|By Tommy Wong|
Her instructions were simple:
"Write a Happy Birthday Blogfest story! Who said birthdays are fun? They can be creepy or dangerous or dramatic or even fatal."
I'm entering a scene from my recently completed novel, Ruby Dawn, a romantic suspense about a former foster kid who reconnects with her first love and together they must overcome the tragedy that tore then apart in order to bring down a ruthless drug ring.
Ruby survived her years at the juvenile detention center for one reason...Tom was there. When he reappears in her life after disappearing ten years ago, his presence triggers memories of their past together as teens. This is one of those flashbacks...
Dresden Heights Detention Center – Twelve Years Ago
I reached out into the darkness for the ladder at the rear of the storage room closet. I found it and climbed awkwardly in my too-big sneakers until the top of my head bumped against the roof hatch. I pushed up with a grunt. It lifted up and banged back on the gravel and I crawled out onto the roof. I could see his silhouette against the brick ledge. The flashlight beams below slashed across the dark field below us. I whispered out to him.
“They’ve got the guards out looking for you.”
Tom reached out his hand to me, and I grabbed it and sat down next to him. I let my eyes adjust to the darkness and looked up at the full moon staring down at us like a naked, bulging eye. I could just make out Tom.
“You ever notice how people never look up, not even in horror movies?” He murmured next to me his voice thick, sad.
I recognized the tortured tone and knew he’d been to see Dr. Wells, the school psychologist. Everyone at Dresden Heights had to meet with him once a month, but I noticed a big change in Tom after his sessions. Worry rippled through me. I didn’t like Tom’s dark moods. They scared me; he scared me when he got lost in them.
“What happened?” I asked.
Tom shrugged next to me in the dark. “He thinks I can talk away the beatings.”
My throat tightened. What little Tom told me of his father made my blood boil. An angry drunk, Tom’s cigarette burns, scars, and healed bones told of the unspeakable damage his father had done to him. I didn’t understand why Dr. Wells made Tom revisit the terrible memories. I felt for Tom’s hands and found them balled into fists at his sides. I wormed my fingers into his, and he let me.
“I’m sorry, Tom. I’m sorry your father hurt you so badly.”
He tensed next to me, and I fought the helplessness growing inside me. We sat silently for a while, and then he spoke -- his voice barely audible.
“How do you do it, Ruby? How do you stay so hopeful? You really think God cares about kids like us, in a place like this?”
I nodded in the dark. “Sheila used to tell me that sometimes you have to trust in God despite what things look like at the moment. I just think we’re in that moment, Tom. You have to have faith.”
He lifted his hand and ran his finger along the thin scar on my right temple. I put my fingers over his.
“I’m trying, Ruby.” He leaned forward to kiss my temple. “I just don’t understand how people can be so cruel. How can they just throw kids away like…trash?”
His voice cracked. I looked at Tom, desperate to make things better but not knowing how. The moonlight made him appear more pale, more lost.
“We’re not trash, Tom,” I whispered, heart aching. “Sheila used to call me her buried treasure. She’d say she was blessed to find me, and you know what…I believe she meant it.”
Tom looked at me through wet eyes, and I faltered.
“At least I do most days,” I murmured.
Tom nodded silently and used his t-shirt sleeve to wipe at his face. I wish that he had met her. I tugged on the small gold cross that hung at my throat. She gave it to me as a gift for my first birthday with her.
“I just wish this day was over,” he said sadly.
I remembered my surprise and pulled a small package out of my sweatshirt pocket. “Yeah, well its not midnight yet, Tom.”
I unwrapped the brownie, stuck in a candle I snaked from the teacher’s lounge, and lit it with one of the matches near the cooler. “Happy sixteenth birthday, Tom”
“You remembered,” he said with awe.
“Of course I remembered.”
Tom smiled and cupped my face with his hands. He put his forehead to mine and whispered softly. “You’re amazing.”
Then, unexpectedly, he tilted his head and brushed my lips with his. A gentle, tentative kiss that made my face explode with heat and my heart ram in my chest. He’d never done that before. Tom let go, picked up the brownie, and beamed at me.
“Should I make a wish?”
I nodded dumbly, trying to recover. I watched him blow out the candle, terrified because I could barely breathe when I was near him.
That's it for my entry. I hope you take some time to check out the other stories over at Southern City Mysteries.
Until next time...Go write!