Arizona Skies
Author: Isabella Darcy

Chapter 18
Dinner at Mona's

We follow Mona into the kitchen, which is a bright orange, stenciled flowers creeping up the walls. Ted turns to us with a grin, holding a salad.

"Hungry?" He asks. "Please, sit down. I'm so glad you guys are joining us."

Aubrey leads me by the hand to the little square wood table, where a potted cactus shrinks against a tower of straws. I have a feeling he's been here many times before. Mona settles down next to me with a little squiggle.

"Do you like our kitchen?" She asks me, eyes wide. I nod.

"Yeah, it's really pretty. Did you guys paint these?"

I gesture to the green and yellow, pink and blue tendrils and petals that grace the walls. She nods.

"Dad did most of it, but I helped." She says, reaching over to grab a pink straw. "Aubrey did too."

"Really?" I look across the table to him, raising an eyebrow. Aubrey shrugs it off.

"A bit." He admits, but I think he's just being modest. The flowers show a lot of skill that I don't think Mona could possibly have yet.

"So, Aurora," says Ted, bringing over a steaming glass dish, which he sets down with a thud, sitting next to Aubrey, "how long have you been here? I'd heard about your coming from Lindsey but hadn't got the chance to meet you til now."

I run my thumb over the perspiring blue glass of my cup, tracing a line, and try to think. How long have I been here? A month?

"You know, I'm not exactly-"

"Thirty five days," says Aubrey.

Ted turns to him with a chuckle. "Ho ho, been keeping tabs on her, huh Aubrey?"

Aubrey flushes, and I bite back a smile. Ted dishes us out some casserole, the steam rising in little curls.

"Do you like Bitter Springs?" Mona chirps, blowing on her fork patiently.

I nod, the smile growing. "Yeah. I do. A lot."

"Because of him," she gestures to Aubrey, "or because of other stuff?"

I laugh, meeting Aubrey's eyes, then look back to her. Ted shrugs apologetically.

"Um, he's certainly- a factor, but um, yeah, I like it for a couple reasons."

Mona smiles, unconvinced. "Okay."

"But I'm the main reason, Mona," Aubrey puts in, laughing. Mona rolls her eyes at him, but the corners of her mouth are lifting up into a smile.

"Aubrey has a fat head," she says to me, nodding.

I laugh. I like this little girl. "He does, huh?" I say, nodding back at her. "I think so too."

Ted watches us, his eyes twinkling. "Poor Aubrey," he says, "You girls just fried him."

Aubrey pretends to be put out. "Hey, I'm just eating my food in peace."

Ted turns back to me. "You go to Wilson, too. Who else do you know around here?"

I chew my olive and reflect. "Um, Emma Hayes...Jimmy Knox...Leanne Rice..." Though that last one probably doesn't count for much. Ted nods.

"...um, and Frank Thompson." Aubrey rolls his eyes as I knew he would, and Ted catches it, though Mona's too busy blowing bubbles in her coke with her pink straw to, which I'm grateful for.

"Aubrey's never been a fan of Frank Thompson." He says, winking at me. "Though now I think I see why."

I blush, stirring my casserole around my plate. Aubrey coughs, pitifully disguising the dislike in his voice.

"You know, he just- riles me up. Likes to push my buttons."

I roll my eyes at him, and Ted smirks. "I think I know which button he pushes."

Mona looks up with a start, abandoning her straw. "Which button?"

We all cough and look away, and Ted pats her hand. "Uh, nothing. Eat your casserole, honey."

Mona glares suspiciously at the three of us, stabbing an olive. "Something about Aubrey. I guess it can't be good."

Ted cracks up, huffing and puffing in his chair, and I can't help laughing either. "That's my Mona." Ted says, wiping his eyes. Aubrey shakes his head indulgently at us.

"I love how everyone always assumes the best of me." He nods at the guiltily grinning Mona, "Especially you."

"You know Mona, Aubrey," Ted chuckles, "it's her way of showing love."

At this point Mona starts shrieking about the cooties again, and excuses herself from the table, declaring she's lost her appetite. Aubrey looks at his watch and sets down his fork.

"We probably should go." He says. Ted nods, scraping back his chair. We both get up.

"Thanks so much for showing us the gallery, and dinner," I say, shaking his hand. Ted grins.

"Of course. Glad to finally get to meet you. You know, you remind me of Lindsey quite a lot." He shakes his head, dissatifsied. "I don't know what it is."

"Well, they are related..." Aubrey starts. Ted chuckles, giving him a one-armed hug. He walks us down the hallway and to the door.

"Hope to see a lot more of you." He says. "Aurora, feel free to drop in anytime." He winks at Aubrey. "You take care of her, young man."

Aubrey gives him a mock salute as we step outside. It's five--ish, and the sky is fading blue pink. "Tell Mona goodbye."

Ted nods. "Will do." With a last cheery wave he closes the door and we walk back to the car, Aubrey's arm around me.

"That was fun, wasn't it?" He says, looking down at me with a smile.

I nod. I have to admit it. "It was."

"See, you should trust me more often." He teases, brushing the hair out of my eyes.

I grin mischeviously up at him. "I should, shouldn't I?"

"All the ti-"

 I cut him off, kissing his surprised lips before he can respond. He tastes like olives and coke. Nice combo. I pull away and smile up at him. Aubrey shakes his head like he's just been underwater, and I have to admit, he looks a little dazed.

"Wow." He says. "Quite the go-getter, aren't you?"

I smack him playfully and he lets me go, unlocking the truck. The sky is humming all around us, evening in Bitter Springs. I climb into the truck and he starts the ignition, and the truck goes lumbering off. I gaze out of my window and smile. This is absolute contentment. For once, I feel perfectly at home.

 

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