My body is tingling with the touch of Auden's hands on my arms as he leads me through the antique store.
I remember laughing at the shabby exterior of the store, thinking that the inside would produce similar results. But then Auden came up with an idea, and he asked me to close my eyes. At first I had hesitated, not wanting to be lead inside an unfamiliar place without my sense of sight, but Auden had assured me he would be right besides me.
Now I have to smile at Auden's genius idea. As we move along, I can feel the warm sunlight on my cheeks as the light streams through the dusty glass windows and the different textures of the antiques as Auden drags my hand over several items. I smell the musty air of age and dust as well as a strong perfume that brings back memories of my own mother's perfume. But what surprises me most is the silence that has settled throughout the room. I haven't heard any other noises except for the shuffling of our feet and our breathing.
"Auden," I whisper, breaking the silence. I know I probably don't have to whisper, but this silence feels so heavy, almost as if it has been here for years. I just don't want to disturb it. "Are we there yet?"
Auden laughs and whispers back, "We're almost there, just a few more steps." I sigh but continue to let Auden lead me forward.
After a few minutes, I feel Auden gently pull me to a stop before reaching around me to push open what sounds like a door. I reach out with my fingers, and I soon feel cool glass as the door bumps against my hand. Auden helps me keep the door open, and we shuffle through.
I know I can probably open my eyes now, but I keep them closed a little longer, savoring the sudden smell of sweet flowers and the warm feeling of fresh sunlight on my face. I'm guessing that we're outside because I can hear fresh water running and birds chirping their short melodies.
"Rhona," Auden says as he lets go of my arms. "You can open your eyes now."
I do as I'm told and gasp as my sight returns to me in a blast of color. We're standing in a garden blossoming with colorful flowers and beautiful birds. As I look around, I notice a hummingbird drinking nectar from a bright purple flower while a cardinal sings from its place on a tree branch. Both birds have bright colored feathers that seem to gleam brightly in the light. I recognize some of the plants in the garden like the stargazer lilies that surround a fountain in the middle of the garden and roses that climb up a wall of the antique store, but others are completely new to me.
I open my mouth and turn to Auden to speak, but no words pass through my lips. Auden laughs, appearing satisfied with my reaction.
"Amazing, right?" he says, spreading his arms wide.
"It's beautiful," I murmur, looking around the garden in awe.
"Come on," Auden says as he grabs my hand. "There's a certain flower I want to show you."
Auden takes me over to a huge oak tree that casts shade over a stone bench. We sit down on the bench, and Auden slings an arm around my shoulders, plucking a peach rose from the bush besides me. Auden presents it to me, and I smile, taking it from his hand. I sniff the rose, smelling the sweet perfume that comes from the soft petals.
"That's my favorite flower," Auden says while gesturing to the rose in my hands. "I love the color, and I think it smells amazing."
I laugh. "It does smell pretty amazing," I agree. "But how can this be your favorite? There are so many flowers here. How do you choose just one?"
Auden grins at me, like he's about to let me in on a secret. "I can choose one flower because it reminds me of a certain girl I know."
I raise my eyebrows, causing Auden to laugh. "Really?" I say, twirling the rose with my fingers. "And who would this special girl be?"
"You," he answers simply, meeting my eyes.
I laugh and nudge Auden with my shoulder. Grinning, Auden nudges me back, and maybe he does it a little too hard because I almost fall off of the bench.
"Hey!" I protest as I steady myself. I drop the rose on the bench and push Auden with both of my hands, sending him tumbling to the ground.
Auden looks up at me from his place on the ground with wide eyes. "What was that for?" he asks.
"For almost causing me to fall," I answer with a shrug and a smile.
Auden then jumps to his feet and bounces on his heels, hands in his pockets. He wears this grin on his face that makes him look like he's laughing even though no sound passes through his lips.
Turning my attention back to the rose, I hold it out in front of me and inspect it. "What about this rose reminds you of me?" I ask curiously as I tilt my head at Auden.
Auden's grin turns into a soft smile as he looks at the rose in my hands. "The color," he says. "Peach is your favorite color, right?"
I shake my head, and Auden groans, looking disappointed. "At least you were close," I say. "My favorite color is actually crème although peach does come in close second."
"You're just saying that to make me feel better," Auden accuses.
"Yeah, maybe," I confess with a smile.
Auden walks closer to me and takes the rose from my hands. He brushes back a few strands of hair before placing the rose behind my ear.
"There," he says softly as he steps back to admire me. "You look beautiful."
Auden's words seem to bring some common sense back into my mind, and I look down at the ground, feeling slightly embarrassed. I suddenly remember the doubts that crossed my mind yesterday while we were dancing. I'm glad that Auden's here, but all I really want to do is to restore the friendship between us. This, however, doesn't seem to be restoring anything; it seems like Auden is trying to build something between us, and I'm not sure I want to follow.
"Auden," I say without meeting his eyes. "I really should get home. I have a ton of homework to do."
"Oh, right," Auden mumbles sadly. "I guess I'll see you at dinner then."
I look up and meet his eyes with a blank expression. "Dinner?"
"Didn't Claire tell you?" Auden asks, sounding surprised. "She invited me to dinner tonight."
Without meaning to, I groan loudly. "Thank you, Claire!" I say sarcastically while throwing my hands up in the air.
Auden shifts on the balls of his feet, looking uncomfortable. "Rhona, if you don't want me to come—"
"Oh!" I exclaim, feeling embarrassed for my reaction. "No, I want you to come. I'm just mad at Claire because she didn't bother to give me the details this morning. Although in her defense, she wasn't the one to tell me about the dinner directly. Wyatt told me."
Auden laughs and says, "Now that makes more sense."
I smile and stand up, looking around the garden once more before returning my attention to Auden. "Since you're coming to dinner with us, you might as well come home with me," I say to him.
"Actually," Auden says while scratching the back of his neck. "I have a few things I need to do before dinner, such as picking out a suit."
I can't help it as I give Auden another blank expression. Now I'm starting to feel like an idiot who knows nothing about her own life.
Auden shakes his head and says, "Wow, Wyatt really didn't tell you much. Claire told me that we were going somewhere formal for dinner."
"I guess that means I'm going to have to wear a dress," I mutter unhappily as we start to walk towards the antique store.
"What's wrong with that?" Auden asks.
I wrinkle my nose in distaste, and Auden chuckles at the gesture. "I don't like dresses," I complain.
"Then maybe Claire will let you wear something else," Auden suggests as we enter the store.
"No, if it really is formal, then Claire will probably insist I wear a dress," I say, turning to look at Auden for a second. But apparently a second is all you need to trip on a priceless antique.
My foot catches on something, causing me to stumble. Auden grabs my hand and pulls me toward him to prevent me from falling, but I just end up falling into his chest. The force causes Auden to stumble backwards, and I almost think that we're going to crash to the floor, but Auden manages to steady us.
"Oops," I say with a small shrug.
Auden blows out his cheeks, causing him to look like a blowfish. Auden's expression causes me to laugh, forgetting about the awkwardness of my stumble.
Auden and I leave the antique store and enter Auden's car. I put on my seatbelt as Auden starts the engine and pulls out of the parking lot. Reaching over, he turns on the radio, and we listen to the news.
"I'm sure you all remember the Wright case," the news reporter on the radio says, causing me to freeze, and Auden to glance at me nervously. "But for those of you who don't, Henry and Siena Wright were brutally murdered in their Washington home twelve years ago, and the only survivors of the tragedy were their daughter Rhona Fay Wright and her friend Auden Ethan Pierce.
"Since Siena's sister Claire Patton lives here in Oregon and because she took custody of Rhona, the Wright case has been in both the hands of Oregon and Washington police," the news reporter continues.
"Now Oregon police believe they have captured the murderer, a man named Ross Richards. His trial is to be held on Thursday, but what intrigues people the most is that Richards has requested a private audience with Rhona on Wednesday.
"Reporters have talked to Claire Patton, asking her whether Rhona plans on attending this conference or not. Claire says quote 'Rhona hasn't made her decision yet, but despite everything, I'm encouraging her to go'."
Before the reporter can say anything else, Auden quickly reaches over and turns off the radio. I open my mouth to speak when a red light appears in front of us, and Auden has to slam on the breaks. The force of the sudden stop launches me forward, and I cling to my seat tightly as my body lands hard back against the passenger's seat.
"Auden?" I ask quietly. Auden doesn't answer me, and I notice he has his jaw clenched tightly.
I shift in my seat, not knowing what to do with the heavy and uncomfortable silence Auden has placed between us.
I look at the car radio, silently blaming it for causing this problem. I wish we hadn't heard the news report on the radio. Then maybe we wouldn't be facing this problem.
I look over at Auden, preparing to say something to break the silence, but I find my words faltering when I notice the wet tears that roll down Auden's cheeks. I feel my throat close up and my heart shudder before dying, like an old car engine that finally gives up.
"Auden," I choke out in a strained voice as my lip begins to quiver. "Pull over."
Auden doesn't argue. The light turns green, and Auden passes through the intersection. We drive for a little while longer until Auden finds an empty parking lot and pulls into it. He parks the car and then turns off the engine, still not bothering to look at me.
"Auden," I whisper as I try to control my shaky voice. "Can you please look at me?"
Auden meets my eyes, and the expression in his eyes reminds me of glass orbs on the verge of shattering. I want to lean over to wipe the tears off of his cheeks, but I don't. "Rhona, you can't go," he tells me, his voice cracking in the middle of his sentence. "I won't let you."
"What do you mean?" I ask quietly, feeling stupid for making him clarify.
"You can't go talk to Ross Richards," Auden tells me firmly. "Not unless you take me with you."
"Auden," I say while running my hand through my hair and blowing out my cheeks in frustration. "I haven't made my decision yet. I don't even know if I want to go talk to him."
"I just don't want you to be alone," he mutters quietly, and it might just be my imagination, but he sounds a little sheepish.
"I won't be alone," I say, moving closer to give him a hug. Auden embraces me, resting his head on my shoulder. "If I do decide to go," I tell him. "I promise you can come with me."
Auden mumbles something, but I can't quite hear him with his face pressed into my shoulder. I gently pull back and give Auden a small smile. "Are we okay now?" I ask, looking into his eyes.
Auden smiles back at me, and I feel relieved seeing that smile again. "Yeah, we're okay."
"Good," I say with a sigh as I slide over to the passenger's seat and reach for my seatbelt. "Now let's get home. I still have a ton of homework I need to do."
Auden laughs as he starts the engine and pulls out of the parking lot. "After today, homework sounds like a wonderful idea."