The Summer of Austin

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Chapter Sixteen

When Lara messaged Austin asking him to talk, she figured that they would just have a quick text message exchange.

She didn’t think for a second that she would have ended up here.

Austin had quickly responded back, asking her to meet up with him at the parking lot of a nearby grocery store.

Lara pulled into a spot near the front entrance of the store and wearily put her car in park.

As she waited for him to meet her, she couldn’t help but wonder why he wanted to meet in person, rather than just letting her apologize over text like any other boy her age would have done. But it was becoming more and more obvious to Lara that Austin was different than most of the other boys that she had met.

Lara had never seen anyone try so hard to gain her acceptance and forgiveness. It confused her. She wondered why this boy, who she had been around for so long, had only just started to care about her.

She may not have understood the shift, but one thing she knew for sure was that she had been unfair to him, and he deserved an apology from her.

But as she sat there in the driver’s seat staring out into the parking lot, she was still confused about why the apology had to be done so formally.

Why was he so intent on seeing her in person?

She didn’t know how long she had spent lost in her thoughts when lights from an oncoming car blinded her. She looked up as the car was put into park, and watched as Austin got out of it.

He was still in his uniform from Rose Manor. Lara on the other hand had been able to shower and anxiously plan her outfit, stressing over every minute detail. She had settled on a pair of distressed jeans along with an oversized Yale sweatshirt that she bought when she first visited the campus with Elle and Freya.

After agonizing over her appearance, she figured it was the best it was going to get. She thought she looked cute enough, but also still casual, as if it came to her effortlessly… which was obviously not true, considering it had taken her almost 2 hours to put the outfit together.

Even though Austin had not had enough time to change out of his sweaty work uniform, he still managed to look good. His hair was pushed back out of his face, and even though Lara could guess that it was sweat that held it back rather than gel, it didn’t disgust her in the slightest. His caddy uniform looked goofy on most of his coworkers, but for him, it looked like he just stepped off the cover of Golf Digest. His cheeks were flushed from spending the whole day doing physical work in the heat, but it just made him look even more adorable.

He actually had that effortlessly cool look that Lara worked so hard to purposely recreate. She didn’t know anyone else who would look good drenched in sweat wearing a nerdy, extremely wrinkled work uniform.

It sent her mind in a spiral again. She wondered why Austin seemed to be so interested in her when he was leagues above her. She was so painfully average in comparison to him, which was obvious from something as insignificant as their outfit choices.

Lara tried to push the self doubt from her mind as she got out of her car to meet Austin in the parking lot.

She was grateful that dusk had already settled so he couldn’t see the subtle flush in her cheeks as they met each other halfway.

“Hey,” she said, lamely waving her hand.

“Hey,” he responded, a grin coming across his face. “Sorry, I just finished work. I figured it would just be easier if we could meet up on my way home.”

“No worries, my house is pretty close to here anyway. But you could’ve just texted me,” she said.

He shrugged. “I don’t really like texting, talking is easier.”

He opened his mouth to say more, but decided against it, and opted for silence instead.

Lara laughed. “That sounds like no one our age.”

“So I’ve been told,” he said, a faraway look in his eye, as if he was seeing all the times he had heard that same thing in the past.

“So…” Lara trailed, trying to prompt him out of his daydream.

He blinked as he came back to the present.

He stared at her, waiting for her to finish her sentence.

Lara thought that Austin would be the one to lead the conversation since he invited her to meet in person, but she realized that she was the one who owed him an apology.

Although she knew that she needed to apologize, she was a bit sour that she was being forced to apologize face-to-face just because he preferred talking over texting.

Shake it off, she thought, trying to diffuse her annoyance.

She was determined to not get angry at Austin for their differences of opinions. They had gotten into more than their fair share of disagreements because of it, and she was done with putting that drama in her life, especially since it was so unwarranted. If it wasn’t hurting either of them, there was no reason for her to overreact anymore.

“So,” Lara repeated, giving herself a silent pep talk. “I wanted to talk to you to just say sorry. For everything.”

She cleared her throat and shifted her weight from one foot to the other, still nervous as she continued on. “I know that I overreacted about a lot of things. I shouldn’t have taken it so personally, and I should’ve thought about how you were feeling,” she gulped as she took in a breath.

“And yeah... I’m sorry,” she lamely finished.

She looked at Austin and tried to gauge his reaction, but she couldn’t read him at all. It seemed as if he was hiding his emotions behind a stone wall.

Only when Austin let out a deep exhale did Lara realize that he had been holding his breath.

And then he did the most unexpected thing he could do in the situation.

He burst out laughing.

Lara was confused to say the least. But the longer he kept laughing, the more inclined she felt to join in.

So she did.

At that moment, she was grateful that he had chosen to meet up in such a secluded area. She couldn’t imagine how crazy the two of them looked, doubled over in laughter in the middle of a grocery store parking lot.

Once Austin had calmed down, he spoke. “I came here ready to apologize for overreacting to you.”

“Are you serious?” Lara let out a laugh, this time knowing why she was laughing.

“It wasn’t fair of me to think that about you. I couldn’t stop thinking about it after you left. I realized that I was so nervous about you judging me, that I judged you instead.”

“I mean, you had a reason to do that. You don’t really know me, so it makes sense that you would be cautious. I’m sure not everyone at Riverview would be so… accepting,” Lara trailed off, wondering if he understood that her statement was subtly directed about Aubrey and her friends.

“I guess,” he shrugged. “But I think it would be better if I chose to believe that everyone is good and hope that they don’t prove me wrong.”

Lara scoffed. “That sounds like a terrible idea. It’s much better to be pleasantly surprised. Even if you have low standards, most people end up disappointing you. I can’t imagine what it would be like if you had high hopes.”

She looked down at her sneakers, too shy to look him in the eye. “I mean, I probably disappointed you,” she said, letting out a curt laugh that had no humour to it.

He nudged her shoe with his own, and she looked back up at him. “Hey,” he said, looking down at her, “I probably disappointed you too.”

The two of them stared at each other for a beat too long, causing Lara to look away again. Her heartbeat was so loud, she felt it engulf her, and she prayed that it wasn’t as loud to him as it was to her.

“So,” Lara said, trying to ease the awkwardness as well as calm herself down, “I’m sorry. You’re sorry. All good here?”

She was ready to finally— finally— put the problems between them to rest and get on with her life. As much as she had wanted to just forget about the conflict with Austin, having unresolved issues bothered her more than she would like to admit.

Even when it came to Aubrey and the whole valedictorian mess, she wished there was a way that they could formally put an end to it, because she knew that it was always going to be nagging at her memory and conscience. But she also knew not to hold her breath waiting for a civil conversation— much less an apology— from Aubrey.

So even though an apology from Aubrey was out of the question, making amends with Austin was something she could do. While it wasn’t a full solution, at least settling one conflict would be enough for her to start moving on from high school and enjoying her summer.

“Yeah,” Austin said, looking caught off guard.

“Great,” Lara said, giving him a smile. “I’ll see you around Rose Manor, I guess,” she waved at him as she began walking over to her car.

Just as she was about to open the door to the driver’s side, she heard Austin call out to her.

“Wait up,” he said, as he jogged toward her to close the distance between them.

“Yeah?” Lara questioned as she turned to face him.

Her breath caught in her throat as she saw how close to her he was standing. She wanted to avoid his piercing gaze out of embarrassment, but at the same time, she felt as if she couldn’t look away, hypnotized by his eyes.

“Can we start over?” He asked, saying the words quickly, as if rushing to get them out before he lost the nerve to speak.

“I… I don’t understand,” Lara said, stumbling over her words.

The problem was resolved, and yet, he still wanted more? Lara was confused.

She thought that Austin would have just wanted to fix the problem because he didn’t want to have it looming over him, much like she did. But the fact that he wanted to start over?

Lara wasn’t expecting that.

Then again, Lara didn’t expect a lot of things that Austin did.

“I like you Lara,” he started. She tried to ignore the butterflies in her stomach when he said that, knowing that he meant it in a platonic way, despite what her heart wished. “This is the first time we’ve really talked, and I feel like we’ve mostly just been fighting. But when we aren’t fighting,” he paused to laugh, “I like talking to you. So can we start over?”

“Yeah, of course,” she said. It came out way too fast and way too eagerly, but she couldn’t help herself.

How was she expected to act calm when she was continually served surprise after surprise? And from Austin Evans. This was something that every freshman girl probably dreamed of before they went to bed. Hell, even Elle probably dreamed of this happening to her.

But it wasn’t a dream for Lara.

She almost wanted to pinch herself as she stood there in the parking lot with him. There was no way this could actually be happening.

But despite how many times she blinked, Austin still stayed there. He didn’t turn into a talking rabbit, which was a strange, but common occurrence in her dreams. He was standing there, still as tragically handsome as he was seconds before.

He gave her a showstopping grin, and she noticed for the first time that one of his front teeth was slightly crooked. She thought the imperfection was adorable.

“Okay,” he said. “Hi, I’m Austin,” he offered his hand to her.

“What?” Lara asked, confused.

“We’re starting over,” he said in a stage whisper, moving his hand closer towards her.

She laughed at the goofy gesture, but she took his hand anyway, trying to ignore the spark that started from the point of contact and moved across her body. “I’m Lara,” she responded. “Nice to meet you.”

The two of them stood there, locked in a handshake, not saying anything, for a second too long. Although Lara didn’t totally hate standing there like that, she wondered if he was feeling awkward, so she pulled her hand away from his.

She thought she noticed something flash across his face, but it was gone before she had the chance to try and guess what it was.

“And let’s try to not make assumptions about each other this time,” he said, the smile back on his face as if it hadn’t left less than a second earlier.

“Sounds like a plan,” she said, matching his smile. “But,” she added, “if we do—”

“Which we won’t,” he interrupted.

“Right,” Lara rolled her eyes. “But, if by some terrible, tragic incident we do,” she said sarcastically, “how about we just clear it up by asking each other instead of jumping to conclusions.”

“Deal.”

Lara held out her pinky to him.

“Pinky swear? Really?” He asked, looking down at her.

“It’ll make this legally binding,” she said matter of factly.

He just shook his head and laughed as he grabbed her pinky with his own. “There,” he said.

“Now we have to do this. I’ll hold you to it,” she said.

She moved to pull away from him again, but she felt his grip tighten on her this time. She looked up at him, looking to see his reaction.

He was looking down at her intently. Her breathing hitched as he shuffled closer to her. She felt herself taking the same tiny steps towards him as well, almost unconsciously, as if there was a magnetic force bringing their bodies together.

Her eyes fluttered down to his lips. When she realized where she was looking, she quickly directed her gaze back to his eyes.

Luckily for her, he hadn’t noticed. She knew this for a fact, because he was looking at her lips. While she was relieved that Austin didn’t see her slip up, Lara was also faced with another round of butterflies once it hit her that he was looking at her like that too.

Is he leaning in? Oh my God, what do I do? Should I lean in as well? Does my breath stink?

Lara’s thoughts were running a mile a minute, but she tried to push them back. She closed her eyes and let her mind clear itself as her body did the work.

The two of them were standing so close to each other, but they still hadn’t touched yet. She thought that her heart might beat out of her chest with anticipation. Lara parted her lips, bracing for the contact when—

BRING BRING.

Lara jumped back, the sudden sound making her practically leap out of her skin. She had pulled out of Austin’s grip, and had unintentionally put the space back between them.

Once she got her bearings back, she realized that the interruption had just been from her phone, but it was too late to go back to how they had previously been standing.

“Hold on,” she said, pulling the phone out of her back pocket.

She figured she may as well just see what the text was, considering it had pulled her out of the important moment.

ADAM: hey, r we still on for tomorrow? :)

Lara had forgotten the plans she had made with Adam. She shook her head, trying to rid herself of the guilt she felt for almost abandoning Adam, in favour of whatever was about to have happened with Austin.

“Shit,” she muttered under her breath.

She started typing out a response, but decided to delete it and start over. She did that again a couple times, aware of Austin’s eyes on her as she moved her fingers across the screen. Finally she settled on an answer.

LARA: yes of course!!! can’t wait

She turned off the phone, and looked up at Austin. “I got to go,” she said, trying to hastily excuse herself from the situation. “See you around.”

She opened the door to her car, moving so fast so she didn’t give herself a chance to hear Austin’s response. She tried to busy herself by aimlessly shuffling around the console in her car, doing anything she could to avoid eye contact with Austin. After a couple of minutes had passed, she slowly looked up, praying that Austin would not be there.

She caught the last seconds of him getting into his own car. She held her breath as his eyes met hers, and gave a half-hearted wave, which she returned back with probably even less enthusiasm than his.

As he pulled out of the parking space, Lara released a shaky gust of air from her lungs and put her head in her hands.

She groaned to herself. “What the hell is going on?”

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