Shadow & Light

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naive

Dominic

Dominic takes his time ascending the stairs. He would let Aurora think she’d fooled him, let the sweet girl have a moment to herself in her room where she would surely be hiding. The thought of Aurora running from him angers him until he has to force his legs to walk slower, take the time to garner control over himself.

Each step resonates throughout the otherwise silent hallway and intensifies the feeling of anger building in him. He feels it start in his chest and trace down his arms to his hands where he clenches the banister in a death grip.

By the time he reaches the second floor, his legs take the stairs two steps at a time. She would regret hiding from him, he thinks to himself. He would make sure of it.

He reaches her room quickly, the door open wide enough for him to step inside until his eyes adjust to the darkness and focus on her, hiding inside her room just as he knew she would be.

She sits quietly atop her bed, the one which used to be his, her soft white dress splayed out atop her folded legs as she stares silently outside the open window. Her silky brown hair tumbles down her lower back in loose curls. He knows that if he ran his fingers through the strands now, they would be just as soft as he remembered; in fact his fists unclench at the thought of doing just that, and as he leans against the doorframe and drinks her in, he can’t quite remember why he was angry in the first place.

He wants her eyes on him.

“Hiding from me, baby?” his voice is soft, the endearment rolling off his tongue in a way which feels beautifully familiar.

She turns her head quickly, her hair tumbling off her shoulders and down her back with the movement. She looks up, and when her beautiful brown eyes meet his, his every nerve has an impulse.

“You’re gonna have to try a little harder than that.”

The words are meant to be teasing, but his voice is labored, rasping deep in his chest as the magnitude of Aurora’s presence weighs over him.

At his words, she turns quickly back to face the window, bathing the room in silence once again.

Does she really think he will just leave? Adorable.

He remains in the doorway, watching intently as she stares out the window, her eyes fixated on the falling snow as the winter breeze blows some of the little ice flakes until they catch on the edge. The breeze brushes through the thin sleeves of her dress, and his eyes trace the chill which travels up her spine at the sensation. A heavy silence falls over the room, and he wonders if she knows he is still there.

He pushes himself off the doorframe, approaching the bed with soft, slow steps. She doesn’t turn, makes no sign that she even hears him. This angers him more than it should; he cannot force his eyes away from her for even a moment, yet she refuses to even look at him.

He never craved attention until he tasted hers.

His knees brush against the bed frame as he reaches her, the bed dipping slightly as he sits atop the comforter, sliding back until he faces her. Still, she only stares forward, red-rimmed eyes staring intently outside the window and refusing to acknowledge him. He leans back on his hands, taking the time to see her completely.

She always was the prettiest little girl, even at six years old. Innocent brown eyes, the softest golden-brown hair, and a sweet voice and shyness which could melt a cold man’s heart.

But now, she is beautiful.

In this light, the blurred lights of the city dance across the planes of her angelic complexion, fading in and out as the falling snow casts moving shadows along her lightly freckled skin. Little white flower buds have been laced methodically along the crown of her hair, which, along with her bare feet tucked underneath her folded legs, make her look like a little garden nymph.

He wants to wrap his hands around her waist, to feel the soft fabric of her dress bunch up in his hands as he lifts her up into his arms, to walk her along the streets of Portofino, let her reach up and run her fingers along the flowers while her little bare feet brush against his thighs with each step he takes.

It takes everything in him not to lift her from the bed right now, wrap her small form in his arms until his presence was all she could feel.

He has to turn away; he turns his head over his shoulder to face the same snowfall which she focuses so intently on. Something to distract him from the feelings he has spent months trying to repress.

“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” his own voice silences his wandering thoughts.

She focuses her eyes towards a moving car, just so that he doesn’t see the tears gathering in her eyes. God, she is the kind of beautiful that is catastrophic.

He turns back to face the glass, his voice impossibly soft as he speaks again.

“It was my favorite thing, I think. Lying here and watching it fall. Sometimes I would stare so long that my eyes would burn when I shut them.”

He turns to face her, willing her to at least look at him, to hit him, scream at him, anything.

“Do you remember walking home from school in the winter? You would climb up onto my shoulders and catch snowflakes in your hands.” A smile teases his lips, but Aurora only stares ahead silently.

His smile falls. “You would always try and show me before they melted, but there was never enough time.”

She used to climb up on his lap, fold her legs underneath her and color for hours. She would bite her lip in concentration, curl her tiny fist around the crayon. He used to sneak up behind her and grab her from the waist, lift her up over his shoulder and spin her in circles while she laughed carelessly.

She used to press her ear against his chest and let his heartbeat lull her to sleep.

As his eyes trace along her flushed cheeks and tousled hair, it occurs to him that finding Aurora had always felt like catching a snowflake. That they didn’t have much time.

“Aurora,” his voice is impossibly soft. She clenches her eyes shut. When she opens them again, they are red and shining with unshed tears. If the sight didn’t break his heart he might think it was quite beautiful.

He wraps his large hands around her legs, taking her and shifting her gently until her legs rest across his lap. Her dress rides up slightly from the action, but she makes no move to fix it, instead staring wide eyed at his hands on her legs.

“Aurora, tell me what’s wrong.”

He knows what is wrong, at least he has an idea. But he is a selfish man; he thought he would be satisfied if he could only see her eyes, but now he wants her voice as well.

She shakes her head, wiping at a traitor tear with the back of her hand. She is still too stunned, too overcome to cry out. He knows his presence is too much for her, especially when she does not understand his absence. He wishes he could find the words to explain, to make her understand, yet everything he could possibly say in this moment seems embarrassingly inadequate.

He runs his warm hands up and down the length of her calves, warming the skin there as her mind works quickly.

“Do you know where I was doing business last night?”

Her eyes lift to meet his with a hesitant curiosity. She shakes her head, sniffling slightly.

“Andalusia, Spain. I flew here to see you,” he lifts one of his hands to tuck a loose strand of hair behind her ear before dropping his hand back to the soft skin of her leg.

“Why?”

She speaks so softly he thinks for a moment he imagined it. If it is possible for one word to embody both her innocence and brilliant intuition, it does.

“You know why.”

She shakes her head, her eyes desperate as they search his.

“Aurora, you know why.”

“No I don’t.” She speaks softly, yet with a boldness he would never tolerate from anyone else. He can’t help but think she wears defiance beautifully.

“Because I love you.”

She slides her legs out from between his legs and hands and shifts away from him.

“You shouldn’t throw that word around,” she says, stealing her eyes away from him.

His voice lowers dangerously. “You don’t believe that I love you?”

Her teary eyes and silence are answer enough.

He leans forward until she is entrapped between his arms. “You’re my peace, Aurora. My entire life.” Before he realizes it he is leaning down, pressing a soft kiss to her forehead and whispering against the skin there. “I love you. I’ve never stopped loving you.”

Her small hands rest gently, indecisively atop his shoulders before she pushes him away, stepping down from the bed and away from him.

“I’m not stupid,” her voice is louder now, filled with hurt as she steps away. “Lie to yourself, Dominic. But don’t lie to me.”

“I’m not lying to you, baby.”

“Don’t call me that,” her breathing is short and sporadic, her chest rising and falling quickly as she fumbles around for the right words. “I-I don’t even know you anymore.”

At this he stands from the bed. Standing at his full height, he towers over her small frame and her confidence disappears. She watches nervously as he steps closer towards her until she would have to tilt her head up to look at him. Instead, she stares directly at his chest in front of her.

“It’s still me, Aurora,” he grabs her wrists in his and lifts her open hands up to rest against his neck. She looks up to meet his eyes; he can see the confusion swimming in them before she tries to pull away.

He grips her hands tighter, moving them down the length of his shoulders, his chest, and across his abdomen. He revels in the feeling of her soft hands running against the muscles there. His eyes darken before he breathes out. “Still me. I promise.”

She shakes her head, planting her feet firmly against the ground and pulling with more force.

“Dominic, stop it,” she demands, but he doesn’t listen, holding tightly but not painfully. Finally, she pulls one hand free, turning towards the door and pulling on the other one.

Suddenly, he slides her one hand under his tie and against the center of his chest, and her efforts stop completely.

Her little hand fits perfectly against his heart and she turns to face him, her eyes focused intently on her hand there as she remembers. She bites her lip tightly, the tears which rim the edges of her eyes threatening to spill over. She tries to pull it away, but he brings her closer.

“Dominic, don’t.”

He reaches for her other hand but she pulls it away. When he reaches again she places both hands against his chest and shoves as hard as she can.

“Stop!” He stumbles back, not from the force of her hands but from surprise. She never shoved him that way before, never rose her voice at him. He feels something rising in him, anger and something else but he conquers it, unclenching his fists and looking down to meet her eyes.

Tears stream steadily down her face and neck, her lip trembling as she tries to hold them back. She wipes at her cheeks with the back of her hands, only for more to spill over.

“I hate you,” she breathes out. “I hate you for leaving. I hate you for lying to me.”

A heavy silence falls over the room, her words like a loaded gun, opening fire at his heart each time the word hate leaves her precious lips.

The next moment there is an empty breeze where she was once standing, the sound of her little bare feet rushing down the stairs the only sign that she had been there at all, telling him she hated him.

Only when he can no longer hear her footsteps does he turn and punch the wall nearest him.

The plaster crumbles around his fist, dropping to the ground in defeat like him. He steps back, running his now battered fist through the length of his hair and pulling at the ends.

He paces madly along her room, his hands shaking with the urge to punch something else as he tries to see reason.

After what feels like ages, he stands in the middle of the floor, shutting his eyes tightly and breathing deeply. He turns to inspect the damage on the wall.

He pushes her dresser slightly to the left to cover the hole, before walking over to her window and shutting it to stop the cold air from flooding in. Only then does he breathe out.

I hate you for leaving.

The word hate doesn’t belong anywhere near his sweet, precious little Angel.

He shakes his head. He will make her love him again. He will spend his entire life trying if that’s what it takes.

With that thought, he turns and starts down the stairs.

Aurora

She runs as fast as her feet can carry her. Down the first set of stairs, she jumps down the last couple steps and sprints around the corner and down the second set.

You’re my peace, Aurora. My entire life.

She shakes her frustratedly; she hates how he can so easily shatter the confidence she builds without him. She hates how easy it is for him to leave.

I love you. I’ve never stopped loving you.

She stops a couple steps above the main floor, the sound of laughing and music echoing around her as she wipes at any trace of tears below her eyes. He doesn’t love her. He may have before, but he doesn’t now.

But the look of hurt in his eyes when you said you hated him.

She is convinced she imagined it, stepping down the last couple steps and through the crowds of people. She just needs to find Christian, or Junie, or-

She is stopped suddenly when a large hand grabs her by the wrist, pulling her into an even larger chest. She looks up nervously, her shoulders falling in relief when she sees a familiar set of green eyes and dark hair.

“You scared the shit out of me, Aurora Davis.”

Everett’s eyes fall upon her tousled hair, and then her red and teary eyes, and instead of waiting for an answer he pulls her out of the dark main room and toward the kitchen, pouring her a glass of water and holding it to her mouth.

She grabs it with two hands, downing half of it before setting it aside on the counter beside them. Christian walks in just then, breathing out a sigh of relief as he sees her standing beside Everett.

He sees Everett’s hand running soothingly down the length of her back and refrains from asking anything.

“I’m sorry for scaring you,” she says, finally, “I just needed some air.”

Both boys see easily through her lie; she can tell by the look they share with each other, but they don’t say anything about it.

“Come dance with me, Rora?” Christian asks instead. “I think June and Leo are still outside.”

She nods appreciatively, reaching for his open hand and following him out of the kitchen. Everett falls into step on her other side, his hand resting casually on the small of her back.

They’ve just reached the screen door when she is hit with the feeling of eyes on her back. She turns around, spotting Dominic leaning against the banister, arms crossed as he stares at her from across the room.

She curses her heart for fluttering at the sight of his undeniably handsome features, the way the sleeves of his suit jacket embrace his arms so tightly when he folds them this way, how his dark brown hair looks nearly black, gelled back so effortlessly, and how, although his tanned face is clean-shaven, the sharp lines of his jaw and darkness in his expression make him looks years above twenty-four.

He smirks carelessly because it is easy not to care when you have everything.

He steps down onto the floor and back toward the entryway. She watches intently as he slides his arms through the sleeves of his coat, knowing very well that this may be the last time she ever sees him. She hates the sinking feeling which settles in her heart as he stuffs a hand casually in his pocket and slips out the door, shutting it behind him.

You don’t believe that I love you?

In this moment, she wishes he did.

Sleep didn’t come easily that night. In fact, Aurora is not quite sure she ever fell asleep, but knows she must have because now the sky is a dark blue instead of black, and when she leans over to check her phone it reads 5:30 AM.

She falls back against the comforter, shutting her eyes tightly before forcing them back open again. Blinking tiredly up at the ceiling, she leans back over to check her phone again. 5:32. Today was Tuesday, and she had to get to school earlier than the others to make her English teacher’s office hours. She would have to catch the 7:20 train.

She pushes her white comforter off of her, a chill running down her spine as the cool air hits her skin, and then her feet as they touch the cold floor.

She is still in her dress from last night, so someone must have put her to bed. She lifts her fingers to brush against her face and it feels clean. Christian wouldn’t have thought to wash her face, but Junie probably wouldn’t have put her in bed alone, so she isn’t quite sure who brought her upstairs. She entertains the thought as she turns on the shower, turning the knob almost all the way to hot.

Sliding the dress off of her skin, she throws it into her laundry basket before stepping under the warm spray.

Her shoulders relax instantly as the water hits her back. She runs her lavender shampoo through her hair, shutting her eyes as she leans back and rinses it out. Olivia got her some kind of vanilla scented conditioner from Lush for her birthday; she isn’t quite sure what it does, but Olivia seemed excited about it so she runs that through her hair as well, using the matching soap which it came with.

She turns the shower to cool for a moment, letting the cold water run over her face in hopes that it will wake her up before shutting off the shower completely, grabbing a soft brown towel from her bathroom counter and running it over her skin and through her hair.

She pulls on the stockings of her uniform and looks in her closet to realize that the only school sweater hanging up is the one too big on her to tuck in to her skirt, so she has to wear the dress instead. She slides the dark blue material on over her sweater, straightening it out until the emblem rests on the left side of her chest where it’s meant to.

Already, the dress begins to irritate the skin at the back of her neck, reminding her why she wears the skirt instead.

She stumbles tiredly back into the bathroom, rubbing at her eyes with the back of her hands before drying her hair and reaching blindly for a couple of hair pins, using them to pull a strand of her wavy hair back into a half-up which actually looks nicer than she intended it to.

Once she’s done, she shuts off the light, walking back to her dresser and reaching mindlessly for her locket.

When her thin, cool fingers touch the metal she remembers the feeling of her hand against Dominic’s heart and the events of the night before come rushing back to her. She runs the chain through her fingers, running her thumb over the pendant’s cool surface.

She is tempted to rid of it, throw it out the window where it would sink beneath the snow or catch in a storm drain somewhere.

She shudders, holding it tightly against her chest to protect it from her angry thoughts.

Clipping it in place around her neck, she hides it beneath the stiff fabric of her dress. She is just about to leave her room when she remembers something.

Turning back toward her dresser, she grabs the bracelet Everett and Leo bought for her, the one with the five stars and clips it in place around her left wrist.

When she looks up again, her eyes fall on the present which has been left on her bedside table. She remembers the same neatly wrapped box tucked underneath Dominic’s arm last night as he stood in the doorway. He must have left it for her to find.

She moves to inspect it more closely, her fingers brushing against the ribbon which ties it together, before thinking better of it and leaving it wrapped.

She makes her way down the stairs quietly; the little ones on the second floor don’t start school until later and she doesn’t want to wake them. She takes each step quickly, not using the banister because it creaks too much.

The kitchen is silent save for the sound of car tires crunching against snow covered gravel outside. A new frost covers all the windows, filtering the small amount of light which is beginning to peak through the brick buildings.

The tile is cool against her stocking clad feet as she pulls the tin of coffee out from the pantry and scoops some into the filter. She hums softly to herself, a song she danced to with Christian the night before. It goes something like, do you know this house is falling apart? Can I say this house is falling apart?

It’s the only part she remembers, so she sings that and hums the rest, dancing and bobbing her head as she moves about the kitchen.

The sun is rising now, so she knows it’s time to leave soon and begins packing her backpack. Binder, water, AP Lit notebook; she realizes she left her calculus book in the downstairs office, so she runs to go grab it.

As she scans her eyes around the office for the dark blue book, she hears the sound of the patio door opening and shutting quietly. The sound falls to the back of her mind as she spots the cover of her book, grabbing it with both hands and walking back into the kitchen.

Sliding it into her backpack, she zips it up just as the coffee finishes. She pours some into a metal thermos, adding some milk and a little bit of vanilla as she hums the lyrics of that song, the one about someone called Anna Sun, and it occurs to her that she has no clue who that is.

Screwing the lid on tight she grabs her house key and looks up to check the time.

And there, standing right in her line of vision is Dominic, leaning against the back patio door and staring straight at her.

She stumbles back, her eyes widening in surprise as she stares back at him. His hair is loose and messy, falling in all directions atop his head as though he’d run his hands through it a hundred times over, but it suits him, along with his Armani suit and Rolex watch which peaks out from under the sleeve of his dress shirt as he crosses his arms over his chest.

“How did you get in here?” she asks finally.

“The door.”

Her eyes fall on the key ring which dangles from his long fingers and if possible she becomes even more confused.

He never stayed past her birthday. Not since she was twelve years old.

“You’re headed to school early,” he states more than he asks, his eyes falling to the strap of her backpack against her right shoulder.

She nods, stepping back hesitantly with her coffee in her left hand, key lanyard in her right.

“Why?”

Her mouth opens and shuts in helpless confusion before she breathes out, “I need my teacher to read over my midterm paper.”

Her eyes fall to his chest, trying to form a reasonable explanation for his presence but coming up short.

He nods, pushing himself off of the door and stepping closer. “I’ll drive you.”

Her head snaps up to his and she shakes her head abruptly.

“I can take the train.”

But already Dominic is walking toward the front door, hand stuffed casually in the pocket of his trousers as his leather dress shoes resonate against the tile.

He turns when she doesn’t follow him.

“I wasn’t asking, baby.”

Her eyes widen and cheeks flush at that stupid name. She stands practically frozen in the middle of the kitchen until finally Dominic comes back, walking with sure, purposeful strides back into the kitchen and grabbing her backpack off of her shoulder. He slides it onto his own before reaching for her hand.

She just stares down at it in confusion.

It’s the same one that held her hand against his pounding heartbeat last night; now that she looks closer at it she notices the broken skin and bruised cracks along his knuckles. His fingers are long, calloused and worn like those of a pianist, or painter, or something romantic like that.

He gives up on reaching for her hand and settles on her waist instead, slipping his arm around her and pushing her gently in front of him towards the door. She walks reluctantly, past the front entryway and reaching for the handle of the front door before she is turned around by his arm around her waist.

Aurora stumbles into his chest and his large hands grip her forearms to keep her from falling. She looks up with flushed cheeks to meet his eyes. They look down at her with an emotion she can’t put a name to, but one that makes her want to hide her face behind her hair.

His hands release their grip on her arms as he nods toward the coat closet next to the door.

“Put your coat on.”

She shakes her head. “I have a sweater on already.”

His eyes darken dangerously. “I wasn’t asking.”

With shaking hands she slides on her coat hastily and then the black shoes of her uniform onto her stocking clad feet. She reaches for the door only to be pulled back yet again by Dominic’s hand on her waist.

He holds her blue and gray knitted scarf in his hands, using one hand to lift her hair and the other to wrap the scarf loosely around her head and neck.

“Perfect,” he murmurs contentedly under his breath, before reaching around her for the door and pulling it open, guiding her out towards his car by the small of her back.

The morning is calm and quiet as the two make their way down the steps of the front porch. She is painfully aware of Dominic’s hand where it rests against the small of her back, leading her to a car parked against the sidewalk. The car is completely black; even covered in fresh snow she recognizes it as an Audi R8.

She wonders when he bought it, whether this is his only car, or if it is just one of several. The thought is a bitter reminder of just how little she knows about him.

“What’s wrong, Aurora baby?”

She looks up at him, then back to the car before shaking her head. His brows scrunch together in confusion before he leans over and opens the door for her, helping her inside and leaning over to buckle her seatbelt for her.

If the magnitude of his presence didn’t have her brain working in overdrive, she would have insisted on doing it herself.

She doesn’t even hear him open the driver’s side door, but the next thing she knows he is buckled in and starting the car.

The road is slick and narrow but Dominic navigates it effortlessly, leaving Aurora to stare silently out the window at the falling snow and brick homes which line the icy sidewalk. She finds herself wishing it was fall again, when all the trees which grew up and over the roads met each other in the middle and Charter street was one endless canopy of red, yellow, and orange from end to end.

She fiddles nervously with the back of her dress, the part which scratches against her neck. The drive to Concord prep is forty minutes long, so she leans her head against the window, praying to God that the silence will turn comfortable eventually.

“Did you open your present?”

Her heart flutters in her chest at the sound of his deep, raspy voice before she shakes her head, remembering the wrapped gift which sits untouched by her bed.

He glances at her, then back at the road.

“Why not?”

“Because I didn’t want it.”

She tucks her legs underneath her, her eyes focusing on the snow which clings to the icy window.

“How do you know you don’t want it if you didn’t open it?”

She shrugs, picking at the seam of her dress. “Because I don’t want something you can put in a box.”

A small smile teases the edge of his lips as he focuses forward at the road. “Tell me and it’s yours, Little-bit.”

She is silent for a moment as she considers whether she should tell him, staring forward at the road just like he does.

“I want to travel somewhere.”

Her answer surprises him; she can tell because he doesn’t answer her straight away.

“Where would you like to go?” he asks finally.

She looks down at her hands in her lap, fiddling distractedly with the golden bracelet.

“I wouldn’t tell anyone where. I would just leave.”

“You wouldn’t bring anyone?”

She shakes her head, the waves of her hair tumbling down her shoulders and around her scarf with the movement. “No. Just myself.”

“But your friends would miss you,” his voice is soft, insistent, trying to get her to see reason.

He doesn’t realize she is doing exactly the same.

“Maybe. But I’d try and visit them. Maybe once a year.”

At this his eyes widen in surprise, and he turns to face her. “Once a year? How long would you be gone?”

She meets his eyes for the first time since this morning in the kitchen, light on dark, shadow on light.

“Six years.”

A painful realization crosses his eyes before they turn expressionless once again as he faces the road.

The rest of the drive is silent. It feels like ages before Dominic is finally pulling into the school’s parking lot.

Aurora is quick to reach for the door, but his hand gripping her wrist suddenly stops her.

She looks back at him in confusion, but his eyes are still focused on the steering wheel as he thinks hard about something.

Finally, he shakes his head, turning to face her. His eyes burn so intensely into hers that she can’t bring herself to look away.

“I love you, Aurora.”

The words run so naturally from his lips, but the statement staggers her.

Is that all there was to it? Does he mean to sit there and imply that the six intervening years were to be casually forgotten and life resumed as if there had been no six years and no absent mother and no holding company to love more than her?

No, he didn’t love her.

She attempts to pull her wrist from his hand but he only tightens his hold.

“You don’t have to say it back, you can feel however you want about me. Hell, you can hate me, Aurora, but you will not doubt me when I tell you I love you.”

The air in the car becomes extremely heavy as his dark eyes burn into hers.

“Do you understand?”

She nods hesitantly.

“Words, Aurora. I want your words.”

“Yes Dominic, I understand.”

He nods, satisfied with her response as he releases her wrist. Opening his door he circles the back of the car, his brows furrowing in irritation as he sees that she has already opened her own door and is stepping out.

He lifts her backpack, holding it so that she can slide her arm through. His bruised fingers make quick work of the strap, tightening it so that it rests more comfortably atop her shoulder.

Then they move to her scarf, eyes focused intently on his hands as he adjusts it to cover her neck. “Who is bringing you home?”

“My friend, Everett,” she answers as her fingers move back to pull at the itchy fabric of her uniform at the back of her neck.

His eyes darken dangerously before they fall to her hands behind her.

“Turn around,” he demands.

She looks up at him in confusion, making no move to turn.

Gently, he grips her shoulders and turns her so her back faces him. A chill shivers down her spine as his warm fingers gather her hair over her shoulder and brush against her neck, sliding against her skin, just underneath her dress before reaching what he is looking for.

With a swift tug, he easily rips off the cloth tag of her dress, the one irritating her skin. He rubs his fingers over her reddened skin before sliding the tag into the pocket of his trousers.

She turns around nervously.

“Better?” he asks, a smile dancing along the edge of his lips.

“Thank you.”

He nods, lifting his hand to rest against the curve of her waist, his thumb rubbing circles against her stomach.

His eyes focus intently on his hand before looking up from beneath his thick, dark lashes to her eyes. He looks thoughtfully at them for a moment before he leans down, pressing a firm kiss to her forehead and whispering against her skin,

“I want you right here after school, I’m picking you up.”

The words don’t sink in immediately, but when they do she backs away abruptly.

“I just told you Everett would take me home.”

He shrugs, stepping back and opening the drivers side door. “And I just told you no.”

“And she marked off every. single. one. That’s an eighteen percent drop, Aurora! Can she do that?”

The bell ending first period had just rung, signaling the start of break. Aurora nods along as Junie waves her most recent pre-calculus test angrily in the air, sliding her backpack to her front and taking out her calculus book to replace it with her AP Lit notebook before offering Junie a sympathetic smile.

“Let me see what she marked off,” she says, zipping her backpack closed and sliding it back on her shoulder.

Junie hands her the test, tangling her fingers absently in the strands of her golden blonde hair.

Aurora’s eyes scan intently for a few moments before she bites her lip nervously.

“Right here,” she explains, running her fingers across Junie’s markings on the first question. “There’s a small mistake in your notation. Easy fix.”

Junie scrunches her brows in confusion as she leans over Aurora’s shoulder.

“You put that the limit of f(x) as x approaches 0 equals this quantity.”

Junie blinks in confusion. “Because it does.”

Aurora flips through the test, her eyes catching on the red ink marring each page. “No, June. A limit is what the function looks like it should equal at x approaches... 0 in this case. Saying that the limit equals f(x) is like saying that ‘subtract equals two’. I think that’s why your teacher marked each one off-”

She is sidetracked by a soft ping from her phone.

Aurora hands the test back to Junie, sliding out her phone from her backpack; the screen lights up to reveal a text from Dominic.

Dominic: Your last class today ends 12:07?

She types out a quick response, and before she can slide the phone back into her backpack, Junie snatches it from between her hands, looking incredulously between the screen and up at Aurora.

“This better not be the Dominic I think it is,” her voice is tense, the test in her hand long-forgotten.

Aurora reaches for her phone, only for Junie to pull it away.

“Why is he texting you,” she looks back at the screen, “And why are you texting him?”

She looks up at Aurora, who’s face flushes nervously. The break bell rings and students begin rushing around them, opening and slamming lockers as they rush to get to class.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” Junie asks, this time a small amount of hurt leaks through. She looks down at the phone in disbelief.

“It’s nothing, June, honest.”

She shakes her head, handing the phone back to Aurora. Throwing her test carelessly into the back of her locker, Junie slams it shut, sliding her backpack up higher onto her shoulder and starting towards her next class.

“Junie, wait!”

“It’s AP Lit time!”

Aurora turns around at the sound of Everett’s bubbly voice, before turning immediately back to Junie’s retreating form.

“Everything alright, Angel?” he places a gentle hand atop her shoulder and she shakes her head.

“Junie’s upset with me.”

His brows scrunch in concern before his hand falls to her back, leading toward the stairs which lead to the 100 wing.

“Why’s that?”

Aurora shakes her head, “She’s mad I didn’t tell her something... but it didn’t have anything to do with her!” she looks up at his understanding eyes, her flushed cheeks reflecting her frustration, “Why does everyone have to know everything about me all the time?”

Everett runs a soothing hand down the length of her hair before resting his arm over her shoulders. “I suppose that’s the price of having friends that care about you.”

She sighs, realizing that Everett does have a point. She would rather have friends which care too much rather than too little. But the stress of Junie being upset with her settles in the pit of her stomach, growing with every step she takes toward class.

When they reach their AP Lit class, the hallway is mostly empty save for a few students scrambling to get to classes. He opens the door for the both of them, nudging her inside before letting himself in. They sit down at their designated seats in the middle of the room, waiting for their teacher.

The minutes tick by like hours in AP Lit; Aurora doesn’t mind reading, in fact she even enjoys it with the right book. It’s the themes, analysis, and endless writing which makes her wish the polished floor beneath her would just swallow her whole. She was never a good writer.

“Hamlet is one of Shakespeare’s most complex, most driven characters, as I’m sure you all have gathered from the play thus far,” their teacher, Mr. Pakhomova explains.

He is relatively young in comparison to the majority of teachers at Concord prep. He speaks passionately about the novels they read, and it makes Aurora feel worse about her writing.

Dominic used to always help her, write out her ideas as she spoke them aloud to him, prompt her with questions until she drew the right conclusions.

“I want you in groups of two. You can choose your partner, but everyone is presenting next Tuesday, so I advise you to choose someone who won’t be a hindrance. You will receive one grade.”

Aurora turns to Everett in a panic. “Wait, what are we presenting?”

Everett smiles a boyish smile, leaning casually back in his chair. “Don’t sweat it. I’ll explain when we meet up to work on it.”

The bell rings, signaling the end of third period. They stand, packing their laptops and notebooks as the class files out.

“How does right now sound?” Everett asks as they make their way down the stairs toward the school lot. Everett and Aurora shared a free period: period seven, and went home early on Tuesdays and Thursdays. “I’ll drive us to mine.”

Aurora bites her lip nervously. “I, um, can’t today, Ev. I have to help Miss Amy at home.”

Everett smiles easily, throwing an arm around her shoulders. “No worries, Angel. We can crank it out this weekend. I’ll drive you home.”

“Oh, I don’t need a ride. Thank you, though.”

His brows scrunch together in confusion as he looks down at her. “How’d you get here, then?”

“My friend drove me this morning.”

“Your friend?” Everett tests the word on his lips before shaking his head. “Not Christian or Leo?”

“No, you don’t know him.”

The pair walks in silence until they reach the outside, the cold air blasting through the doorway almost immediately after Everett opens the door. He shrugs off the jacket of his uniform, resting it over Aurora’s shoulders.

“Thank you,” she smiles through chattering teeth.

He nods. “This friend wouldn’t have anything to do with your argument with Junie, would he?”

Aurora chooses not to respond, trudging quietly through the snow as Dominic’s car comes into view.

“Angel, let me take you home.”

She shakes her head, imagining a confrontation between Everett and Dominic that ends in one of them bleeding on the ground. And it probably wouldn’t be Dominic. She shudders.

“Ev, really it’s fine. I’ll see you tomorrow.” She gives him a quick hug, handing him his jacket and turning away before he wraps his hand around her arm.

“Aurora, I’m serious. If you don’t want to tell me what’s going on, fine. But I want to drive you home.”

She shakes her head, looking nervously at the black Audi tucked away in the far corner of the lot. This time, she notices the tall figure leaning against the hood of the car staring straight at them.

“I’ll explain later, Ev. Let it go, please?”

He shakes his head, backing away towards his car in defeat.

“Text me when you get home, Aurora.”

She doesn’t like the sound of her full name on his lips; he says it like a sigh of anger or frustration. She stares at his back for a few seconds as he walks away, without a goodbye.

She doesn’t know how long she stands there in the snow until a hand on her shoulder brings her back to Earth; she turns around and meets the concerned eyes of Dominic.

She is silent as he slides her backpack off of her shoulder, taking off his suit jacket and sliding her arms through the sleeves.

He sweeps a loose strand of her behind her ear, a few strands sticking to the wet surface of her cheeks from the falling snow. She doesn’t say anything, clenching her fists as a foreign feeling settles in the pit of her stomach.

Anger. At Everett for doing too much. At Junie for listening too little. At Dominic for not being their to help her understand his absence. All of it is his fault.

He slides his hand down the length of her arm, towering over his figure and making her feel like a child. He wraps his hand around hers, pulling her gently towards his car.

She plants her feet to the ground and he turns toward her.

“You’re freezing, Aurora. You can ignore me in the car.”

She tugs her hand from his hold. She knows she is being childish, but she can’t stand to look at him right now, let alone be in the car with him for forty minutes.

His eyes darken dangerously, but this time it doesn’t scare her. It only makes her more angry.

Junie was upset with her because of him. She had to lie to Everett and now he was upset too.

“Aurora.”

Her name on his lips holds a warning, his low tone daring her to turn around and try to walk away.

She does.

The next moment his hands are at her waist, lifting her up effortlessly into his arms like he did when she was twelve years old. Her little frame fits just as easily against his muscled chest; his right arm braces her around her back, his left wrapping around her legs as she struggles in his firm hold.

“Stop.” His voice growls out dangerously in a command which has her surrendering in his arms. He carries her easily to the car in silence, like holding a child.

When he reaches the car, he sets her down inside, buckling her seatbelt quickly before resting his hands against the doorframe and leaning down to her level.

“Wanna tell me what this is about?”

She shrinks down under the weight of his stare, feeling the blood rise to her cold cheeks. She shakes her head.

After a moment of contemplation, he shuts the door, turning on the engine and the heater. He doesn’t reverse out straight away.

“Aurora, baby, tell me what’s wrong.” She turns toward the window and he sighs in defeat before pulling slowly out onto the road.

The drive home is even longer than the one to school that morning; neither speaks a word. Dominic runs his hands repeatedly through his dark, messy hair, pulling roughly at the ends.

Aurora just folds her legs underneath her and stares out the window.

The moment they finally pull up to the group home, Aurora is unbuckling her seatbelt and stepping outside onto the snowy pavement with her backpack in tow. But Dominic is one step ahead of her, shutting off the engine and rounding the car until she is trapped between him and the passenger side door.

“You’re ignoring me,” he states more than he asks, looking at her expectantly. She moves to step around him but he wraps his hand around her arm. “Why?”

Because you ignored me for the last six years and I never got to ask why.

Aurora tugs her wrist gently from his hold, reaching up behind her neck until her fingers find the familiar clasp behind her neck. She undoes it, wrapping the thin chain around her hand and lifting the locket from underneath her dress. She runs her thumb over the pendant, wiping away the bits of snow which catch on the surface.

She looks up to see Dominic eyeing the locket, his eyes widening in realization before they meet hers.

She holds out the locket to him, placing it gently in the palm of his hand.

His eyes turn so dark they hardly look brown.

“Put it back on, Aurora.”

She shakes her head, stepping around him and starting towards the front door before hesitating. She turns to face him.

“I blamed myself for you leaving. And I hated myself for it.”

His eyes meet hers with an intensity that she cannot possibly comprehend. She has to step back.

“I don’t want your locket,” she breathes out. “I don’t want your presents, I don’t want your money, and I don’t want your promises-”

“Baby,” his voice sounds like a gasp for air, pleading with her as he steps toward her. She shakes her head, stepping back up the steps to the house.

“You promised you would come back. You lied to me. All you ever do is lie to me.” She grips the door handle in her hand. It’s cold but her hand is colder.

“I want you to leave, Dominic. And I don’t want to see you anymore.”

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