Josselin had only spoken to her once. It was on a summer day after school. She had wandered to the
dense forest at the back of the schoolyard because she knew that was where she would find him. She
stood behind a tree and watched him–studied him–the movement of his hand as he smoked a
forbidden cigarette, the manner in which he pulled his fingers through his dark hair, and the way he
laughed loudly into his gang of friends, even if his eyes cried, or blazed.
That day, however, he wasn’t with his friends. He was with a girl. Her name was Thiphaine
and she was the most popular girl in school. She was blonde and slim and beautiful with blue eyes
and red painted fingernails. Clelia watched from her hiding place as Josselin slowly backed
Thiphaine up until her body pressed against the trunk of the witch tree. It was a thuja occidentalis but
the townsfolk had baptized it so because of its twisted and crippled branches. The setting was eerie
for a romantic adventure, and yet, it suited Josselin. He seemed right at home, while Thiphaine
looked around nervously. His hand went to her cheek, his palm huge and dark and rough against the
porcelain paleness of Thiphaine’s face, while his other hand slipped under her blouse. His gray eyes
looked like melted steel when he lowered his head.
His shoulder-length black hair fell forward when he pressed his lips to Thiphaine’s and he
moved his hand from her cheek to brush it back behind his ear. Clelia remembered the deliberate
movement of his jaw, the way the muscles dimpled in his cheek, the hand under Thiphaine’s blouse,
all the while maintaining his composure while Thiphaine came undone under his caress. The
beautiful girl made low moaning sounds. Her knees buckled, but Josselin, without breaking the kiss,
grabbed her waist, pulling her so tightly into him that her back arched, keeping her up with his arm
while he made her weak with his touch and his tongue.
Watching them ignited both yearning and pain inside of Clelia. The hurt she felt speared her
heart. The aching in her soul was suddenly greater than the heat in her pores and on her cheeks, but
she couldn’t tear her stare away from the forbidden sight. It was Iwig, a boy from her class, who
broke the painful spell when he discovered her behind the tree.
“What have we here?” he said.
His eyes darted to the distance where Josselin and Thiphaine were embracing. He knew what
she had been doing. He was a tall, blond boy with a strong build, and Clelia disliked him for his habit
of hunting abandoned cats with his pellet gun.
“A peeping tom,” he said, taking a step toward her.
When she tried to back away, he grabbed her long braid and tugged it painfully, causing her
“Not so fast, witch.” He grabbed her arm and hauled her so that she stumbled into him. “You
like to watch, don’t you?” He grinned. “How about a taste of the real thing?”
She opened her mouth to scream, but he had already brought his down and kissed her so hard
that his teeth split her lower lip. In reflex her free hand shot up, aiming for his cheek, and collided
with its target. The force of the blow shot Iwig’s head back and froze him in his action, but only for a
second, before Clelia saw his arm lift. Not able to free herself from his grip, she cowered
instinctively, but instead of his fist coming down on her, another pair of arms grabbed Iwig by his
shoulders and flung him to the ground.
When she looked up, she stared into the face of Josselin, and what she saw was frightening.
His features were twisted into a terrifying expression, and before she could say anything, Josselin
bent down and lifted Iwig by his jacket lapels. Iwig’s legs dangled, flapping like fish on soil, while
his arms flayed in the air as if swatting flies. Josselin let go of one side of the jacket, his fist arching
and hooking under Iwig’s chin, while at the same time unknotting his other hand from the fabric of
the jacket. The impact sent Iwig flying through the air. When he hit the ground, she could hear the
loud thump as the air was knocked from his lungs. Josselin moved forward, his arms away from his
body, his fingers flexing, his shoulders pushed forward, until he stood wide-legged over the
submissive body of Iwig. Iwig lifted his hands in front of his face, mumbling pleas for mercy.
“If you ever touch a girl in that way again, I’ll hang you from a tree under a pack of wild
boars and watch them eat you from your feet up to your useless dick, until they rip your stomach
open and your insides fall out and you beg me to die,” Josselin said.
He spoke very softly, but the woods had suddenly gone quiet. His voice all but echoed in the
absence of the sound of birds and wind. From the corner of her eye, Clelia noticed Thiphaine who
stood to the side, hugging herself.
“And if you ever lift your hand to a woman again, I’ll cut off your balls and make you eat
them and then I’ll feed you to the boars. Do you understand?”
Iwig tried to scurry away on his elbows, but Josselin stepped on his jacket.
“I asked if you understand.”
“Yes. Yes,” Iwig said. He had started crying.
When Josselin lifted his boot, Iwig scrambled to his feet. He didn’t look at Clelia before he
ran down the path in the direction of the school. Only then did Josselin turn to her. She shook from
head to toe while Josselin studied her quietly. After a moment he walked to her, took her chin in his
hand and tilted her head.
“You’re bleeding,” he said, trailing his thumb over her lower lip.
And then he did something that shocked her wildly. He brought his thumb to his lips, slowly,
his gray eyes holding hers prisoner while he slipped his finger into his mouth and licked it clean,
tasting her blood.
Clelia couldn’t move. She stood still, unable to speak or blink.
He took a white handkerchief from his coat pocket and wiped it over her mouth before
pressing it into her hand.
“He won’t bother you again, but you’d better go home.”
She only nodded. He was much taller than her, so that she had to crane her neck to look up at
him. He shifted and then his face was obscured by the shadows with the sun at his back. She
remembered wondering if he had forgotten about Thiphaine, who still stood to one side, silently
observing, her eyes wide. Clelia looked from Thiphaine to Josselin. When life finally returned to her
legs and she started to hurry down the path, he said, “What’s your name, girl?”
She stopped. “Cle … Cle…” Her teeth chattered.
He frowned. “Take a deep breath. You’re in shock.”
She did as he instructed, and found her jaw relax slightly.
“That’s better. Now, tell me again.”
His lips twitched. “The witch?”
She flinched. That was what her classmates called her.
He didn’t show any kind of emotion. Only his smile became a little bit more pronounced.
“How old are you?”
“Fourteen,” she said through parched lips.
“You’re too young to wander alone in the woods.”
When he said that, his voice became soft and dark again, like when he had spoken to Iwig,
and without sparing either of the lovers another glance, Clelia sprinted home and curled into a ball on
her bed with his bloody handkerchief in her hand.