Grandma Sylvie’s 75th birthday was supposed to be good. The rich smell of brownies was supposed to envelop the kitchen, like it always had on Sylvie’s birthday. Sylvie would marvel over how sweet they tasted, and give Roxy that smile that made her eyes close but glimmer all at once. “My sweet pea,” she would say, gripping her granddaughter’s hand only to express her love.
Sylvie’s voice was supposed to flood Roxy’s memory today. Instead, Roxy
was only flooded with regret.
When Roxy had moved into her new house with Adam, she had told herself several times to call Sylvie. Just pick up the phone. Tell her about the house and how much you love the city. A phone call, Roxy knew, would have made Sylvie’s day, yet she neglected to give her grandmother her undivided attention.
The next time she had heard Sylvie’s voice, the soft tone she once knew was strained behind an oxygen mask, fighting to form three last words.
I love you.
Six months later, Roxy hoped Sylvie’s birthday would be the day she felt her grandmother’s presence again. Since Sylvie left her world, Roxy spoke to her every day. The framed headshot of Sylvie sat on Roxy’s desk next to her jewelry tray. Sylvie smiled over her all day long, but Roxy felt so far away from her grandmother. She wanted to know that Sylvie had seen Adam get down on one knee and ask her granddaughter to marry her. She wanted to know that Sylvie felt her excitement when he placed the ring on her finger.
Mostly, Roxy wanted to believe she had a chance to be closer to her grandmother now than when she was alive.
But she didn’t feel Sylvie in this kitchen. As she stirred the milky chocolate batter, making Sylvie her brownies, her thoughts were darkened by her memories.
A few birthdays back Roxy had attempted to make a bouquet of cupcakes for Sylvie. Sylvie sat at the kitchen table sorting through the pretties in her jewelry box while Roxy worked.
Roxy could still hear the dazzle in Sylvie’s voice.
“This one belonged to my mother.” Sylvie dangled a string of pearls from her hand. Her voice always cracked when she talked about her own loved ones who had passed. “She never did anything without these pearls around her neck. She could be wearing a T-shirt and jeans, cleaning the house, but those pearls would be on.”
“Sounds like you, Grandma,” Roxy said, eyes focused on frosting the perfect rose.
“Except I don’t clean, nor would I be caught dead in a T-shirt and jeans,” Sylvie chuckled. “Oh my gosh, Roxeanne, you have to see this one.”
Glittering in Sylvie’s fingers lay an oval-shaped sapphire stone atop a petite diamond, held together by a gold band. Roxy had never seen a piece of jewelry so classic, so stunning.
“Wow, Grandma. What is the story behind this one?”
Sylvie looked up at her granddaughter, and Roxy would never forget those gleaming eyes revealing tears when she smiled. “Oh, there’s a story indeed,” Sylvie said.
“Tell me, Grandma!”
“Someone very special gave it to me. Someone who, I might add, was not your grandfather.” Sylvie’s tone curled as she curbed her secret.
“This sounds juicy! Come on, Grandma, spill it!”
Sylvie chuckled. “Oh, sweetie, that’s for another time. But Roxeanne, I want you to have it.”
“No, it’s your birthday. You’re supposed to be getting gifts, not giving them.”
“Ah, yes,” Sylvie said, her voice like a storybook. “But the magic of my birthday is that everyone gets a gift.”
Sylvie had always given her dearest things to Roxy, from her precious jewelry to antique coffee mugs. Jewelry was not as important to Roxy; she didn’t feel worthy of her grandmother’s elegant stones, but she loved being connected to their stories.
Roxy wouldn’t accept the gift, but Sylvie stubbornly had left the ring there on the kitchen table that day. Roxy stowed it away, to be kept a secret along with the story behind it. She had not seen the ring since.
Roxy had meant to ask her grandmother again about the story behind the ring. Sylvie was always there, but Roxy never probed further. She shared all of her life with her grandmother, but she seldom asked Sylvie for details about her life.
Now here she was, baking brownies in Sylvie’s memory, longing for that ring she hadn’t even thought about while packing boxes to move. Longing for a piece of her grandmother.
She’d hoped celebrating Sylvie’s birthday would allow her to feel like she was here again. The love and joy she used to put into her baking for Sylvie had been replaced with regret and sorrow.
“I’m sorry, Grandma,” Roxy whispered as she slumped down to the hard-wood floor and drained herself of her tears. “I’m sorry these brownies suck. I’m sorry I didn’t call you. I’m sorry I didn’t take your ring. I’m sorry I didn’t ever just make it about you.”
I need you more than I ever cared to tell you.
It was several minutes before Roxy lifted herself from the floor. She dumped the brownies in the trash can, her heart sinking deeper when they hit the bottom.
The next day Roxy awoke with the reassurance that she had made it through Sylvie’s first birthday since her passing. She went about her morning routine and picked up Sylvie’s photograph from her desk. Sylvie was smiling with her thin lips parted, eyes squinting, clearly in mid-laugh. Gold hoop earrings hung from her ears and a leapard print scarf overlaid her sleek black sweater.
Roxy studied the lines of Sylvie’s cheeks, the emotion in those almond eyes.
“Watch over me today, Gram,” Roxy pleaded.
She lingered another moment with the photo, then as she set the frame back in its place, a sparkle from the jewelry tray beside Sylvie’s photo caught Roxy’s eye.
Lying there was a ring with a sapphire stone atop a petite diamond.