“Ruby!” I hear my father calling out to me, and I try to contain my giggles, keep them hiding behind the thick bush that is my hiding spot. My giggles poke through the leaves but not enough for him to hear.
Or so I thought.
“Aww, you found me!” I protest, puckering my lower lip into a pout when my father sweeps away some of the branches. “I was really trying to be quiet.”
“You did very well,” my father assures me and scoops me into his arms.
“I’m nine years old now. I’m getting better at hiding,” I tell him proudly while winding my arms around his neck.
“That you are.” He beams and swings me around before setting me on the ground.
“So how did you find me?” I follow him back to the barn, eager to see the new goat kid that was born yesterday. Playing hide-and-seek was the only thing that could keep me distracted until Daddy was ready to let me in.
Daddy rubs my head, playing with some of my hair. “This right here.” He tugs on a cluster. “Could see your red hair through the brush. If you ever need to really hide, you’ll have to make sure you cover it up.”
“Or I could just cut it like Mal’s.”
Sighing, my father squats down next to me, his big palm cupping the side of my face, strong blue eyes insistent as an oncoming wave. “Never cut your hair, Ruby. Don’t ever change anything. Don’t let this world dictate how you look or even how you survive. Just survive. On your terms.”
And it has been on my terms all these years. Until now.
The worst of it isn’t the jump from the train.
The worst is the landing.
It’s the second time I’ve been tossed from a moving vehicle in less than twenty-four hours. Except this time, it was voluntary. As soon as I heard the gunshots and saw Ruby fall off the back of the train through the window, it didn’t take me long to follow.
Only now I’m regretting it because I won’t be any help to Ruby if I’m dead.