Like Unto A Ring

 I lay on the warm sand, listening to the waves crash against the shore and watching half-naked, hot guys wander by—and I was bored out of my mind. Having grown up in a seaside resort town, a vacation at the beach wasn't my first choice of getaway destinations. The rest of my family had voted for a week in the Outer Banks, though, so I was outnumbered.

 As for the hot guys, well, they were off limits. I had a boyfriend back home. Looking was okay, but that was it. Frankly, I was tired of looking.

 I sat up with a heavy sigh.

 "What now?" Kane grumbled from under the towel he had draped over his face.

 I grinned sheepishly, even thought he couldn't see me. "Sorry."

 I had been complaining an awful lot that morning. It was our fourth day there, and I'd had about as much beach time as I could stand. Unfortunately, there wasn't much else to do. "I'm just so damned bored."

 "Why can't you just relax?"

 "That's all we've done since we got here. I'm tired of relaxing."

 "So go find a guy. I'm pretty sure that blond muscle-head was flirting with you earlier."

 I frowned. "Are you encouraging me to cheat?"

 Kane yanked the towel away and sat up. "I didn't say you had to cheat. I just said you should find a guy. What you do with him is your own business." He rolled his eyes. "Besides, everybody knows that what happens on vacation stays on vacation."

 "I'm pretty sure that's Vegas."

 "Same rules apply."

 "It doesn't matter. I'm not cheating on Asher."

 "Then quit whining about how bored you are. I gave you some options and you didn't want to hear them."

 "Those are options?"

 "Couldn't you have gone with Dad and Steve?" They had left that morning on some sort of day cruise.

 "We weren't invited, remember? I think it was supposed to be a romantic getaway for them. I saw the brochure. It said 'clothing optional.'"

 Kane shuddered and made a face. "Thanks for that mental image."

 "You're the one who brought it up."

 "And now I'm changing the subject. Why don't you take a walk?"

 I thought about his suggestion. It wasn't a bad one, considering its source. "Maybe I will."

 "Good. Make it a long one. It'll be nice to have some peace and quiet for a change."

 I laughed. "Jerk."

 He grinned as I jumped to my feet. "I'd rather be a jerk than a whiny little brat."

 "Hey!" I started walking backwards. "I didn't want to come here in the first place. If you had voted with me, we'd be on some roller coaster at Busch Gardens right now."

 Kane waved dismissively and flopped down on his towel. "Oh, and bring me back a snack when you come. I'm hungry."

 I rolled my eyes, then turned toward the breaking waves. With the cool water washing around my ankles, I let my mind wander. I thought about Kane's not-so-subtle hint that I find a guy while on vacation. Was it really such a bad idea? Asher was the only guy I'd ever dated and I loved him, but we'd been arguing a lot lately. He wouldn't ever have to know. I shook my head and sighed. I knew I'd never actually do it, but it was kind of nice to think about.

 I don't know how long I walked before a flash of light caught my attention, snapping me out of my reverie. It wasn't just sunlight reflecting off the water. It looked as if something was sparkling under the surface.

 I moved in for a closer look, and sure enough, nestled in the sandy bottom was what appeared to be a ring. I picked it up for a closer look. It was a class ring set with a black stone encircled with engraving.

 I bent down and rinsed off the sand. The engraving read, "Annamessex High School." On one side of the band was the number "19" and on the other "48." It was someone's class ring from 1948. How long had it been out here in the ocean? It was in remarkably good condition. Had someone just dropped it?

 I looked around, but there was no one in the immediate vicinity. A family had set up a blanket and umbrella a little farther along the beach so I trudged toward them to see if maybe they'd lost it.

 The mother eyed me suspiciously as I approached. I gave her a large grin hoping to put her at ease. "Hi! I was wondering if anyone here lost a class ring."

 She shook her head no. "Why? Did you find one?"

 It crossed my mind to say, "No, just thought it would be fun to ask," but instead I kept the smile on my face and nodded. "You didn't happen to see anyone over in that area earlier today, did you?"

 "Nope, and we've been here since this morning. Guess it's just your lucky day, huh?"

 I kept the now pasted-on smile as I turned away. "Thanks, anyway." Yeah, it was my lucky day. I'd always wanted someone else's class ring from 1948.

 As I absentmindedly slipped it onto my finger, I glimpsed something out of the corner of my eye. I spun around to see a dark-haired young woman in an old-fashioned, bright red bathing suit standing in the same general area where I'd found the ring. She was staring directly at me. I blinked and she was gone. I rubbed my eyes, but there was still no one standing there. I decided I'd been out in the sun too long. It was time to return to the house we'd rented for the week.

 Once there, I downed a glass of juice before slipping the ring off my finger for a closer look. This time, I noticed a name engraved on the inside of the band: William Murphy.

 I quickly booted up the computer and typed in I entered the name "William Murphy" and clicked search. A message came up saying there were over three hundred results matching that name and asked me to refine my search.

 "Would if I could," I mumbled. There was no way I was going to go through each and every one of them just for a lost ring. I set the ring on the desk next to the computer and went to find a snack for Kane and me. I couldn't get the darn ring out of my head, though. For some reason, I felt compelled to find the owner. I kept telling myself I was being silly. There was no way I could find some random person who'd lost his ring at the beach as long as sixty years ago. Besides, in that length of time anything could have happened. The owner could be dead, or living in another country, or who knows what.

 Still, the ring wouldn't let go of me. The entire time I was making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, my mind kept wandering back to ways to find the ring's owner. I thought about posting a notice online, but what were the chances the right person would see it — and where would I post it? Maybe if I knew the area where the ring was from, I could place an ad in a local paper.

 I moved back to the computer and tried to look up the school. I went to Google and typed in "Annemessex High School." Much to my surprise, right at the top of the search results was the school's website. I clicked on the link and waited for the page to load. It didn't look as if it had been updated in a long time. Amazingly, the school wasn't located far from where we lived on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.

 I noticed a link for alumni in the bottom corner and clicked on it. When a list of dates loaded onto the screen, I selected 1948. I was surprised at how few students there had been. I was immediately able to pick William Murphy's name from the list. This almost seemed too easy. Then I realized there were no addresses or phone numbers with any of the names, although some of them had the word "deceased" next to them in parentheses. William Murphy was apparently still alive — at least at the time the page was last updated.

 I scrolled all the way to the bottom and found a woman's name, email address, and phone number for corrections and updates. Maybe she would have William Murphy's contact information.

 I grabbed my cell phone and punched in the number. It rang two or three times before a woman answered.

 "Hello, my name is Killian Kendall. I'm looking for information about someone who graduated from Annemessex High School in 1948."

 There was a brief pause before she spoke again, sounding slightly confused. "Well, that's the year I graduated."

 "I got your number from the school website. It said you were the one to contact for corrections and updates. I was hoping maybe you could help me."

 "Oh, yes. I forgot they voted me at the last reunion to keep track of all that. Do you have a correction?"

 "No, um, actually, I was hoping you could help me find someone. His name is William Murphy."

 "Bill? I know him well."

 "I found his high-school ring, and I'd like to return it to him. Do you think you could give me his phone number?"

 It took her several more minutes, but she did eventually find it and give it to me. I disconnected and dialed the number she'd given me. The phone rang and rang and rang. I was just about to hang up when a man finally answered.

 "Hello, I'm looking for William Murphy."

 "That would be my father," the man said. "He's not here right now. Can I take a message?"

 "Oh, um, yeah. My name is Killian Kendall, and I found his high-school ring while on vacation."

 "You're kidding!"

 "Uh, no. I found it on the beach."

 "Seriously? What beach? Ocean City?"

 "No, actually, I'm on the Outer Banks right now."

 "You've got to be kidding me!"

 "Uh... no. It says Annemessex High School, 1948, and has his name engraved on the inside."

 "That's insane. Dad is on vacation in the Outer Banks right now with my sister and her husband. What are the chances?"

 A chill ran down my spine. "He's... here now?"

 "As we speak. Man, that's crazy. What luck! I just happened to be checking on the house when you called, otherwise, no one would have been here to answer. Would you be willing to call him where he's staying there? This will just blow his mind."

 "No. I don't mind. I can call him." My head was spinning a little at this guy's enthusiasm and the strange coincidence.

 It suddenly occurred to me that maybe he'd lost the ring this week and not decades ago as I'd first assumed. After all, the ring didn't look as if it had been tumbling around the ocean for sixty years. "Do you think he lost it this week?" I asked.

 "Oh, no. That's what's so amazing. He's never had his ring as long as I can remember. When I was getting my class ring, I asked him where his was and if he'd given it to Mom. He told me he'd lost it long before he ever met my mother. Here, let me give you his phone number there. He's not going to believe this."

 He gave me the number, and I jotted it down. After a few more exuberant exclamations from the younger Mr. Murphy, I finally managed to tell him goodbye and hang up. I sat and stared at the phone for a few minutes before dialing. The whole situation was starting to weird me out. Still, if the old man was half as excited about getting his ring back as his son was, it would be a rewarding experience.

 A woman answered.

 "Hello, I'm looking for William Murphy." I was already getting tired of saying that. I hoped this would be the last time I'd have to.

 "May I ask who's calling?" There was curiosity in her voice.

 "My name is Killian Kendall. I found his class ring earlier today."

 "You found his... what?"

 "His class ring. Annemessex High School, class of 1948."

 "That's... bizarre. How did you get this number?"

 "I looked him up online and got his home phone from a classmate. His son happened to be at the house when I called and gave me this number."

 "That would be Jeffrey, my brother. I'm Mr. Murphy's daughter, Ann. Where did you find his ring?"

 "I found it on the beach on the Outer Banks where I'm vacationing."

 "We're vacationing there, too."

 "That's what your brother told me."

 "That's incredible. Where are you exactly?"

 I told her, and it turned out they were only one town away.

 "Dad's napping right now, but he should be awake in about an hour. I can run over and pick it up sometime after that—"

 "How about I bring it to you?"

 "I couldn't ask you to go to all that trouble. You've already gone above and beyond by tracking him down."

 "It's no trouble, really. In fact, I'm kind of bored, so I don't mind at all."

 "Well, if you're sure."

 "I am."

 "Then great! Thank you so much. I'm sure he'll be thrilled. You know, you should really be a detective!"

 After she gave me the address and we said our goodbyes, I closed my phone and waited for my brain to catch up. What were the chances? It almost seemed as if some mysterious forces were at work. Another chill went down my back. That was just silly. It was all just a big coincidence, right?

 I shook my head and called Adam to get permission to use the car. I wasn't sure he would answer his phone, but luckily he did, although he did sound a little peeved that I'd interrupted his day alone with Steve. When I explained the story, however, Adam immediately agreed. I changed out of my bathing suit, slipped the ring into my pocket, and took off.

 My heart was pounding by the time I found the house where they were staying. I wasn't quite sure why I was so nervous. I was starting to feel as if I were a part of something much bigger than myself.

 I walked up the front steps, took a deep breath, and rang the bell. A moment later, the door was opened by a pleasant-looking middle-aged woman with a short, blonde bob. "Hello! You must be Killian. I'm Ann. Come on in." She led me down a short hall towards the back of the house. "Dad's in here. I didn't tell him why you were coming, just that you'd found something of his."

 We entered a bright room with three walls of floor to ceiling windows overlooking the beach. Wicker furniture was arranged to best appreciate the view. In one of the chairs sat a gray-haired man with lively blue eyes behind thick-framed glasses. One side of his face seemed to droop ever so slightly. He smiled as we came into sight. "Why, hello there. Please excuse me for not standing. I had a stroke about this time last year, and my leg hasn't been quite right since."

 "Oh, no, that's fine." I shook his hand.

 He smiled at his daughter. "That's why we're here, actually. Ann thought it would be nice to get away for a week and just relax at the beach."

 She smiled warmly back. "Now, if only you'd just relax instead of worrying about inconveniencing me or Roger all the time."

 He laughed and returned his attention to me. "I hear you have something of mine."

 "Yes, sir." I reached into my pocket and pulled out the ring. "I found this today on the beach." I held it out to him.

 His face changed the moment I pulled the ring from my pocket. The smile faded, and his eyes suddenly looked wary. He reached out and took the ring cautiously. He gave it a closer look, let out a shaky breath, and dropped the ring onto his lap. He raised an unsteady hand to his mouth.

 "Dad?" A note of alarm had crept into Ann's voice. "Are you okay?"

 He nodded and waved her away. "Can you give me a moment alone with the boy?"

 She shot me a confused look, but I was in the same boat as she was. I shrugged helplessly.

 She nodded. "Okay. Sure. I'll just be in the other room, though, so if either of you needs anything, just holler." She retreated, although not before casting one last questioning look my way.

 As soon as she was gone, Mr. Murphy picked up the ring again with hands that still shook. "It's been a long time since I've seen this ring," he murmured as he studied it closely. He raised his gaze to mine. "Where did you find it?"

 "In the surf, earlier today. I was walking and the sunlight caught it just right for me to notice."

 He shook his head. "Incredible."

 "Did you... lose it? Years ago, I mean?"

 He didn't answer right away, then, "I lost more than this ring." He sat quietly for a minute, and I thought that was all he was going to say. Then he slowly started speaking again. "We were high-school sweethearts. We started dating in the tenth grade. We were going to get married. She wore my ring—this ring—on a chain around her neck. I thought she was the most beautiful girl I'd ever seen. Her name was Dorothy. Everyone called her Dot.

 "The summer we graduated, we came here with a group of friends. It wasn't much then — a lot fewer houses than there are now—but one of the guys had an uncle who owned a little bungalow in the area. It rained most of the week, and we didn't get to spend much time on the beach. It was driving Dot crazy. She was like a fish—loved the ocean.

 "On our last day here, the locals were talking about a big storm off the coast. We were warned not to go in the water, but Dot said she was going in, storm or no storm. Of course, we guys had to prove we were big men, too. We couldn't let a little, tiny girl show us up. The other girls were the only ones with sense. They stayed on the beach.

 "The water..." He broke off and took a deep breath. "It was rough. Much rougher than we'd expected. And the undertow... Being bigger, the guys made it back to the shore, but Dot couldn't fight it. I tried to reach her, but couldn't. Some of the guys on the beach ran for help, but by the time the rescue boats got there, I couldn't even see her anymore. They pulled me in against my will. I never saw Dot again."

 "I... I'm so sorry."

 He shook his head. "That was a long time ago. I did my mourning. Her body washed up about a week later. The ring was gone." He looked at the ring again, turning it slowly in the light. "It looks exactly the same as the day I gave it to her." A tear escaped and rolled slowly down his cheek. "She was so beautiful."

 I remembered the girl I'd thought I'd seen on the beach right after I found the ring. "Was she... did she have long, dark hair and bangs?" I asked hesitantly.

 He gave me a funny look. "Yes..."

 "And was... was her bathing suit red?"

 His hand tightened around the ring as his brows gathered together in a frown. "How could you know that?"

 It couldn't be. It was too crazy to even say out loud. I shrugged nervously. "Just a lucky guess."

 Mr. Murphy stared at me.

 I shifted uncomfortably under his gaze. "I... I think she wanted you to have it."

 He stared back at the ring again, then carefully slid it onto his finger. It wouldn't go all the way on, stopping just at his age-gnarled knuckle. He covered it with his other hand and squeezed his eyes shut. "Thank you," he whispered.

 I wasn't sure if he was talking to me or his long-lost girlfriend. I started backing towards the doorway. "I'll just let myself out."

 Mr. Murphy opened his eyes, which were now glassy with unshed tears. He nodded slightly. "I'd walk you out—"

 "No, no! It's fine. I'm... I'm glad I could help."

 He looked at me again, a strange expression on his face. "Thank you," he repeated once more before turning to stare pensively out at the waves breaking gently on the beach. 


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