“Lara, you were amazing out there! I didn’t know you were that good,” Austin said with a smile.
Lara found it hard to match his enthusiasm.
“Yeah, there’s a lot of things you don’t know about me,” she snapped.
Her dad cleared his throat, shocked at how abrupt his daughter was.
When they reached the 18th hole, Lara was relieved that she somehow managed to survive the most awkward game of golf ever. She had refused to let Austin come near her bag, even though it was his job, and she was really struggling to carry it. She tried to ignore the fact that Austin parked the golf cart on the green— which was definitely against the course rules— so she would have a closer walk to the hole, but she was secretly grateful for it.
Not that she would ever let him know.
Unfortunately, Lara’s suffering didn’t end with the game.
Her dad had decided that their group would grab lunch at the Manor’s restaurant. And that invitation had been extended to Austin.
So that’s how Lara had ended up seated at a table next to him, forced to spend another hour on the other side of the wall of awkward tension that had been built between them.
Bryan Willingferd was caught off guard by the way his daughter was acting. He obviously hadn’t noticed the coldness Lara had directed towards Austin while they were out on the green, but now that the group was confined to the small dining table, it was impossible to ignore.
Although he couldn’t even guess what had gone on between the two that led Lara to act this way, he wondered if it was warranted given how kind Austin had been throughout the day.
Lara looked to her dad and saw that he was giving her one of his infamous Scary Dad stares. She quickly turned away from him, and straightened her posture, as if that would make up for her rude behaviour.
“So, Austin,” her dad started, giving one last warning look to his daughter, “where are you going off to school?”
“UCLA, sir,” Austin replied.
Lara noticed that whenever Austin was addressed by Lara’s dad or any of his friends, he put on a deeper voice, trying to sound more professional to the group of men. She held back the desire to roll her eyes at how hard he was trying.
“My niece goes there,” Craig chimed in enthusiastically. “She’s in her third year of political science. What is your major? Maybe I can get you two in touch.”
“Oh,” Austin coughed, a chip showing up in his professional demeanor as he slouched a bit. “I’m still undecided.”
“Well that’s okay, I always say you kids are too young to be knowing your path already. I can still give you Mary’s information so you can hear what she has to say about polisci, if you have any interest in that.”
Lara could see that Austin was automatically relieved by how accepting Craig was being. “I would love that sir, thank you,” he said, with a smile from ear to ear.
Lara felt for Austin in that moment.
She knew how much pressure the parents at Riverview put on their kids. Not only were they expected to get into the best schools, but they wanted them to have their entire life path planned. Lara didn’t feel pressured into declaring a major when she applied, but she knew that there was a strong expectation that she should.
She took business classes throughout high school because it was the subject that she did the best in, but who knew if that was what Lara would still want to do years from now? Business was just her favourite option out of what she was offered in high school. What if Lara’s dream job was one that wasn’t even touched upon in a class?
So she decided it was just easier to apply as an economics major and not overthink it.
At least she didn’t have to go through the insecurity of having no answer to give to adults when asked about her future.
Lara was glad that Craig hadn’t put any extra pressure on Austin with follow-up questions, but she could guess that his parents weren’t as understanding.
She knew that most parents would be annoyed at the prospect of paying tons of money for your child’s high school education to prepare them for university, only for them to still have no clue what to do with their life at the end of the four years.
The fear of disappointing her parents was the reason why Lara quickly picked a major to declare. She felt the pressure that came from choosing what you were going to do for the rest of your life at such a young age, she also could understand why their parents put that pressure on them.
Even though Lara hadn’t been his biggest fan lately, she still felt bad for Austin. Lara knew that the whole situation was a lose/lose, and even though she was grateful she wasn’t in that position, she felt bad seeing that he was stuck in it.
Despite everything that had happened between the two of them, Lara didn’t want Austin to be stuck feeling that way, especially since she could see that he was so physically affected by it.
“You are good at everything, you’ll easily find something you like,” Lara piped up. Austin looked shocked that Lara had started to engage in the conversation, and that it was something nice she had said as well.
Once the sincerity of her words registered, he flashed a grin in Lara’s direction. She shyly looked down at the plate of pasta in front of her, trying to ignore his stare.
The meal continued on relatively uneventfully, and Lara decided that she would stay quiet for the remainder of it. She also figured that she could drop the venomous stares that she was directing to Austin.
She felt bad for everything he was going through with college, and felt guilty for being so rude to him on top of it all. She still wouldn’t forgive him, but she figured it was better for her to just stew in silence, rather than constantly snapping at him. At least he would have a little less stress on his mind.
She hoped that karma would work in her favour this way; let Austin off the hook, and she would be rewarded by not having to deal with him anymore.
Finally, the plates were cleared and the bill was paid.
Lara breathed a sigh of relief as her dad waved goodbye to his friends and Austin and ushered her to their car.
They drove in silence as they exited the grounds of the Rose Manor. After a couple of minutes in awkward silence, her dad cleared his throat.
“Austin seems nice,” he said.
“I guess,” she responded, turning to look out the window so she could avoid eye contact with her father.
“You seemed to be a bit…” he trailed off as he tried to find the appropriate word to use. “...cold to him. Did something happen between you two? I don’t remember you ever mentioning you having a problem with Austin?”
Lara usually kept her dad updated with everything going on in her life. She would always go to her parents when she needed advice on how to deal with people that were getting on her nerves.
Her parents were more than familiar with her issues with Aubrey, but it was true that she hadn’t ever brought up Austin.
That was because she had never had a problem with Austin up until very recently. Everything happened so fast she didn’t even have the time to tell them her issues even if she wanted to. And deep down she knew she didn’t want to. She was already keeping it a secret from her friends, and she felt the same sense of dread when she thought about having to explain it all to her parents.
It’s not like it mattered anyway. It seemed as though every problem that the two of them had got resolved before Lara even had the chance to ask anyone for advice on the situation. And just when she thought she would be done with Austin, another problem would arise, but again, it would be resolved before she was ready to come clean to her friends. It was a cycle between the two of them that didn’t seem to need the intervention of other people.
She had the urge to keep everything to herself, if that meant that she could keep the good moments that they had shared as a secret between the two of them. She didn’t want to let anyone else in on the moments where she felt a strong spark between them. Maybe she was embarrassed that she let herself think that way. Or maybe she just wanted to keep those memories locked in her mind so she could daydream about a timeline where things could have been different.
Whatever the case, she knew that she wanted to keep it to herself. And if that meant not letting anyone in, that was something that she was willing to do.
“No, nothing happened,” Lara said, plastering a smile on her face. She could feel the stiffness of the grin, and she knew that her dad could hear the fakeness dripping from her voice.
“Okay,” her dad mumbled to end the conversation, but she knew that he was still thinking about the topic at hand.
Her dad was obviously worried about her. Lara had never been so overtly rude to someone, especially for no reason, so her dad knew that there had to be more to the story.
Lara felt her cheeks flush as she looked out the window, continuing to avoid eye facing her father. She wasn’t proud of the way she was acting, but she also didn’t want to get into all the details with him either. She was fine with him coming to his own conclusions about what could be going on between her and Austin. It would just be easier that way.
The drive back to their house was excruciating as they sat in a silence that was so strong, it could be considered a third passenger.
Lara let out a sigh of relief as her family’s estate came into eyeshot, glad that the suffering she had inflicted on herself would shortly be over.
But as her father parked the car in the garage, he didn’t turn the ignition off to the car like Lara expected him to.
She realized she wasn’t out of the woods yet.
She took a slow deep breath, bracing herself for whatever her dad was about to say to her, while also fighting the urge to jump out of the car.
“You know you can talk to me, right?” Her dad asked, sincerity evident in his tone.
Lara tried to hold back a groan. “I know dad,” she said.
The last thing she wanted to do was have a heart to heart with her dad. She knew very well that she could talk to her dad when she wanted to, but the problem was that she didn’t want to.
She had no clue what was going on with Austin, and she preferred to keep it to herself to avoid any further embarrassment. She had felt so much embarrassment from her many blunders with Austin, the last thing she needed was more people knowing about them.
“I’m serious Lara,” her dad said, turning to look at her. His expression was stern, but his eyes were filled with genuine care, as if he was trying to communicate something more to her through them.
She knew he thought that was true, but she also figured if she really did divulge everything to him, he would quickly lose interest. Her childish post-high school drama was not worth her dad’s time and effort, and the second he started to hear the start of it, Lara had a strong feeling that he would strongly regret his offer to listen.
She didn’t hold it against him that he would probably end up feeling that way. She knew that he had bigger problems than the petty issues that were affecting her.
“I know Dad,” she said, trying not to let on that she thought the opposite deep down.
He smiled at her again as he grabbed her hand and gave it a reassuring squeeze. She gave him a smile back, hoping it didn’t look as forced as it felt.
“I don’t know what happened between you two, but he does seem to want to be your friend,” he continued.
Lara groaned, embarrassed at her dad’s attempted analysis of their relationship.
“Just hear me out, okay?” He said, stopping her before she could excuse herself from the conversation. She rolled her eyes, but she figured she didn’t have a choice, so she stayed in her seat and motioned for him to continue.
“He seems like a really nice kid. And it looked like he was trying to apologize to you for whatever happened between you guys.”
Lara knew he had a point. Austin did spend the entire day putting a lot of effort into trying to right the wrongs that had happened between them, but Lara was stubborn. She didn’t want to give Austin any more chances. She was ready to let this all go and never have to think about any of this again.
But her dad continued. “I don’t want to dismiss what happened between you two, because I don’t know how bad it might have been. But he seems really sorry for whatever it was, and it looks like he wants to make it up to you. Maybe you should think about forgiving him.”
She knew her dad wasn’t going to let up until she listened to him, so she pretended to consider what he was saying to her. “I guess,” she mumbled.
He looked at her with a pointed look. “All I’m saying is, you don’t know what he’s thinking or what he’s going through. It looks like he didn’t mean to hurt you, so maybe you should take his actions into consideration.”
At that, her dad got out of the car, and Lara followed after him.
She grabbed her golf clubs out of the trunk, and after placing them in the closet, she made her way to her room, his words following her the entire time.
She hated to admit it, but he did have a point.
Lara was so quick to jump to the conclusion that Austin was judging her. She took it so personally, and she didn’t even pause to think about how Austin may have been feeling.
She thought back to Rodger’s party, remembering all of the designer-clad girls, and how pretentious she knew his own ex-girlfriend was.
When she looked at all the facts, she found it hard to blame Austin for being cautious about his secret that he was not as wealthy as his fellow classmates. He surrounded himself with people who made their wealth their entire personality trait.
How could he not be weary around everyone?
Austin barely knew Lara. He had no way of realizing that she was different from the people he was usually around. It was second nature to assume that everyone was the same way.
As Lara kept replaying her dad’s voice in her head, she started to see things from Austin’s point of view.
And then, realization shattered the wall of ignorance that she had built around her.
Maybe she wasn’t pretentious, but being so quick to get mad at him without considering his own feelings didn’t make her any better than someone who would judge him because of his financial status.
The puzzle pieces started coming together as she shifted her point of view to Austin’s, and she realized what she needed to do.
LARA: can we talk?