Friday: May 20, 2022
Aurora Cole wasn’t the kind of girl that typically accepted change. Whenever she could, she tended to avoid it at all costs. Life was easier that way, and who really liked change anyway? Who liked uprooting their entire life, packing up all their memories, and moving halfway across the country?
Not Aurora, that was for sure.
But, when it came right down to it, the woman needed a change. She needed a way to escape. Some would call it running away from her problems, but she’d prefer to not allow everyone to believe she was a coward. Truth be told, she kind of was a coward when it came right down to it. What kind of adult left behind everything they once knew just to run away from a problem?
Aurora Cole, apparently.
She pulled into the long driveway of her new home, a beautiful farmhouse on a big plot of land at 704 South Street, Whiteburn, Iowa. She couldn’t help but think about how incredibly low the asking price of this gorgeous house was, not that she was complaining. The low price was the only reason she had been able to move in the first place.
Aurora put the car into park. One hand on the steering wheel, she lifted her gaze to the rearview mirror. One of her huskies lay peacefully in the backseat, and the other sat beside her in the passenger seat, head cocked to the side, staring at his owner questioningly. Aurora laughed softly and opened her car door, smiling as she breathed in the fresh country air. “This is it, boys,” she said quietly, nodding her unabashed approval for the location of her retreat from all her problems. “Home.” She popped the trunk before sliding out of her car. Dexter jumped over the center console and followed his owner out of the car. Aurora smiled as she pulled open the back door, allowing Cooper to jump outside as well. After shutting both doors, she walked back around to the trunk.
Aurora turned around, forcing away her surprise to smile at the man standing just a few feet away. He was tall, with electric blue eyes that conveyed nothing but friendliness. His dirty blonde hair was pushed back behind his ears, but when he ran a hand through the middle part, it fell back to cover his forehead. “Can I help you?” Aurora asked.
Lifting a hand from where it rested on his hip, he smiled. “Sheriff Luke Davidson. I live down the road,” he said, jerking his other thumb over his shoulder.
Aurora shook his hand, her gaze drifting to the end of her long driveway. To her left, she could see the corner of Luke’s house. “Nice to meet you. I’m Aurora Cole.”
“The pleasure’s all mine.”
She laughed softly as she dropped her hand back to her side. No one had ever been happy to meet her, not like that. She wasn’t overly beautiful like the girls she grew up around and went to high school with. When it came to the Cole girls, her older sister had gotten all the looks. Aurora had been left with rather plain features. Straight brown hair that wouldn’t hold a curl no matter how much hair spray was used, thick eyebrows, thin lips, a just–bigger–than–average nose. The only thing she could say she truly liked about herself was her freckles. Otherwise, she had modified herself with meaningful tattoos, odd hair colors, waxed and tweezed eyebrows, and ear piercings. In a way, it almost made up for being nothing but a plain Jane, and she’d grown to accept it throughout the years.
She was who she was, and she didn’t need any added self-deprecation because of it.
“No disrespect is meant by this, but aren’t you… too young to be a sheriff?” she asked.
Luke chuckled. “Appreciate the compliment, Miss Cole. I’m thirty-two, and I assure you that I’ve got enough experience under my belt to keep the folks in this town safe. Small town, you know?”
“Oh, I know. Two hundred people,” Aurora said. She had done her research before choosing Whiteburn, after all. She had picked one of the smallest, in the middle of nowhere towns in Iowa on purpose. She crossed her arms over her chest, sighing softly. “That’s why I moved here. Countryside right in my own backyard.”
He nodded. “It’s a good town.” His gaze shifted to her dogs as they chased each other in circles around the biggest oak tree on the plot of land. “Real good people around here. I think you’ll just love it here. I won’t be the last neighbor to come visit you today. I wanted to be the first, introduce myself and give you a heads up, but everyone’s going to want to bring you food and housewarming gifts.”
“You folks do that here?” Aurora asked.
Luke let out a loud whistle, rocking back on his heels. “Sure do. We’re like a family here. Family welcomes family, no matter what.” He cleared his throat. “So, would you like any help carrying in those boxes?”
Aurora looked back at the boxes in the back of her Blazer. “I’d hate to bother you with that,” she said, lifting her gaze to his face once more.
He waved a hand. “It’s nothing. It’s my job to help and serve the people, Miss Cole. Right now, you’re the people.”
She felt herself smile again. When was the last time a smile had felt this good? She couldn’t remember, but she knew a smile felt amazing when it was genuine instead of only being used to hide something painful, as they so often were with her. “I’d appreciate that, Luke. Thank you.”
After all of the boxes had been carried inside, Aurora stood in the kitchen, hands on her hips. She wasn’t ready to be alone in the house, not yet. She wondered how she could get Luke to stay, even if it was only for a few more minutes.
“Would you like to stay for coffee?” she asked finally, bending down to open the box she remembered putting the coffee maker in.
Luke smiled. “I’d love that, thank you.”
“Great.” Aurora tilted her head toward him, offering a smile before she looked back down at the box. She unpacked her coffee maker and set it up on the counter. Filling the reservoir with water and adding a coffee filter with coffee grounds, she turned the machine on. Ten minutes later, they were both seated at the dining room table, a cup of hot coffee in front of them.
“I like your hair,” Luke said.
Subconsciously, Aurora’s hand moved to brush a tendril of hair away from her face. Recently, she had colored it a pink so dark that it appeared to fade into purple near the ends. The people back home had always mocked her hair, regardless of what color it was. Compliments were… new, to say the least. “Thank you,” she said softly, smiling at the blue-eyed sheriff.
“You’re welcome,” he said. He took a long sip of his coffee. Instinctively, he licked his lips as he set the mug back on the table. “So, Aurora, why is it that you decided to move to such a little town? Even I have to admit there just isn’t much to do all the way out here in the good ol’ middle of nowhere.”
She shrugged. “I felt like I needed a change in scenery, something fresh and completely different than what I was used to. I was in L.A., so something small seemed like the right choice for… different.”
“Well, I assure you that you can’t go wrong with Whiteburn.” He chuckled. “I’m sorry to inform you that your winters will be much colder, not to mention full of much more hell,” he said. “A couple years ago, it snowed in May.”
“I’ve heard that about Iowa, that the weather never really knows what the hell to do.”
“Yeah, Iowa sort of treats us the way the ugly stepsisters treat Cinderella.”
Aurora laughed. She couldn’t tell if that was genuine or not. Actually, she was still having a hard time distinguishing the fake smiles and laughs from the real ones. She had faked so many of them in her lifetime that they all felt real nowadays, even when they were so obviously far from. “How long have you lived here?”
“Oh, my whole life. Most people that live in Whiteburn were born and raised here, you know?” Luke asked. “Seems to be the case for a lot of small towns likes this. Fresh blood doesn’t come around often,” a smile came to his face, “for lack of a better phrase.”
She nodded. “That’s not surprising.” She traced a finger over the rim of her coffee mug. “Have you always liked it here?”
“Oh, yeah. Always have, always will. Countryside, fresh air, lovely people, happy birds,” he said. With the windows open, the chirping birds outside were clear as day, and even Aurora had to admit she loved how blissfully peaceful they sounded. “What more would I want?”
“I don’t know. Seems like a wonderful town so far,” she said.
“It is,” he agreed. “So, are you looking for a job? Or do you already have one set up around here?”
“Well, we have an opening for a dispatcher at the station in Oskaloosa, if you’re interested.”
“That’d be great, Luke,” Aurora said.
He smiled. “Just come by the station tomorrow or anytime, really, and ask for an application. The station’s full of great people, too. Bigger neighborhood, but a great environment with even better diversity.”
“Thank you. I–I’ll do that.”
“Well, thank you for coffee,” Luke said, leaning against the door jamb.
Aurora smiled. “You’re welcome. Thanks for helping me move boxes.”
He smiled brightly. “You’re welcome, Aurora.” He reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out a business card. “If you ever need anything, just give me a call. I’m not far, you know? Besides, like I said, family helps family here.”
She took the card. An embossed version of Luke’s golden, star-shaped police badge sat on the left side of the card, his name and ‘Sheriff’ written beside it before listing the address of the station and Luke’s personal contact information. She lifted her eyes back to his face. “Thank you. This… this is appreciated, Luke.”
“My pleasure, Aurora.”
Luke had been right. By nine that evening, Aurora had been visited by what she assumed was at least a fourth of the town. Everyone had been extraordinarily friendly, giving her their names, numbers, and addresses in case she ever needed anything. Whiteburn was the kind of town where people borrowed eggs and milk from their neighbors at six in the morning, and the neighbors complied without any issue.
On the drive into the small town that morning, she had been particularly nervous about living on a nice plot of land in a big house all by herself. She had been worried that she would be like a reject in the town of close friends and family. But she didn’t fear that anymore. Now she knew that Whiteburn was the perfect town for her, and she was certain this had been the right call.