“It’s just a stupid locket, why does it matter that I’m wearing it?”
“It’s not just some stupid locket and you know it, Jules.”
“But it’s my favourite.”
“What’s that say?”
“Why don’t you tell me.” The tone in Jules's voice suddenly turned harsh and cold. “You’re the one with all the answers.”
“Don’t say that. You know this isn’t about being right or wrong....”
“No, it’s about you being a jealous asshole.”
“Oh, here we go.” Ricky Redmond threw his arms into the air and turned his back on his wife. He just needed a second or two to get back under control. If it hadn’t been for that simple gold locket hanging around her neck, they’d be out the door and on their way to their tenth anniversary party.
As it was, they were already running twenty minutes late and from the look on Jules's face, Ricky knew they wouldn’t be going anywhere until he caved.
And Ricky’s problem was he already knew he was beat. The locket was going with them whether he liked it or not. He was expected to put on a brave face and act the part of loving, devoted husband. He wasn’t sure he could do it. Not tonight.
Why had she chosen tonight of all nights to bring it out? The locket had been hidden away in her jewellery box for almost three years, safely out of sight and mind. Jules had said she understood when he told her how uncomfortable it made him feel when she wore it, and Ricky’d pretty much put it out of his mind. So why now?
“Jules, I’m sorry.”
“So the necklace isn’t a problem.” Jules started across the bedroom, that playful glint he loved so much beaming in her eyes.
“You know it is.”
She stopped short of taking him into her arms, the sparkle disappearing instantly. “I can’t believe you still haven’t gotten over it. Christ, it was ten years ago.”
“And it almost cost me the woman I love.”
“That’s not true. It made me realize how much I truly love you. Your strength and compassion helped me through a terrible time..”
“You don’t owe me anything, Jules. That’s not what this marriage is about. But it doesn’t change the fact I won by default.”
“Oh, you men ” Jules moved away in frustration. “Why does it always have to be about winning with you? This wasn’t a race, or a competition, but you can’t see that. Ted was just someone I needed in my life at the time. I’ve tried explaining that to you so many times, and I just don’t know how to make it any clearer.”
“You needed him because I wasn’t enough.”
“You weren’t even there at the start.”
“This isn’t about the beginning of what you two shared. It’s about you going to him instead of coming to me when that’s all I asked from you.”
“That’s not fair, Ricky.”
“What’s not fair is you dragging that necklace out on a night that is supposed to be special to us. Tonight is a celebration of our lives together, not about what got us here. How’s it supposed to make me feel? How would you feel?” Another of Ricky’s problems was Jules knew he’d never pull a stunt like that on her. Certainly there were mementos left over from his younger years; the first love letter he’d gotten, grade eight from a cutie named Tammy, a stuffed bear he’d won for the first girl he’d slept with, an engagement ring for his college sweetheart.
Never once had Ricky paraded any of these items in front of Jules. Not because he was afraid of hurting her but simply because those memories were better left behind. He and Jules had agreed to make a new life, a fresh start away from the pain and tragedy that had befallen both of them. .
Instead, Ricky had lost a piece of her heart that he knew he’d never be able to get back. The locket was a reminder of the piece of Jules he would never be able to have, the part dedicated to Ted.
“I can’t tell you how to feel, Ricky, but we’re already half an hour late and people are probably starting to wonder if we’re ever going to show up.”
“Let them wonder. We need to deal with this.”
“I did. A long time ago. It’s you who still has the problem.”
“Doesn’t that make it our problem?”
“I’m sick of trying to deal with it. You’re just dredging up terrible memories. Ted’s gone, but I won’t ever forget what he meant to me. Or to us.”
Ricky absolutely hated when Jules tried to justify what happened by saying it only brought them closer together. What he heard was that without Ted she might not have realized how much she loved Ricky. Only Ted’s death could open her eyes to truly see.
Was that love? He’d asked himself that question too many times over the years and thought he’d finally put it to rest when the necklace disappeared.
“But, if there hadn’t been a car crash, if he hadn’t been taken away from you, would you still be here?”
“What good does worrying about that do?”
Goddammit, Jules, answer the question.”
And she hadn’t been able to for over ten years. Was he being a jackass for letting it drive a wedge between them?
“You’ve had all the time in the world to think about it,” he said, moving to her and taking her hands in his. “And you still aren’t sure. Baby, I love you more than anything else in this life. You’ve made me happier than I ever thought I could be, and I thank you for all those wonderful years but I need to know why you won’t let go of him.”
“Because I can’t,” Jules said in a dead whisper.
“No. You can, you just won’t.”
Angrily, Jules shoved his hands away. Her eyes came up to meet his, smoldering with anger and pain. “Fine, if that’s what you think.” She reached up, wrapped her hand around the chain, and with a frustrated yank, pulled it from around her neck. “Is this what you want?” Jules pitched the locket against the wall. The metal struck with a loud thwap, leaving a hole in the drywall before landing on the carpet.
Tears welled in her eyes, and he realized she wasn’t trying to manipulate him any more. He’d really done her wrong.
Dammit, why did he have to be such an insensitive jerk? Ricky bent down and scooped the locket from the floor. The clasp had broken, and the locket opened in his hand.
Ted. Staring up at him with that charming and innocent grin. A man now ten years in the grave but still affecting Ricky. Such an incredibly brilliant life taken so tragically early.
Ted had been an artist, or at least that would have been his label in life. A talented sketcher with an eye for stunning details, by age twenty-five he’d already completed three series for D.C. Comics and had been working on a deal to team with Todd MacFarlane for a new character that promised to revolutionize the industry.
But to Ricky, and those who really knew him, Ted was more of a free-spirited ball of energy, thrilled by whatever adventure came his way. There hadn’t been many dull moments with him; you couldn’t help but get caught up by his enthusiasm.
Ted had used his talents to record the events which truly touched him, a part of his work the rest of the world hadn’t had a chance to see. Looking down into his handsome face, Ricky wondered if it weren’t a mistake. Some of Ted’s best work was now stored away with friends and family, never to be seen, some never to be finished.
Ricky closed the locket and held it up for Jules to take. “I’m sorry, babe.”
With a trembling hand, Jules took the necklace, then grabbed his hand with her other. “I love you, you know.”
“I do. And I’ll fix your necklace in the morning.” Ricky took his wife into his arms and held her tightly against him. All the anxiety, all the uncertainty, drifted away as she squeezed him back and Ricky knew everything was okay.
At least for now.
* * *
Despite being forty-five minutes late and having her nerves fried by Ricky’s reaction to the necklace, Jules thought the anniversary party went fairly well. She’d pretty much gotten herself together on the ride over. Ricky knew better than to press her on her sullen quietness. By the time they’d pulled up to the front steps of the Mississippi Heritage Inn, Jules was ready to greet the fifty-plus friends and family who had come to help them celebrate.
No one seemed to notice the hurt she was so sure showed through her eyes. She did her best to hide it, and she thought those who did notice simply shrugged it off as an overwhelmed excitement, something that wasn’t completely a lie.
So many mixed emotions. If only Ricky could have understood and let her wear the necklace. She’d so wanted Ted to see and feel the love of those lives she and Ricky had touched. To feel Ted’s excitement close to her heart. She’d tried so hard to carry on his spirit.
But how could Ricky understand? He didn’t truly know what the locket meant to her. So she’d hidden it away and only brought it out when he wasn’t around.
While she knew it wasn’t fair to Ricky and she often felt guilty about sneaking around behind his back, she also knew she couldn’t give up her precious necklace.
“Jules? Oh wow, you look great ”
She was so lost in thought, Jules didn’t immediately recognize the face that met her as she looked up. But then she realized she hadn’t seen this particular face in nearly ten years.
“Chad?” The last time she’d seen him was just before Ted’s death. Jules smiled uncertainly as she raised her arms for his hug. “My goodness, it’s been forever.”
“A long time for sure,” Chad grinned as he held her out to take a good look. “Man, I can’t believe how fantastic you look.”
Chad had been the third cog in the clique known as the three amigos. Ricky, Ted, and Chad had grown up in Petersburg together, hung out throughout high school and most of college. And then Jules had come along. A rivalry between Ted and Ricky had caused a rift, and the group had eventually drifted apart.
Ted had initially won her heart, and they were engaged to be married. Ricky seemed to take it well enough, although he didn’t hang around so much after the announcement. It wasn’t until after the accident that she’d realized her feelings for Ricky. He’d been there for support when she needed him, helped her be strong when she’d felt ready to collapse. Chad, on the other hand, had all but disappeared.
“Where have you been?” Jules asked.
“Out and about. I just opened a garage over in Chellsey. When I heard you were celebrating your tenth anniversary I just had to come and say hello.”
“Have you seen Ricky?”
“No, he looks pretty busy,” Chad answered. He suddenly looked a little anxious and awkward. “Besides, I really came to see how you were doing.”
“Yeah. Are you happy?”
“Of course, Chad.”
“Really? I mean, does Ricky keep you happy?”
Jules was confused. She didn’t understand what he meant, or what he was trying to get at. Why had he shown up after all this time?
“He used to say he’d give you the world, if you’d just choose him. Do you remember that, Jules?”
“Sure,” she replied, hesitantly. The memories were slow to come, and she preferred it that way.
“Well, did he? Has he given you everything you wanted?”
“Chad, I don’t understand. Why don’t you just come say hi to Ricky. I’m sure he’d be thrilled to see you.” Jules tried to steer him into the crowd, but Chad pulled back.
“No ” He shrugged from her grip. “Listen, maybe I better go. I just wanted to come and make sure you were okay.”
He turned and quickly slid through the crowd and out the door. Jules tried to go after him but was slowed by well-wishers. By the time she got to the door, Chad had disappeared.
The voice startled her. She turned to see Ricky standing by her elbow. “Sorry, babe. You won’t believe who was just here?”
The name didn’t seem to sit well with her husband. In fact, in all the time she’d been with Ricky, Jules had never seen him look so scared.
* * *
“What’s the idea of showing your face at the party last night?”
Buried under the hood of a truck, Chad couldn’t see who entered the garage, but he knew the voice all right. He cleaned his greasy hands with an even greasier rag and straightened.
“Good to see ya, Ricky. Been a long time.”
“Not long enough. I thought we agreed you’d stay gone for good.”
Chad shrugged, swept his arm around the wide space of the car port. “Uncle Willie kicked off last month and left the place to me. I gotta tell ya, Ricky, it was too good a deal to pass up.”
“So, you had to show your face last night?”
“About that,” Chad said, uneasily. “I don’t know what I was thinking Ricky. It’s been such a long time, I just thought I’d drop by and see how you were doing.”
“And talk to Jules?”
“You idiot. What if someone found out? What if they piece together what we did? If Jules ever found out I had you jimmy Ted’s brakes, she’d never forgive me.”
“You got what you wanted, Ricky. It’s over and done with, all water under the bridge. Let’s just get on with it, live the lives we have. Can we do that Ricky?”
“Just stay out of Petersburg and the hell away from Jules. Got it?”
“Sure, Ricky. If you say so.”
“I told Jules I was coming over to say hi and get the oil changed. Do you have time to fit me in?”
“For a friend, any time,” Chad said. “Just drive her onto the rack over there. It shouldn’t take me more than forty-five minutes.”
“Good, I’ve got some running around to do. I’ll come pick it up when I’m finished.”
Ricky drove the car onto the lift and with a wave went to do his errands. Once Ricky was out of sight, Chad’s eyes shifted to the darkened doorway of his office. After a moment, Jules slowly emerged.
“I thought you better hear it from him,” Chad said as he went under the car and removed the cap.
Jules came to where he stood, her eyes fixed on the bottom of her husband’s car. She wouldn’t look at Chad. Maybe she couldn’t. In time though, she would get over her shock. Maybe she would even come to love him.
Chad waited for her decision.
Finally, she held up her hand, which was bunched up into a fist. “You can make it look like an accident?”
Chad nodded. “A couple of scrapes along the brake line would do it.”
“I can't pay you right now, but you can keep this until I can.” Jules opened her hand. Inside was a sparkling gold locket.
Chad took her hand and closed it over the treasured necklace. “You keep it. This one is on me.”