Out of the Nest…
Rolls of ribbons stood upright in little cubbies before him, starting with dark, rich reds in the upper left-hand corner and ending with deep blacks far to the bottom right. Each roll’s hue seemed to melt into the next roll’s smoothly and nearly seamlessly. The thin walls of each cubby almost seemed to disappear in the face of such a flood.
He stared at the whole thing, Minh’s scissors clutched in his fist.
There were too many damn colors.
He couldn’t just pick randomly. It had to have weight and meaning and shit, ‘cause prayers would be said over it. It was supposed to matter so he had to care.
But that meant picking a color. One that was somehow supposed to represent his essence.
How the fuck was one color supposed to say all the things about him worth saying? What the hell was worth saying about him, anyway?
Dark red, for blood and murder and pain ‘cause that’s the whole reason he was going in the first place. Yeah. That would go over well.
Blue, the color of the sky, ‘cause that’s where he was going.
Pff. Yellow. ‘Cause he was a fuckin’ ray of sunsh—
“Wat up, Oob’n?”
It was Summer. Right in the doorway. And Carmen, turning towards Summer, interposed between her and him.
Her gaze slid right through him, like a knife so sharp he wouldn’t know he was being stabbed by it. She could open him from throat to pelvis with it just to see his guts, if she wanted. It was like some of Tír na Marbh had come back, having stowed away in her eyes.
“Hey, Rube. It’s us. You can chill.” Carmen’s eyes flicked to his hand, steady and sure.
Oh. Yeah. His feet were wide, his left hand up in front of him, fingers tense, and the tip of the scissors were pointed towards Summer. That was a full-on brandish right there, crappy fantasy novel-style.
Ruben stood straight, bringing his hands to his sides. “Yeah. Okay.”
Then she looked to Summer. “Summer, if you wanna talk to Ruben, you gotta tap your feet on the floor real good first so he can hear it, okay?” She thumped her foot into the wooden planks.
Summer looked up to her, expression screwed up in concern.
“But Duv se enc’brona,” she whispered.
“We ain’t at Crom Dubh’s house anymore, Mijita. You can be loud sometimes.” Carmen stomped again, for emphasis. “See? It’s okay.”
Summer stared at her, then followed suit, making a tiny-sounding thump. Carmen looked back up, eyes stabbing him again. “Work for you?”
Carmen turned back to him, then lifted her chin. “So what’s got you in Sanura’s closet?”
A spike of irritation sliced through Ruben. There was no way she didn’t know. She always knew what was going on with him, even before a year ago. It was kinda patronizing, this pretense.
“Got a crush on a girl.” The words came out in a snap. “Getting flowers and ribbons. I’m gonna dazzle the materialistic fuck outta her.”
Carmen narrowed her eyes and flattened her mouth, then crouched to lift Summer. “Look, Rube, you’re not the only one who’s got Jan on the brain, okay? I get that your fuse is short. But I didn’t do jack shit to earn this attitude. If you don’t wanna explain yourself, just say so.”
Just like that. A cut he didn’t even feel, till she opened him up.
“Sorry.” Ruben ran his thumb over the scissors, lingering over the chip on the blunt side of a blade. “You’ve just… changed, this past year. Become more… you. And you always knew shit back then. You’re like a fuckin’ mind reader. I’d figured you know now, and you were asking me because you felt you had to be unnecessarily polite or some shit, which is kinda condescending.”
“Well…” She sighed. “You got a point there.” The liquid candlelight fled from the shadow of the pad of his thumb. “I just didn’t… stop to think.” Then silence fell. When Ruben looked back up to her, she was still but for a single, slow breath. Her eyes focused on him. Except it felt like she wasn’t looking at him, but inside him and all around.
“You’re leaving,” she said, finally. “Somewhere far.” Her voice was low, almost flat. “Somewhere dangerous.”
Ruben eyed the bolt of sea-green cloth to his right and spread his free hand, pressing one corner of his lips. It was assent, of a kind. “Where the earth meets the sky.”
Carmen made a noise from her throat. “Alejo.” Ruben nodded. Another thoughtful silence fell. “And the ribbon’s for Moe’s prayer tree. ‘Cause you’re not sure you’ll make it back.”
“For Moe-Moe, Mami?” Summer asked.
“Yeah, baby, for Moe-Moe,” Carmen replied absently. Her focus burned into his skin still.
The candlelight flickered off the cloth, turning it more orange than anything else.
Ruben let out a breath. “It’s pretty much just for her sake. She’s gonna freak when I tell her I’m leaving.” Might as well throw in the rest of it. “I’m hopin’ that if I give her some kind of sense of control over my fate me leaving might be a little more bearable for her. And then maybe I won’t, y’know.” He shrugged a shoulder. “Change my mind.”
Silence, and then: “Shit, Rube. That’s real sneaky.”
Bolts of fabric fell away from his gaze as he turned to look at the floor. “Yeah. I know.”
There was a pause so quiet it was like the whole shop had fallen still. “Is that why you ain’t lookin’ at me? The whole changing your mind thing?”
Another thing, ripped away to show the rawness underneath. “Nah.” He took a breath to try and push the discomfort away. “You’re better at… uh… keeping… um…” Fuckin’ words. “Things to yourself than Moe is. I was gonna tell you after I told her.” He rolled a shoulder. “I just gotta get used to… I dunno. Being cut open and pulled apart whenever you look at me. Figuratively speaking.”
Carmen took in a breath. And then, like that, he fell back into place over his rawness. She must’ve looked away. He caught his laugh in his chest before it could come up. It was so fucking absurd, how pointlessly relieving it felt to be closed again. Even if his guts had anything to hide, they’d already been exposed.
She was staring at the floor, brow furrowed. “Tá brón orm." Her voice was a low murmur. “I keep forgetting.”
“I can deal.” Ruben shrugged. “Not like you can help it, anyway.”
“Doesn’t stop it from sucking,” Carmen pointed out, eyes still pinned on the ground.
Well… he couldn’t argue with her there. But the suckage was only part of the whole thing. There was more… but the feelings were so weird he didn’t have the words for them yet, or a space to put them in. And it was such a downer for Carmen. It was important for her to look at people. A lot of her love came through her eyes.
Ruben turned back to the ribbons. “So… I’m trying to… make up for… my sneakiness by putting actual meaning in this. But I’m having trouble picking a color that’s all symbolically appropriate and shit.”
Her footsteps padded on the wooden planks. She pulled up beside him, paused, then closed the distance to the ribbons. She crouched, Summer still at her hip, hovered a finger over the rolls, then stopped over one, tapped it, and looked to Summer.
“Hey, Mijita, whatdya think?” she asked lightly.
“Cocra!” Summer chirped.
“You got it. Corcra.” Carmen took the roll and pulled her glance just short of Ruben, holding it over her shoulder. “What about you?”
Ruben took it, turning it about to catch all the different lights the candle cast. “Why purple?”
Carmen rose and turned to face him, but she kept her gaze off him. “’Cause Lisa’s so… blue. And Victor was so… rojo.” A growl edged in on the word, for extra emphasis. She nodded to the roll. “Don’t ask me to explain. It’s just a feeling in my gut, y’know?”
Ruben turned the color over in the light some more. “So… a color that’s supposed to symbolize the essence of me is based more on my parents than anything else.”
“That’s where you come from, yeah?” She tapped the roll with a finger. “But also you ain’t either of ‘em.” She let her hand drop. “You don’t have to stay that color. But for now I’d say you’re purple.”
“Cocra, Oob’n!” Summer seemed to agree.
Ruben held the color up to Rubenspace. It worked. For now, anyway.
“Alright.” He pulled a length out and sheared off a piece. “Thanks.” He handed the roll back to Carmen.
She hesitated, then took a breath to speak.
“I know you already told me what you were gonna tell me, but… Come see me after you talk to Moe anyway, alright?”
Well, yeah. This was hardly a goodbye. “Sure thing.”
A smile pressed on one side of her mouth. She put a hand on his shoulder and squeezed. “Thanks.” Then she released him, drawing her hand gently across his cheek. “Good luck.” She kept it there for a moment. “But I think Moe’ll surprise you. I’m not the only one who’s… become more herself.”