Epilogue: Something Better

One. Two. One. Two. One. Two—fuck!

One of Rocio's crutches shot out from under her, and she nearly went sprawling on the new tile floor in the lobby of Paws for Thought. Luckily, Sam was there to catch her. Zoey, Rose, and Andy, who had been watching from the new, cushy waiting chairs, laughed.

"It's nice to know that you are, in fact, just as clumsy as the rest of us, Roxy," Zoey said. "It's oddly reassuring."

"Oh, shut up," Rocio said, but she was smiling. It had been one week since Rocio's release from the hospital—the three-week struggle where her life hung in the balance, threatened by the shot Gustavo had fired into her back. When she woke in the hospital, a doctor told her how lucky she was—the bullet had missed her spinal column by inches, and while there was extensive damage to the nerves running from her right leg to her spine, with the appropriate therapy, she would walk normally again. The police said it was lucky, really, that they'd even found her at all. When Reina returned home from work, Jason had, miraculously, remembered to tell Reina Rocio's message.

"As soon as he said it, I knew something was off," Reina said, when driving Rocio home from the hospital. "Especially when he said you told him you loved him."

Reina had called all of Rocio's friends, and Lorena and Rose both told her about the conversations they'd had with Rocio. Slowly, Reina pieced it together, and once she had, she called the police right away, sending them to Jake Juarez's house. Mrs. Juarez, though drunk, had some recollection of Rocio and Jake entering the house, and then leaving again.

"Some fight," she'd slurred out, "some dog fight."

There had been reports of such activity in the area, so the police checked around until they found the abandoned warehouse.

"And the rest," Reina told Rocio, "is history."

After three weeks of close observation and treatment, Rocio was released into Reina's grateful care. Rocio's mother stayed by her side day and night after she was brought in, with Rocio's friends from the shelter and Lorena giving her sporadic company. She was overjoyed when Rocio opened her eyes on the third day. Reina, tears pouring down her face, made Rocio promise to "Never. Ever. Scare me like that again!"

Rocio agreed.

However, when Reina brought Rocio home, there was Jason, waiting in a drunken fury. Not two seconds after Rocio walked in, he started on her.

"You filthy little bitch, you stupid little fuck-up!" He bellowed, pointing a drunken, shaking finger at Rocio. Rocio opened her mouth to retort, but Reina stepped in front of her before she could say a word.

"This," Reina began, with a steely note in her voice Rocio had never heard before, "was not Rocio's fault. Don't you dare blame her."

Jason looked momentarily stupefied. Then, he collected himself. "Get out of the way, Reina," he growled, advancing on her. Reina wavered for a moment, but then stood, stronger than ever.

"No. You're not going to do this, not now—not ever! For God's sake, she just got out of the hospital! We need to—"

"I said, GET OUT OF THE WAY!" Jason seized Reina by the shoulder and threw her down out of his way, and then he grabbed Rocio, and began shaking her very hard. "Do you know what I had to pay for you to stay in that fucking hospital? Do you have any idea what I went through?"

Rocio's mouth fell open. "What you went through? You stupid son of a bitch, I was beaten and shot!"

Jason opened his mouth to retort, and then closed it again looking confused. Rocio snorted, and shoved his hands aside.

"Fuck off," she snapped.

Jason let out a roar like a wounded animal, and seized Rocio by the throat with one hand, made a fist with the other, pulled it back and—WHACK!

Jason's grip on Rocio's neck slackened, his eyes lost focus, and his whole body sagged. Then, he lost his balance and crashed to the floor, unconscious. Reina was standing behind him, wild-eyed, with Rocio's sturdy hard-cover copy of Twilight in her hands. She looked at Jason, then at Rocio, then at the book in her hands.

"This," she said in a faint voice, "is a good book, isn't it?"

Rocio gave a shocked bark of laughter. "Damn right it is!" She cried gleefully. "Mom, you knocked him the fuck out!"

"So it would seem," Reina said, looking as though she couldn't believe it herself. Rocio laughed again, but stopped as Jason began to stir. Reina gave a small shriek and fell to her knees, giving Jason another solid whack to the head. Though he didn't move again, she smacked him again for good measure. She laughed. "Take that, you son of a bitch, you lying, conniving, drunken bastard!" She raised the book again, looking as if she'd like to strike him a fourth time, but Rocio stopped her.

"Uh, Mom? Maybe we should, y'know, get out of here?" Reina looked at Rocio, realization dawning on her face.

"You're right," she said, getting to her feet. "Let's go."

In twenty minutes, the two Sanchez women had packed up their belongings and left the apartment for good, leaving Jason drooling on the floor. They checked into a hotel, and after doing so Reina set out again, emptying their bank account before heading to the courthouse and filing for two things: divorce and a restraining order. A week later, she was out apartment hunting, and had agreed to go see a movie with Hank Reynolds.

"After all," she told Rocio the night of her date, "I think my situation qualifies as a separation, don't you?"

Rocio nodded enthusiastically. "Totally and completely, yes!" She said.

Things are finally getting better, she thought, as she heard Hank knock on the door.

While Rocio was in the hospital, though, Reina was not the only one to visit her. Her Paws for Thought family had all come at once, and Rocio received love from each of them in turn; beginning with Lucinda and ending with Zoey, all expressing the same sentiments that Reina had. The only one who hung back was Sam, and he looked at Rocio with a mixture of fear, love, and uncertainty. There was a lull in the conversation, and Sam stepped forward warily. The silence became awkward, and Zoey cleared her throat.

"Hey, guys…ice cream in the cafeteria! Let's go." Everyone filed out of the room, leaving Rocio and Sam alone.

Awkward silence ensued. Sam tentatively sat down on the end of Rocio's bed, unwilling to look her in the eye. Rocio spoke first. "Sam, I—"

"Rocio."

Before Rocio knew what was happening, Sam was next to her, his mouth on hers, kissing her with a ferocity and love that said what words never could. Happiness and affection filled Rocio's heart, and she put her arms around Sam's neck, kissing him back. After a moment, they broke apart.

"Rocio, I'm so sorry," Sam said, kissing her forehead, her cheeks, her nose, her neck. "I love you so much," he whispered in her ear.

Rocio felt as though all she could do was smile, but she managed to nod, and speak. "I am too," she said. "It was wrong for me to be…to get so upset. You had no way of knowing," she murmured. She kissed his mouth again. "I love you too," she said, and they were still holding each other when the rest of their friends returned from the cafeteria.

"Eeeeeeeeew," Zoey said, but there was the classic glow of fun in her eyes. Rocio stuck her tongue out at Zoey and leaned her head against Sam's chest, content with the world.

Now, Rocio was back at Paws for Thought, which was in the process of undergoing extensive renovations. "News of all kinds," Lucinda had said, "travels fast. The Martins found out about your injury, Rocio. Mrs. Martin, in particular, was devastated. She blew your injury," Lucinda smiled then, "a bit out of proportion. She seemed to think you were hovering just outside of death's door. She and her husband donated $20,000 in your name."

Rocio's mouth had fallen open at that point. "I'm a little bit hurt that she was so sure I was going to die!" Rocio said.

Lucinda laughed, and continued her story. "Well, once it became evident that you were going to survive, it was no longer a memorial donation. It was just a donation."

"No kidding," Rocio said. "How much money do you think they'd have given if I'd actually died?"

Zoey gave Rocio an evil grin. "I dunno, Roxy…why don't we find out?"

Rocio laughed and rolled her eyes. "Crazy," she accused Zoey.

"You know it!" Zoey replied brightly.

Rocio stuck her tongue out at her friend, still secure in Sam's grasp as she pushed herself back to balance on her crutches.

"Damn new floors," she muttered under her breath. Sam smiled and kissed her forehead.

"I think I have a better method, anyway,' he said. He reached down under Rocio's feet and lifted her into his arms, the crutches falling to the floor with a clatter.

"My hero," Rocio said with a smile. Sam grinned back, and carried her through the door of the newly-renovated dog kennels. Rocio felt her stomach twist as Sam set her back on the ground and Rose, who had quietly followed them, placed the crutches back under Rocio's arms. Rocio made her way to the cage door, the one that separated her from her dog. She hadn't seen Mouse since the night they'd been rescued. Rocio's friends told her that Mouse had been practically dead when they rushed her to the vet.

"The police wanted to shoot her right there when they found you," Rose had said indignantly, "but Officer Rowe insisted that they take her to the vet, thank God. Well, I guess, they got to the vet and they basically wanted to do the same thing—to put her down. Of course, by this time, Lucinda had shown up, Mouse being from Paws for Thought and all. She asked if there was anything the vet could do to save her. The doctor," Rose's tone darkened derisively, "was so skeptical, and said that there was emergency surgery they could perform, but it was unlikely that she'd survive. Of course," Rose had smiled then, "that idiot doctor didn't know that Mouse had a reason to survive."

And Mouse had survived. Rocio approached the kennel door in reverent silence, looking at the bandage-and-fur mass curled up in a corner. Rocio knelt down and laced her fingers through the links in the door, ignoring her crutches and the slight twinge of pain.

"Mouse," she said softly.

The mass twitched slightly, and Mouse lifted her head, looked over her shoulder, and her eyes lighted on Rocio. Her tail thumped softly against the floor, and she turned around, slowly dragging her rear legs, now reduced to stumps. Rocio's eyes filled with tears and she moved forward as well, closing the gap between them. Rocio threw her arms around Mouse and cried. Mouse licked Rocio's face, her tail still thumping away. Sam looked at them and smiled, then looked at the sign on Mouse's cage. An orange sticker had replaced the green one.

"Her wheels will be in next week, Roxy," Sam said, "then you'll be able to take her home."

Rocio grinned at Sam, and then pressed a kiss into Mouse's head. "You hear that, baby?" She whispered into Mouse's ear. "You're mine. You're finally mine."