“LARA!” Elle cried as she ran towards her best friend, dragging Freya in tow.
The group met in the middle of the hallway, not caring how totally obnoxious it was as they clustered together in a group hug.
“You did amazing,” Freya said, pulling back from the hug to look her friend in the eye.
“You really think? Would you tell me if I did bad?”
“I would,” Elle chimed in. “And you didn’t.”
Lara beamed from ear to ear, because she knew that Elle would say something if it wasn’t good. Despite how apologetic she was when she would hurt someone’s feelings, it was always accidental, as she had a habit of not being able to censor herself from saying exactly what was on her mind. Getting Elle’s seal of approval really did mean a lot.
She squealed as she grabbed both of her friends and pulled them back into another group hug.
“Do you mind if I steal her for a second?” A deep voice said behind them.
The girls reluctantly pulled away from each other to see who had come to ruin their moment.
Lara heard her friends gasp when they turned around to see Austin staring back at them.
She remembered that she had been less than vocal about the time that the two of them had spent with each other, so the shock made sense to her. But Lara would be lying if she didn’t admit she was a bit shocked as well. Sure, they had spent a good amount of time together a couple of days prior, but she did not expect them to talk again. Especially in public.
“Yeah, sure,” Lara managed to choke out, while avoiding questioning glances from Elle and Freya.
Austin guided Lara into a nook in the hallway, away from all the hustle and bustle of the graduating class hugging their friends and receiving bouquets from their parents.
Austin was back to his usual disheveled chic look. Even though only a day had passed, he had managed to grow back a substantial amount of facial hair. Stubble was all across his cheeks and chin. His hair was styled in a way that made it seem like he had just gotten out of bed, but Lara bet that it had probably taken him a good hour to style it that way.
“You did awesome out there,” he said, causing Lara to stop silently studying him.
She smiled back a genuine grin as she thanked him in response.
Even though Lara was the toughest critic of herself, even she was pleased with how her presentation of the speech had gone. She couldn’t recall any moment where she had stumbled over her words, and when she located her parents in the crowd, she saw them beaming from ear to ear. That was all she needed to be happy with how it had gone over. The added praise she had gotten after the fact from her classmates and her friends was just a bonus to her ego.
“So,” Austin said, scratching the back of his head. “I was wondering if you wanted to come by Rodger’s tonight? He’s having a little party, and I know you were saying that you don’t usually go to parties.”
Lara was surprised and flattered that he still remembered the contents of their late night conversation.
“I just thought it would be fun if you stopped by so you can get ready for college,” he smirked. “And Elle and Freya are invited too,” he added.
The invitation was nice, but the thought of another party made her nervous. While she had fully healed from her first hangover, she definitely wasn’t ready to get a sequel to that show yet. The thought of going to Rodger’s house and being surrounded by a crowd of people that she rarely saw outside of school stressed her out. She only ever spoke to these people about school and homework assignments, and her palms started to sweat at the thought of talking to them about real life things.
That’s what made parties so uncomfortable for Lara.
Socializing wasn’t her forte to begin with. But it sounded completely impossible when it had to be done in a sweaty basement, screaming to be heard over the latest rap song. All she could think about was the amount of people there, what they were probably thinking of her, what they were whispering about her.
She had already been suffering for more than a month because of the stress of what people might think of her as she performed her speech. Even though it had gone well, who knew what would happen if she was in a room with so many drunk people? Would their true feelings about her speech come out?
Maybe her speech wasn’t actually good.
Freya and Elle only liked it because they were biased.
Her voice did shake on the first couple sentences. Everyone must have noticed that. They would all come up to her at Rodger’s house and laugh and--
“Lara?” Austin asked.
She hadn’t realized how long she had been standing there without saying anything. She probably looked crazy. She cleared her throat, trying to stabilize her voice before responding.
“Yeah, sorry, just thinking about what I had planned,” she said, mentally cringing at how stupid her excuse was.
“Well?” He asked.
“Ummm…” she stalled as she thought of a good excuse. It was at that moment that she saw her parents in the crowded hallway, looking for her. “I have dinner with my family,” she exclaimed as the idea popped in her head.
Austin stared back at her with a perplexed look, confused at the extreme enthusiasm she had toward having dinner with her parents. “Well, I’m not sure how long you will be at dinner, but we’ll probably be at Rodger’s all night.”
“Oh, once my parents get talking they are up all night long,” Lara lied, hoping it was convincing enough for Austin to stop trying to change her mind.
Austin laughed as he glanced in the direction of Lara’s parents, probably picturing them up all night.
Lara’s parents were in their mid-50s, and while they looked much younger as they were both in good shape and attractive in their own right, it was amusing to think of anyone’s parents wine-drunk on the most expensive bottles from Napa Valley. It was just one thing that kids could never get used to. The thought of their parents having lives other than being parents was hard to fathom, no matter how many times Lara had seen her parents and their friends get drunk at the country club.
“Text me if you change your mind though, alright?” Austin said as he turned back to her. Lara nodded lamely as she mustered up a grin back.
She awkwardly waved as she excused herself from the conversation to go greet her parents. Before she could reach them, she was intercepted by Freya and Elle.
“What was that about?” Elle dramatically whispered, obviously trying to hold back squeals.
“Nothing,” Lara said, probably too quickly to be believable.
Sure enough, her friends were looking back at her with questioning looks on their face.
She didn’t want to tell her friends about Austin’s invitation to Rodger’s party. She knew that Elle would jump at the opportunity to head to a party, especially one being hosted by Rodger, who notoriously threw the best parties. Freya would also come along knowing that Elle would need her as a chaperone, but also because she secretly wanted to go to Rodger’s house for one of his parties as well. Lara knew that the second she told her friends about this party, they would try to pressure her into going even more than Austin did. While she knew that they meant well by their peer-pressure, she wasn’t in the mood to fight them or convince them against going.
“Really!” Lara said, holding her hands up. “He just told me I did a good job and stuff, that’s all,” she said sheepishly.
“Lara, are you blushing?” Freya said teasingly.
“No,” she cried out. Her face betrayed her words as she felt her cheeks heat up, and she knew that they were getting more red by the second.
Freya and Elle just laughed in response.
“It was just unexpected that’s all!” She said, figuring that excuse would suffice.
Her friends still hadn’t known the extent of the impromptu friendship she had just started with Austin, and for some reason, she still didn’t want to divulge all the details to them.
Plus, she wasn’t lying when she said it was unexpected.
This entire situation was truly coming out of nowhere. And because of it, she didn’t feel like telling her friends everything about it. Just as quickly as this friendship started, it would probably end. There was no use in telling anyone about what was going on. And there was certainly no point in showing up to a party where the invitation was probably just an empty offer. Her friends would probably be too excited by the prospect of going to Rodger’s house to even consider the fact that Austin was just being courteous by inviting Lara, but didn’t actually expect her to show up.
The group had been walking as they spoke, and they finally walked to where Lara’s parents were standing. That had allowed for the conversation to taper off, and Lara was saved from the interrogation.
Her parents grabbed her at the same time, pulling her in close to them.
“Lar-Bar, we are so proud of you!” Her mom cried out.
“You did amazing, sweetie,” her dad said. When she pulled back from the hug, she noticed that her dad’s eyes were watering.
She felt her heart swell with pride at this site. She had pushed herself to do this for her parents, and it had worked.
It made everything worth it.
All of the stress was quickly washed away from her memory. Even though it had tormented her for days, the second she saw the results of all the stress in her father’s happiness, it quickly disappeared.
She knew she would do it all over again if it meant finally paying back her parents.
After the graduation ceremony, Lara had said goodbye to her friends and had gone back to her house to get ready for dinner.
She wasn’t totally lying when she told Austin that she had dinner planned with her parents. They had gotten dressed up and had an amazing meal at Lara’s favourite steakhouse.
However, after they paid for their bill, they were headed back home and ready for bed. They had hardly stayed up all night like she had promised Austin that they would.
They had returned home from dinner two hours ago, and Lara could already hear her dad snoring from his room across the hallway. She was cuddled up in a terry cloth robe, and was reading a book that her parents had gotten her for Christmas last year.
During the school year, she found it hard to balance reading for fun and readings for school, so whenever she was on a break, she jumped at the opportunity to catch up on the ever-mounting pile of books she was always collecting.
She was happy with losing herself within the pages of the book, until she was interrupted by a ding coming from her phone. She sighed as she glanced over at her phone, burst from the bubble of the world that she had transferred to in her book.
She glanced at the time before checking the unread message. It was still only 10:30, but it felt much later after the eventful day that she had.
She picked up her phone to get a better look at who had texted her, assuming it would be Freya or Elle sharing something stupid in their group chat.
So she was surprised when she actually saw who sent her a message.
AUSTIN: parents still up? party is just getting started if u still want to come by
Lara was shocked that he had remembered to message her about the party. She was staring at her phone trying to think of a valid excuse to not show up when her phone dinged with another message.
AUSTIN: would b nice to see u
Lara hated how her heart soared with butterflies at the message.
But how could it not?
It was Austin Evans. He was the guy. And he missed her? A guy had never been this forward with her over a text message, let alone from a guy like Austin.
Her mind kept running with different thoughts.
It was so unlike her to go to a party. She absolutely hated them. And to go to one just because a boy had asked her to? Totally unlike her.
But on the other hand, when else would she get the opportunity to be personally invited by Austin Evans?
She felt like she could see a Devil Lara on one shoulder, and an Angel one on the other. They kept pulling her in different directions as she tried to think through her options.
She couldn’t calm down the butterflies in her stomach as she kept thinking about Austin’s text to her. Nothing that Adam had said to her in her laundry room or at prom night had ever made her feel the same way a couple of pixelated words had.
Lara sighed as she texted out a response to Austin, still not quite sure that she was making the right choice.
LARA: what’s the address? i can stop by