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  • Marion Raby

A Ruby-Colored Life

Updated: Nov 16, 2023




Chapter One


It all comes down to love. We can make it through any hardship if we love someone and that someone loves us back. Unconditionally. Completely. All we need to thrive is one person who sees the beauty underneath the flaws we try so hard to hide. One person to call, night or day, to talk to for hours about our feelings without holding back. One person’s love to fill the bitter emptiness in our hearts. Someone who accepts us as we are and never expects us to change the unique light we shine in this world.

If that person were to leave, they’d be missed so intensely we’d lose a part of ourselves, and the void they left would be impossible to fill.

Love gives us purpose. It fills us, grounds us, yet gives us wings so we may soar. Love is the most powerful emotion in the universe, and we all want to be enveloped by glorious love.

When a person grows up without love, it becomes the holy grail. They will leave their parents’ house with one mission in life. To chase down love and hold on to it at all costs. With that one goal in mind, everything else fades into the realm of unimportance.

A person might never learn who they are as an individual or realize their full potential because they’re hung up on finding the one thing they’ve always craved, yet never had. They may not recognize opportunities when they present themselves because they are so blinded by their quest for the love of that one special person they imagine will chase their troubles away and make them whole. The desire for love is a powerful driving force.

I turn the corner onto Valley Drive, and the paper bag on the passenger seat tips over, spilling tubes of Naples yellow, burnt umber, and cadmium red on the floorboard. I watch them roll and consider picking them up while driving, but I’m almost at my destination and decide not to tempt fate.

I park on the street and smile at the two-story house behind the newly built and freshly painted white picket fence. Inside is the man who has filled my existence with the love I’ve always craved. Love. Glorious love. Eugene Block loves little old me, and he wants to build a future with me in this house.

Vincent and I were raised by dysfunctional parents, and as a result, our brief marriage was fraught with head-spinning highs and devastating lows, and ended after two short years.

But Eugene grew up in an ordinarily normal and kind family. His parents loved and supported him, and taught him the value of decency, honesty, and respect. Eugene is a good man, and we’ve created something stable in the calm middle where our love is ever-present, constant, and free of chaos. I trust Eugene and won’t need to worry about finding him up to his short and curlies inside a woman whose name he didn’t bother to learn. He’s not the type of man who would consider an affair or even a one-night stand acceptable.

The painter’s truck is parked in the driveway. They’ve been here for weeks, painting the house a delicate clary sage green and the window frames and the fence a creamy white. I smile and inspect their finished work and the sign, cautioning passing pedestrians of wet paint. The painters wave before they get into the truck. After they’ve left, I park in the driveway and take one last gander at the finished construction work.

Eugene had grown tired of standing by the window, hoping to catch the irresponsible neighbor who routinely failed to pick up after his dog and left the feces in the front yard for us to dispose of. He now keeps the outside world on the other side of a waist-high fence. He closes the gate when we leave for work and again after we’ve returned in the evening to keep the unknown culprit and their dog off his precious front lawn.

I lean across the seat, collect the tubes, and return them to the bag. I smile at the contents, relishing the possibilities within. Other women get excited about new shoes. I get a thrill when I hold shiny, unopened art supplies in my hand, eager to take them to my studio, where I’ll spread the colors on the canvas, creating works of beauty.

‘I’m here!’ I yell when I walk into the house. Eugene is on the terrace and walks toward me with a big smile.

‘Hey there, gorgeous. You’re late.’ He takes my purse from my hand and drops it on the floor before he wraps his arms around me, lifts me off my feet, and kisses me.

‘I stopped at the art supply store,’ I say between kisses, ‘but I forgot the list, so I’ll need to go back tomorrow to buy the rest. I’m sorry, I lost track of time.’

‘No worries, Desmond and Sadie are running late, too,’ he says, sliding his hands under my shirt.

‘Are the painters finished?’

‘Yeah, finally.’

‘The fence looks great.’

‘No more picking up poo.’ He slips his fingers into my belt loops.

‘Did you go shopping?’ I ask, and he nods. ‘You didn’t forget the zucchini and my veggie burgers?’

‘I didn’t,’ he says, still smiling mischievously.

‘What’s gotten into you?’ I ask.

‘Nothing.’ he says, and his smile widens.

I run my hand through his straight, ash-blond hair, but the strands fall back over his eyes. ‘Something’s going on.’

‘Can’t a man be happy because his woman is home?’ He picks me up and carries me to the couch. His warm hands glide under my shirt to caress my skin, giving me goosebumps everywhere.

‘Oh, I get it now.’ I unbuckle his belt and open the button of his jeans. ‘Had I known you’d welcome me like this, I’d have rushed over straight from work.’

He takes a condom from the tin box on the coffee table and tears it open with his teeth.

Eugene is excellent in bed. He’s also great in the shower, on the couch, or wherever else we have sex. He takes his time and keeps me in that sweet place where the rest of the world doesn’t matter. He knows how to make love to a woman and always leaves me breathless and satisfied.


Afterward, we fall back onto the couch, sweaty and content.

‘Now I could eat,’ he says, still sporting that big grin.

‘What is up with you?’

‘I’m pleased the work on the house is done and happy it’s the weekend, and now you’re here to spend it with me.’

I snuggle into Eugene’s chest and listen to his heartbeat. He kisses my cheek, and his day-old stubble scratches my chin. I could stay here forever, but Eugene won’t allow it.

‘You had better put your clothes on. Those annoying upstairs neighbors will be here soon, and they’ll expect food.’ He grabs his shirt off the coffee table.

‘They are a demanding couple, aren’t they? You should have a talk with them.’ I moan and get off the couch.


In the shower, I wash off the day’s grime from delivering packages to customers in San Remus. It’s not the job I’d hoped to land after going to college for my B.A. in Fine Arts, but at least I don’t sit at a desk all day, staring at sales reports on a monitor and faking an office smile for gossiping coworkers. And I don’t have to put up with smarmy, misogynistic bank auditors calling me pastry names.

The hot water washes over me, and I rinse the shampoo from my hair. I jump when Eugene’s icy lips touch my neck. Despite the hot water, a chill surges through me. The cold sensation moves across my skin until it’s on my breast. His icy tongue glides to my shoulder, and when he kisses me, an ice cube slides from his mouth into mine. Little surprises like these send titillating sensations through my body and help me forget my work day. He lifts me and holds me tight.

I wrap my legs around him. ‘Again?’

‘We still have a couple of minutes before they show up.’

‘A couple of hours would be better, but I’ll take what I can get,’ I say, running my hands through his wet hair.

The water streams over us, and it’s so wonderful to—finally—be with someone like him.

Life is pretty damn good these days.


***


Sadie slides the tray into the oven. She had the great idea of preparing twice-baked potatoes stuffed with sautéed onions and veggie bacon, topped with vegan cheese.

‘They look so delicious.’ I say, and slice three zucchinis lengthwise. I arrange the strips on a plate and coat them with olive oil and spices.

‘Why make the same potatoes every week?’ Sadie says.

‘You always have the best ideas.’

‘It’s Mom’s recipe, but I changed it so you can eat them, too.’

After the zucchini is ready to go on the grill, I pour the dressing on the coleslaw. With the help of a cookbook and the internet, Sadie and I learned to veganize the side dishes we cook to go with whatever the guys throw on the grill. I’m still not a skilled cook, but preparing meals with Sadie has given me more confidence in the kitchen. The reward for the time spent at the stove is dinner with a group of beautiful people and eating more than just a green salad.

Nobody in this house has whined because I’m vegan or asked me to make an occasional exception. Not long ago, we’d have cooked two versions of potatoes, one with real bacon and cheese and a few for me, but Sadie got tired of twice the work, and with the amount of meat on the grill, she decided that the rest of the meal should be vegan. I love her for it and appreciate that she’s learning more about plant-based cooking for me, so I’m not excluded.

Sadie’s husband, Desmond, is standing on the terrace, poking at the steaks and chicken breasts on the large barbecue, while my sweet man tends to the veggie burgers on the other grill.

If my mother were here, she’d insist our relationship was doomed. “Eventually, Eugene will get sick of eating rabbit food, and he’ll trade you in for someone who can cook a meatloaf,” she’d say.

I’d tell her most men don’t care what is served in the kitchen. They’re much more interested in what goes on in the bedroom. And had she loosened up a bit and viewed sex as something more than merely her wifely duty, my father wouldn’t be having affairs.

‘It’s ruining the gutters, and eventually, it’ll damage the roof,’ Eugene says, looking at the oak tree growing close to the house.

‘We could trim it back,’ Desmond says, staring at the branches.

‘Only to face the same problem again next year,’ Eugene says, shaking his head and kicking oak leaves off the terrace.

‘We’ll get a chainsaw and give it a serious trim, then you won’t need to worry about the roof for several years,’ Desmond says, and sips his beer.

‘Please, don’t talk about cutting down the tree again.’ I set two salads on the patio table and marvel at the glorious oak tree.

‘Don’t worry, sweetie. They sit in front of computers all day and need to talk about doing manly things, like using a chainsaw, to restore balance to their suburban existence,’ Sadie says, and laughs.

Desmond slides his hand across her back. ‘You love seeing me with my tool belt on. You can’t deny that.’

‘Your tool belt is extremely sexy.’ She kisses Desmond’s cheek. ‘Much sexier than the bandages you wear after using your tools.’

Desmond scoffs. ‘I’m never going to live that down, am I?’

‘I know you love that tree, but I’m tired of cleaning up the mess every year,’ Eugene says to me.

‘It’s probably older than all of us put together. You can’t cut down such a gorgeous tree,’ I say.

‘Let’s not talk about the tree. Is the meat done so we can eat?’ Sadie asks, hoping to change the topic of our conversation.

‘It drops a ton of leaves, which I then have to rake and dispose of, and nothing grows underneath it.’

‘But it also provides shade for the terrace. We’d be eating in the blistering sun without it,’ I say.

‘Then we’ll get an umbrella or an awning. And with the tree gone, I can finally install a hot tub in that corner.’

I throw Eugene a disapproving roll of the eyes but refrain from voicing my opinion. This is his house, after all. I’ve been part of the weekly Friday night barbecue for the past year, but we started dating only a month ago. While I may spend most of my days and nights in this house, I don’t live here. Therefore, I shouldn’t tell him what to do in his yard. But I’d never cut down such an old and beautiful tree, full of birds and bugs and other wildlife—to make room for a hideous hot tub, no less.

Eugene stands behind me, wraps his arms around me, and rests his chin on my shoulder. ‘Picture it, hon. It’s a gorgeous night, the air is warm, and a million stars fill the sky. Garden lights guide us across the lawn—’

‘A lawn, really? We’re in a massive drought, and you want to waste water on more grass? Isn’t the front lawn enough?’

‘I’m not planning on putting in a nine-hole golf course, just a small strip of green from the terrace to the hot tub. I’d also put down some concrete tiles because I hate walking barefoot on grass. Too many bugs, ants, whatever. Anyway, you interrupted me.’ He kisses my neck. ‘May I continue telling you about our evenings spent under the stars, soaking in the hot tub?’

‘Sorry, go on. Concrete tiles, lawn, garden lights. Got it.’ I lean back against his chest and wait for him to share the rest of his fantasy.

‘We’ll walk down the path, get naked, and sit in the hot tub. We’ll gaze at the stars, talk for hours with drinks in hand, and make love in the great outdoors. It’ll be romantic,’ he says, surveying the barren ground underneath the oak tree.

‘I had better get back to the food.’ I free myself from his arms.

‘Fine, we’ll leave the tree for another year.’

I fork the zucchini onto the grill next to my veggie burgers. Sadie brings the plates and silverware, and we set the table. When the food is done, we pass the salads, potatoes, and zucchini.

‘Did Des tell you?’ Sadie says. ‘We picked up the keys today.’

‘Yeah, I heard,’ Eugene says, piling meat onto his plate. ‘I can’t wait to take a tour to see the inside.’

‘I’m not looking forward to the remodel.’ Desmond sighs. ‘It’ll take a lot of work to turn that fixer-upper into a home. But Sadie has amazing ideas, and I’ll be happy if it turns out half as nice as this place. I just hope we’ll get it done before the baby arrives.’

‘We’ll need an industrial-size first-aid kit, won’t we?’ Sadie says to me with a smirk.

‘God, it happened once, and it wasn’t all that bad.’ Desmond shakes his head and cuts his steak.

‘You smacked yourself in the head with the wrench and bled on the kitchen rug.’ I chuckle and load my plate with zucchini and veg burgers. ‘That takes special talent.’

Desmond rolls his eyes at me and stabs the steak with his fork. ‘Yes, thank you, Nora, for showing us men folk how to fix a clogged drain pipe,’ he says, very monotone.

‘You’re good with computers, and I’m handy with tools,’ I say.

‘Anyway, I have great ideas for the house.’ Sadie says.

Eugene steals a small piece of veggie burger from my plate and eats it, grinning at me while he chews. ‘Yummy burger.’ He winks at me.

‘Hey! Get your own, buddy!’ I say, but I’m thrilled he’s giving my vegan burgers a try.

‘It tastes better off your plate.’ He smirks and leans over to nibble on my cheek. ‘They’re almost as tasty as you.’

‘We bought a house. We’re adopting a baby, but they don’t care,’ Sadie says to Desmond while scooping a potato onto her plate.

‘They’re just bitter because the strangers who will rent the upstairs won’t be as fun as the two of us,’ Desmond says.

‘Very true,’ I say. ‘Nobody will ever be able to replace you. Any news from the mother-to-be?’ I wipe the grease spot, left by Eugene’s lips, off my face.

‘Yes, Maya had another check-up,’ Sadie says. She wipes her hands on her napkin and takes her phone from her pocket. ‘The baby has grown so much. In the last picture, it was a little blob, and now we can see hands and feet and a tiny little face.’

Eugene wipes his hands on his jeans and takes the phone from Sadie to see the ultrasound picture. ‘Oh, God, will you look at that? Beautiful, absolutely beautiful,’ he says.

‘It still seems so unreal. When I transitioned, I gave up my dream to be a parent, yet here we are. In a few months, Maya will give birth, and I’ll be a mother.’

‘Our lives will never be the same.’ Eugene is glowing.

I’m thrilled for Sadie. She’s a wonderful, kind person and will be an exceptional mother. It’s heartwarming to see her so full of joy because she’ll have the life she thought was out of her reach.

‘I can’t wait,’ Eugene says, and hands the phone back to her.

I can’t tell who’s more excited. The future parents or the uncle-to-be. It’s adorable to see Eugene’s eyes light up when he talks about childproofing the house and putting together the swing set in Des and Sadie’s new backyard.

‘How about we go to the baby store tomorrow to check out the cribs, dressers, and such?’ Eugene asks me.

‘You know Saturday is my painting day.’

‘Maybe you could do that afterward?’

‘I wait all week for the opportunity to paint all day.’

Sadie laughs. ‘I think the house needs to be done first.’

‘Exactly. Let’s worry about getting it up to code before we talk about swing sets and safety latches,’ Desmond adds, then shoves the last bite of meat into his mouth.

Eugene sees the logic in that and doesn’t push me any further.

‘I never imagined my life would be like this,’ Sadie says, and a look passes between her and Eugene. Desmond notices and smiles at me.

After we clean the kitchen, we sip drinks until the stars appear in the sky. It’s a beautiful night, and we sit and chat about the house and the baby until it’s late.


After Desmond and Sadie have gone upstairs, Eugene closes his new gate, and we go to bed.

‘I’m so glad they’re getting everything they want.’ I take off my jeans and toss them on the floor. ‘I can’t wait to see their house.’

‘Is it horrible that I sometimes look at Sadie and still think of Mark?’ Eugene sits on his side of the bed, taking off his pants. ‘She started the transition process ages ago, and she’s lived as a woman for four years. I should be used to it by now.’

‘No, it’s not weird. You have a lifetime of memories with a brother, and now a woman is sitting across from you. It must be strange.’

‘Don’t get me wrong, I’m thrilled for her.’ He drapes his jeans over the chair and takes off his shirt. ‘It isn’t lost on me that Sadie is happier than Mark was. She’s the person she wanted to be all her life. Her gender didn’t change our relationship despite my fears, but sometimes it hits me that she used to be my brother, and there are times I miss Mark. Do you think I’ll ever get used to it?’

‘Of course. I bet it’s very common for family members to go through a sense of mourning.’ I toss my shirt next to my jeans and get under the covers. ‘For me, it’s odd to imagine her as a man because I met her after she’d transitioned.’

‘God, I was so shocked when she told me about the first surgery. I feared losing Mark and couldn’t imagine having a relationship with the stranger who would replace him. I was afraid she’d be a different person just because her body changed. I’m still so ashamed I was furious with Mom and Dad for supporting her. They stayed at the hospital with her and I spent my first Christmas alone.’

‘You loved Mark and were afraid of losing him. But you stuck with love and didn’t let your fears ruin your relationship, and that’s all that matters. Now you have a sister and also a brother in Des.’ I curl up in Eugene’s arms.

‘True. We’re a family, and I love them both. This Christmas, she’ll be a mother, and I’ll have a niece or a nephew to love. Like Sadie said, it’s so surreal.’

‘Life is good,’ I say, and kiss him.

‘Life is grand.’ He rests his head next to mine as he does every night and whispers, ‘This is my favorite part of the day.’

‘Mine, too.’

‘We could’ve been doing this for years, but you had that silly “no sex until I graduate” rule.’

‘I needed time on my own to sort out my head. We wouldn’t be here now if we’d done this from the beginning.’

‘It was silly.’

‘Well, we are here now, so quit your whining.’

‘I’m not whining. I’m happy.’

‘Are you?’ I ask, moving my body as close as possible to his and draping my leg over his knee.

‘Deliriously,’ he whispers, looking utterly content. ‘I love you,’ he says, and I melt.

I love his smooth, velvety voice, whispering sweet nothings into my ear while our limbs are wrapped around each other. It sends tingles down my spine. ‘I love you,’ I whisper back.

I wake up at two in the morning with a vague memory of an unpleasant dream. When I can’t get back to sleep, I shuffle to the kitchen to make a cup of tea. I sip it on the couch while I read yesterday’s paper. The smell of the tea is pleasant and relaxing, and it makes me sleepy.

The news does the opposite because the world is a mess. Another starving polar bear was spotted roaming the streets of a Russian village looking for food, miles from its home. The rich get another tax cut while bridges collapse and social programs are cut. Fat, white men are trying to pass more laws telling women what they can and cannot do with their bodies. Another school shooting. An article on the California drought with water conservation tips. A study finds that 115 million animals die in research facilities each year while a group of so-called animal rights extremists has been sent to jail. Society is going down the toilet when torturing animals is acceptable, and those who want to rescue them are labeled eco-terrorists.

I leaf through the entertainment section not because I care but because I want to forget about research labs, children dying in school, and the climate crisis.

Bits and pieces of my dream come back to me.

Don’t get too comfortable. He’ll soon see you for what you are. I hear my mother’s acrid voice say in my mind, and fear grips my chest.

*** A Ruby-Colored Life is the third book in the Life Series. It will be available in paperback and eBook on November 30th, 2023.

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