She sits on the balcony.
It’s unclear how much time has passed since she first sat here. The sun is just a little bit higher up in the sky, but she can still see a few stars against the bluish gray. Either way she is painfully awake. More than just the pain in her forearm, which pulses beneath the plaster that encases it. A sort of pain arising from an emptiness in her chest. A light and heavy one, all at the same time.
She focuses intently on the view in front of her; from the second story of his house you can look down upon the forest ceiling from above it, the patches of sunlight brushing against the treetops where they come to a point and touching down everywhere. She focuses intently on its stillness. The past three days are a blur of terror and confusion. Waking up in the car with the overhead light shining down into her eyes, which shut immediately in pain only for Dominic to force her to open them again, lace his fingers in her hair, shift her head to the right, then the left. A concussion. He looks down into her eyes while bracing her arm against her abdomen. Then too many faces, too many people poking and prodding at her arm and her head. Her legs swing back and forth from where they dangle high above the ground, a taunting reminder of another limb’s immobility.
Staring ahead, she reaches her right arm across her abdomen and runs her fingers lightly along the plaster encasing her left forearm, and then presses down harder until it hurts.
“Ow.” She pulls her hand back instinctively, staring down at her swollen arm before setting the other one back down at her side
Dominic had stayed all three nights she was there, and no one ever dared to tell him to leave. Surgery to orient the radius and ulna properly, then an MRI. After that he never left her side even for a minute, his chair pulled up beside her bed while she just stared forward at the wall or up at the ceiling, at the giant teddy bear Caspar gave her occupying the only other chair in the room, the yellow roses on the table which were too far from the window to get any sun, the get well soon balloon which floated up to the ceiling when the knot on the chair came loose in the middle of the night. He didn’t try and talk too much with her, mostly just quiet murmuring here and there with the doctor who came to check in every couple hours while she was on concussion watch. One time, in the middle of the night when he assumed she was asleep, he brought his chair closer to the bedside and rested his head beside her, his hand splayed out across her abdomen. But when she woke up the next morning he was back to his normal spot in his chair, a few feet from her bed. He didn’t sleep much, not more than thirty minutes at a time.
But ever since they got home last night, she hasn’t seen him. She had made the mistake of hoping that a fractured forearm and three days in the hospital for concussion watch would mean she could go back to the group home with Christian and Junie. But she was wrong.
Caspar had told her that it would be good for them. For her. That maybe she didn’t understand now, but it would make sense later. But she has already decided that she doesn’t care much anymore. Or at least that’s what she’s telling herself.
It’s why she pulled herself out of bed this morning, out of the warmth of the fuzzy throw blanket and white comforter which smells like lavender. Even when her skull screamed at her from the movement. It’s why she shuffled to the glass door leading to the balcony, dressed only in the white night dress which Ana Luisa had given her to sleep in, and pulled it open with one hand. The air is freezing, but it cools the burning in her arm and head.
A knocking at her bedroom door fades to the back of her mind. She hears the door open despite her lack of response. She can hear a woman’s voice call her name softly; she thought she’d just come straight to the balcony and drag her back inside just like everyone else in this house does: forces her around. Instead, she hears a set of footsteps walking quietly along the hardwood to the open balcony door, where the sun has risen just a little bit higher.
“Aurora?” the voice says softly, knuckles rapping softly on the glass door.
Aurora turns over her shoulder to face her: a young, tall, olive-skinned and dark-haired woman with kind eyes. She is familiar, but Aurora can’t place her.
“My name is Carmen, I’m Mr. Carter’s P.A.” She steps out onto the little balcony, kneeling down to be closer to her level. “We’ve met once before.”
Aurora nods. “I remember.” And she does. Hartford, two boys, a train, a present which was wrapped but now is open and sitting beside her desk at the group home.
Carmen smiles. She doesn’t ask why Aurora is sitting outside, or how she broke her arm. She doesn’t complain about the position she sits in, which can’t be comfortable in pants and heels. She just stares forward at the sunrise.
“We can go inside,” Aurora says, looking over her shoulder at the strikingly beautiful woman, whose presence makes her feel smaller than she already is. “If you want. I don’t mind.”
Aurora is standing before Carmen can answer, the coldness of the balcony floor embedding itself into the skin of her bare feet. She steps inside her room and toward her desk, kneeling on the ground and pulling out a candle and a lighter with her right hand, closing the drawer with her knee and standing. She can hear Carmen in the background shutting the door and sitting down on the edge of her bed, but her attention is on the candle as she sets it carefully atop the desk and lights it with the same hand.
Carmen stares intently at the small girl, whose every movement fluid and coordinated, timed like those of a ballerina, even with a broken forearm. Her nearly black hair tumbles down against her little white nightdress in waves that look like ocean water at night, swaying with the movement of her looking down at the candle, then the flame which ignites it. Aurora is quiet, but her presence alone is warm and calm. It is no wonder Dominic Carter is enraptured by her, and why Carmen feels like she is looking at secret treasure that only an honored few are allowed in the presence of.
Dr. Conners said she shouldn’t have any lights on for a while. The light the candle gives off is minimal in the dark room, but that isn’t its purpose anyway. Aurora breathes it in, ridding her nose of the scent of antiseptic and iodine, which she swears she can still smell in the air around her and on her skin even after showering last night.
She tosses the lighter back into the drawer before turning toward Carmen, her hands folded behind her back.
“Are you here to babysit me?” she asks bluntly, though it’s less rude and more curious. Carmen shakes her head, smiling.
“I’m here to keep you company while Mr. Carter is gone.”
“That’s the same thing,” Aurora says, walking over to her dresser to pull out one of Dominic’s long sleeve shirts which she stole, then kneeling to the ground to pull out a pair of leggings. She shuts the drawer with her knee and stands. The blood rushes to her head from the movement and she loses her balance, falling backwards only for Carmen to prop her back up from behind.
Aurora tenses up in Carmen’s arms before carefully sliding out from her embrace. She turns to face her.
Carmen smiles. “Si lo preferisci?”
“I’d rather speak English,” Aurora says, stepping past her and toward the en suite bathroom. She isn’t sure how to say it reminds her too much of her father.
“Of course,” Carmen says, unfazed. “Maybe we can just speak it when Mr. Carter is around. To annoy him.”
“I annoy Dominic no matter what I do,” Aurora says, stepping into the bathroom and closing the door. She leave it open just a crack in case she needs help, but she is determined to do this on her own.
A piece of Carmen’s heart shatters for the dark-haired girl, but she can’t help the smile which teases her lips at the name Dominic rolling so easily from Aurora’s lips. This tiny schoolgirl, occupying the highest room in his private home, wearing his shirt and calling the most important man on Wall Street below thirty by his first name.
Aurora is stepping out a few moments later, fiddling with the three buttons on her shirt.
“Could you button this for me? My arm is broken.”
Carmen smiles at the added information, as though it weren’t clear enough given the cast encasing her forearm. Her fingers slide each of the buttons into place, just barely finishing before Aurora is moving again.
“Thank you,” she says. “I fractured my radius and ulna. So I had to have surgery before they could brace it.”
She nods. “Mr. Carter told me. You’re pretty brave to go through that.”
Aurora shakes her head, opening the top drawer of her desk to pull out a copy of her MRI scan. “You can call him Dominic. He isn’t here. And also, it isn’t bravery if you have no choice.”
Carmen opens her mouth, just to close it again right after.
Aurora holds out the glossy sheet of paper, pointing down at the picture. “That’s my brain. There wasn’t a hemorrhage, so that’s why I got to come home after three days.” Carmen nods, holding the large photo in her hands while Aurora slides back onto her bed, sinking down into the comforter. She stares at the image for a few moments, then at Aurora, before setting the sheet of paper back into its file and onto her wooden desk. She folds her hands together, staring at Aurora where she stares up at the ceiling.
“Would you like to watch a movie?” Carmen asks. “Mr. Carter said you could, as long as the we lower the brightness a bit.”
Aurora shakes her head.
“Dominic didn’t say that. Dr. Conners did, and then he copied him.”
Carmen can’t help the laugh that escapes her lips, the sound resonating through the room.
“Also I’ve watched Lilo and Stitch four times already.”
“Okay, no movie then,” Carmen smiles, pacing quietly toward Aurora’s desk. “Mr. Carter mentioned you like to draw?”
Aurora props herself up with her unbroken arm, watching Carmen as she gathers some of her art supplies together which lay atop her desk.
“Can you call him Dominic please? At least while he isn’t here?”
Carmen lifts the papers up in her hands and lets the edges fall against the desk until they all lay even. She nods, after a moment’s hesitation. “I suppose.” She turns to face her. “Dominic mentioned you like to draw?” she repeats, the name feeling foreign on her tongue.
Aurora nods, folding her legs beneath her and resting her right arm in her lap. “Yes, but my arm is-”
“Broken. I know, piccola, but you’re right handed, aren’t you?”
“I hold the paper down with my left hand.”
Carmen kneels to the ground, pulling out the wooden lap desk from beneath Aurora’s bed and laying the sketching paper atop it. She grabs a set of pencils from her bedside table and sets them beside it.
“What do you say,” she kneels beside the bed and folds her hands atop the comforter, “you draw with your right hand, and I hold down the paper for you.”
⋯ ⋯ ⋯
Aurora didn’t see much of anyone besides Carmen for the next couple days, except for Ana Luisa, when she would come upstairs and bring them something to eat. They would draw together in the mornings, listen to a few records on the turntable while they worked on Aurora’s independent study, and take a nap in the afternoon so her brain could rest. They would wake up in the evening, eat dinner together, and then she would have to leave.
In all that time, she never saw Dominic once. He would come home late at night, then leave before the sun rose in the morning.
There were a few times when she heard him in her doorway, late at night when she was supposed to be asleep but was actually wide awake. She would shift mindlessly onto her left arm which would cause her to jolt awake in pain, only to repeat the process again as soon as she started to drift off.
The night before last, he walked quietly to the side of her bed, tucking a strand of her hair away from her face and behind her ear while she pretended to be asleep. He was quiet for a while after that, so much so that she’d assumed he’d left until she felt his lips brushing softly against her forehead. Still, she hadn’t seen him, only felt him there. And he hadn’t stayed long.
Now it is Friday night. Carmen sits at the desk while Aurora studies a set of flash cards for school. She had tried to get her to sleep some more, Aurora’s exhaustion becoming evident in both her face and posture, but she had insisted upon catching up on school. Carmen doesn’t miss the way her arms tremble lightly from the lack of proper sleep.
“Carmen?” Aurora’s soft voice grabs her attention. She nods for her to continue. “Did Dominic tell you how I broke my arm?”
Carmen shakes her head, looking down at the cast around her arm. “He said that was for you to tell me, if you decided to.”
Aurora shuts her psychology textbook and stacks her notecards together, setting both on her bedside table.
“Would you to tell me?”
Aurora shrugs her shoulders lightly, shifting forward on the bed so her legs dangle off the edge. “I fell from one of the trees outside.”
“You fell out of a tree?”
Aurora nods. “He yelled at me and so I was hiding from him.”
Carmen nods in understanding, though this only raises more questions.
“Did you do something you weren’t supposed to?”
“I told him I wanted to go home, but he said I had to stay here. So I tried to take his car keys.”
“Oh, I’m sure he just loved that.”
Carmen laughs softly, shuffling into the bathroom and grabbing a hairbrush from the bathroom drawer. When she reemerges, Aurora is fiddling with the plaster on her cast.
“Come here, piccola.”
Aurora turns over her shoulder to see Carmen with the brush in her right hand.
“I could do it myself,” she says scooting toward her. “I don’t mind.”
“And neither do I,” Carmen says, patting the space next to her on the bed. Aurora hesitates for a moment before turning her back toward her. Slowly and gently, Carmen draws the brush through the soft strands of Aurora’s hair, pressing her hand against her scalp so it doesn’t tug painfully at her head.
“Does Dominic yell a lot?” Aurora asks curiously. “Like at the people who work for him?”
Carmen shakes her head. “Hardly ever.”
“Oh,” Aurora murmurs quietly, picking at the plaster on her forearm.
“He doesn’t care enough to do that.”
Aurora’s brows knit together in confusion, and she turns over her shoulder to face Carmen. “He doesn’t care enough to yell at them?” The words make no sense to her.
A smile teases Carmen’s lips as she turns Aurora’s head back to face away from her and continues to draw the brush through her hair. “Nope.”
“That doesn’t make any sense, Carmen.”
She laughs softly, shaking her head as she gathers Aurora’s hair together in her left hand and runs the brush through all of it, before opening her hand and letting the dark strands fall against her back.
“He is intimidating in different ways.”
Carmen sighs, setting the brush down on Aurora’s beside table before turning back towards her. Aurora senses this and leans back into her, resting her head in Carmen’s lap and looking up to face her. She smiles, running her fingers absently through Aurora’s hair.
“Well, very few people work for him longer than three months. He would fire someone before taking the time to yell at them.”
A brief silence settles between them. Aurora’s brows knit together in thought as Carmen runs her fingers through her hair.
“I must have made him really angry, then,” she says finally.
Carmen shakes her head.
“He cares a lot for you.”
“Enough to yell at me?”
She laughs, for a long time. Aurora’s eyes blink up at her in confusion as she regains her composure.
“Yes, enough to yell at you.”
Aurora doesn’t say anything after that, but Carmen can still sense her confusion. She leans back to lay against the comforter, and Aurora shifts to lay beside her.
“Did your father ever yell at you?” Carmen asks softly, running her nails gently up and down the length of Aurora’s arm. “For running in the street, or trying to put your hand on the stove?”
Aurora thinks for a moment before nodding silently.
“Why do you think he did that?”
She sighs lightly. “Because he didn’t want me to get hit by a car. Or burn my hand.”
“Because he cared about you. Dominic is the same way.”
“I’m sorry for lying to you,” Aurora says suddenly. Carmen pauses for a moment before continuing to run her nails along her skin.
“What did you lie about?”
“The night I gave you that present to give to him,” she explains. “I told you my mother was an old friend of his, and that it was a late Christmas present.” She shakes her head. “I don’t have a mother anymore.”
A heavy silence settles between them, filling the room from one end to the other. Suddenly, Carmen is lifting Aurora into her arms and hugging her tightly.
“I forgive you, piccola. I understand why you did it.”
Aurora nods silently against her shoulder,
“You scared Dominic very much that night, you know that?”
She nods again
“Did you apologize?”
She shakes her head.
“Maybe you could do that when he gets home.”
Carmen is only twenty-four: Dominic’s age, but there is something about her presence that is comforting, and wise beyond her years.
She glances at the clock, 9:30. Gently, she lifts Aurora off of her and down onto the bed before stepping down onto the floor.
“You’re leaving?” Aurora asks quietly.
“I’m afraid so. I have a few errands I have to run on the way home. But I will miss you.”
“I’ll miss you too, will you come see me tomorrow?”
“Would you like me to?”
A pause before Aurora nods affirmatively.
“Then I’ll be here.”
“Can you bring Shiloh again?” Aurora asks, referring to Carmen’s rescue puppy.
“If you don’t tell Ana Luisa.”
“Good. Then I’ll bring him tomorrow. Maybe we can play with him outside for a bit if it doesn’t snow too much tonight.”
Carmen blows out the candle atop Aurora’s desk, before heading toward the door.
“Buona notte, piccola.”
“Buona notte, Carmen.”
⋯ ⋯ ⋯
Half past midnight. The house in Chatham is silent as he steps inside, setting his briefcase down on the counter, along with his keys and wallet. His steps resonate quietly against the hardwood floor and he steps through the kitchen and across the front entryway. The only light in the house is the hallway upstairs; Dominic loosens his tie as he starts walking quietly up the steps.
Aurora’s room is dark inside, but the full moon casts a white glow across her sleeping form, illuminating her dark hair like a halo over her angelic face. He watches her silently for a moment before turning back toward his own bedroom across the hall. He tosses his dress shirt and tie across the room onto the sofa, followed by his belt and slacks. It isn’t until he is sliding on a pair of gray sweats that he hears Aurora cry out from her bedroom. He ties the drawstrings quickly as he steps out of his room and into hers.
She is sitting straight up in bed, cradling left her arm with her right before stretching it out in front of her. She flops back down against the bed.
“Baby?” he asks from her doorway.
She tenses suddenly, turning her head to face him.
“Are you in pain?”
Aurora shakes her head, wincing as she tries to shift into a more comfortable position. Which is enough for Dominic to step inside and kneel down beside her bed.
“Your arm? Or your head?”
A pause as she stares intently at him, the moonlight casting dark shadows along his face and hair. She grabs her arm.
“Is it sore?”
“No,” she whispers quietly. “You can go to sleep.”
His brows knit together in disproval before softening as he considers something. She watches in confusion as he lifts the covers, slipping into bed next to her and lifting her gently by the waist to lay on top of him. He keep his arms wrapped firmly, but not painfully around her waist.
“How’s this?” he asks quietly, his lips brushing lightly against her ear. “You can’t roll over this way.”
She is asleep again before she can answer.
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