Lara didn’t know what to do.
Should she pretend she didn’t know him? Or maybe she should just fake an illness so she could get out of this mess.
“Do you recognize him?” Her father repeated.
“Ummmm,” she stalled, as she kept debating whether she should just run away right then.
At that moment, Austin looked up and made eye contact with her. Fuck, she thought to herself. No going back now I guess.
“I know him from school, but I’ve never seen him here.” She thought back to the Green Acres sweatshirt that she still had hidden in her room. “I thought he was a member at Green Acres actually,” she added. “I didn’t know members had to caddy.”
“That’s odd. They don’t,” her dad said, confirming Lara’s confusion about the situation.
“Hmmm,” Lara wondered aloud as her dad waved to Austin. She felt her cheeks flush as Austin waved back.
This was not how she expected to see Austin again. To be honest, she never thought she would ever run into him again. But if she had to see him, the last place she expected was on the golf course, where she would be stuck with him and a group of middle aged men for at least three hours.
As they walked to where Austin was standing, Lara aimlessly scrolled through her phone, trying to pretend that she was busy, while Lara’s dad started to make conversation with Austin.
Lara knew she was being rude, and she was sure that her dad would probably call her out for it soon, but she couldn’t care less. She didn’t know what else to do. For all the thoughts that she had over the past couple days, her mind went blank once she was actually face to face with him.
Lara’s dad turned away from Austin as his friends finally arrived, and he started to greet them.
Now that Lara’s dad had turned his attention away from him, Austin took this as his chance to finally question Lara.
“So, your phone is working,” he whispered, nodding towards her phone.
Lara was shocked that Austin was bold enough to call her out on the fact that she had been ignoring his numerous text messages. She fumbled over her words as she tried to come up with an excuse.
“Yeah, it is,” she said, trying to avoid eye contact with him.
“Any reason why you didn’t want to answer me?” He said, raising an eyebrow at her.
Fuck it, she thought. If he wanted to be brutally honest with her, she could do the same thing back.
“I didn’t think you would care, to be honest,” she said, narrowing her eyes at him in what she hoped looked like an intimidating glare.
“Why would you think that?” He looked genuinely hurt at her comment.
Despite how sincere he looked, she couldn’t help but let out a visceral reaction to his ignorant comment.
“Why would I think that?” She mocked him, letting out a snort. “Where do I start?” She tried to keep her voice quiet so her dad and his friends wouldn’t notice her yelling at Austin, but it was hard when she could feel rage bubbling in her stomach.
“How about,” she said through gritted teeth, “the fact that you begged me to come to the party, just so that you can show off the fact that you are still with the girl who I’ve told you made my life a living hell?”
“Lara, that’s not what happened at all,” he said, letting out a frustrated huff.
“Then please, explain to me what did happen.” She crossed her arms as she stared back at him, daring him to tell her she was wrong.
“I wanted you to come because I wanted to see you,” he insisted. “I broke things off with Aubrey the day after prom. I couldn’t stand the thought of being with someone who could be so mean.”
Lara tried to not let her jaw drop at Austin’s news. She didn’t expect that from him.
“Why…” She coughed as her voice came out raspy before trying to start her sentence again. “Why would you do that?” Her voice came out barely louder than a whisper.
“Despite what you might think about me,” he said with a small smile, “I’m really not as bad as you think I am.”
Lara snorted at that comment, which made Austin’s smile grow.
“Shocking right?” He continued. “Alert the news!” He held up his hands in mock terror, making Lara start laughing.
“But actually,” he said, more serious now, “I get that you think of me in a certain way because of Aubrey, but I’m not like that. I don’t want to be involved with that, so I ended it.”
“I didn’t want you to end your entire relationship,” she said once the gravity of the situation hit her. “Maybe just tell her to adjust her attitude. A full breakup? Isn’t that a bit extreme?” Aubrey and Austin had been going out since the start of the school year. Lara didn’t think for a second that her drunken rant about his girlfriend would have this big of an affect on their relationship.
If she was scared of Aubrey before, now she was terrified. If Aubrey ever figured out that Lara’s thoughts on her was the reason Austin dumped her— even if it was unintentional— Lara would be a dead girl. She was already thinking of what she should change her name to, and what new hair colour would look good on her while making her unrecognizable before Austin could even respond.
Austin could probably see that Lara’s brain was moving a mile a minute because he quickly followed up his statement. “It had nothing to do with you… Well, I guess you kind of had something to do with it.” At that, Lara’s eyes widened as she tried to not hyperventilate.
“But no not like that!” Austin quickly continued as he saw Lara’s breathing quicken. “I just mean, you let me know how she treats people. But anyone could’ve told me. My decision would’ve been the same. I’m glad you told me, because I don’t want to be with someone like that. Plus, I’m moving to California soon, it’s not like we were going to last with the distance. It was going to happen soon enough,” he finished with a definitive shrug.
Lara felt slightly better, but she still had an inkling that Aubrey would try to find a way to pin the blame on her.
“I didn’t bring up your name,” Austin added with an exaggerated whisper. He lightly pushed her shoulder as he brought his voice back to a regular volume. “Calm down, Lara. You don’t have that much of an impact on me. It was all my choice.”
Lara finally felt a weight lift off her shoulders as Austin confirmed that her name was out of the narrative as far as Aubrey was concerned.
At seeing Lara’s change in demeanor, he whistled in shock. “Jeez, you’re actually terrified of her, aren’t you?”
Lara laughed. “I tried to downplay it to you, but… yeah,” she finished lamely.
She still felt weird gossiping about Aubrey to Austin. Even if they had broken up because Austin was less than impressed with Aubrey’s true self, Lara still couldn’t shake the worry that all of this would end up back to Aubrey.
And even if Austin wasn’t a secret double agent, he had still spent a significant amount of time with Aubrey. It must hurt him a bit to hear someone bad mouth a person he cared so much about at a point in time. Right?
Lara wanted to move the conversation back to neutral territory. “So, I didn’t know they allowed members to caddy for other members,” she said, asking the same question that had been on her mind since she saw Austin standing by the cart.
“Member?” Austin said, looking at her confused. He looked back down at his polo, as if he had forgotten where he was. “I work here,” he said, as if it was the most obvious statement in the world.
It all clicked for Lara at once.
That’s how Austin had known the name of the chef when Lara had been having her panic attack. And when he had given her the Green Acres sweatshirt, he had a weird answer when she asked about his membership.
“That’s cool,” she said. “I’m guessing you worked at Green Acres before, then?” He nodded in response. “When did you start working here?” She continued.
“Just this summer. You are acting really cool about this.”
Now it was Lara’s turn to look confused. “Why would I not be?” She asked him, her voice coming out with a slight tinge of venom at what he was implying.
Austin paled as he saw Lara’s harsh demeanour. He tried to double down on the comment he made, but the damage had already been done. “Ummm,” he trailed off, his eyes flickering around the room as if there would be an answer on what to do written on the wall somewhere. Obviously, he had no such luck. He sighed as he realized he was caught. “I mean, I know that not many people at our school have jobs. I haven’t really told anyone because I figured they would all laugh at me.”
“Jesus,” Lara grumbled as she turned away from Austin and frustratedly pressed her fingers into her temple. “Do you really think I’m that shallow?”
“I don’t know. I just assumed—”
Lara didn’t let him finish his sentence. “Yeah, well you thought wrong.” She looked back up at him, anger coursing through her body. “Maybe you should rethink the company that you keep if you think they would respond that way. But it’s a fucking job, Austin. I don’t give a shit if you have one or not. I’m not as shallow as you must think I am. Shocking right?” She said, using his own words against him.
With that, she turned on her heel and moved toward her dad and his friends.
If she thought the golf session was going to be awkward before, she couldn’t even put into words what it would be like now.
Even though their party of four— five including Austin— was big enough to allow them to get the “premium” golf cart (one with an extra row in the back), Lara still somehow found herself being sat next to Austin, while her dad and his friends were behind them, laughing about God knows what.
Lara grinded her teeth, something she only did when she was pissed off. Even though she knew it was absolutely terrible for her teeth, it was as if they had a mind of their own, as they continued to move against each other.
The silence between Austin and Lara was so thick, it felt as if there was a physical barrier between the two of them. Honestly, one would have been welcomed at this point, at least it would’ve given her an excuse to not talk to him.
But instead, she just had to sit there, feeling conflicted between wanting to apologize for her outburst, and wanting to stand her ground against Austin and his unfair judgement of her.
Lara peeked a look at Austin from the corner of her eye to see if he was slightly bothered. She saw his cheeks were flushed, and his jaw was slightly strained.
Good, she thought to herself, feeling slightly better knowing that he was as uncomfortable as she was. At least he cared about everything that had just happened between them.
While the tension was obvious between the two of them, Lara’s dad and his friends were blissfully unaware that the teens had just gotten into an argument.
One of her dad’s friends, Craig, was infamous for his booming laugh. While Lara was usually used to hearing the deep vibrato coming from her kitchen, echoing up into her room as if he was standing outside her door, she was deep in thought this time. The laugh startled her, causing her to almost jump out of her seat.
Instinctively, Austin reached a hand out to hold her back, steadying her from falling out of the cart.
A second after she realized she was okay, she became extremely aware of Austin’s warm hand against her midriff. He must have felt it too, because he quickly jerked his hand back on the steering wheel, as quickly as if he realized his hand was in a flame. But even after his hand had disappeared, she still felt the leftover embers from where he had made contact with her.
“Thanks,” she whispered, her voice hoarse.
He cleared his throat. “No problem,” he said, not taking his eyes off of the winding path of the course.
As they reached the first hole, the men in the back eagerly got out of the cart, ready to start the game.
Lara jumped out of the cart as well, happy to put some distance between her and Austin. She made her way to the back of the cart, reaching to grab her bag out of the back.
“Here,” Austin said, reaching beside her for it.
“It’s fine, I got it,” she said as she lifted it. She tried not to wince as she moved the heavy bag over her shoulder. No matter how much she golfed, she never got used to the weight of the bag. Strength training was just something that never worked for her.
“Lara, it’s my job,” he said, still insisting.
“Yes, you’ve made that very clear,” she said, as she looked up at him, giving him an icy glare, still mad at him for the assumptions he had made about her just a couple of moments before.
As he stood there dumbfounded, she moved toward where her Dad and his friends were standing, hoping that her walk didn’t give off how much she was struggling with the bag over her shoulder.
This was going to feel like the longest game of golf in history.