ELK GROVE, California (KOVR) — On the eve of Valentine’s Day, there’s a story of love as a ring that went missing in Lake Tahoe 23 years ago was returned at a time its owner may need it now more than ever before.

Ismael Barba has the ring back in his hands now. The letter N on the ring stands for Nogales High School, his alma mater.

“It feels great. It feels like a little piece of me that got lost so many years ago came back,” Barba said.

The class ring also served as a commitment ring to his future husband Pete Brown. The pair took a trip to Lake Tahoe in 1999, the year they met and the ring disappeared.

“We thought, ‘You know what? It probably landed at the bottom of the lake, and we can’t do anything about it now,’ ” Barba said.

In years and decades past, Barba wondered about the ring. The pair got married, then there was a devastating diagnosis: cancer. Brown fought it for a year.

“And, unfortunately, we lost the battle in May of last year,” Barba said.

As he continues to process the loss of his spouse, he is now reveling in a surprise.

“I got a private message, and it was someone I didn’t know asking ‘Are you Ismael Barba that went to Nogales high school, that lost a ring, on a boat, in Lake Tahoe?’ ” he said. “And my jaw dropped.”

Jorge Flores sent that message to Barba. He and his wife had found the ring on a boat in 1999 and tried finding the owner, initially.

“At that time, there wasn’t really many ways to find people. You know, a phone book maybe,” Flores said.

“I could not believe that the ring had surfaced,” Barba said.

The two agreed they would meet to return the ring at Barba’s office in Burlingame. But finding the ring and finding Barba weren’t the only surprises in this story.

“I gave him the address of where I worked for many years, and he said, ‘Oh my God, I’m in that building and I’m on the second floor,’ ” Barba said.

The pair had likely crossed paths many times before.

Barba was reunited with the ring his partner wore to show commitment. It feels more powerful now than ever before.

“Finding the ring really makes me feel that although Pete’s no longer with me anymore, he’s still with me,” Barba said.

Barba said he plans to resize the ring so he can wear it once again.

The-CNN-Wire™ & © 2024 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.

Join our Newsletter for the latest news right to your inbox