Arizona Skies
Author: Isabella Darcy

Chapter 28
Tension

Her words are like a slap to my face. Even though they're utterly ridiculous and on some level I know this, I can't help but feel their unchangeable truth. Apparently, I, Aurora Lark, can't have everything. News flash. Only it seems as though the choice originally between Frank and Aubrey has evolved into the choice between Frank and crew or Aubrey. I guess this was decided the minute I saw Aubrey in Lindsey's kitchen. I feel a little bad thinking this, but there must be a couple Emmas, Leannes, Jimmies out there. Frank- I'm not so sure. But Aubrey- there can only be one Aubrey. My Aubrey, with his laughing brown eyes and crooked half-moon smile.

We spend the rest of the period in huffy silence, and I'm relieved when the bell rings. Aubrey joins me at the door (how he got there so fast is anyone's guess) and I feel Emma's eyes on us as we head to my next period. My reflief doesn't last very long, however, as Frank and Jimmy are in chem with me. I hurry through the door and sit at my table, doodling on my notebook till Mr. Keck starts class. Someone flashes by me, then stops, coming back. I lift my head to see a black t-shirt...Jimmy.

"Hey," he says, flashing me a sad smile. "How's it going?"

"Okay." I mumble, looking down, my cheeks burning red. Jimmy touches my arm softly, drawing my eyes back to his.

"Look, I'm sorry about this," he says, and he looks sincere. "I didn't want to do it."

Suddenly I feel embarrassed. Why should they think that their shunning of me be so fatal to my self-esteem? It's not like their acknowledgement of my existence is crucial to it. Why do they think they're so important?

"I don't care," I snap, letting my anger out on Jimmy. He narrows his eyes with a shake of the head, clearly bewildered at this sudden change of attitude.

"What?" He says.

"You know what," I say, the steam building up in me, "I really don't give a fuck what you, or Frank, or any of your little group thinks about me or says about me or whatever. I really don't care. So how about you keep your little promise and leave me the fuck alone?"
Now he's stepping away, and the momentary kindness on his face is gone, and he's just like the rest of them. "Fine," he says.

Jimmy stomps away and I guess I should be feeling a bit triumphant, but the only thing I feel is the twisting monster in my stomach and that little voice in my head that says 'you're not fooling anyone.' And I don't think I am. Not even myself.

 

 

The rest of my classes pass by in a blur- a decidedly silent one. Then lunch rolls around and I grab my food from the lunch line and look towards the table I- used to- sit at. Jimmy and Emma are talking about something, and she's twirling a curl around a finger and blushing- I guess I'm not really missed. Conner and Taylor and some other boys are having a mini-food fight. And Leanne is leaning on one elbow, staring up into Frank's face and batting her eyelashes, clearly flirting with him. The only thing that cheers me up in this picture is Frank- he looks tired and bored and uninterested in Leanne- and slightly sad. I feel a pang as I realize it must be for me. Frank misses me- or, I guess, in his words- who he thought I was.

I can't seem to tear my eyes away as I stand in the middle of the lunch area, holding my blue plastic tray amidst the sea of laughing, talking people flitting by. Suddenly I want to run over to him, bury my face in his shoulder like the day I told him about my mom, and cry. I want to say, I'm sorry. I miss you. It doesn't have to be this way. Then he looks up and our eyes meet- and for a second, before they harden and he looks away to Leanne with a forced smile, they're clear and vulnerable and regretful. I'm sure they mirror mine, but eyes can only say so much.

"Hey! Aurora."

I turn to see Aubrey striding towards me, with a Coke and a ready smile- which fades when he sees what I've been looking at and my poorly disguised cheerfulness. He scowls, the lines of his eyes turning down, and tugs my arm, dragging me away.

"You really care, don't you?" He asks gently, the look on his face searching.

"About what?" I blush as I say it, but I can't help blurting it out- however mortified my pride is, it still exists. It used to be my mother's number one complaint about me: my stubborn pride. Aubrey shakes his head.

"You shouldn't." He says, ignoring my stupid question. "If they're willing to do that to you because of such a small, insignificant thing-"

"Insignificant?" I ask, frowning. Aubrey can't help cracking a smile.

"In the greater scheme of things, of course. If they're willing to shun you because of us," he continues, "they're obviously not worth much as friends."

His logic is sound- but no one really feels like that when they're in the position- no matter how logical. Even if Jimmy and Emma and Frank are, by that definition, not worth much as friends, I still want them.

"I can't help wondering," he says as we reach an empty table, "I can't help wondering if you regret it."

We sit, and he clutches his Coke and searches my face eagerly, nervously- hanging onto every word. I swallow. I can't lie to Aubrey.

"If I could do it all over," I say, and he drops his eyes, "If I could, I'd..."

He shakes his head, his hair glinting in the sun. "You don't have to say it," he says, and his voice is strained, "it's okay."

I slide my hand across the table and pry his fingers from the Coke. I can feel his head dart up, and I know his eyes are on me, but I keep mine fixed on the table. "I wouldn't change anything." I look up to him, and his lips are parted and he's leaning towards me, hungry for each word. "I want you, Aubrey...and I can't imagine giving you up now."

It's like we're in our own little bubble, insulated from the rest of the world. And even though it's 1:42 and at Wilson High at a scratched up lunchtable, I can't imagine it any different when he says, his eyes glowing, the intensity in his voice almost frightening,

"You know I love you, Aurora."

And our lips meet and its perfect like this- and I can't even force myself to care when I see a leather jacket and brown curls flash by- because I'm on a different planet altogether.

 

 

Somehow I manage to survive art. It's as though there's a thick sheet of ice between me and Emma, though we're centimeters apart- every gesture is muted like I'm looking through the frost. I find myself wondering how long this will go on. Then I abruptly remember next period and the dance test, and freak out. I love to dance, and once I am, everything else is secondary- but I hate the moments leading up to performing, the dread and anxiety, fear that I'll forget everything.

Aubrey meets me at the door after I've changed into my black leggings and camisole. And, somehow, he has the two, sparkling black tophats. He has one rakishly balanced on his head already, and the effect isn't bad.

"This is ridiculous, you know." I say as he sets the hat on my head like a crown.

Aubrey grins. "I know."

We head into class and immediately Mrs. Kudrow calls us over, enthusiastically nodding at our hats. She claps her hands together in such an expression of childish delight that I can't help a smile.

"All ready?" She says, not waiting for an answer. "Good. Let's get started. Rose will do the music."

Rose waggles a couple fingers at us and smiles at the radio. I feel like my stomach might explode. The class settles down near the back wall, and we set up the chair. I can see my face reflected in the mirror, and I look scared. I take a deep breath, then catch Aubrey's eye. He winks at me with a half smile. Then the music starts.

At first my steps are awkward and stiff, but as my body recognizes the music and falls into pattern, it comes naturally, and I lose the vision of myself pale and trembling and throw myself into the dance. When it's over and we're panting and the class is clapping, I feel almost sorry that its over. Almost, but not quite.

"Great job!" Mrs. Kudrow says from her chair near the back wall as she scribbles furiously on the clipboard perched on her lap. "Amazing! Almost like something lifted out of a movie."

Aubrey makes a mock bow, the tophat sliding dangerously down his forehead, but he's grinning triumphantly. "Thank you. Couldn't have done it without my partner."

Mrs. Kudrow beams and I blush, and as we head to sit down amidst the buzz of the class, my eyes catch Krissy's- and she can't wipe away the disappointment there in time for a scowl.

 

 

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