Merlin wasn’t sure when he first noticed the bracelet his mother always wore. It had been there his entire life. He remembered playing with the heavy dragon charm when he sat next to Hunith during story time. He watched it swing back and forth as she made dinner. Then, one day something changed.
Hunith picked up the post just as they walked home from his first day of school. There was a strange envelope that looked like it had jumped into a puddle. She looked surprised to see it and put down all the other envelopes to open it. She poked around inside it for a moment but finally pulled out a pretty gold bird and a small piece of paper. Hunith read the paper before tucking it quickly out of sight, but the bird stayed in her hand. She pulled apart a link on the bracelet, slipped the bird onto it then closed the link.
“Pretty,” he commented.
She patted him on the head and ruffled his hair. Then she asked him all about his first day at school. The charm was soon forgotten while he recounted the adventure, though she seemed a bit sad the rest of the day.
For a long while it was just those two charms on Hunith's bracelet. Sometimes Merlin wondered why she didn't add more herself. She didn't talk about the bracelet or where the charms had come from either. Once in a while he would catch her staring at the bracelet fondly, as if she was remembering good times. He never asked about them. He remembered how sad she'd been when the last charm had arrived and didn't want to make her sad again.
Merlin grew up wondering about his father. He didn't have one but other children did. The older he got the more curious he became, especially as he learned how children were created. He knew then that he must have a father out there somewhere, living or dead. Gradually he came to resent the man who never appeared, wondering why he chose to remain separate from himself and Hunith. What kind of man could be so selfish? It seemed Merlin was doomed to never know.
On his arrival home after his first day of secondary school, Merlin noticed a new charm on Hunith's bracelet—an owl. He had no idea what this meant. He didn’t ask her about it, because, once again, she seemed to be in a melancholy mood. So, he just smiled and offered to tell her about his day.
A few more years passed before the next charm arrived. He'd been caught up in teenage interests—music, texting, and girls. One particular girl in his writing class, Freya, had caught his interest. After several weeks of describing her every virtue to Hunith and his friends, he finally got the courage to ask her out. She accepted.
Even though Merlin floated on cloud nine for days after that, but he didn't miss the new charm dangling from Hunith's bracelet. A gold heart now hung from the links. He wondered at its timing . . . which led him to ponder the timing of the other charms.
He had no idea when the first had arrived, but it was there in his earliest memories. The second, he remembered, had arrived his first day of school. The third had come his first day of secondary school. And this newest one had turned up the day after his first date.
That were too many coincidences. Someone outside his tiny family was keeping track of the milestones in his life. He didn't know whether he should feel proud or creeped out. But since his mother appeared to feel nothing but a little melancholy, he decided to go with proud. Someone out there cared about him and Hunith and he hoped someday he'd find out whom.
With this notion firmly in mind, Merlin set off to make the mystery person proud of him as well. He focused on his studies and when the time came to apply to universities, Hunith encouraged him to shoot for the stars. He applied to ones he really wanted to attend.
It was no surprise to Hunith when he was accepted to Cambridge. In the same post as the acceptance letter came an envelope with another charm—this one was a little golden book. How the person had known before they did, he wasn't sure. But Hunith was happy this time and he was happy for her happiness, which doubled his own.
In due time he was off to Cambridge, and the wonders and delights that came with university life. He hadn't dated since his short romance with Freya, and with his increased studies he found he had no time at all for girls. Indeed he came to wonder what he ever saw in them, especially when he happened to meet a very "charming" boy.
At first they didn't get along at all; Arthur came across as arrogant and obnoxious at that first party. Merlin decided to have nothing to do with him.
However, the next semester, they were in the same economics class. Arthur took the initiative by sitting next to Merlin and making light of the professor, whom they both found to be incredibly dry. And a tentative friendship was born.
Throughout that semester and the one following, Merlin ranted and raved about his new friend to his mother, who began to see something else between the lines of his e-mails. Finally, as the Christmas holidays in his second year approached, something happened to alter his feelings definitively. To shut him up during an argument, Arthur had kissed him. To their amazement, they both discovered that they enjoyed the feeling enough to begin properly dating.
Merlin's first words to Hunith when he walked into their home his first day back were: "Mum, I'm gay."
Hunith stood, walked over to her son. She patted his cheek and replied, "I know, son."
Merlin should have been surprised, but he really wasn’t when another mysterious envelope arrived for Hunith the next day. A rainbow charm fell out of it and she proudly attached it to her chain. Merlin just shook his head and smiled fondly at her. She smiled all the rest of the day and asked when she would finally have the privilege of meeting Arthur.
Two and a half years later came the day that Merlin and Arthur graduated from university. Merlin couldn't help but notice a new charm on her wrist—this one was a scroll, presumably marking the event of the day. He hoped she'd never stop receiving the charms, wherever they came from.
The day he and Arthur moved in together, he saw another new charm on her bracelet. This one was a little open box. Merlin marveled at how the giver could so easily find the perfect charm to represent his milestones. He thought they might have stopped after his graduation, but he was happy to have been mistaken.
One day when he was twenty-five, he had been driving home in a terrible rainstorm. He didn't see the car hydroplane through the intersection but felt its collision with his. Everything was black for what felt like a very long time. Once in a while he thought he felt pressure from touch or familiar voices speaking, but couldn't wake himself up. Everything there was pain and light so he felt the need to stay in the dark.
When at last he felt he could tolerate the light, he opened his eyes. He reached for Hunith and curled his fingers around the bracelet on her wrist. “I like the new one,” he said, his voice barely audible. It was a tiny gold cross.
He saw her eyes flood with unshed tears, and she nodded. “I do, too.”
She smoothed the hair back from his forehead and reached for her phone to call Arthur, who came flying in only a moment later. But Merlin knew some new kind of understanding had passed between him and Hunith. She'd looked prepared to confess something precious, but he'd let her know that he already knew. The charms were from someone important to her, to both of them, and that was all he needed to know.
The day Arthur proposed to Merlin was one of the happiest of Merlin's life. Arthur had made it very romantic with a fancy restaurant and everything. Merlin's heart swelled with love for the man who'd already been through "better and worse" with him. He also expected his mother to be wearing a new charm on her wrist the next time he saw her, and he wasn't disappointed. She showed him the two little bells that had come in the post the day after his engagement.
The day of the wedding finally arrived. Merlin was, of course, excited and nervous all at once. He was sitting in a room upstairs at the little chapel when a knock sounded at the door. Surprised, he called out, "Enter." It couldn't be Arthur; they were adhering to tradition. So he was even more surprised when an unfamiliar, older man entered the room.
"Who are you?" Merlin asked.
He was tall, with dark hair peppered with gray. He wore a close beard and spoke in a gravelly voice. "Merlin, I am Balinor. Your father."
Merlin's mouth fell open—he couldn't help it. "My father? And you chose to introduce yourself to me today of all days?"
"I thought today would be the best of all days."
"My wedding day? But where have you been the rest of my life?"
"I am so sorry, Merlin, I was forced to leave your mother before your birth, for your own safety. I had been wanted for a crime I did not commit and have only recently been cleared. But I have known about your life by watching you from afar. Now I want to rejoice with you publicly."
"Father," Merlin cried. He stood and walked over to embrace the man, the one who had cared from a distance. Eventually Merlin pulled back. "Oh, I have to tell Mum!" he said, thinking out loud.
"She's the other reason I came. I . . . I want to start things anew with her . . . if she'll have me. I have this for her." He opened his hand to reveal a tiny infinity symbol.
Merlin laughed with tears in his eyes. "Oh, I think she'll have you. Let me get her up here." With that, he crossed to the door and opened it. He caught a passing girl who agreed to fetch Hunith for him. He then came to stand next to his father again. “She'll love the charm.”
There was a knock at the door and it swung open. “Please tell me . . .” Hunith said before her voice abandoned her when she noticed that Merlin wasn’t alone.
As Merlin watched, her fingers went automatically to the bracelet. She didn't move as Balinor stepped closer, and she seemed to stop breathing when he hesitated beyond her reach. Merlin thought Balinor was waiting for some sign of hope.
“I thought you’d want a more personal delivery this time,” Merlin said, from the side.
Merlin saw her look down at Balinor's palm where the elegant infinity symbol rested. She wordlessly held her own hand out and turned her wrist to expose an open link on the bracelet’s chain.
He saw Balinor's scarred fingers attach the new charm and like an echo from the past he heard Balinor whisper, “Always.”
Merlin cast his eyes down, the moment becoming far too personal for him to watch. But, he heard her whisper back with the promise of a future: “Always.”