the night we met
Dominic Carter; twelve years old
It’s only six PM when a freezing cold Dominic Carter stumbles into the South End train station, but it looks much later. Storm clouds roll in low, blocking what little sun is left of the day and giving the sky a sort of grayish-purplish hue. Dominic tugs the sleeves of his dark blue winter coat down to his wrists, only for them to inch up once again. He needs a new one, but with the weight of the broken backpack on his shoulders and the tearing soles on his converse, he can’t really find it in him to care.
He pulls his gray scarf up higher to cover his ears, breathing out into his hands before rubbing them together, hoping to preserve what little warmth is left in his body as he waits for the next train. His heart is still pumping viciously from his rush to make it to the platform before they did, hoping against all reason that the three boys decided to take the bus or at least a different train after detention.
The clock above the platform reads 6:07 PM; Dominic wills the tracks in front of him to rattle, signaling the arrival the evening train, but they don’t. He swears he can feel them mocking him with their absolute unmoving silence.
Just a few more minutes, he thinks to himself, a few more minutes, and I’ll be on a train back to North End, and they’ll be here waiting for the 7:15.
But just as he hears the tell-tale rattle of the tracks, he also hears, among the murmurs of the crowd, the three voices which he’s learned to dread more than anything in the couple months he’s lived in Massachusetts. He readjusts the straps of his backpack, hoping that the people around him conceal his tall, lanky form well enough as the little announcement chime plays and the train shudders to a stop.
As the doors unseal, Dominic slips inside with the first crowd of people, scrambling to sit in the furthest corner before Michael, Evan, and Walker can even see him on the platform. Flakes of melting snow drip from the strands of his dark hair as he looks down at his battered shoes, looking out from beneath it to watch the three fourteen year old boys stop to sit somewhere near the center, sliding their backpacks off their shoulders and placing them between their legs.
Dominic keeps his on his shoulders in case he needs to run.
The train lurches to a start. He releases a small breath of relief at going seemingly unnoticed, yet his shoulders stay tense with the knowledge that all it would take would be for Evan to turn his head ever so slightly in his direction, or for Michael to check the time, and they would see him sitting there.
He sits still like a statue, the rumbling of the train dulling to the back of his mind as he focuses entirely on giving no sign that he is there. He is painfully aware of each breath he takes. Staring out the window as the lights of North End fade duller and duller, he watches the snow catch on the glass and gradually melt away. He imagines himself turning to ice, dissolving away before evaporating up into the clouds, becoming too heavy a burden to carry and dropping back down to Earth where he started.
He glances up to the newscast playing on the screen across from him. A well-dressed man gestures to the seven-column weather report, the words he speaks lost on Dominic as he stares listlessly ahead. The world surrounding him grows eerily quiet until, a couple seats down from him, an infant starts wailing in the arms of her mother. It’s not long before the mother is shushing her baby, patting her gently on the back until the child is quiet, but it’s enough disturbance for Walker to glance in his direction right as Dominic looks up.
Walker’s face remains emotionless for a moment until, almost undetectably, a small smirk teases his busted lip. He nudges Michael, who nudges Evan, and soon, all three are staring intently at Dominic. He turns his head back towards the window, but the falling snow and city lights have all blurred together in a mass of color. Fog on the sea, in the streets, and in the mind; he cannot distinguish one building from the next. He suddenly wills the train ride to last forever.
But it doesn’t. Soon as the train lurches to a stop and the doors slide open, Dominic is out of his seat like a bullet, a dozen different heads shooting up as he sprints down the aisle. He just makes it onto the platform when Evan grabs the back of his backpack, the momentum flinging him back against him. He sees Michael and Walker fall into step on each side of him, Evan shoving him forward in a silent command to start walking.
The boys walk in tense silence for a block and a half until the crowd around has dispersed into the softly lit streets of North End. Only then does Michael grab Dominic by the shoulders and shove him to the ground.
He inhales sharply as he lands on the snow-covered pavement beneath him, pain shooting up his spine until his ears ring from the impact. Everything slows down as he stares up at the cloud-ridden sky above him; the world spins before he closes his eyes and takes a deep, calming breath, releasing it and watching as it clouds the air above him. The world balances steadily on its axis once again. He stands up. He has all the time in the world, his eyes burning holes into Michael’s all the while until he is at eye-level once again.
You can’t beat another kid up, Dominic reminds himself, you won’t have somewhere to go home to.
He watches Michael’s face scrunch up in confusion at Dominic’s lack of retaliation, until anger masks his features once again.
“You’ve got a lot of fucking nerve, you know that?”
Dominic stares silently at the three boys, first Michael, then Evan, and finally Walker. They’re nothing more than a basic construct of social psychology: Walker directs, Michael follows, Evan conforms, or else risks oppression.
That doesn’t change the fact you’re outnumbered. Walk away.
The three boys glance between each other in confusion as Dominic turns away, his fists clenched so tightly, they feel like they’re burning.
“Where do you think you’re going?” he hears Evan yell, a few yards behind him. He keeps walking. The golden hues of the street lamps and store windows are dulled by the falling snow, but Dominic knows the streets well enough by now without the signs.
“Hey spaz! Evan asked you a question!”
His steps are tense and calculated, anything but spastic.
Three lamp posts, then Charter street.
“Why the rush, Carter? It’s not like you’ve got somewhere to go home to!”
Dominic stops in the middles of the sidewalk as his heart constricts painfully in his chest, his fists clenching at his sides.
They’re doing it on purpose, Dominic.
He doesn’t turn to face them, but he can hear them approaching behind him, their steps pensively rhythmic, matching every beat of his pounding heart, until Walker’s voice rings out for the first time in a while, right over his shoulder.
“You never fucking listen, Dominic. It’s no wonder your mother didn’t want you.”
Dominic’s fist connects with Walker’s cheek faster than he can stop it. He watches with sick satisfaction as Walker collapses onto the pavement like an accordion, silence ensuing for a few tense moments; the only sound is Dominic’s heavy breathing and the echoed chatter of people on the main street, until Walker, seething, spits out two words.
And Dominic is running.
Aurora Davis; six years old
The air is so cold that Aurora Davis can’t feel her fingers, and she convinces herself that she can’t feel the stubborn tears that stream down her flushed cheeks either. She can see her breath leave her mouth in little clouds as her small feet pound quickly against the snow covered pavement; for once, the delightful little squash sound that each step makes is not enough to lighten her mood.
Her dark, snow-covered braids flop incessantly against her back as she sprints past. The scratchy winter coats of the people around her brush against her forearms as she squeezes through them, the vapor of their breath illuminated by the store-front windows, dancing in clouds of white against the dark evening sky.
That’s all words are, Aurora thinks bitterly to herself. Little clouds shaped from our breath.
By the the time the church bell tolls seven o’clock, Aurora’s legs feel like heavy weights, her heart pounding furiously in her chest as she stumbles through the snow. She keeps running. Each step takes her further away from her new house which smells like new paint and being lost, away from the girls at her new school who tease her for being little, away from her mother who’s a stick of TNT lit from both ends, away from-
Aurora lets out a shriek as she turns a corner, stumbling as she rams straight into a wall. Before she can hit the pavement, the wall reaches out and grabs her arms, hoisting her back up. Warm, tanned hands encircle her pale forearms, and she glances up.
She stares up at the boy in front of her, both of them breathing heavily for a moment before the sound of running feet and shouting pierces through the cold air. Before Aurora can even turn to look, the boy has her against his chest and pulled into the alley beside them, his hand covering her mouth as he tries to blend himself into the brick wall. She struggles and thrashes around in his hold, but his arms keep a solid grip on her tiny figure, restraining her firmly, but not painfully. He shushes her gently, his warm breath on her neck calming her racing heart. She releases a shaky breath, relaxing in his hold. He is very warm.
His hand doesn’t leave her mouth, but she watches silently as three teenage boys sprint past the alley which she hides in, before slowing to a walk. One of the boys yells, his voice ringing out like nails on a chalkboard through the cool winter air.
“Where the fuck are you, you piece of shit?”
Aurora’s breath catches, and the boy’s hand suddenly leaves her mouth to cover her ear, the one that isn’t pressed against his chest. His hand effectively muffles the shouting; all she can hear now is the steady thump of the boy’s heartbeat through his sweater.
They stay in the alley until the sound of footsteps and profanity fades entirely; the boy, after a moment’s hesitation, drops his hand and Aurora scrambles out of his hold. She stumbles back a few steps until she is illuminated by the street lamps. The boy remains in the dimly lit alley, but she can just make out his figure. He slowly stands to his full height, facing her all the while.
Her legs remain stubbornly rooted to the ground. Snow falls softly all around her, catching on the loose strands of her braids and her eyelashes. The bitter cold makes her regret not grabbing a coat before she left, dressed only in her loose, red cotton dress and long gray stockings, her shoes completely soaked by the fresh snow beneath them. The boy emerges from the dark alley; she looks everywhere except his eyes.
She can’t help but let out a breath of relief at the sight of him. The light around them catches on the ends of his floppy brown hair, illuminating his tanned skin and the flush of his cheeks from running. He looks sort of like an Angel. She doesn’t know this at the time, but he thinks the exact same of her.
He takes a step closer; the little squash sound that the ground makes snaps her out of her reverie, and she quickly backs away.
His smooth voice permeates the air around them, and she stills, looking up to meet his eyes once again. He speaks softly, as if the girl’s existence is a dream, and at any moment she could dissipate into the air like each breath she takes.
“I won’t hurt you,” he says gently, reaching out his hand.
She gazes at his hand with cautious eyes for a few seconds, and then turns her gaze back to her shoes.
“Not in a million years, I won’t hurt you.”
Her eyes snap to his, a blush creeping up her cheeks at the eye contact as she shifts her gaze to his chest instead. She watches nervously as the boy kneels slowly to the ground in front of her, staring at her eyes all the while. He still holds his hand out to her.
He’s lying, Aurora.
Her eyes meet his gaze for a moment before staring down at his hand.
He’s lying, he’s lying, he’s lying.
She hesitantly raises her hand to his, extending her pinky finger. She watches as his brown eyes flash with confusion, and then eventually recognition, as he smiles gently and locks his own, larger finger with hers.
Aurora’s eyes fix on their joined fingers for a moment before dropping her hand. She imagines the warmth from the brief contact permeating her skin and coursing through her bloodstream all the way to her toes. The boy speaks again.
“Could you tell me your name, Little-bit?” he asks, resting his hands on his thighs as he kneels in front of the small girl.
She shakes her head furiously. “Mama says don’t talk ta strangers.”
The boy nearly smiles at the innocence which exudes from the sound of her soft, sweet voice, the urge to lift her up and cuddle her into his arms is overwhelming, until his expression falls once again at her state of dress.
His voice is chiding as he speaks, “I’ll bet Mama also says to wear your coat before you go outside.”
“How’d you know she says that?”
A smirk teases his lips as the young girl stares up at him with wide, glassy eyes. Her wavy brown hair escapes her loose braids in little tendrils, blowing in the winter breeze.
“Lucky guess,” he laughs, sliding his coat off his shoulders.
Aurora is too enthralled by the sound of his laugh to protest as her arms are slipped through the sleeves. The coat may be too small for him, but the wooly material practically swallows her tiny frame.
“So, where is your Mama, Little-bit?”
“At home,” she watches as his fingers make quick work of the zipper until it reaches her neck.
He takes the beanie off of his head, sliding it over her damp hair and readjusting it so it covers her ears but not her eyes. “Where’s Daddy?” he asks, his hands falling to the sides of her face where he wipes a few stray tears.
“In heaven,” the words escape before she can catch them.
The boy’s thumbs abruptly stop circling her cheeks. A heavy silence falls around them once again, and Aurora feels silent tears stream down her face more fervently than before. She knows that the boy feels the tears on his hands where they frame the sides of her face; just now she would do anything to melt into a puddle like the snow beneath her soaked feet, if only to escape the sadness in this boy’s expression. He adjusts a hand to slide under her chin, tilting her face up to meet her eyes.
“Mine too,” he says softly, as if even the air around them isn’t allowed to know their secret.
She chokes back a sob and a fragment of the boy’s heart breaks at the sound.
“Hey,” he whispers, gathering Aurora up into his arms and settling her on his waist. He feels her little fingers grasp tightly onto the fabric of his sweater, her face buried in his chest as gentle sobs shake her tiny body. Her little hands grip his sweater so tightly, as though he’ll disappear if she doesn’t hold tight enough. The thought nearly breaks his heart.
“Shhh, it’s gonna be alright, Little-bit. You’ll see.”
His warm hand braces the back of Aurora’s little neck, as he rests her head against his shoulder. She lets out a shaky breath, relaxing into his arms.
“That’s it, baby, I’ve got you,” he murmurs into her ear, “I promise.”