Life is long. Not every relationship lasts college. Hell, none of Billie's did. Not everyone is Dorothy and Walky "got back together when she got into Yale Law" Keener. (Absolutely no one was surprised when Walky took Dottie's last name. Even his parents had resigned themselves to it by the wedding.)
Billie was okay with that. Really, she was. Even if sometimes she found herself thinking of Ruth as the one that got away.
"Billie," said a familiar voice attached to a familiar face, and it took Billie entirely too long to place him. Ruth's little brother, Harvey, Hallie, something with an H. She couldn't remember his name, and she was a terrible person, because she hadn't cared then and still didn't care now.
"You like hockey?" he asked.
She told him the same thing she'd told Jim when he'd asked, though her voice was much wrier as she said, "A college girlfriend got me into it."
"Are you here alone, or - ?" H-something had a considering look on his face, and Billie really hoped he wasn't thinking he could be Ruth 2.0.
"Nah, Jim's just grabbing drinks." Billie subtly flashed her ring as she waved in Jim's general direction.
Bingo. H-boy suddenly looked awkward as his eyes caught on the diamond. Even still, he bravely soldiered on. "Your brother, or - ?"
"I'm flattered you think I'm genetically gifted with that much pretty," Jim said as he came to stand beside her. He handed her a soda, then said, "Friend of yours?"
"Yes," H said at the same time Billie said, "No."
Jim seemed amused. "I see. Ex?"
"Ex's brother," H said meekly.
"Oho, is he here? I always love meeting people who can tell me embarrassing Billie stories."
"You're an embarrassing Billie story," Billie said, but there was no real heat in it. It was hard to imagine a more awkward situation.
"Ah, Ruth's just in the restroom," H said. He looked like he was considering ducking in there after her for back-up.
"Wait, Ruth? The Ruth?" Jim looked like Christmas had come early and Krampus had left him enough coal to pelt people with year-round.
"Was there more than one?" And there was Ruth and that more awkward situation.
"I'm a big fan," Jim said.
"What have you been telling people about me?" Ruth asked, raised eyebrows and a complete unwillingness to deal in social niceties like, "Good to see you," or, "It's been a while," or, "I'm glad you did not actually drop dead in the intervening years since last we met."
Billie's face was on fire, and why had she told Jim so much about her past? Couldn't she have pretended to have some sort of Jason Bourne style amnesia when he asked about college and how she knew Senator Keener if not just through a childhood friend? She put her head in her hands.
"Right. This is not happening. This is all a horrible dream from too much pizza before bed."
Jim ignored her, all his attention on Ruth's stern visage. His smile went from teasing to warm. "Well, for one thing, I understand I have you to thank for at least part of Billie being five years sober."
"Really," Ruth said.
"Really," Billie said. "I am almost definitely sure that there is no just universe where the two of you are allowed to meet. A dream is the only option."
Ruth's lips quirked. "It's cute you can still believe in a just universe."
Jim beamed. "She is the cutest."
Billie was going to murder them all. Starting with Ruth's little brother, who suggested they trade seats with another couple so they could all sit together. She'd find out his name when she engraved it on his tombstone.
"You know," Jim said much, much later, at home and in bed, warm and snug under the covers. "Ruth is almost as attractive as you described her."
No, Billie thought, she's only grown hotter.
"If you ever wanted a threesome - "
Billie gaped at him in horror until she recognized that sly smile. She proceeded to try smothering him with one of their pillows, her real reason for letting him have so many.
"Mercy," he cried, over-dramatic and entirely too loud for eleven o'clock at night. Their neighbors were going to give them dirty looks in the stairwell again, Ruth just knew it. "I have been slain. I'll never tease you about your continuing crush on your first college RA. Maybe. Probably. Only a little bit, and when you really deserve it."
"You're such a dork," Billie said, fond and exasperated. "I can't believe I'm going to marry you."
The upshot of that hockey game was an exchange of current phone numbers and friendings on Facebook all around.
Howard, Billie thought. Huh. I could have sworn it was Huey or something.
She accepted the friend requests and promptly broke her resolution not to stalk Ruth's profile for what she'd been up to the past few years. She did not - absolutely did not - feel a pang of regret at seeing her status as "in a relationship" with some woman Billie didn't recognize. It was petty, it was stupid, and Billie was happy with how things were.
She especially did not glare at the screen when she received the notification that Ruth's girlfriend had also sent a friends request. Feeling virtuous and above it all, Ruth clicked accept on that one, too.
(She absolutely did not spend the next three hours sifting through Anna's history to make sure she was good enough for Ruth. . . . It was more like four and a half.)
When Billie and Jim broke up, Ruth and her girlfriend took her out for ice cream.
"You'll find someone better," Anna said matter of factly. "I'm sure he was secretly a total asshole anyway, right?"
"I told you," Billie didn't bother looking up, head pillowed on her arms and trying to pretend that Anna wasn't rubbing her back soothingly like she thought Billie was ten and had a stomach ache. "It was an amicable split."
"Then why are you crying?" Ruth asked. Ruth and her brutal honesty and tough love were the real assholes here, Billie thought.
"Because he took the dog!" Billie wailed. She knew the other customers were staring, but Ruth had already glared the manager into submission when he came to inquire about the noise. If anyone else stepped up, Billie was sure Ruth would just suplex them.
"You hated that dog," Ruth said flatly.
"He ate your Jimmy Choos," Anna added supportively.
"Then threw up in your designer purse."
"But he was my dog to hate."
"There, there," Anna said, still rubbing Billie's back. "Think of it this way - dogs and relationships come and go, but those tooth marks will last forever."
When Anna moved to Germany for her job, Ruth didn't go with her.
"I suck at long distance," Ruth said. "But if I'm shifting countries again, it's to go back to Canada."
"But you're never going back to Canada."
"Yep. Looks like I'm stuck here, in this terrible city with its terrible hockey team."
"This isn't the only city in the country," Billie said hesitantly. "If Anna's moving, and you're already doing the long distance thing."
"We're not doing the long distance thing," Ruth interrupted. "Didn't you hear me? I suck at it."
Not sure what to say, Billie stared awkwardly back at Ruth, who suddenly quirked her lips.
"Besides, it's not all bad. I can think of at least one thing in this town I like."
"Oh?" Billie could feel her face heating.
"Yeah." Ruth leaned forward, her breath brushing Billie's lips. "It has the best ice cream."
Ruth smirked at Billie's indignant look and pulled away.
"Get your shoes on, Princess, we're making this a tradition."
"Break-ups equal ice cream together?"
Ruth nodded decisively. "Break-ups equal ice cream together."
It wasn't really a surprise the day Ruth kissed her.
What was a surprise was that three months later, after a relationship-ending fight, Ruth took in a deep breath and said, "Shoes on. We're going for ice cream."
"Really?" Billie asked, heaving deep breaths, but grabbing her shoes all the same.
"If we're both going through a break-up, that makes it twice as important," Ruth said.
"You're just trying to buy my love back with double chocolate fudge."
"It's not having your love," Ruth shot back. "It's keeping it."
All the same, they made up before they got the bill.
Life is long. Not every relationship lasts. But some did, and Billie was hopeful third time's the charm. Even if it didn't take this time - well. Relationships are work. Billie was sure they'd get it right eventually.