It all started with a ring. Not just any ring, of course. An exquisite ring—a ten karat gold circlet with curly little fleur-de-lys cupping a perfectly round pearl. The kind of antique you never see in stores or even pawn shops. The kind of ring that might fill you with an unbearable urge to possess it. Even if you have to reach out and take it.
Before the ring, eleven-year-old Jane Hulce was a rather contented child. She didn’t have everything but she had enough. A mother who loved her, though no father. A brother in high school named James and three good school friends. She had flat black hair and storm cloud eyes that drew their share of compliments. Plus, a love of reading, a passably firm hand for drawing and an eye for thrift-store fashion.
The Hulces lived in a mud brown building in the heart of San Myshuno’s waterfront Spice District, wedged between a cannery and two factories, which made the whole neighborhood smell of spoiled fish and cumin. That was especially true at Jane’s when her mother would come home from work and peel off her underclothes reeking of anchovies.
But even that wasn’t so bad since Jane didn’t know anyone who had it any better. Her school was only a block away and her classmates lived in equally cramped apartments with equally annoying siblings and mothers who worked in the same sort of factories.
Until her friend Lindsey Myrtle’s eleventh birthday.
The party was hosted at Lindsey’s aunt Leah’s three bedroom home way outside the city in some leafy suburban dreamscape with neon lawns and whitewashed picket fences. Aunt Leah’s home had a porch swing, an airy living room with an upright piano and its own staircase. Jane’s building had stairs, and even a fire escape, but she’d hardly ever seen a home with its own staircase before. To her, it was so decadent—indulgent almost—it was obscene.
While the kids played lawn games in the backyard, Jane snuck upstairs and swept back down like Cinderella at the ball. Later she crept into Aunt Leah’s room in search of flowery church hats, dresses or even fur coats to parade around in, but she never made it that far. The jewelry box on the wooden bureau pulled her over, and there was the ring.
She held it in her hand a moment then slid it onto every finger, though it only fit her thumb. Her mother didn’t own any jewelry like this, just a handful of thin gold chains and a small collection of diamond look-alikes collected from various boyfriends. But Aunt Leah owned all sorts of beautiful things—jade and topaz stones and silver bracelets braided like Celtic crosses. What would it be like to own something like this, Jane wondered. To have so much. To have everything. Without a thought, the ring slipped into her pocket. And then she knew.
She looked at it every day, from its hiding spot in the back of her closet. She felt it countless times and even tried smelling it. But she only heard about it once, when Lindsey asked her at lunch if she knew anything about her aunt’s missing ring. Jane shook her head and that was that. It was hers. And just like the first hit of some powerful synthetic drug, she was intoxicated. She was hooked. It felt like power.
Soon Jane began pocketing trinkets at the mall. She Googled how to remove security tags and thought up wild diversions. At department stores she caused scenes before sneaking over to scoop up pricey perfumes. At parties she begged guests to search for her “missing” phone while she sifted through nightstands. And she took from every boy she met.
Thanks to a few books, a little YouTube and a lot of practice, Jane never got caught. Not in middle school, not after. Not while “shopping” and not when reading palms at neighborhood festivals, oiling hands and loosening rings. Add a talent for pawn shop bartering and eBay (for Jane was no hoarder) and she began to see a real future. Out of the Spice District, a factory job and her dead-end block.
For Jayne—and it was Jayne now, Jayne Ayer, pronounced “Eyre,” like her favorite book—things were finally looking up. She was eighteen with a pert nose and waves of coal black hair spilling onto her shoulders. She had a high school diploma, her beloved pearl ring and enough eBay cash for a one-way ticket away from the stench of spice town—enough to get to SimCity or Biarritz or Miami. Or maybe a sunny little beach town where the drinks poured like the diamonds dripping off clueless rich tourists.
There was a whole world out there. And all Jayne had to do was take it.
Update: Jayne is up on the gallery. ID: krowdhc, hashtag #MSSSC. (Available both with and without CC). The ring is CC and may be an important detail for Jayne. Find it here. Also check out Jayne’s full character profile here.