When Cherise clocked into work she put her purse beneath the host stand and went directly to the gift shop.
The gift shop was in the neighboring building. It was a boutique store with strange art on the walls. She would walk in and say hello to Angelica, the pretty blonde curator. A curator was somebody who put art on the walls. Angelica would point to one of the lopsided rectangles hanging from the dark walls and explain, “See all that red? You stare at it until you know it.”
In addition to paintings Angelica had statues that looked like melted candlesticks, animal skulls, tapestries, and jewelry.
The jewelry was handcrafted by a lady on the beach. She would walk along the shore and collect interesting stones.
Cherise leaned over the counter. She pressed her palms to the glass and admired the display. Her eyes darted from a long string of small, imperfectly round stones to a clunky choker made with blue crystal slabs. She had never seen such jewelry before.
Angelica approached with a necklace. “This shade of brown would really complement your skin color,” she said.
Cherise accepted. She tied it around her neck and admired herself in the mirror.
“Have a good day,” Angelica said, “and be sure to tell everyone where you got your pretty necklace from.”
Cherise returned. She took her place behind the stand and smiled. She would greet guests as they entered, say, “Hello, ma’am. How do you do, sir. Will that be a table for two?”
She would lead mister and misses to a small round white linen table. She’d stand, waiting patiently for them to take off their coats, hand them to her, and sit down. She would present them the menus and announce, “Your server Ashley will be with you shortly.”
Sometimes the lady would look at her. It would be a quick glance usually, an acknowledgement. She would see her unflattering skirt and ill-fitting blouse. Then she’d notice the big, beautiful stones and say, “I love your necklace. Where did you get that?”
Cherise’s cheeks would get warm. Her hand would move to her chest and hold the precious stones. She would tell them she got it from the boutique next door.
At four o’clock Cherise would go home. She grabbed her purse. She headed for the door, but her manager stopped her. “Did you remember to check the restrooms?”
She hadn’t, so she did. Then she left.
As Cherise was undressing she noticed that she had forgotten to return the necklace. She felt a rise of panic. She reached up and felt the tag. She turned it towards her and read the price.
One hundred and fifty dollars was a lot for one piece of jewelry, she thought. She couldn’t remember the last time she spent that much on anything.
She touched the stones. Stopped for a moment to feel the cool weight around her neck. She felt each individual surface. She admired the way the color complemented her dark skin in the mirror. She stood wearing nothing but the necklace and felt more clothed than she was before.
The following day she did not work. She wore the necklace to the grocery store. She walked down the aisles feeling proud. She had rolled her buggy through the narrow lines of shelves before, picked up her things, kept her eyes to the floor.
But now people were complementing her, stopping her mid-reach for a box of instant fettuccini to say, “Oh, I love your necklace.”
She wore it all day. She wore it around the house with slippers, gazing at every reflective surface in the house. Looking at herself through the microwave.
The next morning she wore it on the way to work. She removed it, hesitantly, as she walked from the restaurant to the boutique store. She entered the dark room. Angelica regarded her, “Oh, you’re back.”
Cherise apologized. She handed the necklace back, feeling the cool stones against her fingers. Her eyes dropped to the display. She looked to a large seashell looped through a thick, black string and thought how pretty it would look on her.
“Have a good day.”
When she said that it meant Cherise was dismissed without a necklace. She looked into the mirror, fixated on the bare chocolate on her chest. She reached up to feel the cool skin and felt strangely naked.