“I’m fine,” Rachel said, hugging her arms across her chest. The porch bench rocked gently back and forth as she swung her feet.
“Why are you lying to me?” Danny sat on the other end of the bench, twisted toward her. “You look like you’re about to cry.”
“I’m not going to cry over you getting engaged again, Danny. I shed all the tears I had for you a long time ago.” She thought back four years to the way she had curled under a pile of blankets and refused to move for hours. It had been days before she left the house and weeks before she smiled.
“Rachel, I don’t mean to hurt you, but —”
“Now who’s lying to who?”
She hugged herself tighter.
“Stop,” he repeated, halting the bench’s movement by planting both of his feet firmly on the ground.
Rachel stared at him. She wanted her eyes to throw daggers. She wanted to look angry. But she felt the blankness in her mind reflected in her eyes. She knew all he was seeing in her at that moment was numbness.
Danny halfheartedly threw up his hands in defeat.
Rachel chewed her bottom lip.
“You know why I’m here,” he said.
She nodded, got up and walked inside the house.
Upstairs in her bedroom, there was a tiny ring box covered in red velvet. Inside it was a yellow gold band with seven diamonds. One large and princess cut, framed on either side by three small, round ones. The prongs holding the middle stone were noticeably worn.
Franny Jellyton’s engagement ring. Made circa 1954. Inherited by Danny Cooper. Once worn by Rachel White.
Soon to be worn by Jennifer Snow.
Rachel’s mother had warned her back in the days when Rachel’s smile was just returning. “He’ll be back for that ring,” she said. “He may be too sorry to ask for it now, but the time will come.” The prediction had been paired with advice that if Rachel felt it necessary to throw the ring in the river, she best do it now. If she did it now, it would be the result of a fit of heartbroken rage. Danny would be angry and hurt, but he’d be convinced there was only himself to blame. He was the one who left a precious family heirloom in the hands of his ex-fiancée. He was the one who didn’t ask for it back in the moment.
But Rachel hadn’t thrown it in the river or in a fire or any of the other places her family and friends had suggested. She had worn it until she was ready to leave her cocoon of blankets, and then she had placed it back in its box. Even the box was the original — Danny’s mother had felt the two shouldn’t be separated.
Danny had proposed to Rachel when they were 17 and still in high school. She had worn the ring as a necklace — under her shirt so no one but her and Danny knew it was there — until their graduation. Then after graduation, once she was enrolled in the local community college and he had a steady paycheck from the local factory, they had told their parents. A wedding date had been set. No one had questioned anything. Of course, they were going to get married.
When he told her he was unfulfilled at the factory and wanted to go to college, she hadn’t thought anything of it. “Sounds good,” she said. “Where?”
When he said he wanted to go to the other side of the country, she said, “Good thing this is my last semester. We can go straight from our honeymoon to our new home.”
But then he said he wanted to start over. He said he thought he needed to leave all of this behind. He made no effort to separate “all of this” from her.
He was sorry, she knew that. She also knew he was being illogical. So when he didn’t ask for the ring back, when he didn’t send anyone to collect the things of his she’d borrowed . . . she told herself it was a phase. She told herself it was part of the way they’d been together so long. She told herself that he’d realize soon enough that she wasn’t just his childhood. She was his future, wherever that happened to be.
When the day that was supposed to be their wedding day came and went, she told herself not to mourn. There’d be another one.
But then he went away to college in August and didn’t come back until December. And when he did come back, he brought Jenny.
Rachel walked back down to the front porch, the red velvet ring box in her pocket. Danny stood as she came out of the door.
“For what it’s worth,” he started.
To her surprise, Rachel didn’t want to hear what he had to say. Which was lucky for her, because he thought better of whatever he had started to tell her and never finished the sentence. In her heart, she told herself that he had wanted to say, “For what it’s worth, I would’ve let you keep this for the rest of your life if I didn’t have to give it to Jenny. For what it’s worth, I still know you’re the one who was supposed to wear it and pass it down.”
She’d never know how far or close she was from the truth.
But she did know that Franny Jellyton had refused to be buried with the engagement ring on her finger because she felt it should go to Rachel White. Because she thought that even if she had to miss the wedding, at least she could say she’d known the bride-to-be.
Jennifer Snow would never have that.