Luca did not give the ring to his former lover. The idea of a friendship ring seemed foolish when he began wrapping it. She wouldn’t understand his intention. He didn’t fully understand the objective behind the gesture either. He was unsure what he hoped for when he bought the ring and began wrapping it. So, he unpacked it and put it back in the small bag to return it. This unwrapping process was methodological; there was an intention behind it: labor. The wrapping paper was unimportant; he didn’t plan to reuse it. But the meticulous process reminded him of a game he would play as a kid, in which a child takes petals off a flower and with each one says, “She loves me, she loves me not.” As Luca unfolded a creased corner or untapped a seam, he couldn’t help but say, “She loves me,” or, “She loves me not,” and there was a catharsis in this action.
Luca knew that, regardless of where he ended, it would be that she loved him not. And eventually, he discarded the wrapping paper in the bin and placed the small box containing the ring into the bag.
The bag, branded with the store’s name and logo, annoyed Luca. It dawned on him that he was more irritated with himself and that destroying the bag was a pointless waste of his energy - even though it was tempting.
When Luca initially bought it, there was a sort of pride within him. He carried this small bag for the world to see. People didn’t know he purchased it as a friendship gift. To onlookers, passersby, and fellow commuters, it was jewelry. He couldn’t help but wonder on whose lips his story would be. What tales would people tell their friends? Or themselves? Surely he would be in their conversations and thoughts. A man riding public transportation holding a bag from Alessandro’s Fine Jewelry would undoubtedly be a topic of discussion. It is only natural; giving pendants, ornaments, gems, rings, and so on is a cultural act performed worldwide.
He couldn’t return carrying the bag; his eyes would tell a different story. Luca wasn’t ready for that other story to be displayed for the world to see. So he put it in a reusable canvas tote for grocery shopping. Now, he was another commuter, another indistinguishable person without treasures of any kind.
He found the receipt in his wallet and returned it to the jeweler. He was glad it wasn’t the older man, the one he was expecting, the one Luca feared would be there, or the one he assumed would be there. The older man would see the change in him; he would see how Luca’s entire demeanor had shifted from when he entered the store a few days prior, and Luca didn’t want him to see this. He quickly explained the situation as sincerely as possible so he could leave quickly and avoid a meeting with the older man.
"I don’t know what I was thinking,” he said. “She no longer makes my heart sing."
The assistant understood. Or, he had personally experienced something similar. Maybe, and this was more likely, he was hired because of his gentle face and ability to wear his emotions like a mask on that young, kind, cherub-like face. The assistant explained that the owner would need to approve the return as well as process the refund. Luca said this, of course, was fine. He could arrange those details by phone. He simply wanted to be rid of the thing and the weight of it, the feeling that seemed to plague him.
The jeweler’s store was in a part of the city Luca hadn’t visited since his youth. Therefore, he didn’t know the neighborhood well. After leaving the shop, he felt a profound fatigue wash over him. He felt slightly queasy and decided to sit at one of the many cafes lining the street and enjoy a cup of coffee with a pastry. It wasn’t until he sat down and stared blankly at the small pot of tea, saucer, cup, and doily-covered plate with two rigoletto macarons that he felt the weight of his emotional exhaustion.
For some time, Luca looked at the doily. He studied the crumbs that had flaked off the macarons. How fragile they were, sitting atop the paper doily that appeared at first glance like lace but was, upon inspection, thin paper with precision cut-outs. When he left, Luca knew the crumbs would be wiped off the doily into the garbage along with the doily itself. This thought struck him hard, it annoyed him, and he reached out, took a whole macaron, and stuffed it into his mouth.
A gentle tap on his shoulder startled Luca. He turned around to see the jeweler. “May I?” asked the old man, gesturing to the seat across from Luca.
Luca was startled, but because of his full mouth, he merely nodded and extended his arm to welcome the man. Out of respect, Luca stood up, assisted the older man in placing his coffee on the tabletop, waited for the man to sit, and then Luca sat down. His coffee had cooled slightly, and Luca took a small sip to help him swallow the macaron.
The older man settled himself in, placing his light jacket on the back of the chair to the right, his newspaper on the seat, and his fedora on top.
“Well,” he said, huffing as if that act required a round of applause or a nap.
Luca held out his plate of macarons offering the last one to the older man. He kindly waved it away. “My doctor said I need to cut down on sugar. He also told me to stop drinking alcohol. Can you imagine? I enjoy a glass of wine or two with dinner. I asked why. He said, ‘To live longer, Alessandro!’ I said, ‘Why would I want to live longer if I can’t enjoy certain pleasures?’ The doctor looked at me as if I had just asked him to explain some radical theory in quantum physics. I said, ‘I’ll cut out sugar, but I will at least enjoy my wine with dinner.” And with that, Alessandro gave the tabletop a solid whack to finalize the conversation.
“Oh, Luca,” said the older man smiling and looking across the table, “you just like your father. When you first entered the shop, I thought you were he. I spend so much time fixing watches, but time is still an oddity; I’ll never understand it. And that’s it, Luca,” he said, “we can tinker with watches all day, but never get the time back we put into making them work again.”
“Grandpa, I,” Luca’s voice broke up a little, “I want to be wanted,” he shifted his gaze, looking down at the plate with the last macaron as if embarrassed by his honesty. “I want to be wanted,” he said again as if more to himself this time than anyone else.
Luca’s grandfather gave him a look that one might give a newborn baby, not a young man. “And you think buying a ring for someone will help them want you?” he said—his voice both stern and sympathetic. The older man reached across the table, and Luca took his hands. “Your desire for her to want you made your heart sing. That is not the same as someone freely desiring you; it’s not the same as someone having this emotion independent of everything - a ring, least of all.” He gently squeezed Luca’s hands. “this is why the emotion faded a few days after you purchased the ring; the sentiment was based on your need for something from her. You should give a gift freely, not as an exchange or request for something.” Again, he gently squeezed Luca’s hands.
He released Luca’s hands and took a thoughtful sip of his coffee. Looking up, he said, “Did you know that male and female cardinals sing together and for one another?” Luca shook his head. “Yes, little duets to help strengthen their bond. It’s truly remarkable if you ask me. In my opinion, they’re the quintessential love birds; they mate for life and are feisty are all hell.” He and Luca laughed. The older man studied his grandson. “Naturally, there is more to their relationship, but on that simple level, the gift of song speaks to their devotion, loyalty, and love.”
“Grandpa,” Luca said, his voice breaking a little, “do you miss grandma?”
“Luca, in every moment of every moment, I miss her.”
“I want that,” replied Luca, returning his teary gaze to his grandfather’s.
“And one day, you will have that; I can guarantee that.”
Alessandro reached over, took a small package from his jacket pocket, and placed it on the tabletop. There was a long pause. Finally, Luca took the small bag and opened it. Inside the tiny bag was a well-worn box with scuffed sides, top, and bottom. Looking up at his grandfather, he said, “What’s this?”
“That, Luca, is a ring I gave your grandmother. Your father, of course, gave your mother our wedding ring. This, Luca,” he said, again with that stern and loving voice that he had perfected over his long life, “is another piece that holds immense weight in our family.”
“Grandpa,” said Luca, tears cresting his eyes and rolling down his cheeks, “I can’t!”
“You can. I want you to, and your grandmother would have, too. The band is simple, but we can fit it at the shop. The history of this ring is long, full of love and heartache - such is life, Luca. I’ll share the story another time. You will know it, learn from it, and build your own on top and alongside it. It will guide you to the person who will want you unequivocally, to the person who will make your heart sing and will understand her importance in your life.”
His grandfather reached across the table; Luca took his hands and spread them open, palms upwards and the backs flat against the tabletop. Luca laid his head upon the empty hands, his head and face cupped in his grandfather’s palms, held by hands that had fixed dozens of watches and fitted hundreds of rings. They stayed like that, grandfather and grandson allowing their gentle touch to convey everything they needed to.