THE ORACLE’S RING
“What do you mean she gets the ring?” David Jearl’s voice was sharp with annoyance as he grilled the lawyer. “Abigail was my aunt. I don’t even know this…,” he waved his hand at the woman seated to his left and continued, “…person!” He glared at the stranger next to him through narrowed, suspicious eyes. “A gold digger, no doubt!”
The gray-haired lawyer stared in amazement, unable to fathom what was causing this extremely uncharacteristic outburst from his longtime friend and client. David had always conducted himself politely and professionally his entire life. How strange! He cleared his throat, uncertain how to proceed.
The woman in question crossed her legs under the flowing tie-dyed dress and smiled pleasantly at the lawyer. Darned if she were going to act like an idiot as well.
“Mr. Harvey.” Her voice was smooth silk. “I’d only known Miss Abigail for a few months, but we became friends in that short time.” She examined her short manicured nails before continuing. “I have no need for Miss Abigail’s money, nor her jewelry, which she already knew, so I’ve no idea why I’m here.”
Sara Bower tucked a lock of honey blonde hair behind one ear before waving a hand at the irate man beside her in a clear imitation of his earlier action. “If he wants his auntie’s ring, let him have it.” The comment elicited a deep growl, much to her amusement.
Mr. Harvey cleared his throat again, uncomfortable about being caught in the middle. “Well, now, that’s not up to me, Miss Bower. Miss Abigail left clear instructions that you were to get the ring, and the envelope. No money,” he hastened to both inform her and reassure David, who looked like he would burst into flames at any second. “Just the ring and the envelope.” His voice firmed. “Miss Abigail had strong feelings in this regard.”
He turned his complete attention to the young woman. “She foresaw the reaction both of you have exhibited, and asked me to request that you read the letter in the envelope before making your decision. She asked me to tell you,” and he looked at her, puzzled, “that the chain would be broken if you didn’t comply?”
The question, in both phrasing and tone of voice, indicated his uncertainty in this deviation from normal protocol.
Sara frowned. “Really?” She took the envelope the lawyer offered her, then rose to step to the window, for privacy as well as to get away from the fuming nephew.
She rested a colorfully clad hip on the windowsill as she slit the envelope with a finger and pulled out sheets of velum. Smiling, she caressed the soapy textured paper, recalling Abigail’s love of the old-fashioned. She opened the first sheet and started reading Abigail’s elegant writing.
My dear Sara
Since you are reading this letter, I must be gone. I have always thought that to be a silly, contrived line from a movie, yet I find myself using it now.
Sara snorted quietly at that idiosyncratic comment, then continued reading.
You brought me great joy with your daily visits and companionship, and did not treat me like a sick, frail old lady with no mind of her own, unlike some people related to me.
She smiled at the aimed shot, resisting the urge to glance over at David, who had gotten up to lean against the glass-door bookcase, still glaring at her.
I know better than to leave you any money with my passing. Since you have grown very dear to me in the short period we were allowed to know each other, I have decided to give you my most treasured belonging.
This worn old ring has been passed from mother to daughter for over a thousand years. Legend has it that the relationship does not have to be by blood but a bond between the giver and the recipient.
My husband and I were childless, but in the past few months you have become the daughter of my heart. Please take the ring and use it as it was intended.
Use it? What an odd term. She frowned, not noting the lawyer’s approach until he was beside her, a small wooden casket in his hands. He handed it to her, and she couldn’t help but admire the antique box and it’s intricately inlaid designs before removing the lid.
The late morning sunlight streaming through the window highlighted the ancient ring that dangled from the slim gold chain as Sara pulled it slowly from the box.
Clearly old, it was a simple circle of metal, whatever etching or engraving worn off ages ago. No gems, jewels, or items of value were embedded. Yet, Miss Abigail had called it her most treasured belonging.
“I believe I’ve changed my mind,” she said, her words thoughtfully measured out. “I will keep this ring after all, if only to honor Miss Abigale’s request.” She slipped the chain over her head, flipping her hair out from underneath.
Sara fingered the ring for a moment, puzzling over the gentle warmth of the metal when it should be cool to the touch. With a shrug she let it fall from her fingers.
Across the room David was trying to tame his anger, most of which was aimed at himself. Loss of your last living relative could stir things up, but he wasn’t sure why he would take it out on a perfect stranger.
He sighed as he gazed at the woman in question. Then he just stared. The sunlight cast a halo about the woman intently reading the letter from his aunt. He finally remembered to breathe when she took the casket from Mr. Harvey.
David’s dark eyes watched as the ring settled cozily against her skin just above her cleavage. Then he blinked. He knew the ring was plain, yet it seemed to sparkle at him as if encrusted in tiny diamonds.
He blinked again before looking up into Sara’s mocking eyes. Oh, great. Now she thought him a pervert as well as a greedy relative of the deceased. He scowled at her, crossing his arms mulishly.
Sara held back a threatening grin over how easily she could antagonize David. Abigail had loved him dearly, but described him as a stuffed shirt. She looked back at the lawyer.
“Am I finished here now?”
The aged lawyer moved back to the desk and pulled a sheet of paper towards him, picking up a pen and marking a tiny ‘x’ on a line at the bottom. “You just need to sign your receipt of the gift.” He waited as Sarah signed her name with bold strokes, then placed the paper on top of the folder holding Miss Abigail’s will with a sigh.
“One last thing.” Mr. Harvey spoke as he gently led Sara towards the hall door. “I’m told there’s another note, in the box, which you should read in private. It’s for you and the one to whom you pass the ring down.” He held out his hand, surprised when she shook it with a firm grip.
Sara stepped back as he opened the door, then turned back to face David.
“You don’t know me, but your aunt spoke often of you. You were her favorite nephew.”
His facial expression was now bland, but he still gave the impression that he was still frowning.
“I was her only nephew.”
The scowl reappeared as the exasperating woman simply shrugged and smiled again before stepping through the doorway, her dress gaily swirling around her long legs before she disappeared from view.
Mr. Harvey shut the door and turned towards David. “David,” he said sternly. “I do not understand your animosity towards that young woman.”
His uncharacteristic sharp tone stung David. He had the grace to look sheepish. “Neither do I.” He paused, thinking. “I guess that I was used to being the main thing in Aunt Abigale’s life. To discover that a complete stranger to me was also held in high regard has come as a shock.”
Mr. Harvey did not back down. “I have never known you to be so rude to anyone. That young woman did nothing to earn your animosity.” He stepped towards David, laying a hand on his shoulder.
“I believe you owe Miss Bower an apology.”
David looked into the eyes of a concerned old family friend, not his aunt’s lawyer, and gave a wry smile.
“Mr. Harvey, I believe you are correct.”
* * *
Sara pulled into her driveway and parked. She shut off the engine and just sat there, sorrow washing over her in gentle waves as she looked at the house across the street through the rear-view mirror.
She honestly missed the elderly lady and their daily visits together. She had met Miss Abigail when she had noticed the figure in the window across the street as she was planting flowers in the window boxes of her rental. Sara had gone over and introduced herself, offering to plant flowers in the empty planters that flanked the driveway.
Ever since that meeting, she had gone over every day, ostensibly to check on the elderly woman, but mostly because they enjoyed each other’s company. Now Abigale was gone, their routine broken.
She wiped away a tear and opened the car door, snagging her purse over her shoulder and tightly clutching the wooden casket under an arm. She paused to check the mail before unlocking the door.
Her mind was on automatic as she walked through the house to the kitchen, placing the wooden casket on a counter before sorting the mail, a delaying action at best. In Mr. Harvey’s office she had managed to be calm and cool, but here in the privacy of her own home she was feeling the loss of a dear friend.
She sniffled, unable to see through her tears and made it to a kitchen chair before she collapsed. She fingered the ring hanging from her neck as tears cascaded down her cheeks. Then an amazing thing happened.
A feeling of peace stole over her as she held the ring in her hand. She looked down at the simple circle. Unable to tell what metal it was made of, she simply spun it around and around on the chain.
The ring seemed to sparkle, even in the relative darkness of the unlit kitchen. Sara swore it glittered as if covered in diamonds. She stood and walked out the kitchen door to the little wooden deck in the back yard, keeping her eyes on the ring. It never changed going from the dark kitchen to the sunny deck, continuing to dazzle as if coated in precious gems.
Way cool, she thought as she blinked, trying to get the blinding sparks out of her vision. When she opened her eyes again, the ring was just a thin metal band, slowly twisting on the chain she held in her hand.
She blinked again, this time in confusion. That was just too weird. She shook her head, deciding that low sugar was causing her eyes to act up. She let the ring fall back down where it rested warmly against her skin and walked back into the kitchen to start dinner.
She set to work making chicken and fried rice, chopping bell peppers and onions. The onions were sautéing when the doorbell rang. At the front door she found herself almost eyeball to eyeball with David, a bouquet of flowers in hand.
“What do you want?” she demanded with a sniffle. The look of growing alarm on David’s face made her smile reluctantly.
“Don’t worry. It’s the onions, not depression.”
“Oh.” David remembered the bouquet and pressed it towards Sara abruptly. “I, uh, got these for you.”
“Really? It’s not my birthday.”
David rolled his eyes. “Because I felt I owed you an apology over my actions this morning.”
When she merely raised an eyebrow he realized she was actually waiting for the words and cleared his throat.
“Would you care to accept an invitation for dinner as an apology for my terrible lack of manners earlier today?”
Sara’s smile turned into a grin. “Nicely put. Because you show such signs of improvement, I accept your apology. However, I can’t accept your dinner invitation as I have dinner almost done.” She watched a small frown grow on the handsome face and relented, stepping back from the doorway and waving him in.
“Since you’re here, and dinner is almost ready, would you care to accept a dinner invitation from me?”
David paused for just a moment, then stepped forward, nodding his head. “Thank you. That would be lovely. I’ll still owe you a dinner date, however.”
“Of course. I’ll just take a rain check.” Sara bit her tongue as she tried to hold the laughter back.
David quirked an eyebrow at her as she shut the door and turned to face him. “Go ahead. Let it out before you burst.” The sardonic tone was all Sara needed. David watched her a moment before letting himself smile. “Yeah, I thought that was lurking in there somewhere.”
Sara headed back towards the kitchen. “How did you know?”
“You have the same sense of humor as Aunt Abigail. Of course you wanted to laugh.” He followed her into the kitchen, watching as she lifted the lid from a steaming pan and give the contents a quick stir.
“Smells great. What are you making?”
“If you’ll set the table, I’ll let you join me in a wonderful meal of fried rice and chicken.” Sara added a dash of sesame oil, then taste-tested it.
“Oh, yeah. It’s done.”
With that warning David moved quickly to pull two dishes from the cabinet Sara gestured at, then scoped out the drawers, smiling when he pulled the silverware out on his first try. He quickly set the little table in the breakfast nook, then paused, awaiting further instructions.
Sara handed him some folded napkins. “You have a choice of water, Pepsi, or water. Oh, I think there might be a wine cooler in the fridge, but I can’t remember when I got it. I can, however, guarantee the water and Pepsi.”
“Uh huh.” David pulled two glasses from another overhead cabinet and handed them to her. “If it’s that old, I’ll go with the water, thanks.”
“Wise choice.” She filled both glasses with ice water, then let David set them on the table as she scooped the contents of the pan into a serving dish. David carried the dish to the table, sniffing deeply.
“If that tastes half as good as it smells, I’m a lucky man.”
Sara laughed as she slid onto the nook bench across from David and picked up her fork. “Thanks for the compliment. I also make a mean roast, and if you find me a place that serves the world’s best steak, I might make a roast for you in trade.”
David eyed her. “It’s a deal.”
They saluted each other with their water glasses and started eating in companionable silence. David had a second helping at Sara’s urging before pushing back from the table.
“That has to be the best meal I’ve had in ages.”
Sara smiled. “I always feel good when someone appreciates my cooking. Thank you for the compliment.” She started to stand but David reached for her hand and tugged her back down.
“Now. You provided the meal, so it’s only fair that dessert is on me, if you don’t mind going out for a little while.” He patted his lean stomach gently. “It’s the least I can do.”
“Okay. Where to?”
“How do you feel about the Cold Stone Creamery?”
“Ooh,” Sara sighed. “I feel warm and fuzzy all over.” She grinned at the man across from her. “I suddenly found lots of room for dessert!”
David found himself returning the grin. “Yeah, so did I.”
* * *
When they got back from the popular ice cream parlor, David walked her to the front door. Sara unlocked the door, then turned to face him. To his credit, he wasn’t crowding her, but stood calmly, hands in his pockets.
“Would you like to come in?” she asked, suddenly unsure if she really wanted him to say yes, or say no.
He slowly shook his head, and the smile on his face made her knees feel weak. “No, I don’t believe I should. I think you’ve had about as much of me as you could handle for one day. But,” his eyebrow raised, and the sex appeal he had been exuding all afternoon started getting stronger, “if it’s alright with you, I’ll call you later.”
“Sure. Fine.” Sara’s voice sounded as weak as her knees felt. “Um. I’ll see you later.”
As she started to turn, he took her hand, freezing her in place. He raised her hand to his lips, and she became aware of a burning sensation where Miss Abigale’s ring rested against her skin.
David’s eyes looked calmly into hers as his lips brushed her skin. She held her breath until he released her hand and turned away, strolling towards his car. My, he had a nice….
She exhaled with a whoosh, then hurried into the house before he got into his car. She didn’t want him to catch her staring at him like a teenager or something. But then she blew it by hurrying to the living room and peeking around the side of the window.
David’s little wave told her she had, indeed, been caught acting like a teenage girl.
She dropped the curtain with a pout. The burning sensation from the ring was easing, and that made her frown, suddenly remembering that the lawyer had said something about another letter still in the little casket.
Sara strode back to the kitchen where the casket was still sitting on the counter. She picked it up, carrying it over to the little breakfast nook table and placing it gently in front of her as she sat down.
Flipping the lid up, she leaned forward to look inside. There was nothing there but the bottom of the box. Mentally pushing disappointment aside, she gently ran a fingernail around the bottom edge. A corner lifted, and she held her breath as she carefully prized the false bottom out to reveal another sheet of vellum.
This time she exhaled slowly, pulling the vellum out and unfolding it carefully. The familiar delicate writing brought on fresh tears, and she grabbed a handy tea towel, sniffling as she dried her eyes on the soft terry cloth. She continued to blot her eyes as she read.
My dear Sara
By now I am sure you are wondering what is so special about the dull metal ring I have bequeathed you. Maybe you have already discovered some of its unique properties. Let me tell you a story that has been passed down through millennium.
According to legend this ring dates back to the Oracle of Delphi, over two thousand years. A young girl went to the Oracle of Delphi to seek guidance, unhappy over her father’s choice of husband for her. She found the temple strangely deserted but for the Oracle, who had known she was coming and sent everyone away.
The Oracle ordered the girl closer, peering at her from a veil of volcanic fumes and burning herbs and drugs. Her eyes, set in a face that was smoke-seamed and wrinkled, frightened the girl, but she stepped closer despite the fear.
The Oracle inhaled deeply of the fumes surrounding her, then jerked forward as if on puppet strings with an inexperienced operator. The bony fingers of one hand slowly uncurled to offer a ring to the girl still frozen at the edge of the dais.
The Oracle commanded the girl to take the ring, and the girl, shaking in fear, reached out. When her fingers made contact with the ring, the Oracle’s fingers snapped shut, clamping the girl’s hand in an unbreakable grip.
The Oracle’s eyes rolled up, and her voice took on a new power as she spoke:
“The man you wed is not of your choosing
But the one you seek is not for you.
Upon the face of love’s true love,
What you seek you will find with this ring.
From generation to generation, whomever the wearer be,
They will find love till eternity.”
The Oracle released the girl’s hand and fell back into the sling, and dismissed the girl, who ran as if chased by demons.
This young woman, this girl whose name is lost to us, was the beginning. You, my dear Sara, are the continuation. Wear this ring, and it will guide you past all the shallow frivolities to the meaningful relationship for which you are destined.
Know that you are, indeed, the daughter of my heart. I love you.
Sara sat back and gazed at the letter in disbelief. Surely Miss Abigale wasn’t serious. She refolded the letter and placed it back in the secret compartment then slipped the chain and ring from round her neck. As she held it in front of her eyes, she studied it carefully. Did she really believe in magic? Possibly. Would she follow the commands of a so-called magical inanimate object? Uh, no.
Sara lifted the chain, replacing it around her neck as she rolled her eyes at her thoughts. As the ring settled cool against her skin, she felt remarkably calm. If she were to believe everything she had just read and experienced, the ring had already picked out her husband. David.
Not that she, a woman with free will, needed help. Too bad most of her dates had been men who thought dating to be a game. The dates who survived to the 2nd date never made it to a third.
Maybe she set her sights too high. She pondered that thought a moment, then shook her head. No. Either there was a man out there for her, or there wasn’t.
There was something about David that made her willing to give him a second chance. Did going to the ice cream parlor count as a first date? They had only gone because she hadn’t had any dessert made for dinner. A dinner she hadn’t planned on sharing. Did the impromptu invitation to David count as a date? And why was an official count even important? Crap.
Well, if she did end up marrying David, then it wouldn’t be because of a magic ring. It would be love, plain and simple. Some say that love alone is a very strong magic.
So far David already stood out of all previous contenders. She’d have to see if he’d go the distance; if they actually had something.
The knock at her door jolted her, and she hurried through the living room, glimpsing a delivery van for a nearby florist through the window. A pleasant young woman greeted her at the door, holding a clipboard and a box covered with tissue paper.
“You must be pretty special,” she commented as Sara signed for the delivery.
“Because some guy just came into the shop and said he’d pay a hundred dollars if we could deliver this to you within the hour.”
The delivery girl deftly exchanged the clipboard for the box. “Oh yeah. He said you were worth every penny. That there was something almost magical about you.” She gave a laugh. “Then he got all embarrassed. Sure is cute. Think you might have a keeper.” With a jaunty wave she turned and headed back to the delivery van.
Sara ran back to the kitchen and set the box down. She tore the tissue, throwing it to the floor in her haste, then carefully lifted a tiny rose bush and oversized teacup from the box and set it on the table.
The card read, “Thank you for the second chance. David.”
Sara sighed. Maybe there was magic in the world after all.