“Who’s Anna?” I tensed briefly, startled, and glanced over my shoulder. The girl was back, standing in the doorway in nothing but my old tee shirt, completely uncaring about the fact that I could see through it in places. I turned back to the mirror.

“My ex.”

“Guess it wasn’t forever.” I snorted humorlessly; it was a joke I’d heard before. Absently my hand drifted up to the skin of my shoulder, where “Anna Forever” was permanently etched on my body. At the time, it had seemed like a good idea. I remembered the heat of the August night, relieved only by the rush of cool air as we stepped into the tattoo parlor, half drunk and laughing. The crushed violet smell of her warm skin still lingered in my mind. ” ‘S that still painful?” The girl’s voice scattered my thoughts, and I nodded. “And I just opened it up again.” Another nod. I thumbed the cap off my bottle of whiskey, and brought it up to eye level, studying the amber liquid. My other hand worried at my sobriety chip, worn smooth by five years of stress. “What happened?”

“Our son died.” Why was I telling her this? “He was four. We were on the run, like I am now, and he got sick.” I hadn’t told anyone. “Couldn’t take him to the hospital, so he just got worse.” I set the bottle down, sighing and closing my eyes. “Finally, Anna’s begging got through to me. I took him in, got arrested right after he got admitted. He died alone while I was in jail. She couldn’t see either of us or she would have gotten taken in too.”

“That’s awful,” was all she said for a moment, and then I felt her light weight against my back. Too-thin arms circled my waist, cool against my hot skin. “Really, really awful.”

“You get why I’m such a hard ass now?”


The next morning, I woke to pounding on the door. My eyes flew open, and I vaulted out of bed, grabbing my gun on the way. She was barely sitting up, eyes wide as she watched me edge up to the door, peering through a crack in the curtain. The man outside was familiar, though I didn’t relax any.

“How’d you find me?” I called through the door, cocking my gun.

“Easy, I followed the trail of dead bodies,” Russ called back. “Lemme in Jamie, I just wanna talk.”

“Dead bodies?” Too late, I made a slicing motion across my throat at her, but Russ had already noticed.

“You got a girl in there?” Swearing under my breath, I yanked the door open and stepped out, shutting it behind me and locking us both out. The morning air kissed coldly against my chest, but I paid no attention. Keeping my weapon low between us so as not to alarm anyone who happened to stumble back, I noted that Russ had his gun out as well. “Good to see you again.”

“Yeah. You too.” My eyes narrowed slightly. Silence quickly bloomed between us, but I refused to be the first one to open my mouth.

“Look I’d love to play this game, but I got a problem,” Russ finally said. “Anna’s dead.” That hit me like a bucket of ice, and I nearly dropped my gun. “There was a shootout at a bank- Jesus don’t you watch the news?” He delivered the news of his sister’s death with little emotion, though I understood why. In this lifestyle, life expectancy wasn’t very high. “She had a kid, Jamie. Eight months old.”

“Anything else you want to drop on me today?” I rubbed my forehead, and sighed, lowering my weapon. “That’s…unfortunate. What you want me to do about it?”

“Take the baby.”

“You’re joking right?”

“Look I don’t have any experience with this shit!” The girl chose that moment to open the door a crack, peeking out in a flash of emerald eyes. Russ zeroed in on her immediately. “Is she even legal?”

“She’s not- we’re not- it’s not what you think. And I can’t help you.” I shook my head. Russ drew a hissing breath through his teeth, and looked out over the parking lot.

“Anna would have wanted you to have her, if something ever happened.”

“If you say the words “second chance” I’m going to hit you.”

“I like babies,” she piped up from behind me, and Russ gave her what was his version of a friendly smile, though the scars kinda ruined it.

“You’ll love her! She’s cute as a button and still little enough to haul around and dress up.” The girl emerged from the hotel room, still in nothing but my shirt, and looked up at me.


Five minutes later, I watched her cradle the baby in her arms, swinging her gently. The girl was little more than a little bundle of pink skin and baby smell, dressed in a flowered onesie and tiny, tiny socks. Russ looked rather smug, and I glowered at him, even though I knew he’d be leaving baby-free that morning.

“Can we keep her? I’ll help take care of her and everything!”

“It’s a baby, not a puppy.”

“Please?” She gave me puppy eyes, and shifted the little girl to look at me- through Anna’s eyes. “Look at her. She’s just little, don’t got a person in the world to care for her.”

“God damn it…” I grumbled. “Fine! What’s one more stray, right?”