Arizona Skies
Author: Isabella Darcy

Chapter 7
Desert Conversations

The next day I wake early, so early that the sun is barely rising. I pull on a loose, floral dress and wear my hair down, grabbing my art bag as I hurry out of the room. Once outside, I take off my sandals and pick my way through the orange rocks barefoot. This is the time I love best here: the early dawn. Beautiful apricot light floods the landscape, stirring the sweet scent of the desert blossoms, warming my face. It's perfectly quiet and beautiful. I can't help it...I start to dance. My dress swirls around me in a whirl of color and my hair flies through the air, my arms wide open. This is the earth's kiss, I think, as the sunlight touches my eyelids, my cheeks, my lips. I imagine I'm some desert sprite, a faerie of the sun.

And then I crash.

I open my eyes with a start to find myself face-to-face with none other than Aubrey Hunter, who has just caught my waist and stopped my fall. He looks as startled as I feel, but a slow smile is beginning to play over his lips.

"Aurora." He says.

I feel the blood rush to my face and curse myself inwardly. Why, why, why Aubrey Hunter? I'm speechless, just looking at him, until I realize he still has his hands on my waist. I try to tear myself away, almost falling again. He catches me a second time and steadies me.

"Are you okay?"

I see three pairs of warm brown eyes and shake my head. "Dizzy," I murmur.

He half carries, half drags me to a big rock, setting me against it and kneeling down to face me. I blink several times and wait until my eyes gain focus and my head stops spinning. He grins at me. "Okay now?"

I nod, crimson as ever, and look away from his quizzical, laughing eyes. "I feel like such an idiot." I say.

He laughs and glances down at my bare feet. "Where are your shoes?"

"I took them off," I say helpfully, digging in my bag. "I thought I had them here..."

He darts up and soon returns with my two, now very dusty, strapped sandals.

"Thanks," I say, my cheeks still burning. He waits while I put them on. "Why are you up so early?" I ask, endeavoring to distract him.

He shrugs evasively. "Just walking. Why are you?"

I gesture to my bag. "Drawing."

He reaches for it, then stops. "May I?"

"Sure." I say, confused.

Aubrey takes out my sketchbook and starts to flip through it. I watch as he scrutinizes them, his face unreadable.

"Why Aubrey," I say, "You're actually being polite today."

He looks up with a crooked grin. "Am I? My mistake."

He gets up and I scramble up too, dusting myself off.

"So where were you going before you cannoned into me?" He asks.

I shrug. "Anywhere. I need a new spot."

We walk in silence for a while, and then I remember last night. I stiffen and he stops, curious. "What is it?"

I glare at him. "I'm mad at you."

Aubrey feigns innocence. "For what?"

I guess my face informs him, because he makes a big show of suddenly remembering. "Ohh...that." He glances at me. "I was hoping you'd forgotten."

"Forgotten?" I angrily stride forward and he runs to catch up.

"Hey Aurora, wait."

I pause, slowly turning to face him, He visibly struggles for words, his eyes screwed up in mock concentration. I start again, impatient. "I don't have time for this."

He runs up to me again, putting a hand on my arm to stop me. "Okay, okay...I'm sorry."

I look at him, torn between the desire to forgive him and be rewarded by one of those breathtaking smiles, or to tell him to shove it. The laughing twinkle in his eye inclines me towards the latter course.

"Fuck off."

I stomp away, but am called back a third time. "Okay, Aurora, I'm sorry. I really am. Don't be mad."

I sigh heavily and slowly rotate to face a penitent Aubrey. He comes toward me and hands me my sketchbook, which I'd forgotten in my furious state. I take it.

"Are we friends now?" I ask. "You're not going to randomly ignore me tomorrow or something?"

He pretends to consider it. "Well, if I feel like it..."

I smack him playfully and we continue to walk. By now the sun has fully risen, and glorious pink, orange, and gold light saturates the desert. I wonder how far I can walk through this seemingly endless stretch of cactus and dusty rock- till nightfall? dawn? mid afternoon?

Finally I stop. We've reached what the good people of Bitter Springs like to call the oasis, though it doesn't seem like much of an oasis to me. In fact, it looks just like any other scrubby patch of cactus. Might as well sit here and be inspired, though. I settle down cross-legged on the dust and so does Aubrey. I try to draw, I really do, but I can't help but be a little unnerved by his motionless silence beside me. Finally I turn to him, only to catch my breath in surprise.

Aubrey is meditating, or at least I think he is. His eyes are closed, his forehead smooth. A faint smile crowns his perfect lips, and the slight hot breeze ruffles his gorgeous hair, which glimmers in the sun that gently kisses his face. His palms are up, his body still- he looks perfectly tranquil and at peace. It's strange, but at the same time somehow otherworldy beautiful. I feel an urge to reach out and touch him, see if he's really there, or just a mirage of the sparkling desert sand...

His eyes snap open, alert, amused, and slightly contemptuous. I blush as usual, and hastily speak, trying to regain my composure.

"So you do yoga and smoke? Interesting combination."

His pose is broken. Aubrey leans back, tilting his face up to speak to me- where his body spoke rigidity and restraint a moment ago it now reclines lazily and easily.

"Why?" He asks, uninterested.

I blush, stammer. "Well, they're not two things that generally go together."

He speaks slowly, his glowing brown eyes resting on me, mesmerizing. His voice is soft- sexy. "Then maybe I'm the exception to the rule."

I look down, trying to control the frantic beating of my heart that comes from the way he looks at me, and endeavor to keep my voice calm and neutral.

"Maybe. So, do you go to Wilson?"

He laughs, short and barklike. "Where else?"

I fix my eyes on a particularly prickly cactus that's missing part of it's arm and continue. "Where do you live?"

"Around."

I roll my eyes and give up, gazing at the cactus. It looks as though somebody's chopped it with a cleaver or something. Aubrey's voice surprises me, drawing my eyes back to him.

"What, no more twenty questions?"

I can't help glaring at him. "You weren't being particularly helpful."

"Well, you weren't asking me particularly interesting questions."

I bristle, annoyed. "I don't see what's wrong with my questions. They're standard, conventional..." I flounder. There's only so much to say.

He rolls his eyes. "I bet you I can think of twenty other, unconventional questions that will illuminate you farther than those could've illuminated me."

Aha. A challenge. I survey him doubtfully. "Oh yeah?"

"Yeah." He nods, sanguine. 'But I'm sure you wouldn't want to answer them."

This riles me. "I don't have anything to hide, thank you very much. Come on, ask your stupid questions."

He leans back, looking at me through half closed eyes, the faint smile crowning his lips. Then, suddenly...

"What color underwear are you wearing?"

I gasp, shocked. "Excuse me?"

He looks smug. "See, I told you you wouldn't answer my questions."

I splutter, at a loss for words. Then finally, "I don't see how this is relevant to anything."

"How is where I live relevant?"

I'm indignant. "That's a perfectly normal question!"

He shrugs. "You have your questions, I have mine. But I knew you wouldn't play, anyway."

I glare at him. "Red." I finally say.

He smiles triumphantly. "Devlish."

I narrow my eyes. "Whatever. Go on. My bra's white, by the way, before you can ask, so there."

He raises an eyebrow. "I wasn't going to, actually, but thanks. Lace?"
At the look on my face he supresses his grin and clears his throat. "Right, moving on. Okay. Do you sleep with your windows open?"
I nod slowly, cautious. "Why?"

He ignores me. "Do you wear perfume?"

"What kind of question is that?" I ask, bewildered. He silences me with a hand, leaning close to me. His face is inches away from mine- I can't help blushing like a tomato. Finally he draws back.

"Sandalwood." He declares. I have to admit that he's right. Hmm.

"You eat sushi and drink strawberry banana smoothies with a shot of wheatgrass. You like alernative music, folk...Bob Dylan. Straight A student, but you've tried a bit of stuff. Go green. You recycle and carry those canvas bags when you shop. You like Trader Joe's."

I goggle. "What?"

He stares at me like I'm stupid. "Yeah, right?"

I roll my eyes. "No, I'm not expressing my intense amazement at your wonderful psychic skills, Aubrey. I mean what as in, 'what the hell are you talking about?'"

He rolls his eyes back at me. "Oh come on, admit it. I'm right."

"Uh, no you aren't. I hate wheatgrass and I've only heard like three songs by Bob Dylan. And I've tried 'a bit of stuff'? What is that supposed to mean? I've never even had alcohol. I'm not your stereotype of a Californian girl."

He raises his eyebrows. "Uh-huh."

I nod. "Uh-huh is right. You have a really weird perception of Angelinos, or at least of me. L.A.'s really diverse, different- that's what I like about it. Unlike- what is this place called, again?"

He laughs, a genuine laugh that flashes his brilliant teeth, throwing back his auburn head. Finally he looks at me, still grinning.

"Bitter Springs," He informs me, shaking his head mock-reproachfully. "Bitter Springs- remember that, young lady."

Suddenly he looks at the horizon and rises. So do I. His face is all of a sudden serious, the impish grin gone. "I gotta go."

I can't help but be a little disappointed. "You're leaving?" I ask, my smile fading.

He looks at me with a knowing smile, one that makes my heart flutter like a bird flying off a cactus.

"We'll continue this interview sometime." He says, touching my flushed cheek, tilting his head, his fiery eyes burning into mine intently. He leans in, and I close my eyes, expecting, waiting, hoping. The blood pounds in my ears. I feel my heartbeat accelerate rapidly, so fast I think it might burst out of my ribcage altogether. This is an entirely different feeling than with Frank last night; I feel dizzy, intoxicated, high with euphoria. Anything can happen.

He's so close I can feel his breath as he whispers, "Promise." Then, skimming his fingertips over my parted lips, he laughs softly, a throaty chuckle. When I open my eyes, he's gone.

 

 

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