When the glass of water shatters on the floor, that's when I know I'm done for. It was a simple mistake, a small failure to move my hand around the clear glass that sparkled with the golden light of the restaurant, but as Claire, Wyatt, Auden, and almost everyone else inside the restaurant stare at me, I know they don't see it that way.
"Rhona," Claire starts tightly as I just stare at the broken mess upon the floor. She pauses and doesn't start her sentence back up again. Instead she simply sighs and waves her hand for a waitress to clean up the mess.
Even though it's totally inappropriate, I have to admire Claire's attitude. With her appearance, people easily label her as a tree-hugger or a hippie, but she seems more like a queen to me. And with the simple flick of her hand, she's able to bring a petite woman to scoop up the mess without protest. Claire seems to radiate power no matter what situation she's in.
As soon as the shattered pieces of glass are picked up, I find myself standing up and taking Auden's hand, pulling him out of his seat. Auden doesn't protest, and as we make our way to the front of the restaurant, I have to appreciate Auden's smart decision to remain quiet.
I push the doors open and lead Auden to the side of the building, away from all the golden lights. Then I let go of his hand and lean back against the brick wall, staring down at the ground. Auden stands next to me, and I feel the fabric of his suit against the bare skin of my arm.
"That broken glass," I murmur, still looking down at the cement sidewalk. "I didn't mean for it to happen."
Besides me, Auden shifts, and I look up slightly to meet his eyes. "Rhona," he says, looking at me with a gaze that suddenly reminds me of my dad. "I think we both know that we're not out here to talk about a shattered glass of water."
I know Auden's right, but I take a deep breath and look back toward the glowing front of the restaurant. Even though we have our backs to the wall, I can still see the inside of the restaurant, and over by the window I notice that James has his raging green eye locked on us. I turn back to the ground, suddenly scared of those eyes.
"Do you understand what happened back there with James?" I ask Auden, needing to start with the basics.
I watch as Auden shuffles his feet before saying, "I have a pretty good guess."
"So then you know that James thinks we're closer than we really are," I say, and Auden nods in agreement. "I just…I need to explain to him that he's wrong, but I…I keep seeing his crushed expression, and I'm just scared."
I hear Auden intake a sharp breath before he speaks. "Rhona, I can't give you the perfect solution to this problem, but I can give you some advice. Just talk to him. You and James obviously are good friends, and I think if you just remember that, everything will turn out okay."
I look back towards the restaurant to see that James has looked away, and I feel a little embarrassed at the rush of relief that floods through me.
Looking back at Auden, I sigh and murmur, "We should probably go back inside."
Auden nods, and we walk back. As we enter the warm restaurant, I let my eyes slide over to where James sits and bite my lip. He's talking to Alma about something, but at the sound of our entrance, he seems to trail off as his eyes meet mine. Alma notices his shift of attention and turns, smiling at the sight of me. She waves Auden and I over, looking excited to see us.
Auden gives me a questioning look, and I shrug in response, walking over to James's table with Auden following behind me.
"Rhona!" Alma exclaims warmly as she stands to embrace me. "It's nice to see you here. It seems like Drew and I never have time to talk to you anymore."
I laugh and reply, "I blame it on the tight work schedule you have."
"And you would be right in doing so," Drew agrees from across the table. "It's nice to see you again, Rhona."
"Likewise, Mr. Collins," I say with a polite nod in his direction.
Alma pulls up two chairs and gestures for Auden and me to sit. As soon as we're seated, Alma smiles at Auden before saying to me, "Rhona, would you like to introduce us to his fine young man here?"
"Of course," I say, glancing at Auden quickly. He looks nervous about being close to an angry James, and knowing James's short fuse, I give him every right to be nervous. "Mr. and Mrs. Collins, I want you to meet Auden Pierce. He's an old family friend."
"It's very nice to meet you," Alma says with a shake of Auden's hand.
"The pleasure is all mine, Mrs. Collins" Auden replies smoothly, and I have to resist myself from laughing at his suave behavior.
As Drew and Auden exchange a handshake, Alma meets my eyes with a wide gaze. It's obvious she approves of Auden, and I glance at James, thinking that mother and son share the same viewpoint on the relationship between Auden and me.
I can't think of a wordless gesture that would explain things, so I just give her a sheepish smile. Thankfully, Alma doesn't dwell on the issue for long. She joins the discussion with Drew on Auden's personal life, and through their chatter, I meet James's eyes. He seems to know what I'm think because he gets up from the table and starts to walk away, wordless demanding that I follow in his fuming wake.
Sighing, I get up from the table and mouth to Auden that I'll be right back. He waves me off, looking more comfortable now that James has left.
I expect James to walk outside, but instead he heads for the back of the restaurant, straight toward the table where Claire and Wyatt sit. Without a word, he sits down, and I catch Claire and Wyatt glance at him once before continuing to argue about some unknown issue.
I sit down and pull my bowl of untouched pasta from my original seat, taking a bite. James gives me an irritated look, but I simply ignore him, taking a few more bites before I decide to speak.
"James Collins, I'm going to give you ten seconds to speak your mind," I tell him as I wave my fork around for effect. "And while you're doing so, please refrain yourself from cursing."
"I thought I told you to stay away from Auden," James snaps as soon as I've finished speaking. "He's bad news, Rhona. I just know it."
I glare at James, but the effect is ruined when I take another bite of my pasta. At my gesture, I see the corners of James's lips turn upward, but they pull back down almost as quickly.
I take a sip of the new glass of water the waitress must've brought over when Auden and I were outside. "You told me to be careful," I remind James with a bit of bitterness in my voice. "Not to stay away from him. And how would you know if Auden's 'bad news'?"
James waves his hand dismissively at my words, and that causes a scowl to place itself on my features. "Come on, Rhona," he says while giving me a look that suggests he thinks I should stop being stubborn and just accept the fact that he's right. "Don't you think it's weird that Auden just shows up after twelve years and expects you and him to be friends again? I mean, that's just not how things work."
"But we are friends!" I almost shout at James, and I decide to ignore the warning glance from Claire. I know how to control myself, and I don't need Claire to warn me to keep myself in check. "James, you think you know everything when in reality, you know nothing at all. I mean, it doesn't even make sense for you to be jealous. Why be jealous when you see Auden's arm around me instead of when we were dancing?"
James runs his hand through his hair, causing the caramel brown strands to stand on end. "I wasn't really worried about Auden then, but now that he's staying in town…" James drifts off, and I don't know whether he wants me to connect the pieces or not.
James turn to meet my eyes, and once again I find myself scared of the rage in those familiar green eyes. "Rhona, I don't trust Auden, and that's that."
"But I do," I insist, my voice almost pleading with James to understand. "James, Auden and I are friends, and if you don't like it, then maybe you and I aren't meant to be friends."
I get up from the table and start towards the front of the restaurant with every intention of pulling Auden away from Drew and Alma, but before I can get very far, James jogs towards me and pulls me toward him, placing his hand under my chin, so I have to meet his eyes.
"Don't you dare walk away from me, Rhona Fay Wright," he tells me fiercely. "And don't you dare tell me not to be your friend. We've been friends for six years, and you know I would crawl to the ends of the earth for you."
"Then trust me," I say as I glare into James's eyes. "Trust that I know what I'm doing, and trust in my friendship with Auden."
James's anger seems to fade, and his shoulders slump forward in defeat. I place my hands on his shoulders and forcefully move them upward, so James is standing straight again.
"My purpose is not to hurt you," I tell him in a voice that is reduced to nothing more than a whisper. "My purpose is to get you to see the good in people."
"Dang," James says as he shakes his head in defeat. "How in the world did I end up with you as my best friend?"
I shrug, and James just laughs. I smile, and in this moment, I've never been happier to hear James laugh.
James leans down and plants a kiss on my cheek, causing me to squeal in protest and wrinkle my nose in disgust. James just rolls his eyes at my behavior, and I give him a teasing grin.
The sound of Claire clearing her throat catches my attention, and I turn to look at her. "Rhona," she says firmly, telling me that she's going to give me an order that I must respond promptly to or else she'll get irritated. "Do you mind fetching Auden for me? I need to have a word with him."
James and I exchange looks of puzzlement, and I bite my bottom lip nervously, wondering what Claire could possibly need to talk to Auden about.
James gives Claire a salute before saying, "Of course. We'll be right back with Auden Peirce in hand."
James takes my hand and starts to pull me away from the table, insisting that we respond promptly to Claire request. I laugh as we jog back to the front of the restaurant and over to the table where Drew, Alma, and Auden sit in conversation.
"Hey, Auden!" James calls from a few feet away from the table. I notice that more than a few people turn to give James irritated looks, but James doesn't seem to notice. He clamps a hand on Auden's shoulder, and I wince unintentionally at Auden's pained expression. "Claire needs to talk to you."
Auden looks at me, asking me a silent question. In reply, I simply shrug, telling him that I have no idea why Claire wants to talk to him. Auden gets up and passes James and me silently, looking a little cautious.
Besides me, James sighs and nudges me. "Aren't you going to follow him?" he asks.
A brief moment of confusion passes through me before I smile, realizing that James knows me too well. "Of course," I say as I start to walk after Auden. "Oh, and I'll send Wyatt over here for you to entertain him."
James groans, and I laugh, giving him a small wave that he reluctantly returns before walking over to Alma and Drew and plopping himself down into a chair.
When our table comes into view, I see Wyatt sitting there all alone with his arms crossed against his chest. "Are we done running around the restaurant now?" he complains to me sourly.
I give him a small smile before saying, "I'm done, but you're just starting. Go over to James's table and say hello to Alma and Drew."
Wyatt gets up form the table with a heavy huff of irritation. "They went that way," he says without being prompted. I pat Wyatt's back as he shuffles past me and walk in the direction pointed out to me.
I almost walk by the hallway where Auden and Claire are having their private conversation, but I manage to pull myself out of view before either of them can see me. I press myself to the wall and strain my ears to listen to their conversation.
"…heard Ross's proposal to Rhona, am I right?" I hear Claire say. I peak around the corner to see that she has her arms crossed over her chest, and she's giving Auden a look that only a mother can give.
Auden leans against the wall with his hands clasped behind his head, looking at Claire with a hard look in his eyes that expresses an emotion I can't read. "Yeah, I heard the proposal," he tells Claire in a tone of voice that reminds me of granite for some reason. "I also heard that you actually want Rhona to go. Are you insane, Claire?"
"Think about it, Auden," Claire insists, her gaze never leaving Auden's grey eyes. "We both know that Rhona can act a little…irrational when it comes to anything about her parents. I just think that if she attends this audience with Ross, then maybe she'll get some closure."
"I don't think Rhona acts irrationally," Auden tells Claire tightly. "And I don't think talking to a murderer is going to give Rhona closure. I mean, we don't know anything about this guy, and the most important thing, we don't know his reasons why he's requested this audience in the first place. He could just end up upsetting Rhona or giving her false information."
Claire's arms drop at her side, a sign that she considered Auden's words, and her resolve is falling. Seeing this gesture, Auden stands up straight and says, "The decision is up to Rhona, but if she does choose to go, I want you to know that I'm going with her."
Claire glares at Auden. "No!" Claire snaps forcefully. "If Rhona's going at all, she's going alone."
"Why?" Auden asks in a voice that's close to a growl. "Wouldn't it be better if Rhona went with someone to support her?"
Claire starts to play with her dreads, looking vexed and frustrated. "Rhona is growing up, Auden," Claire says firmly. "And you are too. I don't think you've notice, but things aren't as simple as they were back when you and Rhona were four."
"What does that have to do with anything?" Auden asks, but his voice has lost some of the confidence that it once contained, telling me that he seems to have an idea of what Claire is saying.
"Auden, why did you come to Oregon?" Claire asks, ignoring Auden's question. "It's because of Rhona, isn't it?"
Auden starts to pace down the hallway, causing me to press myself further into the wall, so he doesn't see me. "Claire, I don't think you understand everything," Auden says without looking at her. I bite my lip at his words, suddenly kind of scared at Auden is about to say next. "For twelve years I've had to live my life with this image of Rhona in my head, and that image was made up of things other people told me. The reason why I came to Oregon was so I wouldn't die not knowing who my one and only best friend was like."
Claire shifts her weight onto her left foot before saying, "And is Rhona just like you imagined?"
Auden turns to look at her now, and I'm surprised to see he has a huge smile on his face. "She's even better than I imagined because she's real. She's real, and I actually remember some things about my childhood when I'm with her."
Auden walks toward Claire until he's standing right in front of her, and his eyes remained locked on hers. "Claire, your niece is the only real friend that I have, and I can't lose her."
At Auden's words, I wrinkle my nose in thought and frown. It feels strange to hear someone that I've really only known for two days say that he can't lose me. My chest feels warm, like a little fire is burning in the place where my heart should be.
"Auden?" I call as I compose myself and step out from my hiding place to see Claire and Auden in full view. I smile as they both meet my eyes. "Hey," I say with a small wave. "I was just checking up on you. Is everything okay?"
Claire and Auden exchange glances before Auden walks over to me and slings an arm around my shoulders, squeezing me to him gently. "Yeah," he answers, looking down into my face. "Everything's perfect."
I smile back up at him, his words repeating themselves over again in the back of my mind. "Good," I reply as a yawn escapes my lips. Auden grins as my eyes become heavy.
"I guess that means we should be heading home," Claire says, and both Auden and I turn to look at her. Claire tilts her eyebrow at Auden knowingly, and I hear Auden swallow sharply, his Adam's apple bouncing up and down sharply.
I squeeze Auden slightly before pulling him down the hallway and back towards our table. I don't look behind me to see if Claire is following, but for the first time in my life, I don't really care. All that matters is the warmth radiating from Auden as he keeps his arm around me all throughout the rest of the evening.