This chapter is well...too long so I decided to divide it into two. Here's the first part.
Stage 13 – Helping Hand, Part I
"You heard me correctly, boy." A man wearing a business attire said as he stood up and dug his hands into his pockets. He approached the window, placing his left forearm on it. His eyes were briefly fixed through the window, observing the people walking on the sidewalk. He jerked his head to his employee, his eyes contained nothing but his pure frustration. "We cannot allow that idea here. It could ruin my company."
"A little change won't hurt a bit." Ruby mumbled, shrugging, doing his best to calm down in this situation. He put all of his effort into that idea and it ended up being rejected for the nth time.
Sapphire gave him an idea in that proposal, and there was no way in hell that he would just let that idea go to waste. She gave him the idea. She helped him. The world needed to know that their idea for this project was extraordinary, different yet beautiful compared to everyone else's. He was used to letting his ideas go straight into the trash bin, but a part of that project... most of that part was Sapphire's idea.
Sapphire's ideas were often beautiful. He loved listening to every one of it, just as she loved listening to his own passionate rambles. She often said he was the passionate one between them, but honestly, she was the reason why he became the passionate person he was now.
They could reject his ideas over and over again, but no one could ever reject a beautiful yet creative idea from Sapphire. Sapphire was a blessing, and denying her idea was somewhat similar to deny every good thing life had to offer.
He may sounded like he was exaggerating it, but it was true in so many levels. He could go on about it for a long time.
"You're fired." His boss said, still eyeing him irritably, scanning him from head to toe. "You're talented, but not talented enough for my company."
Ruby clenched his fists and gritted his teeth. He took a deep breath and let it all out. He bit his lip and nodded slowly.
I expect that and thank the heavens you finally manage to say it. His mind thought, grabbing the satchel in his office. He grabbed some papers and placed it all in the satchel, not caring if the papers would get crumpled or not. He closed his office door, shutting it loudly, not caring the surprised reactions and the faint whispers from his co-workers. He forced his feet to move forward in a constant pace, hoping, wishing, and praying he wouldn't let his anger control him.
Ruby's fingers gripped the mug of cappuccino tightly, not caring his fingers were getting a bit burned from its hot temperature.
"Earth to Ruby."
Ruby snapped out from his thoughts. He blinked his eyes, registering everything that had happened. He felt something hot, painful and something burning in his fingers. He turned his gaze onto it, his eyes slowly widening in shock.
"Ow." He removed his fingers from the mug as gently as he could, making sure he wouldn't spill the coffee. He dug his hands into his pockets, grabbing a handkerchief, and placed it on his slightly burned fingers. His face twisted, his left eye was closed as his teeth was slowly biting his lip from the pain.
"I was asking about your new company. It's been a month since you lost your job and found a new one." Blue repeated, taking a sip from the mocha frappe she just ordered. Her curious blue orbs were locked onto her younger friend, observing his reactions.
"Huh?" Ruby looked at her, furrowing his eyebrows, and returned the handkerchief into his pocket.
Ruby took a deep breath, sitting up straight. She was referring to the new company he was working, right? It had to be. He didn't want to remember the old company he had worked on. That place was a complete and a literal figure of hell. It was filled with toxic and close minded people. He had enough of close minded and inconsiderate people. "It's unlike the old one. Everything is going smoothly. They liked my ideas and proposals."
"That's good." Blue responded. She let out a sigh, pressing her back on the chair, leaning on it. She folded her arms across her chest, observing her younger friend. Something was definitely wrong with him. She knew there was. She may not have a strong intuition like Sapphire, but she could feel it. Ruby was not like his usual self. "Okay, what's wrong with you?"
"Huh?" Ruby asked again, feeling a lump in his throat. He met up with Blue in this café accidentally. It was his day off today and he didn't feel like staying in his apartment all day. He didn't want to see and to talk to a certain person in that place. It was quite stressful every time he recalled it. "I-I'm fine." He said, his voice cracking at every word. He swallowed hard. He hoped she didn't notice that.
Blue gently shook her head. Her long, brunette hair was swaying with it. She sighed, giving her younger friend a strict look by slightly glaring at him. "I don't need to have a very strong intuition like Sapphire to notice your tensed reaction. Now, what is it? And you better hurry since my break time is only until fourteen."
Ruby took a deep breath, sighing. He bit his lip as his fingers gently clenched his fists. He really hated it whenever his emotions took ahold of him. It was proven more than once that his emotions often get the best of him based on how he dealt with every situation. It was not that he thought it was not alright to show his emotions, really, but it must be put in the right place and at the right time.
He was never an expressive person, but the circumstances twenty months ago made him somewhat emotional. He honestly had no idea on what to do about it. "I'm just... f-financially unstable."
Blue arched her right eyebrow. She didn't quite understand why. He had a job after two weeks of being fired from the company he was formerly working on, and it had been a month since he found himself a new job. "Why?"
Ruby threw his head back, his eyes were gazing at the ceiling. He let his back lazily press on the leatherback of the couch and leaned on it. He sighed, lowering his gaze, now fixing it on the mug of hot cappuccino on the table. "Let's say the former company I'm working on didn't give my... well... my salary for a month. I was forced to not pay my apartment rent for one month. The owner wouldn't stop nagging me to pay for it."
"Financial problems are a normal thing." Blue said, observing him. "We all have those, even Platinum has one. She is still having a hard time budgeting her finances. Don't let it get to you."
"I know." Ruby mumbled softly. He placed his left palm on his eyes, rubbing half of his face from the frustration and the financial stress he was having. "But not having my allowance also means I haven't paid my electrical and my water bills. I'm forced to eat instant noodles for days... which isn't healthy. If Sapphire finds out... she'll worry about it. I'm sure of it."
Blue furrowed her eyebrows, swallowing the sweet, cold mocha-flavored frappe. It was normal for Ruby and Sapphire to worry about each other, which was one thing to note. She didn't know for how long Ruby was keeping this from Sapphire, but she could only think of one thing. Sapphire must be busy with her work and her research that Ruby often insisted her to get some rest after a long day of working. She knew how much Ruby cared for Sapphire and making sure she wouldn't get sick or stressed from her work was one of the many proofs.
Ruby and Sapphire always look out for each other and Blue was happy at that. No words could perfectly describe her happiness for them. "When are you planning to tell her?"
"I don't want her to worry." Ruby mumbled, gently shaking his head, his sideburns swaying with it. His voice was low and anxious. He sighed, biting his lip. "She had a lot of stuff going on with her."
"Sapphire is your friend... your best friend, actually. You know she'll do what she can to help."
"But I don't want her to worry about me."
"I knew it."
Ruby's eyes widened in shock. He jerked his head to his left, only to meet Sapphire's anxious gaze. He swallowed hard. Was it her break time already? He took a glance at the café's enormous clock hanging on the wall, which said thirteen, one in the afternoon. It was definitely her break time. But what was she doing in this café? The hospital was a bit far from here. "I..."
"Blue," Sapphire placed the two cups of hot coffee on the table, looking at their older friend. "May we excuse ourselves? I need to talk to Ruby."
"Oh, it's fine, Sapphire." Blue responded, waving her left hand. She stood up and set aside her empty cup of frappe on the farthest left side of the table. "I need to go to Red's place anyway. Plus, you two needed to talk about this. Take care and stay safe, Sapphire... Ruby..."
"You too, Blue," Sapphire responded while Blue just nodded and left the two alone in the table. "...thank you." She mumbled, sitting in front of Ruby, observing his reaction.
She knew something was wrong with him, but she never got to ask what it was. He often go to her place just to check on her. She often ended up being tired from her work and her part time job as a researcher. She hardly got any time to talk about her day with him for the past weeks. She wished she wasn't always tired from her work. She could have helped him with his problems sooner. She took a deep breath, jerking her head to her right, fixing it at the window.
Dark clouds surrounded the once blue sky, blocking the sunlight. Its light became faint instead as it engulfed the city. Strong gust of wind started howling next as leaves started scattering all over the place. Every light object swayed with it, flowing with whatever the direction the wind would take them.
"Sapphire... you don't need to worry about me." Ruby started after a moment of silence listening to the customers' and the employee's faint conversations drifting through the atmosphere. His hand slowly reached out for hers, hoping to feel the warmth from her hand just for a moment.
Sapphire bit her lip, darting her eyes at him. Her concerned yet anxious eyes were locked on his own. "For... how long do you have that problem?"
"Two weeks." was all Ruby could respond. He let his back lean on the chair as a sigh escaped from his lips. Sapphire was just... Sapphire. She would never hesitate to help him. He appreciated it, of course, but he didn't want to be a burden to her because of this financial problem he had.
"Two weeks of...?" Sapphire asked, furrowing her eyebrows. She grabbed her cup of hot espresso coffee on the table, applying some gentle blows on it.
"Financial problems..." Ruby muttered, his gaze was still fixed on the table. His mind was blank. He was out of words. He really had no idea on what else he could say. It was true that he had been suffering financially but he didn't want to worry her. Sapphire was still healing from her grief and depression despite the acceptance. Not to mention that she also had her research with Moon. Sapphire had a lot of stuff on her shoulders, and his problems shouldn't be one of it.
"I thought you were financially stable..." She muttered, her fangs were now poking from her top lip. Guilt lit up in her eyes. Ruby was always good at hiding his feelings. Ruby was always good at hiding in general. But she could perfectly tell from their small interactions for the past week that something was bothering him. It was a good thing she finally had her chance, and she wouldn't waste this.
"Not really." Ruby gently shook his head. He couldn't help it. He caught her. There was nothing he could do. He didn't want to be a burden to her, and yet, he was now. He could feel his chest tighten as it gripped his rib cage, breaking every bone in it. Guilt continued to flood in his heart as it flowed throughout his veins. "That... former company didn't give my salary for a month, so I wasn't able to pay my expenses until the new one gave my monthly salary."
"How come you didn't tell me?" Sapphire bit her lip, her eyes darted at his seat. She couldn't even look at him in the eye. She knew he only wanted to set aside his own problems just so it wouldn't clash with hers, but how come he hadn't told her about this? It had been a month and within that month he had been helping her with her fragmented emotional dilemma. She should have paid attention to his own problems too. She could have helped him.
"Because..." Ruby closed his eyes, his left hand grabbing hers and linked their fingers together. A small smile plastered across his lips. He didn't need to hesitate and to think about it over and over again. His heart and his mind knew why he didn't tell her. "Yours is more important than mine..."
"You could have at least... mentioned it." Sapphire mumbled softly, lowering her head. Now she felt bad for not helping him. It was true she was in an emotional distress for almost two years, but when someone needed her help, she would set aside her own feelings and her own problems just to help that person immediately.
"Hey," Ruby called, gently squeezing her hand. Sapphire looked at him, curiosity lit up her eyes, begging for an answer. "...it's okay. I'm just suffering financially since I lost my job a month ago."
"It's still a big thing." She responded, gently squeezing his hand. "I know these stuff come and go but you could have asked for my help or even told your parents about this..." She mumbled, her tone was remorseful. Guilt continued to burn in her eyes. She should have known.
"No one knew about this until you and Blue found out." Ruby returned the gentle squeeze, his other hand slowly reached to hers, grabbing it. His rough fingers brushed against her soft, delicate ones as he locked them together, forming it into a whole. It was like a fragmented puzzle that was lost and put back together, little by little.
Sapphire took a deep breath, removing her left hand from his. She dug it into her pocket, grabbing her phone. Her thumb scribbled across her phone's screen, looking for a certain phone number. "I'm gonna tell your parents about this. I'm not taking no for an answer."
Ruby's eyes widened in shock. His left hand reached for her own only to feel the absence on the warmth from their intertwined right hands. He watched as Sapphire stood up from her seat and placed her phone right next to her left ear. "But, Sapphire, I—"
"Ruby..." Sapphire interrupted, her serious yet pleading eyes met his anxious ones. She bit her lip, concern crept into her tone. "It's for your own good. Your financial problem is affecting your health..." She waited for her phone to dial his parent's number. The dialing tune continued ringing, repeating the same tone endlessly. She took a deep breath and continued waiting.
Although the phone just dialed for several seconds, her heart couldn't stop beating anxiously. She didn't hear everything what Ruby and Blue talked about but she knew his financial problem would do nothing but to affect his health. He had helped her and it was now her turn to help him. She was not doing this because she owed him, but she was doing this because... b-because... she really cared about him. She would do what she can to help him. "...I couldn't bear to see you like this."
Ruby breathed in, his back leaning against the chair. He watched Sapphire answer the call. He bit his lip, furrowing his eyebrows. He appreciated her concern, nonetheless, but she didn't need to go through any trouble just to help him. Sapphire didn't need to try her hardest just to help him. Her presence was always enough for him.
"Oh, Sapphire, hello! It's been a while. How are you? Are with you with Ruby? I hope he's alright. He hasn't called me for a week."
Sapphire swallowed hard, biting her lip. She took a deep breath. She knew it. He hadn't told his parents yet. She knew he didn't want to be a burden, but it was affecting his health. If only she weren't that busy, then she could have helped him sooner.
"Sapphire? Are you there?"
"Y-Yes, ma'am. I... I need to tell you something."
Norman swallowed hard, folding his arms across his chest. He bit his lip as his eyes darted around his son, scanning him from head to toe.
Ruby could only swallow hard. He could feel beads of sweat were slowly falling from his forehead, sliding onto his cheeks. He didn't know whether he should feel guilty or not. In one sense, he didn't tell his situation to his parents because he knew he was old enough to live an independent life—a life where he could not depend on his parents financially. He had been in the working industry for years now, and that was enough proof that he should stop depending on his parents financially. He took a deep breath.
His father called him because he said he wanted to talk to him, right? His father only wanted to see him, right? His father only wanted to know his condition, right?
Norman closed his eyes, leaning his back onto his chair. His poise was always calm and cool as Ruby had often observed. How did he do it?
It was true Ruby tried his best to be the gentleman he was now, but having such a fierce, stoic and intimidating aura like his father's was never his cup of tea. He had shown that side of him years ago. Sapphire had seen it in their childhood, and it didn't turn out well. He had hurt her because of it.
Hurting Sapphire would be his one way ticket straight to hell. He would rather see her happy and safe, despite he wasn't the cause of it. That was one of the many reasons why he loved and cared for her.
Norman's voice was calm, intimidating and husky, not too different from every one of their conversations. The tone was enough to snap Ruby out from his thoughts, making the young professional sat up straight. His eyes darted around his father's office, avoiding any eye contact from him. A shiver ran through his spine once his anxious eyes met his father's serious ones. He swallowed hard. Well…it looked like there was nothing he could do but to make an eye contact with his father.
This would be over soon, right?
His father would just ask his financial status, right?
His father would just ask how was he doing and tell it later to his mom, right?
Ruby took a deep breath and bit his lip. Oh how he wished Sapphire were here. He knew she was the only one who could calm his mind. Speaking of Sapphire, he hadn't open his phone for a while. He should have read her text message hours ago, but his work and his meet up with his father prevented him from using his phone and respond to her message immediately. He felt it vibrate, so it must be a text message from Sapphire.
And he hoped it was.
"You don't need to tell me about your financial status." Norman started, his tone sounded slightly intimidating in Ruby's perspective.
Despite that, Ruby couldn't help but to furrow his eyebrows and wonder. If this was not about his financial status, then what was this meet up for? Not that he thought it was a waste of time, really. He was glad to see his father again, but he knew his father was a busy man. An impromptu meet up with his father did nothing but to surprise him. "Wait... what do you mean, dad?"
"Sapphire told me that you're slowly becoming financially stable." Norman's lips curved into a small smile. He didn't need to ask Sapphire to know about his son's conditions. She would just immediately send him a text message in case something was troubling Ruby. He owed her for that. He knew Sapphire only wanted to help Ruby, and he appreciated her efforts.
He took a deep breath, making Ruby's heart thump faster. It should be the other way around, really. Ruby was supposed to take care of Sapphire since her family died, but it was Sapphire who was taking care of his son instead. She truly was a strong and an independent woman.
"Y-Yeah." was all Ruby could respond, his voice cracking. There was nothing else he could say. It was true he was slowly becoming financially stable and it was all thanks to Sapphire and to his parents. He thought he could take care of this, but it turned out he needed some help too.
"And with that, I think you'll be looking for a new apartment soon…or are you already planning to live in a fancy condominium?"
Deep ruby red eyes widened in shock. It darted around the room, observing its surroundings. Ruby knew he heard it correctly, but he didn't consider or even thought about finding a new place to live once he was financially stable. He was so comfortable at living under the same roof with Sapphire for weeks that he forgot to make plans in searching for a new and a better structure to live. It was not that he hated living in Sapphire's apartment. He just found it quite small, and only suitable for borders. He wanted that new place feel like it was his second home, but he couldn't do that until he decided to make his move and find one. He was just…distracted for now.
Besides, living with Sapphire was... great. It felt wonderful.
"It's okay if you haven't thought about it." Norman said, standing up. His arms were still folded across his chest as he approached his son. "Whatever your decision may be, your mother and I will support it as long as it's the right thing." His lips curved into a small smile with one hand placed on his son's shoulder, gently gripping it.
Ruby could only jerked his head upwards, meeting his father's gaze. He slowly nodded. "Dad, I..."
"Be it permanently staying in Sapphire's apartment, we approve." He let go of his hold on Ruby's shoulder, his hands now dug into his pockets. The small smile on his lips didn't fade. "Just don't do anything stupid while you're living with her."
Ruby felt his cheeks slowly increased its temperature. He stood up, swallowing hard, ignoring his fast heartbeat. What did his father mean by that? Surely, he was not doing anything stupid with Sapphire.
"You should head to your apartment. Half of the day should be your day off, right?"
Ruby could only nod at his father's question. He was too speechless to respond, and there was nothing else he could do but to sling his satchel over his shoulder and slowly started leaving his father's office.
His mind was clouded. All he could think of was his father's words. It did made sense. What should he do? What could he do?
It was a boring walk and a boring day. Ruby's thoughts were clouded, yet he felt the dullness of this day. The streets he walked from his father's office and up to Sapphire's apartment were always the same. The mass of people walking and talking on the busy streets of the city up to the peaceful suburban streets where voices of the children who were playing outside were heard. The weather was typical. It was a bright, sunny day and a little cloudy, perhaps, but Ruby wasn't paying attention.
He stopped on his tracks, sighing. He wished Sapphire had a better and a more exciting day than him. He couldn't wait to hear her talk about her day. He let out a soft chuckle, his lips curving into a small smile. Despite her emotional dilemma twenty months ago, she still managed to regain her enthusiastic persona. The way Sapphire talk about the stuff that she liked or just simply her day was always enough to bring a smile on his face, removing all the stress he had in the process. He had to admit that going home was always his favorite part of the day.
And it was all thanks to Sapphire.
Ruby took another deep breath and dug his hand in his pocket, placing the keys in it. His fingers held and twisted the doorknob, pushing the door from the outside. He took a deep breath as he stepped inside and placed his shoes in the shoe rack.
His eyes widened in shock at the sight as his satchel fell on the cold, tiled floor. He felt something different surround the apartment's aura. Whenever he came home from his work, the apartment usually had this warm, welcoming aura every time he stepped inside. Today was different, however, for he felt some negative emotions surrounding the aura. He swallowed hard and bit his lip.
This was exactly what he felt months ago. He had a bad feeling about this.
"Ruby, I'm glad you're here." Blue stood up from her seat, abandoning the lukewarm cup of tea on the table, and approached her younger friend.
"Where's Sapphire?" Ruby asked, not even bothering to care why their older friend was here.
Today was not a Wednesday, no doubt, but he didn't care. He may not have a strong intuition like Sapphire, but he knew this emotionally heavy aura was an indication that something bad happened. But what was it? He had to know. He must know. He mentally shook his head, disregarding a certain negative thought.
Sapphire was alright.
He was just overthinking.
Sapphire probably overworked herself, which explained why Blue was here.
It was true Blue always visited their apartment on Wednesdays just to hang out with them, making sure they were alright. Although Blue knew that her younger friends could take care of themselves, she always had that older sister intuition, making her feel that it was her duty to always make sure that her foster younger siblings were safe from any harm.
Ruby and Sapphire appreciated their friend's efforts. They never had a biological sibling. They only felt that from Blue and from their older friends like Red, Green and even from Yellow.
They may not be bounded by blood, but he knew and he could tell they were like the older siblings he never had. He knew that was what Sapphire felt too.
Blue bit her lip, not making an eye contact with her younger friend. Instead, she placed her left palm on his shoulder, giving it a soft squeeze. "You know where she is."
Ruby felt a sudden pang struck through his chest, gripping it, making the pain linger through every fiber of his being. He swallowed hard, taking a deep breath.
But he couldn't.
He found himself having a hard time breathing because of the lingering emotional pain that was tightly gripping his chest. It felt like it could crush his rib cage, breaking every bit of bones he had in the process. It felt like it could squeeze his heart until there was no blood left for it to pump throughout his body the longer he just stood there, waiting, wondering and overthinking every possible outcome.
What exactly happened and how could he help Sapphire? He hadn't felt this depressive aura for months. He bit his lip, his fist tightening, clenching it in the process. Sapphire...
All he could think and care in this situation was Sapphire.
"She's in her room. She had eaten her lunch, don't worry." Blue reassured, giving another soft squeeze on his shoulder, and gently removed her hand on it. She took a deep breath. "I know you care about her so much, Ruby, but she has been in her room for more than an hour. She said she wanted to be alone."
"What happened?" Ruby asked, panting, sweating and forcing his legs to move forward to sit on the couch. He had to know what exactly happened. He should have been there, though. He could have been there.
Blue grabbed the cup of tea on the table, giving it to Ruby. She too sat on the couch. "Ruby, you're anxious. Remember what Green told you. Calm down. Drink that tea. It may help."
Ruby bobbed his head, nodding slowly. He placed the cup of tea on the table, not feeling that he should drink it. Instead, he did his best to take several deep breaths to calm himself. Thankfully, he didn't had a hard time breathing. But his heart couldn't stop from beating anxiously.
"Sapphire and I were walking through the city." Blue started, sitting up straight. "We just had lunch with Crystal, Platinum and Yellow before we went our separate ways."
The next chapter will be on the second week of April. Somewhere around April 9. Thank you for staying and reading this fic. I have good news at the last chapter, so I hope you're hyped as much as I am. ^^