“You didn’t even touch your soup…”

    It was a truthful statement; the tiny blue crock of Lipton chicken noodle sat untouched at his feet, a ragged blanket tucked beneath his lengthy legs.

    “You want me to eat at a time like this?”

    A young boy, fourteen years of age, clad in tan corduroy pants and a threadbare sweater, responded wearily, wrapping his arms around himself in a feeble gesture of comfort.  He did not expect an answer but just the same his eyes lifted to his companion’s, and held her gaze steadily.  Nervously, she shifted under his scrutiny, and began offering simple excuses.

    “It’s not the end of the world, Josh…”

    A bitter laugh echoed off whitewashed walls, hitting the young girl, age thirteen, squarely in the face.

    “No,” His reply this time was bitter and jaded, his voice hoarse and weak from yelling.  She was leaving…and he had screamed mindlessly in protest until their caretaker threatened to isolate him from the others.  “The end of the world was when my parents died.  This is the first foray into hell.”

    “Josh…please don’t be like this…”

    He sat silent, her plea falling on deaf ears.

    “I hate it here…”

    Confession stated, unacknowledged.

    Saundra gazed around the dismal room inside the orphanage.  “I wouldn’t have made it without you.”

    “And now you’re leaving,” He snapped, but his eyes betrayed his anger, filling with tears and flickering with loss.

    “I’m scared, Josh…”She wrapped her skinny arms around her body and shook slightly, allowing her own tears to drip down her dirty face, sliding into the soft matted blonde curls that hung listlessly around her shoulders.

    His features softened, his rancor evaporating like the salty moisture that moments ago had trailed down his cheeks.

    “Oh, Saundra…” He murmured softly, repentant.  “I didn’t mean to make you cry.”

    “I don’t want to go, Josh…I can’t go…”

    The young boy swallowed the bile that rose in his throat.  “It’s not going to be like last time, Saundra.  They’ll make sure of it.  No one’s ever going to touch you again…”

    “That’s what I’m afraid of…”

    His heart broke at her quiet admission, and he scooted his lithe body next to hers.  He could feel her dread and discomfort, sense the underlying fear, taste her worry in the air.

    Tentatively, he reached one finger out and traced her jawline, startled when she scooted back from him.

    “Wh..whwhat are you doing, Josh?” She asked suspiciously, scrutinizing him with frightened eyes.

    “I would never, ever hurt you, Saundra,” He whispered.  “You know that.  I’ve taken care of you all this time.”

    She nodded slowly, remembering the nights when her terrified screams had snatched slumber away.  He had held her against his warm body, murmuring words of comfort, kissing her hair gently, banishing her fears.  “What now?”

    He was quiet for long moments, playing nervously with his shoelace, drumming his fingers on his leg, before finally saying, “I don’t know.”

    “I don’t want to leave you,” She breathed, raising her eyes to his.

    Trembling fingers rose to his neck, playing with a single brown leather cord, manipulating the tightly drawn knot.  He carefully removed the necklace from its customary spot, reverently fingering the faded lion charm.

    “I want you to have this,” He whispered, holding the offering out to her.

    She sat, immobile, studying the length of leather with the silver medallion.  She hesitated a moment too long, and he turned away from her, misreading her signals, angrily fastening the cord around his neck once more.  “Stupid girl,” He muttered, masking his hurt with an angry tone.  “At least I have the class to know how to wear jewelry.”  The childish, hateful words spilled from his lips without his consent, and the young woman bit her lip in fierce defiance of the sobs attempting to flee her chest.

    “Why should I care?” She spat angrily, flinging barbs of her own to make the pain stop.  “It’s just a stupid necklace!”

    He recoiled as if struck, scooting backward away from her, pressing his face into the wall, fighting tears unsuccessfully.  She, in turn, slammed her arms across her chest, hardening her face into a scowl, listening to the heavy pants of her own angry breathing…until they were interrupted by muffled, gut-wrenching sobs.

    Aghast, she turned to see his shoulders slumped and shaking, his head buried in his arms, his body crouched in a posture of self-defense.

    “Oh Josh,” She breathed shakily.  “I didn’t mean that,” She apologized profusely, laying her hand gently on his shoulder, stunned when he angrily shoved her away, the tears still falling from his eyes.

    “It’s not…a stupid…necklace…” He hiccuped and sobbed angrily, his face mottled with the force of his emotions.  “My mom…” Air drawn unsteadily into burning lungs.  “My mom gave it to me…it’s all I have left.”  Complete and utter collapse.

    Saundra felt her cheeks burn with shame as she lowered her eyes guiltily to the ground.  “I’m sorry,” She said weakly.  “I know how you feel…”

    The young boy heard her words and knew they rung of truth, but still he felt betrayed, slighted by her thoughtless actions.  “I miss her so much, Saundra…” He whispered finally, so softly she strained to decipher his words.  “I just want to get out of here.”

    “You will, Josh,” She said adamantly, again moving to his side, touching his soft brown locks, pleased when he did not resist her advances.  “You will.”

    “Saundra…” He breathed shakily, staring deeply into her eyes.  Neither said a word, just continued to stare, unaware that the space between the two of them was shrinking until at last his lips met hers in a gentle, chaste kiss.

    They sat for several moments, lips fused together, until Josh gently cupped her face in his hands, tilting her head to the side, increasing the pressure of his mouth on hers until she began to reciprocate.

    Saundra could hear every molecule in her body beat in time with her heart, feel the blood as it rushed through her veins, taste the oxygen as it filled her lungs, and smell his desire on the still-damp air.  Her world was reduced to the feeling of his lips on hers, until…

    Ew!” She cried, suddenly, “You stuck your tongue in my mouth.”

    He blushed furiously, his voice cracking as he said, somewhat nervously, “Just wait, Saundra.  I promise it will feel good.  Just wait…” With that his lips descended on hers again, allowing her to sink into the kiss, before he slowly introduced his tongue into her mouth once more.

    He could feel her squirm beneath him for a few brief moments, but then a great sigh was expelled from her lungs and suddenly she was ravenous, accepting his tongue, allowing hers to play tentatively, coaxing a moan from deep within his throat.

    Josh’s heart was on fire, lust coursing like a river through his affection starved body, as he pulled her closer still.  They kissed for what seemed like hours, though only moments passed, until at last he tore his lips from hers and rested his forehead gently against hers.

    “Saundra…god…” He panted.  “That was…”

    “Yeah,” She agreed, swallowing hard.  “It was.”

    “Saundra?  Josh?” Miss Matheson’s nasal voice impinged on the moment, shattering the spell and returning the pair to reality with nauseating quickness.  “Saundra, this is Mr. And Mrs. KayersYour new foster parents.”

    Saundra froze, her head lowering shyly, as the couple walked toward her.

    “Hello Saundra,” The older woman said gently, leaning down and smiling into the frightened girl’s eyes.  “It’s nice to finally meet you.”  A familiar scent wafted under Saundra’s nose…feminine…soft…Chanel Number 5…like her mother.

    “Hello,” She mumbled, not daring to breathe.

    “Well, I suppose you ought to get going,” Miss Matheson’s unusually cheery voice did nothing to ease the tension in the room.  “Saundra, you say goodbye to Josh now.  We’ll give you five minutes and then meet us in the hall.”  With that she clicked the door closed, and the pair was alone again.

    Neither spoke for what seemed like hours, not daring to speak, unable to bear the pain of goodbye, until Josh, his voice hoarse with emotion, finally croaked, “You have to go, Saundra.”

    She spoke not a word, simply flung herself into his arms, squeezing his limber frame with everything her five-foot-two body could muster.  She buried her nose in his favorite black sweater, committing to memory the scent of dove and male and clean, wrapped up in the shape of Josh.

    He rocked her slowly, caressing her back with eager fingers, wanting to melt into her right then and there.  Finally, they broke their embrace, and tearfully Josh kissed her goodbye.  She stepped away, walking toward the door, when he grabbed her hand and pressed his necklace into her cool fingers.  She met his eyes, fastening the leather cord around her neck, departing with a muffled sob and a sad, sad smile…


2001 ~A.