“I can still manage on my own, Ruby.” I argued, treading through my unfamiliar surroundings. “I don’t understand why you must take ownership of me like this. I was doing just fine alone for the past couple of years– just the little red house and I.”
“Look, Kristen, it’s my duty as your sister to do what’s best for you, and foremost, keep you safe. You’re staying here until the papers get through, and that’s final. Anyways, I need some proof of a life in you. I can’t handle questioning your existence each day,” she explained.
“Personally, I still can’t subscribe to your way of thinking. If you believe this is the best decision, then I’ll stay here, but for no longer than I must,” I said.
My fierce, green eyes focused on my sister, Ruby, trying to remember how much she’s changed. I can recall memories of us arguing like this at a younger age, when our drunken mother was more often than not out of the house. But I also recollected memories of when Ruby was gentle and caring. Like the times she guided me through my school work and the times we went on adventures to the playground.
I genuinely missed that Ruby.
She never seemed satisfied anymore – always grieving about our parents and lounging around watching TV when I came home from school. Other times though, she’d be with Jamie, her boyfriend, who made the simplest things exciting and always managed to put us in a good mood.
And that was final – just as my big sister guaranteed. I was to be kept under Ruby’s leash during the process of finalising the counselor’s papers. Then, I’d be able to live the long-dreamed city life, with my best friend, Liz, in her apartment.
Coming home from school one day, as I got closer to the house, I heard the music. At first, it was just a guitar, strumming, but then another instrument came in, more melodic. “All right,” someone said over the strumming. “Here’s an old favourite.”
Then I saw it was Ruby who had spoken. She was sitting on one of those kitchen chairs, playing a guitar and a guy with a banjo nodding beside her as they went into an acoustic version of Led Zeppelin’s “Misty Mountain Hop.”
I turned around to see Denise, Ruby’s friend.
“Having fun?” she asked
“Yeah,” I said. “It’s a big party.”
“They always are,” she said cheerfully, taking a sip of the wine in her hand. “That’s what happens when you’re overwhelmingly social. You accumulate a lot of people.”
“Jamie does seem kind of magnetic that way.”
“Oh, I mean Ruby,” she replied as the song wrapped up, the crowd breaking into spontaneous applause. “But he is, too, you’re right.”
“Ruby?” I asked, surprised. I never pictured her to be the life of the party.
She looked at me, clearly surprised. “Well… yeah,” she said. “You know how she is. Total den-mother type, always taking someone under her wing. Drop her in a roomful of strangers, and she’ll know everyone in ten minutes. Or less.”
“Really,” I said.
“Oh yeah,” she replied. “She’s just really good with people, you know? Empathetic. I personally couldn’t have survived my last breakup without her. Or any of my break-ups really.”
I considered this and then replied, “I guess I don’t really know that side of her. We’ve been out of touch for a while.”
“Denise!” someone yelled, and she turned, and soon was talking to a guy in a baseball cap.
Thinking this, I scanned the crowd until I spotted Ruby. She was smiling, looking much happier than the last couple of times I’d seen her. Of course, my sister could have changed in those years we’ve been apart.
She has her own life now, my mother had told me again and again.
I suddenly felt tired, overwhelmed, everything that had happened in the last couple of weeks hitting me at once. I just need to sleep, I told myself, kicking off my shoes and sinking down onto the bed. I tried to shut out the singing from downstairs and do all I could to push myself into the darkness and stay there until the morning.
When I woke up, my mouth was dry, my arm cramped from where I’d been lying on it. Suddenly, I felt a lump rise in my throat, raw and throbbing. I sensed a sudden feeling of acceptance in Ruby’s home and reconsidered how grateful I should be. Even as the tears came I wasn’t sure who I was crying for. Ruby, my mum, or maybe, just me.