This story is dedicated to my Dad for his birthday, which was yesterday. Happy Birthday, Daddy! Love you.
Teresa sat in her husband’s private atelier, absent-mindedly petting her Beagle and staring at a small package and a letter on the table, both unopened. Charles had told her to open them when he was gone and the time for that had come. She knew inside the package was a link for her charm bracelet and it was the last piece of art her husband ever made.
But Teresa hesitated. She didn’t want to open the package, because doing so would be to acknowledge that she’d never see him again. It seemed so… final. So instead, she played with the rest of her charms, reliving the memories she’d had with Charles when he was still alive.
* * * * * *
Eight years ago
“Do you remember the first time we met, Reese?” Charles asked. Teresa smiled.
“It was on that extra credit overseas trip thing to Italy, wasn’t it? If I recall correctly, you were such a troublemaker, always getting lost and disappearing from the group,” Teresa teased and they both chuckled.
“Hey, I wasn’t lost,” Charles feigned indignation. “I was… Having personal adventures and looking for treasure. And,” he added quickly. “I found some!” Charles dug into his coat pocket and pulled out a small black square box with a pink ribbon on it.
“This is for you,” he said and opened the box with a flourish. Inside was beautiful silver bracelet sitting on a flat velvet cushion and Teresa’s breath caught. “I know we’ve only been together a year and I don’t want to scare you away or anything but… Happy anniversary?” Charles said tentatively. Teresa was speechless for a moment, admiring the braclet.
“Wow,” she breathed. “It’s beautiful! Thank you! And no,” she added and gave him a kiss on his cheek. “I don’t scare that easily.” Charles exhaled in relief and smiled wanly. He took out the bracelet and clasped it around Teresa’s wrist. It fit snugly, but the bracelet was made in such a way that it could stretch out a little when pulled.
“This was something I found while on that trip. It’s an Italian charm bracelet. Instead of having charms that dangle, the links can be engraved or painted on. This one is particularly special because each link has an axis that it can rotate about. See?” he pulled the braclet and flipped a section. “So you can show or hide any charm or charms you want.”
Teresa flipped all the sections, but they were all blank.
“Where do I get the charms?” she asked.
“Ah,” Charles said with a glint in his eye. “You don’t. I’ll paint the charms on for you, and it just so happens I have one for you now.” He lifted the velvet cushion inside the box to reveal another link, but this one had a number one painted onto it.
“I made this for you a few weeks ago, for this occasion. Obviously, it represents our first anniversary today, but I also think of all the other firsts we’ve shared. Also,” he added shyly. “You’re my one and only.”
* * * * * *
The number one charm was the first of many. Every anniversary, he’d replace a blank link with a new charm he painted for her, each charm capturing the most significant memory that they’d shared since their last anniversary. It was their own little tradition, which Teresa looked forward to every year.
The bracelet was her most treasured possession and it was even more so now, since it was all she had left of him. Teresa flipped the next few charms as continued to reminisce about her adventures with Charles in order.
The second charm was a scroll, representing their academic achievements. They’d both graduated university together that year and they’d also both managed to get jobs in their respective fields. Life was comfortable then, everything was easy and they were happy, so he’d painted the scroll as a representation of their mutual success.
They got a place together about nine months later and Charles painted a golden key to signify that occasion. When he presented it to her, Charles told Teresa that it was the key to his heart. “Cheesy Charles” was her nickname for him, as he never failed to make every romantic cliché or gesture when the opportunity presented itself. She’d never admit it, but Teresa secretly adored every corny thing he did.
Like every couple, their relationship wasn’t perfect. They had their ups and downs, but the year that followed was the worst. With the financial crisis, Charles was retrenched and Teresa had started supporting them both. It was a hard time, more for Teresa than for Charles. He didn’t seem to be fazed much and even started his own painting business, which stressed Teresa and strained their finances even further. They never went hungry or missed a payment, Teresa made sure of that, but she constantly foresaw the end, and she didn’t like it. Teresa almost gave up on him – on them – but she prided herself in being loyal and wouldn’t abandon Charles. That year, Charles painted a pair of hands that held each other tightly. It meant that they held on together no matter what.
Teresa flipped over her fifth charm – a snowflake – and remembered what had actually brought them back together and made them closer than ever. Life had gotten a little better, which only meant that Teresa saw the end of their finances further away, but she still thought Charles took everything too lightly. The charm was a snowflake because the best memory they’d shared that year was when they got trapped together in a snowstorm.
* * * * * *
Three years ago
They were driving up together to visit some rich guy that Charles was going to sell some of his paintings to, but they got trapped in their car because Teresa had decided to push on as far as they could instead of finding a motel and settling in for the night. It was already snowing lightly, but it turned into blizzard that, coupled with the darkening sky, reduced visibility to nearly nil. Teresa and Charles had no choice but to pull off to the side of the road and stop. Teresa switched the engine off and sighed.
“Don’t say it,” she warned Charles. “Don’t say ‘I told you so’.”
“I was going to,” Charles said mildly.
“I made a mistake, okay? We should’ve checked in at that last rest stop.”
“It looked like the kind of place that would have lumpy beds and no hot water anyway,” Charles joked. Teresa glared at him.
“You think this is funny?” she asked softly. “Everything’s joke to you, isn’t it?”
“Relax, Reese,” Charles replied amicably. “There’s no reason to get all worked up. Look,” he took out his cell phone. “We’ve still got cell reception. It’s not a serious problem. I’ll just call and -”
“That’s the problem!” Teresa exploded and swiped the phone from Charles’ hand. “You never take anything seriously! I’ve always had to be the responsible one. I’ve had to work hard to support us, while you just sit at home doodling away and chatting with people!”
Charles gave her a measured look as she panted from her outburst. They stared at each other in silence for a moment, then Charles suddenly leaned across Teresa and opened her door, letting a blast of frigid air and bits of snow hit their faces.
“What are you doing?!” she screamed at him and made to close the door, but Charles pinned her arms to her seat with his body weight, his face inches away from hers.
“You need to cool down!” he shouted over the roar of the blizzard with a grin. Teresa spluttered in disbelief and frustration, her mind reaching for the worst insult she could throw at him, but the gale made it difficult for her to think, so she just sat there frozen, giving him the iciest stare she could muster.
Something bubbled in her chest. Teresa wanted to be angry, to yell and scream and shout and break things. But Charles’ goofy grin made her think of all the ice and cold related jokes he would’ve made to entertain them had she not started this argument. Teresa couldn’t help herself: she snorted and suddenly all her rage just melted away. She snickered again at the thought of melting, then lost all control as her mirth overtook her. Charles’ grin got wider as he released her and sat back in his seat.
After a while, Teresa’s hysterical giggles died down and she wiped the tears from her eyes. “Charles,” she said weakly, opening her eyes to find him watching the storm from his window. She closed her door and the sound of the wind muffled.
“Charles,” she repeated when he didn’t react. She reached for his hand, then squeaked in surprise when Charles slapped his other hand to his shoulder, splattering snow all over the place.
“Cold shoulder!” he exclaimed with glee.
“I’m sorry I yelled,” Teresa apologized meekly, her smile fading. Charles settled down as well, then cupped her face in his hands and gently kissed her.
“You never have to apologize to me,” Charles whispered softly when he pulled away. He used his thumb to wipe away bits of ice and snow from her face as he spoke. “For anything. I know you’ve been under a lot of stress, but I never realized you thought I take things lightly. I’m sorry I act like that. I just think it’s a lot healthier when I don’t worry so much about things I can’t control. Worrying hinders my creativity and that’s what I love about you. You’re reliable, consistent, my one constant. I don’t have to worry about you, and that’s given me peace of mind to paint freely. Now that I look back, I suppose it does seem like I’ve taken you for granted, but I want you to know that I appreciate everything you’ve done for me, for us. I love you, Teresa.”
“I love you too, Charles,” she whispered back. “I love that you can see the funny side to everything and always know how to make me smile. It’s just that… Sometimes I wonder if you understand the gravity of the situation.” Charles laughed.
“So I suppose because of that, you feel the need to be crazy for two people, huh?” He teased her.
“Hey!” Teresa smiled and punched him playfully. Charles caught her hand as she pulled back and interlocked his fingers with hers. They sat in comfortable silence for a while, subdued from the cold weather and exhausted from their emotional exchange.
“Teresa,” Charles mumbled.
“There is one thing I take seriously.”
* * * * * *
Teresa smiled at the snowflake and flipped over the next charm: a dog. Teresa giggled at that, because it was a reminder of the year they adopted a puppy from the SPCA and Charles had humorously named her Karma. Teresa stroked Karma’s fur affectionately and she snuggled closer into Teresa’s lap.
In their seventh year together as a couple, Charles popped the question, but he presented her with the charm link instead of an actual engagement ring. He did produce a real ring after she said yes, but he thought it would be more significant and personal than a traditional proposal. Also, he thought it was funny. It was the only time he’d given her a charm before their anniversary and that was the most recent charm she’d received.
Teresa flipped the link after the ring charm, but it was blank. Of course she knew that. The last charm Charles had made for her was in the box, which was sitting innocently on the table in front of her. Finally, logic and curiosity won out and she tore away the wrapping to open the box. As she expected, sitting on a velvet cushion, was a link for her bracelet that had an X symbol. Teresa frowned in puzzlement. She racked her brains, but couldn’t remember a specific event in the past year which could be associated with the symbol. Her interest fully piqued now, she opened the letter.
My dearest Teresa,
I’m sorry to have left you like this. I wish we had more time together, but I’m happy with the time we had. We shared so much together, didn’t we?
Inside the box is the last link I’ve made for you. I was actually saving it for our tenth anniversary, so it would be ten in Roman numerals. But it doesn’t seem like that’s going to happen now.
Anyway, think of it as a kiss, so every time you put it on, I’ll be kissing you. In addition, it’s all the other treasured memories we’ve acquired together, the ones not represented by the charms you already have, since I won’t be able to give you more. X marks the spot, as they say.
Thank you for the adventures we’ve shared.
You were the best treasure I’ve ever found.