Julio was quiet all night. He barely touched his dinner, and at the fancy art gallery he was tense and serious–it was kind of scary, actually. She’d never seen him like that. He was sweet and would never hurt her, but the look in his eye…it was a bit menacing. Each time she asked if he were all right seemed to make it worse. They didn’t have any secrets between them, so maybe he just needed a moment to prepare? Hopefully. Whatever bothered him was serious, and she couldn’t imagine him keeping it from her. What could be more distressing than the bad blood between their families?
As they walked in, however, they were greeted by the most unusual statue. The sight of it wiped the grimmace off his face.
“…a garden gnome?” she said.
He snorted. “A ghost garden gnome.”
That may have been the most words he put together all night.
“Hmph. I guess you can make anything art these days.”
They laughed and continued browsing the gallery.
Her mother painted and sold her pieces to an art collector. Were any of them in this gallery? Where did they end up? She was so talented, she really could open her own gallery. Did the thought ever cross her mind?
Around and around each floor they went, staring at the artwork and discussing a few of them. On the top floor, they settled on a bench and let an awkward silence envelop them. Aubrey, however, had enough awkward silences for one night.
“You have a way of making me do that.”
She wanted to ask him again what bothered him earlier but was afraid to digress into the unpleasant time. But, like the best friend he still was, he knew her well. He placed his hand on hers and inhaled a deep, courageous breath.
“I’m sorry I’ve been…a bit distant.”
“No, it’s not. I don’t want you to feel like I’m hiding anything or shutting you out.”
He closed his eyes and inhaled sharply, weighing his words carefully. “Things keep happening… And, I guess…sometimes I wonder if we’re going to work out.”
She gasped. “You’re breaking up with me??”
“Why the heck would you start a conversation like that??”
“Like wha–Aubrey, please…just listen! I have a lot of thoughts. Can you just let them come out however they come out before you judge them?”
“I’m sorry, Julio. I don’t know why…please finish.”
Why was that the first thing that came to mind? They were enjoying each other’s company and things were going great. Heck, just the other day she was discussing marriage and family with her sister. Where did that B word come from?! Heh, probably from the unspoken words of everyone else. They all say they support her, but she knew they’d be relieved if they broke up.
“I don’t want us to break up, but…are we strong enough?”
That was a seriously loaded question, and they both needed to consider it.
He continued. “Does it bother you? People will never stop talking you know. Can we handle it?”
That wasn’t a question to be answered in one night, but it had to come from someplace. Surely they could discuss that.
“What happened, Julio? Where is this coming from?”
He lowered his head. “I got a letter.” He sighed. “It said if I don’t do anything with the Pruett Estate soon, they’re going to tear it down.”
She gasped. “Can they do that? You’re the owner now.”
“Yeah. It’s to the point where it’s a potential health hazard now. Either I tear it down, or they do. Either way, it has to go. It doesn’t feel right. I think I should talk to your dad.”
There it was: the thing that occupied his mind all night. Yikes.
“W-what are you going to say to him?”
“I don’t know yet. I just…every idea I get just leads to more trouble. I keep thinking I should transfer the ownership back to him and let him decide, but not only would I be giving him the house back but also the expenses that come with it! That would only make things worse. I just don’t know what to do, Aubrey. I don’t want to do this!”
Poor guy. She thought her assumptions of people’s speculation about their relationship was bad, but he had actual remnants of the past to deal with. The evidence against them stacked pretty high, but that’s when she knew what her answer to his question would be. They weren’t kids anymore, and things would only continue to get worse. Only two options were available: 1. let the evidence stack until it tumbles and crushes them, or 2. suck it up and decide to get through it together.
She held his hand, and he seemed to appreciate the gesture though it didn’t help ease his mind. “What if you didn’t have to decide?”
“What do you mean?”
“What if you change the scenario? Like, instead of going to my dad to tell him what you have to do, why don’t you go to him and ask for help? Maybe the two of you could come up with an alternate solution!”
“I don’t know. Maybe…make use of the land some kind of way…in a meaningful way!”
“You’re so smart, Aubrey. No wonder you took your homework everywhere you went.”
“Are you making fun of me?”
“I might be.”
He scooted closer. “You are brilliant. I’m still scared to talk to your dad, but at least I don’t have to have everything figured out. Thank you for that.”