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Tipping her head towards the cornflower blue sky, Ruby feels her skin warm as the sun beats down upon it. No, not beat down, she decides. To beat down implies an attack, an assault. It implies that it is unwelcome, and this sunshine is anything but. For the first time this year, the sight of sun heralds balmy temperature and a taste of spring instead of the unforgivable deception of a clear sky filled with frigid air, the liar. Stepping outside this morning, Ruby needed no heavy wool coat or mittens. She traded them for her pastel pink spring jacket, a pair of her favorite tortoiseshell sunnies, and lunch in her favorite spot. To have such a day in late February felt like a miracle—at least that’s what she is going to term it—rather than the side effect of global warming it more likely is.

Ruby’s fingers splay against the granite step on which she sits, as she leans back and breathes in deeply.

It has never failed to impress her how the air could smell like freshly fallen leaves and morning mist, like she was in the countryside rather than the heart of the city. The only clue she was in the latter and not the former was the light scent of car exhaust, a product of black taxi cabs and red double deckers, commuters and daredevil tourists.

If she closes her eyes, she can almost imagine she’s home, back on the oak-lined streets and brick-laid paths of her childhood where the main emitter of exhaust was the town’s sole shuttle in operation, proudly, since 1987. When Ruby first arrived in London, she had worried about city smog and the possible chokehold it may have on her lungs as they adjusted, but so far she hasn’t found that to be the case. Quite the opposite, really. Her transplant to the city was so far a success, a marvel the people she grew up with would say, but maybe that was because her first home had never quite taken, bound to fail from the start.

At high noon, London is operating at full energy.

People mill around her, hustling down steps and across the zebra-esque crosswalk, a coffee in one hand, a phone in the other, Airpods securely tucked in their ears as they talk about deals, and shortfalls and what to have for dinner. They pose for selfies with the pillars and red banners of the National Art Gallery as their backdrop, swing their legs from their seat on the fountains’ edges as they bite into sandwiches, and cookies, and salads. They gush from the tube station exit, blinking as they surface from the Underground to clear away the sunspots. Families, and couples, and singletons, young and old, cycle through on their way to their next destination, surrounded by architecture that predates them in some cases by centuries. Life begets life begets life.

It’s chaos in its most organized form, and while Ruby had thought maybe it would churn up anxiety within her, she loves it, and, if pressed to name the most beautiful things she’s ever seen, she might just offer this.

Which makes it all the more ironic and interesting that she arrived here through an act of revenge.

Her own.

For years, Ruby had spent life in her hometown not feeling suffocated as so many do who want to escape, but separated. As if everyone else had received an invitation to live in Mount St. Clare but she had arrived accidentally, inadvertently dropped at the wrong stop when hers was two or three away.

If that feeling was relegated to her peers, maybe she could have stomached it, but her invitation to the Henderson household had been wrong too. Yes, she looked the part─straight-as-pins mahogany hair, stone gray eyes, and tiny moles scattered across her skin like they had been blown there on a light breeze─but in every other way, she was an anomaly, preferring few friendships to popularity’s array, the noise of her headphones to that of a sports game, vintage to in-the-moment trends, philosophers to politicians.

Ruby felt as though they viewed her as just at the perfect height for them to stare down their noses at.

As such, she tried to elevate herself in their eyes, doing what they liked to do, being who they wanted her to be, but it never succeeded. All she was left with was their label of the predictable doormat, destined to languish in Mount St. Clare the rest of time, gazing at her dreams but never reaching for them. They had deemed her not worth their time, so she deemed herself that too.

Then, one day, in her 24th year, as she stood on the sidelines of her own family event, watching her cousins and aunts and brothers laugh and trade stories with incredible ease, anger burst within her. This was not what she wanted. She was not going to be a stowaway in her own life, a side character barely noticed. She was going to prove them all wrong, cast aside predictability and lack of potential. She was going to listen to what she wanted for the first time in a long time, and the voice, once she turned up the volume, spoke clearly and definite: 

Run far away from this and towards the backdrop of your daydreams.

Ruby’s parents and her “friends” told her she wouldn’t be able to do it. The loneliness would be her demise, they warned. But what they didn’t understand was that loneliness had been her one true companion her entire life. To have it appear across the ocean would be far from novel. Correlation would not equal causation.

Ruby secured a job and a 12-month lease, bought her plane ticket, packed her life into three suitcases, and boarded the plane without looking over her shoulder at what she was leaving.

To say this was her vengeance solely on the people of Mount St. Clare would be wrong, she admits, because it was also on herself. For all the times she played it safe and chose to find more value in the voices of others than her own, she would honor herself. For all the times she denied herself the chances she deserved to take, she would make the leap.

Big Ben’s chimes sound, and its bell tolls.

Down the road, Ruby sees the clock’s large hands settle over 12 and 1, marking the turn from the 12th to 13th hour of the day, and the end of her lunch break. She rolls up the remnants of her egg salad and cress sandwich in its waxed paper, but pauses before she deposits it in the bag of chips (no, crisps─one day she’ll master it) just to take in the sight again.

It’s been a year, and she hasn’t gotten sick of it yet─the ebb and flow of the crowds, the way it seems like all of London is sprawled at her feet, ebony lions, Big Ben, red buses, the Halls of Parliament and all. What a view. What a feeling.

Revenge truly was sweet.

Sarah Razner

Sarah Razner is a reporter of real-life Wisconsin by day, and a writer of fictional lives throughout the world by night.

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