“The state of Washington Child Services. She’ll be placed into a care home soon. At worst, some fucking drunk with a penchant for touching small kids will get her. She’ll grow up thinking it’s normal for Daddy Steve to touch her in her special fucking places. At best, she’ll be given to some down-and-out family who don’t give a shit about her so long as the government keeps on sending through the checks.”
“And how will me standing up in court and testifying against Raphael and Hector change that? If you’re so worried about her upbringing, Rebel, why the hell aren’t you petitioning for custody of her? She’s your blood relative right? You just said she’s your cousin.” Which makes the man in the photo, Ryan, his uncle. Rebel’s refusal to let this drop suddenly makes a whole lot more sense. His uncle. God, this gets more and more fucked up by the day.
“I can’t have her with me,” he says flatly.
“Why not? You afraid looking after a kid’s gonna cramp your style? That’s pretty fucking selfish.”
He clenches his jaw, clearing the picture from his cell phone screen and sliding it back into his pocket. I can tell I’ve made him angry just by the way he’s pressing his knuckles into the roof of the car. “I have a criminal record, Sophia. I live on a compound out in the middle of nowhere with a group of people who all have rap sheets as long as your arms. I’m not fucking evil. If I could take her, I would.”
I’ve accused him of being an asshole from the moment I met him. Turns out I’m an asshole, too. “I’m sorry, okay. I just—”
“A guy in my position, looking like I do, involved in the shit I’m running…you made an assumption about me. An assumption anyone else would make, too. Don’t sweat it. But know, the reason why I’m doing this…the reason why I’m going to convince you to do what I’m asking, isn’t because of me. Not because the man who helped raise me was murdered and I’m pissed about it. Which I am. But because I want justice. Justice for Ryan, because he didn’t get to watch his little girl grow up. And justice for Maddie, because of the shitty hand she’s just been dealt.” He slides off the roof of the car, jumping to the ground. I can hear him pissing against the side of the car. For the moment, I just stay where I am, eyes fixed on some vague, not-there point in the distance.
I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. I don’t know how he expects me to choose between helping him and keeping my family safe. This is the first time that I’ve even found myself considering it, and the prospect is terrifying. If I testify, they find out my real name. They can track down my family and Raphael can make good on his promise, regardless of whether he’s behind bars or not. He’s the type of man who will find a way.
Rebel taps the hood of the Humvee—I can almost see the dark cloud hanging over him. “Come on, we gotta go.”
“What would you do?”
He looks up at me, eyes sharp. Pained. “What do you mean?”
“If you were in my position, what would you do? If it were Ryan and Maddie who were in danger, would you risk their lives just because it was the right thing to do?”
“Our situations are a little different, sweetheart.”
“I would kill anyone that threatened my family with my bare fucking hands. It would never be an issue.” He opens the driver’s side door and leans against it. “If you do what I’m asking, Sophia, I will do the same thing for you. I swear to God and all things holy, before you right here and now, I will spill the blood of every single member of Los Oscuros before I allow a single one of your family members to come to harm.”
When she climbs back in the car, she gets in the front.
That's how I know I've made some sort of progress with her. Is it her finally agreeing to help? No. But maybe, just maybe, she's not as adamant anymore. Maybe she's thinking about it. Which is a better situation than we were in before.
She sleeps. For five hours, she lays so motionless, stretched out as best as she can in her seat, and I drive, glancing at her occasionally out of the corner of my eye, wondering if she's still fucking breathing. I can't tell, and she doesn't shift an inch.
We arrive in Dallas just as the day's darkening, the lights of the city like lightning bugs blinking on and off on the horizon. My eyes are killing me. My body is used to this, though, traveling long distances. The Hummer actually provides more comfort than I'm used to. Sitting on a motorcycle, through wind and rain and everything other fucking thing Mother Nature throws at us, can be unpleasant to say the least.
You get used to it. You get used to all of it. The pain in your back. The wet leather that just doesn’t dry out. The guns. The sneaking around in the dark. The shootings and the stabbings and the dying. The funerals.
"Mmmm. Where are we?" Sophia stretches out like a cat, just about managing to straighten her legs before the soles of her shoes hit the engine block in the foot well. She blinks at me—she looks like a child as she rubs at her eyes, ridding herself of her sleep. She looks...she looks so freaking sweet in that very, very brief moment that it almost makes my teeth hurt. Catches me by surprise.
"Dallas," I tell her. "Halfway, or close enough. We'll stop for the night."
"I can drive. I just slept for...wow. I slept for a really long time." She stares at the clock on the dash like she doesn’t believe it's telling her the truth.