Being out and about, not accountable to anyone, feels like sneaking around. It’s one of my favorite pastimes. The last Wednesday of each month is my most enjoyable sneaking-around day as my Social Security auto-deposit magically appears in my checking account. Yesterday was that special day. I got up, had coffee, fed my cat, Rosie, checked the weather, jotted down what I needed, and stuffed the list into my purse. There would be basic errands, but for me it’s all about attitude.
I got my purse, a bottle of water, and slipped out the front door. Nobody knew I was leaving, except for Rosie who might retaliate later by hiding a hapless gopher in the bathtub. I followed the dirt path up and around the redwood tree, and passed the noxious-smelling dumpster before I reached my car.
The drive to Santa Rosa was lovely, with minimal traffic, the sky blessed with an abundance of blue. Target’s parking lot was packed for a Wednesday, but I found a space and slipped my car in, got out and walked to the store. Fortunately, I picked a shopping cart with wheels that didn’t screech or drag.
Reaching into my purse, I plucked out my list and navigated the rows of cosmetics, office supplies, and cat food. Having found the few things I needed, I wandered back to a slow- moving checkout line and glanced at the entertaining magazine covers.
After paying the cashier, I removed my bags from the cart and left. At the edge of the parking lot, my heaviest shopping bag slipped off the shoulder and down my arm. As I stopped to adjust it, I noticed a little red box nestled on the ground under an ugly, dried-up parking-lot bush near the curb. Without thinking, I reached down, grabbed it, quickly shoved it into my pocket, and walked to my car. Once inside I tried to fasten my seat belt, but the little box poked my side. I took it out and set it next to my purse.
I looked to the right before backing out. The little box caught my attention. Curiosity got the better of me. With the car still running, I reached over, picked it up, and wiggled the lid to see if it would open easily, but it fought back. Not wanting to damage it, my fingers gently pried along the top edge and it finally gave way.
After several deep breaths, I slowly flipped up the interior box lid and stared at the contents in total disbelief. A breathtaking gold ring with a large center gem stared back at me, as did the brilliant stones on either side. This ring was not ordinary.
I’d forgotten my car was still running until I heard a horn blast and noticed a truck driver who awaited my exit. Anxiety was getting the best of me. My peaceful sneaking-around day was significantly disrupted. Did a store camera detect me when I grabbed the box? I hurriedly slid it behind my purse and backed out. At the end of the row of parked cars, I turned right and kept driving.
I pulled into another parking space, further away from Target. I immediately grabbed the red box and flipped open the velvety lid. I may not have sumptuous pieces of jewelry, but I know when I see one. The center stone was enormous, possibly several carats, and glistened like a priceless diamond. My heart sped up noticeably, my neck suddenly seemed clammy, and my hands became unsteady. Calm down, I muttered to myself.
How on earth could this valuable piece of jewelry end up in the dirt under that ugly, dried-up, parking-lot bush? How could anyone part with this beauty unless they had to get rid of it before being caught red-handed?
Or, could someone have given it to a lover who didn’t love them back, and discarded the ring not knowing its value, or not caring? I couldn’t imagine being angry enough to deliberately dispose of something so precious in a parking lot.
I desperately wanted to slip the ring onto my finger, but I didn’t want my prints on it in case it was stolen. Closing the velvet box, I dropped it back into the outer box and put them in the glove compartment under a stack of papers. I sat for a few minutes, heart pounding, wondering how to resolve this dilemma. I had some time. No one was after me … at least not yet. Finally, a thought struck me.
There are three jewelry stores at the mall. I hurriedly got out of the car and walked back into Target. No grocery bags were needed. I wasn’t shopping. I was investigating.
Winding around the aisles and out the large opening that led inside the mall, I proceeded straight ahead knowing that the three jewelry stores were near to one another. Stopping alongside the first one, I noticed that none of the rings were in boxes of any sort; rather they rested on little cream-colored velvet tubes, or white satin pouches. No sign of a box anywhere.
I crossed over to the adjacent jewelry store. Their front window looked similar to the first stores, but the little velvety tubes were black instead of ivory. I went around to the side window—the same.
The third store was across the walkway. I wasn’t surprised to find a window display similar, but with a few fanciful Halloween decorations. Tiny skeleton arms reached toward rings. Billowy cobwebs dangled from white décolletage-shaped necklace holders. An amusing sight, but still no red cardboard or velvety flip-top boxes.
Peeking through the open door, I noticed an attractive young clerk sitting on a stool behind a long glass-topped jewelry case. She was looking at the cell phone in her hand, long flowing locks draped over her face. She finally glanced up when I was a mere two feet away. I guess she was accustomed to people coming and going with little interaction.
She finally lifted her gaze, brushed the dangling hair to the side, and smiled nonchalantly. “May I help you?”
“Oh, I was walking past the store and thought I’d stop in for a minute. I love jewelry. I saw the cute decorations in the window.”
“Thanks. We don’t get too elaborate at Halloween, but we do decorate more around the holidays. People are drawn to a holiday display.”
“That makes sense. I imagine you’ll start soon after Thanksgiving.”
“Yes, like everyone else. The competition in this little alcove of jewelry stores is fierce.”
As I traversed the various display cases, I quietly marveled at the familiarity I felt with most of the stones. I’d seen them often on the jewelry networks.
Glancing over at the clerk, “Do you, by chance, use gift boxes during the holidays, you know, the pretty red ones that have the velvety flip–top boxes inside … just curious. They would make the rings more desirable.”
“We will have some decorative boxes, but I don’t know if they’ll be red. We haven’t received them.”
“Sure … I understand … it’s still early. Well, I need to run along. It’s errand day. You know how that is.”
“For me, errand day is when I find the time,” the clerk said with a grin.
“Hey, listen, thanks for the chat. Hope business picks up.”
“Me too. Stop by any time.”
“I will,” I said, as I nodded goodbye and walked out.
No red boxes, with one shop down and two to go. I’d have to change my approach since the other two stores had not decorated for Halloween.
I walked back to the second jewelry store. Glancing through the window, I saw one clerk, also sitting behind a glass display case. With short-cropped silver hair, she appeared to be beyond middle age. As soon as I entered she looked up, significantly more attentive than the last sales clerk, and wearing a tasteful black suit.
“Hello, may I help you?”
“No, I’d just like to look around.”
“Of course. We have a wonderful collection. Does anything in particular interest you?”
“No, I’ll just browse.” I roamed casually from one display case to the next. The jewelry appeared to be upscale. There was an abundance of stunning engagement rings, but none as opulent as the one I’d found.
“Rings are my favorite. I watch jewelry shows on TV before I go to bed. It helps me unwind, and I’ve learned a lot about various gems.”
“Oh, I see. Well, we have the best of the best,” the clerk said, as she gave me an is she fit to shop at this store glance.
“But I don’t see any Alexandrites. They are rare, but I would think since you have the best of the best, you would surely have some.”
Her frosty glare hit me right between the eyes. “Yes, they are. So rare that few people know what they are. They are also terribly expensive to stock, but I can order one if you’re interested.”
“That’s not necessary. I see them on my jewelry programs and I just thought you would carry them.” She stiffened up so much, you’d think I’d threatened her. I sensed she wasn’t at all impressed by my gemological prowess.
Trying to get back on track, “My friend Angie is a huge jewelry buff, and she bought a stunning ring a few months ago. I’m not sure where she goy it, but it came in a lovely red box, and inside was a beautiful velvet box that flips open to display the ring. I’m curious if she bought her ring here, and I forgot to ask. Do you by any chance use red gift boxes?”
“Sorry, but no. Our signature color is mint-green, so all of our boxes are mint-green, regardless of the season.”
“I see. Well, thanks.” Of course they use mint-green. How silly of me. I realized I was close to the door, so I turned away and began to leave.
“I hope you’ll stop by during the holidays. Please bring your ‘friend’ with you. It would be a pleasure to meet her,” she said in a more relaxed tone.
“I’ll let her know. I need to be running along. I still have errands to run.”
No comment from the clerk, nothing at all. I walked out the door and decided that if I ever do have enough money to purchase a beautiful piece of jewelry, it won’t be from the ice queen.
I passed the third jewelry store on the way to my car without looking at their window displays and headed to Rite Aid, where I was in and out in no time.
In short order, I was on my way to Oliver’s. Disappointed that they had not made chile relleno, I drove to the nearby Round Table and ordered a personal-sized sausage pizza with a coke. I sat quietly in a booth, alone, not wanting to reflect on the red box, the gorgeous diamond ring, or the last unfriendly clerk.
On the way home, I flashed back to the box in the glove compartment. Why did I spot it? How many people have passed by that same dried-up parking-lot bush?
After driving up the curvy road that leads to my parking space, I popped the trunk open to retrieve my purchases, got out, and locked the door. No need to take the red box inside. It was as safe as could be. Upon entering my apartment, I checked the time. It was already 4:00 … much later than I’d planned to be home.
A soothing cup of tea sounded appealing. Entering the kitchen, I heard Rosie push her head through the kitty door and run toward the bathroom, which meant only one thing. I followed close behind, but she just ran along as feathers protruded from one side of her head. I rushed over and picked her up around the tummy. She awkwardly dangled as I rushed to the sliding glass door, managing to get to the top step of my deck before I released her to the ground. All the while she maintained a firm grip on the poor creature. I closed the sliding glass door behind me with no intention of hanging around to observe the consequences.
Returning to the kitchen to make tea, I stopped en route to turn on the TV. My mind wandered back to the red box in my glove compartment. While it was probably safe, I pondered going back to check, just in case. It would be dark soon, and residents have complained about produce in the community garden being stolen or vandalized. My car was quite close to that plot of land. What if these miscreants break in and steal the ring? If they’re caught, my fingerprints could link the boxes to me.
It was nearing sunset, and a chill was in the air. I grabbed a warm jacket from the hall closet and closed the front door behind me. I wandered down the path toward the parking lot. My mind raced, and my heart pounded. What if the burglars were already near the garden to scope it out? What if they saw me get into the car and open the glove compartment?
Not wanting to face another potential drama, I walked back up the road to the path and leaned briefly against the massive redwood tree to collect my thoughts. It was getting darker by the minute and I hadn’t thought to bring a flashlight … Best to return home.
My recliner beckoned. Moments later I sat, started to rock, and sipped my now cold tea.
Tomorrow is Thursday, not a wandering day at all. I had plans to walk at Ragle Park with my friend Joyce, as we usually do on Thursday morning, then I would return home to spend time writing, doing dishes, maybe laundry … but tomorrow would not be an ordinary Thursday.
After dinner, I turned off the TV and picked up the novel that seemed even more boring after the events of my day, but I continued to read until my head started to nod. I put my dishes in the sink, turned off the light, and went to bed.
I awaken, clammy and disoriented. My sleep had been full of fitful dreams. While memory can’t capture more than my running frantically down a dark road, there was surely a feeling I’d been in harm’s way. I peek through the slight separation in the blinds to see if the sun is up. Of course, it isn’t. The clock says it’s five A.M. My mind is still foggy; I climb out of bed. Rosie follows me to the kitchen where I feed her and make coffee. She sniffs her food, takes one quick bite, and runs to the kitty door to escape. In ritualistic fashion, I take my coffee to the recliner and flip on the news.
The morning coverage seems pretty much like yesterday’s. As always, I check the weather on my cell. It’s chilly. The calendar is next … normal activities for a Thursday, except today I’m going to return to Target. I sip my coffee, no need to rush. I have five hours to kill before meeting Joyce at Ragle Park.
I need to determine if the gorgeous ring was purchased or stolen. If purchased and disposed of intentionally, it’s mine to do with as I please; however, if it was stolen and discarded because of fear of getting caught, then there is a problem hidden in my glove compartment. If I go to every store at the shopping center that sells high-end jewelry and find that none of them place items into red boxes, I will feel justified in keeping the ring.
As I ponder, one more option comes to mind. It seems so ridiculous, and not one I particularly want to entertain, so I nudge it out of view of my mind’s eye rather than lending it credence. After I sort through all of the possibilities that present themselves, it’s eight o’clock and time to shower. I vacate the recliner and add my coffee cup to last night’s dishes. When I’m finally cleaned up and dressed, it’s nearly nine-thirty and time to head out.
Before leaving, I pluck my jacket from the closet, grab my purse and a bottle of water from the fridge. There isn’t time to check the glove compartment before I take off toward the park, nor do I want to have the red box on my mind while walking. Besides, if Joyce is her usual chatty self, she’ll be enough of a distraction until it’s time to head to Target.
I pull into the park entrance, flash my pass toward the small window of the ranger’s booth, and keep driving. I open the door for a bit of fresh air, just a few minutes before Joyce pulls up alongside my car. I get out to greet her.
“Good morning. So, what path did you take when you walked alone last week?” she mutters.
“The same one we took the week before, but I went further. It was sunny, and the scenery was lovely, with two little bridges to cross.”
“Okay. Want to do it again?”
We start down the asphalt road, our usual route. It’s easy walking and leads to the winding dirt trail.
She’s quiet until I ask, “Are you back to teaching yet?” That’s enough to engage her motor. Once it has, I don’t get to utter another sound. It is a beautiful day, regardless of the company. When we arrive back at the parking lot, she leans against my car and continues to impress me with her brilliance until I squeeze in, “I really have to go. I need to take care of some important business in Santa Rosa.”
“Sounds rather urgent. Is everything okay?”
“Yes, it’s just rather timely.”
“Well … are you going to share?”
“Not right now. I have to run. I’ll tell you all about it next week.” I can’t believe she allows me such verbal latitude.
“Hum … all right,” she says, as she heads to her car. “I’ll email you about next week.”
“Sure. Have a good one.”
I need to check the glove compartment before I leave. The drive to Target isn’t necessary if someone lifted the ring during the night. They could have unlocked the car door with a simple coat-hanger or other device. Hurriedly reaching for the glove compartment latch, I open it and spot an edge of the red box under the stack of papers. Relieved, I head to Santa Rosa.
Upon arriving at the mall, I park in the main lot opposite Target and close to the jewelry stores. I get out, lock the door, and walk casually toward the main entrance. Once inside, I smell the aroma from Starbucks. It tempts me, but I keep moving.
I glance toward the jewelry store I skipped yesterday. I look at the long front window before going around to the side but I see no boxes. I go back to the storefront. I haven’t gotten into my groove yet, so I enter hesitantly. As I maneuver around, I see only the upper torso of a fellow behind a glass wall near the back of the shop. I approach the enclosure and assume he’ll acknowledge me. About thirty seconds later, as I stare at a stunning diamond necklace in the nearby display cabinet, he walks through the doorway and approaches me.
“Hello, has something caught your eye?” he asks in a monotone voice. He’s a tall, slender fellow with salt and pepper hair, probably in his 50’s, dressed tastefully in a dark blue suit.
I point at the necklace, “Yes, this piece is stunning.”
“Would you like to look at it more closely?” He reaches down to unlock the glass panel.
“Ah, no. I’ll admire it from a distance. I’m afraid it would intimidate my outfit.” I say, and grin.
Ignoring my attempt at humor, “Let me know if I can be of further assistance,” he says, as he moves toward a small desk to the left of the case with a windowed divider where he can discretely watch store activity.
It’s obvious that he’s not a clerk, but more likely the owner. Moving slowly around the store, I wonder how to broach the subject of red boxes.
“Excuse me, but when you have a minute, I found a ring that I would love to see.”
He walks behind the case with the ring that holds my attention. “Yes, which one interests you?”
“The one with the large blue stone. Is that tanzanite, by chance?”
“I’m afraid not. That particular piece has a very high-quality sapphire. Would you like to try it on?”
“Can you please tell me the price?”
“Let me check.” He reaches down to unlock the glass panel, eases his hand inside, turns the ring over and checks the tag. “That would be $15,450,” and holds it up for me to get a better look.
“It’s gorgeous, but I prefer tanzanite. I love the fiery red flashes that radiate from inside. Oh, and speaking of red, do you ever use lovely red gift boxes?”
He slips the ring back into the case and glances up. “We customarily use black gift boxes.”
“Of course, I just thought that during the holidays you might use red.”
His well-trained eyebrow rises. “Why are you curious about the color of our gift boxes?”
“No particular reason. It’s just that your displays could use a bit more color.”
“We don’t want the extraneous color to distract from the beauty of our jewelry. It has quite enough color, don’t you agree?” he asks and locks the case.
“I suppose, but during the holidays red makes things appear more festive.”
“I imagine Macy’s might use them, but I don’t feel such adornments are necessary. Now, if you’ll excuse me …” he says dismissively and returns to the glassed alcove.
After taking one last look through the display case, I gradually move to the front of the store, open the door, and slip quietly outside. With my investigation garnering zero results, I’m no further ahead than I was yesterday. A flush of disappointment came over me, but I soon recovered. His mention of Macy’s, even though an insulting one, inspires me to stop by before heading home. They might use red gift boxes, and they will no doubt be friendlier. I turn to the right and head up the inside corridor with renewed determination.
After approaching Macy’s large and inviting entryway, I meander past the high-end cosmetic and fragrance departments, stopping to dab a new Chanel scent on my wrist. My mood is immediately lifted by the flowery perfume. As I continue to wander, I encounter the first of many jewelry counters. Earring kiosks adorn the tops of glass cases, while attractive assortments of items are displayed below.
“Hi there – may I help you?” A delightful young saleswoman says as I scan the contents of a case. Her long blond hair is casually held back with a silver butterfly clip. Her warm smile welcomes me.
“Yes, I’d like to see your more expensive jewelry, preferably diamonds,” I said in a relaxed tone.
“Of course,” she says and motions for me to follow. We walk only a short distance before she steps behind the counter. “This is our collection of lovely engagement and cocktail rings. The bracelets and necklaces are around the corner. What do you have in mind?”
“Nothing in particular. I just love to look at the displays and fantasize. But I am wondering if you put purchases into red velvet flip-top boxes, or if you use something less colorful. The holidays are coming, and I find the red ones appealing.”
“We do use gift boxes, but they’re white. We may get others before Christmas, but we haven’t received them yet. I know what you mean. It’s fun to open those special boxes hoping to see something dazzling.”
“That’s exactly the way I feel. I’d like to look around a bit. I may find something I can’t live without.”
“Sure, take your time.”
“Thanks!” I say, before I slowly scrutinize every engagement ring. There are some beauties, but I don’t see any that rival the one in the red box.
If Macy’s doesn’t use red boxes, I doubt that Penney’s will. Without reconnecting with the clerk, I slowly trek back to the car with no brilliant ideas left … except for the outlandish one that I’d shoved as far out of my mind as possible. I try to drag it back to take another look. It didn’t appeal to me earlier, and it still doesn’t, but it’s my last resort. I’m not feeling desperate, but I’m not ready to give up.
On the way to my car, I notice the weather has warmed up a bit. I open the door, take off my jacket, and toss it onto the passenger seat. I sit quietly for a minute, then another, wondering if I want to engage in Plan B. It should call it Plan L, since it’s my last remotely possible option.
I turn on the ignition, back out, follow the road to Target’s parking lot, and pull into an available space. I turn off the engine, grab my purse and head toward the entryway. People are coming and going, loaded down with bags or pushing carts on the way to their cars. I try to stand out of their way. Sitting atop one of the large red cement balls on the sidewalk would be a perfect vantage point, but I’m a few inches too short. Instead, I stand between the entrance and exit doors and continue to watch people. I walk back and forth a few times while gazing at the now-familiar parking-lot bush. I finally decide to go get a cup of coffee and a muffin at Starbucks, inside Target, to ease the boredom.
Just as I’m about to go in, I catch a glimpse of a tall woman hovering over the almost dead bush. Her back is to me, so I can’t see her face. I imagine she’s young and pretty after watching her toss back flowing strands of chestnut hair before she glances down. She steps closer to the bush and bends forward slightly, then further.
I walk over and stand behind her, but off to the side a bit. She begins to turn around and looks at me briefly, enough to see the concern on her lovely eyes.
“Excuse me, but did you lose something? Can I help you look?” My voice is shaky … much like my insides.
She doesn’t seem to hear me, so I repeat, “It seems you’ve lost something. Can I help?”
She shifts her hair to the other side and glances up. “I’m sure I had my car keys when I left Target, but I can’t find them. I must have dropped them on my way in, or out, or somewhere. I honestly don’t know. It’s been a horrible day, and …”
What is it with people losing things? “Let me take a look.” I bend over to peek through each dead branch that extends from the dried up plant. I hold them back so we can view the parched leaves and dirt. As I glance to my left, I can’t help but notice the blue and white sign blatantly indentifying the Santa Rosa police car staring me in the face.
“Hi there, is everything okay?” the young officer asks.
“Ah … no sir … well, actually, yes sir… we’re just looking for a set of keys that were likely dropped near this bush.”
My heart is about to pound itself to death as an image of the red box looms in my mind. I’m still looking through the window at the officer, and wonder if my face is showing signs of sheer terror. God, I hope not.
“You might want to check inside,” he suggests. “Someone may have found them.”
“That’s a great idea. Thanks for your help.” I say, desperately hoping that that will end the conversation.
“Well, good luck ladies,” he says and waves goodbye. He rolls up the passenger window, and makes a left turn out of the parking lot.
I take a deep breath to calm my jitters. Apparently he wasn’t following up on a call about a missing engagement ring. I sigh in relief before turning my attention back to the young woman.
Tears are flowing gently down her beautiful cheeks. I don’t think she paid any attention to my interaction with the officer. How can she be so nonchalant?
“I’m afraid your keys aren’t here. Did you check your pockets?”
“I don’t have any pockets. I pulled on my leggings and a T-shirt to stop by and pick up a couple of things at the mall,” she says, her voice unsteady. “I don’t even have my cell to call anyone.”
“Okay, let’s think. Check your shopping bag to make sure the keys didn’t fall inside.”
She dumps the contents onto the dirt by the prickly bush. Mostly makeup. No keys.
“Let’s go back inside and ask the clerk if anyone turned them in.”
She shoves the purchases back into the plastic Target bag and follows me to the store.
“Which clerk checked you out?”
“I don’t know … oh, over here,” she says, and I tag along.
She waits until the clerk finishes with her customer. “Hi, I was here a short time ago. I wonder if anyone found a set of keys. I’ve lost mine.”
“No, not that I know of. I’m sorry. I suggest asking Customer Service. Their counter is over against the far wall.”
The sad lady begins to scurry toward Customer Service. I follow close behind. When we arrive, there are several people in line ahead of us.
“If they don’t have them, what am I going to do? I can’t get into my car or call my fiancé. He’ll be so upset with me.”
“Anyone can lose a set of keys. It’s not the end of the world. I’ll call AAA road service to unlock your car, so there’s no need to worry your fiancé.”
Tears stream down her cheeks as she chokes on the words. “You don’t understand. He’s usually laid back, but yesterday he became angry when I told him I’d lost my engagement ring. I’d just picked it up from the jeweler after having it sized. On the way back to my car, someone bumped me with their cart. They seemed unaware, but I was so startled I lost my bearings and nearly fell. What I didn’t know, until I got home, is that the ring box had fallen out of my purse. When I returned to the parking lot to look for it, the box was gone.”
“That must have been so upsetting. I can only imagine.” I say as I all of a sudden realize how desperately I need to pee. “Listen, if Customer Service helps you before I get back, wait here for me. I have to go to the ladies’ room. It’s kind of an emergency.” She nods, still sobbing, and I take off. Fortunately, the restrooms are only a short distance away.
I just miss bumping into a mom and her little girl as I swing open the heavy door. I quickly apologize and scoot to the first open stall. After I hang my purse on the door hook, I slide my pants down and sit. It’s my first opportunity to give any thought to what’s happening. The girl is sweet, innocent, terrified. I scan what I’ve been through the past two days. My sneaking around day turned out to be unusually challenging, but now the puzzle is solved. The consequences aren’t pretty, but I know what I have to do, even though I could easily burst into tears.
As I begin to stand, my left foot slides out from under me and shoots into the air. I nearly lose my balance. What the hell? I sit back down and see a set of keys that were obviously dropped by someone. I hadn’t noticed them when I came in. How could I? I was in such a hurry. As I reach down to grab them, I feel chills run up my spine. Could these keys possibly be …?
I pull on my slacks, unhook my purse, shove the stall door aside, then wash the keys and my hands before I head out of the bathroom. The sad girl is still standing in the Customer Service line, head bowed, hands clasped together, still holding her shopping bag. I feel terrible for her. She glances toward me. Her eyes light up as if I’m the only person left in the world. I stride up to her feeling strangely valued.
“You’re still waiting? I can’t believe it. You didn’t, by any chance, go to this ladies’ room before or after shopping, did you?”
She seems to have to stretch her memory back to that time frame. “Yes, well, I went to the bathroom when I first came in. Why do you ask?”
“This may be hard to believe, but when I stood up after going to the bathroom, my left foot slid out from under me, and I nearly fell. When I looked down, I spotted these,” I say as I dangle the keys from my finger, “These aren’t by chance …?”
“Oh my God!” Her eyes widened. “Those are mine! Oh my God!” Her loud shrieks startle me, as they do others waiting in line. “I can’t believe you found them.”
I drop the keys into her outstretched hand. She grabs hold of me and squeezes until I finally pull away to catch my breath. “Well, I can’t believe it either, but I’m thankful I needed to go to the ladies’ room. Come on; let’s get out of here.” She puts the keys into her purse, pulls out a tissue to dry her tears, and tags along behind me like a well-behaved puppy. We walk to my car, and I unlock the door. I look up at her. Her brow is slightly wrinkled.
“Why are we here?” she asks.
“There is something I need to show you.” I slide into the driver’s seat, unlatch the glove compartment, retrieve the little red box, and exit the car.
I look up at the sweet face of the young woman. “Does this look familiar?” I ask as I reveal the box.
She stares down at my raised hand. “You have my ring … But you didn’t say a word. Why?”
The shocked look on her face struck a slight chord of guilt within me.
“Why do you have it in your car?”
I gently hand the box to her. “I want you to know that I was going to show this to you after we found out about your keys. Your ring is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. For a short time, it was mine. I’ve spent hours going to every jewelry store in the shopping center trying to find where it was purchased, or stolen, but none of the stores use red boxes. Finally, I decided to stand outside to see if, by chance, anyone might come by and look for it. I knew it was a long shot, but then you show up and peer down at the dried-up bush. I thought you were looking for the red box. When you said you’d lost your keys, I took a deep breath of relief. So, you see, I did hope that the ring would be mine. It wasn’t until you told me that you had lost yours yesterday that I realized the ring belongs to you.”
She looks at the red box in her clenched fist, then glances at me for what seems an eternity. “I understand how hard the choice is for you. It’s a very expensive ring. No one would ever know that you found it among those dried-up leaves. It’s a miracle that it was you who found my keys, my engagement ring, and quite possibly saved my relationship. You have no idea how much all of this means to me. How can I ever repay you?”
“Honestly, it’s not necessary. I’m glad I could help. Listen, I do need to be going – I have errands to run.” I reach over, hug her tenderly, turn around and ease into my car. As tears begin to trickle down my cheeks, I peer through the rear-view mirror and begin to pull out, but stop when I see her still standing in the middle of the road, staring at the box, oblivious of everything around her. I tap the horn. She looks up in a daze, glances over, and slowly walks away.