Saturday morning, Trevor Hayes cracked three eggs into a bowl, beating them with a fork. He tossed a pat of butter into a hot frying pan and waited impatiently for it to melt. The news he would deliver to Audrey later that afternoon weighed heavily on his mind. All summer he’d been planning to make his confession when the perfect, romantic opportunity presented itself. Time was running out. Monday he’d be moving back to campus with his buddies. He had to design that idyllic moment today.
“Mmm, smells good.” Trevor’s older brother, Lucas, ambled into the kitchen shirtless, sporting only black athletic shorts, and suffering a major case of bed head. People always said Lucas and Trevor looked alike with their tall, athletic builds, dark wavy hair, and light blue eyes. This morning, Trevor was admittedly equally disheveled as his brother—if not more.
Trevor poured the eggs into the pan “Make your own, buddy.” He grabbed a spatula and stirred the eggs.
Lucas grunted and then poured himself a bowl of Cheerios at the kitchen island. “Why are you so edgy this morning?”
He couldn’t deny it. “I decided to talk to Audrey today.” Trevor’s crush on the next-door neighbor girl, Audrey Chapman, was no secret in the Hayes household. Lucas noticed the way Trevor got goo-goo eyed around Audrey back when they were little kids running around the backyard together. He hadn’t stopped teasing him since.
“Are you planning to break it to her slowly or just sweep her off her feet with a big ole kiss?”
Trevor grabbed a potholder and chucked it at his brother. The hot pad bounced off his forehead and landed in his cereal bowl.
“Dude!” Lucas jumped off the stool. Milk was splattered on his chest and all over the counter top.
Trevor laughed. “Serves you right.”
“I was just giving you helpful suggestions.” Lucas wiped milk off his chest with a fistful of napkins.
To be honest, a little advice couldn’t hurt. He scraped the steaming eggs onto a plate and sprinkled them with salt and pepper. “I’m just going to come right out and say it.” He speared a lump of eggs with a fork and popped it into his mouth. “It can’t come as surprise to her. I mean, she knows me so well—better than anyone else—so how can she not know this?” He opened the fridge and grabbed a carton of orange juice, unscrewed the cap, and took a swig.
Lucas grabbed the orange juice out of Trevor’s hand, helping himself to a drink. “She probably has a hunch. But can I be honest with you?”
“Can I stop you?”
“Your timing stinks. Explain to me why you think it’s a good idea to start dating right before you two move to separate colleges. You’ve waited this long. Maybe you should just wait until Christmas vacation or next summer. Maybe even let it happen naturally.”
Trevor cringed. “Don’t talk me out of this.” He scooped the last of his eggs into his mouth. Lately it had seemed more than ever that Audrey might reciprocate his feelings. This summer had been one of the best they’d spent together—sharing fried food at the state fair, paddle boarding on Lake Minnetonka, and hanging out on Audrey’s front porch stargazing and talking about God. To him, it almost felt like they were already dating. Why not make it official?
Dating across college campuses wasn’t unheard of, especially since they each owned a car, and Bethel was only a thirty-minute drive from the U of M. He’d dated a few girls the last couple of years, but on each date, Audrey would pop into his mind. Deep down, Trevor felt that Audrey was the girl he was ultimately supposed to spend his life with. But he didn’t feel an obligation to explain his rationale to Lucas.
He swiped the orange juice back from his brother and finished it off—seconds before their mom entered the kitchen. He stashed the empty carton in the garbage.
“Good morning, boys. I saw that, Trevor.” She stood on her tiptoes and tousled his hair. “Didn’t I teach you boys anything?” She poured herself a drink of water. “Next time, try using one of these.” She tapped the glass with her index finger.
Trevor dutifully rinsed off his dirty dishes and stacked them in the dishwasher. “Sorry, Mom. You only have to put up with us for two more days.”
Victoria Hayes frowned, exposing her true feelings. Trevor knew his mom missed him and his brother when they were living on campus. “What are you two up to today?”
“Yeah, Trevor.” Lucas wore a mischievous grin. “What are your plans for this fine Saturday afternoon?”
His mom eyed him curiously. “Do tell.” She filled the coffeepot with water.
Trevor gritted his teeth. “Hanging out with Audrey this afternoon and then we’re going to the youth group thing at the Chapman’s house. Pastor Mitchel is doing the annual youth group grad party tonight.”
His mom sighed. “It’s hard to believe little Audrey Chapman will be a college freshman.” She took a bag of coffee from the cupboard, scooping grounds into the coffeepot.
Lucas snickered. “She’s growing into quite a fine young lady. Isn’t she Trevor? Or haven’t you noticed?”
Trevor picked up the milk-saturated pot holder off the island and whipped it at his brother’s head again.
His mom, no doubt fully comprehending the insinuation, laughed. “She sure is.”
Trevor groaned. “You guys think you’re so funny.” He went upstairs to shower. That whole scenario demonstrated the absurdity of keeping his feelings a secret from Audrey. At twenty years old, he shouldn’t be nervous to ask a girl on a date.
The problem was: Audrey wasn’t just any girl. And he wasn’t just going to invite her for movie and a pizza. By confessing his feelings, he was asking her—his best friend—to be his girlfriend. Once his feelings were out in the open, he could never take them back. Their friendship would be changed forever.
He checked his phone to see if she’d returned his call or texted him. No such luck. He tossed the phone onto his dresser and fished out a pair of basketball shorts and a T-shirt. He wasn’t upset that she’d spent the night hanging out with Becca instead of watching him play basketball. He was concerned that he hadn’t heard from her since his message he left last. It was unlike Audrey to not have responded right away. Especially since he had told her there was something he wanted to talk to her about. On second thought, those words could be unnerving. Was she avoiding him?
He stood under the spray of warm water thinking how foolish he was to overthink the Audrey thing. She and Becca were probably sleeping in. Or they went out for breakfast. Stop fixating on it, Hayes. He turned the faucet handle to the little blue circle. Time to cool down.
Finally, he heard the ding signaling an incoming text. He turned off the freezing water, wrapped a towel around his waist, and grabbed his phone. Sure enough, the text was from Audrey.
Sorry I Didn’t Hear Your Voicemail Until Now. Busy Packing. We Can Talk Tonight After Grad Party.
“No.” Trevor leaned his hands on the counter and hung his head. Tonight wasn’t soon enough. He couldn’t wait to let her know how much he cared for her. When they were kids, he had a crush on her. But now, he’d fallen in love with her. Her ambition, her compassionate heart, the way she loved the Lord more than anything else.
He had envisioned taking her on a walk this afternoon through their childhood neighborhood, holding her hand while they recalled adventures of mischief during their childhood days. When the sun would get too hot, they would stop at the gas station to buy cans of pop just like they did when they were kids. Then they’d stroll back to her house and sit on the porch swing, sipping their drinks. He would put his arm around her and tell her that she was the love of his life. That he couldn’t live without her knowing how special she was to him. She would lean into him and tell him she’d been waiting to hear him utter those words. If things ended really well, maybe they would even kiss. But he didn’t want to plan that. He wanted their first kiss to happen spontaneously.
Trevor wiped the foggy mirror with his hand and filled the sink with warm water for shaving. He chuckled at his reflection. He may be a big football player with a five o’clock shadow, but he was also a hopeless romantic suffering a ridiculous case of puppy love. The only people who needed to know that were his brother and mom…and Audrey.
The sooner Audrey knew the truth, the better. Tonight would have to be soon enough.
Audrey spritzed the unruly blonde curls framing her face and struggled to pin them back. The silky tendrils slipped from her shaking fingers. A headband would have to do. She studied her reflection in the bathroom mirror, satisfied. The coral top she’d selected for the evening brought out the pink color in her cheeks. She held up her hand, waggling her fingers. The pale pink nail color was a perfect match with her lip gloss. She looked good enough. Nobody would suspect a thing.
The evidence was there if someone looked closely enough. She’d been practicing her smile for the last half hour but failed to make it reach her eyes. Her normally shiny blue green eyes now appeared matted and hollow. Spooky.
Seeing Trevor would make her smile come to life. She hoped. Since waking in Jake’s guest room in the middle of the night—terrified and confused—the first person she thought about contacting was Trevor. She’d almost texted him to come get her and bring her home. But she couldn’t make herself do it. He would’ve questioned her why she’d stayed at the party. She didn’t have a good answer for that. Or he would’ve hugged her and comforted her. But the idea of being touched, even by Trevor, made her skin crawl.
It took a few minutes to figure out what had happened to her. The last thing she remembered was watching a hip-hop dance off. Next thing she knew she was lying in the dark with her ribs aching so much that it hurt to breathe. She was nauseated, and sore all over. Kind of like after she ran her first 400-meter dash, after eating a chili cheese dog for lunch. But worse. Maybe she was hung over. She did recall tasting beer. She remembered the feel of the icy cold can in her hand. Yep, she must’ve gotten drunk, passed out, and now she was suffering a hangover.
But her body told her more had happened than that.
The ugly truth had emerged when she flicked on the table lamp. Her clothes were mangled and torn. Upon straightening her jeans, she noticed tender purplish marks on her sides. Then bits and pieces of the night came back to her in short clips. Sudden dizziness. Being hauled across the living room. Falling—she squeezed her eyes shut as she’d done at the time, reliving it. She gasped in horror, putting the pieces together. She scrambled off the bed and ran to the nearest bathroom, stumbling around in the dark house. The party was long over. She washed herself, scrubbing until her skin was nearly raw. Then she’d run home, showered, crawled into bed, and cried herself to sleep.
Audrey drew a shaky breath, releasing it slowly to calm her nerves. She needed to shove last night into the recesses of her mind so she could get through this youth group gathering. This was a secret she needed to take to the grave. How could she explain to her parents that she was at a party? At Jake’s house? Jake would get into trouble—so would Becca.
Audrey wondered if she could look Pastor Mitchel in the eye and tell him she’d been raped. If Trevor found out, what would he think of her?
Her sister pounded on the bathroom door. “Audrey! Get out of there. People are outside waiting for you.” Darcy was two years younger than Audrey. She was the carefree, creative sister whereas Audrey was the responsible, studious one. At the moment, Audrey found herself envious of her younger sister, whose biggest worry was which shirt she would wear on the first day of eleventh grade.
“I’ll be there in a minute.” She accessorized her outfit with the diamond studded earrings from her parents. She ran her fingers over her bare collarbone. The necklace was missing. Somehow she’d lost it overnight. She blinked back tears, but one slipped down her cheek. She blotted it away with a tissue. Then she pasted on her best smile and hobbled downstairs to greet her guests.
Her mom was in the kitchen, preparing a tray of marshmallows, graham crackers, and Hershey chocolate bars. Their tabby cat, Simba, lay at her feet. “Hi, honey. You look nice.” Her mom put down the box of crackers she was holding and gave Audrey a tight mama-bear hug. “I’m so proud of my graduate.”
Audrey released a little whimper; her ribs were so sore they felt bruised.
Her mom stepped back, furrowing her brow in concern. “Are you all right?”
Audrey forced a giggle. “Just a little sore. I’ve been running a lot. You know, preparing for the cross-country season.” She’d never lied to her mom before. Guilt instantly ensued.
“You better take it easy. I don’t want to see you getting hurt.” Her mom returned to the food preparations.
“Too late.” Audrey muttered.
Her mom grinned, shaking her head. “You’ve always been one to push yourself too hard. Go easy on yourself your first year of college. Your GPA and running is important, but don’t forget to have fun too. Okay, honey?”
“I’ll try.” Audrey could see through the window above the kitchen sink that some of the youth group kids had already arrived and were in the backyard. Her dad was stacking logs and twigs in the fire pit. She didn’t feel ready to face everyone. “Do you need any help in here?”
Her mom wiped her hands on her apron. “Like I just said—go have fun.”
The doorbell rang; Audrey’s heart leaped into her throat. “I’ll get it.” She went to the door, hoping to see Trevor through the sidelight window. It was Pastor Andrew Mitchel and his wife Maggie. A guitar was slung over Pastor Mitchel’s shoulder and Mrs. Mitchel was hiding something behind her back—probably a gift for Audrey. Each year, Pastor Mitchel gave each of the graduates a meaningful gift. This year, Audrey was the only graduate of the small youth group. She opened the door. “Come in. Can I help you with your stuff?”
“Don’t you dare.” Mrs. Mitchel backed away from Audrey. This is a surprise for later.
Audrey felt her spirit lighten in the presence of the Mitchels. They had to be the coolest couple on earth. “Nobody will let me help with anything tonight. Not even my mom.” Audrey ushered them through the kitchen.
“Hi, Lydia.” Mrs. Mitchel smiled at Audrey’s mom. She shrugged her purse onto a kitchen chair while keeping the gift hidden behind her back. Even in her mid-thirties, Maggie Mitchel dressed in trendy clothes and always had her light brown hair styled. She was a first grade teacher. The kind who gave hugs to her students and actually remembered their names years later when kids stopped back in her classroom to visit.
Pastor Mitchel helped himself to a piece of chocolate from the tray. “Thank you for your hospitality tonight.”
Audrey’s mom moved the tray out of Pastor Mitchel’s reach, giving him a dirty look. “You’re welcome. And what time will this shin dig be ending?”
Pastor Mitchel laughed. “Not soon enough for you, I’m sure. But we’ll stay outside for the most part.”
“In that case, you’re welcome to stay as long as you’d like.”
The friendly banter between Pastor Mitchel and Audrey’s mom cracked Audrey up every time. This graduation party couldn’t have come at a better time. She put on a brave face and led the Mitchels outside to the fire pit.
“Hey, Audrey.” Becca came barreling toward her practically knocking her over with a big hug. “It’s about time you show up. I almost went up to your room and dragged you out here.”
“I’ve been packing all day. There’s so much to do before Monday.”
“Hey, you and Trevor took off without saying goodbye last night. I turned around and you were gone.”
“Sorry about that. Trevor called me when their game was done…I should’ve told you we were taking off.” Another lie. Truthfully, she couldn’t remember leaving Becca’s side. Trevor had called, but she’d let it go to voicemail.
“Don’t worry about it. You didn’t miss much. The party ended soon after you left. A few people were getting out of hand so a bunch of people took off. Jake started kicking people out around midnight. He didn’t mean for it to become such a big beer bash. The house was trashed. We were cleaning all day. I’m exhausted.”
The back yard gate creaked open. Audrey watched Trevor walk through, holding a bouquet of wildflowers and wearing a goofy grin. He was so adorable. Audrey had to hold herself back from running to him like Becca had done to her.
Becca elbowed Audrey. “Aw, he brought you flowers. I’m so jelly. Jake has never brought me flowers.”
Audrey skipped over to him, ignoring her aches and pains. She wrapped her arms around his waist and rested her cheek against his chest. She was so happy to see him. She didn’t care that everybody was probably watching and whispering about them. Tears threatened to spill from her eyes, but she wouldn’t let them. Not now. For now, she just wanted to bask in the safety of Trevor’s embrace.
Trevor hugged her back. “I’m happy to see you too.” He held out the flowers; the stems were tied to together with a yellow ribbon. “It’s a little send-off gift. I realize you’ll be leaving in two days and probably won’t take them with you. They don’t even smell good, but—”
“I love them! You know I love wildflowers! Did you pick them?” Audrey took them, admiring the arrangement and running the silky ribbon between her fingers. When she and Trevor were little kids, they went on adventures, trekking around the pond behind their houses. Audrey would fall behind, picking wildflowers from the hillside. The yellow ones that looked like daisies were her favorite. Trevor was always yelling at her to hurry up and stop picking the weeds. She smiled at the memory.
“Sure did. I got about twenty mosquito bites in the process.” He held out his arms, showing multiple red bumps.
“That was sweet of you.” It was the kind of gesture that made Audrey’s heart beat a little faster. The kind of gesture that sparked a giddy feeling that Trevor could one day be more than just a friend. This time, the gesture also brought tears to her eyes that she couldn’t repress. With the events of last night haunting her thoughts, her emotions were wildly unstable. She buried her face into Trevor’s shirt, weeping.
Trevor rubbed her back. “Hey, what’s up?” His voice contained a hint of amusement. “Are you homesick already?”
Becca and Darcy and Mrs. Mitchel surrounded Audrey as she clung to Trevor, making heartfelt reassurances that they would keep in touch over the school year. Mrs. Mitchel extended an open invitation for her to attend any youth events as an alumna.
Let them think that’s why she was crying. She could never admit the truth.
Read a chapter a day from Bittersweet Goodbye right here on this blog, beginning September 1st, 2019.