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The Woman in White Marble

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Tess Rosa Ruiz

 

Tess Rosa Ruiz hails from a small town in Western Montana. She left for Seattle with two bags and a lot of passion at the age of 19. An established photographer, she met a group of writers from New York and through them, found her voice. Her debut book, 'Freefall Into Us' is a collection of short stories and poetry published by Urbane Publications, Ltd. Great Britain, 2015. Her second book, a collection of poetry, titled 'An American Slumber' will be released September 8th, 2016.

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Thursday
Jun162016

Gone Awry

I had never seen my daddy cry. My mother told me she had seen him cry once, the day I was born. Tears of joy. Apparently, my arrival into the world, his world, had moved him to tears.

Now, my departure of this world had warranted his emotions, causing tears to roll down his cheeks but not from joy, from the deepest anguish known possible to a parent. The loss of their child. They were supposed to go first. Everyone knows that. A parent burying a child, well, that’s the cruelest of cruel.

My daddy had survived my first tooth, bike ride, period, date, drivers Ed, kegger, loss of virginity and high school graduation without so much as a hiccup. Now he stood, disheveled and bent over, his eyes swollen and red, holding onto my mother as though he were standing over the edge of a cliff, a massive fear of falling into the abyss apparent in his eyes. My mother spoke for the both of them in the dimly lit cold room of the Flathead County Morgue. 

As she whispered “Yes, it is my daughter,” audible only to my father and the soft-spoken, consoling John Petesch, county coroner, the light above them flickered. Did they know that was me? Did my daddy feel my lips move about his cheek, telling him not to cry, it will be okay? Did they know I was trying to tell them I felt no pain during my dance with death? They would never believe that by looking at the cruel black, blue, and yellow marks around my lithe neck. They would find out later there was not a struggle. They would find out later that my vagina was full of semen. They would find out later from some of my friends that I was ‘hooking’ online, to pay for some of my college tuition, books, make-up, clothes, and a new pair of Frye boots.

I had managed to get through my freshman year without a worry or care. Sure, I attended an occasional party, smoked a few joints, and drank some, but, for the most part, I was a good girl. Early to bed, early to rise. I spent most weekends in my dorm room, studying. Mom and Dad pretty much took care of all of my expenses. That was the deal, study hard, get good grades, we've got your back. Well, for my first year. My second year, I was expected to pull my weight and get a job.  Options. A barista at Starbucks. A sales girl at Forever 21. I had heard that job was hideous, full of long hours, shit hourly, and bitches for bosses. Starbucks looked good, offering employees good pay, health insurance, even helping with tuition. The problem, it seemed, was everyone was vying for that, and, if someone left, there were twenty call backs on a wait list holding their breaths. Then, of course, there were the usual fast food jobbies and ‘bag girl’ at the supermarket. A girl had standards, dammit. 

I remember first hearing about Operation PMS during a study session at the Grizzly Union. 

My roomie's best friend from high school was asking me and a couple of other girls at our table  if we were interested in making some incredible cash for just a couple hours of work.  One seemed interested, the other didn’t, and I didn’t hear the whole spiel as I was running late for a class. Now, almost a year later, I was back at the union, searching for the red head. As if I had willed her, there she was. The well-dressed, statuesque… dang…. I was trying desperately to remember her name. J…J…Jane. That’s it! I remember because sometimes I would make a quick rhyme with someone’s name so I wouldn’t forget it. Plain Jane. She was anything but. She was stunning.

“Jane!”, I shouted, suddenly realizing I shouldn’t have. At least twenty people turned, giving me ‘the stink eye’. Either way, she saw me and started walking towards me, her silky, red hair and pert breasts bouncing right along with her step. Plain Jane. I laughed to myself, more out of nervousness than anything.

“Forgive me,” she said, as she got closer. “You're Bridge’s roomie, but I've forgotten your name.”

“Ruby. Ruby Martino.”

“Yes, yes, Ruby. That’s right. How's school going for you? This is your second year, right?”

“Yes. Second year. Things are going well, but having a tough time finding a job. I remember you talking about a job last year, and I was wondering if that was still available. Operation PMS, I believe?” She looked me up and down, then grabbed my arm, leading me outside. We walked across the street, stopping under a large maple that was frequented by students as a quiet place to read. Oddly, it was unoccupied as if by magic.

“Look, I will just come out with it. It’s not a typical job. Nothing close. PMS stands for Professional Men for Sex. So, basically, your name, age, photo, clean bill of health, and class schedule go into a confidential website. The men browse whenever they get the urge, and bam. The minimum is $500. I get $150.  The deal is you're on call. Aside from classes, you have to show up.” She said all of this so matter of factly.

“Um, okay”, I said, not sure what else to say.

“Look, it’s all fairly simple. The men are clean, professional, attractive, and loaded. Most of them are married, and wifey either won’t put out anymore or they want something a little kinky.” She must have seen my fear after that statement.

“Oh, we have rules as well. No S & M, whips, or handcuffs. Blindfolds and tying up are okay. There are about twenty five girls currently on the list. It seems as though they all average about twice a week. Of course, some men have their favorites like anything else. You’ll do fine, I am quite sure,” she said, glancing at my breasts. I felt degraded, but then, this would probably not be the first time, being the circumstances what they were. “Oh, and when you want out, you're out,” she added, tossing her hair. “You can’t get back in.” Suddenly, I was looking down at my shoes, kicking some dirt that wasn’t really there. She seemed suddenly to be irritated with me. I felt like I was being scolded, and I didn’t know why. She noticed the silence in me. “Look, I gotta run. If you want to.....” I quickly cut her off. 

“No, I’m interested,” I said quickly, not wanting to have this conversation again. Her demeanor changed.

“Great! Okay, jot down your email here,” she said, thrusting the back cover of a notebook at me.

“Let me just find a pen.”  She began to toss through her oversized Chanel backpack. I wondered if it was one of her rewards she had decided she deserved for taking it up the ass from some sweaty, grunting sixty-year-old.

 “Here,” she said, thrusting a pen into my open palm. “I will send you the link tonight. Just sign in with a user name and password to sign up. You will go through a short questionnaire. It takes about twenty-four hours when everything is said and done.” She pulled out a piece of paper, scrawling a number down. “Oh, and my number in case you have any questions.”

“Um, ok,” I said, not sure of anything at the moment. Before I could say anything else, she was already almost across the road, her red hair flying in the wind. I glanced at her scrawl, then shoved it into my pocket, making my way back to my dorm.

As promised, the link came through at about 7 p.m. just as I was returning from the cafeteria with Bridgette, the burger I had consumed laying heavily in my stomach. I jumped on my computer, deciding if I didn’t do this now, I would chicken out given too much time to think about it. As I began to fill out the questionnaire, Bridgette announced that she was going to go down and shower. As she shut the door, I debated telling her. I decided to tell her if and when I had made the decision that I liked, or should I say tolerated, the job, deciding to stick with it.

Two days later, I got my first ‘John’. His name was Derek, according to Jane. I was to be outside my dorm at promptly nine p.m.

Do you own an umbrella? she had asked.

Of course.

Good. Be under it, she instructed. He will be driving a forest green Jeep Wrangler. Questions?  

No, I told her. Wondering why she had all of a sudden turned into a total bitch,  I hung up the phone. It was seven p.m. I had two hours. I did an hour’s worth of homework, and then I went and showered. I was nervous. I made sure I was extra clean, going over everything twice. I shaved again for the second time that day. As I brushed my hair in the mirror, my eyes spoke volumes. They said "Don’t do this, Ruby. There are other ways to make money.

Your parents would die a thousand deaths if they knew what you were about to do, Ruby." Shut the fuck up!  I shut my eyes, continuing to brush my hair. I just had to pretend I was on a date. It would be a date that would end in sex, that’s all. Oh, and I’d get paid for it. What’s all the ruckus about? I wore a black dress with black heels. I left the dorm a tad early, umbrella in tow. I was surprised I didn’t run into anyone. Five to nine. I closed my eyes again then took a slow breath in. Then slow breath out. I opened my eyes. Was everyone staring out their dorm window? Maybe, but I felt hidden. The umbrella made sense now. Then, the green jeep pulled up, at precisely 9 p.m. I got in.

“Hi, I’m Ruby.” I sounded like a little girl.

“Ruby, nice to meet you. I’m Derek.” He put out his right hand, pulling it from the steering wheel which he seemed to be gripping tightly. I barely saw his face, afraid to take him in.

“Are you nervous?” he asked, his hand still on mine.

“Yeah, it’s my first time,” I said, then giggled a bit. “I mean, not my FIRST time, but…” he cut me off.

“I know what you mean, Ruby. Well, if it’s any consolation, it’s my first time as well.”  This is when I looked at him. He appeared to be mid to late 40s. Blondish hair. Spitting image of Kiefer Sutherland. My dad had started watching 24 again, and, on my last visit home, I started watching it with him. I was hooked. I quickly looked away, thinking this was too good to be true. Hell, I’d lay with him without pay.

“Ready?” he asked, putting the Jeep in gear.

“Uh huh,” I said, putting my seatbelt on. We drove in silence for about five minutes. Then he began, quietly.

“I won’t ask you a bunch of personal questions nor will you ask me about myself. I don’t live here. I fly in every two weeks or so. If things go well tonight, you will be contacted in the same manner you were and picked up the same way. Sound good?”

“Yes,” I said, feeling nervous again. My hand felt sweaty in my lap. He sensed my trepidation.

“I don’t bite, promise,” he said, pulling up to a red light. I didn’t answer back, my head was spinning. Again, Ruby, like we discussed before, just pretend you are on a date but you're getting paid for it. Besides, look at him. He is sexy and beautiful as hell. Live a little.

After about five minutes of silence, he turned up the radio. John Lennon was singing "Let It Be."

“I love this song,” I said, grateful for the consoling power of music. I was thankful he turned it up, and we rode on without speaking. About twenty minutes later, we pulled into a Residence Inn. The place was huge, looking like a large compound. We drove by Units A and B then pulled into a parking spot in front of  Unit D. I wondered what happened to C. He turned off the lights but not the car. I was nervous again. He pulled a card key out of his pocket. D24, was in bold black on the side. 24. I thought of Kiefer Sutherland again. Odd coincidence. He handed me the key then turned his body toward me. I saw him more full on, his face now brightly lit by the street lamp. God, he was attractive. He had that "hadn’t shaved in a couple days," light beard stubble. Strong jaw and gorgeous blue eyes, his blond hair strewn about in different directions, disheveled but on purpose. He was wearing dark blue dress pants, a lighter blue, button down oxford like he had just stepped out of a board meeting. I could feel my heart beating faster in my chest, this time out of anticipation not fear. “Give me about fifteen minutes. I need to check e-mails and a couple voice messages.” He turned the car off, pulling the keys out and handing them to me.

“When you step out of the car, just lock it. My room is up those stairs,” and he pointed out the window, “second from the landing.”

“Sounds good,” I said for lack of anything better to say.

“Great, then, see you in fifteen,” and, with that, he got out, shutting me in with a few minutes to breathe. I immediately put the key back in the ignition and turned it slightly so that only the music came on. Caveman’s "In The City" was playing.  As I sang the line "Hope this was made for a good time," I flipped down the visor, the little light coming on. Eyeliner still on. No smudging. Thank God no zits had reared their ugly heads. Hahaha, I laughed to myself, liking my pun. Hair, check. Blush, good. I flipped the visor back up. I turned up the song, thinking of the video with Julia Stiles.  She was beautiful. I loved the red dress she wore. The video was so weird, but I loved it. Kinda dark. No, really dark. I fished my light pink lip gloss out of my purse. I flipped the visor mirror back down again. God, he was probably watching me through the window, thinking I was vain as hell. Nah, the room was on the other side. I pulled the brush out, painting a light coat over the bottom lip, then rubbing the top into the bottom. Someone told me one puts gloss or lipstick on the same way as their mother, from watching her as a child. For some reason little girls love watching mommy put on make-up, wishing they could have a little bit, too.

I remember how I would giggle when my mother would turn from the mirror, giving my cheeks a light dusting with her blush. More mommy, please, put on more!  Put your lips out, she would say. I would pucker them, pushing my face towards her and closing my eyes. I could still feel the lipstick run ever so lightly over my lips, her hands so tender and careful. There’s my beautiful girl, she would say. I flipped the mirror back up and closed the lip gloss, dropping it back into my purse. I got out of the car, locking it behind me. I walked across the dewy lawn instead of the walkway, keeping my shoes silenced. There was a tinge of chill in the air; soon, the leaves would start to fall. I walked up the concrete stairs, stopping midway to take off my heels, my feet grateful for their release. As I neared the top, I could see D21 to my right. Past D23. I stopped in front of D24, sliding the card key. It flashed red, then nothing. I slid it again. Red flash, then nothing. I tried it a third time. Three’s a charm don’t you know! Nothing. I took it as a sign and begin to walk away.

I stopped, turned around, slid it through again. It flashed green. Green means go.  I walked in, closing the door quietly behind me. I stop. The place is huge, more like a suite. I walk past the kitchen, noticing an open bottle of wine, still full. There is a roomy living space in front of me with a giant computer on the desk. I stop, putting my shoes and purse down next to me.

I look to my left, into a bedroom. He is laying on the bed, still dressed, his hands underneath his head which is on the pillow.  “There’s some wine on the kitchen counter if you so desire,” he says, glancing out the window. He turns back to look at me. “If you pour yourself a glass, would you mind pouring one for me as well?”

“Of course,” I say, pleased that he has broken the ice this way.

“I really could use a couple sips, just to settle my nerves a bit.”

“Me too,” he says, turning off the lamp next to the bed. As I pour the wine, I wonder what it is he does for a living. Is he married? Children? Where does he live? No questions, he told me. I walk slowly with the wine glasses towards him, his eyes on me the whole time. I walk towards his side of the bed, handing him a glass. He takes it from me, still looking into my eyes.

“You look like Kiefer Sutherland”, I say, then suddenly regretting it. Oh, God, how stupid did that sound?

“I get that a lot, Ruby. I take it as a compliment. Thank you.” He lifts his head from the pillow, taking a large sip. Okay, maybe it wasn’t that stupid.

“My dad is into 24, and I watched a couple episodes with him.” I take a big gulp of the wine before lying on my stomach next to him.

“Yea, I loved that show as well. I heard they were going to bring it back in May for twelve episodes, something like that,” he said, taking another sip, placing it on the bedside table, and then moving onto his side, propping his head up with his left hand. He began to play with my hair very lightly. God, it felt so good. As I took another sip of wine, he pressed it to my lips then took the glass from my hand, putting it next to his on the bedside table. He began to kiss me, his mouth so soft and sensual, and I reciprocated, almost hungrily. He was wearing a t-shirt under his dress shirt, which was still tucked into his dress slacks. There was something so sexy about this, about him. I stopped, my face just above his. He smiled at me, the cleft in his chin so prominent. I hadn’t noticed it before. I laid my head on his chest for a moment, just taking in his sensuality. His hand went back to my hair, pulling and wrapping it around and through his fingers. He lifted my face from his chest, kissing me lightly then more forcefully, lightly biting at my lower lip. He moved his hand down over my breasts, stopping at the nipple and encircling it with his finger. I felt it harden instantly. He then moved his body on top of mine and slowly began to move lightly back and forth over me. I could feel his hardness through his pants, his cock firmly brushing over my clothed body. I had a flashback to my first boyfriend and how I was introduced to the art of dry humping by him, although it was not an art, more like a playground wrestling match. This was fine art, truly. This was a grown man in a suit minus the jacket who was making this act extremely erotic and sensuous. I could feel my wetness soaking into my panties.

“Do you like this?” he asked quietly, into my ear.

“Yes, very much,” I said with a whisper. 

“Tell me if I hurt you or feel heavy on you,” he said, kissing my neck and rolling his tongue on my skin.

“Mm...hmm...” was all I could muster. What he was doing was electrifying my body, sending small shudders down my back, striking into my pussy. He was at my mouth again, his lips soft and melding into mine as he continued to "air fuck" me. His soft moans, his mouth, the way his body moved, and his sensuality were like nothing I had ever experienced. I could feel my orgasm coming, my own moaning loud in my ears. He unzipped his pants then, pulling his cock out and looked at me as if asking if it were okay or not. I knew what he was asking. I pushed my dress up, just underneath my breasts, my stomach exposed.

“Cum on me, Derek, please.” He closed his eyes then, drawing himself in close to my body, kissing me. I could feel his hand moving faster and faster, his moans low, guttural. He moved away again, and he came on my stomach, staring into my eyes. We lay there, my head resting on his chest. “That was wonderful, truly,” I said, lightly rubbing the top of his chest.

“Mmm. I need to get you back home; I have an early flight. I got up quickly from the bed, thinking maybe I shouldn’t have said that. Wait. I was sure I shouldn’t have said that. That was something you say in a relationship not a business transaction.

“Do you mind grabbing the Jeep keys and waiting in the car for me?” he asked, getting up from the bed.

“No, not at all,” I said, grabbing my shoes. “See you in a sec,” and, with that, I walked out, grateful for the fresh air. I climbed into the Jeep, immediately turning the ignition on so I could listen to music. About ten minutes later he got in and without a word, drove me back to the dorm. Before I got out, he handed me a wad of cash.

“Goodnight, Ruby.”  I stepped out of the Jeep, still bare foot, holding the straps of my heels.

“Night, Derek,” I said, shutting the car door. He smiled at me then drove off. Over the course of the next two months, I worked about five nights a week for only a couple hours, making ludicrous amounts of money.  Most of the guys seemed pretty typical. The average age was about 58. The sex was pretty straight, nothing kinky. One just liked to hold me; that was it. It was easy money. I did end up telling Bridge about it, swearing her to secrecy. I had decided I was only going to do it for a couple more months then bow out. I had lied to my parents, telling them I was working at a friend of a friend’s coffee shop and that the tips were great. I had managed to save up a significant amount of money, buying myself time not to have to look for a real job until summer. I had seen Derek a total of about four times. The second time we were together was very similar to the first. The third and fourth time, we actually fucked, and it was incredible as I knew it would be.

I found myself falling for him hard. He was always very quiet, speaking to me through his body and the way he made love to me. I wondered many times why he chose to pay for sex. Was he married, single, divorced, gay, bisexual? If he was married, did he love her?  Why not just have an affair? He could have any woman of his choosing, this I knew. Maybe he liked them young. Did they fall for him? I had. Maybe he didn’t want the emotion of a relationship or a relationship for that matter. Was this his fantasy, his turn on?  A woman who didn’t ask him how his day was or what he was thinking. No fancy dinners, no flowers, no jewelry.  Whatever it was, whatever he was, I was happy with it. Fuck, who was I kidding? The questions still went on and on in my brain. Did he see others? He knew I did. Was  he jealous of the other men? Did he wonder where I was, what I was doing when I wasn’t with him? Did he lie in bed at night, thinking of them kissing my breasts, my hair, my lips, my sex? Did it make him toss and turn? God, so many questions I wanted to ask him. But none of it was my business. I thought of hookers, prostitutes, escorts, call girls, and strippers.  How far would a woman go to feed her family? How many hours away would she need to spend away from her children just to put food on the table or pay the light bill? If roles were reversed, you know damn well men would be prostituting themselves.

Judge all you want, but I got it now. I understood it. I would easily spend two hours on my back, making in one day what a minimum wage job paid in a month, especially if it were for my family. I thought of what my Grammy always use to say, “You never truly understand someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.”

Yeah, a considerable amount of money in a short time, allowing for time with children, college, or perhaps caring for a dying family member. Did they too get ‘wrapped up’ in a ‘John’? Fall in love? I suspected so, that it had happened thousands of times. Well, the questions would go on and on. In the meantime, it is what I had signed up for, agreed to. I hated it but not with Derek. Oh, God, the high I would get when he would pull up in the jeep, my heart beating quickly as we drove to the same hotel, usually in silence and I would stay in the jeep, listening to the radio, waiting for him to get settled, counting the minutes, anxious to be in his arms, his sensuous body.

The night I died was like all the others. I waited in the Jeep, the radio on. The song "In The City" was playing, just like the first time I had been with Derek. I thought of Julia Stiles in the hotel room bed, her husband lying next to her.  After she fell asleep, the man hiding behind the curtain, creeping up and cutting her with his knife. I wondered why she didn’t wake. How can you be cut, hell, touched for that matter, without waking? Why did she think her husband was cutting her? Did she? The whole video was bizarre.  That’s the whole idea, dummy, it’s just a video!  I grabbed the card key Derek had placed in my lap, deciding to leave my bag and shoes in the car this time. I would only be a couple of hours.

I got out of the car, locked it, and made my way to room B14 this time. I was having déjà-vu. I hadn’t been in B14 yet, this I knew. I started thinking of déjà-vu, the oddity of it, no one really being able to explain it. I looked up then and saw Derek in the window, just standing there and looking at me, a quick wave and a smile. Looking just like Kiefer.

I waved back, just like I did before. But he had never done that before. I was still having my déjà-vu. I didn’t use the card key.  

Derek was standing there in the doorway, waiting for me. He picked me up then, carrying me to the bed. I was thankful the déjà vu had stopped.  He placed me on the bed, my head slightly hitting the headboard.

“Oh, God, Ruby, I am so sorry,” he said, kissing the top of my head. I laughed a little.

“It didn’t even hurt, silly. It’s okay.” He began kissing me, his lips so soft on mine, his tongue languishing itself with mine. I felt my body come alive instantly as it always did the moment he touched me. I started to unzip my dress.

“No. Keep it on. Ruby, have you ever done anything kinky?” he asked with trepidation in his voice.

“Like what do you mean by kinky? Whips, chains?”  I asked, knowing the rules specifically said, nothing kinky.

“No, no, like this.” He put his hands lightly around my throat, pressing softly. It felt good, really good. I immediately liked it.

“That’s not really kinky, Derek. Some of my friends have talked about being choked. I have never done it before.”

“Do you want to Ruby? I would never ever hurt you. You can tell me if you don’t feel comfortable or if you want me to stop.”

He looked like a little boy, explaining to his mother that he was sick today and couldn’t go to school merely because he wanted to spend the day with her, watching TV and playing board games. I couldn’t resist his eyes. I couldn’t resist anything about him, including some kinky desire he had to choke me. I decided to ask him a question, since he had opened the door to questions.

“Have you ever done it before?”

“Yes, and she really liked it,” he said, his eyes still locked on mine. I didn’t want to know anymore. I had no desire to hear him speak of anyone else. I lifted my head off of the pillow, kissing him. He reciprocated, putting his hand on the back of my head, resting it back on the pillow.  His mouth on my neck, kissing and slightly biting me. I felt his hand under my dress, slowly pulling my underwear down past my thighs. I maneuvered them the rest of the way down my legs and over my feet. I felt his hand, his finger, moving back and forth over my clit. I wanted him to go slower, but I couldn’t wait for him to penetrate me either. He tugged at his pants, pushing them and his underwear down over his ass. I could feel his cock so hard against my leg. He entered me then and, at almost the same time, he put his hands around my neck. With each thrust, he squeezed my neck. It was turning me on so much, and I felt my orgasm building. He knew I was about to cum, knowing my body well enough to know I was close. He fucked me feverishly, and I began to orgasm, my body arching, his hands tight around my neck. I held my breath as my orgasm shuddered through me. I felt his body cuming with mine; we seemed in unison always. I couldn’t breathe. No, it wasn’t that. I couldn’t catch my breath. I sucked in nothing. Empty.

As I tried to take a breath in, I felt a lightning bolt of pain in my head. It was excruciating. Then everything stopped, and I saw Julia Stiles in her red dress. She looked so beautiful and happy getting out of the cab, her blonde hair bouncing around her head. The pain was gone. I was floating now. The room had a mist, a slight film as if I were seeing everything through a fog.  I went upwards, feeling my body, but it was without joints, muscles, bones, or blood. I felt so peaceful, euphoric, so alive! Then I heard Derek. Derek screaming.

“Ruby! Oh, God, Ruby! Oh, dear God, what have I done? Ruby!” I was high above, my back against the ceiling, as though I were a chandelier. Derek was over my body, shaking me, pleading with me to wake up, to breathe, to open my eyes. I began to scream at him, telling him I was okay. The screaming so loud in my ears, echoing through the room, though it is not a room anymore but a stage, and I am in a performance, the audience sitting in their chairs, their hands over their mouths, aghast at what they have just witnessed. My untimely death, my demise, my end. The end. Everyone is dressed in black except for Julia Stiles, who is seated in the front row, wearing her beautiful red dress. She is the only one clapping.

“Encore, encore,” she screams as though I had just given the performance of my life. My life. What of it? Is it over? What is this? Oh, no, not like this. This can’t possibly be. Wait, no! Not like this, oh, God, not like this! Please! So many people are whispering in my ear. Voices from far away. I hear my grandmother, telling me how pretty I look.

Derek is talking to me now. It is so loud and fast. It comes at me at once. All the questions being answered at once, in a flurry of whispers and shouts. He is married, going through a nasty divorce. She has everything wrong. She is a gold digger. His wife wants sole custody of his three-year-old twin girls, claiming him unfit, always out of town, a womanizer. None of this is true. Women come on to him. His wife’s friends have sided with her. They make up lies about him. They say he has come onto them, that he is a cheater, that they have seen him at restaurants and bars with other women. She will take all his money and run because that is what women do. She will take his girls away; he will never see them again. He just wanted to be with a woman with no questions, no emotions. It could only be when he was out of town; that had been his rule. No one would see him. It was his only solace. His only quiet. I was his only peace and quiet! His two hours of joy with no attachment. I watch him cry. I feel his pain, his sadness.

He kept asking himself What have  I done? over and over again. Jesus, what have I done? What have I done? What have I fucking done?”

"Derek!" I shout at him. You have done nothing wrong. Nothing. I wanted you. You wanted me. You asked if this would be okay with me, I said 'Yes.' You didn’t kill me, Derek. Oh, God, you think that you did! You do! But you didn’t Derek!. Please, stop crying. Please. I can’t bear to watch you cry. He pulls his pants up, buttoning them. He puts on his socks and shoes. I see my body now that he has moved away from it, my hair splayed out on the pillow, my mouth slightly open as if about to speak. No words to be heard now. There are garish marks about my neck. Why? He didn’t do it that hard. No. It didn’t hurt, not my neck. Only my head. He sits back down on the edge of the bed next to me, his body shaking and sweating, pale as hell. He rubs his palms down his legs, a nervous gesture, a frantic movement, over and over again. He stares at me for the longest time, touching my face, smoothing down my hair, as if I am a sacred doll, unbreakable, but now clearly broken, beyond repair, no glue will fix. How will he ever explain this to his mother.

His mother. He cared about me. He loved our time together. He is so angry with himself. Why did I do that to her? Why did I kill her? Had she struggled for breath, and I hadn’t noticed? Had she tried pulling my hands from her neck? Poor Derek. His thoughts are everywhere in the room. They are crowding me, pushing at me, begging to be answered. I try to answer him. He can’t fucking hear me!

You didn’t kill me Derek. I don’t know what happened, but you didn’t kill me!

He is panicking now. No one can find out about this. He will be ruined forever. He will never see his daughters again. He will rot in prison. He would rather die than live with this guilt. His daughters would know their father was a twisted, kinky fuck who hired whores and murdered them. No, Derek. No. You are not. Not twisted, not kinky. It was just a mistake. An idea gone awry. His thoughts now are moving so swiftly through the air, bouncing this way and that, jumbled and coming at me so quickly I just can’t keep track of them. He is going to call Jane. She will know what to do. I watch him fish his cell from his pants pocket. He goes into the bathroom, shutting the door. I am sitting on the bed now, next to my body. My skin is so pale, no sign of life. Dead. What now? I think of my parents. Oh, God, no, no, no!

This will kill them, cut them in half. Especially my daddy. Why does it have to be like this, this way? Not Like this! I frantically lay on top of my body, willing myself back in.

Pleading with whatever God is out there to give me a second chance. Please, just this once. Unite us, body and soul. I promise to stop hooking. I promise to get a real fucking job. Please spare my parents from this heartache. Please. Please. Please. Nothing. I could hear Derek, his voice shaking and muffled. He came out of the bathroom, his face pale, tears running down his cheeks. The empathy I felt was something I had never experienced. Not like this. I was so much more aware of emotions. Mine and his. They were 3-D, standing out on their own, like a building, a structure. He began searching the room, frantically.

“No, Derek, my shoes and purse aren’t here. They are in the Jeep. Derek, go to the Jeep! He grabbed the card key from the kitchen counter and left. Had he heard me? Oh, God, could he hear me? I went to the window watching him run across the lawn to the Jeep, opening the passenger side door. He then shut the door quickly, running back across the lawn. Within seconds, he was back in the room again. Jane had told him what to do. She had told him to calm the fuck down and listen to her. What he did next was beyond beautiful, beyond moving. He lay down next to me, grabbing my hand and wept. I could read no thoughts, his mind void of everything except for extreme sadness and heartache. He lay there with me for two hours, staring at the ceiling. Every so often, he would bring my hand to his face, brushing his tears away with my fingers then softly kissing my palm.

At around three a.m., he got up and looked out the window. Everyone is sleeping now. No one will see us. He picked me up, and, cradling my body like a small child, my head on his chest, he carried me out the door, down the stairs, and across the lawn. He put me into the Jeep and pulled the seatbelt across my chest, clicking it into place. He shut the door, going around to the driver’s side, stopping before he opened the door. He looked around, seeing no one watching us. He got in, looked over at me, and then started the engine. He began to weep again. I turned the radio up, unable to bear hearing his sobs. He looked at it strangely. I had done that. I had done that! Derek, I know what you are going to do. Don’t do it. Please. Drive my body to the hospital; explain what happened. Derek, please don’t do this! I screamed this at him. He couldn’t hear me. His thoughts were coming at me again, quickly, they were all over the place.

Samantha will take the girls far, far away. I will rot in prison. My parents will be disgraced and shunned by their neighbors. People will say I was such a nice man, a successful man, a family man. Where did he go wrong?  Derek pulled up to an abandoned warehouse covered with graffiti, the windows broken out. As he put the jeep in park, the song "In The City" came on.

Derek, I love this song. Have you seen the video, Derek? It’s the beautiful Julia Stiles in a red dress. God, she is pretty, Derek. Don’t you agree? He turned towards me again, kissing the top of my head. I am so sorry, Ruby. Oh, God, Ruby, I am so sorry.  He got out of the jeep, making his way to my side. He undid my seatbelt, catching my body as it began to slump further. He grabbed my purse off of the floor, putting it over his shoulder. He then grabbed my shoes, placing them in my lap, and with that, picked me up again, carrying me towards the abandoned building. No, Derek, please, don’t do this, Derek. This isn’t the right thing to do, Derek. He pushed the door open with his foot. A couple of rats ran across our path. Derek let out a low groan. He stopped for a moment, panting, his face sweating. His beautiful face was gone. Desperation, fear, and sadness ran across it now. The sparkle in his eyes dimmed by heartache. He was afraid. No, fucking petrified. He spotted a corner made somewhat cozy by a couple of abandoned blankets and two orange tulips. That is so odd. They are fresh!  He carefully put my hands on top of each other over my heart. He tucked the tulips under my hands, the tops were almost touching my nose, as if I was smelling them.

Ruby. Beautiful Rub,. I am so, so sorry for all of this, Ruby. Derek began to cry again' then he bent down, lightly kissing my cold lips. He got up and began to walk away.

 “No, Derek. Please, don’t leave me here. Please. Derek! Please, don’t leave me here!

He stopped, turning around. Had he heard me again? I have no other choice, Ruby. I don’t. I am so sorry. He walked away, leaving me in the dark warehouse. I tried to follow him, but I couldn’t. I tried to go through the door, but I only made it to the window, watching the Jeep drive away. Derek! He was gone. I was alone, and my gaze went from the window to my body as Derek had placed me, looking peaceful, the blankets tucked around me, the tulips pushed underneath my hands. I sat there on the window sill for I don’t know how long just

staring at my body. Would someone take it? Where do I go? I was afraid to go near me, afraid of the death, my death, my  lifeless self. I was alone, no voices. Nothing. Trapped.

I was between what? Someone, show me, help me. Grammy wasn’t even here. What now? I stayed there, alone. Two days later, a homeless man came inside seeking shelter, and found me. He went back outside, flagging down a motorist to call 911. Within a half hour, my body was taken from the cold warehouse to the city morgue.

My ID and cell phone were retrieved from my bag, and my parents were called to come and identify me. Watching them shuffle in, my mother’s arm around my father’s back as if holding him up, was heart wrenching. They moved so slowly as if putting off the inevitable by a few moments would soften the blow. I couldn’t watch this. I shut my eyes tightly, deafening out the sadness, their pain and suffering. Home. I want to be in my home, in my

bed, snuggled under my blankets, listening to my iPod and watching the willow tree branches brush  against my window in the moonlight. And there I was. As quickly as I had envisioned it, I was back in my childhood home, standing in the living room, the tic toc of the grandfather clock loud in my ears. Everything was so big, so…the view master. I thought of the box of old toys my mother pulled out of storage when she thought we were old enough to take care with them, one of  them being a view master. You put the little round disc in, pushing down a little lever on the right. You looked through a miniature square lens, and an image would appear. Everything 3-D. Yes! My world was a giant view master. I began to sort through my new reality. I was dead, that I knew. But how? Something sudden had happened, something in my head.

I lay down on our old, white leather couch, covering myself with my grandmother's beige chenille blanket, her smell still trapped within the fibers. What had I done? A bad choice had resulted in my death. Was this a trick, a lesson? But I didn’t do anything wrong. Ultimately, my parents were paying the price. They would never be the same. Would they ever smile again? Laugh? Oh, God, what had I done? Derek. Poor Derek. Distraught Derek. I shut my eyes tightly. The smell had changed. Gone was my grandmother’s chenille blanket, the faint odor of Jergen’s lotion. I smelled now the aromatic sweetness of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. Mmmmm, I could taste them now, their ooey goey goodness melting in my mouth.  I opened my eyes to two beautiful twin girls, their blonde curls wispy around their cherubic faces, their blue eyes dancing as they giggled. They were seated at an island counter in the middle of a beautiful spacious kitchen.  Then I spotted him. He was crouched down, playing peek-a-boo with them. He was wearing a pink tutu over his jeans, his blond head graced with a crown that said ‘Princess’ He had a wand in one hand, the hand wearing a long white glove. In his other white-gloved hand, he held up an Elmo doll that he had just tripped over, making the girls roar with laughter,  milk coming out of their noses.

He was smiling and laughing but only for their benefit, to hide from them the slow death he was dying inside. The outrageous turmoil that was causing him to thin, his hair to begin falling out, his sudden bursts of anger, bouts of unending tears. His thoughts were all over the room, staring at me in big bold letters. They were jumbled, hitting me at once.

Ruby… help, Oh God… I will lose my babies… My job… A trial where I will be found guilty… Death… Electric Chair… worse yet… will rot in prison… I can’t go through that… my daughters can never know… but Samantha will tell them… What will she say?  Ruby, I am so sorry, Ruby please help... Ruby the cops are closing in Ruby, I want to die Ruby… I am so sorry, Ruby, why did this happen to us, to me?... We are good people. I felt safe with you Ruby, happy!

I shut my eyes tightly, pushing his thoughts from me, and just as quickly as I had arrived, I was gone, back home again, snuggled under Grammy’s chenille blanket, the Jergen’s lotion smell strong in my nose. Then I heard them, my parents, their sobs cutting into the darkness. I went into their room. They were lying on their bed, still clothed, not having the energy to do anything but collapse on the bed, quivering and shaking in the darkness. I kissed them; I lay with them; I cried with them; I told them I was okay. I am OK! They held each other tightly. Their anguish was more than I could bear. I got up, standing in the doorway, their thoughts crowding the room, stifling, making it unbearable.

Oh, dear Lord, not our baby, please, not our baby, take us now. Who did this? What monster in heel could kill a beautiful young girl, our girl? … Her body cold, dead, gone! I want to die too! I can’t take this pain! I can’t. … I will find the son of a bitch that did this and fucking gut him like the pig that he is, … this fucking monster, not my baby!

I shut my eyes tightly, blocking them out. Suddenly I couldn’t hear them anymore and realized I was standing in the morgue with my body which had been placed on a table, my brown hair splayed about, my skin a bluish pallor, my lips shriveled. I was naked. I wanted to cover myself but realized how ludicrous that thought was. Showing modesty when dead is, well, isn’t that why I was here in the first place? For my lack of modesty? Joining John the coroner was his buddy Adam Stevenson, Pathologist. They both held knives in their gloved hands. They worked together when a criminal autopsy was called for as they had done for years.

“Sad case this one, huh, John?”

“Yep, sad 'nuff, I s'pose, but I’ve seen it all. Stopped cryin' years ago.”

“You golfin' this weekend out at Bender?”

“Doc Grady gonna be there?”

“I dunno; why?”

“'Cause I can’t stand the son of a bitch. He’s got a fuckin' comment about every shot I take. Just can’t take it no more. Motherfuckin' cocksucker. I’d love to shove my nine iron up his Godforsaken, smelly asshole.”

“I hear you on that note.”

“Let’s move quicker than normal tonight, I’ve got a hemorrhoid that’s itchin' like lice in pubic hair.”

They were comical, these two, and though I wanted to hangout just for the conversation alone, I shut my eyes tightly just as they were ready to make the first incision. I was suddenly back in my dorm room with Bridgette.  Poor Bridge. The police had just left her apartment, seizing my computer and some personal items. She was packing, intent on going home for a few days to grieve and be with her parents.  She had told the police about the hooking, and it would be only a matter of time before they had contacted Jane and had a list of the ‘Johns.’  She seemed to be void of any emotions, or I was just unable to draw much from her. I sensed fear more than anything else. She was already arranging to move out of the dorms and in with some friends that had a house. Best friends or not, she was angry at Jane for this whole hooking thing, not liking it from the get-go. I sensed after all was said and done, this would kill the relationship between Bridge and Jane. In fact, I already knew Jane would lose a lot of friends from this and be outcast from many circles. She would eventually get her ‘come upins’. I sat down on my bed, looking up at my bulletin board full of pictures, concert tickets, and a couple of birthday cards. I tried retrieving a photo of Bridge and me, not realizing how hard it would be for me. In the process, the whole thing came crashing down. Crap. What had I done? Poor Bridge almost jumped out of her skin at the sound of the bulletin board hitting the floor, pictures and papers askew. She turned, staring at me for what seemed an eternity.

Could she see me? She then left the room quickly, forgetting to shut the door. She had seen me. I was sure of it. A few minutes later she came in with Chelsea, our R.A.

“She was there, right there, I am sure of it,” said Bridge. Her face had gone pale, her breathing heavy. She was pointing to the exact spot I had been standing. Chelsea began picking up the debris from the fallen bulletin board.

“Honey, I don’t see anything. What time are your parents picking you up?” asked Chelsea, placing the items on my bed.

“About a half hour,” said Bridgette, still looking around, visibly shaken. I had stepped behind the door just in case.

“Just grab your stuff. Come wait in my room,” said Chelsea. I intentionally came out from behind the door, standing in front of the girls. Without a word, Bridge grabbed her stuff and they both left, locking the door behind them. Neither one of them had seen me. I grabbed the photo of Bridge and me and shut my eyes tightly, and I was back home. The cops had just left my parents' house, telling them of the coroner's report. They had more information for my parents, but that would come later. They wanted them to get through the initial shock of the autopsy findings before they dumped any more on them.  Being the state they were in, I agreed. They were seated at the kitchen table, across from each other. The cops had seen themselves out, my parents still digesting what they had just heard.

Our daughter wasn’t murdered? She had suffered a brain aneurysm? Who was she with? In a hotel room? Why? She let a man choke her? We didn’t raise her like that! She hadn’t suffered. It was quick, said the police. Where is the man who did this?

Then the anger came, their thoughts being thrown around the room. Mostly they were my mother’s thoughts, my father looking sullen, somber, and numb. Would he get through this?

At what cost? His health, his happiness?

I sat down at the table with them.  I had had a brain aneurysm that ruptured, resulting in a Subarachnoid Hemorrhage. The cops said that it could have happened anywhere, in the grocery store, putting on make-up, driving down the road. Derek simply had the bad luck of being with me when it did.  Brain aneurysm? It made sense to me; that was for sure. I had been suffering some weird headaches as of late, downing way too much ibuprofen. I guessed the ‘bearing down’ during orgasm had something to do with it, causing the hemorrhage. That explained the quick flash of pain I had felt in my head. I knew Derek had not hurt me. Just a fluke thing. I shut my eyes tightly. I was back in the warehouse where Derek had placed me. The entire sight had been covered with yellow ‘crime scene’ tape. The blankets were gone as were the two orange tulips. I sat down in the spot Derek had laid me, grateful to be free of the noise from everyone’s thoughts coming at me. I sat for a long time; then I heard crying.

Sobbing. I shut my eyes tightly, following the sadness. I opened my eyes, and I was standing in my dorm room. It was Bridge, and she was sitting on her bed, staring at what was once a lively, colorfully-decorated, girl's college dorm room. Now it was empty, my things gone, retrieved by my aunt, my parents unable to cope at the moment if ever. She looked around, tears streaming down her face, at the gray walls, the bleakness. I sat down on my bed, across from her. Bridge, don’t be afraid, honey. I’m ok. It will all be ok. I love you, Bridge. She looked straight at me as I said this. Straight at me. She could see me. I knew it.

“Bridge, don’t be afraid,” I said, getting up from my bed and sitting next to her on her mattress, devoid of the pink sheets and floral comforter that once graced it. Her eyes followed me.

“It’s you, Ruby. Is it?”

Her voice so soft, quivering, trying to summon some sort of strength. She hadn’t believed in ghosts. Until now, until me. I was a ghost. Fuck. That was a hard pill to swallow. Who could see me? The chosen few? Is that lucky, not lucky? Who knew?

“I can’t stay long, Bridge. I can’t be here much longer, that I know. It will all be okay, honey. You will get through this. Please. If not for yourself, for me. Live for me, love for me. This is the best time of your life.” I put my arm around her. She began to really sob.

“Ruby, it isn’t fair. Why is this happening?”

“I don’t have those answers for you, honey. You need to find them for yourself. I can only love you and tell you that I love you. Here.”

I handed her the picture of us together, taken the day we moved into the dorms, our innocent faces smiling in the sunlight.

“Oh, my God, I looked for this everywhere. I saw you the day the bulletin board crashed down. I thought I saw you, but then thought I just imagined it. But I did. Thank you Ruby.” I got up from the bed, holding her hand. I felt a strong pull, knowing right away I needed to be somewhere else, quickly.

“Bridge, I have to go now. Be strong. You can; I know it. I love you.” She sprung from the bed, suddenly, lunging her body at me as though I would certainly disappear at this very moment.   

“I love you, Ruby. I love you, Ruby.” I shut my eyes tightly, still hearing I love you, Ruby, I love you, Ruby loudly in my ears. I opened them, and I was in the cold graffiti-laden warehouse again. I wasn’t alone. Sitting in the corner where my body had once been lain was Derek. His face was twisted in anguish and sadness. His mind was void of any thoughts except for one blaring one. As I moved closer to him, I saw he held in one hand two orange tulips. In the other was a gun.

“NOOOOOOOOOOOO! " I realized I had screamed this. He looked up, not believing he was seeing me.

 “Derek, don’t do this baby. Talk to the police, Derek. I know you have been questioned, but you did nothing wrong. It’s all coming out now, Derek. I died from a brain hemorrhage. The cops said it could have happened anywhere, anytime. I was a ticking time bomb.”

He stared at me, blankly, not believing what he was seeing or hearing, deeming it impossible. He blinked. Once, twice, and then closed his eyes. I saw his body take a deep breath in and exhale slowly. He opened his eyes.

“Ruby, God, Ruby. I am so sorry. I can’t do this. I can’t. I can’t face anyone.”

My words came spilling out of my mouth, shocking me.

“Shut the fuck up, Derek. What kind of a man takes the easy way out? What kind of a man robs two beautiful, little girls of someone they are so in love with? You know what you would do to them?  I love my daddy. And no matter what he did or I did, I would love him. I saw his face at the morgue as he looked at my dead body. Don’t do that to your girls. They will understand a lot of things, but I guarantee they would not understand you taking your own life. No family ever understands that, ever. Don’t make them suffer that way. Please. Think about your own parents. Now stop your fucking, pansy ass whining. Go to the cops; tell them that you were with me. They know that anyway. Come clean. Face the music for your daughters’ sake. I can’t be with my daddy anymore. Don’t do that to your girls, please, honey. Promise me. You’re a beautiful, wonderful man. Okay, you made a bad decision. Big fucking deal.” Derek put the gun down, kicking it across the room.

“Ruby, I am sorry this happened. But I am not sorry I was with you, not for a moment.

You made me happy; you made me feel good inside.” He handed me a tulip.

“You can’t take it with you,” I said with a smile.

“I get it,” Derek said, laughing. “That is funny. I’m sorry Ru…"I cut him off.

“Ssshhhhh….enough. I know. Now go. Everything will be fine.”   

“But what about you? Where will you go? Are you afraid? How will I know if you're okay?” he asked, his face beginning to soften again.

“Come on, silly, you’ve seen enough ghost movies to know that when my work here is done, I move on. I will be fine, that I already know.” I kissed him softly.

“Goodbye Derek,” and with that I shut my eyes tightly. I was back in my house again, lying underneath my Grammy’s chenille blanket. She was calling for me. I could hear her louder

every moment. Grammy, just give me a little more time. I closed my eyes, this time not going anywhere.

I stayed around long enough to find out that Derek had indeed gone to the police. No charges were filed. Bridgette moved into a beautiful Victorian house with a group of friends. She had framed the photograph of us together, placing it on her bedside stand. She no longer spoke to Jane. Needless to say, the cops shut down PMS.  Jane was expelled from school. My funeral was to take place in the next couple of days. It was time for me to go. Time heals all, this I knew. My parents were seated at the dinner table. I sat with them, watching them move their food around their plates. I couldn’t read their thoughts anymore. I was giving myself over slowly, crossing over to another plane. I got up from the table, going over to my mother and kissing her softly, saying goodbye. I went over to my daddy. I stared at him for the longest time, and then I touched his face softly. He brushed his cheek with his hand. He had felt me.

I whispered in his ear. I love you, daddy. He turned his head, looking right at me. He stared at me, a tear rolling down his cheek. Did he see me; could he see me?

I love you, Daddy. Goodbye, Daddy. I love you pumpkin. It was the last thought I read.

Derek didn’t attend the funeral, but he stayed in town until it was over. I watched him pay his respects late at night after everyone was gone. He held a bundle of orange tulips. I couldn’t bear to go near. I didn’t want to see my grave. I waited for him by the jeep. I placed the orange tulip, the one he had given me, on the passenger seat. He got in and saw it there. He smiled and started the car. "In The City" was playing on the car radio. My turn to smile.

“Goodbye, my Ruby. Rest in peace.”

“Goodbye, Derek,” I said, and I shut my eyes tightly.

Copyright © 2015 Tess Rosa Ruiz, first published by Urbane Publications