Please enjoy this excerpt from Chapter Seven of Green Castles.
Kat headed up hills, around curves and then traveled down the long black-topped drive to her parents’ house. In the November twilight, the meadows on either side of their driveway were bare with withered hay, but she remembered many occasions that there would be dozens of deer perking their ears up and watching her fly past with huge, soulful eyes before turning and leaping back into the woods, their white tails the last flash seen before they disappeared into the dark canopy of trees. She kept rehearsing lines in her head, but not lines for a play, like usual. She thought it might be time to prepare her son for what he was going to see at the visitation the following day. She imagined looking into his big brown eyes and telling him not to be afraid or upset, but to be happy because Hope was now in heaven. And for a moment she didn't even ask herself if she still believed in heaven; she just cradled the thought in her mind so that she could feel at peace with with what she knew she must do.
Campbell Manor was filled with the aroma of pot roast and potatoes. It all felt so warm and familial, the scent of homesick dreams. Dreams I never really had, she thought. Once I was out of here, I rarely looked back, and certainly not wistfully. She remembered one of the last times she had gathered with her family in their home before leaving for college. It was the day after commencement at her graduation party. It was the day she was given The Blood of Jesus Ring.
May 31, 1992
Throughout the entire spring of my senior year, my parents had debated about what they should get me for a graduation present. Somehow the idea of a ruby ring had surfaced as the winning gift. I had begged my mother to let me pick out the ring, but she refused. A few nights before commencement, I had a nightmare that the ring she chose turned out to be this huge, gaudy gold butterfly with a big, dull ruby right smack on top of it. It looked like something out of a bad sci-fi movie that had evil powers, like it could vaporize a robot or something. I woke up in a cold sweat, wondering how in the world I could graciously accept something so hideous and then actually make myself wear it perched like a monument to bad taste on my finger?
I made it through graduation. The gym was so loud with all of us cheering and the band grinding through Pomp and Circumstance. We tossed our purple caps into the air and I remember linking pinkies with Michelle and Jennifer and screaming “UNITED!!!” at the top of our lungs. For a moment we were the golden ones, the survivors, the initiates to the New Adult Club with our futures stretched before us, a diamond-strewn path to health, wealth and happiness. In that moment, we forgot that we’d be parting ways. We suspended ourselves in time and simply cherished each other and what we had done to get us to that very tick of the clock’s hand as we walked across the stage to receive our freshly-printed diplomas, obligatory hugs from the principal and firm handshakes from the superintendent. Despite that suspended glory, there was still a little annoying voice in my head that wiggled its way to the surface faintly asking, “What about the ring?”
So the next day has arrived and it’s my graduation party. Campbell Manor is full of aunts, uncles, cousins, business associates, and church members. Michelle, Jennifer, Alex, Jason and a few others from youth group are in attendance, and at the moment I’m regretting having gotten stuck inside with the adults. I’m explaining to my Aunt Laura the way the theater program at NYU works when I see Alex and Michelle climbing the stairs back onto the deck from the direction of the woods. Michelle does not look pleased. I’m so distracted watching them that my aunt says, “It’s okay if you want to go hang out with your friends, Katerina.”
People keep handing me cards and I’m trying to set them aside in one place so I don’t lose track of any of them. My eyes are filled with visions of dollar signs as I hear my mother call from the family room. “Katerina! Come in here please and open the present your father and I got you!”
The french doors to the deck open and Alex slips in with Michelle right behind. She’s dragged Jennifer back into the house as well and is leaning down to whisper something in her ear. Jennifer smirks in response. I better get the scoop on that later, I think, smoothing my white pleated skirt down across my thighs as I stand up and head for the family room. The seats on the couches and the two matching wingback chairs are taken so I slide the piano bench out to sit there.
“Oh,” Jennifer says, loud enough that everyone hears and turns in her direction. “Play the song! Play the song!”
I shoot daggers at her with my eyes. I really didn’t want to give a performance. But then Michelle and Alex join in too, goading me to play the song I’d sung at graduation the day before in front of the entire school: teachers, students and parents. I sigh and turn around on the bench to face the keys. I silently pray that I can do it without the music because I’ve left it in my car. I start the intro to the song and turn to see that Jennifer already has tears in her eyes. She and Michelle move to the piano and start to sing with me, “Packing up the dreams God planted...”
It’s a Michael W. Smith song about saying goodbye to your friends. You know, the typical sappy stuff you’d expect to hear at a high school graduation in the middle of an Indiana cornfield in a gym that perpetually echoes with the sounds of dribbling basketballs and high tops squeaking on the shiny lacquered floor. In other words, the perfect song. And when we finish I can see that some of the adults have tears in their eyes too. After all, they’ve watched us grow up. This signals the end of an era for them in some ways too.
My mother starts the applause only I notice she has a small navy velvet box in her one hand so she isn’t making any noise as she tries to clap around it. The others are clapping loudly, though and Michelle, Jennifer and I each give a little curtsy. Then my mother takes over from the middle of the room. As soon as she extends the ring box toward me all I can think about is that gigantic gold butterfly from my dream and how I’m possibly going to feign delight in front of all these guests. Maybe this is an acting test meant to prepare me for NYU? I think.
She launches into this lengthy monologue about how much she and my father love me and how proud they are of me, and how they know this is only first of many great accomplishments I will achieve in my life. Then she transitions into a part about how difficult it is to let your child go off into the big, wide world. She’s still clutching the ring box and I’m dying. I just want to see the damn ring and get this over with. My heart is pounding.
“The ruby in this ring,” she continues dramatically, and I think in that moment not a soul wonders where I got my acting talents, “represents the Blood of Jesus Christ, who died for our sins. The Blood of Jesus not only saved us and gives us eternal life in heaven, but I pray it will also protect our only, precious daughter as she goes off to the big city to pursue her dreams.”
I see that Michelle is vigorously rolling her eyes, so vigorously in fact, that I develop an eye cramp just from watching her. Jennifer is also watching Michelle and about to burst into laughter and I’m just thinking, show me the ring for crying out loud!
Everyone is touched by my mother’s words, and I don’t know what has precipitated more tears: my song or her Blood of Jesus Ring speech. She finally, in what seems like slow motion, flips open the top of the velvet case and there nestled in ivory satin is a tiny, delicate marquise cut ruby with two diamond chips, one at the top left and one at the bottom right. The gold band is flourished with a double fluted edge that touches the top and bottom points of the ruby. I sigh as relief washes over me. I gently lift the ring from its satin nest and slide it down my right ring finger where it sparkles in perfection between my knuckles. The Blood of Jesus looks like it was made for my finger.
As Kat reflected on that memory, she was also reminded of the near loss of the Blood of Jesus ruby many years later when she was a senior in college. It was a weekend that Nelson was visiting, taking a break from a production he was wrapping up in London. Kat and Nelson were stepping out for the day and got caught in a torrential downpour, the water rushing furiously between the sidewalks and the streets. Kat needed to mail a letter so she’d sloshed over to the corner, an umbrella protecting her long dark mane from the dripping sky. She’d folded down the tray of the mailbox and as she slid the letter onto the tray and started to flip it back up to send the letter down the chute and into the mailbox, she felt her ring catch on the metal edge. When she pulled her hand away she immediately saw that the ruby had been pried out of her ring. “Oh no!” she gasped.
Nelson had already gotten about a half a block down the street before he heard her cry out. He came running back, rain starting to dampen the curls around his face and pushing them down into his eyes. She explained what had happened and he shook his head as if it was a foregone conclusion that the ring was gone forever.
“No!” Kat insisted. “No, we have to call the post office and have them send someone to open the box.”
“You’re sure it went inside?” he asked.
“Yes! It must have!” she adamantly claimed.
“Okay, because if it fell into the street, I’m sure it’s been washed away,” Nelson said in his matter-of-fact British accent.
Later in the afternoon, the rain had ceased and the post office representative was on his way. Kat waited near the mailbox on the street corner for signs of the little white postal truck when something glittering in the sunlight caught her eye. She crouched just a few feet away from the mailbox and there, just inches from a grate was a tiny, marquise cut ruby. It was the Blood of Jesus. It had somehow stuck to the sidewalk despite the fact that just hours before a river of rainwater had rushed down the street. It was a miracle.