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By Ambezua All Rights Reserved ©

Romance / Fantasy


He lay on his back, his eyelids flickering open as his hazy gaze focused upon the face peering down at him. The sheets rustled as his arm moved from beneath them, reaching upward to gently cup her cheek. The wordless silence lingered for a few short moments before he eased himself into a seated position while still looking toward Ruby who stood beside the bed. From the moment he first saw her that morning, the eternal flush of her face captivated him once again like no other woman had, as if the symbol of her worry was in some way endearing. She did not always arrange herself with her hair hanging just above her narrow shoulders, as she allowed it to flow down to her waist on occasion, but there was something majestic about the way she chose to appear before him. That alone made her feel somewhat more comfortable.

They had been living together for just over a month, so their wordless early-morning exchanges had already become something of a routine. They had already officiated their marriage, but all things considered it seemed unlikely that his parents would ever accept their relationship. Richard certainly did not mind the arrangement, outwardly at least, as he stood up and walked past her to the dresser to change into his work attire.

"You stayed up all night again, didn't you?" Richard spoke his mind first, "You really shouldn't obsess over it. I told you already, didn't I? It's not healthy."

"I can't sleep... But, watching you makes me feel at ease," Ruby shook her head slowly, acknowledging that what Richard saw and what she understood were quite different.

"I'll be back from work early today. We'll go on a walk together," Richard smiled, adjusting his tie briefly while gazing into the mirror.

"You mean, the park?" Ruby's eyes danced with delight.

"Yes, the park," Richard repeated before turning toward the door to their one-bedroom apartment, "I'll just pick up something on the way back, so don't worry about preparing anything for supper."

"I could-"

"No, that's fine," Richard insisted, "We both know you can't cook, so let's just leave it at that, alright?"

Ruby simply nodded as she heard the door shut and his footsteps carry him further and further into the distance. The surrounding silence once again threatened to settle in the air, along with the emptiness. She reached up toward the thick curtains which hung across the windows on the far side of the bedroom and pushed them aside, allowing the brilliant streams of light to slice through the dim enclosure. Holding her hand up in front of the sun, she could see the rays but not feel the warmth as it passed through her translucent body and cast a crimson shadow upon the floor below.

What dictator of fate had determined that she would possess such a body? No matter what shape she decided to take, she could only see it as an imitation of a human form, a denial of her true nature. Lacking a physical beating heart within her chest, the pain that would have been concentrated there instead spread throughout her homogeneous mass. Rather than manifesting itself as a surging, roaring inferno or a digging, stabbing soreness, the pain could only be described as a festering sensation which gradually wore away at her mental capacity, leaving only that base hunger. For as long as she could remember, she had always desired something. Often, it was some form of sustenance, such as food or drink which she could readily obtain. Yet, it had never been quite this way before. It always started as soon as Richard left for the day. He would likely label it loneliness, but such a dismissive attitude toward Ruby's ailment did not fully encompass the true nature of her problem.

From her window she could see how human women lived their lives. They walked the streets in two's and three's while dressed in the most elaborate outfits, while her own most skillful attempts at replicating such garments were laughable at best. They moved with such elegance, while her own creeping motions, often more akin to a crawl than anything else, was far less appealing. In Ruby's eyes, she saw herself as little more than a marvelous canvas or fine piece of marble from which any manner of artwork could be painted or sculpture carved. Yet, even the most masterfully worked piece of art was little more than a poor substitute for real beauty of the form and body. Beauty is in life, the ability to change and adapt. An embodiment of death such as herself, with no capacity to change aside from outward appearance, could not be more hideous.

Her eyes turned from the window overlooking the street toward the entryway and the miniature kitchen with tile flooring. Atop the unused cooking range sat a brushed metal pot and a frying pan, while the microwave above did not offer a reassuring account of the time as the two dots between hour and minute blinked at her. The cupboards, stacked high with plates and bowls sufficient for two, lined each side of the narrow passageway between the counter and sink on the one side and the refrigerator and oven on the other. Ruby once again pondered why they even had a kitchen, given that he scarcely set foot inside it.

Ruby had taken an interest in cooking. The concept of mixing and preparing various foodstuffs in a precise manner before consumption struck her as rather unusual. Although it stood as a well-established fact that Richard, like most humans, preferred prepared meals, he had, on no uncertain terms, forbidden her from using the kitchen after having sampled one of her creations.

She had carefully prepared the ingredients before adding the finishing touches, that much was clear. The green beans had been poured into a strainer, rinsed, and lightly steamed. The fresh boneless chicken fillets had been marinated, thoroughly cooked, and chilled. With cautious hands, she peeled back the cardboard box containing the instant gelatin mix, fingers working delicately so as not to spill any of its contents. With a wooden spoon in hand, she mixed them all together in a single bowl, confident that the gelatin would solidify properly and suspend each delicious morsel within the cherry-flavored mass.

She remained certain that she had arranged the food in a proper manner. It never dawned on her that the young couple might have very different perceptions of what constituted an appetizing meal. Instead, she assumed he must have entertained some irrational fear that she might unintentionally set herself on fire, or harm herself in some way or other, if allowed free reign of the kitchen. Having shown Ruby this new and unusual world, she both appreciated and despised him for it.

The sun hung a few short inches above the horizon, while the long orange stretches of light which cast dark bands across the sidewalk afforded little warmth. The gnarled oak trees, stripped bare of their lush foliage exchanged sagely nods as the young couple walked by. The autumn wind blew briskly across the their faces and snatched at their noses while they held the others' hand in a tight yet tender grasp. In the comparatively short time they had known each other, very little had changed about this place. It was just as forbidding as ever, bearing a special significance to none but them.

"I'm sorry," Ruby's voice broke the silence, to which Richard lent an attentive ear in case he should miss a single murmured word which passed through her ruddy lips, "I've been thinking about it for quite some time and I've decided that I'm really not cut out for this. You held out your hand to me and brought me into your life, but how am I supposed to respond to your feelings? I don't know how to make you happy, and its hurting both of us. I'm not saying that I want to leave you. I want to stay, but I just do not know how I can. "

Richard did not respond for some time, each moment ticking more slowly than the last. His fingers still interlaced with hers, he turned his head and glanced down at her eyes, those gem-like eyes which danced in the sun and remained locked on his figure for every moment he was within sight. Each passing breath formed thin white clouds which vanished as quickly as they had appeared.

"I'm at fault for not telling you this before, Ruby," Richard turned toward her and took both of her hands into his own, "The reason I love you isn't because I want you to make dinner for me, or clean my apartment, or anything like that. It's not about what I can get out of the relationship. It's about what I can give up for you. I don't love you because you are beautiful. I do not mean that in a physical sense, either. You're beautiful to me because I love you."

Ruby could only stare back at him wordlessly. The pressure in her head threatened to explode, which was roughly akin to a full-facial flush. His words broke the chains which bound her to the ground. If she had a heart, it certainly would have fluttered. A simple smile crept across her lips as her eyes sparkled with unspoken delight, "So, you're saying that I'm ugly but it doesn't matter to you?"

"No, wait-"

"You're so cheesy, Richard..." Ruby's head tilted forward slightly.

"What about you? Why do you love me?" Richard turned the question back on her, while he cast a slightly mischievous sideways glance in her direction.

"Its quite simple, actually," while her left forefinger tapped her lower lip, Ruby's giggle gave her words a slightly unsettling flavor, "I've never seen you any differently than I do now."

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