“I’m so sorry to hear that, sugar plum.”
Over breakfast the next morning, Odette told Elliott about her confrontation with Mayor Ravenhart. He listened carefully, offering his advice here and there.
“I just can’t believe they’d do that!” Odette said indignantly, stabbing her french toast. “I mean, that building has been abandoned since I was little. So why do they want it now?”
Elliott sighed. “Because if those kids get too smart, they’ll want to leave and find a better place to live. There’s no way they could go if they were illiterate, which most of my generation is.”
“But you’re not,” Odette pointed out.
“No, I’m not. And that’s dangerous. Look at Sabine’s family – they travel all over the globe. They won’t stay in town forever.”
“So what am I supposed to do? If I set up a new place, they’ll just come for that one too.”
Elliott shook his head in dismay. “I won’t tell you to give up, because that’s not who I am and that’s not what I want for you.” He reached across the table and patted his daughter’s hand. “But I don’t know what else to say.”
“Mom would know,” Odette said softly.
Elliott nodded. “You’re right. She would.”
Odette looked down at her plate and pushed around a lone blueberry.
“You’re so much like her, you know,” Elliott said. “Smart and stubborn and strong.”
“I don’t feel like it,” Odette huffed.
“Well, you are. And I know you’ll come up with the answer.”
Odette’s hand went instinctively to the locket around her neck. Her mother’s, given to Odette on her sixteenth birthday, and also on the day her mother died. It held a small photo in the center, one of a beautiful blonde holding a small baby, smiling with both exhaustion and pride. Though Odette and her father had fallen on hard times often, neither could stomach the thought of pawning off the heirloom.
“I’m going to go into town,” Odette said vaguely. She placed her plate in the sink and came back to the table to give her father a kiss.
“Stay safe,” he ordered. “And Odette?”
Odette turned and leaned on the door frame. “Yes, papa?”
“I’ll be at the bakery all day, so you know where to find me.”
Outside of Jackie and Emiliano’s shop, Odette took a deep breath. She unclasped the locket and stared at the picture inside, the only one that existed of both her and her mother. With a delicate hand, she worked the picture out of it’s place in the locket and tucked it into her pocket.
The moment Odette walked in, she was bombarded by the couple.
“Welcome, welcome!” Emiliano crowed. “Welcome to the Diamond Dungeon, your one-stop-shop for all things holistic and healing!”
Jackie rolled her eyes. “Welcome, Miss Champagne. So lovely to see you again.”
Odette bowed her head. “You as well.”
“To what do we owe the pleasure?” Emiliano asked, walking to stand beside the young lady.
Odette turned to Jackie. “I want…to pawn something.”
Jackie’s eyes widened marginally. “Really?”
A lecherous smile stretched across Emiliano’s face. “Ah, and what would that be?”
“Em,” Jackie said in warning.
“Perhaps yourself?” He winked, looking her over.
“Out!” Jackie ordered, pointing at the door.
“Babe, I was just j-”
Emiliano rolled his eyes and stormed off, flinging his hat to the floor.
“I’m so sorry about that,” Jackie said earnestly. “I have no excuse to defend him.”
“Then why keep him around?” Odette asked, feeling a bubble of curiosity form.
Jackie shrugged. “I have my reasons. Now, what’s your reason for coming to pawn off your locket?”
Odette gasped. “How did you know it’s my locket I want to pawn?”
Jackie tapped a finger on her temple. “You underestimate me, Miss Champagne. But it has much sentimental value, does it not?”
Odette grasped the necklace and inhaled deeply. “It was my mother’s.”
“And you want to pawn it off to make enough money to buy the building so that horrid Levesque woman doesn’t, yes?”
This time, Odette crossed her arms. “You can tell that, too?”
Jackie laughed. “Stars, no. Small town, lots of gossip.”
Odette laughed alongside her as Jackie moved to a bookcase.
“I think I have something to help you.”
Without another word, Jackie pulled a book halfway off the shelf. The entire thing swung backwards, revealing a dark room. Jackie gestured Odette forward.
“What is this?” Odette asked, looking around at the dark walls.
“A very special place, housing a very special item.” She said vaguely.
And then, Odette saw it. In a large glass display, a ring glittered.
“This is an aquamarine crystal embedded in gold,” Jackie explained.
“I thought aquamarines were blue.”
“Not all,” Jackie said. “This one is practically white, but aquamarine has many variations. I want you to have it.”
“Oh no,” Odette said, backing up. “I couldn’t.”
“You can, and you will. I see something very special in you, Odette. But you are about to embark upon a journey unlike any other, and this will help you. I won’t go into the meaning of the stone, but believe me when I say it will help you in unimaginable ways.”
“This is too vague, even for me.” Odette said. “And I couldn’t pay you.”
Jackie laughed with no humor. “Oh my dear, this stone has been waiting for you, and only you. No one else can touch it, not even me.”
“I have no money,” Odette repeated.
“This isn’t about money,” Jackie said earnestly. “This is about yourself, and your path. Truly I say to you, trust yourself and trust your path, for it is the destiny etched upon your heart.”
A calm silence settled over the two women. Jackie jutted her chin toward the shelf, urging Odette toward it. She stepped forward and stared at the ring, watching her breath cloud the glass. Then, with a delicate hand, Odette reached forward. The glass shimmered and sparkled, blindingly bright. Her hand passed smoothly through it, as if no glass was there at all. The only indication was a faint cooling sensation on her hand as she reached in and touched the ring. Jackie watched in awe as Odette removed the ring and slipped it on her finger.
“Oh my stars,” Jackie mumbled.
Then, all at once, the room shifted back to normal. The glass became simple glass, and the light faded back to a low din. The only indication of something…different, was the mischievous glint the ring had.
Jackie opened the door, letting the daylight stream in. Odette flung a hand up to her eyes, shielding herself from the assault of light.
“Now go on,” Jackie said, leading Odette to the front door. “And tell no one.”
Then, in a flash, Odette was out in front of the store with the door shut firmly behind her. She looked down at her hand, half-expecting to not see a ring at all. Perhaps it was the heat making her delusional.
But no – the ring was there, glittering magnificently in the light.
Odette shook her head and went to see her father at the bakery. It was a beautiful piece of jewelry – no doubt – but it didn’t answer her question about what to do next. Perhaps her father could shed some light on the matter. A second perspective always helped, after all.
When Odette reached for the handle of the bakery, she found the door locked. Her eyes narrowed as she jiggled the knob, wondering if it was just stuck again. After no movement, Odette retrieved the spare key from the flower box in the window and unlocked the door.
“Papa?” She called, looking around. It was eerily empty, no sounds of kettles boiling or the oven hard at work.
And most alarmingly, there was no scent of fresh bread.
Odette continued to search, first in the seating area and then the kitchen.
She was about to go home and search there when an envelope caught her eye. A familiar scrawl of her name was on the front, so she hastily picked the envelope up and tore it.
You’re right, my sugar plum. Your mother would know what to do, and it’s time you know the truth. She never died – she disappeared. I didn’t want you to know so you wouldn’t think she abandoned us. To this day, I believe she is out there, waiting for us to find her.
And today, I will.
Please don’t worry. If I don’t come home, don’t come searching. Live your life, sell the house and the bakery, buy the school. Or leave. I leave your life in your hands, as it should have been from the very beginning.
With great regret and love,