The damp woodchips shifted and tumbled over her sandal-covered toes as she dug them into the dirt below. Her chocolate brown eyes drifted over the flickering lights of the lampposts to the soft glow they casted over the soccer field that overlooked the playground. A warm breeze drifted through the slides and monkey bars, making the Ruby's hair flutter over her forehead and the overgrown grass of the field to sway like ocean waves in the summer night. A sigh escaped her lips as she glanced up at the dark sky, the stars twinkling brightly above the treetops, so different from the smog covered nights she was used to seeing in the city. Ruby's fingers tightened around the cool metal chains of the swing as she used her toes, still buried under the woodchips, to push herself back and forth.
Ruby closed her eyes as vivid memories of warm summer days and mischievous blue eyes and soft innocent kisses assaulted her thoughts, as the wind rocked the swing. She rested her forehead against the chain, staring blankly at the rusty metal frame of the swing set. She remembered how eight years ago, the summer she turned seventeen, the frame had been sturdy and new, the red paint gleaming in the sunlight. Now the paint was chipped, barely visible under the pictures and phrases scratched onto its surface. A sloppily drawn Sharpie heart caught her eye, and she smiled sadly at the words scrawled within it.
J.R & R.D. Always and Forever.
The ink was fading, other messages overlapping it chaotically, making it almost illegible. But Ruby recalled clearly the excitement pouring out of Jesse as he bounded over to the frame, Sharpie in hand.
"Red!" Jesse called out, making Ruby's heart race just by the nickname, as he wrapped one arm around the post, "I want the whole world to know how much I love you!"
Ruby laughed, her feet arching up towards the night sky as she leaned back on the swing, forcing herself to fly higher. Her fingers griped the chains as she flew backwards, her hair brushing against her cheeks and lips. "The whole world Jesse? I don't think the whole world's going to see a confession on some silly swing set from Middle-of-Nowhere, Indiana."
Jesse was a blur as she flew by him once more, but she could make out his eyes twinkling with glee and his tongue poking out at her.
"Well, I still want someone to see that I love you," Jesse laughed, tongue still poking out as he began to sketch onto the red paint. Ruby pushed the heels of her high-tops into the ground; bringing her to an abrupt halt, as Jesse bend lean closer to the pole to finish his masterpiece, his dirty-blonde fringes falling over his forehead. "There!" Jesse stood, flourishing the marker with gusto, as he stepped back, pointing with pride at the carefully drawn heart.
Ruby laughed again, as she read the message "Always and forever?" she teased, raising her left eyebrow, "How clever and original."
"Oh, you think you're so funny, do you?" Jesse asked, tucking the Sharpie into his back pocket. He strode forward three steps and grabbed hold of the chains, his fingers just above her hands, as he stepped in front of her, a grin stretched across his face.
"Well, it is one of my winning qualities."
"Is it now?" he asked, bright blue eyes flickering to her lips as he bent closer. "Well, I think you're a liar."
"O-oh?" she breathed, the faint smell of Jesse's aftershave invading her senses. "What makes you say that?"
"Because," Jesse whispered, a rush of warm air brushed against her ear. "I know, deep down, you want the whole world to know that I love you. And, you want everyone to know you love me too."
Ruby's felt her breath catch in her throat as Jesse pressed his lips firmly against hers, one hand coming up to her neck to pull her close.
Quiet footsteps in the distant brought Ruby back to the present with a jolt. The chains rattled and her grip on them tightened as she squinted past the playground and onto the pavement to catch a glimpse of her unknown companion. The darkness threw a shadow over the stranger's face, but the tall, lanky figure looked strangely familiar as he tentatively approached the swing set.
"I didn't believe them when they said you were back in town," he began, leaning against the red pole with ease. "But here you are, Red."
"Here I am," echoed Ruby, forcing her head the other way. Tears prickled the corners of her eyes and her heart hammered painfully in her chest. She heard him take a step towards her, and she turned abruptly, looking up at him. Blue eyes clashed with brown and the memories from long ago swam to the surface once more.
"Ruby…Red…"he started, a hand reaching out to cradle her face, "I'm so glad you're ba—"
Ruby brushed his hand away as she stood, shaking her head. "No. No, Jesse, I'm not back. Mom called two days ago to tell me they're tearing down the juggle gym and I just wanted to see it one last time. Then I'm leaving. Going back to the city. I have nothing left here."
"Please Ruby, please," he begged, reaching out for her once more, "I made a mistake, I'm sorry. I still love you. I love you so much."
Ruby's heart pounded as she shook her head, "A part of me will always love you, but I can never forgive you for what you did. I'm glad the whole world didn't know you loved me, Jesse." Her shoulder brushed against his as she walked by him.
"Please," he called out, watching her back retreat into the shadows. "Please Red, I'm sorry. I love you," he whispered, tears flowing freely down his face as he grasped the cool metal chains of the swing set and sunk down onto the woodchips on his knees, his forehead pressed against the plastic of the swing.
I love you too, Jesse.