The Summer of Austin

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Chapter Seventeen

When Lara told Freya and Elle about her date with Adam, the two of them had squealed so loud over the phone, she thought her eardrums were going to burst.

She guessed that her friends started a countdown to the moment that Lara was going to start getting ready. The reason she thought that was because they showed up on time to the second, a feat that Elle had certainly never accomplished.

Lara was sitting on the floor dejected, while Freya and Elle were going through her closet, throwing clothes around Lara, making makeshift towers of clothes that were dangerously teetering, threatening to drown her at any second.

“Oh! Lar, how about this?” Elle exclaimed as she pulled out a light pink blouse.

Lara let out a pensive hum. “Don’t you think it’s a bit too revealing?”

“That’s the point,” she said, throwing the blouse to her.

Lara’s reflexes were too slow for the throw, so the blouse hit her square in the face.

It was an obvious metaphor for how she was feeling in the moment.

Elle was right, the shirt was perfect for the date. Any other day, Lara would have squealed with her friends as she tried it on.

The problem wasn’t the outfit, it was Lara. She had no desire to go on the date anymore.

Her friends’ enthusiasm wasn’t as contagious as she hoped it would be. She hoped that seeing their energy would help get her out of her funk, but she had no such luck.

“What is wrong with you?” Freya asked, peeking out from behind a green dress in Lara’s closet.

Lara had a feeling she knew what the problem was, but she didn’t feel comfortable telling her friends the truth.

If her date with Adam had happened any day prior to yesterday, she would have been just as excited as her friends. But now, she thought that it wasn’t so much going out on a date that bothered her, but rather, who she was going on the date with that had her upset.

She liked Adam as a friend, and she thought he was cute, but when she was with him, it was nothing like what she felt when she had stood so close to Austin yesterday.

Another blouse hit her in the face.

“Hello,” Elle called, dramatically waving her hands. “Earth to Lara!”

“I just don’t know if I like Adam in that way,” Lara said.

It wasn’t a full blown lie, but it also wasn’t the complete truth. She only thought she didn’t like Adam as more than a friend when she compared the feelings she had for him to a certain other boy. She didn’t want to settle for the comfort she felt with Adam, when she knew that she had sparks with Austin.

Elle let out a sympathetic sigh, while Freya looked pensive.

“You should still give him a chance,” Freya said after a beat. “If you go on the date, you can know for sure how you feel.”

Lara groaned. “Can’t I just fake being sick instead?”

“Lara! No!” Freya chided. “Just go! What’s the worst that could happen? And who knows, maybe Adam could surprise you.”

Doubtful, Lara thought to herself as she tried to ignore the butterflies in her stomach when Austin’s face flashed through her mind.

But Freya was right. Going out with Adam wouldn’t be catastrophic. Lara knew that she enjoyed his company, but only in a strictly platonic way. If the worst thing that was going to happen was just hanging out with a good friend, Lara figured she could probably survive the date.

“Fine,” Lara said, pushing herself off from the floor. “Let’s just get this over with.”

“Wow, that’s the spirit,” Elle said sarcastically as she pulled out a white a-line skirt for Lara to pair with the shirt she picked earlier.

“Just be happy that she’s going,” Freya whispered, cautious that Lara would change her mind again at any moment.

“I can hear you,” Lara jokingly warned as she took the skirt from Elle and made her way to the bathroom to change.

She closed the door to the bathroom and hastily got changed. She slowly examined herself in the mirror once the outfit was put on.

For the first time in recent memory, Lara noted that she finally looked alive. The bags under her eyes that came as a result of the valedictorian stress were gone, and her face had started to gain some weight back. While she wasn’t back at her original weight yet, there was still an obvious improvement as she didn’t look as gaunt and hollow as she had a couple of weeks ago. She felt like she was almost back to her old self.

Lara did a final once-over in the mirror. Feeling satisfied with her appearance, she turned to leave the en-suite.

As she was about to open the door to leave, she heard her friends whispering. Lara knew that their hushed voices indicated that they didn’t want to be heard, which only made her want to listen more. Even though she knew that it wasn’t nice to eavesdrop, there was something that told her that she needed to hear what they were trying to hide from her.

Lara grabbed the door handle and slowly turned it, praying that it didn’t expose her by making a creaking noise. She pressed her ear up against the small crack that she made, and strained to hear what they were saying.

“—not acting like herself,” she heard Freya say mid-sentence.

“It’s weird,” Elle whispered. “She’s being rude.”

“I know,” Freya agreed. “And she seemed happy about Adam before. Like, why the sudden change?”

“It’s like she’s a whole different person,” Elle said.

Lara jumped back from the door as if it was on fire. She didn’t need to hear anymore of what her friends had to say.

She was filled with anger. What made them think that they had the right to talk about her like that? Especially in her house, where they were only separated by a door.

Sure, there was truth to some of what they were saying; she was hiding things from them. But the way that they were literally talking about her behind her back made Lara feel justified in her decision to only tell them partial truths. Her friends were making it clear that they were less than trustworthy when it came to her secrets.

Lara started to pace around the bathroom, trying not to let her anger overtake her. She was getting dangerously close to exploding on her friends, but she knew that it was not the right time to confront them.

She let out a deep breath, hoping the anger left with the exhale. She opened the bathroom door fully this time, hoping that the fake smile on her face looked natural.

As Elle and Freya saw her, they jumped back, as if they had been caught red-handed.

Because they were, Lara thought ruefully to herself.

The two girls quickly shook off any guilt and surprise. The whole exchange was so quick that if Lara hadn’t overheard their conversation, she wouldn’t have thought anything of it. But now that she knew, she started to quickly replay past moments in her mind, wondering how many other times this had happened right under her nose.

“You look amazing,” Elle squealed.

Before, Lara would have blushed and tried to wave off the compliment. But now, she found Elle’s high pitched shrill annoying, and could only find empty meaning behind the words.

“Thanks,” Lara curtly replied, giving a smile that she knew didn’t go to her eyes.

“You okay?” Freya asked, immediately noticing her friend’s change in demeanor.

“Yeah, just nervous.” The lie rolled off Lara’s tongue without a second thought. She kept reminding herself that it wasn’t the proper time to get into it with them.

“Okay,” Freya said, but Lara knew that she wasn’t actually convinced. She hoped for the sake of her own sanity that Freya would drop the subject at least.

“Anyway,” Lara said suddenly, checking the time on her phone. “He should be coming any time now, so...” She trailed off, hoping her friends would get the hint so she didn’t need to flat-out ask them to leave.

Elle pulled out her own phone to check the time. “I thought Adam wasn’t coming for another hour?” She asked, oblivious to Lara’s hints.

“He messaged that he was going to come by earlier,” Lara said, another lie coming out effortlessly.

If her friends didn’t believe her, they did a good job of hiding it. The two of them nodded in understanding as they started to pack up their things.

Freya offered to help clean up the mess that they made of the closet, but Lara declined. Even though it would be a lot to get through on her own, she would prefer to clean up by herself rather than spend another minute pretending that she hadn’t heard what they had said behind her back.

She let out a deep sigh as she ushered her friends out of her house, closed the front door behind them. She was relieved to be alone, even if it was just for an hour until Adam came to pick her up.

“The girls are gone already?”

Lara practically jumped out of her skin at the unexpected voice behind her. When her heart rate calmed down, she finally recognized that it was only her mom who had spoken. “You scared the crap out of me,” Lara said, her hands over her heart as it started to beat in time again.

Her mother continued to look at her, still waiting for the answer to her previous question. “Uhhh, yeah,” Lara said, finally getting her bearings. “They had to leave early.”

“Everything alright?” Her mom asked, her eyebrow raised in questioning.

“Yeah,” Lara spat out, feeling defensive. “Am I not allowed to just be on my own?” She tried not to yell, but frustration still leaked through.

It seemed like lately everyone had been on her case, asking her question after question, trying to see if she was “okay”, whatever that meant.

She didn’t even think they actually cared.

For Lara, it felt more like the people around her were just annoyed at the fact that she was changing. She was acting differently, and everyone hated it, and that was why they were continuously on her case, asking her what had changed.

There was nothing wrong with her, the problem was with them. They didn’t want to see her grow.

“Lara, watch your tone,” her mother warned.

If there was one thing Carla Willingferd taught Lara, it was etiquette. And raising her voice at her mother was certainly going against the manners that were instilled in her.

But at this point, Lara didn’t care.

Ignoring any repercussions, she kept raising her voice.

“Oh, sorry,” she said sarcastically. “I forgot that speaking my mind made people uncomfortable. Let me just say whatever you want me to.”

“It is not that Lara,” her mom said, raising her voice to match her daughter’s. “You can say whatever you want to me, but you need to respect me.”

"Sure I can say whatever I want,” Lara spat out in response. “It just can’t go against the image you have of me. I can’t do anything separately from my friends, because if I do, that means something is wrong with me.”

As Lara’s anger continued to escalate, her mother’s behaviour shifted to worry. She had never seen her daughter this heated before, so she knew that there was something else that was affecting Lara. She quickly changed her approach, hoping to de-escalate the situation and calm Lara down.

“Honey, that is not what I’m saying at all,” she said, her voice decibels softer. “I was just asking a question.”

Her mother’s soft demeanor did nothing to calm Lara down. The anger that was fuelling her continued to hold its tight grip around her, and it was stronger than anything her mom could say to her.

“Why do you even need to ask? Why can’t you just leave me alone,” She yelled as she stormed off to the mud room.

She quickly slipped into the first pair of shoes she saw, and grabbed the purse that she had left at the door when she got back home last night, moving quickly so that her mother couldn’t catch up with her.

The door slammed behind her as she ran into the garage and bolted towards her car, but it still didn’t drown out the cries of her mother calling out to her.

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