Arizona Skies
Author: Isabella Darcy

Chapter 34
It's Not Like That Anymore

"I was wondering where you were today," Emma says, her hands wrapped around the steaming mug of tea I've just given her, comforting with the rain steadily pelting the windows.

I shrug and drop my gaze, looking down into my own mug, at the swirls of rainbow that are lemon juice, beads of oil on the surface. I can feel the heat creep up into my cheeks.

"It was rainy, I didn't have a ride- I just decided to miss a day, that's all."

"Didn't Aubrey come pick you up?" She asks awkwardly, pronouncing his name softly, as if it's forbidden.

I swallow. "Um, he called- to, uh, tell me that the truck wasn't working, so I- I didn't see how I could get there on time."

"Oh." She says, her eyes sweeping over Lindsey's brightly lit kitchen. "So...how are you guys?"

Now I deem it safe to meet her eyes again and smile at her sudden curiosity. "Good."

I can just see it itching to be said, right on the tip of her tongue. Emma's never been one for self-restraint- and before she can catch it the question is out.

"You still think he was the right choice?"

The second she says it she bites her pink glossed lip. But I can tell that now its been said, she wants an answer.

"Emma, I don't really want to talk about this with you," I say, not being able to stop the heat that colors my tone. She's immediately abashed, and I feel a little twinge of regret at being so harsh.

"Of course, why would you want to talk to me about anything, the way we've- I've- treated you."

"Em, its not that, its just-" I search for the right words, ones that don't include love or Aubrey or serious. "I think it should stay between me and Frank."

She nods acceptingly. "Okay. I know my picking sides was a big factor in this- you know."

I give her a weak smile. "So does this mean we're friends again?"

She jumps at the question with a ready smile of her own. "Of course, Aurora, of course we are. I feel so terrible. And when you didn't come to school today, I thought maybe you were sick or something, and with your grandma away, who could take care of you-"

"And Frank?" I ask eagerly.

Her bright smile fades just a little, but she strives to keep her voice cheerful and light. "Well, Frank- he's still kind of mad over-" here her voice dips down again, "Aubrey."

"Is he okay?"

Emma shrugs. "I think he's sort of- no offense- getting over you, you know what I mean?"

I narrow my eyes. "Um, not exactly."

Emma continues in the same practical tone, throwing out the words like they don't mean anything. "Well, he and Leanne have become pretty close- they're with each other pretty much all the time now-"

"Leanne Rice?" I ask, incredulous. That little snake? I knew she wanted Frank, but the thought that he would ever fall for her...?

She nods. "Anyway, they're always together, and she asked him to the winter formal dance. He hasn't said yes yet, but from the way things are going, everyone pretty much considers them a couple."

A couple? Leanne Rice after me? The thought seems conceited in my head, but really- we're two completely different kinds of girls. If he can like Leanne Rice, of all people, then maybe Frank isn't who I've built him up to be.

"So, are you going to the formal?" she asks me, drawing me out of the Frank-Leanne speculations. Its obvious that she's asking if Aubrey's asked me- which, now I come to think of, he hasn't. I was never one for stupid school dances, but I can't help the thought that Leanne and Frank will be there...

"Um, I don't know yet," I say. "Are you?"

She nods. "Maybe, if you do go, we can pick our dresses together."

"Yeah, maybe."

We stir our teas in silence, the hum of the fridge and steady ping-ping of the rain the only noise. Then Emma coughs, vainly trying to hide her curiosity under careless words.

"So, you and-" the shift of her eyes a fraction above my head- "Aubrey...have you guys...?"

I feel the blood rush to my face but affect ignorance- about as effectively as she's veiling her curiosity. "What do you mean?"
She widens her eyes a bit. "You know..."

The word is in my mind, and so close in my thoughts. Aubrey, shirtless, the dragon flexing on his arm, his lips tracing a line from my jawbone to collarbone, pinning me to the floor. You know...

"Kissed?" She says, leaning forward, eager for my answer.

"What?"

I can't help the confusion, staining my face with the burning blush of shame. Kissed, first kiss, she means. That one was long ago, unwilling and dusty, with the sun beating down on me in my turquoise dress.

"Um, well-"

She nods, prompting me.

"Well yeah, yeah, he kissed me."

She squeals. "And how was it? Tell me everything!"
I imagine what Emma's face would look like if I told her what I thought she was talking about, if I told her the rush of excitement I felt lying on that carpet with Aubrey laughing above me. Her shock and distaste, unbelief...and curiosity.

"Um, well, it was- nice."

"Nice?" Her mouth droops. "That's all you can say? Nice? Come on, he's pretty practiced, it should be better than- oh my God, Aurora, I didn't mean it like that-"

Emma's mouth is wobbling open like a goldfish, her clear eyes round, reflecting apprehension. Yeah, I know he's pretty practiced, I want to scream at her, her poor clueless face, but that was then and this is now! We're in love, I want to say, he loves me. I don't care about the past, how many girls he's practiced on, I yell to the Emma in my head and myself, trying to convince us both.

But it comes out more like this: "He is." I keep my voice level and cold, not letting it slip into anger, into all of the unresolved issues I have- and now, the thought can't help but bubble up to the surface of my mind, prompted by Emma's innocent words..."he's pretty practiced"...lying on the carpet, his tattoo shining in the dark...

"Aurora, I'm sorry, I didn't mean it like that, it's just-" she searches for words she doesn't have, gazing at me imploringly.

"Its okay, Emma, I know. It was like that. But its not anymore." Then, as she still looks unconvinced, "Aubrey's promised me."

After that she switches to other subjects, school and the trip she's taking with her aunt to Santa Fe next month. But it's different between us now, somehow: I feel like after my solitude with Aubrey, she is alien, ignorant and apart. I don't find myself sucked into her talk like I used to, like I am when he says my name. We used to be close, no boundaries, no secrets. Now I can't even tell her everything I'm feeling right now, torn between what I want and what I think is best. I feel like I've dug myself into a hole and the only one who I want there with me is Aubrey, Aubrey with his fiery eyes and temptation.

It used to be us girls, me and Emma, before all the drama started.

It's not like that anymore.

 

 

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