There was a woman standing at the water's edge.
Ruby, an agonized lady in the full bloom of youth, stood alone on the beach, gazing over the navy water with her baleful lavender windows to her soul. Her raven hair danced lightly in the ocean breeze. She tried to deny the stirrings in her heart, resting her cheek against one hand as she discreetly patted at her sheathed dagger. She wore a bronze shirt that left her light-colored, tinted with toast-colored, arms bare and tawny shorts that looked comfortable and easy to wear. Her hair was woven into a pitch-dark braid, complementing her pained coral-flushed alabaster visage. An elaborate tattoo snaked its way around her visible skin. Furry ears flicked at the top of her head, and she twitched her ebon tail. She stood, awaiting her love.
Ruby must have been delivered to her by fate. Fraja had uncharacteristically found herself at death's door when Ruby, in a moment of great courage, saved her. From then on, Ruby was sometimes needy and close, but then suddenly cold and fearful. Fraja tried her best to hide her pain, but it was plain in her orbs. That was how it was to this very day.
Her ears pricked at the sound of familiar footsteps. She twitched her tail happily and looked up before Fraja even spoke a word. "Ruby," she said simply with a smile on her face. Her slate globes complimented her aurulent mane, brushing against her shoulders, belying her rebellious heart. She was dressed in her usual everyday clothes. Her skin was khaki and her form was slight. Furry ears flicked at the top of her head, and she twitched her aureate tail. As Ruby drew nearer, she caught a note of Fraja's familiar scent that brought yellowed pages to mind. Her windows to her soul softened. It always reminded her of the time they shared.
"Fraja. I feared you might not come," Ruby whispered.
"Of course I came," she said nonchalantly.
Ruby shook her head. "Everyone else abandoned me."
"They don't know what they're missing," Fraja said sharply. Fraja held her hand out to her, and hesitantly Ruby took it. With that, they began to walk along the beach. Ruby was as silent as death as they made tracks along the sand. Unable to stand the awkward silence, Fraja started their conversation with,
"How are you these days?"
A flicker passed across Ruby's globes before she hoarsely murmured, "I'm fine."
"Ruby." Fraja's voice was uncharacteristically serious. "You're really fine?" Ruby swallowed and said nothing.
For a few moments they were quiet again. Fraja thought about Ruby, about the moment they'd met, when Ruby was so achingly vulnerable and Fraja was the only one who could (and did) save her. All throughout that time since then Fraja had gotten the feeling that Ruby had bottled up more pain than she ever let on. That only ever made things worse. Fraja glanced over at Ruby. Her angled head cast a shadow over her depths. "Come on," Fraja tried again, "I mean, look. Look at all this." She pointed out over the glittering sea, and Ruby cast her haunted gaze dispiritedly in the direction she was pointing.
"What is it?" Ruby murmured.
"All this open space stretching forever. The smell of salt and the cry of gulls. It makes me feel free, like nothing else. Come on. Let it out, get it off your chest. It's too beautiful here to be moping." All of a sudden, Ruby turned sharply away and continued down the shoreline alone. "Hey! Wait."
"Nothing is beautiful," Ruby whispered. Fraja caught up to her and turned her about by the shoulder. Ruby turned her face away, but Fraja saw that she was crying. "Fraja... I'm burdened by the unexplainable, I'm never good enough, and I'm a freak. How could you... how could *anyone* possibly care about me?"
It was always hard for Fraja to find the right words at times like this. "Hey, Ruby..." Fraja took her into her arms as she wept. "Hey. Sometimes you just have to throw lemons back at life."
After a few moments, they found themselves walking down the beach again. Ruby couldn't stop thinking about her incomprehensible secret. It plagued her endlessly -- while she was far from Fraja and while she was near. It threatened to consume her. When Ruby had let the faintest hints slip in the moments before, it had already taken taken so much of her will.
With concern, Fraja turned her unique pools toward Ruby. "Ruby? What's wrong?"
And at that moment everything came together, all of the magic and the hurt that had been building that day, and she locked her spheres with hers and whispered, "You can tell me."
It was like a floodgate burst, or some barrier of fear had been struck down. Ruby shook her head and everything came out at once. "I don't know if I can put it into words. I... lately... it might not even be just lately.... It's nothing. It's nothing! Fraja, I... it hurts, Fraja... there's nothing that helps. Except that... sometimes, I feel a bit better when you're by my side...."
Fraja listened silently and solemnly. At last, when all the words had left Ruby and she was at a loss for words, Fraja reached out to her and took a deep breath to whisper back, "Ruby... that's awful. It wish that weren't how it is. I wish I could say more. Ruby...." Ruby's eyes began to burn, and she abruptly pulled Fraja into a fierce embrace. Fraja's depths widened at first, but then she too felt overwhelmed by emotion and succumbed to the warmth of Ruby's touch.
"You," Ruby whispered, her breath hot on Fraja's ear. "As long as you're here, I... I can make it." They held each other as tears trickled down cheeks and dripped onto the shifting sands to be carried away into the sea. Their pain dissipated into a mist swept out by the ocean breeze and toward the setting sun, where dark clouds began to loom into sight.
They basked in each other's quiet companionship for a few moments.
"Look... it's the sunset."
Ruby lifted her head at Fraja's words to behold the dying sun's fermented radiance. "Mm."
After a moment of silence, Fraja asked, "Do you think we'll be together forever?"
"Please... let it be forever," Ruby murmured in response.
For a time neither of them spoke. Ruby wondered if Fraja was thinking the same thing as her: that it was unlikely that the world would let them be.
At last, Fraja spoke. "Ruby... it's not going to be that easy."
And Ruby knew -- Fraja had the same fears as she did. "Fraja...."
"You're a woman and I'm a woman. You know, we're both female. The world won't accept that. People might... hurt you."
Hearing it put so bluntly nearly brought Ruby to tears. Fraja spoke the truth, Ruby knew. That was why it was so awful. It was wrong -- they'd heard it so many times. She loved Fraja with all her heart, and yet... "Fraja... still, I... I love you so much.... It doesn't matter what they say, I... I don't want anything more in this world than I want you." Fraja only shook her head. All the more desperate, Ruby pleaded, "Fraja, please, I... please don't do this to me."
"Ruby... I'm only doing this for you. It... it has to be this way. Don't you see?"
For a moment no one spoke. Fraja stared into her eyes and Ruby stared into hers. Fraja gripped her hand tightly for a moment, and then slowly, slowly, started to let go.
Ruby's hand fell and swayed limply by her side.
"So... this is goodbye?" Ruby murmured.
"I... I guess so."
"Will I ever... see you again?" she whispered.
"I... I don't know." Ruby turned sharply away to hide her tears. She just wanted to get off the beach right that moment. The sight of Fraja was like a dagger to her heart.
She was foolish for thinking it would ever work out, Ruby thought. It never did. Nothing ever did.
The wind seemed to whip bitterly about her frame, and the sky had grown dark without her notice. Ruby crossed her arms about her body in a vain attempt to keep herself warm -- and whole. She thought about how much warmer she would be if only Fraja were here. If only...
A familiar laugh made her look up. There -- there was Fraja, standing expectantly upon the distant waves, as if Fraja were a figure of divinity.
"Fraja..." Ruby said softly to herself. Her voice was loud and clear. It was as if the wind had stopped howling and the clouds had parted to shine a path of light from her to Fraja -- a bridge amongst the waves.
"Ruby? Are you coming?"
Could it be true? That Fraja had come back for her? "Fraja...!" She all but ran toward her. Each step she took was heavier than the last, but she wouldn't be kept apart from her, not by anything...
Three Days Later
"She was a kind person. I used to see her feed the stray cats."
"I wish I could have made her happier. And now she's gone...."
"She was so skilled. So talented. She'll never know how much she helped us."
Fraja sat on a chair by the coffin, her hands around her knees, her orbs dry, her soul too numbed to grieve. The funeral attendees -- And who knew there'd be so many to come to pay their respects? -- nodded to her as they passed. She nodded stiffly back.
The reception lasted hours, but it seemed to Fraja that it was only moments before the crowd disappeared. She picked himself off the chair and turned to look into the coffin for the first time since the funeral started.
Eyes closed and still, Ruby laid inside in a fine copper dress, her hands clasped over her chest. She could have been in a very deep sleep. Fraja fought the urge to reach out and nudge her awake. Ruby was gone. Gone because of her. Because she'd pushed her away. Casting a long look at her beautiful visage, Fraja leaned in and laid a single kiss on Ruby's lips.