Shadow & Light

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out of mind

Aurora

Everett Lancaster is the kind of boy people watch movies about. Athlete, charmer, senator’s son, the kind of smile that closes trade deals.

“Let’s work at the table,” he speaks to Aurora as she drags her backpack through the entryway of his house at the top of the hill which lines the beachside. “That way, if I fall asleep sitting up, I’ll hit my head on the table and wake myself up again.”

It’s unfortunate, then, that Everett’s mother was always around too much to coddle him out of fear he might become like his father, and that his father was never around enough to tell him that a confident man doesn’t wonder if he’s confident.

Aurora thinks a lot about this when she is around him. But not right now. Right now she wonders when his facade will fall and shatter the glass they’re walking on.

They set their books down on the table before Everett tosses his backpack aside. “One sec, I have to grab my charger,” he doesn’t wait for her to answer, takes the steps two at a time as he disappears upstairs.

Aurora sits nervously at the table, swinging her legs back and forth and picking at the skirt of her uniform. She hears the sound of the garage door closing and turns toward the back entryway to see Everett’s mother emerge through the kitchen, looking intently at her phone. Aurora opens her mouth to speak, but then hesitates. She is saved from the awkwardness of deciding what to say when the immaculately dressed woman finally looks up and notices her sitting at the table.

“Aurora!”

“Hi.”

“I haven’t seen you in a while,” she smiles kindly, sliding her phone into her purse as her tired eyes soften at the sight of her son’s friend. “How are you? How’s Amy?”

“I’m good, she’s good. How are you?”

“I’m... great,” she is distracted by the sound of Everett rushing downstairs. “Everett Michael, why didn’t you tell me Aurora was coming over? I would have brought you two something to eat.”

He looks between Aurora and his mother, the charger for his Macbook dangling from his hand. “So I can only eat if Aurora comes over?”

“That’s not what I meant.”

“We’re fine, Mrs. Lancaster,” Aurora cuts in, trying to ease the obvious tension between the two. “We just had lunch before our free period.”

A pause. Everett and his mother share a tense look before she turns to Aurora.

“It’s Kristi, Aurora,” she smiles tiredly. “I’ve told you, you can call me Kristi.”

Aurora smiles nervously. “Sorry.”

Kristi Lancaster offers one last half-hearted smile before grabbing her purse, her keys, and the bottle of ibuprofen from the pantry before disappearing down the hallway, leaving the two of them in silence once again as Everett sits across from her. He starts up his laptop, and while the bar beneath the Apple icon loads gradually, he pushes the computer aside and clasps his hands together before dropping them onto the table.

“So what’s new, Angel? I haven’t seen you since...” A pause.

“Friday,” she finishes for him, soft brown eyes staring across the table at him. “Luca’s party.”

“Right,” Everett nods his head, running a hand through the dark strands of his hair and pulling on the ends. “But that doesn’t count because I don’t remember shit about that night.” He laughs, shaking his head.

“I have your jersey,” she reaches into her backpack and slides it across the table toward him.

His brows knit together thoughtfully as he stares down at the neatly folded jersey she’d worn just the other night, before his eyes meet hers as he smiles his charming smile.

“Thanks, I’ll need that tonight, won’t I?”

She doesn’t answer but she doesn’t need to because by this time his computer has started and he sets the jersey aside to back space so he can start typing.

“Hey, Ev?” she asks, shifting around nervously in the seemingly giant chair as his eyes smile warmly at her.

She opens her mouth to ask him about that night, but it’s hard when he smiles so kindly at her, when she’s sitting across from him in his house with the playlist she made for him playing quietly in the background, it’s hard to imagine a side of him that is dangerous at all. If it weren’t for the faded bruising along his jaw and below his left eye, she might think that they were two different people entirely, because this Everett would never do something like that.

“Did you read the rest of act two?”

Everett’s brows knit together in confusion, a tiny smile teasing the edge of his lips. He seems to know that she meant to ask him something different, but doesn’t press the matter.

“I didn’t even start. Would you give me a summary?”

The rest of the afternoon passes easily enough. They finish the powerpoint they were meant to have started an entire week earlier. Aurora gives Everett a verbal summary of the second act of Hamlet while he writes out the analysis and types it up. She formats each slide until it looks the way she wants it to and before she knows it the sun is setting.

“Would you like to stay for dinner, Aurora?” Kristi asks kindly as she peaks inside the kitchen for the first time in four hours. “I made lasagna.” Aurora bites her lip nervously, turning toward Everett before looking back at a hopeful Kristi.

“I’d love to, but I told Miss Amy I would be back for dinner tonight,” she smiles apologetically.

“But I’m sure she’d understand,” Everett’s hand brushes against the curve of her back as he holds his books in his other hand.

Aurora looks between the two of them for a moment, shifting nervously on her feet before nodding. Kristi claps her hands excitedly, disappearing into the pantry, mumbling something about her new set of dishes.

Aurora looks angrily at Everett.

“I hate when you do that,” she whispers to him.

“Do what?” he says at normal volume, laughing as her chocolate eyes widen nervously.

“When you put me on the spot like that.”

“My mom loves having you.”

“I was supposed to go home and watch Gabriel and Aspen and-”

“Junie will watch them,” he cuts in, stepping closer. “Why are you in such a hurry to leave?” his hand is reaching out suddenly to brush her hair behind her ear and she flinches away as though he’d slapped her.

Silence. His hand hovers in the air between them, not touching her, but not pulling away either.

His eyes watch her intently as both minds race for something to say. Before either can speak, Kristi returns with a stack of plates in her arms and a giddy smile splitting her cheeks. Everett’s hand drops suddenly to her side and Aurora steps away from him until they both face her. Kristi looks questioningly between the two of them before plastering a smile back on her face, setting the table quickly for three.

Kristi, immune to the sudden tension, motions for them both to sit as she grabs the glasses and silverware. Everett’s eyes burn intensely into Aurora’s as he pulls out his chair and reluctantly sits down. Aurora follows suit, and soon all three are seated around the table.

“Aurora,” Kristi says after serving each of them a piece of lasagna. “Have you heard back from any of the schools you’ve applied to? I know Everett has been having trouble deciding.”

Everett doesn’t even flinch at at the sound of his name, staring intently at Aurora where she sits across from him, hurt plastered all over his expression. She turns back to his mother after a moment and tries to force a smile.

“I got early acceptance to Wesleyan-”

“Congratulations.”

“Thank you. I won’t hear from any other schools until March.”

“Are you wanting to go to Wesleyan?”

“I wouldn’t mind.”

“Where would you really like to go?”

Aurora cringes internally at the question, sinking down slightly into her seat as Everett’s expression remains the same. She turns back to face Kristi who tilts her head curiously.

“NYU is my first choice.”

Kristi looks to her with a tight-lipped smile that says don’t get your hopes up. “Any particular reason?”

“My... good friend went on full ride. He really enjoyed it there.”

Kristi’s eyes widen in surprise before she recovers, smiling politely. “Really? Which friend?”

“Yeah, Rory,” Everett cuts in suddenly. “Which friend?”

A heavy silence. Aurora glances up at Everett from behind the loose strands of her hair, his eyes are dark and any trace of a smile is gone. Suddenly it is less difficult to imagine him doing something really bad.

“Everett,” Kristi chides under her breath.

“It’s okay,” Aurora says in attempt to diffuse the sudden tension, her eyes remaining fixed on his like watching a car accident; she can’t tear her eyes away no matter how much she wants to. “His name is Dominic, I’ve known him since I was little.”

“Dominic... Did he go to school with the two of you?”

Everett laughs but there is no happiness in it. “Dominic Carter,” he says, “did not go to school with us.”

Kristi’s eyes widen in surprise, at her son’s behavior, but also at the sudden revelation. “I didn’t realize,” she pauses awkwardly, shifting her gaze between the two of them. She forces a smile. “I do remember Amy telling me that he stopped by every now and again to say hi to the children at the group home. You... you’ve known him a while?”

She nods.

“Everett’s father has had a few run-ins with Mr. Carter.”

Everett scoffs under his breath.

Kristi sends him a piercing glare before forcing another smile. “That’s sweet that he does things like that. Visiting foster homes and such.”

“He did grow up there,” Aurora says finally, the words coming off more cold than she’d intended. “It only makes sense that he would try and visit once in a while.”

Silence.

“Oh... I- I didn’t know.”

“That’s alright,” Aurora says as she glances up at her before returning her eyes to her plate. “Most people don’t.”

The rest of dinner passes silently after that. After what feels like ages, Aurora and Everett are clearing the table, and Everett is telling Kristi that they have the dishes covered. Usually when Aurora stays for dinner, they’ll blast his Spotify through the speakers in the kitchen afterwards, and he’ll wash the dishes while she dries them and they’ll dance around together and sing along to every song but she has a feeling tonight won’t be like that.

He checks over his shoulder to make sure Kristi is gone before setting the plates down into the soapy water and turning toward Aurora. She tries to walk back toward the table to grab the glasses, only for him to wrap his warm hand around her wrist and tug her back towards him.

“What was that?”

“I don’t know.”

“Don’t lie to me.” He lifts her wrist up against his chest so that she’s looking right up at him. “Why’d you flinch away from me like I was gonna fucking slap you?”

“Why are you so upset?”

“I’m not upset!” he yells. They both glance upstairs to make sure Kristi didn’t hear before Everett is speaking again, more quietly this time. “I’m not upset, I’m confused. I know something’s wrong, Aurora, but I can’t fix it if you keep shutting me out.”

Aurora looks up at his dark green eyes, burning into hers with empathy and sincerity and love and all the words you don’t use to describe someone who makes you feel unsafe. But for some reason, Aurora can’t rid of the nervous feeling which settles in the pit of her stomach, and it only gets worse the longer she looks at him until finally she just has to ask.

“You weren’t that drunk, Everett. Why...” her voice shakes as her words get stuck in the back of her throat. “Why didn’t you stop when I asked you to?”

His breathing quickens, his grip on her wrists tightening dangerously as his mind races behind his eyes. She can almost hear him thinking. Does he tell her the truth? Does he deny everything? If he waits too long to say something she’ll know that he remembers but it’s already too late because deep down she knew it right when she walked into the lunchroom this afternoon, when his eyes met hers from the entryway.

“I lost control, Aurora, it won’t happen again, just... just don’t shut me out,” he grips her shoulders gently but firmly, leaning down to meet her at eye level. “It won’t ever happen again.”

Silence. His eyes plead desperately with her and suddenly she wonders how she never saw it. To her, he was her best friend. To him, she was something entirely different.

Aurora slides out of his grip and steps back. “I should go.”

A pause. He nods his head in what he tries to pass off as understanding. “Okay,” he nods again, his eyes wide as his mind races. “Yeah it’s late, you should get going.” He stacks her notebooks and papers that she left while she grabs her backpack, shoving her books inside and watching him carefully.

He slides the papers into her hands and meets her eyes intently.

“You’ll text me tonight?” he asks, though it’s more like a statement that he hopes speaking aloud will make true. “And then I’ll see you tomorrow at school. I can drive you home after school, if you want. I can help you with your English paper.”

She nods mindlessly, heading for the door and reaching into her backpack for her bus pass. Everett follows her to the door, opening it for her after she slides her shoes on and wraps her scarf around her neck and ears.

“We’re okay, right?”

She nods but there is no feeling in it. She can’t meet his eyes.

“I love you,” he says. “You know that.”

She nods again, stepping through the doorway into the cold before turning back toward him. “I love you too, Ev.”

She turns to leave. She doesn’t hear the door shut behind her, and when she is walking along the ocean shore at the bottom of the hill, she turns toward his house half a mile away, the one which looks so much like the one her parents would take her to during the summer in New York, back when her father had the world in his hands and she was the center of it. The door is still open; she can vaguely make out Everett’s silhouette. She doesn’t look back after that, all but running all the way to the bus stop to catch the eight-thirty bus.

The school week passes quickly. Dominic drives Aurora to school every morning, but she doesn’t see him otherwise. She and Everett present in English and receive a ninety-two. Christian tries to convince the girls to come to the away game against Brighton, but Maine is a five hour drive from Massachusetts and there are other ways to spend the weekend.

It’s six o’clock on Friday evening when Aurora’s bus arrives back in Concord. The boys had left hours ago for Windham, and Junie’s pre-calculus review session went until eight. She waves to the bus driver and steps down onto the frozen sidewalk with her backpack in tow, starting down the seven blocks to the group home. The lights from the street lamps glow warmly, casting moving shadows along the pavement which dance along to the lightly falling snow. Aurora tightens her scarf around her neck and reaches her arm around to rest against the front of her backpack, a trick Caspar taught her so that no one can steal something from inside. She looks through the windows of each storefront she passes, smiling at Mr. Ivanov as she passes the bakery, only for him to wave her inside and send her home with a basket of stuffed pirozhkis. She thanks him profusely, only for him to pat his flour-covered hand against her cheek and send her on her way.

Every light on the first floor is on when she reaches home, illuminating the street just enough for her to make out the outline of one of Dominic’s black cars. She can’t help the smile which pulls at the edges of her lips as she rushes up the cement steps, wiping her shoes quickly on the welcome mat. As soon as she is inside, she is sliding off her shoes, then shrugging off her coat and scarf until she is left only in her school uniform, running toward the kitchen only to collide straight into a hard chest.

She stumbles back only a step or so before Dominic is grabbing her forearms and steadying her gently, chuckling softly at her dazed expression.

“Why the rush?” he asks teasingly. His voice is soft, like his expression; for some reason, it feels so long since she has seen him. She sinks into his chest, wrapping her arms tightly around his abdomen. He tenses in surprise for a moment before his arms wrap around her waist and grip her just as tightly.

“I missed you,” she says, the precious words muffled by the fabric of his dress shirt and tie.

They stand there a while, his long fingers running gently through the impossibly soft strands of her dark hair. He always smells so nice, and his chest is always so warm. His hugs are her favorite.

When she finally pulls away, Miss Amy is standing in the entryway and eyeing the two of them with a thoughtful expression. Before she can say anything, Aurora holds out the basket like a peace offering for being so late.

“Pirozhkis. From Mr. Ivanov, they’re still hot because I walked here so fast!”

A tiny smile teases Miss Amy’s lips at her hurried speech.

“Did you tell him thank you?”

“Yes and he said to keep the basket and that he’ll fill it up again on Monday.” Aurora steps closer, setting the basket down into Amy’s hands before clasping hers together nervously.

Miss Amy looks inside at the hot pastries, then back up at Dominic for a moment, before disappearing into the kitchen without another word.

Aurora’s shoulders fall sadly in disappointment. After a moment, she feels Dominic’s hand resting gently on her shoulder, squeezing comfortingly. She looks up at him, her eyes glassy and cheeks flushed from the cold, an innocent sadness that aches at his very core, the part of him that wants nothing more than for her to be blissfully happy for every waking moment.

“Are you all packed?” he asks quietly, brushing away the strands of her hair which stick to the wet surface of her cheeks from the snow.

Her eyes meet his in question.

“For New York.”

“Oh,” she bites her lip nervously, staring up at him. “I forgot.”

She hadn’t forgotten. She just wasn’t entirely sure he had been serious.

“Let’s go pack, then.”

Dominic

He thumbs through the sweaters in her closet, sliding a few off their hangers and draping them over her suitcase.

“You’ll need to pack a coat,” he says, sliding her closet door to look through her coats. She only has three. “It’s supposed to snow while we’re there.” He grabs the warmest looking one, holding it out in front of him as a small smile teases his lips. It looks so tiny in his hands.

He turns around to face her. She has yet to change out of her uniform, her stocking clad feet sinking into her comforter from where she stands atop her bed, tracing patterns into the frost-covered window. Her soft brown curls tumble loosely down her back, swaying gently as she moves around the bed. He smiles as that all too familiar feeling invades his chest: the feeling that the love is too much to be contained inside of him.

“Aurora,” he says softly, “are you going to help me pack for you?”

She turns to face him, looking down at the open suitcase for a moment before jumping down to a sitting position on her bed and sliding down to the ground. She looks down at all the sweaters and jeans and dresses.

“How long will we be there?”

“Saturday and Sunday.”

She kneels down to the ground, separating three sweaters from the rest of the stack, a pair of black jeans, leggings, and light wash jeans, folding each neatly and tucking them in the left corner of the suitcase. From her dresser she grabs a few new bra and panty sets that she had just bought with Olivia, stuffing those into the front pouch. She grabs her fuzzy beige jacket from underneath the pile of jackets and lays it over what she’s already packed so it doesn’t lay all crumpled. Her converse are next, she ties them together and sets them in the middle to separate the rest of her clothes from the right, where she lays the coat Dominic had been holding. On top of that she lays a second pair of nicer shoes, her makeup bag, pencil case, and a small black book for sketching.

She zips it shut and stands. “Done,” she says, smiling excitedly up at him.

He smiles back at her, not with his teeth of course, but with his eyes and the edges of his lips. Aurora isn’t sure in this moment, if its the darkness of the room or the shadows from outside, but Dominic looks tired. His dark eyes sink in a little more than they used to, the lines of his jaw prominent in a way that ages him slightly. He is muscular, more so than before he left, but still more lanky than anything, and still extremely tall. His tanned skin is paled only slightly, not enough for him to look White, but enough for her to notice the subtle loss of color, his hair not as curly as it used to be, the dark strands laying messily atop his head. Tired, but extremely handsome. If anything, it only enhances it.

She blinks a few times to clear her head, her face flushing in embarrassment for staring. He catches her doing it a lot, and every single time he seems to gradually pause what he is doing to let her watch him. In his mind, it’s his way of allowing her subtly to become more accustomed to him, which starts with how he looks.

He leans down to pick up the clothes which she didn’t pack and puts them back on their hangers, watching from the corner of his eye as she wanders over to her dresser, reaching her hand up to find the set of cufflinks which he had taken off his shirt earlier and set there. She places them in her hands, letting them catch the moonlight from different angles to watch the light reflect off of them. When she grows bored of this she sets them back onto her dresser and flops down onto her bed. Dominic hangs up one last sweater before leaning against the doorframe and facing her.

“I was thinking I could take you home with me tonight,” he says suddenly, and she tilts her head to face him. “That way we can leave early tomorrow morning without waking anyone. Would you be okay with that?”

She sits up, her hair messy from being splayed out over the comforter. Her eyes wander around the room and over him before meeting his eyes.

“Yes but can we have bagels in the morning?”

He smiles confusedly at her, trying hard to contain his laughter.

“Of course.”

“Can I have strawberry cream cheese with mine?”

“You can have anything you want.”

She smiles excitedly, rushing over to her dresser to grab clothes to change into and running into the bathroom. The sound of her sweet voice, singing quietly to herself resonates softly through her room as she changes her clothes. He leans down, lifting her suitcase from the ground so that he can bring it downstairs when she’s ready.

“You do not let her leave your side, Dominic Carter, understand me?”

“Yes ma’am.”

“You keep your hand on hers, always.”

“I will.”

Miss Amy is about to speak again when the unmistakable sound of Aurora and Gabriel speaking quietly resonates down the stairs. The next moment, Aurora is standing in the entryway with her backpack resting on her shoulders, a tiny boy clutched tightly in her arms, the whitest blonde hair you’ve ever seen. He underestimated the joy it would bring him to see Aurora holding a child in her arms. She speaks softly and kindly, despite the little boy’s protests.

“Two days. That’s all, Gabriel.”

“You said you’d make me pancakes.”

“I did make you pancakes. On Tuesday, remember? And then again on Thursday.”

“Who is going to sing to me? Before bed.”

“Junie will, if you ask her nicely.”

“I like it better when you sing to me.”

Miss Amy disappears into the kitchen to go and pack some pirozhkis for the two of them, leaving them alone in front of the door.

By this time, Aurora is standing in the doorway with Dominic, and it’s in this moment that Gabriel notices the tall, dark-haired man standing in front of them. His protests stop immediately and he buries his little face into Aurora’s neck. She smiles sadly.

“Gabriel, do you remember the other day, when you asked about the man in the picture? The one in the locket.” He pauses for a moment, before nodding slowly. She pries him away from her shoulder, setting her down in front of him to face Dominic. “This is him.”

Dominic kneels slowly to the ground, resting his hands on his knees as he waits patiently for the young boy to face him. When he does, his bright blue eyes stare intently into his, studying his features with an thoughtfulness he wouldn’t expect from such a young child.

“Hello,” he says softly after a moment, reaching out his hand for him to shake. “I’m Dominic.”

The white-haired boy, after a moment’s hesitation, slides his hand into Dominic’s, shaking it lightly.

“I’m Gabriel.”

“Nice to meet you,” he says, smiling kindly. “How old are you, Gabriel?”

He pauses for a moment before he holds up four fingers.

“Four? I would have guessed at least six.” It’s a small lie. The boy is small for his age, and quite thin. Still, the smile which lights his small features is well worth it.

“Is this your friend?” he gestures back to Aurora, who watches them from just a few feet away. She smiles back at him.

Gabriel nods. “How do you know Rora?”

“She is my best friend in the entire world.”

His bright blue eyes widen in understanding as he shifts on his feet. Dominic lowers his voice. “Can I tell you something, Gabriel?”

He nods emphatically, his white-blonde hair swaying with the movement.

“It has to be a secret.”

His eyes light up excitedly; Dominic’s eyes meet Aurora’s teasingly from where she stands before he leans in to whisper to Gabriel.

“I love her. And I’m going to marry her someday.”

Gabriel’s eyes widen excitedly.

“Really?”

He nods.

“You’re her prince?”

Dominic’s brows knit together in confusion. Gabriel looks nervously to Aurora before motioning Dominic closer with his hand. He whispers to him. “In the movie, Princess Aurora meets her prince on her birthday. You’re kind of late.”

And Dominic is laughing quietly, only for a moment before he regains his composure. He speaks softly again.

“Can I trust you to keep that a secret, Gabriel?”

Gabriel nods, looking back at a clueless Aurora before holding out his little pinky to lock with Dominic’s much larger one. He stands just as Miss Amy returns from the kitchen.

“Give Aurora a hug, Gabe, and then it’s time for bed.”

Gabriel doesn’t protest at all, hugging Aurora’s thighs tightly, before turning back toward Dominic. He smiles excitedly, and Dominic winks at him before he disappears up the stairs. Miss Amy watches him curiously before turning back toward Aurora.

“Alright, sweet, do you have everything you need?”

She nods, tugging at the strap of her backpack and glancing down at her suitcase beside Dominic.

“Are you sure?”

“I’m sure.”

“Hundred and forty-seven percent?”

Aurora smiles, nodding affirmatively. “Hundred and forty-seven percent.”

Miss Amy hugs her briefly, looking up to Dominic and patting him twice on the arm before backing away.

“Be careful you two, and remember what I said, young man.”

“Yes, ma’am, I will.”

Miss Amy watches quietly as Dominic wraps Aurora’s scarf around her neck and head, buttoning her coat up to her collar while she slides on her shoes, and the next moment they are walking hand in hand down the frozen pavement toward his car.

“What did you say to Gabriel?” Aurora asks, her breath clouding the freezing night air as she speaks. A smile teases his lips as he shrugs teasingly.

“Dom!” she protests. He shakes his head, unlocking the car door and opening it for her. He rounds the car, sliding in the other side and keying the ignition. The car heats up quickly; he looks over his shoulder before pulling out onto the street.

Aurora crosses her arms, folding her legs beneath her and staring out silently at the passing houses. He laughs quietly to himself.

“Ignore me all you want, I’m not going to tell you.”

“Why not?”

“Because I said so.”

“Will you tell me someday?”

A comfortable silence settles over them as Dominic stares intently at the road in front of them, a tiny smile peaking at the corner of his lips. His eyes light up slightly when he senses her staring.

“Yes, someday.”

“Promise?”

He smiles, and he suddenly looks brighter, though it may only be from the street lamps and the light from the moon. Aurora would like to think it’s because he is happy. He nods.

“I promise.”

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