Jack sighed, glaring moodily as he cast around for any sign of Sherrie. One Hour. That was the deal they had struck when he had begrudgingly agreed to come to this circus of peddlers. His first Saturday off in weeks, and he had allowed his boisterous little sister to convince him to take her to the monthly flea market. He felt his scowl deepen. Convinced wasn’t the right word. Blackmailed was more appropriate. In exchange for taking her to the market, she would keep quiet about the dent he put in their parent’s car when he borrowed it, letting them think it was a hit and run. He continued to scan over the crowd and, while thankful for his six-foot-two height, he had a tendency to forget to look down.
He heard the wheezed exclamation and glanced down to see a small girl staring up at him wide-eyed from where she had fallen on the ground. The sun flashed off a gold charm at her neck as Jack realized she couldn’t have been more than seven or eight. He winced, cursing Sherrie for losing him as he reached down to help the little girl up, crouching as much as possible in hopes of not scaring her any more than she already appeared.
“I’m so sorry. I wasn’t watching where I was going. Are you ok?” He kept his voice soft and pleasant, extending his hand to stop several inches away, not wanting her to think he was going to grab her. “Do you need a hand up?”
The little girl just stared at Jack, and he couldn’t help notice that people were starting to stare at them sitting in the flow the crowd. He could feel the flush of embarrassment creep up his neck, not wanting to leave her on the ground but also not wanting these people to think he was up to anything immoral either.
“Hey listen, you’re going to get hurt if you sit in the middle of the crowd like this. Where are your parents?”
Jack rocked back to stand up, looking for a panicking mother when her two tiny hands shot out and grabbed the hand he had offered. Hastily he stood up, ushering her off to the side of the path as their audience slowly started to move on. He sighed. I do not have time for this. He looked back down to where the girl still clutched his hand, about to ask her to let go when he noticed she was staring at his arm in fascination. He grinned.
“What’s the matter? Never seen a tattoo before?”
The little girl looked up at him then back down, finally releasing his hand as she continued to stare at all the ink on his arm. Slowly she reached up and poked at a spot just above his wrist and Jack crouched back down, a warm smile at the memory. She had pointed to the naval ship’s clock that was inked out in black on his forearm. That had been his first tattoo.
“That is a tattoo of the clock my grandfather stole-, ah, rescued from his naval ship when he found out that it was going to be decommissioned. See that,” he pointed to a small crooked letters on the side of the clock, “that’s where I carved my name into it when I was little.”
He laughed, remembering how his dad had chewed him out for it, but his grandfather had only smiled and said it gave the clock character. His grandfather had been his favorite person in the whole world. The little girl looked at it with an amount of concentration Jack was not used to seeing in children and he wondered just what this little girl was doing by herself in such a big crowd. Her small hands grabbed his pant leg and Jack looked down to see she was hiding behind his leg, eyes wide as she stared at a woman heading there way, an officer following close behind. He blinked at the anger on the woman’s face then back down at the fear on the little girl’s face.
What the hell has she gotten me into?
Jack made a quick judgement call, gently shoving the girl between an armoire and bookshelf that was for sale at the lot they were in front of. He placed himself where he could block the her from view, pretending to study the items as the voice of the irate woman drew closer.
“…telling you she had to have come this way. I want her found and her parents held responsible for the damage she caused.”
The little girl let out a small squeak as the woman’s voice grew louder, but she settled down as Jack rested a reassuring hand on her head. After a small eternity, the woman moved on and Jack felt tension he unknowingly built up slowly release from her his shoulders. The furniture seller gave him a smile of understanding and he gave a small wave as he turned his small charge away from the fading chaos.
As they walked up the path, he scrutinized the girl, wondering how much damage a tiny thing like her could cause that would make that woman so angry. He was just about to ask her when she stopped at a turn in the path, her eyes lighting up as she turned to him. Without asking, she grabbed him by the hand and started pulling him down the left path, dragging him through the crowd like a rag doll. He felt the embarrassment as people smiled indulgently at them, probably thinking he was an older brother tolerating his little sister’s whims. Come to think it, he had forgotten that he was looking for his own sister. At the next break in the crowd, he gently pulled on the little girl’s arm forcing her to stop trying to keep his voice as friendly as he could.
“Whoa, slow down. I don’t know what kind of trouble you’re in but let’s just take a minute to relax. I need to go find my sister, and we need to find your family too. I wouldn’t feel right leaving you alone in this big crowd. Do you know where your family might be?”
The little girl nodded and pointed to the end of the path where the last few stalls were spaced out before they met the woods. She pulled on his hand again, and he sighed, following her to the last stall on the left. He was a surprised to see a girl about his age managing the stand, smiling brightly as she sold a tea set to a young girl and her mother. Jack looked at the tables in her lot, covered in junk with no discernable order to them. He could see dishware mixed in with dolls and books cover with jewelry that made the mess that was Sherrie’s room almost look organized. He watched the young seller wave goodbye to her customer and turn her gaze to him, a salesman’s face already in place. The auburn hair and soft brown eyes were a stunning reflection of the little girl beside him and he knew immediately that this must be her older sister.
“Welcome to the Fay’s Treasure Trove. We have all sorts of hidden treasures and… Emma!” The older girl ran up and pick the younger one up into a twirling hug before setting her backdown, a stern look on her face. “Where have you been? Dad was so worried! He’s been gone for twenty minutes trying to find you!”
Emma stretched up on her tiptoes and whispered into her sister’s ear, her older sister’s eyes flicking to Jack as she listened. When she was done, the older sister looked at Jack, curiosity and suspicion dancing on her face.
“Emma says that you helped her get away from the crone. If that’s true, why?”
Jack snorted at the appropriate name, stuffing his hands into the pocket of his hoodie and shrugging, trying to be nonchalant.
“That lady seemed a bit crazy. I don’t know what your sister did to tick her off but the tirade seemed a bit overkill. Besides, she reminded me of my kid sister when she was that age and I couldn’t just leave her alone and scared. What did she do anyway?”
The older girl let out a disgusted breath waving him further into her stand, picking up Emma as she went back to where her van stood behind the tables.
“That woman is completely mental. She owns that booth across the way and is an absolute terror. She has a habit of setting her wares on the edge of her tables so when someone bumps into the table and breaks something, she guilts them into buying it. Or threatens she will get the cops involved. It works maybe seventy-five percent of the time. Anyway, my dad and I had finished setting up our stuff and he went up to the coffee stand at the other end of the market. Emma had taken a liking to a bird statue she had on display and was looking at it when the woman barked at her to ‘keep her grubby hands off it’.” There was anger in the girl’s eyes and Jack wondered if this wasn’t the first run-in she had with the crone. “Anyway, when she yelled at Emma, she jumped and knocked the bird off the table, chipping the tail. The crone started to scream at Emma and she panicked when she didn’t see our dad and took off. I couldn’t just leave the booth unattended so as soon as my dad got back I told him and he went off to find her.”
She gave Emma a halfhearted glare and the little girl ducked sheepishly into the van. Jack looked across the way where a timid looking man was sitting at a booth of glass figurines. Even from here, he could tell that there was plenty of space to move the items away from the edge. He looked at the man running the booth and he quickly looked away, a feint flush coming to his cheeks.
“Seems he doesn’t necessarily agree with his wife’s…” Jack let the word hang for a moment until the elder sister nodded in confirmation, “wife’s methods.”
She nodded again, her voice pitying as she whispered. “Yeah, but she has completely cowed him so he would never go against her. Anyway,” her voice returning to a normal volume, “thank you for all your help with Emma. Oh, I’m Yasmin by the way, but you can call me Yas.”
Jack looked back to where Yas had stuck out her hand and he reach out to take it, her grip surprisingly strong for someone so thin.
“I’m Jack,” he said distractedly, looking to where a small bird figurine rested on the crones table and he walked over to take a closer look. He watched the husband’s eyes widened comically as he stepped closer, picking up the figurine and noticing a barely visible chip in the tail. There was a small sticker saying twenty dollars on the bottom and he pointed to it asking if this was the correct price. The husband stuttered a little, before nodding. It was an absurd price something so small but Jack reached into his wallet, hiding a wince as he pulled out his last twenty, his voice steely as he handed it to the man.
“You got your asking price for this damaged good. Make sure you tell your wife she has no more reason to harass a little girl over such a trivial accident.” Maybe it was Jack’s height or maybe it was that the man agreed with jack but he nodded emphatically, Jack surprised to see an uncomfortable look on Yasmin’s face.
“You really didn’t need to do that. That thing was way over priced and she doesn’t deserve it.”
Jack shrugged walking over to where Emma sat in the van, eyes wide as he handed her the bird. She looked up at him then over at Yas. He laughed, ruffling the little girl’s hair.
“It’s fine, take it. I don’t have any need for it. Besides,” he said turning to Yasmin, “without the bird she can’t really take any action against you now anyway. Is that right?” He called that last part over to the man at the crone’s table and he thought he saw a flicker of a smile before he nodded and returned to his business. Yasmin’s smile was warm but her voice was a little sad a she spoke.
“If only everyone were as kind as you.”
She jumped up and pushed Jack towards her tables, throwing her arms wide and grinning.
“In return, you can have anything from our stand. I’m sure my dad would say the same.”
Jack was already shaking his head, but Yasmin was already pushing his towards the tables. He relented, taking a cursory glance over the tables ready to tell her again he was all set when Emma caught his eye. She was staring at him then back over at the crone’s booth, that strange look of concentration back on her face. He glanced over, frowning as the man set out some more figurines but when he looked back to Emma she was staring at him. She pointed a tiny finger at his arm then back across the way and when he looked back Jack understood. Propped up on a display were three naval clocks, just like his tattoo. That must have been why she was so interested in his tattoo when she saw it, she likely recognized the style from these clocks.
He walked over, ignoring the worried look on the man’s face picking up the first clock. It was almost identical to his grandfathers. But the closer he looked the more he realized the color and style weren’t quite the same. His thumb subconsciously rubbed against the underside of the clock where his name would have been and was greeted with only a smooth surface. He felt a twinge of disappointment as he flipped over the price tag, cringing at the two-hundred-dollar price tag. He replaced it, looking at the others as the owner caught his attention with a cough. He glanced furtively up the path as if expecting to his wife to come storming back any second, keeping his timid voice low.
“I, ah, can be flexible in the price if you’re interested.” Jack had just picked up the second clock, but was already shaking his head.
“Nah, it’s ok, that was my last twenty and…”
He froze as his thumb subconsciously rubbed against the bottom of the clock, a jagged roughness there that shouldn’t have been. Turning it over, in tiny uneven letters was one word. Jack. He couldn’t believe it. This didn’t just look like his grandfather’s clock, it was his. He blinked back tears that threatened to spill over, surprised by his own reaction. Yasmin had wandered over, and both she and the seller gave him a concerned look. He cleared his throat, thankful that his voice was steady.
“Sorry, it’s just that this… I thought this was lost forever. After my granddad died it was mistakenly put in with the good will.” He pointed to the name and explained it’s significance and the story behind the clock, frowning at the price tag. Yasmin pulled out her wallet, wrinkling her nose at the measly forty dollars she had before the seller cleared his throat.
“The cheapest I could go would be one-fifty for cash,” and his word tumbled out a little quicker at the murderous glare Yasmin gave him,” unless maybe you had something else to barter for it?”
Jack looked at the seller in confusion, but his gaze was fixed on Yasmin. Yasmin’s eyes lit up in understanding her voice.
“Of course!” She ran back to her stand rummaging for a few minutes before returning with a figurine of cat sleeping in a tree. “Wasn’t your wife interested in this piece?”
The older man nodded, his face uninterested but Jack thought he saw a glint of humor in his eyes.
“Yes, I think you’re right. This will do nicely.”
Jack leaned over and whispered to Yasmin, “You’re sure this is ok? Won’t your dad want to sell that?”
Yasmin nodded waving away his concerns.
“Honestly I don’t think he was going to get more than ten dollars for it anyway and since you paid for the bird I think we are more than even. Besides, this is just a hobby of my dad’s and I’m sure he would agree with me after telling him what you did for us.” She hesitated, a hint of pink coming into her cheeks as she added, “Maybe come back and say hi some time. Emma seems to have taken a liking to you.”
Jack gave her a noncommittal grin as he said goodbye, ruffling Emma’s hair before leaving. He wandered through the booths and the crowds, amazed that after all these years this clock had made it back into his life. He almost didn’t notice Sherrie until he was practically on top of her. She was giving him her best puppy dog eyes, her words laced with insincere regrets.
“I swear I was back at the car after an hour, but I saw someone walking in with these amazing vintage purses and… Hey, what’s that?” All his anger from before had vanished and he gave her a lopsided grin as he held out the clock. She looked at it in confusion then back up at her brother.
“You are never going to believe what happened this afternoon. Come on, I’ll tell you all about it on the ride home. And,” he added, his own voice laced with a feigned reluctance, “if I have nothing better to do next month, maybe I can take you back here.”