Peter, the boy next door, was my best friend during my pre-teen years.
He was handsome, with dark hair, blue eyes, and a smile that could drive just about any childhood shadows away. He was my giddy playmate and my trusted confidant.
Pure and innocent, our relationship was only faintly peppered with a few inklings of something that neither of us would fully explore until much later.
I always looked forward to spending time with Peter—to play and tease, run and wrestle, to cry and being comforted. We also enjoyed sharing little misdeeds we kept from our parents.
Then, one afternoon, when we were slouching on the worn brick steps in front of the village dairy his father managed, Peter suddenly reached for my hand. As he tightened his grip on it, I felt something cold creep up my ring finger.
“I want you to have this,” he muttered, his eyes beaming with pride—and with what I nowadays would interpret as a first, fleeting touch of “being in love.”
When I glanced down, I gasped. Eyeing the dazzling sparkles of a large, beautifully formed chunk of glass spraying at me, I breathed, “But, Peter, where did you get this?”
“From my mother, of course.” He grinned from ear to ear. “It’s a real diamond.”
I gulped back the excitement catching in my throat.
Jewelry had no place in my young life at that time. Whatever money my parents managed to scrape together was mostly converted into treasures we could eat.
“Diamonds are really expensive,” he added, in an obvious attempt to impress me even more than I already was.
As I kept gazing in awe at this blinking miracle dangling on my hand, Peter abruptly pulled the ring back off—only to slip it over my thumb.
“There,” he said, “that’s much better.”
It was still rather loose, but I was willing to tolerate this oversized, ill-fitting surprise token on any part of my hand—if that meant I could keep it.
I rewarded Peter with a beaming smile. Then, timidly leaning forward to brush my lips across his ear, I whispered, “Thanks! No one ever gave me anything like that before.”
That’s when he blurted out, “Just don’t show it to anyone, please,”—with one whoosh letting the air out of my immensely inflated fantasy balloon.
I stared at him. “Why not?”
“Just because it’s supposed to be our secret.”
Some secret! His unexpected request rendering me unable to show off this gorgeous, shimmering gift to the world instantly dimmed its fiery sparkles and breathtaking luster for me.
Noticing my disappointment, Peter gently patted my ringed hand. “Of course, you can always wear it whenever you and I are alone together.”
Although I felt more than a little confused, I nodded. “Oh, okay—if you say so.”
“You do like it, don’t you?” His voice was hoarse with worry.
I nodded vehemently. “Oh, absolutely, I love it.”
And I did, but I still wondered why I had to hide something this pretty.
I would understand soon enough.
Whenever we met for one of our frequent chats, I would slip the ring on the designated thumb. Then, back home again, I tucked it away in a little cedar box filled with a conglomerate of picture postcards sent by relatives and family friends from all over the country.
There were also pieces of candy, which were a rarity in those days. And, on those few occasions when we got a hold of some, my kid sister would first eat all of hers, then expect to share mine. That’s why I frequently put my allotment under lock and key.
Stashed under my bed, this small treasure box was always safely within my reach.
So, besides wearing that diamond ring in Peter’s presence, I would also take it out at night occasionally, to admire it in the illuminating beam of a flashlight. What had initially seemed like a wayward kind of gift-giving, gradually added an extra layer to the special bond
I shared with Peter.
It was my first lesson in “Forbidden Fruits 101,” a mini-course in how incredibly sweet a shared secret can be, and how things kept under cover—figuratively as well as literally—acquire an almost irresistible allure.
People close to me tended to regard me as a wide-open book. They often accused me of being incapable to keep anything to myself. Therefore, hiding away this dazzling ring not only proved them all of them wrong, it also gave me a great deal of satisfaction to do so.
One afternoon, I was outside bouncing a small rubber ball against the peeling paint
of my family home’s front door. That’s when I saw Peter sprinting toward me.
He was panting and erratically waving both hands above his head.
His cheeks the hue of a red beet, the rim of his eyes matching in color, he lunged breathlessly toward me and croaked, “Do you have the ring?”
“Yes, of course I do.”
“I mean, do you have it on you?”
Startled, I shook my head. “No, of course not. I didn’t know you’d show up. And you know that I never take that ring out of the house unless we get together. So, why’d you ask?”
He stepped closer. “You must go get it!”
“Now?” I stared at him, not moving.
“Yes, yes, right away, please!”
“But, Peter, why?”
“We have to give it back.”
“Yes—I mean, you have to give it to me, so I can give it back to my mother.”
Numb with disbelief, I glanced at my currently rather bare thumb. “I thought it was a present for me to keep for ever and ever?”
Chewing on his lower lip, Peter glanced away. “It was—but now Mom wants it back.”
“That’s not fair, after she first let you have it.”
Staring down at his shoes, Peter twisted them ferociously back and forth on the stained concrete, as if he was trying to grind a hole into the slab.
“Well, that’s just it, she didn’t.” he mumbled. “I just took it.”
Shocked, I felt my eyes widen. “You stole it?”
He shoveled his feet around some more. “Well, sort of. I wanted so much to give you something special—and I didn’t think she’d ever miss that ring. She never wore it.”
“All right, all right, I’ll get it,” I screeched.
I turned, ran into the house, raced up the steep flight of stairs to our flat, crashed into my bedroom, and pulled the little wooden box from its hideout.
Still holding the ball in one hand, I clutched the ring so tightly with the other that the precision cuts of the diamond cut into the skin of my palm—which didn’t hurt nearly as bad as my heart. Choking back the tears, I darted back outside.
“Here,” I hissed between clenched teeth, as I shoved the ring into Peter’s outstretched hand. Then I turned around and fled inside.
I don’t recall how long I cried. But with the loss of that ring, I also buried my first potential “yours forever.”
Helga Gruendler-Schierloh is a bilingual writer with a degree in journalism and graduate credits in linguistics. Her articles, essays, short fiction, and poetry have appeared in the USA, the UK, Canada, and South Africa. The author’s debut novel, Burying Leo, a MeToo story, won second place in women's fiction during Pen Craft Awards' 2018 writing contest.