The Summer of Austin

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Chapter Two

Lara drove her Range Rover through the sprawling gates that guarded the large estate that she called home. The beautiful mansion had been in the family since Lara’s grandfather, Walter, had designed and built it back in the 70s. After his architecture firm had taken off, Walter wanted to leave a piece of his work for his family.

What better way to do it than with a beautiful mansion that proved that he had finally made it big?

The house had since been expanded after Lara’s father had inherited it after her grandfather’s passing, but the original structure of the house still remained intact.

Lara’s wealth was something that she didn’t take for granted. She knew that the life she lived was one of extreme privilege, and was grateful for the opportunities she had.

It was the only reason why she hadn’t given up the valedictorian position. What better way to thank her parents for the cushy life they gave her than to get up on stage and personally show them how far she had come with the resources they gave her?

“Hello?” Lara called as she stepped into the large entrance way of her house after placing her purse in the foyer. Even though she saw both her parents’ cars in their respective garages, there was no answer.

Lara made her way up to her room, climbing the spiral staircase two steps at a time.

The reason her grandfather was able to be so successful was due to his grip on modern architecture. Even in the early days of his company, he added a modern twist to his work, which made people so interested in it.

Their house was no exception. Despite the fact that the house was from the 70s, Walter’s vision made it so the house was trendy even today.

The second Lara had closed the door to her room, she stripped off her uniform in favour of something more comfortable. After hanging up the plaid kilt and button up shirt, she quickly looked at herself in the mirror.

While the stress of exams was non-existent, it was obvious that Lara was still struggling. Her blue eyes had bags under them that were not evident before, and her face looked more sunken in. Lara ran her fingers through her shoulder length light blonde hair, trying to style it back into her signature bob. Her hair insisted on staying puffed out, taking a newfound frizz that had never existed before. She just rolled her eyes in defeat as she flopped backwards onto her bed.

She let the stress of the past couple of days wash over her as she closed her eyes.

She let the stress of the past couple of days wash over her as she closed her eyes.

Lara was never one to want to be the center of attention, especially when it came to pouring her heart out about her high school experience. The thought of presenting her speech in front of all those faces was already scaring her enough. The added pressure of needing it to be the best one anyone had heard wasn’t helping that either.

Some days she just wanted to scrap everything she wrote and replace it with something generic. But Lara put far too much pressure on herself to do that.

She didn’t want to let her parents down, or even herself for that matter. She knew there was a good chance that people would gush over the speech anyway, but she wanted to know that it was actually good. If it didn’t, that would reflect negatively on her, and she would think about it for the rest of her university years, and maybe even longer.

The added pressure Aubrey was putting on her definitely didn’t help either, especially since Lara was already making herself sick without the popular girl’s help.

The more she thought about it, the more she could feel her breathing speed up. She dug her fingers into her comforter as her mind started to wander off. Visions of her forgetting her words, or tripping, or everyone laughing when they weren’t supposed to flew around her brain as she felt tears roll down her face and her breathing continued to quicken.

While she joked about her stress with her friends, it had just been getting worse as the graduation day loomed closer.

The panic attacks had been coming more frequently and lasting for longer each time. There was nothing anyone could do when she was in one of those states. Everything would slowly black out around her, and she felt as though she was losing her connection to the real world. There was no such thing as riding the wave, all she could do was let it engulf her, and try not to drown.

When the pressure finally lifted off her chest, she took a deep breath and hastily wiped the leftover tears away. She turned to the small digital clock on her nightstand and saw that thirty minutes had passed.

Quickly, without even being able to properly get her bearings back, she jumped off her bed and went to her adjoining bathroom to try to get rid of any evidence of the panic she had just felt.

She was always trying to hide just how bad everything had gotten from her friends, but she was sure they had an idea that she wasn’t having the best of times lately.

As she ran her hands under the sink and splashed the water on her face, she basked in the feeling of the ice cold water on her skin. Her body temperature began to cool down, and she started to feel a sense of relief.

She distracted herself by finally scrolling through Freya’s dorm room Pinterest board while she waited for her friends to come to her house.

Eventually, she heard the doorbell chime throughout her home, and got up, taking a shaky breath as she realized that she would have to face her speech head on, once and for all, tonight.

She let Elle and Freya in, and after greeting each other as if they hadn’t seen each other only a couple of hours before, they all settled in the large rec room in the basement.

Over the years, Lara had turned the basement into her own personal haven.

From her younger days of using it to play house and host tea parties, to the newly updated room with a TV and a range of different bean bags and a super cozy large couch, perfect for sleepovers, the basement had always been the group’s go-to spot.

As they all settled in their official spots, Freya pulled out her notebook while Lara reluctantly turned on her laptop to the blank document that was supposed to hold her speech.

“Oh, wow. You really have nothing done,” Freya said, leaning over Lara’s shoulder to peer at the blindingly white document.

“I told you guys I needed help,” she meekly responded, trying her hardest to keep down the rising panic in her stomach.

Between Freya’s knack for planning and Elle’s experience with numerous monologues from drama classes and plays, the girls were able to finally make a dent in Lara’s speech. While it wasn’t finished, Lara did feel a sense of ease that she hadn’t felt in a while when it came to thinking about the looming graduation ceremony.

“I wonder if it’s as good as what Aubrey had,” Elle wondered out loud.

Freya shot Elle a warning look, “I’m sure she’s all talk. There’s no way she had a speech just waiting. That would be crazy!”

“It’s not like she’s the most sane person around,” Elle quipped from her bean bag, causing the girls to laugh. “Honestly though, I swear she’s a borderline narcissist. She probably thought she had the valedictorian position in the bag.”

“I just don’t understand why I have to be the class martyr?” Lara asked, sighing as she got up to stretch her legs.

It was the question that Lara kept coming back to recently. Why her?

She knew she wasn’t anything special. She felt painfully mediocre and average. Sure, everyone liked her, but other than her core group of friends, no one loved her. She was smart, but she wasn’t the smartest. She was just there.

She was just Lara.

Average Lara.

It was something she had been struggling with for a while. There was nothing she excelled at, and yet here she was, fighting Aubrey on behalf of everyone else as the voice of their entire grade.

She felt so insignificant and average, despite the trust that had been put in her by her classmates.

What did people see in her that she didn’t?

“Lara? You okay?” Freya’s voice shook Lara out of her trance.

“Hmmm?” Lara said, coming back down to Earth. “Yeah, yeah,” she said, seeing her two friends’ concerned faces staring back at her. “Just thinking. Let’s get back to work.”

Lara caught Elle and Freya exchanging a weary glance between the two of them, but she chose to ignore it as she turned back to her laptop, re-reading what the group had come up with over their work session.

The girls finally breathed a collective sigh of relief as the clock reached 2:32 AM. With only a bit of snack breaks and moments of complete stir craziness slowing them down, they finally completed the speech.

“It’s really amazing, Lara,” Elle said as Lara finished up her first full run-through of it.

“You think?” Despite her friends’ eager nods, she couldn’t help but feel worried that they were just saying things so they could finally go to bed.

But underneath all the worry, Lara did feel some sort of pride for what they had come up with.

The speech had the perfect amount of heartfelt words for the parents and staff, mixed with encouraging words for her classmates on their future endeavours.

“You guys did incredible,” Lara said, giving credit where it was due. “I really couldn’t have done it without you.” She tried to force her tears back, but she couldn’t help letting a few leak through.

After all the stress that she had gone through alone, her heart swelled at the sight of her friends spending their free time with her to help her get through this. And they had genuinely done such a good job at doing it too.

Looking at her two best friends, all the memories of her previous panic attacks felt a lifetime away. She knew that even in her darkest of times, Freya and Elle would be there for her.

Not one to show emotion often, her friends were already thrown off by Lara’s tears, but when she ran over to them and engulfed them in a hug, their shock easily showed.

“Oh wow, we really broke her,” Elle said, letting her own tears easily come out.

The friends wrapped themselves up in the bear hug, tears slowly morphing into laughs.

As they all settled into their respective spots on the sofa in Lara’s basement and turned off the lights, Lara whispered goodnight to her friends.

“Love you guys forever.”

“And ever,” Freya continued.

“And always,” Elle said, ending off their typical bedtime ritual.

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