“All right. Down we go. Watch your step. There’s two stairs. One. Attagirl.” Dante held her hands against his arm as they took the first stair carefully together. “Two. Good.” She leaned on him the entire way to the SUV.
He popped the trunk and helped Anja up to sit on the edge of it. Anja turned her sword upside down, tapping the butt of the handle to compact the notches into the coaster-sized buckle. Dante rummaged through the first aid kit for gauze pads and tape. Anja unwrapped the strap from her forearm. Dante glanced up at her face.
“Wanna talk about what happened?” he said.
Anja bit her lip to keep it from quivering. She wrapped the belt strap around her ribcage and clipped the loose end to the edge of the buckle.
Dante grabbed her knee. “Anja, don’t be tough.”
Anja lifted her teary eyes to his. “She really killed those kids.”
Dante expressed his complete understanding of her distress. “She did.”
Tears dripped from Anja’s eyes, though she fought them. “I heard that little girl scream, ‘Mommy, please’. She begged for her life at three years old. I heard the knife on their throats, them gasping and choking and their little bodies. I saw…” Anja gasped as the emotion of all of it bombarded her. “I saw their handprints on her dress.” She showed Dante her palms. “Tiny handprints in their own blood.”
“I’m so sorry.” Dante pushed her hands together and pulled her into his arms. She cried into his chest, tugging on his shirt to hold him closer. “I’m so sorry. But hey.”
Anja sniffled as she met his eyes.
“Hey, you cleared that house didn’t you?”
Dante brushed away the sunshine blonde hair stuck to her tears. “Anja, those children are in Heaven. They haven’t felt that pain since it happened. They’re in utopia where pain and sorrow and longing don’t exist. So that woman’s crimes can never hurt them again, okay?”
Anja wiped her face. “How could anyone do such a thing? Hurt someone so harmless and defenseless?”
Dante squirted peroxide into her wounds. She grimaced, whined and caught her breath.
“Think you’re upset because of the personal connection?” Dante said.