Sunday night. From the coast of East River you can just make out the lights of a small sailboat, its golden hues dancing through the waves of the dark water so faintly that you cannot tell the light of the mid cabin from the light of the stars.
From the boat on the river you can just barely make out the lights from the city, twinkling with an indistinct sort of energy which seems to travel through the city's foundation through to the water and into Aurora's skin where she tests its freezing temperature with the edges of her fingertips, her stomach pressed against the cool wood of the front deck beneath her: a dull, tensile sort of energy which quickly turns to an electric, pulsing one when Dominic grabs this same small hand in his, lifting her from where she sits on the edge of the boat and lacing his fingers through hers, his other hand at her waist.
They dance along to the soft music from the mid cabin; it is faint but she can feel its rhythm in the floor beneath her feet. Dominic's hand is firm against the small of her back, guiding her movements against him as the melody softly fades into another. And another. And he is losing himself in her, she can sense it in his breathing and his tightening hold. "Beautiful," he murmurs softly under his breath. "So beautiful."
Then the music fades and he is saying, "I'm sorry, Aurora. I got a little carried away." But he isn't truly sorry, because on the other edge of this same coast, beneath the same sky but eighteen years younger, is a small, lifeless boy. Six years old, inky hair and bony limbs, protruding ribs and vacant eyes, without enough left in them to cry for anything or anyone, the life pulsing through the rest of him slowly seeping out from the edges of his hands and the surface of his chest while the city around him goes on flittering away in its own existence on pavements far from the earth beneath it and the people on it oblivious of its turning and shifting. And the small boy knows nothing, he is just a part of it, unconscious in his little existence on the turning earth to the sound of a tiny girl and her first breath in the hospital just a city away, an ecstatic gasp of surprise to awake upon the bright earth in New York and suddenly it is okay that the life has left him because the small, dark-haired girl is standing between his hands now, and she is smiling, and giggling, and pulling on his sleeve to point up to the canopy of stars and giving him life again from where she stands beneath him and her hair is so soft, like silk between his fingers, it falls around her shoulders and brushes against his forearms as she turns around and takes in the scene around them from every angle, but mostly with her head tilted up toward the dark sky
"Are you cold?" he asks from behind her. She shakes her head. He slides his hands slowly down the length of her arms anyway, adjusting her scarf so it covers her ears and the front of her neck, then tucking the loose strands of her hair behind her ears and his fingers are rough and long and bruised but so gentle and she finds herself leaning back into his hands until they brace her neck gently-
Monday morning. The halls of Concord prep are a blur of uniforms and tired faces. Aurora turns away from her locker to face Olivia, who crosses her arms and stares back at her incredulously.
"I wasn't listening."
Aurora smiles nervously, reaching over her shoulder to unzip her backpack while Olivia flashes her a knowing smile.
"I asked you how New York was."
Aurora averts her eyes toward the lockers, trying and failing to bite back a smile as she places her psychology book inside. "It was so beautiful," she says. "It's still snowing, but not as bad as how it is here, and I saw Grand Central for the first time because we took the train back-"
"No, Rory, I mean how was it?"
Aurora pauses for a moment, her brows knitting together confusedly before she grabs her subject notebook and turns back toward Olivia who looks at her with anticipation.
"I don't understand..."
Olivia just smiles before shaking her head.
"Did you and Dominic..." she trails off, raising her neatly filled-in brows.
For a moment, Aurora just stares at Olivia, confusion painted all across her features until her eyes flash with realization. The blush which creeps up her neck and to her cheeks follows not long after, and she turns back toward her open locker.
"It's not like that."
"What's it like then?"
She shakes her head, shutting the locker gently and turning the lock in place. "Well..." she pauses, lifting her hand to fiddle with a locket that isn't there, then moving the same hand down to the bracelet on her wrist. "He just doesn't see me that way."
"Do you want him to?"
"Want him to what?"
"Want him to see you that way."
Aurora pauses, staring down at the floor. She bites her lip hard enough to sting a little, but it still doesn't stop the smile which breaks through.
"You totally have a crush on him!" Olivia exclaims, grabbing her shoulders and shaking her lightly.
"No I don't!"
"You literally do," she sings excitedly before lowering her voice just slightly, "Oh my God, you are going to have the most beautiful children.”
Aurora's jaw drops to the floor and her blush deepens even further.
"Absolutely not, Liv."
“Because it’s not like that.”
"Because he's practically my brother!"
"Are you talking about me?" a voice interrupts from behind. Aurora turns abruptly to meet Christian's teasing expression. "Behind my back?"
She looks up at him, smiling widely before shaking her head. "You're the one behind my back. I'm in front of you-"
"And we're not even talking about you Christian," Olivia finishes.
"Fucking hell, Olivia, do you always have to put me on blast?”
Aurora feels two hands press softly against her ears from behind, a muffled voice saying,
She turns and looks up to face Leo, before elbowing him in the stomach. A tiny smile teases the edge of his lips before he raises his hands in surrender.
"How nice of you to join us in school today, Leonardo," Christian says, sarcasm dripping from his tone.
"Aurora and I have a midterm in psych today-"
"You know Leo," Olivia cuts in, "You're the only one who would skip school everyday except for exam day."
The first bell for passing rings. He offers a half-assed shrug before tossing his arm over Aurora's shoulders and heading toward the social science wing.
They walk in silence for the first few minutes, Aurora wrapping a strand of her hair around her finger, looping it once, twice, three times before letting it fall back against her chest. Leo has a thoughtful look on his face, the kind where you can see his mind working behind his eyes, but he always sort of looks this way so she doesn't think much of it until he asks,
"Have you seen Everett today?"
Aurora looks up to face him before focusing her eyes back ahead of her. She shakes her head before realizing that Leo isn't looking at her. "Not yet.”
He nods, but doesn't say anything after that, and the rest of the walk to class is spent in silence again. She fiddles mindlessly with the golden stars on her bracelet twisting her wrist back and forth to make them clink together. Leo keeps his arms draped across her shoulder, and it feels nice so Aurora doesn't pay it much mind.
The door to their class at the end of the downstairs 100 wing is propped open, but they're early and students are still rushing all around them so Leo stops before they reach the door, gripping Aurora's shoulders and turning her to face him. He doesn't say anything, just looks at her intently for a moment, looking all over her face like he's searching for a trace of blood or a black eye or something. Aurora's brows knit together in confusion and she steps out of his hold so that Leo drops his hands from her shoulders. Still he continues looking at her, before raising his hand in a fist and mimicking the motion of swinging a punch toward her left cheek. Her eyes widen in realization and she grabs his wrist, twisting it and effectively immobilizing him the way he taught her.
He smiles. Teeth and everything this time before opening his hands in surrender. She releases his wrist and he uses the same hand to tuck a strand of her hair behind her ear.
"I’ve never had to use that, Leo.”
"It's a good skill to know."
"Everett doesn't hit me," she says suddenly, the words tumbling out past her lips before she realizes the weight of them. Is that what Leo was thinking? That Everett was-
"I never said he did, Aurora," He lowers his voice as the hallway begins to clear out. "I just said it's a good skill to know."
⋯ ⋯ ⋯
Aurora watches the clock intently, her eyes tracing the movement of the long red hand on its final rotation until the bell rings, signaling the end of seventh period. The entire class is up in a blur of sliding chairs and backpacks being flung over shoulders. She catches Junie's eyes from across the room, and they both head toward the door with a shared excitement.
It was ski week for the little kids at the group home, a week the K-8 school had off that Concord prep didn't. Miss Amy had decided to take the kids to Wrentham village for snowboarding, leaving Christian, June, and Aurora alone for the week.
"Have you started the cultural phenomenon project yet?" Aurora asks when they reach the hallway, pacing quickly among the dozens of other students toward the main entrance.
Junie turns to her with a look that says are you kidding? before freezing suddenly when Christian's voice resonates from all the way on the other side of the hall.
The two girls, along with most of the students around them turn to look at the source of the sound. Christian stands next to Everett, the two boys already dressed in their practice jerseys, Christian carrying his shin guards in his left hand, cellphone in his right.
"Are you going straight home?"
Aurora looks at June, then back toward Christian. She shakes her head.
"Where are you going?"
Junie laughs, pulling out her phone and typing out a message for him and gesturing for him to check his phone.
To Starbucks to work on the Spanish project. Stop fucking screaming.
He lifts his head to face them again "Okay!" he screams from the other side of the hallway, without any concern for the people around them. "Are either of you going to do the bookwork?"
Aurora nods, trying hard to hold back her laughter at how obnoxious her brother is.
"Will you send me pictures of it?"
She nods again, waving at the two boys before linking arms with Junie and walking quickly toward the student lot. Aurora and Junie share one look before bursting into laughter.
⋯ ⋯ ⋯
Eight-thirty PM. The café table rattles with the force of Junie's head banging against it, her blonde hair tumbling over her neck and covering the wooden surface. The sound catches the concerned attention of a few people around them. Aurora smiles reassuringly at them before turning toward the blonde head of hair.
"June?" She asks nervously, shaking Junie’s shoulder lightly.
"I want to be done."
"You only have one paragraph left."
"Yes, but I want to be done."
"Just one more sentence them," Aurora encourages, sliding June's paper out from beneath her head. She clicks her pen open. "It can be like a conclusion sentence. You ever write those?" Junie answers with a tired hum which could be interpreted as either a yes or a no.
Junie laces her fingers through her hair, gripping the roots tightly before turning her head to the side to face Aurora.
"You don't even have to write it. Just tell me what you want to say and I'll write it for you."
A pause. Junie turns her head back toward the ground before her muffled voice resonates between them.
"No sé nada," she begins, the words forced out awkwardly in the choppy way that makes Aurora finds so funny. "No tengo nada más que decir."
A pause. Aurora clicks the pen a few times.
"That's good," she says. "Do you mind if I edit it a little bit?"
Junie shrugs, without even lifting her head.
El prejuicio racial hacia los indígenas en México se infiltra en el trabajo, dejando a muchas trabajadoras domésticas sin los mismos derechos o iguales salarios.
"Finished," Aurora says, clicking the pen closed and tossing it into her backpack, along with the rest of her papers which lie strewn across the table. Junie doesn't miss a beat, packing her books just as haphazardly before they start toward the exit, all but dragging their feet behind them.
The two blocks to the group home seem so much longer than they normally do. Aurora tugs at the neck of her sweater, anxious to get out of her uniform and into sweats and a long-sleeve shirt. Both are too tired to speak at all, and the only sounds are the ones of the cars around them and the snow crunching beneath their feet.
Five minutes later, Junie flips her hair over her head and ties the tangled blonde strands into a bun. Aurora can just make out the group home in the distance, all the lights off except for Christian's room on the third floor, and then a few more lights that shouldn't be there: some by the front porch and across the street.
She slows her pace until she is standing just outside Mr. Ivanov's bakery, reaching her arm out to stop Junie from walking any further.
Junie lifts her head, her tied hair flopping over to the side. She looks to Aurora in confusion only to see her friend looking intently ahead of them.
"That's a lot of cars in front of the house."
Junie tilts her head before narrowing her eyes and scanning the length of the street. Her brows knit together in confusion.
A heavy silence settles between the two as both minds race for a logical conclusion and come up with nothing.
"Do you think Christian invited people over?"
"On a Monday night?" Aurora asks, pulling out her phone and dialing Christian's number. She holds the phone up to her ear for a few moments, her eyes scanning the streets before getting his voicemail and ending the call.
She wipes the snow off the screen before sliding it back into her backpack. "He's probably still at practice."
Another pause. Finally, Junie just shrugs and starts walking toward the house again. Aurora looks around them nervously before following close behind, but slower this time.
They don't make it six steps before a voice shouts, "Aurora!" and the first camera flashes.
Then it's so many clicks and flashes and questions and shouting after that that Aurora doesn't understand what's happening until Junie is tugging her arm and sprinting toward the house.
Aurora's legs move on their own, sprinting alongside her before her brain can register what's going on. She can see Junie's mouth moving as she screams something to her above the noise, but all she hear is ringing, and eventually all she can see is camera flashes and the blue light blinding her vision after each one and just has to trust Junie's grip on her hand to guide her in the right direction because everything is white and black and blue and so loud that all Aurora wants to do is sit and press her hands against her ears and scream at everyone to stop.
She can feel Junie's hand tense around her wrist as they stumble up the steps to the porch, then Junie fumbling with the keys before eventually shoving the right one into the lock and flinging the door open. She slams it shut behind them but there is still screaming and harsh breathing and gasps for air and Aurora has no idea where it's all coming from until she is on the ground, her hands pressed tightly against her ears as the sounds resonate from her own chest but she can't stop them.
She is vaguely aware of Junie shouting something in the background, kneeling beside her and shaking her shoulders before reaching into her backpack for Aurora's phone. Her hands shake violently as she types in the passcode and scrolls through her contacts. She is crying but Aurora is screaming and gasping for air and her ears are ringing from all the noise.
"Dominic, it's Junie. No, I-I need you to come here!"
Aurora curls her legs up to her chest, shutting her eyes tightly but the flashes of light only grow more intense and she can't tell if the screams are from outside or from herself.
"No, but there's like a million people outside with cameras and Aurora's having a panic attack."
⋯ ⋯ ⋯
A thirty minute drive takes him fifteen. He is vaguely aware of the sound of his own voice, guiding Junie over the phone as he tells her what to do, how to hold Aurora so she doesn't feel confined, where to move her, how much longer he is going to be. A voice repeats in his head like a mantra, do not crash.
When he reaches Charter street he turns left instead of right, knowing the tabloids are probably still stationed at the front of the house. He speeds down the nearly empty street, pulling into the snow-covered field at the back of the group home and killing the engine and slamming the door behind him and sprinting to the patio door from the back, shoving the key inside.
"June, it's Dom," he shouts, not waiting for a response as he follows the sound of Aurora's uneven breathing. He throws his keys onto the counter in the kitchen before reaching the front entryway where she lays on the ground, her precious head held up by a pillow while Junie presses an icepack against her forehead. Junie backs away quickly to make space for him to kneel down beside her.
And he knows exactly what to do. How is it that this man who hasn't spoken to them in years knows exactly how to get Aurora to breathe normally, when Junie has been living here with her the entire time and could hardly get her to stop screaming?
"Aurora," he murmurs softly, leaning down to allow her eyes to meet his. "It's Dom. Can I touch you?"
She shuts her eyes tightly for a moment, before opening them again to see him still leaning next to her. And then she is crying silently, angry, frustrated tears because Dominic really is here and now he is going to walk on glass around her just like everyone else does because she still can't get herself to stop choking on her own breathing.
She wants to tell him no. She wants to tell him that she doesn't need him to touch her, that she didn't need him here in the first place because she is old enough now to figure this out on her own.
"Help," she pleads between breaths and that's all he needs to lift her up off the ground and into his lap where he wraps his arms tightly around her, moving her hair away from her neck and rocking himself back and forth along to the rhythm of his own breathing, which she can feel in his chest with how tightly he holds her body to his larger one.
It could be minutes or hours before Aurora's breathing finally begins to match Dominic's and the tension begins to leave her shoulders and chest, along every bit of her energy. She goes slack in his hold, staring vacantly ahead from where her head rests on his shoulder. He doesn't stop rocking though, murmuring something softly into her ear as he runs his large hands up and down the length of her back. The words are lost on her but she can feel their vibrations against her chest.
She is vaguely aware of him standing, adjusting his hold on her and lifting her effortlessly with him. Of Junie asking whether she should call Miss Amy and Dominic saying no, I'll take care of it. Of the soft kisses he presses against her neck and head. Of him climbing up the stairs and taking off his shoes, taking off her shoes, laying down on her bed on top of the covers and holding her tightly against him, telling her he is so sorry, but she isn't sure what he could possibly be sorry for. Then he is saying she can sleep now, that he won't let anything happen. But if she sleeps tonight what will she dream?