"I feel a need to shop. Want to come with?"
Roberto was sitting on the couch in Bree's room, flipping through a magazine, one leg crossed over the other at the knee. She raised her right foot and gave a nudge to the toe of the sneaker pointed toward her. Roberto dropped the magazine and shot her a 'why-did-you-do-that' look.
After a moment of reflection, he said, "Actually, I do need to find a birthday present for Isabela."
"Aww . . . how old will she be?"
He looked up at the ceiling, counted and looked back at her. "Nueve . . . nine. She wanted me to buy her something from a place called Yellow Mouse Bastard, I think? And I told her '¡No jodas! Your big brother isn't going into a place with a name like that'."
Bree laughed. "It's Yellow RAT Bastard and don't worry, most of their stuff is much too mature for her . . . it's really for teenagers." She let out a heavy sigh. "You probably need to shop downtown, along Broadway. I was hoping to shop up here. Some of the more . . ." She affected an aristocratic tone. " . . . elegant boutiques." Suddenly her face registered a great idea. "Wait, no, that works—I want to go down there! I remember reading somewhere that there's a place off of Canal that has a pretty big stock of True Revolutionary. That'll be perfect!"
"What about thrift shops? Are there thrift shops down there?"
She made a downward wave with her hand. "Thousands." She glanced at her watch. "Let me go get my purse and I'll have the concierge call a cab for us."
Roberto bugged his eyes out at her and she slumped her shoulders. "Oh right. I forgot." She did a mental calculation. "Well, it's too far to walk. So, ewww, we'd have to take a subway." Roberto transformed his look of terror into one of glee.
"Seriously?" Bree whined. "I already gave in on which part of town we'd shop in. Can't you just take one little trip in a real honest-to-goodness automobile? I swear, this global warming thing of yours is getting out of hand."
He pondered this for a moment, then his face took on an impish expression. "Cuchifritos, senorita?" he said temptingly. "Can I interest you in some cuchifritos? All the cuchifritos your little heart desires?"
Bree tapped her foot and glared at him in mock frustration. Slowly, a tiny smirk crossed her face.
"And an ajonjoli . . . GRANDE."
"Deal!" Roberto said, jumping to his feet. Then, he frowned. "Although . . . I don't know how you can drink that stuff. It's so sweet, it makes me gag."
They compromised and took a bus. Along the way, they marveled at the transformation that had occurred in Chelsea since the last time they had been to the city and snickered at some of the characters they saw on the outskirts of Washington Square Park.
At Broadway and Houston they exited the bus and began to meander. The aroma of exotic spices drifting from some nearby food cart would occasionally be interrupted by the sharp smell of urine. Bree instantly withdrew into a vintage accessory shop on their left. Roberto slugged in behind her, glanced around, and decided the inventory was too "out there" for his little sister. He motioned to Bree he would wait for her outside. Watching the crush of people on the sidewalks and in the street, he exhaled heavily. For some reason, he felt lethargic today. Usually the energy of the city kicked his creativity into hyperdrive. Today he was more inclined to just sit in a park and watch the pigeons. He didn't even have the enthusiasm today to feed them. Only watch them.
Plastered on a wall on the other side of the sidewalk in front of him was an advertisement for an exhibition at the New Museum of Contemporary Art. He checked the address – knew it was just a few blocks away.
Perfect, he thought.
Suddenly, Bree had rejoined him, with an unmarked khaki-colored bag in one hand. "Native American earrings," she said, extracting them from the bag. Roberto looked skeptical. "Which tribe?" he probed. She looked blankly at him, glanced down at the earrings and then back up at him.
"Okay, Native American-inspired earrings," she replied, brusquely shoving them back into the sack.
They wandered across Lafayette toward the museum and in particular, its gift shop. "From what they tell me, Isabela has developed an appreciation for art," Roberto said.
"That's nice," Bree said through tightened lips. "Now what was that you were telling me about cuchifritos?"
As they arrived on the sidewalk in front of the gift shop, two sultry women speaking Portuguese crossed in front of them. Roberto turned and studied them as they passed. "¡Diantre!" he exclaimed. He followed that with a low whistle. One of the women turned around, smiled and waved at him, but the pair continued walking.
"So do men really believe calling out to a woman and whistling at her is going to get him in her pants?" Bree asked with a wry smile. "I mean . . . does that really ever happen?"
Roberto smiled back.
"No, it's just the fun of it, the game," he said with a scoff. "It's enjoyable, the same way you enjoy buying those Indian earrings even though you know they're not really going to turn you into an Indian princess."
Bree laughed and slugged him gently in the arm.
They pushed open the glass doors to the shop and Roberto was soon strolling along the curvilinear shelves stacked with creative knickknacks and objets d'art. Occasionally he would raise an item and inspect it this way and that, but would quickly put it back where he had found it. Bree scanned the T-shirts and accessories, giving momentary consideration to a handkerchief with a sunflower seed motif before deciding it would only be really valuable to her if she could wear it as a scarf.
Roberto noticed on one shelf a small square frame surrounding a heart formed by small, irregularly shaped blocks of stone. "Only gravity keeps these stones together," he read from the back of the box.
He liked that.
They walked through the store for a few more minutes, thumbing through the coffee table books and considering the artistic clocks and plates on display. Eventually, Roberto wandered back over to the shelf, took one of the heart puzzles to the counter and pulled a credit card out of his wallet.
When they were back outside, Bree stopped, stretched out her arms and breathed in deeply. "The city," was all she said.
They headed back in the direction of Lafayette and the True Revolutionary outlet Bree wanted to explore. It was almost noon and the weather had warmed into the fifties. A stiff breeze flapped the banners that helped indicate the names of shops and restaurants along their route. On the sidewalk, several yards ahead, a young woman in a black velvet blouse and long, burgundy-colored skirt was playing a violin; random chords began to waft their way. As the pair drew closer, the chords became first a melody and then, after they took a few more steps, a recognizable tune.
A Thousand Miles, made popular several years earlier by Vanessa Carlton.
Bree suddenly stopped, gasped, put her hand to her chest. A painful sob erupted from her and she dropped to her knees in the center of the sidewalk.
"What?" Roberto squatted beside her, putting his hand on her back.
"DON'T . . . TOUCH!" she suddenly screamed. She whipped one arm around her and elbowed him on the side of the face. Instantly, Roberto recoiled.
"I . . . I'm sorry . . . I forgot," he stammered.
Sobs continued to well up from within, wrenching rhythmic heaves that contorted her torso and pierced the air. She buried her face between her knees, put one hand down on the sidewalk to steady herself.
She wheezed, struggled to form words. Finally, she got out, "Carole . . . us . . . the last time."
Roberto stayed solid beside her, saying nothing. People passed them on both sides like water rushing around a boulder mid-river. For a moment, she calmed, then suddenly another small wave of grief seized her and he leaned closer.
"Don't worry, Bree," he whispered. "Don't worry. The two of you will be back together some day. We're going to make sure of that. I am going to make sure of that. I promise."
Eventually, she stopped shaking. With the back of one hand she discreetly brushed from under her nose the droplets of fluid that had collected there. Her breathing softened. After several seconds had passed, she placed a hand on one knee and slowly pushed herself back up to a standing position. Roberto followed her lead.
She sniffed a few times, tipped her head to one side to stretch her neck, smiled weakly. Nearby, the violinist soldiered on.
"Sorry," she said softly, collecting her sacks and pulling them in closer to her. "That song . . . it just . . . totally ambushed me."
Roberto nodded. "I understand," he said calmly.
Bree's lips grew tight and she turned to look at him. "Do you really?" she said briskly. "Do you really understand, Roberto?
"I mean, at least they let you communicate with Isabela!"