Ruby Crowley looked ill-suited to the Canadian Armed Forces uniform she wore under a Doctor Who apron that had belonged to her father. Her Buddy Holly glasses magnified her already enormous green eyes. Her hair, which was pulled tight and pinned up under a beret, was flame red and coarse like steel wool. It seemed determined in-and-of-itself to break from the bondage of bobby pins and barrettes the military demanded.
Effervescent was the word Andy thought best described Ruby, though she had an edge as well. Quick in both mind and form, she was curious and attentive by nature. Sharp, her commanders would say. And though she loved The Clash, The Sex Pistols, The Pogues and The Doors, she didn’t look the part of a punk at all. A war hammer enchanted with pixie-dust to look like a feather duster, Nick had said once after he had taken a scolding from Sgt. Ruby.
If their parents hadn’t failed as parents, Ruby Crowley wouldn’t be a soldier. Andy knew it and suspected Ruby knew it too, though she pretended otherwise with the same frenetic ferocity she brought to everything she did.
During supper she had been lecturing Andy on standing up for himself. His nose wasn’t broken, and, considering the amount of blood on his clothes, it was miracle he wasn’t sporting the black-eyed mask of a racoon by now.
Then the phone had rung.
“You can be certain I will talk to him about it, Mr. Bachus.” She glared at her younger brother. He sat in the old wing-back chair in the corner of the kitchen.
“Yes, I know. I know they are monitoring our situation. Thanks for not reporting this.”
From his chair, Andy pretended to clutch imaginary pearls, he pressed the back of his hand against his forehead like a nineteen-twenty’s silent film actress about to faint.
“Thanks again, sir,” Ruby began unwinding the long, coiled cord from around the hand that didn’t hold the phone. Gently placing the olive green phone on the receiver that hung on the wall, she didn’t turn to look at her brother.
Andy just wanted to get this over with. He had been preoccupied with why his spell hadn’t worked. Deb had said nothing about it accept that she knew she could wash his blood out of her new jeans. No one on the bus had seemed to notice. Why had his first attempt at casting a spell failed so spectacularly? He was relieved it had gone the way it had. He knew St. Pierre would get detention. And in hindsight he had been a fool. He was beating himself up now. Why had he thought it was a good idea to come out? It wasn’t. Maybe it never would be.
Then there was the matter of Deb trying to hold his hand. Was it pity? He hoped it wasn’t, though he certainly knew the whole episode had been pitiful. He wanted to hold on. He had been amazed at how right it had felt. But that wasn’t somewhere he could go.
Jesus, what is happening to me?
Enough! He needed to get ready for Dungeons & Dragons tonight. Nick was going to have something to say about what had happened on the bus and that was going to suck.
He knew social convention required that his sister, in her capacity as his legal guardian, admonish him now. All the fabricated parts going through their nonsensical motions.
“You have detention on Wednesday after school.” After she’d hung up the phone she hadn’t turned to look at him.
“Certainly do, Sir,” He leaned forward with his elbows on his knees. His pale slender hands were clasped as though he were about to plead for something or enter into prayer. His pale gold hair, past his shoulders now, hung forward around his tapered face. Predicting he would get Sir Ruby’s stern soldier mask when she finally looked at him, he strained to conjure an innocent, puppy-dog face. But almond shaped eyes, one the blue-green of ancient Venusian seas and the other the colour of fire reflected in Martian gold rendered the effort futile. Their peculiar tilt and confident energy conveyed nought but fierce curiosity and intimidating intelligence.
“I don’t care how much money you won.” Ruby turned now. Andy was surprised to see she wasn’t angry. She was frightened. He was getting detention for playing Euchre for money in the high school cafeteria. But he could tell that wasn’t what bothered her.
“Forty bucks!” Andy slapped a twenty and two tens on the kitchen table.
“I said, I don’t care. They pay me to wear this hat you know. I don’t need your money.” Her auburn hair was neatly pinned up under a pea-soup coloured beret. She pulled a Molson Canadian from the fridge, rattled an opener out of a drawer and popped the cap off. Sitting at the table, she looked into Andy’s eyes. “I know what you are capable of. I know you know what you are capable of. But it’s always… just… this kind of shit with you.”
He slumped back in his chair and smiled in an attempt to hide how her words had hurt him. Ruby marvelled at how much weight her little brother had lost over the summer. For as long as she could remember, his worn jeans and black and white concert shirts — all he ever wore — looked like the sausage casing that held him together. Now, he looked long and athletic, poised in his movement, capable and formidable. She realized just now why their next-door-neighbour and his best friend, Nick Morrison, had been pestering him to try out for the rugby team. It also might explain why Debbie Holcroft (the neighbour from the other next-door) had taken to hanging out here more frequently. For Christ’s sake, she thought, why hadn’t he pounded the snot out of that asshole Scott St. Pierre?
“I don’t try to not get caught because it isn’t wrong.” He said it cooly: matter-of-factly.
Ruby took a long pull on her beer. “Oh, I know your generally philosophy, by now.” She glared at him. It wasn’t Andy’s first time here. He knew what came next.
“But you are complicating my life now.” She paused. “Our life.” Keeping her eyes on him, she let her words hang in the silence. “You have a pretty sweet set-up here, no?” Andy looked up at her sheepishly. He loved his sister. Besides Nick, and maybe Deb now too (he was surprised to admit this to himself) Ruby was all he had.
“I don’t mind detention at all.” He said, “It’s just sitting there with your thoughts. Meditation really. I enjoy that while they think they have succeeded in imprisoning me I am refining my liberation from a life that imprisons them.”
Ruby Crowley, nodded, but her eyes betrayed the gesture as sarcasm.
“Of course you enjoy detention. At least, that’s what you tell me.” She looked at him hard. He couldn’t discern if there was more anger or concern in her eyes. “Have you ever thought that maybe that’s just something you tell yourself, Andy? Have you ever thought that maybe you don’t really like detention?”
“I appreciate any opportunituy to meditate, Roob.”
“Do you really? Because I’m not convinced.” She took another long drink.
“You need to cool down,”Andy said. “I have limited patience for your soldiery hard-ass bullshit.” Ruby liked that she was getting to him.
“Is that right?” She laughed. There was more meanness in it than Andy had seen before.
“Why don’t you Buddha yourself up, Mr. self-control? Why don’t you use your Yoda-Fu and just not mind my soldiery hard-ass shit. You know, like how you don’t mind detention. Like how you don’t mind carrying a D average.”
“Jesus, Roob!” Andy sat up on the edge of his chair and looked into her eyes. She could tell he wasn’t liking the distance this was creating between them. It made her feel horrible but she couldn’t be his sister right now. He needed a mother.
She got up then, and dropped the empy beer bottle with a clink into the box beside the fridge. Then she turned to Andy, “Would you be capable of not minding being placed in a foster home?”
Andy rolled his eyes. He knew that Mr. Bachus had mentioned the Children’s Aid Society keeping an eye on their situation. He knew his sister’s fear. Guilt gripped his guts and flipped them over. He didn’t want her to worry about that. He knew she hadn’t asked for this life. She was only 22-years-old.
“Why can’t you believe me when I tell you that it won’t happen!” He appeared calm but he was genuinely frustrated.
Ruby Crowley rolled her eyes, pulled of her beret and started for the stairs to her bedroom.
“You do your thing, man.” She made a show of reaching across the table and pocketing the forty dollars he had put there. “I just wish – she stopped mid-thought and pondered not sharing her next words. She concluded he needed to hear them.
“I just wish all your Merlin-Obi-Wan-Buddha shit could be mindful of you and me being the only people each other has. And I wish you could direct some of your woo-woo know-it-all horse-shit into keeping us together and maybe also achieving something with your life.”
Andy turned his head and looked out the screen door across the driveway to the Morrison’s house. He couldn’t look his sister in the face.
Ruby derived satisfaction from bringing him to a loss for words. No mean feat. “I’m going into town,” she said. “I found forty bucks.” Andy watched her go up the stairs.
He felt awful that he had made the one he loved most in the world feel frightened. But he did know for certain they weren’t going to take him away from her. His mastery of the Tarot, his precognitive intuition had flourished since Mom and Dad had left. But he couldn’t tell Ruby that!
His mind flashed to his failure to cast the spell on the bus. Even worse, his failure to stop himself from trying to cast a spell in public! In a flash, he relived the head-butt humiliation, the walk home with Deb and the hand-holding weirdness, yet again.
And all Andy Crowley could think of in that moment, was how — even beyond the extreme detachment he’d felt from others as a child, even beyond the alienation he’d felt after he’d lost his mother to Jesus, and then a father (who had lost his wife) to whiskey, there was more loneliness to be had still.
Perhaps an infinite supply, he surmised.