Chapter XXVIII – Monique Rodriguez
Monique poked and prodded at Mr. Pickles, trying to bring some sense of his round shape back into his face. She succeeded very little, no matter how hard she tried.
Come on, Mr. Pickles. If you get too flat, someone might think you’re a rag instead of a bunny. They might throw you in the trash can.
Every now and then, she looked across at Miss Ginger, who sat opposite to Mr. Xavier. Watching her face made Monique frown. Miss Ginger had scared her with her shouts and threats, but even when she glared at Mr. Xavier, she didn’t scare Monique now.
Daddy used to say to look at people’s eyes, Mr. Pickles. I heard him tell Mommy that’s what he would do. Sometimes, even if they sound mean, you can see something different in their eyes.
Between attempts at fluffing, Monique watched the waitress’s eyes. She watched her hands when they could be seen above the table, ready to curl into fists. She watched how frequently Miss Ginger raised her chin in a quick, sharp movement, how her voice could go from soft to rough in the flash of a second.
You’re still very flat, Mr. Pickles. But we have to stay brave, even when we’re flat.
“He’s my brother.”
Monique looked up again. She frowned and tried to see past Mr. Xavier to the man lying on the ground. She couldn’t see much. Mostly just his shoes.
Mr. Xavier said he was hurt really bad, but he won’t say if he’ll be okay, Mr. Pickles.
She switched back to Ginger.
Her eyes are sad. She sounds unhappy, but Daddy would say that her eyes are sad. I’m sure of it, Mr. Pickles.
She poked the bunny again. He still didn’t fluff much at all. The three adults stopped talking and Mr. Xavier looked down at her with a half-smile.
“Are you doing all right, sweetheart?”
She nodded at him, frowned at Mr. Pickles, then looked up once more. “Do you think she loves her brother very much?”
Her whisper must have been too quiet, because Mr. Xavier blinked and looked lost.
“What was that, sweetheart?”
“Does she love her brother very much?”
Mr. Xavier glanced back to Miss Ginger, who raised her eyebrows in question.
“She wants to know if you love your brother very much.”
Miss Ginger looked surprised. “Why would she ask something like that?”
“I love my brother very much.” Monique didn’t know why she ventured to speak loud enough for Miss Ginger to hear. “I would be sad to see my brother get hurt.”
Miss Ginger didn’t say anything at first. Monique thought she might just stare at her forever.
Why is she staring at me, Mr. Pickles?
Monique pulled the bunny’s ear without looking down. “Are you sad to see your brother get hurt?”
Miss Ginger closed her eyes for a brief second with a droop of her head. She looked up at Monique again, her shoulders falling. “Yes. I am sad to see him get hurt. If I could have kept him from getting hurt, I would have.”
“I’d keep my brother from getting hurt too.”
And we have to, Mr. Pickles. We have to.
“How old is your bother, Monique?”
The child looked up at Mr. Xavier and blinked.
Was I supposed to talk about him? They didn’t say not to.
All three of the adults had turned toward her now. She looked down at Mr. Pickles.
Can I answer them, Mr. Pickles?
She knew he couldn’t tell her what to do. She wished that he could. She shook her head without raising it.
“Aaron is four-years-old. He’s my little brother.”
They didn’t say I couldn’t talk about him.
“Where is Aaron, Monique?” Mr. Adrian asked.
Monique barely glanced up at him, her voice growing softer. “At the other house.”
“The ‘other house?’” She could feel Mr. Xavier watching her.
She nodded, pulling on Mr. Pickles other ear.
“Do you see him very much?”
She shook her head, pulling both of the bunny’s ears at once.
But if we’re good and very brave, maybe we’ll see Aaron again soon, Mr. Pickles.
The others didn’t ask her anything else and she ventured to raise her eyes again. Miss Ginger lifted her chin.
“Can I go now?”
“I think so.” Mr. Xavier nodded toward his cousin. “Adrian?”
Mr. Adrian looked up from his notebook. “Yes. I don’t have anything else to ask.”
Miss Ginger stood. She started to go, but stopped and turned back. “I am sorry that I didn’t tell you everything up front. You have to understand that I did what I did to protect Eddie, but that my actions do not make him guilty. I was irrational.”
“So you said,” Mr. Xavier answered.
Miss Ginger grit her teeth, but didn’t move.
“We have not accused Eddie.” Mr. Adrian closed his notebook again.
“Mary Dill can believe as she likes, but we are still investigating and are not making accusations as of yet. We are doing exactly as you asked.”
Miss Ginger looked from one to the other a moment. Monique watched her face, wondering why she stared so intently. At last, she gave a slight nod and turned away.
Monique pulled Mr. Pickles ears again. “I think that she loves her brother very much, even if she doesn’t say so.” She whispered the words, but Mr. Adrian heard them, because he sighed.
“I think that she does, Monique. I wonder though if her brother knows it.”
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