Ruby leaned on the now closed trunk of the car, watching Sapphire walk into the airport. Her neatly packed suitcase trailed just behind her and her handbag swung gently at her hip, already heading to print out her boarding pass. Ruby could stand and watch her until the light blue hijab was no longer visible, stick to tradition, but one look inside the car reminded her why she couldn’t.
Still in the back seat of the car, a lanky pre-teen watched Sapphire as well, her head rested on an open palm, watching the woman leave. Garnet.
Taking a deep breath, Ruby pushed off the car and went back to the driver’s seat. Starting up the car, she began driving away from the doors when she looked up at the rearview mirror: angling it, just a second, in a way dangerous for driving, but allowed a glimpse at Garnet without her knowing. The girl was completely turned around in her seat, watching out the back window in an effort to not let the doors Sapphire walked through out of her sight. Ruby felt a stone settle in her stomach as she readjusted the mirror.
The silence grew heavy in the car. Ruby’s fingers began tapping on the ceiling wheel and her eyes began flittering between the mirrors more often than needed, quick glances over her shoulder at the girl now solemnly staring out the window.
“So,” Ruby cringed at the forced cheer in her voice. “Two weeks without mum, huh?”
Garnet didn’t respond.
Great. This is going to go just great, Ruby grumbled in her head as she took the exit off the highway.
“She doesn’t hate you, Ruby,” Sapphire’s voice crackled over the phone.
It was nearly three in the morning Ruby’s time, but she needed to make sure Sapphire was okay.
“This was a bad idea,” Ruby bemoaned, rubbing her eyes as she sat on the edge of their bed. “Can’t you come back any sooner?”
“This is healthy. You and Garnet just need some bonding time,” Sapphire assured her frantic wife.
Sapphire was right and somewhere Ruby acknowledged that, but it was difficult. They’d been fostering Garnet for over six months now, but the girl never seemed to warm up to Ruby. There had been maybe a week that Garnet seemed comfortable, in between having arrived and right before learning Ruby used to be in the army. Even during that time, however, Ruby rarely got a few words, never a full sentence.
“She hasn’t said a thing since you left!”
“She has always been quiet. And lower your voice, she doesn’t need to think we’re talking about her behind her back.”
Ruby groaned, falling onto the bed and curling into the pillow that still smelt faintly like her wife, the phone cord coiling around her. “What do you two typically talk about?”
“Talking is not the only form of bonding, Ruby.”
“But it is the one I’m most comfortable with.”
Sapphire laughed breathily, making Ruby’s heart swell. “Go to bed, love. I’ll call you later.”
“All right,” Ruby yawned. “I love you.”
“Love you, too.”
The little alarm clock on the bedside table read six o’clock when it began its shrill cry. With a groan, Ruby flopped an arm over to silence it before dragging herself out of bed. She rifled through her drawers for her running clothes, changing sleepily before opening her closet door to grab her sneakers. She walked down the stairs, trying her best to keep quiet as she made her way to the front door, stopping at the bottom step to put on her shoes, then walked out the front door for her daily run, noting the dark clouds on the horizon.
It was habit. She began running on the track team in high school and physical activity became her job while she was in the army. When she was discharged, it was a way to keep some semblance of normalcy as she struggled to figure out what to do with herself. It never occurred to her that, every morning when she did this, Sapphire stayed in bed a little longer before getting up to make tea. Garnet had never been left home alone.
It was a little past seven when she got back and the house was still. Not abnormal, it was July. Then again, Garnet never really showed any desire to sleep in, getting up with Sapphire and having tea. It was their tradition. Ruby shrugged it off; maybe Garnet didn’t feel like making a cup just for herself.
Ruby took a quick shower and poured herself a bowl of cereal. She turned the television on and watched as it began raining. It quickly began raining harder and Ruby saw a flash of lightning just as she heard the front door slam. What the-?
Running towards it, she skidded to a stop when she saw a drenched Garnet in the doorway, wearing nothing but her sleep tank top and shorts. The usually stoic girl looked panicked until she saw Ruby in front of her.
“Garnet?!” Ruby screeched, gawking at her. Her eyes narrowed in on the shivers overtaking her thin frame, quickly moving to the hall closet and grabbing the giant beach towels they kept in there. Moving to the freezing girl, she wrapped the towel around her shoulders. “What in the world were you doing out there? And why aren’t you wearing shoes?!”
Ruby blinked at the girl, dumbfounded. “Um, I-I’m sorry?”
Garnet looked at her with large eyes and repeated, “You left.”
“Uh…” Ruby struggled to think through the chaos that had become her thought process. “I went on a run. I-I thought you knew that…”
“Every morning?” Garnet’s head tilted slightly.
Ruby struggled to read into the girl’s words, her body language, anything. She could feel there was something she was missing, something Garnet was trying to tell her, but she couldn’t figure it out.
“Yeah, pretty much.”
Garnet simply nodded at that, then stood there. Waiting. If there was one thing Ruby was aware of, Garnet waited. Whether it was something she enjoyed or meant to do, Ruby wasn’t sure, but it always felt like Garnet was waiting for something no matter what she was doing.
“How about you go change and I’ll make you some tea, is that okay?” Ruby hated the way the girl still shivered and was pleased with the nod Garnet gave before heading up the stairs.
Ruby made herself a cup of hot chocolate and poured Garnet’s tea as she sat down at the kitchen table, the news still on faintly. As Ruby handed her the cup, she quickly changed the channel before Garnet could catch the story of another murdered couple in the area Ruby knew Garnet used to live in. Sitting down herself, Ruby caught a small smile disappear behind the cup of tea and she suddenly felt as if she was choking on her heart.
The next morning, after the alarm rang and Ruby was dressed, she found Garnet, wide awake and also wearing suitable jogging clothes, by the front door.
“Okay,” Ruby shrugged, trying to appear nonchalant as she opened the door. “But I can’t promise to slow down for you.” Her comment earned her a bemused smile and a slight eye raise as, at even eleven, Garnet already stood at least a head taller than Ruby.
Running together quickly became routine and, somehow, slowly, Ruby began to notice small changes in Garnet’s behavior. A slightly larger smile at Ruby’s dumb jokes, a tiny eye roll at being told to clean her plate, and even a quiet good night before heading to bed.
It didn’t seem like two weeks had passed by the time they went to pick up Sapphire from the airport. Garnet couldn’t contain a content smile when she saw Sapphire waving. Before Ruby could, Garnet hopped out to help Sapphire with her bag, giving a quick side hug once it was in the trunk, then climbing back into the back seat. Even Sapphire was stunned.
“Hello, love,” Sapphire smiled, sitting down on the front seat and leaning over to give Ruby a chaste kiss.
Ruby smiled as well, “Hey, honey. Good trip?”
Sapphire shrugged, “It was fine. Long, though.”
The drive home was filled with Sapphire explaining the combined conference between therapists and psychiatrists that had taken place, Garnet quietly soaking up information in the backseat while Ruby asked questions.
As they pulled into the drive way of their house, Sapphire turned towards the backseat, “Did you and Ruby do anything fun while I was gone?”
Garnet focused on her fidgeting hands as she answered, “I started going on Mama’s runs with her. Those are pretty fun.”
Ruby’s mind blanked as Garnet looked up hesitantly. Sapphire quickly turned to Ruby, “You did not actually convince our daughter that running is fun.”
“Uh-wha-Hey! Running is fun!” Ruby protested, defending her hobby through the fog of oh-my-god-she-called-me-mama.
In the back seat, Garnet smiled, watching her moms bicker before her.
“Is this you trying to tell me I’m worrying too much?’ Garnet asked as her mama finished telling the story. She could hear the faint beeping of some video game Peridot was playing in the living room.
“Yes,” Ruby laughed. “You’re young and you’re raising a kid completely on your own. If you were really messing up, someone would tell you. The best thing you can do is be there for her.”
“Are you sure?”
“Well…there is one other thing.”
Garnet rolled her eyes, “And that is?”
“Introduce her to her eagerly awaiting grandmothers!” Sapphire’s voice was faint and difficult to hear over Ruby’s chuckles.
“I’m hanging up.”
“Love you, dear!” “Love you, kiddo.”
“Love you, too.”