Because I suck and have kept y’all waiting, I am going headfirst into some of the weirdness of these next chapters. I feel dirty already.
The next morning, Ruby gets a call from Miss Stevens, who invites her to come along on a painting excursion. Ruby happily accepts and packs up her supplies. While she’s getting ready, Abby notices the dime on a string around Ruby’s ankle and asks her about it. Ruby tells her that it’s a good-luck charm from Nina, and expects Abby to tease her about it, but, oh no no no, Abby’s cool with it, since, you see, (COMMAS I LOVE COMMAS) Abby’s father secretly practices voodoo. Of course he does. As someone with an other-than-white parent, how could he not? It’s practically contractually obligated. Abby knows some rituals, and she shows Ruby a skirt with a birds’ nest stitched into the hem–for good luck. Abby plans to wear the skirt when she feels threatened. Me, I have a charming pencil skirt for such occasions. Abby laughs that she’s been hiding the skirt for fear of Ruby making fun of her, and here Ruby wears a dime for good gris-gris. They hug, and at that moment Gisselle, Jacki, Chubs, and Samantha pass by their door and Gisselle calls out that this is what happens when you don’t have boys at your school. The mean girls laugh and move on, and Abby says that one of these days she’s going to push Gisselle right over a cliff. Ruby tells her to get in line, and she leaves to meet Miss Stevens.
Miss Stevens (who’ll tell Ruby to call her Rachel in just a few, so let’s switch over to that) pulls up a few minutes later and Ruby is struck how, in her jeans and paint-covered sweatshirt, Rachel barely seems older than herself. They chat a little about Mrs. Penny, and then Ruby, for no really good reason, mentions that she recently switched roommates. This leads to her explaining that she and Gisselle don’t really get along (leave it there, Ruby, lots of sisters don’t get along!), but MAYBE they would if they’d been brought up together…and since Ruby never met a situation she couldn’t blab all of her life secrets into, she tells the whole story (all of it? Dating your brother? Buster Trahaw? Sleeping with Beau? The mental institution?) by the time they get to the river. Rather than turning around and dropping Ruby off with a little talk about student-teacher boundaries, Rachel just marvels at the complexity of it all, and notes that she always thought that her life was complicated because she was an orphan raised by nuns in an orphanage. Was there treachery? At any point were you leered at by a relative? Come back when you’ve really lived, Miss Stevens. Ruby, sensitive soul that she is, asks what happened to Rachel’s parents–she doesn’t know, just that she was dropped off by her mother shortly after she was born. She changes the subject to painting and they paint paint paint a little while. Eventually, Rachel asks how the tea party went, and Ruby tells her about meeting Louis, and how sad and weird he was. Rachel knows the story, but has been told that it’s not a good thing for one’s job to be caught gossiping about the Clairbornes, but hell, she can tell Ruby because they’re both artists. The what now? Anyway, the story:
Louis’ mother (Mrs. Clairborne’s daughter) was cheating on her husband with a much (emphasis on the much, Rachel tells us) younger man. When her husband found out, he smothered her and then shot himself, all of which was witnessed by Louis, who went blind from the trauma. Mrs. Clairborne has always refused to believe this version of events, and instead chooses to believe that her daughter died of heart failure, and her son-in-law killed himself from grief. All of the clocks are stopped at five after two because that’s when Louis’ mom supposedly died. Since then, Louis has been a recluse, who only speaks to a few chosen people like Ruby the Amazing, but Rachel can totally see why, since she’s known Ruby for an hour and thinks she’s awesome. Besides, Rachel is shy around most people, preferring to communicate through her art. She’s especially shy around men, probably due to her upbringing she supposes, and, she laughs, it was probably what motivated her to teach at an all-girls’ school. Here is where she asks Ruby to call her Rachel when they’re not in class. Ruby is a little surprised by the request, but agrees.
They paint for a couple more hours, and then Rachel takes Ruby to lunch, then drives her back to the dorm. When she walks back in, Ruby finds Mrs. Penny in quite a tizzy. Apparently MRS. CLAIRBORNE HERSELF called to speak to Ruby earlier, and when Mrs. Penny couldn’t find her, Abby told her about the painting trip. Such an outing is pretty against the rules, given that Greenwood students need a permission slip on file to leave the grounds on the weekend. Besides, Mrs. Clairborne was disappointed when she couldn’t speak to Ruby personally. And the reason for this call? Louis wants Ruby to come to dinner at the mansion that night. OMG OMG OMG! Mrs. Penny accepted on Ruby’s behalf, of course, and while Ruby isn’t thrilled, she uses Mrs. Penny’s fear of Mrs. Ironwood to convince her not to get Rachel in trouble. Mrs. Penny agrees, and Ruby goes to get ready. While she and Abby are trying to pick out a dress, Gisselle comes in and wants to know exactly what went on between Ruby and Louis to make him invite her back. Ruby denies any shenanigans and Gisselle and Abby bitch at each other for a few moments until Gisselle leaves. Ruby picks out the blue dress from the cover of the book and prepares to go, but not without first being checked out by Buck, who is on chauffeur duty again.
Dinner is as cold and awkward as you’d imagine. Mrs. Clairborne clearly doesn’t want Ruby there, and is pretty nasty to her before Louis comes in and chastises her. Louis had the chef make Cajun food (SUBTLE), and Ruby proceeds to talk all about her life in the SWAMPS as Louis asks her a million questions. After dinner, Louis and Ruby go to the music room where he plays her a piece of music that he’d written for her. And called “Ruby”, naturally. SHE IS JUST SO MAGICAL, Y’ALL. After he plays it, Louis confesses to Ruby (who is sitting next to him on the piano stool) that he’s never been that close to a young woman. Uh oh. He goes on to tell Ruby that he’s always afraid of his grandmother realizing how lonely and miserable that he is, but that he’s tired of pretending that everything’s okay. He just wants a little reality, is that so wrong? Uh oh. So, speaking of reality, can he touch Ruby’s face and her hair? Uh oh. Ruby, not quite sure what to do, lets him. He does that for a bit, then asks if he can take his hands lower. Uh oh. Ruby, still confused, lets him. He feels her up for a little while, then suddenly pulls back and, shaking, plays the piano again, only banging the keys and being all emo about it. Ruby continues to be confused.
Louis apologizes, saying that he shouldn’t have had Mrs. Clairborne invite Ruby, but Ruby assures him that it’s cool. Oh wait, damn, now is when he plays the song he wrote her. Sorry y’all, I was just assuming he’d try to get that in first before feeling her up. My bad. (Do the kids still say that?) He plays “Ruby” and she loves it, and then he asks if he can kiss her.
And, damn her eyes, Ruby says yes. Somewhere Beau is all “Did someone say my name?”. Even Ruby isn’t sure why she’s letting Louis get away with all of this, I’m guessing naivete and pity, personally. Louis gets a little too into the kiss and starts groping at her again, but this time Ruby ends it and he gets pissy and asks her if he’s standing there like an idiot with a boner and Ruby verifies that yep, he is, and he leaves. Awk-ward. Ruby is sad, and tries to find Louis to make sure he’s all right. She finds her way to what must have been his parents’ bedroom, where his mother’s nightgown is still laid out on the bed. As she watches, Louis suddenly comes into the room through an adjoining door and he screams and cries, then leaves again. So Ruby gets out of there quick.
Mrs. Penny wants all the details and Ruby gives her an abridged version, then heads back to her room. On the way she passes Gisselle and her clique, and Gisselle asks how the little blind boy is doing and if Ruby went “groping in the dark with him”. This makes Ruby blush and Gisselle is all over her in an instant, so Ruby yells at her sister and runs to her room. She tells Abby everything and they both feel sorry for Louis. The next day, Ruby is called to Mrs. Ironwood’s office during class. Mrs. Ironwood yells at her for going on the trip with Rachel and insults her CAJUN heritage for a while before getting to the real reason for the meeting, which is that Mrs. Ironwood wants sneaky little CAJUN Ruby to keep away from Louis. Ruby insists that it’s not like that, but Mrs. Ironwood grounds her for a week and sends her back to class. In art class, Rachel assures Ruby that she’s fine and isn’t in much trouble, but Ruby still jumps all over Mrs. Penny when she gets home. Mrs. Penny insists that she didn’t tell Mrs. Ironwood and Ruby realizes that it was Gisselle, especially when Gisselle comes into her room later and asks if Ruby’s ready to leave Greenwood and go home to New Orleans yet. Gisselle’s tired of the school and its rules, and isn’t Ruby too, especially now that she’s in trouble? Ruby just ignores her and goes to take a phone call from Beau.
She has to tell Beau that he can’t come up and visit, as she’s confined to the dorms, and they wibble at each other for a bit. Afterwards, Mrs. Penny sees Ruby crying, and when she finds out that Ruby was talking to Beau she has to tell her that the phone is off-limits too. Waaaah. The week goes by. That Friday, Ruby is told that Louis called for her, and that when Mrs. Penny told him that Ruby was on restriction, Louis screamed at her and hung up. He’s a keeper, that Louis! The next morning Abby and Ruby are leaving for breakfast when Mrs. Penny rushes up to tell them that Louis has asked for Ruby to come up to the plantation house later in the day. Ruby is pissed that the rules can be bent for Louis, but Mrs. Penny is clearly so afraid of what will happen if Ruby refuses that Ruby agrees to go. Gisselle throws a fit at breakfast when she finds out, but Ruby assures her that she doesn’t even want to go. Gisselle is unmoved.
Oooooooookay. So here it comes.
Ruby goes up to the plantation house, where Louis (in a smoking jacket, no less) apologizes for his previous behavior and then lays it on thick about how pitiful and terrible he is. Ruby, being Ruby, tells him that’s not true, she’s just mad about being punished. Louis wants to know if she did something “naughty” and oh god what I do for y’all. Ruby’s like, uh, no, but doesn’t tell him that she was essentially punished for coming to see him. They go back to the music room and Louis gives Ruby the sheet music for her song. They take a walk through the gardens and Louis identifies the various plants and flowers by their scents, and the tour winds up at a set of patio doors that lead to his bedroom. Uh oh. Louis tells Ruby that no one but his grandmother, Otis the butler, and the maids (and him, of course) have been in his room since his parents died, and he asks if she wants to be the first. She says okay. Uh oh. They go in, and it’s a perfectly nice room, very clean, with a portrait of a pretty woman whom Louis identifies as his mother over the dresser.
Ruby realizes that a door in the room must lead to Louis’ parents’ bedroom, where she saw him unleash the freak after their dinner. Louis asks her what she thinks of his “cell” and Ruby makes awkward small talk about how nice the room is and how tidy he keeps it. Louis sits on the bed and rambles about how he’s had the same bed since he was three, and how his grandmother keeps everything as it was before his parents died. Even our Ruby starts to realize that things are getting wacky, and she says lamely that it must have been a nice house to grow up in. Louis says it was and wasn’t, then he touches the adjoining door and tells Ruby that for years the door was never locked because he and his mother were very close. UH OH. CODE RED. CODE RED. No matter what time of day it was, Louis’ mother would always let him come to her or she would come to him if he was frightened, and sometimes in the mornings after his father went to work, she’d come crawl in bed with Louis. He muses that she’s the only woman he’s ever laid beside and asks Ruby if that’s weird, Ruby, now deep in the heebie jeebies, tries to pretend it’s not. Louis calls himself ugly and twisted and Ruby assures him he’s not. So then…okay, I can do this! I really can. So for years and years Louis and his mother were really close, and his father was jealous of them, and thought that Louis was getting to be too old to sleep in the same bed with his mother. Ruby assures him that there’s nothing wrong with a mother and child being close, but Louis asks her if it was wrong that sometimes he pretended to be afraid just so his mother would comfort him. Ruby is confused, so he…acts it out, with Ruby standing in for his mother. I can’t, guys. I just can’t. Suffice it to say that Louis’ mother was a very disturbed woman and their relationship was pretty damned inappropriate. Ruby is really, really frightened and confused, and Louis tells her that one day his father walked in on them and had the door locked. If Louis cried or complained, his father would beat him, and, as he puts it, his mother “tried to make another boy her son”, and Louis’ father found out and the rest we know.
Louis cries a lot, telling Ruby that he’s never told anyone all of that before, and she sits with him until he falls asleep. Ruby books it soon after, and on her way out, she sees Mrs. Clairborne lurking in the shadows, and before Ruby can speak to her, she closes the door.
Aaaaaaaaaaaaand that’s all I got for right now, folks. I’m worn out from creepiness, and I’m concerned that I haven’t seen Swamp Thing around for a while. Really heavy stuff is coming up in the next section, so just get ready for that. Have you been feeling a lack of Gisselle bitchery in your lives? Well, she’s been building it up. BE WARNED.