Granny didn't close the diner the day they found Archie's body. Anyone who didn't know the woman might have thought she was being hard, but the truth was, she knew they would all need a place to gather once the word got out. Ruby didn't bother taking the day off, as much as she might have wanted to; Granny hadn't offered, and while the cursed Ruby might have been the type of girl to wallow and shirk, this Ruby was not that type of woman. It was better to keep busy.
The diner did close early, however; it had grown chilly, almost cold, and most of the town seemed eager to be safe at home once the lights were out. It certainly didn't seem safe on the streets; after all, Archie hadn't even been safe in his own place.
Alone, Ruby started to step outside to take care of the sandwich board, but she couldn't take more than three steps before stopping cold, remembering the last time she'd performed that very action.
Twenty-four hours or so ago, Archie was murdered. She'd been closing up the diner, just like any other night...and right across the street, he was being murdered. Ruby stared at the building, tears filling her eyes as she thought of all the times she'd seen him cross that street. Twenty-four hours. One day, and suddenly everything was horribly, horribly wrong.
She leaned up against the diner, trying to stop her thoughts, but they were spiraling, spinning backwards. Forty-eight hours. Forty-eight hours ago, almost exactly, Archie was crossing the street as she was putting out a sign that read "Private Party". He was grinning widely at her, that soft, sweet, trustworthy grin she knew so well, as he balanced a cake in his hands, Pongo following along at his heels.
"Mind if I frost this here?" he had asked, nodding to the cake as she knelt down to say hello to the Dalmatian. Of course she told him to go ahead, even helped him with the task until Granny grumbled that she couldn't very well decorate the place herself, now could she? Then the night turned into a busy blur of celebration, of too much food and maybe just a smidgen too much alcohol for the adults, capping off with Archie's cake and hugs and goodbyes and plans for the next day, the next week, until Granny had gone up to bed and Archie had offered to help Ruby wash up. She had been planning to leave the dishes until the morning, but it was such a nice excuse to have him stay a little longer...
So they had washed dishes together, laughing quietly so as not to wake Granny, just tipsy enough to feel incredibly at ease with one another. And as much as she had loved Jiminy and was glad to have her memories of him returned, Ruby found herself secretly glad (and not for the first time) to have Archie as a man. The faint, comforting smell of his aftershave mingling with the scent of old books and fresh laundry made her want to just snuggle into his chest and stay there.
But instead, of course, she had walked him out, giving him a hug before shutting the door, then secretly watching until he had made it safely across the street. Forty-eight hours ago, she had made sure he was home, and now...
Ruby shook her head fiercely, eyes pressed shut, trying to think of anything else. She had seen plenty of death, plenty of grief, both in this world and in the last. The war was beginning again, and he was the first casualty. She couldn't let this stop her from soldiering on. Wiping her eyes, she finished the job she had begun, stopping only to take one more steadying breath before going back inside. In that breath, she stopped to listen, and in spite of the fact that it was the coldest night the town had seen all season, what she didn't hear made her heart break.
The crickets were silent.