The sidewalk artist is at his craft again, down on his knees surrounded by a rainbow of stubby chalks. He works passionately at the portrait, the famed Girl with a Pearl Earring. How many times has he recreated this image, I wonder. He has a colour reference beside him, somewhat dirtied and frayed from years of use, but he never once looks at it, never spares it a glance. He's been captured by his own creation.
I chuckle to myself.
Every man has his muse, and this artist has certainly found his. I've had the fortune of meeting mine.
I take a sip from my coffee - who can refuse a free refill in a travel mug? - and continue down Government Street. How long ago had I walked this same path with Lily? Maybe a day or two, maybe more. It doesn't matter now: I can find her anywhere these days.
The street is busy with activity, a far cry from what one would expect of a lazy Sunday. As I amble past store fronts and packed patios I pretend to be lost in the sights, sounds, and smells. I pretend to be a stranger, a tourist.
Tour buses rumble past me, followed by cars and taxis and shining SUVs. Even a horse-drawn carriage overtakes me, my pace is so slow. The crisp sea air fills my lungs, bringing with it all the scents I crave. All but one. But, again, I can find her anywhere.
Swooping gulls greet me when I arrive in the harbour. I walk to the ledge overlooking the moorages below and lean against the railing. I smile and reminisce about my childhood, the various games of chase that I'd play through the various obstacles below.
I dip my hand into a jacket pocket and remove a small notepad and pen, and then place the travel mug on the ground by my feet.
My rememberings gradually shift to the more recent past, to a few days ago when I was last breathing in the salt air, tasting it and savouring it. Those few days ago with Lily Christianson.
"It's beautiful, isn't it?"
She agrees, though there's little heart in her words. She sounds slightly bitter, though cannot shake her sweetness, like my favourite black-double.
I turn to her, and see that she's exactly as I last saw her: dark denim, boots, and that signature crimson jacket. Of course she is, I wouldn't have her any other way.
"You are, too," I add with a smile. "As always."
A smile of her own twitches at the corner of her lips, but is never fully realized.
"You don't need to play these games with me, Lily," I sigh. "You don't need to be jealous. No one can replace you. I need you."
She meets my gaze and places a soft hand on my face, gently caressing my jawline. I know she wants to hit me, but she won't. She can't. I won't let h-
The sound of her hand striking my jaw was lost in the cacophonous murmurs of the bustling crowd, but the sting it left was painfully apparent, if only to myself.
"How?" I stutter, a hand clutching the side of my face. "How did you-? But I-"
She smiles and walks away, leaving me alone at the cusp of the harbour. Alone except for a few gawkers, paying with strange glances for the feat they had witnessed. I am as confused as they are, and deposit the pen and paper before taking up my coffee once more.
My cheek still stings, and I wince a little as I sip at the hot beverage.
Now I've done it; sparked the ire of Lily Christianson.