"Are you going to let me up, or what?"
Ruby shouted up toward a well constructed wooden house that was hanging in an old and familiar sycamore tree. She had her hands placed upon her hips as if to look impatient, and she stared on as if she were expecting the fort to answer back. At her side in one of her hands, she was carrying a small, olive green lunch box.
There was a complete silence that replied to her calling after her echoes ceased, and apart from the gentle breeze sighing softly in the wind, the tree house remained quiet and still. A thick strand of the young woman's dark golden hair was caught in the breeze, and she brushed it aside revealing her brilliant eyes of sapphire that were bent by irritation, then she said in a flat tone "I know you're there, Cole."
Seconds passed on and Ruby was becoming restless, when finally a well used rope ladder dropped from an opening on the bottom of the tree house, and it unraveled and uncurled itself until it halted at the young woman's feet with a gentle sway. She placed a loose strap of the lunch box between her teeth, and she grabbed onto a pair of the rungs that were worn from years of usage, then she ascended the rope ladder toward the small aperture from which the series of steps extended. She was accustomed to the climb, and she did not fear the height it reached.
Just as Ruby arrived to the pinnacle of the rope ladder she was greeted by a hand that stretched out to her, and she routinely clasped it once again like many times before, then she was gently pulled into the interior of the wooden fort.
Once Cole had helped his comrade into the tree house he crossed over to the area he was previously occupying, and he sat down resting an arm on a makeshift table and stared out one of the fort's windows.
"Shouldn't you be at work?" Ruby asked inquisitively, and she set the green lunch box on the table next to Cole, then she took a seat on a miniature wooden bench that seemed a size too small for her. Though the young woman was petite and slender the furniture was constructed for the frame of a child, and it creaked with old age when she rested upon it.
"I was fired." When Cole said this he seemed so nonchalant and mellow, and he ran his fingers through his shaggy mop of coffee colored hair, and for an instant the wretched scar upon his left cheek revealed itself. His answer irked his companion.
"Again, Cole?! That's the third time this month. Pretty soon no one is going to hire you. What will you do then?" Ruby's troubled life at home reflected in her actions toward her childhood friend. Her youth was spent struggling to raise her siblings, and she was alone in her conquest because her father had dastardly abandoned the family when her mother had succumbed to inexhaustible alcoholism. Now her efforts were spent trying to guide Cole, who had little direction and care for the world around him.
"What's in the box?" He was quick to change the subject and avoid speaking about anything that encompassed responsibility on his behalf.
Ruby noticed the obvious attempt of misdirection, but she did not force the topic upon her companion any longer. She answered "A sandwich and some fruit. They're for you."
"I'm not hungry." Cole responded, though the pinch of starvation was presently gnawing at him.
"You have to eat sometime." The words brought his attention from the window to his friend, and Cole gazed at Ruby for a moment before saying "I'll manage."
The young woman was stung with irritation, and she wished her companion would learn to swallow his pride and accept the generosity of others, then she spoke with a hint of anger. "If you don't eat anything you'll just wind up in an early grave." Her intention was to prove a point, but immediately she regretted the words as they left her lips.
The scar on Cole's left cheek was an outwardly representation of the emotional marring that rested within his heart. The young man was plagued with a pain from his past as well, though of a much different breed than that of Ruby's. He was born into a loving family, and he was the piece that fit perfectly into the lives of his parents. The pair of adults were told by many physicians that pregnancy was unachievable, so when Cole was born he was more than an infant; he was a miracle. Happiness is ever fleeting, and not a soul can avoid the misery of untimely despair. When Cole was child, his parents decided to spend a week in the summertime vacationing to get away from their ordinary lives. The three of them packed up and set out for their destination, but they never arrived. Rain poured heavy on the highway, and Cole remained blissfully unaware of the road conditions as he relentlessly distracted his parents from the back seat. The tires squealed as they swerved, and their car toppled end over end into a dark ditch. The mother and father were pronounced dead at the scene, and their child was found alive with a bleeding gash on his face. Cole could recount the memory with vivid exactness, and by his perception he blames himself for the nightmarish accident.
Ruby attempted to redeem her unintentional slip up, and she knew an apology was in order. She spoke, though rather softly and with affection when she said "Cole, I'm sor-"
"You know what day it is tomorrow, don't you Ruby?" Again the topic of discussion diverted, this time avoiding the awkwardness of heartfelt apology. His eyes were still upon his companion as Cole moved his hands toward the lunch box, and he began unwrapping a sandwich that was withdrawn from the container.
"How could I possibly forget the day we met?" Ruby said as her lips curled to smile. She was delighted to see her childhood friend eating the food that she had brought with her.
"Promise me you'll visit tomorrow. I want to show you something." When Cole spoke his words were partially muffled by a large mouthful of sandwich he was chewing, and to Ruby it sounded like he said "Promife me you'll vivit tomorrow. I want to fow you fomefing."
"I promise." Ruby said, laughing and shaking her head at Cole's infantile manners, then the young woman stood up from the creaky bench and approached the hole she had previously climbed through, and she dipped one her legs down upon a ladder rung. "My lunch break is almost over. I have to get back to work. I'll see you tomorrow."
She descended the rope ladder, and when her feet were firmly planted upon the ground she smacked her hands together for a moment, then she began walking toward the streets of her home town in the direction of the bar and grill she worked at; all the while Ruby secretly wished for tomorrow's immediate arrival, and a playful smile of suspenseful anticipation remained dwelling upon her beautiful face.