Beta: elodicressida and masterofmidgets
This was before the necklace was very long.
Lucienne had never seen someone quite like this before. None of the others had had that layer of gold spiraling outward from the core, drifting ghostlike through frosted black glass. He was looking for a necklace for his sister, he told her, who was turning sixteen in a month, something perfect to make her eyes light up, that she’d keep the rest of her life and always remember with fondness. He carried the day on him, the near-solid air and heat, the coffee and grease and so many flowers on a blanket of ocean, not quite out of place in the incense and quiet lights of her store.
She watched him from behind the counter, running a finger over her beads. The first one, a washed-out green with stripes of yellow the color of the liquor he’d brewed deep in the bayous, a pattern in shades of Victorian wallpaper. The second, and he was almost an accident, he’d frightened her in the alley before he grabbed for some sort of purchase to pull her into a niche, so she didn’t regret him at all. He was a solid, rich brown with flecks of gray, and she’d never learned his name. She’d never asked. And all the others, so many colors and patterns. Nothing like this, though.
“What’s your name?” he said, glancing towards her before turning back to study the display. This decade, the fashion was for the chunky and vulgar, all plastic and glass and primary colors – she catered to it, to an extent, carrying an array of vivid Victorian-esque jewels, but interspersed them with the adornment of other eras and far-off climes. She’d kept abreast of the developments in granulation, as well – the ancient art, reborn. Like her, an old story reinvented in the present day. Or a present day. Her day hadn’t been the present for a while now.
“Lucienne.” She smiled, and watched his face move across her counter, waited for a pearl to dream of his betrayals, for an amethyst to reveal his flaws. A shard of light fell from the window onto his afternoon hair, and slid into a sapphire on a golden torque; she saw a woman alone in front of a mirror, staring into her own eyes like she could see the beginning of time if she looked long enough. “Her birthstone?”
“An emerald?” he mused. “Maybe.”
Memories sparked from his smile and slipped into her waiting mind; he returned from his night wanderings, still wide-eyed and breathless, and saw his wife sitting on the stairs with her doubts and her fears; he laughed and spun past her on his comet’s trajectory. She stayed there, on the stairs, and he wondered if she’d come up, if she’d ask. He would make her ask. Only she didn’t. Night after night and she never asked. Then he came home with stars dripping from the folds of his shirt and she was in bed this time. When he railed, his wife stared back at him, and he stepped away from her artemesia eyes.
“What color is her hair?” She waited, wondering what he had done to this other woman. A deep breath gathered in her chest, sent sparks of excitement arcing through her body. Perhaps he was one of those that belonged in her collection.
“The same as mine, a little darker.” He studied the emeralds, envisioning them on his sister. “Her eyes are gray.”
“She might like opals, if you’re thinking an opaque stone. You know the orphanus?”
“I’ve never heard of it, no.”
“Its hue is as the pure white snow flashed and sparkled with the color of bright, ruddy wine, and was overcome by this radiance. Albertus Magnus. A stone set in the crown of the Roman Emperor, and people said it had its own light when in darkness.” She watched for more of the story, caught it from the ocean surface of an aquamarine ring. “Though your sister might prefer a black opal.”
From the depths of the ring she saw him leave the house, chased by his wife’s bitterness and his guilt – but what had he done? Nothing, nothing at all, but the guilt still wracked him until he could hardly stand. His winter words with their acrid trails still traced his mouth and no matter what he drank that night the flavor stayed. He slipped away from his memories into silence, and in that same darkness she too slipped away, into the ocean in a stolen boat and washed ashore by a traitorous current. Still alive, but he felt guilt’s eyes unblinking on his back all that day, while he sat by her sea-wracked body, and they knew what he had done. And now Lucienne too knew what he had done.
“Maybe this?” A meander chain, with a black opal center stone, what she’d thought of when she suggested it.
“I’d have loved it, when I turned 16.” Not that it would have suited her, with her current shape. She was too dark for it, more suited to fire and ice than night and her dream of colored whorls of stars. There had to be contrast between person and adornment – night and night bled into each other, and neither shone.
Her necklace suited her body. It always had; every shape Lucienne’d worn since her moonshining lover with his crazy eyes tossed her into the bayou with a shot clean through her chest had looked like it belonged with the chain strung with myriad beads. The bead this man standing before her would make, oh, it would look so fine… but what had he done, that it would be allowed?
“I think she’ll love it, too.” He smiled again.
“Anything else? You have a wife, a fiancée?” she asked, needing time, although the answers had already whispered to her from her jewels.
He’d misled, he’d hurt and neglected. Misunderstandings. Youth. But those were excuses, surely, and he’d do worse. After all, his wife had tried so hard to get his attention, and he’d been cruel, knowing the while what he was doing to her. He loved his family, though, and this was the first time he’d experienced so much power over another human being. His wife tried to kill herself. It was her decision. He was the catalyst. Yes.
“I think I’m done.” She ignored the shudder through his body. Murderer. Yes. His wife had trusted him, and he’d betrayed her. Betrayal. Yes.
She wrapped the necklace slowly. It was a pity the sister would never get it. Well. She could do that for the girl, anyway, so that for all the years she wondered where her brother disappeared to, she’d know he never meant to leave his family.
“Would you like me to send it on to the address for you, so you don’t have to carry it? Free, for the birthday girl.”
When he went to pay her, she leaned over the counter as he held the money toward her, and her necklace tangled in his hand for a moment. She straightened, and he was gone; a smoky dark bead with a core of reaching gold glimmered on her shoulder.