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Sonuachara Chapter 9

Zoe was rubbing liniment into Brenna's leg when Trina showed up the next morning. She'd been afraid she'd end up grounded if the jackass was home, so she'd asked Trina to check on Brenna, just in case, and let her know what had happened if she wasn't there.

She frowned, disturbed. Trina looked like she hadn't gotten much, if any, sleep. "What happened?" she asked. "You get shit for being out so late?"

"Huh?" Trina blinked sleepily. "Oh. No. I had some stuff I had to do."She knelt down beside Brenna. "Hey, I brought you something."

The little girl looked at her, her face showing the strain of the cramping muscles from the previous day's therapy session. "Huh?"

Trina pulled a teddy bear out of the bag she was carrying. "Here. His name's Mikey. He'll help keep you safe." Zoe suspected she knew why Trina was so tired; the bear looked suspiciously hand-made.

Brenna's face brightened, and for a second she actually looked her age. "He can keep my allacorn company," she said, smiling as she tucked the bear in beside the little white winged unicorn already on the bed. "That way she won't be lonely when I go to the doctors."

She bit her lip, looking up at Zoe. "That's okay, isn't it, Zoe?"

Zoe nodded, rubbing more of the salve into the little mangled leg. "Of course it is, sweetheart."

Trina set a jar and a piece of paper down on the bed. "Here. This is for her leg. And these are the recipes."

Zoe wiped her hands on her jeans and tucked the paper into her pocket. Opening the jar, she sniffed it curiously. Whatever was in it obviously included mint, and, shrugging, she added it to what was already on the leg, rubbing it in in long, smooth, professional strokes. The tension in the muscles faded almost immediately, as if Brenna was hurting less, and Zoe shot Trina grateful smile.

Trina smiled back. "Hey, I've got to go. I just wanted to drop Mikey off for Brenna. I've got to stop by the hospital and then head home."

Zoe frowned again. "You safe to drive?"

"Yeah," Trina said. "Kinda tired, but I'll survive."

"You're sure everything is okay?" Zoe asked.

"Yeah," Trina said, nodding. "Like I said, I just had to do some stuff last night."

"Stuff?" Zoe asked. She looked down at Brenna. "Okay, sweety, you can get your pants back on. I'll be right back, okay?" She stood and motioned Trina to the door.

Out in the hall, she asked, in a whisper, "What stuff?"

"Just... stuff," Trina said, looking embarrassed. "You know."

Zoe's face softened. "Look... if you made the bear... thanks. That's... damned sweet. But if something else kept you up... something bad... tell me."

"No," Trina said, shaking her head. "Nothing bad. Nothing like what you're thinking. Just... if you want to make sure you're getting it right, you have to take the time to do it right, you know?"

"If you don't want to tell me, I won't push."

Trina sighed, smiling. "It was the bear, okay? And some other stuff that I'm still working on."

"Okay," Zoe said, smiling back. "Try and drive careful for once, then, huh?"

Trina looked blank. "But then what's the point?"

"Living is often considered good."

"Point." Trina smiled. "Need a hug?"

Zoe laughed and gave her a quick squeeze, one Trina hadn't expected, from the look on her face. "Go on... do what you have to do, then get home and sleep."

"Okay," Trina said. "See you later."

Sunday the jerk showed up at Zoe's foster home. In a bad mood. For once, Zoe couldn't blame him, though; he'd apparently fallen into a patch of poison ivy... and gotten so tangled up that it took him five minutes to get out.

Needless to say, however, it wasn't a good night, and she was glad when she was able to leave for school the next morning.

The rest of the week was fairly uneventful. She couldn't bring herself to turn down Trina's invitations to lunch, though she didn't particularly socialize.

Thursday, as they were on the way to the House, Trina asked, "Hey, I wanted to ask... my birthday's next week, and I'm having a party. Will you come?"

Zoe hesitated, at a loss as to how to answer, and Trina said, "Please?"

She bit her lip, thinking of the people who were going to be there, then sighed and nodded. "Okay. But I hate parties. It's nothing personal, I just hate them. So I won't promise to stay long, but what I can tolerate, I will."

"Thanks," Trina said, smiling. "It's Friday."

"All right," Zoe said. "Where and what time?"

"My house. People are supposed to start showing up around eight. If you want, we could just head out there after work."

"I'll talk to Mary and George," Zoe said. "See if it's a problem."

"Okay," Trina said, smiling shyly. "Thanks."

Zoe shook her head and gave her a one-sided smile. "I don't know how you talk me into shit like this."

Friday morning, Zoe was in a good mood. A really good mood. The night before she'd come home to find that the jerk had been walking under a tree limb just as it had broken. No real damage, but he had a headache from hell. She'd spent the night avoiding him and trying not to snicker.

Then, on the way to school, she'd seen the first set of Brenna's potential foster parents standing around their SUV. Their SUV with four flat tires. Apparently someone had spilled a box of nails in the street.

Zoe was in a very good mood, indeed. The only thing marring it was the nagging suspicion that Trina had talked to her mother's friends, and they had had something to do with it. At the time, she'd thought she'd talked Trina out of that by allowing her to help directly, but after seeing the nails, she realized that Trina could have thought she was going to help in addition to calling her mother's friends. It was slightly irritating, as a secret known by that many people wasn't a secret, and she made a note to be more careful about getting explicit agreement in the future.

On the other hand, the guy had just gotten out as she walked by, and had apparently stepped on a nail. Watching him hop around like that really brightened her morning.

Over the course of the day, Zoe noticed that Trina seemed to be paying her more attention than she'd have expected. She wasn't sure why, and it made her slightly uncomfortable, but no one else seemed to notice, so she didn't say anything; it might have been her imagination, though she didn't think so.

That evening, she waited outside the hotel where she'd gotten the pictures. She'd taken Trina's advice, and passed them on to the police after dabbing out the boy's face with some acetone, so that they couldn't tell who he was, along with a note that they'd be back that Friday.

She knew it wasn't a smart idea to be there, but her desire to watch them get taken down overrode her common sense. She needed to see it.

Shortly after the couple entered the room, half a dozen cop cars came screeching into the parking lot. The cops busted the door down, and the couple was led out in handcuffs, followed by a girl who looked about thirteen. The man was screaming about 'entrapment', and 'if she's really eighteen, we didn't do anything wrong', but the cops weren't listening.

They did, however, react when the woman made a grab for one of the guns. Zoe hit the ground, diving behind a dumpster, and heard two shots, followed by a scream.

When she peeked around the corner, the woman was sitting on the ground, bleeding from a thigh wound, and her husband was being shoved into the back of one of the cruisers without any real concern for his comfort.

So Zoe was smiling when she made it home. It didn't last long after that, unfortunately, though it was close.

The good news was that it just wasn't the jerk's week. Not at all, not even a little. Apparently, Zoe had no idea how, he'd managed to fall into an open sewer. And hit his head again when he did, so that his headache was back. And the poison ivy still wasn't gone.

The bad news was that he was in an unutterably foul mood, and he was taking it out on her. There was no way to avoid him short of leaving, and she didn't want to risk being moved because she'd pissed off her foster parents, so she had no choice but to deal with it.

She was looking forward to getting to the House the next morning.