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Once Upon a Blue Moon
Ruby fell exhausted into her mattress, not bothering to pull back the covers after she stumbled through the door of her apartment at the bed and breakfast.
Hands raw from scrubbing tables, scribbling orders, and scouring dishes clean fumbled with the ties holding her long mahogany colored hair in their customary pigtails. Ruby grumbled as she felt some hairs pull out with the bands but could not muster the energy to truly care.
She had been pushed hard tonight, just like every month during the full moon. For some reason the diner always got especially busy on these nights, Granny always got crankier, and the hired help always called in sick leaving Ruby to deal with the brunt of it all.
The worst part was that tonight hosted the second full moon of the month - also called the Blue Moon.
'I barely survive one evening like this a month. Tonight was torture!' Ruby mentally whined as she flopped over onto her back so she would not suffocate on her pillow.
Tired green eyes tried to blink away the sting of smoke and cleaning chemicals still lingering on her skin and clothes. Her room was dark since she had not bothered to turn on the overhead light and all the shades were pulled. Closing her eyes, Ruby fully expected her physical exhaustion to quiet the ramblings of her mind and force her to sleep to recover for tomorrow's afternoon shift.
But, for some reason, her heavy eyelids kept rising and she could not overcome the desire to look outside at the moon.
Because the bed and breakfast was connected to the diner by a door and hallway, Ruby usually just used that entrance, rather than walk around the block to go through the front of her house. She never felt the need to look up at the sky on these nights, thinking only of bed and sweet repose.
"Aahhhrrgg!" Ruby gritted her teeth to muffle her frustration as best as she could. "Fine!" she grunted out and rolled off the bed, barely catching herself on her swollen feet.
Shuffling across the carpeted floor to the nearest window, which faced the Southern skies where the moon hung high, Ruby paid no mind to the holes being rubbed into her pantyhose, just wanting to satisfy her insane desire to see the sky before she returned to bed for some much deserved rest. Yanking on the string to pull up the blinds, Ruby had to take a moment to adjust her vision to the brightness of the night under this second full moon. The dark blue and silver lines in the shadows of the lamplights along the street were gorgeous.
"Wow," Ruby whispered under her breath. She unlocked and lifted the window frame. Everything was still tonight; the only sounds to reach her ears were those wandering in from the forest surrounding town. Raising her eyes from the dark outline of the forest's edge, Ruby beheld the source of all the chaos she experienced today.
A shudder crawled through her skin as Ruby stared at the full face of the moon, ridding her body of its aches and pains.
'It's the kind of moon for the lonely to howl at', thought Ruby with her forehead pressed to the glass of her upper window pane. She was a little lonely Ruby decided as tears gathered in her eyes, blurring the edges of everything in her sight.
Unbeknownst to the waitress, the tears washed away the green hue of her irises and left behind a golden ring around her pupils to shine in the starlight. Her nose and hand were getting chilly from the late winter breeze but it was a good feeling to her suddenly overheated body. Outside might be even cooler. Glancing away from the view outside, Ruby noticed the time on her microwave clock - 12:15am.
"I can go for a short walk," she convinced herself. "It might help me sleep."
Pushing off from the windowsill using both hands, Ruby closed the sash then walked over to her door, stooping to pick up her winter boots and jam her feet into them. Her red coat was hanging on its hook along with her scarf, which she wrapped around her neck first before donning the jacket. From within her coat pockets Ruby pulled out a pair of gloves and her knit hat.
Properly warded from the cold, she swiped her keys from the bowl sitting on a table near the door and left to go wander around the block for a while.
The air was so crisp and clean smelling that Ruby could not help but inhale large amounts every few meters. Her walk around the block turned out to be a walk around the town just breathing in the air and enjoying the quiet.
It was now well past one in the morning, and even The Rabbit Hole, her main bar haunt in town, was closed for the night.
On her second loop through the downtown streets she caught a whiff of flowers coming from the far end of the road leading out of the business zone of town. The faint teasing smell tickled her nose and drew her interest so Ruby decided to follow it.
As she passed the diner for the second time that night and crossed the street, she turned to walk by the library and was overwhelmed for a moment by the aroma of musty books. Zeroing in on the source, Ruby noticed a hole in one of the planks that boarded the windows to the old building. Curious, Ruby poked her face through the hole and peered inside.
"Lots of books," Ruby muttered. "I wonder why the library closed?"
As far back as she could remember, Ruby had never stepped foot inside the library because it had always been sealed shut. The fact that the library was never opened but still contained books was odd, now that she thought about it. But then again, who would manage and maintain it? Ruby didn't know anyone who was interested in books enough to want to be in charge of a library.
Pulling away, Ruby just let the library mystery go and resumed her walk towards the source of the floral perfume.
"Whoa. I didn't know we had a flower shop."
Ruby pulled up short when she got to the end of the road and found herself facing a shop with two large windows and a broad awning shading the entrance. The Game of Thorns flower shop stood at the end of the business district of downtown Storybrooke, right before the more residential areas began to make their homes. Ruby prowled around the shop's windows, looking inside at the arrangements and multitude of flowers on display.
A sharp snap from below made Ruby quickly jerk her right foot from where she had placed it, afraid she had broken something of value that she would have to come back and pay for.
It was a rose.
The long green stem had been the part to break under the weight of her foot, but the bloom was still a gorgeous crimson in the bright white light of the moon. Ruby crouched down and gently picked up the rose, leaving the bottom half of the stem on the ground. The bloom was only half open, not yet fully matured, but fragrant and beautiful in its simple innocence.
Bringing the bloom to her nose and gently sniffing, Ruby enjoyed the tingle and smile it brought to her. "I think I'll keep you," Ruby murmured to the flower and proceeded to tuck it into the deep pockets of her jacket so that it would not be harmed any further in the cool late winter air.
Looking up and down the vacant street, Ruby decided she still wasn't tired enough to go back home, but she had no desire to walk around the residential area. There was nothing of interest there and it housed too many busybodies who would tattle on her to Granny in the morning if they caught her skulking around.
That left the woods to be explored.
A grin broke out on Ruby's lips as she excitedly began trotting towards the tall trees that linked the boundary between civilization and the untamed wild. She had always enjoyed playing in the woods as a child whenever she could escape the ever watchful eye of her Granny.
'It's been so long,' Ruby realized, since she had just gone into the woods for more than a quick trip to the Toll Bridge to skip rocks in the river during the rare afternoons she had off work.
The night sky, illuminated by the full moon instead of the daylight of the afternoon, added an almost magical component to the wilderness standing before her.
Despite the shadows and warnings of danger she heard all her life from others, the woods seemed welcoming to her and Ruby eagerly stepped into its world. Pine, animal musk, running water, and crisp winter berries perfumed the air as the pine trees rustled with the breeze. Moonlight streamed in ribbons to the forest floor, illuminating patches of bark, pine needles and roots one moment before hiding them the next step.
A flash of red flowed between the light and shadows, never staying still for long before moving on to explore more. Ruby had never experienced such peace and serenity in her life. She had always been aware of an undercurrent of discontent in her life, which was why she dreamed of traveling and seeing the world.
Maybe whatever she is looking for is beyond the "Welcome to Storybrooke" sign.
But she could never leave Granny alone and, if she was honest, she didn't want to travel alone. She had no one to take with her and share in the adventure. Therefore, she would stay until the day came that she had someone who wanted to travel with her.
Still, tonight's jaunt through the streets and into the woods gave her a sense of contentment that she knew would not last for long, yet even so satisfied her heart's lust to wander. There was hope that she would feel this way again, a bit more permanently. Until then, she could just come out into the forest at night again and find a temporary reprieve from her busy days.
Ruby found a boulder that looked like the perfect perch to just lie on and watch the sky shift the stars along their paths. Climbing to the top, Ruby sat, face fully exposed to the moon that lit the rock like a spotlight, and released a sighing hum, fogging the air with her breath.
She was happy.
Her leggings did not fully block the radiating coldness of the stone from seeping into her skin but she did not care and just leaned back on her hands, closing her eyes to listen to the sounds of the night. What she heard under the usual movements of a quiet forest with even quieter predators was not what she expected to hear - someone was crying.
Golden eyes snapped open and looked in the direction of the setting moon. The crying was coming from over that way, a little closer to the North side of town. 'The hospital is near there,' Ruby remembered as she slid off her rock and went towards whomever or whatever was making the sound. 'Maybe one of the patients left their window open maybe one of them is lost in the woods!'
Ruby's thoughts bounced between a lost child to a hurt animal to a crazy patient waiting for an unsuspecting person to offer help before attacking! Shaking her head Ruby scolded herself. 'Snap out of it, Ruby! Thoughts like that make you the crazy one.'
As she got closer to the source of the sobs Ruby began to analyze what she was hearing. The voice was not a very low pitched one. 'Female.' There were no words associated with the crying, just the sound of tears being released. 'Lonely.' The lower to the ground Ruby crouched the clearer the voice became and she adjusted her direction accordingly. 'Underground.'
That last discovery puzzled Ruby. How could a voice be coming from underground? Nevertheless she continued walking until she came to the end of the forest near the edge of town.
A large brick building, white washed in some areas, rose out of the clearing it was built upon. There were many windows and a lot of lights on. The stringent smell of bleach and bodily fluids wrinkled Ruby's nose when it first hit her. 'The hospital.'
She had circled around to the North perimeter of the hospital following the sound. The fairly large yard was surrounded by a very tall fence with barbed wire curled at the top. Apparently there have been enough attempted escapes to necessitate a deterrent.
Ruby scoffed at the thought but quickly came to the conclusion that if she ever had to stay longer than a day at the hospital she would be climbing the walls trying to get out. Luckily she and Granny were of hardy stock and never got sick or broke bones.
An especially hard sob roused Ruby out of her musings and drew her attention back to the reason she was loitering outside hospital property in the first place. Focusing, even closing her eyes, Ruby approached the wire fence and then meandered along it attempting to find where the person weeping was located. Halfway along the fence and in line with a wing of the hospital jutting back towards the woods, the crying came from a window sunk into the soil.
'Well, that explains why it sounded like her voice was coming from underground. It is!'
There were at least ten tiny windows set into the grass at the bottom of this hospital wing and all of them were black; no light was shining from within and only one was open.
Ruby stepped away from the fence. She knew where the sounds of sorrow had come from, there was no real point to entering hospital grounds to try and talk to whoever was the source of that voice. 'Besides, I bet my monthly allowance this is the psych-ward.' Ruby did not want to get caught, and talking out of the blue to someone who was mentally unstable might startle them into screaming and bringing all sorts of trouble down on the both of them.
Another sob, this one accompanied by a whimper, pulled at Ruby's heartstrings and made her reconsider her thoughts on fleeing.
"The worst they could do is catch me," Ruby coached herself as she made her decision. Tilting her head back and up, the waitress calculated what it might take for her to scale the fence without getting stuck by the barbed wire at the top. "Not too bad " she concluded then took a few more steps back for a running start.
The short sprint and mighty jump she gave provided way more power than she had anticipated. Ruby gave a small yelp and an undignified grunt as she cleared the fence and landed in a heap on the other side. Sprawled out, Ruby could not move for a moment from the shock of what had just happened. Her breath came fast at first but as she locked her eyes on the little forlorn window and focused her hearing on the now quieter crying coming from within, her heart-rate slowed down and muscles unlocked as logic struggled to overcome the reality of her athletic feat.
'The fence was obviously shorter than I thought and I have been working out with Violet in kickboxing more often these days. The moon must have played tricks on my eyes.'
Grumbling a bit more about crazy Asian chicks and their do-or-die attitude, Ruby rose onto all fours, testing her balance and to ensure nothing broke due to her graceless fall. Satisfied that she was in one piece, Ruby pushed up to her feet and took a look around.
'Wow,' Ruby internally marveled. She was a good three meters from the fence and the coast was still clear. Good, no one had heard her embarrassing squeal. It was bad enough she probably has grass stains she would have to explain away if Granny ever caught a hold of her before she could wash out the evidence.
"The rose!" Ruby fumbled for a second as she dug into her pocket and pulled out the flower to assess the damage her fall might have caused it. A wave of relief drained Ruby of her worry and she let out a sigh. The rose was still as perfect as she found it. The scent of the blossom lured her nose back into its petals except it was not the rose alone that gave off this calming fragrance.
Beside the rose came a richer, more layered, floral aroma that held notes of aged paper and salt. Her crying patient had stopped, Ruby realized, but the tears still lingered in the air. The combined scents intrigued Ruby greatly, so she carefully put the rose away once more and dashed lightly towards the open window. She did not notice the moonlight casting her shadow and a shade of red into the underground room like it did.
Ruby startled and pressed herself to the cold brick of the building when a hoarse voice called out weakly. "Who's there?"
Moments of silence passed before two slender hands reached out to wrap delicate fingers around the bars bisecting the window. A face, pale and a little sunken from malnourishment, pulled halfway into view, just clearing her mouth above the sill of the window.
"Hello? Please answer me."
The voice was less muffled but still dry and scratchy. 'Probably from disuse,' Ruby realized. Tilting her head to catch a better glimpse of the face to match it to the voice, Ruby involuntarily inhaled sharply on a gasp.
The girl in the window gasped, too, because she was not imagining things, there was someone out there. The girl shoved herself on the very tips of her toes and pressed her face to the bars, desperate to see another face after so long with only the hateful eyes that would glare at her from the slot in her door.
Ruby saw her struggle to look around the brick frame of the window and could not help herself from dropping onto her knees and hands and shuffling along the wall until her face was visible to the girl.
"Hello," Ruby whispered.
Two pairs of eyes locked onto each other, gold on teal, and stayed there as each girl felt something like happiness shine under her skin.
"He-hello." The girl tried to smile through the bars as she greedily drank in the sight of this stranger crouched before her.
Ruby returned the gesture but overcompensated by grinning so widely it felt as if all of her teeth were on display. "I'm Ruby," she volunteered, wanting to know the girl's name in return.
The trembling smile faded all too quickly and the hands that gripped the iron bars grew even more white-knuckled. "I-I do not know mine," came the quiet confession, worry and sorrow etching themselves into her downcast eyes and frowning mouth.
"Oh! I'm sorry! I didn't mean to make you sad."
Ruby, in her scramble to bring that beautiful smile back, crawled further into view and reached out to touch one of those white-knuckled hands seeking to give comfort to the girl.
At Ruby's warm touch, a shock of energy caused the girl to lose her grip on the bars and she fell back onto her heels, losing sight of those fascinating golden eyes. Afraid that her visitor would disappear, the girl drew on some reserve of energy and launched herself back up to the window, determined to hang on until she could no longer feel her screaming muscles if it meant the smiling Ruby would stay a little longer.
What the girl had not expected was for Ruby to have fully lain down on her belly and press her own face and hands to the little openings between the bars. Warm calloused fingers caught her cold dry ones and pushed them down from the window.
"You must be tired from all the crying. Go ahead and rest a bit; get warm. I'll stay here until dawn comes." Ruby smiled again, proud of herself for having noticed the girl was getting tired and moving to solve the problem.
"How did you know I was crying?" the girl asked as she tilted her head back to properly look at Ruby in the soft light of the moon and the flickering of hospital florescent lights from other windows.
A forefinger found its way to her cheek and touched the lingering stains from her earlier tears. "I heard you."
Both girls' hearts gave a loud thump at the intimacy of Ruby's words. The captive girl raised her own hand and trailed her fingertips over Ruby's cheek in return. "Thank you."
"Don't cry, please." Ruby did not want her new friend to start crying again and frantically searched for a way to distract her when the girl ducked her head from view.
The girl was startled and drew away at Ruby's sudden exclamation. Lowering her volume, Ruby sheepishly explained, reaching out to hold the girl's hand.
"I mean, we could think up a name together. For you. I mean, if you want " Ruby trailed off uncertain and averted her eyes as she felt a blush crawl up her neck.
Hands touched again, drawing golden eyes back to happy teal ones. "I would really like that."
The girls settled into a round of brainstorming, voicing a plethora of names they have heard or read, rejecting the majority off-hand and considering only one or two which were later vetoed for not being beautiful enough (Ruby) or not quite tame enough (the girl).
"Really, Ruby. Even though it is beautiful to look at," a blush stained the girl's cheeks and nose as she said this, "I will not be named 'Moon.'"
Ruby huffed playfully. "Well, 'Mildred' just sounds dreadful and is an old lady name. You are neither."
Twin sighs escaped from their lips. It was not easy to find a fitting name within a few hours of meeting. They also knew dawn was approaching and their time together almost up. Already the moon was halfway below the horizon and Ruby could feel exhaustion creep into her bones.
"I really don't want to leave without having a name to call you by," Ruby confessed.
"I don't want you to leave at all." The girl's eyes grew glassy to reflect the quiet desperation that was creeping upon her as the gray sky inched closer to day.
Ruby squeezed the girl's hand bringing those teal eyes back to the present, away from the bleak future they were both envisioning. "Hey, I'll come back. I promise."
The girl just sadly gazed at her, drinking in all of her visible features as if committing them to memory so she could revisit this magical night when the loneliness became too much.
"Please believe me." Ruby needed her to believe. 'There has to be something I can !' Lightning struck and Ruby pulled one hand back out of the room, inadvertently causing the girl to panic and clutch the other desperately.
"No! Not yet!"
Ruby froze her movements, placing her gaze back on the frazzled girl in the cell. "I'm not leaving yet," she reassured the girl with a tender smile. "But I have something in my pocket you can have to remind you of my promise."
Biting her lip in embarrassment, the girl made a move to release Ruby's hand even as she nodded in understanding. Ruby did not let her go, instead rolling awkwardly onto her side so she could slide her free hand into the coat pocket that held the flower.
"It's delicate but surprisingly, no, wonderfully strong. Don't be fooled by how fragile it looks. It survived a night with me falling on it." Both women laughed. "And I think it would suit you better than me - so pretty and strong." Even as she spoke, Ruby presented the rose she had found to the girl.
Her bright teal eyes watched the bloom as if enchanted. One hand rose to lace her fingers around the short stem, mindful of the thorns, and drew the beautiful crimson flower to her nose. Taking a deep breath, the girl was surrounded by the calming floral scent of the rose and enticed by the added perfume of Ruby that lingered on the petals from its time in her pocket. It smelled wild and a lot like freedom.
"Thank you, Ruby. I believe you."
When the girl whispered her trust, Ruby felt her chest swell with a warm feeling. It might have been pride but some inner voice told her it was something greater.
"A rose for a Rose." Grinning broadly at the cheesy line, Ruby nonetheless thought this name was the perfect one for the girl.
"Yep. That's your name now."
Blushing yet unable to stop from bringing the flower to her nose again, Rose gave Ruby's hand a squeeze. "It's perfect."
And then dawn came, along with goodbye.
Ruby stumbled into her room, not bothering to strip the clothes from her body as she fell, face-first, into her mattress.
She had only one hour before the start of her shift at Granny's Diner. Her body was not going to move from this spot until it absolutely had to. But her mind could not stop its return journey to the hospital and the flower hidden away underground.
Every step away from Rose had been painful and Ruby soothed her guilty conscious with a personal vow to return as often as she could. Even if it meant only once a month. She would not forget.
'Maybe I will get her a whole bouquet of roses next month I'll have to save up tips...' Ruby's thoughts swirled a little while longer around Rose before stopping completely the moment the first rays of sunlight reached her windows and illuminated the room. Well and truly spent, the young woman did not stir again even when her alarm blared in her ears.
It was two hours later when Granny came stomping up the stairs to wake her lazy granddaughter that Ruby could even muster the energy to open her eyes.
"Ruby!! Get up and get to work!" Granny called from the other side of the apartment door, pounding on the wood.
It hurt, but Ruby eventually got up and shook off as much fatigue as she could with a straight shot of the blackest coffee as she prepared for the very long day ahead. But as she stumbled outside to set up the sidewalk specials sign, Ruby caught a whiff of flowers on the wind. A truck rumbled by, heavily laden with the scent of flora, with a decal that featured a rose between the words "Game of Thorns".
"Rose," Ruby smiled widely beneath the dark circles under her eyes. Even if it meant work days that feel as if she drank an entire keg of the foulest beer the night before, Ruby looked forward to seeing her special friend again. She knew she wouldn't be able to disappear from her usual routine every night without drawing suspicion and getting caught. However, it made sense to designate the entire evening of the full moon to Rose since she had already set the date for next month with her.
Ruby almost lost herself in daydreams of returning to the window and Rose, but for now, there were customers that needed her to do her job.
Ruby turned back to the diner with a swish of her skirt, her steps a little bit lighter and her headache a little less loud in her ears. The time would fly by, she just knew it. And she couldn't wait for the madness of the counting days to bring her closer to that evening.
For the next 25 years, reaching into that first month of Spring when a stranger moved into town, Ruby came to Rose on the nights of the full moon when clearing a 10-foot fence is an easy feat and making a woman smile and laugh is the greatest joy imaginable.
Every month, Ruby gave Rose a beautiful blossom by her name in half bloom, awaiting the day walls, bars, and windows no longer separated them. She spent the time speaking of her work and Storybrooke and her Granny, sharing what she could with the lonely woman. Some evenings, Ruby even painted an exciting vision of the future that awaited both of them when Rose was finally freed.
And every month, Rose waited patiently with hope in her heart that the golden eyed woman would always keep her promise to come back. Every flower was held to her nose and inhaled deeply. Those gifts promised a future beyond her prison, and the warm touch of Ruby's hand guaranteed she would not be alone. At the end of the night Rose would press each rose she received under her pillow so that her dreams would be free and sweet and always feature her beloved Ruby.
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