Chapter VI – Monique Rodriguez
Monique curled up as far back as possible in her booth, stroking Mr. Pickles’ matted ear over and over. She didn’t want the cookie on the table in front of her. The people around her took no notice of the small child huddled into the smallest size that she could manage, as they went about their morning. Perhaps her chocolate colored shirt and black pants that matched her hair helped her to blend into her surroundings.
She watched everyone and everything around her, never loosening her grasp on Mr. Pickles, her nearly black eyes missing little that went on in the room.
The first explosion shook the child, but she stayed in her booth. She screamed, but from fright and not pain. She held onto the table and to Mr. Pickles for dear life, hoping that the noise and the movement would stop.
Even after everything ceased to move, no one seemed to notice her. One or two people looked at her, but that’s as far as it went and Monique didn’t know if she wanted more. The woman screaming and wailing in the middle of the room scared her.
We have to be brave, Mr. Pickles. Very brave.
She knew her bunny couldn’t hear her thoughts, but it comforted her to pretend otherwise. She didn’t want to speak aloud.
When the woman began yelling about a dead man, Monique quailed. She watched in horror as the two tall men went to go check the man in the corner.
I know what dead is. It’s what they called Mommy and Daddy. They couldn’t ever walk or move or anything again.
She brushed her cheek against Mr. Pickles head. We have to be very brave. She could feel her chin quivering and she pressed her back against the wall. Her eyes grew wider when one of the tall men took off his coat and covered the face of the man in the corner.
Is that how Daddy and Mommy looked when they died? Did they cover their faces?
The second explosion threw Monique from her seat. In her scramble to protect her head, she dropped Mr. Pickles as she screamed. She hit her ankle on the booth, but not too badly.
She found Mr. Pickles underneath the table, even before the noise of the explosion had fully died down. She scrambled back into her seat as quickly as she could.
The people scared her, even though being alone scared her too. She remembered being brought into the café and she shuddered.
I wish someone would take care of me. She buried her face against Mr. Pickles’ head. We have to be brave.
The woman’s howling frightened Monique more and she felt herself shaking. She sniffled, watching the other people over the top of her bunny’s head.
Eventually, she saw the two tall men coming toward her and she wished she could be invisible. She tried to still her shaking shoulders and keep her lip from quivering.
When the man who sat in front of her started speaking, his voice sounded gentler than she expected. She didn’t know if she should talk to him. If she should answer his questions.
She liked the man’s eyes. They were brown like Mommy’s had been. Mommy had pretty eyes.
She finally decided she could shake her head in answer to his questions. Tears kept splashing down her nose and she didn’t think that could be very brave, but she didn’t know how to stop them. When the man asked her name, she grew still.
He said that his name was Xavier and the other tall man nearby was Adrian. Adrian had blue eyes like… She sighed and the man smiled at her. He didn’t look very frightening either, except he was even taller than the man sitting in front of her.
She turned back and stared at him for a long time too. She didn’t even know what she looked for, but it felt like she found it.
“I’m Monique. This is Mr. Pickles.”
“It’s nice to meet you, Monique. And Mr. Pickles. He looks like a good friend.” He didn’t speak again at first. She watched him, to see what he would do next.
What do you think we should do, Mr. Pickles?
“Are you scared, Monique?”
The tears that she had wanted to hold back made her face wet and soaked Mr. Pickles’ head. We’re supposed to be brave. But I’m scared. I’m so scared.
“Would it help if you stayed with me?”
It would help. Then, she wouldn’t be alone. She nodded slowly.
A shriek, so loud Monique’s ears hurt, came from across the room. Monique jumped. She squeezed Mr. Pickles, his head getting wetter as she cried. She kept her throat closed, so she wouldn’t make a sound, even if she couldn’t stop her tears. We have to be brave, Mr. Pickles. It’s hard to be brave.
The man, Mr. Xavier she labeled him, moved from his chair to sit beside her on the booth. Monique sniffled, the lump growing in her throat.
He put an arm around her shoulders. Just like Daddy used to do. Another tear splashed down her nose.
“Don’t be scared, sweetheart,” the man whispered. “It’s going to be all right. I’ll keep you and Mr. Pickles safe, and Adrian will help me, okay?”
She nodded. Then, buried her face into Mr. Pickles’ wet fur.
But they might not like it, if he takes care of me. I was supposed to be quiet and good.
More tears soaked into Mr. Pickles’ matted fur. Had she been wrong to talk to the man?
But I’m scared. And by myself. They didn’t say not to talk to anyone.
She peeked over Mr. Pickles’ head again, up toward the man beside her. His arm still around her shoulders, he frowned in the direction of a growing argument between several other people. Monique watched them, listening as before, but she couldn’t quite understand everything they said.
She thought they were afraid they couldn’t leave the café – but didn’t they try the door already? Or were they afraid of something else?
Monique jumped violently. Did that woman say we’re all going to die?
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