The drive wasn’t so bad, since it was too early for real heavy traffic. The radio was soft in the background, some classic U2 song I only knew because everyone knew. Mostly I stared out the window, thinking to myself that I would never learn, that I could have just been raped and yet here I was in the car with another guy I didn’t know.
He’d told me his name was Jared. I liked the way it rolled over my tongue. When he asked for my name, and I’d told him Ruth, he’d laughed until he was out of breath. “Ruth is a Christian name,” he said, still grinning like an idiot. Granted, a beautiful idiot. “You’re too dangerous for that.”
I glanced at him from the corner of my eye. “Then what do you propose I should be called?” The smile may not have been on my face, but it was crystal clear in my voice.
Jared took a lengthy moment to consider. “Ruthless,” he said at last. “Heartless, pitiless, Ruthless.” After that we had fallen silent, which suited me just fine. I watched the street signs pass, tried to memorize turns. Escape routes. I was going to have to pick up on it all sometimes, if I intended on staying in LA for a while.
At last Jared killed the engine. The car was against the curb, in front of a white house with closed curtains and no sign of human life but the light on above the door. He made no move for the handle, so I sat by, waiting. Waiting for him to give me some indication as to what to do. “Where are you planning on staying?” he asked me at last.
I couldn’t help but let out a sigh. That was the question, wasn’t it? Where to stay, how to afford it…I wanted to avoid sexual stuff for as long as possible. But in the city of angels, the devil took over faster than you could say ‘amen’. “I don’t know,” I admitted, hating how pathetic I must have sounded. “I sort of overlooked those details.”
Jared’s oceanic eyes crashed like waves over me. Long pause. He was thinking, or maybe nervous. Though I doubted the latter was even in his vocabulary. “If you wanted to stay here…I mean, I have two roommates, but it’s a big place and they wont give you any trouble. If I’m scaring the fuck out of you I’m sorry-”
I cut him off. “That’d be really awesome,” I said sincerely. Not like how she might have said it, with a nonchalance that implied she could have taken care of herself. I was getting sick of taking care of myself already. Jared gave me the most genuine smile I’d ever seen in my life, and then practically bound around to open the door for me. I stepped out into the sweltering summer heat, regretting my choice of long jeans and a black tee.
The blonde boy led the way to the door, but stepped aside to let me in first. “Hey, guys!” He shouted into the open doorway. “Hope everyone’s decent, ’cause we got company!” From within the house there came a crashing noise followed by a series of curses. An unwarranted giggle arose from my throat. Jared only shook his head, but there was a gleam in his eyes I recognized all too well. It was the same look Brielle would get when everything was going just her way. “C’mon,” Jared said. “Let me introduce you to the others.”
I followed Jared through the small foyer, past a simple kitchen with white cabinets and beige linoleum floors. We came at last to the living room. There on the worn blue couch were perched two guys, leaning in towards the television as they shouted swears and threats. I wasn’t sure if they were talking to the box or each other. “Hey.” When Jared spoke, it was soft, but there was a finality in his voice. They glanced up before setting down their controllers. I knew then that Jared was their leader. He was the one to stay in good graces with.
“Guys, this is Ruthless,” he said without faltering. “She’s got nowhere to go, so she’s gunna stay with us for a bit.” The first of the others, a scrawny guy with black and green hair down to his chin, cocked his head; his eyes raked over my body. Jared pretended not to notice angling his body towards me. “That one’s Richard, and the other one’s Dread.” The one named Dread was looking everywhere except where I stood, running hands through his slicked back brown hair, flawless but for a few strands that had dared to fall into his eyes. I wanted to ask why they called him Dread, but wasn’t so sure I’d like the answer. I wanted to ask how three boys who couldn’t have been much older than my seventeen years could afford a house all of their own. Maybe things were just different in Los Angeles. Maybe I should just pretend to know what was going on.
Richard was the one to break the silence. I was sure I was going to like him; he was eagerly friendly and quick to smile, in spite of his dark appearance. “Hello, Ruthless. Welcome to The City Of Angels.” I smiled at him, a real smile that felt strange to me. The black haired boy looked back at Jared. “Where’s she going to sleep? I’m sure there’s room in my bed…”
Jared’s look alone could have cut diamonds. “Good,” he retorted. “She’ll sleep there, and you can move to the couch.” Richard’s jaw dropped and I could tell he was about to protest, but he was quick to cross his arms and just settle back against the couch.
“It’s a crime to house a runaway.” For the first time Dread spoke. His voice was low, barely audible. I felt a shiver of fear creep its way up my spine. Jared paused to consider his words. “So if she gets us in any sort of trouble, I swear to you-”
“She wont, okay?” Jared snapped. “She can lay low. Stay in the house. Someone’s always here anyway.” Richard nodded. Dread went back to staring out the window. I looked to the blonde for a sign of what to do next. Jared must have felt my gaze upon him. He turned to me and grinned. “My room is at the end of the hall, if you want to get some sleep.” I thanked him, and the others, and then hurried down the hall to the last door. I didn’t bother to look around the room, taking in little more than the white walls covered in posters and the queen sized bed parallel to the door. Kicking off my Converse, I tumbled into it, closed my eyes, begged for some peace.
I brought the pipe up to my lips, inhaled slowly to savor the taste. The weed tingled as it snaked its way down my throat, scouring my lungs. With closed eyes it was easy to pretend I was far away, anywhere but Wintersburg. When I opened them again, Brielle was reaching to take the piece from me; I let her have it.
There was nothing quite like the feeling of being totally, utterly stoned. Like the world was turning, violently spinning off its axis, but I was here and Brielle was here and we were going to be okay. I was motionless, out of breath. I was running, running but going nowhere. Once the bowl was cashed, Brielle set it down beside her on the grass. She crawled over to where I was, leaning her head against my shoulder and lacing her fingers with my own. The touch was all I needed.
“I love you, Ruth,” she told me softly, in that voice that let me know she was way too ripped to know what she was saying. “Did you know that?”
Despite myself, I nodded. “I love you too,” I muttered. All I wanted was to ride out my high, to enjoy how surreal everything seemed to be. I did not want her to get all deep and depressed on me or it would ruin my buzz.
Brielle’s fingertips had moved to my wrist, where she was tracing the few lines that crossed it. Chicken scratch, nothing more Every time I thought I could go deeper, I thought of her face, her mournful eyes and that wistful little way she turned down her lips. I couldn’t do it, not as long as she was here. I owed her more than that.
“I want to make them go away,” she said slowly. “I don’t want to see them anymore, Ruth.” I nodded again, because it seemed to keep her quiet, and anyway I was too high to think of anything to say. “Will you let me cover them up?” I knew what she meant. Her brother had just gotten interested in tattooing, and he had brought home all sorts of inks and needles. Brielle had already given herself a small bleeding heart on her left hip.
“Not right now,” I told her, a little too harsh. We fell silent after that, which was more than alright with me. I caught myself thinking about everything and nothing all at once. About how much I meant it when I told Brielle I loved her, and how she would never even realize it. About my parents, wherever they were. About the weed and how it just wasn’t enough anymore. About the cuts on my wrist and how much I wished they were deep enough for all that I was to come spilling out. I would be little more than a bloody mess then, a stain upon my best friend’s bed that would fade away after a few too many washings.
“If you could be anything, what would you want to be?” she said suddenly. It was a definite stoner question, the sort of thing one only contemplated when they were floating up above the world. I knit my brows as I considered it.
At last I told her, “A butterfly. A beautiful black butterfly that could leave whenever she wanted.”
Brielle smiled like she understood, although I knew she didn’t. How could she, if she didn’t even realize that it was her name written on my heart, her lips I wished would kiss me goodnight. There was no longer any way to deny just how badly I wanted her. How I wanted her to love me back. “That’s what I’m going to hide them with, then,” she concluded, and moments later she was stumbling into sleep. I allowed myself to rest my head atop her own. Her hair smelled like peaches and felt like silk.
I whispered that I loved her, knowing that she would never hear and never understand.