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The Silver Necklace
A Short Story
The word meant so much more than I ever thought it would. It stung, leaving a small aching welt on my already tattered heart, and I wondered vaguely how long it would take for the swelling to go down. If it ever would.
I looked back over my shoulder at the car. The rusty, old Chevrolet pickup that idled in the street just behind me brought back memories that just added to the pain. I felt tears welling up, but I made no move to dash them away as I looked at the young man seated behind the wheel of that pickup. He would do anything for me; I knew that for certain. I let a single tear trail down my cheek, and after a moment, another followed. He deserved these tears. And I knew, as I reached around my neck and felt the small silver chain and pendant, that he deserved so much more.
I remembered when I had first met Daniel. He had been working, as he usually did, at the small restaurant in which I had stopped when I had arrived in Shockman, Missouri. I had walked in, the only customer at ten at night, but he had been polite as he seated me and was surprisingly kind. After a long day of driving, away from my whole old life and heading blindly into a new one where I knew no one, I found myself drawn to the young twenty-year-old. He seemed to take it upon himself, from the moment that he had asked my name, Shauna, to make sure that the young woman who had walked into the diner that night ended her day on a good note. He even gave me directions to the small house where I would be staying before I left.
I came back the next day, and there he was, smiling and asking how my first night there had been, giving me extra syrup on my chocolate chip pancakes. I asked him where the grocery store was and he smiled as he offered to show me around when he got off after lunch. I accepted his invitation with a smile.
Thus started our relationship. I was alone in a new, small town, and he was a local, born and raised, and he was quick to show me everything Shockman had to offer. He had taken me to the movies, sat through some chick-flick that I had been telling him about, and then to the burger place down the street. He showed me the school, took me to a football game, which I considered a fair trade since he had braved the movie for me. Soon everyone in the town knew that we were a couple, and we were happy.
He was a gentleman. He opened doors for me, let me use his jacket at the game, brought me flowers; it was simply perfect. And yet I knew that it was as far from perfect as anything I could imagine.
As I felt my love for him grow as his did for me, I knew that it couldn’t last. I hated myself for it; I had known all along that this would end in heartbreak. There was no way around the fact. It was in the very soul of who I was, and there was absolutely nothing that I could do about it. I had tried, many, many times before, to change it, but I was trapped, like a hamster on a wheel.
I knew that I had two choices. I could tell him the truth, and try to sort it out together, or I could leave, let him have a real chance at life and save myself the inevitable pain that it would cause. I knew that the longer that I waited, the harder it would be for me to do either one. I had to do something, but it was a choice I dreaded, that I wanted as badly as I had ever wanted anything to ignore. And as the months flew by, I knew that I was running out of time. He was getting more serious, and I knew that he was thinking of marriage. Finally, on one Saturday afternoon, our one-year anniversary, I decided that it was time.
* * * *
Daniel had planned an extremely nice dinner for us. He made steaks and stuffed potatoes and green beans and a German chocolate cake for dessert. As I walked in the door and saw the spread, I felt the tears gather at the corners of my eyes. I knew how badly it would hurt him, but I had no choice. I had to do this, and I had to do it tonight.
I sat down across from him. His house was pristinely clean. He was not usually a tidy guy, but I sort of preferred the clutter, although I often gave him a hard time about it. He had put a lot of work into this evening. The food steamed on the plate that he set in front of me, and the aroma that rose from it was decadent. I knew that I wouldn’t touch any of it; I had absolutely no appetite.
As he set his own plate down in front of his place, he said, “There’s just one more thing.”
He winked as he disappeared behind the counter for a moment, and returned with a small present, wrapped in gold, my favorite color. I felt my heart sink; this was just getting harder and harder. Hands shaking, I unwrapped the small thin box, and opened it. Inside was a beautiful silver necklace and pendant, which was shaped like a heart with a single diamond in the middle. It must have cost him half of his savings.
I just stared at the gift for a moment, silent, unable to speak. This was so hard, so much harder than I had thought it would be. I looked over at him, and tears began to form in my eyes. I had my lie ready, but actually telling him would be so hard, especially after this.
He looked at me, the smile on his face fading as he realized that something was wrong.
He sat down beside me and took my hand. “Honey, what’s wrong?” he asked gently. “Why are you crying?”
I looked up at him, tears falling from my eyes. I said one simple phrase, the one that I had been dreading for months now.
“I have to leave, Dan.”
He stared at me a moment, and then simply asked, “Leave? Shauna, where to?”
I answered quietly. “New York.”
I watched as his mind registered the name, and what I was saying dawned on him.
“New York? But… why? When?” The pain and fear on his face was evident, and it cut me deep. The tears were falling harder now.
“I have to leave in the morning. The bus leaves at eight.”
He put his face in his hands. I knew that it was too sudden. He had expected nothing like this, not now, after a year. I had wanted his last days with me to be a good memory, not bad. After a moment he stood up, and spoke more firmly now.
“Why do you have to go?”
I whispered the only answer I could give, that I knew would be so insufficient. “I have to move on. I can’t do this anymore, Dan.”
His pained eyes looked up to mine. “You have to move on? I love you! I won’t let you just walk away. I’ll come with you if you want, but I can’t just let you leave! There’s nothing left for me here, not without you.”
I shook my head. “I have to go alone. I’m so sorry, Danny.” I used the pet name that he pretended to hate, but I had always known he loved it.
A tear slid down his cheek. “What can I do to make you stay, Shauna?” He fell to his knees. “I’ll marry you, if that’s what you want. I’ll do whatever I have to! I can’t just let you go, not like this!”
I looked at him, tears flowing down my face. “You have to.”
I bent over and kissed his forehead. I’m so sorry. So, so sorry.”
And with that, I walked towards the door.
“Wait!” he called after me. “Please, take the necklace. For me.”
I looked at his outstretched hand, nodded and took the box, and then walked out the door.
* * * *
I stood in the cemetery. The gravestone in front of me was not out of the ordinary among the others at first glance, but for me it held much more meaning.
“Daniel Lane Madison. January 19, 1948 – March 12, 2011. Beloved husband and father.” I read the words slowly, a sad smile coming on my face. He had lived on without me.
I had known that it would be better for him. The pain had lasted a while, for both of us I think, but in the end, he had found a girl who made him happy, settled down, and had raised a family with her. I was happy for him.
I looked out over the small pond that sat over the eastern side of the cemetery. My nineteen-year-old face had not changed one bit in the sixty years since our meeting. I was jealous of him, in a sort of way. I would never die. Stuck in this body, this life, I had known from the moment that I had set eyes on him that we would never be able to grow old together, and that combined with the fact that I could never have children had been what forced me to give him up. I could not bear for him to grow old and watch his wife stay young, without any children to love. I did not think that I would have been able to bear to burying him, either.
I looked back at his grave, and smiled. I knew he had been happy.
I reached behind my neck, unclasped the silver necklace that he had given me, all those years ago, and took it off. I looked at the diamond, still clear despite the years, and then set it gently on the headstone. I whispered, “Thank you,” and then turned and walked away from the one man whom I had ever truly loved.