I remember my first day at the orphanage. How foreign it was to me in more ways than one. How wrong it was, how huge it was, and just how alone I felt. My parents had been killed in plane crash in Sweden the year before, I’d been sent to live with my aunt and her daughter in America and was doing just fine until she was taken too, this time from a heart attack. My cousin and only other surviving relative, Pamela was a year younger than me and just as much on her own as I had been a year before. Pamela’s father agreed to take her; he took her and her alone, to live with him and his new wife in New York City. His new wife had no use for boys and Pam was to become her own living Barbie doll. Or so her letters every month told me. For me there was no New York, they decided that I’d become a ward of the state and be placed in the St Jude’s home for parentless children in Louisiana. I was never what you would have called a quiet child, growing up as an only child and having my parents sole attention and surrounded mostly by adults it allowed me to be spoiled and rather mature for my age.
I had been in the orphanage for almost a year when I saw her. Well, at first I didn’t so much see her, as I did her long blonde hair bouncing in the sunshine, a white sundress and black shoes with white ankle socks finished off her angelic look. I questioned why a girl like that would put in a place like this. After being rejected from my uncle in favour of a girl to dote on it seemed like this girl would be in and out of the orphanage in no time at all.
I on the other hand was stubborn to a fault. Foster families had shown interest in me alright but I had no interest in them. When I first arrived I was extremely closed off, which over the years I realised was the natural reaction to being abandoned and placed in a place like this. I kept to myself and for the first six months I don’t think I spoke more than two words the entire time. The days were all the same, you woke up at six am for prayer. By seven you were across the street washed and dressed and inline for Mass, by eight it was confessions and by nine you were in your place for schooling. Recess was a twenty minutes and lunch lasted an hour. In that hour you were brought into the lunching room with all the other children and fed the basics of whatever wasn’t moulded that day. It wasn’t exciting, it wasn’t bright or cheerful.
I was almost nine, but I had only been living with my aunt and cousin for year before everything changed. My English wasn’t the best and it made me extremely self conscious, well that and I guess I just didn’t have anything to say to these people. The families that had taken an interest in me soon gave up since I didn’t make it easy on them. I was the foreign kid who never spoke, they thought I was mute at first then they thought I was retarded, and then they thought I was just plain crazy.
But not her.
One classroom held 3 different age groups. All in rows by our age and class. I knew I was almost two years older than her so she would be on the end with her age group where as I would be placed on the opposite end. I saw her being walked in my Sister Sylvia, her head hung low as she faced the ground, her arms crossed, her body language screamed ‘leave me alone’. I knew that feeling all too well. As the Sister said her name and made the class say hello, she still never lifted her head instead taking her seat and opening her book as directed.
Like most newbie’s, it took her a couple of weeks to get the hang of the place, by that time we’d been partnered for art on more than one occasion. We never spoke a word, to each other or to those around us, but we worked well.
It was at recess that she finally spoke to me, I sat in my usual place under the tree just to the left of the playground. She stomped over and took her seat next to me.
“Are you retarded?”
I raised by brow at her, wondering if she was serious. I didn’t answer.
“Well are ya? Those girls said they think you’re retarded, it’s why you don’t talk none. I said that I didn’t think that, I just think you’re quiet is all.” Her accent was thick and extremely southern, something she grew out of but the lilt was still present.
“I’m not retarded.” I said simply.
She nodded and sat back further leaning against the tree. “Are you crazy?”
“No? Are YOU?”
She laughed. She was a strange girl, even then her reactions to things differed so much from other people I’d known.
“Well, that’s good to know. I’m Sookie by the way”
Yeah like I didn’t know that. But I remembered she was southern and that manners and charm meant a lot to them.
“So why don’t you talk?”
“I’m talking to you aren’t I?”
“Well, yeah, ‘cept it’s mostly me dragging the answers out of you. How ’bout you ask me something?”
With that she rolled her eyes and scooted closer to me. “Well I don’t know genius, think of something anything!”
I thought of stupid things, like her favourite colour, her favourite snack silly things that just got her talking. I liked it when she’d talk and she did. Recess every day thereafter became our talking time. I knew she was probably as lonely as I was, and the older kids picked on her too calling her ‘crazy Sookie’ because instead of hurling insults or bulling she just shrugged and plastered an extremely awkward smile on her face and walked away, no matter what they said to hurt her. I’d always admired that, no matter how fuming she was she’d never let it show.
The night Father Brigant caught us kissing, I mean embarrassing doesn’t cover it at all. I wasn’t yet eighteen and my experience with women was almost non-existent. That summer I’d been fostered by an extremely religious family, the Newlins. They were a nice enough couple, they had one daughter and an adopted son.
The daughter was like Sookie in many resects. She was sweet and small, blonde and curious.
Unlike Sookie she wasn’t shy about what she wanted. And that summer, it was like I was her project.
Her father had fostered me for many reasons. The cheque from the state helped I’m sure, as did my build when it came to helping on their ranch. He wouldn’t have taken me in had he realised the crush his angelic baby girl had on me.
When Sookie asked me if I’d kissed someone, I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t want to lie to her, and if I said no I would have been lying. I knew I was a withdrawn kid, particularly when it came to total strangers, Sarah Newlin knew this and she knew it the day she threw herself at me in their barn. I was a teenage boy and there was a girl feeling me up and letting me touch her, who was I to say no?
The whole time she kept touching me and allowing me to palm her breasts. I knew she didn’t want to stop it there either. And, truth be told, neither did I.
But then I thought of Sookie, and how it was her I wanted to be touching and not this girl who I barely knew. No matter how hard I concentrated when I closed my eyes, she smelled differently and it just felt wrong. So I stopped her before we got to where she was wanting us to go.
Of course this wounded her pride, and in a huff she stormed off and told her snitch of a bother – Steve- that I’d been the one that had tried to force myself on her.
Needless to say I was sent back with a swift kick.
So when Sookie asked, I didn’t answer. Instead turning it on her, I knew she hadn’t been that way with any boy, she told me everything. It was one of the many things I could always count on with Sookie, her honestly just came pouring out of her. When she let me kiss her for the first time, it felt strange. A good strange, but still strange. This was my Sookie, and while I was sure that my feelings from ‘friend’ to ‘you grew breasts and now I can’t stop thinking about them’ were a change I was never sure if she looked at me any different as I did her.
So when her mouth met mine all I could think about was having her completely. I didn’t want to stop at just a kiss, I needed to know her – all of her. For a girl that had never kissed a boy before she sure as hell knew how to push the right buttons. She was gentle but firm, she completely explored me with her tongue, as I did her, eliciting tiny moans from her that I didn’t know existed. In that moment she was pure desire, and all from a simple make out session on a patch of grass.
However, getting reprimanded by Father Brigant was a metaphorical cold shower if ever there was such a thing. We were lucky that it was him and not one of the more stern Sisters though. Sister Geraldine caught Andre Anderson just looking at a girl in what she deemed ‘a immoral manner’ and he got dragged up to the front of the class and she whipped him with her cane 13 times for being impure. I shudder to think what she’d have done if she had cause me on top of Sookie like that, with my hands on her breasts. I’d wager to say we’d be dead, or at the very least wishing we were when she was done with us.
He clasped his hands together and sat further back in his chair.
“Eric, you know that this behaviour won’t be tolerated here don’t you?”
“Father, I am sorry. I mean we really meant no harm to anyone and I would have never…It was just a kiss”
“Eric, I’m a old man compared to you and I’m old enough to know that when it comes to women, a kiss is never just a kiss boy.”
I sat in silence, at the time I felt like he was just being an interfering old bat who knew nothing of what he saw.
“Eric the reason I asked you to hang back is because I have a proposition for you. I’ve seen your grades over the years from the school, you’re a smart kid. Extremely well read considering English isn’t even your mother tongue.”
“I read because it helped with that…With the English.”
And if I kept my head in a book no one would bother me.
“And it has, unless I knew your history I don’t think I’d be able to really tell.”
He pursed his lips as if he was thinking on what to say next.
“Eric, you know I partake in the missionaries don’t you? It involves some travel, and a lot of grafting, there are people in need out there Eric and they need smart capable men to help.”
I could almost see the thoughts forming in his head before he said them.
“I …Father no offence but I don’t think that I’m-”
“I won’t force you Eric, but think of your options. You’re out of here in a matter of months anyway, do you have an alternative to step into? College isn’t an option without the money or a scholarship – which I see you haven’t applied for. So what is it exactly that you plan on doing?”
He had a valid point, what exactly did I think was going to happen as soon as I was no longer a ‘ward’ of the state.
“What would I be doing exactly?”
“Helping people. It’s most humanitarian work, bringing aid and helping where it’s needed most…and or course helping to spread the positives of faith in our Lord”
“So I’d be a bible banger?”
That got a chuckle from the dear seemingly demented Father “Not at all Eric. Simply assist me in my work, experience the joys in helping others…you never know you might find a purpose for that life of yours somewhere on our travels!”
“Father, with all due respect…And I do respect you, and I do believe in God and in the power of faith …to a certain extent. Which is why I don’t think I’d be the best man for the job.”
“Mr Northman, I think that’s what makes you perfect for the job.”
Brigant was right there I was, an orphan educated by nuns and raised in a children’s home, what were my options after I turned eighteen? Pam told me in one of her letters that I could go stay with her and her dad and his wife, but I couldn’t do that forever and despite having nothing to my name, I still had my pride. And it was my pride that niggled away at me this last few months, it was my pride that new that I’d have to do something to prove myself in this world. I wasn’t just an orphaned or someone to be discarded like the trash on the street. I had things to offer the world and if that meant going with Niall and attempting to help people like they helped me? Then so be it. My faith in god wasn’t as strong as Sookie’s faith in ‘him’, she had this unwavering sense of there being someone out there looking out for us. I told her a dozen times that it was nonsense, a scare tactic used by the evil nuns and priests to keep us all in line. She insisted that I should have faith, and that the whole point in having faith in something was believing in it, even when no one else did, believing in it when you couldn’t prove it or see it. The point was to believe, no matter what.
But in doing that also meant that I would be leaving her behind. How did I do that? The girl who’d been my only consistent friend since I was a little kid.
“So that’s it? That’s all you have to say? You’re leaving and that’s it.” Her eyes welled up as she looked at me, her anger and sadness evident in her voice.
“Sook. I have to go. I mean I’d have to go away, you know that. But at least this way I’m out there doing something, I’d be learning how to live Sookie, and helping people AND spreading the word of …God. Isn’t that a good thing?” I admit I preyed on her faith hoping she’d embrace her forgiving side more quickly.
Sadly this was the girl who knew me better than anyone. “That’s horse shit Eric and you know it! You’re doing this because you’re scared! You think I don’t know that!”
Sookie never cursed, in fact I didn’t even think she knew how. “Sookie please understand”
“I don’t want to understand Eric. I mean I’m tired of understanding why everyone…” with that she let her tears finally fall. And it broke my heart right were I stood.
“Why everyone ends up leaving me.”
I didn’t know what to say and she just rolled her eyes at me and walked into the classroom. She tried her best to calm herself down, but old Geraldine picked up on right away. It was like blood to shark.
“Is there a problem Ms Stackhouse?”
“No Sister no problem.” She gathered her books and attempted to find the page. I watched her from across the room, just wanting to hold her and tell her that everything would be fine. But I knew I couldn’t because I knew it wouldn’t be fine.
“Is there a problem Ms Stackhouse?”
“No Sister no problem.” I replied trying my best to blink the tears away, taking silent breaths in an attempt to calm myself.
“Then why the tears Ms Stackhouse?
“No reason Sister I just…Don’t feel well.” Understatement of the century.
“Is that so” she replied in a smug tone that alerted me to the fact that the classroom had now filled and everyone was looking in my direction, including Eric. “Well Ms Stackhouse feeling well or not there will be no tears in my classroom do you understand? Tears are for the weak, those who cannot get a handle on their own emotions. And we as people are no better than the animals if we allow our most primitive of emotions to take us over, isn’t that right?”
She was right in front of me now as she whispered – loudly enough so the rest of the class would hear “Just because your little boyfriend is abandoning you it is no reason to cause a scene. Honestly you’d think you’d be used to being left high and dry, you’ve had enough practice at it.” she sneered coldly.
I felt the blood rushing to my ears, and the blush in my cheeks expand to my neck.
“He’s n-not my boyfriend” I whispered.
“Ah, so it is about Mr Northman then. Typical. The two of you waltz around here like you’re the bee’s knees and you honestly expect us to believe that you aren’t whoring yourself out to each other…Tell me Ms Stackhouse, if he’s not the boyfriend, are you simply his whore?”
With that I burst out crying and I heard Eric erupt from the other end of the room.
“What the hell is your problem! How dare you talk to her like that!” I heard Eric yell from across the room. This of course enraged the good Sister, I swear steam came from her ears.
“MR NORTHMAN YOU WILL REFRAIN FROM RAISING YOUR VOICE IN THAT MATTER. SIT DOWN AND SHUT YOUR MOUTH”
Hypocritical much? Eric remained calmer than her considering he didn’t yell like she did. Instead he stood up. His height even then towering over her.
“I will not. Unlike most people in this room, I’m not afraid of you. How can you stand there, preaching the word of God and Jesus when all you ever do is berate and insult and humiliate people, just because you can.”
“Mr Northman, get out of my class do you hear me”
“Oh I hear you, I think the cows at the Stateline can hear you. But hear me, you will not talk to her like that again. Sookie is ANYTHING but a whore. Mine or anyone’s. She’s a good decent person. Which is a lot more than can be said for you!” With that he chanced a look at me before storming out of the classroom slamming the door behind him for effect.
Needless to say this didn’t go over well. I got three months detention and six slaps of the whip to my back. The scars, both inside and out were really beginning to build up by this point.