“My necklace—I can’t find my necklace!”
This sentence, M.T.’s terrible shrill voice echoing off in the air… that was the first thing Kate became aware of after crossing the finish line. Her shirt was sticking uncomfortably to the skin on her back, right between her shoulders blades, as she advanced toward where the rest of her team was huddled. The smile of victory on her face vanished at the somber expression on Jake’s face, the fearful one of Penny, and the absolute terror flashing across the pastor’s pale countenance.
This was far from the welcome she’d expected to receive at the end of their race.
“What’s going on?” Kate asked, jogging up to them.
“My necklace,” M.T. warbled, her hand scratching futilely against her bare collarbone, tears cascading down her cheeks. “I can’t find my necklace!”
“Shh—Mags,” Penny hushed. She had both her arms around M.T.’s quaking shoulders. “Maggie it’s okay.”
“No—!” M.T. ripped herself out of Penny’s embrace, her eyes wild. “I have to find it. I have to—” Maggie made to move forward.
“Stop! Maggie, just stop,” Penny repeated, halting her sister’s mad motions. “Jackson told you to stay put, remember?”
“Keep an eye on her Penny,” he’d warned, adding in no uncertain terms. “And don’t let her get in that water. It’s too dangerous. She’s too upset!”
Kate didn’t know any of this though. Staring blankly ahead, trying to piece together what was unraveling before her that’s when she noticed them—the bodies swarming the sides of the lake, people free diving in and out of the shallow water, combing the sand by the shore and, a little further out, a boat, anchored out in the middle of the lake. Squinting she could make out a few men loaded down with scuba equipment spilling out into the deeper waters.
“I should be out there!” M.T. cried her arms pointing recklessly ahead.
“Jackson’s out there. He’s an experienced diver. So are Mark and John…” Penny was saying in a soothing voice. “If anyone can find your necklace, it’s them. You need to stay here Maggie—you’re no help to anyone in this condition!”
That’s when it all clicked together for Kate. Gasping as the full realization of the situation spelled itself out, she locked eyes with Penny. Maggie had lost her necklace while swimming her portion of the triathlon. Her small, heart-shaped locked was lost somewhere out in the expanse of all that muddy, murky water.
It could be anywhere in there.
“I have to get it back,” M.T. wailed plaintively, her voice thin, quivering.
“And you’re absolutely positive you had it on this morning, before the race started?” Penny asked. Kate could tell by the tone of her voice, it wasn’t the first time she’d presented the question. “You’re one hundred percent sure it’s not at home…on your bedroom dresser or something?”
M.T. made a small gurgling sound. “I’m sure. I never take it off…never!” At the word fresh tears made their way from her eyes.
Kate was stunned. Scared. She’d never seen M.T. so…off balance. So emotional. Her eyes latched on to Penny as if searching for answers but she didn’t find any there. Penny looked just as confused by M.T’s behavior…just as shocked.
In the ensuing minutes, as Penny worked to calm M.T. and managing to only half-succeed in this venture, Kate was able to piece together the rest of the story.
Everything had started out fine. The race had started perfectly, with M.T. stationed right beside Jackson, meeting him stroke for stroke. (Their close proximity throughout would be something of a godsend later, since Jackson remembered their location fairy well, thus narrowing down the search effort.) She’d finished well, close behind him. It was after sending Jake on his way that she realized something was missing.
Panicked, she’d scrubbed frantically at the sandy edge of the lake, hoping, desperate to believe that it had only just fallen off, that it would peek up at her in the glinting sun, nestled against some pebble or driftwood…refusing to believe it had sunk down there…down there in the depths of a formidable watery bottom. When she hadn’t found it, she’d only scrubbed harder. It had to be here. It couldn’t have fallen off anywhere else. It just couldn’t have. Because, if it had—if it had, she’d never see it again.
That’s when Jackson had found her, clambering around on her hands and knees, great hiccups of breath heaving out of her mouth. Through gasping sobs, she’d told him what had happened. And that’s when he’d started up the recovery party….
“I don’t understand,” Kate whispered to Penny some time later, as the girls stood by helplessly, watching, waiting…praying for a hand to rise up out of the wet depths in triumph, a gold chain held in one fist; M.T., quiet now, was huddled on a park bench nearby, just out of earshot. Her eyes were red and puffy, her sobs silent now. “What is it about this necklace? Why is it so important to her?”
Because obviously it was. Someone didn’t react quite so—violently, when it was nothing more than a shiny bauble.
But Penny only shrugged. “I have no idea.”
“I mean, I’ve seen her wear it before…”
“Actually, she wears it all the time, doesn’t she?” Kate said in wonder.
Penny nodded. “I asked her about it once—teased her actually that she needed to expand on her jewelry selection.” The psychic frowned.
“What did she say?”
Penny sighed. “Nothing really. She just smiled and told me something like, ‘with logic like that, women would have to buy new wedding rings every few months!’”
Kate bite her lip. Her eyes zeroed in on the divers out in the distance. “Do you think they’ll find it?”
Penny blew out a hard breath. “No.” Her voice was soft.
Kate felt her own set of tears closing in. “Me neither.”
“But I know Jackson. And I know he won’t give up until he does.”
Kate felt a jerk of pride at the words, especially because they were true. “At least we have that.”
“Yeah,” Penny said.
But by dusk that evening, the necklace still remained a mystery. Most of the search crew—and the curious stragglers who’d stayed for the excitement of it—had long since packed up and gone home, tired and weary from the lack of discovery. Even Jackson had surrendered, finally coming in out of the water.
“I’m so sorry, Pastor Thayer.” Jackson’s voice was soft, earnest as he bent down to where she still sat on that bench.
Maggie’s body jerked. “Thank you for trying Jackson. I appreciate it. I really do.”
“I won’t give up,” he told her cryptically, a tiny muscle in his jaw ticking at the words. “I’ll go back out tomorrow.”
Maggie had tried to smile, but there was no spark of hope or expectations in her eyes; it was eerie, seeing a woman of religion so…disbelieving.
“I’ll go back out tomorrow,” Jackson had repeated. “We’ll try again.” Then, as if sensing that she needed to be alone, he stood back up and quietly left.
“I don’t know what we would have done without him,” Penny said to no one in particular. Kate agreed silently. Jackson had been a lifesaver. And he hadn’t been the only one, either.
Jake had been equally amazing. Not long after Kate had arrived, he’d gone down to the water to help organize the search—setting up markers and buoys, sectioning off parcels of the lake to streamline the hunt, obtaining food and water, towels and equipment. And then he’d gone out into the lake to look himself, still wearing his cycling outfit.
Kate, too, had wanted to race into that cool body of water and take her turn dredging up whatever lay below its surface. She had experience scuba diving. She knew what to do. But one look and M.T.’s crumpled expression, mixed with Penny’s whispered plea: “Please. Stay. She needs us here,” had decided Kate’s fate.
So she’d stayed behind. She’d stayed behind and held Maggie’s hand, she and Penny, huddled around her, sheltering her from the blow of reality. The necklace was gone.
Kate only wished she could have done more. She only wished it had worked.
“It’s time to go home,” Penny was saying now to M.T. But the pastor only shook her head.
“I can’t go. I can’t leave her.”
Kate’s forehead crinkled. Her? But, once again, when she looked at Penny, she found no forthcoming information. The psychic looked just as startled as Kate felt.
“It’s getting dark,” Penny tried to reason. “It’ll be cold soon.”
M.T. shook her head harder. “I can’t go.”
“Then we’ll stay,” Kate said. She looked at Penny for confirmation.
“I’ll get us some blankets,” the older woman returned ruefully.
And that’s how they found themselves, hours later: huddled on that cold bench seat, wrapped in blankets that Penny had somehow acquired, sitting around a small campfire, staring out despondently at the shimmering water before him.
As night descended fully around them, M.T.’s sniffles and occasional wails turned to whimpers and then to nothing at all. Her eyes took on a glassy, numbed expression. No one spoke. It hadn’t seemed right, somehow, filling the air with inane chatter, pretending as though M.T.’s heart wasn’t breaking. So they’d just sat there instead, looking out and watching. Waiting some more.
“Maggie?” Penny said now, breaking the cone of silence which had accompanied their stakeout.
In response, the pastor merely turned her head a little.
“Can you tell us about it? About the necklace?”
M.T.’s mouth pulled down.
But Penny pushed forward anyway. “Who gave it to you? They must be someone special?”
M.T. turned to look back at the lake.
“It’s okay,” Kate said, silently pleading with Penny to shut up. “You don’t have to talk about it.”
Penny’s hand reached out for M.T.’s “No, of course not,” she rushed to say in agreement, back-paddling now. “I apologize. I didn’t mean to pry. I just—,” Penny sighed. It had a watery quality to it. “I’m so sorry you’re hurting.”
And then the girls lapsed into silence once again.
“I don’t know the woman’s name,” M.T. said, her voice ghostly thin. “The woman who gave me the necklace. She was an orderly at the hospital. That’s all I know.”
Penny and Kate shared a look over M.T’s head. This was getting weirder and weirder by the minute.
She said, she said she gave them to all the mothers’ who’d lost a child,” M.T. said. “She said it was her way of reminding them that, even though their babies weren’t meant to live on this earth, they still carried them over their heart.”
Penny’s eyes were hard, wide. “I don’t understan—”
Maggie’s head turned so sharply she almost butted it against Penny’s. “I was going to name her Arabella.” And just as quickly, M.T. turned back to the water. “And she was going to be mine. And for two days, she was.”
Kate’s throat felt scratchy, tight. “Oh Maggie…” she breathed.
Penny. “You had a child?”
“Died.” M.T’s voice was mechanical, cold.
“I-I don’t understand.”
M.T. shrugged. “She was premature.” Then she laughed. “Hell, I was premature.”
Kate wasn’t sure who needed comforting more. Maggie or Penny.
“When?” Penny demanded then, her voice high. “When did you have her?”
M.T. closed her eyes. “When I was eighteen.”
“When you were eighteen?” Penny echoed. “Eighteen? Eighteen!” Penny seemed to be choking on the word. “Is that why…?”
“You never told me—you never told me!” Penny’s voice broke over the words. Kate winced.
M.T.’s voice was the same. Detached. Clinical. “Dad had just died and I, I went a little crazy. Drinking and partying and…and then I got pregnant.”
Penny couldn’t seem to find any words.
“Your mother and I, we weren’t close,” M.T. said, but there was no accusation in her voice. “I couldn’t go to her. I couldn’t tell her. I was so lost Penny, you have to understand that!” M.T. pleaded, just a hint of emotion finally breaking through her self-imposed monotone. “I was confused and scared and I did what so many scared, confused kids do. I left. I just…ran.”
“Oh Maggie!” Penny wept loudly. “I’m so sorry! All those years I hated you and I never knew. I never knew! You must have felt so alone—”
And M.T. cried. Her shoulders hunching in her pain, she cried all over again. “I wanted to come home after…after everything happened but I didn’t know how. I—I didn’t know where home was anymore. Without dad. Without Arabella. I was angry and hurt and I—I just wanted her so bad! I wanted to be her mom. She was my home, and she was gone!”
Kate, her arms wrapped tightly around M.T’s shaking form, kissed the pastor on the side of ash blonde hair. “Shhh! It’s okay…it’s okay…”
“I didn’t want to share her,” M.T. said, her words becoming as jumbled as her thoughts. “What little time I got to spend holding her, kissing her…even the memory of it, I didn’t want to share that with anyone. And when I put that necklace on, I felt her—”M.T. jabbed a finger against her heart. “Here. With me. And I couldn’t…I couldn’t leave her. And I couldn’t talk about her.”
Penny’s voice was thick. “So you stayed away.”
“I stayed away. Started a new life. The one I should have had with her.”
“I wish could have met her,” Penny said tentatively. “I would have loved her.”
“Oh, I wish for that too!”
Penny swallowed hard, a new resolve in her eyes when she said: “We’ll find that necklace, Maggie.”
“Oh Penny,” Maggie sobbed hard. “No, we won’t.”
And a week later it seemed like Maggie was right. Jackson had gone diving every day that week looking for Maggie’s locket, and each evening he’d come up empty-handed. A few other swimmers in the community had offered to pitch in but after a couple days of fruitless searching, one by one they’d given up the fight.
“I don’t know how much longer Jackson can hold out hope,” Penny said to Kate one afternoon, while the girls were out shopping.
“Do you think he knows?” Kate asked. She’d wondered about it a couple of times, how Jackson had seemed to grasp, without being told, just how valuable that necklace was to M.T. He had to know, otherwise he wouldn’t still be out there, as he was right now, on a Saturday afternoon, for the fifth day in a row, with the last scuba buddy he could get to accompany him, looking, looking, looking! Everyone else had called it for what it was: a lost cause. She could have lost the necklace anywhere. The lake was too big, the necklace too small.
But Jackson wasn’t giving up.
“I doubt it,” Penny said, her face pressed up against a glass display case. “I can’t imagine M.T. telling him. It’s not like they’re super close.”
That was true enough. Besides which, Kate had the strong impression M.T. had never told anyone about Arabella. Not before that night, anyway. Not beside Kate and Penny. Even after all those years, the pain had been too fresh, too rich….
“But…well, Jackson lost Emily’s gardening spade soon after she died,” Penny said nex to surprise Kate. “I’m not sure if I ever told you, but she had the most beautiful flower beds.”
“You did actually,” Kate remembered quietly.
“Anyway,” Penny waved her hand, her eyes peering down at the items on the velvet-covered racks. “Jackson was distraught. I’d never seen him like that before—he went crazy looking for that stupid thing. It took us two days of going through that entire house before I found it in a box of her clothes, tucked away in the attic. Probably some family friend had stashed it away in there hoping to spare him the pain of seeing it.”
Kate listened raptly. This was a side of Jackson she was both terrified of and deeply curious to know more about.
“When I gave it to Jackson he took it and hung it back up on the rack in their mudroom. That was it. He just wanted to put it back where she would have left it. He was frantic for days, couldn’t sleep, couldn’t eat…and the whole time, all he wanted was to put it back on the wall in its rightful place.”
“Because he felt closer to her that way,” Kate said, remembering what M.T. had said.
Penny nodded. “He’s never used it that I’ve noticed. I bet it’s still resting there.”
Kate digested this slowly. “So he knows, he just doesn’t know.”
Kate sighed, her eyes turning to take in the store surround them. Wall-to-wall cabinets and display cases. “And what is it we’re looking for again?”
“We’ll know when we find it.”
“Because I don’t think—”
“There!” Penny squealed, her fingers pointing down through the glass. “There!”
Kate peered closer. “Which one?”
“On the right. Third row. The right, Kate, the right!”
Kate smiled when she saw it.
“And you’re sure about this?” Kate asked as the sales woman bundled up their package five minutes later. “Maggie won’t be upset?”
“I was an aunt, Kate. Aunt’s get to spoil their nieces.” Kate’s eyes traveled back to the jewelry box, inside which lay a gold-plated heart, an almost exact replica of the one M.T. used to wear. Only this time the inscription was different.