1. Painting in the Ashes (Of a Life Full of Light)
-Children of the Light, hear the voice of the Night
Close your eyes...come under the Moon's spell...
And give in, to the loving embrace of Darkness-
I was floating. I could sense that I was suspended over a great void, though I could not see anything. It was dark all around me, and I knew that, -wherever I was- I was alone.
I was not scared. Though I hung above nothingness; though everything about me was obscured by shadows; though I was alone in this great darkness...I was not afraid.
I then felt the touch of someone's hands on my own, and I was no longer floating, but falling, falling fast into the darkness below me. I could not catch my breath; could not scream, but I could still feel his hands on mine, and I knew I was safe.
Faster I fell, until suddenly the darkness around me lifted, my world illuminated, and I saw myself suspended over a world at night. I could see a great silver moon lighting up the world and the black clouds through which I had fallen beyond me.
I turned to see who was beside me, who it was that held my hand. I caught a glimpse of silver hair, looked deep into a pair of eyes, and then I felt his lips against mine. And I was falling, again.
- - -
"Calli?" I asked tentatively, opening the door to my sister's room. The light from the bright hall flooded the darkened room, revealing a pale blonde, sitting rigidly in the wood chair in front of her vanity table. "Calli, we have to get to school."
My sister turned to face me, and though her features were a mirror of my own, the coldness in her eyes frightened me. "I already
told father." she said. "I'm not going this year."
"But Calli..." I stopped. No matter what our father had agreed to, I wasn't going to let my twin sister, Callista Swan, daughter of the esteemed Benjamin and Adeline Swan, sit in the dark of her room all through her senior year of high school. "Calli, you can't just stay here all year! Think of what you'll miss!"
"I can stay here, and I will. You certainly couldn't stop me." Calli scowled at me, eyes narrow. "There's nothing for me there anyway...just shallow, pampered rich brats. Even you can't believe that there's anything good about that place."
I walked forward into my sister's room, knelt beside her chair and took her cool hand in my own warm one. "I know things look dark to you...but it can't be all bad. If you would just take off the armor you've got around you and made some friends, things wouldn't be so bad."
Calli yanked her hand away from mine with undue force and angrily snarled, "I can't believe you've fallen for that load of bull! That same story, told to me over and over again; ‘If you'd just come out of your shell,' ‘I'm sure people will like you once they get to know you.' I'm sick of these people; they don't know me, what I have to live with every day! I'm not you, Celia! I'm not pretty, or kind, or capable of love!" she turned her head away and curled slightly inward, anger softening into pain.
"There's a light in you, Celia; you were born of it! But...there's no light in me..." She hugged herself tighter. "But I should have guessed that you wouldn't understand, right, Miss ‘Queen of St.
"Stop, Calli." I said gently, trying to calm her down. "You can't mean that. I'm not like that; you're not like that. You can't go on hating what I have. In the grand scheme of things, being popular means nothing. But most importantly, you can't keep hating yourself. The world is not just black-and-white." I sighed, and realized that this was no time to dig up the old wounds. I tried to bring the topic back to school; to what I could do in the time I had now. "But why don't you want to go? Is it...?"
Calli shook her head. "No, not anymore; they just ignore me now. It's just...why bother with anything? You go through 12 years of hell with idiots who don't give a damn about who you are, and then you suddenly get thrown out into a place where you have nothing, so you spend the rest of your life trying to be this and do that, and, just when things start making sense and you feel like there is some reason for all of it, you die. You start with nothing, and you end with nothing. If that's my future, then I don't want to bother. I'll just stay here for the rest of my life."
I reached out for my sister's shoulders and gently turned her to face me. I looked straight into my twin's blue-gray eyes and said, "Calli, I won't lie to you. Life is full of pain, and no one ever gets out of this mess alive." I smiled ruefully. "You only get one chance, though, and think of how much it would suck if you wasted it in here." I tried my hardest to convey the words with all my conviction. "So if this is all you have, this life, and if it truly is meant to end in nothing, then at least make it mean something while it lasts. You have to find some way of living, so why not make it a way you love."
Calli said nothing for a while, only sat there, a look on her face that was part wariness, part consideration. Then she nodded, and rose to her feet. "I'll be down in five minutes. Wait for me." I nodded, rising as well, and left my twin sister's room to wait for her at the front door.
As I walked, I let the frustration rise up inside me. The exchange between me and my sister Callista, -who I called Calli- was not a one-time deal. Though we were twins, we were as different as light and shadow. While I tried my best to bring hope and joy into the lives of all I met, my sister's bitterness and despair dragged everyone around her into darkness. What I believed, she thought of as garbage; what I loved, she hated.
And yet, I could not forget about her. Despite how much of a rain cloud my sister was in everyone's life, I loved her still. I, better than anyone, knew how much she had gone through.
I also knew that while I could not imagine taking the path she had chosen -darkness and cynicism and a life without hope- to escape the pain, I understood that this was her way of facing it. Some ran from the darkness in their lives; some fought defiantly no matter what. My sister accepted it. The darkness had found her years ago, and so she had let it in to her heart. ‘Better to live in it and be at peace', she had told me, ‘than to go on struggling needlessly.'
But still; but, still, I had to try to help her. She may have chosen this life, but it hurt me to see her in living in that darkness, both of that in her room and of that in her heart, and if I could not bring her out of if by force, then at least I could try to work within it by compassion.
So each year, on the first day of school, I walked up to my sister's room and tried to bring her out from her darkness. Each year I succeeded; but each year it got harder. And I feared that soon she would not come back to me at all.
- - -
As I walked up into the school grounds -my sister having already wandered off to catch some last few minutes of solitude before classes started- I heard someone call my name.
"Celia!" I turned around to the source of the call just in time to be met by a pink-haired girl who laughed as she collapsed, hugging, into me; clinging to my uniform to keep from falling.
I recognized who it was instantly. "Aimee!" I screamed, delighted to have met up with one of my best friends so quickly. "I almost didn't recognize you! Look at your hair!"
Aimee Delacroix -my best friend of three years- laughed, and said "So do you like it?! I got it cut and dyed just for senior year!"
Aimee had, for the first 16 years of her life, been an outspoken, opinionated, albeit mousy-haired artist. Now she had the hair to match. It was bright pink, so bright it hurt my eyes, and impossible to miss. Still shocked from the sudden sneak attack, I answered a little shakily. "Yeah! But how will you ever get away with it? You know how strict the dress-code is here. They'll never even let you inside."
Aimee laughed, and I suddenly noted that, upon closer inspection, she was also sporting a pair of purple contacts, which I assumed must be another fashion statement, seeing as she had perfect vision. "Aw, come on, Celia. We're not rich for nothing." Her eyes sparkled with mischief as she lowered her voice to a conspiring tone. "Daddy already took care of that." And she winked at me.
Just when I had recovered from the first assault, I felt someone grab me from behind with unneeded force and lift me a couple inches off the ground "Celia!" I heard someone scream. Then the unmistakable face of Carmina Esperanza appeared from over my shoulder. "It's so great to see you, Celia!" she said, letting go of me and running over to stand in front of me.
"Carmi!" I exclaimed in surprise and joy. Carmi was another of my best friends, a tall girl who was a tomboy through and through, but even though she was tough as nails, her eyes were a kind blue.
"And what about your hair?!" Aimee shrieked. "Does it get shorter every year?!"
The growing trend with Carmi, it seemed, was to cut off more of her hair each year. During freshman year, it fell to her waist. At the beginning of our sophomore year, it was up to her shoulders. When junior year came around, it hung shaggily around her ears. Today, her golden-brown hair was cropped and spiked.
As Carmi began to exclaim similar sentiments of surprise and delight over Aimee's hair, I caught sight of my two other best friends running towards our group.
"Jess! Rain!" I called, waving them over.
"Celia!" they called back. As they rushed up they both pulled me into a tight hug, then we pulled back to examine each other.
Jessica Jordan, a cheerful upbeat girl, was sporting hair in a boy's cut, dyed a deep blue color, while Lorraine ‘Rain' Hart, an emotional romantic, had her waist-length hair loosely curled and dyed a bright purple. Both newcomers laughed as they saw that their other two friends had also changed their look again.
Carmi rested a hand on my shoulder and teased gently, "That's the one thing we can always count on from Celia: she'll never change."
I smiled in response, not at all offended. Though my friends were constantly experimenting with their looks, I preferred the same, comfortable style I'd developed in middle school. For the past six years, my platinum blond hair had hung to my chin in a loose fall, with my bangs just above my blue-gray eyes. It worked, and that was all I needed.
It felt good to be meeting back up with these girls after having not seen them over a whole summer. I had met Rain and Aimee in my freshman year, after having lost my middle school friends when they moved to Europe, and the three of us had become close at once. The next year, Jess and Carmi had been added, and we five had been inseparable ever since.
Just then, I heard the school bell ring, and -grabbing a hold of Rain and Aimee, who were nearest- took off toward the school, Jess and Carmi following behind. I felt sure the first day back would be a good one.
As I reveled in getting back together with my friends, I couldn't help but think that life was going great for me right now. I had amazing friends, a wonderful family, and I was almost out of high school. What could possibly happen to break that now...?"
- - -
At lunch, I wandered through the tables of the trendy café that doubled as our school cafeteria looking for my friends. St. Clair's was a wealthy private school, -attended by students of upper-class families- and as such, our school cafeteria was actually a good place to eat at.
The first two class periods -Music with Aimee and Mathematics with Carmi and Jess- had gone well. Both the teachers had seemed nice, although you could never quite tell on the first day how nice anyone was going to be, and it felt good to be playing music again. While Aimee went for the traditionally romantic violin, I played cello, and adored it. Though I also dabbled in painting and sculpture, music was my first love and it felt wonderful to just lose myself in the heartbreakingly pure swell of emotion that was music; sound and soul entwined together.
I was dragged out of my momentary introspection as someone called out to me. I turned to locate the source of the sound and saw Jess waving from our table near the large windows that surrounded that end of the café. I waved back and started over, only to catch sight of a flash of bright pink out of the corner of my eye, right before Aimee ran up behind me and tackled me.
"Celia!" she cried happily.
I laughed. "It's only been a couple hours since you last saw me, Aimee. Why the big welcome?"
Aimee laughed as well, and, still hanging on to me, said, "Because..." -dragging the sentence out for dramatic effect- "I got a date Friday night!"
"Oh my God, really?!" I exclaimed, one part in joy, one part in shock. While I was happy for her, it had only been a few hours since school started again, and, once again, Aimee had already started in with the hormones.
Before I could question her further, Jess called out "What's he like?" as we walked over, smiling wryly at Aimee.
"Oh, my God..." Aimee repeated, faking a swoon, and leaning back against me. "He is so handsome. Tall, great smile, deep brown eyes that you can just fall into..."
"He wouldn't happen to be the hunk heading this way, would he?" Jess asked bemusedly.
Aimee quickly stood up straight in shock, obviously embarrassed at her antics, as a tall senior with wavy dark brown locks of hair walked up to our table. I suddenly recognized him as Gabriel Winn, the broodingly dark artist that took great joy in defying the school dress code. Right now, he was not wearing his blazer; the sleeves of his white button-up shirt rolled up to his shoulders and exposing the well-toned muscles of his arms. The arms themselves were adorned with a pair of worn black leather wristbands. The top two buttons of his shirt were undone, exposing some of his chest and the pendants he wore there on leather straps. Both ears had multiple piercings, as did his eyebrow.
"Hey," he said to the three of us, before turning to devote his attention solely to Aimee.
"Hi..." Jess and I echoed back, a bit stunned. Aimee had found herself a good one, but how she had managed to get him to go on a date with her was a mystery. Gabriel usually hung out with other dark, angsty types--and Aimee was neither dark nor angsty.
Oblivious to us, Gabriel smiled at Aimee and laced his fingers through hers. "I missed you, these past few weeks," he murmured, leaning down and kissing her.
Aimee giggled, blushed, and said "No, Gabriel...my friends don't know yet..."
I watched the two with a vague sense of confusion. Why in the world was Gabriel, of all people, being so openly flirty with my super-happy friend? Especially when, to my knowledge, they had not even gone on a single date yet? "Don't know what...?" I asked, a bit annoyed that one of my best friends was holding out on me.
Aimee sighed, eyes closing in irritation. "It was Gabriel's idea. He wanted to keep it a secret over the summer."
"What are you talking about!?" Jess whined, eager for the juicy piece of gossip.
Gabriel smiled slightly, and pulled away from Aimee, though his fingers remained locked with hers. "I had liked Aimee here since sophomore year, but had never found the courage to tell her until last year. Near the end of fourth quarter I found out that she was leaving for France over the summer. At the prospect of losing what might be my one chance for happiness with her, I found the courage to ask her out."
Aimee smiled and looked lovingly at Gabriel. I was privately surprised that he had been the one to initiate the relationship; even more so that he had liked her for a whole two years.
Picking up where he had left off, Aimee continued the story. "Of course, I said yes. My family wasn't going to leave until a month after school let out, so I told him we'd get together the first Friday of summer break."
Gabriel spoke again. "Although I was so nervous that things would go wrong between us, we hit it off perfectly. It was a wonderful feeling, being with Aimee, and when it was over, I asked her out again for the following Friday." He reached down and touched his lips to her forehead in a sweet gesture, Aimee laughing in agreement. "By the time the month was over, you could not imagine two closer people than we were. Even after Aimee left for France, we continued to exchange letters."
Aimee smiled, and I knew she was remembering that summer. "I couldn't wait to meet up with him again once school started," she added.
"And now you're back together." Jess smiled happily. I could tell that she found the story awfully romantic, and I had to admit that it moved me as well. I was very happy for Aimee, having found a boy who loved her with all his heart; I could only wish for the same.
Having been so moved by their story, I asked Gabriel, "So, do you want to stay with us the rest of the lunch period?" Though I still nursed in me the desire to spend my time with just my best friends, I thought that if Aimee and Gabriel wanted time together, I could not deny them that after what they had shared with us.
But, to both my pleasure and displeasure, Gabriel shook his head. "Afraid not," he said. "I need to be getting back to class; any longer and the teacher will figure out I'm not where I'm supposed to be." And with that brief hint about what he had been doing that brought him to us, he turned and walked away.
Aimee sighed with happiness as she watched his back recede. "Isn't he amazing...?" she said, a little breathlessly. But before either of us could say anything in reply, she turned to me, the formation of a new idea sparkling on her face, and said, "But you should get yourself a guy too, Celia!"
Surprised by the abruptness of the comment, I could only stutter out a string of negatives. Not only was I confused about why Aimee should, now of all times, become interested in my romantic situation, but the complete suddenness of her statement had left me feeling a bit disoriented. I did want a guy...I just could not admit why or how much yet.
"Why not?" Aimee asked, smiling mischievously now. "You're one of the most popular girls at St. Clair's--surely you can get a date? Or do you not want a guy?" She was now smirking triumphantly. She knew she had me caught; that I, like any other girl my age, wanted a boyfriend more than just about anything. Yet I would not give in yet, especially not while they were teasing me about it. I had a sense of pride that would not allow me to collapse under the weight of my friend's insistence.
Jess picked this moment to start in on me as well, beginning a chant of ‘Celia needs a boyfriend! Celia needs a boyfriend!' which Aimee picked up with amazing volume, until I was highly embarrassed and completely furious.
"Stop it, both of you!" I snapped. "I do not need a boyfriend!" Inside, however, I was mad for a different reason. No matter what my friends said, one thing was true: I did want a guy. The only problem was that none of the boys at my school interested me.
While my friends looked at the male population of St. Clair's as a godsend, all I saw were immature buffoons. I had always wanted a boyfriend, needed the love and desire that came with it, but I also needed someone better than a bunch of whiny rich boys. Even the so-called ‘artists' and ‘rebels' that surrounded me at school and in my life were nothing more than pale imitations of the real thing; no matter what they claimed to be, at their core they were just as shallow as the rest, and the only few exceptions to the norm were already taken.
I wanted a guy so badly, but I needed someone who was better than they were; someone stronger, someone more serious, someone more mature...someone darker. Though I had been asked out many times, I had never found someone who was what I needed. I didn't want a perfect, eternal love; all that I wanted was simply someone with a darker nature; someone to awaken those same feelings within me.
For -tied to the need for love and desire- there was a darker urge in my heart; that, no matter what anyone said about the ‘light in me', I had the seeds of darkness within me, tied inexorably to my soul. My dark side needed someone to match it; my dark desire -buried not as deeply as one would think- needed someone to fuel it. And that was what I needed in love, no matter how tainted it was.
"Celia!" I heard someone call my name and I started, realizing that I had drifted off.
"Celia!" Jess called again, looking sheepish. "Look...we're sorry we teased you," she said, and either because of my yelling or my silence -and maybe both- she also looked visibly upset.
"Yeah," Aimee agreed. "We are; but lunch is ending." As she said this, I looked around me, and I saw the rest of the students leaving the lunch room. How could the time have flown by so quickly...? I wondered.
"We need to get to class," Aimee prompted, and I nodded.
"Yeah; that's right." I said.
I pushed my thoughts to the back of my head, stood up from the table, and walked out of the café with the two of them. This was no time to contemplate my nature; for now I had to focus on school.
- - -
As I walked home from school -my last two periods, English and Art with Rain- I couldn't help recalling the feeling that had come over me at lunch; the feeling of need; of powerful yearning; the burning desire for someone that had washed over me; had pulled me under until I was powerless. I had wanted all of it...and that scared me.
Why did I feel such a need for darkness? For someone of the darkness, and to be pulled into that same darkness with him? All my life, I had believed in hope, joy, love, -things of light- and now all I could feel were dark yearnings. What was happening to me?
As I reached my house, I saw a man standing by the white lilies planted along the front gate, lost in thought. He was tall, taller even than Carmi's 5'8. His hair was a shining silver color; -though he did not appear to be any older than eighteen- falling to brush his shoulders in a careless spill that still managed to look neat. His eyes were full of passionate emotion and a suggestion of deep, forbidden knowledge. He wore a form-fitting, long-sleeved black shirt, black slacks over black boots, and a knee-length black leather jacket.
As I walked up to the house, he turned towards me, caught, and held, my gaze with his eyes, and I saw that they were silver. Immediately I felt my heartbeat quicken and a faint blush run to my cheeks. This man was so undeniably handsome, so heart-piercingly unreachable, that when he began to walk toward me -his lean form lithe and held with such liquid grace that his mere movements captured me- I could not believe that it was really happening.
As he passed beside me, as the tips of his slender fingers barely brushed against my cheek, -though the contact sent a hot wave of fire through me- he looked deeply into my eyes with his own quicksilver ones, and offered me a smile like a promise. Then, without a word, he passed beyond me and was gone.
"Who was that?!" Calli asked as she walked down from the porch, and I was both pleased and a little jealous to see that she looked just as swept away by the stranger as I was.
"I don't know..." I replied vaguely, reaching my hand up to my cheek where he had touched me.
"But I want to...." I added, so quietly that my sister could not hear me.
Though as the day wore on, as the sun set and the last of the evening light of day slowly darkened to the moonlit glow of night, Calli seemed gradually began to shake off the spell that had been cast on the two of us by the mysterious stranger, but I let my thoughts linger on him.
On his eyes, that had held both the height of passionate emotion, and a haunting darkness, within them.
His smile, which he had offered to me like a promise of things to come between us, that I so wanted to be fulfilled.
And the touch of his fingers upon me, a gentle motion that had both marked me irrevocably as his, and filled me with burning desire for him.
- - -
It was the dream; I knew that now. The darkness inside me; the tainted feelings; the man I longed for...they all stemmed from, or had brought about, -which, I did not know...- that dream of two fallings.
I did not understand why this had descended all at once; why it had all suddenly been thrust upon me. I always thought that my senior year would be a constant year. A year of endings, yes, but that until it ended, life would continue like it always had; that it would be a slow winding down of a perfect stage of my life, with time to enjoy and appreciate everything I had been gifted with and everyone I loved. But now it seemed that, on the first day of this perfect year of my life, all of a sudden the ground had fallen away beneath me and I was left with nothing stable to cling to.
And I knew that at the crux of this violent upheaval was that man; the one with quicksilver eyes. I could not deny that he had changed much within me in the one moment of time we had occupied together; I did not want to deny the feelings he had stirred within me. But how could one man, in one moment, have done so much to me with so little? It just was not possible....Was it...?
It had been him in that dream; that was the one thing I was sure of. No matter how brief a glimpse of him I had been given, in both reverie and reality, I knew it had been him. What that meant, however, I did not.
As I thought about darkness, dreams, and desire, one thing become clear to me. I had changed within this day. I was rushing forward into something vast; something great and dark and terrible. It had to do with that man; it had to do with what I felt for him. And no matter what darkness lurked without -and within- me, for him, I would face it. For him, I would be consumed by it...gladly.
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