When I was little, I was caught in a house fire.
I remember that I was alone, sleeping in the basement because I was being punished for not finishing the food on my plate.
I can still feel the cold concreate floors of the basement when I closed my eyes, and the smell of my foster parents’ cigarettes that clung to the mattress I laid on.
The flashing lights, red and blue, if not for that I never would’ve woken from how strong they were coming in from the small window.
Only then did I see what was going on, the smoke from upstairs had started to come under the door and into the basement, I knew it was a fire once I picked up the sound of fire trucks outside.
I could still feel the smoke in my lungs, the fear in every bone as I tried, and tried to get the door open, but it wouldn’t move, I was locked in with no way out.
The window was too high, and for my age I was shorter than other girls my age so I couldn’t climb through the small window, and there was nothing to step on.
Nobody had come to get me, I was left to die down there, alone, just like how I’ve always felt, like a ghost going through life that nobody noticed, or cared about.
I was losing consciousness, I couldn’t hide from the smoke and there was nowhere to go, I accepted that my life wasn’t meant to be happy, and that sometimes people are just born unlucky.
That was until I felt something warm, but it wasn’t fire, and I was sure I wasn’t dead, it was a voice, a warm and gentle voice telling me to ‘hang on’ and ‘don’t leave’.
There was little I remembered about who had saved me, and in the chaos of that night with so much going on, I had only remembered one thing before I lost consciousness in the smoke.
Eyes, shining bright yellow through the grey thick smoke of the fire, they were so bright I had thought I was dead and that an angel had come to take me to someplace better.
It wasn’t until I woke up in a hospital bed that I realized that I was still here, I was still alive and that I must’ve imagined everything about how I was saved.
Time passed and nobody seemed to know who saved me that night, the firemen found me outside in the back yard with nobody with me, all evidence of the man who saved me was non-existent.
The doctors said I was experiencing the normal effects of trauma, and that it was normal for someone so young to think up someone- or something to make the situation less traumatic, a way to cope with what had happened.
Imagination inflation... so they say.
Yet who knows, I knew what I saw but perhaps they were right, and I made it up all to cope with my situation, how I was left there to die and wanted someone to save me from that hellish house.
Whoever saved me, or didn’t, saved my life, I was left completely unharmed without a single burn mark, the only thing that was inevitable was the smoke in my lungs, which made it hard to breath.
It’s been seven years since then, and I was now officially free as an adult in the eyes of the law, I was eighteen and on my own, no more halfway houses, no more foster parents, I was completely free.
I found a job and a place to stay, sure it wasn’t a perfect job or a perfect place to say, but this was my way to be part of this world, and not the one I dreamt of when I closed my eyes.
Shortly after the fire, I had the same dream for years, sometimes I’d not have it for a few months but then it would always come back, the exact same dream.
I would close my eyes and awaken in the arms of someone, I could never see his face, but I could see his eyes, and even though the room was bright from the sun blaring into the room, they were almost black.
He would always speak to me in my dream, but I could never understand what he was trying to say, whenever I tried to ask who he was, I would just wake up in the same position I fell asleep in.
He had no face, no features I could draw down to get a clear picture of what he looked like, I tried to make sense of everything but the more I had these dreams, the more I started to give up on trying.
The same dream, the same man with dark eyes, and when I wake up, I’d always have the same thought.
‘Just leave me alone’
He wasn’t real, I was making him up because of the trauma of being almost forgotten and killed when I was eleven years old in a house fire, that was all, I was just imagining him- this saviour, to cope.
It’s been a month since my last dream, and since then I’ve gotten new medication and I made a friend at work, who just started two weeks ago, and though it’s not much, it’s made life a little more tolerable.
“Aelia, are you almost done?” Auster asks, sticking his head around the corner.
“Yeah.” I said, as I just finished cleaning up the storage, filled with pool supplies.
Auster lazily grins and comes into view, he was fully dressed and out of his swim trunks, looking me over with amused eyes once he sees the room.
“It looks great in here, but you know I’m not THAT bad at cleaning right, you can trust me to put floats away.” He pouts, making me laugh as I walk past him.
I needed to change out of my swimsuit and take a shower.
“I know, I just felt like it today.” I say, glancing at the pool as I walked past it, seeing as it was now empty and cleaned.
“Did you manage ok?” I asked, looking behind me before I opened the doors to the changing rooms, Auster following behind me.
“Mhmm hmm.” He mumbled. “How long you going to take?”
I open my locker and take out my towel and my clothes, then I look at my smart watch and look at the time.
“Five minutes.” I said, closing my locker and looking at Auster, groaning out, resting on a bench.
“I’ll wait for you outside then, it’s too damn warm inside here.”
“It’s too warm outside too.” I snorted out, making him groan more.
“At least theirs a breeze out there, and an ice-cream truck outside.” He grinned, before opening the door. “I’ll wait for you, alright?”
Auster left and I went to go shower, and just as I said, it took exactly five minutes under the cool water of the women’s shower room, it felt nice and made my muscles less tense than they were.
Today had been another long, exhausting day, and it was only three o’clock.
Once I dried and brushed my hair, I put it into a high ponytail then put some the spare clothes I had in my locker on, a plain white tank top and brown shorts, then I went back into the locker room.
Only, someone else was here, and from the looks of his back, this guy was completely ripped.
“Oh, sorry.” I quickly apologized, once I realized he only had a towel around his waist, nothing more.
Was he new? I knew everyone here and I had never seen something so tall and muscular before, he looked like he kept in shape, but I couldn’t really tell from his back alone.
I quickly rushed over to my locker that was opposite his and took out my shoes and put them on, then I grabbed my bag and put my shower stuff inside before closing it.
The man, who I didn’t know, was now facing me and looking me over, and once I saw his face I completely became frozen once his eyes met mine.
He was good looking, and I was right to assume he was in shape, he was built like superman, but that’s not what captivated me, it was his eyes.
I had never seen someone with such dark eyes before.
Awkwardly, I smiled at him and then made my way out of the changing rooms, without saying another word, I felt like I had somehow annoyed him, but I couldn’t tell, he didn’t have a single expression on his face I could read.
He just... looked at me.
Who was he?
He didn’t look like someone my age, he looked like a guy perhaps in his 30′s.
From his height and build alone, I could tell that whatever job he had kept him in shape out in the sun, his skin was beautifully tanned without any streak marks.
Was he a lifeguard perhaps? Even so, I didn’t hear about anyone new joining us.
Technically I was a swim instructor, but I split my time between the indoor pool and the beach, I helped people gain confidence in the water and teach them to swim, from old to young, it didn’t matter to me.
Leaving the pool, I see Auster sitting under a beach umbrella by the carpark, minutes from the beach with a frozen ice-cream in his mouth.
I sneaked up behind him and yelled into his ear. “BOO.” Making him jump and choke as he took the ice-lolly from his mouth.
When I stood in front of him, he glared at me as he coughed out. “What the fuck...”
“You almost freaking killed me, Aelia!” He said dramatically banging his fist on his chest.
“Don’t be a big baby.” I sat next to him on the bench, rolling my eyes.
There were still lots of people on the beach and in the water, after all it was a hot summers day and today was as scorching hot as yesterday, making this another busy day.
That reminds me, maybe Auster knows who that guy was?
“Is someone new joining us?” I turn to face him, he was finishing his ice-lolly.
“Someone new?” He hummed out. “I don’t think so, why?”
So, he wasn’t someone new, was he perhaps lost? He was changing in a staff changing room which made me think perhaps not, the only thing I could think of was... he was volunteering.
“Nah, forget it.” It wasn’t that important, I’m just going to forget all about it.
I needed to stop getting attached to things that don’t concern me, I couldn’t do that- not again.
Auster hummed out and didn’t ask anymore, we both sat there until he was finished, we enjoyed the breeze for a few more minutes as we talked about what we were going to wear tonight before he drove me home in his car.