Audrey stepped into her dark house and quietly closed the door. She peered out the sidelight window, watching Trevor amble up his driveway until finally he was out of sight. She exhaled, her restraint leaking out along with her breath.
Did that really just happen? She kicked off her flip flops and sprawled out on the front entry rug, staring up at the shadowy ceiling. “Seriously?” She closed her eyes, recounting Trevor Hayes, her best friend since childhood, asking her on a date.
“Seriously what?” The shrill sound of her younger sister’s voice, heightened by intrigue, interrupted Audrey’s ruminations.
“Honey, what is going on?” Her mom’s voice chimed in.
Audrey covered her face with her hands, shielding herself from their stares. This night was only getting worse.
“I’ve never seen Audrey lose it before,” Darcy whispered.
“I’m sure she’ll be okay. She’s probably stressed out about moving away from home.”
Audrey opened her eyes. Her mom and sister, wearing pajamas and holding steaming mugs, hovered above her. “I can hear you guys, you know.” She pulled herself up to a sitting position and hugged her knees to her chest. Simba sauntered over to check out the situation, rubbing his head on her shins.
Her mom extended her hand down to Audrey, helping her to her feet. “Come join us at the table. We were just having a midnight snack.”
“Mom, cookies and hot cocoa are not going to fix my problems.”
“Then it’s a good thing we’re having strawberry pie.”
Her mom’s strawberry pie was delicious enough to mask any problem temporarily. She trudged into the kitchen and devoured a slice of pie while recounting Trevor’s shocking admission. “I just don’t get it.” She recalled the bashful expression on Trevor’s face. “He said he’s had a crush on me since we were kids.”
“It’s because you flirt with him,” Darcy blurted.
Audrey rolled her eyes. “I don’t flirt with Trevor.” She stuffed a forkful of strawberries into her mouth, savoring the sweet taste of summer. “I can’t believe he got all serious and nervous. He’s cared about me as more than just a friend all these years.” Audrey’s stomach twisted, her emotions tumbling about—rolling from shock, to giddiness, to guilt. She dropped her fork onto her plate, regretting the last bite of pie that she’d stuck in her mouth.
Darcy looked all starry-eyed. “Audrey, that’s so sweet. He must mean it for real when he says he wants to marry you.”
Audrey rolled her eyes and looked to her mom for support.
Her mom leaned forward, resting her elbows on the table. “What did you say to him, honey?”
A pang of guilt stabbed Audrey in the heart. “I was speechless. I mean, how could I tell him that I cherish our friendship so much that I don’t want it to change? Plus, everyone knows long distance relationships are difficult.” Those reasons played a part in her trepidation anyway. “Eventually, I said…‘I’m sorry.'"
Darcy and her mom shared a similar loss for words. Audrey was afraid they would cry like they always did at sappy movies. She needed to reassure them that the universe wasn’t going to fall off its axis. “He handled it really well. He just said, ‘See you in church.’ And that was that.”
The room was silent for a moment.
“You’re crazy.” Darcy started getting all dramatic. “You think you have to plan out your life minute by minute, but real life isn’t perfect and calculated, you know.”
“What are you talking about?” Audrey wasn’t about to take advice from a sixteen-year-old who looked to teen magazines for wisdom.
Darcy stood up, her chair skidding backwards. “Follow your heart for once. So what if he’s your friend? So what if you’ll have a long distance relationship when you guys go to separate colleges in the fall?” She spread her arms wide open. So far Darcy’s passionate speech wasn’t very convincing. “Embrace the time you share.” Darcy hugged her arms to her chest.
Audrey gave her mom a look, pleading to make her sister stop. Her mom’s mouth twitched in a smile she failed to suppress. “Darcy, for now Audrey needs to let the shock absorb.” She patted Darcy’s chair, prompting her to return to her seat.
Darcy composed herself and sat back down at the table. “I’m just saying—Trevor is so sweet. And he’s hot. Girls are gonna be chasing him down at the U of M, especially once they see how good he is out on the football field. He may not be available anymore by the time you’re done sorting out your feelings.”
Darcy was probably right about that. But it would be good for him to date someone else. Someone pure and honest who would never deny his love the way she just had. “Why don’t you marry him then?”
Darcy wrinkled her nose. “That’s so gross. He’s like a brother or cousin or something.”
“My point exactly. I can’t marry my best friend.” Audrey crossed her arms.
Her mom smiled. “Honey, I hope you’ll marry your best friend.”
“Hmm. I’ve never thought about it that way.”
“Did you see Becca’s post on Instagram?” Darcy held out her phone. “Check it out. Pictures don’t lie.” There was a photo of Trevor and Audrey with their arms wrapped around each other, gazing into each other’s eyes. Trevor was holding the bouquet of wildflowers, the yellow ribbon floating in the breeze. Becca must have snapped the photo right after Trevor had walked through the gate. She’d typed the caption #bittersweetgoodbye.
Audrey’s heart clenched. It was the most romantic picture she’d ever seen in her life. She was a fool to deny this guy. Tears sprang to her eyes, and she was helpless to stop them. Her shoulders shook as soft sobs came of their own accord.
Audrey’s mom came to her side and cradled her in gentle arms. Audrey nuzzled into her mom’s shoulder, no longer trying to fight the sadness. “Darcy, go on up to bed,” she heard her mom say. After a few minutes, the torrent of tears dwindled to a drizzle. She sat up and wiped her face on a handful of napkins.
“Talk to me, honey.” Her mom leaned her elbows on the table, allowing Audrey space.
Audrey shook her head. “I’m just sad.” Her words came out in a whisper. Simba jumped on her lap as if to comfort her. He rubbed his head under her chin.
“Is this about Trevor? Or is something else bothering you?” Her mom had always been blessed with that thing called mother’s intuition. It had always been impossible for Audrey to hide anything from her. That had to change. Now Audrey had a secret so despicable that she’d never tell her mom. She shrugged.
Her mom sighed, leaning back in her chair. “It’s hard becoming an adult. Moving away from home. Saying goodbye to everything and everyone familiar. Starting a new chapter of your life.” She sniffled. Audrey looked at her mom and saw that she had tears in her eyes. “I wish I could make it easier for you. But my job is to give you wings. To let you go.”
Audrey fought the urge to roll her eyes. That sounded so cliché. Her mom was really reaching for some solid advice. “Mom, I’m excited for college. I’m ready. This weekend has just been tough. Graduating from Hope Church youth group makes me sad. And then Trevor went and said all that stuff.”
Her mom studied her. “Are you sure that’s all? You know you can tell me anything.”
It took all of Audrey’s willpower to force her head to nod. Deceiving her mom piled more shame on her shoulders. She was already this deep in it, why not just wallow in it. For a split second, she considered telling her mom the truth. That she was miserable because she’d been raped. But the news would break her mom’s heart into a million pieces. She couldn’t put her through that. “Is it okay if I stay home from church in the morning? I don’t feel up to it. I said my goodbyes to church people tonight. I’d rather spend time reading my Bible on my own.”
“Sure, honey.” She kissed Audrey’s forehead. “I love you. I’m so proud of you.”
“I love you too, Mom.”
She lumbered up to her bedroom and slid between the sheets. Laying in the darkness, thoughts tumbled about in her mind, drumming inside her head like sneakers in the dryer. Her mom kissing her forehead, saying she was proud of her. Trevor asking her on a date. Bitter-tasting beer sliding down her throat. Her toes dragging across carpet. Falling.
She gasped, bolting upright in her bed. Her chest heaved as she sucked in breaths, her heart racing. She flicked on the lamp, reminding herself she was safe at home now, surrounded by her childhood treasures. Little Golden books and The Chronicles of Narnia. Photos of her friends. Birthday gifts from her parents. Her eyes fell on the canoe paddle from Pastor Mitchel and the youth group. She crawled out of bed and held the paddle, letting memories wash over her. Paddling through the still waters up in the Boundary Waters was the closest she’d ever felt to God. She closed her eyes, returning to that place. She recalled the fresh smell of the lake water, the call of loons, and the trees swaying in the breeze. It had seemed as though God’s creation was untouched by people. Untainted. Opening her eyes, she read the Bible verse. Trust in the Lord with all your heart. “I did trust you, Lord. And you let me get raped.” Lean not on your own understanding; “Well, I definitely don’t understand why you let that happen.” in all your ways, acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. At least that part was promising. Maybe God would straighten out her life again.
She got back in bed, but decided to keep the light on for tonight. With her mind still reeling, she opened her Instagram account and studied the picture of her and Trevor that Becca had posted. They looked good together, she had to admit. She allowed her imagination to pluck him out of the friend zone and drop him into the boyfriend zone. She considered it for a moment. Hmm, not so bad. It seemed a natural progression. And Darcy was right—he was hot. He’d come home from his freshman year at college taller, with more chiseled facial features and muscles that rippled under his shirt. Tall, dark, and handsome.
Even more appealing than his good looks, was the way he made her feel. Closing her eyes, she recalled the feel of being cradled in the safety of Trevor’s embrace. His five o’clock shadow brushing against her forehead. The sincere look in his aqua blue eyes when he spoke to her. She breathed in deeply, remembering his scent.
There was no denying, she was falling in love with Trevor.
Read a chapter a day from Bittersweet Goodbye right here on this blog, beginning September 1st, 2019.