The setting was ideal. A clear sky sparkled with millions of stars. The pond mirrored the brilliance of the crescent moon. Pine trees bordered the fire pit area on three sides, creating a feel of intimacy and giving off a deep woods aroma. Surrounded by her best friends, singing praise and worship songs, Audrey didn’t want the night to end.
Pastor Mitchel strummed a chord on his guitar. “I’ll take one more request.” He played by ear and knew every song the kids named, even the more current secular music that the teens listened to on the radio. His wife was just as talented with her beautiful voice. Audrey thought to herself that they made a great team. She looked over at Trevor, who moments ago had been singing his heart out to “Amazing Grace” along with the rest of the group. She smiled as she looked into her future, envisioning Trevor beside her, completing her, just as the Mitchels completed each other. It was a pleasant thought.
“Lean on Me,” Trevor called out.
Audrey’s cheeks grew warm; hopefully it was too dark for anyone to notice she was blushing. No one knew that Audrey and Trevor had declared Lean on Me to be their song years ago while listening to music and dancing in the tree house their fathers had built for them.
Trevor winked at Audrey as everybody gathered in close and slung their arms over each other’s shoulders, swaying to the music as they sang. She winked back and smiled, swallowing the lump in her throat.
When the fire began to die down and the sugar highs wore off, Pastor Mitchel announced he had important business to take care of. He cued Mrs. Mitchel with a nod of his head. She excused herself and made her way into the house. Pastor Mitchel asked Audrey to stand in front of the group.
“As you all know, Audrey, our sole graduate this year, will be attending Bethel University. As she’ll be moving on campus in just a couple of days, I thought tonight to be an appropriate time to give her a proper send-off. Audrey, each person here has prepared a favorite memory of you that they would like to share.”
Audrey covered her face with her hands. Everyone was giggling and whispering, excited for their turn to share. Audrey had a feeling that a lot of these so-called memories would be some of her most embarrassing moments.
“I’ll start.” Pastor Mitchel propped his guitar against a bench and rubbed his hands together. He told about a camping trip to the Boundary Waters when he had shared a canoe with Audrey. It was Audrey’s turn to spend one on one time with him, catching fish for dinner. It was a time to discuss her faith and just get to know each other better.
“Being the gentleman that I am, I sat in the back to steer the canoe.” He chuckled. “I got us stuck in cattails on the side of the lake. I dug my paddle into the thick mud below the canoe and pushed off with all my might. We didn’t budge; my paddle broke in two.”
Everyone laughed, envisioning the spectacle.
“Audrey had been quiet, allowing me to maintain my dignity and spare my masculine pride. After watching me struggle for far too long, she gingerly asked if she could give it a try. I gladly obliged.
“She pushed the handle of her paddle into the floor of the lake, releasing the canoe from the mud. She gracefully swept her paddle through the shallow water first on one side and then the other.” Pastor Mitchel made sweeping motions with his arms. “The canoe turned to face the open water, and we glided through the grasses out onto clear waters.” Everyone clapped.
“Audrey didn’t gloat, and for that I was grateful. She caught three fish that day and I caught…none.” Pastor Mitchel hung his head.
“We saw the whole thing from the campsite,” Jake added, rolling with laughter. “There was Audrey, weighing a hundred pounds soaking wet, paddling the canoe by herself while Pastor Mitchel sat in the bow.”
Audrey held her arms up, flexing her muscles.
Mrs. Mitchel was back from the house holding a package behind her back. She heard enough to get the gist of the story. “Andrew, you never told me that story.”
“It wasn’t exactly a shining moment that a guy brags about to his wife.”
“I’m still proud of you.” She kissed his cheek and tousled his hair.
Pastor Mitchel playfully flicked her hand away. “That’s exactly the reaction I was trying to avoid.”
Laughter rang out across the pond as everyone recalled the trip, taking full advantage of the opportunity to harass Pastor Mitchel all over again.
One by one each person told a memory that made people either laugh or cry. Becca sniffled as she told how Audrey has always stood by her side through good times and bad. “Audrey, I’ll miss you. I look up to you so much. You’re like a sister to me.” Becca’s shoulders shook as she began to cry.
Audrey pulled her into a hug. “I’ll miss you too.”
When it was Trevor’s turn to talk, everyone sat on the edge of their seat in anticipation of a good story, probably a romantic comedy. He looked up to the sky and scratched his chin. “Audrey…hmm…which memory should I tell?”
“Keep it clean, buddy,” Jake teased. “G rated only.”
Trevor tossed his empty Mountain Dew can at Jake who caught it in midair and crushed it on his forehead. “Okay, one of my favorite youth group memories of Audrey was when we hung out at the Old Folks’ home one Saturday afternoon. That brute of an old lady kept trying to teach Audrey to knit. She thought Audrey was her daughter-in-law.” Trevor hunched over. “Any girl good enough for my son will know how to knit an afghan.” Trevor laughed. “Audrey was so patient with her. She just played along.”
“Is that the best you can do?” Jake cupped his hands around his mouth and booed.
“Okay, there was also the first time Audrey tried wake boarding up at Jake’s cabin.” Everybody broke out in laughter at the memory of it. “So she did good getting out of the water on only her second try, but then she was so cocky she waved to a boat of guys whizzing past and completely bit it.”
Audrey punched Trevor’s arm. “That was so embarrassing. Thanks for reminding me—and everybody else.”
“Well, that’ll teach you not to flirt.”
“Lesson learned, thank you very much!” She hit him again, and he pulled her in to a side hug.
Pastor Mitchel cued Mrs. Mitchel to come stand beside him. “Very nice, everybody. Now we have a little something to present to Audrey.” Audrey’s dad came from out of nowhere with his camera aimed in her direction as Mrs. Mitchel took her position.
Mrs. Mitchel took the package from behind her back and handed it to her. Even wrapped, Audrey could see that it was a canoe paddle. She tore off the paper, and her eyes welled with tears. Everybody had signed it. Camera flashes temporarily blinded her.
Pastor Mitchel beamed. “It’s a gift in honor of my favorite memory of you.”
“Thank you. I’ll put it in my dorm room and look at it whenever I miss you guys.” She ran her hand along the smooth wooden handle, beautiful memories flooding back to her of time spent with the youth group. Turning the paddle over in her hand, she noticed writing on the back. Proverbs 3:5-6 Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. It was a verse Pastor Mitchel quoted often, and he made the kids memorize it at the beginning of each school year. She gave everyone a hug and returned to her seat, filled with gratitude.
Pastor Mitchel closed the night in prayer, and then everyone went on their way. Everyone except Trevor.
Audrey and Trevor strolled through the neighborhood they’d grown up in, recounting stories from years past. Trevor put his arm around her shoulders as they walked. Tonight especially, the gesture made her feel safe.
“The campfire was fun. Do you like your canoe paddle?”
Audrey smiled. “It was a perfect gift. I’m really gonna miss youth group. But I’m excited to go to college. Cross-country will be fun.” It would be good to get away. To start fresh. She looked at Trevor out of the corner of her eye. She would definitely miss him. “We have to stay in touch.”
“I’ll call you every Sunday night.” He seemed a little embarrassed by his suggestion. “I mean, college-life can get really busy. We might have to schedule time to talk. More than just the occasional text.”
“I’d like that. I’ll call it T-time. ‘T’ for Trevor.”
“Yeah, I got that.” He smiled. As they neared Audrey’s driveway, Trevor removed his arm from her shoulder and put his hands in his pockets. “Wanna sit on your porch for a while?”
“Maybe just a couple minutes.” Although she cherished every minute with him, she didn’t want to talk about last night’s party. The longer they talked tonight, the more likely the topic would come up.
They sat on the porch swing, setting it into gentle motion. For a few minutes, they sat in comfortable silence, listening to frogs croaking and slapping at an occasional mosquito. Soon Trevor got all fidgety and released a hefty sigh. “There’s something I’ve been wanting to say.”
Audrey felt the blood drain from her face. He was going to bring up last night. She bit her bottom lip, refusing herself to speak of it.
Trevor removed his Twins baseball cap and ran his fingers through his hair. He leaned forward and placed his elbows on his knees, bringing the swing to a sudden halt. “Okay, here goes.” He took a deep breath.
Audrey gulped. “You’re making me nervous.” She giggled lightly, downplaying her fear.
“Remember your ninth birthday party? You know, shortly after you guys moved in next door.”
Where was he going with this? “Of course I do. You tried to rescue me from the neighborhood bully. I was handling him just fine on my own. I didn’t need a knight in shining armor to swoop in and save me. I had deemed myself Audrey the Brave.” She didn’t feel so brave anymore.
Trevor chuckled. “You were this tiny little towhead in a pink frilly dress, sword fighting the giant Timmy Windleman—with sticks that really could have done some damage, by the way.”
“Yep. And I won the match. I had him pinned up against the fence with my stick resting on his throat. He was holding his hands up in surrender, in case you forgot that part. He didn’t stand a chance against Audrey the Brave.”
“That brings me to my point.” Trevor sat up and rubbed his palms on his jeans. He was looking nervous again. “Do you remember what I said?”
Audrey’s cheeks grew warm. “How could I forget? Nobody will ever let us live that down.”
“What can I say? I was enamored at your ability to look so pretty, yet be so bold. And tough as nails.” His blue eyes twinkled in the moonlight. “I decided right then that I wanted to marry you when I grew up.”
“And you announced it to everyone. Kids chanted,‘Trevor and Audrey sitting in a tree, k-i-s-s-i-n-g. First comes love. Then comes marriage. Then comes baby in a baby carriage.’ the rest of the party.” She punched his bicep. “I was so mad at you.”
It had become childhood rhetoric. He repeated those words often over the years. I’m going to marry you, Audrey Chapman. Their friends always laughed, remembering the origin of those words, and teased them endlessly about it.
Trevor cleared his throat. “The thing is…I meant it. I still do.”
Audrey swallowed, despite that her mouth had suddenly gone dry. Was he serious? He actually had feelings for her? “What are you saying? Are you asking me to run off and marry you?” She laughed to emphasize the sarcasm.
He shook his head, grinning sheepishly. “Of course not. This wasn’t meant to be a marriage proposal. What I meant to say is that I really like you. As more than a friend.” He took her hand in his. His fingers were shaking—even more than hers. He looked her in the eye. “Would you like to go on a date with me?”
The shock of his words rendered her speechless. She searched his eyes, finding nothing but honesty and humility. She groaned, freeing her fingers from his grasp to cover her face with her trembling hands. This couldn’t be happening. Not now. Not with what had happened to her last night. Why did he have to say this tonight?
Trevor stood up and proceeded to pace back and forth on the porch. “That wasn’t the reaction I was looking for.” He leaned against a pillar and crossed his arms, staring out into the darkness.
“Trevor, I’m sorry. I…” Her feelings were so jumbled up she struggled to articulate them. She had feelings for Trevor as well. They were new for her though. She definitely loved him, but she was still trying to decipher if that love stemmed from friendship or romance. Truly, she couldn’t imagine her life without him.
She shifted her weight, feeling the bruises on her hips. The pain served both as a reminder of last night and a precursor of scars to come. The physical scars may heal, but the emotional ones may linger. She had so much to process, and it took all her effort just to get through this night. She wasn’t in a good place to jump into a dating relationship.
Besides, Trevor didn’t even know that had happened. Would he still want her if he knew she’d been raped? She sat frozen in place, trying to make sense of it all. She could come right out and tell him. Hey, Trevor. You know last night when you were playing basketball? I was inside getting raped. Actually, I don’t remember much. I just woke up in Jake’s guest room and…I knew. It sounded ridiculous and embarrassing even to her. How was he supposed to react to it?
She wouldn’t tell him.
He turned and faced her. “Forget it. I thought you knew. I thought maybe you…felt the same way.” He smiled, easing the tension. “I’ll see you tomorrow morning in church.” He put his hat back on.
Audrey’s heart pounded raucously in her chest. She needed to say something. “I’m sorry.” She looked away from him, hating the awkwardness that had formed between them. She stood beside him. “You’re my best friend in the whole world.”
“I understand.” He hugged her warmly, and this she reciprocated.
He didn’t understand. He didn’t know that she’d been fantasizing about a future with him. He also didn’t know that she was no longer that innocent little girl he’d fallen for. Overnight, she’d become dirty and gross. A liar.
She lingered in his arms, hearing the rapid rhythm of his heart as her cheek rested against his chest.
He kissed the top of her head and brushed the curls off of her forehead. Her skin tingled under his touch. She looked up into his shimmering blue eyes, wanting to tell him exactly how much she cared for him. But this just wasn’t the right time.
For now, she hoped Trevor would still want to be her friend.
Read a chapter a day from Bittersweet Goodbye right here on this blog, beginning September 1st, 2019.