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Open Features: Orlando

Judith Wallis tells the most satisfying story of Orlando, a teenager going to the bad, who is saved by blond curls, a dimpled smile and an unexpected offer.

Orlando pulled a face at the sky, hitched the hood of his jacket over his close cropped hair and leapt down the police station steps. Head down he sloshed through puddles muttering to himself, certain he was only guy in town to have a female parole officer. Ms Johnson was a crabby old bat and her encouraging little phrases were worse than his gran’s.

‘You can do better, Orlando.’ ‘You are good looking lad, Orlando.’ And what was that favourite thing she was always quoting? Something about finding the fulfilment of one’s needs within oneself. Shit! How stupid is that.

He broke into a run, arrived at the bus stop just in time and wiping rain from his eyes pushed his way to the back of the bus and sat down. Steam clouded the windows and the low hum of surrounding conversation increased his feeling of isolation. If only he had his radio and earplugs. But Tricky West had stomped them to bits on the pavement outside the fun parlour. Gingerly, Orlando ran his fingers over the bruised area of his ribs. Tricky had stomped him too; all because he declined to become a runner for Tricky’s gang and afraid of more beatings, had bowed to the bully only to be caught two weeks later carrying party drugs into the local youth club.

At his stop, Orlando charged down the aisle and leapt off into the wet afternoon light. A small knot of passengers hurried away up the street as he took the path down the slope and across the park. The line properties bordering the park had high security fences but he doubted any owner ever looked beyond the boundary of their secluded gardens. Beneath the trees ahead of him an elderly woman hurried homeward. She held a newspaper over her head — protection from the rain — and her handbag swung loose as she avoided the gleaming stretches of water along the path.

The woman seemed unaware of his presence as he silently closed the distance between them. She was smartly dressed. A watch and gold bracelets glinted on her exposed wrist. She had rings too. With money he could flee. Fly away up north. To Cairns or even Darwin. Somewhere where the sun shone.

His Grandmother’s little quotation came to mind and Orlando almost laughed aloud. ‘I am the fulfilment of all my needs.’ That could mean being smart, making the most of any opportunity. His breath hissed between his teeth and his body tensed as he glanced round before drawing level with the woman.

“Ms Johnson!”

“Hello again Orlando. Terrible weather isn’t it? Do you live near here?”

“Yeah, yeah I do.”

“My back gate is right here. Will you come in and wait until the rain stops? My granddaughter Jessica should be home by now. You may know her.”

Orlando found himself ushered into the entrance hall of a palatial home where he stood dripping water and looking around as Miss Johnston made her way to the kitchen calling to Jessica as she went. “ Bring some towels down will you please, love?”

“Hello.”

Orlando raised his eyes at the sound of the soft musical voice and blinked, twice. Descending the stairs was the most gorgeous creature he had ever seen. She was tall, almost as tall as he was. Blond curls brushed her shoulders and at each step her skirt lifted to reveal long slender legs, but it was her smile that held his attention Her soft full lips tilted at the corners and a dimple played hide and seek in her cheek as she pressed fluffy towels into his hands.

“Here. Take these and get dry. I’ll make you a hot drink. Tea or coffee? Or perhaps chocolate?”

“Um, yeah, chocolate please. If it’s not too much trouble? Um, thanks — Jessica.” His tongue seemed to fill his mouth and his words came out coated in fur but she didn’t seem to notice. Just smiled and vanished through a swing door.

They sat, talking at the kitchen table, Orlando, Jessica, Ms Johnson and her son, Tom. When asked what his interests were, Orlando hesitantly told them of his love of woodwork, and then stopped as the others looked at each other then laughed. “What?” he asked, embarrassed.

Tom clapped him on the shoulder. “The fact is,” he said. “I’ve been advertising for weeks for a new apprentice in my cabinet making business and there’s has not been a single reply. I don’t suppose you would like to try?”

“Me? Really?” Orlando looked from one to the other.

Three heads nodded as one. “Yes you,” they chorused.

They talked on for an hour then Tom rose.

“Come on, lad. I’ll run you home in the car and we can talk this over with your grandmother. Do you think she will agree?”

“Agree? She’ll have my lunch packed before you leave. Thank you Mr Johnson.”

“Call me Tom. You coming with us Jessica?”

“Too right, we can all squeeze in the front can’t we dad?”

“With seatbelts, yes.”

As they drove the sky began to clear and the setting sun turned the remaining clouds pink and gold. Funny, Orlando thought, that he’d never before noticed how bright and shiny the world looked after a shower of rain.


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