The Summer of Austin

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Chapter Twelve

Even though she didn’t drink the night before, when Lara woke up, she still felt like she was hungover.

This time, it was an emotional hangover, but somehow, it was worse than the one that came from drinking too much alcohol.

She spent the entire night crying, and her tears had slowly tired her out until she eventually fell asleep. She didn’t even remember going to bed until she woke up in the morning. Her dreams felt so real as she played the moments of the night before over and over in her head. The embarrassment haunted her as she continued to relive everything. She kept seeing Aubrey running up to Austin, her acrylic nails practically digging into his skin to mark him as her territory.

In her dreams, the night continued after she left. She saw Austin laughing with Rodger and Aubrey, high-fiving as they celebrated successfully tricking Lara into thinking that Austin would ever care about someone as irrelevant as her.

The only thing that made the embarrassment slightly more bearable was the fact that she would never have to see any of them ever again. But it still stung her to think about how their last memories of her would be the total humiliation they caused her.

She could picture the reunion for her graduating class, 20 years from now. Austin and Aubrey would be married, and they would spend the entire reunion laughing at Lara, and how she was still a pathetic loser compared to the two of them.

She was stupid to think that Austin was going to leave Aubrey just because she told him that his girlfriend had been mean to her a couple of times. Austin was probably just as bad as Aubrey, and didn’t see the issue with anything Lara had told him about her.

The two of them were made for each other. They were mean people who thought they were above everyone. It was impossible to bring either of them down from where they were sitting on their high horses. Lara would never be able to reach them.

The worst part of it all— another reason why she couldn’t stop crying— was that she wasn’t able to tell anyone about what had happened.

She knew she was being punished for not being honest with her friends. Everything had blown up in her face, but she didn’t have Freya and Elle there to help her pick up the pieces like they usually did.

They didn’t even know the beginning of what was happening with Austin, let alone the fact that Lara had gone to a party by herself. She figured that if she told them about what was going on, they would help her out, even though they had every right to be angry at Lara instead of putting all their energy in trying to comfort her.

Her friends were too good to her, and what had she done to them in return?

She screwed them over. She abandoned them just because she had gotten some attention from Austin. And look at where it had led her.

She felt like she deserved this. All of this was probably karma for her insensitivity to her friends. Everything that had happened with Austin was a reminder from the universe that she was still a nobody, and she needed to remember her place.

High school may be over, but that didn’t mean any of the groups would change. Lara was still below Austin and Aubrey and all their friends. She had to stay in her place. And that was with Elle and Freya.

And what was so bad about that?

She loved these girls. Who cared that she didn’t get to hang out with the golden boy? He had proven to her that he wasn’t all that great of a person anyway. He showed that he was clearly self-involved as he was completely unaware of how the people close to him were terrible people. Plus, it seemed like he had gone through a lot of trouble just to pull a cruel prank on Lara to make her think that he cared about her. There was no reason for him to be that mean to her, other than the fact that he was truly just a shitty guy.

Elle and Freya had proven to be the total opposite of Austin. They always cared about how Lara was feeling, and would always try to help Lara get through a bad day, even if they were having a great one. They were there for her every step of the way, no matter what.

Even though all evidence showed that losing Austin in her life and keeping Elle and Freya was a good thing, Lara still couldn’t shake the feeling of missing what could have been with Austin. She just wished that the universe would’ve given her a chance with Austin, even if that meant leaving her spot with Freya and Elle.

The hungover feeling quickly strengthened. Even though she had the traumatic events from last night playing over and over in her head, she was still pining for Austin.

Now, she was just left with feeling guilty.

There was no doubt in her mind that she was the worst person on earth for thinking all these things. And yet, her stance still didn’t change.

The cycle kept continuing in her head. She felt guilty for feeling this way, but she kept thinking about the situation and her stance wasn’t changing, which just led her into feeling guilty all over again.

She got out of bed and padded over to her en-suite bathroom. She took her pajamas off and got into her shower, hoping she would be able to wash away all of her thoughts.

As the hot water touched her skin, she realized she wasn’t having any luck. She turned the faucet hotter, hoping the scorching water would help more.

“Fuck!” She screamed as soon as the water touched her skin.

Instead of forgetting her thoughts, she still had them running through her mind, plus she now felt like she had a third degree burn on her arm.

Frustrated tears started rolling down her face, mixing with the water coming from the showerhead.

She did this to herself. She knew she had no one to blame but herself. And yet the whole thing still felt so unfair to her.

Was there a reason why she wasn’t allowed to be able to just have this one thing to herself? Everything that happened to her she needed to tell her friends as well. She wasn’t able to have one secret to herself. The one time she did, it completely crushed her.

Not only was she drowning in the sadness from everything that happened with Austin, but she also had to deal with the fact that she would not be able to ever keep another secret from her friends again. The universe had made it very clear that she was not allowed to do that.

She massaged shampoo into her hair and lathered her body with soap, but she wasn’t feeling any better. She scoffed as she looked at the bottles on the ledge of her shower. Her mom had gone out and bought lavender scented shower supplies because they were advertised as “stress relievers”.

Clearly that was a false claim.

Or maybe Lara was just so stressed that not even lavender could save her.

As she got out of the shower and wrapped herself up in a towel, she knew that she would have to keep the entire Austin situation to herself.

Telling Elle and Freya about everything that happened meant that she would have to tell them about all the doubts she had thought about their friendship. There was no need to do that to them. It would be hurtful, and she knew that. It hurt her to even think this way, she couldn’t imagine what it would be like to be on the other side of it.

She went back into her room, and checked her phone that she put to charge on her bedside table when she came home last night. There were a bunch of unread texts on her phone from the group chat with Elle and Freya.

FREYA: i’m bored, come over

ELLE: already on my way

Lara sighed as she looked at her phone. She was too much of a mess to try and hang out with her friends while pretending that nothing was wrong. The guilt would drown her once she saw her friends in person. Lara texted a lame excuse to her friends, and instantly received messages back from the other two girls telling her how they would miss her.

Even after checking her messages from her friends she still had unread message notifications.

That wasn’t something that happened often for Lara. Her phone was usually drier than the Sahara, with the exception of her group chat with her friends.

She saw that she had a bunch of text messages from Austin, ranging from throughout the entire night to a couple of minutes ago.

AUSTIN: lara where did u go???

AUSTIN: ???????

AUSTIN: r u mad?

AUSTIN: can we just talk

AUSTIN: idk what happened

AUSTIN: hey, i just woke up. Still havent heard from u. R u ok?

AUSTIN: do u wanna talk about last night? R u mad at me?

AUSTIN: Idk what i did, but i’m sorry for hurting ur feelings

Lara felt herself stumble down the steep hill of overthinking looking at the texts from Austin.

They seemed like genuine messages to her, but as she replayed the night’s events over in her head, she wasn’t sure how it could be anything other than another layer in a plan to torment her more.

She couldn’t believe that he would be so oblivious to how his actions hurt Lara. So the only reasonable explanation must be that he was acting dumb for a plan.

Right?

Lara groaned in frustration as she threw her phone against her pillow, shortly following it as she flopped down on her bed after it.

Even though every siren and alarm in her mind was going off, she still couldn’t help but hope that maybe this boy was just hopeless when it came to social cues, and that he was a good guy who didn’t mean to hurt her.

It was blind faith.

A little voice inside of her head. But one that was so persistent that she kept holding on to it.

Or maybe, she just didn’t want to let her fantasy of Austin go just yet.

No matter what the reason was, it wrapped her up in a warm hug, and she felt herself drifting off to sleep, comforted by images of a parallel universe.

In this world, Austin was hers, and Aubrey existed somewhere far away, where she couldn’t torment them. She was able to have it all in this world. Austin, Freya and Elle. No secrets. No second guessing her friendships. No throwing them away for mixed signals that she was still trying to decipher.

But when she woke up to her mom gently shaking her awake from her nap, she realized it was just that.

A dream.

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