I saw him in the garden shop when I came to work that morning. Not immediately, but not long after I'd finished sorting the starter pots for the pansies. I had been hoping that Devlin wouldn't be dropping by and so far he hadn't been seen here but then I didn't pay attention to his schedule. I knew he'd been in town because Tiffany had told me that he'd been working on some projects back at their house.
When I saw the man walking among the baby fruit trees I wished it had been Devlin. Instead I saw Dirk, my mom's on and off boyfriend who she had kicked out for some reason not too long ago. He'd been trying to work his way back into her good graces and her bed but so far…no dice. I had hoped that my mom had remembered some common sense but I also knew that at some point she'd just weaken like she always did and invite him back home. Cocky son of a bitch knew it too, and as he strutted around looking at the trees, I just kept working on my starter pots which would take me until lunch. I had plans to meet Tiffany at the diner but that was a couple hours away.
Dirk might appear handsome to some woman. I knew he did to my mom though others might see him as slim pickings. He was built like a plug, a couple shades below six feet and with muscular ropy arms. He'd worked outside on constructive projects in the past but I had no idea what he did now for work. I hated everything about him when I allowed myself to hate…the twang in his voice especially when he drank and the clothes he wore that screamed trailer trash…the cheapness of his cologne.
The cologne was worst of all not that I could say why. I just remember feeling smothered by it, completely cloaked by it and feeling sick, almost enough to vomit.
But then my mom's boyfriends often made me want to vomit. The woman didn't have enough self respect to pick anyone who wasn't a loser, who didn't leach off of her, who didn't cheat on her or who didn't want someone younger.
Someone who looked a lot like her…back when she'd been a younger woman…or a girl on the cusp of womanhood…
I returned to work and stopped looking at him. Then my phone buzzed. I knew that meant a text and I almost just said to myself, don't look at it. I didn't want to be put on edge while working, looking everywhere for someone stalking me.
"I'll get you, you little slut…"
I sucked my breath inside deeper when I read that. Nothing that I hadn't read before from this creep who still had no face….but it still sent an icy wind through me. I looked around me as I always did and my eyes fell on Dirk who was still looking at the trees. Tiffany had to be right, it had to be some random creep. But what if it wasn't?
Maybe I should call the police and file a report but then I thought, that's just silly. The cops got more important things to do. But shouldn't I tell someone? I'd tried to tell Brock but I just didn't want to worry him. He had been thinking a lot about whether or not he had a kid out there and I didn't want to drop this in on him when it was probably nothing. Just a punk getting his rocks off on scaring some woman…maybe because his own girlfriend had dumped him or he just hated all of us for some reason. The police wouldn't do anything anyway except tell me to just ignore it.
I sorted out a row of pansies trying to think of something else and only had two more left before moving onto to the rainbow of snap dragon plants.
The voice sounded familiar and I looked up and my heartbeat quickened…but not in the way it did when I saw Brock or heard the deep timbre of his voice. I was looking at Dirk who stood right in front of me. I just looked up at him from where I sat.
"What is it? I'm kind of busy…if you need help…"
He shook his head.
"I need to talk to you Ruby," he said, "It's about your mama."
Irritation filled me and I brushed my hands on my faded jeans and just wanted him to go away and bug someone else. But he just stood there waiting for me to care enough to ask him to tell me what my mom did this time.
Oh yeah, she dumped him and he was trying to use me to worm his way back in her life.
"I don't have time Dirk," I said, "I'm on the clock…besides I'm not going to help you get my mom back."
He pursed his lips.
"I don't need your help," he said, "I just need you to stop lying to her about us."
That gave me a start. Us, what the hell was he talking about and what lies had I told? I didn't talk to my mom about her deadbeat loser boyfriend.
"What lies? I'm not telling any lies."
"You sure about that Ruby…cause your mama asked me if I ever fucked you…"
My heart tightened and my hands felt clammy just like that. I didn't know why but I just looked down at my hands and saw them shaking slightly.
"I don't know why she'd ask that."
He just stared at me without blinking and a waft of that damn cologne lingered close enough for me to catch a whiff of it.
"I think you do…"
He looked at me in a way that made me afraid and I don't scare easy. I just knew I wanted him to leave.
"I think we both know the answer to your question."
He just blinked his eyes at me at last.
"Ruby…you know your mama underneath it all knows I'm the best thing that's ever happened to her," he said, "It's not like your daddy ever hung around if she even knows his name."
Anger filled me then pushing aside the fear. My heart beat rapidly inside my chest and my hands clenched into fists. But there wasn't anything to strike out at…I knew if I hit a customer I'd get fired.
"Then why'd she dump you?"
He smiled at me fully confident in his words and I didn't know where that came from but then I remembered, my mom had always taken his sorry ass back.
"Because she thought you and me…we were…"
I tensed my body.
"We were what?"
He shifted his feet looking away a moment.
"We were screwing around."
I felt angry then, angrier than I'd felt at someone in a while…down to the quick. But I fought to control myself.
"That's what you wanted not me," I said, "but it wasn't going to happen."
Dirk tried to smile but failed at it.
"Oh come on Ruby…you were coming on to me…but you're not my type," he said, "You're pretty but…"
I just shook my head at him.
"I'm not getting into this with you," I said, "You're lucky I didn't tell her what really happened…"
He stood motionless then and something flashed in his eyes, I knew part of it was anger.
"Why you little bitch," he said, "You little…"
I folded my arms looking up at him.
"My name is Ruby…not bitch and I think you should leave now."
I sounded tough because I wanted to but inside…I was shaking too and not just from anger. I remembered what it had been like to be afraid of the man who stood in front of me…only I made myself forget that fear. But when he stood in front of me now…I felt both. Fear and the greater feeling of needing to put it behind me.
"I'll decide when I'm going to leave," Dirk said, "I heard you were fucking that guy Brock…well you better be careful of guys like that…"
"As opposed to guys like you…I feel safer with him."
His eyes narrowed.
"Well you shouldn't…guys like that they always need something on the side, some prime pussy to fuck when the old lady's away."
I knew what he meant and that he thought he could shock me by the way he spoke. But I just wanted him to leave and take his sleaziness with him. If my mom took him back again then I didn't have anything to say to her.
"Look if you need help go elsewhere," I said, "I've got work to do."
I forced calmness in my voice that I didn't feel but I knew I had to show him that he didn't scare me. Because there had been a time when he did…so much so I didn't think I could move.
I'd broken through my fear then with something far more powerful and I would again. I stared at him until he looked away first and then he turned his back to walk away from me. When I knew he wasn't looking, I hugged myself with my arms and a few minutes passed before I returned to work.
But he hadn't stopped looking.