Ruby Between the Cracks, p.30P.D. Workman
RUBY LAY IN BED beside Charlie with her face away from him and her hands over her stomach. She was getting cramps, and knew that meant she wasn’t pregnant. She didn’t want to get up and go to the bathroom and confirm it. She just wanted to lie there under the warm covers in the safety of Charlie’s arms. She had hoped beyond hope that this time she would be pregnant.
The radio alarm went on, and Charlie stirred. He hugged her and kissed her neck.
He rubbed her back and hugged her close. Ruby squirmed away from his grip.
“What’s the matter?”
“D-don’t feel g-good.”
Charlie rubbed her back.
“I’m sorry, sweetie. You’re not going to come work out with me, then?”
“Okay. I’ll see you after, then?”
Ruby nodded. Charlie got up and got dressed for the gym.
“Would you g-get m-me a T-Tylenol?” Ruby questioned.
“Sure, hon’. I’m gonna miss you at the gym.”
He went into the bathroom and came back with a couple of pills and a glass of water.
“Make sure you take your Prozac too.”
She listened to him in the kitchen for a few minutes, and then he left. Ruby rolled over and closed her eyes.
Ruby sat on the examining table waiting for the doctor to come in. She’d waited in the foyer for a couple of hours before they took her into the office.
The doctor finally came in. He picked up her chart and glanced over it. He looked at her over the top of his glasses.
“Well, Miss Simpson... what can I do for you today?”
“I c-can’t g-get p-pregnant.”
He stared at her for a moment without saying anything. He shook his head.
“You’re too young to be worrying about that.”
“I w-want a b-baby.”
“Miss Simpson... are you married?”
“Have you finished school?”
“Could you support a baby on your own?”
“Then I think you’d better reconsider. Wait until you’re older to start having babies.”
“I already had t-two. I want another.”
“You’ve had two pregnancies already?”
“T-two b-babies and an abortion.”
“When was your abortion?”
“T-tried t-to g-get rid of the l-last b-baby.”
“Tried? The abortion was unsuccessful?”
“An improperly performed abortion could have done considerable damage to your reproductive system. I wouldn’t count on being able to get pregnant after that.”
“Depending on how badly they botched it.”
“C-can’t you just g-give me s-some p-pills?”
“I could prescribe fertility drugs, but I don’t do that without a full fertility workup, and certainly not to a sixteen year old girl.”
“I really n-need them.”
“Not in my books, you don’t. You have a lot of things left to do in your life before you start worrying about infertility.”
“That’s right. That’s what I say, and that means you’re not going to get any treatment from me. And I guarantee you aren’t going to get it from any other reputable doctor either.”
Ruby sat there looking at him. He closed her file and took off his glasses.
“That’s it. We’ll see you again, Miss Simpson.”
He walked out of the room. Ruby slid down from the examining table slowly, dazed. She hadn’t expected that response from him. He was a doctor, he was supposed to help her out, not make judgments and refuse to treat her. She started for home.
Charlie hurried into the apartment and went to the closet to get his notepad out of his jacket. He saw Ruby’s jacket hanging in the closet and called out to her.
“Hi, baby. Forgot my notepad. I’m still on shift.”
There was no response. Charlie shrugged and started to head back out the door, then ducked back in and headed for the bedroom.
“How are you feeling, sweetie? Any better?”
The bed was empty. Charlie frowned and looked around. The door to the bathroom was shut. He knocked on the door.
“Honey, are you in there?”
There was no response.
“Ruby? Are you okay?”
The door was locked. Charlie stood there for a moment, listening. All he could hear was water dripping.
“Ruby, are you okay, baby? You’d better answer me, or I’ll kick the door in.”
He said it jokingly, but he was growing more and more uneasy with her silence. The water continued to drip.
Charlie took a couple of steps back and kicked the door beside the handle. It gave most of the way, and he put his shoulder to it and pushed it open. Ruby was in the tub. The water was red and Ruby was ivory white. Choking back his fear, Charlie went to her and felt her neck for a pulse. He was relieved to still be able to feel a weak pounding. He grabbed Ruby by both arms and dragged her out of the tub, trying to unemotionally assess the damage and follow procedure as he’d been taught. He was in uniform and had his radio, so he called for help while he shakily pulled a roll of gauze out of one of the pouches on his belt. He wrapped it as tightly as he could around Ruby’s opened wrists. Then he held her close in her arms, whispering softly to her and waiting for an ambulance. She was so white, and her breaths were very shallow. He sat there with her, hearing the tap drip steadily into the bloody water. His partner was there in a moment, having heard his call for help.
“It’s Ruby,” he said in a shocked tone. “What happened, Charlie?”
“I don’t know,” Charlie said hoarsely, trying to talk past the lump in his throat. “She’s been depressed, she’s on Prozac. It’s supposed to make her better. Not... this...”
Davidson pulled a towel off of the rack and covered Ruby up with it. Charlie didn’t move.
“Is the door open?” he questioned.
“Yeah, I left it open.”
“Where are they?”
“It’s only a minute since you called. They dispatched an ambulance.”
“Why don’t they get here?”
“They’ll get here,” Davidson assured him. Davidson stood up and looked carefully around the bathroom, something that Charlie hadn’t done.
“How full was your Tylenol?” he questioned.
“About half, I think.”
“It’s empty now,” he observed. “I don’t see a note.”
“She couldn’t write legibly after the stroke.”
“Why did she do it?” Charlie questioned despondently.
There was no answer. Charlie kissed her still face and felt for a pulse again.
“Where are they? She’s not going to last long.”
“They’ll be here in just a minute.”
It seemed like an eternity before they heard the voices of the paramedics.
The two young men hurried in. They assessed the situation quickly and went to work, starting an IV drip and examining Ruby’s bandaged arms.
“Okay, let’s get her down to the truck and get some blood going.”
“She’s taken a bottle of Tylenol too,” Davidson told them.
“She wasn’t taking any chances, was she? Okay, let’s go.”
Ruby’s ears were buzzing and she felt sick. She groaned and tried to turn over, but she couldn’t move.
“Ruby, are you awake?”
Ruby ignored Charlie’s voice and tried to go back to sleep. Her lips and mouth were dry and her throat was sore. It hurt to swallow.
She’d never heard him beg like that. Ruby opened her eyes and looked for Charlie. Her eyes were sticky and took a moment to clear. She was in a small white room. A hospital. Then Ruby realized what had happened, and that she had failed. She turned her head to look at Charlie. He moved closer and held her hand.
“Are you okay, sweetie? Are you awake?”
Ruby nodded and swallowed painfully.
“Oh, sweetie... I was afraid we were too late. I thought we were going to lose you.”
Ruby was becoming more aware of her surroundings. Of her bandaged wrists, the IV of blood dripping into her arm. The restraints that held her arms down and prevented her from moving or getting up.
“Let m-me g-go,” she said.
He shook her head.
“Sorry, darling. You have to be protected until we can get you better and into some kind of program.”’
“I w-won’t d-do anything.”
“You scared me, Ruby. Why didn’t you talk to me? Tell me what was bothering you?”
“I c-couldn’t,” Ruby protested.
“I thought we had an open relationship. Where we could talk about our problems.”
Ruby gazed at Charlie. His eyes were red-rimmed and bloodshot. He’d been crying. Charlie had been crying over her.
“N-not this one.”
“Why not? You think I’ll be upset about whatever it is? That I’d rather have you die then talk to me about it?”
“Well then? Tell me what’s the matter. What’s wrong?”
Ruby turned her head away. The door was shut.
“Am I l-locked in?”
“Yes. You’re in the psychiatric wing.”
“Because people who try to kill themselves need to be helped. They need professional help. Like I should have gotten for you when I first knew that you were depressed.”
“It’s n-not your f-fault.”
“Well, I feel pretty guilty about it. I didn’t know there was anything wrong. I thought we had things under control.”
Ruby didn’t say anything. Charlie touched her hair.
“I don’t know what I would do if I ever lost you, baby.”
She turned and looked at him.
“How d-did you...”
“I forgot my notepad at the apartment. I went back for it right after I got on shift.”
“How did you think I was going to feel when I came home and found you dead?” Charlie demanded, voice cracking. “How could you do that?”
“I d-didn’t want t-to hurt you.”
“Well, you did.”
“I can’t live without you, baby. I really couldn’t take it if something happened to you.”
Charlie patted her hand, and Ruby closed her eyes and went back to sleep.
“How is she?” the doctor questioned. “Has she been awake?”
“Yes, for a few minutes.”
“Did you talk?”
“Yeah. But she really didn’t want to discuss it.”
“How did she seem?”
“Tired... unemotional. Not like I expected.”
“It’s pretty draining. And you don’t see a lot of strong emotion in a person who’s severely depressed. They go through a stage where they are unhappy, tearful maybe, but then they pass that stage, and get to where they hardly feel anymore.”
“I don’t understand how this happened. She’s been a little depressed, but... it wasn’t that bad.” Charlie shook his head.
“Not to you. But people who are suicidal seldom appear that way. It comes as a shock to everyone around them,” the doctor said sympathetically.
“I should have known.”
“You are not to blame. She probably hid it very well.”
“What can we do now?”
“First we’ll switch her medication and see if that helps. She’s been on the Prozac for long enough that she obviously is not responding to the treatment. Some teenagers get worse on some antidepressants. And we’ll get her into counseling. Maybe keep her in a closed facility for a little while until she’s doing better.”
“She’ll just see it as another jail. She’s been through drug rehab and juvenile detention. I don’t think any of it helps.”
“Maybe not, but she has to be protected until we’re sure she won’t be a danger to herself.”
Charlie nodded. A couple of cops came down the hallway, and Charlie frowned.
“What are you doing here?” he demanded.
“Looking into an attempted homicide,” Merrill said quietly.
“You’ll just make things worse.”
“We’ll be very careful, Charlie. There will be no accusations that this was an admission of guilt in Jamie’s death. No accusations of anything, just a few discreet questions. We have to investigate.”
“You think this was because of Jamie?”
“We don’t know what this was about. Has she said anything?”
“No, she won’t talk to me about it.”
“I’m sorry we have to get in the middle of things. But it is required by law.”
Charlie threw up his hands.
“Fine. Whatever. If you can find something out—if you can explain this to me—I’d really like to know what this was all about.”
“Great. Thanks. Ruby’s been depressed lately?”
“Some times are worse than others. Before we got together, she used uppers to make her feel better. I got her started on Prozac. She told me once she’s been depressed since she had an abortion. That was a couple of years ago now.”
“I remember seeing the Prozac in your apartment. Sometimes it just doesn’t do the job. Has she had any counseling?”
“Not outside of rehab.”
“Has she ever told you why she was depressed? Was it related to the abortion?”
“I guess. She’s never said though.”
“She regretted the abortion?”
“No. She later got her tubes tied so she wouldn’t get pregnant again. She’s pretty adamant about never having another baby.”
“She’s sixteen and a doctor tied her tubes? That’s pretty radical.”
“Well, maybe not after two unwanted babies and an abortion.”
“Huh. All the same, I’d like to know what doctor performed the surgery and who signed the parental permissions.”
“I guess you’d have to call her social worker.”
“Do you have his number?”
“No. But he’s been around here and talked to the doctors. They’ll have the information.”
“Okay. If you think of anything, you’ll let me know?”
“Sure. Of course.”
“Is she available to talk?”
“She’s still unconscious most of the time.”
“We’ll stop in again tomorrow.”
Charlie nodded and watched them turn and walk away again.
Ruby was surprised to see Merrill and Banks again, but was more surprised that they didn’t really push her to answer their questions. They weren’t the sharp, tough cops that she had talked to so many times before. They were quiet and gentle and were careful of what they said. But she couldn’t tell them anything. She hardly knew herself what had happened. To put her finger on what exactly it was that had made her take the steps she did. She only knew how she felt, and what she had done. Why? She wasn’t exactly sure.
She was kept under lock and key in the psychiatric section. She hated it worse even than juvie. There, she had been with people like herself. Now if she chose to go out of her room, there were crazy people around her. People who were mentally unbalanced, some of them unpredictably violent. She was afraid to talk to anyone, or to let anyone get close to her. All she wanted was to go home.
Merrill shook hands with Charlie.
“So you’ve finished with your investigation?” he questioned.
“Unless something else turns up.”
“Okay. When Ruby gets out... we can start fresh.”
“Just one thing,” Merrill said.
“Use birth control.”
Merrill shook his head.
“Ruby never had her tubes tied.”
Charlie felt the blood drain from his face.
“She didn’t... ?”
“Why would she tell me she did?”
“But I could have... she could have...”
Charlie nodded uncomfortably.
Ruby kissed Charlie, and undid his buttons. Charlie put his hand over hers to stop her.
“You lied to me sweetheart.”
Ruby bit her lip.
“Why did you tell me... you got your tubes tied?”
“I d-did,” Ruby said.
“Social Services says not.”
“They d-don’t know,” she dismissed.
“Who did it? What doctor?”
“I d-don’t remember his n-name.”
“I’m not taking any chances. I thought you didn’t want to get pregnant.”
“Or is that just something you told me to fool me into getting you pregnant? Just part of the plan?”
“I just can’t figure out why you would want to do that. Were you trying to get back at me for something? For arresting you?”
Ruby stood up and walked out of the room. Charlie heard her get her jacket out of the closet and the front door slammed.
Ruby walked for a long time, through the streets, on the bus, wherever she could think of. She didn’t want to be with anyone. Not Charlie, and not anyone in the gang. She didn’t want to see anyone that she knew. She couldn’t stop thinking about Charlie making accusations, not believing what she told him. He was never going to believe anything that she said again. Any time she told him anything, he was going to doubt her.
“Ruby? Hey, what’s up?”
Ruby turned and saw Terry.
“When d-did you g-get out?” Ruby said in surprise.
“Just yesterday. How’re you doing?”
“Okay. How ab-bout you?”
Terry grinned and put his arm around her shoulders.
“I’m thirsty and I’m hungry. You?”
“Let’s get a drink.”
“Or maybe we pick up a couple of six-packs and get a room for the night, huh?” Terry suggested. “I lost my apartment when we got busted, you know.”
“You and your boyfriend break up?” Terry questioned, tilting his head to the side and looking at her.
“Had a fight.”
“Ah,” he nodded. “Are you going to make up?”
Ruby stared off down the street, scowling.
“I d-don’t know yet.”
Terry started walking, and Ruby walked beside him, letting him lead the way.
“What was the big fight about?”
“I d-dunno. He d-doesn’t t-trust me.”
“Dump him then. Who needs that, right? Just drop him.”
“Maybe. I d-don’t know.”
Terry walked into the liquor store. Ruby followed him in. He bought a couple of six-packs of beer, and they each carried one to the motel.
Ruby wasn’t back, and Charlie wasn’t sure if she would ever be back. He hadn’t exactly been kind and tactful. He’d been hurting so much since her suicide attempt, and he just didn’t know how to deal with it. Charlie found himself lashing out at Ruby and saying things that he knew would hurt her. He just couldn’t understand what was going on in her head. The only thing that he knew for sure was that she had lied to him, and that she had intended to get pregnant. Why, he didn’t know. He was afraid it was for money, blackmail. But they both got along so well together, Charlie couldn’t believe that it had just been a cover to fool him. However many times she had lied to him, he couldn’t believe that she didn’t love him, at least on the surface. Maybe it didn’t go as deep as he had thought, but he couldn’t believe that all the months they had been together and all of the months that they had been separated, that she hadn’t cared for him at all. What kind of a girl would spend all that time pretending and scheming. No-one had that kind of patience.
Ruby hated to admit how much she missed Charlie. He was such a part of her life now. The only time that she didn’t conform to his schedule was when she was locked up. And even then, they worked visits around his schedule. To be completely away from Charlie for more than a day was disconcerting. She found herself expecting Terry to talk like Charlie did, to say the things that Charlie did and laugh the same way. But Terry was Terry, and however many ways he might be similar to Charlie, he was no replacement.
Ruby stayed with him for a few days, and hung around the gang, but eventually she went back to Charlie’s apartment.
Ruby opened the door and found Charlie in the front room conversing with young woman in a suit. Charlie looked up at Ruby, startled. Ruby turned to leave.
“No, Ruby—hang on. Come in. Don’t go,” Charlie called. Ruby hesitantly went further into the apartment, eying the woman.
“Ruby, this is Miss Carter. She’s a social worker.”
She should have known. The woman had social worker written all over her. Charlie motioned to Ruby.
“Come here for a minute. I want to talk to you.”
He led her into the bedroom, promising Miss Carter that he would return shortly. He shut the door.
“Hi, sweetie. I didn’t know if you were coming back.”
She stiffly allowed him to hug her and kiss her on the forehead, and then withdrew.
“Miss Carter is here because I wanted to see if we could get your baby,” Charlie explained. “I thought maybe if I had custody of Sheree...”
Ruby was baffled.
Charlie shrugged awkwardly.
“I really don’t know your agenda, Ruby. But if you’re trying to get pregnant again... maybe it would be better to try to take care of the baby you already have.”
“They w-won’t g-give her t-to m-me.”
“Not to you, no. I would be her guardian. When I’m on shift, she could be in a day home or something. They don’t particularly like your past history, but I am making some progress with them on having her moved here.”
Ruby sat down on the end of the bed, frowning.
“I d-don’t know,” she said, shaking her head.
“Well, we’ll give you some time to think about it, work it through. Maybe we’ll do a couple of visits before we make a firm decision. Okay?”
“It was the only thing I could think of, baby. I don’t know what it is that you want, but I want you to be happy.”
Ruby nodded. Charlie patted her on the shoulder and went back out to talk to Miss Carter. Ruby sat there on the edge of the bed, stunned. Take care of Sheree? She wasn’t even sure if she could look at Sheree. But maybe it would be better than Sheree being in foster care with people that weren’t even related to her. Maybe this was a way Ruby could prove that she could still be a good mom.
Charlie took Sheree from the social worker’s arms.
“Hi there, little sweetie,” he said, looking at her.
She let him hold her, sucking on one finger and studying his face.
“How would you like to
She shook her head. Charlie grinned.
“You got a mind of your own, hey?” he chuckled.
It was hard to believe that she was Ruby’s little girl. Her hair was so dark it was almost black, and her face was so round and pudgy. Charlie could see none of Ruby in her. When Charlie smiled at Sheree, she smiled widely back.
“You’re a real sweetie, you know that?” Charlie said.
“And you are a sweetie,” she said slowly and deliberately.
“Then why don’t you want to come live with me?”
“I have a puppy,” she advised him solemnly.
“If you could bring your puppy, would you like to come?”
Sheree squirmed to be put down, and Charlie set her on the floor. She scampered off. Charlie looked at the social worker.
“I pictured a baby. I knew how old she was, but...”
“Sheree is very advanced for her age. Physically and mentally she is at the top of the spectrum, in spite of her... less than ideal beginnings.”
Sheree’s foster mom had been watching the introduction.
“Do you really think she should go back to her mother?” she questioned worriedly.
“Ruby never harmed or neglected her. She gave up custody to someone she thought would be better for the job, and her choice was unfortunate. But if it’s possible to reunite them, that is what we should be looking for.”
“This Jamie guy that Ruby gave her to in the beginning…” Charlie said carefully. “Just how bad was he?”
“It’s hard for us to say. He took care of her physical needs, she was never neglected. But she was so young when we took her away from there—she couldn’t tell us what happened to her, if anything. We couldn’t prove that he had done anything, but when we looked at his record and found out about his convictions, we had to remove her.”
“What was it that made you look at his record?”
“The nanny thought things weren’t quite right.”
“But you never found any corroboration?”
“A doctor examined her and couldn’t tell us anything for certain.”
“Do you think it’s advisable for a man to be her sole guardian again?” the foster mom questioned.
“Charlie won’t be the only one there. Ruby is also there, and when Charlie is on shift, Sheree will be in a reputable day home. And we’ll be checking up on the situation regularly.”
Sheree walked carefully into the room clasping a puppy against her stomach.
“This is Ralph.”
“He’s very cute,” Charlie acknowledged, bending down to look at the pup. He stroked Ralph’s head, and the puppy licked him.
Ruby was nervous walking back to the apartment, knowing what she was in for. It was her decision whether or not to go back, but it was going to make a big impact on her life. Ruby steeled herself to open the door and walk in casually. This was the way it was going to be from now on, and she might as well keep cool.
Charlie and Sheree were on the floor watching TV. Charlie looked up at her and smiled.
“Hello, darling. How’s it going?”
“We already ate. There’s spaghetti in the fridge.”
Charlie nudged Sheree.
“Say hi to mommy, Sheree.”
“Hi,” Sheree said obediently, looking at Ruby uncertainly.
“No need to be so nervous. Sheree isn’t going to bite you or something.”
Ruby moved into the kitchen without saying anything. Charlie left Sheree to watch TV and joined her. He hugged her from behind and kissed her hair.
“It’s okay, sweetie. I know you’re nervous. But it will be okay.”
“Have you even looked at her?” he questioned.
Ruby nodded. She swallowed.
“She looks like her d-daddy.”
“And that bothers you?”
“Do you think you can get over that and get to know her? She is a separate person, you know. She’s not you and she’s not her father. She’s a totally separate and complete person on her own.”
She nodded. The words made sense. Everything he had said to her from the start had made sense. It was her own feelings that Ruby couldn’t understand.
“I d-don’t know how t-to b-be a mom.”
“Well, I’ve never been a dad before, either. It’s just something we have to take a day at a time and give ourselves a chance to learn. Neither of us is going to be perfect.”
Ruby dished up a small bowl of spaghetti and put it in the microwave.
“How was your day today?” Charlie questioned.
“Okay, I g-guess.”
“How are you feeling?”
“You know you have an appointment with your therapist tomorrow.”
“And you won’t miss it.”
“Good. Come on over and watch TV with us.”
Getting Sheree to bed had taken a while, but Charlie was patient with her and eventually got her to sleep. He came into the bedroom and undressed.
“Well, Sheree’s off to never-never land. She’s such a cutie.”
“You like her?” Ruby questioned, hearing the affection in his voice.
“Sure I do. I think she’s very cute and very bright.”
“D-do you think I d-did b-bad g-giving her away?”
Charlie answered cautiously.
“She seems like a normal child, doesn’t act like she has emotional problems. I think you could have picked a better person to take care of her, but I think things turned out pretty good.”
“Jamie always loved b-babies,” Ruby explained, “even S-stella.”
“Stella was your other baby?”
“Why ‘even’ Stella? What was wrong with her?”
“She was ugly... and not right. Retarded.”
“I didn’t know she had problems.”
“C-cause I d-drank, Marty s-said.”
“Oh, I see. I’m sorry you lost her, Ruby.”
Ruby nodded and cuddled up to him as he climbed into bed.
“I wasn’t a g-good mom,” she admitted.
“We’ll work on it. I’m sure it wasn’t your fault she died.”
Ruby shrugged heavily.
“I d-don’t know.” She was quiet for a long time, and when she spoke again, Charlie didn’t stir, already asleep. “I think G-god must hate me.”
Ruby Between the Cracks by P.D. Workman / History & Fiction have rating 2.3 out of 5 / Based on30 votes