I don’t like weddings. Especially big weddings. Even moreso, I particularly don’t like having to travel for big weddings.
My wife and I eloped in Vegas on what was supposed to be a girls trip. It was spur of the moment. Rae and I had been friends for years, and recently had begun dating. We walked into an all night wedding chapel slightly drunk and sealed the deal with our four closest friends there to watch. We didn’t even have real rings. We bought some cheap bands at the chapel as we were signing our papers. We had said we would upgrade the rings eventually.
It was perfect, honestly and truly. That was four years ago. To this day, we still have not upgraded those rings. We both still wear our small, delicate and plain white gold bands.
Sara and Lisa were not so inclined as to have a small wedding, nor were they going to elope. They found a vineyard in Paso Robles, a four hour drive away. They rented the entire inn at the winery for all of us who were to be a part of the wedding. Rae was to be the officiant. I was to be the maid of honor. I don’t even want to guess at their budget.
We got to the inn and up to our room. I’m a total nester. The first thing I do in every hotel room is unpack and organize all of my belongings. I hung Rae’s bespoke suit in the closet, and my over priced burgundy bridesmaid dress next to it. Toiletries organized and lined up in the bathroom, books and phone chargers on the respective bedside tables. Rae was sitting on the balcony looking out at the vibrant fall colors beginning to show through.
As I looked at the bottom of the suitcase, I let out a loud yelp. Where is my accessory bag? My necklace and earrings for the ceremony? It took me forever to pick something out that I felt was perfect. Mostly because I didn’t want to even be a bridesmaid, or come to this wedding. Sara and Lisa have no business getting married to begin with. But that’s a different story.
Rae startled and rushed in. “Charlie, what’s wrong?”
“I forgot my necklace and earrings.” The stress of not looking perfect for their perfect wedding flooded me, and tears welled up in my eyes.
“We can go out and buy new ones.”
I shook my head. “I don’t…”
“Charlie, let’s just go into town. They have plenty of stores. We can find something. It will be okay.” Her arms wrapped around me and she kissed the top of my head.
I nodded in agreement.
“I will just let everyone know we are going to run a few errands. We should be back in time for dinner. It won’t take us long.”
Rae and I made our way into downtown Paso and parked. Quaint boutiques lined the main drag. I breathed a sigh of relief. I should be able to find something here that would work with my dress.
“See, this isn’t so bad.” Rae took my hand. We wandered in and out of the stores. I found a few things that would work, but nothing I wanted or felt would be perfect.
At the very end of the street, the last business in the row, the sign read “Vintage Estate Jewelry and Antiques.”
The display in the widow was eye catching as the various gems glittered in the sunlight. “Come on…” Rae pulled me inside.
An over eager salesman leapt up out of the chair behind a back counter. “Good afternoon, ladies. What can I help you find?”
I gave a slow turn to take in the ambiance of the shop. Beautiful antique crystal chandeliers hung throughout mixed with the LED lights. The display cases were organized by gemstone color- a spectacular glittering rainbow. “I’m in a wedding in two days and I forgot my accessories.”
“What color is your dress?” He was leaning over the display case fervent.
“Is there a theme?”
“Fall. Wine country. Spending too much money.”
Rae nudged me for my snark.
The salesman smiled. “This way.” He made his way along the showcases coming to one filled with garnets and rubies and diamonds. He stood leaning against the display counter with arms wide, grinning.
When we approached the display case, he saw our hands with the plain wedding bands. “Please tell me you have a nicer wedding band than those?”
I shook my head no as I appraised the sets of jewelry in the case. I saw the perfect set almost immediately. Against the black velvet under the bright LED lights the necklace and earrings were displayed, art deco with perfect geometrical symmetry the garnets were accented with diamonds, matching earrings glittered on each side of the necklace. Classy, but not ostentatious.
The salesman’s eyes tracked where I was looking. “Oh, yes. That set. It’s been here for years. I can’t sell that set to save my life, and whenever I have, it’s been returned for whatever reason” he sighed. “It is so beautiful though.” He pulled it out and laid it out in front of me. “Do you have a picture of the dress?”
I pulled out my phone and showed him a picture of me in the dress at the last fitting. He nodded. Rae picked up the necklace and draped it around my neck. “This is perfect.” She fastened the clasp and the salesman positioned the mirror so I could see it on me. It was perfect.
“I tell you what, I’ve been trying to get rid of it for so long, I will even throw in a nice diamond wedding set from the same owner, actually.”
Rae’s eyebrows popped up. She could never resist a good deal. “Can we see them?”
He went a few cases over and slid out a black velvet box. Modest, classy, with the same avant garde style as the necklace and earrings, white metal. “Try them on.” Rae chose the thick band, engraved with small diamond inlays. She placed it above the small plain band. To our surprise it fit perfectly. As did the more ornate band with clusters of shimmering diamonds mimicking the same symmetry of the band on my finger.
“It’s kismet,” the salesman grinned.
“You said these all came from the same owner. Why did they sell such beautiful pieces?” My curiosity was piqued. These pieces were definitely heirloom quality.
“She died. Her son was unmarried and had no use for them.” He was so matter of fact.
“Can you tell us her name? I would love to know more about their history.” He was packaging the pieces up. He didn’t even need to ask. Rae was pulling out her black AmEx card and laying it on the counter.
“No. It’s all confidential. I’m so sorry.”
Rae almost dragged me out of the shop after signing the bill. “I can’t believe what a steal this all was.” She rushed us back to our car. “We need to hurry before he reconsiders.”
“What if it’s all fake?”
“Nope. That’s not fake. We will get it appraised when we get home. Just wait.”
The black velvet boxes containing our newly acquired treasure were sitting on our bed as we got ready for dinner. I was drawn back to them. They were irresistible. I opened the box with the necklace and earrings. It was the original box with the designer’s name in faded gold lettering at the top of the box.
I lifted the necklace up and the velvet peeled back. A name was etched to the bottom of the box. “Property of Beatrice Helen James”. I didn’t realize I spoke it aloud.
“What?” Rae asked.
“I think I figured it out. This belonged to Beatrice Helen James.” I leaned over the bed and grabbed Rae’s laptop and typed the name into Google.
“No time to play private eye. Come on. We are expected at dinner.”
The page was beginning to load, but Rae pulled me up and scooted me out the door before I could take a good look.
The entire time at dinner as our friends oohed and ahhed over our new rings and we celebrated the coming nuptials and wine flowed freely, I was dying to escape back to our room to read about Beatrice Helen James. Who was she?
Finally, after yet another bottle of wine was opened, I made the excuse of a headache and told Rae to stay down at the party.
She side eyed me. She knew I was lying but let it slide, giving me a gentle kiss and whispering, “Liar,” in my ear.
I smiled, sheepish and dashed up the stairs to our room. There her image glowed at me from the screen. Beatrice Helen James. Wearing my new jewelry in the image. Beautiful and perched on the arm of the chair of a handsome man, presumably Mr. James. I read a marriage announcement under a different picture. They, as the salesman said, had one son who never married.
She died young, no cause of death listed. Her husband preceded her in death. He died in a fire. She followed him not long after, a matter of weeks, after an extended (unnamed) illness causing her to be hospitalized. Their son was off at a prep school on the East coast. That was it. Right after the date of the picture with her wearing the jewelry.
I texted Rae to come back to the room. She replied “soon” with the kissy face emoji.
I fastened the necklace around my neck and put the earrings on, and looked at them glittering and gorgeous in the mirror.
I waited for Rae for what seemed like forever. I lay down in the bed and before I knew it, I was dozing off.
Beatrice was standing next to me. It must be a dream. She gently touches my necklace (hers?) with a sad smile. She takes my hand in hers and leads me down the stairs. I can see Rae and our friends still enjoying wine and laughing. Beatrice leads me out the door. Damn, her hands are cold. Down the stairs and to the front lawn.
She lights a cigarette and with an exhale of smoke she tosses her match at the base of the stairs.
Up in flames the inn goes. All of my friends. My wife. Everyone gone in a brilliant blaze. I feel the blast of heat.
I bolt awake. Sitting upright. I’m not in the bed in the inn. Clinical white walls surround me. I call out for someone to help me. I’m in a cheap hospital gown. A plastic bracelet around my wrist. The jewelry gone.
“Where’s Rae? Where am I?”
“You almost died. In a fire. You set a whole inn on fire and killed like five people. You were sent here because they found you insane.”
“Rae… Did I kill Rae?”
“No. She survived. She had some burns. She comes to see you every day.”
“How long? How long have I been here?”
“Four months. A little longer.”
“Where’s my jewelry? Where’s my necklace? My earrings? My ring?” I am scrambling out of the bed. There’s no furniture in this room. Just a bed.
The nurse gently steers me back to the bed. “I think Rae said she took it back to the antique store you bought it from. Something about it wasn’t such a great deal after all, it was cursed.” Beatrice is standing behind the nurse with a sly grin on her face. Wearing the jewelry.