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Nathan and Ruby

by Maisy Williams 5 months ago in Love
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A Heartache Tale

Nathan and Ruby
Photo by Nick Nice on Unsplash

I was watching the rainfall the day she came back to me.

It fell steadily, drenching the orange and brown leaves of the forests beyond my back porch and thrumming a pitter-patter on my rooftop.

My post-work anxiety cure normally ensues a trail run. But I had to make peace with listening to the dribble of a water drain, as I fought the urge to smoke.

I sat on a wooden bench, as ancient as it was uncomfortable.

But I was grateful for it, after a day of tiresome interactions.

Between the bored girls making eyes at me and the cocky guys trying to intimidate everyone…it was enough to render me emotionally spent.

Sometimes those interactions cycled through my head endlessly.

Every micro expression seemed to convey contempt or disgust.

I was ashamed to admit it was fueling my own.

“Get off my back,” I muttered to no one.

The sound of my voice brought me back to the present. My pale fingers thrummed nervously on my knees.

Fuck it, I thought and let out a breath that the crisp air turned to white steam. At least I’m not drinking.

I reached in the inside pocket of my brown corduroy jacket and pulled out my cigarette case.

Pulling a cigarette out with my mouth, I futzed about my other pockets searching for a lighter.

“I thought you quit,” she exclaimed, to be heard over the rain.

I jolted my head in her direction.

She stood just under the covering at the edge of the porch, with a leather backpack on her shoulders and a black duffel bag in her hand.

Her oversized, black hoodie was soaked, tight over her head. I might not have recognized her, had she not spoken.

She walked closer to me then; a bit hesitant, I assume because of my silence.

I couldn’t speak. A pang of fear surged through my body stunning me.

She stopped in front of me, putting her bags down on the porch and pushed her hood off her head revealing black coils pulled up in a damp puff.

She knelt in front of my knees, reached into the front pocket of her soaked hoodie, and her brown fingers produced a small, silver lighter.

She opened the cap, and flipped her thumb over the trigger.

The orange flame illuminated her round face, and made her brown eyes turn amber.

I could see drops of water collecting at the ends of the fly away curls that were framing her face.

She lifted the light to me, and I inhaled through the cigarette, purely out of instinct.

“Aren’t you going to say something?” she murmured, now unsure of her presence here.

I couldn’t formulate a sentence. I could barely hear her over the sound of my pulse thrumming in my chest.

I didn’t trust myself.

Then she said, in the softest voice, “I’m real.”

She answered the question I was too afraid to voice.

I discarded the cigarette promptly, and opened my arms, as a silent request.

She rose immediately and stumbled into my lap, throwing her arms around me.

Her cold cheek was pressed to mine.

Holding her again sent warmth through my whole being.

I buried my face closely into the crook of her neck, and anchored my arms around her back like an iron bar.

Her hoodie was drenched but I clung to her, relishing how it felt to be held again.

I had no intention to release her, nor did it occur to me that this was an eventuality that needed to be considered.

I simply inhaled and exhaled with her in my arms.

Did hours pass? Did days pass?

The rain had slowed down and the sky was nearly indigo behind the outline of the shadowed trees.

She had not moved for a while, and though I was grateful for this, another part of me registered that she must be damp and cold.

I pulled back slightly to assess.

She began to stir. Had she fallen asleep?

“Ruby?” My voice was a notch above a whisper.

She said nothing.

“Roo?”

She murmured a soft “hmm,” not quite a reply. Definitely had been asleep then.

I shifted one arm under her knees, keeping the other firmly around her back, and gently rose off the bench keeping her close to my chest, as I carried her through the back door.

I rented the remodeled basement of my landlord’s colonial home. It was small but clean and I was thankful for the private porch and entrance.

My bed was in the corner of the main room.

I squatted lower to lay her across the top of the green duvet.

Her clothes were still soaked and even in her light snooze she was shivering.

Sitting beside her waist I pulled at one sleeve and reached underneath her hoodie to maneuver her arm out of it. Then I did the same to the other side. I did my best to shimmy the garment over her waist, then I carefully lifted her neck up to get the rest of it off her head.

Thankfully her white t- shirt underneath was relatively dry.

Her jeans on the other hand were sure to be cold, damp and probably itchy but I resolved to let them be, afraid how she would feel if I removed them.

Though I'd seen her full body before, it had been years prior. Messy and scary, we barely knew each other then.

I started to remember all the cold nights we sat in her car outside my old apartment. I smothered her with drunk kisses, begging her to come inside with me.

She never stayed long when she said yes, but I would keep her with me as long as I could, miserable at the idea of staying in my dark, empty room alone with my littered beer cans.

I’d wake up and call her the next day, profusely projecting my humiliation with apologies that coddled my ego:

“It was my mistake. I don’t want to lead you on. We should just be friends.”

But weeks later it would start all over again.

Late-night at the bar, I’d sit, and chain-smoke with my old bandmates after a local gig.

She’d find me in the midst of my joyless indulgence, nod along when I drunk-ranted about posers or my trauma, and bum me more cigs when my case was empty.

And on the drive back home she’d que my favorite songs.

Sometimes when I wasn’t ready to go home we’d drive through the mountains to find a clearing where we could sit and smoke some more. I’d play songs she’d never heard before and stare vacantly at the city lights, while she stared at me.

I knew she thought she was in love with me.

But I couldn't shake the idea that she just wanted me to play a role for her. She wanted to date the moody bass player with a chip on his shoulder.

The girls in this small town really romanticize fucking sad boys they think they can fix.

I couldn’t stand it.

But drunk me was always lonely and couldn’t ignore that she had this way of being warm and gentle…

I didn’t know how to protect myself and be good to her.

The cycle continued. She had her boundaries, but she also had a soft spot for me- god knows why.

So I kept her close when I was lonely and at arm's length when I was sober.

She hid her contempt gracefully until the day she didn’t.

I didn’t realize I was breaking her heart until I got sober. And I didn’t realize I was in love with her until she moved away.

Now she lay in my bed. Almost 4 years since I’d last seen her.

When she moved she cut off all contact with me for the first year.

And then one day, out of the blue, she texted me a link to a song. One I showed her.

So the next day I sent her another song. And then she sent one back. And so forth for months until I finally summoned the courage to call her and apologize for the way I treated her.

I couldn’t fathom the magnitude of grace she had for me. Instead of fixating on all my wrongs from the past she encouraged me, for how far I’d come, and said she was relieved to hear my voice, to hear me taking care of myself so intentionally.

I knew then that I'd do anything to keep her friendship. Including stifling the part of me that wanted to ask for a second chance.

Shaking that thought away I set about to make her warmer.

Quickly, I rummaged through my wardrobe to find a pair of woolen socks- a Christmas present from my mother last year.

She didn’t stir as I removed her combat boots and socks. Then I slid the fresh pair, one by one onto her cold feet.

I put her damp socks in her boots and placed them both on the matt by the door.

Through the screen I could see her backpack and duffel bag still sitting out on the porch.

I went back out to fetch them.

Standing there, looking down on them, an unexpected wave of frustration rushed through me. Two bags, I thought. How long does she expect to be here?

I hefted both bags over my shoulder and took a deep breath.

On my way back inside, I accidentally let the screen door slam shut.

She jolted upright, wide eyes looking around the room like a scared cat.

“Sorry,” I started, “Go back to sleep.”

She fell back onto the bed and let out a long audible yawn with a stretch to accompany it.

For some reason I felt irritated at the sight of her squirming around in my sheets trying to get cozy.

“What time is it?” She asked, still shivering.

“No clue,” I set her bags by the fireplace and went back to the wardrobe.

I pulled a pair of black sweatpants from a drawer. Then I slid my hoodie off it’s hanger. It was massive even on my 6”2 frame. I figured she’d warm up pretty quickly in it.

I tossed both items to her side of the bed where she had sat up, watching me.

“I’m assuming you brought clothes with you, but these are warm, if you want them,” I offered. “The bathroom is over there on the left,” I gestured.

She didn’t say anything, just sat watching me. I wasn’t sure what she was trying to figure out but she looked concerned.

I turned away toward the fireplace.

I knelt down and grabbed two logs from the wood crate and placed them onto the andiron.

Behind me she creaked off of the bed. I heard her unzip her jeans and shuffle around.

I distracted myself by getting the fire going.

Once I was satisfied I closed the screen and sat still, watching the flames engulf newspapers I used as kindling.

Different inks in the print had a mesmerizing way of changing the colors of the fire. I watched as a coupon for a six pack of Heineken was consumed by a flame and burned from orange to turquoise.

The sound of the crackling wood put me in a trace, and all the anxious thoughts I felt previously started to creep in again.

She was here and she planned to stay. Why?

“You don’t have to think so loud,” she said, softly, placing one hand lightly on my shoulder.

I flinched for a second at the suddenness of her proximity.

“Sorry,” she said, falling to her knees to get closer to me. My college hoodie was massive on her, as expected, falling just an inch above her knees, which were bare as she had opted out of borrowing the sweat pants.

She pulled the sleeves over her fists and sat back on her heels, resting her head on my shoulder.

I felt my body tense up. Why does it feel dangerous to get close to her?

“Is this okay?” She asked, sensing my discomfort.

I was grateful for the consideration and felt more at ease knowing she was mindful of the things I wasn’t able to say in those moments.

My shoulders relaxed down a bit, “Yes,” I said.

She took this as an invitation to establish more contact. Her hand found its way to the middle of my back where she began to scratch in circles over my corduroy jacket.

The sensation felt amazing. I let out a breath I didn’t know I was holding in.

She expanded on the surface area of my back and started scratching side to side and up and down.

I gave myself permission not to over think her motivations, but to be present in my body and to appreciate the warmth her nearness can provide.

Her palm moved from side to side across my shoulders. Then she stopped right in the middle and trailed her hand up to the back of my head and started to lightly massage my scalp.

Testing the waters of my own trepidation I slouched towards the ground, slowly, until my head came to rest on her knees.

As I’d hoped she continued scratching my head as I stared at the fire.

We stayed that way, silently for some time.

My former anxiety had ebbed to make room for relief. Overwhelming relief. I almost felt choked with it. A lump began to swell in my throat as it dawned on me that this sort of relief only comes when you’ve been deprived of something for a long time.

It’s not as simple to say I hadn’t been held in a long while. This spoke to something I had deep longing for: Intimacy.

To be near someone who truly knows me, someone I don’t have to wear a mask for.

Someone with gentleness…she was always sweet to me like she believed I deserved it.

I could never understand.

“What are you thinking about?” She asked softly, breaking the spell that silence often casts in a room.

She continued to run her hand through my dirty blond hair, every so often caressing my forehead with her thumb.

I swallowed the lump in my throat, “I missed you,” I said.

We were silent again for a moment before she nudged me gently with her thigh and said, “Can we talk for a second?”

I took her cue and raised my head from her lap so that I was sitting up again, staring at the fire.

“Look at me?” She asked.

I turned to her, and looked her in the eyes for the first time since her arrival.

She stared back at me, her brown eyes illuminated once again, searching my soul and not missing a thing.

It was entirely unnerving but I knew it was pointless to fight it.

I spend my life building stone walls of protection and she sits there with a hammer and a chisel, determined to break through to the other side, slowly but surely.

She reached up with both hands to hold my cheeks.

I flinched again but didn’t back away from her touch.

The lump in my throat swelled bigger and I closed my eyes to stifle tears.

“Why do you look like you’re in so much pain?” She asked.

I couldn’t speak yet.

“Is it me?” she asked, gently.

I swallowed again and managed a nod.

The sound of the crackling wood heightened the sound of what wasn’t being spoken.

“It...” I started. “It hurts.”

Immediately she removed her hands from my cheeks.

The fire couldn’t replace the warmth I lost in that moment.

I was doing this all wrong somehow.

How could I explain what I couldn’t compute for myself? That letting myself love her felt like a suicide mission. That I didn’t know how to give myself to her without hurting her, and I didn’t want to keep learning that lesson the hard way. That loving her and losing her would shatter me.

All I wanted was for her to be close to me again. Why was this so hard?

I didn’t realize I was weeping until I felt her palm on my face again, wiping the tears with her thumb.

“I’m here,” she said, softly.

I crumbled a little more.

She shifted closer to me on her knees, to cradle the back of my head with both hands.

“I’m here,” she whispered, over and over, peppering light kisses to my temple, my eyelid, my cheek, my chin, my jaw.

She stopped to lean in and rest her forehead to mine. I could feel her breath on my nose.

I kept my eyes closed and tried to sync my breathing with hers.

When the tears stopped, she pressed a light kiss on my lips.

I felt a burning need to be closer to her. To touch her warmth with my own hands. To be buried inside of it.

I kissed her back, firmly.

Without thinking I reached my arms around her waist to pull her body close to mine.

She let out a small sigh that landed in the pit of my belly.

I opened my mouth to taste inside hers and she didn’t resist.

She wrapped her legs around my waist, so that she was solidly in my lap.

I gripped her back, keeping her chest pressed to mine. I kissed her desperately and she melted for me. She moaned into my mouth when my tongue flicked hers. She sighed when my warm hands slid down to her thighs to push up her hoodie, only to slide under shirt, up to her bare back.

Her hands were in my hair, rummaging as she got lost in sensations.

I pulled my mouth away for a moment and she tried to follow it with her own, blindly.

I buried my face into her neck, letting my lips graze and hover.

She trembled in my arms.

I let out one small breath at the soft spot under her jaw and she gasped.

“Nathan,” she whispered, unraveling a little more for me.

I couldn’t get enough. I let my mouth travel her neck spacing out the breaths I let out on it.

Each time she sighed or gasped, and clung to me harder. I could feel her pulse thumping from her chest on my own.

I kissed my way back up to her mouth, drawing her back in.

She pulled back abruptly. Her swollen mouth panting, “I..,” she stuttered. “This isn’t why I came here,” she rasped.

I froze where I was and stared at her.

“You don’t …want this,” I asked, panic starting to build. Why did she come here?

“I do,” she breathed, hastening to explain. “Of course I do, look at me. No one else makes me feel-“ she cut herself off, and let out a long exhale.

“I just meant,” she continued, “This wasn’t my agenda. I don’t want you to think I’m... trying to torture you.”

I was waiting to relax but I resented her implication.

Her two bags by the door seemed to jump out of my peripheral.

“What did you think would happen?” I said trying to keep my voice calm, though I felt on the edge.

Her eyes searched mine in a panic, “Baby,” she started, and I felt my jaw clench at the pet name.

“I didn’t know what would happen. I only meant that this isn’t why I came.”

“Why did you come here?” I demanded.

I wasn’t holding her anymore. But she was still wrapped around my waist, hands cradling the back of my neck, trying to keep me with her.

“To check on you,” she said softly.

That was the final straw.

I stood up in one huff, and she stumbled backwards, frozen on the ground.

“No one asked you to check on me,” I snapped. “I was doing just fine. Taking care of myself!” I yelled, pacing in front of the fireplace mantle. My temper was building its heat and sharpening its tongue.

“Jesus fuck,” I slammed my fist on the mantle. “Why does every girl look at me like I’m a fucking project?”

I could feel my face getting hotter and my chest expanding.

“You think I need this bullshit? This is just temporary affection! It’s not real! You’re just using me! I don’t need to be saved! That’s your complex and its bullshit! ”

“Nathan-” she tried.

“You show up out of the blue with two bags, to bat your eyes at me, and to pity me?”

Oh poor little, Nathan,” I spat mockingly.

Everybody come look at the sad boy, who’s father used to beat him. The boy with no friends, I’m sure he’ll take whatever crumb he can get! Fuck this!”

I gripped the mantle with both hands. “FUCK,” I barked, pushing myself away from the fireplace and throwing my hands to my head.

The words were still hanging in the air, even as the fire logs shifted and sent sparks flying.

I couldn’t unsay it and I didn’t want to.

Until I finally looked down and saw her hurt expression.

Her bottom lip trembled like a small child, but her eyes looked aged; weary and exhausted.

Her silence was deafening.

My chest heaved, my fists clenched. I felt like breaking something .

I had to escape before I scared her even more.

I stepped past her, and walked out into the cold.

The rain had stopped, so I started toward the street, unsure of where I was headed.

I rounded the corner of the main road and walked towards the BP gas station, mainly because of its familiarity. I bought my cigarettes there.

When I got inside I perused the drinks in the refrigerated section and I stopped in front of the beer for a moment to ponder the version of me that would grab one. I felt certain he was far behind me but I’d certainly caught a glimpse of him in my outburst:

He wasn’t good at controlling his impulses. He had a sharp tongue that often miscalculated it’s attacks.

I’d been left behind so many times because of it. There were so many friendships the old me didn’t know how to repair, didn’t even know how to try.

Would she even let me?

Without purchasing anything, I stepped outside and started back home, briskly.

The fear that she’d be gone by the time I returned changed my angry jitters into panicked ones.

I jogged up to the porch where she sat, smoking a cigarette.

Relief washed over me, until I saw her bags by her feet.

She kept her gaze straight ahead, as I sat down next to her.

“Are you leaving?” I asked.

“It was just a layover. I’m going to a wedding in Denver. My next flight leaves in an hour.”

I swallowed my mortification. “Can I drive you?”

Headlights doused the trees and I knew my time was up.

“That’s my Uber,” she handed me the cigarette, and gathered her things.

“Did I… break everything?”

She finally turned to look at me with sullen eyes.

My chest sank.

She placed her palm on my cheek, warmly “I hope not.”

I stared after her long past the car’s departure.

I didn’t move again until my phone buzzed in my pocket.

She sent me a song. I exhaled.

Love

About the author

Maisy Williams

With art I have always struggled with finishing things. To the point where my dilemma with finishing often kept me from starting in the first place. I became a thinker instead of a doer and I didn't like it one bit. No more.

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