Maureen is 16. She was told to leave it alone—the band of bloody garnets and real gold her older sister kept in the jewelry box in the back of her keepsake drawer. A boy had given it to her—her first real ring—but then he moved away.
For two days Maureen has hidden the ring beneath a band-aid. It is flesh-colored. It allows her to sit with her sister at dinner, unsuspected.
Maureen tries everything she can think of to get it off: soap, olive oil, Vaseline—even canola oil because she thought the lightness of it might mean it’s more slippery. She tries icing her hand and heating it up, hours of twisting and pulling. She has to stop when she feels her knuckle dislocating. The skin is chafed and raw around the ring. It swells to hold the gold even more tightly.
“Maybe your sister won’t notice it’s missing,” I offer.
Maureen shrugs. “She’ll see it’s gone. She’ll know it was me. She caught me trying it on before.”
“Why doesn’t she wear it?”
“It doesn’t fit.”
This makes us laugh, and I draw her to me. I kiss her and paw at the outside of her sweater until she pushes me away.
Maureen tells me the boy is coming back from far away to visit. Her sister will want the ring.
“But it doesn’t fit,” I say.
“She’ll wear it on a chain around her neck. She did it the last time he came back.”
So we go to the mall. There’s a jewelry store there, and we think that maybe they have a cream, some trick we could buy to remove the ring. The car is Maureen’s, but she always makes me drive. She says a man should never be seen getting driven around by a woman. It’s an old Buick that rattles as we idle at the lights. It stalls if I give it the gas too hard.
“You’ll have to cut it off. It’s the only way,” says the jeweler. He is kindly and old and seems to have encountered this very predicament many times before.
Maureen winces as he forces the snip between her skin and the gold. When it finally clicks through, a garnet bounces over the display glass. The jeweler pries it apart and she’s free. She wiggles her finger and smiles.
The old man has a ring in the case that’s a close match. It has one garnet less, and it’s a size smaller. Maureen says it’s close enough, and I hand over the $64.99 I’d been saving from my paper route. I have it inscribed “To my beloved.”
I slip the ring onto Maureen’s pinky. “Only halfway!” she warns, because now she’s learned her lesson. It seems momentous though—the way slipping a ring on a girl always does. Like there’s a marriage in the gesture.
When we get back to the car, I pull Maureen to me, thinking I’ve got some kind of thank-you coming my way—seeing how I bought her the ring and saved the day and fixed it so her sister would never know. She lets me kiss her, but when I start with her sweater, she pushes me away.
“Not here,” she says. “Not now.”
I look around. The mall parking lot in the deepening dusk has never looked better, but I’ve already been to the edge of this particular fence enough times to know that there are no gaps.
So we get in the Buick, and I start it to rattling. I take her home with the ring on her pinky so she can give it back to the hidden jewelry box, so that her sister can tell the boy she wears it every day—on a chain, because that’s what the girls are doing this year, because that’s how much she loves him.