After realizing that Clouds of Ruby needed some significant work in order to hold its own as a short story and not just a scene in a bigger narrative, I decided to rewrite it. Completely. And rename it…so, the following is the new, polished and finished product: Folds of Ruby.
Mat had a hard time getting his head around the upcoming weekend. It didn’t feel right, for two reasons: one, he wasn’t in college anymore; and two, he knew that Andy would try to set him up with someone. It had been two years, after all, since Nicole’s treachery had reared its head and sent their relationship straight to hell.
So Mat sat on his back porch and fretted, trying to calm himself with a beer and a Sudoku puzzle. He tried to lose himself in the descending weather, a phenomenon that was part of why he loved Haven Falls so much. The heavy humidity of the evening summer air condensed into fog as the temperature dropped, leaving the neighborhood blanketed in a myriad of colored blurs. While the dark brew traced its way down his throat after each sip, Mat watched while his small yard became faded in slow increments. He compared it to his past relationships; even those that didn’t go anywhere always started out seemingly clear, but ended shrouded in ambiguities and confusion.
His tension reached a peak when he felt his phone buzz, and he withdrew it from the pocket of his jeans to read a text from Andy, proclaiming “ETA 30 secs.”
Mat took a couple deep breaths and attempted to ignore his suddenly pounding heart. Whether he wanted it or not, he knew, the weekend at Andy’s cabin was upon him. He couldn’t simply ignore the myriad female opportunities that were sure to present themselves this time.
He finally stood up and smoothed down the red button-up shirt he had on. Some small part of his mind seemed to whisper, if you’re so against girls and relationships right now, why did you dress up?
It took him only about twenty steps to reach the front door, just a few seconds after he heard Andy’s knock. The familiar one-one-three rhythm announced that it was definitely his best and oldest friend standing outside.
Mat managed a smile when he opened the door, fully expecting to go through their normal fist-bump greeting.
He halted, hand half raised and fist unclenched, when he saw that Andy was not alone in front of the open door.
“Jordan?” Mat blurted out.
She was standing right next to Andy. It was her, no doubt about it. Jordan Brewer, one of his best friends in college and the girl he’d always had a crush on. The girl who he was always too afraid to pursue, lest he somehow irretrievably ruin their friendship.
The girl who was still stunningly gorgeous.
She was wearing a dark red sundress, her dark brown hair hanging loose to her shoulders. She wasn’t wearing her glasses—she usually only did when she had her hair in a ponytail—and her light blue eyes shone out at him. She looked every bit as good as she did in his memories of her.
A smile bloomed on her face, and he noticed that she was wearing a dark red lipstick. “Hey, Mat. It’s—well, it’s been a while.”
Mat nodded, a little overwhelmed by her sudden appearance on his doorstep. He wanted to shoot an accusing glare at Andy, but knew that she would see it and wonder. Meanwhile, the small voice in the back of his mind spoke up again, teasing him: Aren’t you glad you dressed up, now?
“Yeah. Yeah, it has,” Mat said, a little hoarse. “Uh, come in.”
When they kicked their shoes off, Mat realized that he’d completely ignored Andy so far. He turned to say something, but found his best friend grinning in a bemused sort of way. “Ha, ha,” Mat said instead.
Andy’s grin widened. “What?” There wasn’t even an attempt at innocence in his voice, and Mat scowled.
Jordan raised an eyebrow at their little byplay. It reminded him of how he’d always loved her dry and witty sense of humor.
He ground his teeth, frustrated and amused that Andy’s little ploy seemed to be working perfectly.
“Can I get you anything to drink? Jordan?” he asked, feeling compelled to say her name out loud again. A slightly warm sensation spread through his stomach when he did. Dammit, he thought. I’m falling for her, and it’s been thirty seconds since she stepped into my house.
She nodded and brushed her hair back behind her ear. He saw that she’d gotten another piercing since college, and now had a pair of studs in her earlobe. “Water’s fine for me.”
“I’ll check out your beer,” Andy said, his deep voice contrasting with Jordan’s mellow tone. He followed Mat into the kitchen and began digging through his refrigerator.
Mat punched him on the shoulder.
Andy turned around, already clutching a frosty Guinness in his left hand. “Huh?”
“Come on, you’re killing me!” Mat whispered fiercely.
Andy’s smile returned as he rubbed his shoulder. He popped the cap off of the Guinness on the edge of the counter and said, “Hey man, you needed it.” He lowered hisvoice. “You needed her.”
Mat grimaced and turned away to fill up a glass with water for Jordan. He wanted to protest, to say that he was fine—but that nagging conscience wouldn’t let him. He knew Andy was right.
After dropping two ice cubes into the glass of water, he grabbed Andy by the arm and said, “You’re a good friend, you know that?”
They went back into the living room by the door and found Jordan standing in front of the couch, looking at Mat’s pictures hanging on the wall.
“Here’s your water.”
She spun around, little spots of embarrassment on her cheeks at being caught looking. She took the cup and said thanks while her fingers momentarily intertwined with Mat’s against the condensation and glass.
Mat failed to mask his sudden intake of breath. He stared down at his hand, at the spot where her fingers touched his. Now is your chance to finally make that move, he told himself, the move that you never made in college.
He opened his mouth and prepared to speak as she reached down and smoothed out the folds of her ruby dress.