Shadow & Light

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tribulation

Aurora

Crying in his arms had not been Aurora’s plan. Then again, nothing involving Dominic ever was.

Now, as he focuses ahead at the icy road in front of them, bruised knuckles resting loosely atop the wheel, early sunlight illuminating the dark stubble along his jaw, he is quiet. Part of her thinks it’s because he knows she is overwhelmed and needs him not to speak. And lately, he had taken it upon himself to be everything she needed him to be.

So as she watches the flakes of ice which cling to the window and eventually melt into the growing sheet of ice which overtakes the glass and blurs the view of the city as it speeds past, she thinks. About comets and asteroids and impact events. During physics class the Tuesday before last, Mr. Hirano had said that while the initial impact of an astronomical object to Earth holds enough energy to cause lasting geological damage to the area around it, it’s the events following the collision which are often the most devastating.

Dominic is her comet. And this was only the beginning.

The thought sends a nervous chill down her spine. She had never thought that way when she first met him. He was older than she was, but that never mattered; he was her best friend. And while his presence had always been captivating, it never hurt this bad before.

She doesn’t realize how much time has passed until Dominic is pulling into the school parking lot, parking in his usual spot beneath the willow tree which acts as a canopy against the falling snow which pours down just as heavily as it has for the past three days with very few breaks in between. He kills the engine, bathing both of them in absolute silence. Neither makes any move to get out of the car.

Outside, students in winter coats and scarves laugh and talk excitedly, walking quickly into the brick building to escape the snow. Her eyes follow them in the rearview mirror before meeting her hands which rest folded in her lap. From the corner of her eye, she can see him staring thoughtfully out the front window. The stress of his business has aged him, but if possible it only makes him look more handsome, in a darker way. Like he knows a lot of things that she doesn’t. Does he know about comets too? Does he know that he is one?

She tries to leave the car quickly, anything to escape the sudden tension which has overtaken them. But Dominic is one step ahead of her, rounding the car quickly and closing her door before reaching out for her wrist. His voice is deep where it rasps out from behind her.

“Always running from me.”

She does not turn to face him, can’t bring herself to look up and meet his eyes which will surely hold nothing but his disappointment in her. She tries to tug her wrist from his hold and walk towards the school building, but his grip is too tight. It occurs to her that this man, the one who’s chest she slammed her fists into just an hour before, could break both her wrists with one hand if he wanted. The thought has her surrendering to his grip but not turning.

“Aurora, look at me.”

He pulls gently on her wrist, enough to force her eyes onto his. When her dark pupils do meet his, they are rimming with unshed tears, meeting his hesitantly like a child caught doing something they shouldn’t have. She is so small, her eyes and face so childlike, speaking a naivety to her own beauty that is ethereal. It could draw him to his knees and it has before.

She reaches her hand up hesitantly, her fingers shaking as they brush against the cool, wet surface of her cheeks. She brings the same hand in front of her eyes, her brows furrowing at the sight of her tears.

“I-I don’t know what’s happening to me,” she speaks softly, but Dominic hears. Her wide, panicked eyes meet his as if to say tell me, tell me how to deal with what I am feeling.

He couldn’t possibly. So, nestled in the shadows beneath the willow tree which protects them from the pouring snow and from everything, he pulls her into his arms. He runs his bruised fingers soothingly through the soft strands of her hair, resting them there as he presses a firm kiss to the top of her head. And then another to the same spot. She releases a shaky breath into his chest while his gentle hand continues its course through her hair.

“Why are you here?” she asks. There is no bitterness, no fists to his chest and no rise in her voice.

A minute passes. And then another. The hands which stroke her hair and back wrap around to grip her arms, pushing her back gently and forcing her eyes to meet his. She wants to wipe away the tears which have gathered around her eyes, but his grip on her arms is tight so she just looks at the ground instead.

“Hey,” he leans down, trying to force her gaze onto his. But she won’t look at him.

She is embarrassed. For crying the second time this morning, for giving away just how much his presence affects her.

“Baby, look at me.”

For the way her eyes linger a moment too long on his lips before flickering up to his dark eyes. A sad smile teases the edge of his lips.

“There you are,” he cooes softly, wiping away her tears with his warm hands. “Ah, I missed you.”

His large hands run up her tiny arms, the fabric of her dark blue knitted sweater soft against his calloused skin. She blushes when his hands reach her neck, gripping each side softly.

He leans down, nibbling teasingly at her jaw before pressing his lips against her soft skin. She can’t stop the giggle which escapes from the ticklish sensation before covering her mouth quickly with her hand. She feels him smile against her skin and tries to push him away.

He lets her push him back, but keeps her at arms length with a firm grip on her waist as she crosses her arms and looks down at her feet. His calloused fingers beneath her chin force her eyes back up to his.

“I missed you,” he murmurs softly, the teasing in his tone no longer there. He leans his forehead against hers. “God, I missed you so much.”

His warm hands slide under her coat and grip her waist through the fabric of her sweater and dress. He rests his head against her shoulder, burying his face into her neck and breathing in deeply, losing himself in her. He feels her palms rest against his abdomen, waiting for the moment where she will push him away but it never comes. Instead, a beautifully familiar warmth spreads through him as she grips her little fingers hesitantly to the fabric of his dress shirt, brushing against his abdomen.

The sound of the school bell brings them back to Earth. Dominic sighs softly against her neck, pressing his lips against the skin there. A shiver runs down her spine and she hopes he doesn’t notice.

She feels him smile against her neck. He noticed.

He presses another kiss against her neck. And then another against her jaw and below her ear. Until Aurora pushes softly against his chest and he steps away.

“I’m here because I love you,” she looks up at him when she realizes he is answering her earlier question. “And I left because I love you. I-don’t look at me that way, I know you’re too smart for that answer, but I can’t give you a better one. Not right now.”

She tries to step back but he leans down, tightening his grip on her waist.

“I could give you everything else. Anything else. I’ll take you to New York with me this Sunday, to Grand Central and we’ll take the train back from there, I know you’ve always wanted to. And next Friday you could fly with me to Verona, we’ll climb the Torre dei Lamberti and watch the snow fall there from where it starts, we’ll look right into it. And we could pull into Torino at dawn, see the sun reflect from thousands of windows over the mountains there. I’ve never seen it at sunrise, but I imagine it’s quite beautiful. We’ll see it together, for the first time.”

He doesn’t wait for an answer, just wraps her scarf loosely around her head and then her neck, holding out her backpack for her to slide her arm through and focusing intently on the strap as he tightens it to rest comfortably atop her shoulder. She whispers softly, as though afraid he might actually hear her.

“You-you want to leave again?”

His hands tense at her question. A piece of his heart breaks at her attempt to hide the sadness in her voice.

He lifts his eyes to hers, speaking emphatically.

“Only if you come with me.”

“What if I don’t?”

“Then I’ll stay right here.”

⋯ ⋯ ⋯

The minutes pass like hours in calculus. Aurora tries to lose herself in the numbers scrawled neatly across the pages, but it is a near impossible task. She is vaguely of the problem being written on the board, but her thoughts cannot move one inch without stumbling into some piece of Dominic. And when they stray long enough from him, they only fall to Everett, to his empty seat beside her. He hasn’t been to calculus in two days.

She had never seen him so upset before. And she wasn’t entirely sure what he was upset about.

Dominic Carter is not a good man.

She used to grip Dominic’s thumb with her entire hand, used to fall asleep in his lap while he worked on the laptop he borrowed from school. He taught her how to read when her kindergarten teacher was too frustrated with her. He’d sit with her and sound the words out with her until she could do it herself. He is a good man. That is why it hurt so badly when he left.

“Miss Davis?”

Her eyes snap up to Mr. Nichols, who looks across the class to her from where he stands by the board.

“Yes, sir?”

“The answer, please.”

She looks down at her blank paper, before staring intently at the board. Some students in the class mistake her silence for uncertainty, and laugh quietly to each other.

“Mean value theorem doesn’t apply because there’s a discontinuity on the interval at, um... x equals negative one. So you can’t really guarantee any point, because that might be where the discontinuity is, it could equal anything. Th-there isn’t an answer, is what I’m trying to say.”

Mr. Nichols looks disapprovingly at her pen and paper, before nodding in defeat. “That’s correct, Miss Davis. Please stay with us.”

“Yes, sir.”

Mr. Nichols turns around to face the board again and Ezra flips him off from where he sits to her right. She bites her lip to suppress her smile.

The bell rings not long after. Aurora paces quickly through the wide hallways to her locker where she left her coat before first period. She counts each step one by one all the way to ten to give her something else to focus on besides Everett, which works well enough until she reaches her locker and sees him standing beside it.

She stops walking. A smile adorns his face at the sight of her, but it’s not as silly as his usual ones. He looks like he’s lost sleep. He covers the distance between them in three steps and leans down, grabbing her by the waist and lifting her into his arms.

Usually he would spin around and she’d laugh excitedly until he put her back on the ground and set the Earth steadily back on its axis. But all she can think about is how he stormed away from her the last time she saw him. Wasn’t he still upset?

“Angel?” he asks, adjusting his grip on her so he can meet her eyes. “What’s wrong?”

She doesn’t answer, staring blankly ahead at the lockers behind him.

“Aurora-”

“I thought you were mad at me.”

He is silent for a moment, running a comforting hand down the length of her hair before setting her gently onto the ground and leaning down.

“Never. Not at you.”

“But you said-”

“I know what I said. Let’s forget it, though.”

She studies his eyes intently for a moment before nodding. His brows knit together in thought before he plasters a smile back onto his face, shifting his backpack around and unzipping it.

“I have something for you.”

He reaches into his backpack and pulls out a folded blue and gray jersey and holds it out to her. It is soft and smooth in her hands, and smells like his cologne. His practice jersey.

“Will you wear it tonight? At the game?”

She looks up and his eyes meet hers hopefully, then back down to the jersey. She runs her fingers lightly over the number 7.

“Will it fit me?”

“No it’ll be huge on you.”

“Ev!”

“It’ll be adorable!”

She unfolds the jersey, holding it against her shoulders and looking down to where it nearly meets her knees. She looks up to Everett who watches her hopefully.

“Okay.”

“Okay?”

She nods, unable to stop the laugh which bubbles from her throat as he lifts her over his shoulder and spins around and around in excitement.

⋯ ⋯ ⋯

It’s nearly seven PM when Olivia parks next to the soccer field. Junie ties off the end of one of Aurora’s french braids from where she sits behind her before hopping out of the Jeep. Aurora follows suit, wrapping the sleeves of her sweater around her hands and rubbing the warm fabric against her ears.

“You look fucking precious, Rora!” Olivia squeals excitedly after rounding the car.

Aurora looks down nervously at herself. Everett’s jersey rests loosely atop her shoulders, the sleeves nearly reaching her elbows over the fabric of her sweater. The hem reaches past her mid thighs.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, he’s going to love it,” Junie says reassuringly, clipping the safety pin back in place behind Aurora’s neck so that the sleeves won’t fall off her shoulders, before looping her arm excitedly through hers.

It’s snowing still, but more lightly than before. Aurora is glad in this moment that Junie did braids on her, so that her hair won’t frizz up so bad.

Olivia chatters excitedly about the Concord boys, who Coach Val has starting and how cute they all look in the new jerseys. Aurora listens absently, her arm swinging with the motion of Junie’s skipping as she clutches her hand in hers.

The field is crowded as the three girls make their way down to the front where the boys have saved them seats. The bleachers are freezing from the snow; Ezra and his friend Zion hand the girls a few blankets, some to wrap around themselves and some to set beneath them.

The bleachers fill up behind them more as each minute passes, until the warmth from the people around them and the bright stadium lights above them is enough to make the cold bearable.

“Ahh I just want it to start already!” Junie bounces up and down in her seat, clutching her blanket tightly as her blonde waves bounce with her. “It’s too cold to stay sitting!”

Ezra laughs, shaking his head as he slides his coat off his shoulders, draping it over her. Junie’s brows rise in confusion.

“You’ll freeze, Ezra.”

“Not if you share,” he pulls the edge of her blanket until she understands, draping it over both of them.

Aurora looks over to Olivia to see if she’s noticed, but the band begins to play before she can, signaling the start of the game. The crowd stands and starts to cheer as the boys run out into the field in their uniforms, a rushing sea of blue, gray, and white. She spots Everett near the front with a focused look on his face, which widens into a bright smile as he spots Aurora in the crowd. He approaches the edge of the bleachers quickly, looking up to meet her eyes from where he stands below her.

“You came,” he smiles excitedly and she nods.

Christian catches up to stand by him, leaning his arms on the edge of the concrete. His eyes light up excitedly as he sees everyone.

Aurora reaches her arms out for him, smiling happily as he grips her from beneath her arms and lifts her up and over the bleachers and onto his waist.

“We prayed for you guys in the car,” she explains, smiling up at him and then to Everett.

Everett laughs while Christian adjusts his hold on her, her legs dangling on his each side. He presses a soft kiss to her temple.

“Thank you, love.”

“Not that we’ll need it,” Everett winks teasingly at her.

She smiles “Just in case.”

Christian nods, looking up to the others with Aurora in his arms. His brows knit together in distaste when his eyes fall on Ezra and June.

“Ezra you better fucking watch it with your hands on my sister.”

Ezra scoffs, an unimpressed look on his face as he tightens his grip on her.

“Sister?”

“Doesn’t take blood to make a family,” Christian explains, pressing a hand over Aurora’s ears. “But it does take some to survive,” He makes the motion of firing a gun at Ezra with his hand.

“Jesus, so violent.”

Coach Val blows the whistle from the field, signaling the guys to come back for a team huddle. With a last kiss to her cheek, Christian lifts Aurora back into the bleachers with Olivia’s help. Everett leans forward toward Aurora.

“There’s a party at Luca’s after the game, do you want to join? I can give you a ride.”

She shifts nervously in her seat. “I’m not sure Miss Amy will let us.”

“But she loves me!”

Aurora laughs, running her hand along one of her braids. She doesn’t answer.

“Please?” Everett pouts his bottom lip like a small child.

“Will you stay with me the whole time?”

“Of course.”

“Promise?”

Coach Val sounds the whistle again, longer this time. Everett looks back before turning back toward Aurora. He raises his right hand and crosses over his chest with his left.

“Cross my heart. Will you come?”

She nods just as Coach Val shouts at him to come in. He sprints over.

The boys lean in together in a circle, the crowd murmuring excitedly in anticipation for the game to start. The coin toss rules in Winsor’s favor, and they choose to start on the east, facing the direction of the wind, so Concord starts with the ball.

Ezra, Zion, Aurora, Olivia, and June watch the team intently as they break from the huddle, half the team taking the bench and the other half moving to starting positions. Christian stands in the goal, Everett positioned at right striker, and Leo mirroring him left, the yellow armband strapped around his bicep signaling his role as captain. A boy named Angelo places his foot atop the ball, waiting tensely for the signal to start from the referee. The crowd waits in silence as well.

When the whistle blows, Angelo kicks the ball immediately to Leo, who starts charging down the left side of the field and the crowd is immediately on their feet, cheering Concord on from the home side.

⋯ ⋯ ⋯

C-O-N,

C-O-N,

C-O-N-C-O-R-D

Go Hawks Go!

Fight Hawks Fight!

Goooooo Concord!

The entire stadium roars with cheers and applause at the end of the chant. There are two minutes left in the game, Everett just scored minutes after Leo, bringing the score to 4-3: Concord. All they had to do now was keep the lead.

The whistle sounds again; Winsor starts with the ball and sends it back to the right midfielder who begins taking it down the right sideline. He makes a pass to one of their strikers, but it gets intercepted by Angelo, who brings the ball back center before kicking it to Everett. Everett brings it center, Angelo mirroring him to cover right.

A minute left. Everett makes a cross-field pass to Leo, who stops the ball against his chest and attempts to regain control of it. Before he can, it is intercepted by one of Winsor’s strikers, who sprints down the left sideline and past Concord’s midfield. He fakes a left, turning right around the closest defender and sprinting past him as well.

Concord’s entire half of the stadium is on their feet, screaming at the top of their lungs as the countdown starts at 10. If Winsor makes this goal, they’ll tie the game.

The player, number 11, fakes out the center defender, giving him a clear shot of the goal. Christian is the only body between him and the net.

Five, Four

Number 11 steps back and sends the ball flying. It bends at a curve, headed straight for the top left corner.

Three, Two

Christian leaps for it, the crowd holds their breath and the entire team watches on baited breath.

One

He clutches the ball tightly to his chest, hitting the ground just as time runs out. The crowd erupts into cheers as the entire team storms the goal in one large mass of blue and gray. They lift Christian up in their arms, jumping up and down in reckless joy and abandon as he takes the ball back behind his head and sends it soaring to the other side.

The students in the stadium are close behind, jumping off the railing and storming the field. Everett is quick to meet Aurora, lifting her effortlessly up into his arms and tossing her above him, catching her and spinning her in countless circles until she is screaming with laughter.

“We won, we won, we won!”

Everett props her up onto his shoulder, pinning her against him by her thighs and meeting Christian and Junie before they get lost in the crowd of people. Leo isn’t far behind.

“Ahhh let me get a picture!” Junie shouts excitedly pulling out her phone and snapping a bunch of pictures of Aurora on his shoulder. He lets her down, getting a few of him leaning down and kissing her cheek before the boys are swept away to the locker rooms to meet with coach. Everett yells back for Aurora to meet him at his car.

Olivia and Junie are practically drunk with happiness the entire way back to the parking lot. They jump up and down with excitement, waving their blue and silver flags that they bought to cheer on the team. They sing the Concord fight song, forgetting some of the words and filling others in. Aurora films some of it for them to see on her story later and get upset and tell her to delete it.

Ten minutes later, the team comes walking out, talking loudly and excitedly with each other as they leave the locker rooms and walk toward the parking lot. Everett and Christian spot the three of them almost immediately, jogging to catch up with them. Everett throws his arm around Aurora, and with a kiss on her cheek turns to face the others. Having just showered, he smells like clean hair and expensive cologne, the fabric of his leather-man jacket warm against her neck.

“Are we meeting you all over there?” he asks, fishing his keys out of his back pocket.

“Yeah, can you text us the addy?” Christian asks. He reaches into his soccer bag to pull out his phone.

Once Everett has sent it in the group chat, they all part ways. The lights of his Maserati flash as he unlocks it, pulling open the door and helping Aurora inside before he shuts it, rounding the car and sliding inside.

It is a long drive. Everett takes her phone to connect her bluetooth to the speakers so she can play some music. As he pulls onto the road and speeds past the thick forest of trees, she scrolls through her spotify playlists; each one is named after one of her friends, with music that they like. Once she finds the one named after Everett, she hits shuffle, a Daniel Caesar song pouring through the speakers and resonating through and around the car. When the lyrics start, Everett leans back and shouts them at the top of his lungs, which makes her smile. Soon, the two of them are dancing around, turning and singing to each other as the roads speed past.

It is 11 PM when they pull up to Luca Conti’s house, the giant colonial-style house that is almost a mansion. The lights are turned down inside, the heavy music reverberating up and down the wide streets.

“Ready?” Everett shuts off the ignition, smiling excitedly as he looks to Aurora beside her.

“You won’t leave me?” she asks, biting her lip nervously as she faces him.

An unknown emotion flashes over his eyes, but it’s dark and sends an uncomfortable feeling down her spine. He lifts his hand to rest against her cheek, brushing his thumb across her smooth skin. “With a pretty face like that?” he murmurs, his eyes a darker green than normal. “Why would I want to?”

“Bleh,” Aurora sticks her tongue out dramatically, her cheeks flushing a bright red. “You’re gross.”

Everett’s laugh echoes around the car as they both step out, linking arms as they step through the walkway, where the cobblestones form a roundabout that encircles a carved fountain.

As they pass, Aurora runs hers fingers along the solid blocks of ice which have frozen at the water’s surface. Everett pulls her away.

“Your hands will freeze, Angel.”

They step quickly up the front steps. She looks back longingly at the beautiful fountain which reminds her of the gardens she used to visit with her father in New York.

“Or the ice would melt.”

“Yes, probably both.”

“And so it would be even with me. For destroying it.”

“I suppose.”

The door is propped open; the moment Everett steps inside with Aurora pressed tightly to his side, he is met with half a dozen voices calling out his name. He greets each one of them individually, shaking their hands and nodding at others. She is surprised he knows all their names.

They carry on like this for a while. A song with heavy bass pulsates throughout the glowing front entryway and living space, which has been cleared for a dance floor. Everett greets people as they pass through this to the kitchen and out the back patio, and someone hands him a beer. The cool air bites at her arms again after the few minutes spent in the heat of the room, and she curls closer to Everett.

“Ev!” a boy Aurora recognizes from school calls out to him from where he sits with about ten other people around a bonfire. Everett walks toward them, sitting in an empty seat. Aurora takes the one next to him.

“Hey Aurora,” another boy named Connor greets her. She smiles politely, waving at the other people who greet her also, as if they’d been waiting for someone’s cue before acknowledging her. Aurora Davis, to them, was as beautiful as she was off limits, for reasons unspoken but mutually understood.

The heavy arm which drapes itself casually over her shoulders only solidifies this rule.

“Great game, Everett. Those last few minutes were insane.”

This sparks a heated discussion between a few of the boys, and Aurora promptly tunes them out. Her gaze traces along the patio where people talk and dance. She sees Olivia and Junie enter through the patio door, looking around before spotting her where she sits by Everett. They motion for her to come with them.

She looks to Everett beside her, who is immersed in a heated discussion. She tugs on the end of his sleeve, and immediately his attention is on her.

“June and Livi are over there,” she points to the door until his gaze falls on them. He waves. “Can I go with them?”

He nods with a kiss on her temple. “Go ahead. I’ll be here.” She stands, watching as someone hands him a second beer just as she turns her back and starts over to the two girls.

“Come dance with us!” Olivia says excitedly when Aurora reaches them. June grabs her wrist, tugging her inside toward the dance floor where dozens of Concord students and other young people she doesn’t recognize dance to the pulsing music.

Olivia grabs her hands, spinning her around as they rock back and forth to the beat of the music. Aurora imitates her, blushing slightly at the way she moves but emulating it anyway. Still she enjoys it, dancing without the fear of everyone watching because they are all doing the same.

It is early in the night. Junie is evidently already a little drunk, and she can tell that Olivia has had a little to drink as well. It becomes clear the more they dance, giggling wide eyed at Aurora as she imitates their movements.

“Rory!” Junie exclaims suddenly. “You’re so beautiful!”

She was a bubbly drunk.

“Thank you, Junie.”

“No no, really. Like you’re hot in a cute way. You know what I mean?”

“No, not really. It’s sweet either way.”

Aurora isn’t sure how long they dance for. She hardly can tell when one song ends and another begins, focusing hard on the amount Junie is drinking. Olivia isn’t completely gone, but she is a little tipsy as well.

She breathes a sigh of relief when a very sober Christian rests a hand on her shoulder. “I can drive them back tonight. We’ll worry about her car later.”

Aurora nods gratefully.

“You’re cold, Rora,” he says, running his warm hands down her arms.

“Yeah it’s cold in here. I have a jacket in Ev’s car. I might get it.”

“Yeah go ahead, I’ve got these two.”

She squeezes through the rest of the people dancing until she reaches the kitchen. The patio door creaks open as she steps outside, looking out to the bonfire where Everett still sits with the group which has grown to about fifteen. She walks over.

Everett is talking, gesturing wildly with his hands about something, and everyone is laughing loudly. He doesn’t notice her until she is right beside him. He turns to her and smiles. His typically light green eyes are dark, the pupils dilated quite noticeably, even in the dark. She can smell the mint and alcohol on his breath.

“Ev, could I have the keys to your car? I wanna get my jacket.”

His jaw drops in mock surprise. She can’t tell if he is just being silly, or if he really is this drunk.

“Why?” he whispers loudly.

Aurora giggles, looking confusedly to the group around him who watches the exchange intently.

“Because I’m cold?”

They all laugh. Everett smiles widely, grabbing her at the waist and pulling her into his lap. There’s a blanket on the chair next to them and he pulls it up over them.

“Why didn’t you just say so?”

Despite the initial embarrassment of being pulled onto his lap with everyone watching, she leans back into his chest under the blanket, settling herself comfortably against him. The drunken conversation continues.

A boy from Everett’s right begins talking, his speech slurred as he talks quickly. “Conner, were you at Tanner’s party the night after the Poly Prep game, when they played paranoia?”

“Yes! Fuuuck dude that got too fucking personal. When it got to Carly-”

The boy dives into a story about a drinking game and Aurora gradually tunes them out. Everett bounces his knee softly, the one she sits on, nearly lulling her to sleep until his hands which rest by her knees shift to brace her thighs, adjusting her to rest more comfortably against him. But his hands don’t return to her knees, resting instead around her thighs, rubbing up and down.

It takes a moment, but she grows accustomed to the initially intrusive feeling.

“No, and then Luke was shit-faced, didn’t even know what he was fucking saying. So Carly-”

Everett’s hands wander higher, up through the fabric of her sweater and his jersey, against the skin of her stomach. Now, she is painfully aware of his every movement.

“Ev?” she leans back to whisper up to him, not wanting to interrupt the story. “What are you doing?”

He doesn’t answer, instead taking the opportunity to press his lips against the skin of her neck which is now exposed to him, trailing his lips along the skin until he reaches the junction where her neck meets her shoulder, paying close attention to this region. She can smell the alcohol on his breath.

The kiss isn’t on her lips, but something still feels wrong. This isn’t the way Christian or Caspar kiss her cheek or head. This is different.

This is the way Dominic kisses her. And it never felt wrong until this moment.

“Ev, I don’t like that.”

He says nothing, pressing kisses all along the length of her neck to her ear. His hands brush along the skin of her stomach as he nibbles on her ear, soothing the sting with his lips and tongue.

She rests her hands behind her against his thighs, trying to push herself off of him only for him to wrap his arm around her stomach and pull her closer. His hands return to her stomach, pressing harder this time as they explore the skin there while his lips explore her neck.

And she lets him. Because now people are noticing and she isn’t sure what else to do.

She shifts nervously in his lap, painfully aware of his every move against her. The next moment, his hands trail up, his fingers teasing the edge of her bra beneath her sweater. She shoves his hand away, only for him to rest it between her legs.

She freezes.

“Everett,” she says quietly, pushing at his hand. “You shouldn’t touch me when I ask you not to.”

“No one’s watching, baby.”

“Don’t. Don’t call me that.”

“C’mon,” he slurs, running his hands up the length of her thighs and brushing his fingers teasingly between her legs. “Loosen up, Aurora.”

He rubs his hand against her through her leggings, pinning her tightly against him with his other arm so she can’t move.

“I said stop,” she says louder now, shoving away from him and landing on her feet. Everyone is watching now, as though she’d yelled at him. She hadn’t. But his jaw clenches in anger as he grips tightly the neck of his beer bottle.

He’s upset that she’s embarrassed him in front of everyone. That much is clear.

He stands slowly, his eyes darkening dangerously and never leaving hers.

She ignores the sound of him calling her name as he storms after her. She runs off toward the patio door, rushing inside and walking quickly through the crowds of people, ignoring the people who call her name.

When she reaches a set of stairs, she turns over her shoulder to see him searching through the crowds of people. She shrinks back, walking backwards up the steps until she is sure he won’t see her. Then she turns and sprints silently up the steps, a skill she’d mastered over years of climbing the creaking stairs at the group home.

She runs into the first bathroom she sees, slamming the door behind her and locking it. She steps back. What does she do now?

The party rages on on the first floor, she can feel the resonating against her feet. She opens Christian’s contact, checking his location. As she suspected, he is halfway to Cambridge with Junie and Olivia. Leo only came for thirty minutes and left, Ezra was shit-faced after a few rounds of beer pong, and Everett... was the reason she was hiding in a bathroom.

She dials Caspar, waiting as the phone rings on the other end six or seven times before sending her to voicemail. She ends the call before she has to leave one.

She paces the bathroom, shutting her eyes and thinking. It would only take so long for Everett to find her, but he was pretty far gone when they were sitting together, so maybe it would take longer than she anticipated. Still, she couldn’t stay in the bathroom all night; she’d never seen him angry before, and wasn’t sure how much time he’d need to cool off. Dread settles heavily in the pit of her stomach. She had a feeling she wouldn’t want him to find her alone up here.

With this in mind, she opens her last text with Dominic, checking his location. He is driving toward Chatham, five minutes out from here. A small part of her had hoped he was in New York or something, so that she’d be forced to think of a different plan. But there isn’t much time.

Her thumb hovers hesitantly over his number, before finally she hits call, biting her lip and waiting in anticipation.

He answers on the second ring.

“Baby,” his deep voice rasps out through the phone. “Hi.”

Her mouth opens and shuts as she tries to formulate a response. As if he knows she is doing this, he doesn’t push her to answer him immediately, waiting silently on the other line.

“Hi, um, are you busy right now?”

“Doesn’t matter. What do you need?”

Silence. She keeps thinking she hears the stairs creaking outside, but it’s just the snow scraping against the window.

“Are you home right now, Aurora?”

She swears he reads minds.

“Um, not exactly.” Her voice falls off. Would he be angry with her, if he knew where she was?

“Do you need me to pick you up from somewhere?”

Creak, creak. “Aurora? I know you’re up there.”

Everett.

“Baby, I won’t be upset, just be honest. I have your location still, just say the word.”

She opens her mouth to speak, but she can hear Everett step closer.

“Aurora?”

“Dom?” she chokes out, her voice shaking as Everett’s footsteps stop just outside the door. “I -I have to be quiet.”

He doesn’t say anything at first. All she can hear is the sound of his engine running as he drives. “Aurora, baby, why do you have to be quiet?”

Silence. Everett tries the door knob.

“Are you hiding from someone?”

She nods, before realizing he can’t hear her. But he takes her silence as his response.

“I’ll be there in four minutes. Can you hold on until then?”

Everett tries the doorknob again before banging on the door.

“Yes,” Aurora whispers into the phone. “Just, um, I... maybe hurry a little.”

“Three minutes, do you want to stay on the phone with me?”

“Yes, please.”

The banging gets louder. She is sure Dominic can hear.

“Don’t say anything, okay? Just stay on the line with me.”

She nods.

“Siri says turn right at Celeste, so that’s what I’m doing. Now I’m going straight.”

Everett stops banging on the door; she can hear him stumbling on his feet for a few steps, but not enough for her to assume he went back downstairs.

“Aurora,” Everett slurs, his voice muffled by the pounding music and locked door. “You’re in a lot of trouble, you know that?”

She bites her lip to stop herself from crying. Everett is her best friend.

“Two minutes. I’m passing lots of houses with iron gates and neat lawns, the kind we used to pretend to live in,” he tries to distract her, speaking quickly and without thinking. “You used to use my computer to look them up pictures of them. You’d draw the ones you loved and tack them to the wall and layer them over each other when you ran out of space. I used to promise myself that I’d buy one to match every single drawing someday. I remember telling you that one time, and you said you’d rather have one home than a dozen houses. You were ten years old. I remember thinking to myself, ‘what will she be like when she’s eighteen? She’ll be too brilliant for her teachers to know what to do with her’ And you are. So fucking brilliant... One minute.”

She sits down, curling up onto the floor as she holds the phone tightly with a shaking hand.

“I’m driving slower so I don’t miss it, the snow’s falling pretty heavy, but I’m driving the Audi so the lights are bright enough to see. Siri says turn in... right here. I'm here.”

She hears the car shut off; he slams the door shut behind him. His voice is serious again.

Dominic

Adrenaline. Coursing through every vein. He all but sprints past the giant entryway to the front door, struggling to keep his voice calm. If he panics, she will too.

“Aurora, baby, I don’t want you to leave where you are. I’m coming to you, okay? Can you describe where you are?”

“Yeah,” she speaks softly, cupping her hand around the speaker. “Are you inside?”

“Yes.”

“There’s a staircase. If you pass the entryway and look left immediately, it’s that one, not the one by the kitchen.”

“Okay, I’m walking up.”

“A-and theres a bathroom. I don’t remember which one I walked into, but I have the door locked. And the lights aren’t on.”

“That’s okay. I’m upstairs, can you blink your flashlight a couple times through the door?”

A moment passes until he sees the light flickering through the door. At the same time, he sees the tall figure of a teenage boy, leaning against the wall across from the door wearing a blue letterman. His hair is dark and curly and he has bright green eyes. He doesn’t see him.

Slowly, he steps closer until he reaches the door.

“Are you waiting for someone?” Dominic asks, resting his hand atop the doorknob. The boy is obviously slightly inebriated, but angrier than anything else.

“Yeah, my girlfriend’s in the bathroom.”

Dominic nods, leaning against the wall as though waiting to use the bathroom. He opens his phone casually, typing out a text to Aurora.

I’m outside the door.

He hears shuffling in the bathroom, before the lock turns and Aurora pushes open the door hesitantly. She sees the boy before she sees Dominic, shrinking back when he latches onto her wrist.

Dominic is on him in a second, prying his hand off of hers and slamming him against the wall. His forearm puts pressure against his neck as he uses the other to immobilize his hands.

“What the fuck!” the boy slurs out, trying and failing to swing at him. He is more drunk than Dominic thought.

“Is this your boyfriend, Aurora?” Dominic asks, but he already knows the answer.

“No.”

“Okay. Didn’t you just tell me you were waiting for your girlfriend?”

“She doesn’t know what she’s fucking talking about.”

“How old are you?” Dominic interjects. The boy blinks confusedly before answering.

“Eighteen.”

Dominic slams his fist against the boy’s cheek, sending him flying to the ground. He tries to get up, but Dominic sends a kick to his stomach, forcing him back to the ground.

“Listen here you piece of shit. I don’t care how fucking important you think you are, but I can have your sorry ass arrested faster than you can plead not guilty. Understand?”

He nods, bringing his hands up to defend his face when Dominic reaches down to lift him by his sweater.

He turns him to face Aurora, who takes a nervous step back.

“You scared that precious girl half to death. And I want you to apologize.”

He laughs. Dominic slams him against the wall and brings him back to face her.

“Apologize”

“I’m sorry.”

“Again.”

“I’m sorry, Aurora.”

He knows her?

If possible, Dominic is even more repulsed by the boy. He murmurs quietly in his ear.

“If she wasn’t watching I’d make sure you were sorry. Keep that in mind next time you go preying on young girls. You make me fucking sick.”

He drops him to the floor, stepping over his trembling body and over towards Aurora who looks up at him in disbelief.

He wipes his hands off onto his shirt, before reaching out and lifting her up into his arms, setting her onto his waist.

“Dominic?”

“Yes, baby girl?”

“We- we can’t just leave him.”

He starts down the stairs, gripping her tightly against him.

“Someone will find him. Is he a friend?”

No one’s watching, baby.

C’mon, loosen up, Aurora.

“I- I’m not sure anymore.”

He reaches the first floor. His hand on the back of her head forces her to hide her face in his neck. There isn’t much time until someone recognizes him.

“Dominic, he- he almost-”

“He won’t. He won’t touch you again.”

⋯ ⋯ ⋯

The drive back to Cambridge is silent. His music plays softly as Aurora stares mindlessly out the window at the rearview mirror, watching the cars which speed alongside them.

She runs her fingers lightly along the glass, tracing an invisible pattern along the surface.

His eyes stray between her and the road as he pulls off the freeway and into Chatham so that she can watch the ice freeze along the coast over the crashing waves. It will take longer to reach Cambridge this way, but that is okay. He isn’t ready to let go of her yet.

He was selfish with her, in that way. Loving her is one thing, but being in love with her is another. He wants her to be inextricably tied to him the way he is to her. Love, before he knew what is was, was always described to him as a feeling. Something that imminently dissipates as time touches it with decay. But now, as he looks at this precious girl sits beside him, her dark hair in little braids, drowning in a jersey twice her size, love feels more like a static, inescapable reality. Like gravity.

She turns to face him. He thinks, I want to be the air that inhabits you. I want to be the impulse behind your every movement.

“Dominic?”

“Yes?”

“I think those cars are following us.”

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