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Broken Hearts and Last Goodbyes

Guest Jen

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Story Title: Broken Hearts and Last Goodbyes

Type of story: Short/Medium fiction
Main Characters: Ruby/Casey
BTTB rating: A
Genre: Angst
Does story include spoilers: No
Any warnings: Sexual content, Language.

Summary: It’s not like Ruby is leaving anything behind.

Broken Hearts and Last Goodbyes

Part One

She’s leaving.

She’s actually in the car and driving away from the house, the street, the town -- the place which she had come to call home over the last three years.

But it’s not like Ruby is leaving anything behind.

Casey isn’t coming with her, and Charlie isn’t - can’t, won’t ever again - and that’s when she feels it hit her again. Like it’s all real and new and raw, and Ruby can’t actually believe Charlie is (was) lying on the floor, crimson pooling onto the carpet, soaking through her police shirt. And it feels like she’s losing her all over again. Those jolting moments of remembering and she wishes she could stop for a little while -- because she is just so tired.

Is this what being an adult is like? Making decisions you don’t want to make, feeling things you don’t want to feel, a constant vice around your heart ready to squeeze at a moment’s notice.

The flat is on a quiet street in the outer suburbs of the city and she gets there well after dark, having packed her meagre boxes into the boot of the car after the wake, after Casey had left. She wasn’t going to spend another night in that house. She couldn’t spend another moment there without thinking about it.

Ruby can’t stop seeing Charlie, lifeless and pale in the middle of their living room; the moment when Ruby’s life crumbled around her, burying her in rumble.

But now she has a new four walls to call home.

It’s eerily quiet as Ruby slides her key into the lock, stepping into the small living space. The front door opens into a narrow passage, a bedroom immediately to her right (Charlie and Brax’s, her brain supplies automatically), a step-down living area-slash-kitchen to her left. The passage continues, meeting up with the kitchen and another door to the second bedroom, and a small bathroom all fully furnished by the owners they -- she, Ruby reminds herself quickly -- are renting off.

She works methodically, bringing in boxes from the car one after another until they are all sitting along one wall of the second bedroom -- she can’t even step foot inside the first -- and it feels empty, lonely. It’s too much space for one person.

She’ll need to get a job to pay the rent, maybe even a roommate if it becomes too expensive to live by herself, but the thought of people -- strangers -- invading her space, terrifies her, and Ruby finds herself pulling her knees up to her chest, in the far corner of her room, and taking deep breaths and just willing herself to be out of tears. She’s already cried too much today.


Ruby falls asleep from exhaustion for a few hours under the first blanket she finds in one of the boxes, finally residing herself to the double bed and mattress when the floorboards become too uncomfortable.

It feels empty. Like, it’s a bed too big for just herself, and she knows who should be curling up beside her right now. And he’s over two hours away with his brother, and definitely not thinking about her.

Ruby has a pounding headache right behind her eyes and wants nothing more than to just turn over, fold in on herself and sleep, but she knows the signs. She hasn’t checked her levels since she started driving and she can’t remember the last time she ate anything so she knows it’s her levels dropping low.

A part of her doesn’t care, considers letting herself just wither away into some sort of diabetic coma. Maybe that way she won’t have to deal with the constant gnawing at her stomach roughly proportionate to how much she misses Charlie. But her sense of self-preservation still exists, and it’s only a fleeting moment of wallowing in grief, before she hauls herself out of bed and into the kitchen.

Ruby pads to the cupboards, pulling doors open to see if there’s anything there; there isn’t.

She finds her phone in her pocket - she’s still dressed in her clothes from last night - and swipes her fingers over the buttons, making the screen illuminate. 6:58am

It’s early, too early to really do anything, and Ruby realises that if she’s going to be self-sufficient then she’s going to have to shower and actually go outside to get food.

When she steps out of the shower she hears the last notes of her phone chiming, before silence engulfs her again. With her towel wrapped tightly around her she walks over to the device and looks at the screen.

1 missed call - Casey

She clears it quickly and busies herself with finding clothes and drying her hair with more care than she’s taken in a while.


Finally, in the early afternoon, Ruby braces herself for leaving the flat.

It’s not like she literally has anything to be afraid of, but it’s the first of many days without Charlie - and even thinking that makes Ruby want to crawl back into the far corner of the bedroom and cry - and she’s somehow going to have to make it through without anyone else to hold her hand.

She walks down the street to the local supermarket and begins to fill a basket with the basics - cereal, milk, bread, apples, potatoes - and is trying to do a mental tally of how much she’s spent when she hears someone from behind exclaim, “Ruby?”

She swivels around, eyes scanning the people moving up and down the aisles, her gaze landing on bright blue eyes, blonde hair and broad smile.

“Oh my God! What are you doing here?” Nicole is surging forward and engulfing Ruby in a hug before she has a chance to react.

Nicole steps back, holding Ruby by the shoulders at arm’s length, her eyes darting over Ruby’s face, and Ruby can’t help but flick her eyes away. She can’t deal with the scrutiny, the inevitable questions if her face betrays her.

“What’s happened?” Nicole asks.

Ruby shakes her head. “Not here,” she manages to whisper, the grocery store starting to swim behind tears, but god, she is not going have a breakdown in front of a display for soup. She grits her teeth, looks skyward and heaves a deep breath. She can do this.

Nicole is nodding. “Okay. Okay, get your stuff and come back to my place.”


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Part Two

Ten minutes later Ruby finds herself a passenger in Nicole’s car, staring out the window as she drives through the suburbs. She pulls into the driveway of a simple brick and tile house. A small row of flowers directs them to the front door and she jiggles her keys into the lock. Ruby follows silently into the house.

There are a pile of sneakers and shoes that have been toed off just inside the door, she notices the toddler sided yellow gumboots, and walks into the kitchen after Nicole. There are papers spread all over the dining table, as well as a giant sketchbook, opened casually to a dress design. Its coloured silver, and it reminds Ruby of the dress Charlie wore to her last birthday dinner. Sparkly and tight and perfect for her. The vice tightens as Nicole shuffles around, apologising for the mess as she fills the kettle and pulls a jar of instant coffee from the pantry.

“--I was going to come back and clean, this is the first chance I’ve had, but then I couldn’t believe it was you, and I couldn’t just walk away without saying something.” Ruby doesn’t reply, just takes a seat at the table, her fingers absently tracing over the edges of Nicole’s design -- sleek, elegant, just like Nicole -- who’s wearing black tights underneath a sleeveless tunic, a long chain dangling from her neck.

“You’re still doing fashion?’ Ruby finds herself asking.

Nicole nods as she begins to fill two mugs with hot water, stirring as she goes. “Yeah, I transferred here after leaving the bay. It took a while to find a place that was close enough to the uni, but it’s good now.”

She brings the two steaming coffees across to the table, handing one to Ruby before sitting down opposite her. Ruby is glad for the space, and she blows at the top of her drink before taking a sip.

Nicole’s not saying anything, but she’s looking at Ruby in a way that’s unnerving; it’s as if she’s trying to figure out what’s going on all on her own. Like she knows that if Ruby opens her mouth she’s going to break. It’ll be a million shattered pieces spread out in front of them and there isn’t a way to put them back together. Not when one piece is definitely missing.

Ruby swallows, carefully places the mug back down on the table and then starts.

She doesn’t look up, can’t meet Nicole’s face as she explains about Brax and the River Boys and how much danger Charlie had to have known she was in and that moment when she walked in and how she hasn’t really slept since -- she can’t anymore, not without seeing Charlie’s lifeless body, her pale face, and the instant her whole world crumbles keeps playing on loop like some sort of torture.

Ruby swipes at the tears streaming down her cheeks with the back of her hand before she sees Nicole shift out of the corner of her blurry eyes. She reaches across the table, hands Ruby a tissue and allows her to gracelessly blow her nose, rub at her eyes and try to stop the tears. Finally she blinks up, takes a couple of steadying breaths and catches Nicole’s sombre expression.

Nicole reaches out a hand, loops their fingers together and holds on tightly.

She doesn’t say, “I’m sorry,” (Ruby finds that statement pretty redundant in her current circumstances), doesn’t say, “It’ll be okay,” just holds on, squeezes, reminding Ruby that she’s there.

There’s a jangle of keys and a dull thud before the front door swings open on its hinges and high-pitched laughter and a deep voice echoes through the house.

“Honey, we’re home!”

Instantly, Ruby tugs her hand away, wiping at her face again, licking her lips, trying to compose herself, while Nicole shoots her a slightly hurt expression before turning and watching as Angelo, peeling off his coat in the passageway, calls out to Nicole.

“--Sorry we’re so late. We were going to come home before it got dark but then there was this stray cat up a tree and Ben wanted to make sure it got down safely, but don’t worry I didn’t let him climb because I know how you get --” He cuts himself off as he sees Ruby sitting there, unable to hide the shock on his face. “Ruby?”

Ruby opens her mouth, an attempt to say anything, even though her throat is dry, scratchy from the crying, but at that moment there is the pitter-patter of tiny footsteps and a blur of navy blue runs past Angelo and launches himself at Nicole, who’s barely managed to stand and greet them both.

“How’s my Benny boy?” Nicole coos as she picks up the toddler. The boy has golden blonde hair, curling as it grows long around his ears and he’s giggling as Nicole is tickling at his sides, through his knitted jumper.

“I should go,” Ruby says, interrupting the happy reunion. She stands from the table and immediately Nicole’s face falls and Angelo starts talking again.

“Don’t leave on our account. I’m sure you have a lot of catching up to do and it’s Ben’s bath time anyway, so you can have your private girl talk or whatever--”

“No, I’ve got, uh, stuff to do,” Ruby lies.

“Ruby,” Nicole says sadly, her tone with a hint of pleading.

Ruby just shakes her head and walks straight towards the front door.

Behind her Nicole hands off Ben to Angelo and she follows Ruby down the hall.

“Call me,” she says sternly, hugging Ruby once more.

Ruby nods, not willing to really commit. She wasn’t meant to see anyone she knew -- that was the whole point of leaving -- to try and erase the memory of Summer Bay and growing up and all the parts that hurt.

“Can I drive you?” Angelo offers from behind, but again, Ruby shakes her head.

“I need the walk,” she says finally before Nicole pulls open the front door and Ruby leaves without looking back.


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  • 2 weeks later...

Part Three

It doesn’t take long for Ruby to realise she’s properly lost.

The city isn’t like Summer Bay; you can’t just walk around a corner and find your way back to town. There are streets and alleys and suburban houses that all look the same and maybe she should have accepted the lift from Angelo, but no. Ruby has to stand on her own two feet; she knows she can’t rely on anyone but herself.

It seems to be getting darker earlier, winter already approaching and there’s a chill in the air. Ruby hugs her arms tightly around her petite frame as she walks along the footpath, deliberately not meeting anyone’s eye.

She turns another corner and looks up at the sound of loud voices. There’s laughter and talking and a deep bass thrumming hard, causing the ground to actually vibrate under her feet as Ruby approaches the bar.

There are girls in short dresses, men in suit jackets and ties spilling out onto the streets, arms and bodies pressed closely together and they’re all smiling, without a care in the world.

Ruby hates them -- she doesn’t even know them -- actually hates that they can get on with their lives. That Nicole and Angelo, and the blonde and her handsome gentlemen who climb into the back of a taxi, can all go on with their lives like nothing has happened, and to them, it hasn’t. Ruby’s walls are crumbling, cracking and burying her in rubble and the world continues to spin.

She doesn’t want to be social, despises simply the idea of having to talk to anyone, but the thought of going back to the house, of weaving her way back to the empty bedroom and kitchen and living room, is just as bad. So Ruby steps inside, squeezes her way through the throngs of people and perches carefully on the edge of a stool at the end of the bar.

The bartender is busy; smiling at patrons as he swirls colourful liquids in glasses and places them on the counter for eager hands, and Ruby just watches for a moment. But then he looks up, catches Ruby eye and she can see that flash of something (her age, Ruby realises after a second, she looks too young to be at a bar), before he is called over by another paying customer and his attention disappears.

Ruby lets herself sit for a moment. To actually stop and take in her surroundings, and be part of something for the first time in a while, and be insignificant and unnoticed and not just The Girl With A Dead Mum. It’s oddly comforting, this level of anonymity, and maybe this is all she needs to get through.

There’s a constant flow of people at the bar, singles, couples, mostly well-dressed young people with too much money and not enough ways to spend it, and it’s only when someone says, “You look a little lost,” that she realises that someone is actually talking to her.

She blinks a few times, takes in the gentleman sitting on the stool next to her and swallows.

”Is it that obvious?” she wants to ask, because the man seems to be waiting for her to say something, but instead she forces a smile (she hopes it’s a smile) and shrugs, hoping it’s enough.

“What’s a pretty girl like you doing in the corner all by herself?” the man asks. Ruby notices that he’s sipping some sort of clear drink out of a cocktail glass, and he swirls the last of it around the in the glass before take a final long sip. She watches his adam’s apple bob up and down as he swallows, the hint of liquid pooling in the corner of his mouth as he uses his tongue to lick his lips. “You can tell me to rack off if you want, but I get the feeling you could do with the company. Brian,” he says, holding out a formal hand.

Ruby stares at it for a moment before reaching out her own and politely shaking his. “Ruby.”

“Pretty name,” Brian comments.

Ruby averts her eyes, staring very intently at the elaborate chandelier hanging from the ceiling, casting yellow diamonds onto the walls of the bar, catching the silver of Brian’s cufflinks as he folds his hands on top of the bar and hails down the bartender.

“Can I buy you a drink?”

Ruby doesn’t drink, she can’t really, not with her diabetes, but this man is offering, and Brian’s smiling at her and he doesn’t see her as a too-young-too-fragile-person, so she finds herself nodding.

Brian doesn’t ask what she would like, and it’s a good thing because Ruby wouldn’t know anyway, but accepts the long-stemmed glass that’s placed in front of her, filled to the brim with something crimson and red ; the colour of bl--

“Ruby red,” Brian says, cutting through Ruby’s thoughts, “Thought it was appropriate.”

Ruby takes the glass in her fingers and takes a sip. It tastes like sugar and cherries, with something that burns slightly at the back of her throat once she swallows, but it’s good so Ruby takes another, and she can feel Brian’s eyes on her as she drinks.

Brian doesn’t force Ruby to talk, doesn’t ask about her family, just speaks pointlessly about his job at the law firm and the long days and how it’s sometimes lonely but it’s his father’s company and he doesn’t like the work but he can’t really complain. Ruby just sips her drink constantly, nods in the right places and smiles when Brian pauses the flow of the one-sided conversation.

He orders another round of drinks and this time Ruby doesn’t hesitate. She nods and smiles and gulps down another cherry-red drink and lets the burning take over, feels herself getting slightly light-headed, but most noticeably relishes the numbing of the pain.

Everything is slightly blurry at the edges when Brian places a large, warm hand on her leg, kneading his fingers seductively into her skin.

“Let’s get out of here,” he murmurs into Ruby’s ear and Ruby lets herself be led by the hand away from the bar. Her footsteps are slightly sluggish as the noise fades into the background.

A door creaks on its hinges. The space is small and dim as Ruby finds herself pressed into the cool concrete wall, Brian’s hands persistent, winding their way from her shoulders, down her arms, her waist, hips.

Ruby breathes out as Brian leans down, kisses her hard, all teeth and mouth and rough evening stubble scratching at her face. He kisses with insistence, opening her up; licking at her mouth, whispering, “Cherries,” and Ruby can hear his sly smile.

He steps closer, presses her back, spine straight against the wall, his long leg brushing against hers, his hands exploring, roaming everywhere as he kisses her again and again.

Brian is so close, his face a blur as Ruby blinks her eyes open. “Don’t be scared,” he says low into her ear, “I’ll take care of you,” and it’s meant to be comforting, words you want to hear but Ruby freezes, feels herself stop as Brian continues, fingers slipping under her shirt, rubbing against her now exposed skin.

“Don’t freak out on me now,” Brian chuckles as he steps back and begins to unbuckle his belt. Ruby swallows hard, actually takes in her surroundings for the first time. It’s a bathroom and she’s leaning against a far wall, away from the sinks, and she catches her own reflection in a mirror.

Her cheeks are flushed against her otherwise pale skin, lips bright red, raw, while her eyes are wide. She can see how her shirt is bunched up from where Brian had been, and now he’s stepping back in and kissing at her neck, licking in a way that makes Ruby’s stomach turn over. Deep down she knows she should stop, that she’s drunk and emotional and being taken advantage of, and knows that Charlie would be furious if she ever found out --

But she can’t, won’t, and that’s why it doesn’t matter. No one is around to care, so Ruby lets Brian slide a hand into her pants, touch her there and lets him kiss back the objection that threatens to spill over.

It’s not until there’s a loud bang and suddenly Brian is no longer hard against her body that Ruby realises something has happened.

Angelo is in front of her, face fuming, holding Brian by the scruff of his shirt, other hand bundled into a fist as he yells, “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”

“What is your problem?” Brian yells back. He swings sloppily at Angelo’s face, but he’s still slightly intoxicated himself so the movement is sluggish and Angelo just shoves him against the opposite wall.

“You’re going to leave,” Angelo says sternly, his voice suddenly low and intense. “You’re going to turn around and walk out of here and if I ever see your face again I will not be held responsible for what happens.”

He gives Brian one last rough shake before dropping the hold he had on his collar. Brian stands up on shaky legs, attempts to smooth out his clothes, before he glances back at Ruby, who is still frozen in place.

“She was a prude anyway,” Brian huffs angrily before storming out, the bathroom door slamming shut behind him.

Angelo is breathing heavily, taking a couple of steadying breaths before he turns back to Ruby, calmly walks over to where she is crumbled against the wall and helps her stand. He guides her hands as he does up her loose buttons, slides an arm around her shoulders as he leads her away.

The car ride is silent, Ruby buckled into the passenger’s seat, Angelo driving down back streets until he comes to a stop. Ruby blinks up at the house, the same house she was sitting in with Nicole earlier that day, only hours ago.

Her eyelids feel heavy, head pounding against her skull as Ruby doesn’t object to Angelo lifting her from the car and carrying her into the house. Nicole already has the door open when they reach the front veranda and Ruby faintly hears her gasp as she is ushered down the hall.

The mattress is soft under her body as someone takes off her shoes, places a blanket over her and switches off the light. She should be tired, exhausted, but Ruby just blinks into the darkness, the numbness engulfing her as the door is closed.


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Part Four

When she does sleep, she sleeps fitfully, hearing murmuring voices and the light padding of footsteps somewhere nearby.

“--you found her there --”

“ -- shouldn’t have let her go --”

“-- not your fault ... she’s a complete mess --”

“ -- stay here --”


“No one.”


It’s a recurring dream.

Dark clouds looming above, the sky grey encroaching, not an inch of blue sky or sunlight present, and yet -- shadows. She feels cold, shivering, skin sensitive as she feels the rough hands rubbing into her body, every hair standing on end as the breath is hot on her neck. She tries to scream, to open her mouth and suck in the fresh air that she knows is there, but can’t. The air is suffocating and closing in, someone with strong, wide arms is squeezing, engulfing her, pushing all the oxygen out of her lungs until she’s gasping for air and her eyes fly open.

The room is dull, the light from outside blocked out by the thick curtains and Ruby can hear her heart pounding inside her chest, her breath rattling as she forces herself to stop. Just stop, and breathe in, hold, exhale.

Breathe in, hold, exhale.

Breathe in, hold, exhale.

She’s tangled in the sheets and blanket. Ruby doesn’t even remember taking off her shoes last night, but now her shirt is sticking to her, her socked feet adding to her overall heat, the flush of her cheeks and slick of sweat on her chest.

Slowly, Ruby untangles the bedclothes, toes off her socks and stands on the cool floorboard, gazing for a moment around what she assumes to be a guest room. She creeps towards the door, not sure what she’s going to find on the other side.

As she turns the handle Ruby catches the tail-end of a conversation not meant for her.

“--It’s so sad, though. All this stuff with Charlie and Ruby feels like the only way she can deal with it is going out and writing herself off--”

“But it’s not your problem, Nic. You shouldn’t be the one picking up after her. At some point Ruby is going to have to learn how to stand up on her own. You and I can’t be chasing her across town making sure she’s okay.”

Ruby hears Nicole sigh, resigned. “I know you’re right. Doesn’t make it any easier though.”

Ruby wants to shut the door; close it and pretend she didn’t hear. Because now she knows how they feel; that Ruby is nothing more than an inconvenience. A silly little girl with a problem, and they are grown up and moved on and better off without her. But as she goes to close the door Ruby stubs her toe, an audible crack echoing down the passage, and both Nicole and Angelo look up from where they are sitting at the dining table to see Ruby peeking out from the bedroom.

“Oh, you’re awake!” Nicole says brightly.

Ruby nods, tries to ignore the throbbing starting in her foot and steps out of the room.

“Do you want some breakfast?” Angelo asks, standing from the table and making his way into the kitchen. “Although, it’s probably more lunch at this time of day.”

Ruby glances at the microwave just past Angelo’s shoulder, the glowing green numbers illuminated to display 1:25. She hadn’t realised she had slept so late.

Ruby shakes her head, doesn’t really have much of an appetite for anything at the moment, but Angelo pointedly ignores her and puts two slices of bread in the toaster before starting on pouring hot water out of the kettle.

“You can sit down, you know,” Nicole says as Ruby realises she’s been shifting awkwardly from one foot to the other just outside the bedroom door. Ruby obliges, sitting down opposite Nicole, while Angelo finishes the breakfast-come-lunch by spreading butter on the toast and stirring milk into Ruby’s coffee. He places both in front of Ruby and then takes his own seat next to Nicole, arm resting across the back of Nicole’s chair.

“So,” Angelo begins slowly, “How are you feeling?”

Ruby shrugs, doesn’t really trust herself to open her mouth, but she catches the concerned glance between Nicole and Angelo, so she clears her throat.

“Okay,” she croaks. Nicole gives her a small, sympathetic smile and Angelo nods imperceptivity.

Ruby takes a sip of her coffee; it’s strong and bitter, and Ruby knows what she needs to do. Ruby needs to at least pretend she’s holding it together; she can’t fall apart in front of them. Even if Nicole and Angelo can only see her as the small, pathetic child she was in Summer Bay this move was supposed to be a new start, a fresh break of sorts.

Ruby takes a deep breath, keeps her hands cupped around her mug, steadies herself before she looks up at catches Angelo’s eye. “Thanks for last night.”

“Ruby -” Angelo starts.

“No, I mean -- Thanks for everything, but I’m just going to go,” Ruby says, standing, ignoring the mostly full cup of coffee and cold toast.

“What? No, you don’t have to go,” Nicole says quickly. “Ben’s on a play date with a friend so we can hang out ... talk, if you want?”

“No, it’s fine,” Ruby repeats. “I’m fine. I just -- I need to get out, get on with ... things.” She doesn’t know what yet, just that she can’t stay any longer. Not with Angelo and Nicole looking at her with their forlorned expressions and wondering what mistake she’s going to make next.

She heads for the door before they can object. Angelo is offering to drop her off, Nicole wants her to at least eat something, but Ruby says very quietly, “I’ve got to learn to stand up on my own. I can’t have you chasing me across town making sure I’m okay.”

Nicole and Angelo are clearly confused, then realisation dawns on both their faces. Ruby slips out the front door without a look back.


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Part Five

Ruby changes into a pair of sweat pants and a jumper and dozes fitfully for the rest of the day. She can’t call it sleep; not with the nightmares, the recurring dream, the feeling of darkness and suffocation that encroaches every time she closes her eyes. She wakes the same way; sleeked in sweat, panting, heart pounding and each time she has to coax herself down from the gripping fear pulsing through her body.

Ruby gets through Monday by staying in bed, staring at the ceiling, counting backwards from one thousand. When she loses her place she starts over, because when she’s counting she can’t think about anything else. If she loses track it’s because her mind slips, to Casey or Charlie or Brax or Nicole and what they are doing/thinking/saying. But she can’t let herself slip up, so she starts over from the beginning.

Tuesday is much the same except she orders pizza, blearily opening the door for the delivery guy and shoving a couple of notes into his hand and taking the box. She nibbles at a slice, lets the rest of it go cold on the counter and then goes back to bed, resumes counting.

There is brusque knocking on the front door on Wednesday as Ruby is coming back from the bathroom and she freezes. No one knows she’s here; no one who matters knows this address. There’s no way Angelo or Nicole could have tracked her down. She stops moving, holds her breath and waits. The knocking stops and she convinces herself that she hears footsteps walking away before she takes long, quick steps back into the bedroom and pulls up the cover.

On Thursday she goes outside. Not, outside, but she ventures into the backyard, gazes around at the overgrown shrubbery, the corrugated fence keeping her in, keeping them out. The sky is overcast, grey clouds hanging low, little moments of sunlight peek through and she wishes she could feel the warmth, wishes she could feel anything again. But she notices the change even if she doesn’t feel it. There are no birds, no chirping, everything seemingly still, quiet.

The calm before the storm.


The wind is blowing a gale, the awning along the side of the house rattles with every gust and Ruby slams the back door closed, locks the wooden door and draws the blinds, trying to block out as much of it as she can. The rain pelts the windows, rivers of water cascade down like a waterfall and Ruby just bundles herself in her cover, sits on her bed, gazes around at the boxes she’s started to unpack.

She made the decision that morning, to actually open what she had brought. To unpack, let the permanency sink in. She hangs up her clothes inside the built-in wardrobe, puts her toothbrush in the bathroom, puts a clean set of sheets on her bed and puts her phone on charge -- she’d let it go flat days ago.

Amidst the rolling of the thunder, the cracking of the lightning, Ruby is sure she misheard. It was a branch or a close echo of the torrential downpour clattering against the side of the house, except where there was just a steady thumping and pounding, there is now yelling. A voice calling; albeit a faint one.

Ruby wrenches open the door, and standing on the doorstep is the one person she’s been trying to forget.

Casey is sopping wet, arms wrapped tightly around his body, protecting himself as best he can from the howling wind and pouring rain. She knows she can’t leave him out there -- would never turning him away, really -- but that doesn’t stop Ruby from doing a double take.

“C-can I come in?” Casey stutters, bracing himself as another gust of wind picks up.

Reaching out, Ruby grabs Casey by the wrist, tugging him into the house, the wind catching the door and blowing it shut with a loud bang.

Ruby can’t look at him, can’t meet his eye, just says, “You need to get out of these wet clothes,” and her fingers work nimbly to unbutton Casey’s jacket, some denim thing that Ruby really hates, and she doesn’t even realise she’s doing it until she’s stripped him of his jacket and begins on the hem of his shirt. She feels Casey’s fingers wrap around hers, holding them still, the fabric caught in her grasp.

Ruby lets go, taking an obvious step back.

In one motion Casey pulls the shirt over his head and looks around, almost sheepishly, as he tries to figure out what to do with it.

Ruby takes the shirt and their fingers touch. This time, Casey slips them silently together. It’s like a muscle-memory, the way they fit -- the way they used to; always -- fingers laced, Casey’s thumb rubbing circles into the back of Ruby’s hand.

It’s the simplest of gestures, something Ruby wouldn’t have thought twice about a week ago, but now she’s been on her own, hit rock bottom, hauled herself out of the hole and it’s like a her skin is being burned. She snatches her hand away, goes to the laundry, tossing the shirt and jacket in the basket and grabbing a towel from the counter.

Casey is still standing there when she returns, he’s sort of gazing around the room, taking it all in. Objectively, it’s sort of a big space for one person, and Ruby didn’t bring a lot of stuff with her anyway, and the only time Casey had seen the place was when he was looking at pictures of it online when they were planning on moving -- together.

But Casey made his choice; when Ruby decided to leave, Casey stayed. And now he’s shown up and is standing half naked in front of her and Ruby says the first thing that comes out of her mouth, “What are you doing here?”

Casey reaches a hand out like he wants to hold Ruby’s again. Ruby hands him the towel instead. He takes it, doesn’t really use it, just holds the fabric between his fingers, looks down at it, as he replies, “I’m here for you.”

“You chose him.”

“Ruby -” Casey begins, but she cuts him off.

“No. No, you had your chance. You made your decision.” Ruby is quiet, eerily calm as Casey flounders a little, searching for a way to try to explain. He’s bundling the towel into his fist, like he’s getting more frustrated by the minute, but what did he honestly expect to happen? For Ruby to open the front door and leap into his arms, and for everything to be okay again?

“I’m here now,” Casey says finally, “Doesn’t that count for something?”

Ruby hears herself scoff. This is more than she’s said in days and she almost can’t believe that these words are tumbling from her mouth.

“So, I’m your second choice? What happened? Brax ran himself into the ground so much that he couldn’t recognize you? Got arrested? Beaten up? What? Because it must have been bad enough for you to leave, since you wouldn’t the first time.”

Ruby is not about to tell him how not okay she’s been in his absence. Let him think that she’s doing okay, that she’s getting up in the mornings and not thinking about him, not willing with everything in her that she’s going to sleep without waking to her own scream, that Casey would be there beside her, murmuring in her ear and holding her tight until she falls back to sleep.

“I love you,” Casey says, “I’ve always loved you.”

“What do you expect me to say?” Ruby demands, because Casey doesn’t get to do this. He doesn’t get to pick and choose when he wants to be with her. “You know how I feel, how I’ve always felt. Nothing has changed, except it was a lot easier for me to convince myself that I actually hated you when you weren’t standing in front of me!”

“You love me?” Casey asks, taking a step forward.

Ruby doesn’t reply, just stares, watches as Casey approaches slowly.

He repeats his question. “Do you love me, Ruby?”

It’s the way her name just rolls off his tongue, and it’s soft, quiet amid the raging storm outside, and yet she hears it clear as a bell. It causes a familiar ache in her chest and she feels the tears begin to prickle behind her eyes.

Casey’s next words are hushed and low and whispered directly to Ruby as he takes her hands, pulls her close so her nose is at his chest, “Don’t -- Don’t Ruby, please don’t cry. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”

When Ruby opens her mouth to speak what comes out is a sob. She doesn’t want to hear sorry. She doesn’t want to be told not to cry, because that’s all she’s wanted to do for a week, and she hasn’t allowed herself to feel like this when Casey wasn’t around. She’s tried blocking it out, erasing the memory, the feeling, and nothing has worked. Because it’s not something that you can just ignore. It’s something that’s been lodged in her chest and in every breath she takes, every movement; she’s had to do it with caution, knowing that if she falls apart, there was no one to put her back together.

Because that is what Casey does. He holds her and collects the bits that have broken off and finds a way to make her whole again, and in this moment Ruby allows herself to fall apart.

She cries and doesn’t care that she’s wiping her tears into Casey’s skin, and that she can feel herself physically shaking against his body, which is somehow so warm compared to her own.

Casey is holding her tight, refusing to budge when she strains to get away. He holds her together and presses kisses to the top of her head and waits until she’s just breathing, swallowing hard and blinking up at him. His face is etched with concern and worry, and his eyes are shining too with unshed tears.

Ruby doesn’t know who kisses whom, whether they meet in the middle, but when they do it’s like Ruby actually feels the sun.

Ruby grips on to Casey’s chest, pulling him closer and Casey tilts his head, angling their mouths so they slide together in a practiced rhythm. He sucks at her lip, parts her mouth and slips his tongue in and Ruby balances on her toes, inching herself closer, wanting to melt herself into him, because Casey is the one who makes her whole again, who makes her feel things -- both the good and bad -- and she’s doesn’t want to feel nothing any more.

They part only momentarily as Ruby leads him into the bedroom, and then Casey’s lips are back on hers as he lays down, his body fitting flush to hers and Ruby feels his hands cup her cheek, and he nuzzles at her neck with his mouth and Ruby has to suppress the shudder that is building up inside her.

Ruby’s shirt and bra with Casey’s jeans and boxers are tossed aside and as Casey is trailing patterns down her front with his tongue he murmurs, “I’m here,” into Ruby’s skin.

Over and over again.

I’m here.


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Part Six

They are both naked beneath the covers when they speak again. Casey is propped up on his side with his elbow, just watching Ruby, using his finger to brush her hair out of her eyes. Ruby is blinking up at him, spent, tired, but unable to tear her eyes away from Casey.

“I need to explain,” he says softly.

“Are we really doing this now?”

“We need to do this.” Casey sighs, lies on his back and stares up at the ceiling. “I had to stay because Brax is family -”

“And I’m not?” Ruby chokes out.

“Let me finish,” Casey says quickly and Ruby feels his fingers trailing down her arm until their fingers are laced together. “Brax is family, but it’s more than that. I’ve seen him go through this before. He doesn’t ... He doesn’t know how to deal with it. In the end, I knew you’d be okay. You wanted me, but you didn’t need me, not like him.”

“What happened?” Ruby whispers.

Casey breathes slowly, Ruby can see his chest rising and falling out of the corner of her eye. “Brax was ... he was a mess. Like, totally falling apart. I would hear him pacing around the house at all hours, found him passed out on the beach more times than I can ever remember him doing before. It was like he was just looking for a way to wipe himself out.”

Ruby remembers wide hands and chapped lips and a dimly lit bathroom, and feels the shiver run up her spine. She understands wanting to do that, to just try anything to get rid of the image that’s burned in the back of your mind.

“He was almost successful too,” Casey continues. “He started this stupid Fight Club thing. He’d go out, get paid to fight. Or rather, get paid to have his skull bashed in. I mean, Brax is good, but he’s not like, trained or anything. These guys are freaking massive and this is all they do.” Casey shakes his head, closes his eyes momentarily. “Brax never stood a chance.”

“Is he -?” Ruby can’t even finish the question. Is this why Casey has suddenly changed his mind?

“No,” Casey replies. “A trip to the Emergency Room and thirty-two stitches made him finally see sense. And do you know what the worst part was?” He doesn’t wait for Ruby to answer. “It was that I told him over and over that he’d end up in trouble; that going out and fighting wasn’t going to bring Charlie back and he ignored me. It was Heath and Dr Walker and having his head sewn back together that finally got through to him, not me.”

“Casey -” Ruby begins. ”Ask if you can stay,” she thinks. ”I don’t know what I’ll say, but please ask.”

“Now I’m here,” Casey says instead, and Ruby can throw him out if she wants. She can get up and yell and scream at him for leaving her, for being just another person that leaves, but she won’t. She can’t.

“I need to know,” Ruby says, voice quiet, soft in the early morning light. The storm has passed, skies beginning to clear, the faintest glimmer of yellow light sneaks in between her curtains on to the wall of the bedroom.

“Know what?”

“I need to know that you’ll pick me,” Ruby says.

Casey is silent, fingers frozen close by Ruby’s side, but unmoving.

“I need to know that if Brax calls or Heath or god forbid some other tragedy strikes, that you’ll pick me over them. That might make me selfish, but I don’t care. I’ve spent the last week with nobody, and you may think that I don’t need you, but I do, Casey.” Her voice cracks, and Ruby has to swallow around the lump in her throat. “I don’t have anybody else.”

Ruby can’t look at him, can’t see Casey’s face. She’s staring straight up at the ceiling, trying to just will herself not to cry.


Casey is lugging the last of the boxes inside the house, and Ruby has already started opening the ones he’s left inside the other bedroom -- Charlie’s bedroom. These are Charlie’s things after all, so this is where they belong.

“Leah certainly did a good job at packing all this stuff up,” Casey says, dusting off his hands on his jeans after he’s placed the box beside Ruby on the floor.

“Yeah,” Ruby says, reaching inside one of the untaped packages and pulling out a long, silver dress, all sequins and sparkles and Ruby remembers Charlie wearing it at her birthday only months ago. Ruby holds the fabric close, doesn’t care that the sequins are scratchy on her nose and inhales. It smells like citrus, fruit and faintly woody, but something undeniably Charlie.

“You okay?” Casey asks, placing a hand on Ruby’s shoulder. She looks up at him, smiles, nods and places the dress in the pile for giving away. Ruby would never fit a dress like this; wouldn’t want to keep it even if she could.

Casey busies himself opening another box, one that Leah has scrawled on the side: work. Ruby assumes its stuff from the Police Station, will probably end up giving most of that stuff away too.

She’s pawing over an old photo album, picture after picture of Charlie smiling back up at her, when Casey asks her, “Do you want this?”

Ruby looks up, puts the album carefully aside and moves so she’s up on her knees, reaching out to take the small box from Casey’s hand.

The box is small, made of dark green velvet and has a tiny, golden hinge. Ruby opens it carefully and pulls out the contents, holding the silver band between her fingers. The light catches the metallic circle and Casey is staring too, watching intently as Ruby realises what it is.

She looks up at Casey who has crouched down beside her.

“So?” he asks, and Ruby blinks back at him.

“So, what?” she asks, the smallest of smiles creeping on to her lips. “Do I want this plain silver ring that has no sentimental attachment to me whatsoever?”

“Are you going to make me say it?” Casey asks, slightly exasperated.

“Yes,” Ruby says smugly. “Yes, I am.”

Casey sighs, joins Ruby on his knees.

“Shouldn’t you be on one knee?” Ruby asks.

“Do you want your proper proposal or not?” Casey challenges and Ruby closes her mouth, watches as Casey appears to collect himself. He takes the ring from between Ruby’s fingers and holds it out towards her.

“Ruby,” Casey begins, “I didn’t know how to do this. Not after everything, but they say you can’t choose your family, but you can, Ruby, because I choose you. Over everyone else, I choose you, and I promise to be here for you since Charlie can’t. That is, if you’ll have me.”

After Charlie, Ruby wouldn’t have dared imagine a future without her. She didn’t know how to. Now, as Casey slips the ring over her finger she allows herself that luxury. She sees Casey’s face bathed in sunlight as she rolls over first thing in the morning, the feeling of his warm breath on her neck as they hold each other close and a thousand other small, inconsequential moments that mean so much. They are the sort of things that make a fulfilled life, and Casey is promising to be there for all of them and that’s all that Ruby has ever wanted.


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