Ruby Between the Cracks, p.25P.D. Workman
RUBY DIDN’T WANT TO go to the gang. There wasn’t anyone there she could tell about what was happening in her life. Tim was gone, and half the gang that had been there when she started out were gone. To them she’d been Mike’s girl, someone to be looked after; but to the Jags now, she was just Ruby, a tough chick who hung around with them sometimes. It had been a long time since Mike died.
She could go to Jamie, but she’d not had much to do with him since Sheree was born. He knew she had tried to abort Sheree, and Ruby wasn’t comfortable around him anymore. And she didn’t want to be around Sheree. It would just make her think more about Stella. Marty would be devastated if something happened to Stella. Marty would never forgive Ruby.
So she went back to the foster family. Mr. Brown would be at work. Only Mrs. Brown would be home. She went back to the house and let herself in.
“Where’ve you been?” Mrs. Brown demanded.
“M-marty’s. T-told you y-yes-s-terd-day.”
“Doesn’t Marty go to school? Where’ve you been all day?”
“D-doesn’t g-go to s-school.”
“You’ve been at her house all day?”
Ruby shook her head.
“Hospital?” Mrs. Brown repeated with a frown. “What for?”
Ruby shook her head and refused to explain. She went down to the family room and turned on the TV. Mrs. Brown followed her.
“Have you eaten?” she asked.
“Don’t watch for too long. I could use some help with chores.”
Ruby shrugged and tried to tune her out.
June came and sat down with Ruby when she got home from school. Ruby was sitting on the floor in front of the couch and she patted the floor beside her. June moved over next to her and leaned on her shoulder. They sat together comfortably, like they’d grown up together, comfortable with each other. Ruby stroked June’s hair with two fingers.
“Y-you got hair l-like m-mine,” she observed.
It was straight and fine, though darker than Ruby’s. June ran a hand through her hair on the other side.
“I’m going to get it cut short,” she commented. “Really short. What do you think?”
“It’ll b-be cute.”
“The girls at school are all getting theirs cut. I don’t want to be the only one with long hair.”
Ruby rolled her eyes.
“I know. But I don’t want to be different. I’m already the new girl. I don’t want to be left out of everything. They’ve all known each other since kindergarten and everything.”
Ruby remembered what it was like to switch schools all the time because you were with a different foster family. Mid-year was the worst, and June had just left behind everyone she knew while she was living at home and moved to a new school in the middle of the year. She’d be introduced to the class and asked questions by the teacher in front of everyone. She’d have to make friends or be left out. Ruby had eventually insisted that she be kept at her old school no matter what foster family or situation she was in. She would bus to get there if she had to, but she wasn’t putting up with new schools. Ruby was glad to be past all that now.
Ruby touched June’s cheek with her thumb.
“M-makeup?” she questioned.
June rubbed her face with both hands.
“Shhh, Ruby! If they knew I wore makeup at school, they’d kill me!”
“Th-they c-can’t s-stop you.”
“Does it still show?”
Ruby scrutinized June’s face.
“R-red from you r-rubbing it.”
June jumped up and ran into the bathroom. Ruby looked back at the TV again. Justin came into the room and stood there staring at her. Ruby looked at him.
“You said you’d get a new bottle of booze for me,” he reminded her.
“I want it tonight.”
Ruby looked at the clock on the wall, and swore. He was unperturbed.
“Tonight,” he repeated, “or next time, you’re not having any. You’ll have to get your own, and you know they’ll search your room.”
He nodded and walked back out. Ruby got up, trying to figure out the quickest way to replace Justin’s stash. She could try a liquor store, and they might or might not serve her. If not, she’d have to go to one of the gang, or maybe Jamie. Whatever guy she went to would expect her to stick around and be good company. Whatever she did, it was going to be a while before she returned with the loot.
Mrs. Brown answered the phone, and it was Mr. Clive on the other end asking for Ruby.
“Umm, Ruby’s not home right now. She took off just before supper and said that she was going shopping or something.”
There was silence for a moment.
“I really need to get in touch with her as soon as I can,” Clive said. “You don’t know where she might be?”
“No. She’s only been here for a few days; I don’t know her habits yet. She spent last night at a girlfriend’s. That’s as much as I know about her private life.”
“Maybe one of the twins would know something?”
June just looked at Mrs. Brown blankly when asked if she knew anything. Justin raised his brows.
“How would I know where she went?” he queried.
“I just thought she might have said something to you.”
He shook his head. Mrs. Brown picked up the phone again.
“No, the kids don’t know anything. Hopefully she won’t be back too late, and she could give you a call?”
Mr. Clive hummed and hawed for a moment, then agreed. He gave her his home number.
“Even if she’s in late, I have to talk to her.”
“Okay. I’ll make sure she calls.”
Ruby tried to be extra quiet letting herself in. At least they didn’t lock her out because it was past dark. She slipped in and shut the door behind her. She headed for the stairs, but Mrs. Brown came out of the kitchen and Ruby froze.
“You’re supposed to call your social worker,” Mrs. Brown told her.
“Chuck?” Ruby said blankly.
“Oh—yeah. R-right. B-but it’s t-too l-late.”
“He left an after-hours number.”
Ruby’s chest tightened. It was serious when a social worker left his home number. She went into the kitchen and picked up the phone. Mrs. Brown had written the number on the message pad. Ruby dialed carefully. Mrs. Brown hovered nearby, listening in.
“It’s m-me,” Ruby said, when he answered. There was a pause while Clive composed his thoughts.
“Is Mrs. Brown there, Ruby?”
“I th-thought you w-wanted to t-talk to m-me.”
“I do. I just wanted to make sure you’re not alone.”
“Your friend Marty called me today,” he said.
“You didn’t give her a number to reach you at if she needed to get a hold of you.”
Ruby gripped the phone receiver more tightly.
“I think you can probably guess. You were with them at the hospital today.”
Ruby swore, and gulped, trying to keep herself calm.
“Sh-she’s w-worse?” she asked in a high, strained voice that didn’t sound at all like her.
“The doctors did everything they could, but she was too sick... I gather she was always sort of fragile...”
It hit Ruby, and she dropped the shopping bag she was holding. Glass shattered. Ruby leaned against the wall. She swore, and tried to catch her breath.
“Oh. Oh, no... oh, no.”
Mrs. Brown rushed in and picked up the fallen package. She saw the
“Are you okay? What is it, Ruby?”
Ruby shakily hung up the receiver. She stared at Mrs. Brown, unable to focus on what she wanted or what she was saying. Mrs. Brown took her by the arm, with the other hand around her back, and helped her up the stairs to her room. June sat up and turned on the lamp when they entered, and then she saw Ruby’s expression.
“What’s wrong? What happened?”
“I don’t know,” Mrs. Brown said, “she just talked to her social worker.”
Ruby looked at June’s wide eyes.
“M-my b-baby’s d-d-dead.”
“Your baby? Sheree? What happened?” June questioned.
“N-no. Stella. M-my f-first b-baby.”
Ruby let Mrs. Brown sit her down on the bed.
“Are you going to be okay, Ruby? What do you want me to do?”
She shook her head, not wanting Mrs. Brown in her way.
“L-leave me al-lone.”
Mrs. Brown didn’t want to, but headed towards the door obediently. June looked unsure whether she should follow.
June looked relieved. She turned held her arms out to her. Ruby hugged her close, wondering why she wasn’t crying. She just held onto June, thinking about Marty. It was Stella who was dead, and Ruby should have thought about Stella, but Ruby had just started to get to know Stella. It was Marty that she was really worried about. Marty would never forgive Ruby for Stella’s death. Marty loved Stella, and had said more than once that Stella’s medical problems were a direct result of all of the alcohol Ruby had consumed when pregnant. And now Ruby had killed her. Marty was going to be crushed. Marty would never talk to Ruby again. Marty would hate her.
All of the sudden, Ruby started to sob. They sat down, and Ruby wept into June’s shoulder. After a while, Ruby realized that June was crying too. She looked at June’s face.
“W-why are you c-crying?” she questioned, sniffling.
“Because I don’t like to see you hurting. It makes me cry.”
Ruby dabbed at her tears, trying to get her composure back for June’s sake. She succeeded in stopping for a moment, but it didn’t last.
When Ruby awoke, her eyes were scratchy and she was uncomfortable. She realized that she and June had both fallen asleep on Ruby’s bed while crying. Justin was standing in the doorway looking at them.
“What’s going on?” he demanded.
Ruby covered her face with both hands, trying to keep the fog of sleep from leaving her and making her remember. June sat up.
“Justin—oh—we fell asleep. Ruby was crying—her little girl just died.”
Ruby groaned, not wanting to hear it. Justin backed off a little, the belligerence leaving his expression.
“Are you coming in with me?” he said jealously.
“Yeah—as long as Ruby’s going to be okay. Are you all right, Ruby?”
She nodded. June hesitated, then left the room with Justin. Ruby pulled a blanket over her face and tried to block everything out.
In the two days before the funeral, Ruby hardly left her bedroom. She ate little if it was brought up to her, and left the room only to go down the hall to the bathroom. She refused to talk to Mr. or Mrs. Brown, or to anyone on the phone. She would talk a little to June, but mostly she just laid in bed trying to make the time pass without thinking. She wanted so much for everything to just be over.
When the day of the funeral arrived, she forced herself to get up and put on a clean t-shirt and pants. Mrs. Brown took her to the chapel, and Ruby asked her to leave. Ruby went in alone, and found Marty and her mom in a room with a tiny casket. Marty looked up with tear-filled eyes when she came in.
“Ruby—I was afraid you wouldn’t come.” She sniffled. “Are you okay?”
Ruby nodded and hugged Marty, overwhelmed by guilt and sadness over Marty’s grief. Marty’s mom was more composed, but the pain in her eyes was also clear. She hugged both girls.
“Stella’s gone to a better place,” she said.
Ruby swallowed around the lump in her throat, tears burning her eyes.
“I’m s-sorry,” she choked out.
“Me too—we all thought she would get better... but...”
Ruby shook her head, the tears pouring down her face. She should have stayed with Marty when the doctor said Stella might not make it. But Ruby couldn’t bear to be beside the tiny form hooked up to IV’s and machines.
“Do you want to look at her?” Mrs. Rodger suggested.
Ruby shook her head, but Mrs. Rodger ignored her response.
“It’ll help you with closure,” she said illogically, and took Ruby over to the casket and opened it. Ruby stared at the baby’s body without being able to make sense of it. She was like a doll, all wrapped up in lace and bows. Her face was unnatural and ugly. It even looked as if someone had put rouge on her still cheeks. Ruby looked away, feeling dangerously sick.
“I c-can’t,” she protested. She grabbed onto Marty and held her tightly, trying to convince herself that she wasn’t going to be sick here. She had seen dead bodies before. Bloody, smashed-up bodies. Of people that she had killed herself. And Mike’s body too, his face ripped off by a soft-nosed bullet, making him an unrecognizable bloody mess. And though it had made her nauseous, she had not thrown up. Ruby wasn’t going to let a clean, prettified little body make her sick now.
“F-fresh air,” she said, staggering for the door.
“Marty, you’d better take her outside until she feels better. It’s awfully close in here.”
Marty nodded and followed Ruby out, taking her by the arm.
“She might have been your baby,” Marty said lowly to Ruby as they stood on the sidewalk outside. “But she was my daughter. She was mine. Pull yourself together, all right?”
Ruby nodded. She swallowed. She breathed, standing there on the sidewalk outside the chapel until she stopped feeling so queasy.
“S-sorry,” she apologized.
“It’s okay. You just have to get through the service and the graveside, and then we’ll go home.”
Ruby nodded. They joined Mrs. Rodger again, and then went together into the small room where the service was to be held. Ruby looked around, and saw a couple of people she recognized. Friends and neighbors of Marty’s family. She sat down, and half-listened to the somber hymns and to the preacher’s blather about eternal life. None of it meant anything to her. Marty and her mom managed to stay dry-eyed and composed throughout most of the service, and Ruby stared at the rug in front of her and took strength from their silence. When Marty started to weep again near the end of the sermon, the tears welled up in Ruby’s eyes again. She put her arm around Marty and waited for the preacher to finish.
They were the only ones at the graveside. It was very somber and Marty wept as though her heart would break when the casket was lowed into the cold grave. The preacher was there to offer a few words of comfort, but Ruby looked daggers at him and wished he would just leave them alone. Eventually it was over, and they all got into Mrs. Rodger’s car. They were silent on the drive back to the house. It was quiet and empty. Ruby stood in the doorway hesitantly.
“I c-can’t s-stay.”
“We need you here, Ruby,” Mrs. Rodger said. “We can call your foster family, and they’ll understand.”
Ruby didn’t want to stay. The whole house felt like death. They were steeped in it.
“I can’t sleep alone,” Marty said to Ruby. “You can’t go off to the gang or your foster family. I was always here for you when you couldn’t sleep alone. Don’t desert me now.”
Ruby took off her shoes, nodding. They all looked at each other like they didn’t know what to do next.
“We’ll just watch TV for a while,” Mrs. Rodger said finally. “There will be a good movie on tonight.”
They all sat down in the front room and tried to anesthetize their pain with the TV.
They slept late into the morning. Marty had never been a late sleeper, but she didn’t stir until long after it got light out. She turned over finally and squinted at the window.
“Oh, man... it must be noon. I haven’t slept this late since before... before Stella was born.”
Ruby hugged her sleepily.
“Go b-back t-to sleep.”
“No, I’ve slept enough. I gotta get up.”
Marty touched Ruby’s cheek.
“You still look beat, though. Didn’t you sleep well?”
“Why don’t you try going back to sleep for a while.”
Ruby nodded and snuggled down in the bed. She could hear Marty go out to the kitchen and could hear the rattle of cutlery and dishes. She heard Mrs. Rodger’s voice.
“I don’t know what to do. I always get Stella’s breakfast ready right now.”
“I know. Just make something for yourself.”
Ruby climbed out of bed, too anxious to sleep any longer. She found herself checking down the hall to make sure that Marty’s dad wasn’t around. Ruby knew he wasn’t there anymore, but it was habit. She joined Marty and her mom in the living room.
“You look horrible, Ruby. Are you okay?”
“Have some coffee. How would you guys like a big pancake breakfast today?”
Ruby put her head down in her arms on the table. They were acting so normal, but Ruby knew how much they were hurting. All because of her.
Marty needed her there. Ruby stayed with her. The Browns knew where she was and it was okay with them. Mr. Clive said that she was old enough to decide where she wanted to stay on her own. Social Services was going to start tapering off their involvement from now on in. The only times that Ruby left Marty home alone was when she went to the graveyard to sit by Stella’s tombstone and think. Ruby would go there for hours to apologize to Stella for hurting her by drinking and not being a mommy to her. She didn’t tell Marty where she went during the day. Marty thought she was off with the gang or something.
Marty decided to go back to school. She’d been keeping up by correspondence and didn’t think she would have a problem getting back into it. Otherwise she would be alone in an empty house every day. The first day she went back to school was the day that Ruby decided to leave. Marty would be okay if she wasn’t home alone all the time. And if she couldn’t sleep alone at night, her mom had a double bed that she was no longer sharing with anyone. Ruby had carefully thought through her plans, trying to figure out what it was that she wanted.
Charlie was in the locker room changing out of his uniform when one of the others told him someone was waiting for him outside.
“A young lady with a speech impediment.”
Charlie frowned, buttoning up his shirt.
“Uh... okay. I’ll go see who it is. Thanks.”
He tied his shoes and left the locker room. Ruby was pacing across the lobby with her knapsack over her shoulder. Charlie watched her for a minute before she turned and saw him. He had to admire her form, knowing what she’d been through. She walked with such poise and grace. It testified of her perseverance, and of her physiotherapist’s. Ruby saw Charlie, and smiled.
“W-want s-some comp-pany?” she questioned.
He put his arm over her shoulders.
“Sure, sweetie. What are we doing?”
“How ab-bout g-going to your p-place?”
Charlie studied Ruby.
“How old are you now, Ruby?”
She didn’t answer.
“I don’t remember from your file,” Charlie said slowly, “but if you tell me you’re under eighteen, I really can’t do much more than buy you popcorn at the movies.”
“Good. My place is a mess—do you mind?”
“Okay. We’ll go home, then.”
He put his arm around her and walked her out to his car.
“How are you doing now, gorgeous?”
“I haven’t seen you since the hospital. You look a lot better than you did then.”
“Uh-huh. J-just my s-speech n-now.”
“Yeah. But I can understand you. You just sound a little drunk.”
“B-but I’m n-not,” she promised.
“I know. You staying off the drugs too?”
“Good for you.”
He opened the car door for her and she climbed in. Once back at his apartment, Charlie spent a couple of minutes picking things up.
“I told you it was a mess.”
Ruby walked around his apartment looking around. It looked very much like a bachelor’s apartment. Not like Chuck’s obsessively tidy place or even Wilhelm’s. More like Jamie’s before the maid got there. She was standing in the doorway of the bedroom when Charlie came up behind her and put his arms around her.
“Tell me again that you’re eighteen.”
When he turned over to rifle through the drawer of his bedside table, Ruby shook her head.
“You d-don’t have t-to. I g-got my t-tubes t-tied.”
He looked at her, frowning.
“Did you? I remember you talking about it.”
Charlie hesitated, wondering what doctor would perform that procedure on such a young girl. But Ruby had spoken out vehemently about not wanting to get pregnant again, so he nodded and turned back to Ruby.
“Okay. If you say so.”
He put her arms around her and pulled her close.
“Come here, you.”
Ruby was happy to comply.
Cairns nodded his greeting to Charlie.
Cairns stood there and looked at Charlie. Charlie looked up at him after a moment.
“I hear you have a new girlfriend.”
“News spreads fast around her. Just what exactly did you hear?”
“That she’s cute and very young. Met you here after work yesterday. You took her home with you.”
“She’s eighteen. And who said I took her home?”
Charlie shrugged, and Cairns laughed.
“You did, didn’t you? Where did you meet this girl? Pick her up in vice?”
Charlie felt his face get hot, and kept his head down, tying his shoes.
“Drug rap. I’ve been keeping track of her for a while.”
“Well, well. You’d better be careful.”
“Ruby’s fine. She’s just looking for some company.”
Ruby rubbed her belly, lost in thought. She’d always gotten pregnant too easily before. She would be surprised if it took more than a few weeks to get pregnant again. And this time she wouldn’t drink too much, and she would be a good mommy, too. Her baby wouldn’t die this time. Marty could come see her whenever she wanted to—or maybe Ruby would leave Charlie and go back to live with Marty and her mom again.
“Are you going to get ready to go, precious?” Charlie questioned.
Ruby startled and looked up. Charlie was standing in the doorway watching her sitting on the edge of the bed.
“Oh, yeah. W-what should
“I picked up a dress for you. It’s in the closet.”
Ruby got up and opened the closet door. It was a slim black dress, short enough to show off a good bit of thigh. It was a simple cut, with no adornment. Charlie had recently bought her a pair of black heels that Ruby didn’t have anything to wear with. She took the dress off the hanger and held it up to herself.
“Will it do, darling?” Charlie questioned with a grin.
“Yeah, I l-like it.”
He looked at his watch, and Ruby got the hint.
“Good. Don’t want to be late for the ball.”
Ruby stripped down.
“D-do I have t-to w-wear n-nylons?” she showed off her long, slim legs.
“I think they look just fine without. Now get dressed.”
Ruby pulled the dress on and straightened it. She studied herself in the mirror, turning a bit to look from either side. She slipped on the shoes.
“W-what d-do you th-think?”
“You look good. I don’t know if I trust my fellow officers around you.”
Ruby smiled. She went into the bathroom to put on a bit of makeup and put her hair up. She looked at herself in the mirror for a minute and joined Charlie. He took her by the arm and escorted her down to the car.
“You’re looking mighty fine tonight, sweetheart.”
Ruby turned her attention to Charlie’s appearance. He was dressed to the nines in a black tuxedo and bow tie.
“You l-look g-good t-too.”
“You’ll be the belle of the ball. Mind you don’t let those other cops dance too close.”
Ruby smiled, enjoying the excitement. She’d never gone to a fancy party before—a party with all of those pretty dresses and ballroom music and everything. It was so different being with Charlie. So different from being with Jamie or the gang. Jamie’s parties were loud music and drinking, and the gang’s parties were just revelry, drugs and booze. She’d only seen fancy parties on TV.
The room was full of gorgeous elaborate dresses and beautiful women. Ruby stuck close to Charlie, feeling out of place. He had bragged up her looks and she hadn’t expected all of the extravagance. She felt more like an ugly duckling than the belle of the ball. But the other cops still flirted with her and watched her movements.
“Have we met before?” one of them questioned, studying Ruby with a puzzled look.
Charlie shook his head, then stopped.
“Oh... I guess you probably have. A drug bust months ago. We picked her up.”
“Oh.” He looked like he would say something further, but he just patted her on the arm and walked away. She looked up at Charlie. He shrugged, and took her over to introduce to a couple of other cops.
Once they’d mixed for a while, Charlie took her out on the dance floor. They hardly even got started when another policeman cut in. Ruby hardly saw Charlie for two minutes at a time after that. She was sure, at the end of the night with throbbing feet that she had danced with every officer in the place—some of them twice. She limped back to the car with Charlie.
“I told you you’d be the belle of the ball. Beauty like yours doesn’t need to be overdressed. Simplicity is the way to go.”
“I had fun.”
“Good. I hoped you would. You certainly got a lot of attention.”
“M-my feet hurt.”
“You’ve been dancing for hours. I’m not surprised.”
Ruby rubbed her calves and knees and took her shoes off.
“We’ll get you home and to bed.”
Ruby sat back and watched out the window. They got to the apartment and Ruby opened her door. She swung her legs out the door and tried to stand up. Her knees shook and she couldn’t get out of the car.
He came around the car and held his hand out for her.
“Uh-huh. Can’t g-get up.”
He pulled her to her feet. Ruby leaned on him, unsteady.
“I think you overdid it a bit, honey.”
He hung onto her.
“Everybody’s going to think I’m bringing you home smashed.”
Ruby giggled. It had been quite a night. He helped her into the building and a couple minutes later they were in his apartment. Charlie dropped Ruby on the bed.
“There you go, hon’. I’m going to get a drink, then I’ll be right in.”
Ruby laid motionless for a minute, and then sat up to get her dress off. She peeled it off and stretched out on the bed and closed her eyes.
Charlie stepped into the room with a can of beer to talk to Ruby while she got ready for bed. She was still on the bed, already asleep. Her dress and her shoes were in a pile on the floor beside the bed. Charlie put down the can and got undressed.
“So,” Davidson said casually, “are you and that girl living together?”
“Ruby? Yeah, for a while. Why?” Charlie questioned.
“How old is she?”
“Seems like when we arrested her she was only fifteen.”
“No, she’s eighteen.”
“How long ago was that bust? A few months? I’m sure she wasn’t even sixteen.”
Charlie looked at Davidson.
“Hey. I said she’s eighteen, okay?”
“Okay. So what are your plans?”
“I don’t know. Ruby’s not the kind that stays in one place for long. I really don’t expect her to stay forever.”
“Have you guys talked about it?”
“No. We are just taking it one day at a time. You think I want to scare her off?”
“Are you serious? You two looked pretty serious at the ball.”
Charlie sighed, shaking his head.
“I like Ruby. But I don’t have any expectations. I’ll take whatever I can get. One day she’s just not going to be there anymore. She’s a great kid, but I’m not going to push her, she’ll just take off.”
“Well... I hope it works out for you. But—be careful, all right? She’s so young.”
“Ruby and I will be fine.”
Ruby Between the Cracks by P.D. Workman / History & Fiction have rating 2.3 out of 5 / Based on30 votes