“No, don't touch him. He doesn't like it.”
Marissa pulled her hand back, glancing inquisitively at Karen, the social worker who'd brought her to meet Devon for the first time; he sat on a high stool, paper and crayons spread across the granite countertop. He hadn't looked at Marissa once yet.
“Mrs. Thomas, do you have much experience with autism?” Karen continued.
Marissa shook her head.
“Devon hates it when people touch him. I suggest you don't do it for your own sake. You and your husband are sure you're prepared for this?”
“Yes,” Marissa said firmly, but inside she wondered. Not even allowed to touch her own child. She glanced at Devon, his serious dark eyes focused through his glasses as he drew carefully with quick, short strokes.
“Well, we'll see. He's gone through three foster families already. He's hard to handle, and that's an understatement.”
There was a pause while Marissa recalled what she'd heard about his family.
“His mother,” she faltered. “Didn't she...”
“A car accident with her boyfriend,” was Karen's whispered answer. “They'd been drinking heavily.” Karen shook her head and gave the boy a look of pity. Marissa followed her gaze, then stepped softly forward to see what Devon was drawing.
It was a typical five-year-old's picture, with a narrow, lopsided house, a few flowers, and a bright yellow sun. There were three people standing by the house – one was obviously Devon, with short black hair and round glasses, and the other two she supposed were his mother and the father he'd never had. She leaned over his shoulder, looking closer. His attention to detail was incredible. The woman was wearing a pearl necklace, there was a striped kitten in the house window, Devon's shoelaces were drawn in a bow.
“It's not very rewarding, adopting an autistic child,” said Karen, watching Marissa as she leaned closer to Devon. “He won't be affectionate. You'll have trouble.”
“My husband and I can handle it.” She hoped, at least. “Could I... talk to him?”
“You can try.”
Marissa steeled herself, put out her hand to touch him, and then drew back.
“Devon,” Marissa said. Silence. “Devon.”
“Can I, can I have some water?” he whispered, still not looking up, and as Karen went to the sink, her face said, See what I mean? Devon only took a sip before continuing his brick-shading.
“So what do you think?” Karen prompted. Marissa didn't answer. She wasn't even sure what to say. If Devon was untouchable, how could she and her husband be his mother and father? Were they making the right decision, or should they back out now before he was nothing but a source of regret?
She'd kept her eyes on the drawing the whole time, only vaguely watching what Devon was doing. Now he was stroking yellow heavily across the woman's head. Marissa noticed that the woman, the man and Devon were all standing close together, their fingers interlocked.
Touching each other.
In that moment Marissa knew, as certainly as if it was already done, that she'd become Devon's mother. She'd love him, nurture him, and yes, even touch him, because nobody, nobody was untouchable. She reached her hand toward his head, then drew it back, smiling. There would be plenty of time for caresses later. They had all the time in the world.
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