NYC Midnight Submission Round 1:
Location: Bike Path
Word Count: 988
Synopsis: Can Ruby find new love on a well-worn trail?
When she got promoted into corporate at Minute Delivery, Ruby had to admit that she wasn’t so punk anymore. She still wore her faded concert t-shirts and pink fauxhawk, but office work meant showing up on time, having a W-2 and following an employee handbook.
The money was good, but there were plenty of days she missed the rush of running packages. She loved the exhilaration of weaving through traffic on her bicycle, flipping off minivans and stuffing cash tips in her pocket.
When she needed to escape corporate life, she made of point of connecting with Ari. With a reputation as the friendly neighborhood anarchist, Ari was authentic and anti-authority. Ruby admired his ability to live in the moment. Being with him was a whirl of excitement and spontaneity. She never knew what to expect- which was simultaneously frightening and exhilarating.
Although she hadn’t seen him in months, Ruby thought about him often. They had a shared history. When she started as a bike messenger, Ari was her assigned job buddy. He taught her how to navigate rush hour traffic, which Dumpsters yielded the best free lunch and how to fix a flat in pouring rain. They formed a fast friendship, sharing a love of hardcore punk music.
They had also shared an unfortunate kiss early on, which resulted in the loss of a lip ring and a trip to the emergency room. What had started as a “cook you dinner date” had been a failed experiment. The greatest (albeit most frustrating) thing about punks is that they never seemed to give a shit about relationships. Ari never pushed the issue and Ruby was resigned to stay friends.
Increasingly, she had begun to wonder what it might be like to wake up next to him, feeling his heavily inked, sinewy arms holding her tight. Ari wasn’t typical boyfriend material. He was 44 and didn’t own a car or a home. He didn’t have a bank account, pay taxes or own a library card. He squatted and couch surfed when he couldn’t make rent. Even still, Ruby couldn’t stop thinking about him
The age gap that stretched between them was nothing compared to the social divide that pulled them apart. Taking the corporate job had changed Ruby. She moved forward while Ari stood still.
* * *
“Hey Ruby Soho” Ari shouted Ruby pulled up beside him on the path. “Slumming? Haven’t seen you in awhile. ”
“Missed your ugly mug, Ari,” she retorted. “Needed to ride. Work has been tense and I needed a break.”
“Yeah, offices suck. You should come back to delivery, ride a route with me. I miss seeing you Ruby, we were quite the team.”
“Ari, we still are. I got your back. I keep tabs on you.”
Ari took off his helmet and leaned in to Ruby, his lips barely brushing against her ear. “Normally that would freak the shit out of me, but when you say it, it seems ok.”
Ruby blushed. She hadn’t been that physically close to Ari in awhile. For the past few months, he had been only a row on her dispatch planner.
“C’mon kid, let’s ride. Are you gonna let an old man kick your ass?” Ari stood up on his pedals, “Since you’re out of practice, little girl, I’ll even give you a head start…”
Before he could finish his statement, Ruby had already pushed off, propelling her bicycle forward with as much force as she could muster. Ari followed behind, shifting into gear as he tried to catch up. Ari was all muscle and power, but Ruby had speed and agility. She also knew Ryerson Trail by heart, having spent countless weekends exploring as a child. Ari was the king of alleyways and city side-streets, but Ryerson was her empire.
They raced through the 13-mile trail, Ruby held the lead as she out maneuvered him on the path. She enjoyed the moment. It felt good having him chase her. It was clearly something he was unaccustomed to.
As she planned, Ruby reached Vantage Rock first, her legs burning from exertion. Ari was right behind her, panting and red-faced. He wiped the sweat from his face, wearing a big smile.
“Guess I shouldn’t have given you that big lead,” he exclaimed between big gasps of air. “You didn’t tell me you were a professional cyclist.”
“Ari, I think you’re just out of practice. City riders never know how to pace.”
The two of them walked toward Vantage Rock. Ari scampered up the side first, reaching out his hand to help pull her up. She grabbed his hand tightly, doing all she could not to slip off, and worked her way up the side of the boulder.
The view from the top was stunning. Ruby breathed in the cool air and looked out over the expanse of Ryerson Trail, past the tree line to the congestion of the city. Looking back over her shoulder, she caught Ari’s gaze. He was staring at her, an uncharacteristically serious look on his face.
“Ruby, you are amazing,” he quietly murmured.
“What?” she asked, caught off-guard.
“You’re amazing,” he reiterated, “Why did I let you slip away?”
Ruby turned to face him, letting the silence fall between them. Ari grabbed her hands, holding them close to his heart.
“Ruby, I miss you. Your face. The sound of your laugh. Your smart brain.” Ari struggled to find more words. “I just miss you, kid.”
He paused for a moment.
From deep within his backpack, he pulled out a worn spatula.
Ruby looked at the utensil, remembering their failed first date all those years ago, her mind flooding with regret.
“You never came back to finish cooking dinner,” he said with a twinkle in his eye.
Ruby looked deep in his eyes, wondering if she had written him off prematurely. Perhaps this familiar trail was worth exploring again, she thought.