“And that was how it began. The constant push and pull…I was seduced by it. Holding me away and then bringing me close. When a woman does that it can drive a saint to sin.”
“Woman?” Sergeant Godmen questions with a raise of her brow.
“You know what I mean,” Langston mutters.
“So is this when she told you her plan?”
“Plan? What plan? There was no plan. I told you it just happened….it was an accident.”
“Can you be sure of that? If things were as you said then she may have organized the whole thing so you could take the fall.”
“No, Sonrisa wouldn’t do that.”
“Again, I ask you…how can you be sure?”
“You make her sound so conniving…malicious.”
“And you make her sound like a helpless victim but, really, how helpless could she be? She wasn’t afraid of getting involved with you.”
“Because she felt safe with me. I wasn’t a threat.”
“Or maybe she saw a weakness in you. Maybe she saw that you would be easy to manipulate.”
“I’m not weak,” Langston mutters clenching his teeth. “And she didn’t use me.”
“Oh, but, she did…and she still is.”
When Langston added up all the moments they spent together they seemed so few, but he knew that the number was insignificant. No matter how few they were, they made an impression on him.
On Saturday mornings, Sonrisa would get up early to meet him at the train station in Camden. From there she would ride with him into the city and then stay with him until Sunday night.
Needless to say, Langston lived for the weekend. In those few short days, he and Sonrisa did all the things that couples do together. They went to the movies. They went to dinner. Snuggled down under warm blankets on the couch to watch TV. In his mind, Sonrisa was his girl. He loved her and he was sure she loved him in every way, but the way he wanted most. Sonrisa liked to cuddle and would not shy away from his affections as long as it remained mostly platonic. It made him crazy. Especially the nights when they lay in bed together. He got very little sleep when she was there, but he gladly suffered the sleepless nights to feel the warmth of her body next to his.
The hours always seemed to fly by too quickly when they were together, but Langston was sure to record every moment on film. He photographed her doing the simplest things—washing her face, curled up on the couch reading a book, having her first taste of a pomegranate fruit, the red juice dripping down her chin, dancing around his living room on her strong, muscular legs, balanced on tip toe.
“Why’d you stop dancing?” he asked as she lowered herself down onto the floor slowly, like a wave slipping lazily to shore.
She shrugged. “When I went through puberty I got too fat. Can you picture me prancing across a stage in a tutu with this ass?”
Langston smiled. “I think I would like to.”
She gave him a playful nudge, a hint of a smile hidden in the corner of her mouth. Langston wished she would just let it out.
“It doesn’t matter really,” she said as she slowly, gracefully raised her leg into the air, her toes drawn to an elegant point. “I was never really all that good anyway.”
Langston turned on his side and with his index finger drew a line from the inside of her ankle, down her leg to her inner thigh. “I can’t tell. You seem pretty good to me.”
She sighed and turned into him. Langston brushed his lips against her cheek and made a hesitant approach to her parted lips. She stilled for a moment and he felt a slight spark of hope flame inside of him, thinking that this might be the one time she didn’t push him away. That hope was quickly dashed when he felt her hand in the middle of his chest creating distance where he wanted none.
“I should go,” she whispered.
“Why are you always doing that?” he asked impatiently.
She didn’t respond. She only stood and began to gather her things. Langston sat cross legged in the middle of the floor holding his head in his hands.
“Are you going to walk me out?” Sonrisa asked as stood over him.
“I’d rather not. I’d rather you stayed--”
“Langston…” She threaded her fingers through the rows of his braided hair. Langston curled his hand around her thigh, pressed his lips to her skin, took in the scent of her.
“Walk me out, will you?” she asked again softly.
* * * *
Rarely a day passed that Langston didn’t hear from Sonrisa. So when he hadn’t heard from her for several days he began to worry. He looked for her on the train, at the coffee shop and every other place he could think of. Sonrisa was nowhere to be found. Her sudden absence, coupled with the fact that had no messages for her made him certain that something wrong.
At first he was unsure of what he should do about it. Sonrisa always kept her personal life separate from whatever they did so he didn’t feel comfortable with the idea of knocking on her door and asking for her. But all he could think about was that night on the train when she tearfully told him that she didn’t want to go home. He was sure something was going on there. Even more sure that it was nothing good. And whatever was going on at home had everything to do with why he hadn’t heard from her.
In the end, he found himself knocking at the plywood door of the row home she had pointed out to him that night. His knock was answered by an older Latino woman. A woman much too old to be Sonrisa’s mother.
“¿Quiénes tú?” she asked.
“Uh, I’m looking for Sonrisa? Is she here?”
“Esperate un momento,” the old woman said and then closed the door. “¡Consuela! La puerta!” the old woman shouted on the other side of the door.
“No se…buscando Sonrisa.”
“¿Sonrisa?” Another woman came to the door. This one was much younger. “Can I help you?” she asked.
“Yeah, I’m looking for Sonrisa. Is she here?”
The woman laughed. “Did she tell you that she lived here?”
The woman laughed again. Langston became irritated. He couldn’t see what was so funny.
“Sonrisa, doesn’t live here. She lives out in the county with her mom and step-father.”
Langston frowned, he was officially confused. He didn’t understand why Sonrisa would lie to him about where she lived.
“Are we talking about the same girl? Sonrisa Oce—”
“Sonrisa Ocevedo, yeah, she’s my cousin. She’s always telling people she lives here. She thinks having a Camden address will give her street credibility or something. She can be so stupid sometimes.”
Langston clenched his teeth, feeling the sharp sting of betrayal.
“How do you know her?”
“I…” Langston didn’t quite know how to respond. He suddenly felt as if he didn’t know Sonrisa at all.
“Ohhh…” the woman said as she pointed at him. “You must be that guy she’s been sneaking off to Philly to see. Yeah, she told me about you. Her mom thought that she was staying over here, but then the school called and said that she had missed like 13 days or something—”
“Wait a minute. Did you just say school?” Langston interrupted. His heart began to pound. “Just how old is Sonrisa?” he asked hesitantly.
“Seventeen. Why? Did she tell you she was older?”
Langston covered his mouth with his hand, shock and disbelief mingled with the sting of betrayal and twisted his stomach into a hard, angry knot.
“Seventeen?” he repeated breathlessly.
“I guess she didn’t tell you.”
“You know what? It’s my fault. I should have asked.” Langston walked backward down the steps. “Thanks for your help,” he said as he turned to walk away.
“Well, do you want me to tell her that you were looking for her?”
“Don’t bother,” Langston said over his shoulder. He didn’t know who he was more upset with, Sonrisa for lying or himself for having been deceived by a child. “Seventeen,” he mumbled as he shook his head. He knew she was young, but he never thought that she wasn’t of legal age.
* * * *
The following evening Sonrisa appeared at Langston’s doorstep. He looked through the peephole, more than a little irritated that she had the nerve to show up at his place again.
“What do you want?” he asked through the door.
“I want to talk to you.”
“There’s nothing to talk about.”
“Go home, Sonrisa,” he ordered, “before Mommy and Daddy come looking for you.”
“Langston, don’t be that way.”
Through the peephole, Langston saw her press her forehead against the door. When he looked down he saw that his hand was splayed on the door exactly where her heart would be. “Go home, Sonrisa,” he repeated. He waited, hoping to hear her footsteps as she retreated down the hallway. Moments passed, but he heard nothing but the sound of his own breath.
“Either you’re gonna let me in or I’m gonna sit my ass outside this door, but I’m not going home.”
Langston nearly laughed. It was one of the things he liked most about her. The way she could be so soft and quiet one moment then suddenly brash and feisty.
“Langston, please let me in,” she pleaded.
He stood there for a moment and debated whether or not he should let her in. He didn’t let people in often, literally or figuratively, and for this exact reason. As far as he was concerned, no one could be trusted. He had been hurt too often in the past and was none too eager to have that happen again, but for some reason, against his better judgment, he opened the door.
“Is this what you meant by tainting what we have?”
She nodded sheepishly. “In a way,” she said softly. “Will you let me in so I can explain?”
Langston stepped aside and let her in. He watched her step on the heels of her shoes to remove them and hang her bag and jacket on the hook by the door. He studied her as she walked, tried desperately to pick up on the clues he had missed, but no matter how hard he looked he saw none. What was he missing? Was he really that naïve?
“Why didn’t you tell me, Sonrisa? Why did you let this go on for so long?” Langston asked softly, the pain of her betrayal bleeding into his words. “Why’d you let me get in so deep?”
“Langston, I’m sorry.”
Sonrisa tried to hug him, but he pushed her away.
“I think it’s best that you keep your distance. I’m not trying to catch a charge for you.”
“The age of consent is sixteen,” she mumbled angrily.
“But that won’t stop you parents from filing charges anyway--”
“They would never know--”
“Is that right? I guess you’ve got them wound into your web of lies, too.” Langston knew if he talked to her much longer he would become really and truly angry. Angry to the point that he might lose control. “I think you need to go.”
“Not until I explain myself--”
“Make it snappy, cause I’m losing my patience with you, little girl.”
Sonrisa deflated. The corners of her mouth turned down, her bottom lip quivered. Langston felt remorseful but, didn’t back down.
“I tried to tell you…plenty of times—”
“Oh, yeah? When? We’ve been seeing each other for two months. Do you know how old I am?”
“No, cause it doesn’t matter to me.”
“I’m twenty four years old, Sonrisa. To hell with the age of consent. I never consented to doing anything with a minor. Do you even realize the trouble I could get into?”
“Of course I do! Do you think I’m some kind of idiot? Why do you think I kept pushing you away? Did you just think that I didn’t want to? I wanted to tell you before we did anything.”
“You should have told me from the beginning. If I had the choice, I wouldn’t have gotten involved with you at all. You should’ve told me the truth.” Langston realized that his words probably cut too close to the bone but, he didn’t care. “What was all that stuff with that house in Camden? Did you make that up to play with my emotions? Were those tears even real?”
“Of course, they were real. I’m sorry I lied to you, but I couldn’t tell you the truth.”
“Why? Because you are incapable of doing so?”
“No! Because the truth is even harder to believe than the lie!”
Langston threw up his hands in exasperation. This conversation was pointless. Even if he did listen to her, he still couldn’t believe a word she said.
“You gotta go.” Langston grabbed her by the arm and dragged her toward the door.
“Wait! You didn’t let me talk—”
“What difference does it make? I can’t see you anyway. Nothing you say will change the fact that you’re seventeen.”
“Please, just let me tell you and then I will leave.”
Langston clenched his teeth. He regretted having let her in. He wanted her out of his apartment, but the last thing he needed was for her to cause a scene and have the neighbors call the cops. He knew the trouble that would bring. He couldn’t take the risk.
“Fine,” he said, then let her go and crossed his arms over his chest. “Say your piece and then go.”
Sonrisa took a deep breath. Her eyes were wet with tears but, she blinked them back, determined not to cry. “I know I lied to you,” she began slowly. “But when I told you those things I didn’t think we would ever talk again. We knew so many of the same people…I figured someone would tell you how old I was and that would be that.”
“You should’ve told me,” Langston accused.
“I know…I realize that now.” She took another breath and balled her hand into a tight fist. “I was sad the night on the train because I had just gone to North Philly to get an abortion.” She licked her lips nervously. “I had to get the abortion because…”
“You don’t have to explain it to me, I get the idea.”
“No, let me finish…” She chewed on her bottom lip. “I had to get the abortion because the baby was my…” She seemed to lose her breath and her courage. “The baby was…”
“The baby was what?” Langston coaxed gently.
“The baby was my stepfather’s,” she whispered.
“You’re lying,” Langston blurted, without thinking.
Sonrisa eyes flashed with astonishment. “Right, I should have never told you.” She pushed by him and put her shoes on. “This is why I don’t tell anyone anything because they never believe me.” She turned away from him and gathered up her things to make a hasty exit.
“Sonrisa, wait.” He caught her at the door and stood in her way.
“I can’t believe you said that to me.”
“I’m sorry,” he said softly.
“Do you think I would make something like this up?”
“Put yourself in my shoes, Sonrisa. I’ve just found out that everything I thought I knew about you is a lie. Would you believe it?”
“I wouldn’t lie about something like this.”
He wanted to believe her, but it was difficult. He needed—no wanted—to know more. “I want you to tell me everything. Start from the beginning.”
The details that Sonrisa gave him were too horribly specific to be anything other than the truth. She told him how her stepfather had raped her repeatedly. How it’d been going on since she was twelve. How he still came to her almost every night. How he would guilt her into keeping quiet. She told him how the abuse had affected her. How she felt nervous and distrustful around men who are too aggressive. How lonely she felt before she met him. How she never thought she would never be able to feel for anyone she the way she felt for him. Langston cursed himself for having called her a liar.
“And you never told anyone?” he asked. “Not even your mother?”
“I tried to tell her once. She slapped me. Threatened to send me away. I didn’t want him to rape me anymore, but I didn’t want to leave home either, so I pretended it was a lie.”
Langston felt sick at hearing this. To have something like that happen to her and then to be called a liar by the one person who should’ve protected her…he was all too familiar with that feeling. His own mother had abandoned him in the same way when he needed her most. He wished that none of this had ever happened to Sonrisa. He wished he could be her protector, but he couldn’t think of a way to do it without getting into trouble himself.
“So now that you know everything, do you still feel the way you did before?”
“What do you mean?”
Sonrisa turned to him on the couch. “I mean, what you said before. About being in too deep? Do you still feel the same way?” she asked softly.
Langston ran his fingers through the tangled mass of hair on his head. He knew what she was asking, but he couldn’t give her the answer she wanted.
“Sonrisa, it still doesn’t change anything. I’m really sorry that this happened to you but…you’re just a kid. I’ve got my own shit. If someone were to find out about this I could go to jail for a really long time. I can’t take that chance. I can’t be involved with you like that.”
Sonrisa rolled her eyes. “I didn’t ask you that, Langston. I asked you what you felt.”
Langston looked at her. He wanted to push those feelings away. Deny their existence. He tried to rationalize the thing in his mind, but his heart didn’t function well in the rational realm, it never had. When he looked at her he felt the same surge of feelings. That same desire to hold her, kiss her—keep her for his very own. Sonrisa rose up on her knees and looked at the photos of her on the wall.
“So after I’m gone…will you take all of these down?” she asked as she stared at one of the more recent photos of them cuddled together. “It’s gonna leave a lot of empty space.”
“Don’t I know it?”
“So why do we have to break up?” she asked desperately. “We’ll start over. Now that you know everything—”
“Sonrisa,” he murmured. “It’s not that easy.”
She nodded and sat back on her heels. “I know.”
“You should probably go.”
“Okay.” She stood up, her head hanging low.
Langston walked her to the door. He didn’t know what to say. He’s torn. He didn’t want to say goodbye but, he knew he had to end it.
She turned to him. “Langston, I—”
A tear slipped out of the corner of her eye and his chest tightened painfully.
“Shit,” he cursed softly. “Don’t cry, Sonrisa.” It was the one thing he couldn’t stand.
She shook her head and tried to speak again, but couldn’t. Her voice was lost in choked little sob as more tears streaked down her face.
“Shit,” he cursed again. He cupped her cheek in his hand and wiped her tears away with the pad of his thumb. She nuzzled into the touch.
“Why does this hurt so bad?” she asked, her voice thick with tears.
“Jesus,” he said in a breathless whisper then pulled her into his chest. He couldn’t just push her out the door like that. He couldn’t. Not when she was crying. Not when he knew he was the source of that pain.
She only cried harder in his arms and he couldn’t think anything he could do to make her stop. It made him feel helpless and desperate. Made him want to cry himself. He held her tighter. Stroked her wet cheeks. Wiped fruitlessly at the new tears. She burrowed into his chest, crying in big, hitching breaths.
“I’m sorry,” she sobbed. “I didn’t mean to lie to you.”
“I know. It’s okay,”
“I never meant to hurt you, Langston,” she whispered.
She looked up at him and Langston’s belly did a lazy flip. The look in her eyes…he knew what was about to happen. She was going to kiss him. He knew it was going to happen, but he still flinched as if he’d been stung when her lips brushed against his. “Sonrisa--” he cautioned and tried to pull away.
She knotted her fist into his shirt and drew him close again. “Please,” was all she said then brought her mouth to his.
It was the kiss he’d wanted. The kiss that kept him up nights, wondering about how it would be. The kiss that woke him in the midst of coming, hips fucking into the mattress, cries bitten into the pillow.
This was the kiss that shouldn’t be happening.
He whimpered softly and pushed her away. “I can’t—” he tried to protest, but she kept reaching for him. Feeding on his mouth like something hungry. Like something that has been pent up for a good long while.
“Just this one,” she whispered. “And then we can say goodbye.”
“Okay,” he said. He felt weak. Manipulated. Stupid. But he couldn’t help himself.
“Okay?” she echoed.
“Yes, okay,” he agreed a little too eagerly.
Then she smiled. Her face was red and her eyes were swollen from crying, but,she smiled and that tight feeling in his chest melted away enough for him to feel something else.
“Oh, fuck,” he murmured.
This was not a goodbye kiss.
Sonrisa kissed him into the wall and pressed her body against him. Her soft breasts compressed against his chest. A breathy moan slipped from her mouth and he drank it in. Her hands slipped around his neck and brought him closer, but it still didn’t feel close enough. Langston’s hands swept down her waist, cupped her backside and gathered her up, wedging his thigh between hers. She was wearing another one of those ridiculously short skirts. He felt the heat of her sex though the denim of his jeans.
“Langston…” she gasped and the sound made him lengthen against his fly. But he sensed a little hesitation in her and pulled back a bit.
“Why’d you stop?” she asked.
“Don’t you think we should? Sonrisa, I—”
“I don’t wanna stop,” she interrupted. “I want you, Langston. You’re the only one I’ve ever wanted this way.” She drew her leg up alongside his. Opening her hips so that his settled between them.
Langston set his jaw. Smoothed his hand along the curve of her thigh. He’d played this over a million times in his mind, but it never happened like this. It was always carefully planned. There were candles. Music. Soft words of love. Always in a bed. He was gentle with her. Tender. But he found himself pressing her against the wall, bunching up her skirt, pushing her panties down and there was nothing tender or gentle about it.
Her hands slipped down his neck, molded to his chest. For a moment he thought she was pushing him away. But then her hand slid down the length of his arm and brought his hand to the soft, silky hair that covered her mound. A sudden prickling fear swept over him that made him back away, bringing him to his senses. She was only seventeen. This wasn’t right.
“No. We can’t—”
“Please, Langston,” she begged, then kissed him so passionately he thought he might come on the spot. The gentle thrusting of her tongue set him to moaning incoherently as she undid the waist of his jeans. She pulled back to look into his eyes as she pushed his jeans down and slipped her hand into his shorts.
“Don’t,” he whispered helplessly as she gathered him into her soft, warm hand. He sighed into the touch. It had been so long since he’d been touched this way by someone else. She began to stroke him. A light whispering of her hand up and down the length of him. He moaned and smacked the wall, searching desperately for his resolve. He had none. He’s wanted this for too long—wanted her for too long—to stop himself.
He never thought she would be so willing. She’d pushed him away so often that he was sure she was a virgin. He imagined that they would spend hours in heavy petting sessions where something almost, but never quite happened. But from the moment when he slipped his hand between her thighs, he could tell that she’d had other lovers. He found her wet. Very wet. And she moaned as he caressed her. He fought the urge to ask her again if she wanted to do this. He knew she did. She gave her consent in the way she her hands searched under his clothes and drew him close. She gave her consent with the slight tip of her hips that allowed him to slip his fingers inside.
“Oh God,” she whispered. He felt her tighten around his fingers. She grabbed a handful of his hair again and crushed her mouth to his.
The next second happened so quickly that he was barely aware of it. His fingers slipped free and he thrust into her. Quick and deep. She let out a squeal of surprise and clung to him.
Part of him couldn’t even believe it was happening. Part of him wanted to stop. Gather up her clothes. Push her out the door. Send her home. But that part of him was infinitely smaller than the part that relished the feel of her. He held perfectly still for a moment. Tried to collect himself. He wanted to slow down. It was all happening too fast. But Sonrisa didn’t give him the moment he needed. Her hips flexed against his. Sinking him deeper. Making it difficult for him to not to thrust into her again with an unchecked force. She encouraged him further with her whimpering cries as her hips kept time with his. Langston feared that would be over too soon if they kept this pace. And he didn’t want it to end. Not so quickly.
He grasped her hips, stilling her frantic movements while he wrestled his feet out of his jeans. He held her that way for a while, reveling in the closeness, and then carried her back over to the couch where he laid her down gently.
He undressed her. Kissed every inch of her lush body. The heavy curve of her breasts. The slope of her hip. Her soft belly. Her inner thighs. Her sweet sex. He kissed and kissed her until she urged him closer.
The moment he was inside of her again, she drew a sharp, startled breath and buried her face into his shoulder. Fingers biting into his skin.
He felt it then. Felt her growing slicker and tighter around him. He rode it with her. Until they began to breathe in unison. Her breath buffeting against his face. His heart beating so hard and fast that he felt the pressure of it building behind his eyes and rushing in his ears. Her hips carrying him like a wave until he spilt into her with a force that frightened him.
“Sonrisa,” he breathed. And Langston knew it wasn’t the end.