Prologue: Last Breath
December 24, 2007:
It gave the impression of a ruthless snowing season this monotonous December. Well, maybe not so dull because this year, I won’t spend it all alone like I do every year while my brother is off spending the night at his girlfriend’s place. The entire city looked like a colorless, pale land full of lumps of snow all over the place. The roads were very colorful, with yellow, gray and white splattered all over the slippery ice and bulks of snow. Usually, you would expect a white winter to be very striking and look like a winter wonderland where Snow White would most likely live. But not this dreary winter, no. Living through this mind-numbing season was like wearing only glitzy pink or yellow for your entire life while being imprisoned in a large, inexpressive box with only one shade surrounding you for what seemed like forever.
Everywhere you looked was white-ish, snowy and . . . unadorned. On top of that, the weather had not been so neighborly either. The wind was so strong, people would be constantly afraid of being knocked off their feet. The wind propelled you forward, only to push you back several feet. Even the loudest of music couldn’t keep out the monstrous howling of the wind; that’s how loud it was. The sky was always dark and gloomy, filled with thick, gray clouds and surprises for us all to look forward to. The clouds blanketed the sunlight which only made the winter even more unbearable. No sunlight means no heat.
Wherever you went, you would see a bunch of homeless people huddled together, their attempts at keeping themselves warm were in vain. People staggered down the streets like drunks even though it was just the toe-numbing weather. Some lived in the shadows of the tall buildings that loomed overhead of this part of Manhattan: Cascadia, one of the most richest neighborhood in New York City. There were people who weren’t rich, the ones who lived in the murky shadows of gloomy lights of urban nightclubs, using the lights from the cars as their “flashlights” during the nighttime when they scoured the streets for scraps of food.
But that was your typical New York City Christmas. A whole week filled with nothing, but misery, boredom, pain and loneliness. And of course, you get to see your friends and family, but perhaps those were the only pleasant things about the event. Plus, it wasn’t even a white Christmas. There was dog pee all over the snow, for God’s sake!
Trying not to over think things, I decided to focus on the positives, on the bright side of all of this. I’m not some chirpy optimistic, oh, God no. But that doesn’t mean that I’m some sadistic freak, either. Wouldn’t want people to think I’m some emo-gothic-freakish-sadistic-teenager.
I bestowed a sideways glance at the curly haired boy sitting next to me in the car, driving while I looked around at nothing in particular. This was our first Christmas together so I was a bit zealous about it, despite the frigid weather and the melancholy mood of the hectic city. I love summer, but for now, just for now, winter will be my favorite season.
For Christmas, I got him a coffee maker, since he depended on caffeine for energy throughout the day. I hated that he was always in a rush to make coffee in the morning so that he could leave and go to work, so I got him the coffee maker, thinking that it might make his mornings easier for him.
And in case he didn’t like that, I also got him a medieval sword set with each of the edges of the swords bordered with what looked like rhinestones, making it easy to wound deep into any flesh because he also loved swords. It was a large box full of different kinds of swords. I had once asked him what he likes and feels somewhat of a passionate link to. From what I heard, he noticeably doesn’t like anything that is safe or non-hazardous. I wondered if all boys liked things this dangerous.
“Anything that could perhaps prod someone’s eye out or injure them enough without actually killing them in certain cases is good for me. Unless it’s some weird type of pepper spray, then I don’t like it,” he had said. I had tried to grasp all of that information, but it simply was impossible. It’s just really hard to get a guy some sort of a gift for any occasion. But I had a hard time getting gifts for anyone in general so that doesn’t count.
I wondered if he would even like any of the gifts I had gotten him. To be honest, I’ve always had trouble getting gifts for people no matter what the occasion is. When I was ten years old, I had gotten my twelve-year-old brother a pretty blond Barbie doll. Now, every time I think about it, I just laugh at myself, but I was little at the time, with no common sense whatsoever.
When I was fourteen and my brother was sixteen, I had gotten him a whole set of pretty dresses which he had eventually ended up returning back to me, telling me that it was my early birthday gift. I had cried for a whole month, thinking that he had hated my gift, but he reassured me that the gifts were not macho enough, but it’s the thought that counts. I still laugh at myself because of that, but I was fourteen for God’s sake. I should’ve known better than to give my sixteen-year-old brother a whole set of beautiful prom dresses, thinking he’d rock those dresses.
“What’s wrong, love?” he asked, unmistakable uneasiness coloring his deep, husky, slight British-accented voice, bringing me out of my reverie. He shifted in his seat slightly, trying to appear casual, but failing at it. He once told me that he’s part French and part British so his voice was slightly tainted with a British accent, but I didn’t know why he didn’t have a French accent as well.
Sometimes, he looked as if he had forgotten how to do the worlds simplest of things. One morning, he had gotten up and asked me how to use the bathroom. Fortunately, Elliot helped him out with that. If you overlooked all of this weirdness though, he was just another great guy underneath.
By the look on his face, I could tell that he had seen me moments ago, toying with my charm bracelet, a gesture that mirrored my awkward mood. It was simple silver bracelet with 5 charms, one for Earth, one for Air, another one for Fire, another one for Water and one for Spirit. I always toyed with that bracelet every time I was nervous, upset, or even uneasy around something or someone. He was the one who had gotten me that bracelet the first time we met about ten months ago. I loved it and made it a permanent part of my mundane life, adding a little pizzazz to my life. I am considered a very adoptable person so I just got used to all the weirdness that came with him.
Even though he obviously knew my name was Aurelia, he insisted on calling me love and dearie and other nicknames like that while most people called me by my name. He told me that he loved my name, but he didn’t want to call me by it. He preferred the silly nicknames he took ten seconds to come up with. Since the first time we met, he had never ever called me anything else, but love; unless he was uptight with me, which was just once. I told him I was fine when I was really sick and he got mad at me for a whole hour, refusing to talk to me before finally giving up. He told me that apparently, it’s hard to stay mad at me for too long. I knew it was anything but.
“Nothing, really,” I shrugged. I really don’t know why he was so concerned about me all the time. I mean, hello, I’m not fading from your life at the moment or anything. Even though this sometimes perturbed me, I still found it really thoughtful and romantic. He wouldn’t let anyone look at me or even touch me. He was a bit possessive of me and for some weird reason, I liked it. I don’t know why, but I just did. I usually hate possessive people, but when it comes to him,my hatred for everything just terminates. It’s like he could just change me and make me a different person.
“Well . . . okay then. Let’s talk about our Christmas wishes. You first,” he said tensely, looking straight ahead, clearly not induced by my reply, but still unwavering to change the topic of our conversation onto something else. If we were actually even having a conversation.
I smiled at his attempt at trying to make small talk. Due to the dim lighting of the glum, freezing night, I couldn’t really make out his features as we rocketed past numerous streetlights and other cars. If I examined his face closely, which I did, I can see the light brown colored curls carelessly falling onto his forehead and framing his elegant face. He smiled, clearly sensing how admiringly I was watching him. My cheeks unexpectedly felt very warm, despite the subzero temperature outside, but I answered him at last, letting my gaze slip back to the road, not wanting to make my face redder than it already was.
“To be honest, I haven’t really thought about it yet. It’s just . . . Christmas. You get what you get and you don’t get upset. What about you?” I countered. I just didn’t know what I wanted for Christmas. I’ve really never thought about it that way. He probably wanted to hear me tell him I wanted to spend the whole day with him or something romantic like that and for one fleeting moment, I felt dreadful for disappointing him. I’m not some helpless romantic nor did I possess any qualities that made me a natural flirt, but I wished I was like all the other girls at my school. They can get guys to beg on their knees for them, but I couldn’t even make my guy happy.
“Well, all I want for Christmas is you. Nothing else; just you,” he said, turning slightly to face me, smiling away as he searched my face. Even then, I couldn’t really see his face which frustrated me even more. The lower portion of his face wasn’t shadowed like the top portion of his face. I turned to face him completely and the last thing I remember seeing was his dimpled smile as a car zoomed past us and the pair of bright, unnervingly blue-green eyes staring straight into mine, trying to read me while I stared back, fear coursing throughout my body.
And that is when it all came crashing down at that precise second when a car--deliberately?--collided into ours and both cars went skidding across the slippery road, hitting a nearby tree. All the cars were already very careful when it came to driving during the winter time because of the ice that clung to the roads like a starfish and car accidents only made the whole situation worse.
Both cars skidded to a halt and I fell out from my side, but not before hitting my head against a hard part of the car, because I was so stupid that I didn’t even buckle up.
My head came in contact with the rock solid pavement and all I could see for a few moments were dancing stars, all holding hands, probably playing ring-around-the-rosie. Shuddering, I tried to move my hand, only to encounter even more pain as it coursed through my body and sent more than necessary amount of blood flow to my brain. Everything was spinning in front of me and my head felt like it was going to burst any moment. My skull was probably fractured by now. I could even smell the coppery fluid and taste the metallic flavor as blood flooded my mouth. For some reason, the accident seemed very premeditated to me. I couldn’t feel half of my body because not only did it hurt like hell, the freezing temperature only numbed my entire body, which made things ten times worse when more than a necessary amount of blood rushed to the injured parts of me.
My whole body ached even more as I felt a pair of familiar, warm hands take my head onto his lap. In the coldness, in the middle of all the chaos going on, I could’ve sworn I heard a guy’s voice, probably in his early twenties, laughing a melodic laugh that sent shivers down my spine. And then the weirdest thing happened. I heard the distant sound of fluttering wings, almost as if some big bird was flying overhead. The smell of copper and ashes filled my nose and it just didn’t feel right. The combination was off.
What was even weirder was that his voice sounded distant while the sound of wings overwhelmed my senses. My vision began to slowly become indistinct as my eyes began to close on their own. I could feel my heartbeat slowly decreasing, but the only thing that I could think about at that time was his safety. I wanted to open my mouth to tell him to be safe, to look out for himself and stop worrying about me, but I couldn’t even make a single sound, let alone form a word without sounding foolhardy.
“Stop . . . Please . . . Hang on for a . . . Stop talk . . . ” I listened as his voice faded in and out. I felt tiny droplets of water hit my face, slide down my cheeks and bury itself in the hollow of my collarbone. Tears. He was crying.
I could hear him urging me to keep breathing, hold onto my life and not close my eyes. I knew he was right above me, but for some peculiar reason, his voice sounded very distant. The sound of wings stopped, but his musical voice still sounded very distant to me. I hated that I wouldn’t be able to listen to his voice when I breathe my last breath. I desperately fought for my life in vain, greedily taking in the dirty oxygen from my surroundings.
The last thing I remembered were those beautiful eyes of his, fear, love and dismay written in them, mixed in with millions of other unreadable emotions. Holding onto that bit of memory, I smiled, knowing that he loved me and he was safe, and inhaled my last breath.
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