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October 13th, 1992
Suspended above the still lake, winding trails of fireflies cast a brilliant glow, like thousands of lit lanterns. Floating in the water, resting on a mosaic of circular green pads grew a group of pure white lotuses, vibrantly contrasting against their murky background. As the sun gradually began to set below the horizon line, a mist of darkness swallowed the rich hues of twilight. To the left stood a painted blue lake house. Only the soft snore of two unconscious children and the creaking from a wooden staircase could be heard. A step at a time, two parents cradled their sleeping children on their journey up the stairs and to their beds. Opening the wooden door, the room’s interior walls were adorned with marine blue wallpaper. The soothing color gave the illusion of riding a calm ocean wave. Humming a lullaby, the children’s mother set down the paintbrushes she’d been holding before lifting the sheets of the beds, and sliding both children inside. Stepping forward, her husband affectionately leaned in to kiss his wife on the temple.
Quietly exiting the room, they whispered to their children in harmony, “Good night Damon. Goodnight Lola. We love you,” before shutting the door.
Snapping his eyes wide open, Damon first felt the blistering heat prickling his skin before focusing his eyes and seeing it. Disoriented, he checked to see if his sister was awake. They had awoken to a strange and unfamiliar world of smoldering blaze and rising grey smoke. Coughing as it filled his lungs, Damon noticed Lola’s frightened eyes meet his, yet they both lay immobile. The crackling of the erratic flames camouflaged the bang of their bedroom door being wrenched open. The blackened figure of their father stood in the doorway before quickly gathering them in his arms. Dodging debris and burning furniture, he tried to find an escape out of the house.
Upon inhaling in the first gust of chilled air, Lola asked, “Mommy? Where’s mom?”
Staring blankly with furrowed eyebrows, their father turned to look back at their burning house. Face twisting in anguish, he ran back inside. In the background, the siren of the fire department was drawing nearer. Moments later when the truck pulled up, the children frantically pointed to the house, wordlessly trying to communicate. Half of the men entered the house while the others stayed back to put out the fire. Emerging from the front door, a firefighter carried a single limp body while his men trailed behind him. Their soot-covered father had escaped alive, while their mother was still trapped somewhere inside. Expression graven, their father’s wife was dead, and despite the beating organ in his chest, he felt he was as well. Standing beside the lake, Damon and Lola watched the horrific scene continue to unfold in the reflection of the water, as the fireflies continued to hover all around.
July 21st, 2012
Drops of rain bounced off the ground and created circular rings in neighboring puddles. Standing underneath the pale glow of a street lamp, a girl with an acoustic guitar held her face up to the sky. Water dripped from the curled ends of her hair, and soaked her clothes, making her thin frame visible.
From across the street, Damon sat observing the curious girl as she occupied the street corner. Wearing cropped shorts and an odd long-sleeve cotton turtleneck; she was an angel in all white. A halo of water droplets appeared to hover around her as the sky continued to weep. Setting down his pencil and sketchbook, he sat transfixed. Since spotting her two weeks ago, her image had not left his mind as it reminded him of someone he’d lost long ago. Damon was surprised to note the absence of black streaks of mascara running down her face. Instead it was left natural, reflecting the innocence of an angel. Her simple, authentic beauty was a reminder of his mother, whom he still vividly remembered even after twenty years. Their similar light brown hair, fair skin and musical talent at first appalled him. Eventually the curiosity outweighed the initial shock, and each evening he came back to watch the nameless girl strum on her guitar and softly sing. Back resting against the streetlamp, she appeared to be in no hurry to escape the summer rain. Seeming to long for human affection, she would quietly sung for passing pedestrians. In the weeks spent watching her, their gaze had never met. Not expecting today to be any different, he was taken aback when she nonchalantly turned in his direction, blue eyes smoldering into his green ones. Bewildered by the ridiculous urge to stand up and officially meet, Damon held back. Realizing she was staring, a rosy blush spread from her cheeks and down her concealed neck, before looking away and continuing to strum cords on the guitar. Finding her embarrassment endearing, Damon gathered his drawing materials and stood up. Despite the sound of approaching heavy footsteps, she continued to busy herself, refusing to look up. Fishing a twenty-dollar bill from his jean pocket, he stuck it inside the empty guitar case. Finally slowing her fingers to a stop, the girl looked up.
Holding out a hand to shake, he simply said, “ I’m Damon.”
Nervously pulled at the top of her turtleneck, she took his hand and replied with, “Aurora.”
Gathering her things and taking a step in the opposite direction she looked back and called out to him. “You coming or what?”
July 21st, 2012
Unaware of their synchronized footsteps, Aurora and Damon strode over to the nearest café, Black Swan. Attempting to reach past her to open the door, she brushed away his hand and opened it herself.
A crooked smile appearing on her face and said, “I’m perfectly capable of getting the door myself. I can take care of myself.”
“You sure about that?” He replied jokingly, trying to lighten the mood and found irony in the statement due to her young age and supposed occupation.
The smile disappeared, replaced by a grimace. Unsure if his comment unintentionally offended her, he saw he’d touched on a sore subject. Once inside, even with the cold industrial concrete walls, the café felt warm and intimate. In the small town, Damon was known as the enigmatic and brooding local artist. His works were displayed on the walls of the Black Swan, as well as the gallery he owned a few blocks away. He led them over to sit in one of corner tables, away from other customers. Above them, an abstract painting of a woman lying on a large lotus was hung. With bold brushstrokes, it was colored in shades of red and orange, like a flame. Ordering an iced coffee when the waitress sauntered over, he waited for Aurora’s order. Like a virginal child, she placed her hand on her chin to think, then responded with a raspberry Italian soda.
“How old are you?” He estimated she was in her early twenties.
Younger than he expected, this made Damon slightly uncomfortable for essentially stalking a girl seven years younger than he. Exhausted from barely sleeping the previous night, he took a long sip of the coffee when it was brought over. Haunted by nightmares every time he closed his eyes, Damon instead choose to occupy the great majority of the night sketching and creating pieces for his gallery. Since first seeing Aurora, he finally had a new subject to focus on, and keep his mind awake.
Noticing his stare, Aurora shifted in the seat uncomfortably, obviously not used to the close attention. Breaking eye contact and looking for a distraction, she decided to comment on the painting beside them.
“This is very beautiful. Bizarre in color choice, but powerful nonetheless.”
Tearing his gaze away to look at it, he replied with a simple, “Thank you.” Revealing the fact that he was indeed the artist.
“Oh! You’re an artist? You made this?”
Delighted by her interest, he nodded and explained that most of the paintings in the café were his. Seeming to be fascinated by the arts, she questioned him about his inspiration. Noting how the focus had suddenly shifted toward him, Damon realized Aurora was trying to keep the conversation off of her.
“Show me yours, and I’ll show you mine.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Well, if you want to know about my art, my secrets, then tell me yours. Here you sit in front of me, clearly beautiful, yet you’re shy and reserved. You don’t like talking about yourself, yet seem wise beyond your years. You play music on a street corner for money, but still dress neatly. You try and hide yourself behind a turtleneck in the summertime, however you’re obviously not prude because of the shorts and the fact your clothes are almost see-through from the rain. Who are you?!”
Taken aback by his outburst, Aurora was at a loss for words. “We all have our secrets, Damon. Our skeletons in the closet if anybody knew, they’d never look or treat us the same way again.”
As afraid as she was, deep down Aurora knew she could trust Damon; that for some reason, he out of all the people she’d met, would understand her pain. Somehow they seemed to be connected by invisible tugging strings. Opening her mouth, she told him her story. He waited patiently till she was finished, parted his lips, and with a rapid flow of words, did the same.
March 19th, 2008
Aurora felt she had cheated the grim reaper in order to be given a second chance at life. Having been born with a diseased heart, she’d suffered from cardiomyopathy all her life. To save it, her parents had given the doctors permission to pry apart her chest and make an incision that would never fade with time. The heart she’d been born with had to be removed, only to be replaced with a new foreign one. Since she’d escaped the grim reaper, he instead cursed her with a hideous scar as retaliation. Now an angry elevated line ran right below the collarbone to just under her breasts, separating her chest into two. Aurora would have accepted death, but instead she had the daily reminder of how her body was now permanently disfigured. Taking immunosuppressive medication everyday, a heart transplant meant having to deal with the repercussions of her condition for the rest of her life.
Covering all mirrors in her room and bathroom with towels, Aurora refused to look at her reflection as she undressed, only seeing a repulsive girl, rather than a survivor. She also chose to hide herself with turtlenecks and sweatshirts to keep herself and anyone else from seeing her scar. Uncovering the mirrors once dressed, she stood closer to observe her icy blue eyes. The fight in them was gone, especially since everyone treated her like a breakable porcelain doll. The only thing that remained the same was her love for music and ability to express herself though the strings of a guitar. Pressure built behind her eyes, as tears threatened to escape. At last, the first drop of salt-water left a watery trail down her cheeks and chin before falling to the floor. They then began to fall uncontrollably, and Aurora knew she had to get away. Needing to feel loved for who she was prior to the surgery; she decided she only had herself to look after. Packing a duffle bag with a few clothes as well as her guitar case, Aurora disappeared into the night, not looking back.
August 6th, 2012
Bold multicolored brush strokes filled the white canvas. While Aurora lay on a bed full of rumpled sheets, Damon tried his best to position her for a portrait. Although grateful she had given him permission to paint her, judging by the rigid posture, he could see how uncomfortable she was. Telling her to lay in whichever position that felt most natural, Aurora decided to sit up with her knees bent toward her chest, tucked into little ball. With a large sigh, Damon put down his paintbrush and climbed into the bed, pulling her to him.
“You don’t like this.”
It wasn’t a question; he already knew the answer. Aurora didn’t perceive herself as sexy, appealing or beautiful. Not being comfortable in her own skin meant he couldn’t paint her the way he wanted to. Prior to the day they’d introduced themselves, he’d always sketched her from far away or from memory, when she was unaware of his watching eyes. As the morning sunlight escaped between the cracks of his old wooden shutters, the pattern added an interesting texture to her milky bare legs. He would’ve liked to see how it appeared on her collarbones but she still refused to wear anything other than an assortment of turtlenecks. Overcome with desire at how lovely she looked, Damon roughly kissed her.
“Aurora, be yourself and make peace with how you look. See yourself for the beautiful girl you are, and the girl I see you to be. The one who makes me smile everyday and helps me fall asleep at night. The one who doesn’t view me as a sullen orphan who refuses to move on, like the rest of the town does. Since meeting you, you’ve inspired me to paint something other than the accident for the first time since before it happened. I’m no one to talk, but you’ll never feel good about yourself if you keep hiding behind those d*mn turtlenecks.”
In a resolute sigh, despite her shaking hands Aurora lifted the turtleneck and flung it off, exposing herself to him for the first time. Her eyes were sealed shut, afraid to look at his reaction. Instead of looking down, his eyes stayed focused only on her face, reaching out to touch it instead. Feeling the raised edges, he traced the scar with his fingers. Slowly, she opened her eyes and nodded in permission. Looking down and controlling his expression, Damon saw a survivor, a brave young woman, with a badass scar and a beautiful body to match. Grabbing her face between his palms, kissed her again, her upper lip parting between his. Pulling away, he jumped off the bed and went over to the easel. A smile on his face, he winked at her, while she grinned back. Dipping the brush into the paint, Aurora shifted into a new position and they started again.
August 18th, 2012
Hovering just below the water’s murky depths, Damon looked at the distorted world above. To the left stood his newly built lake house, where the old one once resided. The willow tree he and his sister Lola had played on as kids had sweeping branches outstretched above the lake. Lungs begging for oxygen, Damon finally broke the surface of the water, gasping for air. Harsh breaths escaped his lips as he continued to gaze at the branches. A tire swing had once been tied to it, and Lola would fearlessly swing and dive into the lake headfirst. There was a ringing in his ear, and he swore he could hear his mother’s voice, scolding and pleading her to be more careful. The memory became more vivid as he remembered his irritation at Lola and having to push aside dozens of floating lotuses to swim to his mother before getting out. Settling himself on the grass beside her, he felt content to simply draw the scene in front of him. The pencil strokes on the paper were soothing and allowed him to appreciate the beauty of the playful scene in front of him without actually participating in it.
Snapping out of his reverie, Damon was unexpectedly dunked underneath the lake water for a brief second. Coming up and coughing water, he heard a different but familiar laugh. Hurriedly rubbing his eyes to regain sight, soft hands playfully mussed around his hair before letting go.
“I finally got you this time, didn’t I?” Aurora said with a playful teasing smile.
Opening his eyes, he saw Aurora looking like an angelic water nymph, long eyelashes sticking together in clumps and hair slicked back. Lifting his arms, Damon wrapped them around her. Lips, arms and legs locked around each other, they slowly submerging underwater. A perfect white lotus floated in their place, as a group of air bubbles appeared.
August 28th, 2012
The smell of burning wood thick in the air, the house’s seemingly stable foundation slowly began to crumble. Blue wallpaper burned as it was consumed by luminous orange light. Black smoke filled the air and made breathing difficult. Tossing and turning in his sleep, Damon truly felt like his dream was a reality. The night of the fire was the last time he had seen his mother. Firefighters said she had most likely gotten up to get a glass of water when she’d first the smelled smoke before fainting. When the fire had finally been put out, the ashes of her corpse were found, finalizing their assumption that she’d been burned alive. Even though Damon never saw this actually happen, he was haunted by images of blistering flesh melting off bone. Their father was never the same man again, and instead grieved though drinking and neglecting his children before finally killing himself. As they grew older, Lola became a handful and frequently got into trouble with the law, before disappearing when they turned eighteen. Damien kept reliving the fire each night, which led him to eventually refusing to sleep at all. Instead, he began to take short naps in the middle of the day; or simply staying up as long as possible before falling asleep, only to wake up in a cold sweat hours later. Continuing to violently cry out in his sleep, Damian was shaken awake by frantic hands. Aurora gently rubbed his back while patiently sitting beside him. Once calmer, they both lay back down. Wrapping her arms around his torso in a comforting gesture, she began to hum a familiar lullaby. No one had ever hummed it to Damon, beside his mother.
Feeling his body grow rigid, she whispered, “You hum it when you paint. It seemed to soothe you, so I memorized it in case you ever needed it.”
Looking up at her in amazement, he never realized how much she paid attention to such minute details. No one had truly looked after him since his mother’s death. Although Lola tried, she ultimately felt too broken and disconnected to be of any help. As twins, they were supposed to have an unbreakable connected; yet he hadn’t heard from her in years but still missed and worried for his twin. At twenty-six years old, Damon no longer truly needed his parents or sister to take care of him. He’s been doing that alone for most of his life, and now that Aurora had arrived, he felt he could finally begin to heal and start a new life.
September 10th, 2012
Underneath the dim lights of the gallery, Aurora and Damon anxiously watched as the town began to gather for the opening of his new art exhibit. The largest and most popular painting was hung in the center of the room. It showcased Aurora baring her scar, and lying on top of a giant white lotus. Although similar to the piece she’d first seen at Black Swan café on their first date, the cool colors bore striking contrast to the fiery shades of the original. The quote, “the soul unfolds itself, like a lotus of countless petals” by poet and artist Kahlil Gibran was painted in cursive writing at the bottom. It symbolized how they’d revealed their souls to one another and the exhibit was a tribute to how far they’d come in such a short amount of time.
“So I see you’ve replaced me as your muse. Now is that any way to treat your only living family, Damon?”
In the corner of the room stood a woman with fiery red hair and piercing green eyes, the mirror image of the woman from the original lotus painting. It was Lola.