Godforsaken: Book 1 (Shade of Light)
1. The Dream
Before the sun appeared, darkness reigned absolute. Standing amidst the noiseless emptiness, it had been easy for Lily to hear her breathing and her heart hammering. Then, she had been full of fear, aghast at the thought she would stay in the blackness forever, never even knowing how she had ended up there. But in that moment the first rays of sun began to approach her, softly and carefully, their slight presence forcing the darkness to break apart.
Lily looked on in wonder as a glade illuminated by the magical sunlight came into her view. It stretched on as far as her eyes could see. The chilly morning wind picked up, throwing the fresh smell of ruffling grass into her face, and Lily couldn’t help but savor the scent, inhaling a lungful of clean morning air. She closed her eyes, relishing it, and for a moment she forgot all of her worries about her whereabouts.
When Lily opened her eyes anew, the air was filled with leaves – white ones, dancing on the new morning breeze. Where they could have come from she found herself unable to say, as they had no matches among the leaves of the trees around her. The leaves, strange as they were, hovered in the air irregularly for awhile, and then swept toward her as if compelled, enveloping Lily in their breezy embrace. Tentatively, as if afraid to break the spell, Lily raised her hand to catch one. No force of hers was necessary, as one of the white miracles, as if sensing her intentions, lowered itself onto her hand with an impossible grace, settling there almost affectionately.
Lily couldn’t bring herself to close her palm and capture the leaf properly. She was content enough to just look at it for a moment, before setting it free into the air once again. Lily’s eyes darted around the glade, peering into the distance to look at the place where the earth and sky met in a hazy line. She wondered how such an incredible place could possibly exist somewhere on earth, and the thought locked her in place for several minutes, leaving her afraid to even stir.
Behind her lay the endless desert, and beneath her bare feet the ground was solid and dead. Before her stood the glade in all its beauty. But Lily herself was standing at the line separating the two places, one full of life, and one unwelcomingly empty.
Finally, gathering her thoughts, Lily lifted her foot from the hard, bare ground and took a careful step forward, into the glade. As her foot touched the soft and wet grass a strange feeling possessed her–a new kind of happiness, as though the glade itself was alive and had passed its own joy onto her. A sudden gust of wind ruffled her blonde hair back from her face, tossing it away from her bright blue eyes.
“Go on, my princess.” A man’s voice cut through the stillness of the dawn and diverted her attention.
Lily jerked around, startled, her stomach turned watery as the unexpected voice washed over her. In the desert behind her stood a tall, handsome man, his long black hair sweeping over his equally black eyes. He wore a snow-white tuxedo, his left hand thrust into the pocket of his trousers, and he was gazing at Lily with a wide and gentle smile on his perfect face. Lily could only stand in astonishment as she wondered where the man had appeared from. She knew for certain that he hadn’t been there a moment ago – it was as though he had materialized out of the air itself, carried to her by the wind just as the white leaves had been.
“Don’t hesitate, my love,” the man went on, his voice soft. “Our kingdom awaits us. Just you and me.”
The man walked up beside her, and Lily was unable to stop the dreamy expression she could feel creeping over her face. There was something magical about this man and his impossible charm, something that drew her to him automatically. Her hand moved from her side of its own accord, drawn to the man like a magnet. The man took her hand in his and Lily gasped involuntarily, a wave of desire washing over her. The mere touch of a hand wasn’t enough – Lily was ready to throw herself into his arms then and there. It took all the self-control she had to maintain her composure.
All Lily could do was stare into his eyes as the wind danced around them both.
While Lily looked at him, the man looked ahead, and soon enough Lily found herself following his gaze. The glade had disappeared, and in its place stood a beautiful garden. If the glade had been incredible, the garden was ethereal: full of high trees and snow-white flowers, parted by a narrow stream filled with shining water. Birdsong echoed through the air, breaking Lily’s reverie. She could smell morning dew in the air.
The garden was separated from Lily and the man by a golden gate, its intricacies sparkling under the morning sun.
“Welcome to our kingdom, my love,” the man whispered. “Welcome home.”
Lily had never heard a voice like his in her dreams before – had never heard a voice like his anywhere at all. He sounded confident, and his words rang out with strength, but there was a vulnerability to them as well, like a secret shared between them.
Lily herself had no words of any kind to respond with. It wasn’t for lack of trying, either – she had even opened her mouth in preparation, but she found herself with nothing at all to say. She didn’t even know who the man was, just that he was holding her hand, but she found her eyes drawn inexorably to his mouth, longing for the taste of him. Instead, she bit her lip, and brushed a lock of her long hair behind her ear.
The man glanced at the gates. “Fear not, my love. I am with you. The keeper will open the gate soon enough. He can’t stand in my way any longer.”
He trailed off and Lily peered ahead. Two green eyes hung in midair, behind the golden gate. She could see no face, nor flesh of any kind, just two shining eyes, like that of a man. She couldn’t see their owner…
Lily narrowed her eyes, scrutinizing, and blinked hard, only to be greeted by her bedroom ceiling. She gasped aloud in shock, chest heaving, as she realized that she had forced herself awake and out of the dream. Memories flooded back to her, but all she could do was lie back and wonder.
Who was the man of her dreams? Now Lily remembered – she had seen him before. Every once in a while he appeared, weaving his way into her dreams. She had never seen his face so clearly before, but she was certain of it – the same mysterious man had visited her in other dreams, making himself memorable by his long dark hair.
Still pondering, Lily slid out from under the covers and looked over to the vase on the windowsill. She felt the dull ache of disappointment in her chest as she realized that the handsome man and the garden were just dreams, figments of her imagination. Lily closed her eyes and saw the ghostly image of the dream man behind her eyelids, her heart skipping a beat as she remembered the thrill of his touch. Even now, it all seemed just as real as the flowers by the window.
She opened her eyes and cast her gaze to the picture on the table by the bed. The photo was of two people in a park, a tall, blue-eyed man embracing a blonde woman. Both wore the same expression of lovesick happiness. Lily herself resembled both of her parents equally. “Hi, Mom. Hi, Dad,” she whispered to the photo, smiling slightly before getting up and bolting to the bathroom.
Still thinking about the dream, it took Lily’s roommate’s interrupting knock to fully shake her out of it.
“Lily,” said an exasperated voice, “hurry up. I need the bathroom too, you know.”
“Coming, Nancy,” Lily replied in disappointment, her voice muffled by the sound of running water.
Lily and Nancy had been living together for a year now. Lily herself preferred living in solitude, but her aunt had insisted on Lily having a roommate. It wasn’t out of a financial need but out of a social one – Lily’s aunt had been worried about how Lily was avoiding other people. Once, her aunt had even spirited an eligible boy out of nowhere and demanded Lily go out on a date with him.
“Auntie, I love you dearly,” Lily had said to that, “but that’s just too personal. You have no right to put your nose in that kind of business.”
Now, Lily didn’t complain about Nancy’s presence much. Maybe she had at first, but as time went on they had almost become friends. They couldn’t have been more different from each other: Nancy liked parties and dancing and going out on the town, but she was also good company, and Lily could talk to her for hours. Lily had never had a friend as close as Nancy before.
Lily wrapped a towel around herself and came out of the bathroom, her wet hair plastered to her face and shoulders. Nancy, her brown eyes judgmental, was standing by the door and staring at her, her arms folded across her chest. Lily knew that look – Nancy wore it every time Lily spent too long in the bathroom.
“What do you do in there, take a nap?” Nancy said indignantly.
“Please, Nancy, I’m in a good mood today. Don’t ruin it,” Lily shot back at her, making her way back to her bedroom.
“So what did you dream about?” Nancy’s lips curled into a grin.
“I never said I had a dream,” Lily said.
“Well, what else would make you happy this early in the morning? It can’t be the thought of going out with a guy, since you’re always locked up in this apartment with your books. A dream is the only possibility.”
“He was dressed all in white,” Lily said, the words slipping out despite herself. “He was so handsome-”
“And you fell in love with him at first sight, didn’t you?” Nancy said, her voice teasing.
“Something like that.” Lily shrugged off a slight smile.
“You and your dream boys. Why am I not surprised?” She grinned again, sharply, and turned, shutting the door to Lily’s bedroom behind her.
Of course it seemed silly, when she said it out loud. But even now, Lily couldn’t help but linger on the memory of that dream, where she had been a princess at the gate of a garden, holding the hand of the most beautiful man she had ever seen.
* * *
Ten minutes later, Lily went to the kitchen to make breakfast. After slotting bread into the toaster and setting it, she opened the refrigerator. Taking out a small cake, she turned around and rummaged in the cupboard for candles before adding them to the cake as well.
“Lily,” Nancy called out from the bathroom.
“Have you seen my pink slippers?” she asked grumpily.
“They’re on the shelf in the corridor,” Lily replied composedly lighting the candles.
She had put Nancy’s slippers on the shelf the day before, while Nancy had been out with her boyfriend. Unlike Nancy, Lily enjoyed spending her evenings at home, whether she was reading, or even when she was just cleaning up Nancy’s messes. Although Nancy’s life of choice sounded fun, it never seemed to fit right on Lily. Instead, Lily favored her solitude, and spared some especial pleasure for her dreams of her mystical prince.
“Ugh,” Nancy said, complaining, as she walked out of the bathroom still barefoot.
“Come over here, I’ve got something for you,” Lily called to her.
“What’s up?” Nancy still sounded grouchy as she walked into the kitchen. She was already wearing white pants and was just yanking her shirt on when she saw the cake. A surprised smile curled across her face. “Lily, is this for me?”
“Of course it is,” Lily said with a smile. “It’s your birthday, isn’t it?”
“I almost thought you forgot,” Nancy replied, still staring at the cake.
“Why would I forget?”
“Oh, I don’t know. It’s just…you’re always daydreaming. Sometimes I think you’re totally disconnected from everything else in the world. I figured you would’ve forgotten what date it was. You didn’t even say anything this morning!”
“Of course I didn’t say anything. I wanted to surprise you with my present, that’s all.”
The friends met each other’s eyes with a smile.
“Thank you,” Nancy whispered, dragging Lily into a hug.
“Okay, okay,” Lily said, struggling out of the hug. “Time to make a wish.” She ushered Nancy closer to the table. “Wish for something really nice, yeah?”
“Something nice,” Nancy mused. “I think I’ll wish for something for me and Mike.” Her eyes gleamed in the candlelight.
“Good idea.” Lily readied the camera, snapping a picture just as Nancy blew out the candles.
Setting the camera aside, Lily crept up besides Nancy and planted a big kiss on her cheek.
“This is your day, Nancy,” she whispered. “Do something fun with it.”
“’Course I will. But you’re going to be there with me… No exceptions,” she added, raising a disapproving forefinger as Lily opened her mouth to object. “See, I’m having a birthday party, and I want you to enjoy it with me.”
“A party?” Lily mumbled.
“Yeah, it was Mike’s idea. He’s taking us to a club tonight.”
Of course it was Mike’s idea, Lily thought.
Mike was Nancy’s boyfriend, another college student like them. He was nice enough as a friend, funny and jovial, the kind who was always getting smiled at by pretty girls.
“Nancy, you know I’m not a dancing-in-clubs kind of girl. I’ll just get in your way-”
“No, you won’t.” Nancy interrupted with a smirk, before she turned around to retrieve some plates from a high shelf. “My day, remember? And you’re gonna help me make it truly unforgettable. Besides, Mike wants you to go out, too.”
“He worries about you, same as me.” Nancy shrugged, setting the plates down on the counter. “Lily, you don’t have much of a real life, no offense. You spend all your time dreaming about a prince on a white horse who’s just going to show up one day and take you to heaven with him.”
“It’s my life, Nancy.” Lily’s exasperation was beginning to show through her voice.
“But you have to actually live it, though.” Nancy started cutting the cake into slices. “I don’t know what your hang-up is. You’re young, you’re beautiful, there are lots of guys who dream about stuff like that.”
“I’m not interested in being part of dreams like that.” Lily took a big bite of cake. “Yeah, maybe they dream about me. Dream about fucking me in a car park or something. And what happens after that, Nancy?”
“I know what you meant, Nancy. I’m not going to waste my “young,” “beautiful,” self on guys like that.”
“Then who are you going to waste it on?”
“…I dunno,” Lily stuttered.
“Life is passing you by, you know. I just don’t want you to regret it.” Nancy’s voice was assuring, but Lily wasn’t really convinced. “So tonight, you’re going to go along with me, okay? Don’t ruin my birthday party, yeah?”
“Fine,” Lily said with disinterest.
Nancy was too hard to argue with sometimes. One night in a club surrounded by stupid people drinking and dancing. She could survive that.
She and Nancy sat and ate their slices of cake in silence for a while before Nancy put her fork down on her plate and stood up. Lily’s narrowed eyes followed her.
“Hey, Mike’s going to drop me at the college,” she announced. “You coming?”
“No, I’m fine. Go get with your boyfriend, I don’t want to disturb anything.”
“You always say that,” Nancy said in exasperation. “How many times do I have to tell you that you don’t disturb us at all?”
“Trust me on this one, Nancy. Mike won’t want me around. He’s probably got a gift especially for you,” Lily reckoned, staring down at the half-eaten remains of her cake. “I’ll catch a train, don’t worry.”
“Okay, sure,” Nancy agreed. “I’ll see you there, right?”
Nancy put her plate in the sink and made her way out of the kitchen, before stopping short.
“Oh, one last thing – don’t be mad,” she said in a rush. “But Mike’s friend Alen is going to the party with us tonight.”
A surge of anger twisted through Lily. She felt the urge to stand up and shout at Nancy, demanding that she and Mike and that idiot Alen just celebrate without her, but politeness rendered her all but mute.
“Okay, I guess.” Lily shifted in her seat.
She hated Alen, and for whatever reason he’d decided she was the girl for him. His haughtiness was intolerable, and right now Lily could easily picture him as the literal worst person on earth.
“Cool,” Nancy said, before she left.
Lily stared at the place her friend had left until she heard the door shut, then she sighed, rose, and took her plate to the sink.
* * *
Lily, preoccupied by the headphones in her ears, sat down on a seat and listened to music while the train full of people carried her away. While her eyes were tilted down at the floor, her thoughts drifted back into her morning’s dream full of life and love. Who was the man that had held her hand and invited her into a more beautiful garden than she could ever imagine? She wondered suddenly whether he was real, if she could ever meet him again. Surely she would recognize him. Her heart beat faster every time she thought of looking at the man and his mystical black eyes again.
It’d been two years ago when she had first had such a real, beautiful, unearthly dream. The man had always been there, in those dreams, but until today his face had remained a mystery to Lily. Before, she’d recognized his silhouette, or his hair, but his face had always been obscured. Tonight something had changed: he had come closer.
Lily was so deeply stuck in her memories that she was about to miss her station. As her eyes slid up and she glanced out the windows, Lily jumped to her feet and breathlessly hurried out of the railcar. Her rucksack slid off her arm and fell down onto the platform in the moment she shot out of the train. Her lipstick, which Lily had never used before but which she had been keeping in her rucksack fell out of an unzipped pocket and rolled away.
“Damn it,” Lily muttered under her breath and knelt down to pick up her things. Annoyed, she got to her feet, still looking down at the floor for the lost lipstick. She made her way forward, mumbling in exasperation, when she banged into someone and recoiled, startled.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” she said, quickly taking the headphones out of her ears.
“A girl as beautiful as you shouldn’t apologize for anything,” a man’s voice said from above her. Lily stood up. Standing in front of her was a young man holding Lily’s lipstick, regarding her from head to toe. “I believe this is yours?”
“Yeah, thanks,” Lily said brusquely, taking the lipstick. She turned hastily and bustled toward the exit.
“Hey,” the guy called after her, sounding confused. “Wait a minute.”
“I thanked you for the lipstick. Please, leave me alone now,” Lily shot back curtly over her shoulder.
Lily kept on walking and set off at almost a run out from the platform and toward the escalator. As soon as she blended into the crowd, she peeked back nervously, looking for the guy on the platform, but it seemed he’d given up very quickly and was nowhere to be seen. Lily exhaled in relief and put the headphones back into her ears.
From there on it took her about ten minutes to get to the college. On the way she barely remembered the guy she had seen just some minutes ago, as the man from her dreams commanded her attentions again. In some ways, Nancy was right, Lily did like to live tied up in her dreams while letting real life fall to the wayside. Finally, she arrived at the college.
Lily took out her headphones for good and put them into her rucksack. The college courtyard was full of students, some of them, like Lily, hurrying toward the main entrance, while some seemed content to just sit on the grass. Lily passed all of them holding her eyes only on the cobbled path. She felt as though everyone was staring at her. Lily knew why – as Nancy had mentioned earlier, she was a dream to a lot of guys at the college. This made her uneasy, but she knew there was no chance for any of them. None of them were right for her. Lily spent all of her time studying, but she was waiting for a prince like the one from her dreams. But it seemed that her prince had gotten lost somewhere on the way to her.
And Lily was beautiful; her golden hair shining in the morning sun. Her skin was soft and white, her light gait attracted the guys’ attention involuntarily. Increasingly, this eighteen-year-old girl became more beautiful. Even Mike, Nancy’s boyfriend, standing by the entrance and holding Nancy in his arms, couldn’t help staring at her with an almost greedy air.
Mike was one of the rare guys in her college that Lily liked. He knew how to have fun and not be a pain in the neck at the same time.
“Hey, Lily!” Mike called out breezily, still holding Nancy. He wore blue jeans today over his athletic body, his tremendous forearms and his muscles bulging in his tight black T-shirt.
“Hey, Mike,” Lily said in reply and came to a stop before them, forcing a smile on her face.
“Get here okay?” Nancy asked.
“I thought you would come with us,” Mike spoke again.
“It’s your girlfriend’s birthday, you know, I just–” Lily stuttered.
“Yeah, but Nancy’s already told you about our plans for tonight, hasn’t she?” Mike looked down at Nancy’s neck from where he held her.
“Yeah, she has,” Lily answered.
“And she’s up to it,” Nancy said, looking blithely at Lily. “She’s impatient. She just can’t wait for the dances and drinks,” she added, and chuckled with her hand over her mouth.
“Don’t tease me,” Lily interjected. “You know I don’t like dancing and drinking.”
“Yeah, yeah, of course we know,” Nancy peered back over her shoulder at Mike. “She’s doing this for me. Isn’t she nice?”
“Yeah, she is,” Mike smiled gingerly then tilted his head to put a quick kiss on Nancy’s lips.
“Guys, aren’t you going to be late for class?” Lily asked.
“Oh no, sweetheart,” Mike answered. “I don’t think it’s fair for Nancy to stay in her boring classes on her birthday.”
“We’re going to the park,” Nancy added, quickly wrapping Mikes arm over her shoulder.
“You should come with us, too, it’ll be fun,” Mike invited Lily looking down at her from where he stood at a head taller than the girls. “Maybe you’ll meet a guy there who will break through your stony heart.” Nancy elbowed Mike and he looked at her suddenly, wearing an expression that said “what did I say wrong?”
“No way. You two go and have fun,” Lily retorted disapprovingly. “Besides, what would I do with two lovebirds?” She teased.
“Come on, Lily,” Mike urged, sounding unhappy.
“I really can’t. I have to go to my economics class, sorry,” Lily grinned and stepped slowly toward the entrance. “Don’t worry, I’ll catch up with you tonight.”
* * *
Mike’s big brown eyes stared after Lily as she fled away into the building.
“You know,” he said to Nancy after Lily careened behind the entrance, “she’s really very pretty from behind.”
“Hey!” Nancy sniffed indignantly, jabbing him in the arm and turning to face him. “You’re talking about my friend,” she frowned.
“You jealous?” Mike’s mouth twitched into a complacent smile.
“It’s rude of you.”
“Don’t worry, baby, I love only you,” he kissed her forehead gently. “I’m just curious why Lily is so–”
“Closed up in herself?” Nancy finished.
“Something like that, yeah. Is it because of her parents?” He glanced down on Nancy pensively. “I mean, it was a long time ago that she lost them.”
“So you’re wondering if she’s recovered from it. I dunno,” Nancy sighed, mournfully struggling out from Mike’s embrace.
“You know, I like her.” He met Nancy’s flashing eyes and added promptly, “Like a sister, I mean. I worry about her.” He grinned awkwardly. “She’s an extremely beautiful, good girl, but there is something about her. Maybe her bad memories are corroding her from the inside out.”
“Mike, what are you talking about? Stop pulling my leg. She’s just a little different, that’s all. And in that case, warn your friend to be nice to her tonight, okay?”
“Alen is always nice,” Mike protested.
“Yeah, of course he is!” Nancy teased. “Still, you need to warn him. Let’s go,” she commanded. “And this is the last time I’m helping your friend out with Lily. If nothing happens tonight, then Alen has to say good-bye to her for good. Okay?”
“Okay, come on,” Mike took her hand into his and led her down the stairs.
* * *
Lily fell deep into studying, forgetting all about the upcoming evening. Honestly, she liked studying, and that liking had made her one of the best students in the college.
She didn’t see Nancy and Mike the whole day, keeping her headphones in her ears. She was heading back home when her cell phone began to ring.
She picked up the phone, already having seen the identity of the caller. “Hello, Aunt Agnes.”
“Lily, dear, how are you doing?” Her aunt’s voice spoke at the other end of the line.
“Fine, Auntie, how are you? How is Bill, too?” Bill was her aunt’s husband. They hadn’t had any children of their own, and after the accident with Lily’s parents they had adopted Lily, raising her like their own daughter.
“You know him,” Aunt Agnes complained. “Even the doctors are unable to control him. I can’t either. I worry about him, but what else can I do?”
“He still complains about his heart pain?” Lily asked quickly.
“Yeah, of course he does,” Aunt Agnes replied with a loud and displeased voice, sounding almost angry underneath her worry. “He doesn’t take medicine and doesn’t listen to what the doctors tell him. You know him, he always thinks that he knows things better than the doctors do.”
“Yeah, that’s just like him,” Lily sighed, taking the stairs leading down the subway.
“I don’t know what to do next. If something happens to him–” Aunt Agnes exclaimed.
“Nothing’s going to happen to him. He’s a strong man,” Lily added with a hesitatingly voice. “Does he go to work?”
“Yes, of course. He needs rest and medicine. Instead he runs to the office every day like a twenty-year-old boy.”
“His body grows old, but not his soul,” Lily remarked, a little grin curling at her lips.
“Where are you?” Aunt Agnes asked, changing the subject abruptly.
“In the subway. Going home.”
“Is everything okay at college? Have you prepared for the exams?”
“Yeah, Auntie, I have, don’t worry. Just try to take care of Bill, okay? Or better yet, get him to take care of himself, too.” Lily stepped onto the escalator.
“Oh, Lily,” Aunt Agnes exhaled, “I’m trying. If you have any news, call me right away, okay?”
“Fine. Be careful, I’ll call you later.”
“Oh, no,” Lily said, suddenly remembering Nancy’s party. “I won’t be able to answer you later.”
“Why, dear?” Aunt Agnes asked, seeming agitated.
“It’s Nancy’s birthday. My roommate. We’ll be out to celebrate,” Lily explained hastily.
“I don’t know,” Lily said uncertainly. Her voice shook. “To a little bar, I think,” she added.
“Be careful, baby.”
“Okay, honey. Then, ’til tomorrow.”
“’Til tomorrow, Auntie.” She hung up and put the phone into her rucksack.