The Gift

Sigmund paused, one foot still hovering slightly in mid-step. Jaren, the brother in Sigmund’s foster family, had gone ahead to the cafeteria, and Sigmund promised he’d join him there soon, he just hadn’t been ready when Jaren was, having not finished changing from gym class. Now he was half-way to the cafeteria, just being passed by two Seniors.

He cocked his head as he processed what he had just heard. What a fabulous thought, he mused. He wondered why he had not heard of this before, but was glad he had not missed it. He blinked, then ran back to the locker room, leaving his clothes in a heap on the floor as he grabbed a bar of soap and some shampoo.

Jaren was just finishing his lunch when Robert came up and placed a hand on his shoulder, leaning over to whisper in his ear. Jaren let his fork clatter to the plate.

“You’re shittin me.”

Robert shook his head.

“Ah, hell.” Jaren pushed himself up from the table and went jogging towards the courtyard. Shouldering his way through the crowd that had gathered around the center grassy area, he made his way over to where Sigmund was. He approached slowly, giving his best ‘casual’ impression, hands in his pockets.

“Hey, Sig.”

“This is a great idea, Jaren!” he cried, delighted. He had his arms held straight out and his head was tipped back, eyes closed as the rain kissed his skin.

Jaren looked around. “What are you doin’ out here?”

“I overheard some boys saying it looked like there would be showers outside today.”

“Sig, this isn’t… where are your clothes?” he asked, becoming uneasy under the gaze of the amused onlookers. Sig suddenly grabbed for Jaren’s pants, trying to unfasten them despite Jaren’s attempts to keep his pants firmly on.

“Aren’t you going to take your clothes off, too?”

“I hadn’t really planned on it,” Jaren said, not at all enjoying this tug-o-war with his clothes while simultaneously becoming drenched and being stared at by a growing number of onlookers.

“But you have to!” Sig protested. “You can’t get a proper shower with your clothes on.”

“There is no way I’m taking a shower out here, Sig.”

“Oh. That’s too bad,” Sigmund said. He squirted some shampoo on his head. The rain began to pick up and Sigmund stood there, bare-ass naked, lathering up his hair and humming to himself in delight.

Jaren glanced around, scowling at those who were laughing. Something had to be done.

He drew in closer to Sig, his voice dropping. “This… this isn’t what people mean when they talk about showers outside,” he said.

“It isn’t? Oh.” Sigmund looked at his hands, thick with lather from his hair, then back to Jaren. “Why not? They should try it, it’s amazing!”

“Sig,” Jaren tried again, not entirely sure how to address this situation. “It isn’t… considered generally acceptable to run around naked outside.”

“I’m not running,” Sigmund pointed out as he twirled little spikes into his hair.

“No,” Jaren sighed in defeat. “No you aren’t.” Sigmund clearly did not understand what social protocols he was violating. The irony of being the one left attempting to explain them was not lost on Jaren, however. He was the one usually breaking them himself. He wasn’t sure why, exactly, but something about the situation made him feel… sad. Painfully so.

Putting his hands on Sigmund’s shoulders, he drew his mouth up to his ear and breathed, “Please, Siggy. Let me take you inside.”

Sigmund looked at him, studying his face in confusion before replying carefully.

“Alright, Jaren. If… if you say so.”

Jaren pulled off his sweatshirt and wrapped it around Sigmund’s slight frame. Then he picked him up and carried him, promising himself he would be meeting a few of those onlookers in a dark alley some day soon and they’d pay for the sick joy they had taken in this.

Sigmund wrapped his arms around Jaren’s neck and rested his head on his shoulder, shampoo foam dribbling down them both. Once he got Sig back to the locker room, he went and turned on the shower. He needed to get the rest of the soap off him, as well as warm him up. He had felt him shivering the whole way back.

When the water was warm, he gently led Sigmund under the stream, glad he had a change of clothes in his locker.

“That was the most wonderous experience,” Sigmund said, chattering on like an excited three-year-old, in spite of being almost nine. “I think showers are definitely better outside. It was amazing to feel the breeze on my skin, and the rain smelled so good.”

As he continued on, Jaren bent down to clean off the mud that had covered his feet and splattered up his legs. “You should join me next time. You won’t regret it, I promise! It’s like I’ve got a whole new understanding of the world! Like… like someone poured nature all over me!”

Jaren couldn’t help a little smirk. Isn’t that exactly what had happened? He let Sigmund play under the water a bit while he toweled off and changed his clothes. It wasn’t so much that he wished Sigmund hadn’t decided to take a shower in the courtyard, but rather he wished that people hadn’t treated it like the main attraction of a circus freak show. Sigmund wasn’t a ‘scene’ to be oogled and laughed at.

In fact, to be entirely honest, if there hadn’t been a mob of watchers, Jaren might very well have joined in. Sigmund managed to touch that little child-core deep down inside of him that adults learn to lock away – Sixteen was an adult, right? – but that they all secretly wish they could let out. Sigmund’s was on permanent parole, it seemed. He had no idea how to lock it up. With all the issues the he had, it was no wonder that Sig had ended up in foster care.

Half the time Jaren and his family were forced to make sure the kid actually did things like ate and bathed himself, as he had a general tendency to neglect himself to the point of being dangerous, especially when he got focused on something. He would work it to the exclusion of all else until he had decided he was finished, unless forced to stop. And then things like this where he heard something that got all twisted around in that head of his and ended up coming out three kinds of sideways and had resulted more than once in Sig getting bead up.

Jaren remembered asking Santa for a little brother when he had been younger. He found himself wishing sometimes that Santa had lost that letter. But there was something about Sig that made him never really mean that. It wasn’t so much that Sigmund was retarded, though that’s how people often described the kid. More like his grasp on reality was tenuous at best. He seemed to live in a state of disconnect from not only everything around him, but quite often himself. He likely suffered from ADHD, though even that was putting it mildly. And he suffered from hallucinations that made Jaren’s skin crawl at times. And sometimes he thought that when the lights went out at night the whole world disappeared except for them.

But then he’d put on that smile and call Jaren his big brother and wrap him in a hug, and it was like getting the best present ever. Maybe his family had taken Sigmund in when he had nowhere to go but to a state institution, but to Jaren, Sigmund was the gift.

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