I’ve lived here for six months and I wanted out. This place was an abomination and I should have just run away. At almost sixteen it would have been hard, but I would have found a way. My parents didn’t die or anything, I just never had them. I’ve been an orphan from my third day of life. No one wanted me, so this was my final place. I had to stick it out a year and I would be free. My education was spottier than a Dalmatian. What did this woman want with me? I enter the main office from the girls’ side which was already fucked up. I didn’t like boys yet, but they made it so we couldn’t see any of them. Girls were not nice to each other, especially here. There was one I’d like to kick her ass, but then I’d be thrown out.
“Ms. Finn, please take a seat. I’m waiting on one of the other students.”
“Yes, I heard the call for a boy named Henry,” I said, annoyed about how beautiful the room was and how we had nothing compared to a place where she didn’t even sleep.
“Don’t be smart, Ms. Finn,” she scolded me. I hated the contempt in her voice. This woman had been the worst of the people who handled me over the years. She was stern and cruel. The food was stretched to mere scraps per girl. Now looking at the fancy salad on her desk, I was tempted to steal it and share it with the kids. At first chance, I was reporting this place. Cruella walked away to get the door, which I assume was the boy she summoned. It was surprising that she was going to let us meet. I listened to the sound of her heels and turned my head to the sound. This bitch needed to an ass-whooping that I was more than willing to give to her, but for the moment it was all forgotten. This Henry happened to be the most handsome boy I’d ever seen. I was staring at him foolishly and he was doing the same. Of course, it wasn’t foolishly. It was intense.
“Henry, Gretchen, you two are the oldest kids we have at the home. So, we need you to do us a favor. A new owner moved into the cottage down the road. He is super wealthy and we would like him to support the orphanage. He asked to speak with the students, but he is in a wheelchair. It would be best if you, Mr. James, escort Ms. Finn to his home and answer his questions.”
“Um, why can’t one of the adults take her?” I was a little hurt by his dismissal of me.
“Because you are about to be tossed out because of your age. I thought if you wanted to help yourself you’d do this,” she threatened. So, he didn’t want to help me because he was older than me. I was tiny in comparison. Maybe they fed the boys better because he was tall and strong looking.
“Fine. I’ll escort her,” he surrendered begrudgingly.
“Great. I’ll give you the directions and you can go.” She handed me the paper, so I stood and walked to the door. Henry hadn’t moved, but stared at the headmistress like he wanted to kill her. I couldn’t blame him, but I felt like there was more going on.
“Are you coming, Mr. James?” I questioned. My body language and tone caught his attention and he stood without a word.
We left the room and no one stopped us as we walked right out the front door. The normally mean security guard never let us get close to it. He didn’t even bother to look at us. I heard the door slam shut behind us and the lock click fast.
“What is going on?” I asked him.
“I’ve heard rumors of the last two oldest kids leaving and never coming back. They said that they were sent away because they were too old, but he was younger than me.”
“Well, let’s just find this place and head back to the home. Or we could just run away. Picking fruit and plants in the woods would be better than living in that death trap.”
“Let’s find this guy first. If we do then we can get someone to help us. I need to speak to someone about my parents’ death and will. I was to be looked after should something happen, so there was no reason to be sent here.”
“How long have you been here?” I asked. He had an intense hatred for the headmistress. I wondered if she seduced him. I’d seen it in other places because most boys wouldn’t be believed or even say a word about being sexually assaulted. It’s not something I’d ask him, but I hope it hadn’t happened.
“Only two years,” he said, looking down at the hand drawn map, then up at the path ahead. It was very wooded and hilly. Luckily, we weren’t as high as the other hills around us.
“Wow, that sucks. How are you holding up?” I asked as he led the way, looking around for something. I don’t know why I’m talking his ear off. The guy didn’t even want to help me.
He stopped, turned to look at me with scrunched up brows, then muttered, “What do you mean? This place sucks.”
“I meant about losing your parents.” He was a very handsome boy. Why couldn’t I stop staring at his green eyes. They were bright and magnified by the fire burning in them. For not being an adult, he had that hardened look of a much older man. His jaw was strong, his mouth so kissable. How was I losing my mind over this boy? My heart pumped furiously every time I looked at him.
“I suppose as most kids would; I miss them. They were great people. I thought my family cared for me, but they let me come here. It isn’t something my parents would ever allow and no one has come to claim me.”
The pain of abandonment was encasing him. Damn, I wanted to hug him and make it better, but I didn’t really know how. “You were lucky to have had them for those years.” He gave me a strange look and I realized that I must have said something wrong. “I’m sorry you lost them, though.”
He gave me a crooked smile that sent burning heat to my face. Wow, I was blushing for the first time ever. I was mortified, but he just nodded to keep moving down the path. It was a bit rough. I watched him walk up to a tree on his left. I hoped to hell he wasn’t going to take a piss. That shit would be gross. I saw him pull something out of his pocket. It was a butter knife. He was carving into the tree.
“I want to mark our way back. I have a bad feeling about this.” He stepped back to me and then walked a little further, marking another tree.
“How long have you been in there?” he asked, pointing to the orphanage that was no longer in sight. Something about not being able to see that hellhole gave me a sense of relief. Even the middle of nowhere was better than the house of horrors.
I looked back once more before giving him an answer. “It’s been about six months, but I’ve hopped around from place to place since I was a baby.”
“Damn, I’m sorry, Gretchen. How old are you?” he asked. I could see the pity and I didn’t like that feeling. I’ve had those looks bestowed on me several times over the years, but help never came with it.
“I’m sixteen now. My birthday was last week,” I muttered, hoping that he wouldn’t feel sorry for me. I didn’t want Henry to look at me as some pathetic waif.
“Wow, well happy belated birthday.” I smiled at his generous words that came with a heart stopping smile. No one mentioned it at the home and I didn’t bother saying anything because I stopped caring about birthdays. “Mine is in two days.”
“Hopefully, I’ll be able to wish you a happy birthday too.” He smiled, then took my hand which sent a shiver through me. He continued walking, leading the way and marking the trees as we went. It was strange because we should have reached the cottage, but we only seemed to have gotten deeper into the woods with the sun going down. And that’s when I heard a loud roar.
“A bear,” he called out. He knocked me down and covered me with his body. “Don’t move. We have to play dead.” I was shaking, but he whispered, “Sweet Gretchen, please stay calm.” He brushed my cheek. I relaxed a bit. I could hear the bear around us. It roared, so closely that I thought we were done for, but then a gunshot sounded in the air and the bear’s paws could be heard pounding away from us.
“Get up, you fools,” a man said.
Henry stood first, then reached for my hand and helped me to my feet. He wrapped his arms around me, protecting me from the stranger.
“What are you two doing out here? This is a dangerous area.”
“We were sent to find the cottage nearby and speak with the owner on behalf of the home.”
“Who would be stupid enough to send you out here where there’s several wild animals?”
“Stupid is not the word. Evil is more like it. The headmistress at Kinderhomes. I’m Henry James and she’s Gretchen Finn.”
“I’m Benjamin Hardy,” he stuck out his hand, shaking each of ours.
“Wait, the Hardy Corporation? The ones who make candy?” I’ve never heard of the guy or company, but I rarely had a piece of candy and when I did, I didn’t pay attention to who made it.
“The same. Let’s stop talking and get to the safety of the cottage before some other animal comes out to eat.” We moved just in time because there was a lot of rustling in the trees.
Once we reached the cottage, he let us in to a cool home. Having been in the muggy air for so long made this home pure bliss for me. It was an immaculate place with the smell of sweetness in the air. I looked around and there were bowls of candies and a row of dime store type of glass candy holders with the metal lids. “Wow, I’ve never seen so much candy.”
“Have some if you’d like, but I’m sure you must be hungry for real food.”
“Thank you, sir. There’s a lot I need to tell you. We need your help.”
“I will not support that place. I already told that woman who came here yesterday.” He must not like children. “I don’t trust her and I have someone coming to look into the place.”
“Thank you again. I knew she sent us out to die. She gave us this map.” Henry handed it over and he scoffed.
“I’m going to need this for evidence.” He took the letter. “Have some candy before dinner. I’m sure you both will still want to eat.”
He left us there, taking out his cell phone and going into the kitchen. “Well, we’ve got a lot of candy to choose from. What do you want?”
“I don’t know. What kind are these?” He opened the metal lid and pulled out a little green heart and read the wording on it. “I haven’t had a lot of candy in my life.”
“Damn, I’m sorry you’ve missed out. Here,” he said, handing it to me. I took it and silently read it: Love Me. I laughed at the irony, since Henry didn’t even like me. I popped it into my mouth. “It’s good. I should go see if Mr. Hardy needs help with dinner.” I walked away hating that I was so pathetic.