The Necklace

Rating: T

"Mista Todd?" called Nellie, poking her head around the door. Sweeney was slumped in his chair, fingering a razor between his dark hands. He glanced up sullenly at her call.

"Yes?" Nellie's white skin was flushed a deep pink, and her next words were mumbled and fast.

"Willyagowalkwime?"

"Um... What?" She said it again, slowly.

Sweeney was surprised, but not shocked. The insufferable woman was openly besotted with him, no wonder she'd want to go on a walk with him.

"Is Toby coming?" The woman shook her head, smiling slightly, knowing that this could be the clincher.

Ten minutes later, Sweeney found himself strolling across a bridge over the river, not exactly certain of how he had gotten there, with Nellie's hand nestled in the crook of his arm. She sighed and leaned her head against his shoulder happily.

"Ain't this lovely, Mista T?" He grunted. Oh well, Nellie thought, Best I coulda 'oped for. She stopped to lean over the rail. A small cameo necklace slipped from her cleavage and dangled over the dark, swirling water.

"What is that?" Sweeney asked, his curiosity captured by the little bauble. He reached out and took it between his fingers, sending Nellie into ecstasies. Then she realized what he was doing and snatched the necklace back.

"Oh, nothin' o' int'rest-" she blubbered, trying to stuff it back down her bodice. Unequal to such handling, the old silver chain snapped and fell away from Nellie's neck.

"No!" she gasped, reaching down in a pointless effort to retrieve it.

"Oh, that's too bad," Sweeney said without much interest, contemplating the little ripples. Nellie grabbed his arm and pulled him off the bridge and down onto the shore.

The pair stood at the edge of the freezing water, Nellie searching the waves desperately, Sweeney gazing at a rather interesting drama occurring on the bridge they had just vacated involving two screaming women and a smug-looking man. Nellie latched onto his arm again, staring up into his uncaring black eyes with a pleading expression.

"Please, Mista Todd, oh please, that necklace was given ta me by a dear friend, the only one I've ever really loved. Please, would ya..." The barber looked at his landlady incredulously.

"You...want me... to jump into the water... after some silly little bauble?" But she just kept staring up at him with huge puppy-dog eyes until he shook her off and angrily began to pull off his vest.

"I don't know why I'm doing this..." he murmured mutinously. "Where is it?" Nellie pointed to a small sparkle in the water. Sweeney waded in, wincing as the cold water pierced his skin like knives. Ahead was a steep drop-off, and there was the necklace. Sweeney sucked in a huge breath... and jumped.

The water was even worse on his bare chest, and so silty that he couldn't see a thing through it. It twisted and tugged at him as he raked his hands through the sand, finally feeling a small filigree chain. Following it with his fingers, a round piece of metal with scalloped edges presented itself to his touch, and he pushed off the ground.

Sweeney's head broke the surface, where a mind-numbingly cold wind immediately froze every muscle in his body. He was shaking too much to even draw a full breath, and swimming was hopeless. With a mixture of flailing and pure luck, he finally fell to his knees on the shore. Dark hair was stuck wetly to his face, his shivering so strong it looked like he was having a seizure. Soon he felt warm fabric sliding over his wet shoulders and a small voice by his ear.

"Oh, love, are ya all right? Oh my... you're so cold! C'mon, dear, we gotta getcha 'ome..." He slapped her hands away.

"What is this bloody thing, anyway?" he tried to grumble, but his voice was shaking so much that it sounded more nervous than angry. He studied the little cameo in his hand. It looked highly familiar...

It was warm and sunny, a phenomenon almost unheard of in the poorer part of London. Sixteen-year-old Benjamin Barker was handing over three shillings to the pawn shop attendant, a fortune that had taken months to gain. He was buying a small cameo necklace on a silver chain.

Arriving back at home, he ran into the Lovetts' rooms excitedly, his gift wrapped in a bit of brown paper.

"Nellie! Nellie!" he called, searching for the diminutive, fifteen-year-old redhead.

"Benny!" she greeted him. "What are you so excited about?" The boy pushed the present into Nellie's hand and waited eagerly. She pulled the paper off curiously, gasping in delight when she saw the necklace in her hand.

"Oh, Benny, it's beautiful!" she cried, throwing her arms around him. Benny smiled, hugging Nellie back. On a sudden impulse, he kissed her on the cheek.

"Hey, Nellie, I love you," he said before running off with cheeks flushed deep red. Behind him stood Nellie, her face transformed with happiness.

"Benny!" she heard his mother call. "There's someone here to see you. Her name's Lucy..."

Sweeney forced himself back to the present.

"I... gave this to you," he said wonderingly. Nellie nodded sadly, taking it back and putting it in her purse.

"Yes," she said. "The day you both said you loved me... and forgot all about me. The day-"

"The day Lucy came."

"Yes." Sweeney looked at Nellie as if he'd never seen her before. Or as if he had... a long time ago, on a summer day when he was sixteen and happy and in love.