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Sonuachara Chapter 1

If there was one person in the entire school system Zoe would have picked as her diametric opposite, it would have been Trina MacCeallaich. Trina of the blond hair, the blue eyes, the brand new red Mustang convertible on her sixteenth birthday. Trina the cheerleader, dating one of the linebackers, on the honor roll. Trina of the designer clothes, the expensive jewelry, the 'Beautiful People'clique. 5'10", blonde hair, blue eyes, and stacked like a plate of hotcakes. She moved in a completely different world than the one Zoe did; she was in the honor classes that Zoe had missed too much school to be in, so they didn't even have classes in common. The last time Zoe was in a class with her was in sophomore PE, where she learned that Trina was also naturally athletic.

Which is why it was such a shock to see her coming around the corner of the band building. "Hi! Um, you are Zoe, right?"

Zoe blinked and exhaled lazily, the fragrant smoke drifting slowly above her head. "Mmm?" she asked cautiously.

"I know we don't really know each other," Trina said, "But...you know that community service thing they want us to do?"

Zoe raised an eyebrow. "Mmm-hmm."

Trina gave her a winning smile. "Well, we've both signed up to volunteer at the youth home, and I thought we could maybe ride together? I mean, if you want to?"

Zoe's eyes narrowed slightly. "Why?"

Trina shrugged, though it seemed a little forced. "No real reason. I just thought it would be more fun if we worked together."

One side of Zoe's mouth quirked slightly in a semi-smile. "You ever been there?"

Trina shook her head. "No. That's why I picked it."

"You should probably see if you can change," Zoe said. "Maybe you could 'help' some of the boys paint the benches in the park, or something."

Trina's eyes narrowed. "Why?"

Zoe shrugged one shoulder lazily and took a long drag on her cigarette. "More your style. You won't like the House. It's not nice, and it's not 'fun'. Period."

"Ah. I see." Trina's voice was light. "So I should find something else to do and not worry my little head about it?" Her eyes narrowed further. "I don't fucking think so. I never thought it was nice. I'm not some shallow airhead who's never seen something that upsets her, understand me? If you don't want to, fine, but don't blow me off just because you think I'm an idiot."

"What is it they say? If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck...."Zoe snorted. "Sugar, you might impress the idiots around here, but I've seen hundreds like you. Ten years from now, you'll be squirting out kids, having your tits lifted, and hanging on the arm of whatever frat boy actually knocked you up all while talking about how big you could have been but you gave it all up because you just loooove your family so much."

"Oh, give me a fucking break." Trina rolled her eyes in disgust. "Like you've got such high prospects ahead of you? You've'seen hundreds like me' in the...remind me again how much older than me you are? Oh, that's right, you aren't. I swear, for someone who makes such a fuss about people judging you without actually knowing you, you're one hell of a fucking hypocrite."

Zoe pursed her lips in annoyance. How did Trina know what was in the paper she'd written last week? Zoe didn't really care what other people thought, but an assigned paper on 'labels' had proven to be be the perfect springboard to rant about some of the crap that really pissed her off about school. The notes on the paper had said she'd have gotten an 'A', but the profanity made it an automatic 'F'.

"You really think age has anything to do with it? Is it even possible for someone to be that naive? I know my prospects, believe me. But at least I understand reality. The little vision you and your kind keep in your fluffy little minds about how life'll turn out?It's total bullshit. That crap doesn't happen. And for the record, I don't give a damn what you or anyone else thinks about me, and the only way...other than truly abject stupidity...that I can see that you'd get the mis-impression that I did was if you were reading things that were none of your fucking business. You make a habit of reading other people's papers?"

Trina put her hands on her hips, glaring. "As a matter of fact, I do make a habit of reading other people's papers. I help Mrs. Arenson with her grading. I don't need to cheat. And for the fucking record, I know a hell of a lot more than you do about life not turning out the way you expect. But fine. You want to be a bitch, that's no skin off my nose. I just thought— mistakenly, I can clearly see now—that it would be nice to have someone I at least vaguely knew when I went down there next week. Excuse me for interrupting your obviously vital afternoon activities."

Zoe set the book down on her chest and shook her head. "You won't last a whole day. You'll be running off crying within an hour."

"And you'll be driving up to school in a chauffeured limo. Not. I'll expect an apology when you realize you're wrong."

Zoe raised a sardonic eyebrow. "I take it back. I could be wrong. Maybe you're cold enough that it won't bother you, and you can satisfy your oh-so-vital graduation credit and your egotistical need for people to think you're ever so sweet and caring all at once. But the kids there...they'll see through you. Don't expect them to fall for the same act everyone else does. Keep that in mind, and don't expect slavering gratitude for your royal presence, and you might make it through after all."

Trina's eyes narrowed. "Get up."

Zoe tapped her cigarette out on the bottom of her boot, sliding the stub into a pocket of her backpack, and folded her arms behind her head. "Can't see any reason I should."

"We're going to go on a little ride," Trina said. "And when we're done, you're going to apologize to me."

Zoe shook her head. "I know it may come as rather a shock to you, but there really are people in this world who don't care what you want, and don't just automatically start kissing ass when you walk by."

"Get. Up." Trina said. "You need to learn that the assumptions you make about other people are about as true as the ones that people make about you. It isn't far, and it won't take long. I'll drop you off wherever you want when we're done."

Zoe looked at the watch on her left arm. "You need to learn that once you're out of this little playground of yours that people don't give a damn what you want, and they won't do what you say. But if you can get me across town by 4:45, I can give you part of the time in between to make whatever 'point' you think you have. No bus runs that'd get me there by then, or I'd be on it, so it's a worthwhile trade to me."

Trina nodded. "Deal. Come on."

Zoe hopped up, a bored look on her face, and swung her bag over her shoulder as she reached into her jacket for another cigarette.

"You need to finish that before we get in the car."

Zoe raised an eyebrow. "Worried about your health, or getting caught if it's smelled in the car?"

Trina raised a matching eyebrow. "Do you want to try to smoke in a convertible with the top down?"

"You'll muss your hair, you know."

Trina laughed. "It's a convertible. If it's not raining, what's the point of driving with the top up?"

"Hey, you wanna wallow in UV rays and have skin cancer by 35..." Zoe pinched the end of the cigarette, extinguishing it and tucking it behind her ear. "Your business."

"That's what sunblock is for. Come on."

Trina drove...well...like a maniac. She was always in control of the car, but she clearly considered speed limits more of a guideline than a rule, and she found holes in traffic that Zoe would have sworn weren't there an instant before. Luckily— or perhaps unluckily, Zoe couldn't make up her mind— she had a very good radar detector. It was less than ten minutes before she pulled into the parking lot at the hospital, parking in a 'Reserved' spot with a complete lack of concern.

She led Zoe into the hospital, up three floors, and down the hall, waving at the nurses at the station, Zoe following with her hands in her pockets. "Hi! How are the kids?"

"Hey, Trina," one of the nurses replied. "Most of them are doing pretty good. Dylan had his chemo today, though. He'd probably love to see his 'Rina."

Trina nodded. "This is Zoe." She headed down the hall. "Come on, Zoe."

She stopped at one of the doors, peeking in. "Hey, Dylan. How ya doin'?"

A child's voice answered. "Rina!" He sounded tired, even through the obvious excitement. "Not so good. I had my chemathrepy this morning. I feel awful."

"Awww. Well, I brought someone to meet you. You want to see her?"Trina asked.

"'Kay."

Trina motioned Zoe forward, saying quietly, "We can't actually go in unless we wear masks and scrub down, so stay out in the hall."

Zoe nodded and stepped forward, peeking in to see a young boy, maybe six or seven years old, in the hospital bed. His face was pale and his head bald, and his hands shook slightly as he smiled at her shyly.

"Hi," he said.

Zoe smiled softly. "Hey, kiddo," she said, voice uncharacteristically gentle. "Nice to meetcha."

"My name's Dylan. What's yours?" he asked.

"I'm Zoe." Her eyes roamed the room briefly. "These folks taking good care of you?"

He nodded. "Yeah. But I want to go home." He sighed.

"Can't blame you there," Zoe said. "Hospitals aren't fun. You gotta get better first, though."

"Yeah." He sighed again. "They're totally not fun. I wanna go home and see Daisy. She's my dog. She's a beagle." He smiled. "She likes to chase things."

Zoe smiled. "Yeah, they do that. Chew on stuff, too. I bet she misses you, too, though, so you've gotta be careful and do what the doctors say, so you'll get well to play with her."

"Yeah." He sighed. "I know."

"We've got to get going, Dylan, " Trina said. "I just wanted to stop by and see how my little fighter was doing. I'll come by this weekend like usual, okay?"

He nodded. "Okay. Bye!"

"Bye!" Trina waved, then lead Zoe back down the hall past the nurses station. "Dylan's not going home." She leaned against the wall, closing her eyes. "He's got leukemia, and this is the third time he's been here. He..." She swallowed. "He won't be leaving. We haven't told him, of course, but sometimes I think he knows. The chemo helps, but he just keeps getting weaker. He's not the only one. Probably half the kids in this wing will never leave."

Zoe frowned. "Any chance of a bone marrow transplant?"

Trina shook her head, opening her eyes and looking at Zoe. "The only match they've found is his dad, and he can't donate for other reasons. He would in a heartbeat if they'd let him, but..." She sighed. "They won't."

Zoe sighed in return. "At least he would if he could. That counts for something. You know, if you come here anyway, you could probably get them to credit you with this for your CS req."

Trina snorted. "It's not on the list. And if it's not on the list, it doesn't count." Her tone made it quite obvious that this was a discussion she'd had at length with the school.

Zoe shook her head, and her eye was caught by a plaque next to Trina. 'Dedicated in memory of Alecia Marie MacCeallich, 1995-2002'. She sighed again. "Don't get me wrong...I like kids, and things like that break my heart, same as anyone. But...he's loved. If nothing else, he has a dad who'd risk his life for him if he could. He's got happy memories. The kids at the House...you ask 'em if they'd trade places, even if they knew they were gonna die, and most of them wouldn't even hesitate. Hell, most of them want to die. The suicide rate among those kids is three times what it is for everyone else, because there are a lot worse things than dying."

"Maybe so," Trina said. "But as long as there's life, there's hope. Things can always get better. My dad grew up in a house with no running water and no indoor plumbing."

"Least it had a roof and walls," Zoe said. "I stayed for a month once in a 'house' which was just a convenient balcony overhead so you didn't get too wet when it rained. Even before my mom died, I don't think we ever stayed anyplace which didn't have more holes than roof. After she died, and they picked me up, for about a week I thought I'd died and gone to heaven, but it didn't take long to find out that being warm and eating regular wasn't worth what they wanted for it." She looked away abruptly, flushing, not having meant to say that much, and looked at her watch. "Anyway. You said you could get me cross-town in time, so we need to hurry. You know how to get to the House, or have you not got directions yet?"

Trina shook her head. "They haven't bothered with the paperwork yet. I think they think I'm going to change my mind."

"'K. Take Broadway out past the loop. I'll tell you where to turn."Zoe gave directions as Trina drove, getting there in plenty of time. "On time, cool." She hesitated. "See you tomorrow, then," she said awkwardly.

Trina raised an eyebrow. "You want to?"

"Unless you were planning on skipping school, it seems likely I'll see you there, doesn't it?" Zoe said.

Trina grinned. "Point." She waved, and pulled out of the driveway as Zoe headed for the House.