They had age progressed my picture, and done a poor job of it.

Looking at their estimation of me as an adult I didn’t recognize myself. It was the image next to it, the hollow eyed, blurry girl whose smile was clearly forced, that caught me. I hadn’t seen myself in years. 

Abducted the missing person sign read. Last seen 22 years ago. So the poster hadn’t been updated in a while, I thought. Perhaps they had stopped looking. Two pictures, one of a young girl with an era appropriate haircut, barely smiling as she stood at the outskirts of a forest, arms stiff at her sides. She looked trapped, haunted. I almost remembered her. 

The irony was my alleged abductor had taken the photo. 

She was my caretaker when we’d begun spending our days in the forest. It had taken her a while to earn my trust. Me, withdrawn and timid with a scarred body, the result of abuse I physically didn’t remember but emotionally would relive for a lifetime. Until my father had gotten bored. Gotten busy, and hired a nanny to care for me while he worked and travelled

Sometimes he’d be gone for weeks, and she would stay. Stay and make my meals and brush my hair and ensure I went to school and came home and was safe and tucked away. Weeks where I would say my prayers each night, at her insistence, and always the same. Dear Lord, please don’t let him ever return. 

He always did. He’d come back tired and angry that his sheets hadn’t been changed or the refrigerator was empty. She made dinner for me when she could but my nanny, nearly a child herself, could only do so much.

Eventually she begged her parents to intervene. When they refused, citing it as “our business,” they forbade her to remain in the house. She cried, she pleaded, she yelled. They held firm. She hated them for it, never forgave them.

And so we began to steal moments away, moments in the forest where no one noticed two young girls playing. We’d bring an old towel and hold pretend picnics where she would feed me scraps of dinners and snacks she’d stolen when they weren’t looking. We’d pretend it was a merry affair, a jolly getaway.

“What a lovely holiday!” she would preen, and my cracked lips ached as I smiled. Then she’d stroke my cheek, as if to wipe away the shadow of a bruise forming. Tears came to me and just as quickly she’d replace that momentary tenderness with more posturing. “Next week we should visit Paris again.” She’d say too loudly, her voice high and haughty. “I’ll ring them and have them prepare the villa.” Once I’d stolen two black sheets of paper from school, fashioned them into berets. Setting them across our heads and twirling my pretend mustache. It was all I knew of Paris. Those moments in the forest were all I knew of happiness.

Next to the broken girl was the age progressed photo, a poorly simulated estimation of me today. This picture more of a head shot, me wearing clothes not so dissimilar from those I had on, with hair that swept to the side in a fashionable short bob, still the same color as that girl in pain.

They had that wrong, I had dyed it black as night. I kept it long now. Because she liked it. Because he would have hated it.

She came out of the restroom to find me staring at the poster. Coming up behind she slid her arm around my waist, resting her hand inside the band of my pants just below my belly button. I leaned my head against her shoulder. She was so tall back then but now we were almost the same height. 

“Wow.” She murmured into my ear. “They are still looking.” I nodded, relishing the smell of lavender oil dabbed behind her ears, my entire body warming to the feel of her against me. My home. My “abductor” who saved me. She kissed my ear as her fingers, still resting lightly on my stomach, began to lightly stroke my skin. My flesh rose at the feel of it, I turned my head toward hers, inching closer to the familiar face. “We should break in tonight, punch through that glass and steal the poster.” She murmured, so close to my mouth I watched her lips move.

It had been me who changed the dynamics of the relationship. One of those many visits to the forest she watched in silence as I scarfed the crumbs she’d managed to steal for me. It had been days since we’d been able to meet. Days since I’d eaten anything. I didn’t care that the bread was dry or the cheese hard. I didn’t care that the apple was soft and bruised. I was bruised, too. I drank water until my stomach was full then slid behind a nearby tree to relieve myself. As I did the threatening clouds stopped resisting their hold and rain fell so quickly and fully that I was instantly drenched. I rounded the tree to see her looking up, laughing into the sky. 

She was barely a young woman when we first met, as was I. But the years had shifted our bodies into something different. For me, it had been a favor from the Universe. My development meant rounder hips and more shape. I looked more and more as if there was a grown up inside of me, beginning to come out. It made him less interested in me, more angry. So the abuse shifted from horribly evasive and shame inducing to painful and sporadic. I preferred it. 

But I was still young, still budding. She wasn’t. Her face had thinned, become longer and more lovely. Her hair was fuller, her eyes wider. She no longer wore braces and as the rain hit her face I could see the gleam of her teeth. Her clothes stuck to her now, revealing every inch of her shape. Her breasts, round and full and larger then they’d been even two weeks ago, showed through her shirt completely. I saw the round, dark nipple as its peak lifted in response to the cold. 

She was the only female in my life, my mother so long gone she was a shadow of a memory. She was the only source of consistency, of kindness, I’d ever experienced. She was my only friend who never mocked my tattered clothes or gaunt appearance. She was my everything. And in that moment, I realized, she was stunning. 

Something inside of me, the part that had clung to girlhood, broke away and I yearned. Her eyes still closed as I approached, if she was aware of how close I was she showed no signs. It wasn’t until I lifted my hand, hovering only for a moment, and placed it on the thin, wet cotton protecting the flesh of her breast that she opened them, shifting her gaze to mine. 

Nothing moved save the rainfall. We held still, eyes locked. Curiosity and something dark in mine. In hers? Shock, maybe anger, indecision. I could have lost her then, I realized later, could have lost her and all of me forever in that moment. I looked away only briefly to study my hand on top of her. I took in the dirty, stubby nails at the end of raw fingers. My fingertips were rough and red from an hour of scraping them on the door of the dark closet I was trapped inside this morning, trapped there by him before he left for the day. I’d broken free, nearly dislocating my shoulder as I ripped it off the hinges, earning my freedom. My food. My time with her. She didn’t know it yet, but I was never going back. In my mind I was already abducted.

My fingers, a hand I no longer recognized as a child’s hand, pressed against a woman’s breast. Curious I applied pressure, heard her gasp, then met her eyes once more. My fingers squeezed together, trapping her nipple between them. The dark clouds in my eyes echoed in hers. I released, slightly, then squeezed again. As I did her breath quickened, my own did the same. I repeated, over and over, wondering if she would stop me, wondering about the growing flame somewhere deep in my core. Curious if I could set it on fire or if the rain, or she, would douse it soon. She didn’t move, she only watched, and I wanted more. I licked my lips, squeezed, felt the flame grow.

She swallowed. I heard it over the pouring rain. I lifted my eyebrows in question. Without hesitation, she nodded. In that instant the missing girl from that poster died. I came alive. 

We spent the day in exploration, not caring about rain or time or anything. It was all so new to me. I never worked up the nerve to ask her how new it was to her. Maybe I never cared if there was anyone before me. I knew there would be no one after me. 

We made plans to leave the next morning. She snuck me into her room and I slept, warm and safe, surrounded by her. I enjoyed being dry, but I didn’t need a bed. I would have slept in the forest. 

Twenty three years, although the poster was out of date. Two young women with no education, but so very much money. I had stolen one of his credit cards. If he noticed, he didn’t care to report it, didn’t bother to track it. His burden was gone, the annoyance constantly underfoot or altogether forgotten had disappeared. It was likely her parents who had reported us missing, her parents assuming she had been abducted and me along with her. That kind girl with the bright future who cared for the street rat no one else saw. Where was her poster, I wondered, if they were still looking. What did her age progression look like? 

She was still talking, grumbling about the term abducted, wondering why we’d circled back to this area at all. At the very least we can scratch that word out, or call and correct them. I stopped listening, watched her mouth, kissed the tip of it. She pressed harder into me, her hand moving up and down as if not sure which road to travel. I didn’t care, both led to pleasure. Someone behind us coughed, discreetly. She smiled. 

I tingled as I scanned the rest area for a sign of privacy, my eyes finding the courtyard and, beyond the dog walking area, a dense forest. I could almost smell the pine, could almost feel the prick of branches and needles around our feet as we trod off path to find a place to be alone, to be together. 

I turned in her arms, looped my own around her neck, kissed her softly. Then, nodding in the direction of the trees, smiled.

“Let’s holiday in Paris instead.” Looping her hand in mine, I led her away from the posters, the missing girl forgotten.