Dominic's arm rests heavily against her back, pinning her against his chest as he shifts carefully beneath her. His hand is heavy against her head, his long fingers laced through the strands of her hair and bracing the nape of her neck. It is a comforting kind of weight, and Aurora is used to carrying much heavier things anyway.
"I know," Dominic murmurs softly in the dark, as if trying to speak without resonation in his chest where Aurora's head rests. "I've heard you tell me a hundred and nine times, Caspar. I get it."
It is five-thirty in the morning, and he is on the phone with Caspar, talking about press releases and publishing statements and other things that cause his grip around her to tighten without his realizing it.
"They're not leaving," Caspar says on the other line. "Not until you do. The both of you. Jesus Christ there's gotta be more than thirty."
Thirty people doesn't sound like a lot, there's thirty-six people in her math class. But it's different when you're three stories up have grown more accustomed to the idea: an untouchable sort of feeling and an intangible sort of fear.
"I know, Caspar."
"You know how this looks, don't you?"
But even the intangibles have their own mass and gravity. Tangible weight. And even when the panic doesn't reach her chest it seems to creep its way into the back of her mind, and in many respects this is the heaviest weight of all, heavier than his arm around her waist and hand laced through her hair, because this one can never be put down.
"She's going to hate you for it. She'll think you did it on purpose, and she won't be the only one-"
"I heard, man. No one's leaving. So why not shut the fuck up?"
Mostly she would just lay awake for a long time. There would be nights where the panic would ebb to the front of her mind then sink down into her lungs and force out all the air so there was nothing left. Muscles tight, ears tight. She would glance out the window, hope for a moon or a few stars. But no moon, no stars. Blood everywhere. She'd start talking to herself. She'd try and bring the night into focus, but the effort would only cause more panic.
Take it easy, she'd murmur to herself, easy, easy, easy, but it wouldn't get any easier because nothing was easy without him.
She isn't sure when Dominic ended the call, or how long he had been staring at her before she noticed. She turns her head to rest her ear against his chest and her eyes flicker up to his. They stay there for a while as he runs his hand gently through her hair to where it reaches the small of her back. He hadn't changed out of his slacks last night, but the white dress shirt and belt had found their way to the ground, and so she could feel the raised scar against her arm; it's cold, unlike the rest of his skin.
"How long have you been awake?" he asks softly, a stark contrast to his tone with Caspar minutes before. She shrugs against his chest, her eyes flickering down to the scar which lines the side of his neck. She keeps her focus there for a while. He brushes her hair away from her neck, running his knuckles gently against the skin there while she stares down at his shoulder, brows knitted together curiously as he watches her.
"What do you think about?"
A pause. Another half-committed shrug, but this time she turns and buries her head into his chest where she can feel his soft laughter against her forehead. He shakes his head, resting his hand against her hair and leaning back into the mattress.
"We're gonna be fine, baby girl," he murmurs into the dark. "Nothing bad is going to happen."
It sounds nice. And with his one hand splayed out across the length of her back, and the other cradling her head, it feels nice too. But it isn't true. The bad stuff never stops happening: it lives in its own dimension, replaying itself over and over.
Easy, easy, easy.
⋯ ⋯ ⋯
One hour later and neither had fallen back asleep, but neither had made any move to get up either. Dominic props himself up onto his elbows as his grip on Aurora loosens. She slides out of his arms and stumbles toward her dresser. It is the same time she usually begins getting ready for school, but this morning instead of putting on her uniform she is taking it off, taking a quick shower and changing into jeans and a gray sweater. Dominic said she shouldn't go to school today and she wasn't one to pass on the opportunity to miss.
Maybe if she had better understood the circumstances that morning, or maybe if she had picked up on the way Dominic seemed to lose himself in his thoughts every few minutes, not prompting her into conversation like he normally did, she would have been less willing. But all she could think about was not having to go to English and deal with Everett, and how cute Dominic looked clean-shaven.
The edges of his his hair are still slightly damp from his shower as he locks the patio door behind them, grabbing her left hand in his and trudging through the snow toward his car which is still parked in the back. There are tire tracks from where Caspar parked his car next to Dominic's earlier that morning, and then more leading toward the main road from when he took Junie to school.
Aurora's backpack is heavy against her shoulders, but not as heavy as the suitcase Dominic had filled with her clothes and coloring pencils and laptop and textbooks and packed into the trunk of his car without her knowing. Still, he notices the way she shifts her shoulders uncomfortably under the weight, sliding the straps off of her back and gripping them in his left fist while she walks next to him. She looks up at him and offers a precious little smile, grabbing his keys from his back pocket and running toward the car. He watches her as she runs ahead of him, the way the dark waves of her hair tumble down her back and bounce with the movement of her running before she opens the driver's side door and slides in.
He approaches her with slow steps, tossing her backpack into the backseat before opening the driver's side and looking down at her from where she sits behind the wheel. She grips it in her hands tightly until he is finally able to pry her away; the sound of her precious laughter resonating through the otherwise silent yard as he carries her to the passenger seat, tickling her sides all the way. He smiles a little as he sets her down in the seat, but still doesn't say anything.
He is silent as he starts the car, and silent as he pulls out and drives toward the side alley which separates the group home from the house to their right. "Close your eyes," he says as they drives past the front of the house. "Open," he says once he pulls onto the main road. There were definitely more than thirty, but he decides that Aurora doesn't need to know that. His eyes flicker over to her as she turns her head to the right, watching the way the early morning sun catches the white foam on the water. He is silent after that, and so is she for a while.
A few minutes are spent looking at the water. Then a few more spent looking in the rearview mirror. Then it is her turn to glance at him, the scar running down his neck. She is filled with the urge to ask about it, placating herself with a different question instead.
"Will they leave us alone now?"
Dominic's eyes remain focused forward on the empty road, lost in thought as he nods his head absently.
"Are you gonna tell Miss Amy?"
"No," he says quietly, glancing at her for a second before focusing back toward the road again. "There's no use worrying her over it."
"She'd have a conniption," she mumbles out in the warm air of the car.
Dominic laughs at that, smiling and shaking his head. "You think so?"
She nods, folding her legs beneath her as she leans back into her seat.
"They'll be gone before she brings the kids back from skiing," he says.
"You think so?"
He nods. "I know so." Because you and I aren't coming back for a while.
He glances down at her beside him, the barely-there freckles which dust the surface of her olive skin. "What would you like to do today, Aurora Davis?"
She looks up at him curiously, and he doesn't miss the way her eyes light up under the light from the sunrise. It reflects off the water and through her window so that one side of her hair is black and the other is brown like dark chocolate.
"Don't you have work?"
"Because I just decided that I don't."
Because you’ll hate me after today.
"So what do you want to do?"
"I want to make bagels."
He turns the heater down to low, his hand falling down to the gear shift and resting there for a brief moment before reaching for hand and gripping it against his thigh.
"Like by hand, how you used to," she continues, turning to the window to hide her blush. "Miss Amy says it's too much work, but I'm pretty sure she only says that because she could never make them like you did."
A pause. He runs his thumb against the side of her palm and then opens her hand up and brushes his knuckles along the inside. "And after that?"
She thinks for a moment, picking at the little pieces of lint on her sweater. "After that can we eat them?"
He glances at her before facing the road again. "You're telling me you want to make bagels, and then eat them too?"
She bites her lip to hold back a smile, nodding her head.
"What do you want to do next, put the dishes away when we're done? Jesus Christ."
She removes her hand from his grip, punching his chest lightly. He shakes his head incredulously, gripping her hand in his and holding it against his chest.
"And after that?"
She stares absently down at her hand, the way he fiddles with the tiny silver ring on her index finger, her brows knitted together as she thinks.
"After that can we just drive around some more?"
And suddenly he is smiling, teeth and everything, the last of the tension leaving his shoulders and melting from his hands and instead of just gripping her hand he is lacing his fingers through hers.
⋯ ⋯ ⋯
It is ten at night when he is finally pulling into the white two-story house, tucked quietly between the mountain and frozen sea and hidden from view by the ocean fog and freezing air which causes the mist from the ocean to congregate above it.
As he pulls into the garage he looks down at Aurora beside him, her soft hair swept over her left shoulder as she rests her head against the window. He is glad she had fallen asleep on the way back from the little beachside cafe they had dinner at. The place was nearly vacant with the tourist season being months away; Aurora sat across from him at the table by the window, drawing in one of her sketchbooks: the frozen shore, a palm tree on the coastline, his profile as he stared out the window. Her ink-covered hands move like spiders, her left shifting the paper around as her right moves too quickly for his eyes to keep up with as the ink creates a pattern and then an image, but now they rest limply around her waist while he puts the car in park, brushing a strand of her dark hair which had fallen in front of her face and tucking it behind her ear before bringing his hand back to his side.
He is glad she had fallen asleep because she would have sensed the shift in the atmosphere, easily. Aurora picked up on things like that, ever since she was six years old and probably even before that.
He opens his door quietly, rounding the car and popping open the trunk. He grabs her suitcase, then her backpack from the backseat. He slings that over his back, opening the handle to her door. He kneels down, wrapping his free arm around her waist and lifting her up to rest against him. Her silky hair brushes lightly against his neck as her head falls against his shoulder, his hand bracing her beneath her legs.
The garage door shuts softly behind them, but it's enough noise for Aurora to stir between his arm and chest, her eyes fluttering open as she takes in her surroundings.
"I can walk, Dom," her legs swing lightly, her feet brushing against his thighs.
"And my back isn't broken."
"You're already carrying a bunch of things."
"Yes, and you're the lightest one."
She sighs, resting her cheek back against his shoulder, the skin of his neck is warm against her ear. “You're so difficult sometimes."
He smiles; she can feel it against the back of her head. The door slides open with a soft creak, and they are instantly hit with warm air, the alarm system beeping once before he disables it.
"What’s the suitcase for?"
He doesn't answer, clicking the handle down and lifting it up off the floor as he walks toward the stairs. Because maybe if she doesn't hear it rolling against the tile and hardwood, then maybe it doesn't really exist anymore. And then maybe she can just sleep here tonight and he can take her home tomorrow.
"Dom, what do you have my suitcase for?"
Still he doesn't answer, and something about the dark look in his eyes tells her not to press the issue any further than she already has. It isn't until they are all the way up the stairs and down the hallway in the room at the highest corner of the house with the rounded walls and white curtains and wooden furniture that he is setting her down and she is taking the suitcase from his hand. He lets her do this, watching with blank eyes as she sets it down onto the hardwood and kneels in front of it, unlatching both sides and lifting it open to look inside, and then she is looking up at him with confusion masking her features, confusion which quickly turns to anger, and anger which quickly turns to something else, something heartbreaking.
"What is this?"
He leans against the doorframe, hands stuffed in the pockets of his slacks as he looks down at her, eyes focused intently on the contents: her clothes, textbooks, three school uniforms, laptop, school folders, the metal pencil case she's had since before he can remember.
"Dominic, what is this?"
But he doesn't answer, just shakes his head with a sad expression on his face, but it isn't enough.
"What are you doing?" she asks, her voice trembling slightly at the raise in tone. She stands quickly to her feet, the dark strands of her hair tumbling over her shoulders with the movement as she focuses her chocolate eyes on him. "Why aren't you saying anything?"
"I packed as much as I could," he says finally, his voice strained with the weight of the responsibility. "Carmen can buy the rest."
"What do you mean-"
"And if there's anything you still wanted from the house, Caspar can bring it-"
"What did you do?"
He is silent again, turning back toward her and kneeling to the ground. She watches with teary eyes from above him as he shuts the suitcase, clicking the two latches back into place before he stands and sets it atop her bed.
Silence. His shoulders fall slightly beneath the fabric of his sweater, and he pauses for a moment before turning over his shoulder.
"I want you to scream at me, Aurora," he says, his voice is quiet but she can hear the words as clearly as if he yelled them. "I want you to hit me, and call me names. Tell me how much you don't want to be here, tell me how it's all my fault." A pause, he turns to face her from where she stands behind him, tears streaming silently down her cheeks as the facts form a pattern in her head. "Maybe it is, but it doesn't matter now." He shuts his eyes so he doesn't have to see her tears. "Because when you're done, there will still be cameras in front of your house, and you will still be living here. And nothing you say to me is going to change that."
A pause. He opens his eyes again, but she isn't yelling, or hitting him, or calling him names. She is staring blankly at his chest as she pieces it together. He sees the moment when her confusion shifts to heartbreak, which then shifts to anger. She wipes at her tears, only for more to fall but she doesn't wipe them away this time. These ones stream down her cheeks and the sides of her neck.
"You knew this would happen."
He shakes his head, but even he can't convince himself she is wrong.
"You knew that if you followed me to the train station, people would recognize you."
"And you knew that if we went to New York, people would recognize you."
"I knew it was a possibility."
"And you didn't tell me."
He shakes his head, running his fingers through the strands of his hair and pulling on the edges. "You wouldn't understand-"
"Help me understand," her voice is shaking now, her arms wrapped around her waist as she backs away from him. Her eyes search his for an apology, for any sign that he regrets it, that he knows how much he has ruined everything. But there is nothing but the reflection of her own eyes in his, if she looks close enough. She shakes her head, her pulse quickening at an alarming rate. "I want to go home."
"I'm sorry," he says.
She shakes her head again. "No you're not."
"Then take me home."
"I'm sorry," he steps closer, and when she doesn't back away from him he takes five steps closer, bracing the sides of her neck between his hands. "I'm sorry that you want to go home. And I'm sorry that this can't be your home."
He shuts his eyes, the words burning like acid down his throat. "Is it really that terrible," he asks, his head falling to rest against hers, his soft curls brushing against her skin, "just to be with me?"
She pauses there, her eyes shutting for a moment and he breathes it in, this moment of something close to acceptance, which dissipates and dies the next moment when she is stepping out of his hold and he letting her, clenching his eyes shut so he doesn't have to watch. When he opens his eyes again, he shifts his focus out the window, counting to seven in his head to give her a head start before he is turning toward the door and following her down the stairs and to the first floor.
When he turns the corner into the kitchen, she is shifting his things around, lifting his backpack and coat, sifting through the pockets until she finds her phone, and his car keys, and her way to the garage door but that is when he grabs her from behind and drags her back into the kitchen, ignoring her protests and the way she pries at his arms and kicks his shins. He cages her against the counter from behind, prying his keys from her hand first, and throwing those across the counter. Her phone next, he rips it out of her hand and slides it into his back pocket before turning her to face him.
"One thread, Aurora." His voice is low, teeming with an authority that he doesn't tap into very often with her. "I'm holding on by a fucking thread."
She shoves his left arm away with both hands with a force that doesn't hurt, but surprises them both. A pause, the shock in her own eyes mirroring his own, but she recovers first, turning and running toward the patio door and pulling it open, not taking the time to shut it behind her; it sways back and forth with the rhythm of the breeze outside. And he is chasing after her.
The air is so cold that Aurora 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 feet pound quickly against the snow-covered ground; for the second time in her life, the little squash sound that each step makes is not enough to make this any easier.
She wipes uselessly at her cheeks with the edges of her sleeves, her surroundings fading to a blur of green and white as she stumbles through the frozen yard which seems to extend to the edge of Massachusetts, before it clears out into the forest behind his home, the towering trees slowly turning from dark green to a peppery white as the first snowfall of the week introduces itself. Christian used to chase her and Junie around the house and yard all the time, with water balloons and snowballs and whatever he could find and suddenly the practice is useful because the air is cold and it's hard to breathe but she is still running.
The white two-story house fades further away, and a small part of her conscience registers that she is lost, that she isn't sure how long she has been running, and that if she had to find her way back right now, she probably couldn't, but for some reason none of it is enough to make her stop. If anything it makes her run harder; every step is one further from him, and the more distance she puts between them, the more clearly she can think.
He left you, Aurora.
She shakes her head, stopping suddenly to look up at the stars, allowing herself to hope for a moment that one might reach down and grab her.
He lied to you.
She grips the tree beside her, eyes focused toward the sky as she climbs it, one leg swinging over the lowest branch, then making space for the other, propping herself up high enough to reach for the next, and the next, and the next. She moves with the fluidity that comes with years of practice and years of hiding.
She stops only when she is high enough off the ground to get badly hurt if she falls, but not high enough to be afraid to climb down. Still, the stars don't seem any closer, if anything they seem further away, twinkling on in their own existence with no regard for time or feeling or death or love.
He doesn't love you.
And she is crying, the bark scratching painfully against her head as she leans into it but she only presses harder, a distraction from the pain stinging in her chest.
He never loved you.
The echo of his voice seeps through the trees and up into the branches, and everything is still. She lets out a shaky breath and the air clouds up in front of her.
"Baby, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry." Somehow he knows he is close to her, because he isn't yelling anymore.
His steps resonate tensely in the cool air as he nears her hiding place. She shifts as quietly as she can to back up further into the tree but it is enough for him to hear, and enough for him to look up, and enough for him to meet her eyes from where he stands.
She looks down at him. Somewhere in the back of her mind she is surprised at how easily he'd found her, but she can't find it in herself to respond.
The tears won't stop but from here he can't see them. And she doesn't make a sound.
"I shouldn’t have snapped at you," he says, his head tilted up as he faces her. "I know that scared you."
She tilts her head back toward the sky, gripping the sides of the branch which she sits on and clenching her eyes shut.
"I love you, Aurora," he says, the words leaving his mouth in clouds of white and it occurs to Aurora how that's all words are: little clouds of vapor shaped from breath, made to dissipate and die. "Talk to me."
She stands on the branch and his heart clenches in his chest as she reaches for the next branch above her.
Just like the ones before: right leg then left, she lifts herself with shaking arms.
She stands, but this branch bends slightly with the weight.
"Aurora come down. Now."
And it's slick from the snow.
She isn't sure when slipped, or how. But for a few moments, the branches of the tree all blur together in front of her in one mass of green as she falls to the ground. She is vaguely aware of Dominic shouting, of him running toward her, of him reaching to catch her before her head can make impact with the ground, but not before her left arm can reach out first and bend at an unnatural angle. The crack resonates through the otherwise silent forest, and then it is silence.
There is no screaming. No crying. Her mouth is open but she isn't screaming. And then it is dark.