Excitement twirled in Audrey’s stomach as she drove back to campus. She was relieved that winter break was over and was anxious to see her cute little dorm room, her teammates, and even her chatty roommate. A warm fuzzy feeling washed over her as the campus came into view. She turned onto Bethel Drive and flashed her ID at the security guard. He smiled and waved her through. It felt good to belong here. To be just another student. Coming back to college would serve as a welcome distraction from her problems and restore a sense of normalcy to her life.
Loaded down with her bags and a basket of freshly laundered clothing, she managed to open the door to her dorm room. “Audrey!” Destiny barreled toward her, pouncing on her with an enthusiastic hug. “Let me help you with all this stuff.” The hyperactive roommate grabbed the laundry basket and proceeded to hang the articles of clothing in the tiny closet. “How was your Christmas? I didn’t hear from you all break. I had so much fun in Colorado. The snow was perfection—like powder. Nothing like the ski hills around here. Do you snowboard?”
Audrey dropped her bags on her bed and unbuttoned her coat. “Um, yeah. I love snowboarding.”
“We should go sometime. I mean, it won’t be anything like Breck, but maybe we could go up to Lutsen. Those slopes are pretty sweet, for Minnesota anyway.”
“Maybe.” Unlikely. Audrey squeezed past Destiny to hang her coat in the closet.
Destiny stood back, looking Audrey up and down. Audrey held her breath, hoping Destiny wouldn’t comment on her weight gain. She decided to beat her to it. “I think I gained like ten pounds over Christmas. My mom makes the best Christmas cookies. I need to get back to running.”
Destiny laughed. “You can afford to gain ten pounds.”
Phew! Bullet dodged.
Destiny checked her own reflection in the full-length mirror, straightening the collar of her emerald green sweater and fluffing her red hair. “Anyway, I’ve been dying to tell you that I signed us up on a broomball team. Everybody plays broomball in January so I knew you wouldn’t mind. I know you’ll be great.”
“I love broomball!” Happiness bubbled inside Audrey, spreading a huge smile across her face. “I bet you’re good too. I’ve seen you play soccer.”
“I hope so. I’ve never played. I guess it’s like hockey but with a different stick and a ball instead of a puck. B-T-W, I have a surprise for you.”
Audrey sat on her bed, her giddiness dampened. “I don't like surprises.”
Destiny held up her phone and snapped a selfie, her lips pursed. “You only have to wait until our team practice tonight to find out.”
Audrey groaned. “This better be a nice surprise.” She lay back on her bed and closed her eyes. “I can’t handle anything drastic.”
“It’s a very nice surprise.”
A few hours later, Audrey was driving herself and Destiny to the ice rink off campus for their first team practice. The snow covered roads sparkled under the full moon’s light. Audrey’s feet were sweating in her boots and two layers of socks. Good thing it was a short drive.
Destiny was in the passenger seat, munching on Flamin’ Hot Cheetos that matched the shade of her hair. “How’s the neighbor boy?” she asked before licking red-orange salt off of her fingertips.
Audrey’s heart squeezed. “We’re not talking right now.”
“That’s so sad. What happened? I mean, he was like your best friend, right? Oh, turn here.” She pointed a Cheeto toward a parking lot.
Audrey veered into the lot, thankful there wasn’t much time for further discussion. “I’d rather not talk about it.”
Destiny turned the corners of her orange-stained lips down into a dramatic frown. “That bad, huh? Well, my surprise will cheer you up.” Her frown transformed into a gleaming smile. She pointed—a finger this time—to the ice rink. “Ta da!”
It was a surprise alright. In the middle of the rink, under the bright lights stood Matt Cook. He was holding a clipboard in his gloved hands, studying it. A couple other guys ran past him, racing to shoot the ball, sticks in hand. “You’ve got to be kidding me. Matt is on our team?” Audrey groaned. “I should’ve known that was the surprise.”
“He’s team captain. He’ll be so stoked that I brought you. We needed one more girl. Our team is going to dominate!” Destiny grabbed her stick from the back seat and ran out of the car. She joined Matt in the middle of the rink, leaving Audrey in the car, suddenly shivering.
Her escape from reality had been brief. It had been nice for a few hours to pretend that she was a regular college student, but seeing Matt—who knew her dark reality—brought everything back into perspective. She was living this fantasy life on borrowed time. Soon everyone around campus would know her secret. Soon she’d big as a beluga whale. Soon she wouldn’t be just a college student. She’d be a mom.
Her throat swelled with emotion. She shook her head. There would be no crying tonight. Tonight, she would play broomball and have fun doing it. She had nothing to be ashamed of. She grabbed her stick and joined Matt and Destiny out on the ice.
“Hi. Matt.” Audrey held her head high.
Matt stared at her, a confused look on his face. He wasn’t as cute as Audrey remembered. His sour personality somehow dimmed his beauty. “Are you sure you should play?” He flicked his eyes down to her abdomen. “In your state?”
Destiny put her hands on her hips. “What are you talking about? Aren’t you so excited to see each other? Do you know how hard it was for me to keep this a secret?”
Matt scoffed. “For one day? Good job, Destiny.”
Destiny squealed. “I know, right?” Matt’s sarcasm had somehow eluded her.
A couple other players ran over. “Hey, Audrey’s on our team. Sweet!” A guy from Audrey’s and Matt’s psych study group high-fived her.
“Matt doesn’t think she should play. Why shouldn’t she play, Matt?” Destiny said in a whiny voice.
Audrey gave Matt a look meant to convey that if he spoke a word about the pregnancy he’d be sorry. To her relief, he didn’t answer, so she did. “Matt is worried about me getting hurt before the indoor track season starts. Don’t worry, though. My coach encourages her athletes to play broomball. To stay in shape.” It was a lie that tasted salty on her tongue. Saltier than those Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. Truthfully, she was pretty sure her coach wouldn’t want her to play.
Of course track hadn’t been Matt’s concern. She knew his comment was in reference to the baby.
“Then what are we waiting for? Let’s practice,” the guy from study group said.
Matt shook his head, “Whatever.” He listed off all the positions he wanted everyone to start in. Matt, Destiny, and the guy from study group would be forwards. He listed positions for all the remaining players except for her. Everyone ran to take their place as they would for a game.
“What about me?” Audrey glared at Matt.
“Oh, you can be an alternate in case someone gets hurt or something.”
She wanted to punch him. “I know what an alternate is.” She trudged across the ice to the outside of the rink and propped her elbows up on the wall, watching her teammates practice.
A van pulled into the parking lot, dispensing a team of broomball players sporting various shades of neon green. A second vehicle followed suit. “You guys ready to scrimmage?” one of the green players asked Audrey.
A guy carrying a girl piggy-back sidled up next to her. “We’re short a player. Mind playing with us, just for tonight?”
Audrey’s spirits lifted. “I’d love to.”
The game started out pretty low-key. A couple kids could barely stay on their feet, and the worst player on the green team turned out to be a ball hog. As Audrey stood her ground as right wing, she considered Matt’s question. Are you sure you should play? Ally had said it was safe to run. Audrey hadn’t thought to ask about playing broomball. A hard fall on the ice probably wouldn’t be good for the baby.
No worries. She’d grown up playing broomball and was solid on her feet. The rest of the scrimmage, she surrendered to the game. Well, the game wasn’t much to surrender to, but she put all thoughts of the baby, the party, Trevor, and Matt out of her mind. She scored the only two goals for the green team, but they still lost by three points.
They wrapped up practice with a team huddle. Matt announced new positions for next week. Audrey was pleasantly surprised when he named her as right winger. She mouthed the word “thanks” to him, but he pretended not to notice. The cold shoulder act was getting old. Her blood ran hot; she felt her face flush. She waited until the huddle closed with a cheer, shouting their team name--The Psychos, since most of them had been in psych study group together—and then she called out to Matt. “Hey, Matt. Did you drive?”
Caught off guard, he answered, “No.”
“You can ride with me.” She flashed him a sappy smile. “Destiny, do you mind catching a ride with someone else?”
Destiny complied. “Sure, I get it. You two look like you could use a little alone time. You need to kiss and make up.” She winked, instigating laughter and whistles from the rest of the team.
Matt agreed to ride with Audrey, but he looked like he wanted to kill her. She let the engine idle so the car could warm up and because she was too angry to drive. As soon as they were both situated with their equipment tossed in the backseat and their seatbelts buckled, Matt started ranting. “Did I not make myself clear? I’m not interested in you anymore so quit stalking me.”
Audrey was glad she was sitting on her cold hands to warm them. Otherwise, she would’ve slapped him across the face. “Stalking you? Really?”
“First you join my team, and then you corner me into riding back to campus with you.”
“Look, buddy. I didn’t know Destiny set me up to be on your team. Stop being such a narcissist.”
“I’m a narcissist? You’re the one risking the life of your unborn baby to play a childish game of broomball.”
“Childish? You were taking the game pretty seriously out there when you checked that girl who is half your size.”
Matt stared out at the rink, shaking his head. “So you dragged me into your car to call me a narcissist. Is there anything else?”
The other players had left the park, heading back to campus. A tingle of fear ran down Audrey’s spine. She was alone with a fuming Matt Cook. She decided to calm things down a bit. “I’m sorry I called you a narcissist.”
This guy was really a piece of work. “And I want us to act amiable with each other.”
“I was trying. I put you at right wing.”
“I appreciate that.” Audrey sighed. “Here’s the thing. Stop treating me like crap. I trusted you enough to tell you something deeply personal. Because I thought we were friends. I thought you’d support me. Instead, you’re treating me like a disease. It’s not fair.” She unfastened the top button of her coat. The heater seemed to have kicked up the temperature to one-hundred degrees. She turned the fan down a notch.
“The whole story sounds far-fetched. Am I really supposed to believe that you were drugged?”
“It’s far more likely that you got so wasted that you don’t remember what happened. Maybe you wanted it.”
His words were so hurtful that her heart physically hurt. Tears threatened to spill from her eyes, but she blinked them back. She put the car in gear and drove out of the parking lot. She could hardly tolerate another minute with this guy. “It doesn’t matter if you don’t believe me. All I ask is that you treat me with respect, and please don’t tell anybody. I’ll tell them when I’m ready. Fair enough?”
“In return, all I ask of you is that you stop associating with me. I’ll let you play on the broomball team, but that’s it.” Matt made a big huffy breath. “People might think it’s mine. You know how everyone talks about us. It was no secret that I had a crush on you.”
It was hard to believe she’d actually been friends with this self-centered jerk. “Don’t worry, Matt.” She patted his knee, seething underneath her syrupy exterior. “I made it clear that I was never interested in you.”
She parked in the student lot, turned off the ignition, and waited in the car until Matt was in his dorm, out of sight. Then she allowed the tears to rain.
Audrey woke with a horrible ache in her back. With her eyes still closed, she stretched, slamming her knee into something rigid. Straining to open her eyes, she tried to remember where she was. It definitely wasn’t her comfy bed. A streetlight hovered above her, shining through the windshield of her car. She rubbed her eyes, feeling the salt of dried tears on her fingertips. She’d fallen asleep in her car, and the bone-chilling cold of January had stiffened her every joint. She checked the time on her phone. Ten-thirty. She’d only slept about thirty minutes. Good thing she woke up. She could have frozen to death out here.
Shivering, she started the car and turned the heater on full blast. She anticipated the scenario that would likely ensue when she entered the dorm. She would tip toe around, avoiding Matt. Once safely in her room, Destiny would bombard her with questions. Audrey couldn’t fathom living out that scenario. Not now. Not ever. Exhaustion was getting the better of her—physically and emotionally.
Maybe she could just sleep out here in the car tonight. She could wake up and run the engine for a few minutes every couple of hours to warm up.
She rolled her eyes. That idea was pathetic.
Who was she trying to fool? As long as she was pregnant, the college-scene was too much to handle. Picking up her phone, she decided there was only one thing to do. She needed to make a phone call. As the phone rang, she restrained herself from crying again.
A quiet sob escaped Audrey’s throat. “Mom, I’m coming home.”
Read a chapter a day from Bittersweet Goodbye right here on this blog, beginning September 1st, 2019.