It was the week before my birthday. I joined some girlfriends after work for dinner and drinks. Though more were invited, it turned out to be the four of us. We met at the Yardhouse at an outdoor shopping mall. The place was crowded, and we could hardly hear each other between the conversations, the laughing, and the sports channels turned up on the flat screen TVs surrounding us.
After some happy-hour drinks and hors de oeuvres, it was time for me to leave. I used the ladies room, came out and hugged everyone good-bye. On my way home, I noticed my tank running low, so I stopped at my local gas station. When I arrived home, I found my husband watching TV in our bedroom.
“Did you have a nice time?” he asked.
“Yes, it was fun,” I said, as I started to remove my party clothes. Just as I pulled my sweater off, I saw my left ring finger. It was bare.
“Oh, oh,” I said.
“What is it?” Ken asked.
“My wedding ring is missing.” Searching over the floor and in the folds of my clothes, I screamed out an expletive.
“Oh, shit! It’s not here.”
“How many times do we have to go through this?” he asked, annoyed.
I ignored his question as I didn’t understand what he meant at the time and let him continue with his program. I immediately picked up the phone.
“Hey, Evelyn. Are you still at the Yardhouse?”
“No, sorry, we all just left. What’s wrong?”
“I lost my wedding ring.”
“That’s terrible. Do you want us to go back and look for it?”
“Thanks. That would be great. Tell them what happened, and I’m on my way back now.”
Taking the same freeway, with my heart racing, and prayers quoted, I suddenly realized what my husband meant. We had gone through this eight months before with my mother’s ring. We found it and I made sure that wouldn’t happen again. Now there was a guard on that pinkie.
When I got to the Yardhouse, I asked about the ring. A waitress told me she had taken the trash out of the ladies room and went through each individual, crumpled paper with rubber gloves. She found nothing and threw the trash out.
I left the hostess podium and walked around the restaurant with my eyes peeled at the floor. It was difficult to see in a dark, packed place. I hoped it rolled somewhere visible. I went back to the same table, feeling distracted and pathetic. No one had found it, or if they did, they weren’t saying so.
I drove home in tears and stopped back at the Am/Pm station. After looking around pump number eight, and finding nothing, I went back home, and cried myself to sleep in my husband’s arms.
The next morning, Ken and I got up, and he surprised me with his words.
“Let’s look at wedding rings today,” he said.. “You know I never really bought you one.”
“I know, but those were the stones from your mother’s ring,” I said. “It means something to me. Let’s wait a few days. Maybe it will show up. The Yardhouse told me to come back and check with them today. If the ring rolled, the night cleaning crew could have found it and put it in the safe. I’m on my way there now.”
On my second trip the night before, I covered my bases by going to the same parking lot and re-tracing my steps. Even a security guard helped me after seeing me crying hysterically outside the restaurant. Today’s trip proved no different. There was no ring in the safe.
On my way home, I remembered something. I had not gone into the Am/Pm to ask if anyone had found and turned in a ring.
I parked the car, went into the convenience store and approached the man behind the counter. “Were you working here last night?” I asked. After he nodded his head yes, I continued. “Did anyone turn in a ring?”
“Armand!” he shouted to someone in the back room. ”This lady is looking for a ring she lost.”
Armand came from the back room. “Hello,” he said. “I understand you lost a ring? What did your ring look like?”
I described my wedding band.
“Do you remember when you lost it?” he asked.
“I was here between the hours of seven and eight last night. I can go home and bring back the receipt, if you’d like.”
“That’s okay,” Armand said. “I can check it by your card. Tell me what number station you where at and give me the card. I only need the last four digits.”
I nervously gave him my card. He wrote down the information and handed it back to me.
“Do you have my ring?” I asked.
He seemed to be having a hard time expressing himself. He never really answered me. There was something in his voice that made his conversation reticent. I didn’t know why he was hesitant to show it to me or give it to me.
“Do you have a photo of it?” he asked
“I’ll have to check my phone,” I said. I searched through all my photos finding one that wasn’t very good. Someone had taken it from quite a distance away. When I enlarged it, the picture became distorted and didn’t look anything like my ring.
I became upset. I didn’t understand why he wasn’t showing me the ring that he found. I got out a piece of paper and started to draw a picture of it. Thank goodness my drawing skills were better than the photo.
“I promise you,” I pleaded when showing him the drawing. “I’m an honest person. If the ring is not mine, I don’t want it. I just want my ring back.”
“Okay,” Armand said. “If you come back tomorrow after two o’clock, I’ll give it to you.”
I left the store discouraged, frustrated, and wondering what kind of game this man was playing with me. Did he really have it? Was he getting it appraised? Had he already sold it, or would bring me back a different, cheaper ring the next day? Why was he involved and not the manager?
There was nothing more I could do. I went home and told my husband.
“We’ll just have to see what happens tomorrow, honey,” he said.
We went to a Christmas party that night and told everyone the story of my tragic loss, the mysterious man at the gas station, and the fact he held my ring hostage until tomorrow for some odd reason. Everyone had an opinion on how to resolve this situation. I had a hard time sleeping that night wondering what the next day would bring.
On Sunday, my husband and I went to the gas station and asked to speak to Armand. It seemed the two of us had to go through the same questioning routine. He asked about an inscription on the inside. We both said there wasn’t one. But he insisted that there was. Then he told us he had done a stupid thing.
“I told too many people that I found the ring,’ he said, apologetically. “One man even counted the diamonds in it. Do you know how many diamonds it has?”
“No,” I said. “I’ve never counted them. Are you sure the initials are not KA for “karat gold?”
“No,” he said. “But….”
I was so exasperated after this second inquisition, I interrupted him.
“But what?” I asked and slammed my hands on the counter top, starting to cry.
Armand put his hand on top of mine. “No, but, lady,” he said. “I’ll get your ring.”
He walked into the back room and returned with my wedding ring. We looked at the inside of it together.
“See,” he said. “There are the initials H.A.”
I could see what Armand was talking about regarding an inscription. He was right. But it wasn’t an engraving, rather stamped initials. They were so tiny, Ken and I had never noticed.
“Those must be the initials of the jeweler who made the ring. I took my mother-in-law’s diamonds and had this made in L.A.”
He handed it to me, and I slipped it on.
I cried harder. “Oh, thank you, Armand! Thank you!” I couldn’t stop crying, or repeating those two little words.
It was loose. I needed to get it adjusted, with an engraving on the inside, to make sure this would never happen again.
My husband pushed a hundred dollar bill across the counter to Armand.
“No,” he said. “I don’t want your money.”
“Take it,” my husband insisted. “Consider it a reward.”
“Merry Christmas!” I yelled back to Armand as we left the store. Ken and I embraced and kissed in the entryway. It was going to be a Merry Christmas.