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Sonuachara Chapter 6

"So, are you ever going to eat lunch with us?" Trina asked.

Zoe looked out the window at the pouring rain and sighed. "Well, okay." Trina had invited her every day for the last week, but Zoe had refused. She really doubted she'd enjoy Trina's friends.

She was somewhat surprised; while there were some fairly quiet snide remarks, most of the girls were actually friendly. The talk was mostly gossip and boys, but there was other stuff as well; Trina's friends weren't all air-heads.

The part that really surprised her, though, was her utter and instant dislike of Trina's best friend. She couldn't figure out why she disliked her so much; the girl was perfectly friendly, but something just rubbed the wrong way.

To Zoe's disgust, there was a distinct difference in the way she was treated that afternoon; people were friendlier, and the teachers cut her more slack. It confirmed her opinion of humanity as shallow, brainless herd animals.

Before they left the school, Trina wrapped her arm, and, as expected, she was put to work in the office. As they got in the car to go home, she pulled a piece of paper from her pocket and wordlessly handed it to Zoe.

"Good," Zoe said, flipping it out and looking over the addresses. "Just what we need."

Trina nodded. "Where am I dropping you tonight?"

"Home," Zoe said. "What were the comments like from sets one and three?"

"The third set just said they didn't think it was a good idea because they have a two story house. The first..." Trina shook her head. "At least they didn't say it in front of her."

Zoe's jaw clenched. "Okay. Two and one, then. Let me sleep on it... I'll figure something out."

"Okay. If you come up with something particularly good that you can't do without help, let me know," Trina said.

Zoe nodded. "I told you you could help. I've just gotta do a bit of research, see what's best and what we can get away with."

"Right." Trina pulled up in front of Zoe's house. "See you tomorrow."

Zoe hopped over the door without opening it. "Yeah." She smiled a touch awkwardly. "And thanks."

"You're welcome.


The next day, Trina's arm was 'better', and they put her back in the infants room, having apparently decided that if she could handle it, they needed the help. She spent a particular amount of time with a baby with a broken arm, and Zoe noticed that every time Trina worked with him, he seemed to be in less pain.

She also noticed Trina slipping off into the bathroom regularly, every few minutes. She seemed fine, but... there was no way she was needing the bathroom that often unless she was sick.

Either because she was coming down with something, or because she couldn't handle what she was seeing.

So the next time Trina slipped away, Zoe followed her, 'accidentally'walking in on Trina as she rubbed some sort of cream onto her hands. Trina straightened, hurriedly shoving a brown glass jar into her purse.

Zoe frowned. "Let me see what you've done to yourself," she said firmly.

"Huh?" Trina asked.

Zoe looked at her impatiently. "What are you hiding? Burns, cuts, what?"

"Huh? What are you talking about?" Trina asked, looking confused.

Zoe's eyes darkened with anger. "You want me to trust you? Then you trust me. It's either medicine or makeup, and either way it means you're hiding something."

Trina's eyes lightened. "Oh! It's... okay. It's medicine, but it's not for me. It's for the babies." She bit her lip. "It's an old family recipe. That's why I'm hiding it. You know how they'd react if I told them I wanted to use something I made myself."

Zoe frowned. "What's in it? Some of these kids have pretty severe allergies."

Trina hesitated. "Please don't ask. It's a family secret. I did check to make sure none of them are allergic to any of the ingredients."

"I'm not a cook or an apothecary," Zoe said. "And I'm not going to write anything down, and I don't care about proportions or preparation, but I need to be sure it's safe."

Trina looked torn. "Zoe... I can't. I really can't. It's a family secret."

"Look. They don't always know what all their allergies are. So if one of them has a reaction, I need to know what they might be reacting to," Zoe said. "Have you ever seen what they do for broad-spectrum allergy testing?"

Trina bit her lip. "I really can't tell you. It's not my secret to give. But..."

"Needles," Zoe said. "Dozens of them. Injecting little bits of this and that under the skin. Or scratches, rubbed with the possible irritant."

"I really can't," Trina said. "But, um..."

"But?"

Trina looked at her seriously. "My mother could."

"Fine," Zoe said. "Then call her and get permission for you to do so. I don't care if you use it, if it helps them. But I can't let you do something that might hurt them, either."

Trina shook her head. "You'll have to come home with me and meet her tonight."

Zoe frowned. "I can't. I have something I have to do tonight."

"What?"

Zoe hesitated, just for a second. "Got some pictures to take."

"Of... them?" Trina asked.

Zoe smiled nastily. "Mmm-hmm. Turns out number two spends their Friday evenings at a no-tell motel on the edge of town. Happens there's a maid there who owes me a favor. So they're gonna get booked in the room with the broken light switch that won't turn off, and the hidden peephole. If I'm lucky, they'll be there with their favorite playmate... a fifteen year old male prostitute."

Trina looked thoughtful. "Okay. Yeah, you don't want to miss that. How about afterwards?"

Zoe shook her head. "I don't even know how long I'll be."

Trina shrugged. "I've got a cell phone."

"It'll probably be late," Zoe said.

"That's okay." She smiled. "I promise Mom doesn't bite."

"Maybe tomorrow," Zoe said. "I just don't think I could make it at a reasonable hour."

"C'mon," Trina said. "Just gimme a call when you're done, and I'll come pick you up and drop you off at home when we're done. You'd probably get home faster."

Zoe pursed her lips irritably. "I wasn't actually planning on going home. And I doubt your parents would want you in that neighborhood at all, much less late at night. That's why I didn't ask you for a ride in the first place."

"Look, if you don't want to, that's fine," Trina said. "Just say so. But don't make excuses, dammit."

"Look. I'm serious," Zoe said. "This is not a neighborhood that you'd be safe in. Or your car. You, driving up in that... no fucking way."

"You could meet me somewhere," Trina said.

Zoe hesitated for several seconds, then said, "Okay. About half a mile away, there's a club, a few restaurants that are open late. Still not the greatest area, but public enough that it ought to be okay... and there's a coffee shop where a few cops like to hang out." She gave Trina directions. "I'll meet you there. Don't go anywhere else in that area, though, and don't get out of the car. I'll be watching for you, and if I don't show up... just leave, okay?"

Trina nodded. "Okay."

"Okay. Hey, I want you to meet someone." Zoe said, turning and walking down the hall to the front desk. "Anne? Is Bren back from her PT?"

The woman nodded. "She just got back."

Zoe smiled. "Thanks. I'll just pop in before I leave, then." She headed down the hall to one of the dormitories, Trina following.

The room was dark and empty looking, six beds and six little dressers the only furniture. A tiny figure was curled up on one of the beds, short red hair just peeking out from under the blankets. A pair of hand-crutches were leaning against the bed.

Zoe headed straight for it, sitting on the bed and reaching for the blanket. "Hey, sweetheart... you hiding from something?"

The little girl sat up on her elbows, face lighting up. She was pretty, with short red curls and bright green eyes, but one side of her face was swirled with scars, ruining the perfect skin.

"You came!" she said. "I couldn't find you when we got back. I thought you'd left, or you hadn't come today." She wrapped her arms around Zoe, clinging tightly.

Trina knelt down beside the bed. "Hi there. You must be Brenna."

Zoe held the girl tightly, her manner more gentle than usual as she softly stroked Brenna's short curls. The girl peeked at Trina under Zoe's arm, green eyes looking suspicious. "I don't know you."

"I'm Zoe's friend Trina."

Brenna's eyes grew more suspicious, and she craned her head up, looking at Zoe. "She's not one of us. She's too clean, and too pretty, and she's not doing anything to hide it. That's just asking to get turned into somebody's fuck-toy."

Zoe's face was a study in shocked horror for a moment, and then she burst out, "What the hell?! Where'd you hear that word? Bren? You tell me now, has someone hurt you?"

The little girl cringed, hiding her face against Zoe's leather-clad arm. "No, Zoe! No-nobody's hurt me. I'd tell you, promise. It's just wh-what Candy said. She s-said you were smart, for makin' yourself look like a boy, and dressin' like you do, so you wouldn't end up... one of those. I'm sorry, Zoe, I won't say it again."

Zoe shuddered, holding her tight and rocking back and forth. "Shhh... it's okay, baby doll. I'm not mad at you. I'm sorry I scared you. You... you shouldn't repeat things Candy says. She's had a rough time, love. But I'm not going to let anything like that happen to you. Not ever."

"And I'm going to help her," Trina said.

Brenna looked up at her, big-eyed, and sniffled. Her face was skeptical. Zoe hugged her.

"It's alright, baby. Trina's nice, she's not going to hurt you. I wanted you to meet her, because if I can't come sometime, then you'll still have someone you can talk to."

Trina nodded, but Brenna's face contorted with worry. "You're going to run away again, aren't you?" she demanded. "You... you skipped out two nights this week. And you were hurting the other day. You're going to run, and leave me again!"

Trina raised an eyebrow at Zoe curiously.

"No," Zoe said. She tilted Brenna's little chin up to look the girl in the eyes. "Yeah, I may have to run. And it might mean I'm gone for a little while. But I'm not going to leave you again. Not ever. I'll always come back. And I won't be far away. If you need me, I'll come, you know that. You get word to Missy or Shaleeka... they'll get word to the right people, and word'll get to me. It cost me a lot to set that up... it'll work. I'm not going to let anyone hurt you, Bren. Not ever again."

Trina reached in her purse and pulled out a card. "Here. If you don't have time to get ahold of Zoe, call me. Anytime, day or night."

The little girl sniffed again, tears welling in her eyes, and took it, then looked up at Zoe. "I don't want you to go away. I'm scared, Zoe!They w-were talking about my mama again. I heard them. They thought I was asleep in the car. Her doctors think that they should let her visit me... that if she sees what he did to me, she'll snap out of it. They don't understand. She's always lived to please him. She'll kill me because he wanted me dead."

Zoe went deathly pale.

"An'... an' if he's st-still alive... she'll smile and say the right words and they'll give me to her and she'll take me and she'll give me to him and... and..." The little girl's voice was rising in panic.

Trina said, quietly but with an iron hardness to her voice, "No. They won't. Not if you don't want them to."

"They will! She fakes it so good! And she'll give me to him!"

Zoe gripped Brenna's shoulders tightly. "She can't. He's dead, Brenna. I saw the body. I saw him burn. I saw the body bag. He was cremated, and I saw the grave. He's not ever coming back, and I won't let them give you to her. I swear it."

The little girl launched herself at Zoe's chest, shivering. Zoe looked over her head, catching Trina's curious look, and mouthed, "Later," as the girl shook convulsively.

Brenna looked up, tear-streaks on her face. "Take me with you, Zoe!Don't leave me behind again, please, please! I'll be so good, I promise, you won't even know I'm there."

Zoe looked like she'd just been stabbed in the heart. "Bren... I can't yet. Later, when I can do it legal... you know I will. But I can't yet."

"I don't care if it's legal," Brenna said. "We can go to Mexico, and I can be your daughter... I can look littler than I am. We wouldn't need much..."

"No, Bren. You need your doctors," Zoe said. "You need your medicine. You need your therapy. I'm sorry, baby. But I'm not leaving. I'm not going anywhere, okay? And if they do try to give you to her... well... we'll work something out. I won't let it happen, even if it does mean taking you with me. BUT... unless that happens, you've gotta stay here where they can help you. You promise me that."

A tiny, rebellious sniff, then, "'k."

"Good girl," Zoe said. "Now. Remember, if I can't come someday, and you need something... you talk to Trina. She'll get me, or she'll take care of you."

Trina nodded. "I promise."

Brenna looked at her solemnly. "You know I can't walk right, don't you?"

Trina nodded.

"An' my leg isn't very pretty. An' I've got scars, too." Her little chin tilted up, a touch defiantly.

"I can see them," Trina said.

"Doesn't it make you wanna puke?"

Trina considered for a moment, then shook her head. "No. Not really."

Brenna looked at her thoughtfully. "It does most people like you."

"I'm not like most people," Trina said.

Brenna looked up at Zoe, who smiled reassuringly at her, and said,"Well... we can see. Since Zoe says you're okay."

Trina smiled. "I'm glad."

Zoe hugged Brenna one more time. "We've gotta go, baby. But I'll try and come see you tomorrow, if I can, okay? Or Monday at the latest."

"Do you have to? Can't you stay?" Brenna pleaded.

"Sorry, sweetheart. I have to go see somebody, and you have to rest. I know therapy days make you tired. But I'll be back, I promise." Zoe tucked her back into bed and pulled the covers up, and unhappy green eyes watched them leave.