Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Paris, Je t'aime!


Yes...there's a reason I've been pinning to my travel board lately, a reason why I've been on edge regarding stress (hoping + praying that my passport would come in on time), and why I'm elated to finally pack all my striped shirts together...

I'm going to Paris this summer!

Well, in less than two weeks to be exact...I know, I know...there's been no mention  on the blog, on IG, or anywhere lately as I've been keeping it under wraps for a while and only a few friends + family members have known. This is all because this trip literally came together about a month and a half ago when my mother and I were discussing study abroad options. 

If you know me in real life or even in the blog world, I love Europe and have always dreamed of going there...but the moneys are kind of a necessity and summer programs are preeeeetty darn expensive, so I figured it just wasn't meant to be. Fast forward to February a little bit after my birthday, I was chatting with my mother and wistfully telling her it was a pity I couldn't finish my language requirements in France (since I have to take more than two semesters of French) and how if only I could, because that would free up my course load senior year. A couple phone calls later and serious discussions about loans and fundraising, my parents told me that they thought this was an opportunity that they wanted me to have.

So...in June, I will be in Paris, studying French through a study abroad program with several classmates, and living with a French family. It's only just starting to feel real, but it's still hard to believe that next month I'll be strolling by the Seine, gazing at the Eiffel Tower, and sipping coffee outside a cafe while people watching. 

Because I'll be taking classes, I'm not sure what blogging will look like next month, but if you want to be overwhelmed with shots of the Paris skyline, countless croissants, and my feet on cobblestone streets, then you can follow along on Instagram, where I'll undoubtedly be 'gramming up a storm. Apologies in advance...but not really. ;)

Also, packing/places to visit/eat suggestions are more than welcome - hit me up with any and all advice!! I'm hoping to visit as many countries as I can squeeze into a month (most notably ENGLAND), so allll advice is appreciated. 

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Writing: Beast + Beauty VII

FRIENDS. This is it...the end of Beast + Beauty. 
It's been a long, lovely ride of suspense and wonderful comments from you the readers. I am extremely excited for you to read the long-awaited ending of Adam + Alina's story...and there may or may not be that kiss you requested. We shall see. As always, if it's been a while since the last time you read, feel free to hop over and re-read Part I, II, IIIIV + V , or VI

Please, PLEASE leave a comment below with your final thoughts and what you thought of the ending...I am planning on expanding this into a full-length novel later this summer as A + A's story deserves a proper telling. Thank you again for reading. 
Enjoy. 






7

Feet pounded behind her, Lee’s ragged panting sawing the air. He must have followed them home. "Alina, what are you doing? He told you to stay!" 
She kept walking.
His hand grabbed her arm, yanking her back. "Are you crazy? There’s nothing good out there!" he shouted, his eyes wild with fear. 
"He's out there!" Alina retorted fiercely, pulling against him. 
Lee’s heaving chest slowed; he shook his head unwillingly. "We both know he's not good."
She looked at him with sudden disgust and almost pity. "No," she whispered, yanking her arm out of his grip. "That’s what you think." She lifted her chin. "I know better." 
His face crumpled; she left him standing there as she ran - not for her life, not for her father's life.
For his.

I envy not the beast that takes
His license in the field of time,
Unfetter’d by the sense of crime,
To whom a conscience never wakes;

Adam bit back a particularly colorful curse; clearly Iain had been working on his right hook.
"Always a bloody hero for a girl....but not this time,” the younger man sneered, lowering his arm after the last blow. “She’s not Kristin. She won’t follow you."
Adam lifted his head, exhaustion and a strange determination humming through him. He ran his gaze over the swollen horizon, grey with early morning, to the stained corners of the warehouse roof where Iain had dragged him. Yes...NYPD would be here any second now, if they weren't already. He could almost imagine he heard the soft sound of footsteps, plastic shields clinking, guns locking.
They'd be here in a moment - he bit back a rueful grin. He'd always done his best to avoid them and now, at the very end, he'd been the one to call in the cavalry.
Literally.
Iain’s men had searched him before taking him to the Barras, but thankfully hadn’t checked his call history after confiscating his phone
He lifted his gaze back to Iain and let the smile finally spread across his battered face. "I didn't do this so she'd come back."
Iain's eyes narrowed, distracted.
 Adam continued, keeping his attention away from the now shifting corners by the stairs. 
"I did it so she'd leave. And live.”
Adam closed his eyes as his final words slipped past his lips. It was done. Only one thing mattered. That he keep her safe. And he had.
Showtime, he thought wryly - and opened his eyes to meet his death head-on. 
Iain's sudden gasp alerted him that they had moved forward. 
Like a fool, the boy whirled frantically, pointing his gun at the growing NYPD team as if they would somehow feel threatened by a young gang member and the broken, battered leader at his feet. 
"Back up!" Iain shrieked exactly at the same time that he was ordered in a deep voice to drop his weapon. 
"No - I'll shoot, I swear I will!"
Stupid, stupid boy.
That was his last thought before gunfire rang out. A rattling, thundering storm of barks that warped the boy's yell into a high-pitched scream - 
Adam contorted. Pain - shooting, sickening underneath the screaming...why was Iain still screaming?
"'NO!'" 
Adam fought to keep his eyes open. No, not - couldn't be - not her voice
His darkening vision swam and for the briefest moment lingered enough for him to see Alina’s slim form dart out of the stairs. 
"N-" he tried to choke in a strangled voice, but only tasted the metallic tang of blood and sank back, feeling himself slip into darkness. God, not her death too - he could bear his own. But not...
Ragged brown hair against his face, gentle fingers wrapping around him - what was left of him - her voice, sobbing and beautiful and her, begging him to stay, to be okay. Her lips against his - warm and trembling and so very sweet -
His eyes fluttered. Had to...tell –
“Guess even a beast can be a hero,” he mumbled against her mouth, trying to smile; darkness roared up over him. Pity, he thought tiredly, with distant sadness as he slipped deeper. He would have liked to kiss her more. 
But dead men can't kiss. 

I hold it true, whate’er befall;
I feel it, when I sorrow most;
 ‘Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all.

Alina couldn't breathe - couldn't hear, couldn't see...not the shouts of the police around her, the whirr of helicopters, or garnet red seeping against concrete.
The only thing real was Adam's body in her arms.
Hands grabbed at her, tugging her backwards. Trying to disentangle her from his bloody body, unwrap her arms from around his shoulders, pull her fingers from his hair, her face from his neck. 
She screamed and fought and sobbed as slowly, excruciatingly, they succeeded. In one moment, he was there - solid, warm, and Adam - against her.
 Then he was gone, replaced by cold emptiness.                             
Her arms faltered and fell through the air; sweet blackness closed over her. 

Be near me when I fade away,
To point the term of human strife,
And on the low dark verge of life,
                                                           The twilight of eternal day.       


8

“Ma’am?”
Alina raised her gaze to the blank-faced nurse standing above her.
She gripped the plastic chair rim tighter and shut her eyes for a moment, escaping into blessed darkness to look for her sanity, her ability to speak.
“Ma’am?” the nurse droned again.
She opened her eyes. “Is he – what did they do with...” her voice faltered.
“They just took the body away. We’ve cleared you and the chief has your statement. You’re free to go.”
Alina staggered to her feet, ignoring the woman’s bored recitation...they just took the body.
“No,” she whispered and pushed past the startled nurse. She plunged into the hallway and paused.
Disorienting whispers, papers and fabric rustling as doctors and nurses in scrubs hurried past, a disembodied voice paging a doctor to the third floor, snatches of conversations, wheels squeaking –
She spun to the left and caught sight of an orderly disappearing around the corner with a gurney. Alina forced herself to move forward, panic seeping through the numbness.
“Watch where you’re going, young lady!”
An irate, middle-aged nurse jerked her large frame away from Alina with an affronted sniff.
“I’m sorry – so sorry,” Alina mumbled, breaking into a run. She turned the corner and froze.
An orderly’s skinny back was bent over the long gurney, wheeling it away from her. Motionless, white fabric covered the entire length – and the body on it.
Adam’s body.
Alina gasped, the hallway suddenly swaying.
The orderly turned at the sound and she blinked, trying to stay standing.
It was Lee.
To her shock, he winked, looking completely unsurprised to see her. He turned back, pushing the gurney to the side around the next corner. The sudden turn caused a pale hand to slip out from under the sheet, dangling.
Fingers twitched and curled into a fist.
She smiled, wild elation and triumph shooting through her.
He was alive.

The end. 

Friday, May 8, 2015

The Midnight Letters ii

 

 I've decided this will be a series...of nighttime letters written from the heart from time to time, to all those who seek the cover of dark skies and the quiet of windswept nights when life and hearts are too heavy to understand. 

Midnight has a special magic...a gentle calmness, a quiet understanding, a ripple of peace beneath a wide expansion of stars. 

I hope you drink in the midnights, that you wander and sit and gaze at the world wrapped in soft shadows and dreams above your head. That you sit and look at the moon as she looks back. 

Because midnight is for the dreamers, the heartbroken, the hungry, the searching. The restless souls. The skies and darkness are yours, thick and soft like a mantle wrapped around the world, softly glimmering with the faintest stars. 

I hope you breathe in the night air, that you breathe in its magic of peace and starlight, that you tilt back your head and open your eyes and your heart to catch a falling star. Because things are softer and clearer and more bearable by starlight, and the shadows of midnight blues and dusky blacks ease the pain of tears and hurting hearts.

 I hope you know that you are a soul, graceful and strong, and that no attention or lack of attention from the opposite sex says anything of your worth. 

I hope you know that even when the person you want to hear from doesn't say anything that it will be okay. That you can breathe deep. I hope you soak in the midnights and sit outside beneath the moon and wind. I hope you feel peace.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Writing: Beast + Beauty Part VI

Oh, friends...are you in for a ride today. It's the second to last installment of Beast + Beauty (!!!) so hopefully this will not disappoint. In case you need to go back and reread, here's part I, II, III, IV + V (I highly recommend rereading the last one before starting this). 

PLEASE let me know in the comments what you think! As always, each one means the world to me...and there's quite a few plot twists in this installment. Which means the ending is the only part left..sniff sniff. Also, is anyone wanting a kiss? Or wondering if I've written one in or not? Hmm, pressing issues...





6

Alina blinked hazily, staring at grimy concrete. Cold warehouse air pressed against her skin, wet from the rain. A dizzying sense of déjà vu swept through her...was it really only ten days ago that she’d lay here after the subway incident? But there was no loud-mouthed teenager or gentle, dark-eyed man to help her…Adam.
“…let me know. I don’t want them sneaking up on us,” Iain finished, turning away from a man by the door.
Alina lifted her head, every nerve in her body tensing. Now his attention was on her. She pressed herself into the wall, wrapping her arms around her knees protectively.
He stopped by her feet, staring down at her. “Get up.”
She didn’t move.
Iain clutched a handful of her damp hair tightly and yanked her up. Despite her best efforts, a whimper came through the duct tape at the sharp wave of pain.
He ripped it off. Her mouth stung, as if he’d slapped her.
“I want you to cry,” he breathed in her ear, holding up a phone in front of her face tauntingly. His ice-blue eyes narrowed. “Because if you cry, he will come. To rescue his little beauty.”
Alina glared at him with burning hatred, desperately trying to blink back the treacherous tears pooling in her eyes. “No,” she ground out between her teeth.
His hand twisted against her hair again, this time almost yanking her backwards.
A horrible rip met her ears and she nearly screamed as he jerked again. Black streaks swam before her eyes; dizziness roared in her ears, threatening to engulf her.
“I can keep going,” he said pleasantly. “And rip it out strand by bloody strand.”
“I - hate - you,” she sobbed, using every ounce of her strength to remain upright.
“Not as much as you will if you don’t obey.” He jerked his chin to the barrel-chested, tattooed man standing guard by the door. The man nodded and exited.
Alina’s eyes fixed on the door, cold fear running through her. They were alone. Oh, God.
Iain seemed to read her thoughts. He released his fistful of hair, sliding his fingers through it instead. 
Slowly. Tauntingly.
“See, if you don’t do what I want and call him...” His finger slipped past the ends of her hair and down her neck, grazing her collarbone.
She stared at him, hypnotized with horror.
“...I’ll put a bullet where you don’t want it.”
The door banged open: a dirty, bruised man tumbled in, falling to his knees. The tattooed gang member stepped in, standing just above him with a pointed gun. Mr. Barra looked up, blue eyes widening in shock above his duct-taped mouth.
NO!” Alina screamed, lunging towards her father.
Iain slammed her back into the wall and stepped back into her line of sight.
“Please, don’t – don’t hurt him!” she moaned, sagging against the biting concrete.
He leaned in, his breath hot and jutting on her wet cheeks. He shoved the phone into her hands.
“Then call him. And beg.” 
She surrendered, sliding down to the floor numbly. A string of numbers, already typed, stared back at her from the screen. Forcing her shaking fingers to move, she pressed the “Call” button.
Brrrrrrrring. Brrrrrrrrrring.
Don’t pick up, for the love of God, don’t pick -
“Who is this?” Adam’s voice came on, harsh and demanding.
Alina bit back a sob – no…I can’t...no, please...
“How did you get this number? Who is this?”
Her breathed hitched; she couldn’t hold back a whimper. “Adam...”
 “Alina,” he inhaled sharply on the other end of the line. “What’s wrong, are you okay?”
Tears blurred her eyes. Her world was water and screaming pain - beneath it all, his voice in her ear, rough and urgent and yet so gentle. The gentleness undid her.
“Adam – I’m...I’m so sorry,” she sobbed harder. “It’s Iain, he has my dad and me at the warehouse – Adam, he’s going to shoot him...”
“Unless I come first.” Flat, horrified acceptance.
She closed her eyes. “Yes. But Adam, don’t...don’t come, he’s going to kill you -”
The dial tone shrilled as Iain kicked her, knocking the phone to the concrete.
“Don’t worry, little beauty,” he spat. “He knows.”
His fingers closed around the phone and he left, leaving those damming words hanging on the air followed by the door’s grating screech.
Her father shifted next to her, his blue eyes even larger with horror and slight accusation. Alina raised a shaky hand and grabbed the edge of duct tape on his mouth. She winced at his muffled yell and tried to force breath into her lungs.
Now she had to explain.

These two have striven half the day,
And each prefers his separate claim,
Poor rivals in a losing game,
That will not yield each other way.

Alina rested her forehead against her knees, trying desperately to withdraw within herself. Trying to will away the musty air of the concrete room that crawled into her throat - gagging, filling her mouth with the taste of dirt and old hatred. She was still nearly deaf from her father’s shouting – he had not taken the story well, vacillating between fury and terror at the number of times she’d stupidly endangered herself.
A frozen silence stretched out, taunt with bitter disappointment.
That’s all I do, she thought numbly. Disappoint. Alina blinked, horribly aware that she was the reason both of the two men she cared about were in this twisted situation.
After an unbearably long time, the heavy tattooed man appeared in the doorway again. He flung the door open. 
Iain stepped in, his mouth curving with satisfaction at the tear trails still wet on her face. “Ready for the show, little Beauty?” He crossed over to her, light gleaming off of the gun barrel in his hand.
She glared at him with defiance and then tensed, seeing a familiar shadow move forward in the door. Dark eyes and twisting scars.
“Adam!” she gasped, rising up on her knees. “I’m so sorry, please forgive me -”
He ignored her, staring at Iain. “You win,” he said calmly. “I’m here...now let them go.”
Iain’s mouth twisted. “Getting soft, are we?” Something flashed in his eyes. “Funny how you come when she cries,” he hissed, pointing the gun at Alina’s head.
A muscle clenched in Adam’s cheek. “Iain...”
The latter stepped closer to Alina, jabbing the barrel into the side of her head. Adam’s hand twitched, but his face remained blank.
“No – we’re gonna fucking do this,” Iain snarled and Alina started at the raw fury bleeding through his mocking tone.The gun shook against her head - his hand was...trembling? Why?
“You’re gonna give me a reason why her life is worth saving when Kristin’s wasn’t.”
Adam put up his hands slowly. “I know you’re angry at me -”
“Angry?” Incredulous laughter burst from Iain's mouth. His voice rose a pitch higher. “You don’t know the first fucking thing about anger,” he spat, pressing the gun against her temple even harder. “You don’t have watch the man that your sister trusted - the one she thought she loved - get to live while she rots in a grave!”
Alina gasped and the room tilted. No…
Adam’s face tightened, pain darkening his eyes.
“I trusted you!” Iain shrieked. “I followed you, joined this gang...let you be with her. And you watched her die!”
Alina stared at him, shock numbing her. Adam’s gaze flickered down to hers sadly.
‘I’m not a hero – there’s nothing and no one that I care about.’
“Kristin...made her own choices. She chose to follow us that night, and she wouldn’t go back home, even when I begged her. You want to blame me for her getting caught in the cross-fire, so be it.”
He lifted his chin, his large frame suddenly more imposing. “But I’ll be dammed if anyone else pays for it but me,” he growled. “You don’t want a girl’s blood on your hands...trust me. Let them go.”
Iain’s face hardened, the fury giving way to cold hatred. “Fine. But this...” he gestured with between him and Adam with the gun. “This ends tonight.” 
He jerked his head to the man by the door who stepped forward and yanked both Barras to their feet, shoving them to the door. The man threw Mr. Barra out and grabbed Alina’s wrist just as she broke free.
“Adam!” Alina half-sobbed, half-screamed and fought against the heavy arm. “No - Adam – please, I’m so sorry!”
Turn around, look at me...please look at me.
He didn’t move. And so her last view of him was the dimly lit room of cracked concrete walls, the two figures silhouetted against the doorframe as Iain’s fist landing in his face. 
Adam crumpled to the ground.
The door slammed shut, swallowing her and her screams in darkness.

To-night the winds begin to rise
And roar from yonder dropping day;
The last red leaf is whirl’d away
The rooks are blown about the skies

“Absolutely not!” Mr. Barra roared, turning on her. His eyes were livid with panic, his mouth still red from the duct tape. Somehow her bookish, elderly father was gone; the frantic man standing before her had summoned an inhuman strength to pull her away from the warehouse and back to the shop.
He had trembled almost as badly as her the entire way home.
“Dad, please -”
“Like...hell...are...you going back there,” he ground through his teeth. He crossed to the door, turning the bolt loudly for good measure. His hand shook; he clenched it tightly. “You’re going to stay here and I’m going to call 911.”
Alina stared at her father in horror. “You can’t tell the police – they’ll shoot him if Iain hasn't already! At best, they'll arrest both of them!”
“He’s a criminal, he deserves it. And what you’re wanting to do, it’s aiding and abetting!”
“Dad, he saved our lives,” she whispered. “Doesn’t that count for something?”
Mr. Barra shook his grey head determinedly. “One act of kindness don’t make a hero. And don’t think I can’t see that look in your eyes – it’s the same one your mother gave me when we dated.” He stepped forward and grasped her shoulders firmly; his voice softened. “You’re so much better than this – than him. I worked hard to give you a good life. Not so you could throw away your chances on some maniac...flinthead. You heard them, that other girl ended up dead!”
Alina laughed bitterly, blinking back tears. “What chances, Dad? I work in a bookstore.”
He flinched, confusion and the smallest amount of hurt staining his tight blue eyes.
She stepped back out of his grasp and glanced around at the small shop that had been her world for so long - despite the jab, she’d been happy here. As happy as one could be. She turned to the door.
“Alina -”
The hoarse rasp of his voice stopped her. For the first time in her life, there was fear in it. The fear that had always been absent, even after the car accident. He’d always been so calm, so sure against everything that life threw at him. Except for her walking out the door, out of his life. 
“Please…you’re breaking the law. I’m begging you, don’t make me see you in jail or have to identify your body. Your mother...”
There it was; she’d been waiting for him to play that card –
“She wouldn’t want this...we raised you to do the right thing.”
Alina closed her eyes, drawing strength from her memory, from all those times she’d heard those words, from the moment she’d hurled them at Adam in fright and anger.
 Do the right thing.
Her fingers closed around the bolt and twisted.
She turned and smiled sadly at him. At the man standing desolate and heartbroken before her with his too-large sweater slumping on his shoulders, frizzled grey hair standing on all ends.
“Why do you think I’m leaving?”
The shop bell rang behind her as the door clicked shut on her childhood and the only real safety she’d ever known.

And, even when she turn’d, the curse
Had fallen, and her future Lord
Was drown’d in passing thro’ the ford,
Or kill’d in falling from his horse

fin. 

Monday, May 4, 2015

Monday Style: Back to Black




dress// thrift store
scarf// gifted
heels// thrift store
earrings// Icing

Hello, friends! Long time, no see...things got a little quiet around here despite the plethora of posts I had slated to be published. The last week of classes was an insane one with tests, projects, and even a few finals that came early. This weekend was extra packed with friends visiting from out of town, an end of the year ball, and several senior events for my dear friends who are graduating. 

Which calls for some dressier attire...I've had to dress up (as in actually dress up) four times in the past two weeks, and graduation hasn't even arrived yet! And when I'm having one of those days when I don't want to fit myself into formal clothes or it's been a long week and I just really want to wear a t-shirt and yoga pants...I somehow always go back to black. 

It's such a classic, as Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly, and any style icon displays. Instantly chic, sophisticated, and put-together, it's hard to go wrong in black. I especially love layering separates rather than a black dress (although those have their moments also). 

And of course, if you go black, it's all in the excessories. Cue all things gold + leopard - my fashion obsessions and forever style classics. Let me know if you'd like to see some more formal dress posts - since the season of graduations, weddings, bridal/baby showers, etc. is upon us!

Happy Monday - I'm off to get lunch with friends + then take my first "test" final!

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Writing: Beast + Beauty IV


For those of you who have been reading along, here's part IV of my fairy-tale retelling of Beauty & the Beast. No idea what's going on or need to go back and re-read? Here's Part I, II, and III. If you're a visual lover, here's the inspiration board for this story. 

Every single comment means so much, so thank you thank you - apologies in advance for being very cruel and leaving you on a cliffhanger. I'd like to point out that I decided to give you part four AND five because I felt bad about giving you so little. Also, I'd love to hear what you think will happen next. Any guesses?





4

Over the next week, she fell into an odd, but pleasant sort of routine. Stopping by Brooklyn every two or so days to peruse Adam’s library, switch out newly bound-books for ones in severe need, slowly converse more and more with Adam who – she learned – was in and out of the house multiple times each day, and to exchange insults with Lee.
“What does your name mean?” he asked randomly when she arrived one afternoon, nearly a week after the subway incident.
Alina blinked, surprised. “Light.”
“Hmm, sounds Italian,” he said interestedly. “Aaaaaaaaaaaalinaaa! Bella Alina!” he cried out in a horrible Italian accent, pinching his thumb and finger together, gesturing wildly. “Bellina, Aliniana beautiful Alina!”
She raised an eyebrow, biting back a smile at his ridiculous display. And inwardly glad Adam wasn’t present to hear all this ‘beautiful’ talk being thrown around.
“It’s a Greek name. And I’m Scottish, not Italian.”
Lee deflated mid-gesture, his mouth rounded in an O. “Well, that’s just wrong...pity you’re not actually Italian. Or, you know, beautiful. You’re not even really pretty, though.” He scrutinized her and shrugged, twirling a kitchen knife between his fingers. “I’d do you if you were,” he offered magnanimously. “For free, too.”  
Alina stared at him blankly. Hurt spilled into her lungs, squeezing the air from them. Her scar felt heavy and hideous on her lips – not even enough for Lee to consider, a little voice mocked. A new low.
“What? I said for free! That’s a compliment,” Lee reassured her.
She got up, blinking back tears. “Right. Silly me,” she mumbled and fled.
“You’re welcome!” he called down the hall after her.
Alina made it to the library and collapsed, sinking down by the fireplace. She pressed a hand to her mouth, trying to keep it in, push back everything she’d held down for so long.
Stupid, idiotic – did you really think you’d ever be enough again – broken…all you’ll ever be -
‘Just like her mother...except for that nasty scar.’
A sob tore from her throat and she wrapped her arms around herself, trying to hold her heart, catch the splintering pieces digging deeper with her – sharper and colder – stealing her breath. Rage flared up, stinging her eyes with hot tears. Alina’s hand clenched over her mouth; she rubbed at her scar roughly, gasping for breath. As if she rubbed hard and angrily enough, she could wipe it away, feel smoothness beneath her fingers...be whole once more.
“Alina?”
She froze, mid-sob at the rough, deep voice that carried in the hush of the dark library. Alina stumbled to her feet and lurched against the fireplace mantle.
“Sorry, I just -”
She caught a faint glimpse of her eyes, huge and dark in her pale face, still streaming tears. She hurriedly wiped them and turned away from the cruel, mocking mirror. The scar was still there.
He moved forward urgently, towering above her.
"Why are you crying?" 
Adam’s fingers lifted, the faintest brush against her face. As if he hardly dared touch her. His hand lingered in the air, trembling, a breath away from her cheek, the space in between her skin and his vibrating with fraught tension.
Alina shook her head, trying to choke back the mutinous liquid. There was no point in rehashing Lee’s stupid comments – he hadn’t meant it cruelly. "It’s nothing." 
The thrumming intensified and then vanished as his fingertips lowered from her face. They carefully wrapped around her wrist - cool and calloused against her racing pulse, holding her as carefully and painstakingly as one of the precious roses twisted in the ivy. 
She dared to look up. His dark eyes, black in the shadowed room, fixed on her. 
"Try me." 
"I used to...to feel beautiful," she whispered at last. "And I haven't felt that way - in a long time. Beautiful things...aren't the same after they're broken." 
The dark eyes regarded her steadily as she went on, words spilling from places she'd never know existed. 
 “And I know I've never been beautiful. I'm just ordinary. But now, I don't even feel beautiful. In any way. I just feel..."
"Broken," he said softly. 
"Yes," she whispered, eyes brimming over again. 
His grip tightened around her wrist more securely and he stepped closer, the heat of his body warmth enveloping her. 
Alina looked up at him, at the pale thin scars winding over the strong, elegant face. Even despite the faded lines, she could still see the man he once was. 
A crooked smile pulled at his mouth."I spent my entire life surrounded by beautiful things and people, Alina Barra. And it stopped meaning anything..."  Adam bent his head closer, forehead brushing against hers. 
"Because it's ordinary to love what's beautiful," he whispered, his breath warm against her lips. "But to find the beauty in what's ordinary...that's something to live for."
Blood thrummed in her pulse, stealing strength from her knees. Just like in the subway, she felt boneless, like she was falling.
Only his firm grip kept her standing, ever so gently pulling her towards him –
Something clattered in the hallway. The door banged open.
Zvijer!” Lee burst in, panic in his voice. “I just got a call. Iain – he just killed another one. Vince.”
Adam straightened up, his fingers leaving her wrist instantly. Alina shivered, suddenly cold. He grabbed his jacket and jerked it on, his eyes hard flint. “Stay here,” he ordered without looking at her. “You’ll be safe.”
The door slammed behind them, her hand still hanging mid-air where he’d held it.
Alina blinked. “Okay.”

Forgive these wild and wandering cries,
Confusions of a wasted youth;
Forgive them where they fail in truth,
And in thy wisdom make me wise.

5

Two hours later, a creak in the hallway alerted her of their return. She stood just someone stumbled through the door – Adam, supporting a limp figure. A slight moan escaped the latter and Alina gasped as Lee’s head rolled forward into the light, badly bruised. Blood trickled down his nose and one eye was purple.
“They corned him, four to one,” Adam grunted, bowed under the weight of the almost-unconscious boy. “Help me lay him down.”
She rushed forward and slipped an arm around Lee; together they managed to drag him forward and lower him onto the couch. Alina hurried to the kitchen, wet a hand towel, and slipped back to the room. A first aid kit, shabby and nearly depleted, sat by Adam’s heels as he applied disinfectant to the worse of Lee’s open wounds.
“You’re okay?” She scanned him anxiously, but saw nothing other than disheveled hair and a slight bruise on his cheek.
Adam’s gaze didn’t move from Lee. “I’ve been on the streets longer than he has...you learn how to fight out of a corner pretty quickly.”
She knelt down next to him and concentrated on wiping any trace of blood and dirt on Lee’s face, willing her hands not to tremble. 
Breathe...don’t think about – fists smashing into bodies – the click of a gun – Adam trying to drag the boy to safety.
Her fingers shook.
Adam’s administrations halted next to her. His hand closed around hers, warm and solid, jerking her out of her thoughts.
“I’m sorry,” she breathed raggedly, trying to calm her racing heart. “I can do this, I just -”
Brief confusion clouded his eyes, instantly replaced by understanding. He kept her hand in his as she tried to turn back to Lee.
“Alina.” Quiet, commanding. Gentle.
She lifted her gaze to him, aware of the fear in her face; she inhaled, squaring her shoulders with determination. I can do this, she told him wordlessly. Let me help you.
“I’m taking you home,” he said calmly. I know you can. You already have. He lifted her up, his grasp gentle. Let me help you now.

“You’re sure you have the key?”
Alina turned on the doorstep to face him, thrusting her hands in her coat pockets. “Yep. See?” She pulled out the small golden piece of metal, instinctually glancing around them. They’d kept to the shadows on Adam’s motorcycle which was parked two streets over. He’d insisted on walking the rest, his hand on the small of her back as he’d scanned their surroundings intently.
He stared at her now, his features thrown into sharp relief by the streetlights. She wrapped her coat tighter around herself at the faint rumble of thunder. Somehow this was how they always parted, on her doorstep with wet shadows and night all around them.
“Alina...what happened tonight...” he hesitated. “Will probably happen again. Iain won’t stop, not until there’s a full-blown bloodbath.” He stopped again, searching for words. Dark eyes looked down at hers, stormy and...regretful? “It’s not safe to be around me anymore.”
Her hand tightened; the jagged edge of the key dug into her skin, piercing sharply through the abrupt daze. Stay standing -
Adam continued, oblivious to her shock. “Lee and I need to disappear underground for a while. No more visits, no more contact - I’m not going to give Iain another person to hurt. He wants control of the gang, he can have it.”
She finally found her voice. “You think that’s going to help?” Angry tears choked her throat, made her tone harsher than she meant. Ignoring his startled look, she plunged on.
“Iain – isn’t going to stop just because you leave...If anything, that’s going to encourage him, give him more of a motive to hunt you down. He won’t rest until he knows you’re not a threat anymore!”
Adam’s face hardened. “And what do you know about any of this? You’ve spent your whole life in a bookshop.”
“I know enough to stay alive – without losing my morality,” she spat. 
"Don't treat me like some vigilante," he growled. "That's not who I am, Alina. I don't keep the streets safe, I don't have some secret mission. So if you have some dammed fantasy in your head about a fairy-tale ending, I suggest you forget it.”
“No, I don't - I want you to do the right thing. Go to the police, put him behind bars!”
“Are you out of your mind?” he snarled, stepping up on the doorstep.
She shrank back against the door involuntarily as he towered over her, his eyes flashing.
 “There’s at least twenty warrants out for “Zvijer”! I’ve spent the past five years trying to stay alive, so if you expect me to waltz straight into their arms, think again.”
“So what then?” she yelled back. “How many people are you going to let die?!”
I am not a hero!” Adam roared, grabbing her by the shoulders. “Do you understand me? There is nothing and no one that I care about enough to fight for!”
The breath left her body.
Paralyzing silence stretched out, broken by a second rumble of thunder. She stepped back, her eyes fixated on his jacket collar.
Drip. Drip. As if mirroring her emotions, a slight drizzle began to fall in a mournful whisper.
“Get away from me,” she whispered, her chin trembling.
He was frozen, his hands still around her shoulders. “Alina -”
“Get. Away. Before I call the police...Zvijer.”
Adam stepped back unsteadily onto the street. She turned, fitted the key into the lock with a twist, and pushed inside, slamming the door behind her. Alina stayed there, pressed against it and waited for his shadow to disappear. Then and only then, she let herself slump down and sob - furious at him and at herself, at her stupidity. At the horrible, awful rain that had begun this all.

He is not here; but far away
The noise of life begins again,
And ghastly thro’ the drizzling rain
On the bald street breaks the blank day

Eventually her tears slowed; she leaned her head back against the door, filling her lungs with air. The shop was silent, as if respectfully wrapping itself in quiet darkness while she wept. Alina rubbed her eyes dry. Thankfully, her dad was out like a light– the sleeping pills that he’d taken ever since the accident ensured he was a heavy sleeper.
She pushed herself up unsteadily and caught sight of a crumpled receipt by the young adult shelf just ahead of her. Great...she’d forgotten to take out the trash. Swallowing, she took two steps and bent down, smoothing it out. A copy of Tennyson’s In Memoriam.
Her lips tightened.
Of course.
If she wrenched the trashbag up roughly and slammed the back door a little louder as she stomped through the mist of rain to the dirty green trash bin in the back alleyway, no one could blame her. She tossed the trash and bit back a gag at the ripe odor – wet pages and rotting vegetables.
A hand slammed over her mouth, yanking her backwards.  
“So you’re his not-so-beautiful little beauty,” Iain’s voice hissed in her ear. “Shhh, no screaming Not yet.”
Disobediently, Alina screamed with all her might, thrashing desperately in his grip, but his hand was too large and heavy.
Something squeezed her neck – she sagged, sharp blackness crowding her vision.
A loud rip of duct tape. Hands grabbed her, pressed cold tape against her mouth. Up, thrown over a shoulder, obliterated by darkness and dripping water. 

fin.