She drops the casserole dish, cuts her finger when she leans down to follow it. But the gasp isn’t hers. It’s… the sharp-edged woman standing in the doorway. Maybe that’s an odd way to describe someone, but the first thing Dawn thinks is that the lines of her, barely hidden beneath corduroy and denim, are sharper than the wicked curves and slivers of the now shattered porcelain at her feet.
She’s ashamed to say, something instinctive making her blush, that her eyes only turn to her daughter after taking in black hair, tan features, and startling violet eyes. Her gaze slides down the prominent tendon in the other woman’s neck, falls into the hollow of her collar bones, skitters to startled again as her daughter’s face shifts into eye line at the other woman’s chest.
Her daughter’s left eye swelling shut, a vivid black and blue blooming along her right jaw, dried blood she tried and failed to wipe away, crusting around her nostrils.
“Jennifer,” Dawn sighs. “Jennifer.”
Jen tries to keep her chin up, haughty, so brave, but she falters, chin to her chest, as Dawn’s hands brush gently against her bruised jaw line. She has to coach that beloved face to the light, feels one of the many sharp shards in this room piercing her heart as she gets a good view of the damage. Even if it wasn’t swelled nearly shut, she thinks Jen would be squinting to see past the blood filling her left eye. Her nose is broken. Again. The jaw is just bruised but –
Jen flinches back with a cry as her finger barely brushes along the bottom of her bruised eye. Dawn’s sad to say they’ve been through just this scene so many times now that she can make out where the swelled eye is falling into an even darker purple beneath the eye socket. It’ll take a few more hours to fully bloom but: “You’ve broken your cheekbone again.”
Jen just nods. She’d have known that for herself.
“What – ”
But what’s the point? They’ve been through this so many times. And Jennifer lied at first. And at first Dawn even believed her. Fights at school. A mugging. A terrible fall down a flight of stairs. Biking accident. “A scuffle.” Jen actually used that exact phrase once. Dawn often thinks of that as the pinpoint, the moment she finally stopped even trying to believe all the bullshit spewing from her daughter’s mouth. There were no fights at school. The police never did find that mugger. No one saw her fall down the school stairwell. The bike in the garage has flat tires and a rusty chain. “A scuffle,” might actually be the closest answer to the truth she’s ever gotten. Intentionally vague.
“And who are you?” she hears her bitterness ask.
But despite the fact that she’s somewhat infamous for her temper, feared even, the woman in the doorway merely smiles.
“This is Layla,” her daughter answers for her. “She’s a student at U,” she enthuses.
The only U in town. Top tier. Maybe why she looks so exotic. An international student?
“Layla Mubarak,” answers that question.
She can see where her coloring might be Middle Eastern, northern Africa. But not quite. The eyes, for one thing. And even that particular shade of caramel seems more Mediterranean, even Central European.
“I ran into your daughter on my way home,” she answer the question Dawn’s ashamed she was too distracted to ask. The lovely caramel skin, but even more the hint of an accent hiding beneath the syllables of her name, the low-toned voice scratching over those same syllables.
But Dawn forces her mind free, peers closely now at those striking eyes, searching past the Skyflower shade to hints of the person beneath, a spark of intelligence or malice, good humor or a soul frigid and barren, emptiness. What she finds is… calm, an infinite calm in that gaze. Maybe a spark of amusement. And beneath, a mind that misses not much of anything. Those very eyes may distract those around her, but Dawn gets the sense very little escapes their notice, that she is not easily distracted from her distant observation of all the chaos surrounding her personal island of still and deep.
“Lucky accident?” she hears herself murmur.
The woman steps closer. Though Dawn is closer to six feet than five, she’s peering up by the time the woman’s in arm’s reach. Jennifer is positively dwarfed between them.
“While I can’t deny her actions were foolhardy,” the woman murmurs, “I think your daughter may have saved a man’s life.”