I woke up that morning back in my house to an unfamiliar noise. Some rattling sounds and thumps coming from the kitchen. I almost reached down for my baseball bat that I kept by my bed to check out to see if someone had broken in.
But then I heard a woman's voice and then a man and I knew my mother was home. Her and her latest boyfriend, probably a new one by the sound of his voice, another loser most likely. My mother collected the sorriest excuses for boyfriends like they were stray dogs. The baseball bat had other purposes for being there.
I grabbed my robe but just as I did that, my stomach recoiled and I felt light headed. I sat up carefully and looked around my bedroom, my clothes from last night tossed over a chair. I felt queasy but I had hit some spicy food that Tiffany and I had scarfed down after a movie. I'd gotten back after midnight and had almost fallen asleep on my feet. I got up slowly and my stomach started to settle down, and I thought much better as I headed into the kitchen to face my mother.
Betsy was her name and she looked wrecked, nothing unusual about that. Her hair was red like mine but with streaks of grey and wrinkles lined her face from living hard. She worked a string of jobs but spent most of her time in between them out with men. I knew she was looking for someone to take care of her because my father hadn't stuck around to take care of anyone.
"Hi darling," she said, smoking her first cigarette of the day.
I nixed coffee because my stomach still felt sour. Not surprising, given that my mom had that effect on me.
"Ruby honey, this is Dirk," she said, "He's an engineer."
Dirk stood about six feet high and looked like a lumberjack. His face wearing a goatee and what once must have been pretty impressive blue eyes. But life had caught up with him and my mom loved men who drank a lot.
"Hi Ruby…your mama told me all about you."
I just looked warily at him. Usually when my mom's men treated me like that, I had to keep my bat closely while I slept.
"She didn't tell me anything about you…"
If that bothered him, he didn't show it. He just smiled again as my mom went to crack some eggs to cook an omelet for him.
"I met Dirk at the Fourth of July party."
My mom hadn't gone to the picnic with most of the rest of the town. She'd been out of town and had left a voice mail saying she'd met up with some guy in Vegas. I guessed I was looking at him.
"Your mom was the prettiest girl at the party…"
My mom hadn't been a girl in a long time, but his eyes were on me in a way that prickled the back of my neck.
"But she sure has a pretty daughter…"
I just rolled my eyes and went to the refrigerator to get some orange juice to go with some toast. I didn't feel like eating much this morning.
"You want me to make you some eggs Ruby?"
I shook my head. My mom burned eggs proving that was possible and I went to slip some slices of bread into the toaster.
"She's a good girl my Ruby," my mom continued, "She's going back to college this fall."
Dirk smiled that seedy smile he had down pat.
"Betsy she'd have to be good to be your daughter."
I grabbed my toast as soon as it popped up and then reached into the cupboard for the strawberry jam to pour on it. My mom just smiled at the latest creep she'd brought home.
"Come on Ruby tell him about what you're studying."
I just shook my head and took my food back to my bedroom to eat it down before getting ready to head to the nursery.
I heard my mom apologizing for my attitude until her voice receded. I knew by the time I returned later, she'd be gone again.
The nursery kept me busy most of the morning, even as the heat sweltered for another day. I drank bottle after bottle of water and still felt dizzy. Melanie told us that she might release us early that day before we all cluttered up the nursery after fainting from the heat. Not good for business she told us.
I met up with Tiffany at the diner.
"God it sucks," Tiffany said, "There's nothing left to buy here."
I wished I had that problem but she'd been complaining about there being nothing new to look at in the boutiques that lined the main strip.
"I still need something for the midsummer dance," she said, "I'm not sure I want to go. Not my scene."
I dipped my French fry into the ketchup. I felt hungrier inside the diner than I had felt earlier in my own house.
"Are you going?"
"Maybe…Brock will be in town," I said, "but we haven't talked about it."
"Been too busy doing things?"
That and we weren't that kind of couple who went out dancing together or to movies though we did do things together when we weren't fucking. Enough so that Caroline must have gotten wind of it by now but he never talked about her.
"I don't know if he's a tux kind of guy," I said, "He's not really into this scene either."
I picked up my burger and bit into that, and I felt better, not dizzy like this morning. Getting out of the heat must have helped, getting away from my mom and her latest stray dog even more so.
"I'm sure he'll go," Tiffany said, "Now I just have to find someone to take."
She'd been trying to find a new boyfriend since she broke up with Chad but so far not much luck.
"My mom wants me to go with someone nice."
She sounded disgusted.
"Like my father right?"
I didn't want to get into it again about what Devlin had done with Megan because that hit too close to home. He had texted me since the last time I had told him I didn't want to see him anymore and I hadn't answered any of them. I'm guessing he's not used to being told no by a woman…but I'd made up my mind after watching Tiffany explode with rage after catching him with someone else.
"He's bringing mom, what a joke."
"They are married," I pointed out, "It'd look strange if they didn't go together."
"Who cares," Tiffany said, "God after what he did to her…I should have told her."
I shook my head.
"No…you would have messed things up," I said, "He did say he wasn't going to do it anymore."
I knew he lied even as I reassured her but I had my own secrets.
"Hey look who's here…"
I turned around and saw Brock walking into the diner with an old friend of his named Lars. They'd served in the military together years ago. He smiled when he saw me and introduced his friend to me. Tiffany just looked at the two men, ogling Lars who looked pretty impressive.
"Hey why don't you join us?"
Brock looked at Lars.
"Why not," Lars said, "We just hit the gym."
They sat with us and my shoulders brushed Brock's as Tiffany started hitting Lars with questions…beginning whether or not he was single. Not too subtle my friend but Lars seemed to like her.
Later on, Brock and I went to the grocery store to shop for dinner. We were doing pasta and clams back at his place. Brock had turned me on to cooking, giving me tasks to do while he explained the recipe.
"I'll get some salad fixings," I told him as he went up to get the clams.
I walked away and then I saw Lydia checking out the fruit section. She brightened when she saw me approach.
"Hi Ruby, you're looking good."
"Hello Lydia. How are things?"
She pursed her lips.
"I've been working hard with the other women on the dance," she said, "You are coming. You don't have to bring a date."
"I haven't decided."
She smiled but her eyes, they studied me carefully.
"Oh I would think it'd be a bit difficult for you to bring a date Ruby," she said, "I hear your boyfriend is a bit shy in public."
I narrowed my eyes at her.
"What do you mean?"
She gave me a knowing look.
"I didn't think I had to spell it out," she said, "You know what they say about mothers and daughters."
I folded my arms.
"I don't know, what do they say?"
"The apple doesn't fall too far from the tree, that's all."
I wanted to slap the bitch. But I didn't know who she was talking about, did she mean Brock who was two aisles away or did she mean…no she couldn't know about that…could she…?
"You know, you're living dangerously," she said, "You're playing with fire there…"
"I don't know what you mean."
She chuckled softly without mirth.
"Oh yes you do," she said, "You think nobody knows about what you've been doing? Well watch your step."
I watched as she walked away still not knowing what the hell she was talking about…what did she know and about who? I felt shaky as I gathered ingredients for the salad and went to put them in the cart. Brock was still working on choosing pasta when I joined him.
But I couldn't get Lydia's words out of my mind.