Vanessa’s sister was able to come over for a long overdue sleep-over. Her father and step-mother dropped Jamie off at her grandparents house and they were off running upstairs into Vanessa’s room to figure out what they were going to do first. Jamie wasn’t much into playing outdoors, but they found fun playing The Game of Life, Jenga, or just indulging in girl talk…which mainly consisted of laughing at boy-stuff.
“Do you think about our mom?” Jamie inevitably asked Vanessa after the initial tumalt of seeing each other again had worn down.
“Sometimes,” she conceded. “But what’s the point?”
“I miss her.”
Vanessa huffed to herself, knowing where this conversation was already headed and being annoyed by it. Her sister had a way or repeating herself, and wanting to discuss the same topic over and over. “If she missed us, she would come back.”
“What if she lost our phone numbers? What if something’s happened to her? What if she can’t come back to us and she really wants to?”
“What if she’s just doing her own thing? She doesn’t want to come back.”
The harshness of the response visibly upset Jamie. None of these were answers she wanted to hear from her older sister. “Don’t you miss her?”
“Yeah, sure,” Vanessa lied…or did she? She changed the topic, going over to her bedside table. “Hey, you wanna see something cool?”
Temporarily thrown off, Jamie cocked her head curiously. “Uh, sure?”
She opened a binder packed full of page after page of basketball cards. The binder couldn’t possibly hold a single page more, it was so bursting at the D-rings. Vanessa’s neighbor Bree had gotten her interested in collecting the cards, even though she didn’t watch much of the sport herself. It had been one of the many things she had picked up from Bree that made her feel “cool” by emulating her, feigning interest in the game…admittedly a pointless pursuit when one didn’t care for basketball or had anyone else to trade cards with. Bree’s sister Rainey, of course didn’t take part in such a boy-ish thing.
“These are the Chicago Bulls.” Vanessa flipped the silky, pocketed pages with delicate turns. She had an entire page devoted solely to Michael Jordan cards. “This one is my favorite Jordan,” she pointed to one of the Fleer cards with holofoil and embossed effects, “and this is Scotty Pippen and Dennis Rodman, the main Bulls trio. I have some of Rodman’s cards from his other teams too in the back.” She had organized the teams meticulously, but put the players into the sections based off their current uniforms. “I really like the uncommon black and white cards, but the rarest card I have is Jordan’s rookie card, even though it’s not a great picture, can’t even see his face really. And here are two really rare cards of Shaquille O’neal. He plays for the Orlando Magic. These cards are worth like $20 each, a friend of mine says.”
Jamie looked at the cards eagerly, saying nothing as Vanessa pointed out her prized collection. Truthfully she couldn’t care less about the players or the teams. She seemed the most interested in asking her sister what they were worth instead. Finally, Vanessa closed the binder and slid it back into the nightstand. It was almost ice cream and movie night time but they had to get ready for bed first.
It had been several days since her sister left, and Vanessa was in her room, sorting out her Lego pirate minifigures on their little pirate island. The Lego shark would patrol along the borders with gaping maw, while the Wolf Renegade minifigures would make an attempt at busting onto the island via boat to try and take the pirate’s plunder…tiny Lego gold coins from the treasure chest.
When she cleaned up the spare Legos she went to set the bucket nearby her nightstand…that’s when she noticed her binder seemed misplaced. It wasn’t pushed as far back as she normally had it. She knelt down beside the stand and pulled the binder out, flipping the pages open to adore her cards once again…until she saw several empty slots in the Chicago Bulls section. In a panic, she flipped more pages, heading to Orlando Magic, the teams sorted in alphabetical order. Both of the Shaquille cards were missing.
The upset rose up from her belly like a dragon that noticed a prized gem in its collection had been pilfered. Between the rage and the sadness she was beside herself with what to do, almost shivering with indecision. But this wasn’t something she could keep bottled up, and she told her grandparents what had happened.
“Where was the binder?” Vito had asked.
“In the nightstand, by my bed,” she answered.
Her grandfather stood from the kitchen table and walked with her up the stairs. His steps were faster than his norm, and she was quick at his heels.
“Vanessa, I know you’re upset, but you have to understand that your sister,” he sighed with an old knowing ache, stepping over the final stairs, “she lived with your mother for a long time, and she was taught many things that were wrong by her. Cara took many things from stores without paying.”
“But they were my things,” she whined. “Why would my own sister steal from me?”
“You told her how much you thought the cards were worth. Why did you have to tell her that? People see dollar signs, get jealous, and people like Cara can’t help themselves with their sticky fingers.”
Vanessa knew it was wrong to steal, but she figured people stole things from stores, not their friends, and certainly not their family. She loved her sister. Why would she do this to her collection she had raved about? Why did she take her very best of cards?
Vito let Vanessa rifle through the pages and show him the blank slots. He sighed unhappily but tried to explain that they were only just cards…it was a terrible thing, sure, but in the long run it was a tough lesson that now was being learned. However, when Vanessa put the binder back he looked down at the small drawer beneath the bookshelf area. His face turned troubled.
“Did Jamie go through this drawer?”
Vanessa shook her head. “I didn’t even see her touch my binder. I don’t know when she took the cards. I didn’t see it happen.”
“But did you go through this drawer with her?”
Again, she shook her head. “Grandpa, I don’t even use this drawer.”
He knelt down and opened the drawer quickly, reaching far into the back to pull out a long black box that was hidden behind other trinkets like cufflinks and handkerchiefs marked with an embroidered “V.” When he opened the box he saw empty black velvet…
“No…” he snapped the box closed, standing up as if he just suffered a painful injury.
“What happened?” Vanessa asked, quickly repeating herself when her grandfather exited the room. “What happened!?”
He went into his bedroom where Ellen was, asking her to come and look through her jewelry box. Ellen had been staying in bed more and more as of late, going up and down the stairs being too much trouble for her multiple times a day. She got up and went to Vito, who wasn’t about to begin to go through her box without her being with him to do so.
It was an elaborate floor-standing thing, the jewelry box. It had many tiny drawers along its front and the lid opened wide, lined inside with red satin. Many slits were impressed into rows to hold rings, and somehow necklaces were able to be suspended along the back on either side of a mirror. The outside of it was varnished mahogany, and the legs were carved smooth like curved snakes in an ‘S’ shape. It looked very expensive to Vanessa, but she never did care for such fancy things or what was held within them…until now. She didn’t know what was happening.
Finally, Vito opened the black box and showed it to Ellen. “Our engagement ring…can you find it, Ellen?”
And then Vanessa knew the importance of what must have been inside that long black box. As she watched her grandparents search in vein, drawer by tiny drawer, opening every ring case and little private pocket stashings of earrings, her heart deeply sank. This was far more important than her basketball cards.
The phone call she was forced to make to her sister ended with Jamie in tears, at first swearing that she hadn’t stolen anything, then admitting that she took the cards but nothing more. The cards were given to a boy from school she liked in trade for a faux ring he gave her in return…so why would she need to steal a ring? Vanessa was angry with her for her betrayal, but in hearing her tremulous voice, the agony coming through the phone, she could no longer be.
“Oh why…why did you take my things?” she begged for an answer.
“I don’t know…” she cried. “I don’t know why. I’m sorry!”
Vito insisted on speaking to Jamie’s parents, and when Vanessa handed over the phone, the conversation quickly escalated, and there was little mercy given. She was afraid of Vito’s anger, she saw it so seldom. His raised voice, his jerking hand motions…his insistence of them finding the ring and getting it back…the rarity of his use of cuss words emphasizing his heated fervor. She climbed the stairs and listened from the hallway, shrinking against the wall, ever so slowly creeping backwards to her room as her ears strained on every one of his words.
“Jamie is not allowed to come here anymore until that ring is returned!” and he hung up.