It’s been a few weeks since I had dinner at Ruby’s and we have become fast friends. I’m very careful not to let anything slip about her past as the doc has instructed me that because it was her mind that put up the blocks it would be better if her mind remembered on its own. Keeping it from her is getting harder and harder as we fall into a new cycle of getting to know each other.
I watch her closely as I sit in the diner. Despite having found a rental place of my own, I still come in here every day for at least one meal.
“So I was wondering,” Ruby pauses as she reaches my table, “do you have any plans for Christmas?” That’s right its Christmas the day after tomorrow.
“No I don’t.” I reply trying not to sound as heartbroken as I am about it. She bites the right side of her lower lip and I have to hide my smile about what’s coming.
“Well, Leon is hosting some big Christmas dinner with his family and a few other families, I think Doctor Connors and his family will be there as well.” She starts to tell me and I look at her expectantly. “Look I don’t want to sound like I’m begging, but I am. If you don’t come with me to protect me I know they will arrange some horribly awkward blind date for me, and I am just not ready for that.” She pleads and I let my face fill with indecision.
“So you are just using me?” I ask in mock hurt. She looks at me trying to decide if I’m teasing.
“No, I didn’t mean it like…”
“I would love to accompany you to your surprise Christmas engagement party the town is throwing.” I tell her with a smile. She laughs shaking her head at me.
“You shouldn’t joke about that, I wouldn’t be surprised if this town pulled something that crazy.” The worry in her tone very real. I feel sorry for the way she has been treated like a stray pet since she arrived, everybody wants to help her but nobody really knows how.
“I apologise,” I say in all honesty, “may I have the honour of escorting you to your Christmas dinner party?” I ask her like a perfect gentleman.
“You may,” she answers like a lady. “I have to get going, today’s my twenty week scan at the hospital and Doctors Connors is squeezing me before the holiday break.” She tells me and fight the urge to invite myself that would push our friendship boundaries.
“Good luck,” I wish her with enough friendliness in my voice to disguise the pain.
“Thanks. So I’m off tomorrow because it’s Christmas Eve but if you swing by around five to pick me up on Christmas Day and we can go together.” She instructs as she scribbles something onto a napkin. “Here in case you get a better offer,” she offers. I see the napkin on the table with her name and cell number scribbled on it. I take it and tuck it carefully into my pocket.
“I’ll see you then,” I assure her knowing that nothing on earth could be a better offer than spending Christmas with her. She waves and smiles as she leaves the diner.
Once Ruby is out of sight I pull out my cell phone and call the doc. “Doctor Connors speaking.” I hear his voice.
“Doc its Mason Harris. It’s her twenty week scan today?” I ask him seriously.
“Yes, to determine the physical well-being and of course the sex of the baby.” He says.
“Can you tell me the results afterwards?” I ask hopefully.
“I should like to give her a chance to tell you herself, I think it would be better for establishing her connection to you. However I will tell you in a couple of days if she has not, I understand a father’s need.” He says.
“Perhaps you can tell me at Leon’s Christmas party, if Ruby hasn’t already.” I offer.
“That would be fine, I’m glad he invited you.”
“He didn’t. Ruby asked me to accompany her.” I tell him and the silence on the other end of the line is deafening. “Doc?”
“Yes I’m here, that is wonderful news.” He congratulates me. I explain it’s just as friends and that her invitation was loaded because she was afraid of being set up if she attended alone.
“Well it should be a good night,” He says.
“Thanks doc I’ll talk to you later.” I say finally before I hang up.
I hang up my phone as someone sits themselves into the booth opposite me. Leon.
“I think it’s about time you and I have a little chat.” He spits at me threateningly.
“About what exactly?” I ask firmly.
“Not here,” he hisses then looks around nervously. I have an inkling I’m about to get a ‘don’t you dare hurt her’ lecture from him.
“Look, I have to get going so perhaps we can do this some other time.” I suggest forcefully as I stand up to leave. He doesn’t push the topic but I can see the resolve in his eyes and I know he isn’t going to let this go.
At home I sit and stare at the napkin with her number scribbled on it. My cottage is a holiday rental that I paid the owners enough to rent to me indefinitely. It is located just a few miles away from Ruby’s lakeside cabin. While my cottage is buried a bit deeper into the woods I can still see a glimpse of Lake Superior from the front porch. I picked it because it was the closest place to hers on the list of real estate listings she gave me.
I have more than enough money to buy a home of my own here, and I will do just that if I have to stay here to be near her. Years of government service and no family depending on me combined with hazard pay from various operations has left me well enough off to live out the rest of my days very comfortably. I don’t make a point of flashing my cash around so not to draw attention, living under the radar for so many years has taught me a lot.
I want to call her, as crazy at that is. I want to know how her scan went, I want to know how my baby is. I don’t really care if it’s a boy or a girl, I’ll be happy just knowing that the child is healthy. I’m going to be happy just to have another piece of Ruby existing in the world. I sit back in my arm chair and float blissfully away at the image of a little face with her deep rich brown eyes, and rosy cheeks.
Christmas Eve I think as I awake in my arm chair to the morning light piercing through the snow covered windows. My fireplace has died down so I stoke it up a bit and set about making breakfast. I’m going to need to distract myself to keep from calling her before tomorrow night. I set about making a list of projects to do around the cottage to keep me occupied. I run out of things to do fast, so I write an email to Joshua updating him of the situation here.
I decide to take myself for a drive along the ice road to Madeline Island. The exceptional chill this winter has solidified the ice road already. It will be a good chance for me to test the new snow chains on the truck tires. I never imagined when I bought the truck during a sweltering New Orleans summer that I would ever need to consider buying snow chains for it.
Surrounded by plains of snow and ice as I drive I never let my guard down, keeping in mind the danger that lurks deep beneath the ice road threatening to drag you down to its icy depths. I wonder if Ruby has seen the ice caves around here yet, or even if she has ventured out to the Apostle Islands. I doubt she would’ve been travelling along the ice road in her rolling tin can of a car. I just thought of the perfect Christmas present for her, snow chains. Not too personal or extravagant but enough to let her know I care.
On my way back from Madeline Island the sun starts to set and I hear over the radio that there is expected to be an outstanding Aurora Borealis display over North Wisconsin for the next couple of nights. Nature’s very own light show, just in time for Christmas. I find a store selling snow chains still open to buy Ruby’s Christmas present before I head for home. I wrap up her present carefully and attach a small notecard; Merry Christmas from Mason. I don’t bother to address it to her personally because I intend to hand her the gift myself.
My mind is overworking every wheel and cog trying to process everything that has happened in the past few months. This is terrible timing because I need sleep before tomorrow’s festivities. I’ll need my wits about me to not slip up around Ruby or anyone she knows at the Christmas party, especially Leon. I begin to meditate to slow my thoughts down to a halt and eventually drift off to sleep.
I wake with a start to scratching and barking at my front door. I jump up with just my sweat pants on and fling the door open. Kida jumps up on me and knocks me back into the house, her tail is wagging and she keeps barking excitedly. At first I think something might be wrong until I hear a voice call out,
“Kida get back here.” Ruby. Her footsteps hit my front porch and she smiles when she sees me. “Great, my dog is making me look like a stalker.” She says apologetically.
I try to cover my mouth as I relax and yawn. I wrap my arms instinctively across my bare chest to fight off the cold from the open door and the snow that dropped off Kida’s paws.
“Good morning ladies,” I say sleepily.
“I’m so sorry,” Ruby gushes, “I had no idea this place was yours, we usually only walk for a mile or so, but when I tried to turn back she bolted. I don’t know how long I’ve been chasing her.”
“Would you like to come in for a coffee?” I ask Ruby which is really just a formality as Kida has already invaded my house and gone exploring.
“I’m not allowed to drink coffee, the baby will come out hyper.” She laughs but I take it for what it is, a polite refusal.
“Let me get Kida,” I offer and I set off to find her. Kida is curled up on my bed with the photo of Ruby I’ve been carrying for months underneath her paw.
“Shit come here,” I whisper as forcefully as I can, “now you’re going to make me look like a stalker.” I lead Kida back out to the front porch by her collar. Ruby grabs a hold of her and attaches the lead. “Can I at least drive you back home, you look exhausted?” I ask.
“Actually I am, and that would be very nice of you.” I grab my jacket and zip it up over my bare chest and snatch the keys off the hook. I open the back passenger door for Kida, it’s too cold to make her travel in the truck bed. I hold open the front door for Ruby in silence. As we drive what I know will only take a few minutes she sits quietly beside me. Then out of nowhere I feel a slobbery warm tongue start lapping at the scars on my face. I laugh at the action,
“Kida sweetheart if you lick me while I’m driving we’ll crash.” I scold her playfully nudging her back into the back seat further.
Ruby laughs a little at the incident.
“Thanks for this, I didn’t get a lot of sleep last night and it would’ve been a struggle walking back.” She tells me as we pull into her driveway. I pull up and let them both out of the truck, I start to walk back to my side then I pause. “If you’re not up to going tonight,” I start to tell her, “That’s okay.” She shakes her head.
“No I’ll be fine, I’ll take a nap this afternoon. I’m actually looking forward to the party.” She assures me. I quickly grab a fuel receipt and pen from the truck cab centre console and lean it against the hood of the truck.
“Here,” I hand her the piece of paper, “just call me if you’re not up to it.” I tell her as nonchalantly as possible. She takes the paper carefully from me and smiles as she tucks it into her pocket.
“I’ll see you tonight, five o’clock, don’t be late.” She threatens lightly.
“I wouldn’t dare,” I salute her playfully as I jump back into the truck, I put the window down to say goodbye and she cuts me off.
“Merry Christmas by the way.” She calls to me from her back porch and I wave and return the sentiment. Back at my house I silently thank Kida for waking me with the best Christmas present I’ve ever had, Ruby’s smile first thing in the morning.
The day drags on as the do when I’m not near her, until it’s time to get ready. I shower for a long while letting the heat soak through and work out every knot in my body. I shave my face and select one of the outfits that Joshua selected for me in Boston on our trip. If you can’t trust a gay man with your wardrobe who can you trust? I think as I start to question the combination. A splash of the new cologne, run the comb through my hair, and alright I’ll admit even I’m impressed with the result.
I grab a couple of fold up chairs and through them into the back of the truck before I take off. My heart is practically beating out of my chest as I arrive at Ruby’s. I don’t know why I’m so nervous, this isn’t really a date, just friends going to a holiday party together. I knock on the back door and the within a moment the vision of an angel appears in the doorway.
Backlit by the warm glow of the fireplace Ruby is a vision in a deep scarlet velvet dress that stops at her thighs. It has a wide neck exposing one of her best features, her collar bone and shoulders. The neckline has a modest scoop and the top is well filled out. She’s let her gorgeous long brown hair hang down to cascade over her shoulders and down her back. The dress falls flatteringly over her pregnant belly and there is trim of black ribbon under her bust that ties in a bow at the back of the dress. The black ribbon hangs down at the back almost touching her black tight covered legs.
“Wow,” is all I can say as I drink in the image of her completely. She smiles satisfied with the response and turns to pick up her purse. She may be satisfied with that insignificant show of admiration but I’m not. “You look absolutely stunning,” I try to amend as I hold her coat out for her to step into. Her smile widens as the pick rises to her cheeks, and I’m sure that this smile is the fullest one I’ve seen on her since I arrived here.
I lead her out to the truck and hold the door open for her as I help her into the cab. Ruby gives me directions to Leon’s place and I have to get her to repeat them as I was distracted. She laughs and decides to tell me step by step. I try, unsuccessfully to maintain a conversation without looking at her. Because every time I look at her I lose my train of thought and end up staring at her like a moron with my mouth gaping open.
We eventually arrive at Leon’s place and the drive way is packed with cars. The house itself is magnificent, old Victorian style with two levels and totally besieged by fairy lights and Christmas decorations. I park the truck and escort Ruby into the house, where someone takes our coats. Ruby turns to look at me taking in my complete arrangement.
“Wow,” she giggles and I smile as I place my hand gently on her lower back and lead her into the main room.
If I though the exterior of the house was besieged by decorations than the interior is out right plagued. I keep ducking and weaving all the hanging mistletoe as we walk because the last thing I need is that awkward situation.
“I don’t know for sure,” Ruby whispers as she leans closer to me, “But I think this is the most amount of Christmas decorations I’ve ever seen in one place.” I supress my laugh covering it with my fist and a fake cough as people start to notice our arrival.
Leon makes his way over to us first, clearly well into the libations of the evening. Outwardly everyone is very welcoming and friendly, but after years of working with people who lie for a living I can sense the real atmosphere lurking just beneath the surface of the holiday pretence. As I listen to people ask Ruby questions about her pregnancy and what she thinks for baby names I find myself disheartened that she hasn’t yet told me the sex of the baby. I lose Ruby to a gaggling swarm of older woman talking about cravings, and natural birth versus C-section and I take my leave to get us some drinks.
I find the non-alcoholic punch and an ice tub full of beers. I crack open a beer and take a cup of the punch back to Ruby. When I return to the group I can see Ruby’s look of wide eyes in the panic like that of a rabbit in a trap.
“Excuse me ladies, but I need her for a moment,” I say wrapping my arm around Ruby’s waist and pulling her from the centre of the circle. I lead her away handing her the cup of punch. She downs it in a few gulps,
“I hate not being able to drink.”
I smile at her as we are intercepted by another family.
“So are the holidays jogging any memories for you?” I hear the onslaught of questions start.
“It must be a relief to finally have a man ready to stand by you through all of this.” Says another.
“You poor thing, just let us know if you need any help or any baby things, you know I think I still have my breast pump lying around from my last baby you could have if you like.” Says a woman and I nearly choke on my beer. Ruby is rebuffing as many of the questions as politely as she can but I sense she’s almost hit her limit. I step in front of her and start asking about a topic I know everyone will be distracted by.
“So who can tell me about this sled dog racing I’ve heard so much about?” I ask to the general population surrounding us.
It works like a charm as people start talking about the big race in about six weeks.
“The Apostle Island sled dog race is the biggest and most prestigious event of the year.” I’m told by one man and I look over my shoulder at Ruby and she gives me an encouraging smile. Ruby steps up beside me ready to face the crowd again now the subject has changed. We stand politely listening to the people proudly brag about the way this town comes alive during the race and then they begin debating about the potential winner of the race.
I see Doctor Connors and his family out of the corner of my eye and I subtly try to break away from my current group. I feel a sharp jerk of my arm as Ruby pulls me back towards her desperately. I smile reassuringly at her and I wink as I squeeze her hand then let go. I need to speak to the doctor alone and she’ll be fine for a few minutes. I tear myself away discreetly and make my way to the doc.
“Merry Christmas Mason,” he greets me, “may I introduce my wife Helen and my daughters, Madison and Imogen.”
“Merry Christmas, and a pleasure to meet you all,” I say shaking hands with them all. The doc’s daughters are college age and must be home for the holidays. They greet me without judgement or disgust at my face, being raised by a doctor would’ve exposed them to worse sights than this I suppose.
“Would you care to join me for a cigar in the den?” Doctor Connors asks me and I agree knowing it’s a rouse to get away from his family and the crowd. “It’s just one for the holiday,” He mollifies his wife’s look of disapproval.
Once we are in the den the doc pulls out two cigars and we light up. It’s been a while since I had a cigar but the doc seems to be absorbing the smoke like it’s the nectar of the God’s itself.
“So…” I probe while puffing away.
“Yes, right, well she actually didn’t want to know.” He tells me and continues puffing.
“But you know what it is?” I ask.
“Well of course I know I was watching the ultrasound image.” He puffs out a cloud of smoke. “She was quite reluctant to know, she actually got very angry about it.”
“I wonder why?”
“I’m not sure, she refused to talk about it. In fact she stormed out before I could wipe off the gel from her stomach.” The doc’s words worry me as I think about the crowd of Christmas partygoers assaulting Ruby with baby questions before. After a short length of escape we finish our cigars and head back to the main room. There can’t be more than a hundred people here but it seems to fill this place solidly. I scan the crowd for Ruby and I don’t see her a short panic flashes through me.
“Can you see her?” I ask the doc.
“No but I’ll help you find her,’ he says urgently, “the holidays are a terrible time for people who feel like they don’t belong.”
I push through the crowd as gently as possible until I see her make her way into the main room on the other side. I smile relieved as I start to make my way to her, she sees me and smiles shyly as she looks away. The party is in full swing and everyone is well on their way to intoxicated as I try to swim against the current to reach Ruby. She’s hiding slightly from the room leaning against the other side of the door frame. I almost reach her when I hear the voices.
“Well it’s a good thing I say, a girl in her condition can’t afford to be choosy. He may look hideous but surely that’s better than raising a child alone.”
“Oh I know, and I’m starting to think this whole memory loss is just an act. She was probably such a slut before she came here that she couldn’t remember who the father was even if she didn’t have amnesia.” A sniping voice says. There’s a high pitched cackling of laughter from them as I round the wall and find Ruby gone. Those two drunk old women are still carrying on with their judgment and gossip so I round on them with a look of pure fury in my eyes. They both jump and are stunned into silence at my appearance, it’s not even worth it to threaten these two. I head for the back door looking for Ruby.
I find her on the back porch sitting on a wooden bench with her arms wrapped tightly around her clutching so hard like she might break apart if she lets go of herself. I kneel down in front of her make myself eye level, her tears are starting to freeze in their tracks on her cheeks.
“Let’s get you back inside,” I beg her. She shakes her head violently. I don’t want to leave her, not even to get her coat. I take a seat on the bench next to her and wrap my arm around her shoulders pulling her closer to me. I try to use my body to keep her warm as we sit there for a few moments.
The silent tears seem to be keeping Ruby’s face warm and my heart is breaking at the sight of her in pain.
“You can’t take anything those two drunk hags say seriously,” I scold her trying to snap her out of it.
“They’re probably right, I can’t remember so I don’t know.” She sobs and I snap at her refusing to indulge her self-pity.
“That’s bullshit,” I fire at her and her head snaps up to look at me in shock.
“You know, even if you can’t remember it. Search your instincts, are they telling you that you were a slut?” I say demandingly. She goes quiet for a few moments and the lets out a long deep breath.
“No,” she whispers, “I love him.” I breathe out an exasperated sigh and I let her words go into my very veins like a drug. She stands up and wipes her face off. I look up at her proudly.
“I can’t remember him, but I know I love. How strange is that?” She asks as she hold her hand out to help me off the bench.
“Your mind may have forgotten him but your heart hasn’t,” I tell her sweetly. She stands on her tip toes in the doorway and kisses me lightly on the cheek. I look up and see the mistletoe and smile at myself.
“You are so sweet and understanding, I don’t know what I would’ve done without you here.” She tells me then plasters a fake smile on her face that makes me cringe a little. “Now I’m going eat enough food tonight that I can just hibernate until the baby is due,” she laughs as she makes her way to the food table.
“She just told me she loves the father of the baby, even though she can’t remember him.” I whisper urgently into the doc’s ear.
“Hey buddy that’s great news,” He slurs at me and I realize he’s too lubricated to hold an intelligent conversation tonight. I just pat him gently on the back and tell him I’ll call him after the holidays.
I let my eyes travel the room searching for her and I find her standing with a plate full of food talking to one of the other waitresses from the diner. She can’t see me so I get to just admire her openly and completely. I take in the warm glow of her skin, the way her hair falls elegantly over her shoulder, and the way the fabric of the dress perfectly accentuates the baby bump. My baby, the love of my life and the mother of my child are safe and loved even if they don’t know it. My adoration is shut down like a vault door as I catch Leon watching me in my peripheral vision.
He makes a beeline for me and I ruefully await the confrontation that is about to explode. Instead he hands me a short glass and pours some whisky into it.
“You poor bastard,” his heavy Italian accent drips and I breathe a sigh of relief and clink my glass to his.
“Merry Christmas,” I say in despair. We don’t say anything else, Leon is observant and he saw my pure unadulterated love pouring out of me towards her. He may not know the details but he knows that. Ruby makes her way towards us having conquered the buffet of food single handed.
“Hi Leon this is a great party,” she says with a smile and he just hugs her. She looks over his shoulder at me curiously and I shrug to answer her silent question. “I’m actually kind of tired,” she says to me sheepishly.
“I was just about to ask if you were ready to go.” I say soothingly.
Leon pats me hard on the back before I walk away. After more goodbyes and Merry Christmas’ than I can count we finally reach the front door and head for the truck.
The drive back to Ruby’s is exhausting, after being able to contain my feelings for so long they seem to be just under the surface of thin ice right now with an urgent need to be freed.
“Are you alright Mason?” her concerned voice reaches out from the passenger seat.
“Of course, I think I may just be a little tired.” I say placating her.
“Well that party was a bit exhausting in more ways than one,” she qualifies.
“I hope you aren’t dwelling on what those two hags were on about?” I ask her a little sternly.
“I’m not even angry about what they said about me,” she bursts, “but I’m furious about how they attacked you. A perfectly decent guy saving a friend from a nightmare of a night and they insult you for it. Like you couldn’t have any girl you want, so you have to settle for the town slut with no memory.”
I laugh a little at her rant and she joins in the laughter. We carry on laughing right up to the end of her driveway. Next to the house I kill the engine and I run around to open her door, when she steps down I gently grab a hold of her arm. I look into her eyes and them in mine for a moment.
“Can I show you something?” I ask nervously and she nods lightly. I check my watch and lead her into the cabin. I carefully unwrap her bow from her dress, electricity shooting through my entire body at the action, then I wrap it around her eyes like a blindfold.
I run back outside and set up the folding chairs I brought with me on the pontoon at the end of the dock over the lake. I go back inside and grab the largest blanket I can find and wrap Ruby in it and lead her outside still blindfolded. As we reach the dock ramp she freezes in place,
“I don’t like being on the dock.” She says and I hear the fear in her voice. I know why she wouldn’t like being on a dock over the water but she doesn’t.
“You’ll be fine, the water is frozen and I would never let anything happen to you.” I tell her as I grip her hands firmly with mine.
I lead her slowly down to the pontoon and chairs, I sit her down carefully.
“What are we doing?” she asks after a moment. Kida joins us on the pontoon.
“You’ll just have to trust me,” I tell her, “it’s a surprise.”
“I don’t think I like surprises,” She says shakily and I smile knowing better. I pull the blindfold down just as it starts. Her eyes go wide as her mouth falls open in stunned silence. The late night ink black sky is shot with streams of glowing green and purple. Tinges of yellow and pink make their way through the waves of colour swirling through the night sky over Lake Superior. The vast frozen whiteness seems to capture the reflection of light as though the lake were alive. The brilliant display barely lasts five minutes before the black horizon swallows all traces of colour from the sky.
Ruby jumps from her seat in excitement and leaps onto my lap, I hear the crack of my chair leg over her excited squeals then, we’re in a tangled heap on the dock laughing. I carefully help her back up to her feet then her house. She invites me in but I know to keep myself sane I’m going to need to leave now. I make my excuses and fight against succumbing to her disappointed face.
“Wait, I almost forgot,” I say opening the truck door and fishing the gift from the back seat, “here this is for you.” She takes the present from me excitedly and starts to unwrap it like an eager child.
“I didn’t get you anything,” she says apologetically as she finishes unwrapping the gift.
“The memory of you in that dress is all the present I need,” I say wickedly and wink at her.
“What is it? Chain mail?” she asks clueless as she holds up the strings of chains.
“Snow chains for your car.” I tell her slowly like explaining something to a child. She smiles and hugs me quickly. She’s cold and jumping on the spot to keep warm. “Go on inside and get warm, I’ll attach these to your car then I’ll be off.” I tell her. Her eyes are locked on the notecard that was attached to the gift as she bounds up to the porch.
“Thank you,” she says biting her lip trying to wrestle Kida into the house. I bid her goodnight and set about the task of fitting the chains. It’s so cold out here, thank goodness I told her to go inside. I finish my task and I’m shocked to find Ruby standing on the edge of the porch wrapped in a thick blanket, biting the lower right side of her lip.
Oh no. She wants to ask me something. Please don’t ask me to stay, I’m not strong enough for that.
“I was wondering something,” she finally asks as I try to walk away, “why don’t you ever use my name?” Okay, not the question I was dreading. I reach my truck and half turn back to her without making eye contact,
“I guess I don’t think it suits you.” I say as I jump into the truck. I can’t lie to her, I do avoid calling her by her new name. She doesn’t try to get anything further from me as I start to back out of the drive, she goes back in to her house.
As I drive back to my place I think about her words, and she’s right. I’ve never called her by her new name, mostly because I refuse to give traction to the lie that is preventing her from remembering me and also because she will only ever be Ruby to me, my firefly.