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Ruby between the cracks, p.12
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       Ruby Between the Cracks, p.12

           P.D. Workman
 

  * * *

  Merrill motioned for the other officer to sit down. Coates looked a little uncomfortable.

  “As you know, I’m handling the Samuels case.”

  “Sure. How can I help you?”

  “We’ve reached the point where we need to talk to Ruby Simpson about what went on.”

  “You haven’t talked to her before now?” Merrill said, surprised. “You’ve had the case for months.”

  “No, we didn’t really get to that point in our investigation until now. But we’ve run into some problems.”

  “What problems?”

  “Ruby’s disappeared.”

  “I can see how that might be a problem. She’s not with her foster family?”

  “Hasn’t been since Samuels was arrested.”

  Merrill nodded thoughtfully.

  “I was hoping that you’d be able to tell us where Ruby hung out,” Coates suggested.

  “Have you checked out the school?”

  “It’s been weeks since she showed up for a class.”

  “I gather she hasn’t been too big on school,” Merrill agreed.

  “So can you help me? Know where she might be?”

  Merrill got up and went to his files.

  “We had her under surveillance for quite a while...” He pulled out a folder and flipped through it. “I can give you the addresses that she spent time at regularly.”

  “That would be great.”

  Brian opened the door, and his stomach tightened when he saw the uniformed officer.

  “Yes?”

  “I’m looking for Ruby Simpson.”

  Brian shook his head.

  “She’s not here.”

  “Can you tell me when the last time you saw her was?”

  Brian considered it.

  “I don’t know. It’s been a long time. A couple months.”

  “Can you tell me where I might find her?”

  “I don’t know. I think she’s been staying with Marty. Or the gang. I don’t know for sure. She hasn’t been around.”

  “Marty? Do you have his address?”

  “Her. Her address. No, I don’t.”

  “And the gang?”

  “I don’t know which one, or where she would be staying if she was with them. Sorry. I haven’t seen her for a long time.”

  “Okay. Thanks for your help.”

  Coates rang the doorbell, and waited. After a few minutes, a young woman with wildly curly hair answered the door. The smells of tomato sauce and garlic wafted through the open door. She looked at him and raised her eyebrows.

  “I’m looking for Ruby Simpson,” he told her.

  “I’ll get her. What’s up?”

  “I just want to talk to her.”

  She motioned for Coates to come in, and he sat down on the couch.

  “You’re Marty?” Coates questioned.

  “Yeah.”

  Marty went to the back of the house. A few minutes later, Ruby came out. She glanced down at Coates.

  “Hi.”

  Coates surveyed Ruby thoughtfully, frowning at her slightly bulging tummy.

  “Hi, Ruby. I’ve had an interesting time trying to track you down.”

  “What do you want?”

  “I want to talk to you about your former social worker, Charles Samuels.”

  “Former social worker?”

  Coates heard the emphasis on “former”.

  “You weren’t aware that Samuels was arrested?”

  “Arrested?” Ruby’s voice was surprised. “For what?”

  “For—er—his involvement with you.”

  Ruby shrugged.

  “I never charged him.”

  “You didn’t have to. You’re a minor under government care.”

  Ruby motioned him into the living room, and slid into the easy chair, stiffly putting her feet up. Coates sat across from her.

  “So what do you need me for?” Ruby questioned.

  “I need to hear your side of the story.”

  “What’s to tell?”

  “You’re pregnant?” Coates observed.

  Ruby glared at him.

  “No.”

  “Is Samuels the father?”

  “What are you talking about?”

  Coates frowned. He tried to proceed like Ruby wasn’t pregnant.

  “How long were you and Samuels involved?”

  “I don’t remember. A couple years, I guess.”

  “How old were you when it started?”

  Ruby grinned.

  “Chuck’s been my social worker from the time I first went into foster care. I was eight then.”

  “But how old were you when the two of you... started keeping company?”

  She shrugged, pursing her lips.

  “Uhh… ten or eleven.”

  “Can you tell me who initiated it?”

  “Who initiated it?” Ruby repeated. “Who cares? We spent some nights together. We started sleeping together. It’s not like he tied me to the bedposts or something!”

  “Why were you spending nights with him?”

  “Because he was cute,” she laughed.

  “Did Samuels realize how serious it was? Did you?”

  “He knew he’d get in trouble if anyone found out. He knew he’d lose his job.”

  “He’s going to do more than lose his job. Didn’t you realize he would go to jail for what he was doing?”

  Ruby shook her head.

  “He didn’t force me to do anything. I wanted to sleep with him.”

  “It’s still against the law.”

  “But there’s nothing wrong with it.”

  Coates was taken aback. He felt his face get hot and fumbled for a reply.

  “Nothing wrong with it? There certainly is something wrong with it! What Samuels did was completely wrong and immoral!”

  Ruby shook her head.

  “I didn’t do anything wrong.”

  “No, you didn’t. Samuels did.”

  She laughed in disbelief.

  “Chuck did something wrong, but I didn’t? Sort of hard when we were both doing the same thing!”

  Ruby sat there, shaking her head. Coates was at a loss to get through to her.

  “Do you know of any other girls that Samuels was seeing?”

  “No. If he was seeing someone else, he was careful not to let on.”

  “We have evidence that he was also seeing other girls under his supervision.”

  “I wondered sometimes. Well, I don’t know any other foster kids under him. Other than Ronnie.”

  “Ronnie is... ?”

  “My sister. But he wouldn’t…” Ruby stopped, cutting herself off. She paled. “If Chuck laid a finger on Ronnie, I’ll kill him!”

  “How old is Ronnie?”

  “She’s eight.”

  “Well, we’re dealing with each of Samuel’s files individually. I’ll make sure we put Ronnie near the top of the list.”

  “She won’t talk to you. She’s too shy.”

  “I’ll have a woman officer talk to her, if you think it would help.”

  Ruby sighed.

  “I don’t know. I don’t think she’ll talk to anyone.”

  “Why not?”

  “Ronnie doesn’t talk to people. She keeps it inside.”

  “Which do you do? Talk it out or keep it inside?”

  Ruby shrugged.

  “I don’t know... I just try to forget about it, I guess.”

  “Is that why you don’t want to talk about Samuels?” Coates suggested.

  “I talked to you about him. He dumped me ages ago, why should I care about him anymore?”

  “How long ago did you break up?”

  Ruby rolled her eyes, counting on her fingers. She counted it out three times before answering.

  “I think seven months ago or something. Winters... it was cold out. Maybe February or something.”

  “And you’re due when?”

  “I told you I’m not pregnant,” sh
e repeated firmly.

  Coates decided to terminate the interview.

  “I’m going to get back to you with some more questions after we’ve progressed in our investigation a little more.”

  Ruby shrugged.

  “You’ll be staying here?”

  “Yeah, probably. Mostly.”

  “Maybe I could get the address and phone number from your friend,” Coates suggested, hoping for an opportunity to talk to Marty privately for a moment. Ruby rattled off the phone number.

  “And you’ve already got the address,” Ruby pointed out.

  “I guess I do.”

  “What was all that about?” Marty questioned after Coates was gone.

  “Nothing. Some stuff about my social worker.” Ruby shrugged.

  “Is everything all right?”

  “I guess.” Ruby went over to the liquor cabinet, and moved around several empty decanters. “I need a drink. Where’s the booze?”

  “You know you can’t drink right now, Ruby,” Marty said.

  “I just want a small drink. There’s nothing wrong with that.”

  “We’ve gone through this before.”

  Ruby glanced at Marty, shaking her head.

  “I’m going out, then.”

  “You can’t buy alcohol.”

  “Someone will buy for me,” Ruby said with assurance.

  “I really don’t think you should, Ruby,” Marty said firmly.

  Ruby shrugged.

  “I’ll be back later.”

  Ruby slipped on a pair of sandals and walked out. Marty shook her head. She turned to go do her homework, and saw her father standing in the doorway of his bedroom.

  “What?” Marty demanded.

  “How long is she going to stay here?”

  “Ruby lives here. She’ll stay here as long as she likes.”

  “What are you going to do when she has the baby?”

  “Just stay out of it, all right? Mom and I will take care of things.”

  “Babies cost money,” he growled.

  “Babies get government benefits, too.”

  He looked thoughtful.

  “Yeah, they do, don’t they?” he mused.

  Ruby hung around the bar, looking for someone safe to talk to. A young man or woman just old enough to drink. No-one too tough. No-one who looked dangerous, but on the other hand someone who would not question her about her decision to drink, lecture her, or call Social Services on her. A couple of young men headed towards her, and Ruby looked at them for a moment before realizing that one of them was Tim. She turned quickly to walk off, but he had already noticed her. It had been quite a while since Ruby had seen him or any of the other Jags.

  “Ruby! Hey, where are you going, come here!” Tim called, grinning.

  Ruby turned reluctantly.

  “Oh... Hi, Tim.”

  “Ruby, I don’t get you! You’ll be around for a while and then you disappear for weeks! Where have you been?”

  Ruby shrugged.

  “I... just haven’t been feeling so good lately. Got some bug or something...”

  She avoided his eyes, looking around as if she had somewhere else to go. Tim was staring at her intently. He took her by the arm.

  “Let’s go in, huh? We’ll have a drink...”

  “The bouncers…”

  “Oh, they’ll let you in with us. Come on.”

  He guided her towards the door. Ruby let him take her in. She had come looking for a drink, after all. They found a table and ordered a round of drinks. Tim’s friend was impatient with them.

  “So are you going to introduce us, man?”

  “Oh, yeah. Rich, this is Ruby. She hangs around with the Jags sometimes. Rich is one of the old Terminators.”

  “Oh, you’re the Ruby?” Rich questioned, with the emphasis on “the”. Ruby shrugged. So they’d been talking about her behind her back. And who knows what they’d said about her.

  Tim was unusually quiet. They had a few beers, and Rich got up to put the moves on a chick up at the bar. Tim moved closer to Ruby, putting his arm around her and nuzzling her hair.

  “Uh, Ruby... ?” he said softly.

  “What.”

  “This—er—‘bug’ you’ve got... is everything okay?”

  “Yeah, fine.”

  “Are you sure? I mean, if you need anything... I’ll take care of it.”

  “Nothing you can do,” Ruby said.

  “Are you sure? ’cause really, I’ll help you with whatever you need. Really.”

  “I don’t need anything.”

  “Okay. I won’t bug you about it, then. I just... you know, I look after my own.”

  Marty roused herself to Ruby’s knocking on the door. She got up and opened the door. Ruby had problems getting both feet up the half-step into the house. Marty steadied Ruby and helped guide her in. Once into the house, Ruby walked pretty steadily, not like she was drunk. But the smell of alcohol was definitely on her breath.

  “How much did you have to drink?” Marty questioned.

  “I had a couple beers. Maybe three. That’s all.”

  Marty listened to her words carefully. But there was no slurring.

  “I’m just clumsy,” Ruby told her, discerning her thoughts, “I don’t know why—I just keep running into things and dropping things lately.”

  Marty yawned.

  “I think that’s pretty normal. Come on. Let’s get to bed.”

  Ruby nodded. She followed Marty to the bedroom and sat down to undress. She held her stomach, wincing.

  “You okay, Ruby?”

  “Yeah. The beer must have bothered my stomach...”

  “I told you not to drink.”

  “Yeah, I should have listened to you,” Ruby agreed.

  Marty nodded.

  “Climb in.”

  Ruby slipped in and cuddled up with Marty. She was asleep in minutes. Marty lay awake, having trouble settling down again after being awakened so abruptly. Ruby’s breathing was slow and even. Marty started to relax and drift off, though still partly aware of her surroundings. She was aware that Ruby was moving around every now and then, but Marty stayed in a dozy state of sleep for what seemed like a long time. Then she managed to rouse herself. Ruby was curled up in a ball, her face slick with sweat. She was pale as a ghost. Marty sat up quickly and touched Ruby.

  “Ruby? Ruby, are you okay?”

  Ruby’s fists were both pressed against her stomach, and she opened her eyes, looking up at Marty with a frightened expression.

  “It hurts...”

  “It’s okay. It’s okay. How long has it been hurting?”

  Marty shifted for a more comfortable position and landed on wet sheets. She gasped and took Ruby’s hand.

  “It’s okay. How far apart are the pains?” she questioned.

  “They don’t go away...”

  “Oh, no. I’ll be right back, I just have to see if mom’s home.”

  Marty dashed down the hallway and shook her mom awake.

  “It’s Ruby.”

  “Uh-oh. Let me get dressed, and we’ll go. You’d better get something on too.”

  “Okay. I think—I think she’s pretty far along. She said the pain doesn’t stop.”

  “For some people it doesn’t.”

  “Okay. Hurry.”

  Marty ran back to Ruby’s side.

  “It’s okay, honey,” she comforted, holding Ruby’s hand briefly.

  “Why won’t it stop?” Ruby moaned.

  “It’s okay. Hang on while I dress. Just be a second.”

  Ruby groaned, pushing her hands into her stomach. Marty quickly pulled on a pair of pants and some shoes. She sat down on the edge of the bed, stroking Ruby’s hair. Tears sprang up in Ruby’s eyes. She didn’t speak any more, just laid there curled up, quietly sobbing.

  “It’s okay. It’s all right...”

  Marty’s mother came in, with her jacket on.

  “Okay, Ruby. Let’s see how you’re doing.”

&nb
sp; She bent over Ruby, looking at her face and putting a hand gently on her stomach. She turned and looked at Marty, who was watching anxiously.

  “Why don’t you call an ambulance,” she suggested calmly.

  “Okay.”

  Marty left. Mrs. Rodger pulled back the sheets and pulled up Ruby’s night-shirt. She shifted Ruby’s position slightly.

  “Why don’t you move a bit, Ruby. Here, like this.”

  Ruby moved uncomfortably, letting Mrs. Rodger guide her into the new position.

  “There, now you’ve got it. Now take a deep breath. No, nice and deep. There, that’s good. Relax some more. It’ll be okay. Nothing to it.”

  She held Ruby’s hand, encouraging her quietly. Marty was engaged in talking to the 911 operator until the ambulance got there. Standing by the phone, trying to keep herself calm and answer the operator’s questions clearly, she heard a high, thin cry from the bedroom. The receiver dropped from her hand and she ran into the room. Her mom looked up.

  “I guess this makes you an auntie,” she said.

  Marty stared down at the wet, red baby in amazement.

  “It’s so little,” she breathed.

  “She. And yes, she is. Too tiny yet. The ambulance is on the way?”

  “Yes. Oh, I left the phone.” Ruby ran back out to the kitchen and picked up the dangling receiver. “It’s a girl,” she announced, “and she’s really tiny.”

  “The ambulance is almost there,” the operator reassured her. “Hang in there. Is the baby breathing?”

  “Yes.”

  “Someone will be right there. Why don’t you go turn on the porch light and open the front door.”

  “Okay. Just a minute.”

  Marty did as she was instructed. She popped back in to check on her new charge. Ruby laid motionlessly on her back, her eyes shut. She seemed totally uninterested in the new baby. They were quiet, waiting for the ambulance. Marty brought the medics into the room, and they wrapped the baby up and took Ruby out to where they had a stretcher waiting. Ruby just kept her eyes closed and didn’t move.

  Ruby was a little shaky, but happy to be out again and free to go wherever she liked. She had been staying inside for what seemed like a long time, but now she could go wherever she liked, see whoever she pleased. And the first stop was by the school to see if she could find Brian. She hung around the school at lunchtime, and didn’t see him until he came back from his house. He saw her, and stopped. Ruby went up to him, wondering why he didn’t come over to greet her.

  “Ruby,” he greeted lowly.

  “Hi.”

  “I didn’t expect to see you here.”

  “Why not?” she smiled at him, lowering her eyelids flirtatiously.

  “Well, because... Marty told me…” Brian trailed off.

  “Marty told you what?”

  “She asked me if the baby was mine.”

  “Why would it be yours?” Ruby questioned carelessly.

  “Well, because... but you and me always used...” he looked uncomfortable and didn’t finish.

  Ruby shrugged.

  “So why’re you worried?” she prompted.

  “Well, it’s just that... sometimes... stuff happens.”

  “So don’t worry about it.”

  Brian looked relieved. He breathed out a pent-up breath.

  “Good. My mom would kill me...”

  “Yeah, no kidding,” Ruby agreed. Brian sighed.

  “Good,” he repeated.

  “So you want to do something?” Ruby questioned.

  “Uh... yeah, I guess. What do you want to do? Arcade?”

  “No. I don’t want to run into the gang yet.”

  “Oh, I guess not. Go watch a video?”

  “Sure.”

  Brian tentatively put his arm out for her, and Ruby took it and walked beside him.

  It had been a long time since Ruby had passed the time with Brian, and she enjoyed it. He was good for her, kind and gentle with her and pretty much obeyed the law; not like the Jags. She didn’t mind the Jags so much when she really needed company, but an afternoon with Brian was like a refreshing drink of water.

  They watched a couple of movies together and made popcorn. There were a few beers in the fridge, which they shared between them. After a while, they turned the TV off and, lounging side by side on the floor in front of the couch, cuddled and held each other, just enjoying being together again.

  “I forgot how much I like this,” Brian sighed.

  “Yeah. Been too long. I like to be held.”

  He tightened his grip on her and stroked her cheek.

  “You’re so pretty, Ruby. I wish we could be together all the time, like this.”

  “Me too.”

  Ruby was back to Marty’s in time for supper. Ruby left Brian’s before his mother could get home. Neither of them wanted another scene with Brian’s mom. Marty was stretched out in bed feeding the baby her bottle. Ruby looked around.

  “What’s for supper?” she questioned.

  “Whatever you make,” Marty sighed. “There’s leftovers in the fridge, or you could make some spaghetti or something.”

  “I thought you said you were going to make supper.”

  “I was. But Stella’s been fussy all day and I haven’t had a chance to get anything started. If you want something, you make it.”

  “What do you want me to make you?”

  Marty looked up at Ruby, her expression softening.

  “Anything you feel like making, sweetie. I’ll eat anything I don’t have to make.”

  “Okay. Your mom home for supper?”

  “No, I don’t think so. Make a little extra and put it in the fridge in case she hasn’t eaten when she gets home.”

  “Okay,” Ruby agreed.

  “And Ruby?”

  “Yeah?”

  “Could you mix a couple more bottles for Stella and put them in the fridge?”

  Ruby frowned, considering.

  “I dunno… how do I make them?”

  “Read the instructions on the side of the can. Follow it exactly.”

  “Okay.”

  Ruby went back into the kitchen and started on macaroni and cheese. While the pasta was boiling, she picked up the can of dry formula and looked at the instructions. She went back into the bedroom, where Marty was lying down watching the baby sleep.

  “Marty... ?”

  “Uh-huh?”

  “Can you tell me the instructions?”

  “You can read them,” Marty encouraged.

  “Yeah, but I don’t understand them.”

  “Hand it to me.”

  Marty read the instructions aloud to Ruby. Ruby listened to her, and nodded.

  “Okay. I get it.”

  “Make it just like it says.”

  “I will.”

  Ruby mixed the bottles carefully and put them in the fridge. After draining the pasta and adding the milk and cheese packet, she cut some tomatoes into the macaroni the way Marty liked it, and let it simmer a while longer. She filled a bowl for Marty and took it in to her. Marty smiled tiredly.

  “Thanks. That’s perfect. Will you put Stella in her crib?”

  Ruby looked down at the tiny baby, and shook her head.

  “No, I’ll drop it.”

  “Her, she’s a girl. Your daughter.”

  “I’ll hurt her.”

  “I’ll show you how to do it. You won’t hurt her or drop her.”

  “No. I don’t want to,” Ruby insisted, backing away.

  “Come on.”

  “No. I don’t want to touch it.”

  Marty got up gently and slowly so as not to disturb the baby, and shook her head.

  “You have to admit it sooner or later, Ruby.”

  “I don’t want to pick her up.”

  “I need your help now and then.”

  “I did. I made supper for you.”

  Marty put the baby into her crib, and took the bowl from Ruby.

  “Thanks. It looks gr
eat.”

  Ruby nodded and went to the kitchen to get her own. She put a few spoons full in the bowl, and went to talk to Marty while she ate.

  “You need to eat more than that,” Marty told her, looking at the bowl.

  Ruby put her hand over her stomach, frowning.

  “I have to lose this weight. It’s gross.”

  “You’d lose it in a minute if you nursed Stella. Even if you won’t, though, you’ll lose it on your own. You don’t look fat.”

  “I do too.”

  “You look just great. No-one would guess you had a baby a few weeks ago.”

  Ruby turned her head away.

  “I didn’t.”

  Chuck opened the door and saw Coates. He looked slightly embarrassed, dropping his eyes.

  “Hi. Come in.”

  Coates nodded and entered.

  “How have you been managing?” Coates questioned neutrally.

  “Pretty good... considering the way people look at me now.”

  “Uh-huh. Well, you’ll be happy to know that you have a healthy little girl.”

  “What?” Chuck said blankly.

  “Your little girl...”

  “You mean Ruby?”

  “I mean Ruby’s baby.”

  Chuck stared at Coates.

  “Ruby’s baby?” he repeated.

  “I take it she didn’t tell you she was pregnant?”

  “No... she didn’t tell me that.”

  “I take it she’s been pretty quiet about the whole thing. I thought she might have called you about it, though.”

  “It can’t be my baby... did she tell you it was my baby? Did she tell you I got her pregnant?”

  “No, but the timing’s about right. And you can’t exactly convince me that the two of you weren’t involved.”

  “Ruby always uses birth control.”

  “Birth control isn’t one hundred percent effective,” Coates pointed out.

  “Did she tell you the baby was mine?” Chuck questioned.

  “She told me she wasn’t pregnant.”

  “I wasn’t the only one she was seeing, you know.”

  “Well, you’re the only one we know about. Can you tell me who else she was seeing?”

  “She had a few friends... What about the boy who was murdered? What about him?”

  “When was that? Shortly before the two of you broke up?”

  “Yes. If it could have been me, it could have been him.”

  “Well, I guess when the time is right, we’ll have to run some paternity tests.”

  “Ruby wouldn’t—”

  “Ruby doesn’t have to. She’s a ward of the state. You know that.”

  “It couldn’t be my baby,” Chuck maintained.

  Coates shook his head.

  “Right.”

  Marty got up to feed and try to settle Stella again. Ruby moved around, then sat up sleepily as Marty sat down on the bed with the baby.

  “Why does it have to cry so much?” she said irritably.

  Marty scowled.

  “Because you drank when you were pregnant. She has plenty of problems because you couldn’t stop drinking for a few months.”

  Ruby lay down again.

  “She’s ugly, too. I thought babies were supposed to be cute.”

  Marty cuddled Stella close while she gave her a bottle.

  “She’s not ugly. Maybe she looks like her daddy.”

  She waited, but Ruby didn’t give her any clue as to the baby’s parentage.

  “Why did you tell Brian he was her daddy?” Ruby demanded.

  “I didn’t tell him he was. I asked him if he was. You won’t tell me.”

  “Well, you didn’t need to tell Brian that.”

  “I didn’t tell him anything. Stella deserves to at least have one of her parents admit that she exists.”

  Ruby turned over and closed her eyes, trying to go back to sleep. A long time later, when she was close to sleep, Marty had put Stella back in the crib and cuddled up to Ruby to sleep. Ruby sighed.

  “Marty... ?”

  “Umm?”

  “We’re best friends, right?”

  “Sure.”

  Ruby hugged Marty.

  “Is that all we are?”

  Marty was silent for a minute. Then she turned over to look at Ruby.

  “What do you mean, sweetie?”

  Ruby found it difficult to answer. She touched Marty on the cheek, as Marty often stroked hers, looking into her eyes. Marty pulled Ruby’s face against her chest, kissing her on the forehead.

  “Of course we’re more than friends,” she agreed.

  Ruby held onto Marty tightly, her eyes burning. She buried her face in Marty’s neck, and eventually fell asleep again.

  Marty slept soundly until eight, and then woke with a start, jumped up and dashed over to Stella’s crib. The baby was sleeping quietly, her breathing even. Marty breathed out in relief. She looked around for Ruby, but the bed was empty. Marty went out to the kitchen and put the coffee on. She turned when her mother came in.

  “Mom, is Ruby here?”

  “I don’t think so.”

  “Did she feed Stella?”

  “No, I knew you were up late last night, so I got her up and fed her before she could wake you.”

  “I thought maybe Ruby had...”

  “No.”

  They both were quiet for a while.

  “She’s still not paying any attention to Stella, huh?” Mrs. Rodger questioned.

  “No. Do you think she ever will?”

  “I think she needs time. Eventually... I hope so.”

  “She acts like Stella doesn’t exist... like she was never pregnant and still doesn’t have any responsibility.”

  “Ruby’s had some tough experiences to work through. It’s not an excuse, but it’s understandable. I hope she’ll eventually get to the point so that she can accept this.”

  “Meanwhile, that baby’s going to grow up.”

  “Are you doing okay with your correspondence work?”

  “Yeah. It makes me so mad that I quit school to take care of her baby, while she’s off running around like nothing ever happened.”

  “And it’s worse because you love her.”

  Marty nodded, and didn’t meet her eyes.

  “Uh-huh. And she acts like it doesn’t mean anything to her. Last night, I thought...” She shook the idea off. “And then today she runs away.”

  “Ruby wants to be loved so much. But she’s afraid of it, too.”

  Tim was happy to see Ruby again, but he kept glancing at her surreptitiously, as if he was trying to figure something out.

  “So... How’re you feeling?” he questioned, looking away from her.

  “Good. Better now.”

  “Yeah? Good to hear it. So everything is cool now, huh? You’re going to be around more often now?”

  “Sure.”

  “Troy’s been wanting you for something.”

  Ruby swallowed. Her heart raced.

  “What for?”

  “He never says. Just wants to know where you are.”

  “I don’t want to talk to him.”

  Tim nodded.

  “He’s a creep,” Tim admitted. “No-one likes him.”

  “I don’t want to talk to him,” Ruby repeated firmly. “I don’t want to see him.”

  “Okay, I get you. I’ll keep an eye out for you.”

  Ruby breathed deeply, trying to erase Troy’s face from before her. But his face was always before her, even now, months later.

  “Let’s go find the others,” she suggested.

  “Yeah.”

  Marty answered the door, and it was Brian. She opened the door and motioned for him to come in.

  “I should’ve called,” he said awkwardly.

  “Ruby’s not here,” Marty informed him.

  “I didn’t figure she would be. I—uh—wanted to see the baby.”

  “What did Ruby tell you?”

  “She sai
d it wasn’t mine. I just—wanted to be sure.”

  “You think you’re going to be able to tell by looking at her?” Marty questioned.

  Brian held up an envelope.

  “I brought my baby pictures. I hoped that...”

  “That might help. Come on in. She’s just sleeping.”

  Brian followed her into the bedroom, and looked down at the baby in the crib.

  “Can we get her up?”

  “I guess.”

  Marty bent over and picked Stella up. The baby stirred, but didn’t completely waken. Marty held her cradled so that Brian could see her.

  “What do you think?”

  “I don’t know. She doesn’t look like my pictures.”

  “Let’s see.”

  Brian took the pictures out of the envelope. He showed them to Marty, and Marty shook her head.

  “I don’t see any resemblance.”

  “That’s a big relief.”

  Marty sighed, smiling.

  “Too bad, I was hoping it would be someone responsible, someone who would be interested.”

  “You don’t have any idea who it would be?”

  “A couple, but I don’t like the choices. I know you would have taken care of things.”

  “Yeah. I hope you get it figured out.”

  Marty nodded.

  “I certainly didn’t expect to be a mommy at this point of my life.”

  “Yeah. I can’t imagine... not even at my age now. I’m glad Ruby’s got you as a friend.”

  “I hate to think of what might have happened to this baby if I wasn’t there when she was born.”

  “Why?”

  “She would have ended up dead in a trash can.”

  “Do you really think so? Ruby wouldn’t do that, even if she didn’t want the baby.”

  “She would have had the baby and left. She won’t even admit that Stella’s hers.”

  After being out all night with the Jags, Ruby expected to sleep soundly until the afternoon. She was restless trying to sleep, though. She cuddled up close to Tim, but couldn’t seem to relax. She slept lightly and restlessly. She hardly realized that she was asleep when she awoke from a nightmare. She was sitting up in bed, and Tim was holding onto her.

  “Shh, shhh... It’s okay, Ruby. Hush...”

  Ruby put her hands over his for comfort. She looked around the dim room, disoriented.

  “What happened? Where’s Mike?”

  “Ruby. You’re dreaming. It’s just a dream, Ruby.”

  She looked at him, still confused.

  “Mike’s okay?”

  Tim studied her, frowning and shaking his head.

  “Mike was offed months ago.”

  “He was?”

  “He was. You were there, Ruby.”

  Ruby put her hands up to her face.

  “Where’s Troy?”

  “Troy doesn’t stay here. He’s got his own place.”

  “Are you okay?”

  “I’m okay. Are you?”

  Ruby wiped the tears from her face and laid down again.

  “Tim?”

  “Yeah, what is it, baby?”

  “Hold me.”

  He put his arms around her, and Ruby laid against his warm chest, listening to his slow, steady heartbeat.

  Stella had an infection and a fever. After a long day and many tears from both of them, Marty rocked in the front room with Stella, watching TV. Ruby walked into the house and went to the kitchen without even saying hello to Marty. Marty swallowed her anger and continued to rock Stella. After a while, Ruby walked back out of the front room licking her fingers. She saw Marty there with the baby.

  “I didn’t see you—I thought you’d be in bed,” she whispered.

  “Didn’t you hear the TV?”

  Ruby looked at it.

  “Oh... I guess so. I didn’t notice. Why are you still up?”

  “Stella’s sick. There’s no way I’ll get to sleep tonight.”

  “Oh.”

  Ruby looked awkward. She stood there for a moment.

  “Where have you been the last few days, Ruby?” Marty questioned.

  “Here and there.”

  “I need you here some of the time. I need your help.”

  “Yeah, I know.”

  “You’ve been off with the Jags?”

  Ruby looked up, eyebrows raised.

  “How’d you know?”

  “Because your face is bruised.”

  Ruby touched her cheek.

  “Bar-room brawl. We weren’t involved, I just got in the way.”

  “Doesn’t sound like a smart place to be.”

  “I guess not.”

  Ruby stood there watching Marty try to keep Stella quiet.

  “Aren’t you going to come to bed?” she questioned, cocking her head in invitation.

  “I told you I have to stay up with Stella. She’s sick.”

  Ruby shifted her feet.

  “Is your mom home?”

  “Yes, but she has to go to work in the morning. She’s in bed.”

  “Do you think she’d mind if I slept with her?”

  “You might keep her awake.”

  “I can’t sleep by myself,” Ruby protested, “and it’s too late to find somewhere else.”

  Marty shrugged impatiently.

  “You can see if she minds, Ruby, but if she does, you can sleep by yourself for one night. She has responsibilities tomorrow, you don’t. If you don’t sleep tonight, you won’t lose your job in the morning.”

  “I don’t have a job,” Ruby murmured, going to find Mrs. Rodger. Marty rolled her eyes, and listened for her mother’s voice. Everything was quiet, and Ruby didn’t come back out. Marty closed her eyes and rocked the baby.

 
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