By the time Jack was driving home from work, costumed children were already crowding the sidewalks.
I’ll go to the jeweler’s tomorrow, he promised himself. He patted the deep side pocket of his work jeans and felt his grandmother’s wedding ring among the loose change he carried.
His grandma had been widowed many years. As age thickened her fingers, she’d taken to wearing the ring on a chain around her neck. Yesterday, Jack had offered to get it resized for her birthday. Tears filled her eyes when he measured her ring finger.
“I’ll get your ring to the jeweler’s right after work tomorrow,” he promised her.
But now he drove past the jewelry store without stopping.
The ring can wait one more day, he decided. His grandmother’s birthday wasn’t until next week. The jeweler would have plenty of time to resize it.
Jack was eager to get home and hand out candy. This would be his first Halloween in his very own home. Though he was only 26, he’d saved enough from his plumbing jobs to buy a fixer-upper in a nice neighborhood.
As he pulled into his driveway, his cell phone rang.
“Did you get to the jeweler’s?” his mom wanted to know.
“Not yet,” he said.
“That’s such a thoughtful thing you’re doing for your grandma, Jack. I’m proud of what a responsible young man you’ve become.”
Jack blushed hot, remembering what a trial he’d been to his mother and grandmother during his teenage years. Not responsible. Not reliable. But his mom and grandma had loved him nonetheless. And somehow he’d emerged into what he was now. A good guy. He hoped.
She ended the call just as four pirates raced up Jack’s front steps.
Jack hurried inside. For the next two hours, he dropped chocolate bars into pillowcases and plastic pumpkins.
It was dark when he opened the door to three ghosts.
“You’re in luck, ghosts,” he said. “I have three chocolate bars left.”
He handed out the last of his treats, but when the ghosts ran down his steps, he saw a little princess and an elderly, white-haired lady approaching. The little girl ran up to his door while the woman stayed behind on the sidewalk.
“Sorry!” he said. “I’m all out!”
The old lady leaned on her cane. “Oh dear. I guess we should’ve started earlier. Most of the houses we’ve gone to have run out of candy.”
The princess sniffled. “It’s okay. I got enough.”
Jack peeked into her pumpkin. He saw only five treats.
“Here you go, princess.” He reached into his pocket, grabbed his change, and dropped the coins into her pumpkin. “Your grandma can take you to the store tomorrow and you can pick out your favorite treat.”
“Awesome!” the old lady said in a surprisingly girlish voice. “Say thank you, sweetie!”
“Thank you, sweetie,” the little princess said.
But he wasn’t laughing later that night. He looked everywhere, searching the floors on his hands and knees.
The ring was gone.
“No!” He slapped his forehead. “Idiot!” He realized that he’d tossed the ring, along with his loose change, into the little girl’s pumpkin.
He canvassed the neighborhood, ringing doorbells, explaining his problem. No one could help. No house had a little princess who had gone trick-or-treating with her grandmother.
All night he tossed and turned. When he did sleep, nightmares plagued him — pointing fingers, scowling brows, tear-filled eyes.
At work the next two days he made mistakes, worry distracting him. The second day when he returned home after work, he decided to call his grandmother and confess. He was staring at his phone when the doorbell rang.
A young woman stood on his front porch. Black hair framed her heart-shaped face.
“Hey, did you lose a ring?”
“Yes! Yes! My grandmother’s ring! I was supposed to get it resized!”
“Can you describe it?”
“It’s just a plain gold band. Inscribed inside, I love you.
“I thought it might have been you with the change.” She smiled and handed him the ring.
He cradled it in his palm. Relief sent him floating. Her voice brought him back.
“That was so sweet, giving your pocket change to my little niece.”
“Your niece?” Jack gazed at her, marveling at how blue her eyes were, blue as the stripes inside the marbles he’d had as a kid.
“She was the princess, and I was her grandma. Awesome costume, right?”
“You sure convinced me!”
“Thanks. I love disguising myself on Halloween.”
Jack nodded. Say something, he ordered himself. But her prettiness intimidated him. He slipped the ring into his pocket.
“Hey,” she said. “Maybe your pocket’s not the best place for that ring?”
Jack felt himself blush. “I’m an idiot.”
She laughed. “No. You’re a guy. You don’t have a purse to hold your important stuff. Hand it over. I have an idea.”
He returned the ring to her. His heart bounced like a puppy.
She took his hand in hers. She began trying the ring on his fingers It slipped easily and securely onto his pinky finger.
“There. That’ll keep it safe until you get to the jeweler’s.”
“So anyway, I’m sorry for the delay in returning your grandmother’s ring. We don’t live around here. We were visiting my grandmother on Halloween. She lives in the retirement home a few blocks from here. And I had to bartend yesterday, so I couldn’t come sooner.”
“Can I buy you dinner to thank you?” He knew he was talking too fast. He knew she would say no, that she already had plans. Or a boyfriend. Or a husband.”
But she was smiling. “I’m Hallie,” she said. “And I love pizza.”
The ring was resized. Twice. Once for his grandmother. Then, two years later, with his grandmother’s blessing, for his bride, Hallie.
Marie Anderson is a Chicago area writer. She’d had stories published in about 30 magazines, including LampLight, Gathering Storm, Woman’s World, St. Anthony Messenger, Brain Child, and Downstate Story. In her daily life she strives for tidiness, timeliness, and simplicity.