Ruby scrunched her face together and banged her pencil against her forehead in frustration. She let out a deflated grunt.
“I am never going to get this. Differential equations are like a foreign language to me, something we all know I’m hopeless at, based off my last French grade.”
She huffed, resting her head on the cool window that overlooked the fire escape. Jackson sprawled out on the ground of her room and chuckled.
“I still can’t believe you’re taking French! Your mom’s written all over that decision.”
Ruby rolled her eyes in agreement “Yeah, well you wouldn’t be laughing if you were the one having to conjugate the verb ‘to bathe’ 10 million times.”
She let out another defeated sigh, sinking her face even further into her arms, resting on the sill of her bay window. Her ponytail looked even more distressed than usual, as if it wilted along with all of her academic patience.
Jackson sat up, closed his textbook, and declared, “That's it. We are taking a break—a much needed one.”
Ruby lifted her head slightly, and in a muffled tone, she muttered, “Camilla would never take a study break. That's why she can solve differential equations and get an A in French.”
Jackson shook his head. “Trust me, you are nothing like Camilla.”
Ruby sat up and threw a crumpled piece of paper at him. “Hey!” she playfully protested.
Jackson held his arms up in defense. “Rubes, you know I mean that as the most sincerest of compliments, and anyway, who cares how much she studies? I still think you’re smarter.”
Ruby let out an exasperated laugh. “Yeah, tell that to the 3 C’s on my report card.”
Jackson stood up and opened the window. “Come on, get up. We are taking a break, and that’s an order.”
Ruby shook her head and smiled to herself. She got up, adjusted her ponytail, and followed him through the window.
As they performed the all-too-familiar routine of climbing down the 10 stories of the fire escape and began to walk the streets, Ruby took in all her favorite views. Some people would get sick of the same mundane qualities of the city, but not Ruby. She always found something new to take in and absorb. Today, it was the way Sal’s Pizzeria had a light flickering in the neon sign, creating a faint glow over the pavement. Paired with the evening setting sun, it made the ground look like watercolors lightly pigmenting the air surrounding her.
She drew her attention back to Jackson. “So… where are we heading? After all, this is just a break, right?”
Jackson playfully shrugged. “Break is a loose term. I prefer the phrase ‘done for the day because studying is leading to the downfall of all things interesting,’ but you can call it a break if you want.” Ruby kicked him lightly. “I knew it! I should’ve known...once you go out my bedroom window there’s no going back.”
Jackson nodded in immense agreement, “Why do you think we always study in your room?”
Ruby joined in with Jackson’s obvious sarcasm: “I thought it was because of the ambiance.”
He let out a deep belly laugh. It was one of Ruby’s favourite sounds. Jackson’s hearty laugh embraced her like a warm blanket and made her feel complete.
After walking down the busy roads jammed with cars and taxis all trying to get home, Ruby grew a tad impatient: “Can you tell me where we're going now?”
Jackson replied “You know where: Bryant Park. Their showcasing of a lawn screening of James Dean sounded right up our ally.”
Ruby smiled in excitement. “Sounds perfect.”
When they got there, they joined in with the group of people scattered along the grass: couples on first dates, families with kids way too young for the film (but who enjoyed playing on the carousel), groups of local college students who considered themselves amateur film enthusiasts, and some older people sitting at the tables enjoying each other’s presence. It was a hodgepodge of people: the bizarre, shy, and eccentric. Once the film started, they sat in a comfortable silence, enjoying the atmosphere around them. The lights that hung in the trees began to shine, giving the park a soft, warm glow.
After the film, Ruby sighed deeply: “That movie gets me every time. Don’t you ever wish our lives were that exciting?”
Jackson sat up and faced her. “I mean, I’ve always been a personal fan of Ruby and Jackson’s ‘through the fire escape adventures…’”
Ruby chuckled at this.
He then got more serious: “Yeah, I guess our lives are kind of dull, but we are only kids. That's how it’s supposed to be.”
Ruby’s eyes widened. “That's the problem. Who says you have to wait to start living and experiencing and feeling? Why can’t I truly live and experience everything the world can offer right here, right now?”
Jackson paused for a moment, taking in the spark that was evident in her bright blue eyes. He loved when she got like this. She was so passionate, so adamant about the human experience, he didn't know how else to describe her. She was just Ruby.
He broke his gaze. ¨Rubes, I couldn't agree more, so in honor of our revelation, I have a proposition.¨ Ruby smirked. ¨It wouldn't happen to be that we go to our special spot, now would it?¨
He broke out his signature playful smile. ¨Now, Ruby Faith Greene, you know me too well. That’s exactly what I had in mind.”
They raced to the abandoned building on 5th Street, sprinted up to the top, and sat on the roof, legs dangling above the streets of the buzzing city below them. It was the perfect view of the city that Ruby loved. It had been deemed “their spot” ever since the third grade for whenever one of them was “running away from home” and didn’t have anywhere else to go.
They sat there for a while in that familiar, comfortable silence from earlier. Jackson glanced over and noticed that Ruby was staring at her feet, a stray, blonde curl covered her face. She was clearly deep in thought, but this time she seemed off. Her eyes lacked that spark of wonder and liveliness. He could tell she was completely aloof to the view. It was as if the part of her that was fascinated by everything and everyone had just gotten up and left her body.
Jackson nudged her softly. “You want to talk about it?”
Ruby, slightly alarmed to be disturbed from her thoughts, didn’t even turn to face him. Her eyes remained fixed in front of her.
“It’s stupid-I just-” She paused, giving an audible breath of frustration. “Why am I so weird?”
Jackson replied as if it were obvious: “Because you are.”
Ruby looked at him, mildly hurt, not expecting those to be his choice for words of comfort.
He continued, “I mean that seriously, Ruby. You are the weirdest person I know. That's also what makes you the greatest person I know, and we live in NYC; I know a lot of people. Ruby Greene, you are spontaneous, quirky, witty, and so, so much more.” He could see that he wasn’t getting to her.
“You talk about chasing the human experience of living, but Ruby, you are the human experience. You are the living, breathing epitome of what it means to truly live.”
Ruby finally turned to look at him.
“And if that makes you weird, then every single person in the world should be jealous of how weird you are.”
Ruby’s eyes glistened with a film layer of water encasing her blue eyes. She leaned onto Jackson’s shoulder as an unspoken affirmation of her gratefulness for him.
Jackson proceeded, “And anyways, since when do you care about fitting in?”
Ruby shrugged. “I normally don’t, but when we were studying, I just kept thinking about Camilla and how much better she is than me at that kind of stuff. That’s one of the reasons she’s my mom’s favorite. You know, it’s one thing to feel like an outsider at school or in public. I can handle that; I even embrace it. But to feel like an alien in my own family—it's almost unbearable.”
Jackson took that all in. He had known her since they were babies. How could he not know she felt that way? His heart ached at the thought that someone so extraordinary could ever be made to feel so inferior.
“Well, forget them. If you ask me, I don’t trust people who aren’t even a little weird. That’s why I love being around you so much, weirdo.”
Ruby sat up, laughed, and playfully punched him in the arm. “Bet this weirdo can beat you down the building.”
With that, the two got up and ran down the stairs and through the streets, laughing under the city’s twinkling lights. Ruby’s inner sufferings weren’t nearly healed, but she would be okay. Jackson would make sure of it.