Arizona Skies
Author: Isabella Darcy

Chapter 13
Mixed Messages

School is tense the next day. Emma's still mad at me, so English is unusually silent, but Frank, on the other hand, is excessively buoyant and affectionate, much to my (and Leanne's) chagrin. Emma warms up a little once she learns of my half-promise to Frank, and by art we're almost back to normal.

But it's dance I look forward to and at the same time dread. When I come into the room, I don't immediately see Aubrey, and then I realize it's because he's already in his seat instead of lingering by Krissy, talking as he always does. Krissy, in fact, looks a little put out, her face in a pout. When I pass she glares. Hmm.

The warm up is quick and we pair up. I prepare myself for another day of silence, but Aubrey surprises me with a half smile and, "Hey."

I smile back, somewhat cautiously. "Hi."

Mrs. Kudrow comes around in a billow of purple scarf and claps her hands. "Alright team, ready to choreograph?"

I turn to look at Aubrey, who's obviously suppressing a grin, and bite my lip to stop myself from laughing. I nod. Mrs. Kudrow beams.

"Okay then! There are additional props over there, if you need them."

She gestures to a pile of collapsable chairs, scarves, hula hoops, and exercise balls, then sails off. Aubrey turns to me.

"Chair?"

"Sure." I say.

He drags one over and I put our CD in the player in our corner. The music starts, a tick-tock beat before the words.

"Ok, so just work on your's and I'll do mine and then we can put it together." I say, and he nods.

Over the course of the next hour, Aubrey and I nearly complete our dance. It starts off with him standing behind the chair looking down, and I walk to the count of the beginning music. At every pause I go back half a step, and he looks up. Then the voice starts.

Come on babe, why don't we paint the town...

I swing my legs over the seat of the chair and roll my head, he holds my waist. I do a quick hand on hip pose for the two counts after. 

...and all that jazz

I prop a leg on the chair and run a hand down it like I'm taking off nylons.

I'm gonna rouge my knees, pull my stockings down...

It's strange being so close to him, feeling his hands on my waist as I dance, looking up at him rigidly concentrating, and remembering all of the mean things we said to each other under the mask of intense dislike. But intense dislike is definitely not the feeling I'm having as he holds me close and twirls me to the music.

Class ends and I grab my stuff, shoving on my shoes, and see a whirl of black flash by me. It's Krissy, who shoots me a look I can't understand before leaving, noticeably without her usual companion. Who in fact is standing by me, I realize with a start. I turn to go and Aubrey follows me out of the class.

"So, I think the dance is going well," he says, shooting me the cynical half smile, the one that makes my stomach do backflips.

"Yeah." I say, twining my hair around the nape of my neck and knotting it into a bun as we walk towards the parking lot, "It is."

Aubrey looks down at me, the sun flaring up his hair. "Why are you putting it up?" He asks.

I blush, confused. "What?"

He smiles, and reaches out a hand to touch my hair. "Your hair. I think it looks beautiful down."

I flush to the roots of the said beautiful hair. Is Aubrey flirting with me? And has he just used the word beautiful in conjunction with me, his should-be arch enemy?

"Uh, thanks," I say, letting go of the knot as it untwists back down. He bites his lip, still smiling, and we stop, having reached the lot where Frank, Jimmy, Emma, and the rest of my group are standing.

Frank shoots Aubrey a suspicious look and pulls me to him in a one-armed hug, keeping his arm around me. Did Frank just see Aubrey compliment me? I wonder, mortified. The OH-MY-GOD look on Emma's face confirms it. Oh great.

"So, Hunter, haven't seen you around lately." Frank says, eyeing Aubrey distrustfully. Aubrey shrugs.

"I come when I feel like it."

Emma shifts her bag over her shoulder and glances at me before asking, "Is it true that you and Krissy broke up?"

He nods. So that explains the weird looks from her. "It wasn't working out. I had other," his eyes flicker to mine for a second, a smile crowning his lips, "things on my mind."

He did not just do that. I feel like I could scream with- with what? Excitement, joy, happiness? He did not just do that. The increasingly thunderous look on Frank's face says otherwise.

"Yeah, well," Frank interupts, holding me tighter, "I guess you'll have to go alone to the dance, then. Aurora's going with me."

I roll my eyes, annoyed. What am I, a possession? Aubrey catches my eye and smirks.

"Cool," he says carelessy to Frank, then turning to me, "Do you want a ride?"

I can see Emma behind him just freaking out. It looks like she might explode. Frank does too, come to think of it, his face is an unusual shade of red and he's holding me so tightly I can barely breathe.

"Aurora's driving with me, Hunter." He growls. Ok, enough.

"Frank, let go of me," I say, breaking free of his grasp, glowering at the pair of them, who are scowling at each other. "Would you guys just cut it out? I'll walk."

Frank instantly repents. "Oh, come on California, calm down." He entreats as I walk away huffily. Stupid guys and their egos.

I begin to regret walking about half and hour into it, with the sun at its' peak pounding down on me, the dust rising up in great orange waves and choking me. I'd thought it was a relatively short walk to Lindsey's- I mean, how big can this town be, after all? I'm beginning to feel the pangs of hunger when a dusty red pickup slows down on the road, and a familiar bronze head pokes out.

"Wanna ride?" Aubrey calls, slowing down to match the pace of my walk. I shift my bag and scowl.

"I'm fine, thanks."

He keeps driving along. "Oh, come on Aurora. Look at you."

I bristle. "What's that supposed to mean?' I demand.

He laughs. "You're almost dead of heatstroke. I swear, another step and you'll pass out. Then I'll have to bring you back to Lindsey's unconscious. And that won't look too good."

I roll my eyes, but his argument is tempting, and the truck is probably air-conditioned. He can see me leaning.

"Come on, please?" His voice is persuasive, silky. With a glare I open the door and climb in. He grins triumphantly.

"I hope you know I'm only doing this because of the health hazard." I inform him, "I would've walked all the way there."

He looks straight ahead, still smiling. "I'm sure you would have."

We drive in silence. The black leather of the seat sticks to my thighs, my shorts being pretty short.

"Can I ask you a question?" I say, turning to him.

He looks surprised. "Sure."

I run my tongue over my lips, phrasing it. "Ok, so you know when I first came to Bitter Springs?"

He nods. "Ok, well, I don't know if you remember, but the first time I met you was in Lindsey's kitchen and you didn't say anything to me. Not a word. Just glared. And then for a while after that you were kind of mean. Why do you think that is?"

Aubrey turns to look at me, considering. Finally he says, "I guess I was mad."

"Mad?" I repeat, incredulous. "You didn't even know me!"

He shakes his head. "Not mad at you, more like mad at the idea of you."

I huff. "That's some distinction. Okay then, why were you mad at the," I lay stress on the word, "idea of me?"

He shrugs. "I didn't want to meet some ignorant, weird Californian girl who everyone was so worked up about."

"I'm not ignorant." I say, offended. His bright eyes flicker to mine seriously.

"I know you're not. Anyway, I was determined not to make a big deal of you. I wanted to show you that you weren't as important as everyone thought. I wasn't interested."

I notice the past tense with a thrill up my spine, but speak indifferently. "What made you change your attitude?"

His eyes meet mine, his lips curving up into a smile. "Let's just say I reconsidered."

I blush crimson, but my heart is pounding like crazy. I change the topic. "Frank is pretty pissed at you, you know."

Aubrey laughs. "Thompson can kiss my-" At the look on my face he sidetracks. "I mean, so what? He doesn't scare me."

I roll my eyes. "Yeah well, I'd appreciate it if you guys would stop with the posturing. Why do you have to get under his skin?"

"Who says I'm trying to get under his skin?"

I frown at him. "Taunting him by flirting with me? You know I always ride home with Frank."

He shakes his head, smiling. "Who says I'm taunting him? Maybe I'm actually interested."

I blush but shake my head. "Aubrey, we've already had this conversation. I'm not interested in joining your harem. I don't want to be another nameless girl who's fallen for your badboy charm."

He bites his lip, looking at me intently. "For such an intelligent girl you seem strangely obtuse. Aurora, what I'm trying to tell you is that you're not just another girl."

I glare at him. Is this another trick? "Stop it, Aubrey. I'm not stupid."

He makes a sound of frustration and hits the dashboard, then turns to me, running a hand through his hair, his brows knitted. His voice is unexpectedly gentle. "Aurora, what do I have to do to make you believe me?"

His look, his very tone speaks sincerity. But I can't buy it, as much as I'd like to. I cross my arms and glare stubbornly. "You're not funny, Aubrey."

His brown eyes are lit up in the sun, and serious for once, with a hint of a sad smile. "You don't trust me, do you?"

I shake my head, defensive. "Why should I, Aubrey? I know how you operate. There are dozens, by your own account, who could testify to it. You don't take any one person seriously. There's always someone else."

He speaks eagerly, forcefully. "There's no one else! Maybe in the past, that's how I was, yeah. But Aurora, it's different now. Can't you see? I broke up with Krissy. I am serious about you."

How some words can excite one! But I keep putting up defenses so he can break them down. I need to trust him. "How am I supposed to know that?" I ask. "You've never been faithful, committed, loyal-"

He cuts me off, angry. "Okay, fine. That's all true- was all true. I suppose you want someone boring and dependable, like Thompson."

His voice is- or do I imagine it?- a little bitter, and he's scowling ahead, hands clenched tightly on the wheel. Can he possibly be jealous? It's a thrilling thought.

"Why, Aubrey," I say, amazed, "are you jealous of Frank?"

"Of course not." He snaps, refusing to look at me.

I maintain a dubious silence. Finally he looks at me, still scowling.

"Ok, fine, maybe a little. He's "sweet" and "sensitive" and trustworthy, honest. Everything I'm not, according to you."

I can't help but soften at his tone. "I never said-"

"Well, you implied pretty loudly." He barks, interupting me.

I cross my arms, affronted, and in a couple minutes of injured and irritable silence we reach the house. I climb out and slam the door behind me, turning to glower at him.

"Thanks," I say reluctantly.

"Anytime." He's sarcastic, still mad. "Guess I'm good for something, huh?"

With that last bitter retort the truck zooms off.

 

 

 

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