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Ruby between the cracks, p.10
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       Ruby Between the Cracks, p.10

           P.D. Workman

  * * *

  For a while, things seemed to just sort of be in limbo. Ruby went to school and came home with Marty. She wasn’t sure how much time passed, whether it was weeks or months. She couldn’t face foster care, or Brian, or the Jags. She just felt like the world was too complex. Marty took care of her, made her comfortable and didn’t push her to talk about it.

  Eventually, though, Ruby started to feel like getting out again. She started to wonder what was happening with her old acquaintances. She went to find Brian at lunch one day. He hugged her and kissed her on the forehead, smiling broadly.

  “What’s up, Ruby? It’s been ages since I saw you!”

  “Yeah. I haven’t been around much.”

  “Well, I hope that’s going to change. I thought—maybe you were mad at me.”

  “Mad about what?” Ruby said blankly.

  “When you were at the house before...”

  Ruby thought back, and remembered the incident at Brian’s house.

  “Oh, that. I forgot.” She shrugged.

  “Good. I was worried you were upset about my mom...”

  Ruby shrugged.

  “Parents are like that. They think they gotta protect us.”

  Brian gave her a squeeze.

  “You’re so cool about it all. I was so mad at her for throwing you out like that! I still am.”

  “So why don’t you leave?” Ruby questioned.

  “I don’t know. It’s pretty easy where I am. You know—other than her not liking you.”

  “Is she home now?”

  “No, she’s at work.”

  “Let’s go over there, then.”

  Brian shook his head.

  “I have a test to write this afternoon. But another day.”

  “I guess.”

  “So what are you doing this afternoon—going back to school?” he questioned.

  “No. I’ll go find some friends.”

  Brian nodded. Ruby pulled away from him to leave.



  “Not that gang, right?”

  Ruby looked back at him.

  “What if it is?”

  “I just don’t want you to get hurt.”

  “I won’t.”

  She left Brian, and went to look for the Jags. She went by Tim’s apartment to find him. Tim and some of the others were sprawled in front of the TV, engrossed in some afternoon soap. Ruby slammed the door shut behind her, and they jumped and looked around. Ruby grinned. Tim saw her and whooped.

  “Ruby! Man, I thought you got busted or something. Where you been? You gonna stick around a while this time?”

  Ruby laughed.

  “For a while. What’s new?”

  “Hey, you don’t know yet, do you…?” he said eagerly.

  “Know what?”

  “About the treaty with the Terminators.”

  Ruby felt sick.

  “Treaty?” she repeated faintly.

  “Yeah, it turns out that Jack and Troy were buddies years and years ago. They got together last week and decided that if we combined forces, we could wipe out all of the other gangs.”


  Tim shrugged.

  “We’ve all gotten used to the idea by now. I wasn’t too keen on it myself to begin with, but... it makes us stronger.”

  “Not the Terminators,” she protested.

  “As good as any.”

  Ruby shook her head.

  “I can’t believe it.”

  “It’s stupid,” Harlan agreed explosively. “We’re Jags, not filthy Termites!”

  “Shut up, you idiot!” one of the others snapped. “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

  “You may all be scared of Jack,” Harlan blustered, “but I’m not! It ain’t right for Jags to join up with that trash.”

  Ruby nodded.

  “Yeah, that’s right.”

  Tim glared at her.

  “You don’t know what you’re saying, Ruby. Just keep your mouth shut. Got it?”

  Ruby was surprised at the anger in his eyes. And the fear. She looked around at the other boys. They all were nervous about her and Harlan’s vocal protests.

  “Keep your mouth shut,” Tim repeated warningly.

  Harlan took Ruby’s arm.

  “Let’s get out of here, Ruby.”

  Ruby hesitated, and then nodded. They left the others at the apartment. Harlan was fuming.

  “At least someone else sees how stupid this is! The rest of them are just too scared to stand up for themselves!”

  “So what are you going to do?”

  He looked irritated.

  “I don’t know. All I know is, I’m not joining up with any Terminators.”

  “So why don’t the others just refuse too?” Ruby questioned.

  He looked at her.

  “Because it’s treason. And there’s only one sentence for treason.”

  Ruby looked at Harlan blankly.

  “You go against Jack,” Harlan said baldly. “You’re looking to get killed.”

  No wonder Tim had told Ruby to keep her mouth shut. She stared at Harlan.

  “So we’re not going back to the Jags.”

  “That would be suicide. Nope, we’re on our own now, with Jack’s order out on us.”

  Ruby shook her head.

  “We’re gonna get killed.”

  “If we’re not careful.”

  “How can we not get killed?” her voice rose. “How are we going to protect ourselves?”

  “I got a piece. We’ll figure something out.”

  “Where are we going to stay tonight?” Ruby demanded, irritated with him for having no plan.

  “We?” he questioned. “Yeah, I guess we gotta find somewhere to hang out for a few days, until we figure out which way the wind is going to blow.”

  “And then what?”

  “It depends on what the gang decides they’re gonna do. They may come over with us.”

  “Where do we go tonight?”

  Harlan shrugged.

  “We’ll go to a motel or shelter or something, until we decide what to do.”

  That night, Ruby stayed with Harlan. But she found him too rough for her liking. She woke up early in the morning, stiff and aching all over. Ruby slipped out of bed as slowly and quietly as she could to avoid disturbing Harlan. He didn’t even stir. She sneaked into the bathroom and looked at herself in the scratched mirror. She had a black eye that certainly wasn’t going to be disguised by a little foundation. She was going to bear the marks of their late-night activities for some time. As quickly as Ruby could, she pulled on the rest of her clothes. She picked up her shoes and tiptoed out of the suite barefoot. She didn’t bother to shut the door tightly behind her. She slipped on her shoes when she got out into the hallway.

  She was a few steps away from the lobby of the motel when she heard the gunshot. She saw the desk clerk drop behind his desk, and Ruby flattened herself against the wall, not breathing. No-one came through the lobby. There was no movement. Eventually, the desk clerk stood up slowly, looking around. Ruby watched him without stirring. He picked up the phone and dialed, whispered into the receiver, and then hung up. Looking around, he saw Ruby standing there. Ruby peeled herself away from the wall and took a deep breath. She nodded at the desk clerk and slunk out of the lobby.

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