The crowd roared as the Gopher mascot prepared the fans for the team’s entrance onto the field while the marching band played the Minnesota rouser. A sea of maroon and gold filled most of the stadium seats, with smatterings of Michigan’s blue and yellow.
“There he is.” Becca pointed to Trevor running onto the field.
Audrey’s heart skipped a beat when she spotted him from her seat in the stands. Her heart filled with pride seeing him out on the field of the crowded stadium, thousands of fans cheering for him and his teammates. She marveled that he was part of something so big.
“He looks hot in that uniform.” Becca elbowed her. “Don’t pretend you didn’t notice.”
The ear to ear smile on Audrey’s blushing face was enough to reveal her appreciation.
The Gophers won the coin toss and took offense at the start of the game. Audrey held her breath when the quarterback stepped back and thrust the ball in Trevor’s direction. Trevor took off running down the sideline. Instinctively, he reached up and caught the ball just as it came into his range. He gained ten more yards, putting the Gophers well into Michigan territory before a defensive player knocked him out of bounds.
The Minnesota crowd went crazy, but the players maintained their focus as they quickly huddled together before lining up for the second play. This time, the quarterback faked a hand-off to the running back before tossing the ball to Trevor. He ran the ball all the way to the end zone for the first touchdown of the game.
Trevor wasn’t one to celebrate elaborately after a touchdown, but he did pump his fist three times in the air—just as he had promised. A sign to Audrey that he had dedicated that touchdown to her. Her heart pumped with so much jubilation she thought it might burst. Becca didn’t even know he did that for her.
Audrey was on the edge of her seat the entire game. Trevor was good. Before today, she hadn’t realized just how good he truly was. By half time, the Gophers had scored three more touchdowns and were in a comfortable lead against the Michigan Wolverines. The Gophers held their lead in the second half and won the game.
Gopher fans celebrated the win as they filed out of the stadium. A triumphant energy buzzed through the streets of Minneapolis as rambunctious college kids dispersed in different directions singing the Minnesota rouser and recalling the most memorable plays of the game.
“So are you gonna celebrate the win with Trevor tonight?” Becca nudged Audrey with her elbow. “You’ll have to give him a little somethin’-somethin’ in return for the show he put on for you out on the field today.”
“Becca, you are a bad girl!” Audrey settled behind the wheel of her Toyota Camry. “Actually, he made plans with the guys. So I was thinking we could make this a girls’ night.”
“That would be fun. We can hang out at my house. I’ll catch you up to speed on all the Hastings dirt. I’ve got some dirt of my own to share.”
“Intriguing. Do tell.”
Becca squealed, reminding Audrey of Destiny. “Jake and I are officially a couple.” She clapped her hands, squealing some more.
Audrey wasn’t sure that this was a good thing, but she congratulated her friend anyway. “That’s great news. Especially considering you guys already were hooking up.”
“Don’t be so judge-y. C’mon. I bet you and Trevor have too.”
Audrey shook her head. “Of course not. We’re not even dating. Why doesn’t anybody believe that?”
Becca laughed. “That doesn’t mean you can’t be friends with benefits.”
“I would never jeopardize our friendship that way. Besides, I decided to wait until I’m married.” She felt like a hypocrite. She was no longer a virgin. She looked Becca in the eyes. “You used to say you were waiting for marriage too.”
“I grew up, Audrey. That was so unrealistic. Nobody actually waits till they’re married anymore. Don’t be so old-fashioned.” Becca twirled a strand of hair between her fingers. “Besides, Jake might be the guy I marry. I think I might love him, and I’m pretty sure he feels the same way about me.”
Audrey rolled her eyes. “That’s reassuring.”
“New subject. Tell me about college-life.”
Relieved for the distraction from their tense conversation, Audrey talked about running for the cross-country team and her hopes of qualifying for nationals. She told Becca about the friends she was making and soon they were doubled over in laughter at Audrey’s impersonation of Destiny talking a mile a minute about what a “hottie” Matt Cook was.
At Becca’s house, Audrey sat in an oversized chair facing the flickering gas fireplace in the family room. Becca lounged in a corner of the adjacent sectional. Becca’s parents scurried about getting ready to go play Bunko with church friends, including Audrey’s parents. Becca’s mother poked her head around the corner. “We’re leaving, Becca. Don’t wait up for us.”
“Bye, Mom. Don’t get too wild now.”
The girls listened as heels clicked across the floor above to the front door, but then got closer again. “Becca, I don’t want to come home to a bunch of kids trashing my house. Audrey is the only friend allowed here tonight.”
“I know, Mom.”
The heels clicked across the floor again and the front door creaked open, then closed with a thud.
Becca twirled a strand of hair. “My mom is so paranoid. Ever since Jake got busted for his party.”
Audrey’s stomach clenched at the mention of that party. “That’s understandable.” She had an opportunity to tell Becca what had happened to her. Maybe Becca had heard something about girls getting drugged. Possibly, Audrey wasn’t the only one and if enough girls came forward they could catch the guy. But Becca would have brought it up if that were the case.
“What do you want to do on our fun girls’ night? Dye our hair? Paint our nails? Play truth or dare?”
Truth or dare was definitely out of the question. Audrey would not be spilling any secrets tonight. “I was thinking we could watch a chic flick. Can’t get girlier than that.”
Becca grabbed a remote and turned on Netflix. “Okay, we’ll do a movie night. But I was really hoping to make you admit that you’re madly in love with Trevor Hayes in a game of truth or dare.”
They settled on a Nicholas Sparks movie and shared a bowl of popcorn. By the second scene, Audrey’s eyelids were already getting heavy. After nodding off a few times, she stretched out on the couch and rested her head on the arm rest, promising Becca she’d try not to fall asleep. Her eyes closed against her will and soon memories of Jake’s party filled her mind. Steering her thoughts to positive meanderings, she pictured Trevor playing basketball. But soon her mind took on a life of its own, carrying her down the path she’d tried to avoid. Strobe lights. Loud music. Fingers digging into her flesh. Helplessness.
Audrey’s eyes flew open at the sound of her name. She could hear the echo of her own screams. Becca was kneeling beside her, jostling her shoulder. Fear emanated from her brown eyes. “You were dreaming.”
Audrey sat up. Her heart was beating rapidly and she had to work to calm her breathing. “I…was having a nightmare.”
“Are you okay? You were screaming and thrashing. It was freaky.”
Tears pooled in Audrey’s eyes. “I’m fine.” A tear trickled down her cheek. She wiped it away with trembling fingers.
“I’ve had nightmares before, but I’ve never cried afterwards. There’s something you’re not telling me.” A scene from The Notebook played in the background, with lulling piano accompaniment.
Audrey stared blankly at the screen over Becca’s shoulder.
Becca turned off the TV and sat next to Audrey. “I trusted you with my secret about me and Jake. You can trust me too.”
Audrey sighed. “You’re right. I do have a secret.” The lies and false pretenses were beginning to bog her down. “But I’m not ready to talk about it yet.” Another tear ran down her cheek.
Becca crossed her arms. “Is it about school or boys…or running? God?” She raised an eyebrow. “Because I have an answer for all of those things. It is perfectly acceptable to have less than a 4.0. As far as boys are concerned, you should marry Trevor. Running is insane; you should stop that immediately. And…trust in God with all your heart.” Becca smiled, pleased with herself. “There you go. All your problems are solved.”
“I like that you quoted Proverbs 3:5. Pastor Mitchel would be proud of you.” Audrey laughed lightly, although the tears kept flowing. “But my problem remains unsolved. It’s not even really a problem. It’s just something I need to forget about. Put it behind me. I don’t know why I can’t just get on with my life.” She buried her face in her hands and bawled like a baby.
Becca got up, grabbed a tissue box, and set it on Audrey’s lap. Then she sat down with an arm around Audrey’s shoulder. “Whatever is going on with you is too big for you to keep to yourself. Sometimes you need to talk through something before you can move on.”
Audrey shook her head. Becca might feel responsible for what happened since she had suggested they hang out at the party instead of going back out to watch the guys play basketball.
“I’ll let you off the hook on one condition. Talk to Pastor Mitchel at church tomorrow morning.”
Fear ran cold though Audrey’s veins. “Are you giving me an ultimatum? I told you, I’m not ready.” She shrugged off Becca’s arm. “I’ll talk when I’m good and ready.”
“I’m trying to help you. That’s what friends do. You’re being so weird right now—crying and getting all defensive. It’s not like you to act that way, so I’m concerned. I don’t care if you’re mad at me.”
Audrey blew her nose into a tissue. She was a hot mess, she had to admit. “I’ll think about it.”
“No.” Becca stared into Audrey’s eyes. “Promise me you’ll talk to Pastor Mitchel. Tomorrow. Or talk to me right now.”
She was desperate to get Becca off her back. “Fine. I’ll talk to Pastor Mitchel.” It wasn’t a complete lie. She would at least consider it.
“I want a butterfly face,” a preschooler screamed at Audrey. The little girl perched on a stool and crossed her arms. “Like at the zoo.”
How Audrey got roped into face painting at the church Fall Festival she would never know. To be honest, she did know. It was because she hadn’t talked to Pastor Mitchel yet, and Becca was not going to let her off the hook until she did. Audrey had tried to talk to him privately, but there hadn’t been a good opportunity. The guy was busy on Sunday mornings—teaching the youth Sunday school class and then playing guitar for the worship service. Immediately after the service ended, he was running around, preparing for the Fall Festival. Audrey pointed out the poster of sample face painting designs. “I can make a pumpkin, an apple, a pretty leaf—”
“No! I want a butterfly face.”
Audrey held back an eye roll. She didn’t have the energy to deal with a tantrum this morning. She was literally sick to her stomach over having to talk to Pastor Mitchel. She’d actually thrown up in the shower. To make things worse, her mom had made homemade cinnamon rolls—Audrey’s favorite breakfast. Not wanting to disappoint her mom or let on that she didn’t feel well, she had choked one down. Surprisingly, it had made her feel a little better. Carbs always did have a tendency to cheer her up.
Audrey peeked around the screaming child to see if the line had died down any. No such luck. For a small church, this congregation sure had a lot of little kids. Becca, sitting next to her, was outlining a heart she’d painted on a little girl’s cheek. “How do you get all the easy ones?” Audrey whispered.
Becca shrugged a shoulder, grinning.
“Butt--er--fly. Butt--er--fly.” The girl was actually chanting.
Audrey dipped a brush in hot pink paint. “Okay. I’ll make a butterfly on your cheek.” She leaned forward, bringing the brush to the girl’s cheek. The girl flailed her arms, knocking the brush out of Audrey’s hand and spattering paint on the cement. “No! My whole face.”
The girl’s mom gasped, looking around to see who had witnessed the outburst—which was pretty much everybody at the festival. “Angel, that was not nice. You tell Miss Audrey that you are sorry.”
The girl made a pouty face. “Butterfly.”
Her mom giggled nervously. “Can you please paint a butterfly on Angel’s face? At the zoo, they painted her whole face to look like a butterfly. She loved it. Here, I’ll show you a picture.” The lady had the nerve to take out her phone and scroll through her pictures.
Audrey was starting to feel like she was going to throw up again. Especially since all the kids smelled like pumpkin pie and all the moms seemed to have doused themselves in perfume that morning. The smells were making her more nauseous than she’d ever been in her whole life. “You know what? I’m just not that good of an artist.” Spotting Darcy walking nearby, she hopped off her stool. “But my sister is. I’ll get her.” She grabbed Darcy’s arm. “You’re coming with me. You need to work your artist magic on Angel. She wants a butterfly face.” Audrey pushed Darcy down onto the artist’s stool and pressed a paintbrush into her hand.
“What?” Darcy stared blankly at the little girl.
Angel was grinning ear to ear. “Butterfly face.”
Audrey high-tailed it out of there before anyone could protest. She went into the church bathroom to throw up and then washed her face at the sink. Looking at her reflection in the mirror, she wondered how she’d gotten to this place. How did she become this version of herself? A liar and a coward. Throwing up because she was so ashamed to say that she’d been at a party where she’d been drugged and raped. How did she get herself into this mess? What happened to wholesome Audrey?
She smeared lip gloss on her lips and pinched her cheeks to give them a little color. It was time to talk to Pastor Mitchel. She’d feel better after getting this secret off her chest. And he always had words of wisdom.
She took a deep breath, and opened the bathroom door. The church was eerily quiet. All of the action was outside at the festival. Her legs felt like Jell-O as she walked down the corridor leading to the church offices. Pastor Mitchel’s door was slightly ajar. She could hear muffled voices coming from inside. She put her hand up to knock, pausing to pray. God, give me courage. She reminded herself that she was Audrey the Brave. A little smile worked its way into her heart. Make me Audrey the Brave again. When she knocked, the door creaked open further. Pastor Mitchel was standing with his back to her, his hands on his hips. His wife had her arms crossed, and she was crying. They both looked up at her, startled. “Sorry,” Audrey said, backing away. “If this is a bad time—”
“No.” Mrs. Mitchel sniffed and dried her cheeks with her palms. “Come in. It’s fine. Andrew and I can talk later.” She picked up her purse from his desk. “I’ll see you at home, Andrew.” She left the room, patting Audrey’s shoulder as she walked by.
“Come in.” Pastor Mitchel ran his hand through his sandy blond hair. “Sorry about that. We’re just…having a bad day.” His eyes were bloodshot.
Clearly, this was not a good time to have a heart to heart with Pastor Mitchel. “Um, I don’t know much about marriage, but…I think you should go talk to her.”
Pastor Mitchel rubbed the back of his neck. He stood there a beat, staring out into the hallway. “You’re probably right.” He grabbed his car keys off the desk. “Is that okay? I mean, was there something you needed to talk about?” He was backing toward the door.
There sure was. “Nah. I just wanted to say hi.” Lie. “I haven’t really seen you since school started. We’ll catch up another time.”
“We’ll definitely talk later.” He patted her shoulder on his way out just like his wife had done.
Audrey sat down on the loveseat facing Pastor Mitchel’s desk. What was she supposed to do now? Her eyes scanned the library of books shelved behind the desk. There were countless theology books and Bible dictionaries. She wondered if Pastor Mitchel had read all of them. Maybe if she’d read these kinds of books, she’d have the wisdom to handle her current issues. On the other hand, Pastor Mitchel, having read these books, still seemed to be having issues of his own. She sighed. God, you’re just gonna have to help me through this. You need to give me wisdom since Pastor Mitchel is busy at the moment.
If God were here, face to face, sitting on the other side of Pastor Mitchel’s desk, what would he say? Maybe he’d tell her to ask for forgiveness. She closed her eyes, and did so even though she’d tried that before. Her burden lightened some, but she still felt weighed down by shame and secrecy. Then, she thought of her answer. Proverbs 3:5-6. Trust in the Lord. She shrugged her shoulders, not really knowing how she was supposed to go about that. But it was probably the advice Pastor Mitchel would’ve given, and it was a command from the Lord himself.
So for now, that’s what she would do. Trust in the Lord and hope he’d help her to somehow forget that horrible thing ever happened.
Read a chapter a day from Bittersweet Goodbye right here on this blog, beginning September 1st, 2019.