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Ruby between the cracks, p.24
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       Ruby Between the Cracks, p.24

           P.D. Workman
 

  Chapter Eighteen

  BRIAN CAME TO VISIT with Ruby, arriving at the same time as Marty. He gave her a hug and sat down beside her on the bed.

  “Hi, Ruby. Long time no see.”

  “Y-yeah. How are y-you?”

  “Good. Finished with school, finally. Guess I’m going to have to find a job or something now.”

  “W-what?”

  He sighed.

  “That’s the question, huh? I don’t know. I’ll look around a bit, but I don’t know what I want to do.”

  Ruby nodded. She held her hands out for Stella, who Marty was holding, and Marty handed her over and went and picked up a few toys.

  “She’s got a cold today, so she’s pretty crabby,” she warned.

  Ruby put Stella down on the bed and took the toys from Marty. She was to the point now where she could at least match Stella in most of her motor skills. Brian watched them and raised an eyebrow at Marty. Marty shrugged.

  “When do you get out of here?” Brian asked.

  “W-when th-they d-dec-cide where t-to p-p-put me.”

  “You’re not going to go back to Marty’s?”

  “I d-dunn-no. Mayb-be a f-foss-t-ter home.”

  “Why would they put you in foster care again?” Marty challenged. “You can just come live with me. You’re old enough to make your own decision, aren’t you?”

  “T-twins g-going to f-fos-s-ter c-care.”

  “Twins?” Brian repeated.

  “Your brother and sister?” Marty questioned.

  Ruby nodded.

  “J-june and J-juss-tin.”

  “How old are they?”

  “Eight.”

  “And you want to live with them? I thought you didn’t like kids,” Brian said.

  Ruby shrugged, looking down at the toys.

  “Maybe. I d-dunn-no.”

  Brian shrugged.

  “Well, you’ve kind of missed your family, you may as well give it a try.”

  Ruby nodded in agreement.

  It was a long time since Ruby had gone willingly to a foster family. But she knew she would regret it if she didn’t at least try to live with her siblings again—in a different atmosphere. She hadn’t lived with June and Justin since they were infants. She had no idea what they were even like.

  Clive picked her up at the hospital and drove her to the house. Ruby tried to sit still without fidgeting. She stared out the window intently but didn’t see anything that they went by. She bit her lip and tried to breath normally. Eventually, they pulled up in front of a house. Ruby got out and let Clive go ahead of her to the door. Mrs. Brown opened the door and nodded to her.

  “You must be Ruby, then.”

  Ruby nodded.

  “Yes, m-ma’am.”

  “Come on in. I’ll show you your room.”

  She followed Mrs. Brown to the stairs leading to the second story bedrooms. She stopped at the bottom of the steps and looked up them. She wasn’t sure how well she would be able to navigate them—she was just barely off of crutches. Mrs. Brown waited for her at the top of the stairs and watched her slowly climb them.

  “I’m sorry—I didn’t think about you having problems with the stairs.”

  “It’s ok-kay. I’ll g-get it.”

  She got to the top of the stairs, breathing heavily. She paused for a moment and motioned for Mrs. Brown to go on. The bedroom was just a few steps down the hall. Mrs. Brown opened the door to it. There were two beds in the small room. Ruby put her knapsack down on one of them.

  “The twins are at school. You and June will share this room. Justin’s is across the hall.”

  “Ok-kay.”

  “I have to go talk to Mr. Clive. Go ahead and get settled. Feel free to wander around to see where everything is and make yourself at home.”

  Ruby nodded. Mrs. Brown left. Ruby sat down for a moment to rest her legs, Then she got up and looked through June’s things. The twins had already been there for a while, and June’s stuff was in the drawers and the closet. Ruby fingered through everything thoughtfully. She went to Justin’s room across the hall and looked through his things too. She took a glance around the master bedroom but didn’t go through the drawers or closet. She went back to her room and laid down, savoring the peace and quiet after the constant din of weeks in the hospital. She closed her eyes and rested in privacy.

  “Hey, wake up.”

  Ruby opened her eyes. It was June. She stood looking down at Ruby. Ruby sat up and rubbed her eyes. She hadn’t intended to fall asleep, just to relax for a few minutes.

  “Hi.”

  “Hi. So you thought you’d come live with your dear brother and sister, huh?” June said sarcastically.

  “Lay off,” Ruby snapped.

  June looked surprised. She opened her mouth to speak, but didn’t make a sound.

  “I d-don’t h-have any other f-family,” Ruby said. “Y-you’re it. S-so l-lay off.”

  June stared at her for a moment, then shrugged.

  “Fine. Now you want to be family. You didn’t care about it when Justin might go to prison, but you do now. Whatever.”

  She went to the other side of the room and looked for something in her drawers. She sat down on the bed with a nail file and ignored Ruby.

  Ruby didn’t see Justin until dinnertime. She studied him covertly as they ate, wondering what gang he belonged to. He and June ate silently, exchanging glances now and then.

  “Are you ready to get back to school?” Mrs. Brown questioned Ruby.

  Ruby shook her head.

  “I d-don’t d-do ss-school.”

  “You’re not old enough to be quitting school yet.”

  “J-just about.”

  “How old are you?”

  “Alm-most s-sixteen.”

  “You really should try to finish your education.”

  “I’m not going to school after I’m sixteen,” Justin pronounced.

  “Me neither,” June agreed.

  “You see what kind of an example you’re being to your siblings?”

  Ruby swore at her. Mrs. Brown raised her brows.

  “I don’t appreciate that kind of language here, Ruby.”

  She swore again. Mr. Brown shook his head.

  “Watch your mouth, young lady,” he warned.

  Ruby shoved herself back from the table and got up. She swore at him and turned to leave.

  “Sit down,” he told her, raising his voice.

  Ruby considered him for a moment, and then sat down. Mr. Brown nodded, satisfied.

  “Now I’d like to hear an apology for…”

  Ruby swept all of the dishes that were within her reach off the table and onto the floor. Several of them smashed. Everyone looked at Ruby in shock.

  “N-now can I g-go?” Ruby demanded.

  They didn’t say anything. Ruby got up and walked away. She went to the stairs and struggled up them to her bedroom. It was a while before June came up to the bedroom. She sat down on her bed.

  “The Browns are nice folks,” she said quietly. “You shouldn’t mouth off like that. Or break Mrs. Brown’s dishes.”

  “I d-don’t n-need p-parents.”

  “Then why are you here?”

  “T-to b-be with you.”

  June lay down on her stomach and played with the tufts on the quilt. She looked much younger, her real age for once. She looked, talked and acted like an eight year old.

  “I don’t even know who you are, Ruby. How can I like you?”

  “Y-you d-don’t have t-to.”

  June nodded, intently winding a long tuft around her finger.

  “Okay. Long as you don’t care.”

  Ruby shrugged.

  “I d-don’t know y-you eith-ther.”

  Ruby tossed and turned for the first half of the night, then gave up on trying to sleep. She was afraid of keeping June awake. Eventually she got up, dressed, and left the room. She went downstairs and outside and walked slowly down the street looking for a bus-stop in the dar
k. She found one a few blocks down and waited for the late bus.

  When it arrived, Ruby asked carefully about transfers, trying to school her tongue so that the bus driver could understand her, and got directions to get over to the area she was familiar with. She went up to Tim’s apartment, and tried the door. It was locked, and she didn’t have anything to pick the lock with. There was no answer when she knocked, but it was the middle of the night and they were all probably out at a bar or a rumble.

  Ruby went back downstairs and out onto the street.

  “Hey—Ruby!” It was Terry, one of the younger members of the gang. “Hey, I haven’t seen you forever!”

  “Hi.”

  “Where’ve you been?” he demanded.

  “R-re-h-hab.”

  He raised his brows.

  “What’s the matter, you drunk already?”

  Ruby shook her head.

  “S-stroke. Getting b-bett-ter.”

  “A stroke?” his eyebrows went up as he considered it. “Man, that’s weird. Are you going to talk normal again?”

  “Yeah. A f-few more w-weeks,” Ruby fibbed. She knew it was wishful thinking, but she couldn’t admit that it might be a long time before she could talk normally again, if ever.

  “Good,” Terry approved.

  “W-where’s everyb-body?”

  “Oh, drinking or whatever. Nothing special tonight. Some of them are over playing pool, if you want to go.”

  “Tim there?”

  “Who? Oh, Tim,” he looked down at the sidewalk, and his voice got lower. “You ain’t been around for a while. He... got hurt in a rumble.”

  “Hurt?” Ruby repeated, not really wanting to know.

  “He got gut-stabbed.”

  Ruby went cold. She got goose bumps on her arms.

  “Tim’s dead?”

  He nodded, still staring intently at the sidewalk, away from Ruby’s face.

  “Sorry.”

  Ruby swallowed and shrugged.

  “Y-yeah. G-guess I’ll g-go j-join the g-guys.”

  He nodded.

  “I’ll walk you over,” he suggested, putting an arm around her.

  Ruby moved up close to him and they walked over to the pool hall. Terry took her in.

  “Hey, guys, look who I found!”

  “Ruby! Where’d you come from?”

  “Rehab,” Terry supplied. “And she had a stroke, so she sounds weird.”

  Everybody wanted details. Ruby explained as much as she could, and eventually they went back to their games. Ruby tried to order a drink at the bar, but the bartender refused to serve her.

  “You’ve had too much already, honey, and you’re under age.”

  “I’m n-not d-dr-drunk.”

  “Uh-huh. Sorry.”

  Ruby went over to one of the boys and picked up his drink. He let her have it without protest. Ruby watched one of the pool games as she drank.

  “Where’s Ruby?” Mrs. Brown questioned at the breakfast table, frowning.

  June shrugged.

  “I dunno. She wasn’t there when I woke up.”

  “Wasn’t there? When did she leave?”

  “She was there when I fell asleep.”

  “I don’t think that girl’s going to be around here for long,” Mrs. Brown said, shaking her head dubiously.

  “Don’t call Social Services on her,” June begged.

  “I have to tell them what’s going on.”

  “Well, don’t tell them to take her away.”

  Mrs. Brown looked at June for a moment, then shrugged.

  “I’ll let her stay for a while, but I won’t put up with this kind of behavior for long.”

  “She’s just settling in,” June assured her.

  Mrs. Brown smiled.

  “You’re picking up the lingo pretty quick, aren’t you?”

  The screen door banged, and Mrs. Brown looked up.

  “I guess she’s back.”

  She left the kitchen and went to see. Ruby plopped down on the couch and stretched out.

  “Ruby, what are you doing?” Mrs. Brown demanded.

  “G-g-go-going s-s-s-sleep.”

  “Where have you been?”

  “Out.”

  “I can see that. Where?”

  Ruby didn’t answer. She closed her eyes and shut Mrs. Brown out.

  “You need to get up to your own bed. You can’t just sleep here.”

  “C-can’t,” Ruby said flatly.

  “Why can’t you?”

  Ruby opened one eye briefly.

  “T-t-too d-d-drunk.”

  She closed it again. Mrs. Brown took a minute to think about it.

  “Well, I think we should get you upstairs anyway.”

  Ruby didn’t move. Mrs. Brown stood there for a minute, and then walked away.

  Justin stood looking at Ruby. He wondered what she was all about. He knew she was his sister, but he had no idea what went on in her head. He hadn’t talked to her. June had a couple of times, but still didn’t know what to think about Ruby. She was alien to their family. She didn’t look like them or talk like them. He couldn’t even remember seeing her before the trial. She’d never lived with them before. She seemed so independent and grown-up.

  She opened her eyes and saw Justin watching her.

  “Hi.”

  Justin looked around, pretending he hadn’t been staring at her.

  “Hi.” He motioned to her jacket. “Are you in a gang or something?”

  Ruby looked at her jacket and realized that she must have borrowed one of the guys’ black jackets the night before and come home in it. She was sleeping on the emblazon, so Justin couldn’t see it.

  “Jags,” she said. “W-what about y-you?”

  He looked away, ducking his head and flushing.

  “I can’t get into one until I’m ten. They don’t take eight year olds.”

  “You l-look old-der.”

  Justin nodded.

  “But they know I’m not old enough yet.”

  “Oh.”

  Ruby sat up slowly, and got to her feet.

  “Y-you’ll g-get into one s-soon.”

  “Do you think so?”

  Ruby nodded. Justin grinned.

  “I hope so.”

  Ruby got the standard drinking-is-unacceptable lecture from Mrs. Brown and shrugged it off. She’d heard it all before. Hadn’t she just been in rehab? She knew more about alcohol and drugs than they would ever know. Ruby took supper with them, although she wasn’t very hungry. It always took some time to get adjusted to a new family’s cooking. She ate what she felt like, then pushed herself away from the table.

  “Stay a while,” Mr. Brown suggested. “We like to spend some time together over supper.”

  “W-what for?”

  “To get to know each other better, spend some quality time with each other.”

  Ruby rolled her eyes, but stayed where she was seated. She looked at the twins, and took a sip of water.

  “You haven’t had much to eat,” Mrs. Brown said.

  “I don’t feel good.”

  “Too much to drink,” Mr. Brown pointed out. “If you didn’t…”

  Ruby swore at him. He didn’t look as shocked as he had the day before.

  “I don’t think that’s necessary,” he said calmly.

  “Then leave her alone,” Justin said. “If she wants to get hung over, that’s her problem.”

  Ruby looked at Justin in surprise. She couldn’t remember the last time anyone had stood up for her like that. Justin had a strong loyalty to his sisters—and Ruby was now included in that category. June made a motion to Justin to keep quiet. He looked at her and shut his mouth. He turned his attention back to his dinner and ate in morose silence.

  Ruby turned her attention to Mr. Brown. She had tried not to pay much attention to him until now. She felt her stomach tighten every time she was in the same room as him, but she tried to ignore him and pretend that he didn’t bother her. She looked at him no
w, his face and hands. He had big hands, like Marty’s dad. He wasn’t in manual labor, so they weren’t calloused like Marty’s dad’s. But they were large and strong like his. Ruby hadn’t thought about Marty’s dad for a long time. It had been months since she’d been in the same house as him—not since Sheree was born.

  Ruby suddenly felt nauseated and hot. She closed her eyes, trying to get rid of the images that started to flash through her mind. She stood up from the table quickly and went to the bathroom. She hung over the toilet, gagging and retching. She was glad she hadn’t had more to eat for supper.

  Eventually she managed to settle her stomach and knelt back. There was a light tap on the door behind her, and the door opened. Ruby didn’t turn her head to see who it was. There was a hand on her shoulder, and Ruby jerked away at the heavy weight of it. It was Mr. Brown.

  “Don’t t-touch m-me!” she shouted.

  “Hey, relax, I just thought I’d check on how you were doing.”

  “S-stay away f-from me!”

  “Take it easy. I’m not going to hurt you.”

  He tried to put his hand on her arm again.

  “G-get away f-from me!” Ruby shouted, striking out. He took a blow in the gut, and backed off. He stood in the doorway for a moment, then left her alone in the bathroom. Ruby wiped her face with the back of her hand. She was sweating. She stared at the shimmering water of the toilet bowl as footsteps approached down the hall. Ruby looked up to see June standing in the doorway.

  “I know how you feel,” June offered.

  Ruby frowned and shook her head.

  “You think I don’t feel the same way when he touches me?” June questioned.

  Ruby swallowed and couldn’t answer. She got unsteadily to her feet and got a drink of water. Justin moved in from somewhere in the hallway.

  “I told him to stay away from you,” he said through clenched teeth. “You just tell me if he bothers you.”

  “I t-take c-care of m-myself.”

  He nodded. Ruby studied the twins, thoughtful. They seemed so old and mature all of the sudden. They were used to dealing with problems together. They were a team, and they took care of things together. It was strange to think of herself as part of their family.

  “I n-need a d-drink,” she said, breathing out.

  Justin glanced over his shoulder.

  “Not now. If you still want something tonight, come to my room. After they’re asleep. Late.”

  Ruby nodded.

  “Okay.”

  She fell asleep listening for Mr. and Mrs. Brown to go to bed. But she slept restlessly and woke up when the moon was high in the sky. It was a full moon, and was shining through the window directly onto her pillow. She got up quietly so as not to disturb June in the other bed. She tiptoed to Justin’s door, knocked lightly and opened it. The room was on the opposite side of the house, and there was no moonlight.

  Justin rolled over and saw her.

  “Oh, hi, Ruby,” he said lowly. He struggled for a minute to untangle himself, and Ruby did a double-take when she realized that June was in bed with him. Ruby hadn’t even looked at June’s bed when she got up. Justin reached over to the dresser and rummaged around in one of the drawers. He held a bottle out towards Ruby. She went the rest of the way into the room and shut the door behind her. She opened the bottle and tipped it up to her mouth. June stirred beside Justin, making a little moaning sound. Justin leaned over her.

  “June, wake up. It’s okay.”

  She moved around and woke up. She rubbed her eyes and looked at Ruby.

  “Oh, give me some too.”

  Ruby took another gulp, and handed it over. June took a swallow and handed it to Justin.

  “You’d think that after what He did, I wouldn’t touch this stuff, huh?” she said matter-of-factly. “You’d think after all that, I’d hate booze and boys. Chloe does. But us...” she included Ruby in her gesture, “we’re just so screwed up by him.” She shook her head.

  “Don’t talk about it,” Justin said.

  “Ruby says she doesn’t remember. But she’s screwed up as bad as me. Maybe she doesn’t remember, but he hurt her too.”

  “Ssh. Go to sleep,” Justin told June, pushing her back down to lie down. “I look after her,” he informed Ruby.

  “I kn-n-ow.”

  She took the bottle from him and sat on the floor to drink

  “Don’t finish it,” Justin warned. “It’s not easy for me to get.”

  “I’ll g-get you another b-bottle.”

  She leaned back and drank the bottle low.

  In the morning, Ruby was gone before breakfast. She couldn’t understand the unsettled feelings that June and Justin stirred up in her. It confused her, she couldn’t figure out what she was feeling. She caught the bus to Marty’s house.

  Marty opened the door and smiled.

  “Ruby! Welcome home.”

  Ruby noticed how much weight Marty had lost. Her eyes were dark, like she hadn’t slept well for a long time. It had been a while since she’d last visited Ruby at the hospital.

  “Are y-you okay?” she questioned in sudden concern. “Y-you l-look s-sick.”

  “I’m okay. Come on in.”

  Ruby kicked off her shoes and went in. She looked around. Stella was lying on the carpet on her side, watching Sesame Street on TV. She still looked so tiny. Ruby went over to play with her. Stella continued to stare at the screen paying no attention when Ruby tried to play with her.

  “Stella’s been sick,” Marty said tiredly. “She’s still got a fever. She’s not interested in much.”

  “Sick w-with w-what?”

  “Flu, pneumonia... a bit of everything.”

  “Oh.”

  Ruby withdrew from Stella and went over to Marty.

  “I m-miss you.”

  “It’s been so long since we were home together,” Marty agreed. She hugged Ruby and kissed her on the cheek. “I’ve missed you too.”

  Ruby sat down beside Marty, and they watched TV together.

  She didn’t know whether to call the Browns. She didn’t want them to report her Social Services as a runaway, but she didn’t want them to tell her she couldn’t stay. Eventually, she picked up the phone and dialed. Mr. Brown answered, and Ruby swallowed.

  “I’m s-sleeping over w-with a f-friend.”

  “Ruby?” he questioned.

  As if he didn’t recognize her mangled speech.

  “Y-yessir.”

  “I don’t think we’re to the point yet where you can be trusted to stay out by yourself overnight,” he said, voice even and reasonable.

  “I’m n-not b-by m-myself.”

  “Who are you with?”

  “A g-girlfriend.”

  “I really don’t think it’s a good idea. When you’ve demonstrated to us that you are responsible enough…”

  “I’m n-not coming b-back,” she cut him off.

  Ruby hung up the phone with a bang. Scowling, she went to find Marty.

  “Calm down,” Marty said when she looked up at Ruby and saw her expression. “What’s the matter?”

  “I h-hate him!” Ruby spat out.

  “Your foster dad?”

  “Uh-huh.”

  “It’s okay. Take it easy. He can’t hurt you.”

  Ruby nodded. She jumped at the sound of the front door opening.

  “It’s mom,” Marty soothed.

  Ruby swallowed and listened for her footsteps. She relaxed when she heard high heels. Marty’s mom came into the room.

  “Ruby, hi! Nice to see you.”

  Ruby accepted a warm hug.

  “Hi.”

  “How do you feel?” the woman said, studying her closely, meeting her eyes.

  “Ok-kay.”

  “Staying the night?”

  “Uh-huh.”

  “Good. We’ve missed having you around here. The house has seemed so empty lately.”

  Ruby nodded, embarrassed.

  “Well, why don’t you help me
make supper while Marty has a rest? How’s Stella been today, honey?”

  “No better.”

  “We’d better see the doctor again tomorrow. Lie down and rest for a few minutes while it’s quiet. Come on, Ruby.”

  Ruby followed her into the kitchen. Her movements felt too awkward yet to be of much help, but she tore up lettuce for a salad and put cutlery on the table. Then she sat down and watched Mrs. Rodger get the rest finished.

  After the Browns were asleep, Justin heard his door open. He rolled over and lifted the sheets for June to climb in beside him and cuddle up.

  “Did Ruby get back?” he said lowly.

  June shook her head.

  “I don’t think she’s coming back tonight.”

  “You don’t think she’ll tell anyone, do you?” he questioned.

  “About what?”

  “About you, coming in with me.”

  “Why would she? She’s been with Social Services forever. She knows how stupid they are about things like that.”

  Justin shook his head.

  “It’s so dumb,” he complained. “You’re my sister. What’s going to happen?”

  “Ruby doesn’t care, though. She breaks the rules too. She wouldn’t tattle. Where do you think she is tonight? At some shelter?”

  “With her boyfriend, I suppose,” he admitted.

  “And he’s cute, too,” June giggled.

  “How do you know that?”

  “I saw him when I went up to see her at the hospital, while you were in jail. He was there with their baby.”

  “So you don’t think she’ll say anything?”

  “If there’s one thing you can say for Ruby, she knows how to keep her mouth shut,” June said with a sigh.

  “I guess.”

  They were silent for a while, June holding Justin and trying to find sleep.

  “Do you think he hurt her too?” Justin questioned.

  June roused herself, snorting slightly.

  “What? Jamie?”

  “No. Dad.”

  “Yeah, he did. She won’t admit it, but I know he did. Why else would she have left?”

  “Then why did she lie about it?”

  “She’s scared. She didn’t have anyone looking out for her, like I did,” June said, holding him more tightly. “She doesn’t have anyone she can trust.”

  “Well, she knows she can trust me.”

  “Not yet. She knows... but she doesn’t trust us yet.”

  Marty was still asleep when Ruby woke up. Usually, Marty was always the first one up. Ruby caressed Marty’s arm. It had been so long since she and Marty had been together, since things had been normal. Even now, everything seemed sort of awkward and strained, not quite as comfortable as they had been before Sheree was born.

  After a while, Ruby got up, careful not to disturb Marty’s sleep. She stood for a minute looking into the crib at Stella. She touched Stella’s cheek and withdrew, her brows drawing down in a scowl. Ruby went out to the hallway, and looked around. The light in Mrs. Rodger’s room was on. Ruby went in to talk to her. Mrs. Rodger was putting on her makeup at her dressing table.

  “Morning, Ruby,” she greeted.

  “Hi.”

  “Marty still in bed?”

  “Uh-huh.”

  “And Stella?”

  Ruby didn’t answer right away. Mrs. Rodger turned around.

  “Is Stella still sleeping?”

  “Sh-she’s c-cold.”

  “What?”

  She got up quickly, and rushed by Ruby to the bedroom. She picked Stella up out of the crib.

  “She is cold—and barely breathing! Get an ambulance.”

  Ruby stood in the doorway for a moment before moving. She hit her wrist on the wall reaching for the wall phone, and tried to slow down and concentrate on her movements. She dialed the phone and tried to talk to the dispatcher. But her tongue was tied. She stammered and couldn’t get a coherent word out. Mrs. Rodger heard her and swore. She grabbed the phone from Ruby and talked with the dispatcher, giving her directions. She hung up the receiver with a crash.

  “Get Marty up,” she ordered.

  Ruby went back to the bedroom and shook Marty. Marty pushed her hands away.

  “I’m tired, Ruby. You take care of Stella a while,” she groaned.

  “Sh-she’s s-sick,” Ruby said.

  “Is mom up?”

  “G-get up!” Ruby insisted, shaking her hard.

  Marty rubbed her eyes and slid out of bed. She looked at the empty crib.

  “Where is she?”

  Ruby pointed to the door, and Marty went out to the living room, where her mom was leaning over the couch, where Stella was lying, motionless.

  “Mom?” Marty whispered.

  “I don’t know, Marty. She’s not good.”

  “Do you want me to call an ambulance?”

  “They’re on their way.”

  “What happened?”

  “Ruby found her like this. I guess we should have taken her in yesterday.”

  Marty hovered over her mother and Stella worriedly. Ruby kept back and opened the front door, watching for the ambulance. Her eyes burned and she tried to swallow the lump in her throat.

  They waited at the hospital for some word of how Stella was doing. Marty and her mom sat in the chairs waiting. Ruby was jumpy and couldn’t sit still. She walked up and down the room slowly, stretching her muscles and concentrating on her form instead of on Stella’s condition. Stella had been so cold.

  A young doctor walked into the room when she was close to the door. He nodded at her.

  “Are you the sister or...”

  “I’m h-her m-m-mom.”

  His expression changed.

  “Maybe if you weren’t out drinking, you would have noticed she was sick earlier,” he sneered.

  Ruby’s jaw dropped. She tried to respond, but couldn’t get anything coherent out.

  “Ruby is not drunk,” Mrs. Rodger snapped, coming up behind her and hearing the doctor’s comment. “Ruby had a stroke a few months ago. She hasn’t had anything to drink.”

  The doctor looked doubtful.

  “And who are you?” he questioned. “Grandma?”

  “No. But Ruby and I have joint custody. I’m one of Stella’s guardians.”

  “Well, you’ve got a very sick little girl. How long has she been under the weather?”

  “A couple of weeks.”

  “You should have brought her in sooner.”

  “She’s seen the doctor three times since she got sick.”

  “Uh-huh. Why don’t you come in and see her while we talk?”

  Mrs. Rodger nodded, and she and the doctor went in to see Stella. Marty looked at Ruby, and followed them down the hall. Ruby stayed in the waiting room. She didn’t want to see Stella sick and hooked up to all of those machines. She wasn’t going to watch the baby die. She had just started to get attached to Stella. She didn’t want it to be any more painful than it had to be.

  Marty held Stella’s hand, and looked up when her mom came in.

  “Where’s Ruby?” she questioned.

  Mrs. Rodger shook her head.

  “I don’t know. I told her we didn’t know how Stella was going to be, and she said she had to go.”

  “She left?” Marty demanded.

  “Yep. I wish I could see inside her mind sometimes,” Mrs. Rodger shook her head. “She just looked at me, and said she had to go. Like I had just told her supper would be at six o’clock.”

  “I just don’t get her.”

  “I know she must be struggling with this. I just wish she could show it.”

  “Stella will be okay,” Marty said, looking down at the tiny form, dwarfed by the big bed. “She’ll get better.”

  Mrs. Rodger swallowed and bit her lip.

  “She might not. You heard the doctor.”

  “She’ll make it.”

  “I hope so, honey.”

 
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