“Lara, wait!” Austin called after her.
The two of them were standing on the road. He had been following her down the long driveway, calling her name the entire time, while Lara had adamantly ignored him. Austin had finally caught up to her, and grabbed her arm to stop her from getting too far away from the property.
“Please, leave me alone!” Lara said through gritted teeth.
“You’re not seriously upset are you? Don’t let this ruin your night, come back inside.”
“You can’t tell me how to feel. I am upset. Your girlfriend has been doing everything possible to ruin my night,” Lara finally started to let her anger leak out.
“It was an accident!”
Lara really had it at that.
“Austin, get your head out of your fucking ass,” she said, not holding back on her distaste towards his girlfriend anymore. “There was no one around her, it was not an accident. And the only reason she wanted to say that stupid speech was because she wanted to outshine me.”
Austin just looked back at her with his eyes wide and his jaw slightly dropped, but she kept going, not giving him time to dispute her claims. “I don’t know if you are turning a blind eye to her because she’s pretty, or maybe you just don’t care about human decency, but she is a nightmare Austin.”
She wasn’t sure if it was the alcohol, the explosion of all her repressed emotions, or a mix of both that led tears to start streaming down her face. She swore under her breath as she realized that she was crying.
“And I can’t go back inside because now I’m a total mess,” Lara said as she looked down at her outfit. Her silk shirt was ruined, and Aubrey had chosen to throw a red drink at her, making it look like she was bleeding. She didn’t even want to think about how terrible her hair and makeup looked now.
“Lara,” Austin said softly. “I really didn’t realize.”
“Oh come on,” she rolled her eyes.
“I’m serious. I guess my head was in my ass.” He had a slight grin as he recalled Lara’s insult, but he stopped himself when he saw how angry she was. “I don’t know, she was always nice to me and my friends, I--” he trailed off, not knowing what else to say. “I’m really sorry,” he simply said.
“Thanks,” she curtly replied. She turned away from him and started down the road.
“Where are you going?”
She angrily huffed, before dramatically turning back to him. “Why are you so obsessed with me?”
“I’m not,” he said defensively. “I just think it’s a really terrible idea for a drunk girl in a see-through shirt to be walking down a street in the middle of nowhere alone.”
Lara felt her skin heat up at the mention of her shirt being see-through. She did not realize that Aubrey’s drink had done that kind of damage as well. She wrapped her arms around her body, trying to hide what could be seen of her midriff. “Okay, fine, I’ll call an Uber or something.”
“I can drive you.”
“Drive?” Lara was confused. It was prom afterparty, the biggest party of the year, and Austin Golden Boy Evans wasn’t drinking?
“Yeah, I have to be up early tomorrow, I didn’t want to deal with the hangover,” he laughed.
Lara was unsure, but as a breeze blew by, she felt herself shiver intensely. She was practically soaking wet from the drink, and standing outside was not helping.
Austin had noticed her shiver. “Stop being difficult, you’re clearly frozen. Just come.”
Lara silently nodded as she followed behind him.
She quickly pulled out her phone to text Elle and Freya that she wasn’t feeling well, so she was heading home, and for them to not worry about her. She didn’t want to get into everything that had happened with Aubrey right now, especially since they were both having so much fun when she last saw them. She also sent a separate message to Adam, letting him know that she had a great time with him, but she had too much to drink so she was heading home.
She felt bad for abandoning Adam, especially with what had been about to happen, but her mood had been completely ruined, and she was not ready to have to explain what had happened, or God forbid, see Aubrey herself again.
Austin stopped in front of an old, slightly rusting car. “This is me,” he said, awkwardly.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen your car,” Lara realized as she waited for Austin to unlock the doors.
“Yeah, I just got it.”
Lara was a bit perplexed how the car was so old even though he said it was new, but she was just grateful for the ride. “Cool,” she simply said in response.
As he turned the key in the ignition, the air conditioner started blasting. Lara let out yet another involuntary shiver as the air blew on her soaking wet shoulders.
“Oh right, you’re still drenched,” he said as he twisted the vents away from Lara. He turned behind him and ruffled through the back seat in search of something. “Here,” he said, pulling out a sweatshirt.
Lara looked at him with a blank look. “Put it on,” he said.
“Oh my God Lara, put on the sweatshirt.”
“While I’m soaked? That’s like the worst feeling ever.”
Austin let out a frustrated groan. “Do I have to spell it out for you? Take off your shirt and put on the sweatshirt.”
Lara’s face flushed as she stared back at him with wide eyes.
Austin took a second to realize what he had said. “Wait, not like that. I just mean--” he stammered. “Here, I’ll turn away and just…” he trailed off, clearing his throat.
Lara quickly peeled the white silk off her body, trying to dry her skin as she wiped her hand across her stomach. She threw the sweatshirt over her head and was suddenly engulfed in a warm hug of Austin’s scent.
She never realized how distinct he smelled. Probably because she had never been this close to him. She breathed in the scent of pine trees, so strong she wondered if he lived in a forest. Mixed with it was a hint of vanilla… was that the same lotion that she bought herself from Bath & Body Works?
The grey sweater had obviously been very well lived in. Along with the poignant scent that seemed to pour out of the seams, Lara could feel the areas on her skin where the sweater’s fluffy inside had worn down. She looked down at the sweater to see why it was so frequently worn, and saw that it was from Green Acres Country Club, another country club on the other end of town.
“I’m done.” As Austin turned back to her, she asked if he was a member at Green Acres.
“Kind of,” he said, not bothering to elaborate.
Weird, Lara thought.
Austin backed out of his parking space and started his drive from the unpaved back roads where the farm and its neighbours were located, back onto the main road. They had only been in the car for five minutes at the most, but the deafening silence between the two of them had made it feel like they were stuck in an eternity of awkwardness.
“Who the fuck wears a white shirt to a party anyway?” Austin suddenly asked.
Maybe it was the effect of the liquor, or the fact that she felt warm and comfortable surrounded by his scent in his car, but instead of getting offended like she usually would have, she laughed.
And couldn’t stop laughing.
“I don’t know! I don’t usually go to these things. I thought it was appropriately revealing for a party,” she said in between laughs.
“Oh, it was, but white?” Austin said, grinning at her. “You need a black revealing shirt for college. It’ll be perfect, the guys will be all over you. Thank me later.”
“I don’t know,” Lara said, feeling herself close up.
“You don’t think you’re going to go out much?”
“It’s not really my scene,” she shrugged.
“Oh come on, parties aren’t that bad.”
“Yeah, that’s because you’re Austin.”
He turned to quickly look at her before turning his attention back to the road. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Everyone loves you! You get invited to parties all the time, and you know that people actually want you there.”
“People love you too, Lara.”
“Not your girlfriend,” she said, rolling her eyes, and turning to look out the passenger window.
“Hey,” he said, tapping her shoulder so she would turn back in his direction. “I’m really sorry about that. I know it’s not the same coming from me, but I just want you to know that I had no idea she was like that.”
“I don’t want to get into it,” Lara simply responded. “Turn left here,” she quickly said.
Noticing the tension, Austin changed the subject. “Where are you headed for college again?”
Austin whistled. “Impressive.”
Lara shrugged it off. She didn’t feel like it was that big of a deal. So many people got accepted to Yale. She wasn’t anything special. “What about you?”
“Equally as impressive, Austin,” she responded. “Are you excited to be far from home?”
Even though Yale was out of state from their hometown in Rhode Island, the drive from her house to the Yale campus was still under two hours, and she still felt like she was going to be worlds away from her parents. Moving across the country was completely out of the realm of possibilities for her.
Austin paused before answering. “I’m not sure honestly. Some days I can’t wait to just get out of here, but other times, I feel like I’m just more needed at home.”
“Big family guy?”
“I’m the oldest of five,” he explained. “It’s kind of hard to make sure everyone is where they need to be, especially with everyone’s work schedule.”
Lara let out a whistle. “I can’t even imagine. I’m an only child, and my mom was a stay-at home mom. Her work schedule was just whatever I had to do.”
Even though the two of them realized that they had the opposite experience with their upbringing, that didn’t make the conversation awkward. The two of them continued talking about their family dynamics, and all of the similarities and differences that they had, only pausing when Lara had to give directions to her house.
Lara couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed when they reached the sprawling gates that blocked her long driveway away from the road.
For some reason, Lara hit it off with Austin. She had never thought of them having any sort of friendship, probably because they had never really spoken before this odd day. But now that they had finally had a chance to start to get to know each other, she realized that the two of them did have some sort of strong connection.
As he drove the car up the long driveway and parked in front of the house, the two of them looked at each other in comfortable silence, quite the contrast from the beginning of the ride when Lara wanted to die in the awkward silence.
She cleared her throat after she realized how much time had probably passed. “So, I should probably get out of here. It’s still early, you could probably head back to the party.”
“I guess. I mean, I have to be up early anyway, so I might just head home.”
“I hope I didn’t ruin the night for you,” Lara said, guilt rushing over her. “You really didn’t need to drive me back. But thank you so much,” she said, opening the car door.
As Lara walked up to her front door, she heard Austin’s door open. “Lara, wait,” he called.
She turned back to look at him. His figure was illuminated by the porch lights, his silhouette looking strong, his facial features unidentifiable.
“I am really sorry about Aubrey.” Lara made a sound to try and stop Austin from his apology, but he cut her off. “I know that you think it’s fine, but it’s not. Me saying sorry for her is not nearly enough, and I can’t apologize for what she did. I’m saying sorry that I let her treat you that way. I should’ve noticed and…” he trailed off. “I’m just sorry,” he awkwardly finished, putting his hands in his pockets and shrugging.
“Thanks, Austin.” She wasn’t sure what else she was supposed to say to him. She had never been in this sort of situation before-- having someone apologize for their mistreatment of her-- let alone the most popular guy in school. “The drive back made up for it,” she laughed, trying to make a joke out of it.
Austin laughed, “I think I have a bit more apologizing to do.”
Lara and Austin looked at each other longer than necessary before Austin moved to get back in his car. “Let me know when you get home!” Lara called without thinking.
Austin nodded in response and waved as he drove off.
Let me know? Lara thought as she let herself into the house. Did I just ask him to text me?
Maybe Freya wasn’t all that far off with her prom night obsession. While it may not have been the fairytale that her friend had promised it to be, Lara could not deny that it was a night that she would never forget.