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Ruby between the cracks, p.28
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       Ruby Between the Cracks, p.28

           P.D. Workman
 

  * * *

  Ruby took one of the pills that Charlie’s doctor had given her with a glass of water. She looked at herself in the mirror, touching her short hair where she’d gotten the stitches. A couple more weeks and she’d be able to wear her hair normally without the shaved spot showing. She put a ball cap on to cover it up for now. She took a couple of aspirins for her headache and shrugged on her Jag jacket. She stood looking at herself for a minute, put her hands over her stomach briefly, and left the apartment.

  Ruby was lonely. Charlie was working long shifts lately, and she missed him. She caught a bus over to find the Jags. The boys were mostly at the cafe making plans for the night. Ruby slid into one of the booths.

  “Hi.”

  “Hey, Ruby.”

  “Wh-what’re we g-gonna d-do?”

  “You want to help us get some money?”

  Ruby hesitated for just an instant.

  “Sure.”

  “Good. You and Terry, you’re gonna have a talk with the old man who runs the little bar on the avenue. He closes early. You up to it?”

  “Uh-huh. T-terry g-got’is p-piece?”

  Terry nodded, patting his pocket.

  “Always do.”

  “Wh-when’s he c-close?”

  “Terry’ll fill you in.”

  Ruby nodded and listened to them discussing their other plans. She got up and motioned to Terry. He slid past the other boys and joined her at an empty table a few booths down. Terry sat down and put his arm around her.

  “So, baby?”

  “Tell m-me about th-the b-bar.”

  He filled her in on the details, and Ruby listened carefully.

  Ruby stood by the door, keeping a lookout. Her hat was pulled down low over her eyes so she wouldn’t be easily recognized. She kept one eye on the door and one eye on Terry and the old man.

  “You’re t-takin’ t-too long,” she told Terry uneasily. He glanced at her.

  “Shut-up,” he said tightly.

  Ruby shifted her feet nervously, looking out into the darkness for any sign of trouble. Terry was stuffing money into his bag, but Ruby didn’t like the look of the old man. He looked up at the door too often. His eyes should have been glued on Terry. His hands should have been shaking. Ruby’s heart thumped harder and her chest tightened. She swallowed.

  “C-come on.”

  “Hold your horses.”

  “Now.”

  Terry turned and looked at her angrily.

  “We’ll leave when I’m ready!” he snapped.

  Ruby scowled and stared out the window. She spotted reflected blue lights.

  “Cops!”

  She burst through the doors and sprinted down the street. She had worked on walking a lot with her physiotherapist, but not on running. Her pace felt awkward and unnatural. She glanced quickly over her shoulder for Terry or the cops. No-one had followed her. She hoped that Terry had gotten away unseen. She turned into a side street and saw a police car ahead. She slowed to a walk and stuck close to the shadows in the wall. The last thing to do was look suspicious. They shone their spotlight on her. Ruby stopped walking and didn’t move.

  “Stay where you are.”

  Ruby stayed.

  “Raise your hands above your head.”

  Ruby obeyed. One of them got out and cuffed her. The spot moved out of her eyes. The cop looked at her for a minute, frowning.

  “Aren’t you Charlie’s... ?”

  Ruby nodded.

  “You’re going to have to come in with us.”

  “Okay.”

  “Were you at the bar?”

  Ruby looked at him and didn’t answer. He shrugged and guided her to the squad car.

  They sat her down in one of their offices rather than an interrogation room.

  “So where were you tonight?” one of the officers questioned.

  “C-can I c-call Ch-charlie?”

  “I’ll call him for you, if you like.”

  Ruby nodded in relief. The cop shrugged.

  “Is he on shift?”

  “Y-yessir.”

  “I’ll track him down. What do you want me to tell him?”

  “Th-that I’m here. I asked f-for him.”

  “All right.”

  The officer nodded and left her there. Ruby sat back and looked around while she waited.

  “What’s up? Where’s Ruby?” Charlie questioned worriedly.

  “I’ll take you in to see her in a minute,” Devon advised. “Can’t you keep her out of trouble?”

  “I’m not her parent, keeping her out of trouble isn’t my job. What she decides to do in her spare time is none of my business.”

  “Even if she kills someone, hey?”

  Charlie looked at Devon sharply.

  “She didn’t kill anyone.”

  “She was involved in heisting a bar. If it went bad, she could just have easily been guilty of murder.”

  “Was she armed?”

  “She was lookout. The bar owner gave a pretty accurate description and we picked her up about two minutes after she fled the scene.”

  Charlie shook his head.

  “Well, let’s go have a talk with her.”

  Devon nodded.

  “This way.”

  Charlie followed him to the office where Ruby was waiting. She looked up, and looked relieved to see him.

  “Hi, Ch-charlie.”

  “Hi, sweetie. How’re you doing?”

  “Okay.”

  “What happened?”

  Ruby shrugged, and looked at Devon. She wanted him to just spill it all so that she could go home. But Charlie had said before that he wanted her to be honest with him before he heard something from the other officer.

  “I w-was at a b-bar,” she started out.

  “A bar that was being robbed?” Charlie questioned, shaking his head a little, eyebrows up.

  Ruby nodded, looking down at the desk.

  “Yeah,” she admitted.

  “Who was with you, baby?”

  She shook her head.

  “I c-can’t s-say.”

  Charlie looked at Devon.

  “Did you get him?”

  “Oh, yeah. He didn’t even get out the door.”

  Charlie looked at Ruby.

  “So who was it?”

  “He c-could be l-lying,” Ruby pointed out, eying the unfamiliar officer.

  “He’s not lying.”

  “It was Terry Wilkes,” Devon offered. “We’ve got him in the next room.”

  Ruby nodded.

  “Y-yeah.”

  Charlie shook his head.

  “Not very smart, sweetheart,” he said.

  “I kn-now.”

  “You want to tell me about it?”

  “Wh-what’s to t-tell?”

  He looked at her for a minute, thinking about it.

  “You were standing lookout?”

  “Uh-huh.”

  “How about we write up a statement?”

  “Okay.”

  Charlie nodded.

  “Devon will get you a pen and paper.”

  Ruby shook her head.

  “I c-can’t write.”

  “Sure you can, baby.”

  “N-not since the s-stroke,” she explained.

  Charlie hesitated.

  “We’ll have to take it down for you, then.”

  It was slow work. Prompting Ruby what to say, Ruby’s hesitant words, writing down what she said. Ruby tried to talk normally and clearly, but her tongue just couldn’t keep up. She kept getting tangled up. It was difficult work. They finally got the statement written up and Ruby signed it.

  “C-can we g-go home?” she asked.

  Charlie looked at Devon.

  “Will you release her to me?”

  “Sure, Charlie.”

  “Okay. Let’s go home, darling.”

  Ruby got up. Charlie took her out to his car. Ruby sat down. She was silent for a while as they drove home.

  “Am I
g-going t-to jail?” she questioned finally.

  Charlie glanced at her and licked his lips while he thought about how to answer her.

  “Hopefully we can get you probation. But when they look at your arrest record, they might want to give you juvie for a few months.”

  Ruby didn’t say anything.

  “You can handle it, honey. It’s no worse than your time in rehab.”

  She nodded and stared out the window. Charlie wasn’t comfortable with the silence.

  “It’ll go fast, baby. I’ll come see you.”

  “Okay.”

  He put his arm around her and pulled her close.

  Clive sat down with Ruby after the trial.

  “You’re in a lot of trouble, Ruby,” he said, his voice serious, his eyes stern and steady.

  Ruby shook her head.

  “I pleaded g-guilty,” she pointed out.

  “And now you’re going to juvenile detention.”

  Ruby shrugged.

  “So?”

  “I suppose you don’t care.”

  Ruby shook her head.

  “If you want to stay out of trouble, stay away from the gang,” Clive said. “It’s not rocket science, Ruby. All of your criminal charges have been related to your involvement with the gang.”

  Ruby rolled her eyes. She carefully readjusted her ponytail to make sure it covered the short hair over her scar. Clive watched her impatiently.

  “You’re just a kid who won’t be helped, aren’t you?”

  Ruby shrugged.

  “Well, then... I’ll let you get on your way to detention.”

  “How’re J-june and J-justin?” Ruby questioned.

  “They’re doing pretty well. They’re still in foster care.”

  Ruby nodded.

  “G-good.”

  “It’s too bad you couldn’t have stayed with them for longer, really gotten to know them.”

  “Yeah.”

  They let Charlie be the one to drive Ruby to juvie. He unlocked her cuffs once they got to the car.

  “You going to be okay?”

  “Uh-huh.”

  “It’s only for a few weeks. Just a couple months.”

  “I kn-now.”

  “Then you can come back.”

  Ruby nodded in agreement. They drove out to the youth detention center.

  “Okay, sweetie. This is it. Come on.”

  He walked her into the reception area and gave the guard her papers. Ruby fidgeted as he read them over and tapped her vital statistics into the computer. He finally looked up, nodding.

  “All right. Isn’t she restrained?”

  “No. She’s fine.”

  “She has to be restrained.”

  Charlie reached for his cuffs.

  “Sorry, darling.”

  She handed him her pocketknife, and hugged him. Charlie squeezed her gently and kissed her on the forehead.

  “Okay, babe.”

  He slipped the cuffs and put his hand on her back to lead her over to the big door. The admitting guard buzzed them in and took Ruby by the shoulder.

  “Thanks. I’ll get her processed and be right back.”

  Charlie nodded.

  “See you tomorrow, honey.”

  The guard took her through another door and down the hall. He took her into a corridor lined with cells where there was another guard on duty, sitting halfway down the hall reading a paper.

  “New kid. Take care of her.”

  The other guard put his paper away noisily and came down and took Ruby by the arm. The other guard left. The new one hustled Ruby down the hall to the shower room.

  “Strip down and shower.”

  Ruby hesitated, looking at him. He unlocked the cuffs over her wrists and checked her pockets. The he stood back, leaned against the wall and motioned to the shower.

  “Go on.”

  Ruby slowly took off her shirt and turned her back to him.

  She felt small and insecure when the guard took her to a cell. She was damp and chilled from the shower, and hated wearing a uniform. The guard opened the door and pushed her forward. Ruby stepped in and he shut the door behind her. Ruby sat down on the bunk, looking around. She already missed Charlie. She was used to seeing him every day, sleeping with him at her side. And now she was going to be alone every night. Her stomach felt tight and empty. She just wanted to put her arms around Charlie.

  They hadn’t given her any sort of orientation. The guard had not said one more word than was absolutely necessary. She didn’t know if she was going to be alone all the time, if they were going to let her be around other kids, or whether she would have a cellmate. She lay down and stared up at the ceiling, her heart pounding and stomach twisting.

  They brought her a tray for supper. The guard opened the door and put the tray down on one of the bunks and the door shut again. Ruby nibbled at the food half-heartedly, but it was tasteless and sloppy. It made her gag. She left it and laid down again. The guard didn’t say anything to her when he collected her tray. Ruby lay there alone until the lights went on and then into the night. She laid there staring at the dim window, tired but too anxious to sleep.

  In the morning a guard brought her a breakfast tray and left it without a word. After he was gone, Ruby stood at the door trying to see out the narrow window. All she could see was the other side of the hallway. She sat down and ate the toast and juice that came with her breakfast.

  It was mind numbing, being in that little room all by herself, without anywhere to go or anyone to talk to. She tried to talk to the guard when he came to pick up her tray, but he just looked at her without a word.

  It didn’t matter who Charlie talked to, he couldn’t get in to see Ruby. He went every day, but they told him that she was in solitary and couldn’t have visitors.

  It had been a week when he noticed her pills in the medicine cabinet. He put them in his pocket for when he went to the detention center again. When he got there, he handed them to the guard, explaining that Ruby had accidentally left them at home. The guard shrugged, looking at the bottle.

  “We don’t allow any pills in the Center.”

  “They’re prescription.”

  “They’re still pills. I’ll have our doctor examine her, but if he doesn’t concur that she absolutely needs them, she doesn’t get them.”

  “Ruby gets severely depressed. She can’t get on without these for long.”

  “She’s made it a full week. Doesn’t sound to me like she needs them.”

  “You can’t withhold medication from her,” Charlie warned.

  “You’d be surprised what we can do. I’ll pass these on to the doctor.”

  “Can I see Ruby today?”

  The guard tapped her name into the computer, and shook his head.

  “No. But she’ll be coming out of solitary tomorrow. You can’t see her in the morning, but you could come by towards the end of the day.”

  “I’ll be on shift by then.”

  “Then come by the day after that.” The guard shrugged.

  “I hope you realize I will be making a formal complaint about the way Ruby has been treated. You can’t tell me why she was put in solitary, and you won’t let anyone see her.”

  “Go ahead. It’s Center policy. You’re not going to change it.”

  The door opened and the guard stood there. Ruby waited for him to leave a tray and disappear.

  “Come with me,” he ordered.

  Ruby stood up and followed him out of the cell. He handcuffed her and took her down the hall. They walked by a common room, and Ruby caught a glimpse of other inmates. But they went quickly by. Down to the showers again, to strip and shower quickly in the cold water. Then dry off with a rough, dingy towel and pull on a new prison uniform. When she finished, the guard cuffed her again, and they started back towards Ruby’s cell. But they stopped partway down the corridor and he nudged her towards the common room. He stopped her in the doorway and took off the cuffs. Ruby walked into the room, dazed. He
r hair was still dripping down her neck and back and she had not expected to be allowed to be around other people. She stood there like an idiot, looking around the room and unable to take anything in.

  “Kinda overwhelming, huh?” a heavy girl sitting nearby commented, watching Ruby.

  Ruby nodded.

  “Uh-huh.”

  Her voice was hoarse, and she cleared her throat and swallowed, trying to think of something to say.

  “That’s why they do it. Helps keep newbies from stirring things up.”

  Ruby nodded again.

  “Just sit down and watch TV. That’s what you’re supposed to do.”

  Ruby saw the screen anchored to the ceiling over by the wall. She found an empty chair and sat down, staring at the flickering screen. That way she didn’t have to talk, didn’t have to introduce herself, didn’t have to do anything but try to soak up her new surroundings.

  “Hey, you. Simpson. Wake up.”

  Ruby started and raised her head. She had nodded off without even realizing it. She felt like she was shut off inside, like she was a robot just trying to move around like a real person. She straightened up and looked around. The girl who had wakened her, slim and boyish, grinned.

  “Hey, don’t let them get inside you,” she advised. “They can’t stop you from being you.”

  “What?”

  “Don’t let them get to you. They just want you to be compliant and quiet. But you don’t have to be. There’s no rule that says you can’t talk and mix.”

  Ruby looked around, wakening a little more.

  “I f-feel s-so d-dopey,” she said, rubbing her eyes. The other girl’s eyes narrowed.

  “You didn’t take anything, did you? Because they can’t make you take pills. They can’t force you.”

  Ruby shook her head.

  “N-no. I d-didn’t t-take anyth-thing.”

  “You always talk like that?”

  Ruby concentrated on making her words clear.

  “Yeah. I had a s-stroke.”

  “Oh. What was that like?”

  “S-scary.”

  “Huh. But you still look normal. It’s just that lisp, or stammer or whatever.”

  Ruby nodded.

  “I’m s-sorta c-clumsy t-too.”

  The girl’s eyes flicked over her.

  “You don’t look clumsy.”

  Ruby looked around the room.

  “Is th-this everyb-body?” she questioned.

  “The whole place is broken into small units like this. Each block has its own schedule. Right now, it’s free time. You can be in your cell or in the commons. Sometimes we get to go other places.”

  “Where else?”

  “Outside in the yard, if the weather is nice. Library, weight room, laundry, stuff like that. Kitchen or shop if you have ‘privileges’.”

  Ruby nodded. Some of that was familiar from talking with Jags who had been in juvie before. She tried not to look at the TV, because it seemed to hypnotize her. Whenever she watched it her eyelids started to droop. Ruby rubbed her eyes again and looked at the girl.

  “Wh-what’s your n-name?”

  “Carlton. J.C.”

  “I’m Ruby.”

  “Simpson, yeah. It’s on the door of your cell.”

  “Oh.”

  “Don’t worry. You’ll get used to this before long. They only keep you isolated in the beginning, or else if you break rules. Otherwise you can go where you want, on the schedule.”

  “Uh-huh.”

  “And you’ll get to know everyone pretty quick. And some of the time we’re scheduled for something at the same time as the guys in block C,” she raised her eyebrows, looking sly. Ruby smiled.

  “G-great!”

  “Yeah.”

  A guard motioned to Ruby from the doorway.

  “Simpson.”

  Ruby looked around at the other girls to see what to expect. None of them seemed interested. J.C. shrugged at her. Ruby followed the guard out. He handcuffed her and hurried her down the hall. She was shown to a room with a table and two chairs and nothing else. Ruby went in and he shut the door. Ruby sat down on one of the chairs, feeling queasy and uncertain. She waited for the door to open.

  When it did, it was Charlie. Ruby jumped up. He stepped in and hugged her, squeezing her tightly.

  “Hi, gorgeous. How are you?”

  “Charlie.”

  He kissed the top of her head and held her close, rubbing her back and stroking her still-damp hair.

  “There, honey. It’s okay. They wouldn’t let me see you. I have to go to work. But they wouldn’t let me see you until now. I’ve been trying to get in to see you.”

  “Th-they had m-me in iso.”

  “That’s what they told me. Are you okay now?”

  Ruby nodded.

  “Are they giving you your pills?”

  Ruby shook her head.

  “No. Th-they d-didn’t give m-me anything.”

  “I told them to give you your Prozac. They said the doctor would talk to you?”

  “No-one’s t-talked to m-me.”

  “I’ll tell them again... I don’t want you going off the Prozac, you haven’t even been on it for long enough for it to start working.”

  Ruby nodded. She didn’t care about the Prozac, just about feeling his arms around her again. Finally. She had lost count of how long she had been in isolation. It had been so long since she had seen him.

  Ruby shook her head.

  “It d-doesn’t m-matter.”

  “I want them to take care of you. I don’t want you getting down.”

  “I’ll b-be okay.”

  Charlie backed up a bit and bent down so that he could kiss Ruby. He broke away far too soon.

  “I’m sorry. I have to go to work. Already late. I just had to see you before I started. I’ll be back after I’m off. In the morning. Then we’ll have a real visit.”

  “Ok-kay,” Ruby agreed.

  “Bye-bye, sweetie.”

  “Bye.”

  She kissed him one more time, and he reluctantly pulled away and left her there, his mouth a grim line and his eyes sad.

  The guard came back in.

  “Let’s go.”

  There was nobody around when Ruby got back to the common room.

  “Wh-where is everyb-body?” she questioned.

  “Library or weight room.”

  “T-take me t-to the w-weight r-room?”

  He looked at his watch, sighing in exasperation.

  “I suppose.”

  He took her through the halls past a locked door to a different section, where he led her into the weight room and unlocked her cuffs. He left, letting the door slam shut behind him.

  Ruby looked around. A few of the girls she had seen before were there, but mostly it was boys. Ruby admired them as they worked out. One of them noticed her looking at him, and grinned.

  “Hey, come spot me,” he suggested.

  Ruby walked over.

  “Wh-what d-do I d-do?”

  He gave her instructions.

  “You’re new,” he commented.

  “Uh-huh.”

  “What’d you do?”

  “Kn-knocked off a b-bar.”

  “Mmm.” He grunted as he lifted the weight. Ruby watched his muscles work.

  “Wh-what’s your n-name?”

  “Max.”

  “I’m Ruby.”

  “Ruby.” His eyes flicked over her. “Quite a gem, huh?”

  Ruby smiled. She helped him rest the weight back on the rack, and he stretched.

  “What do you want to try?” he questioned.

  Ruby looked around at the various stations and pointed to one.

  “Th-that one.”

  “Okay. Come on. I’ll show you.”

  Ruby enjoyed the closeness as Max worked with her and demonstrated, and spotted her to make sure that she was working the right muscles. But it made her more aware of how much she was missing Charlie, too. She put it out o
f her mind and tried to pay close attention to Max and concentrate on just the two of them.

  Max was impressed with her discipline and form. Her training with Dickenson had paid off, and although her day-to-day movements were sometimes clumsy, if she was concentrating, her movements were very smooth and well-planned. Dickenson had helped her develop an awareness of all her muscles, and had helped her work on them. The motions that Max showed her were familiar and natural already. And although she wasn’t bulky, her muscles were strong. Max was favorably impressed.

  “You got a good body,” Max commented. “You should work out more.”

  “G-guess I g-got the ch-chance, n-now.”

  “Yeah, take advantage of it. If you don’t know what to do, there’s always someone here who knows.”

  Ruby nodded. She rested for a moment, and looked around the room.

  “N-not a l-lot of g-girls,” she commented.

  “That’s another advantage,” he said with a grin.

  Ruby smiled.

  As usual, Ruby lay awake for a long time. She never seemed to be able to sleep when she wanted to. She hated to sleep alone, and always her thoughts went back to Stella and Marty. And on her failure to get pregnant again. She didn’t know what she was being punished for, except that Stella had died, and it was her fault. She couldn’t even make up for it. She couldn’t do anything to make it right. All she could do was toss and turn and think about her failures.

  Charlie was there to see her in the morning. He smothered her with hugs. Ruby pulled away from him after a moment.

  “I c-can’t breathe,” she protested.

  He laughed, and realized she was handcuffed.

  “What did they do that for?” he gestured to their surroundings, “We’re in a locked room with a guard on the door, what’re you going to do? They already took my sidearm.”

  He looked at the cuffs, and dug a key out of his pocket.

  “Think that’ll do?”

  Ruby held still while he unlocked them, then put her arms around her.

  “Th-that’s b-better,” Ruby approved, melting into him.

  “How’re you doing, sweetie?”

  “Okay.”

  “I sure miss you.”

  “M-me t-too.”

  “I don’t know how I’m going to wait until you get back. I’m about ready to break you out of here already,” he said.

  “It’s n-not th-that b-bad.”

  “Are you sure? Have you had any trouble, like in rehab?”

  “N-no. N-not yet.”

  “Good. I don’t want you getting in any trouble—or getting hurt.”

  Ruby rolled her eyes.

  “I j-just g-got out of s-solitary.”

  “No time to get in trouble yet?”

  She nodded.

  “Yeah.”

  The long visit with Charlie was good. Ruby got back to the common room and watched TV and talked a little with J.C. When she mentioned meeting Max in the weight room, J.C. grinned.

  “Max? He’s a good guy to know around here.”

  “He s-seemed okay.”

  “Yeah. You wanna make an impression on people around here, you stick with him.”

  Ruby nodded, understanding.

  “Wh-when d-do we s-see him—th-them again?”

  “We don’t always share with them. Usually we’re just by ourselves. Max always works out. Weights, in the yard, whatever. He doesn’t do the library or anything.”

  “So... wh-when... ?”

  J.C. shrugged.

  “A couple days. A week maybe.”

  “Okay.”

  “He tell you what he’s in for?”

  “No.”

  “Killed a girl.”

  “How c-come?”

  “Why does anyone kill their girlfriend?”

  “She w-was m-messing around?”

  “Why don’t you ask Max?”

  Ruby frowned and didn’t respond. She turned her attention back to the TV for a while, thinking J.C.’s responses through. She wondered whether she should get more involved with Max, or keep away from him. Ruby wondered what J.C. was trying to do to her—whether she was being friendly or trying to get her in more trouble.

  Ruby saw Max a couple of days later outside in the yard. He sauntered over to her.

  “Hey, Ruby. Been working out some more?”

  Ruby nodded.

  He put his hands on her shoulders and squeezed her biceps. He nodded.

  “You keep it up. You’d be surprised how a few muscles improve your looks.”

  “Uh-huh.”

  He took his hands off her shoulders and leaned on the wall behind her. He was extremely close to her. Ruby shifted, slightly uncomfortable. He bent down and kissed her. Ruby was startled but didn’t pull away. He put his arms around her.

  “All right, you two, break it up!”

  Max pulled away slowly and looked around at the guard.

  “Mind your own business.”

  “No physical contact in the yard.”

  “I said get lost,” Max said tightly, sizing the guard up. He was bigger and stronger, the guard was no match for him if push came to shove.

  “You want to go to iso?” the guard demanded. “Is that what you’re asking for?”

  Max slowly released Ruby from the embrace. The guard nodded.

  “I don’t want to see you two together again. Just cool off.”

  Max licked dry lips.

  “You can’t control who I talk to,” he challenged.

  “I’m warning you, Terrace, I’m not taking any flak from you. Just try me.”

  Max stared at him. The guard finally backed off and walked away. Max looked down at Ruby.

  “He’s bluffing,” he assured her. “He can’t stop us from talking.”

  Ruby shrugged. Max continued to look at her.

  “Tell the guard you gotta go to the can,” he suggested. “Duck into the guys instead of the ladies. Wait for me there.”

  Ruby stood there for a moment, hesitant, then walked away from Max. She walked around the compound aimlessly for a few minutes until she was sure no-one was watching her. Then she went up to the guard at the door.

  “I g-gotta g-go.”

  He nodded and opened the door for her. The only places to go were the restrooms. There was another security door at the end of the corridor. She opened the door to the men’s room slowly, and looked around. It was empty. She tiptoed in, and paced around, trying to find somewhere to stand and wait for Max. She felt awkward, and it seemed like a long time before the door opened. It wasn’t Max. The boy looked at her, startled, and backed out again. There was enough time for him to look in confusion at the sign on the door, and he walked back in.

  “Uh—you’re in the wrong place,” he said uncomfortably.

  “I’m w-waiting for s-someone.”

  He stared at her for a moment, then grinned.

  “Ah. Lucky guy. Do you mind?”

  Ruby turned away from him. He finished his business and left. The next time the door opened, it was Max. He smiled.

  “Where’s Simpson?”

  “Ladies’.”

  “How long’s she been in there?”

  Tennyson looked at his watch.

  “I don’t know. Ten, fifteen minutes.”

  “Go check on her.”

  “Probably having female problems.”

  “Go see.”

  Tennyson looked around the compound.

  “Have Naomi check on her.”

  Weston looked frustrated, but nodded.

  “All right.” Tennyson watched Weston walk up to Naomi and talk to her for a moment. Then Naomi came up to the door and entered the building. She was out again a few minutes later.

  “Restroom’s empty,” she told him.

  “What?”

  “There’s no-one there.”

  Tennyson scowled and followed her inside. The ladies room was empty. But there was a grill on the window and no other way out. Tennyson hurried out o
f the room and went across the hall to the men’s. Simpson and Terrace were against the wall in a full embrace, lip-locked. Terrace saw him, and drew back. Simpson looked around and saw Tennyson and she turned away slightly to do up her uniform. Terrace wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, and did up his uniform with the other hand. Both of them were out of breath. Terrace was sweating.

  “All right, lovers. Faces to the wall.”

  Terrace turned around and put his hands on the wall. Simpson was not as quick, but she got the idea and assumed the position beside Terrace. Tennyson handcuffed both of them. Naomi took charge of Simpson without a word, and Tennyson escorted Terrace back to his cell block.

  Ruby sat down on her bunk. She noticed that she’d mis-buttoned her uniform and undid it and buttoned it up again. Max was a fast mover. Ruby was sure the guards wouldn’t let them get close to each other again. The guard who had let them in from the yard had been pretty red-faced when he busted them.

  She got up and looked out the window on the door. She could see nothing. She went back to her bunk and sat down.

  “What is she in solitary for now?” Charlie demanded in exasperation.

  The guard tapped a few keys, and shrugged.

  “It’s not logged in the system.”

  “I want to know what for,” Charlie insisted.

  “Sorry.” Another shrug.

  “How long this time?”

  The guard looked at the screen for a moment.

  “Just today.”

  “But you can’t find out what for?”

  “No.”

  “You can’t call someone up to find out what she did?”

  “No.”

  Charlie shook his head and blew out his breath. He banged his fist down on the counter in frustration.

  “I’ll be back tomorrow. And she’ll be out?”

  “Yeah, if you’re here this time tomorrow.”

  Charlie turned and headed for the door. The guard at the desk turned to see who had opened the door behind him. Tennyson stood there and watched Charlie leave.

  “What was that about?” he questioned, eyebrows raised.

  “Ruby Simpson.”

  “What about her?”

  “Her boyfriend.”

  Tennyson cocked his head.

  “What?”

  “He’s Ruby Simpson’s flame. Comes by every day to see her.”

  “Well, she’s certainly not keeping her fire burning for him.”

  “Oh? They seemed pretty hot when they met last.”

  “She’s in iso because she was making out with Maxwell Terrace in the little boys’ room.”

  “You’re joking.”

  Tennyson laughed.

  “Nope. You want to see hot, you should have been the one to bust in on the two of them. It’s been a while since I saw two people quite so... engrossed.”

  Ruby spotted for Max while he lifted weights. He didn’t have much to say, so Ruby just left him to his own thoughts. She was thinking about Charlie’s visit after she’d been put in solitary again. He had been a little bit perturbed when she wouldn’t tell him what it was for. But she wasn’t about to tell him about Max. When she got out of juvie, it would be just her and Charlie again, but until then, it was in her best interests for people to know that she and Max were involved. Some of the other boys talked to her, but they didn’t try anything. Max was too well known—he had quite a rep in juvie. Some of the girls sneered at Ruby for getting involved with Max, but Ruby knew they were just jealous of her.

  “You’re quiet,” Max commented, resting between sets.

  Ruby glanced down at him.

  “S-so’re you,” she countered.

  “Mmm. What’re you thinking about?” He hefted the barbell again.

  Ruby laughed.

  “Ab-bout you.”

  Max stopped pumping and looked at her.

  “About me?”

  Ruby nodded. Max looked pleased. He continued with his weights, concentrating on his muscles. When he was finished his set, she helped him to rack the weight. He stood up and kissed her lightly. Ruby glanced around at the guards. One of them was watching them, but made no move to stop them.

  “Ignore him,” Max advised. “He’s not going to do anything.”

  He took her face in his hands and kissed her again.

  “Come with me.”

  “Where?”

  “Back room. Supply cupboard.”

  Holding her by the arm, he guided her to a room in the back.

  “W-won’t th-they...”

  Max shook his head.

  “Nah, they’ll let us alone. Relax.”

  He started to unbutton her uniform. Ruby stopped him, uncertain. Max looked questioning, and when she didn’t say anything, he pushed her hand aside and continued. Ruby closed her eyes and imagined he was Charlie.

  Tennyson was snickering when Max walked by. Max sneered at the guard.

  “What’re you laughing at?”

  “You, thinking you’re Mr. Wonderful with Simpson.”

  Max held up the orderly procession out of the room.

  “What’s the matter,” he challenged. “You jealous?” .

  “Me? That skinny stick of a girl? She’s got a nice face, but I don’t know what you see in her.”

  “Then what’s your problem?”

  Tennyson laughed.

  “I’m not the one with the problem.”

  Max pushed Tennyson into the wall.

  “Well, I don’t have a problem. So what are you laughing at?” he exploded.

  Tennyson’s smile disappeared. He straightened his uniform, eying Max.

  “She’s just playing with you, the same as you play her and all the other girls.”

  “She’s serious,” Max assured him, puffing his chest out and lifting his chin. “Believe me, I can tell.”

  “Tell that to her boyfriend.”

  “Boyfriend? I don’t think so.”

  “He comes to see her every day. And believe me… they’re not just good friends.”

  Max flushed dark red from his throat up over his face. Tennyson waved to one of the other guards to come over. Max grabbed Tennyson’s arm, squeezing tightly.

  “What are you talking about?”

  “Did I mention he’s a cop?”

  Max stared at him. Two other guards approached.

  “You’re holding up the line, Terrace. Move on.”

  Max slowly released his hold on Tennyson’s arm, and glanced over his shoulder looking for Ruby. The few girls who had come to work out had already left, exiting the other direction toward their wing. Max filed out, scowling.

  Charlie found Ruby even more depressed next time he saw her. He tried to get her to talk to him, but she was very reticent.

  “Are they giving you your Prozac yet?” Charlie questioned.

  “No.”

  “Has the doctor talked to you?” he persisted.

  She shook her head.

  “No.”

  Charlie searched her face. She continued to look down, away from him.

  “You seem really down, sweetie. Are you okay?”

  “Uh-huh.”

  “Ruby... ?”

  Ruby looked at Charlie after a moment. There were dark smudges under her eyes. A faint crease in her forehead.

  “Ruby, I’m worried about you. Really worried.”

  Ruby forced a smile, shaking her head.

  “It’s j-just a few w-weeks,” she pointed out.

  “That’s right. It’s not for long.”

  “Then I’ll b-be back w-with you.”

  “I can’t think about anything else. The apartment seems so empty without you.”

  “I m-miss you t-too.”

  “I can’t wait until you get out of here,” Charlie said, clasping her hand.

  Ruby nodded, looking away.

  “S-so… how’s w-work?”

  Ruby saw Max on the bench and immediately went over to spot him with his weights. He glared at her. Ruby
stopped, uncertain.

  “Wh-what’s wr-rong?” she questioned.

  “I don’t like what I’ve been hearing about you,” Max growled.

  Ruby shook her head.

  “Wh-what?”

  “People are talking about us. Say you’re two-timing me.”

  “How c-could I?” Ruby asked with a disbelieving laugh.

  “Apparently, you and some cop got a thing going on behind my back. What about that?”

  Ruby swallowed. Her mouth went dry.

  “Oh. Ch-charlie.”

  “Charlie?” Max repeated.

  Ruby nodded.

  “Uh-huh.”

  “So it’s true.”

  She shrugged.

  “Yeah, so?”

  Max stared at Ruby.

  “I don’t like being made a fool of.”

  “You n-never asked if I had a g-guy on th-the outside.”

  “I assumed if you did, you wouldn’t start anything with me.”

  “I d-didn’t s-st-start it.” Ruby rolled her shoulders uncomfortably, looking away.

  “How many others have you got on the menu?”

  Ruby studied him, uncertain how to answer. She licked her lips, but it did no good.

  “N-none right n-now.”

  “Right now?” Max demanded.

  “Yeah.”

  “What about when you get out?”

  “Th-then w-we’ll s-see.”

  Max suddenly started laughing.

  “So this is just a casual fling, is that it?”

  “Yeah.”

  He shook his head.

  “You’re something else, you know that? I never met a girl like you before.”

  Ruby breathed out, relaxing.

  “Ch-charlie’s my s-steady,” she explained, “b-but I s-still l-like you t-too.”

  “You’re not involved with anyone else here, right? No-one inside?”

  Ruby nodded.

  “And this Charlie, he doesn’t know... ?”

  “N-no. I d-didn’t t-tell him.”

  “Why a cop? How did you manage to get involved with him?”

  “He b-busted me. W-we... k-kept in t-touch.”

  “I’ll say.”

  Ruby shrugged. Shaking his head, Max went back to his routine.

  J.C. sat down next to Ruby. She hadn’t paid much attention to Ruby lately, and Ruby figured it was because she was settled in now, not the newbie any more. No longer of interest. J.C. put her arm along the couch behind Ruby.

  “So, I guess you and Terrace have patched things up.”

  “Uh, I guess,” Ruby said uncertainly, hearing the teasing note in J.C.’s voice.

  J.C. snickered.

  “Then you haven’t heard what he’s saying about you, huh?”

  “Wh-what’s he s-saying?”

  J.C. laughed.

  “That you’re loose. A player.”

  Ruby swore succinctly.

  “Wh-why would he s-say that?”

  J.C. hugged Ruby more tightly around the shoulders.

  “Because he’s mad at you, why else?”

  “He w-wasn’t m-mad—w-well, at f-first—b-but n-not after w-we t-talked.”

  “Well, I’d say he’s still mad.”

  Ruby looked at J.C.

  “He’s n-not s-saying th-that,” she protested.

  “You better believe it, baby.”

  Ruby suddenly got uncomfortable with J.C.’s closeness and physical contact, and drew back slightly. J.C. Didn’t let her get far.

  “What’s the matter?” she teased, pulling Ruby back in. “I thought you were easy. Or do you only like boys?”

  “L-leave m-me alone,” Ruby protested, shifting uncomfortably.

  “Aw, you don’t have to play hard to get with me, baby. I know your type. Come on, sweetness.”

  Ruby jerked away and stood up. She looked for some escape, but there was nowhere to go except back to her room. The other girls were turning to watch her, some of them smiling knowingly. Ruby hesitated, then left the common room and went back to her cell.

  Ruby was furious with Max. She didn’t see him for a week, and she was so hounded by the other inmates that she spent practically all the time in her cell. Even then, if the guards weren’t watching carefully, one of the others would slip in to put the moves on her. When Ruby got into the weight room with Max again, she strode up to him and shoved the barbell he was bench-pressing, making him drop it with a crash to avoid injuring himself. He started to swear, sitting up and rubbing his arms where he’d strained his muscles.

  “You could kill a person doing that! What are you, crazy?”

  “How c-come you’re t-talking ab-bout m-me?” Ruby demanded.

  “You’re crazy! What are you talking about?”

  The guards were coming to accost Ruby, but they were in no hurry, taking their time. Ruby slapped Max as hard as she could, leaving the imprint of her hand on his face in bright red. He stood up, grabbing both of her wrists tightly.

  “You’re getting just what you deserve,” Max said furiously, his eyes mean. “You wanted to play the field? Now you can. Anyone you like, they all know all about you.”

  The guards got to them, but Max didn’t let go. He shoved Ruby into one of the weight machines, still holding on. Ruby swore at him fiercely, but couldn’t find the words to express herself. Her tongue was tied except to swear at him over and over. She tried to twist out of his grip, but he was too strong.

  “And you know what?” Max added. “I don’t know why I ever even looked at you twice. You’re not worth it.”

  “Let go, Terrace,” one of the guards ordered.

  Max eventually released Ruby. The guards went for him first, and in the split second before they could put their hands on her, Ruby lashed out and struck Max’s cheek on the other side. It took three guards to hold him back and get him down on the floor to cuff him.

  After that, Max was moved to another cell block so that he and Ruby would not end up in the same room again. Ruby went to the weight room when she could anyway, not wanting to give up the weight regimen once she had gotten into the habit. When it was just the girls, the few of them that did weights generally kept to themselves. A couple of them approached Ruby once or twice, but the coolness of her reception deterred them after that. When they shared the weight room with the boys, Ruby had to constantly be on her guard for the hormone-charged guys who figured they could get somewhere with her. They would come up behind her or try to throw her weights off balance to make her vulnerable.

  “Hey, Ruby,” there was a heavy hand on her shoulder, and Ruby jabbed back with her elbow, pivoting around on her toes and bringing up the dumbbell to use as a weapon. She’d hit him good with the elbow—he hadn’t been nimble enough to avoid her. When he managed to straighten up, gasping for breath, Ruby saw that it was Sandy, one of the Jags.

  “Oh—I’m s-sorry.”

  “Man, what do you call that?” Sandy coughed weakly. “I was just—saying hi.”

  “S-some of the g-guys here... d-don’t j-just w-wanna s-say hi.”

  “Whoa, I’ll come from in front next time,” he was still breathing irregularly. “I didn’t know.”

  One of the guards walked up.

  “You causing trouble again, Simpson?”

  Ruby shook her head. Sandy held up his hand.

  “No, it was nothing. It was my fault.”

  The guard nodded and moved away. Sandy sat down on the bench, rubbing his stomach.

  “Well great, I’m going to be black and blue in the shower, thanks to you.”

  Ruby grinned.

  “S-sorry.”

  “You’ve got some elbow there.”

  “Have t-to,” Ruby agreed, starting her reps again.

  Sandy didn’t say anything for a few minutes.

  “Who’s been bugging you?” he questioned after a while. “I’ll teach them a lesson.”

  Ruby shrugged.

  “L-lot’s of th-them.”

  “H
ow come? You usually get on okay with everyone.”

  Ruby preferred not to explain. He shrugged.

  “You just point out anyone who causes trouble for you, and I’ll take care of it,” he instructed, with an emphatic nod.

  “Ok-kay.”

  “I forgot you were here. Don’t know why—I guess I didn’t think about it because I didn’t think I’d see you.”

  “I haven’t s-seen T-terry.”

  “No, me neither. Couple of other guys should be around too, but they must be in other blocks.”

  Ruby felt comfortable having him there talking to her. She could let down her guard and just concentrate on her routine and enjoy a casual conversation.

  When she saw Sandy again, he had a rainbow bruise over one eye and a split lip. He grinned when he saw her.

  “Couple of guys were talking about you,” he explained, raising his chin. “I shut them up.”

  “You d-didn’t have t-to d-do th-that.”

  He shrugged.

  “It’s good for my rep. You knock a few heads together, and people respect you.”

  “D-don’t g-get in t-trouble.”

  “What’s a day in solitary for another Jag? You gotta show people you can’t mess with us. We stick together.”

  “Thanks.”

  “No problem. Let’s pump some iron,” Sandy invited.

  “Yeah.”

  “You’re only going to be here a little bit longer,” Charlie said encouragingly.

  Ruby sighed.

  “Yeah, I’ll b-be home s-soon.”

  “It’s been too long.”

  Ruby nodded in agreement. Ruby caught Charlie’s eyes roving over her figure, and gave him a quick smile, raising her brows questioningly.

  “You’re sure looking good, baby,” Charlie approved.

  Ruby ran her fingers over her biceps, studying them.

  “B-been w-working out.”

  “It looks good on you. You could come to the gym with me, you know, when you get back.”

  “M-maybe I w-will.” Ruby nodded.

  “You may as well keep it up.”

  “Uh-huh.”

  Charlie took her hand.

  “When you get out, everything will be normal again,” he promised. “We’ll be back together, you’ll have your freedom... everything will be fine.”

  Ruby nodded, looking unconvinced.

  “Sure.”

  “You were okay before the arrest—everything was going good. You were happier then. It was okay.”

  “Uh-huh.”

  He looked at his watch.

  “I have to go. I’ll see you tomorrow, okay?”

  “All right.”

  “You need anything?”

  “N-nothing you c-could b-bring.”

  “Okay. See you later.”

  He tapped on the door and the guard opened it and came in to get Ruby. He handcuffed her again and took her back to her cell.

  Ruby showered for the last time and they gave her street clothes back to her. Ruby pulled on her own clothes, savoring the feeling of finally being herself again. They handcuffed her to take her to one of the visiting rooms. Mr. Clive was there with a couple of the juvie administration. Charlie was not there. Ruby sat down where they indicated, looking around and wondering what was going on.

  “Well, Miss Simpson, you’ve served your term. How do you feel about your crime?”

  Ruby shifted uncomfortably. She hadn’t even thought about “her crime” in weeks.

  “N-no-one g-got hurt. It w-was s-stupid w-we g-got c-caught.”

  “So you’re not sorry.”

  Ruby shook her head.

  “I d-don’t have t-to b-be s-sorry.”

  “No, you don’t. But I’ll be sure to put it on your record, and the next time you get arrested, the judge can take it into consideration.”

  “I’m s-sorry I g-got c-caught. W-we n-needed m-money. N-no-one g-got hurt.”

  “It is a condition of your probation that you reside at the halfway house that your social worker has found you a spot at. You have to check in with him weekly, and he will be making unscheduled visits to check up on you. You will not be allowed to have any contact with gangs, and you will occasionally be ordered to be tested for drug use. Alcohol is also off limits. We would like you to enroll in a remedial school program to try to get your high school equivalency. You will not be allowed to carry or possess a weapon. Do you understand all that?”

  Ruby stared at him blankly.

  “I’m n-not on p-probation. I s-served m-my full t-term.”

  “And now you’re on probation.”

  “Why?”

  “Because you broke the law, Miss Simpson.”

  “I w-wasn’t g-given p-probation,” she protested, scowling first at the administrator, and then at Clive.

  “You’re being put on probation now, at our discretion. Do you understand the terms of your probation?”

  “I d-don’t have to f-follow them.”

  “You just try breaking your probation, and find out. Do you understand the terms?”

  “I d-don’t have t-to…”

  “Just answer the question,” he growled. “Do you understand the terms?”

  “Yessir,” Ruby snapped.

  “Good. We need some documents signed, and then Mr. Clive will take you to the halfway house.”

  A number of documents were laid on the table in front of her. Ruby scowled, looking at them.

  “W-why d-do I have t-to s-sign these?”

  “Do you want to be released?”

  “Yessir.”

  “Then sign the papers and you can get out.”

  “C-can’t he s-sign them?” Ruby gestured to Clive.

  “He can sign some of them as guardian,” the man admitted hesitantly.

  Ruby pushed the pile of papers towards Clive, and he looked at the administrator uncertainly. The man in charge shrugged, and Clive took out a pen. He went through the forms and documents carefully, signing where indicated. When he finished, he still had one document in triplicate that was unsigned. He passed it back to Ruby, clearing his throat.

  “You have to sign this one.”

  Ruby looked at it. It was a thick document, entitled “probation terms”.

  “Why?”

  “Because this one is between the Center and you personally. I can only sign as guardian, not for you personally.”

  “W-what is it?”

  “It’s just the terms of your probation, like I told them to you. You just sign to say you understand them.”

  “I’m n-not on p-probation.”

  “You told me you understand the terms.”

  “B-but...”

  “If you understand the terms, sign the thing and you can go.”

  Ruby stared at it.

  “I s-served my t-time,” she repeated.

  “So go to court to get it straightened out,” the administrator said. “But if you want to leave, you have to sign it before you can go.”

  Ruby was becoming more and more uncomfortable with the idea of signing the document. Besides her original reason for not wanting to sign anything because of her awkward, illegible handwriting, she was now starting to suspect there was something shady going on.

  “I w-want t-to t-talk t-to my l-lawyer.”

  “Sign it and you’re free to call whoever you like. Until you do, you’re still an inmate and you don’t have phone privileges.”

  Ruby reached for the forms that Clive had signed. She looked over the headings and bolded type.

  “Th-this s-says I’m released,” she said, pointing to one.

  They looked at each other. Ruby stood up.

  “I w-want to g-go.”

  Clive stood up too.

  “She has been released,” he agreed.

  “We’ll have you back in here tomorrow,” the man warned.

  “We’ll s-see,” Ruby retorted.

  Clive picked up the documents that she’d refused to sign, shrugging at the oth
ers, and he took her out to his car. He unlocked the door for her, and Ruby got in.

  “Buckle up.”

  Ruby obeyed, finding the reach across her body to the buckle extremely awkward. But eventually she snapped it into place. Clive didn’t say anything else to her. He started the car and pulled out. He didn’t drive her to Charlie’s, but to the halfway house that they kept talking about. Ruby looked at it out the passenger side window.

  “I w-want t-to g-go home.”

  “This is where Social Services has placed you. You’re getting too old and too wild for foster care, so we’ll try this out and see how it works.”

  “I’m n-not living here.”

  “You are now. Come on.”

  He got out of the car, and Ruby slowly undid her seat belt and got out. He took her up to the door. A man answered the door.

  “Mr. Clive. And this must be Miss Simpson.”

  Clive handed him a clipboard to sign the appropriate forms. Ruby always felt like a Fed-Ex package being signed for.

  “Come on in. I’ll show you around.”

  “Hang on a sec, Ruby,” Clive said, stopping her. He indicated the papers she had refused to sign before. “Let’s get these taken care of now.”

  Ruby took them from him.

  “I’ll s-sign them l-later.”

  “Can I pick them up from you tomorrow?”

  “Uh-huh.”

  “I’m sure you don’t want to end up right back in juvie. So sign them tonight and we’ll keep you out.”

  Ruby nodded. Clive went back to his car. Ruby let the man show her around the house, even though she wasn’t staying.

  “Any questions?” the man asked after outlining the house rules.

  “Ph-phone?”

  “In the kitchen. Who are you calling?”

  “M-my l-lawyer.”

  “Okay, don’t be long.”

  Ruby went to find it. She found the thick city phone book and flipped through it. The pages were thin and she found it difficult to separate them to find the one she wanted. And then she stared at the columns of letters hopelessly. The man came back after a while.

  “Are you still on the phone?”

  “C-can’t find th-the n-number.”

  “What’s his name?”

  “W-willhelm.”

  “Let me see?”

  Ruby handed him the book. He flipped through the pages briskly and ran his finger down the column.

  “Here it is.”

  He read the number out to her. Ruby punched it in carefully.

  “Thanks.”

  She waited while the phone rang. Willhelm’s voice mail picked up.

  “D-does it have another n-number?” Ruby questioned.

  “Yeah,” he read it out to her.

  Ruby hung up and redialed. This time Willhelm answered.

  “Hello.”

  “Hi. It’s Ruby S-simpson.”

  There was silence for a moment before he remembered who she was.

  “Ruby. Hi. It’s been a long time since I heard from you. Been keeping yourself out of trouble?”

  “N-no. I n-need s-some help.”

  “Where are you?”

  “Halfw-way house.” Ruby told him where it was.

  “Can it wait until tomorrow?”

  “N-no. I’ll c-come th-there, if y-you w-want.”

  “I think you’d better stay where you are. I’ll be there in an hour or so, okay?”

  “Okay.”

  Ruby hung up, and looked at the man awkwardly.

  “Okay. You’ve had your phone call,” he said. “We had supper a while ago, do you want anything to eat?”

  Ruby considered.

  “Wh-what d-do y-you have?”

  “Supper was spaghetti. Get whatever you want from the fridge.”

  Ruby nodded and went to check it out. He left her alone in the kitchen. Ruby got a bowl of spaghetti for herself and sat down at the table, eating slowly while she waited for Willhelm to get there.

  Willhelm was escorted by another teen to the kitchen, and joined Ruby at the table. He sat down, setting his briefcase on the floor.

  “So, what did you do to end up here?” he questioned.

  “J-just g-got out of j-juvie.”

  Willhelm frowned.

  “I had a s-stroke,” Ruby told him, before he could ask if she was drunk. Willhelm raised his brows.

  “Really. I’m sorry.”

  Ruby shrugged and nodded.

  “So what were you in juvie for?” he pursued.

  “Held up a b-bar.”

  “Well, that was stupid. But if you’re out now, what do you need me for?”

  Ruby pulled out the documents she got from Clive, and handed them to him.

  “Th-they k-keep t-telling m-me t-to s-sign this.”

  Willhelm took it from her and flipped through it slowly, his eyes flicking over the pages.

  “You didn’t sign it?”

  “No.”

  “Good. Do you know what this is?”

  Ruby shifted, looking down at it.

  “It s-says I unders-stand m-my p-prob-bation t-terms,” she said, repeating the juvie administrator’s explanation.

  “Are you on probation?” Willhelm asked.

  “N-no. I s-served m-my full t-term. N-no p-probation.”

  “Well, if you sign this, you put yourself under voluntary probation. You agree to abide by certain terms.”

  “I p-put m-myself under p-probation?” Ruby repeated, frowning.

  “You got it. If you’ve been released from juvie and you served your full term, not paroled early, and the judge didn’t give you probation time after juvie, you’re free. I would suggest that you keep clean, but this—” he threw the agreement down. “You don’t have to put yourself under probation.”

  “S-so I c-can g-go home, they c-can’t s-send me b-back t-to juvie for that?”

  Willhelm nodded.

  “You can do whatever you like, as long as you’re not breaking the law.”

  Ruby looked around. She stood up and went to the phone. Willhelm watched her call Charlie to come get her. He stood up.

  “Is that it, then? You’ll be all right?”

  Ruby nodded.

  “If they throw m-me b-back in juvie—I’ll c-call you.”

  “You do that. They can’t do anything until you’re arrested and sentenced again.”

  “Okay.”

  He slapped her on the back and walked out. Ruby went out on the front porch to wait for Charlie.

 
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