The Outsider
by EC


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

Chapter 26 - Ruthie’s only choice

Throughout April, Mike quietly continued driving Sam’s truck around campus and collecting money from meters. It was a routine that he started to enjoy, apart from the extra income that he was taking in. He spent his afternoons listening to news on the radio, took breaks when he wanted, and spent most of his time working alone. He could certainly see why Sam had no ambition to do anything else, because it was not a high-pressure life.

Nevertheless, Mike realized that he would need to start taking a ticketing machine with him, because the freeloaders of Lot Econ-A had noticed that he no longer was out there to harass them. Meter collections began to drop as students returned to the lot and found their cars had been parked all day and were not ticketed. No, that wouldn’t do. Those meters were Mike’s main source of personal income and those little bastards had no right to just sit there and not pay. Starting on the fifth week of Sam’s vacation, Mike always took a ticketing machine with him when he worked the meters and spent as much time writing tickets as he spent emptying canisters. He started working hard again, not because of his old determination to persecute the rich crowd, but because he wanted to make sure the meters (especially the ones that were jammed) always got paid.

During the sixth week of Sam’s absence, Mike accelerated both his ticketing and his collections. He figured out how to jam meters himself without making it look suspicious, and in doing so took in an extra couple hundred dollars per day. He assumed that Sam would be back next week and with his co-worker’s return, his “perk” would come to an end.

It turned out Sam wasn’t coming back. The department director took advantage of his absence to force him into retirement. Over the next several weeks Mike would hear enough rumors and gossip to figure out that Sam was forced out because of his health insurance premiums, which had been set up decades before during a time there still was money in personnel budgets for that type of thing. It was ironic that had Sam known about the health insurance issue, he easily could have paid the premiums from the money he was taking out of the meters. However, because the manager considered Sam an honest and loyal employee, he assumed that there was no way Sam had the extra income needed to pay those high premiums. It was easier to push him into retirement.

Mike was aghast when he realized what the department had done to his mentor. He also felt very guilty about his role in facilitating Sam’s removal, because it was obvious that he had been selected not to assist Sam, but to replace him. Neither Mike nor Sam had any clue that was what had been plotted in the front office. When he found out the full story, he wanted to call Sam and apologize, but… apologize for what? That he had been the pawn that was used by the director to make sure Sam could be pushed out the door?

Mike knew that the department, on paper at least, would save a bundle by replacing Sam with a student employee. Mike’s pay went up only slightly and he was not eligible for any benefits. Also, Mike would be even easier to replace than Sam if he ever ended up costing the department too much in wages.

Throughout the final weeks of the semester Mike noticed that two other older employees of the parking department had disappeared, also forced into retirement, no doubt. By the beginning of May noticed that the dispatcher was not her usual smirky sarcastic self. At the end of the semester, she too would be gone.

Because Mike was more observant than most of the other student employees, he could understand how truly corrupt the parking department was. The department was a money-making machine, and yet it did not share any of its income with the rest of the university. Obviously a huge amount of money had been spent to build the parking garage, but a lot of that expense had been funded with credit and not paid up front. As for everything else… the parking trucks were old and in poor condition, the meters were all older (which was part of the reason some of them were always jammed), and the parking lots received only minimal maintenance. So where was all the money going? Not to the employees, that was for sure, because the students were earning barely more than minimum wage and had no benefits. Well, conditions in the main office totally contrasted with what was outside. The secretaries had the newest computers and office furniture and the director had an oak desk. Mike started noticing what the office staff was driving to work. All of them had very nice cars. So… that was what the efforts of Mike and his co-workers were paying for: a fancy office and fancy cars for the director and his favorite staff members. As Sam had said:

“Ain’t spending it on us, that’s for sure.”

So… at the beginning of the seventh week of Sam’s absence, Officer #36’s temporary assignment became permanent. Permanent, in a manner of speaking, because he could be dismissed at any moment. But, as long as he could hold onto his job, Mike would grab as much money as he could and pad his savings. He wouldn’t think about the future, because the future would come soon enough. He would concentrate on the money, because to have money was to have power and control over one’s own fate.

As he stared at the growing stacks of rolled quarters hidden in the wardrobe of his dorm room, a thought crossed his mind: the possibility of helping his dad make mortgage payments. Why not? If he continued with his new gig into the foreseeable future, why couldn’t he use some of those quarters to give back to his dad?

Mike pondered what to do. The problem with helping his parents was that Mr. Sinclair would want to know where he was getting the money. If he suspected that Mike was obtaining his money from doing something illegal, he would angrily refuse it. Mr. Sinclair always had been scrupulously honest and would berate his son for touching “dirty money”. There was some hypocrisy in his attitude, because of what he was planning to do to his lender when they foreclosed. However, he considered his slight-of-hand with the “underwater mortgage” payback to an economic system that had betrayed him, and thus different from what his son was doing: stealing money outright.

Still, it was a relief for Mike to think that he no longer was worried about his own finances and instead had enough money to start worrying about those around him. Another pleasant thought occurred to him: he now was in a position to help his girlfriend. If she wanted to, Ruthie could tell Jake Burns to go fuck himself. At the rate he was bringing in money, Mike would have enough to pay her tuition as well as his own and still have plenty to spare. As for living in the dorm next year, there would be no need for that. He’d get an apartment and simply have her move in with him.

* * *

Ruthie did notice the ongoing change in her boyfriend’s fortunes. Now, if he wanted something, he bought it. If she wanted something, he bought it. That became especially apparent when Mike and Ruthie went to his parents’ house to celebrate Easter and Mike treated his entire family to a catered Easter dinner. The food was the best food anyone sitting at the table had eaten for a long time and must have cost Mike a small fortune. Ruthie noticed that her boyfriend’s parents were grateful for their son’s generosity. However, they also appeared bewildered concerning where he could have earned the money. Mike sensed his father’s unease, so he talked about the change of assignment at his job as though it were a major promotion and told them that he had received a big raise.

Ruthie wondered what really was going on at Mike’s job, because back in January Mike had mentioned that he was working with one of the older employees and it did not seem like his meter job was that big of a deal. Now all of a sudden it was a big deal, and there was no further mention of that older co-worker. She knew that something was going on.

However, she decided not to confront him about it. It was nice to see him not so bitter about his life, and even nicer to be dating a person that had some money and was willing to spend it on her. There was one favor in particular that convinced her to not ask questions. A few days after Easter, she had a bad toothache. Two mornings later he drove her to Santa Cruz and took her to his dentist. It turned out she needed two fillings. Ruthie objected, knowing that there was no way she could afford two fillings and X-rays. The hygienist gave her a strange look.

“Ms. Burns, it’s been taken care of. Your boyfriend just paid.”

“He did? How much was it?”

The hygienist looked at her clipboard. “Looks like it was $537 dollars.”

“…and he paid it? All of it? Just like that?”

“Yes. Paid in cash. Why? Is there a problem?”

Ruthie shook her head. Bewildered by her boyfriend’s generosity, she lay back in the chair and winced as the Novocain was injected into her jaw.

* * *

As April progressed and the end of the semester loomed ever closer, Ruthie understood how totally dependent she had become on Mike. There was no way she had wanted that to happen, but it seemed that her life had not given her any choice. All of her attempts to reach out to anyone other than her boyfriend were rebuffed. Most people were not nearly as rude to her as Shannon had been, but it was clear that everyone Ruthie talked to, especially other college students, simply were not interested in getting to know her.

She knew that there were guys who would have been interested in her, but only for the same reason that piece of shit at Junior Prom had been interested in her. She knew that she was physically attractive and that there were guys who would have brushed aside her creepy personality if they could use her for their own sexual relief. She wanted no part of that. The squalid experience on that dirt road two years before was a sufficiently painful lesson for her. There was no way she’d want to risk going through that again.

There were women that Ruthie looked at longingly. Jen was the one she was most attracted to, but there were others. She understood there was not a chance she’d ever connect. One unpleasant incident at the student center stood out in her mind; that involved a female customer who periodically bought coffee at Ruthie’s shop. The student sat down to drink her coffee just before Ruthie went on break, so Ruthie took her snack and took a seat at the next table. She sat admiring the other woman, working up the courage to try to talk to her. Suddenly the customer stood up, approached Ruthie, and snapped:

“You got a fucking problem?”

Ruthie blushed, but was so shocked that she couldn’t answer. She just shook her head.

“Then you need to stop staring at me!”

The other girl walked off and Ruthie never saw her again. It was a minor incident, but one that left her badly shaken.

So that was it. Guys didn’t interest her, she could not connect with any of the women she liked, and she was becoming increasingly distant from her family… as though she were ever all that close to them anyway. She was totally alone, except for a single person who cared about her.

Mike was the only one…

* * *

At the end of April, Ruthie received a call from her mother. She was surprised, because the two women had not spoken to each other for over a month, not since the conversation when Ruthie “came out” as an atheist. When she picked up her cell phone, Ruthie tensed up, torn between wanting to make up with her mother and wanting to be firm with her opinions about religion.

To Ruthie’s surprise, the topic of religion never came up. Doña Lisette had other things to worry about. Ruthie’s grandfather had fallen ill, was bedridden, and required constant care. As the only daughter in the family, the responsibility fell on Doña Lisette to return to Culiacan and care for her invalid father. Of course Ruthie’s cousin Alex already was right there living in his grandparents’ house, but there was not a chance in Hell he’d demean himself by doing something useful for his family.

At any other time Doña Lisette would have tried to find another solution for her father’s care, but at that moment she had nothing to keep her in the US. Her possessions were gone, she was estranged from her daughter, and it was very likely she’d finally be laid-off from her job by the middle of the summer. As far as she was concerned, it was time to go home.

Ruthie was trying to recover from that shock when her mother hit her with another piece of bad news. Gerardo’s baby was in a coma and was not expected to survive more than another day or so, which was the reason she was calling. Doña Lisette wanted Ruthie to go with her to the funeral, since that probably was going to be the last time she would have a chance to see her brother and her daughter in the same place.

Ruthie responded, “Mom… of course I’ll be there. Why wouldn’t I go?”

“I don’t know about you, Ruthie. That’s why I had to call you and ask. I never know what you’re going to do. I don’t really feel that I know you. You’re my daughter, but I don’t know who you are.”

No Mom, you really don’t know me, thought Ruthie to herself. You never knew me. You never understood me, and it was the same with me and you. Our worlds are different. We’ll never understand each other, but that’s no one’s fault. I guess it was too bad that we got separated when I was a little kid… I know that didn’t help any. I know you tried with me. You did what you could, and maybe I didn’t turn out so bad… not like Alex… but we’re strangers, and we always will be strangers.

She would have wanted to say some of that, but all she could get out was, “Mom…I’ll be there, OK? I’ll be there. You don’t have to guilt-trip me about it.”

* * *

A funeral is never a pleasant event, and certainly if the ceremony is to commemorate the death of an infant, that makes a funeral considerably worse. However, the baby’s funeral was exceedingly somber for another reason, because it seemed to be, in a way, a funeral for the entire family. Ruthie’s relatives would be going their separate ways as soon as the ceremony was over. Her mother was going to back to Mexico, her cousins Rosa and Alex already were absent, and Ruthie had heard a rumor that Gerardo and his wife were splitting up. As for herself, she had always been the outlying member of that family, the one who really never fit in. She was going away too, because with her mother departing for Mexico, she would never again have any reason to set foot in Salinas and had no intention of doing so. Whatever the future held for her, it would have to be somewhere else.

Ruthie’s mother was not leaving for Mexico until the following day, but Ruthie decided to say goodbye to her after the funeral had ended and return to Davenport. They hugged each other for the last time. Whatever they needed to say to each other would remain unsaid.

* * *

That night, Ruthie decided it was time to share her darkest secret with Mike. She put her bath brush in her backpack and went over to his room. The two students stripped off their clothes and Mike assumed that they would be massaging each other shortly and that either he would get to enter her or would have to settle for a hand-job. Instead, Ruthie laid the bath brush on the spare desk next to her computer. Already Mike suspected what she wanted him to do with it, but Ruthie said nothing. Instead she told him to turn on his computer and handed him the thumb-drive she had taken to Dr. Hartman’s office a few weeks earlier.

“I’m gonna trust you with something. It’s something that no one, except my counselor, knows about.”

Mike looked at the pictures in amazement. Ruthie noticed that, when he was about a fourth of the way through, his penis started to stiffen. He was embarrassed, but he couldn’t help himself. A lot of the pictures were very sexy.

“You were doing this to yourself?”

Ruthie blushed and nodded.

“With the same brush that’s sitting on the desk. It’s a long story. Someday I’ll tell it to you, but a lot of it’s in the pictures.”

“It was something you got off on?”

Ruthie blushed and nodded. Then she continued:

“I… I’m feeling kinda sucky right now… I can’t explain it… but I was kinda… you know… wondering if you’d like to… you know… with the brush…”

She noticed his penis was totally erect. He was blushing. She picked up the brush and handed it to him. Then she placed her hands on his bed and spread her legs.

Even though he already had spanked her once, Mike couldn’t believe what Ruthie was doing. She was asking him to punish her.

Mike’s mind was full of doubts over what he was about to do. Among other concerns he was wondering what would happen if Ruthie modeled in art class on Monday with bruises on her bottom. However, he was more worried about hurting her lovely body. He treasured the sight of his girlfriend’s naked figure and was reluctant to do anything to injure her. And yet, at that moment he found the sight of her bent over his bed extremely erotic.

He positioned himself and touched the brush to her bottom. She was trembling slightly. He was curious and did not start spanking right away. Instead he rubbed the back of the brush over her vulnerable backside. She took a deep breath and started trembling more, but did not move out of position. Finally he was ready to begin.

He started out slowly, giving her moderately hard swats on the lower and middle part of her bottom. He was careful to hit only one side at a time and not hit anywhere near her hips or her pelvis. He suspected that in high school she had probably punished herself in rapid bursts, nerved herself for the next round, and then started with another burst. He would not punish her rapidly, but make her anticipate each swat. He struck, then rubbed the brush over the next spot where he planned to hit, and struck again. The spanking was very painful and unnerving for Ruthie. Her knees were trembling. She just wished the spanking were over with, but the irony was that it was up to her to end it. All she had to do was tell Mike to stop, and yet she was determined not to do so. She wanted the spanking to be as severe as possible.

Finally, she did break down and started crying. Mike noticed that no longer were her knees shaking from fear and anticipation, but instead her upper body was shaking from sobs. Mike was totally aroused, but he knew that, unlike the night of her birthday, she was not aroused at all. And yet, she needed a release… and was trying to find it with the bath-brush. Her bottom already was very red and swollen.

Mike didn’t want to hurt her any further. He placed his hand on her shoulder.

“That’s enough, Ruthie. I want you to stand up.”

She obeyed him and stood up. She then hugged him and cried into his shoulder. They said nothing more.

They lay together in Mike’s bed. Tears were still running down her cheeks when she noticed he was still very hard. She massaged him until he came. She didn’t want sex that night, but she felt that at the very least she owed him a hand-job. When he finished and shot semen all over his stomach, she toweled him off. Then he fell asleep.

For Ruthie sleeping was more difficult because her bottom was so sore, but that feeling was what she had wanted for the past three years.

Chapter 27 - Ruthie’s change of plans

The semester was drawing to a close. No one was more aware of that than counselor Dr. Lynn Hartman, because she was bombarded with frantic calls from many of her clients, some of whom were going to fail classes, some of whom were worried about leaving the university for the summer, or for good, and some of whom simply were stressed out about not having anyone to talk to. During the final days of the semester she thought about a science fiction story she had read years before, by Isaac Asimov, about “Multivac” a computer that had been programmed to counsel the entire world and was so overwhelmed with everyone’s problems that it wanted to self-destruct.

Multivac… Hartman muttered to herself… I know how you must have felt…

Among Hartman’s dilemmas was what to do about her client Ruthie Burns. There were nineteen years of pent up problems and stress in her client’s mind and no one she could share them with… so over the past two semesters Ruthie had unloaded in Hartman’s office.

For eight months the counselor had listened to Ruthie’s deluge of problems and complaints. She had a strong professional interest in Ruthie, because she considered the girl one of her more interesting patients. The girl’s mind and memories were like a jigsaw puzzle that the counselor had to re-assemble, with some of the pieces missing and others hidden in places where she had to spend her time looking to retrieve them.

Hartman may have been interested in the intellectual challenge offered to her by Ruthie, but also she felt a growing personal bond. Ruthie was an intense and difficult person to deal with, but she had a lot of positive points. When a person truly got to know her, she had a lot to offer. She was sincere, extremely knowledgeable and intelligent, and talking to her was a nice break from Hartman’s normal dealings with spoiled rich people, who had messed up their lives because of too much partying, bad romances, and substance abuse problems.

By the end of the semester Hartman felt that all those hours with her client had paid off, because she was convinced she could diagnose the underlying cause of Ruthie’s unhappiness throughout her life. Explaining the situation to Ruthie would require some tact, because many of her problems with social adjustment were due to an ingrained physical condition instead of life experiences. Hartman’s hope was that Ruthie would realize that most of what had happened to her was not her fault and that with the right knowledge she could avoid getting into situations where she could get hurt in the future. However, there was no guarantee that she would handle hearing the diagnosis the way Hartman was hoping.

The counselor was convinced that, whatever the risks, she had no right to withhold information from a patient. If she did, Ruthie would continue to have the same problems and her collection of bad experiences and unhappy memories would only increase. To have any hope of coming to terms with her life, she needed to be aware of herself to avoid repeating mistakes and move ahead. Anyhow, a large part of Hartman’s job consisted of getting her clients to understand themselves better, to look at them from an outside perspective and say: “here is what I think is going on, and this gives you an explanation that you can work with to make changes in your life.”

Hartman set aside a two-hour block of appointment time during the middle of finals week. There would be a lot of end-of-the-semester issues to discuss, including how she was going to occupy herself over the summer, the relationship with Mike, the ongoing problems of her parents, her horrendous financial problems, and the struggle with her sexuality.

That girl’s plate is full… I really wonder if I’m doing the right thing, thought Hartman to herself.

Ruthie already was not in a good mood. Her mother’s situation upset her tremendously, partly for purely selfish reasons. With her mother gone, she’d have to rely on Mike for a place to live, because her only other alternative was to go to Nebraska.

“It’s funny… how life sucks, with all its ironies. I wanted to go back to Lincoln for five years. Go back there… and now that I really should be going back there, it’s the last place in the world I’d want to go.”

Hartman leaned back in her chair.

“You’ve changed. As you’d put it, you’ve evolved, you’re an organism that adapted to a new environment. Your original environment no longer suits you. And maybe it never did.”

“I ‘spose that’s true, Dr. Hartman. But I’m not adapted to this one either, ‘cause if I was, I’d be a lot happier.”

Hartman took the cue; that was the opening she needed to give her client the diagnosis about her situation.

Ruthie was staring at the floor in front of her feet, but she lifted up her eyes to look at her counselor. It was apparent that Hartman was planning to tell her something important.

“Ruthie… we’ve been talking for almost eight months now. You’ve told me a lot about yourself, and about many of things that have happened to you. There’s a lot that you don’t ‘get’ about why your life has been the way it has been. As you put it, your life has always ‘sucked’, and your life still ‘sucks’, although maybe now it ‘sucks’ a little bit less because of Mike. The point is to figure out how to make it so your life won’t ‘suck’ in the future. That’s what we need to focus on.”

When Ruthie did not respond, Hartman continued:

“There’s something about yourself that you need to understand. It’s probably going to be hard hearing what I have to say, but it’s something you’ll need to know to better comprehend yourself and move forward.”

“What’s that?”

“I don’t know for sure, because for an official diagnosis you’d have to be formally tested, but from everything I have observed about you and what I know from my training and education, I believe you have a condition that we call ‘non-verbal communication disorder’. Have you ever heard that term?”


“There are several technical names for your situation, but we’ll go with ‘non-verbal communication disorder’. The short explanation is that your brain is not wired like an average person’s brain, because the only way you can learn things is through rote-memory. Social interaction is more of a challenge because the nuances of non-verbal communication and body language are not something you are capable of picking up. It’s difficult for you to understand anything unless someone actually tells it to you or you read it. I suspect that’s the reason you spent a lot more time with books than with people when you were in high school. It is sort of a learning disability, but not one that affects you in the classroom, which is why it often goes undiagnosed. Usually people in your situation do just fine in their studies, because our educational system relies on rote-memorization and that portion of your brain is the most developed. The challenge is dealing with real life.”

Ruthie stared at the floor. Tears started flowing down her cheeks.

“So this… non-verbal communication shit… it’s ‘cause my brain’s all fucked up? There’s nothing I can do about it?”

“Ruthie, your brain is not fucked up. It just works differently and processes information differently than most other people. It means that you have to work harder at certain things in your life, but everyone has their strengths and weaknesses. The important thing for you is to be aware of your situation… understand why you might have missed non-verbal cues in the past… learn… and apply what you learn from each experience for the next time. If you had been diagnosed earlier, with counseling you could have developed better coping strategies, and that might have given you an easier time in school. But you do have to look at the bright side. You’re just 19, not even done with your first year in college. You are more aware of yourself than you were a few months ago, you’ve got the rest of your life to learn from your experiences and work on coping strategies. Just that, just knowing yourself, is a pretty good start.”

“I don’t see why it would be. The only thing I’ve found out today is why I’m a fucking freak. I always knew I was a freak… I just didn’t know why. Now I do. My brain’s fucked up.”

Hartman’s heart sank. No, her client was not taking the news well. She spent the rest of the counseling session trying to convince Ruthie that she was not a freak and that her condition was not rare at all. By the end of the appointment, Ruthie understood that she never 'fit in' not just because of her screwed-up parents, but also because of a condition that had a name, was identified by science, and was diagnosable. Unfortunately, the only 'cure' was learning about coping strategies. In other words, lots of hard work just to live a normal life. Well, that sure sucked.

Ruthie left the counselor’s office with a hand full of articles about the deformity in her brain that had totally messed up her existence and made her into the miserable person she was. She could tell that her counselor was extremely worried, but at that moment Ruthie didn’t care. She left without saying goodbye or making any arrangements for their next session.

It all made sense… starting with Shannon and going back… through all those rejections in high school… middle school… now it made sense. Everyone hated me because I’m such a fucking freak… and I bet it wouldn’t have been any better if I’d stayed in Nebraska… ’cause I would’ve been just as big a freak there too…

Now she was convinced more than ever that she did not belong in the world. The sooner she smashed or blew apart her defective brain, the better. She thought about that path to the ocean… the one that led to the cliff she always had in the back of her mind as her jumping-off point into the void. She needed to get out there and get her jump taken care of. Today was the day. It was totally stupid that she didn’t take care of it back in October. Oh well, better late than never…

She returned to Mike’s room. She knew that he was out, taking a final. Anyhow, she was so upset by what Hartman had told her that she wasn’t thinking about him. She was about to go back out and kill herself; smash her freakish brain on those rocks. And yet, out of pure habit, she logged onto her computer, for what would be the very last time in her life. Why? Maybe she ought to find out more about this “non-verbal communication disorder” bullshit that was messing up her life…

Find out about non-verbal communication disorder? What for? Why find out about that shit? Now I know why my life’s always gonna suck. Yeah… and when I go for a job interview? What’s gonna happen when I show up with non-verbal communication disorder? Like I’ll ever get a decent job with my fucked up brain and not even being able to look at people or talk normally? I don’t wanna spend the rest of my life serving fucking coffee. Now I really have had it. I’m done. It’s over…

She took a deep breath. She was about to log off… shut down… for the very last time. Her conscience pulled at her. She couldn’t just go down to the cliff without leaving some sort of explanation for Mike, or else he’d think it was because of something he did wrong. Ruthie logged back on with the intention of going to one of the suicide websites that she had bookmarked. She remembered the webmaster had posted drafts of suicide messages… she’d find the right draft for her situation, type in her information, print it up, leave it on Mike’s bed, and then head out.

She got into the website and looked through several drafts of suicide notes. She had expected to quickly find one that suited her situation, but unfortunately none of them seemed to really say what she wanted to express. Fuck… that would mean she’d have to write her own, which would take time, and she had wanted to be out of the room before Mike got back. Sighing with frustration, Ruthie started typing. She started out by telling Mike how much she loved him… but then thought: no, that needs to go at the end. I need to start out with telling him about my fucked-up brain and this non-verbal communication shit that I’ve got. She tried to explain, but didn’t think her sentences made any sense. Fuck! Fuck-fuck-fuck! That means I’ve gotta go into one of those websites Hartman gave me and get a definition… I’ll just cut and paste.

Finding a decent explanation took up more of the afternoon. Finally she found a good couple of paragraphs. She copied them and pasted them over what she had already written. She cussed yet again, because two hours had gone by and she still was just starting her suicide letter. She typed a couple of sentences about her conversations with Dr. Hartman, but then deleted them and started over with some words on how she was useless because she was so “fucked up”. She didn’t like that either, so she deleted yet again.

I ought to be fucking dead by now… and here I am still writing this stupid note…

When Mike got back to the room, Ruthie was no closer to finishing her final letter than she had been when she logged on to her computer. She jumped as he opened the door, agitated and totally irritated. She had expected to be peacefully floating in the ocean, but no… here she was… in her boyfriend’s room and still very much alive.

Mike had come back in a good mood, because he had just finished his last final, which meant that he had successfully completed his sophomore year in college. However, Ruthie was acting very strangely, much more so that usual. She was fidgeting and seemed very angry, but he couldn’t tell if she was mad at him, at herself, or at life in general. One unusual detail was that she was fully dressed, as though she was ready to go out.

He glanced at the note on her computer screen. She immediately blocked his view of the monitor with her body and forced a hard shut-off of her computer. Clearly whatever she had been working on was not something she wanted him to know about.

“Ruthie, what’s going on? What are you doing?”

She hugged him, but then pulled away.

“I… I… you know… like… I… uh… can we… go out?”

“I guess…”

Ruthie said nothing more. OK, Mike thought to himself, go out. Go out where? After an uncomfortable silence, he suggested nearby Bonnie Doon beach. She nodded and changed into a pair of shorts and over-sized t-shirt. Mike changed as well.

After they drove out of the university and turned onto the coastal highway, they passed right over the path that led from campus past some fields and ultimately to a high cliff where the waves crashed far below. Ruthie’s emotions were in turmoil, because once again circumstances had thwarted her final journey down that path. She was angry at herself for having failed to carry out her plan to escape from her awful life, but she also was relieved. Ultimately she would have to kill herself, but meanwhile at least she could enjoy the beach a couple more times.

A few minutes later they were safely in the clothing optional part of the secluded beach. They stripped off their clothes and waded into the cold turbulent water. As they felt the waves against their legs they could appreciate the chance to forget about the uncomfortable moment in Mike’s dorm room and the uncertain summer that lay ahead.

* * *

Later that night Ruthie returned to her own room. Jen and her boyfriend were packing up her stuff in anticipation of her return trip to her home in Aukland. It was clear the boyfriend was totally depressed, and equally clear that Jen could barely contain her joy of finally getting to go home.

Secretly Ruthie was every bit as depressed as Jen’s boyfriend, because yet another of her sexual fantasies was destined to go unfulfilled. How many times had she studied Jen’s body, thinking about touching her and being touched… but it was all illusion, no different from the illusion she had years before when she sat in class admiring Mrs. Peters. Just like the imaginary Mrs. Peters, the Jen of Ruthie’s imagination, the one who responded to her sexual desires, existed only in her fantasies.

Ruthie reflected that in one way all that time with Dr. Hartman had helped her, by allowing her to understand her habit of projecting her sexual fantasies onto other people. As painful as that truth was, at least with Jen it prevented Ruthie from doing or saying anything that would make her look stupid or offend her roommate. She accepted the reality that the Jen who existed in her fantasies was not the Jen standing in front of her. Jen would be leaving the next day, without any unpleasant rejection that would have soured Ruthie’s memories of her.

Jen and her boyfriend said goodnight to Ruthie and went out, presumably to have one last night of “snogging” before Jen had to go to the airport. Ruthie was just about to strip and get ready for bed when she remembered…

Shit! All those printouts about her fucked up brain were still in Mike’s room! She had to go back and get them! Like she needed him knowing about that non-verbal communication disorder bullshit!

She ran down five flights of stairs and winded herself rushing over to Mike’s dorm. She did not see any irony that the only reason she was still alive was because she had wanted to write a suicide note explaining something to Mike, that she now was desperate to keep a secret. She entered the building, then cussed at herself because she forgot her cell phone and couldn’t call him. Fortunately the night clerk knew who she was and buzzed the door for her. She ran to Mike’s door and knocked, terrified that it was too late and that he already had seen the articles.

Mike opened to let her in. He was on his cell-phone, clearly very upset. Ruthie glanced at the papers lying next to her computer. The articles were right where she had left them. She breathed a sigh of relief and collected them with some other papers, trying to act as though she was just straightening her desk. Then she paid closer attention to what was going on with her boyfriend.

Ruthie correctly figured that he was talking to his sister and that she was updating him with yet another piece of bad news about their parents. Sure enough, that was exactly what was happening. From listening to Mike’s portion of the conversation Ruthie realized that the Sinclairs had separated and that Mike’s mother had left California.

Colleen related that their father had sunk into a deep depression and had become impossible to deal with. As much as both his wife and his daughter had urged him to get counseling, he had refused. He became totally morose and all he wanted to talk about were topics related to death and oblivion. Finally Mrs. Sinclair couldn’t stand him any longer and gave him an ultimatum: either he see a counselor or she would go to her parents’ house in Arizona. The deadline she set came and went. There was no indication Mr. Sinclair wanted to do anything apart from spending his free time sitting in the living room listening to Kansas songs on an old cassette recorder. So… she left.

Ruthie could tell that Colleen and Mike disagreed whether or not their mother was justified in abandoning her husband during his moment of crisis. Mike was furious, but Colleen defended her.

“Dad’s getting more and more messed up. He won’t listen to anyone: it’s kinda like he’s off in his own world. I can’t deal with him, and Mom shouldn’t have to deal with that shit either.”

“What if I talked to him?”

“OK… talk to him. And say what?”

“I don’t know. I’d think of something…”

“Oh really? Something? God knows, I tried with every ‘something’ I could think of, but every time I try to cheer him up, all he does is get more pissed and depressed. He keeps saying stuff like: ‘most people live too long. Life passes them by, and they don’t know when to call it quits’. I know I shouldn’t say this, but being around him is like ‘the night of the living dead’. I can’t deal with him any more. If you want to talk to him, you’d better think long and hard what you want to say. If you can get him out of his funk, then you’re a better person than me.”

The conversation dragged on a few more minutes, but finally Colleen hung up. Mike set down his cell phone and looked at Ruthie as she sat quietly on the spare bed. She looked blankly ahead, her eyes not focused on anything in particular. He sat down next to her. He did not touch her or try to take her hand. He just joined her in blankly staring ahead and told her about the phone conversation. When she didn’t respond, he decided to change the subject.

“You know… today… when I got back… you were acting really weird… like you were freaked out about something.”

“I had a good reason to be freaked out.”

“And that reason was…?”

“My counselor, you know, Dr. Hartman… she… uh… kinda told me something. I mean… they always say it’s best if you know everything about yourself… and I’m wondering now if that’s really true. Maybe you’re not supposed to know. Anyhow, she told me… she kinda…”

Ruthie stopped, totally regretting what she had just said. However, it was too late to take it back. She didn’t know how to continue. Finally she grabbed the stack of articles she had wanted to hide only minutes before and shoved them in Mike’s face. He took the papers and skimmed through them. Ruthie fidgeted and finally interrupted his reading. “Sucks knowing this, doesn’t it?”

Mike shrugged his shoulders. “Doesn’t matter. It doesn’t change anything. Now you know a couple of new psychology words, but what difference does it make?”

“I dunno. It doesn’t bother you that Hartman’s saying that I’m a fucking mental freak?”

“No. And I don’t think that’s what she’s saying. It says right here…” he pointed at one of the paragraphs “…that it’s fairly common. And just looking at all these articles; they don’t even have it pinned down. I mean… here it gives a different name: ‘Asperger’s syndrome’. This article’s saying non-verbal communication disorder is the same as ‘Asperger’s syndrome’ and over here it’s saying it is not. Typical science… these writers don’t know themselves what they’re talking about.”

Ruthie didn’t respond, so Mike continued, And even if you are fucked up, so what? Who isn’t fucked up? Me? Your roommates? Your cousins? Our parents? The potheads downtown? The drunks running around campus? Your church? My church? Who isn’t fucked up in some way or another? You’re a lot less fucked up than most people I know.”

Ruthie hugged Mike. For a long time the couple sat on the bed, with Ruthie in Mike’s arms. Mike’s words did calm her down a bit, but she knew that there was so much that she had not told him. The urge to smash her defective brain on the rocks and then float away in the ocean had retreated for a moment, but she knew it would return.

* * *

Ruthie stayed the night with Mike. She knew that Jen would be leaving first thing the next day, but decided not to depress herself by saying goodbye. Later in the morning she would return to her room and only her stuff would remain. Jen would have already left and that would be the end of her. Ruthie could not have explained herself why she did not want to say goodbye to Jen, but she didn’t. Better to spend the night with the one person who did care about her than to worry about someone who didn’t, and would be out of her life within a few hours anyway.

Her mood had improved enough that she approached her boyfriend about making love. She rubbed lubricant into her vagina and on Mike’s penis and massaged him until he was hard. Then she laid back and waited for him to finish.

* * *

Ruthie was one of the last of the students to vacate her dorm. During the final two days she was in her room, she was the only student remaining on her floor. She reveled in having not only a room, but an entire floor to herself. Of course, she took advantage of her solitude by being totally naked anytime she was on the fifth floor. On her very last afternoon in the building, she went out on the roof and relaxed in the warm May sunshine.

Ruthie had a serious issue hanging over her once the semester ended: where she was going to live? Salinas no longer was an option. There was no way she could afford to live anywhere in the Santa Cruz area by herself and with that fucking non-verbal communication disorder bullshit messing up her brain, her chance of finding a compatible roommate was zero. She realized that, unless she relented and went to Nebraska, she faced the prospect of being homeless.

Ruthie was still on the roof of her dorm, lying on a towel and doing stretching exercises, when Mike came up looking for her. He had a big surprise for her, announcing that he was about to sign a lease for an apartment and asking her if she wanted to have a look at it.

Ruthie was stunned. An apartment? At first her instincts told her to not go with Mike, because she really did not want to live with him. However, she knew that she had no other choice if she wanted to stay in California. She resented being forced to rely on him, but at least the problem of where she was going to live over the next year was resolved. She nodded, picked up her towel, and went to her room to put on her favorite skimpy dress.

Ruthie wasn’t sure what to expect from Mike’s choice of apartments, but what she saw convinced her that he did understand her needs to some extent. The unit had two bedrooms, one of which would be for her. All of the windows faced away from the complex and overlooked a hill running down to the highway, which meant that no one could see in from any of the other units. The place had more privacy than most houses. Best of all, there was a balcony that was concealed by opaque panels, a place where she could sit out wearing nothing looking at the ocean, and even sunbathe during the afternoon. It was as close to a perfect place as Mike could have gotten.

Ruthie wondered if Mike expected her to split the rent, but he mentioned nothing about that. Nor did he ask her to put her name on the lease. It was very strange, what was going on, especially given the conversation he had with his sister just a few days before. Very strange indeed.

Ruthie pushed aside her doubts and accepted Mike’s offer. He was giving her a real refuge, a place where she could be herself and enjoy her body, a place that she could never hope to have without him. Yes, it came with a commitment to a relationship she really did not want, but what alternative did she have? Go to Culiacan and look at her dying grandfather? Go to Lincoln and have to look after Debra’s kid?

So that was it: she had just committed herself to living with her boyfriend.

* * *

For the next couple of days, Mike took charge of setting up the new life he wanted to have with Ruthie. He rented a van and took stuff out of her dorm to the new apartment, then asked her to go with him to pick up some furniture from his father’s house. When they got to the house, Ruthie was surprised how much the property had deteriorated since the last time she had seen it. Mike seemed not to notice or care. His goal was to take all the furniture out of his own bedroom and a couple of items from Colleen’s room that she didn’t want. He also grabbed a sofa and a coffee table from the living room.

Ruthie was surprised by Mike’s brazen raiding of his parents’ house for furniture, but he explained that whatever was not off the property when the bank foreclosed would either be seized and auctioned, or simply would be tossed onto the sidewalk. Mike raided the kitchen for silverware and utensils. He then went into the garage to look for tools, only to find that his father already had sold off the tools.

Ruthie looked around the desolate house, wondering about some of the nicer furniture that was missing. Mike explained that Colleen had some of it in storage, and the rest had been sold at a garage sale.

Ruthie was immensely depressed by what she was seeing. The house was rotting away, the family’s belongings were scattered, and its members were going their separate ways. She understood that Mike had the best intentions with his father, but she also knew that having a couple of conversations with him was not going to change what was about to happen. It was blatantly obvious that Mr. Sinclair had lost the will to live and that the state of his house matched the state of the man’s mind. He had become morose and self-destructive. Already his marriage was gone and his kids were becoming estranged from him. Ruthie suspected that was exactly what Mr. Sinclair wanted, to chase everyone out of his life before oblivion overtook him. As for Colleen, Ruthie suspected that Mike’s sister simply was biding her time and wanted nothing more than to get away from her relatives.

Mike had the van full of what he wanted by the time his father got home. When she saw him, Ruthie was shocked by how bad Mr. Sinclair looked. Mike described what he was taking and the older man indifferently shrugged his shoulders. Mike invited his father out to eat. Mr. Sinclair again shrugged his shoulders and handed his car keys to his son.

Mike had wanted to talk to Mr. Sinclair about… well, about what? Suddenly he realized why Colleen had become impatient with him, because it seemed that there was nothing the older man wanted to talk about. It was Ruthie who stepped in and managed to engage Mike’s father in conversation. She got him to talk about the group Kansas and why over all the years the music had fascinated him so much. He responded that, even in the 1980’s, during a time when the impending decline of the US was not so evident, he had a premonition that life was going to get much worse. He ordered a whiskey, and then another. The drinks shut down his train of thought and he became quiet. Finally they took him back home and helped him into the master bedroom. Mike, not sure what else to do, took his father’s car back out and filled it with gas.

Neither Mike nor Ruthie had much to say as they returned to Davenport. Ruthie quietly stared out the passenger window into the darkness. She dreaded the hours of lugging heavy furniture that awaited them as soon as they got back, but more than anything else she was thinking about how much life sucked. Her thoughts drifted to her impoverished mother, now exiled to a small cinderblock house in a crappy neighborhood in Culiacan. Without looking at her companion, she commented, “Our lives are so fucked up. And you know what really sucks when your life is fucked up?”

“What’s that?”

“You keep thinking… my life’s fucked up, but at least it can’t get any worse. And that’s bullshit, because it always can get worse, and it does. And then you think to yourself. OK, it did get worse, but now that’s it. Surely this is as bad as it’ll get. But it’s not. It never is. It never ends.”

“Not ‘till you die, at any rate.”

“That’s right, Mike. Not ‘till you die. That’s when things quit getting worse, when you’re dead. Your dad’s right about that."

Chapter 28 - San Francisco

Ruthie and Mike settled into their routine as a couple over the next week. They spent two days setting up and repositioning furniture until the place was the way they wanted it. Anyone observing them might have found it amusing to see that they worked wearing nothing but shoes to protect their feet, but already Ruthie had declared the apartment a 'clothes-free zone'.

The student center coffee shop was closed for a couple of weeks, which meant that Ruthie was temporarily out of work. She would start up again during the summer semester. She was not planning on taking summer classes and would try to save as much as possible for the fall.

She would be modeling as well, because the art instructor she had worked for in the spring had taken a liking to her and promised to get her as much work in the art department as possible. She already had two assignments lined up for modeling: one with a community college special “art appreciation day” exhibition and the other posing for a photographer from the department.

Ruthie had a falling-out with her father when she told him that she was living with her boyfriend because she wanted to stay in California. Jake Burns was very displeased that his daughter had spurned his plans for her to study in Lincoln and help him take care of Jake Jr. When Ruthie asked him if he could just send her the money that he would have used to pay for community college classes in Lincoln, he snapped:

“That money’s for you to get your ass here, not for you to shack-up with some liberal pot-head hippy on the ‘Left Coast’. When you come to your senses, call me.”

And with that, Jake hung up.

Ruthie’s conversations with her mother were no better. Dona Lisette was not pleased at all to learn that she had moved in with Mike without first getting married. Ruthie tried to explain that she had no other alternative. The response was a lecture telling her that because she chose to forsake God, God had forsaken her and that was why she needed to live in sin. Ruthie replied:

“Well, you never gave up on God, and he sure didn’t do much for you, did he?”

Ruthie waited for a response, but then realized her mother had hung up on her. She didn’t try to call back.

* * *

At the end of their first week living away from the university, Mike had a suggestion for something he knew Ruthie very much would enjoy doing. He showed her a website that featured an annual foot race that crossed the entire city of San Francisco. It was a huge event in which thousands of runners participated, but it seemed that the majority of the people were not serious about racing. Instead the event was more like a mobile Mardi Gras celebration, with many of the runners wearing strange costumes, and some runners wearing no costumes at all.

Yes indeed, the race was clothing optional and each year a couple of hundred participants ran or walked the entire course completely naked. At first Ruthie thought Mike was joking, but he showed her several pictures of naked runners to convince her that he was not joking at all. A lot of the naked participants were from a nudist group and wore yellow caps, but being part of the official nude group was not necessary.

“So what do you think? Is this something you’d like to do?”

“I’d love it! You’re serious? We’re going?”

“We’re going. Put aside any modesty you might have left, ‘cause all of San Francisco is gonna get to see us.”

Ruthie hugged him. She then checked her camera to make sure she had spare batteries and plenty of space on her picture card.

They left Davenport at 3:00 in the morning on the day of the race. Ruthie, as was usual for her whenever she drove with her boyfriend in the middle of the night, did not bother to get dressed and instead folded a dress and carried in her hand. Until it got light outside, she planned to ride naked in Mike’s car and would slip the dress over her head at sunrise. In the darkness she skipped naked across the deserted parking lot. Mike was wearing nothing more than shorts and a loose t-shirt, items he could take off as soon as they were near the starting point of the race.

Mike knew that he had to plan ahead, because parking would be unavailable anywhere close to downtown San Francisco on a day in which 500,000 spectators and race participants would be crowding the streets along the eight-mile route. So, unfortunately, they had to park well outside the downtown area and take a bus into the city. When the sun came up and Ruthie put on her dress, her heart pounded at the thought that the next time she took it off it would be in downtown San Francisco in front of thousands of other people. She could hardly wait.

As they rode towards downtown, their bus filled up with other race participants, some of whom where dressed in typical running clothes and some of whom were dressed in costumes. Finally, after more stops than Ruthie wanted to count, the bus driver announced that he was at the stop closest to the starting point and that everyone going to the race should get off. Mike and Ruthie merged with thousands of other people working their way to the beginning of the route. They eagerly looked around, because they had agreed that the moment they saw another naked race participant they would immediately get undressed. Ruthie spotted a couple of middle-aged men that were naked and wearing yellow caps.

“Over there! Look!”

“OK, our first fellow nudists. Hand over your dress, naughty girl.”

Ruthie pulled her dress over her head and passed it to her boyfriend. She heard a couple of whistles from guys who were watching. Mike momentarily took off his backpack so he could get undressed as well. He stuffed in his clothing, along with Ruthie’s, closed the zipper, and slung the backpack over his shoulder.

Ruthie was totally excited. She loved the feel of the sunshine and breeze on her bare skin. She loved being watched by so many people. She loved being reminded of her exposure when other people in the crowd brushed up against her naked body with their rough clothing and backpacks. Several bystanders wanted to take pictures of themselves posing with her, to which she obliged. Being naked in a crowded city is an exhibitionist’s dream and Ruthie was living that dream.

The next several hours were some of the best of Ruthie’s life. Because they were walking the course instead of running, the couple had to wait a long time before they could start moving. The waiting didn’t bother Ruthie, because the longer the wait, the more time she and Mike would get to stay naked before arriving at the finish gate and having to get dressed.

When they were not posing for pictures, Mike talked to Ruthie about his other nude marathon experience, the Tri-Alpha 10-K run he had participated in two years before. He compared the two experiences and told Ruthie that the San Francisco run was better for him because it was more relaxed and he was not being forced into it. He squeezed her hand and added:

“The best part is that I’m doing this run with you. That’s what really makes it better.”

Ruthie and Mike had been nude for over an hour before they even stated moving. They walked along the streets at a casual pace: enjoying a once-in-a-year opportunity to stroll through an entire city in the nude. It was a pleasant day and the temperature was perfect for walking. They passed through various neighborhoods, past stores and shops, row-houses and apartments. Every time they came up on something that was even somewhat interesting, Ruthie asked Mike to get a picture, or asked a passerby to take a picture of them together.

Because she was one of the youngest and most attractive nude women participating in the race, she received plenty of attention from other photographers as well. She knew that pictures of her would be all over the Internet within a few days, but that suited her just fine. She wanted to be exposed, to have the whole world look at her.

Yes indeed, Ruthie was having her day. Mike was enjoying the walk, but not anywhere as much as Ruthie. She was totally thrilled. As he watch his girlfriend revel in being nude in public, Mike’s feelings towards her behavior became more mixed. He was glad to see his girlfriend enjoying herself so much, but less thrilled to see her being the center of so much attention. There was not single request for a pose, no matter how shameless, that she refused to do.

About halfway through the race Ruthie posed for a bunch of pictures with a couple of lesbians that were dressed in leather. After several pictures, all three of the women got carried away. One of Ruthie’s companions groped her and her partner gave the girl several hard smacks on the butt with a riding crop. Ruthie cheerfully held on to a light-post and bent over for the swats. She did absolutely nothing to discourage the woman who was groping her. Mike was not pleased by the fact his girlfriend did not object to her treatment by those two lesbians. He knew that she never would have allowed any guys to grope her, and yet was not bothered in the least when women were doing it. For the rest of the course Ruthie walked with several reddish marks on her bare bottom on full display to thousands of spectators while Mike wondered what the hell was going on.

More than three hours after starting, Mike and Ruthie approached the finish line in the midst of hundreds of other walkers. They had not exerted themselves, but they had walked over eight miles and were tired. Mike didn’t even want to imagine what it would be like to go up and down all those hills running. The 10 kilometer-race on the flat campus in Chicago was as much as he would ever want to do.

Ruthie was tired, but still totally thrilled by her naked experience. She did not want it to end. Mike decided that there would be no harm in walking to a nearby nude beach and lying out for a while before getting on the bus and heading back to his car. They would try to remain naked as they went down to the shore, since the worst thing that could happen would be that a city cop might stop them and ask them to get dressed. It turned out that no cops were around to interfere with their walk to the beach. They descended to the water and looked up at the nearby Golden Gate Bridge. Ruthie relaxed in the sand, happy and grateful to the boyfriend who had allowed her to have such a great experience. At that moment she did feel that she loved him. She cuddled up against him, letting him set aside his concern over her strange encounter with that lesbian couple.

They spent only an hour at the beach, because they were hungry, had to go to the bathroom, and had to get back to Mike’s car. They hopped on a bus, but Mike suggested they visit the Castro district before leaving San Francisco. Mike took his girlfriend through the sex shops, curious to see if there was anything she’d be interested in. They had lunch and walked around very scantily clad: Mike wearing only his shorts and the backpack, and Ruthie in her favorite skimpy dress.

Ruthie was not very interested in any of the leather or latex clothing, because she much preferred to be naked than to wear something as uncomfortable as hot leather. There was one big exception. She tried on a black leather mini-dress that had a large hole in the back, leaving the wearer’s bottom completely exposed. Ruthie did like that dress but, because she really had no where to wear it, turned it down when Mike offered to buy it for her.

She was much more interested in the selection of punishment implements offered by several stores. She spent a very long time looking at leather paddles, crops, straps, and floggers. She also liked the leather cuffs and collars, but had no desire to be restrained or wear a collar around Mike. The only item they ended up buying that day was a small leather paddle. Mike warned her:

“If I buy this, you do know that I’ll have to use it on you.”

Ruthie blushed, but responded: “With as much shit as I give you, I’m sure I deserve it.” She gave his bare chest a hard pinch to taunt him.

* * *

It was dark when they got back to Mike’s car. Even though there were a few other people within sight, Ruthie pulled her dress over her head before getting into the car and tossed it in the back seat. She was very casual about it, acting as though she was tossing a jacket instead of the only piece of clothing she was wearing. Fortunately she was safely in her seat and had pulled her door shut before anyone in the parking lot noticed.

She truly enjoyed the trip back to Davenport. It was great to ride naked, even though she had been doing it for nearly a year. However, she also enjoyed the anticipation from what awaited her once they got back in Mike’s apartment. She had always wondered what it would feel like to be spanked with a leather paddle. Well, finally she had, in her possession, a leather paddle. Just as importantly, she had someone to spank her with it. Both her bottom and her vulva tingled with excitement.

Had there been anyone in the parking lot of Mike’s apartment complex, Ruthie would have had to get dressed before getting out of Mike’s car. Fortunately there wasn’t, so she grabbed the bag with the paddle and her dress. Just like her nights in the library, she considered that the day would not be 'complete' if she had to put on her clothes, even if it was just for a few seconds. She ran towards Mike’s apartment. He slammed his door shut and ran after her. She was waiting at his door to be let in when he caught up with her. The moment they both were inside he took off his own clothes.

Yes, Ruthie was due for a spanking. She had been naughty all day, and of course naughty girls have to have their bare bottoms firmly smacked.

Mike knew her well enough to understand what she wanted and how he needed to proceed. The only thing he said was that she needed to put her hands on the bed and to think about what was going to happen. He didn’t say anything about her naughty behavior. There would be no play acting and no bad-girl lecture because he knew that, for whatever reason, she did not want to hear his voice during her punishment. She would be in her own world as soon as the leather made contact with her skin, and he needed to leave her alone with her thoughts.

Ruthie looked over her shoulder while he picked up the bag and unwrapped the paddle. He deliberately took his time to heighten her anticipation. He positioned himself and for a moment studied the attractive naked girl bent over in front of him. It was a sight that would have excited any man… yes here she was… her lovely figure bent over, her bare bottom waiting for a nice sexy spanking. He caressed her backside with the leather. He noticed that her skin had goose-bumps and that she was trembling. Yes she really wanted this…

He tapped her on the right side to let her know where the first swat was going to land. He struck her firmly. She flinched and took a deep breath, but kept her hands on the bed. For a moment he massaged her bottom as he watched a pink rectangle form where she had taken the first swat. He tapped her between her thighs to get her to spread her feet a bit more. Then he tapped her left bottom-cheek to let her know where the second swat was going to land.

He spanked her very slowly, rubbing her bottom with either the paddle or his free hand after each swat. She closed her eyes… yes, she very much was enjoying this spanking. The leather was perfect; exactly what she wanted. She loved the warm stinging that was evenly spread on her bottom. It was different, and a lot more satisfying, than the bruising swats she got from the bath-brush and infinitely better than Mike’s hand. Yes… this was what she had wanted.

Mike continued landing swats and massaging Ruthie’s reddening bottom for a long time. She was very wet and very aroused. He didn’t need to put his fingers between her legs: he could smell her excitement. When he finished her bottom was dark pink; with the color evenly spread on her lovely bottom. There were no bruises or blisters, just a solid red that was very sexy and very warm to the touch. He rubbed his hands over her bottom and feasted his eyes on the lovely sight. He was so hard… and he wanted her so badly.

This time she was ready. She got onto the bed on her hands and knees. Mike gently massaged her wet vulva with his fingertips as she moaned from pleasure. He entered her and thrust vigorously. He tried to hold back and enjoy this orgasm as long as he could… it was so good this time… but finally his penis started pumping… he continued thrusting… oh yes… one of his best orgasms ever…

A few minutes later Mike had fallen asleep on his bed. Normally he liked to get cleaned up after sex, but he had endured a long day: getting up so early, then driving, then all that walking, then another long drive, and finally a round of good sex… he was spent. Ruthie looked at him, very glad that he was asleep and that she now had the apartment to herself.

She filled the bathtub with hot water. Then she studied her figure in the full-length mirror in the bedroom. She totally loved the reddish color on her bottom, which was still very much visible. She stood for several minutes rubbing herself and masturbating. She climaxed, then got in the tub and masturbated some more. It took her a long time, but finally she managed to tease out of herself a second orgasm. Then she was satisfied, content to relax in the hot water.

As good as the spanking had been for her, and as much as it aroused her, the round of sex she had with Mike did not add to her pleasure. Once again, she tolerated him entering her, just because he had given her so much that day. However, her sexual pleasure really came after he fell asleep. She had to give herself what he was not able to give her.

This sucks, thought Ruthie to herself. I really wish things could be different with him… this shit with the sex really, really sucks…

The water had started to get cold by the time she got out of the tub. Finally, exhaustion pushed aside her doubts and she went to bed.

* * *

It was not until the second week she had moved in with Mike that Ruthie really had a chance to think about her situation. While he was at work she sat down on the back porch with some fruit and herbal tea, looking out at the ocean and enjoying the sunshine on her bare skin. It was lovely to be able to spend an afternoon just relaxing and enjoying her body, but doubts lingered in her mind. She remained very nervous about giving up the remnants of her independence by moving in with her boyfriend, even if it was by far the least onerous of her options. She did not want to go to Nebraska, and certainly she had no desire to go to Mexico. There was only one other option she could consider: follow Rosa’s example and try to join the military. It was true that the military would give her financial independence, but she would lose her freedom in every other way. Besides, how on earth could she fit into such a conformist environment with her messed up brain? No, the only option that suited her personality was to continue what she was doing: going to college, living with Mike, and modeling for art students. She longed for the day she could model full-time and quit serving coffee, but she knew that hope was unrealistic.

* * *

As Mike drove about campus collecting money from the meters and ticketing cars that were not paid up, he had a chance to reflect on the beginning of his third summer since graduating high school. Strange to think: how different all three summers had been. The summer after he graduated had been the one where he felt most confident about his future: Lisa still was very much in love with him and he was not yet aware of the seriousness of his father’s financial decline. He would blissfully head off to Chicago, unaware of the heartbreak and disappointment that awaited him there.

The second summer he spent alone, taking classes and writing parking tickets. That summer was as bleak and hopeless in Mike’s imagination as its predecessor was full of hope. It was the absolute opposite of the previous year. And yet, the despair he had felt was no more warranted than the hope he had felt only a year before. Within a few months his friendship and love for Ruthie would salvage his spirit, just as the end of his romance with Lisa had broken his spirit the previous year.

Now Mike was starting a third summer. What lay ahead? He had no way of knowing, but his life was destined to be very different from what he could have envisioned from the perspective of either of the other two summers.

He knew that his time with Ruthie had changed him every bit as much as he had managed to change her. She would always be a strange and difficult partner, but Mike already had spent so much time with her that he could not imagine what life would be like without her. Yes, she was the woman of his present and his future.

* * *

Mike was convinced that he knew Ruthie precisely because he loved her so much. She was content to leave him with that illusion, because she did want to maintain her relationship with him. She tried her best to convince him that she loved him as well and did what she could to make his daily life pleasant.

She was frustrated, however, because there was so much that Mike did not understand about her. It was not because she was trying to hide anything: it was just that he only saw what he wanted to see. Ruthie’s problems in bed and the spanking incident in San Francisco should have given him important clues about what really was going on, but he remained oblivious.

* * *

Throughout June Mike and Ruthie visited Mr. Sinclair and had dinner with him at least once each week. Mike was determined that, no matter what Colleen had said, eventually he would figure out how to get his father out of his depressed mood. He was convinced that talking would bring his father to his senses and that after listening to Ruthie’s constant complaints and morbid speculations, dealing with him would be a snap in comparison.

Ruthie always went along when Mike visited his father. Partly she went because she had nothing better to do, partly to support her boyfriend, and partly because she actually liked Mr. Sinclair. Mike’s father enjoyed her company because the two were able to relate to each other. They talked a lot about their fears for the future of the US in general and central California in particular. They fed on each other’s pessimism; both of them pleased to have found a compatible conversation companion.

However, each time Ruthie talked to Mike’s father, she felt very strongly that she was talking to a man who was very close to death. In many ways he reminded her of her grandmother during the final weeks that she was dying but still lucid. In other ways Ruthie saw a lot of herself in Mr. Sinclair: a person who hated his reality and wanted nothing more than to escape. He was forced to live in a world that no longer needed him or wanted him, so his existence had no point. He repeated the line that had so offended his wife and daughter, that most people live too long and “don’t know when to call it quits”. Ruthie clearly understood what he meant: that he planned to commit suicide. She knew that Mike hoped that getting his father to talk about what was on his mind and “get things off his chest” would be therapeutic. Indeed it was, but not in a way that could change Mr. Sinclair’s life or alter his fate. Mike’s problem was that he was too close to his father to really understand what was going on in the man’s mind.

As they drove back to Davenport, Ruthie tried to explain to her boyfriend how she saw his father’s situation: that he had sunk into an irreversible depression because his life no longer had any purpose. She became nervous and couldn’t express her thoughts coherently. Finally she tried using the analogy of animals going extinct as a result of environmental change. Mike snapped at her, deeply offended that she was comparing his father to extinct animals. She forced herself to apologize. However, inwardly she knew that she was right.

You’ll figure it out soon enough, Mike; thought Ruthie to herself, when your father is dead. Then you’ll find out that I do know what I’m talking about.

Chapter 29 – June in Davenport

Parking Officer #036’s life at work returned to normal as soon as the summer semester started. There were not quite as many students crowding the campus during the summer, but there were more visitors, which meant meter payments continued unabated. Mike kept himself very busy, trying to keep up with the pace of meter collections, replacing defective meters, doing the paperwork needed for repairs, and issuing tickets to chase the freeloaders away from his source of income.

Once he moved off campus, Mike’s illicit earnings became more important to him than ever, because there was no way he could have afforded his apartment on just his normal salary. Additionally, there were tuition, dentist bills, car maintenance, food, and trips with Ruthie. His lifestyle was not extravagant; to him his daily life seemed comparable to most of his classmates. However, very few of Mike’s peers were able to live a “pay as you go” existence. Either they had to borrow, or they had to rely on their parents for spending money. Mike was one of the very few students who were able to pay for everything on their own, without going into debt.

Mike continued to change as the weeks passed and he continued to steal his daily bucket of coins. It was ironic that he was working very hard and became good at his job precisely because he was stealing. He never missed a day of work; no matter how sick he was, because the last thing he wanted was for someone else to touch “his” meters. Sometimes he worried about his boss deciding that maybe he should have some help. However, the manager was such a cheapskate that he was content to leave Officer #036 working his shift alone, given that he seemed to have everything under control and there were no problems.

As much as he could, Mike stayed out of sight and never complained about anything. He was reserved around his co-workers, listening to gossip but never contributing anything to the rumor mill. Whenever he was with the other student employees, he was constantly on the lookout for signs that someone might suspect what he was doing. He was careful to monitor all radio traffic when making his rounds. As for the campus police, he viewed them as a threat. When he was around the campus cops he was nervous, but learned to hide it. He bought a pair of sunglasses to wear with his cap; having his eyes covered always helped him stay calm when around the cops.

Apart from constantly being on the lookout for any sign that he might get in trouble, Mike changed in another way. He had decided that he would stay with the Parking Department as long as he could. He would not worry about a TA position, or internships, or scholarships, or anything else related to his major. To hell with political science or pharmaceutical studies. Those were fool’s majors, guaranteed to force him into a life of poverty. He would continue with his declared majors, but only to maintain his status in the university so he could hold onto his job and continue raiding the meters.

Parking… that’s where the money was, and where his future lay. Mike’s experiences convinced him that the only way he could ever have wealth would be to take it from someone else. The days of a little honest hard work being sufficient to pay one’s expenses had passed. He knew that because being honest had gotten his father nowhere. The US had become a zero-sum society that had “haves” and “have-nots”. The “haves” were the people who learned how to exploit and extract money from the “have-nots”. So… what was a good way to take money from other people? Parking. Having seen first-hand how lucrative parking was, he decided that he wanted a piece of that action. As Sam had said, “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.”

* * *

As abruptly as he had reappeared in Ruthie’s life, Jake Burns vanished again. Ruthie did not hear from him after telling him that she wanted to stay in California. It was possible that she had offended him but, knowing him, it was much more likely that his current girlfriend was the culprit. She suspected that his newest girlfriend was making demands on his time and money that he had not anticipated when he made the offer for his daughter to study in Lincoln. She suspected that his interest in her already was waning when they had their last phone conversation.

Ruthie had been badly hurt by her father six years before, so she did not trust him. She tried to figure out his 'game' by discussing the situation with Dr. Hartman. The counselor heard her out, then made some observations that allowed Ruthie to assess Jake’s behavior. She knew that her father was a very spontaneous person, which attracted a certain type of woman to him. That spontaneity made him 'fun' to go out with, but it also made him unpredictable and caused him to be inconsiderate of his family, especially of his kids. He would see the newest “shiny object”, whether that be a new woman or a new motorcycle, and chase it, not worrying about the needs of his family. Knowing that about him explained a lot, including the relationship he had with Ruthie’s mother. It also explained what happened to Ruthie herself. Jake kicked her out because she was inconveniencing him. Ruthie felt bad for her half-brother because undoubtedly he would get the exact same treatment. It would suck to be that kid, thought Ruthie to herself, because neither Jake nor Debra really wanted him. Each had their newest partners and Jake Jr. had no place in either relationship. Ruthie realized that she was luckier than Jake Jr. When her father kicked her out, at least she did have a place to go and a parent who wanted her.

So… why, after six years, would Jake suddenly want Ruthie back in his life and pay several thousand dollars for her to stay in school? It seemed that for a few months he was sincere about wanting to get back together with her. Ruthie simply thought that he wanted her to become his house-keeper and babysitter. However, Hartman pointed out that his brief resurfacing fit the pattern of his personality. Yes, at the moment he was sincere about reconciling with Ruthie, because he was between relationships and had enough time to think about her. However, he did not anticipate that Ruthie at age 18 was not the same girl he had sent away at age 12. She was an adult with different needs and a life of her own, and thus more complicated to deal with than her father had expected. Jake did not like complicated situations. In the meantime he got more involved in his new girlfriend and eventually lost interest in his daughter.

Ruthie realized that it was very fortunate that she never seriously considered leaving California, because her life would have sucked had she gone to Nebraska. She would have given up her studies, her relationship with Mike, and the small freedoms that made her life somewhat bearable. She would have been forced to re-enter the grim existence that she endured over the six months that followed her grandmother’s death, living in competition with the woman who shared her father’s bed. It would have been life with Debra all over.

There were times that she hugged Mike and held onto him, not out of love but out of gratitude. It was only because of him that she had not been forced to return to that messy and unpleasant situation in Nebraska.

* * *

By the middle of the summer, Mike knew that there was not a chance Ruthie could afford to pay her tuition in the fall if she had any other expenses whatsoever. If she was going to stay enrolled in school, he would have to help her. He had no idea whether or not she would simply let him pay her tuition or 'lend' her the money. If he had asked her directly, she probably would have reluctantly accepted, but such an arrangement would have made both of them very uncomfortable. He decided that the best way would be to help her indirectly, by giving her a free place to stay and paying for things such as food. That would give her the chance to save her paychecks and allow her to pay her fall tuition on her own account.

At the end of June, Ruthie nervously asked her boyfriend how much she owed for her portion of the rent. He replied that she owed nothing. He lied by telling her the rent was not any more than his dorm room and that he already had budgeted for the following year. Actually the rent was a lot more than his dorm room, but as long as he could continue raiding the meters on campus, he would have no problem paying it.

At the beginning Ruthie objected to not having to contribute to the rent, but Mike told her that if she kept up the place while he was gone and cooked for them, then they would be even. Mike paid for all the groceries as well, and for Internet service, and for Ruthie’s text books. Freed from having any living expenses, yes, Ruthie would be able to afford tuition. She quietly deposited each week’s salary to her bank account and calculated that she would have what she needed to pay for fall enrollment, given that she didn’t have to pay for anything else. Being able to write her own tuition check gave Ruthie the illusion of being self-sufficient.

Ruthie was relieved that living with Mike did not mean that she was forced to have sex with him round-the-clock, as she had feared. He was no more demanding of sex than he had been in the dorm. It seemed that he needed to have an orgasm once every 48 hours. She liked the massages she shared with him and tolerated being entered. His muscular, sweaty body was a turn-off for her, but she kept that to herself.

About once every three weeks Mike spanked his girlfriend with the leather paddle. Being spanked was the one sexual activity she did very much enjoy; something that was guaranteed to arouse her. She liked the sharp sting of the leather, the intensifying heat on her bare bottom, and the fact the paddle never left any bruises that lasted more than a day or so. When she was being spanked Ruthie closed her eyes and was able to fantasize about submitting to Mrs. Peters or to Jen. She bit her lip and escaped into her own world as she endured the sharp smacks and hot sting coming from the leather.

Mike enjoyed spanking Ruthie, but he never approached her about it. She was the one who always told him that she wanted a spanking. There were a couple of times that she simply went into her dresser (actually it was a dresser from the Sinclairs’ house) and took out the paddle. Then she handed it to him and waited for him to tell her to bend over his bed or a chair. There were other times she did do a minimal amount of play-acting, usually by pinching him or doing something to irritate him, and then smiling and asking him what he was going to do about it. When she became “naughty”, Mike knew that she was asking him to spank her.

* * *

Ruthie resumed her counseling sessions with Dr. Hartman during the summer. According to the rules of the counseling office, Hartman should have concluded her sessions with Ruthie a long time ago. However, the girl’s suicidal fantasies gave the counselor justification to grant several extensions. Hartman had a very bad scare the day that she diagnosed her client with non-verbal communication disorder. Ruthie openly admitted that the only reason she did not commit suicide was because she didn’t have enough time to write a decent goodbye note to Mike. Her state of mind remained fragile and subject to outside events, none of which were going well for her. There was the ongoing issue of both her parents. There were the constant slights and frustrations she had to endure at her barista job. There was the reality that she had no friends and was totally dependent on Mike. Finally there was another difficult issue: her sexual orientation.

Hartman was not about to risk being too direct about Ruthie’s sexual orientation, because she did not want to risk another suicide attempt. Instead, she took a more indirect approach by encouraging the student to talk about her sexual fantasies. Over time it was obvious that Ruthie’s sexual fantasies focused exclusively on other women, never on men. It wasn’t hard to figure out what that meant. However, Hartman understood that her client was in an impossible situation. The girl had failed to connect with anyone apart from her boyfriend, a boyfriend who clearly loved her and was the only person who cared about her. It was only by pure luck that she managed to connect with a person as caring as Mike. She just as easily could have ended up in another disastrous encounter like the one she had in high school.

Hartman’s job included trying to help her clients find alternatives for their lives, but Ruthie Burns really didn’t have any alternatives. She was in a stable situation for the time being, so the counselor had no motivation to encourage her to attempt to develop other relationships at the expense of the only one that seemed to be working. Given her personality and her past experiences, there was no reason to expect that she would connect with anyone else, especially when she was having a bout of depression. Perhaps Hartman would have wanted her to not be so dependent on her boyfriend and, in an ideal world, seek out a partner who was more compatible with her sexuality. However, to hope for such a change would be unrealistic. Ruthie could not reach out to other potential partners because she was trapped inside her personality.

Ruthie talked at length about her boyfriend’s father during her counseling sessions. Her pessimistic outlook on life made her certain that there was no hope that Mr. Sinclair’s situation could possibly have a happy ending, an assessment to which Hartman agreed. That was another reason Hartman never brought up her thoughts that Ruthie should reconsider her relationship with her boyfriend, because undoubtedly Mike would face a severe crisis of his own the moment his father’s house was foreclosed upon.

When Hartman asked Ruthie what she thought was likely to happen when the notice was served, with no hesitation she responded, “I think Mr. Sinclair’s gonna kill himself.”

The conversation shifted towards Mike and how Ruthie thought he would react. Ruthie gave an assessment that very much impressed the counselor. She explained that Mike was too close to his father to see to what extent he had given up hope of ever having a useful life. Other people might have been able to adjust, but not Mike’s dad, because his entire identity was wrapped up in the lost family business. Mike didn’t really comprehend what that year of unemployment did to his father. That desperate and frustrating year of job-hunting was topped off with the humiliation of working at a Fast-Mart under a Pakistani immigrant, for only a fraction of what he had been earning before Sinclair Pharmacy closed. It wasn’t just the debt or the loss of his business or even the loss of his marriage that had taken the life out of Mr. Sinclair. His entire world had disappeared, leaving him with no hope for the future.

Ruthie concluded, “I never had anything, except my grandma, and that was a long time ago. So even if my life sucks, it’s not any worse than what I’ve always been used to. But Mr. Sinclair did have a decent life, and it’s gone, and he’s never gonna be good for anything again, and he knows it. Maybe my life sucks, but his REALLY sucks, and… I really don’t think Mike gets it… and I don’t know how to tell him what’s going on, ‘cause he gets pissed at me… and I can understand where he’s coming from, ‘cause it sucks to see something like that happening to your dad and know you can’t do anything about it.”

“Have you thought about what you’d do if Mr. Sinclair does do something drastic?”

“Be there for Mike. Listen to him. Maybe try to get him to calm down. He’s done it enough times for me… so… I guess… I’d try to pay him back… I guess that’d be what I’d try to do for him. What else would there be for me to do?”

Chapter 30 - Extinction is inevitable

A week later, Ruthie had a modeling session at the community college. It was one of those “art appreciation" events, when the public was allowed to view projects put out by students and try their hand at drawing. Ruthie modeled for a life-drawing practice, which she enjoyed, because everyone drawing her was a complete stranger, not one of the students from the normal art classes at the university. Following the drawing session, there was a photography demonstration. The organizer asked her if she wanted to model for some additional money. Ruthie agreed. The original plan was for the photography model to pose in a swimsuit, but Ruthie stated that she’d prefer to model naked. If it was a figure photography practice, wouldn’t it be better if her body was completely uncovered?

The instructor was a bit surprised by a model who had suggested herself that she pose naked instead of wearing a swimsuit. However, he remembered his friend from the art department in Davenport saying that his newest art subject was a total exhibitionist. OK, young lady, naked it is. Ruthie spent the next two hours in an open room, moving about in front of a large photography backdrop completely undressed. Sometimes she followed requests to assume a pose, other times she danced to music and allowed visitors to photograph her at their leisure. The setting was very informal and visitors wandered in and out of the room. She calculated that at least a hundred visitors took pictures of her, including some people with very fancy-looking cameras mounted on tripods.

Ruthie got back to Mike’s apartment in a good mood. He was gone, at work of course, which was just fine as far as she was concerned. She’d have a couple of hours to herself and she knew exactly how she planned to spend them. She’d first make herself some iced tea and cut up some fruit. Then she would download and print an erotic story that she had seen a couple of days earlier on one of her favorite fiction websites from the Internet. That was something she had become accustomed to doing whenever she thought she’d have the apartment to herself: download and print a story that seemed promising, take it outside, sit in one of the lounge chairs, and read it while masturbating in the warm afternoon sunshine.

The routine was typical for any afternoon she was alone in the apartment. After not having indulged in “me time” for more than a year, she had been able to resume that part of her life. Yes, it would be the perfect way to spend the next couple of hours before having to deal with her boyfriend.

Ruthie logged on to her computer to get her story. She was just about to click past the Internet headlines when a title from the local news caught her attention:


Santa Cruz, California: July 15, 9:30 am: The Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Department released a statement concerning the investigation of an alleged suicide that deputies discovered yesterday at 8:30 am in a private residence of the Lomas Verdes subdivision. The deceased was identified as Roger Sinclair.

A spokesman for the Sheriff’s Department stated that deputies discovered the body of Mr. Sinclair when they arrived on the property to serve an eviction notice. He added that Mr. Sinclair already was aware that his creditor had repossessed the residence and that he would be expected to vacate as of 8:00 am yesterday morning.

Sheriff’s Deputies arrived on the scene shortly after 8:30 to serve the notice. Upon knocking on the door and not receiving a response, they forced entry and discovered the body of Mr. Sinclair in the living room with a single gunshot wound to the head. Deputies had to immediately withdraw from the scene however, because of the presence of very strong chemical fumes inside the residence.

The spokesman stated the Sheriff’s Department ordered a Haz-Mat team to deploy and further investigate the crime scene. Besides the body of Mr. Sinclair, the Haz-Mat team discovered significant physical damage inside the house. The Haz-Mat team also determined that a large amount of industrial-strength herbicide had been poured throughout the residence and onto the ground outside. Empty five-gallon containers of herbicide were discovered inside the house and in the backyard.

Sheriff’s Department investigators believe that Roger Sinclair spent the previous 24 hours breaking the interior walls of the residence and pouring herbicide around the property. After vandalizing the property, investigators believe he then killed himself at approximately 6:00 in the morning.

The police spokesman stated that Roger Sinclair’s motive for both taking his life and vandalizing the residence appeared to be on-going financial difficulties that resulted in the failure to make house payments and the foreclosure notice. Among the evidence found by the police were messages critical of Mega-Mart spray-painted on the walls. Neighbors stated that Mr. Sinclair had previously blamed Mega-Mart for the failure of his business, Sinclair Pharmacy.

“The mortgage company’s not gonna get much out of this one. If he wanted revenge against his lender, he sure got it. He turned that place into a toxic waste dump, and from the looks of things we’re pretty certain that’s what he had in mind. The whole property’s going to have to be dug out.”

The spokesman added that the Sheriff’s Department ordered the evacuation of several neighboring residences due to the high levels of toxic fumes released by the herbicide poured around Roger Sinclair’s property. The residents will be required to remain out their homes until the chemicals can be neutralized and contaminated soil and debris removed.

Ruthie totally forgot about her “me time”. She stared dumbly at her monitor. Tears started rolling down her cheeks. She had known it all along… she had known that Mr. Sinclair was a condemned man… and yet…

So now it had happened. Mr. Sinclair was gone. Perhaps his death was inevitable, but it did not make it any less painful to Ruthie. Her grandmother’s death had been inevitable as well, but knowing that was of no consolation when she was standing alone in that hospital room, holding the cold, emaciated hand of the corpse that had been her grandmother only a short time before.

Poor Mike… now he truly is alone… what am I going to do? What am I going to do with him?

She decided the very first thing she needed to do was to get dressed. If Mike had been at work all day, chances were that he still knew nothing. She’d be the one to have to break the news… and it would be inappropriate to do it in the nude. She put on jeans and a blouse, a conservative get-up for her. Then she sat down and gazed in the direction of the monitor again… but just into space… not bothering to focus her eyes.

We understood each other, Mr. Sinclair… I just… I… kinda wish I would’ve had the chance to say goodbye… I’m gonna miss you. I don’t give a shit about most people… but I am gonna miss you…

Ruthie lost track of time. She was startled to her senses when she heard Mike’s key in the door. She stood up, shaking and her face stained with tears.

“What’s wrong?”

She couldn’t speak. All she could do was stare at him as she continued to tremble.

“Ruthie… what happened? What’s wrong? Did something happen to your mom?”

She shook her head.

“…computer… it’s on the computer…”

“What’s on the computer?”

“I… you… look… computer…”

He approached the screen. Without saying anything, he read the entire article. Unlike Ruthie, he was not overwhelmed with emotion. The shock was too great and for the moment he felt nothing at all. The hurt would come later. He stood up and put his hands in his pockets.

“I’m kinda wondering how come nobody’s called me. I mean… it happened yesterday… and nobody told me anything… it sucks… sucks to hear about it on the news… my dad… on the news.”

Ruthie sat down and started crying. The scene was very strange indeed: it was Mike’s father who was dead, and yet Ruthie was the one crying. He just stood, with his hands still in his pockets, staring off into space.

“I… didn’t think he’d do something like this. I never thought…it’d end this way… I mean… he’d talk about what things were gonna be like after they moved out… Mom talked about it…”

There was a lot that Ruthie wanted to say in response, but all she could do was continue to cry. Maybe Mike had not known that Mr. Sinclair would end up shooting himself, but she did know. She knew, because she identified with Mr. Sinclair and understood his mindset. Her failure was not in clearly seeing what was about to happen, but in not expressing herself so that Mike could understand that there was no reason to be optimistic about anything having to do with his father’s future.

Not only had Ruthie known that Mr. Sinclair’s time on the earth was drawing to a close, she also knew why his life was predestined to end precisely on the day he lost the house. The story he was giving about living off his kids once the house was gone was total bull. There was no way he would allow himself to be a burden on his children… no way. He had too much pride in himself. That story was just to shut them up. Yes… pride… and also his final act of vengeance. The mortgage company ended up with not a house, but instead a hazardous waste site that would cost thousands of dollars to clean up. The Sheriff’s Department would get nothing either, except the expensive deployment of the Haz-Mat unit and a lot of very bad publicity. Mr. Sinclair had his vengeance and now no one could touch him. Not even the corporate elites can sue or file charges against a man who is dead. He was beyond their reach.

Ruthie stopped crying and managed to calm down.

“I…I ‘spose you ought to dial Colleen… maybe she knows… something…”

Without saying anything more, Mike dialed his sister, who added a few details. There was no question Mr. Sinclair had thought long and hard about how he was going to depart this life. Even the funeral arrangements had been partially taken care of. On the same day she found out about the tragedy, Mike’s sister received in the mail the deed to a funeral plot and an envelope containing the cash that would be needed to cover the burial.

“Dad was totally obsessed with not being a burden on us. That must have been what was eating at him… him losing everything and having to make us put him up in our places… and it would have been me who would’ve had to do it. He saw himself as useless.”

Mike’s sister was silent for a moment, and then continued: “When he was talking crap, you know, saying things like he thought most people live too long… that life passes them by, and they don’t know when to call it quits… I thought he was just depressed and talking a bunch of shit. It didn’t dawn on me that he was seriously thinking about killing himself. Now I feel like a total moron.”

Ruthie looked at her boyfriend and could tell the shock was just starting to wear off.

“So… what are we going to do?”

“Go to his funeral. What else can we do? I had the funeral home pick up the body… and had them send out e-mails… we’ll bury him on Saturday… give people a chance to respond… and then… I don’t know… I don’t know what we’ll do. Move on with our lives, I guess.”

Mike was quiet for a moment. There were several things he wanted to say, but all he could get out of his mouth was, “Move on with our lives…”

Colleen waited for him to say something more. Finally she added, “Anyhow, about Saturday… Reverend Chandler told me he’d do the eulogy. I do have a question… you’ll be bringing your girlfriend Ruthie Burns?”


“OK, I’ll put her on the list. Anyone else?”

“No. It’ll just be me and Ruthie.”

Mike’s words resonated in her mind. She realized he was saying that about his entire life, not just his father’s funeral.

It’ll be just me and Ruthie.

* * *

For the second and final time of her life, Ruthie accompanied Mike to his parents’ church. As she looked around at the cavernous chapel with its fine wood and modernistic stained glass, then at the forlorn collection of old white people sitting around her, once again she had the feeling of seeing the final phase of a bygone era. There was, of course, that weird organ music coming from the background. Her imagination wandered and the thoughts of her own death, now indefinitely postponed, eclipsed the death of her boyfriend’s father. That eerie music made it very easy for Ruthie to picture herself underwater. Her lifeless body was drifting beneath the surface, illuminated by the sunlight passing through the waves. She was relaxed and finally at peace, drifting through her silent world as the sea-lions and fish swan by. At peace… yes… to be dead was to be at peace.

A line from the Book of Ecclesiastes, the only book from the Bible that ever made any sense to her, surfaced in her thoughts:

For to him that is joined to all the living there is hope: for a living dog is better than a dead lion.

Ruthie silently wondered: is that really true? Is it better to be a live dog than a dead lion? No, it isn’t, she answered back. Life sucks. It’s only gonna get worse because CEOs of Mega-Town Associates, and the narcos, and all the rich… the religious clerics, the bullies… they’ve taken over the planet and are gonna make life a living hell for the rest of us. So… why wait? What’s the point? Why stay around just to serve those parasites and predators? Mr. Sinclair understood that. There would be no more exploitation, or profits, or whatever, at his expense. He’s gone… and now they can’t touch him. I wish I could be there with him. This sucks, having to stick around like this.

For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing; they have no further reward, and even the memory of them is forgotten.

The dead know nothing… not even pain. That was what Ruthie Burns longed to feel: nothing. She had given up hope that she could ever be happy: there were just too many things working against her. The only alternative to being happy was to be unhappy, and the only alternative to being unhappy was to be nothing at all.

Their love, their hate, and their jealousy have long since vanished; never again will they have a part in anything that happens under the sun.

Ruthie’s mind continued to wander throughout the memorial service. The pastor talked about the “tragedy” as though Roger Sinclair had died in a car accident or an airplane crash… we can’t understand God’s plan… but we must not give up hope. Must not give up hope? Why? Of course we need to give up hope, because hope serves no purpose. Hope is like God, a figment of the imagination based on nothing but wishful thinking.

Tragedy. Yes Mike’s dad did die as the result of a tragedy, but it was not the “tragedy” that took place in the Sinclair’s house. The real tragedy was that the suicide was inevitable, and it had been inevitable ever since Mega-Mart decided to build a Mega-Center in Mike’s neighborhood. The death of one middle-aged man was only a tiny part of a much bigger tragedy of globalization. It’s predestined… what’s happening to the United States… the obliteration of an entire society by its own elite, but still, it’s sad to have to live through and witness the process.

That’s why I didn’t want to stick around… why I wanted to get out. Life sucks, and it’s only gonna get worse. I can’t stop it from sucking, and I can’t stop it from getting worse, but I can…or I could’ve, gotten away.

The funeral moved outside… from the church to a nearby cemetery. Not much left to do… just put a boxed object in the ground and cover it up… and that would be that. As for what would happen next, Mike’s sister had said it best: “I don’t know what we’ll do. Move on with our lives, I guess.”

* * *

An hour later, Mike said good-bye to his mother and his sister. He was very curt with them, making it obvious that he held them responsible for his father’s death. Neither of the two Sinclair women had anything further to say to him. If Mike wanted to blame them for Mr. Sinclair’s death, there wasn’t much they could do about it. The opportunity to talk about it had come and gone. Ann Sinclair would face a future by herself in Arizona, and Colleen Sinclair was headed to the east coast. No point in sticking around in California with its wrecked economy, no hope for a job, bad memories… it was time for both of them to move on. So, that was it. Mike, his mother, and his sister would part ways in bitterness.

Ruthie was at a loss for words as she watched the restrained goodbyes and the departure of Ann and Colleen Sinclair. Mike’s family had broken up, just as her own family had broken up just a few months before. I thought the Sinclairs were so different from my fucked up parents, but I guess they weren’t.

After most of the people attending the funeral had left, Mike remained next to Mr. Sinclair’s grave. He had his hands in his pockets and just stood quietly. His eyes seemed not to be focused: he was just staring blankly ahead. Ruthie moved closer to him, silently inviting him to hold her if he wanted. He put his arm around her, but was still dazed… still trying to accept the reality that his father no longer was alive. Ruthie rested her head on his shoulder. She tried to comfort him, but all the while she was thinking: Mike, I can’t believe you didn’t see this coming…

Undoubtedly, once he recovered, he’d hate the CEO of Mega-Town more than ever. Right now he blamed his mother and his sister for avoiding his father during the final weeks of his life. However, that blame would shift soon enough, to the real culprit that took away the family’s livelihood and Mr. Sinclair’s purpose in life. The company’s greed and marketing strategy had not merely impoverished Mike’s parents and taken away his future, but had destroyed his entire family.

Ruthie’s wandering mind gave her a glimpse of the future. It was a very bleak future, for both the US and for Mike in particular. Hatred would consume him and he would spend the rest of his life figuring out what he could do to avenge his father. He would be a mortal enemy of Mega-Town Associates… and not just its CEO, but of the entire society that allowed that corporate monster to destroy everything it touched. Ruthie wondered how many more Mike Sinclairs were out there… hundreds of thousands…. millions… tens of millions… the outsiders destined to comprise the mob of the future that will bring down the corporate system and annihilate the United States in a storm of fire and blood.

Not that any of it mattered, because if it had not been Mega-Town it would have been something else. Our society is dying, and Mega-Town is just the disease that happened to enter the body first. If not Mega-Town… our annihilation would come anyway, from some other cause. Extinction is inevitable. If the fossil record proves anything, it proves that.

Chapter 31 - A sunset on the beach

Finally Mike recovered enough to move away from the grave, shake hands with Reverend Chandler, and tell his girlfriend that he was ready to leave. On their way out they drove through old neighborhood. He insisted on passing by his family’s former home for the last time. The house was being demolished, with great care because its materials were loaded with toxic chemicals. Ruthie noticed that the front yard already was dug up and that one of the neighbor’s trees had started to wilt.

They returned to Davenport. On their way back they passed an enormous billboard. It was 15 stories high and as long as a football field. The ubiquitous clown was featured, of course. The slogan read: America is a Mega-Town nation!

The newest slogan…that pretty much said it all. The billboard was a new feature as well, because Mega-Town Associates had filed a court challenge to state laws restricting the size of billboards. Not letting corporations make billboards as large as they wanted was a violation of the First Amendment and of free speech. Of course the courts sided with Mega-Town, and now the company was celebrating by covering the US landscape with the largest billboards that had ever been built.

* * *

When they returned to Davenport, the couple briefly stepped into Mike’s apartment to change out of their formal clothing. Ruthie took off her uncomfortable dress, hoping it would be a very long time before she would have to wear it again. She didn’t see why she would… no formal events were coming up that she was aware of. It was warm enough for her to wear the red dress that Mike had bought her when they first started going out in October. How long ago that seemed, and yet it was only slightly more than half a year. She knew that the dress was not really appropriate for Mike’s mood, but they did have to move on. Besides, it was getting hot and Ruthie was eager to enjoy the fresh air on her skin.

It was still early enough to drive to San Gregorio beach and enjoy a few hours of late-afternoon sunshine. Ruthie made the suggestion. Mike agreed, not really knowing what else to do. They got there and found a place to park. It had been crowded earlier on, but now people were just starting to leave. Mike and Ruthie walked down the steps, dropped off their clothes at one of the driftwood shelters, and walked out onto the shoreline. The tide was out and a wide, peaceful stretch of wet sand lay between them and the distant waves. Seagulls circled overhead and sandpipers scurried in front of the couple. A soft wind blew against their bare bodies, with just a hint of chilliness in it. Soon enough the sun would be low in the horizon, low enough to look at as it set.

They got to the shore’s edge and felt the cold water washing around their feet. Mike took Ruthie in his arms. For a long time they looked out over the Pacific Ocean. Ruthie lifted up Mike’s hand and sadly kissed it. The waves are calling me. I belong out there, my body floating in that water, but that’s gonna have to wait. I didn’t want to have to wait around… I hate my life… I hate this existence… there’s really no point in me staying alive… I don’t belong on this planet, in this reality… for me there’s no joy and there never will be. I know that more than ever now. But I can’t leave, at least not yet.

Ruthie caressed Mike’s hand. She was convinced that she did not love him, at least not the way she thought she was supposed to love a partner. The passion, the sexual desire, the joy that a person feels upon seeing their companion, was something Ruthie would never experience with Mike.

And yet, in her own way, she did love him, more than either of them could have imagined. Ruthie knew that whatever her faults, she was all he had, the only person in his life that gave it any purpose. Regardless of how she felt about herself, she would never take that purpose away from him. Their friendship had committed her to living a life that would not be for her, but for him. She promised herself that as long as he needed her, she would be there for him. Fifty days or fifty years… she would stay with Mike until he finally got tired of her. Then, finally, she could seek her own peace: she would follow the ocean’s call and vanish into the surf.

Ruthie said nothing as Mike continued to hold her, but she kissed his hand again. The sun set as incoming waves continued to batter the rocks that lay at the northern edge of the beach. Her thoughts wandered and her imagination moved back and forth in time as she contemplated the huge stretch of water that lay in front of her.

That ocean is so vast… going nearly halfway around the world before there is any major body of land. And yet, even the Pacific Ocean will not last forever. Every year it is shrinking; every year a small fraction of its seabed is being swallowed by the subduction zone that runs along the entire west coast of the two Americas. Someday, in the very distant future, the Pacific Ocean will shrink to nothing, and then perhaps become a huge mountain range like the Himalayas as North America and Asia collide. Then the mountains will vanish, eroded away into a new ocean that does not yet exist. And the evidence the Pacific ever existed will have long since been erased from memory, even the fossil record obliterated by geological processes that lay hundreds of millions of years in the future.

Ruthie’s thoughts jumped from the distant future to the distant past. The giant pterosaurs circled over the calm waters of her imagination. Those creatures were gone… which was a real shame… along with all kinds of other interesting animals… gone.

Man's fate is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath; man has no advantage over the animal. Everything is meaningless. All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return.

We are going too… thought Ruthie to herself…me, Mike, the United States, humanity… we’ll all be gone soon enough. We all end up the same. In the end, we all go away.

The End

Appendix A - Music that influenced the creation of "The Outsider" (June 2011)

“The Outsider” differs from my other fiction projects in several ways, because it is more based on my real-life observations than were my previous novels.

One big difference in the writing process was the fact that a lot of the story was influenced by music that I have listened to and enjoyed throughout my life. As I wrote the story, various songs and musical creations came into my mind, in a way giving portions of the narrative a musical score or a background setting. Music helped me set the mood for much of what I wrote, especially when I imagined my characters’ thoughts or pictured them as they traveled about central California.

It has been more than a year since I wrote the novel’s ending and first posted “The Outsider” in its current form. However, much of the project is still in my thoughts, because the novel reflects a lot of the reality in which I live, the lives of people I have known and cared about, and my fears for the future of my country.

As I listened to the music that inspired some of the details of my character Ruthie Burns and the world that surrounds her, it occurred to me that some of the story’s readers might be interested in knowing the music that set the tone for the story. With that idea present in my mind, I decided to create a “play-list” for “The Outsider”.

I very much would like to host the complete play-list as MP-3 files, but I want to avoid any potential copyright issues and thus will not risk posting active music files. Instead, I created a song list with links to files posted in You Tube. Some of the files are better quality than others and I am sure that in some cases I did not find the “best” upload. Still, I feel this is a way for me, as an author, to share a part of the life experience I had as I explored the story of the friendship between my characters Ruthie Burns and Mike Sinclair.

Songs that I consider central to the over-all theme of the novel

Justin Hayward - Broken Dream (this song comes closest to being the theme for the entire novel)

Kansas - Dust in the Wind

Beth Nielsen Chapman - Sand and Water

Justin Hayward - Forever Autumn

Pink Floyd - Hey You (with written lyrics)

Don Henley - End Of The Innocence (concert version - official video was pulled)

Bruce Springsteen - My Father's House

Poison - Something to Believe In

Green Day - Wake Me Up When September Ends (with lyrics)

Howard Jones - No One Is To Blame

Mike Sinclair’s favorite songs:

Queensryche - I Don't Believe in Love

Queensryche - Eyes of a Stranger

Dire Straits - Money For Nothing

Green Day - Boulevard of Broken Dreams

Aerosmith - Livin' On The Edge

Some of the music that Roger Sinclair shared with Ruthie:

Bob Seger - Against the Wind

Bob Seger - Turn the Page

Bob Seger - Like a Rock

John Denver - Fly Away

James Taylor & J.D. Souther - Her Town Too

Joan Baez - Suzanne (original by Leonard Cohen, but I like the Baez version better)

The Alan Parsons Project - Games People Play

Michael Martin Murphey - Wildfire

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