“Boss, you look like you’ve seen a ghost! Drink some of this coffee and sit down.” Luke mothered me for a minute. I don’t know if the look on his face meant he saw her or if he was worried about me. I took the paper cup and found a sturdy chair. I felt the chill subside, but the scent lingered. I asked Luke if he had noticed anything more abnormal than usual. It was New Orleans after all.
His hair fell over his eyes as he looked at me, the concern evident on his face. “Since I work in a place where we chat with a dead guy every day, how strange are you talking?”
“I saw something, or someone, “I said. “I also smelled lilacs.”
“Miss Maggie came in a bit ago with sweet tea and lemonade. She wears that flowery perfume, but I don’t think it is lilacs,” Luke thought for a moment. Miss Maggie is a dear woman from the neighborhood who worked in the shop for years before retiring for the third or fourth time. She still stops in to help when she gets bored being the social butterfly of the Quarter. It wasn’t Miss Maggie that I saw.
“Someone slipped in right before you came out of your office. I was with a guest so I didn’t notice who it was. I should probably go check on him. You ok?” he asked with sincerity and a bit of ‘my boss has lost her mind.’ He patted my shoulder and went back to the floor.
It wasn’t a man I saw. It was the girl from this morning. At least I think that’s who it was. I drank some more cafe-au-lait and wandered around my antiques to clear my head. I no longer smelled lilacs. The scent of the polish we used on the wood now filled that space. Light danced all around the interior. Shadows were cast, moving, swaying. I shook my head. Maybe I was still off balance from the heat and the odor of decay from my walk to work.
I returned to my office, determined to finish exploring and cataloging the box and its contents. The sketches and photos showed the owner was someone with significant wealth and affinity for details. As I leafed through the pictures, I was awed by the bright green, slightly flawed emeralds settled among tiny pearls. Brilliant blue sapphires and diamonds were wating for me. I checked on Luke one more time before I started. I heard giggling and saw him flirting with a young woman and her mama. He was in his element, so I closed the door and put on my gloves. Music playing softly in the background allowed me to be transpsorted to am era of fancy balls and carriages. I became so focused on the boxand the jewelry, I lost track of time.
As I walked through the streets of the Vieux Carre, I stopped for a moment and closed my eyes. I listened to the sounds of a busy morning all around me. Children were running and playing. Their laughter and screeches bounced off the walls of the courtyards and homes. A woman hummed in the distance as she snapped sheets to hang on the line. Horoses clopped along the streets, their heavy breathing a representation of frustration from pulling the heavy cart on such a hot day. Men spoke in hushed voices as deals were being finalized. Store owners yelled orders out to their workers.
I took a deep breath and smelled the hot, heavy summer air. Unwashed humans, horses, expensive perfume and cheap cologne, decay, and the hope of rain filled my nostrils. Breakfast cooking clashed with the filth in the gutters. I could smell the river a few blocks away, laden with fish and smoke from. the ships. Papa was waiting and would be angry by my tardiness. I was taking too long. Again. I shook myself back to the task at hand and continued to the shop on Royal. Work would wait for me, but Papa wouldn’t.
I ran the final blocks to Royal. My hair was a mess. The hem of my skirt was dusty. My hat was missing. I prepared myself for the inevitable encounter with Mrs. Amberly, Papa’s store clerk. She would remind me, unkindly, of the expectations of a young lady in society. She would chastise my freckles and lack of a hat. She would mutter under her breath the disappointment she had that Mama and Papa let me run so wild. How a week with her would make me behave appropriately.
I gathered my hair and retied my ribbon at the base of my neck. I knocked the dust off my skirt and shoes, straightened my blouse, and pulled open the heavy door. I headed straight for the office, with only a nod to Mrs. Amberly and her shocked exprssion. She shook her head as I walked past, whispering, “Back to work, you nosy, old, busy-body.”