DUNCAN WAS THE first to wake the following morning. A slice of sunlight pierced through the edge of window and stabbed him in the right eye. He tilted his head to avoid the bothersome beam, but it had already robbed him of reaching the conclusion of his dream. Duncan raised his head and looked over to scrutinize his still sleeping cohorts with one eye still closed. Ray had gravitated to a supine position atop the bed. Amanda was nearly undetectable under the bunching layers of off-white motel sheets and yellow and red floral cover.
Duncan moved to a sitting position on the side of the bed. He took a sniff of his underarm to determine if the odor he smelled was indeed emanating from his unwashed body. He concluded that the wanton smell was coming more from his surroundings than from the pits of his arms. Duncan lifted his phone from the bedside table and checked the time. He leaned over and managed to nudge Ray’s placid body. Ray awoke with little drama. Duncan got up from the bed and removed his shirt. He used two of his fingers to point to both of his eyes, and then pointed to the slumbering young lady. Ray gave a short nod of understanding and reclosed his eyes. Duncan gave him another nudge. Ray opened his eyes and nodded again. Duncan pointed to the mattress under which Ray had stashed the wallets.
Duncan moved toward the bathroom and began unbuttoning his pants as he walked. He closed the door behind him.
Ray heard the sound of the levered lock and then the sound of ceiling slats being moved about. He looked over to Amanda. Her head was still on her pillow, but her eyes were now open and facing Ray. Ray’s gaze met hers. Amanda reclosed her eyes. For the duration of Duncan’s shower, neither Ray nor Amanda did much moving.
When Duncan emerged, fully damp and carrying the black bag, Amanda finally showed signs of life. She threw the sheets off the top half of her body and let out a moan.
“What time is it?” she asked, visibly warm and moderately uncomfortable.
“Almost nine,” Ray answered.
“It stinks in here.”
Ray lifted his arm to smell himself much in the way Duncan had. “Any hot water?” he asked.
“Yeah,” Duncan said.
Ray managed to pull himself to his feet, but gave an elderly man grunt as he did. “Towels?” he asked.
He didn’t get a verbal response from Duncan but caught the tail end of what he interpreted as a nod. Ray disappeared into the bathroom.
Duncan grabbed his clothing bag from the floor and dropped it onto the bed. He pulled out a neatly folded shirt and laid it on the bed.
Amanda took notice of Duncan’s sculpted torso and upper body. Not remarkably large – standing only about six feet tall and weighing about one hundred ninety pounds – Duncan’s impressive physique was usually kept well hidden.
Most that grew up in New Mexico gravitated towards baseball as kids. Duncan, instead, spent his youth fascinated instead by something much different. While most his age were practicing pitching and fielding and batting, Duncan was adamantly studying martial arts. He participated in classes and private tutelage beginning at the age of five. A neighborhood instructor took notice of his enthusiasm and of his aptitude. Not always able to pay for lessons, Duncan would often visit the childless man’s home after hours for one-on-one training. The man never expected anything in return from Duncan.
The man’s wife, Melinda, was a frail lady, unable to leave the house most days, so Duncan’s visits were a welcome reprieve from what would otherwise have become a monotonous routine. Max, the half-Jewish, half-Asian instructor became a valued friend and mentor to Duncan. The relationship cultivated by the pair over the years was reward enough for both.
Melinda passed away the year Duncan left for college. Max began to deteriorate soon thereafter. The steadfast man that Duncan had come to know so well relied more than he had imagined on a ninety-pound caregiver. Max died of cancer quickly and painfully six years after his beloved wife, but only five months after diagnosis. Duncan was at his bedside the night he went. The two had no unfinished business and Duncan looked back on the time with his friend with nothing but love and fondness. Thanks to Max, Duncan could wield a baseball bat better than most in New Mexico, but not in the way that would get him noticed by any professional scouts.
When Ray emerged from the washroom, Amanda arose and took his place inside.
Ray and Duncan were both dressed when she came out, clothes changed and make-up applied. The swelling on her face had all but disappeared and for the first time the pair got a good look at the girl’s true appearance.
She was tall, slim, and fit but not overtly muscular like an athlete might be. She had the wholesome pretty face of an innocent, but the look in her blue eyes suggested something much different.
“What?” Amanda asked.
“Nothing,” Ray said. “You look different.”
“My face. The swelling’s gone down.”
“It has,” agreed Duncan from across the room.
All three organized their belongings and grabbed their bags. Duncan handed Ray his wallet from beneath the mattress and then slung the black bag onto his shoulder. Together they exited the room.
“I’ll go check out,” Ray said. “I’ll meet you at the car.”
Duncan handed Ray the room key and he and Amanda walked off in the opposite direction.
“Is that your car?” Amanda asked as she and Duncan approached the BMW.
“Something like that,” Duncan said.
“Wow. You guys don’t look like the type.”
“We’re not. It’s a long story.”
Duncan popped the truck and threw his bag inside. He made certain to hang on to the black one, though.
Ray began to approach from the far end of the parking lot a few minutes later.
“What’s his story?” Amanda asked. “Is that a long one, too?”
“Longer,” Duncan said.
“So what’s in the bag?”
“You got a lot of questions.”
“Ready?” Ray interrupted upon arrival.
Duncan paused. They both looked at Amanda.
“You gonna be okay, Amanda?” Ray asked the girl.
“There’s something I should tell you,” she said.
Though it was still early in the morning, the summer sun was hot on the back of Ray’s neck. He moved into the shadow cast by the building.
“My name’s not Amanda,” the girl said.
“Uh huh,” said Ray.
“Ruby,” she repeated.
“Okay. Well I’m still Ray. And that’s still Duncan.”
“I mean you can’t blame me, can you?”
“It’s okay,” Duncan assured.
“It’s just that you guys have been so nice to me…”
For the first time since cowering under Randy’s fist, Ruby looked vulnerable. She had one hand in her back pocket and her bag slunk lazily over her shoulder.
“Hey, don’t worry about it,” Ray said. “It was…an interesting night.”
Ruby smiled. Ray thought for a second he saw a tear in her eye, but she looked away too quickly for him to be certain.
“So what now, Ruby?” Duncan asked.
“Now I keep going,” Ruby said with renewed confidence.
“Going where?” Ray asked.
“I don’t know. But that’s the point.”
“Yeah, the point. Haven’t you ever just wanted to go?”
Duncan and Ray looked at each other.
“Actually–” Duncan said.
“You wanna come with us?” Ray asked.
“Ray,” Duncan interjected.
“No,” Ruby said after a pause. “Thanks though.”
“Ray,” Duncan said again.
Ruby looked over at Duncan and then back to Ray. “It’s okay, Ray, really,” she said. “I’ll be fine.”
Ruby walked up to Duncan and kissed him on the cheek. “Thank you for everything,” she said.
Duncan nodded and smiled.
Ruby approached Ray. “It was nice sharing a bed with you, Ray.”
She kissed Ray’s cheek, though she held it for a fraction of a second longer. Ray said nothing.
He didn’t want that to be the end. He couldn’t say why, or what it was he wanted from Ruby. He simply knew he didn’t want her to just leave.
“We should get out of here,” Duncan said, climbing into the car.
“Be good,” Ray said to Ruby as he relented and opened the passenger door.
“Always,” Ruby said.
Ruby took a few steps back to let the BMW pull backwards out of its spot. Through the tint of the car window, Ruby and Ray came face to face and caught each other’s eyes as the car reversed.
Duncan changed gears and began to pull away. At that moment, Ruby got a feeling in the pit of her stomach. It was one of exhilaration, but also of fright.
Ruby left home only two weeks prior and had already encountered one minor run-in with the law, and one major run-in with a fist. She truly didn’t know where she was headed, and for the first time that made her feel uneasy. Perhaps it was the daunting experience of the night prior, or maybe it was the fact that for the first time since she left home she had met people that she might have been able to trust, and those people were leaving her standing in the parking lot of a shoddy motel in Utah.
Ruby turned and began to make her way to the motel office. She needed to call a cab to take her to the bus station. She was on her own again.
Ruby made it about thirty paces when she couldn’t help but turn her head to see off her new friends. When she did, she was surprised to see that the car had stopped at the far end of the lot.
“You sure?” Duncan asked.
“I’m sure,” Ray said.
Ray opened the side door and got out. He leaned against the car and peered across to Ruby. “It’s only a two-door,” he yelled. “You’ll have to squeeze in.”
Ruby couldn’t help but smile as she looked up at the sky.
“Well?” Ray called out.
“Hurry up,” Duncan shouted, his head popping out of the driver-side window.
Ruby sauntered across the nearly empty lot until she stood face to face with Ray. His smile was big and sly.
“East?” she said.
“Boston.” Ray nodded.
Ruby smiled. She crouched her head down and slid past Ray into the back seat of the car.
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Genre – Contemporary Fiction/Literary Fiction
Rating – R
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