy on my soul, here we go- she’s reaching for it and!
She pulls one of this skinny shrinking fanny packs around to the front of her. Oh.
She smiles up at me reassuringly, as if she has heard the silent fluttering saga that has just occurred on my side of the counter. I’m sure my temple has a bead of sweat on it, but to dot it away would be to admit to my terribly accusing thoughts.
“Well then,” I took the moment to cough, straighten myself out. I could be calm as well, I could be collected too, “if you don’t mind me saying, you have a tone that could go with several different metals, so is there a particular stone you’re looking for?”
“A diamond,” she said immediately. Firmly.
“Oh, I only have small ones of those, we’re just a little shop. This one here in the halo has-“
“I heard,” she whispered, and I couldn’t help but lean in. She was like a magnet! “That you do have a few items kept back for your regulars…” We were so very close, that I was able to admire the very curvature of her nose. Imagine! Admiring someone’s nose. But it is the very middle of someone’s face, isn’t it? I hoped my own wasn’t taking up too much space. My husband, Gary, may he rest in peace, always gave it a big kiss on his way to work, or on the way to golf, or hell, on the way to the bathroom. And it hadn’t gotten one of those old lady warts yet, praise Saint Mary. Come to think of it, I was the only one in my college suite that swore they’d get Botox instead of a nose job at 30! So perhaps I had an admirable nose too. Then it would be perfectly fine to lean in just a little bit further…
“…Now I know I’m not a regular, Mrs. Tina, but if you have a pretty little diamond ring, I promise to pay you better than any of them ever have.”
“Well I-” How did she know about the back stash? And was that her perfume I’d leaned into? It was like a rose, held over a cup of hot spiced tea with cream. “I just do this for fun, it’s not, not really about the money…”
“What is it that you need, then? I’m able to deal in favors as well.”
She pulled back, and it was like a sip of ice cold water.
“How about we take a look at the other rings you have, and I’ll make an offer, and you think about it? No guarantee on either side, hm?”
That sounded fine. Lots of things sounded fine, actually.
I stepped back behind the register, opened the office door, and took the key from around my neck. I quickly peeked through each box in the safe- I had four diamond rings, but one had a pearl on it. I knew she wouldn’t like that. I don’t know how, but I knew. I brought it anyway.
I displayed the four small boxes on the counter. She pushed the pearl-paired one aside.
It didn’t take long before she pulled the small black-velvet box on the left towards her. Fascinating. I knew what it held without having to turn it around: A early Victorian round with two glaring garnet slit-ovals guarding it on either side. The silver and gold filigree down each side appeared to be thorny vines wrapped around tiny, star-like diamond shards. When I came across it nearly three years ago now, I thought my eccentric art-dealer who loved to spend her ex-husband’s money would want it, but she called it “garish, almost frightening.”
“Perfect.” I said, but it wasn’t. Because as much as I was in awe of this odd creature before me, I did not know what to do with her. And this ring was one of the most expensive items in my shop. And she was in joggers.
This did not bother my Main Character. She was already slipping the ring onto the middle finger of her right hand, and damn if it didn’t slip on there like it was made for her! I almost just said, take it and go with my blessings!
She reached into her little fanny pack. Had we reached a price while I wasn’t listening? Oh God my mouth had run while I was musing. Had I said the ‘with my blessings’ out loud? Damnation.
“This is obviously superb,” she purred, as she began counting 100s onto my counter, “So I’m actually going to give you both for being so kind as to show a new customer your back lot.”
She didn’t look up from her counting, “The money and the favor.”
“But I didn’t ask for a-“
“Well, when you do, you’ll have my card.”
She held out her hand with the ring on it, once to admire, and then once to shake mine. A firm grip, an affectionate squeeze paired with a short satisfied laugh, and she turned to go. I couldn’t believe our interaction was ending so soon. I wanted to chat, to know what was next! To be a part of it!
She turned, one hand on the door, half of her already gone, “Yes?” Another look at those eyes, the brass flashing with… curiosity? Laughter?
“Do you… want a receipt?”
“No, thank you,” she smiled, “better not!” and she was gone.
I stared out my door for a moment, as if she might pop back through it, but she did not.
So I next I stared at the many papers piled on my counter, most of them green. Oh my. She… certainly compensated me my fair share for the ring. Underneath Benjamin Franklin’s many faces, was a thick square of white paper. It had only 5 numbers. So… not a phone number. How would I get in touch? I flipped it over to see-
A card. Her card. The Queen of Diamonds.
Auxiliary (adj): Providing supplementary or additional help and support. (noun): A person or thing providing supplementary or additional help and support.
I’ve rewritten this section a few times. I have lots of different thoughts about this! I know I blabber on sometimes, tell y’all exactly how I’m feeling when I write something. Sometimes I’m like HERE IS MY POINT and other times I try to be more tricksy. I think I’ll just leave this one here, and invite you to view Tina and her Main Character as they are, however you like. If you want, let me know how you’re feeling about their short interaction- you know where to find me!
And also… isn’t it nice to see the Queen again? 😉 I wonder what she’d think of someone referring to HER as the Main Character…