Arizona Skies
Author: Isabella Darcy

Chapter 35
Communication Breakdown

School. I press my head against the cold of the truck's window, watching the cacti and rocks zoom by. The rain stopped, unfortunately; but patches of wet still linger, the damp dark spots in the orange dust, the fine sheen on the wind-blown desert flowers. I wonder what I'd be doing at this moment, if I was still in L.A.- probably arguing with my Dad in the car, on our way to pick up his morning commute coffee.

I miss my Dad. In the heat of the first couple days, when I was angry with him for seemingly abandoning me in what I thought was a dry wasteland, I told myself I could do without him. But now, it feels like I've been on a vacation, long and blurry, and I miss the things at home. Not that I would give up my life here in Bitter Springs for anything- it feels like a dream too good to be true...or at least, he does.

I look out of the corners of my eyes at Aubrey, who's leaning one hand on the steering wheel and running another through his hair, mussing the orange so it lights up in the morning sun. I bite back a smile- it looks like his head is on fire. He's wearing a white shirt as yesterday, and it can't help but spark my memory-  which has been active enough on the subject without any sparking.

Every moment of yesterday is etched in my memory, every detail stamped on my brain. When I look at him, sitting there with the white shirt, I see bare tanned skin, warm against mine, the ink dragon flaming before my eyes. Embarrassed, as though he can read my thoughts, I shake my head, pushing them away. Aubrey's eyes catch mine, and before he can relax into the usual half-smile, I've seen the look in them, the look I now understand- the look I imagine must be reflected in mine.

"So, nice day, huh?" I say to distract us both.

Aubrey looks at me with a raised eyebrow. "You're talking about the weather, Aurora? To me?"

Oh. I blush crimson, but I keep my eyes on his. "Um, I think so."

He shakes his head slowly to himself, bewildered. "Why won't you say it?"

"Say what?"

His answer is prompt and frank, unblushing, but the edges of his voice are tinged with pain.

"That you don't want to have sex with me."

Whoa. Bombshell!

 

 

Awkward silence. Then, me, red from head to toe, "I never said anything about-" the word is foreign on my tongue, outloud to him, "sex."

He shakes his head, his brows furrowed. "Aurora, I know you well enough to know it was in your mind."

My mouth is still hanging open like a fish out of water; with yet another blush I close it. I'm speechless- I mean, what do you say when someone says something like that?

He mistakes my silence for something else; something which causes him to flush a dull red and snap his head back to the windshield, hands clenched tight on the wheel. "You don't have to say it," he says, "it's okay."

I goggle at him for a couple seconds, uncomprehending. Then, "What?"

He speaks as if the words are painful, each one prompting another mortified blush. Seems everyone is red in this car. "No, Aurora, I get it. Just- just forget I said anything."

I'm really confused. "What, why? What are you saying?"

His aquiline profile is ringed with the gold sun, flaring through the windows, catching his eyelashes in a mesh of light. He bites his lip so hard it turns white, as white as his hands clutching the steering wheel. "I don't- I can't-" he stumbles for words, turning an agonized face towards me. "Please, just forget all about it. I'm so sorry, I didn't mean to-"

Finally I catch on, my brain whirling frantically. "No, wait, Aubrey!"

I try to sort out my jumbled thoughts. Speak clearly, Aurora, I tell myself. Make sure you're understandable.

"I do want to have sex with you!"

Okay, not quite like that.

He stares at me, and now it's my turn to squirm. I fumble to correct myself, dropping my eyes. "I mean, I- I mean-"

"No, Aurora, no," he rescues me, eyes glazed with pain. "No, please, I didn't mean to- I mean, I thought it was mutual- I- I don't want you to feel obligated-" Suddenly he tears a hand through his hair, his face screwed up. "I'm such an idiot!"

I hurry to correct him as I realize what he's trying to say. "No, Aubrey, wait, listen-"

He stops me with a vigorous shake of the head, his cheeks flushed and eyes bright, looking about as mortified and agonized as I feel. "Stop, please, Aurora. I can't- I-"

He yanks open the door and then I realize we've been parked for several minutes now. He hops out quickly, turning at the window with a final grimace. "I'm sorry, I just- I have to- I'm so sorry-"

And leaving me speechless in the car, Aubrey dashes off, leaving me to stare where he used to be.

 

 

I stumble, dazed, into the parking lot, yanking my bag over my shoulder. The words and emotions are swimming so confused in my brain that I don't even realize I've reached the lunch tables until a flying mass of yellow comes pouncing towards me with a shriek.

"Aurora!"

"Oh, hey Emma," I say, forcing myself back to the present.

"Where's Aubrey?" She asks, loud and perky in my dizzy fog.

I blush crimson, for the millionth time, and mumble out the words. "Oh, um, he left."

Emma cocks her head to the side, her eyes wide. I can almost see the cogs turning in her brain. "Oh, okay then. Do you want to sit with us?"
She takes me by the arm, leading me to the familiar old lunch table, where Austin, Taylor, and Jimmy are sitting. Jimmy stiffens at the sight of me, half rising.

"Aurora's back!" She says, nodding at them. I guess I was on vacation before- or nonexistent, perhaps.

He sits back down with a slight, not unfriendly smile. "Hi," says Taylor.

"Hi," I say, still out of it.

Then, so quickly, I feel Emma tense beside me. Still holding my arm, she starts to slowly tilt me to the right, so my back is to whatever it is she sees. I have an idea what that might be.

Ignoring her little 'oh!'' of dismay, I yank away from her pull and turn to see Frank, hand in hand with Leanne.

He's evidently as shocked to see me as I am him; our eyes meet, reflecting surprise before anything else. I notice Leanne gasp beside him, narrowing her eyes at me, but I'm not looking at her- I'm looking at Frank.

His face is pale, blanched of all color, and he looks tired, tired and sad. His lip is scarred from the fight with Aubrey, and ugly diagonal line running towards his jaw. In that one second, that one neutral second, he looks vulnerable and lonley and depressed. Then the spell is broken, and the blood rushes up into his face, and he tears his eyes away.

Leanne tugs him by the hand, and he lets her, and as quickly as they appeared, the two of them rush right by me, without a word, a sign, anything. My eyes bore into the back of Frank's head as he walks away from me- look back, I will, look back. But though his ears are bright red and so is the sliver of his face I glimpse as he leaves, he doesn't look back.

"Oh," Emma winces.

 

 

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