Arizona Skies
Author: Isabella Darcy

Chapter 16
Field Trip

We finish breakfast and Lindsey abandons me to Aubrey. We climb into his truck and I cross my arms as he starts the engine, scowling ahead.

"What are you doing?" I ask.

Aubrey turns to me with a grin. "Relax. We're just gonna go have some fun around town. You act like I'm going to murder you or something."

"Very funny. You do realize that Lindsey thinks we're just acquaintances, right? I barely remember you."

"Aren't we?" He jokes, winking at me. I frown.

"How 'bout I just climb out of this car, Aubrey Hunter, and we'll see if you think that's funny, too."

He laughs, smiling that disarming smile at me. It's not gonna work this time, uh-uh. "Ah, come on Aurora. I'm just playin with you."

"Yeah, well, it's not funny. We need to talk."

He frowns, staring at me. "About what?"

I blush, looking down at my lap, fiddling with my hands. "You know."

Aubrey's silent for a moment, and when I look up he's looking at me, bright brown eyes earnest. "What is there to talk about?" He says.

This is definitely not the answer I was expecting. "What is there to talk about? Everything!" I splutter, incensed. Is he not taking this- this thing- between us seriously?

"No, no Aurora, look at me." He says, forcing my angry eyes back to him. "That's not what I meant. I thought you trusted me by now."

I stare stubbornly back at him. "What do you mean then?"

Aubrey runs a hand through his hair and sighs. "If you'd give me a chance to tell you-"

I raise an eyebrow defiantly. "Go ahead. I'm listening."

He rolls his eyes, annoyed. "What I meant was: what is there to say about it? I've told you, I'm serious- about us, about you- even when you're angry at me and pouting." The hint of a grin creeps on his lips. I bite back a smile.

"Okay, well, I was just curious about- you know, formalities-"

He cocks his head, the smile growing wider. "Hmm?"
I can feel the blush mounting my face but keep my eyes on his. "Well, I mean- we're- are we, um..." I trail off lamely. Aubrey laughs.

"Are we what? Out with it, come on."

"Dating?" I murmur, half hoping he won't hear, ducking my eyes down to my lap.

"Dating?" Damn it, he heard. He's smiling, I can tell by the way he's talking. "Well, Aurora, I don't know. You tell me."

He's definitely smiling. What's with all this merriment at my expense? I jerk my head up, annoyed. "Well, I don't know either, Aubrey. That's not usually the way you roll, is it?"

I regret the words as soon as they come out of my mouth. His smile vanishes and he looks back to the windshield, serious. His voice is quiet, quivering with suppressed anger. "I told you, dammit, it's different now. Why can't you believe that?"

I bite my lip, feeling the tears well up. Great.

Aubrey turns to look at me, clenching the wheel tightly, but his expression relaxes when he sees my face. I turn away, holding back the tears.

"I'm sorry." He says, gently. "Don't cry, please. I didn't mean to bark at you."

"It's okay."I say, looking back to him.

"No, it's not." He says, running a hand over his forehead. "It's just...I want you to realize that I'm not just playing some little game with you, that you're not gonna wake up one morning and find I'm gone. Aurora..." He sighs for words, his eyes piercing mine, vulnerable, sincere. "I've never felt this way about anyone before."

It gives me tingles up my spine, the way he says that. It has to be true. "Me neither." I say quietly, my lips curving up into a tentative smile. He smiles back, lifting a hand off the steering wheel to brush my cheek.

"Alright then," He says, the laughter back in his eyes, "I guess we're dating."

Just hearing him say it makes me blush. Dating. Me and Aubrey. Wow.

He stops the car and I unbuckle my seatbelt, curiously looking around. Aubrey opens the door for me.

"Where are we?" I say. It looks like every other building in Bitter Springs; small, stucco, and decorated with the usual cacti and rocks.

Aubrey grins, catching my hand. "You're an artist, right? I'm taking you to the only gallery in Bitter Springs."

I act amazed. "A gallery? You don't say. This place is really starting to grow on me. Who knew there were art lovers here?"

Aubrey starts to walk, dragging me with him, our hands swinging. "There aren't many. This place is probably deserted." He flashes me a mischevious smile. "Perfect."

Why perfect? I can't help the butterflies that take flight in my stomach at his look. "Perfect? Why? I hope you're not planning on trying anything, Aubrey Hunter." I say, shaking my head at him with mock warning.

We reach the door and Aubrey knocks with his free hand, still grinning. "You'll see."

We wait a couple moments and then the door creaks open. A skinny little blonde girl with bright neon pink nails peeks out at us.

"Hi Mona," Aubrey says, grinning at her. She smiles back. Why does he have such a way with all the female folk of this town? I wonder.

"Hi Aubrey," she says, batting her pale eyelashes. Then her eyes flicker to me. "Who's that?" She asks him.

"That," Aubrey says, turning to me with a smile, "is Aurora. She's my girlfriend."

Mona's eyes widen, and she inspects me carefully, her eyes roving over me naturally. I'm starting to sweat when she finally looks back to him and says, "Oh." Then to me, "Hi. I'm Mona."

"Hi." I smile. "Aurora."

Aubrey nods to the inside of the house. "Is Ted at home? I wanted to show Aurora the gallery."

Mona shrugs. "I don't know. Lemme check." She turns her head and bellows, "DAD!!! AUBREY'S HERE!"

There's a muffled yell and Mona turns back with a triumphant smile. "Yeah, he's here."

She steps back and I follow Aubrey into the dark hallway, waiting for my eyes to adjust. When they finally do, I see a small little girl, about eleven, with dirty blonde hair and a princess shirt, standing out brightly against the faded purple carpet. Mona tugs at Aubrey's hand, standing on tiptoe to whisper something in his ear. He smiles, and touches her nose.

"Thanks." He whispers conspiritorally. Mona beams.

"She says she thinks you're pretty." He says to me as Mona skips down the hallway. I blush.

"Aubrey!" A gruff voice calls out, surprising us. A heavy-set man wearing suspenders and a scruffy black beard advances, followed by the enthusiastic Mona. "Good to see you!"

He claps Aubrey on the back and turns to me. "Well well, what have we here?" He says, blue eyes twinkling. "You're Lindsey Lark's granddaughter, right?"

I nod shyly, offering a hand. "Aurora." I introduce.

"Welcome. I'm Ted, formally known as Theodore Cane," He says heartily, vigorously shaking my hand. "See you've met Mona."

Mona grins adoringly up at her father. "She's Aubrey's girlfriend." She says, hushed with awe. Ted chuckles.

"Is she really? Wow." He winks at me. "I suppose you want to show Aurora here the gallery." He says to Aubrey, who nods.

"Great." Ted claps his hands and leads us down the hallway, trailed by Mona. I turn to Aubrey questioningly, and he smiles. A blue door swings open, and we enter.


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