“Fifteen, you’ll be stationed on your normal route. This time, however, I want you to be partnered with Zoe. Go along now, you too.” Shelby waved us away, and Zoe looked at me. She smiled just a little, but not enough for any else to see. Even then, she still seemed a bit nervous about the smile.
I stood up and went to the garage. Zoe swiftly followed me. “So I guess we’re partners now. It looks like you won’t have to drive yourself from place to place anymore.”
I nodded. “It’s a reason to miss Jade. She also wasn’t too bad with talking. She had a glaring flaw, however.”
Even without looking at her and standing next to her, I saw her roll her eyes. “Yeah, she did have a some sticky fingers. So did Smith.”
We got into the car. Zoe was a fine Officer in every respect except combat. Zoe did her damnedest to avoid fighting anyone under any circumstances. Thus, she became experienced with essentially everything else. It would be rather unfortunate once she actually had to fight.
“Yes. It was unfortunate. Although, I think we can both agree that Commander is better than Smith would have been. Things have been fortunate for us recently.” I looked at Zoe. She was tapping the steering wheel.
“Smith would have been an awful Commander. I would have wanted even you over Smith.” She turned down a road, and kept driving.
“When did you learn my route, Zoe?”
Zoe looked at me and smiled a smug smile. “Yeah, I did some studying last night. I figured it would make things easier on the both of us. I guess that Commander should have told you that I was going to be paired with you today.”
“It didn’t really bother me,” I responded. “If Commander trusts you enough to have you be here with me, then I will too.”
Zoe nodded. “I suppose she is our leader. It would be unfair to treat her poorly, wouldn’t it?” Zoe likely gave me a sidelong glare, but I ignored it.
Zoe parked the car at my- our- post. “I’m not kidding with you, Fifteen. Fix that before I fix it for you.”
“Mm.” I looked out of the window. There was where I saw a familiar face, and it recognised me as well. She waved, and I opened the door.
“Hey, Fifteen, where are you going?” Zoe called after me. I didn’t respond to her.
“Hey kid. Didn’t I tell you to be careful out here?” The orphan nodded at me. “Then what are you doing here?”
She pointed to the forest. “That’s my home. When I heard your car, I came to see you. You’re a nice person.”
I kept my gaze focused at the kid, who was now only a couple of feet away from me. I heard Zoe get out of the car, and walk around it to where I was.
“I didn’t know you had a friend, Fifteen.” Zoe chuckled just a bit.
“I didn’t either.”
“We’re friends,” The orphan politely informed Zoe.
“Well. I’ll be damned. I never thought you had the heart, Fifteen.” Zoe crouched so that she was eye to eye with the kid. “What’s your name, little one?”
“My name is Annabelle, but I just like Anna.” Anna smiled, and put out her hand. Zoe took it and shook it.
“Anna is a nice name. My name is Zoe,” Zoe informed Anna.
“Nice to meet you, Zoe,” Anna replied.
“The lump over there calls herself Fifteen. He thinks he’s too cool for names or something.” Zoe pointed at me while saying that, just for added effect.
“Thanks for the context, Zoe. I’m certain you’re the first person to have figured me out. Congratulations.” I crossed my arms, and leaned against the car. Zoe laughed.
“I think you just proved my point.”
Anna took her chance to reply. “Fifteen is a number. Why is it your name?”
“Fifteen was the number assigned to me when I first started training for the police force. I was sent to an academy at a very young age. Essentially, I forgot my real name after being called ‘Fifteen’ for so long.”
Zoe stood up straight and stared at me, her eyes squinted.
“I’m sorry, Fifteen. I could give you a new name if you’d like.” Anna hopped toward me, smiling.
“I don’t think I need a new name.”
Zoe smirked at me. “Nonsense! Everyone needs a new name. Anna, what name do you have in mind?”
“I like the name Kennedy. Do you like it, Fifteen?” Anna looked more proud of herself than I had ever seen anybody be.
“Where did you learn that name? It isn’t very common.”
Anna shrugged. “I don’t remember. It’s still a nice name though, isn’t it?”
I returned the shrug. “It’s as good as any other name.”
Anna laughed. “Then I’ll call you Kennedy. It’s nice, isn’t it?”
“If I remember properly, I think Kennedy is more commonly a last name.” I cocked my head at Anna.
Zoe piped up. “Speaking of last names, what’s yours, Anna?”
Anna shook her head. “I don’t know. I don’t remember who named me.”
I furrowed my brow. There was something that we were missing here. “Anna, how old are you?”
Anna started counting on her fingers. “Nine? I think, anyway. I might be wrong. I haven’t kept very good track.”
“How long have you been out here in this forest?”
“At least three years.”
“How have you been getting food all this time?”
“I go out and find it. The big houses always leave a lot of extra food in their trash.”
Finding out that Anna dug through trash cans for food was surprising. Well, I also knew that she stole things, but Zoe didn’t need to. Anyway, it was surprising because she was still very clean, and she didn’t smell very bad. At worst, she looked like she had been roughhousing outside with her older brothers for a little while. She could easily pretend that she lived around here, and was just playing in the woods for fun.
“Interesting, Anna. Thanks for sharing.” I looked over my shoulder, and out into the street. Nothing was going on out there.
Zoe, Anna, and I talked for another hours more before eventually Zoe and I had to move to a new patrol point.
“Bye Zoe! Bye Kennedy! I hope I’ll see you again!” Anna called to us as we left.
“We’ll see you later, Anna!” Zoe called back. I climbed into the car, and Zoe followed suit.
“You lied about your name again, didn’t you?”
“Perhaps. If I did, what difference would it make? Annabelle wouldn’t understand my actual reasons for doing it, anyway. I’m not even sure you would.”
“I don’t care about what your reasons are. You keep lying to the people who treat you well. That isn’t okay, Fifteen. Or would you actually prefer Kennedy?”
“Fifteen is preferable. Anna just doesn’t understand that, as I’ve said.”
“Why do you lie so frequently? And so easily? Don’t you feel a little bit guilty?”
“If I did, I wouldn’t do it. That’s what you want to hear, isn’t it?”
“Again with that! ‘What she wanted to hear, what I wanted to hear, what they wanted to hear!’ Is that all that matters? Do you just tell everyone exactly what they want to hear just because it feels right? The truth might suck sometimes, but god damn it, at least it’s true!” Zoe pounded her fist on the steering wheel for added effect.
“Shelby is more vulnerable than you realise. She has incredible insecurities. They aren’t something that she would just show anyone at time. If she thought that I was just some perfect being with no flaws or emotional weakness, she wouldn’t trust me. That, or she would think that she wasn’t worth my time. She’s very important, and I’m just trying to take care of her.”
Zoe didn’t say anything for a moment. Instead, she pulled over to the side of the road and stared out into the road. She watched nothing for a long time. Then, she turned to look at me.
“Fifteen. I’m going to punch you in the arm. Once. Then I’m going to ask another question. If you give me the wrong answer, I’ll punch you again.”
“I’d ask that you refrain from unnecessary violence.”
“I don’t give a shit, Fifteen. Now here’s my question: Is Shelby important to you because you love her, or just because her rank means that you could progress in the police force yourself?”
I could have told Zoe at that exact moment about the protest group, and the arsonry, and about Shelby’s role as a Commander. I didn’t. The word ‘love’ threw me off. I hadn’t previously been forced to face that possibility before. I had never loved anyone previously. I still didn’t. Yet, I was suddenly considering the possibility. Shelby might have loved me, and I had been oblivious to it.
“We’ve only been on a few dates. If I’m not mistaken, it takes more than that to know whether or not you love someone, doesn’t it?”
Zoe tightened her hands on the steering wheel. “Maybe for you.”
I leaned toward Zoe. “And that means?”
Zoe shook her head. “Whatever. Let’s leave.”