Ruby Between the Cracks, p.1P.D. Workman
RUBY, BETWEEN THE CRACKS #1
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Copyright 2014 PD Workman
Cover photograph Flickr Creative Commons license D. Sharon Pruitt
To those we have allowed to fall between the cracks.
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RUBY LAY IN CHUCK’S arms, listening to his deep, regular breathing. She wondered fleetingly what he did the nights she didn’t see him. Sometimes it was almost a week between visits. Sometimes she saw him almost every day, but sometimes it was a long time in between.
Ruby shifted to move her arm, which was falling asleep. Chuck stirred, and the hair on his arm tickled her cheek. Ruby stroked his arm with one finger, sighing. She felt safe. The nights that she ended up alone, when she couldn’t find any company, were the hardest. Cold, alone, scared... Ruby’s heart pounded faster just thinking about it. Ruby turned over restlessly to face Chuck. He stirred drowsily, and his eyes opened a slit.
“Are you still awake?” he murmured.
“Go to sleep. It’s gotta be two in the morning.”
“Three-thirty,” Ruby told him.
“Mmm. Come here.”
He pulled her close to his chest. Ruby tucked her head under his chin and closed her eyes. He rubbed her back for a couple of minutes before he fell asleep again. After a while, Ruby finally fell asleep as well.
Ruby awoke in the morning to an empty bed. Chuck’s side was cold and empty. Ruby stretched out her sleep-cramped muscles, slid out of bed, and pulled on her t-shirt and shorts. She wandered out to the kitchen, yawning.
“Hey,” Chuck greeted. “You’re actually up.”
He was all ready for the office. Showered, dressed, curly hair perfectly coiffed. His blue eyes were bright and alert. He smiled at her and took a sip from his coffee mug.
“Yeah,” Ruby smothered another yawn. “What time is it?”
“Almost nine. I’m on my way out,” he glanced toward the door.
“Mmm. To work?”
“Yeah, precious. Some of us have jobs,” he teased.
“I would if anyone would hire me.”
“Well then, go to school,” Chuck suggested.
Ruby laughed, wrinkling her nose.
“Uh-uh. What am I going to do at school?”
“Whatever the other kids are doing.”
Ruby just shook her head.
“You look after yourself,” Chuck said, smiling as he looked her over, “and don’t forget your jacket.”
“Yeah, yeah.” Ruby rolled her eyes. She glanced around and picked the jacket up off of the back of the couch.
“Seriously.” Chuck’s voice took on a more severe tone. “Last time you left a pair of earrings on the sink. Be more careful.”
“You already told me,” Ruby huffed. “Sorry, okay?”
Chuck tugged at his shirt cuffs to get them a perfect half-inch below his suit jacket.
“All right, Ruby, let’s go.”
Ruby put her arms around his neck and pulled him in close for a good-bye kiss.
“I’ll see you around,” he said softly.
“Yeah. You gonna be there tonight?” Ruby questioned, picking up her backpack.
Chuck rarely committed. Sometimes he’d pick her up, and sometimes he wouldn’t. He never knew ahead of time. Ruby wondered if he met someone else the other nights, policing her as carefully as he policed Ruby, to make sure that she didn’t leave any sign of her presence. He had his reasons, but Ruby always wondered if he was doing more than just trying to guard his reputation. Why was it so important that there were no signs in his apartment that he had a girlfriend?
They separated in the hall, Chuck going one way and Ruby the other. Ruby wandered to the coffee shop down the street and sipped a fresh cup of coffee slowly. The boy behind the counter always paid her plenty of attention, and Ruby often wondered what kind of guy he was. He was high school or college-aged, she wasn’t sure which. She’d never seen him at the high school, but she didn’t hang around there very much, he might go there and she just hadn’t seen him.
“Running a little late today,” he commented.
“Yeah,” Ruby agreed. She wasn’t sure what it was about her that interested him. She never did her makeup before she got there. Sometimes, like today, she didn’t even have her hair combed yet. It was just a halfway point for her, between Chuck’s apartment and wherever she decided to go next.
“Doing anything special today?” the boy questioned, with an interested smile.
He probably was intrigued because most girls Ruby’s age would really be flattered by the attention of a guy his age and fawn all over him, but Ruby really didn’t care. He was actually younger than the guys she usually went with. There were only a couple of guys under twenty that she really liked. He might be a better catch than the guys Ruby’s own age, but he wasn’t very interesting.
“What are you taking in school?” he asked.
“I don’t usually go.”
“Oh. Where do you go?”
She put down her mug, and he moved to refill it. Ruby shook her head and waved her hand.
Ruby got up and went to the lady’s room. Unzipping her knapsack, she dug for her lipstick and other makeup. She brushed her teeth before putting on the lipstick, and brushed her hair into order. Her blond hair was straight and fine and she rarely bothered to curl or style it. She pulled it back in a pony and put an elastic around it to keep it in place. She packed her bag again and moved on.
Ruby wandered through a couple of the arcades and hangouts that she usually found company at, but things were strangely quiet. She eventually gave up, and with a sigh, decided to try the school. She arrived halfway through the morning, and joined up with a couple of the girls she knew.
Kate was plain, with no figure, a girl who desperately wanted to be popular, but no amount of makeup or trendy clothes would make her so. She didn’t have the personality to join the ‘in’ crowd. She didn’t have the money, the manner, the superficiality.
Marty was a different story. Her name was really Martha, but she preferred the less feminine form. Ruby liked her better than Kate, because Marty was more boyish, more like the guys that Ruby usually spent her time with. Of course, Marty would never be mistaken for a boy. Unlike Kate, she was an early bloomer; her figure already well-developed and she had a head of wild, dark curly hair. Marty had an easy manner, the type that attracted people to her, but didn’t really care for a lot
Ruby felt at ease with the two of them. They were undemanding friends, and she could spend a day with them every now and then and not have them grill her on where she’d been and what she had been doing.
“Hey, Marty,” Ruby greeted, and she nodded to Kate.
“Hi, Ruby. You’re just in time for math.”
Ruby wrinkled her nose.
“Oh, joy. What are we doing?”
Ruby shook her head. They arrived in class a couple of minutes before the second bell, and Ruby and Marty talked and watched Kate trying to flirt with Robin, the boy who sat in front of her, who she’d had a crush on for a couple months.
“He’s never even going to notice her,” Ruby commented, watching Robin answer Kate casually, oblivious to her body language.
“I don’t even know what she sees in him,” Marty commented. “Or in any guy.”
“Any junior high boy,” Ruby agreed.
Glancing over at them, Robin noticed Marty looking at him, and his manner changed instantly.
“Hey, Marty! How about you, what’d you think of the homework?”
Marty shrugged, and rolled her eyes at Ruby. Robin didn’t seem to know how to take Ruby, and didn’t say anything to her.
“Did you get A-8?” Kate asked Marty.
“Can I see it?”
Marty got out her book and passed it across. Kate stared at it for a moment, and scribbled the answer down in her book. The teacher walked in and looked around. He appeared surprised to see Ruby sitting there.
“Are you still in this class?” he questioned.
“Where have you been the last couple of weeks?”
“Sick.” Ruby shrugged.
“You have a note from your doctor?” he demanded.
“I don’t live with my mom,” Ruby pointed out.
“Where do you live?”
“Do you have a note from your foster parents?”
“No. You can call my social worker if you want,” she suggested.
He hesitated for a moment, then shrugged it off. Too much bother.
“You’re going to have a lot to catch up on. Can you get the notes from one of your friends?”
“Okay,” he moved towards the middle of the front. “Kate, do your own homework. If you don’t have it by now, it won’t do you any good. Anyone have any questions from the homework last night?”
Ruby stretched her legs out and looked around the room, tuning the teacher out.
At lunchtime, Ruby and the other girls went over to the senior high half of the school to look for some guys to join up with. Kate would never have been able to interest any of the guys by herself, and Marty didn’t really care to, but Ruby had something that attracted the older boys.
“It’s because you look so much older,” Kate said. “They don’t think they’re dating a kid, then.” She sighed. “I don’t look a day older than I am. If I at least had a body like Marty...”
“You’re welcome to it,” Marty grumbled. “I sure don’t want it. But that’s not what makes the guys like Ruby. She’s almost as flat as you are.”
“You just look... more mature,” Kate told Ruby.
“There’s Brian. Let’s see what he’s doing.”
Brian looked happy to see them. Tall, slim, with longish hair, he had a handsome face and was almost always smiling and relaxed.
“Hey, girls,” he greeted cheerfully. “Looking for some action?”
He put his arm around Ruby’s shoulders and gave her a quick hug.
“Got any plans?” Ruby questioned.
“Nope. You wanna go to my place and order a pizza?”
A couple of Brian’s friends and Kate and Marty all agreed, so they headed for his house. Brian broke out a couple of six-packs when they got there, and they lounged around drinking and watching kid’s shows on TV while they waited for the pizza.
It was almost one when the pizza delivery man got there, but nobody really cared. Missing the first class after lunch was no big deal. In another hour, though, most of them were done eating and getting set to go back to school. Ruby didn’t move from her spot on the couch beside Brian.
“You going back?” she asked Brian.
“Not if you’ll stick around,” he said, giving her a squeeze and kissing her on top of the head.
“Good. I’ll see you guys around,” Ruby told Kate and Marty.
“Okay. See you later,” Marty agreed.
The others went back to school. Tanner, one of Brian’s friends, stuck around for another hour watching TV with them. Then he got bored, and suggested they all go somewhere.
“The arcade?” Brian suggested.
“For a while,” Ruby agreed. She knew how it would go. They’d play for a while, but Brian would be off his game from drinking for three hours, and he’d get frustrated.
Ruby played a few games herself, but the games or the booze were giving her a headache. She watched Brian play for a while, but he wasn’t getting anywhere near his high scores and she could see his frustration mounting.
“Why don’t we go shoot some pool,” she suggested.
Brian slammed his hand down on the control panel and let the game end. He turned to face her.
“Yeah. Let’s blow. I’m totally useless at this today.”
Tanner had disappeared at some point. The pool hall was more relaxing. Ruby and Brian shot a leisurely game together, without caring who got the better shots or who won. Brian cajoled a jug of beer out of the management, and they smoked and drank and shot into the evening.
“You know, your friends are sort of strange,” Brian commented.
“Yeah, I know it. They’re misfits, like me.”
“That Marty—she gives me the creeps. I get the feeling she’s got a voodoo doll somewhere with my name on it.”
Ruby pictured it, and laughed.
“Don’t mention it to her, she might think it’s a good idea,” she giggled.
“She hates me, doesn’t she?”
“It’s not you. She doesn’t like any guys. I think she’s got a short-circuit somewhere.”
Brian looked thoughtful.
“No, it’s more than that. She doesn’t look at the other guys like she looks at me. I think it’s because you like me. I think she’s actually jealous.”
“Jealous?” Ruby repeated, surprised. “Nah. If she was jealous, why go back to school? She could have said: ‘let’s go somewhere’ and we could have gone somewhere without you. She could’a’ skipped one afternoon of school to do something with all of us. We would’ve done something with her.”
“She doesn’t ever get you to herself, does she? Just the two of you?”
“Well, not much...” Ruby admitted. “You’re nuts, you know? Marty isn’t like that, she just doesn’t like guys.”
“Maybe... but I don’t know.”
They dropped the subject.
“I gotta be getting home,” Brian commented, looking at his watch.
“It’s not that late,” Ruby protested.
He gave her a couple of gentle kisses, softening the parting.
“I know. But I got things going on tonight,” he apologized.
“You gotta go home? Right now?”
“You want me to drop you off somewhere?” Brian suggested.
“No. I’ll hang around here a while.”
Brian took a glance around.
“I get nervous, you hanging around places like this by yourself,” he said.
Ruby looked over the crowds.
“They’re just kids, Bri’. And it’s not like it’s a gang hangout or something.”<
“I guess,” he agreed reluctantly. “You look after yourself, though.”
“Sure. See you ’round.”
He kissed her again briefly, and left. Ruby hung out there for a while before going to the bar where Chuck would meet her if he was picking her up. The bouncers knew her, but they never let her in because she was too young. If she was a few years older, they might have bent and let her in, but as it was, she had to stand outside. If it was cold out, they’d let her stand inside the door periodically to warm herself up, but otherwise she stood outside with the hookers, watching for Chuck.
“Hi, Ruby,” Betty greeted cheerfully.
“How’re you doing, girl?” Grace questioned.
“Good. Chuck ain’t been by, has he?”
“Nope. You expecting him tonight?”
“Maybe. Saw him last night, so maybe not.”
“Does he ever pay you anything?” Grace demanded.
“No. It’s not like that,” Ruby protested with a laugh. “I like to be with him.”
“He’s taking advantage of you.”
“No, he’s not. Any time I felt like that, I’d just stop coming here,” Ruby pointed out.
“She’s just too young to know the difference,” Betty interposed. “She thinks she loves him.”
“No...” Ruby said, frowning, “I just... like being with him. I don’t like being alone.”
“Well, you could get company that paid a lot better than that,” Grace grumbled.
“Aw, leave her alone. She’s better off not getting into this business.”
Grace lit a cigarette, and they were quiet for a while. A car pulled up in front of the bar. Betty went up to talk to the driver.
The man indicated Ruby. Betty glanced over at her.
“Oh, she’s not interested, honey. But Grace or me...”
“She’s not working.”
“I’ll make it worth your while,” the man said to Ruby, holding up a wad of cash.
Ruby shook her head.
“She’s just waiting for her friend,” Betty explained.
He screeched his tires when he pulled out, and shot down the street. Betty went back to stand with Ruby and Grace.
Grace shook her head.
“You stand there in shorts and a tee and sneakers and get more pick-ups than we do. I just don’t know what you do.”
“She’s young. Men like’em young,” Betty said.
“I started at her age, and I never got the attention she does.”
Betty looked at Ruby and shrugged.
“Some people just got what it takes.”
Ruby watched for Chuck’s car. If he didn’t show up, she’d have to try and find somewhere else she could spend the night. But she wasn’t going to take up a new profession to do it. An hour passed, and Ruby knew he wasn’t going to show up. She said goodbye to the girls, and started to walk away. She got about half a block down, and a red convertible pulled up beside her.
“Slow down. How’d you like to make a little cash?”
Ruby stopped and looked at him. A small, ferret-faced man in a red convertible. She’d seen him before, but she couldn’t remember where. He was well dressed, but she got a bad vibe from him.
“What’re you going to pay me for?” she demanded.
“To work for me,” he said vaguely.
“Leave her alone,” Betty said, catching up to Ruby. “Ruby doesn’t need any help from you.”
The man looked at Betty.
“Stay out of it, Betty. This doesn’t concern you.”
“Ruby’s my friend, you’d better believe it concerns me. Ruby, you ever met my boss?”
“No. Guess I haven’t.”
“Well, he’s a snake, so stay away from him. You see this rat, you go the other way.”
Ruby turned and walked away. She could hear the pimp getting after Betty as she walked away, but Ruby didn’t look back. The last thing she needed was to get involved in that scene. She went back to the pool hall, but no-one that she knew was around. Ruby stayed there until the small hours of the morning before admitting to herself that her choices were either sleeping on the street or going home. She left the pool hall and started for home. Halfway there, a squad car pulled up beside her.
“Hi,” the police officer said, through the open window.
“Hi there,” Ruby acknowledged.
“A little late to be out wandering, isn’t it?”
“I’m on my way home.”
“How about if I drive you?” he offered.
Ruby got into the squad car and shut the door. He pulled away from the curb.
“What’s your name?”
“Where do you live, Ruby?”
She gave him her address.
“Good. The name’s Brown. What were you doing out so late?”
“Just hanging out.” Ruby shrugged.
“There’s lots of crazies out there. You shouldn’t be out alone.”
“Your folks know where you are?”
“You do this often?”
“No. Not a lot.”
Brown didn’t say anything else. They pulled up to the house a few minutes later. Ruby glanced at the cop to see if he was going to insist on escorting her in and talking to her parents, but he was relaxed and didn’t move to get out.
“Thanks for the lift,” Ruby said.
“No problem,” Brown took a business card out of his pocket. “If you’re ever out late alone or need something, you call me. I’d rather be a taxi for a couple minutes then find you dead by the road somewhere.”
Ruby took the card from him.
“Hey—thanks. That’s cool.”
She got out and went up to the house. The key was on a ring on her knapsack, and she waved at Brown and let herself in.
Ruby Between the Cracks by P.D. Workman / History & Fiction have rating 2.3 out of 5 / Based on30 votes