She pulled away, still not looking at me. “Are you still taking them?” she whispered and I froze. Oh f**k no. I was not going there again. I felt the anger sweep through me like a forest fire and I dropped my hand from her skin.
“Are you really asking me that? What the hell, Maggie?” I asked, trying to control the ugly emotions starting to bubble to the surface.
“It’s just you’ve been so distant and off lately. I just wanted to make sure,” she replied, her voice cracking. I was torn between feeling horrible for being the source of her doubt and being royally pissed off at her lack of trust.
“I’m taking them, I told you I would never do that again, and I’m working hard on keeping those promises. Give me a little f**king credit here,” I said harshly. Would we have this argument for the rest of our lives? Would she ever just be able to trust that I was trying? Logically I understood where she was coming from but it didn’t stop the hurt.
“I know you are, Clay. I’m sorry,” Maggie said, still not looking at me. We were at a standstill and I knew that if I stayed there, the situation would only deteriorate more.
“I’m gonna go. I don’t want to do this right now. I’ll call you later.” I kissed her on the cheek and went to leave.
“Just think about the tour, Clay. I want you happy, that’s all,” Maggie called out before I left. Some of the anger left as I took in her sincerity. But there was nothing more to say.
I was in a horrible mood when I got home. I wanted nothing more than go up to my room, turn on some music and figure out a way to wash off all of the bad feelings. The only ways I could think of to do that were not good ones. And even though I knew I should pull out my healthy coping skills, they just didn’t appeal to me the way the unhealthy ones did.
“Clay, you’re home early,” Ruby said, startling me. I had been so lost in my thoughts that I didn’t even realize she was home. She had taken to spending most of her days at the shop. While I was glad she was getting out of the house and trying to get on with her life, I worried she was instead suppressing her grief by working herself to death.
“Hey, yeah, I was tired so I thought I’d take a nap,” I said, just wanting to head to my room and be alone.
“Do you have a minute? I was going to talk with you this evening, but since you’re here, no sense in putting it off. Come into the kitchen and I’ll make you some tea,” Ruby waved me down the hall and all I could do was follow her.
Ruby and her freaking tea. I wasn’t sure what herbal number she’d force my way this time. But watching her move around the room, I realized she was nervous. What the hell did she have to be nervous about? Her edginess made me edgy.
“Need any help?” I asked and she shooed me into a seat at the table. When she finally set a cup of god knows what in front of me, she sat down and gave me a look that had my heart racing. She looked sad and worried. And I did not like that at all.
“So, what’s up?” I asked, trying to sound calm. She surprised me by reaching over and grabbing an envelope off of a pile of letters and slid it toward me. I arched my eyebrow questioningly.
“What’s this?” I asked.
“Just open it and then I’ll explain,” she urged and I did just that. Slowly I lifted the tab and pulled out what was inside. It appeared to be a check book. I opened it up to the first page and almost swallowed my tongue.
“Ruby, this is a lot of money. Where did you get all of this?” I asked, completely taken aback.
Ruby sipped on her tea before answering. “It’s Lisa’s life insurance money. It just came through a few days ago. So I went and opened a joint account. The money is yours, Clay. To do what you want with it. You could use it to go to school, or travel, or whatever. I just wanted you to have it. Lisa would have wanted you to have it.”
I flipped through the checks, seeing my name and Ruby’s on the top. This was unbelievable. I tried to push it back into her hands. “I can’t accept this Ruby. You need this money more than I do. Lisa would have wanted you to use it. Seriously, it feels wrong for me to take it,” I said.
Ruby took my hands and pressed the small blue book into my palm. “This isn’t open for discussion, Clayton. You need this. You are a bright young man with the world at your feet. This is just a means to get you wherever you want to go. You’re parents are useless and I know they have cut you off. I don’t want you starting this next chapter of your life struggling. Do this for me, so your old aunt won’t worry about how you’re keeping yourself. I have always loved you like you were my own. Lisa did too. You were the son we never had. You made our lives…”
“Miserable? Don’t blow smoke up my ass, Ruby. I was a f**king nightmare while I lived with you and Lisa. How you can say anything different is beyond me,” I muttered around the lump in my throat.
Ruby closed her hands around the one holding the check book. “Clay, you made our lives complete. You gave us purpose. Loving and caring for you has been my greatest joy. Lisa saw you for the amazing, complicated and talented young man that you are. Don’t throw this gift back in her face. Use the money and do something with your life. You deserve it,” she said emphatically.
Shit, I was going to cry. What was it about this tiny woman that brought me to my knees so quickly? She went straight for the jugular and I couldn’t refuse her.
“Thank you, Ruby. I just…I don’t know what to say.” My voice broke and I tried not to sob like a pansy. But I hadn’t been expecting anything like this. It was all so…overwhelming.
“Anything for you, Clay. Anything. But there’s something else I need to tell you,” she said and I could detect a wobble in her voice. She was looking nervous again.
“I’m selling the house and the shop. I’ve already had a real estate agent come by and start the paperwork. It’s too hard staying here. I don’t need a house to keep my memories and I just think it would be easier to get on with my life if I wasn’t drowning in the grief I feel here,” Ruby said, tears dripping down her face.
I felt like I had been smacked in the face with a two by four. Ruby was selling the house? She was getting rid of the shop? I felt like I was plummeting to the ground without a parachute. My world had just gone out from underneath me and I was in a free fall.
“What? Where will you go?” I demanded.
Ruby dropped my hand and sat back in her chair, picking up her mug and holding it between her palms. “I was thinking of going back to Florida. Lisa and I had talked about retiring to Key West and I think that’s where I want to go. I just have to leave Davidson. I feel like I’m suffocating. I used to be so happy here. But now, I just see ghosts,” Ruby sobbed and I knew I should probably comfort her. But I was too busy freaking out.