A young woman from Tennessee named Ruby arrives in the small town of Panama City, Fl, hoping to find a job and life experience. Panama City is a resort town and the season is basically over when Ruby arrives, but she gets lucky in her job hunt. Because Ruby has some retail experience and talks of how she'd like to have her own store some day, a kind souvenir shop owner named Mildred takes her on. Ruby finds a little cottage, buys a journal and begins writing down her thoughts, which provide the film's narration.
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Ricky, Mildred's son, supervises the store when Mildred is away. He's a playboy and makes passes at Ruby. Ruby is attracted to him and lets him take her to bed. When she sees how Ricky treats this intimacy as just another notch in his belt, she exacts a kind of revenge by making their last sexual encounter so good that Ricky wants more. She rebuffs him and meets Mike, an intellectual plant store clerk who seems the opposite of Ricky. They start dating, but then Ruby loses her job when Ricky gets her fired for not sleeping with him anymore. Ruby and Mike take up together and it's great for a while, but up close, Ruby sees Mike for being mostly a talker, frustrated at not achieving what he wants, and also a male chauvinist in his own way, wanting Ruby to think just like him and stay at home awaiting his return from work.
When Ruby tells Mike what she thinks of him, they break up and she has to find her own way. But no other stores take her and Ruby finally considers applying at a strip joint. Up to this point, Ruby has seemed a bit passive, drifting and letting things happen to her, but when she makes up her mind not to apply at the strip joint, it's as if she's starting to wake up and take control of her life. She gets a job in a laundry, makes enough money to get back on her feet and also finds some good friends there who help her get a bigger perspective of the world.
Older, wiser and more confident of her ability to survive, Ruby revisits Mildred's store and is rehired. when she sees Ricky again, he is subdued and offers her what appears to be a sincere apology. Focusing on what she really wants at the conclusion of the movie, Ruby seems to have grown and found direction.