“Gorgeous!” Ruby’s smile could light this room in the dead of night. “I’ve been to a couple of weddings there and they were stunning.” Ruby thanked the waitress when she set down her drink, and lifted it to take a sip. “I graduated last June and moved to London in September, so about six months,” she said. “I’m in the internship program for one year at Richardson-Corbett, but I’m attending Oxford this fall for graduate school.”
“Ah, another urban planner?” Max asked, glancing over at me.
“No,” Ruby said, shaking her head a little. “Structural engineering.”
My brother sighed in mock relief. “So then you’ll agree with me that urban planning is the most boring profession ever created?”
Laughing, Ruby shook her head again. “I hate to disappoint you, but I was an urban planning—public policy minor.” Max groaned playfully. “I hope to eventually come back to Southern California in a superhero costume and completely revolutionize the mass transit system there, or the lack thereof.”
I found myself leaning closer a little, to hear her better.
“Southern California is clogged with cars,” she said in the continued silence. “Everyone travels between southern cities by car and train, but there isn’t an easy way to navigate cities from within without driving. Los Angeles grew so fast and so wide without an integrated transportation system, so it will be about retrofitting an already complicated urban setting.”
Looking to me, she said as an aside, “It’s why I want to work with Maggie.” Taking a drink then going back to the others, she explained, “Margaret Sheffield, the woman I hope to study under, helped design building infrastructure around established Tube stations and in tight urban spaces. She’s kind of a genius.”
Even Bennett joined the rest of us in regarding her with a mixture of curiosity and awe.
“Jesus Christ. How old are you, Ruby?” George exclaimed.
I was grateful to have George at the table. He was willing to ask all of the questions I wanted to, but never would.
She reached up, tucked her hair behind her ear again in a gesture I’d come to translate as her single, uncomfortable tell. “Twenty-three.”
“You’re practically a zygote,” George said, groaning. “All that ambition and you’re not even a quarter century old.”
“Well, how old are you?” she asked, her sunshine grin taking over her entire face. “You don’t look much older than me.”
“I don’t want to talk about it,” George whined. “It’s depressing. I’m practically approaching Viagra.”
“But seriously. Let’s get to the important stuff,” George said. “Do you have a boyfriend, adorable-twenty-three-year-old-Ruby?” My attention darted down and I stared intently at my drink. “And does he have an equally adorable gay friend?”
“I have a brother,” she hedged, and then frowned apologetically. “I find him to be pretty adorable, but sadly, he’s straight. I could have made a fortune charging my girlfriends for sleepovers in high school.”
Bennett nodded and said, “I like your entrepreneurial spirit.”
George leaned in, saying, “Don’t think I didn’t notice the way you sidestepped the boyfriend question. Do I need to play matchmaker while you’re in New York?”
“I honestly don’t think you want to go there.” Ruby lifted her glass and perched her straw on her lips, meeting my eyes. “This one here can attest, only a half hour ago I looked like a streetwalking crackhead.”
“On the contrary,” I argued. “No one wears a hotel robe with more dignity.”
She giggled and then coughed as she swallowed. “You’re my favorite liar.”
“I’m being sincere,” I told her, putting my tumbler back down on a cocktail napkin. “I was also impressed with the way you managed to get a hair pointed in each direction. Few can achieve that simply by napping in a hotel bed.”
She shrugged, her smile nearly giddy over our verbal banter. “Many have tried to teach me the ways of sleek hairstyling. Many have failed.”
I looked up to a table of grown men, watching us with rapt interest. I was definitely going to get the third degree from Max later.
“And not interested in anyone in particular?”
Ruby’s mouth opened and immediately snapped closed as her cheeks bloomed pink. And then she blinked around the table, narrowing her eyes. “You can’t tell me you guys all get together for drinks and talk about relationships. Are we moving on to shoes next?”
Bennett tilted his head toward George. “It’s this one. Get him in a bar and it’s always like this.”
“I’ve told you a hundred times, Ben-Ben,” George drawled, “you’re the boss in the day, I’m the boss after dark.”
Bennett stared at him coolly, and I watched George struggle to not fidget under the pressure. “George,” he said, finally, fighting a laugh, “you have never said that to me.”
In a burst of relieved laughter, George said, “I know but it sounded so good. I’m just trying to impress Ruby.”
“Ruby, you’re going to steal George away from me,” Will said, smiling.