The Outsider
by EC

Part 6

(warnings: language, adult themes, social commentary, public nudity, spanking, sex between adults)

Chapter 17 - A Letter from Nebraska

Mike was happy to have Ruthie accompany him on the trip to Davenport, but as they neared the university, Ruthie’s mood deteriorated. She had planned to study for several finals over Thanksgiving break, but she had neither the time nor the desire to concentrate on course material. She had been dragged to her mother’s church for hours on both Saturday and Sunday, and dealing with her mother’s version of the Mega-Mart stampede did not give her much of a chance to deal with her own trauma. Now that she finally was sitting alone with Mike and quietly watching through the window of his car, she had the chance to have some thoughts to herself.

When they returned to campus, Mike was so enthused about Ruthie’s request to wear an anti-Mega-Town t-shirt that he insisted on first stopping by the office of the Danubian Solidarity Committee to get her a couple of shirts. He knew that Ruthie really took a size small, but because she hated tight-fitting clothing she wanted mediums. He handed her two shirts and dropped a $ 20 bill in the group’s cash box. Without saying anything, Ruthie changed her top. The sight of her body, for a moment completely naked above the waist, filled him with desire, but she ignored him. Once she was changed, he locked the office.

Shannon had not yet returned, so Ruthie decided to spend the evening studying in her own room. Mike was hugely disappointed at the thought of having to return to his room alone, but his girlfriend was in an unpleasant mood and he knew that night would be a very bad time to approach her about sex. Maybe it was just as well, because he had to his own term paper to work on. He kissed her goodnight and went back to his own dorm.

Ruthie locked the door, took off all of her clothing, and lay down on her bed to study. It took a while, but finally she was able to push the trauma of the Mega-Mart panic to the back of her mind and concentrate on studying and taking notes.

She studied peacefully for about three hours. At 10:00 she heard a loud thump, followed by a fist banging on the door. She scrambled to put on her shorts and her new Mega-Town t-shirt.

“Come-on, open the piece of shit up!”

Ruthie opened the dead-bolt. Shannon came storming in and thrust her finger into her roommate’s face.

“Look you stupid bitch! How many times have I told you not to lock the fucking dead-bolt? How many fucking times?”

“Well you weren’t here… and if I’m gonna be here by myself I’m gonna lock the door. That’s what they told us to do in orientation…”

“Why? What for? Like anyone would want to fuck your ugly ass? Please… give me a fucking break!”

Ruthie was about to do something that she had not done all semester, stand up to Shannon. Her traumatic weekend, coupled with the confidence her time with Mike had given her over the past several weeks, had focused her enough that for once she was not numbed with depression. She responded:

“Look, Shannon! We’re supposed to lock our doors! It’s in the safety handbook and if you don’t like it, then take it up with Crystal!” (Crystal was the name of the floor Resident Advisor)

“I’m not taking shit up with Crystal! That’s none of her business! You leave the fucking door unlocked or you and me are gonna have trouble!”

Ruthie locked the door.

“Take it up with Crystal! I’m just following the rule! If you don’t like it, take it up with her!”

“You fucking bitch!”

Shannon pushed Ruthie out of the way and unlocked the door. Ruthie slipped back and re-locked it. Shannon, who was suffering from a hangover and in a foul mood, was incensed that her pathetic nerd roommate was “giving her shit”. She laid a fearsome slap across Ruthie’s face and unlocked the door. For a moment Ruthie was too stunned to react, but then she did exactly what she needed to do. She did not try to retaliate, but instead left the room to find Crystal and report the incident. Shannon yelled after her:

“Yeah, that’s right, you little cry-baby! Go tell the RA!”

Fortunately Crystal was in her room. When she opened the door, Ruthie had a red handprint on her face. There was no denying the incident because the physical evidence was clearly there. Crystal took the matter seriously, not because she had any sympathy for Ruthie, but because Shannon had given her plenty of trouble throughout the semester and she was among the residents the RA most hated.

Crystal accompanied Ruthie back to her room to confront Shannon. Ruthie’s roommate did not deny hitting Ruthie, but claimed that Ruthie “started it by giving me a bunch of shit” and that she had pushed her first. Ruthie indignantly denied pushing Shannon, but both roommates agreed that the fight had started over whether or not the door should be locked. The dispute over the lock put Ruthie at an advantage because she was following campus policy and Shannon was hassling her for it. Crystal admonished Shannon for hitting her roommate, because any physical intimidation in the dorms was strictly against campus policy and was cause for expulsion from the dorm system. Ruthie’s hopes rose that perhaps Shannon had crossed a line with her behavior and might get kicked out. Shannon realized that as well, and suddenly backed down, at least in front of Crystal. However, she gave Ruthie a very nasty look, letting her know that the matter definitely was not settled.

Ruthie clearly understood that Shannon had every intention of retaliating. Having gone as far as she had, she knew that there would be hell to pay the moment she and Shannon were alone… so she would have to see to it that she never was alone with her roommate again. She flatly stated that she wanted to call the campus police and file charges for assault, and that she wanted to move out of the room immediately. The anger from being mistreated an entire semester suddenly exploded. Ruthie shouted, “I want this bitch arrested! I’ve had it with her! I’ve had it with her shit! She hit me and I want her in jail!”

Crystal told Ruthie to calm down, or else she’d be written up as well. She realized that the simmering crisis between the two roommates had exploded and there was no way there was going to be any quiet resolution. Anyhow, the RA had been looking for a good reason to formally reprimand Shannon: obviously hitting her roommate was about as good a reason as she could get.

The fight quickly got worse when Shannon’s friends came out of their rooms and took her side against Ruthie and the RA. They insulted Ruthie and berated Crystal for forcing Shannon to put up with such a creep all semester. Crystal realized that she had just set herself up against an entire clique of floor residents, but fortunately once she took a position, she stuck with it. She told everyone that the fight between Ruthie and Shannon had nothing to do with them, and they had no business coming out into the hallway just to threaten her and insult Ruthie. When Shannon’s friends refused to go back to their rooms, Crystal held out her clipboard and started writing down names.

“That’s fine! I’ll just write all of you up! If you think I’m gonna take any shit, you are wrong!”

Shannon’s friends knew better than to openly confront the RA, so they retreated to one of their rooms. It was clear that Shannon was furious when they left her, but it didn’t matter because she would get even with Ruthie the moment the RA was out of sight. Ruthie realized that as well. She asked Crystal for permission to get her cell phone.


“I’m calling my boyfriend. I’m getting my stuff out of that room!”

“You can’t. The semester’s not over.”

“Crystal, I don’t feel safe in that room anymore! I’m getting out! I can’t deal with Shannon! If I have to sleep in the Geology building that’s fine, but I’m moving out… now!”

Crystal had to make a quick decision, whether or not Ruthie was “authorized” to move out of her room. She had been warned against allowing students to change rooms for fear that would set a precedent and undermine the dorm’s assignments. However, both the RA and the university could face legal action if she forced Ruthie back into that room with Shannon and she got beat up. She decided it would be better to let the resident take out her stuff. She called the dorm director, and when he did not pick up, she made another snap decision, to let her resident take a vacant room on the building’s top floor.

“Get your boyfriend then. Room 508 doesn’t have anyone in it right now. You can take your stuff up there and sleep there tonight.”

When she saw the happy look in Ruthie’s eyes, the RA added:

“Don’t get too excited. You’re not changing to that room. I’m just gonna separate you two so we don’t have any more problems tonight. We’ll probably have to move you again tomorrow.”

A few minutes later Mike, Ruthie, and the RA went to the room to take out Ruthie’s things and move them upstairs. Shannon and her boyfriend also were there, and had Crystal not been present with her clipboard, it was clear that the four students would have battled it out in the room. Crystal rolled her eyes at the level of hatred that existed between Shannon and Ruthie, but she could see both of their points. It was true that Shannon had treated Ruthie atrociously, but it also was true that Ruthie tended to get on people’s nerves… that there was something about her personality that was extremely irritating. Anyhow, the RA’s problem was with Shannon, not Ruthie, because Shannon was so disruptive. Hopefully this would be Crystal’s chance to get her kicked out of the dorm and set an example for her friends, so she had every intention of playing up the fact that the resident had hit her roommate, and that Ruthie (quite rightly) felt in danger as a result.

Shannon’s boyfriend glared at Mike. He was bigger than Mike and it was very likely could beat him up with no problem, but Mike had one thing to his advantage… his ticketing machine. There was no question that while on duty for the Parking Department he would seek out the cars of both Shannon and her boyfriend. Whenever he found their vehicles, he would issue tickets if there was even a hint of a parking infraction.

Ruthie had all of her possessions piled outside the room within a few minutes. The RA brought a pushcart that the students loaded. Ruthie insisted on taking everything in a single trip, so they overloaded the cart before moving it to the elevator. And that was that… Ruthie and Shannon no longer were roommates.

* * *

Room 508 had been vacant for several weeks. There were two beds with no sheets or blankets and the furniture was pushed out of place and the surfaces were dusty. However, for Ruthie the room was a wish come true, a space that she could have to herself, even if it was just for one night. She happily piled her clothes on top of a dresser and tossed a sheet over one of the beds. That was enough for her; there was no need to organize her things if she was only going to be in the room for a single night.

Mike clearly wanted to stay with her and “help her get set up” or invite her back to his room. However, she still was in a strange mood and her desire to be alone was stronger than ever. For the first time since the semester began, she was in “her” space: a room that she would not have to share with anyone, even if it was for just 24 hours. She hugged Mike thanked him for helping her move her stuff, but she also made it clear that she planned to spend her night alone.

Ruthie took off her clothes and looked out the door. The top floor was much smaller than the building’s four lower floors and only had a total of eight dorm rooms. There were two unisex bathrooms at the end of the hall, each only big enough for one person at a time. Perfect…the floor was what Ruthie had wanted all along: it was quiet and small.

Oh it would be so nice if she could somehow keep room 508… for herself.

The area seemed completely deserted. If the floor had any other residents, they had not yet come back from Thanksgiving break. Ruthie left her new room and walked naked down the hallway to use one of the bathrooms. She returned to pick up her towel and toothbrush. Still totally nude, she walked the short distance a second time to the bathroom to get cleaned up. This was totally great, she could run around in the nude and not have to worry about Shannon, Crystal, or anyone else hassling her and ordering her to get dressed.

Ruthie returned to her room and for a long time sat in the darkness staring out the window. She felt melancholy, but her melancholy was more peaceful than sad. She was hugely relieved that she managed to get away from Shannon. She also was very happy about not having to deal with Mike at the moment. She cared for him and was enormously grateful for everything he had done for her, but she didn’t like having to depend on him so much. If she could just have her own room, she’d be a lot more independent of him and could see him when she wanted, not when circumstances forced her to. She realized that Dr. Hartman was right about her situation; that she needed not to be so dependent on Mike.

Ruthie’s memories returned to her mother’s apartment and her “me time”. Ever since she had entered college she had not had the chance to have any “me time” because she was so fearful Shannon might show up at any moment when she was in her own room, and because she did not feel comfortable having “me time” in Mike’s room. However, for the first time in three months she was in her space, and she could do whatever she wanted.

She looked at herself in the mirror… just like she used to do at her mother’s apartment. Ruthie never tired of studying her own body. She ran her hands over her breasts, but then began massaging her bottom. It felt so good… and yet… when Mike touched her… she didn’t feel anything at all.

She quit thinking about her boyfriend. Right now he didn’t matter. Ruthie needed to concentrate… just enjoy herself…

She took out her digital camera from her backpack and set the delayed focus. She modeled for a couple of pictures… to add to the hundreds she already had stored on the card. Her eyes rested on the backpack that still contained the bathbrush. She thought about spanking herself… but figured that was one thing better not to do, because if anyone else was on the floor the swats would be heard and it would be clear to anyone listening what they were. Still… at some point… when she could find a spot where no one would hear… she’d have to see about giving herself a nice spanking. She hadn’t done it for three years, but now that strange urge had returned. She had no desire to give herself the hardcore punishments she gave herself after her 15th birthday, but something more moderate… maybe 50 good swats. Even the thought of that made her excited.

She looked at the pictures she had taken three years before… she looked so sexy with her bottom nice and red. She held the viewer of the camera and started masturbating… her bare bottom… unmarked and deep red… so sexy… oh yes…

She set the camera down to concentrate on herself…she teased herself…tormented herself…she wanted that orgasm so bad…but she was forcing herself to wait. The longer she waited and the more desperate she became…the better it would be in the end.

Ruthie fantasized about having a twin sister… a girl who looked just like her… with whom she could have shared her body… every night would be a naked slumber party, with lots of touching and photographs… and they would wager with each other… who had to submit to the hairbrush… the spankings would be long and hard… there would be crying… but a lot of love in the end…

Finally Ruthie climaxed… oh it was so good… Ohhhhhhhh…

A few minutes later, reeking of orgasm, she snuck into the short hallway and went into one of the bathrooms to clean up. She then was about to return to her room when she noticed there was a door next to the entrance of the stairwell. Curious to see what was behind it, she opened it and discovered it led outside, to the roof of the 4th floor. She made sure the door handle was locked in the “open” position, and stepped outside into the chilly air. The cold November breeze punished her bare skin, but she enjoyed the feeling of total exposure. She also enjoyed the daring feeling of standing naked on a roof in full sight of the entire campus, but not being seen herself because it was so dark on the roof. Her body was covered with goose-bumps and she was shivering, but she managed to stay outside for nearly 30 minutes. Finally she couldn’t take the cold anymore and went back inside… but the experience had been a real rush for her.

Compared to the chilly air outside, her temporary room felt warm, almost hot. She lay down on her bed and without bothering to cover herself and fell asleep.

* * *

Ruthie resumed her normal routine the following day: getting up at 4:30 and dealing with a cold dark predawn walk to the Student Center, serving coffee from 7:00 until 11:00, eating lunch with Mike, going to the literature class with him, and finally going to her other classes. She dreaded what was coming later in the afternoon, because Crystal had told her that they needed to meet with the dorm director at 4:00.

The director was not nearly as sympathetic to Ruthie as her RA had been. He blamed her for not getting along with other people and commented that her “personality issue” was something she needed to address or else it would hinder her throughout her life. It was clear that he did not want to pursue any action against Shannon because of the hassle that would entail for him. Ruthie could see that Crystal was clearly disappointed. Ruthie was furious.

“You mean even though she hit me, you’re not gonna press charges?”

“Ruthie, we don’t know what actually happened between you two, and there’s no evidence to go on except your word. Shannon has her side of the story too, so really as things stand now it’s just your word against hers. From what I see, neither of you displayed any tolerance for each other. It was a simple failure to communicate.”

Ruthie was about to object when the director put up his hand and added: “I’m just not interested in having problems in my dorm.” The dorm director then sat back and tapped his fingers together.

“Ruthie, I’m going to make you an offer. You’ve already requested a change in roommates, which is something Shannon has requested too. I think the best thing for us to do… would be leave you in room 508 for the rest of the semester and assign you a new roommate in January. So… I’ll just leave you on the fifth floor are for the time being. Will that be satisfactory?”

Ruthie was torn emotionally. The offer of the room was a bribe to shut her up. She was grateful that she was not going to be moved off the 5th floor, but furious that Shannon was not going to be prosecuted for hitting her. She would get room 508, but the cost of the bargain was that nothing would happen to her nemesis.

Ruthie did accept the dorm director’s offer. He had insinuated that her only alternative would be to return to living with Shannon. Anyhow, no matter what, the university would refuse to take any legal action against Shannon because “what happened between you is just your word against hers, and we can’t prosecute if there’s no evidence”.

Crystal was furious with her boss, because the bargain would leave Shannon as a resident on her floor and probably more uncontrollable than ever. As much as she wanted to get rid of Shannon, it was obvious she was stuck with her. Ruthie felt bad for the RA, but there was nothing she could do to help her.

* * *

The relationship between Mike and Ruthie began to change once Ruthie had a room to herself. Now that she had her own space and no longer was at the mercy of Shannon, she did not need to use his room as a place to hide out and study. She did not move her computer, simply because she anticipated having to move it again in January and saw no point going through the hassle. However, she began moving her books, not all at once, but by loading her backpack in Mike’s room when she had to go to class, and then unloading the bag in her new room when she got back in the evening. Over the next couple of days she thus reduced and finally eliminated the stack of books she had kept on Todd’s former desk.

The change was not fast enough or drastic enough for Mike to worry too much, but he did notice his girlfriend spending less time with him now that Shannon no longer was forcing her into his arms. The nights of her sleeping over came to an end, although in the evenings she still visited to work on her term papers and surf the Internet.

As the first week following Thanksgiving passed, Ruthie’s mind adapted to the reality that she had a lot more privacy. Not only did she have a room to herself, it also turned out that only two other rooms on the 5th floor were occupied by graduate students who very rarely were in the hall. Besides the bathrooms, the only other room on the floor was a conference room that always was locked. Very quickly she got used to walking naked in the hallway when she wanted to go to the bathroom. Only once did one of the graduate students run into her. She blushed and apologized, but the guy simply smiled at her and commented:

“Cute outfit.”

She took that to mean that he didn’t mind seeing her.

* * *

On Wednesday Ruthie returned to the counseling office. Two weeks had gone by since she had seen Dr. Hartman, which meant that she had a lot to tell her. The counselor was relieved to know that her client had safely extricated herself from her situation with Shannon, and that as a result she was less dependent on Mike.

Obviously the main focus of the conversation was the Mega-Mart stampede and Ruthie’s conflicting feelings about what had happened. There was a lot more that Ruthie wanted to talk about: the memories that going back to her room had brought back, the situations of her cousins Rosa, Gerardo, and Alex, and just how alienated she felt from the town where her family lived. Her four days in Salinas did nothing to make her feel any more at home there.

* * *

There were only two weeks remaining in the semester of regular classes and another week of finals. Mike and Ruthie spent most of there time preparing term papers and studying for tests, apart from the hours they spent at their jobs. They ate together and sometimes went to the Student Center, but their trips to places like the beaches or Santa Cruz had to be suspended because neither had any time. They were fortunate, however, that they did not have to worry about being lonely, because they did have each other.

Mike expected the spring semester to not be much different from the fall semester, given that his father’s mortgages were paying his tuition and his job was paying for his living expenses. However, Ruthie lived in constant fear… worrying about the latest bad news coming out of Sacramento. Coming into the university, she knew that the grants she had received were precarious, something Mike’s father had mentioned as well. She had not given much thought about the spring semester, thinking that whatever budget cuts that would end her aid would not be announced until the summer.

On the final day of classes, Ruthie’s life was disrupted by a thick envelope that had been sent to her from Nebraska. The return address read:

Jake Burns 388 Stockman Trail Lincoln, Nebraska

Ruthie’s hands trembled as she opened the envelope. It was the first time she had any contact with her father in six years.

The envelope contained several items. The first thing Ruthie pulled out was an opened letter from the California Department of Education. The letter had been addressed to her home in Salinas and was dated October 22, but it was the very first time Ruthie had seen it. Strange… why would she be getting it from her father and not simply have it forwarded by her mother? Ruthie read:

Ms. Burns:

We regret to inform you that due to the financial crisis that continues to restrict funding for higher education, the Salinas Valley Scholarship Program has been suspended and tuition assistance for the program’s participants will terminated as of January 1 of the upcoming year.

Our records show that your participation in the Salinas Valley Scholarship Program for the current academic year is as follows:

Fall semester: tuition = $ 5,773.34 Fall semester: books = $ 300.00

Spring semester: tuition = $ 0.00 Spring semester: books = $ 200.00

During the spring semester you will need to make alternative arrangements to finance your tuition expenses to attend classes at Davenport State University.

The California Department of Education regrets any disruption this action might have on your academic career, but the ongoing loss of tax revenue has forced the California State Legislature to severely reduce spending on all state programs, including higher education and grants for students.

Ruthie was left breathless. She felt nauseous and was very close to throwing up. She dug in the package and pulled out a second envelope that was blank, except her name. The envelope contained a check for $ 5,773.34 signed by her father. The check was wrapped in a letter that read:


It’s been a while since we talked. I know you’re still mad at me, and you have your reasons. I’m hoping I can make it up to you.

I tried to get in touch with you a couple of months ago, but you were in Davenport. Your mom and me talked, and she sent me this letter from the university and asked me to help you, so that’s what I’m doing. Hopefully this check will fix your problem.

I want to see you, and have you come back to Lincoln to visit for a few days. Debra is gone from my life, so you don’t have any reason to stay away. I’ve sent you a plane ticket. If the dates don’t work for you, you can change them, but I do want to see you. I talked to your mom about it, and she said she understands and will let you come out.


The package also contained a round-trip airplane ticket from San Jose to Lincoln and back. The dates were for December 26 through January 2. Ruthie calculated that timeframe was doable, given that she would not have to skip Christmas in Salinas. The final item in that package was a picture of her father, her grandmother, and Ruthie when she was ten. Her hands were still trembling as she looked at the photo. She remembered it had been taken just a couple of months before her grandmother really got sick.

Ruthie laid out everything that her father had sent her on the room’s spare bed. She wasn’t sure how to react. Her heart filled with resentment, because she really did not want to see her father again, but her situation gave her no choice. She’d have to accept the check, deposit it, and use it to pay the university. She had to continue with her studies, because her only alternative was to return to Salinas and sit in her room doing nothing. Her father knew that. He knew that there was one way he could force her to see him, and that was by giving her the money she needed to stay in college.

Ruthie’s thoughts drifted to her mother. She realized that perhaps Doña Lisette knew her better than she realized; which was why she forwarded the scholarship cancellation letter to her ex-husband instead of to her daughter. There was nothing Ruthie could have done about her scholarship, but there was something Jake could do about it. OK Jake… you want to see Ruthie so bad? Then you fix this problem for her.

Ruthie knew how hard all of this must have been for her mother. Over the years the girl heard enough hints to understand that Jake and his family had treated her badly during her stay in Nebraska. To keep Ruthie in college and out of Salinas, Doña Lisette had to sacrifice her own pride and ask her ex-husband for a favor. Ruthie knew her mother well enough to know asking her father for help was a huge humiliation, but one she was willing to accept for her daughter’s sake.

The only thing Ruthie could think of was to call Mike and ask him to come over. Mike, who had not yet seen his girlfriend’s new room, was more than happy to oblige. When he knocked, she simply told him to come in. She was sitting quietly on her bed, wearing nothing but one of her Mega-Town t-shirts, staring blankly at the papers in front of her. Mike looked at her and then at the papers. She nodded for him to examine them.

“I… I don’t know what to think of all this… I… guess it kinda sucks…”

“This check’s supposed to pay for your spring tuition?”

Ruthie nodded.

“I mean… you ought to be relieved. It’s great that your dad’s gonna pay…”

Ruthie nodded again.

Mike, only vaguely aware of the bad memories and emotional turmoil swirling through Ruthie’s brain, was worried about the check more than anything else… getting it cashed and turning the money over to the university so she could stay enrolled. He nagged at her to get up, put on her shorts, and go to the campus bank before it closed. She listlessly complied, following him first to the campus bank branch to get a cashier’s check, then to the registration office to turn the funds over to the university. He was hugely relieved when the clerk handed Ruthie a receipt stating that she was paid up for the spring semester, but she seemed indifferent about it.

“Now I’m stuck having to see him.” Ruthie mumbled.

“Your dad?”

“Yeah.” She paused. Without looking up, she continued: “I kinda was hoping I wouldn’t have to see him again.”

“Well… I mean… was what he did to you really that bad? I mean… did he do something he shouldn’t have done to you?”

Ruthie realized what Mike was getting at. “No… nothing like that… I mean… what happened was that he kicked me out. Just kicked me out. He stuck me on a plane and told me to get the hell out of Nebraska and never come back. I was 12… and I was kinda fucked up anyway… and me getting kicked out like that fucked me up even more…”

“So…why’d he kick you out?”

Ruthie took a deep breath and decided to start the story at the beginning.

“You know that my parents split up when I was three…” (actually, Mike did not know that, but he nodded) “My mom had to come back here to California ‘cause she couldn’t get a job in Nebraska and there was nothing for her to do. So she just up and left and came here. I’m not sure why she left me behind with my dad… she never explained that to me and I’ve been afraid to ask. But anyhow… it was my dad’s mom who raised me… kinda like she was my mom… She was really nice to me… I had a lot of fun… you know… when I was a little kid… and I didn’t see all that much of my dad… ’cause he was always going out with his friends… out on his bike… stuff like that… so I was always with my grandma… and she was the one who did stuff like take me to school…

“Anyhow… when I was nine… my grandma started getting sick… you know… with cancer… and she kept going in and out of the hospital. It was not bad for a year… but then she really got bad… she’d be like… crying… because she knew she wasn’t gonna be around much longer and later on I realized she was worried about me ‘cause she knew my dad wouldn’t bother to take care of me… and she was right, ‘cause he didn’t.

“It sucked… really sucked, what happened to her… what those fucking doctors did to her just so they could clean out her insurance. They kept cutting stuff off of her… her tits, stuff out of her stomach, a foot, and then one of her arms…it was like watching a horror movie, but it was real. I hate doctors ‘cause of what they did to Grandma. I hate ‘em all… fucking money suckers. I mean… it got so bad… watching her… that I knew she’d be better off dead… I’d go to the hospital… and we’d talk… and I’d see her with all that shit sticking out of her…

Ruthie looked up at Mike, remembering his father’s efforts to show them around the neighborhood. A very strange thing happened at that moment… Mike imagined that Ruthie looked much older than her real age… that somehow her past had caught up with her… making it very easy for him to imagine what she would look like forty years into the future.

She looked away and continued her story: “My grandma tried to talk to me as much as she could towards the end. She wanted to tell me all the stuff she had been planning to tell me when I was gonna be in high school… everything… but she wanted me to know what her life was like when she was my age. She always was saying ‘you gotta remember what I’m telling you… because if you forget, then it’s gone… you’re the only one who knows…’ And she’d talk… and she talked so good that I could picture myself being with her… a long time ago…

“After I turned eleven she started getting worse and worse…and then she got all crazy and I couldn’t talk to her anymore. Well, sometimes I could… she’d suddenly get sane for a few minutes and would ask for me… and then she’d talk… and then go crazy again… so I stayed at the hospital as much as I could… so I’d be there when she wanted to talk… Those fucking doctors kept cutting stuff out of her… keeping her going…a nd she wanted to die… but they wouldn’t let her. The last month there wasn’t anything left of her… but I still kept going to her room… hoping that she’d say something more. She did a couple of times… but then she went into a coma… and I wanted her to die or get better… and finally she did die… She was dead… in the middle of the night, and I held her hand… and it was all cold and almost didn’t weigh anything.”

It was dark by the time Ruthie finished that part of her story, which was lucky because tears were flowing down her face.

“You gotta understand that she was the only person who really loved me… and could show it. I mean… my mom tries… but for her it’s hard… to express herself if she’s not talking about her Jesus shit… and I’ve never been able to relate to her…”

“So your dad kicked you out when your grandma died?”

“No… not exactly. But I was totally pissy after the funeral and I sorta blamed him for not being around when she was in the hospital and that got him mad at me. What I didn’t know, until Grandma was dead, was that he had been going out and was getting ready to get married to Debra and I was gonna have to deal with having a step-mom… and she didn’t like me at all. I didn’t want my dad to get married, ‘cause I was scared of having to live with an adult I wouldn’t get along with… and Debra didn’t make things any easier when she kept saying things to him like ‘that kid needs quality time with the belt’, and she’d say it so I’d hear and then look at me… and on top of everything else she had another kid from another marriage… and the thought of living with not just her, but her son… so finally I told my dad that he shouldn’t get married to that bitch, and I said it like that… I called her a bitch.

"We had some fights about it, and then I tried running away… but I didn’t get very far. I went to a friend’s house and her dad found me there and brought me back. Finally I said that if he wanted to get married, I’d just go look for my mom in Salinas…and that was a dumb thing for me to say, ‘cause it gave him the idea of how to get rid of me. He didn’t say anything, but two days later he came up to my room and threw a suitcase on my bed. ‘Pack your shit. You’ve got an hour to get ready and then I’m taking you to the airport.’ I was like: ‘what?’ So he told me…’you wanna live with your mom? Great. You’re gonna go live with her.’ I thought he was kidding, but he wasn’t. He was totally pissed at me. When the hour went by and I still hadn’t packed, he just emptied a couple of drawers of my clothes into the suitcase and told me to get in the car. He gave me this lecture saying he wasn’t gonna take shit from a 12-year old spoiled brat and that since I wanted to give him attitude I could ‘go live with the Mexicans’, as he put it.”

Mike was floored that Ruthie’s father could have done that to her. But, as she pointed out, her dad was in love and love makes a person do strange things, even if it involves hurting family members. She noted: “There was this one woman I heard about… a long time ago… she drowned her two kids in a car just ‘cause her new boyfriend didn’t like kids… two little kids… she put them into her car and ran it into a lake… just to make her boyfriend happy.”

“Yeah…I think I heard about that.”

“So you really think that what my dad did to me was all that weird? I mean… when you think about it… all he did was stick me on a plane.”

“Yeah… but even so… to do that to your kid… I couldn’t even picture my dad doing that to either of us. I mean… he’d give up his life if he had to… or anything else… to protect us.”

Ruthie sniffed back some more tears. “I guess things were different with my dad… I dunno… I guess I kinda made things hard for him and he couldn’t handle it.” After a long pause she added: “Anyhow, my mom was glad to see me… I mean like… really glad… talking about how Jesus brought me back to her and all that shit…”

Mike thought about Ruthie’s situation… realizing how lucky he had been to have parents that he had.

“So now, after all that…and six years… your dad finally wants to see you? Any idea why?”

“I ‘spose he feels bad about what happened between us. He wrote that ‘Debra is gone from his life’. I ‘spose that means he must have split up with her. Maybe he’s guilt-tripped…or maybe just kinda lonely…I don’t know…”

They got back to his room. For once she had no desire to go back to her room or to be alone. He sat down in his armchair and Ruthie sat in his lap. She was crying and totally stressed as the unpleasant memories from six and seven years before forced themselves into her thoughts. She had wanted to think that part of her life was over, but clearly it wasn’t.

Now she had two things to dread about Christmas: saying goodbye to Rosa and having to deal with her father.

Chapter 18 - Christmas Vacation

Mike had expected to pursue “pay-dirt”, as he always put it, by ticketing students who felt that finals week provided a justification to violate parking regulations around campus. However, he had forgotten that his boss wanted to assign him as an alternate for maintaining and collecting money from parking meters, which was a promotion from being a student ticket officer. During the final week of the semester, Mike’s intended victims got a break and his ticketing machine sat unused in the dispatcher’s office while he went out with the department’s oldest employee, Sam Rayburn. Mike knew enough of US history to know there was a famous Speaker of the House of Representatives with that name during World War II and the 1950’s. His co-worker admitted that yes… he was named after “that” Sam Rayburn. He congratulated Mike on his knowledge, telling him that he was only the second student he had ever met who knew about House Speaker Sam Rayburn.

Sam had the outward appearance of a southern redneck, but his personality was totally the opposite. He was a hippie at heart, who lived in a small house up in the mountains that overlooked Davenport. He had a degree in philosophy, wrote poetry, and had lived with the same woman for 35 years without ever getting married. He was a strange guy with a dreamy personality and one of the few people Mike ever met who was totally satisfied with his place in life. He had no desire to move on: he was content to spend his existence fiddling with parking meters. A few weeks later Mike would figure out why Sam had no intention of ever giving up his meter job, and why he had refused several offers of promotion.

Sam and Mike went out in Sam’s pickup truck. There was a large steel box mounted on the back. The box had a lock and a circular opening in the top that was about the width of a liter soda bottle. Sam handed Mike a key and told him to open up the back of a meter. Sam extracted a metal cylinder the size of a soda can and handed it to Mike, and instructed him to put it into the opening of the box and turn it. As soon as Mike twisted the can, he heard the coins clattering into the bottom of the steel box. Sam told him that typically a canister held around $50 worth of coins. That surprised Mike, because he had not realized how much money each meter was making for the university. When he returned the cylinder to its place in the meter casing, Sam commented:

“We get to do the same thing 492 times today, and 483 times tomorrow. That’s how many meters we have on campus.”

Sam taught Mike a few tricks about twisting canisters and meter keys to avoid repetitive motion injury, such as switching hands after servicing 25 meters. Every so often the two parking officers came across a meter that was jammed, where the coins had not fallen into the canister but instead were piled on top. Sam dumped the loose coins into a separate box that was stored in the truck’s tool-box.

Sam spent the next several days showing the student other responsibilities of the job, such as checking for low batteries and examining and replacing defective meters. Mike learned that the meter device could easily be taken out of the casing and the working part actually was very small. The devices had warning signals to let the parking officer know if the battery was low and on a typical day about 20 batteries had to be replaced. If a meter was not working for any reason other than an expired battery, Sam took out the device and replaced it. He explained that upon getting back to the parking office they would ship the defective meters to a contractor that would repair them.

Once the day’s round of collecting coins and servicing meters was finished, Sam and Mike unloaded the heavy change box from the pickup and rolled it into the main office. They unlocked the top and poured the contents into a change counting machine. The take for Mike’s first day was over $6,500. Mike was surprised at the amount. $6,500 in just one day?

“It’s more during the semester. Of course, when you started ticketing Econ-A it became a lot more… 400 meters-worth more.”

“So what are they doing with all the money?”

“Ain’t giving it to us, that’s for sure. I ‘spose maybe some of it’s going to buy new office equipment… paint for the parking garage… shit like that. The rest…?” Sam shrugged he shoulders: “… your guess is as good as mine.”

As Mike’s training period continued, he got to know Sam and his many quirks a lot better. One thing Sam always did was collect soda cans. If he saw a discarded soda can from across a parking lot, he’d drive over to pick it up. A quick stomp of his boot flattened the can and then he’d toss it into a huge smelly trash bag filled with other cans. If Sam thought Mike wasn’t looking, he’d even go through trash containers looking for soda cans. On days after football games Sam spent as much time cruising the stadium area in search of cans as he did attending to meters.

Another thing Mike noticed was that Sam was very generous with small things. Every time they stopped for a break Sam bought him something to drink: coffee or Coke, or whatever else his trainee wanted. It wasn’t just with Mike that Sam was so generous. During football games he always passed out Coke and donuts to anyone working a shift under him. Whenever he trained a new student ticketing officer he always offered free drinks, which was one reason he was popular within the department.

In spite of their difference of ages and Sam’s strange character, he and Mike quickly established rapport with each other. Sam talked a lot about his days as a hippie, enough to make Mike somewhat envious that he was not a college student in 1968. Sam’s stories made Mike more sympathetic to the hippie movement, but at the same time Mike could see how many of the factors that led to the current decline of the US, such as drug use and instant gratification, got started during the 1960’s. Mike pointed that out to Sam, who shrugged his shoulders and responded: “Yeah, I can see that.”

Through Sam, Mike learned a lot about Davenport State University in general and the history of the Parking Department in particular. He talked about different directors, how much money the department took in, and how parking had become more restricted for students over the years. He talked about regional conventions held for parking lot owners and how lucrative parking and its byproduct, towing, were for those who owned or managed lots.

“It’s ‘money for nothin’ and your chicks for free.’ You don’t have to build anything, make anything, feed anyone, do nothing useful… just pave over some Mother Nature and start taking money.”

Money for nothing… a good way to describe owning a parking lot. As though it was responding to Mike’s thought and Sam’s comment, the campus radio station played the old Dire Straits hit. The two employees started singing along:

Now look at them yo-yo's, that's the way you do it You play the guitar on the M.T.V. That ain't working, that's the way you do it Money for nothing and your chicks for free…

Now that ain't working, that's the way you do it Let me tell you them guys ain't dumb Maybe get a blister on your little finger Baby get a blister on your thumb…

We got to install microwave ovens Custom kitchen deliveries We got to move these refrigerators We got to move these color T.V.'s…

In spite of the fun banter, Sam’s conversations planted a seed of doubt in Mike’s thoughts. Up until his promotion, he had been content with his job. However, now that he knew how much money the administrators of the Parking Department were making and how little of that money the employees were receiving, resentment started building up in his mind. Sam sensed his changing view of their employer, shrugged his shoulders, and pointed out:

“This job’s what you make out of it. Just like any other job. It’s what you make out of it.”

Mike wondered if his co-worker was hinting at anything with that comment.

* * *

Finals came and went uneventfully. Mike and Ruthie both got straight “A’s” for the semester and in doing so made the Dean’s list. In that past that would have helped their financial situation, but during these indifferent times of globalization, good grades no longer mattered. Still, it was a point of personal pride to have good grades because Mike and Ruthie had high academic expectations of each other.

During the days leading up to Christmas, Mike dedicated as much time as he could to his relationship with Ruthie. He took her hiking and for drives towards Big Sur. They stopped to look at cliffs and beaches, and also to look for fossils in areas where Ruthie knew there were deposits. One day they had a real treat: they noticed that a group of elephant seals had lumbered onto a small beach near the coastal road. Ruthie was absorbed looking at and photographing the animals, because she had never seen them in real life before.

Ruthie’s desire to ride around nude intensified during the December outings, now that she knew Mike approved of that part of her personality. She loved to sit naked in the passenger seat and challenge herself to see how long she could go without putting on her dress. Sometimes she liked to make him nervous by taking risks, such as jumping out of the car near a park or street corner, even if there were other people around, wearing nothing but her shoes. Very early on the Sunday morning before Christmas, she actually walked a block in the nude through the deserted downtown in one of the small towns they were passing through.

He learned to have spare batteries ready for his camera, because his girlfriend continuously jumped out of the car and wanted to have her picture taken in every imaginable setting possible. Ruthie wanted to collect pictures of herself standing naked along the entire coastline of California. Every time the couple came across a lookout where no one else was parked, she asked Mike to stop. If she already was naked, she’d run out to where she wanted to pose, strike her pose, and waited for Mike to get the picture. Mike learned to be quick, but also to be careful to get a good image because Ruthie was very picky about the quality of her pictures. After he took the shot she always checked it, and if a picture did not meet her satisfaction, she insisted it be re-taken.

If she was wearing a dress, Mike usually took two pictures; one with her dress on, and one without. After the first photo, she looked both ways and if there were not cops in sight and no one nearby, pulled the dress over her head, handed it to Mike, and resumed her posing position. She wanted to make sure her clothes were completely out of the picture. If an article of dropped or bunched up clothing appeared in a photo, the image was not acceptable.

On any day they were going to be in an area they thought would be tolerant of a person in daring clothing, Ruthie wore her infamous dress. They visited several beach communities where her dress was allowed and she was able to enjoy the feeling of the cool air on her exposed back and hips. An obvious place for her to wear the dress would be San Francisco, but a trip there promised to be more complicated due to the drive and parking. That would have to wait until the spring semester. Also, San Francisco had become too cold to run around in skimpy clothing, too cold even for Ruthie.

* * *

Ruthie and Mike spent Christmas apart. The holiday meant more to their respective families than it did to the couple, so for both students the vacation was nothing more than “putting in time” with their relatives. On the day before Christmas Eve they ate a last lunch together and gave each other simple gifts. Mike gave Ruthie a dress that was just like the red one he bought for her in October, except that the new one was green. Ruthie spent the tiny amount of money remaining from her salary to print several large pictures from the collection of figure studies Mike had taken of her and have them framed. They laughed about how fortunate it was that they had the foresight to open their gifts ahead of time and not put them under their families’ trees, because neither wanted to imagine the reaction of their relatives had they seen what Mike and Ruthie gave each other.

Christmas was a day of apprehension for Ruthie, because the two events that she was dreading would happen the following day. On the 26th Rosa would travel to San Jose and from there leave for Boot Camp. She would be gone from Ruthie’s life, the one member of her family Ruthie could talk to and who seemed to her at least somewhat sane. Ruthie knew that she would miss Rosa tremendously and badly wanted to hug her. That was not to be, however, because Rosa was keeping her impending military service a secret. Essentially, by joining the Army she was running away from home. She would leave, and she would not be coming back. The last time Ruthie saw Rosa was in the evening after Christmas dinner. Rosa was drinking tequila, trying to build up the nerve to tell her parents what she was planning to do the next morning. When she left with her mother, she cast one last look at her cousin, convinced they would never see each other again.

Rosa would have been reason enough for Ruthie to be distressed over Christmas, but the much bigger worry of having to travel to Nebraska to meet her father loomed over her. She desperately hoped that a snow-storm would delay or cancel flights, or that some other problem would arise that would prevent her from traveling. Had she still been religious she would have prayed to Jesus to mess up the weather, but she knew from experience God had given Ruthie Burns a rock-solid guarantee that any prayers from her would go unanswered.

She also knew that her mother would be totally stressed about her and would be praying non-stop. There would be justification for concern, given how badly Jake had treated Lisette 15 years before, and how badly he had treated Ruthie nine years later. However, in Ruthie’s situation money spoke louder than anything else. Jake knew that. Regardless how his daughter felt about him or what he had done to her, he could purchase some of her time by paying her tuition.

Mike took Ruthie to the airport and went with her as far as the security checkpoint. From there she was on her own. She was totally stressed. Not only was she worried about what awaited her at the end of her journey, but also she was nervous about flying. The last time she had been in an airplane was six years ago, when that Meg-Air jet took her away from Nebraska and from everything that she had ever known. Now she would be making the same trip in reverse.

Several hours later Ruthie looked over the snowy drylands of her former home state as her plane began its descent. She marveled at how flat that land was; how from the air it looked like a vast brown and white ocean. She knew from her geology major that’s exactly what Nebraska was; part of a dried up inlet of the Gulf of Mexico. She thought about all of the strange creatures that had once lived there: toothed birds and giant sea-lizards, pterodactyls and sea turtles far bigger than anything on the planet today. Her imagination wandered through the fossil record and her mind filled with regret that all those fascinating creatures had long since vanished, replaced by boring things such as prairie dogs and coyotes. As her mind filled with visions of huge pterosaurs gracefully circling over the calm Cretaceous waters, she thought about the futility of life on the planet. All the effort those animals went though to pick up fish for their young… but in the end they shouldn’t have bothered. They went extinct anyway. Ruthie’s mind drifted to the present and to the near future, when humans would join pterosaurs in the realm of oblivion. She vaguely wondered if she would live to see the end.

The plane shook as it was buffeted by cross-winds. She panicked and grabbed the handles of her seat as the aircraft shook from turbulence. A few minutes later the shaking stopped, giving her a chance to calm down. As the plane got closer to the ground she noticed dust rising from the fields below, swirls of old sediments laid down during a bygone era. All those fantastic creatures… now just a bunch of farmers’ dust.

That’ll be us in a few years. Dust in the wind… thought Ruthie… all we are is dust in the wind…

* * *

Jake had previously instructed Ruthie to call him upon getting off the plane so he could be watching for her when she left the secure area of the terminal. That phone call was the first time she heard her father’s voice in six years. The call was to-the-point, just an exchange of information of what each was wearing.

It turned out to be fortunate that Jake had made that suggestion, because otherwise she would not have recognized him. The first detail about her father’s appearance that she had not expected was how much smaller he was than she remembered him. She thought he had shrunk, but in reality what had changed was Ruthie’s perspective: instead of seeing him from the perspective of a young adolescent she was seeing him as an adult. Instead of a hulking figure, in front of her was a man who was not much taller than she was. Apart from his size was his over-all appearance. He had put on weight, grown a beard, and was starting to go bald. Not much was left of the handsome blond sailor that had captivated Lisette nineteen years before. Not that the years had been any kinder to Lisette than they had been to Jake: both of Ruthie’s parents had aged badly.

Ruthie was fidgeting and looking down when her father hugged her. She found it very difficult to look him in the eye. She was extremely uncomfortable; it was only through exerting all of her self-control that she forced herself not to run away. She did not have a clue what she should say or how she react to what was going on. Jake asked her a bunch of questions about her life in college, to which she responded with nods and one-syllable answers.

Jake was irritated by his daughter’s uncommunicative behavior, but he did not say anything that would spoil what he was trying to do: make up with her. Unfortunately that part of her personality: her sideways glances, fidgeting, and short answers grated on his patience every bit as much as they had six years before. Neither Jake nor Ruthie realized it at the time, but her difficulty communicating with people not familiar to her was the main reason Debra disliked her so much. Jake’s fiancée had interpreted her behavior as rudeness. She was rude back, which made Ruthie even less willing to talk to her. The situation quickly deteriorated into mutual hatred.

When they left the terminal building to find Jake’s pickup truck, Ruthie was shocked by the vicious cold in the parking garage. She was wearing the warmest clothing she had, but during her six years in California she had not once been in a place where the temperature was below freezing. She was tremendously relieved to get out of the cold and into her father’s pickup truck. The cold gave her and her father a chance to talk about something neutral, the Nebraska weather, the climate in California, and how Ruthie had forgotten all about the winters in Lincoln. Jake commented:

“We need to get you a coat. What you have on ain’t gonna cut it around here.”

So, the very first thing they did was go to a mall so Ruthie could get a coat. After the mall they stopped at a kindergarten. There was a tremendous surprise waiting there: it turned out Ruthie had a half-brother called Jake Junior. Jake explained that the boy was from his relationship with Debra. When they split up they got joint custody of him, but now that Debra was going out with another guy, Jake Junior was spending most of his time living with his father. Ruthie had no idea what to say. More than anything else she was stressed that Debra was not completely out of her father’s life after-all, although it was nice to know she was with another guy. The shock of having a half-brother registered slowly: a relative that she hadn’t known about at all.

However, like the weather, Jake Junior offered a welcome distraction from the tense silence between Jake and Ruthie. Jake Sr., happy that his two kids were together for the first time, took them out for pizza. From the pizza place they went home. It was dark, but Ruthie could see that on the outside the house had not changed, that detail for detail it was as she remembered it. Her old room was still there as well, although over the years the furniture had been moved around and the nightstand had been replaced. Jake mentioned that he had kept most of Ruthie’s stuff from when she was a kid, but it was boxed up in the attic and that if she wanted to go through any of the boxes, she’d have to wait until it was light outside.

Jake asked Ruthie to help put her brother to bed. She still could not believe that the kid in front of her was her relative. Subconsciously she had expected that nothing in Nebraska had changed apart from everyone getting a bit older. She also felt some unexpected sympathy for Jake Jr., thinking how much it would suck to be Debra’s kid. The very fact that she was putting the boy to bed instead of Debra said a lot about Debra as a person.

* * *

Jake had to go to work most of the days Ruthie was staying at his house, which left her alone with her thoughts during the days. She spent the next week wandering about Lincoln and walking around her old neighborhood in the bitter cold. She wanted to see all of the places familiar to her six years before and try to come to terms with her memories. She visited her grade school and her middle school; both of which had let out for Christmas. She wandered the empty hallways and went into the classrooms where she had been assigned. She knew that some of her old teachers were still working at the schools she had attended, but she had no desire whatsoever to run into them or let any of them know what had become of her. She had returned to the school to renew her own memories, not to share herself with anyone else. Nor was she interested in tracking down any of her friends from middle school, because she felt they had betrayed her by not writing.

She realized that the passing of time gave her anonymity. It was probable that people she had known years before passed her in their cars or even on the sidewalk, but no one ever recognized her. On the final day of the year, she walked right by a middle-aged couple that were the parents of one of her friends. They did not know who she was and she did not try to draw their attention, so one chance for renewing contact with her former life came and went.

She visited her grandmother’s grave twice during her trip. For a long time she stared at the tombstone and momentarily regretted being an atheist. She wished that she could imagine feeling her grandmother’s presence; that she could talk to the tombstone with the conviction that the woman who raised her was listening from “the other side”. It would have been comforting to think that she could have told her grandmother that she was doing OK and that she still remembered her and loved her. However, such comfort was a luxury that Ruthie would never have. She did not believe in Life after Death. Her grandmother was gone and nothing remained of her except some decaying bones under a carved piece of granite and the details of the conversations stored in Ruthie’s memories. Ruthie had no means of communicating with her, because, like the pterosaurs, her grandmother had vanished into oblivion and no longer existed. It would have been nice to believe otherwise.

Ruthie went to her father’s attic and rummaged through the boxes, looking at her old toys and books as part of her effort to reconnect with her past. There were a lot of things in the attic she wished she could have taken with her when her father kicked her out, that she deeply regretted not having when she moved to California. And yet, perhaps it was better that she did not take what was precious to her in Nebraska, because those things would have tied her even more to her past and make the transition to her new life in Salinas even more difficult. Her things sat in the attic for six years, ignored and undisturbed, but also momentarily protected from the ravages of time. She thought about taking some of her old items with her, but figured that no, if her father was willing to keep them it would be better to leave them where they would be safe instead of bringing them into her uncertain life in California. There was no guarantee that she would not end up committing suicide after all and she did not want to think that as a result her stuff would end up in a dumpster somewhere in Santa Cruz. Ruthie closed the boxes and left the attic.

* * *

It was fortunate that Jake Burns was not the type of person who felt that every problem and personal conflict had to be straightened out immediately. His daughter spent her entire time in Nebraska dreading being forced into a serious conversation about her relationship with her father, but that never came. Instead, Jake was content to let things happen naturally. If Ruthie wanted to talk, that was fine; if not, then that was fine too. Ruthie’s father figured that if she had a reasonably good time in his house and there were no unpleasant incidents; she’d be willing to come back in the future and over time he could fix his relationship with her.

Little by little Ruthie felt more at ease when around her father. She knew that he was neither intellectual nor introspective, so there were a lot of conversations she never could have with him. Nor was Jake Burns the type of person who easily showed emotion or affection. That detail was fortunate for the relationship with his daughter because she was not in the mood to deal with or respond to affection and love from her estranged relative. The best Jake could hope for would be to re-establish contact with his daughter and get her to be willing to come back periodically. He knew that. Anyhow, Ruthie was only a small part of Jake’s life. He had his son to worry about, along his newest girlfriend, his job, and his group of friends.

He wasn’t sure what to do about her tuition for the following year. He had been taken aback when he found out how much Ruthie had to pay each semester. Although he did not have any debts, he certainly did not have enough money to keep up those tuition payments. He figured that California was just too expensive: at some point he would have to “have a talk” with his daughter and convince her that the only logical option would be for her to study in Nebraska. The best time for “the talk” would be sometime over the summer.

Besides worrying about avoiding a serious conversation about their relationship, there were various other topics Ruthie avoided during her week in Nebraska. A major item she needed to stay away from was politics. Her father was a militant Republican, the sort that voted on “God, Guns, and Gays” issues. He was into conspiracy theories, sympathetic to property rights and militia movements, and supported abolishing most of the Federal Government.

There were plenty of contradictions in his political positions. One of the biggest was his stand on religion. He fully supported the Republican vision of mixing religion and politics, of having mega-churches and Christian front organizations set social policy for the country. And yet, Jake very rarely went to church, had gone out with various women with no intention whatsoever of getting married, and spent his life going to strip bars and drinking with his friends. Most definitely he did not lead a “Godly life”. It was ironic that a lot of what he enjoyed doing would be prohibited by the very people he was supporting with his bumper stickers and at the voting booth.

Ruthie realized that her father was not exactly a hypocrite. He simply could not make the connection between his own behavior and the politicians he was supporting. He did not have the education to reflect, nor did he try to really comprehend what was going on around him. He was content to have his politics dictated to him by talk radio, just as Ruthie’s mother was content to have her perspective on life dictated to her by a preacher. Jake was totally the opposite of Mike, who analyzed everything in detail in his effort to understand what had happened to his father’s business, and expand that understanding to figuring out why the United States was in the condition it was in.

* * *

When Ruthie was not wandering her neighborhood or looking at the contents of the boxes stored in her father’s attic, she rode around Lincoln with Jake and Jake Jr. She listened to her father’s talk-radio programs babbling about “traditional American values” and the marvels of selfish individualism and unrestricted capitalism. She looked around at all the SUV’s and oversized pick-up trucks, and at the multitude of evangelical churches that surrounded her. Physically she was miserable because the bitter cold tore into her whenever she went outside.

Ruthie spent New Year’s Eve alone in the house, taking care of Jake Jr. Her father and his girlfriend celebrated with some friends at a bar, taking advantage of having Ruthie in the house to baby-sit. She put her half-brother to bed at 9:00. Once the boy was asleep she relieved her tension by masturbating. She was in bed by 10:30, not bothering to stay up until midnight.

The day after New Year’s Ruthie’s father took her to the airport. Jake was in an upbeat mood, thinking that he had repaired the relationship with his daughter. He still did not realize how traumatized she was from what he had done to her six years before. The trip to the airport was the hardest part of the entire week for Ruthie, because she started having flashbacks of the previous time she had made the journey, six years before. Jake, blinded by love for a woman, had taken his daughter to the airport and tossed her into the void, not really caring what happened to her upon her arrival in California. Had he known about the difficult transition that awaited her in Salinas, he would have been glad, figuring it would be good punishment for “giving him shit”.

After forcing herself to hug her father goodbye, Ruthie found the flight that would take her to California. The flashbacks intensified once she took her seat. She imagined that she could see herself as a terrified 12-year-old, hugging her backpack as the plane carried her away from her former life and trying to comprehend what her father had just done to her.

She had hugged her father goodbye. She would hug Mike in San Jose when he picked her up. She would hug her mother upon returning to Salinas. She wished she didn’t have to touch any of them. The person she wanted to hug was not her boyfriend or any of her relatives, but herself. She imagined sitting next to herself six years ago… and trying to… to do what? Tell her 12-year-old self that everything was going to be OK? Well, that would have been a lie. When she got to Salinas nothing was OK. Her life sucked… but then it would have sucked had she stayed behind in Nebraska, dealing with Debra and her kid.

No matter where I would’ve gone, my life would’ve sucked.

Home… she had always thought of Jake’s house as home… just as she had always said that Nebraska was home to her. “I’m not from Salinas… I just live there right now. Actually I’m from Nebraska.” Much of Lincoln was as she remembered it in its physical detail, but she knew that didn’t matter. The Lincoln of her memories, the place that she had idealized, had been nothing more than an illusion. The house and the neighborhood were still there, right in front of her, and detail for detail the way she remembered. But now, after finally returning, the place of her childhood had a hostile and alien feel for her. It turned out Ruthie Burns wasn’t from Nebraska at all. She no more belonged in Lincoln than she belonged in Salinas, or Davenport, or Culiacan.

So, she truly was an outsider, a homeless soul destined to spend her existence looking through the windows of life into places she could never settle.

* * *

Mike picked up his girlfriend in San Jose, just as he promised. The trip to Salinas was very difficult, because she was unable to put into words what had happened to her in Lincoln. She was silent and moody.

Mike became nervous and started up with a lecture about how glad he was that the Christmas season was over and that the annual orgy of materialism had finally come to an end. He gloated that national sales figures looked bad, even for Mega-Mart, but then Ruthie cut him short.

“Mike… I… uh… I’m really not interested in hearing about that right now.”

Mike was deeply hurt and chastened by her rebuke. She did not seem happy to see him. However, he knew Ruthie well enough to understand she was “in one of her moods”. Hopefully whatever was bothering her had nothing to do with him.

He said nothing more and the couple spent the rest of their trip to Salinas in tense silence.

Chapter 19 - The Sinclairs’ Houseguest

Ruthie returned to her mother’s apartment while Doña Lisette was still at work. In spite of the quiet, she had a premonition that something unpleasant awaited her as soon as her mother returned. The feeling was so strong that Ruthie was tempted to call Mike, apologize for being rude to him, and beg him to return and get her out of Salinas. She took a deep breath and decided that no… it would be better to see what was the problem. She assumed that her mother might be mad about her trip to Nebraska… or maybe it was something having to do with Mike.

When Doña Lisette returned home, she did not say anything to her daughter. No hello, no asking how the trip to Nebraska went. Ruthie knew right away that her premonition about a problem was dead-on. She could tell that her mother was furious at her. She had one of those dark looks that in the past would have preceded a vicious slap across the face, a lecture, and several hours sitting at the kitchen table. Ruthie, because she was an adult, no longer was subject to outright punishment, but it was obvious she faced a very unpleasant afternoon. She nerved herself to face whatever it was that had so upset Doña Lisette:

“Mom… what’s wrong?”

“You really are a deceitful girl, aren’t you?”

“Deceitful? Why? What’d I do?”

“Do you know where Rosa is?”

Ruthie took a breath, momentarily relieved it wasn’t something else.

“I… I think she’s in the Army…”

“Exactly. She’s in the Army! She ran away! And you knew about it! You knew what she was planning to do!”

“Yes, Mom… I knew.”

“And you didn’t have the decency to tell anyone… the decency to warn us!”

“She asked me to keep it a secret.”

“She asked you to help her lie to us! And because of you and your lies, she’s gone!”

“Mom… it was her choice! It’s her life! She’s 18! She’s sick of things around here and she left!”

“She left because of you! If you had just said something, we could have stopped her!”

“Why? Why stop her? Why should I? Her life sucked… just like everyone’s life around here sucks… and she wanted out… and the Army gave her that chance!”

“Now my brother’s not speaking to me! Because of you!”

“That’s his problem! Maybe if he’d treated her better she wouldn’t have left! And I really don’t give a shit about what…”

Ruthie was interrupted when Doña Lisette hit her across the face with a vicious slap.

“You will NOT talk to me in the language of the Devil!”

Ruthie stunned by the blow, covered her burning cheek with her hand.

“Stop hitting me! Stop fucking hitting me!”

Doña Lisette’s eyes lit up with fury upon hearing her daughter swear a second time. She struck at the girl again, but this time Ruthie warded off the blow with her free arm. Ruthie’s fist connected with the bone just above her mother’s wrist. Doña Lisette fell back, shocked at the pain and at the fact that her daughter had actually struck her. She nursed her arm and gave Ruthie a tearful look.

“Mom! I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to do that… but…”

“Get out of my sight! Just get out of my sight!”

“Mom… please!”

“I mean it, Ruthie! Get your lying face out of my sight! If this is the way you want to be, if you are gonna lie and hit your own mother, then you’re not welcome in my home! Get out!”

“Mom! Please! I didn’t mean to hit you!”


Ruthie picked up her backpack and carry-on. It was very lucky that she had not yet unpacked. The moment she stepped outside, the door slammed behind her. She gasped from the shock of what had just happened. Finally she made her way to the main office of the apartment complex, sat down in the waiting area, and called Mike.

“I… kinda need you to come get me…”

“Right now?”


“Is something wrong?”

“Yeah. Everything here’s fucked up.”

“OK… on my way. Are you gonna be OK ‘til I get there?”

“I ‘spose.”

As soon as she hung up, she buried her face in her hands. The receptionist of the complex glanced at her, so Ruthie picked up her stuff and went outside. She leaned on the sign of the main office, feeling too numb to even cry.

Welcome back to Salinas, Ruthie…

* * *

Mike was elated that his girlfriend had called him and that she had been forced to set aside whatever it was that had made her so silent and moody on the trip back from San Jose. Once again Ruthie’s circumstances had forced her to be dependent on him. For the next half hour he drove southward in an upbeat mood, thinking about how the latest crisis in Ruthie’s life would once again force her into his arms.

He pulled into the complex and immediately saw a very forlorn-looking young woman leaning on the sign near the main office. He popped the trunk and grabbed her luggage. She hugged him and started crying. Finally she took her place in the passenger seat and they departed. Tears rolled down her cheeks as she sat silently watching the vegetable fields pass by. Mike now knew his partner well enough to realize that he needed to stay quiet until she was ready to tell him what had happened.

They returned to the Sinclairs’ house. Both of Mike’s parents were still at work, much to their relief. He took her luggage to the guest room while she listlessly followed him. When he suggested a swim, she shrugged her shoulders and casually took off her clothes. She tossed her stuff into the guest room while Mike undressed as well. He grabbed two towels and she followed him to the pool. They didn’t need to worry about taking anything with them to put on, because Mike knew his parents were at work and would not be home for a couple more hours.

For a long time she stood with the water up to her neck, feeling the comforting water against her bare body. She quietly watched the reflections of the sky and nearby trees shimmering on the surface. Mike said nothing. He just treaded water at the other end of the pool and waited for his girlfriend’s mood to change so he could talk to her.

Ruthie remained in the same spot for a very long time, gently waving her arms back and forth but otherwise not moving. Finally Mike got tired treading water in the deep end and swam to where the water was shallower. By then some of the numbness in Ruthie’s brain was starting to wear off, and the usual swirl of disjointed thoughts resurfaced in her consciousness. Finally she was ready to talk.

“Have you ever been to Nebraska?”

“Through it a bunch of times. We did stop in Omaha, but not in Lincoln.”

“You know most of it’s totally flat.”


“You know why?”

Mike shook his head.

“It used to be ocean…kinda like an inland waterway going between the two halves of North America. That’s why they’ve got so many marine fossils from there. There’s places you can dig up clamshells from the Cretaceous period.”

Mike said nothing, wondering where Ruthie was going with the unexpected topic.

“There used to be all kinds of neat animals there… pterodactyls, big nautiluses, sea reptiles… but that’s all gone. It’s just a bunch of dust that gets plowed up every year and blown around. When you think about it, all those animals might as well have never existed, ‘cause now they’re just a bunch of dirt.”

Mike thought about what his girlfriend might be getting at. He decided to counter her before her thoughts became too morbid.

“Those animals had their time. They were around for hundreds of millions of years. Now it’s our time. And I think it does matter that those animals were around when they were… just like it matters that we’re around now.”

Ruthie did not respond. Mike added:

“I take it things did not go well for you on your trip.”

“They went OK. My dad did break up with Debra, but now they’ve got a kid and he’s taking care of him. But my dad… he’s the same in a lot of ways… drinking with his friends, running around on his Harley, got a new girlfriend… it’s like he doesn’t give a shit about anything… and I was by myself most of the time I was in Lincoln… just kinda wandered around… it was fucking cold the whole time I was there… and I kinda realized that Lincoln was… I don’t know if this’ll make any sense to you… it was the way I remembered it, but totally different from the way I imagined it.”

“So… you think you kinda idealized Lincoln? Imagined it to be better than it really is?”

“Kinda… not exactly… I don’t know how to say it so you’ll see where I’m coming from… but I guess that’s sort of it.”

Mike reflected for moment, remembering the details that Ruthie had told him about her life and how she saw herself.

“A couple of times you told me ‘I’m not from Salinas. Actually I’m from Nebraska.’ You went there and figured out that’s not true?”

Ruthie’s eyes filled with tears and she nodded.

“I’m not from Nebraska. I’m not from anywhere.”

Ruthie then did something that surprised Mike. She apologized for her behavior on the way back from San Jose to Salinas. The apology surprised him because she had never apologized for anything before. However, she justified herself by explaining that she was struggling with what she had learned about herself in Nebraska and was not yet able to articulate her feelings when riding in the car. OK, Mike thought to himself… that’s half of what went on with her… now for the other half… why she called him from Salinas and was standing outside her apartment complex leaning on a sign. He asked her how come she was waiting for him near the manager’s office.

“My mom kicked me out.”


“We got into a big fight… really big… at first it was about Rosa… ’cause I helped her keep it quiet that she was gonna go in the Army. My uncle is pissed at both me and my mom, and my mom’s pissed at me. And I told her that it was his fault that Rosa couldn’t put up with his shit anymore and I didn’t give a shit about his feelings… and my mom slapped me for cussing… and I told her to fucking stop… and then she was gonna slap me again… and I hit her on the arm… and she threw me out.”

Mike held out his hand. Reluctantly she let him hug her in the water.

“I’ve got to go back to campus next Monday to finish my parking meter training. I’ll be let back in my room early. You’re welcome to stay with me… you know… until they open your dorm up.”

Ruthie nodded.

“Until then, you can just stay here. We’ve got a guest room. You can crash there in the meantime.”

Again she nodded.

He continued to hold her close, comforting her and enjoying the feeling of her body against his own. His emotions at that moment were very mixed. He was genuinely concerned about what had happened to her; however, he also was very pleased that she was so dependent on him. He would be her support in life: she would need him and because of that need, she would be unconditionally his. If she were cut off from her family and had no other friends, if he was the only person remaining in her life, then she truly would belong to him. He did not yet have enough experience in relationships to understand that love based on need is the same as love based on circumstances. His relationship with Ruthie would be every bit as fragile as the one he had with Lisa, unless he could somehow get her to love him for who he was instead of what he could do for her.

* * *

That night Ruthie and Mike had dinner with his parents. Mike was uncomfortable because his mother gave his girlfriend several disapproving looks while Mr. Sinclair and Ruthie talked about Nebraska. The topic drifted to the state’s geological past and the fact that the state still looked like a flat ocean of dirt. From there Ruthie and Mr. Sinclair talked about extinction and the ultimate futility of life. After she talked about the fossil animals, he chimed in with his knowledge of the Indian tribes that lived in the area during the 1800’s and how their fate paralleled the fate of Ruthie’s pterosaurs. Mrs. Sinclair, irritated by the morbidity of the topic, cast angry looks at her husband and their guest, but they both ignored her. Mike found himself cut out of the conversation, but he knew better than to interrupt. He simply ate and pretended to not see his mother’s hostile expression.

After dinner the Sinclairs and Ruthie sat in lawn chairs by the pool. The conversation about Nebraska became even more morbid, because Ruthie talked in detail about what happened to her grandmother. Mr. Sinclair was genuinely interested, because he knew enough about medical procedures to understand that much of what was done to Ruthie’s grandmother was totally unnecessary. He pushed her memory back to various medications she had been given and was able to tell her which ones actually helped and which ones were prescribed simply to drive up the medical bill. Ruthie opened up to Mike’s father about how she felt about her grandmother and the conflicting emotions she had experienced when she visited her grave.

When she commented that she wished that she could believe that her grandmother’s spirit was still with her, he responded, “Maybe that’s for the best, Ruthie. When you think about it… I can tell you I’m real happy that my dad didn’t live to see me lose the pharmacy… and I’d like to think he’ll never know about that… not even in Heaven, assuming there is such a place… maybe the way you think just makes more sense…”

Mrs. Sinclair excused herself and went upstairs, not interested in hearing any more of the morbid trans-generational talk about sickness, death, and oblivion. She was upset that her husband had openly admitted his doubts about Heaven to a stranger. That was not something she wanted to hear. It was clear her current life was never going to get any better and Heaven was the only hope remaining to her. She did not want that last hope taken away.

After some more conversation, Ruthie’s father had a small surprise for his son’s girlfriend. He took her into the living room and showed her his collection of records. (Yes, Mr. Sinclair still listened to records.) Ruthie looked dumbly at the large black disks, never having seen any up close before. Mr. Sinclair found the record he was looking for, by a ‘70’s group called Kansas. He took the record out of its cardboard cover and handed the cover for Ruthie to look at. He carefully laid the fragile plastic disk on a turntable.

“Here. This is an old song… a bit before your time… but I think you’ll like it. It was a favorite of mine when I was your age.”

Mike’s father delicately placed the needle into a barely visible grove that separated two songs from each other. There were some pops and snaps as the record spun and the needle moved inward slightly. Ruthie listened to the following song that, in spite of having been popular a generation before, reflected her outlook on life more than anything she had ever heard:

I close my eyes, only for a moment, and the moment's gone All my dreams… pass before my eyes… a curiosity

Dust in the wind, all they are is dust in the wind…

Same old song, just a drop of water in an endless sea All we do… crumbles to the ground, though we refuse to see

Dust in the wind, all we are is dust in the wind…

Now, don't hang on, nothing lasts forever but the earth and sky It slips away, and all your money won't another minute buy.

Dust in the wind, all we are is dust in the wind Dust in the wind, everything is dust in the wind.

“That’s so cool, Mr. Sinclair! That’s really neat! I wish I could get it on CD!”

“You probably can… but you know; I’m old-school. Still listen to records and 8-tracks. But I’d guess it’s on CD too.”

Ruthie borrowed a pen and copied the information from the album cover. Mike inwardly cringed. He hated the hopeless message of “Dust in the Wind”, but undoubtedly within the next day or two he’d be spending some money to get a Kansas CD for Ruthie.

* * *

Ruthie spent the next four nights at the Sinclairs’ house. She slept in the guest room, while Mike slept in his own room. Ruthie was very grateful for the space and for being able to have some time to herself. Once she closed the door, the room was totally hers, because it never would have occurred to Mike to go in there when his parents, especially his mother, were present. It was strange to think that, even though Mike was just a door away from her, the unspoken protocol of the household dictated that he keep his distance if anyone else was present.

The same was not true during the day. Mike’s parents always were away during normal working hours, so the couple spent a lot of their time enjoying the pool and the house’s other amenities. They spent almost all of their time during the days naked, especially Ruthie. She tried her hand at cooking several Mexican dishes for her boyfriend. When she cooked she put on an apron and Mike took pictures of her, finding her appearance wearing an apron and nothing else very amusing. They also spent a lot of their time enjoying the pool. Although the days were cool and overcast, the pool had a heater so it was comfortable to swim in. The only problem was getting out; withstanding the chilly air always was a challenge.

Mike wanted to take advantage of having sex with Ruthie as much as possible when his parents were not home. Her naked body, constantly in front of him and beckoning to be touched and caressed, was a temptation he couldn’t resist. She did not object. She relaxed as best she could and tried to give Mike what he needed. As long as she was properly lubricated, there was no problem from him entering her.

Now that the couple could have sex in a relaxed setting, Ruthie made some discoveries about herself. She did not like being entered, but she did enjoy being massaged and caressed. Looking through the Sinclairs’ collection of books, she found a manual on massage techniques. She showed it to Mike and asked him to try massaging her. They discovered that massages were something they both enjoyed. He liked touching her body and she enjoyed releasing control of herself and being touched.

By the end of their stay at Mike’s house she started massaging him as well. She started clumsily, but got better after a few tries. He clearly enjoyed it, especially when she massaged his bottom and the area around his penis. His reaction to her touches gave her an idea. She started to wonder if there was any way she could get out of enduring sexual intercourse but still “do her duty” by massaging him.

* * *

Mike totally enjoyed having Ruthie to himself during the days. He never looked forward to his parents getting home, because once they pulled into the driveway, the fun part of the day was over as far as he was concerned. However, that was not true at all for Ruthie. She very much looked forward to seeing Mr. Sinclair in the evenings and talking to him. It was strange to watch what was going on during those four nights; that Mr. Sinclair and Ruthie were becoming friends. He spent some more time showing her more of his old music. He seemed to know by instinct what songs she would want to hear: morbid or philosophical music from singers as diverse as the Eagles, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Seger…all of it music that predated the classic Heavy Metal that Mike preferred.

One night Ruthie and Mr. Sinclair spent several hours talking about drug trafficking and violence in Sinaloa and Salinas. On the surface Ruthie seemed apolitical, but that was only true about events in the United States. It turned out she was very knowledgeable and insightful about what was going on in Mexico. She was able to share her personal knowledge about Culiacan and its most infamous residents: the drug cartel leaders. She talked about the city’s dysfunctional culture and the criminals cruising around listening to narco-corridas. She repeated the outlook in life that she had given to Mike a couple of months earlier, that she believed organized criminal groups and the CEO’s of large corporations would be the world’s next ruling elite, and democracy as a system was doomed. That transition had already happened in Mexico, the drug cartels were in complete control and the ongoing violence amounted to little more than criminals consolidating their power over everyone else.

Mr. Sinclair added his observations from what he had seen when he was still a pharmacist, about the diversion of medicine into illegal drug production and what impact it was having in central California. By the time the conversation wound down, Mrs. Sinclair had long since retreated from the living room. Meanwhile, Mike sat silent and envious that his father seemed so much better at getting his girlfriend to open up about her life than he was. In the conversations, Mike learned a lot about Ruthie, but only because he was present to hear what she was saying to his father.

On her final night in the Sinclairs’ house, Ruthie woke up at 1:00 in the morning. She could not get back to sleep, so she decided to go for a swim in the pool. The air was very chilly and steam was rising up from the heated water, which would be perfect for hiding her body if anyone else came out. She took off her shorts and t-shirt and stepped in.

She had only been in the pool for a couple of minutes when Mr. Sinclair came outside, apparently with the same idea of having a mid-night swim. Before he had a chance to take off his bathrobe, she called out to warn him she was in the pool. He turned his back to her to give her the chance to get out, dry off, and get her clothes on. When she started shivering he handed her an extra towel, which she gratefully wrapped around her shoulders.

Although both had intended to swim alone, once they were together they were reluctant to say goodnight. Mr. Sinclair went to the pool house and returned with two blankets. They settled into lawn chairs and looked out over the steaming water into the darkness. Ruthie wished so much that her father could be like Mr. Sinclair, instead of being a stupid drunken biker.

She felt that she knew Mike’s father well enough to entrust him with some details about Jake Burns. She talked about his irresponsible life, his bar-hopping and girlfriends, Debra, and her half-brother Jake Jr. He listened patiently until she ran out of things to say. There was a long pause; then Mr. Sinclair decided to change the subject.

“Ruthie… I’m gonna have to get up early to go to work, so I probably won’t see you tomorrow… but before you and Mike head out, I want to tell you a couple of things. First of all… I like you a lot, and I think my son’s very lucky to have you. I can tell you that his mood is totally different now than it was back in September. I was worried about him… because… I don’t know if you know this… but his last girlfriend really did a job on him.”

“I… kinda know about all that, Mr. Sinclair. But it wasn’t all Lisa’s fault. Some of it was, but Mike sorta messed things up too.”

“He told you what happened?”

“Yes, Mr. Sinclair. He did.”

“Well… I guess that’s for the better. Anyhow, you know… Mike’s gonna need you. You need to understand that. Things around here are gonna get a bit rough, and he’s gonna need someone he can trust. I’d hope that person would be you.”

“Mr. Sinclair… I… I’ll do what I can… but just to let you know… I’m kinda messed up… I mean… I have a lot of my own issues…”

“I know you do. Your issues are the same ones I have. Why do you think we’ve been able to talk so much… you and me?”

Ruthie nodded, but did not know how to answer. Mr. Sinclair continued. “It doesn’t matter that you have issues. What matters is how you treat the people you love. All I’m asking is that you’re there for Mike… that you love him… that’ll get both of you through a lot of problems.”

“Well, yes Mr. Sinclair… I do love him…” Inwardly Ruthie flinched, because… did she really love Mike? She was getting ever deeper into the relationship, without being able to define what she truly felt for him. It was certain that she did not love Mike in the same way he loved her… so what exactly did she feel for him?

Ruthie was more uncomfortable than ever, because she realized that had Mr. Sinclair been 20 years younger and not married, she easily would have picked him as a partner over Mike. She felt more connected with the older man than with anyone else in her life.

Finally they were ready to go back to sleep. Ruthie turned to look at her boyfriend’s father one final time before entering the house. Their eyes met in the in the dim patio lighting. They didn’t say anything more, but she noticed his sad expression. His words came back to her:

“Your issues are the same ones I have.”

With that single glimpse of his face she understood what he meant. There was something about him that made her realize he was much closer to facing death and oblivion than most people. He fully understood his reality and accepted it. There was death in his voice, just as death always seemed to be so close to Ruthie. That must have been why they felt so close to each other; death connected them. Whether the topic was pterodactyls, or Indians, or Ruthie’s grandmother, or Culiacan’s drug traffickers, they could honestly talk about the ultimate reality of life.

So… he must have realized that she had contemplated suicide. He knew, because he was thinking about doing the exact same thing. They truly did understand each other. She badly wanted to hug him. She later would regret not having done so.

End of part 6

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