We were an odd pair. She was a bold electric beauty and I was dark verging on disaster. If I were honest, I would say she terrified me with her sparks. She threatened me with blinding explosions that stripped away every sense of comfort. But I’m not honest. I never was. Instead I’ll say that I was starved of light crackling through my veins, and she longed for a refuge cloaked in shadows.
I became her hiding place, and in return, she made me feel utterly, completely alive.
They called her the Street Finder. No one remembered how she acquired the name, but everyone knew why. Her uncanny ability to weave through the cobbled passages and escape anything even when surrounded by leaning slums and twisted wire whispered the name. She could discover an alley or an out nearly anywhere, but one night instead of a street she found me.
Years later she’d tell me the story of the moonlight turning my blood to silver and how the pavement was splattered with stars. She would mention the glass shards that dusted my jacket and how my limbs suggested a shattered galaxy painted of silent confessions. With downcast eyes she’d murmur how she drew her fingertips through my bleeding secrets and swore to puzzle together the sky.
But now she’s touching my shoulders and I’m wondering if she found the wings. She’s telling me to stay awake, but my mind explodes with sparks and a single serving of pain and I can’t decide if her fingers are talons meant to shred the feathers from my skin. I’m screaming through the aftershock of living, but the wail is fading and everything is greasy, sweating black until I finally focus.
The concerned melody of her voice pierces my colliding thoughts. “Emerson. Emerson, stop thrashing. Look at me, alright?”
I blink and her pointed chin and birds-wing lashes sharpen the room. Her freckles are a thousand suns illuminating the darkness. I force my limbs to relax under her raindrop touch and am rewarded by a motionless environment. The vertigo starts to clear.
I test my voice. “Audrey.” I hesitate, lips parted, and she interprets the word as a question.
“Yes. My name is Audrey. Do you remember where you are?”
My eyes scan the room in a quarter of a second – empty walls, warped floor, groaning bed. In the corner, a table sags under a cracked mess of jars and a pitcher stuffed with rags. Audrey lurks above me wearing a gauzy nightgown. I stare and she snaps her fingers.
“It’s not what you think.” Her eyes narrow slightly at the weak grin spreading across my face.
“You sure about that?” I can’t help inquiring. The girl is gorgeous.
She sighs. “Look, you’re here because you’re hurt. Not because I’m interested.”
My grin twists into a smirk as my bare skin slides against the thin cotton sheets. “Explain why I’m not wearing any clothes then.”
Her cheeks flush, but she fixes me with a pointed stare anyways. “There was a lot of damage to your ribs and hip. I had to set a few things, splint some others, and there’s a nasty gash on your thigh.” To illustrate, she traces a line starting from just above her knee to her bottom rib.
She sighs and her eyes are painstakingly beautiful in their misery. “You’re healing, Emery. You just don’t know it yet.”
I’m silent a long while. “I know you.”
She smiles then, revealing a crescent of moonlight, but it swiftly disappears. “No. You don’t.”
I frown for a moment. “So tell me.”
She hesitates. “Tell you what?”
“About you. Tell me your first memory. Tell my why you’re here.”
I know I’m demanding a lot from this beautiful girl in the scant minutes since I became aware of her existence, but I can’t resist. There’s something compelling in the way she brushes the hair over her eyes like she’s hiding something.
Seconds pass. A minute. She sighs and begins in a reluctant voice.
“My only memory of my father consists of a black widow’s peak and a pair of arms clasped round a wisp of a figure I assume was my mother. I don’t remember her face, but her hair was a waterfall of a sunsets.”
She pauses, grasping for something buried in the recesses of her mind. I know she finds it when pain tightens her lips into a thin line. She whispers the next piece.
“Something happened. Something filled with the scent of charred meat and a disturbed campfire. Something cold filled with screams and trampling hooves.
“I was very small.”
Her gaze trails off to one side, remembering.
“Alone, I wandered the country living off of wild blackberries and dandelion greens. I drank from clear, bubbling streams and bedded down with the deer. I remember ripe grass and comfortable mud and ashen clouds.
“Eventually the colors faded and the chilling wind drove me to flee. I stumbled upon a rutted, mud road and followed it into the city.
“At first glance, the jumbled buildings and sprawling cobblestone appeared welcoming, but the city is deceitful. There are no wild berries to pick and the streams are replaced with stinking puddles and stagnant rivers. Instead of deer there are starving dogs, and instead of dry grass beds I slept in frozen alleys.”
Suddenly her eyes snap back to me. She bites her lip and murmurs, “There were many unkind years before I met Pierce. I would have starved and collapsed dead in the snow if he hadn’t found me. He brought me to the dry basement he called home and introduced me to the others who lived there. They became my family and I’ve stayed ever since.”
The story ends too quickly and I know she’s left pieces out. Pieces that agonize her. Pieces she’ll never utter in daylight.
I understand. My own story isn’t one to tell a beautiful girl curled in fragile cotton at midnight.
She blinks and gathers a bottle from the small table hunched in the corner. “You should sleep.” She tells me, and pours a mouthful of something that burns like vodka against my lips.
I swallow the medicine because that’s what you do when there’s a pair of stars staring through your soul and a galaxy shatters into existence.