"Iced latte for Ruby." The barista slides the cup over the countertop toward where I stand, straw unwrapped and ready to go. I nod my thanks to him, spinning away from the counter toward my corner table, an open novel waiting for yet another visitor to disappear within it's pages.
The bell chimes above the door, the heat from outside wafting in with the next patron. My once clear path now interrupted, I slow to a stop, glancing up toward the newcomer whilst waiting for the elderly woman in front of me to gather her things. He's breathing heavily, his cheeks flushed and his hair stuck to his forehead. His eyes quickly shift around the small space before training themselves on the menu above the counter.
"My apologies my dear," the woman glances up at me, "when you make it to my age you start accumulating quite a bit to carry around." She smiles warmly. I bend to retrieve her last bag, holding it out to her with a smile of my own.
Once seated, my eyes wander once more to the man at the counter, except he's ordered by now, and his light eyes meet mine. I can't quite figure out what I think about them, but my cheeks flush to match his.
"What do you want to be when you grow up, Ruby?" I'm not looking at him but I can tell that he's smiling. His warmth stretches across the inches between where we're each stretched out over the blanket he's spread out, mingling with the swaths of chilly air sweeping across the ground. The stars stand out against the darkness, glinting each time my eyes open again after a blink.
I'm smiling too. "When I was little, I wanted to be a bird when I grew up. That still sounds like a pretty good plan." I whisper. The quiet that surrounds us tells me I should.
He chuckles quietly, the sound comes from deep inside his chest. "That sounds like a damn good thing to be, I wonder if I can do that do." He's whispering now too.
It's quiet for a while. Something small drifts across the sky. An airplane? Or a meteor maybe. I flip my hand, my palm facing up toward space. The blanket shifts beneath my fingers until his palm finds its way to mine. My lungs empty of the air they'd been holding.
"It's about time I see your place, Ruby." He's standing in the doorway of my small studio apartment, snow lightly dusted across his shoulders and a brown bag under his arm. My cheeks heat and his smile deepens. He steps forward as I step back to make room for him inside the doorframe.
I lead him toward the kitchen, retrieving bowls and spoons. "I got the cookie dough kind and an extra tube of cookie dough because they never put in enough, hope that's alright." His eyebrows raise, the worry just slightly visible in his eyes. I nod my head just slightly, and his shoulders relax.
I ditch the bowls and just bring the spoons, settling into the couch. He shakes his head slowly, his lips stretching to reveal the small divots in his cheeks before coming and sitting quite close to me. "I don't know how you'd ever think extra cookie dough wasn't alright." I speak toward the tv. His laugh echoes in the small room, seeping into me from where I'm tucked into his side.
"Good morning, Ruby." He's leaning over me, his weight rested on his elbow. His sleepy eyes are crinkled in the corners, a small smile spread over his lips. I try to clear the sleep from my own eyes, his face blinking in and out of existence each time my lids close.
My "good morning" is cracked and breathy, having presumably forgotten how to make sounds after hours of nonuse. Cool air and sunlight filter in from the cracked window, spotted with patches of darkness where leaves block it's entrance from outside. His eyes shine in this light that I would be cursing in any other circumstance.
He leans toward me, touching the tip of my nose softly with his mouth before moving to place a feather light kiss on my chapped lips. I smile, using the pack of my hand to rub my eye.
"You slept okay?" I whisper. He nods, dipping his head to place his messy hair just beneath my chin.
"I love you, Ruby."
"Let's get married, Ruby." He's on his knee, kneeling down in front of where I'm seated on the park bench. His smile is wide, his eyes alight with hope and heavy with feeling. His dark hair is stuck to his forehead with sweat at his temples. He's almost breathless, his cheeks flushed. His familiar hands grasp mine, dewy from the heat we're enjoying after a long few months of cold.
My heart beats, fluttering roughly against my ribs. My skin humms, nerves alive with something I can't quite pinpoint. My mind races with the possibilities, the expectations, the adventure. I blink, rapidly trying to clear the water that has begun to fill my eyes.
The trees behind us sway, leaves adjusting against one another. The wind picks up, blowing my hair from my shoulders and into his face. He laughs as the ends tickle his cheeks.
"Let's get married," I nod, my lips curving until it hurts my cheeks. The water spills from my eyes, "we're gonna get married." I shift to kneel with him, his arms enveloping me and squeezing. He's upright, swinging me around. There's water on his cheeks too.
"It's okay, Ruby." His voice is deeper now, rougher with age and misuse. His wrinkled hands close around my frail fingers. Each beat of my heart feels heavy, each time my lungs labor to fill, there is a wheeze when they empty. His light eyes beam at me, the same ones I'd met so many summers before. His silver hair still curls around his temples, his cheeks still flush with each smile.
"I love you," I whisper, but the sound won't come out. His eyes crinkle at the corners, water pools above his lower lid. His pale lips meet my hair before his forehead comes to rest on mine. His warm breath heats my chilled face. The water from his eyes overflow onto my cheeks. I close my eyes, he squeezes my small hand.
I think of the way his laugh used to vibrate my body when he hugged me. The way the light filtered in through the window of our first home. The way his eyes reflect the sunlight and the way the leaves sound when they're blown against each other in the wind. His warmth seeps into me as I lay there in our bed. I close my tired eyes.
My lungs empty of the air they'd once held.