He made his way through the maze of hedges and brambles that led to what remained of a lonely tower near the crest of a hill. A solitary figure, he walked through an opening, which had served as a doorway many hundreds of years before. Two partly decaying and crumbling walls still stood on either side of his path. It had been a long time since he had been up here, and he marveled at how unchanged it seemed, although it did have a neglected air to it that was not previously there.
He stood in silence for a moment as he looked at the ancient rock formation before him, then slowly made his way over to it. Being here reminded him strongly of his stepdaughter, Aura, for this had been her special place. A refuge from the world, and it had served her well. She was dead now, these many, many years, and he had come to pay his respects, and to remember the stepdaughter he had found, then lost. He also came with a message, though he knew she would not hear it, or perhaps not even care about the contents if it was even possible that she could hear. Nor could he have blamed her for she had been right to turn her back on them those many years earlier.
He touched the rocks he had come to see and felt their coarse, weather worn texture beneath his fingers, then ran his hands over the top of what might have been anything from an altar to a bed of sorts. It seemed, for some obscure reason, that he could almost sense her presence, and the feeling brought him peace and comfort.
He smiled in reflection, remembering Aura in her excitement as she had led him to the old ruins which now surrounded him. It was, he thought, a memory from happier times, for she had opened his world to the discoveries of the country surrounding him, as only a child could.
She had been a pretty child, despite the fact that she had seemed all legs and arms when he had first met her. Her hair was enveloping her, free and hanging past her waist in a tangle of waves and curls. She was so unlike her mother in appearance and character that he had had a hard time crediting them as being related. It was a difference, he now understood, which had been resented by both mother and daughter alike.
He had met Aura’s mother while on a business trip in New York City, and he had been totally won over by the woman’s personality and golden beauty. The lady, for she seemed to fit the description perfectly, was absolutely flawless. She could have easily passed as the mother of any of his own motherless children, which had been a bonus in his eyes.
They got married, soon after they met and he had brought his new wife and stepdaughter back with him to his home in England, with the firm belief that they would mesh and form a family together. He had to admit, in the beginning he could not have wished for a more amicable relationship.
Things had seemed to turn out better than he had hoped, right from the start. His new wife had just taken one look at the blond blue-eyed angels before her, as they had been introduced, and she had been totally captivated. His son, Gerald, had accepted everything at a base level. After all, he was almost ready to attend Oxford at the time, and he was used to going his own way, leaving the others to their own devices.
His own daughters, he had quickly noted, became pampered, and treated like treasured Barbie dolls by their new stepmother, and they happily basked in their newfound admiration. His wife’s own daughter, however, seemed as if she had been pushed from the charmed circle, for she was never with them, nor did she seem to benefit from any of their excursions. So, in her own queer and solitary way, she moved off to be on her own. It was almost as if she was used to being the odd one out, and that the slight had no effect on her.
It did though, and he could see it on her, for in the beginning she still had not learned to hide her hurt so well. Of course, talking to his wife produced no change. As far as she was concerned, she was doing no different for her child than she had ever done, nor was she about to do more. Aura was well and taken care of, that was all that mattered. So, feeling sorry for the child, he put a bit of extra effort into her himself, and for the first two summers, for it was only during those particular holidays that he got to see her, he took her about the countryside with him.
He had often wondered why she had not come home for any of the other school breaks, as his own daughters had done. He had not quite believed all the excuses he had been given for her absences. He had not paid the matter much attention at the time, being too busy with what he considered more important matters.
He had later become aware of the truth and had, at the discovery, wondered what that lonely little girl had been sent for presents during the holidays, while his own little girls had been showered with toys, and later, jewels, designer gowns and furs. Aura never seemed to have any of the fripperies that his daughters had. She had nothing to emphasize her sparkle or give her personality life. All she had needed, he felt, was for someone to have shown her that they cared, just a bit, to make her come out of her shell a little. Perhaps, with just a touch of caring, she might have had a reason to stay.
He remembered how he had enjoyed the trips he had taken the girl on in those first two years. She had had a quick intelligence and a soft gentle way about her that reminded him of a warm summer breeze. He had liked the way the sun had brought out the hidden shades of color from her mahogany locks and how her pansy colored eyes would lighten and darken in wonder at different stages of discovery as they had moved about through the ancient and obscure ruins which covered his country.
That she had shared his interest in his excursions he had never doubted, for while she had been cautious in her exhibitions of joy, she had found many subtle ways to let him know that his efforts to include her were appreciated. They had kept their little trips to themselves, as for no particular reason that either of them could explain, as they both seemed to feel that if anyone else got to know about their little jaunts, they would quickly come to an end.
He remembered the incident that had brought their secret journeys into the open. They had found an extra old ruin, nestled in the gentle swell of the hills of the inner North West corner of the country, which, for some unknown reason, seemed to upset the young girl. He had asked what it was which had bothered her at the time, as he had found her in a state of tears in the main hold of the structure, but she had only shook her head and shrugged her shoulders helplessly. Nor did she accept the offered shoulder he had presented as he had sought to comfort her.
The excursion had been followed by several dreams that caused Aura many sleepless nights, the discovery of their trips, and the end to their togetherness. He found out later that her mother had taken her aside to have a serious talk with her about men and the things that could happen to girls who foolishly followed them without supervision. Aura refused to go anywhere with anyone after that. She acted afraid to leave the safety of their home. Any effort on his part to repair the sudden and inexplicable rift between them was met with awkwardness, and strange, frightened and embarrassed glances. She spent her time thereafter with their head cook, an old woman whom his wife would have liked to have fired. He never found out what her mother had said to her, but she seemed to grow up faster than any other eleven year old.
He remembered feeling a touch of jealousy at the closeness that grew between the old cook and the young girl. He often saw them in the herb gardens as she helped clear the rows and harvest the plants. He listened remotely as the learning of a lifetime was passed on to yet another generation, and he found a reason to let go of what had been. He resolved, at that time, to keep the woman on his payroll as long as she wished to stay, for she taught the young girl more than they probably would have about the running of a household.
He remembered how the girl, then a fifteen and a half year old woman-child, had hid her pain at the passing of the old cook. She had taken her grief to the old ruins in the field near the house. Nobody thought to follow, to see if she was all right, or to see if she could use a bit of comfort and a shoulder to cry on. Nor did she seem to expect it of them. After that, he never saw her in the company of another friend or confidant.
He remembered how he had bought her a python for Christmas that year, and she had been delighted. She had called it Roger. The snake, much to his concern, seemed to take the place of the old lady. The girl had dragged him along with her wherever she had gone, even to school. How she had ever managed to charm the Sister at the convent to have allowed its presence in her room he never knew, but she somehow had.
It was not, he reflected, as if she were clumsy, or without social graces that he had doubted her ability of exercising any great amount of charm. It was that she seemed to be on her own so much that it appeared as if she preferred it that way. He remembered catching the slightest wistful look of deep-seated sadness run across her face. That only happened when she thought nobody was watching, while she watched her mother interact with his daughters. It was after witnessing these looks that he realized she would have had it differently if she could have, and that she silently grieved for her loss.
By the time she was seventeen, the pattern of her life appeared already set. She had pulled her long, dark, luxurious hair into a tightly controlled braid, which fell past her middle thigh, a style that made her look slightly severe, yet which failed in her attempt to make herself look plain. In his opinion, she should have let it fall loose, as she used to do as a child. She could have had it styled to emphasize her beauty, instead of camouflaging it. Close scrutiny of the young woman had convinced him that she could have been a great beauty with a little effort. He had often wondered why she chose otherwise.
His early impression of her intelligence had proved to be well founded as he remembered her school days, for she never brought home a mark under an “A”, which he had complimented her on. She had told nobody other than him of her secret ambition as she had been growing up. She had wanted to become a doctor someday. It was a profession that had surprised him, as had her willingness to confide in him in the first place. It had been more than she had done with her mother. He had warned her that her career of choice would take a lot of work, and that it would be hard on her, though he knew she was quite capable of handling and accomplishing anything she set out to do.
She had, or so her teachers had claimed, a photographic mind, and could ingest any amounts of information without effort. Of course, he had noted, nobody had ever told his stepdaughter that her efforts were without pain. She had spent hours pouring over her books, which was an example in study that he had felt his own girls could have copied.
Finely featured and naturally slim, Aura had made her stepsisters appear finicky in their attempts to keep their figures fashionably slim. Nor did she endear herself to them as she indulged herself at meals and had proven herself to be a natural athlete, which neither of his own girls had an aptitude for. Her body had a compact set to it, which the girls envied but refused to work to achieve on their own, not realizing that her form was something that usually went hand in hand with a healthy lifestyle. She seemed unaware of her appearance, making no obvious effort to dress herself up, or to bring attention to her figure as her stepsisters did. She had a natural regal bearing, something he had teased her about in good humor, and she had smiled at his teasing in her calm, serene way, but there all signs of familiarity had stopped. It had, though, been brought to his attention that she had a very beautiful smile, which she seldom ever used. It had all been such a waste, he realized with a sad sigh.
Upon this train of thought, he had decided that it had been time that somebody took her in hand and forced her to do something for herself. It had proved to be a disastrous undertaking, as memory served to remind him. That, however, was a whole other story.
“Aura,” he spoke aloud, as if he could see her, while in truth all he could claim was a feeling that her energy was present. “We buried your mother today. In the end, Aura, it was you to whom she reached out to touch. Some little part of her did love you after all. I ask you to guide her spirit. Keep her safe for me until I join the two of you, for I did love her in my own way, just as I loved you, my daughter.”
With that, he slowly made his way out of the ruins, to return to his own home. It had been the first time he had gone to the site since he had left Aura there, thirty years earlier. It was the last time as he would never return to the area.
Buy Links: https://maabraham.com/aura/