Orpheus stood hesitantly at the doorway. A shop functioning in the rundown part of town that stood gleaming and tall was surely a sign that it couldn't be trusted, right? He was used the creaky window-doors with little bells that ding!-ed in your arrival, hole in the wall dumplings, a bank that was family owned. Never did he dare to cross by Underground Pawn, with the copper plating and old-fashioned lamps on the storefront. No signs, just a hand painted name on the front door and business hours. (8am-6pm Monday through Sunday.) There was never a need to visit the store, never an item he needed to scrounge for, never an heirloom he could trade for quick cash. Sure, there was a time a few years back when he had to make a serious plea to the local bodega owner so he didn't starve half to death, but young Orpheus was a natural born charmer. His mother would always chide that 'Your wink and a smile could take you a mile, dear.' Unfortunately, he was in a new situation that couldn't really dazzle his way out of.
Fate, it turns out, could be awfully mean. When his landlord, a mysterious man who went only by Hermes and wore polished wing-tipped shoes, rapped on his door a week earlier and told him that the building would be torn down in a month's time, Orpheus experienced a new type of panic. Hermes clapped him on the shoulder ("It'll be alright, son.") and for the first time, the bags under his eyes seemed more prominent, the furrowed brow showing deep worry lines. It occurred to the young man that he might've been losing an apartment, but Hermes was losing his livelihood.
So Orpheus wrote the old man a lovely poem and Eurydice baked him a strong attempt at what could be considered a cake, and the young couple went about packing up their small apartment. Heartbreaking couldn't begin to describe it all, taking down the small sketches Eurydice managed to leave everywhere she went, the well-used pots and pans going into boxes, a threadbare bedspread being folded carefully. This had been their home for years. Originally, Eurydice's, since she bought it at only fifteen years old. Not even able to legally sign the lease, the young girl with nothing but a trench coat riddled with holes on her back thrust the first three months rent into Hermes' hand without explanation. The rent kept coming and she was a steady source of laughter in the man's world, so he kept her around. At eighteen, a boy entered her world and became her solar system. She would sometimes steal looks at him from across the room when he wasn't paying attention, just to see the steady breath drawing from his chest. The restless fingers, drumming every surface. The crinkle of his nose when he yawned. She looked at Orpheus like he had hung the stars in the sky just for her.
Even today, at twenty years old, the magic had not faded. Although they were still young, there was no spring in their step. The amount of toil and stress they had endured showed in miniscule ways, like when Orpheus would start biting his nails whenever the bills came in. And yet there was still undying love between the two, a fire that no one could even attempt to put out. Which is why Orpheus, for the last five months, had been planning to ask Eurydice to marry him.
It wouldn't be elaborate, but it would be enough. With a bottle of their favorite strawberry wine and some candles, Orpheus would ensure that Eurydice would never have to worry about facing the world alone ever again. Which led to the specific problem at hand.
Every apartment in the city was far too expensive for the pair of artists. They could probably afford a room in a boarding house, if a boarding mistress would even let a space to a couple of 'downright sinners.' (Taken straight from the words of their next door neighbor.) Rent was simply too much everywhere they turned. However, Orpheus had a plan. A plan that had him joining the waitstaff at a local diner and standing outside of this shop, this awful pawn shop with the domineering walls and unwelcoming storefront. Orpheus curled his fist around the small box inside of his pocket and pushed the door open before his nerves turned him the other way.
The telltale soft jingle of a bell rang out in the otherwise dead quiet store. No- not dead quiet. Someone had a jazz record playing in a back room somewhere. Shelves upon shelves of items stretched out in front of the boy, baseball gloves and valuable coins and things that people just couldn't afford to buy back. Orpheus plucked the string of a particularly handsome harp, set with golden scenes of ancient greek myths. It was missing a few strings, however. All but seven.
He kept moving throughout the store until he finally reached a glass countertop with a mess of jewelry. Grandma's pearls, ruby earrings that would stretch your ears, impressive diamonds. A small bell waited patiently. Ring for assistance.
Green fabric and black buckled shoes swept into the picture and flashed a grand smile at him. She was what most would call an aging beauty, but she certainly was striking. Her hair seemed to spill out from underneath her pillbox hat, flowing and tumbling down in a loose braid. Crows feet and laughter lines only made her more beautiful and lively. The bright red lipstick and high cheekbones finished her face off, creating one of the most alluring women Orpheus had ever seen. He was so busy staring that he almost missed the first sentence.
"What can I do for you, dearie?" Her rough voice rang out through the quiet. It was low and enchanting and made Orpheus itch for a pen and paper.
He swallowed hard and pulled out the small box from his pocket. The blue velvet had almost rubbed away, but the true treasure was inside. A small, ornate ring set with emeralds and pearls. His dead mother's ring. Eurydice's would-be engagement ring. "How much can I get for this?" He asked, his voice barely above a whisper.
The woman stared at him for a second, her gaze piercing as they made direct eye contact. "Are you sure you want this priced?" She asked, never breaking the stare. He finally looked down, breaking the tension. Orpheus's eyes burned as he looked at the ring. A small nod followed. She sighed heavily, patting his hand resting on the countertop. "I'll grab the king for ya."
Orpheus didn't even bother questioning the odd nickname and just welcomed the silence once again. His ears strained to hear the melody once more, but it seemed as if someone had turned off the record. He ached to hear the music again.
Instead, a man in a large black trench coat slowly stepped out. He couldn't have been much taller than Orpheus, but the overall presence was far too controlling. It was clear who had been in charge of decorating the store front. "So." The man got directly to business. "You'd like this ring priced."
"Yes sir." The words escaped his throat by an act of the gods.
The man picked up the ring and held it up to the light. A long stretch of anxious waiting occurred while he inspected it from every angle, letting the stones glint light at any given chance. Once, Orpheus and his mother didn't have much, just a meager home and some worn-down worldly possessions, but Calliope took pride in her beautiful ring. She would tell anyone who listened that it was from a king of great power, a gift when they found out that she would bare his offspring and give him the next ruler. He died, however, and left her with a newborn baby and a tale to tell. As Orpheus grew older he realized that there was nothing true in her carefully spun story of tragedy and greatness. In fact, Calliope probably didn't know who Orpheus's father was at all and the ring was probably a family heirloom. Orpheus was probably not left scarred when he figured all of this out.
He let all of this flash through his mind as the man carefully put the ring back into its box. "I can give you five hundred and fifty for it."
"No." Orpheus burst out, surprising himself. "No, I need seven hundred. Please."
The man raised one heavy eyebrow at him and stared at the ring. "Six hundred. My final offer."
The apartment they had managed to find was seven hundred dollars a month. They had one hundred and thirty six dollars in their savings. "Okay," Orpheus winced. "Six hundred."
He nodded and started to scribble on a pad of paper. "Persephone!" He called out. The beautiful woman came back, skirts swishing around her ankles. "Please ring the boy up. Six hundred, final."
"Six hundred?" Persephone asked incredulously. The man shot her a look that scared even Orpheus, but she looked like she truly could not have been bothered. Rolling her eyes, she punched a few numbers into an ancient cash register. "Hades, the register is short two hundred." He lowered his glasses and looked over the contents of the drawer. Counting out the money, Hades nodded slowly and then disappeared around the corner. "If it was up to me kid, you'd be getting a hell of a lot more for that ring," she muttered.
Orpheus's face burned. He knew that it was worth more, that it was old and well kept and that somebody would pay good money under the right circumstances, but as went the old adage: Beggars can't be choosers. "Thank you, ma'am." He said softly, staring still at the ring.
Too soon, Hades was back and handing Orpheus an envelope filled with cash and a ticket that read 003. "You have thirty days. If you're not back by then, I have a legal right to sell this to any customer that wishes to buy at the price that I will set." With a final swish of the coat, the man left to the back rooms. After the metaphorical dust settled later on, Orpheus would think about what a curious encounter he had had with Hades.
Tears gathered in the corners of his eyes as he pushed the ring box over to Persephone. She held it up to the light and watched it shine with delight in her eyes. Orpheus couldn't help but notice the band of gray steel wrapped around her ring finger. He thought of a beginning to a poem. He knew it would never be finished.
Orpheus quickly wiped the wetness in his eyes away as she placed the ring under the counter, now shining among all of the other jewels. Persephone gave a small smile and held his hand for a fast second. "I'm rooting for you, kid. Be back in thirty days."
Grandma's pearls, ruby earrings that would stretch your ears, impressive diamonds. A dead mother's ring joined the cherished and forgotten.
They both had worked so hard over the past month. Orpheus never told Eurydice where he had gotten the sudden influx of money, but she trusted him when he told her that he would take care of it.
Somehow, they managed to put down the first month's rent and make friends with their newest landlords, three women who seemingly moved in sync and knew each other's thoughts before they could say it aloud. Eurydice adored them. Orpheus wrote a few poems about them. They got a tray of what a kind-hearted person would call brownies and an envelope stuffed with diner napkins and scraps of paper, addressed to The Fate Sisters.
By the end of the month, Orpheus was almost electrified with anticipation. He pulled Eurydice out of the diner door and straight to the bus stop. "'Pheus? Where're we going?" Eurydice asked, laughing. He didn't respond, just pulled her in and kissed her deeply. She smiled into his lips for a moment before pulling away. Orpheus was always the more fond of the two when it came to showing physical affection.
The bus left them in the middle of the main street, and he had to hold himself back from running straight to Underground Pawn. Orpheus anchored himself to the young girl's hand as they strolled to the store, her questioning where they were going the entire walk over. A knowing smile played on his lips, but he didn't dare disclose the secret. He couldn't wait even a second longer. Forget the wine, the candles, forget the little details that in the end, didn't truly matter. The second he had the ring back, he would propose to Eurydice. And it would be perfect.
The bell ding!-ed their arrival and once again, an old jazz record played in a room they couldn't see. Orpheus hoped that the lady (Persephone?) was swaying softly to the music and trying to lure her stately husband in. He knew that the man would never join the dance.
Orpheus rang the little silver bell and nearly jumped with excitement when Persephone walked over to the back of the counter. Today she wore a deep blue blazer that had puffy sleeves and a matching pair of cigarette pants. A single red carnation was tucked into her wild curls. Her eyes lit up when she recognized the boy and she reached down to grab the box from its place in the cabinet. "You've returned!" She called out, joyfully.
"I did indeed." Orpheus responded, a blush crawling up his neck. He put down the envelope and opened it up, handing her the money he owed. "This is Eurydice, and if you'll hand me that box, I'll soon be able to call her-"
"Now hold on a moment, Persephone," a voice boomed out. Eurydice, already confused, (but slightly delighted, she had an idea of what was to come) jumped at the deep sound. She stared in wonder at the man with the all black suit, a single red carnation tucked into his breast pocket. As both Persephone and Orpheus froze at the sound of his voice, Eurydice couldn't help but wonder what having that much power would be like. Just as soon as she thought it, Orpheus tightened his grip on her hand and brought her back to reality.
Hades crossed his arms. "Now I thought I made it clear, young man. Thirty days."
Orpheus knitted his brows together. "It has been thirty days."
"July thirtieth to August twenty ninth is not thirty days. If my math adds up, which it does, that'd be thirty one days." Orpheus felt his heart sink as Hades took the ring and placed it back into the display case, this time under the section that did not read Not For Sale. "If you'd like it back, son, it'll be fifteen hundred."
"Hades-" Persephone started, but he silenced her with a wave of his hand.
"You signed the contract." Hades stated, the finality in his tone.
Eurydice tugged on Orpheus's arm. "'Pheus, let's just go. It's okay." He grabbed her hand and held it tight.
"Is there any way you can make an exception?" He asked, his tone pleading.
Maybe Eurydice imagined it, but there was a hint of glee when Hades shook his head and swept himself out of the room. Persephone let her shoulders drop for a second, and suddenly the crows feet and laughter lines didn't seem as beautiful to Orpheus. Maybe they were frowning lines, too. Maybe she wasn't simply an enchantress. Maybe Persephone had her share of struggles too.
"I'm really sorry, kid." She sighed, all three of them staring at the box. "Do you at least want to see it?" Persephone directed the question toward Eurydice, who's eyes widened at the suggestion.
"No." She answered simply. There was no point in wishing for something you couldn't have. Tugging on Orpheus's hand, she began to explore the shelves of items, picking up collectible mugs and laughing at the signed pictures of people she did not recognize. He followed behind her, solemn and dragging his feet.
What would his mother have thought?
Finally they came upon the entry of the store, where Orpheus would have to walk out without a ring, a fiancee, or any hope at all. "Orpheus, look!" Eurydice called out. She was staring at the harp, trying to name all of the stories etched on the surface. "...and I think that one is Apollo and-"
"Let's buy it." Orpheus breathed. The price tag read two hundred, but the smile on her face made it priceless in his eyes. Beaming, Eurydice grabbed it off the shelf.
She dinged the bell a few dozen times before Persephone flew in and slammed her hand over Eurydice's. "Hun, you're cute and all, but you gotta not pull that shit." She raised an eyebrow at the instrument Orpheus was awkwardly holding. "You interested?"
"Yes." Eurydice smiled. "We want the harp."
Persephone smiled as she began ringing them up. "It's actually a lyre. Ancient thing, probably needs a good tuning, but real pretty." The receipt was just a scrap of paper with some confirmation scribbled on it, but it meant that the lyre was actually theirs to keep. "Enjoy it, kids." Persephone waved the young couple off, her tired eyes watching as they practically ran to the door. She spun her wedding band around her finger as she went to turn the record player back on.
The second they got outside, Orpheus ripped a string from the lyre. Eurydice gasped in shock, but watched as he fiddled with the string until it made a neat band. He slowly got down on one knee before swallowing, hard.
"'Rydice. I can't promise you diamonds and pearls, but I swear to the gods that you will never be alone. You will always have someone to fight for you, no matter the situation, no matter the battle, no matter the enemy. I will stand by your side through rain and snow, and tempers and fights. Some days we might starve. Others we might freeze. But I promise to never let the outside world in. I promise they will never get close enough to hurt you. I can promise all of these things if you promise to be my wife." Orpheus thought for a moment. "Hell, I'll protect you with my dying breath even if you say no. I love you, Eurydice."
She took him by the shoulders and stood him up. Eurydice kissed him like it was her last chance. The lyre lay next to them, momentarily forgotten.
"Wait. What are we gonna do with this?" Eurydice asked, holding the lyre and eyeing the remaining six strings. "It's broken."
Orpheus picked it up and carefully looked it over. He started to pluck a melody out, slowly and carefully.
"I'm sure we'll be able to make use of it." The repeated music became more sure and steady under his nimble fingers. "Lover, when I sing my song…"