Ruby Between the Cracks, p.3P.D. Workman
RUBY LEFT THE HOSPITAL with Chuck in the morning. She still seemed very subdued, and the doctors recommended that she take it easy for a few days, and spend lots of time in bed. Chuck took her out to the car.
“What are we going to do with you?” he sighed.
“Can I sleep at your place?” Ruby suggested.
“No. The police are going to want to talk to you today, and I may have to assign you to a new foster family.”
“I don’t want a family.”
“Maybe not, but the cop who took you to the hospital figured you’re living on the street, and I’m going to have to do something in response to his report. I really think we need to put you in a foster home, at least for a few weeks, until things cool off.”
Ruby stared out the window.
“You’re trying to get rid of me, aren’t you?” she complained.
“It’s only for a couple of weeks. Then I’ll do some more paperwork to get you out of it again.”
“I’m not going.”
“Do you want someone investigating your records and finding out that you haven’t been with a foster family for a year and a half? Do you have any idea what would happen to me?” he demanded.
“Well, if you want to get rid of me, maybe I don’t care what happens to you anymore either,” she said sullenly.
“Ruby, I do care about you,” Chuck assured her, touching her cheek and speaking earnestly, his clear blue eyes showing deep concern. “I want us to be together. This is only temporary.”
Ruby rolled her eyes and didn’t say anything else.
“I’ll drop you off at the Watsons. They provide emergency shelter to kids who are between homes for a day or two. It’s better than the Children’s Center.”
Ruby shrugged and refused to look at him. She knew that what he said made sense, but she felt hurt just the same. At the time when she needed him most, Chuck wasn’t going to be there for her. She didn’t really want him to get in trouble. But the added stress of having to live with a family on top of everything else was just too much.
“You’ll only be there for a day,” Chuck assured her, “just until I get your records straightened out. It’s just a place to crash and take a break for a day. Then I’ll have you in a new family. One that is used to having older girls, not little kids,” he promised.
Ruby nodded to show that she had heard what he said, but not necessarily that she agreed with him. Her mouth was set in a frown. Chuck was satisfied that she would put up with it, and didn’t try to convince her any further.
They got to the Watsons’ place and Chuck took her in.
“Hi, Nancy,” he said to the woman who answered the door. “I have someone I need you to look after today, until I get her placed again.”
“Sure, Mr. Samuels. Come on in.”
Chuck entered. Ruby walked in behind him. Nancy Watson was a slim, dark-haired, middle-aged woman. She looked pleasant and friendly enough, but Ruby knew better than to trust to appearances.
“Ruby, this is Nancy Watson. Nancy—Ruby was in an accident last night, and she needs somewhere to stretch out and take a long nap. The doctors told her to take it easy for a bit.”
“Sure, I’ve got a bed she can use.”
“I expect the police will be by later on today to talk to her again. Aside from that, I’m sure you’ll hardly even know Ruby’s here.”
“We’ll be just fine, Mr. Samuels. And I’ll see you tonight or tomorrow. She’ll be okay overnight, she’s our only one today.”
“I appreciate it. Ruby, don’t cause any trouble.”
Ruby just glared at him. Chuck left.
“Were you in a car accident?” Nancy questioned.
Ruby studied Nancy. She knew that even the friendly ones had rules. Too many rules. And tomorrow, who knew who Ruby would be with.
“Mr. Samuels said you were in an accident,” Nancy said. “Was it a car accident?”
Ruby turned away from her, not wanting to discuss it.
“I’m going to lie down, okay?”
“Oh, sure. I’ll show you the bedroom. This way.”
Ruby followed Nancy into a bare bedroom, and dropped her bag on the floor.
“Let me know if you need anything.”
“I don’t need anything from you.”
Nancy didn’t say anything to this. She left, pulling the door almost shut behind her. She left it open a couple of inches. Ruby lay down on the bed and stared up at the ceiling.
Late in the afternoon, Nancy opened the door to a couple of large policeman. She was used to having police come by the house, but she didn’t recognize these ones in particular.
“Hi,” she greeted.
“We’re here to talk to Ruby.”
“Sure. Come in. I’ll get her.”
She let them in to the front room.
“Can I get you gentlemen coffee?”
They both assented. Nancy went up to the bedroom. Ruby was lying in bed flat on her back with her eyes wide open.
“Ruby?” Nancy said tentatively.
“The police are here to talk to you.”
Ruby got up and went down to the front room to talk to them. She sat down on the couch with her knees up to her chest. She looked at two cops and didn’t say anything.
“Well, you’ve got a little more color than you did last night.”
“I don’t know your names,” Ruby said.
“I’m Merrill. We talked last night. My partner is Banks.”
“So what can you tell us about what happened last night?” Merrill questioned.
“I don’t remember anything.”
“Why don’t you start with when you and your friend met up yesterday?”
Ruby stared out the big front window. The afternoon sun shone on the window and made the room almost uncomfortably warm. But inside, Ruby felt dark. She felt closed in. Trapped.
“We just met up at the arcade,” she told Merrill.
“Then what did you do?” he prompted.
“Went to Mike’s apartment.”
“What time would that have been?”
Ruby considered. She shrugged.
“Just the afternoon sometime.”
“Four o’clock?” he suggested.
“Something like that.”
“Were you with anyone else?”
“No, just Mike.”
“Did you notice anyone hanging around? At the arcade, on the street near his apartment, anything?”
Why would she? When she was with Mike, he was all she saw. He was all she cared about. She watched his curvy lips when he talked, his beautiful blue eyes when he listened, the curve of his chin, with just a hint of a cleft, when he looked away from her.
“What did you talk about?” Merrill questioned.
“Did he talk about what’s been going on with the gang?”
“No. He never talks shop.”
“So you don’t know anything about any of the other Jaguars?”
“Not even their names,” Ruby agreed, shaking her head.
“Did he talk about anyone he’s not getting along with? Do you know what his family situation’s like?”
“He never sees his family. I don’t know where they are.”
“Never talks to them? Anything?”
“No.” Ruby shook her head.
“Why is that, do you know?”
“I don’t talk to my family either. It doesn’t mean anything. I never asked him about it.”
Merrill took some notes in his notepad. He looked at Ruby. He smiled encouragingly.
“What was Mike like yesterday? What kind of mood was he in?”
“I dunno. Same as usual. Good mood.”
And when he smile
“He didn’t seem uptight, tense or distracted?” Merrill suggested.
“No,” Ruby shook her head. “We had a good time.”
“Did you stay in the apartment all night?”
“Yeah. Just watched TV and stuff.”
“Go out to eat? Order in?”
“What did you have?”
“Uh-huh. What restaurant did you get it from?”
“Toni’s. It’s just a little place down the street.”
“Who answered the door when the delivery boy came by?”
“Did you see the delivery boy?”
“Did he see you?”
Ruby thought about it, shaking her head.
“I guess. I dunno.”
“Did you recognize him?” Merrill questioned.
“You’ve never had him deliver for Toni’s before?”
“I don’t know... I didn’t notice. Who notices the delivery boy?”
“Was he wearing a jacket for Toni’s?”
“They don’t wear jackets.”
“Did Mike talk to him?”
Ruby shook her head.
“Just hello, and give him the money, and all,” she said with a shrug.
“Mike didn’t seem to know him?”
Merrill took a break from the questioning for a moment, writing down whatever conclusions her answers had led him to. He looked back at Ruby.
“Did you guys see anyone else that night?”
Nancy brought the coffee in to the officers. She gave them each a mug, and handed Ruby a glass of milk. Ruby just looked at it, dumbfounded. What was she, a baby?
“I drink coffee,” she told Nancy.
“You need milk. Coffee you don’t need.”
“I’m not drinking it.”
Nancy shrugged, and left it on the coffee table for her. Ruby didn’t touch it. The cops were silent until Nancy left. Merrill took a sip of the coffee, and continued with the stream of questions.
“Did you hear or see anything out of the ordinary during the evening?”
“And Mike didn’t seem worried about anything?”
“What time did you guys turn out the lights?”
Ruby thought about it.
“We just finished watching a movie. Midnight or something.”
“What movie was it?”
“They’re all the same to me.”
“What was it about?”
“Some guy and the girls he liked.”
Ruby told him the channel, and Merrill managed a dry smile.
“That’s what they’re all about on that station.”
“Like I said.”
“So you went to bed after you watched the movie.”
“Yeah,” Ruby agreed.
“I don’t remember anything after that,” Ruby said flatly.
“What time did you get to sleep?”
“I don’t know.”
“What time did Mike get to sleep?”
“I dunno. One or something.”
“Okay. How long after that did the intruders come in?”
“I don’t know.”
“Were you asleep?”
“I don’t remember.”
“Ruby… we can’t help you if you won’t talk to us,” Merrill said, putting his coffee mug down and leaning toward her.
“You can’t help me,” Ruby said flatly.
“If you can help us put these guys away, you won’t have to be afraid of them,” he assured her.
“You think they’re from one of the other gangs, don’t you?” Ruby questioned.
“I suspect so, yes,” he agreed.
“And how’re you going to protect me from the whole gang? You going to put them all away?”
“We’ll put the ones who did it in jail, and no-one will know that you helped us out.”
Merrill looked at her for a moment. He looked back down at his notebook.
“How well did you see the guys who did it?”
“I don’t remember,” Ruby said stubbornly.
“Hypothetically, if you could remember, how well would you have seen them?”
Ruby considered the question.
“If they were smart, they would have made sure I didn’t see them good,” she suggested.
“By wearing masks?”
“Yeah, or shining a light in my eyes or something.”
“I see.” For a few minutes, he didn’t say anything. Then: “So exactly how well did you see them?”
“I don’t remember,” Ruby maintained.
“Ruby... these guys are animals. You know that they’re just going to go on killing if we don’t put them away.”
“But they won’t be killing me.”
“Do you really want to take that chance? How do you know they won’t just wait until the situation is right, and come after you?”
“They could have killed me last night. They didn’t.”
“They may decide that wasn’t very smart once they’ve had a chance to think about it, and come back after you. We need to protect you.”
Ruby had already thought of that. And she didn’t like it. But as long as she didn’t talk, they would have no reason to come after her.
“You’re talking to us,” Merrill said slowly, watching her carefully. “How does anyone know whether you’re telling us what happened or not?”
“Because they won’t get caught.”
“What if they do? What if we manage to find another witness or specific suspects on our own? How do they know that we didn’t get any help from you? The only way to make sure they can’t come after you is to put them away.”
“What are you going to do if we subpoena you or arrest you for obstruction?”
“Say that I don’t remember.”
“I don’t think you realize just how serious that is,” Merrill said sternly.
Did he think that she was just playing a game? Fooling around? This was a matter of life and death for Ruby, and she didn’t want them doing to her what they had done to Mike.
“Sure I do,” she said flatly.
“Let’s try it from another angle,” Merrill said, starting over, “What if the Jaguars get upset with you because they want to see Mike’s killers punished?”
“They wouldn’t expect me to squeal to the police.”
“I don’t think you know very much about them.”
“I know that much,” Ruby snorted.
They didn’t say anything. Ruby looked for a cigarette, and found one in her pocket.
“I’m going outside,” she told them, and went out on the front steps and lit up.
She went through a couple of cigarettes before they figured out that she wasn’t going back in to talk to them. They joined her outside.
“Nice day,” Merrill commented, squinting in the afternoon sunlight.
“So… tell me a little about yourself, Ruby.”
“What’s to tell?”
“I just would like to know a little about you. It occurs to me that I don’t even know anything about you.”
“I’m nothing special,” Ruby said with a shrug. “Just another foster kid.”
“How long have you been in state care?”
“Did you and Mike spend a lot of time together?” he probed.
“Just now and then.”
“How long had you known him?”
“A year, I think. Maybe a bit more. I dunno.”
“He was a bit o
“Yeah—‘bout seven years,” Ruby agreed.
“And that makes you... how old?”
She could see that Merrill was surprised. He had thought she was older. But he didn’t make a big deal of it. He went on just as if he was used to talking to thirteen year olds about homicides.
“What did you like to do together? What are you interested in?”
“We just hung out. I just... like to be with people.”
“What do you do with your other friends? Same thing? Just hang out?”
“Yeah. We go to the arcade or pool hall... or just out to eat...”
“You didn’t play pool with Mike?”
“No. Sometimes we met at the arcade, but we didn’t stay there.”
Ruby didn’t answer. She frowned. Why didn’t they? She never thought about what they did together, where they went... she hadn’t realized that they had avoided being out where others would see them. Had they? Or was it just a coincidence?
“I don’t know why.”
“Did the two of you ever go out anywhere?”
“No... just to his apartment.”
“Who didn’t he want to be seen by?”
“We just—liked to be alone with each other,” Ruby said uncomfortably, her face getting hot.
“I thought you said you didn’t know why.”
“Well... I don’t... I just...”
Ruby took a deep breath to calm herself, and lit up another cigarette.
“I think I’m going to request that you come down to the station for us to talk to you some more,” Merrill said.
“I’ve told you all I’m going to.”
“That’s not enough.”
“Then I want a lawyer.”
Merrill looked exasperated.
“What do you want a lawyer for?” he demanded. “You’re not a suspect.”
“You’re talking about subpoenas, and putting me in jail. I want a lawyer.”
“All right, Ruby. Do you have a lawyer?”
“Do you know how to get in touch with one?”
“I’ll call my social worker. He’ll get me one.”
“I really don’t think this is necessary.”
“If you want to talk to me anymore, you’re going to have to wait until I get a lawyer.”
“All right. We’ll finish up for now. I’ll let you know if we want to ask you any more questions. We are going to have to get you to look through mug shots, though.”
“I told you, I don’t remember anything.”
“Well, maybe a picture will jog your memory.”
“Fine. I’ll call my social worker.”
“Okay. We’ll be in touch,” Merrill said.
Ruby nodded. They left her sitting on the steps and got back in their car. Ruby watched them drive off, and sat for a few minutes in the sun, smoking her last cigarette. She went back into the house and called Chuck.
“You shouldn’t be calling me,” he protested lowly.
“I want you to get me a lawyer.”
“A lawyer? What for?”
“The cops were just here, asking me questions.”
“So now they want me to go to the police station to talk to me. They’re threatening to put me in jail for not remembering what happened last night. And they don’t want me to get a lawyer.”
“Why don’t you just tell them what happened, and they’ll get off your case?”
“I don’t remember what happened,” Ruby insisted.
Chuck breathed out heavily in exasperation.
“All right. I’ll make a couple phone calls for you. But try not to get yourself in trouble, okay?”
“I’m trying to stay out of trouble,” she said reasonably. “That’s why I want a lawyer.”
“You’d be better off just telling the truth.”
“I am. Are you picking me up tonight?” Ruby suggested.
“Yes, I’ll be taking you to your new foster family.”
Ruby hung up the phone in his ear.
Ruby always felt like a little kid when she was dropped off with a new foster family. She was good at meeting new people, and got along all right with most, but she felt like she was no longer controlling her own life. She couldn’t choose them herself, she couldn’t make her own rules. All she could do was sit in the car and be driven to another house full of strangers.
This time it was Mr. and Mrs. Winters. No first names. Ruby hated the ones who didn’t go by their first names. Chuck did manage to put her with a family who weren’t taking care of any other kids, at least. The bedroom was cute, probably decorated by one of their own children, since grown up and moved out. It felt warmer than the families that put you in the guest room, neat and bare and you’d better keep it perfectly tidy. Ruby was dumped at the door by Chuck, and given a quick tour of the house by Mrs. Winters. There were no posted house rules, and the woman didn’t say much in the tour by way of restrictions.
Ruby kept telling herself it was just for a couple of weeks until things settled down, but she felt anxious and trapped, closed in. She’d had supper at Nancy’s, so after the tour, Ruby just went back to her room and lay down on the bed. She couldn’t seem to shut her eyes. She was wide awake and couldn’t relax. Ruby found herself jumping at the slightest noise, listening and trying to identify every creak of the old house around her. When it started to grow light outside, Ruby was still lying on top of the bed, fully clothed, stiff with tension and staring up at the ceiling. She had made it through the night, alone and maybe a little scared. Getting through the day wasn’t going to be a lot easier.
“Good morning,” Mrs. Winters greeted, when Ruby stepped into the kitchen.
Mrs. Winters turned to see her.
“Oh, you don’t look like you slept too well,” she observed.
“Come on in and sit down. Cereal or toast?”
Ruby sat down at the table, rubbing her temples.
“Toast. No butter.”
“Coming up. There’s orange juice in the fridge.”
Ruby obediently got up and got out the jug of juice and put it on the table.
“Coffee?” she questioned tentatively.
“I’ll put some on for you,” Mrs. Winters agreed.
“The folks I stayed with yesterday wouldn’t let me have coffee,” Ruby offered.
“Well, it certainly isn’t good for you,” Mrs. Winters admitted, “but I need my coffee in the morning, good or not.”
“Yeah, me too.”
“What school do you go to, Ruby?”
Ruby told her.
“I’ll drop you off today, and we’ll find out what bus goes by there for tomorrow.”
“Do I have to go?” Ruby protested.
“Of course you do. You have to keep up.”
“I’m never going to use anything they’re teaching.”
“You go to school to learn how to learn. Otherwise, you’ll go through life without being able to keep a job.”
“That’s the first time I’ve heard that one.”
“Yes, well it’s the one reason you never hear, but the only one that’s important.”
Mrs. Winters gave Ruby her toast, and put a jar of jam on the table.
“I’ll have you your coffee in a second.”
Ruby rarely got to school on time. Kate and Marty were surprised to see her there so early.
“What happened to you?” Kate questioned.
Ruby really became conscious of the bandage on her head for the first time. She touched it.
“Oh—nothing. Got shot.”
Their eyes widened in surprise. Kate couldn’t seem to think of what t
“What jerk shot you?” she questioned.
Ruby shrugged and grinned, enjoying being the center of attention over it.
“Not someone I knew,” she said.
“You’re kidding, right?” Kate questioned.
“Why would somebody shoot you?”
“Well, it was an accident, I think.”
“What happened?” Marty demanded.
Ruby tried to make light of it, but didn’t manage.
“Have you ever met Mike?” she questioned. “The Jag I go with sometimes?”
“Oh, the cute one?” Kate questioned. “I’ve never met him, but I’d like to.”
“They were aiming for him.”
“Pretty bad aim,” Marty said dryly.
“No, they got him, all right.”
Kate’s eyes got wider yet.
“Is he okay?”
Kate swore—a rare occurrence.
“I told you to stay away from the guys in gangs,” Marty said, shaking her head.
“You tell me to stay away from all guys,” Ruby pointed out.
“Good advice. You could have been killed.”
Ruby didn’t answer. It was true, but she’d been trying not to think about that part.
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
“So why’re you here so early?” Marty questioned, changing the subject for her.
“Foster Mom dropped me off.”
“I haven’t heard you talking about your foster parents for a long time,” Marty said.
“Yeah, I just got moved.”
“What are they like?”
“I don’t know yet.”
“We got English. Are you coming?”
“Yeah, I guess.”
They wandered into the classroom after the bell rang. The woman teacher glared at them as they took their seats. Then she started the lesson. Ruby stared out the window, and doodled in her notebook. The teacher gave them an assignment and came over to talk to Ruby.
“Where are your textbooks?” she questioned, narrowing her eyes at Ruby.
“In my locker, I guess,” Ruby said with a shrug.
“Where have you been lately? You’ve missed a lot of classes lately.”
“I had some troubles with foster families.”
“Have you got them sorted out?”
“Have you talked to someone about them?” she questioned, putting on a concerned air.
“Yeah. I’ve been talking to my social worker and the police.”
“Good. You know we have resources here if you need them.”
“You can’t do anything.”
“If you need something...”
Ruby shook her head. The teacher moved on.
There was a heavy hand on Ruby’s shoulder, and she jumped, and whirled around, tense.
“Whoa, whoa,” Brian soothed. “What’s the matter?”
Ruby breathed out, relieved. She hugged him and gave him a quick peck.
“Sorry—I’m sort of jumpy,” she said.
“What’s this?” He touched the bandage on her forehead.
“I got hurt. It’s nothing.”
Brian brushed his thumb gently over the bandage, looking down at her face.
“You wanna go somewhere?” he suggested.
“Sure.” Ruby looked at Marty and Kate, who had come to the mall with her and were approaching after checking through some purchases. “Do you guys wanna do anything?”
Kate wasn’t sure. Marty turned them down.
“We’ll do something next time, right?”
“Yeah. I’ll see you later this week.”
They separated. There was a matinee movie, but it didn’t start for a while, so they stopped by the arcade for a while. Ruby enjoyed playing for a while. A boy came up and started playing the game next to her. Ruby’s heart started thumping fast. She glanced over at him a couple of times, and ended her game. She went over to Brian.
“Let’s go,” she said.
“It’s not that late,” he said, without looking up.
“Come on. I have to get out of here,” Ruby persisted.
He glanced back at her.
“What’s the matter?”
“Yeah, okay... just a sec’.”
Ruby looked around nervously shifting her weight back and forth. Brian kept playing. Ruby didn’t want to keep pressing him, but she couldn’t stay there. She walked out of the arcade and went to the theater. Brian joined her ten minutes later, looking annoyed.
“Why’d you leave? I was just playing out my game.”
“I just... had to get out of there.”
Brian was speechless. He just stared at her. She’d never behaved that way before.
“Are you okay?” he questioned after a few moments. “You don’t look so good.”
Ruby was sweating, and felt light headed and faint. Brian hugged her when she didn’t answer, and she could feel her heart racing as they pressed together. She pulled away and darted into the restroom, overcome with nausea. Brian waited for her, and the movie had already started by the time she got out. He could probably tell that she’d just put on fresh makeup, and the fine hair around her face was damp.
“Are you all right?” Brian questioned.
Ruby nodded, and put her arm around behind his back and squeezed up close to him. She was still shaking violently, and felt like she might faint at any moment.
“Do you want to go in?” Brian questioned uncertainly.
Ruby nodded, not trusting herself to talk. They went into the darkened theater.
“Are you sure? You don’t want to go home or something?”
Ruby just held onto him, and they sat down. Ruby rested her head on his shoulder and tried to calm herself down. Brian rubbed her back soothingly, and kissed her forehead every now and then. Ruby closed her eyes and concentrated on breathing deeply, and didn’t follow any of what went on in the movie.
When the movie ended, Brian waited for the lights to go back on, and studied her.
“Are you okay?” he asked again.
“Are you sick?”
“A little, I guess,” Ruby admitted.
Brian stroked her hair gently.
“Do you want to go home?”
“We could go back to your place,” Ruby suggested.
“If you want.”
“Okay. We’ll go hang out at my place. Let’s go.”
It was after dark when Brian dropped Ruby off at the Winters again. Ruby really dreaded going back and having to be by herself, but she knew that Chuck would get on her case if she didn’t. She had to keep showing up for a couple weeks, appear to be a normal foster child, and then no-one would notice if he screwed up the paperwork. Chuck was really careful that way.
The porch light was on and the door was unlocked, which was a good sign. Some foster families locked you out completely or made you ring the bell. Ruby opened the door quietly, and swung it open. A lamp in the front room was on, and Mrs. Winters was sitting up reading a book.
“Hi,” Ruby said.
“You’re pretty late getting home. Have you had something to eat?” she inquired.
“Well then, you’d better scoot to bed, or you’re going to have a hard time getting up for school.”
Ruby ducked up the stairs without another word. She sat up in bed, in the dark, and listened for them to go to bed. Once everything was quiet, she went back downstairs, and turned the TV on.
Mrs. Winters got up in the night, and went by Ruby’s bedroom to check in on her. The door was open, unlike the night before, and Mrs. Winters stepped in to see if Ruby was asleep. The bed was empty, not slept in. Mrs. Winters found Ruby downstairs watching TV. Ruby’s eye
“Did I wake you up?” she said quickly.
“No, no. I was just checking on you. Why are you still up?”
“I can’t sleep.”
“You look beat,” Mrs. Winters observed. “Why don’t you give it a try?”
“Come up with me. We’ll talk for a bit and see if we can’t get you settled in for the night.”
Ruby reluctantly shut off the TV and followed Mrs. Winters up to the bedroom. Mrs. Winters folded back the blankets for her, and Ruby slipped in between the sheets. Ruby felt strange, a tightness in her stomach. She couldn’t remember anyone, foster families or her own family, ever folding back the sheets and tucking her in. It made her unaccountably tense. Mrs. Winters sat on the side of the bed.
“Did you have a good day at school?” she asked.
“Okay.” Ruby shrugged.
“You look so tired. You didn’t sleep very well last night, did you?”
“No. I didn’t sleep at all.”
“Do you have something on your mind? Something bothering you?”
“What’s the matter?”
Ruby touched the sore on her forehead. She’d removed the dressing when she got home. It was scabbed over. Ugly, but healing.
“Did Mr. Samuels tell you how I got this?” she asked.
“No. I thought maybe you were in a fight or a car accident.”
Ruby shook her head.
“I was with a friend, and he got shot.”
“How horrible!” Mrs. Winters exclaimed. “No wonder you’re having trouble sleeping! Why don’t you just close your eyes, Ruby? I’ll stay with you until you can get to sleep.”
Ruby looked at her for a long moment, then she turned her cheek into the pillow and closed her eyes. Mrs. Winters watched Ruby until her muscles relaxed and her breathing got regular and deep. Mrs. Winters quietly turned off the nightstand lamp and went back to bed.
Ruby woke up in the dark, the sweat pouring off of her face. She got up and went to the bathroom and turned on the light. She looked at herself in the mirror for a long time, splashed cold water on her face, and tried to decide what to do. She was so tired she could cry. But she wasn’t going to. She hadn’t cried at all since Mike was shot. Ruby went to the door of the Winters’ bedroom, hoping that Mrs. Winters would be up still. She stood there for a few minutes, but it was obvious that they were both fast asleep. Ruby crept up to the bed and touched Mrs. Winters on the shoulder.
“Ma’am? Mrs. Winters... ?”
She stirred, and turned over.
“Oh—um, Ruby? What is it?”
Ruby bent down to talk to her.
“Can I sleep with you? Please?”
Mrs. Winters propped herself up a little and rubbed her eyes.
“You’re a little old for that, Ruby.”
“I can’t sleep. I keep having dreams. I promise I won’t kick, you won’t even know I’m there. I’m a quiet sleeper.”
“Ruby, why don’t you bring in a blanket and pillow and sleep beside the bed.”
Ruby hesitated, then agreed. She knew it wasn’t very likely she’d be allowed in their bed. Most people didn’t think it was okay after about ten. She was lucky to have a foster mom who would let her sleep beside the bed. There’d been those who would have locked her in her room if she gave them trouble. She got a blanket and pillow from her bed and lay down on the floor next to the bed. Mrs. Winters murmured something to her and fell asleep again. Ruby drifted off to sleep for a few minutes, and then woke again with a nightmare. This time she didn’t wake Mrs. Winters up, but slipped in under the covers beside her. Mrs. Winters shifted away a little, and said something to her, but didn’t really completely waken. Ruby cuddled against her, and finally fell peacefully asleep.
“Is she in bed with us?” Mr. Winters questioned. Mrs. Winters opened her eyes and shifted closer to her husband. She realized that it was true, Ruby was cuddled up against her on the other side, fast asleep. The alarm was going to go off in a few minutes.
“I guess she is. I told her she could sleep on the floor last night.” She spoke quietly, not wanting to waken Rub yet.
“We could really get in trouble for something like this,” he warned.
“She’s just a child. And she’s beside me, not you.”
“Still, you know they wouldn’t like it.”
“I didn’t tell her she could come into bed.” Mrs. Winters gazed at Ruby’s face, for once relaxed and un-made-up. She looked very young and defenseless. “You should have seen her last night. She was so tired, and so scared. She probably went forty-eight hours without a wink of sleep.”
Mr. Winters propped himself up so that he could see her.
“What would she be so scared of?”
“Whoever shot her friend. That’s how she got the mark on her head. She was that close to being shot in the head.”
“Yikes. Poor kid. It’s time she had a chance to just be a child. Just to be safe. She’s probably been in foster care half her life and doesn’t know who to trust.”
“I got the feeling from Mr. Samuels that he was only placing her here temporarily. I think he has another situation in mind for her.”
The radio went on and Ruby jumped and opened her eyes. She looked at Mr. and Mrs. Winters, both watching her.
“Hi,” Mrs. Winters greeted.
“I couldn’t sleep,” Ruby said.
“How’re you feeling now? A bit better?”
“Yeah.” Ruby sighed and stretched. “I wish I could sleep all day.”
“Don’t we all? Well, you can sleep for a few minutes while we get ready, but when I go down to get breakfast going, you’d better get dressed and ready for school. Okay?”
“Okay.” Ruby closed her eyes and relaxed again. Mr. and Mrs. Winters got out of bed and got ready for their day.
Ruby tried to focus on the Language Arts assignment that they had just been given, but found it hard to concentrate. She looked up from her paper when the teacher approached.
“You’re wanted in the office,” the teacher said.
“Why?” Ruby questioned, frowning.
“I don’t know. They just called for you.”
Ruby closed her books, and got up and left. She got down to the office and found Merrill and Banks there waiting for her.
“What do you guys want?” she demanded.
“We need you looking through those mug shots at the station,” Merrill advised her.
Ruby unzipped one of the pockets of her knapsack and found the card that Chuck had given to her when he picked her up from Nancy’s house.
“I’m calling my lawyer,” she told them. They waited while she got permission to use the phone and called him. Ruby explained the situation, looking over her shoulder at the cops and talking in a low tone. The lawyer promised to meet her at the police station when she got there. Ruby went with the officers.
“Are you going to handcuff me?” she questioned playfully. She was nervous and she needed some kind out outlet.
“Don’t get mouthy,” Merrill growled. Ruby shook her head.
“Somebody got up on the wrong side of the bed this morning.”
“The idea of a couple murdering gang members out there free and clear gets on my nerves,” he retorted.
“Well, putting them away is your job, not mine.”
“It’s going to be pretty hard, when our only witness refuses to talk.”
“If I tell you anything, I’m gonna get killed. Not much of a choice,” Ruby pointed out.
“If no-one has the courage to talk, guys like this are never going to face the consequences of what they do.”
Ruby didn’t have anything to say to that one. She just shrugged. She wasn’t going to risk her life to put anyone away. Besides, she hadn’t really seen enough to identify anyone even if she wanted to.
Ruby met her lawyer at the police station. Medium height, slender, dark hair. Blue eyes. Much younger than she had imagined. He introduced himself as John Willhelm. Ruby said hi to him nervously, and gestured to their surroundings.
“Do I have to do this?” she questioned.
“Yes. But I’ll stay with you, and we’ll make sure things don’t get out of hand.”
“I’m not going to tell them anything.”
“Maybe you and I should talk alone for a few minutes.” John looked at the officers, “Can we have a couple of minutes to get acquainted?”
Merrill pointed them towards an empty room that they could use. John shut the door, and the two of them sat down across the table from each other.
“So, what’s the scoop here?” John questioned.
“If I tell them anything, I’m gonna get killed,” Ruby said, scratching at a mark on the table top.
“Whoever did it won’t be able to get at you. They’ll be in jail,” he echoed the party line.
“And if they’re in a gang? Their boys aren’t going to come after me?”
“I could see how that could be a problem. I’m sure we could get you police protection until this all blows over.”
“No. I live my own life, I don’t want cops around, or to have to stay in a safe house or something.”
“Well, let’s look through the pictures. If you see the killers in the pictures, you remember the names and tell me afterward.”
Ruby shook her head.
“I’m not telling anyone.”
John frowned and opened the door for her.
“Let’s get this done.”
The pictures only convinced Ruby of what she already knew—that she hadn’t seen enough to identify the boys. The things that she knew about them didn’t show up in the pictures—their voices, the murderer’s touch on her skin. The things that she had seen—shadows in the dark, a hand here, a profile there—nothing looked anything like the pictures she was looking at. They had not shone the lights on their own faces, posing impassively for her. She would know them again only if she met them.
John drove her back to the school, without much to say. Ruby wondered what kind of a guy he was. She was surprised that he was so young. Other foster kids who talked about their lawyers always made them sound old and uninteresting. Ruby managed to get him to give her his home phone number, thinking it might come in handy at some point.
It was after lunch when she got back to school, so Ruby stayed for afternoon classes with her friends. After school, she agreed to go home with Marty. Kate went with them too. Kate didn’t like to hang round at the arcade or pool halls—malls were more her speed. So when they were together, they did slower things, just hanging around at home watching movies and so on.
After ordering Chinese, they settled down in front of the TV. Ruby was aware of Kate leaving at some point, but everything seemed hazy and far away. She got bits and pieces of what was going on on the TV, but it was all muddled up. After a long time, the TV went off. Ruby roused herself drowsily. She found herself lying across Marty’s lap, her head cradled in Marty’s arms. She sat up slowly, rubbing her eyes.
“Sorry—I guess I fell asleep,” she apologized.
“Yeah. You’ve been pretty out of it all night. You been popping pills?” Marty questioned, studying her closely.
“No... just not sleeping very well.”
Marty brushed a tendril of Ruby’s hair back from her face. Ruby sighed.
“I can’t sleep alone—after Mike getting shot.”
“Why don’t you sleep here with me?”
“This foster family...”
“Call and ask them if you can sleep over. If they think you’re staying with a boy, they can talk to me. Even to my mom. They’ll let you stay.”
“Yeah—I’ll give it a try.”
She called Mrs. Winters.
“Can I sleep over at a friend’s tonight?” she questioned.
“It’s a school night, Ruby. You probably shouldn’t.”
“We won’t stay up late. Marty’s mom’s here.”
“Martha. Do you want to talk to her?”
“Well, I would like to make sure it’s okay with her mom.”
“Okay.” Ruby put down the receiver. “She wants to talk to your mom.”
Marty nodded and went to find her. Mrs. Rodger picked up the receiver.
“Hi, there... oh, sure. It’s fine with me. Ruby’s slept over here before. She’s no trouble.” She listened for a few minutes, nodding. “I’ll make sure they get to bed right away, and off to school in the morning. Okay. Good-bye.” She hung up the phone. “No problem. But you guys had better be heading to bed.”
“Yeah, Mom. Come on, Ruby.”
They headed for Marty’s bedroom and shut the door.
Ruby Between the Cracks by P.D. Workman / History & Fiction have rating 2.3 out of 5 / Based on30 votes