Note: Chapters 1 & 2 of this story can be found deep with the archives of this blog, because I just don't feel like making it any easier for you to read.
I didn't know what to say.
"I don't know what to say," I said.
I turned to Matt. He looked just as surprised as I was. I savoured the moment, knowing that all too soon the shock would wear off and he'd be ridiculing me again. Really I was impressed that I'd managed to get over it faster than he had. I'd already thought of three princess-based jokes that would have been perfect for the situation, had it been anyone else holding the tiara.
"Say something..." he whispered to me.
"But I don't know what..." I replied.
I turned back to the old lady. She was already walking back in to the other room.
"Be careful with that," she said over her shoulder "it's very valuable."
"Um, excuse me," I said, running after her . "This is obviously very...er...lovely and everything...but I'm not sure I:-"
"Oh, but you must take it!" she interrupted. "It is a gift, a token of thanks for your heroism. I can not let you go unrewarded, and one should not turn down such an offer. Not accepting this valuable treat would be both foolish and rude!" She seemed to be getting steadily more worked up as she spoke, almost as though she couldn't wait to be rid of the damn thing. Well that was nice. I don't know much about rewards, truth be told I've never offered anyone so much as a pat on the head for doing something, but I'm fairly sure giving someone some old piece of crap you just don't want lying around your house anymore isn't the standard procedure for expressing how thankful you are to them. I mean I was a hero, not a hobo!
"Well, it's just...when you said a reward I was expecting something a little more...cash-like." Smooth.
"Ha! Money? Do I look like I have money to give away?" I looked around the enormous hallway we were in, with the two marble stairways that met in the middle and the antique chandelier swinging gently above our heads, as the 9 foot oak grandfather clock ticked away next to the jewel-encrusted mirror. I decided not to answer the question.
"My husband spent all his money going off on his adventures. Everything you see here was found or given to him on his travels. Even the house came from a little known, yet exceedingly wealthy, African village. The head of the village had it transported over here by boat. My husband never made a penny for all his work! Now please, you have your prize - now leave me."
And with that she flung herself up the stairs, rather impressively for someone her age, and disappeared through one of the many doors at the top. Matt walked in from the kitchen and we silently looked at each other for a few moments before turning to leave.
I nodded my head glumly.
"Can I see it?"
I shook my head glumly.
I shrugged my shoulders glumly. I don't know why I did this, I suppose I just wasn't in the mood to talk. Also I was trying to convey the extent of my glumness to Ashleigh in the hope of receiving a sympathy hug, or possibly a sympathy boob flash.
"Oh stop being such a baby" she said, hitting my in the arm in a less than sympathetic way. What a bitch. "Come on, show it to me."
I sighed (glumly) and lifted the goddamn thing out of my backpack. It was fairly heavy for its size, with two neat rows of green and blue jewels following the swirls and loops of the silver wire frame that would wrap around the head of the overpriced girlfriend of some pretentious king in some ridiculous country no-one even cares about. A large red ruby sat in the middle, with more of the green and blue stones circling around it - just in case it wasn't shiny enough for you to notice. It was very nice I supposed. In a shitty, girly, wannabe-princess, completely-inappropriate-for-an-eighteen-year-old-very-manly-lifeguard-who'd-just-saved-your-life way. Ashleigh tried it on.
"How do I look?" She asked.
'Like a heart-stoppingly beautiful princess that a thousand brave knights of olde England would risk their mothers' lives to win the heart of just for a second,' I thought. "Like some drunk bitch on a hen night," I said. I always found it a mystery why girls never seemed to want to go out with me. Ashleigh hit me again as Matt approached us, setting down two pints for himself and me and a vodka & coke for Ashleigh.
"You owe me two-fifty." he said, sitting down.
"I'll pay you in tiaras."
"Am I not even allowed a free sympathy beer?"
"Sod off more, you don't get sympathy for being given a billion pound present."
"I don't want it! You can have it for the beer!"
"Oh no, I couldn't take the princess's tiara from her. Not when she'd look so pretty wearing it." He grabbed the tiara from Ashleigh's head
and forced it on to mine. Ashleigh somehow managed to produce a camera from somewhere and snap a picture in the half a second it took me to throw the thing off. Why do girls always have cameras in pubs? How many pictures of yourself looking sweaty and drunk in a dark, crowded room do you really need? I didn't know, but I certainly hoped it was enough to hide the one she'd just taken once it was inevitably added to the brain-melting overload of pointless shit that is facebook. I hated facebook. And cameras. And tiaras. And stupid beautiful girls who tormented me with their cruelness and wonderful, untouchable boobs.
"Fuck you!" I shouted loudly, which of course just alerted the entire pub to the less-than-manly tiara that I was now desperately flinging from my head, straight towards the whirling ceiling fan. There were gasps and laughter from strangers all around me, as the three of us were showered in brightly coloured stones, before the battered lump of silver shot back down towards my gaping, horrified mouth.
Somehow, over the next two days, Matt had convinced me to actually pay money to have my garish headpiece repaired. We'd collected all the pieces from around the table at the pub and - after restraining myself from simply throwing them all in the bin - had taken it back home where I'd spent the next couple of hours bashing the framework back in to place with a hammer and re-attaching the jewels with super glue while Matt hovered around me offering tips on the best way to put the thing back together. It was he who had stopped me getting rid of the pieces, pointing out the probable value of such a piece of jewellery and promising unending riches if we managed to make it look like a tiara again. I'd grudgingly agreed. When he wasn't being a dick; Matt could be very sensible about some things. It was just strange how his sensible ideas always seemed more annoying than the alternatives. Needless to say, after all my efforts all I had managed to do was make the silver even more lumpy than it had been before, and superglue several green and blue jewels to my hands. It was decided that this was a job for professionals, and on the basis of "spend money to make money" (Matt's words) we gathered the pieces up again and took them to an antique jewellery repair shop.
Fortunately I lived just round the corner from one.
Unfortunately the unsmiling, thin haired old man at the counter charged me two hundred quid just for the service. I was so close to walking out of the shop and leaving the pieces in the gutter right then, but Matt repeated his "spend money to make money" mantra a few more times to make me stay in there. Also he stood in the doorway and kicked me in the shins until I gave in. Why he assumed I'd share any money I might make from this with him I don't know. I decided right then that if I got some sort of profit back from this I would spend a good portion of it having him deported. For the meantime though I was two hundred pounds out of pocket (Matt had generously donated nothing to my cause) having a broken tiara I hated and never wanted be put back together so I could continue hating and not wanting it.
A week later we went back to the shop to pick it up again. It had been a dull week - since I'd now spent all the money the swimming baths had given me as a hero bonus I found myself with very little to occupy my time with until the next payday. Meanwhile everyone else I knew seemed to be going to gigs, clubs, parties and pubs and having the best week of their lives. I needed some good news from the jeweller, needed him to reassure me that my unwanted tiara was worth enough money for me to retire before I went to uni.
The little bell above the door jingled to announce our entrance to the shop. Sparkling rings, bracelets, necklaces and even an old sceptre greeted our eyes as we walked towards the counter, looking around for the old man who'd served us last time. But from out of the back room came, not an old man, but a beautiful long haired girl. I couldn't help it; I stared at her coming towards us - all legs and breasts. And a face. She moved gracefully over to the counter, a small smile playing across her mouth as she flicked a stray strand of brown hair away from her large, blue eyes. She could have been a model, could have been an angel. She could have been stolen from the best dream I ever had and placed right here in front of me in the conscious world. The time it took her to walk the three steps from the back room to the counter was all the time I needed to fall in love with her.
"Hello there boys, how can I help you?" She asked, looking from me to Matt as if questioning who would be the first one to pluck up the courage to answer her question. I decided to get there before Matt could.
"Yes, hello there also," I said a little quicker than most people usually speak as I offered my most charming smile. She seemed suddenly taken aback, her face falling faster than a bungee-ing hippo. I suddenly remembered the large gap at the front of my charming smile, where the fan-propelled tiara had knocked my tooth out. I hastily stopped smiling and continued.
"Er, yes. We brought in a tiara last week to be repaired...that old guy said it would be done by now...so, er...is it?" I was not doing well.
"Yeah...hang on a sec." She said, looking at me in a way that didn't seem to say 'take me now', as I had hoped she would. She turned back in to the back room, and after a few seconds of rummaging re-emerged with the now restored tiara.
"Brilliant, yeah that's the one." I said. "He also told us he'd be able to value it once it's fixed, could you...er...do that for us too please?" My mind was racing, trying to establish links between expensive jewellery and wooing women. Unbelievably I was coming up with nothing.
"Well actually, I'm afraid this thing appears to be pretty worthless at it is." What? "See the front of it? It looks like the main jewel that should go there is missing. I don't think you'd get a good price for this thing without it."
"What? That's impossible!" I looked down at the tiara. It was true. The large ruby that had stood in the middle of the tiara was gone. But we'd picked up all the pieces in the pub, we'd made sure of it! It took us ages! Could it be at home? No, surely I would have noticed a ruby in my room during the last week. Had it been in the pieces we brought to the shop? I was sure we'd had everything, but it was so hard to tell with it broken in to so many pieces. I looked to Matt in desperation, as if he'd pull the thing out of his pocket singing 'ta-da!' but he looked as dumbfounded as me. I was lost for answers. Somehow, the most precious part of my tiara...