Julia struggled as she pushed the old desk out from its corner in the spare room. She knew when she bought the house that it had been vacant awhile, and she was excited to have a “fixer-upper,” as her real estate agent called it. Even so, she felt unprepared for how long it was taking. She’d restored every hardwood floor in the Victorian house except this one.
As she started to sweep where the desk had been, she saw something in the dust pile catch the light. She kneeled down and cautiously sifted through the filth. A wrinkled old grocery list, a few buttons…then, her fingers touched something cool and hard. It was a beautiful bracelet. She picked it up and decided that if it was real, then it was sapphires set in white gold. She’d never held such an elegant piece of jewelry. She set it aside and quickly finished her sweeping, looking through the contents of the dustpan one more time. More buttons, a pen, and a crumpled card. Curious, she unfolded it and read, “I was struck by the beauty of this bracelet, but it does not even hold a candle to you. Please forgive me, love. I’m yours forever. ST.”
Julia looked again at the bracelet. Maybe she could get some of the dirt off it with dish soap and water. She prepared the water and gently wiped at it with a cloth rag. While it was drying, she wondered what she should do with it. Would it be wrong to keep it? It was in her house, after all. Or should she try to find out who could have left it behind? She needed to take Mrs. Hukala a magazine anyway. She gathered her things and walked toward the small house across the street. Mrs. Hukala had the door open before Julia could even knock.
“Come in, dear. Oh, a new magazine? You spoil me. Come on in. I’ll make you a coffee.”
Julia sat down at Mrs. Hukala’s kitchen table. “Thank you. I was hoping I could trouble you for some gossip.”
“Always. You know I’m a nosy old lady.”
Julia smiled. “Can you tell me anything about the people who lived at my house before me?”
Mrs. Hukala poured the dark, steaming coffee in a flowered mug. “It was vacant for a long time before Dennis put it on the market. He decided he was too old to be a landlord, but I think he was tired of trying to find good tenants.”
“Did Dennis live there?”
“Many years ago when he was the janitor at the Oakwood school. Quiet man, and a good neighbor, too. He started renting it when he retired. Let’s see if this old woman can remember.” Mrs. Hukala set the mug in front of Julia and sat down. “The one couple who always mowed their lawn early in the morning. Was it the Dawsons? No, the Galsons. Yes, they were the first tenants. He enlisted in the service and died some years back. His poor wife was heartbroken. Moved closer to sister in Oklahoma, I think. Or was it Ohio? Oh, I guess it doesn’t matter.”
“Oh, that’s sad.”
“Yes,” Mrs. Hukala said, “It was a shame. I think after that there was the Bakers. Oh, they left that place a mess. Dennis was so upset. He wasn’t sure that he’d ever rent again.” She sipped her coffee and thought a moment. “I guess the last tenant he had was Jillian. Pretty thing, with hair I’d have died for. Black curls, and blue eyes, too. Every man in town was a little taken by her.”
Finally. “She must’ve been really popular.”
“She was. She was so charming, and she could dance all night. But those boys never stood a chance. I don’t know how you young folks say this, but she went the other way, I guess you could say. Oh, we never used to talk about things like that. We always knew when that was the case but never discussed it. Your generation is more accepting, I think, more open. It’s nice to be open.” Mrs. Hukala sipped her tea.
Julia smiled. “Was she married?”
“Not when she lived here. There was another woman who lived with her for a long time, blunt short little woman named Suzy. You didn’t want to cross her, no, no. When she was mad, her eyes would do this thing—it’s hard to describe—they got this look in them, and you knew for a second that she was crazy, and you were scared for your life. She loved Jillian, that was clear. She’d have done anything for that girl.”
“Suzy?” Could that be the S in S.T.?
“Yes, let’s see. Suzy Tavis,” she replied. “Couple people in town weren’t thrilled about them, scoundrels who got away with almost anything because they had rank and roots here. Honestly, I don’t think it was about them being together as much as it was hurt egos because Jillian wouldn’t give them a second glance. They started harassing Jillian and Suzy. At first it was little things, but one night, Jason Browning threw a brick through Jillian’s window.”
“Oh, gosh. Was anyone hurt?”
“No, thankfully, but Jillian was shaken up. Suzy made sure all those guys knew that if they ever pulled a stunt like that again, she’d make sure they paid.” Mrs. Hukala sipped her coffee and sighed. “Most people knew to take Suzy at her word, but not Jason. He bragged about how he was going to teach her a lesson. Awful man. I know it’s wrong to speak bad of the dead, but he was horrible. He took his gun one night and started shooting at Jillian’s windows. Of course, we were all terrified, calling the police while ducked down on the floor. Eventually it stopped, but I could still hear Jillian screaming.
“Later we found out that Suzy snuck around the back of the house and ended it once and for all. She didn’t go to prison—are you from here originally? We have self-defense laws, and Suzy had a real good lawyer. Anyway, things were never the same between her and Jillian again. I think she was a little scared of Suzy. I remember I woke up one night and Suzy was shouting that she was done, that she’d been trying to protect Jillian. We didn’t see Suzy for awhile after that, and Jillian stayed another year or so here. It was too hard on her, though, so she moved to the city and got married to some musician with a neck tattoo.” Mrs. Hukala shuddered. “I hate tattoos like that.”
“That’s such a sad story. I had no idea there was so much history to my home.” Remembering the bracelet, Julia asked, “Did Suzy ever come back around?”
“Yes, dear, and it hurt Jillian so. She was deeply unhappy after that but said there was no way she could be with Suzy again. After Jillian moved, Suzy started seeing this woman…oh, I can’t remember her name now. They lived together in a little house off Second before they got into that awful crash. Killed them both instantly.”
“Mrs. Hukala, that’s terrible! It’s too much grief, too much death.”
“It was difficult, that’s for sure. The last time we saw Jillian was at the funeral. You know where the little cemetery is out past the park? That’s where Suzy was buried, right next to her grandparents. They were some interesting people, her grandparents. Owned a ranch outside—” The bleat of a car horn cut her off. “That’ll be my daughter to take me grocery shopping. Do you need anything, dear?”
“No, thanks, I’m fine. Thank you, Mrs. Hukala.”
“Come back anytime. You know how much this old lady likes to talk about days gone by. It makes me feel young.”
Julia felt like she was in a daze as she walked home. She grabbed the bracelet and jumped in her car, not realizing where she was going until she pulled into a small store’s parking lot. She bought some flowers and continued until she found the cemetery Mrs. Hukala told her about. She was right when she’d said it was little. Julia scanned the names on the gravestones until she found the one she was looking for.
She knew it was a cliché but felt like it was the right thing to do. She crouched down in front of the bare grave and laid the flowers on it. Julia looked at the bracelet one last time before she twisted it around the flower stems.
“I think this is yours,” she said. “I’ll never look at my front window the same way again.” She lingered for a moment before leaving the cemetery, leaving the bracelet with its rightful owner.