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Sonuachara Chapter 8

Zoe looked around the clearing; it was empty, save for signs of a fire in the center. "Good. This looks private," she said, sitting down, cross-legged, hands still stuffed into her pockets. She lapsed into awkward silence, staring at the burned spot on the ground.

Finally, she sighed and pulled out a cigarette, staring at it for a bit before lighting it, conscious of Trina's silent presence across from her. "You know why I smoke these?" she asked.

"No," Trina said, shaking her head.

Zoe smiled, just a bit. "Started out trying to get over being afraid of fire. Didn't work perfectly, but at least I no longer break out in a cold sweat and feel like I'm going to piss my pants if someone lights up a fireplace."

She looked into the darkness, feeling Trina's wide-eyed gaze. "I don't remember much about being a little kid. I've got a picture I think is my Mom. The one in my file is kinda little and blurry, but looks like the one I've got, I think. I remember she liked cats, and she made things— quilts and little pillows and clothes and stuff— and she'd try to sell it. My dad... drank. A lot. He was gone most nights, and she'd cry and sew and cry and sew. Sometimes he'd come home drunk, and start screaming at her, and then she'd just cry. For days, sometimes." She sighed. "She wasn't a bad mother, I don't think, she was just... weak. Couldn't handle things. Then one night he didn't come back. Got in a fight with some guy at the bar over a prostitute, got his worthless ass knifed... that's what the file says, anyway; I didn't have a clue at the time. She just cried and cried and then one day while I was taking a nap, she left and I never saw her again.They came and took me and told me she was dead."

Trina bit her lip, shifting uncomfortably. "I'm sorry."

"It was a long time ago," Zoe said. "And like I said... I don't really remember. Even with everything, it wasn't a bad time. I wasn't abused, or starved, or even yelled at. She killed herself, though. Because even as bad as he was, she couldn't bring herself to live without him, and I wasn't an important enough reason for her to try."

"I'm sorry," Trina said again, helplessly.

Zoe shrugged again, drawing her knees up and wrapping her arms around them. "Like I said... it was a long time ago. After that, I bounced around a bit. First place they stuck me, I thought it was great for about a week. Then they caught me reading. Apparently it's 'unnatural' for a kid that age to read, so it had to be the work of the devil. Whatever. Couple of other places that were okay... nothing really memorable, and I wasn't allowed to stay anyplace long. It was actually a few years before I ended up anywhere really bad." She fell silent, staring down at the ground.

"I was ten when I learned not to cry. Crying's what they want. Never give them what they want. That was also the first time I ran away." She looked up, staring off into the dark with a dreamy look on her face. "It was great. I was so totally free. And it was so fucking easy compared to what... was happening at home. Plenty of places in the city to hide at night, and during the day... well, it was easy for a cute, skinny kid with big eyes to cadge a few bucks. I started making connections... made a deal with some bigger kids, and they looked out for me and I split my take. Hell, I could always come up with enough to buy us all dollar burgers from McDonald's. They kept finding me and taking me back, though. I couldn't just run and go back where I was... had to start over every damned time. Learned the city damned well, though. Made some friends who taught me to fight. Next time they took me back, I wasn't so easy to hurt, and I did just what one of my friends told me... I threatened to cut his dick off in his sleep if he touched me again. They couldn't get me out of their house fast enough after that."

Trina was pale, but steady. "I'm sorry you had to go through that."

Zoe sighed. "None of the other places were as bad as that one. A few of them beat me, or tried to starve me, or were just assholes, but... not that bad. And if it got too bad, I would run. Got to where I could go months without getting caught." She smiled, a vicious gleam in her eyes. "And me and some of my friends came up with a way to make enough money to keep us comfortable. A way that made up for things, at least a bit. I'd be the bait, you see. Down on the meat walk, right after sunset. I was thirteen, but looked ten. Any john who took the bait was guaranteed to be a monster. So I'd lead him into the alley for his $10 blowjob, and my boys would jump him and beat the living shit out of him. That kind— the kind who expects to get away with it— usually had a nice, fat wallet. And what could he do about it— run to the cops and admit he got rolled by a ten-year-old whore?"

"Did you...did you ever have to do it?" Trina asked.

Zoe shuddered. "No. A bit of groping was the worst that happened... one guy tried to drag me into his car, too, but I stuck a knife in his arm and he let me go. Fucker got away, though, before the guys could get him."

Trina shivered. "I'm glad you got away."

Zoe swallowed hard. "Yeah. Me too. I doubt he intended me to live through whatever he had planned." She shuddered. "Anyway, it went like that for a long time... me running if it got too rough, and them eventually picking me up and putting me somewhere else. Usually, the families I got stuck with were either childless, or had teenagers or grown kids. Then, a couple years ago, they placed me with a couple who had a kid. It was strange from the very beginning. The couple was... weird. Neither of them worked. I don't know what they lived on, like, an inheritance of some kind, I think. But they were both almost always home. And they both totally ignored the kid. I mean totally. They didn't feed her, didn't talk to her, didn't even ever mention her. For a week, I thought she couldn't talk."

Trina blinked. "Not at all?"

Zoe shook her head. "It was fucked up. Then one night, I woke up in the middle of the night, and there was a thunderstorm going on, really nasty one. She was curled up in bed with me, shaking like she was about to break apart. I said something like, 'Scared, huh?' and she answered me... 'yes, please let me stay!' Well... I'm not heartless. And she was awfully cute. So after that, she pretty much stayed with me. I made sure she had food, and took baths, and helped her dress. When she was scared, she came to me. I taught her to read. Her parents just kept acting like she didn't exist, and paid barely more attention to me... I was there to do chores, and that was about it. Suited me pretty well. Then, of course, things changed."

"What happened?"

"I think the money was running out," Zoe said. "He started going out at night and coming home drunk. He'd yell and scream, and he'd hit Anne, the woman. She was... crazy... though. I mean, really, really crazy. She did whatever he wanted. If he'd told her to drink drain cleaner, she would have. One night, she'd cooked a fancy meal... leg of lamb, stuffed mushrooms, all sorts of shit, candles and everything... for their anniversary, I think. Well, he came home and flipped out. Throwing things. See, it was Thursday. On Thursday, we had tomato soup and crackers. He beat the shit out of her, then held her hand to the stove to 'teach her a lesson'. She didn't even fight. Just begged him to forgive her and kept promising to do better until she passed out. After she woke up, she fixed his soup with her blistered hand and thanked him for 'correcting' her." She sighed and shook her head. "Whatever he did to her, in her head it was her fault. Whatever he wanted, he had to get. It was about a month before he got mad at me... something about the way I did the dishes, I think." Her jaw clenched, her mouth a tight line.

"He hurt you?" Trina asked.

Zoe laughed bitterly. "Fuck yes. He decided I was too mouthy to suit him. Then I was too rebellious. Then I had a demon in me, that needed to be beat out. The reasons got crazier and crazier, but the beatings stayed the same. One a night, pretty much like clockwork. When a belt didn't work, he moved to an electrical cord." Her hand went to her face, unconsciously rubbing the scar that was usually covered by her hair. "Would have been easier to take if he could aim worth a fuck. But I couldn't run. Even if they weren't always there, if I left, who'd feed the baby? Who'd take care of her? So I let him beat me. It wasn't as bad as some things, after all. And sometimes I'd look up, and she'd be there, in the doorway, watching, tears streaming down her little face. And at night, I'd lay in bed and hurt, and hold onto her, and she'd cry for me because I couldn't cry myself. But he never touched her. I swear, he never raised a hand to her... I thought she was safe. That whatever weird bit of craziness that kept them from 'seeing' her would keep him from hurting her."

Trina nodded. "That would be logical."

"Yeah. But it was wrong." Zoe's voice was tight with anguished guilt. "It'd been about six months; he'd been beating me for three, and was staying out more and more. He came home one night, so stinking drunk that he couldn't even hit me— he just passed out. Later, I heard him screaming at his wife. Saying that the money'd run out, and how was he going to pay Scalpini? Did she know what they'd do to him if he didn't pay? And like always, she was offering anything and everything... promising she'd get the money, that she and the girl — that was me, I don't think they even knew my name — could go on the street, like she had before they got the inheritance, to get the money for him, or maybe she could go straight to Scalpini in trade for the debt. He got real quiet, then he laughed. I heard him slap her, and call her a stupid bitch... Scalpini would never want a used up old whore like her. But the girl, now... that was a thought. He wouldn't mind the scar, he was a pervert, and she'd have more scars soon enough, anyway. Yeah, if he gave Scalpini such a nice little gift, then he might even do a bit better than break even. Might come out a little ahead. And no one would look for her... those kids run away all the damned time."

Trina stared at her in horror.

Zoe's hands tightened around her knees. "I couldn't handle it. I panicked. I didn't even think, I just went out the bathroom window and ran like hell. I didn't go far... just far enough to be safe, someplace I could hide out. I had to think. I wasn't going to leave her there. I wasn't going to just abandon her. I decided to stay close, call in anonymously to CPS. If that didn't work, I'd kidnap her, and wait for Scalpini... whoever that was... to waste his ass. But I was going to stay close, to watch and see what happened."

Trina nodded. "That sounds like a reasonable plan."

"Yeah. Reasonable. But he wasn't reasonable. He was fucking crazy." Zoe's voice was still tight, and she was trembling. "I don't really know what happened. I think when he realized I'd ran, he completely lost it. He sent the woman away— I don't know why— and as soon as she was gone, he grabbed Bren and locked her in a closet. Then he doused the inside of the house with gasoline. And himself. And lit it."

Trina jerked back, shocked, and almost fell over. "He what? Holy fuck!"

"I smelled the smoke first, and I knew it was the house," Zoe said. "I knew it. I ran, but it was already a fucking inferno. I could hear the firetrucks coming, but it would have been too late. I couldn't leave her in there to die. It was my fault. So... I went in. He was thrashing in the floor, mostly dead and not even recognizable, and I couldn't find her. Fire was everywhere, and I couldn't see through the smoke, and I called her, but she didn't answer... couldn't answer. I thought the whole place was going to go up. Part of the roof caved in, and she screamed. I found her in the closet, her leg crushed under a burning beam. God..." She closed her eyes. "I moved it, somehow. I don't know how. Her leg... there were pieces of bone sticking out, and bits of flesh stuck to the beam... it was black down to the bone in places... she wasn't moving, I couldn't tell if she was breathing... I got her up, and tried to get us out, but the ceiling was falling in, fire falling through the air... it caught her hair on fire, and my shirt. I crushed her against my chest, putting her hair out, and ran like hell... dove out a window, the door was just a sheet of fire."

"The firemen were there, and an ambulance. I'm not sure what happened... they were trying to take her away from me, but I thought for sure she was dead, and I wouldn't let go, and then I passed out. I woke up, wrapped in bandages from neck to waist, with an IV in and hurting like hell, and all I wanted to do was die. I wasn't sane. I ripped out the IV before they even knew I was awake, and made it about five feet before I collapsed. Even then, I fought them. It took five of them to get me back in bed and sedated, and I kept fighting until one of them had the sense to point to one of the other beds and tell me Bren was alive. When I woke up again, I raised hell until they got a wheelchair and took me over to her. She had 16 pins in her leg, burns over 35% of her body, and bruises on the rest. I stayed by her until she woke up, just a bit. Just enough to look at me and ask me why I'd left her."

Trina looked at her for a moment, obviously sick. "Thank gods you did."

"No. I should never have left her," Zoe said. "I should have known he was so fucking crazy. I should have stayed and fought, or took her with me, or something." She shuddered. "I promised her I'd never leave her again. Never let anyone hurt her. I don't give a damn what it takes, I'm not breaking those promises. Not after I've already nearly killed her."

Trina shook her head. "No. Thank god you did. If you hadn't, you might not have been there to help her. If you'd been there when he decided to do it, don't you think he'd have immobilized you first? Tied you up or something? And if he'd already given you to that Scalpini person, you wouldn't have been able to come back. What you did is probably the best thing you could have done. It meant you were free to come to her rescue when she needed you."

"No," Zoe insisted. "If I'd gone along with him, I would have been fucked, yeah. But he wouldn't have had any reason to kill himself. And he would have gone on ignoring Brenna. She would have had a chance to run away herself. Or maybe I could have got ahold of a phone. Maybe I could have..." She shuddered. "Convinced the guy he could trust me. Played along enough that he'd be willing to do me the favor of going ahead and putting a bullet through his head."

"Zoe, he'd have ended up broke again, and he'd have snapped," Trina said. "That last one... maybe. I doubt it, but maybe. But what if he'd stopped not seeing her? He obviously did when he snapped, or he wouldn't have bothered to lock her in the closet. Zoe... there are worse things that could have happened to her. Much worse things. Think about it."

"So?" Zoe asked. "It could have been a hell of a lot better, too. If I'd just taken her with me, he couldn't have hurt her when he killed himself. But I left her because I thought she'd be okay for a couple of days, and I was wrong, and she nearly died." She closed her eyes. "God, she looked so little in that bed, hooked up to all those tubes and wires. So tiny, so fragile, and when they'd change the bandages, nothing they gave her would stop the pain and she'd scream and scream and call for me and there was nothing I could do!"

Trina leaned forward, wrapping her arms around Zoe and holding her tightly. "I'm sorry that happened. But you aren't to blame for what he did, he is. And you were there to save her. Remember that, not the bad things. Maybe you could have done something to make things better, but I think probably things would have been worse if you'd done something else. Don't hate yourself for what happened. It's not your fault."

Zoe trembled violently. "You can't understand. I promised to take care of her. She trusted me. Her very first words, when she woke up... 'Why did you leave me? What did I do?' So hurt, so betrayed, and still thinking it was her fault, that she'd done something bad because if she hadn't, of course I would have taken her with me..."

"Did you ever tell her what happened?" Trina asked.

"How could I?" Zoe asked. "I told her it wasn't her fault. That I was stupid and got scared at something I thought he was going to do. But she's just a baby... I'm not going to tell her what I was scared of. And she can't understand what would be so bad I'd leave her. I don't blame her... I don't understand it myself, because I shouldn't have. I just fucking panicked and didn't think. It was so stupid."

"Why not just tell her he was going to take you away, so you ran away, and you were going to come back and get her?"

"I tried... but I couldn't tell her why he'd do that, and she didn't believe me... she knows I'm not telling her everything," Zoe said. "She's not stupid. But I can't. If I can keep her from ever finding out about people like that, then it's worth her blaming me."

"Zoe, it's too late for that. Don't you remember what she said?" Trina asked. "About me being too pretty?"

Zoe shook her head angrily, drawing back. "It's just a word to her. She doesn't know what it means. She doesn't know what it's like. And she's not going to, not while I'm still alive!"

"Zoe, she knows what it means," Trina said. "Maybe she doesn't know all the details, but she knew what it meant."

Zoe said grimly, "She'll know as little about it as I can manage. I'm not going to let her down again."

"She knows the word, and she knows what it means," Trina said. "Just tell her that's what her dad was going to do to you. You don't have to go into detail."

"If she doesn't understand how bad it is... why it's bad... then it doesn't matter if she knows what it is," Zoe said.

"Zoe... didn't she seem to know how bad it was?" Trina asked. "She may not understand why it's so bad, but she seemed to understand it was bad."

"Nothing's that bad," Zoe said. "Not bad enough to abandon her, let her be hurt."

"But you didn't intend to abandon her," Trina pointed out. "You were going to come back for her. You thought you'd have time."

"But I shouldn't have left her at all. Not alone with him. Not for a day, not for an hour, a minute!"

"How could you have known?" Trina asked. "He never even acknowledged her existence! You had no way of knowing he would do that, no reason to even suspect it. Zoe, listen to me. You'll have plenty of things in life that are your fault to be mad at yourself for; don't waste it on something like this. Don't blame yourself, blame him. Blame her mother. But don't blame yourself." Her arms tightened slightly around her.

Zoe pulled away. "Let go!" she said, her voice tight and shaking.

Trina let go immediately. "Sorry! I just... I just thought you could use a hug."

Zoe scooted frantically backwards, then hid her face against her knees, shaking hard, almost convulsively.

"Zoe? Are you okay?" Trina asked.

Zoe moaned, low in her throat.

Trina bit her lip, looking torn. "Zoe?"

Zoe shuddered violently, curling even more tightly around herself.

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to upset you," Trina said.

Zoe groaned, a strangled, choking sound, and just shook her head. She shuddered convulsively, falling over onto her side and covering her face with her hands, a high, strained whimper escaping her lips. She shook her head, fingers stiffening into claws, nails digging into her skin.

Trina scrambled forward, pulling Zoe up and into her arms. "It's okay, Zoe, it's okay. It's okay."

Zoe gave a short, sharp, scream and raised her hand as if to strike, then dropped it. She shook her head wildly and squeezed her eyes shut. "No! No no no you don't understand! I can't...."

"You can," Trina said, soothingly. "It's okay. You're safe with me. I'll never hurt you. I promise."

Zoe shook her head, a choked sob escaping her before her held breath squeezed it off. "I can't I can't I can't!"

Trina stroked her hair. "You can. I won't hurt you. I promise. Let it out, Zoe. You need to let it out."

Zoe sobbed again, then bit her lip so hard a drop of blood welled up and trickled down her chin. Her hands clenched in Trina's shirt, clinging for just a second, then she pushed her almost violently away. Trina relaxed her grip, so that she wasn't actually holding Zoe to her, just stroking her back and hair gently, but Zoe pulled further away, shaking. She took a couple of deep shuddering breaths, hands clenched into tight fists. "I... I need to get home."

Trina bit her lip. "Zoe?"

Zoe closed her eyes tightly and shook her head. "Please."

"If... if that's what you really want," Trina said, worried.

"I have to."

"I... okay." Trina hesitated. "Zoe?"

"What?"

"I just... I want you to know I'll never hurt you deliberately," Trina said. "I can't promise I won't do it by accident, like this evening, but I'll never hurt you intentionally. You can trust me. I swear I'll never hurt you, and I'll never tell your secrets, no matter what. To anyone, not even Mom."

Zoe blinked rapidly, her breathing harsh and ragged for a moment. "I... know. I just... just take me home, Trina," she finished in a hoarse whisper.

Trina bit her lip, but nodded and stood, holding her hand out. Zoe looked at her for a second before taking her hand and letting her help her up.

Trina turned away, heading back down the trail, and Zoe followed silently, shoulders slumped.

Trina stopped where the trail came out of the woods. "I'm sorry, Zoe. I shouldn't have pushed. It's none of my business."

Zoe swallowed hard. "I... I told you you'd regret knowing."

Trina didn't turn around. "I don't. I regret you don't trust me enough to let me help you."

"I can't," Zoe said. "And I don't need help."

Trina snorted. "That's bullshit, and you know it. Everyone needs help. Nobody can make it on their own. I'm offering to help, and you keep shoving me away."

"I can't," Zoe repeated. "I just don't have it in me... it's not there to give. It's not you. If... if it helps, I've let you see more than anyone else ever has."

"Why can't you?" Trina asked.

"I... don't even know anymore. I just can't. Something inside of me that used to be there is just... gone."

Trina turned to face her, and the moonlight glinted off of the tear tracks on her face. "Try? Please?"

Zoe closed her eyes in pain. "I'm sorry," she whispered.

"I... just... even if I can't fix it, I can be here for you. If you'll let me," Trina said, pleading.

Zoe felt helpless and miserable. "I'm sorry. I just... have to handle things alone. I have to. Otherwise..." She shook her head.

"Otherwise?"

"Otherwise, it's all for nothing," Zoe said. "If I'm not strong enough, then it's just... pointless."

Trina looked puzzled. "Why?"

Zoe shook her head. "It's not something I can explain. But I have to be able to do it on my own. I have to. Or I'm not worth anything at all."

"Bullshit," Trina snapped. "Would you call my mother weak?"

Zoe shook her head again, frustrated. "It's not about anyone else, and it doesn't apply to anyone else. But for me, and to me that's the way it is."

"Zoe, you're wrong. And I can prove it," Trina said.

"Trina..." Zoe sighed and ran her hand through her hair. "I can't explain. And I'm exhausted. And I'll have a couple hours yelling to deal with before I can go to bed. Please. I can't be what you want me to be. I'm sorry, I don't know what else to say."

"Even if you totally collapse— even if you need my help to do everything— you're still worth... worth a lot to me. You're my friend," Trina said.

Zoe turned partly away, staring into the dark trees. "Thank you," she said quietly. "But I have to be worth something to me, or I can't live with myself and the things I've done. Please understand."

Trina was silent for several seconds. "Zoe... the measure of our worth isn't in what we do, or in how we do it, but in the relationships we form with those around us."

Zoe shook her head. "No. We all have to find our own way to balance the scales."

"But we don't have to do it alone," Trina said. "We were never meant to do it alone. We were meant to do it together, each of us helping the others around us balance their scales as they help us balance ours. I help you balance yours, you help me balance mine, and we both end up better off. We're not meant to be solitary travelers on this journey through life; we're meant to laugh, love, cry, even hate with our fellow travelers. It's the bonds we form that carry us through, keep us strong, help us form the safety net we can use to catch those who fall."

Zoe shook her head, jaw tight. "I wish. And if it's like that for you... I'm glad. But most people don't get that. It's just not that way. You're lucky if the people around you aren't actively trying to hurt you. Being left alone is the best you can realistically hope for, and more usually—" She shook her head again. "I can't talk about this anymore."

"Zoe... don't you understand?" Trina asked. "That's exactly what I'm offering. I'm not just not trying to hurt you, I'm trying to help you. I'm holding out my hand and begging you to take it."

"I can't," Zoe said sadly. "I'm sorry... I really am. But I have to get through things alone."

Trina shook her head, sharply, decisively. "You can. Maybe you don't realize it, maybe you're afraid to, maybe you just don't know how. But you can." She blinked rapidly, a tear trickling down her cheek. "You're lost, in a maze with constantly changing walls and no way to know which way to turn. But don't you understand that you make the walls? All you have to do is let me in, just a little, and I'll help you find the way out. You say you have to do it yourself, but don't you understand that that's just another wall, just another barrier? Don't you realize that you can't truly love anyone else until you love yourself?"

"I. Don't. Need. Saving," Zoe said. "I'm fine. I get by just fine. And I do love, very much, enough to keep me going whether I want to or not, enough period, because even that can hurt and is dangerous, but I wouldn't trade it. I am what I am. This is what the world's made me. Maybe I wish it was different, but it's not. But at least it's not more than I can handle."

"I can't believe you mean that," Trina said. "Or maybe you haven't thought about what it means."

"Look... I have all that I can face right now. I can't deal with more complications," Zoe said. "I don't understand why you're pushing this so hard. Why the hell does it matter to you that one broken little gutter punk can't give in? You've got plenty of friends. You even fucking have parents who seem to love you. You don't need me, too."

Trina sighed, looking up at the moon. "I do. Please don't ask me why, because I can't tell you yet. I swear to you that I will, as soon as I can. You're... special to me. I like you, Zoe." She dropped her gaze back down, seeming older than her years. "Have you really thought about what you said, that you could love 'enough'? Is that what you want for Brenna, someone who can love her 'enough'? Or do you want her to have someone who loves her with everything they are, body, mind, and soul? I've seen you with her, Zoe, and if you tell me you want her to have someone who can love her 'enough', you're a fucking liar. And if you tell me you don't want to be that someone, you're a fucking liar. You want to be the one who's there for her at night, the one who tucks her in when she goes to bed, and holds her when she has a nightmare, the one who fixes her breakfast and drops her off at school. You know it, and I know it. And I want that for you. Are you really willing to shortchange her? Or are you going to do what it takes to be able to love her completely, without reservation, without holding back because you're afraid of getting hurt?" She stood there, her face set in a challenge, but underneath Zoe could see a hint of fear, as if this were the last thing she had, and she was afraid it wouldn't be enough.

"Whatever I can give, she has," Zoe said quietly. "Whatever I'm capable of, I give her, however much it hurts. She understands that I would die for her if it would help, and that I'll live for her since it won't. But I won't let anything hurt her. And that means that I can't be weak, not in any way, because if I am, if I get distracted, or let anything affect me too much, I could fail her again, and I can't let that happen. It doesn't matter what I want, or how it feels, it's just the way it is."

"Love. Is Not. A Weakness!" Trina said fiercely, glaring at her.

Zoe sighed. "Anything that can be used against you is a weakness. But we weren't talking about love. I do love her. That's why I have to be strong."

"Then why the fuck are you denying yourself something that can make you stronger?" Trina asked. "I'm trying to toss you a fucking lifeline here so you can get up on shore and have a better foundation to help her with, and you keep throwing the fucking rope back at me! Damnit, meet me half-way here, or a quarter, at least! Damnit, I like you, and I like Brenna, and I want you to get what you want. I want her to have a mother who can love her with everything she is, not just the part she's not afraid to give. I see the way you look at her, and it breaks my fucking heart. I'm only human. But damnit, she deserves better than having only half your love, and so do you! You're so used to everyone trying to hurt you... damnit, can't you get it through your head that I won't? I. Won't. Hurt. You. EVER! You want me to swear it? FINE!" She grabbed a branch from the ground, breaking it over her knee, and jabbed the broken end roughly into her palm. "There!" She held up her hand, and Zoe could see a trickle of blood. "Blood oath, damnit! I don't know what else I can do to prove it to you. I won't hurt you. I won't weaken you, for fuck's sake. All I want to do is help you. Help you get what you need so that you can give her what she needs." Tears ran down her face. "What do I have to do to prove it to you?"

Zoe grabbed her wrists, eyes wide and a touch angry. "Are you crazy?" she demanded, glaring, but then her gaze wavered and softened, and she drew Trina's hands up against her chest and bowed her head over them. "Don't do that again. I can't stand to see you hurt yourself like this," she whispered.

"Then you understand how I feel," Trina said. "I don't know how else to show you."

"I don't know what to say to you," Zoe whispered. "I can't promise to be something I that I'm not, that I don't even know how to be."

"Try. That's all I'm asking. Let me in. Let me help."

"I don't know how," Zoe said, helplessly. "I'm sorry."

"All you have to do is... say yes. Say you'll try. That's the first step," Trina said. "Then stop pushing me away. It does help to talk to someone. I'm here. I won't tell anyone, not even my mother. If you need to talk, call me. I don't care if it's four in the morning, I'll listen. If you need a hug, tell me. I'll drive into town and deliver it. Zoe, you can count on me. I won't let you down, I swear. I swear..."

Zoe gave her wrists a little shake, squeezing them gently. "Shhh....shhh, it's okay. I believe you."

Trina stared into her eyes, trying to see whether she really did, and Zoe looked back at her, scared and confused, but not dishonest.

"Will you try?" Trina asked.

Zoe closed her eyes. "I don't want to lie to you. I don't want you to think I'm capable of things I'm not."

"All I'm asking you to do is try."

Zoe sighed. "All right," she said softly.

Trina smiled. "Thank you." She looked pensive for a moment. "You probably aren't capable of asking for a hug if you need one, are you?"

Zoe let go of her hands and shook her head in puzzlement. "You are the strangest person I've ever met."

Trina grinned. "You don't know the half of it. So... umm... would you like a hug?"

Zoe raised an eyebrow. "Would it make you feel better?"

Trina nodded.

"Then come on."

Trina reached out, pulling her close. Zoe returned the hug, a bit stiffly, but without fighting.

"So, um," Trina said. "You really have to go home tonight?"

Zoe nodded. "I can't risk pushing them, not right now."

Trina nodded in return. "Okay. You're going to see Brenna tomorrow?"

"I'm going to try," Zoe said. "They may not let me get away."

Trina grinned. "If you need help, give me a call."

"I'll be fine." Zoe held up a hand, shaking her head. "But if something should come up, I will. Okay?"

Trina nodded. "Okay."