The Summer of Austin

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Chapter Five

“I… um… You didn’t need to do that,” Lara stammered in disbelief.

“It’s okay,” Austin said in response, moving his arm off Lara’s back.

“No, really, you didn’t need to.” Lara said, not bothering to hide the edge in her voice. As she looked away from Austin’s devastatingly handsome face, she was able to think about the situation without the butterflies in her stomach clouding her thoughts.

And then she started to get angry.

Having a panic attack was already bad enough, but then having to come out of one next to a stranger was just straight up embarrassing.

Picking up on Lara’s not-so-subtle anger, Austin got up from where he was sitting beside her on the bench and put his hands up in surrender.

“I’m sorry, but I kind of did. It was a good thing I showed up when I did. You were pretty out of it and Weston was getting pissed at you. I think you were about to cause a kitchen war.”

“Who the fuck is Weston?” Lara said, confused. How long was I out for?

Austin’s face went red as it was his turn to stammer. “Oh… um… just one of the waiters. He was yelling at you while you just sat on the floor.”

“Oh,” Lara said, embarrassed at how rude she unconsciously had been.

“Are you okay?”

“Yeah, I’m fine, it was just really hot in there,” Lara said, quickly brushing off her gown as she quickly stood up, trying to erase the past couple of minutes from her mind.

She immediately fell back down, as the sudden movement was way too much for her body to handle.

“Easy,” Austin said, quickly bounding back over to steady her back on the bench.

“I’m fine,” she snapped, brushing him off of her.

She heard him let out a frustrated sigh as he stepped back again.

“Seriously,” she said, with a lighter tone this time, “I’m fine. Go back inside, don’t miss your girlfriend’s speech.” While she didn’t mean to be rude, she couldn’t help but let the words come out soaked in venom.

“Lara,” he said, sounding frustrated. “That’s the reason I came out to check on you in the first place.”

She looked up at him, confused at this remark.

“I figured you wouldn’t have been too thrilled at what she’s doing back there,” he said, gesturing towards the building. “She really means well. I don’t think she realized how it looked, she was just really excited to share what she had. But I didn’t think you knew that, and then when I saw you run out--”

Lara put up her hands to stop his rambling. “Austin, it’s fine. You’re not her babysitter, don’t go making excuses for her.”

“I’m not! I’m just saying, she really didn’t mean anything by it.”

Lara tried to stop the scoff, but she had no luck as she heard it come out from her mouth.

Austin turned to look at Lara. “What?” He glared at her.

“Nothing,” Lara said, but Austin was still looking intently at her. “It’s nothing,” she insisted. It still wasn’t convincing enough for him.

He raised an eyebrow at her, not breaking eye contact, his piercing blue eyes almost hypnotized Lara. She finally broke the stare, feeling heat in her cheeks.

“I just think if she really didn’t mean to be rude, she would’ve said something to me,” Lara finally admitted.

“Oh, come on Lara. She’s had a lot to do these past couple days.”

“Listen,” Lara said, getting annoyed now, “if you came here just to justify what your girlfriend is doing, you can just go back inside. It’s fine.” She huffed, pissed off at the audacity of Austin.

She was already feeling like crap about everything that was happening with Aubrey recently. She had literally just calmed down from a panic attack. And now, she had to sit there and try and comfort Austin about the fact that his girlfriend was an ignorant, self-absorbed piece of shit.

Lara was surprised to look up and see that Austin was still standing there.

“What else do you want?” Lara snapped.

He looked hurt, giving her an innocent look. “You said that if I came out just to justify Aubrey to go back inside. But that’s not the only reason I’m here, so I thought I could stay.”

Lara laughed. For such a smart guy, he was proving that outside of the classroom, he was pretty dumb. Or at least had no regard for social cues.

“Well, why else are you out here?” Lara challenged, raising an eyebrow at him.

“I still wanted to make sure you were okay,” Austin said, putting his hands in his pockets. “You looked really stressed out back there.”

Thanks to your girlfriend, Lara thought bitterly.

“Yeah, I was,” she said, letting out a curt, humourless laugh. Why was he still bringing the issue up, when it was clearly his girlfriend’s fault?

Lara knew that shit talking a guy’s girlfriend to his face was probably not a good idea, but she also wasn’t going to sit there and pretend that Aubrey wasn’t the reason for Lara’s weeks of panic attacks and sleepless nights. She tried to bite her tongue from saying anything else, hoping that silence would be the best compromise.

“What’s wrong?”

“Why are you so concerned?” She blurted out. When she saw how hurt Austin looked, she started to backpedal. “I just mean, it’s not like we are friends. You don’t have to care about my well-being.”

“I’m not going to ignore someone being visibly upset,” Austin said. “Unlike everyone else, I guess.”

“Austin, what the fuck?”

Who the hell did this guy think he was? They barely knew each other, and now here he was prodding Lara for information on why she was having a mental breakdown, and questioning her friends’ concern for her.

What gave him the right to be saying any of this?

“What? It’s true,” he said.

“Why are you saying shit about my friends? It’s their prom night, they don’t need to be worrying about me.”

“I just wanted to check up on you. Sorry, I guess,” Austin said, turning to leave.

As he pulled open the kitchen door, Lara didn’t say anything to try to get him to turn back and stay with her.

The whole interaction was beyond strange. Since when did Austin Evans care about Lara Willingferd? And why would he attack her friends like that? It’s not like he cared about her the way that they did.

Lara already knew it was a big day for Freya with everything going on with her and Luke, and Lara had actively tried to slip out so quietly that Elle wouldn’t notice her quick exit.

She didn’t hold it against her friends that they didn’t come to check up on her.


After Lara had cleaned up her running mascara and straightened her dress, she made her way back into the main hall.

Even though she fixed herself up physically, her mind hadn’t stopped racing.

Why had Austin come out to check on her? Why did he care?

And why did her friends not come out to check on her?

She had never doubted her friends before, but Austin had her second guessing them now. That just infuriated Lara even more. Why was this guy who she barely knew making her question her best friends?

She quickly slid back to her spot at the table, trying to call as little attention to herself as possible.

No such luck when your best friend is Elle Davies.

“Lara,” she loudly exclaimed. “Where were you? We were so worried about you! I just turned back and you were gone all of a sudden. I thought you got kidnapped. I was about to call the police, but Adam said that you probably just went to the bathroom, which got me thinking, what if there was a kidnapper waiting for you in the bathroom?” She was practically crying by the end of her rant.

“I guess she’s been sneaking more alcohol?” Lara whispered to Adam, who just laughed in confirmation.

“I just needed some air,” she said back to her friend.

Freya was also looking in Lara’s direction with concern-- not as much as Elle’s extreme fear, but still worried.

“You sure?” She asked across the table.

“Yeah, don’t worry Frey,” she smiled at her friend, trying to make it seem as genuine as possible.

Freya continued to stare at her as she tried to decide if her friend was telling the truth.

Lara quickly nodded and shifted her eyes in Luke’s direction, trying to signal to Freya to go back to speaking to him.

Instead of listening, Freya stood up and announced that she needed to go to the washroom. “Girls, you’re coming,” she said, pulling up Elle and steadying her.

Lara felt a mix of relief and regret wash over her. Relief that her friends really did care about her and her wellbeing, and regret that she ever doubted them, especially due to a stranger’s analysis of them.

As they moved to leave the room, Lara made sure to turn to Austin and give him a pointed look.

Austin was already looking at her. When their eyes met, Lara gave him a smirk as she gestured to her friends with a tilt of her head.

In response, Austin shrugged and smiled back, as if to say “you got me”.

The exchange was quick, but right before Lara and her friends left the room, she realized that Aubrey was also watching the entire thing, and turned to Austin to question him.

Let him deal with the wrath of his crazy girlfriend. That’s karma.

Lara smiled to herself as the group of friends burst into the bathroom.

Elle jumped to sit on the sink counter to stop her swaying movements. Freya rolled her eyes as she grabbed some paper towels as she began patting the areas around Elle to dry up the leftover water droplets.

“What actually happened?” Freya said suddenly, turning to Lara.

“I told you, I just needed some air,” she responded, trying to keep her voice as nonchalant as possible.

“Yeah, but why did Austin freaking Evans come after you?”

“WHAT?” Elle screamed, clearly having missed out on the two of them sneaking out earlier.

“I was just surprised as you were. I think he’s just having second-hand guilt from his girlfriend being such a raging bitch. He just kept apologizing for her and trying to justify everything she’s been doing with the speech,” Lara explained, still just as perplexed as she was when she saw Austin outside.

“Did you talk?” Elle drunkenly slurred, clearly missing Lara’s whole answer.

“Yes, Elle, shush,” Freya said, waving off their friend. “So, let me get this straight. Austin Evans came to check up on you, and just defended Aubrey the entire time?”

“I mean, basically, yeah. He did make sure I was okay, but it was mostly just him painting her out to be an angel. I told you guys he’s just as bad as her.”

Lara also felt an extra amount of animosity towards Austin because of the comments he made about her friends. He didn’t even know them, and they clearly just proved him wrong. He really was just as self-absorbed as his girlfriend. Lara decided to keep that part to herself though. There was no need to get Freya upset when this was such a special day for her, and there was no way Elle would even be able to process what Lara was telling them.

“So can we finally stop idolizing him?” Lara asked instead.

It was the least she could do without totally crushing their spirits. The most coveted guy in school prematurely judging you was definitely not something anyone would want to hear about, so Lara felt that breaking the pedestal that he stood on in their minds was good enough.

“I guess,” Freya just said in response. There was clearly more on her mind, but she didn’t voice anything else on that topic. “I’m sorry we didn’t come out with you Lar. You slid out so quietly, I didn’t even notice until I turned back to look at you. And obviously Ms. Davies over here,” she said motioning to Elle, “was too inebriated to realize as well.” Elle just giggled in response.

“Guys, it’s okay. I was quiet on purpose. I didn’t want to make a big stink. Honestly,” she said, grabbing them and wrapping them in a hug. “It means a lot that you would have come out. That’s enough for me.”

And it really was.

Freya had her back turned to Lara during Aubrey’s speech, and God knows how much Elle could even see at this point with how much she drank. Lara knew if the circumstances were different her friends would have been out there with her.

“Love you guys forever.”

“And ever.”

“And always!” Elle exclaimed, hiccuping.

The group broke out in laughter as they held onto each other tight.

Take that Austin Evans.

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