Chapter Sixteen: Meet the Parents (Aria's POV)

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The next morning, I wake in an unfamiliar bed, pale winter sunlight pouring over. Suddenly, I remember everything. Ned’s question, which I now have an answer to.

            We took it a step further. How do you like them apples?

            The stump. The bed. Everything comes back.

            Austin has his arm around me. My hair is spread across his chest and face. Somehow, he remains peacefully asleep. I would’ve been sneezing like hell if someone’s hair was on my face.

            I turn over, tracing my finger on his chest. Among all the pale skin, a line of black ink stands out. Well, didn’t notice that last night.

            Of course, you didn’t, slut.

            I read it. It’s a line from that poem, “The Road Not Taken.” It’s interesting. But at the same time, I feel like it’s a blot on his skin. His skin’s so pure and clean, so perfect. Then there’s just this black line, blemishing it, marring the perfection

            He looks up. I didn’t even realize he woke up.

            “Well, look what I woke up next to,” he says, smiling sleepily.

            “Same here.” I lean forward and peck him on the lips. Then I swing my feet over the side of the bed and go to the bathroom. “I’m going to shower.”

            He comes into the bathroom. Leaning on the doorframe, the winter sun shining on his tousled hair, he looks like a model. “Why? Did I make you dirty?”

            I shiver. There’s a certain something in his voice that gives me the chills.

            “Well, let me think. My parents hate you? Check. I’ve only known you for a few weeks? Check. So, yeah, a little bit.”

            “I would do it all over again.”

            “Hold your horses. Let me recover and call my parents before they send out an all-points bulletin.”

            “See? Exactly.”


            “You let your parents run your life. Let them worry. They deserve it. Don’t run back to Mommy.”

            “Are you jealous of my parents?”

            “No. I just think you’re a bit too scared of them.”

            “Better than you.”

            He comes up behind me just as I’m about to pull my shirt off. “What do you mean?”

            I pull down my shirt. (Well, the shirt I borrowed from him.)  “You seem to have no relationship with your parents.”

            “Well, I’ll prove you wrong. Shower and dress. You got to get to school. Come back here at six.”

            That night, we’re on a Brooklyn-bound train. When I feel something vibrate, I realize I left my phone in my coat. I pick it up.


            “Hey, Aria! I have in-freaking-sane news.”

            I sigh. “What?”

            “So last night, I went out with Marielle and Mia. You remember them?”

            “Mmm hmmm.”

            “So we went to this restaurant uptown. And guess who I saw?”

            “Your ex?”

            “No. Yours.”

            “No way! You saw Derek?”

            “Yup. I walked past his table to go to the bathroom. I had just walked past when I heard someone say hi. So I turned around and say it was him. He was sitting alone and texting. We talked for a little bit, and I don’t know if it was his wine talking, but he was getting a little flirty. So we exchanged numbers and he wants to go out tonight. So I said yes.”

            I take a moment to digest everything. “Well, good luck then.”

            “I really hope it works out.”

            “I really hope he likes you more than me.”

            She snorts. “Bye.”

            I hang up. Good luck, indeed.

            About fifteen minutes later, we get off and take a bus. Just as we get into a residential-ish area, Austin presses stop and we get off. He leads me down a few blocks, and I can tell he’s used to this area. He seems to know exactly what he’s doing.

            He walks up the steps of a red-brick house. It looks warm and inviting, not like the cold, gleaming, metallic buildings of Manhattan.

            I look around. “When I have kids, I want to raise them in Brooklyn. It’s so nice here.”

            “Well, I certainly enjoyed my childhood here.”

            He pulls out an old set of keys and opens the door.

            “Anybody home?”

            I hear some footsteps. A woman with long, dark hair and tan skin emerges. She has Austin’s high cheekbones, and when she smiles, I discover she has his radiant smile.

            “Austin! You should’ve called. Your father just went out to get paint. We’ve been doing some renovations. We’re considering selling and moving to the city. It would be easier for the kids.”

            “Aw, Mom. You can’t. This house has all our memories.”

            Who’s immature now?

            “We’ll see. Anyway, who’s this girl?”

            “My girlfriend, Aria.”

            “She’s beautiful.”

            She shakes my hand as I blush. “Thank you.”

            She ushers us into a cozy kitchen and serves us coffee. Eventually, his dad comes in, shivering. With his sparkling eyes and pale skin, he looks like an older Austin. As we sit in their kitchen, talking and laughing, I think that this what a family should be like.

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