Ruby's past catches up with her when she meets her blind date.
Memories Held in Skin
Ruby gave herself a moment to gain her bearings. The difference from stepping into the club from the street was disorienting. Lights thrummed in time to a pulsating music, and the wall of heat hit her after being in the cold street. She flashed her drivers license at the bouncer.
She stepped past the line of people entering and glanced at the gleaming hardwood that reflected dancing bodies and lights back at her. The air was heavy with the smell of perfumes, colognes and sweat. Human smells. She beelined for the bartender.
Ruby handed her card over to start a tab, ordered three shots of whatever the human bartender thought she’d like best, and knocked them back. She leaned her back against the bar, ignoring the judgy glance from the server. She could be a part time alcoholic any time she wanted to be.
She studied the crowd in growing disappointment. There was no sign of this supposed blind date Jest had set up. She turned her back to the people enjoying themselves so her jealousy could stare at her cup and not be so noticeable.She sipped the mixed drink the bartender set in front of her, waiting for her friend to join her.
She didn’t have to wait long until she felt him walk into the building. His aura was distinct and unmistakable. “Damn.” Jest had to yell over the music. He sat on the stool beside her. He motioned to the bartender who approached after a moment’s hesitation. He ordered his drink and put it on her tab. It was her turn to pick up their drinks. He turned his attention to her. “I sent you out to have a good time, not to become the advertisement for the AA.”
“I was thinking about leaving.”
“And stand your date up?”
“All I see are humans. They aren’t usually up to dating Thera.”
“Oh? I never have a problem.”
Ruby arched an eyebrow and smiled over at him. “Yeah. The fangs, claws and horns aren’t deterrents.”
“You just got to find the right crowd.”
“Eh, not into the Thera chasing crowds.”
“They serve a purpose.”
Jest grinned at her, fangs coming to rest past his lips. “See. That’s your problem. You have standards. Rookie mistake.”
Ruby rolled her eyes and gave him a light shove. Despite his frail appearance, like a wisp of a creature to gust away at the first wind that took a fancy, there was a solidness to his body that revealed his hidden strength. “What kind of a wingman are you?”
“Your words wound me.” Jest drank the rest of his drink and stood on tall haunches. His tail wrapped around his leg to keep from tripping anyone. He winked a golden eye. “I’m a damn good one. She’s here. Back corner, to the right. Your type and--no--she’s not a Thera chaser.”
“And how would you know that?”
For once his expression was serious. “Because I invited her. I don’t make mistakes.”
Ruby couldn’t help the warmth in her cheeks, and only some of it was the result of the alcohol. It was liquid courage, up to a point, but she was not usually the one that made first moves. “Thanks, I guess.”
“No pressure, wolf.” He put a hand on her shoulder. He glanced around. “Now, I need to get some food.”
She didn’t have to ask the incubus what he meant by that. He walked away and up the stairs to the second floor of the club.
Ruby sat there for a moment longer, debating with herself. At the moment her couch and netflix seemed much more inviting than the flashing lights, and she’d do anything to get out of the tight strapless dress she wore.
Well, almost anything.
“Well fuck,” she sighed to herself as she stood. The back corner of the room was obscured by dancing bodies, but she was aware of the direction Jest had pointed. She made her way through the crowd.
The familiar scent came before she saw her. Warm and flowery, it brought memories from over a decade ago. From simpler times. From less dangerous times. She recognized the girl immediately as the crowd parted for her.
The sight of her made Ruby freeze. Her heart quickened before she could control it. The music that squeezed the air around her seemed so far away. Her skin was hot.
How long had it been? Since she’d been attacked. For a moment, she was that young, naive girl, confused and swept up in that new and exciting love.
Then that moment left her. She blinked, looking around her. No one had noticed her momentary pause. Josie looked up and their eyes met. Ruby backed up and turned around to leave.
“Oh my god.” Ruby’s sharp hearing heard Josie’s sharp intake of breath even over the ear achingly loud music. “Ruby?”
Ruby quickened her pace, trying to get out of the building. Fuck. My card. I have to close my tab.
Fuck the card. I’ll come back for it.
“Ruby! Stop! It’s me! Oh my god, I can’t believe it! What happened? What…”
She was practically jogging now, weaving through the large, dancing crowd.
Despite herself, she paused when Josie yelled. Josie’s fingertips grazed against her forearm. “Ruby! I can’t believe this. I…” Josie’s voice trailed off as she turned to face her, the words dying as she saw Ruby’s eyes and the way the light reflected off of them.
“You’re a Thera.”
Hot tears brimmed in Ruby’s eyes, but they didn’t spill. She shrugged away from Josie and shoved her way through the crowd and out into the street.
“Wait!” Josie’s voice was shrill, barely overheard over the jostle of the street. “Wait. Hang on. It doesn’t matter. Can we talk? Please?”
Ruby considered running. It wouldn’t be hard for her to lose the human in the crowd, but Josie’s scent tugged at her. Clung to her. All the memories she’d spent a decade forgetting and putting behind her caught up with her. She stopped at the end of the sidewalk where the crowd of people thinned. She buried her face into her hands.
“Ruby?” Her name came out small and questioning. Josie was out of breath. Ruby looked out from between her fingertips. She’d stopped within touching distance, a hand held out but hesitant. There was a moment of silence before she touched her forearm. Her skin was warm, her fingertips soft. Josie had a gentle hold on each of her forearms and slowly pushed her hands down so that her face wasn’t covered.
A few tears traced their way down Josie’s face. “I can’t believe it,” she whispered. Her expression was stuck somewhere between pain and happiness. “It’s been so long. Why did you run from me? What happened?”
Ruby blinked so that the tears wouldn’t break free. “Not here.” Her voice was thick. She cleared her throat. “Let’s go get something to eat?”
Josie nodded and let go of her arms. Ruby hesitated for a moment, unsure of what to say. She studied the woman’s expression before she looked away and started to walk forward. Josie fell into step beside her and they walked in silence.
“I think the only thing open at this time is McDonalds.” Josie gave a nervous laugh. Ruby nodded and didn’t speak. Her heart was in her throat, setting up residence and making it difficult to swallow. After a moment’s hesitation, Josie touched her fingertips gently against Ruby’s hand. When Ruby didn’t react, she looped her fingers through.
Ruby still didn’t speak. But she didn’t pull away either. Josie’s hand had a weight of familiarity. Her skin held memories. There was a slow patience in the way she held her hand. There had always been a slow patience in her. Where Ruby was raw emotions strung up on livewires, Josie was the eye of that squall--calm to her chaos.
Those five years were the best in my life, she thought. Five years as Josie for an anchor. Five years--and all of that had been stripped away in one brutal, life ending moment. Things are different now, she thought to herself. She spared a half glance over to the woman who walked beside her. In those years, she’d changed too. And, now, after last week...she was free. Thanks to Jest.
Jest. He knew. There was no way he didn’t. The incubus didn’t work in coincidences. Ruby tried to swallow past the lump in her throat. She functioned on autopilot as they stepped into the McDonalds and ordered. Everything seemed far away as she waded through old memories and fresh anxieties. What if she doesn’t associate with Thera? Rationally, she knew that Jest wouldn’t have set this up if that was the case. What if she doesn’t understand or forgive me for disappearing? That was a much more logical issue. Can we start over… should we start over?
The last thought. Do I want to? Ruby paid the cashier cash since she’d left her card at the bar. Somewhere between the moment she’d seen Josie and the moment she’d held her hand, Ruby realized that, yes, she would do anything to have what she had with her again. To build something that she could just call hers now that she’d escaped her pack.
They grabbed their hot fudge sundaes and sat at the table furthest in the back. Ruby slid into the booth and Josie sat in front of her. They ate in silence. Ruby could hear the quick patter of Josie’s heart, a nervous flutter. She tucked a short strand of her blond pixie cut behind her ear.
“Are you going to say anything?” Josie asked after a moment.
“How do you know Jest?”
“The incubus? He introduced himself a while back, a couple weeks ago.” Josie shook her head, her green eyes narrowed. There was the faintest glimmer of frustration in her expression. “Ruby. It’s been ten years. You just...disappeared. No warning. No notes. One day you went for a run and you just never came back. You left everything behind.” She paused. “You left me behind.”
Ruby sighed. She pushed her fingers through her long, thick auburn hair. “I didn’t just disappear,” she whispered. “You don’t know how much I wanted to come home. That night, during my run, I was attacked. There were werewolves doing a pack run, and I got in the way.”
“I would have helped. I would have stayed with you, Thera or not.”
Ruby gave a small, bitter laugh. “The more mature me knows that. But I was young and naive, Josie. And the pack leader was terrifying. She threatened to hunt my loved ones if I didn’t join the pack and run with them. They didn’t even take me to the hospital after it happened. I had to heal on my own, and go through all the changes on my own. They took everything, and I was scared to do anything about it, because I knew Vera would hurt you or anyone I reached out to.”
“I convinced myself that you, my family, my friends…” she sighed. “I convinced myself that you wouldn’t want to do anything with a Thera, and I didn’t want to be a burden.”
Josie reached out and put a hand over top Ruby’s. “I’m so sorry you’ve been alone for so long.” Her expression was haunted, sad. “We never stopped looking. Never.”
“Your parents and I.”
Ruby gave a bitter laugh. “My parents. My parents won’t want to have anything to do with me once they know that I’m a werewolf. They can’t stand Thera.”
“You don’t think we haven’t considered the possibility that Thera weren’t involved in some way? Your parents have grown. They’ve changed. They really have. They would just be happy to know their daughter is alive.”
“What about you?” The words were a whisper.
Josie gave a lopsided smile. “I’ve never had problems with Thera. You know that. I am just happy that you’re here, with me.”
“Jest knew. He set this up.”
“It wouldn’t surprise me.” Josie laughed. “It took a lot of convincing on his part to get me to go on this,” she made quotation marks in the air, “blind date of his.”
Ruby smiled despite herself. “And, is this? A date, I mean?”
Josie squeezed the hand she held. “It’s more than a date.” She stood and tugged Ruby up. “Come home with me?”
Ruby nodded, a warmth in her chest. Tears itched the corners of her eyes. She stepped closer to Josie and put a hand around her waist. She put her forehead to hers. “I would like that. A lot.” She hesitated for a moment before she brushed her lips against Josie’s. The body she held stilled, her breath catching in her chest, before she fell into the kiss and they were wrapped up in the sensation.
Ruby was laughing when they broke away. “How romantic, our first new kiss in a McDonalds.” She held Josie’s hand. They walked out.
“You said something about your pack,” the word was clumsy on Josie’s lips. “That they were frightening. Where are they now?”
“I’ve been trying to escape them for years,” Ruby said. “I met Jest a few years back, and he helped me get on my feet. He got me a job as a Thera liaison for the local courthouse. He found me an apartment that he’s leasing for me. He helped me get my own bank account. He helped me file a restraining order with the police and found a witch to set up warding spells around me to protect me.” She took a deep breath. “Last Friday was my last night with them before I ran off.”
“That’s amazing. He’s amazing.”
“I owe him my life. Literally.” There were unspoken stories in the sentence, but Josie didn’t press as they walked. She leaned her shoulder in against Ruby. The path they walked navigated away from downtown and toward the string of apartments and townhouses.
“How long have you been here, in this city I mean?” Josie pointed the vague direction of her apartment and they made their way. “I’ve lived here for years, and I’ve never seen you.”
“Jest moved us here after Friday. We’re still settling in.”
“I bet he makes a great roommate.”
“He…” her voice trailed off. Something’s wrong, she thought. She caught the faintest sound of quiet footsteps behind them. A faint, sharp smell of magic and malice permeated the air.
Ruby shoved Josie behind her and guarded her with her body. A growl lined her voice, the sound deep and inhuman coming from a very human throat. “Who the fuck is out there?”
Laughter met the question and the Thera stepped out of shadows that had been empty a moment before. Ruby could tell it was male and he wore a thick trenchcoat and wide brimmed hat. “You have a human plaything. They’re so fun, until they break.” He smiled, the smile widening to almost comical lengths, and then to impossible lengths. His face split open to encompass a mouth that gaped to show rows and rows of jagged teeth. A long tongue flicked out.
Ruby crouched, energy building around her. Her muscles coiled in otherworldly strength and the aura that marked her as a Thera broke through, stripping any illusion away that helped her pass as human. Bones rippled in her body, shifting and contorting. Breaking and lengthening. It was an old pain, but one she would never fully get used to.
She heard Josie’s startled gasp as her body ripped through her dress, fur giving way to skin, nails to claws.
“Vera wants her bitch back. Be a good dog and come quietly and I will eat the girl quickly.”
A snarl crawled its way out of her throat as she knelt on fours, claws scouring the concrete sidewalk. She didn’t hesitate, didn’t wait to see if the Thera would be true to his word. She leapt in a single, fluid movement. He barely dodged claws that were meant for his throat. He took his hands out of his pockets and shoved a knife into her stomach.
Silver. It was a serious wound and Ruby knew it. She staggered but didn’t fall. She wrenched the blade out of his hand before he could pull it out and he took the opportunity to bite her forearm. Hot and immediate pain lanced in red, but he didn’t let go. She fished her fingers through the gaps of his teeth and leveraged his mouth open, ignoring the deep cuts her fingers were rewarded for their efforts.
She smashed his face into the ground. Before he could recover she gripped his chin with her other hand. He struggled against her grip but she braced herself and pulled apart. A sickly pop echoed in the air around them as his jaw cracked in two and she ripped the bottom jaw away from his body.
She didn’t hesitate, burying her face into his throat. She didn’t let go until he stopped moving. She threw the body away from her and looked around.
Josie was gone.
And why wouldn’t she be? Tears blurred her vision, falling and wetting her fur. I can’t imagine what that was like to watch. I’m just a monster.
“Ruby!” Jest’s voice was sharp and worried. He was hurrying down the path, Josie close in behind. “Are you okay?”
Ruby was acutely aware of the blood matting the fur of her muzzle and body. “Vera sent him.” She motioned to the dead Thera. “I had no choice.”
“Don’t worry. I’ll take care of it.” He frowned. He looked at Josie. “Thank you for calling me. Can she stay at your place…”
“No, no,” Ruby interrupted. “It’s okay.”
Josie smiled a soft smile. She came over and placed gentle fingertips into the palm of her massive, clawed hand. “Let’s go home, Ruby.”
Word Count: 2,998
Initially Submitted to: Show, don't Tell https://www.writing.com/main/forums/item_id/2162666-Show-Dont-Tell-Contest
Submitted to: Paranormal Romance Short Story Contest https://www.writing.com/main/forums/item_id/2089860-Paranormal-Romance-Short-Sto... (entered:2/28/21).