tagNovels and NovellasThe Outsider Ch. 24

The Outsider Ch. 24


Chapter 24 -- Spring Break

At the end of the week before Spring Break was about to start, Ruthie received an envelope from her father in Nebraska. She dreaded to think of what it contained. Sure enough, it was an airplane ticket. She sighed from frustration, because the last place she wanted to spend her week of free time during Spring Break was Lincoln. Well, second to last. Culiacan was at the absolute bottom of the list of places she'd want to go.

Ruthie had been hoping to travel a bit with Mike, perhaps going as far as Oregon. She at least had wanted Mike to take her to San Francisco so she could see if there was anything she wanted in the shops of the Castro District. The couple could have gone across the Golden Gate Bridge and she would have added to the collection of pictures she had of herself posing in the nude along the coast of Marin County. At the very least she would have wanted a couple days at San Gregorio beach and perhaps a day of hiking along one of the more isolated trails in the mountains to the east. All of those possibilities were canceled, because of that damn airplane ticket she was holding in her hand. Oh well, as they always said, money talks and bullshit walks.

It turned out the ticket to Nebraska got her out of having to go to Culiacan. The day after she got her ticket, Ruthie got a call from her mother admitting that she had been right about her suspicions about her cousin Alex. He had indeed joined the main gang operating in the neighborhood where his family was living. For several weeks he was a hellish arrogant little shit to deal with, but suddenly he calmed down and was very afraid to go out of his father's house. It was obvious he had pissed off someone, because for several nights in a row a dark SUV passed by the house and its occupants fired shots into the windows.

By mid-March Doña Lisette had partially reconciled with her brother and was on speaking terms with him. Upon hearing about the problems at his place, she came up with the only solution that made any sense: take Alex to Culiacan. There he could stay at his grandparents' house and have a chance to cool off. Of course, knowing his character, it was just as likely that Alex would get in trouble in Mexico, but at least Ruthie's uncle no longer would have to worry about his house being shot up.

So, on the weekend Spring Break started, Ruthie's uncle, mother, and cousin left Salinas by car and headed south. Doña Lisette would have forced her daughter to go along as well, but Ruthie already had the airplane ticket to Lincoln. Ruthie's mother was angry that she couldn't help out with Alex, but she understood that the only way her daughter could continue with her studies was to make Jake happy enough to pay another semester of tuition. So, Ruthie Burns was destined to travel to Nebraska and not Sinaloa.

The lesser of two evils, but not by much, thought Ruthie to herself.


On that same day her relatives left for Mexico, Mike took Ruthie to the San Jose airport to catch her flight to Lincoln. She could not have known it, but her boyfriend was relieved that she would not be around to distract him from his job and his temporary assignment collecting money from meters. Collections would continue unabated during the week of vacation, because there were several conferences on campus and orientation for high school seniors planning to enter the university in the summer or the fall. The dorms and classrooms would be empty, but the visitor parking lots and their meters would be as full as ever.

Every day Mike helped himself to a bucket of quarters from the jammed meters. He had his late-afternoon routine established: first the stop at the hidden handicap spot where he moved the quarters into his backpack, and then the stop behind his car where he transferred the backpack full of coins into the trunk and put an empty replacement backpack in the truck. Mike had bought a second backpack identical to his first one, because he realized if he had a backpack at the beginning of each shift and did not have it at the end, it could look suspicious.

By the end of the third week Sam was on vacation Mike had taken in enough money to pay down his credit cards and pay several pending expenses such as a dentist appointment and servicing his car. He knew better than to deposit his illicit income in his bank, because deposits of coins could easily be traced if he were caught. The initial bucket of money was something he couldn't help, because he urgently had to pay off his overdraft charge. However, afterwards he was careful to avoid doing anything that might create a paper trail or draw attention at his bank. He never tried depositing a backpack full of quarters a second time. He simply wrapped the coins and used them to make cash purchases, leaving his legitimate paycheck in his bank account to pay bills.

Mike was both nervous and content as he ran around being able to make any small purchase he wanted and watching his credit card balances as they started to shrink. Yes, this was the life, the way things ought to be. Why should he have to worry about monetary problems while those frat fags and football thugs and sorority bitches with the fake tits got to do whatever they wanted? Because having Mike suffer in poverty was God's plan? Well if it was, then to Hell with God and the "Divine Plan". I'll make my own "Divine Plan". Let someone else be poor and virtuous. I want to be like those rich assholes I'm always ticketing.

Mike's inner being continued its transformation as the weeks passed. His thoughts were on grabbing as much money as he could and doing what he felt was needed to avoid being caught. He had not thought about any of the political or social justice issues that previously had obsessed him since he grabbed that first bucket of coins. Now that he had money, he wanted to relax and enjoy his life. He continued with his studies of course, and would do what was necessary pass his classes for the semester. However, inwardly he realized that he would never be a pharmacist, so the only point in continuing that portion of his studies was to meet his science requirements. As for political science, for the first time, he viewed what he was studying with detachment. Not exactly apathy, but he no longer felt so connected to the world of political decision-making.

He wondered about Sam, who must have been doing what he was doing for decades. It was obvious Sam was very comfortable; having figured out how to take just enough for his needs, but not too much to raise suspicions in the department. That's what I need to do, thought Mike to himself. Get a gig like what Sam has, strike a balance, and just relax.

Money for nothing...that's the way you do it...


Ruthie's trip to see her father started badly. Her airplane was buffeted by wind for the entire journey between her stopover in Salt Lake City and Lincoln. As it crossed the Rocky Mountains, the plane shuddered upwards, then dropped...shuddered upwards, and dropped...shuddered upwards, and dropped...

Ruthie was terrified as the rough air jerked the plane around. It was weird, because if someone had told her before getting on a flight that the plane was going to crash, she really wouldn't have cared. However, now that she was actually in the air, her instincts of fear and self-preservation took over as a result of the constant shaking and falling. By the time her plane finally touched the runway in Lincoln, her nerves were completely rattled.

It was not the best time for Ruthie to go for a ride on her father's motorcycle, but that's what he had driven to the airport. Ruthie clutched her father in raw terror when he got onto the highway and blasted 75 miles per hour in between all the trucks and SUV's. It just went to show how oblivious Jake Burns was to other people's feelings, to show up at the airport riding his fucking motorcycle and run her down the freeway at 75 miles per hour after that traumatic flight she had to endure. Ruthie was so scared that she pissed in her jeans...and yes...Jake Jr. and Jake's girlfriend were at the house waiting for her...and she showed up with her pants all wet.

So...that was the beginning of Ruthie's second trip to her old home in Nebraska. She spent the first night watching Jake Jr. while her father and his girlfriend went out drinking. She didn't mind her half-brother that much, but after he went to sleep she sat in the living room thinking "what the fuck am I doing here?" She went outside. She badly wanted to walk off her anxiety, but her sense of commitment held her back. She couldn't leave Jake Jr. alone very long. What if the kid woke up and got scared, or her father came back to find her not in the house? Better not to go wandering off...

The next day Ruthie learned why her father had wanted her to visit Lincoln. He took her to a couple of community colleges and told her that she needed to inquire about transferring her credits. He explained that he agreed with her being in college, but there was no sense in studying in California because "the lefties have that state so messed up. No point in me paying for their screw-ups."

Ruthie was dismayed that her father was telling her that she needed to transfer to one of the community colleges in Nebraska with no input from her whatsoever. She was infuriated, but said nothing because she did not want to have a fight with him and then have to spend the rest of the stay at his house in bitter silence. She vacillated between wanting to tell him off at the airport when she went back home and thinking that maybe she should at least look into the possibility of studying in Nebraska. From a financial point of view it did make sense...

However, from the perspective of Ruthie's personality and overall outlook on life, moving to Nebraska made no sense at all. Among other things, there were no nude beaches nearby and there was no chance whatsoever she could wear her favorite dress or run around with no underwear without being arrested. She looked at the conservative swimsuits of women swimming in the pool of one of the community colleges and rolled her eyes.

Then there was politics. Her father's talk radio programs and his constant belittling of California and the "Left Coast" very much got on Ruthie's nerves. During that second trip, Ruthie realized how much from the "Left Coast" she really was. Maybe she didn't fit into Davenport, but there was no way she ever could hope to fit into Nebraska. As far a she was concerned, everything about the state was wrong: from the weather to the morality to the politics to the people...all wrong. She wouldn't be able handle it.

So she was screwed. Her father was not going to pay for another semester in Davenport and she would not be able to tolerate a move to Nebraska.

After several days of total frustration with her father, she disappeared from the house and spent an hour walking to the cemetery where her grandmother was buried. She sat on the ground staring at her grave. Ruthie reflected: it's not Davenport I'd miss, because I hate Davenport. It's Mike. The only reason my life doesn't totally suck is because of Mike.

She realized that, as much as she didn't want to admit it, the worst part about moving to Nebraska would be that it would force her to end her relationship with her boyfriend. That would totally suck, because Mike was the only friend that she had. Her life had been so lonely over the past six years, and now because of that one special person it was tolerable. To come to Nebraska would mean giving up the support she had received from him. How could she do that?

And yet...realizing how much she needed Mike did not make her feel any better. It sucks to know that one's life and happiness is completely dependent on another person.

This sucks...my life sucks...it all sucks. Suddenly depression hit her. She knew it was going to be a bad episode as she felt the cold numbness flow into her body. She felt weighted down and helpless. She had no desire whatsoever to continue with her life. She wished that fucking plane had hit a wind-shear and crashed in the Rockies. She spent an hour staring listlessly at her grandmother's grave, before working up the energy she needed to walk back home.


Ruthie returned to California more stressed than ever. She had not given her father a firm answer on studying in Nebraska because in the back of her mind she was hoping that some miracle would put off that decision and that she could stay in California over the next year. And yet, she did not want to risk cutting off the only financial support she could count on. The only thing she could think to do was to delay as much as possible, which was not much of an option because the end of the spring semester was less than two months away.

Mike was waiting for her at the airport. He was worried, because he had received a call from Ruthie's mother. He related to her that Doña Lisette was crying over the phone and he could barely understand what she was trying to say, apart from asking Ruthie to call her immediately upon getting off the plane.

There was more bad news coming Ruthie's way the moment she dialed her mother. While Doña Lisette was in Mexico, her apartment had been burglarized. Ruthie would later find out from the police report that the residence was raided several times, because the criminals realized that no one was home and they could help themselves to Doña Lisette's belongings at their leisure. They took all of her appliances, most of her furniture, and even some of her clothes. It was a devastating loss to someone who already was broke.

Without saying anything more, Mike drove south towards Salinas so that he and Ruthie could see what they could do to help her mother. There wasn't much to be done. The apartment had been totally cleaned out. Ruthie's mother was sitting on an old sofa, the only piece of furniture in the living room the criminals had not bothered to take. Her aunt was sitting next to her, trying to comfort her.

Finally Ruthie's aunt took her mother out of the apartment and over to her brother's place. It was up to Ruthie and her boyfriend to clean up. A few pictures and books were scattered about, but not many. Most of Doña Lisette's personal items had been taken. The kitchen was cleaned out, totally. They only found a couple of broken coffee cups and a few dirty spoons and a fork. The criminals even took the two beds. There was some clothing dumped on the floor, enough to fill a large suitcase. However, they would have to buy one, because the suitcases had been stolen as well. Mike volunteered to get a couple of replacement suitcases and some cleaning supplies. He handed over several rolls of his quarters at the store and came back. They had Doña Lisette's remaining possessions packed within a few minutes. The only thing left was the forlorn task of clearing out the debris.

When Mike and Ruthie finished cleaning the apartment, they wondered what to do about the left-over sofa. It had been left behind by the burglars because it was in such shoddy condition it was not worth taking. Ruthie decided to leave it by the dumpster. As they struggled moving the piece of furniture they saw several tough-looking teenagers smirking at them. They realized it was very likely those were the guys who broke into the apartment. However, there was nothing they could do, because the police were not seriously pursuing burglaries due to budget cuts and they certainly were not going to question the teenagers on just a hunch from the victim's daughter and her boyfriend. Ruthie noticed the colors and tattoos of the teenagers were different from those of Alex's gang. She wondered if Alex's gang problems may have had anything to do with the burglary, if her mother had specifically been targeted because she was his relative.

As they left the apartment complex, Ruthie had an observation:

"You know...my mom's been in this country for 20 years. 20 years, Mike. And now...everything she was ever able to buy...over all that time...got ripped off. Every fucking thing she bought. And it's all 'cause of that asshole Alex and his fucking gang-banger shit!"

Mike didn't respond, but he reflected that had Doña Lisette not been forced to move in the first place, she would not have been robbed. It was inevitable in that squalid complex that sooner or later Ruthie's mother would have been burglarized while she was at work. Mike blamed Doña Lisette's employer more than he blamed Alex.

When they showed up at the house of Ruthie's uncle there was more unpleasantness. Ruthie's aunt came out and took the suitcases with Doña Lisette's remaining clothing. She told Ruthie that she was not welcome in the house and went back inside. Ruthie understood that her mother and her uncle had made up, but the reconciliation did not extend to her. After all, it was Ruthie who knew about Rosa's plans to run away and failed to say anything.

On their way back to Davenport, Ruthie realized there was a huge irony in her mother's situation. Doña Lisette was staying at her brother's place, with two suitcases of old clothing and nowhere else to live. Her situation was exactly the same as it had been 15 years earlier when she fled Nebraska and re-settled in California. All of her efforts over those 15 years to work and build up a decent life for herself and her daughter had resulted in nothing.


The following day was Sunday. Ruthie's mother called her and asked her to meet her at church. Ruthie knew that during her worst moment of crisis she should have played along with her mother's religious beliefs, but she no longer could bring herself to do so. In a calm voice that was rare for her, she responded:

"Mom, I can't go to church anymore. It's not that I don't want to, it's that I can't. After everything that has happened to us, there's no way I'll ever love God. I'm not gonna worship something I hate."

Ruthie's mother countered that, especially at that moment when God was testing her, Ruthie must not give up her faith. She cited the book of Job and Christ's tribulations on the cross, saying what they went through was much worse than the loss of a job and some possessions. Ruthie thought about telling her mother the truth; that she had not believed in God since she was 15, but fortunately her thinking was fast enough to prevent her from making that mistake. In the typical Christian tradition of blaming everyone and everything except God and one's own faith, Doña Lisette would have latched onto Ruthie's atheism as the reason why God was punishing the family. It would be much better for Ruthie to let her mother believe that it was the recent problems that made her lose her faith. Maybe that would get Doña Lisette to thinking and bring her to her senses. Of course, Ruthie should have known that could never happen because her mother was not a reflective person and did not have the education or experiences to change one set of beliefs for another. Her faith was all she had, and the most recent problems would only make her cling to her religion more fervently than ever.

Ruthie repeated: "I'm not going to church anymore. No church. Not your church, not Mike's church, not Cristina's church. I'm done with God. And as for Jesus, he didn't save anyone. He couldn't even save himself. I'm sorry, Mom, but that's the way it's gonna be."

"You can't turn your back on God!"

"God turned his back on us a long time ago. If God exists and has anything to say to me, he knows where to find me."

The conversation continued along those lines for several minutes, but finally Doña Lisette hung up, convinced that she had "lost" her daughter. Tears were running down Ruthie's cheeks, but her patience with her mother's faith finally had run out. She couldn't keep up the act any more.

When Ruthie told the story to Mike, he had nothing to say or add. Inwardly he felt that Ruthie had made a mistake by choosing that moment to tell her mother that she no longer believed in God, but it was done and could not be reversed. Mike knew that Ruthie's mother would view the "loss" of her daughter as just one more of the Lord's tests and that Ruthie's actions would not lessen her faith in the least. The only thing Ruthie had accomplished was irreparable damage to her relationship with Doña Lisette. He wondered, with the feud between his Ruthie and her uncle over Rosa and the break with her mother over religion, if his girlfriend had permanently cut herself off from her family. He saw nothing good coming out of what had just happened, nor did he have his normal reaction of hoping that Ruthie would be more completely dependent on him. He saw the conversation for what it was; an unfortunate event that would further isolate and demoralize his girlfriend.

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