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Sonuachara Chapter 7

Outside, Trina leaned back against the hood of her car. "What was she talking about?"

Zoe swallowed hard and looked away.

"Tell me," Trina said.

Zoe shook her head. "Not here."

"Okay." Trina nodded. "Later, then?"

"I... don't know," Zoe said. "I don't know if I can."

"Why not?" Trina asked, frowning.

Zoe turned away, crossing her arms tightly over her chest. "Because it still hurts too bad."

Trina sighed. "Tell me this much. Is her mother a danger?"

"God, yes," Zoe snarled.

"Then she won't get to see Brenna. One way or the other."

"They won't be that crazy," Zoe said. "They can't be."

"I hope not." Trina laughed. "Maybe we'll get lucky and she'll have a heart attack or something."

"I won't risk them leaving that bitch alone with her," Zoe said, turning back. "Not ever. I'll slit the slut's throat before I'll let that happen." She turned away again, her expression never softening. "You don't understand."

Trina didn't answer her immediately. "I do. It won't come to that. But... if it does, I'll provide an alibi."

Zoe sighed, slumping against the car. "It won't. I won't let it, I'll take her away from here. But... the physical therapy is helping. And they've got her an appointment with a plastic surgeon. And her lungs... she still gets sick so easily... a bad cold could kill her if it's not treated properly."

"I'll see if Mom knows anything that could help that," Trina said.

"There isn't anything," Zoe said, shaking her head and plopping down in the seat. "She's had the best doctors... the case got a lot of media attention, and there were tons of donations... there's still a trust fund for her medical care, enough to keep paying her doctors and get the scars fixed."

Trina shrugged. "You never know what— or who— my Mom will know, you know? She might know someone who specializes in this sort of thing."

"I'm not saying 'don't'. I won't turn down help for Brenna. But... well... don't get your hopes up."

"I know," Trina said, nodding. "But I know my mom. She's always come through for me."

Zoe sighed and buckled her seat-belt. "Okay." She glanced at her watch. "I need to be at the motel in an hour. You can drop me off at our rendezvous point."

"Okay."


Trina didn't pull into a parking spot when she picked Zoe up a few hours later, just stopped on the street so that she could hop over the door and toss her bag in the back.

"Push it," Zoe said. "Let's get out of here."

Trina nodded, taking off. "Did you get what you needed?"

"OH, yes," Zoe said, smiling grimly. "They're just lovely." She patted her pockets where the polaroids resided. "Just need to make copies for... broader... distribution, and decide who gets the honor of the originals— the newspaper, or their church bulletin board."

Trina looked at her sideways. "I'm surprised, Zoe. I didn't think you'd miss a trick like this."

"Hmm?" Zoe asked. "You have a better idea?"

Trina nodded. "How old did you say his playmate was?"

"He's fifteen," Zoe said. "But I don't want to send it to the cops. He's consenting. And he'd be worse off if they picked him up."

"If his face was blurred out, would it be obvious that he was underage?" Trina asked thoughtfully.

"Probably," Zoe said. "He's small, slender, and short."

Trina nodded. "Then you give them to the cops, suitably blurred. You tell them when the assignation is. You tip him off to check for cops before he shows up. If the guy shows up at the right time, they'll have enough to arrest him even without catching him in the act. Then you post the pictures everywhere."

"Hmm," Zoe said. "They'll show. According to Maria, they show up almost every week."

Trina blinked. "Wait. Both of them?"

"Mm-hmm."

"Ewww." Trina shuddered.

"Yeah," Zoe said. "But Maria says he told her they pay him $200.$300, if he lets them spank him."

"Double ewww."

Zoe frowned suddenly as Trina turned on to the highway. "Ah... where the hell are we going?"

"Huh?" Trina asked. "To my place, remember?"

Zoe flushed. "Oh. Right. I forgot."

"It's a cool place."

"Lots of nice houses out this way," Zoe said.

"Yeah."

Zoe sat quietly, her discomfort growing, as they got further out of town. Trina lived about twenty miles out of town, up on a ridge overlooking the lake. Her house was big. Real big. Probably as big as the school, or at least it looked that way.

"We're here," Trina said, pulling into the garage.

"Mm-hmm," Zoe said.

"Oh, hey— I meant to ask. You haven't eaten, have you? Mom and Dad held supper, just in case," Trina said.

Zoe looked at her, a touch exasperated, but shook her head. "No, I haven't eaten yet."

"Good," Trina said, giving her an odd smile. "You're glad."

Zoe raised an eyebrow at her. "Am I? That should be an interesting feeling."

"You haven't had Mom's cooking before," Trina said. "Trust me on this. You're glad you haven't eaten yet."

"I'll take your word for it," Zoe said, smiling tightly.

"C'mon," Trina said, hitting a button on the wall to close the garage door. "I told you she doesn't bite."

Zoe sighed, very, very quietly, and followed her into the house.

"Mom? Dad? We're home," Trina called, leading her into the dining room, where her mother was just setting the last dish on the table.

Trina's mother may just have been the most intimidating person Zoe had ever met. Angie was an older version of Trina, with an impressive air of refined elegance about her. She also had an incredible sense of power and self-confidence; there was absolutely no doubt in Zoe's mind that Angie was completely used to being obeyed. There was also no doubt in her mind that she was used to getting what she wanted. Zoe could tell that if she wanted someone to do something, they'd better do it unless they were prepared for a battle, because she wouldn't give up without a fight. On the other hand, while her presence was intimidating, she was also completely friendly. Zoe had enough experience with people faking it that she could usually tell, and either Zoe's mother was an extremely good actor or she was actually happy to see her.

"You must be Zoe," she said, holding out her hand. "I'm very glad to meet you."

Zoe shook it, somewhat stiffly, trying to figure out why that sense of power and self-confidence seemed so familiar. "Hi."

A man wearing jeans and a t-shirt walked in the other door. "Zoe, right?" He offered his hand. "Good to meet you. I'm glad you could make it; Trina told us you had some important business to take care of this evening."

Zoe shook his hand quickly. "I'm sorry. I didn't realize you would be waiting on me."

He waved his hand. "We usually eat late on Fridays. This isn't that late. Have a seat."

Zoe sat down, poised on the edge of the seat, as everyone else did.

"Roast beef and rosemary potatoes," Trina said. "You're going to love it."

Zoe smiled, shooting Trina an undecipherable look. "I'm sure."

Angie and Thomas were very good at putting people at their ease. Zoe did her best to fake it, trying to be polite, but she could tell that Angie didn't buy it for a moment. On the other hand, she didn't push it either, and she didn't make a point out of not buying it.

Trina was right; the food was the best Zoe had ever had in her life. She couldn't pin down why, exactly; she thought it was something in the seasoning, but she couldn't have said what.

Zoe got the distinct feeling that Angie never missed anything; she was pretty sure Trina didn't notice how much she ate, but Angie did. And she got the oddest feeling that Angie was looking from her to Trina and back again, but she couldn't actually catch her doing it. She couldn't even catch her in a position where she could be doing it.

It made her feel distinctly paranoid, and she doubled her attempt to look like a high-school student with harmlessly rebellious hair and jewelry. She even thought about venturing a giggle about a boy, but decided that if she did she'd have to wash her mouth out with soap afterwards and it wasn't worth it.

Near the end, she did see Angie glance at her. Her eyes widened, and she whispered something Zoe couldn't make out.

Zoe's head was turned just enough for her to catch Trina's blush, and the nod in answer to the question.

What the hell?

She'd gotten the impression, as she got to know her, that Trina was like an iceberg, with only a small part of the real Trina showing, but what was this about? She couldn't help but frown slightly, and she saw Trina's blush intensify.

Good. Maybe Trina would start thinking about how to answer the questions she had to know Zoe had.

After dinner, they moved to another room, with warm wood-paneled walls, bookshelves, and a liquor cabinet. Two of the chairs had ashtrays beside them, and Trina motioned her to one of them, sitting down in the chair beside it.

Zoe was wondering if she dared pull out her cloves, when Angie opened the liquor cabinet and pulled out a bottle of whisky. "Do you prefer your whisky straight, or on the rocks?" she asked.

Zoe stared at her, shocked. "Thank you, but no, I really don't drink."She slid her pack of cloves out of her pocket, deciding that if they didn't object to alcohol.... "But if you don't mind?"

"I didn't think you did," Angie said, handing her daughter a glass with perhaps two fingers of liquid in it. "I'd appreciate it if you'd make an exception in this case, however. It's a MacCeallaich tradition that serious matters are discussed over serious liquor, and we take our traditions seriously."

Zoe squirmed uncomfortably, looking at the glass in Trina's hand and wondering how she was going to get home. "I don't... it's genetic, see, my father was...." She ran a hand through the long part of her hair in a quick, nervous gesture, turning the pack of cigarettes over and over in her other hand. "A tiny bit. Watered down, please," she said, surrendering.

Angie smiled. "Can we compromise on 'on the rocks'?"

Zoe considered it. Ice melted. "Sure." She was more than a bit freaked out, wondering what the hell was going on, but she'd be damned if she'd admit it.

Angie handed her a glass with slightly less whisky than Trina's. "Here you go." She nodded at the cigarettes. "Go right ahead." She sat down, and raised her glass. "Behgawn og us ah rah go mah."

Trina looked at her. "It means, 'say little, but say it well'. It's traditional for these sorts of things." She took a sip of her drink, obviously used to it.

Zoe wondered what 'these sorts of things' were, and decided she needed to have words with Trina about not warning her.

Angie looked at her, and any trace of humor vanished. "Trina tells us there's a little girl in danger. What do we need to do to protect her?"

Zoe stiffened, spine as rigid as steel. "What's the cost? I'm not saying I won't pay it... but what is it?"

Thomas shook his head, his deep voice calm. "It's not your cost. It's ours. We have all this," he waved his hand at the house, "and we're obligated to do what we can to help others. If we don't, we're being pretty damned ungrateful."

Zoe clenched her jaw. "You don't understand. Bren's my responsibility. Mine. I owe her, and I promised I'd take care of her. Not that I'd pass it on to someone else."

"Is it taking care of her to refuse help when it's offered? If she was to be adopted, would you refuse to let her new parents take care of her?" Angie asked.

Zoe fought down the instant of rage the question produced, feeling instantly guilty. She swallowed, forcing herself to appear calm, and said, "She won't be. Not for a couple more years, anyway."

"How can you know that?" Thomas asked.

"Because I'm the only one who wants her, and I won't be able to adopt her until I'm 18," Zoe snapped.

"But what if someone does?" Angie asked, leaning forward, her drink in her hand. "Will you refuse to let them take care of her?"

Zoe gritted her teeth. "They won't. They can't. I promised her. Foster parents are okay... if they treat her right. But I promised her I wouldn't let anyone take her away."

Thomas set his glass down. "Would you really deny her the chance at happiness? If someone wanted to adopt her, someone who could take care of her? Someone who loved her?"

Zoe looked at him, feeling panicked. "You don't understand. I promised. Love isn't enough sometimes... no matter how much they loved her, they wouldn't understand, because they weren't there, and they'd hurt her without ever meaning to. If she were mine by blood, would you expect me to be happy to let someone take her?"

"They wouldn't understand what?" Trina asked.

Zoe swallowed, shoving her hands in her pockets. "I don't talk about it."

"I know," Trina said. "But... please? We want to help. If we can't, at least tell us why."

Zoe felt sick. "You really wanna know, look it up. You've got the names, and you know it got attention. I don't have to tell you," she said, tiredly.

Angie leaned forward again. "Then let us help. If you want to help her, you need to use the resources you've got. Right now, we are one of the resources that you've got."

"Why?" Zoe asked. "I've already asked you, what's the price? Nothing is free. Nothing is ever free. Everybody wants something for their help. Everyone has some angle of their own. It's not even bad, it's just the way it is."

Angie nodded. "You're quite right there, as far as it goes, but you aren't taking it far enough. Helping others is part of the price we pay for what we have. If we extracted a price from you in exchange, we wouldn't be paying our price."

Zoe looked at her coldly. "Why? No one's going to make you pay. In this world, if you've got it, it's assumed you deserve it. And if you've got shit, it's assumed you deserve that, too. No one cares if you're 'good' or not. Even the churches can be bought off."

"We would know. And our family would know," Thomas said, firmly.

Zoe ran her hand through her hair again, then fumbled out another cigarette. "What do you people want from me? You have some need to help somebody and wanna help my Bren... fine. Keep her psychotic mother the fuck away from her and make sure she's got enough in her fund for her doctors. But if you decide someone owes you for that help, then that someone is me, not her. Got it?"

"Of course," Angie nodded. "But no one will owe us for that help." She leaned back in her chair, sipping her drink. "I understand there was another reason you'd initially wanted to talk to me tonight?"

Zoe glared at Trina. "There was only one thing I intended to talk about tonight. I can't let Trina put something on the babies unless I know what's in it. Even if it helps. If one of them has a reaction, we've gotta know what they've been exposed to."

Angie pursed her lips. "Reasonable enough, I suppose, but it is a family secret...although..." She straightened slightly. "Will you give me your word that you won't tell anyone unless one of the babies who have been exposed to it develops a rash?"

"Sure," Zoe said. "It doesn't matter to me. I don't intend to make any, or sell any, or the recipe or anything. I've already told Trina I don't need proportions or preparation. Just the ingredients so if there's a problem, we'll know."

Angie nodded. "If I have your word, then I suppose there's no harm in letting you have it."

Zoe nodded.

"Okay, then. I'll write you up a list." She took another sip of her drink. "What do you think of the director?"

Zoe shrugged. "She does her best. Overworked, understaffed, and not any sort of organizational genius, but she tries."

Thomas nodded. "So basically not a bad sort, then?"

"Yeah, she's not bad," Zoe said.

"That's good to know."

The conversation degenerated into small talk. Zoe became more and more uncomfortable, and after an hour suddenly realized that Angie was quite expertly getting far more information out of her than she would normally tell anyone.

Almost immediately afterward, Thomas and Angie announced that they were heading to bed, leaving her alone with Trina. She decided not to tear into Trina immediately, but she was not happy with her, and she didn't bother to hide it.

Trina leaned back. "Hey, I've got a question for you."

"You don't seem to have any problem asking questions," Zoe said coolly.

Trina grinned. "Not really. Listen. We've got a couple of options. We can wait around for a couple of hours, so that there's no risk if I get pulled over and have to do a breathalyzer, or...."

"Or?"

"There's a guest room next to mine," Trina said. "I could drop you off with Brenna in the morning. I have to go down that way anyway."

Zoe looked at her watch and shook her head. "I can walk. It's not a big deal."

Trina blinked. "It's twenty odd miles!"

"Average human walking speed is four miles per hour." Zoe grabbed her bag. "An easy jog doubles that."

Trina looked at her for a moment. "Sticking around and letting me drive you would still get you back faster. Are you mad at me for something?"

"I'm not particularly pleased with you right now, no."

"What did I do?" Trina asked.

"I agreed to come to discuss a recipe," Zoe said stiffly. "A simple thing."

"It's not as simple as you think," Trina said. "I... honestly, I didn't think you'd get it that easily."

"Then you should have said so. You knew what I was expecting,"Zoe said.

"I'm sorry," Trina said. "You're right, I should have warned you. I wasn't thinking."

Zoe didn't answer, feeling oddly hurt.

"I really am sorry," Trina said. "I shouldn't have put you on the spot like that without warning."

"No. You shouldn't have," Zoe said shortly.

"I just... I wanted to help Brenna," Trina said.

Zoe sighed. "I know. That's why I'm still talking to you."

"Look, if it's any consolation, my mother likes you."

Zoe snorted. "I have no idea how you could possibly tell that. And it doesn't matter. Look...you keep asking me to trust you. Then, when I do, you pull this on me? What the hell am I supposed to think about that, huh?"

Trina sighed. "I know. It was a mistake. I do make them occasionally, you know. I'm not perfect. And it's easy to tell my mother likes you."

Zoe took out a cigarette and lit it, leaning back on the couch and letting the bag slump off her shoulder. "Oh?"

Trina nodded. "She didn't do anything. If she hadn't liked you, I'd know.

"Didn't 'do' anything?" Zoe asked. "Implying if she hadn't, she would have done what? Called the cops? Shot me?"

Trina shook her head. "No, but I'd definitely know. You probably would have picked up on it too."

Zoe didn't say anything to that, just took a long drag off her cigarette. "Your dad seems sweet."

"He is," Trina nodded. "He helps keep me and Mom grounded."

"Look," Zoe asked, "Why the interrogation?"

"Mostly because our family recipes aren't given out to just anyone," Trina said. "I'm serious here. Like Mom said, we take our traditions seriously."

"Look," Zoe said, "We could have come up with something. Add half a dozen false ingredients. Write and seal the list and it could stay that way unless there was a problem. Something."

Trina nodded. "I figured she'd do something like that. That's another way I know she liked you." She bit her lip, looking at Zoe. "And she likes to know about my friends. She doesn't like all of them." She smiled shyly. "I'm glad she likes you."

Zoe sighed. She couldn't stay mad at Trina, for some reason. "I just don't like... talking about things. It's nothing personal. I just don't do it."

"Sorry," Trina said.

Zoe sighed again. "I do need to get back. I don't want to cause trouble right now. This wouldn't be a good time to get moved."

"I thought you were ditching tonight?"

"I did, but...." Zoe shrugged. "I changed my mind. I shouldn't. Not right now, not if it can be avoided."

"Okay," Trina said, sounding disappointed.

"It's not because I'm mad at you," Zoe said.

"You're sure?"

Zoe nodded. "Yes. If there's a chance they're really going to push for visitation... I can't afford to be out of the loop right now. Where I am now... I've got some flexibility. Some freedom. No guarantee that'll be true in the next place."

"That makes sense," Trina said.

"And I don't really want to, either," Zoe said. "I hate weekends when jackass is staying there. But I can put up with it for a while. So don't get your feelings hurt, okay?"

Trina grinned. "Maybe he'll get hit by a bus. Or a meteor, or something."

Zoe laughed. "Yeah, right, since when have I ever been so lucky?"

"You can dream," Trina said, shrugging.

Zoe looked at her for a moment. "Not if I'm really lucky," she said softly.

Trina looked at her sympathetically. "Nightmares?"

Zoe shrugged one shoulder, avoiding her eyes. "This time of year is always unpleasant that way."

"If you want to talk about it, I'm a good listener," Trina said hesitantly.

Zoe sighed and looked at her glass, picking it up and watching the water from the melted ice swirl through the thicker brown liquid. "Talking about it wouldn't change anything."

"It might," Trina said. "It can help with the nightmares."

Zoe smiled bitterly. "Yeah. That's what they say."

"It can," Trina said softly.

Zoe looked around the large room, eyes lingering on the doors, and tugged her jacket closer, seeming to draw in on herself. "Maybe. But it can also give people things to use against you."

"I would never use it against you," Trina said.

"No... but others might."

"I would never tell anyone else, either," Trina said.

Zoe looked at her, torn. "You'd have to mean that. Exactly that. Not 'I'd never tell unless I think it would help'."

"Zoe, I swear to you that I will never tell anyone else, ever, unless you give me your permission," Trina said.

Zoe looked at her for several seconds. "No matter what? Even if you think it might... save my life or keep me out of jail or something?"

Trina nodded firmly. "Not unless you give me permission. I know how to keep a secret."

Zoe's eyes flickered around the room again. "Why do you even want to know? It'll just give you nightmares, too. And I lived through it, so it's not even important anymore."

"Because I don't want you to have nightmares anymore," Trina said softly.

"You'll regret it."

Trina shook her head. "I won't."

Zoe sighed. "Can't say I didn't warn you," she said sadly. "Fine. But not in here. Um. Outside somewhere."

Trina nodded. "I know a clearing we can use."