Five minutes to three said the round clock on the wall at the lab. On a bright morning in question, Roberta and Orquídea were brainstorming for their science project. They were wearing white lab coats, sitting across from each other at the end of a long rectangular shaped table. The lab period was about to end when, from the main door of the laboratory, the professor, Dr. Levy, entered the room and approached the tech station they were working on. He was a born teacher with a great sense of humor. Children are hard nuts to crack. The professor had a teenage boy by his side.
“Orquídea, Roberta, I want you both to stop what you are doing and give me your full attention, please,” said Dr. Levy.
Orquídea put down her pen and regarded the professor.
“This is Jerome,” the professor continued, gesturing towards a boy their age standing next to him. “Jerome’s previous lab mates died in an auto accident that is why I reassigned him to your group, the only group with three members. He will join your team. Please make him feel welcome. I know it’s almost the end of the period. Do what you can and what you can’t catch up later from home, please.”
“Of course, professor,” said Orquídea. “We will update him. We are just now writing the draft for our proposal. We can fill him in with the details. There are still a lot of issues to resolve, solutions to find, and presentations to schedule.” Looking at Jerome, she said “We welcome the new member.”
“Yes, thank you, Dr. Levy,” added Roberta while looking at the professor.” We can use the help. We’ll put him up to speed.”
“I’m glad to hear these words. See you later” The pleased professor walked out of the lab.
Сhecking the room, Jerome paused for a moment, then walked to the foot of the rectangular table and sat with the blonde girl. She turned to him and he blushed.
“Hi there. I’m Orquídea, and this is Ruby. How are you, Jerome?”
“I am fine.” He answered flatly, opened his notebook to a fresh page, and wrote the date and name on the top line.
“What are we doing?” He said, looking from one to the other.
“I’ll jump right in,” continued Orquídea, sliding and turning her notepad into Jerome’s view, so he could follow along. “The project, as you can see in the draft, is to create a roadmap. We are applying the scientific method to create a roadmap for starting a bake sale.”
“A bake sale? Isn’t that stereotypical?” said Jerome with a furrow on his brow. “That’s the best you all can do?”
“Well, it could be stereotypical, yes, but we chose it because it’s believable, it’s not unusual. We want it to be accepted on our first try, and we want to get “A’s.”, you know? The product we will make, cupcakes, are sellable, and the equipment and supplies for the project are readily available. With Ruby’s management and creative skills and my experience in cooking, we came up with this project. So, let’s not reinvent the wheel. Let’s use it.”
“OK, looking at the draft, I understand. I see why you chose it, and I like the plan,” said Jerome. “It satisfies the requirements, it sounds believable from us, and doable. We can do video conferences and record the events. I have an idea; we don’t even have to cook the muffins at first. We can go through the motions once or twice in pantomime, while with a stopwatch timing the steps, and later we do it for real with the ingredients and actual baking. We can have a dry run, and then the wet one.”
“Exactly!” exclaimed Ruby. “That is our goal, to create and test the roadmap, the run, that later can be applied to other activities or projects.”
“I’m feeling splendid about this,” said Orquídea with excitement. “I’m glad we are getting into it.”
“Me too,” responded Ruby. “I am so glad you are part of the team, Jerome” Then, feeling a burst of enthusiasm, she added “Jerome, that’s a nice name. I like it, but can we call you… Jerry?” Ruby said sweetly. “Jerome seems so distant and formal.”
“OK,” Jerome said carefully, and embarrassed by the show of friendship he deflected by saying lightheartedly, “but just here, and not in public. People may think you like me, and I don’t want to get teased.”
“Sure. Not in public,” agreed Ruby and winked at him, smiling.
And then, not knowing why he said what he said, and further feeling awkward by the puzzlement showing on her face, Jerry turned it around and embraced it by saying, “Let’s give Orquídea a nickname too,”
“A nickname for her?” giggled Ruby.
“They can be our team names, like jerseys. How about Kitty? It’s close enough to Orquídea, Quidi, Kitty. Or you can pick your own nickname. In Asian countries, sometimes kids choose their own western names.”
“That’s not how I see it,” replied Orquídea “I don’t like Kitty; it reminds me of pink bows and children’s toys. How about Kate? I prefer Kate. Kate is quick and monosyllabic. How’s that, from three syllables to one? Can’t beat it on efficiency.
“Oh, it’s very you,” affirmed Ruby.
“I absolutely agree,” declared Jerry, “I can tell it fits you, and I don’t even know you that well.”
“Isn’t this funny, Kate, Jerry, and Ruby,” said Roberta smiling at the other two and loosely pointing at them, and then herself. “We just met, and we are already calling each other names.”
“Let’s keep it that way,” said Orquídea.
Jerry and Ruby often spent time in parks and gardens located in different parts of the city. Ruby decided to take up gardening as she drew inspiration from penetrating the secrets of nature. She was full of enthusiasm, incredibly smart, and charismatic, Moreover, she was passionate about the project, and she went all out for it. The girl was really into different things and found time for everything. But most importantly, there was something that made her different from all other girls. She was special. That’s what Jerry thought when he suddenly realized that he had fallen in love with her.
They spent hours outside. On that day the weather was boiling hot. They were having a picnic, eating fruit and sandwiches, when she told him:
“I know your lab mate died in a car accident and you had to join our group. I can’t even tell how sorry I am.”
There was a moment of silence between them.
“James was my best friend. We’ve known each other since we were kids. We would often play together, playing board and video games. He always biked standing up. The day he died, I thought that I was left all alone in this entire world. I changed school,” said Jerome.
“I am sorry. May I ask you something?” said Ruby.
“Sure” Jerry looked up and then looked at Ruby again.
“Are you afraid of dying?” asked Ruby.
“I never thought about it, to be honest. To my mind, there will be a moment when someone will come in and turn off the light. And that’s it.”
“My great-grandmother died last year. And when the coffin was being lowered down to the ground, I couldn’t stop thinking about all our dreams, aspirations, and attempts, and that they all would turn into dust like they were never anything at all. And what is the point of that all, then?”
“Ruby, you know what I think? I don’t know. But I’m pretty sure that as long as life is too short why don’t we start enjoying the process right now? I mean, it sounds trite, but it’s true. Stop worrying about it. Take it easy,” murmured Jerome.
“Well, I want people to remember me. I have absolutely no clue where I will go and where I will end up but there is a burning desire to leave something behind. Do you see what I mean?”
Jerome wasn’t a great fan of either philosophical reflections or discussions about life and death. He was an ordinary person, although all that nonsense she was talking about was particularly fascinating for him.
“The way I figure it we’re all supposed to experience something bigger, something we can’t even imagine for now. I believe it will certainly be worth our efforts, ups and downs, experience,” concluded Ruby.
Jerome always got very nervous whenever Ruby was about to show up in class. That day was no exception.
“My parents are having dinner on Saturday night,” she said “Some sort of a little home party. I wondered if you’d like to join us? Orquídea will come over too.”
“Count me in. Of course, I’d like to,” he screamed in his head.
“OK,” her smile lighted up the place, and James swore she was the most fantastically gorgeous creature that God had ever created. “See you on Saturday, then” she waved him off at the doorway and left the class.
Jerry pulled up next to the red car and get out of the car. The party was in full swing – lot’s of people, colors, lights, sparkles, and decorations. The scattered petals from the sidewalk to the front door with lots of candles in glass candle holders on both sides of the path added a level of excitement. But nothing could compare to Ruby wearing a pink dress.
It was all about an easygoing party but in a while Jerome noticed something. There were some telltale signs. And then was Ruby’s dad who decided to propose a toast.
“I will miss you, sweetheart. We all will,” and with those words, he finished the speech.
Jerome came to Ruby.
“I need to talk to you,” he said.
“Not now. I’m going upstairs,” she jumped and rushed to her room. Jerome followed her. The door of the room slammed.
“What this is about? Hosting a special send-off to show you just how much you’ll be missed…? Is this a leaving party? Are you going to leave? Make a clean breast of the whole thing,” Jerome asked.
“I wanted to tell you…”
“What did you want to tell me?”
Ruby kept silent.
“Well of course. I should have figured it out before. Everything has already been planned – you go to a prestigious university, get a well-paid job, then meet a decent person, get married, and have kids. Everything in your life is planned, you’re the best student, gonna graduate with flying colors.”
“What’s the matter with you?” Ruby hissed.
“What’s the matter with me? Are you serious?” Jerome yelled, “I didn’t start hanging out with you out of nowhere or something I have known since like the very beginning that I love you. And now you’re leaving, and all everything will disappear, fall apart, just like your body someday.”
She was about to burst into tears.
“You’re important to me” she cried. The party was alive and buzzing downstairs. The fireworks were going off here and there and Jerome could see tiny sparkles in her eyes that made her even more attractive. He was mad at her and he was crazy about her.
“I am sorry. I…I didn’t mean to hurt you. I gotta go”
“So you just go?” Her eyes were wet and full of embarrassment
Jerome’s heart was breaking. It seemed that he was just a voice crying in the wilderness. Of all the things he could have done for that beautiful angel, he was about to leave her alone with all those feelings, various issues, and a broken heart. He left the room.
Ruby and Jerry hadn’t talked since the farewell party. He found out that she was going to leave in some weeks immediately after the prom. He wanted to ask her to prom but it was too late – she opted for another guy.
He knew that he had to change the situation, although he had no idea how to begin. He knew that he was going to make a mistake but gave it a try. One idea. Just one chance to be with her. He couldn’t wait to sink his teeth into it. And it worked out.
That evening Ruby knocked on the door of Jerry’s house. She was wearing a lovely dress and she looked marvelous.
“Hey. I changed my mind. I know I am definitely not a spontaneous type of person and I might be… you know…buttoned-up,” said Ruby.
Jerome all smiled.
“Before you say a word I must tell you to know it’s a bit early to dress up for prom” she smiled and lowered her eyes, “But I think I want to wear this dress tonight.”
“Shh.. I want to show you something. Close your eyes and let me walk you. Do not open your eyes. Do you trust me?” said Jerome.
“I trust you.”
It took them around half an hour to get to the destination by car. It was a small park in the outskirts of the city. Jerry walked Ruby to a special place.
“What do you smell?” Jerry whispered.
“I can smell nature”
“And now, open your eyes.”
There was light everywhere. A glorious evening greeted them – sunshine pouring through the green leaves, flooding the place with too-bright light. The view was breathtaking – they were in an oak grove. The oaks in the grove were great – they seemed to touch the sky with their enormous branches. The trees seemed to take care of the two people just like parents protect and look after their beloved child. Just in front of them, there was a meadow full of little flowers of the pink and lilac colors, sparkling and fluttering in the warm evening light.
“Do you like it?” he asked with a quiet voice.
“It’s amazing,” words failed her.
“This garden belongs to Ruby Turner. It’s yours. But it isn’t as beautiful as you”
Ruby blinked up at Jerry and, in a nanosecond, wrapped her hands around his head, taking him completely by surprise, and kissed him.
“Last time you told me that you loved me. And I love you too”
On Project Day, the weather was wonderful. All the students were getting ready for presentations. Ruby was late, and Jerry was a bit nervous. He knew that the universe would have stopped if Ruby Turner had been late for class. He wrote her 5 messages, but all of them remained unanswered. And then there was a sound. Unpleasant and unexpected. The secretary’s voice asked everyone to go to the Assembly Hall.
The Principal spoke into the microphone.
“I regret to inform you that,” he cleared his throat, breathed in, and then continued, “According to the information that has just been brought to our attention, one of the students of Mill Grave died in a car accident couple of hours ago. Ruby Turner.”
It had been a year since Ruby died. Jerry remembered the funeral vaguely except for the moment he walked up to her. The coffin which was covered in a purple tablecloth was closed. He put some flowers on the coffin, knelt down, and touched the cloth. Everything was unbearable. Everything was surreal. The whole thing. Every second was even worse than the last. He kept thinking about opening the coffin and waking her up. He broke down, his sob roaring like a clap of thunder.
She didn’t die. He kept whispering. She didn’t disappear. How dare she did. The Ruby he know wouldn’t have done it. He knew she wasn’t in there.
After the funeral, he drove towards our meadow in a desperate attempt to find her there. He needed to hear her voice, see her face, her smile, her cheerful eyes, However, the place was empty and lonely. He could hear the irritating voices of the trees instead, rustling and crying “Where is her?” over and over again
“Are you OK?” Jerome’s mom was sweet and calm as usual.
“I’m fine, thanks. And you?”
“I am beyond proud of you,” she smiled and gave him a hug, “I’ll always be there for you.”
“I know. I love you,” he said quietly.
Jerry went on stage and at that very moment the doors opened and the Hall was flooded with sunlight so that he wasn’t able to see anything in front of him. He could hear his heartbeat. And then he began.
“There was a moment one girl told me that she wanted people to remember her. She was my girlfriend. Last year she died in a horrible accident. It’s terribly unfair and I still don’t know how to deal with such pain. One day we were hanging out somewhere downtown when she told me that we all would experience something bigger after death, something we wouldn’t even imagine. We would all be rewarded and that would not be the end, but rather the beginning. It was all double Dutch to me. I wish I had kissed the most beautiful girl on the planet. Now, let me tell you something. Ruby Turner died but she didn’t disappear. I want many more people, friends, and lovers, to feel what we felt. I want people to see her inner beauty. I want people to dream, explore and seek higher things. On behalf of my team, I’d like to present to you our latest invention – an electronic robot gardener. With the help of the system, we’ll be able to grow flowers and plants in different places in our city to make it a better place to live.”
“Come in, please,” Jerry turned left and a small robot drove to him, his lilac steel shining in the lights. Little name on its chest was sparkling – “Ruby”.