Judith and Casper were two ordinary children. They lived a good life, attended the same school, even lived near each other. The only difference was that Judith had a father, her mother had died in a fire a long time ago and her father had not found a new wife, although he had several lady friends to pick and choose from. “Too complicated,” he said, whenever she asked why he did not ask one of them out. Something about the status as colleagues was not going to be disturbed by personal problems. He worked at the local post office. Casper had a mother. His father he recalled vaguely from his early childhood, but he was told that he had left when he was merely two years old, so if he didn’t remember, it was ok. Why he had left, he had never found out, his mother wouldn’t talk about it so he had to shrug whenever his class mates mockingly asked him where his father was.
Now, Judith and Casper attended the same school but not the same class although they were the same age. However, at the age of thirteen their classes had to be put together into one because the school had to cut down educational resources.
There had always been a rivalry between Judith and Casper’s classes. Not for any obvious reason. The rivalry had begun back when there had been a great snow ball fight on the pitch behind the school and some of the boys had gotten into a bigger fight where one of them had broken his nose and had had to go to the hospital. Ever since, and it was four years ago now, they had been arch rivals of the school playgrounds or football tournaments. And now it seemed that they had to share the same class room because some of the worst students had to stay one grade lower still and retake their exams.
This left out the worst bullies and Judith and Casper, who had always tried to avoid too much attention, got to know each other well. They began to walk together from and to school.
Their ordinary existence skid along the road as a year passed. They shared interests in music and spare-time activities. Both had creative minds, but whereas Judith liked playing the piano, Casper was more of an artist and painted small pictures or drew cartoons. They sat side by side in the class whenever they could get to it, and he drew comics from what happened around them. He could always make her laugh, and she was his inspiration. Soon they even visited each other, making home-work together when their parents were still working.
Rumors grew as they do at the beginning of the teens, but Judith and Casper merely shrugged, as they had always done when people asked about their parents. Judith’s father was always working late and sometimes she even had to cook her dinner because he visited a good friend of his. Bullies from the higher grades said that he was gay, but she always disagreed and argued that she at least was alive, so he couldn’t very well be gay. Casper supported his friend, but he had to think of his mother more than usual because she was depressed and tired all the time. When he asked what was wrong, she also shrugged.
The weather grew colder and they left October and entered a cold, rainy November. One evening Casper had left his mother and gone to visit Judith. Her father was away again, and they had to finish an assignment together. They sat together on her bed in the little apartment. Casper always enjoyed being in Judith’s room. There was something delicate about it, not an ordinary girl’s room, posters of fantasy worlds and band posters with unfamiliar names and books like Brett Easton Ellis or Ben Elton. Her walls were scattered with funny drawings or stuff she had collected from the outside world, withered leaves from the park, a parking sign and an old shirt she couldn’t fit anymore but refused to throw away. No teddy bears, no pink, fluffy, sparkly girlish things. It wasn’t like home, but it was still somehow familiar. Actually, Judith and Casper had a lot of things in common. Different, but still common.
And this fateful evening they sat close beside each other talking about the assignment. Naturally, Casper reached for Judith’s hand and she allowed him to take it without being the least bit distracted from the conversation. It was a rush when they shared the first, trembling, insecure kiss, the first unfamiliar thing they shared, but it felt like two swallows meeting mid-air after a long distance of being separated on their journey south for a warmer climate. And warmer it got. They blushed but still didn’t let go of each other. It felt right, it felt real. Their hearts beat with excitement and they forgot all about their assignment. They fell asleep together, and for the first time in a long time, school and parents faded into the background of the present, where the horizon seemed endlessly inviting.
Next day they were late and had to run. Both smiled and exchanged glances when they ran through the hall and out of the front door without even saying “good morning” to Judith’s father, who sat at the kitchen table reading the morning paper. In school they kept as quiet as possible, ducked now and then when a mocking comment flew across the room, but underneath the table their hands were clutched and their fingers locked tight in the most reassuring grip of all times. The day raced by them, they had to part but they called and said goodnight at least. Casper’s mother noticed nothing, Judith’s father sat in the living room and said nothing when she got home.
Everything seemed perfectly fine until one day when Judith had promised to go with Casper and help him clean the little house where he and his mother lived. They came home, threw their bags in the hall and Casper called to say he was home with a friend and that they’d clean right away. Judith followed him into the living room where his mother lay on the couch watching a TV program about the rain forest. She looked up and raised an eyebrow in surprise at the sight of Judith. A smile flickered across her lips but faded slowly as she saw the young couple holding hands.
Casper knew his mother well enough to see terror when there was no expression, and terror was exactly what was displayed in her eyes as she saw Judith. This startled Casper. Why? What was wrong now? They’d just finish the cleaning and then she’d go home. His mother looked away and nodded without a word, without a greeting. Judith noticed the silence and tugged at Casper’s sleeve to tell him that they’d better get a move on. She asked what was wrong with his mother when they stood in the kitchen and had a mug of tea, but he just shrugged, saying it was probably her illness which made her feel too overwhelmed by another person in the house. Judith suggested that she went home and waited until his mother had gotten better, but he brushed off her words with a kiss on her cheek, saying that he’d rather have her there than at her father’s place. She agreed.
They cleaned, listening to music, chatting about their plans for the future until she had to leave. They said goodbye in the hall and exchanged a careful kiss. In the corner of her eye, Judith saw Casper’s mother watching from the living room, but she ignored it and left.
This evening Judith came home and saw her father in the kitchen with his friend, kissing intimately. She turned on the doorstep and left. She wouldn’t go to Casper’s, there was just something stuck in her throat, something strange. Crying wasn’t a thing she had practiced a lot. Her father had always taught her to be strong and not listen to what others told her. The tears ran down her face as she walked the streets between the blocks contemplating the sight of her father embraced by another man. There was no way she could put the picture from her mind and just accept it. It seemed plain wrong and yet it didn’t surprise her. After half an hour she returned home. The friend had left and her father sat in the living room. She stopped in the doorway, soaked by the rain, dropping the bag on the floor as she watched her father turn and smile at her. It was the first time in a month he had smiled.
“I saw you,” she said quietly. The smile disappeared instantly from his face.
“Who? What?” he asked with a frown.
“You and your friend. In the kitchen.”
He nodded slowly to show he understood, rose and went to take her hand. The touch seemed as awkward as if she had to give a step-mother a hug for the first time. She looked darkly at him as he squatted down in front of her and put a hand to her cheek.
“I’m sorry you had to find out like that.”
She just stared at him without answering before lowering her gaze to the floor. She knew she couldn’t control his life, and at least she was still part of it.
“Don’t you love me?” she asked and felt a strange, burning sensation behind her eyelids. A tear ran down her cheek but he drew it away quickly. He gave her a tight hug.
“Of course I do, love,” he said comforting. For the first time in a long time she was allowed to sit on his lap and have popcorn while watching the late night shows, he always saw. She fell asleep and he carried her to her bed where he tugged her in, kissed her goodnight and left the door ajar.
This evening Casper’s mother rose from the couch and made dinner for the two of them. They barely exchanged glances across the table and afterwards she went to bed and he cleaned the dishes before going to his room to play some computer. He tried calling Judith but she didn’t answer her phone. He fell asleep with a feeling of uneasiness, a heavy stone in his stomach which wouldn’t go away.
Next morning she was awake early and had to wait for Casper at the usual corner where they met before they went to school. Her father had awakened her with tea and toast and a glass of juice. She forgave him for being weird and knew he was sorry but she wanted to understand, she told him, right now she just needed some time. He accepted this and kissed her cheek before she went to school.
She pondered telling Casper about what had happened but she shrugged off the feeling. They met and went for a moment in silence before she asked how he’d been after she’d left yesterday. “Fine,” came the answer. She tried pushing him further on the subject but he told her, that he couldn’t explain it. His mother was just strange some times. She shrugged and part of the stone in Casper’s stomach disappeared.
The day was good, there was sunshine for the first time in a week with long, bleak days and Judith’s encouraging smiles helped Casper focus on something else than his sick mother. Not even the bullies could ruin this day, and as they parted after school they kissed, holding hands, daring the first taste of each other. Subtle and sweet, exciting and different, but still familiar. Quite familiar it seemed.
When Judith came home, her father was home.
“That’s a surprise,” she said and dumped her bag in the hall before entering the kitchen where her father stood looking out of the window.
“Sit down,” he said. “We need to talk.”
She hesitated. “Okaaaay?” she sat down slowly at the table and watched her father as he turned and looked inquiringly at her.
“I had a call when you had left for school,” he said. “A call about you.”
A bolt of energy shot through her stomach leaving a dizzying feeling and her feet went numb. If Casper’s mother had found out and wanted to make sure that… but how did she know who her father was? She had never seen Casper’s mother at class get-togethers or the like.
“Who called?” she asked and disgusted the tremor in her voice as well as she could.
“Mrs. Rowanson,” he answered. She gasped and blinked. So she had called.
“So… what did she want?” she asked slowly. There was something serious about his tone which made her legs feel like oversize jelly beans.
“She told me about you and her son, Casper. You’ve been seeing each other for a while, haven’t you?” he asked.
“How would she know, I only just visited him yesterday to help with some cleaning. Otherwise we’ve been here when you’re not around,” she answered and narrowed her eyes.
“I’ve seen the extra dishes and the pizza boxes. I thought it was just some girls from school until I noticed a boy’s jacket hanging on the coat rack a morning where you and some stranger, I didn’t even get to see, had to hurry out of the door,” he said.
“Girls can wear a boy jacket,” Judith tried.
“But not smell like a boy,” her father raised an eyebrow. She looked down at the table licking her lips. He was cleverer than she’d thought.
“Yeah, ok, we’ve been seeing each other,” she acknowledged and looked back up at him, managing a little smile. She didn’t receive one though. Instead her father had his knuckles resting against the kitchen counter, looking away.
“You can’t, Judy,” he said quietly. She frowned and rose slowly.
“What? Why not?” she asked disbelieving. “You can’t say that, I… like him. I mean… I love him… actually.”
Her father sighed heavily and looked up, meeting her eyes. “You can’t be together, Judy, that’s the final word.”
“Give me one good reason.” She crossed her arms and stood her ground. He approached her, took her hand and led her with him to the hall where he opened the old drawer. It had always been standing in the hall; she’d never really given it a thought. She knew that the first drawer contained things that got lost and were found again but had no place to be put, like a lonely sock, a lighter or a tape roll. One of the lower drawers had a keyhole and she’d never seen it opened. Not until now.
Her father drew out a key and unlocked the drawer. He found a black album and guided her along into the living room where they sat down and he muted the TV. He opened the album and flickered through it to the first page. Judith saw some places where pictures were missing but what her eye caught most distinguishingly was the face of a woman beside her father, and an unknown boy.
He had no need to talk. She stared at the first picture, disbelief washing over her like a cold tidal wave, making her mind go blank like a new sheet of paper unstained by ink, water marks or finger prints. She shivered despite the warmth from the heaters behind the couch. Her fingers slid across the picture as she realized what he wanted to tell her; why she couldn’t be with Casper anymore; why his mother was sick and why her father hadn’t gone out with any of the women he’d known for so long now.
She’d never felt this way. Angry, betrayed. Why hadn’t they told her? Why had he told a lie about her mother being dead? Why had her mother run away and hidden behind a curtain of shame and sickness? Why hadn’t they just told the truth?
She rose and tugged her shirt closer around her. The cold wouldn’t go away. She walked to the window and looked out. It was already darkening outside. The afternoon was too short and the evening too long. She heard him rise as well and she felt the weight of his hands on her spindle shoulders.
“I… I’m sorry, Judy, we meant to tell you but… things got awkward and your mother and I grew apart. In the end we couldn’t stand living in the same house and I moved out. Later we made the arrangement for you to come and live with me and… and your brother stayed with her.”
“It’s unfair,” she said quietly, her breath tainting the glass.
“I know, Judy,” he turned her around slowly and pushed a strand of hair behind her ear. She didn’t look up to meet his eyes. Her throat was dry and her eyes burned constantly. A hiccough found its way over her lips.
“But… I love him, father,” she bit her lip and slid a hand across her eyes. He turned away from her distraught and weighed down by the burden on his shoulders.
“You just have to stop loving him. You won’t see each other again.”
“What?!” another bolt of energy shot through her this time cold was replaced with warmth searing through her. Her eyes got misted over and she felt her hands shake violently.
“Give me your cell phone.”
“What?! Why? Can’t you and her talk about this?”
“Judith!” he turned around sharply and his voice boomed. Her calm and gentle father who’d never raise his voice against her. He held forth his hand. She smacked the cell phone into his palm and rushed past him, the tears streaming freely now. She slammed her door and locked it. That night there was no goodnight kisses and no phone calls.
Next morning Judith was followed to school by her father. She didn’t see Casper the whole day, neither the day after. She was silent whenever she was with her father. He picked her up after school now. The third day she saw Casper. He was paler than usual and silent. He didn’t greet her with more than a single glance. She could see his eyes, red at the brim; he had probably been crying just as much as she had.
The first break they had, she went down to the toilet and sat until the bell rang. She thought hard about what she had to do or say if he contacted her. Next break she waited in the class room. The most of the class mates sidled out of the door to get out and play. To her surprise Casper waited like she did. The door closed behind the last student and they were left alone.
Their eyes met. With slow motions they advanced each other. Before they knew of it, they had run unto each others’ arms. They didn’t cry, just stood and embraced each other. Their stomach clenched and churned as they felt each other’s presence. They released themselves and held eye-contact for some time. They said they’d missed one another, asked when they would see each other again. Casper promised tonight, Judith refused. She wasn’t allowed outside her bedroom after sunset. He’d fix that, he promised.
At the end of the day, they parted outside class and Judith went to meet her father at the back entrance. They went home in silence, but she smiled for the first time in days. The evening went by as usual. At eight she locked her bedroom door and told her father that she was doing home-work. He made it to tell her that he had an important meeting but would be back by midnight. How convenient.
At ten she heard him leave and she went to her window and opened it ajar. In the backyard behind the block she could see a shadow passing below and she hummed a tuned. The shadow stopped and looked up. There he was. It didn’t take long for him to get in with help from the home-made rope she’d made from bed linen. They embraced and stood like that for some time before they shared their first kiss in a long time. Another followed and yet another while the heat flowed through their bodies. He lay her down on the bed, tension and excitement made their hands tremble as they scattered across each others’ clothes.
Undressing, sharing kisses, they promised never to let anyone come between them again. At the first touch of skin against skin, a relieved smile settled on their lips, and as they lay naked under the covers and kissed and touched, they knew they’d never do anything like this with anyone else. Their hearts bet uncontrollably in their chest, their cheeks were flushed and sweat made their palms slippery and wet. No matter how prepared they might have felt they were for this situation, it could not match the actual feeling of being in the moment. Judith winced, bit her lips and a tear slipped from the corner of her eye of pain, but she held on to him and felt complete for the first time in her life. Casper held his breath and buried his face in her hair, savoring every inch of her while the heat made even his fingertips tingle slightly.
She woke up alone. The window was slightly ajar and the cold breeze rushed in. The rope had been bound to the heater. She got up slowly, careful not to move too fast and loosened the rope and closed the window. On her bedside table lay a note which made her smile. She unlocked the door, went out and found her way to the bathroom where she dumped herself in a bathtub full of hot water and foam. She closed her eyes and smiled as she heard her father come home. She finished and flung a bathrobe around her before she went into the kitchen to make a cup of tea before going to bed. Her father came in and watched her without a word although it was obvious that there was something different about her. Her eyes were strong, she saw beyond what was real, she looked past her material present and understood the full meaning of her surroundings.
She looked up and met his eyes with a thin smile. “Goodnight,” she said and went to her room.
The next day neither her nor Casper returned from school. They were declared missing after 24 hours and the police searched for them, but they were nowhere to be found. Whatever became of them remains unknown, but later on their mother and father explained that their bank accounts had been emptied the very day on their disappearance and that neither of the children’s passports were to be found. Airports were searched and flights examined but they had left to live the life they wanted. Together.