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Ruby between the cracks, p.8
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       Ruby Between the Cracks, p.8

           P.D. Workman
 

  Chapter Eight

  WITHIN A COUPLE OF days, Ruby was back on her feet again. Mrs. Winters commented that she was still pale, but definitely starting to look better. Ruby went to the arcade and found, instead of the Jags, Brian.

  “Hey, Ruby! Long time since I’ve seen you. What’re you up to?”

  “Hi, Brian,” she grinned, happy to see him. “Skipping school?”

  “Sure. What do you think, you want to join me?”

  Ruby nodded.

  “Yeah, great. You want to go to a movie?”

  He shrugged.

  “Sounds good.”

  He put his arm around her and they walked to the door. A couple of the Jags stopped them in the doorway.

  “Hey, Ruby—where are you going? Where have you been?”

  Brian looked from one to the other, his face growing pale. Ruby shrugged.

  “I’ve been sort of sick.”

  “Where are you going? You going to come by tonight?”

  Ruby glanced at Brian and shook her head.

  “I got plans right now, okay?”

  The Jags eyed Brian, scowling. Ruby shoved past them.

  “Come on, Bri’. I’ll catch you guys later.”

  They watched Ruby and Brian leave without saying anything else. Brian looked at Ruby when they were a good distance away.

  “How long have you been hanging around with them?”

  “A while.”

  “Don’t you think that’s a little dangerous?”

  “I know what’s dangerous. I can take care of myself,” she disagreed.

  “I don’t know. A gang? Why did you have to get involved with them?”

  Ruby didn’t answer. As she and Brian walked together, she watched for any of the Terminators. She hadn’t really been worrying about them until Brian started talking about danger. That was where the danger would come from. Not the Jags, but the Terminators.

  “Let’s just go to the movie,” she said, looking around carefully.

  Brian gave her a strange look, and they went to the theaters. Ruby relaxed once they were sitting down, and she and Brian kissed until after the opening credits had rolled past.

  They went back to Brian’s house after the movie. His parents were both out, and Ruby and Brian snuggled on the couch in front of the TV until Brian’s mom came home. She glared at Ruby, and Brian withdrew slightly. He put his arm casually over her shoulders. Ruby got up and went into the kitchen.

  “Are you headed home?” Brian’s mom questioned.

  “I guess.”

  Brian was watching her over the back of the sofa.

  “Ruby? Stick around a while, why don’t you?” he coaxed.

  Ruby rolled her eyes.

  “Not much point staying here now.”

  “Come on. Mom won’t mind. Will you, mom?”

  She looked daggers at him.

  “Not at all,” she said grudgingly. Ruby helped herself to a beer in the fridge, and sauntered back over to where Brian was sitting. She slid up against him, not letting him move away when he shifted uncomfortably under his mother’s icy gaze. She glared at them for a while, but eventually stormed off into her bedroom and shut the door. Brian relaxed more then.

  “She sure doesn’t like me,” Ruby commented.

  “It’s not you. She thinks that you’re too young for me. Afraid I’ll corrupt you.”

  Ruby grinned.

  “More like I’ll corrupt you. She thinks I’m wild.”

  Brian kissed Ruby’s forehead.

  “You are.”

  He flipped through channels restlessly, then got up.

  “I’m hungry. What do you want?”

  “Another beer.”

  “What else?”

  Ruby shrugged. Brian puttered in the kitchen for a few minutes, and came out with another beer for Ruby and some sandwiches. Ruby accepted both, but opened the beer without touching the sandwich. They stretched out together on the couch, watching TV.

  Ruby next became aware of Brian’s mother’s face in front of hers.

  “Get up! Come on, you little hussy, get up!”

  Ruby looked around, her vision still fuzzy with sleep. It was dark. The TV was still droning on quietly. Brian shifted underneath her, starting to wake up too. Ruby propped herself up a little, trying to remember what had happened. Brian’s mom grabbed her roughly by the wrist, trying to pull her to her feet. Brian shifted suddenly to a sitting position, nearly tumbling Ruby onto the floor. Ruby was trying to pull back away from the woman’s grasp while getting her bearings. Brian held her around the waist, and pulled her arm back from his mother’s grasp.

  “Leave Ruby alone,” he ordered. “She hasn’t done anything.”

  “Get out of my house. And stay away from Brian!” she shrieked.

  “Mom! Leave her alone!”

  “I want her out of the house, and she’s not coming back here.”

  “Mom, go back to bed. I’ll see Ruby off.”

  “Uh-uh. She’s out now!”

  Ruby got to her feet. She rubbed her eyes.

  “I’ll see ya, Brian.”

  “You’re not going out alone at this time of night. I’ll drop you off somewhere.”

  Ruby shrugged.

  “Don’t bother.”

  “You’re not going off someplace with her in your car,” his mother snapped.

  Brian shoved her.

  “Leave her alone.”

  “I’ll call Child Services,” she threatened.

  Brian looked at Ruby, uncertain. Ruby shook her head.

  “I don’t want any trouble, I’ll go. See-ya around.”

  Ruby headed for the door. She paused dizzily with her hand on the wall, then she went on. Brian stood awkwardly at the front door watching her departure.

  “Sorry about this.”

  “Whatever.”

  Ruby walked away down the sidewalk without looking back at him.

  Ruby stopped by Tim’s apartment, but no-one was there. The Jags were out. She considered staying there to wait for them, but she didn’t think it would be good for her image if they came back to her hiding out there. She went out again to see if she could find them.

  Ruby wasn’t sure what time it was, but she knew it was late. She stuck pretty close to the apartment and kept her eyes peeled for Terminators. She wasn’t sure where the gang’s boundaries were or whether the Terminators would respect them. She kept her hand on her knife. Eventually Ruby stopped in at an all-night cafe with a pay phone, and got out her phone numbers. She flipped through her cards. She tried a couple of numbers before she had any luck.

  She stood at the doors of the cafe until a police car drove up. She went out and got into the car.

  “Hey, Brown,” she greeted.

  He studied her.

  “What are you doing out so late, Ruby?” he questioned.

  Ruby shrugged.

  “I was staying with a friend. Got kicked out.”

  “You want me to take you home?”

  “No. I can’t go there. I got a friend who will let me stay.”

  “One that won’t kick you out?” he questioned.

  “Yeah.”

  “What kind of friend kicks you out at three o’clock in the morning?”

  “Is it that late?”

  “Sure is.”

  Ruby shook her head.

  “I fell asleep at a guy’s house. His mom doesn’t like me, wouldn’t let me stay.”

  “Where am I taking you?”

  Ruby directed him toward Marty’s neighborhood. He pulled away from the curb.

  “I’m glad you called me.”

  “Yeah. Thanks for picking me up.”

  “We should see what we can do about getting you someplace that you could spend the nights regularly, rather than running around town all night.”

  “I have a foster family,” Ruby offered.

  “Is that where we’re going?”

  “No.”

  “Then what are we going to do abou
t you?”

  “I dunno. Marty said I could move in with them.”

  “Is that where we’re going?”

  “Yeah.”

  “Good. Why don’t you move in there permanently?”

  Ruby shivered with a sudden chill. She stared out the window, watching the empty streets they drove through and rubbing her arms.

  “I don’t like permanent. I like freedom.”

  “You wouldn’t have freedom there?”

  “It’s not the same.”

  She told him where to turn, and in a few minutes they pulled up in front of Marty’s house. Brown hesitated, looking at her.

  “Will you be okay?” he checked.

  “Yeah, no problem.” Ruby got out of the car. “Thanks again.”

  He nodded and watched Ruby walk up to the house. He didn’t pull back out right away, but sat there watching her in. Ruby grimaced and rang the doorbell. Marty’s mom answered the door in her slippers and robe.

  “Ruby! What’s going on? Are you okay?” She saw the squad car against the curb and walked by Ruby without waiting for an answer. She went up to the car and leaned against it for a few minutes, talking to Brown. Ruby stood on the front step awkwardly, waiting for Mrs. Rodger to come back to the house. After a few minutes Mrs. Rodger nodded and came back up to the house as Brown pulled away. She motioned Ruby into the house.

  “Come on. You need to go to bed. We’ll talk in the morning. Do you need anything to eat before bed?”

  “No.”

  “If you’re worried about waking Marty up, you can sleep on the couch,” she offered.

  “I’ll sleep with Marty.”

  “Okay. Don’t stay up talking.”

  She locked the door and headed back to her bedroom. Ruby went in the other direction to Marty’s room.

  Ruby awoke the next morning to the noise of Marty’s mom getting ready for the day. Marty stirred beside her and sat up, stretching and smothering a yawn.

  “Ruby… when did you get here?”

  “At nearly four o’clock in the morning,” Marty’s mother informed her from the doorway.

  “What guy were you out with?” Marty demanded.

  Ruby shrugged.

  “I was at Brian’s house. Then his mom kicked me out.”

  “Why do you have to stay with all of these boys? Why can’t you just stay with me?”

  “I like boys,” Ruby said, pulling down her t-shirt to her thighs as she slid out from under the covers.

  “Ruby,” Mrs. Rodger said quietly, in a serious voice. “I am worried about you. That policeman said it wasn’t the first time that he’s picked you up.”

  “Policeman?” Marty repeated, her tone going up to a squawk.

  “I called him,” Ruby snapped. “It was late. I wanted to get here safe, so I called Brown ‘cause he’s driven me before and been really cool about it.”

  “I’m still worried, Ruby. You’re putting yourself in dangerous situations. You’re going to end up hurt,” the older woman persisted.

  “You’ve already been hurt,” Marty interjected.

  Ruby looked from one to the other.

  “Are you ganging up on me?”

  Ruby’s mom sat down on the edge of the bed.

  “We’re not ganging up on you, Ruby. I’m not going to try to force you to do anything. I just want to help you make some changes that will make you safer. I don’t want to hear one day that you’ve been found dead in an alley somewhere. I want you to be safe and happy.”

  Ruby leaned back against Marty, feeling warm and comfortable. She closed her eyes.

  “I know I’m safe here.”

  “Then why don’t you stay here?” Marty pursued.

  “I don’t know. Social Services would never allow it.”

  “Why not?”

  Ruby shrugged, feeling somewhat less comfortable under cross-examination.

  “Lots of reasons. Look, I don’t want to end up in another city somewhere.”

  “Why would you end up in another city?”

  “So that Social Services could get me away from ‘bad influences’. If I don’t go back to my foster family sometimes, I’ll get moved.”

  “Social Services wouldn’t let us take care of you?”

  Ruby didn’t answer at first. Moving in with Marty... in ways it would be good, but she knew things would change if they made it a permanent arrangement. Things always changed once they were permanent. They would treat her differently. They would start putting restrictions on her, setting curfews, dictating who she could associate with. She liked Marty and her mom. She didn’t want things to change.

  “Social Services says you have to have money. And they have to interview both parents and all.”

  Ruby opened her eyes and looked at Marty’s mom. Mrs. Rodger looked thoughtful.

  “You don’t want to move in here, do you?”

  “They wouldn’t let me,” Ruby repeated firmly.

  Marty put her arms around Ruby from behind. She bent over to talk quietly in Ruby’s ear.

  “Your social worker let you go without a foster family before.”

  Ruby started and turned to look at Marty.

  “What?”

  “You can hide it from some people, Ruby. But not from me. I knew you didn’t have a foster family.”

  “Why didn’t you say something?”

  “You didn’t want to tell me, so I kept quiet. Things were better when you didn’t have a foster family. Things have been bad since you moved in with the Winters.”

  Ruby shook her head.

  “Why can’t you get him to do it again? Take you away from the Winters and not reassign you. Tell him that you will stay here.”

  “Chuck’s mad at me. He won’t take care of things anymore.”

  Mrs. Rodger gave Ruby a quick hug.

  “Ruby, you’re welcome here. You know that. You can come here any time—three-thirty in the morning, or whatever. I just want you to be safe.”

  Ruby nodded.

  “I know,” she agreed. She swallowed, finding her throat suddenly tight and hot.

  “You don’t have to stay here permanently. We don’t have to make any particular arrangements. I just want you to be okay.”

  Ruby nodded wordlessly. Mrs. Rodger stood up.

  “Let’s get some breakfast. Will you give me a hand, Marty?”

  “Yeah.”

  Ruby and Marty both climbed out of bed.

  “Is he here?” Ruby questioned, stopping in the doorway.

  They both turned and looked at her.

  “Marty’s dad’s not home.”

  Ruby nodded and headed towards the bathroom.

  “I’m going to have a shower.”

  When Ruby got out of the shower, she wrapped a towel around herself and went into the kitchen to get a cup of coffee.

  “Does your foster mom need a phone call?” Marty’s mom questioned.

  Ruby poured her coffee, and went over to the phone. Balancing the receiver on her shoulder, she dialed the Winters.

  “It’s Ruby.”

  “Where are you, Ruby?” Mrs. Winters’ anxiety was clear in her voice.

  “At Marty’s. I’m okay.”

  “Can I talk to her mom?”

  Ruby handed the phone to Mrs. Rodger.

  “Hi. Yes, Ruby’s okay. I’m sorry she didn’t call last night, she got in pretty late. I’ll tell her. Bye-bye.”

  She hung up the phone.

  “She wants you to stop by there sometime today. Okay?”

  “I might.”

  She nodded.

  “Sit down, and we’ll have something to go with that coffee.”

  Ruby nodded, sipping at her coffee.

  “I just have to get something on.”

  She went back into Marty’s bedroom and pulled on a shirt and some pants. She swallowed a couple of nausea pills and went back out to the kitchen.

  “Are you coming to school?” Marty questioned.

  “No. I gotta see someon
e.”

  “Stay away from the Jags.”

  “How do you know it’s the Jags?” she challenged, unable to suppress a grin.

  “I know it’s not your social worker.”

  “Yeah, I’m not seeing him anymore.”

  “Stay away from the Jags too.”

  “Don’t worry about me.”

  Ruby sat down and nibbled on the toast that Marty gave her. When they finished breakfast, Ruby picked up her knapsack and said goodbye.

  Ruby got out of the bus and walked up to Tim’s apartment. She let herself in and nodded a greeting to the boys who were up and around. Tim was obviously still in bed. She took a couple of steps towards the bedroom.

  “Is he alone?” she asked.

  “Who, Tim?”

  “Yeah. Tim. He’s by himself, right?”

  They all nodded. Ruby opened the door and went in. She shut it behind her and stripped off her pants and shirt. She lifted the covers on Tim’s bed.

  “Lemme alone,” Tim groaned, pulling his pillow over his head. Ruby slid in beside him. He turned over and looked at her. “Ruby! Hey, what’re you doing here?”

  “I knew you’d still be sleeping.”

  “Yeah, come on in.”

  Ruby cuddled up to him, closing her eyes. She liked the warm, safe feeling of being enclosed in his arm. She took a few deep breaths, and went back to sleep again.

  Tim woke her up after a few hours, kissing her and pulling her close. Ruby stretched, feeling warm and comfortable.

  “Hi.”

  “Good morning. Where you been lately?” he questioned.

  “Sick.”

  “Where’d you go last night?”

  “With a friend,” Ruby said firmly, discouraging further questions along this line. Tim considered her response, and then shrugged, deciding it was more important to keep her in a good mood.

  “You going to stick around tonight?” he questioned.

  “Sure. Anything happening?”

  “Jack’s been asking about you. He wants you for something.”

  Ruby sat up. Her stomach tied in knots.

  “Jack is? What did he say?”

  “Lie down. I don’t know, you can ask him tonight.”

  Ruby put her feet over the edge of the bed.

  “When was he looking for me?”

  “Aw, Ruby—come on…”

  “I gotta go find him.”

  Tim lay there and watched her dress.

  “You don’t have to run every time he calls,” he protested.

  “I’m not. I have to see what he wanted me about.”

  Ruby headed for the door. Frustrated, Tim got out of bed and followed her. Ruby picked up her bag and walked out of the bedroom and to the front door.

  “Don’t you even want something to eat?” Tim questioned.

  “I’m not hungry.”

  Ruby left. Tim looked around at the other guys angrily.

  “Well, what’re you looking at?” he challenged.

  Ruby headed over to Jack’s apartment, wondering what he had been looking for her about. Her mind went reluctantly back to Mike. It was strange not having him around anymore. She hadn’t seen him very often, but it had been a long time now, and she felt like he should be showing up again soon. Ruby had seen him killed, yet she couldn’t believe that it had really happened. She had tried as hard as she could to forget all the details of that day. She had not really thought about Mike and what had happened to him. She said the words, but she couldn’t believe that it had really happened.

  She got up to Jack’s apartment and knocked on the door. She stood at his door knocking for a few minutes before turning away to leave. She was two steps away when the door opened. Ruby turned and looked at Jack. He stepped back, opening the door wide to invite her in. Ruby stepped into his apartment, her stomach tightening, nausea returning. Jack looked her up and down. He rubbed his unshaven chin.

  “Where’ve you been?” he questioned thickly.

  He was drunk. She’d seen Jack gulp down tequilas without a grimace before, and remain steady as a rock. He must have had a lot to drink. Ruby looked around. There was a collection of bottles on the table.

  “I was sick,” Ruby told him.

  “Sick. How convenient. I’ve been looking for you.”

  “Tim just told me. I came right over. What did you want me for?”

  “You and me are going over to see some boys,” he said.

  “Who? When?”

  “Right now. Put down your bag, and we’ll go.”

  Ruby put down her knapsack slowly. Jack finished off one of one of the bottles on the table.

  “Are you sure you’re okay... ?” Ruby questioned tentatively.

  He stared at her, and then grinned, showing his teeth.

  “You just leave everything to me, Ruby. I’m in fine form.”

  Ruby flushed hotly. She opened the door again and he followed her out. He put his arm around her, staggering very slightly.

  “You got your blade with you?” he questioned, his warm, beery breath in her face.

  Ruby swallowed.

  “Yeah. Where are we going?”

  Jack reached behind his back, under his jacket, and she felt him push something hard into her waistband. Ruby’s heart raced. A gun. Her knife wasn’t going to be enough this time, he was giving her a gun.

  “I don’t care if you know how to use it or not,” Jack said. “I want you to have it handy anyway.”

  Ruby tried to swallow the lump growing in her throat. Her mouth was dry and sticky. She licked dry lips to no avail. Jack kept his hand behind her back, swaggering beside her with a scowl on his face. Ruby was finding it difficult even to breathe. Whatever was on Jack’s mind, it was dangerous. She wished he’d brought one of the bottles along with him, or offered her something in the apartment. She could really use something to steady her nerves now.

  They ended up entering an alleyway half an hour later. Ruby started to ask Jack what was going on, and he silenced her with a quick movement. She moved the way his firm hand directed. His swagger was gone, and so was the drunken slackness that had been in his face. He guided her into the alleyway, to come face-to-face with Slasher and a big fellow at his shoulder—Laskin, she assumed. Ruby felt weak-kneed. He had brought her to witness a killing. Another shooting. Jack’s right hand was behind Ruby’s back. With his left, he produced a gun, pointing it towards Slasher and Laskin before they could react to his presence.

  “What are you doing here?” Slasher demanded. His voice cut through Ruby like a knife. It pierced her heart, and she was certain she was going to black out. Memories of the night that Mike was killed came flooding back. Jack’s right hand stayed firm on Ruby’s back, willing her to keep her feet and be a witness to what was going to happen.

  “You were expecting someone else?” Jack taunted. Steel entered his voice. “Not a muscle, Laskin, or I’ll blow off your kneecap.”

  Laskin froze. Slasher studied Jack and Ruby with sharp eyes.

  “What is this, Jack?”

  “I think you know what this is about,” Jack answered. He smiled, watching them sweat as they tried to figure out how to get away unharmed.

  Everyone was silent for a few minutes.

  “You’re not going to do anything,” Slasher challenged.

  “I don’t bluff,” Jack said flatly. “Are you going to ask for it to be quick?”

  Slasher dove to the side, scrabbling for his gun. Jack let go of Ruby, firing at Slasher and then aiming a couple of shots towards Laskin. Ruby whipped the gun out of her waistband, and nailed Slasher as he pulled his piece, aiming unsteadily at Jack. Jack held his gun steady on Laskin and glanced at Ruby.

  “You were the trigger man, Laskin.”

  “No, Jack. I swear, it wasn’t me,” the big boy’s voice was high.

  “It was you, Laskin. You left a witness.”

  Laskin shook his head, staring pale-faced at the gun. Ruby watched, frozen. Her voice was gone; she couldn
t tell Jack that it wasn’t Laskin. She would have to tell him who it was, then. And she would have to admit that she had lied to him before. He might decide to shoot her.

  Jack pulled the trigger. Ruby saw Laskin go down without being sure where he was hit. Jack walked over to where Slasher had fallen and kicked him. He walked back to Ruby, shoving the gun back down behind his back. Ruby looked down at the gun in her hand. It was warm. She hadn’t even looked at it when she pulled it out. She tried to put it back in her waistband, but her hands were shaking too much. Jack helped her to tuck it away.

  “Why didn’t you tell me you could shoot?” he demanded.

  Ruby gulped.

  “I never shot a gun before in my life.”

  He studied her for a moment.

  “Let’s scram. Before someone calls in the shots.”

  Ruby followed Jack’s lead. They got a few blocks away, and he pulled her into a bar. He sat her down and ordered a few drinks. He pressed one firmly into her hand.

  “You need this.”

  Ruby took the drink. It warmed her up; taking away the chill she had caught in the alley. Jack slid in beside her and put his arm around her shoulders. He sipped at his own drink, but obviously didn’t need it like Ruby did. He held her close. Ruby leaned against him, closing her eyes. She saw Troy’s face before her eyes. Ruby opened her eyes quickly. She had just seen two hoods executed, and she was still seeing Troy’s face. Jack looked down at her.

  “What?”

  “Nothing. Would you get me another... ?”

  He waved down a waitress, and ordered more drinks. Ruby drank another, and breathed out slowly, relaxing her tense muscles. Jack bent down and kissed her, but his eyes were foggy and his mind obviously wasn’t on her. He ordered a couple more drinks and they sat together, each lost in their own thoughts.

  Ruby opened the door and stumbled into the room. She aimed for the stairs and tripped, falling to her knees. She crawled to the stairs and climbed to her feet, using the handrail to pull herself up. Mrs. Winters hurried over.

  “Ruby? Are you okay? Where have you been?”

  Mrs. Winters’ hands helped Ruby stabilize herself.

  “Are you hurt?” Mrs. Winters questioned urgently.

  She put her arm around Ruby, and gasped.

  “You’re drunk!”

  “As a sailor,” Ruby agreed, holding onto Mrs. Winters for support.

  “Whew! I’m amazed you managed to get home. Let’s get you to bed.”

  She helped Ruby get up the stairs, one clumsy, halting step at a time.

  “I’m going to be sick,” Ruby informed her.

  Mrs. Winters hustled Ruby into the bathroom barely in time. She left Ruby hanging over the toilet while she turned on the faucet to fill the tub.

  “Let’s get you out of those clothes. I’m guessing it’s not the first time you’ve been sick tonight.”

  Ruby groaned weakly.

  “You’re right,” she agreed.

  Mrs. Winters shut the bathroom door.

  “Are you okay for a few minutes?” she questioned, when Ruby stopped heaving.

  Ruby nodded.

  “I’m done.”

  Mrs. Winters hoisted Ruby to her feet, and grasped her shirt.

  “Arms up.”

  Ruby obeyed unsteadily. Mrs. Winters stripped the shirt off and threw it on the floor. She pushed Ruby’s fumbling fingers out of the way to unbutton Ruby’s jeans, and pulled them down to Ruby’s ankles.

  “Let’s get you in the tub,” she ordered. Ruby stepped out of the jeans and slipped on the porcelain tiles. Mrs. Winters tried to catch her and lower her slowly, but Ruby still landed hard. She didn’t appear to even feel it. Mrs. Winters helped Ruby up and steadied her to step into the tub. “Sit down,” she ordered. Ruby obeyed. Mrs. Winters shut off the water. “Okay, wash up.”

  Ruby splashed around a little in the water. Mrs. Winters sat on the edge of the tub watching Ruby to make sure she didn’t drown herself. After a while, Ruby started to shiver.

  “Time to get out,” Mrs. Winters advised.

  “I’m cold.”

  “I know you are. You’ll warm up after you’re dry. Come on.”

  Ruby climbed out of the tub and Mrs. Winters wrapped a towel around her. She took Ruby into the bedroom, and took an unworn nightgown out of the drawer of the dresser. Ruby lay on the bed wrapped in the towel, not moving. Mrs. Winters made her sit up again, dried her off the best she could, and pulled the nightgown on. She tucked Ruby in and left her to sleep it off. She made two phone calls before going to bed herself. One to Mr. Samuels to inform him of Ruby’s condition. The second call was to Marty’s house.

  “Uh—Ruby’s not here,” Marty told her hesitantly. “Did she tell you she was coming?”

  “No. She’s here. I appreciate when you let me know that she’s okay, and I thought you might like to know that she’s safe tonight too.”

  “Oh. Thanks Mrs. Winters.”

  “You’re welcome. Talk to you again.”

  Ruby was not ready to wake up when Mrs. Winters shook her in the morning. She snuggled down further under her covers, trying to block out the interruption.

  “Come on Ruby. Time for school.”

  “Ohhh... I’m sick,” Ruby protested.

  “You’re hung over. Get out of bed.”

  “I can’t. I don’t feel good.”

  “That’s not going to work today. If you didn’t want to be hung over, you shouldn’t have had anything to drink.”

  Ruby tried to remember the night before, but it was mostly a blank. She remembered going out with Jack. They must have tied it on pretty good. And he had been drunk before she even started. Whenever she tried to remember what had happened with Slasher and Laskin, all that surfaced in her memory was Troy’s face. No matter how hard she tried to block him out, and replace it with the images of Slasher and Laskin, the only thing she could think of was his hands on her body, quelling her protests. Ruby sat up as Mrs. Winters pulled away the blankets and took her by the arm. Her stomach churned violently as Mrs. Winters escorted her firmly down the hallway to the bathroom.

  “I’m gonna…”

  “Not until you’re in the bathroom, you’re not.”

  Ruby was pushed into the bathroom, and the door was shut behind her. She stood there looking at herself in the mirror. She didn’t look any different. She had caused an innocent man to be killed, but she didn’t look any different. She had shot a man, and she still looked the same. Ruby hunched over the toilet and threw up.

  It was a while before there was a knock on the door, and Mrs. Winters called her through the door.

  “Are you ready to go to school, Ruby?”

  Ruby didn’t answer.

  “Can I come in, Ruby?”

  Ruby got up and washed her face, still not answering. Mrs. Winters opened the door and came in.

  “Are you going to shower before school?”

  Ruby shook her head.

  “I don’t feel good. I can’t go,” she said.

  Mrs. Winters leaned against the counter.

  “Do you want to tell me why you drank so much last night?” she questioned.

  Ruby shook her head. She started to turn away from Mrs. Winters, catching the edges of her nightgown to take it off and shower. She stopped and looked at it. Suddenly, she felt nauseated again. She stared at the nightgown, feeling the lace along the short sleeves. Mrs. Winters touched her arm.

  “Ruby? What’s wrong?”

  Ruby jerked away from Mrs. Winters’ touch. Out of the thick fog of the night before, she remembered Mrs. Winters’ fingers unbuttoning her pants. Ruby stepped back from Mrs. Winters, confusion filling her mind. Her stomach was tied in tight, hard knots.

  “Don’t touch me,” she warned. “Keep your hands off of me!”

  Mrs. Winters raised her brows questioningly.

  “Be ready for school in half an hour. We’ll get you some breakfast and I’ll drop you off so you can still make it in
time.”

  Mrs. Winters stepped out and closed the door. Ruby had a two minute shower and went back to her bedroom wrapped in a towel. Her heart pounded in her ears. She felt the bump on the side of her head, trying to remember how she got it. Ruby looked at the rumpled bed for a minute, dressed, and picked up her knapsack. She went down the stairs to the front door. She ignored Mrs. Winters’ call from the kitchen and ran from the house.

 
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