“Beth, I’m telling you, you have to take it.”
“Beth, how long have you known me?”
Beth looked up from the necklace in her hands – her red-knuckled hands that washed too many dishes. Hands that had smoothed brows and touched wrinkled cheeks. Hands that she barely recognized – hands swollen with arthritis, knuckles too big to remove the wedding ring her dead husband had slipped on twenty years before.
They’d been high school sweethearts – sort of. She went to the local girls’ school, Divine Savior Holy Angels, and he to the boys’ school, Marquette. Beth had gone to DS on a scholarship – none of the other girls would have work-worn hands like these, she mused. Then again, times weren’t easy. Perhaps they all had work-worn hands by now.
Roger Gregory – her husband, her love – had not gone to Marquette on a scholarship. But he hadn’t been as lucky in life as his trust fund had thought he would be. Maybe that’s why he had jumped to his death the day the Bear Sterns had collapsed. Regardless, the trust fund was dry and the life insurance was a joke.
Thank heavens for Therese McMurphy.
Beth had gone back into nursing when Roger had passed. Elder care was her specialty. She’d bid farewell to too many patients when Therese called in, looking for a ‘companion,’ as she put it. It was a charming, if old-fashioned notion. Beth agreed immediately.
The pay was good. The company was better. Therese regaled her with tales of her husband: a prospector, gambler, womanizer and spendthrift. She told Beth tales of his children – not hers, of course. She was the second wife. The first had disappeared. So had the gardener.
Beth looked up from the necklace in her hands. “Therese,” she amended, “I can’t take this. It’s their legacy. It’s –“
Therese cackled. Beth loved the sound – so free, so knowing.
“If they can’t figure out what I’ve done with the final piece, then those ungrateful wretches don’t deserve their father’s wealth. It’s not too hard to figure out. Of course, if they come to you for it. . . “
“I’d give it back in a heartbeat,” Beth assured her. “I don’t need anything—“
“Don’t tell them about the pin, Beth. I want you to have that. To remember me by.”
“And where are you going that I need to remember you?”
Therese sighed and moved fretfully in her bed. She hadn’t left it yet today. It had happened before, but Beth fought the rising fear that Therese was getting ready to leave them – leave the children to their machinations and leave the town to their talk.
Beth patted Therese’s hand and stood to leave. “I’ll put them both somewhere safe,” she said. She arranged the necklace in its case. It was Old Tom McMurphy’s first gold nugget. Therese smiled at the idea that a man could still be a prospector – could still strike gold in the jaded technological age. She slipped the case into her coat pocket.
Closing the door on the old manse, Beth Gregory put her hand to her trouser pocket and smiled. The gold nugget was a bit of fun, but the pin was a real prize. The pin she wanted to keep close. Beth wasn’t a religious woman, but the pearl-crusted gothic crucifix had been Therese’s own, gifted to her by her father upon entry into the nunnery, before Old Tom McMurphy had stolen Therese’s virtue and her god.
Beth laughed to herself. Those two had been quite a pair. The kids could have the gold; Beth had the stories, and that was all she wanted.
Her smile lasted all the way home. When the phone rang, she answered it with a grin in her voice.
“Is that you, Little Miss Ballard? Tea? Why of course! How does Saturday sound – not working yet, are you? Good. We’ll see you at the manse at 1. Say hi to your mother for me.”