NINETY-FIVE

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I was the first one she saw when she woke up. It had been arranged that way. It was the choice of the lesser evil. Not even I was very high on her 'People I trust'-list right now.

Michael had carried her into the room and put her on the thin mattress with flowery print which gave an abandoned impression on the floor. Max had kissed my forehead and brushed my cheek with the back of his knuckles as he had held my eyes for a long second before leaving the room.

Now it was only Maria and I.

Now it was only her green eyes looking into mine. First blinking with drowsiness and confusion before the blinking increased in both number and speed, the increasing discomfort of her movements further accentuated by the hasty flicking of her gaze from side to side.

Then the blinking stopped, her eyes widening as terror seeped into her dilating pupils, her memories rushing back to her.

Her mouth slowly opened with the intention of making sounds as her eyes zoned in on mine. Her mouth was widening along with her eyes, and it was the expectations that her scream would very soon cripple my eardrums, which had me speak quickly to interrupt her intentions, "Don't be afraid."

I didn't dare touch her. I didn't want to make her feel trapped. But it took a tremendous effort to keep my hands clasped in my lap while she laid frozen like a threatened animal, her mouth clamping closed.

She stared at me for the longest of seconds, her gaze both challenging and frightened, her blond thick hair unruly and wild around her head, before she lifted her upper body off the mattress, scooted back off the mattress in a seated shuffling motion, moving her bottom against the dirty wooden floor rapidly until her back slammed up against a wall.

Putting about 15 feet between us.

Maybe I should have let her scream and let her get it out of her system.

Instead we sat watching each other, neither of us knowing what to do. Like strangers. Not like two people who had braided each other's hair and eaten ice cream from the same bowl.

I wondered what she was saw when she looked at me. I wondered if she was seeing a traitor or a victim. I wondered how much she remembered from Max's rapid summary of what was going on, before Michael had knocked her out (again).

"Where am I?" she croaked, her question so sharp in the silent empty room that I startled.

I watched her purposefully swallow, as if her speaking had made it known to her that her throat was in desperate need of water.

I looked towards one of the long ends of the room, where Max had placed a glass of water just to the side of the closed door, in case Maria would like something to drink.

I found that Maria had followed the trail of my gaze as I looked back at her. It was an effort to attempt normalcy as I discreetly cleared my throat, my own throat longing for that glass of water, and asked, "Do you want some water?"

With a stubborn expression, she pressed her lips together, and I knew her well enough to read the internal battle. She didn't want to ask anything of me - she was too proud - but the longing in her eyes as they flittered to the glass exposed her desperate thirst.

I decided to let her out of her misery, unfolded my legs and got to my feet. Her eyes were burning on my neck as I walked up to the glass. But when I wrapped my fingers around the cool solid surface of the drink and turned around, she pointedly turned her head away.

She would rather look at a concrete wall than at me.

I approached her slowly, making the decision to stop a couple of feet from her and put the glass on the floor, before walking backwards towards the mattress, my backward retreat enabling me to keep my eyes on my former best friend.

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