The Summer of Austin

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Chapter Four

“Freya, can you calm down?” Elle snapped as Freya’s knee bounced in place, shaking the entire couch.

“I can’t! I’m so excited!” Freya was practically squealing.

After making sure that Lara was okay after her fainting spell, the girls had started to get ready for the big night.

After a couple of hours spent at Lara’s mom’s favourite salon, the girls were completely transformed. They giddily got dressed in their gowns, and they were all sitting in Lara’s living room, waiting for their dates and the limo to meet them at Lara’s house.

Freya was wearing her custom made saree. Decked out in her favourite colour-- a deep crimson red-- adorned with gold embellishing, she looked like she was glowing. Her dark black hair was in an updo, secured with a matching golden headpiece, and her look was completed with a dark red lip. Her large doe eyes stood out even more than ever with the golden eyeshadow that was lathered on. She couldn’t stop glancing at herself in the mirror, and the girls couldn’t blame her.

Elle wore a dark blue gown that stood out against her pale white skin. The dress was tight around all of her curves, showing off the hourglass figure that she typically opted to hide. Her short bleach blonde hair was rid of its usual bleach damage, and was shining in a cute bob that had been curled at the bottom in a 1950s style. Her blue eyes were brought out by the smokey eye that the makeup artist had done on her.

While Lara looked good, she still didn’t feel like it on the inside. Lara’s dress was a champagne coloured princess gown, finished with a light shimmer. She had a pearl belt cinching her waist line, which contrasted nicely with the sprawling train of the dress, and a matching pearl headband placed on top of her curled hair. Her makeup look was more on the softer side-- her request, as she figured there was a very likely chance that she would cry sometime through the night.

As Lara was admiring her friends, the doorbell chimed throughout her house, causing Freya to freak out even more.

“Oh my God, oh my God, OH MY GOD,” she practically screamed. “They’re here! How do I look? Elle! How do I look?” She hurried around the room like a rabid animal as Elle rolled her eyes.

“The more you keep losing your mind, the more you are going to mess up your hair.” That statement caused Freya to stop her frantic movements and sit back down on the couch, adjusting her headpiece.

Lara’s parents walked into the living room, accompanying the boys as Lara’s mom held up her phone, seemingly close to tears. “I have to get a picture of this!”

Lara and her friends barely had time to greet their dates before they were thrown into an impromptu photoshoot.

While Freya was lucky enough to go to prom with the love of her life, Lara and Elle were both going with boys that were just friends.

“Sorry about her,” Lara said to her date Adam, rolling her eyes in the process.

“Don’t worry, my mom was basically the same way,” he laughed, putting his arm around her waist as they smiled for a picture.

Adam Pollock had been a good friend of Lara’s since they were assigned as lab partners in freshman year science. Throughout high school, the two of them had taken the same classes as they both planned to be business majors in college.

As her mom moved on to Elle and her date, Parker, Adam turned to look at her. “You look incredible by the way.”

Lara blushed, not used to compliments from her male friend. “You clean up quite well yourself.”

It wasn’t a lie.

Lara had never seen Adam dressed so nicely before, and it was at that moment that she realized he was actually… kind of hot. If she hadn’t been so nervous about the whole Aubrey situation, she probably would have been coming up with a plan that would allow her to spend a bit more quality time with him.

Lara’s mom had moved on to taking Freya and Luke’s photo. Unlike the posed pictures that Lara and Adam took, Freya and Luke were taking natural candids, laughing at whispered comments that only the two of them could hear.

“If they don’t finally hook up tonight, I will eat this tie,” Adam said as they looked on at their friends. Lara chuckled, nodding in agreement. It was funny how clueless Luke was to Freya’s crush, especially when it was so obvious that he liked her back.

“Your tie will be fine,” Elle said, as her and Parker joined them. “If it doesn’t just happen between them, I’ll make it happen.”

As Lara’s parents left the room-- only after getting a quick group photo of everyone-- the group small talked while waiting for the limo to arrive.

While everyone else was having a good time, Lara felt disconnected from it all. She tried to stay involved in the conversation, but her mind kept drifting away as she continued thinking about Aubrey and her surprise speech.

As her mom announced that the limo had arrived, she wondered if it was too late to back out.

Either the doubt on her face was obvious, or her friends had spent so much time with her that they had formed a telepathic bond, because Elle and Freya approached her at that exact moment. They each grabbed one of Lara’s arms and gave her an encouraging smile.

“We got this,” Freya said, as Elle squeezed her hand.

As they all sat in the limo, Parker passed around a small bottle of cheap vodka he smuggled, letting everyone take shots from it. Parker let Lara to take an extra couple of swigs from his bottle, knowing that she was stressed because of the Aubrey situation after Elle had given the guys a quick rundown. As they pulled up to the grand entrance of the Rose Manor, Lara felt a pleasant warm buzz throughout her body.

Adam wrapped his hand around Lara’s waist to steady her as they walked from the car to the dining room where their prom was taking place.

The beautiful room was spacious, adorned with multiple chandeliers, a large dance floor, and a plethora of tables, decorated with white tablecloths and pretty white floral arrangements. Three of the walls were made of floor to ceiling windows, giving the group a panoramic view of the lake and golf course that the Manor overlooked.

Lara had been to the Rose Manor many times before as her dad was a member of the country club, but it had never seemed as magical as it did in this moment. With the whimsical decor and all of her friends and classmates dressed so nicely, the dining room had never looked as picturesque as it did now.

Their group found their name cards placed at a table near the door to the kitchen, off to the side of the large room.

As everyone sat down, they ogled at their surroundings again, and waved across the room to their other friends.

Lara looked ahead absent-mindedly as she tried to hold on to the warm feeling in her stomach.

When she first stepped into the dining room, she had accidentally glanced at Aubrey, and all the comfort that she had gained on the ride over had disappeared.

Now as she sat at the table, she found her eyes moving back towards Aubrey so that she could fully study her.

Even though Lara could only see the top half of Aubrey’s outfit, she was already overwhelmed by how beautiful Aubrey looked. Her face was framed by her shiny strawberry blonde hair, which was styled in glossy curls and expensive-looking extensions that cascaded down her shoulders. She was wearing a tight, low-cut dress that was covered in golden sequins.

Lara watched as Aubrey practically clung to Austin, making sure everyone knew that he was her property.

The heartthrob looked even better than usual, which Lara couldn’t have even imagined being possible. While Austin was typically into the scruffy look, he decided to clean up for prom night. He had been freshly shaved, and his hair had been expertly moussed into a sophisticated style. And although his black suit was basic, it sure as hell made him look good.

At that moment, Austin turned in her direction. They briefly made eye contact before Lara quickly turned away.

Lara’s past interactions with Austin were basically insignificant.

They worked on a handful of group projects and activities in their shared classes, and would occasionally message each other on Facebook to ask questions, but that was where it ended.

As far as Austin was concerned, outside of class, Lara Willingferd did not exist.

Then why could she still feel Austin’s eyes on her?

Lara intently focused on the table setting in front of her, but with her peripheral vision she was able to confirm that Austin was staring back at her.

Growing more uncomfortable at the out-of-character action, she tried to distract herself by jumping into the conversation that her friends were engrossed in.

“Hey,” Elle whispered to Lara. “Have you noticed that he’s been looking at you?”

Lara quickly looked towards Austin, and sure enough, he was still looking at her.

“Weird,” Lara said, turning back to Elle.

After a couple of minutes of mindless conversation, she glanced back at him. When the two of them made eye contact, he finally turned his gaze from Lara, and looked back towards Aubrey, who was seemingly unaware of the fact that he had been ignoring her for the past little while.

As Lara tried to shake off the weird encounter she had just had with Austin Evans, Principal Runes stepped up to the podium at the side of the room and cleared his throat into the microphone.

“Hello, Seniors!” He cheerfully exclaimed as the class responded with equally enthusiastic cheers.

“Before we get to enjoy the wonderful meal prepared by the staff at the Rose Manor, we are going to have Ms. Aubrey Harftord say a couple of words.”

Oh God, Lara thought to herself. Here it comes.

The strange interaction with Austin had made the moment she was dreading temporarily drift from her mind. Now that it was about to happen, she felt her palms clam up and all the alcohol rise up her throat, threatening to come back up.

“We all know Ms. Lara Willingferd is going to present her wonderful speech during the graduation ceremony as your valedictorian,” Principal Runes said, gesturing to where Lara was sitting. “But, Aubrey wanted to share a short message as well to honour her classmates.”

At the mention of Lara, everyone had turned to face her.

She looked down towards her hands, her head unwilling to face all the gazes directed to her. She willed her cheeks to stop heating up, but they were not co-operating.

Suddenly, all the possible things that her classmates could be thinking bombarded Lara.

They are all laughing at me. They all know that I am about to get completely embarrassed. They know that they should’ve voted Aubrey. They can’t wait to see me get humiliated.

She couldn’t stop the thoughts from continuing to escalate, and she could feel her breathing speed up.

She had barely noticed that everyone had stopped watching her and turned their attention to Aubrey as she thanked Principal Runes and started her speech.

How long had Aubrey been speaking?

Lara’s vision had started to blur, but she used what little she could see to confirm that the masses had stopped looking at her. She took this as her opportunity to quickly get out of the room.

She slipped into the kitchen unnoticed, as the door was directly behind her.

The large kitchen at the Rose Manor was probably not the best place to escape to in the midst of a panic attack.

With the industrial ovens cooking their dinner, and the absurd number of chefs and waiters bustling around, the room was overcrowded and overheated. The flurry of activity freaked Lara out more as her vision slowly turned to black and her hearing started to fade out.

She could make out the silhouette of a waiter that had walked up to her and appeared to be saying something to her, but she couldn’t hear what the man was saying as she slowly sunk down to the dirty kitchen floor, trying to stabilize herself.

It was at that moment that she felt strong arms grab her.

She felt them guide her through the kitchen, out to a side door that led to outside.

As she stumbled onto a benches, she put her head between her legs and began to focus on her breathing.

All the while, the same person who had led her outside gently rubbed her back as she slowly calmed down.

She didn’t know how long had passed when her breathing finally was back to a regular pace, but she was just grateful that it was over.

As she turned to thank the kind stranger who helped her, her breathing went all out of rhythm again.

Because staring back at her was Austin Evans.

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