You knew it was pretty bad when Jake, my idiot step-father, was the sane one in the group. Four middle-aged men sitting around with a case of beer and enough weed to choke a horse. Just what I needed.
I could feel their eyes traveling over me as I walked through the living room to my bedroom. Total creeps Ville. I knew they were checking out my butt, they weren’t even sober enough to be sly about it.
It made my skin feel like I had a dozen spiders climbing all over me. It took everything I had not to shudder, but what could I do? White trash trailers don’t leave a lot of options.
“Hey, Ruby,” idiot number two called out. Frank, my step-father’s stoner buddy. “You want some?” he asked holding up a joint. Like it was a prize or something.
Listen, I know guys, even old guys like these. I could see it in their eyes that they were looking for more than a good high. They had that hungry look and it wasn’t from the munchies. The kind of look that set off warning bells in a girl’s gut.
Like I said, Creeeeps Ville.
“No thanks,” I said, “I’ve got homework to do,”
“Hey, I thought it was Christmas break,” Idiot number three said like he was informing the world he’d discovered the cure for cancer.
“Yes, Mr. Cruz, But I’ve still got stuff I have to finish before we go back next week.”
The old geezer’s glassy eyes drooped a little as if he was having problems staying awake during our exciting conversation.
“Well if you change your mind,” Frank said with a smirk that made me want to throw up in my mouth. “You know where we are.”
Yes, I knew, sitting in my mom’s living room burning through what little money she had.
I gave them a little finger wave over my shoulder and rushed to my room. Okay, the middle finger might have waved a little more than the other ones. But they were too far gone to notice.
Once in my room, I immediately threw the deadbolt. I’d installed it shortly after my mom married Jake, husband number four. I’d put it in for a reason. Jake had a way of looking at me that let me know just what he’d like to do. The kind of look that made me want to pluck his eyes out of his head and feed them to the ravens. But when I woke up one night to see him standing in my doorway staring at me while I slept.
Nope, deadbolt the next day.
Of course, the door was hollow and wouldn’t have stopped a determined butterfly, let alone a full grown man. But it might slow them down for a bit. At least enough for me to get out of there.
Sighing, I threw myself onto my bed and tried to figure out what it was about guys that made them jerks. I mean it was always this way. The hungry eyes, the constant come-ons. Like I was supposed to fall down and let them take me.
Guys just can’t handle eighteen-year-old girls in short skirts and knee high Doc Martens. Either that, or the short purple hair and nose ring set them off. Whatever it was. I wasn’t changing the way I looked just because a bunch of old farts couldn’t keep their minds out of the gutter and their crotches under control.
It wasn’t my problem, it was theirs.
Shaking my head at male stupidity, I reached for my phone when a soft knock at my door made me jump about three inches off the bed.
“Ruby? Hey, let me in so we can talk,” Jake, my evil step-father, said through the door as he rattled the knob.
Yeah, like that was going to happen.
Ignoring him, I called up my messages. I’d learned long ago if I didn’t answer, he would go away.
“Come on,” he said, more demanding this time. “The guys just want to talk.”
My gut clenched up in a ball as I watched the door start to strain around the lock. This was feeling different, scarier. And I didn’t scare easy.
“Let me in,” he yelled, “This is my house,”
Actually, technically it wasn’t a house, it was a trailer. And my mom owned it, not him. But I didn’t think this was the time to bring that up.
The slurred speech and the encouraging calls from the living room were sending up warning flares by the dozen. The kind that were screaming at me to get the hell out of there.
I might not be the brightest person on earth, but I had learned long ago not to ignore those warning signs. Especially when they were as bright and loud as these.
Grabbing my jacket, I slid open my window and squirmed through on my stomach. A tactic I had actually practiced a time or two just for this situation. I’d even moved the wooden chair on the deck underneath the window to make it easier getting down.
The cold air bit at me, making my body shiver and my mind wonder if this was the smartest move.
“Ruby,” he yelled again as he began pounding the door with his fist. Confirming that I was doing the right thing.
My heart jumped. Hold just a little longer, I begged the door. Just enough for me to get out of there. I didn’t want to think what would happen if I didn’t
Tip toeing across the back deck, I ducked under the drooping overhang and scurried down the steps. Just a little further and I’d be lost in the shadows of the trees.
“Ruby,” he screamed one more time as the sound of wood being ripped to shreds sent a bolt of energy down my spine.
Twisting, I put a bunch of trees between myself and the back window as I ran. Where to? I didn’t know, but anywhere had to be better than here.
By the time I hit the main road I was royally pissed. I’d been chased out of my own home by a forty-year-old, freeloading, washed out waste of flesh. Pretty much the story of my life.
Shaking my head, I pulled my jacket tight and headed for town. A brisk mile walk was just what I wanted on a cold winter night.
Maybe I should have faced them down, I thought, as I shuddered. No way, these weren’t high school guys, afraid of their own shadow. These were grown men who didn’t exactly care what I thought about them.
Nope, that would definitely not have worked.
A deep rumble behind me on the road made my heart jump. Turning, I saw a pair of headlights headed my way.
Deciding that becoming invisible was the smart thing to do, I jumped into the trees until the truck had passed, holding my breath the entire time.
Letting out a long breath, I relaxed. It hadn’t been his truck after all. Just some other idiot. Great, I thought. I was going to be spending the rest of the night playing hide and seek with that idiot Jake.
Shaking my head, I started for town again. The sooner I got there, the sooner I could disappear.
What was my next move, I wondered, as my insides curled up with worry. Emily was out of town. She’d been dragged to her grandmother’s in Spokane for the Christmas break. And Jade’s house was worse than mine. Her brother was home, just out of prison. I’d be like a tasty morsel for a guy like him.
Nope, I was on my own for the night.
Okay, friends were out. What else? Seattle? I wouldn’t be the first girl from Everton to run away to the big city.
I thought of the Fifty-three dollars in my back pocket. How long would that last, I wondered to myself. Six, maybe seven hours. Then what?
Nope, Seattle wasn’t the answer, not yet, maybe later. I could get a job, save up some money then head out. Things had to be better there. No way could they be any worse.
I continued on. Cursing myself for wearing a skirt on a night like this. My legs felt like popsicles. I should have been dressed in three layers of ski pants and even then, I’d have been half frozen.
Gritting my teeth, I began to hurry, the sooner I made town, the sooner I could get out of this cold.
When I hit the edge of town, my heart dropped. It seemed like half the place had closed up until next summer. Post-Christmas let down I guess. Mainstreet was hidden in shadows, like a scene from some post apocalyptic movie, no people, blowing trash, and a dog barking off in the distance.
Great, even my home town was against me.
Pulling my jacket tight again, I hung a right. Sam’s would be open.
Yep, there is was, the diner to beat all diners. Also the only diner in town.
The yellow neon sign flickered in the darkness, but I could see the place was still open. My stomach relaxed just a little as I thought about a warm cup of coffee and a place to figure out the rest of my life.
It smelled like French fries and banana cream pie. So much better than stale beer and weed. Besides, it was warm. I let out a long breath and scanned the joint. A few customers, one waitress in a frumpy green uniform. A cook ringing a bell for a completed order.
Yep, just the same as always. That was the thing about Sam’s. It never changed. For five generations, it had been serving excellent gut bombs and coma inducing milk shakes. Solid, basic food at cheap prices. Just the kind of place a broke girl needed on a night like this.
Trying to push the permanent frown off my face, I slid onto a counter stool.
“What can I get you,” the waitress asked with a perky smile that set my teeth on edge.
She looked like she was in her early twenties and should have been out enjoying life instead of being stuck here. The name tag read Meagan but I couldn’t place her.
I thought I knew everyone in this Podunk town. Something about her was familiar but I couldn’t place it. Then it hit me. Tommy Presley’s older sister. I’d thought she’d gotten out. But I guess not. Just like a black hole, this town had sucked her back in.
Well, just because she couldn’t make it, didn’t mean I couldn’t. Besides, I had more reasons and less options.
“Coffee,” I answered.
She nodded as she efficiently poured me a mug then reached behind her back to grab the cream and sugar.
“Black’s fine,” I said as I wrapped my freezing hands around the warm mug.
Yes! I thought, as the hot coffee wormed its way down my throat. Hot caffeine, who could ask for more. Especially on a night like this.
I sat there for a moment, my face hanging over the cup. Letting the rich aroma of diner coffee wash part of the night away. I didn’t think, I didn’t worry, I just was. For a quick, brief moment, I was able to ignore my life and just be.
It was one of those moments you don’t think about until they are long gone. But, you sure cherish it later.
I will never know how long I might have been able to hold onto that feeling of nothingness, because at that exact second in time when I had found momentary piece. Luke Sinclair ruined the moment.
He stepped through the kitchen bat-wing doors holding a tray of upside down coffee cups. Luke Sinclair, a white apron tied around his waist. His shirt sleeves rolled up above his elbows.
If I’d known he was working there I never would have come in.
“Hey Ruby, what you up to?” he asked as he placed the tray on the waitress’ station.
“It’s a diner, this is coffee, what does it look like I am doing,” I snapped before I could stop myself. Once again, my mouth running on its own with out my brain being involved.
Luke pursed his lips and shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know,” he said, “You might be contemplating the inner workings of the hydrogen atom for all I know. But hey, to each his own.”
With another shrug of his shoulders, he turned his back and re-entered the kitchen.
Great, I thought. I’d just pissed off one of the Lakeland boys. One of the most liked and respected people in my school. And I treat him like last weeks lunch. Not smart Ruby.
Shaking my head, I stared down at my coffee and tried to regain my balance, but it was gone and I was pretty sure it wasn’t coming back.
Luke Sinclair, here in Sam’s. Tonight of all nights. Just my luck. The one person who would never understand my life. Perfect Luke, I always thought of him. Gorgeous in that Clark Kent way, big, broad shoulders, dark hair, black glasses.
Super smart, nice guy, but somehow, I knew there was a hint of danger to him as well. I’d seen it when he got into a fight with Tommy Johansson in fifth grade. Tommy out weighed him by thirty pounds, but Luke had torn into him like he was a cat fighting to get out of a paper bag. There was no stopping him.
Only later did I learn that he’d been sticking up for Mary Simpson and Tommy had sucker punched him. Luke had gone down, but then sprung up and finished the fight.
If Mr. Preston hadn’t pulled him away, he’d have seriously damaged the boy.
That was Luke Sinclair in a nut shell, champion of the down trodden, hot, smart, the best of friends and the worst of enemies.
The kind of person that just naturally pissed me off.