“Not knowing anything is the sweetest life.”
Annie calls just as I come into the house. “Now?” Trying on bridesmaid dresses is not something I had looked forward to, even less so on a summer day in July. “Give me an hour, oh! all right! thirty minutes. I’ll meet you there.”
The box would have to wait to be opened later. The hours I spent with Annie at the wedding shop with one dress after another seemed endless; like the wedding itself seemed too far away.
“Fran! This one!” She had chosen a strapless magenta gown, quite elegant in its simplicity.
“I thought your theme was blue?”, though the dress was very flattering on me, which was a pleasant surprise after the seven others she had not liked.
“I think I’ve changed my mind. I can have the same color sash for my wedding dress. And the guys can have matching cummerbunds. Oh! this is going to be so perfect!”
“I hope it doesn’t snow.”
She gave me a withering look. “We’ll be inside the church, Fran. With two hundred people, it’ll be plenty warm enough.”
My shorts half pulled up, I hopped around to get in her face. “Annie! When did this become a celebrity event?”
“We have big families, Fran.” She chirps, expanding her hands as she continues. “One over here, two over there, his side, my side and mother, father, grandparents, cousins, friends. Get the the picture?”
“Have you talked to your sister, Elizabeth? Will she be in the wedding?”
She collapses her hands. “No, she wishes me the best but will not come back here even for my wedding.”
I pull my T-shirt over my head. “In a perfect world. But you know, she might change her mind. There’s a lot of time for reconsideration.”
Annie looks at me with a wry smile. “Fran, ever the optimist. Really, I just hope the groom shows up; I really don’t care about anyone else.”
I arch an eyebrow and shoot her a look. “I’ll be there,” I wave to the dress, “in my formal. And so will Dean and so will Marcus. We’ll go do karaoke.”
She guffaws. “Not one of you can carry a tune. Yes, that would be a hoot!” She gets serious. “If Dusty were here, it’d be like we were the Three Musketeers again.”
That hurt. “Yeah, I’ve thought the same. I think about her a lot. I hope, no, I pray, she’s all right. I wonder what part of the world is she in?”
“What about Scott? You guys get past that glitch?”
“Let’s go get something to eat and I’ll tell you about it.”
We met at a Mexican restaurant across the street and during the course of the meal, I filled her in on the last conversation I had with Scott, the same basics I had already told her about but apparently she had not been listening too closely.
Annie asks for a take-home box and scoops most of her meal into it. I push my nearly empty plate aside and point my fork at her. “Brides usually lose weight; you are going to have to do better if you want to wear that size ten.”
“I am. I’m a size eight. I have to work at it and it’s not easy, I can tell you that. Not with all eyes on me every time I put my fork down.”
I lowered my fork. “Well, you did a good job on that, I guess. You are looking really healthy. Like your old self.”
“Thank you, Mother Fran.”
She stops outside the doors of the restaurant. “Fran, I’m sorry I haven’t been much of a friend to you, especially lately. I hadn’t realized that you and Scott had broken up, that it was really over. I guess I’ve been self-absorbed and not paying attention like I should.”
It’s an awkward moment, as I am always uncomfortable when someone apologizes to me. “Oh, Annie, you’re my friend through thick and wedding.” I give her a quick hug and a promise to see her the end of the week.
I try not to think of Dusty, but flashbacks stream throughout my thoughts. I have a painting she did for me of Paris in 1625, peopled with historical figures from Dumas’ The Musketeers : Louis XIII, Cardinal Richelieu, Treville, Milday; in it, Dean, Annie, Dusty and I are the Musketeers. The picture is framed and hung on my wall, next to a photograph of Annie, me, Dusty and Dean, where I see them everyday. So long ago it was, when we were all for one and one for all. Now that’s history.
I’m satiated and exhausted from my outing with Annie. Sitting on the deck with my Kindle I fall asleep and wake with a start. I had actually forgotten about Grandma’s box. It takes several times running hot water over the jar before the rusted lid budges and the pop resounds in the too quiet house. Once unwrapped, the key is tarnished and I rummage around the garage until I find some WD-40. Finally, the key slips in the lock.
I snatch the velvet ring box and wrench it open. And gasp. It is the most beautiful piece of jewelry I have seen. It is a thick gold band with an oval ruby surrounded by diamonds that continue down the sides; I cannot read the all of the inscription inside, but part of it; to my lov. It does not quite slide onto my right hand ring finger. I stare and stare at it, turning it this way and that; it is such a beautiful ring.
When I unscroll the leather document keeper, the first piece of official paper is my mother’s birth certificate. Only this isn’t right. It reads Teresa Georgette Bernard; my mother’s maiden name is Karlson, Teresa Lynette Karlson, just like on her high school diploma, her BA in Fine Arts and her Master’s of Fine Arts. The next official paper is a divorce decree, stapled to a marriage license, my grandmother and George Samuel Bernard; the next one is a marriage certificate of my grandmother to Isaac Karlson, and the last one, a copy of adoption papers by Isaac Karlson with my mother’s correct birthdate and name change. And a photo beneath all the papers.
In the photo, my grandmother is holding a baby girl, my mother; beside her is George, so handsome in a suit and tie; but it is an odd picture. He is looking fiercely at the camera, unsmiling, with his hand not quite on my grandmother’s shoulder, like he is leaning towards the camera and pushing away from her and the laughing infant with her eyes focused on him, as are my grandmother eyes. She half-smiling, as if she had asked him a hopeful question. It is a disturbing picture, and inscribed on the back is the date: June 23, 1951, the last kiss. The divorce had been finalized February,15,1952 and the marriage to Isaac Karlson, May 21, 1952.
I don’t know how you can be stunned breathless, yet not all that surprised, but I was, because so many little puzzle pieces fit together to make this picture. Two scenarios occurred to me: my grandmother had had an affair with Isaac and George found out or George left my grandmother and his daughter for someone else.
My mother and I wear the same ring size, so I figured if I have it resized, she can wear it until she gives it to me. I argue with myself all the way to the jeweler’s that the ring really isn’t mine, even if Grandma said I could have it, the ring really belonged to my mother. Oh, but I wanted to wear it and have it for mine.
Two days later, the jeweler called to say it was ready. I had agonized how to approach the subject with my mother and today was the day to pick my parents up at Pier 91 at 4:30. When Mr. Black slid the ring onto my finger, we both just looked at it a minute. He gently turned my hand to show of the sparkling ruby and diamonds. “The ruby is the precious stone that is symbolic of passionate commitment, love and powerful feelings. From very ancient times, it was considered the perfect wedding stone. These diamonds are an example of a brilliant cut and high grade.” He looked up at me, and I could not help but think that his jeweler ’s loupe made him appear to be someone out of a sci-fi story.
“I am sorry to say, though,” he let go of my hand, removing the loupe, “when I enlarged it, the inscription was lost.”
“That’s okay,” I said with a smile. Somethings are better not found.
Traffic was heavier than I planned getting to the pier to pick up Mom and Dad. They were waiting for me, and waved with untroubled smiles and glowing suntans. Both of them talked at once about their trip and their stay in Victoria, Dad leaning over from the back seat to interject a comment over my Mom’s shoulder. At a stop sign when it was my turn, my Mother suddenly grew very quiet. I had forgotten to take the ring off.
“That’s a beautiful ring. I assume Scott would not have given it to you, since you broke up with him,” she said flatly, her most dangerous voice.
“No!” I merged. “Grandma gave it to me. Can we talk about this when we get home?”
Well, great! I had managed to spoil their homecoming. I had hoped to surprise both of them with a clean house, laundry done, dishwasher empty, lawn mowed and watered, before laying the bombshell.
“I understand from Ryan that you had some uneasy times with Grandma.”
“Just one incident, that’s all. No big deal. She had a bad day. Don’t we all?”
Dad unloaded the suitcases once I parked the car. “Whoa! Fran-tastic!! The yard looks great!”
“Thanks, Popsicle. All those years working with Dean and Dusty paid off—-I no longer leave divots when I edge.” I looked beseechingly at him. “Dad, there’s more to this than the ring. I didn’t want to spoil your first night home.”
He squeezed my shoulder. “Go talk to her.”
Mom was in the living room, at the dining table. “Honey, thank you! You put a lot of time and effort in cleaning. I appreciate it.”
“Mom, can we talk?”
“Yes, I think we better.”
I scurried to my room, took the picture out of the metal box, and with box in hand, sat opposite my mother. “I made iced tea,” like that was the most important thing I had to say.
“I’ll get us all some,” said my father from the kitchen.
I jumped into the topic of our conversation. “Grandma wasn’t trying to bury food all those times. She was trying to un-bury a mason jar with a key to this metal box, She asked me to dig it up, only it was’t under the roses, but in front, beneath the rhodie. She said she wanted me to have the ring—-I had it resized because I know we wear the same ring size—-I really think you should have it. It’s an engagement ring, the jeweler says, a halo ruby engagement ring, with an oval cut .51 natural ruby and genuine, high quality diamonds, worth about $2,500.00.” I stopped my run-on to catch a breath and my mother reached over to take my hand and examine the ring.
“Yes, it is stunning. But you should have it. After all, it is your birthstone, very fitting for a 21st birthday gift from Grandma.”
I slid the picture out in the middle of the table. Mom put her hand over it.
“I know what’s in the box, Fran. Ryan and I are snoops, too.”
Miffed, I snipped, “Grandma gave me permission to open the box, Mom. She wanted me to give the contents to you.”
“It doesn’t matter what is in that box, because it won’t ever change that for me, Isaac Karlson was my father, my Dad, my Daddy. And I thank God that I never, even in my horrible teen years, let him know I knew otherwise.“
Oh, how I wanted to ask her if she knew more, knew what the truth could be. But some things cannot be known and life goes on anyway. I would never know; it would always be left a mystery in our life, and we never spoke again of it. I don’t know if I would have asked Grandma if I had had another chance to speak with her; she got pneumonia and died the next week.