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“I see… these are pretty nice cuts.” Lily spoke appraisingly.

We were at the café, and the food had already come and gone. I had drunk three cups of wine to keep myself calm, and Lily was now eyeing the stones laid out before her. She had a small magnifying glass that she held up to her eyes and a lighted surface where she placed the stones to scrutinize them. After eyeing half a dozen of them, she put her magnifying glass down, turned off the light, and looked over at me.

“They’ll sell, but they won’t go for much. There is no history to them, and they’re just raw material. Most people I serve would rather buy these things straight from a dealer overseas. The only way you can sell them is by lots to make them so cheap that you’re practically giving them away.”

“How cheap is that?”

“I’d sell it all in a lot for $2000.”

I prevented myself from getting excited, first reminding myself that it was still half the amount the guy was demanding. If I scraped together everything I had plus this sale, I might have been able to pay off the loan 4 months ago, but now it was pointless. Thinking about the daunting task of acquiring more stuff and selling it, I was thinking it might be best if I just killed this loan shark. I slowly shook my head. I couldn’t do that. I killed those other guys because I had to. They gave me no choice. I couldn’t just start killing at my own convenience. I didn’t want to become someone like that.

“$2000 is fine,” I responded.

“I see…” There was a flash on her face that seemed disappointed.

“What is it?” I asked.

“Nothing.” She smiled as she pushed some papers my way. “I was just expecting… well, never mind. I will carry out this transaction for you, but in the future, I’ll refer you to an auctioneer at an auction house that is built more… for your level. Fill out these papers, and I’ll contact you once the auction is over to let you know what the lot sold for.”

I licked my lips as I filled out the form she indicated. “What if I need to sell other things in the future. Things that contain a bit more value than loose gemstones?”

“That depends what you’re offering.” She said, leaning forward and revealing a bit more of her chest.

“What’s selling?” I responded. “I can get my hands on… many things.”

“Is that so?” She raised an eyebrow. “I’m going to need you to be more specific though.”

I licked my lips. “Old things. New things. As long as I don’t have to reveal myself, things you couldn’t imagine.”

Her eyes flashed and she laughed softly. “You make it sound so dangerous. I have to admit, I’m intrigued, but I’ve been spurned before. I can imagine a lot.”

“Just name something valuable…” I said. “Something that would sell.”

“Art.” She responded shortly, pulling away as she snatched the completed document from my hand and then started to pack up.

“Art?” I blinked.

“Paintings, statues, beautiful pieces. Good art always sells. You could make $1000 a painting even for normal stuff. More if the artist is famous.”

“Art…” I said, my mind growing a bit excited. “I can do that.”

To my surprise, she stood up to leave.

“My education was in art, so don’t think you can get cheap pieces by my discerning eyes. Then again… if you bring me a piece valuable enough…” Her chest shook and her breath quickened for a second, like just the thought excited her. “Then, I might need to consider changing the nature of our relationship.”

“What is that supposed to mean?” I asked.

“Goodbye, Mr. Daniel.” She picked up her bag and turned to leave, looking back with a knowing smile. “I look forward to seeing what surprises you bring me.”

With that, she walked off, leaving me behind. Thankfully, the waitress said the bill was already covered and I was free to go. Taking a breath and shaking my head, I left the café. Speaking with that woman was intense. It felt like walking on eggshells while experiencing the thrill of your life. She was definitely a woman that attracted many eyes, but I had a feeling she was a high maintenance kind of girl as well.

I left the shop, going straight to the arts and crafts store. I spent a bunch on supplies for my sister. Before I went home, I also stopped at the grocer and picked up more food. This time, I grabbed almost ten-fold as much food as I had the last time I had gone to the other world. I could have gotten even more than that, but I felt like the more food we got, the bigger the bullseye Katarina and Kiera would have to face. Even though their defenses weren’t small, they were still more vulnerable than I’d like.

That night, I made a show of bringing out the art supplies for my sister. Her eyes brightened considerably when she saw it, but just as she was going to grab the supplies and rip into them, she stopped herself.

“Brother… I can’t take all this. It must have cost you a lot of money.” She said. “You should take it back and save the money you earned.”

“I earned that money for you,” I responded.

Her eyes flashed to my body, which she had seen filled with bruises the night I had returned to the house after my weekend in the apocalypse. In her mind, those had been caused fighting underground. It might have been hard to believe that a small guy like me got into brawls, but I had bulked up a bit with the Allmighty and had grown a few inches. Plus, they couldn’t deny the damage to my body. Simply put, I had hurt myself to make that money, and she didn’t want to earn stuff through me hurting myself.

“Brother…”

“Please, just take it,” I said, pushing the items toward her. “If you want to make it up to me, then… make me a painting!”

“Ah!” She cried out. “Y-yes! I will!” She nodded her head up and down, a look of determination on her face.

Of course, this wasn’t a painting I had any intention of selling, but Miss Lily had put the idea of paintings in my mind.

Mother smiled and hugged me before turning to both of us. “I have some news as well. I was able to get a new job.”

“Where?” Hazel asked with interest, even while continuing to play with her art supplies.

“A local boutique.” Mom responded, “It doesn’t pay much, but we should be able to get by.”

I congratulated Mom, and I was glad she was somewhere that likely only had women. I didn’t want to act sexist regarding my own sex, but it seemed impossible for mom not to be harassed when men saw her. Maybe, if she had a personality more like Miss Lily… no, I actually liked the sweet, innocent mother of mine the way she was. However, I also realized that her statement that it didn’t pay much was probably a gross understatement.

I could tell that we would be falling into debt if she continued to have this job. The only way she could get out of it is if I helped.

“Art…” I said out loud.

Hazel instinctively grabbed her art supplies, and then blushed. “What, brother?”

“Ah… nothing,” I responded.

“Gabriella also got back to me. It seems like my cancer went into remission on its own.” She said.

She spoke this like this was something that just happened, but then she gave me a knowing look. In the last two weeks, I had given her a shot and made her take a pill. After both of them, her health seemed to suddenly improve as well as her energy. She was naturally curious about this. Hazel didn’t seem to pick up on that at all. Instead, she was just happy, even crying a bit as she hugged mom.

The mood between all of us seemed to relax a lot after that. Mom didn’t mention her conversation with Gabriella at all, and for that, I was really glad. Mother was the type of woman to just accept her good graces and not question them, and even if she suspected I did something, she’d trust I had her best interest at heart. As for Hazel, she was just happy everything worked out. Like a flower blossoming, she grew a lot more talkative than she had been the last few weeks. One could tell she really had been weighed down by recent events.

However, I didn’t enjoy the energetic atmosphere. I was distracted thinking about museums in another world. Did Argos city have any? I could imagine that they probably were abandoned and no one gave two shits about them. That meant all of that fine art might still be in those buildings. If I could get that art and sell it, things that were beautiful enough to make it into a museum, then they had to pass Lily’s test. With that, I could take back all of the money. No, I could even become rich!

After we finished eating, I returned to my room. My eyes kept wandering to the mirror, and I had to keep telling myself that there was no use wasting the crystals and heading back now. I had come to this world convinced I never wanted to return to that one again. However, as I was starting to see the changes in the lives of my mother and sister, as well as my bank account, I suddenly found myself anxious to return.

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