The Trade, Chapter 3

Click here for Chapter 1.

December, four years earlier

“Can’t you at least stay through Christmas Day?” Ruth brushed past her father without answering him, puzzled by why he was holding the door for her when he didn’t want her to leave. A cold blast of December air temporarily slowed down her mad rush to freedom as she carried the last of her bags to the car, parked in the street with the engine running.

Finally, with everything she owned and would fit into the compact SUV her father had given her on her 16th birthday, she looked across the car at him standing in the open front door. For just a second she felt a tiny but strangely powerful tug towards him, but she quickly dismissed it, looked away from his sad gaze, and mustered a cold and awkward “Goodbye.” The sooner I get away from him and the less said the better, she convinced herself as she got in the car and drove away.

Hours later she was still driving, unsure of exactly where she’d be sleeping that night but feeling finally free of her father’s authority and his stifling rules and his ridiculous religion. Who was he anyway to tell her how she should live? Now that she was 18 she could control her own life, and she was out to do it.

Besides, he’s only getting what he deserves after failing so miserably to make her mother happy. Maybe if he’d been a better husband her mom wouldn’t have had that affair and left. And she wouldn’t have been on that plane that crash-landed in Rio. He screwed up everything. Now her life was her own to screw up, but she was sure that it was going to be all kinds of awesome instead, now that she had her freedom.

The exhilaration of independence eventually gave way to its heaviness as Ruth surveyed the days and weeks ahead without a home to go to or a means of income. “I can do this,” she mumbled to herself as she began to see the familiar state capital skyline appearing just above the horizon. Big cities have big businesses, she thought, and lots of restaurants needing servers. Probably one or two homeless shelters too.

Ruth’s stubborn determination to make it on her own was like rocket fuel and every need a spark. She wasn’t in the capital city three days before she found a job as a server at a popular eatery and a small yet decent apartment. And when a few extra hundred dollars came her way thanks to a busy playoff weekend and a table of generous, and drunk, customers, she enrolled in a bookkeeping class at the local community college. She liked working with numbers and not so much, she had quickly discovered, with restaurant patrons. The ones who actually treated her like an equal instead of a slave made serving just bearable, but she was anxious to get out of the service industry altogether and figured with some bookkeeping skills she could get a less slavish job in an office somewhere.

So when one of her regulars who worked in the state workers’ compensation bureau told her about a data entry position about to open up there, she applied for it right away and got the job on his recommendation. And maybe a little on her pretty face too. Her new life as an independent young woman had gotten off to a pretty great start and she was feeling good about her decision to leave home.

I don’t need him. I don’t need anybody, Ruth thought to herself with a great deal of satisfaction as she left the bureau office after her first day on the job. What I do need is some new clothes. And a couple of nice handbags. And let’s not forget some shoes to go with them.