Addie was perched precariously on the edge of her ruffled bed. Her mother was seated next to her, chewing on her lower lip as she so often did when something was troubling her.
“Addie,” her mother started, then stopped to wipe her eyes on the sleeve of her red T-shirt.
“Mom, w-what is it?” Addie’s stomach was in knots. She wondered if her cat, Pumpkin, had run away again.
“It’s Grandma, Addie. She… she…” Cinnamon Taylor drew a shaky breath before continuing. “She passed away, darling.”
Addie didn’t—couldn’t—believe what she was hearing.
“Grandma had cancer, Addie. She didn’t want you to know, so she hid it from you. She lost her hair and had been terribly sick. Grandma knew this was coming, but she didn’t want to upset you. You understand, don’t you? I hope you’re not mad at me for not telling you.”
Addie stared numbly at her mother, who was valiantly trying not to cry in front of her. For the first few seconds, Addie felt nothing. She wasn’t sad, or happy, or much of anything really.
But, as Addie gazed into her mother’s puffy eyes, the weight of the situation pressed down upon her. “No! Why did Grandma have to die? She… she…” Addie couldn’t speak anymore. Tears were flooding from her eyes. Addie grabbed the handheld mirror from atop her dresser and flung it against the wall. It shattered into a million tiny fragments.
Addie continued to storm about the room. Her mother just watched, stunned. Addie had always been a calm child, no matter what situation she was faced with. When Cinnamon and her husband had told her of their decision to divorce a few years ago, Addie had just numbly nodded. Cinnamon had never seen Addie rage the way she was now.
“Why did she have to die?” Addie kicked the bed angrily, as if it was the bed’s fault her grandmother had passed away. Suddenly, Cinnamon came to her senses and grabbed her daughter’s arm. Addie allowed herself to be enveloped in a hug.
“I know, I know,” Cinnamon whispered. “She meant a lot to me too.” With that, the fight went out of Addie and she collapsed, sobbing, on her bed.
* * *
Addie continued to mope for the next week or so. One dull summer afternoon, Addie was lying on her stomach in her bed. She tried to concentrate on the novel she was reading, but to no avail. Like a boomerang, all thoughts strayed back to Grandma.
Grandma had been more than just a grandmother to Addie. When Dad had left to go live in the middle of nowhere, Grandma stepped in. She helped Cinnamon adjust to being a single parent and was always around to babysit Addie or do whatever was needed around the house. Addie and Grandma, who was Dad’s mom, became close friends immediately. It was terrible that Grandma would never be around to talk or laugh with Addie anymore.
Cinnamon quietly knocked on the door, then let herself in. “Come on, Addie,” she said softly. “We need to go to the lawyer’s office. Mr. Mitchell’s reading the will today, you know.”
Sighing in resignation, Addie dragged herself out of bed and stared in the mirror. She saw Grandma’s dark, thoughtful eyes staring back. Addie wrenched a comb through her black hair. Realizing it was futile to try to tame her hair now, Addie threw the comb back on the dresser and waited at the apartment door.
The ride to Mr. Mitchell’s office was long and quiet. Addie stared glumly out the taxi window at all the people rushing to and fro. She chewed the watermelon gum in her mouth without even tasting it.
“Here we are,” the driver proclaimed, coming to a stop in front of a tall, glass building. Addie got out of the cab, then looked up and down the building in amazement. This place was nice.
Cinnamon purposefully strode into the cool, air-conditioned lobby with Addie at her heels. The lobby was absolutely gorgeous. Addie craned her neck in an attempt to see everything at once as her mother led her up to the reception desk. “We’re here to see Mr. Mitchell,” Cinnamon told the receptionist.
“Fifteenth floor,” the woman said, without looking up. “It’s suite 1503.”
After the elevator ride, the pair found the office and quietly let themselves in. There was an empty waiting room complete with a dormant television and large leather seats. Addie wished she could’ve stayed home.
Just then an adjoining door opened and a well-dressed businessman stood before them. He extended his hand to Cinnamon. “Hello, Ms. Taylor. I’m glad you could make it.” He smiled down at Addie, as one would do if amused by a small child. Addie glared back. She didn’t like this man. He was glad Grandma had died, just so he could get business. When his back was turned, Addie stuck her tongue out at him.
Mr. Mitchell led the pair into his office. There was a huge window behind his desk that allowed a fantastic view of New York City. Addie caught a glimpse of water in the distance. She couldn’t tear her eyes away.
“Nice view, huh?” Mr. Mitchell was talking to her again. He was seated behind his desk in a large leather chair. She just shrugged at Mr. Mitchell though, to show she wasn’t impressed with his office.
“Both of you have been mentioned in the late Andrea Evelyn Taylor’s will. Shall I begin?” Cinnamon nodded, and Addie stared at her sneakers.
The man droned on forever about legal stuff, and Addie automatically tuned him out. She quickly took an interest again, however, when she heard her name. “And to Addison Matilda…” At this, Addie winced. Nobody called her by her full name, plus Addie despised her middle name. She had been named after a character in one of Roald Dahl’s books. By the time Addie started listening again, Mr. Mitchell was saying, “…an envelope, which includes a letter and a locket.”
Addie’s mouth dropped open. Could it be the locket, the one Grandma had treasured like it was a crown jewel? It had been on Grandma’s dresser for as long as Addie could remember. A month or two ago, it had disappeared. Addie found it kind of mysterious, in fact. She wished she knew where the locket came from.
After an eternity, the meeting came to an end. Mr. Mitchell handed Addie an envelope. “For you, Miss Addie,” he said cheerfully. Addie found it hard to be mad at him now. All she cared about was the envelope in her hand.
She studied it on the cab ride home. The envelope was made of heavy paper, and “To Addie” was scrawled in black ink on the front in her grandmother’s beautiful cursive. Addie ran her fingers over the rough envelope. She imagined her grandmother with her expensive black pen, slowly carving the words into the paper.
As soon as the cab pulled to a stop in front of Addie’s apartment building, she hopped out of the car and streaked into the lobby. Carlos, who worked in the building, exclaimed, “Hello, Addie! You’re in quite a hurry this fine day!” Addie smiled and waved in response, without slowing down. She punched the up button beside the elevator. In seconds, she was being lifted to her floor.
As Addie exited the elevator, she mumbled a quick “Hi” to Mrs. Oswald, who was wobbling—as she had an awkward gait because of her considerable size—toward the elevator. Addie squeezed past her neighbor and sprinted down the hall. She grabbed the handle of Apartment 314 and turned. The door was locked.
Groaning impatiently, Addie leaned against the door, waiting for her mother. Addie resumed the task of studying the envelope. She could feel the locket’s chain under her fingers.
Finally, Cinnamon got to the apartment. She gave Addie a quizzical look but didn’t say anything. Cinnamon unlocked the door, and Addie barreled into the apartment like a football player chasing down someone to tackle. Addie skidded into her room, then dropped to her hands and knees on the worn carpet floor.
After rooting around in her bottom dresser drawer, Addie found a letter opener. She had insisted on buying it a few years ago when she had gotten a paper cut while trying to open an envelope. Addie hadn’t bothered to use it a lot; it was too much of a hassle. This, however, was a special occasion.
Addie deftly opened the envelope. She pulled out a letter and the locket. Addie opened the letter, which was crisply folded into thirds. Grandma had handwritten it in her neat cursive. Addie began to read.
I hope this letter finds you well. As you have probably noticed, I’ve included my locket—my prized possession—in this envelope.
I remember when you were seven years old, and you asked me where I got this locket. I told you that you would find out in good time. Now, I believe, is the proper time to tell you the story of my locket.
My family was very poor when I was a girl. They wanted me to marry young, so there would be one less mouth to feed. They had set up a marriage with the Taylor family. I was to marry their eldest son, Eric.
It was only good luck we fell in love because we were to be wed whether we liked it or not. It was my sixteenth birthday when I met him. He was seventeen, handsome, and smart. I discovered he lived down the road, and we soon spent all our time together.
We were wed two years later. My parents couldn’t afford expensive wedding gifts, so my mother gave me this locket. It had been given to her by her mother when she passed away. Of course, the locket was even more beautiful back then, and I treasured it.
I wore the locket every day of my married life with Eric. We were the best of friends. Oh, Addie, I wish you could’ve met him. You would’ve loved him. He was adventurous and curious like you.
If only cancer hadn’t stepped in! It broke my heart to see Eric dying. The chemo was terrible on him. He passed away before you were born. If only we’d had more time.
If only we’d had more time. Addie sighed, thinking about that sentence. She wished she had had more time with Grandma, too. Why hadn’t she asked Grandma about her past before? It was so interesting, and Addie had many unasked questions for her grandmother. She continued to read.
I stopped wearing the locket when Eric died. I looked at it every day, though, and it served as a constant reminder of him.
Now, Addie, I’m passing it on to you. Tradition dictates I pass it on to my daughter, but I don’t have one. So it’s yours now, darling. If you open it, you’ll see the locket holds the meaning of happiness. Take good care of it for me.
Lots of love,
P.S. The answer’s in the code.
* * *
Addie looked up from the letter. What did that last part mean? Had she missed something important? Grandma had always been into codes, so she passed on her knowledge to Addie at a young age. Why was this relevant now, though?
Tears were streaming down her face. She wiped them with her sleeve before turning to the locket. She stuck her fingernails under one edge and tried to pry it open. Nothing happened. Addie tried the left side, but once again, the locket didn’t open. What was going on?
What if she couldn’t open the locket? She’d have failed Grandma. She tried to pry it open one more time. Nothing.
“Open!” Addie screamed, throwing the locket down. Cinnamon rushed into the room and put her arms around Addie.
“Shhh,” Cinnamon whispered, like Addie was a baby needing comfort. “What’s the matter, Addie?”
“Locket… won’t… open…” Addie hiccupped. Cinnamon gently scooped up the locket and slid her nails between the top and bottom portion of the locket.
“I’m sorry,” Cinnamon whispered, “it just won’t open, Addie.” The letter from Grandma glared up at Addie. Take good care of it for me. Addie certainly wasn’t doing well at that. She angrily flipped the paper over.
To her surprise, there was a single word on the back of the letter—dolls. “Mom, look…” Addie pointed at the mysterious word. “What do dolls have to do with anything?”
Suddenly, it hit her. The word dolls was the code Grandma had mentioned in her cryptic postscript. Addie quickly explained this to her mother. Addie, however, still had no idea why this code was important.
“I’ll leave you to your code cracking,” Cinnamon said with a grin. With that, she stood and left the room.
Addie sat on the floor, her chin in her hands. She found it likely that Grandma had used a code wheel. A code wheel consisted of two wheels, one inside of the other. Each wheel had the alphabet around it. The user could substitute one letter for another by lining up two different letters. For example, if the user lined the letter A up with B, the code would be A–B.
Addie dug around in the miscellaneous drawer of her dresser and pulled out an old one she had made a few years ago. Giving the wheel an experimental spin, she immediately got to work. First, she tried the code A–B. Addie quickly substituted the letters, but the code was just gibberish.
Addie made short work of the next few codes she tried. Finally, she tried the code A–T. By then, Addie was beginning to lose hope. However, she lined the A up with the T and was soon consumed by excitement. The word she had gotten was “wheel.”
Wheel was the solution to how to open the locket. Addie didn’t have to pry it open; she just had to rotate the top half. Snatching up the locket from the floor, Addie did just that. The locket opened easily.
A small, white slip of paper tumbled out, alighting on the floor. Addie picked it up, smoothing out the edges. As she read it, she began to smile.
The meaning of happiness is love.
Addie carefully replaced the paper, shut the locket, and fastened it around her neck. Even though Grandma wasn’t alive anymore, Addie would always have a small part of her in the locket. But an even bigger part of Grandma resided in Addie’s heart.