Ky sighed in disappointment, breaking the moment and he crouched down to whisper, “Styx, man, it’s not her. She’s scared shitless. It was always a long shot anyway. It’s not the bitch you saw and kissed behind that fence all those years ago. Time to let that shit go.”

Fence? Kissed?

No… wait! Was it… him? Impossible…

Styx sighed and lowered his head, his shoulders slumping in disappointment, nodding his head in agreement.

I brushed my finger across my lips. That strange boy… that kiss…

A boy stood at the fence, pressed against the links, frantically waving his hands. I did not know what he was doing. Moving closer to the boy, I watched as he tried again. Sighing, he closed his eyes, took a long deep breath, and asked, “Wh-wh-who are you?” He could not speak properly. The words fought to escape his mouth.

I tilted my head, watching him silently. Who are you? the boy asked me. Who am I? I thought tiredly. I am Salome, a born temptress, a Cursed. I had just been introduced to my duty, my service to the cause. Shown how to help the elders get closer to God, to rid me of my born sin. I had to get away for a while… They had hurt me.

I did not speak to the boy on the other side of the fence. I was prohibited from speaking, so I just stared, blocking out the events from earlier that day. I did not know how he found us, why he was even there. But at that moment, I did not care.

The boy dressed strangely: all-black clothing, strange metal bracelets on his wrists. He was dangerous, with dark-brown hair and large hazel eyes, the most beautiful fall-colored eyes.

“What is this p-p-place? D-d-do you live here?” the boy asked softly.

My eyes slipped down to study his mouth, but I did not speak. No one must know of The Order, for our protection. I was not allowed to speak to boys. It was forbidden, a sin, and he was an outsider, one of them.

“Puh… puh… please… Wh-wh-what is your n-name?”

“My name is Sin. We are all sin…”

I gasped loudly. Styx was that boy? No…

I swept my eyes across his strange black clothes and down to the silver bracelets on his wrists, the metal bracelets embossed with the same strange emblem. I remembered that day as though it were yesterday. He had cared about me, wanted to know my name… kissed me. Then I never saw him again. I visited the same part of the fence often in hopes of seeing him once more—especially after those days—but he never came back. I had never been kissed before or since. He was my only secret… my biggest ever sin. He had become almost like a dream to me.

Lifting my shaky hand, I gently placed it on his cheek. Styx sucked in a breath as his eyes met mine. I shuffled closer still, just to be sure it was truly him and his lips parted on a small, ragged breath.

Choking on a sob, my eyes widened and I faltered backward, recognition slamming into my conscience. My reaction to who he actually was gripped me. From deep inside me, it stirred feelings I had never known.

It is him. My River. He has found me again…

Styx clutched my arms, simply staring and staring.

“Do you know, Styx?” Ky asked, still beside me.

Styx’s fingers squeezed my arms, as though prompting me to speak.

I lowered my hand, playing with my fingers, and nodded once.

Styx closed his eyes, freed me from his hold, worked his hands, and Ky asked, “Where from? Tell me where from… just so I’m sure it’s you.”

I wanted to speak, but I was too nervous and I did not know if these people could be trusted. There were so many strangers encasing me in a claustrophobic circle and I felt trapped.

Thinking of another way to prove my identity, I slowly reached out for Styx’s hands and brought them up high to mirror the position they were at the fence. I then wrapped my index finger around his, just as he did with me all those years ago. I saw in his floored expression that he understood.

With this realization, he rolled his eyes, then ran a hand roughly through his hair. Shock and disbelief were clearly etched on his face.

Ky gave me a peculiar look before stating, “I… I can’t believe it. It’s really you? Fuck!” He looked to Styx in shock. Styx had yet to remove his gaze from mine. “Fuck! It’s the f**kin’ pilgrim bitch!”

“What the f**k’s going on? Who’s she? Why’re the two of you being so f**kin’ weird over a piece of pu**y?” a tall man with fire-red hair asked as he stepped forward stroking his long goatee.

Styx’s face hardened. He pulled me to stand beside him, one arm gripping me tightly, and I winced as pain pulsed in my calf. His fingers moved quickly.

“Off-limits. Y’all get that now? She’s under my protection and is none of your f**kin’ business. Any one of you goes near her and I’ll kill y’all. That’s a f**kin’ iron-clad promise,” Ky translated.

I flinched at his violent words, his aggressive tone. The men in the room frowned and watched me with assessing narrowed eyes, then gaped at Styx in shock.

“Who is she, Styx? How do you know her?” That same feminine voice from before cut through the grumblings of the men. The brown-haired woman confronted Styx, her wary eyes assessing the mood of the crowd.

Styx blocked her from getting closer with his hand and curtly shook his head. That hard, severe look was back on his face.

“Styx—” she whispered brokenly.

Stepping forward, Styx’s hands moved fast. The woman obviously understood the strange hand gestures Styx made. Her eyes filled with tears and she turned and hurried away.