Âme Soeur

V.

"I can't believe you! I can't fucking believe you Roza!" yelled Ratchet, her fists shaking in her anger. She had never been so mad at Roza before and Roza was absolutely terrified.

"I'm sorry Ratchet! I'm sorry! I swear I was going to tell you," said Roza, backing away from her best friend. She had never been so afraid of Ratchet before, had never thought that she would ever see Ratchet's anger directed at her. But she knew she deserved nothing less, not after she had led Racquell on for so long only to turn around and begin dating Axel.

Ratchet's fist shot out and Roza flinched, expecting it to hit her, which she would have accepted without resistance. Rather, Ratchet's fist connected with the wall that was behind Roza's head, making a large hole in it. "When?! When did you plan on telling me Rozaria!?"

Roza could only cower under her friend's wrath, scared as she was, but deserving of it. "I never meant to lead you on Ratchet, it's just…" Roza stuttered out.

"Just what! JUST WHAT!? You decided that maybe you didn't like me as much as you said!?" yelled Ratchet right in Roza's face, giving her no breathing room, showing how upset and angry and just pissed off she was.

"No!" yelled Roza franticly, eyes meeting those of a desperate Ratchet.

"THEN WHAT!?" Ratchet yelled with such force that the very walls of their shared dorm room seemed to shake.

Roza just shook her head and the tears she had been holding back began to fall rapidly. She had nothing to say. Nothing she could say would ever make what she had done okay.

Ratchet backed from Roza slowly, her breathing harsh and heavy. She only shook her head before turning to storm out of the room. She slammed the door behind her, causing some girls on their floor to poke their heads from their rooms to be nosy. Ratchet didn't have time to deal with Roza anymore. She had to get ready for graduation the next day.

VI.

I ran from the house that I shared with Axel. He was in a foul mood and I didn't want to be on the receiving end of his anger tonight, pissed over something that I couldn't control. He'd lose it even more once he realized that I was gone, but I'd deal with the consequences when I got back. I didn't feel like being his punching bag tonight. I was getting sick and tired of being his punching bag period. I'd have to find some way to get rid of him permanently. There was no one to protect me, only myself, and I had been doing a real shitty job of that.

I blamed on the fact that when our relationship had its ups, they were really good ups. Axel hadn't always been so abusive, but that had changed not too long after we began dating. Back then I didn't have anyone to turn to so I just dealt with it. The downs in our relationship were harsh, especially on me. But it was when Axel had his good days, the up days that made me stay with him. He treated me like I was his world, and I liked meaning something, anything for someone.

The keys in my hands jingled as opened the door to my car, a yellow Camaro with black racing stripes. It was the only nice thing I let myself have and the one thing I was vain about. I was a huge fan of Transformers and thus called my baby BumbleBee. I didn't let anyone drive it but myself and the one time Axel tried to, I broke his hand, one of the only times I struck out against him. It was six years old and an old friend from college convinced me to get it. I didn't like to be flashy with my money, but she knew I wanted it bad and had managed to get me to buy it. She had been the only other person that I had let drive my car. But she was special in a way no one else was.

I inserted the key, started Bee up, tossed it into gear, and quickly accelerated away from my house, changing the gears as I went without conscious thought. I didn't know where I was going, but I did know that I wanted to get as far away as I could and that I wanted a drink. All of the local bars would be the first to be checked. I'd had these moods before so Axel knew what I'd be going for. Since I didn't want to be found, I started driving towards the other end of Cresting Hills that no one really considered part of the town. It was like a black spot in the middle of a pristine white table cloth. It was one of the seediest places in Cresting Hills and I had only been there a couple of times, and never alone. I figured that it would be the last place Axel would look though and any extra time that I could be away from him tonight, I wanted to take.

I drove quickly and with purpose. I watched as the upscale houses disappeared and dilapidated ones appeared. I knew I had arrived where I wanted and I began to drive with a purpose, looking for a bar that didn't seem too sketchy, although that was asking a lot. Here and there I saw drug deals going down and as night began to fall, women with too much make up on and too little clothes began walking the streets. Eventually though I found a bar that seemed as decent as I was going to get.

I pulled around the back of the bar to the little parking area. I didn't have much faith that my car would be in the shape that it currently was in when I came back out of the bar, but I was willing to take that risk by this point. I shut off the engine and removed myself from my car, locking it behind me as I strolled around to the front entrance.

The plaque over the bar said "The Jaded." I didn't think that was quite a promising name, but I continued through the entrance anyways. As I stepped through the doorway, the smell of stale smoke and old alcohol hit my senses like sledgehammer. It was a smell that I was used to, but not to this scale. It smelled as if they had never cleaned the place, and as I took in the bar, I wouldn't have been surprised if it really hadn't ever been cleaned.

A number of the male customers turned to look at me, and some gazes weren't as innocent as the others. They were gruff looking men and I got the impression that they had seen a lot in their days, especially if they lived in this part of town. I guess they looked, well…jaded.

I ignored the looks that I was receiving and made my way to an open seat at the bar. I figured that I would be safest there. The bartender took notice of me and came down my way. He was an older gentleman and was nicely dressed, in jeans and Tims with a button up shirt. "Hey doll, what can I get you?" He was straight to the point, not asking why someone like me was in a bar like his. It was obvious that I didn't belong and that I stood out like a sore thumb, with my upper class business woman attire that I had worn to work.

"Southern Comfort on the rocks please," I replied back, pulling some cash from my pocket and peeling a few bills away. It was enough to cover the drink with a little extra for the bartender. I was appreciative. He slid the bills into his pocket and headed off to get my drink with a nod. I knew the drink was strong, but I didn't want to mess around with any sissy drinks tonight.

Once I got my drink I immediately began sipping on it, grimacing at the way that it burned my throat. I liked it. I lit up a cigarette and bobbed my head in time with the hard rock music that played as I smoked it.

I sat there for a while, ordering whiskey after whiskey and I began to feel pretty good when I heard a number of loud people enter the bar behind me. There was raucous laughter and a bunch of hooping and hollering. I turned around to check out the new arrivals and the cigarette I had hanging from my lips fell to the ground. There, standing in the doorway with her arms thrown around a couple of guys, was Ratchet, my once best friend. Her head was tossed back in laughter and she was clearly enjoying herself.

I quickly turned back around to face the bar and put my head down. Please don't see me, I prayed, please don't see me. But alas, she of course saw me. I heard her laughter quiet down and I could feel her eyes drilling holes into the back of my head.

"Roza?" I heard her call behind me. I could have ignored it, but she knew it was me and I knew she knew. I turned to face her with a smile plastered on my face, a hand rising to give a wave. She looked at me like she had when we first saw each other in high school with shock clearly written across her features.

She turned to her friends to tell them something and motioned them away. They just nodded their heads and a couple clapped her shoulder as they left her alone to find a table off in a dark corner. Ratchet turned her attention back to me and made her way to the open seat next to me. She waved her hand and the bartender acknowledged, showing that she was a regular here.

I concentrated my attention on the drink in my hand, but once in a while I would glance from the corner of my eye to take in Ratchet. If possible, she had gotten even taller and more muscular since our days at college. But otherwise we sat there next to each other in silence. We hadn't seen each other in four years, since our last year in college. We had had a huge fight that pretty much blew up our friendship.

"How have you been Roza?" asked Ratchet, obviously tired of the quiet. She was never much for silence – that was me. She liked to be loud and laughing and talking all the time, always the center of attention because she just commanded it. I rather just give her the spot light on the other hand. I was content being in the background, just listening instead.

In reply, I just shrugged my shoulders, and took another sip of my drink. Instead of leaving it at that, I motioned with my hand, asking without words how she had been. Ratchet gave a small smile at my antics. "I see you haven't changed much, Roza," said Ratchet, the smile even being heard in her voice, "But I've been alright. I have my own mechanic shop now. It's just a couple of blocks down from here. I guess that engineering degree I got went to shit."

I nodded my head in response to heard, a small smile creeping up on my face at her statement. "I told you that it was pointless for you to go to college for engineering. You should have just went to a technical school for automotives," I said quietly, glancing at Ratchet more fully this time. She was watching me intently, almost as if she was studying me. I got a little fidgety then, and pulled out another cigarette out of nerves. Just then I heard Ratchet give a laugh and I faced her, surprised at the large smile that was across her features.

She threw her arm around my shoulders and brought me close in a kind of hug, still giving little giggles. "It's like we'd never been apart." I had to agree with that statement, as stunned as I was to realize that she was right. Despite the fight and then not talking for another four years, meeting like this again really felt like we had never been apart.

People might have called it coincidence, but I was going along more with the idea of fate. I remember hearing my Momma saying when I was a younger girl that soul mates had a fate intertwined. And maybe that's what Ratchet and I were: âme soeur, like my Momma would say about her and Da.

From that point on we began catching up with each other. How Ratchet's business was going, how I was using my Psychology degree, where she was living now, where I was living now, etc. Time passed quickly and the last call came from the bartender. By that point both Ratchet and I were in no condition to drive.

"Lem'me…jus' lemme call a cab…" I muttered to Ratchet, trying to focus in on my phone without success. It seemed to keep moving on me and it was tricking me with two of them. Ratchet let out a laugh and pushed my hand that was holding the phone.

"Ahhh, don' pay fer a cab! My place…my place is jus' a few blocks…fra-from here," said Ratchet, already pulling me by my free hand down the street. I followed without complaint, since I really didn't want to pay for a cab nor did I want to go home. And if I stayed with Ratchet, I could get my car in the morning. If it was still there. God I hoped it will be.

The two of us arrived in front of the mechanic shop and went around back to where a set of stairs led to the apartment above the shop where Ratchet lived. We stumbled through her door, laughing and clutching at each other like we had after many drunken college nights. Kicking off our shoes, we made our way further into the house until we came to Ratchet's room where we both collapsed on the bed.

We were laughing when Ratchet suddenly went quiet and turned towards me. My laughter slowly died down and I laid there breathing hard to catch my breath, gazing back at Ratchet. She grabbed the back of my neck and pulled me towards her, kissing me before pulling back an inch.

"We shouldn't do this," she said as our breaths mingled, talking more to herself than me. I couldn't help but agree that she was right, that we shouldn't be doing this. We were both drunk and in the back of my mind Axel's name floated around. I reached out to her.

"I don't much care what we shouldn't do, but what we want to do," I said quietly and kissed her back.

IV.

Roza Ramunni followed behind the Senior Class President of Cresting Hills High, who was showing her around for her first day at the school, into the cafeteria. The place was large, holding well over four hundred students and was loud and chaotic. Here and there were cliques of people standing, sitting, and doing everything in between. Some kids were eating, some weren't, and some were getting their food. All in all it reminded Roza too much of her time in the orphanage, a time best left forgotten.

The President was talking and pointing out various things to Rozaria, but she wasn't much interested in what he had to say. She was busy looking for someone in particular, the same someone she had been looking for since she first stepped into the school. Her eyes travelled the entire cafeteria, scanning slowly, making sure she didn't miss a thing. Finally, a tall figure with black hair caught her eye. She studied the figure for a moment, noticing the hand gesturing and how the surrounding people watched the figure vividly. There was something vaguely familiar about the person she was watching.

"Who is that?" asked Rozaria, pointing out the figure, watching as the people laughed at whatever the person had just said. The President followed Roza's finger to the object of her interest and sighed when he notice who she was looking at.

"That's Racquell Delacroix, captain of the swim team and one of the most popular people in the school. Everyone knows her. Most everyone loves her. People call her Ratchet though because of her hobby of working on cars," said the President with a dull voice. Obviously he was not one of Racquell's biggest fans. Roza nodded and began to make her way towards Racquell, nervous and scared. She remembered Racquell, had missed her for years, but would Racquell remember her? Had Racquell really missed her? It had been ten years after all since they had last seen each other, their only form of communication being a few recent letters. Roza had waited for a decade for this opportunity, to be able to see Racquell again.

Roza got closer and closer to Racquell, noticing how tall the girl had gotten, a figure easily over six feet. She had gained solid muscles and wide shoulders, no doubt from all the swimming she did. Roza herself had only end up growing to five feet three inches with lean muscles that she garnered from her martial arts classes.

Racquell had yet to take notice of her and the same with the people around her. Roza's stomach jumped to her throat with the nerves she felt, but she stepped directly behind Racquell. She stood on tip toes and wrapped her hands around Racquell to cover her eyes. Roza had to press herself against Racquell to keep her balance and she could feel as Racquell laughed because of her antics.

"Guess who," said Roza quietly, just loud enough to be heard by Racquell. Immediately Roza could feel that Racquell had stopped laughing. The people around them focused their attention the girl that had attached herself to Racquell. Roza ignored them though as she felt one of Racquell's hands wrap around her own to peel them away from her face. Roza pulled her hands from Racquell's and dropped down from her tip toes. Slowly, Racquell turned to face Roza, shock written across her features.

"Roza…" was all Racquell could whisper, her eyes blinking rapidly. Roza could see the wetness in Racquell's eyes that she was blinking away. Tears built in Roza's own eyes from the relief at knowing that despite the passing of ten years, Racquell had remembered her and was apparently willing to cry for her.

Roza threw herself at Racquell putting her hands around Racquell's neck, barely brushing the floor with her feet with Racquell's height. She buried her face into her very best friend's shoulder and shook slightly with the crying that she had finally let loose. Roza could feel Racquell wrap her arms around her waist and squeeze Roza to herself.

It may have been a decade since the two last saw each other, but that time went right out the window as it didn't matter to them. They would start off just where they ended.

VII.

I sat up in the bed, wide awake, smoking a cigarette. I could see the cherry easily in the dark room that was only lighted by a small sliver of moonlight that streamed through black curtained window. I sucked hard on the cig, holding the burning smoke for as long as I could before expelling it in a single smooth breath. The blue haze moved before my eyes for a moment when it would disperse through the room and out of my sight.

Giving a small sigh, I flicked the ashes of my cigarette into the ash tray that was place conveniently on the nightstand by the bed. My eyes then flicked to the other side of me, where the other occupant of the bed laid on her stomach, the sheet tangled around her waist and her hair fanned out across the pillow.

I stubbed out the rest of my cigarette in the ash tray and turned onto my side to face her. I stared at the bare skin of her back for a few minutes before I finally reached out with my hand to caress the skin. The skin itself was soft underneath my fingers, but I could feel the hard muscles underneath the skin. My fingers ran over a few bumps that I took note of, deciding that I would work out the knots in the morning. It still felt surreal though to touch what I had been missing and yearning for the past four years.

Who would have thought that going to the bar in the seedier part of town would have led me to run into Ratchet. It made sense though, as her auto shop could be found only a few blocks away from the bar. I guess it just didn't connect in my mind that after a hard day of working on greasy cars all day, one would want to grab a beer. Or maybe I just didn't want to make that connection. Or think about Ratchet in general. I was surprised at how well our sudden meeting went when we ran into each other. Obviously it went well if we were in her bed, naked.

I continued to trace my fingers across Ratchet's back, lightly making designs and writing words. She murmured a bit and shifted in the bed, turning her face towards me. I pulled my hand away from her back and put it by her face to move the dark black hair the obscured her face. The tips of my fingers brushed against her face, causing her to let out a sigh.

Ratchet's features had always been so opposite of mine, with her truly black hair, emerald green eyes, and olive complexion. She was the dark to my light, with my white-blonde hair, baby blue eyes, and pale white complexion. I continued to admire her aristocratic features, gained from a having a French noble heritage. She was so beautiful, in a way so very different than my own porcelain baby doll features.

I moved myself closer to Ratchet to throw an arm across her back and rest my head on the back of her shoulder. She muttered again, this time opening one eye to peer at me. She seemed to study me before rolling more onto her side to face me and pull me in close to her warm body. I tucked my heard under Ratchet's chin and tangled my legs with hers. I wanted to be close to her again.

My eyes slipped shut as sleep began to take over me. I could feel Ratchet's breathing even out as she fell back asleep quickly. I planned on joining her momentarily, but then I heard a banging noise coming from the apartment. It was muffled by the fact that the bedroom door was closed, and I wasn't even sure if I heard right, being in the stage between sleep and awake that I was. But then the banging came again, only this time louder and followed by a deep bellowing.

I rolled over and away from Ratchet, confused as to what was going on. Who could it be at this time of night banging on Ratchet's door? I slipped from underneath the covers and grabbed the nearest shirt I could find. It was large and fell past my knees and smelled like grease, so I knew it was Ratchet's. I made my way to exit the bedroom when I heard Ratchet groan unhappily as the banging increase in volume, as did the yelling.

"Go back to sleep," I whispered as I back out of the door, "I'll see who it is." I heard Ratchet groan in compliance just as the door clicked shut. I turned and began to pad my way barefooted to the front door and the lunatic.

As I entered the living room and got closer to the door, the yelling began to sound familiar and I began to understand it.

"-za! I know you're in there! Open the GOD DAMN DOOR NOW!"

I froze in shock, my hand stretched out to the door handle. My heart began to race and sweat formed on my brow. I knew that voice, that very angry voice. It was Axel, my boyfriend. I didn't understand how he could have found me, here, at Ratchet's. He didn't even know where I went out tonight. My hand trembled in fear, but if I didn't open the door soon, he would for sure wake Ratchet and she would come out to see what was going on. I steeled myself to open the door.

I twisted the handle at the same time I undid the lock and swung open the door. Axel's hand was raised in a fist, ready to crash down on the door again and mouth open to yell for me. His eyes widened momentarily at the sight of me in only a men's shirt before he gained his composure back and shoved me with the force of a football player's tackle back into the apartment. I fell hard on my, Axel following my path.

I could only stare up into his face, as red as his hair in his anger. His hazel eyes were wild with rage and it was all directed at me. I feared for my life as our eyes met and locked. Axel bent over and picked me up by the collar of Ratchet's shirt, ripping it with his strength.

"You cheating SLUT!" screamed Axel the accusation in my face, shaking me as if I was no more than a rag doll. "You didn't think I would find you after you ran from the house?! You'll NEVER be able to hide from me!"

"What the fuck is going on?" asked a quiet, but menacing voice from somewhere behind me. I knew it was Ratchet, as I had heard her speak like that numerous times before now. She only used that voice when someone was hurting me. "You get your damn hands off Roza. Now."

Axel gave a cruel smirk as he flung me hard away from him and at Ratchet. I hit the ground hard again, stopping at Ratchet's feet. She was already on her knees, checking me over for major injuries, worry written over her face. She got me into a sitting position before looking back to Axel, a dark look crossing her face.

"Get out. Before I make you get out," said Ratchet, her eyes hardened flecks of emerald and voice carrying only hatred. Axel only stared back at Ratchet, his eyes even more wild than before. I could tell that he didn't plan on moving anytime soon. Ratchet realized that too and stood up to physically remove him if she needed to.

Axel was big, standing at six feet six inches, but so was Ratchet standing at six feet two inches. Both were also solid muscle, and if it came down to it, I don't know who would really win a fight. I had seen Ratchet fight men bigger than her, but none of them had been as cruel as Axel. He'd hit anyone, man or woman, without remorse or care. I should know as I had been on the receiving end of his anger more than once.

Ratchet took a step towards him, but Axel had other plans as he pulled a gun from the waistband of his pants and steadied the sight on Ratchet.

"I don't think so bitch," said Axel as he cocked the gun and Ratchet froze to a halt. I was in motion though, and moved quickly. I watched as Axel squeezed the trigger and the hammer came crashing down. The noise of the gun was deafening, but Ratchet's screams were even more so. I felt my body jerk back as my legs gave way and I fell to the ground.

III.

Roza sat at the chair outside of Mr. Creps office, her short legs kicking back and forth out of boredom. She stared hard at the intricately designed door of the office, her little form bouncing with each kick of her feet. She knew that there was meeting going on behind those doors about a pending adoption request for her. Roza had already been placed back at the orphanage twice in the last two years since she had arrived at the orphanage. She had been deemed a problem child, but it was where the potential parents had lived that was the problem. She did not want to leave Cresting Hills.

However, from what Roza had overheard about the new potential adoptees, they lived in East Hills, which she knew to be just outside of Cresting Hills. She could deal with that fact, but if Mr. Creps kept going on about how she was such a problem child then they might decide not to adopt her afterall.

She had met with the couple a few times before, but she hadn't exactly been on her best behavior. It wasn't as bad as Mr. Creps made it sound, but she now wished that she had been more curtious to the couple. They had been nice enough after all, but Roza hadn't known at the time they lived so close to Cresting Hills, and thus hadn't exactly wanted to be adopted to him.

Roza bit her lip out of nervousness and kicked her legs harder. The talking behind the door had stopped and now she would find out if the couple, who had earlier said their names were Lilith and Adam, were going to take her home. The click of the door opening echoed down the empty hallway and Lilith and Adam exited the room, followed by Mr. Creps. Lilith had a large smile on her face and made a beeline for Roza, Adam's smile just as large as she followed behind her.

"Roza," said Lilith as she kneeled down to Roza's height in the chair, "Adam and I would very much enjoy it if you would come home with us as our new daughter." Behind Lilith, Adam looked nervous as if Roza was going to say 'no,' but his smile remained in place.

Roza looked between the two people who wanted to become her knew parents. She thought for a moment about everything she knew about them. She remembered them saying that they were strict Roman Catholics which made her wonder what she was going to have to live like with them, but one look at Mr. Creps and her decision was made. Nodding her head she looked back to Lilith who immediately embraced her and Adam rested his hand on her head.

Lilith pulled away after a moment and wiped her eyes. She pulled Roza to her feet and muttered about gathering up all of Roza's things. Mr. Creps moved forward to shake Lilith and Adam's hands like he had just completed a business transaction. He then placed his hand on Roza's shoulder and gave it a small squeeze as he gazed down at her. The touch lingered too long for Roza's liking and she moved from under his hand and grasped Lilith's.

She tugged Lilith lightly to get her moving down the long hallway. Lilith and Adam said their goodbyes to Mr. Creps before they walked with Roza down the hall. Roza glanced over her shoulder though and gave a small shiver at the look Mr. Creps gave her.

She turned back to face front, much ready to face a strict life with Lilith and Adam than have to deal with the mean kids her pulled at her hair and clothes, the bad tasting food, and the funny smelling nurses. Roza was also just glad to get away from Mr. Creps touches that weren't always as nice as the one he just gave her.

VIII.

I could feel the heat spreading through the upper part of my chest, near my shoulder. It became sharper and burned hotter with each passing second. I could feel liquid warmth slipping between my fingers as I pushed against the heat to try to alleviate it.

It hurt, I think, but I was numb for the most part. I could hear my pulse pounding in my ears and not much else. At one point I had heard screaming, but it had faded out to be replaced by the pounding in my ears. I was down on one knee, hunched over, trying to catch a breath that wouldn't seem to come. Rather, I let out a wet coughing, covering my mouth automatically with the hand that wasn't pushed against my wound. I pulled my hand away, seeing a number of red dots speckled across it. I coughed again, feeling blood dribble from mouth and watching as it sprayed against the floor.

A clicking noise cut through my trance-like state and the pounding in my ears. I jerked my head up to look at Axel cocking his gun, the barrel pointed off behind me. His eyes seemed to roll around their sockets in his wild and crazed rage.

"I'll kill you," Axel muttered, steadying his hand and taking aim down the barrel of the gun, "I'll kill both of you." I could see his hand tightening, his finger beginning to exert pressure on the trigger. I moved faster than I thought I ever could.

Axel's eyes widened as he saw me come at him, swinging his gun around towards me, but I struck out, pushing his hand away. A shot rang out and the bullet whizzed off to embed itself into a wall of the apartment. I wrapped my hand around his wrist and gave a sharp twist, feeling bones crack underneath my fingers, forcing Axel to drop the gun. He let out a pained bellow and swung his other fist around, trying to hit me. I blocked with my arm perpendicular to his, feeling his weight begin to push me. I gave a jab with my free hand to his nose, hearing the crunch of bones breaking. Axel stumbled back and yelled out again, blood flowing freely from his nose. I launched myself at him, my Wushu and Muay Thai training taking over.

I struck without mercy, driving Axel further and further back until he finally was up against a wall. I struck out with strength and power that I had never used before. He tried to swing at me and block my strikes, but I only countered and struck at the many openings he had. I didn't even try to fight fair either. It was kill or be killed at this point, and I planned on living. A below the belt shot made Axel drop his hands from protecting his face and neck and gave me the opening I was waiting for.

With a blind intent on surviving, I pulled my arm back, bending it at the elbow, and thrust forward while cutting my elbow horizontally. The force behind my elbow was nothing short of lethal as I drove it right into Axel's neck, crushing windpipe and Adam's apple. My Muay Thai sensei would have been surprised at the strength I put behind my blow.

Axel crumpled to the ground before my eyes and I stood for a moment longer before I followed the same path, falling to my knees harshly. The screaming of the other occupant in the room flooded my hearing at that point.

I felt Ratchet catch me as I began falling backwards, her arms sliding beneath my shoulders and under my knees to lift me up. She lifted me up as if I was nothing and hurried me to the door leading out of her apartment, screaming for help desperately. I had never heard her sound as she did now as she ran through the open door, alternately yelling for someone to call 9-1-1 and for me to stay with her.

My right side was pressed against the front of her body and her comforting warmth flooded my body. It was the complete opposite of the burning fire that was radiating from the left side of my chest. As I took notice of the pain breaching through the numbness that I had not minutes before, I realized that it felt like I was trying to breathe while drinking something, a scary feeling of almost drowning. My vision was also sliding in and out of focus.

My head lolled against Ratchet's chest and then fell to hang limply. It felt like a weight had been put in my head. I could feel Ratchet shaking me, making my head loll a bit more, but it felt like she lessened the weight in my head. I rolled my head and eyes to look up into her face, taking notice of the tears that seemed to be streaming down from her eyes.

II.

Rozaria Ramunni looked out from the backseat of the police car she was in. Her hand was pressed flat against the window and with every breath the window gained a little more fog to it. She watched as police men and firemen and men in white coats walked in and out of her home, under and over the yellow taped that had the letters C-A-U-T-I-O-N in big, bold letters on it. She could see some of her neighbors gathered around on the sidewalk, whispering to each other, pointing in Rozaria's direction.

She didn't much understand what was happening right now and that made her even more scared than when bad men had come into her house. She wasn't really scared then because her Da had told her to hide, be a good girl, and that he'd take care of everything. She hadn't seen her Da since then, but she wasn't worried. Her Da was the strongest boy around and could protect her and Momma no problem. But now that she thought about it, Rozaria hadn't seen Momma either. She just shrugged to herself though. Momma was probably scolding Da for something or another like always. They'd come to get her from the police car soon enough; hopefully though they wouldn't scold her for talking to Miss Haslett, even though she was a stranger.

Miss Haslett had talked to Rozaria earlier, not long after she had been placed in the police car by a nice policeman. She had asked Rozaria a bunch of questions though. At first they had been about the bad men and what her parents had done when they came in, what she had seen, and what she had heard. Then Miss Haslett asked Rozaria if she had any other family she knew of. Rozaria tried to answer the best she could, but she was tired and just wanted to see Momma and Da.

Rozaria continued to gaze outside of the police car, noticing when an old, black car rolled up to the curb. She perked up and pressed both hands to the window, recognizing the car as Racquell's mom's car. Maybe Mrs. Delacroix had brought Racquell over to see her! She was starting to get lonely in the back of the police car, with only her brown bear, Teddy, as company. He didn't talk much after all.

Mrs. Delacroix exited her vehicle quickly and nearly ran to a nearby police officer. However, Rozaria wasn't much interested in that, instead she waited for Racquell to exit the vehicle in order to follow her mom. She was upset when it became apparent that Racquell wasn't with her mom and Rozaria fell back into the seat, her bottom lip pushed out in a pout.

A police officer opened the front door by the driver's seat and popped his head in to look back at Rozaria. "Hello, my name is Officer Tennison. I'm going to take you to the police station, okay Rozaria?" said Officer Tennison, already beginning to slide into the driver's seat.

"Roza."

"Excuse me?" asked the officer as he started up the engine and began pulling away from the large white house that was surrounded by yellow tape. Rozaria twisted around in her seat, forgetting the number one rule of putting her seatbelt on. The people bustling in and out of her house got smaller by the second, but Rozaria saw Mrs. Delacroix waving her hands around and pointing at the retreating car. Rozaria couldn't help but think that Mrs. Delacroix looked even madder than the time that she and Racquell had tracked mud all over the Delacroix's house after they had a mud fight.

Rozaria turned back around and plopped down in her seat, immediately buckling her seatbelt. Her parents would whoop her butt if they knew that she hadn't immediately done so. She fiddled with her bear a moment longer before, "I don't like being called Rozaria, so it's Roza." She paused for a minute, staring up into the front seat. "Where's Momma and Da? They're going to get mad at me for leaving the house without telling them."

Rozaria watched as Officer Tennison shifted in his seat like her Da did when she asked him where babies came from. "Don't worry about that for now," said Officer Tennison, "someone will talk to you about that when we get to the police station." Rozaria frowned at that answer, reminding her of when her Da had replied to her questioning with, "your mother will tell you when you're older." She wanted to know now, but knew that if she kept pushing for an answer the Officer would probably get mad like her Da did when she kept bugging him. Instead, Roza flopped back into her seat and began playing with Teddy, watching ever once in a while as the life she knew was left behind without her even realizing it.

IX.

I came to once more to the sound of sirens and flashing lights. Ratchet was still holding me and I could hear her crying. Everything that I tried to focus on just remained blurry and my breathing only kept getting harder with each breath. I could only smell copper and only feel pain. It seemed as if my hearing was the only sense still working, and even then everything seemed too loud.

I felt jostled as I was placed on something. I got suddenly cold then and knew that Ratchet had moved away, but I felt her hand on mine and knew she was still near. Voices floated about me saying things that I didn't much understand. There were a couple of things that I did understand though, like "punctured lung," "too much blood loss," "internal bleeding," and "this doesn't look good." But I wasn't worried. I mean, I was worried for Ratchet because I could still hear her crying and feel her hand shaking on mine, but I wasn't worried for me.

My life didn't flash before my eyes like all the movies and books say it does, but I could definitely tell I wasn't pulling out of this one. I had to tell Ratchet something before I went though.

"I told you…" I managed to gurgle a bit before it got choked off.

"Shh," said Ratchet, all watery and stuffed from the crying, "Don't try to talk."

I ignored her though and worked my throat again, "I told you I'd protect you one day." I heard as Ratchet let out a sob at that. "I love you," I managed in a whisper as my head went from being heavy to being very light in a quick moment. The lightness moved through my body and I heard Ratchet screaming "no, no, no!"

Then there was a loud rushing noise in my ears.

I.

In a large field surrounded by large trees and filled with wild flowers and tall, towering weeds two little girls could be seen playing. One was small enough that she was nearly hidden by the tall weeds and flowers. The other girl, standing head and shoulders over even the tallest of the weeds and flowers chased after the littler one, both giggling with the innocence of their age.

"Ha ha ha! Roza! I've got you!" giggled the bigger of the two girls as she lightly tackled the littler one. The two rolled in the grass for a moment laughing aloud, without care of getting their clothing dirty. Eventually Roza, the smaller one, straddled the waist of the larger girl and crossed her arms over the other girl to lie atop her.

Roza smiled brightly down into the other girl's face, "Racquell, we'll always be friends forever, won't we?" She believed that they would always be friends, but she wanted to know what her friend thought. She was a curious little girl.

Laughing brightly, Racquell turned over, throwing little Roza to the ground who started laughing as she hit it. Racquell then rolled over Roza, pinning her lightly to the ground, always mindful of how little Roza was compared to her. She threw a smile that was confident for an eight-year-old down to her small friend. "Of course we're going to be friends forever Rozaria. Who else is going to protect you from all those mean boys?" Racquell laughed at the look that Roza gave her.

Roza pushed hard at Racquell's shoulder, embarrassed by the fact that Racquell used her full name and the reminder that she needed protected. Racquell didn't even move from the shove to her shoulder and only laughed at Roza's attempt. Roza huffed, crossed her arms, and turned her face from Racquell's. Racquell could only laugh once more, laying herself lightly atop Roza and wrapping her arms around the tiny girl. "You know I'm only messin' with ya, Roza! I like being able to protect you anyways. 'Cause that way you'll grow your hair long again."

Roza turned back to face Racquell, their faces barely inches from each other. She unfolded her arms and twisted a hand in her hair, shortened because she had been tired of the mean boys pulling on her long hair. Racquell had been really upset when she had seen what Roza had done to her hair and had beat on a couple of the boys pretty badly.

Roza reached up and wrapped her arms around Racquell's neck to give her a tight hug. "I'm going to be able to protect you one day Racquell, just you see."

Racquell let out a small laugh at Roza's exclamation. "I won't ever need protected Roza. I'm big enough to take care of myself." Racquell gave a small squeeze of affection before rolling to lie next to Roza on her back and turned her head to face Roza.

Reaching out towards Racquell, Roza grabbed her hand and held on to it tightly. Racquell wound her fingers around Roza's in return. The two laid next to each other, watching as the sky darkened and listening for the crickets to come out. Eventually the two heard Roza's mom calling for the both of them from the house.

Racquell stood up, pulling Roza along with her. The two walked together, hand-in-hand, towards the large white house that could be seen through the trees. They were in no hurry to get back, knowing that once they were there, Racquell's parents would be waiting to take her home.

Before the two passed the trees into the primly trimmed lawn of the Ramunnis, Roza pulled Racquell to a stop. Racquell turned towards Roza, a confused look on her face. Roza shuffled her feet in the dirt, head tilted down, and fingers tightening around Racquell's.

"I'll love you forever, even if we aren't bestest friends forever," mumbled Roza, her face glowing with a blush. In a flash Roza stood up on her tippy toes and gave Racquell a peck on the cheek and then dashed her way to her house. Racquell stood confused for a moment, before letting out a shriek of laughter and chasing after Roza, intent on catching her.