Ruby's finding out that life is all about improv . . .
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Ruby UnscriptedLife is what happens when you lose the script
By Cindy Martinusen-Coloma
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2009 Cindy Martinusen-Coloma
All right reserved.
Chapter One"Now he likes me?" I say aloud as I drop my phone to my lap and my heart does a strange little tuck and roll within my chest.
My ten-year-old brother, Mac, gives me a strange look from the seat beside me. With the top down in my aunt's convertible, he can't hear my words that are cast into the air to dance with the wind.
The orange towers of the Golden Gate Bridge loom toward us, with the darkening blue of sky and water filling the spaces between. Aunt Jenna is driving, with Mom talking beside her.
So it's finally true.
Nick likes me.
I think I'm happy. Everyone will expect me to be happy. It's not been a secret that I've liked him for ... well, ever. Or at least for a few months.
And yet I have a very good reason for being completely annoyed about this.
The text stating Nick's indirect admission of love, or at least "like," arrives as we're leaving an afternoon in San Francisco behind. But we aren't driving the four hours home to Cottonwood. We're driving toward our new life in Marin County.
Everyone at school knew that Nick liked me for a long time. His friends and my friends knew it. I knew it. But Nick apparently didn't knowhis own feelings. Why can't guys just trust others on these things?
I pick up my phone and reply to Kate's text.
ME: Is Nick still standing there?
KATE: No. I think it freaked him out to wait for your response. The guys went to play Alien Hunter III before the movie starts. So what do you think? Patience paid off.
ME: I'm trying not to think that guys are really as dumb as most of us say they are.
ME: Really now. I mean NOW. He says this on the day I move away?
KATE: Well you'll be home most every weekend so it's not that bad.
ME: But think about it. What made him decide today?
KATE: Who cares? He finally figured out he can't live without you.
The car cruises along the bridge, and I stare up at the massive orange beams over our heads. Then I catch sight of a sailboat as it dips and bows on the evening waters of San Francisco Bay.
My brother is shout-talking to my mom and aunt. And with one earbud pulled out, I catch bits of the discussion being tossed around the car as the wind twists my hair into knots. The topic is "If you had one wish, what would you wish for?"
What poetic irony. Five minutes ago I would've wished that Nick would like me ... and like some psychic genie working even before I wished it, the text arrived from Kate: "Nick said . . ."
So Nick likes me after I move four hours and a world away.
He likes me the day after I say good-bye to him and all my friends in Cottonwood.
I scroll back through my saved texts to find what he sent me after we said good-bye.
NICK: I wish you weren't moving.
NICK: Next time you're up visiting your dad let's hang out.
NICK: How often will you be back?
NICK: So you don't have a date for prom?
Men. I mean seriously.
So it's like this. I'm moving to one of the coolest areas of California-Marin County. I'm going to live in this cool, quirky cottage that my aunt Betty gave us after she headed off on an extended Mediterranean honeymoon with the man, now her husband, she found online.
Since I was a little girl, I've wanted to live near San Francisco. Aunt Betty's house was one of my favorite places. Kate and I plan to attend college down here. So now I get to live my dream sooner than expected.
Mac taps my arm, but I watch the little sailboat lean toward the open Pacific and wonder at its journey ahead, far or near, some California marina or faraway exotic isle.
My brother taps on my arm persistently. "Ruby-Ruby Red."
I really dislike it when he calls me that. Then he reaches for my earbud, and I push his hand away.
"What?" I ask loudly, wiping strands of hair from my face. The sun falls easily into the cradle of the sea. Its eventide-that time between sunset and darkness, a peaceful time of wind and bridges and dreams except for one annoying brother and an incoming text that could disrupt the excitement of a dream coming true.
"What do you wish for?" Mac asks earnestly.
My phone vibrates again, and I nearly say, "Don't bug me, and don't call me Ruby-Ruby Red," but Mac's sweet pink cheeks and expectant eyes stop me. I rub his hair and tickle him until he cries for mercy.
He laughs and twists away from my fingers, then asks me again what I wish for.
"Wait a minute," I say, and he nods like he understands.
KATE: He said he's been miserable since he said good-bye last night.
ME: So why didn't he like me before?
KATE: He says he always did, he just kept it to himself.
ME: Or he kept it FROM himself.
Everyone said Nick said I was hot, that I was intelligent, that he'd never met a girl like me-which can be taken as good or bad. Everyone told him to ask me out, but he just didn't. No explanation, no other girlfriend, just nothing. For months. Until today.
KATE: He's never had a girlfriend, give the guy a break. I always thought he'd be the bridge guy! Maybe he will be!
I rest the phone in my hands at that. Nick has been the main character in my bridge daydream-only Kate knows that secret dream of mine.
We've crossed the bridge into Marin County with signs for Sausalito, Corte Madera, San Rafael. The names of my new home, and yet I'm still between the old and the new.
"What are you smiling for?" my brother asks.
"Nothing," I say and give him the mind-your-own-business look.
Mac stretches forward in his seat belt toward the front seat, and I'm tempted to tell him to sit down. But for once I don't boss him around. He's so happy about this wishing talk, with his wide dimpled smile and cheeks rosy from the wind. His cheeks remind me of when I loved kissing them-back when we were much younger.
"Remember, no infinity wishes. That's cheating," Mac shout- says to Mom and Aunt Jenna, but he glances at me to see if I'm listening.
"This is really hard," Aunt Jenna yells back. She points out the window to a line of cyclists riding along a narrow road parallel to the highway. "I bet those guys wish for a big gust of wind to come up behind them."
Mac laughs, watching the cyclists strain up an incline.
Now they'll probably start "creating wishes" for everyone they see.
I bet that car wishes it were as cool as that Corvette.
I think the people in that car wish they had afire extinguisher for that cigarette ...
Mom and her sister often make up stories about strangers while sitting outside Peet's Coffee or, well, just about anywhere people watching is an option.
My phone vibrates in my hand, and then immediately again.
KATE: Hello?? No comment on Nick being your mysterious bridge guy?
JEFFERS: So beautiful, are you there yet?
ME TO KATE: I just got a text from Jeffers.
KATE: LOL He's sitting beside me and saw me talking to you.
JEFFERS: When can we come party in Marin?
ME TO JEFFERS: Almost there. Ten minutes I think. Uh party?
JEFFERS: Yeah, party! How could you leave us, I mean what could be better than us? You'll be too cool for gocarts and mini golf after a month w/ the rich and sophisticated.
ME: I hate mini golf.
JEFFERS: See? One day and already too good for mini golf.
KATE: You're having us all down for a party?
ME: Uh, no
JEFFERS: Kate's yelling at me. Thx a lot. But bye beautiful, previews are on with little cell phone on the screen saying to turn you off.
ME TO JEFFERS AND KATE: K have fun. TTYL.
KATE: Write you after. Bye!
It's a significant moment, this.
One of the most significant in my fifteen years.
Not the "wish discussion" between Mac, Mom, and Aunt Jenna; not the text messaging back and forth; not the music playing in one of my ears; not even Nick liking me.
The significance comes in crossing bridges. Not the bridge in my dream, but the ones that take me into Marin. The many bridges that brought my family here with my dad still in Cottonwood, and my older brother, Carson, driving soon behind us. And though we can turn around and drive back to the small town I've always lived in, I wonder if, once you cross so many bridges, you can ever really go back.
The music in my one ear and the voices of my family in the other make a dramatic backdrop for this moment-one that will shape the rest of my life.
I feel a sense of wonder, but also of fear. It's beautiful, this time of long evening shadows. The sky in the west where the sun has fallen turns from a subtle to defined sunset of red and orange. The hills of Marin County rise to the nighttime with their myriad dots of light. The salty breeze is cool coming off the Pacific.
"What's your wish?"
I jump as Mac shouts at me, leaning to get his face close to mine. I nearly throw my phone out the open rooftop.
"Mac, leave your sister alone. She needs time to think," Mom calls back with a worried glance in my direction.
She was more worried than I was about this move to Marin ... well, until I said all the good-byes this week and especially now. I realize it's the last remnant of what is, taking us from the past and what has been to the new place, the new life, and the what will be.
"Do you know what I wish?" Mac says in a loud whisper that only I can hear.
The innocent expression on his face soothes my annoyance. He motions for me to lean close.
"I wish I was six again."
"Why?" "Promise you won't tell Mom or Austin or Dad and Tiffany, 'cause I don't want to hurt their feelings ..." He waits for me to agree. "I wish I was six 'cause Mom and Dad were married then. But then that would make Austin and Tiffany go away, and I don't really want them to go away, but I sort of wish Mom and Dad were married still."
I nod and glance up toward Mom, who is staring out toward the bay. "Yeah, I know, Mac. But it'll be all right."
"So what do you wish for?" he asks again.
We're almost there now, and I still have no singular wish. How do you make such a choice when your whole life is upended-for the good and the bad? I wonder if San Francisco Bay is like one giant wishing well, and in the coming years I can toss as many pennies as I want into the blue waters and have all the wishes I need.
I hope so. And maybe wishing that the bay would become one giant well breaks Mac's rule about infinity wishes. But regardless, this is what I wish my wish to be.
It was my choice to move to Marin with Mom. But now I wonder if these bridges are taking me where I should be going. Or if they're taking me far, far away.
"I wish for infinity wishes!" I say and kiss Mac on the cheek before he protests. "No one can put rules on wishes."
And this is what I truly want to believe.
Chapter Two"Aunt Betty's house is kind of creepy at night," Mac says as the car makes a turn up the driveway and the two-story house comes into view.
"It isn't Aunt Betty's house anymore," I say, thinking how right Mac is.
The lights from the upstairs windows stare down at our approach. I see Austin and Uncle Jimmy carrying my dresser through the garage, and they set it down as our headlights blind them.
"Okay, then our house is kind of creepy at night." Mac's jaw is set in a way that says, I'm too big to be a chicken, but his eyes are wide and dart around the thick trees, ferns, and bushes that encroach the property. "Ruby," he whispers. "Do you think the house is haunted?"
"Promise?" His eyes look to me for reassurance.
"Yes, I promise."
Aunt Betty's house, built in the early 1900s, is the coolest place I've ever seen. It has two secret-looking doors-one in the parlor by the fireplace and another in a room upstairs-that go into boxlike storage areas.
When my brother Carson was six, he broke his arm going down the laundry chute that slides from the second story down to the basement. His teddy didn't break its arm when it went down the chute, Carson cried, so why did he?
And, of course, just having a basement is a rare and exciting thing in California. Aunt Betty converted it from a cold, damp space into an entertainment room with books, puzzles, games, a TV, and a DVD player. Supposedly, a movie director owned the house in the forties, but I can't remember who it was or what movies he made. The yard reminds me of The Secret Garden. Carson and I have spent hours exploring and playing there.
But Mac is right-tonight with the garden shadows leaning in and the house so full of old stories, it appears downright creepy.
Uncle Jimmy and Austin wave with gloves on their hands. The moving truck is gone, but boxes and furniture fill the garage and driveway close to the house. Aunt Jenna pulls to a stop and turns off the engine as the guys come toward us.
"Here we are," Austin says.
Austin is my stepdad of six months. He leans into the open car and kisses Mom before opening her door. He says hi to me and rubs Mac's hair, eliciting a "Hey, not the hair"-something the two of them say often.
"Do you think the house is haunted, Austin?" Mac asks in a whisper, as if the ghosts might overhear him.
"I've been here all day, and no sign of anything."
"But that was daytime."
"When your mom and I came down to paint and get the house ready, there were no ghosts then either."
Uncle Jimmy gives me a wide smile. "Hey, you just missed Kaden."
"We did?" my aunt says, and now they're all smiling at me. "You were supposed to keep him here."
"Yeah. Strangely, when I mentioned my fifteen-year-old niece that we wanted him to meet, he had to get going."
"What are you guys talking about?" I ask.
"We want you to meet Kaden," Mom says. "Don't you remember, I mentioned him?"
"Uh, no." But then I do vaguely remember some mention of a guy, though it's not unusual for Mom to have some "nice young man" to introduce me to. They're usually from church, or the nice fella who takes her groceries to her car. My parents, stepparents, and other relatives do these matchmaking things-but then don't actually want me dating anyone. This is my observation anyway.
"Oh, Ruby, you're going to like Kaden."
Aunt Jenna has a pretty convincing expression, and I do trust her judgment a bit more than Mom's-though I'm not sure why.
"He's been helping with some yard work, and today he helped unload the heavy furniture."
"A yard guy? Interesting."
"No, he's really cute," Aunt Jenna says, and Mom nods her head.
"And he's really hot," Austin says with a laugh. "Or at least you'll think so. Actually, I didn't like him at first."
"You didn't?" Mom and Aunt Jenna say together.
"I didn't either," Uncle Jimmy says.
"Why?" we all ask.
"He's one of those silent and suspicious guys," Uncle Jimmy explains, and I instantly imagine a serial killer.
Austin nods, and I wonder why we're having this long conversation about the yard boy when we've just arrived at our new house.
"He didn't talk a lot. But then once you're around him awhile, he's really great."
Aunt Jenna closes the car door. "Something tragic happened in his family, I heard. I don't know what."
That makes everyone quiet until Mac yells from the house, "Hey, I got the green room with the secret closet, right?"
"Yes, Mac," Mom says, and we start moving toward the house, finally. "And sorry, Ruby, but your room is still a mess."
"Which room did I end up with?" I glance at the apartment over the garage that's Carson's room, the one I wanted.
Aunt Betty used to rent it out to college students. It has a small kitchen and an old cast-iron bathtub and walk-in tile shower. I'm counting the years till Carson moves out. Kate and I might stay there when we go to college.
We walk through the garage and into the small kitchen with the new, light-colored granite that brightens up the dark wood cabinets and tile floor. "Wow, this looks nice."
"Isn't it beautiful?" Mom smiles proudly. "And your room has newly refinished floors. We thought you'd want Aunt Betty's, since it has its own bathroom and the little balcony."
"It does? Sweet," I say. "My memories are of a flower infusion and the smell of old lady and wet dog."
Mom knows I can't stand bad smells. There's a restaurant back home that smells so strongly of fish, I can't walk in the door. And I'm not completely opposed to fish usually.
"We took down the old wallpaper and painted it. It doesn't smell like wet dog anymore, and only slightly of old lady." Mom smiles. "Just kidding. It smells of paint and floor lacquer, but that'll clear out soon." Now Mom has her convincing expression and twinkle in her blue eyes-Everything is going to be okay, you'll see. "We'll have gas for the furnace and phone and Internet access tomorrow."
Excerpted from Ruby Unscripted by Cindy Martinusen-Coloma Copyright © 2009 by Cindy Martinusen-Coloma. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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